Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Despicable Pleasures

In life it's easy to just kick back and do nothing.

True pleasure, so I'm told, comes from raising children, setting a goal and achieving it or finally paying off your mortgage.

I, like many people don't indulge too often in pleasures that require planning and effort. I instead take my pleasures like instant coffee. Half (or less) of the fun but less hassle and less work.

I gained my 4th Krav Maga grading recently. It took a total of 7 hours of gruelling, hard, meticulous testing by both ruthless Israeli examiners and my own club's instructors, who while less poker faced, were no less demanding.

The pleasure is one that will live for a long time with me. It was a pleasure hard fought for and hard won. I had achieved something special. I felt proud.

Two months ago I had spectacular sex for about 12 days with a super special friend of mine. Far from being an actual girlfriend, she is someone that I do however have an emotional attachment with. The pleasure was sublime. We know and understand one another and can communicate emotionally as well as physically.

Pleasure achieved through actual human contact and forming a proper relationship.

Those are proper, real, treasurable pleasures.

Despicable pleasures are what we lapse into when we just cannot be arsed.

My despicable pleasures include: Facebook; wanking; chocolate; Candy Crush Saga;  TV shows; surfing the Net for hours looking at mind numbing garbage and trivial rubbish; most recently Candy Crush SODA Saga...and not least of all going over and over in my head about events from the past, either good or bad.

The despicable pleasures are the ones we fall back onto because we are lazy. We don't try to achieve the awesome pleasures. We just revel in those that are so easy to attain that we don't even have to try hard. To actually work for something and then run the risk of failing can tax the mind and body. The stress, adrenalin and fear of failure can tax you.

I have back pain and stiffness in my body. My core stability** is shit and recently I took up Yoga. This is a pure pleasure, albeit one that takes time to show any reward. After a month I can finally feel the difference and that my abdominal muscles are forming a wall to enable me to get up off the TV bean bag without groaning and grabbing at the table for leverage.

Despicable pleasures are ones that come on tap.

Ultimately they are 10% or less as rewarding as pure pleasures.

But they are so, so easy to get.


** Stomach muscles. Take the weight off your spine, if like me you like to lounge around a lot, you need a decent core. Nothing to do with making a half eaten apple stand up straight.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Being Hard

At the schools I attended as a child there was a sliding scale of being "hard".

That tiresome machismo that boys adopt after a certain age, became apparent to me when I was about 9. At my first Primary school there was no real posing or acting like a caricature of your favourite superhero. You simply did your thing and had your friends and just got on with it. We had our "top dogs" but they held that position through popularity amongst their peers. There was no need to pretend, as our playtimes were full of "pretend" anyway. Grease, Saturday Night Fever and the irritating TV show Happy Days were stupendously popular when I was a kid. One lunchtime the two most popular boys in my form, Ryan Perry and Jason Fitzmaurice** got the rest of us together and gave themselves and us nicknames before we "got on our scrambling motorbikes". Jason was the name giver and pointed to himself and went "Fonze" then to Ryan and went "Grease". These were the top names you could possibly have in an era of Richie Cunningham and Greased Lightning***. Ryan acknowledged the given name with a smile and a nod, and Jason then named the rest of us.

I got to be "Spud".

Seriously, Spud?!!

We then pretended to be holding handlebars and ran up and down the playground making motorbike noises. This incident was notable for two reasons. One, it was the  only time I ever remember seeing all the boys in my class play a game together without teachers organising it. Two, I left as I thought it was boring and a few minutes later tried to come back but was told I couldn't. The club was closed to Spud now he'd resigned.

When I got to what was then called class M1 (fuck knows what it is now. That stood for Middle 1, so I was 8 going on 9) I noticed that the 11 year olds were acting different to how we'd acted for so long. Now we were in the M section of school we got to use a different playground. One for older kids who got to wear their own clothes instead of uniform (if they wanted to, although the Headmistress was against it). A certain cockiness, surliness and adoption of superfluous gestures was take up by them. Something that I picked up on very quickly was that the older kids didn't smile a lot. They were, it transpired, trying to look cool or "hard".

A catch phrase of the time was to say "Who let you out?" if someone did something stupid or you just wanted to curtail an argument by putting them down. I once said this to a kid in my class who was friends with a surly, older boy who snapped back "I did, because he didn't belong in there."

Again, my over analytical brain was thinking that the original line about being "let out" was only an insult and not meant to be taken literally. That follow up didn't make sense.

Basically, being older meant you had to be, or at least pretend to be "hard."

At Secondary school the regime was entrenched. Boys had to either be able to fight or put on a persona of "hardness" in order to avoid getting picked on or bullied. If you came across as "hard" then you could call everyone's bluff until one of the genuinely hard kids offered you out.

A revolting little creep in the remedial class of my year was named John Sears. He looked like a cross between Blaster out of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Beaker out the Muppets Show. He was constantly mouthing off about "no one's got the guts to do the things I do" and trying to start fights with kids up to about 4 years younger than himself. I wasn't a fighter at school but fondly recall the time he started something and I dragged him to the floor. A teacher broke it up and got us to face each other while he asked me exactly what John had done ****. John was glaring at me and silently mouthing threats so I went:

"Well Sir, first of all he did this!"...and punched John in the face.

As Sears stood there in mute shock I then added "And then he did this!" and booted him in the shin.

As John lunged for me the teacher restrained him and in his own deluded way said "No John! Lance is only showing me."

Sears wasn't "hard" and neither was I. A lot of kids weren't hard or "hard" either. However they were better at pretending than I was. One sack of dogshit called David Hall was always picking on weaker kids, while simultaneously pissing himself with fear if a bigger lad came near him. He once kept offering me outside at lunchtime while digging me with his fist and saying in mock surprise "What's wrong? You're hard aren't you?" as I attempted to ignore his goading.

A septic little cunt in my class called Simon Taylor would get bullied and teased by those higher up the scale of hardness...and then come and take it out on me, even though I hadn't done anything to him. Reason? He needed to look "hard" when he wasn't and pounding my face with his fists would, in his diseased mind, get him kudos with the clan of cretins he wished to be accepted by.

So...ingrained in me and a lot of little boys as they grew up was that you had to be hard or, failing that, pretend your arse off in order to look like it.

Boys don't cry (a friend of my father once said how great it was when I pointed out that I hadn't cried in over a year), boys don't show too much emotion, boys can fight, boys like football, etc, etc.

Boys had to put on a facade of utter hardness and invulnerability to emotions that only puffs, fairies and girls revelled in.

Realising this wasn't in itself a revelation. What is eye opening however is just how much I carried this attitude with me into my adult life

The swagger when I walk. The poker face when I enter a crowded pub. The cold face when I'm stuck in traffic (countered by the "rage face" when I feel like having a go).

Despite my fondness of animals and children that I don't attempt to hide I, like many men, believe I have to look "hard" even now. Old habits die hard, especially when they are so ingrained in us that we don't even know we're doing them. All that swagger and false bravado was nothing more than an attempt to put on a face that I fundamentally thought I had to.

Recently I've been told that the best way to defuse aggression is to avoid it. So, if you can walk away from a fight, then do it. If you are in a road rage incident then drive away or just don't lose your cool in the first place. About 6 months ago a rude Scottish guy chased me up the street in his 4x4 because I'd stuck my finger up at him in traffic. I looked in the rearview mirror to find him gesturing furiously for me to pull over and get out. So I did.

Not to be "hard" but because I was genuinely pissed off and angry. This burst his bubble and he simply sat in his car moaning about my lack of road etiquette but making no attempt to get out and confront he'd been telling me he wanted to do.

He felt he had to look "hard"...along with millions of other guys.

The breakthrough in self perception has basically made me see that I don't have to hide my emotions or try and be tougher than I really am.

If you're a man, just think of the times when you've cried and felt ashamed for doing it. The only acceptable occasions for a blub are a close relative's funeral; at your children's birth or when watching footage of old men attending Armistice day on television. Society sets rules on just how much emotion we can feel as men, and tells us we have to fake as much as we're lacking.

To pretend is relatively easy. To be yourself is what's truly "hard".


** We didn't hang out with girls unless forced to...girls were smelly and stupid and into sissy things like skipping.

*** Which made us giggle as it had the words "shit" and "tit" in it...and was played on the radio a lot. The line "all the chicks 'll cream" didn't make sense until the advent of puberty.

**** Back then, no bullying, just "fighting" as the teachers were lazy bastards who just blamed both parties for the sake of an easy life.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Send Yourself To Prison

Throughout the early part of my life (from about the age of 4 to about the age of 25) I was constantly told that everything was my fault. Well, the negative things that is. Anything positive was a gift. From people way more generous and less selfish than me who had, in their utter awesomeness, decided to bestow something "nice" upon me.

I was also told that I greatly deserved misery, hardship and servitude. To be fair these three didn't emerge until I was about 11 or 12 and Secondary school beckoned like a toothless old crone selling lucky heather at a Gypsy fair.

The bottom line was that I was given shitty agreements and mental patterns that ingrained within me beliefs a-plenty that I was basically worthless, lazy, unfeeling, insensitive etc, etc.

The basic problem was that my mother came from a rich family, went to a private, all girls school and owned her own pony...BUT was forced by my grandfather when she was 16, to leave school without taking her O levels and get a job. A job that she considered to be beneath her social status (and still does). When she got married 9 years later and had me and my brother, she didn't say "I'll make certain that my kids never know that kind of misery!" Instead she was determined that while she would generously spend her hard earned money on us, and send us to University unlike her own father for her...she would make us feel guilty for every penny spent on educating us beyond the age of 16 and to boot, wanted us to work in jobs we hated, for shitty money, with shitty people, shitty hours and feeling generally shitty. Those in the gutter do not wish to ascend to the stars but instead to bring others down to the gutter to join them. In her mind, we had to know her pain so we could then empathise with the sheer misery of having to go "below stairs" and mingle with riff raff.

As a teenager I grew up believing on a very deep, totally sub conscious level, that I was unworthy of my own mother's love unless I trod the same path as she did. From my paper round at 13, to shelf stacking in Budgen's supermarket at 16, to temping after I left Uni at jobs were badly paid and I worked for bad people, receiving bad pay and being mistreated by the people I worked with or for (including being held down and having my hair cut by two bouncers at a pub I worked in at age 19).

My mother's attitude was "I had to do it so why shouldn't you?!!!

Further...whenever someone had a go at me, punched me, kicked me, spat on me or verbally abused me it was ALWAYS my fault. I'd come home to complain about being attacked again and be met with lines such as:

"It's never your fault is it?""
"Ooh, the way you look at people sometimes!!!"
"I'm not surprised people hit you if you pull that face!!!"

etc, etc.

So time moved on and I had these deeply ingrained beliefs that I was only worthy of lousy jobs and that I was personally to blame for every fist or insult that came my way.

My mother also had some truly revolting friends and was also a teacher. Therefore, her friends were perfect and any disagreements between me and her friends was obviously my fault. One loathsome cow that she worked with was a big fat, ginger haired woman who specialised in wearing tight, black leather trousers and had two opinionated, foul little bitches as daughters. One was an arrogant snob, the other a slut. The snob didn't like me and I was told by my mother that this was my fault and that I should be nicer to the little cunt so she'd "like" me more.

Sad thing is that I was so indoctrinated into believing this type of thing that I tried to make this waste of flesh actually like me, believing fundamentally that it was my fault she had been forced to find me unpalatable.

So I walked through life believing jobs HAD to be impossible to enjoy (to fulfil my obligations as a dutiful son), that I was by default an unlikeable little turd, and that my demeanour alone was enough to excuse people attacking (culminating at age 24 with a woman I worked with and was also a flat mate, throwing hot coffee in my face at work. I accepted the smirking assessment of people who hadn't even see the incident, that I had almost certainly provoked the fat cunt beyond endurance with my annoying habits) 

Then in 2010 I fell in love...again. Thought it was real, imagined that I'd found my "one and only" and that she felt the same for me. Then in 2012 she dumped me via a Skype call, after having flown back to Europe on a flight that I'd paid for, citing things I'd done over a year previously (that had been discussed and resolved and hadn't reoccurred) as justification for breaking up. When I pointed out that she was being dishonest she said, "OK, to be fair you didn't make the same mistakes twice" but it was clear that she was feeling slimy for trying to exaggerate past grievances to back up what she was doing and didn't want to feel any more guilty about taking my money and dumping me, than she absolutely had to. She ceased all contact with me just after I agreed that she didn't have to pay me any of the money back.

When I met her I was finally convinced that the previous life had been swept away and my struggles vindicated by my perseverance and refusal to fall off the path of "hope." I had found the girl of my dreams and she accepted me for who I was. Yes, the road had been rocky but now I had a significant other who accepted me as I was and had changed me into a better, gentler man. I once posted on this very blog the words, "I love you Mich, you have made a very cynical man realise that life can be the way I want it to be if I just wait long enough."

In January 2012 I got a job as a postman. Being a postie in an English winter sucks big time. While the job has perks (reasonable pay, decent pension, strong union, good sickness package, health care, free boots, subsidised bicycles, free entrance to English Heritage sites etc). it also has a lot of bad aspects. The depot I work in looks like something out of the Bronx, the equipment is shabby and the vans look like the Slag Brothers' Bouldermobile from Wacky Races.

The job is basically tiring (sometimes to the point of exhaustion), unrewarding and monotonous. I go out in the rain, the snow and the wind. It can be minus 2 degrees and unless the road's are dangerously icy, we still have to deliver. I argue with aggressive chavs, self righteous old ladies and stuck up homeowners. I get snarled at or chased by dogs and soaked to the skin.

End of the day though...for the nearly 3 years I've been doing this. It's been my choice and my choice alone to stay where I am. Absolutely no one has forced me.

I originally intended to take the job for about 3 months until I had enough cash for me and Michelle to get back together in either Italy or the UK. Once she left me and my self belief imploded, I basically threw up my hands and went:

"Fuck it! I'll stick this job, what the fuck else am I gonna do?!!"

This was a reaction to the pain, desolation and misery that I felt at having lost not only the supposed love of my life but also any sense of self esteem that I'd so carefully and tenderly nurtured over the years.

Stuck in a rut was good at the time. It meant I didn't have to think too much. Nothing will distract from self pity more than being a postman in February in England**

This was a self imposed prison sentence. A sanction I gave myself for having failed and for not being able at age 40 to achieve what I wanted. Worst of all I believed most of the bullshit that Michelle span me about my failings as a boyfriend. Harking back to the days of my childhood and teenage years, I fundamentally believed that she was a sweet natured, generous soul who had shacked up with a guy who was immature, drank too much and had been carried by her for most of the relationship. Love is not only blind, it rewrites history. It was a long time later before I remembered that she mentioned having an imaginary friend, that she once lay on the floor screaming and crying because I wouldn't give her an Oreo cookie (solely because when we'd bought them she'd whispered "If I ask you for one don't let me have it, I'm on a diet!" and that she'd never worked the entire time we were in Mexico. All the money came from me.

So now, this self imposed sentence of 3 years is over. My mind clears and I'm left with the realisation that I could have walked away at any time. Being cold, miserable and getting paid for it feels better than being cold and miserable but on benefits.

I want and I deserve only the very best.

Yeah, I like that more.


*** Apart from possibly being a postie in winter in Scotland.