‘That’s my back,’ she says, still prone. ‘Well, my back and my pelvis. You won’t believe what happens to them as you get into your forties.’

‘What have you done to my back?!’ I ask. ‘I need that!’

‘Oh, the back’s nothing,’ she says, sitting back up again with a series of ‘Ooof!’ sounds. ‘Look at this.’

She points to her neck. There’s something hanging off it.

‘A wattle. Our wattle. Touch it.’

I tentatively wobble the stalactite of loose skin, like a turkey’s neck, with my finger. It keeps swaying for a good ten seconds after I finish. I wince. She tuts at me.

‘I’ve grown to kind of love it, to be honest,’ she says. ‘I wobble it on difficult days. It’s like an enjoyable stress-toy.’

Now I’m near her, I look at her more closely. Yes, she has a wattle, and seems endlessly programmed to complain – but she still looks pretty fresh and cheerful. Why?

‘Botox, mate,’ she says, reclining again. ‘Sorry – I’m just going to stay here for a bit. I am knackered.’

‘Botox! You have Botox! But – you can’t! It’s not feminist! I’ve just written a whole chapter on why it’s a betrayal of every value I have!’

I gesture to my laptop.

‘Yeah,’ she says, dragging on her fag. ‘That’s one of the reasons I’ve come back for a laugh. It’s really funny,’ she says, beginning to giggle. ‘It’s really funny how you think you’ve got everything figured out. You think – ’ and here, she becomes hysterical, ‘– you think you’ve done the hard bit, don’t you? You’re thirty-four, with two small kids and you think – HAAAAA! – that you know everything.’

By now, she’s coughing and wheezing. I can see why she’s tried to cut down on the fags – her lungs sound like bagpipes.

‘Well, I kind of think I do,’ I say, briskly. ‘Let me remind you – I have just gone through adolescence and my twenties, beset by bullshit on all sides, which I have nobly battled, and eventually triumphed over. Periods, pubic hair, masturbation, losing my virginity, battling an eating disorder, discovering feminism, living through an abusive relationship, shunning an expensive wedding, taking Ecstasy, having an incredibly painful first birth, and a perfect second one. I’ve had an abortion, I’ve been to a sex-club with Lady Gaga, discovered what true love is, confronted sexism, worked out my position on pornography, raised my children into strong capable people, and, finally, found some jeans that fit. Whistles Barrel Leg, £59. I’m thirty-four, and I know that all the statistics say that this – this is about to be the best period of my life. Not an actual period-period. No. An era. I’m about to enter the Era of Supremacy, because I am a grown-ass feminist woman who’s worked out all her shit, and is mere weeks away from my proper life beginning: one where I will be confident and elegant, like Gillian Anderson in everything, at the height of my attractiveness, with a capsule wardrobe, and probably going on walking holidays where I do emotional oil paintings of the best fells I’ve scaled.’

She stares at me.

‘I’ve done all the hard stuff,’ I reiterate. ‘I know how to be a woman. This is where it all gets good.’

There’s a pause – and then she comes over, and hugs me.

‘Mate,’ she says, with impossible tenderness. ‘Mate, mate, mate.’ ‘What?’ I say, face muffled in her bosom. She’s wearing a cashmere jumper. Things can’t be that bad in the future! Cashmere is a luxury fabric! In the future, am I – am I a millionaire?

‘No. £39.99, Uniqlo,’ she says, still crushing my face into her tits. ‘Look. It’s great you’re optimistic. I love that energy. Keep it coming! It’s just – it’s just that, “being a woman” isn’t enough for the next part of your life.’

‘What? What do you mean?’

‘Well, you’re just about to enter middle age, bab. Your previous problems were all problems with yourself. Young woman problems. But when you enter middle age, you’ll know you’re middle-aged, because all your problems are ... other people’s problems.’

‘I don’t get you.’

‘A sorted, middle-aged woman isn’t just a woman, any more. You have to become – more than “a woman”.’

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