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*Feature image: Interviewing Bob Varney – who, to be clear, is a great bloke and not mentioned at all in the copy below – this is just a cool picture of me at work. Image: Velofocus

I left a job at a local newspaper to immerse myself in the cycling industry seven years ago.

Since then, I’ve worked in marketing as well as journalism – for ‘unisex’ titles and women’s only online sites.

It’s been a journey. The cycling community is full of so many wonderful characters whom I respect very deeply. The industry is also constantly improving, and I’d say it’s getting easier and easier to be a woman within it – levels of respect are growing markedly. I’m pleased I exist in this life now, and not ten years ago.

However, in my time I’ve come across plenty of face-meet-palm moments…

The ‘is this your girlfriend?’ one

I’ve just waved my dictaphone below the face of the owner of a leading bike brand, for around ten minutes. Now I am sauntering around the factory – next to a male journalist who I became acquainted with around an hour ago.

Bike brand owner to male journalist: “Is this your wife?”

Me: “No.”

Bike brand owner: “Is this your girlfriend?”

Me: “No… I am a journalist. Also on your factory tour. I just interviewed you.”

Maybe I asked the wrong questions – but at the time queries about the pro team the brand sponsored and disc brakes seemed pretty representative of what any other journalists might ask.

‘When a woman says something intelligent, she gets more kudos’

‘Cos she has a vagina. I was once told (face to face by a peer, we’re not talking social media comment trolls) that female journalists receive greater respect from the audience, because they’re impressed that a woman has the capacity to understand the science/tech/racing all on her own with her tiny little brain.

I’m not sure if I was meant to agree and feel great sympathy for the men who are no doubt womansplained to and patronised at all angles.

Surprise and congratulations for… being able to keep up

Sometimes, brands will invite a group of journalists out for a bike ride – usually for the launch of a new product, so you can all try it together and chat to the creators.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve joined the “long” or “fast” ride (read: it’s rarely that long or that fast, most of us spend our days at desks) to be congratulated with a comment along the lines of “GIRL POWER.”

I once high-fived the guy back and shouted “BOY POWER.” I don’t think he got the joke.

Being told you can’t keep up (or descend fast)

For example, the time the route looked to be particularly hilly and the ride guide glanced around at the four assembled males, commenting, “you will be fine”, before staring pointedly at me and adding “you, I’m not so sure.” The repressed rage got me to the top of the most of the hills first, so that worked out well.

Another close personal favourite was the women’s bike launch where no rider was allowed to overtake the guide, who proceeded to ride embarrassingly slowly, on the descents. This has never, ever happened on a mixed launch.

The saddles

I’m not big into women’s specific bikes – but I am keen on components that fit.

The number of times I’ve been asked to ride a bike with a saddle that seemed to have a personal vendetta against my ever having a sex life ever again is obscene. Pro tip: always take your own saddle if you’re not riding your own bike.

The ‘unisex titles don’t want to hear about women’s product’ one

Forty journalists sit through a several hour long presentation about a new men’s product, before the two women invited are treated to an additional 30 minutes on the women’s iteration. During which one marketeer comments “female pro cyclists don’t need women’s products, because they’re hardcore.”

Needless to say, the majority went away and wrote about the men’s product, with no real information about the women’s version – since no one had really bothered to tell them about it. And seemingly some members of the team felt women’s product was redundant for those who are ‘hardcore’ enough, anyway.

Always being the ‘only girl’ on the photoshoot

Grimacing madly whilst being sent off in various orders to promote assorted views of gender politics. The result is that it’s always intensely difficult to find a picture of two women actually riding their bikes together.

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2019 marks the last New Year I’ll begin as a 20-something. And yes, you can expect several ‘last 20-something’ epiphanies in the next five months.

Perhaps from a current position on the naïve side of the fence, it seems to me like the degree of change decelerates as you make your way through life.

Zero to 10: you become a person. Ten to 20: your body enters adulthood. Twenty to 30: maybe that’s the decade your head and heart catch up a bit, though there’s still some way to go for most of us.

In the pie chart of my ‘Big 30’ feelings, I’d say 70 per cent of it is fuchsia for excitement. Ten per cent is grey, in mourning for the death of my perky hangover and wrinkle free years, and the final 20 per cent is the bright warning red of trepidation – which can represent anxiety or excitement again, depending on my mood. Pink and red clash, but then so do feelings.

I don’t pretend to be wise, at all. But there are a few tit-bits I reckon I’ve picked up along the way. Most of them are fairly cliche, but maybe lesson one is that cliches are often born from shared experience.

If you can’t grab opportunities, make them

Not all job opportunities appear on Indeed or the careers section of Journalism.co.uk. Sometimes, you’ve got to go hunting.

That might mean interning in the pursuit of a job, freelancing every weekend, learning shorthand by night… or – taking a leap into the unknown. I can’t say I’ve risked the last one – yet, but perhaps.

In journalism: never, ever email an editor and say you’d like to “write for them” – tell them what you’d like to write. And don’t do it for free. Same goes in other industries, I expect.

Life is a journey, not an individual string of events

My first job was on a local newspaper. I hacked it for a year. A salary I couldn’t live on, ever looming threat of redundancy and moral questions over what is really in the ‘public interest’ transpired to boot me out of the path I’d planned since the age of seven.

At the time, that first year felt like an unpleasant entry into working life, but in reality I learned more in 12-months than I did in my three year degree.

There’s been several times during my still short career where I’ve felt I’ve been in the wrong place, or been doing the wrong thing. But I’ve yet to look back on any past job and feel that – in hindsight – being there hasn’t formed an important part of the journey.

Only you can make yourself feel inferior

Before my life at Total Women’s Cycling tumbled to its end, I wrote a series on sports psychology with the wonderful Dr Josie Perry.

During one session, I commented that often I felt inferior to the competition ahead of a race, a pretty common experience. Her reply was to remember that I was always an equal on the start line. The same applies elsewhere in life.

Google ‘how to improve credit rating’

And start sooner rather than later.

Don’t neglect the important ones

The 20s are a busy decade – leaving home, new jobs, maybe falling in and out of love a couple of times, at least you think.

I’m not proud to admit I neglected a few important friendships along the way. But a true bond can take the hammering of absence, and come out the end tougher and harder to  break – after a few gin and tonics and a long heart-to-heart.

Related: you can’t fix everyone, but you can hold their hand.

Marriage takes work

I spent the first six months answering the question “how is married life, then?” with the same blasé response, “no different, if I’d wanted anything to change I’d not have got married.” Not quite true.

Relationships are different for everyone, but in reality that first year of marriage did require adjustment. Learning to live life in partnership takes work, but doing it together brings you closer and makes you stronger.

Pee after sex. Every time.

Even if you’re cosily cocooned in post-coital covers, the toilet is located at the bottom of treacherously steep stairs, and the tiles are cold? Yes, even then. Especially then. Bladder infections hurt more in cold weather (obviously this one’s just for girls, I suppose..)

All things in moderation

Darker moments of my 20s include weighing myself three times during one Christmas dinner (in case of sudden turkey fuelled blimpification) and taking detailed daily measurements of every body part when the scales were taken away.

Eventually, life got in the way of obsession. Now, the once exiled foods are back on the menu. And since I’m not forbidding all nice things, I don’t need to eat secret bowls of porridge at strange hours.

My mum always said; “all things in moderation.” Those four words saw me through it all safely and (fairly) healthily.

No one can make you feel anything

There is no life law that says you must love anyone. Feeling as if there is breeds feelings of entrapment.

You decide who stays in your life. Realise you’re in control, and any harboured resentment might soften.

Your inability to cook and contents of your kitchen cupboards may be related

I still maintain that no one needs a madeleine tray in life. But many edible creations will be easier with the appropriate cookware. You can’t dig a hole with a spoon and nor can you make pancakes in a saucepan.

JFDI

Life goes really quickly. If there’s something you’ve been pondering for years (and, ya know, it’s not going to rip someone’s heart out or cause total relationship breakdown…) – Just F*cking Do It.

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Destinations for an autumn cycling holiday are more limited than the glowing myriad of mid-summer escapes – but with highs of 28°c and two average rainy days in October, the ‘Eternal Spring’ of the Canary Islands represent an obvious choice.

>>> Cycling in: Pyrenees, Girona, Morzine, Majorca, Provence (Ventoux), Bormio (Stelvio), Germany (Black Forest), Tuscany, Portugal

Tenerife is a popular late season get-away, but images of climbing the same volcano six ways put us off – and daydreams of black sand shores didn’t really do it for us either.

Instead, It was Gran Canaria which lured us, with the promise of yellow beaches and varied terrain. And it’s definitely a destination I’d recommend.

Why go cycling in Gran Canaria?

Gran Canaria is geographically pretty intense. For a country with a circumference of 235km there’s a lot going on and boredom is unlikely to creep in.

Around 50 per cent of the island has been a part of UNESCO’s list of World Biosphere Reserves since 2005, thanks to the mixture of flora and fauna taking its home there. Expect to see birds of prey circling the mountain tops and look out for more than the common lizard.

Desert landscapes (accompanied by camel rides) sit beside gigantic forests of pine and there’s enough moisture to support a Botanical garden (admittedly with a little help from the garden fairies).

It’s a popular destination for cycling brands to use for photoshoots, too. The weather is (nearly) always fine – so models don’t need to pair summer kit with a fake grin plastered on their numb lips, and the cliff-corridors make for excellent images as riders thread through towering rocks on either side, too.

Here’s a few things worth knowing before you set off…

Expect steep ramps and nameless climbs

Elsewhere – Majorca is a good example – most climbs have a name, kilometre markers and a ‘victory’ sign at the top for cyclists (bloated with pride and SIS gels) to pose next to.

The landscape of Gran Canaria means that the roads naturally wind towards the peaks, and there’s a lot of pretty brutal climbs with no discernible or ‘official’ name.

We learned this the hard way, on our first “leg stretch” of a ride – just 12 miles with an apparent elevation gain of 2,249ft (though we did begin to question Strava’s basemap of the area as the week went on).

The warning sign was that the road from our holiday home had its own Strava segment, and yielded at least one wheel spin daily.

The 3minute 30second ordeal (that would soon become very familiar) dispatched, we turned right towards Santa Lucia before taking a left to what we’d later discover was the “Cl-12-6 Climb” to La Culata. 

The road peaked up to 20 per cent in the first mile of five, and the stinging ramps were made a lot harder by the rutted road surface which continued most of the way to the top.

We passed only one other human along the way – clearly this wasn’t a well-visited road, but I’m pleased we chose it.

Cycling in Gran Canaria

The view at the top was well worth the toil – but it was an early sign that we were to expect some testing terrain during our stay.

Some of the roads are stunningly smooth (and some of them are not)

Our second ride of the week saw us climbing steadily from Santa Lucia to Temisas, dropping down to Agümes and then working our way back via the soon-to-be-very-familiar GC-65/GC-60 duo.

This chill-out of a route – a minor blip at just 28.4 miles and a claimed 6,728 ft (more eyebrow raising at Strava’s basemap) – seemed to feature not a single road defect.

Cycling in Gran Canaria

There was not a pebble out of line, atop of glass like tarmac. The climb was relatively smooth and steady, too – easy ~5% sections followed by swooping descending bends and power ramps that made for a crit racer’s paradise playground.

The steep ramps of our first day appeared to be wholly unrepresentative, at this point.

Cycling in Gran Canaria: Santa Lucia > Temisas > Agümes > Santa Lucia

The conclusion we eventually arose at was that the roads that are frequented by cars are smooth, well maintained, with gentle inclines. Elsewhere – such as the ascent of day one (and the Valley of the Tears, below) – expect double figure percentages, and craters in the tarmac ready to snatch at your wheels.

The diversity is exhilarating

The best example of the island’s incredible variety of geography would be our ‘Roque Nublo’ loop.

This began with the 15 mile climb to the highly visited monument – which harks back to the second eruption which formed the island – and back down the other side.

Soon after leaving our home for the week, we passed through the cobbled streets of St Bartolome de Tirajana – a great place to stop if you’re climbing from sea level.

Here the terrain was still characterised by rock formations and desertesque heat.

Cycling in Gran Canaria

The GC-60 road that took us most of the way was well paved, and relatively steady for around 10 miles.

The final five miles came after a right turn to the GC-600, and the road immediately became more of a force to be reckoned with, with steeper switchbacks and more torque required.

Atop of Roque Nubulo

Passing the rock itself (which was largely flanked by coaches, unfortunately), we found ourselves weaving through fragrant pine forests. The life around us had suddenly and completely transformed from a dusty paradise to an equally evocative but totally different landscape, bristling with vibrancy.

Later in the week we’d discover this haven of green up high is largely made possible by significantly more rain than would be encountered further down the mountain.

There was a brief respite in the shape of some flat roads at the top, too, from which you could just make out Tenerife and Mount Teide.

You need to ride the Valley of the Tears

‘The Valley of the Tears’ (VOTT) is meant to be the must-do ride in Gran Canaria, so obviously we had to do it. Unfortunately, the weather played quite a role in our day.

I’d read fear inspiring blog posts describing 25% ramps in the early stages of the 12km/7mile climb, and frankly I didn’t believe them. That’s until my legs were shaking and the uneven surface made holding the bike upright a struggle.

Our route to the climb out took us back up the familiar GC-60 – but continuing straight instead of darting off to visit the Roque Nublo.

Around 15 miles in, with basically 15 miles of descending ahead of us (before the fearsome 12km/7 mile climb), the air around us became wet. First, just a gentle mist, then spitting. Somewhere around the 20 mile mark we had to admit this had become face slapping horizontal blizzard rain.

Stopping in Artenara we tried to camp out in a bar, whilst tourists in duffle coats carrying umbrellas got off their temperature regulated coaches and ambled bleakly around.

After several turns under the hand dryer, we admitted the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, and that home was equally far in either direction. So we stuffed our jerseys with newspaper and re-mounted en route to this god-forsaken crying valley.

Cycling in Gran Canaria – ‘The Valley of the Tears’ ride

The descent that followed was beautiful and bastardly in equal measures.

The road surface was as craterous as I imagine the moon, neither of us could feel our hands and a dog ran out on a hairpin and nearly caused a pile up.

Despite the rain, the numb hands and the kamikaze dog, the huge pillars of rock either side and the scenes down to the valley were formidable and magnificent in equal measure.

With the start of the climb about a mile away, the sun came out. Ish.

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I don’t think I set any really specific goals for myself this season. I was too busy trying to see if I could get a bit better at sprinting, and attempting to launch a women’s cycling team (club, thing).

The sprinting went ok, actually – I’ll never get to the top step in an all-out muscle-off (genetics, darling), but I did manage third overall at the Southdown Velo Goodwood series, which is a course for fast legs, since there’s not a hint of elevation on it and the bunch can never not see a break (if it even manages to get more than four metres distance).

Image: Shaun Boggust‎

Not targeting any particular goal meant that when we were in late spring/early summer and I already had 80 of the 200 points required for a 1st Cat license, I started to wonder if a new, lower number on my BC card might be the goal.

Cue a couple of weeks of racing LOTS (mostly badly) – before I realised that there are two ways of getting a Cat 1 license:

  • Being really good, winning often and racing well at higher banded races (where there are more points)
  • Racing lots and lots and lots of band 5s, picking up a few meagre points here and there for cruising in at 8th place

To be clear, both options are truly deserved and take A LOT of dedication and hard work. But I promptly decided that being the second type of rider is not a sure-fire way of ever becoming the first type. Plus it’s expensive and hard to tie in with a full-time job. So I opted instead to simply accept being stuck in the no-mans-land of easily maintaining Cat 2 and not yet reaching Cat 1, and enter more races where I’d be pushing myself outside of my comfort zone – Team Series events, the National Series Cicle Classic, and so on.

The only National Series race I did was the Cicle Classic. Due to aforementioned goal-less-ness, I didn’t have the early ones on my radar and the later ones were far into the depths of the North, which becomes expensive for the hour or so of crit racing on offer.

Melton’s gravel bonanza was pretty much a write off from kilometre zero. I had to skid my back wheel to avoid two crashes before 10 miles was out and I was doing a hefty percent over my FTP to stay on, even at the smaller rises (I didn’t look down on the bigger ones).

I imagine the early pace was largely motivated by the stronger riders wanting to get rid of the chaff (such as myself) before the gravel sections – about 30 of 100+ starters finished and plenty of girls who finished in the top 20 of previous National Series races were dropped so I wasn’t too downcast to not make the finish, more pleased to even get the opportunity to partake.

Image: Simon F Blackwell

Women’s Team Series races have been a much more approachable beast, though peppered with frustration.

The series was launched by Jon Miles in 1999.

“We had three races in the first season 2000, one in Wales, one in Derby and my one on Bedfordshire, my one had the most riders… 37… which at the time was the biggest field for some years. Women’s racing was that bad which is why I invented the Team Series,” Miles tells me.

Now the races usually have full fields (50-80) and they’re the kind of events where you’re racing against well set up teams, with decent tactics and strong legs (as well as some riders like myself). 

At Cyclopark’s Grand Prix, I was keeping myself safe in the bunch – getting used to a crit race with 50 riders on a tight circuit (won’t lie – I’m used to 20-30) – when the first break went. That was chased down before the subsequent selection went. Having helped regain contact with the first break, I kind of assumed that the second would get caught too. Nope.

The result was that most teams had a representative in the break and all the other lone rangers were quite happy to sit in the bunch. Le Filles did an epic job of blocking and countering so that a few of their riders could solo off the bunch. I largely burned all my matches with frustration, making soft attempts to get away but never really going anywhere, and rolling in, somewhat dejectedly, 23rd in the sprint.

Oakley’s Road Race was a toughie – with a bitchin’ steep hill towards the finish. No break was successful but I frankly just didn’t have the edge on that last climb – no excuses there.

Naesby was my first glimmer of success.

A break of six riders went about 14 miles in. I could see them up the road, and no one was responding. They didn’t look to be moving at any sort of lightning rate – so I set off after them. We were on a shallow drag, which quite suited my tester instincts and I reached the back of them, with not a single member of the peloton on my tail. Excellent.

Image: Simon F Blackwell

The six riders were keeping the pace high with a smoothly rotating chaingang, so I missed one turn to recover and then joined in.

The rhythm was settled, we’d only had to shout at the lead car for slowing down once, then as we approached a corner the two riders ahead of me collided – landing in a tangled mess of limbs so I had to come to a dead stop as the rest of the break sailed up the following hill. They were both fine, if a little bruised, and I began a hideous chase – for the second time of the day.

The distance wasn’t sinking. Then a Fusion rider (who had a team mate in the break) came to the rescue. I sat on her wheel, by this point legs radiating that numb sort of pain that generally signals there’s nothing left. After a while I decided she’d not take kindly to having a useless tag-a-long, so I took a turn. Once rested, she came round, murmured “one more push” in a way that meant I was welcome/expected to join… got out the saddle, and I watched her wheel slide away.

I chased a bit more on my own, as she regained contact with the break – and then accepted I was going back to the bunch.

Most upsettingly, my stint in the break was so placed that I didn’t even make it into the race report OR any of the pictures. The injustice is real.

Image: Simon F Blackwell

The break got to the finish line before the bunch, and I was still too blasted to get anywhere in the sprint.

Bizarrely, I came 24th at Oakley and 26th at Naesby (massive kudos to SenzaParagoni teamie Anna for getting all our Team Series points so far, with two 15ths!) – but clearly the latter was a much better race for me, even if it didn’t pan out well on the day. In this case, bike racing did not favour the bold, but I’ll try again next time.

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I saw my darling here and read her brutally honest but stunning short story here, and I felt so proud to be a part of her that I had to share our tale. It’s not all pretty, but it is lovely. Note: It’s definitely not about cycling.

It was a day in spring, at least I think it was, and she was wearing stripy socks that travelled right up to her knees, with a black dress and a lot of eye make up.

I suppose it was spring – it felt like a new beginning. I have no idea what we talked about, perched either side of the garden wall as the un-removal men ferried furniture back and forth from van to the new home.

The grass between our houses was green then – a slope that connected the two properties – but we had years ahead of us to muddy it with our endless footsteps from home to home. It annoyed my Dad a lot – mainly because it was his grass, but also because she was getting inside my head and he had absolutely no control.

I suppose we were fourteen. I don’t remember what we talked about at all. We must have hit it off, though. We both liked to write, and she could draw, beautifully, in fact. I had a bit of a crush on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Bowling for Soup and Nickelback, but she introduced me to Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot and the such.

The soundtrack that accompanied those years was basically whatever was on Kerrang. We’d watch for hours, drawing, writing, poems, reams and reams of endless words – total tosh, probably, dripping with sentimentalism – just like the words I’m writing now. Nothing’s changed, we’re just older, with jobs and husbands and housework.

At the time, I’d never had a friend that lived near me. We had a sister/sister bond. We grew closer, and I grew to understand she wasn’t as smiley as she seemed. There were cuts on her arms that were deeper than the kind of thing you could do with a drawing pin or a blunted hair clip. A lot of people then were vaguely playing with the notion of self-harm, but she wasn’t playing – there was too much hurt in every gash.

I actually don’t remember how or when she told me. I do remember she told me she did it with a knife. Not a pin or a blunted hair clip, the kind of play-acting that lots of kids go in for – a full on knife that could actually kill someone.

She’d tried that, too. That was what scared me the most – because I loved her more than I could ever, ever explain. It hurt my heart, with a full on blaze of fire – a searing sort of love that isn’t pleasant, but also isn’t something you want to go away.

It had been paracetamol. They say people who try to die with pills aren’t really trying to die, that they just want people to know they’re thinking about it. Perhaps that’s true, but it scared me to death that she might have another go.

We’d sit around, all evening, writing and sharing – sharing everything. When things were getting bad, she kept a diary in my house – of everything that she couldn’t let her mother read. There are pages and pages – I read it back a week or so ago, now over 12 years have passed, and actually it frightened me more now than it did then. Somehow, as a teenager, I could absorb the tremors of what I now know was a mental illness better. Maybe it wasn’t Schizoaffective Bipolar then, I don’t know – what even is a title on a personality?

Time eased on. We carried on sharing. We got to our GCSE years. I felt myself learning to understand depression. I know I didn’t really learn it – you can’t ‘learn depression’. I was a mentally well and generally happy teenager. But I did feel myself sinking, somehow, slightly. It was like being underwater. I felt a bit removed.

Finishing school, we went to the same college. She made friends with the goths and the punks who used to hide out in the Essentials Café between lessons. I joined them. The more I hung out with the Essentials gang, the more at home I felt, and the more stifled I was with ‘normal’ teenagers and ‘normal’ people. In the Essentials crew, I was a weirdo in the very best way.

So that was that, I was part of the Essentials crew. I joined in the with the punk thing – cut my hair off like Bettie Page, wore creepers and studded belts (three at most) with red skinny jeans and a jacket I’d decorated myself. She was taking a lot from me – but she was also giving me a freedom to question everything – society.

I studied English Language, and I was so fucking angry to learn that a woman was just an extension of a man. We who were born the wrong sex were called Miss and then Mrs when she was attached to a Mr, who was a Mr from the day he was no longer a child. Thankfully, my tutor caught it and called me Postmodern, and I fell in love with English and Literature and Language and my anger made me study harder, not less.

There’s one memory that sticks in my head, and that is of the walk home when I was actually scared. She had a shawl on her shoulders – she’d started wearing it to college – it was a big black rug, that covered her entire body and I suppose she could hide behind it. Of course, I understood it was just an extension of the hair over her eyes and the long sleeves on her mass of scars, but not everyone else knew her like I did, my love.

We were walking to get the bus, and she had her long shawl over her shoulders, and her hair in her eyes – and she was scared of something. I don’t know what. She couldn’t walk – it was like the world was mud and she was wading through it, getting nowhere. She kept being scared that there was something in the way, and I was scared she was going into the road. I had to prop her up, and together we made our way to the bus station. I was petrified, for her, for me – for everything.

I knew she was getting worse. I don’t exactly remember what it was she was telling me, but one time, it all just got too much. We were all at someone’s house – I forget whose. I’d developed quite a liking of alcohol, and I could actually drink full bottles of vodka pretty comfortably. By comfortably, I mean I’d usually end up puking up my insides and crying on someone’s shoulder by the end of the night.

I’d done it a few times – drunk, cried, puked, cried some more – often woke up and remembered not a single detail but that I’d puked and cried. Sometimes not ever that. But this time it all went wrong – I cried and the words I said were: “She’s going to kill herself.” It was my mum I told.

I know in the morning mum said her mother had stayed with her all night, that they’d shared a lot – that it was all going to be ok now. But it wasn’t really, was it? Nothing was the same. She didn’t trust me anymore, and I hated myself – I was locked out of our sisterhood and the love was stale.

We stayed friends, of course – but there was just a little piece of the puzzle lost. I don’t know that it will ever return.

I went to uni, she stayed at home and got a job. We still wrote together, she came to visit me at university, and I went to see her first home with her new boyfriend, who soon became her husband. Her new rock, I’d been replaced. I was glad she had him; I knew he cared for her and loved her and that she’d be ok, even though I’d failed her and could taste a little jealousy in my smile.

It was on her birthday that I really screwed up. I can’t remember which – probably when she turned 21. I’d arranged for us to see the Dresden Dolls at Camden Underworld. At least, that’s what I believed. It turns out, it was just the bloke who plays second fiddle to Amanda, who in actual fact, is the Dresden Dolls.

I ordered a Snakebite – that drink that’s beer with cider and blackcurrent. Then a couple more. All I remember from that moment is the toilet basin – it was silver, definitely silver. I think I remember leaving the venue – the sharp taste of cigarette smoke in my mouth, the cold, harsh air. That’s it. We went home, I don’t know how, and she took care of me.

I had no idea why she stopped talking to me, for a long time. It was a mutual friend who told me. Apparently I’d cried my heart out, told her she’d ruined my childhood.

That’s just not true. She ruined nothing – she just opened my eyes to the fact that the world isn’t as sweet smelling as I had thought when I met her, over the garden wall at the tender age of 14. If it hadn’t been her, someone would have.

A sober me would have explained that she had shown me a side of life I didn’t know, but that I’d never take back the knowledge. A drunk me just made shit up and had these words come out of my mouth that I just didn’t mean.

For years, we were separate – we just carried on like we were ghosts of the friends we used to be. We went through the motions – birthdays, the odd coffee – but I’d lost her, and with her, a bit of me.

Then modern technology failed me, and made it sort of ok again. I accidentally sent a message meant for someone else, about how mad I was that she’d shut me out – to her.

I said I was sorry, she was my sister, I Ioved her, it hurt my heart to even think about her when we weren’t on good terms. It’s like she’s another part of me, a deep, thoughtful part of me, that sits just below the wave.

We’re friends again. It’s different. But then the world is different. I’m there but I know that her husband is much more there

She’s an almost published author, my teenage writing buddy. She’s got a blog called ‘Don’t Say I’m Crazy‘, where she helps other people with mental illness. She’s so strong, so committed to fighting the stigma attached to the struggles that one in four people suffer from. I’m so proud of her – not that I have much right to be, since I am just one tiny dot on her journey to being who she is. 

We’re friends again, and I’m so grateful. I’ll love her, always – she is my heart’s sister.

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