Build a Man - Extract

Available on Kindle 7th December 2011. 


If I see another set of boobs, I’m going to lose it.

Wrinkled or saggy, those insanely pert fake ones, I don’t care – I’m sick of the sight of them. In my six months as receptionist here, I’ve seen more booty than Russell Brand . . . or maybe even that old Playboy man with the mansion. And that’s just in the waiting room! What is it about cosmetic surgery clinics that makes women think it’s okay to show off body parts normally buttoned under prim little cardigans or swathed in silk scarves?

Even as I think it, old Mrs Lipenstein is lifting her shirt and flashing another patient I call Lizard Lady (she looks like she’s moulting), who makes admiring noises then reaches out and–

Oh God. I grimace and glance away before contact is made. As posh as this seating area is – all leather chairs and low lighting designed to make even shrivelled Lizard Lady look youthful – it should come with an X rating.

“Mrs Lipenstein?” Peter strides out of the consulting room and Mrs Lipenstein's face tries its best to smile. Which, in its current Botoxed state, means the corners lift a fraction of an inch.

“What do you think, Doctor?” she asks as she swivels in his direction, practically knocking him off his feet with her chest. “They’ve come out nicely, haven’t they?”

Peter nods, his face carefully neutral. Honestly, I don’t know how he does it when he has women shoving their tits in his face day and night. And not just tits – he’s worked on butts and he’s even performed vaginoplasties, which are . . . well, you don’t really want to know, believe me. I’ve always wondered what doctors are thinking when they’re faced with people’s nether-regions. I know what I’d be thinking: gross.

It should bother me, having my boyfriend examine other women’s goods on a regular basis, right? But somehow, it doesn’t. Peter’s so respectable, so responsible. I can’t imagine him going behind my back with someone, let alone a patient.

Mrs Lipenstein trots down the hall behind Peter and the door to the consultation room closes. With Lizard Lady’s perfectly sculpted nose jammed in a magazine, I grab the opportunity to creep into the bathroom – loo, whatever. Collapsing on the toilet seat, I jab a limp strand of sandy hair back into my ponytail and slip off my high heels.

God, it’s tiring, this receptionist gig. It’s not the actual work so much, but having to be nice to snooty women who treat me like a piece of fat squished out of their thigh is beyond draining.

The job was only supposed to be for a month or two, until I found my feet in London and made it big as a reporter in the tabloid world with a job at, I don’t know, Metro or something. I want to see my byline on the thousands of discarded newspapers each day. I live for that moment.

Doesn’t seem like much to aspire to, being face down on the floor of the Tube, right? But six months, thousands of résumés, several zillion article pitches later and I’m still working at Transforma Harley Street Clinic, which isn’t even on the famous Harley Street, for God’s sake – it’s on a little mews just off it.

“Hello!” A loud knock at the bathroom door interrupts my thoughts. “Hello!”

Rap, rap, rap.

“Hello! Girl!”

Rap! Rap!

It’s Lizard Lady; I can tell by her Russian accent. Peering in the mirror, I wipe away an errant trace of make-up underneath my lashes. In the dim light, my grey eyes are black and my round face looks like a luminous moon. Sighing, I slip on my high heels – Peter insists I dress up – and yank open the door.

“Yes?” Jesus, I can’t even go to the bathroom in peace around here.

“I need vat-er,” Lizard Lady says, feigning a pathetic cough.

“Sorry?” I understand her perfectly but I want to make her suffer. Silly cow, she actually passed the water cooler on her way to the bathroom.

Lizard Lady puts a hand to her throat. “I need VA-TER!” she shouts, hot lizardy breath hitting my face.

Peter walks by with Mrs Lipenstein in tow. “I think Mrs Markova would like some water, Serenity.” He shoots me a look that says he’s less than impressed by my attitude. We’ve been having a lot of those ‘attitude’ talks lately at home.

“Oh, wa-der!” I say, jacking up my American accent a notch. Smiling sweetly, I trot to the cooler and pour some in a plastic cup, dribbling a bit down the side so Lizard Lady will get her claws wet.

“Here you are.” I hand her the cup of water, fascinated by the speckled, crinkly skin on her hand. Maybe she is moulting. 
Lizard Lady mutters something in Russian that sounds like a sneeze. I scurry behind the reception desk and climb up on the rickety stool. I’d love Peter to buy me a padded one, but I had to beg him just to let me sit down, so I don’t see that happening anytime soon. He has this 1950s notion that a receptionist should always be standing at the ready for an emergency, like administering a shot of Botox to a saggy eyelid or something.

Mrs Lipenstein goes out, still buttoning up her shirt – I’m surprised she’s not going to flash her driver – and Peter ushers Lizard Lady into his room.

Alone at last. I click onto my Word document and re-read my latest tabloid pitch.

First there were pop-up shops. Then pop-up restaurants. Now, there’s pop-up Botox, the latest trend in cosmetic surgery. Forget running to the doctor’s office. Why not get topped up on the street corner?

Pretty good, right? And true. On Portobello Road last Saturday, I saw a stall with two doctors injecting a line of woman with Botox. Street-market surgery! A great story for a tabloid.

“All finished here.” Peter’s fake jovial-doctor voice drifts down the corridor, and I flick closed the Word window. He’s a bit paranoid about me writing anything to do with cosmetic surgery. Apparently having a girlfriend who wants to be a tabloid journalist is bad enough (I keep telling him, though, Metro has standards). But when that wannabe journalist works at a clinic where confidentiality is uber-important, well . . . It’s ridiculous, I think. All the famous people go to the real Harley Street clinics. We just get the leftover Euro trash and D-list celebs only tabloid-junkies like me recognise.

I glance at the bill Peter’s handed me, momentarily stunned by all the zeros. And when I think what that is in dollars!

“That will be two thousand pounds, please,” I say, scanning Lizard Lady’s face. That’s my new game: ‘Guess the Procedure’, because these women usually don’t look much different than when they came in. Sometimes I wonder how Peter can–

“Girl!” Lizard Lady shoves a fistful of bills at me.

“Thank you,” I say calmly, reaching out my arm as far as it will go to grab the money from her hand, which she’s barely bothered to extend an inch. I’m tempted to knock her arm so the bills go flying and I’ll get to watch her scrabble around on the floor, but Peter’s right there so I manage to restrain myself. Barely.

We both watch her leave, then Peter hoists himself up onto the reception desk. “Who’s next?”

I glance at the schedule, my eyebrows flying up when I see it’s a man. I can count on my fingers the number of times a man has walked through that door – so much for equal Botox opportunity. “A new patient. Jeremy Ritchie.”

“Don’t forget to have him complete the consultation form,” Peter says, sliding off the desk. I bite back a reply that I always remember, even though that’s not technically true. But honestly, after being knocked off my feet in the rush to see Mrs George’s new knee lift, it’s a wonder I even recalled my name that day, let alone silly paperwork.

I settle back onto my stool, just about to check out Gawker when the clinic door opens again.

“Hello, welcome to Transforma Harley Street Clinic.” I try to ‘put a smile in my voice’ like Peter insists, but with my half-assed effort it sounds more like I need to burp. 

But the guy doesn’t seem to notice the burp in my voice. He lumbers into the clinic and bashes his leg on the door, nearly knocking over a phallic-looking bamboo shoot. His face sags, his eyes are red, and sadness hangs off him – along with about twenty extra pounds.

Immediately, I start playing ‘Guess the Procedure’. A little liposuction? A little – I lower my eyes to his crotch – extra endowment? Looks pretty sizeable already, but men never think they’re big enough, do they? And they say women have body issues.

“Hello. I’m here for a consultation,” he mumbles.

“For?” I’m not supposed to ask patients, but I’m super curious. 

The man lifts his hands and looks at me. “I don’t know. For everything, I guess.”

“Everything?” Without meaning to, my gaze drops to his crotch again.

His round face colours and he smiles. He isn’t bad-looking – late twenties, I’d say, with a decent crop of dark hair and bright green eyes against lovely tanned skin.

“Well.” His smile widens to a grin. “Not everything.” His voice has a soft lilt to it, different from Peter’s accent.

“Come sit down.” I motion to the leather chairs. “We’ll go through the consultation form together.”

It’s not normal practice – usually I just give the Botox Wannabes the paperwork, then watch to see if they can actually grip a pen with their claw-like nails. But this guy couldn’t be further from our usual clientele if he tried, and there’s something about him that makes me want to help.

“So.” I give him my best competent-receptionist smile and position the pen over the first question. “Name?”

“Jeremy Ritchie.”

I scribble it down with my big, loopy letters that never seem to stay on the line. “Age?”


“Kind of young for cosmetic surgery, isn’t it?” I ask, before I can stop myself. I should know better – we’ve had women as young as twenty in here for their first bout of Botox. Purely preventative, of course, as Peter would say.

Jeremy shakes his head. “Look at me. I’m a fucking mess.” He glances my way. “Sorry, but it’s true.”

“You’re hardly a mess.” I have to say that, but honestly he is a bit of a mess. Still, he doesn’t need surgery to fix that. A new haircut over at the Aveda on Marylebone High Street, some clothes that fit properly, and he’d be fine. And – if he lost that extra twenty pounds or so – quite cute.

Jeremy sighs. “If that’s really true, why can’t I find a girlfriend? Someone who wants to stick around; who likes me?” He lowers his head and stares at the floor.

I reach out and touch his arm, feeling sorry for the guy. “Maybe if you just exercise?” I bite my lip, hoping I haven’t gone too far. Peter’s always telling me Americans are way too direct.

“It’s not enough.” He shakes his head determinedly. “No. This is it. I mean, I’ve got the money. I just need the looks. So why not use the money to buy them?”

It’s hard to refute his logic, but it just seems . . . wrong. I don’t know quite what to say, though, so I carry on with the consultation. “Let’s start from the top. Rhinoplasty?”

“Is that the nose?”

I nod.

“Oh yes. Definitely.”

“Blepharoplasty? That’s eye bag removal,” I explain quickly. No one ever knows that one.


Half an hour later, we’ve only made it as far as the neck. My sheet is full of checkmarks, and Jeremy’s perking up more and more as we go through it. I can’t help but notice the gleam in his gorgeous green eyes.

I’ve seen this so many times I can almost predict it. It’s like when you go to IKEA, and suddenly you realise how much you’ve been missing; how many wonderful possibilities exist for your home. Before you know it, that horrible blue shopping bag they give you is cutting into your shoulder, filled to the brim with ten thousand tea-lights you’ll never use and muffin tins you don’t need.

This consultation form is IKEA for the face, and women who start off wanting just a squirt of Botox end up like a pin cushion.

“All finished?” Someone clears their throat and we both swing around to see Peter standing in the corridor.

“This is a new patient, Jeremy Ritchie,” I say, standing up. “Give me five minutes and I’ll have his consultation form completed for you, Doctor.”

Peter peers over my shoulder at the paperwork, his eyes lighting up when he sees all the checks.

“No, no, that’s okay, Serenity.” He shakes Jeremy’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Jeremy. Come on through. We’ll finish your form together.”

Jeremy smiles back at me and the pair head into the consultation room. The door clicks closed behind them and silence descends. I climb up on the stool, kicking off my high heels. Evil things! Nine-thirty and already I can feel a blister forming on my heel. 

I click back to Gawker and try to focus on Lady Gaga's latest crazy outfit, but Jeremy’s face keeps floating through my mind. By the looks of his consultation form, he really does want to be a new man. All to make himself more attractive to women? I shake my head. Then again, look what women do to attract men! I’ve seen it first hand, courtesy of Mrs Lipenstein's new rack.

Talk about turning a cliché on its head. Men, going to extremes to get with women, rather than the other way around.

Hmm, might make a good pitch – even better than the Portobello one.

I tap my bare foot against the cold metal rungs of the stool. How many other men out there have had cosmetic surgery? Of course celebs like Michael Jackson certainly have. But what about normal men? Men like Jeremy?

My foot taps faster. Jeremy could be a source. I could do an exclusive interview!

I click open a new Word document and start typing.

Every day, hundreds of women in Britain go under the knife, looking for transformation through cosmetic surgery. Now, men across the nation are flocking to clinics, too.

I’m not exactly sure men are ‘flocking’ to clinics, but it needs to sound dramatic, right? If the impossible happens and I do get this commission, I’ll just throw in some stats from Google. You can find anything on there if you look hard enough.

In my article Man Up, I’ll interview a man about to undergo multiple surgical procedures, desperate to make himself more attractive to women.

I’m sure Jeremy won’t mind if I ask him a couple questions. I quickly type a few more lines, add that I’m a receptionist in a cosmetic surgery clinic for that ‘inside scoop’ intrigue then skim it for typos. (I learned the importance of proofreading the hard way: just last month I sent out a pitch on how I could infiltrate Britain’s biggest pubic relations firm to see if that world really was as sleazy as everyone suspected. It was the one time I actually got a response – the editor at Snap! was interested in learning more about pubic relations. Was it a new trend? D’oh.)

I scan my email contacts list. Who should I send this to? The Sun? Maybe even Metro? My heart jumps as I spot the name Leza Larke, the Health and Beauty editor at The Daily Planet, Britain’s biggest tabloid.

Do I dare? I’ve never pitched The Daily Planet before – it seemed too far up there, way beyond even my Metro aspirations. But I know Leza’s interested in cosmetic surgery. Earlier this year she was a judge on Botox or Bust, the hit TV show where contestants had to choose between boob jobs or Botox injections, then parade topless in a beauty pageant. This is right up her alley.

Worst she can say is no, right? And even then, my Metro dream is still intact. I double-click on her name and hit ‘send’, watching as the email flies off into outer space.

“Serenity will set you up with an appointment for the injections.” Peter’s voice drifts toward me as the door to the consultation room opens.

I sit up on the stool and hastily switch the Word window back to the appointment screen. I wonder what Jeremy’s decided on? I don’t want him to do too much, of course; he doesn’t really need it. But the more procedures he has, the stronger my article will be. Already I’m picturing Jeremy’s dramatic before and after shots, along with a little photo of reporter Serenity Holland inset . . .

“Serenity!” Peter’s voice jerks me back to reality.

My head snaps up. “Yes?”

“Book Jeremy an appointment for Botox next week, please.” Peter turns to Jeremy and claps him on the back. “We’ll discuss the other procedures and set a schedule when you’re in next. In the meantime, have a look through the patient leaflets and give us a call if you have any questions, all right?”

Jeremy nods. “Thanks, Doctor.” He puts his stack of leaflets on the counter and smiles at me. Already his face looks brighter and more hopeful – and he hasn’t even had the Botox yet!

“So what did you decide?” I nod toward the brochures.

“Botox next week, to start off,” he says.

I hold my breath. I need more than that to make my story good.

“And then” – he jabs at the bags under his eyes – “I’ll get rid of these, have a new nose, and maybe one those mini-facelifts.” 

Good, good. “And?” I don’t mean to prompt him, but if he really wants to transform himself, he should go all the way, right? 

Jeremy looks at me uncertainly.

“I don’t know,” he says, thumbing through the leaflets. “There’s so much information here. Maybe a bit of liposuction?” He pats his belly. “I’ve always wanted one of those six-packs. Women like that, don’t they?”

“Oh yeah!” I say. I mean, not me personally – I prefer a bit of a cushion when I rest my head on a man’s tummy – but most women love it.

“So definitely that, then.” We smile at each other over the counter. “I need to have a think about the other stuff.”

I book him into an appointment for Botox next week and say goodbye as he walks out of the clinic. Taking a deep breath, I settle back onto the stool then flash a look at my inbox. Nothing from Leza – yet. But inside, my heart is pumping. I have a good feeling about this.

Watch out, tabloid world. I’m on my way.