Part 178: Excitement

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My friend’s sister is getting married and we’re all just fucking sick about it. It’s not jealousy, for once — we really do think she is making a terrible, terrible mistake. I mean, she can’t be thinking straight. There must be some serious denial at play here. Certainly, there is evidence of recklessness — such as how she’s thrown caution to the wind by having his name tattooed on her body in several places, although they’ve not even been dating for a year. (In case you’re unclear, my stance on people getting the names of their lovers or children tattooed on their body is best summed up by a line my brother said to me last year, when I told him my new boyfriend had his son’s name tattooed on his hand: ‘Why, In case he forgets it?’ Although, I do know a woman who has her dead dog’s name tattooed on her forearm and I feel that tips over the precipice of mawkish into brilliant, so it’s a fine line.)

This guy, the friend’s sister’s fiancé, has all manner of warning signs flashing in neon colours all over his personality. He has spent his adult life in and out of prison, he is controlling and violent, he belongs to a polyamorous swingers circle*, he lives in the box room of his elderly mother’s terraced house (the bloke is in his fifties), he is not physically attractive, in either the conventional or unconventional sense. And while I am all for living differently, there is a point at which one must draw a line; a point at which someone’s disregard for social norms morphs into sociopathy. This guy, the fiancé, has reached that point.

‘What does she see in him?’ I asked my friend, when she told me about the impending marriage and her fears for how it would unfold. (Badly.)
‘I dunno,’ she shrugged. ‘She says he’s exciting.’

And I rolled my eyes, cracked a wry smile and thought: ‘Ah! That old chestnut.’

For which of us hasn’t been intoxicated by the ostensible excitement offered by a selfish cad, with regard only for his dick and his ego? Which of us hasn’t felt the sharp, twisted pang of maltreatment and mistaken it for longing? It is easy to confuse unkindness with excitement when your life is a grey series of snapshots: a montage in which you push a vacuum cleaner around the flat, buy discounted three-packs of sellotape from WH Smith and check the Facebook profiles of girls you went to school with, who always seem to be doing very well, thankyouverymuch, if Facebook profile pictures are reliable measures of wellbeing, which they very probably are not.

Excitement is the great big booby trap lying in wait for single women — and, let’s be honest, married women too. It snaps up around our ankles, ensnaring us in its grip. If we’re not careful we very soon end up ragged and strung out, chain-smoking by the river, stress lines criss-crossing deep grooves into our faces — and I’ll just remind you, if you’re still tempted, that the sex rarely holds up after the first month or so. So just beware of that darling, when you feel bad about yourself over Christmas.

It feels good to have finally relieved myself of the need for ‘excitement’, after many years being seduced by its pull.

Not that it’s all good news.

The big story I bring you this week, from the coal-face of dating, is that boring straightforward men can also be massively selfish, egotistical and disappointing. Just because they are a bit geeky and loserish and have fashioned a persona that foregrounds kindness, it does not mean they are truly kind, dynamic, selfless people in real life. In fact, the thing I have learned, lately, is that when people tell you they are kind they are usually only doing it so you won’t shout at them when they act like a prick. Kindness in this scenario acts as a kind of mudguard, in the same way indifference does with your common or garden variety arsehole.

‘So what do you like about him?’ My friend (the one the one whose sister is currently lost to the mists of excitement) asked me, when I described a recent lover, who I thought, perhaps, had the potential to father my children, if only he’d stop being so evasive and dull.
‘He’s gentle,’ I replied.
Now it was my friend’s turn to roll her eyes. ‘Gentle in bed, or gentle, like, picking up a hedgehog?’
‘Gentle with a hedgehog.’
‘Ah that’s nice babe,’ she said, ‘But he’s also boring and a liar. You don’t really want him. You’ll go off the idea.’

And she was right.

It turns out kindness is just as good a cover for sociopathy as excitement, in the kind of guy who didn’t lose his virginity until five or six years after most of his mates. Fuck. Now I remember why I went for the excitement, once upon a time.

Oh well, as Damien Marley once said: Life is a thing when you learn you learn you grow.

*I try not to judge, but can I just say: if you are so broken inside and frightened of intimacy that you cannot love another person without adding a third, forth or even a fifth party into the sexual mix, then you have no business being in relationships at all. Get some therapy. Join us when you’re whole again.

**Is it inappropriate to use a picture of a baby I found on google to illustrate a this blog? Have I mentioned that I want a baby very, very badly and it’s leading me to make some questionable choices? Can you save me from this hell? Can you? Babes, can you? Please?

Part 177: Eleven Essential Pieces of Life Advice

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Yesterday, I read the worst magazine feature that has ever been written. I’m not going to do you the disservice of linking it here because: fuck them and their heteronormative nightmare reinforcement. Fuck them and their sponsored content reminding you just how empty your life is, should you be conducting it sans husband and children. Suffice it to say the article was a list of ‘eleven essential pieces of life advice’ (given by a b-list 90s celebrity who apparently has to do this for money now) and number four was ‘never underestimate the love of a good man.’ (There was another thing about the ‘school run’, but I was so pissed off by the time I got to that I had already texted my housemate and asked him to bring home a very cold bottle of sparkling wine and a straw).

Fuck. Yourself.

It was the kind of article that makes you want to appear in a primary school playground during pick-up up time and perform a naked one-woman show in which you smash wine glasses and graphically describe all the casual sex you’ve ever had.

Anyway, in the spirit of reparation I decided to write my own eleven essential pieces of life advice because, God knows, I can do a better job of it than the people at Red Magazine.

1. When people give you advice, it is inevitably about them. Unless they are your mother
Everyone is basically insecure and uncertain. We all wonder whether we’re doing life right; we are all terrified that the choices we’ve made are the wrong choices. We are all afraid we’ll die sad and alone and then God will make us watch a slide-show of our failures, before relegating us to Hell. This is why when we are asked for advice we reinforce the rightness of our own choices by telling the advisee to do what we have done. Or what we imagine we might have done in the same circumstances. Or what we would have done differently, because we’re so miserable now. (See, for example: ‘It’s probably best to have babies around 35. You’re more sorted then.’ And: ‘In the long term renting is just throwing your money away.’) People who give you advice are only trying to make themselves feel better, unless they are your mother in which case you should probably listen to her. She’s the only one who cares.

2. Don’t tell me you don’t want another drink; I don’t need to hear that
If you have agreed to join me for an evening out, in any capacity whatsoever, you should probably know that I want to stay out late, drink too much, have an argument about politics and then fall asleep under some coats. It is a Friday night and there is absolutely no need to get home sober before 2am, even if you have work in the morning.

3. If you haven’t got a differently sexually oriented bff of the opposite sex, you’re losing at life at life
Look, I don’t want to fetishise homosexuals — I know they don’t exist merely to provide company and companionship for fabulous but neurotic 30-something women who might otherwise fall victim to barbiturate poisoning. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d be able to get through life without mates who send me bitchy gifs, screen grabs of tragic displays of heterosexuality our mutual friends have committed on social media, and who are willing to let me sing show tunes at them until 1am on a Wednesday night. And they never even want you to suck their dick in return. Which you can’t say about marriage.

4. Don’t wear floral prints to a wedding, unless it’s a slut dress
Are you over the age of twenty-four? Yes? Then chances are — unless it is skin-tight, cleavage revealing and made from some kind of satin — florals are going to make you look middle-aged and frumpy. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is. You need to decide on sexy or smart. Cute and girlish is over for you.

5. Sometimes people need space
Don’t take it personally. I mean, sometimes people are dickheads. But give it a couple of months before you make up your mind.

6. If he’s made you cry before he’s administered the second orgasm, it’s time to say goodbye

7. If he’s made you cry before administering the first…I don’t know what to tell you babe. But it’s nothing you’re going to want to hear

8. Cultivate a network
The world wants you to think that one person is enough. Your spouse. Your boyfriend. Your best mate. Your nuclear family unit. Toxic one-on-one relationships where you can vacillate between smugness, stagnation and guilt. I want to tell you that the thing you really need is a network. Lots and lots of connected nodes on a web of relationships so that there’s always another option. Trust me on this. I know what I’m talking about.

9. If he cheated with you, he’ll cheat on you
I try to avoid clichés, but nonetheless. Worth remembering.

10. Don’t worry about the corporate affairs of Coca-Cola, you’re only alive for so long
God knows, life is suffering. And while we ought to do our best to make sure we pass on as little suffering to our fellow humans as we possibly can, may I just say: there are very few pleasures that equal an ice cold coke from a can on a hot day, or during a hangover. The Earth is almost definitely going to burn soon. Take pleasure where you can find it.

11. Vegetarianism is not better for your skin, though your soul might prefer it
My acne improved tenfold when I started to eat steaks. Still can’t look a moo-cow in the eyes, but so far, that’s a price worth paying.

Part 176: Henry the VIII

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I’ve been thinking about Henry the VIII a lot recently. I don’t know why, entirely. Certainly it’s been precipitated by a not insignificant amount of murderous rage towards my ex-lovers, which tends to surface during the onset of winter, when I realise I’ve got a barren few months ahead of me, sexless and alone (I mean, that was also true of the summer, as it turns out, but it’s a lot easier to convince yourself that sex is just around the corner when you can luxuriate in the caresses of the sunshine and wear tops that ‘accidentally’ reveal your nipple) and perhaps if they hadn’t been just such massive dickheads, all of them, for years on end, I might be not be such a neurotic mess now.

Instead of taking personal responsibility for my circumstances (and my choices, because, let’s face it, when you met him in the street at 1am, drinking from a can of supermarket brand cider, you knew he was unlikely to turn into Mr Darcy) I’ve found myself not entirely without sympathy for King Henry’s beheading model. Even though I abhor domestic violence it would just sometimes be very satisfying to see the heads of all the lovers who’ve ever hurt you roll off a guillotine, entirely separate from their bodies. You can’t deny that. Even if you’re really nice.

It would give one a certain amount of confidence, I think, and calm the mind, to know that if he stopped replying to your text messages and then hid from you in the street, you could order some minion to relieve the Earth of his presence, rather than having to awkwardly avoid eye contact the next time you saw him in Tesco. It would definitely be far easier than having to look at Facebook posts of the walking holiday he recently took with his girlfriend, who is his fiancée now, apparently, and, oh, guess what? They are both very pleased. There’s even a picture (she’s made it her profile shot babe, because that’s the type of woman he’s into now) where he is holding his hands in the shape of a heart, right at the base of her spine. Isn’t that just lovely? Doesn’t that image encapsulate the exact kind of romance you’d like to have in your life? Don’t you feel happy for them — and not at all like drinking half a bottle of ice-cold vodka and fucking some bloke you only just met?

(And can I just tell you about her cover picture? It’s a panorama: she is silhouetted atop a mountain, her face turned away from the camera, her hair snaking sexily down her back as she stares into the hazy distance. That’s a beautiful pic hun. It definitely makes me think she is spiritual, calm and connected to nature and not at all that she is a pretentious, insecure, self-absorbed nightmare behind whose back he’ll definitely be fucking other people, just as soon as she stops baking him vegan brownies.)

What has become increasingly obvious (to me, you probably already noticed) is that I have enough vindictive and controlling personality features to actually be Henry the VIII in my next life, if it turns out you can get reincarnated in the past (especially when you factor in my penchant for Catholicism, despite viciously opposing most of its basic tenets). The one surprising thing, actually — and the other reason I’ve been thinking about Henry the VIII more than the normal amount — is that I am fast catching up with him on the romantic partners-count too. I mean, it’s not wholly surprising, because I’ve got great big blue eyes, a banging body and am in every way more aesthetically appealing than an obese sadistic Tudor monarch with gout and a mouldering fur-lined cloak that he rocks out for ‘best’. But still. It’s come as something of a shock considering all I ever really wanted was monogamy — by which I mean a really sexy husband who likes my personality and wants to touch me a lot. (Although, I have been reliably informed by people with actual experience of marriage that the wanting to touch* eachother a lot abruptly ceases, the minute the ink dries on the certificate. So, maybe it would never have worked out for me anyway.)

*I don’t really mean touch. I mean sex. In case you’re not very adept at inference.

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.