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Game, Set and Patch

Do you remember that ‘tennis girl’ photo? Fiona Butler, approaching the net and scratching her gorgeous bottom, revealing that she is not wearing any underwear. It was taken in 1976 by her then boyfriend, Martin Elliot and it became the qunintessential Athena poster of the late 70s and beyond.

Well, some years ago, I tried to recreate that image as a gift for my husband. A couple of things I should mention first, I suppose. Number one, I don’t like tennis and not only because I suck at it. I have no competitive streak; my brothers stole it. My idea of a racket game is to hit the ball back and forth. No sneaky short taps, none of that enthusiastic grand slamming nonsense. No need to run, or lunge. Just a gentle tap, tap, tap, perhaps with a little counting as we go. What could be more fun then seeing if you can get to a hundred passes without missing the ball? Number two, having said I’m not competitive, I thought I’d go one better than perky Fiona and reveal a tattoo of my husband’s name on my own peachy cheek. My (genius) plan was to have a friend take the photo of me, hoicking up the back of a white tennis dress, mooning my love for my beloved. I’d frame it and present it to him for Christmas.

A couple of things went wrong with this genius plan. Firstly, I passed out halfway through the tattoo and ended up with "Mrs J Wall" on my bum. Instead of being moved and possibly aroused by my planned gesture, my husband howled with laughter. Secondly, I realised that I’d inadvertently gifted my buttocks to a man. The feminist in me awoke, flung her racket to the ground and started shouting "you cannot be serious!?" So, I gritted my teeth, returned to the tattooist, dropped my pants and had the incomplete dedication covered with the elephant-headed Hindu God of Beginnings. A marvellous idea at the time, when my buttocks still enjoyed a certain comradeship with gravity, but I didn’t consider the implications of having a hot pink pachiderm carved into a piece of flesh that would one day start a southward journey.

I no longer bear the name of a man on my left buttock. Now it looks like Nelly came back from the circus, old and knackered, unpacked her saggy old trunk and is sliding down the back of my thigh, possibly in search of a fresher bun. And yes, that pink trunk is now far too reminiscent of an old man's flaccid penis. In the game of Life vs. Ericka, guess who lost in straight sets again. What’s the point of all this over-sharing about my bottom you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. This week I slapped a beige HRT patch over the elephant that hid the name (that ate the cat who swallowed the fly), and in doing so I realised that a part of my life was over. In Chinese Medicine, the menopause is referred to beautifully as “The Second Spring”, a natural stage of life when a woman can actually work with nature to have a positive impact on her health. I don’t agree. Rather, I think a Dorothy Parker quote nails it: “What fresh hell is this?” I am turning into a Harvest Festival. My stomach looks like a turnip, all white and fleshy with random patches of purple, and my legs have morphed into two parsnips. Wide and knobbly, complete with rooty hairs. This is not my second spring. This is the winter of my discontented soul. My metabolism has joined my pet tortoise in hibernation. All I do is leak. If I’m not sweating, I’m crying. And when I laugh or sneeze, well...

So I’ve been looking at my bottom again. At that HRT patch, which has joined my regular medicines, prednisone (steroid), citalopram (anxiety), amitriptyline (muscle relaxant) and tocilizumab (biological anti-TNF). Without me, Switzerland would be plunged into a recession. As I gaze at that adhesive patch on my rear, I have been imagining my skin thirstily sucking away at the oestrogen, like a half-time slice of orange. (I had a hysterectomy eight years ago, so need for progesterone. As the doctor reminded me cheerfully: "You don’t have a womb!") It is very hard not to care about getting older, even though I'm well aware it is a privilege. Even though beauty is skin deep and subjective. Even though having non-parsnip legs was not the reason for any of my successes. But I miss myself. Can I say that? Can I be a feminist and miss my old, cellulite-free skin and feet that could run? Can I be a role model and also cry when naked in the shower because my buttocks look like two badly parked VW Beetles seen from above? If I were a friend of mine, I would say this: "Ericka, you’ve had three giant babies. You have rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and you are now in the menopause. Just slap on some moisturiser and eat a bar of dark chocolate (and then maybe you’ll cheer up and shut the feck up)."

But I am not my friend. Are you your friend? Can you tell yourself nice things? Or do you lament your old buttocks like I do?

Advantage, ageing.


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