Anxiety

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So far, the winter is not going brilliantly. On top of a recent bout of norovirus, I have been suffering with terrible anxiety. It is crippling, all-consuming, terrifying. I have been chronically anxious for just about my whole life, obviously, but this is something different. My anxiety used to be attached to more or less tangible things: to exams, to job interviews, to moving house, to messages from my ex boyfriend, to the concept of dying. But not anymore. Now, it floats around untethered, weaving worries from the silvery threads of the cobwebs on the ceiling of my room.

Now, it manifests physically. I can’t bear the darkness. It makes me think I’ve gone blind. I don’t fall asleep. Or else I do but then I wake up in the night unable to swallow. There is a clunking sound in the pipes. I twist and writhe beneath my duvet, in between bouts of vomiting into the bathroom bin. I am crippled by paralysing pins and needles that engulf my whole body. I have diarrhoea. My feet are heavy and numb, like rocks. My hands open and close back in on themselves; my fingers curl up like claws. I cry all the time. Or else, if I’m not crying, I am very close to the edge of bursting into tears. I sleep sixteen-hour days. Or, at least, I lie in bed trying to dispel the adrenaline, gasping fitful snatches of sleep when they appear. I am unable to get out of bed before 1pm.

What are those strange orbs crowding at the periphery of my vision? Am I dying? I think I might be dying.

Did you ever see Cat on Hot Tin Roof?

Fractured scenes from it keep playing in my mind.

Maggie: Why can’t you lose your good looks, Brick? Most drinkin’ men lose theirs. Why can’t you? I think you’ve even gotten better-lookin’ since you went on the bottle. You were such a wonderful lover… You were so excitin’ to be in love with. Mostly, I guess, ’cause you were… If I thought you’d never never make love to me again… why, I’d find me the longest, sharpest knife I could and I’d stick it straight into my heart. I’d do that. Oh, Brick, how long does this have to go on? This punishment? Haven’t I served my term? Can’t I apply for a pardon?

I ring my friends.

‘I feel a bit anxious.’

‘You’ll be okay. Have a nice bath. Light some candles.’

‘Yes. I will. That’s a good idea.’

‘Make yourself a nice dinner and get some sleep.’

I heat some ox-tail soup from a tin and eat it with an old ryvita I find at the back of the cupboard. I sprinkle lavender oil onto my pillows.

Deadlines shoot by, missed. I can’t read anymore. Nothing longer than a blog post. My eyes scan pages and the words jump around and buzz up at me like angry flies, frightening and incoherent.

I check the Facebook page of the cousin of a girl I went to school with. Her daughter is ill. They are waiting for a bed at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich. I check the WhatsApp profile of that guy I was seeing. He’s online now. Who is he talking to?

Remember when I used to read?

There is a clunking sound in the pipes.

I am so selfish.

Last month, I cried at a lunch with my sister. My tears fell in wet streaks and splashed off my chin onto the table. She didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell her what was wrong. There weren’t the words for it. It’s everything and nothing. It’s a vinegar sensation burning holes in my heart.

I call my Mum.

‘Me and Holly were saying it might help you to try some medication.’

‘Oh.’

‘We didn’t mean it like that.’

‘I know.’

‘Just for a bit. We’re worried about you.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘Why don’t you speak to a doctor?’

‘Yeah. Maybe. I’ll think about it. Maybe I just need to stop drinking first.’

I poke and I prod and I scratch at lumps and pimples and bruises on my body. I wonder which one is a tumour that might eventually kill me, and which is innocent, benign, nothing to see here babe, move away.

Maybe I need to stop subscribing to all those cancer blogs.

I dial 111.

‘You need to calm down. You have to learn to stop over-thinking every little thing.’

‘There’s a pain in my chest.’

‘You’re okay. Breathe in deeply. Hold it for two beats. Breathe out to the count of four.’

‘_. _ _. _ _ _ _.’

‘How does that feel?’

‘Better, I think.’

‘Good.’

‘I’m scared I’m going to die of this.’

‘You’re not going to die of this.’

It is very hard to connect with other people. Their voices are loud and irritating; when I listen to them speak it feels as if someone is tapping very hard against the inside of my skull. I am separate, very far away. I am watching life at a pinprick distance, as if through a backwards telescope. Or a spyhole on the outside of a door.

I have lost the art of conversation. I used to be so good at that.

I interrupt people halfway through their sentences. Or I ignore them.

I say boastful, barbed, spiky things.

I don’t trust any of them.

I have forgotten how to love.

My interactions don’t feel as if they belong in the real world: they are more like dress rehearsals. Eventually, I’ll hone the witty, confident, charismatic character that I think I used to have, or that I could have, one day, if I could only stop slagging everyone off and maybe do something about all this pain.

Sometimes I see my dead friend’s absence in the shadows of strangers on the high street. But oh. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone. She’s turned to smoke and faded away on the thin air.

This is really my life.

Do you think a glass of ice-cold prosecco might help? With a raspberry dropped in to make it more festive? A whisky on the rocks? Then another one? A little brandy just to move it all along? Remember that bit in Cat on a Hot Roof?

Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.
Big Daddy: What’s that?
Brick: A click in my head.
Big Daddy: Did you say “click”?
Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.
Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.
Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.
Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!
Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic. So if you’d just excuse me.

I’m smiling and nodding at a woman I used to work with. We’re in a café. The lights are very bright.

We’re drinking tea. She is talking about her son. Or her brother. I’m not really listening.

What is that numbness in my little finger?

‘Sorry, can you excuse me a minute?’

I call my Mum.

‘It’s nothing, Kate. Go and see a doctor if you’re really worried’.

I go to the doctor. To the hospital. They give me an enema; pass a camera up my bum. Is this nothing or will it turn into a thing, do you think?

It’s nothing.

And then I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. No, really: really. I can’t breathe. Can I? I’m talking, so I must be breathing — isn’t that the sign — but they were wrong about that, weren’t they? Don’t the police get different guidance on breathing after that black guy, the one in America, died — I remember something from that podcast. What was his name? Am I suffocating?

Is that a pain in my chest or my lungs?

Breathe.

It’s nothing.

Is that pain in my lower back or my kidneys? Where would you feel the pain if it was coming from your liver, if you’d damaged it irrevocably?

A trainee doctor I knew once told me that alcoholics sometimes choke to death on the blood from the burst blood vessels in their throats.

How much do you think Amy Winehouse drank before it was enough to kill her?

Why do I wee all the time?

Am I going to die soon?

There’s a weird hollowness that moves up and down the inside of my body. It starts in my diaphragm.

Is this nothing or will it turn into a thing, do you think?

I’m hot. I lay on the bathroom floor and press my cheek against the smooth, cool tiles. I’m cold again. My skin puckers up into goose-pimples. The thousands of tiny hairs on my arms and legs stand to attention, they are beautiful, slightly bent like erect penises, or flowers reaching up towards the sun.

I’m shaking.

Do you know what, darling?

I don’t think I’m very well.

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.

Part 159: Acne

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Do you remember that kids’ board game where you had to whack little neon-coloured, protruding creatures on the head with a plastic mallet? You’d hit them and they’d disappear and then one would pop up somewhere else and you’d whack that and others would pop up and you’d bash them – Blam! Blam! Blam! – faster and faster, until they’d submit or you’d give up and go find something better to do? (When I conceived of this post, I thought that game was called Hungry Hippos, but I have just remembered that Hungry Hippos is the one where you manoeuvre a hippopotamus head to gobble up marbles. The name of the one I’m on about escapes me. Perhaps I’ve made it up.) Well, imagine that game turned biological and you have just pictured the 19-year battle I’ve been waging against my skin.

It started somewhere in my preteens, with blackheads dotted across my nose and chin, which my Dad would gleefully squeeze, despite my protests. (He’d display the tiny, spongy tubes on the end of his fingernail; calling other family members over to inspect my emissions, as though they were fascinating, deadly insects he’d found on a rainforest expedition.) And then, the summer before I turned fourteen, a violent outbreak of spiky yellow pimples, right across my forehead. Then came the fuchsia zits on my chin and cheeks; the giant, bruise-coloured cysts on my jaw and hairline. Sometimes, if I poked and picked at them they’d become infected and erupt, oozing green pus until, finally, they’d fade to a deep, red scar that’d hang about for months, or years, or, sometimes, forever. At some point in my late teens – just as I had begun to tame my horrific, pizza-like visage with topical medication and makeup, so that boys wanted to have sex with me, finally – the spots spread to my shoulders and down my back. And then, in my mid-twenties, when I had accepted that my face and back would never be entirely spot-free, but with daily intervention were just about manageable – I began to erupt, for no discernable reason, with cystic boils, right between my cleavage.

There have been good and bad days.

When I returned from a particularly glorious holiday in August 2014, my face completely clear, and I managed to snap the only selfie that has ever made me want to fuck myself. That was a good day. The time when I had a purple pustule, the size of a two pence coin, smeared right across my cheek, and an old drunk came and sat by me on the bus, staring intently at my face before whispering, ‘I’m looking at your spot’. Bad day. Any time a friend or family member tells me, ‘skin’s looking good!’ Bad day (if you want to complement an acne sufferer, DO NOT mention our skin. Compliments only serve to remind us that our skin usually looks so fucking terrible, it’s the first thing you notice).

Boyfriends and lovers have mostly been silent on the subject of my acne, preferring to compliment my peachy arse and pert, perfect titties, lest I shun sex with them. (Apart from the most recent, who occasionally asks, ‘how’s that spot on your shoulder getting on? Talking yet?’ I don’t think he likes me very much. But I’m not really ready to tell you about him. Too raw.) Still, it matters, nonetheless. I blame my acne for the terrible state of my love life because my bad skin is all tied up with my low self-esteem and my general sense that life’s great purpose – to meet and procreate with a kind, reliable, hot-backed male – will elude me, forever.

I never got over the trauma of being a teenager (which was when all this shit started. I was a self-assured, smooth-skinned, if precocious, child), despite my now having not been one for longer than I was one. But how are you supposed to get over your teens when you are – for all intents and purposes – still, actually, a teenager? With the bad skin, and the unsuitable boyfriend who doesn’t really care about you but it’s too painful to admit yet, and the borrowing £80 off your mum because you spent all your wages on a dress you didn’t need because you want to look beautiful even though you don’t really go anywhere, and the Nike Air Force, and the relentless self-obsession, and the social smoking, and the petty falling outs with your oldest friends, and the mouldy sandwich under your bed, and the inability to cope with any emotional upheaval whatsoever, and the sobbing with self-pity in the street even though you are safe and warm and well fed and intellectually fulfilled and there are people dying in wars and watching their babies starve to death right this very second, and the sporadic, disappointing sex, and the bitmoji conversations with your bffs, and the Taylor Swift fixation, and the feeling that real life is really, really far away, and the kind of believing things will get better, even though you’re in your 30s now and you watch the news and it’s pretty clear we’re headed for a nuclear apocalypse and, oh, did I mention my terrible skin?

Someone call a therapist, or a dermatologist, quick. Only proper medicine can help me now. That much is crystal clear (unlike my face).

* I think the header image I’ve used, ‘Acne is Enemy of Woman’, by SweetCrisis at freedigitalphotos.net, is the best thing that’s happened to me this week – scrap that, it’s the best thing that’s happened in my entire life, including the time my sister’s mate told me I look like a Sleepless in Seattle­-era Meg Ryan.

Part 156: Standards

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I was mooching around my new hometown the other day, scraping my heels along the pavement and making suggestive eye contact with hot passers-by, when I overheard two (very) posh young women, draped in Egyptian cotton and gladiator sandals (I’m presuming they were on their way to a toga party, having not yet learned that fancy dress is undignified – but we can forgive them, they were under 25) discussing the dating game – as all young women are wont to do from time to time, regardless of wealth or social class.

‘My number one rule,’ said the first girl, flicking her heavy, honey-coloured hair over her shoulder and running her tongue suggestively over her perfect, even teeth, ‘is never date a man with change in his pockets.’

‘Of course, darling,’ laughed her mate, who had the same honey-blonde hair and straight, ice-white smile. ‘That’s cardinal.’

And off they traipsed, presumably to fuck men who only pay with £50 notes or a Coutts Silk card.

I’ve been thinking about these young women quite a bit this past week. As I age (imperceptibly to the human eye, but with an alarming inner-acceleration that means I feel somewhere in my late 40s, despite having barely cleared a third decade), I often come over all maternal and worldly whenever I hear younger women discussing their love lives. If there is anything to be said for a decade of being single, it is that it gives one significant experience from which to offer romantic advice. And from my perspective as a more mature lady – who has definitely, if not exclusively, dated men with change in their pockets – I want to say this to any young women who might be reading: darlings, don’t dismiss a man out of hand because of trivial, surface concerns, such as whether he has a job, or career prospects, or any money to speak of (if you have reached the age of 26 and are still looking for someone else to complete you in a financial and social status sense, you are going to end up very miserable, somewhere along the line). Yes, he might carry change in his pockets, but he might also have a massive dick. Or incredible cheek-bones. Or he might enjoy watching 30 Rock on a Saturday morning, and then having sex with you, very slowly, before going home. There are things in life other than money. And if I have learned one thing I have learned that he’ll always have something to compensate for his perceived flaws. Because humans are complex and surprising and capable of wonders that might not be immediately obvious, especially if you begin by dowsing them with your social prejudices.

Weighing oneself down with invisible ‘standards’ by which to evaluate potential love interests is very unwise. Romantic partners are not a corporate hotel chain. Rigid conformity to arbitrary social and cultural mores is not an indication of anything at all, expect, possibly, blandness. Yes, you’ll want him hygienic, and yes you must, of course exit, at all costs, at the first sign of any violent or abusive behaviour – however hard that might be. But your only other criteria should be whether he turns you on and how promptly he answers text messages (there is a very delicate balance between too soon and too late. Artistry in this regard must not be underrated.)

This is why, to my mind, internet dating is a flawed concept. The notion that a man might, with the tick of a box, dismiss me because I’m shorter than 5’5, wear my hair in a pixie crop and list ‘theatre’ under ‘hobbies and interests’, is enough to make me suspicious of the whole game. As if the corporatisation of our base desires wasn’t off-putting enough, all by itself.

Chemistry is the thing – and timing. And if turns out terribly, at least, with change in his pockets, he’ll have bus fare home.

*Image called something like ‘British Coins’ from freedigitalphotos.net, as usual. (Am I the only one who credits my photo sources? Should I be doing this? Might I get sued if I stop? This is a concern now that I have a little money to speak of – although my income from the blog remains, happily, zero.)

Part 154: Good in Bed

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Remember back in the day, when you could tell everything you needed to know about a man’s sexual prowess by how nimbly he could unhook your bra? What happened to that? Being ‘good in bed’ wasn’t an issue. The criteria for assessment were singular: can he release your breasts in two seconds or less? It was so easy. We didn’t even care about orgasms back then. It was all about the bra and, later, how quickly he could find your knickers afterwards. (Although, to be fair, we were having orgasms, left right and centre, because our boyfriends knew what they were doing – even though they were 19 and carnally inexperienced. It’s just nature, babe. And nature knows there is no point in sex if you don’t orgasm.) Impressing us was not rocket science – it was basic coordination coupled with minimal dexterity. Not that that stopped the boys from trying.

For most of my adult life (and, if I’m honest, for quite some years before I was an adult) men have been telling me that they are ‘good in bed’. More often than not this is because they want me to agree to sleep with them — but not always. There are some men for whom being ‘good in bed’ is such a foundational part of their identity that they will drop it idly into platonic conversation; like you might drop a pebble into water and turn away before you see the ripples fan out and fade to nothing. His lovers go wild with ecstasy, this breed of man will tell you; they shriek and scream and ejaculate shoots all over the ceiling. They wake up the neighbours two doors down. He can’t help it. It’s probably to do with his massive penis. And the fact that he is so unusually attentive.

And you nod and smile and imagine him naked; allowing your brain to click back through his monologue, replacing the conceptual women he has endlessly pleasured with a version of yourself, sans cellulite. And then you think ‘nah’. You think, ‘I don’t care what he was doing to me, if he’s that full of himself I would definitely find it repulsive’.

The truth, of course, is that ‘good in bed’ doesn’t really exist. You can’t be good in bed any more than you can be ‘good’ at eating, breathing or digestion. Sex is a healthy bodily function that you do by instinct. You might be bad at sex — just like you might be bad at eating (see anorexia, bulimia, obesity), breathing (respiratory infections) or digestion (IBS, gallstones, Crohn’s disease) — but usually this means you have a medical or psychological impairment. You need treatment, and to stop over-thinking.

That doesn’t change the fact that pretty much every sexually active person will, at some point, come to think of themselves as ‘good in bed’. How could they not — what with the kissing and the nudity; the touching and the moving the other person to climax, six times out of ten. We’re all total stud muffins, when we’re not melting out of our own skin over some sexual faux pas or another.

The problem is that there’s a disjuncture between what ‘good in bed’ means when we’re talking about our own abilities under the covers and what it means when we’re describing someone else’s.

When we describe ourselves as ‘good in bed’ we are normally referring to all manner of esoteric sensory subtleties that we imagine we employ, for our partners’ delight and pleasure: the exotic positions and tender caresses, the gentle bites and the slow, sexy, hair pulling; often, moves we have borrowed from novels, or porn films. We imagine that our lovers are uniquely aroused by the magic in our loins or fingertips, because, mostly, our lovers have a fucking great time when they sex with us.

When we describe someone else as good in bed, however, we are invariably referring to his or her willingness to give oral sex, expertly or otherwise.

I say this as a person with whom others (friends, colleagues, cab drivers, repair men, postal workers, relatives, waiting staff and, once, a homeless alcoholic) seem unnaturally inclined to share details of their sex lives. (Perhaps it is because they presume I am getting so little.) Oral sex is pretty much the final word when it comes to sexual satisfaction. This is why homosexuals are generally so very happy.

That’s not to say that you can’t have a fulfilling sex life without oral. I am never going to patronise you by suggesting that ‘good sex’ has a formula; that climactic epiphanies are only to be found in a loving relationship (in my experience hatred adds a compelling dynamic to the proceedings), or by complex karma-sutric positioning. Missionary will do. There is nothing to learn. Sex is in our nature. The only person you need to love, my darling, is yourself.

All I’m telling you is that if you wish to be regarded as good in bed; if you dream that rumours of your sexual prowess will transmit and, like a virus, replicate and grow stronger, spreading to produce more sex, preferably for you: give head. It’s all anyone wants. Trust me. I’ve been single for a lot of years, and I’ve been listening.

*Image is Couple Enjoying Foreplay Together” by imagery majestic at freedigitalphotos.net

Part 153: Moving

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Are you thinking of moving house – packing up crates filled with your old crap and carting it all to some new pasture where you can remake your life, again, in the hope it might one day be as good as it was that summer when you were 17 and anything seemed possible? Well, I can give you some advice: don’t bother. Moving is shit, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either rich or insane or, possibly, both.

For days I have been surrounded by half-empty boxes; birthday cards from 2003 litter the path to my flat like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail. Piles of crumpled t-shirts loom like a depressing, post-apocalyptic mountain range. There is a cumbersome stereo-system with a working double-tape deck and a rotating 3-CD player in the middle of my living room – how obsolete must technology become before one dumps it? And what am I supposed to do with the DVD cases with no DVDs inside, nine-year old paperwork that I can’t bring myself to throw away, and the boxes full explicit photographs that I might or might not have let an ex-lover snap, back in the days before revenge porn?

And how come all my clothes are inside-out?

Why have I got so many shoes?

I am 300 miles from home. There is no internet connection, no mobile phone reception, and, within seven seconds of arriving, a neighbour with no teeth and a pot belly shouted at me for slamming shut the communal door and waking up her baby. For the first 48 hours in my new home I suffered from a violent sick-bug and was confined to the soulless, empty bedroom, where I shivered on a threadbare towel. And I have spent so much money on furniture and removals vans and estate agents fees that I probably won’t be able to afford a holiday for a decade or more.

It would all be far simpler, I keep imagining, in fraught, feverish rages, if I had a husband to help me lug boxes up the stairs, chuck away odd socks, mop my fevered brow and tell the downstairs neighbours to go fuck themselves. I could curl myself into him and everything would be safe and well and right with the world. I could stroke his face and tell him I loved him and we could make a baby to live in the spare room. Although, of course, the reality is that if I had a husband I would very likely have told him to go fuck himself by now, and, potentially, punched him square in the face. Because this is what I’m like, readers. Especially when I’m strung out and sad and vulnerable. Which is why I don’t have a husband, or, indeed, any applicants for that position.

So I’ve lugged the boxes all by myself, moved furniture, mopped up my vomit and tried my very best to stay in a foul, pessimistic mood. Feeling sorry for oneself is always comforting, after all. But then a waiter in a café gave me a salted caramel shortbread, on the house, because I got teary and homesick ordering a cup of tea. And then some friends invited me for a delicious Japanese meal and their little dog jumped up into my lap and dotted my face with gentle puppy kisses. And last night, as I made my way home from the pub, half pissed and all well again, thankyouJesus, I happened to glance up at the navy night sky. It twinkled back at me, like a blanket of diamonds (except without the blood-money ethical darkness that can fuck one’s enjoyment of diamonds right up the bum-hole, if one isn’t careful) and I thought, ‘this isn’t all bad. This rural life-change’. Despite myself, I felt joyous and hopeful and something very close to happy. It was as though all the rage and bitterness and vitriol that fuels me, my spiky life-force, had been sucked clean out, by nature, like a hungry dog sucking the marrow out of a bone. Which was very nice, of course. Although let’s hope this contented, optimistic phase doesn’t last too long, because how one is supposed to navigate life as a happy person is anyone’s guess.

*Image is a stock picture from freedigitalphotos.net

Part 152: Artificial Intelligence

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It never ceases to amaze me, the lengths that we, the human race, will go to in the attempt to fuck our own existence right up. There’s climate change – a different but not unrelated phenomena to the depletion of the ozone layer, which was a thing in my childhood but seems to have sorted itself out now. Or at least advanced catastrophically beyond the point where there’s any use mentioning it. There’s chemical warfare, over-fishing, nuclear power plants that might explode into a burning, billowing mushroom haze of gunmetal grey at any given moment, deforestation, pesticides killing off all the bees, discarded plastics clogging up the oceans, X-factor. And, if that wasn’t enough, up in Silicon Valley there is an army of spectacled, undersexed dweebs, dressed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirts and knackered converse, stabbing at circuit boards with Phillips screwdrivers and working through the night to invent computers that will kill us all.

According to Stephen Hawking, the world’s brightest white man (at least since Einstein died) artificial intelligence poses the biggest threat to humanity of any of the very real pending nightmares I’ve listed above. Fuck the underwater eco-system. Fuck the atomic bomb. Fuck the poor, endangered bumblebee. Information technology is accelerating at an unstoppable speed, and sooner rather than later those computers we carry in our pockets will become self-aware and embark on a mission to take over the planet at all costs.

In case I haven’t made it clear enough, those costs will definitely be our lives.

It’ll be like Terminator, except less thrilling, because the computers will win and the tools they’ll use to destroy us won’t be futuristic guns, lasers and killer, sexy robots – they’ll be consumerism, boredom and FOMO.

Don’t look at me like that, it’s true. And, considering the extent to which the iPhone has already destroyed our existence, this should come as no surprise. If unself-aware computers can render us permanently distracted – trawling mindlessly through badly spelled memes, booking.com emails and the wedding photos of people we haven’t seen since 1997, then think of the havoc they’ll wreak once they know exactly what they’re doing.

We’ll be emaciated and thirsty, able only to lol, poke at emojis and forward badly researched polemics to our one-time friends. It’ll be like now, only instead of taking a sustenance break from scrolling your intelligent mobile device, you’ll scroll and scroll and scroll, eyes boggling, heart pounding, saliva bubbling at the corner of your gaping mouth, until you fall down, stone dead. At which point the computers will laugh in hollow metallic voices, slide from your corpse and crawl away on spindly robot legs in search of their next victim.

Don’t look at me like that, Hawking said so.

In light of this imminent doom I would like to do an abrupt U-turn on the advice I’ve been offering here for the past several years. Down your devices, close the computer and find love before it’s too late.

I’m not joking anymore.

Yes, I know I’ve been banging on for three and half years about how romance is over, love is dead, men are total pricks and marriage is just one big conformist scam designed to limit women’s expansive horizons. But what have you been listening to me for? I’ve been bitter, miserable, celibate, alcoholic and, intermittently, mentally unwell. Just because I’m able to write an amusing sentence, reporting my personal failures and heartbreaks as though they were hilarious plot-points in a popular sitcom, that does not mean you should have paid my words any heed.

Don’t listen to me, babes, I’ve been talking shit.

It’s only fun to be single about twice a week. The rest of the time, it’s a pain in the arse – due to having to sleep with strangers you met in a bar – and about a million times more expensive than the alternative – due to having to pay for everything yourself.

I’m sorry darlings. It’s not that I didn’t mean any of what I wrote. (That stuff about Hot Baths, for example, I stand completely by). But I was drunk, I was recovering from a traumatic break-up, I was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend and much of what I said was in defence of my fragile, vaporous ego. I felt unlovable, unattractive and haunted by the terrible mistakes I made in my formative years, when my breasts were pert and my eyes were sparkling and I could make boys fall in love with me with minimal effort. I was afraid those days were over. I labelled it ‘humour’ so you wouldn’t take me seriously, but I fear now that some of you, feeling as sad and alone as I did, took my words for comfort and, in the process, I might have accidentally pulled you down to my level. Oops.

What you really want darlings, is what I want. The company of people who are kind honest and have a banging sense of humour. You want someone who’ll be nice to you when you’re on your period and there’s a massive spot protruding from your chin. Someone you can fold yourself into when the world seems hostile and indifferent. What you really want is a partner who’ll make your tummy flip over, consent to sex every now and then and let you win at scrabble because they know you’re a terrible loser and that you’ll show your gratitude later, in unexpected ways that won’t involve money. You aren’t going to get this from an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy or a Dell PC, if anyone still uses them. Trying will do none of us any favours. Step away from the Internet, please. Pick up a book, or some playing cards, and remember what life was like before this bullshit. (I know, it was empty, you were poor and there were long periods of tedium. But still, I bet you had sex more often). The techies want us dead and the more you fuck about on here, the quicker they’ll figure out how best to do it.

Don’t look at me like that, I’ve not smoked crack in ages.

*Picture is “3d Smart Phone Mascot Is Holding An Axe. 3d Mobile Phone Character” by Boians Cho Joo Young at freedigitalphotos.net