Sunday, 26 February 2012

Ramblings: Unnatural Urges


I have a friend who I’ve known for over 4 years. We get on well, share the same kind of humour and often spend time together seeing comedy or theatre. The only problem is that we’ve shared too much. No, we haven’t seen each other naked or admitted to bestiality. It’s far worse. We’ve both revealed our strange violent urges.   

I often get these urges. Well, not so much urges as fleeting thoughts like the urge to shout Fanny-finger or Bottom-wrangler, I have the urge to push people over, off high things or under the path of oncoming vehicles. I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about.

An example would be if I was walking along a road and I saw a man leaning over a bridge. I often have a sudden thought, contemplating the fact that I could grab his legs and throw him over the bridge. I would never do it, but the thought crosses my mind. It extends to inanimate objects too. On a recent trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum, I pondered pushing over a plinth with a priceless bust on it and sending the whole row toppling over like a hideously expensive Domino Rally game. I get a lot of thoughts like these in antique shops or museums. I’m a nightmare in a factory outlet shop selling china. Thank goodness no one still does those pyramids of baked bean tins any more.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a psychopath. If we’re standing waiting to cross the road and a convoy of juggernauts is looming down, I’ll only be thinking of pushing you under them. I won’t do it, honestly.
 It’s as if my mind is thinking of all the hideous things I could do and how terrible they are, maybe as a way of not doing them. I remember in school, having urges to shout horrific swear words out loud. Luckily they were just thoughts. My life could have been very different were I to have acted them out.

The problem with me and my friend is that we both admit to these tendencies. We neither of us have much artifice. On a weekend away in Wales we decided to be open and honest about it.

My friend, buttering bread: “Ooh, I just wondered about stabbing you with this knife.”

Me at the roadside: “Ooh, I just pondered pushing you under that bus.”

My friend, on a walk: “Ooh, I just contemplated pushing you into that weir”

Me, smoking: “Ooh, I just considered putting this cigarette out on your forehead”

It started to get a little scary and the weekend was rapidly becoming a potential video nasty. We calmed it down a notch and carried on, just articulating random thoughts we had about passers by or shop displays. That felt safer.

We’re not deranged, we’re just honest. We're also both without genuine violent intent and wouldn't hurt anyone. Maybe hiding beneath the veneer of respectability is a better option though. There’s a fine line.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Poetry: Hotels Like Houses


Sophie Hannah is such a great author. She writes baffling crime novels and beautiful poetry. I’m excited because next week she’s giving a talk at a local Waterstones and I have a ticket. I love this poem. It says so much in a short verse. I think a lot of us can identify with this kind of relationship.

Hotels Like Houses

She is the one who takes a shine
to ceilings and to floors,
whose eye finds room for every line
scratched on the wardrobe doors.

She thinks in terms of thick red rope
around the bed, a plaque
above the hardened bathroom soap.
He’s always first to pack.

If their affair has awkward spells,
what’s bound to cause the rows is
that he treats houses like hotels
and she, hotels like houses.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Ramblings: No One Loves a Fairy


I always dreaded aging. I was downcast at 20, twitched at 25 and inconsolable and in hiding at 30. 35 grated my jangled nerves. I approached 40 with mounting dread, waking at night in cold sweats and having palpitations at the thought of impending middle age. I compulsively checked my paunch, my crow’s feet and my thinning hair. I started to squint slightly when the hairdresser brandished a mirror over my balding pate so as to avoid the shock in full vision. I even considered giving up smoking again.

When the time came, amazingly, I welcomed my 40th birthday like no other. I actually even had a party, hiring a cinema and showing a suitably absurd film for a group of friends. Surprisingly, I actually really like being 40. It has so many advantages.

1)      I no longer have to go out at night.   I spent many nights in my twenties and thirties in grimy gay bars, relentlessly swigging alcohol and navigating creeps, freaks and weirdos. It was often an effort to even navigate the floors, the local gay club having the stickiest floor in the known universe. Don’t ask me why. I’ve tried to block out fathoming that one out. It opens a whole can of worms. I tolerated inane music, having to shout to be heard and endured halitosis as people craned in close to be heard by me. I drank enough to enable me to dance, putting up with clumsy drunks, sweaty atmospheres and stumbling teenagers. I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore. I can now safely enter what I call “the divorcee” part of town. No more thudding bass beat, just a lot of older ladies and gentleman sipping drinks and trying to stand in a dim light so as not to expose the saggy bits. It’s much more civilised. I actually no longer care if I go out at all. I’d rather see friends at their houses or at mine or spend a nice evening in the cinema before retiring at  eleven pm (after popping a wash on to peg out in the morning).

2)      I no longer have to follow fashion. Not for me the canvas shoes caked in foot grime. I don’t have to wander around in February with my bottom exposed, elasticated trousers halfway up my legs and no coat. Not for me the painful blue feet as I trek about in inappropriate shoes in snow. I can go out with a coat on. It’s amazing. Being 40 has made me appreciate the joys of dressing for the weather, usually in a nice warm Macintosh. I can buy clothes because they suit me and I like that. I can even shop at M and S now and no one thinks a thing of it.

3)      I know what I like. I have a job which I like, a house I like and I know what I enjoy doing. It’s taken me a long time to learn these things. Woe betide anyone who tries to take that away or make me do things I don’t want to do (e.g. celebrate Christmas, enter churches or endure weddings). I no longer feel the need to pretend that I quite like package holidays, works’ leaving dos and eating at Nandos. I feel resolute enough to say “No” and stick to doing what I like. I also know what I want from friendships and relationships and am happy to set my own agendas (with the occasional compromise at a push).

4)      I no longer feel the need to suffer fools. I spent many years putting up with stupid or annoying people, tolerating liars, the inane, the dull. Hell, I even spent time living with them. The older you get the less you have to tolerate. I feel able to speak my mind or just to ignore people and move on and away. It’s amazingly liberating and I wish I’d learnt it at a younger age.

5)      I can nap. I’ve napped from a young age. Sleeping is a hobby of mine. Years of working shifts led me to appreciate the afternoon snooze as a pick me up and now I feel it’s also age appropriate. The over 40s can nap to their hearts content without disapproval. I’m no longer in the napping closet. I’m an out and proud napper.

6)      I’m old enough to have had a lot of therapy. Aging means I’ve had time to have had a hell of a lot of therapy. I’ve had counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychotherapy. If I was any younger I wouldn’t have logistically fitted all that in. Being theraped (I made that word up) has given me the chance to move on from the horrors of the eighties. Let’s face it, unless you’re pretty deluded the eighties were grim all round and we all need theraping to escape that.

One final point though. I’m more than happy to be 40. I don’t lie about it, don’t hide it or resent it. Just don’t expect me to embrace getting any older. 41 sounds just terrible.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Ramblings: Unsentimental Journey


I did something momentous last night. I threw away the watch I had brought for my 21st birthday. I have a very happy and close relationship with my bin. I love to throw things away. It’s almost like the opposite of hoarding. Try it, it’s liberating. The feeling of dropping it into the bin was second to none.

I spent my teenage years and early twenties amassing things and then spent my thirties slowly throwing them all away. I had sentimental views. I took endless pictures and pored over them, painstakingly applying them onto the pages of photograph albums. I cut out clippings, saved old college work, school reports and cards which I liked. I hoarded old theatre tickets and programs. I would never have given away a book which I liked and had over a thousand of them. I had piles of old magazines. I would like to add a disclaimer: these items were all stored tidily.

I moved house often during the 1990s, changing address with circumstance and financial situation during the turbulent relationship with the much older man. The things I loved became items I hated to pack and it was during the final move that I realised something had to be done. It was getting mad packing and unpacking all this detritus of a so far not so happy life. I purged. It was a fantastic purge too. Bags of books were carted off to Oxfam. Clothes I hadn’t worn in a year or more were mercilessly sent to the recycling. It was very liberating.

Once I’d split with him and was living alone I cleansed further, going through my belongings like a mean dictator goes through peasants. I felt so relieved to be away from him and to have escaped the relationship with everything but my sanity intact. Suddenly the idea of a flat full of reminders of the past seemed superfluous. I binned nearly all of the photographs from the 12 year relationship. I kept just a few of me which I liked, where the pretence of happiness wasn’t too obviously fake. I kept only two photos of him (to remind me how much I hate him) and nothing else. My twenty or so albums were whittled down to only one.

The school reports were shredded. Why the hell was I keeping a load of pieces of paper with derogatory comments by a sadistic sports teacher with the brain power of a particularly dense hamster? I lobbed 15 years of old theatre and cinema tickets. They weren’t getting me access to anywhere. I dispatched ugly ornaments bought for me in my teens. I wondered why I was keeping folders of notes from courses I’d taken in the early nineties. If I want to know functions of the endocrine system I’m more likely to look it up online or in a book than to root through some badly scrawled notes in a dusty folder.

I became relentless. Nothing stood in my path for long. Scratched vinyl records from the eighties, expired passports, yellowing magazines and birthday cards from 20 years ago were cleansed.  Some items went under the radar. The watch is a prime example. I liked the watch when it was bought for me in 1992. I don’t like it now. It has no monetary value and also has an insincere engraving on the back from the man I now hate. Surely it deserves to fester in a rubbish tip rather than in my drawer?

I don’t miss these items. I never look for them or long for them. I used to think these items would be nice to have when I get old, to give me memories. A sad fact of old age is that as my brain cells die off the old memories will get exposed. The best things to keep are those from the present. If I ever reach 90 I’ll probably be capable of recalling the 80s with the perfect clarity. I suspect I won’t need old school reports to remind me how awful that decade was.

The other advantage of throwing my stuff out is that I can replace it with other people’s discarded crap which is so much more interesting. I have vintage telephones and typewriters, a postcard sent from a woman called Enid to her friend Mabel in Coventry and a suit worn by someone long dead. Just one thing though, touch my collection of 25 years worth of theatre programs and I’ll have your arm off.