If I were normal…

Why can’t I just be normal?

If I were normal, I’d be married by now. I am 32, after all. I’d have a wife who would listen to all my stories when I come home at the end of the day.

Of course there’d be somewhere to come home from. After my law degree, I’d obviously have qualified as a solicitor and I’d be working in an office with a fun girl who I get on well with and a pompous guy who I would pretend to like. We’d all go out for drinks after work on a Friday, and we’d go to each other’s weddings and children’s christenings.

I’d complain about work, but I’d be grateful to be kept busy and I’d have a steady income, with health insurance and a pension.

My wife and I would have had our first baby about a year and a half ago and would be expecting our second (final) one in about six months. My wife works as a teacher, which is the ideal job for a parent to have, because her hours and holidays will sync with the children’s.

When we first got together we went on a long trip to South America, and were both really struck by our experience when we went to Machu Picchu. I proposed spontaneously after we’d been dating for about three years. Our wedding was expensive, but the photos are nice and everyone said they had a lovely day. The photo of me doing air guitar to “Don’t Stop Believing” at the reception got 94 likes on Facebook.

I hate my wife’s best friend and she knows it, but it’s easiest if we all pretend to like each other because she’s not going anywhere.

Myself and my wife get on fine. We like the same TV programmes. We’re both mad about our daughter. We both talk a lot, but we are interested in each other, so conversation isn’t a problem. When we fight, it’s usually either about money, or my family, or her friends. But we don’t fight that much.

We go somewhere together (the cinema or a restaurant) every Saturday, and my wife’s mother babysits. Sometimes I meet the lads, usually on a Friday night. My wife goes out with her friends sometimes too, but often invites me to come. I try to avoid this, but go some of the time, just to avoid trouble.

During the GAA season, she knows to leave me alone on the weekend afternoons. We’re both from Cork and we both still live there, so if Cork are playing, she’ll watch too.

We bought a house just before the economy collapsed. We’re half-suffocated by the size of the mortgage, but we’ve never come close to missing a payment. We’ll finish paying it when I’m 67.

There’s a big garden at the back of the house. Neither of us are gardeners, so we built a big decking area and have plenty of patio furniture there. There’s a little bit of grass and a few bushes left at the end of the garden. I try to keep it neatly mowed, but I don’t always bother.

Every morning, I get up at 7:00. Except at the weekends. However, our daughter gets up at 7 at weekends too. On Saturdays, my wife gets up and keeps an eye on her. On Sundays, I do.

We don’t go to Mass, but we obviously got married in a church and had our daughter baptised, mainly for the grandparents, but the tradition is nice as well.

I once thought about starting a blog, but it would be a lot of effort. And people don’t want to read all about the mundane details of your life. And I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to know anything about how I feel about my body, my family, my sexual history, my mental health history, my financial problems. That stuff is private. Anyway, you’d need to be really egotistical to keep a blog like that. I am active on Facebook though, putting up photos of my daughter and of the amazing meals my wife makes, and linking to news stories I’m interested in.

I don’t think much about the future. I just want to make sure my kids are alright. I want to have enough money to get by. I look forward to holidays because sometimes work gets very boring. We go somewhere different every year, usually somewhere in Europe.

I try to see my family as often as I can, although my wife doesn’t get on with them that well. Still, my daughter loves to see her grandparents and her little cousins, and they don’t live that far away, so we see them at least once a week.

I do a bit of exercise. I need to lose about fifteen pounds, so when I’m feeling motivated I go for a run in the evenings. If I pull my tummy in though, I still fit into my wedding suit.

I used to have an eyebrow piercing, but that’s long been healed over. Now, I have one crazy t-shirt I wear when I go to Beady Eye concerts. Other than that, I like to wear nice shirts, with a suit on weekdays and with jeans at the weekend.

I’ll cheat on my wife once. When I’m 51. But I don’t know that yet. I also don’t know that she’ll take anti-depressants for 8 years of our marriage without telling me.

We’ll enjoy the early years of our retirement. Both of our children will have children, so there’ll be plenty of people to visit and hours of baby-sitting to do. We’ll travel. Eventually, I’ll get sick. We’ll stay at home more. Life will be boring, but safe and predictable and our grandchildren will always bring joy.

***

I just pulled this fantasy life from the sky. I don’t mean to offend anyone who lives it. Parts of it sound very attractive. And parts of it don’t. But this is not my life. I can be horribly and arrogantly snobby about “ordinary life”, but I’m also jealous of it. 

***

This post came to me last Saturday evening. I had gone home to Cork for the weekend. Because I’m incapable of organising myself, I didn’t actually leave for Cork on Friday at 6:00 pm, like most people who go away for the weekend would. Instead, I didn’t end up leaving until about 2:00 on Saturday afternoon. As I pulled into the driveway of my parents’ house, my mother frantically waved me away. I wasn’t to park. Instead, I had to drive to the church. Saturday nights were always the most stressful time in my family life when I was growing up. My family could be involved in up to three different masses, each lasting between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hours on any given Saturday night, and the whole family would always be flustered, filling the car with bunches of flowers and guitars for mass. I no longer go to mass, but I still give lifts.

Last Saturday, when I arrived home, my first job was to take my brother to mass. We also had to go to my other brother’s house, where I was told we would pick up my sister-in-law’s sister’s friend from Spain, who has hair like a 1970s footballer and is working on a farm in West Cork. As it turns out, we weren’t picking him up. Instead, we were taking my sister-in-law’s cousin’s fiancée’s sister to mass. As I sat in the car, holding my brother’s shiny priestly vestments, waiting for my sister-in-law’s cousin’s fiancée’s sister, I thought to myself that not many men spend their Saturday evenings like this.

As the night progressed, I didn’t feel any more normal. My mother was serving dinner for 23 people in a tent in our back garden on Sunday morning and the entire house was conscripted in a flurry of catering madness. There was a choice of two starters – a prawn cocktail served in a wine glass, or a melon cut into attractive zigzags. Obviously, we had to make enough for everyone to be able to choose which they preferred, so there were 16 portions of melon and 15 portions of prawn cocktail. For 23 people. The Irish-Mammy-based madness of massive and elaborate portions was replicated throughout the meal. Bowls and bowls of coleslaw and potato salad, plate after plate of Christmas ham, five whole chickens, pork, two quiches and a bounty of salad, three loaves of brown bread and four baskets of bread rolls. This was of course followed by dessert: a layered chocolate cake that would have been more than sufficient for everyone, three trifles, each of which would again have served the whole group, and two bottomless bowls of fruit salad. The house was full of food.

And my mother was at high-doh the entire time. At half past midnight on Saturday night, I was given the job of disinfecting the floor in the utility room and the downstairs toilet. When I got up on Sunday morning, I was press-ganged into melon-cutting. My diabetic father complained that my mother hadn’t allowed him to have a breakfast. I did manage to get permission to have breakfast, but only if I had it standing up and didn’t make any crumbs.

Why were we having 23 people to dinner? No one was completely sure of the reason, though we think it was a welcome-home event for my brother who has moved back to Ireland after over 22 years in America. Among the guests were: the lady from across the road who used to teach singing to my sister, a widowed friend of the family, who gets invited to everything, my four nieces and nephews, my sister-in-law’s cousin, his fiancée, her sister, his former flatmate from Scotland, who had once been present when my parents had been given dinner, and so had to also be given dinner, the Spanish farmer with the hair of a 1970s footballer, my aunts and my uncle, the former principal of my secondary school, and a friend of my mother’s who trained to be a teacher with her in the 1960s and who brought a fourth dessert, just in case we starved.

It was actually a really nice day, even if it made no sense, involved more food than anyone was able for and caused my family to have a collective nervous breakdown for the six hours before the guests arrived.

I got back up to Dublin on time for Judgement Day on Monday. I had applied for four different sources of funding for next year, the last year of my PhD. My own department have offered to cover my fees, but I have no other means of support. I had been turned down for every other scholarship. Monday, and the Irish Research Council were my final chance. And I have to admit, I was kind of presuming that I would get it. My application was really kick-ass by the time I’d finished it and it couldn’t really have been better.

It was a crazy day in our PhD office. Four of us were in the office that day. As it happened, the only four from our school who had applied for the scholarship. The atmosphere was tense. I was trying to learn the cyrillic alphabet, but kept getting distracted. We were all nervous wrecks, constantly hitting refresh on our emails and on the online application page. Every time I made a noise, the girl at the desk next to mine jumped, thinking it meant that I’d found something out. We read and re-read the Irish Research Council’s latest email and their infrequently updated twitter timeline, trying to see if the results would really be released that day, or whether we might have to wait even longer. We worked out that about 25% of applicants get the scholarship, so, out of the four of us, only one of us was likely to get the scholarship. I just presumed that it would be me.

As the afternoon wore on, the tension in our office grew. One of my PhD buddies ended up on the floor in the foetal position. Another one of us decided to defuse the tension by doing “sexy” faces while rubbing himself up against the wall.

At 4:00, the results came. Over the course of about a minute, though it felt like about three hours, we found out our fate. One of us got the scholarship. Three didn’t. I was one of the ones who didn’t. I was absolutely shocked. Of course, the person to really feel sorry for in that moment is the person who got the scholarship, while she was surrounded by three people who were pretending to be FINE, ABSOLUTELY FINE, NO REALLY, DELIGHTED FOR YOU, AT LEAST ONE OF US GOT IT, OH WELL DONE, YOU!!! I’M FINE. Note: Obviously, I am delighted for the person who got it now, as are we all, but I do feel dreadfully sorry for her at that time, as I can’t imagine I masked my disappointment that well.

Anyway, this brings me back to “if I were normal”. If I were normal, I would have money. In the last two years, I have become far, far, far better with money than I ever was before. This down to the fact that I’ve given up smoking, but I’ve also given up buying magazines, books and DVDs, and I buy very few clothes as none of the nice ones fit me. I also only drink about once a month. And I’ve only been on one foreign holiday since 2002. And yet, there have only been about five occasions since I left university in 2003 that I have made it from one pay day to the next without completely running out of money.

I remember a friend telling me, in a worried way, that he “only” had about two thousand euros in savings. HA! I’ve never had savings. Even in the heady days of the Celtic Tiger when Bank of Ireland offered me a mortgage (the fools!) I didn’t have any savings.

If I were normal, I would have savings. Instead, I have a loan. And I genuinely do not know what I got the loan for. I do not know what I spent the money on. It currently stands at about €19,000. What did I spend the €19,000 on? I don’t know. It used to be nearer €30,000. What the hell did I spend thirty thousand euros on? I know that there were MBT shoes, and there was a personal trainer for a while, and there were a lot of charity direct debits from my account, and there was a while where I was paying for two internet connections at once. But that doesn’t add up to €30,000. The loan started out as a J1 loan of £750 to go to America in the summer of 2000, when I was young and innocent, and somehow “it just growed”.

This isn’t normal. Sometimes I wonder if I had a cocaine habit that I’ve just repressed all memories of.

And so, next year, I have to make my loan repayments of €380 a month. As it stands the bank has been threatening me with legal action because I missed two repayments earlier this year. I also have a tax bill coming my way in October, which I can only presume will be at least €1000. And although my Assistant Wardening means I don’t pay rent, I still have to pay a monthly utility charge of about €80. I realised yesterday that I’m about four months behind on that, so I owe about €320 to Hall. And after a stupid incident where I thought using my iPhone as a wireless hotspot would be a good idea, I find myself owing O2 about €280, so the money my Russian adventure is making is basically already spent.

All of this would be doable, except my current scholarship of €666 (I know) a month ends in August. I have no guaranteed income next year. I had to teach a lot this year to add to my scholarship, to make ends meet. Next year, I’m going to have to teach even more. And yet, I still have to keep doing this PhD on a full-time basis. Going part-time would involve giving up having my fees paid for me, and it would mean giving up my place in Hall. This PhD may literally starve me.

In fact, when I was reflecting on my options, I came up with 2. One was to live on turnips. A friend of mine tells me that they’re very cheap. I could just eat nothing but turnip soup. My other principal option is to find fame and fortune through my wit and my wits. I played the lotto last night, just in case. I didn’t win.

I came home from college in a fairly bad mood on “no-scholarship day”, and turned to the internet for comfort, as many men do.

Warning: this bit might be one of those “Too much information” bits, so if you’re of a delicate or sensitive constitution, you may want to turn away now, or scroll down to where it says “Safe again”.

I have been on many gay meet-up/dating/hook-up websites. And, as I’ve discussed here before, I have used one site specifically for “chubs and chasers” (fat men and their admirers). I have found another social network, for men who like larger men, and who like bellies, but this site goes further. It is also a site for men who fetishise feeding, and being fed, and gaining. And oh my God, they are weird.

It works very like Facebook. Men put up photos (usually of their bellies, or of themselves eating) and put up status updates, usually about how big their belly is, or about what they’re eating, or about what they want to feed to other men, or about their frustration at not being able to gain weight. If you like someone else’s photo or their status, you can “nom” it. The guys on the site were all really excited by the George Zimmerman trial, because Zimmerman had put on a “really sexy belly” while he’d been waiting for the trial. It’s the busiest gay dating/hook-up site I’ve ever been on, and it’s weird.

It won’t come as any surprise to regular readers of this blog if I say that I don’t find eating sexual. And I certainly don’t find weight gain sexy, but I was curious about this site, and I made a short profile and put up a photo of my belly hanging out of my underpants. And OH MY GOD. The reaction.

I already have 34 followers. And so many different men have written to me. They adore me. Here are some quotes: “There’s a belly that would launch a thousand ships across the Irish Sea to make it bigger and bigger”, “Very impressive belly, dude”, “Great looks you have and a very nice body.” “That is a gorgeous belly, and one I would like to cam with. Always been this big, or is this flabby beauty a result of your efforts?” “You are one bloody massive pig. You should be fed with buckets of lard. There’s no point in stopping now, my beautiful greedy porky prince”.

There is a man who claims to be straight. He says bellies just really turn him on. He’d like to skype with me, so he can watch me eating. Another man was talking about coming from the Netherlands to Dublin for some “fun and pleasure” with me. And an 18-year-old Scottish guy was talking about flying over to see me in the flesh too.

These guys frickin love me! And I loved it. I basked in the objectification. Of course it completely freaked me out too, but it made me feel really special too. It made me feel like I was one of those normal people, who meet a nice guy and ends up being swept off his feet and being kissed. I’m not that guy usually. But the freaky feeding fat fetishists on the internet are the nearest I get.

Of course, I’m going to delete my profile on the site. It’s just not normal. And it is degrading. And it’s unhealthy. But it did make me feel really special and sexy for once. It gave me butterflies in my tummy and shivers down my spine.

Safe again!

And now it’s time to leave. I’m leaving for Russia in less than 12 hours (normal people also don’t apply for jobs in Rostov-on-Don in the middle of the night). And I still have to pack for a month. And I have to print off my tickets. And do my laundry. And clean my summer-time flat. And my term-time flat. And I have to write my Dublin City Council grant application form, and fill in my tax return form. And update the Irish translation of the Hall website. And learn some Russian. And get a night’s sleep. Normal people would probably have done all this already, instead of writing a stupidly long blogpost. But I have eleven hours. I’ll get it all done.

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