Tuesday 23 August 2016

What happens under the fancy chandelier, stays under the fancy chandelier: a tale of pale dresses, periods, and female friendship.

Hi you.

A little context ...

When the events I've written about here first happened to me my initial thought was "Well now, there's a part of my holiday I won't be blogging about!".  And I thought I meant it. I did at the time I suppose.

And then ... because I'd ruled it out, and because I can be quite contrary, and because I quite often change my mind about my fears once I've spoken them out loud ... the idea just got lodged in my brain. I kept thinking "Y'know ... if this moment was powerful enough to make you decide against sharing it ... maybe it's exactly the thing you should be writing about."

Maybe it'll unlock a few stories from others, raise a few 'me too!'s, make someone reading it feel it isn't just them who things like that happen to. (Seriously, if there's a bigger goal in my life I haven't found it yet. It's apparently what I'm here for.)

And so my initial reaction of 'don't say it' became a red rag rag to a bull.

Pun intended.

Now, one year on, here it is.

*TMI WARNING*: if you'd prefer not to read about me discussing:

  • [a] periods 
  • and [b] yet a-bloody-gain that time I went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet ... (frankly I don't know which will be worse for you) ...
... then simply click away now, move on down the road, and you and I can catch up in another blog post at another time. 

Still here? OK then ... here we go ... 

When I went to Monkey World, in Dorset, I almost went blind with excitement. True story.

I was 30 at the time.

OK, so maybe that strange disc of light in my eye, blocking my vision for a week, was just an especially tenacious, and strangely timed, migraine … but still. Whatever it was it happened while I was visiting the famous ape rescue centre, an experience I’d looked forward to for months.

This is not that story.

No. Rather I offer it as context, as a way to demonstrate how, when it comes to reacting inappropriately to an occasion I’ve been eagerly anticipating, my body has previous form.

Because this is the story of how - the day I was going to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet - my body decided to offer me an additional accompaniment to seeing one of my favourite actors in my favourite role: the gift of an unexpected period.

Oh body. You had one job.

And while you may have left almost a decade in between your earlier primate inspired opening salvo and this bloody coup d’├ętat, I've got to give you credit for your innate nay, Shakespearean, sense of dramatic timing.

But at least the appearance of this ‘gift’- in the toilets of the Tate Modern art gallery (no Jackson Pollock jokes please) - explained the dizziness I’d been feeling for the previous couple of days.

Until that point I’d been putting it down to the headiness of being a naive North Easterner set loose in the Big Smoke for a few days. A North Easterner with a front row ticket to the biggest show in town in her clammy little hand. (OK, so it was the front row of the upper circle from where I couldn’t see all of stage and where, admittedly, the altitude was slightly thinner, but a front row seat with an unobscured view of Benny’s sweat and tears as he recited some of my most beloved lines in all of the English language, is still a front row seat.)

And no wonder I'd felt so at home in the dimly lit womblike magnificence of the Tate’s dedicated ‘Rothko room’ surrounded as it is on all sides by the artist’s huge deep red, maroon, and black paintings.
The Mark Rothko 'Seagram Murals' 
The explanatory notes to the exhibition read: “Mark Rothko saw these paintings as objects of contemplation demanding the viewer’s complete absorption”. And my uterus clearly took this as a call to action.

So there I was, in a Tate Modern toilet cubicle ...
Genuine Tate Modern #bathroomselfie
... facing up to the inescapable fact that in a matter of hours, when the curtain went up on Cumberbatch, I’d have to sit in one spot for several hours (it's Shakespeare's longest play!) wearing  the dress I’d picked out so carefully beforehand, hoping that the only bodily fluids I’d be leaking on it would be tears. (Yes I cried. Of course I cried.) Unlike the majority of the play's characters would my lovely dress come out of this alive?

My lovely dress. My lovely vintage dress. My lovely off white vintage dress.

The dress, waiting for me expectantly back in the hotel room.

Today body? Really?

I didn’t need to panic straight away though, I’m a grown woman and this wasn’t my first time at the menstruation rodeo (is that a thing? I bet it is a thing somewhere. Imagine.) and I had some emergency tampons in my bag. I always do; tampons (‘cos you just never know), tissues (need you ask?), biscuits (‘cos: biscuits) and a pen and paper (‘cos when things like this happen you know I’ll be writing it all down).

But I had only come prepared with the ‘Light’ variety and quite frankly, for the sake of the dress and my dignity, I’d have much preferred to have had the back-up of the ‘Whoah there these will suck so much moisture out of you you’d better have a drink handy’ sort.

But life doesn’t always check what kind of sanitary protection you’re packing before it gives you bloody lemons, does it ladies?

I suppose I could have gone out and bought something more reassuringly absorbent but we didn’t have a great deal of time to go wandering. We needed to eat, go back to the hotel, shower and change and then find the theatre - on the other side of the city - which neither I nor James had ever been to before. Plus, truth be told, I hadn’t the first idea about where one would go to buy such dreary essentials in London.

I mean, I was only in town for a total of around 70 hours yet I could have told you a dozen places on the South bank where you could pick up organic rhubarb juice or anything you could ask for served up in a brioche bun but I wouldn’t have known where to begin to track down anything practical. (Is there such a thing as a pack of Regular tampons and a pint of semi-skimmed in all of the capital?)

So I just made do with what I had and I refused to change my wardrobe plans. (If that doesn’t tell you about my dedication to wearing the right thing for the right occasion then nothing will.) And I headed to the Barbican in the clothes I’d always intended.

And you can forget about carefree teenagers rollerblading in white shorts; what those feminine hygiene advertisers really ought to be filming is a stubborn woman who’s had her outfit picked out for weeks, speed-walking, in wedges, across London in a light drizzle, who gets to the theatre on time, all while successfully not bleeding on a stone-coloured 1970s vintage dress.

Because Hamlet doesn’t stop when your period starts.
I know, I look so relaxed don't I? 

Long story short … everything behaved as it should, including Benny C, and there was no untoward gushing (don’t). Which was just as well really as I had an eagle-eyed usher sitting inches away from me throughout, facing into the audience, to prevent anyone taking photos of the stage (you might remember this post where I talked all about it)  So if I had bled on the upholstery the chances of me casually sneaking out afterwards would have been very slim.

Right then, so now we’ve got Hamlet cleanly out of the way let’s leap to the next morning, where I’d arranged to meet up with Kirsty, the loveliest of longtime best friends but who, until that morning, I’d only ever spoken to online. Again, I had my outfit planned in advance, and again – as it was yet another light coloured dress - it was biologically inappropriate. (One look at my wardrobe choices could tell you I really hadn’t been anticipating being anywhere near any blood at that particular moment in time).
Me, in the frock, on the way to meet Kirsty.
Here again I decided not to change my outfit plans; not least because as we’d never met in ‘real life’ before, I’d told her to keep a look out beneath the London Eye for someone wearing a white dress with black pinstripes.

If you’re going to be unromantic about it, yes, we did have each other’s phone numbers, and yes I could have phoned her to warn her of the change, but I generally don’t make a massacre of my clothing and so I thought I’d be OK, that there was no real need to be extra careful by dressing head to toe in black.

It would be fine sticking with the white dress. Wouldn't it?

After more criss-crossing of London, chatting, taking photos, visiting an exhibition at Royal Academy, all while wearing white, (those advertisers were missing another trick) we settled in Fortnum & Mason’s ice cream parlour – because if anything is going to seal this momentous meeting-in-real-life stage of our friendship it was eating expensive ice cream together.

Although, apparently, there was an even greater friendship testing moment still to come.

On a visit to the Fortnum & Mason's toilets – which contained a glittering, glinting, chandelier, #poshestloosever - it turned out that I seriously and swiftly needed to change my protection (and no, that doesn't mean I needed a new bodyguard. Although Bodyform? Maybe.).

And also possibly, if a little belatedly, I could have done with a reassessment of my dress choice. Without going into graphic detail, there had been a mere hair’s breadth between where I’d halted the situation and where it could soon have ended up. ie: on the back of my dress.

So I got myself straight, sorted ‘things’ out and headed back out beneath the fancy chandelier where I was then faced with a decision as to whether or not to say something truly, bloodily, corporeal that could test our hitherto virtual friendship:
  • Do I say something about my near-miss? 
  • Do I break into this day of delightful culture and violet-petal ice-cream sundaes with some casual menstruation chat? 
  • Do I ask her to keep a look out through the rest of the day for further thrills and spills? Because while I doubted it would have ended up as something akin to that scene in Carrie … , I could have easily come away from the situation looking like I’d sat on, and crushed to death, an unfortunate mouse.
And, because I’m a grown up, and because I couldn't live with the possibility that I’d end up walking around the country’s capitol with a blood stain on my airy summer linen, I decided that I would say something. Surely a small mortification in an extremely posh shop was better than the leaky alternative? And so I announced:

“I’ve had a bit of an incident … the kind you don’t want to have while you’re wearing a white dress.” And without hesitation Kirsty turned to me and asked:

“Are you alright?”

But it was more than that. In those 3 words she wasn’t just asking if I was OK, she was asking “Have you got what you need?”, she was asking “Can I do anything? Can I help you out?”

And – as tests of friendships go – her response was quite the clincher in fact, I consider our Molly Hooper and Sherlock moment (well, I would, wouldn’t I?). But, seriously, bear with me, in Season 2 Ep 3, The Reichenbach Falls episode Sherlock, knowing he’s got to get himself out of a tricky situation, goes to see Molly and says - (no, not “Molly I’ve just leaked blood everywhere, help!” but ...) “I think I’m going to die”.

And – just like Kirsty did to me – Molly responds immediately with “What do you need?”.

That’s a true friend right? And I – and my light coloured dresses - consider myself fortunate to have found myself a friend in the Molly Hooper mould.

 Another woman defiantly wearing a white frock. Portrait of  'Marguerite Kelsey' by Meredith Frampton, Tate Modern. 

  • Someone who understands.
  • Someone who is totally there for you in the moment and who doesn’t ask too many awkward follow-up questions! 
  • Someone who keeps my secret and even comes up with the perfect euphemistic title for the whole situation which we both still use when referring to the 'incident': ‘What happens under the fancy chandelier stays under the fancy chandelier’!
  • She’s even someone who – despite having kept it to herself for a year – has now stuck with me when I decided that – you know what? – even though it's still awkward I actually quite fancy sharing the entire story with all and sundry online! Her encouraging reaction when I told hr made me think that maybe other people would like to hear it too. 

And it's during moments like those I've shared today where female friendship and solidarity means so much. Because this kind event between women doesn’t get talked about very often in public even though it's happening all the time. All. The. Time. 


Always (no pun intended).

At any given moment there’s someone in light coloured clothing worrying that she’s carrying around with her the potential for public embarrassment, and – if she’s lucky like I was – she too will have a Kirsty or a Molly who, in an unflinching instant, will offer her support.

Someone who – in the face of unpredictable bodily functions - has got her back.

Someone who she can rely on to always be on red alert. Literally.

Someone who will be prepared to act as her wing woman.

Or, maybe in this instance, ...  her ‘with wings’ woman. (Couldn't resist. Forgive me.)


I usually say feel free to join in the conversation in the comments or catch me on social media ... but in this case, don't feel obliged. If you're anything like me, maybe it'll take you a year to get around to feeling brave enough! Whatever. I'm sure I'll be around to chat somewhere online in 2017!

But if you do feel happy sharing any similarly life-affirming female friendship tales to tell, then you're very welcome to.

This was scary to put out there. I hope it finds the audience it was intended for.



  1. This is so perfect I'm struggling to write any kind of response. And/or not cry. It's worth mentioning that in general, and around most people, I very probably wouldn't have reacted like that. I'd have been awkward and squirmy and mostly useless. But, to wildly misquote Harry Potter, Mollys aren't born - they're created. Largely by special people and out of things like trust, kindness, acceptance and empathy. All the stuff which makes someone feel comfortable enough - even while being nervy and manic about such an important in-real-life meeting - to be their actual, authentic self. I may be able to count my female friendships on the sticky fingers of a single ice-cream loving hand, but they are valued as some of the very best things in my life. xx

    1. Aw, I can't cry right now because my terror at publishing this post has sucked up all other emotions. But give me time ...

      Funny how we both felt awkward but both managed to think the other was keeping it cool! Maybe that's all any of us are doing at any given time.

      Hugs. xx

  2. Yep! It's happened to me too! I took a 10 mile walk with a friend whilst wearing cream trousers and yes - when I got home I had the perfect bloom on my bum! Mortified? Yes. Laugh about It? Yes. Why did my friend say nothing? We were walking next to each other and she never noticed until we got home! What we women have to put up with! I do appreciate your story and thank you for sharing :)

  3. Blimey, Benny C really does have a dramatic effect on your hormones doesn't he?!
    I think there'll be a lot of us reading this and nodding in agreement about a lot of this, women's bodies are so unpredictable aren't they? If only things were like the adverts, a small amount of pale blue liquid soaking easily into a virtually invisible amount of padding. Why is it never a realistic colour?
    My niece was once stopped by the police whilst out seeking emergency tampon supplies. This was before 24 hour shops and she was going from petrol station to petrol station trying to find somewhere that sold them. She was picked up on CCTV in a few places, stopping and then driving off, and someone thought she looked suspicious! Try explaining that to a big burly policeman!
    I never ever knew you two weren't friends IRL - always got the impression you were lifelong friends. But if this was your first meeting in person experience, I'd say she was a keeper.

  4. A friend like that is one to hang on to for sure.

    I've just read Debs comment about her niece looking suspicious. That's scary..

  5. That's such a heartwarming experience - and this is from a woman who once sat in a pub for four hours before I could go more than five minutes from a loo, thanking fate I was wearing a black skirt and having surreptitiously to wipe blood off the wooden stool as I misjudged my breaks every time.

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Oh, you certainly know how to tell a story, blood, sweat, tears and all :). Glad it has a happy friendly ending!

  7. I laughed AND cried, sometimes at the same time! Thanks for sharing this. =)


Thanks for leaving me a comment, asking me a question, sharing your own story or just randomly saying hello.