Tales from the Tube #347

Friday night at 10:00 pm-ish – The Victoria Line – King’s Cross/St Pancras

Two young men, about twenty years old, jumped onto the Tube just before the doors closed.

The taller one, who was wearing hipster glasses, apologised for bumping into another passenger in his hurry to get on board. The passenger didn’t acknowledge him. As the two young men moved to the end of the carriage, the tall one said very loudly for all the carriage to hear “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m from The North. I forgot that London people don’t talk to each other.”

Three forty-something-year-old women started cracking up laughing. One of them said to the young man, “You can talk to us, love. We’re from The North too.” The entirety of the following conversation was more than loud enough for the whole carriage to hear.

Glasses Guy: “Where in The North are you from?”

Middle-aged woman: “We’re from Newcastle”

Glasses Guy (gesturing to the other shorter guy, who hadn’t said anything yet): “John has a friend from Sunderland”

Middle-aged woman (cackling): “Does he have eleven toes?”

John: “I don’t know how many toes he has, but he has a tiny penis. I don’t know if that’s a Sunderland thing.”

Middle-aged woman (crying with laughter, pointing at one of her friends): “Her husband is from Sunderland. She can tell you if that’s a Sunderland thing.”

Other woman: Blushes and guffaws.

Glasses Guy: “I haven’t been in London since my parents took me here on holidays when I was a child. Where are you going?”

Middle-aged woman: “We have a hotel opposite Victoria.”

Glasses Guy: “We’re meeting a friend at Brixton. He told us that we just have to get off at the last stop. [Turning to the rest of the carriage] Is Brixton the last stop?”

All the Londoners look intensely at their phones. I briefly meet his eyes and say “Yes.”

Glasses Guy: “A talking Londoner!”

He carries on talking to the women until we get to Victoria.

After they get off, we have four more stops with the two boys. At each stop, Glasses Guy greeted each passenger boarding by saying “Welcome to the Tube!” They all hurried to their seats, which just so happened to be at the opposite end of the carriage from him. And as the train leaves each station, Glasses Guy declares to the whole carriage: “It’s my first time on the Tube without my parents!” He and his short friend took a series of photos and selfies of themselves on the Tube, looking wistfully out the window, lying on the floor and wrapped around poles like they were Jessica Rabbit.

By the time we got to Brixton, I was sad they would no longer be in my life.

 

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Need to say

Grieving is a funny old process. You feel perfectly normal for hours on end and then, all of a sudden, you’re just submerged in sadness, and it might just last for five seconds or it might last for a lot longer and there seems to be no way of knowing which it’ll be.

Most of the time it’s fine I guess. And then sometimes it isn’t, and that’s how it’s meant to be.

The time I almost invariably start crying is in the shower. I suppose it’s the one time I don’t have background noise. I listen to podcasts while walking to the shower, and I turn them on again when I’m drying myself afterwards, but while I’m actually in the shower, it’s just me and my thoughts.

I cry for him and I cry for me. I cry that I won’t ever get to see him again, that I won’t ever say something that makes him laugh, or better, make him sit up in interest, because at the end of the day, I’m just a little boy who thinks his dad is the cleverest person he’s ever met and he just wants to please him. Death is very final. I already knew that, except I didn’t. I’ve known people who died before, but never anyone as close to me as my dad. I cry at the indignity of death, at the pain and powerlessness and discomfort of his last days. I cry because I know that I’ll die too. I cry because I didn’t say the goodbye I wanted to, and now I’ll never get the chance.

The last twice I saw my dad, I wanted to tell him two things.

My parents were both troubled by the fact that I’m not married and don’t have children and that I don’t have a mortgage. They wanted me not to be gay, and certainly not to live a gay life. But I remember my dad pleading with me when I came out to them not to allow it to be a barrier between me and them. I completely failed at that. I have a twenty-year habit of lying to my parents about my life and I’ve never really been able to break that habit. Back when I was twenty one, my dad asked me to talk to him more, not to let our relationship become the relationship that Gar has with his father in Philadelphia Here I Come. (Yes, my dad was the kind of person who referenced literature as a way to discuss emotion.) And ours was never as bad as the relationship Gar had with his father, but there was always a wall. A wall made of religion and sex. And I devastated my parents by doing a PhD and then not getting an academic job. They couldn’t understand why I went to Vietnam afterwards. They certainly couldn’t understand why I moved to my little house in Longford.

But I think Dad understood London. I was as honest as I could be with my parents. I told them I wanted to go and experience big city life and I wanted to write. Dad hadn’t approved of me leaving my job in Dublin so suddenly before I left for London, but he absolutely understood the desire to go to London and be a writer. He’d gone to London as a young man (among other adventures – I don’t know how many other young men from rural East Limerick went travelling around fascist Spain in the 1960s, but I’d bet he was one of the only ones.) He got it. He had nudge-nudge wink-wink conversations with me about how you could find anything you were interested in in a place like London. I don’t really know what he meant, but he was in favour of it.

And he understood wanted to go somewhere and write. He’d stopped in the last twenty-five years, but he used to write. I remember as a child my dad would shut himself in the spare bedroom with a typewriter. I don’t know what he wrote, other than that he sometimes sent radio plays off to the BBC. I don’t think anything ever came of them, but he liked the idea of me writing in London. I even told him that I was writing a book about walking the Camino and a young adult novel. My mother didn’t think much of either of these. I don’t think she’d consider either to be real writing, but my dad did, and every time we spoke, he’d ask “How’s the scribbling?” He was invested in this more than in anything I’d done since the 1990s. I even nursed the dream that maybe someday he could read something I’d written and maybe he would understand me a bit better and the wall between us might come down a bit.

He didn’t. The last twice I met my dad, I wanted to tell him two things. I wanted to tell him (1) I was happy in London and (2) that I was writing. I sat in the Mercy Hospital next to him as he was getting chemo the second last time I saw him. I squeezed his hand and told him about when I’d next be there, but I couldn’t tell him what I really wanted to say. And the next time I saw him was his last night alive, sitting next to him in hospital, and though he was weak and uncomfortable, he was able to have conversations. I only spoke to him about other people, not about me. I wasn’t brave enough to tell him what I wanted to. To tell him that I was OK, that I had found a good life. I didn’t know he’d be dead the morning after. I thought we still had a few days.

My brother asked if I wanted to give a eulogy from the altar at the funeral. It wouldn’t have been right. Dad’s funeral was very, very religious, exactly as he would have wanted it to be. There would have been no place for whatever godless tributes I could have offered. I waited.

Before leaving Ireland, I visited the graveyard. Finally, away from prayers and hymns and all the rest of the religious hubbub that separates me from my family, I could have a chat with my dad, as he lay in the ground. The clocks had changed and by the time I managed to go to the graveyard at 4:00 pm it was already kind of dark. I stood there. I cried and told him I was OK. I told him I was happy. I told him that London was good for me. I told him about being kissed and loved by men. I told him about what I’ve written. I was honest in a way I’ve never been.

I don’t think I believe in Heaven. I don’t know who or what I thought I was talking to through my tears in the dark drizzle of a Cork October Friday evening. But I needed to. And I’m glad I did.

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The reviews are in

So, my book about my Camino has been in the Amazon Kindle Store for about six months. And sales haven’t dried up. July was a bit dodgy, but other than that, I’ve held my own. It doesn’t take a lot to hold your own in the Kindle Store admittedly. You sell 5 or 6 copies in a day and you can find yourself in the top 10 for your category.

You can select lots of searchable keywords for your book on Amazon, but you can only pick two categories. One of mine is Non-fiction > Health and fitness > Exercise > Walking. This meant that when I first released the book, I could boast that I was the number 36 bestseller on the Amazon fitness chart, which made me laugh a lot.

Originally, the second category I chose was Non-fiction > Travel > Western Europe > Spain and Portugal, which meant I could find myself in the charts just ahead of old editions of the Rough Guide to Alicante. I recently changed this categorisation to Non-fiction > Biography and Autobiography > LGBT and yesterday I found myself at number 8 in the LGBT memoir charts, one ahead of Caitlyn Jenner, meaning I was LITERALLY keeping up with the Kardashians.

It’s given me another statistic to obsessively check. Obsessively. I keep refreshing the sales dashboard on Amazon. Having the internet in my pocket is dangerous. And I’m doing OK. Hundreds of people have now read my book, and most comfortingly, the number of sales have gone up every month for the last four months. It’s not going to make me rich, but I have actually earned some money from it. I get about £150 a month from it, which isn’t nothing. I just need to write another 19 books and I’ll be able to quit my job! I’ve reformatted the eBook and corrected a few typos and made it look a bit more professional in terms of layout etc. I’ve also added 50p to the price. Fingers crossed it doesn’t kill my sales.

As well as my sales stats, the other thing I can obsessively check is the reviews. There are currently 22 reviews on the UK Amazon page for the book. As far as I can make out, 5 of these are written by people who actually know me (thank you!), so 17 strangers have taken time out of their days and written reviews of my book. And by and large, they’re really good reviews. People say really lovely things. One person said it would make a great movie (ARE YOU LISTENING, HOLLYWOOD?) and others praise various other aspects. It gets me very excited to read these. One person only wrote a one-word review. It said “OK”, but most people seem more certain in their opinions than that. There are two very negative reviews there. One is criticising me for not being sufficiently respectful towards the religious aspect of it, and I can’t claim that this book would be a good one for religious people. The other review is full of hatred. After reading it, I couldn’t sleep and I was in a bad mood for three days. He calls me vapid, says the book is rubbish and that it has a clickbaity title (Does it?) and he says he’s delighted he only borrowed it from the Kindle Library and he’s happy he didn’t pay for it. Sucks to be him though, because Amazon pays me when you do that anyway. I really was taken aback at how personally I took the criticism though. I think I need to stop reading reviews, though I can’t imagine I’d be able to stop.

There are only two reviews of the book on the US site (Amazon.com, as opposed to Amazon.co.uk). One is a really nice one written by a friend, the other one is really angry one. It says I’m a terrible writer and only gave me one star. I didn’t take this review as personally as the one from the UK site though. This is because I clicked on this reviewer’s profile and it showed that they had previously given five stars to a book that claimed that the Trump presidency had been prophesied by Jesus. I don’t know if reviews matter, but I do know that while my UK sales have been consistently rising, my US ones have been consistently falling, although both started out around the same level last June.

I don’t sell much from the other Amazon sites. I’ve had a few copies sell on the Canadian, Australian, French, German and Spanish sites, but nothing significant, though one friend did leave a really nice review on the French site. It doesn’t stop me from checking all those sites for reviews all the time though, because in the absence of their own reviews, they default to my US reviews and not my UK ones and my giant ego can’t handle that.

The other place where people can rate and review the book is Goodreads, where a lot of people find it in the first place, as it’s listed in a Goodreads post of Camino books. I currently have 23 ratings and have 3.96 out of five stars. As I boasted on Facebook the other day, this means that I’m currently rated higher than ACTUAL SHAKESPEARE because Romeo and Juliet currently has a rating of 3.74 stars.

There are also three very nice reviews of my book on Goodreads, one from a friend and two from strangers, one of which starts “In the beginning, I didn’t think I was going to like Connor…” There is no way this reviewer, called Ian, thought I would read his review. Reading your own reviews is weird. It’s like eavesdropping on what strangers think about your life.

Does everyone do this? I presume they do. I presume Charles Dickens is up in Heaven eagerly craning his neck to see what edwardcullen4lyf389 thinks of Great Expectations on the Canadian Amazon site.

Anyway, I love this. I really, really do. Bad reviews kill me, and days where I don’t sell any copies kill me, but every single copy sold brings me joy. I feel electric inside just knowing that strangers are reading what I wrote.

People ask me if I do this again. Of course I will. I’m currently assembling and editing my blogposts from September 2011 in preparation for the book of the blog of my years in Hall. And remember the YA novel I was writing? That’s back too. So keep an eye out for news on them. I’m also going to record an audio version of the Camino book.

Most excitingly though, I’ve released my Camino book as an actual paperback. That’s right! If you go onto Amazon right now, you won’t just see the eBook, it’s also for sale as an actual real book! I ordered my own copy and I’ve been stroking it and smelling it all day. (Self-publishing is cruel. You have to pay for your own copy of your own book.) Anyway, it’s a real paper and ink book now, and yes, it’s self-published, but it looks real and I’ve been dancing around my flat all day with it.

Go on. Buy it. Buy it here. Order a copy for your auntie while you’re at it. Christmas is coming. Buy one for all your relatives It’s a real live book! YAAAAY! Buy it.

And thanks to everyone for the reviews and the encouragement. I love you all. Now, buy my book.

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Planes, trains, automobiles and a golf buggy

What follows are a few fragments of stories from journeys I have taken over the last few months when my blogging has been less than regular.

The 59 bus

When I’m feeling lazy, I get the 59 bus to work. It’s at least 15 minutes longer than getting a bus and then a Tube and then another Tube, which is the quickest way of getting to work, but it is very relaxing.

One morning, I was sitting on the bus, with my headphones on and my book open, radiating “don’t talk to me” vibes, when a woman in her twenties sat next to me. I moved my bag so she’d have enough space to sit next to me. She thanked me. She was a bit more effusive in her thanks than was necessary for what I had done. After a minute of two, she stood up and went for a walk around the bus. When she came back, she sat down in another seat. I’m not sure she realised it was a different seat.

Every few minutes she would get up and have a walk around the bus. Then, suddenly, she fell flat on her face. She said loudly, “I’m sorry for the fuss. I’m a little drunk.” Most of the passengers reacted well, getting out of their seats, helping her onto her feet, offering her water, but a middle-aged bald man in a suit who was standing in the middle of the bus (who sounded sober) (and incredibly camp) announced to the bus “She’s probably on drugs too.” No one reacted.

This was all just a preface to the main drama of the bus journey. As we were crossing Waterloo bridge, the bus stopped very suddenly in the middle of the street. There was a scream behind me and a bang in front of me. A toddler who’d been standing up on her seat in front of me was thrown to the floor when the bus had stopped. This was the source of the bang. After an eerie pause, the child bellowed and started crying volcanically loudly. Her mother cuddled and comforted her. It was clear the child was ok, but also clear that she’d had such a scare that she wasn’t going to stop crying any time soon.

The scream from behind me had come from the young drunk woman. Apparently she knew she was the one who had caused the bus to stop so suddenly. The driver charged down the bus to make sure we were all uninjured. He saw that we were ok and told us that the bus’s emergency brake had been activated because someone had forced open the back door while the bus was moving. No one was accused of opening the door, but it was clear that the drunk woman was commonly believed to be the culprit.

The driver started driving again. The toddler continued to bawl thunderously and the drunk women started crying too apologising profusely to the child’s mother and screaming at the bus driver that it was wrong that the bus had stopped so suddenly that the child had been thrown to the ground.

The camp bald man in a suit also started shouting at the driver, telling him that this was political correctness gone mad and the liberal nanny state reaching into all our lives and that we don’t need to be treated like babies and if a junkie wanted to open a door on a moving bus then she should be allowed to fall into moving traffic and there was no need for that to affect everyone else on the bus.

I think everyone was alright in the end. Life in London is non-stop drama. And men who wear suits are dicks.

Flying to Dublin

In September, I was flying to Dublin on a Friday morning for a close friend’s wedding.

Being me, I couldn’t just travel the night before and minimise drama. I ended up having to get up at 4:00 am for a 2:00 pm wedding.

I walked to the bottom of the hill and got the 118 bus to Brixton station and then the Victoria Line Tube to Tottenham Hale and then the train to Stansted. I arrived in Stansted about an hour before I was due to fly and presumed I would have plenty of time as I had already checked in and didn’t have any bags. I was, almost, wrong.

Security took forever to get through. First of all, I was interrogated about my fidget spinner. Of course I have a fidget spinner. Of course I do. I am a slave to every millennial youth trend that there is. And my fidget spinner just happens to be a metallic one that looks very weapon-y. The guard eventually allowed me to take it on the plane after putting it through the machine twice.

Then I managed to set off the alarm on the metal detector. I didn’t know what it could be. Maybe my nipple piercings? I wouldn’t want to remove those in the security line in Stansted. They put me into the body scanner and discovered that it was my right foot setting the alarm off. They made me take off my right sock and send that through the scanner. Seriously. And the guard got me to go back into the body scanner and I no longer triggered the alarm. This made no sense. It was just an ordinary Penney’s sock.

I made it, with both socks, both nipple piercings and my fidget spinner, just in time for my flight. Having already taken a bus, a Tube, a train and a flight, I still had to get to the wedding. I got the AirCoach bus to the city centre of Dublin and then a Luas (tram) to Tallaght and finally a taxi to the little church in the Dublin mountains where the lovely wedding was taking place.

I clearly wasn’t going to take a seventh type of transport that day. Wrong! I was. After the ceremony, a friend dropped me off at the hotel I was staying at that night so I could freshen up before the reception and so I could leave my backpack. I’d got up early that morning, so it’s possible that I had a little lie down and almost fell asleep and had to have a shower to wake myself up. I then had to run around Naas, looking for sellotape to wrap the present because I obviously hadn’t done that while I was still in London. I bought sellotape in SuperValu and leaned on a trolley to wrap the present. I slipped the roll of tape in my pocket and hailed a taxi.

The wedding was in a golf club/country estate. There were two main buildings, one was signposted as “Wedding Venue” and the other as “Hotel”. The gate to the “Wedding Venue” was closed, but the taxi driver told me he knew another way. He drove around for a few minutes and then we pulled up outside a beautiful old building that was eerily quiet and clearly deserted. I went inside and could see stacks of chairs and piles of plates and boxes of glasses, but there was no wedding here. The taxi driver drove me to the hotel and left me there.

I asked in the hotel for directions to the wedding and they told me it was in the Wedding Venue and not in the hotel. I told them about where I’d been and the nice bar tender told me that I’d been in the right building but I’d gone in the staff entrance and the wedding was at the other side of the building. She said it was a bit of a walk and she’d give me a lift over. And so, after a day in which I’d been in two buses, a Tube, a train, a plane, a tram, a friend’s rental car and two taxis, I climbed on board my final mode of transport for the day, a golf buggy.

I’d never been on a golf buggy before. It’s fun, though I can’t say it’s a smooth ride. And then, about halfway between the hotel and the wedding venue, we got a flat tyre. I didn’t know golf buggies could get flat tyres. The bar tender drove on regardless, one of the bumpiest experiences of my life. I made it to the reception between the starter and the main course. It wasn’t a big enough wedding for me to sneak into, so I just bombasted it out and I think it was ok.
It was a lovely wedding, by the way.

Flying to Cork and Buying a Suit

Shortly before my dad passed away, I was flying home to Cork from Heathrow Airport.

I was just walking through the ticket turnstile at Heathrow Tube Station when I felt a tug at my suitcase and I lost my grip on it and it fell to the floor. The woman behind me had timed her maneouvre perfectly. In the time it took me to reach for my bag, I stood still, effectively keeping the ticket gate open. In that same moment, she and her two small children leapt over my suitcase and got into the airport without paying for their Tube journey.

I had to admire her. I can quite easily imagine me getting myself into a situation where I could afford to pay for a flight when booking it but by the time it came round to actually taking the flight, I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for the Tube to get to the airport. And I certainly wouldn’t have the nimbleness and the sense of timing required to trip up someone else’s suitcase at exactly the right time to get through the barriers for free, let alone to be able to do that with two small children in tow.

Once on board the plane, I heard the most disturbing announcement I think I’ve ever heard a pilot make. He said, “Don’t worry if you hear different noises than usual on today’s flight. One of the engines isn’t working, so we have to re-charge it.” What? Every passenger on the plane looked around to see if we’d heard him right. It was too late for us to do anything. The doors were shut and the pilot was revving up. Luckily, we got to Cork safely, regardless of how many engines were working.

There was one day between my dad’s death and the funeral. I didn’t have a suit to wear.

But surely it would be fine. Cork is a relatively big place. I’d be able to find something.

Well, yes. Except that the day in question was also the day when Cork was being battered by Hurricane Ophelia, the wildest storm to hit Ireland in generations. I needed to get a suit, but the internet was full of videos of roofs flying off schools. Large parts of Cork were without electricity. In fact, when people were visiting us to pay respects that day, as my dad’s body was laid out in our sitting room, many people also brought their mobile phones and chargers and asked if they could plug them in, as our street was one of the few in Ballincollig with electricity.

My brother rang some of the “big men’s” clothes shops in Cork to see if any were open. Only one (of the three possibilities) answered. They said that they were open, but they didn’t sound fully awake when my brother spoke to them so we didn’t really believe.

We had to believe though. I couldn’t carry my dad’s coffin wearing jeans and a stripey t-shirt.

My sister is a brave driver and we sat behind the wheel of the car at a moment when the wind seemed to have calmed down a little. We’re only about a five-mile drive to the centre of Cork. We drove in via what is known as the Straight Road. Almost immediately, a car passed us and flashed its lights and we came to some tape, apparently sealing off the road. A massive tree had been felled in front of us. Luckily, the tape only stretched about three quarters of the way across the road and we were able to get round it.

What followed was a post-apocalyptic journey. There weren’t many cars on the road and no one was driving where they were supposed to be. All along the Straight Road, tall trees had been felled. Little mini tornados of twigs and leaves swirled around on the ground. Bruised and battered trees still stood but all looked like they were about to fall. We gave up on the road and we mounted the footpath and drove into town very slowly and very illegally. A tree did not fall on us and we came to no harm.

When we reached the city centre, everything was locked up and the city was mainly in darkness. Every shop we passed was closed. We pulled up outside the shop who had answered their phone that morning. We didn’t have much hope. And then, miraculously, the automatic door slid open in front of me, like the Red Sea before Moses. I would be able to get a funeral suit!

We drove home via the Model Farm Road, which is narrower and (obviously) twistier than the Straight Road, so it might be thought of as more dangerous, but I figured it would be more sheltered and that there were fewer tall trees along it, so it could be argued that it was more hurricane-friendly. And it was fine, until the very end, when a massive tree blocked our way. Luckily, this was after the turn off for the back road into Ballincollig, so we did eventually get home, with a suit and with an unscarred car in the middle of a hurricane.

The weather continued to be weird. The funeral was on a bright sunny day and by the time I was flying back to England, there was another storm blowing. Storm Brian was gusting across the runway of Cork Airport as we waited to take off. The pilot announced that we would wait until it died down a bit before taking off. Forty minutes later, still on the runway, the wind was still just as bad. The pilot decided to risk it and as we were taking off, I could feel the plane being lifted and pulled and pushed by the wind. I was convinced I was going to die. This isn’t how I wanted to die, I thought. I was reading one of Terry Pratchett’s lesser books. Couldn’t I die with Proust or Tolstoy in my hand? Or if I had to die with a Pratchett, couldn’t it at least be one of the better ones like Small Gods or Wyrd Sisters and not bloody Eric?

I didn’t die. It was fine.

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From the Couch to Sweden

I do love a project. And the wheels kind of came off everything in the last two months. Projects went unfulfilled. I stopped writing and I stopped posting ridiculous videos on YouTube and I stopped dieting. I’d been so proud of the four stone I’d lost. I don’t know how much I weigh now. But I know it’s more than it was. 

And I’ve got the perfect excuse, not that I want it. 

My body had got used to eating sane amounts of food and it reacted very badly to return of bingeing. It didn’t take long before I was up all night with indigestion, before going to the toilet became a bloody trial again, before the nosebleeds started again. I haven’t fully lost control, but for a few weeks things were beginning to look bleak. 

Thankfully, I am now London Connor. And London Connor is a better model than the previous version. So I’ll get back on track more easily than before. And I have an ANNOUNCEMENT. It’s been a while since I made an ANNOUNCEMENT. I’m sure you’ve missed them.

I have registered and paid for the Stockholm Marathon. 

It’s on Saturday, 2nd June 2018. 

Can I do it? Of course I can. Can I currently run for more than 30 seconds? Of course I can’t. 

I’m going back to Ireland for a week this week on what was meant to be a visit to see my dad. Once I get back to London, I’m starting. 

The novice marathon training programme I’m doing is 18 weeks long. So I have to be ready to start it on 29th January. What does being ready to start mean? It means I have to be able to run 3 miles comfortably.

Can I run 3 miles now? Of course not. But 3 miles is basically 5 km and I’ve done the Couch-2-5K before. 

I can do this. It’s seven years ago today that I made my last attempt at a marathon. This time will be different. 

Keep your fingers crossed for Connor! 

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The Eleventh Man 

[NSFW/TMI and all those other warnings/enticements apply]

I didn’t think I would be bothered by being dumped by French Train Station Platform Boy. We hadn’t been together very long and we weren’t a real couple. And (other than eleven days in 2007), I’ve been single all my life. 

But it was nice to have someone I could depend on, someone who knew what to expect of Bedroom Connor so I didn’t have to worry about taking him home, someone who would kiss me and hold my hand and squeeze my bottom in public, someone who wanted to go on holidays with me. And everything going on with my family in Ireland left me suddenly lonely and I was man-less. This isn’t what I’d come to London for!

It took me a few weeks, but then, about three weeks ago, on a Friday, as I was staying late at work, I found myself talking to a man on one of my apps. And soon we transitioned to WhatsApp (always a good sign). This was nice because it was a genuine chat. I was telling this guy about my life and he was telling me about his. We texted back and forth for about three hours. And not a single dick pic was exchanged in all that time, which was thrillingly alternative. 

We arranged for him to visit the following day. I told him he couldn’t come in the morning because I was staying so late at work that I needed a good lie-in. I also told him he’d have to be gone before Strictly started. I’m such a romantic. We settled on 3:00 pm. 

I met him at the station and was surprised to see he had a large birthmark on his face, which hadn’t been in his profile picture on either the man-on-man app or on WhatsApp. Did he seriously photoshop all his profile pictures? I later found out that it was a bruise and that his skin was actually quite flawless. 

He was cute and sweet and chatty, and face-to-face it was much clearer how young he was than it had been on text. He was 23. 

I didn’t care though. I offered him a cup of tea as soon as he got to my house, but he didn’t want one. He devoured me in a very passionate kiss and we were naked very quickly. 

My Train Platform Frenchman and I had got into a routine in the bedroom, whereby I more or less laid back and let him do all the work, which I found ideal. I’m not exactly an athletic maker of love. I was slightly exasperated that this new young man expected me to actually do stuff, but it was ok. It’s nice to have naked fun and I needed the skin contact and the comfort and energy it brings. 

We spent a good two hours together, doing things to each other, chatting and just hugging silently. I felt great. Like a phone that’s really low on battery that’s finally been plugged in. 

But I can’t help it. When I’m with a man, I find myself wondering why they’re attracted to someone who looks like me. Why not thin men? What happened to these chubby chasers in their childhoods that a body type widely held to be disgusting is what they find sexy? I sometimes do ask them about their preferences but I never ask the one question that keeps bugging me every time I’m with a man and he’s enthralled by my enormous belly. All I want to ask them is “Was your dad fat?” But I haven’t asked that question yet. Because I don’t really want to know. Even if it’s all I can think of sometimes. 

And I’m not always clever in my relations with other humans. And sometimes I jump to conclusions that I shouldn’t jump to. I presumed a 23-year-old who was so into me, an aged 36-year-old, had a thing for older guys. In an effort to please him, I called him “boy” a lot. He commented on this and said I was obviously “into” the age difference. I agreed. Because I wanted to be polite. Oh God. He didn’t want to be called “Boy” but I had to pretend to want to call him that and pretend I was “into” that. And then he made it worse. He called me “Daddy” because I let him think that’s what I wanted. And because I’m way too polite I let him continue. He was just doing it because he thought I wanted him to. I most definitely did not. Sometimes I hate being so agreeable. *shudder* (This isn’t the first time this has happened. When I reacted excitedly to the cuteness of French Train Station Boy wearing a waistcoat one evening when we met, he thought I had some kind of waistcoat fetish and actually started sending me photos of waistcoats as sexts. I don’t have a waistcoat fetish. I just think short men in waistcoats are adorable the way I think unlikely animal friendship videos on YouTube are adorable. But I let him think that I had some kind of waistcoat kink out of pure overpoliteness. SIGH.)

Anyway, it was exactly what I needed and he left half an hour before Strictly started, so it was basically the perfect Saturday. I woke up the next morning with a hickey on my right nipple and a sore wrist. Love wounds. 

Anyway, we’re still in touch and he’ll probably be calling to mine again soon for a bit more action. Which is nice. But I’m focused on my next man. I have four days to find another man. I arrived in London on 31st October 2016. I have four days left until the one-year anniversary of that event. The boy in this blogpost was my eleventh man I’ve taken to bed since arriving here. I want to make it to twelve in my first year here. So I have to find a new bonking partner by Tuesday. 

A worthy goal I feel. Wish me luck! 

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Reading, and writing, again

One of my family’s favourite stories about teenage Connor is from the summer I was fourteen. It was my second day of a three-week stay in Irish college in the West Kerry Gaeltacht. I was really into the book I was reading and I was really not into socialising with other fourteen-year-old boys, at least not boys I wasn’t used to.

We were staying in the house of a tiny elderly woman which was a good two or three miles from the GAA hall which we had to walk to and from three times a day along a cow-shit-sodden boreen. We would have breakfast and then walk to lessons in the morning, then we would walk home for dinner, something typical of rural Ireland at that time like flavourless spaghetti bolognese with lashings of dry mashed potatoes. In the afternoon, we would walk to sports, then home for our tea and then back to the hall again for two hours of céilí dancing before walking home again in the dark. There was a lot of walking to do.

As you’ll probably know, I was never the biggest fan of walking. However, as I’ve said, I was really into the book I was reading: Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel, and as I was walking back from sports for my tea, I read. I needed to read to escape from the grim reality of having to do sports with thin heterosexuals, although I wouldn’t have expressed it like that when I was fourteen.
Anyway, I got so into the book that I got lost. I didn’t find my way home for tea. I wandered around the lanes and country roads for two hours without having any idea where I was. I wasn’t that bothered. My book was far better than dry mashed potatoes or than being ignored by thin boys.

 

After a while, I found a public phone box and realised I was near the hall where I’d have to be for the céilí in an hour. I didn’t know my bean a’ tí’s (host mother’s) phone number and I didn’t have any money, so I made a reverse charges phone call home to my parents to explain to them what had happened and to ask them to look up my bean a’ tí’s number and let her know I wouldn’t be home for tea because I’d got lost because I was reading but that I’d found the hall and I’d be home that night.

 

My poor dad rang directory enquiries to find the number. (Parents were very trusting back then. We were all sent off into the middle of nowhere and parents weren’t given any emergency contact details.) The man in directory enquiries was from Dublin and didn’t know any Irish at all and was useless at trying to find my bean a’ tí’s phone number. Her name was Nóra Bean Uí Shúilleabháin and he couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Apparently my dad spelled it out repeatedly to no effect. The address didn’t help either. Her house was in a little townland called Cathair Bó Sine (Old Cow City) (Literally) near Ceann Trá. Contact was unsuccessful.

 

However, what I didn’t know was that my bean a’ tí had rung the school principal to tell her I hadn’t come home for tea and she had been driving around the Ceann Trá area for the last hour. When she found me, she was obviously hugely relieved. She asked what had happened and I admitted that I’d been reading while walking and had got lost. She laughed and brought me for my tea of now cold dry mashed potatoes and a friendly scolding from my bean a’ tí.

************

Books really are the best escape.

I’ve always read lots. When I was eleven and my sister and our friends all went to the cinema together to see Beethoven (the movie about the dog, not the composer), I decided not to go to see the film and I spent the two hours in Waterstones instead. I was a weird child, happier among books than among other children.

And I started reading too “old” before I was ready. Gore Vidal’s Messiah blew my pubescent mind and made me suspicious of religion at a very young age, and I read the Great Gatsby before I could possibly have understood what it meant. I read The Handmaid’s Tale too young and misunderstood its message dramatically.

But I did understand a lot of books and I got better at reading over the years. I loved them and I escaped into them. I have comfort books that I’ve read multiple times and they’re like old friends to me now. These include James Herriot’s vet books and the Rumpole books, and of course the Little Women series, the only books I can quote.

At times in life I read a lot and at others I don’t. While I was living in Longford, I stopped reading very much at all and I slipped under the spell of podcasts, subscribing to over forty of them.

And I still like podcasts, but since I’ve moved to South London and my commute is longer, I’ve climbed back into books. And it’s wonderful.

I’m making headway with my to-read list for the first time in a long time. I still listen to my podcasts while I walk but as soon as I sit on the Tube, I press pause and get my book out and it’s bloody brilliant. I wake up in the morning, not particularly looking forward to work, but excited about my commute. And the end of the day at work comes and I can feel the excitement building again. I get to see what’s happening in my book again! I’m now one of those annoying people who get off the Tube during rush hour and are still reading and not looking where they’re going because as long as I’m reading I’m not at work yet. I pray I always have a long commute!

I’ve been reading a few different types of books recently and some have produced different reactions. I read A Monster Calls, a YA novel about a boy who is struggling to accept that his mother is dying of cancer and is fighting between his twin desires for it all just to be over as soon as possible and for it never to be over. I was reading this while I was on a train to Stansted to fly home to see my dad as he was dying of cancer for what turned out to be the second last time. I cried out loud as I read it on the train, not able to care about who saw or heard me.

I haven’t blogged in almost two months, which I think is the longest pause in my seven years of blogging. I’ve been a mess of emotion with my dad’s death and with his dying. I’m not anything like over it, but I’m writing again. There’ll be another blogpost soon.

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