It’s been a very big year for Connor and his Project. This is one of those “best of” posts, with excerpts from the blog for every month of the year, as if I think I’m a series of Friends or something.
January was exciting. I made lots of resolutions. And I kept them. I returned to WeightWatchers and started losing weight. I started going to boxing regularly. I went to swimming lessons and actually swam unaided by a float for the first time in my life, at the age of thirty. I started being a lot more sociable with the other PhD students in my office, especially with two other students who also had a very good feeling about 2012. We kind of even had a little 2012 club. And I began to really get to know the boys I was living with.
From a post on 31st January:
“After coming home from my weigh-in, I entered another zone of fear – the kitchen. The boys were on day one of a two-day clean-up. There’s an inspection coming up on Thursday and so everything needs to be spick and span.
They emptied the kitchen bin. Into four giant black refuse sacks. They seriously debated throwing away the bin itself and buying a new one that didn’t smell so bad and that would hold more rubbish. Because that’s what our kitchen needs – more rubbish. They tried to scrub the gunge off the wall above the bins. They tried to clean the inside of the recycling boxes (which have a number of life-forms growing inside) with a mop. We discovered that one of the recycling boxes actually belonged to one of the boys, and that he had brought up his crockery and cutlery to Dublin in it. You can be sure that he won’t be taking anything back in it. Except possibly the body of whatever it is that died inside it.
Another of the boys was washing dishes. A lot of dishes. He came out and showed us the tea towel. It looked like a soiled nappy, that had been used on both sides, by a baby with a very gruesome disease. Luckily, he didn’t have to continue using it. Another of the boys produced a different tea towel. I expressed a bit of skepticism about it. In my limited experience of that kitchen, there has never been a clean tea towel in it. But he assured me that this tea towel was perfectly safe, as he had retrieved it from under his bed just the previous day.
Thank goodness for that.”
In February, I turned thirty-one. There were more ups and downs than in January. I started working again in a school where I’d worked before for three years and had some of my happiest times in Dublin. I started skipping weigh-ins, and I stopped going to swimming as often, but I kept up the boxing. I went on a Hen Weekend in London, where I had the worst hangover of 2012. I got my supervisor’s approval for my research project in my PhD and I found four young men who agreed to be my research subjects. I also decided to start the Couch-to-5K running programme.
From a post on 17th February:
“When I was in the changing rooms before swimming, as I was about to strip off, I caught the eye of another swimmer. I thought I recognised him. In fact, I thought he was someone who I communicate with quite often. Let’s call him Hephaestus. He’s someone who I met through a close friend, and who is a friend of many of my friends, and who I regularly communicate with on Facebook, but he’s someone who I’ve only seen in the actual flesh once.
I have a very bad record with recognising people. I’m also a social cataclysm in many ways. I very nearly did nothing. But in the end I decided to Facebook him and ask him if I was he with whom I had locked eyes.
I hadn’t received any reply when I was sitting in Bowe’s the next night. I saw a man walk into the bar. It was Hephaestus. Or it looked like him. Or at least it looked like his Facebook profile picture.
Should I approach him? I reviewed the possibilities:
A) Both the guy at the pool and the guy in the pub were Hephaestus.
B) The guy in the pool was Hephaestus. The guy in the pub was a stranger.
C) The guy in the pool was a stranger (with a lingering gaze). The guy in the pub was Hephaestus.
D) The guy in the pool wasn’t Hephaestus. The guy in the pub was the same guy as the guy in the pool and therefore not Hephaestus.
E) The guy in the pool was not Hephaestus. The guy in the pub was not Hephaestus. He was also not the guy who was in the pool who I had thought to be Hephaestus, but was in fact a third man.
If A or C were true, then surely I should approach the guy and say “Hello”, but what if it was B? Or worse, E? Or worst of all D?
(D is worst because this guy would surely remember our long gaze in the changing rooms and if I were to approach him in the pub and “pretend” to know him, when I didn’t, it would be the most embarrassing thing in the world.)
I left the pub, contorted in paroxysms of doubt and social shame.
An hour later Hephaestus Facebooked me. It had been him in the pool. It had also been him in the pub.”
March was a month with a lot of change for me. This was the month that I really got to know the Boys I lived with. I began spending much more time with them than I had for the first six months we’d lived together. I got emotionally involved in the JCR election that they were all participating in. I also got more emotional in general. Crying is something I did more of in 2012 than I had in many, many years, and that started in March. Running generally went well this month and I was very busy and happy in both work and college. I felt in control of my life in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time.
From a post on 23rd March:
“There were girls in the kitchen. I generally have a policy to leave the kitchen when people from other flats come over (as having 13 teenagers in my life is more than enough), but I was so overexcited by election fever that not only did I stay, but I also declared that I’d drive to the pub for the election count. The girls decided to come with me, to spare their feet the walk in their high heels. And so off I drove, three drunk nineteen-year-old girls in the car.
I arrived long before any of my boys, and took it upon myself to make friends. I plonked myself down at a table and asked the two girls there if they had been campaigning for anyone. They looked at me as if I had just asked them if they were from Jupiter. They curtly informed me that they couldn’t campaign as they were members of the current JCR. Eek! I had offended the powerbrokers. That conversation ended as soon as it started.
I sat in companionable silence with yet another eighteen-year-old girl for another few minutes before I bolted and went for a little walk.
When I returned from my walk, my boys had arrived. They were standing outside the pub, drinking from naggins, cans and plastic bottles, because they’re all class. The night improved from then on. I was driving so I limited myself to one drink. I judged most of the girls there in a patriarchal old man fashion, because they appeared to have arrived dressed for a prostitute competition.
Anyway, the count took quite a while. One of my flatmates keeled over from too much drink. Someone then asked me to be the grown-up and take him home. I decided to postpone being a grown-up for a short while and let someone else look after him while the counts were announced.
Two out of three of my boys won. I cried. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Because I’m an old lady.
I left, helped my flatmate into the car, begging him not to vomit and drove home. He didn’t vomit.”
April was the month, the month when everything changed. After two years in existence, the readership of my blog doubled its previous highest numbers that month. My life was exciting. Suddenly, and almost without intending to, I came out to my ultra-Catholic family. I continued to be an emotional basketcase, but my emotions were mainly aimed in a positive direction. I ran a lot, I worked hard both at teaching and at my PhD. My social life was amazing. And I started venturing out into the world of boys. With the support of my friends and of my Boys, I started putting myself out there and dating. I got the hair veeted off my back in the kitchen in Cunningham House and I began to try to see myself as a sexual being.
From a post on 18th April:
“And then he kissed me.
And then he kissed me some more.
On South William Street.
Where straight people can see.
I think I might have whimpered. Like a puppy.
He said it was amazing (it was) and that we should do it again (we should).
I’m drowning in an ocean of happy.
I’ve never been kissed by a sober person before. I’ve never been kissed in public before. And it’s been four long years since anyone has kissed me even when they were drunk.
He likes me. Me -the twenty-four-stone man, who has so little control over his life that he ended up living with 18-year-old boys at the age of 31. I didn’t know that could be.
Five minutes after the kiss, he texted me to wish me a good night and to send a few x’s my way.
It’s my turn. Finally.”
May was a very emotional month, but an amazing one. I crossed a number of milestones. I celebrated one year without cigarettes. I ran five kilometres non-stop. I allowed myself to be more emotionally open and vulnerable than I had ever been before. I was interviewed for, and was offered the job as Assistant Warden. I finished the data collection phase of my PhD and I submitted two chapters of the PhD for my continuation interview, which I then passed. I also said ‘goodbye’ to the Boys.
From a post on 18th May:
“But the moment that has to top them all is the 5K. It wasn’t a race. I was just running to beat my own demons. It was enough for me that I had beaten them. I’d run my 5K. And as I walked back to Hall from the run, I really didn’t expect anything. To see those boys lined up, toilet roll stretched out in front of the gate was unbelievable.
I wish I could compare it to some Wagnerian opera or Shakespearean drama, but I’m too superficial, so I’m going to compare it to a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
At Buffy’s prom, she isn’t made prom queen. And she doesn’t expect to be. She doesn’t expect any prizes. But then it’s announced that she is getting an award from her class. They give her a decorative, bejewelled umbrella, calling her the “Class Protector”. She thought her identity was secret. But they’d noticed all the vampires she’d slain, all the times she’d closed that bloody Hellmouth, all the lives she’d saved.
I always get emotional when I watch that episode.
And then it happened to me. I was Buffy. Those boys noticed that I had my own vampires to slay in that run. And they marked that. I might not have a sparkly umbrella, but I have my memories.
I’m going to miss those boys like crazy, but they’ve left me a better person than they found me. A job well done.”
June was the start of a slippery slope. After all the excitement of the previous few months, a fall was inevitable, and summer was mainly crap. I moved into postgraduate accommodation and hid from my new flatmates. I still had some momentum left in me from previous months and I kept running. I competed in and completed an eight kilometre run. I tried to narrow my focus to just running and having a good breakfast and drinking plenty of water – the PoWaR plan, as I christened it, but it really didn’t work. I also did very well in the Department’s conference. And then, at the end of the month my iPhone got stolen.
From a post on 22nd June:
“I went to the Pearse Street Garda (police) Station. I reported the robbery and told the Garda about the address where the phone was. He was a lovely freckled, baldy young man. He sounded like he was from Tipperary or Limerick. He leaned over the desk and told me there was nothing they could do. This was new technology, and it wouldn’t be enough for a warrant. He rang Ballyfermot Garda Station and had a chat with them. They agreed that there was nothing they could do so long as it was at a residential address.
What he told me to do was to keep an eye on the “Find my iPhone” website and wait till the phone moved. As soon as it moved out of the house, I was to ring Ballyfermot Garda Station and they would send a squad car straight away. Ooh! This sounded exciting. I had pictures of myself on a walkie-talkie to the Gardaí, shouting at them to “Turn left! Over the bridge! Now! Now! Now!”
In the meantime, I got a new phone. It’s the cheapest “smart” phone on the market, and it ain’t smart. It’s as efficient a communications device as a carrier-sheep would be. I hate it.
My iPhone stayed at the same address until nearly 3:00. Then the phone was switched off again.
What could I do? That night, I drove out to Ballyfermot to look at the house. Because, since I’ve run 8K, I’m an all-round iron man. As I said, come and get me.
After, predictably enough, getting lost for 45 minutes, I found the house. It was on a normal-looking street, not that different from the street I grew up on. Number 49 didn’t look particularly evil (not that I know what I was looking for), but it had been recently painted. “Paint bought with the profits of crime?” I asked myself.
I went home, not getting quite as lost on the way back.
I got up this morning. No more emails. The phone had been switched off since before 3:00 the previous afternoon. Grrr! Time was running out.
I considered, on the counsel of a friend, ringing Joe Duffy on the Liveline, like many Irish people do in a crisis.
But first, I would visit the Ballyfermot Gardaí. I barely got lost at all driving to Ballyfermot this time.
The Garda here was a huge teddy-bear-like man with a West of Ireland accent. When I told him what had happened, he took my number and said he’d get a squad car on it.
I drove back to XXXXXX Street, watching Number 49, wondering what would happen. I got a call on my rubbish mobile from another Garda. This one was in a squad car. He was hilarious. He told me he could get a warrant, but it would mean standing around in court all day, but if all I wanted was my phone back, he’d call to the door and persuade the baddy to give it back. Yay! I went for Option B.
I had four conversations with this Garda on the phone. Never once did he get the name of the “Find my iPhone” app right. He called it the “Find my App” or the “App my Phone”. He was lovely. He also told me that XXXXXX Street was fairly notorious, and that there was a known thief associated with Number 49.
I nearly pissed myself with the excitement of it all.
I waited on XXXXX Street until I saw the squad car pull up, then I drove around the corner and parked there, in waiting.
It took almost an hour for the Garda to call me.
There were three people living in the house. Apparently, they were lovely. They had invited them in, given them tea, allowed them to look wherever they wanted. There was an old couple and their 20-year-old granddaughter. Neither of the grandparents had mobiles and the granddaughter had a HTC phone, which she showed the Gardaí. He had absolutely no suspicions about them. They did have a son who had been in trouble with the Gardaí (the known thief he’d mentioned before) but they hadn’t seen him in three years and he was no longer welcome in their house.
The Garda thinks the GPS on “App my Phone” isn’t all that accurate. I didn’t think I could ask them to check the houses on either side too. He was embarrassed enough as it is.
My iPhone, which I (in a moment of madness) had called Percival, is dead. I just have to accept it.”
July was the lowpoint of the year. I think I actually tried to eat myself to death. At least I had a lot of teaching work to do that month, and that is what kept me sane. In July, I failed to train for or compete in a 10K I signed up for the previous month. Other than two long walks, and two attempts to get back into swimming, that’s the last exercise I did in the last six months. I find it difficult to read the blogposts from July. In July, I was avoiding my supervisor and he was avoiding me. We were facilitated in this by one of my PhD colleagues, who carried messages back and forth between us. I also went to a wedding in Poland, where I drank all of the vodka.
From a post on 9th July:
“And at the reception, I got very, very drunk.
Without paying for a single drink.
Polish weddings come with an unlimited supply of free vodka. There was a shot glass at every seat. It’s an invitation to the likes of me. I decided to be the best wedding guest I could be and drink ALL OF THE VODKA.
Seriously, I resented every shot anyone else took. Some of the others were actually paying for drink, because they were drinking beer or whiskey. The fools! At least it left me with ALL OF THE VODKA.
There were ten people at our table. At one stage, not very late in the night, five of the ofhers had had one shot each. And I had had five.
After the third shot, it didn’t feel like I was drinking anything at all. I kept downing them. I remember the pride I felt when one bottle was empty and they brought a second one.
Now, while I was sitting at the table downing shots, I was chatting to the other people at my table. Two of my schoolfriends and their wives, and five of the groom’s college friends. I felt like such a witty raconteur. I was clever and urbane. I thought I was being the most entertaining conversationalist of all time.
I even remember thinking to myself that I was holding my drink really well. Practically sober.
Except I wasn’t.
I was told the next day that I’d made a rainbow of our white tablecloth, spilling orange juice and red wine all across it.
I was also shown two videos of me on the dancefloor. I wasn’t holding my drink at all well. Also, if you want to learn humility, watch videos of your drunken self while hungover. It’s terrifying.”
In some ways, the best thing that can be said about August is that it wasn’t July. But I definitely did improve in outlook. In August, I carried out my resolution to “Gok” myself i.e. to take pride in my appearance whether or not I lose weight. I bought my fabulous pair of hipster glasses, I bought a new light blue jacket that I love deeply, I threw out a lot of my old clothes and I started doing bizarre things with my hair. I (briefly) went back to swimming and I was much more sociable. While I worked hard in school, I didn’t do a tap for my PhD and was barely seen in college. Overall, August was definitely a move in the right direction, even if it was interspersed with days spent hiding in my car and nights of drunken tears.
From a post on 6th August:
“I’m an exceedingly lucky person. I may have an unreasonably big loan and a bit of study to do, but I’m not tied down by a mortgage, by children, by a vocation or by love. I’m free. And I’m going to use that freedom.
I hadn’t intended to write this blogpost, I’d already written a post today, all about YMCA and a light blue jacket, but I checked my email quickly before I got into bed. And there were two emails from two very different friends. Both were straight men. And I still have to admit that any kind of attention from straight men still amazes me. I don’t know the offside rule and I don’t have a vagina, so I can’t understand why straight men like me, but some do. They’re my friends. One email was a reply to one I’d sent about my hair. That’s right, I’m corresponding with a man about my hair. AND HE ANSWERED! The other email is from a friend of mine who is useless for keeping in touch. He had just caught up with my blog and had read the really depressing post I wrote last week. He offered comfort, superficial advice, and he offered to be there. For me. And I was overwhelmed. I really have an extraordinary life and am extraordinarily lucky. It won’t surprise anyone if I say I’m crying as I write these lines, but they’re the best possible type of tears.”
September was my “thank God it’s not the summer any more” month. I moved into my lovely new Assistant Warden’s flat, saying ‘goodbye’ to my summer flatmates, who I’d barely spoken to at all in the three months I’d lived with them. I spent much of the month broke and I had a disastrous weekend in Belfast, but I started my new job as an Assistant Warden and I absolutely loved it. I started spending more time in college and stopped avoiding my supervisor (though I didn’t actually do any actual real work on the PhD). I returned to WeightWatchers, and lost quite a bit of weight. And I stared putting myself “out there” again, going on a date, going speed dating, and trying on make-up, allowing my inner princess out.
From a post on 12th September:
- The bit about speed dating no one tells you about – the standing around the bar nervously beforehand. Awful. Really awful. If it wasn’t my friend’s €20, I would have left at that stage.
- Luckily, I brought up the Eurovision Song Contest. That got the conversation going. I love gays.
- The Eurovision conversation continued to my first “date”, which was with a kindly older man, who hadn’t brought his glasses and so couldn’t read the form that you had to fill in after each date. Pride.
- I “dated” about five older (over-50) men, and had to justify the fact that my Connor has two n’s to all of them. None of the under-40s cared how I spelled my name. I don’t get old people.
- One of my first dates was with a chef. From my days as a teenager washing dishes in Paddy Garibaldi’s restaurant, I have had a bit of an anti-chef bias. They all have anger issues. This man was equally gruff. My most definite “no” of the night.
- Another early date was a man in his 60s. He was married and has two adult kids and he came out eight years ago. His daughter comes over to dye his hair before he goes clubbing and his son updates his Gaydar profile online. He was fascinating.
- Only one guy made me feel fat. He was very good-looking. He had a look of despair in his eyes as I approached his table and he put down his pen. But as our conversation went on, he sat up. I interested the handsome prick. I’m actually a very interesting person. I made lots of boys sit up.
- There was a Brazilian, who couldn’t have been more Brazilian – beautiful, chatty, tactile, in a too tight t-shirt. I imagine his hips don’t lie. We spent most of our time talking about learning English in Dublin.
- We had a break halfway through, which was odd. I generally feel fat and awkward around other gays. I first went into a gay pub in 1997, and yet in all-gay environments I still feel totally out-of-place. Tonight, for the first time, that wasn’t the case. I felt I had a right to be there. Usually, in a gay pub, or club, or at the many gay film and theatre events I’ve been to, I have a vague feeling that someone is going to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Sorry. You’re not fabulous enough to be a proper gay. Could you please leave?” I didn’t feel that tonight. I was fabulous.
- I steered the breaktime conversation to Titanic. It went very well. I really do love gays.
- I “dated” a man who had a stripey navy-blue and white jumper, who shrugged a lot, crossed his legs and pursed his lips. I found it really hard not to laugh when he told me that he loves French culture. He’s like a cartoon Frenchman.
- I talked to a lovely trainee nurse. We spent a disturbingly long time talking about nappies. He’s worked on a new-borns’ ward and on a geriatric ward, so he knows a lot about nappies. Luckily, I managed to lead the conversation to One Direction (it is Niall from One Direction’s 19th birthday tomorrow). He claims that there is a One Direction shop in Toronto. I now want to be a Canadian like never before. He pretended to be too cool for One Direction, but I could tell he loved talking about them.
- There was a Mexican post-doctoral student. We had a mind-numbingly boring conversation about academia.
- I “dated” a lovely man whose job revolves around spreadsheets, and who spends all his free time working in the theatre. He once got drunk with Twink. He’s like a gay royal.
- My last “date” was with a stunningly beautiful boy, who was dressed as a preppy rugby boy, with a popped collar and everything. Gurgle. Drool. He was lovely. And he found me fascinating. After the bell rang to signal the end of our conversation, he had loads more questions for me.
October was like September, just not as good. My social life was good and I was loving life in Hall, but I came off my diet and stalled completely on my PhD. I came clean with my supervisor about where I was at, and I got myself to the doctor. I also came clean on the blog about some of my mental health history and I wrote a post about this that went round the world and is second only to my “coming out” post in number of readers. It was also the month that the saga of my getting the NCT for the car started and the month that I booked in for a back, sack and crack wax.
From a post on the 31st October:
4. What was I doing lying butt naked, face-up on a table in Temple Bar in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon?Today was my “patch test”. I got one strip of hair taken from my back, one from my bottom and one from my bollock to check if I’m allergic, before my full back, sack and crack wax tomorrow. I felt especially weird for the testicle part, when the nice man who did the waxing just pushed my bits around without any warning, like a barber pushing your fringe to the side. It was truly bizarre, and felt partly medical and partly spiritual, with a definite feel of insane religious ritual (with me as the animal about to be sacrificed). Incidentally, it doesn’t hurt anything as much as I expected. There is a real sting, but it’s no childbirth.
5. When I strip off for “intimate waxing” should I take off my socks?For the patch test today, I left my socks on. I took off my shoes, my jeans and underpants and my shirt and then I even took my watch off, and then froze in indecision. The nice waxing man needs to access pretty much my entire body, but not my feet. So I climbed up on the table, wearing only my socks. I felt sleazy as a result. Tomorrow, I’m going to take off my socks and dare to bare it all.
NovemberNovember was very much more of the same. Lots of fun, enjoyed Hall, but spent an awful lot of time eating and YouTubing and not doing my PhD. I went through with the wax-job, and my hair was finally long enough to actually do a variety of things with. I came up with the plan for Crazy Bingo in Hall and I failed the NCT twice. I got made the class rep for all the postgrads in my department and I wowed at another conference. I decorated my little flat for Christmas on the 13th of November and I printed out part of my blog and sent it off to a literary agent.
From a post on 9th November:
“At least on Monday and Tuesday I came into college. On Wednesday, I spent most of the day looking at videos, gifs and photos of One Direction on the internet. They’ve been doing a tour of Europe, so there are HUNDREDS of interviews of them in Swedish, Spanish and German floating around the internet. They’re all posted on sites with questionable names like “iaminfectedwithonedirection”, “nialls-bum”, “idblowharry”, “niallsgotmehigh”, “5-beings-of-perfection”, “bonerrdirection”, and of course, “curlsandsweaters”. I even read some fanfic. There are some very special people on the internet. They are lovely boys and they do make me happy, but if I took all the time I’ve devoted to One Direction in the last week and spent it on my PhD, I’d be so clever now.
Yesterday, instead of One Direction, it was Greenland. I occasionally get fixated with a country (it was an obsession with Finland that led me to teaching English in Poland). At the moment it’s Greenland. I have an escape planned. The University of Greenland is in Nuuk and has 150 students, five of whom are doing PhDs. There is a warning for international students on their website that they only offer courses through Danish and Greenlandic, but I’m sure I could teach English there. I would become beloved by the citizens of Greenland, they would invite me to go fishing with them. I would bathe in the hot springs with their families. I’d teach them cheerleading. I would be known throughout the nation, which only has the population of two Ballincolligs. I might get a post in their government. Eventually a young, naive fisherman, with simple tastes and big strong arms would take me as his own and I would live out my days in quiet Greenlandic bliss.”
DecemberDecember started with Crazy Bingo and various hijinks in Hall. I finally passed the bloody NCT. I entertained others without having a blue-soup-and-marmalade-lesbian-catering-stress meltdown and I got drunk and had a ridiculous number of Christmas parties. I crafted a Christmas headdress that was the toast of Dublin and I survived and enjoyed Christmas in Cork. I really did Christmas properly for the first time in years and I’m very pleased with it. Most excitingly, I got a good reaction from an actual professional to the blog, and Connor: published author is not too unrealistic a prospect.
From a post on 9th December:
“So, Crazy Bingo happened. My plan was to have the numbers buried in a gooey, gungy mass that students would plunge their hands into. The three main ingredients were to be jelly, custard and washing-up liquid. And on Wednesday afternoon, they were indeed the three main ingredients in my kitchen. I nearly got repetitive strain injury making eighteen packs of instant custard one after another and pouring it all into a big rubbish bin. But the gunge wasn’t quite as gooey as I planned. The jelly didn’t set. And I’d listened to the president of the JCR (the student committee in Hall) when he recommended that I make the gunge as disgusting as possible. I cooked up all the porridge I had left over from last June, when I promised myself I’d have a healthy breakfast every morning. I added the porridge to the custard, the unset jelly and the six bottles of discount washing-up liquid. I then threw in five tins of beans. And a bottle of sunflower oil. And a tin of chopped tomatoes. And two tins of fish. Bleurgh! The mixture was brown and smelt of fish and sugar. I couldn’t have made anything more like vomit if I’d tried.
I topped the mixture off with spray cream. Just to complete the gross factor.”
It’s been an amazing year.
I’m feeling resolute (as I always am at New Years). I’ll be back in Dublin in 24 hours time and I’ll update on all my schemes then.
Reader, thanks for staying with me through this year and through this epically long post.