Clowning around

When Josh comes home on Thursday night, there’s a car parked outside the house that he’s never seen before. If it was just a black BMW or similar, he probably wouldn’t even have noticed, but it’s not. It’s a small, green Mini. It’s not the kind of car that his neighbours – all stockbrokers, lawyers or doctors – would drive. Still, he’s no sooner noticed it than he’s forgotten it. Probably just someone visiting.

Inside, his wife Amanda is in the kitchen doing laundry – shoving sheets and pillowcases into the washing machine.

She turns to smile at him over her shoulder. ‘Hi, babe. Good day?’

He nods, a little lost in thought.

‘Don’t you usually change the bedding at the weekend?’

She laughs. ‘Oh, you’ve noticed then?’

‘I pay attention.’

‘Sure, sure.’

‘The puppy dragged his muddy paws right across the fucking duvet.’

‘Bugger.’

‘Indeed.’

Their marriage is a happy one. She’s a good mother, a great lay, a fun person to generally hang out with. It’s been ten years, and he’s never had any reason to doubt how solid their relationship is.

But in the last month or so, something seems to have shifted. He can’t put his finger on it, quite. What has happened since then? Nothing of note: a supper club, a business trip, a kid’s party. Could she be having an affair with someone at work? It just … it just doesn’t seem likely.

A few hours later, that thought too has slipped his mind.

*

Amanda has tried hard to be a good wife. It’s not that she’s fallen out of love with Josh – god, far from it, she’s never met another man whose kisses alone can make her so wet – but a couple of weeks ago, she got blindsided in a way she could never have foreseen or protected her heart against.

Since then, she’s seen Charlie twice. She can’t go to his place – he’s separated, but still living with his wife and kids – which is not ideal, because it means they have to meet at hers, and inevitably, when they do, things tend to get messy.

The first time, he’d offered to change out of his work gear before he came round. It’d taken her a while to reply to that message.

Amanda: But I quite like it?

Charlie: OK, I’ll keep it on <clown emoji>

Both occasions have played out similarly – he’s headed over after work and they’ve shared a bottle of wine together at the kitchen table before they’ve fucked. She doesn’t want it to just be sex – she likes the bits outside of the bedroom, too – the bits when they’re just talking. He makes her laugh, and for those few hours of the day, she can forget that she has responsibilities.

The talking is good, but the sex is better.

There’s something about the way he unsnaps his braces, the way he pulls down his oversized, polka-dotted trousers to let the thick heft of his cock bounce free, that makes her want him to bend her over the nearest flat surface and immediately shove himself deep, whether she’s wet enough or not. She’d worried, when she’d slipped him her number during a children’s party, of all things (although where else would she have met a clown?), that she might find fucking him too ridiculous in practice. But it’s not ridiculous. It’s fun, and hot, and … kind of sinister, although that just makes it seem even hotter.

She was careful, the first time. Afterwards, she combed the bed for evidence and it was lucky she did, because she found two green hairs curling synthetically on the Egyptian cotton sheets. That freaked her out – she’d laundered the whole lot.

The second time, he brings her a balloon in the shape of a sausage dog and he’s wearing checked trousers, enormous shoes and a bright blue jacket with a large fake sunflower pinned to the lapel.

‘What’s this?’ she asks, fingering a yellow silk petal.

‘Never you mind,’ he says, which is what he always says when he’s planning to pull some of his tricksy clown bullshit on her later.

At one point, she gets up to go to the loo, and when she comes back, he is resting his chin on his hand, and gazing at her with a look of soft adoration, although it takes her a while to realise that’s what it is – it can be hard to look past the painted-on smile to see what he’s really thinking.

‘I love you,’ he says, and although part of her is thinking What, already?, another part of her not only understands what he’s feeling, but is starting to feel the same.

Not that she’s ready to say it. To fill the awkward silence, she slides back into the seat next to him, reaches for the bottle, sits back and –

Paaaaaaarpppppp

He bursts out laughing.

She grimaces. A whoopee cushion? A fucking whoopee cushion? What does he think they are, eight years old?

‘Fuck you,’ she says, but he is still laughing, and then he comes round to where she’s sitting and he crawls under the table – Jesus Christ, she thinks, everything about this is ridiculous ­­– pulls her knickers to the side, and puts his hot mouth right on her cunt, licking her folds and sucking her clit until she forgets all about the damn whoopee cushion. Eventually, he slides two thick fingers inside her and shunts them back and forth, occasionally curling them as if he’s beckoning someone towards him.

Amanda’s head lolls back – she can feel the most incredible orgasm building inside her and she’s completely overwhelmed. All of a sudden, she’s coming, hard, and a torrent of liquid is gushing from her as if her own body has become the circus joke. When Charlie withdraws his hand, it is soaked with her juices. He holds her gaze as he licks his fingers one by one.

When he has left, she tidies, frantically. She moves the balloon animal to the playroom, mops the kitchen floor, hides the wine bottle under the rest of the recycling. She checks she hasn’t missed anything, and then she checks again.

*

Josh gets home just after six – he’s done the nursery run on his way back from work and she is filled with gratitude and affection.

‘There are some big-ass footprints on the mat outside,’ he says. ‘You’re not gonna leave me for some hot giant guy, are you?

She laughs, nervously; looks meaningfully at his crotch.

‘You’re plenty hot and giant enough for me, my love.’

‘Hold that thought,’ he says. ‘I’ll try and make bath time speedy.’

If you’d told her before the affair started that cheating would make her more hungry for her husband’s cock, not less, she would never have believed you, but it’s true.

She unbuckles his belt; snaps open his button-fly.

‘Fuck me,’ she says, pulling her dress over her head, and sliding her knickers down.

‘I want to taste you first,’ he says, and for the second time that day, a man drops to his knees in front of her. This time though, she waits in vain for the feel of soft lips against her flesh. This time, there is only the sound of her husband’s voice, caught somewhere between confusion and disgust, saying ‘Why is there lipstick on your cunt?’

*

She loses them both. Josh asks for a trial separation and she ends things with Charlie because she can’t look at him without recalling the mess she’s made of her life. Every other weekend, she’s alone in the house. It’s agony.

Josh, meanwhile, tries to put on a brave face, to act as though he isn’t dying inside. There are so many places he has to pretend. The office, the pub, the kid’s parties where he is the only dad flying solo.

Towards the end of one such party, the entertainment – an old-fashioned clown with a green wig, painted face, red nose and huge checked trousers – comes into the kitchen. He helps himself to a drink and a mouthful of crisps and he takes a seat opposite Josh.

Suddenly, a thin jet of water hits Josh right in the face. It takes him by surprise, so he doesn’t immediately understand that the clown is the culprit. Then he notices the sunflower on his lapel; realises it’s some kind of joke prop. He frowns. The last thing he’s in the mood for is this twat’s childish bullshit.

‘Sorry,’ the clown says, with what might be a smirk – it’s hard for Josh to tell because of all the face paint – and he passes Josh an oversized, orange handkerchief. ‘Did I get you? My bad. Although … a bit of squirting never harmed anyone, right?’

 

 

Soft play

At first, Hayley barely notices the change in herself. There are other, more worrying things, she’s grown aware of in the eleven months she’s been a mother – like the fact that she’s now willing to sit in a noisy, overlit room for two hours, even when she has a headache, if it buys her twenty minutes to sit uninterrupted with a mug of overpriced, badly-made coffee.

In a way, soft play is like a metaphor for the way her body – her self– has altered. Before, she was all angles and boniness, prickly like the cacti in the hipster coffee shops she wasted hours in. Now she has rounded edges like the bumpers that surround the ball pit. And no matter who tells her she’s still hot, she doesn’t recognise herself in the mirror.

Before, back when she liked hipster coffee shops, she also liked pain. She liked to be tied up and flogged, she liked nipple clamps, biting, hands around her throat. She’s pretty sure the desire for that stuff hasn’t gone forever, but it’s sure as hell gone for now – what with the pregnancy, the birth, and the breastfeeding she’s had enough pain to last her a lifetime.

She used to like pain and she used to like men. Or rather, she often hated men, on an ideological level – what feminist wouldn’t, when you saw all the shit in the world that men were responsible for – but she really, really liked cock, and she was willing to tolerate men just to have access to cock on a regular basis. And there’d been at least a couple of men that she’d grown fond of for more than just what was between their legs.

But that’s another thing that’s changed. She’s gone off hipster coffee shops, pain, and men and she’s replaced them with coffee that tastes like dishwater, juice cartons, rice cakes and supervising tiny humans in the ball pit.

And women. Or rather, a woman.

That started in the ball pit, too, but it’s moved on from there, because it might be legit to hit on your crush in the ball pit when you’re four years old, but it’s less acceptable when you’re thirty-five.

Never before has she had a crush that began so much with the urge to just touch. It reminds her of the way toddlers touch each other – the way they reach out to clumsily stroke each other’s faces, the way they hug so fiercely they throw each other off balance. That’s what she wanted with this woman before she even knew her name. She’s fascinated by the pale roll of flesh that spills over the top of her jeans every time her t-shirt rides up. At home, Hayley spends a long time studying herself in the full-length mirror in the hallway. In many ways, she’s not dissimilar from the woman she desires – her tummy has the same soft rolls, she too is clothed in jeans, Converse and a T-shirt from H&M. She’s not dissimilar, but she still wants her own flesh to melt away. How, she thinks, is it possible to find something attractive on another person and still repulsive on your own body?

Her brain is a fucker like that.

Anyway, the crush has moved on, because the woman, who she now knows is called Francesca, has suggested that she comes round for coffee one morning.

‘It’d be nice to get to know you properly,’ she says.

God, the fantasies Hayley builds off that properly. She lies in the bathtub, lets the showerhead rain warm water on her clit as she imagines the two of them standing in a small galley kitchen, biscuits on a plate, ground coffee waiting in a cafetière, and Francesca reaching past her to flick the kettle on, brushing her arm as she does so.

‘Sorry,’ she’d say, and Hayley would say, ‘Don’t be sorry,’ and somehow she’d know that what Hayley actually meant was ‘Please kiss me,’ and she would. The kettle would go unboiled, and Francesca’s hands would be on her waist, on the bits of herself that Hayley likes least and she wouldn’t care at all. In fact, as Francesca kisses her and strokes her, pulls her t-shirt over her head and drops it to the floor, Hayley would understand that her own body is beautiful too.

They would stumble through to the living room and there, on a sofa in front of a bay window, Francesca would suck Hayley’s nipples, rub her clit, slide her fingers inside her, and Hayley would come, shuddering, as easily as she does when she’s alone. Afterwards, they would lay together, giggling softly, and Hayley wouldn’t worry about whether or not she’ll hear from Francesca the next day.

These thoughts are still running through her head as she knocks on Francesca’s door, noticing that the house doesn’t have a bay window, just standard double-glazing. They’re still running through her head as Francesca flicks on the Nespresso machine, as she froths milk in a metal jug. And they’re still running through her head as they stand and drink their coffee and Francesca reaches out towards her.

Hayley feels Francesca’s gentle hand at the back of her neck. ‘I -,’ she starts. She doesn’t know quite what she was planning to say, but it doesn’t matter, because, before she can say anything else, Francesca says ‘Sorry, your label was sticking out.’

Love without locks

Wrote a thing using the prompt photo for Round 7 of the 2019 Smut Marathon…

SM2019-07-Photo-prompt

Camille reads in Le Monde that they’re planning to cut the locks off the Pont des Arts. About time, she thinks – it’s been clear for ages that the damn thing is collapsing under the weight.

It is May 2015, and she crosses the bridge every morning on her way to work at the Institut de France, where she is embarking on two things, both of which are new to her. The first is a career in academia, the second is an affair with a married man.

He – Xavier – is older, nearly thirty years older, but Camille is somehow attracted to him nonetheless. She likes his hands – he plays the piano exquisitely – and the fact that his stocky frame makes her feel especially lithe and petite. Plus, the sex is surprisingly good – he pins her wrists above her head as he thrusts into her and grunts appreciatively when she wraps her legs around him, encouraging him to go deeper. Besides, even if she doesn’t always get off whilethey’re fucking, he fingers her afterwards until she does, every single time. Some of her friends have boyfriends their own age who can’t be bothered to do that, and those boyfriends don’t buy cute tokens of affection from Dior, either.

The whole arrangement suits Camille perfectly.

Later in the year, the metal panels are on the bridge are replaced with plywood, then with glass and, predictably, there’s uproar, as if the whole rest of the city isn’t a historical monument stuck in a time warp. Can’t people find something else to go and look at? Don’t they have bigger things to worry about? It’s just a bridge, putain.

No, it isn’t the glass that bothers Camille, it’s the selfies. The selfies that the mayor’s office is encouraging by putting up #lovewithoutlocks signs all over the place. As if there aren’t enough photos of smug couples on her social media already.

She doesn’t let that stop her. She persuades Xavier to take her for a drink one night, at a bar near the Louvre – it’s been several months now and, aside from work, they’ve spent barely any time outside her flat – even outside her bed, for that matter. So she throws a little tantrum about how she’s a person, not just an inflatable doll for him to fuck, and he agrees that they can go for a glass of wine, although she can see that he’s wary – he won’t let her hold his hand, and he doesn’t want to stop for a romantic kiss on the bridge, either.

‘A selfie, then?’ she begs, pouting.

‘Must we?’

‘I won’t share it on Insta,’ she says. ‘It’ll be just for us, like the photo you sent me the other day.’ The photo he’d sent her the other day had not been worth the effort she’d put in to get it. She’d had to send step by step instructions by text – he still hasn’t got Whatsapp – on how to attach a photo to a message, and when the picture did finally arrive, he’d taken it from directly above, giving the impression that his dick was wearing shoes. It didn’t get her off.

‘Fine, fine, but let’s be quick.’

‘We should use your phone,’ she says. ‘You have a better camera.’

This isn’t strictly true.

She makes him take several. In every single one, she’s looking at him with puppyish, smitten eyes.

‘Thank you,’ she says, afterwards. ‘It means a lot to me.’

At the bar, he lets her order the wine while he visits the Gents. He leaves his phone on the table. He leaves her alone with it all the time. Fool.

She knows his passcode, too. He isn’t careful, doesn’t tilt the screen away from her when he taps it in.

She has time.

She unlocks the phone, opens the Photos app. She knows he has a family shared album, she’s looked before to see how frumpy his wife is – although presumably he didn’t set it up himself.

She moves three photos from the main album into the shared one. Two of the two of them on the bridge, and one of his shoe-clad penis. It should be enough to raise suspicion.

It took 45 tons of padlocks and at least ten years for the Pont des Arts to start to crumble. Camille weighs less than 54kg and can make everlasting love fall apart in less than six months.

The thought makes her smile.

Moth

I really liked the Smut Marathon 2019 Round 5 prompt, so I had a go at using it myself…

Moth

They’ve turned off the light because of the moth. They don’t usually fuck in the dark, but it seems the only way when it keeps flying headlong into the lightbulb. Plus, it’s so big that Emma pauses halfway through unbuttoning Johnny’s jeans to reach for her phone and google ‘Huge moth UK what?’

‘Sorry, were we not busy?’ Johnny asks.

‘It’s massive!’

‘I’m massive!’ He gestures at his crotch.

He has a point – the dark denim is bulging with the thick heft of his cock.

Still, Emma won’t give him the satisfaction. ‘That’s debatable,’ she teases, straddling him as he flicks off the lamp, plunging them into blackness. ‘Impressive, but not worth googling.’

‘Bit harsh,’ he says. ‘How would you feel if I said similar about your tits?’

‘Ah, but we both know my tits are massive,’ she says. ‘You can’t deny they’re equal to that moth in terms of impressiveness.’

‘Shh,’ he mutters, shoving his jeans and pants down and pushing inside her.

‘Say it,’ she persists. ‘Tell me they’re impressive.’

‘Fine,’ he says. ‘They’re impressive. Can we fuck now?’

‘Are they the most impressive you’ve seen?’

‘Emma! Seriously!’

Even in the darkness, he can tell she’s grinning madly. It’s a big part of what makes their dynamic work, these constant attempts to wind each other up. He shoves two fingers into her mouth, feels her laughing around them.

‘Shut up and let me concentrate.’

Instead, she bites down playfully.

‘Can’t you just suck them like a good girl?’

Her teeth sink in a little deeper.

‘Right, that’s it.’ He withdraws, so only the tip of his cock is still inside her.

‘I thought you said you were massive,’ she says, her words garbled by his fingers. ‘I can barely feel you.’

He shakes his head, despairing, then pulls his fingers free and uses both hands to pin her arms above her head while he thrusts into her hard and fast.

‘Better?’

‘Better.’

‘You,’ he says, ‘are a fucking nightmare.’

More laughter. Johnny thinks he might prefer the sound of her laughter to the noises she makes when she comes, but when she does he decides he can’t choose between the two.

Afterwards, she barely lets him catch his breath.

‘Catch the moth before you go?’

‘You scared, Em?’

‘Nope, just hoping for some actual benefits with this friendship.’

Johnny sighs, and heads downstairs to fetch a glass.

Zoe

Zoe loves Christmas, and being a mum has only given her reason to love it even more. It’s difficult to say who is more excited, her or daughter, but Zoe would argue it has to be her, because while her daughter is mainly looking forward to what she’ll get from Santa, Zoe has the excitement of both getting stuff from Santa but also being Santa and knowing that she is actually the one responsible for her daughter’s delight.

That said, Christmas is not the only reason for her excitement, because Zoe also has a new(ish) boyfriend. If it feels like he’s newer than he is, it’s because she’s only just introduced him to her daughter and, as a result, he’s started staying over, which is life-changing – if you’d told Zoe when she was a teenager that sex at thirty-two could involve just as much sneaking around as sex at fifteen, she’d never have believed you.

The boyfriend, Nick, is also the reason why she’ll be getting stuff from Santa for the first time in years – it was Nick himself who suggested they do stockings for one another, and Zoe found herself falling for him even harder.

And so, at 3pm on Christmas eve, she sits in the kitchen wrapping presents for the two most important people in her life – her daughter, who’s at her dad’s, and her boyfriend, who’ll be over when he finishes work. Her wrapping is exquisite – there’s a whole colour scheme and she’s spent the best part of a week’s salary on ribbon.

When her daughter is dropped off later that evening, she and Zoe put out a Sherry for Santa and a carrot for his reindeer. ‘Where will Santa leave my presents, mummy?’

‘He puts them at the end of your bed, darling – that way when you wake up, you’ll know straight away that he’s been.’

Nick, meanwhile, gets two stockings (three if you want to be precise) – the one she’s stuffed for him, and the ones she’s wearing. It’s the early hours of Christmas day before they’re sated and she drifts off in his arms.

She wakes to the sound of her daughter’s tears. ‘Mummy, Santa hasn’t been!’

Fuck.

The temptation of cock has stolen Christmas.

Yasmin

Yasmin sends Ben a letter when it’s all over, to let him know that, although she adored him, there are really no hard feelings on her part.

She uses her best notepaper, the thick, cream stuff her grandma bought her years ago, and a decent gel pen, not some cracked old biro she’s found at the back of a drawer.

She writes the words she knows she should, not the words she wants to. She says that she loved the time they’ve spent together, that he’s taught her more than he could ever know, that she understands why they had to stop

She doesn’t understand at all.

What she wants to say is that she misses being curled up on the sofa with him, watching Netflix, that she misses his thick fingers in her cunt and his thick cock in her mouth. What she really wants to say is that she wants him to take her back.

She needs to walk away from the letter for a bit, she decides, needs to clear her head or at least turn her sadness into an emotion she can deal with more easily.

A stamp. She’ll need a stamp. She’ll walk to the post office to buy one – it’s drizzly and miserable outside, but it’ll calm her, soothe her anxious thoughts, perhaps.

At least, that’s the idea. But in the post office, queuing for her stamps, she spots something and has a better idea.

When Ben opens her letter, he’s just hoovered. Just hoovered – and he doesn’t do it often – and now there is glitter everywhere. All colours and sizes of it – large flakes and tiny crystals, foiled pink love hearts, for fuck’s sake. If she wanted him to know that the feelings she describes in the letter are just a cover for her anger, she’s succeeded – two years later, engaged to someone else, he’s still finding bits of the stuff all over the place.

Xandra

Every time Xandra drives past that lay-by, she wants to stop. Instead, she forces herself to carry on home, back to the safety of her living room, back to the warmth and the softness and the ability to close the curtains, fire up the laptop and google pictures of lorry cabs so she can better imagine what it would be like to be fucked inside one.

She doesn’t know quite what it is about lorry drivers. Or maybe it’s not even the drivers, maybe it’s just what they represent. Just thinking about parking her little Ford Fiesta in that lay-by amongst all those massive trucks and getting out to pee in the tired-looking concrete loo block makes her feel an equal mix of scared and turned on. It taps into so many things – exhibitionism, because the main road is so near, but also taboo – the sense that she’d have strayed somewhere she really shouldn’t be.

And so she dares herself, one winter afternoon, to stop on the way home from work. As her car slows to a halt, she’s thinking about all the women’s magazines she’s read over the years that warn of the dangers of trying to make your fantasies – even ones much more every day than hers – reality.

There’s nobody around, although there are several lorries parked up. She decides to check out the loo block – at least in there she’ll be able to indulge in some of her darker fantasies – of her cheek pushed up against the concrete as a short, muscular guy with a shaved head ploughs into her roughly from behind.

But as she opens the door of the block, she doesn’t expect to be confronted with the rear view of a guy at the urinal.

‘Oh christ,’ she says. ‘Sorry!’

And clearly, it isn’t often they encounter women around here because at the sound of her voice, the guy jerks and pees straight up the wall.m

Wendy

Wendy has a kink that her husband doesn’t share. She had thought, when she married him, that she could leave it behind her, but now, six years on, she knows that the longing for it will never leave her, and she’s not sure how much longer she can resist the urge to satisfy it.

She fantasises about it all the time now – when he’s between her legs, licking her cunt, when he unzips in the kitchen, bends her over the table and takes her from behind, even when she’s alone and just folding clean laundry. No matter how hard she tries to force herself to think about other things, her mind always ends up wandering back that.

When he goes away on business, she cracks. She wakes early and knows that today will be the day. She dresses in her favourite outfit, takes her time over her make up, makes herself come while she waits for the kettle to boil. And then she gets the bus into town.

The department store has what she’s looking for, she knows that already – she goes there sometimes to stroke them longingly, to feel the cool metal buttons between her fingers. They have his size, the dark denim that he prefers. Everything that she’s wanted is within her reach now.

‘Can I help you madam? What kind of thing does your husband like?’

She blushes, in spite of herself. ‘Oh no, no, I’m fine, thank you.’

Only one part of her plan remains. When that is done, she pours herself a large glass of wine, and runs a bath. Her husband is due back that evening, but she’ll have to wait until the following morning for her fantasy to play out in full. The bit where he opens his wardrobe and, seeing three brand new pairs of button fly jeans, asks ‘Where are my old ones?’

‘The ones with the zip?’ she’ll ask, sweet as anything. ‘I cut them up.’

Vanessa

Greg has been training for the marathon since before Christmas. He knows it’s been tough on Vanessa – they haven’t been on many weekends away because of his long runs, and the training takes up most of his evenings, too. He hates to think of her at home by herself, passing her evenings painting her nails and watching TV. He’d rather be curled up next to her, rubbing her feet, rather than putting plasters on his own, as he’s mostly been doing recently, but he loves her for encouraging him to take this challenge on.

The day before the race, she comes with him to pick up his race number. Someone takes a nice photo of them together, and he makes it the background on his phone – a reminder of the two things he’s proudest of.

On the morning itself, as she kisses him goodbye, she promises, ‘I’ll be there, cheering you on. I’ll try and move round the course a bit too, so I get to see you more than once. Make sure you wave!’

The knowledge that she’s watching spurs him on. The thought that she believes in him, that she knows he can do it. The love for her courses through his body, makes him run faster, puts him on track for a personal best. His feet are sore, his nipples are chafing, and he can’t see her in the crowd, but it doesn’t matter. He knows she’s watching somewhere.

He’s not wrong. She is watching somewhere. She’s watching – kind of – on a TV in someone else’s living room. A TV that’s switched to the marathon by chance. A TV that’s turned on mainly so her lover’s housemate can’t hear her frantic gasps as her lover licks her cunt for all he’s worth.

Ursula

Ursula owns a beauty salon. It’s a successful business, and she’s proud to have built it up from nothing into something that not only pays her a good wage, but pays for two other full-time employees as well. She’s not only good at massage and painting nails – although she is good at those things – she’s also a gifted saleswoman.

She remembers everything about her clients’ relationships. She knows who’s on Tinder, who’s been with their partner for years but isn’t yet married, who’s recently had a baby, who has a crush on the lifeguard at the local pool.

Does she exploit that knowledge?

She prefers to think of it as doing her customers a favour.

She usually brings it up when they’re in a vulnerable position – just waking up from having drifted off during a back and shoulder massage, or as she has their hand in hers, gently rubbing in hand cream before she paints their nails a delicate pink.

‘How’s your boyfriend?’ she asks, slyly, or ‘Is your husband well?’ The response is almost always the same – muted mutterings about how things could be worse, could be better.

And then she prefers to be direct. ‘When did you last get waxed?’ she asks. ‘He’d like that, wouldn’t he, if you went home all clean and smooth? What a nice treat for him!’

Her clients wonder how she knows that it’s been ages, or even never. That the best they ever do is a quick swipe of an old Gillette razor on a Sunday evening.

‘I have a spare half an hour now, if you have time,’ she says, and it works, well, probably 80% of the time.

It works because they look at her, with her neat chignon and her false lashes, and her white starched dress, and they imagine her immaculate underneath, too.

Which is untrue. Ursula has never waxed in her life.