Monday, 27 February 2012

Ramblings: The Good Old Days

I hate nostalgia. The literal translation of the word nostalgia is a painful homecoming. I think of it as a sad yearning for the past but the problem is that people often yearn for a time which didn’t exist. They hanker for quaint old fashioned days when people were happy and jolly and everyone respected everyone else. They imagine times when children could play out in the streets (maybe before Rebekah Brooks invented the predatory paedophile). They long for innocence. Hell, they even think the eighties were cool and dream of the halcyon days of good fashion and superb music. They seem to have forgotten that skinny jeans looked bad the first time, that Wham existed and that legwarmers were required dress.

All this is nonsense of course. There was always danger, people have always been people, sometimes good, sometimes bad but mostly both and although some things may have been better one hundred years ago, the majority of things weren’t. We died young of terrible diseases, had little knowledge of the dangers inherent in many things and oppressed each other in numerous ingenious ways.  Hardly something to long for. That dreamy pre-war picnic you imagine was actually shrouded in cigarette smoke and pollution and you would have been fostering a burgeoning melanoma from lack of knowledge of sun screen.

Saying that, I do have a ridiculous affection for vintage items. My house is strewn with unwanted items from other people’s pasts. I have an Art Deco bathing figurine, a garish fifties coffee set and numerous items of china from the 40s and 50s. My wallpaper is repro from the 50s, my prints are 60s Pop Art and my phone is from 1958. I have ancient typewriters, a walnut radio and a Betty Page style vanity case. I dress in a 1960s three piece classic suit, rayon scarves and tailored blazers. I’m often to be found listening to old songs from pre-1960 or enjoying the ticking of my temperamental clocks and I love redundant words like “Cripes” or “Gosh”.

Anyone would think I was nostalgic. I’m not. I just like certain old styles. I might have kitted my lounge out in Art Deco style but I’m not advocating a return to those times. I don’t want it to be illegal to be gay and there to be no cure for tuberculosis except a spell in some fresh cool air. I quite like my mobile phone, my stereo and DVD recorder. I’d like to hang on to them too. Just don’t mind me as I nibble a macaroon off my lovely 50s plates. I’m almost tempted to say that they don’t make things like they used to, but I won’t. It isn’t true. They make lots of good things now too.

There are lots of things to recall from the past, just maybe not my own past. That’s best pondered on rare occasions. There are no pictures in my house of my past or anyone in the family’s past. I prefer other people’s detritus, far more fascinating. Nostalgia is fun as long as you don’t actually believe the crap that comes out of people’s mouths when they tell you life was better before.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Ramblings: Nights in the Museum

Paul and I took a trip to the local museum on Saturday to see a newly refurbished gallery and an art exhibition, which was lovely and made even lovelier by being with Paul. I had to warn Paul, though, when we entered the museum, that I have a long standing museum phobia stemming from my childhood. He was on standby and luckily I didn’t freak out too much.

As a small child my maternal grandfather doted on my brother and me. He only had a small family, no brothers and sisters, no surviving parents and only one daughter, and was keen to spend time with the small family he did have. He often liked to take us out with him at weekends and I always gladly trotted along. He was an interesting man. He always dressed smartly, usually in a baggy suit with a waistcoat. He was painfully thin, shaved twice a day, slicked his hair down with Brylcreem, polished his shoes daily and smoked incessantly. He worked in a factory and rode to work on a huge 1950s bicycle, trousers safely bicycle clipped, cigarette in mouth. His main interests in life were sitting in his chair reading, gambling and drinking in the local pub. He also loved to sleep late, emerging at around noon on his days off. He was comical, laughed a lot (a very dirty laugh) and was a true relic of the 1940s and 1950s.

I’d stand by his legs, waiting for the rare moments he allowed me to press the buttons on the fruit machines. I’d take his tea up when he lay snoring in bed and my grandmother’s patience snapped when he was still asleep at midday. The football results were sacred. We’d have to sit in utter silence and not move whilst he marked off the results for his Football Pools dividend. His gambling paid off eventually and he won a fair sum of money on a game called Spot the Ball. You had to guess where the ball was on a picture from a football match and then put little crosses in the place where it could be. I loved helping him do this, but sadly it wasn’t my crosses that won him a jackpot. Sadly, he died suddenly not long after winning the money but he’d enjoyed it whilst he had it.

One place he liked a lot was the museum and this was for two reasons. Firstly, there was a recreation of a pub there and this was based on his step-father’s pub in the 1920s to 1930s and had the pub sign above it with his name on it. Secondly there was a display of military paraphernalia, some of which related to his time in the war and the section of the army he was in. He’d take us there several times a year to show us things which was both good and bad.

As much as I admired my grandfather, the museum trips were made through gritted teeth and were, for me, a tour of terror more than an educational wonderland. You entered the museum at street level and we invariably ignored the ground floor as it was a display of dull crockery which bored us all. We’d mount the stairs and my legs would start to quake in my shorts and my hand would begin to grip his tighter and tighter as my brother loitered happily behind us.

We’d enter the first gallery which I called The Dead Animal Room. It was floor to ceiling taxidermy. Bears loomed over you, teeth bared. There was a huge bulls head on the wall, its leathery skin and bulbous eyes terrifying me. There were brown rats, huge birds, leering big cats and enormous apes. You had to walk through a contorted passageway of glass cases, each one ten feet high and each containing hundreds of hideous dead animals in contorted poses. Eyes stared at you from every corner. I literally quaked and tried to be brave as I knew worse was to come. There was peer pressure too as my brother was happily walking around looking at things. I couldn’t be the weaker one.

Next we’d pass through a gallery of paintings on our way to The Faceless Soldiers. The war display was a huge room full of dummies in military dress. They were posed in tableaus and each one had no face, just a piece of bare white cotton. I’ve never been fond of things without eyes or mouths. They’re the substance of nightmares. To make matters worse they generally also carried huge knives or guns. These people were certainly not my friends. They were horrifying and sinister.

Next we’d walk past a huge stone sarcophagus on our way to the worst horror of all, the Mummies or as I knew it The Dead Ginger Man.  The sarcophagus was on a plinth and I imagined there was still a corpse in it. By this stage I was usually very quiet, ashen grey and all of a tremble. The two mummies were in glass cases; along with their cat which to this day I’m convinced is actually a skittle in bandages. It definitely looks like one. One of the mummies had complete bandaging; the other had an exposed scalp. His leather skin was dark brown with a few tufts of fine red hair poking up. His angular face was emaciated and shrivelled. I usually wanted to scream and run by this point, shouting “There’s a bloody corpse in there!”

I imagined that they came alive at night, blinking milky eyes and wandering around chatting to the faceless militia or petting the animals in the glorified pet cemetery. I still suspect they may have done.

Finally we’d get respite and before walking back through it all again, we’d stop off in my favourite room. It was an amazing display of toy theatres. They were all colours and sizes, elaborate models from the Georgian era onwards. I coveted them and was bought several replicas over the years which I frequently played with. The room was a place of delight for an over imaginative five year old and a respite from all the surrounding horror.

I went to the museum alone a few years ago and the animals are still there and still dead. There are less of them now, the displays are better, the more grotesque ones consigned to storage. They still make me shudder though. The soldiers haven’t grown faces yet and still stand in menacing poses and the mummy still lies in his glass coffin, dead flesh exposed. The pub is gone but my step-great-grandfather’s sign remains there.

I thought I could cope with visiting the museum alone in my thirties but I was wrong. Alone was the operative word as there was literally no one else there bar the occasional attendant. There was just me, dead things and scary dummies. I left needing a lie down, my nerves jangling.

My grandfather was an interesting man and fun to be around but I wish I’d had more courage. All it would have taken was the courage to tell him that the huge Victorian museum made me want to urinate. I’m sure he’d have taken my hand and led me out of there, kindly. Thank fully I can make a choice now and can also have Paul on standby with a warm hand if it gets too frightening. He doesn’t seem to mind.

Ramblings: Unnatural Urges

I have a friend called David who I’ve known for over 4 years. We get on well, share the same kind of humour and often spend time together seeing comedy or theatre. The only problem is that we’ve shared too much. No, we haven’t seen each other naked or admitted to bestiality. It’s far worse. We’ve both revealed our strange violent urges. We call it physical Tourette’s syndrome.  

I often get these urges. Well, not so much urges as fleeting thoughts. It’s a bit like Tourette’s syndrome but rather than the urge to shout Fanny-finger or Bottom-wrangler, I have the urge to push people over, off high things or under the path of oncoming vehicles. I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about.

An example would be if I was walking along a road and I saw a man leaning over a bridge. I often have a sudden thought, contemplating the fact that I could grab his legs and throw him over the bridge. I would never do it, but the thought crosses my mind. It extends to inanimate objects too. On a recent trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum, I pondered pushing over a plinth with a priceless bust on it and sending the whole row toppling over like a hideously expensive Domino Rally game. I get a lot of thoughts like these in antique shops or museums. I’m a nightmare in a factory outlet shop selling china. Thank goodness no one still does those pyramids of baked bean tins any more.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a psychopath. If we’re standing waiting to cross the road and a convoy of juggernauts is looming down, I’ll only be thinking of pushing you under them. I won’t do it, honestly. It’s as if my mind is thinking of all the hideous things I could do and how terrible they are, maybe as a way of not doing them. I remember in school, having urges to shout horrific swear words out loud. Luckily they were just thoughts. My life could have been very different were I to have acted them out.

The problem with me and David is that we both admit to these tendencies. We neither of us have much artifice. On a weekend away in Wales we decided to be open and honest about it.

David buttering bread: “Ooh, I just wondered about stabbing you with this knife.”

Me at the roadside: “Ooh, I just pondered pushing you under that bus.”

David on a walk: “Ooh, I just contemplated pushing you into that weir”

Me, smoking: “Ooh, I just considered putting this cigarette out on your forehead”

It started to get a little scary and the weekend at a literary festival was rapidly becoming a potential video nasty. We calmed it down a notch and carried on, just articulating random thoughts we had about passersby or shop displays. That felt safer.

We’re not deranged, we’re just honest. Maybe hiding beneath the veneer of respectability is a better option. There’s a fine line.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ramblings: Dalking Tirty

I frequently trot out Spoonerisms, especially when tired. For those who don’t know, they’re slips of the tongue or deliberate wordplays named after the Reverend Archibald Spooner, a warden at Oxford University in the 1870s. The first letters of words are swapped with each other, changing a meaning entirely. There’s dispute as to whether he did say some of the things attributed to him but my favourite is: “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” (dear old queen). Another favourite of mine is the Kenny Everett character, Cupid Stunt, which needs no translation, thankfully. He got away with it on National Television, which is the main point.

I’ve always worried that I’d trot one out in a crucial moment. I did once and it was hideously embarrassing. It involved something I’m terrible at, namely, talking dirty.

Talking during sex is an embarrassing thing. Men don’t always understand that what sounds mildly erotic in a pornographic film sounds less than enticing in a stilted British regional accent. Whispered requests or remarks are hard to hear in the heat of passion and above all the rustling and bodily noises and saying “Pardon?” can kill the mood. Pretending you know what was said and agreeing to it blindly is even worse as it can lead to dangerous situations and a reliance on painkillers.

I met a man once who insisted on keeping up a running commentary during a mercifully very brief encounter. I winced and tried to fake enthusiasm as he grunted at me: “You like that don’t you? How’s that big boy?” I was dying inside but tried to ignore it. The final straw was when he used the words “man c*nt”.

“My man WHAT?” I said in a loud voice. I was mortified and glad to see the back of him.

I decided to try talking dirty once towards the end of a long relationship. It was against my better judgement; I’d had a little drink, and thought it was a good idea. I thought it would pep things up and prove that I was much less frigid than I was accused of being. Unfortunately my tendency to drop in spoonerisms coincided. I decided to lean over and whisper in my partner’s ear, telling him what I was planning to do. I think we were watching an especially dull DVD.

“I want to cook your sock.” I whispered.

“You want to what?”

Needless to say, we laughed a lot and I went to bed chaste. I won’t try it again.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Poetry: Hotels Like Houses

Sophie Hannah is such a great author. She writes baffling crime novels and beautiful poetry. I’m excited because next week she’s giving a talk at a local Waterstones and I have a ticket. I love this poem. It says so much in a short verse. I think a lot of us can identify with this kind of relationship.

Hotels Like Houses

She is the one who takes a shine
to ceilings and to floors,
whose eye finds room for every line
scratched on the wardrobe doors.

She thinks in terms of thick red rope
around the bed, a plaque
above the hardened bathroom soap.
He’s always first to pack.

If their affair has awkward spells,
what’s bound to cause the rows is
that he treats houses like hotels
and she, hotels like houses.

Ramblings: Totting Up

If someone undercharged you for something in a shop would you tell them or would you leg it? The answer for me isn’t black or white. It depends on so many factors. Is it a big multinational chain store? Was the assistant rude? How broke am I?

I was with my best friend a few years ago at a charming little plant nursery. She’d developed a sudden interest in gardening and I needed to stock up my pots for the terrace so we trundled off, like a middle aged couple on a dull Sunday.

I worry about being seen doing married couple type activities with straight women. Not for myself, but for them. I sometimes wonder if passersby look at us with pity and think: “Oh that poor girl! Her husband is so obviously gay! Should I tell her that he’s clearly a sausage nibbler on the sly?”

We selected our plants and went to the little brick outhouse to pay. There was a weathered old lady there in a nice navy blue pinny.  She pulled a small battered note pad from her pocket and grabbed a blunt pencil stub from behind her ear.

“I don’t hold with all these calculators and tills. Give me the old fashioned way any day. I like to use my brain, not like you young people.”

She was annoying. She rapidly totted up the bill and my friend paid. I know her well and could see she was slightly twitchy. We walked away to the car. I soon discovered what had happened.

She hissed at me: “Walk quickly but nonchalantly! The silly cow has under charged me by £20.”

I felt not a pang of guilt. Pride comes before a fall. Maybe calculators aren’t so bad.

Ramblings: Naked Emperors

I generally don’t like events where you’re expected to be happy or sad just because it’s a certain day such as anniversaries of things, Christmas Day and my birthdays. I tend to find that doesn’t work for me. I can’t turn emotions on and off and I’m not very good at pretending. My general awkwardness means that often I feel a little bit moody due to the pressure to enjoy myself on other people’s terms. I’d generally be much happier reading a book or watching a good film (that applies to most of life).

I successfully avoided my graduation from nursing college. I was painfully shy (and still am in some ways, although I hide it better) and the notion of walking across a stage in front of other people horrified me. I asked my parents what they thought and they were about as enamoured with the idea of attending a lengthy graduation ceremony as I was. I’d enjoyed the nursing course, found the academic work quite easy and didn’t see much to celebrate. I just wanted to get on and work.

I was pressured into attending my graduation from my degree against my better judgment by the rather conventional police inspector I was dating at the time. I’d studied for my degree part time whilst working full time and got a passable mark. It was lengthy, tedious and dull to do, taking up valuable time during which I could have been reading novels or keeping the house clean. I was glad it was over, happy with my certificate being posted out and had no intention whatsoever of attending any sort of ceremony (or ever studying again).

I made the mistake of telling the aforementioned policeman about the ceremony and my plans not to attend and was convinced into going. I did something I don’t often do and bowed to the pressure of conformity. He lectured me about how it was weird to not want to attend and how much he’d like to attend. I failed to understand this and couldn’t imagine why he’d want to celebrate me getting a qualification he hadn’t even witnessed me working for. He persuaded me to ask my mum if she wanted to go and she expressed a half hearted interest.

Before I knew it I was hiring a nylon gown and a silly hat and setting off on a freezing November day to a large sports hall. Inspector Twat was away the night before on a leaving do in York but insisted he’d get up early and drive down. He appeared in an out moded suit with a Nehru collar which looked only a little bit more finely woven than the cheap gown I’d hired.

I was bustled through a series of work tables in the foyer where a slick operation kitted me out in a long black gown, a sash and absurd looking hat. I felt very silly. Then I was rushed through into a sports hall where I sat with a group of people I’d never met before to nervously await the horrifying experience of walking across a stage without passing wind or tripping over. The waiting was torturous, made worse by having to engage in polite chit chat with uninteresting strangers.

My nerves gave way to boredom. There was no celebrity to give a speech, just a rather dull college dean. The only entertainment was the dean’s terrible attempts at pronouncing a series of Eastern European and African names. The poor man was engaged in reading aloud a tongue twisting list of names which all sounded like Countdown Conundrums.

It passed. I was cold and bored. I had a mild headache. We convened for photos and I posed for the photos, my smile not quite reaching my eyes. I knew it was pretence and as ever was feeling my inability to fake things. Inspector Twat had to rush off to a meeting (I later found out he was going to meet another man for sex and also had most likely never been to York the night before. Apparently he could fake it much better than I ever could hope to). We rushed a quick lunch at a cheap carvery and I was back home feeling resentful at the money spent and time wasted for what seemed a joyless experience for us all. I’d inadvertently made Inspector Twat’s jaw drop during lunch with my usual bluntness. He’d told me that my dad was obviously watching down with pride.

“He’s dead though.” I said incredulously. “How could he be watching?” He winced as he often did when he spoke. I do hate an asinine comment and am not good at biting my tongue.

The moral of the story for me is don’t be pushed into doing things you don’t want to, especially if they cost you valuable time and money and are just for show. Life is short and we don’t all like the same things. Just because people around you can see the Emperor’s new clothes doesn’t mean you have to pretend you can too. The Emperer is clearly often naked.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Ramblings: No One Loves a Fairy

I always dreaded aging. I was downcast at 20, twitched at 25 and inconsolable and in hiding at 30. 35 grated my jangled nerves. I approached 40 with mounting dread, waking at night in cold sweats and having palpitations at the thought of impending middle age. I compulsively checked my paunch, my crow’s feet and my thinning hair. I started to squint slightly when the hairdresser brandished a mirror over my balding pate so as to avoid the shock in full vision. I even considered giving up smoking again.

When the time came, amazingly, I welcomed my 40th birthday like no other. I actually even had a party, hiring a cinema and showing a suitably absurd film for a group of friends. Surprisingly, I actually really like being 40. It has so many advantages.

1)      I no longer have to go out at night.   I spent many nights in my twenties and thirties in grimy gay bars, relentlessly swigging alcohol and navigating creeps, freaks and weirdos. It was often an effort to even navigate the floors, the local gay club having the stickiest floor in the known universe. Don’t ask me why. I’ve tried to block out fathoming that one out. It opens a whole can of worms. I tolerated inane music, having to shout to be heard and endured halitosis as people craned in close to be heard by me. I drank enough to enable me to dance, putting up with clumsy drunks, sweaty atmospheres and stumbling teenagers. I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore. I can now safely enter what I call “the divorcee” part of town. No more thudding bass beat, just a lot of older ladies and gentleman sipping drinks and trying to stand in a dim light so as not to expose the saggy bits. It’s much more civilised. I actually no longer care if I go out at all. I’d rather see friends at their houses or at mine or spend a nice evening in the cinema before retiring at  eleven pm (after popping a wash on to peg out in the morning).

2)      I no longer have to follow fashion. Not for me the canvas shoes caked in foot grime. I don’t have to wander around in February with my bottom exposed, elasticated trousers halfway up my legs and no coat. Not for me the painful blue feet as I trek about in inappropriate shoes in snow. I can go out with a coat on. It’s amazing. Being 40 has made me appreciate the joys of dressing for the weather, usually in a nice warm Macintosh. I can buy clothes because they suit me and I like that. I can even shop at M and S now and no one thinks a thing of it.

3)      I know what I like. I have a job which I like, a house I like and I know what I enjoy doing. It’s taken me a long time to learn these things. Woe betide anyone who tries to take that away or make me do things I don’t want to do (e.g. celebrate Christmas, enter churches or endure weddings). I no longer feel the need to pretend that I quite like package holidays, works’ leaving dos and eating at Nandos. I feel resolute enough to say “No” and stick to doing what I like. I also know what I want from friendships and relationships and am happy to set my own agendas (with the occasional compromise at a push).

4)      I no longer feel the need to suffer fools. I spent many years putting up with stupid or annoying people, tolerating liars, the inane, the dull. Hell, I even spent time living with them. The older you get the less you have to tolerate. I feel able to speak my mind or just to ignore people and move on and away. It’s amazingly liberating and I wish I’d learnt it at a younger age.

5)      I can nap. I’ve napped from a young age. Sleeping is a hobby of mine. Years of working shifts led me to appreciate the afternoon snooze as a pick me up and now I feel it’s also age appropriate. The over 40s can nap to their hearts content without disapproval. I’m no longer in the napping closet. I’m an out and proud napper.

6)      I’m old enough to have had a lot of therapy. Aging means I’ve had time to have had a hell of a lot of therapy. I’ve had counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychotherapy. If I was any younger I wouldn’t have logistically fitted all that in. Being theraped (I made that word up) has given me the chance to move on from the horrors of the eighties. Let’s face it, unless you’re pretty deluded the eighties were grim all round and we all need theraping to escape that.

One final point though. I’m more than happy to be 40. I don’t lie about it, don’t hide it or resent it. Just don’t expect me to embrace getting any older. 41 sounds just terrible.

Ramblings: Isn't He Lovely?

I was watching the television news last night and I was moved to contemplate evil. It wasn’t a feature about crazed despots or ethnic cleansing. It was Whitney Houston’s funeral and what set me thinking was Stevie Wonder. I firmly believe that his entourage is made up of twisted sadists.

I worked with a woman who had endured an annual childhood ritual. Every Christmas time, she and her brothers would be dressed up in matching novelty outfits and made to pose for photographs. For example, one year might be miniature reindeer suits, the next pixies and elves. The pictures would then be paraded around and the ensuing hideously embarrassing results would resound for many years to come, causing teenage blushes and haunting the siblings into adult life. Evil does exist and was clearly alive and well in 1970s suburbia. I imagine that all those children have deep rooted psychological scars. Strangely, the woman in question kept up the ritual and subjected her own son to the annual humiliating photograph in what I can only imagine was an act of embittered revenge.

My next example would be the naming of children. The ranks of people who manufacture odd children’s names are the scourge of the Western world with babies named after foreign countries, naff celebrities and domestic appliances. I heard of a teenage girl recently who named her child Harry Beau. Clearly she had a penchant for the Haribo Tangfastic (as most of us do). It’s not much further behind Emma Royd or Candy Cane in terms of deviant cruelty. Social services number anyone?

Forget the Moors Murderers, Hitler and Pol Pot, there’s a very cruel and sadistic group of torturers surrounding Stevie Wonder. I can imagine the scene now as this evil band of people choose hideous clothes and encourage further outlandish hairstyles for a poor old blind man.

Stevie walks in wearing a multicoloured baggy waistcoat and Aladdin pants with an elaborate set of beaded cornrows.

“So, how do I look?” says Stevie

“Amazing!” they all shout in unison, stifling giggles.

“So do you think that thing I do where I sing whilst swaying my whole body and holding my face up to the sky with a massive inane grin on my face is still a good look?”

“Oh yes, Stevie. Don’t ever stop that one. It looks fabulous. People love that one.”  they titter.

Evil, I tell you. Pure evil.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Ramblings: Brass Neck

I've had an enforced rest from doing any writing due to the thorny issue of my contorted and twisted neck muscles. Very frustrating but necessary. My mind brims with ideas but my muscles tell me otherwise. They're shouting for me to avoid the keyboard which draws me like a magnet.

I've ditched my chiropractor (he kept me waiting 45 minutes and I don't wait) and have got a new physio with an unfortunate name. He's called Mr Christmas. Much like the awful festival he's named after, he's expensive, painful and I'm glad when it's over. He seems to know what he's doing and the good hard poundings (in a purely non-sexual medical way) seem to be helping. Hopefully, I'll be back on track with more and more rubbish flying from my rapidly typing fingers. We shall see.

Ramblings: Unsentimental Journey

I did something momentous last night. I threw away the watch I had brought for my 21st birthday. I have a very happy and close relationship with my bin. I love to throw things away. It’s almost like the opposite of hoarding. Try it, it’s liberating. The feeling of dropping it into the bin was second to none.

I spent my teenage years and early twenties amassing things and then spent my thirties slowly throwing them all away. I had sentimental views. I took endless pictures and pored over them, painstakingly applying them onto the pages of photograph albums. I cut out clippings, saved old college work, school reports and cards which I liked. I hoarded old theatre tickets and programs. I would never have given away a book which I liked and had over a thousand of them. I had piles of old magazines. I would like to add a disclaimer: these items were all stored tidily.

I moved house often during the 1990s, changing address with circumstance and financial situation during the turbulent relationship with the much older man. The things I loved became items I hated to pack and it was during the final move that I realised something had to be done. It was getting mad packing and unpacking all this detritus of a so far not so happy life. I purged. It was a fantastic purge too. Bags of books were carted off to Oxfam. Clothes I hadn’t worn in a year or more were mercilessly sent to the recycling. It was very liberating.

Once I’d split with Barry and was living alone I cleansed further, going through my belongings like a mean dictator goes through peasants. I felt so relieved to be away from him and to have escaped the relationship with everything but my sanity intact. Suddenly the idea of a flat full of reminders of the past seemed superfluous. I binned nearly all of the photographs from the 12 year relationship. I kept just a few of me which I liked, where the pretence of happiness wasn’t too obviously fake. I kept only two photos of him (to remind me how much I hate him) and nothing else. My twenty or so albums were whittled down to only one.

The school reports were shredded. Why the hell was I keeping a load of pieces of paper with derogatory comments by a sadistic sports teacher with the brain power of a particularly dense hamster? I lobbed 15 years of old theatre and cinema tickets. They weren’t getting me access to anywhere. I dispatched ugly ornaments bought for me in my teens. I wondered why I was keeping folders of notes from courses I’d taken in the early nineties. If I want to know functions of the endocrine system I’m more likely to look it up online or in a book than to root through some badly scrawled notes in a dusty folder.

I became relentless. Nothing stood in my path for long. Scratched vinyl records from the eighties, expired passports, yellowing magazines and birthday cards from 20 years ago were cleansed.  Some items went under the radar. The watch is a prime example. I liked the watch when it was bought for me in 1992. I don’t like it now. It has no monetary value and also has an insincere engraving on the back from the man I now hate. Surely it deserves to fester in a rubbish tip rather than in my drawer?

I don’t miss these items. I never look for them or long for them. I used to think these items would be nice to have when I get old, to give me memories. A sad fact of old age is that as my brain cells die off the old memories will get exposed. The best things to keep are those from the present. If I ever reach 90 I’ll probably be wondering where the hell I am, where my pills are, who these people are in my house and why I’m sitting in a pool of my own urine. I’ll be capable of recalling the 80s with the perfect clarity, sadly. I suspect I won’t need old school reports to remind me how awful that decade was.

The other advantage of throwing my stuff out is that I can replace it with other people’s discarded crap which is so much more interesting. I have vintage telephones and typewriters, a postcard sent from a woman called Enid to her friend Mabel in Coventry and a suit worn by someone long dead. Just one thing though, touch my collection of 25 years worth of theatre programs and I’ll have your arm off.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Ramblings: Pants on Fire

There’s no polite way to ask this but have you ever had an episode of faecal incontinence in adult life? Think carefully, I’ll be judging you on the answer. I believe that this is the acid test. Forget your fancy lie detectors.  Everyone has shat themselves at least once. If you answer “No” then you’re a liar, simple as that.  

I really don’t like liars. It’s something I’m terrible at doing and something I can’t tolerate in others. It drives me absolutely insane. The thing with liars is that their lies are often so facile and blatantly untrue that they may as well poke you in the chest and say “Ah ha! I think you’re really stupid and gullible.”

The first liar I knew well was a boy called Philip at primary school. Philip told lies continually. His dad was Tom Baker and his mum was a practising witch. He had had sex by age 10. His dog died so he took a week off school. When I saw his dog a week later on the park he revealed the shocking truth: he’d bought it back to life using lightening a la Doctor Frankenstein. Funnily enough, I bumped into Philip many years later and he was doing very well in his career as an eminent Egyptologist and was a millionaire.

On entering secondary school I came across a girl called Emma (not her real name). Poor Emma was lumpy and a bit gauche but goodness she had an interesting life and would regale us with tales of her amazing adventures. We all felt very sorry for her when her mum died of cancer and bought her little presents. We didn’t get the gifts back when her mum picked her up from school a few days later. She looked surprisingly perky for a dead woman.

As a student nurse I had to work two months of night shifts and was placed on an acute medical ward. Unfortunately, I worked alongside an auxiliary nurse who was a compulsive liar. Maria had degrees in pharmacology, maths and biology (yet was working as a poorly paid care assistant), owned a house with a swimming pool and private cinema and had a very unwell dad who had primary bone cancer and multiple sclerosis who she cared for. Mostly she didn’t sleep in the day like the rest of us. She’d work all night then spend her days travelling the country or popping over to Europe and looked surprisingly fresh on zero sleep followed by an eleven hour night shift. She had multiple severe medical conditions and bore these with stoicism.

At the time (the early nineties) staffing levels in hospitals were sometimes exceedingly poor and there was just me, Maria and a Staff Nurse on duty on some shifts. I dreaded this. At some point during the night the Staff Nurse would pop off for a break with her friend from another ward leaving me alone with Billy Liar. This was bad on two counts: a) scary responsibility, although the next ward was in shouting distance and they were keeping an eye out b) I had to talk to her.

I’d try and find little jobs to do, patrolling the sleeping patients, cleaning things which didn’t need cleaning or writing reports: anything to avoid listening to her lies. I struggle with fibbers at the best of times but 4am is not a good time for me. I lasted two weeks before I blew. I’d run out of made up jobs to do, the patients were all clean and dry and sleeping comfortably and I had to sit with her at the desk. She was wittering on, spouting her inane tales of made up crap and I was starting to get madder and madder, wondering to myself just how stupid she thought I was. The lies poured out and I lasted well until she turned to me and said:

“Of course you do know I’m half Apache Indian?”

She was blonde haired and blue eyed. “So why’s your name Maria and not Poca-fucking-Hontas?” was my knee jerk reply. We never spoke again, oddly.

I dated a Police Inspector who was a total liar for four months. Blindly, I accepted his mad lies but they got madder (and so did I) and eventually when I realised that his lies also involved him lying to a lot of other men, it all ended. Stupidly, I pined for him for a while and felt very hurt. As much as I hate liars, a good one can be seductive, if they tell you what you want to hear.

I’ve met a few liars in my time: twisted individuals pretending to have terminal cancer, a woman who covered her own inability to do her job with increasingly absurd bare faced lies, a man who pretended to have committed a murder and a boy who pretended to be a Russian with limited English. I know they’re clearly not well and have some defect but to be honest I really can’t be bothered with them. They irk me.

Right, enough typing: my private jet is waiting and I’ve a date with Prince Harry. Toodle pip.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ramblings: The Big Horse

Paul told me a joke on Sunday whilst we were playing a hand of Yahtzee. I say Yahtzee but it was Yahtzee with a twist. The twist was that I made disparaging remarks about all the throws he made and insulted his choices. I was losing and I’m not so good at that so added an embittered spin on it. Paul joined in too and parried a few cutting remarks back.

“Knock knock”

“Who’s there?

“Maybe it’s a big horse”

“Maybe it’s a big horse who?”

“Maybe it’s a big horse I’m a Londoner.”

I liked the joke and it was very fitting as we were about to go for a day out in London.

I woke up too early. I think it was Paul’s neighbours’ children. They seem to have to wear hobnail boots like Victorian waifs; either that or they’re very inconsiderate heavy footed little fuckers. Paul and I dressed and he didn’t disappoint me. Paul was decked out like an eccentric English professor in a striking ensemble of red trousers, green shirt, tie and jumper and a few layers of tweed. He looked fantastic. He’d ignored my advice to wear sensible shoes and was wearing smooth soled brogues. I prepared my “I told you so!” speech in my head.

It was one of those February days which I hate. Old snow had melted and refrozen but not before acquiring the hue of dirt. The roads were flecked with piles of brown and grey slush. Whoever thinks snow is pretty has a short memory. It soon becomes grubby and perilous. I’d fretted for 48 hours that we wouldn’t get to London due to the snow, not because I’d be horribly disappointed but because I was worried I wouldn’t get my money back. I do hate to waste money.

The train was crowded but pleasant and I settled down to read my novel whilst Paul did a Sudoku. I could read in the middle of Piccadilly Circus and not be distracted but the first few minutes of the train journey always prove difficult. I’m easily distracted by the fellow passengers getting on. I hope for eccentrics and oddballs or at the very least fine looking men. I wasn’t disappointed.

Sitting across from us was a very tall lady with an immense Roman nose. She was perhaps six foot two with size 11 feet and hands like shovels. Her nail polish was immaculate though, as was her makeup and hairstyle, a huge pile of russet tresses. She was clad entirely in black, in a short skirt and heels and was escorting a foreign businessman who had limited English. This set me thinking. How would I react were I to be travelling abroad and expecting a lady called Joanne to greet me, only to be confronted with someone who had clearly once been called Joe? Would I manage to hide my surprised expression? What was the businessman thinking about his companion? This kept me occupied for some time which was good as my novel was rubbish. I decided to give it till page 100.

The train arrived in London and the transsexual tapped my arm and I looked up at her. She complemented me on my bag (a 1950s leather satchel) and I felt instantly guilty for not just accepting her without a second glance and for feeling wry amusement at someone with such manly features who was decked out in such dainty garb. She was sweet.

London was fun. I enjoy the tube trains, the crowds and the architecture. They never fail to entertain me even when I’m in the dreariest mood. We schlepped to the Victoria and Albert Museum which was a little disappointing. I do this all the time. I imagine places to be spectacular. In my head the Eiffel Tower was amazingly high and granite grey. I was gutted to find it was a dull brown colour and covered in wire netting. Saint Paul’s was too small, The Coliseum too derelict, the Louvre didn’t have enough paintings I liked. In my head, the museum would be crowded with gorgeous artefacts. In reality it is crowded with gorgeous artefacts but I’d set my bar too high as ever. We enjoyed it nonetheless. The odd thing about my expectations is that I’d been there before. I forget quickly too. The thing that made me smile most (apart from the Art Deco treasures) was seeing a man wearing a lovely coat which had a detachable cape.
I did get one of my urges. There was a row of busts on plinths just waiting for someone to push them down. I loved Domino Rally as a child. It was tempting but maybe not a good idea. Standing outside for a cigarette, a man waved a newspaper dramatically at me to waft away the smoke as he passed. It was a faint plume of smoke. I was restrained enough not to chase after him and shove the aforementioned newspaper up his arse.  

We walked a lot, stopping off at Harrods just to laugh at the exquisitely tasteless memorials to Princess Diana. I was inclined to adopt a Lady Di cow-eyes pose for a photo but resisted for fear of being ejected. We walked more, drank coffee and ate in Soho before going back to the station. The time goes quickly when I’m with Paul. I like that. Paul took my photo outside the Victoria and Albert. He asked me to move slightly and by doing so framed the shot, unbeknownst to me, under a sign saying “Beautiful and Interesting” I like that he thinks that. I’m not so sure I am. I posed for a photo in a seedy alleyway in Soho under the neon signs, cigarette between my lips and pelvis tilted forward. I think it suited me.

I pondered about how London is no longer such a spectacle but has become familiar and is as such tired in some ways but more interesting in others. It reminded me of relationships, the initial novelty wearing off to reveal something hopefully more solid and fascinating but in different, less showy ways. I recalled the first time I came to London on a school trip. It was 1986 and I was 14. We were dragged round the stock exchange and the Imperial War Museum, before being released to entertain ourselves for 4 hours before meeting up back at the station. I can’t imagine that happening now, sadly. We all scurried off, released to wander about and do whatever we wanted. Unfortunately our imaginations were limited and we traipsed round larger versions of the shops we had back at home, but in Oxford Street. We all got back to the station on time.

The journey home was spent playing cards. We only know one game, Rummy. I reached page 100 of the dull novel and came to the conclusion that I often reach, which is that life is too short for bad novels. I abandoned it as promised and felt a shiver of panic at having no decent book to read. The card game clamed me down and we came home. I love a day out.