Thursday, 23 August 2012

Ramblings: Anti-social


I have an ambivalent relationship with social networking. I love it and hate it in equal parts. Twitter irritates me. It seems to have a huge element of self promotion and bizarre grandiosity but more importantly, I can’t possibly say what I have to say in that small amount of letters. I’m too verbose to tweet. I need to rant and expound, not chirp a pithy one liner.

The whole concept of social networking, for me, fits in with the whole “Only Connect” concept. Connection with others is what makes life bearable for lots of us. I’ve found out loads of stuff on Facebook which I wouldn’t otherwise have known. People I nod at in the corridor and have never managed to get to know, suddenly become more interesting when I find that we have something in common. I like the glimpse behind the curtains of people’s facades when they rant or rave about something.

The bad things for me on Facebook are the boastfulness, the distasteful over sharing and the pleading attention seeking. You know the kind of thing. Here’s my guide:

1)      “Gail has had enough of it and can’t believe it has happened again.” This is purely meant to elicit curiosity, draw attention and so is best ignored. Do not under any circumstances type back “What’s up babes?” or “((hugs))”. Tough love is the answer. Ignore these people. Knock them off your news feed. Now! You'll feel better for it.

2)      “Sheila can’t believe the cancer is back and she has to have her womb out tomorrow and may be dead on Thursday.” Really? You want to share that with the 300 people on your friend’s list including the woman from the Post office and that cleaner at work with the dodgy eye who you politely accepted a friend request from for fear of causing offence? Maybe it's not so bad if you have a select list of close friends on Facebook but who does that? We all have lots of random people we nod to on there but wouldn't know what to talk about if stuck in a lift together, don't we? One ex-acquaintance updated her status that her mum had died (which was fine) but the status said “R.I.P. Mum who died at 1230am” and was posted at 12.31am. Phew. Speedy work on the laptop there and a small case of inappropriate priorities. One married I knew, publicly split up on Facebook. That was fun for everyone. Seriously, it was fun. I’m not being sarcastic. I love a bit of rancour and airing of dirty laundry. Some of their posts were like lines from "George and Mildred"

3)      Posting pictures of happy toddlers/dogs/husbands/bouquets of flowers or the nice tea you’re having. This is purely meant as an act of spite and is to rub single and miserable, dieting, pet-less people’s faces in your joy. Stop it.

4)      The “everyone” statements: e.g. “Everyone is proud to be British right now!” “Lovely weather for us all” Erm,..maybe but also maybe not. We're not in a Fascist regime or a nation of Stepford wives. Get over your extremism and drop the generalisations.

5)      The “LOL”, the “ROFL” and the embarrassing “PMSL”. These people generally have bad grammar too. They’re strangers to the apostrophe and as for the their/there thing. They should be made to attend classes and also if they really are PMSLing then they need to get that checked out with their local practice nurse. It can be helped by simple bladder exercises and techniques.

Trawl through my social networking accounts and I suspect you’ll also find me guilty as charged on a few of the above (but not the LOL, naturally).

I did go on about my piles once and have often made remarks about my dodgy reltionship break-ups too. When I used to drink to excess, I once also woke up on the kitchen floor after a session to find that I'd somehow written a poorly spelled comment to out a closeted ex. Thankfully a lovely friend saved my honour and sent me a text message suggesting it was an error to post that. That was lucky as I had no recollection of doing it, so thankfully it was only there for a few hours. I would have lost even more of the remaining self respect, which was rapidly ebbing away, had it been up longer. I hate that kind of behaviour too, especially in myself.

I’ll redress the balance now with some truth telling of a different kind:

Social Networking status: Had an amazing time at the nature reserve and saw herons, a weasel and fed the swans. Lovely day and great lunch.

The truth: Yes, I did have a great time. Paul was there, we ate a lunch which was well presented on a balcony over-looking a pond and watched lots of interesting birds. To be honest though, there were only two non-meat options and I ended up with egg mayonnaise again which does get to be a bore. The sun was out and we laughed a lot. What I failed to mention is that I saw a weasel and was absolutely terrified and only just managed to contain my panic. It is after all, an elongated rat. I had a nervousness and protective instinct about my ankles the rest of the walk around the reserve. If I’d had some string I would have tied my trousers at the bottoms.

I saw herons and swans but to be honest the swans were a bit mean faced and all had cuts and scars and were brawling with each other a lot which depressed me slightly. I went in a hut called “The Kingfisher Viewing Area” and saw no fucking Kingfishers, just a sparrow or two. I wanted kingfishers. I didn’t get them. It was sunny but I was battered and tired after 7 shifts at work and it felt a bit stark at times. I sweated a lot. A man told me off for smoking too near the cafe and I almost pushed him off a bridge in rage and stuck my lighter up his arse (but contained myself). I brooded a little about this but not much. Paul’s back was sore and he was fretful about some work he’s got to do for University. Finally, I was bitten to pieces by insects and now have a swelling on my neck like a goitre. It itches like mad and makes me look like an inbred Derbyshire hill person.

Happy now?

I once declared a “truth day” on Facebook and people joined in with gusto, counterbalancing smug posts with reality bites. It’s amazing how many people admitted to being bored at home, having flatulence or sitting around in a baggy old tracksuit watching TV.

So, next time you see a photo and posting about a loved up couple and their happy toddlers, just remember: one of them may well have cheated, one has a persistent fungal infection and they’re yet to find out where the toddler has hidden the turd. It’ll make you feel much happier.

Disclaimer: If you're still on my social networking lists then it's not you I'm talking about. The above mentioned culprits have been removed and my news feed cleansed.

 

 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Ramblings: Freaky Deaky


A good friend of mine leant me an astounding novel called “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn. The novel is a cult classic from the 80s about a travelling freak show. It’s a dark piece, centring on a couple who decide to breed “freaks” to populate their travelling side shows.

The wife of the couple becomes pregnant and takes to hard drugs and smearing herself with insecticide in order to foster deformities. The still born babies go in jars of formaldehyde for the curious public, whilst the limbless, the conjoined and the hunchbacked albino all go on to become circus acts. I warned you it was dark.

Part of the message of the book, for me, was that beauty and perfection don’t guarantee joy and happiness but bring their own special kind of turbulence. The darker bits of the book reveal this but I won’t spoil the plot.

In one of those strange coincidences of life, Paul and I ventured out to a local fair and open air music festival. I was half way through reading the book. Paul had told me there was a sideshow advertising shrunken heads and three eyed foxes but he was taking Champix at the time to try to stop smoking so I hoped this was a hallucination. It wasn’t.

A sinister old Irish man beckoned us in with a crooked finger, took our money and welcomed us to his trailer of oddities. We ventured round the exhibits, walking from a stuffed two headed lamb, to a miniature Chinese woman in a jar of formaldehyde to a giant stuffed rat. There was a fossilised two-headed giant which was almost certainly made of fibre glass. The jars were often broken and dusty, depleted of “formaldehyde” and the signs were crooked and misspelled. I suspect it was all a fake. I’m also relieved that it was all a fake.

Coming home on the bus there was the lady who I often see who has a toy rabbit with her. This is slightly odd but what makes it odder is that she sits the rabbit next to her, fastens it’s seatbelt and talks to it all the way back home.

An elderly man sat across from me. He was wearing a pork pie hat and mismatched jacket with bright yellow nylon shorts, socks and shoes. As he slept, his dentures were continually sliding in and out of his mouth and his carefully trimmed moustache wavered with each whistling breath.  

Nearer the back of the bus,  a young man sang songs softly to no one. I took a look at myself, in crisp shorts, tennis pumps, white shirt and cravat, dressed as an extra form a 1930s Noel Coward play. I realised, that for me, the freaks weren’t us. The bus people were my people. I fitted in.

The freaks for me were: the lady with expensive but garish and badly chosen clothes with flashy and designer labels, the sporty sweaty men who had tired themselves out for something I failed to understand. The freaks to me were: the deeply orange fake tanned, the ungrammatical and the technology dependent with phones constantly on the go.

Of course, freakdom is relative. We just have to try to get along. Me, my friend and her stuffed rabbit...we just try not to stare too hard and wink at each other in complicit understanding.

Check out “Geek Love”. It’s a superb book but not for the faint hearted though. I'd recommend it for the human story and the underlying themes. It's worth a few squirms for that: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Geek-Love-Abacus-Books-Katherine/dp/0349100861




Monday, 20 August 2012

Ramblings: Group Therapy


I have a terrible confession to make. I go to a book group. Once a month I meet with a bunch of people I would otherwise not have met and we talk about books. I’m totally out of the closet as a book geek, book fetishist, book hoarder but this book group thing...it’s a little bit embarrassing for me to admit to. It conjures up images of middle class ladies in a sitting room somewhere, talking about the latest Booker nominees in strained, pretentious tones. Maybe there would be an inoffensive little Chardonnay and after a few minutes talking about the latest breakthrough novel from the “African sub-continent” the room would move on to tuition fees, OFSTED ratings and (as the wine flowed more) their husbands’ latest dalliances.  There would be humus (organic) and mixed olives and an undercurrent of hatred and one-upmanship. Whoever was wearing last season’s Per Una item from M and S would be secretly slandered.

This is not the case with the group I go to. It’s on neutral territory (in a cinema function room) and it’s shouty, funny and eclectic. I love it. It’s liberating to be in a room full of people who share your fetish. I imagine that people into wife swapping get this feeling when they enter a swingers’ club for the first time. For me, it wasn’t so much meeting people who liked to throw their car keys into a dish, but meeting people who couldn’t even venture to Tesco without a book stashed in their pocket or bag. I was gratified to read people who crashed through their baggage allowances by trying to take seven novels for a week in Corfu.

I’ve met some amazing people who I would never have met. I’ve made some superb friends who I also see to talk about things which aren’t books and of course books too. There’s a certain bonding which occurs when you’re shouting out about how much you hated the sex scene in Chapter Three and a definite link with people when you confess that an embarrassingly profound and arty book that everyone pretends to love was just so much waffle to you. I'm not a natural "joiner-in" and have gladly discovered that actually, when it's right for me, I can join in and am welcomed.

I’ve also got to read some books I wouldn’t have ever considered (Science Fiction) and learned that certain authors will never again darken my book shelf as they irritate the hell out of me (Terry Pratchet). I’ve learnt that certain classics I thought I knew all about are not what I thought they were all about. I’ve also managed to bully and hector whole groups of people into reading books I’m passionate about. I also now hate them slightly for not loving these books too, but I’ll get over it.

I suppose the point I’m making is whatever your activity, your passions or hobbies: make like E.M. Forster and connect with others (see Howard’s End. It’s a quotation from a book which I’ve thrown in just to prove that I have read stuff).  It’s what life’s about.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Ramblings: Mind the Gap


What is it with gay couples and the age gap thing? It seems to be so much more prominent in gay life but that could be my perspective as I have a mildly jaundiced view.

A friend of mine is in his mid forties yet wouldn’t consider entering a relationship (sexual or otherwise) with any man over the age of thirty. His ideal is twenty-five. He constantly trawls the internet, bars and Grindr looking for attractive younger men who he can bed and or develop a relationship with. Oddly, these relationships don’t seem to go well. They tend to be messy and short lived. I can’t imagine dating someone a lot younger than myself. If they haven’t heard of The Clangers, vinyl records or can’t remember when the pound was a note, then I don’t want to know. What could we possibly have in common apart from sex and you can do that so many hours of the day?

Maybe my view is skewed through past experience. My first boyfriend was older (by one year). It was a full on teenage infatuation. I loved him madly to the point where I couldn’t eat or sleep. Two weeks later I realised he was actually a bit dull and had a funny whiff about him. I then upped the ante. My next boyfriend was a lot older. I met him aged almost seventeen in a gay bar (I was precocious and illegal, O.K.?). He was 39. He wooed me, by telling me I was beautiful and buying me books and gin, which was a sure fire way to my heart.

The power balance was skewed from the outset and by the time we were living together a year later he was definitely assuming the role of the older and wiser one. I didn’t know how to manage money, pay bills and shop. I was still a teenager.  I could cook and clean but not much else. I was pretty useless with a power tool too. This felt fine and him keeping my bank account card seemed a positive and sensible thing.

I think I made a fundamental mistake though. I fell in love with an older man rather than pursuing one for his money. My older man was penniless with terrible career prospects and a deep love for alcohol.

Fast forward twelve years: I was now 29, still without my own bank account and believing I was unable to function at the most basic level without him supervising everything practical for me. He chose the holiday destinations, the TV we watched and where we went out. The basic problem was that he wanted me to stay a teenager, naive and vulnerable. Unfortunately for him, in the intervening years I’d gained a career, friends and confidence. The balance of power shifted and along with this I gained the characteristics of someone hurtling towards thirty (ear hair, the beginnings of crow’s feet and general grumpiness). It didn’t bode well.

When I finally left him it was a revelation that paying bills, changing light-bulbs and making choices in life wasn’t that taxing for me. I’m also pretty good with managing my own money. I vowed to myself that never again would I enter a relationship where the age gap was more than the amount of time Eastenders has been on the BBC for.

The next relationship was with a man who loved young fair haired men who were slim. He was a more sensible choice at four years older but his adoration of youth came to become a stressor. My hair grew darker, I grew older and less toned and frisky and we disintegrated, going our separate ways after six years.

The world of internet dating that I found myself in aged 36 was at times frustrating. I’d read through a profile for a hot looking man of my own age only to come to the crunch line: No one over the age of 25 need apply. This happened time and time again. It seemed bizarre to me. It seemed to be a recurring theme that the older you get the younger you want your take out or take home to be. I’m not bitter, I met some decent men and of course a few cads. It was fun at times, demoralising at others.

Then there was the withholding of truth. A hunky thirty five year old young would turn up on a date and you’d quickly realise that he was actually ten years older and twenty pounds heavier. Maybe the grainy Polaroid picture with the Wham posters in the background should have been a clue. The Eighties mullet should have told me those photos weren’t recent. Liars are really not my thing.

Eventually, I met my current partner. I know that’s a lot of long relationships but serial monogamy is so my thing. We didn’t meet in a bar, on the internet or Grindr but in actual real life. How odd is that? Here’s where I reveal my hypocrisy. He’s a fair bit older than me. The balance of power is fine. We’re both equally powerless. It’s pretty good so far. I go with the flow and am happy with that.

I know some of you will be shouting at your screens: “But I’ve been with my boyfriend who’s twenty years older/younger for ten years and we’re blissfully happy.”

Good luck to you, if that’s the case. Maybe I was just unlucky and it was just the wrong man. I just hope you can cope with those awkward restaurant moments well. It’s never nice when people address him as your dad or son. Unless that’s your thing of course but that’s a whole other topic.
(originally published at: www.thegayuk.com)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Ramblings: Funeral Derangements



My friend and I passed a huge rotting of fading flowers in the street the other week. There were the usual mawkish notes and grainy photos pinned on the wall. We both looked away instinctively and didn’t utter a word about it. We weren’t horrified that someone had been killed. We’ve become quite immune to that.

My best friend, work colleagues and Paul have all been given a task to perform should I die. The task to be completed as number one priority by all is to remove any flowers and things from the place where I die. I strongly suspect that I’ll die in some hideous accident due to my innate clumsiness so I don’t want attention drawn to it. I also think that these roadside shrines are kind of tawdry and messy. They get in people’s way and I so hate a wilting flower. If I have flowers in the house they only have to so much as start to look a bit sickly before they’re tossed in the recycling bin. I’m also not too keen on tea lights and soft toys. I like an antique bear but if you’ve gone one of those and leave it on the pavement round here it’ll be gone in no time.

Paul has a special job should I lapse into a coma. He’s in charge of the pubic topiary. If I’m lying on a bed in Intensive Care surrounding by bleeping machines, I want to maintain a nice tidy growth. I want regular nasal hair trimmings, smooth ears and a daintily tended garden of hair. I also want nicely ironed pyjamas and a lot of cologne. A picture on the bedside locker would be nice too so that the nurses have a frame of reference and know what I looked like before and after the juggernaut smash.

It’s a horrible thought, loss of control. The idea of losing control of how you appear to the world horrifies me. More importantly the idea of having choices made which wouldn’t have been yours is even worse. The thought of someone arranging a religious funeral for me fills me with rage. In fact, the thought of a funeral fills me with rage. I don’t want one at all. Not even when I’m dead. I despise them.  All the funerals I’ve attended have felt dull and empty to me. I’ve never gained anything from them. I even found my own father’s funeral really tedious and pointless. He was already dead. I’d known that for three weeks. It certainly didn’t help me to go through a long winded and dull church service. My current plan is that my body goes to medical science or failing that a no frills Tesco Value funeral in a bin liner. Sorry to disappoint but it’s one party I won’t be inviting you to.

I suspect some might think that I’m morbid for even thinking about these things but I call it pragmatic. We all die and we all need plans. We also need to communicate them. It’s kind of tricky when it’s too late. I’ve sorted out a will but some of my requests (e.g. no roadside shrine and a neat parting in my hair) are hard to enforce. Hence I’m telling you lot. Make a note!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Reviews: PoutFest 2012

I was lucky enough to get the chance to review a couple of preview DVDs for the website I write for (www.thegayuk.com) from Peccadillo Pictures which, to be brutally honest, were both bloody great. Here's the reviews:

Romeos



Lukas is twenty years old, new in town and harbouring a secret which he can’t bring himself to share with anyone apart from his best friend Ine and his on-line friends. Lukas soon launches himself onto the bars and clubs of Cologne, indulging in parties, drinking sessions and alcohol fuelled nights in clubs. When Lukas meets muscled hunk and Alpha male Fabio a strong attraction develops between them. The film follows an erotically charged path as Fabio and Lukas try to discover if love can really conquer all or will their differences result in disaster?
The film carries a strong message about gender identity, masculinity, femininity and sexuality. That’s not a euphemism for dullness as this film is far from that. It’s definitely not your average boy meets boy love story but actually makes the viewer think about their own prejudices and attitudes. The character of Lukas is one of a sweet vulnerability coupled with an insecure masculinity whilst Fabio struts around dripping with testosterone and attitude (and an amazingly hot torso). The two leads are also both very easy on the eye and portray the sexual tension between the couple to perfection. 
Overall this is a well paced film which portrays both courage and confusion. It makes you stop and think about what identity means for people in a world of androgyny, drag kings and queens, shifting gender roles and differing sexual identities. Any film which manages to broach difficult subjects whilst still being entertaining has got to be worth a look.



North Sea Texas



Pim is a young boy from a small Belgian coastal town who lives a dreary existence with his mother, Yvette, who is a boozy accordion player. Pim dreams of beauty pageants, princesses and Gino, the handsome boy next door to escape life with his blowsy neglectful mother. As Pim moves into his teenage years his life takes on unexpected turns as he becomes more deeply involved with Gino and his family and a hot and hunky young traveller called Zoltan arrives back on the scene.
Cult short film maker Bavo Defume has made a film which is inspired more by beauty than by social realism. The intention was to make a film which depicts more than the sometimes grey and gritty world we can inhabit. The film is set in an unspecified time period with classic retro patterns and furniture and luscious coastal landscapes. Although the world that the characters inhabit is sometimes stylised, the acting is natural and convincing. The result is a film which is both moving and beautiful to watch. It also holds the viewer’s interest through the drama played out so convincingly between the young actors. Coming of age dramas don’t get much more luscious, stylish and watchable than this.



Romeos and North Sea Texas are both showing as part of Pout Fest gay and lesbian film festival at venues across England and Ireland throughout August  till 6th September http://poutfest.co.uk/

Romeos is available now to buy on DVD and North Sea Texas is released on DVD on the 6th August


People: Gore Vidal


Gore Vidal, the great American essayist, scriptwriter, novelist, politician and actor died on Wednesday aged 86.

Vidal gained early notoriety in 1948 with the publication of his novel “The City and the Pillar”. The groundbreaking book charted the relationship between two men and was original in that it depicted the gay characters as average, masculine men rather than the more common image of the time of gay men as all being foppish effeminate men. The novel was semi-autobiographical and dedicated to a man he later described as the love of his life. The novel still resonates today and has much to interest 21st Century readers.

Vidal refused to define himself as gay or bi-sexual, in spite of lengthy relationships with both men and women. He went so far as to say: "There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices."
Vidal had a prolific literary output and as well as his political career was also a prominent figure in the media. He once said: "I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television." Now that’s a philosophy which I’m sure most of us can empathise with.

A famous saying of Vidal’s was that: "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."

In today’s climate of eclectic styles that still resounds with wisdom.

R.I.P. Gore Vidal

Ramblings: No One Loves a Fairy When She's Forty


I always dreaded ageing. I cried upon reaching 25, thought hitting 30 would be the end of my life and 40 felt like an impossible milestone.

I was actually pretty certain that like a lot of my A-list celebrity idols, I would have burnt out long before I hit the fourth decade. I tried hard with generous slugs of vodka and copious cigarettes but I’m still here.

The funny thing is that I actually like it. I’ve gained a few scars along the way but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. O.K., so I have a daily running battle with my ear and nasal hair and the hair on my crown grows thinner by the week. At least I don’t have to follow fashion so ardently. I actually don’t have to go through the tricky logistics of wearing trousers that start below my buttocks. I don’t have to wear things that stretch gaping holes in my ears. I can get away without having to squeeze myself into uncomfortable and unflattering fashions now. I can actually wear what suits me. Yes, I am growing old with a little bit of grace.

The most important thing about getting older for me is that I’ve learnt what I like and am no longer willing to waste loads of time on tedious things. I now know that weddings usually bore me senseless and have learnt to decline the invitations. I always say that I’ll go to the next one. If people bore me, I move on. I no longer have that desperate clamouring I once had to have people around me all the time, regardless of what their qualities are.  If an activity doesn’t appeal, I don’t feel the need to indulge. I just say “No thank you” and do something else. It’s the same in relationships. I wouldn’t put up with things in my 40s that I did in my twenties.

There’s a benefit to all my grubby history. I’m not sure I believe in the adage that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. In most cases, traumatic experiences just made me more messed up and more cautious in the future. There is a benefit to heartbreak, mental turmoil and angst though. They make you more useful to other people when they’re in crisis and give you material to write about too. I like that I’ve lost my black and white view of the world. I recall saying at 17 that if a man ever cheated on me, hit me, lied to me etc. Then I’d be off. Guess what really happened. Life is much better in greyscale.

I always thought that being older would make me totally unattractive. I look back on pictures of me in my twenties and see someone who was more gauche and uncomfortable with himself. I might have had less crow’s feet but I wouldn’t have looked you in the eye.  I might not have grown up to be prime older man totty but being happier with who I am definitely makes me feel more attractive. It’s all about the confidence and knowing your style. Naturally my bedroom repertoire is wider now. I just like to do it all a little earlier now and without the need for intoxication.

People surprise me when they say that inside they still feel like teenagers. I definitely don’t. I feel better than I did aged 16 and pity anyone who doesn’t. Being young can be bloody hard.  I say embrace the older version of you. It’s coming at you anyway. You might as well grow to like him or her.

Originally punlished at: www.thegayuk.com

Friday, 3 August 2012

Ramblings: Unspeakable Things


I was watching a stand-up comedian on Sunday and he asked an innocuous question: “Does anyone have a pet with a human name?”

The answer from a seemingly normal girl in front of me was frankly depraved: “Two rats called Barry and Norman”

Why would anyone be so sordid as to keep a rat? It’s like choosing a pen pal and deciding you want one who’s on Death Row for mass murder and rape. They revolt me. I once went on a date with a man who told me that he had a pet rat. At this point I quickly scanned for the exit to the bar. I didn’t meet him again. Filthy habit and I would never have been able to enter his house.

It all started as a child. I had a friend who had divorced parents which was a rarity amongst my contemporaries in the 1970s. We went to his flaky father’s house once and walked into the lounge. There was this horrible smell and looking over into the corner I saw a tank full of a writhing mass of rats. I blanched at the sight of them and made my excuses as to why I needed to go home.

Fast forward a few years and I was aged twelve. There’d been a dead rat on the kerbside outside our school for days. Each day it got a little flatter and glassier eyed. Children would walk by and shout “Rat on the road!” (which was the catchphrase of Roland Rat, a puppet on breakfast tv at the time). I was unperturbed by it until after about five days of putrefying decay it landed on my chest. I was walking out of school and two older boys were playing catch with the rodent corpse. I still don’t know why. More importantly...WHY! I just happened to walk the wrong way at the wrong time and ended up with a flat, rotting critter slamming into my chin and sliding down my chest. My phobia was now well and truly launched and my jumper was ruined too.

As a rodent phobic I seemed to see them everywhere. Maybe I was just looking out for them more. I’d see them by the river when I walked the dog. I once bent down to give a beggar some money and there were two of them nestled on his lap. I’d see them on building sites as I passed by. I learnt to avoid river banks, long grass, derelict areas, ever using the horrible word to name them and ever seeing pictures of them. One glimpse of one on TV and my feet would be up off the floor and I’d flood with adrenaline.

I almost fainted during the film “1984”. I ran out of gay pub when a novelty act appeared on stage with rats and snakes. The snakes were sweet. I ran in blind panic from a case of black rats in London Zoo. I listened in terror as people told me of rats climbing into toilets and nipping unsuspecting defecators on the rump.

I also reclassified my view of what was a rodent. To me, rodents include guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, voles, rabbits, hares and worst of all the giant Coypu which inhabits Norfolk. I avoid Norfolk since I learnt they exist. All of these species were, in my view, worthy of a big mallet on the head or a dose of Warfarin. If I went to someone’s house and they had a hamster I had to leave. I couldn’t relax or stop looking round nervously. Problems ensued when in 1993 we “rabbit sat”. The creature in question was in a pen and had her own hutch. It took me about six weeks before I could do anything more than throw food gingerly over the chicken wire. Eventually (six months later) I was able to pick her up. I’ve downgraded rabbits now as low risk rodents.

Five years ago, I moved into this house and feeling fragile and anxious I set about rebuilding my life after a particularly harrowing break up. I’d been here a week and was cleaning the kitchen when I looked out of the window to see a big fat grey rat staring at me from the decking. I hate decking. According to my mother, rats love decking. She clipped an article from the newspaper to torture me with. It’s an instant nest and they love the food which drops through the gaps. The rat sat and winked at me, leering at me, up on his haunches. I became frenzied. I locked the doors (in case it knew how to use handles). I locked the windows (in case it decided to scale the walls). I locked the upstairs windows (in case it decided to scale the walls very high). I avoided the kitchen and made the garden a forbidden zone. I was truly terrified by a little ball of grey fur. I rang my father who agreed it was a deadly menace. He suggested throwing something out of the window at it. This took all my nerve but finally I did it. I lobbed a pan of water out of the window and staring back at me was an irritated damp rat. I swear it gave me a look of pure hatred. I retreated to the shop for Vodka. I was drinking a lot at the time and any excuse was a good one. It helped.

The pest control people came and told me that they’d had reports of rats from a woman at the top of the street too. They laid traps and I decided to speak to the woman up the street to share my pain and show solidarity. I knocked on her door and was greeted by a woman with huge teeth, just like a human rodent. We didn’t talk for long. I was too close to giggling. The rat went, as quickly as it came. The poison was well nibbled and presumably he crawled off and died somewhere. I managed to regain ground and eventually re-entered my own garden.

About six months later I experienced a minor miracle. I was on my way home from a club, drunk. The kind of drunk where your teeth and nose are numb and things are somewhat doubled. I was staggering along to the taxi rank when out of nowhere a rat ran across my foot, brushing against my ankle. I recall thinking “Wow! A rat!”

My phobia diminished. I was no longer terrified, just quite worried by them. I walked along river banks without bicycle clips on. I crossed waste grounds without a sweaty brow and darting eyes. I even passed a stuffed one in a museum display and didn’t pass out.

Horribly though, they’re back in my life. Paul and I saw one in the street last week. There’s been a profusion of vermin in the bushes outside of work and Paul saw one in his garden too. More terrifying, I saw one in my garden again. He wasn’t as cocky as the last one. The doors and windows are locked and bolted once more, in spite of the heat outside. Maybe I’m not quite as over it as I once thought. I’ll certainly be stamping my feet very loudly and making loud noises before I go out next.

I’m thankful though that my phobia is something less common than say spiders or birds. Pity the poor arachnophobic who risks having them descend from the bedroom ceiling or climb up the plughole. At least the rats haven’t learnt that yet. I wouldn’t put it past them though.