When we are young, many of us have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We want to know everything about everything. Often we end up knowing nothing about nothing, or even something about anything. But none of us ever reach the stage where we know nothing about something, unless everything was anything anyway.
“Hmm,” I thought. “Interesting.”
What made it particularly interesting was that I was browsing the Enid Blyton section, so what it was doing their God knows. Not that I believed in God back then, but if I had, then he would have known. That is, he would have known how that book got there, not known that I believed in him. Though he would have known that too. I guess I need to stop drinking.
So I picked the book up and perused its contents. I read the back cover blurb and then read the inner cover blurb. I randomly flicked through the book, picking out a few other blurbs of interest until finally I parted with £6.99 and bought the book. Now I need to say something here. £6.99 was a hell of a lot of money in 1988. I could have bought around 50 copies of Whizzer & Chips for that amount of money and STILL had some left over for a Mars bar, a packet of Monster Munch and a pair of tights. It sat on my bookshelf for a while, along with Nietzsche’s Critique Of Pure Reason and Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. I did eventually read it a few weeks later and although some of its themes and ideas were difficult to grasp, I enjoyed it, particularly when Moon-face slid down the helter-skelter in the middle of the tree.
Many years later in 2009 I left Wales and moved to Wiltshire. The NHS Trust I worked for was excellent at providing training for staff, allowing them a degree of control over which training courses they attended. One day, upon browsing the courses, I noticed a two day event in Bath titled Enhanced Communication. It was held in a huge hotel, high on a hill near the city centre. On arrival, I was greeted by the facilitator, Alison Barclay, and joined a happy throng of approximately fifteen other people; some students, some nurses, some support workers like myself, and we began the course. Day two featured Transactional Analysis and for the first time in over twenty years, I heard the name Eric Berne again. Alison was a great facilitator, helped by the enthusiasm and knowledge of a couple of psychology students that were also on the course. The three of them were able to put forward the theory of Transactional Analysis in a lucid, entertaining and engaging way – no small feat considering they just had half a day to do this. Squeezing over forty years of theory into five hours is tricky, but they did it and I found it engrossing. Subsequently, when working on the rehab ward that was my main base, I was always very observant regarding the way my colleagues would interact with the patients. I, too, became more thoughtful and reflective about the way I project myself.
So here is my take on it, in a nutshell.
There are three ‘states’ that we can adopt in any given human interaction.
Whenever we communicate/chat/gass/gossip/chin-wag/converse or chew-the-fat with someone, we unconsciously adopt one of the three states – Parent, Adult or Child. That bit is easy, right?
So what happens when we are in Parent mode? The other party can adopt one of three positions.
Let’s invent a conversation.
Person 1 (politely) : “What time is it?”
Person 2 (impatiently) : “Haven’t you got a watch?”
Person 1 (sarcastically) : “Sorrreee! I was only asking!”
So person 1 starts out in Adult mode and asks a question. Person 2 responds in Parent mode. Maybe they are in a rush. Maybe they have things on their mind and their mood is out of sorts that day. But for whatever reason, they don’t respond as an adult. Person 1, reacting to this unexpected reply, turns into a Child, using sarcasm to deflect away the hurt that they felt in being told off (as their first memory of being told off was by their parent, when they were a child, so becoming a child again is easy when dealing with an assertive, slightly impatient adult.)
So you can see where this is going can’t you? You have all the permutations of those three states – parent/parent, parent/child, child/parent, child/adult and so on.
Another example –
Employee (meekly): “I am wondering Mr Hamish, if you would possibly consider giving me a raise, as I have worked so hard for you this past year.”
Manager : “You stacked cat food on the rack of seamless stockings this morning. That’s just stupid. Can you imagine if a lady had actually bought a packet of Whiskas instead of the Pretty Polly sheer nylons they wanted to buy? They’d end up with mechanically recovered meat all down their legs.”
So here we have the employee adopting the role of a child, only to be greeted by an admonishing adult. However, this script is one that had probably been thought out beforehand. Many of us may unconsciously (or not so unconsciously) adopt a child-like stance when attempting to gain something from someone whom we know is in a position of power. It is a strategy that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. But these scripts and strategies are used over and over again throughout our lives, each of us adopting a certain stance, be it adult, parent or child, depending on external variables.
The most interesting thing is this – none of the positions are empirically correct. You are probably thinking “So ideally, I should always be looking to be an adult? That’s the most mature position to be in during all human interactions, right?”
Eric Berne took great pains to point out that it isn’t the case that we should always strive to be the ‘adult’. It’s simply about being mindful and aware of those times when we adopt a role, and being aware of when the person we are interacting with adopts a role. And roles can switch mid-way through a conversation too. It’s just about being aware. Because sometimes it is useful to be a child, or useful to be a parent, depending on the person we are interacting with.Many of us have become petulant children when other people have not been able to meet our needs. And sometimes that can work.Sometimes we can become admonishing parents in the face of an admonishing adult. Sometimes that can work. The word ‘manipulation’ can automatically invoke negative connotations in many people but the fact is, we manipulate our environment the best we can all through our lives. Eric Berne has merely written about this in an extremely thorough and insightful way.
Of course, this blog is just a soundbite when it comes to transactional analysis. It obviously goes much, much deeper. For example, the diagram below shows how the categories can be broken up further still –
So hopefully, this little taster has whetted your appetite for Transactional Analysis and you will now pursue a career in psychology. Alternatively, you may just switch on the telly and watch another repeat of Bullseye. If you do, then I will adopt the role of the admonishing adult and say “What are you watching that nonsense when The Walking Dead is on the other side?”
I can’t believe I haven’t written any blogs about 8-bit computers or games yet! I was looking over my posts today and in the three years since I set up this website, there’s not a single hint of 8-bit love! So I shall remedy that travesty of a mockery of a sham today by creating a whole new searchable category – 8-bit love – and writing a blog post, beginning fittingly with the first ever computer I owned, the Amstrad CPC464.
Now before this computer, I wasn’t a gaming virgin. In late 1983 I was bought a Vectrex and that console is worthy of its own blog post, so I will say no more about it here. However, I yearned for a proper computer. My good friends at the time all owned computers. Paul Silcox owned a Vic-20, Wayne Weston owned a Spectrum 48k, Mark Cooper owned an Oric and John Brooks was a proud owner of the only 8-bit computer to originate in Wales – the Dragon 32. Many parents ostensibly bought computers for their children because they were seduced by the “Mum, it will help with my homework” argument, that echoed throughout every home in the early 80s, even homes that didn’t have children. But the truth of the matter was that once the computer was unpacked, the child would then type in
10 print “Big tits”
20 goto 10
and then run out of the room, shouting happily “I’m a programmer! I’m going to be a millionaire!”
So in the Autumn of 1984 I started my ‘I need a computer to help me with my homework’ campaign. My mother often had shopping catalogues in her house such as Littlewoods and Grattan, mail-order services that were immensely popular throughout the 80s and 90s. This, my thirteen year old mind reasoned, would be a great way of obtaining a computer. My mother was on benefits and had little money and I knew that she couldn’t afford to buy me a computer outright. £299 was an awful lot of money in 1984. I could have bought 900 comics for that amount. So I would leave the Grattan catalogue open, with the Amstrad computer circled in thick red felt-tip, hoping that Santa would surprise me at Christmas.
I had to wait a while as that bastard known as Santa welshed on the deal, leaving me with a Tomytronics 3d Space Attack game, and not the computer I was hoping for. In the end, it was my dear Nan and Bamp who stepped in for my 14th birthday in May 1985 and turned me into the proud owner of an Amstrad CPC464. It came with the infamous 12-pack of games. Infamous because they were mostly crap. But to a 14-year old who had yet to develop a discerning eye, they were all gold. Roland on the Ropes, Oh Mummy, Sultan’s Maze and others, gave me hours of fun.
Once, during dinner break at Llantarnam School, I persuaded my friends Wayne Weston and Paul Silcox to come back to my home in Southville, Cwmbran, so I could show off my new computer. We ran from Llantarnam to my home, which took about fifteen minutes. We then waited ten minutes for the Roland On The Ropes to load. When they asked what sort of game it was, I replied “Neo-despotism” which was a phrase I had picked up from last week’s issue of Whizzer & Chips comic. The game eventually loaded and we played it for five minutes and then ran back to school again, just making it back in time as the bell rang.
Technically, the Amstrad was far superior to the Spectrum and Commodore 64, its two main competitors. The Spectrum, at that time, had very limited colour capabilities and suffered from something known as ‘colour clash’, which meant it couldn’t be set on a mahogany table against a magnolia wall, as it would just look simply awful. You may read other articles stating that ‘colour clash’ was to do with the Spectrum’s idiosyncratic display memory layout and it’s pixel bitmap attributes. But those articles are wrong.
Now I was going to flesh out this blog by also mentioning several games that I bought for my beloved Amstrad, in 1985. However, as I am aware there is a huge market for retro-gaming and a very large fan base out there, I think each game is worthy of its own comprehensive installment. So in the near future you can expect blogs on Manic Miner, Marsport, Jet Set Willy, Sabre Wulf, Elite and a host of other games that I loved during my teenage years.
It was the magical era of computing. In my opinion, those five years between 1980 and 1985 were the golden era when it came to the 8-bits. From 1986 onwards, they still evolved and were still extremely popular, but the 16-bit computers such as the Atari ST and the Amiga, along with the NES console, started to slowly make the 8-bits redundant, though their real death wouldn’t arrive until the early 90s.
But even today, on this sunny morning in July, 2015, I have an Amstrad emulator installed on my laptop and at least once a week I fire it up and play games such as Head Over Heels, Get Dexter and Chuckie Egg, losing myself in the golden glow of memories that still remain, thirty years later.
In 1989, a year when Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers urged us to Swing The Mood, Black Box insisted we Ride On Time, and Technotronic ordered us to Pump Up The Jam, I was caught up with the sounds of the sixties. I was eighteen years old and my record collection was full of Fairport Convention, The Beatles, The Incredible String Band and Donovan (the one responsible for Hurdy Gurdy Man, and not the one who banged Charlene in Neighbors). The era that the music I loved came from shaped my ideologies and interests and a burgeoning interest in the paranormal and spirituality began to develop, one that even Rick Astley couldn’t diminish.
One day in the summer of 1989 I was walking along one of the smaller side streets in Newport, South Wales. I lived in Cwmbran at the time and Newport was my favored port of call if ever I wanted to pick up books or music. The small independent bookshop I was heading for was called Bookworm and actually, just now on a whim, I googled it to see if it was still there. Apparently so. There’s a sort of comfort in the knowledge that things from the past can still remain, even when forgotten about for so long.
I wandered in and as usual, lamented the fact that there was no porn section, before moving on to the philosophy and psychology shelves. All through my life I have gone through phases where I have suddenly become interested in a new sphere of knowledge – whether it has been philosophy, psychology, evolution, religion, the paranormal, the history of thimbles – I may spend a year or so reading books on the subject and then move on to something else. It’s just my nature but luckily, suits the temperament of a writer as you can then draw upon a broad spectrum of knowledge. For example, if I wanted to write a novel where my main protagonist was a zoologist who stumbled upon a secret sect of the Mormon church whose members worshipped thimbles, then I wouldn’t need to do a great deal of research.
So I browsed the shelves and noticed the book by Susan Blackmore. I had already bought the book Life After Life by Raymond Moody a couple of years previously, so was already aware of the phenomena of Out Of The Body Experiences (I will contract this to OOBE’s for the rest of the blog, not just because it saves me typing, but also because OOBE’s sounds like the sort of purring sound of gratification that someone would emit after having gone through a perverse sexual fetish). I flicked through it, it seemed interested, so spent £6 of my hard earned YTS money (Youth Training Scheme – I got £27 a week for being forced to go on various training courses) and left the shop one book richer.
I don’t have the book anymore and my memory of the content is vague, but I do have a strong memory of one chapter that attempted to teach people how to have an OOBE. It involved starting with relaxation techniques, such as lying on your bed, tensing and relaxing each muscle in your body three times, beginning with your toes and working up to your head (not that your head is a muscle, of course. I would just flex my ears three times and wiggle my nose, like that hot sorceress in Bewitched) and then using visualisation techniques to imagine your body slowly rising off your bed and possibly floating through the window and drifting off into space and shit. Sadly, no matter how many times I tried, it never worked for me. I would just become very relaxed and fall asleep, often waking up just as Moonlighting was starting.
This interest, along with dowsing, crystal healing and John Noakes, lasted for a few years until other things began to interest me more, particularly when I commenced college in 1990 and discovered crazy goth chicks.
However, approximately five years ago, my interest in the phenomena was re-awakened when I stumbled across the Near Death Experience Research Foundation website, which contained a huge amount of accounts of NDE’s. I found it hard to believe that it was some organic process that caused these extremely lucid and real experiences. If all or most of the accounts focused on the generic points – the white light, the tunnel, the feeling of love – then yes, I could be convinced that the experience was a by-product of some strange effect of consciousness, triggered by the extreme stress and shock of the near death experience. However, the accounts were not generic at all. Most contained very specific and detailed experiences – interactions with ‘spirits’, whether they were family members past or present, or other beings that were not part of the person’s extended family on the earthly plane, but were definitely part of their spiritual family. Their were many common denominators that intrigued me and yet also just seemed to instantly fit with my own beliefs about life and death.
- There was no judgement by some external omnipotent (yet benevolent) supreme being. Unlike Christianity and many other faiths, were fear is drummed into the believer that you will be judged upon death, and so must be ‘good’ in this life else you will enter some sort of purgatory when you die, NDE’s did not reflect this at all. The majority of accounts stated that YOU were given the opportunity of judging yourself. A ‘3-d’ playback of moments from your life would begin, where you not only became the person you were at that point in time, but you would also enter their heads of the people involved in that experience, understanding their thoughts and how they interpreted your actions. And this would happen many times, as you viewed and experienced many parts of your life, leaving it up to you to draw some conclusions about your own behaviour. This makes perfect sense to me.
- It is often revealed to the person having the NDE that time isn’t linear and that also we re-incarnate. So we can re-incarnate into the past as well as into the future. And, very importantly, we choose to do this. We chose to come to Earth to live the life we are living. This doesn’t mean we know exactly how life is going to turn out. There is no pre-destiny and there is freedom of choice. However, we understood, before coming to earth, that there would be certain experiences made available to us on our life path, that would be essential for our overall arc of learning.
- Love is the glue that binds the whole universe together.
There are many other bullet points I could add, but this is the sort of topic that I know I am going to revisit again and again, adding (and maybe subtracting) to more core beliefs until the time comes where I can publish a manifesto on it and become a millionaire through the donations of my followers, just like L.Ron.Hubbard did.
Flippancy and genius comedic sensibilities aside, it is something that forms the core of my spiritual beliefs. In my early twenties I explored many different religions, mainly denominations of the Christian faith – Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints, Bagpuss – and none of them satisfied me. All of them were focused on being a good person, and their idea of goodness was very strictly defined. Again, through the accounts of NDE’s I have read, being ‘good’ is neither the way we think it is nor as important as we think it is. In fact, during one of our life cycles, it may be important for us to be a ‘bad’ person, simply due to needing the experience of it.
Yeah, I know. This is challenging shit and many people reading this may be taking a defensive, protective stance now, dismissing these ideas. But I believe in them wholeheartedly, which also has a negative aspect – if I believe that I am just going to come around again and again ( by my choosing) then what does it matter whether I achieve anything in life? How do I know that during this cycle, the fact that I become enlightened and start questioning the purpose of my life and the validity of all I do based on the fact that any failures aren’t failures as I can just come back again to remedy them, isn’t a necessary part of my journey?
It’s a paradoxical conundrum that has the word ‘enigma’ splattered all over it!
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I actually bought most of the content at Lidl’s yesterday. They sell pre-made blogs, next to the packet of crisps that are designed so much to look like Walker’s, you actually think they are Walker’s, until you take them home and eat one and realise they are Smith’s.
WRESTLING WITH YOUR EGO
“I tried to run away myself
To run away and wrestle with my ego” – Coyote by Joni Mitchell
“Why do we become actors?” asked Dustin Hoffman. He was sat across from Sir Laurence Olivier in a restaurant in New York. It was the late 70s and they were filming Marathon Man.
Olivier stood up, his hands becoming fists which he pressed into the table, and leaned slowly towards Dustin saying “Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.”
Whether that story is true or not, I just don’t know. I was too busy eating my egg-mayo filled vol-au-vents at the nearby table at the time. Those actor types just never did it for me. However, all these years later, I understand exactly what Olivier meant when he said that to The Hoff (let’s face it, before David Hasslehoff got hold of that moniker, it belonged to the great Dustin Hoffman – the original Hoff).
We all want to be looked at. We all want to be noticed. Some of us go about it in extreme ways. They turn into suicide bombers, serial killers, terrorists and, of course, actors. Others become chartered accountants. But we all want to be noticed. We all want to be looked at and acknowledged, every bloody day of our short futile lives.
Of course, most of us don’t have the courage to talk about this. Our ego. It’s not something that makes a particularly comfortable topic of conversation. You wouldn’t be in the pub with your mates, hand on the bar, foot on the foot-rest thingy, sipping your pint of Tennants Super, saying “So Jack, tell me about your ego?”
You wouldn’t would you. Primarily because Jack isn’t there. He’s just a figment of your imagination and you are actually mad. The bartender is now calling the police and, well, that’s a whole different story. But the ego isn’t a figment of our imagination. It’s a cold hard fact of our psyche. So Sigmund Freud would have us believe, though I guess it was really Eric Berne with his 1964 book Games People Play that really made the whole idea accessible and palatable to Joe Public, who incidentally, was Joe 90s younger brother.
Facebook of course is a wonderful outlet for the ego. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook and have often deactivated my account, mostly because I become irritated by the inane garblings of other people on my wall. But then I reactivate my account because I miss people paying attention to the inane garblings I post on their wall. Incidentally, Word has flagged up ‘garbling’ as incorrect and has suggested ‘gandering’ instead. That’s a big no, Word, you errant, mischievous child of Satan’s knees.
So Facebook is an outlet for the ego. It’s great because it’s impossible for our ego to be bruised on Facebook, unless we allow it to be. We can remove comments or posts on our wall that we dislike, therefore projecting us as wise, benevolent beings, capable of great acts of kindness and narcissism. Our ego is us, we are our ego. Us our ego we is. It’s all the same.
Anyway, I started off this blog trying to make a serious academic point that may catch the eye of some eminent Oxford professor who would then contact me about some project he would like to collaborate on, thus elevating me to the high echelons of egotistical heaven.
That’s wishful thinking.
Or ego thinking.
Unrequited love’s a bore, yeah
And I’ve got it pretty bad
But for someone you adore, yeah
It’s a pleasure to be sad…
Glad To Be Unhappy – The Mamas & Papas
What is the attraction of unrequited love? Is it purely the domain of the romantic tragedian, that populates the works of Faust, Heidegger, Tolstoy and Du Ponte? I don’t know. I don’t even know if the last author is real. I think it was the surname of one of the characters in The Shawshank Redemption. Thinking abut it, the other three are unknown to me too. I’ve never read any of their works but I thought anyone reading this wouldn’t bother to look them up and just take my word that they wrote about unrequited love. The bare truth of the matter is, the only person that springs to mind that wrote about unrequited love was Charles M. Schultz in a Peanuts cartoon back in the 1950s.
My first taste of unrequited love is clearly documented in my book My Life With Kate Bush, where I describe how, at the age of seven, I loved Lisa Roderick, a small auburn haired waif that I imagined could share a cliff with Sir Laurence Olivier and not look out of place.
When she spurned my advances – well, ‘spurned’ is a strong word. She said ‘No’ – I then did a very odd thing. I told myself I was in love with another Lisa, this being Lisa Francis. At this point, I am jolted into a sudden realisation. I have gone through my life secretly loving a bunch of Lisa’s. There was a Lisa Osmond in Pontypool College too, that I was smitten by. And then there was Lisa Stansfield in the 90s. Anyway, going back to Lisa Francis, this was my first long-term taste of unrequited love. Can a person love at seven years old? It’s not a question I remember asking myself back then. I just loved her. I would do anything to sit next to her in class, or join her group if we were split up for a studying project. In the playground, if she joined in a game of tag, I would always try and tag her first, just so I could have that contact with her. Actually, I’m creeping myself out now as this all sounds slightly stalkerish. It wasn’t. It was as innocent as Whizzer & Chips.
I think my pursuit of Lisa Francis lasted quite a while. Even on the last day of Brookfield, as Mr Baldwin wished us the best of luck in our lives, I recall looking over the desk where she was sitting and thinking “I may never ever see you again.” I did see her again of course, five minutes later as we passed through the school gate. I saw her all through Llantarnam comprehensive school too, as it was.
Let’s fast forward to my teenage years. In the late 80s I fell in love with Kate Bush. This was another level of unrequited love. The epitome of an unattainable object that you cherish but know that you can never have. I didn’t want to pork her though. I know, I know, you are in complete disbelief at that statement aren’t you? But the truth is, I can’t ever remember masturbating to pictures of her. She did not enter into my sexual fantasies in any way, shape or form. The girls in Escort and Fiesta did, mind you. But not wholesome, motherly Kate Bush, whom has ever projected any kind of sex appeal to me at all. Due to being a member of her fan club though, I ended up with a number of pen friends. Remember them? Strangers that you would send letters to, often never meeting them in your life? It was big in the 80s. One pen-pal I had was a girl called Julie Prebble. She lived in Beckenham Kent and was actually the first girl, once I became a teenager, that I felt I could have adult conversations with. I never knew what she looked like. She would sometimes doodle in the margins of the letter she would send me every few weeks. From the doodles I came to the conclusion that she had seven strands of hair, a very thin-lipped smile, and no body from the neck down. Despite all this, I was strangely attracted to her. Words can be seductive and the order that she placed her words, written in her perfect handwriting, melted my heart. Our letters fizzled out after a year or two, but I do often wonder where she is now, and whether she grew a body beneath that gorgeous neck of hers.
A Kate Bush party in 1988 was my next opportunity to experience unrequited love. This one was more meaningful and lasted a couple of years. Her name was Julie Fitzgerald (Hmm. Two Lisa’s and now two Julie’s.) She played guitar and I can remember her, a small diminutive thing with golden locks, cradling this cheap wooden guitar and making it sing. I approached her and asked if she would teach me a chord and she did. Her face was so cute – like a golden apple in a basket of sunshine. She was about three years older than me and it was a bit of a kick for myself, at eighteen years old, to be getting on famously with a lady of twenty-one. I think this is what first got me into older women. She lived in Liverpool and as I was still living in Cwmbran at the time, we resorted to letter writing to keep in touch. I was attracted to her though. When she spoke of boyfriend trouble in her letters it would tear my heart apart. ‘Pick me’ I would think. Once she visited me for a weekend and we walked up to the Doralt pub in Henllys, Cwmbran, for a drink. It was dark when we left and we walked the quiet road back to Hollybush, where I was living at the time with my Nan. During the walk she slipped her hand into mine and we walked like that for a while, just holding hands. Why didn’t I stop her then? Why didn’t I gently hold her shoulders, pulling her towards me beneath the moonlight (maybe the moon was hidden that night, I have no idea. But the trick to writing sweet, romantic, wistful scenes like this is to always have moonlight) and then softly placing a kiss on her lips? I don’t know and it didn’t happen. And then there was another time she visited and we were in a pub in Caerleon. I was tipsy and she was sitting next to me. She was holding my hand again, but her hand and wrist were resting on my upper thigh. She would squeeze my hand at times, her hand being so close to my crotch that I began to wonder. And we were laughing and our faces were so close. A kiss should have happened there and then and I know, with the benefit of hindsight (Hindsight! Pah! Errant swine you are!) that she would have responded. But again, I didn’t. She eventually fell in love with a drug addict and I never saw her again.
Pontypool college threw up many possibilities. When I started, in the autumn of 1991, it was full of beautiful women. One of these was the aforementioned Lisa Osmond. Again she was a tiny, slightly frumpy lady with long auburn hair (see, writing is cathartic and can throw up some illuminating insights – maybe I do like short frumpy women with long hair – a bit odd seeing as I am 6’4) and we forged a strong friendship. She was warm and caring and…had a boyfriend. Yet we would meet up in a cafe in Pontypool town and have such fun together. At one of our regular Tuesday night meetings in Fairwater House pub, Cwmbran, where a host of other friends from college would congregate, Lisa and I would sit together and gently flirt. On one occasion, being slightly drunk, my other friends were encouraging her to kiss me. Lisa moved from her seat, straddling me for a moment or two, staring into my eyes and laughing, letting her hair brush against my face, before moving off again. I think that was the moment where, if I had kissed her, there wouldn’t have been any objection.
So why do I put myself through this? It only happens with people I care for on a deep level – some indescribable deeper level that doesn’t apply to the ladies that I have met on dating sites that have ended up in my bed, sometimes even without a preliminary kissing introduction. Was my mind, a sensitive impressionable mind, indelibly stamped when, for instance, I read Wuthering Heights at sixteen years old? That, surely, is the pinnacle of unrequited love. Did my romantic heart burden me with a fixed idea that love has to be unconsummated and unknown; that I would feed off my feelings, my secret feelings of love, and it would nourish me. Because sexual fulfillment is often not what we expect either, is it? Some of us, the free thinkers, the creatives, the bohemians, are still left a little empty after that gratification. We lie in bed, the body of beautiful women next to us, when outside the window, a girl passes by wearing a short skirt and instantly we are transported into a world of fantasy again.
Is it just a lack of confidence and the fear of rejection? Is that what stops me looking someone in the eye and just saying “I fancy you?”. I guess the longer you know someone, the harder it gets. You fear doing irreparable damage to the friendship by your admission that your feelings are deeper and stronger than the other person suspected. Or maybe they did suspect and it is just a complicated game we play, like all the other complicated social games that undermine the truth and purity of human relationships. But games can be a drug and maybe this is one drug I can never wean myself off.
I’ve tasted love. I know what it’s like. At 42, if I never enter another relationship again and live the rest of my life as a bachelor, then that’s no bad thing. That’s not being a sad lonely man. If I end up reaching 80, sat on a park bench, throwing ducks at the bread (you do that, you know, when you reach 80, as you get all sorts of stuff confused) and I get passers-by gazing at me forlornly, then that sympathy will be misplaced, for it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all, said someone once upon a time. It might have been John Major. But the point is, I have loved, lost and loved again. Then lost it all. Then loved once more, before finally making a nice cup of tea and writing about it all.
There is a whole separate section here on my website dealing with the breakup of my last relationship. When I split from Pami Gill in January 2012 I couldn’t be bothered with dating for a long while, not until a whole year went by. In January 2013 I dipped my toe into the waters of online dating. Well, not really. Who on earth is going to ‘dip a toe’ into anything. You either subscribe to a site, entering your details, credit card number and watch your life savings seep away, month by month, or you don’t. There’s no toe dipping to speak of. There is, however, a number of free sites that spare you your life savings, such as the imaginatively titled Freedating or the one I ended up spending most of my time on – Plenty Of Fish.
Plenty Of Fish in the sea, apparently, and quite a few that I found interesting on that site, in late January of 2013. So much so that by the second week of February I had had four dates. There was a sub-editor of the Daily Mail, a vet, a rock chic drummer and another bird in Cirencester whose job I can’t remember. It was quite easy to arrange meetings (let’s face it, can you really justifiably call them dates?). I would message them two or three times, telling them I was an angst-ridden poet, who romantacised death and lived a bohemian lifestyle, living in a tee-pee in a field by Stonehenge and they would become fascinated by this and agree to meet. The sub-editor of the Daily Mail, I’ll call her Lucy because that was her name, was attractive, had two children, and met me at Jolly’s, an Irish cafe in Chippenham. She told me she had been at a hen night the night before in Bath and so was feeling somewhat worse for wear. But it was a pleasant breakfast; we talked, I found her interesting and wanted to see her again, but when I got home I had a nice, polite message to say that she didn’t feel a spark between us. Spark my arse you narrow-sighted bitch! That’s what I thought initially as I’m not that good with rejection. However, after some months had passed I was able to accept her rebuttal of my amorous attention with equanimity. Gosh, that was a rather contrived sentence but I’ll leave it in just so I can poke fun at myself when I read it again in years to come.
The second date with the rock chic drummer, whom I will call Marion because that was her real name too, was another interesting encounter. We met firstly in a cafe in Calne. Anyone who knows Calne, a small town in North Wiltshire, will also know that its shopping centre comprises of about ten shops and the choice of cafes amounts to the grand figure of two. We met in the other one. Anyway, Marion was short, frumpy but quite attractive. There are people who will read this that will interpret my use of the word frumpy as a negative. It isn’t. Frumpiness is damn sexy and I only use the word ‘but’ because often it does go hand in hand with the sort of dole scum that gorge themselves senseless on processed ready meals bought at Iceland. However, Marion had a good job, a nice house, a son and daughter and invited me to watch a movie at hers the following weekend. So that Saturday I duly went around to hers, clutching about fifty dvd’s because I am a bit of a film buff and thought we could start at The Seventh Seal and end with National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Did I find her attractive, even though she was attractive? What I mean is, I can objectively judge someone as being atractive, even if I don’t personally find them attractive. Their attractiveness is a given, regardless of my feelings. So there we were, sat together on the sofa, Marion laughing at all the right places (I didn’t think The Seventh Seal was *that* funny but, hey ho) and me thinking “Is she attractive or not?”. Suddenly, she lifts my arm, tucks her head into my chest, lowers my arm so it is resting on her hip/upper thigh area, and carries on watching the film.
‘Gosh,’ I think. ‘This is terribly forward’
However, it means I got to grope a bit of hip and thigh. Well, not grope. I allowed my hand to rest gently on her hip, moving it occassionally on to her thigh. If only I could get to her breasts, but that was awkward because of the way she was leaning into me. I guess I could have pushed my chest out a bit to maximise the contact, but that would mean disturbing the tub of popcorn on my left and I didnt want to do that as it was toffee flavoured and there wasnt much left.
Well, the film ended, we had a bit of a snog and then I left. It was a good snog but…no fireworks for me. It was like kissing an old book, one that I hadn’t read and wasn’t particularly keen on reading, but I knew if I did I would get something out of it. That sort of book. The thing is, does one kiss mean you are committed to each other? Because the next day I was on the POF site again and, as other users will know, people you message and interact with can tell when you have last visited the site, as it is flagged up on their home page. So when Marion noticed I was still on POF she sent me a text asking me why. I replied “Why not?” which as we all know, is the only sensible reply to the question ‘Why?’. This, however, was not the sort of reply that Marion wanted and so she abruptly told me never to go around to her house again. Which was fine by me, as it was one less book to read.
And now we come to the vet. She messaged me because in the list of films I liked, I stated that The Breakfast Club was in my top five favourite fims of all time. This clearly resonated with Brenda as she told me she just had to meet me so we could chat about the film and exchange quotes. Her profile pic was quite nice. She wore a big flowery dress and was holding a massive syringe, as it turned out she was an equestrian vet so specialised in horses.
I was living with a female flat mate at the time, Charlie Pepper, which I thought would be slightly problematic for potential dates. A forty-one year old bloke living with a twenty-seven year old girl – just the two of them, as housemates, sharing a house, together, two of them, an older man and a younger woman. Yes, it happened and no, absolutely nothing ever happened between us. I didn’t even get to see Charlie floss. However, it didn’t phase any of the dates I brought back and so, one day, Brenda came to visit me in Calne. Charlie thoughtfully went out that night leaving Brenda and I alone. We ordered a pizza and watched The Breakfast Club. We kissed. She slept on the sofa and I went up to my room. In the morning, she ended up in my bed.
But again, things fizzled out there. I just couldn’t get certain images of her out of my head. Images of her with her arm stuck up a horse’s arse as she pumped semen into it. What got to me was that these were male horses too, which I found downright weird. So yes, that one fizzled out too. And that was that for over a year, until May 2014.
A few weeks ago I tried again. Just a whim it was. A whim. A whim that wandered in from the west, in a whisper. A whispering whim. I could go on with this alliteration for yonks but I shan’t. Just to spite you. So yes, I looked at POF again, on a whim, and stumbled across a lady called Victoria.
Victoria’s profile picture was of her holding a cat. It was a big cat. A very very big cat. This prompted me to initiate contact with the message “Your cat is huuuuge!”. Not the most romantic of messages but I was just following my gut instinct. I didn’t know if she was aware of the hugeness of her cat and I wanted to be the first one to tell her. Victoria replied, I replied back, we swapped numbers and in a very short space of time, agreed to meet. I drove to Cheltenham and we met at Waterstones where we had a coffee. Victoria was intelligent, quirky and beautiful. She had a great love of Victorian literature and that era in general, as well as the sixties and shows like The Prisoner. She had a rich, complicated past but that just drew me to her even more. I was attracted to her. After four dates the year before when my ambivalence was so extreme I didn’t even pay attention as to whether they wanted sugar in their coffee, with Victoria, my attraction to her demanded that I pay very careful attention to how many sugars she took in her coffee. The answer, however, eludes me at the moment but if you get back to me at a later date, I am sure that I will be able to tell you how many sugars she has in her coffee, because that’s the kind of attentive guy I am.
We went to lunch and it appeared to go swimmingly well. I even got her to take part in a selfie with me.
But here lies the rub. The conversation *was* a little stilted. There *were* pauses. There *were* times when I felt anxious and desperately sought out things to say. Not because of a lack of shared interests, but because I have that writer’s temperament which causes me to think too much about what I am going to say. I think. Is that really the truth? I mean, I can talk to females. I have a female friend who I spoke to for a couple of hours on the phone the other night, but that was easy because I wasn’t looking to get anything.
Fuck it. There it is. I’ve hit the nail on the head. I wasn’t looking to get anything. That friend is beautiful and I love her, but I am not looking to get anything out of her. I am not looking to form a romantic relationship with her, bed her or steal her collection of 1970s Bunty comics. Whereas with Victoria, due to her beauty, my mind had already cast adrift from it’s normally sound and logical anchor. I wanted her to like me – a lot. A few days later I telephoned her and I sensed that lack of energy in her voice – that excitement, that intangible wavering in one’s intonation that betrays the fact that they lust for you. That they covet you and want to smear honey over your body and then sprinkle on a little bit of dried oats and milk and eat you all up. That was what was lacking in her voice when I telephoned her. So after the phone call I took the decision to text her.
“I like you, do you like me?” I text-ed, in my best handwriting.
“I like you but didn’t think there was an attraction,” came the reply.
And now came the funny thing. I was surprised how hurt and sad I felt because of this. I shouldn’t be. The logical, rational part of me reasoned that after just ten or so texts and six or seven emails plus one meeting in the flesh, you can’t really have strong feelings for someone can you?
But I had been posting on Facebook about Victoria and my friends were all liking and commenting on those posts and feeling happy for me. I even wanted to lose weight, tone up and eat more healthily because of her. I actually threw a 1kg bag of sugar in the bin. All that fucking sugar, now in the bin, and I did it for a woman. I’m never gonna get that sugar back.
So who was the first person I spoke to about this and shared my hurt with? Not a bloke. No. It was another female friend. The irony of it. And again, later that night, another different female friend. Both I felt comfortable enough talking to. To both I was able to rabbit on, yacking about this and that, talking about feelings and emotions and purpose and life, stuff that I hadn’t been able to talk to Victoria about. Not because I couldn’t, but because I just didnt know her in that relaxed familiar way – yet. YET! And that is a slight frustration – that judgements can be made so soon, after one date, as to whether a ‘spark’ is there. Some people can be friends for twenty years before they realise a spark was there all along. I know. It happened to me. It happened to Sally when she met Harry.
So what am I saying here? What clumsy half-thought out idiom can I conjure up to end this blog in a clever way that wraps up all these themes of love, loss, relationships and life? Well…I can’t. There is no answer. There is no convenient wrapping up of emotions. Mutual attraction is just a big mish-mash of a lot of contradicting and unexpected events that come together in a random potpourri of luck.
But the powerful play goes on and all we can hope to do is contribute our own unique verse.
Riaz Ali. 2:06am 6th June 2014.
The Lover Pleads With His Friend For Old Friends
Though you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes.
William Butler Yeats (13.6.1865 – 28.1.1939)
I used to think it harder to make new friends as I got older. But what I really mean is that I don’t have the same energy that I once did. A commitment of time and an investment is needed to create a firm foundation for a friendship to be based on. You may ‘click’ initially, and become aware that you have common interests, share a sense of humour and are both secretly addicted to Eastenders. But then you need to make time for that person. To maintain contact, take an interest in their life and to be there for them not just the times when they are blissfully joyous and dancing naked along the beach at Porthcawl, but also during those dark times of deep despair, when no matter how many packets of Panini football stickers they buy, they still can’t find the one of Kevin Keegan in the bath. Actually, I’ve never had a friend who has danced naked on the beach at Porthcawl. Some might say that isn’t symptomatic of a person’s blissful happiness, but a sign that they are, in fact, mad.
But, going back to the poem, beauty does not perish with time’s bitter flood, does it? At least, the beauty of youth might, but that is an ephemeral, transient beauty that we are all graced with, and although some of us decide to embark on a long, prolonged and often futile battle against it, most of us grow old gracefully, allowing the passage of time to cut its lines upon our face and blemish us. Our skin, once soft, supple and shimmering, becomes gray, wrinkled and worn. But there is no need for our minds to do the same. It’s fine to read Take A Break and Celebrity Hairstyles, but not from cover to cover. Just read the title. That’ll do. Then move on to Take A Longer Break and Celebrity Woodworking and before you know it, you’ll be reading Ulysses and Nietzsche’s The Critique Of Pure Reason. Although personally I find Ulysses a pile of pretentious codswallop and would prefer to read Watership Down. But the point is, there is no need for that thirst of knowledge we once had to diminish. We can remain young inside.
So in an extremely roundabout way and by critiquing a poem in a way any sixth-former would be proud of, what I am saying is that I am more comfortable when surrounding myself with the people I knew from my past. If anyone new comes along that wants to be my friend, then meet me in the park at seven for a game of marbles and we’ll see how it develops from there.
So, Kate Bush is playing live again. From 26th August to 1st October 2014 she is playing 22 dates at the Eventim Appollo in Hammersmith, London. Her last tour, the Tour Of Life, was in 1979. Since then she has played or sung live on just a handful of occasions – at the Prince’s Trust concert in 1986, at a surprise appearance during a Peter Gabriel concert in 1987, at the Comic Relief concert in 1988 – but it has been thirty-five years since she has performed a full show on her own.
On Friday 21st March I woke up in the early afternoon after working a night shift. I did my usual thing – reach over for my laptop and switch it on. Whilst still in bed, I booted up Outlook and Facebook, in that order. The Outlook emails began with the usual stuff. Offers from Hotel Chocolat (legitimate), World Of Books (legitimate) and an offer from a Saudi Prince to pay me £57,000 if I helped him to release funds from his personal bank account by paying him £2000 as his country was at war with Porthcawl and his account had been frozen (not so legitimate). Then I noticed an email from KateBush.com titled ‘Before The Dawn – Presale’. Due to me having signed up to the mailing list, I was offered a chance of buying tickets for her live shows 48 hours before they went on sale to the general public.
Hang on a minute. Live dates? Shows? What the…???
I checked Facebook. Several of my friends had posted to my wall, informing me of the incredible news. It was so unexpected it had featured on the Guardian newspaper’s website, the BBC News website and the following day, would get full page spreads in many of the national papers.
I was dumbfounded.
Since roughly 1986, when I first considered myself a fan, the idea of her touring again was met with a sort of resigned sigh within the fan community. Each album since her last tour presented an opportunity for live shows, and each time Kate would be non-committal in interviews.
“I’m being non-committal,” she would say, evasively and, broadly speaking, without commitment.
I was a fan then. At sixteen, I looked up to Kate Bush. Previous to her, I had looked up to John Noakes, Lesley Judd and the Green Cross Code man but now my allegiance would change. If I wanted to know how to make a tardis from an egg carton or know how to cross a road safely, I would listen to a Kate Bush song and derive the necessary lesson from her music and lyrics. I became a member of the official Kate Bush fan club, subscribed to a popular fanzine at the time called Homeground, and spent all of my unemployment benefit on attending record fairs and buying rare and not-so-rare Kate Bush merchandise. I had pen friends all around the UK that were fans and I attended many fan gatherings – a November 1988 meeting at Top Withens, Haworth, a 1989 meeting at Glastonbury Tor, another 1989 meeting at Birmingham and also, the official 1990 Kate Bush convention at the Hammersmith Palais, London. It is that convention that served as the perfect ending to my book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’. In that book I felt it was the first and last time I would ever see her in the flesh, let alone hear her sing (she did sing at the convention – to the tune of ‘My Lagan Love’ she sang lyrics she had written specifically for the fans on that day. When I left the venue late that afternoon, I thought that was it. It seemed an apt ending to a wonderful four years that I had spent as what I would call a ‘diehard’ fan, but now my life was changing and I felt that was the end of a chapter in my life.
Over the subsequent years, my interest on a fan level faded quickly. I remember taking a call from a friend one day. He was a major fan and was eager to tell me that one of her songs was being featured on some television show. That’s how it was back then. Fans networking with each other to keep each other up to date on the latest Kate Bush news.
“She’s on Top Of The Pops!” he said. I could hear his drool dripping on to his dog.
“That’s fantastic,” I replied, with what I thought was an appropriate amount of enthusiasm.
“You’re not really a fan anymore are you?” he said with a sad note in his voice. No, I wasn’t and I murmured my agreement. Equally sadly, that was the last I ever heard from him. Strange how a friendship could hinge on a single mutual like and when that shared interest is shaken, the friendship dies.
From the early nineties, other interests became more important. Reading, writing and becoming a full time carer for my grandmother forced me to grow up very quickly and the idea of becoming a fan of anything seemed to be a luxury I couldn’t afford.
Years would pass without me playing any of her music and then, on some whim, I would play Hounds of Love or The Kick Inside, enjoy it for a fleeting moment, and then go back to my other two main musical loves – Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro.
In 2009, I entered a relationship with a Kate Bush fan that I had known for twenty years or so, which forced me to dip my toes in the waters of the fan scene again. Waters that I found tepid and stale and I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was too insular and obsessive for my tastes and attending gatherings with my then partner was a chore. As Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club, that would have someone like *me* as a member.”
So although today, at 41 years old, I am not a fan in the strict sense of the word, I still enjoy much of her music. Her last album, 50 Words For Snow is played constantly. To me, it is the best thing she has created since Hounds Of Love was released in 1985. Misty, in particular, is a song that I find incredibly touching and the soft jazz drum rhythms and haunting rhythmic melody recaptures everything that I loved about her music in the 80s.
But then, this announcement of live dates comes along, playing with my emotions again. On that morning, when I realised I had the chance to see her perform live, I also realised that I *wanted* to see her perform live. I dearly wanted to because…because maybe everything needs closure. I remember those summer days in 1987 when I would be sat on my bed, the sunlight pouring in like honey, as I pored over the Kate Bush Club magazines that were spread out before me. My Nan and Bamp would be downstairs, preparing dinner, and the smells would be wafting up into my room. My 16 year old body would be a well of energy and my mind constantly searching, inventing, wondering and dreaming. To the side, my large twin cassette deck ghetto-blaster would be playing Never Forever and the princely sum of £27, my unemployment benefit, would be burning a hole in my jeans pocket as I wondered whether to take the bus to town to buy a Kate Bush album on CD, even though I already had the album on vinyl and cassette. Then, Kate Bush was my world and I couldn’t imagine my life five years ahead, let alone twenty-five years ahead. And yet here I am, in a different bedroom, in a different county, living a life I never expected to live.
And the the past rears its beautiful head and beckons me in…