Part 175: Renewal

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My toenail fell off my left big toe. After sustaining a blunt force trauma earlier in the year, it had hung bravely on for months, staring right at me, defiant. Yes, it was black and dead and painless, but it was still there; still firmly attached to my body. I painted over the damage with scarlet varnish and hoped very much it would stay put. But soon enough, one day, in the bath, after a long run by the river, it peeled off and lifted clean away. I cupped the dead toenail in the palm of my hand for a second before realising that was gross and dropping it, promptly, into the foamy bath water. There was tender pink skin where the nail had been, and a new nail sprouting; fledgling and thin and ugly, but full of promise, like a baby gosling.

It felt like a metaphor for something. And by that I mean I am suggesting it was a metaphor for something: namely my personal growth. And no, I’m not overly bothered that the metaphor is extremely obvious to the point where it seems contrived, because, the fact is, it did actually happen and this blog (like it’s author) is nothing if not honest. (And yes, honesty here might lose me readers in the same way that it often loses me friends in real life, but, as in real life: meh. I never liked you that much in the first place.)

You know how everyone says you’ll always feel as if you’re eighteen, deep inside, even when you’re sixty-five and unable to bend down because a genetic calcium deficiency means your hips are disintegrating? Well, I can now tell you that that particular truism is bullshit.

I’m growing up. At long, long last.

Having felt as if I was eighteen from the age of about three until quite recently, I’d like to let those of you still basking in the stew of youth know that there comes a point when you do really feel like a proper grown up. Like a person in her thirties with a professional job and responsibilities and ambitions she might achieve one day — and, yes, all right, absolutely no sex life to speak of, but do you see me complaining about that babe?

I know it sounds dreadful. I too thought I would be drinking Lambrini through a straw and falling out of my bikini until well into old age. But it turns out maturity is underrated.

For example: I make sensible long-term decisions now, and don’t just careen blindly into whatever is on offer. I remember the events of a night out, even when they occurred after 2am. I can get out of bed before midday (although it has to be said, I don’t do so that often). And crippling bouts of low self-esteem occur only weekly, rather than 6,000 times a minute. Which is a welcome relief.

Of course, I’m still single. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I’d found anything remotely resembling love. But instead of cursing the Gods for casting me aside, I am instead rejoicing. For: Aren’t I bloody lucky, actually. For: If I had got together with any of the men I’d met in my 20s I would be miserable, no doubt about it.

Everyone I knew in my 20s was awful. Especially the men. They were universally horrid and, universally, treated the women they were with like absolute shit, giving me terrible expectations about how I could anticipate the male half of a heterosexual relationship might behave behind its girlfriend’s back. (Badly.)  (Look, I’m sorry, but if you’re reading this and you are the wife or girlfriend of a guy I knew between 2003 and 2013 I am afraid your partner is definitely shagging other people (not Joe, obviously Lizzie. I met him in 2002 so he doesn’t count)).

But whatever, those times are in the distant past. My skin has finally cleared up and I have nearly paid off the debts I accrued in those wayward spendy years, when a box of designer knickers could fill the cavernous void I felt inside, even if only temporarily.

The nail on my left big toe is long enough to paint again now. The pinkish skin is thick and normal coloured. And the seasons are turning, turning. Isn’t nature a marvellous thing?

*Image is ‘autumn leaves’ by Graphics Mouse at freedigitalphotos.net.

Piglets Sucking Limes (an update)

Remember a couple of years ago when I wrote a post called ‘Piglets Sucking Limes’ about how the internet had let me down? No? Well you can read it here.

Tl;dr version: I wanted to see piglets sucking limes. Google didn’t have them.

Well, flash forward to today and my brother whatsapps me two videos, which I’ve posted below, demonstrating that the internet is always there for you, in the end.

 

 

I don’t mean to tempt fate, but the universe is really doing things for me at the moment. My life just keeps on getting better.

 

Part 174: Small Happy Things

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I used to go to school with this girl — let’s call her Poppy (even though Poppy is as amusingly far from her real name as you could possibly get. I don’t want to reveal her real name, for obvious reasons — mainly that I’m going to say something mean about her in the next paragraph — you are just going to have to trust me that I’ve made quite a funny joke). We weren’t close. She was in the year above so we didn’t have any classes together, but we did have similar after-school interests that meant we knew each other by name. Anyway, in that random way that sometimes happens, Poppy has stayed a permanent, if fringe, figure in my life, because once or twice a year — sometimes less, if I’m being perfectly honest — I bump into her out of the blue. It’s as if the universe keeps deliberately shoving her in my face, like warning. Who knows for what.

Poppy is perfectly pleasant, if sometimes to unwarranted extremes — last time I saw her, for example, she threw her arms around me and squealed in a kind of over-the-top, enthusiastic way that left me cold and rigid all over — but the reason she gets on my tits is because she has this habit of being deliberately vague about the details of her life. She’s an actor, you see, although she is barely, if ever, working. Fair enough, I am friends with lots of mostly out-of-work actors. But every time I ask Poppy how things are going — and I mean every time, from 1997 to now — she wafts her hands dreamily in front of her face and smiles a thin smile. ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘there’s some really exciting stuff in development, but I can’t say anything yet. You know how it is.’ And I think: ‘No, Poppy. No, babe. I don’t know how it is. If anything even vaguely exciting is happening in my life, developmentally or otherwise, I tell everyone I come across, in tedious detail, including dogs and small children.’ Needless to say, I have never yet seen Poppy bring any of these exciting developments to fruition. Though I’ll be really happy for her when she finally does. (I won’t).

You might have noticed that I have been absent from this blog for some time (despite promising regular postings). My absence is not because I’ve been eating cheese in my bed and mainlining Netflix, as is usually the case during a prolonged writing hiatus, but because, and this is where the Poppy story comes in, I’ve been developing other things that might or might not come to fruition. Sorry to be vague, darlings. I know that it’s so fucking annoying. But all of a sudden I understand why Poppy keeps her cards close to her chest — it’s really disappointing when creative projects you’ve worked and worked and worked at for months or years come to nothing. Which happens more often than you’d probably imagine. I know, I know, you could shut the fuck up about it and wait for the project to materialise into something great or dissolve away, like a tissue on water, but (and this is what I never realised when I was busy judging Poppy), when you’re working at something quietly you want people to know that you’re still in the game. You want everybody to be in no doubt that you have not given up totally on your creative pursuits, although that’s definitely what it looks like from the outside. What I’m saying, then, really, in a rambling anecdotal way, is that I just want you to know that I abandoned my promises about regular content not because of laziness, for once, but because of my enthusiasm for something else that I might or might not one day tell you about.

Anyway.

What has propelled me back here is a sudden upsurge of happiness that I wanted to document before it passes and I’m back to smoking, drinking and contemplating whether or not to slit my wrists before I chuck myself in the river. It’s sort of ironic that my surge of happiness would come now when the rest of the world is completely depressed.

And there is a lot to be depressed about, let’s face it.

The world has gone to shit. Things are not good, generally speaking; globally speaking. Wealth inequality, terrorism, rapidly spreading xenophobia. Brexit (or not). The Zika virus. Donald Trump’s hair (oh and the fact that he has been accused of chid abuse and not one mainstream media outlet thinks this is worthy of headline coverage). Climate change, the slow, painful death of the seas and all life contained within them. ‘Digital Marketing Executives’ and other myriad wankers earning six-figure salaries while teachers, plumbers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, teachers and social workers see diminishing financial returns on their sacrifice.

It’s wall to wall horror and tragedy, everywhere you look.

But I have always been contrary and, true to form, just as the world is wallowing in existential gloom, I’ve started to see beauty everywhere. The bats swooping down over the river as I cycle home in the dark (no street lamps here after midnight, it’s rural), the wafting scent of honeysuckle on the morning breeze, the sky, clear and navy at night, the stars all spread out and sparkling, like diamond dust. Sometimes the beauty is so much I can’t even breathe. And even when there is nothing in particular to stimulate a dopamine rush, say I’m pootling along on an ordinary Friday afternoon, schlepping to the co-op in the drizzle, I’ll suddenly find myself overcome with an unexplained euphoria.

It goes against everything I ever believed about myself. I assumed I was just a miserable bitch, default setting. Sure, I’d had euphoric moments: the morning after good sex with a hot young lovely, the time my first boyfriend said he loved me, when I got told about my PhD scholarship. But they were rare and fleeting and always suffixed with misery of one sort or another (the hot young lovelies rarely call back, as well you know; my first boyfriend eventually dumped me because I made an insensitive remark about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; er, hello? Have you ever tried writing a PhD?). I presumed — from observing both happy friends and melancholy ones, and  reading the old women’s magazines I find abandoned in the staff kitchen — that only significant, unlikely milestones (pregnancy, babies, marriage) would herald similar natural ecstasy. But no. It turns out all you need for happiness is yourself, and a bicycle. And the sweet honeysuckle air of an English summer.

Who knew?

Part 173: The Queen Mother

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Remember Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother? I know she’s been dead for a while now, but somehow she manages to stay semi-relevant: present somewhere in the periphery of your consciousness, barely there but not quite gone, leaping suddenly into view when you least expect her. Or maybe it’s just me. For example, I was on this date a few weeks ago, glugging white wine in a pub in my new hometown — laughing softly at his nervous jokes; tucking loose tufts of hair behind my ears, trying to perfect the ideal combination of wit, empathy and hotness that might one day snare me a husband — and there she appeared, in a framed photograph on the wall. She was smiling and pulling a pint like she always used to do on special occasions, when they wheeled her out for the cameras. She was just how you remember her: dressed in a pastel two piece and matching hat, funny little pointless veil covering the top part of her face — though nothing, unfortunately, shielding us from the horror of her teeth. ‘Who’s that old lady?’ Said my date (who is not that much younger than me actually, it’s just that he didn’t grow up in England, so we can forgive him — I mean, we’ll have to, it’s slim pickings out there and as I might have mentioned I want a baby very very badly and none of my gay friends are willing to help me out with that).

I love the Queen Mother as much as the next person — as in, not that much, but with a grudging affection. She kind of reminds me of my favourite ex-boyfriends (who, similarly, arouse affection despite also being the worst), what with the gambling and the bad teeth and the daytime drinking and the possible, unsubstantiated Nazi sympathies.

Still, as much as the Queen Mother reminds me of my bad exes (and so I get that she is, on some level, sexy), in a funny old way, she also reminds me of myself (as in yes she’s sexy on some level but you wouldn’t marry her, would you? The woman’s deranged and you aren’t a shy, unprepossessing second-in-line to the throne with a stammer and an overbearing mother — although, if you are: hi babe, I don’t think we’ve met). We look remarkably similar; with our thin lips and our fat, heart-shaped, plain-yet-almost-pretty faces; with our slight-yet-sturdy build and the twinkle in our big blue eyes and our fondness for wearing colours that don’t really suit us. All those pictures where we’re holding a half-finished pint aloft like right old goers. My teeth aren’t anywhere near as horrifying, admittedly, but if I carry on smoking, drinking and only visiting the dentist once a decade in the way I do, it really won’t be long before I can compete with the QM in that department.

What’s my point? I barely know, anymore. You try writing a sex blog for four and half years and see how coherent you are. I suppose what I’m trying to tell you is that even though I am quite often baffled at how I’m still single after all these years of trying quite hard not to be, every now and then I catch a fleeting glimpse of myself in the mirror and the shadow of the Queen Mother moves behind my face and I get it. I mean, sure, I’m passably good-looking, I can do all the things you need to do in bed so long as I’m with the right partner. I can change a light bulb and cook a butter chicken curry and run a half-marathon with barely any training. Yes, quite often at parties I make a roomful of people I’ve only just met laugh out loud, I do kind things for strangers (although, full disclosure, I did, recently, after an unsatisfactory customer service exchange, send a Direct Message on Twitter to a woman from my phone company that simply said ‘My God. You are bad at your job.’) and sometimes I volunteer for charity. But I can’t blame all the men for not wanting to impregnate me, because it doesn’t take age-progression software to know that one day I am going to wake up and look like this:

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And, unlike the Queen Mother, I won’t even have the cushion of wealth and breeding to soften the blow.

Part 172: Jeremy Corbyn

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I don’t know if it’s because I am unusually narcissistic, but I often find that newsworthy events have parallels with the circumstances and challenges of my own life. Take, for example, the internal disputes raging within the Labour party about whether to keep or to eject Jeremy Corbyn as leader, which have uncanny resonances with the internal disputes currently raging in my own mind about whether to keep or to reject kind men who treat me nicely, but aren’t quite as exciting as arseholes.

Like the Labour Party, my romantic life for the last couple of decades has been headed up by a series of wildly overconfident, inept sociopaths with endless self-regard. And, like the Labour Party, despite their successively diminishing quality, I’ve been unable to properly envisage a future with someone more suitable — possibly because the first one was initially so intoxicating and we had lots of good times. Sure, the charismatic smooth talkers will inevitably leave you high and dry: they’ll lie to your face, dodge your questions and lead you into an illegal, decade-long war with many thousands of casualties, but still — they’re quite good in bed and they know how to manipulate the mainstream media.

For the last few months, like the Labour party, I’ve respected the mandate of my members (Mum, mates, therapist) and tried something different: giving a go to men who seem honest, straightforward and principled. And, trust me, I know it’s hard. Life seems a little duller when one isn’t on tenterhooks every time one sends a text message; when sex is less frequent and you remember that it’s supposed to be an emotional, as well as a physical, connection, which means you sometimes cry afterwards, although you’re not really sure why. But, on the bright side: you can get things done; you can get down to the proper work of fixing yourself, or your country, of planning a future more stable and happy than the turmoil of the past. You are not constantly distracted by mind games and egoistic power-plays that leave you floundering and uncertain.

I guess what we’re both looking for, the Labour Party and I, is a happy medium: someone sexy, charismatic and cruel but who is, ultimately, reasonable, kind and trustworthy. And this is where I might be able to help out, because I have a head start on the Labour Party here, having spent a lot longer looking for this elusive balance than they have. Luckily, this puts me in a position to advise them. Listen, babies: nice ones are never sort of a little bit arseholes as well. (I know, I know, there’s Nicola Sturgeon, and your mate who married that skiing instructor she met in it Switzerland ¬— you can always cite the exception — but let’s get real, that isn’t going to happen to you.)

Ultimately, whether you’re a single thirty-something woman with amazing boobs hoping to have a baby before the end of the decade, or a political party hoping to revisit the glory-days of the late 90s, when you ruled the country and people were yet to notice you’d sold out by sacrificing your core principles to appeal to the centre-right, you have to decide what you want in the long in term. Yes, someone photogenic, someone with an expensive suit and good chat and lots of answers (who, preferably, knows how to eat a bacon sandwich in public), will probably bring short-term gain. You’ll get balanced press coverage, a cohesive shadow cabinet and you might even be able to have an orgasm without triggering dormant bonding hormones. But the smooth-talkers, sharply dressed and spouting all the answers, always turn out to be charlatans in the end. Haven’t we had enough of bullshitters, me and the Labour party; don’t we just need someone calm and compassionate now, someone we can hold on to during these uncertain times, someone we can really make a future with?

Part 171: Brexit

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I wasn’t going to write about the referendum because, really, by now, we’ve heard everything that needs to be said on the subject. But there again: have we? It strikes me that one of the things conspicuously missing from either side of the debate is a serious consideration of how this shit-show will impact my sex life. Because make no mistake: whatever the outcome of the referendum I am going to find it very, very difficult to ever have sex with anyone ever again.

As I type, there are fewer than five hours until polling closes. Tomorrow we’ll find out in no uncertain terms whether the British populace wishes to leave or to remain in the European union. (And by ‘no uncertain terms’ I mean a couple of percentage points either way.)

Meh.

Despite my being involved in several vociferous social media disputes (I do love an argument and, by the way, I’m very very good at them) I can see the benefits of both possible results. Remain and there might be a little surge in the value of the pound (as I’m currently out of the country any increase in the value of my money is much appreciated. Plus babies, if the pound crashes I will be fucked), Europe will make a bit more of an effort to make us feel special for a while (it’s like when you break up with a guy, and then he begs you to change your mind so you do, and suddenly he starts behaving much more considerately: taking you out and buying you flowers and showering you with little kisses, instead of just sitting gormlessly on the sofa playing Fifa. It never lasts, of course, but it’s a welcome relief from relationship tedium) and we definitely won’t need visas to take a Spanish* holiday. Leave and there will be change (always good), lots of political brouhaha (meaning the papers can divert their attention way from documenting celebrity cellulite this summer) and your racist uncle will finally have his views legitimised by a majority, which means he’ll probably be more chilled out at Christmas.

The whole debacle has utterly put me off sex though. All the men you thought might be worth a go turned out to be thick swivel-eyed fascists, or else earnest right-on lefties who will definitely, at some point, wear socks under their sandals at the beach. Also: you have to think — Gove and Farage and Boris, Cameron and Osborne and Blair, they definitely have sex sometimes, and some of their wives are quite good-looking. How does this happen? How can you put aside your hormonal responses and work out whether you’re fucking someone hot, or someone who will, one day, end up looking and smelling like Nigel Farage? Let me just say my darlings: I’ve thought long and hard on this matter and I’ve come to the realisation that you can’t. (For example, I spent several months a few years ago in a furious online tryst with an old acquaintance. I was smitten. I was into him in all ways, especially sexual ones. Thankfully things did not get physical — because today a picture of him appeared in my Facebook timeline — he’s on holiday somewhere in the Med— bearded and 5 stone heavier. He looked like a vagrant Brian Blessed, only dressed in union jack shorts, holding a pint aloft as though it were a trophy, wearing a stunned, moronic grin. Like, I would probably have married this man, had he asked me five years ago. Would I have come to my senses? Or would I be sexing someone repulsive now, on a regular basis?)

I hope the powers that be have some kind of plan for resetting the national libido, post-result, because, whatever the outcome, I predict a massive decline in British sex. And when have I ever been wrong?

*Though, tbh, I’ve never be overly taken with Spain as a holiday destination. Granted, the weather’s usually good, but it’s a bit arid and bleak, as a landscape, and all the best coastal resorts spoiled with British pubs and perma-tanned Essex Hen Parties (I’d like to say here: no judgement. I’m more or less from Essex myself and I once threw up in an ashtray at an upmarket bar in Puerto Banús. Also: I’d just like to apologise to Greece for the incident with the tampon in the pint-glass on that 18-30s trip circa 2001).

Part 170: He’s Probably Not a Psychopath, Darling

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There’s this corner of the internet where people go to get over their exes; forums and blogs and support groups dedicated to recruiting women (and much more occasionally men) as professional victims. They are easy to spot. ‘Living with a Narcissist’, they’re sometimes called, or: ‘Surviving a Sociopath’. According to these sites men don’t just behave really badly because we can all be selfish dicks and our culture has no respect for women. Women don’t just sometimes get swept away in unwise love affairs because we are all lonely and broken and have readily accepted the lie that the love of a good man will fix us. No. The central philosophy of this particular underside of the internet is this: if a man has treated you like shit it is as a result of his clinical psychopathy. He is a sociopath. That’s why he didn’t love you how you deserve to be loved. There is no other explanation.

I am fascinated by the online psychopath movement and the (mostly) women who subscribe to it. I can’t get enough. I just scroll and scroll through the sites and the blogs and the forums, riveted; my mouth slightly open, a faint string of drool hanging from my bottom lip, like a car-crash voyeur, except more judgemental.

The movement is populated by women too smart or too beautiful for your common or garden variety arsehole. They gather online in their hundreds (thousands, maybe?) convinced they’ve been duped by Machiavellian con-artists. Absolutely certain they have been done-over by charismatic psychopaths so skilled at manipulation it would have been impossible for even the most highly attuned psychologist to see through the act.

They take to the internet, these hapless victims, and they comfort each other with inspirational stories of ‘growth’ and ‘truth’ and ‘healing’; they take to the internet and they pen heartfelt words of advice for readers who have suffered a similar fate. It’s ok, they want you to realise: it wasn’t your fault. His cheating (and it is usually cheating that ends the relationship even when his jealousy/drug abuse/violence had long played a starring role in the romance) was nothing you could have predicted from his behaviour or his track record with friends and lovers. If a man has treated you badly it is all on him. You shoulder none of the blame whatsoever.

On the one hand, I get it. Of course I do. I’ve been there. Rejection is cruel. It is embarrassing to admit you’ve been dumped or duped; painful to face up to the fact he found someone else who was better looking or better company than you are. You were not enough. How can you possibly love again in the face of this brutal truth? What if the next one and the one after that fuck off with someone else too? What will you do? It’s too frightening. Believing a sociopath trapped you in his inescapable web is easier than accepting that people are unpredictable and that even the best of us is capable of behaving terribly.

On the other hand: I hate to break it to you babe, but your ex is probably not a psychopath.

You know how he lied to your face for pretty much the entire relationship — how he went all weird about you getting a lift from that bloke at work and then it turned out he was going down on his own colleague, for months and months and you suspected nothing? You know how he wouldn’t introduce you to friends or family and it transpired he was living a double-life with a wife and kid tucked away in Donegal when you thought he was just travelling for work? You know how you loved him so much and he broke your heart and now he doesn’t care one little bit? Yes, it’s shit. But it is, I am afraid, life. It happens all the time. People are fucked up and, frankly, if your husband cheating is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you then you are very lucky.

I know you feel sad. And yes, your trust is shot to shit and, yes, it is going to be a very very long while before you’ll let go and love with all your heart again, if ever. But you do not need to cultivate a career as a professional victim. You do not need to join a support group for survivors of narcissistic lovers. That’s the kind of self-delusion that made you ripe for a con in the first place.

None of us likes to get our heart broken. And none of us are immune to slagging off our exes. I’ve definitely done my fair share of that, and I have definitely used the term ‘psycho’ — but always with self-awareness, I hope. Always with tongue in cheek and in the full knowledge that however badly I have or haven’t been treated I have played willing role in my own downfall. I saw what he was and I picked him. He played the game and I played right back. I heard the lies and I believed them because it was easier than the faff and upheaval that truth (whatever that is) would bring. (I am flawed, but I am nobody’s fool, except occasionally alcohol’s.)

Let me end with an anecdote:

Once upon a time I sat at a Harvester somewhere in urban Kent eating a microwave lasagne opposite my ex-boyfriend. We were at a crossroads in our on again off-again relationship (and I was at a crossroads in my life: Bored in my job and desperate for stimulation, even the distressing stimulation that comes of romantic drama). I had recently written to his live-in lover to tell her that we were sleeping together again and maybe she ought to think about that before she had a baby with him (leave me alone. I was watching a lot of EastEnders at the time and, anyway, I never said I was a nice person). ‘I can’t believe she hasn’t left you,’ I told him. ‘What did you say to convince her to stay?’ He shoved a chip into his fat mouth. ‘What do you think I said?’ he laughed, ‘I told her you were crazy.’

And he was right. I was. We all were. Not a one of us was sane in that particular triangle. But I forgive myself, and I even forgive my ex-boyfriend. Because nobody is sane in the face of a future that involves certain death. Very few of us are secure enough to love one man or one woman forever and ever amen. We all behave badly. But that doesn’t make us psychopaths. It makes us human.