Thursday, 22 September 2011

Poems: Symptoms of Love

I found this poem in a second hand novel in a bookshop in Hay on Wye. It was hand typed on a yelowing piece of card. Brilliant. I have it on my notice board in my kitchen. I often wonder why someone typed it out, when they did it and who it was for.
Symptoms of Love
By Robert Graves
Love is universal migraine
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.
Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares -
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Could you endure such pain
At any hand but hers?”

Ramblings: My Embarrassing Body

There’s a program on British TV called “Embarrassing Bodies” which is as mystifying as it is gruesome. I’ve watched it a couple of times but it’s not for me. People tune in to see people who are so ashamed of their own defective and unwieldy body parts that they have to get them out on national television. This raises obvious questions: if you’re so embarrassed why not just show your own doctor in the privacy of a surgery? What sort of freak would choose to go on this program? Erm...that’d be me.  

Let me explain. It was all an accident really. I was on holiday in Brighton in Autumn 2009 with my partner of the time, the rather sneaky and deceptive police inspector who had an embarrassing issue of his own, a complete inability to tell the truth. I tend to refer to him using a very naughty word which most people don’t like, so for purposes of this article, I’ll call him Inspector Twat. We’d been to London to see a brilliant staging of “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” starring one of my favourite actresses, Lesley Sharp and the strangely sexy but odd looking Marc Warren. It left the shifty copper unmoved which bemused me. We were sitting just behind the nauseating DJ, Tony Blackburn, who was wearing the most obvious wig in the history of wig-sporting. This beggared the question, how did he maintain that look whilst in that stupid celebrity jungle torture program? We should be told.
Inspector Twat had gone to a lot of trouble over the weekend away and had booked a suite in a hotel which was pretty nifty. I always thought I should be staying in suites but never have the money. I have ideas above my station, as did he. He was all Abercrombie and Fitch clothes, Molten Brown toiletries and a flash car, which left me as unimpressed as the play left him. Then we went down for a couple of days in Brighton and a more modest hotel which I’d chosen. It overlooked the ruined West Pier and the view of the starlings doing their co-ordinated acrobatic formations at dusk was amazing to witness. We had a massive gull in residence on our fifth floor window ledge and I was a little perturbed to come to my senses after a session of what one goes to Brighton to do, to find the gull staring in at us. The dirty birdy.
The mismatch between us was pretty plain throughout the long weekend. We accidentally stumbled into a gay bar which was hosting a uniform night. The dress code was quite interesting and whilst I was delighted and giggled covertly upon see a man in a crotchless rubber policeman’s uniform, complete with outsize dildo as truncheon, he was horrified and afraid.  I wanted to amble about round little shops selling retro tat, he tended to wait outside with barely concealed impatience. I was happy to sit and read, he wondered why anyone would want to read. We went into a hilarious gay owned tea shop where they have a set of comical rules including that you had to stand up as a mark of respect if anyone mentioned Jane McDonald or Princess Di. I found it amusing to watch the camp cafe owner hurl abuse at the clientele whilst weaving around through his collection of naff royalist memorabilia. He looked like a rabbit in the headlights.
He treated me to a massage in the hotel’s posh spa, which I tolerated through gritted teeth, hating every minute of what felt a scrutiny and invasion by an intellectually challenged teenage girl in flip flops, all set to whale music. I appreciated the gift with good grace though. We walked a lot, ate hearty meals and generally it was all quite fun. It was on one such walk that we spotted a massive trailer bearing the “Embarrassing Bodies” logo, parked on the beach. There were researchers standing outside it on the paths, handing out flyers and recruiting the unashamed with bad body bits. I pondered the thought and was swayed to consider it further when I spotted Dr Christian Jessen lolling in the doorway of the trailer.
Inspector Twat was fascinated by the whole TV thing and instantly egged me on. “You must have something embarrassing you can show him.” I’m not sure this was a compliment. Dr Christian is a funny looking bloke, massively tall with a huge gym defined chest but facially a bit angular with a strange floppy hair style. I think the term is “body of Baywatch, face of Crimewatch” I wracked my brains and considered my own body. I find my body generally very embarrassing anyway. Hence my discomfort at the massage and my horror at having a sea gull watch me getting jiggy. Should I talk to the doctor about my wind issues, my hairy back or my collection of recurrent facial warts? No, too embarrassing. Should I resist the chance to go on television at all? No way. It looked fascinating. I decided to reveal my dodgy tonsil to the nation.
I had recurrent tonsillitis as a student nurse and spent months on and off antibiotics and gargling salt water. It left me with a nasty thing in the back of my throat. The proper term is a tonsillar crypt. It’s basically a lump of scar tissue and looks like a big donut; a reddish coloured tonsil with a hole in it. It isn’t noticeable, isn’t much of an issue really, but does collect things. No, not Lucky Trolls or china pigs, it collects debris. Every now and then my tonsil will spew out a plug of greenish cheese-like stuff which tastes and smells pretty rancid. I can convince most doctors that I have tonsillitis at any given time which isn’t especially useful. Occasionally it does swell up and gets a little sore and I have to put a finger into my throat and express the gunk. That’s not much fun. I’m an inveterate squeezer, though. It’s very satisfying.
I approached the researcher expecting that my tonsil would be rebuffed as unexciting compared to the usual array of malformed vaginas and crooked penises that they usually have on. I was wrong. They were very excited and there was a volley of frantic talking on walkie talkies about my poor old tonsil. Apparently they’d never had a tonsil on before and mine was looking like hot property.
Within minutes I was being fed cakes and coffee in a hotel lounge and filling in numerous forms so that I wouldn’t be able to sue them once my tonsil became really famous and had to enter rehab or got sex texts off a minor league footballer. Then we were whisked over to the trailer and filming began. I was on TV for about 90 seconds but it took about 30 minutes to film. I had to repeat scenes and fake conversations again and again so they could film from several different angles. When I walked in the director said “Now, you’ll have to walk into the trailer and sit very close to Dr Christian on the couch, which I know might feel odd.” Looking at his meaty thighs it felt fine to me. The worst bit was when they tried to get a good shot of my tonsil which involved a tongue depressor, a big lamp and two cameras. I pondered just how much more embarrassing this would have been had they been filming my anus with two cameras, an implement and a big lamp.
Christian was friendly, a little bit camp and skittish and appeared very vain. Inspector Twat watched from the sidelines and apparently Christian has a hot young Brazilian boyfriend, so there was no exchange of numbers. Maybe the fact that he retched when I told him about expressing the green cheese from my throat put him off me a little too. They told me they’d be in touch and might want to film me having my tonsil removed. I left the film set thinking, what a good laugh.
Later that day, my thoughts changed to “Oh fuck. I’ve just shown my gammy tonsil on TV.” I also came out in a cold sweat when I remembered having a good hard look at Dr Christian’s pert buttocks as he walked across me to grab a tongue depressor. What if they’d caught that on camera? Argh! I began to fret.
They rang me a few weeks later and asked if I’d go down to Essex, all expenses paid and they’d take my tonsil out for me (whilst filming it). I declined. I don’t believe in having surgery in private hospitals. I feel safer with the NHS. I’m a natural pessimist and expect to haemorrhage. I’d rather do that in a hospital which had inferior crockery but did have a crash team and an intensive care unit on hand. Also, it’s one thing being filmed in a trailer on a good day, another to be filmed coming round from an anaesthetic in a gown, all bleary and blood splattered. Essex is a long journey too after surgery.
They showed the episode the following February and I was nervous to the point of hysteria. I watched the show with my best friend and a sense of mounting dread at what I’d done. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad although I’m sure they’d done some technological trick to make me look more camp and red faced and make my nose look bigger. I was indeed very flirtatious with the doctor, which made me laugh. Luckily they seemed to have cut the bit where I stared intently at his arse. Phew.
I quite liked the attention of the aftermath. People would stop me in the street, at work and when I was out shopping. It was funny. I felt it had an ironic comedy value to be momentarily famous for a defect. My tonsil has gone global too and been screened in Australia. It may yet be offered a part in Neighbours.
Featured on the same program as me were a girl with an anal sore and a woman with a chronically inflamed vagina. Dr Christian didn’t retch at these. I feel they upstaged me, which has to be wrong. They must have had some guts though to get those bits out for 5 minutes of fame or infamy. It’s not like those girls were even angling after a free operation. They’ve had another tonsil on there since, apparently. I feel betrayed. I thought I was their “tonsil” but apparently not. It’s a fickle world, is fame.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Poems: I Am No Good at Love

As well as being a natty dresser, a superb songwriter, the author of the sublime "Brief Encounter" and a cracking playwright, Noel Coward also wrote some rather nifty poems. I love this one. I think we've all felt we're not very good at love at some time or other. It can be a tricky pastime.

I Am No Good at Love

by Noel Coward

I am no good at love
My heart should be wise and free
I kill the unfortunate golden goose
Whoever it may be
With over-articulate tenderness
And too much intensity.

I am no good at love
I batter it out of shape
Suspicion tears at my sleepless mind
And gibbering like an ape,
I lie alone in the endless dark
Knowing there's no escape.

I am no good at love
When my easy heart I yield
Wild words come tumbling from my mouth
Which should have stayed concealed;
And my jealousy turns a bed of bliss
Into a battlefield.

I am no good at love
I betray it with little sins
For I feel the misery of the end
In the moment that it begins
And the bitterness of the last good-bye
Is the bitterness that wins.

Ramblings: A Dog's Life

I’m re-reading a book which I really like, “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver and it’s making me reflect on how glad I am that I didn’t have any children. If you haven’t read it (then why not?) then I’ll explain. It’s a book written from the viewpoint of a woman whose teenage son has committed a horrific crime. She reflects back on her life through a series of letters written to her husband, revealing her initial reluctance to have children and her feelings about him as a child and how he turned out. She spends a lot of time considering why he turned out like he did. I won’t say any more as you need to read it or at least try and catch the film when it comes out. It looks to be corking and even if it’s not, it’s got the superb Tilda Swinton in it.
The thought of raising a child and giving it my genes and passing on my insecurities and oddities makes me breathless with anxiety. I take my hat off to anyone brave or foolish enough to do it. I couldn’t even raise a dog successfully. I ended up raising the most badly behaved dog I’ve ever known through my lack of discipline and constant worry about what he was thinking and feeling.
It was Barry’s idea to get a dog and I was foolishly lured into it by beguiling notions of long walks in leafy parks and soft focused mental images of me throwing a ball and generally frolicking. I’m not sure where I got that one from. I’m not coordinated enough to throw a ball, nor would I really want to. I also never frolic. I’d forgotten another major drawback; the long walks would also have to be taken in blistering heat, snow and ice and rain; every bloody day. I’m more of a cat person really, they have that whole aloof thing going off and at least they bury their own turds; generally in someone else’s garden too.
Not to mention the price of dog food, vets bills and the constant mess. Mud splattered walls from where a dog shakes itself; clumps of hair on the carpet and drool on the windows are my idea of hell. I wonder if people give more, as much or maybe less thought to having children sometimes?
We went to “look at dogs but not get one yet, OK?” at the R.S.P.C.A. Obviously, I walked out with the first emaciated and pitiful specimen which made eyes at me. I choose dogs much like I’ve often chosen men in the past.
Barry spotted a diminutive cheerful Collie-cross and liked that but I thought it had a look of cheapness about it. I was more inclined to a big dog. There was a rangy dog, as tall as my waist, nine months old that had his own sob story to accompany his pleading eyes. He’d been thrown from a car onto the pavement outside the animal shelter. He was Karen Carpenter thin with a nasty scar on his haunch and rope burns around his neck where he’d been tethered up. The only thing that would have made him more appealing would have been a major deformity like a missing limb. I love three legged animals. They bounce in such a fantastic way when they run.
They’d been struggling to home him as he was “boisterous” and I stupidly thought, “I can cope. Boisterous sounds fun” I walked out of the animal shelter with a dog on a lead, a plastic bowl for his food and instructions to feed him 5 tins of dog food a day, initially, to feed him up. It was an interesting and fast walk home as he pulled me all the way and in spite of his lack of heft was incredibly strong. I got him home, put down some food and looked on in horror as he ate the food, followed by the bowl.
Barry was getting twitchy to be in the pub and once his cravings got too much left alone me with an alien beast. I sat down and he looked at me before squatting down to defecate on the carpet. I jumped up and grabbed his lead and lead him out onto the park we lived next to, pronto. He then decided not to defecate. We went back in. He squatted and strained to pass a stool, I jumped up...etc. etc. This happened perhaps 15 times before I thought, “Bollocks to this game” and let him shit in the kitchen. It washed away with some Zoflora. I bought a lot of Zoflora over the coming weeks. Luckily that was one habit I managed to eradicate.
He was a Labrador crossed with an Alsatian, I think. He was big and yellow, anyway. I’m not good with breed guessing. Barry wanted to name him after his favourite singer, Leonard Cohen but we compromised on Dylan instead. I actually prefer Cohen to Dylan. Bob is too whiny for me and Leonard is much funnier. My best friend christened him Dildo for short and I’d call him a variety of names, Dilly-do, Dill-pickle or Scooby; sometimes Rufus, Beastie, Dog-nut and Doge. He answered to them all. I can’t think why he was confused. I just had to remember not to shout Dildo on the park. I usually managed that. Unsurprisingly for a dog I hung around with, he was used to hearing a lot of chatter and knew a lot of words. He knew the names of all his toys and would perform on demand and fetch the right one when I named it. He was clever but stubborn and a tad manipulative.
He was an affectionate dog. Big and stupid looking and I gave in to him every time he batted his eyelashes and made the sad face. I could write a manual about how not to train a dog. He whined at night when I shut him in the kitchen, so naturally I gave in and he slept on the bed with me. I’d often wake up in a panic with numb legs, thinking I’d got a spinal tumour, only to find it was actually because an immensely heavy (he soon put on weight) dog who was laying across my legs. He always pulled on the lead like a Husky pulling a sled of Eskimos and nothing I tried would stop him. I just learned to pull back or trot behind.
He loved to brawl and hated other dogs. He especially hated dogs that were bigger and tougher than him. If he came upon a Yorkshire terrier, he’d gently pat it. If we happened upon a slathering Rottweiler, he’d go for its neck. He was fearsome when he was riled. His tail would fan out like a toilet brush and his hackles would rise in an impressive line. He got me into a fair bit of trouble with other dog owners and eventually I started walking him at quieter times or in secluded areas.
Oddly, Barry had no interest in rearing the dog, walking the dog or ensuring he was fed. Apparently, he was too squeamish to clean up after the dog, so the walking him all fell to me. I soon came to realise that, as the great Banarama once sang, “A walk in the park can become a bad dream.” It wasn’t just the fighting. People talk to you when you have a dog. The problem here was that, invariably, I wasn’t really in the mood for fatuous conversations about dogs. It bored me. Also, the people who talk to dog owners are either other dullard dog owners or oddballs. It wasn’t just the chit chat and fighting that was a problem. Dylan loved people. He loved all people, indiscriminately. He loved them so much that he’d run up and put his paws on their shoulders in excitement. People didn’t always love that, especially when he was muddy.
I once had him off the lead on the park and five tiny elderly Asian ladies were walking down the hill towards me. My heart sank as Dylan bounded off, ignoring my frantic calls. He didn’t put his paws on their shoulders, though. He came over all Sheepdog-like and decided to round them up into a huddle. That one took a few apologies and left me red faced.

We did go for endless long walks and this was therapeutic for me, provided he managed not to fight. I actually often managed to exhaust him to such an extent that he'd sit on the pavement and refuse to walk any further until he was ready. I'd just have to stand by and smoke and wait till he decided it was time to go again.
I did grow to love Dylan very quickly in spite of his faults (which were probably due mainly to my own faults as a dog owner). He was cuddly, tolerant of me and the demented rabbit we had and always willing to listen. He had to be. I was quite lonely at the time. Barry was drinking a lot and deserting the house for the pub. The dog was often my only companion. Towards the end of our relationship, Barry would be passed out drunk on the sofa most nights by 8pm. I’d trek upstairs, get a blanket to cover him and ram a pillow under his head. I couldn’t invite anyone into this environment, so it was me and Dylan and a lot of books, most nights. I talked to him a lot. The problem came when I was out walking him and forgot that having lengthy conversations with a dog isn’t socially acceptable in the street.
If Barry got angry with me Dylan would run to my side and snarl when he raised a hand, which tended to be useful. Imagine my glee when as an experiment, I pretended I was about to hit Barry and Dylan just looked on benignly, wagging his tail. If the situation was reversed he’d bark like crazy and the bog brush tail would appear. I think it was because I walked him and fed him. Dogs are canny like that. It’s called cupboard love.
Dylan would follow me everywhere. People say “You’re never alone with a dog.” like it’s a good thing. It wasn’t for me. Even if I went to the toilet he’d be waiting. I actually quite like spending some time alone. If there were fireworks or thunder storms he’d stick to me like glue and had to touch me constantly. It was actually quite endearing and I liked comforting him. He let me bathe him regularly in the shower with moderately good grace. Maybe the smell of John Frieda shampoo was what made the other dogs so willing to fight with him.
When Barry and I split, he insisted he kept the dog which was horrible. I argued my case but my guilt at leaving the relationship made me susceptible to any demands. He was in such a pitiful state about me leaving him that I felt I couldn’t deny him a thing. I did feel a bit guiltily relived not to have the responsibility of dog ownership anymore. I acknowledged I was rubbish at it and vowed never to have another. I also missed him like mad. It was like losing a limb, initially. I’d had him for ten years and to suddenly be apart from Dylan really hurt. I felt guilty too, worrying constantly that Barry wouldn’t walk him enough or love him as much as I did. I dreamt about him and looked for him everywhere. I worried that Dylan would miss me. I think its called anthropomorphising when you attribute human emotions to a dog. I did that a lot.
Barry moved to the South Coast with Dylan, eventually and I didn’t see him for the last few years of his life. I saw him briefly before he left and he was changed. He was friendly but it wasn’t like it was. He wasn’t my dog anymore. I was just another person in a room full of people.
Barry sent photos of Dylan not long before he died and he was fat. I couldn’t believe he was fat. This tapped into my guilt. He was fat because I’d left him and he wasn’t exercised enough and that’s why he died at 12. It’s all about me, of course. I later rationalised it more.
So, my experiences raising a dog make me realise I’d probably be just as bad at raising a child. It’s a good job I’m gay and remain happily barren. Apart from my innate selfishness, which I enjoy, I’d be too soft and liberal and let it jump up people and bite other kids and eat its bowl. I'd also probably choose an odd name. My current favourites are Hilda, Mavis or Beryl for a girl and Aloysius, Roman or Chip for a boy. I can safely say one thing though. It would get lots of walks and learn to listen well.  

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Reviews: Summer 2011

I read a lot, some might say too much. I’m happiest cloistered in my bedroom, propped up on a bank of pillows with a good book and a strong coffee. I tend to get through a couple of books a week on a good week. I also spend a lot of time seeing theatre when I can afford it and I love cinema (as long as I’m not sitting near the incessantly talking woman. I usually am sitting next to the incessantly talking woman). Consequently, I come across a lot of dross, bad novels, weak films and dodgy plays. I’m not however interested in giving bad reviews so I’ll concentrate on just a few of the things I’ve loved this summer and share my views and hopefully encourage you to like them too. It’s good to (over)share. I’m hopeful that you find some things here which you might love too. I’m also hopeful of avoiding pretension and sounding preachy. I’ll try hard not to and hope I can share some stuff that you’ll like.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan

 This novel is written almost as an interlinked series of short stories with a set of characters in common, travelling backwards and forwards in time. The characters tend to be self destructive and messy (i.e. easy to identify with) and are exceptionally well drawn. There’s a setting within the music industry, which I found interesting too. The style is edgy and dark which suited my tastes. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is definitely worth reading.

“London Triptych” by Jonathan Kemp

I stumbled across this book and found a real gem of a novel. It concerns three different characters and their stories: an artist in the 1950s who becomes obsessed with his male prostitute model, a young rent boy in the 1890s who becomes involved in the trial of Oscar Wilde and a man writing from his prison cell in the 1990s. All the characters had strong individual voices and the cunning writing style draws you in with its subtlety to a world that is at times brutal and sordid but totally compelling. Often when a novel has multiple narrators, there are ones you favour and ones you endure in the quest to reach to get back to the story of the ones you care about. Jonathan Kemp manages the rare trick of making you care about and holding your interest in all the narrators. In terms of gay history, these interlinked stories with thematic similarities, subtly teach whilst entertaining. There’s a discrete erotic thrill throughout the book with an undercurrent that is often more implicit than explicit. I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s one of the best gay themed novels I’ve read in many years.

Role Models” by John Waters

I don’t read much non-fiction but this book was too tempting to resist. I loved John Waters’ films and his subversive humour thrills and amuses me. What’s not to love about the original “Hairspray”, the scratch and sniff film “Polyester” and the amazing “Female Trouble”? This book is a real treat. It’s more a memoir than an autobiography, with him focusing on people he views as role models. As you’d expect, they’re not standard role models and he describes a motley collection of people including Johnny Mathis, an aggressive lesbian stripper and an insane Christian martyr. I was lucky enough to see John talking about the book this summer. It’s a gem.

My top three films of the summer are as follows:
1)      Submarine: Darkly comic tale about a Welsh teenage boy trying to lose his virginity and cope with his parents dodgy marriage and his father’s depression. I cried laughing at this film and it left me feeling uplifted. Pure genius.

2)      Jane Eyre: I went to see this with fairly low expectations. How many versions of Jane Eyre can you see in a lifetime without it becoming an over worn cliché of a story? I was very pleasantly surprised. Filmed in my native county and with a sense of the true brutality and savage romance of the novel, I loved this. Michael Fassbender is an eminently hot Mr Rochester too.

3)      Life in a Day: I expected to hate this. In fact, why did I go and see it? It’s the film where the producers compiled lots of clips sent in by people, all filmed on one day in 2010. I expected schmaltz and sentimentally but got beauty and scenes which left me open mouthed.

The most astounding theatre I’ve seen this summer has all been in Sheffield. The Crucible theatre has proved itself a brilliant and innovative regional theatre which unlike mainly theatres in large cities, doesn’t just trot out travelling musicals and plays full of ageing soap opera stars but produces new theatre. They put on a season of plays by David Hare this year which were exceptional. The coming season is something to watch out for too and there’s some cracking stuff coming up. I’d definitely recommend taking the time to travel there if you can. Sheffield is also a lovely city to visit, with the beautiful Winter Gardens and the fountains in the square. If you’ve not been to Sheffield Theatres you’ve missed out. Sort it out!
1)      Plenty: You might have seen the film of this play by David Hare in the 80s with Meryl Streep. This was a really clever and visceral version of the play about the ennui of life after wartime and the constraints of fitting in. The Crucible’s staging of this was perfect.
2)      The Pride: This was a play about the life of three characters in 1958 and 2008. Like “London Triptych” it focused on gay themes, this time looking at sexual freedom, drawing clever parallels between the past and present. The play was directed by Richard Wilson of Victor Meldrew fame and it added novelty to see him in the audience. Pure genius and rare intensity of drama.
3)      Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: This is an all time favourite play of mine and having seen it staged several times, including a frightening performance of Martha by Kathleen Turner in London, I set my expectations fairly low. The production was, in fact, the best staging of this I’ve ever seen. The tender violence and loving hatred were captured with zeal and the play left me in tears.
David Sedaris: If you’re not familiar with the works of David then you’re lacking something quite fantastic in your life. David writes wry accounts of his life and manages to make the most mundane situations into high comedy. His account of dealing with a mouse infestation is darkly compelling and hilarious. There’s a subtle gentility to his prose but with a discrete punch underlying this. To see him speak is a rare and precious thing. He’s a diminutive man in his 50s with a child-like effeminate manner and he stands before a lectern or microphone and simply reads his works out. Don’t be fooled. I was lucky enough to see David at Hay on Wye and in Edinburgh this year and his performances were amazing both times. Read his books, listen to his CDs and check out the YouTube clips. You won’t regret it.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Poems: Days

I'm ramming more poetry down your throats. You know you want it! This is another one which I love by the patron saint of grumpy librarians, Philip Larkin.




By Philip Larkin

What are days for?
Days are where we live.   
They come, they wake us   
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:   
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor   
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Ramblings: More, More, More.

I recently heard the comedic actor, Simon Day (from The Fast Show), talking on Radio 4 about his life and his previous addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling. He said something along these lines: “Put me in a room and I’ll find something in there to become addicted to.” This definitely struck a chord with me.
I’ve had a few issues with addiction myself, my most enduring one being nicotine. I started smoking aged 17 and was addicted to it in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure why I persevered with the habit initially It was pretty grim, inhaling that foul smelling smoke and reeling about green faced with the vertiginous shock of the nicotine rush. It didn’t take long before I was craving them, spending my pocket money on packets of ten John Player Specials and it was only a small leap from there to the person I am now, who needs a hefty hit of nicotine before I can even start to function in the morning. I’m ashamed to admit that I even wake up in the night to smoke a cigarette, almost every night. I look back fondly on the time when I could wait and boil the kettle for a coffee to have with my first cigarette with but those days are long behind me, my eyelids are still ungluing when I stumble downstairs and have my first hit of the day on the back doorstep.
My limit is 3 to 4 hours before the crabbiness and psychosis sets in. Often on plane journeys, I’d become a total monster after the third hour. I’d glare at the stewardesses, thinking what over made up fatuous whores they all were and Rob always knew not to try to speak to me until I landed and was safely ensconced in a cloud of smoke and stopped muttering obscenities under my breath. Oddly my rationality returns once the drug hits home and I’d wonder why I’d been so full of contempt for those lovely and charming girls on the plane, baffled by how drug withdrawal could turn me into a total monster.
I endured nine months of not smoking once by using a lot more than the recommended dose of nicotine replacement therapy. I also experienced a very hefty depressive episode at this time. By month three I was certain I’d conquered my habit, but sadly succumbed during that time of year when misery comes knocking at the door, Christmas. I sneaked a cigarette on Boxing Day to reward myself at putting on a good show of pretending I’d enjoyed the season and within a week was on twenty a day again. I know its pure madness and I’m invoking cancer, heart and lung disease, but it grips me firmly and strips my wallet of cash. If you ever see me looking twitchy and glazed over during a very lengthy meeting then there’s only one thing in my brain: a giant smoking Marlboro.
I fetishize cigarettes. I love the smell of fresh tobacco, the blueness of the smoke in sunlight and the look and feel of them. I love antique smoking paraphernalia. I had hypnotherapy and lit up as I left the office. I turned my copy of “Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking” yellow. I can tell you exactly what each nicotine replacement product on the market tastes and feels like. I start to fret if I have less than 60 cigarettes in the house and used to keep a back up pack in my locker at work. I’ve smoked in lots of places I shouldn’t have and braved wind, rain and ice storms to go outside at work for one. I think I may be a hopeless case.
My first real addiction was coffee. I fell under its thrall at age 5. I loved sugary milky coffee and came to rely on the buzz to maintain my frenetic energy. My parents were constant coffee drinkers and downed cup after cup every evening. It seemed natural to join them. I physically crave it and can’t stand to speak in the morning till my second cup. I dose myself up throughout the day and run on it like rocket fuel. If I don’t have at least 6 mugs of strong coffee a day I’m niggly and have a dull headache. I have cut back as I’ve got older and have tried to learn to relax more but can’t imagine life without it. I am a bit calmer now I limit myself to six cups a day, rather than the 20 I once drank.
I’ve been or still am, addicted to people, various foods, television programs, the internet and Facebook to name but a few things. A few of my addictions have been less than savoury but thankfully I’ve managed to avoid hard drugs, gambling and sex addiction. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t react well to drugs, I get strange reactions to innocuous things, so have always believed that if I tried Ecstasy or Cocaine then my liver would fall out of my bottom. When some of my friends were into the rave scene in the 1990s and drugs abounded, I’m glad I stayed clear. I think experience shows me I like drugs too much, even the more innocent ones. The sporadic doctors’ prescriptions over the years for tranquilisers and pain killers have made me realise that I actually like them rather too much so I keep away. It’s a slippery slope. If I had them, I’d take them. All the time.
Gambling strikes me as dull, but I know if I began I’d be betting my house away within a month. Sex addiction seems too much trouble; I couldn’t be bothered with all the effort and endless depilation involved. The constant trawling of the internet or bars for a random encounter has a faint allure but you’re ultimately better off with a film or a novel. It must involve a lot of laundry having a sex addiction. I’m not sure we have the drying weather in England and I’ve no room for a tumble dryer in my house.
I stopped drinking a while back. Again, I liked it too much. The temptation to be hammered day and night hits me if I drink at all. I have urges to drink when I’m distressed or when I’m happy. I always liked the hazy shutting off of worry as consciousness faded away. I was never one to have one drink. It was either no drink or have the bottle. Not so bad for you if it’s wine but not great if you’re drinking vodka. I definitely have tendencies to be a damn good drinker so I keep away from it altogether.
My latest addiction started the way they all do. You think you’ll try it. Other people seem to handle it. It’s safe enough, isn’t it? Before I knew it I was haunted by my desire to do it. I was waking up in the night thinking about it. I’d almost make myself late for work doing it when I woke up in the morning. I was missing television programs I wanted to see, not reading or socialising. It was taking over my life.
I’m talking about the Angry Birds application on my phone, of course. It’s fiendish. If you want to label this addiction as sad then do so, but I suggest you try it first. It’s like a hit of heroin, once tried it’s a descent into addiction. If you don’t know what it is then please, I beg you, stay away. Don’t download it to your phone; the country is full of casualties. I was almost a victim of the great Tetris addiction of the 90s but luckily managed to break free when I realised that every time I walked into a room I was mentally slotting the furniture into patterns or thinking how to rearrange people. Insidious and evil and sure to have you still sitting in your dressing gown at lunchtime with a hunchback and a sink full of ignored washing up as you play just one more game. Hence I won’t buy a games console.
There is one addiction that would maybe be nice; exercise addiction. I really don’t understand that one. You people are just weird. Healthier than me but freaks nonetheless. I actually hate you and your kind. Leave me to my cigarettes and books and you keep your endorphins, whatever they may be.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Poems: This Be the Verse

A poem I love, which oddly enough, my equally childless brother loves too.

This Be the Verse 

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Ramblings: The Addams Family

I’ve always tended to be a bit naive and what could be termed as a little gauche. Although I don’t deny having had a little experience of carnal knowledge, I seem to get myself into some very embarrassing situations when it comes to matters of a sexual nature.
In the early 90s my partner, Barry, spent a lot of time drinking in the local gay bar and would insist that I accompanied him. His regular routine was to go to the bar on a Friday straight from work and stay through till around midnight. Saturday and Sunday would involve him polling up to the bar at around 11am and leaving as late as he could. I was expected to accompany him and on the occasions when I couldn’t evade this, spent many unhappy hours watching the clock as he downed pint after lager with the odd gin and tonic chaser thrown in.
The bar was a grotty little place with a fairly eclectic clientele of slightly older gay men and stunningly bad decor. I was very fond of a few of the people who went in there and formed lasting friendships but on the whole they were a motley bunch of people. Motley, often oddball, but thankfully, also often redeemed to me by the amusement I gained from observing them.
I don’t have happy memories of the place. I just remember being terminally bored, feeling shy and scrutinised  and sitting counting the hours down, thinking about all the other things I could be doing, such as walking the dog, cleaning the house or reading a good book. If I didn’t spend at least a couple of hours there with Barry each day at the weekend my life would be unbearable with his whining and sulking and I stupidly would succumb to this. I was working full time, he was spending all our money there and he was also an unpredictable drunk. One wrong word from me or someone else (but oddly usually me) and he’d up and storm out, slamming the door on the way out. I was left red faced sitting alone to finish my drink. I eventually got used to this and was helped by the fact that this action of his became known as “the flounce” amongst the regulars. “The flounce” became infamous and whenever it happened people would turn to me with a sympathetic look and say “Flounced again, has he?” and I’d nod, finish my drink and happily trot off, glad to be going home.
I gave up drinking at around this time, as it made it easier to keep a handle on him and make sure he wasn’t too obnoxious. I think, in retrospect, I would have been happier drunk. Barry would order a pint on arrival and before it was set down on the bar, would down it in one, instantly ordering another before he lost the barman’s attention. I hate to think how much of our money he spent on alcohol. The eternal mystery to me is why I stayed with him, but we live and learn.
There were of course, lots of amusing incidents and the landlord had a keen sense of the absurd and we’d laugh together at the things which went on. He’d regale me with little anecdotes about what went on in the bar and I’d repay him with little observations from my life. He used to say he’d like to keep me in a cupboard and get me out to cheer him up instead of watching t.v. Barry’s reply would be “Try living with the cunt, you wouldn’t be laughing then.” Ah, romance.
Two of the more sinister clients who went in the bar were a couple nicknamed “The Addams Family”. The regulars all had nicknames, some quite caustic. I still don’t know (or want to know) if I had one, as mostly they were not divulged to your face. I once made a terrible faux pas when I called a man Ruth, to his face. He’d once shared with someone in strict confidence that he’d been in prison for murder and naturally we all knew. Gays aren’t always good at keeping secrets. “Ruth” was devised after Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged for murder. Thank goodness I didn’t accidentally use his other nickname which was Slagatha Christie.
The Addams Family were appropriately sinister. Like me and Barry there was an age gap between them. The older chap looked how you’d imagine the bastard love child of a Vampire and a classic paedophile would look. He had slicked back hair, hooded eyes and an enigmatic smile. The younger chap was incomprehensibly Scottish (his accent was pure Gorbals) and painfully thin with very few teeth. I later learned he was a heroin addict and his older boyfriend was indeed, prosecuted for sex offences. Nice company.  The younger chap had no teeth at all at the front which we surmised might be for ease of fellatio. OK, I surmised that. I can be small minded and vulgar.
The Addams family would come in and sit quietly in a corner and were quite affable, if spooky. Barry befriended them and to be honest, they were fairly pleasant, if a little tedious and unsightly. I often ended up lumbered with talking with them and managed to muster polite conversation but wasn’t particularly fond of them. One weekend they announced that they were having a party at their flat and for some reason, a group of us agreed to go. I think it was motivated partly by pity. This became an infamous event which I still titter about to this day.
Barry and I arrived late at their grimy little flat which was on the ground floor of a house on one of the roughest streets in town. I mounted the steps with trepidation, knowing we were probably in for a gruesome evening. We were. We walked in and the buffet was laid out on a side table, sweating grimly. It looked like a cross between the Iceland adverts’ spread which Kerry Katona congas round and the table of “bad” food which Gillian McKeith shamed the fatty with on “You Are What You Eat” Thankfully, no on examined my stools afterwards.
There were three other guests, crammed together  rigidly in embarrassed silence on a sofa as the Addams Family made sporadic attempts at idle chit chat. One of the blokes shared my sense of humour and he eyed my arrival with delight.
“Isn’t it nice what they’ve done with the place!” he said. It wasn’t, unless you hankered after the 1970s. “Show C what you’ve done with the cellar. He’ll love it.”
I gamely trotted down the cellar steps after the toothless addict, expecting a nice workshop or games room. I was greeted by something which wouldn’t have looked out of place in “The Silence of the Lambs”.
There was scant furniture, just an old table and a beige Draylon chair sporting a few dubious stains. The table was exhibiting a fine selection of over sized dildos and assorted sex toys. The chair had a pair of handcuffs and a leather thong laid across it at a jaunty angle. It was all very tidy. I approved of the orderliness of it all, if nothing else. I think they’d arranged the dildos in size order, which is sensible. I was quite lost for words and looked at Barry for help. He was looking a little concerned and unusually speechless, so I thought on my feet.
“Does it get terribly damp down here? I imagine it’s hard to keep your equipment dry.” Barry stifled a giggle and we went back up the stairs faster than we went down. The assembled guests scrutinised my pallid face with amusement. They’d already done the tour of the cellar.
The party didn’t last long. I think their expectations of what was to occur were quite different from their guests. It was when they put the hard core porn films on the TV that we all decided to leave. Unfortunately we’d had to pick at the buffet first. I was home in time to put a wash on and wish that a good spin cycle would also cleanse the images from my mind. It didn’t.

Poems: Shopper

I think this poem is quite topical.

by Connie Bensley

I am spending my way out
of a recession. The road chokes
on delivery vans.
I used to be Just Looking Round
I used to be How Much, and
Have You Got it in Beige.
Now I devour whole stores –
High speed spin; giant size; chunky gold;
de-luxe springing. Things.
I drag them round me into a stockade.
It is dark inside; but my credit cards
are incandescent.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Ramblings: The Church of the Poisoned Mind

As a teenager I dallied with the idea of religion. That was until I realised that I was actually what religion often calls an inveterate sinner and decided to give it up.
My dad was agnostic, tending more towards atheism and my mum had been raised a Roman Catholic. My brother and I were christened and all that business and my mum took us to church regularly as small children which my father neither approved nor disapproved of. I remember it as being a crushing bore. My mum would intermittently pass us dusty boiled sweets or Polo Mints from the recesses of her handbag, to placate us as we stood up and down repeatedly, listening to the strange and spooky incantations in the local Catholic Church. I hated it and would often try to smuggle a book in to pass the time and distract me from the anxiety it invoked. As a child I hated museums and churches. They gave me the creeps. I like museums now, though, as long as they’re light on the stuffed animals. Taxidermy freaks me out too.
For a small child a Catholic church can be a sinister place. The masses of blankly staring statues, the smoky incense, dim light, candles and the mumbling, all combined to give me the jitters and to be honest still does. The huge crucifix with the depiction of a man with a collection of oozing wounds gave me nightmares. I shudder now on the rare occasions I have to enter a church. I still recall that strange mix of boredom, cold and terror instilled into me and it brings me out in a sweat. I can understand that scene in “The Omen” where Damien goes off on one. I feel his pain. I also get funny urges to shout absurd made up swear words in very quiet places. Not good, no one wants to hear me shout “Fuck-bumble” or “Wank-toffee” whilst they’re praying so I avoid that risk.
Luckily my mum got bored with the whole idea and the joy of accompanying two bored children to church soon palled and she gave it up for many years. My dad made a decision that we shouldn’t have to attend a Roman Catholic school as he felt it would be limiting and I’m eternally grateful for this.  
I got to age 12 and decided I’d rethink the whole church issue. My maternal grandfather was an amusing spiv of a man, all Brill Cream, bandy gait and cheeky charm. He amused me and I liked his carefree manner and his love of fruit machines and Embassy Number Ones. I decided to try going to church a few times with him. Oddly, I enjoyed it. The service was a bore and the bobbing up and down was hard on the knees but I got to spend time with my funny granddad who’d be wearing his best suit and we always went in the bar at the Catholic Social Club after and he let me have a Shandy. It seemed a fair pay off for having to go in the spooky place.
I quickly become quite entranced by it all and found I quite liked the ritual and the pomp. There was gold, perfumes and shiny things and a man in a dress standing at the front; ideal fodder for a teenage gay boy’s imagination. I decided to have my first communion and get confirmed, all in one go.  
To become a good Catholic you have to go to classes. I went once a week to the presbytery and sat in the priest’s office for an hour of instruction after school. No, before you ask, he didn’t try a thing. Priests and nuns really weird me out though, to this day. I avoid them where possible. He was in his eighties, a funny little walnut of a man who smelt of old age and fusty cassocks. I was given a little red book called the Catechism which was kind of a manual to tell me how bad I was. That’s where it all went a bit wrong.
I was 13 and there I was with a little book telling me how full of dirty nasty sin I was and the voice of the wizened little priest to back this up. The book had such delightful entries as the one telling you that homosexuality was a sin crying out to heaven for vengeance. That didn’t make me feel very warm inside. It was on a par with murder, apparently. My teenage love for Nick Hayward from haircut 100 was the beginning of the road to becoming as evil as Myra Hindley, according to the priest. It wasn’t just a sin to do the bum thing. It was also a sin to think about sex and to masturbate. I was 13. Masturbation is the prerogative of the teenage boy. I could no more stop myself thinking about sex as I could give up food or air. I made a few valiant attempts to give up “the sin of self abuse” but it made me crabby and deranged and never lasted. As Woody Allen once said, “Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.”
Apparently I also had to obey and respect my parents. That one was even harder. I sat through the classes getting more and more anxious and mixed up. It was an odd feeling to be told you’re fundamentally wrong and bad. I wouldn’t recommend it.
I went for my first (and last) confession. It was a bit of a farce. Anonymity wasn’t achieved as I was the only one in the church. It was also a wet autumn evening and the flickering candles did little to dispel my nerves as I sat behind the grotty little grill. The priest asked me what sins I’d committed and I made up a few minor things, omitting to mention the time I got caught shoplifting in Smiths and the bouts of long and steamy dirty thoughts about Peter Duncan off Blue Peter with my hand down my trousers.
The confirmation service was the biggest bore ever, worse than any maths lesson at school. The church was packed with proud parents and was hot and uncomfortable. A little officious man ran up to me and my granddad just before the service began. It’s traditional to choose the name of a saint to be confirmed with and add this as a new middle name and they’d forgotten to ask me my choice. I blurted something out and to this day can’t remember which name I chose. It may have been Simon or Peter but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Aloysius.
The Bishop led the lengthy service and did a sermon about how evil Boy George was. Badly dressed and a bit irritating but I’m not sure about evil. He also added in a topical element by telling us what a sinner Mick Jagger was too. This raised a few puzzled looks from an audience of teenagers in the early 80s who weren’t quite sure who he was.
My granddad seemed proud, which was a consolation. In retrospect, it’s not really worth months of sitting in a little room being told you’re evil, just to try and make someone proud. The head fucking isn’t a great thing and I feel very angry when I look back and think of myself as a vulnerable child being given such psychologically damaging misinformation. My granddad died not long after that and the appeal of the church going faded and I gave it up.
My dad converted to Catholicism when he was dying and in an odd twist, at the time, I was dating a man who was a devout Catholic and had once entered a seminary and almost completed his training to be a priest. Strange times indeed. My dad’s funeral was an excruciating experience and if you’re a non-catholic you maybe won’t know that there’s no speed or economy to a Catholic Church service. The funeral lasted over two hours, including the reception into church and the cremation. It wasn’t good to prolong it and required medical sedation, thanks to my understanding G.P. and a Valium prescription which barely contained my grief and anger. My mum is once again a very regular church goer now.
I don’t intend to ever enter a church again or sit through a service as long as I live unless it’s to marvel at the architecture or the church is now a pub. I won’t attend church weddings or christenings and if I need to go to a funeral then the little bit at the crematorium is fine. I don’t think that’s disrespectful at all, just respecting myself. Maybe my views will change as I get older and I’m self knowing enough to realise that maybe the threat of terminal illness or old age might send me running back in a search for comfort and meaning. I hope not. If there’s one thing the Catholic Church never gave me, it’s comfort or meaning.

Ramblings: Just Checking

I think it’s time to address one of the widely held myths about me perpetuated by my so called friends. I do not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve thought about it repeatedly, done some thorough cleaning, tapped the stair rail three times and come to the conclusion that I definitely do not have OCD. I just like things orderly.
Tidiness is a religion for me. It’s probably the only one I have. When I was working as a charge nurse on the wards I insisted on an orderly ward. I was always of the belief that a messy ward is a disorganised ward. It was kind of tricky to apply my rules to the patients. Illness isn’t always decorous, sadly. There’s clutter and sweatiness and lolling in unusual positions involved. I did have a few personal foibles about how things should be and would always come on duty and flick off the night lights that were still on in the day time and make sure the curtains were pulled right back and neat. Naturally, I liked the beds lined up straight, the lockers tidy and the pillows facing the same way but I call that having standards.
I do like a tidy home too but it’s not out of control. I’ll always wait till you’re not looking before I plump up the cushions which you’ve crushed by sitting down and line the t.v. remote controls back up when you’ve carelessly left them at an angle. I don’t mind too much if you move a tin in my cupboard and the label faces inwards; I can even leave it a good hour before I have to put it back the right way round. It’s definitely not a problem. I always wait till Paul has gone before I remake the bed he’s so helpfully made; I wouldn’t want to offend him when he’s being helpful. That would be rude.
My CDs are in alphabetical order but surely that’s just practical and sensible? If I’m in the mood for Barbra Streisand I don’t want to be rooting through Madonna and Eric Satie, wasting time. My books aren’t in order though, although they are colour and size coordinated. They need to look nice.
I don’t clean all the time, I just spend a lot of time doing it when the mood takes me and get through a hell of a lot of bleach. That’s just good hygiene, not OCD. I actually don’t like cleaning. It’s a bind. I’ve considered getting a cleaner but their work would probably be slapdash. Maybe I overdo it sometimes and the time I collapsed on the bathroom floor through inhaling too many cleaning products was perhaps an issue but I survived. I learnt my lesson too. I don’t use any less bleach but I do open the windows wider. Two bottles of bleach a week isn’t an unusual amount to get through. Please don’t lecture me about its effect on the environment; I haven’t had children so I’m exempt from worrying about all that.  I may have once cleaned the new cooker so thoroughly that the numbers all washed off but we’ve all done that, right? Everyone must have had the odd electric shock washing a light switch too, I reckon.
It can’t be a bad thing to colour coordinate your washing on the line and have a filing system for your clothes in the wardrobe. That’s just a way of making the washing look prettier and the clothes easier to find on a bleary morning.
As for the tapping, I’m almost over that. I used to tap the stair banister nine times before bed so that I wouldn’t die in my sleep but I managed to outgrow that one. Not till I was 34 but nonetheless, I outgrew it. Aren’t modern psychiatric drugs amazing? I do love the SSRIs.
I still follow the rule of threes. The nine banister taps were the ultimate safe measure, 3 times 3, of course. I always check my front door is locked with three yanks on the handle. I wash myself three times in the shower. It’s not weird. At least I know the door is firmly locked and my bits and bobs are clean. Correction, apart from the times I run back and check the door is locked; I know the door is locked. I often run back and check the door is locked.
My superstitions have got better with age though. I tread on cracks now. I still salute magpies and wouldn’t ignore a penny on the floor but I would walk under a ladder and have given up shouting “White Rabbits” on the first of most months. I once got shouted at by my driving instructor for taking my hands of the wheel during a lesson but I was saluting a particularly mean looking magpie with evil in his intentions. I don’t regret doing it, it was a balanced risk. If I hadn’t taken my hands off the wheel to salute him then the doom invoked would have caused a crash anyway. Logical, I think you’ll find.
Naturally, I like to give things a lot of thought. It’s not necessarily obsessive. I just think about the same thing a lot, over and over again.
In conclusion, I don’t have OCD, I don’t have OCD and I don’t have OCD. Maybe the drugs aren’t so good, after all.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Poems: Welcome Morning

Another brief poem. I don't know enough about Anne's beliefs and faith to be sure of what she means by God in this poem. It's not my usual style to pick a poem mentioning god but I like to think of this one as being a general celebration of the fleeting small joys in life. It's also proof that even suicidal and bipolar, alcoholic poets have good days.

Welcome Morning

by Anne Sexton

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
dies young.

Ramblings: The Rampant Rabbit

I love animals. I’m a big soft vegetarian and like to see little cute furry beings gambling about, but preferably on TV or behind bars. I have a childlike love of zoos and safari parks. I can’t bear to watch nature programs though as I hate the look on the poor gazelle’s face when it gets ravaged by the lion. I do however, find most animals a bit scary in the flesh, unless I know them personally. I’m always wary of them, as I am with children. Oddly, most animals seem drawn to me though. Vicious dogs and reputably feral cats flock towards me with affection and I tend to be able to pet them with no issues. People gasp as grumpy cats come and sit on my lap. Maybe I just have an odd smell that attracts them.
None of the above applies to a certain class of animals. I have a mortal fear of rodents and avoid them at all costs. My classification of rodents is quite broad. Obviously the rat tops the list of creatures of horror with its nasty teeth, claws and scaly tail. It’s a being of pure evil, designed to scuttle and lurk, frightening and revolting all decent minded people. I also include the humble mouse, the hedgehog, the guinea pig, the hamster, the ferret, the mole and the giant evil rodent known as the coypu which terrorises Norfolk.
More unusually, I include the rabbit in the rodent category. I was obsessed with “Watership Down” as a child and wept in the cinema when the “Bright Eyes” thing came on. I also had a toy rabbit in a long 70s frock, which I adored but as my rodent phobia developed I came to view them as sinister. Something about their teeth and those big kicking feet horrified me. I became petrified of rabbits until I entered an unintentional relationship with the pink eyed beast known as Judith.
My phobia of all things rodent-like developed fully at age 12 when I was walking home from school one day. There had been a dead rat on the road outside school for several days which was laying in the gutter, one glassy eye open, getting gradually flatter by the day. We mostly ignored it but groups of kids passing by would shout “Rat on the Road” in an imitation of the hideous Roland Rat (the vile puppet with ears made of condoms which was on TV in the 1980s). As I walked up the steps out of school two quite grisly boys were playing a game of “throw the dead rat at each other”. Don’t ask me why, boys mystify me. I accidentally walked into the firing line. As the partly decomposed rat slapped against my chin and slithered down my chest, my phobia of the rodent species was born.
Sadly it grew and grew and I became obsessed about rats. I avoided James Herbert’s books, almost passed out during a screening of “1984” and generally was unable to go anywhere where a rat might be lurking. I avoided river banks, long grass and building sites. I avoided sewage outlets too but then who doesn’t? A sighting of a rat on TV would send me into hysteria, my feet off the floor and my adrenaline pumping. It was only my drunken early thirties which caused me to get a bit better. I was walking home from town, in quite an inebriated state when a rat ran across my foot. Oddly, I was so drunk I didn’t care and my phobia is now a bit weaker. I can even type the word “rat” without shuddering too much, although I couldn’t be in a room with one.
In 1993 Barry, my partner at the time, was working for a small firm run by an acquaintance of his who I shall call John. Once more, he landed on his feet. The firm wasn’t doing as well as it had been and he and John decided to scale back, giving up the expensive office they had and getting rid of staff, moving the operation to the spare room of his house. Barry and I were living in the grotty bedsit we’d lingered in for a couple of years and needed to move and were looking for a flat. His boss, John, who was also gay had fallen in love with a younger man (who I’ll call Matt) and like most old fools was willing to do anything for the object of his desire. Matt decided he wanted to change sex love stricken John decided to support him in this.
The upshot was that John and Matt moved to central London and Matt started on hormones and wore a bit of subtle make-up under the supervision of an expensive psychiatrist. The bonus of this was that John couldn’t sell his house as the house prices had dropped and he had negative equity. The logical plan was that John and Matt lived in London for a year and John worked remotely from there whilst Barry and I moved into John’s house and Barry ran the business from the spare room. This was a fantastic plan. It meant we could move out of a rundown bedsit into a detached house, which was rent-free with all the bills paid for by the business and offset as expenses. We were moving from near poverty and discomfort to being relatively well off. There was a fly in the ointment. Matt owned a rabbit and he couldn’t take it to London. Rabbit sitting came as part of the deal.
I would have been a fool to turn down this opportunity for a better quality of life so I gritted my teeth and prepared to meet the beast. Judith was about 4 years old, an albino. She was a lumbering hulk of a rabbit: large fleshy haunches, huge feet and glaring pink eyes. Her teeth were quite a spectacle. To make matters worse, Judith didn’t live in a hutch. The garden of the house was paved and walled (John was a lazy gardener) and she had free reign. Barry reassured me that it would be fine, we could pen her in and keep her in an enclosed section and it was only for a year. I could cope with a year, or so I thought.
We moved in and I was overwhelmed at having space and privacy. The lounge was large and spacious and the patio doors to the garden were a luxury. OK, so I couldn’t open the doors, there was a pink eyed rodent waiting to savage me. I’d be sitting reading and spy her, through the corner of my eye, looking at me through the window. I could see her mind ticking over thinking of ways to get at me. I was paranoid about her slipping in the house and was forever screeching, in a panic, at Barry to keep the kitchen door shut. I stayed out of the garden, nervous of her nipping me. This may sound irrational but I was right to fear her. Judith was ferocious.
Barry helped me make her a pen, large and roomy and with an exit to get underneath the shed where she’d built a little burrow. I’d take a deep breath and dash out with food and water and lob them as fast as I could into the pen. I initially would chuck in the odd carrot from six feet away which she’d polish off with gusto, gradually getting so I could get within two feet of her enclosure. I started to believe she was innocuous and a maybe even, dare I say, cute. She liked to be stroked by Barry and was soft and yielding with him. There was something about the way she dug the earth in her pen to find cooler spots and rolled on her side sunbathing in her dug out. The casual elegance of her poses struck me as admirable and her nibbling struck me as cheeky. I attempted to pet her and naturally she took a lump of flesh.
It was fine though. She was behind bars, well, chicken wire. I went back to being wary and retreated to six feet carrot lobbing again. I was gradually working my way towards trying to stroke her again when I realised the extent of her power. I was looking out of the window one day when a cute little ginger cat entered the garden and decided to venture into Judith’s pen. I watched on expecting a scene fit for a cheap corner-shop card. I didn’t get one. Judith bit the cat’s tail and chased it out of the pen, vaulting the chicken wire and seeing the poor beast off. I had to brave the now rabbit infested garden and help the startled cat down from the creeper where it was cowering six feet up the back wall. The gloves were off. The bloody rabbit could jump higher than I’d reckoned and I was gaining a new found respect for her. From then on Judith regularly jumped the pen and we decided to give her free reign again. I decided to pull myself together and heart in mouth, started a befriending campaign. It kind of worked. I still have a few small scars. It took six months, but I eventually was allowed to pick her up. She winded me with her mighty feet, but it got easier with time. The trick was speed and positioning.
Barry decided we should have a dog. We got a dog. We were fighting a lot, he was drinking like no tomorrow and we were spending money wildly. I was a student nurse on a low wage and the business was floundering but we had no overheads. John and Matt were fighting like mad and the sex change plans were becoming more tenuous. Barry’s mum had died suddenly and he inherited a bit of money. He bought a hideously expensive stereo, started drinking more and gained a troop of fair-weather drinking friends. I had new clothes and new books and no thoughts about how long this would last.
The dog and Judith were not good friends. I was nervous he’d kill her. He was a rangy Labrador cross with an exuberant nature and a fascination for her rabbit-shaped form. I feared he’d kill her. He didn’t. I should have known she was assertive. Every time the dog entered the garden she would leg it like crazy and hide under the shed. He’d give a quick sniff and then carry on mooching about. The minute he went back in she’d emerge, disgruntled and a little bit resentful. I was sitting watching TV one day and the dog had ventured outside. I happened to glance up and noticed that the dog looked a little odd. He looked odd because there was a rabbit hanging from his neck. He was running round the garden looking quite puzzled as Judith hung from his neck. I had to prize her off and reach for the anti-septic. He didn’t bother her much from then on.
Matt and John stayed in London longer than expected but eventually they split up. Matt abandoned the make-up, John paid the psychiatry bills and the business folded. Matt decided his future wasn’t as a woman and he now has a collection of fetching tattoos and a good set of biceps. Sadly the house went along with the business. Our period of rent free luxury ended and we had two weeks to find a place to house two gay men, a Labrador cross and a very cross oversized white rabbit. Yes, a rabbit. Matt came back to the area but neglected to take his rabbit back and my love/hate relationship with the pink eyed monster continued. She lived another eight years and bit me, kicked me and was generally ungrateful from there on in. She ate my plants, dug up my flower beds and terrorised the dog. She mellowed a little with age. Eventually they had a truce and Judith would occasionally let the dog catch her and lay there, looking peeved but tolerant, as he held her down gently with his paw and washed her all over. If she wasn’t in the mood for that she’d nip him, of course.
I was a bit sad when she eventually died. I found her one morning, rigid and haggard. She was a vicious beast but at least she had spirit. I say “she” but I discovered a shocking secret about Judith the summer before she died. She was sunbathing, as was her habit in hot weather and she rolled onto her side, displaying what looked to me like a hefty set of boy rabbit genitals. Poor Judith, no wonder he was cross. It’s not a good name for a butch boy rabbit. Maybe he was gender dysphoric, like his original owner, but he didn’t have the benefit of a wealthy boyfriend to fund his search for identity.

Ramblings: Don't Look Now

A good while back, I was talking to a middle aged gay male patient who was in the last few months of life. We’d had a fairly intense encounter, discussing his thoughts and wishes and addressing his symptoms. He was also a little arch and funny with a dry wit and we’d managed to amuse each other too with our observations on life. He ended the conversation on a surprising note by asking me what I thought about the junior doctor’s bottom and taken by surprise, I had to admit that it was rather pert.
He smirked at me and said that he was glad he was still up to ogling as he was sure that once he stopped having a sneaky peek at attractive men then he would surely be on his last legs. I had to agree and started to wonder if, as prime oglers, the loss of the yearning to admire a cheeky smile, a shapely buttock or a firm thigh is a grave sign of a poor prognosis in a gay man.
It’s probably not just confined to the gays, straight men like to ogle too and a good few of my female friends are skilled in the art of appreciating the male form. I think it’s just that gay people have more range to do it. It wouldn’t work in heterosexual couples if you were walking down the street and one half pointed out an attractive individual and said “Mm, hot or what?” The partner of the opposite persuasion wouldn’t be able to concur or deny it. For most gay couples I suspect this is the norm. All of my exes have been partial to pointing out an individual they consider stunning and generally I’ve concurred with their view. Occasionally, on a more insecure day, I’ve snidely pointed out flaws, such as cheapness or a look of stupidity, but we’re all human aren’t we? An ex colleague and I would often stalk the streets on our out way somewhere and mutter “Would you?” as we passed a particularly fine man. The other would generally answer “Mm hm.” as an affirmative.
I think heterosexual men get more stick for doing it. The leery straight man can be seen as an offensive pervert by women, whereby the leery gay friend is a cheeky ally in the game of attraction.
I still believe that one of my exes will probably die from an ogling related car accident. He had a million subtle ways of craning his head round or feigning an interest in something in the distance, in order to get a glimpse of the back view of a hot man passing. He was a master of the discrete ogle. If only he’d put his skills to work for MI5, he’d have been a master spy. My suspicion is he’ll expire one day as a chav bloke passes in tracksuit bottoms with no underwear and he gets hit by a truck as he gets lost in the moment. The glimpse of a swinging member can be a deadly weapon.
So, I’m a self confessed lecher. There’s nothing finer than the tautly filled suit of a luscious businessman on a dull train journey and the bouncy jogger is surely a joy forever. If there are any straight men reading this that feel a bit affronted and wonder if we’re ogling you, I have one thing to say. Don’t flatter yourself; you’re probably not my type.