Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ramblings: Sleeping Life Away

Lying in bed till midday, listening to gloomy music, dressing in black clothes: aren’t these all signs of being a normal moody teenager? What makes me think I was depressed and not just going through a stage of life?

For me, being a teenager in the late 1980s was a difficult time. I was bright and doing well academically, had a few close friends and lots of interests but spent large portions of time veering between searing anxiety and black moods. By the time I was 15 and sitting my O-Levels I was a complete mess. I was doing all the things lots of teenagers did but for me this apparent conformity to the norm was masking a deep seated unhappiness and a protracted depressive episode which changed the course of my life.

I’d always been a happy child, anxious and nervy at times and over eager to please but essentially cheerful. Years of mild bullying at school had left me edgy and wary of people but I was self contained and happy alone in my room reading and listening to music. I had a troubled relationship with my parents and they didn’t approve of me growing up gay which made mealtimes tense but endurable. I was essentially very bored with life. School didn’t engage me; the lessons were easy to follow and left me feeling caged and claustrophobic. I was an inveterate clock watcher, wishing life away.

By my mid teens I stopped eating so well, started sleeping more, avoided people and thought about dying a lot. It wasn’t so much that I was miserable but more that there was a total absence of anything. I felt no pleasure and found nothing inspiring or compelling. The books I usually loved stopped exciting me, TV didn’t appeal and life held no meaning. I couldn’t visualise a future, just a continuum of grey dull days where I didn’t quite know where to put myself or where I wanted to be.

I stopped studying at school, often skipping lessons so that I could sleep, scraping through with the minimum of work only. I took to stealing sleeping pills from my parents, taking them at 9am after a good night’s sleep so that I could sleep through the day and not have to face anything.  I discovered cigarettes and drinking alcohol as ways of distraction and oblivion. I paced with anxiety, stared at the wall beside my bed and secretly hoped that some disease or accident would carry me off so that it would all end.

Naturally, this was labelled as “teenage moodiness” by everyone around me. No one asked what was wrong or even assumed anything was. I was just being “normal”. What teenager doesn’t sleep a lot and experiment with abusing substances to some extent? Isn’t it a rite of passage?

It passed eventually but the ensuing years were hard and my depressed mood and ever plummeting self esteem led me to make bad choices in life. I abandoned my place at University and a promising academic career and entered a relationship with an unsuitable older man: not such sound choices in retrospect.

Things could have been different and life could have been much easier had there been some recognition of my condition (even by myself) and that my depression went beyond what was considered normal. Depression can eventually pass untreated and my life has turned out well in spite of the interruption of a few years of moderate depression but at a cost. I can’t help but think that if I’d had even something as simple as a professional to talk to then those years would have been less painful and less burdensome and maybe the pattern of episodes of severe depression that followed in adult life may have been circumvented.

Ramblings: Dogging

As a child, Whiskey, the Hitler look-a-like cat was the love of my life. He was mean, moody and malicious. I admired him. Like all tyrants, Whiskey needed subjects who he could rule under his cruel regime. The perfect candidate for that was our docile Boxer dog, Benny.

Benny was a plain dog, mostly Boxer dog but with a little bit of Labrador thrown into the mix. He was a meek dog, sheepish and cowed and very obedient and almost always did as he was told. He was white and brown with spotty ears and a stump of a docked tail. His worst feature was his gonads and like all Boxer dogs he had a protruding pink scrotal sack. His testicles were always on show. Whiskey used these as a means of keeping Benny under control. One step out of line and Whiskey would swipe his claws across the poor dog’s most vulnerable and exposed parts.

The one problem with Benny was that he was a little bit of a sex addict. My dad would often say: “That dog is a bloody pervert.” and he was right. Benny was pansexual. Any hole was a goal. As a teenager I learnt to never let the dog see you naked as the moment he clapped eyes on naked flesh he’d suddenly pop his lipstick, start to drool and sport the most hideous erection which would send me screaming “Eurgh!” back into the safety of my room.

Benny was the equivalent of a mild mannered accountant who has a secret life. By day he was a mild mannered pooch, by night he was a humptastic killer. He loved to kill rats and rabbits and attempted to destroy the odd hedgehog but came away bleeding. Letting him off the lead was a lottery. He was generally good unless he saw something worth humping or killing and then all hell let loose.

I remember taking him for a walk on the local park aged 14. Benny was trotting along doing the things that make dogs happy (sniffing things and urinating on them). He spotted an elderly black Labrador strolling along and he was off.

I carried on walking, probably obsessing about my latest permanent wave or some older boy at school when I heard a terrible commotion. Looking round I spotted what the problem was. Benny was bumming the Labrador with gusto, his face contorted into paroxysms of ecstasy. Funnily enough, the sturdy old lady walking the Labrador was less than amused by this anal demonstration and was slapping Benny ineffectually on the rump to try to dislodge him. I think this just encouraged him more. He was determined.

“Is this your dog?” She shouted frantically, red faced.

I was mortified. Shame washed over me and I blanched but I knew exactly what to do. I slipped the dog’s lead discreetly into my jacket pocket, shouted “Sorry, never seen him before” and walked home.

Benny returned home half an hour later. If a dog could have smiled he would have done. Me and Whiskey gave him one our collective looks of disdain.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Ramblings: Muppetry

I’m so pleased that the Muppets are back, in spite of some childhood trauma which I sustained. I recall watching an episode in the late 1970s in which a large brown monster sang “I’ve Got You under My Skin” to a little lilac beast. I was a delicate child and was horrified when the cute little lilac thing got sprinkled with salt and pepper and eaten alive by the big monster. I was a very delicate child. I had nightmares about this.

In spite of that inauspicious introduction, I grew to love them and had a collection of Muppet Annuals, a couple of Muppet Show L.P. record and a set of Pelham puppets depicting the characters. I was totally and utterly in love with Miss Piggy. She was my kind of woman: strong and powerful, loyal to her man (Kermit) and had an amazing wardrobe of outfits. She was the biggest diva I’d ever set eyes on and I loved her from her trotters to her snout.

I decided I wanted to emulate Miss Piggy and my favourite manoeuvre was the karate chop. I’d lie in wait, holding my breath, and wait for a passing older brother or our poor put upon dog to pass by. I’d then jump out and in a high pitched throaty yelp shout “Hi-Yah!” whilst administering a light karate chop. I’d then slap my hands together, shake my imaginary mane of golden hair and be on my way. I loved that pig.

My poor puppets were sadly neglected and the Animal (complete with drum kit) was always in a tangle next to Beaker and Carla. I much preferred my little Dutch girl with the gingham and plaits. She was a jolly little thing and had her own wicker basket.

The Muppets L.P. was, however, scratched to pieces. It constantly spun round on the cranky old record player in my bedroom. The stylus (weighted down by a tuppence) was forever on and off the disc as I regaled my Hitler-a-like cat with my renditions of “Being Green” and “Halfway up the Stairs”. My favourite song was, naturally, the legendary “Mnah Mnah”. If you’re not privileged enough to know this song, I’ve included a link.

I’d pester my brother

“Go on!”




“Go on”

“Just once then.”

I’d beat him down until he let me put the record on and I’d assume the role of the “Do-do-do-do-do” whilst he was “Mnah Mnah”. This involved me jumping out and doing a little dance to the tune. Amazing fun and I’d laugh until he cried with the tedium of it.

The sound of “Pigs in Space” being shouted was a common occurrence and my brother’s Beaker impression was second to none. I loved Kermit’s nephew, Robin. Of course a final mention must go to the grumpy old men, Statler and Waldorf, on whom I seem to have based my moany rants. Classic role models for the 1970s child.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Ramblings: Hair of the Dog

I’ve been growing my hair lately. It’s a final fling thing. It’s receding a little at the front, getting thinner by the day on top and getting darker and weaker. It’s a short step away till I have to shave the lot off or embrace the comb over.

It set me thinking about tragic hairstyles I’ve nurtured over the years. I became obsessed with my hair from an early age and was turning my nose up at the foul smelling brown Vosene we were made to use from about 5 years old. I hated the stuff and would sneak dollops of my mum’s shampoo when no one was looking. I had a huge mop of hair, generally chopped into a pudding basin style by my inept mother with an asymmetrical fringe. Old ladies would comment on my huge mop of white blond hair and I’d lap it up, preening for them and flicking my head like a shampoo advert model. I liked it clean, shiny and well groomed.

As the 1980s progressed I grew a lovely flick. I blame Lady Di. Everyone wanted a luscious fringe, flicked to one side, which we could make cow eyes from under. It was all the rage. I’d practice in the mirror, looking coyly upwards and gazing towards my non-existent Prince Charming. Luckily, I chose to wear seatbelts though. She wasn’t always such a good example to follow.

My teenage years were marred by the hideous permanent wave which a hairdresser talked me into. Aged 13 I was bemoaning the fact that my hair was so flat and lifeless with no body. The mid eighties perm was fashionable for men and he talked me into parting with my pocket money for one. I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting with thick lotion that smelled like a colostomy bag on my hair. He told me it wouldn’t be curly, just thick and full of body so I could look like James Dean. He lied. I looked like Deirdre Barlow from Coronation Street. It was a mess of tight curls which would have made any potential Black and White Minstrel shine green with envy under his face paint. I spent many frantic hours with a blow dryer trying to make it less curly but to no avail. It was truly hideous.

I then discovered hair dye. I decided to become a Goth. I took to wearing black clothes and mooching about in a baggy old black cardigan and Dock Martins, moaning about how my life was over already and obsessing about death. I spent hours interpreting lyrics by Siouxsie Sioux and The Cure and reading the bleaker poems of Sylvia Plath. I needed the hair to go with my black nail polish and my fake black moods. I plastered my head in hair dye and came out with a quiff of raven black hair which made me look pasty and anaemic. I looked more like Bert off Sesame Street than an Indie pop star. A huge candyfloss arrangement of dry black fluff sat on top of my head. The carpet, my ears, my neck and my forehead looked less anaemic than me, all sporting spots of black dye. I had black ear tips and a grey neck which wasn’t attractive. I tackled my ears and neck with a pumice stone and ended up looking like I had a bad case of eczema.

I didn’t learn. I toyed with burgundy dye, various types of black dye, red streaks. It all looked terrible but I thought I looked amazing. My blond roots would come out shocking pink. I was caught in a rain storm at Nottingham University one day and came in to find my face had red streaks running down it, making me look like I’d sustained a head injury. I wondered why people had been looking at me oddly on the bus.

I went back to mousy blond after it started to fall out in tufts. I’d wake up in the morning to a thatch of black hair on the pillow. I then discovered Sun-In, a noxious peroxide solution which turned your hair a brassy orange colour and took a layer of skin off your scalp. I spent years with a brushed forward white/orange head with flaking scalp, applying enough cheap hairspray to rip holes in the toughest of ozone layers (yes, I confess, it was me who ruined the environment).

In the late 90s I discovered the clippers and the liberating act of having no hair to worry about. What total bliss to jump out of the shower and rub your head with a towel and be on your way. This gave way to the messed up, spiky do, with little bits of cream bleach rubbed onto the tips. It was all the rage in the late 90s, honestly. Another liberating return to a shaved head and dispensing with hours listening to hairdresser chatter whilst bleach soaked in, ensued.

On reflection, maybe the baldness will be better. The obsession we have with our hair wastes so much time and is so inane. It’s time I could spend reading a good novel. I was on the bus one day when two very camp lads got on and sat a few seats behind me. They were young hairdressers and were chatting about their day at work. One of them whispered loudly to the other “He’s quite cute, the bloke down the front.” They meant me; I was the only other man on the bus. The other one said “Yes, but he’s got a double crown. They’re so hard to style!” With that, a non-starter of a romance was scotched. All because of hair.
In the interests of justice I would like to point out the following: I've never had a mullet or a centre parting. Thank you.

Ramblings: Happy Gayboy

Fantastic news on the blogging front: I’ve volunteered to do a guest blog for Mind, the mental health charity, for their website. It won’t be published for a month or two but I’m looking forward to a new audience (not that you lot aren’t fine, of course) and a new writing challenge. They’ve asked if I’ll write about depression and anxiety and told me they like the way I write which is great. I’m really excited about doing it.

I’ve also had a picture and article accepted to feature in a book for: http://borngaybornthisway.blogspot.com/ . I sent a little picture of me dressed in my best aristocratic tweeds aged 6 along with a short piece about the perils of being an effeminate boy in a world that didn’t accept that sort of thing readily. I got some lovely emails back from the chap who writes the blog and he’s going to including my picture and a piece of my writing in a book that’s being published in November. I’m overjoyed. The aims of his blog are great. He started it a year ago, to showcase pictures of children who didn’t fit into the gender norms and feature inspiring stories of how they came through difficulties and bullying. His blog has been a massive success (more so than mine...grrrr). The idea is to inspire and support young lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people. Check the blog out. It’s very funny and quite touching and I’m touched to be a part of the book. I’ll be a famous very gay young boy.

This blog is going really well too which is brilliant. It’s getting over 300 hits a week and the audience is wide, which I love. I’m also trying to get into writing more fiction and contemplating starting a novel again. Tricky business and easy to procrastinate over but I will do it, one day. Now, where did I put that neck vertebrae?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Ramblings: Plumbing the Depths

I remember being aged 21 and sitting in a lecture in college. The lecturer was talking about stress and how it was commonplace amongst nurses. She talked of nurses becoming burnt out wrecks, depressed, frightened and barely able to feel or function, sometimes unable to come back to their previous lives as they crossed an invisible bridge condemning them to lifelong misery and despair and an enforced change in career. I felt faintly queasy, anxiety stirring in my belly. I knew this was my destiny and hadn’t a clue how to stop it. In the end I didn’t.

I always knew I’d probably grow up to be a little bit mad. I anticipated suffering and angst as a given in my life. I have a good lineage, depression and anxiety stretching back through the generations. My childhood was odd, which can be a sure fire predictor, and I was prone to worry, obsession, rumination and setting myself unachievable goals in life, right from an early age.

I trundled along successfully, balancing my worry with activity, believing that hard work could cure all my mental ills. A minor blip hit me in my teens and I developed nihilistic tendencies which outran the normal teenage gloom. It passed in time though and I weathered the moods, struggling through periods of gloom and nervous excitability. I knew I thought too much about things and labelled myself as a “person of a nervous disposition”. I was the kind of person roller coasters urged to not travel, along with the pregnant and infirm.

I knew the answers and knew the solution. I could cope by being busy, working hard, walking a lot and keeping the house unhealthily clean at all times. I knew that if it all came crashing down and I did succumb then there where pills. I was a nurse; pills were the answer and would cure me if it ever all caught up with me. I was sure of that. I also suspected I had an overactive thyroid. I liked the thought that there was a hormonal imbalance making me a bit nervy. I have fairly large eyes, am hot most of the time and struggle to gain weight. It was a logical diagnosis but one delusion which I was finally robbed off when a thyroid function test showed I was completely mid range normal.

The first bad attack came in 1999. I was 28, my relationship with a much older man was floundering and getting increasingly uncomfortable to be in and work was grinding me down. I felt a strange shift come over me. I was starting to get long periods of feeling afraid and edgy, uncomfortable in my own skin. I’d pace the house, not sure where to put myself and worry about why I was worried. I also lost the ability to feel much pleasure. I enjoyed precisely nothing. Trips to the theatre were an ordeal, novels I liked were dull and uninvolving and I hated to talk to anyone. I felt like I was wading through treacle trying to work. I’d always believed that hard work was the answer. I was full of scorn for colleagues who went off sick with stress or anxiety, wondering why they didn’t just work harder to take their mind off it.

My medical model of thinking made me think there was a pill for every ill and I trouped off to the doctor. Eight weeks of inadequate counselling from a woman I detested, a prescription for Paroxetine and I was better within two months. Within three months I was wondering why I hadn’t been put on these drugs along with solids at the weaning stage. I felt amazing and was reassured that I’d been right all along. I had a chemical imbalance. I ignored the other evidence. There was no way that the abusive relationship and working on a heavy geriatric ward contributed at all. It was all about the chemicals. I took them for six months as suggested. I sweated a lot, felt sick a lot initially and found it was impossible to have an orgasm. Who cared about that though? I was enjoying life again.

Eighteen months later it all went horribly wrong. I changed my job to go to work on a cancer ward, left my partner, found a new partner, lived on my own for the first time, moved in with the new partner after six months, started working shifts in the hospice on my days off, shopped a lot, decorated the flat frantically, drank a lot, went out clubbing a lot, took lots of Diazepam (thank you G.P., I loved you for those little yellow pills), slept very little and worried all the time. I missed my dog that I’d had to leave behind. I missed my lovely old house. I also re-started and stopped taking the Paroxetine, resulting in strange side effects, numbness and a limp. I was referred for neurological investigations which terrified me to the point of nausea. This time the Paroxetine didn’t work. My mood didn’t lift in spite of the little white pills.

It took a few more months but eventually I learned to understand why people went off work sick with stress. I learnt the hard way. I started waking at 4am with feelings of doom and dread, lying in bed moving my legs around, tossing and turning. I was smoking 30 cigarettes a day, drinking vodka every night and starting to lose all perspective. Eventually, I woke up one morning and it was if a blind had been drawn down. I couldn’t make myself get out of bed. I cried on and off for weeks. I lost a couple of stones in weight. Every time I tried to eat I retched, the food sticking in my throat. Even if I felt hungry, which was rare, I couldn’t decide what to eat or summon the energy to prepare it. I couldn’t talk to anyone or enjoy anything. I was firmly ensconced in this mental fog. Everything was bad. I was bad. The world was bad. It was never going to end.

The house became dusty and smeared. I grew thinner and more ragged round the edges. I was unable to make myself do anything. I couldn’t wash or get up in the mornings. I’d get up and sit in front of the TV, crying and worrying till about 4pm before I could muster the energy to wash. Time hung heavy. Everything hurt. I felt like I had no skin. There was a complete vacuum in my life. I’d get the odd good day but these were brief and seemed cruelly snatched away when the next day I’d wake up with the cloud hanging over me. On the good days I was completely unable to understand why I was like I was the previous day, scolding myself for not eating, cleaning up or washing myself. I found myself incomprehensible which was baffling. My G.P. upped the pills again and again till I was on three times the original dosage. I didn’t improve much. Worryingly, I was certain this wouldn’t ever end.

It did end, of course, but it took a long time coming. Three months later I returned to work, thinner, slower and still experiencing bouts of crying and despair. I was functional but remained a bit of a shell, feeling flat and numb a lot of the time. I spent lots of time in bed after work, retreating under the duvet the minute I walked in the door. I attended group therapy which I found surprisingly fun and rewarding and eventually, six months later, I felt I was back to my normal self and back on a reasonable maintenance dose of anti-depressants.

Sadly, I learnt very little from this time. I avoided thinking about it. I felt traumatised and baffled that I’d lost nine months of my life and spent them mooching round in a dressing gown, sweaty and malnourished. It was all behind me though and I made a conscious ever never to think about it again.

Four years later I felt that my life was a resounding success. I was working as a ward manager on an acute ward. I was putting in up to 60 hours a week at times but loved my job. My relationship was fine. We argued a bit and my crazy working hours put a bit of strain on us but it was mostly good. I had a lovely home which I spent my days off scrubbing and cleaning and decorating. I was well nourished, non-smoking and enjoying life on the whole. I couldn’t see what was wrong. I earned good money too, had savings for the first time ever and went on holiday five or six times a year. Yes, I spent sleepless nights worrying about random things. I was plagued by mystery ailments and pains. I was also irritable and tired at times, finding it took me two hours or so to unclench my fists after a busy shift at work. It was fine though.

The next episode was worse. I woke up and it was the same. I spent six months off work. I panicked, I cried, I took pills galore, I starved, I fretted and lay awake watching the clock move slower than it ever had in my life. I hurt all over. I had more therapy, a C.P.N., cycled through four kinds of anti-depressants, three kinds of sleeping pills and a bunch of sedatives. I knew this time I was finished. I’d never work again. I really hoped I would die but didn’t have the energy to bring this about myself. I knew that I’d never feel pleasure again and regain my old life. My relationship would end (actually it did end a few months later, I’m not always wrong). It was a bad time. It ended though. I did return to my job. I did get better. I did regain myself.

That was six years ago. I’m well now. I like to think I’ve learnt a little. I really hope so. I don’t fully understand why I get so depressed. It’s too complicated to unravel. I know my triggers and what affects me. I know what to avoid. I’m not sure I know yet how to slow down and relax enough. I’m still in therapy. I’m still taking a maintenance dose of anti-depressants. I probably always will. I see it like a chronic physical condition, like diabetes or asthma. It’s deadly and horrible and I can’t forget I’ve got it but hopefully it’s mostly manageable.

I’ve survived traumas in the past six years. I got through the upheaval of a relationship breakdown, romantic disappointments, changes in my job, house moves, bereavement and stress and I’m still tottering along. I hope it continues.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Ramblings: Chopsticks

I once had a bad experience with sushi. I gave up eating fish not long afterwards and after reading this tale you may not be surprised to learn that the man I was dating gave me up too.

It was 2008 and I’d trekked down to London with my boyfriend of six months, Peter. (see: http://www.gayboyinterrupted.blogspot.com/2011/07/good-grief.html). We’d been visiting friends of his near London and a single girl he knew, who was away visiting family, had let us stay in her over crowded flat. As we cleared the 30 or so cutesy soft toys off the bed to go to sleep, we both remarked that maybe that was why she was single. No man could have maintained an erection with all those pastel coloured toys watching. She also had a photo wall which consisted of snapshots of her and her friends pulling “I’m mad me!” faces in various antipodean settings.

We spent a day in London and Peter was authoritative, striding about manfully showing me places. I’ve been to London many times before but I pretended to be awestruck. We went to the theatre to watch a play which he found bleak but I adored for its cynicism and then the search began to find somewhere to eat. Peter loved to share experiences with me and was keen that I loved everything he loved. He’d show me DVDs, play me music and cook me elaborate meals, aiming to please like an overexcited puppy. He was always crestfallen if I didn’t like something and as ever, I always struggled to hide my disdain for things I hate. He was grouchy when I pouted throughout “Napoleon Dynamite” (I loathed that film), horrified when I picked gingerly at a curry which was too coconut laden for me and winced when I declared I couldn’t find any joy in listening to Sousa marches. He was never deterred though and when he did find things we both liked would be ecstatic.

His ideal was that two people met, absorbed and appreciated each other’s interests and assimilated them. My view of love is that two people are very much individuals and if they like the same things then that’s good but you need to retain your individuality. He wanted the meetings of planets, I was happy with being two satellites circling each other gracefully with the occasional stylish collision.

He decided I just had to try the most amazing sushi place in Soho. I declined and he tried, as ever to persuade me. I pointed out the following: I hate ginger, I hate soy sauce, I hate raw fish and am not too keen on rice. I also reminded him that actually, I don’t really like Japanese food at all. He bartered and wheedled and nagged me into it by persuading me that there would be sumptuous dishes on the menu which were suitable for even the pickiest vegetarian. I followed on, trying and failing to keep an open mind.

We entered the restaurant and were seated, much to my horror, at a refectory table with 3 other couples. I’m friendly enough, on a good day, but to be honest, I wasn’t keen on sharing my tea with half of London present. I maintained a forced smile as I manoeuvred myself onto the large uncomfortable bench, trying to ignore the man in a suit sat next to me.

I looked down and noticed there was no cutlery, just chopsticks. Peter was amused by my reaction.

“Try them! It’s fun!”

I had a failure of happy facade.

“I think that the chopstick has been superseded by another new invention: the knife and fork. I’m not eating my dinner off of a stick. I know everyone else is but I don’t care. They’re just being pretentious.”

Proper cutlery was dispatched and the couples either side shot me withering glances as they showed off their chopstick prowess to prove how amazingly clever they were. The menu was unfortunate. Everything on the menu contained either a) raw fish b) meat c) ginger or d) soya sauce. I put the menu down and did my “I-told-you-so” face. Peter scoured the menu, panicking and suggested the vegetable curry. I pointed out the small print at the bottom: “Cooked in beef stock”

I ate a lettuce leaf and half an avocado with plain rice. They insisted on dispensing some gloopy brown stinking of ginger in a little pot which turned my guts and I pushed it away. I ate it slowly and my face said “Listen to me when I say I don’t like something.” We ate in silence. The bill for his one course and my lettuce was over £50 and I tutted and sucked my teeth. I enjoyed the pizza on the way to the station very much.

I still can’t imagine why we split up. Maybe it was because he never listened and I was churlish and sulky. Two people with fundamentally different views on relationships will never make a happy blend. Whatever the case, we were certainly a bad combination. I avoid sushi bars still.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Ramblings: Taxi for Mr Gayboy!

I never blurt out my problems to hairdressers. The traditional model of behaviour, I thought, was that hairdressers listen to you talk and commiserate as they snip. I listen to them talk usually. One mention of the fact that I’m a nurse and I hear all about their own health issues, their problem drinker of a father or their aunt with cancer. I don’t mind this at all. I can share my problems on here and there’s no smell of nasty perming lotion and just the sound of my fingers tapping on the keyboard. I’m always glad to help out if I can offer consolation or reassurance, as long as I’ve not just left work and am listened out.

The same thing happens with taxi drivers, well, most taxi drivers. Some tell me far worse stuff than about their uncle’s tumour. One whiff of the fact I’m a nurse and a brief mention of the fact I’m a specialist nurse in palliative care and it’s away with the sagas for the full journey. It passes the time. I just nod and do my empathy faces.

There was a taxi driver who used to pick me up often who I couldn’t bear to listen to. He was a little rotund man who was originally from India. My heart would sink every time he pulled up outside my house. The problem with him was that he had the most unusual way of speaking.

“Hey, sonny boy! How you doing? It’s a cool for cats funky day.”

I would look down at my feet and grunt.

“It’s a groovy day! Hot hot hot! Good to go! Spicy! I was only saying to my cool cat of a son, who’s a brainy box, my boy. Yes, a brainy box! I said son, you may be rich and jingly jangly but you got to enjoy the life. You dig me Daddio?”

His chatter was relentless, peppered with inane questions that you couldn’t avoid answering. I’d try all manner of tricks to stop him talking. I answered only in monosyllables and kept my tone flat. This failed. I grunted instead of speaking. This failed. I stared pointedly out of the window. Of course, this failed too. He didn’t recognise non-verbal cues.

One particular day, I could take no more. As ever, his patter was accompanied by wild gesticulations, clicks of his fingers and loud shouts. My nerves were shot to pieces. I had to resort to abruptness and came up with a masterful solution, asking him to please not talk and on future occasions could he maintain absolute silence at all times when driving me anywhere. It worked. Harsh, but it spared my sanity. I suspect it wasn’t his fault. The man was over excitable and had clearly learned English from 1970s porn films and episodes of “Shaft”.

I upset a teenage taxi driver one day too. I got in the front of the cab, told him where I was going and before I’d even buckled my seat belt, roared off at about 70 miles per hour. He then dialled a number on his mobile phone and proceeded to talk loudly to his friend. As the car swerved relentlessly across lanes of traffic and he persisted in exhibiting his lack of skill at driving one handed, I got madder and madder. Of course, I took the polite option of shouting “Put the fucking phone down, you maniac.” It was a matter of life and death. I really don’t want to die a la Princess Di but in a shabbier car with a Magic Tree air freshener. Not for me.

He put the phone down. I offered him a tip which wasn’t cash but a piece of advice “Drive me like that again and I’ll report you to the police.” He wasn’t overly impressed.

Another thing I hate is when taxi drivers don’t know the way. Arriving in Nottingham once I stepped into a hansom cab and before I could speak, the driver pulled away, sending me reeling onto my hands and knees in the back. Then he proceeded to ask for directions where to go. Now, as a nurse, I don’t go and see patients and ask them what drugs I should give them or what dressing to use, so I don’t expect a taxi driver to not know a route. Bette Davis once said that the thing that irritated her most (a lot of things irritated her) was people who didn’t know how to do their jobs. Hear hear.

I told him I had no idea where I was going (my dander was up, I did know really) and he suggested I find him a post code. I suggested he found his own post code as he was the one driving the taxi. He suggested I ring ahead to my friend to ask her how to get there. I suggested he turn back around and take me back to the station free of charge and deposit me in a taxi with a driver who knew what the fuck he was doing. He found the way.

My final tale of taxi horror is a more salacious one. A few years back, when I still drank, I stumbled out of the local gay club at around 2am, a little tipsy and flagged down a passing cab. The driver was chatty and friendly, a youngish bloke of perhaps 30, a little plain. I was in the back behind the glass screen and safely buckled in when halfway home he asked me if I minded him asking me a personal question. I stupidly said it was fine. You can be too open.

“So, are you gay? You came out of the gay club.”

I affirmed this.

“So, in the gay club do men, like, cop off? Do they touch each other and get blow jobs and stuff?”

I confirmed that indeed that might well happen in private from time to time given enough alcohol.

“So, have you ever been to bed with two men at once.”

I answered that of course I had, who hadn’t? He became bolder.

“Have you ever had a cock rammed up your arse whilst your cock was ramming another man up the arsehole?” he asked breathlessly.

“Hang on! Can I ask you a question? Do you really think it’s safe to drive a cab whilst masturbating? Because I don’t! Now put your hands on the bloody wheel, put your cock away and drive me home. Naturally I got him to drop m off a few streets away. I didn’t want him knowing where I lived. It might have been a different story had he not been so plain. I might have issues with taxi drivers but as a single boy, I certainly wasn’t proud. He didn’t get a tip either.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Ramblings: Why Dubai?

What is the attraction with Dubai as a holiday destination? I just don’t get it. Of all the holiday resorts it would be bottom of my list to visit, below Blackpool or Iran. It looks hot and dusty, there’s not much booze and they don’t like gays and women much. It doesn’t look like a place of glamour and sophistication to me, unless you’re the kind of person who thinks Ferrero Rocher adverts ooze style. It looks tacky and bleak. The pictures I’ve seen make Centre Parks look cool and it seems to resemble a giant mall full of tacky crap that even Michael Jackson would have turned his nose up at on one of his wild shopping sprees.

I shouldn’t really judge the place till I’ve been but I can pretty much guess it isn’t for me, just as Antarctica wouldn’t be. I actually don’t really like traditional holidays too much. Most people’s idea of a holiday is my idea of hell. I haven’t been on a package holiday for seven years. The thought brings me out in hives.

I definitely don’t like beach holidays. I burn easily. I once got sunburnt so badly in Skegness as a child that my parents had to extend a grim caravan holiday by a week whilst I lingered in the local children’s hospital having my wounds dressed. For those of you reading from foreign climes: it’s almost impossible to burn in Skegness. The sun never shines and the local advertising slogan is “Skegness is bracing!” a.k.a. windy as hell. The Lincolnshire coast is a grim grey one.  

Sitting on a beach is so uncomfortable. It’s sweaty and hot, the sand gets everywhere and there’s nothing interesting to see unless you fancy ogling the pitiful specimens filing by in ill judged swimwear or like looking at sea, which to be honest, always looks like sea. The longest I’ve ever managed sun bathing for is an hour. It’s an endurance test for me. I get myself lathered head to toe in sun cream and lay out my belongings. I then try to get comfortable. This process takes about twenty minutes. I then sit in the sun for about ten minutes, trying hard not to glance at my watch. I get irritable. I wriggle about. I try to ignore the heat of the sun and the sweat pouring from my every pore. I try to read and try to get comfortable. This usually lasts five or ten minutes. I then leave the beach, after ten minutes spent putting my stuff back away.

I don’t do well in high temperatures. I wilt, my bowels curdle and I get heat rashes. I hate the performance of having to cover up just to go outside for a walk. All that slapping on sun cream, only to sweat it off as you walk around in undignified attire. Nasty.

Man made holiday resorts bore me senseless. There’s nothing to do but wander round trying to spot amusing Europeans in bad denim or sit making up little stories about dodgy couples who look a bit like swingers or serial killers. Finding the most lurid pictures on the awful photo board menus can be a sport in itself. It’s like a competition to see who can make the most innocuous food look as rancid as possible. There are parts of Europe that really aren’t worth the aggravation of a few hours on a plane to see. If I take the trouble to navigate cheesy air stewards with fixed grins, screaming kids and cramped seats, with only a hideous Jack Black comedy for entertainment, then I expect to arrive in a place with magnificent architecture and loads to see. Arriving in a barren resort with grimy sand and an Irish bar is not good for me.

All inclusive holidays make me think of Butlins camps with more sun. Neither is needed. I can’t imagine staying in one place for a week or more. I imagine it’s a bit like Tenko without the relief of Stephanie Cole’s acerbic wit.

Relaxing isn’t relaxing to me. Sun loungers seem like a threat as do bare hotel rooms. I want to walk, see and think. I have to be entertained a lot or find ways to amuse myself. Hanging around for seven to ten days in a resort feels claustrophobic. I recall passing time languidly, bored and indolent, waiting for lunch, waiting for dinner, waiting for sleep. For me, those kinds of holidays seem good as a prospect, are vile at the time and are remembered fondly through a haze of false nostalgia.

Skiing doesn’t sound like fun either. I imagine lots of hale and hearty people and me making a complete dick of myself and ultimately fracturing some bone which is impossible to fracture normally. Snow is tedious, as is exercise. A holiday combining the two sounds like a new kind of purgatory to me.

Don’t even get me started on activity holidays. Trekking in Peru or clambering over dangerous rocky crags? I can’t even begin to understand it.

Some people are natural travellers, liking the adventure of it all and relishing discomfort and grimy experience. I have a TV for that. The views are much better and you don’t get flea bites. I’m not at all comfortable with roughing it. It’s en suite or nothing. Preferably, a memory foam mattress, mood lighting and a functional bidet would be standard too. Air conditioning is an absolute necessity.

An ideal holiday for me would involve a city, preferably one with a moderate ambient temperature, good museums and galleries and nice places to take bracing strolls, with stop offs at good quality cafes. Naturally this would involve cake eating and people watching.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts you’ll perhaps understand my reluctance to go on holiday. Near drowning, acute intestinal upsets and accidental stays in brothels feature. I’ll stick to my trips to Edinburgh, Brighton or London for now and keep a return to Paris, Barcelona or Rome (in a quality hotel during the winter, of course) in my sights when I can muster up the energy again. It’s much safer that way.  

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ramblings: It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To.

It’s June 1977 and I wake up feeling full of expectation and dread. It’s my sixth birthday and my wishes haven’t come true again. I’m still here in the little terraced house. My real family haven’t discovered me yet and taken me off to live with them in their castle. I’m certain I was adopted and no one has been brave enough to tell me yet and I’m also certain I’ll be rescued soon. It’s a fairly logical conclusion. My brother and my parents all have brown hair, mine is white. They all love to eat. I hate eating. I must be adopted.

There have been programs on TV recently about baby snatchers. My mum let me watch them. She lets me watch most things as long as I’m quiet. These are deranged women who steal children from outside of supermarkets, a bit like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang only sporting shaggy perms and wearing maxi dresses. I love that film, by the way. I have the soundtrack which I play on my mum’s old reel to reel player which she’s given me along with Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey and The Sound of Music. I’ve invented dances too.

I’m quite worried about the child thieves and have stopped going to the park with my brother so often in case one catches me. The peculiar cat on the Charlie Says commercial says never get in a stranger’s car. I asked my dad what would happen if you did and he told me it’s very dangerous because they chop you up and bury you in a shallow grave. It’s safer to stay at home and read my books.

I also wished for a white cat with blue eyes. I’d like it to be a deaf cat. I have a book about cats which tells me that blue eyed white cats are often deaf. I don’t mind a deaf cat as long as it’s pure white. My own cat is grouchy and is black and white and scratches me a lot when I hug him. He’s called Whiskey and looks a lot like Adolf Hitler.

I get some birthday presents and we have a fried breakfast because it’s Sunday. They eat huge platefuls of food which makes me feel sick just to look at it. I have an egg yolk (the white makes me puke) and half a sausage which I eat as fast as I can so I can pretend I’m not eating. I help to wash up and make coffee for my parents. I love coffee with lots of sugar and drink cups of it all days long.

My presents are mostly disappointing. I wanted a Tiny Tears doll which cries and wees, a Girl’s World styling head to put make-up on and some new clothes. I get yet more Meccano and an Action Man with eyes which swivel in his head. The Action Man is nice looking though and I think about stories I can make about him befriending the pixies and fairies or doing good deeds for people in the forest.

I go upstairs to read a bit and to choose my clothes. Clothes are very important. I like to look my best. I brush my hair and choose a pair of Navy Oxford Bags and a purple and white flowered shirt with an integral cravat which I’m old enough to tie myself now. I’ll wear this with my tweed jacket which will be very warm indoors but most importantly will look very dashing. It has very big lapels.

I go downstairs to help my mum. I like helping her just like Jane does in the Peter and Jane books. I have my rabbit with me. She’s not a real rabbit. She’s yellow and wears a long nylon dress. If you flip the dress up she has another face and the dress is a different colour. How cool is that? I’d like flip up clothes too so I could change. I’m not allowed to wear more than one set of clothes per day but I’d like to get changed a lot.

My mum is taking a special tablet called Valium which she likes a lot, as preparation for the party. I’d like one too but I have to pretend. I like to play families. In this game I’m the parents and Rabbit, Snowdrop and Timothy are my children. I take my Valium (Midget gems), drink my sherry or beer (Dandelion and Burdock) and smoke my candy cigarette. I can’t wait to be grown up and have the real thing. I fetch the Consulates for my mum. They’re smooth and white and smell minty. She likes them a lot.

My mum is making a salad and because it’s a special day she’s making it really posh by cutting the tomatoes into little crowns with jagged edges. I think my dad has taken the dog out to the allotments. I don’t think he likes children’s parties very much. Whiskey the cat has gone out too. He doesn’t like children much either, only me. My mum has made cakes too and is hiding sweets around the house, behind mirrors and under cushions. She’s hidden a whole back of Blackjacks and Fruit Salads.

I’ve never had a party before and am not so sure about this one either. I don’t really like other children. Adults are more interesting. I like listening to what they say. I especially dislike little boys. They’re kind of weird. I’ve had to invite three little boys called Paul, Simon and David to my party. Paul likes to talk about planes. He knows the names of all the fighter planes and likes to talk about war. David likes cars a lot. When we go out with our mums he names all the makes of cars as they pass us and looks at me like I’m stupid because I think cars are boring. Simon likes football. I’ve played it once and hated it. I don’t like running and kicking at all. I prefer being inside. I also hate getting dirty. Old men often speak to me when I’m in shops and ask me what football team I like and I clam up and blush. I don’t know why people think I’m strange but I wish they didn’t.

Luckily three girls are coming too. Girls are more fun. I have lots of friends who are girls and we play proper games like “Murder” where we hide and jump out. This makes me a bit nervous. I jump easily. I have to carry a torch in my jacket pocket for when I’m walking in houses to shine the dark places away.

My mum gets ready for the party and combs her afro hair. She has to put special stuff on to make it all curly. The party starts and surprisingly I quite like it. I want attention and this is good attention. Because it’s my birthday and I’m 6 no one calls me bad names or disapproves. Maybe life will be like this now I’m 6.

We play games and they eat food. I eat as little as I can and for a change, no one seems to notice. I don’t have to pretend to eat and then give my food to the dog. I get presents too and the most exciting one is a game called Pop-Up Pirate. It looks really good. I still don’t have a Mr Frosty though, my mum says it’s a rubbish toy and I can’t have one.

We finally get to play Pop-Up Pirate after some boring running round games. The mean pirate sits in a big brown barrel and you have to stab him with swords. I’m very excited about this and lean in very close. The winner is the one who makes the pirate pop out, I think.

I put in my sword and crane forwards and a tragedy occurs. The pirate pops out so fast that he hits me square between the eyes and the other children start to laugh. I go upstairs to compose myself and check for marks. My skin is very good and I hate marks.

I come back down and stand at the bottom of the bottom and clap my hands to gather everyone’s attention.

“Right, children, the party is now over. Please get your coats. Bye. Thank you for coming. ”

I get told off for saying this. I don’t think I’ll have another party again till I’m maybe 40. Maybe next time I’ll hire a cinema and show a film. I hope my mum remembers to retrieve those sticky sweets too. It would be a nightmare if on moving house years later she finds sticky sweets gluing things together. Now, where did I put Snowdrop’s Family Allowance booklet? I made that last week and she needs it to draw her benefits.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Poems: The End of Love

Sophie Hannah is best known as the writer of torturously plotted thrillers but before embarking on writing novels was better known as a poet. I love this one and think it fits in with my previous post about weddings. I agree with her sentiment here. Broken relationships need big announcements too.


The End of Love

by Sophie Hannah

The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.
Why the hell not? It happens to us all.
Why should it pass without acknowledgment?
Suits should be dry-cleaned, invitations sent.
Whatever form it takes—a tiff, a brawl—
The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.
Better than the unquestioning descent
Into the trap of silence, than the crawl
From visible to hidden, door to wall.
Get the announcements made, the money spent.
The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.

Ramblings: I Don't, I Don't, I Don't.

I hate it when taxi drivers talk too much. Last year I had the misfortune to be trapped in a taxi driven by a really pompous middle aged man. He started off as soon as I sat down, droning on about his daughter’s wedding and how much money he’d spent on a dress, chocolate fountain and all that crap that people seem to need. I half listened and after ten minutes of the boring old twat boasting on I said: “Well, its worth all that money though isn’t it? A wedding is something your daughter will only have two or three times in her life.”

He wasn’t impressed at my unromantic, but realistic sentiments but it got the end result of him shutting up so all was fine. I’m sorry if this disappoints or offends anyone, but I probably won’t be coming to your wedding even if you invite me. You certainly won’t be coming to mine. I definitely won’t be coming if it’s a church wedding. I really don’t like the places and think they make great bars or apartment conversions.

Lots of my female friends are impressed by the idea of a gay wedding. I’m not. They like the idea of the novelty of two men getting “married” and think it would be cute and camp. I often get people urging me to get married. It’s not happening, well at least not until I have a list of white goods that I need long enough to make the wedding list worth a few thousand. It’s just not me. I like a bit of attention but there are limits. Weddings are often so naff. I just couldn’t face all that planning, forcing people to stand about being as bored as I generally am at weddings and having to proclaim slush in front of people. It’s not my thing. The whole religious element puts me off too. Even a non religious wedding is, in my view, aping an unnecessary religious ritual.

Planning weddings involves rows, breaches of etiquette and lots of cash. I’m not overly keen on dancing to “Come on Eileen” or finger buffets and I think cummerbunds are just stupid. No one looks good in morning suits and as for the ubiquitous kilt wearing just because your gran once stood next to a man from Kilmarnock in Tesco. Forget it. Knowing my luck I’d plan a wedding and end up with a corking migraine that day and a lot of money down the drain.

A hotel near me advertises a “Wedding in a Box” at £5000 all in. £5000! That’s a lot of money for a day. You could go on a few nice holidays with that or buy a hell of a lot of good books or theatre tickets.

I hate attending weddings. Mawkish children dressed like junior hookers, tedious long Eskimo love poems read out with a crocodile tear and standing waiting whilst you spend an hour posing for stagey soft focus photos of something which has barely happened yet? I think I can safely resist that. I’m never sorry to miss the best man’s speech in which he details jolly japes about the time you got a hand job in Amsterdam. I’m never sad to miss the sight of the fat uncle dancing with the small child either. I’m happier at home with a good book.

As a child of seven I was reprimanded sharply at a family wedding when I was caught reading a copy of “The Borrowers” during an especially dull service. Is dull church service an oxymoron?  Propping the novel inside a hymn book failed to avoid my parents’ beady eyes. They knew me well. I do hate to be cooped up and bored.

If I did get hitched it’d be for convenience e.g. to ensure someone got my pension or to get a hot Brazilian a British passport. It would be done discretely in a registry office with a nice lunch afterwards. I might even splash out and not plump for the Harvester Lunch Deal, although the salad bar is very tempting.

It’s not that I’m unromantic. I’m definitely very romantic. I believe love is a chemical malfunction/mental illness and it can be very nice thank you. How much more romance is there than that? I don’t need an outdated medieval ritual to proclaim my madness to the world. I can do it on Facebook. Let’s face it, experience has shown me that men are quite likely to abandon you without warning, smack you round the head with a Christmas tree, drink all your money away or diddle your mates behind your back. There isn’t a pledge in the world, written or spoken before some imaginary deity or council official that will stop that. It’s the luck of the draw.

In the modern age believing that you’re going to be with someone for the rest of your life is sweet but probably not that realistic. The biggest commitment these days is surely impregnation or buying a house. Having a baby means you’ll have to see the twat forever more (or at least till the kid is 20 or so) and buying a house together is a bugger to wriggle out of legally. Divorce is cheaper and more final.

Feel free to invite me to any weddings. At a push I’ll come to the do after as long as the buffet is good quality and no one plays Dexy’s Midnight Runners but the answer is probably likely to be my stock one: I’m afraid I’m too busy, I’ll come to the next one.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Poems: Love Cuts

I saw John Hegley do a reading of poetry last year and was impressed by his very British humour and sense of the absurd. I like that this poem manages to describe the pain of love whilst retaining humour and avoiding pretension.

       Love Cuts

        by John Hegley

Love cuts
love juts out
and you walk right into it.

Love cuts
love comes and goes
love's a rose
first you smell the flower
then the thorn goes up your nostril
love gives you chocolates
then love gives you the chop
it doesn't like to linger.

Love cuts
love shuts up shop
and shuts it on your finger
love cuts
what isn't very nice is
love leaves you in slices.

Love cuts
love's very sharp
a harpoon through an easy chair
a comb of honey in your hair
just wait until the bees come home
and find you just relaxing there.

Love cuts
love's claws
evacuate that heart of yours
and leave it on the sleeve it wipes
its nose on.

Love cuts, love guts the fish
of what you wish for
and leaves it in the airing cupboard

Love cuts
love huts fall down
as all the walls get falser.

Love cuts
love struts around on stilts of balsa wood
love cuts love gives you a sweeping bow
then ploughs a furrow deep above your eyebrow
love cuts
love curtseys
then nuts you
where it really hurtseys.

Ramblings: Kitchen Sink Drama

My kitchen tap hates Paul. My bathroom tap hates me. Every time Paul tries to wash up he can’t get hot water to run in the kitchen. Initially I wondered if it was an excuse not to wash up, then remembered that it’s taken me four years to work out the vagaries of the temperamental boiler. The tap has to be turned to a certain exact point before it decides to run hot. He still washes up. I just have to run the water for him.

I frequently swear at the bathroom sink in the mornings when I’m trying to shave. My waterproof radio goes on the blink and the crackling sounds annoy me. The hot water drifts in and out of its own accord and I shout vile obscenities. I’m not good in the mornings.

At least the bathroom radio works a bit. The radio in my bedroom is digital and only picks up crappy local radio where they seem to have four songs on a loop interspersed with double glazing adverts. It’s a very stylish radio though, which is me all over. I prefer style over substance or function.

My duvet cover is pure white, smoothed down and inviting until you turn it back and see the cigarette burn where I once smoked in bed (naughty I know), nodded off and burnt the duvet. The scent of light air freshener pervades yet if you open the cupboard under the stairs you’ll get a whiff of festering mould not too far removed from the smell of an old man’s trousers on a damp day on a hot bus. The house is immaculately tidy but try opening a random drawer and you’ll see a jumble of stuff haphazardly piled in.

The garden is slippy underfoot and to the novice can result in a nasty slip on a damp morning. One of the plug sockets in the bedroom is mysteriously blocked with some unknown item. I lived for two years with a cooker that had only two functional gas rings and only changed it when I was down to the little burner alone. The cooker hood and extractor isn’t even plumbed in but is always clean, which is what matters.

I’ve lived here five years and am used to the random creaks and groans, the occasional patches of damp and mould which sprout up and I know what lies beneath the immaculate veneer. I know how to work the taps in the kitchen, where not to look and that it is far from the model of perfection that people sometimes assume when they visit.

I love my house in spite of its faults. When I get in, sometimes, I’m almost tempted to press my back against the locked door and sink to the floor in pure relief that I’ve survived another day in the outside world. I often feel that I understand the joys of reclusiveness.

My house is a lot like me, not too bad looking at a first glance in a flattering light, generally quite neat and tidy but with lots of hidden mess and a lot of temperamental parts and flaws. As long as you know how to work your way round the stubborn parts and can reflect on the good bits, I can be a pretty good sanctuary too.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Ramblings: All You Need is Lust

I went to the cinema last night and saw a film called ”Shame” in which the protagonist was a sex addict. The film was great, intense and moody and dark, which suits my tastes. Great acting too, I’d recommend it. It did however set me pondering and thinking about sex addiction and about the amount of people I’ve known who’ve had problems with compulsive promiscuity. Don’t worry, I’m not about to name anyone.

To my mind, promiscuity is all fair and good. Provided it’s understood that that’s what it is and no one is being duped or hurt and people protect themselves against diseases and that nasty pregnancy thing. Like most good things, it’s fantastic in moderation. Let’s face it, most of us enjoy sex and casual sex can be a great way to meet people. Removing your underwear is definitely a great ice breaker. It cuts through all the social niceties if someone is groaning in orgasmic shouts whilst bouncing on your mattress. Sex is a great leveller. I’ve met some improbable people in my days as a single man, all social classes and professions. You could call it extreme networking.  I’ve even learnt a few words in foreign language which is very handy. They weren’t words I’d say in front of my mother though. I’ve seen some terrible decor too. Some people have such bad taste in bedding.

Apparently 10% of 16 to 24 year olds in a survey admit to having met a stranger on line for casual sex and 50% have performed sexual acts on a webcam. I wonder what the results would be if they surveyed my circle of gay male friends? I suspect it would be less than 10% who hadn’t done either and that’s probably because they haven’t got internet access.

Being gay is amazing for the promiscuity. Providing you’re halfway decent and have at least two limbs and a tooth or two you could probably find sex any hour of the day. It’s enough to make most straight men gnash their teeth in jealousy when you inform them that things like gay saunas, Grindr, Gaydar and bars with backrooms exist, where you can pick up strangers for casual sex for just a quick nod or a brief tap on the phone or keyboard.

Too much available sex has a downside though. I’ll discuss a friend of mine. This isn’t a thinly veiled story about me by the way. I’d let on if it was me. In my early twenties I had a friend called Andrew who was obsessed with sex. He wasn’t a great friend to go out drinking with as inevitably he’d disappear off to have sex in the toilets or leave you in the lurch to take some random bloke home. He spent huge amounts of cash on porn videos and had a teetering tower of smutty magazines in his spare bedroom. He also wasn’t a great friend to go out for the day with, to go shopping for food with or to go on public transport with. Andrew would inevitably disappear quite frequently and turn up, apologetic, a few hours later. He could pick up men on trains, in Sainsburys, in libraries. He suffered whenever he fell in love and his relationships invariably floundered as he failed time and time again to keep Mr Winky in his Calvin Kleins. He always ended up getting dumped in time, once the second, third or fourth infidelity was discovered. He also tested our friendship a few times when fortified with drink and having failed to pull he tried (unsuccessfully) to put one on me by whacking it out and brandishing his member at me.

I’ve had countless friends who’ve spent immeasurable amounts of time cruising websites, trawling bars or hanging out in dodgy places, all in the name of a cheap thrill which often leaves them feeling dirty or unsatisfied. Not always, sometimes it’s bloody great for them. I’ve had friends who won’t leave a gay club until they’ve pulled, frantically circling the remaining punters as the clubs close in a desperate act to get some action and if they fail they rush off to log on online.  I had a friend who in desperation at the amount of time he was spending cruising on line and the havoc it was causing with his self esteem, finally smashed his laptop with a hammer. I’ve known people who’ve told me that they have to masturbate continually and compulsively, even at work, which must end up as a terrible chore and an expense in Kleenex and Savlon for the blisters. I can’t imagine feeling turned off enough at work to masturbate either. Hospitals just don’t do it for me.

I don’t disapprove of promiscuity at all; I’d advocate it for some and suggest avoiding it for others. It all depends what you like and can tolerate. It’s just that when anything becomes a chore or takes over your life in a negative way you need to evaluate what’s happening.

Being a person with an addictive nature, I’m glad I only toyed with promiscuity and thankfully have myself in control when it comes to shagging about. To me, it would currently feel like a chore. I can’t be bothered with all that laundry. It’s hard to dry sheets in this climate. Not to mention the meticulous depilation. At least in a relationship you can let things slide a little and no one minds. It’s the rules.

I believe in fidelity in relationships. I’ve just had a lot of relationships with a few gaps of single madness in between. I’ll stick to my current addictions (cigarettes, Paul, novels and my Vic’s Sinex inhaler), say a happy goodbye to the troublesome ones (namely alcohol and bad men) and just be thankful I never succumbed to sex addiction or heavy drugs. Crack in high quantity is never good, whichever type of crack it is.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ramblings: Positively Inane

I really mistrust false cheerfulness. I hate that notion of smiling your troubles away and bombarding them with positive thoughts will banish any darkness and gloom. It’s a pervasive trend, one which is endemic in our culture now. If I was on the deck of the Titanic I wouldn’t be smiling to myself and thinking about the positive side of things. I’d be preparing to drown and be rather miffed about it all. I also wouldn’t carry on playing a cello but that’s a whole other issue.

American author Barbara Ehrenreich was unlucky enough to develop breast cancer and she wrote a book about the tyranny of positive thinking and how damaging she found it. She was devastated, miserable and daunted by what lay ahead of her with this horrible illness and a battery of gruelling treatments ahead. She felt miserable and unhappy, which is a normal emotion, part of the grieving process which we all go through when we lose something or things take a bad turn.

Barbara found that she was discouraged from feeling bad and was criticised and bullied because she wasn’t being positive about it all. She was encouraged to call herself a survivor rather than a victim. She was encouraged to embrace her diagnosis and look at the positive aspects of it. She understandably struggled to find any, as most people would. The whole experience was devalued for her and she felt inspired to write a book about how derogatory the pressure to think positively was for her. She was criticised and over ridden by friends and family, the pressure of media articles and by the community of cancer sufferers she encountered in America.

Positive thinking is a trend which pervades all culture. There are numerous self help books which extol its virtues ad-nauseum, Facebook groups that post pictures encouraging you to banish negativity and hordes of people telling you to make your bad experiences into good ones by changing the way you think about them. I loathe this. If I have a bad time, then like Barbara, I want it acknowledging. I want to be allowed to feel miserable about it. It’s a normal process to feel unhappy sometimes and it’s unhealthy to suppress it. I don't want to become morbidly obsessed with only having good thoughts and made to feel I'm at fault for not being positive enough if it all goes wrong.

I honestly don’t believe that telling yourself that having your leg amputated in a tractor accident was a valuable experience because it made you re-evaluate your priorities is healthy. You need to feel a little bit cross about your one legged condition, mope a bit and then start to adapt. You shouldn’t feel obliged to turn tragedy into a defining moment from day one.

Life can be pretty shitty and feeling bad isn’t nice but sadly, it’s part of the whole experience. Lying doesn’t help anyone. I can stare in a mirror for hours on end and tell myself I’m a 20 year old black woman but actually I’m not nor ever will be. Value your experiences good or bad and cut the phoney guff. It’s insulting and repressive.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Ramblings: An Exercise in Torture

There are a few places I wouldn’t like to find myself in, a bar frequented by Neo-Nazis perhaps or an abattoir. In 2009 I found myself somewhere worse and more terrifying: a gym. It was horrific.

I’d gone away for a weekend with a man I’d been seeing for a few months, a rather uptight police inspector (who I’ve written about before). We went to London, saw a play (which impressed him minimally) and then got the train to Brighton. The hotel was a fairly classy 4 star with a huge room on the fourth floor, a good bathroom, a view of the ruined West Pier and unfortunately, a gym and spa.

The view at dusk was fantastic. A huge flock of starlings would congregate and perform acrobatic manoeuvres over the ruined pier, swooping down in graceful patterns. We also gained a seagull friend who I named Vernon the Voyeur as he had a habit of peeking through our window and seemed intent on catching me in a compromising position or two. He was one pervert of a bird.

My idea for the weekend was to amble about, taking long bracing walks (it was a cool November weekend), fortified by the occasional snifter of alcohol and lots of wholesome vegetarian food. I wanted to take in the freaks and oddballs, espy the nudists freezing their genitals to nothing and see the drag queens and the stylish people. I wanted take in Georgian architecture and views of the sea. I envisioned browsing through shops, perusing useless tat, discovering kitsch 1950s treasures to take back to add to my hoard and buying a lot of second hand books. Inspector T**t decided that whenever I went in a bookshop, he’d loiter about for a minute displaying obvious boredom, then wait impatiently outside till guilt made me join him.

He also decided that it would be a nice idea to surprise me with a massage in the hotel spa followed by a whining session whereby he convinced me, against my better judgement, to enter the gym. The hotel spa was nicely furnished and I was touched that he’d treated me to a 30 minute back massage. After 30 minutes of listening to whale song whilst a meaty young woman in a white smock pummelled my back I was less grateful, merely a little embarrassed and very very bored. Naturally, I pretended it was an extreme pleasure and gushed about what a lovely treat it was whilst wondering how I’d avoid this ever happening again.

On eating out later that night I suddenly felt very peculiar and started to sweat profusely. Sweat dripped off my nose onto the tablecloth. My hair and clothes were soaked and I started to feel nauseated. I can only guess that it was some of the many toxins which inhabit my body making a quick exit thanks to the vigorous massage. In future I’ll hang on to my toxins. I quite like them, actually.

The following day we went for a brief walk and I eventually had to succumb to the pressure to go to the hotel gym. I walked down to the basement with trepidation and entered a vision of hell. I was sweating again, this time through fear.

There were wholesome people on machines, grinding away, feet frantically slamming down and faces set in sinister expressions of masochism. They puzzled me and made me nervous, at the same time. I felt a rush of contempt, mixed with a measure of blind panic. This place was grim. There was a huge room with a pool in which people ploughed up and down with grim determination. Rows of terrifying looking machines flanked the walls, making eerie squeaking noises as people with the emotional expression of corpses moved monotonously. There were people skipping, punching punch balls, stretching and gyrating. It truly was frightening in the extreme.

Inspector T**t made for the machines and I sidled over to the pool and immersed myself. I tried hard to forget how much I hated swimming, to ignore the graceful and the lithe as I floundered. I lasted about 4 minutes. I left the pool and realised what this place reminded me of: school physical education lessons. Urgh.

I tried the sauna and steam room. It was dank and spooky. There was a young bloke asleep in the corner of the steam room whilst two French girls sat animatedly chatting. The steam made me feel a bit asthmatic and claustrophobia set in. I was plucking up the courage to tell the Inspector that I had to go and lie down when a miracle occurred. The fire alarm went off.

The thought that my room and my belongings could be burning didn’t enter my head. I was free and very happy about it. Grabbing my bag (I know, I know) I made my way up to the street and took my place with the other people clad in Lycra or shivering in towels in the November drizzle. There was a pub next to the hotel so naturally I went in to get warm and grab a coffee. No one seemed to mind that I was clad in just some shorts with a towel around my shoulders. Hot coffee had never tasted so good and the prospect of entering a gym ever again never seemed so appealing.

Some things are not for me. I’ll stick to wandering round book shops. You can keep your gyms with their threatening devices. If regular exercise adds a few years to my life I’d rather forgo those years. They’ll probably be years where I feel creaky and arthritic anyway. You can also keep your philandering policemen with their passive aggressive ways, but that’s a whole other story.

Poems: You Fit Into Me

I love Margaret Atwood's books, especially the haunting "Alias Grace" and "The Handmaid's Tale" with its' dystopian view of a futurist misogynist culture. This little poem makes me laugh and squirm and reminds me of a few of my exes.
You Fit Into Me
by Margaret Atwood
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Ramblings: Very Superstitious

For saying I’m a vehement atheist with a dislike of religion, I still have a very strong belief system. Like many religions, my beliefs are based on a handful of peculiar rituals and practices handed down through the generations. I believe in the power of the Magpie. Yes, I’m ashamed to say this; I’m an irrational superstitious person. Magpies can be very dangerous birds.

I touch wood if I say something unpleasant to stop the doom from descending. It only works if I do it with the index finger of my right hand though. It has to be a firm tap on the wood with the correct finger, naturally. I also get very excited if a black cat meanders across my path. Not just because I like cats a lot, but because it means joyous good luck for the next day. I never wash clothes on New Year’s Day. If I did that then one of my family members would be washed away too. Everyone knows that. I might just consider a quick wash if I could choose the family member and the severity of injury. The idea of your own personal Persil hit man could be quite appealing at certain times.

I spent years in my youth with crossed fingers, avoiding cracks in the pavement. I had to stop this. I’m clumsy enough without adding extra impediments to my already dangerous forays into the outside world. It’s bad enough that I won’t wear my glasses all the time through vanity, without me turning a walk into an obstacle course.

I’m ecstatic if I see a shiny new penny on the floor. I have to pick it up to ensure good luck all day. People seem to look at you oddly when you do this in the middle of a busy street or in the queue in the chip shop but I simply don’t care. I suspect they’re just jealous because I spotted it and consequently I have the good luck. I can’t help being lucky.

I even used to invent little fortune telling exercises. I’d set challenges. For example: if I can get up the stairs before the door swings shut then it’ll all be fine. If I can get coffee, milk and sugar into the mug before the kettle boils then I won’t be murdered today. I invented rituals, tapping things being a favourite habit. It had to be the right thing to tap. My preference was the newel post at the bottom of the stairs. It also had to be the right amount of taps. Three taps was lucky, four was deadly. Especially lucky was nine taps (3 times 3). Tapping the stair banister three times in three places ensured that I didn’t die in my sleep. Do you know what? It worked too. I didn’t ever die in my sleep.

A friend once told me that she never had the volume on the television on an odd number and that she believed that having it set to an even number ensured safety. Naturally, I adopted this habit too.  She may have well been onto something there.

The scariest thing of all is the magpie. My mother taught me from childhood that if you see a magpie alone it’s very bad luck, unless you salute it and say “Good morning Mr Magpie. How’s your wife?” If you see two or more magpies it’s a harbinger of joy and good fortune. There’s no need for greetings. This was fine as a child but in adult life it gets trickier. Try being on a crowded train and spotting a solitary black and white fiend on a branch. The man across from you will always give you a very funny look if you shout out your greeting whilst looking like a demented boy scout saluting some imaginary monarch.

Maybe it was a bad mistake to take my hand off the steering wheel whilst driving along a busy dual carriageway on a driving lesson. The instructor told me off and was actually quite rude. He didn’t seem at all impressed when I explained patiently that in the greater scheme of things, the risk of doom incurred by me not saluting the bird was far greater than the risk of us crashing whilst I saluted. I was ensuring our safety. He didn’t like this explanation at all.

I’ve got better as I’ve got older. I no longer tap things so much. I don’t break into a sweat if the radio volume is at number 5. I still pick up pennies and salute magpies, but more discretely. I dive down with a nonchalant manoeuvre to retrieve the abandoned coins and silently mouth bird greetings whilst doing a casual salute, which to the untutored eye looks like I’m scratching my forehead.   

I know what it’s all about. It’s my attempt to ward off anxiety, not evil. Like any belief system it can be pernicious and punishing too and I know this. If I say “Oh, I haven’t had a cold in ages” and then due to forgetting to touch a wooden item afterwards subsequently get a cold, then I feel bad and blame myself. If put my washer on on the wrong day and someone dies then I could feel very bad. It’s a silly business. This is what my mind tells me. My instincts tell me otherwise.

I’ll stick to practising my beliefs discretely and maybe remind myself when I laugh at strange religions that we all have our beliefs, some more absurd than others.