48 hours in Barcelona

Having spent several months working in the South West of France and flitting across the border several times, the road signs to Barcelona finally got the better of me and I gave in to temptation. It was somewhere that I vaguely remembered going as a child, and the one thing that stuck in my mind was he crazy traffic system as we tried to find the airport. I looked at my spotless French hire car paid for by my office and decided to play it safe, and get the train rather than risk an accident in a country I wasn’t supposed to be in. A few clicks on my trusty iPad later and my train to Barcelona, plus a bed and breakfast was booked. Friday afternoon finally came and I was taking the high speed train from Perpignan. What to do for the two hours before my train? around 20 minutes from the city center lies the tiny village of Ille sur Têt.


It is a fairly unremarkable border town, but as you follow the river out of the cobbled streets, astounding forms begin to rise from the scrubby embankments alongside the road. Follow signs for Les Orgues down an unpromising dirt track and you arrive at a tiny ticket booth and the start of a path which leads to some stunning sandstone formations with a breathtaking mountain backdrop. If you come before the end of June, you are likely to see snow still clinging to the dramatic Pyreneen slopes whose shades of blue and purple offset the sandy Orgues.



After snatching a few photos and cooing over the spectacular views, I dashed back to my car and headed for Perpignan station. I just had time to stuff my backpack full of cameras and back my car up to the wall before taking the train to Figueras. I wasn’t sure what to expect; the French TGV is a fairly hard act to follow, but I was amazed at how efficient it’s Spanish counterpart was, and just over two pleasant hours later I arrived in Barcelona Sants, a huge and bustling station where it’s easy to get lost. Seeing as it was quite late and I’d read one too many guidebooks warning about crime in the city, I decided to take a taxi and boy was I glad I hadn’t brought my car. My taxi weaved and honked its way amidst hundreds of other yellow cabs, and I covered my eyes as my friendly Pakistani driver dodged mopeds and buses, all the while turning around and chatting to me about my journey. As we moved away from the big wide boulevards, he began to slow through some gloomy looking side streets, and I hoped he was just taking a shortcut. “This is your stop!” he cheerfully announced before speeding off, leaving me and my huge rucksack in a dark and deserted alley. The hotel reviews rang in my ears as I tried to squash the little niggles of panic. “This is NOT a hotel”… “Owner wasn’t there”… “Bad area of Barcelona…”

You see, I always thought that these people were just too fussy. But as I frantically searched for an intercom with Hostel written on it and, failing that, tried to ring the mobile number provided in the booking, I started to think I’d be spending the night on the abandoned mattress lying across the street. After 30 minutes of frantically trying to call the owner which killed my battery stone dead, Enzo the owner arrived with a huge grin and an apology, and despite my murderous thoughts towards him a few moments before, all was quickly forgotten as he waved him arms, animatedly trying to give me tips about visiting the city. The Enzo B&B was spotlessly clean, cheap and, as I later learned, not so far from the city center. I gratefully dropped my bag on the bed and went out in search of some Tapas, and I didn’t have to walk far. At ten PM, the nearest tapas bar was bursting with locals jabbering animatedly over little plates of delicious looking food and glasses of Rioja, and I was the only tourist. People looked on with amusement as I opted for the biggest plate they had and filled it with one of everything…slices of toasted baguette topped with ham, basil, cheese and tomato salad, fish in a smoky sauce…all washed down with a generous glass of Rioja. A couple of glasses and platefuls later, I tottered back to my hostel, and the next thing I knew, it was 8 am and I was awoken by parrots squawking .Yep,  parrots. ImageImage

I am not a fan of public transport, so I decided to see just how far I could walk in Barcelona. I grabbed my camera and flimsy little map and headed towards the sea, before following the port towards Barcelona’s’ very own Arc de Triomphe, stopping for a delicious coffee and fresh orange juice on the way. I happily marched along leafy avenues, and stumbled upon Barcelona’s old bull ring which is now used as a circus. It is a beautiful building, topped with blue and white onion domes and mosaic. It had a distinctly forgotten feel to it, despite the stunning beauty of the Moroccan style minarets, and there was no mention of it on the map.


As I walked North, I began to see swarms of tourists heading determinedly in the same direction as me and tacky gift shops at increasing frequency, I knew I must be getting close to my first destination (the bullring was just a happy accident): the cathedral designed by Gaudi. As I turned a corner, I was breathless: the cathedral towers over the surrounding buildings and its stunning organic forms and intricately carved columns are a stark contrast to the residential area in which it stands. After taking far too many Imagepictures and watching a game of Boules in the little park opposite the weird and wonderful giant, I marched on to my next destination: the Gaudi houses. For fans of architecture, the queue is well worth the wait: the Casas offer spectacular and peaceful views of the city. After getting my bearings on the huge Catalunya square, I followed the lively La Rambla down to the heart of the Gothic quarter, just in time for lunch. The Gothic quarter is a vibrant mishmash of little boutiques and eateries lining narrow, uneven streets, a huge antiques market where you can pick up some gorgeous jewelry or a beautiful embroidered shawl for a fraction of what you’d expect to pay in the UK, and a delightful square, home to Barcelona’s Gothic cathedral (I made the mistake of calling Gaudi’s cathedral The Cathedral. Enzo’s face fell and he said, That’s the Other Cathedral. Oops).barcelonagothic


After a tasty bruschetta and coffee on the square, I decided it was time to brave the metro, as my feet were beginning to throb and my next destination was at the opposite end of the city. I had read many horror stories about Barcelona’s mean streets, and was pleasantly surprised by how clean, friendly and safe the metro felt, and how easy to navigate. A short, joyful ride later and I was at my most coveted destination of the weekend: Parc Guell; the park designed by Gaudi. The park’s beauty is breathtaking, and if you only have a short amount of time in Barcelona, make sure you come here. When you walk through the gates, you feel as though you have walked into a mangrove, and it is hard to distinguish the real palm trees from the weird trunk-like columns that blend effortlessly into the natural rock.


Ivy hangs down over the rustic archways and exotic stone figures adorn the roughly carved trunks. As you climb further into the park, past giant pawpaws with lovers’ names carved into their prickly leaves, a stunning panorama of Barcelona emerges, and you can’t help but marvel at the huge size of Gaudi’s cathedral which dominates the sea front far below. I thought the exhaustion of a day’s walking had got the better of me when I saw a splash of green whizz by above my head but, as I looked up, I spotted hundredsImage of little parrots flitting from tree to tree, building nests and cleaning their bright green feathers with their stubby little orange beaks. Yes, Barcelona is infested with little green parrots. Flocks of them swoop over the city and their strident squawks echo through the deserted early morning streets. The lower part of Parc Guell is a riot of colour, and the terrace is a delightful patchwork of bright mosaics, flanked by two gingerbread houses: one in blue tones, its twin adorned with shades of rust.

And I couldn’t resist a chavtastic bull t-shirt from one f the many souvenir shops on the walk back to the metro. As much as I try not to look like a tourist, I cannot resist a bit of tasteful tat.

Image Image

By the time I’d finished ogling Gaudi’s mosaics, darkness was rapidly falling and I was finding it hard to walk straight. It was 8 pm and I realised I’d been walking for 12 hours. I looked down at my grubby, sweaty self and decided against going somewhere posh. I limped back to the now familiar backstreets of the foot of the Montjuïc park where I was staying, and collapsed on to a flimsy chair on a terrace. Give me a bar, any bar. This one had promising pictures of paella outside. I chose the black paella, which is coloured with squid ink and goes perfectly with a big glass of Estrella, Barcelona’s answer to Stella. I ate my paella in a kind of exhaustion-induced euphoria, and that night passed just as quickly as the last one had.

gingerbread houses

On Sunday I awoke to a beautiful, cloudless sky (apart from the odd parrot). It would seem that the locals sleep in late, so I crept out of the hostel into the silent streets, and set off for Montjuïc park, which is a hotspot for early risers and sports fanatics.streets

The climb is steep and I admired the pumping calves of the many cyclists I saw struggling up to the fortress at the top of the hill, especially in the already intense heat (it was the end of October!). The climb was well worth the trouble for the fabulous view, and I realised Barcelona is as big again on the other side of the mount, which conveniently hides the city’s sprawling commercial docks. Giant ships languish in the sparkling blue sea, waiting to be loaded with the multicoloured containers that look like Lego from the fortress gardens.


As it was such a beautiful day, I decided I had to go back to the Park Guell but be warned: sun means crowds. After a few more parrot photos, I headed for the port via Las Ramblas. By now the heat was stifling, so I decided on a trip to the aquarium which I hoped would have some air conditioning. I was not disappointed. For 250 euros I could have swum with the vicious looking grey sharks…that’s on my list for next time! The aquarium itself is fantastic, and I got my first ever glimpse of a sawfish, discovered that stingrays love to be tickled, and finished off the visit with a trip through the shark tunnel.


Emerging from the aquarium, the heat hadn’t abated even though it was five o’clock so I decided to head for the beach via Barceloneta, a cramped peninsula of colourful buildings between the city and the seafront. I walked along the promenade, admiring the throngs of sunbathers on the golden sand, the nimble rollerbladers dashing through the crowds, and the striking, sail-shaped building which overlooks the port. Sun worshippers rubbed shoulders with surfers and old ladies chattering while doughnut hawkers in turbans shouted about their wares in every language imaginable as they ambled down the beach in the late afternoon sun, which was only just starting to lose some of its heat.

barca surferImage

Having mastered the metro and thus not being afraid of being so far from my hostel, I dared to have dinner on the port. A football sized glass of the most delicious sangria preceded gazpacho and watermelon soup, oysters and a fabulous fish stew, a meal which would have cost three times the price in a similar restaurant in France. As I tottered back to the metro, the weary street vendors were also heading home after a hard day selling hats and bags in the tourist areas, with one eye on the lookout for the police. Despite what I’d been told about crime in Barcelona, I felt completely un-threatened there and much safer than in Paris.


I had been in Barcelona for 48 hours, and walked for 24, and while I had seen everything I’d wanted to see, it had gone by in the blink of an eye and I was already longing to return to this vibrant, colourful city.

The next morning I hopped on the metro like a local (apart from the grimy shorts and huge rucksack) and with a heavy heart, headed for the station. After one last delicious orange juice and creamy coffee, I boarded the train to Perpignan, changed into my suit in the car and made my way to my first business meeting of the week, and I could almost believe it didn’t happen, if it weren’t for the I <3 Barcelona bracelet peeking out of my sleeve…


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A Rainy Afternoon in Andorra


This month, Andorra is officially my new favourite place. I had been curious about this tiny country for a while… I really should stop looking longingly at road signs to places I’ve never been before. Nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain and a driveable distance from Toulouse where I was working, I decided to head there for the weekend. My decision was based on the fact that, as a new driver, I’d just about got the hang of motorways but mountains were as yet uncharted territory. So I looked at the map and decided Andorra was a fair a challenge as any, and I’m always a sucker for an iron-on badge from a new country. After finishing work on Friday, I stopped for a bite to eat and confidently told the waiter I was about to set off for Andorra.  When I asked what the road was like, he raised his eyebrows and let out a long whistle when I asked them what the drive up there was like. This is French for “Rather you than me.” Ignoring the little squeals of fright deep in my brain, I set off in my clunky little hire Fiesta with his “Good Luck!” ringing in my ears. It was a beautiful evening and my fear was soon quashed as I drove through miles of fields towards the majestic purple outline of the Pyrenees, and excitement began to take over. So far so good, and besides, how could something so beautiful looking be hard to drive up? As we began to climb, the dual carriageway took me through Foix, a charming little town with timber buildings and an ancient castle nestling in the foothills. From here on, the roads did get narrower and I had a handsome queue of disgruntled locals behind me, (don’t get between and Andorran and his cerveza) but the spectacular views as I headed to Ax really get you in the mood.


It is only after Ax that you start to sweat. It is this last 30 miles of the journey that you will remember the most; and I imagined my stomach muscles being significantly more toned after tackling the dozens of spectacular hairpin bends that inch you up what looks from the top to be a sheer mountain face. Once you drive through the Andorran customs (which consist of a man reading a newspaper in a little hut) you enter a sort of controlled freefall, the yan to the ying of the tortuous climb you’ve just endured and you struggle to control your car as you plummet towards the center, which lies seemingly in a pit surrounded by jagged peaks. Those of you who are expecting a reprieve from the baking Mediterranean sun beware, Andorra la Vella is a sun, heat and humidity trap, and temperatures easily reach the late 30’s. (It is also a thunderstorm trap, as I was to later find out).daliAlthough Andorra is a tiny country, a GPS is vital if you don’t intend to end up in Barcelona as the capital is extremely complicated and planners seemed to assume everyone would be driving powerful landcruisers.  It is worth knowing that if you get flashed by a speed camera, you only get fined and/or points on your licence if you are Andorran. This is possibly why there are so many Porsches racing through the narrow streets, scattering the crowds of bargain hunters. Andorra is the Pyrenees’ answer to Monaco, but on the plus side, it doesn’t matter if you get caught – as you inevitably will – by the change of speed limit between the entrance and exit of Andorra’s humungously long and downward spiraling tunnel through the rock: after two miles of hurtling nose first through a mountain, you have picked up enough speed to double the limit by the time you see daylight again. satnavOnce you’ve finally found your hotel, you’ll be ready to do some shopping. It was quite a surprise to find stores like Gucci and Desigual rubbing shoulders with ski hotels and smoky bars, and shops selling tax free tobacco, souvenirs and…all the firearms you could ever possibly want, including a solid gold handgun. blingygunDetermined to eat something away from the crowds of tourists jostling along the main drag, I wandered through the backstreets of the old quarter. Gradually the boutiques began to look less tacky, and I came to a little square where children were playing football while their parents sat sipping coffee at the little cafés that lined the arcades. There wasn’t a Gucci-clad Russian in sight. I hesitated for a moment, taken aback by the somewhat shabby looking bars with their plastic tables, I was almost tempted to follow the tourists into the huge restaurants that lined the main road, but no, I had set out to delve into the backstreets and was glad I did: I settled on a little place under the arches called the Vilarrasa. The owner is a friendly fellow from Barcelona and cooks each dish himself. vallarozzaThe food was divine and incredibly cheap, and the restaurant has a wonderful authentic feel, with a few of the older locals lined up at the bar to watch the football of some dramatic sounding Spanish soap opera on the screen by the door. I treated myself to a pint of San Miguel as I waited for my Zarzuela, or Catalan fish stew. I could hear promising frying and hissing sounds coming from the kitchen and soon the owner brought over an enormous pan of steaming seafood and placed it in front of me. I thought I was to take what I wanted but it was all for me, the whole pan. This was my kind of place.zarzuela


To compensate for eating so much delicious and healthy food (at that price, it would be a crime not to), I decided to head up the dizzying peaks in search of some hiking and breathtaking views. I stopped on the way up the mountain, already pretty proud of my deftness behind the wheel, to ask someone if they knew of a good place to hike. The lady pointed to the dizzying peak above us and just said, “You can’t miss it, it’s the end of the road.” So drive to El Serrat, past Ordino, and follow the road up as far as it wold go. My stomach clenched at sight of the road ahead, which disappeared behind a mountain only to resurface, seemingly clinging to an impossibly high cliff. Against my better judgement, I set off.

On the plus side,  I was so busy concentrating on getting round the hairpin bends and admiring the view ahead, I didn’t have time to look down and realize that there was just a foot-high wall between me and the valley, hundreds of meters below (I noticed this when I was on the way back down). longclimbI parked at the deserted ski resort (2200 metres) and scrambled along a rocky path up to the spectacular glacier lakes, where pockets of melting snow feed azure pools and sharp crags jut into the cloudless sky. After an invigorating swim in the lake, I scrambled up the Eastern face which is more or less vertical but has plenty of heather to cling on to, and this path (I actually think it was just a stream) takes you to the very top of the mountain (this time, I did have a Height Fright moment when I turned around and looked back over the valley, especially when strong blasts of wind feel like they’re going to pluck you off the mountain side) for an ultimate “wow” moment. Make sure you take at least 3 litres of water, food and powerful sun protection; the air may feel cool but the clear air means you burn very quickly.mountainssss lakes2 mountainsagain

Again, little effort is required of your car on the way back down to Andorra la Vella, the journey back is just controlled hurtling all the way back down the mountain.

When it rains in Andorra, it pours, and I’d advise not going anywhere near the mountain tops in one of the country’s terrifying electrical storms which linger over the capital, ricocheting off the surrounding cliffs. As you drive back into the center, you will notice a huge and angular glass building reaching to the sky: what looks like perfect lightning fodder (huge pointy metal thing in a storm? Let’s go there!) is actually Caldea, Andorra’s sumptuous thermal bath center. Well worth the 34 euro entrance fee (and watch out for special offers: 4 hours using all the facilities plus a massage for 47 euros!!!), this is the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon; Caldea is a riot of sensations…caldea I especially enjoyed the Icelandic baths, where, fresh out of the sauna, you rub flakes of ice on your skin (weirdly relaxing and not as cold as it sounds, as your skin becomes slightly de-sensitized), the indo-roman baths which are so warm you fall asleep in the belly of a cave, the traditional Turkish hamam complete with a beautiful oriental style ceiling and fountains of icy cold water to cool your face down as you steam away the stress.

But the most amazing thing of all is the outdoor Jacuzzi in a thunderstorm. As you wallow in blissfully hot water, freezing raindrops fall from the steam-clad mountains surrounding the spa, and you watch lightning lashing the peaks as you unwind and allow yourself to be towed back and forth by the circular currents. According to the friendly staff, most people prefer this facility when it’s sunny but for me the experience couldn’t have been more magical than in a storm. The center itself is a surreal mix of oriental and futuristic architectural styles, and you come out of your session exhausted, and far too relaxed to go and spend more money in the shops.

tazers andorracitycentre daliAndorra is a place of extremes: yesterday it was 37°, today was 14° and I personally can’t understand why people look so glum as the rain pours. After another delicious and hearty meal in Vilarrasa where I was greeted like a regular, I decided to brave the abating rain and go for a last walk around Andorra’s fascinating streets. I discovered that night time in the old quarter belongs to cats. Dozens of them hide in the shadows, their eyes flashing as they watch you from porches and walls. streetcat streetcatblackAfter a last lap of admiring the tazer shops which nestle next to the high fashion brands, I wearily made my way back to my hostel, Raco Extrem, which despite the name, was a fabulously peaceful little hotel right in the old town, with basic rooms and a cheap, fully loaded bar. It was a truly fabulous weekend in Andorra, and I had now conquered mountain roads. And don’t forget to fill up with petrol before leaving; fuel is a third of the price than just over the border, so it’s well worth arriving with an empty tank! On the way back, you drive through Tarascon and it’s worth making a small detour to Labouiche which has a spectacular underground river (just over the French border)…for a small fee, you take a boat ride hundreds of feet below the surface admiring a mile’s worth of petrified waterfalls and wedding cake rock formations.Round it all off with a fondue in Ax les Thermes to complete the Pyreneen experience. A perfect weekend. My next challenge will be that road, but with snow. Easy, right?




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Random thought

And summer’s around the corner,

I’m finding myself again,

Realised I’m not beyond repair,

I’m still there beneath the mess you made.

And I can see my fortune,

Just me, myself in the driving wheel,

I have to catch myself,

When I wonder how you’d feel.

I need to see myself for me,

I need to like what I see,

And not through your scathing gaze,

Be good enough for me.

I’ll do things my way,

I remember what I like doing,

The things that make me smile,

Before you took it all away,

And made me live a lie.

You leeched away my goodness,

Broke all my hopes in two,

Spat upon my dreams,

Then said I wasn’t enough for you.

My life, my love, my destiny,

Laid out at your feet,

All I owned and all i was,

Just wasn’t enough of me.

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The Lord works in strange ways :)

God works in mysterious ways – a Thank you to the Mormons


In October 2004 I left my job in Nice to start a new life in Grenoble with four friends. We didn’t know the town, but we could already see ourselves living in a mountain chalet with a few goats, drinking hot chocolate and mulled wine in the evenings in front of a log fire while the snow fell gently outside.

Except that when we got to Grenoble, there were no goats, and more disappointingly, no snow. But at least we had each other, and we managed to find a huge flat in the town centre. It was entirely empty apart from a mouldy old settee that we’d picked up on the street, and not only was there no log fire, but no heating at all.

And so began our new life. We were all very different people: John was an Irish engineering graduate down on his luck, Andy was a bankrupt backpacker on the run from the Inland Revenue, Julie was an aspiring American poet and general babe, and Anton was a very un-camp homosexual. And of course, there was me.

John was in love with Julie, Julie was in love with Shakespeare, Anton was in love with a different guy every night and Andy was pining for a Malaysian girl he had met inAustralia, but we’d all agreed that inGrenoblewe were going to get out and meet people.

Except that John spent his days sighing and staring at the living room carpet (or the ceiling on weekends, just for a change), Andy hovered obsessively and drank himself to sleep, and Julie basked in the sunbeams which shone through the dirty windows.

Before long, tensions grew and we realised this was quickly turning into a Shallow Grave situation without the case full of cash, Julie, John and Andy left and Anton and I were left alone with the huge draughty flat and the mouldy settee, and their rent left unpaid. My job hunting efforts had proved futile, and the landlord wasn’t open to compromise. He looked just like the leader of the French National Front and was just as charming, calling us “foreign scum” and trying to bully us into leaving.

On a freezing December morning, I looked down into the garden to see him hiding behind he bushes, muffled up against the wind. I waved and asked cheerily what he was doing, and he said he was just raking some leaves. I presume the foot of frozen snow didn’t pose a problem, or the fact that it was still dark.

But as the days went by the situation went from comical to scary, as bailiffs banged repeatedly on our door. The neighbours ignored us and we later found out he’d told them we were running a brothel.

On a freezing winter night, Anton and I sat glumly drinking cheap rosé from a plastic bottle to keep warm as our power had been cut off, trying to think of ways to make some cash, when it suddenly came to us.

Of course!

We hatched a plan and ended up feeling like undercover agents. It would require timing, acting skills and personal sacrifice.

We were going to become Mormons.

Grenoblewas full of enthusiastic young fresh faced American missionaries, with their little badges, shiny shoes and Southern accents. They are very friendly fellows, and our plan couldn’t have worked better; the very next day we got chatting to a couple of nice young lads fromAtlanta. We introduced ourselves as a young couple of newlyweds; we were no longer Anton of the Steamy Gay Saunas and Catherine the Pint-Downer, but Mr and Mrs. Smulski, a respectable young couple who had fallen on hard times.

They were so believing of our story that I wanted to own up, but out situation was desperate and sitting in the kitchen singing songs about God as Elder Brandon strummed his guitar at least felt like we were earning our keep. It took a huge amount of effort to keep a straight face but I managed to disguise my explosions of giggling as coughing fits and tears brought on by the emotion of it all. They showed us films about wholesome young men rearing goats while Anton and I concentrated on not catching each other’s eye.

Each time there was a knock at the door there’d be a mad rush to clear up evidence of our very un-Mormon life : Anton covered up his love bites with my concealer while I hid the coffee, wine and Anton’s dodgy DVDs under the sofa. But if our lifestyle was a lie, our problems were very real, and the good Missionaries brought us huge boxes of food, and the Church paid our bills, and finally we had heating again in the midst of a very cold winter. As a special treat, we were urged to go the Church disco where there promised to be well mannered dancing (married couples could even hold hands!) and orange juice… Unfortunately we never managed to make it there.

They didn’t even raise an eyebrow when we ran into them in town accompanied by Rosario, a transvestite friend of Anton’s who worked nearby (under the railway bridge, to be precise); he too was cordially invited to Church, and I told them thatRosariowas a circus performer. ElderBrandontold him about all the attractive single Mormon girls down at the church, and I had to bite my lip to say, I think you’re more his type mate.

Not long after, Anton and I both found jobs, and although we didn’t ask the Mormons for any more help, they still came round occasionally to sing to us and check whether we were dutifully reading the Morman Young Person’s Handbook. They often talked to us about the chapter on sins (homosexuality, alcohol, drugs, nightclubs, coffee, pop music…), warning us about these unimaginable evils, whilst seemingly fascinated by this dark world they knew little about. We never did have the guts to own up.

I am not religious but I really do feel that someone was smiling down upon us when they sent the Mormons to our door, even if it was just to teach us to appreciate coffee and to not laugh even though you really, really want to. Thank you

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Anorexia book: Hoping for Rain – chapter 24

Chapter 24

 Rochdalefair; Dad was doing a show there with his pet food company, and he asked me if I’d like to come with a friend.  I didn’t feel like doing anything; I felt so weak and spaced out all of the time and if I could allow myself, all I really wanted to do was sleep but sleep used up valuable calorie burning time, and anyway I had so much trouble sleeping that there’d be no point trying to nap during the day.  So I tried to force myself to appear interested in taking part in things other teenagers my age loved doing: shopping for clothes, looking at boys, going to fairs; I thought it might be a step towards possibly being normal again.  Maybe if I acted enough, it’d become real.  I tried to do everything I used to do as a little girl, when I was carefree and spontaneous, and imagined myself being excited about going to a fair with a friend, the most natural thing in the world.  I promised Mum I would have a burger for lunch, and plastered a grin on my face to try and kid her into thinking I was fine and able to have a good time.  I put on my jogging pants that I’ve had since I was ten, and my bright red jumper.  I would have been thrilled to fit into these trousers three months ago, but as I looked myself up and down in the mirror, one word came to mind: babyish.  I looked pathetic, with my seemingly huge feet, scraggy hair and stupid bright clothes, which just seemed to highlight my dullness.  The day hadn’t even begun but I already felt exhausted.  I looked outside; rain.  Cold, dark grey day.

What would I have done as a kid?  Said I didn’t feel like going, stayed snug as a bug all day in the house, watching films and drawing cartoon strips, and had a thoroughly nice time.  Maybe I would have gone swimming with Aisha and Vic without thinking about calories, and had a big juicy burger with melted cheese afterwards.

But I had programmed my day: I was going to the fair with Michelle, and I’d planned what time I was going to have my lunch, where I’d buy it from, how much I’d walk around afterwards, and exactly what time I was coming home.  No question of spontaneously changing my mind at the last minute.

We went to collect Michelle before driving over to Rochdale, and I listened to her chattering away about school and people we used to go to junior school together with, but her words washed over me, seeming like a background noise as the familiar terror washed over me: calorie intake against calorie burning, basal metabolic rate, fat content, would I be able to bring myself to eat a burger for lunch?  I kept dragging myself back to the conversation in the car; realising I hadn’t been listening to her and hating myself not listening to her; I’m sure she knew from the way I was so distracted, that I was miles away and couldn’t make myself care, no matter how hard I tried.  We got to the fair and Michelle led me round the stalls; I wasn’t interested in anything – what was the point in buying anything?  All I could think about was The Burger.  I put on my best show, picking things up without seeing them just to act the part.  We came to a tent where you could have your picture taken with a gigantic python.

Normally I knew I would be beside myself with glee in the presence of such a wonderful creepy-crawly as Mum called them, but even the sight of a huge snake couldn’t rouse my attention past mild interest.  This place felt like Hell.  It was cold, wet, grey, stank of frying onions and donuts which made my stomach twist and contract painfully (“Down boy!” I absurdly felt like shouting at the ravenous and hateful monster who lived in there, roaring to be fed), and was full of people who were oblivious to my anguish…why wouldn’t they be?  I wondered if there was a scientific formula that meant they Had Fun and I didn’t; I wanted to ask them how they did it, what the point of it all was.  Every smile I forced on cue made my face ache.  At half past eleven I told Michelle I suddenly realised I was starving hungry (this was the earliest acceptable time I thought we could have lunch at; I’d been thinking about the dreaded moment all morning), and did she fancy a…hmm let’s see…a burger?  She reluctantly agreed, and began to head for the hotdog stand where all the rancid frying smells were coming from.  I panicked.  I hadn’t prepared for this.  These burgers weren’t of a standard size, they were unchartered territory; their teacakes were four times the size of Mc Donald’s burgers and who knows what they slathered carelessly on them: butter, mayonnaise…I felt faint with panic as Michelle joined the queue and I strained to get a look at the food sizzling on the hot griddles, and I think I might have actually turned white as I saw sausages, huge low quality fatty burgers frying next to bacon , the grease leaking out onto each other, spitting onto the onions frying next to them.  There was a pile of baps ready split and buttered waiting to receive their fat laden fillings, each with a thick layer of butter already spread on.  They made me think of dirty nappies; there was no way I was going to eat this poison.  I turned to Michelle.  “I don’t like the look of these burgers…it doesn’t look very hygienic here.  Don’t you fancy a Mc Donald’s instead?  I’m sure there’s one just over the road…” She looked doubtful.  “Mc Donald’s burgers are small compared to these ones…” That’s exactly the point!  I wanted to scream, but eventually she gave in and I said I was sure here was one nearby.

It took us nearly an hour to find the Mc Donald’s; without umbrellas, trudging through the pouring rain.  Michelle said she was sick of walking around in the wet, that it was stupid, and that it made much more sense to get some food from one of the many hot dog stalls or kebab shops dotted around the streets, but I pretended not to hear her and carried on my desperate search: I had to have a Mc Donald’s burger.  I’d done my research that morning in my calorie book that I keep under my bed and knew exactly what was in it.  A plain burger with nothing on contains 249 calories and 7.5 grams of fat, and that’s what I was having.  We finally found Mc Donald’s and I felt elated: there I was, an anorexic in Mc Donald’s, ordering food, showing the world I was fine, keeping my promise.  I ordered my burger and a bottle of water (I didn’t drink diet coke as it had one calorie per litre, and in any case, it tasted sweet), and Michelle ordered a double cheeseburger (421 cals), large fries (400 cals), and large coke (220 cals).  We went and sat in a corner of the busy restaurant, and I opened my burger box.  I felt cheated.  I had imagined it looking huge and juicy, but there it was, my burger that I’d been terrified of all morning, tiny, forlorn and shrivelled in its cardboard wrapping.  I took a tiny bite out of it, trying not to look longingly at Michelle’s wickedly delicious looking fat filled feast.  The burger was dry, and didn’t taste daring at all.  Michelle said between mouthfuls, “You’re going to have to eat more than that if you want to put on weight; look what I’m eating and I don’t even want to gain weight!  Do you want some of mine?” I jumped as though stung.

“OhnothanksIcouldn’tpossiblyinfactI’mfullanywayI’llbehavingahugemealfordinnertonightthat nkssomuchfortheoffer!”

So that was lunch over and done with, and I left Mc Donald’s before the hideous temptation to buy everything on the menu got the better of me.  The rest of the fair went by in a miserable blur; I just wanted the day to come to an end.

I’d persuaded Mum to let me cook dinner that night, as she thought it’d be “therapeutic” for me to cook something we would all eat as a family.  I pored for hours over recipes, finally settling on “honey glazed chilli lime prawns with coriander, cherry tomatoes and pasta.” Sounded healthy, and I excitedly got all the ingredients together.  In the article it said there were 630 calories per portion, but I bet I could get it down to 400.  I switched the pasta to wholemeal, ditched the honey (it wasn’t essential after all) and olive oil (you could cook food just as well by poaching it).  So instead of frying the garlic, prawns and tomatoes, I poached them.  When Mum put her head round the kitchen door (spying on me) to “see how I was doing,” she said I needed to use a drizzle (horrible word, rhymed with grizzle.  I also hated the words portion: porpoise; spread (as in butter): spreading thighs; meal: squeal and marge (as in margarine): lard or large) of olive oil.  I snapped back that I had, and told her to get out of the kitchen.  I was determined everyone should have exactly the right amount, so I counted out the prawns one by one, and then did the same with the pasta shells.  As we sat down to our meal, Dad went to the kitchen to get some olive oil to pour on his, and Mum took some to, saying it was lovely, just a little dry for their liking.  I loved having control over our food: I didn’t mind eating when I knew exactly what’s gone in the dish.

I spent the last remaining days of the holidays with my Mum.  I couldn’t trust myself to be alone at home; as I knew I’d just go out and exercise all day, so I hung around her shop in town.  I wandered round the streets looking at all the clothes I would buy when I was better and telling people I met that yes, I was ill, yes I accepted it and yes I was on the road to recovery before they could ask; whilst all the time wondering whether I believed in what I was saying.  I walked up the high street, and went into a charity shop.  I rooted through the moth bitten polyester shirts and came across a gorgeous bright purple crushed velvet dress, a size twelve.  It was a real woman’s dress, with a plunging neckline and fitted waistline.  I’d love to be the sort of girl who could wear a dress like this, and on impulse, I bought it for two pounds.  I took it back to the shop to show Mum and she said, “Oh Catherine, what’s the point in buying clothes now when you’ve no idea what size you’re going to be?”

Well I’m not going to be more than a twelve that’s for sure! I wanted to be a perfect ten.

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Anorexia Book extract – Hoping for Rain – Chapter 19

Chapter 19


Nooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!  I was sure there was a conspiracy to fatten me up!!!  My aunt and uncle were coming up for the weekend and that night they want to GO OUT FOR A MEAL!  I couldn’t do this.  And so soon after that disgusting display of piggery atVictoria’s house – I’d end up a blimp!!!  I needed at least a month to lose all that lard I must have eaten on Saturday, yet here I was being forced into more gluttony.  It’s a well known fact that HEALTHY PEOPLE don’t go out for meals!  Also David and Cora hadn’t seen me since before Christmas, before I started my diet.  I didn’t want them to see me like this.  I went to Marks and Spencer with Mum – she wanted to get me an outfit for tonight (preferably one that covers most of my body).  I saw myself there in the long mirrors – I looked so UGLY!  Grey horrid waxy skin and my hair looked like straw, my face gormless but I secretly thought my body looked ok.  Svelte.  We chose a summery orange sleeveless trouser suit with a white long-sleeved top to go underneath because Mum said my arms looked too frightful to be seen.

When David and Cora arrived I kind of hid behind Mum, waiting for the “OH MY GOD YOU’RE SO THIN!!!” but they didn’t say anything.  Dad said he’d “warned them” so that they wouldn’t be too shocked or suggest we go for a huge Indian meal or something, but apparently they decided on the Austrian restaurant, which was worse!  It was a food I’d never come across and didn’t know how to deal with.  I did notice they looked awkward when they greeted me as though they didn’t want to touch me.  We had “aperitifs” (I had nothing – being only fifteen was a great excuse not to drink fattening alcohol), and I watched with a mixture of glee and ravishing hunger as they munched away at peanuts and crisps and twiglets.  I managed to resist but only just – I was terrified my FAT PERSON mentality was coming back.  I KNEW IT!  I knew this would happen; I was turning back into “Greedy Guts,” the fitting name my parents used to give me as they fondly watched me devour anything put in front of me.  They wanted Greedy Guts back.  Why do parents get such satisfaction from their kids hoovering up masses of food?  Don’t they realize that if the kid puts on weight they’re going to be unhappy and get bullied at school?

David looked over at me; I was sitting on my hands so I couldn’t grab at the Bombay mix which I could smell from where I was sitting, and asked why I wasn’t having anything.  Cos I wasn’t hungry/ didn’t like them/was saving my appetite for the meal, I sheepishly mumbled in time with a loud and angry gurgle from my stomach.  Everyone noticed.  After they’d finished talking, we piled into the car and drove over the moors, headed for an Austrian restaurant called the Berghoff.  Austrian food!!!???  But wasn’t that really fattening?  Noooooo!!!!  Terror gripped me.  I tried to casually ask Mum what sort of food they have in an Austrian restaurant, trying to sound just mildly interested, and she just joked, “Ostriches!” “Stop It!” I wanted to scream, “This isn’t a laughing matter!  I NEED TO KNOW!!” I had to know so I could plan ahead!

I couldn’t do this.  The thing was, I really didn’t want to embarrass my parents, but at the same time, I couldn’t possibly eat to please them – to put on a show for my aunt and uncle.  Oh God, oh God, maybe I’d try to make myself sick – ooh I could even have dessert in that case!  Mmm I could have three portions of blackcurrant cheesecake or I wonder if they have that amazing German chocolate cake I’ so often fantasized about…no no no stop it you fat cow what if you can’t be sick?  I couldn’t manage it before…maybe I could pretend to fall ill just before the food arrives; I could fake appendicitis… no I’d probably get hospitalised and force fed…oh God!  HELP!

We arrived at the restaurant which was built to look like a real mountain chalet, all warm -looking and with a pinewood façade.  We were greeted at the door by a beautiful, smiling Austrian girl with ice blonde hair, rosy cheeks and a muscular body – she looked so healthy and at ease in her traditional maid’s outfit; I stared at her hoping she wouldn’t notice, taking in every detail.  I so wanted to be like her!  Attractive, smiley, witty…I saw the way all the men smiled stupidly at her as she took our coats… desirable, sexy, happy…confident.  She wasn’t thin, she was muscular…would I be happy like that?  What does she eat?  Does she exercise?  I wished I could ask her how to be her, could she write me a manual I could follow to the letter and find happiness that way.  But instead I just hid behind Mum.

We sat down in the plush alpine surroundings and the girl handed us some thick glossy menus.  Soup.  I’ll just have soup.  Let’s get this over with.

“So!” exclaimed David, “what’s everyone having for starters?”

Starters?  Nooooooooooooo!!!!!  I instantly said I didn’t want one, that I’d just have a main course but Mum started to cajole me like a child, saying, “Come on, just have a little one…you can have an ickle salad…” Leave me alone!  I’m not a child and I don’t want an “ickle” anything!  Fuck off, everyone: Stop looking at me!!

I was finally bullied into having melon, and then I ordered chicken in tomato sauce with boiled rice.  That didn’t sound too bad, but the melon stressed me out.  I hadn’t planned for that.

As we waited for our food, the waitress brought over a basket of bread.  Without thinking I grabbed a piece and ate it, then instantly hated myself for it.  That’s what Greedy Guts used to do, systematically scoff all the bread even before the meal came.  Disgusting!  I managed to leave half of the melon by scooping it as shallowly as possible with the spoon, pacing myself so I didn’t finish before the others.  I hated leaving food, and I sat staring fixedly at that poor little melon, happy that I’d left some and yet hating myself for wasting it.  I hoped one of the kitchen staff would finish it, and I wanted to cry at the thought of it going in the bin.  When the smiling waitress appeared and brought the main courses, I felt sick looking at my chicken.  The portion appeared huge and looked like they’d poured horrible red oil on it, with blobs of grease floating in the tomato sauce.  But I couldn’t believe what the others were eating; huge thick pork steaks with gravy, vegetables smothered in butter and what looked like gigantic suet dumplings the size of footballs.  I was desperate to start eating but I stopped myself, as I knew I’d throw myself ravenously on the food and gobble it all up before everyone else…the others were deep in conversation, and I wondered why they didn’t leap on their food as soon as it arrived.  They took a forkful, sometimes even hesitating to listen to the conversation before putting it in their mouth.

“EAT IT!!!,” I wanted to yell.  I was fascinated by those huge spongy dumplings.  I wanted to know what they tasted like, what exactly was in them, and was trying to work out how many calories each one contained.  Possibly a thousand or more.  But I got quite a large amount of pleasure watching the others eat their dumplings, as long as they kept going.  But they didn’t eat huge bites; they cut small bits off them at a time, and ate them with a little bit of meat and a little of the vegetables, daintily, nonchalantly, as though the food wasn’t really important to them.

How did they eat so slowly?  It was torture for me, watching people during meal times, holding my breath each time they put down their fork in case they didn’t start eating again.  They seemed not to notice the food in front of them as they chatted away, seemingly engrossed in the discussion.  I didn’t hear the conversations – I was totally transfixed by the food on my plate and on everyone else’s, doing calorie estimations and wondering how much exercise it would take to burn this lot off.  I managed to leave most of the sauce and half of the rice.  I always tried to decide how much I was going to leave before I started eating, and draw an imaginary line down the plate: what I’d eat, what I’d leave, because I was naturally so greedy that I was never full.  I tried to eat as little of the food as possible without attracting attention, as I didn’t want Mum to start cajoling, “Come on eat some more.”

The others left loads of theirs – it was agonizing watching those forgotten-about dumplings sitting on the plates.  How did people leave things?  How do they judge when to stop eating when they’d had enough?  I’d obviously just eaten far too much and yet I was still hungry.  What was wrong with me?  Why did I have this overwhelming urge to snatch the food off other people’s plates?

They declined dessert but Mum pressed me to order one.  “Go on, just a little one!” No.  “Just a little lemon sorbet…” NO!  STOP IT!!!  Why should I have dessert, especially as the others have declined?!

“But you always used to have dessert.” Always used to…always used to…It was the things that I always used to do that made me fat and hate myself in the first place.  That made me like this.

I hated it when Mum said, “Lets just get you back to the way you were.” NO!  Didn’t she understand that I loathed the way I was.  Frumpy, fat, sweaty, greedy, lazy, spotty.  The girl people picked on.  The girl that always got chosen last for the netball team.  The girl no-one wanted to dance with at the school Christmas party, apart from Mr. Kumar but I think it must have been because he felt sorry for me.  The girl that came last in Cross Country, singled out and condemned as a sloth by the sneering Miss Miller.

Lardarse.  Fat Cow.  Cellulite on thighs.

And now I was like this.  Wasn’t this what you saw in every magazine, what our sports teacher barked at us every lesson:






Who are these people?  These people that make us, particularly women, feel like we are sinners, and what is it to them?  Are they men that write these magazines?  Men that want thin neurotic miserable women?  I did everything right and now I was being made to feel like a freak – was there anyone on this planet that enjoys horrible exercise routines?  All these stringy, soya bean eating fell runner types, were they happy?  There was a man I had seen for years, who jogged laboriously past our house every day, whether it was baking hot sunshine or pouring rain, he was there in his white t-shirt and running shorts, pounding away at the same pace.  Over the months, his legs had got progressively musclier since I’d been observing him, but he always looked so miserable and on the brink of a heart attack.  I sometimes used to wonder about his life, whether he had a wife and happy family to go home to when he got back from his run, and the more I dove into my nightmarish exercise routine, I wondered whether he, like me, did it not through enjoyment but through obsession.  He seemed so lonely.  His body looked powerful and toned but his shoulders slumped like someone who had no enjoyment of life, and I wondered if it was his exercise that made him miserable.

I just wanted to be acceptable.  Were these people, who I aspired to be like, were they happy or were they all like me, just putting on a brave face whilst secretly hating themselves and avoiding their own reflections.  I knew a couple who were both whippet thin, who seemed to exude exercise and outdoorsiness, they were fell runners and always had these huge self satisfied grins as they were buying their quorn burgers, but I wonder, did they compete against one another, secretly trying to fatten each other up?  Or did they get up in the morning and say, “Darling I fear your metabolic rate has slowed, have you done your exercise?” Did they ever talk about anything else apart from diet and fitness?  I wondered if they ever woke up and said, sod it, I really can’t be bothered going fell running today, it’s raining.  Let’s go to the cinema instead, after we’ve had a fried bacon and egg sandwich.

These people, these “exercise fanatics,” they seem so smug because they do what everyone thinks they should, what the government says you must, what the magazines drum into our heads but were they doing it because they liked it or was it to get admiration from others?  Were they too just filling a massive void that really should have been filled with love or contentedness?

Everyone strives for perfection but how did you know when you’d reached it?  What was to stop you from doing as I did and missing the mark, ploughing headlong into a totally opposite situation but one where you are just as unhappy as before?  I suddenly realized there must have been a point where I could have stopped – I guessed it was when I was just around nine stone and everyone complimented me on how good I looked, when I still felt happy and in control, when my diet really was just a diet.  Why the HELL didn’t I just stop then??  It never occurred to me that you could go too far – I just thought the thinner I got the more people would like me.  Now I was in this huge fucking mess – I was a complete wreck mentally and I was scared I’d damaged my body beyond repair and yet I still couldn’t STOP.

In the car on the way home I was silent; I hoped my anguish would at least burn off some of that night’s gluttony.

Next day I woke up and took a long look at myself in the mirror.

“Okay, let’s not panic, I didn’t eat that much last night, and this morning I managed to exercise for an hour without being caught out.” I got up before everyone else and took Pastis for a “walk,” which involved a fast walk up through the woods, a few laps of the fields and running down the canal.  When I got back, everybody was awake, and I told them I’d just been to the end of the road and back.  It’s wonderful having guests, as Mum couldn’t question me more for fear of starting an argument.  After more extensive examination of my body in my bedroom mirror, I decided I still looked thin.  We even went for a walk in the afternoon so I managed to burn off a few more extra calories.  It was only three days before I was due to go to see Dr. Martin again, and had been doing some rapid calculations.  Even if I was forced to eat 4000 calories a day, I’d only put on three pounds max before I went back to see him (I was sure I must only burn about 1000 calories a day seeing as I weighed about six stone, even with all the exercise and worry), and I guessed I didn’t eat that much last night; I managed to leave half of the rice, most of the fatty blobs in the sauce and to refuse dessert.  I can’t see any change in my body, no lumps of fat that weren’t there the day before but then maybe it’d suddenly show in a day or two.  I felt safe knowing there was the doctor’s appointment in three day’s time, I just had to not get too fat by then.

I fell asleep relieved, trying to work out exactly how much weight I would put on by the end of the week.

The next day began with Mum commenting again, even before the day had started, on my breakfast.  She wanted me to have TOAST!  I told her that my cereal was a perfectly respectable first meal of the day for a “normal person,” and she started with that cajoling voice, “Yes but it’s not going to put any weight on you!” I told her the other stuff I ate would, just please leave my breakfasts alone.  It’s a constant, and I needed to start the day with a constant, it made me feel safe.  She said, “Yes but your grapefruit cancels out your Allbran, and it’s just roughage anyway.” Cancels out.  Pfff!  Just like people who think that eating healthy food in unlimited amounts didn’t make you fat, and that you lost weight in steam rooms.

I surprised myself later that day, when I was in English class: I realized I hadn’t been breathing for the last minute or two, and I couldn’t remember what I’d been doing or thinking for that time.  It was like I’d just shut down for a while, and when I thought about it I’d been doing this a lot lately.  I felt kind of spaced out.


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Book extract – Hoping For Rain –

Why were people so cruel to me?  I was so down and couldn’t shake off this feeling of dread, like I couldn’t face the future, couldn’t see a way out of this hell.  Sometimes I got the courage to eat, when I had looked long and hard in the mirror…this may sound strange but it was the easiest thing in the world to not eat something, to just not put it into my mouth.  It used to be the other way but now I needed so much willpower to put food in my mouth and chew, and I had to swallow straight away because if I tasted it I would just spit it out.

I began to have horrible dreams.  I dreamt we were at Nan and Granddad’s and I was sat in the living room in Granddad’s armchair.  Nan brought me a plate with three HUGE slices of cake and then sat there waiting for me to eat them, saying, “Come on, you can eat these can’t you?”, then (and this was the worst part), Mum arrived and added three large buttered, boiled potatoes and told me to eat them, too.  I hated potatoes, especially new potatoes.  They made me want to be sick, and I always had to fight with Mum as she tried to pile them on my plate with BUTTER!  Woke up in a cold sweat.

But over those past few days I had been noticing things, and a small part of my brain was slowly beginning to accept that I could be ill.  I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot, but was still compelled to run, even though I had to hop and speed-limp most of the way.  These was no question about it, I could not stop exercising at such a crucial stage.  My eating was being monitored more and more closely so the only thing I had left to control was exercise.  I could still complete my routine by limp-running.  But I now knew that I did this because I was mentally ill, and that at some point it was going to have to stop.  I tried picturing myself doing this for years, as forty year old wizened anorexic pounding away on a treadmill in a poky little flat, and somehow knew that’d never be me, whether this thing beat me or whether I managed to crawl out of this deep dark hole.  But I wasn’t ready yet.

I could easily get my thumb and forefinger to touch around the top of my arm.  I often caught myself having stopped breathing without realising, as though I was forgetting how to stay alive.  I couldn’t concentrate at school; when I was sat down I focused on any food I’d just eaten, willing it to burn.  I managed to tense my whole body up so that I shook slightly, and I was sure this burned calories.

And then one morning I took a long, long look at myself in the mirror.  I looked at the little slightly raised points where my breasts used to be, at the bristly hair on my scrawny matchstick arms, they looked like mini gnarled tree trunks with all the veins showing through, at the elbow joints jutting out; I looked at the yawning hollows in my cheeks and my protruding mouth that looked too big for my face, at my waxy grey skin and finally, I looked into my sad sunken eyes and saw nothing there, as though the occupant had left.  I stared hard at this stranger and battled to keep hold this monstrous image of my emaciated little body.  This was why people stared in the street; not through envy but through horror, and young children hid from me as I approached.  This was me.  I looked like this; this was how I appeared to people.  I tried so hard to keep the image looking shocking to give me the will to get out of this horrible mess, but as I stared at my reflection another part of my brain saw the cheekbones, the smooth skin, the veins sticking out just like a bodybuilder’s, the taut belly with a six pack and toned muscles…horror turned to fascination, then to admiration.  I turned this way and that in the mirror, posing, making the light bounce off the defined angles of my face.  I wasn’t a monster, I was pure and beautiful.  I didn’t need to drown this stunning creature in flab when she had only just emerged; I had to stay like this.

I threw my lunch away.

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