Sunday, 30 November 2014

Chapter Three

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” – Kate Moss.

I am eighteen and things have improved for me in the last couple of years. I got twelve GCSEs, one AS level, three A Levels and a part time job in shop. I made some good friends, learnt that I really, really like pineapple Bacardi Breezers, kissed five boys and have just got into university to study English and drama. I have ‘blossomed’ says everyone. Apparently I am normal after all. Or at least, I’m doing an Oscar winning performance of my new favourite character: Eve, Normal Girl.

And I have, at last, found my talent. When I was eight, three girls in my class did an adorable little presentation on ‘self confidence’. At the end of it, they gave everyone a tiny piece of paper on which we were to write down one thing we were good at ‘to keep in our pencil cases for when we felt sad’. I remember how I stared at that piece of paper and cried all afternoon because I couldn’t think of anything to write on it. Now I wish I could go back in time and tell eight year old Eve that she was wrong! Because I do have a gift after all: I am very good at being thin.

I’m absolutely wonderful at it in fact. I can put my hand up behind my ribcage, I can hang things from my hipbones (at least I’m sure I could if I wanted to), in a pinch you could use me as a prop in a human anatomy class. I am a self crowned Queen of the Lollipop Heads. Granted, this has its downside. I get a lot of headaches, bruise easily and my periods (which eventually started at 15) have stopped and so I’m concerned about being infertile again. But I don’t care. It’s worth it; when my size six prom dress had to be taken in, people said ‘you’re so lucky’. When I wear a tank top, other girls marvel at my concave stomach and say they wish theirs was the same. In 2004 when you’re a middle-achieving, awkward virgin, skinniness is the great equaliser. Now I can say to myself, ‘hey! I do have something special after all: willpower.’

Of course, this sexless skeleton is more than just a costume. It’s my life’s work. Like all things worth having it takes time and dedication. I know its angles and statistics better than I know my phone number and I am incredibly organised. Taking Weight Watchers as my inspiration, I have devised a points system. I’m allowed 8 points a day, maximum. A rice cake is worth 1 point, an apple is worth two, a yoghurt or a jar of baby food is worth 4 and a slice of toast is worth 6. Coffee, alcohol and laxatives are a free for all. I can earn an extra point with 50 sit ups. It sounds complicated, but actually the beauty of this system lies in the simplicity of its central equation:

More food + less exercise = fatter. Bad.

Less food + more exercise = thinner. Good.

It’s so easy, even I have managed to grasp it. And yet, deep down, I feel certain it’s all unreal. When people comment on my size (some appraisingly, others with concern) I feel like I’ve defrauded them. Somehow, I have convinced everyone that I’m slim when actually I’m not. I’ve lost the ability to feel reassured by what my eyes tell me. I step on and off the scales 15 times to be sure what they’re telling me is true, I count my items in the fridge again and again in case I’ve eaten something and forgotten about it, and I stare into mirrors at a reflection that has lost all meaning.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Chapter Two

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” – William Faulkner, Light in August

“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, Eva sleeps tonight” sing my peers as I walk past. I haven’t managed to work out why the implication that I am a wild beast has become their weapon of choice and I bear the burden very ill. I am fourteen, highly strung and unpopular.

My mantra that “if I worry about it, it will never happen” isn’t working so well for me these days, though that doesn’t stop me applying it. Every night I worry about the slaps, the names and the singing. I worry about the phlegm which christens the back of my neck, the taunts and the gestures. It continues to happen and I become obsessed with it, and (it gives me no pleasure to confess) obsessed with myself.


1.       a persistent unwanted idea or impulse that cannot be eliminated by reasoning.

2.       a recurring, distressing idea, thought or impulse that feels "foreign" or alien to the individual.

3.       compulsive preoccupation with an idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
I hate my voice, I’ve heard it on tape. It’s annoying, posh and every shrill syllable conveys my deepest insecurities. My face is like a potato – round and lumpy and plain. My hair is even flatter than my chest and I’m stupid. Everything about me, from my body to my thoughts to my failure to grasp long division is irrefutable evidence of my schoolfellows’ case against me: I am a freak. I’m a weirdo, a loony and a retard.

Every disturbing or horrid phenomenon I come across must, surely, apply to me. Racist? Undoubtedly – I am sure I had a bad thought about a non-white person once. Dyke? Paedophile? I’m not even sure what either of these things is and I’m afraid to find out because I know they’re bad words and so I am probably one or the other or both. Hermaphrodite? Sounds about right – I probably do have some male genitalia I don’t know about. I stare sometimes at my body, comparing it to the drawing of a generic adolescent girl in my ‘Growing Up’ book. Her breasts are definitely bigger than mine and her hips are much wider. It’s so she can have children, the book explains. I will never have children. Even if I don’t have a penis in place of a womb I am almost certainly infertile, ever since I stood too close to that microwave. Every time it’s on I go into another room but it’s no good; I can still feel it cooking my ovaries. It tingles. My periods haven’t started because my eggs have all been scrambled by proximity to microwaves (that’s if I don’t have sperm instead).

I miss being thirteen. When I was thirteen all I had to worry about was being the Virgin Mary. Just as I had once prayed to God to spare me from orphancy, now I prayed to be spared the humiliation of an immaculate pregnancy. As a meek virgin with a working knowledge of scripture, I feared I was a frighteningly good candidate to carry the second coming of Christ. But I was already struggling at school – both academically and socially – and I didn’t think I could cope with a child. One bizarre conversation to which my long-suffering mother was subjected involved me asking her if she’d believe me if I told her God had got me pregnant. To her maternal (or perhaps Christian) credit, she assured me that she would.

Luckily, I no longer have to worry about being the Virgin Mary. Because in between the school toilets, the boy who spent last biology lesson attempting to insert biros up my backside through the hole in the bench, the ones outside the sixth form college who grab and grope me when I walk past and the thoughts in my head, I am pretty certain I no longer qualify as ‘pure’ enough to gestate Jesus. So in a sense, every cloud really does have a silver lining.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Chapter One

Love and fear are one

The same, pride turns to shame

And all is never well

I am seven years old and my brother Joe is five. We have a tin of Quality Street between us on the carpet, in the corner of the room Aled Jones is walking in the air with a snowman, and one of our grannies dozes on the sofa while the other clatters around the kitchen. All of us are full of roast potatoes and trifle.

Joe is playing with his new pirate ship and eating the gold Quality Streets. I am eating the purple ones and trying not to cry.

“How long have they been gone now?” I ask.

“About half an hour. They’ll be home soon, I’m sure they’re fine” soothes a granny.

“I’m not going to bed until they’re home.”

We are talking about my parents, who have gone to check on granny’s house and switch some lights on; despite living only a mile away, Dad’s mum stays the night at our house every Christmas and our parents walk off the excesses of the day by ‘checking’ hers in the evening. Years later they will laughingly tell us how they’d often ‘had a quickie’ in Dad’s old bedroom and popped in for a drink with the neighbours. If only I had known at the time that they were having so much fun, my Quality Street wouldn’t have been washed down with quite so many swallowed tears.

At the tender age of seven I am already Mummy’s little worrier. Her evenings have been filled with such topics as, “nobody at school likes me”, “where will we live if you and Daddy die?”, “what if some of us are good enough to go to heaven and some of us aren’t? Will we never see each other again?” and “if you, me or Joe gets ill will Daddy pray?” (Daddy’s  atheism troubles me.) In the midst of one of my existential crises she reassured me “if you worry about it, it will never happen”. This to me was a revelation. That all my worrying was saving us from the very things which it focused on was wonderful news; I didn’t need to worry after all! No, wait, I did...

And so that’s what I’m doing on Christmas night in 1993. I am channelling my sugar high into being the most disciplined worrier there ever was. I am conjuring up every possibility of my parents’ demise and willing each of them not to happen. I start with them being murdered; the streets, in my view, are a dangerous place after 4pm. Then I think about them being electrocuted; I imagine that in her Christmas morning excitement Granny could have left a tap on – one flick of a switch could mean instant death for one of my parents and the other will be stood, devastated, over their spouse’s electrocuted corpse. Next I picture them bring run over; other people are probably a lot more relaxed about drink driving at Christmas...

After each gruesome scenario has forced its way, uninvited, into my childish mind and I have worried fervently to stop it happening, I seal the deal: hoping nobody notices what I am doing, I clasp my chocolatey hands together and move my lips in silence, “Dear God, please please please don’t let them die.”