Faces, Freebies and Friends!

For Wicked Wednesday’s Meeting prompt and @writtenbyjenny’s Ten Things I Took Home from Eroticon meme…

Faces: I didn’t actually take faces away. That would be gruesome. But I put faces to bodies! I have been admiring the creativity, honesty, vulnerability, courage and downright hotness of my fellow Sinful Sundayers for more than two years now. How wonderful to meet so many of you.

HIV testing kit: You don’t have to find time to visit a clinic or go out of your way to keep on top of your sexual health responsibilities. I’ll be trying Freedoms Shop’s  home HIV testing kit and posting a review here very soon. Eroticon delegates will recognise the name from the generous quantities of free lube and condoms.

Prizes and freebies: The Eroticon tombola was about 100 times more brilliant than the last village fete one I took a chance on. Dodgy talcum powder, strange tinned food or a We Vibe Wish? *Happy dance* Add to that all goodies from the amazing sponsors, the Kinkcraft cane I made and the book I snaffled from Girl on the Net and you’ll appreciate that my inner magpie is very happy.

Purchases: The shopportunities were glorious! A beautiful ceramic dildo from Ceramic Pleasures was the first thing to get me to dip my hands in pocket. And a generous 30% Godemiche discount resulted in a Galaxy Ambit and GOLD GLITTERY butt plug hitting my online shopping basket on Monday. Yes I did say GOLD GLITTER. It’s from the new Effulgence range. Effulgence means brilliant radiance. So I learnt a glorious new word too.

Resolve: For more than 18 months I’ve been chewing over an idea for an essay focused on the role of nudity in political protest. I haven’t got off my arse to research this but I ran the idea past Kate Lister as a potential post for Whores of Yore and she liked it. And now I am saying I will do it here so I will have to.

Ideas: In the opening session the panel referenced the lack of diversity in imagery for sex stories in the mainstream media. I asked the panel what the photographers in the room could do about this. It’s a difficult one; photo libraries pay little and setting up your own commercial library is hard work (I am doing this in my professional life at the moment!). Nobody should have to give away their work. But I am also interested in how we might be able to use the collective talents, body types and identities of those in our community to change visual narratives. Ideas and conversations about this welcome.

More consideration: A month ago I had this conversation with Exhibit A on Twitter. Yesterday ahead of meeting Formidable Femme I had a wander through her archive and read this post. I wouldn’t say my views on wanting to see nudes on my timeline has changed that much and I would much rather people posted the direct links to their nudes so the preview images catch my eye amidst the stock shots (see above point!). BUT I would be much more mindful of consent and a lot less quick with my ‘pah, people should be more open-minded!’ than I was a month ago. As we pottered in Sh! Women’s Store I asked Sarah her view. My blog is about celebrating the beauty of all our bodies and for me hiding my photos is at odds with that. Her view was to still share the posts but tweet a warning before sharing certain images. I am not sure how well this would work when Twitter has an annoying habit of muddling up the order in which we see tweets, but it’s certainly something I will be more thoughtful about doing when appropriate. I think it’s a balance and at the moment I can’t see me offering warnings about joyful silly celebratory photos of a couple of bottoms running across a bridge, but if I am going to post a photo of my vulva then I will probably be mindful that however subtle and delicate the edit looks to me, it may offend others.

A new commitment to pyjama parties: Did Maria, Tabitha and I hotfoot it home early every night to bundle into our pyjamas and open a bottle of fizz? Damn right we did! Did we laugh and cry and massage the tension out of each other’s feet, shoulders and minds. Yep! Did we road test Tabitha’s new nipple suckers? Err… no comment! Never underestimate the value of time spent with fierce funny supportive women. And never put a Doxy in your ear, even if Tabitha tells you to…

Contentment: The deep comforting contentment that comes from time spent learning and in good company.

Admiration: I admired Girl on the Net, Molly and Michael anyway but, well, what can I say? A quite brilliant achievement. Group hugs all round. Actually, no, the fuss might scare Girl on the Net off. Smooches for Molly and Michael and a quick rendition of Climb Every Mountain for Girl on the Net.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Highlights

Last year I did the 365 (366!) challenge. At times I loved it, at times I cursed it. I thought I would be glad when it was over but for the first couple of weeks of this year I missed it. I decided that taking part in February Photofest would be a way of completing a photo challenge without the whole year commitment. I’ve quickly realised that finding 28 erotic and/or nudes could be harder than finding an ‘everyday’ shot every day! Still, I said I was doing it, so here I am…

I had planned to start the month with a self portrait of me in the mirror with my camera with a little bit of commentary on using photography as a way to hold a mirror to ourselves and our perceptions of ourselves. Then Marie made Highlights the Wicked Wednesday prompt and I decided I couldn’t not start with this shot. The commentary to go with it maybe less arty farty and reflective (less waffley bollocks!) but actually is as in keeping with the spirit of Exposing 40.

My blog is two years old this month and I’m really proud of how, in its tiny space in the online universe, it’s a positive place that helps me and others reflect on their bodies and sense of self as they age. I love how through participating in Sinful Sunday every week (I haven’t missed one yet!) both I and my guest subjects have been able to open up about our vulnerabilities and adjust our views of our bodies. I see those who comment on my posts reflecting on their relationship with their own bodies and I love that even those who haven’t participated as a photographer or subject are gaining from it. And I also really value how my occasional writing gives me a space to chew over in a more structured way things may otherwise stay locked inside. 

All these things are highlights of Exposing 40 for me. But by far the biggest highlight is all the people I’ve met through this blog. From those I’ve never met but would consider friends in the online world to those who have become proper laughing lunching gallivanting belly laughing deep chatting bosom buddies. Friendships that wouldn’t have happened without this blog but will likely long outlive it. This makes me really happy because Exposing 40 was always intended to be a collaboration. 

Two weeks ago Honey, Haiku, Jedi Hamster and Charlotte Brown sat around my dining room table celebrating Honey’s birthday and brainstorming ideas for February Photofest and for summer outings. It was a happy and funny afternoon and as the sun pitched in through my blinds, creating highlights across the wall, three of us whipped off our clothes and starting prancing in the shadows. Here’s the first of three shots you’ll see from that day. To capture the spirit of collaboration, this month I hope to include a roughly equal split of me photographing others, others photographing me and self portraits. Shout if you want to get involved! Oh, and they’ll all be black and white…

Me by @jedihamster100

Febraury Photofest

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

After the Flood

photo-23-01-2017-13-39-46My periods started when I was 12. Summer 1987. My stepmum (who can be a bit Victorian!) put me to bed with tomato soup and a hot water bottle. I was thoroughly confused. I felt absolutely fine and was somewhat flummoxed about being sent to bed as if I was sick. Generally speaking the subsequent thirty years followed much the same pattern – not the being sent to bed bit, the feeling absolutely fine bit! For three decades I’ve never suffered any sort of PMT and can count on two hands (probably one, actually) the number of times I’ve had significant period pain. I occasionally get a bit teary or inhale a bar of chocolate a couple of days before I am due, but that’s the extent of the problem periods ever caused me.

Until about 3.5 years ago, that is. Up until that point my periods had always been light with a couple of slightly heavier days in the middle. Then, one Saturday in summer 2013, came the flood. It gushed. And when I say gushed I mean it flowed like water with clots the size of eggs. My flatmate at the time asked if I was having a miscarriage. A couple of hours later it was all over. ‘Odd’, I thought, then didn’t give it much more thought. Until nine months later.

A new cycle had started where every six to nine months I would have a catastrophic period. And when I say catastrophic I mean being stood with a friend in Covent Garden and feeling my jeans soak down to the knees within 10 minutes; changing a super plus extra tampon three times during a 15 minute train journey; wrapping myself in towels like a nappy and being afraid to fall asleep because I was staying in a friend’s daughter’s bed. And do you know what? I didn’t do anything about it. It just became the pattern I got used to and planned for. I knew if I was going to have a flood then nine times out of ten it would happen on day three and so when a few months had passed and I knew a heavy one was due I would start to adjust my plans for that day – not scheduling work meetings or social plans, sleeping on towels. When it happened I’d have a few hours of chaos then breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I had a few months respite ahead.

I don’t know why I didn’t do anything about it for so long. I am certainly not squeamish or embarrassed about these things. Avoiding their exact name to hopefully prevent Google showing a client my arse, for four years I have worked for the body that produces guidelines and sets the clinical standards, training and examinations for women’s health in UK and further afield. I have made training films for them, filmed caesareans and abortions, met women they support in Africa who have endured horrific complications in childbirth and who don’t have access to the simple things we take for granted – smear tests, contraception.

If I was pushed to say why I didn’t walk the five minutes across the park at the end of my road to my GP, I would probably say it was because I had found my way of dealing with it. Or that going to the doctors because of heavy periods when we see so much about the NHS being at breaking point was just, well, a bit lame. But it was lame not to go. And it wasn’t a body positive decision. For me, body positivity shouldn’t just be about accepting your natural shape and what you look like, it should also be about looking after the mechanics of your body so it works its hardest for you. Yet every few months I was adjusting my life to fit around a medical condition that was easily fixable.

So what happened? Well a few of us bloggers were out last summer when, with no word, I got up, left the pub and dashed to the nearest shop. Having had a flood only three months earlier I wasn’t expecting another so soon. Returning to the table to a chorus of ‘where did you go?’ I ended up sharing some of my horror stories. To cut a long story short the marvellous Dr Livvy imparted some sharp words of wisdom of which two things stuck in my mind: “Could you confidently wear white trousers during your period?” and “if not go to your GP and ask them to refer you for a scan.” Two days later as I stood in a graveyard washing my legs under a church tap I realised the problem was escalating and decided to heed her advice. Six months on I sit here having had “a multitude” (to quote the gynaecologist) of polyps removed. A Mirena Coil that went in as they came out should prevent them returning. The operation took half an hour, I was discharged within three hours and have had no pain or bleeding. The growths are at the lab but polyps are rarely malignant so that concern isn’t really on my radar. Do I feel daft for leaving it this long? Of course!

I already was, to be honest. Back in December, over lunch with the aforementioned client, I was talking about my upcoming op and confessed sheepishly to my years of ignoring the problem. She’s the clinical lead on the organisation’s global health strategy and often brings an international perspective to chat. Her response was to talk about African women being three times more likely to suffer fibroids which, if left untreated, can lead to a hysterectomy. With surgical facilities in many countries scarce or dysfunctional, more widely available Mirena Coils that could help prevent fibroids would have a profound impact on outcomes for many women. She also talked about cervical cancer being the fastest growing threat to women’s health in developing countries – 90% of deaths occur in countries where there is limited access to cervical screening. Her chat was a gentle reminder to me that in ignoring what was going on with my own body I was also ignoring what a privilege it is to have this advice and treatment readily available.

And for many women that advice and treatment is even further away now than it was when she and I had lunch last month. On Monday, as I slumbered happily under general anaesthetic having a quick, safe, free procedure, Trump re-enacted the Mexico City Policy. The policy means any international organisation that provides or promotes abortion services – regardless of how those services are funded – is prohibited from receiving US funds. This doesn’t just affect the provision of abortion, which would be bad enough. Organisations providing other women’s health services, such as contraception and smear tests, will lose funding for all their services if they also provide abortion services. Marie Stopes International has already said it cannot agree to the conditions. In the next 12 months its partnership with USAID would have helped them reach 1.5 million women in some of the world’s poorest countries. Its predictions on what the loss of its services could mean over the four years of Trump’s term are terrifying.

The world of women’s health was different when I left hospital than it had been when I arrived six hours earlier. These last couple of days have reminded me that we must be vigilant about our own health but over the coming years we will also need to keep supporting organisations who provide services to women around the world.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

One more time…

I’m on a train. The plan was to spend the three hours to North Wales working out my finances and how to pay for £7000’s worth of work to the outside of my house that’s needed next year. Then Exhibit A tweeted this and suddenly I had a much more interesting diversion. 

Happily, a notebook that carries everything from plans for travel adventures to what I spent on carpets and paint also has a list of everyone I’ve ever fucked (more on that later). I flicked to the page and running my eyes up and down the list I realised there was no way I could pick just one. So here’s four.

D: I wouldn’t give him the title of first love. First love has a sweet comforting ring to it and people’s tone frequently shifts when they speak about first loves. But he was the first man I fucked. April 1st 1994, and while I wouldn’t call it love I was definitely a fool for him. Three years older than me and, to my mind, unspeakably cool, I’d been crushing on him for a year or more by the time we fucked. I can’t remember much about the sex that night (I was just relieved to have got it over and done with, being the last in my close circle of friends to reach that milestone) but I can remember details from the months and years after as we hooked up while at home for uni holidays. He was unreliable and a total slut (which 19-year-old me could neither understand nor cope with), but he was arty and intense and bloody exciting. He’d push me into other people’s garden walking home from the pub, we fucked in graveyards and secretly in other people’s bedrooms at parties, he pushed me onto the kitchen floor at my parents’ house and bit my tits until the dog came to interrupt! We’d talk about photography and music for hours. He also casually and without fuss removed a tampon the second time we had sex; to this day I still say the occasional silent thank you to him for being the man who normalised period sex from the get go. I can’t remember the last time we fucked, but it would have been at some point during 1996. Twenty years on, oh my God, I totally totally would. 

N: This one is tricky. I don’t know if I would actually fuck him again or whether hindsight just makes me wish we’d had more adventures when we were together. N has been my one big big love to date, the guy I lived with during my early/mid twenties. There was so much good about us and so much not so good. For all the love and intensity, common ground and fun, he definitely didn’t bring out the best in me. To this day, a hangover of what I became in that relationship makes me shy away from ‘big love’. We met through a mutual friend when we were 23 and the attraction and chemistry was instant. He was the first man to make me come with his tongue and I still remember how bloody surprised and elated I was. The sex was always amazing – the kind where occasionally the emotion can overwhelm you and leave you choking on tears, not because anything’s wrong but because everything is right. Even when our relationship was on its last legs and during the very last time in a hotel room in Paris, sex still rocked. One of my current frustrations is I am only now exploring things that I wish I had in my twenties and early thirties. I get cross with myself that I wasted so much time. When I think back to moments N and I had I wish I hadn’t got shy, giggled and wriggled out of the (badly tied!) restraints in that hotel in Chester. I wish that instead of always fucking to the sex scenes in mainstream movies we’d watched some decent porn together. I wish I could tell younger me to not worry so much, that these are not odd things to do and to just get on with it!

J: I was dating J for around eight months two years ago. He was lovely and kind and thoughtful and intelligent. And he had a tiny cock. I mean so tiny you couldn’t really see it in his hair if he wasn’t erect. To use his words, he wanted to ‘warn’ me about this (happily with no sense of shame or embarrassment) and he made it clear that sex with him wouldn’t really involve cock. That partnership taught me a lot about assumptions and understanding what can give me pleasure and taught me about a whole different aspect of body positivity. He was one of the most confident lovers I’ve had and with him I had the most intense mind blowing orgasms of my life. I’ve always known my arms were one of the most sensitive parts of my body but he somehow made them feel liquid. I still think about the magic he could weave with his tongue and fingers and if I find anyone who can tell stories as filthy and hot half as well has he did I’d be very very happy. We came to an abrupt and premature end because of unreasonable and controlling behaviour from his primary partner which I wasn’t prepared to accommodate, but I still miss some of our moments. 

K: K is a friend. A good good friend. I’ve had more open and honest conversations about fantasies and kinks with him than any other friend or partner. We once shook on a plan to go to a sex party together if, by an agreed date, we hadn’t found a partner to go with. On a few occasions we’ve rolled drunkenly into bed after a crazy nights out, but never really been sober enough to get our shit together in any coordinated way! He has a special place in my heart though, not least for breaking a significant drought a few years back and for, at the grand old age of 40, giving me another first. It was over a predictably drunken dinner at mine he encouraged me to write the list I’ve been reading on this train journey. He expressed envy at a threesome I added to the list. “I’m 40, I should have had a threesome by now,” he said. “What’s on your ‘I’m 40, I should have done that’ list?” he asked. “Anal,” I answered, not missing a beat. “Well we can’t sort my threesome out tonight, but we can tick yours off,” he replied. So we did. Brilliantly spontaneous and perfectly relaxed. He lives in another country now and is gloriously and deeply in love. As sure as you can be of anything, I’m pretty certain there won’t be any drunken fucking again. But it doesn’t mean I don’t wonder what a lazy sober afternoon in bed would have been like. 

So those are the four I’d revisit. But if I really really had to choose just one, it would be D. But it’s all in my imagination now so why limit myself to one? 

Death Maths

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Mark Twain

I read an article back in the summer called My middle-age dread. The article pissed me off, to be honest, the writer being more concerned with lamenting how cool she used to be rather than sharing anything particularly insightful about life in your forties. What did amuse me was the concept of death maths and reaching the point in life where the law of averages means you become closer to the end than the beginning. Statistically speaking my life expectancy is 83. I read that article one week before I turned 41.5. ‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘I am exactly halfway through.’

But why start the countdown so soon?

Next Wednesday I will be at a funeral. A friend’s mother. We will travel to the funeral in a converted Routemaster bus, the coffin in the bottom and us on the top deck. After the service we will party in a village hall decorated with palm trees, drink champagne and eat paella. My friend’s Mum died of a very rare cancer. She could expect about a year from diagnosis. That was six years ago. Since then she’s travelled in Burma and India. In July she and my friend were in Spain, swimming in the sea and feasting on paella.

Elsewhere, the mother in law of one of my dearest and oldest friends has just gone into a hospice. They are in the most dreadful countdown of all. But amidst it all my friend’s husband is still considering running two back to back marathons in the Sahara next weekend. He’s running for a charity his Mum is a trustee for. She wants him to stick to the plan.

When this woman first got sick last year my friend and I had one of those reality check conversations about what the next ten years are likely to have in store for many of our peer group. And it will be hard. Aging parents come at a time when you’re at what can be the toughest stage of your own life. Families are young and demanding, careers are changing gears to senior management, businesses are being nurtured, mortgages are in full throttle.

Life in your forties is tiring, but it’s also brilliant. You know yourself. You are building foundations for your future. For a time when someone might run a marathon for you, or decorate a church hall with palm trees. So you have the money and freedom to backpack round Burma in your seventies, even if you’re sick. For the time you inspire someone to think that they’re not halfway to the end but that they’ve still got all that life to live again.

Of course, I would be lying if I said I never had ‘fucking hell, I’m halfway through’ moments. I’m not a total Pollyanna! My confidence with my business, my friendships, my home, is as robust as it can get without being complacent. But I am not the same with relationships or sex.

I’m happy with the relationship status I bestow on my partnerships and don’t want any greater commitment than I have, but I sometimes fret that ‘what if I suddenly decide one day that I do want true love again, not just fondness, and I am too old’. I worry that I have left it too late in life to be exploring new sides of myself and often feel silly asking for what I really want when it comes to sex. I police what I say out of fear of fallout, then get cross that a situation is making me unhappy. I sit with partners and play out in my head things I will say, do or ask for, not always fully listening to the conversation we’re having but also not letting the words out. I put up with patterns that make me sad or chip away at the confidence I try to nurture.

I know I need to change this about myself. Only I can drive that process. And if I look at what I have achieved in other areas of my life, I know I have the spirit to. I just need to grasp the nettle. But that’s just something to work through. A big thing, but not an insurmountable thing. What I have absolutely no truck whatsoever with is the point that ran through the article I mentioned at the top of this piece about no longer being cool in your forties. Fuck that!

Life changes, it doesn’t become less cool.  Cool is seeing my friends juggle all of the challenges of parenthood, raising brilliant little people who make me laugh constantly. Cool is the kitchen disco we have after they’ve gone to bed because why waste money on a babysitter when you could spend it on wine and cheese? Cool is sitting in a beer garden with a friend, talking out the challenges of self-employment. Cool is the smell of a new country when I step off a plane on a new job. Cool is running two marathons for your Mum. Cool is the party my friend is throwing for her Mum’s funeral.

Cool is situation appropriate, not age appropriate. Don’t do death maths, do life maths.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Lightweight, part two

A couple of months ago I wrote Lightweight, exploring the issue of weight when there’s less of it. At the time I said I wanted to cover this issue more and I have spoken before about wanting to see more men on Exposing 40. Last night a friend read out a Facebook post from one of her male friends. As soon as she started reading I just knew I wanted to post it here. Happily he said yes, so I am very honoured to repost some very powerful and important words about male body positivity.

Anders, by Wolfgang Tillmans

Anders, by Wolfgang Tillmans

I had a busy couple of days this past weekend, (heck, the last couple of weekends), but I’ve had a lot of time to think in between and there have been a few things stuck in my head, bouncing around, that I’ve thought about sharing including one very personal thing about my journey to get in shape. This week I crossed a threshold that I’ve never crossed before in my entire life. Today I weighed in at over 150 lbs for the first time ever (152 to be exact). I don’t like to talk about my weight and almost never mention it because it usually comes with someone making a comment about me being lucky or “I wish I had that problem” but I’ve struggled with my weight all my life; not getting rid of it, putting it on. Growing up, and even in early adulthood, I was constantly inundated with people telling me I need to eat more or saying I look like I was starving and need to put on some weight or any number of beanpole references. I didn’t even break 100 lbs until I was almost in college.

One time when was about 16 I went to a friend’s relative’s house for dinner. She kept insisting I eat more because I was so skinny. She plopped seconds on my plate and pushed dessert in front of me. I tried to politely refuse but ended up giving in, and shortly after dinner threw up in the bathroom from eating so much. I never told my friend or his mom, but it felt horrible. I was so embarrassed and felt unbelievably ashamed. It was like that at a lot of dinners when I was a kid, although thankfully not with my close family. People saw my weight as a problem they needed to fix or at least tell me how to fix.

Being the skinniest boy in Junior and High school also meant I was voted most likely to get my ass kicked for no reason other than most people could. As an adult it got slightly better but still had its issues. For my first real professional job, I had to shop in the boys section at the department store to find dress pants that would fit me.

Needless to say I’ve had a pretty bad body image almost my entire life, but I never talk about it. Partly because I know so many people struggle with losing weight and see being skinny as the perfect way to be, and partly because no one takes it seriously. I’m not trying to say that what I’ve gone through is harder or worse than what anyone else has gone through regarding any body shaming but what I felt was and is real nonetheless.

But today I’m proud. Today I’m happy for me. I smiled at a scale for the first time in my life. And it was a real scale! The kind with the sliding weights and everything. And I didn’t have shoes or heavy clothes on either. This was legit.

I share this because for the first time in my life I’m starting to feel good about my body, and that’s something that guys (and particularly skinny guys) never ever talk about, but I can assure you there are lots of us who feel it. We just can’t and don’t talk about it.

I love my body right now and it makes me happy, and if I can share my happy and cause someone else feel that way too, then sharing is worth it.

 

Against All Odds

I sat down to write my niece a letter this morning. It’s her first birthday next week. Some of you will know she was born 13 weeks early, weighing just 1lb 12oz/800g, and spent the first four months of her life in neonatal intensive care. Many of you sponsored me when I ran this year’s London Marathon for a premature baby charity. 

The letter will sit in a wallet with the marathon medal that’s hers to keep. She won’t read it for many many years but I wanted to tell her how her first months felt for those looking in, how remarkable her mummy, daddy and big sister and the medical professionals were, and how surprising it was to feel this huge overwhelming love for a person you aren’t even able to meet or hold for nearly five months. I wanted her to know how many people who are unlikely to ever meet her were rooting for her. How, a year on, barely a week passes without someone asking after her. 

Against All Odds is a well worn phrase. It’s banded around in everything from war reporting to charity storytelling, in health catastrophes and, at the moment, Olympic coverage. It’s a bit hackneyed but often it just works. My niece has Chronic Lung Disease, a common condition in premature babies who are born before their lungs are fully developed. Laura Trott was born prematurely with a collapsed lung and spent the first weeks of her life in an intensive care unit. She took up sport to build her lung strength. She is regularly seen retching at the end of a race. She is the most decorated British female Olympian of all time. I will choose my words carefully when I write about that; I don’t want my niece to be overwhelmed by expectations of greatness, but I also want her to know that serious health conditions may not be a barrier to her.

Generally speaking, I’m a sucker for the ‘Against All Odds’ stories during the Olympics. Of course I love watching the predictable showstoppers, but what I think makes the Olympics so special is the moments of human spirit shining through. Do I occasionally randomly watch the Derek Redmond clip from Barcelona just for the joy of having a little cry? Er, yes (sorry, not sorry). Do I think the refugee team is one of the most amazing things about this year’s Games? Yes. Did my heart surge and eyes leak as the London 2012 crowds roared for the whole 11 minutes and 23 seconds it took Paralympian Houssein Omar Hassan to complete the 1500m race? Fuck yes!

I was a volunteer at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. I signed up for it in 2005 during the Back the Bid campaign. I was obsessed with the Games coming to London. There are experiences in life that create a change in your attitude that’s permanent. That make you think ‘fuck it’. At the close of 2012 as friends and I watched the new year fireworks on the TV I turned to my best friend and said ‘am I the last person in the world you’d expect to run a marathon?’. ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘but it’s you so you’re going to bloody do it aren’t you?’ Three weeks later I went for my first ever run. Fourteen months later I ran my first marathon. When I was feeling useless and tears were constant after my niece was born and I couldn’t do anything useful for her I signed up for my second one. I’ve raised nearly £11,000 now over the two marathons, all of which will go into research funded by the two charities I ran for. There is not one shred of doubt in my mind that it was volunteering at 2012 that inspired me to sign up for my first marathon. 

What I didn’t expect to happen as a result was how differently I would come to think about my body and how it looks. A bit fat? Yes, but I ran a marathon! Leg held together with two metal plates and 12 screws? Yes, but I ran a marathon. Years of thinking I was the not very attractive one? Yes, but how ridiculous! I’m amazing! That last bit is a bit tongue in cheek, but on the more serious body positivity thing, my sense of my own attractiveness and confidence in it has developed in almost direct proportion to my appreciation of what I can train my body to achieve.

What was even more of a surprise is that I have, in turn, inspired others. That is so weird to type! But two friends (and not even good friends – Facebook friends, neither of whom I’ve seen for years) emailed me to say that after following my stories on Facebook in 2014 they both started running. To date, they’ve both run two marathons. I’m not claiming to be an ‘Against All Odds’ candidate but I was definitely ‘really bloody unlikely’!! That these little seeds of ‘maybe I could do that’ are sown and flourish off the back of something as exciting and life affirming as volunteering and the collective joy of watching sport makes me so happy. That some of us look upon another, whether it’s an Olympian, Paralympian or someone you haven’t seen since university, and think ‘I’ll give it a go’ is amazing. One of my favourite things to come out of 2012 is a group of staff at the disability charity where I was working during that summer getting so excited after visiting the Paralympics they joined a running group for the learning disabled. On 4th September I’ll be cheering them on during a 10k in the Olympic Park!

I know the Olympics are horrendously tedious for some people and for them people like me are unbearable for those few weeks every four years. Some people just hate watching sport, others find the collective awe at best annoying and at worst soul-destroying, whether for personal or political reasons. But not everything can work for everyone and for these two weeks, and for two weeks next month during the Paralympics, I will happily soak up the ‘Against All Odds’ narrative. 

As for my niece? She’s still here, that’s what matters most. Who knows what she’ll do or become over the next few decades. She may never take up any sport in her life and that’s fine, but I’m happy she has a medal in her name. I hope one day she draws strength from knowing how many people put their hands in their pockets to donate in her name and that they provided me with moral support during such a difficult time.

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