Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ramblings: Sleeping Life Away

Lying in bed till midday, listening to gloomy music, dressing in black clothes: aren’t these all signs of being a normal moody teenager? What makes me think I was depressed and not just going through a stage of life?

For me, being a teenager in the late 1980s was a difficult time. I was bright and doing well academically, had a few close friends and lots of interests but spent large portions of time veering between searing anxiety and black moods. By the time I was 15 and sitting my O-Levels I was a complete mess. I was doing all the things lots of teenagers did but for me this apparent conformity to the norm was masking a deep seated unhappiness and a protracted depressive episode which changed the course of my life.

I’d always been a happy child, anxious and nervy at times and over eager to please but essentially cheerful. Years of mild bullying at school had left me edgy and wary of people but I was self contained and happy alone in my room reading and listening to music. I had a troubled relationship with my parents and they didn’t approve of me growing up gay which made mealtimes tense but endurable. I was essentially very bored with life. School didn’t engage me; the lessons were easy to follow and left me feeling caged and claustrophobic. I was an inveterate clock watcher, wishing life away.

By my mid teens I stopped eating so well, started sleeping more, avoided people and thought about dying a lot. It wasn’t so much that I was miserable but more that there was a total absence of anything. I felt no pleasure and found nothing inspiring or compelling. The books I usually loved stopped exciting me, TV didn’t appeal and life held no meaning. I couldn’t visualise a future, just a continuum of grey dull days where I didn’t quite know where to put myself or where I wanted to be.

I stopped studying at school, often skipping lessons so that I could sleep, scraping through with the minimum of work only. I took to stealing sleeping pills from my parents, taking them at 9am after a good night’s sleep so that I could sleep through the day and not have to face anything.  I discovered cigarettes and drinking alcohol as ways of distraction and oblivion. I paced with anxiety, stared at the wall beside my bed and secretly hoped that some disease or accident would carry me off so that it would all end.

Naturally, this was labelled as “teenage moodiness” by everyone around me. No one asked what was wrong or even assumed anything was. I was just being “normal”. What teenager doesn’t sleep a lot and experiment with abusing substances to some extent? Isn’t it a rite of passage?

It passed eventually but the ensuing years were hard and my depressed mood and ever plummeting self esteem led me to make bad choices in life. I abandoned my place at University and a promising academic career and entered a relationship with an unsuitable older man: not such sound choices in retrospect.

Things could have been different and life could have been much easier had there been some recognition of my condition (even by myself) and that my depression went beyond what was considered normal. Depression can eventually pass untreated and my life has turned out well in spite of the interruption of a few years of moderate depression but at a cost. I can’t help but think that if I’d had even something as simple as a professional to talk to then those years would have been less painful and less burdensome and maybe the pattern of episodes of severe depression that followed in adult life may have been circumvented.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Ramblings: Hair of the Dog

I’ve been growing my hair lately. It’s a final fling thing. It’s receding a little at the front, getting thinner by the day on top and getting darker and weaker. It’s a short step away till I have to shave the lot off or embrace the comb over.

It set me thinking about tragic hairstyles I’ve nurtured over the years. I became obsessed with my hair from an early age and was turning my nose up at the foul smelling brown Vosene we were made to use from about 5 years old. I hated the stuff and would sneak dollops of my mum’s shampoo when no one was looking. I had a huge mop of hair, generally chopped into a pudding basin style by my inept mother with an asymmetrical fringe. Old ladies would comment on my huge mop of white blond hair and I’d lap it up, preening for them and flicking my head like a shampoo advert model. I liked it clean, shiny and well groomed.

As the 1980s progressed I grew a lovely flick. I blame Lady Di. Everyone wanted a luscious fringe, flicked to one side, which we could make cow eyes from under. It was all the rage. I’d practice in the mirror, looking coyly upwards and gazing towards my non-existent Prince Charming. Luckily, I chose to wear seatbelts though. She wasn’t always such a good example to follow.

My teenage years were marred by the hideous permanent wave which a hairdresser talked me into. Aged 13 I was bemoaning the fact that my hair was so flat and lifeless with no body. The mid eighties perm was fashionable for men and he talked me into parting with my pocket money for one. I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting with thick lotion that smelled like a colostomy bag on my hair. He told me it wouldn’t be curly, just thick and full of body so I could look like James Dean. He lied. I looked like Deirdre Barlow from Coronation Street. It was a mess of tight curls which would have made any potential Black and White Minstrel shine green with envy under his face paint. I spent many frantic hours with a blow dryer trying to make it less curly but to no avail. It was truly hideous.

I then discovered hair dye. I decided to become a Goth. I took to wearing black clothes and mooching about in a baggy old black cardigan and Dock Martins, moaning about how my life was over already and obsessing about death. I spent hours interpreting lyrics by Siouxsie Sioux and The Cure and reading the bleaker poems of Sylvia Plath. I needed the hair to go with my black nail polish and my fake black moods. I plastered my head in hair dye and came out with a quiff of raven black hair which made me look pasty and anaemic. I looked more like Bert off Sesame Street than an Indie pop star. A huge candyfloss arrangement of dry black fluff sat on top of my head. The carpet, my ears, my neck and my forehead looked less anaemic than me, all sporting spots of black dye. I had black ear tips and a grey neck which wasn’t attractive. I tackled my ears and neck with a pumice stone and ended up looking like I had a bad case of eczema.

I didn’t learn. I toyed with burgundy dye, various types of black dye, red streaks. It all looked terrible but I thought I looked amazing. My blond roots would come out shocking pink. I was caught in a rain storm at Nottingham University one day and came in to find my face had red streaks running down it, making me look like I’d sustained a head injury. I wondered why people had been looking at me oddly on the bus.

I went back to mousy blond after it started to fall out in tufts. I’d wake up in the morning to a thatch of black hair on the pillow. I then discovered Sun-In, a noxious peroxide solution which turned your hair a brassy orange colour and took a layer of skin off your scalp. I spent years with a brushed forward white/orange head with flaking scalp, applying enough cheap hairspray to rip holes in the toughest of ozone layers (yes, I confess, it was me who ruined the environment).

In the late 90s I discovered the clippers and the liberating act of having no hair to worry about. What total bliss to jump out of the shower and rub your head with a towel and be on your way. This gave way to the messed up, spiky do, with little bits of cream bleach rubbed onto the tips. It was all the rage in the late 90s, honestly. Another liberating return to a shaved head and dispensing with hours listening to hairdresser chatter whilst bleach soaked in, ensued.

On reflection, maybe the baldness will be better. The obsession we have with our hair wastes so much time and is so inane. It’s time I could spend reading a good novel. I was on the bus one day when two very camp lads got on and sat a few seats behind me. They were young hairdressers and were chatting about their day at work. One of them whispered loudly to the other “He’s quite cute, the bloke down the front.” They meant me; I was the only other man on the bus. The other one said to him “Yes, but he’s got a double crown. They’re so hard to style!” With that, a non-starter of a romance was scotched. All because of hair.
In the interests of justice I would like to point out the following: I've never had a mullet or a centre parting. Thank you.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ramblings: It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To.

It’s June 1977 and I wake up feeling full of expectation and dread. It’s my sixth birthday and my wishes haven’t come true again. I’m still here in the little terraced house. My real family haven’t discovered me yet and taken me off to live with them in their castle. I’m certain I was adopted and no one has been brave enough to tell me yet and I’m also certain I’ll be rescued soon. It’s a fairly logical conclusion. My brother and my parents all have brown hair, mine is white. They all love to eat. I hate eating. I must be adopted.

There have been programs on TV recently about baby snatchers. My mum let me watch them. She lets me watch most things as long as I’m quiet. These are deranged women who steal children from outside of supermarkets, a bit like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang only sporting shaggy perms and wearing maxi dresses. I love that film, by the way. I have the soundtrack which I play on my mum’s old reel to reel player which she’s given me along with Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey and The Sound of Music. I’ve invented dances too.

I’m quite worried about the child thieves and have stopped going to the park with my brother so often in case one catches me. The peculiar cat on the Charlie Says commercial says never get in a stranger’s car. I asked my dad what would happen if you did and he told me it’s very dangerous because they chop you up and bury you in a shallow grave. It’s safer to stay at home and read my books.

I also wished for a white cat with blue eyes. I’d like it to be a deaf cat. I have a book about cats which tells me that blue eyed white cats are often deaf. I don’t mind a deaf cat as long as it’s pure white. My own cat is grouchy and is black and white and scratches me a lot when I hug him. He’s called Whiskey and looks a lot like Adolf Hitler.

I get some birthday presents and we have a fried breakfast because it’s Sunday. They eat huge platefuls of food which makes me feel sick just to look at it. I have an egg yolk (the white makes me puke) and half a sausage which I eat as fast as I can so I can pretend I’m not eating. I help to wash up and make coffee for my parents. I love coffee with lots of sugar and drink cups of it all days long.

My presents are mostly disappointing. I wanted a Tiny Tears doll which cries and wees, a Girl’s World styling head to put make-up on and some new clothes. I get yet more Meccano and an Action Man with eyes which swivel in his head. The Action Man is nice looking though and I think about stories I can make about him befriending the pixies and fairies or doing good deeds for people in the forest.

I go upstairs to read a bit and to choose my clothes. Clothes are very important. I like to look my best. I brush my hair and choose a pair of Navy Oxford Bags and a purple and white flowered shirt with an integral cravat which I’m old enough to tie myself now. I’ll wear this with my tweed jacket which will be very warm indoors but most importantly will look very dashing. It has very big lapels.

I go downstairs to help my mum. I like helping her just like Jane does in the Peter and Jane books. I have my rabbit with me. She’s not a real rabbit. She’s yellow and wears a long nylon dress. If you flip the dress up she has another face and the dress is a different colour. How cool is that? I’d like flip up clothes too so I could change. I’m not allowed to wear more than one set of clothes per day but I’d like to get changed a lot.

My mum is taking a special tablet called Valium which she likes a lot, as preparation for the party. I’d like one too but I have to pretend. I like to play families. In this game I’m the parents and Rabbit, Snowdrop and Timothy are my children. I take my Valium (Midget gems), drink my sherry or beer (Dandelion and Burdock) and smoke my candy cigarette. I can’t wait to be grown up and have the real thing. I fetch the Consulates for my mum. They’re smooth and white and smell minty. She likes them a lot.

My mum is making a salad and because it’s a special day she’s making it really posh by cutting the tomatoes into little crowns with jagged edges. I think my dad has taken the dog out to the allotments. I don’t think he likes children’s parties very much. Whiskey the cat has gone out too. He doesn’t like children much either, only me. My mum has made cakes too and is hiding sweets around the house, behind mirrors and under cushions. She’s hidden a whole back of Blackjacks and Fruit Salads.

I’ve never had a party before and am not so sure about this one either. I don’t really like other children. Adults are more interesting. I like listening to what they say. I especially dislike little boys. They’re kind of weird. I’ve had to invite three little boys called Paul, Simon and David to my party. Paul likes to talk about planes. He knows the names of all the fighter planes and likes to talk about war. David likes cars a lot. When we go out with our mums he names all the makes of cars as they pass us and looks at me like I’m stupid because I think cars are boring. Simon likes football. I’ve played it once and hated it. I don’t like running and kicking at all. I prefer being inside. I also hate getting dirty. Old men often speak to me when I’m in shops and ask me what football team I like and I clam up and blush. I don’t know why people think I’m strange but I wish they didn’t.

Luckily three girls are coming too. Girls are more fun. I have lots of friends who are girls and we play proper games like “Murder” where we hide and jump out. This makes me a bit nervous. I jump easily. I have to carry a torch in my jacket pocket for when I’m walking in houses to shine the dark places away.

My mum gets ready for the party and combs her afro hair. She has to put special stuff on to make it all curly. The party starts and surprisingly I quite like it. I want attention and this is good attention. Because it’s my birthday and I’m 6 no one calls me bad names or disapproves. Maybe life will be like this now I’m 6.

We play games and they eat food. I eat as little as I can and for a change, no one seems to notice. I don’t have to pretend to eat and then give my food to the dog. I get presents too and the most exciting one is a game called Pop-Up Pirate. It looks really good. I still don’t have a Mr Frosty though, my mum says it’s a rubbish toy and I can’t have one.

We finally get to play Pop-Up Pirate after some boring running round games. The mean pirate sits in a big brown barrel and you have to stab him with swords. I’m very excited about this and lean in very close. The winner is the one who makes the pirate pop out, I think.

I put in my sword and crane forwards and a tragedy occurs. The pirate pops out so fast that he hits me square between the eyes and the other children start to laugh. I go upstairs to compose myself and check for marks. My skin is very good and I hate marks.

I come back down and stand at the bottom of the bottom and clap my hands to gather everyone’s attention.

“Right, children, the party is now over. Please get your coats. Bye. Thank you for coming. ”

I get told off for saying this. I don’t think I’ll have another party again till I’m really old, like 40. I hope my mum remembers to retrieve those sticky sweets too. It would be a nightmare if on moving house years later she finds sticky sweets gluing things together. Now, where did I put Snowdrop’s Family Allowance booklet? I made that last week and she needs it to draw her benefits.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Poems: The End of Love

Sophie Hannah is best known as the writer of torturously plotted thrillers but before embarking on writing novels was better known as a poet. I love this one and think it fits in with my previous post about weddings. I agree with her sentiment here. Broken relationships need big announcements too.


The End of Love

by Sophie Hannah

The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.
Why the hell not? It happens to us all.
Why should it pass without acknowledgment?
Suits should be dry-cleaned, invitations sent.
Whatever form it takes—a tiff, a brawl—
The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.
Better than the unquestioning descent
Into the trap of silence, than the crawl
From visible to hidden, door to wall.
Get the announcements made, the money spent.
The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.

Ramblings: I Don't, I Don't, I Don't.

I hate it when taxi drivers talk too much. Last year I had the misfortune to be trapped in a taxi driven by a really pompous middle aged man. He started off as soon as I sat down, droning on about his daughter’s wedding and how much money he’d spent on a dress, chocolate fountain and all that crap that people seem to need. I half listened and after ten minutes of the boring old twat boasting on I said: “Well, its worth all that money though isn’t it? A wedding is something your daughter will only have two or three times in her life.”

He wasn’t impressed at my unromantic, but realistic sentiments but it got the end result of him shutting up so all was fine. I’m sorry if this disappoints or offends anyone, but I probably won’t be coming to your wedding even if you invite me. You certainly won’t be coming to mine. I definitely won’t be coming if it’s a church wedding. I really don’t like the places and think they make great bars or apartment conversions.

Lots of my female friends are impressed by the idea of a gay wedding. I’m not. They like the idea of the novelty of two men getting “married” and think it would be cute and camp. I often get people urging me to get married. It’s not happening, well at least not until I have a list of white goods that I need long enough to make the wedding list worth a few thousand. It’s just not me. I like a bit of attention but there are limits. Weddings are often so naff. I just couldn’t face all that planning, forcing people to stand about being as bored as I generally am at weddings and having to proclaim slush in front of people. It’s not my thing. The whole religious element puts me off too. Even a non religious wedding is, in my view, aping an unnecessary religious ritual.

Planning weddings involves rows, breaches of etiquette and lots of cash. I’m not overly keen on dancing to “Come on Eileen” or finger buffets and I think cummerbunds are just stupid. No one looks good in morning suits and as for the ubiquitous kilt wearing just because your gran once stood next to a man from Kilmarnock in Tesco. Forget it. Knowing my luck I’d plan a wedding and end up with a corking migraine that day and a lot of money down the drain.

A hotel near me advertises a “Wedding in a Box” at £5000 all in. £5000! That’s a lot of money for a day. You could go on a few nice holidays with that or buy a hell of a lot of good books or theatre tickets.

I hate attending weddings. Mawkish children dressed like junior hookers, tedious long Eskimo love poems read out with a crocodile tear and standing waiting whilst you spend an hour posing for stagey soft focus photos of something which has barely happened yet? I think I can safely resist that. I’m never sorry to miss the best man’s speech in which he details jolly japes about the time you got a hand job in Amsterdam. I’m never sad to miss the sight of the fat uncle dancing with the small child either. I’m happier at home with a good book.

As a child of seven I was reprimanded sharply at a family wedding when I was caught reading a copy of “The Borrowers” during an especially dull service. Is dull church service an oxymoron?  Propping the novel inside a hymn book failed to avoid my parents’ beady eyes. They knew me well. I do hate to be cooped up and bored.

If I did get hitched it’d be for convenience e.g. to ensure someone got my pension or to get a hot Brazilian a British passport. It would be done discretely in a registry office with a nice lunch afterwards. I might even splash out and not plump for the Harvester Lunch Deal, although the salad bar is very tempting.

It’s not that I’m unromantic. I’m definitely very romantic. I believe love is a chemical malfunction/mental illness and it can be very nice thank you. How much more romance is there than that? I don’t need an outdated medieval ritual to proclaim my madness to the world. I can do it on Facebook. Let’s face it, experience has shown me that men are quite likely to abandon you without warning, smack you round the head with a Christmas tree, drink all your money away or diddle your mates behind your back. There isn’t a pledge in the world, written or spoken before some imaginary deity or council official that will stop that. It’s the luck of the draw.

In the modern age believing that you’re going to be with someone for the rest of your life is sweet but probably not that realistic. The biggest commitment these days is surely impregnation or buying a house. Having a baby means you’ll have to see the twat forever more (or at least till the kid is 20 or so) and buying a house together is a bugger to wriggle out of legally. Divorce is cheaper and more final.

Feel free to invite me to any weddings. At a push I’ll come to the do after as long as the buffet is good quality and no one plays Dexy’s Midnight Runners but the answer is probably likely to be my stock one: I’m afraid I’m too busy, I’ll come to the next one.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Poems: Love Cuts

I saw John Hegley do a reading of poetry last year and was impressed by his very British humour and sense of the absurd. I like that this poem manages to describe the pain of love whilst retaining humour and avoiding pretension.

       Love Cuts

        by John Hegley

Love cuts
love juts out
and you walk right into it.

Love cuts
love comes and goes
love's a rose
first you smell the flower
then the thorn goes up your nostril
love gives you chocolates
then love gives you the chop
it doesn't like to linger.

Love cuts
love shuts up shop
and shuts it on your finger
love cuts
what isn't very nice is
love leaves you in slices.

Love cuts
love's very sharp
a harpoon through an easy chair
a comb of honey in your hair
just wait until the bees come home
and find you just relaxing there.

Love cuts
love's claws
evacuate that heart of yours
and leave it on the sleeve it wipes
its nose on.

Love cuts, love guts the fish
of what you wish for
and leaves it in the airing cupboard

Love cuts
love huts fall down
as all the walls get falser.

Love cuts
love struts around on stilts of balsa wood
love cuts love gives you a sweeping bow
then ploughs a furrow deep above your eyebrow
love cuts
love curtseys
then nuts you
where it really hurtseys.

Ramblings: Kitchen Sink Drama

My kitchen tap hates Paul. My bathroom tap hates me. Every time Paul tries to wash up he can’t get hot water to run in the kitchen. Initially I wondered if it was an excuse not to wash up, then remembered that it’s taken me four years to work out the vagaries of the temperamental boiler. The tap has to be turned to a certain exact point before it decides to run hot. He still washes up. I just have to run the water for him.

I frequently swear at the bathroom sink in the mornings when I’m trying to shave. My waterproof radio goes on the blink and the crackling sounds annoy me. The hot water drifts in and out of its own accord and I shout vile obscenities. I’m not good in the mornings.

At least the bathroom radio works a bit. The radio in my bedroom is digital and only picks up crappy local radio where they seem to have four songs on a loop interspersed with double glazing adverts. It’s a very stylish radio though, which is me all over. I prefer style over substance or function.

My duvet cover is pure white, smoothed down and inviting until you turn it back and see the cigarette burn where I once smoked in bed (naughty I know), nodded off and burnt the duvet. The scent of light air freshener pervades yet if you open the cupboard under the stairs you’ll get a whiff of festering mould not too far removed from the smell of an old man’s trousers on a damp day on a hot bus. The house is immaculately tidy but try opening a random drawer and you’ll see a jumble of stuff haphazardly piled in.

The garden is slippy underfoot and to the novice can result in a nasty slip on a damp morning. One of the plug sockets in the bedroom is mysteriously blocked with some unknown item. I lived for two years with a cooker that had only two functional gas rings and only changed it when I was down to the little burner alone. The cooker hood and extractor isn’t even plumbed in but is always clean, which is what matters.

I’ve lived here five years and am used to the random creaks and groans, the occasional patches of damp and mould which sprout up and I know what lies beneath the immaculate veneer. I know how to work the taps in the kitchen, where not to look and that it is far from the model of perfection that people sometimes assume when they visit.

I love my house in spite of its faults. When I get in, sometimes, I’m almost tempted to press my back against the locked door and sink to the floor in pure relief that I’ve survived another day in the outside world. I often feel that I understand the joys of reclusiveness.

My house is a lot like me, not too bad looking at a first glance in a flattering light, generally quite neat and tidy but with lots of hidden mess and a lot of temperamental parts and flaws. As long as you know how to work your way round the stubborn parts and can reflect on the good bits, I can be a pretty good sanctuary too.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ramblings: Positively Inane

I really mistrust false cheerfulness. I hate that notion of smiling your troubles away and bombarding them with positive thoughts will banish any darkness and gloom. It’s a pervasive trend, one which is endemic in our culture now. If I was on the deck of the Titanic I wouldn’t be smiling to myself and thinking about the positive side of things. I’d be preparing to drown and be rather miffed about it all. I also wouldn’t carry on playing a cello but that’s a whole other issue.

American author Barbara Ehrenreich was unlucky enough to develop breast cancer and she wrote a book about the tyranny of positive thinking and how damaging she found it. She was devastated, miserable and daunted by what lay ahead of her with this horrible illness and a battery of gruelling treatments ahead. She felt miserable and unhappy, which is a normal emotion, part of the grieving process which we all go through when we lose something or things take a bad turn.

Barbara found that she was discouraged from feeling bad and was criticised and bullied because she wasn’t being positive about it all. She was encouraged to call herself a survivor rather than a victim. She was encouraged to embrace her diagnosis and look at the positive aspects of it. She understandably struggled to find any, as most people would. The whole experience was devalued for her and she felt inspired to write a book about how derogatory the pressure to think positively was for her. She was criticised and over ridden by friends and family, the pressure of media articles and by the community of cancer sufferers she encountered in America.

Positive thinking is a trend which pervades all culture. There are numerous self help books which extol its virtues ad-nauseum, Facebook groups that post pictures encouraging you to banish negativity and hordes of people telling you to make your bad experiences into good ones by changing the way you think about them. I loathe this. If I have a bad time, then like Barbara, I want it acknowledging. I want to be allowed to feel miserable about it. It’s a normal process to feel unhappy sometimes and it’s unhealthy to suppress it. I don't want to become morbidly obsessed with only having good thoughts and made to feel I'm at fault for not being positive enough if it all goes wrong.

I honestly don’t believe that telling yourself that having your leg amputated in a tractor accident was a valuable experience because it made you re-evaluate your priorities is healthy. You need to feel a little bit cross about your one legged condition, mope a bit and then start to adapt. You shouldn’t feel obliged to turn tragedy into a defining moment from day one.

Life can be pretty shitty and feeling bad isn’t nice but sadly, it’s part of the whole experience. Lying doesn’t help anyone. I can stare in a mirror for hours on end and tell myself I’m a 20 year old but actually I’m not nor ever will be again. Value your experiences good or bad and cut the phoney guff. It’s insulting and repressive.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Poems: You Fit Into Me

I love Margaret Atwood's books, especially the haunting "Alias Grace" and "The Handmaid's Tale" with its' dystopian view of a futurist misogynist culture. This little poem makes me laugh and squirm and reminds me of a few of my exes.
You Fit Into Me
by Margaret Atwood
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
A fish hook
An open eye

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Ramblings: Very Superstitious

For saying I’m a vehement atheist with a dislike of religion, I still have a very strong belief system. Like many religions, my beliefs are based on a handful of peculiar rituals and practices handed down through the generations. I believe in the power of the Magpie. Yes, I’m ashamed to say this; I’m an irrational superstitious person. Magpies can be very dangerous birds.

I touch wood if I say something unpleasant to stop the doom from descending. It only works if I do it with the index finger of my right hand though. It has to be a firm tap on the wood with the correct finger, naturally. I also get very excited if a black cat meanders across my path. Not just because I like cats a lot, but because it means joyous good luck for the next day. I never wash clothes on New Year’s Day. If I did that then one of my family members would be washed away too. Everyone knows that. I might just consider a quick wash if I could choose the family member and the severity of injury. The idea of your own personal Persil hit man could be quite appealing at certain times.

I spent years in my youth with crossed fingers, avoiding cracks in the pavement. I had to stop this. I’m clumsy enough without adding extra impediments to my already dangerous forays into the outside world. It’s bad enough that I won’t wear my glasses all the time through vanity, without me turning a walk into an obstacle course.

I’m ecstatic if I see a shiny new penny on the floor. I have to pick it up to ensure good luck all day. People seem to look at you oddly when you do this in the middle of a busy street or in the queue in the chip shop but I simply don’t care. I suspect they’re just jealous because I spotted it and consequently I have the good luck. I can’t help being lucky.

I even used to invent little fortune telling exercises. I’d set challenges. For example: if I can get up the stairs before the door swings shut then it’ll all be fine. If I can get coffee, milk and sugar into the mug before the kettle boils then I won’t be murdered today. I invented rituals, tapping things being a favourite habit. It had to be the right thing to tap. My preference was the newel post at the bottom of the stairs. It also had to be the right amount of taps. Three taps was lucky, four was deadly. Especially lucky was nine taps (3 times 3). Tapping the stair banister three times in three places ensured that I didn’t die in my sleep. Do you know what? It worked too. I didn’t ever die in my sleep.

A friend once told me that she never had the volume on the television on an odd number and that she believed that having it set to an even number ensured safety. Naturally, I adopted this habit too.  She may have well been onto something there.

The scariest thing of all is the magpie. My mother taught me from childhood that if you see a magpie alone it’s very bad luck, unless you salute it and say “Good morning Mr Magpie. How’s your wife?” If you see two or more magpies it’s a harbinger of joy and good fortune. There’s no need for greetings. This was fine as a child but in adult life it gets trickier. Try being on a crowded train and spotting a solitary black and white fiend on a branch. The man across from you will always give you a very funny look if you shout out your greeting whilst looking like a demented boy scout saluting some imaginary monarch.

Maybe it was a bad mistake to take my hand off the steering wheel whilst driving along a busy dual carriageway on a driving lesson. The instructor told me off and was actually quite rude. He didn’t seem at all impressed when I explained patiently that in the greater scheme of things, the risk of doom incurred by me not saluting the bird was far greater than the risk of us crashing whilst I saluted. I was ensuring our safety. He didn’t like this explanation at all.

I’ve got better as I’ve got older. I no longer tap things so much. I don’t break into a sweat if the radio volume is at number 5. I still pick up pennies and salute magpies, but more discretely. I dive down with a nonchalant manoeuvre to retrieve the abandoned coins and silently mouth bird greetings whilst doing a casual salute, which to the untutored eye looks like I’m scratching my forehead.   

I know what it’s all about. It’s my attempt to ward off anxiety, not evil. Like any belief system it can be pernicious and punishing too and I know this. If I say “Oh, I haven’t had a cold in ages” and then due to forgetting to touch a wooden item afterwards subsequently get a cold, then I feel bad and blame myself. If put my washer on on the wrong day and someone dies then I could feel very bad. It’s a silly business. This is what my mind tells me. My instincts tell me otherwise.

I’ll stick to practising my beliefs discretely and maybe remind myself when I laugh at strange religions that we all have our beliefs, some more absurd than others.