Monday, 28 May 2012

Poems: How to Get on in Society

I am endlessly amused by social class. It's what makes Britain great. I love amusing petty snobbery, bizarre rules that make no sense and can never be understood and creaky old traditions. I especially love the Nancy Mitford rules of what is U or Non-U. Nancy wrote a guide explaining which words were utterly unacceptable and gauche and should never be used in Upper Class circles. Apparently, saying "toilet" is pretty much akin to saying the C word in some quarters of society. Marvellous. Paul found me this funny poem which mentions the worst word you could say: serviette. I shudder at the thought.

How to Get on in Society

by John Betjeman

Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
The frills round the cutlets can wait
Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It's ever so close in the lounge dear,
But the vestibule's comfy for tea
And Howard is riding on horseback
So do come and take some with me

Now here is a fork for your pastries
And do use the couch for your feet;
I know that I wanted to ask you-
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes dear?
I'm afraid the preserve's full of stones;
Beg pardon, I'm soiling the doileys
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.

Ramblings: You Keep on Knocking...

What is it with men, mobile phone cameras and their penises? I remember being on a date with a man who once, who during the date showed me a picture of his penis. Apropos of nothing he passed me the phone and showed me the goods. Mind you, it wasn’t a bad one, I must admit. If it had been mine I’d have been especially proud. I wonder if he often showed it during random social encounters like a coffee morning or a hand of Bridge?

In the occasionally horrifying days of internet dating (prior to meeting Paul), I’d often click on someone’s online profile, see a nice face looking back, only to find that the rest of the photos were grisly crotch shots. Worse still would be the profiles of the married men, the not out of the closet men or the shady and shy. They generally had no picture at all and would message you and start a conversation. I’m a little bit shallow, as we all are, and looks do count for something, so would generally ask for a photo only to receive a little dick pic in my inbox a few seconds later. Most of the pictures were like so much meat in a butcher’s shop.

I met Andy through an online site and he seemed acceptable. He sent me pictures of his face which whilst not stunning were not bad enough to scare a toddler. He was a similar age, had a good but dull job and seemed fairly polite. We met for a drink and I quickly realised that his pictures were about 5 years and several stones earlier. It’s a strange thing to do. It’s not like someone isn’t going to notice when you meet them that you’ve suddenly gained a lot of years and weight.

He was polite enough. We chatted freely and whilst he was personable I found him a little bit mundane. He rattled on a lot about his love of a certain type of music that I hate, detailing his favourite songstresses and their incredible vocal ranges. He showed me pictures of his recent decorating projects which were Ikea generic and soulless. I’d already decided not to meet him again when he told me the thing that would have sent me running anyway. He was an ex Jehovah’s Witness.

He’d been thrown out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses when he came out and although now ex-communicated; he still believed in their entire creed and longed to still be knocking on people’s doors. I’ve got nothing against people with strong religious views and try hard to respect them. I just don’t want to date them. I also don’t really want to befriend them or spend any length of time in their company, if they want to discuss their views: anything longer than a minute, maybe.

The date ended and we didn’t kiss. He wasn’t for me. I decided to do the polite thing and just not send a text message or email again. I got home and received three text messages from him. I reconsidered and out of decency, called him and said I thought he was very nice (he was acceptable, in reality) but not for me and didn’t want to meet again. He seemed to understand this and was fine.

He messaged me five times the next day, three times the day after and six times the next. I decided the best policy was to ignore him. I’d been polite enough to state my case and surely he only needed telling once. I felt like my doorbell was being persistently rung. Finally, he tried a new tack.

What would you do if someone had declined a second date, didn’t want to message you and clearly had no interest? Yes. You guessed it. The next logical step is to send a picture of your genitals.

My phone beeped and there it was in all its chubby pink glory. Nestling under a roll of stomach sat a small plump, very pink penis in a nest of straggly pubic hair. Needless to say, this object of delight did not set me racing to call him in spite of his bland personality and conflicting religious views. It merely made me gag. I ignored him. He went away. They usually do.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ramblings: ...and the Living is Easy

It’s officially Summer here in England. It’s been moderately warm for two days after a long period of heavy rain. I’ve downgraded my duvet, sneezed a lot and had a few sticky areas. Every year I forget that I get hay fever until the first sneezing fit.

I always imagine that summer will bring out topless toned studs and beautiful people but sadly it doesn’t. The only topless men wandering around are generally puny chav boys from the local council estate who walk around in nylon tracksuits with their concave white chests and odd coloured nipples on show.

The joys of public transport are suddenly less pronounced. I’m not sure quite how people can smell so bad after two days of heat but somehow they manage it. There are some hideous sights too. Rolls of back fat break free from too-tight tops, yellow gnarled toe nails inch towards the sunlight from grubby sandals and lurid colours abound. Livid sunburn makes my eyes want to shout “Ouch!” There are many people who are better hidden behind bulky coats.

There are good things too, of course. People seem happier, the city looks a bit less dreary and indolence is celebrated. I can freely lounge on the sofa with not a twinge of guilt. It’s too hot to move so reading a book is the only option.

I didn’t relish summertime too much as a child. It meant swollen eyes, a runny nose and a general encouragement to leave my books behind and venture outside and do things. None of these things seemed good. I burn just thinking about the sun. I had ridiculously fair skin and white hair and once ended up hospitalised for a week with sun burn and blisters. I used to get terrible headaches when we went on interminable family fishing trips on hot days and I hated wearing the cap my mother presented me with. This was probably because, coupled with my emaciated frame and pale skin, it made me look I was on chemotherapy and I noted the pitying glances that I received.

I cope with summer now that I’m an adult. Like most British people I like to complain about the weather. It’s our national hobby. I see it for what it is though, now. It’s a transient season that passes all too quickly as life revs up faster and faster the older I get. I try to enjoy it.

Ramblings: I See a Tall Dark Stranger

I went to see Derren Brown perform on Monday and actually really enjoyed the show. He’s gay, an ex-evangelical Christian and demonstrates the cunning tricks that phoney mystics, faith healers and psychics perform to part the gullible from their money. What’s not to like? I’ve never found him especially attractive before but when he ran down our row of seats to speak to someone with the microphone, I have to admit that I had a mild stirring. Maybe he’d beguiled me into that one with his trickery. I’m pretty sure he didn’t interfere with me as I’d arranged my body in a very specific pattern and checked it was all still in place after the show.

He performed a trick where he mind read and spoke to the dead which was pretty convincing. This set me thinking about gullibility, my dislike for all things mystical and psychic and about my own stupidity in the past.

I once got chatting to a man on a gay dating website who claimed to be a psychic medium. This was a shame as he seemed quite nice and I would maybe have liked him otherwise but the revelation of his chosen career lead me to two conclusions: either a) he was insane b) he was a heartless conman. Either way, that’s not for me. I avoided him from there on in.

In 1997 I was working on a general medical ward and we had an old man admitted who was a Romany gypsy. He was a bit befuddled and bewildered and appeared permanently dazed which I suspect was due to his alcohol history. He claimed he could read palms which enticed all the staff to consult him one by one and hold out their palms for a reading. I stupidly succumbed. He sat and stared blankly at my hand, puzzling over the small scar where my dog once accidentally bit me. He gave a mystical look and finally came up with the following gem:

“You’re going to start a haulage company.”

Very puzzling. I don’t drive, hate lorries, don’t even like Yorkie Bars and am a trained nurse. I can’t see that one happening. His second pearl of wisdom was even better.

“You were a troubled youth, weren’t you? However, you found redemption in some kind of sport. It’s a sport or a physical activity. One that you participate in with other men and found joy in doing.”

My goodness. He was spot in. There have been moments in my life where I’ve especially enjoyed participating in physical activities with other men. It wasn’t something I would term as a sport though. It’s certainly not in the Olympics.

A few years later my best friend and I decided that we’d visit a psychic medium whose name we found in the local paper. What can I say as an excuse? We were both mildly troubled at the time and ripe for the picking. I admit we were stupid.

My friend went in first and I sat in the car waiting, smoking nervously. My hypochondria came to the fore. What if she told me I was terminally ill? What if she could sense a tumour or an aneurism? Did i want to know how or when I’d die?

When it was my turn I entered her small parlour and was bemused to see a picture of her spirit guide. He was a Native American in a head dress of course. She was a wizened looking middle aged woman who looked like she’d had one too many cheap ciggies and had the croaky voice to match. I gave her my hard earned cash and she took my watch off me and began to fondle it in an absent minded way. Then the shower of crap began to spew from her mouth. I’ll give you some idea of the conversation:

“You’re very close to your sister.” (Good guess. I’m a gay man. We often love our sisters)

“I don’t have a sister”

“Sister in law?”

“Divorced my brother. Never see her.”


“We’re not exactly close.”

She looked a little exasperated and began a new tack.

“Your car is going to get broken into in the next year.” (Good guess, most men drive)

“I don’t have one”

“Your partner’s car?”

“He doesn’t have one.”

New tack again:

“Your mum has had some ‘women’s trouble’?” (Good guess, I was 30 at the time meaning I probably had a middle aged mum with a dodgy womb)

“No!” (My mum’s womb was fine)

“Your dad has a bad chest?”


“Well, he’s going to get a bad chest!” (My dad’s chest was fine. Oddly she didn’t mention the cancer which was to ravage his bowels and bones and ultimately kill him in a few years time. I think that one might have been more prominent in the spirit world)

“You have a bad knee!”

“No!” (Unlike most men, who often do have bad knees, I’ve never been active enough to mess mine up)

The rubbish spewed on and on and I was getting irritable. She became vaguer and more general in her assertions, making ones I couldn’t dispute. She struck gold once by saying I had my late grandfather’s watch but who doesn’t? Loads of men have their grandfather’s watches. My friend did a survey the following week and most of the men in her office had had watches given to them after a death in the family.

The final straw was the dead baby. I’m not so keen on dead babies. They aren’t nice to have around.

“I know you’re gay love but is there any chance you might have ever impregnated a girl?”

“Erm...NO!” (I retain my virginity for heterosexual sex to this day and I never share baths)

“Oh, OK. It’s just that there’s a dead baby hovering over your shoulder.”

“Really? Can I give it a message?”

“Of course, dear”

“Tell it to piss off.”

I left not long after. I was a little bit cross. Some of what she said could have been damaging had I believed her. Had I been stupid enough, I could have taken on board what she said and worried endlessly about my mother’s womb, my car and my knee. If I had slept with a woman then I may have entered an uncomfortable search to find out if she really had given birth to my baby and then it had died. Nasty stuff. I genuinely believe that grief is healthy when someone dies and the thought of some sick individual making things up makes to part vulnerable people from their cash me fume. It prolongs the grief and is unhealthy and cynical.

A few years later I was gratified to see the medium’s name in the local paper. Amusingly, she’d been caught not paying tax and received a hefty fine. Shame she didn’t see that one coming.

Poems: Atlas

I came across this poem the other day when it was mentioned in a novel I was reading. Absolutely love it. It appeals to my unconventional sense of romance.


by U.A. Fanthorpe

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists
And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds
The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Fiction: Good Advice

Yay! My flash fiction which won the Writing East Midlands award is now on line so I can share it. I'm looking forward to attending the awards ceremony at a local stately home (see the picture above) with my talented friend Bill, who had a huge part in the design and layout of this site. I'm also getting a £100 Waterstones voucher too. Woo hoo. The judge's comments were lovely too. Here's the link to the story:

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ramblings: The Boy with the Curl

When I was a child my parents called me the Boy with the Curl. I’m sure you recall the rhyme, the Girl with the Curl: “When she was good she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid”

I’m not sure I was that different from most children in that I had tremendous mood swings. They were rapidly cycling moods. I could be crying one minute, laughing the next and then in a rage, having a temper tantrum. That’s not so abnormal for a child, unless you’re my parents who labelled it as a weird pathological behaviour to be frowned upon.

I still do it now but sadly my moods last a lot longer. The last few days have been a case in point. I was forced to go on a course through work. It was an utterly hideous prospect; a course about communication skills involving role play workshops. I’m sure the thought of role play makes most people blanch in terror but this course had an added element of horror. The role play lasted an hour and a half and was videoed. It was also done with an actor who was briefed to make life a little difficult for you. The course was mandatory from a health service initiative and being my usual wily self, I’ve managed to avoid it for three years so far. They finally caught me.

My mood began on Saturday tea time and lasted through till this afternoon, gaining momentum as it rolled. The course was held in a golf club. I decided I hated golf more than anything in the world. I decided I hated role play, which is a pretty fair thing. What’s the point in doing role play? It just proves how good you are at doing role play. It’s a vile experience and one to be avoided at all costs. It was held in a small neighbouring town. I decided I hated this town as it smells of Marmite (no, really, it’s where they make it). I decided I wasn’t doing the role play. I decided I hated all actors. I decided that actors who do corporate training courses are one step above bad am-dram and one step below Murder Mystery Train actors in status and as such deserved my disdain. I’ve ranted on Facebook, ranted to poor Paul, stuck my lip out, banged about the house, angrily smoked cigarettes, moaned to my friends, complained to my colleagues and generally been totally and utterly unbearable.

I went to bed in a bad mood, hating my door banging Russian neighbour, who never fetches her washing in (the slattern), more than usual. I woke up in a mood today. I hated the people on the train. I hated the music on my I-pod. I hated the way the countryside looked.

I arrived on the course, unhappy that it had cost me £14 to get there, bitterly cold, hating golfers and hating grass for being so green. I pouted through a few hours of lectures, puffed angrily on cigarettes in the breaks and wondered “WHY THE FUCK WOULD ANYONE BE DULL ENOUGH TO GET MARRIED ON A FUCKING GOLF COURSE?” as I noticed the bridal accessories and adverts for weddings. I munched through a poor selection at lunchtime (meat and cheese based dishes only, which for a cheese avoiding vegetarian isn’t great) and resented the caterers.

In short, I was cross.

I did the role play which involved a scrawny actress with poor skin who stayed in character for the full 90 minutes. It reminded me of the Alan Bennett story, “The Greening of Mrs Donaldson”, which is about people who play volunteer patients for medical students (very funny story which I’ve pasted a link to at the bottom). I watched the videos back as everyone gave constructive criticism and my mood went as fast as it had arrived. I feel fine now.

What a quaint little town it was held in! How green the grass looked and look at the lovely little finches swooping down. I loved the chips we had for lunch. I’m somewhat of a chip connoisseur and these were great. It was a glorious afternoon, all told. So what if I learnt very little? I met some lovely people.

Do you want to know a secret though? I actually love my little moods. Whilst I might be gaining an ulcer, I revel a bit at the fun of it all. Long live the boy with the curl.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ramblings: Laughter Track

I’ve long had the capacity to make myself laugh and although some may see it as a sign of madness, I see it as an amazing bonus that brightens up the dreariest of days.

Random words amuse me. I can be sitting on the bus and think of a word such as “flange” or “petard” maybe and a little smile crosses my face. There’s so much to see around you that will just lift your spirits. One glimpse of the name of the international haulage company, Norbert Desstrangle and I’m more than happy. That must be the best name ever. Surely that’s only been painted onto the side of lorries to make us all happy? It can’t be a real name.

I have those days when amusing things take my fancy. There are days when everywhere I look I see the most hilarious teeth. Over bleached white full sets of perfect teeth make me want to giggle at their hideous absurdity. I especially love those teeth that make the bearer of them look like a vicar from a 1970s sit-com or like they’re breaking in a set of dentures for a horse. I absolutely love a set of protruding teeth. As for an orange fake tan or a lady mullet: I’m uncontrollable if I see a bad one.

Young people make me laugh. I love their youthful swagger and their absurd clothing trends. I love to see them limping through snow and ice in inappropriate grimy canvas shoes, trying manfully to keep their trousers from falling from pre-buttock level to ankle level. I love a crazy hairstyle too. Those young boys who have dramatically swept over partings glued into place, looking like trainee talent show singing contestants, always amuse me. Goths make me laugh with their ultra serious posturing which must be so hard to maintain.

Posh people make me titter. I love a snooty lady who lunches with her ridiculous garb and dismissive attitudes. Old people make me laugh with their crotchety ways and their multiple layers of clothing. Really rough women make me laugh with their bad dye jobs and scraped back hair. Everyone makes me laugh.

I often got asked to leave classes at school because of uncontrolled giggling. Friends took advantage of my tendency to be unable to stop laughing and would pass me notes, flash comical pictures at me or whisper one word. It didn’t take much. My parents’ anger always made me laugh and often earned me extra punishment. People who are angry make me roar with laughter. I don’t know if it’s a nervous reaction or just the fact that they look so ridiculous. Public occasions make me chortle. I’ve tittered my way through prize giving speeches, weddings, funerals, lectures, plays and job interviews.

The fact that Michael Jackson existed makes me howl. Who could have made that one up? Too ridiculous for words. The eighties make me laugh. How could that hideous decade of bad taste ever have existed? Songs make me laugh. I cry with laughter at “Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon”. The name Englebert Humperdinck makes me laugh as does the fact that Princess Anne belonged to his fan club, the Humperdinckers. Princess Anne makes me laugh. I only have to think of her wedding photos to raise a smile.

I know it’s cruel to laugh at others but all I can say is that I take my greatest amusement in myself. I never laugh so much as at my own mishaps. I laugh when I get on escalators the wrong way, stumble up steps, make malapropisms or spoonerisms. I laugh at my own image in shop windows. My own face amuses me endlessly. I have such a comical nose. I’m not elitist about who I laugh at in the slightest.

Ask me on a black day though. If my mood is bad and I’m wearing my brown tinted spectacles then it’s quite the opposite. I’ll tell you about the tragedy and pain I see in everything. Fortunately today isn’t one of those days. I’ll embrace the fact that today is a laughing day. If you hear an annoying tittering in the background it’s probably me.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Ramblings: Skinny Minnie

It was Wallis Simpson who said "You can't be too rich or too thin." I'm not sure she was quite right.

A work colleague has recently lost quite a bit of weight and has taken up running. Boo to the running, that’s no fun, but hooray for the weight loss. She looks amazing and feels loads better. It started me thinking about people’s attitude to weight (and specifically mine) after a snide woman at work collared her in the kitchen and told her that she’d lost too much weight and looked better before. The commenter is one of the worst kinds of snide people, a smiling assassin. She pretends to be all sweet smiles and looks like the kind of woman who’d kick through leaves wearing a woolly jumper with a Labrador dog. She’s actually a bit of a viper underneath all that. I loathe that. If you’re going to be mean then be brave enough to wear your heart on sleeve. I admire mean and honest.

In my twenties I was desperately thin and this elicited much commenting. I hated being so thin and hated the comments. I weighed about nine and a half stones and at six foot tall was pretty emaciated. I ate fair amounts of food and was continually ravenous. I think that the nervous energy of youth kept me slim. I also got almost too much exercise. I walked to and from walk (35 minutes each way), walked the dog each day (45 minutes) and worked on a really chaotic hospital ward. This involved lots of lifting of old ladies and running up and down frantically. I also smoked a lot of Marlboro.

My ribs would stick out and it would hurt to lie down. Bus seats and benches dug into my bony behind. I also looked a little drawn, although my cheekbones were amazing. I had to buy belts meant for adolescent boys and my trousers bagged out unattractively at the rear. The weird thing was that people think they can comment on skinniness and it isn’t offensive. They wouldn’t go up to someone and say “Fuck, you’re fat! Lose some weight.” But they always seemed to think it was OK to tell me I was too thin and needed to gain weight.

There seemed to be two assumptions 1) I needed to eat more. They’d tell me this. (aka do you have an eating disorder?) 2) I was ill in some way and needed a check up (aka have you got AIDS or some other wasting disease?). I must admit that after years of people commenting on my lean cuisine figure so frequently, I would occasionally play up on this. It made me chuckle to examine biscuit packs for calorie contents and then nibble at the edge of one gingerly. I did the consumptive cough well. I loved the after meal visit to the loo with a quick moist eyed dab at the mouth as I returned. Life’s irritations can be borne so much more readily when one makes them into a comical little game to amuse oneself. All the better if you’re the only one playing and the only one who knows the rules.

People still comment on my weight a lot. I weigh two stones more now and am a healthy 11 and a half stone. My Body Mass Index is mid range. I have a tiny bit of back fat, a small amount of chest flesh and a tiny belly which I’m quite proud of. This all seemed to appear at around age 30 and has stayed ever since. The odd bout of madness or crazy drinking benders of the past has knocked off the odd stone or two through lack of nutrition, but it bounces back. I never ate a morsel when I was drinking and low mood and anxiety were an effective slimming aid for me. My mouth and stomach would reject all food.

Maybe it’s being male in a female dominated environment. You can say what you like about a man’s looks. It doesn’t matter. Maybe I’m too affable and people feel they can say whatever they wish. Whatever it is, I get comments quite frequently. I’ve either lost weight, gained weight or am looking well, looking drawn etc etc. I suppose it could just be concern. As a sign of present madness and low mood was always huge weight loss then maybe it’s nice to have people notice or care if you’re wasting away. I’ll tolerate it with a smile, for now.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Ramblings: This is a Man's World

I was watching a documentary on TV last week about the 1970s and I was a little shocked to be reminded that until the mid 1970s it was actually perfectly legal to offer a job at two rates of pay: one for men and one for women. It seems so antiquated and archaic yet this is such recent history. I do wonder however if we think we’re further on than we already are. I know that, as the country song goes, sometimes it’s hard to be a woman but for me, it’s also a hard time to be a man.

Growing up as an effeminate boy in a 1970s working class family in an inner city area, I was always acutely aware of the constraints of gender roles. I was constantly reminded of this as a child and derision waited round every corner at home, at school or on the streets if you dared to cross the boundaries of what was behaviour suitable for your assigned gender role.

I hated sports, getting dirty or any kind of roughness. This revulsion oat these things lead to frequent criticism. People would ask me what football team I supported and I’d go dumb, unable to even fake an answer. I’d be laughed at at school for avoiding the break time sporting activities and my dislike of climbing trees or romping in dirt was regarded as suspicious and odd.

I was an imaginative child and loved dolls’ houses, toy castles and my miniature hospital. They were exciting in that they opened up the opportunity to act out the stories I was making up in my head. I liked the idea of order, nurture and human relations. I’d act out domestic scenes with teddy bears and little Playmobile people, the closest thing I was allowed to dolls, trying to figure out how people interacted and behaved. I liked to care for things and parent them, nurturing our poor Hitler look-alike cat who was an unwilling participant and made a very bad baby. Under my bed there was a treasure trove of toys which were considered appropriate for young boys (Meccano, Scalextrix, Subbuteo) and under the bed gathering dust was where they remained. The toys I liked or would have liked were forbidden from me and I quickly learnt not to ask for a toy cooker or tea set. Maybe my current obsession with 1950s china stems from this.

I recall being 7 years old and seeing a television program about nurses and quite liking the idea of looking after sickly people. I vocalised my wonder at what a lovely job this seemed and was told that actually it wasn’t an option as nursing was a job for girls. Nursing was considered to be a woman's job to such an extent that the word was almost synonomous with female and if a man was a nurse he was referred to as a male nurse rather than "a nurse". I bore the title "Matron" for a period of time at work, in spite of it actually meaning "married woman".

So, everything is different now. We’re enlightened and liberated, aren’t we? No one would dream of paying women less than men and it’s enshrined in the law? Hmmm, now let’s take nursing for example. It’s a low paid job compared to other professions in the emergency services such as the police or fire service. This applies to most of the traditionally female dominated jobs. The glass ceilings exist still. Society demonises and fears female sexuality still, there’s still oppression of women in the home and workplace and inequality abounds.

What interests me though is that people who nominally support and advocate rights for women still exhibit prejudice and staunchly uphold gender roles. It’s bloody hard being a man who isn’t very manly.

If a boat sinks, I get to go in the lifeboats after the women have taken their turn at grabbing at life? I suspect a lot of the women would be stronger than me and am certain that most of them would be better swimmers as I swim like a drowning dog with a muscular disorder. If I have a cold I instantly get told I have “man-flu” whether I’m complaining or not? Oh, I see. Men are automatically very weak, mardy and prone to exaggerating illness. I get that. It’s so enshrined in culture that even TV adverts refer to the failure of men to cope with illness. It really is a very sensible viewpoint and of course is hilariously funny to say and not at all banal or offensive. I loved the one time I had genuine influenza and a high fever, muscle aches and weakness. It was lovely to be constantly asked if I had “man-flu” when actually I had flu and was struggling to stay awake for more than a few hours a day. Let’s face it; the whole man flu thing is about as witty as a dead hedgehog. Why not drop it and stick to something more witty and original like laughing at ginger people or the disabled?

How about the even more original concept of men dressing badly as women and it being absolutely freaking hilarious. Goodness, how we laughed. A man in a dress? If only he’d been ginger too!

 Obviously I can't multi task or perform simple domestic jobs. That one drives me crazy. I've wroked on hectic hospital wards for the last 19 years. If I couldn't multi task I think I'd have lasted less than 19 days.

I’m automatically stronger too when it’s needed. I recall being told by a senior doctor once that I must flip an obese woman onto her side unaided so that she could administer a spinal injection. When I objected at this and asked for help to turn the poor lady over I was asked “what is the point of having male nurses if they can’t even do the heavy physical work?”

I’m weird because I can’t do DIY, hate sport and don’t like the outdoors. I’m a tad feeble. Gender roles are so strongly entrenched in society that we struggle to allow people to deviate still.  

I embrace my feminine side. I can cry at films, talk about nice cushions and not feel shame. It’s taken me a while though to shake off the residual feelings of shame drummed into me throughout my childhood but bloody hell, it's liberating. It's also extremely liberating to challenge people's bizarre gender assumptions and dull remarks. Try it.

Right, where's that men's liberation march? I'm burning my Calvin Kleins.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Ramblings: This Little Piggy Went to Market

I had a brilliant night’s sleep last night. I went over to see Paul and we saw the Matthew Bourne ballet “The Nutcracker”. It was amazingly camp and cheeky. Lots of subversion of the plot, ravishing scenery, rampant homoeroticism and the men were gorgeous (plus Paul was by my side). What more could I ask for? I do love Matthew Bourne’s stuff.

We got back and played a game of Yahtzee, I had a mug of Horlicks and we retired by eleven. Life is exciting when you don’t drink. I slept like a log as I often do when I’m not alone. Paul greeted me this morning with an offer of boiled eggs. My love of eggs and my need for lattes is one of the only reasons I’ve not gone vegan yet. Pretty fundamental reasons, I suppose as eggs and milk would be the things I’d forsake.

Paul coerced me into going to the local Saturday market and auctions and I was oddly tempted by this offer. I was foolish. Paul’s intention was to photograph things for his art work. This got him some unwanted attention. Fact: dodgy market traders are wary of people photographing the stolen goods they are flogging or of their faces being on camera.

The first part of the market is a massive store of army surplus supplies. I never trust people who wear army gear in civilian life. Show me a man in a camouflage jacket and I’ll show you a psychopath with a secret arsenal of weapons and a homemade pipe bomb. There’s something very dodgy about these enthusiasts. It was a vast but sinister and dismal collection of tat. There were night vision goggles, gaffer tape rolls, gun holsters and disused military wear. It sent a shudder down my spine. Unless these things are for fetishist sex then they have no reason to be sold, surely? I feared for my life and I suspect that the man who may well be about to commit the next atrocity was perusing that store. I looked suspiciously at the other customers. I’ve memorised all their faces and will do identikits later on.

The next section was an area where people appeared to have emptied skips onto the road and be selling the contents. It was dire. Rusted old tinned food, discoloured rugs, broken toys and battered electrical goods. The list of useless crap on offer was endless. A butcher was selling cheap meat over a loudspeaker, a selection of out of date food was on offer and the place had an air of dire desperation.

The auction houses were more salubrious, apart from one. There was one selling small items (ornaments and tat), one selling old furniture (some of which was quite decent) and another selling new furniture (most of which was quite hideous). The wide boy auctioneers fascinated me as did the punters. There were a few young middle class couples nosing round for an old Belfast sink or a dresser and a lot of dodgy looking old men and world weary women. The interesting auction house was the one selling miscellaneous items. I’d love a go at being the auctioneer in there. It would go something this:

Here we have a Sat Nav which is probably knocked off and almost certainly won’t work. Do I have £10? £10 to the lady with the skin like orange leather. Do I have £12? £12 to the man with the badly designed facial tattoos. £14 to the man who looks a bit paedy. £16 to the man who you’d run away from very fast if you saw him on a dark night. Do I have £18? £18 to the woman with the miniature yellow teeth who smells of chip fat and damp dogs.  Do I have £20? £20 to the young man in the white shellsuit who has a look that screams “Borstal!” Do I have £22? No? All done at £22? You have been.

Thankfully we then went to cleanse our souls at an exhibition of modern art, followed by a nice lunch. I do enjoy a day out with Paul and oddly, he seems to enjoy my company too which is just perfect.

Ramblings: Links You'll Like

One thing that really helped me when I was experiencing depression was gaining information. I’ve always been a person who likes to know stuff and I stand by the saying “Knowledge is power” I know the internet is a scary place and that not all the stuff contained here is reliable when it comes to factual accuracy so I though I’d post a few links which I’ve found useful. I also advocate learning as much as you can about what’s wrong and what’s available to help (if you’re well enough to do that). I hate the thought of people being in the dark about what’s out there and suffering in silence.

1) This is a great website written by a bloke from New Zealand who’s a filmmaker, journalist and songwriter and happens to have experienced bipolar. He writes very eloquently about mental health issues and is very informative with a slant towards issues which particularly affect gay and bisexual men and the site is updated regularly and carefully. He’s also got a razor sharp wit.

2) This website is packed with information about mental health disorders and also links to a telephone and email helpline which can be invaluable for anyone in crisis. They run some great campaigns too and feature forums and blogs (including a blog post by me!) too.

3) This relatively new website was founded by the amazing Ruby Wax. I love the fact that Ruby has taken on the concept of knowledge being power to such an extent. She’s now making major inroads into serious academic study and promotes her knowledge through her performances and through this brilliant website. If you get to see her show “Losing It” then do. It’s fantastic. Her work in promoting the cause of mental health is inspiring. This site has got so much stuff on offer including forums, blogs, information pages and regularly updated articles (oh and a blog post by me!)

4) One of the original and best websites which is packed with information and links. Mind run some superb campaigns too and I’m all for fighting the corner when it comes to mental health issues (oh and there’s a blog post by me!)

5) love this campaign site which advocates ending mental health discrimination by talking more about mental health (it doesn’t contain a blog post by me yet but I’m working on it)

One of the most useful things for me when I was severely ill was to be in contact with other people who understood what was happening too. Mental illness is horrific at times and can be very isolating and terrifying. I met some inspirational people over the internet via sites like Blackdogtribe, who helped me enormously.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Ramblings:The Olympic Shames

I have to say it. I am less than thrilled at the prospect of the Olympic Games. I struggle to understand most sport and what the appeal of either playing it or (even more mysteriously) watching it is. I can never follow the storyline, the characterisation is dull and it’s often done outdoors in a draft. There are so many weird mysteries: why listen to sport on the radio? Isn’t it a very visual thing? Why do people get all jingoistic and over excited? What’s with all the sudden bursts of over blown nationalism?

I’ve always hated sport. I hate the drone of the crowd with its menacing undertones of future violence and aggression. I hate the incomprehensible rules. I can’t even stand to be in a bar or room where sport is playing. If I’m in a taxi where the driver has sport on the radio I have to grit my teeth as the sound of it puts them on edge.

So the Olympics? I love men’s gymnastics and diving as much as the next slightly perverted gay man but apart from the prospect of men in trunks I fail to see the point of it all. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care if a burly Finnish woman can throw a spear further than a burly Russian woman. I don’t care and can’t understand the relevance of it all. Is it that important in 21st century society who can run the fastest? We have cars and stuff. The trains aren’t bad either and you can read when you’re on them.

I totally hate Lycra. 0.001% of the population look good in Lycra. The TV schedules will be stuffed to the rafters with tedious hours of people standing about, running for a few minutes and all the time a man will waffle on abut inconsequential crap. The streets of London will be a no go area and I for one won’t be planning any theatre or gallery trips this summer. I’ll steer well clear.

And the sponsors of the Olympics? Sweet and fast food manufacturers. It’s about as appropriate as Gary Glitter endorsing a new nursery or Rose West extolling family values. As for the Olympics, there's something so dated about it all. It makes me think of the 1970s.

Thank goodness I have such a good collection of books. I can hopefully avoid it all. Well, I could avoid it if it wasn’t already being mentioned every 30 seconds on every form of media. Oh well. Perhaps I’ll hold my own mini-Olympics at home. Anyone up for taking me on in the Benson and Hedges world smoking fume off? How about the Jeffrey Dahmer Cluedo Championship? If all else fails I can at least hope for a high ranking in the Yahtzee event.

Reviews: May 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any reviews of anything at all, which is very remiss. I shall aim to put that right. As usual I’ve been spending way too much time jetting about and seeing stuff and being cloistered with a good book or two, so here’s a few of my favourite things of the last month or so.

Motionhouse: Scattered

This company put on an absolutely amazing dance show which defies description. I saw this at Deda, the brilliant dance centre in Derby, last weekend, and it was awe inspiring. I’ll try to describe it but watch the clip below too as that makes it clearer. The group of dancers performed on and against a huge ramp on which was projected a series of images and films. The dancers ascended, descended and became part of the images. It’s always a worry when a production relies heavily on technology that this will detract from the performance and the technology will be better than the dancing or vice versa, but this was superb. I actually sat open mouthed watching it. Paul loved it too. They’re performing in Birmingham in June for part of the cultural Olympiad so catch them if you can. There’s a link below.

Of all the people I know who saw Scattered, everyone was suitably impressed and they all said how much they’d love a go on the giant ramp. This didn’t even cross my mind. I’m intrinsically fearful of physical activity as ever. I’m happy to watch.

Tiny Furniture

This film made me howl. If you like uncomfortable moments, a glimpse of what it’s like to be the  daughter of a famous artist and sister of an over achiever and relish a hideously uncomfortable sex scene then I recommend this. It appealed to my darker side. I found it hilarious.


I’m a total Francophile. I love the French and their funny little ways. They’re just so not English which is, of course, fantastic. I love their romantic comedies especially. This one is like most of them, full of implausible plot holes and slightly twee in parts but lovely none the less and very moving. I actually almost cried a little bit and my companion wept her mascara off.


One of the first films I ever saw at the cinema was “Candleshoe” starring a very young Jodie Foster in 1977. I was six. We hadn’t chosen this film but in the 70s they often showed two films so we got this one free along with a Disney one. I decided I’d quite like to be her when I grew up, especially if it meant I could be as slinky as Tallulah in Bugsy Malone. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and I like to think that Jodie’s neck is a little scrawnier than mine now anyway. This film is bloody great though. I love a wordy film and this met my expectations. I thought it was very funny.

Shappi Khorsandi

Living in my own little bubble as I do, I’d never heard of Shappi but was lucky enough to catch her at the Leicester Comedy Festival. Definitely a brilliant range of stuff at the festival again this year and I managed to catch a few acts. I’ve never seen her on TV due to my avoidance of comedy shows, especially those hosted by really annoying smug people (aka Michael MacIntyre). I loved her show though. Very quick witted and dark in parts.

Helen Dunmore

She’s a brilliant novelist and poet who won the first ever Orange Prize for fiction and is much overlooked, I feel. She written a lot of books with a historical base for the stories. The thing about her works is her incisive prose. She writes so beautifully that I don’t always care what the plots are. I could just wallow in her words. Not that her plots aren’t stunning. She often looks at the more sinister aspects of the human psyche and does this with aplomb.

The Family Fang

I didn’t expect to like this novel by Kevin Wilson but was sucked in by it. It’s the story of two dysfunctional siblings who are the offspring of two celebrated performance artists. It actually made me laugh aloud with its absurdity but is also quite poignant.