REVENGE OF THE PELVIC FLOOR

Slap slap.

Jiggle jiggle.

Feet crunching over pine needles,

and crispy leaves.

Leapfrogging over stones

and bounding across roots.

I am a majestic show pony.

I lean back and thud down the rolling hill.

 

My pelvic floor creaks.

Bladder pipes up,

Oh hi.

Not now, I pant.

I’m Being Brilliant

(can’t you see?)

and running for the first time

in forever.

Forehead slick

and breath escaping noisily

out of the side of my mouth,

like a wrinkly balloon.

I think we need a wee, Bladder says.

Nope. No we don’t.

We had a wee before we left home

and then another one,

just for luck,

before the run started.

You’re empty.

Now shhh.

 

Clop clop.

Crunch crunch.

Nettles scramble across the path

and light muscles its way

through the trees,

hurling miniature strobes at our feet.

 

No really, says Bladder.

I have to go.

Shh – it!

I just weed a bit.

I just Paula-ed.

Only I’m not doing a marathon

but a gentle jog through the woods.

This is not what people who are Being Brilliant do.

Not my fault, says Bladder.

Blame, Pelvic Floor.

 

Oi, Pelvic Floor.

We did our exercises.

(Okay, once or twice.

We were going to get the app

but then we forgot

and we thought we’d remember

to do it on the bus to work.

Like the meditation thing.)

(We’re definitely starting the meditation thing next week.)

I’m Being Brilliant and going on a run

and you’re cramping my style.

Now I have to go and find a bush.

This undignified squat,

the homing beacon stream of pee

that will race menacingly towards my shoe,

the useless shake that will release one final drop

the minute I’ve started pulling my knickers up again

and the damp, ungainly sprint back to my group,

this is your fault.

 

Pelvic Floor is silent as a stone.

Wounded and battered,

a war veteran who can never unsee

what she has seen.

Officially diagnosed as stressed,

like a harassed employee,

I am being punished

for not exercising my pelvic floor.

 

(Karma is a bitch.)

FOR EDIE

My darling girl,

 

(Okay. Yes. You’re only 11 months old, and therefore not exactly able to read this on your own yet, but the internet being the ultimate elephant and greedily hoarding every single thing ever ever ever, you’ll be able to access it at some point. So bear with me. Also, on that note, sorry about all the fanny talk. And the fucks. That’s probably going to annoy you the most, knowing how squawkingly self-righteous I’ll be whenever you swear.)

 

You might not know this yet, but you are part of an incredible team and powerful force for change. Why? Because you’re a woman, my love. For a long time, being a woman hasn’t exactly been the best side to be on. Yes, we get to unapologetically scoff chocolate and peanut butter from the jar for five days every month; make best friends with complete strangers in queues for bathrooms; slap on concealer when we wake up with a huge zit or eye bags from all the wine we necked the night before and, lest we forget, have multiple orgasms. (More on that another time.) But with all those lovely silver linings, come lots of darker, nastier clouds. Only 22% of MPs are women, 30% of all speaking parts in Hollywood are given to women, 13% of FTSE 100 board members are female and 12% of Creative Directors and 30% of Agency Management are women. Then there’s the even muckier statistics. The ones like 54 000 women a year being pushed out of their jobs while pregnant or on maternity leave. 5 in 10 women being routinely harassed at work, with 1 in 10 of them being assaulted. 85 000 women raped a year – though with reports admitting that only about 15% of women even go to the police, the numbers must be far higher. And of the 113 women murdered in 2016, 78 of them were killed by their spouse or partner, with 75% of them happening in their own home. And we can’t feign ignorance or point the finger. Those stats are largely from our country; a supposedly modern, civilised, enlightened society.

 

I’m not saying this to scare you, darling. I’m saying this to demonstrate why I was so scared of you for such a long time. The thought of bringing a girl into the world; a girl who I had to train and teach and toughen up, felt like such a responsibility. No girls for me thanks! I just wanted a gang of boys I could dress in corduroy dungarees who’d wolf down all my meals with glee and bring me foraged treasures from exploring and let me fuss over them even when they’re too old to be fussed over and love me just a teeny tiny bit more because I was the girl of the house. That. I wanted that. That sounded pretty easy, since I thought it was more your father’s job to shoulder the good, male, role model thing. (Try not to judge me too harshly, I was naive and daydreaming about things I didn’t even really understand.)

 

And then you came along.

 

I don’t know if you remember, but we didn’t know what you were when I was pregnant. We kept you a surprise. (Which if I haven’t told you enough, was the best surprise of my entire life.) Obviously, I thought about what you might be a lot. I scrutinised every nudge and roll; every response to certain music or things on the telly; every urge and craving and fancy that needed tickling. When labour came to an almighty, crashing crescendo and your warm, slick body was gently placed on my chest, our bodies still physically connected by the cord that had kept you alive for the last nine months, what gender you were seemed utterly inconsequential. It actually took me at least five minutes to ask the midwife. When they said that you were a she, happiness surged through my bones and out through the ends of my fingers and toes, making my heart thump painfully. At that exact moment I realised I had missed you my whole life. The little niggle I carried with me, the thing I couldn’t quite put my finger on, was you. Having you made me confront all the complicated, messy, jumbled up feelings I had about myself. It showed me I should be more grateful for the body that carried you and then pushed you out (in spite of my unhelpful breathing that kept sucking your head back up); that I could only teach you about self-care if I practiced it myself; that if I wanted you to be proud of your mother that I should do things, every day, that are honest; that if I needed to tell you to be a good person that I had to learn to be someone who gives, instead of someone who takes; that if I asked you to face the world with an unconquerable spirit then I had to show you what that looked like. Every single ounce of energy and motivation I have comes from you.

 

Being a woman can feel impossible at times. It is hurdle after hurdle after hurdle. It’s working your arse off on a massive presentation, only to be talked over in the meeting and complimented on the skirt you wore. It’s getting consistently better grades in science and maths compared to your male peers, but getting bullied and muscled out of ‘male industries’ like engineering and technology because you’re the only woman there. It’s knowing that looks shouldn’t matter and then being bombarded with sly, cruel media that tells you your thighs shouldn’t touch. But things are changing. Last year, a very big man got turned into a very small one. Women’s voices joined together and one story became ten, became a hundred, became thousands, until this voice became a deafening roar that couldn’t be ignored any longer. You see, for ages, we’ve always been told to find our voice. But this movement proved we’ve always had one, it just wasn’t being listened to. The air is fizzing with female solidarity and finally it feels really exciting to be a woman. I don’t know what society is going to look like when you’re 18, or 21, or even my age, but I think people will look back on this time as a turning point. No one said change would be smooth or easy or that we’d fix things overnight, but there are a lot of people out there – women and men – who are fed up with the scales being so skewed; who are fed up with intolerance and misogyny and insidious behaviour. I’m not sure what perfect, or perfect enough, looks like. Maybe the things we’re reaching towards today will be commonplace for you when you’re older, and there’ll be another injustice to wave a banner for that we didn’t even think about. But until that day, I promise I’ll do everything I can now to ensure that, while you’re growing up, you always feel proud and powerful to be a girl.

THE BAD MOTHER

I’ve been a little bit quiet in the last few weeks, as I’ve been trying to do some ‘real’ work; to write less erratically and shake off the thick-tongued slowness that comes with cramming my brain with nappies, pureed vegetables and winding the sodding bobbin up. It’s made me realise that juggling it all is going to be challenge. I’d even started writing another blog about the joys of being able to ditch your baby (more on that another time), but with my, however feeble, attempt at rejoining the working world and the sudden realisation that it’s now December and my maternity leave is drawing to an end, it didn’t really feel right.

 

I’d always planned to go back to work in January. “You’ll be so ready to get back to the real world by then!” people trilled. I’ve been asked over and over again how I feel about it; so much so, that I can feel myself wheeling out the same old tired phrases: “I want my daughter to know that Mummy’s job is just as important and valid as Daddy’s.” “I don’t want her to think that my life stopped because I had her.” “I’m a feminist. We’ve been taught we can have it all.” “I’m not ready to give up my career yet.” Yada yada yada. And I believe it, I really do, but the deliciously snug safety blanket of time protected me from the emotional complexities of any of those words. I’ve not really had to process my decision yet – until now. Now it is December. Which means I’ll be back at work in less than a month and my teeny tiny (though she isn’t, not anymore) baby will be at nursery full time. I want to hide behind a joke and say I’ve not felt this conflicted since the 1998 Spice Girls Christmas song (I wanted to like it, I really did, but the talking bits are just screw-your-face-up-and-hide cringe – and of all the Christmas songs you could have chosen…) but the reality is I’ve never felt this conflicted about anything. Ever. And it was only when my skin broke out like a sulky teenager and I got my third, wincingly sore mouth ulcer in the space of a few days, that I realised my body was yelling at me to stop hiding behind empty platitudes and to acknowledge what was happening.

 

Deep down, I know why Edie will be okay at nursery. Better yet, why she’ll be great. I know that plenty of mothers go back to work, far earlier than I have, and their children turn out just fine. I know that even though it’s the right choice for lots and lots of women out there, if I was a stay-at-mum now I would get bored and complacent. But this new chapter is like a great, yawning precipice. I can’t see the bottom, but I just have to believe that everything will be okay. And believing – really putting your faith in something that doesn’t offer certainty up front, is much harder. For anyone who’s seen the brilliantly funny Motherland, you’ll know the bit in the pilot when the frighteningly perfect and well put together mother (i.e. the heinous bitch) gawps at the main character and pretends to marvel at her ability to “switch off” her kids, and that she’d just die if she had to leave hers. Yeah, she’s a fictional character in a comedy show, but it’s funny because we’ve all met those people; the ones who reel with horror at the selfishness of getting someone else to raise your children while you continue to work. When I watched that scene I could feel my heart twisting into hard little knots. Is that me? Am I a shitty mum? Because the reality is there’s loads of things I’m looking forward to when January rolls around. I’ve missed my bracing walk from the station, jostling for pavement rights with the rest of London as I marched past Borough market, breathing in great lungfuls of flaky pastry, fresh bread and fatty bacon. I’ve missed the Friday flat white I’d treat myself to with rounded up friends, dashing out mid morning and dawdling back slowly as I licked the foamy underside of the lid. I’ve missed gazing in at the shop windows across the road from work, spending imaginary money on floaty shirts or marble drinks coasters I don’t need. I’ve missed that first charge head-on to a new brief, trawling through ideas while curled up on bean bags or feet perched on tables, searching for that warm, tummy glow you get when you’ve landed on something brilliant. I’ve missed the bustle of the lunchtime stampede in the office kitchen, securing my spot in the microwave queue and then lolling at the table swapping weekend plans and moaning about clients. And perhaps most of all, I’ve missed feeling genuinely useful outside of the context of a mother.

 

I want to go back to work, but I don’t want to leave Edie. And there’s my conundrum; the little bastard. I’ve loved my maternity leave, I really have. I’ve been lucky to live in an incredibly family-friendly area, with loads of activities and things to do, within a five minute radius of two, now incredibly close friends of mine with babies the same age as Edie. I’ve felt lots of things over the last six months, many of which are documented in shouty rants on here, but I’ve never felt bored and I’ve never felt lonely. We’re in a little routine now, me and her, cosy in a bubble of unspoiled mummy and daughter time, where I get to greedily hold her close and keep her all to myself. But going back to work changes all of that. Going back to work means I have to hand her over to someone else (a someone who is, admittedly, absolutely lovely) and know that she’ll be the one comforting Edie when she gets fed up, or cross, or tired and teary – not me. I have to learn to divide myself; to be a responsible, loving parent at home and a diligent, professional creative at the office. Working doesn’t change the fact that I’m her mother. I know that. I’ll always be who she calls for and looks to, and my role will continue to change and develop for years to come, but it’s the beginning of her being a little less dependant on me and that much more dependant on herself. However great that is on paper, the reality makes me feel a bit queasy.

 

We all have to balance the multiple selves we neatly store inside us. Being a mother is amazing and I love my daughter wholly and unabashedly, but it’s also just one part of me. Seeing Edie grow into a capable, confident, sociable little child will be all the confirmation I need, but until I feel a little braver about it all, I reserve the right to gaze at hour-old baby photos of her and cry into my tea a bit.

PLEASE GO TO FUCKING SLEEP

[I should preface this whole ranty tirade with the fact that this all happened two weeks ago now. Two weeks that felt like two years. Two years of under-eye bags and glazed expressions, where the days of the week rolled into one another and I woke up every day with a head thick with jumbled, interrupted dreams and a confused hum in the background. Sod waterboarding. I have no idea why torturers haven’t made effective use of The Eternally Sleepless Baby. Said baby, however, has now just spent the last three (three!) nights in a row sleeping beautifully and I have literally sprung out of bed every day feeling refreshed and aliiiive again. Though I don’t want to jinx it by saying that. Ah fuck. I definitely jinxed it didn’t I…]

 

It’s stab-yourself-in-the-eye ironic when, at three in the morning, the words to When You’re Happy And You Know It, sung in Elmo’s ball-clenchingly, helium high voice, are stuck on repeat in your head as you try and soothe your baby back to sleep for the fourth time already that night. Teething slash sleep regression slash classic baby stuff has descended upon our house; which means the lovely, happy baby I used to have has morphed into a raging, dribbling lunatic who no longer conforms to any kind of reasonable sleep pattern. My baby is broken. Unlike the dodgy watch I bought in Brighton with the smiley panda face, I can’t just take her in to be fixed. We have to ride it out together, like a fuckoff big, angry wave charging towards the beach. A wave which is a hundred feet high and full of killer sharks with gnashing teeth. (Which is ironic, as she is still very much toothless, and is instead being plagued by three, teeny tiny, white dots. If the bad bit – when the tooth actually cuts through her poor little gums – is yet to come, we’re screwed.)

 

Edie used to be a champion napper. Her morning naps were like clockwork; 45 minutes snoozing sweetly in the sitting room, an hour and a half after first waking, while I wafted around the kitchen leisurely eating my breakfast before taking a shower. And that was the short one. Unless we were out and about, afternoons were usually spent quietly snoring in the corner while I nursed a pint of Earl Grey and binged on First Dates and Escape to the Country. (Yes. Yes I am making the most of my maternity leave thank you very much.) Naps for days! Just liker her father! The housework got done. (Sort of.) The blogs got written. My underarms were clean. Everyone was a winner. She was even getting pretty good at nights. Sure, she’d wake up the odd time, but by and large I was getting in solid fix to six-hour chunks of sleep every night.

 

But then one night she just… woke up. And wouldn’t go back to sleep again. I shushed and rocked and bobbed and jiggled. And nothing. Those bright little eyes stared stubbornly back at me and after half an hour of trying to shake her to sleep as gently as I could muster, I succumbed and shoved her on the boob. If in doubt, feed her into a sleepy coma! Trying to ignore the “you’re making a rod for your own back” whine in the back of my mind, I let Edie guzzle until she passed out in a milky heap on my lap. I gently, gently placed her down in her basket and tiptoed back into bed before – shit. Kicking the basket. Is the baby awa – yes, yes she is. Right. More boob it is! Waiting until she collapsed again I placed her back in her basket and counted her gentle snore for a few minutes before closing my eyes. Job done. Angry growling and slurpy fist sucking woke me as I slowly came to in the darkness. Jeez, winter is coming in fast. It’s like the bloody middle of the night still! I checked the clock on my bedside table to confirm that it was most definitely still the middle of the night, and not morning as I’d assumed. To be precise, half an hour after I’d put her back to sleep. Fucking bollocks. I groaned loudly, wondering if the snoring lump next to me would sense his wife’s distress and pain and come swiftly to my sleep-deprived aid. Nope. I picked up the hungriest baby in the world and set about jiggling again. We did this little dance for the next three or four hours – up, jiggle, boob, down – until she finally fancied more than half an hour of sleep and slept for about two sweet hours. When Carlo woke the next morning I was sat bolt upright in bed, hair a la Something About Mary, eyes little piggy dots on top of puffy wrinkles, mouth open and dribbly. Not to worry, a day on the sofa doing nothing would sort me right out and she didn’t tend to sleep that badly for a prolonged period of time. Tonight would be better.

 

Only it wasn’t; it was very slightly worse.

 

The evenings got longer and shitter, my heart sinking as bedtime rolled around and I knew I’d be spending the majority of it bobbing up and down like a yo yo. I devoured sleep books and suggestions from friends, but babies need to be introduced to change slowly, so I couldn’t exactly just fling her into her nursery and be done with it. At least when the weekend finally came I had Carlo’s help; a fellow soldier in the trenches who could tough out the enemy’s wailing and be employed to do some serious rocking/shushing while I hid under the covers in shifts. The second week rolled around and I began to fantasise about running away to the closest hotel and closing all the curtains, turning off my phone and burying deep under the covers. I started to categorise my Top Best Sleeps Of All Time and would loll on the sofa, zoning out to old lie-ins, replaying them over and over again like some weird, sleep masturbator. Remember when I slept until two in the afternoon on a Sunday and got all upset because I’d wasted the day? HA! Boo hoo. Fucking selfish wanker with my ‘too much sleep’ problems.

 

And then Edie had her last round of immunisations at the end of the week. They’re never pleasant, but the last two had been hiccup-free so I wasn’t expecting any drama. She was a little cross and grizzly that day (fair enough, she’d been turned into a pin cushion earlier) but fell asleep easily enough at her usual time that night. She woke me at 1 that morning with a banshee wail and a forehead you could fry an egg on, before being Exorcist sick all over herself and me. Usually when she wakes up in the night I sigh and swear under my breath. This was horrible. This was suddenly wide-awake and trying not to panic as your baby starts breathing rapidly, crying desperately and turning into a miniature fireball while you struggle with the bastard Calpol syringe. This was that simultaneous stomach sink and panic rise. We stayed up with her all night, her limp little body plastered to one of us at all times. We cleaned up the seemingly endless tide of vomit and mopped her sweaty brow, gently rocking her as the fever bashed her relentlessly and left her mewling and moaning. Fever made her eyes glazed and quiet, stealing their little twinkle and leaving her stoned and empty. If she wasn’t shrieking and wailing she was quietly creaking and groaning. Babies don’t understand being ill. She was confused and frightened and all I wanted to do was swap with her. That night, I was never so happy to get so little sleep. The next morning was still tough, but something about the simple light of day made the whole situation less nightmarish. By late morning, we got a watery smile. By early evening, we got a symphony of giggles. We had our baby back.

 

As I said at the beginning, the last three nights have been dreamy – she’s been sleeping like a pro. But that one, sleepless night, where she frantically clawed at the air and threw up and up and up, has made me realise I’d take a million restless nights, where she wakes up noisy and starving, over that awful one.

THE POOL

Not just the Good Bodies here -

taut sections of middle, stretched tight over racks of top and bottom bones

- but handfuls of sunburned, freckly, damaged, pillowy skin.

Funny Bodies.

Mismatching Bodies.

Old Bodies.

Strong Bodies.

In the sun, the rules are different.

Skin can be brandished, burnished, proudly displayed for whomever.

A faintly gruesome line of headless bodies ring the glittering water, like a conveyor belt of lumpy sausages.

The more resiliently lazy the hunks of bodies are, the more the hot, Sardinian sea wind blows.

Under a berry tree She and He order sickly sweet mojitos that make their fingers sticky and their top lips tingle.

Their feast is clandestine crisps; crushed underneath a champagne bottle that tastes of salt and vinegar. Condensation clings to the outside before giving into the heat and rolling languidly down the glass sides.

“Are we getting drunk?”

Their smiles are crooked.

The sun beds chatter noisily with the wind, clattering across the hot tiles like menacing, plastic spiders.

In between gusts they can hear tinny music from a phone, punctuating the lull in dislocated bursts, like someone singing the words to a song they can only half remember.

Warm rolls of skin smell like tropical sun cream.

Dark folds clutch onto secrets.

The waiter smiles patiently as he makes them a mojito, again.

The wind pauses and lets the sun burn over her crotch, like a warm hand.

Alcohol hums quietly through her body, spills out of her pores and bounces off the berry tree above them as her bloody gently ricochets off her muscles.

The filter gurgles and spits to itself. Fat softly jiggles as She stalks around the lines of blue, of white; contemplating her next move. 

The tentative toe dip.

Cold shooting up her foot while hot pours down her neck.

He finds She and his face folds up into a sweet smile; strong but soft. Like a kind chair. Something you can wallow in and fall into and never leave. Never ever.

The fifteen minute roll over reveals soft, white underneaths of feet covered in bits of sand and seaweed. 

A love letter from the ocean.

She laughs to herself; this democratic nature of The Pool. 

One man next to her is reading Carl Jung, scribbling notes in the margin, wearing a monocle. 

The lady next to her is picking her pubes. 

The Pool is for everyone. Everyone is welcome at this church where people worship, reverent, silently drinking in their deity.

Hot, cracked mouth kisses other hot, cracked mouth.

Syrup-y.

A lone cat skulks through the grass around the sides, curious and ignored. The Pool, he decides, is not for him after all. 

A SOBERING THOUGHT

Since my you-can’t-ride-a-death-trap midwife almost spat her PG Tips all over me and Carlo read one too many news story about a poor, crushed cyclist under a lorry, Sue hasn’t seen much action lately. And, as much as I love her, in this sombre and soggy weather that clings like a limpet to January, I don’t mind too much. Instead, my baby badge and me have been doing a lot of bus riding (lucky me), slash walking (actually lucky me), which has given me plenty of time for thinking. (Side note on the thinking comment: pregnancy brain is a real thing, people. I covered my entire head in Dove cucumber deodorant before I realised it wasn’t dry shampoo and that my greasy roots still looked like they belonged on a homeless cat. This is not the first time I have done this.) Thinking has meant lots of planning and I’d love to tell you that those plans involve opening a savings account for the baby; finally finding a preggy yoga studio and reading up on the ins and outs (unfortunate phrase use) of Hypnobirthing, but they don’t.

At all.

My plans largely involve what drinks I’m going to have once this baby is out. (For the record: an enormous gin and tonic with a big wedge of cucumber in it, sat outside with the grass tickling my toes; a glass of ice cold, extra dry Prosecco whose bubbles leap up my nose; an evening in front of the telly with a bottle of  warm-ish, 2008 Tamboerskloof Shiraz; a slug of my parent’s homemade silky, smooth sloe gin and and and…)

OK so they wholly involve alcoholic drinks. This is the thing that people neglect to tell you, though, when you’re pregnant. Yes, it’s wonderful. Yes, it’s still the one thing that’s going to blow your mind every time you sit down and acknowledge that you are currently GROWING A HUMAN BEING INSIDE YOU. I know, and have done since the moment that that little cross blinked up at me, that this is the best thing that Carlo and I will ever do. By a mile. But you don’t stop being you. Your priorities change and your habits change and the responsibility piles on, but you don’t morph into a parent overnight. At Christmas and New Year’s, I wasn’t ‘not drinking’ because a magical mum switch had been activated and I was now immune to booze.

“Champagne? No siree! Merlot with my cheese? Eurgh. Get that filth away from me!”

Inside I felt like a raging smack addict, leaning over my husband’s wine to get a big, shuddering whiff before smiling sweetly with glittering eyes and insisting that I was very happy, actually, with my elderflower cordial and tonic water. (Thank God for my lovely, also-pregnant cousin who got me a teetotal drinks book for Christmas. If I have one more elderflower-and-something I’m going to lose it.) I’m itching to sit in a pub again and waste a whole afternoon lolling, lazy-eyed in a velvet cushioned corner drinking wine and laughing ’til I hiccup. I fantasise about eating a cheese so ripe it’s trying to run off the board and smells like something that should be buried or set fire to, instantly. I really, really want to go to the Argentinian restaurant that Carlo and I love and drink mint-laden mojitos chased with tequila shots, that make us wince and whoop and chair dance to the cheesy DJ.

I don’t do all of this, because until June, I am the only person responsible for this little life. It’s up to me to make sure the baby enters this world healthy and happy. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to.The endless, gooey, new-parent blogs, articles, emailers and TV advertising sell us saints; mother Marys who smile with glee while their boobs get veiny and pendulous and the heartburn makes them burp like your Grandma at the supper table because her hearing aids clearly don’t work and she thinks you can’t hear. These carefully crafted robots don’t help us. In fact, they just make you feel even more selfish and awful when you wish you weren’t pregnant for just ten minutes so the constipation would let you have a normal bloody poo, or that you could have one night off to leap up and down with wild abandon on a crowded, sweaty dance floor. And therein lies my first parenting lesson I suppose; understanding small sacrifices and that from now on, every decision I, and we, make will now include another little person. And even though we haven’t met yet, I know they’re worth skipping it all for.

 

WHEN CYCLING TRUMPS BULLSHIT

I’ve rather neglected this blog of late. OK really neglected. The weather’s just been so wet; so grim; so relentlessly English. Cycling to work has not been fun. I’ve not been gulping in lungfuls of fresh air, staring goggle-eyed at the beautiful houses I whizz past and trying to imagine what kind of furniture they have or what colour their walls are or what the inside of their fridge looks like. I’ve not been humming nonsensically in my head, breathing in the buttery morning croissants when I pass the Sainsbury’s bakery or the roasting coffee beans that get released into the London air every time a customer walks in or out. Nope. I haven’t been doing any of this.

Instead, I’ve been cycling with my head down and chin thrust deep into my scarf, my breath clinging to its wooly hairs in little, dewy drops. No tuneless whistling, chirpy smiles to pedestrians or letting cars turn into streets in front of me, I’ve been cycling with my teeth gritted and a permanent, grumbling mutter. It’s all fun and games when the sun is shining and you feel like you’ve won the commuter lottery because look how packed and shit that bus that just trundled past you is. But when the sky is menacing and the clouds are looming then the whole outdoorsiness of cycling rather loses its appeal. Like the shine slowly wearing off public transport for a returning tourist.

And don’t get me started on how hard it is to dress properly for the cold. A massive coat is silly. A wind proof jacket is frankly pathetic. Winter cyclists are doomed to either start their cycle freezing their tits off, longing for the bit when their heart rate picks up and their nether regions feel less like they’re sitting in an icy tundra, or toasty and cosy for the first five to ten minutes before rapidly getting uncomfortably sweaty. Basically, when it’s cold and grey and wet it’s just pants.

But last week the supposedly unthinkable happened; the one thing that all the experts and clever people and polls assured us wouldn’t really, actually, happen. And when the world did a small, shuddering grind to a halt and looked around, gobsmacked and bruised, my bike became the best thing in the whole world. My bike, good ol’ Sue, transformed herself into a little island. A Geneva of calm. Sue hid me from the endlessly miserable articles that littered the train carriages; from the wrinkled, harrowed expressions on the faces pressed up against each other and the bitter grumblings of an entire Facebook timeline who had miraculously all turned into professional, political commentators overnight. Sue gave me twenty-three minutes of blissful silence on the way to work and on the way back again; a blissful vacuum that didn’t demand anything or shout and clamour. She didn’t foist weird, conspiracy theories on me or drone on about how she saw this all coming. She didn’t ask me seven times if I’d heard about Canada’s immigration site crashing mere minutes after the results came through or tell me that anyone who was still considering raising children in this kind of a world was basically a self-flagellating idiot. She didn’t say that civilisation was over as we knew it. She didn’t awkwardly confess to admiring his “authenticity”. (HA.)

She didn’t say a word.

She just let me cycle to work. And then cycle back. Forty-six whole minutes of peace. (Yes, cycling through rowdy, central London absolutely was peaceful in comparison.) Sue was a welcoming lesson in meditative cycling and how, sometimes, it’s the simple things that make all the fucked-up-ness feel a little less fucked up.

BECOMING A CYCLIST (ride one)

Today’s the day! I’ve passed my probation period, I’ve got my ride-to-work certificate thingy approved and I’ve scuttled out of work to go bike shopping. Gripping tightly onto my voucher, it feels like the best present ever. Even though, technically, I’m going to be paying for it out of my salary for the next twelve months. As I waltz into Evans with a very small hangover, I suddenly get a little flustered by a very handsome man (who are these men? Neither professional cyclists nor shop assistants, they’re nonetheless dressed as if they’re just about to go out for a ride; constantly walking down the stairs to The Basement or dishing out allen keys and yelled-across-the-room advice on cleats to regulars. They’re like the barmen of the cycling world.) who wants to know how he can help.

It’s then that I realise I know literally nothing about bicycles, especially since I’ve been temporarily blinded by his white, flashing teeth and have forgotten what the name of the bike I quite fancied online is called. Mercifully, I remember it after only a few minutes of slightly weird mumbling. A Bobbin Brownie! The mint green one! That’s what I want. Yes, siree. I try to engage him in what I think sounds like sensible bicycle conversation chat: So is that the kind of hybrid, wheeled, thing I should bike, around, erm, safely and daily – er, in the streets? He’s not exactly bowled over by my cycling knowledge but nods vaguely and we both pretend that I didn’t say anything. After ordering my bike he shepherds me around the shop to various accessories (helmet: check, lock thing: check, wicker basket: check) and I choose everything based entirely on its colour. He says that’s okay. We both know he thinks I’m an idiot. Finishing up is a bit of an anticlimax, as I’d had a vision of breezing out of there on my new steed. But it has to be ordered, sent to them, and then put together by them. I’m very glad I’m not expected to Put It Together. It’s then that I realise at some point I should learn how, just a little bit, in case my wheel flies off at a t-junction (you never know) and I can calmly and coolly pop it back on, no big deal.

So I wander out and a few days later I get an email beckoning me back in-store to collect it. Handsome man isn’t there and someone with less time on their hands and more spots on their chin hands my bike over. She’s so pretty. I do a little clap and turn to say thank you but he’s already wandered off. My basket was probably a dead giveaway that I would have nothing interesting, cycling-related, to talk about with him. I want to name her (she’s definitely a she, since she’s all pastel-y and pretty) but I resist the urge until we’ve had the first cycle ride and I know her a little more. (Yes. That’s a perfectly normal thing to say out loud to other people.) Before I even leave it takes me fifteen minutes to work out the allen key properly to adjust my seat, almost knock over the same bike twice, back into an unassuming human foot and nearly send my bike crashing three times. Suddenly, the realisation that I need to cycle home from the shop – on actual roads with actual cars, lorries and buses – dawns on me, and I want to vomit into my basket. I only know one way home (the way I’d walk or bus to work) and feel like the one-handed use of Google maps whilst cycling is probably frowned upon, so I take a deep breath and decide to copy all the other cyclists going home. I only get almost-squashed by a bus once (going round the fairly horrifying Elephant and Castle roundabout) and I’m fairly sure the high pitched screaming was all done in my head. Arriving home less than half an hour later, I pull off my helmet (white, with one green and one purple strap) and walk dizzily into my house. Yes I have flop sweat. And my hair looks bedraggled. And I will definitely need some modesty shorts the next time I wear a dress. But I’m in a good mood! And my journey was free! Take that, public transport. These cyclists had been on to something all along and now I was in on it too. *karate chop*