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Bagel and Smear Or, if Ann Summers designed paps


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I have a brilliant idea for Dragon’s Den.

But then again, I can’t quite see Deborah Meaden trying out what I propose, not in front of the television cameras at any rate.

However, if anyone from Dragon’s Den does happen to be reading this and would like to make me an offer, I would gladly accept £125,000 for 25% equity.

My brilliant (but simple) idea is this: why not make smear tests more patient-friendly by replacing the regular bi-valved plastic vaginal specula with a Rampant Rabbit-esque tool? If you will excuse the pun.

I can’t be the only woman who, while closing her eyes (legs like an indecent frog’s) on the local surgery’s faux leather couch, desperately attempts to fantasise that the procedure is part of some elaborate sex game in order to make it a tad more bearable. I have even been known to recite the Shema in my head – one of the holiest of Jewish prayers, I’ll have you know; while the kindly doctor or nurse has a good scrape, never mind that I am a committed atheist. Actually, the Shema thing (taught to me as a little girl by my father) has accompanied me since that very first time: “Shema Yisrael…” as He or She has a proper look up there, until the Shema was replaced with rather more filthy thoughts of a biblical kind.

A bit of history for you. The not-so-humble vaginal specula was originally used by the ancient Greeks (Theo ‘Pap’hitis, I do so hope you are reading this,) and Romans. Later, in nineteenth century South Carolina, James Marion Sims developed the specula so that it consisted of a hollow cylinder with a rounded end divided into two hinged parts, a bit like the beak of a duck. And it hasn’t really changed. Any woman over the age of forty has experienced a nightmarishly cold specula made from stainless steel in her privates, although most speculum are now made of plastic.

Steel? Bi-valved plastic? You’ve got to be kidding. Every other ancient gadget has been properly updated in terms of comfort, so why not the specula? Look, I’m no product designer and a miserable failure in each of the sciences, but give me a moment here. All I ask is that the instrument tending to our intimate, most delicate parts isn’t produced from a material requiring scaffolding and a hard hat. Why can’t our cervixes be reached by something a little more, pleasurable? (While you’re up there…) In short – and without coming over all Heath Robinson, why not take a vibrator and use it as the basis for a proper, twenty-first century vaginal specula? According to its website, Ann Summers vibrators are “medical grade” silicone after all.

Okay, so it might be hard to imagine an impassioned bidding war between Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones or Theo for my aforementioned pitch, but then stranger things have happened.

AofA People: Ingrid Stone – Writer and Broadcaster


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Ingrid Stone is one of the Women of the Tub. Writer, founder of Yoga for Alzheimer’s, she also has a very seductive way with her Letters of Complaint – think thigh length boots and very naughty vocal tones.

WHO ARE YOU?

Ingrid Stone

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

44

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Queen’s Park

WHAT DO YOU DO?

Writer, broadcaster, events organiser, founder of Yoga For Alzheimer’s and the Queen Of Complaints

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

I feel fearless for the first time in my life. I want to embrace everything that comes my way. I have grown with my age and I like myself better for that.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

I can do the splits!

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

My vagina knows how to keep a secret.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

I should be scared about this one, but I’m not. On the brink of divorce, but I feel happier, more alive than I have felt in years. I think I’m better at relationships now.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

Finally free of being criticised for putting a new bin liner into ye olde Brabantia incorrectly for the umpteenth time.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

My little girl. I am constantly amazed that I have created her. She is my little goddess.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

Journeys of any kind

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

Curled up with my daughter like a beast and its young, lick-outs of flapjack mixture with my mother in her kitchen, reading the Sunday newspaper supplements in a long, oil bath.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into my new novel, writing my blog, making little films and taking pictures of rude-looking vegetables.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

I quote Goldie Hawn in a recent dream of mine when I asked her (in my dream) to say something of note. So she said: “You’ve got to kick ass.”

AND DYING?

I’m not afraid of not existing, yet I believe we always exist.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

I always dream – and one should, always. You can do things in dreams that you cannot always get to do in real life – and by the same token, dreams can inspire you to do the things you can.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

I told my little girl that Nandos had cooked her toy lamb. Needless to say, the joke was not appreciated.

A View from the Tub


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An elegant tree-lined road somewhere between Kilburn and West Hampstead, NW6. A hot tub crouching behind one of the unsuspecting white Georgian houses, simmering like a cauldron as one by one, we climb in, armed with wine glasses, week-old cigarettes, Aperol spritz. There are our beach towels hanging poolside on high alert, a saucer to use as an ashtray because the official line is that the hot tub hostess doesn’t smoke. Tentatively, various limbs are negotiated and arranged in the water, drinks poured, fags lit.

Shipped from China by way of eBay and installed into the rather more English back garden by eight local builders, the hot tub in question is a frothing disco diva, her underwater lights alternating red and purple and blue, while the Spotify app serenades us with Donna Summer, Stan Getz.

Winter hot tub evenings are best because it’s dark outside so it doesn’t matter if we’ve shaved recently or not, if we’re wearing our worst, stringiest, mixed-wash-iest swimwear. And it’s bliss to climb in, like a return to the womb, great female company; the warm, massaging jets, a tad mindful of not letting them hit our naughty spots in public. Last year, when the hot tub nights began, we dutifully took turns to undress in the shed (with the sun-loungers) by the ping-pong table, god forbid anyone should see a breast or – horror, worse. Now we don’t care.

We undress into our various bubble-trouble gear – and much later, dress back again into our regular, slightly soggy clothes in the kitchen inside, graced by large, open-shuttered Soho House-esque French windows. If anyone can see in, it doesn’t matter; if we can’t see them, they can’t possibly see us – not without our glasses on at any rate. And anyway, we like our bodies these days, after years of loathing them when our bodies didn’t have these marks, those additional bits. Better late than never.

So here we are, rub-a-dub-dub, four women at a time, five at a push if we rotate and one of us sits out. Welcome to our hot tub soirées; the dark, lathered heart where nothing spoken is off-limits, everything is permitted. We’re a motley crew of writers (all genres), mothers, daughters and lovers. We’re still wearing ‘L’ plates, yet we know what we want. We don’t claim to have any moral high ground, but put together we make perfect sense. Oh yes, and because the hot tub is in London, the neighbours can probably hear.

The view from the tub is distinctly feminine, soft skin, hair (tied up if long,) but unlike many pussy posses, not in the least bit competitive. We talk about what we did today, the films we saw last week, juggling our careers, orgasms real and faked. Then there is the increasing vulnerability of our parents, Death, what we would like to eat for our Last Supper, the most outrageous places we have had sex. We recommend books, art exhibitions to one another, discuss our dreams (we still have them), communal living, why they serve Twiglets at the Groucho. We sort out our other friends’ problems without the friends in question even being present, without them ever knowing they are a topic of heated debate. We try to fix the world.

And while there are most certainly conversations of the ‘what’s said in the hot tub, stays in the hot tub’ ilk, we thought it only fair to invite you to dip in a toe or two and join in.

Surprise Me

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