Archive for the ‘Life and other random stuff’ Category
Last New Year’s Eve, I had a bad case of the flu. I was miserable, lonely, broke and ill. I called my friends at 11am and told them I wouldn’t be joining them and put down the phone feeling gutted.
Any normal person would have chalked it up to a case of bad luck and germs, watched movies in bed, grabbed a pizza and an early night and woken up on New Year’s Day one step closer to feeling better.
What did I do? I went to the shop, bought a bottle of vodka and got drunk.
I’ve never drunk normally. I regarded people who enjoyed ‘just the one glass of wine with dinner’ as freaks — although I envied them totally. For me, it had one purpose: oblivion. It made everything go away, and once I had it inside me, there was no ‘off’ button until my money ran out or someone broke the front door down to stop me.
At 3am, a brick smashed through the bedroom window and landed on the bed. It wasn’t personal, most likely the antics of some drunken idiot trying to prove himself to his mates. Ironically I judged him.
I woke up, not knowing for a moment what had happened. Broken glass covered the duvet and I cut my hands to ribbons tearing back the bedsheets and trying to figure out where I was. Still pissed, and with a bitter wind now blowing through my bedroom, I went into the living room, downed half a bottle of Jack Daniels and knocked myself out till morning, comatose on the sofa in a bloodstained blanket.
So it should come as little surprise that as I sit here typing this, hangover-free on January 1st — having spent New Year’s Eve eating ice cream and watching movies with my boyfriend — that comparatively speaking, 2012 is already off to a rollickingly good start.
2011 began as it was to continue for the next six months. I started off the new year drunk, lonely, frightened, in debt and with a hole in my soul ten times the size of that in my bedroom window.
February saw me relapse again, nine bottles of vodka over four days. The police broke in. I can’t even remember being taken to hospital.
I managed to stay dry for three months till it happened again. I had tried so hard, but I was merely abstaining, not dealing; and it was scarily easy to give in and pour it down my neck again. As I opened the bottle I even felt a sliver of excitement. Another week lost from my life, another empty bank account and another bunch of cuts and bruises to add to my ever-growing collection of scars. All of which I have no recollection of getting.
I was losing my friends, the respect of my family, and clinging onto my job with bloodied fingernails. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I’d felt something close to self-respect.
All the while I was playing out a life in public that everything was okay. But then, I guess that’s what the disease of addiction turns you into: a liar.
I truly mean it when I say I wanted to get better — or the next time I wanted to die. That was the choice. I couldn’t live like this any longer. I stopped trying to do it on my own and I got some real help.
I found a way. The irony is, I can’t tell you how I did it. I won’t. I’m not going to stand here and advertise a method of getting and staying sober. What if it ends up not working for me and I have a public fall from the wagon? I could destroy someone’s faith in a solution that might otherwise have worked for them. But what I will say is this: for anyone who’s listening, you can’t do it alone. You’ve probably tried already and it’s failed.
A month after I got myself cleaned up good and proper, the handsomest man I’ve ever known turned to me and said “I’d love for you to be my boyfriend.” He had wanted it for a while, he just needed to know I was getting sober for myself rather than for him.
Two months later I left my job. At the time I was riddled with fear, but by this time I had managed to accrue some cash in the bank. I took four months off work and threw myself into getting better.
In October I sent my first invoice for my new business, Thesaurus Rex Copywriting, to one of the world’s biggest software companies.
But most importantly, I no longer see fear or apprehension in the eyes of the people I love. I don’t have to feel that disappointment emanating from my friends and family when I’m found, paralytic, wild-eyed, thin and covered in god-knows-what after going off the radar yet again.
Destructive behaviour comes in all forms and can go to different extremes. Not everyone with alcohol problems drinks the way I did. It can manifest itself in drugs, booze, risky sex, even work and fitness. The drink and drugs just make the noise go away. The sex is a temporary validation.
My world this January 1st is a million miles from where I was last year. I have a loving boyfriend whom I fully intend to marry, a roof over my head, money in the bank, a buzzing new business. I’ve just been ranked in the top 50 most influential LGBT people on Twitter (in fact, it’s for this very reason I’ve chosen to share my story). All this has come to me since I got sober and started participating in my life instead of being a victim to an illness.
The best thing I did in 2011 was for myself: I saved my life. I finally saw how little I valued ‘me’ and I did something about it. And I’m full of gratitude to the people who helped me.
Life has changed, and if you’ve read any of this and are thinking “This is me. This is how I feel” then I promise it can change for you, too.
You just have to ask for help, and it will be given.
Happy new year. x
“I told you I was trouble,” Amy Winehouse sang, “You know that I’m no good.”
For me, that’s the most poignant lyric she ever wrote. It sums up the mind of an addict. You see, it wasn’t a brag; it was a mixture of ‘keep away’ and ‘help me’.
How do I know? Because not so long ago, I was Amy Winehouse.
For most addicts, there’s a constant presence on your shoulder telling you you’re not good enough, that somehow, you’re ‘less’ than everyone out there. Your thoughts go round like a washing machine on high-speed. The noise in your head is constant, loud and harsh. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a rich and famous popstar, or Mary Taylor in Islington, homeless and sleeping rough in a shop doorway; it’s that same mindset. Alcohol and drugs are merely the medication.
Addiction isn’t fun. Addiction isn’t “Let’s go to the pub and get pissed and have a right laugh” or “Let’s get fucked on drugs and get up to mischief”. Addiction is lonely, terrifying and insidious. Oh, sure, you start out like everyone else, a few drinks here and there, a dabble or two in something a little harder. You don’t realise when it stops being fun, but it does. Suddenly you find yourself alone in a room, afraid to go out, because ‘outside’ is too damn scary.
So you take that hit, and for a short while, the noise stops. Peace through oblivion. Then you come around and the noise starts again, louder this time, and coupled with the anxiety, fear and terror that come with withdrawal. So you take another hit. Sweet, blessed relief. And somewhere in the back of your mind you hope you don’t wake up from this one. You’re nothing but trouble, you see. All you cause is pain and worry.
I read a fantastic blog by Russell Brand today, in which he said:
“When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, you await the phonecall. There will be a phonecall. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make — it must be received.”
The problem is, addiction is the only disease in existence that tells you that you haven’t got it. Lock an addict away and they’ll be looking for an escape, or biding their time and playing the ‘yes, I’m fine now’ role until they’re alone again. I’ve had people in the kitchen pouring drink away while I’ve been climbing out of the bedroom window on my way to buy more.
I’ve been a day out of hospital after being found in my flat, hours away from death, and already I’m figuring out where I can get hold of some gear. I believed the booze and drugs were giving me something. In fact, it was the opposite. They were hollowing me out, alienating my friends and family and slowly stripping me of all that was real and good.
Sadly, all the love and support in the world wasn’t going to help Amy get better. She was trotted out on stage at every opportunity to make money for her record company. She didn’t have the luxury I’ve had of anonymity, of being left alone so she could get better. Contracts had been signed and albums were due. Her star had to keep shining, and all the while the press were snapping at her heels, waiting for her to fall again.
I can’t imagine anything more frightening than the whole world waiting with bated breath for me to fuck up, then posting it on YouTube when I do.
Yesterday evening, people shut down Facebook and Twitter on their computers, still in shock and disbelief at this tragedy, before heading off down to the pubs and clubs for a well-deserved weekend blowout.
Mary in Islington sits down in her shop doorway, begging for a few coins to get a can of beer. Just a little something to help take the edge off. You might have seen her last night, she may have come up to ask you for some change, desperate and devoid of pride, but like a lot of people, you probably looked away, annoyed and uncomfortable.
Sunday morning rolls around, and half of London wakes up with a hangover. Some might even still be going. iTunes seizes the opportunity to promote Amy’s albums on its homepage to make some cash, and somewhere in Islington, an ambulance arrives to take away the body of a homeless woman found dead in a shop doorway.
And all over the world, recovering addicts wake up and pray to a God they’re not even sure exists for the strength to stay clean one more day.
The world carries on. Then somewhere, a phone rings.
You know those people who always seem to say the right thing? Those serene individuals, calmer than Buddha, who wait patiently while you witter on like a blithering idiot, then promptly sum up every feeling, every emotion, everything you’ve been trying so desperately to verbalise in one, simple answer?
Yeah, I’m not one of those people.
Ironic isn’t’ it? I mean, I’m a writer. Words are like, my thing, you know? But talking isn’t. Oh, sure, I can construct perfect paragraphs, sizzling sentences and compelling copy, but ask me to talk without a crib sheet and I fly off on a million different tangents, tripping over my words and getting so caught up in what I want to say, I never actually manage to make the point I originally intended to make.
It’s probably why I chose to make this my living. Ask me to write what’s in my head and I’ll give you an articulate, well-structured piece of copy. Come to me for advice and I’ll serve you up the verbal equivalent of a really fucking bad first draft.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a ‘closed’ person. I’ve done the I-am-an-island thing and I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, and nowadays I like to think I’ve found a happy medium concerning what and with whom I share things.
But GOD, that talking thing. It’s like my thoughts trip over halfway between my brain and my mouth and what comes out is a tangled mass of arms, legs and the contents of the owners’ handbags. Ever seen a pile up in a cycling race? Yeah, that.
Take tonight for instance. I was on the phone with someone who’d had a bad day. A simple enough situation, but you see, he’s one of those people. The kind of person who can say in four seconds what you’ve been trying to say for half an hour. The kind of person who always says the right thing, and does so without having to try three different versions of it. Out loud. The kind of person I just wish I could be like.
Let’s just say he’s ‘special’ to me, and I wanted so badly to come up with some earth-shattering wisdom to solve all his problems and leave him comforted (and slightly in awe of my verbal dexterity), but all I managed were a few long pauses, punctuated by the razor-sharp “Uhm…yeah…well I don’t really know what to say. It’s like… yeah, cause uhm…”
You get the picture.
We began wrapping up the phonecall and saying goodnight. Inside I was feeling like I’d been utterly useless. Then, right before we bid our farewells, he said this:
“Thanks for listening to me moan. I really needed that.”
For this writer, sometimes I need to forget about words. Sometimes all I need to do is just listen.
Afterwards, I went into the living room where my flatmate and best friend of ten years was watching TV.
“Why is it that when I’m talking to him, I can never put into words what’s in my head? It just comes out all jumbled and I end up sounding like an idiot.”
“Because you’re emotionally invested,” she replied simply, “you’re not impartial so it’s harder.”
Yeah. She’s another one of those people.
I looked in the mirror at the red-eyed quasimodo squinting gunkily back at me and shuddered. Not because of my reflection — I’ve seen myself in worse states — but because I knew what this meant.
Now, before you start branding me a hypochondriac, I’m not so stupid as to think conjunctivitis is a serious condition. Fear of blindness wasn’t responsible for the quiet dread that crept over me as I crossed my bedroom and opened a drawer.
It was the fact that until the infection had cleared, I would have to wear what was sitting inside.
I hate my glasses. They have the ability to instantly transport me back in time to when I was a chubby, gawky kid with no real friends, constantly teased because he never quite fitted in. They were a constant companion right from the age of four, all the way up through my teenage years.
As soon as I put on my glasses, I’m transformed from a confident, strong-willed man, into a shuffling, self-conscious little boy again. I’m once again freezing to death on a school sports field, waiting to be picked last, because nobody wanted to have a kid with glasses on their team.
I have the most invisible pair ever: two frameless bits of glass held together with one piece of wire, with two longer pieces fixing them to my face, but to me they feel gargantuan. It’s like they weigh a ton as well, pulling my head down to my neck so I’ve got no option but to stare at the floor.
Going without them isn’t an option. With both my eyes boasting a prescription of -4.75 (that’s ‘really fucking short-sighted’ for all you non-optical people), I’d be run over before I even made it to the tube station.
At fifteen years old, after bludgeoning my mother into getting me contacts, she relented.
I stood in the bathroom, tongue out, eyelids stretched, fiddling with this slimy little bowl of plastic for ages, because I was damned if I wasn’t going to get this thing in my eye.
When I finally got them in. I looked at myself and burst into tears.
Most people take their own reflection for granted — but I’d never seen my own face clearly in a mirror.
Shuffling round the gym on Tuesday night, looking at all the hot guys with their spec-free gorgeous faces, it felt like I was back on that playground, looking at the bigger boys standing together in a corner, sniggering at me. Their voices shouting, “Oi! Are you that Su Pollard?” and “Look! It’s Timmy Mallett!” echoing round in my head like a cheesy flashback scene from an 80s movie.
Later that night, tired and sore-eyed, I poured out my misery on Twitter and posted a picture of myself as a bottle-ended nobody.
No amount of you-were-adorables or aww-how-cutes were going to make me feel better, until I noticed something: all the lovely folk of Twitter had begun posting photos of their own childhood di-glass-ters.
I suddenly realised just how many of my fellow Tweeters still wore glasses in their profile pictures.
These were gorgeous, confident men and women — proud of their bins. Were they shuffling around in the background, hoping they wouldn’t be noticed? Hell to the no!
The tweet that finally dragged me out of my needless self-pity and made me realise just what an idiot I was being came from @bishbashboshjosh, who said:
Okay, @guy_interruptd campaigns against the stigma about HIV, but needs therapy for wearing glasses?”
Hmm…well, erm…. Yeah. When you put it like that.
So I’ve decided that tomorrow (well, when I get some money anyway) I’m going to harness my inner geek.
I’m going to take that self-conscious little boy by the hand, march right into Specsavers, (because apparently a lot of people regret not going) and get myself a funky-chunky black pair. I’m going to grab my four-eyed counterpart by the bollocks and be an out and proud speccie.
Well, some of the time, anyway.
The next morning, I dressed in a crisp white shirt and grey suit, and strolled to work with my bespectacled head held high.
Standing at the counter, waiting to pay for my usual breakfast roll, the woman behind it looked up, blinked and said, “Oh! It’s you! I’ve never seen you in your glasses before! You look really handsome.”
“Thanks.” I beamed.
And as I walked out of the cafe, smiling to myself, I thought: Maybe I’ll keep these on for a couple of days after my eyes have cleared up.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ve got a fantastic bunch of friends, and we love each other dearly.
So when, one of our group, Lisa, discovered she had thyroid cancer earlier this year, it hit us all like a warp-speed bowling ball at an unsuspecting stack of pins.
Lisa treats her body like a temple. She’s a fitness addict and personal trainer, who spends most of her life in the gym, whether it’s training herself or helping others achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Lisa and my other friend James had got together and decided to launch a fundraising campaign for Children with Leukaemia — planning to run both the London Marathon in April and the New York Marathon in November. At the time of the London one, they’d raised a staggering £3000.
Lisa had found a lump in her neck in February and was in the middle of a barrage of blood tests and biopsies to find out the cause. But being the trooper she is, she pushed it to the back of her mind as she went into her final phase of training for the event, which she finished in a very respectable 4h 59m.
Here she is, fresh as a daisy at about mile 20:
Four weeks later, she was in hospital having the right side of her thyroid taken out — her biopsies had detected abnormal cells.
The irony was worthy of an Alanis Morissette lyric. She’d run the Marathon to raise money for cancer — with cancer.
To say this was a smack in the face is an understatement. Lisa dedicates her life to the pursuit of fitness and health, both in herself and in others. Can you imagine how it feels to have the body you’ve worked so hard to take care of and keep healthy, suddenly go renegade on you? It’s like the ultimate betrayal.
Lisa’s also self-employed, and couldn’t work for her entire recovery period — ergo, the cancer screwed not only her health, but her income as well.
And it didn’t stop there. Six weeks after her first operation, she was back in again to have the other side of her thyroid removed, after the tissue from the first op showed not one, but two different types of cancer. Six weeks after this, she underwent a week’s worth of radiotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden, during which none of us could visit her. She also had to isolate herself for nearly a week after she was discharged, while the radioactive isotopes broke down enough to let her have human contact again.
A while ago I wrote about the reality of having HIV. I was with Lisa for most of her hospital appointments, and suddenly found out what it must have been like for my friends and family when I was diagnosed.
Here I was, shoe firmly on the other foot, being slapped around the chops by the harsh realities of cancer. This time it was me watching a friend go through something awful and knowing I could do fuck all to change the situation.
The people from Macmillan Cancer Support have been there for Lisa throughout, giving invaluable advice and support, and even arranging money to help cover the rent she could barely afford while she wasn’t working. In short — they’ve been a godsend.
Despite her (and our) joy that she’s finally in the clear, Lisa’s gutted she’s not able to run the NYC marathon. The hospital’s said it would be silly to put her body through a gruelling training programme and a 26.3 mile run when it’s still recovering from such an ordeal.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. James is still running in New York, and is continuing to raise money for Children with Leukaemia. And swooping in to run in Lisa’s place is our dear friend Simon. He’s like the proverbial knight in shining armour (or in his case, glittering spandex *sniggers* *ducks*).
Not content with completing Berlin Marathon just a few short weeks ago, he’s decided to also run NYC for Macmillan in a show of support for Lisa, and, as he’s only just taken on the challenge, he’s got a way to go to hit his target.
Now, I’d like to think I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t ask for much. This isn’t one of those blogs that exists solely to flog a product or service, or gain marketing leads. But I’d like to ask something now.
Please sponsor Simon and James. The New York Marathon is less than two weeks away (November 7th). Their links are at the bottom of this post, and even a couple of quid would be brilliant (but save some cash for sponsoring me for London next year!)
Cancer can strike, anytime, anywhere, as my group of friends found out all too easily. People don’t start thinking about things like cancer till we, or someone we love, is staring it in the face. But here’s a little factlet for you: Did you know that around 80% of postmortems reveal active cancer cells? Food for thought, no?
It’s charities like Macmillan and Children With Leukaemia that help people survive not just the physical, but the mental impact of the disease.
So next time you see someone huffing and puffing their way around the park, take a second to consider why they’re putting themselves through it. In most cases — as well as trying to better their distances or time — they’re probably also facing another challenge of raising £2k or some other massive amount for a worthwhile cause.
And as James said to me at the weekend: “Every time we runners get an email through saying we’ve been sponsored — even if it’s just a few quid — it feels like it’s all worthwhile. When you’re doing a 15 mile run in the freezing cold after a hard day at work, it’s so motivating and heartwarming.”
So come on, people, let’s all dig out a few quid to support those who are running for other people’s lives, eh?
Tuesday and I haven’t been getting along for some time now. But last Tuesday felt a little different. In this guest blog post for the Dear Tuesday Project, I write a letter to the day that used to make me so happy, and ask where things went wrong:
I know things have been rough between us lately. And although I know I should take part of the blame for my behaviour, you have to admit you’ve been really difficult recently.
You see, every time you’ve come to visit, I’ve woken up feeling sad and lifeless. Your mornings are getting darker and colder, but you’ve forced me to get up and go to work anyway. To be honest, whenever we’ve seen each other, I’ve merely been going through the motions.
I remember a few months ago when things were great between us. I used to practically skip to work with happy songs on my iPod. That time when I was feeling a bit ‘meh’ and you arranged for the man I loved to call me when I was on the train — just to cheer me up.
I had a lot of those moments during your visits back then, and they were some of the happiest I can remember in a long time. The texts, the emails, the calls just to hear my voice, the dinner dates where we just sat touching hands and smiling at each other… READ MORE>>
It’s not often I admit I’m wrong, so hear me out.
You see, I’m an impulsive sort of guy; I always have been, so when a friend sent me a link to a video for a new campaign aimed at gay teenagers called, “It Gets Better”, it stirred something up in me, and I jumped head first into forming an opinion.
American author, Dan Savage and Terry, his partner of 16 years, speak about their difficult, religiously influenced childhoods, leaving behind their traumatic school years, before meeting each other and settling down into happy, gay, wedded bliss. The message being that if you’re growing up gay and facing the daily ignorance, abuse, and sometimes even violence — it does get better.
A fantastic sentiment — and I mean that sincerely — but part of me couldn’t help feeling like it was all a bit too saccharine for my tastes. I mean, are these two really representative of the wider gay community? And are they telling the truth? Does it ever really get better, or does the focus just shift?
For me, the homophobia subsided at school by the time I was 14 or 15 — I developed a smart mouth and I had a fiery temper, so I soon put my detractors in their place. But it’s actually been since I left school and entered the gay scene that I’ve encountered the most hostility.
You see, we call ourselves the gay ‘community’ — but I think we forget what that word truly means. We actively practice segregation — the dykes don’t talk to the gays, the muscle boys don’t talk to the chickens, the bears all stick together and the skins all go to Compton’s.
Most of us frantically pump iron at the gym in a bid to be accepted by a community that doesn’t even register you if you’re under 70kg and not popping out of an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.
Yep, we’re all about making people feel like they don’t belong.
And why? Maybe we get a kick out of it. After so long feeling different, it’s nice to feel like we’re part of something, and fun to turn our noses up at the people who don’t fit in. And all the while hoping nobody notices that once upon a time, we too were the outsider.
Of course, there’s a difference between not being hot enough and getting the shit kicked out of you. But what’s worse? Being shunned by the idiot kids at school, or by the very community who should be welcoming you, arms open? And all because you simply don’t fit the bill.
If, like Dan and Terry, you manage to avoid all this and find the man of your dreams at a relatively young age, then you’re lucky. But does this rosy picture of a happily married gay couple, complete with adopted son, give kids something to aspire to, or is it setting them up for disappointment when they get out there and find it’s all about instant gratification, transient friendships, fast sex and very little commitment?
You may (possibly rightly) call me bitter, and given my recent experiences, who could blame me? But the truth is, I know (and admire) plenty of happily married gay couples.
My friends Noel and Steve have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for fifteen years and have an adopted son and daughter. My other pals Uwe and Quentin just celebrated eighteen years, and I’m very excited to be going in February to the wedding of Rob and Jamie, who are finally tying the knot after fourteen years together.
But the reality is that most of us are destined to still be on our own well into our 30s, 40s and even 50s and beyond. So do we tell our gay teenagers the cold, hard truth — or should we give them something positive to strive for?
The cynic who couldn’t identify with Dan and Terry’s cuddly, present-day lives was erring on the side of the former.
That was, until yesterday, when I read the story of Seth Walsh, the thirteen year old boy who died on life-support this week, nine days after hanging himself.
The reason? He was being bullied at school for being gay.
As I reflected on my initial reaction of ‘these men do not represent my community’, I realised that what every kid needs is a role model, whether it’s Spider-man, a parent, or the granddad who fought in two wars. Gay teens need something to hold onto during those awful years when others are discovering they’re different as quickly as they themselves are.
If dreaming of getting married and settling down with a white picket fence is what’s going to save the lives of kids like Seth Walsh, then who the fuck am I to pass judgement on a video that may or may not give them unrealistic expectations?
What would I have done if I’d had the chance to speak with Seth before he tried to take his own life? Would I have told him about the liars and the cheats? Would I have told him about the rampant body fascism that dictates we should spend half our waking lives in the gym to feel accepted? Would I have warned him about the dangers of men who just want to get laid and don’t care about passing on HIV?
Of course I wouldn’t. I’d have put my arm around his shoulder and simply said:
“It gets better.”
So rest in peace, buddy. There’s no hatred in heaven. I’m just sorry you didn’t get to see a better life.
It was just a coffee.
I wasn’t even expecting a response when I messaged him on Facebook with the razor sharp and achingly original: “Has anyone ever told you you’re ridiculously hot?”
(Seriously, come on. How can anyone fail to be floored by that?)
But it worked, because last Thursday afternoon found us sat in Café Nero on Old Compton Street, smiling, laughing and flirting.
He casually put his hand on the small of my back as we were chatting, eventually moving to my knee and then taking hold of my hand.
“Sorry, is this too…?” he asked, indicating my hand in his and not needing to finish the sentence.
“No, absolutely not.” I replied, smiling. And to my surprise, it wasn’t.
You see, anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that a couple of months ago, I made a heartbreaking decision before I went on holiday, regarding someone I loved very much. I had a short, intense affair with a married man, and I truly believed he was going to leave his sexless, platonic marriage for me. But the stark reality was actually the opposite — he merely wanted a toy he could take out of its box and play with when he felt bored and horny — a bit like a Fleshjack.
So I finished it, and I came out of it heartbroken, bereft and so numb, I felt like jamming my fingers into a plug socket just to remember what it was like to feel something.
I’ve never been a ‘rebounder’. When a relationship ends, I don’t go looking for another one to use as a bandage for the wound. It takes time for me to heal, trust and let my guard down again, so you can imagine my astonishment when I looked at my date and realised: I really like you.
He leaned in for a kiss. And boy, was it good. So good in fact, it had me regretting my decision to go commando that day. I could only look on in embarrassment as I started pitching a tent in my army shorts.
His voice was like butter, with a soft Manchester accent, a bit like the actor who played Vince in Queer as Folk. I could have happily sat there and talked with him all day, but we both had stuff we needed to do. We left the café holding hands, and as he caught sight of us in a shop window, he turned to me and said: “I think we look good together, don’t you?”
I kind of agreed.
I dropped him off at the tube station, and as I walked away I chanced a look back. He was looking too. We grinned at each other before turning away one last time.
Will I see him again? I’d certainly like to, and he seems keen as well. Although he’ll probably read this and run screaming for the hills. But even if that happens, it was just nice to realise I can feel a spark with someone again. If nothing else, I’ve learned a valuable lesson — that there is, indeed, life after an ex.
It was just a coffee — but it was a damn good one.
I looked in the mirror at the man smiling at me, and smiled back.
He was about thirty, wearing a deep V neck t-shirt and fitted black blazer. He had short hair that had gone sandy-coloured from a recent holiday, excited green eyes, stubble that hadn’t quite made the transition to ‘beard’, and was probably wearing a bit too much aftershave.
I’m now at the age my parents were when they had me, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in my six-weeks-from-turning-thirty-one years. Probably over less bumps than some, but definitely over more bumps than most.
But all those experiences put me on a path that had landed me right where I was standing — in the gents’ restroom at the Royal Festival Hall, about to share a stage with six ‘proper’ writers at the London Literature Festival on the South Bank.
I was reading an extract from my recently published story: Dying, And Other Superpowers in front of about 200 editors, writers, authors, critics and general ‘literary’ types.
Don’t ask me what ‘literary’ looks like exactly. But to give you an idea — it usually wears glasses, is probably holding a copy of your book, has its legs crossed, pen poised, head cocked to the side and is regarding you with a slightly inquisitive expression.
The book’s editor, Paul Burston introduced me as “the newbie” and I got up to cross what had morphed into three miles of echoey floor to the stage at the front of the room.
I say echoey — people were clapping and cheering — but I could only hear my own footsteps.
Deep breath number two.
(Oh, who am I kidding? Deep breath number three-hundred-and-forty-two is slightly more accurate.)
I straightened my notes on the lectern and began with Josh’s story:
“I’ll remember my eighteenth birthday for three reasons. The first being that I turned eighteen.
The second reason is because it was the day I got diagnosed with HIV. And the third? I made a mug explode.
Yeah, that was a pretty hectic day…..”
I took the audience through the story I knew so well. I knew these characters far better than I’d described on the page. I knew what they looked like, where they lived, what music they listened to, even the subtle facial tics they made when they were angry or excited. I got lost for a little while, enjoying the feeling of bringing them to life through speech.
I finished on a cliffhanger:
“I gaped at my hands, turning them over a couple of times, but my vision was blurring and I felt unsteady. I looked around the room, unfocused and disoriented, and in a weak voice said, “Mum?”
I don’t know if she answered, because my world went black.”
I looked up, smiled and said: “And if you want to know what happens, you have to buy the book!”
There was a collective cry of “Gah!” from the audience, followed by a round of very genuine applause, and I knew I’d done OK.
I’d like to tell you about the rest of the evening, but to be honest, it was a bit of a blur, I remember points of it. My wonderful friends and family hugging me and clapping me on the back, warm congratulations from people I’d never met. A very humbling moment when a young man told me he’d come all the way from Nottingham to hear me read because he’s a fan of this blog (thank you, David — it’s not often I’m rendered speechless).
And people were asking me to sign books! With my signature!
Feeling like a bit of a fraud, I wondered: what do I write? Do I try to make each message personal? Do people expect you to write “best wishes” or is that just wanky and patronising?
Do I just sign it? Do I try to be neat? Do I screw it and just be intentionally, fantastically, artistically untidy? Can I make my writing even remotely legible when my hands are shaking this much?
Oh, Paul-bloody-flipping-Burston, you’re supposed to be my mentor! WHERE are you when I need you?!
On top of that, I realised I was going to have to ask them all that cringeworthy question:
“What’s your name?”
The crowds filtered out and I rejoined my wonderful, drunken friends, and ceased being a writer, a new talent, or a member of the literary world — I was just ‘me’ again. We set off into Soho for a few celebratory drinks.
Now that the dust has settled on that crazy night, I certainly don’t feel like an ‘author’, a ‘fresh new talent’, a ‘hidden genius’ or any of the things I’ve been described as over the past few weeks.
It’s hard to feel like a ‘rising star’ when you’re sitting in a messy bedroom, wearing crap boxers, writing a blog post with a cup of tea and Star Trek: Voyager on the telly for company.
Cynics may (possibly rightly) argue that this is nothing to get excited about; I mean, it’s not my own novel — it’s a short story that’s been published in an anthology.
But as I’ve said before, it’s the beginning of my story, and I don’t know if it’s a short story, a novel, or a whole fricking library, but I can’t wait to write some more pages.
Paul called me late last night:
“I didn’t get to speak to you afterwards because it was just a bit crazy, but I wanted to tell you, you were phenomenal. I’ve had so many messages about the event over the last 24 hours. You made a huge impact. You should be very proud of yourself.”
Phenomenal? Well, that’s for time and other people to decide — not me.