In some ways, you know it’s funny. You know that you will make a joke, when you turn up at his apartment later, about how you bumped into his ex at your beginners’ knife skills class and, well, you could have cut the tension with a knife. 

It’ll be funny later, but to be honest, while it’s happening it’s not so funny. At first, your worry is that you will somehow slip and chop off her finger, but that worry is soon replaced by something more tangible. You will realise that, beginner or not, she is better at this than you are. The teacher will praise her for her excellent knife control and you will glower and resent her the compliment. You will nearly take your own finger off because you are hypnotised by the smooth movements of her blade as she segments citrus fruits for a delicious caramelised orange tart. You will watch her efficiently fillet a seabass and feel like she is in fact cutting your self-esteem from your bones. You will make such a mess of the task yourself that you’ll feel bad for the fish.

That evening, you will take the onion focaccia that you’ve made to his, and he will tell you that it’s delicious, and you will remember the joke you wanted to tell him, the tension one. You will not tell it, though, because you will not be in the mood. You’ve worried about this for a long time, the day you would inevitably meet his ex and the fact you knew you’d be jealous. And you were right to be worried, because you are jealous. It’s just that you were expecting to be jealous of her shiny hair or her bouncy tits, but you’re not. You’re jealous of the way she dices a fucking shallot.


Because she is a writer, she would like there to be more of a plot to the way it all works out in the end. She knows how it’s supposed to start, with her establishing her normal life – which, in this case, is the fact that she never manages to come during sex – and then immediately move on to how she tries to fix that.

The truth is, though, that she doesn’t try to fix it, not for five whole years. She’s content –more than content – with the sex, not least because they’ve discovered other stuff that turns her on: biting and bruises and giving head, to name just a few of them.

Already, as a story, it’s way out of shape.

At the midpoint of the story, she should already know what the ending will be – she should be foreshadowing that ending a bit. But there is no foreshadowing, because the situation remains the same. She is no closer to orgasm than when they began.

After that, things do get a bit more plot-heavy. They start to try things. Toys, porn, his fingers on her clit, her fingers on her clit. She doesn’t enjoy any of it. It’s just a distraction from all the things she does like about the sex.

So they stop trying. Bad, from a sex point of view, perhaps, but good from a story one. This is the darkest moment, the point where everything the heroine is trying to achieve seems beyond her reach.

And then, one day, when they are not trying to make her come, either of them, when he is on top, and her leg is on his shoulder and they are kissing and her hips are thrusting back towards his, she does come, just like that. Pure serendipity.

Bad, from a story point of view, perhaps, but good, so damn good, from a sex one.



She feels as if she has spent her whole adult life thinking up reasons to turn down party invites, so it comes as a surprise when, after she meets Will, she no longer wants to turn them down.

She and Will have a game they play at parties, you see. They turn up, they make polite conversation with the hosts, they work the room a little, and then one of them excuses themselves – ostensibly to go to the bathroom. The bathroom thing is a lie, though, or at least, it usually is. Sometimes they do end up in the bathroom, although she prefers bedrooms these days.

Since she met Will, she has fucked in fourteen master bedrooms that are not hers. Sometimes in the car on the way she’ll sing You’ll always find me in the bedroom at parties to the tune of Jona Lewie’s You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties, and she’ll put her hand on his leg and anticipate the feeling of someone else’s linen bedding caressing her bare skin.

She believes that they’re subtle. She believes that both of them know when to lay of the champagne so they can get laid without getting caught. Yes, she sometimes tries on the hostesses’ perfume afterwards, or they might leave a little damp patch on the duvet cover, but she’s pretty sure they get away with it.

She no longer turns down party invites, but little does she know that she is not getting away with it at all. Everyone she knows is now looking for reasons not to invite her to their parties.


She has begun to look for men who have what she thinks of as the Quark factor. Quark, she remembers from a pub quiz question she once got wrong, is actually a type of soft cheese made by warming soured milk until the desired amount of curdling is met.

And that’s what she wants to feel when she fancies a man. The desired amount of curdling. She is not interested in men who make her feel good about her choices. She always wants to be just a little bit repulsed. It’s why the last three men she’s fucked have been Tories.

Peter is not a Tory, not as far as she knows. But even while they’re still chatting online, he has some quirks that bug her, like the way he texts ‘lol’ after what feels like every message and ‘morning beautiful’ every single day. She is not a ‘morning beautiful’ kind of girl.

When they do meet, he tells her, when she’s only on her second glass of wine, that he still lives with his mum. And perhaps she should be less judgey, but everything curdles a little more at that point. Still, he’s not bad looking. and he’s clearly a sweet guy, and besides, she likes that curdle-y feeling, doesn’t she, so she gives him a second chance.

On their second date, he tells her his mum is out for the evening and invites her back to his. She agrees, more from curiosity than genuine desire, and that is her first mistake. They fuck in the living room – god knows why, unless he still has a Thomas the Tank duvet cover on his single bed – but she cannot find her enthusiasm and he cannot find her clit. Her second mistake is letting him come inside her; her third, letting the come drip out of her onto his mum’s velvet cushions. But that is not the final straw.

The final straw is when she looks down and sees he is still wearing his socks. That is when she knows that she has gone far, far beyond the desired amount of curdling.



Over time, she has learned how to pick the guys on dating sites who are just the right level of dirty.

Her technique is spot on, and she wishes she’d discovered it sooner. She feels like she has googled a cheat code for a computer game and is now rich beyond her wildest dream. Except the knowledge she has now doesn’t come from Google, it comes from her own slow, steady process of trial and error: of noticing something, formulating a theory and then testing that theory out in real life until she is sure that it’s watertight.

And this, she is sure, is watertight.

Since she started testing the theory, she’s had five different guys on the go: five guys who she can call any time she’s horny and be pretty damn sure that one of them will be over to lay her within the hour.

Ostensibly, these men have little in common. The first, Jim, is a plumber – funny, cuddly, obsessed with anal. The second, Paul, works in HR, goes down on her for hours. The third, Andy, likes to slap her tits, her arse and even her face, when she asks nicely. Four is Craig, shaven head, all about rope. And last but not least is Mike, who has a gorgeous, thick cock and can almost make her come just by telling her what he plans to do to her.

Ostensibly, these men have little in common. But in truth, she knows there is one tiny interest they share.

They all like pineapple on their pizza.


She treats post-coital conversation like some kind of Oxbridge interview. Luckily, he’s into it, although he does wonder every time they fuck whether this will be the time that, after they’re done, she’ll pull a brick from under the bed, hand it to him, and ask him to throw it through the window. That’s what happens at Oxbridge interviews, right? Or it has happened one time at least. Supposedly.

What he likes about it is that he knows she isn’t doing it as some kind of test – she’s not trying to catch him out, or forcing him to prove his intelligence. It’s just the way her mind works – jumping from one subject to another, at speed, and seemingly also at random – he’s lost count of how many times the conversation has veered sharply in a different direction and he’s had no idea how that happened.

He tells her, eventually, that that’s what their chats make him think of and she laughs. He’s glad – he was worried she would be offended, although he did mean it kindly. In fact, these days, it kind of turns him on – she’ll be lying there, still flushed, still smiling, asking one minute about the countries that border Germany and ten seconds later about the last book he read, and he’ll feel himself beginning to grow hard again, just because she’s so adorable.

That’s what he’s thinking about – how adorable she is, how much he loves these conversations – the night it happens. He is tangled in the sheets, warm, comfortable, gently stroking his cock, and suddenly, she reaches under the bed and pulls out a brick. She hands it to him, and he takes it – what else is he supposed to do?

She gestures to the window. ‘Go on,’ she says. ‘Throw it. I dare you.’




She keeps it in her wallet although she knows she will never spend it. It’s not a currency for a country she is likely to return to, and even if she does, she hopes by then she’ll have forgotten all about this note, tucked in amongst unused loyalty cards and old receipts.

He gave it to her to buy condoms. He was working overseas, she was visiting. She had forgotten to pack any – for some reason, it was always her, never him, that bought them. When she arrived, earlier that day, he seemed preoccupied, distracted. He’d kissed her, same as he always did, and they’d gone for pizza and wine, which had been nice, but everything seemed muted, in contrast to the excitement she’d felt on the plane.

Muted, but hard to explain why.

After dinner, they’d gone back to his apartment and she’d realised there were no condoms left in her washbag from the last time she visited. He had already stripped down to his boxer shorts.

‘Here,’ he’d said, handing her a note. ‘You can get some from the pharmacy down the street. There’s a machine on the wall outside.’

She takes the note. She decides to use the bathroom first. And that, perhaps is her mistake because there, in his washbag, on the bathroom shelf, is an open box of condoms.

She picks them up, returns to the bedroom with them. As soon as he sees the box in her hand, the colour drains from his face. He doesn’t have to say anything – they both know he’s guilty.

That night, she stays in a hotel. The following day, she flies home. She slips the note into her wallet on the plane. She’s intending to put it in the charity envelope, but she can’t bring herself to do it.

She’ll still be carrying that note around five years later.


She hears him say it, dozens of times a day, on the phone.

‘All of our houses are designed for modern living.’

What does that even mean, she thinks? What is it about houses with too few doors and too much glass to clean, that makes them ‘designed for modern living.’

She wonders if he thinks it’s bullshit too. He certainly looks like he buys into the whole deal, with his carefully-gelled hair, his chinos, his blazer and his shirt, with the top button casually undone. No tie. Ties are not designed for modern living.

She wants to ask him whether he thinks it’s bullshit, on the night when he offers to buy her a quick drink, but it seems like the kind of question that might spoil the mood. Instead, they talk about what they’ve watched recently on Netflix, the restaurants in town that they like, where they’re each planning to go on holiday this summer. One drink turns into four, and eventually he says, ‘Would you like to come back to mine? For coffee?’

For coffee? Is asking someone up for coffee modern?

They do drink coffee, made in his chrome Nespresso machine, before they fuck in his beige bedroom. He is on top, the clean smell and solid weight of him both reassuring and satisfying.

It is the only thing that is satisfying, though. The actual sex lasts less than five minutes. He is done in less than twenty thrusts. She, of course, is not done, but she pretends that she is nonetheless. It seems easier that way – or it’ll be easier in the office tomorrow, at least.

She understands now, what it means to be designed for modern living. And she knows that – despite the charm, despite the carefully selected smart casual outfits – he is definitely not.


One of the things she loves about him is that, every year, on Valentine’s Day, he doesn’t shower her with sentimental but meaningless gifts. Instead, he plans the whole day around a theme – a new theme every year, but always something special, something clever. Just like him.

This year, the day begins with a flogging. They play until she’s crying, but good crying, tears mixed with laughter, pleasure mixed with pain.

It is not clear to her, until they arrive at the gallery, what theme the flogging is connected to.

But it’s not the flogging that’s connected to the theme, it’s the tears. The show consists of huge, blown up photos of tears on microscope slides. The tears all have different structures, like unique snowflakes and she wants to believe that the differences come from the different feelings that caused the tears to fall. How might a sad tear differ from happy tears brought about by flogging, she wonders.

The accompanying notes, however, say that this is not how it works. The different structures aren’t caused by different emotions, they’re caused by random evaporation. For a moment, she is disappointed, and then he is behind her, whispering, his breath hot and damp against her ear. ‘Basal tears,’ he whispers, ‘are the type you are most familiar with. They help to keep your eyes healthy…’ he kisses her neck, ‘… wet,’ his fingers graze her cunt through the satin of her underwear, ‘…and clean.’ Now his fingers are pushing her underwear to one side, sliding inside her. ‘Wet sounds good,’ he says, ‘but clean is overrated, don’t you think?’


She is a sucker for a keepsake. Here are just some of the things she has kept over the years:

  • Twenty-four numbers of men with the surname Tinder.
  • Two condom wrappers, torn, empty, in jewel-like colours: one red, one purple
  •  Four restaurant receipts, none of which are from meals bought for her, all of which are for meals split, not just two ways, but exactly, to the penny, according to who ate what. She’s glad that guy’s gone. She’s not really sure why she’s kept the receipts.
  •  Tabs on his ex-girlfriend’s insta. Yes, she still checks it. Occasionally.
  •  One Eurostar luggage tag from a minibreak in Paris. The only time she’s not gone there alone.
  •  A note of the kind of food his cat likes, in case she needed to buy more while he was away on that business trip, and she was cat sitting. Except: he wasn’t away on a business trip. He was three streets away; fucking someone else.
  •  One stuffed dinosaur, holding a stuffed heart. From Sainsbury’s. A Valentine’s gift. From Sainsbury’s. Still, she won’t take that out on the dinosaur. It’s not his fault, so he never quite makes it to the charity shop pile.
  •  One apartment key.
  •  A business card from a ceramics place he thought she might like. It turned out he was fucking the woman who ran the ceramics place.
  •  A blue sweater, worn soft by endless washing. She still wears it from time to time. She still thinks fondly, from time to time, of its original owner.

Here are some of things she has not kept:

  • A man