As I’ve been ill this week, I haven’t been up to writing so I’ve pulled something out from my archives; I must be ill if I’m letting strangers read my fiction!
I sit down gratefully. As I close my eyes and let my head roll back I hear a faint tapping as Rupert walks across the kitchen floor. He sits in front of me and as I open my eyes I meet his accusing stare. He holds my attention for a moment then turns his back to me and proceeds to groom himself.
Eventually I get up to look hopefully in the fridge. As I make my way across the kitchen I notice that I have an answer phone message. I press play and watch the tape move.
‘Chris, it’s me. Hope your first day back was ok. I’ve got something er... something on later but I’m bringing Chinese so sit tight and I’ll see you about seven.’ Dinner sorted, I potter around the kitchen, getting out plates, tidying up. I have a hot shower and put on my tracksuit bottoms then take them off and replace them with jeans and pale blue top. Should I do something with my hair?
The first week or so that David knew me, I had lost all interest in my appearance but now we’re dating which usually for me means pretty underwear and loose hair (that takes twice as long as my daily French plait). I like him, he’s worth making an effort for but we seem to be enjoying being normal in the sense of month 5 normal not week 5 normal. I tie my hair up.
When David arrives, I’ve just finished arranging my flat. I’ve vacuumed and lit a few candles. He kisses me as I answer the door. He’s had a quick wash and changed his clothes at the station but still smells, like... fish. He walks confidently through to the kitchen and starts to set out the food on the bar, putting a bottle of white wine in the freezer.
‘David, face me’ I say and he turns reluctantly. His face looks dark, with what I guess is bruising. I reach out to stroke his face but he brushes my hand away.
‘Chris it’s nothing, don’t fuss and I’m hungry.’
David stays until just after eleven. I got a brief explanation about some raid at a harbour where he got knocked out. I got listened to as I said how most people at the office avoided me and that I liked the ones who gave the direct questions such as ‘did they just fix your nose how they thought it used to look or did you ask them to make it neater than the old one.’ Then we sat on the sofa and watched some TV while I sip my glass of wine and pretend he is going to stay the night.
I go and see my therapist before work.
‘So Chris, How do you feel today?’
I consider my answer. Everyone I meet thinks I need to talk about it but really, life does go on. But if I graduate (if that’s the word) from therapy my life will be easier so I search for the right answer. ‘Happy to be alive.’
‘Do you think about death.’
‘I don’t have to now, so no.’
‘Why did you have to think about death?’
‘Because someone was holding a gun to my head.’ So if this is number two of a minimum of twenty sessions I’m approaching a tenth of the way through… And I realise the therapist is speaking. ‘Sorry?’
‘Are you finding it difficult to concentrate?’
‘To be honest, I just want to get on with things.’
‘How is that going?’
I sigh. ‘Fine.’ She looks straight at me, ‘mostly. David wants us to move slowly because he thinks I may be latching onto him because he represents stability and safety. He says he wants to prove himself as a friend so that I know I have him no matter whether I want a relationship or not.’
‘What do you think?’
‘I know I’m partially attracted to him because he was the one that saved me and did overtime and acted on hunches. But he’s also a guy I’ve been dating for a month. It’s just girl meets guy and they date. Why does the way we met concern him?’ She raises an eyebrow. ‘I think I’m ok with it all. I get the randomness. I was the one working late, a day earlier and it would’ve been Diane but I don’t want to get hung up about it. David copes, why don’t you think I can?’
‘Are things ok with David?’
‘Yeah I think so. I’ve only really dated suits before. He spent fifteen minutes unconscious in a vat of fish yesterday then brought me dinner and just wanted to cuddle. I’m used to men that smell like soap, take me to restaurants and want to jump my bones.’ I laugh but she doesn’t join me in it.
‘Has he been involved with other women in other similar situations?’
‘He says not and his partner’s wife says not.’
Urgh! What has my sex life got to do with anything? It’s not like I was raped or anything. I just got tied up, yelled at and hit a few times. We spent the rest of the session discussing how I thought my life was progressing. Then I went to work and actually progressed my life.
My favourite part of living alone. Nobody to laugh at me. Yoga with my face pack on can limit a couple of the moves but drying clay tightening my face goes so nicely with loosening limbs. Popcorn for tea and Phantom of the Opera on CD makes for a blissful evening. The door clicks. Bugger! The worst part of a relationship – his spare key.
‘Wow, Chris, that’s very seductive. Is all this just for Ruperts’ benefit?’ he says bending to scratch Rupert’s head.
‘Ha ha, what are you doing here?’ I go and pout my lips so he can kiss me without getting covered in face mask.
‘Raincheck’ he says smiling and steps backward. ‘I’ve done a small injury to my leg. Don’t go in until Monday.’
I grin widely, shattering clay. ‘So I’ve got you for three days?’
‘Shall we go to the bathroom?’ he says laughing and leads me through. He runs some hot water then begins cleaning my face while I sit obediently on the edge of the bath. ‘I’m going to do some paperwork while you’re at work but yes. I’ll be available.’ All clean I lean forward and kiss him. I hear him catch his breath as I do so and move closer. He kisses me briefly then smiles, ‘so what have…?’ I cut him off with another kiss, running my hands across his back as I do so. As I press myself against him he utters a small, almost inaudible moan then pulls me roughly closer to him.
It’s only later that I begin to wonder what was so wrong with his leg. I sit up in bed and look at him lying out on his stomach. I edge up the duvet to peer at it. In a split second I’m on my back with my hands pinned behind my head. David’s face is creased with laughter. My heart is pounding, ‘how d’you move so fast?’
He smiles. ‘I’ve been watching you watch me and have been planning my move.’ He pulls me up so I’m sitting in front of him and wraps his arms around me. ‘Are you ok? With all this?’ And he gestures with his hands, moving to place them around my waist instead of using them to clasp my chest against his.
‘Of course I am, I was just taking a look at your leg.’
He frowns. ‘It’s more to do with the case being over than any injury.’
‘A bullet’ he placed a hand over my mouth as I started to talk ‘A bullet grazed me. It didn’t stop in me, it just caught me as it went past. It’s nothing. I’m having 3 days off not because it happened but because I let it happen. I’m tired and didn’t act quickly enough.’ He slowly removed his hand from my mouth. He put his head on one side, ‘But I asked how you were feeling about us.’
‘I’m happy, I really like you.’
‘Good because I think we should give that another go’ and he growled as he pushed me onto my back again.
Today I’m being a bit lazy and using a large quote but one of my tweeps of the week, Chris Hall (who posts lots of lovely and thought provoking links) and I had a brief chat (read. Tweet exchange) about blogging being a discipline and taking short cuts in order to keep up with things. However, on saying that I want to stress that this is an uber quote from someone awesome. It’s from Burton on Burton, the fabulous autobiojobby from the incredibly talented Tim Burton:
I grew up in suburbia and I still don’t understand certain elements of it. There’s a certain vagueness, a blankness, and I get this very strongly from my family. The pictures my family had on their walls, I never got the sense they liked them, that they bought them, that somebody had given them to them. It was almost as though they had always been there, and yet no one had ever looked at them. I remember sitting there looking at some of these things going, 'What the hell is that? What are those resin grapes? Where did they get them? What does it mean?'
Growing up in suburbia was like growing up in a place where there's no sense of history, no sense of culture, no sense of passion for anything. You never felt people liked music. There was no showing of emotion. It was very strange. 'Why is that there? What am I sitting on?' You never felt there was any attachment to things. So you were either forced to conform and cut out a large portion of your personality, or to develop a very strong interior life that made you feel separate.I didn’t grow up in suburbia but I have shared Burton’s unease with it. My own childhood was a bohemian yuppy blend as my enterprising parents swung between eighties-tastic dinner parties where my mum wore huge shoulder pads and my dad served Del Boy cocktails and a rural idyll where we grew raised chickens as a hobby and we kids ran wild as our parents parented by letting us just get on with growing up. And for a few years as a teenager as I struggled between the ages of a desire for independence and passing my driving test, I told them I hated them for raising me in a house in the middle of nowhere within the Vale of York, I hankered after the friends who lived in what I termed civilisation.
Of course there’s both everything and nothing civilised about suburbia. In as much as civilisation subdues our nature in order to allow everyone to rub along together, suburbia is very civilised but equally it strikes one as devoid of the things that make society flourish and be more than base level civil. I don’t think Burton takes it too far when he characterises suburbia as creepy.
And yet I have decided to take a leap and throw myself back into this world. At the weekend my mother came to stay with us and at my request took me into the suburban paradise that brings fear to my heart, the garden centre. So entrenched is my view that garden centres represent all that is “nice and civilised”, I’ve largely set my novel about necrophilia around a garden centre. We bought plants (surprisingly enough) and then set about making the front garden look like all the others on our road. The back garden is a touch more personal but that’s largely because of its geography that attracted me to the house and some lanterns brought back from Malaysia that hang out there. Tonight I washed my car on the drive, watered the pot plants and smiled at my new neighbours. While slightly tempted to break into a cover of The Wetspots, I mostly seemed like them and even perused the Avon catalogue that came through the door this week (I’m going to buy the giant snakes and ladders for the kids).Am I scared? Hell yes! My previous three homes were a tower block in Kuala Lumpur which was mostly populated by Iranians and was situated on the corner of Chinatown while claiming a Bukit Bintang postcode (very Far East Notting Hill of the 90s I like to think), a house share with insane Lithuanians and a bedsit in Gloucester’s “ghetto” and in turn, I loved them all. I’m comfortable with corner shops that don’t serve alcohol but have six kinds of flatbread and I like quirky architecture. The house I now live in has something so horrible I shudder to type it... it has... an integrated garage.
Am I being unfair? Perhaps, but I dallied with suburbia once before and it sucked the soul from me. I loved the dingy ground floor flat with the massive overgrown garden I lived in as a student and the larger, more “pleasant” (yuck) homes that followed got worse and worse. Arguably the descent from creativity linked heavily to the same soul-sucking relationship and it is with that view that I’ve chosen to venture forth into this new life.One might ask why I chose to. After all, I could have stayed in the city centre and found a better flat. The choice came from a realisation that I wanted aspects of the life; I wanted a kitchen to bake in, a garden for the kids to play in and enough living space to entertain in. I was annoyed at not having anywhere to store a vacuum cleaner and thus having to borrow the boyfriends’ and I wanted space to wash my car. I wanted some outside space and to hear birds other that the bastard seagulls that swarm Gloucester. I wanted a three-bedroomed house in a nice area, a decent bit of garden and yet close enough to town for Pizza Hut delivery and reasonable taxis after a night out.
Suburbia it would have to be and I admit I like the garden and the big rooms. I like the short walk to a nice Indian takeaway and having an Avon lady. I like how quiet it is and that our next door neighbours lent me some garden sacks when I cut the hedge. I don’t like the caravans in driveways or that I feel assessed by the old people walking their dogs past our house but it seems a small price to pay.
I’m not convinced I’d like to be stuck here forever but therein lies the cure; suburbia can be an excuse to get struck and I’ve done that before. This time I’m going in with my eyes wide open and my defences up. As long as my geraniums flower, everything will be ok.
For more on suburban bliss, I now have a blog about my personal life: Living with Jimmy Choo
Some time ago, and it was when I was with my ex-husband, I read that OCD was on the autism spectrum. I know I was with my ex-husband because this was something he used against me. In a battle of wills it was surely reasonable that the person without autism was the most likely to be accurate in their perception of a situation?
Writing such a thing now makes me smile and I rather pity him for a world view that can only bring him conflict. These days I’m far less interested in whether having OCD fits this or that label and just get on with things. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given regarding this aspect of myself came from my girlfriend Jelly who modestly titles herself Queen of Everything (and in fairness she is ridiculously wise for her years). What Jelly pointed out was that love is accepting and that even though we had only just become friends she already had sufficient feeling towards me that if my world was happier and calmer because she closed cupboard doors when I was around then that was hardly difficult and happily done. Jelly stopped me seeing my having OCD as a negative thing that potential partners would have to endure and instead see it as a facet of my personality, without which I would be a different person. Love me, love my OCD.
I’m very fortunate in that while I can struggle with being an obsessive compulsive; my experience of OCD is both mild and specific. So much so that unless I choose to disclose it, I can generally hide the fact. Even my response to something which upsets me is fairly subtle, I may scratch at the skin on my arms that itches on the inside or flex my shoulders (I refuse to give in to the urge to hit the side of my head because that really does scream mental person), but mostly I just look a little teary with a tense jaw.Still, it can feel like a cross to bear. I can be funny about physical contact and don’t like being touched unless I’ve crossed a certain line regarding that person in my mind. So I hug my family and friends and am very physically affectionate towards the boyfriend but am liable to flinch if someone taps my arm and freeze if someone I’ve just met goes in for a kiss on the cheek. One of the receptionists at the museum has taken to patting me on the shoulder and I don’t know how to tell her not to. I get embarrassed and so I endure what feels like nettles being stroked up the underside of my flesh rather than speak out.
My main triggers however are sound and numbers. Sound is mostly about volume and I hate music played too quietly. I also hate certain genres of music; particularly slow classical and country, something to do with pacing I suppose. Numbers are hugely complex but I am mostly upset by prime numbers and like numbers divisible by three or five.My OCD is mostly based upon my mental well-being. My relationship with my ex-husband was very taxing and the emotional rollercoaster saw me triggered by cupboard doors being ajar, towels not hung straight and coat hangers that didn’t match. I still fold my towels neatly and hang my clothes on identical coat hangers but more from a view that life is nicer that way than essential that way. I’ve cared a little more recently as the stress of moving has unbalanced me but I’m not acting compulsively in these areas. As a rule, these days I’m affected by very little as I’m the happiest I think I have ever been.
The thing that never goes away however is the volume on a stereo. Combining sound and numbers, this can drive me insane in a second and to ignore it is like trying to ignore someone casually repeatedly punching you in the face. I know its absurd (a vital distinction between OCD and OCBD) but that doesn’t stop it hurting.What is most perplexing however, is when the rules change. Suddenly my favourite number is 23. 23 is a prime number. I have hated and feared prime numbers for 27 years, I hated being 23 and felt a huge weight lift on my 24th birthday. I would alternate between being a little too hot at 24 degrees and a little too cold at 22 degrees in my apartment in Kuala Lumpur to avoid turning the air con to 23. I have never had a clock set to 24 hour time to avoid 11pm looking so awful. But then one day, I wanted my car stereo set to 23 for motorway driving (it gets very noisy inside an MX5 and music needs to be loud to be audible when driving at “70” mph).
This is the stuff of crazy. When you are consistent you have a degree of justification; neat towels don’t fall over and food in identical storage jars (hmm, forgot that one) keep cupboards clean and tidy. A lot of my OCD makes good sense and it often gets commented at work that I’m organised and good at planning. I’m also aware that I probably owe a fair degree of my academic success to my OCD; my footnotes are accurate and my fact checking, well, obsessive. The evil of prime numbers was something I simply figured was due to something I was perceiving above and beyond everyone else, rather like the electrical noises my unusually wide range of hearing can pick up. Change isn’t good.Oh big change is fine. I can move to the Far East and start a new life but the numbers changing, well that’s just not right.
There are no answers of course and to seek them would truly lead to madness. Instead I must let it go and writing this has helped in that. And despite this being more self-serving than usual, I hope those of you that are still reading stop and think about the fact that between 2 and 3% of people live with OCD and fight these tiny battles alongside all the usual stuff. OCD isn’t limited to cleaning and locking doors, many of us have perfectly dirty homes and have little interested in security so please do me a favour and when a friend or colleague suddenly expresses a hatred of bungalows, goes out of their way to avoid filling in a form or says they’d rather have no tea than have to sniff the milk then give them a degree tolerance for there may be far more to it than what first appears.
Change is afoot. Ok maybe I’m jumping the gun but my favourite tweet of the week suggests others are as hopeful as myself in that the unelected socially inept and egotistical fool that currently calls himself the Prime Minister of the UK is on his way out.
Wanted: House share or room to let. Need to move by Friday. Please contact Mr G Brown c/o Labour Party Head Office.
Also moving is yours truly and the boyfriend. I moved to Gloucester in order to pursue the relationship so this was always on the cards but this development came via a couple of residences. First was a house share with an asylum of Lithuanians (my collective noun) who were lovely (I think) but fried everything in bacon fat and spoke very little English. I mostly smiled at them and burned scented candles in an effort to reduce the smell of grease. I then got a job and moved up in life to a bedsit just off Gloucester Park and round the corner from Cromwell Street where there’s a gap left after the digging up of patio meant little house was left*. But this pseudo independence was the flimsiest of smokescreens for the fact I spent the vast majority of my time at the boyfriend’s rather lovely pad in the Docks which came with a bathtub, a view of the Cathedral and a very comfortable bed containing the love of my life.
There was a reason for all of this pretence, partly my desire to make Gloucester my own before surrendering to a relationship but mostly out of the view that his children should be thrilled by the idea of living with me and not have some random bird that dad was shagging thrust upon them. So slowly slowly I met them, then stayed the night when they were there, then stayed most nights, then stayed all. And when we showed them the new house, enthusing about the garden and their new bedroom the thing we forgot was to clarify that I’d be living there because the eldest expressed concern to his mother that evening that he was worried he’d see less of me because the house was further away from my flat and he was worried he’d see less of me...
Reader, I cried.
So it seems we’ve done it right. We did the dating thing despite each being certain that this really was the one, the big relationship that changes your life like no other and took things as slowly as we could and everyone is happy. Well, except for the fact we’ve been living the hell of consolidating three homes (I had a house up North with lots of furniture) into one with nothing but a Luton with tail lift. I am so exhausted I want to scream and we’ve still got the upcoming weekend to move out of the boyfriend’s place in the Docks.
Still, after a rather hellish day yesterday I was feeling rather powerless. Power, as I’m sure I have said before is intrinsically linked to happiness in my opinion and as always everything is a choice. The chance to seize this hit me as I took a shortcut through a skanky wee ginnel (that I’m sure would see the stabbing of me were it not for the fact that as of the weekend I live in Hucclecote and shan’t walk that way again) past a homeless guy. Now while I buy the Big Issue, I don’t give money to those that beg. But times are a changing as I said at the beginning and I decided to take the opportunity to feel powerful.
I opened my wallet and gave him everything I had (before you think I was being flash I’d like to remind you I’ve been living in a bedsit in Gloucester and that this amounted to slightly less than a tenner – a tenner minus three hours car parking in Stroud plus a little extra loose change to be inexact). He looked a bit surprised and then I did the important thing, I looked his straight in the eye and told him what I was doing.
“Mate, I have had a really really crap afternoon and I hope this helps you have a better afternoon.”
He said he would and if tramp stereotypes and what looked very much like meth addict scabs* are anything to go by then I hope he had an epic one.
After all I’m ridiculously fortunate. After cleaning for an hour and a half the bedsit sparkled and my landlord handed over £300 in cash as my returned deposit. The boyfriend then drove me to our new three bedroomed home with a babbling brook at the end of the garden (watch this space for flying insect ranting this summer) and en route back to his place (where until Saturday, the bed still lives) when I bemoaned the fact that I’d forgotten to pick up a bottle of wine, called into a supermarket to buy me pink fizz. So I’m tired from moving my beautiful furniture? Woe is spoilt girl! I drank cava and ate crisps then watched Black Books as encouragement (I am frighteningly like Bernard Black and am currently fantasising about owning a bookshop and spending my days drinking wine). My life is fantastic!
So I hope that Gordy has a good move and realises that tidying up the old life as one moves on can be a good thing. Just as the house share and the bedsit were never really my home, nor was Number 10 truly his. Rather, Gordy was a squatter, someone who moved into an opportunity before being moved on by someone who had a rightful claim.
It’s tough and challenging and I wish him every luck. As someone moving herself this week, I feel for him but really, it’s time for change,
* Fred West reference
** An opinion obtained from watching Nip/Tuck