Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No Smoking. Or Women.

A message from the past:

It is October 29th 2009. I last sucked on a cigarette 11 days ago. Two days prior to that, the weekend kickstarted with some beers and the buying of smokes, despite a working week's abstinence. I went to a house party the next day, and bought a pack of 20. My friend's missus had also bought a pack for me to share, placing me firmly in fag heaven.

Monday October 19th became my first smoke-free day, coinciding with (or causing) some strange mental breakdown. Then I developed a violently sore throat that's only just cleared. 11 days have passed, and I haven't stopped stopping just yet.

I've smoked for 17 years, my entire adult life, and five years longer than Teenage Me intended, vowing, as I first dabbled, that I wouldn't make a habit of it and besides, I'd've probably given up by my 30th birthday anyway, because that's how teenagers think; Age + time = stuff just happens.

But it didn't, and then I was 35. All my earlier attempts had failed. My most successful quit was 26 days, from 12th November 2005, to December 8th. (Why did I stop? My inner "Fack it, it's Christmas!")

Anyway, if I manage to quit smoking for, say, three months - if I can get to mid-Jan having not smoked, including the 'difficult' Christmas and New Year's - that'll be an overwhelming personal best, even if I can piss on such an achievement by remembering that I'm not technically having to do anything to get there.

And if I do, I'll post this up. How exciting.

Back to the Future...
It's been 3 months and one day. I've saved £244, and I've not smoked approximately 1,000 cigarettes. It's very, very strange, but I just don't think about it any more. Neither do I think my life has vastly improved.

Case in point:

My ex-girlfriend (American) and I have been emailing for some time now. It's been kinda lovely, as I still miss her. There's been talk of me going over to visit her. She's announced her desire to visit London with her girlfriend this spring, and look for work here.

Our emails have ratcheted up recently. For one thing, that evil side of her, the Hell Hath No Fury banshee that appeared around the time I dumped her, well she's gone. Now there's lots of flirting again; her telling me about her strange dreams where we're snogging in the bathroom, while I thanked Thor that I'm still wanted by someone, anyone, who's not already a relative and therefore stuck with me like some kind of growth that complains.

I held back from telling her how my soul has been torn asunder with loneliness and despair since she'd gone, unable to tell her how much I miss and care for her.
Instead, I made a few nob jokes.

Time passed. She emailed some photos of her New Year's trip Midwest for no reason. I think I sent her a picture of a cocktail menu.
I'd go to bed to her emails. She'd wake up with mine.

And then, extremely early on Monday as I eeked out what no longer remained of my weekend and contemplated going to bed, I got an email from her asking if I was still up, and how my weekend had been.

'Fucking terrible,' I replied. 'I've spent it locked in my room trying to write, just as soon as I watch a couple of things on YouTube - except I've done that for 48 hours straight, and I've written absolutely nothing. How was yours?'

And then she told me.

She gave me her list that weekend; Pilates, drinks with friends, blah blah blah, followed the next day with lunch, and a "delicious" tongues down throats/ arse groping session that was all reported with effortless ease and ending with "Swoon", just in case I didn't pick up on any sense of emotional attachment. She hadn't worded it like that, of course, meaning that I'd all but finished composing my reply when I realised what she meant.

'Oh. Then congratulations are in order,' I'd written, followed by, 'Well, it's 2am. Goodnight.'

She wrote to me the next day to continue the thread, something bland and cheerful that I halfheartedly replied to, and that's been it. We've gone from several emails a day, to nothing.
To say I'm disappointed with her is a vast understatement. These last few months of emails, a couple of texts here and there and even a phonecall, they all feel like one enormous set-up; her opportunity to raise the tempo so she can hit me with a casual, 'Oh, and Fuck You All Along!'

But I want to know what you think, seeing as a disproportionate amount of you are women.

Is my ex-girlfriend totally batshit crazy? Or is she still angry? Or is this all my fault for keeping in touch? (Don't answer that one so much. Stick to the other two.)

I'm keeping my distance in the meantime. If I'm just some conduit for her to gloat at, then she'll at least have to contact me first - Ha! And should she contact me, then welcome to Planet Polite, population: Me, being brief.

So despite the overwhelmingly obvious (viz: Why haven't you Moved On, you fucking freak?), can we all agree that the Hell Hath No Fury banshee never left?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ageing Bull

Why didn't anyone warn us about ageing? Why are there no government health warnings about its dangers, or programmes to inoculate you against it? (although technically that would mean being rounded up on your 30th birthday and shot.)
It was but the vaguest of thoughts in my youth that, aesthetically at least, we'll likely peak around our Twenties, and slowly decline from then on, unless wrinkles and bad backs become a turn-on. But fuck it, what did I care? I was a kid.

Ageing is the elephant in society's room - certainly the one right now in my head. It hasn't quite been omitted from our cultural landscape, but spun into some exciting goal of one day 'enjoying our retirement', neatly sidestepping the fact that we'll all be so old and embittered by that point in a world we no longer understand, that we'll just lock ourselves indoors, complaining. (And yes, I'm aware that I do that now. Thank you.)

I'm fascinated by ageing in the same way I'm fascinated by North Korea. Both are evil and unstoppable. Both seem to exist in some kind of fun vacuum where it would be great to be free and live without a care in the world except, oh, you can't. Your only chance of getting on in both states, it would appear, is either suicide, which kinda defeats the original goal of wanting to live well, or just lying down and accepting your fate like a bitch - which is crap.

I do get the feeling that I'm not the first person to dislike ageing, though. The Greeks and Romans shared a particularly interesting myth, laden with ironic profundity. Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, was rather partial to human lovers, one of whom was the Pythonesque-named Tithonus, prince of Troy. Tithonus, being a mere mortal, was going to age and die like the rest of us so Aurora, wanting to be with her beau forever, asked Zeus to grant Tit immortality. Zeus did so, but here's the kicker ~ she forgot to ask for eternal youth, meaning Tithonus eternally aged, presumably becoming the greatest complainer of pesky children in the world whilst moaning about there being nothing good on TV anymore as he shrunk down to four foot three and a half.

So Aurora turned him into a grasshopper.

But the whole point about this post is that I want to complain, obviously.
So here we go...

* I used to have a bladder made of cement and lead, or so it seemed. It was one of those nonsensical male things I used to boast about, the ability to 'not need the toilet for a while', as if it were akin to being able to recite pi to 1,000 decimal places whilst juggling cats.
Now, not a night goes by when I don't find myself being awoken at 4am by a pathetic bladder made of jelly and lace.

* My knees are weak. Admittedly, they're 35 years old now, but I get the feeling they're in direct competition with my bladder for the 'Most Atrophying Part Of My Body' award. I want to go jogging and cycle to work again (in theory), but I'm beginning to think I may do myself some real damage. (Yes, that's right. I probably shouldn't exercise ever again, just to be on the safe side.)

* My metabolism's rubbish. I used to diet as a teenager and, provided I stuck to it for a couple of weeks, strange things would happen like weight loss.
Now, I can jog and diet and cycle and cry for a month and lose just a pound, off of my little finger. This is patently, patently shit.

* Hair grows where you don't want it, and doesn't where you do. Okay, I will put my hands up at this point and thank Zeus or Allah or Thor (or maybe my grandparents) that I still have the hair on my head. I have friends who I knew back when they were devil-may-care hippies, whose scalps now resemble ox-bow lakes of hair.
But the back of my neck, my shoulders and the backs of my arms, what the fuck is happening to me? This was not in the brochure.

* I'm developing a natural inclination to not go out. This is a mental shift that I'm rather amused by, as I used to be something of a 24-hour party person (or at least 14). I'm still proud of those occasional all-nighters in the last millennium, when I'd crash at 10 or 11am the following morning, feeling like my candles had been jolly well burnt at both ends. Now, the party scales have come weighing down in the opposite direction, to wit; A hangover used to be an irritating side-effect of a great night out. Now, the hangover has become the crippling STD that follows a shag, more powerful and unpleasant than any earlier fun.

This, IMHO, is partly due to ageing into a 'wuss', as our American cousins are wont to say, because age renders fun stuff less fun . There's something about the first time doing *anything* that is bloody magical, and fresh, and golden. Now try doing something for the first time on a night out in your mid-Thirties. Unless it's bungee jumping off the pub roof and into Beyonce's vagina, my guess is that any excitement you'll have now is down just to the company you keep and how painful your bladder isn't being on that particular evening.

Last night, for example, I was in excruciating bladder pain, and had to leave early. It was as if a line of barbed wire had been inserted into my urethra without my knowledge, only for it to be pulled on viciously in some invisible tug o'war. (I ended up sweating on the tube, and pissing behind a bush. Hell.)

And speaking of hell, I still appear to be passing solids through what can only be described as a brutal ring of fire. I'm doing my utmost to ignore it, but it's not easy pretending that forcing a cactus through a solid, bleeding onion ring isn't happening.

All of which prompts images of visits to doctors which, frankly, isn't a youthful pursuit. It's the stuff of ageing, and I really am terribly fucked off by it all. I can also see an awkward scenario arising, one that is essentially a balance of pain over pride. At the moment, my pride remains intact even though my arsehole isn't. Perhaps, one day, I will have to confront a very unpleasant scenario that isn't just completely alien to me, but totally and utterly wrong in every conceivable way. If time and All Bran hasn't remedied this situation, I will have to endure the very definition of vulnerable:

I will visit a doctor and, after just a few minutes of meeting him, will a) remove my undergarments, b) turn around, c) bend over, and d) allow this stranger to peer and prod at my anus with a glove.

That isn't my idea of a good night out. It is also, I submit, why ageing is bullshit.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Two Paths

So here we are, six days into a new year and a new decade. Are you well? Good.

I have my usual resolutions (Smoke, diet, job, house, girlfriend) and am uncharacteristically happy, which is strange.

I think I'm happy because a couple of days ago, Monday, I was profoundly unhappy, and this is its story.

I was profoundly unhappy because it was my first day back at work, and I was rather stunned to find that bullshit Cycle of Life inevitably repeating itself once again.

Christmas and New Year's bacchanalian excess was now over, and it was time to Man Up like a chump. I had spent the better part of two weeks force feeding beige junk into my yaphole like a particularly masochistic goose self-fattening my liver into foie gras. I had done so little exercise - often leaving my flat for the first time at 10pm, just to stock up on more pies - that doing nothing was making me tired.

When I did go out - New Year's Eve being a case in point - I'd done so much lazing around that I felt guilty eating crap and drinking in a pub. After all, I'd been doing that non-stop and far cheaper at home. I had my standard London New Year's do in a bar with Ed™ (now with added EdFriend!™), and such was my lack of imagination that we'd simply revisited the cocktail bar we'd gone to last year. Back then we'd had an absolutely fantastic time; the place had been full of friendly people - including women - and even the staff were shaking hands and introducing themselves. It was so good that we were in two minds about ruining it by going back this year, but ruin it we did.

The barstaff were just as friendly, still shaking hands and introducing themselves, except this time I realised they were doing it to everyone for the tips. And the women? There didn't seem to be as many around this time, and two of the nearest ladies to me had already sneered back.

Then a proper, bonafide miracle happened.

Lingering in a crush near our table was a cute, buxom brunette. She looked over in my direction and I caught her eye - or perhaps she'd noticed me trying to smoulder in the corner. These simple facts I can't remember now, but I do remember her stare that even I saw contained interest.
'Oh, jolly good,' I thought. 'Now just play it cool, you idiot, and don't blow it.'
Then it dawned on me that perhaps she just wanted our seats.

I chatted to the chaps for a bit, then casually looked up again. She'd been waiting, and our eyes met once more.
She simmered.

'Christ!' I blasphemed.

I tried to act cool, and resumed chatting to the guys. I was getting panicky now, as she seemed quite interested and I'd realised I'd spent two weeks eating myself into a nice pair of low self-esteem pants.
I looked back at her again. Yup, definitely wasn't imagining it.
Pity, really, as balls in my courts will generally be left on the ground.

I couldn't do it. Despite my cool demeanour, I felt pitiful and fat. When she looked at me all smouldery, I knew right away that whatever it was she found attractive in me was at best an illusion; at worst, a fraud.

Knowing I'd only ever disappoint, I was actually relieved when, post-chimes, Ed and Ian got up and walked out into the night. The brunette and I passed each other with blank stares. Another 20 minutes later and me and the guys were slinging sweet-and-sour chicken down our necks in Chinatown.
That, I could do.


Doing bugger-all for Xmas and taking advantage of the Buy-One-Get-One-Frees that dominated the potato snack shelves had taken its toll. But now it was Sunday night. The party was over, and work was soon to resume. I couldn't even begin to comprehend the monumental effort it would take just to wake up the following day.

Sunday night. Lousy night. I felt bloated and lethargic, and dazed from overwhelming underachievement. In moments like those, when the metaphorical noose is tightening around my neck... I like to kick the chair.

I don't know now what compelled me, but with mere hours of my holiday left, I decided to Googlestalk my French ex-girlfriend, Amira. I don't even know why she popped into my head. Perhaps because she was my sexiest girlfriend ever, and I was at my zenith of unsexiness. Yes, that was it; I wanted to feel better about myself as I sat in front of my computer with bedrash and a stomach pregnant with Pringles.

I typed her name into Facebook. It came up immediately, complete with a tiny picture that made my heart skip. I hadn't seen my French ex for years and now, there she was, all moody and pixellated, and with an intriguing new surname.

Amira, it appeared, was now married and, hammering it home for me in the picture, pushing a pram. She wasn't smiling either - although smiles were never her forte - and I was stunned to discover that she might now be a mother. She was hardly the motherly type. I also had to assume that she was still in England after all having married a Brit, what with that new surname and all.

So to cheer myself up, I looked at my previous New Years entries on this here blog. Two years earlier, I discovered in a typically introspective entry, I was making grandiose pronouncements about the coming year, and declaring that 2008 would be the year I quit my job.

That entry gnawed at my mind as I found myself fatter and sat behind my desk two days ago. The 'How was your holiday?' conversations lasted all of three minutes, and I was ordered, by implication at least, to just Get Back To Work.

To say I was miserable was an understatement. I fought to stay chipper. I reminded myself that I was now on a fabulous new diet (lettuce), and it would reverse all those unsightly new pounds, plus some. But oddly, starkly, as I thought about moody Amira and her new life (I sincerely thought she was too miserable for the UK, let alone marriage and motherhood), and as I dwelled upon what Could Have Been with the clearly mental brunette in that bar, and when I mused that two years earlier, I was blogging that I would be quitting my job for pastures new, it occurred to me that I have two paths:

These paths may end up being vast arcs that ultimately lead me to the same destination. That destination may even lead me nowhere but back to the beginning, where nothing has changed except for the passing of time.

Yet what dawned on was really quite obvious; even if my journey does lead me back to square one, even if it was well worth the ride or a complete waste of time, I can choose what path I take to get there.
One is dark, and miserable, and crap. The other is really rather scenic.