Identity Crisis #3,044


Sunday 27th

It’s the Great British Bird Count this weekend. Look out your window for an hour and write down all the species that you see.
I ring my grandad and tell him about it because he’s got so much wildlife it makes me weep.

“There’s only about 4 goldfinches that come now”, he tells me, “not the usual 10. And the long tailed tits are away at the moment.”

That only leaves the great tits, bluetits, greenfinches, jays, blackbirds and dunnocks then.

I sit at my study window for an hour. A crow flies over the house. Two pigeons flop into next door’s tree.

That’s it.

I’ve had it with birds.

Monday 28th

Lisa accidentally put her foot through the floorboard in her living room. She lowered a steel ruler into the gap, gasping as the inches mounted up. All in all, there’s a three foot cavity under there.

“Just the right size for a monster,” she shudders.
‘Especially a gnashing, slithering legless torso,’ I want to add, but she’d be back living in our dog bed if I did.

When I get there, her and Esther are using it as a wishing well, clamping their eyes shut as they toss pennies into the void.

Tuesday 29th

I’ve booked a Man-date with George in the Manhattan Coffee House on Ecclesall Road. Last week, I got a bit confused and poured milk in my peach tea and it curdled but I drank it anyway out of sheer embarrassment. I’m playing it safe this time and having a hot chocolate.

“Let’s go and watch a film soon,” George says, “The Showroom do a deal where you have a meal and a glass of wine for 2 and see a film for £20.” “Yes, lets,” I say, as we sit on out little table sharing a slice of cake and looking for all the world like we’re on a date.

"I'm man enough to say it. I love you, man"

“I’m man enough to say it. I love you, man”

About once a year, I have a funny turn and shave all my facial hair off. Without fail, every time I do, I go into mild shock.
Today, after my man-date, it’s time to do it again. Loads of men are clean shaven, I tell myself, why not me?
For 2 seconds after I’ve done it, I seem to look ok. But then the realization dawns, that it is very far from ok and I have to go on a mirror tour of the house to confirm it. Dear God, I am a freak.

Wednesday 30th

I’m going through the stages of grief about my beard. Unfortunately, there’s no denying it, so I crack on with anger and resentment and self pity.

I start a manifesto about The Tyranny of Beards.

“For too long it has been them wearing us,” I write, “Once established, like parasites they erase all memory of the naked face. They demand absolute obedience and are only banished on pain of losing your very self.”

Thursday 31st

I’ve realized that the only way to make my mouth look normal is to keep it moving. I’m chain-chewing gum and licking my lips a lot.

I bump into an exam invigilator at work. He tells me the latest craze among students is to write answers on the food they’re allowed to take into the exam and then eat the evidence before they get caught. As we chat, I over-exaggerate my mouth movements a bit to much when I speak, so he makes his excuses and leaves.

Alrighty then.

Friday 1st Feb

It’s my day off. I’m having a lovely lie in, but there’s a knock at the door, so I leap out of bed and pull my trousers on. For some reason I have taken to wearing a dingy white vest that my mum bought me when I was a teenager. It’s not a good look.
It’s the gas inspector man, who no-one told us was coming. The house is a tip. There’s half eaten food on the table, and as he walks in, I notice my glittery 80s bellboy outfit (seemed like a good buy at the time), lying next to the washing machine waiting to be washed.
I figure the best thing to do is leave him to do his thing, so I go upstairs in houseshame (the opp of housepride). As I get back in bed, I tell Esther about the mess.

‘At least the living room is clean and normal,’ I say.
We both sit bolt upright;
“Oh Christ, the Christmas tree!”

It’s Feb the 1st and there’s a ginormous tree in there still.
I start to laugh hysterically while Esther hisses at me to be quiet.
The gas man shouts up to me so I go downstairs.

“I’m working from home today,” I tell him, trying to explain why I’m here and that I’m not a lazy student.

Then I notice the photos of me on the wall from my feminist performance artist phase. There’s a naked one of me as Marilyn Monroe’s centrefold, and lots of me in wigs and makeup. Working from home takes on a different hue.

I decide to change tack. Suddenly, an idea comes to me, how to make the weirdness into a positive experience.
“I don’t spose you get rid of Christmas tress do you?”

He looks blankly at me. It’s a bad idea.
“Funny you should say that,” he adds, “my mate does. Leave it outside and I’ll get him to take it.”
Result! I manhandle it through the door, but it gets hooked on the kitchen doorframe and he has to help me, “to me,” “to you,” we go until finally it’s out.

I’m normal goddammit!

IMG_5806

IMG_5803

IMG_5805

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?”

“Oh yeah. THUNDER AND LIGHTNING VERY VERY FRIGHTNING!” I roar.

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:

“I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE, AND I BRING YOU-

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.

Wonderful, Wonderful!


George’s Stag Do, Saturday 23rd

10:00

Kung Fu is driving me, Esther and Lisa to B&Q to fetch some pebbles for Lisa’s newly denuded back garden (aka Devo’s shit’n’go). We have spent the week crippling ourselves by digging up the turf and dumping it behind her outhouse so Devo can no longer use the back garden as his personal cesspit (correction: so he can use it as his personal cesspit, but so the cess doesn’t cling obstinately to unruly grass stalks and freakishly giant weeds).

As I daydream away, Lisa and Esther heave sacks of rock onto the trolley, like a post-feminist poster. The composition is ruined by Esther spitting;

“Why don’t you help instead of standing there, you lily livered girl!”

I’ve always wished that I had a trigger word to turn me into a man, like Marty McFly and his ‘chicken’-related freakouts. After today, it seems that ‘lily livered’ works pretty well.
Before I know what I’m doing, I’m slinging sacks of rocks around like a past-it Desperate Dan.

“Don’t break them, you idiot,” says Esther as I hurl them into the trolley.
“Put them in properly,” says Kung Fu, who never, ever, tells anyone what to do.

I don’t mind admitting I was scared, and I began rearrange the sacks, my red cheeks lighting my progress like mood-indicating LEDs set to ‘schadenfreude.’

“Whoopsy, I did a boo-boo!”

12:00

Met Harvey and his Japanese wife Eiko at Sheffield train station.

They have had to fly the 9,650 miles (fact!) from Singapore to Bradford to get a Pakistani visa, in his ‘country of origin’. On first glance, I thought Harvey was even more full of himself than usual; second glance told me it was merely his white afro, grown to four times the usual size.

This is the man who customarily told me to “sort yourself out,” when my first pubic attempts at a wayward teenage hairstyle got beyond the regulated ‘no. 3 all over’.

Ha, how the mighty have fallen. And how silky their curls are.

“You don’t have to have big hair to be a scientist, but it helps!”

We take brunch at Millennium Gallery, as a squadron of cadets and their officers march past.

“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” I deadpan, “we turned into a police state while you were away. Sorry.”

I like the way that sounds. I bet it’s really cool and sexy having all your civil liberties disavowed.

“I went on a school trip to the DMZ,” said Eiko, unfazed, “my friend fell over and when she looked up, a whole North Korean regiment had their assault rifles trained on her.”
I have nothing to compete with this. I consider saying that I threw half a snowball onto the roof of an unoccupied police car when I was 13. No, that won’t cut it.

I remember the burning question that I wanted to ask Harvey at 3am on some insomniac night months ago.
“You know how you came to the UK when you were 11, but we weren’t friends until we were 15, who was your BFF before me?”
“Mark Dour” he says, naming an odd semi-midget who had the unfortunate quality of being instantly forgettable.

“Aha!” I say, with the glee of someone who’s just found out that their lover’s exes are all dweebs.

“Anyone else?”

“Well after him, I didn’t have any friends for a year.”

My glee turns to concern. Not for Harvey, mind: nobody wants to hear that their partner/BFF was undateable now do they?

Harvey and Eiko are travelling from the sublime to the ridiculous, aka Tokyo to Swansea (via Asia, Europe and South America). Harvey has been applying to do a PhD in something theoretical and poncey, and Swansea is the only place that’ll have him (“we’re not travelling to the US,” Harvey says, “coz they rejected me…”).

“The interview went really well,” he tells me, “and after a tour of the university, one of the professors took me aside.

‘You know what,’ he whispered, taking in the theoretical physics department in one gesture, ‘I don’t believe any of this nonsense!’

17:00 to Buddha-knows-when

Zeugma: ‘a figure of speech in which two or more parts of a sentence are joined with a single common verb or noun.’

In Zeugma’s restaurant, London Road, I am a figure of fun corralled between two or more manly dads.

It’s time for my regular social experiment: passing as a man. I pull my shirtsleeves down over my girly bracelets and lower my voice.

To the right of me is Demi’s dad, Paul, a skinhead scouser with a soft underbelly. Sitting across the table is George’s dad, looking like a jolly, gelled mafiosa. His catchphrase of “wonderful, wonderful,” (with the emphasis on the ‘wonder’) regularly punctuates the alcoholic fug throughout the night.

We are swapping stories of money and what it does to people.

George’s dad, Tony, has the rich baritone of a self-made man.

He tells us he was holidaying near San Marino in a hotel ‘full of stunningly beautiful Russian girls who refused to smile.’

They were the children of oiligarchs, bred with no manners, ‘pushing past me on the ladder up to the diving board,’ and generally being well-dressed arseholes.

“It’s sham capitalism,” I say, warming up. Tony’s eyes say ‘I’m listening’, but I haven’t thought what to say next.
“Erm, Communism failed and now there’s money floating about. No-one knows what to do with it coz they’ve never had it, so the mafia came and took over.” I think that makes sense.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.

A minute later, listeners are whisked away to a Peugeot car dealer in Liverpool, who Tony says inherited a dealership from a man with connections with local warlords.

The previous owner used to leave a car parked on the forecourt with keys in the ignition. In the morning, it would always be back there, traces of blood and black market stains removed. The new dealer refused to carry on this habit, and had 4 cars smashed up; the police told him to put the car back on the forecourt…

That’s nothing, Demi’s dad Paul says, I was asked for protection money from a child in a multistory carpark.

‘Gimme a tenner and I’ll look after your car,’ the boy says.
‘S’alright, I’ve got a Rottweiler in the back,’ I tell him.
‘But can it put out a fire?’ the scrote says, eyes twinkling. I gave him a tenner for the cheek.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” Tony says.

“How are you doing, stuck in the corner?” George asks when we meet in the toilets.
“Fine,” I say, quite pleased with my manly performance.
“I told Paul that one of my cousins here was gay,” he tells me, “and he leans forward and says ‘Is it ‘im?’ pointing in your direction.”
Bollocks.

Oh well, at least I can get drunk. In the Riverside, I bump into Tony in the toilets and ask if he’s merry yet.
Inexorably,” he replies and I give my jackal’s laugh, echoing off the porcelain. I bet if I ask him in another hour or so, he’ll say “Indubitably,” or some such Wodehousian alliteration. Tony’s sidekick is Alan, an old friend. He has the elastic face of a joker and together they giggle and ogle like a pair of twentysomethings.

We move on to Harlequins, a pub mislaid somewhere round the corner from the Riverside.

Mancunian Del and me are charged with dragging George, the paralytic stag, there. We take our eyes off him for a second, and he is suddenly riding a bike. Chained 3 feet off the floor on a fence. He does a wheelie and nearly cracks his head open.

“Come on,” we say, and drag him across the dual carriageway.
“I think it’s down here,” I say and we wander down a dark street. After a minute, George snorts in disgust,
“You don’t know where you’re fucking going,” he shouts, “I’m going back to the pub” and he legs it into the darkness.

My confusion is confounded by the sudden voice of God.
GO AWAY! YOU’RE DRUNK!” God says, with the disappointed nasal authority of a train announcement.
“What the fuck is that?” Del whimpers.
GET OUT OF THE ROAD!” the voice demands, and I try to locate the source.
Halfway up a dark block of flats, the blue death-glow of a huge flatscreen TV flickers in the gloom of an unlit room, casting shadows into the street. It stands to reason that the anally retentive voice of God could boom from the low rent recesses of a Sheffield hovel.
GO AWAY, YOU’RE DRUNK! GO AWAY…NOW!!!”

This is too much.
We get the hell out of the road and the neighbourhood (and that’s a Zeugma…).

“PUT THE LIGHT DOWN AND GO AWAY!”

Harlequins is where the night starts to blur for me. At one point, Alan starts flicking the thick head of a pint of stout onto the even thicker head of a local, and I flee outside. Alan is just cheeky enough to point to me if the bruiser asked who did it…

In the cooling air of a Kelham Island backstreet, Tony tells me he used to live near here with the baby George, and the whump of the forges used to make it impossible to open the windows in summer.
“That’s the sound that industrial bands like Cabaret Voltaire tried to emulate,” I tell him.
“Oh, very good” he says, memory fusing with retrospective knowledge, “Wonderful, wonderful.”

If only everyone I spoke to thought the same.

As the booze bodycount rises, the group is stripped down to a hard core of 5 or so. Back at George’s American Psycho apartment, we chatter into the night like 33rpm girls .

Ah, this is it, true friendship; the sort that can outlast a million drunken megalomaniac impulses. In the words of Michael Jackson, with friends like these

“It don’t matter if you’re black or white,

Or a lily livered boy of questionable sexuality.”