How To Look Good At Forty And Overthrow Your Government

We all know, because we’ve been told, that 40 ish is a difficult time for the smart lady about town.  You are not young.  You are so definitely not young!  Ha ha, you said young like it might apply to you, you are RIDICULOUS.  But also, you are not old.  Not really.  These days, 50 is the new 40, so essentially 40 is the new 30 and you are both 40 and 30 and you have gone back in time to warn your 30 year old self about the wtf is about to happen sometime around 2016, because 40 is the new 12 Monkeys.  I mean, you are basically 20.  Times have changed.  Fiona Bruce is 53 and she barely has to think about her age as a TV presenter.  It’s a pretty sweet deal for women now – they get to present programs with old things, so that they can place a tiny piece of their soul into every ancient artefact that they touch on the Antiques Roadshow and Fake or Fortune, like a Horcrux, making their human form immortal.  Then they are allowed to remain on TV.

Anyway, anyone who has read women’s magazines recently or looked at the internet with their eyes will know that 40 is great and older women are fierce and powerful, and they should also worry a lot more because their husbands are probably going to leave them.  It will be ok though, because then they can go on to run their own ethical business wearing a capsule wardrobe made entirely from inspiration.    The aim is to undermine the mechanisms of an oppressive patriarchal capitalist state (women’s magazines are so feminist and intersectional now! Go girrrrrl!), but also to look young, but not like you are trying to look young.  Never forget that the aim is to look effortlessly chic.  EFFORTLESSLY.  For Christ’s sake don’t look like things require effort.

Luckily, I am here to help your confused old lady brain decipher the cryptic clues of media and advertising aimed at women, with my handy How To Look Good At Forty guide.  You are *welcome*.


Looking at your old face is the main way that you know you are getting old.  If you aren’t sure what getting old looks like, because there is only Helen Mirren and that doesn’t look like you, then you can handily refer to the Boots No.7 Seven Signs of Aging.  If you haven’t seen them, here they are:

  1. Looking older
  2. Looking older
  3. Looking older
  4. Not giving a shit about looking older
  5. Enjoying looking older
  6. Not noticing that you are looking older
  7. Overthrowing your corrupt and unjust government

Your face says a lot about you.  Sometimes it says that shit out loud, even though we’ve been told, over and over again, that evidence based opinions make us sound fat.  They also give you mouth wrinkles of the mouth.  It’s almost like we’re not even listening any more!  Heads up, everyone, here are some things that will age your face:

  1. The sun
  2. Pollution
  3. Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two
  4. Royal weddings
  5. Elon Musk

The beauty industry has so many helpful products for the older woman, whose mind is of course literally unravelling at the prospect of no longer being able to seek validation based on her appearance, as she has been conditioned to do since childhood.  ‘Women are idiots!’ they think.  ‘They need help for their faces.’  So true.  But many items of make up are also unnecessary, so don’t get suckered into buying the latest fad like a thing that is called a serum that is made from crushed hopes and literally magic, you old ladies whose insecurities are manufactured over a lifetime and then mined for profit.  Women are idiots!  SO make sure you look good and buy the right stuff so men will know that you don’t give a shit about them.

Luckily, I have a go-to make up range for really making me look confident, almost as if I’ve lost weight.  Especially if I know I’m going to be photographed – even the most assured of us can feel nervous about appearing in front of the camera!  Or the judge!  It’s an organic range, called ‘camo paint’, and it works almost exactly like contouring.  Camo paint is very slimming.

NEVER rub your make up in, ladies.  Such a common mistake.  Sad!  Rubbing your make up in will cause you to rub off the woman suit you’ve been wearing and reveal the Many Breasted Bride Queen of the Underworld, Destroyer of Men underneath.  Pat your make up in.  With your fingertips – pat, pat, pat.  Sleep upside down, like a bat.  Do this, and your skin will carry on bouncing back, firmer, stronger, flexible – just like your career when you had to take 5 years off to be a mumtrepreneur.  Follow your dream, ladies!  During school hours!

All the same, a fair and impartial system has shown that women are not as good as men at being competitive in the workplace (science!), so some of us may not be earning quite so much.  Or anything at all!  So here is how to save money on make up:

  1. Imagine you are already wearing make up.
  2. Imagine your face looks nice. Imagine if we all did this.
  3. If sometimes you like to wear make up because you want to, you can also wear cheap make up that is pretty much the exact same thing as the very fucking expensive make up. You’d be amazed how many different brands are owned by the same people and made in the same factories, although they don’t really shout about it.    Be aware that every time you buy Chanel eyeshadow for your sad lady eyes at full price, somewhere a make-up industry executive sitting at a mahogany desk presses a button labelled ‘IDIOT WOMEN’ and is showered with cigars from a trap-door in the ceiling, which he lights with £50 notes.  YOUR £50 NOTES.  If you don’t like one of them, you can boycott their products.
  4. If you would like to wear make up because you want to and your skin colour is not something the rich and diverse beauty industry likes to associate itself with, you can go to mainstream shops where they have two foundation shades and some eyeshadow for you, or you can go elsewhere.
  5. Btw if you have children, remember that they are agents of the resistance for you to release at will onto the make up counter like winged fucking monkeys.


Do you have a fringe?  A fringe is cute.  Maybe you are 22!  And likeable!  The internet has made it very clear that after a certain age, the key to good hair is hiding as much of your face as possible so nobody notices that the unceasing passage of time is bringing you ever closer to your last fuckable day.  Nobody needs to see a strong, independent woman who doesn’t give a shit about her hair.  Grow your fringe longer.  No, longer than that.  Entwine it with your burgeoning chin and nose hair to make your very own balaclava.  Warm, practical, useful for maintaining an ID defence during a police interview.  Nobody likes a lady who talks too much in her shrill lady voice!  So go no comment under the advice of your legal representative!  And remember, frown lines make you look unapproachable.  Frowning while facing down Nazis makes you look unapproachable.  Smile!


Everyone dreads the ‘smart casual’ event.  But we should all remind ourselves that anyone who objects to you attending a school event smoking a cigar and toting a machine gun is probably just as worried about their own outfit.  ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ you will say, reaching for another tombola ticket at the Christmas fair prize draw.  Anyway, here are my suggestions for a practical yet chic approach to those tricky day to night looks:

The Wetsuit

Commonly associated with the summer months frolicking in the warm, sunlit waters of the British coastline, many women file the wetsuit under ‘fuck this’ before they have even had the chance to go on a self-catering holiday and throw themselves into the pounding Atlantic surf in an attempt to drown out the sound of their children’s voices.  And this is a shame, especially if your days of grunting while trying to take your clothes off in public toilets are now just a distant, mostly consensual memory.   There is a well known fashion saying: women over 30 should never miss an opportunity to assume a deep squat in a public place, and of course, this still holds true.  But a wetsuit is so much more than just something you can do lunges in next to a body board you rented from a 23 year old white man called Jed.  It is also fashion’s one truly absorbent, year round wardrobe staple.  The original onesie, it is designed to retain both heat and liquid, meaning you can save on heating bills and bathroom breaks – freeing up valuable time for burning your laundry in the street and fomenting civil unrest.  Not only this, but it can form an empowering under-layer for the busy woman who has moved beyond underwired bras, to a higher plane. This is a plane she might at any moment parachute from into the ocean, like James Bond but younger than Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice.  Try wearing one for a day around the house.  Really, try it.  I promise you will feel amazing.  Recommended.

The Boiler Suit

Are you HANDY?  Can you FIX SHIT?  Do you work in MAINTENANCE?  Are the things that you maintain called ‘relationships with friends and family and the unending list of domestic tasks’?   Would you like to be treated as if all the emotional, mental and unpaid labour you do is tough and important and should be shared equally?  Well don’t worry ladies – the boiler suit is for you.  Cheap, tough, all over you and hard to get out of, this is the Tinder date of leisure wear.  And it’s usually the boiler suits for men that are most easily available, so just like gender stereotypes – one size really does fit all😊

But don’t be deterred by having to roll up your trouser legs like you are trying to sneak your tits into a Masonic lodge* (and I mean literally in your trouser legs if you have breastfed anything, ever).  This is a wipe-down outfit with pockets, everyone!  Buy 5 of these** and you have a complete wardrobe. Underneath could be anything you like – vest tops, sexy underwear, your pyjamas, a cute dress, your pyjamas.  The point is, you won’t have to think about anything apart from which boiler suit you are going to wear.  Because you’ve got one hand in your pocket, and the other one’s smashing the patriarchy with a hammer that you keep in your other pocket.

*I have done this.  It was not as exciting as it sounds.

**I would recommend a boiler suit from Dickies, but other brands are available.


If you dread having to find clothes that say both ‘take me seriously’ and ‘don’t worry, I like men’ but also ‘this will not harm the case for the prosecution if I am sexually assaulted’ then you might want to consider taking a job where there is a uniform.  I have been dressed as a clown since 2014 for this very reason, and the accountancy firm I work for have openly applauded my easy up do and roomy yet professional trousers.  Bright colours are very slimming.  Of course this isn’t an option for everyone.

Equally, if you are a person who has produced a human being from your own body, then we all know that what follows is a time for you to take a few months out for adventure and self-discovery, to adjust to this huge transition while your partner takes care of the kids.  Parenting can prompt a lot of anxiety about our own mortality and it’s common to express this by dicking off for long periods of time and maybe tackling a risky creative project we’ve always fancied.  Or maybe having sex with someone much younger.  And who would mention even once that we are parents and should shelve that for a bit like the men in our lives have?! NOONE, GUYS!  THIS IS *OUR* TIME!  Anyway, what we got up to in Papua New Guinea that time was definitely not idiotic or racist. Well done if you got rescued by helicopter from a place where plenty of people live all the time!  Welcome back.  But what to wear?  And how to wear it on your body??

Here are a few simple rules for hassle free work chic:


So many ladies fret about ironing their beautiful work clothes, when really you can iron the hem of the stained maternity dress you are still wearing with hair straighteners – life hack!

You can iron out the ups and downs of your profound disappointment and exhaustion with rage supressing alcohol, hahaha gin for mummies is funny – life hack!

Upper arms

You know, we call them ‘Bat Wings’, which is a funny little joke between us girls because our arms are undead and will burst into flames upon exposure to sunlight.  Aged crone limbs need to be kept under wraps in the day guys, so we can release them at night to drink the blood of younger men, sapping their strength until we control the media.  Cosmopolitan magazine does not lie.


Who hasn’t put together a snappy little ensemble for a work Christmas party that says ‘Hey, I’m a young lady! Touch my knee!’ only to find innocent people who have wasted their time explaining things to you recoiling at the sight of your elderly knees.  This is not a safe time to be a man!  Because – that’s right – your knees were built on an ancient Viking burial site, and now the spirits of your ancestors won’t laugh at anyone’s informative anecdotes.  So what I’m saying is that if you really have to sit next to senior management at the annual office do, your wizened harlot spirit medium knees are always there if you need them, to ruin Jesus’ birthday with feminism from beyond the grave.


Play with accessories.  Play. With. Them.  Go on a lunch date with them.  Overshare.  Block them.  You are a ghost.  You are the Merciless Lord of the Accessories.  Your accessories will scare other accessories with stories about you.  You eat small accessories.   Ladies! BE the accessory you want to see in the world.  An accessory to crimes relating to the criminal damage of advertising in public spaces.  CCTV black spots are very slimming.


How does she look so slim?  Well, don’t tell the chaps – shapewear is our little secret.  That and the fact that we control the moon with our vaginas.  My motto is Live Fast, Die Young While Out Walking Alone, Leave A Desirable Chalk Outline For the Forensics Team.  Chalk is very slimming.

Hiding your belly

This is a problem area for many women, especially after having babies, or killing and eating the bodies of the men who have wronged them.  Many successful working mothers keep theirs in their handbag, along with an all-purpose packet of wet wipes and their prolapsed uterus.  Pro-tip.


The centre piece of any outfit, many people will tell you that when it comes to shoes, less is more.  And I of course would reply that in fact it is fewer, not less.  I have been corrected on this point so many times that, let me tell you, it’s always a delight to hear it, however many shoes I have forcibly removed from the men who cannot stop correcting me and strung around my neck as trophies like I’m Colonel fucking Kurtz.


Peg leg trousers.  Leather leggings.  Bandeau tops.  Are these for you?  Well, you’ll have read a lot recently about the powerful, strong older woman who can do anything she damn well likes, so the answer is very clear: Absolutely not.

As we have all understood it, shopping in actual shops is supposed to be a segregated affair, with younger women corralled in places with loud music and shop assistants dressed in ripped irony.  Anyone over saaayy, 40, is directed to dimly lit scandi affairs, where everything is soft to the touch and there is only the Radio 2 playlist and Vaseline on the mirrors, like the set from a Fifty Shades of Grey film but with pictures of Dame Judi Dench where you least expect them.  (Exactly like the set of Fifty Shades of Grey).

Ideally, of course, women would shop at home.  Online.  Separately.  They wouldn’t get out there and get together in large groups at all.  Much is done to deter women of different age groups from mingling in person.  In Topshop and Urban Outfitters, the blast of hot air from above the door as you enter is in fact designed to mimic the symptoms of the menopause so that older women leave immediately to protect their shrivelled ovaries.  Those who linger too long in the entrance, confused by reflective spandex, are ushered kindly but firmly out of the building and into the nearest White Stuff outlet store, where somebody picks out an A-line mid-length skirt with drawings of boats on it saying ‘This is for you now’.

But don’t be deterred.  You have a job to do.  Since the public spaces in which we used to gather are increasingly taken up by sort of, maybe, don’t tell anyone definitely private spaces (with handy shops in), then I guess this is just where we are going to have to talk about dismantling the structures of power.  If you do make it past security, then here are some tips to avoid detection and alert any women who haven’t noticed yet that they are putting up with a lot of bullshit.

Firstly, play it cool.  Blend in.  Put your head through random holes in clothing as if you are subversive and not confused.  Roam the band t-shirts IN SILENCE.  Saying things like  ‘Songs about being a Nice Guy are a bullshit part of rape culture’ will trigger the XX to play on the in store speakers, and then, as you are old enough to remember that this is the music that David Cameron listens to during sexy times, you will have only seconds left to live.

Some shop assistants will see you flailing, red faced among the obviously uncomfortable heels and, mistaking your outrage for confusion, pick out some shoes and say ‘these shoes are very slimming’.  It’s important to make sure you maintain eye contact while you eat the shoes.

On busy days, try on new things in front of the mirrors in the middle of the store because if they don’t provide enough changing rooms then you will literally show them your ass.  On quiet days, try on new things in the changing rooms.  The staff won’t bother you in there, because they know you have visible pubic hair and they are afraid.    Stand in the changing room Hall of Mirrors, dressed mostly in gold listening for low self-esteem like the poorly lit Louis XIV of Unsolicited Life Advice.

You don’t even have to lock the doors until the end of your lecture on feminism and consumer culture, your very presence is enough.  Do not underestimate the power of seeing someone out there who gives no fucks, especially women, especially about their body.   If you are over 40, you’ve got a head start on this bullshit.  We’ve got a lot of work to do, and in 10 years it’s going to be my daughters in those changing rooms so let’s get in there and set some fucking examples.  Try on new things.  Love yourself, forget your body.

If you think that you are not strong enough, that change can only be great gestures, millions of people on the march, then think again:  10 years ago I saw a woman in a camo bikini and a gold helmet driving a quad bike down a red dirt coast track.  I didn’t know her.  She didn’t see me.  She passed me, standing by the side of the road, sweating into my long sleeved top that covered up my imaginary flaws, and I looked at her for maybe 30 seconds before she turned the corner.  I do not remember whether her body was beach ready or if she was fat or thin or whether her thighs had cellulite.  I only remember that somehow, somehow I knew that she gave no fucks.  And for 10 years now, every day, I have tried in some small way to be that woman.  On the school run, wiping arses, dancing at children’s parties, running, walking into meetings, I am wearing a camo bikini and a gold helmet on the inside.  There is no shop that can sell that to you.  No t-shirt with strong words on it made by companies run by white men.  We can only give it to each other.

So guys, hang out with other women, especially those who are at a different stage in their life to you. Soak it up.  Find some hope.  For better clothes, a better future.   Young people are amazing.  Many under 25’s are ripping it up right now, because they are as angry as you are, and they don’t have a mortgage and two kids.  They are not the apathetic, dumbed down economic cannon fodder the government hopes they are.  There is an army out there of highly educated digital natives on zero hours contracts, with no pensions, no free health care ahead of them, no hope of owning property, who have realised that their parents and grandparents, for whom most things were free and the rest was cheap have gone ahead and pulled that ladder right up behind them.  Their future has been driven off a cliff by people who are about to die soon anyway and they have absolutely nothing to lose.

They are activists, organisers, protesters, voters.  At an age when I was checking neither my privilege nor my non-existent email at the university I attended virtually for free, people now are organising cultural movements on a massive scale.  They are targeting policy makers, campaigning, marching, fighting for their reproductive rights like it’s the goddamn Handmaid’s Tale, making films about activism, making documentaries, reporting on injustice, changing the set text in education, in the workplace, in fashion and consumer behaviour.  I have seen discussions online between 19 year olds that make most mainstream political commentators look like fucking schoolchildren.  That is, assuming schoolchildren aren’t as woke as they actually are right now.

Youth-quake, Corbynistas, whatever sneery term is applied to them by the increasingly nervous mainstream press, know this: you spent your twenties waiting for a seat at the table.  These guys are going to spend their twenties picking up that seat and using it to smash the fucking table up.   And you get to watch them, you get to watch their back.   It may not be your first time being angry, outraged, passionate or tired, but ladies, this is the first time in history that we’ve gotten close enough to see the whites of their eyes.  This is the first time that when other people say that they are not just sick and tired, they are hopeful, we get to say Me Too.  And we must, because hope is contagious. It changes things we haven’t even thought about yet. If you don’t see it, if you think that this is all going to blow over, then you are not paying attention.

Women – whatever your goddamn age, the body politic is your bodies.  Your face, your hair, your skin, your age, your voice, your height, your weight, your clothes, your uterus – this is what we talk about when we talk about power.  The media knows it, they’ve been dressing it up and selling it back to you for decades, and now more than ever, so do you.  You don’t need to buy power, ladies.  You already own it.  So go, tell your stories, listen to theirs, come find me in my boiler suit in the spandex aisle, wear whatever the fuck you like and join the revolution.



Somewhere Between Thrupp and Lypiatt

That time I got lost and realised I should probably stop dicking about in the countryside in my spare time, and also that fog was underused as a metaphor, you’re welcome.

Lonely Stroud

By Emma Kernahan

I decided to walk a different way back from the school.  All the way in the children had been wild with the cold, blowing white breaths along Thrupp Lane and clapping their mittens.  We talked about snow: maybe soon.  The low sky muffled us but we hooted anyway, it was fun.  I had to shout at them to stay in sight, but it was fun.  I wanted a little more of it before returning alone to coffee and central heating.  The house was so stifling.  I was tired.  I wanted to stomp my boots through the frozen mud.

So I climbed straight up the hill, fast until my chest burned.  I thought about the cigarettes I used to smoke, long ago before the kids, and imagined the cold filling each tiny capillary of my lungs like smoke. 

At the top I paused, panting, and looked around.  I…

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Prime Time

So, I watched Love Island on election night.   Thrilled by an exit poll, I changed the channel and sought out hung voting of a different kind.  It was my first time, though like anyone I was familiar with the oeuvre.  If you haven’t yet seen it with your eyes, please don’t expect an explanation here of what actually happens on Love Island.

Love Island does not explain, it does not apologise or invite scrutiny.  Love Island does not think, it simply is.  Like Descartes, but with a very high nipple count.   It’s best if you let it wash over you, with the subtitles on and Radiohead playing in the background.

But for the uninitiated, here’s the skinny (in every way): TV producers have rounded up the 10 young people in the UK who have the least demonstrable body hair and left them in a Mediterranean/Asian fusion bar from 2009.  It’s a competition.  I think.  I find it hard to focus while watching, but I’m aware things are going on that are very important that I need to understand because everyone is staring at each other a lot.  It’s a bit like those scenes in Bond films where he’s been drugged and he’s only got 5 seconds to win at poker before he passes out.  This is what watching Love Island is like.  Obviously, I love it.  I love the people on it, who are sweet and young and just trying to earn some money by potentially having sex on camera.  I love Camilla, who delivers a blistering defence of feminism, and cries because Johnny doesn’t like it.  Mate, we feel that.  The competition appears to be about totally just being yourself, because everyone talks about that a lot. The only beds available are for two people to share, a feature which is described variously by Caroline Flack on the eviction shows as ‘saucy’, ‘frisky’ and ‘cheeky’, so that’s ok! That sounds like fun!  Anyway, the contestants are contractually obligated to kiss each other at intervals and on balconies.  This must be as abruptly as possible, while one person is mid-sentence.  Unsettlingly, everyone is bald from the neck down, like traumatised budgies pecking at themselves in a mirror.  All the women wear tight dresses with a lot of zips.  Other stuff needs to happen, like having dinner, and crying.  The winners get £50,000.  And love.

Anyway, it’s just like on The Apprentice but it’s totally way better because all the tasks are breaches of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.  As Camilla put her hands through holes in a large wooden board to squeeze, identify and rate the body parts of Marcel on the other side, I squinted lustily at the cypress trees and olive groves beyond.  Is that… Greece?  Spain?  I shift in my seat, excited now – was that a child friendly self-catering villa I could see shimmering in the distance, with full A/C and black out blinds?  We need to book a holiday soon but every time I look at holidays with chalets I sort of lose the will to live and lie on the floor with my eyes shut thinking about owning a private island.  Maybe I’ll just go here!  I sip my tea and wait until Kem’s hairless buttocks are no longer obscuring my line of vision.  Between the smooth expanses of glistening thigh muscle, in the distance I think I spot a fenced off splash pool.

Later,  I listened to the whispers in shared beds (‘You are so much sexier when you are naked, you just look better.’ Saucy!) and tearful discussions later on the decking, (‘It just plays into my lack of confidence.’ sobs… someone in a bikini.  Cheeky!).  I see the men, oiled on sun loungers, anxiously discussing who likes them and who doesn’t, while the women pump iron in the background.  I guess its ok if we are all made to feel shit!  Equal opportunities, guys!  I guess that’s fine.

I have a look at the how old the contestants are.  Apart from a quivering and ancient 31 year old, who will presumably be killed and eaten by the group as an offering to the gods in order to retain their youth, everyone seems to be about 21.

I try to remember being 21.  I can’t.  I am 37.

Earlier that day, I sat in a pub.  I was on my way home from work, the pub was by the roadside and my hair was wet because I had washed it in a sink in the toilets (it’s a long story).  I was having a bowl of chips because I deserved a bowl of chips (it’s a short story – I like chips) and while I ate the barmaid chatted to the man ordering at the bar.  It was her 21st birthday and she was working and it sucked.  More than this – she felt old.  ‘21 is so old.’ she said, tying up her hair, looking for a knife to chop the lemon with.  ‘I feel like the best years of my life are behind me.  My sister is 18 and she’s going to Glastonbury this year and oh my god, I wish I was her.’  The man at the bar, in his fifties maybe, laughed in exactly the way I would have done, and told her she was still… young in exactly the way that I would not.  She brushed aside the comment with a well-practiced hand movement in front of her face, as if it were a cobweb.  Well, I feel old, she said, and smiled.  She stepped back as she handed him his drink.

I looked down at the ends of my own hair.  It was dripping water onto my chest and making my top see through enough to show that I was wearing a greying maternity bra despite having stopped breastfeeding three years ago (my underwear is from a section of the store labelled ‘Plausible Deniability’.  You can find it in the back of the ‘Fucking HELL’ department).  I looked up – a couple were staring furtively at me over their paper and mid-week special.  Without thinking, I spread my knees and leaned back in my chair, elbow on the back rest.  I caught their eye, one clipped up boob thrust out.  I stuck a chip in my mouth and smiled.  It occurred to me how happy I was: my bowl was still full, and soon I would be home with my babies.

In that moment I wanted to get up from my chair, walk over and announce to the barmaid how amazing 37 is.  No one told me, I wanted to say.  No one has told you either.  This, (and here I would gesture flamboyantly at my body, my bare face, my rucksack containing Lego cards and a plastic bag full of stinking, crumpled work clothes) this is better than you can possibly imagine right now.  You cannot appreciate, at 21, how wonderful it is to be 37.  And why would you?  Nobody wants you to know about this.  It’s a secret.

I mean, here’s what you’ve been told: your teenage years, your twenties, are the best time of your life.  You need to hurry up and enjoy it and travel and study and get your career going and find love and take pictures of yourself sitting on someone’s shoulders showing your midriff at a festival because This. Is. It.  You have 10 years, 15 tops.  By the time you reach your late thirties, your forties, you will have disintegrated into a slightly harried mother person, who has given up on dreams, dressing well and all hopes of a rewarding inner life in exchange for dutifully perpetuating the human race and a husband who travels for work.  Or into a desperate and embittered spinster, for whom every minute not spent as the CEO of her own bitch face is spent applying flattering filters to Tinder selfies and training for a Tough mudder.  Or into Caroline Flack.  Well (and here I would climb onto the bar and snap my fingers at the bartender to kill the music) This Is Bullshit.

All you have heard so far is that youth is everything, but even so that you are nothing.  Well, it turns out that youth is like renting in Zone 2 – you don’t realise how shit it is until you’ve stopped paying two grand a month to live in a cupboard within walking distance of a Carluccio’s, a BYO beach bar, museums you never visit and a friendly dude who likes pressing his penis up against the windows of Pizza Express (true story).

You are not old enough to know that the beginning of your life is just that – the beginning.  So, I’m going to tell you now about the middle.

It is (and pay attention now) your prime.

I can tell you about this, because I’m in it.  We don’t talk about it much, because the first rule of being in your prime is that you don’t talk about being in your prime.  The second rule of being in your prime is that you write sweary, over-long blog posts about being in your prime because young people seem to be putting up with a lot of bullshit.  The third rule of being in your prime is that you beat the crap out of Brad Pitt in your spare time (true story).  But anyway, here’s the skinny: when it comes, you won’t even notice it.  Your transition from ‘Sorry, It’s My Fault’ to ‘Off You Fuck’ will be seamless. You will just wake up one day and realise that you are absolutely knocking it out of the park on all fronts.  I mean, you’re not even trying – you can’t remember the last time you even thought about it.

So let’s say it again: your prime.  It’s important, so I’ve put it in italics for you.  This is a word normally reserved for steak, for real estate, for Cary Grant in North by Northwest, for George Clooney in everything even though he is now (whisper it) 83 years old.  But prime is not a word you ever hear applied to grown ass women who know how to handle themselves.  Here are some other words you might have heard though:  Hard-nosed.  Pushy.  Cougar.  Matronly.  Shrill.  Ridiculous.  Pathetic.  Fat.  Bitch.

There are a lot of words for women in the middle of their lives.  Or for any women who step out of line, have you noticed?  It’s almost as if this is actually the best bit of their lives, and these women are powerful and terrifying to lots of dudes.  You know the ones!  They know a whole bunch of stuff, and anyway they’re often terribly cross – you can find them online at  In the comments.  Anyway, it’s almost as if – for these few years at least – these women are winning.  Luckily for the Mail Online’s sidebar of shame, they don’t seem to have really noticed yet.  Or if they have, they are keeping it secret.  Instead, they are kept busy trying as hard as they can to look, from the moment they leave their teenage years, like they have a return ticket.

Well, I’m here to tell you (and at this point please note that I would be striding up and down the bar and reaching for a microphone) that you have got a one way ticket outta there, and thank God because that place was a shithole.

I’m here to tell anyone who has pouted in selfies and cried in cubicles that one day you will calmly trot across a swimming pool changing room after an escaped toddler, half in, half out of a bikini, unknowably fatter than that one time 15 years ago you worried you were too fat to wear one.  You won’t know this, of course, because you never quite remember to find out and you don’t own scales.  Scars and stretch marks will roll with you, one breast also escaped and swinging gently somewhere near your navel as you bend to scoop up your child.  You will strut back, brand new muscles bulging as you hold an angry human under your arm.  It will not occur to you to be embarrassed.

I’m here to tell anyone who is bluster and exuberance and excuse me please don’t look, that one day you and your friends will clear rooms without even raising your voices.  You will nurse a flat white and detail that time you squatted to deliver a placenta.  You will discuss your piles over a slice of polenta cake.  You will sit in Wagamama’s discussing FGM and white privilege, the politics of the rape fantasy, and bioethics.  You will not talk about who likes you.  Not old enough to be invisible, not young enough to titillate, grown men will get up and leave.  You will swell, flex, occupy space with your very presence.  You will have heft.  You won’t glance around to see who is looking.  You won’t hope for or dread the eyes upon you.  Ladies, know this – you won’t notice, you won’t care.

Because, you see (and listen up), whenever it arrives – whether it’s 37 or 33 or 42 or 56 – your prime number is the square root of giving no fucks.  It is when you magically attain, as Simon Cowell would intone, the X factor, where x is equivalent to y r u smacking your own bottom for a living; those shorts will give you cystitis.


And (at this point I would be wearing a flag from the top of the bar, one leg up, foot resting on a beer pump) now I’m going to tell you why.

It’s because one day, your fears will be bigger than your own body and so will your hopes.  When you are 21, death is a movie star.  It glitters in the distance or passes nearby and makes you drop your coffee, hurry to take a picture.  At 37, you know that death has no celebrity status.  It’s a pain in the arse, an overfamiliar acquaintance you can’t seem to shake off.  It’s leaning right in across the table and blowing on your goddamn dinner.  Death is a Tuesday morning moment that bends your future like a hairpin: a hand leaving yours in a crowd, a phone call, a stupid joke, the pause of your fingers on your breast, the strip lit tiles on the floor of the waiting room.   Death is boring, mundane, and coming for you.  But not today.  Not today, everyone.  Today I am in my prime and if I time it right I can get the wind to blow the hair off my face when I take a corner in fifth and come out in second, today I am in my prime and if I aim straight I can stand on tip toe and take a run up and slide in my socks right across the dining room floor while my children applaud, arms hooked out like I’m coming in to land.  Today, I am in my prime and I dance like everyone is fucking well watching.


No, please don’t apologize, I would say to the security staff now gathering around me.  Really. I’m quite comfortable standing on this bar.  And that reminds me: anyone who has ‘sorry’ constantly buzzing on the tip of their tongue; a hair trigger defence, constantly ready to be deployed, know this!  One day you will find yourself blocking the road with your hand on the bonnet of a Range Rover, quietly explaining to the linen-clad owner that it is rude to bark demands out of the window at people who are parking in a free and unreserved space.  That you should explore the term ‘entitlement’ together.  You will terrify this middle aged white man to the extent that he will stand firmly behind his car door, despite being more than 6 feet tall, and he will apologise just to make you go away.  You will do a version of this again, and again, and again – at work, in public, in queues – casually dishing out a home run of ‘nope’ to every sorry situation that crosses your path, with a lazy backswing and a sweet connection.

Ladies, in your prime you will no longer be hesitant, explosive bundles of elbows and knees, tops cropped and jeans ripped as though your body has turned traitor and grown in the night like magic beans.  You will no longer have thumbs through sleeves to cover your wrists, or eyes that drift ceaselessly to mirrors and phones, just to check to check to check.  It’s OK, I want to tell you.  I’m totally OK over here – look!  Ladies, check me out.  I might look like a slightly bonkers middle aged lady, but youths, listen!  In my mind I walk through the world like Keanu Reeves in a trench coat, knocking agents of the patriarchy out of my way with a flick of my wrist. I no longer have to pick my battles, guys, because I see the matrix.


At this point, I would pause for a chip and a swig of my drink, which I would wave around at the pub while I talk, louder now.  Because I want anyone who is a swaggering, brittle Atlas, holding up their world for what seems like forever, know that one day, you will be lighter.   In your prime, you will have appetites instead of apologies.

No more binge, no more purge – one day you will roll out of bed at 6am and slip into a new day where nothing is off the menu for you.  Fruit and wine.  Meat and two veg.   Cheese whenever you please.  Your lips are for licking.  Your teeth are for taking a bite.

Everyone! Yoghurt is not a TREAT.  Neither, if you were wondering, is a handful of almonds, kale in any form or a packet of chocolate scented air that you can smell when you are hungry, which, behold ladies, is a real thing so let’s all pause and think about a system that tells women that smelling something is a luxury.  I came of age in the 90’s, a more innocent age in the advertising of snack products, when at least Cadbury’s had the decency to imply that a treat is, in fact, a bar of chocolate, a hot bath and a wank. 

I am here to tell anyone who skips, who fasts, who fives and twos, whose sweet nothings are sugar free, who can’t believe it’s not butter (spoiler: I fucking can), that one day, you will accept no substitutes.  If Kirsty Young were to cast me away on a desert island, I would without a second thought demand the things without which life would not be worth living: 8 absolute belters to listen to, a picture of my beautiful family, and a life time’s supply of hot crusty white bread with real, actual butter, without which I would run weeping into the sea and the sweet release of death within 48 hours.  So, stop counting!  It’s fucking exhausting.  And, it’s boring.  It makes you boring.  Listen: if you feel like you must buy botox but you are not allowed bread, then tell me who hurt you.  We will hit them with baguettes, while frowning.

So.  Despite what the advertisers tell you, eating is not ‘naughty’.  Sharing a bag of Malteasers in your lunch break with Sarah from marketing is not ‘naughty’.  At 37, you will know that ‘naughty’ is stealing that bag of Malteasers from a broken vending machine, on your way home with a kebab from the pub after 5 pints and a waz behind a parked car.  Naughty is getting arrested for lying down in the middle of the goddamn road.  Naughty is more please and no thanks.  Naughty is laughing only when it’s funny.  If you think rebellion is smoky eyeshadow (get the London look!) and putting needles in your own skin – think again.  Try just consistently, unapologetically liking yourself, and see how that goes.  If you think it doesn’t make anyone angry, then think again.

When did this begin?  When were our desires and transgressions defined, diminished and sold back to us in tiny chunks, labelled fun sized?  At 37, I know that anything labelled ‘fun’ needs to involve laughing, or at the very least, being out of breath. I’m talking waking up in Vegas next to a trapeze artist called Jose, and a handbag containing 60 grand in cash and a gun.  A miniature bounty bar is just not cutting it guys. 

Hear me: I have best friends and no diamonds.  My goal weight is Fuck You.  I don’t ever really think about this unless I am writing it down for you like I am right here.  I am happy. 


So, to anyone who wants, with all the hollowness of a closed fist, for somebody to love them back.  Anyone that thinks that you can change, that you can change them – I’m going to tell you what love is.  Love is a person who, every single day, stops mid-sentence to tell you how beautiful you are because after 19 years of days together, it still makes them stop mid-sentence.  Love is the person who gets up at 3am again when you simply, simply cannot.  Love is the supermarket shop with both kids.  It is the eyes that find yours across a room full of doctors, the fibres that fold you together across the continents when you are apart.  Love has nothing to do with the length of your skirt, the height of your heels or (ridiculous notion!) the flatness of your stomach.  If you think sexy can only be a tight dress with a lot of zips, you have misunderstood. 

Anyone who has run full tilt downhill into the wind or grown a human being with their guts knows what it is to love their body. This is not an empty phrase used to sell you a cream to cover your face.  It is measuring your worth in lungs and legs and muscles formed.  It is counting the tiny pulses under your outstretched palm at night, each one a short-long-pause that says alive, alive, alive.  An archipelago of heartbeats.  An ocean of holding your breath.  Love Islands.


But I didn’t say any of this.  I had no mic to drop at the end of my speech, I didn’t have to climb down from the bar and exit the building to a smattering of applause.  What I actually did was pay for my chips, tip the barmaid heavily (she was on the phone by then) and drive home a little too fast with the wind drying my hair. On the way, I listened to the glorious, amazing Guilty Feminist podcast and laughed my head off.  I flew past billboards in wheat fields that said ‘Vote Conservative’ and saw ‘Nooooo’ and ‘Tories Out’ graffiti’d across them and I had an inkling that things were changing.  I washed the smell of austerity and neglect and open wounds and human shit out of my clothes.  I walked my daughters to the polling booth to vote for a different future.  I saw the results come in, and hoped.

I watched, I listened and I wrote this.  I wrote this one thing for my daughters and all those young people who are trying so very hard to issue a nope to their sorry situation right now.  It is about hope – and knowing that things are going to get better.  This is my manifesto.  I promise – another world is possible.  For soon, you will be in your prime, guys, you will be changing the script.  And I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.




I must bear the lead lined apron
For you are centre stage.
I hold up your lines
And canisters
While they frame your tiny chest
And take a shot.

I ask when I can hold you
on my knees again.
Lights up behind the glass,
We spot your marks together.
We search your sunny soul
for clouds.

You should’ve asked

Such a good summary of the conversations I have had over and over again for the last 6 years. This doesn’t quite match up with my situation. And I don’t share the ‘mental load’ equally in other areas of our lives together. But elements of it ring a lot of bells and it’s well worth a read.


Here is the english version of my now famous “Fallait demander” !

Thanks Una from for the translation 🙂

You should've asked_001You should've asked_002You should've asked_003You should've asked_004You should've asked_005You should've asked_006You should've asked_007You should've asked_008You should've asked_009You should've asked_010You should've asked_011You should've asked_012You should've asked_013You should've asked_014You should've asked_016You should've asked_017You should've asked_018You should've asked_019You should've asked_020You should've asked_021You should've asked_022You should've asked_023You should've asked_024You should've asked_025You should've asked_026You should've asked_027You should've asked_028You should've asked_029You should've asked_030You should've asked_031You should've asked_032You should've asked_033You should've asked_034You should've asked_035You should've asked_036You should've asked_037You should've asked_038You should've asked_039You should've asked_040

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I swung on that rope like the lights

Of a racing car

High-beamed and arcing and

Beating out time.


Only the hawk saw, hung low

In the monochrome,

The black of my legs spreading

Lines in the frost,


His cry and my creaking a

Shadow of sleeping; the

Sun creeping over the

Valley’s far side.

Westminster Bridge

That it would happen on a bridge
Was inevitable, I suppose.
That thin saliva strand
between the beggars in the south
and the beating heart
of empire
that Monet loved
And I did too.
I’d forgotten.

I used to walk between the lines
in those days, from
do you mind to
fuck you miss
at each end of the river
with the wind blowing up
from the banks in the distance,
muddy with money.

And the bombs,
we’ve forgotten, there have been so many,
but they used to call them in, then.
Nothing sudden about
our Troubles.
New bodies in the tunnels,
with the navvy bones, forgotten.

No hire cars then or odd little
stabbing motions on sunny afternoons, Britain first
lest we forget forensics teams
shot from helicopters, kneeling
for all the world
like bunches of flowers
left by the railing.

We’re marked as safe, we happy few:
Spinning wheels and far away curses cannot touch us here.
No blood on our hands.
My cabbie calls them pricks
and will not go
south of the river.

And we keep calm and carry on
for this is London.
And in a week or two,
We’ve forgotten.


There is a temple to Mithras
In the City of London.
It was moved to make way for new gods,
But we have always worshipped
Bulls and secrets there.

We sliced through the tiers
And lifted its foundations
To accommodate Legal and General.
Buried the stream with his head in it.

Now we look through mirrored glass at mysteries,
File down Walbrook in the rain like mourners
And do not know that we are passing.

But when we come to read the signs,
We still throw coins in the well
And wish.