Thursday, 17 January 2013

An Itch In Time

I’m not a girly girl. I’m not a girl at all, actually; in a few weeks I’ll turn an age that gives me a far more up-close-and-personal view of 50 than I ever imagined I’d get.  Not because of the whole Crohn’s, lots of surgeries, given 2 years to live in 1988 thing, but more because when you’re young you can never imagine being any age other than one a few years ahead of the one you are at the time.

When my mother was the age I’m about to be, she became a grandmother to my son. Fortunately – as far as I know, at least – that’s unlikely to happen to me. Although, given that I’ve got 12 months of being that age to go, I probably shouldn’t make such predictions.  I do have a healthy, intelligent, ambitious 20 year old son, and accidents can happen, as we all know. But I’m gonna’ assume not.  The thing is, I thought my mother was at a perfectly appropriate age to be a grandmother when I turned her into one.  Now I’m about to get that close to 50 myself, it doesn’t seem anything like old enough. None of which is my point, really.

My point is about being girly. I’m not sure what other word I can use – feminine doesn’t cover it; I’m definitely feminine. And feminist. And female. For many years, I was a girl, but I have never been girly. To me, being girly is not an age thing; I’ve met women in their 90s who are fantastically, gorgeously girly; it’s about make-up and clothes and … prettifying.  Maybe that’s it – I’ve never really been a prettifier.  A girly prettifier.

I usually wear lipstick if I’m going to leave the house, but not always. I sometimes just forget. In the same way that I forget to put on earrings or my watch. I’m a bit of a twat like that.  I like to wear nail varnish too, but that’s become an almighty faff out of all proportion to the pleasure I get from seeing funky coloured nails on the end of my fingers, of which more later.  Sometimes, when I’m going on a night out somewhere nice – fancy, or celebratory, perhaps - or if I just feel like going that extra few centimetres, I might put on a bit of mascara; at a push I’ll draw a line on each eyelid with a coloured pencil designed for just such a purpose, but that really is pushing the boat out for me. It’s as far as I feel capable of going.  Show me face powder, foundation, blusher or any of those other things people put on their faces, and I’m at a loss. I feel like I don’t have enough face to fit them all on, even if I knew how to apply them and where exactly they’re supposed to go.

I’ve always been like that, except for a couple of years during my teens when I flirted with being a New Romantic.  Back then, however, I went to the Blitz club in the West End, so ‘normal’ make-up wasn’t what I wore. My best friend and partner in sneaking into clubs at 15 and underage drinking crime, taught me what to do, and what we did was wear a lot of white panstick that made our teeth look green in anything but low, dark, club lighting, and a lot of black around the eyes. It wasn’t really a lesson for the future, but it was fun at the time. 

Don’t get me wrong; in my head, I’d quite like to be girly. I’d like to be the kind of woman who wears heels all day, has well-groomed, tv commercial-worthy hair, looks stylish in whatever she wears, whether it’s jeans, leggings or a Prada suit. *Pauses to get back onto bed after falling off laughing at the idea of ever owning a Prada suit* and has permanently perfectly waxed pins. I’d like to be all those things if it took no effort, and didn’t make your calves ache like they’ve been stretched on a medieval rack for seventeen days. But frankly, I can’t really understand how anyone can be arsed.  Even if they don’t have the obstacles I do.

My Jewish heritage has blessed me with extra hair where I’d rather there was none, whilst years of taking steroids every day, has left me with lank, thin hair where my thick, glossy mane should be.  As my pubic forest creeps further down my thighs, on a journey that I’m convinced will only end when it reaches my ankles, and the hair that should be on my head finds it prefers life on my pillow, all I’m left with is an awareness of the cruelty of irony that I could’ve guessed at without such blatant evidence, thanks anyway.

But back to the nail varnish. I’ve always felt I had that sussed. Despite my suppressed immune system, multiple surgeries and all the joys that chronic disease has to offer, my nails have always been healthy and strong. They grow fast and don’t split or break all that easily, so painting them has been a pleasure and a small joy of girliness in my otherwise mostly girliless existence.  What I’ve always done is put nail varnish on late at night - after I’ve eaten and taken my full complement of codeine, meaning I have a couple of hours before needing the toilet again - and letting them dry as I watch telly/read/eat chocolate that doesn’t need unwrapping.  Oddly, I’d hardly painted them much in the last couple of years, since having the bag. But I started again recently. Only to find another piece of my teeny tiny girly armoury is under threat.

I changed my bag a few weeks ago, a day or so after using a nail polish make I’d not used before. It wasn’t a cheap one either – well, it was in that I got it free with a magazine. It was the only reason I bought the magazine. But it was an expensive make; too expensive for me to buy, if I’m honest.  It was a great colour; a kind of petrol bluey green. I loved it. I loved how my nails looked when I had it on –like a smaller, chubbier version of the hands of a well-groomed woman.  A stylishly dressed woman. The kind of woman I’m not. It amused me that the hands of such a woman were about to get busy ripping off my bag of poo and replacing it with a clean, fresh, empty bag that would then fill with more poo.

I did the first bit – pulled off the old bag, set about cleaning my stoma and the surrounding area in preparation for the new bag, and noticed a couple of flecks of petrol bluey green on my stoma. It’s odd when you need to wipe things off your stoma – it has no nerve endings, so you can’t feel anything.  You could really damage it and not know, if you weren’t careful. If you were an idiot.  I picked off the bits, realising that as I did it, more little chips were appearing everywhere – in the sink, on the wipes, mixed in with the powder when I applied it; the powder that protects my skin and stops it getting red and raw and sore. I wasn’t sure tiny dots of nail varnish would contribute to that job. Manically, I wiped them from everywhere they appeared, or tried to.  In the end I gave up, reasoning that if my stoma was going to be surrounded by poo, flakes of nail varnish weren’t really going to do that much harm, but it wasn’t nice.  It was icky.  Though it made me laugh when I saw them floating around in my bag later, giving my poo a whole new look. A kind of girly look, if you will.

I put nail varnish on again a few days ago – not the crappy, chippety, expensive free one, this time; an old, dependable, purpley one.  But even that wasn’t to be. As soon as I’d applied it and settled down, I felt an itch under my bag.  An itch can mean a leak is imminent. Obviously, a leak means a lot of mess - nasty, pooey, wholly unpleasant mess - if not caught in time.  The itch can be seen as a warning and is ignored at your peril.  In this case, I wasn’t going to get caught out, but I reckoned I had a few minutes. Enough time, certainly, to take off my perfectly applied, reliable, long-lasting, lovely, still-wet nail varnish so that I wouldn’t hamper the necessary bag change with smears of purple and horribly smudged, possibly poo-stained (who knows what happens when poo mixes with wet nail varnish? Not an experiment I’m about to embark on. If you want to do it, be my guest; let me know the outcome) nails. With a heavy heart, I removed the lot, then hurried to the bathroom to check just how urgent my bag change would be.  Not urgent at all, as it turned out. Whilst an itch under the bag can often mean a leak is just moments away, it can also mean nothing. Absolutely nada. Sometimes an itch is just an itch.

So, how girly am I? Let me count the ways – lipstick, the occasional bit of eye make-uppy stuff, nail varnish if I ever dare again, and I think that’s it…

Oh wait, I’m forgetting something. Girly women love bags. They collect them, crave new ones, store them carefully. Well, I’ve got that one covered.  I get a box of 30 every couple of weeks - new, not second hand.  And let’s not even consider what vintage would mean… They’re not Gucci or Mulberry, but then I’m not that kind of person.  If I could afford a bag that cost a couple of grand, I’d be more likely to buy a double oven and an American style fridge.  Those are the kind of purchases I can get excited over. 

I should point out that there are lots of women out there with ileostomies and colostomies, who look girlier than a Disney princess.  They look gorgeous and pretty and perfect; I have no idea how they do it, and they have my unending respect.  But I’m happy for it to remain a mystery to me; I’ve long since come to terms with not being girly.  My bag’s just given me another excuse.


  1. Sparkles in your poo! *considers eating glitter*

  2. I really enjoyed reading that post,you tell a story well :-)
    I work in a nursery and have found glitter gets everywhere and I mean everywhere,so Lisa your comment made me laugh! Here's to pretty poo!

  3. There was a rather appetising risotto shown on BBC2 last night - topped with a square of gold leaf. So sparkly poo rules ok?
    My nails are still recovering from chemo which ended in August 2011, so the varnish will have to wait. But don't you need rather nice hands first? And for lipstick, nice teeth? So you must have both of these attributes. Forget the thinning hair!

  4. I read this the day it was published but couldn't comment at the time, not just because I was laughing. ' my poo a whole new look' - the whole post made me laugh but that line will stay with me. Then I saw Jess's comment, which triggered off an idea for a whole series of young children's books: 'The Glitterpoo Kids' or maybe a handy reference work: '50 Ways With Poo - Chapter One: Glitterpoo' ;-)

    I wouldn't call myself particularly 'girly', though I still talk of going 'girlie shopping' if I go out buying things with my daughter. I love a decent bag, too, and I'm free to choose (most) of the shoes I like since having a bunion op. But I am utterly crap at applying nail varnish so tend to avoid it. Still, thanks to you, I'll now be grateful I can wear the stuff at all without the colourful complications you've discussed!