I’ve learned to be suspicious when there’s an empty seat on a packed train. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way.
It was a Monday morning, and I am not a morning person. Befuddled from sleep, and desperate for a bit more rest, I was chuffed when I boarded the Victoria Line and spotted a spare seat.
I slipped into it triumphantly.
My joy was short-lived, however, when I noticed the smell. So strong—rancid, meaty, curdling the air around it—that I thought I might puke. I looked around for the source of it, then realised, with some horror, that it came from my neighbour.
And then, he rested his head on my shoulder.
This was not good. I’m quite socially awkward at the best of times and I don’t like being touched by people I don’t know. So, I had a stranger’s head on my shoulder, so close I could smell his hair. I was feeling a little faint. Surely, there had to be a good reason for him to be doing this? Ah, he had his hand in his pocket. He was having trouble reaching into his pocket, so he’d stretched himself out and that’s why his head was on my shoulder. Perhaps.
But he was spending quite a long time reaching into his pocket. And his head was still on my shoulder. And his hand was moving pretty rhythmically in his pocket. And… oh… oh god…
Yes, he was cuddled up to me while he had a wank on a crowded train.
So, what did I do? Did I shout at him? Did I leap up and move carriages? Did I hit him with my bag?
No. No, I did not. I did none of those things.
Instead, I sat where I was and pretended that this thing wasn’t happening. Because I am very good at pretending that unpleasant things aren’t happening.
I popped into my mate’s workplace, and he introduced me to his colleague Rob. I recognised Rob instantly, but apparently he didn’t remember me:
Rob: “Hey there, nice to meet you.”
Me: “Ah, Rob. You don’t recognise me, do you?”
Rob: (somewhat nervously) “Err, sorry, could you remind me?”
Me: “Sure! Two years ago, we had a blind date. We went to see Blur together. I don’t think you were very impressed with me because, three songs into the gig, you told me that didn’t feel well and had to go home. I never heard from you again. Remember me now?”
Rob: “Oh god.”
Me: “It’s been lovely catching up with you again!”
Many years ago, I had a rather intense friendship with a male friend. There was never, ever anything sexual in it (he was gay, and I’m definitely not male) but it was such an intense friendship that it bordered on the weird.
One night, round at his, he asked me if I wanted to check out a chatroom (it was 1998, entertainment options were limited in Hartlepool).
I’ll try pretty much anything once*, so cheerfully agreed.
He created a new profile for me, said he’d found someone for me to chat to, and gave me the keyboard.
Turns out, it was a cybersex chatroom.
He sat behind me as I typed. At first, it was all giggly good fun, but then I started feeling rather guilty. The chap I was talking to was under the mistaken impression that he was talking to a horny bloke—thanks to the profile my friend had created for me—and it seemed quite unfair to keep leading the poor guy on. Plus, I felt rather awkward answering questions about my fictional penis. So I turned around to tell my mate I’d had enough…
…only to realise that he was happily… err… ahhh… how shall I put it?… entertaining himself.
He had his eyes closed in ecstasy, so I slipped out of the room as quietly as I could. Then I slipped out of the flat—and Hartlepool—as fast as I could.
Neither of us either mentioned it again.
*Having said that, I’ve never eaten KFC. Not for snob reasons, I’m just not that keen on chicken.
I promised to tell you why I left one rental place after a week*.
It was a huge house in Darlington, owned by an elderly couple. They lived there, and rented out their spare rooms to idiots.
I was one of them.
I went round for a visit, one morning, before agreeing to rent. It seemed nice enough, and the landlords were as sweet as pie.
Apparently that was for show. When I moved in, they were both as drunk as skunks. And the landlady went through all my possessions*.
It was a large house. The wife slept on the ground floor in her bedroom, and her husband’s bedroom was on the first floor. I had the bedroom next to his.
All was mildly weird (they both seemed permanently pissed), but vaguely OK until one night, I was woken by shrieking from his room. He was yelling for his wife like the world was ending.
“MARY! MARY! MARY!” (for that was not my landlady’s name, but it’ll do for now.) “MARY! MARY! MARY!”
I was out of bed and banging on his door in an instant: “Are you alright Mr. X?” No answer, just more screaming “MARY! MARY! MARY!”.
I ran downstairs, banged on my landlady’s door. She charged upstairs and into her husband’s room; he was still yelling and she started screaming too.
Ten minutes later, an ambulance arrived, and the paramedics charged up the stairs. Apparently my landlord is utterly sozzled, pissed himself, fell out of bed, can’t get up. I could hear the ambulance crew trying to help him, but he started screaming abuse at them, swearing, lashing out. “We need your permission before we can help you, Sir.” “FUCK OFF! FUCK YOU ALL!”
Eventually, unable to help him, they left. As did his wife, storming off back downstairs.
But still he was screaming for her, “MARY! MARY! MARY!” over and over.
I bang on her door again and she shouts back to just ignore him: “I’m sick of the crazy bastard. He did this last week too. And the week before he chased me around the garden with a knife. I’m going to leave him.”
At 4am he finally stopped screaming. Not that I slept a wink after that.
The next morning at breakfast, Mrs Landlady handed around polaroids she took of her husband the previous night. Pissed out his mind, in a pool of his own piss and poop even, stark-bollock naked.
She said she was handing round the polaroids “to teach him a lesson”.
I told her I’d be moving out that day, and that I’d be back at the weekend to collect the rest of my possessions. Fifteen minutes later, I’d grabbed a bag of essentials and was on the way to spend the rest of the week crashing in a friend’s spare room.
Saturday came. I loaded my things into my car, handed over the keys and asked her for my deposit back. She refused. When I asked why, she told me that it was because her husband was a “dear man who was taken a little poorly” and apparently I was trying to take advantage of them. “If this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life”, she said, “then count yourself lucky.”**
I was steaming at the time, absolutely furious. For years, I couldn’t even think of the pair of them without a rage descending. But, that was a long time ago. These days, I just feel sorry for them. They were both obviously ill, both tied to one another, dragging each other down. I wish them respite, from each other and from the bottle.
He spent the start of our date complaining about his ex: “She never loved me, she just saw me as a sperm donor!”.
He also spent the middle part of our date complaining about her: “I love my daughter, even though my ex just sees me as the man who donated the sperm to make her!”
By the end of the date: “My ex is a heartless cow! I’m just a sperm donor to her!”, I was wearing a rictus grin & contemplating stabbing myself to death with a spoon.
I kept a tally of how many times he used the phrase “sperm donor”. Nine times. That’s nine times too many. (And, no, by the end of the evening, I couldn’t have been less interested in procuring any of his sperm myself.)
A friend was crashing over at mine. He was sleeping on my sofa-bed, in the lounge (with a door that was broken and couldn’t be closed properly).
It was bed-time, so I said goodnight to my mate and then waltzed off to the bathroom to take off my contact lenses. Then—realising that I’d forgotten to tell him something important—I wandered back into the lounge without bothering to put my glasses on. I really am short-sighted, so my friend was just a fuzzy blob.
So, I was chatting away at him, but he was acting rather strangely and not really replying, which seemed a bit weird. After a few minutes, I squinted a bit more at him and realised that he wasn’t just a fuzzy blob, he was an entirely pink fuzzy blob. And why would he be entirely pink? Because he’s not wearing any… ohhhhh….! I stopped talking mid-word, and hurried out of the room.
It must have been ever so odd for my mate: he was getting changed for bed, completely starkers, and I’d wandered in and struck up a conversation with him like nothing unusual was happening.
I’ve never liked Valentine’s Day. I firmly believe that, if you love someone, you should show them every damn day.
Perhaps you’ve been admiring someone from afar for a while, and think that Valentine’s Day might be the day to show your hand? No. If you like them today, do something about it today. It might not work out, of course, but so much better to get on and get over it, rather than moping around until February 14th.
Anyway. It was Valentine’s Day and I had a boyfriend, although he is not the subject of this story.
That honour goes to an ex of mine. Well, I call him an ex although that’s rather misleading. We’d been seeing each other for a while, but never officially dated; every time we drew together he’d retreat (I’d usually hear him shouting: “I’m not ready for a relationship!” as he vanished into the distance.)
Tiring of this, eventually, I started dating someone else. But the ex (as it were) and I had stayed in touch, agreeing to just be friends.
Valentine’s Day arrived. The first post in my Facebook newsfeed was by my ex. He’d uploaded a video of himself, singing a song “for the woman I love, and have probably lost forever.”
“Oh dear”, I thought, when I saw it. “I wonder who that’s for?”
Then I checked into the website I ran (at the time). He’d posted the same thing there. Oh. It couldn’t possibly… could it?… he wouldn’t?…
On cue, the doorbell rang. The postman needed me to sign for a letter. Turns out, it was a Valentine’s card from my ex.
I watched the video again. Now, you may know “Wonderful Life”. It is a tremendous song, but possibly the worst choice of love song ever. It’s a song abut the singer: how lonely he was. How he needed a friend. How unfair it was. “Look at me”, said the lyrics, “Look at me standing here”. You learn nothing about the person he’s singing to. Nothing.
None of this was about me: it was only about him. And he’d sent me a Valentine’s card, even though he knew full well I had a boyfriend. What did he think was going to happen, that I was going to immediately ditch my boyfriend and declare my undying love? Did he really think I was that shallow? That’s not love. I was merely a prize to be won, like I was a bloody goldfish at the fair.
I fumed for a while about how to respond. I started composing a restrained “Sorry, but you know I’m not available” text, when I checked Facebook again.
He’d updated his status again. Now it read: “Fuck this, I’m sick of waiting for a response, I’m going back to bed”.