connection speeds

For the past three years, approaching Christmas Day I’ve done a job at a children’s hospice. They arrange for an excellent Father Christmas to visit the place in an exciting way through some local emergency services and I take pictures of it.

This year the whole thing was marked by the absence of a huge character. In previous years this kid, aged 9 or 10, had been the biggest character by far. He was the boss kid, organised everyone into place, set the agenda, demanded people sing Christmas carols louder – although he was always the loudest. He was the first to run over and leap into Santa’s arms, improbably confident for any kid, endlessly energetic, he just did not stop.

A few weeks ago this kid died. Before Santa arrived I was chatting with a couple of staff and one of them mentioned it. Oh, HIM?!? Really? No…

My brain struggled to process the information. There are all sorts of children at the hospice. They span across boundaries of social class, race, nationality. These horrific life-limiting conditions can happen to anyone. We are all at their mercy. A number of the kids look sick, wheelchair-bound, disfigured in some kind of way, as if they are suffering. This kid did not. This kid did not look sick in any way. Part of you wondered if he was an imposter, a fraud. He was clearly fine! Look at the chopsy git!

Light Googling revealed local news articles saying the kid had an extremely obscure medical condition of the type only a handful of people suffer in the world. His parents had a number of his organs donated when he died. How must that itself affect you? Knowing your dearly beloved kid is being sliced up for his organs?  Perhaps the knowledge that parts of him are living on, helping other people live on, perhaps that outweighs it. It must.

Here was a kid infused with a life-force and energy so vivid and animated and in-your-face loud. In certain moods it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to find him an annoying little gobshite. Then you found out he died. It affected me more than I might have expected, because I dumbly hadn’t expected it. But if you keep going back to a children’s hospice for a few years running you are likely to encounter sad stuff.

But still… not him. Not THAT kid.

It hit hard because of where I am at personally right now, how we are thinking about babies a lot, attempting to conceive. You don’t know where this path might lead you. Awful stuff like this can happen to anyone. Much is down to dumb luck.

It can fundamentally change your life more than having healthy kids. The practicalities of the day-to-day might be wildly complex and cumbersome. You can be caring for them for much longer, until they are adults and you are nearly dead. It might feel like they have stolen your life and you resent them for it – as explored in Graham Swift’s 1996 novel and its film adaptation Last Orders. As with stupid random death, there’s no reason or rational explanation for any of it, which can be the most difficult thing to fathom. That lingering unanswerable question: why us?

Over the following hours and days my brain kept circling back to this kid. I shared some not especially good pictures of the kid to a memorial page I found on Facebook. It felt like an obvious thing to do.


Last night, Christmas Eve Eve, we went to a drinks and nibbles evening at the house of some friends on the other side of town. It was an unusual thing for us to socialise like this. We don’t have many friends as a couple or go out that much generally. I can’t remember the last party or social gathering I or we went to at somebody’s home.

The evening was pleasant and the people were nice. It was fun chatting to the really young kids and the not so young kids. On leaving in the middle of the evening to get back to the dog, an elderly lady called out to us from next door. She was leaving after posting Christmas cards, feeling a little wobbly. I held her hand and walked her back to her front door, a few houses away, listening to her talk. In such situations you are always unsure how weird or strange it might get. Had this been orchestrated a little more than it seemed? Had this lonely old lady been waiting on the doorstep for someone to leave the party next door? Might she invite us in? (The week’s new mini-series of The League of Gentlemen was fresh in my mind). But it didn’t get weird at all. It was fine.

Such stuff gives me a gratifying sense of connectedness, which I suffer a marked deficit in. I work largely alone, don’t have many hobbies or socialise with anyone. I chat with dog walkers and plenty of them are quite odd. Now and then I feel this is something I should get up off my arse, be brave and address somehow. Yet I shy from it because people often irritate me, or so I tell myself. And because I don’t know quite what to do. A book club?  Football? Evening classes? Nothing really appeals.

People my age tend to have their social circle expanded through children, other parents. As of now, we have none. You see documentaries and news stories about old people who say the secret of their longevity is as much social interaction and keeping the neurons sparking, as it is exercise or diet. Basic human connectedness is important, but today it is worryingly easy to relegate, ignore, forget.

caravan of love (and loathing)

We sit in a large and improbably well-furnished caravan, all my family.  It’s an early August Sunday in grey squally windy west Wales.

The caravan has been leased by the parents of my sister in law, my brother’s wife. It has all modern appliances: an electric fire, fully appointed kitchen, dining space, nice pictures and tasteful furnishings. While peeing I see there are two pretty coastal canvases in the main bathroom (there was another en-suite) and it strikes me that we have still yet to find a picture for our bedroom in the house we moved into over a year ago.

Our family hasn’t met up for some months and seeing my brother’s kids, 10 and 7, is a thrill. A first exploratory stroll on the beach with just my niece and our dog is a joy. Unbridled delight peels through both their faces as we run about like lunatics on the deserted sand.

But this is not the classic summertime weather my mum has hankered for, having somehow never visited a beach with her grandchildren until now.  Mum and Dad arrive around lunchtime and come to meet us on the beach with my brother’s wife. It feels cinematic, watching their distant outlines slowly become more recognisable. We walk to a café overlooking a stretch of beach where Dad is embarrassingly rude to a young barista who gets our order slightly wrong. My brother and his family take great delight in mocking Mum’s old phone. We head back to the caravan for lunch.

Now it’s approaching the end of the afternoon, the time my wife and I were thinking of leaving anyway. We all sit in the caravan, drinking warming hot drinks after a bracing post-lunch walk and play on the blustery, sand-whipped beach. Sand is still stuck to my scalp and hair, despite me not having much hair.

This is when it begins and my sap starts to rise.

My brother has this regular shtick of proclaiming himself and his family poor. His perspective is wildly skewed by his Oxbridge peers, the social elites with whom he works and one friend specifically. Dave (his real name because fuck it) is a hot shot millionaire investment banker. I didn’t get a favourable impression of Dave around fifteen years ago at my brother’s Stag Do. Oafish, overconfident, loud, said an uncomplimentary thing about my Dad I felt he was wholly not entitled to say. The impression has stuck with me.

My brother doesn’t see much of his children during the working week, and I sympathise. But it’s a decision he makes about living in Oxford and working long hours in London, it’s a compromise that comes of earning a strong salary which I suspect is no lower than £65,000. His wife is a university tutor, researcher and academic. Despite being on an unreliable rolling contract of sorts, I would guestimate she earns around £30,000 minimum. They live in Oxford, they are healthy, they have good jobs, beautiful healthy children, a high quality of life.

But compared to Dave apparently they are poor. Therefore they are sitting in a lovely static caravan donated by the in-laws for their holidays moaning about their poverty and how to fund the university education of their children. They supposedly do not have much extra disposable income. You might suggest because of their standard of living. Regular private music lessons, theatre trips and visits to amusement parks. (Or is that what you just have to do when you have kids that age? I don’t know).

In response to my brother’s introduction of university expense, Dad suggests starting up an entirely dedicated account, a fund for their higher education. Our parents seem to have lots of money, partly due to hitting the generation sweet spot. They were never spectacularly successful in their careers – although Dad still works and has for a number of years earned a respectable solid annual income while doing essentially part time hours as a tax consultant. They have always been prudent, made investments, and have a lovely house. They go on holiday frequently, and recently bought an expensive long haul package to Central America. I often feel like, if I had less inexplicable pride and hang-ups about asking for help, they could donate more cash to help me develop my own small business.

Across the caravan from me sits my wife, firmly ensconced in a game she is playing with my niece and nephew, unhearing of the wider conversation. We had discussed this on the way here, how my brother wheels out the poverty line, how it pisses us off, how she might say something if he presses it. I raised an eyebrow when she said that, unconvinced she actually would given how she is so averse to confrontation. Now it’s unclear if she’s taking the conversation in. She later says she wasn’t, she heard nothing, was too involved in the game.

Meanwhile I sit there and stew. Poor? He is really poor, is he? Is he fuck! Fuck. Off. What if he could experience my schizophrenically jittery bank balance, cluelessness about the future, pathetic self-doubt and crippling worry that we will never be able to afford children? He probably wouldn’t give a shit. He would most likely cackle and trivialise it, as he generally does my entire existence, smug posh personified.

My wife and I have recently begun speaking seriously of kids, if we can do it, financially, physically, mentally. It’s fast approaching now or never time and we are getting increasingly regular yearnings, feelings that we want that relationship with a small person. Selfishly, I want to be outlived by someone who cares about me and my output as a human. (Is that a legitimate feeling or extremely self-indulgent?) We feel maybe my family has written us off, given up on us. ‘They don’t want any now. It’s over for them’.

But we have lately discussed whether my ever rickety, insecure work situation might be a good thing. We could save on childcare costs, if my wife can retain her job post-maternity – although many women can’t and don’t and are royally screwed over.  There are so many overwhelmingly unknowable ifs and buts.

I feel my face getting hotter and redder and crosser as my parents discuss the financial options for funding their grandchildren’s education, as my brother continues to claim he is poor. Hitting the food banks anytime soon then, brother?  And I start packing up some bags. We leave with me Britishly repressing a swarm of waspish emotions.

in sickness and in health

The last couple of weeks have been strange and difficult. Middle of the night ultra-anxiety; big, unattractive belly-shaking tears of fear and panic; excessive contemplation of death: all that. And not my own death either. Her death.

She developed this horrible skin condition which is apparently quite common but I’d never heard of. Hives or urticaria. She had it chronically bad: red marks, weels and inflammation from the scalp of her head, up her neck, across her face, all the way across her body to the balls of her feet. It was horrific. Something was eating or at least mutating my wife.

She woke up in the middle of the night crying at the pain and discomfort. Utterly fucking terrified, I applied a cold towel compress and vacated the room, eliminating my own body heat from her irritation. I walked down the hall to the sofa where I sat, read everything I could find on the internet about this thing and cried myself to sleep.

Over the course of two weeks and fluctuating levels of distress and discomfort, we went back and forth to see GPs, and dermatologists at the hospital. I spent several consecutive nights on the sofa, battling manfully against a snotty cold, suffering massive worry, catastrophising hugely, drafting her funeral eulogy in my head, wondering what my life would be like after she died. I pictured myself walking a dog and that being enough. It wasn’t just in the middle of the night when I wondered about her dying. I thought about it all the time, this constant sinister ticking: butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies?

I didn’t want to lose her. It took me a largely miserable decade of being a loner to find her. We are not long married and planning a future, thinking about buying a house, getting a mortgage, maybe even (finally) a dog, and possibly reproducing if we can.

Did she have fundamentally flaky genes, having lost her mother in middle age? Will she ultimately not make it past a similar stage before something strikes her down? Will health deny us the chance to grow old together, to become old people? I always wanted to become a properly old person. Nobody has that guarantee, I know – health and chance and anything at all can shit over your life for no good reason; but all the same I really hope we get old together.

At its worst, walking down the street and seeing old people would make me mildly upset. As would seeing babies and gleeful children. Would we be able to have them? Really? Would we ever be parents or would there be further medical complications?

She has complicated thyroid issues and Grave’s disease (not exactly a promising sort of name, even for a disease). This means she’s predisposed to the whole range of auto-immune disorders. You don’t want to go Googling that stuff. With urticaria, there’s a general dearth of medical knowledge and research. Also it’s idiopathic, so you might easily never know the cause of your outbreak, whatever you try and however you eliminate things from your diet or routine. (We’ve tried a lot). There are informed sounding medical blogs and self-published books by American sufferers, but little more.

Over the last day or two, since the last hospital visit, it has mercifully eased and we are back sleeping together. But the fear will probably never go. Take nothing for granted, try to enjoy every tiny nice moment. You never know, it might all be fine.

close to touch

He caught a glimpse of her as she exited the sauna and he entered the steam room.  Worth a second look as she moved towards a shower.

Mediterranean skin, hypnotic curves, exotic, as if she belonged on a desert island, like she just stepped out of Bounty advertisement.


He continued his entrance and began his habitual stretches, lying alone on the bench amongst the steam.  He alternated in raising each leg, stretching tight hamstrings, breathing deeply.   As ever, they felt that strained mix of good and bad.

She entered the room a couple of minutes later, or rather that barely clad bottom did, right at his eye-level.  Perhaps she smiled down at him from above, perhaps he imagined it.  Hard to tell.  She sat down opposite and he continued, now arcing his back against the hard surface, slowly squeezing out clicks of his erratic vertebrae.  He could feel her dark eyes on him.

He still admired a great many women, all their variety, and doubted that would ever really stop.  Occasionally he dreamed about cheating on his girlfriend, despite being as sure as he thought it possible to be that she was it.  There was no consistent other object of his affections or anything.  Surely most males still admire other females after finding a strong mate?  Isn’t it a sort of primal thing, how we’re programmed?  And dreams are just mind fluff anyway, not premonitions.

This is what he told himself.

Sometimes he wondered if his wanting it so badly in his 20s was the reason for his almost constant failure.  His eye usually seemed keener than his friends, his appreciation greater, his hunger more desperate.

A man entered the steam room and joined them, breaking an unspoken spell that was maybe produced only in his mind.  An overweight, hairy Asian man he had seen in here before.  His really attractive partner was surely thanks to an arranged marriage.  He felt bad for thinking it but thought it nonetheless.

“How is the takeaway?” exotic Bounty woman asked the Asian man.  She had a Spanish or Italian accent which did nothing to dim her overall effect.

An exchange ensued in which it was discovered that she had mistaken him for someone else, had assumed he was the brother of someone.  It was faintly embarrassing but amicable.

Stretches completed, he sat upright and admired her anew.  An exotic looking shell necklace, deep and natural tan, perfect abdominal muscles, slightly receeding hairline – but he was barely one to talk, cute face.  She stood up.

Above his right shoulder was a small metal nodule protruding from the wall.  When covered, more steam was emitted into the room.  He covered it occasionally himself, never sure of the mechanics.  She stepped across the small space towards him and held something over the nodule.   In doing so, her right breast and considerable steamy cleavage presented itself an inch or two away from his eyes.  Her wet exotic Bounty advert body remained close to his.  She stayed standing there for a minute, more.  He had to close his eyes she was so close.  That seemed the only thing to do.  He wasn’t going to move.  He was going to appear unruffled, and continue to breathe deeply.  It was her who was presenting her incredible body in his face.  Surely she could have arranged herself differently, shown him a shoulder instead of a breast.  He could smell her skin, its natural tanned oiliness.  She breathed deeply, he breathed deeply, they breathed deeply together.  He wasn’t sure how deeply the Asian man was breathing across the room, but he wished he wasn’t there.

He wondered if he would have the courage or cowardice or whatever was required to cheat on his girlfriend.  He’d never cheated on anyone before and liked to think he couldn’t; that it wasn’t something within him to do.  There were more than a few examples of his arguably over-moralistic approach when single.  But can anybody really know until they’re in the moment presented with an opportunity, a purely irresistible difference, something previously imagined unobtainable?

Still she stood there.  Was she deliberately teasing him with this display, this proximity of posturing?  He was proud of his control, that he wasn’t getting physically excited.  He was definitely an adult now.  This was proof.  Eyes closed, breathe.  Eyes open.  Still there.  That scent, body, breasts, necklace, skimpy swimming costume.  Eyes closed.  Her natural perfume eventually faded and the next time he opened them she was sitting opposite him again, two yards away and gone forever.

He decided to stand and inspect the pool through the steamed-up door.  Not so many people there now.  He placed one foot at a time onto the bench and stretched hamstrings for the final time, his bottom now at her eye level.   The overweight, hairy man’s attractive partner entered the room as he exited, heading for the cold shower.

related to death

My experience of death remains mercifully slight up to now, the most profound being the death of a dog with whom I had grown up from the age of 6 weeks to 12 years.

My girlfriend’s experience of death is rather more profound. She had lost both her mother and her father before she was 29. They died a handful of years apart, her mother a few before her father, both after long illnesses.

A year ago the boyfriend of a good friend of hers died in a slightly mysterious car crash, aged 24. They were friends too, she says, outside of her girl friend. How close were they really? I’ll never know, but I would wager with some confidence that they weren’t that close. Perhaps they all went out and got drunk together a bunch of times, likely no more than a small bunch. And she visited the couple’s home from time to time.

Nonetheless, yesterday, on the anniversary of his death, she felt compelled to take the day off work and visit him at a crematorium with her friend. Not his former girlfriend – she didn’t want to go – but with another mutual friend.

My fear is that she involuntarily romanticises death, feels a duty towards death itself. She can be a whispy, drifty, daydreamy character: easily distracted, struggles to focus and self-discipline. This sort of thing doesn’t help.

Of course the first anniversary of a friend’s death deserves pause for thought, remembrance. But this week she confessed to being more distant because she is thinking about this guy, her memories of him and also the memories of her grief and shock, the drama associated with learning about his death. It was awful, yes.  But to ponder it to this extent seems to me theatrical, dramatised, romanticised, indulgent, difficult.

Why? I struggle to empathise, am left bewildered, confused, frustrated.

Why not concentrate instead on the living, on life?  Don’t get drawn off into this ethereal hinterland. Maybe instigate an interaction with me from time to time, instead of letting me do it all the time.

For various reasons we’ve been almost a week apart now – which is some time for us.  And we’re not great at communicating over distance.

The other night I dreamt about cheating on her – which felt great and good at the time (possibly because the fictional other girl was blonde and more attractive and seemed to *get* me more instinctively and naturally; and because I am a bad, shallow individual).  It felt good despite a concurrent fear and guilt; then I dreamt about confessing to her and it was emotional and terrible. When I woke i felt disgusted and sad.

Apart, I feel we always drift a little, which scares me.  Although she doesn’t feel it and says I overanalyse.  Perhaps we should both prioritise moving on together, finding that equidistant place halfway along the motorway between us.

not pulling

Between the largely repressed ages of 18 to 30 I now realise that I did not believe girls really danced on public dancefloors with their girl friends for fun.  Fun?! Really?  Yeah, right.  Who would put themselves through that ordeal for fun, with no ulterior motive?  Dancing, blinding lights, sticky dancefloors, gurning DJ wankers, mostly shit, deafening music, having to shout exhaustingly loudly to have conversations.

No way.  Women were there for men.  To pull men.  Probably.  Not for me, of course, not ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

In the unlikely case this wasn’t true, then they probably either had a boyfriend and were playing wing-woman for their single friend, or they had a big crush on someone else to whom their naïve heart was utterly devoted.  Or, and I often thought this was the most reasonable explanation; they had been placed there by God with the sole purpose of taunting my pallid undersexed miserable self.

But my girlfriend apparently did not go out with her girl friends to pull men.  Apparently not even when she was 18, with 18-year old boobs not requiring support, tanned, trim, single and on holiday with mates in Ibiza.  She went out to have a good time and a dance with her friends.  She was dumbly oblivious and uncaring about the hungry gaze of desperate men (like me).  This happened throughout her early 20s.  Finding men was simply not a priority.

It’s a truth I’m embarrassed to find hard to comprehend.  I now realise I did not sincerely believe in such a mentality.

She even balked accusingly at me when I casually used the word the other week, as if pulling was a crass, distasteful notion.  I did not think she was this posh.

(She is not this posh).

the hard stuff

This place has been neglected a little of late because.  I’ve been trying to build and developing an online presence for new business services, blending with my existing business services of the last four years.  It’s hard.

At 32 I am still massively uncertain about pretty much everything in a general life sense, where my efforts will take me, if they will take me anywhere at all other than back home to my Mum and Dad.  While I’m trying to be as aggressive and productive and proactive as possible without seeming like a needy prick, I’m also considering spectacular failure and what my options are in that case.

Although I don’t feel especially employable, I wonder about trying again with London.  A big city where there are more and better opportunities for regular jobs; where I might be able to compromise less than if I were to re-enter a regular workplace in these parts.  Most decent looking jobs in the provinces have a ridiculous number of over-qualified applicants and I rarely get a look in – and I imagine nepotism and internal favouritism may occasionally be instrumental.

My girlfriend is trying to hire an assistant on a low, entry-level 13 or 14k salary.  She’s getting applicants with Masters degrees and Doctorates.  But she doesn’t like the idea of London.

She is melting down regularly under pressures of her work and home-life, which is in turn having an effect on me.  I had to manage a number of extremely distressed and distressing telephone calls from her yesterday. Things are hard.  She has lots of ‘stuff’.  I have some stuff, but none of it on paper looks as serious and weighty as her stuff.  I try to be super patient, understanding and attentive and she is grateful; but at the weekend I couldn’t help a little childish, resentful “what about me and my stuff?” sulk.  We did recover from it soon enough.

It feels from various sources like right now is quite a fever-pitch time for general anxiety and nervousness, money worries and instability.  Broadly and anecdotally speaking, depression seems rife, suicide and suicidal thoughts aren’t uncommon.  In fact I can barely remember sensing worse than at any time since the recession started.  I wonder if the older and more comfortable groups of people just consider our generation over-angsting, oversensitive or going through something all generations go through.  But it feels like more than that.

In an email exchange, a civil servant friend proffered:

“maybe our generation will implode slightly from raised expectations / less money / fewer jobs / working until we’re 75?”

Maybe he has a point.  He also suggested middle of the road boringness is the way forward.  The jammy bastard could have a case there too.

Still.  Smile eh?  Chin up.  Post an inspirational quote on Twitter or something.  Everything will be fine.

counter culture

This blog contains much long-winded and possibly even tedious moaning about the heavy chains of obligation; usually in terms of having to earn money by doing boring things or working for idiots. A conversation this week provided a powerful dose of perspective.


“Are all pubs like the pub in Eastenders?” She asked.

“In the whole of Britain you mean? Erm.. no.”

“Do you have to have an alcoholic drink in them?”

“No, they do soft drinks. Coke, lemonade.”

“Do they?”

“Yep, even hot drinks if you want, most of them. Tea or coffee.”

“Really?! Wow. I’ve never been in one.”

She was 23, Islamic, had lived in the UK all her life; pretty, bright and alert yet nervously dizzy.  Also heartbreakingly repressed.

She swiped through the photographs on my tablet device, was surprised and complimentary about my work, then truly amazed by the beautifully artistic Vatican Museum ceilings in Rome.

“Are churches here like that?”

“Er, no. That’s quite special.”

Like her two younger sisters, she was answerable a 15 year old brother. ‘Where have you been? What have you been doing? Who with?’ This is because her father and mother did it and always had – a father and mother who had apparently never extended any physical affection, a hug or a kiss.  Girls have it considerably worse: the duty and obligation to serve.

She had never travelled; holidays were such stress, they nearly went to places but it never happened. Cinema was banned, although her and her sisters disobeyed on this one, taking occasional trips, most recently to see The Hobbit, which bored her.

Earlier that week she received around 20 photographs of potential husbands, sent by her auntie.  The next day she had taken them into university and individually shredded each one.  As well as working in a supermarket, she studied for full degrees and dropped out to prolong her education: from English Literature to medical sciences.  She’d done so once or twice anyway, and she wasn’t getting along with the course.  Now at 23 she was getting old, marriage couldn’t be put off for much longer, especially as the eldest of 4 children.  Being educated had value not for getting a job or building a career – things not available to her, but to boost her profile as a bride.  An educated woman is more likely to be matched with a good man.

She didn’t have friends of the same religion and never had, even before moving across the country from Kent.  “But it’s not the religion,” she was clear to point out.  “It’s the culture.”  She had a degree of faith and considered that not everything in her religion was necessarily correct, but it’s the culture it breeds which is wrong, the levels of honour and pride.  Not the religion itself.  Mine wasn’t to question the hand of religion in creating the culture, whether those levels of honour and pride were the produce of fear.

It felt to me as if she didn’t speak this fluently or freely very often.  There was an air of the illicit about it, which I sense she enjoyed.  We’d known each other for over a year but had never spoken one-to-one in such depth.

What always struck me about her was her calm acceptance of everything.  That, in spite knowing these opportunities, this other world she was an active part of, there was no burning hunger.  There was no resentment or anger because, she said, she had never known different.  Those were things she simply could not have; that would be the way of her life; and that was that.

Such acceptance, borderline docility reminded me of the novel and later film, Never Let Me Go, and its dreamy, stifled world originally conjured by Kazuo Ishiguro.  In this place humans are bred with the primary purpose of donating their major organs aged 25 – 30.  They are told this as young children and never question that this is the way it must be.  They have relative freedom and readers and viewers wonder why they don’t simply run away, why they accept it.  They just do.

For her though, the threat of punishment for any dissent might have been greater and provide adequate disincentive.  So it is never questioned to argue, rebel, run away. The result of that it seems could never be good.  As well as ruining her younger sister’s lives and their prospects of good marriage, the stain on her family’s honour would mean she would always be looking over her shoulder, fearful of being found and having acid thrown in her face.

Today, 2013, a modern UK city. This happens.  You wonder about how such intense cultures can affect mental health.  There was a national news story just a few weeks ago which came from this same city about how a mother beat her child to death for failing to learn passages from the Qur’an.

Ethnic diversity is good and like most things it’s the questionable, difficult element which probably gets all the attention.  But hearing first-hand about ferociously strict cultures like this still surprised and shocked.  To me it sounded backwards and profoundly sad.

Dissolving LTRs and knowing

Well jeez.. I thought, upon listening to my friend tell the latest sad tale in the pub.  I wonder if I’m more messed up from my general dearth of serious long term relationships, or if are they by having them and screwing them up so royally?  Realising this was a self-involved moment happening inside my head, I refocused on what he was saying.

It seems that there’s a time between the ages of, say, 25 and 35 when shit has to get real in long term relationships (LTRs).  Females invariably take the lead in wanting to reproduce and men get scared.  They either grasp the nettle and realise this woman probably / definitely is the one.  Or they don’t.  Confidence can falter at these crunch decision times; paralysing fear isn’t uncommon.  When one party doesn’t know or has cause to doubt, all the cards can come crashing down.

Over the past few months I’ve learned that two couples who I and most of the world considered to be solid couples of a good number of years, were actually no longer couples at all.  Yes they lived together, maybe even slept in the same bed from time to time and who knows what else, had been going out for around ten years previously; but in their heads at least, they were no longer a couple.

Case One is the captain sensible of our school friendship group, one of these guys who always seemed to glide pretty effortlessly through life, education, a career and love.  As far back as school he was pegged as the guy who could be depended on to get married and settle down first.  They got a mortgage together reasonably early, then nothing else happened.  She was awkward to be around.  Nice enough, but flighty and unpredictable.  “ISSUES” almost imperceptibly stamped above her sunken defensive eyes.  After a year or so living together under the pretence that all was rosy, they’re now fumbling off in separate directions.

Case Two was only revealed to me yesterday in the pub.  He is possibly the most hypersensitive and indecisive guy I know, whilst being handsome, clever, able and acidly funny – happy to dish out but rarely take.  They also got together young: he in his early 20s, her in her mid 20s.  With a couple of years on him, she seemed to care less for marriage but has been crying out for kids for some time.  He has been indecisive, nervous, scared.  In more ways than one it requires a set of balls he’s never demonstrated.  Her clock is now ticking with more urgency.  He has admitted to depression but is only just beginning to seek help.  Now it transpires that in their own heads they too haven’t been a proper couple for several months.  They are, my friend believes, on the cusp of probable separation with tangible consequences.

While the guy of the latter couple never won my sympathy and from my limited experience in recent years I’ve often considered him hugely selfish, these are all fundamentally decent people.  Of all parties, it’s him I fear for the most.  From a privileged background, he’s arguably always been used to a bubble of protection, mollycoddling, mothering and dependency.  Not having the courage of my convictions and giving up too easily is something I loathe myself for, but this guy makes me look like some kind of Richard Branson impresario.

It seems to me that rational, clear-cut decisions need to be taken in LTRs, however difficult they are to make – although I’m clearly no expert in such matters.  Otherwise the festering stench of malaise can become heartbreaking and send people mad.

“How do you ever know?” is a regular question, one memorably discussed with another friend (and represented somewhere in these pages) before he separated from his wife and emigrated to Australia with the female subject of an office affair.  He was more confident of knowing after being intoxicated by everything about a new colleague, than he was when he was obliged to marry his young wife.


We parted outside the pub in the early evening, my comparatively happy married friend and I.  His reasoning about knowing was typically pragmatic and well-reasoned:  I knew I never wanted to be apart from her for the rest of my life.  It sounded so simple.

He hadn’t been persuaded to buy a few more minutes by asking his wife to simply pick him up from the pub, steadfast about walking back across town to meet her at the multi-storey car park.  It reflected his easy-going nature and antipathy towards any kind of confrontation: something we’ve sporadically argued hard about over the years.  Maybe his way was best.

We mumbled halfheartedly about dinner sometime, took a brief manly clinch and pushed each other away before fuzzily pacing in opposite directions.

It was a sorry state, those disintegrating relationships, but probably not untypical of people our age.  As our friendship group begins to nibble into the 30s, I came back to my earlier question and wondered at our relative baggage.  Is it harder to be optimistic about domestic life after going through a traumatic failed LTR of nearly a decade, or harder having been alone for more or less that whole time?  Is less baggage more baggage, or is it less baggage?

I was drunk.

then there were none

This one stems from another exhausted attempt with females; that once again defeated deleted what is the fucking point? futility..  Patience spent.

Single women often affect an exterior of confidence but when it comes to making decisions about men, even to meeting, they seem to almost subconsciously erect obstacles or barriers.  Of course this could be because they specifically don’t want to meet me.  I’m wide awake to this possibility, of course.  But I sense that other common factors are often at work too.

My hunch is this.  The one serious, possibly but not necessarily previous relationship, left them crushed and almost critically low on confidence.  Particularly if it was a small town childhood sweetheart upon whose word they hung unconditionally.

Particularly if that childhood sweetheart was an overbearing, oppressive, insecure twat who wanted to demolish them for anyone else.  Men do this.  It’s most effective if the women are left on the cusp of middle age, maybe with a child or two in tow.

Advancing through the emotional wreckage and feeling recovered, a remnant nervousness or flaky uncertainty can still exist, particularly when it comes to relating with men in real life, on that level, in meeting them, at that point when convenient cosy barriers must come down.  This frequently leads to them making excuses, overthinking and bottling it.

Merely a theory but I’m sure there are many like this.

Also unhelpful is the devilish deception of virtual communications.  That feeling of effectively being in each other’s pockets all the time; the blithe underestimation of the non-verbal, which itself carries masses of information.  Words are all we need, right?  That and the odd bloody “LOL”, an emoticon here and there.  Sorted.  Actually meeting can come later, even if you have to wait forfuckingever.

Still I find myself being held prisoner to virtual online communications.  It leads to a protracted period of unsatisfying and insubstantial communication about fluffy things which may easily have no bearing upon liking one another.  Opposites who appear to have little in common with each other can attract too.

Right now I’m again exhausted by the amount of time and effort which needs to be expelled in the virtual world, for nothing.  Months of time and effort and hope so regularly (basically always) turn out to be completely pointless.

You can chat to several people at once, even though doing so can feel oddly duplicitous, but everyone does.  You develop favourites.  You try to take it somewhere, and it eventually flumps on its disappointed arse and you realise your time would be better spent reading books or taking more photographs or playing on your Xbox or watching shit telly or doing practically anything else.

What instead?  Pretend like real life is an episode of Friends and talk to people in coffee shops?  Can you imagine the excruciating results?

I’d still like a dog.