If I'm wearing beige I fear I might die. My motto is 'don't wear beige – it might kill you!' and it really might. I'm about to be 77 in a couple of weeks: I don't feel that age and most of the time I don't look that age, but put me in beige clothes, in a beige room and I turn into an ancient crone. I feel physically sick. Instead I always turn to the bright, childish, primary colours. I adore red in particular – it’s the colour of life, of passion, of happiness. Red makes me feel alive, clever, young and beautiful. And it contrasts beautifully with so many other fabulous colours. Red and turquoise, red and yellow, red and purple, red and pink… be still my heart! When I wrap myself in red, or I wrap myself in art, I am invincible and it’s a feeling that I want to carry with me everywhere and share with this grey, scared world. I've had criticism online sometimes, with people dismissing me, saying, 'She just wants everybody to look at her, doesn't she?' Yes, I do! I want them to see art, and see beyond beige. That's what life is all about.
I'm standing in the makeup aisle in a small Nevada city. My best friend and I have journeyed over state lines to work in a legal brothel and I need lipstick. My favourite brands and expensive recommendations have failed me for on-the-job stamina. I gravitate towards bright reds, outlandish but classic enough for straight men to love – as long as it stays on your lips, that is. Red is fine when it's your lips wrapped around his cock but once it smears on him, he's done. And if it gets on your face (which it inevitably will and there it will actually stick) the illusion is over. Makeup is designed to attract, to seduce, but it very rarely nails the follow through. That's fine in my personal life: when I'm with my girlfriend, a ruined face is sexy as hell. But it always comes back to men and their need for a woman to look effortless and untouched even after quick sex.
‘Try this,’ my friend suggests, handing me a small gold tube of cherry red. ‘It's always worked for me.’
It was about five months after the car crash that my period came back. The kind of brain injury I’d sustained has about a 20 per cent survival rate, and my emotional loop had been damaged. Two years on I still struggle with emotion. I was starting to have conscious thoughts again though – and one of the first things I thought about was sex. I’d tried to touch myself a couple of times but nothing happened. The day I got my period though, it all came rushing back. I was down to seven stone, I had scars across my face, and my whole jawline had collapsed because I’d lost my teeth. But I didn’t give a shit. I was so happy about everything, because I had this animal feeling again. The first thing I did was text Jake from the hospital to tell him it was on. We’d been a couple in India, and he’d been in the accident with me so he understood. It must have been hard for him: later he told me that he’d come to when we crashed, and seen this snippet of my face covered in blood before passing back out from the pain. He was in recovery too, but he was up for it. So we hatched this mad plan to shag.
I’d checked out of the hospital for the weekend and we were in my friend’s bed in Bristol. His leg was broken, and I couldn’t even properly speak yet. When he kissed me I couldn’t remember ever having been kissed before. Everything came back to me – lust, love, sex – just in that one kiss. That sounds like it was perfect. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong: since the crash it’s like all my memories have been jumbled up in different orders. I have no idea what it was like for Jake. I wish I did. We don’t really speak anymore.
Most of us at the boxing club are refugees. I try to go two to three times a month; it’s £5 on Sunday so I’ll save up and stay the whole day. Usually I start by sparring with my friend, then I go off and use the bag on my own. When I’m punching, it’s like a video screen switches on in my mind. I see every moment when I’ve wanted to shout, or break something, or hurt someone. I see my family back home, and what happened six years ago – it’s like it’s all on the punching bag. So I just keep going; I speed up and speed up and speed up, until my whole body becomes one beat. I like to punch without gloves because I want to see the blood. When I first arrived in this country, when those thoughts came into mind I used to cut myself. This is a healthier way of getting rid of that anger and sadness. Even if I can’t get to the boxing club I’ll work out two to three hours a day, five days a week. I used to feel so embarrassed of myself. I was so skinny – my arms were like little chicken wings! Now I feel strong and calm, and I even walk differently. I need to train more though. I’ve got a big fight coming up.
Photography by Ellen Pearson and Judy Lewis Jones