06 June 2011

Listowel Writers’ Week

Listowel was bustling with visitors. These included famous names and autograph hunters, readers and writers of prose, verse and drama. Much of the festive activity was centred around the town square, where girls wearing red t-shirts sidled up to passers-by and pointed clip-boards at them.
Some of this red army of statistic-hungry girl-guides seeped like ants up into the neighbouring streets and into the local bookshop. There I pretended to be immersed in my browsing while listening to people being questioned.
There was a shop in the main square doing a roaring trade in ice-cream cones, emitting a steady stream of questionnaire-fodder onto the sunny footpath. The data-hunters swarmed eagerly while their prey complied between licks of their ninety-nines.
We wandered around the town several times in the three days we spent there. We sampled cafés, pubs, restaurants and fast-food joints. We went for walks by the river and peered over at the race-course. We admired paintings and listened to music. We relaxed in the sun. We attended workshops, learned things and wrote them down. One evening we noticed a commotion in the corner of the town square. On investigation we found a literary pub-crawl, with a local theatre group enacting scenes outside each pub. We tagged along for a while and did a little dance at the musical intervals.
We walked past the clip-board bearers. We turned around and walked past again, a bit more slowly. We tried on our most ‘helpful and forthcoming’ faces. We attempted to perfect an ‘approachable’ walk.
We went to the shop and bought ninety-nines. We stood around outside the shop and ate them, posing in what can only be described as a ‘congenial’ stance. Still nobody took the hint so instead we went to the Listowel Arms Hotel, which we identified as the hub of the whole festival. This nerve-centre would surely be full of literary-types and therefore the ultimate survey hot-spot. We would bestow the gift of honest feedback and accurate information upon the festival organisers. Our opinions would shape the Listowel Writers’ Weeks of the future.
Unfortunately the only attention we attracted was that of a wild old man, sporting a wide-brimmed cloth hat and a massive ginger beard. His accent and quick slurred speech were difficult to understand but he loved talking to us. He asked us whether we were poets or writers before declaring “I’m a racist and I make no bones about it.” Then he proudly produced a lovingly handwritten song from his pocket entitled “I hate wogs”. It was a litany of all the violent and even cannibalistic acts he wanted to commit to every ethnicity. My eyes widening as I scanned the page I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation before we hastily made our excuses and found another place to sit.
We skipped to the circus and then around the town square one last time before taking the road home. “Maybe we look too silly to be part of a serious survey.” I concluded. “I guess I’ll just have to write about it in my blog.”

28 May 2011

Scary Monsters

I tried to think of the most harmless thing– something that I loved from my childhood, something that would never ever possibly destroy us….

I must have seen this film fifty times. I think we had copied it from the TV and I used to watch the video over and over when I was a kid. After that we used to watch the cartoon spin-off series every week.
I have always loved horror and ghost stories for as long as I can remember - as an adult I still seek out the creepiest goriest or scariest ones. Freddy Kreuger, Jason, Chuckie and Pinhead were all household names to me. They don’t bother me much when I consider the real-life atrocities that can be seen on the evening news. Yet there is one film that frightened me more than the rest of them put together. I had another Ghostbusters nightmare last week.

It’s not the eggs frying on the counter, it’s not the fridge with the swirling and the building and the ‘Zool’ voice. It’s not even the ghost in the library that suddenly goes ‘rawr!’ (when I used to watch that scene I always had my eyes closed until I could hear the jaunty piano music play as our heroes fled the building). It’s those damned dog-things with the red eyes. Those are the monsters that have always scared the bejaysus out of me.

It’s the way they are lurking silently. There might be one in the cupboard and you might unwittingly throw your coat over it. They don’t get angry, they just emit a low rumbling growl, and observe you calmly with their red glowing eyes, maybe tilting the head to one side. They are waiting patiently to collect you. It might be on a quiet evening when you are alone watching the telly and next thing you know, their claws are coming out of your armchair, pinning you down, covering your mouth, stifling your screams.

They don’t care where or when, so there’s no point running or sleeping with the light on. They can chase you across central park and maul you in front of a crowded restaurant. They don’t care who sees. They have a job to do.

When I was a child my parents had a clock-radio on their bedside locker with a red LED. Every time I glanced into the room, when the lights were out, I was reminded of those eyes. Of course I would do a double-take and read the numbers to make sure it was a clock and not eyes. But sometimes, I just hurried past, afraid to glance again, just in case, this time, the glow was not from a clock.

And now, twenty years later, those monsters still hunt me down in my dreams. You would think I’d have more important things on my mind, but I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.
I actually got a bit creeped out just adding this picture.

23 May 2011


Brigid was a city girl. She was never far from people, and not too shy of crowds. She scrounged for whatever she could find, helping herself to leftovers, nothing wasted.

One day she felt attracted by a sweet smell and scurried towards it. In a few jumps and a little bit of a scrape, she dived into a bin full of morsels of food to nibble on and a delicious pool at the bottom of it to lap at. She buried herself down deep, sampling and sniffing as she went.

Suddenly her world lunged violently and began to rumble. In terror she scrambled for the surface, her little toes gripping desperately to the shaking contents as she climbed upwards. Finally she surfaced and jumped clear.

She was in the hall of a house under the glare of a lightbulb.

One of the people screamed. She darted for the safety of a cupboard under the stairs and squirmed away into the darkness. After a moment the door slammed and her chink of light disappeared.

She could hear the people walking about outside, running up and down the stairs above her head. They tucked their trousers into their socks. Outside the cupboard, one of them put on wellies. One of them pulled a hood over her ears. One of them opened the front door and opened Brigid’s door and poked a sweeping brush around angrily. She shrunk down further and kept still.

The people in the house named her after their landlady who wouldn’t let them have a cat.

After an hour or so the cupboard door opened again and a trap was placed inside. It is still there, baited with chocolate spread. Brigid’s sense of smell is keen. From her corner of the cupboard she can smell it.

The house is quiet. The people who live in it are wondering if Brigid will gnaw her way to freedom. 

They are waiting for her hunger to betray her.

They are listening for the snap and her screams.

21 May 2011

The Rapture

“What time is it?”

I rolled over and leaned out of the bed to reach my phone.


The deluge had stopped and the evening sun had broken through the clouds.

“Hey, we survived The Rapture” I said.

 “Well, actually, the way it works is that the saved ascend and the forsaken are left on earth, which will become hell.”

From the bed I could see a corner of the convent outside my window. “I guess that convent is mostly empty then, except for one or two naughty nuns.”

We looked at each other and laughed nervously. The bathroom door creaked in the breeze left by an open window.

We got dressed and went downstairs to an empty house. There was food still cooking in the oven but the kitchen was desolate.

The torrential day had given way to a still evening, leaving a soft breeze like a sigh of relief. Everything out in the street, drenched and dripping, glistened in the yellow light. 

14 May 2011

Women's Interest

What’s the difference between Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Woman’s Way?
Cosmopolitan teaches you how to have an orgasm, Vogue teaches you how to fake an orgasm and Woman’s Way teaches you how to knit an orgasm.

Sometimes when I’m travelling I feel tempted to buy a copy of Cosmopolitan. I love reading it to compare the lives of women in different countries. For instance the Asian ones have adds for skin-whitening products, and the British one, skin-oranging products. The fashions change with the climates, and the reviews give a snapshot of local trends in chickllit and chick-flicks. In the American one, the erotic fiction page usually ends in love, but in the UK edition it ends in, well, orgasm.

That’s always been the main selling point though. Cosmo always entices the reader with the inevitable promise of “mind-blowing orgasms” and I ask myself who wouldn’t be tempted by the lure of reaching untold ecstasy by leaning slightly to the left. It promises to answer all questions about female sexuality - even the ones you hadn’t thought to ask. Who wouldn’t want to learn of the delights that may be discovered from a combination of simple household objects like a plunger, an egg-cup and a pair of marigolds?

Fortunately there’s no need to feel embarrassed when buying this monthly manual, there is enough content on celebrities, lifestyle, fashion and health that you can pretend you bought it for one of the other articles. Much of these are made up of helpful tips on HOW TO PLEASE YOUR MAN. And don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, the rest of it is dedicated to solving this catastrophic problem. Don’t get too smug though, there are warnings and advice aplenty on how to keep him once you’ve snared yourself one.

I recently picked up the latest issue and had a flick through to check in case I was missing some enlightenment. The front cover not only promised a list of amazing sex tips, how to never get dumped, and how to make bullies leave you alone. Not wanting to be an arrogant know-it-all I had to check, of course. To my horror I discovered that I was doing everything wrong! For example, I didn’t know that pet-names are out.  ‘Sweetie’, ‘sugar’ and ‘honey’ leave a bitter taste in the mouth these days. Calling your loved-one by their full name is more ‘adult’. My clothes and make-up were of course not up to the standard of a ‘beautiful confident woman’. There was even a helpful quiz to prevent the reader from deluding themselves into thinking they didn’t need advice.

That’s all right though. We all know I’m reading this for the list of amazing sex tips that were promised on the front cover. Disappointingly, it turned out that random men were interviewed on the street to talk about their ex-girlfriends and what they did wrong in bed. It turns out you can’t please everyone. You can, however, be too gentle, too aggressive, too cruel, too kind, too coy or even too savvy. It’s a minefield out there. I shrugged to myself and thought, well, at least I don’t recognise any of the contributors. I decided to read something with a more forgiving attitude, so I bought Bizarre magazine instead.

22 April 2011

Home From Mass

When we got home from mass there was a farmer waiting outside our house.

‘Is that your dog?’

Nelson was in his usual place on the doorstep.  He wagged his tail weakly in greeting.

I nodded shyly.

‘He was chasing sheep. I had to put a shot in him.’

I looked again and saw that our pet’s neck was hanging open. Where his black coat met his white chest there was a glaring open wound. It wasn’t red like the spots on the doorstep under him but a lurid pink with bluish purple bits showing through it. I didn’t know a gunshot wound could be so big, so bright. On TV all you see is a litle bullet-hole and a speck of blood.

‘Where are your parents?’

‘In the shop.’

Our parents had a grocery shop in the village. It would be busy now with The Mass Crowd forming a queue down the little aisle, stopping in town on the way home for a pint of milk, or some forgotten ingredient for the dinner. In a few years we’d be working there too.

My little sister started to cry. The farmer explained again that he’d had to shoot our dog and went away to find our parents.

Nelson looked up at us pitifully. His big brown eyes just showed pain and confusion. He had made it home. How lucky, I thought, that he wasn’t killed. The farmer mustn’t have got a good shot. He must have seen him run home and given chase. At least he didn’t finish him off.

My child’s brain didn’t understand about wounding the animal so you can follow it home and claim damages from the owner. My child’s brain was certain that there had been some mistake.

He whimpered at us, but his voice was stifled and wheezing. I petted him to calm him and make him stop, the exertion of each pathetic little noise was clearly causing further pain. His breathing was desperate and laboured, made worse when he tried to move towards me. By now his imploring eyes had become bloodshot, as if the bleeding was somehow spreading across his body.

When my parents came home the vet was called and the suffering ended. I don’t remember much else but I had some of his blood on my clothes from when I hugged him.

14 April 2011


Carol groaned and flung the manuscript down.

‘Great.’ She sighed. ‘Another idyllic farmyard tale.’

The first paragraph described the milking of a cow and all the sloshing and rattling and hearty wholesome smells that go with it. Why - with all this sensory imagery, it feels just like being on the farm! …which would be great if the reader had any interest in being next to or near any farm.

She braced herself and picked it up again. I bet there’ll be a nice metaphor about the seasons and the cycles of life and renewal. Ah here we go. By the third paragraph a feeble cow had died tragically but valiantly while calving. Death-count: 1.

Nobody had prepared Carol for what she would have to do in her writer’s group. For the depths to which she would have to sink. In the last three weeks she had read three detailed accounts of bereavement, two frilly romances set in olden times, and four – soon to be five – wistful accounts of hard times on the farm which nonetheless made the author nostalgic for a simpler era.

Reading these rural ruminations was bad enough but the biggest challenge was critiquing these works. She pored over page after page of idyllic imagery, occasionally sniggering at the descriptions of the swarthy farm-hand, his pitchfork clasped in his muscular arm, or the sweet crisp crunchy apple that represented the epitome of all that was good in this world.

Once it was read, she repeated ‘constructive criticism’ under her breath a few times and began to scribble notes in the margins.

The petticoats swaying around the girls’ feet is a very strong visual image.

I love the use of the word ‘tine’.

Dolphins are actually mammals.

You really captured the softness of that heifer's flank.

On some occasions she actually felt resentful towards the author for having inflicted their literature upon her. She would have to go away and leave it for a while before going back and writing her criticism.

I would give less detail here.

I don’t understand what you mean by this.

This character could be further developed.

It was annoying that she had to spend so much time and energy helping others with their work, leaving her with no time to write her own.

Make a new paragraph for each character’s dialogue.

Then she realised that she was indeed developing her fiction-writing skills. The greatest editing she ever did was sculpting her words down into constructive criticism.

Were you going for ironic comedy through the over-use of clichés?

Exclamation marks don’t make it exciting they are just annoying!

Don't forget to recycle. Every copy of this manuscript. Before anyone else has to look at it.

I can’t believe I just spent fifteen whole minutes of my life slogging through this drivel.

I’d like to make you eat that manuscript and then kick the pulpy vomit out of you.

02 March 2011

Now ðere's a Þought.

Sometimes at work I come across emails where some of the words are in Icelandic. I can’t help scrolling down and staring and imagining how those words must sound. I think of Sigur Ros and Bjork, tinkering with music boxes and tinkling with little bells - all the time whispering with soft consonants that express nothing of their devestated economy, while a massive volcano simmers behind them, the name of which looks like some keyboard-mash that was never intended to be uttered.

However, what attracts me most to Icelandic is the abundant use of my old friends eth and thorn (Þ and ð). They are sprinkled through the text so liberally that it has a runic flavour, making it look a little bit like Tolkein’s Elvish. It’s because Icelandic has kept those little orthographical links to old English that we discarded that I feel a common bond. It reminds me that there were vikings and longboats and at some point English and Icelandic emerged from the same root language.

If we still had them, spelling would be so much easier. Word pairs like ‘thigh’/’thy’ would be easily distinguished by the correct use of Þ and ð. Not only would Þis make English easier to learn, it would also make it prettier to read. It’s such a shame ðat we don’t have any accents to pour over our letters. Ðey are a little bit plain wiÞout ðem but at least wiÞ Þ and ð, Þis text is little more decorative. Ðere now, isn’t ðat better! If Þis blog post were a person, ðey would have put on a big woolly hat with ear-flaps right about now. Imagine ðere’s a breeze blowing from the norÞ, and wiÞ its chill it carries a simple minor melody ðat rings Þrough an evergreen forest before gently fading away into the eÞer.

Limited Success

My wrists were getting sore but I kept going. I had to swap hands a few times but I tried to ignore this and keep up my enthusiasm. I was sure I could feel an improvement and that I wouldn't have to keep going for much longer, but the task in hand was infinitely on the verge of completion.

I had built this up so much, both in my mind and in my words, that I wasn’t willing to admit defeat, so I began to hope for some distraction to get me out of this impossible situation. I kept adding oil to make it smoother but no matter how much I poured on, it was still stiff and dry. When I tasted it, I knew it wasn’t right, but I soldiered on, even keeping a towel at hand to prevent mess.

My initial excitement turned to disappointment, a sense of failure and a seething silent anger. Anger at myself for being incapable of getting it right, and indignant at how frustratingly difficult this was proving to be. My inept actions became half-hearted and weary as I stopped pretending that I thought this could work. It was clearly time to stop. My physical discomfort soon caught up and I could no longer dismiss the aches in my arms and shoulders. I sighed and put the mixer down. In despair I was forced to acknowledge the lumpy chick-pea mess that should have become a creamy hummus. It felt as if hours had passed.

26 January 2011

It’s the principality of the thing.

From Nice airport we boarded a bus with ‘Versace’ emblazoned in massive lettering along the side. Bringing to mind the world of haute couture, it just happened to be the name of the family who had  a bus company.  Actually I saw a lot of businesses with Italian names while in that area.
Driving from Nice to Monaco, we seemed to be very high up in the mountains. The landscape was steep and arid, with the houses and tufts of vegetation jutting out at improbable angles. The trees didn’t so much grow upwards as lean forwards. The houses seemed to be constructed vertically against patches of bare rock.
We came to a town, and I noticed a lot of the signposts were relating to Monaco and Monte Carlo. There had been no border check that I was aware of but, here we were – already.  Maybe there had been a sign and I’d missed it.  The rusty landscape changed shade to a more cultivated terracotta. Every wall and every building was a shade of yellow, brown or orange. As I looked around at all the peaches, browns and lemons, I felt as if somebody had turned down the blue.
And that was Monaco. Local businesses displayed photographs of the royal family, the marina was full of impossibly luxurious yachts and the cars were all new and shiny. Oh - and one of the shops in the town had a diamond-studded Kalashnikov in the window.  Apart from that, though, the whole state consists, more or less, of a seaside town. And like all seaside towns, it’s a bit over-priced.

14 January 2011

Love-Hate Relationship (LHR)

I’ve been through Heathrow quite a bit recently, and I’m reminded of my mixed feelings towards it.

On one hand, it fills me with excitement and anticipation. If I were merely going to the UK or Europe I’d probably arrive in a different airport. LHR, for me, means transatlantic journeys like Hong Kong, Canada or Dubai. And each time I arrive I never fail to be impressed by the Indian (or are they Pakistani?) people there, especially the men in their turbans. It’s as if the very employees are teasing me with a hint of the exotic destinations on offer. As an Irish person I wonder how they feel about the British Empire. It doesn't seem that any of the former colonies are quite as disgruntled as the Irish, and some of them even managed to drift away without any bloody revolutions.

On the other hand, the airport itself is bleak and, frankly, unpleasant. The process of changing terminals inevitably involves a bus-tour of a construction site. Out the window, the grounds of the airport are like a vast wasteland, sprawling out for miles. The fences enclosing the works even have circles of barbed wire across the top of them to keep us on our route. At one point I remember thinking this was a temporary situation but now the building has been going on as long as I remember, so aside from all the dust and concrete, there’s a sense of hopelessness about the place. Nothing will be finished. Ever.

Even once you get indoors this sense of timelessness persists as the lighting is identical twenty-four hours a day. Or night. It’s like a limbo unaffected by weather or time-zones. The slate and steel surfaces are slightly worn from regular brushing and polishing but nothing ever closes, the queues just get longer or shorter. When travelling alone it can be especially eerie, walking along remote corridors, following signs that lead you up and down deserted escalators, into the depths of the building (or have I traversed some walkway into an adjoining building?) only to find a bored looking individual asking you to stand on a worn ‘x’ taped to the floor and look into a camera. At that moment the bleary-eyed, bewildered passenger is immortalized on film for the purposes of a security check at the other end of some queue or other.

If I were one of the staff I would amuse myself in the quiet hours by browsing these portraits of human misery. I would love to see a compilation of the expressions on the people who find themselves standing before the cameras, having trudged around lugging carry-on baggage and duty-free around the maze with them. I remember seeing a piece in an exhibition once where the artist had compiled some stills from pornographic films that showed women’s faces in the moment of orgasm. I imagined instead using the gormless, slightly irritated faces of my fellow passengers. As I was called to approach the camera this contrast was still in my mind. I suspect my photo has a little smile in it.

07 January 2011

Dies Irae

There’s something about ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ that gives me the creeps. Maybe it’s the fact that by acknowledging such a thing exists, you are admitting that ‘Christmas’ is not for women. Perhaps it’s the ridiculous and out-dated notion that a woman’s role is to spend the holiday season working so that it can be enjoyed by their husbands and families. It could be the sneaking suspicion that for many people this is still a reality no matter how we might pretend that it’s a quaint throwback to a different era. Or it just might be the fact that I am a stranger to kitchens - the idea that I should get a second (albeit lesser) holiday to make up for all the apron-wearing I did during the real one, seems a little bit bizarre.

So I was not too impressed when the boss in our company sent out an email saying that in honour of this, breakfast in the canteen would be free ‘for the ladies’. Those lazy layabout men-folk sure paid for their slobbish behaviour that day. Literally, while their female colleagues piled their plates high. I got on my moral high horse and made some more inroads into my trusty box of Special K. Did I do it out of solidarity with my male colleagues? Was it part of my ongoing grudge with the caterers? Nah, I was just getting in touch with my inner bra-burner.

New Culinary Me is still going strong though. I made pasta the night before with just enough left over for lunch. Glad that the whole breakfast incident was behind me, I cheerfully popped it in the microwave. Being quite hungry at this stage, I watched and waited while my lovely penne with roasted vegetable sauce warmed up. I even predicted when it would go ‘ding!’ and with a swift and graceful flick of my wrist I popped the microwave door open at that exact moment. The idea was for the door to be flung open with a flourish, allowing the herby tomatoey goodness to waft out.

No door opened. Instead there was a clicking sound that accompanied the joyful ‘ding’. It was that tight little clack of a mechanism saying ‘Nope.’. I had thought the opening of the door could be a collaborative effort between me and the microwave. Instead I had entered into a competitive situation from which there could be no winners.

Hoping vainly that there might be some knack, I asked the canteen staff for help. Once I received my shrug and and “I don’t know” response, I swooped over to the cutlery drawer in a gleeful rage and snatched a knife in my fist. Before long the microwave was unplugged and I was going at the edges of the door as if it were a tin of paint. Weak with hunger, I lacked the strength to force it but I enlisted the help of some colleagues and we found a swarthy hero to prise the door open by brute strength. The lock shattered and a little piece of it fell to the floor. My lunch was rescued! I delightedly seized my prize and ran off to devour it. For some reason it was more delicious than ever. Maybe it was the delayed gratification of eating it, or it could have been the satisfaction of having cooked it myself – or was it the excitement of smashing something open and destroying it? Yeah, I was just getting in touch with my inner bunny-boiler.

05 January 2011

Oh it’s on!

In the canteen at work the other day I noticed the choice was a bit meagre so I asked what the vegetarian option was.

“There’s no vegetarian option today because I’ve had to throw it out for the last two days since nobody bought it. There are vegetables there.”

So rather than apologising for the inconvenience, she actually blamed me for not buying all the food and sustaining her crappy meal options. The last chef seemed to manage it and I’m pretty sure he didn’t end up throwing all the food into the bin.

I looked at the vegetables. The sliced carrots were pale and dried out from the heat-lamp. They had started to curl up round the edges. And she wonders why nobody has been buying her food. So in the end I had some potatoes with a side order of ‘Henceforth I Shall Bring My Own Lunch!’

This coincindes nicely with the new year and the New Culinary Me. So far I have been showing off my great cooking skills and telling everyone about my new year’s resolution, which now has the added incentive of REVENGE. (Which is nice.)

However, this evening, while preparing tomorrow’s meal, I got confused between mililitres and centilitres, with disasterous consequences. New Culinary Me had to admit defeat and throw the whole soggy mess in the bin.

You might think that I’ll come crawling back now. You might think that in the morning I’ll be queuing up, Oliver-Twist-style, tray in hand at the hot food counter. “Please, sir! Can I have some more?”

Oh no I’m not beaten yet! There’s a box of special K at my desk and it’s got lunch-time written all over it. I’ll take mine with a liberal sprinkling of victory!

02 January 2011

Retail Therapy

I decided to start the new year by investing in some fabulous underwear. That way the year would get off to a fabulous start and no matter what the day may throw at me I would know that I had a little bit of fabulous on my person. (As you can see I have not resolved to increase my already-fabulous vocabulary.)

Off I prance in to town. Once in the shop I quickly select a few fancy pieces that would usually be too expensive but now gleam at me with their “50% off” tags. Strutting off into the changing rooms with my magnificent haul, I prepare to preen and admire myself in the full-length mirror. Happy New Year to moi! The sales assistant closes the heavy velvet curtain, saying she’ll call back in a few minutes.

I squeeze into a fabulously frilly lacy contraption. It ‘s definitely not the most comfortable. The sales assistant comes by and agrees. ‘Hmm not quite the right size, let me get you another one.’ Off she goes. She drops the other size in to me and will be back in a moment. ‘No problem’ I say thinking I’d just slip out of one and into another. I undo the clasp to slide the garment over my head. All of a sudden these enormous shoulders are sticking out, locking the thing in place. I can’t seem to get it past them without ripping it. There is no way I can hand this back with a tear in it and have her not notice. In fact she could come along at any moment and hear the rip crack through the air as I pull at it. The material is so delicate don’t know how I’m going to get it off.

The lace is scratchy and chafing. I start to panic but resist the temptation to yank at it, knowing it’ll get torn assunder if I do. I exhale and try to ease it over my chest and one shoulder. It gets wedged. I carefully edge it down again and try putting both arms up as straight as I can while trying to pull it up. I can feel the material tighten and the little stitches straining. Then I hear her voice outside asking how the new size is. “I’m just about to try it now” I call out, in a nice calm voice to assure her that I am about to burst incredible-hulk style out of the previous one first.

I pause for thought. Should I just give up and ask for help? How could a second pair of hands tugging at the thing make it less likely to rip? Would I still be liable if it did? There must be another way.

I consider all angles, and then I settle on my hips. Hmm, I’m not exactly an ‘hourglass’. There is no time to waste so I quickly start working it past them, milimetre by milimetre, until I finally manage to step triumphantly out of it. I heave a massive sigh of pride and relief and resume normal breathing.