Monday, 30 April 2012

Ramblings: Unsolicited Advice

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never learned to drive. I tried it once and wasn’t keen. Consequently I have to travel on public transport a lot. I get incredibly bored on buses. Trains aren’t so bad as I can read, but buses bore me senseless. I get horribly nauseous if I try to so much as glance at a book. I while away the time eavesdropping and observing people.

I’ve always liked being helpful from quite an early age and I combine my horror at people and their ways, with a desire to correct and assist. I’ve long toyed with the idea of giving anonymous advice via post-it notes. When encountering the truly misguided I’m so tempted to give advice and the subtle note popped discretely into a pocket or open handbag would surely do the trick.

For example: there’s a man I see on the bus often who I call the Wolfman. He has copious body hair which sprouts from his collar, shirt sleeves and ears. It’s thick and black and looks almost matted. He’s an attractive man otherwise of perhaps 40. I long to extol the virtues of the Body Groomer to him. Sure, it would take him an hour or so a week but what well spent time that would be. His life would be so much better.

There’s a lovely looking boy who gets on the bus who wears the most badly chosen clothes. If you’ve got a slightly broader bottom then the skinny jeans and skin tight tee-shirt look isn’t for you. It draws attention to malformations. There’s a very pretty girl who’s a real beauty or would be if her face wasn’t plastered in orange make-up. She just needs a note telling her that sometimes less is more. There’s plenty of time to plaster the make-up on when you get older and have stuff to hide.

How about the people who occupy two seats? Surely it would be helpful to slip them a note telling them that they need to exercise better manners? The malodorous? Wouldn’t you appreciate a note telling you about your rancid body odour rather than being blissfully unaware? The shouty voiced, the bad grammar users and the uncouth? It would benefit us all if they were made to consider their ways. The women who don’t seem to realise that their heads have backs as well as fronts when they style their hair?

I don't just want to criticise. I want to pop a reassuring note in the pocket of the downtrodden teenage boy who gets on the bus each day with his over bearing mother. He will escape her one day and needs to know this. I want to tell the very shy looking woman that she really is very pretty and to tell the really sad looking man that things will almost definitely not feel this bad forever.

I know I’m not perfect myself. I wear bad clothes, forget to trim my ear hair, perhaps sometimes have a lingering whiff of cigarette smoke, but wouldn’t I appreciate these things pointing out? I’ve been on the lookout for a decent moisturiser with a mattifier that really works for years. I’d hug the man or woman who popped me a note recommending a viable solution to my shiny nose.

I have however decided not to pursue the unsolicited advice. On reflection it perhaps says a lot about me and my perfectionism. It’s also perhaps a sort step away from fascism. Maybe that’s how Hitler started. perhaps the sad man just has a sad face, maybe the Wolfman likes being lupine and hirsuite and maybe it's better not to know if you do smell a little noxious. I’ll just sit and quietly ponder and keep my notes to myself.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Ramblings: Scar Tissue

I’m not sure that this post is going to win me any friends at all but I feel the need to come and say it: I absolutely hate tattoos. All of them.

I’m not sure if it’s ingrained in me from my 1970s upbringing, when the only people who had tattoos were those who’d been in prison or worked as sailors, but I find them distasteful. Tattooed people were avoided and seen as a bit dodgy. They were the domain of the sort of men who hung about in rough backstreet pubs, smoking filter less cigarettes and selling knocked off items. They were a sign that you’d done a spell inside. Tattoos on women were completely unheard of and unlikely to be seen outside of young offender’s institution.

I’ve seen plenty of inappropriate tattoos on old people during my career. There’s nothing quite like reaching 80 and having a tattoo of a distorted naked woman up your forearm. She may have looked like Betty Grable in the 1950s but now she’s more likely to look Bette Davis as she looks now. Saggy skin, changes in pigmentation and faded ink combine to give a less than attractive look.

My two favourite tattoos were the one where the man had random letters on his fingers which when combined asked if you wanted sex. He told me it often worked for him. I can’t imagine where. I wonder if it was at Henley Regatta or in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot? On a similar vein, I met a man once who had a tattoo saying “Suck my dick” on his abdomen. Thoughtfully, he’d also provided an arrow in case you didn’t know where dicks are normally situated. I do like people who are helpful.

My parents both got tattooed on their 50th birthdays, seeing it as something shocking and fun to do, to prove they were still alive. To my mind, it just proved that they were still without taste or boundaries. My brother has a couple of tattoos which date him as being active in the 1990s. He chose Celtic bands which were fashionable at the time. That’s the trouble with tattoos. You can’t take them back and change them for another one once they go out of style. Look at all those poor suckers who are now scarred with hideous pastel blue dolphins and cheeky cartoon characters which they must surely wish would morph into something more current. Not only do society’s tastes change as we get older but ours do too. Surely no one would choose their wardrobe for the next 50 years at age 20? Yet people choose a permanent body adornment without thinking that their tastes and style may well evolve as they get older.

I remember at school, at the start of term, having lovely pristine exercise books and loving how pure and neat they looked. After a few weeks of stultifying boredom I’d begin to doodle, drawing what I considered attractive patterns over the covers. Within days the books would be ugly, scrawled over and have lost their beauty. That’s what I see the psychology of tattoos as. You take something nice and doodle on it and then wish you hadn’t.

If I was a canny businessman, then the business I’d set up now is tattoo removal. It’s going to be massive, surely. I’d make a million. Either that or a cosmetic ear repair store for those people who are choosing to stretch their ears like they belong to an ancient tribe. Now that’s something I can’t even begin to try to work out.

Ramblings: Pointless Activities

I’ve remained largely absent from here this month again, mainly due to neck and upper back pain. It’s driving me quite mad. I miss writing. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that this has gone on too long and decided that I need to do the sensible thing and see a doctor, so on Tuesday I’ll be trekking to the surgery with my tales of woe. If only I still had that holy water from Lourdes which I stole from my grandmother in the 1980s. I could douse it on my neck. Maybe the doctor will have a magic cure and I’ll be back to prolific blogging.

I’ve had some good things happen with regard to writing which frustrates me even more when I can’t do it. I hate not writing. I have so much to say!

I had an article published on the Mind website which elicited a good few comments and I was proud to have it accepted. I’ve also been shortlisted to the final ten for a regional writing competition for a short story which I wrote last month. Exciting times. Not sure I’ll win or even come as a runner up but being in the top ten is good enough for now.

I’ve also been to an audition to be on TV quiz show, Pointless. I love a good teatime BBC quiz and have never before plucked up the courage to even contemplate going on one. I especially love Pointless. It appeals to the inner nerd in me and I love trying to get an obscure answer. It’s also quite a friendly and funny show. I suspect if I did go on the show I’d be hopeless and would be bewildered at being in the presence of the two hosts. Alexander Armstrong looks a little bit like Paul (although is slightly less classy) and Richard Osman reminds me of my therapist. This could spell trouble if I end up on the TV show as I may get confused and try to snog one of them and tell the other one about my troubled childhood.

It was the idea of my good friend David, my partner in cynicism and delighting in all things twisted. He got the application forms for the show and it took me a while to come round to the idea. I still can’t believe we even got selected to audition. The audition was a little surreal, held in a generic corporate suite in a chain hotel in Nottingham.

The researchers were way too young and obviously also finding their “buzzing” jobs in media which they must have initially been so proud of, a bit of a chore. They ran us through an audition with ill concealed boredom and what appeared to be lingering hangovers. The other couples seemed pleasant (gay vicars, teenage boys and some blue stocking girls) but the selection process seemed a little random. We did however win the mock game of Pointless thanks to David’s knowledge of Jack Nicolson films and NATO countries and my (embarrassing knowledge) of 1980s Cliff Richard songs.

I’m not sure we’ll get on the show but who knows? If we do, then we get a free couple of days in London and the chance to win very little money. If we don’t then we won’t run the risk of national humiliation. Either way is good!

Keep following, I’ll post when I’m able.

Ramblings: A Suspicious Blemish

I did wonder when we arranged the first date why we had to meet so far from home. Especially, as he only lived two streets away. I suppose I was more naïve at the time but I believed him when he told me that he and his wife were separated, she was fine with him coming out as gay and that they only lived together for the sake of his three children. I think the fact that he met me in a town 30 miles away suggested that was a lie.

He was late thirties, not too bad looking, although a bit fleshy round the face with a slight double chin. He was tall at least, well spoken and a professional. He was a doctor. I’d met him on the internet and we’d arranged to meet up. I was just emerging from a damaging twelve year relationship and ready to meet someone genuine and decent. I’d met plenty of doctors in my workplace but had never dated one. I always thought that sex with a doctor would cause me insecurity. Is the lingering caress on your thigh passion or has he found a tumour? Is that sneaky finger checking an enlarged prostate? Is he hugging me or palpating my spleen? Every opportunity for passion would potentially be quashed by my hypochondria.

The date went well. We ate a nice meal, went for a walk and chatted. He was attractive and interesting, if a little bit wet and mildly lacking in humour. He offered to drop me home. I think that as it was dark he could now be seen with me without fear of his wife (who clearly wasn’t OK with the whole gay thing) seeing us together.

He offered to take a detour on the way back to show me a local beauty spot where the views over the surrounding area were spectacular. I went along with this, knowing full well what his agenda was. I’m sure the beauty spot did have lovely views but I suspect they weren’t that stunning on a misty November night. There was only one view I got when we parked up in a deserted track (I won’t elaborate on what it was). I also got a dubious stain on the lapel of my coat. We did see some beautiful deer springing across the tracks as we drove back though which was enchanting. I love deer and had a poster of Bambi on my wall as a child. Bambi rocked.

I suppose one should always expect the married man to lie and this way not be disappointed by them. He did lie a lot but I forgave him as he seemed pretty messed up. It must be an anxiety causing situation for a married man to be secretly gay. I don’t condone the behaviour of such men though, as the anxiety and distress their wives experiences must be immense too.

We met a couple more times and it wasn’t great. He was a clumsy lover, rutting and bucking like a frisky goat (is this what straight women have to tolerate?) and often weeping with shame after he reached orgasm, which can be disheartening and less than romantic.

The final straw was the time we were engaged in an intimate procedure (aka “at it”) and he decided it would be a good moment to comment on a large mole I have on my stomach. He suggested I get it checked out as it could be cancerous. This was mentioned casually midway through the proceedings. I did get it checked. It was fine. I never saw him again.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Ramblings: World Book Night

 This post was featured yesterday on the Mind website:

It’s World Book Night on the 23rd of April. Last year I dashed round the hospital I work in, giving out free books to harassed shift workers on a Saturday night. This year I’ve been lucky enough to be selected again and will give out fiction to local cinema goers, fellow book passengers and random strangers in the street.

I love the idea of promoting reading. For me fiction has been a life line for my mental health from an early age. I come from a family of voracious readers and we were always encouraged to read. Often the four of us would be in disparate corners of the house immersed in books and the house was always full of novels.

For me, fiction provided an insight into the minds of others and it was a revelation for me that I wasn’t the only one suffering from anguish and distress. As a child, I tended to be apprehensive and worried, experiencing anxiety at things others considered common place or mundane. As I grew older my anxiety increased and I graduated to being a messed up teenager with a penchant for sleeping, occasional substance abuse and prolonged dark moods. I first experienced a bout of depression in my mid teens and reading was my coping mechanism.

I started to experience searing anxiety and disturbing thoughts about how bleak life felt. I withdrew, lost my confidence and couldn’t socialise as I usually had. The only time I felt I could lose myself was in a good book. I’d read compulsively, devouring book after book, to distract myself from feeling so worried and negative. I’d emerge every so often to go to the library and get more books. It felt like reading helped me through by allowing me to relax and be somewhere else.

An added dimension for me was that reading fiction allowed me to see inside other people’s heads. A well written novel conveys the world from a different perspective. It’s like seeing through the eyes of another person. What I found (and still often find) is that this taught me that my experiences weren’t uncommon. I gained comfort from reading about other people’s emotional struggles. I discovered that fictional characters can experience random anxiety which rips them apart, searing depression which puts them under the covers in their beds and mental unease which they struggle through. It felt inclusive for me to discover that maybe my experiences were more universal than I first thought. I also found that, often, books which depict depression or anxiety well are written by those who’ve experienced it themselves too.

I went on to suffer more severe depression and anxiety in later life and at times lost the ability to experience much pleasure. If I lose interest in reading that’s always a bad sign for me and an indicator that I need to stop and scrutinise what’s going on and think about relapse prevention. During bleak episodes of depression I would see a return to reading as a sign things were looking up.

I’m a keen advocator of reading fiction, whether it’s brutally real or totally escapist. It definitely has a therapeutic effect for me.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Ramblings: Love For Sale

One of the things I like about getting older is that I have more confidence when it comes to tackling bad behaviour and injustice (or what I perceive as injustice). This definitely wasn’t the case in my teenage years. I was a quiet boy then.

My partner at the time had a habit of collecting waifs and strays. That’s what happens when you spend all your time in pubs. Getting drunk makes the most inappropriate and bizarre people seem likeable and suitable to invite round to your abode. He had a coterie of day time drunk friends who would poll up at our tiny flat at all hours for coffee, much to my displeasure.

Barry was working and I wasn’t which was a first and didn’t happen again as long as we were together. I had been doing a temporary job which ended and it took a further four weeks for me to find a new job. I was 18, we were living in a really run down flat and any money Barry earned went on cigarettes and booze so we weren’t at all well off. I was hunting for work but for a school dropout with little experience there wasn’t much about. Consequently I was in the flat a lot, which for me was fine. There was library nearby, we had a black and white portable TV with a coat hanger for an aerial and I enjoyed being alone. Sadly, my peace was intruded upon by Marcus.

Marcus was in his late twenties, quite plain and more than a little bit creepy. He’d been a drag act briefly. I’m not sure what your experience of female impersonators is, but there are grades. Marcus was quite low grade. His act had consisted of him lip-syncing to lots of Shirley Bassey songs, pulling a large dildo from under his dress whilst miming to bawdy songs or wearing a wedding dress he’d bought at Oxfam whilst playing a scratchy record of “It Could Have Been Me”. He wasn’t especially talented and sadly he wasn’t especially enthusiastic either. He had sporadic bookings. I don’t think he often performed in the same place twice.

Marcus had disappeared for six months and turned up stating he’d come back from London where he’d worked as a male prostitute. He bumped into Barry in a bar full of low-lifes and on discovering I was home alone a lot, set about plaguing me constantly.

He’d turn up around 11am, eat all my biscuits, smoke my cigarettes and drink my coffee. I’d sit politely, an eye on my neglected novel, wishing he’d leave. He rarely did, but would stay all day, chatting away inanely. I was far too meek to tell him to leave. I couldn’t even rustle up any good excuses as to why I had to leave either.

He’d often plonk himself beside me on our hideous plastic settee which was a nauseating green imitation leather and left you stuck to it in warm weather. His podgy fingers would creep towards my thigh and I’d have to jump up and make yet more coffee to avoid him. Barry laughed about it and said he was harmless and that I was being too delicate by far.

The only positive things about Marcus were his tales about London. He’d regale me with anecdotes about the punters he’d serviced which absolutely fascinated me.

“So, let me get this straight...he paid you just to watch him masturbate whilst he was wearing a glove puppet?”

“So, he dressed as Barbra Streisand and licked jam off your buttocks but then what...?”

I expect the reality was far less appealing and much more degrading. He was an inveterate liar. One day, after three weeks of him sponging off me and scoffing all my Fruit Shortcakes, he appeared carrying a bag full of goodies. He had cakes, pies and cigarettes and had even bought me a bottle of wine. I was dubious when he said he’d been paid but assumed he was renting again and accepted the gifts of his labours.

A few days later he turned up again and this time had no goodies. I was pretty broke and low on cigarettes and finally plucked up the courage to object as he took his tenth cigarette from my packet. He apologised, told me to grab my coat and he’d get us some money. I was a little nervous. I had no plans to enter a life of vice and wondered where he was taking me. I went along anyway. We walked a little way and came to a nearby garage, quite a rundown place, and Marcus rang the bell. A nervous middle aged man came out of an office and looked less than pleased to see Marcus. He had a patina of sweat on his face and was trembling slightly. Marcus spoke to him. I couldn’t hear what he said but could see that the man passed him a wad of notes.

We walked on and I took a deep breath and asked him what had occurred.

“Oh, he sucked me off once and I’m blackmailing him.”

I like to think that if this situation occurred now I’d have marched him back to the garage, made him apologise and give back the money. I’d at least give him a massive lecture. Shamefully, I was too meek to do anything but gawp. We went for a lovely lunch but I felt a little sick.

Luckily Marcus disappeared again soon afterwards. He also fell out of favour when he offered to find me a job. He wanted to be my pimp. Oddly Barry wasn’t impressed with that one. I got a job at Woolworths soon afterwards. The pay wasn’t so good but there was free pic ‘n’ mix and no body fluids.

I saw him years later in a nightclub in another city. He was living with the club owner and seemed to have landed on his feet again, through foul means I don’t doubt. I recall he was wearing no shirt, jeans and a fur coat with a massive pair of dark glasses on and a Day-Glo whistle round his neck (it was the early 1990s; people did that kind of thing). I remember feeling gratified that however much money he got, by whatever means: he would never have taste.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Ramblings: A Note From My Mother

I’ve been conspicuously absent for the past few weeks and I’ve bloody missed writing about stuff on here. I’ve got so much to say. Sadly, it wasn’t hedonistic pleasure keeping me away but a painful neck. I know I keep rolling out this excuse but this one runs and runs.

It all started in 2004. I went to bed at night feeling fine and woke up the next morning with my neck cricked to one side, like some kind of gay mutant pirate with a vacant shoulder space ripe for a parrot to land on. We were off to London that day to see The Scissor Sisters in concert. I loaded up on painkillers and gingerly stepped on to the train clutching my painful parts. It was a painful day, nauseating pain that seared through my arm and face but it gradually died down and my muscles loosed thanks to a cocktail of painkillers.

We were in London overnight and decided to do something we’d never done before (or will again), namely, visit Madame Tussauds. I preferred Louis Tussauds in Blackpool with its hideously deformed dummies which bore no resemblance to anything human, never mind a celebrity. I enjoyed guessing who they were before being proved wrong on looking at the hastily typed labels. “Is it Elton John? Oh, no...It’s the Queen.”

There was an amazing Rose West head too which I thought was pure class, as well as a mechanical tableau of the girl from “The Exorcist” in the scene where she spews the pea soup and shouts “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!” Naturally I had to shout this for her and got a few glares. Madame Tussauds was dull by comparison.

We trotted through past a Simon Cowell and a Britney and eventually came to a thing which was a horror walk. It warned not to enter if you had a nervous disposition. I have a nervous disposition.  We were only a few minutes in and I was all jittery after a man jumped out on us and a woman soaked in fake blood stroked my face in the semi-darkness. A huge bloke in a tattered strait jacket ran at me with a meat cleaver and suddenly my neck went again. It’s never been the same since. I enjoyed the gig but saw it from a sideways view as I was stuck in a spasm.

I’ve spent money on physiotherapy, had free physiotherapy through work, seen chiropractors and osteopaths, been massaged, laid on heat packs, rubbed on creams, popped pills, done exercises, applied cold packs and generally been bloody miserable. I’ve adapted my workspace, done ergonomic assessments and avoided activities that flare it up. I’ve adapted my posture, been taped up to force posture adaptation and ripped the tape off again losing hair in the process. I’ve cycled through a variety of pillow types, worn a collar and not worn a collar. Maybe I should bite the bullet and actually see a doctor about it! Eight years is a long time. It comes and goes but when it’s bad it’s like a toothache down my arm and in my face and I creak and crack like a set of castanets.

Sadly what seems to not help is using the computer. It’s hateful. I love writing and hate to be denied an activity. I will overcome. I think years of slouching over a book, hunching over computers and leaning over the beds of sick people at work have left me misaligned and knotted up. One physio once expressed shock that rather than a sports injury, I had a reading injury. I was very very proud that day. I love my inner nerd.

In my youth, I had aspirations to be a chronic invalid. Not any more, though, it’s incredibly dull. It involves lying on a heat pack for hours watching rubbish television and not the languid hours in a bath chair with a manservant reading aloud to me which I’d hoped for. There’s no airy sanatorium or hunky Swedish masseur to stroke it better. Damn you life for not having me born into a 1930s aristocratic family.

It is on the mend slowly and I’m being cautious. I’ll be here. Sadly for you, this won’t keep me down for long. Right, where did I put those pills and the warm poultice?