I really don’t want to talk about Brexit, but…

When Britain voted to leave the European Union, I was heart-broken; soon after, fear set in. What would happen to my family now? While my husband and children held British passports, I didn’t. Would I still be welcome to live in Britain, the country I’d called home for more than fifteen years?

Eventually, fear and despair gave way to defiance.shutterstock_773740984

“Fine, kick me out, if you want, I’ve got 27 other countries to choose from!”

Friends and family sought to reassure me that all would be well.

“They won’t kick out people like you,” they said.

People like me? Swedes? Blond and blue-eyed Scandinavians, Boris Johnson lookalikes? We, the people who gave Britain ABBA and IKEA?

When my blond and blue-eyed four-year-old niece was verbally abused on a London street for speaking Swedish to her nanny shortly after the referendum, my husband advised me to play it safe by not speaking  Swedish to our mixed-heritage daughters while on public transport.

In the wake of the Windrush scandal, and following reports that numerous EU citizens who’ve lived in Britain for decades, paid their taxes and married British citizens, have had their applications for permanent residence rejected, it seems that anything is possible, even the unthinkable.

So why is it that, only months away from the day that Britain is set to leave the EU, I find myself muttering “Go on, get on with it, for goodness sake,” while reading the morning paper? Get on with what? Brexit, of course!

Am I really so fed up with the Brexit debacle, the botched negotiations, the inept government, and equally dysfunctional opposition, the different stands on a second referendum, a so-called ‘people’s vote’, that I just want Brexit over with, deal or no deal?

Not quite, but two years on from the referendum, I simply fail to see how the Brexit issue will ever be resolved unless the government follows through on its promise to take Britain out of the European Union. When the petitions for a second referendum first began to circulate, I felt a glimmer of hope light up in me. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a Brexit after all. But on reflection, it seems that a second referendum would at best result in a tiny victory for Remain, the legitimacy of which would be as contested as that of the first referendum.

Brexit sucks, there’s no doubt in my mind about that and it will probably take many years to repair the damage done to Britain, economically, politically and socially, once it’s left the EU. Yet perhaps all this is necessary in order for Britain to finally come to terms with the fact that it is no longer – and never will be again – an imperialist superpower. What kind of Britain will rise out of the ashes of Brexit is anyone’s guess, but perhaps it will finally prompt some much-needed soul-searching.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Jung



Botox and Bonjela

I knew something wasn’t quite right as soon as I woke up. My lip felt stiff, and it was sore to touch. I heaved my tired body out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom to have a look in the mirror. The left side of my upper lip was swollen, and a quick look inside my mouth gave me an explanation: mouth ulcers. Annoying and mildly painful but nothing that wouldn’t resolve itself in a few days’ time.

I returned to the bedroom where my husband had just woken up.shutterstock_482304808

“Look,” I said, “look at my lip!”

Still groggy from sleep, it took him a few seconds to focus his gaze where I was pointing my finger.

“You look like you’ve had Botox…bad Botox,” he said.

“Botox!” I repeated, horrified, and opened the wardrobe door to look in the mirror again. My husband was right. I looked like I’d had an injection in the left side of my upper lip to match the slightly thicker right side where my cleft is.

“I can’t leave the house today,” I moaned. “I’ve got a trout pout, a tell-tale sign of bad Botox.”

Just then, our 8-year old daughter came into the room.

“You look funny,” she said as soon as she saw me. “What did you do to your face?”

I’m used to the right side of my face being the ‘funny,’ side, with its uneven shape and unfortunate tendency to become puffy and sore when I have a cold. But my left side – that’s the ‘normal’ part of my face, except now it looked anything but.

“I’d rather look as if I’d taken a beating and been left with a fat lip, than as if I’d deliberately injected myself with Botox,” I said.

‘Fat lip’ – I couldn’t quite believe I was using that term now. When I was a child, bullies used to call me ‘fat lip’ and ever since, it remains a loaded term, full of negative connotations, and childhood memories I’d rather forget.

For much of that day, I stayed indoors and now and then I’d look in the mirror to see if the lip was showing any signs of returning to its usual shape. Inspecting my face thoroughly, I was struck by how much more symmetrical my lip looked, with both sides swollen. Ironically, I once turned down a plastic surgeon’s suggestion of doing just that – fattening up the slimmer side of my lip to create more symmetry.

As expected, with a bit of patience and a hefty dose of Bonjela, the mouth ulcer healed, and my face went back to normal.

What was otherwise a rather banal incident, got me thinking about all the times I’ve been tempted to have more surgery to ‘improve’ my looks. In hindsight, I’m glad I left my face alone. I don’t judge those who choose to go under the knife time and again in a bid to minimise the appearance of an old cleft or other appearance-related condition. Each to their own, but if there’s something I’ve learned over the years, it is that no amount of surgery will make me whole, because I – and everyone else – was always whole.

As the Irish-American poet Lucy Grealy, who had part of her jaw removed when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine, writes in her memoirs, Autobiography of a Face:

Without another operation to hang all my hopes on, I was completely on my own. And now something inside me started to miss me. A part of me, one that had always been there, organically knew I was whole. It was as if this part had known it was necessary to wait so long, to wait until the impatient din around it had quieted down, until the other internal voices had grown exhausted and hoarse before it could begin to speak, before I would begin to listen.

When I Grow Up

shutterstock_111981203“If you had to choose, would you rather be a child again, or a grownup?” my 8-year old asks me as we’re driving to school.

“Do I have to choose?”


She loves to throw all kinds of choice questions at me and, sensing they are meant to trick me into admitting something I’ll later regret, I usually try to avoid giving an answer.

Luckily, we arrive at school just then and the question is left unanswered as she jumps out of the car and vanishes inside the school gates.

The truth is that as a child I longed to be a grownup because I believed life as an adult would be a lot easier, and less painful. How wrong I was. With adulthood, of course, came other challenges and there are times when I wish, momentarily, that I was young again, free of duties and responsibilities.

But on the whole, I am happy to be in my mid-40s, and I rarely look back wishing I was still in my 20s or 30s, let alone a teenager. I’d like to think that as I age, I’m growing a bit wiser, more grounded and comfortable in my own skin. Best of all, the older I get, the less I care about what other people think of me. “Take me as I am,” I want to shout out to people I meet, “or leave it.”

Still, there are times when I forget I am 46; I don’t feel like 46, whatever that’s supposed to feel like. For while I’m undoubtedly growing older, I’m still waiting for the day when I’ll finally be a grownup. Sometimes, when I meet other people my age, I mistake them for 50-somethings, not realising that I have just as many wrinkles and grey hairs as they do. It’s only when I look at photos of me from when I was in my early 30s that I realise how much I’ve changed.

My first-born turns twelve this Saturday and has just started secondary school. One week into the term and she’s fully embraced her new independence, while my husband and I find ourselves still adjusting to the fact that our once so shy and gentle little girl has morphed into a hormonal pre-teen that oozes attitude and defiance. Now there’s a reminder if any that I’m getting older.

I sometimes fantasise about old age liberating me from the final constraints of conformity, imagining myself as the lady who wears purple in Jenny Jones’ fabulous poem, Warning:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick flowers in other people’s gardens

And learn to spit.


You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.


But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.


But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Leave your nose alone!

clown-362155_640‘Perhaps I should have a nose job, what do you think?”

We were standing on the platform surrounded by luggage and children, having just found out that our train to Gothenburg was cancelled. My husband dropped a heavy suitcase on the ground and stared at me.

‘What? Why on earth do you say that?’

‘Well, they could make it straighter,’ I said, quickly adding, ‘and it might improve my breathing.’

Stranded on a small-town train station, yet to find out whether there would be another train that day, it was hardly the time nor place for a conversation about nose jobs.

‘Where’s this nose job nonsense coming from?’ my husband asked, clearly more frustrated with me than with the unreliable Swedish rail service.

‘Oh, I read something on Facebook…” I began but stopped. Even to my ears, it sounded ridiculous.

‘Look,’ my husband said, fixing me with his gaze, ‘what about your Born Whole message? Don’t you think that having another operation would go against all that you stand for? Besides, your nose is fine.’

He was right of course. Vanity was getting the better of me. The thought of going for a nose job now, more than twenty years after my last operation, made little sense. And how could I go on peddling my message about Born Whole if I had my wonky nose fixed?

Noses; for years I’ve had a mild obsession with this particular body part. Sometimes I can’t stop looking at my daughter’s beautifully shaped nose; perfectly symmetrical, just the right size and with the slightest hint of an upturned tip. The kind of nose I dreamed of having when I was eight years old.

My own nose owes its particular shape to the fact that I was born with a cleft lip and palate. It’s more slanted on one side, lopsided. It’s not something I think about every time I look in the mirror, but I have always been self-conscious about having my photo taken or looking at myself in dressing room mirrors, fearful that the asymmetry of my nose will be exposed.

When I was little, my parents would sometimes try to alleviate my appearance anxiety by pointing out their own flaws. ‘No one is perfect,’ they said as if that were of any consolation to me. Still, I remember the first time I saw my parents’ faces reflected in a mirror – I think we were at a restaurant – and I was thrilled to discover just how funny their noses looked. ‘Ha,’ I thought, ‘their noses are wonky too.’

I had my last nose operation when I was twenty years old. I was living in the United States at the time, and my Swedish doctor had referred me to a plastic surgeon in New Jersey. At my initial consultation, Dr Peck suggested all sorts of nips and tucks to accompany a nose job, all of which I gracefully declined. I’d come for the nose, only the nose, I explained. In retrospect, I don’t think the operation made much difference to my appearance, but it cost me an arm and a leg, so ever since I’ve been fiercely protective of my ‘Picasso’ nose.

Noses can be a touchy subject for many people. I once worked with a lovely young Italian woman who’d fallen out with her parents because they kept badgering her about having a nose job. ‘A straighter nose will make you more attractive,’ they insisted.

And isn’t it funny how celebrities’ noses often looked different before they became famous? I’m just saying…

Thankfully, another train arrived to take us to Gothenburg, and any thoughts about nose jobs were soon forgotten amidst the frenzy of trying to recover a misplaced iPhone. But that’s another story.