Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Poems: Resume

Tired and weary? If you can't think of a good enough reason to stay alive then at least take Ms Parker's advice.

Résumé    Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Ramblings: I Told You I Was Ill

My hypochondria is legendary. Actually, I don’t call it hypochondria. I call it being ill but you can make up your own mind on that one. I have a different ailment for each day of the week and am never too far from a packet of over the counter pain killers, anti-sickness drugs or non-prescription sleeping pills. Nothing herbal though. I prefer a chemical. You know where you are with a chemical. Pills are so pretty at times. They come in such lovely colour palettes. My migraine pills are lilac and pink, which is inspired. I like the names too, such poetry; Tramadol, Temazepam and Trimethoprim sound like strange and lovely holiday resorts to me.
I have pills in all my bags, my desk drawer, my bedside drawer and in the overflow pill drawer. Not to mention my TENs machine, heat pack and various lotions which I keep a good supply of. I take an extra toilet bag on holiday, just for pills. I never leave the supermarket without 32 Paracetamol. Why only this week I’ve had a small melanoma, a pleural fluid collection and a nasty bout of spondylosis. They’ve cleared up now, luckily but I had the right pills to hand in case they turned nasty.  
I was always a delicate, sickly child, prone to headaches and abdominal pain, plagued by hay fever and recurrent temperatures and a bit of mild asthma. I was fantastic at car sickness and could hurl for England too. I was also rather good at the accidental injury, being a clumsy boy; the fall downstairs, the crash landing on the t.v. after slipping on a discarded novel and famously the swallowed rosary beads and the fishing hook in the back of my head which necessitated trips to Accident and Emergency.
 My mum always seemed to notice us more when we were ill and to give her credit, would have made a superb nurse. She believed in the school of a pill for every ill and would hand out Junior Disprins like they were Smarties. She always had some Buttercup Cough Syrup handy and was a dab hand with a cold compress for the fevered brow. My mum also set a fine example by never leaving the house without a handbag stuffed with prescription drugs. She was generous and shared her stash with me too and doled out vitamins and herbal remedies by the handful. I may not be able to ride a bicycle or drive a car but I can swallow two Paracetamol dry, to this day. It’s a handy skill.
One of my favourite games was playing grownups, with a glass of Dandelion and Burdock as my sherry, a few sweets as my pills and a candy cigarette clamped in the corner of my mouth. I was learning well.
I have happy memories of the 1970s, propped up on the brown settee, in the brown and orange living room, under a brown and orange duvet. I’d lay down, happy to be off school, with an Enid Blyton, a glass of Lucozade and a single boiled egg for lunch. There was no daytime t.v. in the 1970s so it was schools programmes, if I was up to it, in my lacklustre state. My favourite program was called “How We Used to Live”, a strange history drama about Victorians or war time London. The Lucozade was considered expensive and only allowed to be drunk as medicine during a bad feverish bout. I loved its sickly taste and sugar overload and the crinkle of the orange cellophane coming off would rouse me to prop my pitiful form up on my elbows and let a few drops be placed on my tongue.
There were down sides to being sickly too, of course. I was often unpopular when a nasty headache meant an abortive day trip or my poor mum had to take time off yet again. The painful headaches weren’t fun and although I got used to vomiting and sweating out fevers, I never really liked it. Who would? I must confess that I did have a toy hospital, though. It had little doctors and nurses and pallid patients in their beds with the alpine temperature charts on the ends. Endless fun.
During my teenage years I progressed to hideous migraines, vertigo, nervous tension and a lingering bout of glandular fever which left me weak and watery for months on end. I’ve managed to get both Salmonella and Campylobactor and more Norovirus than I care to mention.
Being a student nurse was a difficult time. We lurched from placement to placement, changing specialities every two months. I managed to have a minor case of emphysema on the chest ward, my kidneys failed on renal, appendicitis on surgery, a congenital bone disorder on orthopaedics but drew a blank on maternity, until I managed to develop a small haemorrhoid and a stretch mark.
I’ve managed to have most of my organs imaged and investigated, though not through choice really. It just seems to happen. No one would choose the camera up the bladder, believe me.  I’ve had MRI scans, ultrasounds, endoscopes and enough blood taken to transfuse a small elderly lady. Naturally, I’m always mostly normal.
I’ve managed to go temporarily blind for a month, be crippled by a slipped disc, laid up in hospital with a testicle the size of a hearty jacket spud and develop a sinister limp. I’ve been prodded and poked by urologists, ophthalmologists, neurologists and gastroenterologists. I’ve paid good money to physiotherapists, osteopaths and hypnotherapists. Let’s not even mention the mental health professionals’ input. They’re too numerous to list.
The other week a nurse specialist in skin cancer came to spend the day shadowing me at work to see what we do and the poor girl had only been in the office 5 minutes before I had my trouser leg rolled up and was showing her a small lesion. She didn’t seem to mind and I repaid her by reassuring her about some of the ailments that she had developed that morning.
Maybe I’m what they used to call “the creaking gate”. I hope so, as my rusty old hinges have a lot more noise to make yet.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Ramblings: I Hear That!

Over bearing Cockney man in cafe to sheepish woman: “You don’t know the meaning of work! I once took a Paracetamol overdose, had my stomach pumped out and still did my shift! Now, that’s dedication.”
I love to eavesdrop. It’s proof incarnate that Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood don’t actually make anything up, but are just keen social observers. I often despair of the terrible heat, stuffiness and the overpowering smells on public transport. It almost, but not quite, makes me want to take another driving lesson. Then I overhear a little gem of a conversation and I sit back happy with the absurdity of the world.
I’ve mastered the art of the nonchalant occasional glance and the blank facial expression, whilst taking it all in and occasionally also sneakily taking notes in one of the many notebooks I carry. I’m almost up to a black belt in eavesdropping, the only thing that would make me better at it is the ability to lip read. I’m working on that one. It’s a crying shame that net curtains are no longer fashionable. I can twitch a net with the best of them. It’s not the same with a venetian blind.
I was recently on my way home and stopped on a bench to eat a sandwich as I hadn’t had time for lunch. A very thin man tattooed sat next to me and was soon approached by a very drunk woman he knew, who looked equally haggard. He was shivering so she leant him her jacket, hoping that the thin nylon would warm his drug addled frame. The sleeves came halfway up his arms and he looked a little bit absurd. She laughed a croaky smoker’s laugh, followed by the obligatory hacking cough of the semi-consumptive and said “You look a right f***ing poof in that!”
She then glanced at me (I was studiously concentrating on my sandwich and trying to ignore her), and upon taking in that I was actually a “poof”, she tried to back pedal:
“It’s not that I’ve got anything against poofs though. I’ve licked a few girls out in my time so I don’t mind poofs.”
I smiled and moved on.
My favourite overheard exchange was in a small cafe in Cromford.
Elderly lady: “I’d like a cherry scone please”
Young girl: “They’ve got walnuts in them.”
Elderly lady: “Oh, I haven’t got my best teeth in today! Mind you, I can suck the nuts and spit them out. What jam do you have?”
You definitely couldn’t make that up.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Ramblings: Elizabeth the Great

“I've only slept with men I've been married to. How many women can make that claim?” Elizabeth Taylor
I’m generally not too keen on modern celebrity culture and the pointless tales of Z list no brainers with limited talents and bigger publicity budgets. I do however have a minor obsession with Elizabeth Taylor. She’s my role model. A picture of her and the luscious Paul Newman are looking down over me now as I type. In spite of a notorious lifelong battle with prescription drug addictions, alcoholisms and chain smoking, she lived till she was 79. Now that’s an achievement in my books, staying alive through illness and fragility.
She certainly crammed a lot in: 8 marriages, a few nervous breakdowns, an obesity problem, a couple of trips to rehab centres, over 70 hospitalisations and more than 20 operations. She also worked to raise the profile of AIDS charities and research and wasn’t afraid to stick her neck out and speak her mind in her tireless fundraising campaigns. Amazingly, she also found the time to act and made some of the most corking films of all time.  Two of her film performances always take my breath away and I never tire of them: Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” If you haven’t seen them then you’re missing out on some classic lines and great acting.
She wasn’t afraid of being seen as a sexual being in a time when repression was standard in Hollywood. She was one of the first major stars ever to appear unclothed in a film and to be shown naked in Playboy. She loved gay men too, sparking up friendships with the closeted gay male stars of the time, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson and James Dean. I can see why the paradoxically fragile diva would relate to gay blokes so well.
She was accident prone and clumsy, yet exuded glamour and style. She was a diva yet managed to be diplomatic enough at times to ensure her demands were always met and was able to lampoon herself too. OK, so the 80’s were a bit ugly, with those shoulder pads and big hair and that friendship with the horribly creepy Michael Jackson, but we all lacked style in that tacky decade and made mistakes, didn’t we?
She had a lifelong naivety which belied her occasionally brash exterior, and still always believed in everlasting love. Now that was maybe her biggest feat yet, 8 failed marriages and still believed in love? She’s definitely an icon to hold up as a role model in our turbulent modern times.
She even arranged to be 15 minutes late for her own funeral. That’s class.
“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.” Elizabeth Taylor. I couldn’t agree more, Elizabeth.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Ramblings: Shush!

I was in the cinema yesterday and a middle aged, middle class, well dressed and well to do lady talked incessantly throughout the film. She wasn’t even doing that annoying whispering that people do. The whispering which they think is inaudible but is actually like a dripping tap in your ear as you’re bombarded with the annoying sibilants. She was just talking at normal volume to the two teenagers she was with. Naturally, I didn’t tolerate it for long, about 15 minutes to be more precise. She was within speaking distance so I had to stand up and ask her to stop, pointing out how rude she was being. Luckily she apologised.
There are rules to attending the cinema. You can talk all you want during the adverts. During the film trailers, you should remain silent, only turning to your companion and briefly saying either “That looks good!” or “That looks crap!” in sotto voce. Once the film starts there are is only one acceptable reason to speak and that is paralysis. I accept that a small stroke or a spinal cord lesion would necessitate whispering for an ambulance, but anything else uttered is beyond the pale. Anything else can wait till the film finishes.
I often find that older people are the rudest and more ill mannered, with a direct correlation between age and amount of thoughtless rudeness. I’ve had so many ruined performances of plays, concerts and comedy performances due to people talking. I went to see “The Cherry Orchard” and a well heeled couple in their 70s talked throughout the first half. I spoke to them during the interval and they were apologetic. Oddly though, they seemed to forget this and during the second half talked again. “Excuse me, it was rude to talk in the first half, it’s still very rude to talk in the second half too. Stop it!” It seemed to work. I also recently missed all the dialogue of the first half hour of “The King’s Speech” due to a couple with the largest and loudest bad of crisps in creation. Unfortunately they were too far away to shush so I had to put up with it and tell them off at the end.
I went to see a poetry reading by Wendy Cope, a very dignified and slightly stern lady. Ten minutes in a man answered a mobile phone call and the genteel middle class audience looked on with horror, no one saying a word as he talked over the performance on his way to the exit. Amusingly, he then did the same thing again 10 minutes later and Wendy Cope paused and gave him a bemused look over her glasses as a hundred middle class people all shushed him simultaneously.  His facial expression was classic.
A bunch of school children talked, shouted and threw things throughout a play I was at once and amazingly not one of their teachers got up from their seats (three rows away, sensible move) and spoke to them. I gave them a mini lecture in the interval and then told the teachers what I thought of their ability to do their jobs. They looked a bit stunned as an ageing homosexual stood lecturing them about how to do their jobs.
I’ve shushed and harangued in cinemas and theatres throughout the land and I have a worrying suspicion that one day someone will take umbrage to my shushing as much as I take umbrage to their annoying rudeness and I’ll get a punch in the face. If I had my way, there’d be professional “shushers” patrolling all cinemas and theatres with long sticks, tazers or those things you hook people out of pools with, to remove offenders. You won't be surprised to know, I always wanted to be a librarian when I was at school.
My most legendary incident happened in London during a performance of “Bent”, the brilliant play about gay people in Nazi Germany. Three rows in front sat a plump youngish couple who were talking at full volume. I was extremely frustrated and started to fidget and fret, unable to sit still. My dilemma was a) do I put up with this and miss half the dialogue in the play? b) do I get up, walk over to them and disrupt the play (I was in the centre of a row)? or c) do I just shout over? I didn’t want to make a show of myself.
My companion looked nervously on as he could sense a storm brewing and knew my moods well. I had a brainwave and started to rummage in my bag. The look on the man’s face as I reached forward and prodded the back of his head with my retractable umbrella was priceless. I enjoyed pressing that button. I like to think he’s better behaved now, but I somehow doubt it.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Ramblings: Toy Story

A woman walks up to me holding a duvet cover in front of her. "Do you have a duvet cover with a pink snatch on it?" Being 18 and of a slightly giddy disposition, I can't ignore the innuendo of this and laugh in her face. "Snatch" is an inappropriately named cartoon dog and the poor lady wants the bedding set in pink, rather than blue. I'm in the manager's office again later that day.
It was 1989 and I needed a job. I had a string of good O levels; some failed A levels and a forgotten place at university behind me. I was living in a rundown bedsit in the centre of town with my hard drinking boyfriend and times were tough. I needed to find a job, as getting by on benefits wasn't going to keep me in cigarettes or paperbacks. I'd worked in a shoe shop whilst I was at school and hated every minute of it. People's smelly feet and their dictatorial demands for different sizes and styles, which sent you running up and down the stairs to the stockroom all day, drove me insane. The standing around looking helpful and trying to flog overpriced polish to meet your targets didn't exactly thrill me either. I didn't know what else to do and the thought of a food related job made me instantly queasy. I'm not good in heat either. Bar work had zero appeal as I hated drunks, although ironically, I was living with one.

I set about trawling the shops and soon got offered a temporary job in Woolworths. They had a separate shop where they sold toys, sweets and children's clothes and offered me a position there. I hated children but the lure of cash, free pic n mix (unauthorised free pic n mix) and toys made it appealing. You got a free pair of polyester trousers too.

I found I actually could bear the job, which was perhaps a good job as I stayed there for four years before starting my nursing training. The shop was split into two, half clothes, half toys and sweets and was staffed almost exclusively by middle aged women and teenage girls. It was the 80s and the chav hadn't been invented yet, we just called them a bit rough. I was youthful and cheeky and the middle aged women took to me and I soon found my level chatting away with them about their wayward husbands and the price of Daz. I could also talk to the younger women about boys and bad music. We listened to bad music all day too as the hits of the 80s tapes were played on a loop. There were three tapes.

I was plonked on a till which initially, I would mess up, on average, about once every 15 minutes. I quite enjoyed the till though and soon became a master at it and within a couple of weeks had memorised all the 4 digit codes which you had to enter. I was pretty amazed by how invisible I suddenly became, how people wouldn't even look at you as they paid. The rudest person I ever served was a local actress who later became famous for breaking a rib during rough sex, having disastrous cosmetic surgery on her lips and moaning about the NHS a lot. If this was karma for being rude to shop assistants then she got a bad deal.

My favourite customers were the old ladies in sturdy shoes and shabby old hats. They'd come in reeking of old fashioned cologne and turf five pound notes out of their dusty purses, looking for jigsaws and bears for their grandchildren. Naturally, I got in trouble one day when one of these ladies approached me and said loudly "Do you have any balls?"

A boy came in every day, aged about 18, who had some kind of mild learning difficulty. He'd come in on his way home from his special school or daycentre and sit on the carpet, playing with the Matchbox cars and babbling under his breath. I'd always talk to him and he took a shine to me and saw me as his friend. Sadly, it was too much of a shine and I had to keep my distance after he sneaked up on me and fondled my arse. Instead of "Brrm, brrm" he said "Mmm mmm" that time.

The manager of the shop was a plump greasy man who would arrive late every day and instantly go and drop the trousers of his very shiny suit and do a loud bowel movement in the staff toilet. He'd then comment loudly about what he'd eaten the night before in order to occasion such malodorous stools. His deputy was a lovely woman, short and the wrong side of 50. She worked like a dog to support her agoraphobic husband and wayward family and didn't appear to know that the letter "H" existed.

The shop had a series of toy cars and tractors which children could ride around on and this was a total liability. I often had bruised shins and a forced grin on my face as I held back the murderous thoughts. School holidays were hellish, Christmas was carnage and Easter wasn't pleasant. I was often to be seen grimacing and wondering why children couldn't walk and look in the same direction and why they couldn't be more like adults.

I was put in charge of pic n mix, "girls" toys and videos. I took this all very seriously and ensured that I regularly tasted all the sweets. I was usually either coming up or down from a sugar overdose at any given time of day. Eating the sweets was heavily frowned upon and we all tutted and muttered when a fat Saturday girl was sacked for stealing mini chocolate bars, but we all did it anyway, just more discretely. I was very serious about the toys too. I was very territorial over my displays of Sylvanian Families and my Barbie section was second to none. She always had the full range of frocks in stock and Ken was always neatly lined up beside up her in his trunks or wedding suit. I can't imagine he consummated the marriage, by the look of him. He was dubiously camp.

We were very popular with shoplifters. This was partly due to the fact that we were the only shop in town that had children's shoes on display in pairs. Clever move, we lost hundreds a year. I was staggered by the audacity of people who stole and by the range of social classes. There was one woman who we called Cleopatra because of her heavy eye makeup and severe black bob. She would come in with bin bags and strip a shelf in seconds. She had some talent, if a little misplaced. I quite admired her skill.

A regular couple who came in with theft on their mind were a mixed race pair. Every time you spotted them you had to go and stand by them and follow them round. They always left once spotted and sauntered merrily out of the shop, casually dropping the items from beneath their coats and shouting "Bye Bye Battyman!" I'd shout back "See you!" thinking it was a term of endearment.

I got promoted to supervisor after a year and was apparently, the youngest Woolworth's shop supervisor in the country. I hated the job even more from therein. I had to open the shop up in the mornings, close at night and had to work every Saturday. Saturdays were terrible as the shop was staffed entirely by casual staff who were usually clueless 16 year old girls who talked too much and chewed gum on the tills. I'd spend the whole day answering bells as they repeatedly messed up the tills. Balancing the money at the end of the day was torture too.

I got offered a course to fast track to be a shop manager and the idea horrified me. I was there temporarily, yes, I was almost the longest serving member of staff (except the deputy manager in her crimpolene suit) but this was a stop gap. It was definitely temporary. I didn't want to become the seaty rotten boweled manager, reading the Sun in his windowless office all morning and counting down the hours till closing time. Nor did I relish the thought of becoming the deputy, lined and knackered and permanently bored with life. My inspiration to leave came with a girl called Emma, a nervous red haired girl with an English Literature degree who'd left teaching after an early nervous breakdown and was now working on a fast track management scheme. We bonded quickly, talking about books and she helped illuminate for me what a dump the place was and how mind numbing it all was. She hated the place as much as me and urged me to get out. I don't imagine she'd have lasted long herself but she was moved to another shop and I never found out what became of her.

I did leave after 4 years and started my nurse training and it was like a weight off my shoulders. I'd become almost institutionalised to the place. I missed the sweets though.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Poems: Love After Love

This poem is dedicated to all those who've found themselves recently single and don't like it. Maybe one day it won't feel so bad.
Love After Love
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Ramblings: Let’s Do the Show Right Here!

I think I may be missing a gay gene because I generally can't stand musicals. I also loathe Kylie Minogue and think glitter should be listed under the Controlled Substances Act, but that's a whole other story. (Interestingly, Minogue comes up as "Minge" on my spell check).

I can't bear any of those terrible cheap money making ploys like "Mama Mia" or "We Will Rock You", where some ageing capitalists cobble together a weak story around a few bad songs that people feel misplaced nostalgia for. I almost came out in a rash due to a schmaltz overdose during the terribly weak "Miss Saigon". I always nod off during "The Sound of Music" and would like to get a law in place against Lloyd Weber. I can cope with "West Side Story", at least there are some cute boys and the dancing is impressive. I've never got further than 15 minutes into "Singing in the Rain" though. It makes me want to hurl.

There are some notable exceptions though and there are a few musicals which I adore with a passion. You'll maybe see why.

The first is "Cabaret". Slinky dancing, loads of twisted gays and a song about threesomes, all set against a back drop of the rise of Nazism. Ideal! What's not to like? I'm not keen on the film though, too much soft focus and casting Liza Minnelli was a travesty. Sally Bowles is meant to be an Upper Class English girl. That's how Christopher Isherwood wrote the character in "Goodbye to Berlin" so why change it?

From the same stable comes "Chicago". What's not to adore about a funny musical where hot men dance about in tight clothes and jaded women sing about killing their men folk? That's more my thing than a sickly love story.

To complete this threesome, there's "Sweet Charity". Again, it's a dark musical, this time about hookers. Do you see a pattern emerging? The rendition of "Big Spender" makes you want to burn all the cheery versions by Shirley Bassey. It's a song about boredom with having to whore yourself out to men. Much more amusing that way and speaks to me more.

Lastly, I like Stephen Sondheim. I like wordiness. You may have noticed that I have a lot to say and so does he. He crams hundreds of words into crowded little numbers and his wit is immense. He writes lyrics which capture the human condition in all its seedy and perplexing glory. Classic stuff. Just don't expect me to applaud anything where they say "Let's do the show right here!" and dance in a cafe. Eurgh.

Ramblings: Grecian Ruins

I arrive at Corfu airport and my eyes alight on the overflowing ashtrays with delight. I can smoke: anywhere. In fact, it's almost compulsory to smoke everywhere and cigarettes are 80p a packet. I'm going to fit in here. There are big strapping policeman standing around in tight trousers toting huge guns. I am definitely going to like it here.

It's the first time I've taken a package holiday. I'm 28 and beside me is the volatile and over critical man who I've spent the last 12 years with. He's 52. It's 2000 and we're going to split up later that year, which neither of us knows for sure yet, but we both suspect (and I'm hoping) will happen. This prospect fills me with joy and trepidation and him with dread and desperation. Naturally, he's a little drunk.

The resort in Corfu isn't quite how I imagined it but it will suffice for a week. It's tiny; a little stretch of coastline, olive groves, a beach and a smattering of tavernas. There's one labelled "Discotheque" which amuses me. I like that word. There are hardly any English people about with most of the other tourists being German or Greek.

Our apartment looks like it would maybe have featured in the ideal home exhibition circa 1962. The tiles are psychedelic orange and the bath is turquoise. I quite like it, in spite of the bizarre arrangements with the toilet paper and a small pedal bin and the total lack of a shower curtain which means the bathroom ends up soaked when you wash. It has two big balconies for me to sit and read on and the rooms are airy and whitewashed. Its 15 minutes walk from the beach and bars and very rural. Rural worries me. I'm a natural city boy, growing up in the centre of a large town which now calls itself a city. I get twitchy if it's too dark at night, there's wildlife and nowhere to buy cigarettes at 2am. I like birds and animals and nature often amazes me but I like it behind glass or chicken wire, where it can't bite or scratch me.

There are other residents nearby. Across from us a young gay couple intermittently sunbathe, row and talk about clothes and Madonna. They occasionally retire to their room and have noisy sex, which is my cue to swap balconies, blushing to myself. They seem to finish quickly though, so it's not a problem. One of them is being quite mean to the other which worries me. He seems to be a bit of a bully. Below us a woman paces on her balcony looking bored.

I try to get settled in but my partner insists we go out to buy drink for the apartment. We cram the cupboards with Metaxa and cheap Greek spirits. I haven't drunk much for many years but I decide to join him this time. This holiday is part of the process of him trying to retain me. The campaign includes him creating a study for me at home and him buying a car. After 12 years of ignoring me, frequently hitting me and generally being a cad, he's decided he's going to try to win me back. I know it won't work and anticipate a long week. The cheap brandy will help, I think. I also discover that Jack Daniels tastes nice with Fanta Lemon.

His resolve to impress me lasts until we hit the largest of the handful of tavernas. There's a pretty young Greek boy of about 15 or 16, working there, all pouting lips and dark eyelashes. He can't stop ogling him. He's almost licking his lips with lust. The trouble with meeting a man who fancies teenage boys is that it's fine when you're a teenager yourself, but unfortunately for him, you grow up and he no longer has what he desires. I don't especially mind as the boy's uncle (who is more appropriately aged at around 35) is providing me with enough diversion. He's ex army, big and blond with a stunning jaw line. I do mind when later in the week I spot my partner trying to covertly photograph the adolescent. The difference between being a dirty old man and a dodgy paedophile is just one small step and I tell him so.

There's a livelier bar around the corner and there's a "crazy" DJ in requisite silly wig and big shades. It's always empty. The DJ shouts "Hello boys!" each time we go in and to demonstrate his eagerness to please, he always changes the music to something by gays and then gives us the thumbs up. I find this amusing and to be honest, Erasure, Bronski Beat and Soft Cell are fine with me, if a little dated. I do get sick of The Village People after a few days, though.

There are dogs everywhere and thin cats with mean faces parade the streets too. Oddly the dogs all seem to be pedigree. We find a nice taverna where the food is good and I like the Greek dishes. It's overhung with wild jasmine which rails over a series of rafters on the outdoor terrace and provided I can zone out from my partner's voice, it's idyllic. One night a Yorkshire Terrier trots by our table, followed by a Great Dane, followed by a Toy Poodle. We get to the main course and two cats are sat with us. I draw the line during desert when a rat runs across the rafter above us and we don't eat there again.

I'm woken on the second day by a strange noise and get up and look out of the window. A small toothless lady has arrived to clean. She has skin like leather and is riding into the garden on her donkey, her mop strapped across its back. It's a bloody noisy beast. I avoid it as it looks fearsome. We have other visitors in the apartment. Small green lizards often scurry across the walls and at night bats swoop down and circuit the balcony. I like all this and I like walking in the evenings in the olive groves. We go to Corfu Town one day and I'm amused to see a Marks and Spencer shop but more amused to see a goat sitting in the doorway.

On the third day the power goes off and stays off for 2 days. We get drunk on cheap spirits and retire early but the nights are hot and long. I tan a little bit in the day but I'm a mere amateur compared to some of the other tourists who hit the beach at 9am and stay till 6pm, frying their skin to a shiny mahogany. I'm really bad at sunbathing. I manage about 20 minutes and start to get edgy and bored. I find it uncomfortable and dull.

We go walking a few times and I persuade my partner to go horse riding which I, surprisingly, love. I get a really odd horse that's the largest of the group and the most awkward. He walks a little then stops to grab at a thistle or weed. He then runs like hell to catch up, sending me careering around his back. It makes me laugh but I'm sore the next day. My partner, with his usual kindness, tells me it was my fault and that I'm too stupid to handle a horse, which washes over me like muzak.

We see the woman from the apartment below around a lot and she stares at me continually. She's quite plain and badly dressed and is always alone. I get a bit sick of her staring and wonder what her problem is. My partner finds the two young gays across from us fascinating but thankfully they leave after a few days, before he gets caught in acts of voyeurism.

The week isn't as bad as I thought. I eat well, for a change, enjoy the scenery and read a lot. It's primitive in the village but charming with it. I wish I had a book of "I Spy Pedigree Dogs" to tick off as the Crufts parade of strays goes by. The old Greek ladies seem to take to me and chatter away in Greek to me wherever I go, treating my shy effeminacy like a novelty. I learn a few Greek words to be polite and they smile big yellow grins. I'm lonely though. I wish there was someone to talk to and I spend hours looking out over the balcony into the forest, thinking. The big woman below is often there, beneath me, looking out too.

The holiday strengthens my resolve to leave him and I know I must do it soon for the sake of my sanity. I feel mean being with a man I don't love anymore, who bores me and makes me resentful and mean too. It's dragging me down and I regret that my last attempt to leave him was abortive.

The day we leave, the woman below us is waiting for the same coach. We get talking and she tells me she's had a terrible holiday. She came away alone as her friend had had to cancel and she's spent the week feeling lonely and isolated. I wish I'd known sooner. She's lovely and we talk all the way to the airport. I deduce that the reason she was staring at me was that she wanted to talk and maybe spotted a fellow lost soul.

I swap seats on the plane with a very posh boy who's very nauseated with food poisoning. He needs to get to the aisle easily as his bowels are churning. My partner glares at me as it means I'm separated from him and he can't speak at me or belittle me for four hours. I enjoy the flight home.

Poems: Proposal

I'm no longer in my mid-thirties but this one sounds a very good proposal indeed to me. It's good to be in love but you get to a certain age where you're too old and too independent for the voracious all consuming passion of youth.

Proposal: by Tom Vaughan
Let's fall in love - in our mid thirties, It's not only where the hurt is.
I won't get smashed up, should you go away for weekends - we both know
No, two people can be completely all-sufficient, but twice weekly,
We'll dine together, split the bill, Admire each other's wit. We will,
Be splendid lovers, slow, well trained,
Tactful, gracefully unrestrained.
You'll keep your flat, and I'll keep mine.
Our bank accounts shall not entwine.
We'll make the whole thing hard and bright,
We'll call it love - we may be right.

Poems: Against Coupling

This may seem like an odd choice, given that I'm very happy in a relationship right now, but it's a poem that often got me through when I was single. I dedicate this to everyone who's happily or unhappily single. It has its benefits. Being single is always preferable to being unhappily coupled, something I wish I'd known in my 20s!

Against Coupling by Fleur Adcock

I write in praise of the solitary act:
of not feeling a trespassing tongue
forced into one's mouth, one's breath
smothered, nipples crushed against the
rib-cage, and that metallic tingling
in the chin set off by a certain odd nerve:

unpleasure. Just to avoid those eyes would help-
such eyes as a young girl draws life from,
listening to the vegetal
rustle within her, as his gaze
stirs polypal fronds in the obscure
sea-bed of her body, and her own eyes blur

. There is much to be said for abandoning
this no longer novel excercise-
for now 'participating in
a total experience'-when
one feels like the lady in Leeds who
had seen The Sound Of Music eighty-six times;

or more, perhaps, like the school drama mistress
producing A Midsummer Night's Dream
for the seventh year running, with
yet another cast from 5B.
Pyramus and Thisbe are dead, but
the hole in the wall can still be troublesome.

I advise you, then, to embrace it without
encumberance. No need to set the scene,
dress up (or undress), make speeches.
Five minutes of solitude are
enough-in the bath, or to fill
that gap between the Sunday papers and lunch

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Ramblings: Driving Miss Dizzy

I have a secret belief that the majority of people in society are witches. I'll clarify: people who can ride bicycles are witches and possess strange skills. I could never get my head round the whole balancing thing and the artful coordination of hands and feet. It surely involves some kind of mysterious satanic skills. My father tried, on a few occasions, to teach me to ride a bike and I failed every time, falling without grace onto the ground, followed by a fit of sulking at the indignity of the whole business. I never really got beyond the tricycle and so decided as a teenager that riding a bike wasn't for me. It wouldn't have been at all well received had I turned up to school on a tricycle. I skill gasp at people riding bicycles from time to time as I wonder how the hell they ride them (or occasionally, how they have the gall to leave the house looking so lumpy in lycra).

I was always puzzled by peoples interest in driving. I didn't really have any interest in cars and have always described them by colour only. Aged nine, I remember a friend shouting out every model and make of car as we walked along the street. I was puzzled as to why you'd ever want to know this and what purpose it would serve. I certainly don't understand car magazines and programs. I get more excited about a nice washer or a particularly stylish vacuum cleaner. I love to Hoover.

I left home at 17 and didn't really have much money, so the traditional act of learning to drive as a teenager was out. I also lived in the centre of the city for years, so driving was never an issue. In 2000, I left my long term partner and lived on my own for a while and decided maybe, it was a good time to learn to drive now. I'd just started a new job, got a new boyfriend, got my first flat on my own and was rapidly hurtling towards 30, so I decided it was now or never. In retrospect, I was also rapidly hurtling towards a nervous breakdown, bought on by a rapid succession of life changes, so maybe it wasn't such a good time.

The driving instructor was recommended because he was laid back and let you pull over and smoke cigarettes during the lessons. I was right in thinking I'd need to smoke but hadn't anticipated that he'd need to smoke much more urgently than I did. He arrived and picked me up from work and I was petrified. I could feel sweat soaking my back and I'd spent most of the morning with a nervous stomach ache and a fine hand tremor. I wasn't too impressed when he told me it would be like "riding a bike" and instantly felt more panicky. Riding a bike meant grazes, failure and my dad shouting a lot.

He gave a lovely description of the internal combustion engine which may as well have been in Urdu for all I understood it. Apparently, he also wanted me to coordinate my hands and feet separately. I didn't realise it would be so complicated. We lasted 15 minutes and he suggested we stop for a cigarette which I hastily dragged on, as did he. I felt like the lesson lasted about 3 hours. I got home and it was a further 3 hours before I could unclench my fists and my colour returned from grey to pink. I felt like I'd been on an out of control rollercoaster. I also had remembered on essential problem with driving lessons: I hate people telling me what to do.

I lasted for about 5 lessons, I think. I remember trembling in fear, pacing my flat each time he was due to come, secretly wishing some minor ailment on him so he wouldn't arrive. His laid back persona didn't fare well next to my twitching neurosis and he soon grew snappy and tense. Initially he tended to recline in his seat but after the first lesson he grew gradually more anxious and would be hunched forward, ready to grasp his He-man dual controls, shouting at me as I flushed and shouted back. I'm sure he was relieved when I gave in. If at first you don't succeed then accept it, it's probably not for you, is my more sensible version of the motto.

I'm resigned to public transport. Yes, it's smelly and people are often vile to be near but hey ho, it can be entertaining. You certainly see life and you can eavesdrop. Some people are made to drive, some to be driven.

Poems: Not Waving but Drowning

I love this poem. It's an all time favourite of mine since I was a teenager. It says so much in such a simple poem.

Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Ramblings: Lying in the Bed I Made

November 2000: I'm crouching on the floor in the kitchen. The tiles are cold and my neck hurts where he's just tried to strangle me, again. He's sitting across from me clutching his testicles which I've just punched in order to get his hands from around my neck. There are broken plates and bits of food all around us. I'll be cleaning this up later. He looks across at me and I laugh. It's a nervous laugh. This usually happens and often earns me another beating. He hates it when I laugh at him. This time he laughs too. We look at each other, he slides across to me and we start to kiss, his familiar beer infused breath choking me. I'm glad I'm leaving soon. He's scared me this time. Oddly, I still love him a little, but not enough now. 

Summer 1988: I'm 16 years old and I'm very proud to finally have a boyfriend. He's a year older and a bit of a nerd and not the best looking boy around but I don't feel I can be too picky. I lack confidence, am shy and awkward. I dress like a Goth, black dyed hair in a quiff and when I'm feeling particularly daring, mascara and black nail polish. I think I look cool. I don't. We're out drinking in the local gay bar and we get chatting to an older man. He asks me to guess how old he is and says I'll be surprised. I say 46. He's 40. I am surprised and he's offended. He smokes a lot of Marlboro Reds and drinks a lot of gin. He buys me a lot of gin too and I smoke a lot. He always wears a suit. He isn't fantastic looking, big Roman nose and skinny, but I quite like him. He tans easily due to the time he spent on a Kibbutz in the 1970s with his Jewish ex-wife. He isn't Jewish but he pretends to be because it amuses him to mess with people's expectations. He shrugs his shoulders a lot and uses Jewish slang. He talks a lot and I listen. I see him round a lot. He talks too much but his experience and knowledge fascinate me.

A few weeks later he buys me a book, "A Boys Own Story" by Edmund White, for my 17th birthday. I love it. He's written my name in it and an inscription. It's a novel about growing up gay and I relate to it. My actual boyfriend buys me some records, one by "Black", a group I really dislike. I make my displeasure known. He's starting to annoy me with his juvenile stupidity.

I start to hang around with the older man. He lives in a grimy little bedsit with chipped paint and has no money and no job. He tells me stories about the 1980s and when he ran a bar. He met Spandau Ballet and was friends with Tom Robinson (I later find out that he wasn't friends, he just spoke to him after a gig, once). I'm easily impressed. He knows about things I don't. He recommends old films I've never seen and talks about music I've never heard of. I let him kiss me and take pictures of me, which he pins on his wall. He tells me I'm beautiful and I finally feel like I am, briefly. I soon ditch my boyfriend. I grow my hair dye out and return to my natural fair colouring. He likes blond hair and I want to please him.

Autumn 1988: I'm in bed with glandular fever. I kissed a boy at a party and he gave me glandular fever. I sleep for days, weeks, not eating, getting thinner and am so weak I can barely lift an arm above my head. I have months off school and have to drop an A Level. My body throbs with swollen lumps under my arms, in my neck and groin. He sends me a love letter, written in red ink to represent blood. I adore it. I don't think it's odd that a 40 year old man would write in red ink to represent blood. It's juvenile. It stays under my pillow. I spend much of that autumn sleeping and feeling like I want to die. When I wake I read the letter. I get better and we sleep together. It's disappointing. He refuses to use protection and tells me that it's unfair of me to ask him to. I concur. He's drunk and clumsy. I like the way he smells: expensive aftershave, lager and Marlboros. My ex boyfriend makes a feeble teenage attempt at suicide (six Paracetamol). I am contemptuous but secretly thrilled at the drama.

Winter 1988: I stop going to school. I pocket my dinner money and bus fares. I spend time in his bedsit. We listen to music and he talks and I listen. We drink a lot when we have money. My parents give me money each week for helping around the house. I do my chores and we share the money between us.

Spring 1989: My parents find out I've been skipping school. I'm in trouble. My parents also find out I've been stealing alcohol and sleeping pills. We argue, which is usual, and I leave. I'm 17. I move in with him. I'm living in a bedsit. We have to share a kitchen and bathroom with several other bedsits, which is awful. It's cold, filthy and I'm often hungry. I set about home making and clean the room, scrubbing and washing and tidying. I shop and cook meals when we have money for food. I feel very grown up. My parents think I'm staying at a friend's initially. The age of consent is 21. He could go to prison for this. I eventually tell them where I'm living and that I'm gay. They don't ask anything about him, especially not how old he is. They just don't want to know about any of it. He's 3 years younger than my dad. I buy a little green bird and keep him in a cage but he depresses me. 

Summer 1989: I fail both my remaining A Levels and I don't care. I need to be with him. I wanted to go to Uni to study English and hoped that I'd become a journalist or work in publishing. I turn 18. He has a job now, and soon, I do too. I'm working in a shop. He works in an office. It's a novelty. I like hard work and I like having my own money. He keeps the bank card for my account. I ask him for money when I need it. I don't buy many clothes or records. I'm happy when we have food. We go out drinking a lot but mostly I like it when I'm at home and he's out and I can read and pretend I live on my own. The flat is too hot and time goes slowly. He comes home from work early one day and tells me he's called his boss 'a cunt'. We now rely on my money for a while. He eventually apologises and works longer until the firm goes bust. I get promoted. I start to hate the shop and I'm bored with my life. I feel very old.

Christmas 1989: We have a small Christmas tree and a bigger flat. He buys me lavish presents (mostly with my money) which we can't afford. He's excited and childlike. I enjoy it. There's a big box on the side, all wrapped up. I shake it and feel it to guess what's inside, when he's not there. Its a little glass greenhouse. The soil is everywhere and the plants are all battered and dead when I open it. We laugh a lot. A man in the pub offers me a job as a rent boy. I turn it down and think he's joking. He wasn't.  There's a builder lives upstairs. He's around my age, tall and fair and handsome. He's cheeky, loitering in the kitchen when I cook. He makes saucy remarks, offering to share my bed if I'll cook for him like I do for my partner. I laugh a lot and blush. I think he's joking. I see the builder sunbathing topless in the garden in small white shorts and I peer out of the window and wonder what it would be like to kiss him.

Summer 1990: His mother dies; he gets a better job, after a period of not working. We get offered a house to rent. It's a large detached house and I love it. I buy the bird a bigger cage. He still depresses me. He inherits money which we spend on holidays and a hideously expensive new stereo. We're quite wealthy for a while but it doesn't last long. He drinks more than ever. He has friends who drink too and he spends days in pubs with them. I'm still working in the shop. I have high ideals and the black and white views of the young. If a man ever hits me I know I'd leave him. If a man ever cheats on me I know I'd leave him. This turns out to be idealism. I stop drinking. It's easier to limit the damage when I'm sober. I can watch for the signs, know when he's getting volatile and mostly, avoid incidents. Try and hustle him out of bars when he's getting argumentative and violent. He criticises me a lot. I chop vegetables the wrong way, I clean things the wrong way, I talk the wrong way and I'm stupid. I do all the chopping, cooking and cleaning. We go out and he still wears a suit. I wonder if people think I'm with him because he has money. I dress in jeans and a t-shirt. Somebody I know dies of AIDs. It's someone he slept with. I think I have AIDS and know for sure I'll be dead by 28. (I'm completely wrong. I don't have AIDS at all.) I don't talk to anyone about this. I'm too scared. I don't want to know if I have it. I avoid reading books where AIDs is mentioned. I shudder at the word and feel sick to my stomach but I don't have a test for several years, not even when more people die, one of whom is someone else who he slept with. I'm too scared. I can't see a way out of this. I spend a lot of time fantasising about an alternative life, one where I'm happier. He tells me that I'm dull and that I have no sense of humour or imagination.

1992: I turn 21 and get a huge pile of cards and presents and feel popular and liked. He tells me how worthless I am. He hits me occasionally but not regularly. I hit back occasionally and I always forgive him. I have loads of friends but the fuss is too great when I see them. He times me and is waiting, depressed and drunk when I return. I stop seeing lots of people and I rarely invite anyone to my house. He doesn't like me talking on the phone, it irritates him. He says I talk like an idiot on the phone. A man in the pub asks to paint me naked. I laugh and think it's a joke. I think I look terrible naked but I don't. He gets drunk and asks a boy in the pub to fellate him. He confesses and cries. I read all the time, a book in a day sometimes. I wish I could work seven days a week to avoid him. We go on holiday to British seaside resorts on holiday. I feel very old. We fight in a hotel room and I retaliate when he hits me. I crack his head open on the floor and I apologise, a lot.

1993: I want to go back and study. I'm 21 and hate my job. They want to fast track me to be a shop manager. I don't want it at all. I feel flat and low. I put aside the idea of going to university. I can't afford it and if I live on a grant and he loses his job again, how will we live? I start my nurse training and surprisingly, I love it. He hates me being a nurse. He wants me beside him at weekends, in bars. I still don't drink at all. I like the other students and make good friends but I feel remote and distant from them. I don't live on the hospital campus; I can't go to night clubs and parties with them. I'm very different from them in lots of ways. We adopt a dog, a big stupid yellow dog that dotes on me, following me everywhere. The work as a nurse is physically demanding. I shop, clean, cook and look after the dog. On my days off I'm expected to spend hours sitting in the pub with him whilst he spends my money. He still keeps my bank card and I have to ask him for money. He loses his job and doesn't work for 3 years. He starts to drink more. We move to a rundown terraced house with draughty windows and soiled carpets. I'm ashamed of where we live. We have to eat the cheapest, nastiest food as that's all we can afford. He still buys drink. He often has to have a drink before he can leave the house. We argue more than ever and the balance tips. We no longer laugh much, we rarely sleep together and I avoid him when I can. He sleeps with a 17 year old boy who he meets in a pub and weeps an apology when he gets caught, big snot drenched tears and pathetic pleas. I actually, don't even care. I feel nothing. He gives me an STD from this. We have a row one day and for the first time, I hit him first. It's always been in retaliation before or self defence but this time he infuriates me during a row and I grab the nearest object, a shoe and smack him hard round the head in front of a friend. He is shocked but not as much as I am. I pull my back at work, lifting and am lying in bed sleeping, in a lot of pain. He comes in drunk and punches me hard in the lower back as retaliation.

1995: He gets drunk on Christmas Day and throws my dinner in the bin and smashes my gifts. My crime is that I was late home after visiting my grandfather. My dad and I had gone to pick him up and he was collapsed on the floor. I waited with him for the ambulance and so was late for my lunch. He yanked the phone out of the wall so that I couldn't get through to tell him I was going to be delayed.

1996: I qualify as nurse and start to earn better money and he gets a job too. We have enough money again. I enjoy my job but feel unfulfilled and flat. I tell my GP that I feel depressed and he refers me to a counsellor. She is obsessed with my school days and my childhood and I don't talk about my relationship. She isn't very perceptive. I start antidepressants. I fantasise about him dying. His father and uncle and cousin all dropped dead suddenly with heart attacks in their 50s. I think, it's not long to wait. I can see myself at the funeral, looking magnificent, in black again. I get a lot of migraines and he gets annoyed at this. It gets in the way of his plans and inconveniences him.

1997: I have a bad kidney infection and the doctor has to come out to see me. He's concerned and thinks I may need admitting to hospital. My temperature is high, I'm vomiting and delirious. The doctor gives him a prescription for pain killers and antibiotics and he goes to get them but doesn't come back. The doctor calls back mid afternoon to check on my progress and I lie and say that the painkillers are helping. The doctor says I can stay at home. I'd rather be in hospital. He returns twelve hours later, drunk and has bought me a pot plant and a book of Alan Bennett monologues. The painkillers help, at last. 

1998: We have a new house and we own it. It's a 1930s detached house with leaded glass windows and an expanse of garden. I put all my energy into work and the house. I really love the house. I pay most of the mortgage and bills. He's drinking more than ever. He still manages all the money. He goes to work, comes home and drinks. He passes out on the sofa every night by 9pm. I have a nightly ritual. I watch t.v with him until he collapses then I go and fetch a pillow and a blanket and cover him over. I read until bedtime when me and the dog go to sleep in the bed. It's not too bad. I think seriously about leaving him but can't imagine how. I'm 27 and have never changed a light bulb, had my own bank card or paid a bill. I'm too stupid to manage. How would he cope if I left him? He might commit suicide. He's told me would. I can't imagine leaving the dog or my house behind. I also think I have H.I.V. (I eliminate that one and finally get a test which proves I don't have it, amazingly) and that I might die soon. I also know no one else would ever want me. I'm scared at the thought of other men. I've only slept with two men. I can't imagine it. Can't imagine someone seeing my ugly body naked. I can't imagine leaving my house and my dog. I carry on.

Summer 1999 We go on holiday to rural France with my parents (I pay). My parents still haven't asked me how old he is and I try to hide my unhappiness from them. We stay in a converted barn in the middle of nowhere and I'm unhappier than ever. He drinks all week and I'm constantly on edge, waiting for him to explode and humiliate me. I'm constantly criticised too by both him and my parents and I immerse myself in reading and daydreams. The day we get back I tell him I want to leave him and I feel sick with anxiety and excitement. It's hard not to laugh with glee. He implodes, unravels and starts to work his way through all the alcohol we've bought back from France. I weaken and retract. I can't leave him in this state. He drinks for days. I give in and join him. 

Winter 1999: I have a brief affair. I didn't want to do this and I hate myself for it. He's married and it isn't much fun. It's like an experiment to see if I can get rid of my desire for more and prove it's all my fault. I feel like I need to see what it would be like to be with another man and get it out of my system. I bask in the attention and want him to want me. It ultimately feels grubby and deceptive and it fizzles out. I feel lonelier than ever. He drinks more than ever and I spend my evenings watching him passed out on the settee, glad he's not conscious. I also buy his drink for him when he asks, glad of the peace. I go on a work night out and I meet another man and start sleeping with him occasionally. I realise that I'm not as hideous as I've been told that I am. I feel guilty but not that much. 

December 2000: I work on New Year's Eve to avoid him. The new millennium begins and I start to panic about how trapped I feel. 

Spring 2000: He senses me slipping away and starts to make small efforts, too late. I wish he wouldn't. He buys a car, decorates the spare room and turns it into a book lined study for me. He cuts down on his drinking. He lets me make decisions, finally and we go on holiday to Greece, where we finally crack, fight and spit out our bitterness. When we get back he crashes the car and writes it off and unhurt, he takes to the bed with a bottle of vodka.

Spring 2000: I'm finally leaving him. He takes it badly, drinking all day and not going to work. He refuses to leave the house or sell it, refuses to let me take the dog with me. He cries loud tears, wakes me in the night with kicks and punches, screaming at me. He tells everyone in the local pub how cruel and evil I am. They seem to believe him. I'm frightened but happier. I'm 28, have never lived alone or been single and I'm scared. I imagine I won't cope with looking after myself or with managing money, but surprisingly I do. 

June 2001: I have a small flat which I've lived in for 6 months. I've painted it throughout, in colours I like. I'm good at managing my money and have spare cash to buy clothes and books. I left my house with nothing but my clothes and books. I've seen him make three dramatic suicide attempts, each one less serious than the last. I've taken him to Accident and Emergency three times and sat there for hours by the trolley while he sleeps off overdoses. I miss my house and my dog but I don't miss him. He's finally agreed to sell the house, before it was repossessed and it turns out he's spent £18,000 and offset it against the mortgage. We have £10,000 in equity. Stupidly, I didn't realise he could do this without me signing anything and I have to pay the remaining money back myself, as he has no means to do so. It's a small price. I came out alive. He moves away to the coast and I break off all contact and am free. I like my life at last, although it takes me a long time to feel comfortable with myself. I meet a new man and we start to see each other. he struggles to understand how troubled I am at times but supports me. He hates my ex with a passion and can't stand his name mentioned. Neither can I. 

I choose not to think about him for 10 years, pushing it all the back of my mind. It's only years later that I feel able to be angry with him. Years of shock waves at the physical and emotional violence that was my life. I don't hate many people, it's not worth the energy, but he's deserving of my contempt. Fully deserving. 

Monday, 1 August 2011

Poems: If People Disapprove of You

This one's for all the people who feel like freaks, outcasts or misfits some or most of the time. Oh, that's all of us. It's a favorite of mine

 If People Disapprove of You
By Sophie Hannah
Make being disapproved of your hobby.
Make being disapproved of your aim.
Devise new ways of scoring points
In the Being Disapproved of Game.

Let them disapprove in their dozens.
Let them disapprove in their hordes.
You'll find that being disapproved of
Builds character, brings rewards.

Just like any form of striving
Don't be arrogant; don't coast
On your high disapproval rating.
Try to be disapproved of most.

At this point, if it's useful,
Draw a pie chart or a graph.
Show it to someone who disapproves.
When they disapprove, just laugh.

Count the emotions you provoke:
Anger, suspicion, shock.
One point for each of these
And two for each boat you rock.

Feel yourself warming to your task -
You do it bloody well.
A last you've found an area
In which you can excel.
Savor the thrill of risk without
The fear of getting caught.
Whether they sulk or scream or pout,
Enjoy your new-found sport.

Meanwhile all those who disapprove
While you are having fun
Won't even know your game exists
So tell yourself you've won.