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Childless by design: why don’t I have a maternal bone in my body?

I’m a younger child in a family of six kids. I’m all the things you’d expect from someone born last (-ish, I have a little bro. It’s complicated). I’m a bit of a show off on the quiet, I’m funny (haha!), cheeky, like my own way, a bit wild, a bit unreliable, a bit unpredictable. I’m fiercely loyal and passionate, and probably quite a handful.

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Getting ink: why your middle ages is the best time ever to get a tattoo

I am a total daddy’s girl. My dad is the most quietly wonderful person that ever lived. I adore him.

roses

I love him so much I got a tattoo.

It’s a big one, on my right shoulder, of a rose from my dad’s garden. Some people love it, some hate it. Most couldn’t give a monkey’s. My dad thinks I’m an idiot. But then he thinks that anyway (not really, he just has no idea where I came from). He is mostly bemused. He is 84 and can’t understand why a woman would want a tattoo. Anyone other than a old-school sailor, to be honest.

tat

Freshly dug…

I love it. I’ve had it for three years now and it’s as fresh and bright and gorgeous as the day I got it (four and a half hours of non-stop writhing pain – my tattooist was an artistic genius, but a brutal one; he liked to dig DEEEEP).

I waited until I found the perfect artist, but also ’til my mum was dead, before I finally booked my appointment – I’m not daft, she would have gone crazy nuts (I can feel her angry disappointment from here, from the grave). When my dad first saw my tat he was pretty horrified, he said, “Why would you do that? What about when you’re older?!”. He is such a modest and unassuming man and just couldn’t comprehend that I would want to declare my love for him in as obvious and permanent way as this, writ large on my shoulder for the world to see. But that’s the point. I laughed and said, “Dad – I AM older!”.

“Actually, yeah you are. Fair point”, he said.

But it’s true, I AM older. Although I look like someone in my early 40s (so I’m told), I’m nearly 50 (though I act a lot younger – yeah, I’m immature). Even writing that is so bizarre that it boggles my brain. Really fucks with it. But if it means that I get to have a tattoo and not give a crap, then fine. I’m inked. I’m older. Cheers, dad.

Sleepless in Sheffield #2

It was my birthday last week. I am now 49. I feel 89.

insomnia

Up to last Sunday night, I hadn’t slept for six months. Well, of course I’d slept (or I’d be dead), but I hadn’t slept well. Not at all.

Because my nervous system – sent completely whacko by the drop in female hormones – had apparently  gone into free fall, flooding my system with adrenaline and cortisol. Yup, that’s ADRENALINE AND CORTISOL, the fight-or-flight hormones that your body usually releases at times of stress or DANGER and which – rightly – send your blood pumping and your heart racing, so you’re ready to react quickly to, say, a saber-toothed tiger chasing you, or a runaway train heading your way. It’s not really for sleeping, unless your usual place of rest is on the edge of a cliff or inside a bear’s cave.

Fluctuating cortisol levels cause hot flushes – plus panic attacks, anxiety etc. My hot flushes had become more and more intense; making me feel like I’m going to faint and puke at the same time. Also, making my heart race and giving me scary palpitations (and sending my previously healthy blood pressure soaring). The sauna-level heat is almost secondary (I actually steam car windows up) – it’s the sickening feeling like YOU’RE GONNA DIE bit that really got to me. Yeah, that’s a nice feeling.

And, sleeping with cortisol whizzing around your body? “Whiz” is about right: not a chance in hell. I wake up half an hour after I’ve gone to sleep, then every hour, virtually on the hour. Horrific. I was a serious and chronic insomniac for many years and I was terrified I was going back to the bad time.

Being proactive and trying to manage my irksome insomnolence, I took off the week leading up to my birthday in order to bank some sleep (to at least attempt to enjoy my birthday celebrations), and also to do some writing. I did neither. Instead, I sat around like a stoned, tearful zombie incapable of any real thought apart from the vacant notion that this menopause will be the death of me.

Eight weeks before, I was three months into the hot flushes/insomnia/brain fudge and – wanting to embrace my menopause naturally and accept it as part of my journey as a woman (!) – I decided to manage my menopause symptoms with 1. some herbs and plants and 2. a fanny magnet. Yup, you heard right. The herbs didn’t do much (though they turned my wee a nice radioactive yellow) so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying out the fanny magnet (otherwise known as Lady Care). Quite frankly, the idea that a magnet can re-balance your body’s nervous system sounded like crazy talk, but I was willing to try anything by this point. It My good friend Jennifer Denys bequeathed me hers (after a good scrub, obviously) – it hadn’t worked for her, but we had high – desperate – hopes for me. So, did it work? Well, something did stir after I first stuffed it down my knickers, but it didn’t last, sadly. The story of my life.

So. Fast forward to the week before my birthday and I’m sat in my new doctor’s office, a teary wobbly puddle of off-the-scale tired/wiredness and practically begging him for HRT. Bollocks to embracing my menopause naturally – GIVE ME THE FREAKIN’ DRUGS.

My new doc came good and, thankfully agreeing that my high blood pressure would see me off far sooner than any other associated hormonal health risks, hit me up. Whoop! It took four more tortuous days to kick in but deep, blessed, WONDERFUL sleep finally came – fittingly – on Sunday, the day of rest. Praise be. And welcome back sore tits, crippling stomach cramps and “stuck pig”-level bleeding – I may feel like someone’s removing my hitherto withered womb via my fanjita with a crochet hook but MY GOD, how glad am I to see you.

taking-drugs-legitimate-medical-reasons-happy-birthday-ecards-someecards

I’ve been wondering why nature got this so bloody wrong. Why do so many women have to suffer so terribly as their poor bewildered bodies go into a blind panic at the ending of fertility, and often never come out? And then it hit me: we were never supposed to live past menopause. Of course. D’oh. It’s only relatively recently (in the evolutionary scheme of things) that our average lifespan has gone past 40 years. There was no need to design us with a physiological, post-hormonal coping mechanism. So, there is no fall-back plan, no “what do we do after?”, no plan B. Just hot, sleepless, brain-melting misery. Or drugs. And I know I can’t have them forever, but for now I’m taking the drugs – I’ll deal with my particular after if and when it comes.

Happy birthday to me. Welcome back, me.

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Hi there! I’m Marianna and this is my stuff.

I’m a late-40s woman from the glorious North of England and I’ve recently entered (*stage-whisper*): “the menopause“. Dah, dah, DAAHH…

me and dog

So. Things have begun pretty dramatically and I’ve got a feeling I’m on the road to a strange and foreign land, so I’ve decided to share my journey – along with any other ramblings about anything and everything that pokes my bonnet or makes me smile – warts and all. Actually, there are no warts but there will undoubtedly be some blood and guts – and more than a few TMI moments – so if you have a weak stomach you might want to cover your eyes now and again.

I’m a woman, but I’m not a “lady”. And as such, I have some pretty strong views about…ooh…allsorts. And unlike the perfect dinner party guest I’ll talk about politics, religion (I’m a pretty militant ex-catholic), sexuality  and anything else that gets me going – but I’ll also share nice stuff, funny stuff, and stuff that enriches us; mind, body and soul.

I believe that we’re all in this together so I’m unashamedly into the well-being of my fellow earthlings, whether spiritual, mental or physical.

And I’m not one for mincing my words, so if you’re at all offended by the occasional spirited rant and bout of creative cursing then, sadly, I may not be for you.

But if you’re ok with some/all of the above, then read on: it won’t always be pretty, but I think – I hope! – it’ll be entertaining…

proust

 

Flora margarine: fake food fuckery

I have a thing about marketing. Yes, I’m a marketer, but I’m not a traditional marketer. I’m more your guerilla marketer (although I was a very hairy baby so “gorilla” is perhaps more fitting), and I actually have a few principles; one of them being that I won’t market anything that involves deceiving people.

I can’t stand cynical marketing that deliberately cons people. On this, I’m with the wonderful Bill Hicks:

But others aren’t quite so principled. Take Unilever’s Flora range, for example. Unilever’s advertising would have us believe that their products are actually better than the very things they’re replicating. Things like butter, and olive oil. Better than these.

So, let’s play a game.

Guess how many ingredients are in “Flora Buttery”. 

Ok, I’ll tell you. It’s 14.

Yup.

This “food” contains FOURTEEN ingredients:

Vegetable oils in varying proportions (70%) (sunflower, rapeseed, palm and linseed), water, BUTTERMILK (12%), salt (1.5%), emulsifier (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), citric acid, preservative (potassium sorbate), natural flavouring (contains MILK), vitamins A and D, colour (carotenes).

Sounds delicious, hmmm..? Get it on your crumpets. Or maybe not.

Ingredients in butter? Erm…butter (well, cream actually).

"Western-pack-butter" by Steve Karg, aka Skarg at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Western-pack-butter.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Western-pack-butter.jpg

“Western-pack-butter” by Steve Karg, aka Skarg at en.wikipedia

And then we have Flora Cuisine: a “yummy” liquified version of Flora margarine that Unilever are peddling as a healthy alternative to olive oil – with a mere 16 ingredients, this time. Yes, you heard that right.

Healthier than olive oil. 

They used to say this outright but have obviously had their knuckles rapped for being economical with the truth (ie blatant lying), so instead they’ve put in it shifty Markety Flim-Flam: “And because it’s lower in saturated fat than olive oil and high in omega 3, it’s a healthy choice too”. Okaaaaay. Well, aside from the fact that  Unilver are implying that their lab-created concoction is better for us than (pure, natural) olive oil, 1: olive oil contains only 14% saturated fat anyway, and 2: despite what some food companies want you to believe, natural saturated fats are not bad for you after all: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/10October/Pages/Saturated-fat-link-with-heart-disease-questioned.aspx. More on that in another post.

Oh, and ingredients in olive oil?? Oil. From olives.

I don’t need to quote that well-worn “margarine is two molecules away from plastic” internet story at you for you to know that this sort of chemically produced stuff is just not good for us. This sort of non-food is what makes people ill – not natural fats, saturated or not. This and, of course, sugar (not called The White Death for nothing). Companies who sell this kind of product are opportunists with massive marketing budgets,  making equally massive profits out of selling cheaply-made fake foods to unsuspecting consumers in what is a very murky marketplace that favours big food corporations and their expert lobbyists.

Don’t fall for it.

My advice? Don’t touch anything that should contain one or two ingredients yet has 15 – let’s face it, it’s never going to be nice, is it? Eat natural food that’s good for you and your body, and tastes fantastic – like butter, olive oil, coconut oil and even lard. Yes, lard – or better still, dripping! Fry your eggs in it, make yorkshire puds with it and stick it in your pastry. We humans evolved eating natural fats so they must be good for us. This is my logic and I’m sticking to it.

Turns out Mother Nature is a motherfeckin’ GENIUS after all! Who’da guessed..?!

PS – and Unilever, the company that makes Flora? A multinational company, one of the petrochemical industry’s biggest customers, and the people who very likely make your detergent, your bleach and your shampoo. They also make the truly abominable  “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter”. Enough said.

PPS – interestingly, a general Google search for Flora includes the message: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.”. This usually means that someone affiliated with Flora has requested that certain information about Flora be deleted.  Why could this be? Hmmm. Make of it what you will…

Popping my cherry with Smut

smut

Last month I did something you don’t do every day: I went to my very first erotic writer’s convention. Yup. Smut Manchester, to be precise.

And, yes, it was 1. smutty, and 2. in Manchester, so they got the title bang on the money.

Safe to say, it was one of the most mundanely surreal days of my life.

My good friend Jennifer Denys is a published author and writer of erotic romance and she very kindly invited me along. As a writer, I’ve always got a few stories on the bubble and one genre I’ve not yet touched is erotica, either straight up or with a bit of romance thrown in. It’s not something I’ve thought about.

But that’s all changed. And how.

I got the trans-pennine train to Manchester and got lost, both getting to, and in, the hotel where it was being held, spending the first 10 minutes wandering and lurking around the place, muttering surreptitiously to various hotel staff members unlucky enough to bump into me: “Smut..? Excuse me, do you know where I can find Smut..?”. My self-conscious murmuring turned out to be pretty pointless as most of the staff weren’t English and didn’t understand me, although I was surrounded by delegates from a Deaf Signers convention that had spread out into the lobby so at least they will have picked it up…

smashrobot

Anyhoo, I finally found it – down a bit of a rabbit hole (anyone would’ve thought they wanted to keep us out of the way!) – and sidled into my seat, late as usual. But, thankfully in time to hear the talented *Ashley Lister read his wonderfully bawdy poem: The Ballad of Poor Dave , which had us all laughing our heads off – and had me rolling around like a Smash Robot. Very funny.

I’ve described the conference as “mundane” but I don’t really mean it because that would be to insult Smut and its members.  What I actually mean is that there was an ordinariness about the day that was really quite extraordinary, given its subject. The delegates and speakers were lovely and perfectly…well…normal  – not what you’d expect from an erotic writing conference.

Although not everyone was “normal”, as evidenced by the glorious apparition that was Sister Jaqui (she’s the one in the middle). Praise be.

me debs sister jackie

In fact, the impossibly fantabulous Sister was a star player in the craziest moment of the day. Picture a snapshot of a young, half-naked man, tied up in all kinds of leather and steel and with a ball gag in his mouth, being whipped by a 6ft 4 nun in a 1950’s cherry-print prom dress and red PVC platform boots. With a beard. In a hotel conferencing centre in central Manchester on a drizzly mid-November Saturday. As you do.

All in all, a cracking kinky day with lots of interesting stuff going on and fascinating people to meet – although it did make me realise that I don’t have a kinky bone in my body (I’m a right goer though! Oh yes ;)). Oh, and I won a bottle of lube on the tombola. Organic lube, at that.

Smut left me with inspiration and lots of naughty ideas – a fantastic kickstart to my erotic writing adventures.

Watch this space.

*Ashley’s blog: http://ashleylisterauthor.blogspot.co.uk/

Sleepless in Sheffield

“I’m a woman of a certain age and I love an open window!”

These are the words that, these days, greet bemused colleagues and kick off any meeting I’m ever in – usually accompanied by an unseemly dive for the chair nearest said window. You see, I’ve always known I was hot. ;). But now I’m red-hot. And not in a good way. I’m talking about hot flushes (flashes, for my American cousins :)). Potatoes have got nothing on me – my hot flushes are so goddamn NUCLEAR you could run Blackpool Illuminations with my emissions. The heat fair radiates off me like I’m some kind of organic convector heater. I could wire myself up to the National Grid in times of critical power shortage. I might too, I’m that civic-minded.

potato clock

My hot flushes are so violent, so sudden, so HOT that I can be totally fine one second, and the next resemble a drenched sunburn victim with sweat literally trickling down my face and rolling off my chin. Not a great look on the beach, never mind in an important stakeholder meeting. And a look that has my colleagues staring in a kind of disgusted fascination as I go into full-on meltdown. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do but sit tight and hope it passes quickly.

But I don’t suffer in silence – oh no, everyone knows about it. Why keep it in, I say. It’s uncomfortable, and unpleasant but entirely natural and I refuse to be embarrassed – so I demand as much sympathy as I can get. Particularly from men, the jammy gets. They don’t have to go through it, so I don’t spare them any of the detail. It’s a fair tradeoff, don’t you think?

And don’t get me started on the sleepless nights. I usually know as soon as I lay down when I’m not going to sleep; and if the heat’s not bad enough my racing heartbeat will put the kibosh on anything resembling restful slumber. Toss, turn, swear, cry. Covers off, covers on, covers, off, covers off. Rinse and repeat.

The joys of menopause, eh – it’s the gift that just keeps on giving. Brilliant.

Hair today, gone tomorrow #2

Age has indeed played a cruel, cruel trick.

My once luxuriant bush is no more. YupIt’s not the bountiful bush it once was; in fact it’s thinned out dramatically, and the glossy, chocolate brown lustre of youth is rapidly fading to grey. *Sad face*. It would be bad enough if this were the extent of it, a couple of grey nether hairs here and there, but no – it’s much, MUCH worse than that. Far from growing the kind of exuberant bush that would put a 1970’s porn star to shame as I reach middle-age (and which I’d secretly quite looked forward to), I have developed what I can only describe as ‘(fe)male pattern baldness’. But on my nether regions. I have lost much of the hair down the middle of my pubis, but kept it on the outskirts. Which, as you’d imagine, looks horrendous.

So I have to shave it quite extensively, leaving just a pathetic bit of bum fluff on show at the front. But my man (who loves oral like the dear departed Bill Hicks did – how lucky?!) has been begging me to leave it au natural, a la 1980s – him being nostalgic for his teenage years when girls didn’t have smooth, shaven groins like creepy Barbie dolls. He thinks (bless) that I shave my bits because I’m self/sub-consciously buying into the current trend for bald, hairless ladyparts, because that’s how I think I should look. Hah! I can’t bring myself to tell him that the nearest we’re going to get to a retro bush is in fact the 1970s, and I’m not talking about the spectacular porn-star arrangement as mentioned above. giphy

No, sadly, I’m talking about the “Max Wall”, the “Bobby Charlton”, and Pennywise, the evil clown from It.

(Ok, the last baldie in this tragic list isn’t from the 70s but if the dutch cap fits…).

Definitely time to consider a merkin, methinks – wonder if ebay do them..?    

Eyes down

Adverts for online bingo are weird, don’t you think?  Plenty of people dancing – with dogs, with each other – swimming, partying and generally having a ball. Hey, bingo is FUN!

But no poor sods sat in front of the dim, grey light of the monitor, crying in their pants as they gamble away the last of the housekeeping.

Funny, that.

Hair today, gone tomorrow: #1

Right then. Let’s talk about hair. Hair down there.

But first, let me put this out there: I’m fancying a merkin.fuzzy-heart-merkin

You see, in my younger days, I had a pretty decent bush. Not too thick and not too thin. Relatively easy to control, although it did meander slightly down the insides of my thighs (and perilously close to my knees in the winter)…but anyway, nothing a sharp razor wouldn’t fix.

But the razor rash was a swine. So one day I decided to try waxing. By god it hurt. A good friend of mine is a beauty therapist and she did it for me. How she laughed and called me names as I screamed and squirmed and swore like a navvy – and the more I screamed and swore, the more she convulsed with laughter (she’s not particularly mean, I was just pretty inventive with my swearing). Of course, laughter renders you momentarily weak (think about your knees buckling when you laugh really hard), so instead of whipping the hair out at the speed of light (and therefore marginally less painfully), she was actually wrenching it slowly and agonisingly out of my bits like some kind of sadistic beauty-therapy-based torturer. Which is every bit as painful as it sounds.

waxing some eecards

Unsurprisingly, we had to abort this particular mission, and decided to try again another day. So we did. I still screamed and cursed, but she didn’t laugh, and we eventually got the job done (thanks mainly to the small bottle of vodka I necked just before we got started).

Or at least we thought we had. On closer inspection –  both of us peering down together at my blood red, angry-looking groin – we realised that instead of pulling the hairs out, they had actually been ripped off at the roots. My super-pubes were so strong, so deep-rooted, that they just refused to come out. Hence all the super-pain I’d been in. See?? But I tell you, she’d given them a bloody good going over: I went on holiday two days later with extensive mottling/blue-black bruising all over the insides of my thighs, which actually resembled huge, juicy love bites. Classy. Although to be fair we were in Ibiza so I didn’t look that out of place, but even so…