The aim of this blog is to empower people who are unemployed. Not to ‘go out and get a job’ – that’s a different topic entirely. I mean empower them to realise there is nothing wrong with being unemployed. That you are doing all you can and don’t let others pressure you into doing anything you do not want to do. Their stigma is their stigma alone – it doesn’t have to be transferred into you. Their criticism is a reflection of themselves and the way they see the world, not a reflection of you or any perceived failings you might have in their eyes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself now. Let me backtrack, rewind, and begin again.
It’s 8:45 on 15th December 2015 – ten days to go until the big day!
Today’s blog is going to be about being unemployed. A contentious topic for some, but let’s see where we go with this.
Yesterday morning I had my fortnightly job search interview which went very well. No, there’s not a hint of sarcasm there – it did go well, as it always does. When they see that you are trying your best to obtain a job, and are also striving to better yourself in other ways (my writing aspirations and my Indian head massage business) then they treat you as you deserve to be treated – with respect, courtesy and decency. My ‘coaches’ (as they like to be called – the way that job titles have changed over the years could make for a funny blog in itself) have never put any pressure on me, never criticised my efforts and never have said a negative word to me. Neither have my friends – whether they have been the vague, half-known friends on social media, or proper friends that I have either met or built up a more meaningful relationship with me. Not one criticism. Not one word of advice to do this or do that or ‘step it up a gear’. But more about that later.
That said, I think there are a small minority of people who don’t try. I believe it’s one of those strange myths of British society that there are many people who enjoy being unemployed and make no effort to find work. It’s not as simple as that. I think some people lack the confidence and self-esteem to continue trying for employment. I think there are some people whose ‘life story’, to use a common phrase found in the psychology books of Eric Berne and others, who have fallen into their own ‘internal script’ (another Eric Berne phrase) of living in a certain defined way that they find it hard to break out of. But I’m going down the route of psychoanalysis now and I don’t claim to be an expert in that whatsoever. There are some who manipulate the system of course, and do their best to benefit from benefits.The con-artists and so forth. But generally, most decent people do enjoy making some sort of valued contribution to their ‘society’ and to the world at large.
Okay, let me reminisce, as you know I am good at that.
The last time I was unemployed was around 1988, if I recall. I left school in 1987 and I think, within two or three months, I was on a YTS scheme – that’s Youth Training Scheme for those whose memory don’t go that far back! My first one was with JHP Training Ltd, situated in the middle of Cwmbran town centre. The town was unusual in that above many of the shops was office space that was not connected to any storage areas that the shops might have. Along one arcade which had a Marks & Spencer’s, Timpson’s and River Island, was a little alcove with a small unassuming door that led into Powys House. Going through those doors was a bit like entering Doctor’s Who’s Tardis. “There are shops either side of this door,” I used to think, “so how come the inside is so incredibly big!” There was a lift that went up three floors where eventually you would step out into JHP Training, a training provider specialising in Information Technology. It’s where, in 1988, I learned out to use Wordstar (which was *the* word processor of the time, long before Microsoft Word took a stranglehold of the market) and spreadsheet and database programs. I think I was paid £27 a week for joining that scheme. These days, for mature adults, I don’t think there are any such schemes that give you a bonus for attending them. Their is a company called LearnDirect which are closely affiliated with the governments ‘Job Centre’, and they provide English and Maths classes, refunding your transport costs.But back to the 1980s Youth Training Schemes – the downside to spending a month at your ‘base camp’ learning these interesting modules, was that you were then sent out on placement. That’s when the resentment would arise, as for the same money of £27 a week, you were expected to do the same work as another staff member in that job, who might be getting £100 a week (or whatever the average wage was back then), which prompted a lot of protests. Particularly from these three lovely ladies. Bless ’em.
So, let me speed up this history of mine somewhat. A year or so later I started college – taking English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre at Pontypool college and then a year after that attended another training course, although this time it had nothing to do with going out on placements. It was an enjoyable three or four month course where I was learning more about Information Technology. I attended this one with a college friend, Lisa Osmond. Lisa, if you are reading this, I’ve thought about you a lot over the last twenty-five years and have tried to track you down but to no avail. Would love to hear from you again!
At the time I was living with my grandmother who was slowly becoming more invalid. By around 1992 it reached the stage where I officially became her sole, live-in carer. living with her and doing everything that she needed – cleaning her faeces from the landing carpet when she was incontinent, for example, during the many times she couldn’t make it to the toilet on time. That went on for years, with me having restless nights as the slightest sound from her room would make me wake up and remain on edge, thinking “Am I going to have to go and clean poo from the landing carpet?” at 2 or 3 in the morning. I was scared to leave the house in case she moved and fell. And then she passed away in 1998 and I worked in nursing homes, cleaning the faeces from elderly, dying, fellow human beings before I obtained a different job where I cared for adults with severe learning disabilities and then adults with acute mental health illnesses. So nobody can tell me that I haven’t earned a period on ‘benefits’, no matter how long it lasts for, because I’ve done a lot of good for other people and am just *needing* this little period of ‘time out’. Besides, as far as I was concerned, seven weeks ago I landed a new job and it was only because of a malicious bad reference that caused my new employer to retract the offer – but that’s for another blog post too. I am confident I will land another job early in the new year.
Okay, let’s get to the meat and two veg of this article. Some of the replies to the ‘worst things’ are going to replicate some of the points I have already raised above.
THREE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU CAN SAY TO THE UNEMPLOYED
1. “You need to get out more!” – Really? Why?Don’t you hate it when people tell you to ‘get out more’ ? And more so, to ‘meet new people’ ? Because I guess there perception is, if you are unemployed, your social circles suddenly (and inexplicably) shrinks! You are not at work and therefore you are not mixing with enough people anymore. Well firstly, I very rarely make friends at work. It often leads to trouble. Work is just work. I *have* made a few friends over the years but they are the rare ones, and I have been very selective. I have enjoyed working with many people over the years and many old colleagues I respect and hold in high regard, but being at work certainly never felt like a social event to me. Sitting in an office listening to a bunch of people criticise their partners or other staff members was always a pet hate of mine!
I like my own company, I like isolation, I like quietness and solitude. Leave me be to enjoy my cat and my writing. Each to their own. Why do some people find it hard to believe that a person can be happy spending long periods on their own at home? Is this another sad product of the current climate we live in, with these terrorist atrocities going on all over the world, and so people become more suspicious of ‘the quiet ones’? Maybe that is a factor too, though some would deny that. But as a child, although I did have a number of very close friends (Andrew, Martin, Royston, David, Paul, Wayne, Lisa, Eirwen, Janet – love you all!) I would equally love being in my room, aged ten, reading Enid Blyton, Michael Bond, E. Nesbitt and Lewis Caroll. I’ve always been comfortable with my own company. Plus, I’m sure I’ll be successful getting a job in the next few months so I’ll be meeting new people again that way anyhow.
I’ve spent fifteen years working on busy mental health wards, both acute wards and rehab wards, where day after day my mind has just been subjected to noise. Just noise from all directions and constantly being busy. I never enjoyed that side of things and I’ve loved the last five months where the majority of my time has been spent quietly, just listening to the wind through the trees, or the birdsong in the mornings. I needed that to heal anyway, and I know my mind is still a little fragile when it comes to stress and pressure.
2. “You need to step it up a gear!” – Well, personally, as I have mentioned above, my friends who know me and believe in me, know this is just ridiculous. They know I am doing everything, within my capabilities, to get a job. And most of all, those people who have the power to change my benefits and impose sanctions – my job coaches at the job centre – know I am doing everything in my power to get a job. They often commend me and are visibly impressed at the way I write and upload books to Amazon, at my Indian Head Massage business, and at my pursuit of a job in the care sector. They are lovely to me, supportive and encouraging, and not once have they put any pressure on me by saying “You need to step it up a gear.” And my friends are the same. Knowing what I have been through in life. They know we are all built differently and have different personalities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the *right* job, no matter how long it takes. There is absolutely no way I would take a job just for the sake of it as it would damage my mental health. If I was forced to work in, for example, a busy supermarket, with tons of bustling shoppers around me each day, stacking shelves and so on, I think my health, mentally and physically, would suffer a setback. As I say, we are all built differently and most of us reach an age where we are fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
3. “People may resent you being on benefits, while they are working hard.” – Oh hang on a minute. Hang on one cotton-picking minute. What right does someone have to make this sort of comparison? Why do people assume that because you are not employed, you are therefore not ‘working hard’? Do people equate ‘working hard’ with physical labour? Is that the only hard work around? If so, that is quite a naive criteria to base hard work on. I work damn hard – both in my writing aspirations and in my search for the right job. And again, it’s not to do with the *time* you put into it either. Whether I work two hours a day or ten hours a day on my writing, I may still only come up with one page of material, but both times I have worked equally as hard. As any creative person knows, creativity, inspiration and imagination is not something you can force and somedays I may struggle to compose a paragraph. I might spend a day on it, mostly thinking or pacing the room as I try and articulate my thoughts and transfer them to the page in the best way possible. So for that day, where I have produced one paragraph, I have worked damn fucking hard.
Now, on to the ‘resentment’ bit. In an article by Deborah Orr in The Guardian today, titled ‘The real benefit cheats are the employers who are milking the system’, she points out that ‘just £8bn on benefits goes to the unemployed, while an estimated £76bn, according to James Ferguson of Money Week, goes to people who are working.’ So you have the irony of a Labour government supporting employers with huge benefit handouts to help them pay for their employees. There is something intrinsically wrong with that. ‘Employing someone has come to be seen as such a noble pursuit that businesses are paid to do it.’ continues Deborah Orr. Yes. Well put indeed. The full link to her illuminating article is here – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/26/benefits-cheats-employers-milk-system-in-work-benefit
Resentment from anyone about anything is more a reflection of them than you. Remember that. It is more a reflection of their perception of life, their own standards and their own internal script. Their standards aren’t your standards and they have no right to try and impose them upon you. Remain courageous in the face of criticism. And the people who say these sorts of things, I am sure that they mean well in their heart. I’m sure it isn’t out of malice. It is, however, out of a lack of understanding, empathy and compassion.I was a bit cross to be on the receiving end of such a comment recently and here is my reply, drawing upon my personal experience that I mentioned previously – from 1992 to 1998 I was the sole carer for my grandmother. For those six years or so that I was looking after my Nan, all I had was Invalid Care Allowance which basically was £10 a week on top of my dole money. So I think that weekly amount came to £60. For being on call 24/7 to my beloved Nan, attending to her personal hygiene, I was paid £60 a week as far as I can remember. For cooking all her meals each day, cleaning up after her, emptying the commode every few hours that she kept right by her chair in the living room, doing the weekly shopping for us, keeping her company, holding her hand and telling her I loved her as she lay dying in a hospital bed for three weeks at the end of her life, I got £60 a week.
So how can anyone resent me enjoying a government handout now, via an unemployment benefit, when I received such little financial help for those six years I worked in the 90s? And those years took their toll. On reflection, eighteen years after she passed away, I now know that those six years did affect me mentally. They were hard. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything. Most of us, whether we deny it or not, are often trying to make sense of our past. Writing blogs like this, and even through my works of fiction, is a continual exploration of themes, ideas and problems I have personally encountered in the past.
So there it is. I hope anyone who reads this that are also unemplyed, are inspired. Inspired in the sense that you know if you draw upon your life experiences, knowing what you have done, then you can hold your head high. There is nothing wrong with being unemployed. Do things at your own pace as your health *must* come first.
And on that note, Merry Christmas!
Through the years
We all will be together,
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
Yeah, right. It’s Saturday, 10.30pm on 12th December 2015 and it’s been a quiet day. I’ve done some writing, done some sleeping, done some eating. The world carries on.
In some ways I have nothing, but in other ways I have, well, nothing too. Maybe it’s the pre-Christmas blues I have. Once the Christmas blues and the post-Christmas blues are out of the way, I’m sure I’ll feel better.
Anyway, let’s crack on. I have a lot of thoughts to regurgitate in this blog. Things could get messy.
So, it’s been a funny old year. New Year’s Day 2015 I was here in Avebury, having shortly come back from spending nearly a week in Abergavenny over the Christmas period with my friend Sarah . Sarah had played an important part in my life throughout 2014 and the depth and complexities of our friendship is way beyond the scope of this little blog piece. Suffice to say that by the end of March our friendship was over and I had entered a dark period of depression.
Depression is a funny old thing and this blip was a combination of several factors.I hadn’t been happy in my job for a while. I had been working in mental health for over fifteen years and in the care setting in general for over twenty. It’s not something I aspired to do or necessarily wanted to do as a child. When I was seven I wanted to be an astronaut. This was in 1978 when being an astronaut was quite a cool thing to say to people, particularly when you are seven. By the time I was nine I wanted to be a writer. Maybe a writer based on some orbiting space station – that would have been really cool. But I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t realise at the time you could be a writer just by calling yourself a writer. It took me nearly thirty years to work that one out. I thought there was some sort of test you had to pass, or x amount of stories you had to have published. Then I discovered that when I started telling people I was a writer, they believed me. Not once did they say ‘show me the proof!’. They might say ‘what have you written?’ and that would open up a world of possibilities and the alarming prospect of thinking on my feet. But now, I tell others that I am a writer first and whatever day job I am in at the time, second.
I had had a long period of sickness that began, I think, in late February. I never went back to work after that. I can’t actually remember what triggered it. It may have been a cold, wet winter’s morning and I just might have thought ‘I’m staying in bed’. Now people who have never experienced depression or a significantly low mood, may think I am being flippant here. Those who have experienced depression know exactly what I am talking about. Everything seems overwhelming and the slightest obstacle in your path, be it the weather, or the coffee jar lid becoming stuck, becomes a catastrophe from which there is no way out. That stuck coffee lid could result in six months on an acute mental health ward. Luckily for me, it didn’t result in that. In April I had a sickness review meeting and it was agreed that I was burnt out. I acknowledged that. I think I had been in denial for a long time. Things at work bothered me, people irritated me. I even hated my shoes. I felt like Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ – initially I enjoyed the quiet monotony of the job but by the end I wanted to spread my wings and fly. So to cut a long story short, my job officially ended on the 7th July. I was free.
Meanwhile, I was also looking for love. I joined POF (Plenty Of Fish) again, which was a dating site. A free one too,which I had joined the previous year for a few months. I joined in February of 2015 and in a few weeks, a lady from Bournemouth became interested me and foolishly, I said yes to her request to come and stay with me in Avebury for a few nights. I hadn’t even spoken to her on the phone. In the middle of March, she came to stay. I met her at Swindon train station and a bright, bubbly, bouncy person met me. As we walked to the bus stop she kept touching me and saying “I can’t believe your real,” which was sort of sweet and endearing, but twenty minutes later I just wanted to say “How many touches left before you decide I’m real? Because frankly, your touches are becoming rather tiresome and I would like you to reflect on your tactile proclivity.”
That night, I turned over after sex and she blew her top. I would have turned back to her, but I was exhausted and just needed a minute or two to catch my breath, but the fact I hadn’t immediately cuddled her after I came, triggered a sort of King Kong/Godzilla/Megatron/Giant Mutant Fish response and she walked off into the other bedroom. The next morning she came back into the living room and spoke at length about how she believed I was on the autistic spectrum and possibly had a personality disorder. She then said “Well I think that’s cleared the air. Can I stay tonight?” It was a few seconds after I said “No.” that she banged her fists on the table, screamed a bit and banged her fists on the table a bit more. When she realised her banging and screaming wasn’t going to get her anywhere, she became quiet. She remained quiet all the way to the train station. As we stood on the platform I tried to give her a goodbye kiss and hug but she wouldn’t have it, so I left. Over the next few weeks I received many accusatory texts and emails and countless voice messages on Wattsapp, before she asked if she could visit me again so that we could enjoy the summer solstice together. I queried her use of ‘enjoy’ and told her it would be best if we never spoke to each other ever again. Unless it was an emergency and we were both desperately lonely.
Then, in May, I began a relationship with another lady. She was an alcoholic and, well, I guess I am drawn to damaged people, and maybe they are to me too. There’s different levels of ‘damaged’ though and I think I’m a high functioning damaged person.
That relationship ended and in July I began another, this time with a massage therapist. She also did reiki healing, hot stone massage therapy, reflexology and ear candle therapy. I just don’t see how lighting a candle and sticking it in your ear is going to help you heal. At worst, you’re just going to get hot wax in your ear. At best, your hair may catch fire. I just don’t buy it. The same goes for reflexology – how can areas of the feet correspond to your brain or heart or liver? I acted as a model several times for her reflexology students who practiced reflexology on me and while the actual foot massage was very nice, my liver, brain and heart remained completely unaffected by the experience. That relationship ended in November and I have come to the conclusion that I’m just not cut out for relationships. I don’t think I can love again and I am going to be celibate. Actually, does celibate mean refraining from wanking too? It does doesn’t it? What’s the word that means you don’t want to engage in sexual practices with another human being but you’re not opposed to a good old wank? But in all seriousness, I just don’t think I have it in me any more.
“All romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk
And boring someone in some dark cafe.”
Joni Mitchell – ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’
I also had a number of friends visit me this year. Wayne Weston and Paul Silcox, both friends from the early 1980s, came to visit me in Avebury in early April when I was at my lowest point. I hadn’t seen either of them for several years, both of them still living in Wales. I messaged them out of the blue, chatting in a quite pithy and glib way about ending my life as I felt everything was just hopeless, and before I could say “Terrahawks!” they had both arrived in Avebury and we spent a great weekend together, drinking, talking and laughing, just like old times. In November I had a friend and fellow writer, Charlotte, visit me all the way from York, and just a week later, out of the blue, Magdalene, a friend from London, came to visit too. Both visits were wonderful and I value their friendship immensely.
That more or less sums up my year. I guess the most significant one was the four month relationship I had. No matter if a relationship ends, no matter if you never loved that person in that romantic, passionate way that they may have hoped for, you can’t deny that it still has an effect on your life and they have made an impression upon you. As in the old Alanis Morrisette song ‘Unsent’, “I’ll always have your back and be wondering about you, about your career your whereabouts…”
Anyway, let’s end with a nice picture of good old affable James Stewart. Because actually, despite everything I have gone though over the years, it is a wonderful life.
It’s the 7th December, 2015. I am 44 years old, writing this from my little flat in the village of Avebury. I am single, living with a cat, and currently unemployed. As Fat Boy Slim once said, “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.”
I was born in Wales, raised in Cwmbran, a small town in the south of that beautiful country. Small to me, of course, as during the thirty-odd years I lived there, I explored the vast majority of it. I know about the two small lime kilns on Garth Road that were restored in 1988, for example, that not many Cwmbran-ites know about. Though I only know because I lived around the corner and stood there as it happened, my 17-year-old eyes watching inquisitively as the workmen attached the round ‘kilns of historical interest’ plaque to the knotted stone wall. I’m not sure if knotted is the best adjective to describe a stone wall, but as I say, I’m 44 and I’ve got to that age when one’s adjectives slowly run out.
But this is a blog about my Christmas memories so I need to curb my digressions. You know I love a good digression, and this is one right here, but it’s going to hit a kerb right now, so to speak.
I never remember my father around much for Christmas. Probably because he buggered off when I was 9 years old. I have no memory of sitting at a table and eating a Christmas dinner with him, and that realisation just occurred to me, out of the blue. Where does the phrase ‘out of the blue’ come from? Why not ‘out of the green’ or ‘out of the that peculiar shade which is in-between orange and black’? Anyhow, I have no memory of enjoying that special Christmas moment with him. I have no memory of waking up, opening my presents, and then running into his arms to thank him. Because I don’t think he was ever there in the morning. He may have slouched downstairs, sometime in the early afternoon and then hogged the telly. Mostly – and this is an odd thing – he wouldn’t mind my mum, my sister and I going to my Nan & Bamp’s for Christmas day and enjoying dinner with them. That’s where the real magic happened.
One year I remember asking not only for a TomyTronic 3D Sky Attack game but also Demon Driver. Now I just did a little research on those two games on the internet, which leads me to believe this must have been the Christmas of 1983, when I was 12 years old. I loved being twelve. The last year before being a teenager. Once I was 13 I knew I would be expected to start smoking, drinking and having sex, and the thought of it petrified me, especially if I had to do it all at the same time. So being 12 was the last year in which I could still enjoy reading Whizzer & Chips without being ridiculed, or to hopefully play Demon Driver on the morning of Christmas Day without being scoffed at. I was sensitive to scoffing. A scornful scoff is just the worst thing. Nearly as bad as a laudable laugh.
Of course, the way I got to know about Demon Driver was through the Argos catalogue. These days, I guess kids know about the latest toys through adverts on social media, or just adverts in general, targeted at ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’ web sites that kids visit. Back in 1983, all that any kid needed was an Argos catalogue. I would spend the weeks, if not months, leading up to Christmas reading the Argos catalogue. While my mum and sister would be watching Rising Damp or The Six Million Dollar Man, I would be sat there, with the Argos catalogue open on my lap, scrutinising all of the toys. Demon Driver must have stood out at me that year due to the little wheel controller that it used, which was quite a novelty back then. Even if the size of the wheel was the size of a ten pence piece, it was still a wheel, and that’s what mattered. And the idea of racing formula one cars, with a wheel, was just too good to miss! Demon Driver was at the top of my Christmas wish list.
So on the morning of Christmas Day, 1983, I awoke. I’ve no idea what the time was. Probably 7am or so, and then I would just count down the minutes, one by one, waiting for my mother to stir. I would never, ever race into her bedroom, shouting “Merry Christmas” and all that jazz. I wasn’t an exuberant child. No. The way I would try to get attention would be with a cough. Just a small one to begin with. Just one cough, every five minutes or so, getting louder and louder until I actually started coughing for real and would end up convulsing on the floor, screaming “Water! Water!” between trying to gulp down mouthfuls of air.
Eventually my mother called out to me and my sister that we could get up and she followed us downstairs. I, of course, took four or five steps at a time, holding the banister with one hand and the wall with another as I took great bounds down that staircase that seemed so steep at the time. We would then race into the living room. My sister’s presents would be all piled up on one part of the sofa and all my presents would be piled up on the other. I tore open a few parcels at random – 1983 annuals of my favourite comics – Whizzer & Chips, Cor!, Buster, The Beezer and The Topper. All well and good.
I tore open another parcel.
There it was. Demon Driver. Demon fucking Driver. It was mine. It was mine and I had batteries for it too. I hurriedly opened the box, took out the little console, inserted the batteries. Demon Driver. I actually had it! Wait until all my friends in school heard about this. I owned Demon Driver! I flicked the on switch and raced my little 12 year-old guts out for five minutes.
Right. Got it. Next.
I began opening the other presents. This was turning into a great Christmas!
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.