Marcus and his 21st Birthday Bash – Part Two

Milk

My Sainsbury’s online order was delivered this afternoon. Due to me not checking my current stock levels, I now have 47 x 1 litre cartons of milk. If anyone would like to help relieve me of milk, please meet me at The Red Lion pub in Avebury this evening at 8pm. I’ll be wearing a raincoat, fedora and sunglasses. Under my right arm will be a newspaper. We can make the swap in the pub car park and after that, I never want to see you again.

Anyway, sorry for that digression. Here, now, is part two of the account of Marcus’s 21st birthday celebrations.

Theo - The Riddler

He began, of course, with a riddle.
“My first is in Weather but never in bed
My second’s not blue but always in red.
My third is in tea, but never in coffee.
My fourth is dessert – tart or banoffee.
My fifth is a dialetical analysis of a priori conjecturing, that postulates a transgression.
My sixth is a blancmange…”

A pause.

“I need to rethink this,” he said.

It was The Riddler. And yet…I knew it wasn’t. I knew that lurking beneath that plush green suit with the strange hierogrlyphics was a certain Theo Wethered.
Theo Wethered.
I am sure that name conjures just as many images and scintillating tales of wonder and delight as it does with me. Many a time I have regaled an interested thong with stories of Theo’s derring-do. Tonight was no exception as –
Hang on a minute.
Yes, yes, I see that.
That should read ‘throng’.
Anyway, as I was saying. Theo has inspired many people throughout is brief time on Earth and so, in homage, I have put together a video in which I feel perfectly reflects this.

I circled around some more, raising my glass occasionally and smiling. Alcohol is a funny thing. You can go for minutes without taking a sip and then, the next time you do, it feels like the first sip all over again. I gazed at the milling people, just…milling. In my alcohol-fuelled detached state of reality, I wondered if any of them were actually millers. I wondered if millers would mill together, at a party, or just huddle together swapping stories of wheat.
And then –
“Ahoy there!” came a voice I recognised.
Orlando

It was Orlando, dressed as a miller.
“Hi Orlando!”
This was my stock greeting for people I liked. People I didn’t like were subjected to “Sorry but I’m closed today.”
“Are you enjoying yourself Riaz?”
I found this question a bit personal. In fact, it was downright audacious. We had only met a handful of times previously and yet, here he was attempting to understand my psyche, to probe my ego, to reveal the tempestuous fires that burned within my heart.
“Yes,” I said, playing it safe.
“Ahoy! Jim lad!” he said playfully.
My name wasn’t Jim, I wasn’t a lad and I had never been to Hanoi. Apart from that he had everything else right.
We talked for a while. Outside, flashes of light intermittently lit up the dark study. The wind howled against the window, and the sound of gunfire could be heard in the distance. Tomorrow I would visit Horsell common once more to try and discover more about the Martians, but for now most of London was asleep, and the real terror was yet to begin.
War Of The Worlds

The night wore on. My ageing decrepit body constantly argued with my young fertile mind, pleading with it to be taken to a place of safety, such as a bed. At the completely unsociable hour of 11pm I stepped out of the tent and slowly walked back to my flat.
Very slowly, as it happened, as there was nothing to light my way, save for a glimmering beacon of hope.
But I found my flat, kissed Joni goodnight, and fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning I was advised to meet everyone back at the tent for breakfast, so at 10am I moseyed on down to the bottom of the field again. I had drunk a fair bit the night before and had trouble coordinating my many complex and trustworthy simian appendages. I reached the tent and an orderly queue had formed in front of an orderly table that had a selection of breakfast goodies on it, arranged in order. I chose scrambled eggs in a bun, with some bacon and a large paper cup filled with hot steaming coffee.

Morning Breakfast

I sat there, contemplating my existence as I chewed slowly on strips of crispy bacon. The party had been a success, I felt. Marcus’s father, Adam, had given a rousing and very witty speech at the close of the night. There was much dancing, fun and laughter. All in all a fantastic night and I’d like to thank everyone who made it possible.

Okay, I have a bit of space left now, so here’s some classified ads.

LOST & FOUND

Found – one needle. It was in a field near my home, right in the middle of a haystack.
To claim, ring 01633-999888111.

FOR SALE

LIBRARY CARD – Only done two hundred books. This year’s registration. One previous owner. Will be accepted at most Libraries in Wiltshire.  £30 o.n.o. Contact Mr R. Ealie-Phunee on 01799-977611

JOBS

Cladistic taxidermist wanted to accompany time-travelling proletarian salesman.

Marcus and his 21st Birthday Bash – Part One

The tent goes up

Late last week I noticed a pavilion being erected in the field outside the barn that I rent. It irked me, because I was planning to pitch a tent in the very exact spot the next day, along with a shrubbery, but now a pavilion was being erected. As I stood watching I felt a strange stirring in my loin. Can one become aroused by a pavilion? As pavilions go, this one was as seductive as Ally Sheedy when she eats a crisp sandwich in The Breakfast Club.

The Breakfast Club - a fantastic teen movie and wonderful 'coming of age' film from 1985. One of my favourite films ever and if I can give it a gratuitous plug in a blog, then I will.

The Breakfast Club – a fantastic teen movie and wonderful ‘coming of age’ film from 1985. One of my favourite films ever and if I can give it a gratuitous plug in a blog, then I will.

It turned out that the pavilion was actually for the 21st birthday of Marcus Wethered. I had got to know Marcus a little by this time (see my previous blog ‘Man Of Steel – Not a Movie Review’) so was honoured to receive an invite from my illustrious and gloriously kind landlady, Diana™

I enjoy parties but have always had trouble mingling. ‘To mingle’ as the great philosopher Socrates oncee said “Is to subjugate the masses and produce a corporeal dystopian reality.’

Which probably explains why he hasn’t got a Facebook fan page.

Even so, I am drawn to parties. The socialising, the networking, the drinking, the flicking peanuts into the plant pots, the dignified vomiting. I am not a huge party-goer mind you. I remember the first adult party I went to was when I was 17 years old. It was at my sister’s, in honour of her surviving a cesarean section. It was full of people a lot older than me – surgeons and foreign diplomats. I can’t quite remember the guest list, but it was on pink paper with a floral border.

So next – what should I wear? I picked up an interesting Dickensian shirt from a charity shop in Devizes the other week. Should I wear that?

IMG_0464

Nah. Maybe not. I found a pair of jeans and a red fabric shirt I had bought in a Nepalese shop in Newport some months ago, and walked down to the pavilion.

I had been watching the cars pull into the farm for the last hour or so and there were already a fair number of people there. I felt nervous. I was a lot older than them. These were all healthy, vibrant twenty-somethings at university. I was only 16.
Mentally.
42 physically but let’s not dwell on that.

I reached the glorified excuse of a tent and peered cautiously inside. I knew no-one. Coincidentally, no-one knew me either. Also, everyone was in fancy dress. I saw Superman, Hannibal Lector, Spiderman. I even saw Catwoman arm in arm with a Roman Legionary.

Batgirl and a Roman Legionaire

And then, thank goodness, I spotted Marcus.

On the far right, Marcus Wethered. I never did find out why he was holding an axe...

On the far right, Marcus Wethered. I never did find out why he was holding an axe…

“Marcus!” I said. “I guess I am gatecrashing.”
“Not at all,” he said. “Let me introduce you to some people.”
And he did. If only I was a suave and as debonair as him when I was 21. He exuded confidence like a sieve from Asda. I could barely say hello to the girl behind the counter in my local library without turning bright red when I was 21.
But in all seriousness, Marcus, Orlando and Theo had always been polite, pleasant and friendly towards me and I was grateful for that. However, they had an older brother and that is who I was introduced to next. Although they introduced him as ‘Tog’ which confused my tiny brain. Diana had told me she had four sons, naming Tarquin as her eldest. How was I to know their pet name for him was ‘Tog’?
I shook his hand.
“I’m Riaz,” I said. “I didn’t realise they had another brother. They never mentioned you.”
“They didn’t? The bastards!” he said.
I felt a bit awkward.
“Maybe I just forgot.”
“No,” he seethed. “They probably just didn’t mention me.”
Suddenly, in the tiny recesses of the thing that I call a brain, two synapses that had previously hitherto been enemies, suddenly became friends.
“Oh hang on a minute. Tog…are you Tarquin?”
“I am,” he said. And order in the universe was regained once again.
We chatted for a while and he introduced me to another of his friends, George. George introduced himself as a sort of dogsbody within the world of investment banking. Now investment bankers were the butt of many a Monty Python sketch and as he talked to me, I couldn’t help but smiling inanely. I think he picked up on my inaneness and general inaneability, but was too polite to mention it.
“And what do you do?” asked George.
“Well my day job is a support worker in a mental health rehab unit. But really, I am a writer.
“Oh yes,” said George.
“I’ve written a memoir. It’s called My Life With Kate Bush. It’s about me, growing up in a welsh town in the nineteen seventies and eighties.”
“A memoir?” said George. “Is it all true?”
“It’s not completely true,” I conceded. “I have embellished parts of it of course, purely for reasons of entertainment. And the conversations I had thirty years ago are, well, approximations of the truth.”
George nodded. “It’s a writer’s prerogative.”
“I mean, if I write up an account of this party, most of the conversations that I will put down on paper will be embellished. Do you realise I was once married to Sandra Bullock?”
George nodded and began to rise slowly into the air. “Anything to entertain the reader, I guess,” he said, and then exploded.

The food was free. The drink was free. And I took advantage of that – what author wouldn’t? I drank a few cocktails of something or another – I’m not quite sure what they were. As a direct result, my confidence suddenly knew no bounds and I went up to a girl dressed as Caligula’s best friend and began chatting with her.
“Hey!” I said. A bit of an opening gambit but its worked for me in the past.
“Hello,” she said and we began chatting.
“I am studying history and politics,” she said.
“Ah. They compliment each other,” I said knowingly. “History and politics. The two last bastions of the empire, aloof and yet not alone. Have you ever heard of Mark Knopfler?”
I realised that my confidence had now began to work against me and I was beginning to sound like John Noakes.
There was a pause. Possibly an uncomfortable one as her eyes started roaming around the room.
“Nice talking to you,” she said, “but I am just going to get a drink.”

And then I saw him.
Theo Wethered - The Riddler
It was The Riddler. Arch Nemesis of Batman.

This could be interesting…

TO BE CONTINUED…

Charlotte of York

Charlotte Castle

Riaz and Charlotte.

I was messaging my friend Charlotte. She knew how low I felt after my previous weekend and invited me up to see her. North Yorkshire is a long way away from Avebury and I knew that financially I had little hope of scraping together the train or coach fare.

“We can do the touristy thing,” she said happily (insofar as happiness can be ascertained via messaging through the strange digital world of social media).

“I’d love to visit, but…” and listed all the obstacles in my path, including lack of finances, a strange skin tag that had developed on my right cheek, and my concern about the fluoride content of toothpaste.

I had met Charlotte through Facebook a couple of years ago. It’s how I make most of my friends these days. I turn my nose up at actually chatting to strangers in pubs, gyms, clubs or Waitrose. That’s way is far too dodgy. It’s much safer to interact with someone on social media, hoping that they are who they say they are and not some forty stone bald-headed man in a string vest sat in front of a computer somewhere near Barry Island.

In a tent bought from Aldi’s.

Our friendship formed sometime in June 2014. She was a writer too – her book Simon’s Choice is still available on Amazon – and was and still is intelligent, beautiful and funny. She had visited me in November 2015, a rather spontaneous visit in which we had great fun and since then, had spoken several times of meeting again.

So here was an opportunity but I just could not afford it – until another friend intervened. She offered to send me money to go and visit Charlotte as she knew how much of a knock I had taken regarding my encounter with *name deleted*, and the money she offered was a lot – enough for me to get the train and to have a little spending money too. I ruminated over this for sometime, torn between accepting the offer and the weight it would bear upon my shoulders, knowing that I would not be able to repay it easily. But I also knew that visiting Charlotte would be good for me. A healing visit, where my mind would be able to repair itself a little. Because us sensitive folk have fragile minds. And it’s funny because Charlotte herself is very similar to me, her sensitivity creating conflicts in her mind, both of us fighting battles, some imaginary and some real, with our hopes and dreams.

So in the second week of July, six days after returning from Leicester, I set off on my travels again.

Bloke in reflection doing a facepalm. Oil on canvas. £765

Bloke in reflection doing a facepalm. Oil on canvas. £765

I love train journeys. Coach journeys aren’t bad either, but there’s something about being on a train. That huge feeling of throbbing electrically induced motion between your legs. There’s nothing in comparison. Except maybe Marmite on toast.

I changed trains at Bristol Parkway and then began the three hour journey to Leeds, where I would have to change once last time to reach Harrogate. On arrival at Leeds I took this photograph.

Leeds Train Station

Leeds train station. The last bastion of hope for all mankind.

And then, shortly thereafter, I arrived at the beautiful town of Knaresborough. I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of the town as the train trundled across the viaduct, for the vast expanse below me not only revealed a green and lush valley, but also an undulating vista or roads and ancient houses, all rickety and twisted, that looked as if they had been drawn on to the landscape by an artist of prodigious imagination and an impressive cellar of wine.

Gosh, I’m quite pleased with that previous paragraph. I’ll be a writer yet. Just you see.

So the train arrived at Knaresborough and there was Charlotte, with her two children, waiting to meet me. I was expecting her to run towards me, maybe shouting “Daddy! My Daddy!” just as in the closing scenes of The Railway Children, which wouldn’t have made any sense but boy, it would have been a funny sight for the onlookers. We smiled, laughed, hugged and chatted amiably as we walked slowly into the town. After a brief stop for some provisions, we arrived at Charlotte’s house.

That afternoon and evening was wonderful. Relaxed, comfortable and serene. We watched a movie or two, chatted, drank wine, enjoyed a take away and laughed and chatted some more. It occurred to me that I felt comfortable with her, more so than I did with *name deleted*, and that all of us give a little and take a little something different from each friend we have. For each friend that has passed through our lives, we gain something and lose something.

The next day we visited York. Well, what can I say. York is truly beautiful and I absolutely loved our stroll around this ancient city. It was, apparently, founded in 71AD, making it nearly two thousand years old. Nearly as old as Swindon.

Barley Hall is just one of the many museums in York. It was originally a medieval house, the earliest parts dating from around 1360. They have turned it into a delightful exhibition of life in the 15th century, when it belonged to William Snawsell and his family. Like Avebury manor, visitors can interact with everything – from the fake food on the table to dressing up in replica costumes from that period, as this delightful photograph shows!

Marc Bolan and Jennifer Saunders

Marc Bolan and Jennifer Saunders

After leaving here, we strolled around some more, making our way merrily through the streets, becoming slightly lost, becoming slightly found and just having a swell day. I’ve always wanted to use the word swell like this, but without the ‘gee’.

We also visited a street called The Shambles. Surely this was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books!

The Shambles

The Shambles

And that was York. I had nowhere near the amount of time to see everything but I know there will be other opportunities in the future.

That evening, my last evening, we chatted some more. I sipped on a vodka and cola and Charlotte drank wine, and she listened patiently as I spoke about my fears and insecurities regarding my previous weekend with *name deleted* and how that had all gone terribly wrong. Sometimes, all you need is just to talk to someone and then the answers to your problems come from within. I had a few light-bulb moments (and I’m not talking about how my 6’4 frame occasionally collides with ceiling fittings) and realised that actually, I’m an alright person. Like anyone, I have my flaws, I struggle with my doubts and lack of confidence, but I’m pretty much okay and mean well. It made me realise that the loss of a friend that I felt so acutely just three or four days ago, didn’t matter as much as I thought it did. It made me realise, as corny and cliched as it sounds, who my real friends were.

Here’s to you Charlotte. Thank you so much for your kindness and hospitality. May we meet again soon X.

 

Market Harborough (part 1)

Waiting for the train to Market Harborough

Waiting for the train to Market Harborough

“Let’s start at the very beginning,” sang Julie Andrews once upon a time as she sat by a lonely goatherd.

Well, sometimes beginnings are boring. Sometimes it’s fun to start in the middle and then work backwards (or forwards) as your whim dictates.

So this is just another memory snapshot. In the course of writing my memoirs, I can refer back to these posts and reproduce them and expand on them as I write about my life. I feel a bit like Marcel Proust! If I can replicate just some of his success, I would die happy! Instead of the six volumes of his In Search Of Lost Time, I would run to seven volumes. Just to, er, show my competitive spirit!

So this is just a little reflection of my brief but happy friendship with Amphelia Strange, with me wrestling with my thoughts, making sense of what happened and just pondering over something that was loved and lost.

On the Saturday morning we weren’t sure what to do or where to go. Leicestershire is a gorgeous county but without transport – and neither of us drove – then our choices needed some forethought and planning. We both liked castles and stately homes and so initially I did a little research into nearby attractions such as Belvoir Castle and Rockingham Castle.

“Rockingham!” Amphelia smiled. “Just the sound of that one makes me think…of rocks!”

I nodded. “Right.”

To get to Rockingham was tricky but doable. It involved a bus to Leicester, then a train to Corby followed by a taxi to Rockingham itself. Sorted. We could do it. Amphelia was still pottering around upstairs and so I was doing my usual thing of pacing up and down her living room, going over the plans in my head and the timing of it all. Then, something made me think of actually ringing them. I don’t know why. I think just to confirm the opening times. So I tapped in the number and waited.

An answering machine and a recorded message began.

“Thank you for ringing Rockingham Castle,” the female voice began. “We are open Sundays, Tuesdays and Bank Holiday Monday’s…”

What? Hang on a minute. This was Saturday! I listened to the message again and, with a frustrated air, passed on the information to Amphelia, who was now in the kitchen, making wooden spoons dance on the worktop.

“Oh well,” she said. “Market Harborough it is then!”

We had spoken of Market Harborough a few times and I was certainly open to the idea as I love small rural towns rather than large cities. Then again, Leicester city centre was quite nice, full of nooks and crannies and wonderful shops. Basically, what I’m saying is, I’m easy going and love everything!

So we got a bus to Leicester and then a train to Market Harborough. Amphelia had been there before but briefly, so I understood, and she did not really recall much of it. We arrived and started walking towards the centre of town. It was one of those sunny showery mornings – bursts of hot sunshine followed by brief smatterings of rain. Oh and wind! Quite a breeze was blowing and it was something else I discovered about Amphelia – she wasn’t too keen on the wind, bless her!

We then passed a shop. Not an antiques shop. It was a sort of emporium – a mix of the arcane, the modern and the archaic. A strange collection of cuddly, fluffy toys and these, wot we spotted in the window.

Military Deer
The one on the right she fell in love with. It was £135. We went in, had a look at it, got into a good rapport with the shopkeeper and then continued on with our day. She said it would be perfect for her online shop. She could dress its antlers with her homemade jewelry, bracelets, beads and earrings, photograph it and then those images would make great pictures on her online shop.
She loved it.
So I bought it for her.
I used my haggling skills with the lovely shopkeeper of course, and managed to get it down to £110. Er…okay, so maybe my haggling skills aren’t the best as some of you lot, but I thought a £25 reduction wasn’t to be sniffed at!
So I bought it for her.
I am unemployed, scrimp away every month, but I had fortunately come into a £500 windfall, by way of a tax rebate, and it was that amount I took with me to Leicester.
She is constantly in dire straits financially as she has no job either, for various and genuine reasons, and relies on benefits like myself. So I left her £20 for taxi fare too, to take her cat to the vet, as he is poorly and her only constant companion and she loves him to bits. So I left her taxi money to take him to the PDSA.
And I left her another £20 which I hid in a book in her living room, just for food.
And I bought her £60 worth of shopping from Tesco – cat litter, toilet rolls, food – some food and alcohol for both of us too, during my stay.
I bought us breakfast, dinner, lunch. Paid for all her train fares.
So I spent just under £300 on her, at a guess.
And you know, I think many people would be swearing at this point. Cursing and berating themselves for being so silly in spending so much on someone they hardly knew. But she was vulnerable and had led such a troubled life. I thought I could just sprinkle a little sunshine upon her, for those couple of days.

And I can’t even bring myself to be annoyed at giving so much. I feel I’m *supposed* to be. That money could have been for my own bills, my own cat. I could have given it to a friend I have known longer, and has been there more for me, whose washing machine broke down recently so I could have helped her instead. But I spent it all on someone who, within 72 hours, decided they never wanted to be in my life again.

So how come I can’t feel angry? I only feel love. I only have tears in my eyes now, wanting to give her a hug and tell her that things don’t have to be so heavy. That these differences, these misunderstandings, aren’t as serious as she thinks. They could, if she allowed, just drift away on the summer breeze and be forgotten about. Everything could be so light and easy and we could just laugh again. I guess some people find that so hard to do, for many different reasons.

I miss my friend, but life goes on. And when people say ‘life goes on’ it gives an impression of a strong, stoic stance and a hardening of the heart. ‘Oh yes!’ you cry. ‘Life goes on!’

But I think what people mean is that you can’t do anything about the hurt. You can’t make things better. For now, at least. In time? Who knows. But for now, you just have to miss the person you cared for and try your best to carry on.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Complicated Social World Of Facebook – When Is A Friend Not A Friend?

Facebook Logo

I had a message from a friend the other day. The tone was a little plaintive. Somewhat distressed, in fact.
“Why didn’t you respond to my post? About my problem?”
She had posted something on Facebook. A problem, in fact. I didn’t respond for a number of reasons –

1. I didn’t see it initially. Facebook keeps altering the algorithms of what you see in your news feed, we all know that. In fact, they came in for some criticism roughly a year ago for deliberately altering the algorithm so that people would only see sad and negative stories in their news feed. Of course, we all have the option of marking a person as a ‘close friend’ and so even if their post doesn’t appear in your news feed, a notification will appear to inform you they have posted *something*, regardless of what it is. Not a perfect work around but useful I guess. Maybe I should use that option more.

2. I regarded this person as a genuine friend, not as a “I’ve never spoken to them, never met them in real life, but boy, they’re my best friend on Facebook!” type friend. I had met the person, chatted to her a lot and felt I had a good, strong friendship with her. She has my mobile number, my home address, my email address. So if she genuinely wanted my input, my feedback, my thoughts on her pressing concern, she would have contacted me directly, by either of those three different methods. By posting the problem on Facebook, and so canvassing the opinion of her nearly one thousand Facebook ‘friends’ (the post setting was ‘public’) then to me, it wasn’t the sort of problem that required my personal intervention. She didn’t need me for support, in the context of the online virtual social media world of Facebook.

2.a (because it’s not quite a point 3, but is worthy of being separated slightly from 2. A bit like placing a block of butter on the shelf down from the margarine in your fridge. ). You know that oft quoted example of human nature regarding being the spectator to a car crash? That if you witness it and ten or twenty people reach the scene before you do, you are far less likely to offer to help or to become involved, as there is an assumption that those twenty people know what they are doing. So you become a bystander. Whereas if there is nobody else around then you are most likely to act on what you have witnessed – calling the police, going over to see if you can extract the occupants from the car if needed, and so on. So I find that it is the same on Facebook a lot of the time, that if someone posts something and you are a little behind on the replies, then you are far less likely to reply because “everyone’s said what I would have said anyway.”

3. I don’t really have a point three, but as the number three is seen as quite a spiritual and significant number to the followers of Alistair Crowley and The Golden Dawn, not to mention fans of the Back To The Future TRILOGY, then I thought I would make a third pointedly pointless point here.

But hey, back in the land of Seriousville, I just don’t know if I’m right or wrong. Was she justified to be hurt? Am I supposed to validate her feelings by way of being contrite and humble? We all have different internal rules for processing each different social interaction. What one person may term as etiquette (“You are a friend, you should have interacted with me”) another may term as impropriety.

But really, I would rather not have Facebook as my central hub, where all my Friends gather to post their problems, hoping that I (or another friend) will become involved and reply. It’s fine of course, for certain types of issues. But I’d like to think if someone actually needs me, then they would contact me personally, speak to me directly, add to the bond of friendship we already have by taking me into their confidence. Because we all like that feeling of being needed. That special feeling that we are trusted, away from the superficial world of social media sites.

Married life

Wedding rings

 

Well, it’s a month now since I became a married man. If a year ago you would have told me that I would be married within the next twelve months, I would have laughed in your face. Then laughed again. And again. Finally, I would have recorded my laughter and paid for it to be scratched into a vinyl record and posted it to you, along with a record player of course. It just seemed inconceivable, as Inigo Montoya once said.

But around June of 2015, things began to pick up in my life. I had left my job in mental health and was unsure of what to do next. The idea of being a counsellor, drawing upon previous skills but also taking on courses that would hone and refine them, appealed to me. Attending Chippenham college to take those courses was a liberating experience, and finding the part time post as a relationship counsellor in Salisbury – even though it was a fair distance from Marlborough – was such a confidence building event that I embarked on the search for a soul mate again.

And then, in late July of 2015, along came Lisa. She blew into my life like a leaf on a breeze, making me laugh, tickling me with her fancies, her ideals, her beauty. She helped me to know myself more, to understand my feelings. All the corny stuff that you might have read in a Mills & Boon novel, but made real. I just didn’t think I had it in me to love again. After a failed marriage and a string of…well, not *quite* ‘one night stands’, more ‘three week stands’, I just thought the whole romance thing was never going to happen again. My heart wasn’t in it. But Lisa saw something in me that made her persist. She was patient, tolerant of my moods, and her being a successful painter helped, as she knew about the artist’s temperament and the dichotomy we all face regarding needing company and needing to be alone.

Our wedding, in late February, in Keswick, attended by a handful of close friends, was one of the happiest days of my life. That train journey (“We’re out of balloons!” – Martin, Jayne and Jezel!!) was like being in an episode of Friends due to the quick wit and banter that we had between us.

And the funny thing is, married life has mellowed me a lot. I have lost some of the drive I once had to write and be creative. I’ve neglected this blog, neglected many of my projects. I just enjoy coming home to Lisa, us chatting, sitting on the sofa holding hands, watching the telly or doing the normal things any couple does. We walk, hand in hand, through Savernake forest on the weekends, pointing out the variety of birds and the multitude of wildlife that scurry about our feet. It’s like a Disney cartoon but hey – it’s still the honeymoon period and I have a feeling this honeymoon period is going to last a long, long time.

I never feared dying alone. I never feared reaching old age and being alone. I just accepted my alone-ness matter-of-factly and that was that. But now I know, in my heart, I will never be alone. That well spring of love that sits within us all has been uncapped once more and I feel alive once again.

With love to you, Lisa.

“You complete me, I complete you.” – Joni Mitchell ‘Court And Spark’.

 

Transactional Analysis

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.

In 1988 I was in Bookworm, a small independent bookshop next to the Post Office in Cwmbran Town Centre when I spotted this book –Eric Berne

“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.

TA diagram

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.

TA diagram 2

 

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.

TA diagram 4

 

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?”

Wrong.

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 –

Transactional Analysis

 

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?”

Jim Bowen - Bullseye

Wrestling With Your Ego

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.

Joe 90

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.

I Love Myself

The Dating Game

Manhattan

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.
When Harry Met Sally

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.Victoria & Riaz

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.

Old Friends

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.

But of course, it is the last line of the poem that reveals the truth. For all eyes but these eyes. To be known when you are young and for those same eyes to look upon you when you are old is beautiful, because those eyes lack judgement. They knew you when you were young. It doesn’t matter that you are now an old, toothless, dribbling incontinent wreck. They knew you when you were young and still love you for that. And that’s how I see all my old friends. I think about them the most.

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.

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