Thursday, 18 January 2018

A Winter's Memory

I had an unreasonably early start this morning and left my house while it still felt like the dead of night (although I am reliably informed that this sensation is known as 'winter'). Alone as I was, trudging down the street as lamps lit my way towards the station, something stirred in the back of my mind.

"Left my house while still dark," I tweeted. "Walking down the road in the pre-dawn darkness and I'm hit by memories of going to #Eroticon 2012..."

And so I did. I wasn't at the meet and greet drinks for the first 'con. Moreover, that one only lasted a day. A long day, granted, but since I was indisposed both the evening beforehand and the morning afterwards, I wanted to be sure I could get to Bristol, do 'con, have a meal and then get back to London all in a day. I'd only really been to Bristol once before, but I was sure it was possible.

"I had my ticket to Bristol," I elaborated, "but no way of getting into central London from where I was. I could just about get there if I walked into town ... as it was too early for buses and my local station wasn't running. It [was] a 40-45 minute journey on foot to the only station open..."

In fact, this was odd about my first 'con. I'd always assumed I'd be going, but hadn't actually gotten around to buying a ticket. I bought the cheapest day return to Bristol before buying a full-price ticket to the event itself (although I got both with little problem), as travel was on my mind at the time. I knew that I'd need to be at the venue by 8(ish); I even wanted to arrive into Bristol at 7:30, so I had time to explore and get lost, if that happened.* I could have walked to my local station, gone into central London and been in Bristol by 8(ish), but I didn't ant to chance it. I'd already missed drinks; I didn't want to miss another second. (*I got lost...)

"So I got up at 4:30 and walked."

And this I remember. It was the only real option, short of getting a taxi. I could walk across my London borough in just under an hour and get to the only station that was open at 5. Getting to Paddington would be a tight squeeze in terms of time, even that early, but I assumed (correctly, as it turns out) that I'd stand a better chance of making it as a result of my extra effort (less one hour in bed).

"I have a memory, even [now], of walking down the road..." I tweeted - not the same road I was walking down this morning, but close enough - although I had no idea, at the time, what 'con would be like. I went with no expectations, ready to take whatever was thrown at me; I was not disappointed.

"...freezing cold, under the pitch black sky, with a light in my heart."

Yeah, so Eroticon may not be without its occasional blips, but it does give me some of the best memories - like this one, when stumbling down a darkened road in the small hours feels more like the start of a brand new adventure.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Quiz

"Okay, that's done," I said, handing over the printout of my tax return to my bookkeeper mother. "I've paid no tax and I won't get any tax back. That's a zero," I added, trying to make it sound like this wouldn't hurt. My dad, having painstakingly made lentil soup, sighed with something between braggadocio and desperation, indicating the bowls he had laid down some five minutes earlier. I put away my mother's laptop and scrambles around for spoons while she went to fetch the Guardian.

"Okay, but while we eat, can we do the quiz?" she asked, passing the supplement to my dad.

"Hmmm... okay, so... what did Julia Ward Howe write the words to, using the tune of a famous folk song?" he read out slowly and clearly.
Knew it. "That's The Battle Hymn of the Republic," I suggested, which he noted down.

"What's the Latin word for 'one'?" he offered.
Knew it. "Unus, I think," I offered. "Like uno in Spanish."

"Capital cities... what's the capital city of Tunisia?"
Knew it. "Tunis," I quipped. "The clue's in the name."

"Okay, one more. What links wood, glass, broken and..."
"Dildos!"
"...eclipse... excuse me?"
"Dildos?"
"What on Earth is an eclipse dildo?"

I reflected.

"One you can't see because of the moon?"

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Unreal Girl

Shortly after being dumped by Rebecca, I was informally asked out by two of her friends. As horrible as this sounds, one of them I genuinely didn't find attractive - she was too loud, too rude, too young, and not really my type - the other one, however, I did think was attractive. In fact, that was her job, more or less: to be sexy. She was a student just heading off to university (so the same age as me, or thereabouts); she was also non-monogamous.

It was the first time I'd heard of the term (although "polyamorous" was used more by her; it's the term I tend to use as a result), or even the concept - although Rebecca has to explain it to me. What her friend actually said was

i'm a slut slut slut! lol.

which didn't mean much to me, to be frank. Still, I enjoyed her blog (for what it was), and her presence. I never actually talked to her, not even on MSN, but she still maintained a kind of presence, up until shortly after Christmas 2003, when she said (well, she left a comment on my LiveJournal, I doubt "said" is the phrase...)

ps. will you go out with me? be my slut baby! lol

which was slightly clearer, even though I've no idea what a "slut baby" might be.

For me, sitting in my tiny room in student hall with only stacks of books and Emmanuelle: Queen of the Galaxy for company (and a very tenuous internet connection which I had to hack), this was a very tempting idea, although I knew very little about her - I knew her initials (K.A.T.E. - and her first name was Kate, which works), and a rough approximation of her age and original location, but very little else. I didn't know how she knew Rebecca; I didn't know which university she went to; I didn't even know what she looked like, apart from a couple of pictures which didn't seem particularly legitimate. I certainly didn't know why she found me attractive.

But, me being me, having recently been dumped for the first time, having no real friends at university and having not had sex for a few months (three years later, still having not had sex in that time, this would seem very trivial!), I reacted positively. I didn't exactly say "yes", because it wasn't exactly clear this was a genuine question, but I was heading towards it.

K.A.T.E. went silent. A few months later, she got engaged to someone at her university (then, allegedly, broke up with him after he got someone else pregnant), and after that, she went completely AWOL. I was barely talking to Rebecca that much, and when I did, neither of us mentioned her. I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to hear from her any more, and committed her existence to memory.

A few years later and the cracks began to show. K.A.T.E. didn't show up at Rebecca's funeral, and 47 didn't recognise the name when I asked. I idly browsed for her on social media, just in case she hadn't heard of Rebecca's death, and couldn't find her anywhere - she wasn't on Facebook or Twitter, and she didn't show up on Google. Her LiveJournal hadn't been touched for years; there were a couple of people with the same name on Google Plus (but without the A.T. middle names), but they weren't her. I tried to find an e-mail address for her, but the only one I could find was a ZZN (which bounced back). The only place I could find any record of anyone who was undeniably her was on (what was left of) Rebecca's website, which as of today still exists, but on a page which was long dormant, and still mentioned me in positive terms.

I don't like losing contact with people, even peripherally, but after a while I started coming around to the fact that she probably doesn't exist. I'm ninety-nine per cent sure that Rebecca invented her, although I'm also fairly certain that this wasn't anything malicious. Rebecca had read The Ethical Slut during our time together (and I'm fairly sure this precipitated the end of our relationship; I still haven't read it), had joined some chatrooms with a low number of female participants, and didn't have many friends outside of college - I would imagine K.A.T.E.'s ideation as being a little invention of an idealised friendship which got slightly out of hand - hence not actually ending up arranging to meet me, even for coffee as I eventually suggested. I was guilty of the same, to a lesser degree, although in the end I owned up.

I don't begrudge Rebecca for any of this. There are worse crimes than character creation - it's just fiction, and who doesn't love a bit of fiction? - and she certainly covered all bases, maintaining a token presence on what passed for social media. She was a talented writer with a vivid imagination, and if K.A.T.E. was indeed an idea that just spiralled out of control, then I can't genuinely image Rebecca herself as generating a lie for malevolent intent.

I'm slightly confused, of course, as to why K.A.T.E. asked me out - where was this supposed to go if I gave an outright yes? - and this also raises other questions. What if I had married Rebecca - wouldn't her absence from any wedding celebrations be conspicuous? Why did she have a separate 'phone number - and, if it was a real one (I never called it), where did she get the 'phone from? If Rebecca, as she said on multiple times, was trying to cut me out of her life, why did K.A.T.E. keep contacting me? These are probably all answerable questions, of course - but then it also makes me suspicious of other people she introduced me to, like her crush's girlfriend Hana (also poly, sexy, and unashamed) or her college friend Kirstie (who, genuinely, wasn't real - that one she admitted to).

I caught myself today suddenly remembering K.A.T.E., as if just a passing shade. I so wanted her, at the time, to be real. 15 years later, however, and that doesn't seem to matter any more. However real she was - even if she was a complete fabrication - she most certainly made a small impact... even if only in the tiniest corner of my memory.

Maybe she'll make it into my next book.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Wet-wipe

I walked, bleary-eyes and sleep-deprived, into work this morning to find somebody had put a free-standing whiteboard in the corner of the room. Placed it in the corner... and seemingly just left it there. Roaming as I was through the rows upon rows of computers, I caught a sideways glance at the board... and something twinged in the back of my head.

Three hours later and I realised what it was.

Dial back a decade (and a bit). At the age of twenty-one, I worked with my mum. I had a part-time job following graduation, but with relatively little to do during the weekdays, I volunteered my time to help out my overworked mother, in a position which practically demanded the immediate proximity of free-standing whiteboards. I also had other commitments - to the (real) band in which I met (the fictional) Karolina, my fledgling (aborted) film career and the excitement of recommissioning my SNES and playing through Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's King Quest for the umpteenth time - but I enjoyed this job. It was fun, rewarding, and more importantly, I got free food.

On this particular occasion, I was cleaning the whiteboard and soliloquising to myself (which I do a lot). I had plans that evening to see (read: shag) Alicia, and was narrating, under my breath, the relative merits of a sexual relationship with an older lady, when my mother emerged from the unfriendly side of the board. (I shifted positions at this point, handily hiding my erection.) She had noticed my absence, and needed help with a particularly troublesome client. I gave her a promise that I'd be there... once I'd finished wiping the board clean.

"You seem distracted," she observed. "Are you OK?"
"I'm fine," I replied honestly. "I just didn't sleep much last night," and I won't do so tonight, because I'll be spending most of it entwined between a beautiful pair of thighs. This is going to be a good night. "You OK?" I added, in an effort to sound politer in real life than I did in my head.
"Well, I did need help with..."
"Coming!" Which is what she's going to be doing. Last time, I brought her off using my tongue. Tonight I'll do that again. Make her warm and wet, and then I'll slide into her. I love my life! "Quick as I can!" I still can't believe I'm actually having sex!
"What are you muttering about?" came my mother's voice, interrupting my rĂªverie and handily reminding me where I was.
"Oh, nothing really," I lied. "Finished now. I'll be with you shortly."

And I went to join her, a silly grin on my face and lone "WTF?" left scrawled, unpurged, on the board. In my own handwriting, obviously.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Eulogy

In year six, a few of the boys in my class started what they called a "gay club". This wasn't what one might think a "gay club" would be consisted of - but then this was year six. The club would wander around the playground, telepathically zoning in on gay people (arbitrarily pointing at random), yelling things like, "AAARGH! I'VE PICKED UP A GAY!". Most people thought this was hilarious. I thought it was insufferable.

I tried several tactics to stop them - using my (self-imposed) status as Superintendent of the LSPD (local school police department) to run an investigation; following them around to casually remind everyone they pinpointed that they probably didn't know what "gay" meant, anyway; and bursting into hysterical tears to yell that I knew people who were gay, and that it shouldn't be used as an insult at all. That shut them up.

See also: my defence of homosexuality in year 7 (which, apparently, made me gay for a year or so); my defence of homosexuality in year 8 (ditto); my defence of homosexuality in year 9 (by which time people were sapient enough to understand what I was getting at; I was beginning to be surprised at this point that I was still the only one making the points that I was making). The fact that I knew gay people was occasionally wheeled out as a final point of justification, at which everyone usually demanded to know who (as if that person or persons would suddenly walk around the corner).

I'd hope, of course, that even without knowing my mum's best friend and her partner, I wouldn't have flirted with the amount of casual homophobia boys in my local area tend to adopt as a badge of how much into sports they are. But this will have to remain hope, because I did know them. I've known them since I was born.

My mother met her best friend - her dear heart - when she was at university. They clicked, and they've been the closest ever since. I can see why - her friend is smart, funny, friendly and homely: she radiates an aura which makes one feel like you are sitting by a fire with a Peanuts book and a cup of tea, which is exactly what I spent most of my time doing during our frequent stays at their house in the Midlands (well, that, and playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World on their Master System in the spare room or watching soft porn on their cable TV - although I only did that once...). As I grew into adulthood, I began to visit them independently, and discussed more wholesome pursuits like why they should be watching Father Ted and why I was able to access my university's network from their computer so I could waste my time do some of my coursework from their lounge. I even confided in them my secret crush, which (up until then) had been a secret.

My mum's friend came with her formidable partner - a Scottish lady with a beautiful accent, severe haircut and similarly warm radiation, so much so that being in a room with them was like a Mediterranean summer's day. They worked well together, had a lot of time for each other, and showed that there was a lot of love between them, in the same way my parents did; during my youngest years, nothing about them came close to being unusual or unworldly. I started school at 4 (or 2, if you count nursery) already knowing an openly gay couple, so I didn't need to be told it wasn't "wrong". I already knew.

I wish I could say that this was the only reason that my mum's friend's partner's recent death was a bit of a blow. But I can't say that. Her sole purpose wasn't to teach me that some people are gay (in fact, I don't think either of them even mentioned it once - they just were). She told me a lot about dogs, lent me books and audio tapes, laughed at my jokes, listened as I talked her through how to change the sounds on her computer, and tried to convince me that living in Grantham was nothing to do with Margaret Thatcher (although I suspect that they were the only two Labour voters in Grantham during the 80s). She liked children, animals, and other people, and was excellent company.

When I was asked to write something for people to include in her memorial, my first thought was that I should mention how her relationship with my mother's friend was my first contact with homosexuality, and that I was blessed by this, letting me grow up without the prejudice that a lot of my friends displayed. But I wrote a paragraph without mentioning it. If there's anything one can take away from life, it's that someone's sexual orientation shouldn't be an issue. Everyone is an individual, and the fact that she was gay doesn't matter any more than her grey hair, love of dogs, ability to make a good cup of tea, affinity for Call My Bluff, or frustration with the first level of Alex Kidd in Miracle World.

My mother shall miss her. And so shall I.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Love Hard

Now I'm over the hill, too many thrills
Too much to choose from, it's making me ill
Let's go over the top, so give me a pill
Too much to choose from, it's making me ill

I have, over the past few days, been loving her particularly hard.

Wait, come back! I probably need to explain. Of course it hasn't been like I didn't love her this much before. I've loved her for a long time now. We've been a couple since the end of 2012 and you don't last this long without love. That's not what I'm trying to say.

What I am trying to say is that, since the New Year, I've spent a lot of time lying awake at night, and with nothing else to do, I've been overanalysing things, looking at our relationship from different angles and, sometimes, trying to do the impossible: viewing it as an outsider. I can look at other couples - Robinson and Lovely, their relationship having lasted for more than a decade before they took the next step; Hairy Friend and his American wife, still as tactile with each other as they have been since they met; 47 and his wife, a relationship I've championed since its inception - and see the spark there. Hell, with some couples, I can practically feel it.

With us, the spark has always been there. Sometimes, I will admit, it's difficult to channel. There are those dull moments - where she's out at work and I'm sitting alone, wondering what to do - or when I'm working away, glad of the summer freedom but missing what I have when home. It's an odd feeling to lie awake next to a sleeping girlfriend and think about how much you love her.

I mean, I tell her. I tell her I love her every day. I say it over and over and over again, because despite what some people think, I don't think it can be said too much.

But there's more to it than that. I look at her and I tell her she looks pretty. I laugh at the cute things she does and listen to the stuff she tells me. I try to make her laugh too, with varying degrees of success. We talk, we cuddle, we kiss, we joke, we bitch. Through all this, I tell her I love her. But on my own, I constantly remind myself. I catch myself looking at her, or thinking of her - maybe something as simple as a smile or an in-joke we share.

And for the past few days, it's been my oxygen. I've been very tired - no sleep, no energy, very little inspiration and in a lot of pain from my injured mouth (which I'll tell you about some other time). Some days, it's been a struggle even to stand up straight. But I'm stronger, because I love her. I am protected, because I love her. I am supported by my love for her. I think it's that, above all, that keeps me going...

...so that is why I have been appreciating her more than ever. Because, even though she's there for me when I need her, it's nice to remind myself of that. So I do.