Vanishing Tricks

The ballet barre was a Christmas present.  It was matt black, had a slightly bevelled appearance and was made of the kind of material that would never warm up and this was its greatest advantage; as a hot sweaty pre-teen then teen, I would spend hours pressing different parts of my face and cheeks against its implacable surface as balm to my feverish hormonal outbreaks.

Thinking back, it was probably actually a dress-rail on its lowest setting.  It was stand-alone with little feet on wheels.  Yes, it was a dress-rail, something that became more obvious once we started plonking discarded shell suits and training bras on top of it.  My mother still uses it as her ‘holiday rail’ because of its ability to hold an inordinate number of white linen trousers without crumbling.


The point is, it was purchased as a gift for me, as a ballet barre.  At the time, I consumed dancing, aiming always to be on the cover of The Dancing Times, a magazine which consistently featured a dancer mid – feat on its front cover. I wanted to be photographed en pointe, in attitude, my leg an impossible curve reaching up between my shoulder blades.  And I would go to dancing lessons three or four times a week to help me achieve this.  and because I was young and there was bit less flesh between my waist and thigh (and I don’t just mean buttock here, I mean that spread of flesh which creeps up round the sides towards the middle), I could fling my legs back and strike a pose that could pass for a Dancing Times Cover.  But I didn’t practice at home.  The ballet barre, like the stereotype of every ballet teacher that you have ever come across in film or fiction, remained in the corner, aloof and imperious but unused except as a cool resting place for my cheeks or temporary (read permanent) clothes hanger.

Aged 16, I got thick.  That aforementioned bit near my middle , though by no means as prodigious as it is now, suddenly toughened up and refused to budge for arabesques or attitudes and jumps, any jumps, took a nano-moment of effort and consideration before execution.  In response, I did what some girls would do in this situation; I cried, ate more, felt bad, tried a detoxifying seaweed wrap, ate cottage cheese, ate more then ate nothing.  And still my body failed to live up to expectations.  And now the ballet barre offered little cool comfort to my fired cheeks, displaying all the summer dresses, flimsy playsuits and bandeau tops that represented my attitude-flinging, floaty-jumpy past self.


Yes, I’m equating body size and success – not because it’s right, but because it;s how it was.


If only I’d listened to the ballet barre, i think I would have made some different decisions.  After all, I was talented, but not resilient.  I should perhaps have taken it up on its silent challenge and practised.  Working on my technique and strength may have kept me in attitude for a bit longer, but I felt at the time a bit silly on my own and besides Golden Girls was on.

But that’s working on the assumption that I wanted to strike a pose badly enough.  the humiliation of not being ‘good’ anymore was great, but not so great that I would switch off Rue McClanahan.  I didn’t do anything to change the situation, except starve myself, which felt like control and looked to me at least, like success.  Maybe the ballet barre was begging to be a full time clothes rail, that I should give up, if giving up was what I wanted to do.

The choice I made, my vanishing trick, was a semblance of choice.  I punished myself by not eating and I’m still negotiating this terrain today.  i could have built up my resilience, kept practising, gone for it and felt that transcendent joy that comes from working hard at something.  Or I could have made a damn decision, sacked it off, filled my life with other, better things (like food).  But my vanishing trick was successful at the time; I was thin and I had no energy so I could fall between the gaps.  And it felt lovely for a bit.  But now when I see young women (mostly) making that false equation between success and silence, both physical and mental,  I hope that they have a ballet barre or a clothes rail or just somewhere to lay their hot heads in the summer and think again –  and reflect – and that they decide to make a choice and not pull a vanishing trick.

Spot check

Last night, while I was watching a Golden Eagle on the telly, my fingers instinctively reached up to my chin.  I didn’t need to scratch, nor was I suddenly aware of a bit of errant tomato landed there; my digits found a warm, pulsating shiny-feeling lump under the dermis; a burgeoning zit.


How did my fingers know that?  No matter how, they’d led me to he motherlode.  And I went through all the stages of spot-grief; denial (it may be a bite?), anger (oh for God’s sake, why, you bloody thing?) To acceptance (I’ll put something on it in a bit).  


At 36, it is not befitting to get spots and it’s even more excruciating if you spend your day surrounded by teenagers, scrutinsing every inch of you in favour of actually listening to what you have to say about Wilfred Owen or complex sentence formation.  In utopia, spots would bring us together, but they rarely do.  You spend the whole day thinking that the blushing beacon on your face is the subject of every adolescent quip and aside. It’s a jungle. So here’s how I deal.


Firstly, don’t use the ironically named concealer.  I know all the stuff about ‘leaving the area to breathe’, but ultimately, foundation or base just gathers around the base of a zit, clustered like druids around a monument, highlighting the big white head that forms stealthily at the centre.  Don’t try and make it a beauty spot using eyepencil either, for the very same reason.  Instead, adopt a series of increasingly mannered facial contortions and use your eyebrows animatedly to try and draw off face-perverts.  If anyone appears to be looking too closely or too long at a particular hot zone, redouble your efforts.  The thought of the spot on your face will soon be replaced with our about your sanity.  And that is far easier to manage than spot fixation.


So far today, this technique has proved effective, but I fear that I may have merely angered the ‘red one’ and must now face its retribution.  It’s getting bigger.  So I’ll have to go with strategy number two: the polo or turtle neck.  This is a risky game to play, as inevitably at some points tomorrow, the zit will get caught in the fibres of the jumper, which has the same effect as tickling a lion.  There will be blood!


Perhaps I should just take the day off.  Teenagers can be so so cruel and i am such an idiot.

Girl from space

c1c3a75f5b078aac3a1ead5cf64822efAbout 5 years ago I went to see a comic who was warming up for an Edinburgh stint.  It had all the hallmarks of an Edinburgh stint warm up show; a lot of the material was sketchy, and the comic was making little asides to himself and jotting notes in a pad about which jokes worked and which didn’t.  The loudest laughs came from a section where the comic talked about the absurdities of women’s fashion, and it’s a section that I’ve seen him replay on TV comedy quiz shows on more than one occasion.

I don’t mind.  It is a good bit.  The comic talked about the current trend for big bags (popularised by Victoria Beckham amongst others) and tiny, high heeled boots.  With big hair.  It’s what is called in fashion mags a ‘ groomed’ look, and suggests wealth and glamour.  The comedian used it for reductio ad absurdum; if we followed this trend doggedly, the world would be populated by women transformed into some sort of dinosaur throwback, tottering around on heels, bent double by the weight of their bags, half blinded by their own hair.

He told it a lot better than I did.  As you can tell, because it’s an image that has stayed with me longer than the name of the comedian did.  I’ve never been particularly interested in fashion, beyond aspiring to look like Bette Davis in the latter section of Now, Voyager and realistically being satisfied with my effort if I wear something other than jeans.  But I recognised the style of dress that he talked about and I recognise the pain that it must, it will, cause if subscribed to everyday.

Manchester is a curious place for fashion.  People work very hard to belong to a particular clique.  At the moment, any Friday Night in the Northern Quarter, a war is being waged between the hipsters (attire:  vintage, plaid shirts, cropped tops mix and match) and the glamour crowd (short structured dresses, fake tan, backcombed hair).  I never witness these wars, because I’m usually tucked up at home writing another bloody blog, but I do witness the fallout on a Saturday morning.  Today, as I stepped out for my acupuncture appointment (for regular readers the soundscape today was Clayderman revisiting Bryan Adam’s back catalogue and the beachtowel I was under was turquoise), I witnessed a child born of a fashion war.

She was dressed in black shiny lycra leggings with a short cream cropped top, with high heeled, peep toe boots.  Her hair fell as straight as water from Niagra Falls and her make up made her face take on a strange sheen.  Anyone educated in Britan during the eighties was probably made to watch the ‘Look and Read’ series.  In which case, you may have seen ‘The Boy from Space ‘ (indeed how could you forget it, so brilliant and strange it was) – that is the only way I can describe the pallour she achieved.  She had inked in a severe pair of eyebrows and a thick battalion of eyelashes to keep any enquirers at a safe distance. She was walking past a Greggs’ when i saw her.

Listen, I don’t really give a shit what anyone wears.  In fact, being such a fashion scaredy cat, I admire anyone who makes considered effort to express themselves through clothes and then has the chutzpah to ‘style it out’.  But at least enjoy it!  I went to Goldsmiths College, where people regularly dressed as sculpures or magic eye posters, but they owned it; they wanted to talk about the way they looked and what it meant.  More often than not, they dressed like that because it made them happy.  On the other hand,  this girl looked scared, defensive, hostile.  She had made incredible effort to be noticed for her choices but her attitude was so withdrawn and blocked that I felt sorry for her.  Also, she looked in pain; not in that carefree ‘ oh well my feet are going to kill me tomorrow but for tonight I’m going to knock em dead’ sort of way.  This was midday on a Saturday on a day as cold as a well-digger’s ass, where everyone around her was dressed in normal waffley stuff, like fleeces and scarves.  She was wincing, but covering her pain with defiance; don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, don’t anything.  How had she arrived at that kind of fashion?

Fashion is inevitable, because society says that we have to wear clothes, and to choose clothes, we have to make choices, whether fashionable or not.  Why make the choice to be in pain and then not even enjoy the effect you create, or have a damn good time looking the way you do?  I know that I sound as if I am hobbling ever forward on my Zimmer Frame towards a sensible seniority, but I don’t remember fashion being like this when I was a lass.  Even punk was aggressively, flamboyantly playful, not self-consciously agonising.

Please, young ladies and gentleman, wear weird stuff.  We all did it, at least once.  And it gives older people the opportunity to laugh with you (not at you; it reminds us, joyfully, of our own teenage wardrobe malfunctions).  But please, embrace it; do it with a smile.  Too soon you will feel the horrifying warmth of fleece and know that your time in lycra leggings was too brief and you will regret not spending it with a smile on your face.