The following is the first chapter from my novel 'Players' Restaurant' available on Amazon here and via the Kindle apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and PC. The normal Spurs blog (hey, that's why you're here) will be back next week for the Basel game after my sunkissed sojourn to Miami and this weekend's mandatory trip to York.
1) How to (almost) disappear completely
She dazzles in child Gucci. Emma Nova read the line once more with wry satisfaction and lit another Marlboro Light. Old habits die hard. She didn’t need the fags to suppress her appetite these days, but still she kept smoking, drawing the wisps of nicotine in to her throat wearily, like a familiar lover’s kiss. The fear was still there, even if the fat was not.
Emma wasn’t slim, she was fashionably skinny. She slid into couture clothes with effortless ease; in a light breeze a Size 8 fluttered like a windsock on her bony frame. The editor of Celeb Hot Body magazine had the luxury of cherry-picking her wardrobe from the cream of the catwalk as fashion PRs tossed designer clothing her way like handfuls of confetti over a skeletal bride.
Her ‘stunning’, sub-waif look was regularly celebrated and debated throughout the mainstream media. One fashion scribe quipped how she had transformed herself from ‘ice cream to waifer’. Emma’s stock had skyrocketed from mid-profile editor to celebrity in her own right due to a phenomenal drop in dress sizes, six in as many months. She had arguably become the world’s most noted slimmer. “Thank God, Karen Carpenter did not live to see this,” observed another wag darkly.
The increased notoriety and new-found skinny worship was an absolute thrill to Emma; she hired a ballsy, no nonsense agent and flimflamming publicist to cope with the endless demand for interviews and slimming endorsements. The editor was now a bigger deal than her magazine, but that was the only respect where she was larger.
Emma’s life had been radically transformed through a simple smoothie. This foul tasting product had broken the slimming mould. It was the diet craze that actually worked, more in demand and valuable per pound than gold or cocaine. The curious concoction sustained Emma like a camel’s hump in the desert, to the extent that she could miss meals without effort. Her constant cravings for food had disappeared. She still dined at fashionable restaurants, for appearances sake; it was crucial to be seen eating so her transformation was deemed truly effortless through the blinking lenses of the paparazzi. And if, as was often the case, Emma didn’t feel hungry, she could nurse a starter without consuming more than a few forkfuls. Naturally, she always skipped dessert.
Insecurity about her weight and physical appearance had tormented Emma since her youth. Her two sisters had been historically thinner and over the years revelled in taunting their podgy sibling, but they were barely on speaking terms since Emma’s dramatic weight loss; the family dynamic had been flipped on its head. They were unable to get their hands on the exclusive smoothie whereas Emma, the product’s great PR vehicle, received an unlimited free supply and, according to her sneering sisters, an ‘unfair advantage’.
The seismic shift in their relationship delighted Emma and, slowly, she exacted childhood revenge through her media; frequently referencing her sisters in interviews as ‘plus size’ or ‘plump’ with a weary, almost compassionate, sigh. They were a UK Size 6 and 8 respectively. These cutting remarks were heavy payback for years of sustained abuse and crippling eating disorders; for being made to feel less of a woman by weighing more.
The three sisters rarely talked on the phone (Emma could barely speak to either for more than two minutes without hanging up in a blind rage) so to stay in touch they would arrange irregular dinner dates via text. These were often disastrous affairs that left Emma weeping in the toilets. During the meal, her siblings provided regular updates of how full they were; every mouthful of food would be accompanied by a running commentary as Emma contemplated hurling her fork across the table like a vengeful Poseidon.
They thrived on making their elder sister feel enormous and, of course, there was the ongoing competition to see who could leave the most food on their plate. Her sisters would generally push away at least a third of their main course and remark how stuffed they were, how bloated, how their tiny stomachs were unable to take any more of this hideous punishment. Should they make it unscathed through the main course, a single dessert was ordered and shared between them and the perverse sight of three grown women frantically digging their spoons into the same tiny ice cream was not uncommon in London eateries.
The attending waiter was always far too professional to comment on this unorthodox method of dessert consumption. Skinny women and their tag-alongs were capable of almost any food-related madness in their experience. How Emma dreaded those sibling meals. Laura was a ‘rising fashion designer’ (her own words) while Lily worked in PR (exact role unspecified) and their gigantic egos were frequently massaged by a shower of male compliments. Her sisters’ faith in their own appearance was rock-like. They did not cry, they did not vent, they were always having a fabulous time, always having incredible nights out, always gaining promotions and recognition, always enjoying the attentions of rich and gorgeous men. Everyone noticed them, it was as if they owned the world and it revolved around them wearing a big goofy smile upon its face.
As with most anecdotes, there was a fair degree of exaggeration. The sisters were not having quite the marvellous time they suggested, but the downtrodden Emma believed every boastful word and she could see with her own eyes that their claims of weight loss, at least, were genuine. How did they always manage to stay so skinny while she toiled on the scales without progress?
Each sister employed a different slimming modus operandi. Laura enlisted a £250-a-week personal trainer and worked feverishly to maintain her well-toned Size 6. She ran three times a week with her ex-army fitness coach who had developed a successful weights regimen that kept her arms ripped like an athlete’s while she performed Pilates at an advanced level three other days at the local sports centre. Laura had recently started cycling to work through rush hour prompting numerous ‘cors’ and ‘look at thats’ from lazy-eyed white van men as they fixated on her pert behind to the detriment of other motorists and absent-minded pedestrians.
Any compliment, however ribald, was gratuitously related back to Emma with a naughty giggle. Laura painstakingly dieted every day, bar Saturday, where her man of the moment would be allowed to treat her to a luxurious meal at a high end restaurant. She never digested carbohydrates at any other meal time, other than breakfast. Porridge oats, chicken salad (no dressing obviously), salmon fillet and a sparse arrangement of green vegetables was a typical breakdown of her daily calorie intake. In tandem with such an intensive exercise regime, the extra pounds never got a look in.
Lily, meanwhile, was a naturally bony type, borderline androgynous, and therefore more attractive in the way she appeared to weight conscious women than men who preferred their eyes to linger on more feminine forms. She compensated by being an outrageous flirt – no man below 40 was safe from her advances, regardless of marital status and availability, even so-called friend’s boyfriends, past and present, were open season on a horny whim. And every one of these dalliances was regaled to Emma with lurid colour while Laura listened conspiratorially with almost ghoulish delight.
Few of Lily’s beaus lasted long, they tended to be short-term engagements as she was incapable of forging a non-physical connection, and this was Emma’s first form of attack if her own weight issues were highlighted too aggressively. Once, the two had to be physically pulled apart by their sibling as a catfight ensued. “It’s not a fair fight,” sneered Laura as she stood growling between them at Mezo, “You’re not even in the same weight class.” The fat sister clenched her teeth to prevent tears flooding down her swollen cheeks.
In her misery, Emma’s weight swelled to over 14 stone after she ‘ballooned’ on endless boxes of junk food and orange cuisine. Late night kebabs, KFC, McDonalds, fish and chips, she gobbled them all with gusto, often busting past the 3,500 calorie-a-day mark, according to her ill-fated calorie counting campaign. Using Weight Watchers, Emma regularly bypassed the 40 point limit; her three weekly visits to the gym were, therefore, simply pissing in the wind. The weight hung around like an obsessed stalker.
Emma was grimly aware that the weight of Celeb Hot Body magazine’s editor was under continual scrutiny and she could ill afford to lose herself in dietary freefall. No-one demanded her to be a Size 0, it was (for obvious reasons) not in her contract, but over Christmas drinks the CEO verbally insisted she not resemble an elephant in a peanut butter factory. Thinner, more glamorous women were always waiting in the wings to replace an errant editorial blimp.
A ‘chance’ meeting during Milan fashion week arrested the slide. She had little desire to attend the Prada Show while resembling a woman in the early stages of gigantism, but her presence was mandatory. Emma felt like an oak trunk in a forest of twiglets. She was the only Size 16 in the room. Even the wizened, hawk-like Italian fashionistas with their pinched, nipped and tucked faces had somehow managed to retain their slender forms, if not the flower of youth, into near senility.
Emma had been uncomfortably taking notes, trying to inconspicuously brush away the sweat beads forming on her temples under the callous glare of the lights, and not shoot envious glances at the elfin Victoria Beckham and annoyingly cute Sienna Miller, stoically casting their eyes across the latest fashions, when she was approached by a slender Hepburn clone in a painted-on black dress who stepped out from behind a couple of Size 10s grazing on complimentary bruschetta.
As Emma waited grimly for a catty remark or thinly-veiled putdown, she was greeted with a disarming smile and an intriguing proposition. Despite her lack of pounds, the tiny, dark-haired girl made no allusions to the editor’s rapid weight gain. Instead, she gushed about Emma’s achievements in the media, including her notable invention of the term ‘anorexchic’, and how she, and the company she represented, would love to have the esteemed editor of Celeb Hot Body magazine on board to endorse a new ‘can’t miss’ dieting product. Emma, who had tried and failed every imaginable weight loss fad over the years, required little persuasion. She was desperate to shed the small rolls of fat she had collected after her long-term relationship with an Italian boyfriend had turned sour, abusive and ended abruptly with her being ditched at Sharm El Sheikh airport, sunburned and crying without her suitcase after the holiday from hell.
With Emma’s spirits at an all-time low, and her career at stake, she willingly grasped the lifeline extended to her by a shadowy unknown, not caring to see where it led, looking enviously at this stick thin girl who might blow away in a strong gust of wind and wanting what she had, whatever the moral cost.
Emma remembered the first time she held the precious smoothie in her hands. It didn’t smell great, like a liquidized, day old Bolognese, but she closed her nostrils and pictured the end result, her being skinny and marvellous and the absolute envy of her sisters. She made a silent wish over the 20ml dosing cup, like a birthday cake, having no idea of the repercussions to come. And yet the transformation that followed was so sudden, so remarkable, that she reeled in shock the next morning when she placed her naked feet upon her digital scales.
The excess weight fell off effortlessly, pangs of hunger subsided, tight fitting clothes became roomy, tent-like. Embarrassingly, her work trousers fell down when she stood to address an editorial meeting and Emma was forced to commandeer a nearby bulldog clip to keep herself decent for the rest of the day. She arrived home in a giddy, almost feverish joy and ferreted through the right side of her wardrobe where all the smaller clothes had been shoved to one side. In a frenzy, she tossed her work attire on the wooden floors and, in a quiver of expectation, tried on clothes from three months and a size ago. They fitted like a dream. She could breathe without her waist feeling under attack by abdominal strangulation. Emma Nova felt invincible, reborn in miniature.
She now Googled herself every morning without fail; it was the new self-love for egocentrics. Emma Nova’s name was featured on every dieting messageboard, female-oriented website, celebrity or media column without exception; pictures of her smiling cheesily on the arm of influential TV producers, banking millionaires and bachelor oligarchs sprung up like proud new saplings across the internet. In an anti-skinny rage, a pro-chubby website photo-shopped her emaciated face on to a blade of grass and this ludicrous image became a cult t-shirt phenomenon for sarcastic anorexchics and camp Nova idolators alike.
Emma noticed that a new story had popped up on the search engine in the 12 minutes since her last online investigation. The Guardian was referencing her radical weight loss, but chiefly highlighting fresh concerns surrounding the ethics and ingredients of the smoothie. She took a deep breath as the story loaded and crossed her fingers for gushing praise and more jealous references to her rake-like form.
The article’s principal angle concerned the mysterious contents of the smoothie rather than hailing its astonishing success. Everyone knew the concoction was meat-based, but what was the origin of the ingredients? The Guardian speculated. “Leading conservationists fear the endangered okapi is the secret ingredient in the Smoochie Smoothie diet craze and have called on women to consider the moral implications. They have also appealed to the diet-obsessed media to stop championing the genocide of a species for superficial reasons.
“Campaigners have demanded answers from the smoothie’s creators SS Dietary Ltd who have, so far, refused to comment while the company’s outsourced PR department Ha Ha PR! refused to allow our phone calls past an incomprehensible work experience receptionist. However, The Guardian was told by one former SS employee, off the record, that the rare okapi was not the main ingredient in the smoothie, but admitted it did originate from an ‘unorthodox’ source.
“No doubt SS Dietary is buoyed by the strong sales of its product; the basic starter pack alone costs an initial £500, but despite this prohibitive cost, during a worldwide recession, these diet aids are flying out of their warehouses in record numbers with supply unable to cope with the unprecedented demand. As such, (possibly counterfeit) starter packs have sprung up on eBay and are selling for over £1,000 in some extreme cases of panic bidding.
“Renowned fashion designer Caterina Umbrian recently stated in an interview with this paper’s ‘Style Guide’ that the incredible dieting results of the smoothie may mean ‘the death of Size 12 and above’ and hinted that retailers could stop making larger sizes as women shrink across the globe. A sensational statement from someone so respected in the fashion industry.”
Accompanying the article was an inset photo of an unassuming okapi peacefully grazing in the Congo Jungle while the main shot featured a beaming Emma in all her tiny glory, hamming it up for the cameras in a miniscule Stella McCartney white strapless dress. The caption read ‘How to (almost) disappear completely’: Emma Nova, the poster girl of Smoochie Smoothie and queen of the ‘minus size’ look, is the slimming world’s belle du jour having been the first high profile user of the product. She has incredibly dipped from a US Size 10 to a US Size -2 in under six months.’
So what were the mystery ingredients? Emma knew the smoothie involved a meat content; she could taste it, anyone could, but when she grilled SS Dietary’s CEO Mike Williams over a light dinner at Claridges he became evasive. After a few more glasses of Bollinger, he sheepishly confessed it was ‘something exotic’ they had discovered in central Africa and maintained it was not on the endangered list, at least, not yet.
Emma Googled okapi. It resembled an exotic brown deer with a zebra’s bottom, but she discovered, after greater research (two more clicks), that it was, incongruously, part of the giraffe family. She wondered if they might start serving this delicacy at The Ivy. That would be fantastic. Emma made a mental note to request a slice of the hoofed animal the next time she dined there.
An additional benefit of the smoothie was the effect it had on the user’s sex drive. Emma’s libido had shot into orbit since she started using the supplement. She found herself actively seeking sex with random, multiple partners to sustain her rising needs, but she had to be careful, given her profile, not to tarnish her professional reputation. Kate Moss had managed to retain her mystique, and enjoy the benefits of serial dating, but despite her rapid drop in size to model-ready clothes Emma was no Kate. She was painfully thin, not a fashion icon, nor gorgeous, for that matter.
Rather, Emma was a ‘handsome’ 35 with a fashionable black bob and killer heels and it was her air of control, rather than her femininity, that made her attractive to members of the opposite sex with judgment issues. Not everyone was interested. She had been shunned by a low-ranking graphic designer who resisted her advances while they worked late on a deadline. He had backed off in mild horror and uncharitably labelled her ‘a Gucci-sporting cougar’. She might have been a MILF, if she had produced kids and not prioritised her career over family and personal relationships, but she was definitely not a cougar.
She did, however, enjoy similar appetites. Emma had maintained a string of boyfriends since falling under the smoothie’s intoxicating spell, but her suitors’ valiant attempts at pleasuring this insatiable, tiny woman could not sustain her escalating needs. She contemplated joining an x-rated adult dating site to satisfy her considerable desires, but the fear of negative publicity held her back and left her ravenous sexual hunger gnawing away at her soul, miserably unfulfilled.
She felt the itch particularly hard that night, steam almost rose from her hungry crotch, but none of her latest boyfriends returned her repeated text requests for sex. Inexplicably, she fantasized about the young Romanian porter in her apartment building, he was friendly and wholesome and always smiled at her through gapped teeth as she clip-clopped through the lobby, and then she scolded herself. Surely, she was not that desperate? She would just have to relieve herself tonight.
Emma gazed longingly at the skinny person in the mirror and wished she could reach out and touch this vision, stroke its perfect cheekbones and run her fingers over that svelte body like a hungry, new lover. The thought made her shudder to near climax.
Returning to her online diversions, Emma clicked to enlarge a photo of her looking exquisite on the red carpet at the premiere of the new Anne Hathaway movie ‘She’s All Fat’. In the background, members of the public were crammed behind security barriers, their arms spread out in desperation, autograph books, glossy pictures, marker pens and fashion magazines clutched tightly in their extended fingers.
They were calling out to her, frantically hoping that she might turn and notice them, acknowledge their humble worship with a smile or a wave.
Emma nimbly moved her fingers southwards as she stared at the beautiful girl in the picture.