Friday, 13 November 2009

Sailors and Stalkers

Based – I confess – on a very limited number of purchases, I cannot help associating gay-interest magazines with the wrong things. One gains the impression that their purpose is to keep the intended market informed with affairs exclusive to their lifestyle, and to encourage a sense of ‘community’ by celebrating what divides them from mainstream society.

Yet all I associate with these publications are the advertisements for gay sex-lines, saunas and construction companies, the homoerotic cologne adverts showing sailors in stripy vests, the occasional rant about the homophobic comments made by some public figure, critiques of films and stage productions that have become ‘gay cult classics’ simply because there is one apparently gay character among the cast, and interviews with middle-aged women worshipped as ‘gay icons’ despite not actually being gay themselves. None of these things ignite my interest, and having passed the phase of finding the top shelf of the magazine rack at WHSmith dangerously alluring, I have no reason to even acknowledge these publications, let alone purchase them.

Earlier this week, I found myself walking aimlessly about the town with an hour to fill before an appointment, and went straight to the library to seek solitude from the crowds and cold. I would have used this time to read, but I had only just finished “The Amber Spyglass” the night before and hadn’t yet chosen a new text. Of the various publications available in the reading room, G_______ was the only periodical remotely relevant to my character. The cover image of gaunt, pouting, muliebrous boys with white hair and vibrant tea-towel thin outfits posing before a minimalist studio backdrop should have prepared me for what I found amidst its pages. But I needed something to occupy my mind. Had there been a magazine on baking, books or Boccaccio, I would have approached them for the same purpose.

Forty-five minutes of entertainment included;

• A yearn about a threesome with two ‘three-legged friends’ that was secretly filmed without the teller’s consent, and how he endured several days of trauma fretting over his career being ruined should the video find its way onto the internet (yet showing no reluctance to share the gruesome details with his readers in the article). But, forever optimistic, he managed to put a positive spin on his troubles by prophesising that a sympathetic constable would take ‘pity’ on him if he reported the incident to the police…

• To honour the advent of Halloween, a selection of ‘horror stories’ from readers detailed their most frightening memories. Of the twenty of so anecdotes published, at least seventeen began with variations of “I’d taken some guy back to my place and we were going at it with gusto when…” or
“I’d just finished having sex with some random I'd met the night before when…”

• A delightful piece titled ‘21 Sexual Adventures to experience before you die’ – the words ‘of AIDS’ having been tactfully left to the imagination. Such ‘adventures’ included having sex on your parents bed, seducing a married man, seducing a distant cousin and loosing your virginity to a ‘random’ (‘coz you may as well get it over with’).

• The somewhat gothic tale of a DJ who gained himself a stalker after making the mistake of giving out his business card to a conquest he’d picked up the night before. This Aesopic experience had led him to the conclusion that it is foolish to give private details to the likes one finds in gay bars, and that it is not 'fashionable' to have a stalker (was it ever 'fashionable' to begin with?)

And there were, in addition to these, vast quantities of the things I remembered from my earlier experiences of such magazines; adverts for gay travel agencies, insurance brokers and plumbers, pornographic publicity for a suit-hire service, an interview with a woman with a large, sparkling mouth I’d never heard of (hailed as a ‘gay icon’ despite no indication that she was gay herself) and a furious rant about the apparently homophobic comments made by a journalist over the death of a gay celebrity. Not to mention the extensive directory of sex-lines and ‘over-the-phone’ erotic storytelling that would keep anyone with more money than sense occupied for a lifetime.

It is quite depressing to feel like the only gay man in the world who isn’t interested in sex. Many of the gay contacts I’ve made (and lost once they realised they weren’t as attracted to me as they initially thought, or because I wouldn’t consent to marriage after the second date) spoke of their ‘libido’ as if it were a corrosive illness, curable only by hourly casual sex like a form of medication. Some of them have implied that I am an abomination of nature because I do not follow the same practice and bed every male specimine to enter my field of vision (one couldn't believe that I hadn't had sex with two school friends who were also gay - the implication being that just because all three of us were gay, we automatically had to have sex as if it were a rite-of-passage into the turbulent life of homosexuality). To use an analogy influenced by my recent reading of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, I would feel just as shocked and perplexed if I discovered a world in which gay men had had their ‘libidos’ removed as when Lyra discovered our world, in which people’s daemon’s are inside their bodies. I’ve given up trying to understand why this troublesome affliction seems to affect gay men exclusively – at least those that haunt Gaydar and who write columns for G_______ – and why I seem to be immune to the disease. Could it be a Jungian archetype that appeals to the male homosexual unconscious? Could it pure male egotism? Or could it be plain, simple Conformism – chief mistress of Inequality?

I am determined not to allow such publications as G_______ to mould my judgement of gay men. But when you appear to be the only person amidst the crowd of conformism fighting against the current, you begin to wonder – am I missing out? And do others like me actually exist amidst this fog of frolicking? The first doubt can be taken alone; in my own case, sex simply doesn’t interest me, and so I do not believe I am missing out on anything when I come across articles such as those mentioned above involving the author boasting of their unending sexual conquests and having ‘playmates’ as readily available as tap-water. And yet, the sheer fact I have been prompted to wonder if I am missing out demonstrates the way in which conformism lead us to question our beliefs and decisions, no matter how fleetingly - just as bullying over our skin colour, weight and appearance turns our bodies into burdens. Responding to the second, the answer is far simpler; people who do not conform avoid the fog completely.

In the same way that you never see quiet people because they are quiet, you never see the non-conformist homosexuals because they do not conform – they do not go to ‘pride’ events, work in theatres, purchase G_______ and use Gaydar as a virtual cruising ground. In which case, were would one find them, if one is seeking like-minded individuals? While I have no doubt a gay periodical exists somewhere in the cosmos which isn’t concerned entirely with cruising tips, steroids, drag acts and the treatment of battle scars received after a session of fetish indulgence, I challenge any brave individual with the tolerance to find it on a typical magazine rack. Gay-interest publications can always be identified by the presence of an suggestively posing, bare-chested man or two on the cover, splashed with sexual innuendos in bold letters giving one an indication of the features within (“What’s really between those legs – So-and-so bares all in his first GAY interview!”). Retract the one quality that these publications seem to share in common - what every gay man seems to live and breathe and require on an hourly basis - and how else can they be identified? Will a hint of sex always manage to slip into the picture regardless of the scale? And am I really an abomination of nature because I have yet to seduce my married neighbour, an adventure I am unlikely to achieve before I die?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Troubled with Witches

Dear B__

Last year, it was reported on Radio 2 that police and parents in a certain English county - for such a thing could only ever occur in Britain - had been granted permission by the local government to approach and question the motives of adult males using the community park at the same time as children. Whilst I cannot quote any specific statements, it was clear that many - men and women alike - saw this episode as a bizarre epitome of the hysteria and infringement of personal freedom that has exploded admist British culture as a result of increased awareness of child abuse and the safety measures that are now in place to neutralise it. Many stated that they felt embarrassed and insulted that others had immediately branded them as a suspected child molester on the basis of their gender, age and circumstances – we can assume without a moments thought that a woman wouldn’t be treated in the same way if she were seen alone in a park where children happened to be playing.

I endured a similar experience today. I had just finished helping at a function hosted at a local church hall, and was venturing across the lobby to use the lavatories, located along a short corridor. But my journey was terminated when the old witch guarding the entrance hall like a hunched,
voluminous old griffin - always placed in me in the mind of Alyona Ivanovna from Crime and Punishment - leaped forth and barred my way, declaring that I could not go any further because there were children in the room at the end of the corridor. And even when I informed her that I had no intention of going anywhere near that particular room, she triumphed with rebuttal that would have silenced Cicero - "It’s the law” . That, of course, justifies everything. There's no point in questioning it, because that's how it is - even though, of the two of us, Alyona was likely to cause greater psychological damage to those chilren than I ever could in a lifetime. The narrators of fairytales have been warning us for centuaries of the dangers mysterious old women present to the innocence and purity of young children. And I needn't remind you of the countless number of such tales in which children are antagonised by vengeful, carnal, sadistic step-mothers.

Had I been able to subdue my embarressment and confusion,
I would like to have asked her to produce written evidence of this ‘law’ and to explain what gave her the right to enforce it - but I appreciate the fact not everyone will refuse to accept an apparent ‘truth’ without supporting evidence. I also couldn’t help wondering that, if it is now against 'the law' for an adult male to merely approach a room in which there are a children - or to enter a room near to where children are present - will there come a time when every adult male must immediately evacuate an entire property the moment a child steps across the threshold?

I am in no position to transform this tale into a lengthily meditation on the politics and morality of child protection laws. That is a task best left to a future historian, or someone with better knowledge and understanding of their context. Neither do I wish to question the need or purpose of these laws; I believe in the power of childhood idealism and innocence just as strongly as any parent or politician, especially in the face of a cynical, captalist world in which children are forced to grow up sooner than Nature intended.
My grievence is with the way in which these laws make us feel about ourselves and others. I accept that Alyona had a duty to prevent me from entering the presence of the children under her guard - what I do not accept is the assumption that, because I am above the age of eighteen and belong to the male gender, it was automatically assumed that I would present a threat to their innocence. Just as an adult has no right to penetrate and destroy the purity of a child, neither does another adult - regardless of rank or standing among the local women's guild - have the right to assume every beneath their scrutinous gaze adult male is a sexual predator on the basis of his gender and circumstances, until a lengthily, embarressing interrigation process is undergone to prove otherwise.

I hasten to add that those who do point and shout like marytrs - such as Alyona - are those naturally garenteed to avoid being negatively labelled a paedophile themselves. Since the hysteria surrounding child protection is unlikely to lapse - if it has reached this stage, where an adult cannot even approach a room in which there a children without having been 'cleared' by the 'authorities' - such people should consider themselves extremely fortunate. For where will this fear and discrimination eventually lead? To a society ruled by fear and hysteria, in which every man will be a suspected paedophile - and the only way to deflect that accusation will be to accuse others, for none will suspect you of the crime if you are united with them in incriminating another.

The Cruible by Arthur Miller has a special place in my heart; it was the first text that I tackled for an assignment during the early phase of my university existence. It holds nostalgic value, but I will never forget the way in which it demonstrated so vividly how social
hysteria tore apart a seemingly uniform community, through a whirlwind of fear and accusation. The only way to avoid being branded a witch was to accuse someone else of the crime, deemed so despicable by those in charge. I can easily see British society undergoing a similar transformation. Just like witchcraft, to be suspected of paedophilia is a disgrace that words cannot alone cannot convey the weight of. To have ‘laws’ in place which allow 'people' – the Alyonas of this world who needn't worry about being branded by such shame themselves because they are old women in charge of designating rooms for the local 'Quit Smoking' and Yoga class - to justly accuse others of it until proven innocent can only lead to a social catastrophe far more damaging than any recession. Just as The Crucible provided a historical allegory, highlighting the corruption that was erroding American society at the time it was written, so can it provide a contemporary allegory for the impending destruction of a society torn to shreds with the Alyonas of the world leading the charge - safely protected behind a sheild of protocal.

Paedophilia is contemporary Britiain's counterpart of Salem's witchcraft. While we know within our hearts that it is amoral,
we cannot deny that contemporary beliefs towards it have been generated by external forces; government and media. Since the extreme notions of the evil surrounding paedophilia have been created by two governing forces from within society - out of its very own crucible - we thus find that society itself is to blame for the shreds of hypocracy and fear in which it now resides on the matter of child protection. And to cover up the damage that it has inflicted upon its own children, society dresses up its intentions to counter-act that hysteria with 'the law' in order to make you feel even worse - and to create even further distance between you and the Alyonas who are exempt from accussation, and live to accuse because they know it only too well. Thus, society tightens his grip around your throat and keeps you firmly attached to the seat of your office chair.

I don’t think the people who create these ‘laws’ understand the damage they are weaving. While the children remain protected, the adults who they supposedly protected from are faced with shame and embarrassment. And just as hysteria and mistrust tore Salem to pieces, so will our world become one ruled by fear of what little trust we have left in one another. The 'law' that prevented me from using the downstairs lavatory at the church hall today is the same law that encourages the Alyonas of this world - and all of us besides - to see evil within each other, evil that only a CRB check - a piece of paper and a computer system - can clear, because a piece of paper and a computer could never lie to you.
How can those who write these laws then say that they are trying to wrap the world in cotton, when beneath the happiness of the children lies the fear, resentment and bitterness of the adults who can never look one another in the eye – or even glance at a child - without wondering what lurks behind those eyes? Child protection laws may well prevent those with genuine intent harm children from accomplishing their plans - but why must every man who can be clasffied an 'adult' have to suffer the humiliation of being pushed under that category until written evidence shows otherwise? If 'the law' is put in place to prevent crime, why must it then reinforce those invisible but continually felt barriers that create the crime in the first place?

An acquaintance I once knew lived on a street frequented regularly by groups of school children journeying to school. So intense was his fear of being branded a paedophile that whenever a certain time window came about - in which he knew there was a likely chance of children passing his window - he moved to the opposite side of the house, away from any window facing the street, should a neighbour or passer-by catch him looking at the children in a way that might suggest he intended to drag them into his house and devour their innocence. Another related how, when walking to work one day, he found himself mustering every concious effort within his grasp to look away as a nursery group walked by on the opposite side of the road - even though he knew he had no natural urge - moral or immoral - to want to look at them in the first place - should those stern-faced Alyonas escorting the children catch his glance and scream for the police.

I draw your attention to the fact these two cases have concerned men. There has been a great deal of controversy lately in the UK over an incident of child abuse conducted by a woman. From the way in which the matter has been addressed, I am certain that the reason for this controvery is because the public have been presented with the realisation that women are just as capable of paedophilia as men. Are the vile crones and wicked step-mothers of the fairytale realm beginning to rise from the crucible and find a form in the modern world? Is it time we took notice of such stories as Hansel and Gretel and understood the reality of their raw meaning? And for how much longer will the Aylonas of this world remain immune to accusation?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Auctore Deo - A Fragment... (IV)

January 2000
L___ Senior was unabashed enough to make it obvious that he hated me, since my cross-country running abilities did not meet his standards. Therefore, it was hard not to wonder if he invited the slippery product of his ejaculation to continue his work beyond the framework of Games hour.
My companions found it comical that Andrew L___ didn’t remotely resemble his father in hue or form. Whilst L___ Senior radiated with male egotism from every sharply chiselled corner, L___ Junior had the exterior of a starved beaver and the giggle of a five year old girl. With his yellowish hide, some were convinced that Andrew was his father’s love-child.
The only two qualities they seemed to share were an intense fetish for cross-country running, and the same brutal pleasure in using their eminence to crush others beneath the studs of their finely polished rugby boots.
In a lamentably weak parody of teen movie archetypes, Andrew had an extensive entourage in the year below who were sheltered by the guarantee of immediate protection from prosecution due to his father’s place among the staff - and the amount of sport-related awards carrying his name that adorned the trophy case strategically placed outside the lunch hall where every governer and potential parent could not avoid having it thrust under their noses.
The members of his circle were just as bland and soulless as he himself, though he had two in particular who could have been considered his lieutenants. Alex S_____, a rake-like object with pasty skin, ginger hair and a snub-nose that seemed to tilt even further skyward with every sneer of satisfaction that flashed across his face. The second was a rat-faced individual whose name I never learnt, but who merited a second glance only because it appeared as if an internal disease were slowly eroding his features from within.
History has exemplified that those with power - the loudest voices and most venomous tongues – use this privilege to mask their shame. Andrew appeared to have no cause for shame. He did it because he could, and nothing more. I have no doubt he exercised this privilege over countless students throughout the school. I was merely one statistic. I was going to say that he made use of his father's power in such a way that he could escape blame every time - but he wasn't clever enough for that. It was simply in place from the beginning; he didn't have to work for it at all. His father did it all for him. It is one of those things about the world I will never be able to understand - why vile bullies end up in positions of power, and maintain it even the majority can see them for who they really are.

My tormentors each selected a fragment of my appearance and character which they perceived worthy of ridicule, and took it upon themselves to remind me of it each day, perhaps under the impression that enough prompting would uproot that weed and in turn make me eligible for adequate society. For L___ and company, it was my skin.
I knew of Ch_____, and I also knew that certain others believed we were related. This assumption was based on nothing more than the fact we shared a similar skin tone. Being assumed to hail from Pakistain and to carry the name Mohammed was not an alien concept to me, but I saw no point in correcting those who crafted my identity as 'Indian Stan'. To such people, any person a single shade darker than white was a paki - and every single person under that category came of the same stock. And even if I had told them that I was in fact a quarter Burmese - and three quarters British - they would have only assumed that Burma were a mythic extension of India that they hadn't heard of, just as heavily scented with curry powder as every other Asian country.

At first, being told that I resembled Ch_____ did not concern me. But Andrew deemed it necessary to tell me so every time I had the misfortune of him invading my presence (I went to extreme lengths to avoid his). It didn’t matter when or where. He told me in the corridor. He told me in the lunch hall. He told me before concerts. He told me at prize giving ceremonies. He told me in the presence of teachers. He must have alloted a five minute appointment in his crowded schedule each day - when not away winning sports trophies or reporting to his father -
to seek me out and impart his casual observation to me. And from the womanly squeal of delight he ejaculated as he swaggered back to the safety of his lackeys, I knew this wasn’t simply a casual observation.
I’d be told before that I resembled other people. It hadn’t merited any more than a single mention. But something about this particular case was giving Andrew L___ orgasmic pleasure. It was as if he did it to satisfy an urge within him that he couldn’t contain. Or he was determined to stamp it permanently into my brain as something to be ashamed of.
I frequently saw them gathered in a group, the rat-faced one stabbing a carrot-like finger in my direction and clearly mouthing the words “Don’t that kid look like Dave?” as the others nodded and gurgled in agreement.
Then they took to calling me 'David's brother'. Again, it didn't matter where I was - Andrew took every opporunity within his grasp to remind me of my supposed heritage, even though he knew my 'brother' and I carried different surnames.

Then my physics teacher began calling me ‘David’, and my patience expired.
Being labelled with someone else’s identity made me feel as if my own had been torn away. My individuality had been snatched while I wasn’t looking, stamped to dust beneath Andrew L___’s perfectly polished rugby boots. I began to resent Ch_____. He had stolen my identity, leaving me nothing but a severed shadow.
The truth of the matter was far simpler.
One morning as I stood in the playground talking to A______ and C_____ before registration, L___ and his cronies sidled up and began their usual song about how much I resembled their classmate.
A______ asked them – “Who’s David Ch_____?”
L___ slithered away, tingling with anticipation at the thought of his approaching stunt, and returned moments later dragging behind him a small, thin Indian boy.
“This is Ch_____”, he declared, no longer able to contain his delight.
It wasn’t Ch_____. His skin was several shades darker than either of ours put together. But the suggestion was clear as day, and Andrew and his friends sailed away rooting with heartless laughter.
It didn’t help that, at the time, I was experiencing insecurities about the colour of my skin, believing that being just a shade darker than white made me subhuman, placed on the earth only for my peers to make the subject of jokes about terrorism and curry.
A______ thought it ironic that L___ was making fun of my skin colour.
Perhaps he was insecure – about his own.
The thought of sharing the Sixth Form block with Andrew L___ was one of many that made my blood run cold, and shattered any whimsical optimism over the benefits of remaining at the school to undertake A-Level studies. I was certain that his poisonous spite and organism gurgling would become intolerable if I had to share the same quarters with him for a whole year. There had been, at least, some separation from him while in the lower school.
My expectation was not met, for he never spoke a word to me once he - flanked by his cheerleaders - sailed into the Lower Sixth without a hitch in my final year. But it came as a surprise to no one when he and his sister were bestowed with prefect privileges for reasons that do not require elaboration.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

'Sensible' literature

I am unlikely to forget that 'episode' in one of my earliest English classes with Mr. G______, when he set us the task of naming pre-20th centuary 'books of fiction', in an attempt to get us appreciating 'the classics'

"Pinocchio" I suggested, those four syllables prompting an erruption of hysterical laughter.

"Sensible books of fiction, Stanley" remarked Mr. G_____ once the tide had subsided, and he'd wiped away a tear.

This being the world that we populate, it is likely that those I entertaining that day were under the impression that Walt Disney created Pinocchio. I cannot describe the pleasure I would take nowadays in shoving a Penguin edition of the latter - with an introduction by Jack Zipes - under their noses.
I am happy to say that that episode has in no way deformed my appreciation for Pinocchio in his many forms. The is one of my golden books. I could outline countless ways in which it can be called 'sensible', despite it's Voltarian randomness (I like to keep Pinocchio and Candide alongside each other). But I might argue that the sheer fact it is far from 'sensible' is the reason why it is still regarded as a 'classic' today, loved, appreciated and capturing the soul of the world like many other 'classics'.

We have thus come full circle - and what can I now ask myself? Does this shed greater light on the extent of Mr. G_____'s knowledge of literature, or did he know I was right all along? I'd also like to add that the boy sitting next to me that day - who laughed as heartily as everyone else - the following week was pouring over a pictoral edition of Alices' Adventures in Wonderland, another 'sensible' 'classic' that is under continual threat of being mistaken for a Disney original. I needn't say anything more.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Giraffe hunting

I was invited to attend a 'confidence' building seminar headed by the author of a series of 'self-help' books, one of which had been given to me as a gift several years previously. In the most ironic twist of fortune I've yet to encounter, I left feeling even less confident than when I went in. It was my fault for assuming that, just because this 'life coach' had her name plastered in glossy colours across the cover of a book - in addition to having her own YouTube channel and Facebook 'appreciation society' - she would hold the answer to all of my esteem issues. I've since learned the importance of making up my own mind about the extent of someone's 'professionalism', and about deciding for myself whether that person deserves to be lionised.

I happened to arrive a few minutes late, due to circumstances that were beyond my control. Even before I'd had a chance to place my name-tag on my chest, 'Coach' had shoved me under a burning spotlight before the group of ten people, a majority of whom were older than me and from different backgrounds.

"So Stanley. How do you define confidence?"

Is it really decent to put someone under pressure from the moment they enter the crowded room, when they have come in the hope of resolving self-esteem issues as a result of a mental illness?

As soon as this question was thrown at me - as when you might suddenly find a stick of dynamite in your hands with a burning fuse - I immediately felt all eyes in the room on me. I wanted to give a definition that was true to my personal beliefs, not something randomly plucked from the surface of conciousness (ie. a cliche). I also didn't want to offend anyone in the room - knowing that they were all vulnerable and sensative people - nor give the impression of myself as an opinionated ex-student. It would have killed me had I done so. My worst memories of student life were attending seminars populated by individuals who enjoyed the sound of their own voices. I didn't want anyone to think that of me. It didn't help that there was an individual present in the room - brooding darkly in the farthest corner - who had on every occassion that I'd been forced to interact with him previously, made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Beneath his scrutinous eyes, I felt judged and hated. Unable to cope with this sudden pressure, I answered at truthfully as I dared;

"Could you come back to me later please?"

"Certainly", 'Coach' replied.

She didn't. The notion didn't even occur to her.

As the seminar progressed, I began to notice that 'Coach' clearly didn't like me. She gave every other person in the group a chance to speak, either encouraging the quieter ones to share just a few fragments, or picking others like blades of grass. But I wasn't acknowledged once. As more stories were related and personal anecdotes brought forward, I felt as if a crucible within my soul was heaving. I wanted so much to say how I felt, to share my experiences and problems. But the oppressive group atmosphere, the burning eyes of the previously mentioned individuals, and the sheer fact I was not encouraged to speak up left me feeling tangled and unsatsified. I tried to speak several times, but my insecurities held me back - and, as always, the louder individuals jumped in first.

At the end of the seminar, 'Coach' presented a question to the group; "Name one thing that you are thankful for" - and procceeded to extract answers from around the table with her hands pointing at the speaker like a pistol. I slipped straight back to how I was when under fire at the very beginning of the seminar; I wanted to say something honest, and something that wouldn't offend anyone or give them the wrong impression of my character. The first lady spoke, and was honoured with a lengthily dissection of her comment from 'Coach' along with many encouraging words. I was looking forward to her giving me that same privelege. To have a 'famous' author comment on my feelings would be an honour.

The pistol found its way into my direction. The crucible within me flooded over, but not enough to stain the ground around it; "I'm thankful for parents who understand my circumstances"

I waited for her encouraging remarks, her 'professional opinion'. I recieved merely a grunt of acknowledgement, and the pistol swiftly moved to the next person, who - after speaking - was soon basking in the 'Coach's' flattery and encouragement. I also couldn't help noticing that I was the only person 'Coach' did not refer to by name during that final scrutiny around the table, despite the fact I had a name-tag like everyone else.

As I stood in the street a few minutes later, almost in tears as I related the story to my father over the phone, I couldn't understand what had happened. Were my contributions less valuable than those of every other individual in the room? Was I snubbed because she deemed my not 'ill' enough to merit her attention and encouragement? Was my self esteem 'too high' to merit begin in there in the first place? When talking to those who arranged the seminiar in the first place a week later, I was told 'Coach' probably treated me as she did because my first remark - asking her come back to me later after she put me on the spot - was interprited by her as cheek, a way of saying "I'm not going to comply with your demands". I never intended it that way. Perhaps it was this that 'Coach' interprited as me being 'too confident' to be in the seiminar in the first place. Or maybe she was simply too proud.

Although my feelings have been voiced to those who matter, I still find myself boiling with a mixture of disgust and injustice towards the way I was treated. There is also some sadness within that crucible, that someone who on whom I placed many high expectations - from myself and from others - was such a disappointment. It reminded me too vividly of a similar experience several years earlier at university, when I attempted to contact a professor - a celebrity among literary circles, and, like 'Coach', with a streem of titles to her name - for assistance in a personal project which she happened to be a renown specialist in. When I recieved nothing in response, my esteem to plummet, for it seemed not even 'famous' people deemed me worthy of their assistance.
But in both cases, I have no reason to be sad at being rejected by people I have no respect for - whose reputations are based entirely on news paper reviews and marketting statistics. Allowing their rejection to tear my soul would be no different to endorsing them by purchasing their 'books' and lining their pockets.

I agreed with only one of the 'Coach's' philosophies; that a lack of confidence comes from comparing ones self to others. But she spoiled the effect of her wisdom by shamelessly contradicting herself a few minutes later. There was - as is the case with most group gatherings - one individual who spoke up just a little more than everyone else, and thus secured most of the 'Coach's' attention. The general jist of his story was that he had been through dark times, but was on the way out of them. Shortly after, another individual was encouraged to speak, whose story related that she had only just begun her jounrey into the wastelands of mental health. 'Coach' - in a whimsical attempt to sow hope within her - told her to draw strength from the tale of the previous speaker, the undertone being; "Look at him! He's better now! And if can get better, so can you!" Had I the confidence that she denied me, I would have liked to have told 'Coach' that she had contradicting herself to by encouraigng the lady to draw on the experience of the man. By telling her to draw on the latter's story, she was encouraging her to compare herself to him - to set her expectations high. And what if those expectations are not met? This is the wrong thing to tell a vulnerable person, for not only does it set them up for disappointment, but it also undermines the extent of their issues. Just because one person recovers from bad health speedily and through a certain means does not mean that another will achieve the same results.

I don't believe a 'life coach' who snubs clients for brusing her pride and contradicts her own philosophies is in any position to be preaching about confidence. When I found her book a few months later while decluttering my room, I shredded it into as many pieces as I could manage and cast it away where it belonged - in the waste paper bin. I would have done far worse if I'd been feeling creative enough.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Auctore Deo - A Fragment... (III)

April 2002
A running joke among the year group was that Mr. M________ and [a certain Irish politician] had been separated at birth.
“Looks like he’s about to give someone a blowjob”, remarked my desk-mate as we scrutinised the photograph from a history textbook that had incited the observation. My attention was drawn to the Irishman’s parted lips, frozen in mid-speech, suspended before the head of a microphone as if he intended to bit it off.
For me, M________ bore a stronger resemblance to a sack of butchered fragments carved from the carcasses of assorted animals and fused together – Dr. Moreau-style – into a vaguely human form. He had the stomach of a rhino, the jaw of a pelican, the lips of a carp, hands like the pincers of a dried-up lobster, the rear end of a whale and the forbidding brows of an owl, permanently knotted into a cold grimace that rarely altered.
His features appeared as if they had been jammed effortlessly by a child onto the flesh of a rotten potato. His yellow crust crawled as if the limbs of the beasts sacrificed to build his hobbling frame still twitched with life below the surface, yearning to escape their prison.
The only hint of tamed civilisation present on his figure was a pair of glasses – the sort that magnified the shadowy caverns of his eyes so that they appeared thrice their usual dimension - perched permanently on his forehead when not in use. I wondered if this were a fashion-statement.

He was a supply teacher. I’m guessing, as a result of having no specific expertises, he tried to assure the students that he was their equal. To achieve this, he seducing them into a sense of comradeship by delivering dry witticisms on such subjects as the futility of homework, the hypocrisy of uniform standards and the contours of female assets. My one encounter with him ensured me that he was certainly not on my side.
The GCSE mocks were underway. M________ was invigilating the French listening paper. He was putting on his usual performance, placing a ruthless spin on the instructions he had to read out to us before the start of the exam.
“This examination will test your listening skills in relation to the French language”, he read in his nasally, bird-like voice, weathered by decades of tobacco, “Skills you only need if you live in France”
A chorus of amusement met his strategically timed afterthought. He paused, leaving himself enough time to bask in the glory of his success before continuing.
“Ensure all answers are written clearly in black ink - well, they certainly wouldn’t want you writing in blood now, would they?”
Another round of ovation.
“Silence is to be maintained at all times – by threat of beheading. You all know the French!”
With each applause, a note of triumph rose in his voice as he excited their admiration. He knew that his cutting humour had won their hearts. He was their friend from the other side. They loved him, and it made the mouldy potato perched upon his shoulders swell, like when so much mucus gathers beneath a boil that it seems to pulsate in agony.
I had no sympathy for his humour, which became cruder with each applause. Realising that the exam probably wasn’t going to start for another fifteen minutes, he being more intent on giving his audience what they wanted, I took the opportunity to look fleetingly through the paper in order to write down the question numbers. It was something we had always done in class, to save time and to give us an idea of how to answer the question.
I was half way through this exercise when I realised that I was being watched;
“You! Stop what you’re doing!”
The glasses had returned to his forehead – he meant business.
I was so too shocked and embarrassed to listen to the thundering torrent of abuse he poured upon me, denouncing me for opening the paper before permission had been granted.
Embers seemed to crackle from the depths of those soulless caverns, as if the beasts beneath were fighting for dominance over their host.
I suppose he was justified in his criticism, but if he’d bothered to ask, he would have learnt that I had no intention of cheating. It isn’t possible to cheat on an exam when you have to listen to a recording for the answers.
“Here I am, trying to help everyone relax by having a bit of fun, and you take advantage of my benevolence! It’s students like you that I loathe!”
Students like me.
He was in no position to cast judgement on my character. That was the first time he had ever spoken to me.
The pincers snapped up my paper and cast it into the bin.

"For wasting my time and holding up your class-mates, you can go and start a new sheet"
His scrutiny continued as I returned to my seat. The others loved it, seeing the class boffin and gay-lord get a verbal lashing. Even in a blind rage he hadn’t fail to entertain them. Now that he hated me, they loved him even more. He had officially migrated to their camp.
Satisfied at having soundly humiliated the convict for his crime, M________ returned to the front of the room and resumed his former task.
“Students must listen to the recording and answer the appropriate questions – well, you don’t say, monsieur!”
Later, I wondered if his wrath was prompted partly by indignation at the fact I was the only person in the room who hadn’t found his assessment of French people as amusing as he’d hoped.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Canto Twenty-Eight

Dear B__

When I intercepted my uncle’s email, informing my father that the news had reached Australia, his expression implied that it had been the first ejaculation to drool from his brother’s tongue once he had returned home.

'Don't mean to alarm you mate, but Robin's just got back and he's saying your boy's come out as gay'

I pictured him discharged the gossip dolefully in an East London accent lamed by a slight Australian drawl - “Mav’s boy, you know, the one who’s packin’ on a few pounds. Turns out he’s a poof”

I am no closer to my uncle Robin than the Earth is to Pluto. I had only one memory of him prior to the events that took place three years ago; yelling at me not to touch a toy train belonging to his daughter in case I lost ‘the bits’. I suspect that his tolerance for nieces and nephews expired after my sister was born, and simply couldn’t be bothered to get to know my brother and I. Beyond the medium of birthday cards and gift labels hastily taped to boxes of Boots brand body spray, I have no other recollection of him ever referring to me by name, let alone acknowledging my existence.

When he migrated to Australia, he inherited the archetypal role of ‘the uncle living overseas’ whose phone-call at the annual Christmas gathering is a focal point of the evening’s entertainment. I never learnt the reasons for his flight, except implications that it was a desperate bid to withdraw from the battlefield of responsibilities that come with having six siblings and a widowed mother. For several years, the only notion one ever had of his existence came in the form of home-made desktop calendars – substituting seasonal greeting cards – featuring a photograph of himself with wife and children bearing smiles like wedding outfits; bought for the occasion, and never used again.

When another of my uncles followed his example and immigrated to Australia a few years later, they secured themselves many months of coverage when bitterness between their wives escalated into a holy war. The hostilities became so complex that even Thucydides would have struggled to stay ahead.

Of my mother’s five brothers, I know nothing of Robin besides what I have pieced together from fragments of overheard telephone conversations and emails that have been left unattended, most concerning the war in Perth and other battles. The portrait I developed was one of a corporate atheist with the psyche of a school boy, devoted to materialism and interested solely in making others aware of his luxurious living conditions. His brief return to England for the Christmas holiday, publicised as if it were the final public appearence of an acclaimed celebrity, confirmed my suspicions.

The family was in the midst of a crisis. Money was needed from all seven siblings to correct an error that, if not treated, could have resulted in my grandmother loosing her home. My mother and aunt intended to ask Robin for his contribution in person when the inevitable Christmas gathering came around. But Robin was more content in giving a seminar on Australian tiger prawns. The crisis had to be averted without his assistance, and a wind of bitterness still sweeps the deserted arena.

It was during this visit that he learnt of my sexuality. My father received the email from my other uncle in Australia within a matter of days. My earliest suspicion was that it had been the work of a gossipmonger bent on stirring strife. I suspected that bird of ill omen to have been a certain fork-tongued cousin, a known sower of discord and reaper of venom. Then I suspected her step-father, a preacher of biological processes and homophobia; my aunt could have easily passed that intelligence onto him unintentionally, and he – still harbouring bitterness towards my parents from a previous drama – may have seen it as his opportunity to strike back. My already intense hatred towards them both threatened to boil over, even if I could not prove my suspicion.

It may have been far simpler. He may have guessed from some of my mannerisms. He may discovered the copy of “Another Gay Movie” among my video collection. He may have accidentally picked up my phone and seen the text messages from my [then] boyfriend.

The truth – of which I am still ignorant - no longer matters. He found out, and as soon as he returned to Australia, he told the rest of the family out there. It wasn’t his business to know in the first place, and it certainly wasn’t his business to tell them. For all he knew, I may not have wanted them to know. That he never took that into account demonstrated to me the extent of his ignorance – and proved what my parents had known all along; that he possessed no notion of respect for the wishes of others.

If Robin – the very last person I ever intended to tell of my private life – knows, it is likely that a majority of the family now know too. Thanks to him, the door to a private corner of my soul has been torn from its hinges, and exposed to the threat of gossip. I have no wish to be like my venomous cousin, whose private life receives regular front-page coverage at family gatherings. Having spent a large fragment of my life being whispered about and made the centre of unwanted attention and rumours, it would make a nice change not to feel the same exposure and nakedness among family members. For tearing away my armour, and killing my simple wish to keep my private life concealed, Robin will never have my forgiveness.

When discussing the matter with others, I am told that my indignation is a sign that I am not ‘proud’ of who I am. My response to this is simple; I have no reason to take pride in my sexuality in the same way that I have no reason to take pride in having ten fingers. I don’t want others to know because they have no reason to know. I choose not to make it a public issue because it needn't be one. The world does not need to know, especially uncles who can’t remember my name. I don't want the wider family knowing because I know it'll become the subject of gossip - and unlike my cousin, I take no pleasure in knowing that I am being whispered about.

It spoke volumes that the email implied Robin had spread the word of my sexuality from the moment he arrived home. Since he clearly did not care for me enough to even acknowledge my presence during the weeks he stayed that Christmas, I wondered why he was suddenly excited by the knowledge of my sexuality enough go out and spread it like an anecdote of pub trivia. Perhaps it was no different to his boasting over his financial success and Australian Tiger Prawns, a little branch of his pride – this time, under threat of being torn away and burnt.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Auctore Deo - A Fragment... (II)

November 1998
To commemorate Guy Fawkes Night, Mr. G_____ set our form the challenge of composing a story about a terrorist plot, in which we were the ‘plotter’. Whilst questioning selected individuals on their chosen target and intended means of mass-destruction, a flat, phlegm- blocked voice monotonously declared at a perfectly timed lapse of silence;
“I’m gonna blow up Stan S____”
The laughter prompted by this remark still pummels through my head like a merciless drill gouging through soft, sensitive stone. I never realised Matthew hated me enough to want to murder me. But at times it seemed every other pupil who secured a place at the school had to surrender his conscience once the application had been accepted, as if it were an obligatory fraction of a contract. Therefore, it shouldn’t have surprised me.
Matthew V______ joined St. P_______ in the third year, when one of his parents became the new head. He was an instant personality; in those days it was unthinkable to have a parent working at your school. He received an elevated seat on the bench reserved for those of trendy society, admittance to the school choir without needing an audition, and a stream of cameos in collaborative creative writing projects.
My earliest memory of him was his saunter; he shuffled about as if one leg were shorter than the other. It wasn’t possible to determine whether he was truly lame, or whether pride had found its way even to his knee caps.
Being anything but popular, I interacted with him mainly at brass band practise. We seemed to get along, until one afternoon – while preparing for a form talent contest - I overheard him murmur “Not really” to another student who enquired of him as to whether I was ‘any good’ at playing the French Horn.
Upon migrating to secondary school, he lost the novelty of being the head’s son, and immediately sank amidst the masses.
Matthew was one of many individuals who treated me civilly in primary school, only for the social circumstances of secondary education to stimulate their inner ugliness to the realisation that they had someone onto whom they could project their insecurities, guaranteeing them a peaceful existence – for nobody would think to find fault in them if they joined the rest finding fault in me.
He was part of a privileged minority to escape the honour of having an insulting nickname attached to him (those attached to me would require a catalogue in its own right), likely a result of him being so bland and characterless that the dispensers of those nicknames had no reason to notice, let alone target him in the first place.
I interacted with him rarely, for he avoided me as if my vices were transmittable. But whenever his grey eyes fell on me, his features contracted into a look of contempt and disgust that gave his muddy brown lips the appearance of a clenched arsehole.
I hadn’t done anything to provoke his hatred enough to make him want to blow me up. Perhaps he convinced himself that my reputation as the form’s resident bender and band geek shrouded something sinister that it was his duty to expose. But I doubt he was witty enough to conceive of such a thought. Either he hated me that much, or he simply realised that he could use me as an excuse to make sure everyone else knew he was still there.
When I began wearing glasses for the first time in the third year, Matthew was the first to present his views.
“You don’t really need them”, he remarked acidly, fancying himself a psychologist.
I’ve occasionally imagined myself responding to his observation with equally acidic rebuttal; “You’re right. I didn’t really need them. I just want to draw even more
unwanted attention onto myself”
His circle from our form comprised of others just as loathsome as himself. Walton always put me in the mind of an overweight hamster, with his bloated cheeks, pink hands and large front teeth permanently stained the colour of urine. On an English trip, he took it upon himself to warn those sitting next me that the darkened atmosphere of the theatre would make them vulnerable to a sexual assault. During the coach trip back, he entertained an audience with a speech on the loathsome sin of homosexuality in tones loud enough for me – seating across the aisle – to clearly hear.
West – his brow large enough to substitute an airport landing strip - was just as cold and devoid of a soul as the mutton that inspired his epithet. ‘Spam’ enjoyed informing me of the fact I was officially the ugliest boy in the form, implying that he possessed statistics to prove so.
In the fifth year, Matthew broke yet another taboo and became a member of the fabled Smoking Crew, a band of valiant devils who practised the unthinkable and smoked on the school premise between classes. If he did it in an attempt to immortalise himself in playground lore, he failed terribly, because, unlike most of the other ‘hard nuts’ who formed this posse, very few knew of his existence.
He wasn’t invited back to the Sixth Form.
I last saw him in person entertaining Walton and West outside the school gates with tales of his new existence working a stall in R______ Market. He had undergone no considerable change in appearance besides looking as if he had been pumped with several tanks of helium. That same walk – somewhere between an invalid’s shuffle and an idiot’s stride – carried him back into obscurity. He surfaced from that black mass of nothingness that is Facebook only once during the time that I used it, where I came across a photograph of him – with several additional chins – gripping a misty pint glass in a vice of sausages and grinning stupidly at the camera with a look that carried a stronger resemblance to constipation than tranquilly.
It was the same look that had flashed across his face as he bathed in the ovation of his audience that day in Mr. G______’s class.
There is nothing else to say about Matthew. He wouldn’t deserve anything more. He has probably forgotten about his plot to murder me. And if he hasn’t, I suspect it is because that one ejaculation of idiocy secured him alone to the attention of the masses for those fleeting seconds.
Just like these reality television candidates who continue to prostitute themselves to the media despite having appeared in a prehistoric edition of “Big Brother”, it seems only natural that he should choose to hang onto his single moment of glory.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Bloody Chamber

Dear B___

‘Hate’ is a very strong word, one that – like ‘friend’ – others seem to throw around without considering what they are about to say. Life has so far shown me that those who sow hatred with the loudest voices are always the rashest - and succeed more in exposing the darkness within their own souls than the vices of their victims.

I am well acquainted with Hate. It took root and burst into a forest of thorns within my schoolmates once it was assumed that I carried the affliction of homosexuality. One Christmas Eve, a sour-faced girl acidly refused to sit next me at Midnight Mass, declaring – “I hate him” - having not once exchanged a syllable with me beforehand. During a brief term of employment at the local supermarket, I became the subject of vendetta - whispered taunts, mocking laughter and stabbing glares -
after complaining to management about the insolence of certain members of the night-crew.

Now, the heat of blazing Hatred burns my skin from another direction. It used to hurt me when I learned that I was supposedly ‘the biggest figure of hate’ among that community, who – despite the fact I have had no ties whatsoever with them for four years – have blamed me for any slight blemish to their ego and made me the subject of bitter hate speeches, mocking videos and lamentably cliché-ridden parodies, one of which concludes with me being brutally mutilated.

But as history has proven more times than it is possible to catalogue, Hate is the thin, flimsy mask of Fear.

My apparent crime was nonexistent compared to those committed by others on previous occasions. And prior to the uproar that resulted in my exile, I led a modest and well-respected existence among the community, even establishing several traditions that it is still famed for today (though, predictably, any evidence of my contributions were erased following my departure, and attributed instead to others within the favouring circle of the Count).
But it is clear to me now that I only carry that title of ‘the biggest figure of hate’ because I ventured into forbidden territory – the bloody chamber of Bluebeard’s castle.

I did not imagine those horrors. I wasn’t creative enough to conceive such narratives, and make-believe cannot move a body to the despair that I experienced. The fact I am now hated for trying to cast away the darkness within that chamber reinforces everything I came to realise by the time I detached myself from that cult. Now that they are united in their belief that I am the snake bent on contaminating their utopian paradise, they can remain deluded by the fantasy that has seeped silkily into their brains like ambrosia - and reject everything they dare to acknowledge. They deserve only pity for being so weak.

The parodies, videos and hate speeches that have been produced about me serve only to reinforce a bleak message to any other soul who dares to unmask Bluebeard again.

I don’t think it’s possible for them to truly hate me. None of them knew the person who sat behind the screen-name, of the living nightmare that poor soul was encased within on a daily basis like Andersen's mermaid silently enduring the stabbing pain of a thousand knives with every step on her new legs.

But I doubt that matters.
I am not the one they hate. Neither am I offended by the thought of being parodied. It is the monster they believed me to be that has been immortalised in their history book as their 'biggest figure of hate', the stain that marks 'the darkest year'. Pierre existed only in cyber-space. As I am sure was the case with many of them also, he was a personality that I constructed, who embodied qualities that I lacked in the real world; confidence, wit, talent. He was a marionette who sang while I pulled the strings, unseen, in the lofts above. He was no more authentic than the characters celebrated by the cult.

Even if Pierre had elements of my soul within him, they are certainly there no longer. As a person, I am so vastly different to how I used to be during that ugly period that comparison would be futile. If they continue to hate Pierre as intensely as they claim, they may as well be directing their loathing at the air. He died the second I closed my account.
The body that they mutilated and gaffered at proudly had turned to dust long before the court clowns - intent only on securing a seat close to the Count's rear-end - raised their ruthless pens.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Auctore Deo – A Fragment...

March 2000
Pat carried the nickname ‘Ears’ because of the large stumpy objects that stuck out of his head like a pair of scarlet satellite dishes.
Short and scraggy, he was covered with so many freckles that it looked as if a bucket of sand had been thrown in his face. He rarely washed himself or his clothes, and a foul odour of old cheese and sweat followed him everywhere.
If he hadn’t been sent there for disrupting a class, Pat was frequently found standing outside the deputy head’s office dramatically rubbing his bruised arms and pretending to cry. His favourite activity consisted of provoking older boys to the point of no mercy, and running to teachers the second they retaliated.
If ever he felt his popularity slipping beyond salvage, he tried to win back his antagonist’s affection by engaging in animated arguments with teachers in the middle of lessons, hoping that his witty remarks would provide everyone with a source of entertainment. But they only made him more unpopular, for it was such performances that we frequently landed us in class detentions.
When not occupied by such activities, Pat spent most lessons slicing dead skin from the soles of his feet with a protractor, either pocketing it for light snack later or spitting it at the person sitting opposite.
Pat and I had a strange relationship. Some weeks he latched onto me like a leech, trying to convince me that we were destined allies – that the rest of the class hated us because they were jealous. He mainly resorted to this tactic on the days he needed money for the tuck-shop, or when he had forgotten to revise for a test.
Other days, he loathed me venomously. The class frequently rounded on him when his behaviour landed us in after-school detentions. Even if every individual in the room was heckling him once the teacher left the room, I was the person he cornered afterwards.
It didn’t matter what every else thought of him. To sink lower than the resident ‘gay-lord’ was too much.
One afternoon at registration, he gawfered mockingly across the room at me - “Ya’ gay! Ya’ got no friends!”
Next morning he gave me a novelty sweet tin shaped like a train.
In the afternoon he reported me to the head-of-year for giving him a Christmas card with a picture of Dumbo on the front.
It happened on a Wednesday during form period.
Pat and I sat together at the front of the room, this being one of the days on which were allied. The two boys sitting behind us were pestering him, stabbing him with rulers, flicking his ears and slipping things out of his bag.
Pat wailed defencelessly – “Stop it Matthew and Stephen! I’m trying to read my book of fiction!” – loud enough for Mr. G_____ to hear.
It was a very typical scene until midway into the hour, when Pat suddenly sprang to his feet, his eyes rolling in horror, his pink smudgy hands swiping at the air in front of him.
“Err! Err! Get away from me! Get away from me!”
That scene from Dumbo when Timothy Mouse scares the bullying female elephants springs to mind.
At first, I thought a wasp had landed on his ears. It was just like Pat to put on a performance whenever his life was under threat. Then he stabbed me with an accusing finger and squealed - “Get away from me, ya’ gay-lord!”
There was only one ‘gay-lord’ in the room/
I could only stare as he continued to scream and storm, dancing wildly up and down the aisle of desks. By now all eyes in the room were fixed on him – and every set of those eyes followed the direction of his stabbing finger. Nine years later, I wondered whether this was part of his act, the drama he put on for the rest of the class whenever he needed some favouring votes.
G_____ ordered him to move to a desk at the front of the class.
He snatched his coat away from the seat next to me as if I was going to contaminate it with ‘gayness’ if it remained in my presence any longer. I could only stare blankly at him. But this seemed to fuel his mania.
“Don’t fuckin’ look at me, ya’ gay-lord! Don’t fuckin’ look at me! Err! Err! Err!”
He emphasised his frustrated by showering violent blows on the table and thrashing violently in my direction. G_____ thundered at him to leave and go to the deputy-head’s office.
Pat gathered his property and flounced out of the room. He turned at the threshold and flashed a grimace of pure disgust at me.
"I’m gonna tell 'im we got a gay-lord in our class”, where his final words before the door was slammed shut in his face.
The remainder of the hour passed fleetingly. I couldn’t concentrate on my reading. I had no idea as to what I was
supposed to have done.
The bell sounded for morning break. As we moved to the dining hall, the others asked what had happened. I couldn’t answer.
As I joined my friends in the hall, Pat slithered grandly up to us with newly discovered confidence, as if he had acquired armour that would protect him from the plague I carried. He jammed one oily sausage-roll after another into his mouth as he addressed me, saliva, dead skin and crumbs spraying my face.
"Stiffy-Jiffy! Deputy head’s office – after break!”
When I did not honour him with a response, the satellite dishes turned a deep shade of indignant scarlet.
“Don’t speak me to that way, Stiffy! You’re in for it now, so hold your tongue and come quietly”
Realising that he was flaunting his newly found protection from the deputy-head, I chose to ignore him and continued to talk to my companions. Pat lingered around us all the while, proudly informing the others that he had been sent to prevent my escape. It was not the first time I felt like a quarantined animal during my time at the school – but that was the time I remember clearer than most.
When break ended, Pat marched me to the deputy-head’s office, and once I was invited inside, he sailed back to class, his head expanding by the second.
Mr B_____ read out the statement;
Stanley put his hand on my leg and asked me if he could rub my penis. At break time, he followed me into the toilet, squeezed my bottom and said “I love you Patrick! Will you marry me?”. I was deeply distressed and confused, and contemplated speaking to my form tutor. But I feared what Stanley would do next…
It went on for several pages, I heard no more of it then that. The sound of my angry tears drowned him out. I then had to listen an account of an incident he had dealt with several years previously, involving a pupil who ‘touched’ other boys in showers after Games.
He then said that it was a ‘very serious case of sexual harassment’.
Whilst frantically trying to bat away the rulers and pencils used to prod him from the couple sitting behind us, Pat’s shoe had come off. I had tried to alert him by pointing to the shoe on the floor. My hand happened to come level with his thigh. It was this fleeting act that he interpreted as my attempt to rape him.
But I didn’t tell B_____ that. I was too confused and angry to think rationally. The only thought running through my head was how I would slaughter the delicate little pachyderm when we next met.
I also failed to mention that, only a few weeks before the episode took place, Pat had asked me to fellate him in exchange for a pound in the middle of Geography.
Part of me was convinced that B_____ believed Pat’s lies, that he wouldn’t listen to me even if I told him the simple and ridiculous truth. If I had set aside my insecurities, I may have saved myself from the humiliation of being withdrawn from lessons for an entire day while B_____ undertook his ‘investigation’.
Since I was generally known for being the band geek who never got into trouble, the sight of me standing outside the deputy-head’s office at lunch generated a whirlwind of lashing rumours.
For reasons known only to themselves, some of the boys Bolton interviewed as part of his ‘investigation’ supporting Pat’s statement, despite their loathing of him.
B_____ eventually declared the case inconclusive due to a ‘lack of evidence’. I left his office in silence, unable to look him in the face for the remainder of my days at the school.
His verdict hardly mattered. Despite Pat being hated for his manipulation, his whinging and his lies, he had suffered the one thing they all feared – and for that, they had his sympathy.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Reading intentions for June 2009

Dear B___

I would like to take a moment to tell of you of my reading intentions for this month.

Gaskell - Gothic Tales
I first encountered Elizabeth Gaskell in my fifth year at secondary school, when I studied one of her short stories for GCSE Literature. My memories of ‘The Sexton’s Hero’ are vague, but I struggled with the archaic language, which seemed to cloud the plot. It only seemed to become apart what was happening every other paragraph, when certain words and phrases sprang out of the mist. I did not encounter Gaskell again until the spring of 2008, when I came across Gothic Tales in Waterstones. Still haunted by The Picture of Dorian Gray – the last novel I had studied before withdrawing from my course - I was curious to see how another author addressed the gothic genre. I was especially drawn to two tales in particular, ‘Curious, If True’ – which draws on imagery and characters from popular fairytales – and ‘The Poor Claire’ – involving a doppelganger motif, a theme that has left a great impression on me after reading (admittedly, a chapter short) Dostoyevsky’s The Double. However, as with ‘The Sexton’s Hero’, complicated language and imagery made reading the tales a struggle and I began to feel as if I were reading them for the sake of doing so rather than enjoyment.

Gaskell entered my life yet again at the end of year, when I received a colourful, leather bound edition of Cranford for Christmas. I knew nothing of the novel except that it had been the subject of a celebrated period drama – a genre I am not drawn to, since any thought of such stories takes me back to a lecture on Pride and Prejudice at the University of E____ in which we were told that ‘anyone who hasn’t read [this novel] is a dull elf’. I didn’t think I would ever find such a novel in my possession, but I did not want to let another person’s opinion darken my judgement without having experienced the genre for myself. Cranford became my first major literary journey of 2009. It was an interesting experience which gave me a more complimentary taste of Gaskell’s style, and a greater appreciation for her in general. The language once again presented a challenge. I had far greater difficulty remember the names and traits of each main character – for nearly all are referred to, on most occasions, by their surnames. But once I had built up mental images of each, the characters became more engaging. Like many novels, determination is required to penetrate that initial doubt, and very soon the language began to take on an affectionate tone. I really sensed that Gaskell had a touching fondness for her characters through her choice of words alone. It wasn’t until a considerable way into the novel that I realised it wasn’t so much a ‘story’ – in the sense of a narrative concerning a specific episode – but rather an elaborate, episodic portrait of life in this town 'in possession of the Amazons'. I was reminded of such novels as To Kill a Mockingbird and other such novels which relay – in depth – day-to-day occurrences in the lives of its characters, made a little more interesting by the occasional episode; in this case, ghosts, a magic show, burglars, unexpected marriage and lost relatives returning after years of separation. As each episode bleeds into the next, a secondary plot sits below the surface as the river-like flow of every day rushes by, rising to consciousness occasionally before submerging itself again to be resolved later.

Following on from Cranford, I have decided to return to Gothic Tales in my determination to appreciate the books I have to hand instead of purchasing new ones. I have steadily made my way through seven of the nine stories in the volume, and while they have given me an interesting glimpse of her style under a genre she is not as well known for (which, in this case, is vastly different to the social realism of Cranford) each story varies in degrees of entertainment. Some are ‘slow burners’, and the gothic elements sometimes take a while to surface. Some involve intensely detailed accounts of the character’s family history, to the extent that you find yourself having witnessed several generations passing by over the course of the story. Whilst it makes the characters more complex and ‘textured’ (as I like to put it), it can be a struggle to keep up with the significant details. I have decided to leave the two longer stories – ‘Lois the Witch’ and ‘The Poor Claire’ - till the summer, perhaps for our holiday in Scotland, where the rustic backdrop is sure to provide the perfect backdrop.

Lawrence - Sons & Lovers
Sons and Lovers is one of a mountain of novels that I purchased for my university course, but never got a chance to appreciate due to stress and time-restrictions. The literature units were structured in such a way that we addressed a different work each week, and it was heavily implied that we risked failing the unit if we did not read the selected text in time for the weekly lecture and seminar. It was this fear that prompted me to purchase as many of the books as possible, even though I knew I wouldn’t have the time to organize them alongside assignments. It was as if merely owning the text in the first place was a sign of effort. I should have realised the peril of falling behind was an empty threat, used by the department to prompt the lazier individuals to do some work. But I – with a naive tendency to take things literally - often found myself consumed with guilt and misery when finding it impossible to read and dissect every required book for each week, or simply not doing so out of laziness.

In order to handle the heavy work-load of the second year, it was necessary to wisely select works that you could easily manage and focus on for an essay, because it was ultimately the mark for that essay that would contribute towards the final degree. Being a slow reader – coupled with many other anxieties – I frequently resorted to the shorter works (or those I had studied at secondary school) to to make life easier. As a result, I often came away from lectures on longer and unfamiliar works such as Sons and Lovers wondering if I was ‘missing out’ on anything from having not read them. In addition to its length, I was put off Sons and Lovers by the proposal of Freudian and Oedipal undertones presented in a lecture on the novel, the variety of literary interpretation that fills me with frustration. Just like the previously mentioned lecture on Pride and Prejudice, I feel foolish for allowing another person’s individual interpretation of the novel to deform my judgement. I should have formed my own by reading it for myself – and that is partly why I wish to return to the novel properly now, no longer under the disheartening cloud of having to pull it apart for an essay.

Another reason I have chosen to read Sons and Lovers this month is to confront the negative feelings that are attached to the circumstances under which I originally encountered it. It was part of the reading list for a course called ‘Versions of Modernity’. ‘Modernity’ is not easily defined, and therefore it would be impossible to abridge the purpose of the course. But, in the mildest terms, it focused on works as early as the Renaissance through to the modern day, examining what it was that made them ‘modern’ for their time. This was my least favourite unit for a multitude of reasons. The secondary reason was that it involved volumes of archaic poetry from the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge which I struggled with immensely, and which made me feel useless and unscholarly because it seemed I was the only person who couldn’t appreciate them. The primary reason was that my seminar group for ‘Versions’ was peppered with several aggressive and opinionated students whose behaviour – despite them being in a minority - quickly resulted in that class marking the lowest moment of my week. These individuals dominated every discussion from beginning to end, and addressed their ideas so aggressively that I feared contributing myself in-case they rounded on me. Their forwardness made me doubt my studying tactics, making me feel that I – like them – should be coming to class bursting with interpretations. This seminar was one of several major factors that had a damaging effect on my declining mental health, resulting in me withdrawing from the university altogether. Whenever my eyes have fallen on a book from the ‘Versions of Modernity’ course, the emotions that I experienced in that seminar – frustration, bitterness, hatred and loneliness – resurface as raw as when they were first experienced. But two years have passed, and I consider returning to the books as a means of facing those troubles – and, ultimately, defeating them.

Wells – War of the Worlds & Tono-Bungay

I have only just begun my voyage into the rich and captivating world of H. G. Wells, one of the few ‘classic’ authors I did not first encounter on my university course. The Invisible Man introduced me to the genre of science fiction, complimented by Wells' swift style, fast moving plot and interesting mix of comedy, tragedy and philosophy. I am entirely ignorant of his biography and philosophies, but I was captured by the way he took fantastical elements – something we associate mainly with myth and fantasy – and merged it with rational science. I understand that his novels address issues concerning the role of science in modern society, and its relation to the realm of fantasy – realms I have only ever seen as being completely opposite and in a state of eternal conflict. To find a connection between them is – for me – revolutionary. War of the Worlds is the next of Wells novels I wish to try, mainly because I’m curious to see how the notion of UFOs – something I have often perceived as being a very ‘modern’ thing, associated mainly with Hollywood - is addressed by an earlier author. I understand that Tono-Bungay can be read as a critique of corporate advertising. It will be interested to see how deep this critique penetrates, and whether the underlying themes it presents will be applicable to modern society, with its emphasis on image and ego-consciousness.

I look forward to returning from my quests over these literary mountains, and sharing my discoveries with you at a later date.