The dark side

I'm not blonde anymore. To you that might not seem like a big deal but to me it's the start of a whole new chapter. I've been blonde my whole life - well, apart from a crazy year, aged 17, when I went pillar box red and wore army trousers and big black boots.

But now i'm brunette. I keep catching sight of myself reflected in windows and thinking, that girl's wearing my jacket, then starting when I realize this dark-haired creature is me.

People who know me say "wow" the fist time I walk into a room, and I say "what?", forgetting each time this big part of my identity has changed.

It was the endometriosis that made me do it. Everything I've read has told me to stop putting chemicals into my body. So I've thrown out all my toxic toiletries and cosmetics and changed them for natural organic stuff. Bleach on the scalp was a complete no-no too.

Having the operation was about as much fun as eating salt and vinegar crisps with a mouth ulcer, so I want to do everything I can to avoid having another one now it's all over.

So my hairdresser suggested going back to my natural colour. But my roots are so dark now - it really doesn't match up to the inner picture I have of myself.

When I imagine my future - see myself getting married or playing with my kids in the park or on the beach - the 'me' I see is blonde. It's going to take a while to reassemble.

And will it change the way others see me or react to me? I won't get random blokes shouting "rubia" (blonde) at me. No loss there. Maybe I'll even blend in a bit more with the majority of the brunette population. Maybe if I look less like a foreigner, thieves will stop trying to rob me?

"Do you like it?" My hairdresser asked me after he'd finished arranging my hair around my face. "I don't know yet," I told him, after we'd both collapsed in fits of laughter staring at this weird stranger in the mirror.

"It looks like I'm wearing a wig, it's just not me at all."

It's funny the parts of ourselves that are so deeply ingrained in our sense of self, that we feel that if we change them, we might lose who we are. I remember many years ago when I worked at a dance music magazine - I was so proud of my job and I loved it so much that I thought it defined me completely. I couldn't imagine ever doing anything else.

One day the production manager, who was some years older and wiser, left. At her leaving party she told me: "You think this job is who you are, but it's not, it's just something you do. You'll realize that in time."

I thought she was wrong but I never forgot her words. And of course she was right. I found other things that were more important. The need to travel and explore. A sense that I had to leave my secure life in London behind and discover who else I could be.

In many ways I'm still finding out. But change is good, I'm sure of that much.


It's over

Pure terror. I managed to hold it off until the last minute, but there it was. Piggybacking into the room on the shoulders of the nurse who arrived to take me to the operating theatre.

I'd done quite well up until then. Apart from a teary moment just before me and the bloke left the house, I was quite calm. There was that faintly sick feeling - the one you get before taking an important test or exam - but it had diminished over the course of the three hours I'd been sat in my pyjamas, waiting in the room at the clinic.

Then there it was, the terror. On like a switch. With the nurse telling me matter of factly to say goodbye to the bloke and his mum, take my glasses and socks off and put my slippers on - we would walk to the operating theatre. Walk?

Everything I had read about the operation I was about to have made me believe that I would be given some sort of chill pill and I would be wheeled there. Every single report said it was so. What a double shock then to be walking, completely lucid, through the hospital towards the surgeon's knife.

When I had to stop to put plastic covers over my feet, and a green shower cap over my hair, my hands would hardly do what I told them. The nurse helped and remarked my skin felt cold.

"I think you're scared," she observed. "You don't need to be - it'll be fine." Easy for her to say.

Through a set of double doors and there it was - the operating table. An ominous looking bed with a thin panel jutting out at a right angle for the arm. My arm. Half way along that - a strap that they would tie to help my veins stand up.

Lethal injection, I thought suddenly, and fought off a manic urge to laugh. My eyes took in a block off three tiny steps leading up to the bed and the blood started to roar in my ears.

For an awful moment I thought I was going to faint or have a panic attack as I stood there gawping like an idiot. Then out of nowhere a friendly voice said in English: "How long have you been in Madrid?"

The anesthetist - he spoke my first language. I wasn't expecting that.

"Four years," I replied, the panic subsiding.

"Are you from London?" He asked.

"No, Durham. it's a place in the north east of England."

"Ah, yes, near Newcastle"

"Wow, you know it?"

"Yes, I know it. I have many friends in Newcastle - it's so important to learn English."

I was so amazed that he knew my home town, I momentarily forgot about the panic attack and what was about to happen. I was having a nice conversation with a Spanish person who had actually heard of my home town. Who actually had friends in Newcastle. That was a first, and I wanted to know more.

But there was no more time. The nurse was back.

"Take everything off," she said, so I did. Wrapped in a blanket I took the three tiny steps up to the table and lay down, sticking my arm out on for the anesthetist to strap in.

Medical staff swarmed around me, sticking things on to my body which would probably measure my vital signs when I was out. I looked up at the lights in the ceiling and the upside down forms of scrub wearing phantoms darting about.

It looks like a film, I thought. The part where the hero's fighting for his life on the operating table and you're seeing what he's seeing. And the sounds are all muffled and it's a bit blurry. It looks like a film.

"Sorry, now you will feel a little prick," said the anesthetist. "It is unavoidable."

"That's OK, I told him. It's perfectly necessary."

"And now you will go to sleep," he told me.

I was glad there was going to be no countdown from 100 for me. I had been worried that in my panicked state I was likely to mess it up, and count in the wrong direction or miss out a number.

Instead all I had to do was say: "Night night."

"Yes, but it's evening, not night, so you should say 'good evening'," corrected the anesthetist.

"You're right. Good evening," I agreed.

Then a sense of euphoria began to wash over me. The panic was gone. The fear obliterated. I didn't really care what happened next.

"Wow, that feels amazing," I said. "Really amazing."

Then there was nothing.

I'd been told that I wouldn't remember anything from the time I was under - I wouldn't dream, or at least I wouldn't remember dreaming. Even so, I'd been secretly hoping for some sort of wild vision, or conversation with god. but there was nothing - just a big black hole that only lasted for a fraction of a second.

One minute I was telling the anesthetist how amazing I felt and the next I heard: "Honey, wake up."

I opened my eyes to see the bloke stood over me, smiling. and behind him, his parents.

Wow, that was quick, I thought immediately, and secondly - wow, I'm back, i didn't die! Because even though I knew it was routine operation with a low level of risk there was still that little voice whispering deviously in my ear: "You might not wake up, you might not come back."

Do you remember the first time you became fully aware that one day you would die? In theory most of us realize that we won't go on forever when we're kids. The death of a family pet or a grandparent puts it into focus. We accept it, because usually it's smoothed over with "Rocky's gone to heaven with all the other dogs who died and he's having a lovely time chasing rabbits in the fields".

But when do we really process it? For me, really I think it was only a few years ago. I was walking down the road on my final stretch of the journey to work with the sun in my eyes and I suddenly thought - One day I will just cease to be. I won't have thoughts, or feelings or memories, I'll just be nothing… forever. And my brain struggled to process that one huge statement. and I had to stop and hold onto a tree while the feeling of total unease passed.

Anyway, it wasn't my time to go. I was back. And as I listened to the bloke tell me the operation had been a complete success and the endometriosis had been minimal - only in one place - I felt the euphoria back again. Only this time it was natural.

I'd been asleep for an hour, and now everything had changed. The unknown was no longer hanging over my head. the relief was total - a blinding white light filling my head.

I was in a lot of pain but it hardly seemed to matter. It would go eventually. I would get better in the end. It was over.

Hours later, as painkillers and antibiotics dripped into my arm we watched a colorful and trippy Japanese Anime film. Then we settled down to try and get some sleep.

"I don't think it's hit us yet, how good this is," said the bloke. "This could have been so bad, but it's all worked out great."

Two nights later, it finally did hit me. I was in my own bed at home with the bloke sleeping beside me. Replaying the whole thing over in my head. Silent tears of gratitude began to snake their way out of the sides of my eyes and run down my face.

It's over. I'm going to be ok. The two phrases played over and over in my head like a mantra before I fell into a deep sleep - my first proper rest since before the operation.



I have to have an operation. I've been told I have endometriosis. Two things I didn't expect to be writing in this blog - two things I debated over writing in such a public place.

After all, when I started writing El corte a la Inglesa I saw it as a place to post funny stories about my life in Madrid. Should I really be sharing the not funny, potentially uncomfortable stuff too?

But after much thought I decided to go ahead - after all this is all part of my life too, and writing about it might help anyone going through something similar to feel a little better.

if you don't like the sound of that, stop reading - I won't be offended. I'm sure there'll be more funny stories to be posted in the near future.

So, I'd never even heard of endometriosis a few months ago. Chances are, you haven't either. It's a condition that affects millions of women that causes cells which usually grow in the uterus to grow in other places in the abdomen.

It's very common - as common as diabetes, but no-one really talks about it, as it's a "women's problem". They don't know what causes it, and there is no cure - though there are certain things you can do to put it in remission. No-one ever died from it, therefore research into it is poor - no motivation for the big pharmaceutical companies.

I've already made big changes in my life to become more healthy living, but there's just no getting away from the fact that I need an operation - something which (in my head at least) happens to other people, not me.

I had two minor surgeries when I was a kid (not counting the three teeth I had out under general anesthetic) and at the time it all seemed like a bit of an adventure. if the adults said it was alright and it needed to be done, then that was that. I even sort of liked being on the ward, with all the nurses, and drawing pictures for all the other kids.

But of course it's different when you're an adult, saddled with all your irrational worries and fears. The most part of me knows it'll all be fine, but there's a tiny voice screaming in my ear, telling me to be afraid.

Luckily the health care in Spain is excellent, and double lucky for me that being in a foreign country, I've got the bloke and his family around me. They have been amazing - coming with me to appointments (hard to concentrate when you're flustered and it's all in your second language) and doing and saying the right things at every moment to make me feel better.

And the reaction from all of my friends has been phenomenal. So many messages of love and support, really getting me through the low moments. What would I do without them? Makes me feel sorry for anyone who has to go through this kind of thing alone.

As one friend told me - everyone has to deal with this sort of thing at some point in their life. So this is my time. I've been lucky with my health for almost 30 years - one minor blip in that time is not too bad really.

In fact, some part of me is glad this has happened as it's put things into perspective. It's made me realise how lucky I am. I knew I had a good man in my life, but it's not till now i've fully realised just how great he is. I know for certain he's in this for the long haul, and I can depend on him whatever life throws. Ditto his family, ditto my friends.

Health is such a gift, and we take it for granted. It's a smack in the face when you're told there's something wrong with you that can't just be fixed with a day in bed or a course of antibiotics. I have no idea what it must be like for people who suddenly have to deal with the fact they have a serious illness.

So, my resolutions - don't sweat the small stuff anymore. Be healthy, but also make sure I live a little. Where possible, take every opportunity that comes my way - because you never know what's round the corner. Be the first to offer support to anyone who needs it. And absolutely without fail, regularly tell my family and friends just how much they mean to me.