Archive

Feminism

01_Cover1AA_oct2017.inddI force myself to go on dates because that is what I must do if I want to find love in the 21st century. Or so society insists. And so I’ve spent countless evenings staring at men I’d like perfectly well – if they were my dentist – trying to stave off the realisation that I’d have spent a more thrilling evening at home, flossing and spitting blood down the sink. My single girlfriends and I know – from experience – to expect nothing better. But for those not used to the dating game – with no idea how to distinguish a potential bore from an actual psychopath – it can prove a terrible shock.

Take Ruth E. Valentine, whose 100 dates over a five year period were so traumatic she wrote an entire book about them. Her first date seemed perfectly wonderful – until he pulled up his suit trousers to reveal fishnet stockings. The second chap turned out to be married. The next revealed that his dead brother was sitting next to him in an empty chair. ‘Another guy I dated for three months,’ she continues. ‘Everything seemed perfect until he announced he had a court case coming up and might be going to prison for 12 years.  Last I heard he got locked up and put on the sex offenders list.’ One does not have to get anywhere near the end of ‘The Life & Times of an Online Dater’ to conclude that it was all downhill from there.

This month marks two years since Vanity Fair declared the Dating Apocalypse had hit the States, thanks to the dating app Tinder. But no one thought to tell poor Ruth whose dating life only continued to degenerate until she gave up last week. In 2017, her case is not unusual. All we ladies (who remain single past the age that Jesus died) privately trade grimmer and more gruesome stories because dating apps have done to love and romance what the machines did to humanity – in the Doomsday scenario from Terminator II. Tough young millennials, who grew up after civilisation ended, do claim to feel liberated by a situation in which boring old human ‘emotion’ has been replaced by animalistic rutting. But for those of us who want to get married and – heaven help us – breed, the situation is petrifying.

My friends and I, our biological clocks a-ticking, ought to be stepping up our efforts: pasting on Dior war paint, arming ourselves with the latest in killer heels, downing cocktails for courage. Instead, we hug each other in foxholes, reassuring one another that it is A-OK to still be nursing wounds from the last time we ‘put ourselves out there’. In the age of Tinder, a typical first message is: ‘Hey. To be honest unless we’re having sex on the first night I’m not really interested… Let me know. x’ Followed by an entirely unsolicited dick pic. This is not what we want. And it is not what we need. It’s time we rose up and declared, en masse: ‘No Tinder, please, we’re British.’

As Beth McLoughlin, a 40-year-old editor complains: ‘When I was younger this thing called ‘dating’ didn’t exist here. Why is it necessary? If we could just abolish it, we could go back to just connecting people naturally with people we liked.’ Ideally, we’d revert to the antiquated system of ‘rounds in the pub,’ whereby Brits who previously had no idea they even fancied each other, staggered home one night only to wake up five years later married with three adorable children. First, we fell in like, then we fell in laugh; and – bam – we fell in love.

Back in the Nineties, this idiosyncratic approach was still de facto and Bridget Jones was our heroine. She now reappears on our screens every Bank Holiday to remind us of when Britain did things best and jumped out of planes wearing Union Jack parachutes just to prove it – much like James Bond. Carrie Bradshaw may have dated her way across Manhattan with a handbag stuffed full of ‘ultra-textured Trojans with a reservoir tip’ but our Bridget trusted to the contraceptive qualities of her giant knickers. She made love.

Dating belongs in America, where it sprang into being alongside out-of-control capitalism and Coca-Cola. The term ‘date’ was first used in 1896 in a column written about ‘working class lives’ in which a young man, whose girlfriend was growing tired of him, lamented ‘I s’pose the other boy’s fillin’ all my dates.’ The convention of a man paying arose because women were paid half what a man would get for working the same job. So, if a girl wanted to go out for dinner her ‘date’ would have to pay for it.

Dating is an industry that has been inextricably linked to time pressure ever since. According to Moira Wiegel, who last year published Labor of Love: the Invention of Dating our mating habits still reflect the labour market. So whereas in the era of ‘old fashioned 9-to-5s it made sense to ask someone, “So, I’ll pick you up at six?” She explains. ‘Now, in an era of flexitime and freelancing we might be more likely to text a lover “u up?”’

Tinder is the very embodiment of the free market when it comes to sex. As Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales put it, ‘online, the act of choosing consumer brands and sex partners has become interchangeable.’ It is easier for a man to get laid than at any point in history – but the quality of sex is suffering for us women. According to the Kinsey Institute, women are twice as likely to have orgasms in the context of a relationship. But since ‘relationships’ have been replaced by a never-ending regimen of dates, young girls kept asking Sales ‘what’s a real orgasm like? I wouldn’t know.’

Some new phone apps – such as Bumble – claim to liberate women from all this Tinder bullshit. But in effect it just deludes us into thinking we have some control over the product, when we don’t. On Bumble, a woman has to message a man first and within 24 hours, after which he’ll disappear forever (like a bargain resisted in the January sales).  But it’s the men who benefit. My best male friend has used it to juggle eight different women simultaneously. And he’s ginger.

Using apps to find love doesn’t even make sense. Tinder has a vested interest in keeping us single. Otherwise, it’ll disappear like MySpace, Bebo and Friends Reunited. Even those with positive experiences of the app see it as an extension of their working life – just one more thing to achieve. ‘Dating’ is ‘a numbers game’. You ‘only get out what you put in.’ What most scares me is the prospect that – even if I do, against all odds, couple up, I’ll still have to go on ‘date nights’. A fitting British response to the whole concept is as Nicholas Lezard puts it: ‘Let’s split up. It’s more dignified.’

For as Ruth E. Valentine eventually concluded, there is nothing more dismal and depressing than dating. ‘Every time I thought I had met a nice guy they were all either married, liars, cheats, psychos, mentally deranged, abusers, transvestites, criminals, druggies, alcoholics or mummy’s boys.’ Ultimately, dates are about one thing: sex. So it’s time to say: down with dates! Leave them to the Americans. Somehow, we have to bring back old fashioned British confusion and abashment. For even in the 21st century, there’s still no more beautiful way – to fall in love.  

Emily Hill is the author of Bad Romance, which will be published on Valentine’s Day, 2018.

TwitterEver since a Twitter troll was elected 45th President of the United States, the Twitterati has agonised over who to blame. But since it was Twitter that gave American voters unfettered access to Donald Trump’s brain, they really ought to be blaming Twitter itself. It’s not possible to say anything balanced or nuanced in 140 characters — that’s a format for jokes, insults and outrage. If you want to seize the world’s attention today, you must troll or be trolled on Twitter.

And since this is the one skill at which Trump is utterly unrivalled, he’s now busy trolling both America and himself. When a man with barely any followers once tweeted him in the middle of the night to say: ‘I firmly believe that @realDonaldTrump is the most superior troll on the whole of Twitter’, Trump retweeted it to his millions of followers: ‘A great compliment!’

In 2017, our ability to write books, act in films or even govern appears to be measured in Twitter followers, not talent. So there will be no stopping Trump or his disciples here in the UK, Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan. Were it not for Twitter, Hopkins would be a failed Apprentice candidate, not a highly paid commentator for Mail Online. Morgan would be a disgraced former newspaper editor, not a television host engaging in Twitter spats with J.K. Rowling. Unless Twitter ends, there will be no end to them.

At its worst, trolling is utterly repugnant, a sickening spectacle, and no one gets anything out of it. This was the case last year when Leslie Jones, star of an all-female remake of Ghostbusters, was hounded off Twitter after the alt-right tweeted racist abuse at her. It was also the case in 2013, when a PR consultant named Justine Sacco was hounded off Twitter by anti-racists after she tweeted: ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’ But whereas the forces of good Twitter, quite rightly, felt bad for and fell in love with Leslie Jones, almost no one sympathised with Sacco; they thought she’d revealed herself to be a racist — and therefore a vicious troll.

No one ever points out that the difference between a troll and a troll victim is as complex as that between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. Nor that being trolled can have unbelievably positive results for your career. The pop star James Blunt, for instance, has reinvigorated his fanbase as a result of retweeting all the abuse he gets on Twitter. He has been hailed (in a Buzzfeed article viewed almost a million times) as ‘the trolliest troll of all Twitter trolls’ and millennials love him for it.

Blunt must relish getting trolled — and so do many journalists, though they’d never admit it. I once sat in a restaurant with someone who’d written a perfectly innocuous article for Grazia magazine and became positively giddy when her bleeping BlackBerry showed she was being trolled as ‘a feminazi’ by hordes of maladjusted losers on Twitter.

As Jamie Bartlett explains, ‘Being trolled by strangers on the net gives you the chance to show how hard things are for you, how right you were, and how noble and magnanimous you are in sharing your suffering with the world.’ In his book The Dark Net, he notes, ‘It is very rarely mentioned that the victims of trolls are far more often privileged, wealthy, happy, and successful than their perceived oppressors, who are often frustrated, jealous, and lonely.’

Bartlett’s theory is neatly encapsulated by the example of Owen Jones, who announced this month that he was ‘taking a break’ from Twitter because he couldn’t stand the abuse he gets. Owen is the author of two best-selling books, Chavs and The Establishment, and has amassed half a million followers. But he didn’t just close his account and shut up shop. He posted a sanctimonious, self-pitying 1,000-word status update on Facebook that attracted 10,000 ‘likes’, 2,400 comments and 1,000 shares. And three days later he was back tweeting out articles and videos. He got a lot of attention, bolstered his media profile and further maximised his earning potential. Meanwhile, all those who ‘trolled’ him remain as poor and ignored as they ever were — and vilified to boot.

The term ‘troll’ is not borrowed from fairytales — it refers to a method of fishing. It is, in the words of internet expert Derek Powazek, ‘a behaviour online where someone would leave a lot of lures to snare people, to entice them to get angry’. If you are not famous, you might feel that you’ve been trolled for years before Twitter was even invented by highly paid opinion-formers and pundits whose views you don’t agree with but have had to listen to on programmes such as Question Time.

Before Twitter, you’d shout impotently at them on the television when they said something you didn’t like. Now, you can tweet your rage straight at them online and — if they read all their tweets — they’ll hear you. But one must never, but ever, make such excuses for a troll. So one must not point out, for example, that Owen Jones has made a lot of money claiming to be the ‘voice’ of the ‘disenfranchised’ and now doesn’t like it when the ‘disenfranchised’ find they have their own voice, thank you very much — and use it to swear at him.

The same goes for fashionable Twitter feminists who have won fame claiming to speak for anyone who has a vagina. I’ve lost count of the number of women who tell me (privately and in the strictest confidence) that they’re sick to the back teeth of being told ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran. One says she particularly hates Moran’s claim ‘I now live in Crouch End and my walls are painted in fucking Farrow and Ball and I have a cleaner but I will feel working-class to the day I die.’ She wants to respond, ‘Your cleaner has a name, she’s not a pot of paint and you’re not fucking working-class, are you?’ But if she tweeted that at Moran, this would constitute abuse, which is what ‘trolling’ has come to mean.

It is acceptable to be almost anything in the 21st century except a Twitter troll — for there is no person more despicable and deserving of punishment, especially when tweeting rape and death threats. I have been threatened with rape in real life, so I do know how unbelievably ill-making it is. But at the time I was alone with a drunk man in central Moscow who could have done it if he’d wanted to — it wasn’t a threat tweeted at me over the internet. And since he didn’t do it, he would not have deserved to go to jail for saying he would.

Yet when two Twitter trolls sent drunken threats of rape and worse via Twitter to Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned to put Jane Austen on the £10 note, and were sent to prison, Criado-Perez hailed it as a ‘brilliant day for women’. No one questioned how one privileged middle-class woman with 37,500 Twitter followers (currently represented by the Wylie Agency for a book about the ‘gender data gap’) sending two of life’s losers (one of whom was a 23-year-old woman) to jail for writing offensive words represented some sort of victory for women.

Feminism used to be a battle for equality. But now, if you were to listen to Criado-Perez and co., you’d think it was the fight for special victim status. Several prominent Labour MPs have launched a campaign to ‘Reclaim the Internet’. And yet since a Demos Twitter survey last year found that half of the misogynistic language came from women, this is really just a movement for women of high status seeking to silence women of lower status who want to send crude tweets at them.

We should be defending freedom of speech, saying: ‘I disapprove of what you tweet but I’ll defend to the death your right to tweet it.’ But this is not the ‘correct’ narrative. We are supposed to cheer en masse, instead, for Jack Monroe, who won £24,000 in libel damages from Katie Hopkins after malicious tweets upset her. Monroe didn’t prosecute on her own account, though — she did for the rest of us, saying, ‘I hope it teaches people to be a bit nicer to each other.’

What it’s taught me is the only way I’ll ever get anywhere in this life is if I get mercilessly trolled on Twitter. All I need to make it, à la Monroe, are enough hate-filled tweets to fill ‘six A4 ring-binders’. And as long as I’m not raped or killed in real life I’ll be laughing. Overnight I’ll go from a penniless hackette no one has rightly heard of to the reincarnation of Joan of Arc with 98,000 followers. If no one else has quite grasped the miraculous power of being trolled, Monroe seems to understand precisely what it’s done for her. Thanks to her Twitter fanbase she managed to crowdfund a cookbook in a single day. Now her Twitter bio reads not ‘cookbook author’ or ‘campaigner’, but ‘Ask not for whom the bell trolls; It trolls for me’.

As long as Twitter continues to dominate western society, and all our worth is summed up by the number of Twitter followers we have, the election of Donald Trump will simply be the ultimate symbol of a simple truth: that the only surefire way to triumph is to embrace the joy of trolling.

————————————————————————–
If you enjoyed this article please consider pledging here for Bad Romance.

“I was single, straight, and female,” Emily Witt begins, with all the élan of an alcoholic stating her name and what’s wrong with her. Only there isn’t anything wrong with Emily Witt. (The book jacket tells us she has three degrees and won a Fulbright scholarship to Mozambique.) Unless you count not having a fella in your fourth decade. Which she does. And doesn’t.

Future Sex is a collection of essays about sex and society, originally published in magazines including N+1, GQ and the London Review of Books, packaged into book form. In America, it enjoyed rave reviews. Here, it’s had a sexy reprint by Faber. I got very excited too, for the first two chapters, when Witt seemed to be asking the question no one ever poses: ‘Why, when we enjoy all the freedom women would have killed for throughout three millennia, do we still feel we’ve failed if we’ve not snared a man for better or worse?’

Feminists used to tell us that we’d been liberated: that ‘a woman without a man was like a fish without a bicycle.’ Now we’re fish out of water, flapping around, wondering what’s wrong with us. Why are we alone – not in a tank somewhere, with a man fish and fingerlings? Or as Witt puts it: “I had disliked my freedom because I didn’t want to see myself landing on the outside of normal.”  After a rousing monologue in which she declares her affinity with those ‘who had not found love… who were used to going to weddings by themselves, who knew they embodied some ahistorical demographic whose numbers were now significant’ she had me. I was Team Witt – on a mission to find ‘a new kind of free love.’

Only then she just veered off to find new and utterly foul ways of having sex instead.

That dismal quest begins in San Francisco, where Witt tries “orgasmic meditation” – or (as you and I might call it) “public masturbation.” At first, she doesn’t like it. (“I avoided all eye contact … caught the bus home… and watched the Norman conquest episode of Simon Schama’s History of Britain…”) Then she has a go. And she doesn’t like that either. (But then, because the experience consisted of a man wearing latex gloves flicking at her clitoris as ineffectively as a novice in a game of Subbuteo – who would?)

Undeterred, Witt goes on to examine live webcams, polyamory and the Burning Man festival – where scenes get so pretentious they might appear in Pseud’s Corner: ‘I picked up the phone and spoke to God… “This is why people don’t like you anymore!” I wailed, and hung up the phone.’

Witt has a degree in journalism from Colombia. There, they must have taught her to take notes, because she keeps telling us that this is what she is doing when a tabloid trained hack like me would ask a bloody question. Her detached style has been much praised and that was fine… Until she attends the live filming of an internet series called Public Disgrace. Here, Witt blankly records, a pretty girl called Penny has a sign that says “I’M A WORTHLESS CUNT” hung round her neck, is stripped, smacked, whipped, prodded, poked, penetrated, ejaculated on, electrocuted, anally fisted and worse, while a baying mob jeers and ‘mascara runs in rivers’ down her face.

To Germaine Greer, this would have been an outrage on womankind – Penny herself a ‘victim of male fetishism and loathing’ who like all the forgotten dead prostitutes of time – strangled, raped with bottles – didn’t cry out to those tormenting her: “‘Why do you hate us so?” although hate it clearly is.” But Witt doesn’t imagine herself as Penny – for a single second. She thinks the whole scene is cool – ‘taboo-breaking’ – and even tells us that ‘the pornographers at Kink are feminists themselves.’ That it took ‘feminism to explain how the gagging, slapping, and sneering of porn might be hateful to women… You couldn’t have Public Disgrace without feminism.’ Which is utter rot. Had she died at the end, Penny’s violation could have been a blow by blow re-enactment of the gang rape of Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn – which was published six whole years before The Female Eunuch.

This scene isn’t just hateful to women – it’s hateful to the human soul. Witt does not even wonder what happened to Penny to make her submit to treatment that would not be allowed – if she were a cow. All sympathy is concentrated instead on our authoress who chooses this point to confess that she’s so miserable without a boyfriend she’s not having sex at all.

Six weeks on, I’m still furious at having to finish this repulsive, meandering, incoherent book. I’d have had more pleasure being groped by Donald Trump. After a lot of panting, Future Sex fails to climax.

Heatstreet

And so farewell, the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction. Formerly known as the Orange Prize for Fiction. And soon, no doubt, to be revived – and known as the Dyson Hand Dryer Prize for Fiction. Or the Electrolux Blender Prize for Fiction. Or some other type of fiction brought to you by a ‘brand’ or business that ought rightly to have nothing to do with judging greatness in literature.

But back to Bailey’s which has – for now – withdrawn its funding of the UK’s all-female book prize, to the sound of great sobbing, which began on Monday lunchtime, with an announcement on BBC Radio 4’s World At One. For it is a very special prize – and needs to be saved for the nation – because men cannot compete in it. Past winners have included Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lionel Shriver and Ali Smith.

You might wonder why – when women represent more than 70% of the book buying public and when every book selling behemoth of recent times from J.K Rowling and E.L James to Hilary Mantel hasn’t a Y chromosome between them – we need a special female only book prize. And you’d be in excellent company. A.S Byatt, who beat Beryl Bainbridge and Penelope Fitzgerald to win the Booker Prize for Possession six years before the Orange Prize came into existence, has called the prize ‘sexist’ and refuses to allow her publisher to submit her novels for consideration.

Feminism used to be about the battle for equality and that is a fight I’m signed up for until the bitter end. But in recent years the term ‘feminist’ has been applied to those who insist women need special treatment (because they are delicate, sensitive and – by imputation – not as capable as men). This is particularly absurd when it comes to books. Jane Austen, all three (female) Brontes, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie… I could go on but I’d be typing all day… have all proven that women not only write great books – they write them better than men.

Germaine Greer wryly observed -when the Orange Prize was founded in 1996- that ‘someone would soon found a prize for writers with red hair.’ However well intended the founders of the prize were (and Kate Mosse, in particular, is impossible to dislike) women just don’t need specialist help and it is patronising, in the extreme, to suggest that we do.

And yet while researching the Bailey’s I have found an even more bizarre, and  terrifying, plan to feminise the already femtastic book trade. Writing in The Bookseller, the author Kamila Shamsie has suggested that 2018 – the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote – should be a year in which the UK only publishes new titles by women.

I hope – very soon – Germaine Greer will eviscerate that idea too because whatever it represents – it isn’t feminism. It is a complete perversion of what the Suffragettes fought and died for. Women should have the same rights as men – not more rights than men. And to discriminate against men – to the extent of banning their books! – is perpetuating injustice from which women have finally – thankfully – been liberated.

The Bailey’s Prize is dead! But I’m sure it’ll get another sponsor… unfortunately, for the proud tradition of women’s lib.

 

The Spectator – Illustrated by Morten Morland

Julia should not have come to the wedding. That much was clear as soon as she arrived. Late, she was, and massive in belly. Her hat festooned with tropical fruit; her dress — hideously colourful. She made the hinges shriek on the great church door and winced, as it slammed shut, with a shudder. Puffing out her cheeks, she waddled slowly towards the nearest pew. She had a fist jammed into the small of her back, as if she were expecting to give birth at any moment.

morten-morland-julia

Everyone turned round to stare. The vicar got confused, forgot his lines, began to stammer. The bride stood at the altar, in an ill-advised orgy of organza and tulle, said something no one heard. The groom started coughing and the best man also. A hissing came from the bridesmaids, taffeta skirts bristling, as they squirmed to get a better view. Someone, somewhere, committed a laugh.

(You cannot remove heavily pregnant people from weddings, as a general rule.)

Flushed, Julia did not appear to notice. She settled in at the back, stared up at the angels in the eaves. Felt her hat, caressed her bump, sang the hymns over-loudly.

The wedding passed off as weddings usually do. Julia did not interrupt. If there were any just cause or impediment, Julia declined to mention it. The bride threw up her ornate veil, the groom seized and kissed her. The organ struck up in triumph. The wedding party swept down the aisle, plump in love, flawless with smiles. Everybody cried. Just as you’d expect.

Outside, the sun shone and died, shone and died, as clouds raced across the sky. Julia disappeared. Confetti was thrown, dried petals flew off, the gravel path littered with silvery shreds. Two turtle doves were let out of a box. One dazed itself, flying out disorientated, straight into the church door. The other refused to perform at all, sat cooing where it was comfortable. The photographer set about his formations. The maid of honour, humiliated in mauve, frowned between shots. The tiniest bridesmaid misplaced her violets and started to cry.

Then the rain came down, in sprightly gusts, so the bride and her mighty dress were borne back inside church, dabbed down with handkerchiefs and rearranged for the car. And it was while the wedding party was stood in the vestibule that a thin plume of smoke was spied, rising from a distant tombstone. Julia crouched there, lighting one fag off the end of another. She must have thought no one was looking.

The scandal reached the reception before Julia did. It was agreed that she had done very well to keep her figure, her slim ankles, shapely legs and slender arms. But if that was how she managed it…

Julia did not seem to mind that she was getting wet. She pulled her ghastly hat down further on her head. Finishing her cigarette, burying the ash, she picked at the blackened moss that filled up the cracks in the gravestone. She tore up a handful of grass to scrub down the letters. The shower ceased and the sun emerged with a little more conviction.

There wasn’t a space for Julia at the wedding breakfast, but she sat down before a plate, crumpled the name tag and dared anyone to move her. Many of the guests, who knew the whole sorry saga, were hoping to draw her out. But Julia just smiled, her eyes glassy, giving answers of remarkably few syllables. After some prodding, she at last came to admit that it was a boy, and she was going to call it George. Another woman, in a dubious hat, asked if Julia had a picture.

‘Of the foetus?’ asked Julia in the lull as the room laid down its dessert forks for the speeches.

The best man’s speech was not a success. Seeing Julia before him, he had to ditch half his routine and all of his jokes. He settled for a rather pitiful story about the tightness of the groom’s running shorts.

When the groom had thrown Julia over, almost eight-and-a-half months previously, everyone had expected her to go to pieces. For Julia was the sort that would. And Julia duly fell apart, over the weeks and months. When first she found out, she would not believe it. Carried on as if everything were normal, refused to give the groom up. So the bride had to step in, to clarify matters. Then there were a series of confrontations. Firecrackers through the groom’s letterbox. Vandalism of the bride’s car. Julia had stapled a letter, full of bitter accusations, to every lamppost on the street.

The bride had wanted to call the police. The groom said it would blow over. And so it did. All hushed up, so that now no one was sure what Julia did or did not do. The only thing anyone knew for sure is that Julia had disappeared to her mother’s house. Nothing more was heard. The groom forgot to feel bad, made a proposal. The bride tried on wedding dresses, set her heart on the church with two spires. Neither of them had wanted a long engagement. The groom had been through one of those.

As the big day approached, the bride felt it only right to issue an invitation to Julia and her mother, Julia’s mother being her godmother and Julia her oldest friend. But neither Julia nor Julia’s mother had made any sort of reply and the bride credited all concerned with doing the decent thing.

The bride was not to know of Julia’s subsequent history.

Of Julia. Sobbing Julia. Hysterical Julia. With one leg hoisted over the Highgate death drop. Julia. Persuaded down. Much to her own embarrassment. Julia three days later. Caught in a scarlet bathtub. Minus a pint of blood. Julia. Patched up in the hospital. Julia. Sobbing Julia. Unable to sleep. Taking all the tablets at once. Found just in time. Another admission. Stomach pumped. (No heart to be mended.)

And there lay Julia. Julia’s sobbing mother. Julia’s sobbing sister. Hysterical, the lot of them.

But tonight Julia seemed pretty much serene.

As the guests became increasingly drunk, everyone began to discuss, quite openly, the father of Julia’s baby. The whole marquee was doing the maths. If Julia was due any day now, and the groom had left Julia less than nine months ago then it was perfectly probable, creditable even… For Julia was a loyal sort, everyone knew that. She was not the sort to cheat and lie, not as attractive as the bride, not as engaging as the bride. But all the same.

The bride and groom took to the parquet. Their first dance marred by the death looks of the bride. The groom, poor man, near death without the looks.

Julia was faring quite well. She had chosen a seat with a magnificent view, on the edge of the dance floor. A great space cleared around her but she did not seem to mind. Julia’s hand flitted to pacify the kickings from within, as she swayed, ever so gently, from side to side. Smiling vaguely to herself, thinking her thoughts.

She had been spied, from under the door of a toilet cubicle, nipping from a hip flask she had hidden in her handbag. She had then shared the contents with the flower girls who had discovered her. They were all of 12, and were now turning various strange shades to clash with their unflattering dresses.

Some time later, when the music stopped for the cake to be cut, everyone held their breath and tried not stare in Julia’s direction. It would not have been polite. At a certain point, Julia must have forgotten she was not supposed to be seen drinking, and had finished off the table wine. Now Julia had her face down in a flower arrangement, groaning at volume, her last cigarette burning a hole in the opulent tablecloth.

The bride’s expression could not be read. Certainly there was contempt and incredulity in her eyes, but her smile confused it. Bravely, she plunged a knife into the swan-shaped cake, with her new husband’s hands about her waist. But as the camera began to flash, her features broke out in fury.

She strode over to Julia, cake knife in one hand, a fistful of her dream dress in the other, ready for the showdown.

Julia roused herself. Shaking her head, she brought herself up to her full height and clamped both hands on her great belly, fingers spread. Julia stood proudly in the middle of the room: so much taller than the bride — always had been, always would be — and possessed of riches that the bride, in her tight white corset, had not.

Julia opened her mouth. And Julia said, pointing at the groom:

‘IT IS HIS BABY.’

Only four words. And she said them very loudly, just like that.

The marquee erupted. The bride began to shriek. The groom collapsed. The father of the bride had the best man by the lapels. The flower girls were sick on their shoes, everyone screamed, the place turned into deafening riot. So no one had their eyes on Julia as she slipped out.

Heavy and waddling, she made her way, crab-like, towards the exit.

Outside, the night was cool and fresh and, as she neared the car that waited for her, Julia’s tread became surer, her stature more erect. Julia wrenched open the back door, tossed her hat on to the back seat and clambered in.

As the car moved off, Julia watched as the marquee receded from view.

And the car rushed ahead, down the empty track. Julia took one last glance behind her. When the last of the lights were eclipsed by trees, she hitched up her dress, withdrew a little knife from the recesses of her purse, and started to sever the uncomfortable prosthetic bulge strapped tightly to her middle.