Healthy Happy Blog
Healthy Happy Blog
What’s the longest period of time you’ve been single for?
I'm a serial monogamist and a habitual dater. Most of my friends have settled down, but like many, I'm still single in my thirties, and am burnt out from over-use of dating apps. Dating is supposed to be fun, but for many of us it's become a joyless habit, like food shopping or a dull job. I want to stay mindfully, purposefully single for one year - no kissing, no sex, no dating - to detox my love life, cure my dating fatigue, and find out how to be alone and happy.
After my last relationship ended (via WhatsApp - WHAT A GUY) I headed straight to my friend’s place for prosecco and sympathy, downloading tinder on the way there. I necked an all-men-are-bastards sized glass and spilt all to my good mate Bert, while his wife Steph gleefully swiped right and left on my behalf. Not by any stretch a measured or dignified response to heartache, but a common one, I assure you. Over the next few weeks I chatted and flirted and stalked social media, and eventually I arranged a date with a sweet creative type at a trendy local bar.
On date nightI took my time getting ready, curling my hair and doing my makeup just so, but something felt wrong. What could it be? I changed my outfit. I put on a pair of heels, something I rarely do but thought the pain would give me an endorphin boost. But something still wasn't right. And on my way to the bar I realised what was missing. Nervousness. That delicious discomfort that indicates excitement, butterflies, that spark of curiosity as to who this man, how the evening would go, whether this would be the first of many dates. I was bored of this date before it had begun. What a bummer. I( want to clarify that this is nothing to do with the guy - a very sweet man. I just wasn't in the right headspace to date anyone, and I understand that now. We had a nice night, but I didn’t contact him again, nor him me.)
The next day I deleted the apps.
I was unhappy. Why? Natural down-ness after the end of a relationship. Clinical depression is always present too (not to be conflated with the natural, normal response to trauma. We mad folk can tell the difference). What else? Unfulfilling pub work, a result of a slow-moving freelance career as a writer. A stunted social life from moving to a new city where most of my friends are settled down. Not feeling my best physically - living on bread and not getting enough fresh air and exercise.
I didn’t like my life as it was. So why on Earth did I think it was a good idea to invite someone into it? Because I missed the structure that relationships offer. I was distracting myself from my real problems - problems which were wholly fixable, I just needed to start paying attention.
I devised a strategy:
Natural end of a relationship sadness: Boo-fuckety-hoo. This was the easy bit. Talked to my mates, had a little cry, chatted shit about him for a day, got a drastic hair cut and colour: job done. The best thing I did was change my phone wallpaper from a cutesy-couple picture to one of 70’s Rod Stewart in a pair of tiny little pants that don’t leave much to the imagination. It was meant to be a short-term measure but I’ve grown quite attached to his knowing smile and his terrible hair and his cheeky little hint of pube. It made me smile, and it still does.
Depression: I’m an old hand by now, so when there’s a shitstorm brewing I know to batten down the hatches. Keep taking the meds, start eating and sleeping better, get some fresh air and, crucially, start talking therapy.
Job shit: Crack on. Apply for stuff. Talk to mentors. Things take time, and this is the life I chose.
Social life: Spend more time tending to the friendships I already have. Form a Gym Bitches WhatsApp group to get us all together for a spin class, and keep us all accountable and motivated.
Physical health: sign up for a half-marathon (that’ll do it).
I want to challenge myself to a year of being mindfully, purposefully single to focus on these areas of self-improvement. I will attend therapy sessions, volunteer (I’d like to look into the befriending services at Age UK). I also want to talk to experts about the financial implications of living alone. I want to examine the social implications of planning a life alone. I feel excluded by that tired political rhetoric of "hard-working families", which only adds insult to the injury of the tax-breaks I’m not entitled to.
Social media is packed with "it's better to have loved and lost" and "strong independent woman" platitudes. But can we really plan a happy, fulfilling life alone? I want to be single for a year. After that I'd love to meet a life partner, but the reality is that I might not. Do we always need to be open to the possibility of finding The One?
While the last 20 years has seen a 50% increase in single person households, today 25% of Brits use dating apps. We are the first generation to have the freedom to fully embrace the single life, but we have no idea how to be alone, and under the influence of social media, we rarely are. What does modern life look like when you temporarily remove the pursuit of romance, sex and love? How would that impact our career? Our money? Where we live? Our health?Is it really possible to be happy alone? How do we prevent loneliness? How do we navigate conflict, disappointment, grief or illness without a partner?
I’m excited about my Single Year. I tell my family and friends. A couple of my friends snorted derisively (thanks guys, love you). My Mam winced: “You can’t put a timeline on something like that, love. You don't know what could happen”. Undeterred, I put it to the internet: what’s the longest you’ve been single for? The response was gorgeous. I heard from women in their fifties, with children and grandchildren, who don’t miss romance (one lady said “He has to look at me like I’m dipped in gold” which I think is glorious). Other women like me are just realising that they haven't spend a significant amount of time only needing to please themselves (one lady was 39, and had only been single for three months in twenty years).
“I’ve got my house, I’ve got money saved for the first time in decades, and a passport I’m not afraid to use”.
“I was stood up yesterday day and £33 out of pocket for the experience. I’m exasperated, fed up and discouraged”.
“If I hadn't spent two years dating myself I wouldn't be the person I am today”.
“I was single for 3.5 years, wracked with low self esteem, I feel so sad when I think back to that time”.
‘I was single for three years following a really hard break up. Took that long to feel ready to give up my time for other people”.
“I’m getting married for the first time at 46. I knew he had it all”.
“I have learned to go out and have fun alone”.
“Single for eighteen years when bringing up the kids. Started dating two years ago, and am fed up already. Sex is easy, relationships are not!”
(Most of these responses are from cis/het/white women, and a few men. I will definitely research and share more about being single in different communities. Watch this space).
This is what my single year will look like. The next twelve months will feature one or all of the following:
A book about mental health
Some radio / podcast work
A documentary about mental health
Travelling alone (budget allowing, more likely to be a weekend Whitby than three months finding myself in Goa)
So. I am two months single. Ten months to go. No dating, no flirting, no kissing, no nowt. How hard could it be?
P.S. Jen Kirkman (fabulous comedian) just released a line of necklaces with OVERFORTY, SINGLE, and CHILDFREE pendants. I want them all.
I love pretty clothes, but I hate shopping, so much so that when I attended the Cosmo Awards last year my Mam chose my outfit (thanks Mam!). Yours Clothing looks fab online, so I popped into my local branch in Bristol to see their latest collection. As an unenthusiastic shopper, and because I wanted to avoid going for my usual tried-and-tested style choices, I asked each member of staff to each choose an outfit for me (thanks to Paris, Jade and Tess!).
Black, white, and a strong red lippy – all you need for a bold, clean, polished look.
The Yours collection is peppered with similar little twists and edges that lift their pieces without compromising on practicality or comfort. Take this stripy top, with the elasticated piping don the sides adding a sophisticated final touch.
Stylist's Choice: Dungarees
Like many of us I haven’t worn dungarees since the late eighties, but shop assistant Paris recommended I give them a go (I would recommend an upsize for girls like myself with longer bodies than legs!). My belly is my own personal Area 51 (I’m pretending it doesn’t exist), but the sidey buttons draw the eyes to the hips, while the bib (is it called a bib? I’m calling it a bib) draws in at the waist. Paris paired these with a cute stripy tshirt with detailed sleeves and an elasticated waist (again, small details that make Yours stand out from standard high street fodder).
Pastels, Lace and Florals
Dusky, muted pastels to compliment a broad range of skin tones, and soft, sensual, irresistibly stroke-able fabrics make these casuals a wardrobe must.
If your new year’s resolution was to experiment with colour, try this knitted number in a flattering pale blue, for a subtle change that will match many of your wardrobe staples.
Stylist's Choice: Nude Pink Knit Jumper
Jade loves this butterfly top, now I do too! The fabric is gorgeously soft, and the beaded butterflies are perfect for girls like me who know that sparkles aren’t just for Christmas! (I would recommend upsizing as it’s a bit clingy at the hips).
If you’re not a fan of pink (or, like me, you’re a bit hip-and-tummy conscious), this stars-and-stripes-and-sparkles number is made with the same beautiful fabric, and has pulley-bits at the side for a cute ruched effect.
Now, I had my doubts about this collared jumper. I love masculine styles on other women, but any time I’ve tried it I ended up with rugby player shoulders and a monoboob. After a nudge from Paris, I tried it on. And it works. I loved it. The lush material with contrasting linen panels is cut to compliment curves, not fight them.
Stylist's Choice : Cold-Shoulder Top.
Tess recommended this sheer art-deco inspired cold-shoulder top (she suggested pairing it with leather look leggings, but I stuck with sheer black tights). It’s just sheer enough to be a little bit sexy on a night out (it would also work with a slinky black vest for extra coverage), but it could be dressed down for the office – it works very well with the cross-back jacket I told you about before. Again, this is something I wouldn’t have picked up myself, but I'm so glad I kept an open-mind - thanks Tess! Yours have an online customer chat too – take a chance, you might find something you love!.
The brand’s biggest seller (excuse the pun) is underwear, and it’s easy to see why. They’ve a gorgeous range of luxurious undies, at prices decent enough to make every day a matchy-matchy day. Far too many women wear a poorly-fitting bra (I myself wore a B-cup for years, before recently getting fitted and finding out I’m a D!). Yours stores provide a full bra-fitting service, and a range that provides for different body shapes, from babydolls to this long-line number (perfect for less busty girls). With Valentine’s Day coming up, they’ll be adding much more to their lines too. I can't wait!
I love this set. The bra has four hooks and a wide back for extra comfort and support, and the matching knickers have a comfy waistband, a cheeky sheer back, and come with removable suspenders. Guaranteed to brighten up any grey January day!
I’ll never love shopping, but the lovely ladies at Yours Bristol made it so much easier and more fun, and with a wider range available online, there’s no reason not to give them a go!
"Instagram. It's just really samey".
The girl on the bus signed as she scrolled through her feed, past image after image of fashion model past interchangeable fashion model.
Luckily we arrived at my stop before I told her that it isn't the tool's fault that she ended up following 500 white, middle-class women who all look like her (and me).
The beauty of social media is that you curate your own experience. Rather than buying a magazine and flicking through 200 pages of of glossy, glam, sexy, tall, skinny, white, blonde women, you can tailor your feed to show you the world as you want to see it, and see all the infinitely diverse ways people can be happy, healthy, smart, witty, kind and beautiful, and what that looks like. And when we see the disconnect between what we want to look at and what we *have* to look at, it starts a conversation.
With Insta, you can see how people live in the remotest corners of the earth. You can follow the Guggenheim, the Tate, the VA, and see world-class art every single day, while you're on a bus. No generation had ever had that privilege before. Social media is one of the most powerful tools of self-education we have.
It's easy to sneer that Insta is all cats, brunch, selfies and beach yoga. I'm not having a pop - I've posted all of those pics (apart from beach yoga. I'd giggle too much). And if that's what you want your feed to look like, you carry on - we all use social media differently, and I'm not here to feed-shame anyone (let's not make feed-shaming a thing, thx). But if your feed is boring you, don't blame the tool or the algorithms. If you're choosing to be spoon-fed, you can't complain that everything tastes the same.
@instagram #transisbeautiful #besickening#noDAPL #beautiful #queerart #melanin #pcos
Pic credits: Top l-r @buckangel @latriceroyale @oliverjeffers; Middle l-r @melaniegaydos @missnonnymbuyazi
@somligafetakvinnor; bottom l-r @thatgirlsussi @harnaamkaur @melaniin.goddess
Now, a few of you good people have asked me how I manage my mad type 3 curls. I've had a bit of practice, and I've got my routine DOWN. I started tonging my hair when I was eighteen, At it's longest (mid-back length) it would take TWO HOURS to style. Now that it's shorter it takes about forty minutes, but once it's done it can stay sleek for up to three days: an excellent method of fooling friends, colleagues and strangers into thinking you're not a lazy slob.
I don't spend a lot of money on tools and products. The tongs I use were £7.99 from Argos. I once had a pair that cost £3.99 from Asda that did a cracking job. I like a thin-medium, straight barrel (with no weird twisty bits), but to each their own. You can get fancy conical wands, but with tongs you can tuck the ends under the lever-y bit, smoothing them down for a nice defined curl.
I use whatever mousse, shampoo and conditioner are on special offer (I'm not into all the compare-and-contrast business of beauty products. I'm sure you'll find a billion blog for that if that's your jam).
This works best on dry, slightly-grubby hair - not exactly post-festival filthy, but a-couple-of-days-and-a-sweaty-run dirty.
STEP ONE: Apply mousse to dry hair.
STEP TWO: Divide hair into four sections (left, right, top back), then two smaller sections within (I usually do two-four). Secure with pins.
STEP THREE: Starting at the side section near your ear and working your way forward, take one-inch sections of hair, and wind around the barrel of the hot tongs. I find it easiest to wrap the hair TOWARDS my face (clockwise), but whatever works for you make sure you curl every section in the same direction. Keep the barrel as close to the roots as possible (mind your fingers, ears and neck!) but make sure you tuck the ends under the tongy-bit. Repeat on the other side and back, saving top till last, working from the crown to your fringe.
STEP FOUR: The tedious bit's over! Now you should have Shirley Temple corkscrews. Get a mirror: make sure you haven't missed any bits at the back. Your hair needs to cool down for a couple of minutes before styling. Now UNPLUG YOUR TONGS. I like to do a little song and dance: "no eleeeectrical fiiiires here to-NIIIIIGHT". That way when your anxiety whispers "did you unplug them?", you'll retort "definitely - remember I did the dance?".
STEP FIVE: This is VERY TECHNICAL. Using your fingers (or a wide-tooth comb, if you think you're special) gently separate and, sort of, stretch the curls. Don't be shy - get right into the roots and shake them loose.
STEP SIX: When you're happy with the way the curls are sitting, spritz on some hairspray. That's it!
As with anything, practice makes perfect - just give yourself plenty of time before you have to head out. Iif there's anything I haven't explained properly, just give a shout here or on Insta. Let me know how you get on!
I may go down in history as the first person to have been heckled at the Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival.
On Sunday I was on a panel called Is the Selfie Selfish? chaired by Emma Gannon. I was joined on the panel by Frances Borzello, art historian and author of several books on the subject. Frances is an expert in self-portraiture through the ages, but fascinatingly has barely any internet presence herself. She also has a filthy laugh and declared herself “one rackety woman”. Emma and I fell in love with her instantly.
The discussion promised to “examine the history of self-portraiture and discuss the power and capacity for change that documenting one’s own image can hold”. Frances galloped through a brief history of portraiture for 15 minutes, we took questions for another fifteen, so we had 30 minutes to dissect the last decade of contemporary culture to an audience of two hundred people ranging between 11 – 80 years of age. We tried to pitch a level of discourse that was accessible to everyone; conversational and informal. Admittedly, I alienated two-thirds of the audience when I declared “while Millennials may be lazy and entitled, at least we didn’t cause two recessions”, but on the whole I think we did an admirable job.
After Frances expanded on how woman artists in 19th century portraiture modelled their self-portraits on those of their male contemporaries (or didn’t), she opened a conversation on men who take selfies now, and whether they’re statistically overtaken by women. I was in the middle of replying that accusations of millennial vanity and narcissism always seemed to be aimed at women and girls when it happened. A VERY angry woman started waving her arms and yelling “THAT’S NOT TRUE”. She was given a microphone (at the panel’s insistence) and declared that she needed to compose herself before “something really rude” that she’d regret. She was visibly shaking with anger. She told us how inane the conversation had been, how only Frances had touched on anything with any resonance. “This whole thing has been so UNSOPHISTICATED” she blasted, to a ripple of applause.
Quite what this cohort of the audience were expecting when they spent £8 on a ticket for a discussion which promised to “merge art history with Kim Kardashian” I don’t know. Perhaps they’d seen the wonderful Claire Balding and Jilly Cooper in conversation, and expected the same level of discourse from two writers at the beginning of their career. After the discussion numerous complaints were made because Emma, as chair, hadn’t defined what a selfie was at the beginning. Each of these complaints were from people who clarified that they, of course, know what a selfie is, but they were appalled that we hadn’t taken a fraction of what little time we had to observe a formality. Perhaps they’ve been educated in How To Debate – A+B+C= Successful Discussion. I haven’t. Imagine explaining to a 12-year-old what a selfie is. I don’t think my 31-year-old ego could take the withering stares of the girls who excitedly gathered around me at the end of the talk to show me their Instagram accounts – the fake ones their parents follow, and the secret account strictly for their cool friends.
I can’t help but suspect a vein of snobbery. They weren’t expressing disappointment at the content of the debate. They were angry with the format. As one twitter user put it “what is it about talking in a way that everyone can understand that gets people's goat?”. I doubt they’d have kicked off so much if they’d paid £70 for an opera ticket and didn’t like the direction. They certainly wouldn’t have heckled. It’s perfectly acceptable that they expressed their opinion. But the resilience, lack of respect and outright hostility we were met with was shocking.
I mentioned that there was little or no feminism visible in the mainstream media in the early 00s when I was a teenager, and that our generation are responsible for starting a new conversation that was accessible to every girl in the country through her phone. The same woman huffed “Err, feminism wasn’t INVENTED 15 years ago! WHAT ABOUT NAOMI WOOLF?! (brilliantly, she tailed off with “I mean, I don’t like her, but still….”). My point was that when I was a teenager I struggled to find contemporaries who were interested in feminism. Now my generation has created a world where Topshop tell t-shirts declaring THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE. Those 12-year-olds in the audience have easy access to the work of women like Caitlin, and Lena, and Paris Lees, and – SOD IT – ME AND EMMA GANNON ACTUALLY – and a million other smart, funny women all over the internet, in a way that previous generations never had, unless they were exposed to feminism by their parents or at school (I certainly wasn’t). WE DID THAT. Congratulations if you can name-check every prominent feminist author published in the last forty years (and I absolutely thank each and every one of them, whether I agree with them or not, for paving the way for us). It must be exhausting to know so much more about a subject than others. But that’s not the way to capture young imaginations and engage young minds.
Frances mused on what skill a selfie takes, before declaring that she’ll never take one. She doesn’t want to participate in that element of youth culture, but she’s engaging with it and respectful of it.
If a speaker doesn’t engage with a topic as you’d prefer, please ask a question and (and this is the really important bit) listen to the answer. You might not like it. You might find it facile, or insipid, or boring. Fine. You pays your money, you takes your chances. But buying a ticket does not allow you to dictate the way we communicate. Nor does being born at a particular time. Your opinion isn’t more important than anyone else’s.
That said, I must say that otherwise I had a lovely time at the festival. I met some gorgeous people, including MY IDOL FOR HALF MY LIFE, Marian Keyes. She was just as LOVELY as you'd expect, and the chance to shake her hand and thank her for her work more than made up for the verbal bashing I'd received earlier. So, Cheltenham, thank you for that. I hope to see you again next year.
My name’s Michelle Thomas and I have nominated myself for Best Newcomer in Cosmopolitan’s Influencer Awards 2016. Let me tell you why for…
I’m an accidental activist who gained 26,000 instagram followers in a single week last year after my blog about a body-shaming Tinder date went viral. Since then I’ve built a brand based on reassuring women; if you're healthy and happy, you're golden. If you're not healthy and happy, here's what helps me – running, not running (and not feeling guilty about it), spending time alone, spending time with people I love, monthly manicures...all that stuff contributes to my well-being. My account shows an overweight 30-year old woman exercising, failing at exercising, eating delicious healthy food, eating delicious junk food, being silly, being sassy, being herself (my #iwokeuplikethis pictures are hideous – my hair looks like two red squirrels fighting). I strive to be as authentic as possible. I like pretty dresses and I post pretty selfies. But I also post candid pictures of my pot belly. I mourn the loss of my favourite bra after the underwire pops out. I post about my mental health, about my medication, about good days and bad. I respond to critics of my body. I posted pictures at 6am when I used to start my shifts as a barista.
My story went viral because it resonated with thousands of people who have been affected by bodyshaming, either directly like I was, or indirectly. I’ve had emails from men in their late teens/early twenties who are desperately in love with a plus-size woman, but they won’t make the move because they think they’d lose their mates. The blanket ban on body-confidence for women who aren’t thin, young and white affects everyone – not just young women.
Instagram is still saturated in thin white women who spend all their time doing yoga on a beach. There’s nothing wrong with being thin and doing yoga, but show me some authenticity – I want to see Deliciously Ella up at 5am prepping all her veg for the week ahead. I want to see the truth under the glamour.
I documented training for a 10k for Mind this year, and my fantastic followers joined me in posting #honestworkoutslfies. On the race day I met a woman who, as a personal challenge, was running 1000k (600 miles) in the year between her 39th and 40th birthday. She was a size 24-26, Tess Holiday proportions, and ran faster than men and women half her size. Health is about more than fat – it’s fitness, blood stickiness, insulin levels, sleep quality, stress. That’s a conversation that we need to start –. shifting focus from what your body looks like to what your body can do. I started #healthyhappyhot because I want people to aspire towards health and happiness, not thinness.
Social media allows you to choose what you view, which is an awesomely powerful thing. Rather than picking up a magazine and flicking through 300 pages of glossy, hyper-airbrushed, hyper-glam tall skinny white women, it’s easy to tailor your feed to show you happy, healthy, smart, witty, kind, and beautiful people – some of my favourites are Georgina Horne, Danielle Brooks, Stina Wolter, Dawn O’Porter, Stina Sanders, Paris Lees and @rubyetc. When you see the obvious disconnect between what you’re choosing to look at and what you’re being made to look at, you think critically about what you want to change in your world.
I know that my account, my work, makes a real difference to my followers, and that’s the most incredible feeling. Knowing that something I’ve written has provided comfort and reassurance to strangers on the other side of the world is the proudest I’ll ever be of anything I do. It’s been a hectic year – I’ve gained 40k followers including Twitter and FB, I’ve got two agents (literary and broadcast) and I’ve built an impressive portfolio on feminism, dating, mental health and body image. I’m the ideal nominee for Cosmopolitan’s Best Newcomer award, and I’m just getting started.
Please vote for https://www.instagram.com/msmthomas for Best Newcomer in Cosmopolitan’s Influencer Awards 2016 (with 26k followers) before 30th Sept – it takes 45 seconds, go on!
Thanks so much,
love Michelle x
P.S. Here are the gals I’ve nominated in the other categories
Best Newcomer In Association With OGX Me, obvs.
Best Lifestyle Influencer Fiona Longmuir
Best Health & Wellbeing Influencer Mirna Valerio
Best Sex & Relationships Influencer Erika Moen
Best Fashion Influencer Georgina Horne
Best Beauty Influencer Sali Hughes
Best Vlogger Marian Keyes
Best Use of Social Media @rubyetc
Content of the Year Deliciously Stella
The Blossom Hill Influencers Choice Awards #ITSOKTOTALK by CALM
Having depression doesn’t mean I’m always depressed, in the same way the being allergic to bee stings doesn’t mean a person is in constant anaphylactic shock. It’s only when they get stung that it’s a problem.
A person with a bee sting allergy can get stung at any time. Their allergy is not dependent on their life circumstances – they could win the lottery and they’d still be allergic to bee stings. Their allergy isn’t negated by terrible world events or the fact that there are many people worse off than them, and it’s unhelpful to them to suggest that it is.
Being allergic to bee stings isn’t indulgent or selfish. It’s a chemical anomaly. If an allergic person is stung by a bee it’s important they don’t feel afraid or ashamed to get help. Treatments that may relieve a bee sting to a person who is not allergic to bee stings, such as vinegar or spit on a dock leaf, are not effective to a person who IS allergic to bee stings. Those people need an epi pen, and in some cases professional medical attention.
You can’t snap out of an allergy, and a positive mental attitude, though helpful, is not an antidote to a bee sting if you’re allergic to bee stings.
Being allergic to bee stings doesn’t make you a bad friend, or parent, or employee.
A person who is allergic to bee stings may encounter a bee, and not get stung. For example, if a friend or colleague is allergic to bee stings, and fears they are at risk of being stung they may say: “Hi, I’m allergic to bee stings, and there’s a bee in my office. I’m going to close the window to prevent more bees from coming in. I would also like to remove this enormous bouquet of flowers from my desk.” Then you could say “Sure thing. I’ll put the bouquet in my office instead. I love hyacinths”.
If a person with a bee sting allergy hasn’t been stung for a while, that doesn’t mean they’re no
longer allergic to bee stings. Though they may take every precaution, no one is guaranteed lifelong bee sting evasion. However, no one should live in fear of their own chemical imbalances. By encouraging people to talk openly about their allergies, and educating others about what to do if they encounter someone having an allergic reaction, we can make our gardens safer for everyone, and we can all enjoy some time in the sun.
I get my nails acrylic-ed, shellac-ed and top-coated every three weeks without fail. However tight money may be, if I have to search every handbag for the odd 50p coin or sacrifice a couple of post-work shandies, my manis are not a movable expense. Every month I go to my favourite salon, run by a lovely Vietnamese lady called Nung (I discovered when she asked me to talk to her insurance providers on the phone when they couldn’t understand her accent), ask her about her babies, check out her latest colours, and spend 45 minutes unable to check my phone while she files, scrapes, and paints me beautiful (well, at least from the wrists down). I’ve experimented with a million colours: pastels, glitters, matts, shimmers, and odd-coloured ring fingers (which my Argentinian housemate affectionately called my cocaine fingers). Beautifully-shaped talons give me joy for weeks – and at less than £20 a month, that’s more cost-effective than dropping £10 on an eyeshadow or £20 on a top you’ll wear for three weeks and never again. It’s not bad for my health (unless you count the parchment-brittleness of my natural nails under their acrylic armour, a small price to pay), and unlike other “pampering” activities, many of which involve managing body hair, there’s no politically-unfriendly undertone (not that THAT’S what stops me from waxing my bits), and it doesn't hurt (THAT’S why I stopped waxing my bits).
When I was little my Mam used to bring home red circular price stickers from the pyjama factory where she worked. I’d carefully place them over my own (short, stumpy) nails and squeeze the top together, to create a long, pointed nail. The first time I got acrylics, I paid homage to my younger self’s vision of unassailable glamour. They were FABULOUS – scarlet with silver tips, Alabama Worly-tacky, yet sleek and stylish. They made my fingers look graceful and slender – like piano players’ fingers. I had no idea that over the following week, as they grew just a few millimetres, disaster was brewing like a cuticle infection. You see, I wear contact lenses. Apologies if you’re squeamish, but in order to remove contact lenses, you have to pinch them out with the pads of your fingers. It doesn’t hurt a bit, and I’ve been doing it since I was sixteen when Mama Thomas, sick of having a wilfully ugly bespectacled daughter, dragged me to the opticians and wailed “there must be SOMETHING you can do!”.
That morning I’d put my contacts in as usual. No bother there, the pad of my single index finger could get close enough to put them in place. But at the end of a very long day, when my poor eyes were tired and sore, and I attempted to pinch the dry discs out, I couldn’t reach them. My claws just wouldn’t let them near enough to get a purchase. I kept trying, desperately trying, until my eyes stinging and raw. After fifteen minutes it was agony to blink, and I was haphazardly clawing at my eyes like Oedipus in drag. I begged my friends to help - “all you’ve got to do is pinch my eyeball!”. Eventually (under some duress it must be said) a true friend, my beautiful friend Ally, stepped up, washed her hands, and half-gagging, pinched the desiccated lenses out of my eyes.
Despite the near-loss of my sight, I’ve been addicted to manicures ever since. There’s no satisfaction like flawless nails. There’s no joy like admiring your fingers as you go about your chores; doing laundry (ooh, nails!), filling the dishwasher (ooh, they look so nice against the white plates!), emptying the bins (hello again, shiny ovals of joy!). There’s no delight like comparing your latest colour against your clothes, your furniture, book covers, cans and cartons in the food cupboard.
When I feel low, the first thing I abandon is personal presentation. I stop caring what I look like, what I wear, what my hair looks like. Applying makeup is a chore, an expulsion of energy that could be better spent hating myself. Even when I’m perfectly well, when I start a 6.00am shift I don’t always feel like applying make-up. But when I’m pulling coffees with beautiful nails, I feel nice. In spite of the bed hair, the lack of make-up, and being dressed for cheap comfort under a distinctly un-foxy grey polyester tabard, catching sight of those little discs of loveliness at my fingertips gives me a lift.
Manicures are a part of my self-identity. They’re a method of self-care and self-love, and a creative inlet – no one else benefits, they’re just for me. But most importantly, my manicures are proof that I care enough about my own happiness to spend time and money on it. They are one of the everyday ways I keep my joy-muscles limber, and stay healthy and happy, and I’ve got a freshly-painted middle finger for anyone who suggests otherwise.
I've recently made a new circle of friends, and on Saturday at the pub the conversation took that inevitable turn for people under the age of ten and over thirty: toilet talk. Like everyone else who'd been on the internet in the last week, we'd been charmed by a lovely little story of a woman who went Number 2 in her date's house, and upon discovering the toilet didn't flush, scooped the little brown bullet out of the bowl and hid it in her handbag for the remaining duration of the date.
We commended her stoicism, her humour, her commitment to Operation Women Don't Poo, and with the giddiness of Girl Guides telling ghost stories, we started sharing horror stories, each filthier than the last, some our own, some second or third hand. It was a glorious bonding exercise. Ultimately it was agreed: when it comes to fledgling romance, nothing puts the skids on like a skid mark.
“Other people should think you've never had a shit in your life” I roared through a mouthful of garlic bread. “How hard is it to use a toilet brush?”
This, as it turned out, is the most controversial thing I've said since the time I'd claimed there was no such thing as a good James Cameron film (to which the mildest man I know yelled “TERMINATOR TWO, YOU DICK!” before stomping out of my sight). Hannah, the only other woman present, narrowed her gimlet-eyes at me. I wondered whether I'd murdered our friendship in its infancy.
“Brushes. Are DISGUSTING.” she hissed. “They get covered in poo, then they sit in your bathroom, stewing in their own little shit bowl. I will NOT share a roof with one”.
“Use bleach! Rinse it with a flush, what's the problem?” A nasty thought dawned on me “what do you do? Don't tell me...? You don't?!”
“Wrap toilet paper around my hand like a mummy, clean up, then wash my hands. All clean, no mess, no festering poostick eyeballing me every time I pass the bathroom”
“But..you put your HAND...in the TOILET? In the WATER!”
“Then WASH THEM.”
This revelation split the group. We argued ferociously, like kings dividing lands, spilling beer are we gestured with half-empty glasses, pizza crusts hurtling through the air as we thumped the table. We all heartily agreed that brown graffiti is unacceptable. But how to deal with a bowl that looks like it's been done over by Jackson Pollock during his brown period?
I'd never considered brushes to be that gross – obviously I wouldn't brush my teeth with one, but I'd rather use one than be on my knees, elbow-deep in a U-bend. Yet here were people HEAVING at the idea: “I WILL NOT GIVE HOUSEROOM TO SATAN'S SHITSTICK!”.
Conversation then turned to a particular style of toilet in Germany with a little shelf inside the bowl, known as a “lay-and-display”, all the better for admiring your bum-fruit before sacrificing it to Hades. Although clinically useful (healthy guts are important), those who had used said porcelain shelves shuddered at the memory. “It's INCHES away from you. I've never appreciated the water barrier so much.”
I turned to my boyfriend, who's remained uncharacteristically quiet during this conversation. I've started staying with him a lot, and last week I bought a toilet brush – although his pan was always immaculate, he didn't have one.
“You don't have anything against the brush, do you?”
He looked defeated, his terrible secret out at last. “I died a little inside when you bought it. I didn't say anything because it made you so happy”.
I'm dating a mummy-hand swabber.
Dearest loveliest followers and supporters.
I've been crowdfunding with Unbound for over a year now, and as neither of my targets have been met I regret that it's time to call it a day. Crowdfunding is a wonderful idea, and I have every faith in my projects, but it's not right for me, or my work.
Unbound is a fantastic company run by wonderful people, and I wish them and their authors every success.
This isn't the end of One Pound Stories (Salt Beef Jack), and there are many, MANY exciting things in development for Healthy Happy Hot - for updates please follow me on:
Again - I'm grateful for every pledge, every tweet and share and message. Not one went unnoticed, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.