A neurotic and a socialphobe go on holiday…Boom Boom!

A neurotic and a socialphobe go on holiday. Sounds like a joke doesn’t it? Well, that’s my life. Last week we went on a boating holiday to the Norfolk Broads. Seven days in Merlin, a boat six paces long and three wide.

My fear of boredom has led me to pack 2 novels, a puzzle book and a trashy magazine. In the first book I’m reading, the neurotic young protagonist has a mantra that he repeats every night before he goes to sleep:

Who are you? I am Jean-Baptiste Baratte
Where are you from? From Belleme in Normandy.
What are you? An engineer, trained at the Ecole des Ponts.

These simple questions seem to define our holiday. But as we chug along in our old boat I find that every time I ask the first question, the answer keeps changing.

Who are you? I am not a parent.

We are both at that age where we’re no longer young and not yet middle aged. Things haven’t happened the way they do for other people. If I was my dad, I’d have a 4 year old child by now.

As we sit eating our pub meal at some godforsaken hamlet, we muse about our barren lives.

Esther: I can’t stop thinking that everyone who passes us on the river says to themselves “why haven’t they got kids?”
We watch a group of children running around the beer garden.
Esther: They look innocent, but I can see some bullying already.
A little longhaired boy has had his little longhaired doll confiscated by a bigger girl. She runs past shrieking like a banshee. When she sees that I am watching, she gives me a knowing grin and shrieks even louder.
It’s as if she is acting the role of child…

“The child is father to the man”

Who are you? I am a big kid.

While waiting for the boatman on our first day, I balance a pinecone on the mooring post.

“Stop it!” hisses Esther, “He’ll know you’ve been messing around!”
Just then, the old chap comes round the corner. He drones on about the rules & regs and then leans forward to unhitch us.
Esther looks round at me with wide eyes and a twitching mouth.
The pinecone topples to the floor and I have to force down a guffaw.
He looks round, catches my Cheshire grin and says,
“You thought I’d knock that off didn’t you!” with the gleaming eyes of a teacher deciding whether to bollock you.

Busted! And like a little boy I go on grinning as he asks Esther if she’s sailed boats before.
“Yeah, lots of times,” she lies, glancing conspiratorially in my direction.
“Ok then, take us out!” he says.
Her taut face tells me all I need to know. Miraculously, she squeezes us out into the river and chugs along nicely.
“Very good,” says the man, “we’ve had some terrible sailors before. One guy went pale as a sheet and froze, driving it headlong into the bank…”
He gets her to turn around and head back to the jetty.

“Now do a stern mooring”
Her face says ‘eh?’ and her mouth says “Erm…Is stern the back or the front?”
“The back”
“Oh”, she says, recovering composure, “I’ve always moored at the front before”.

Like the novice before her, her knuckles show up white against the quaint wooden wheel.

“I know how to do a vertical mooring”

Who are you? Mentally unstable?

Dispensing with the usual boardgames, Esther & I decide to play Mental Illness Oneupmanship. It’ll end in tears.

Me: Maybe you should stop catastrophizing?
Her: Only if you stop negatively reviewing

Her (coming back into the cabin): Where are my sunglasses? I’ve had to wear yours.
Me: On your head.
Her: (Lowers her voice) What? You mean I’ve just been outside with two pairs of sunglasses on? Oh no! (In a sudden loud voice) Don’t be silly, I don’t need yours as well!

A little later:
Her: Argh! (as boat zigzags wildy across the river)
Me: What’s the matter?!
Her: H-h-heron! (points with a shaky finger at a big bird on the bank).

Esther’s catchphrase of the holiday: ‘Is that a police boat behind us?’

Me: You’re the only female captain I’ve seen all week. I think you’re a feminist icon for all the teenage girls we see with their families.

Her: No, they just think ‘I’m glad I don’t look like an old woman in a crappy old boat’.

Teenage Girl: “Is she saying summat about Jodie Marsh?”

Top 5 Boat names:

  1. Special Lady II (when one special lady just isn’t enough).
  2. Sailbad the Sinner (Best pun on the Broads)
  3. Swan Raider (Esther ‘I just don’t understand it’)
  4. Strip Too (Really?)
  5. Alibi IV 2 (The Krays’ old boat)

Who are you? I am a man

Like the world over, the men at the Norfolk bar we have moored at for the night are deep in conversation about birds.

Man 1: I hear you’ve had some problems down your end.
Man 2: Eh?
Man 1: Them pink-footed geese have been at it again?
Man 2: Nah, you’ve got it wrong, it’s the greylags that do it…

We take Goldie for a walk to Somerleyton Hall. After a 30 minute trek, we find out they have a strict no dog policy. As we walk away, I have a benny.

Me (stomping my feet): I want to be part of the landed gentry!
Esther walks on.
Me (loudly): When I’m rich, I’m going to buy this fucking–
Esther interjects: Oh no, don’t start!
Me (reassuring): Don’t worry I’m not testosteroned up, I’m only joking…
A few seconds later
Me (loudly): I’ll find out where you live and I’ll—
Esther: Err, NO!
A few seconds later.
Me: When I’m an international bestseller I’ll buy this place and use it as…as…as a potty!!
Esther: Please be quiet! What’s wrong with you?
Me (calming down and quoting Michael Palin): Oh no, my problem! I must have fruit!

Who are you? I am a dreamer

Reality is never enough no. 1:
Every person on every boat we pass insists on waving. It’s most disarming. Then a big guy with grizzled beard and tied back hair goes past, staring at us and not waving.

Psycho, Esther says.
He’s not waving because he’s got hooks for hands, I say.

Esther visibly shudders and tells me off.

Reality is never enough no. 2:
I stare out of the window at the other boats going past.

Me: What if you saw a face in the window of a boat that was so strange you just had to discount it had ever existed?
Esther: Please don’t, I don’t want to.

Reality is never enough no. 3:

Me: OMG is that building a weird shrine? Look at all those big pictures of people’s heads.
Esther: It’s a hairdressers (*facepalm*)

This was actually a real shrine we found, seemingly for abandoned toys. They were strung up like infidels. We didn’t stop here.

Who are you? A boatman

It hasn’t taken us long to fall into a routine. Each time we reach a jetty, Esther will bark orders like:

Front rope first!
Stop me from hitting that boat!
Quick, we’re floating away!

Usually we’ll clunk the side of some pleasureboat, so Esther will lock herself in the cabin and push me out to apologize…Luckily for me, boatmen are calm folk so after an obligatory chat about the river I was allowed to return and coax Esther onto dry land.

So, to recap, a neurotic and a social phobe went on holiday…and all they got was this lousy blog.

‘If I have one complaint,’ I say as we hand the boat back at the end of the week, ‘I’d say it’s not tall enough.’
‘That’s coz I built it in 1974,’ he says, standing up to full height, all 4 feet 10 of it.

Demi & George get hitched!

Wedding (noun): A sobering initiation to the serious business of adulthood.

Part I: The Vows

I’ve never been in the Town Hall before, this edifice of unlimited egos with limited power. The petty wranglings of provincial warlords somehow pales in comparison to the decision-making involved in a wedding. This is a show on a grand scale, with two of my favourite people slow-dancing through its molten core.

As we all gather in the great hall upstairs, the nervousness of such an occasion affects everyone in a different way:

(1) Next to me, Esther and Lisa are preening away their anxious energy.

Esther comes at me with her mattifying brush: “Shall I put powder on you?”

Me: “No, because that would be socially unacceptable.”

Of course, usually I would be all for a bit of girly fun, but today I want to appear normal and functional and leave all the attention for the bride & groom.

(2) But I am nervous though, and that means I chatter away like a fool.

“They’re going to do a separate ceremony for Bad George” I whisper, referring to the Mr Hyde transformation he undergoes on a wild night out.

And then,

“That mirror at the back is so you can check your betrothed isn’t a vampire. Imagine looking across, and she isn’t there in the reflection! “Oh shit!””

The painted lady giving the service seems to be on Valium, so I do my own internal voiceover:

“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the unbelievable loveliness of Demi & George and to marvel at their gorgeous cherub faces.”

Next, charismatic BFF Stockton gives a speech; in front of the assembled generations he reads some racy Kerouac and likens the couple to the utopian humanity the Beat Father dreamed of.

This is going to be a day to remember.

George is a lovely chap. Even though he has beaten me 99 times in the 100 games of tennis we’ve played, I won’t hear a bad word said against him.  No surprise then, that he has the uncanny ability of maintaining the affections of a whole handful of friends all the way from primary school. The most I can manage is periodic abuse from Harvey, who as you may remember, only chose me as BFF because he was desperate.

Like all impetuous gobshites, I have an urge/fear about shouting something out in the ‘lawful impediment’ bit. Like maybe “But I love them both!” or some such nonsense.

In the end, it’s Joel, one of the high school posse who gets there first, muttering the reverse psychology classic “Don’t look at me,” as the room does exactly that.

During the vows and exchange of rings, I suffer the meat sweats (as Lucas would have it), and have to dab my eyes. I look around and Esther is quietly sobbing and even eternal-anthropologist Lisa is damp round the gills. George’s mafiosa dad Tony is here too, and I bet his catchphrase ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ is echoing endlessly round his brylcreamed head as he squeezes out extra virgin olive oil from his oiligarch’s eyeballs.

Part II: Reception

During the long coach drive that doubles as a sauna, I get a bit overexcited.

From the rotating tie-rack of my multiple personalities, I pluck the clashing ‘Fey Fop’.

“Oh my days! Is this like a real farm, with like real working class people?”

With her finger sternly on her lips, Esther gives me the universal sign for ‘carry on’.

“OMG!” I say dramatically, “Are we going to be molested by rough farm hands?” (Shouldn’t that be farm-hands’ farm hands?)

“SHUT UP!” she hisses.

Finally, we disembark in a rural idyll. The wafts of manure go to my head like poppers and I stumble inelegantly towards the gigantic marquee.

“It’s like we’re in The Shire,” I hear someone say about the undulating hills soundtracked by Ceilidh band. Somehow out of this beige weather, George & Demi have plucked sunshine. The grass is the greenest I have ever seen, and everything is abstracted from reality by the warming fuzz of true love. As the caterers come at us with delicious shots of pea & mint soup and other morsels, news filters through of Tea GB winning a dozen gold medals. Is this all a dream? Even the flies are surreal here, so Slo Mo you can pick them up.

Demi’s dad Paul gives a speech:

“Demi arranged for us to meet George at Café Rouge on Ecclesall Road,” he starts. “When George comes in, I see a duffel coat and a pair of plimsolls with his toe nearly sticking out. I think ‘this is a Big Issue seller, George must be behind him’!”

I start to worry that Tony is going to brand him with his sovereign ring, but Paul carries on;

“But then within 30 minutes of chatting with the lad, I’m touching the missus under the table…”

“TOO MUCH INFORMATION,” someone yells crassly.

Esther is giggling and glaring at me at the same time.

Wait a minute, it was me!

Oh no, what else am I going to do?

I find myself making involuntary noises throughout the rest of Paul’s speech, and then on into George’s and Best Man Henry’s too. All kinds of hoots and whoops and cackles and blubs, often preceded by a strangulated sound as if my body is desperately forewarning me of the social hara-kiri I am about to commit.

The art of oratory is to entertain and enlighten at the same time. Your one chance to say the unsayable and get away with it:

George: “I love Gill because we have lots and lots of fun and laughter. And sex.”

Henry: “George has finally finally someone who makes him look tall!”

Thank god then for the food, so I can smother my silly voicebox with chargrilled meat and enjoy George’s Famous Uncle singing ‘Just Like Fred Astaire’ a capella, putting George into the role of the rakish dancer.

“What does that make Demi then, Ginger Rogers?” someone yells, not me this time.

“Why did we invite this clown to our wedding?”

I have a moment of existential terror at the bar when I look next to me and see three generations of a family lined up like Mount Rushmore carvings. Their faces are different yet the same and I realise that age is a series of minor landfalls on that otherwise copied carving we call a face.

Before long, Esther’s parent Weasel and Kung Fu arrive.

“How was walkies?” we ask of their earlier dog sitting.

“We took Devo for a walk and he slithered along the floor like a-“ (words fail) “…like a maggot!” says Kung Fu with PTSD eyes.

“No other dogs were doing that!” chips in Weasel

“It was disgusting!” Kung Fu concludes with a shudder. “I never want to walk that thing again.”

“PTSD eyes”

The Ceilidh band start playing The River by The Levellers and in my glee, I accidentally baptise Demi’s niece in beer. I flee to Esther and Lisa’s parents on the other side of the dancefloor. Weasel is drunk.

“I’m into ambient rave,” she shouts at me over the music.

“What the hell is that?” I ask.

“It’s cooooool” she replies laconically, making her ignorance seem irrelevant.

“Right I’m taking her home,” says Kung Fu, but Weasel fires her huge grin at everyone and is unable to stop dancing as he drags her across the dancefloor.

By now, I’m very drunk and the elastic has gone on my underpants. They are halfway down my legs but I can’t be bothered to go to the toilet and sort them out because it’s time to accost Famous Uncle.

Once caught in the tractor beams of his cult leader’s eyes, I am mesmerised by his magician’s goatee, so thin and precise. As I gabble at him, he has me sussed within seconds.

“You’ve said ‘because I’m an only child’ several times now, what are you trying to excuse?”

I blink. What am I trying to excuse?

“Well, I guess I mean that it’s hard to learn social rules if you don’t have siblings.”

He peers mutely at me like a psychoanalyst. Goddamn it, I’m asking and answering my own questions now.

“Yes, I spose it is an excuse. No, I shouldn’t be thinking like that. I should accept my lot and get on with it.”

“Yes you should,” he says.

George is walking past, so I get him to tell my favourite story about Famous Uncle, from his wedding day. It goes like this:

‘This is my mate Brian’, Famous Uncle said to George

George was hungover and barely registered the guy, ‘Alright, Brian,’ before stomping off to the bar.

Famous Uncle follows him and says ‘you do know that was Brian Eno don’t you?’

‘Holy shit!’ said George, cringing with a kind of l’esprit d’escalier.

Famous Uncle embellishes: “Do you know Brian was the only person there who got food poisoning from the prawns? He was really ill.”

Now my true geek comes out.

“Is that why he called his dairy ‘A Year with Swollen Appendices’?”

Reflected back in his ebony eyes, I am grinning with triumph.

Famous Uncle humours me with a titter before walking away.

“I be totes not bovvered by ur snub”

Part III: Hometime

“Did you get to speak to Famous Uncle?” I ask Esther on the coach.

“Yeah I was tying Demi’s train up so her wedding dress didn’t trip her up and Famous Uncle said, “Yeah it’s tough wearing a wedding dress, I should know.”

“Oh really?” she said.

“Yeah for my stag do, I went to lots of festivals. On my own. In a wedding dress.” He isn’t a Famous Uncle for nothing, you know.

The coach back is awash with that traditional public transport pastime: bawling out hideous shanties. I’m not at all happy with the quality of music on offer, so I try to start up my own alt.singalong at the back. Only I can’t remember how any songs start.

“How does Bohemian Rhapsody start?” I ask someone over the aisle.

“I see a little silhouette of a man?”


The song at the front continues unabated, so I decide to act out the lyrics and give a blood-curdling scream.

And then another.

The girl in front, the only one who sang along with me, turns round and says

“I don’t like that, I’m scared now. You’re scary.”

I pause for a moment. I should really shut up. But no, I find myself hollering an even more terrifying sentiment:


FIRE!” and with that my eyes pirouette in their sockets as I scan for followers.

Nope. Damn it, how does this game work?

Perhaps time for something a bit softer

“Gimme gimme gimme”

and the girl fires up;

“A man after midnight…”

I hear a groaning, and see Dom next to me with his head in his hands, moaning ‘NO NO NO,’ so I sing louder.

On the headrest behind me, Lisa’s knuckles have gone white.

“I have to go for a wee, I have to go NOW!”

It’s going to be a long journey home.

As we finally get off the coach, my voice hoarse from bellowing, one of the high school posse whispers;

“By the way mate, your songs were much better than theirs.”

Yes! Finally, a true believer in the mess that is me! Today has been ace!

Love is…being forgiven for being a pillock.

Love is…a marquee full of happiness.

Love is…Demi & George dancing to 90s r’n’b

Wedding (noun): A drunken ship of loved-up fools.