I used to have the pleasure of working with a guy about ten years older than me. I viewed him as a big brother, the big brother I never had. He accepted me despite all my shortcomings, faults and immaturity. He made me feel safe and included in the workplace. I was such an emotional mess throughout most of my working life with him and yet we shared many moments of laughter together. In the six years since I left that employer I have only seen him a handful of times. Today I bumped into him. He was jogging past literally as I was stepping onto a bus. I managed to hear him say, “It’s Mark,” as a big smile lit up his face. This made me feel very emotional as he seemed genuinely pleased to see me; and that’s not a feeling I experience very often. To be remembered with fondness is one of the greatest compliments I think I could ever be paid, but to believe that of him makes it even more special to me. For he is everything I wish I was in a man. I’m not even half of what he is. To this day I still respect and admire him. And I still tear up that I’m not in his company every day.
I’m nearly 39 but I still have most of my hair left. I’m on an inexorable journey however towards having just an island on top, but at least I have the receding type of male pattern baldness rather than the ‘Friar Tuck’ patch at the back. I hate going to the hairdressers and for that reason I usually have 2 hairstyles I alternate between; one is shaving it all off and the second is letting it grow out until I need to wear a hat everywhere. But every so often I’ll feel a sense of vanity and a need to decelerate the aging process. So today I took myself off to an actual barber shop to get the ‘Barnet’ styled.
I rarely act on impulse so I had this in mind for a few days. I scoped out a few local places first to get a feel of where I wanted to go. One place is literally round the corner from my flat. But the guy is a sole trader, in his late 50’s and calls himself a ‘modern hairdresser’. So he was quickly eliminated. I liked the look of a place called Ali Barbers. It looked trendy from the outside with bright colours, those cool spinning red and white barber’s poles, flat screen TV’s on the walls and most importantly; it looked busy and the customers in the chairs looked groomed and voguish. They were also open long hours 7 days a week, so I could choose when I wanted to walk in. And £12 for a wash and cut suits my budget.
I sat down and had the backwards cape taped around my throat. No tea or coffee offered, no stale biscuit or bag of Mini Cheddars to decline, no leafing through large catalogues of 80’s hairstyles either, instead it was right down to business which I like. I was promised a full Turkish Barber experience and that’s exactly what I got, shaving brushes and all. The first thing that impressed me was the speed. Michael (my stylist) was very fast and didn’t engage in awful, mundane small talk, much to my relief. He also had incredible attention to detail. As the haircut progressed I found it increasingly hard to suppress smiling as I was so pleased with how it was turning out. Not that it sheds years off me but it makes me look clean and tidy and dare I say it, dapper. (I wasn’t expecting to see as much grey hair falling from the skies as I did however!)
The usual closing ritual I’ve found, when not cutting my hair myself but instead going to an established barber’s to have it done, begins with a mirror being held behind your head. I’ll be asked if it looks okay and whatever my true thoughts are I’d always say ‘yes’. Then after paying and walking home looking in every car and shop window adjusting my hair to something approaching ‘normal’, I will get in the shower to rinse off those annoying bits of hair trapped in my ears and down my neck. But none of that bullshit here; I haven’t been itchy at all because to my total surprise he asked me to lean forward so HE could wash my hair. He even towel dried my ears before massaging hair cologne into my head and neck. I felt I was in a spa and I thought if this carries on much longer I’m going to fall in love with him. I have never smelled so good in my life. Tomorrow I will go back there to buy a bottle of whatever it is myself.
I haven’t touched my hair since because it looks so good and I don’t want to go to bed because in the morning I’m sure I will turn back into a pumpkin.
Keeping a box of memories is something I’ve always done, but now I ask myself why? I don’t have a definitive box, I’ve started and stopped many down the years, with each new girlfriend who came along insisting I destroy anything pertaining to her predecessor. Therefore I’ve always grabbed the nearest empty shoe-box to hand. Recently I’ve moved into a flat and had to sift through 38 years of accumulated stuff held in storage at my Mum’s house. I do have ‘hoarding’ tendencies, as proven by the four double wardrobes full of all the clothes I’d ever bought between 1996 and now. Whilst sorting I found a few memory boxes I’d forgotten about.
In 1993 I went on holiday to Somerset for a week with my parents having just finished my G.C.S.E.’s. On the Thursday I saw a girl by the pool and exchanged several glances and smiles. After an hour or so I plucked up the courage to go and speak to her and we hit it off. We were inseparable for the next 48 hours. Then it came time to leave for home on the Saturday. I considered running away with her because that’s the type of thing you think is doable at 16. Alas I returned home to Kent and she stayed another week before returning to her native Scotland. We kept in touch via phone and writing letters but eventually and inevitably it fizzled out. But I had kept the newspaper I was reading by the pool when I met her. It was the day after Andre Agassi had lost at Wimbledon whilst trying to defend his title. I’d kept her letters and the little heart shaped soap she had sent me. These brought smiles to my face. I was ruthless enough to throw away the newspaper but for some reason kept the soap!
In another box I’d kept all of my secondary school bus passes and the tickets I’d bought in 1994 for Tina and I to see the film ‘Cool Runnings’ at the cinema. Tina was my first proper, ‘geographically close’ girlfriend. She was 19 and I was 17; albeit on paper as in reality I had a mental age of 9. She lived in Herne Bay and we would take it in turns every Saturday to take the train over to our respective parent’s houses. You’ve guessed it! I found every train ticket I bought to go see her. Don’t confuse this with hoarding. The train tickets meant something to me and I could not emotionally part with them. So why haven’t I thrown them away now? They are of no use to me. I haven’t spoken to or seen Tina in 21 years. I remember her and that period of time with great fondness, so maybe that’s why? So why have I kept things from people and periods of time that have caused me tremendous pain and sadness? What use are these boxes to me if I never look inside them or am too afraid to look inside them?
Life and our memories of it are strange phenomena. You cannot choose to erase certain memories and you may even recall a memory inaccurately. Life is essentially one long continuous adjustment to loss. We all lose our youth, our looks, our health, our parents, friendships, lovers, loved ones, ambition, energy, the colour of our hair, our hair, our senses and eventually our lives. So are the things we keep in memory boxes our way of capturing 3-D photographs? Something to hold and feel that can transport us back to a previous point in our lives? Do we keep them as evidence that at one time we meant something to someone or vice versa? After all the sentiment of each item or letter dies at the same time you do. If I died tomorrow you would find a box of bus passes and used train tickets. Essentially just rubbish then! You’d find a letter from a girl from 23 years ago, written when she was 14, to a boy she has most probably completely forgotten now. More rubbish!
I think what we keep is less of a ‘memory box’ but more a box of stuff we haven’t got the courage to throw away.
Today is a milestone in my life and the culmination of a four year journey. Today I was diagnosed with moderate to severe Asperger’s. Whilst some people may be apprehensive about ‘labels’ or being ‘pigeon-holed’, I am actually relieved. I can now try to make sense of certain decisions I’ve taken in life and reconcile some of my behaviour. I have a genetic condition and one that I need to explore and learn more about.
The journey started in November 2011. I had agreed to meet a woman on a dating website for a first date. After a while she said, “Can i ask you a personal question?” “Of course,” I said. “Please don’t be offended,” she replied, “but are you autistic?” I had never been asked this question before and was intrigued. It transpired she had children with autism and it runs in her family, so she had a good appreciation for the condition. She reeled off a list of 9 traits she had picked up from just 2 hours in my company! I didn’t dispute a single observation she had made. She encouraged me to visit my GP
My doctor was incredulous and dismissive, citing the fact that it had never been picked up before then. My immediate thought was that perhaps awareness wasn’t as prevalent in the late 1970’s as it is today. Regardless of his impertinence I insisted this be explored and I was told to put in writing my justification for it.
Two years later I was sent for an assessment in Sittingbourne. I thought it strange that the phone assessment I’d had a few days previously had focused entirely on my attention, hyperactivity and concentration as a child. It soon became obvious that I was at an ADHD clinic and my referral there was made in error. Nevertheless I was assessed for ADHD and whilst most if not all of us have ADHD traits, mine were not enough to diagnose a disorder. I was encouraged to go back to my GP and make the correct referral. That was in 2013, and on 10/10/2015, I finally received an appointment for today.
Today I learned a lot about myself as an infant and my development as a child from my mother, who attended with me. I would prefer to play on my own, I would only tolerate small groups and if someone snatched my toy I would hunt them down and refuse to play with anything else. I was also uncomfortable with the rare visits I had from grandparents and rejected supply teachers. I was also able to ‘join some dots’ and see consistency with some of the behaviours my father exhibits, hence the genetic link. My sister says that when I talk about myself I’m verbose, but when other people are talking about themselves I tend to want to hurry them up and get to the point! I also didn’t realize that sniffing everything before putting it in your mouth was consistent with Asperger’s, nor did I know an intense dislike of loud noise was a symptom. I already knew I was deficient in empathy and that is something I have worked very hard on by studying Level 2 and 3 in Counselling Skills at college.
So to everybody who I’ve had difficulty making friends with….to everybody I’ve had difficulty maintaining friendships with…to every girlfriend I’ve hurt with words or behaviour, I am profoundly sorry. I am now equipped with greater self-awareness and an appreciation of how and why things have turned out the way they have.
So yesterday I visited my local video game store, ingeniously called ‘GAME’. Saturdays have long been synonymous with frequenting video game stores, in the same way as the smell is synonymous with BO and 99% of people there have chronic acne. I would spend many a happy, but breathless, afternoon in it’s Canterbury store, when it used to be the artist formerly known as ‘Electronics Boutique’. This allowed my exasperated partner to spend more time in the shops I hated.
Yesterday’s mission was very simple; to take advantage of their current 3 for 2 offer on pre-owned games. I refuse to pay £40 to £50 for a new game, instead I wait a couple of years and it’s much cheaper. Having stayed off cigarettes for 7 weeks now I have built up a little bit of disposable income I’m desperate to offload. With time ticking down before closing I’d decided on my 6 PS3 games for the price of 4, which included ‘Watch Dogs’. However the price on the box was £14.99; much dearer than the rest. Given the fact that there was a whole shelf of PS4 pre-owned copies of ‘Watch Dogs’ all with £9.99 stickers on them, I assumed it must be an error. Imagine my surprise at the till when the 19 year old virgin confirmed both prices were correct but yet couldn’t offer an explanation as to why. She turned to the bearded Morlock next to her for assistance. Completely impotent when it came to discounting the price to make a sale, his best guess for the price anomaly was; “because it’s GAME!”
In a world that makes no sense, here is some more no sense.
Tonight I got to see a comedy hero of mine perform live; Doug Stanhope. In my opinion he is the greatest living comedian and the only man who can rub shoulders with George Carlin. The seats we had were very close to the stage and at times I found my mind wandering from what he was actually saying, as it was trying to cope with the surrealism of being in the man’s presence. His material and on-stage persona have helped me get through a very difficult period of my life and have helped forge the way I look at the world in order to make sense of it and to keep myself safe in it. I was in complete awe and of course, tears of laughter. The man is so straight forward. No intervals, no programmes, no merch and no encore. He dresses like a drunk, drinks like a drunk and advocates drinking. That’s all well and good, if you can control your bladder. But the audience couldn’t. I’m amazed every time I go to a live gig by people’s behaviour. You spend a lot of money to watch a genius at work, who rarely tours the UK, but you spend most of the night queuing at the bar or constantly going for a piss. Can you not go 2 hours without a drink? Must you drink extortionate, watered down Fosters when watching comedy? It’s your loss ultimately, but you also irritate those who are trying to pay attention.
I love laughing, it is such a natural high. I have been lucky to see many stand-up comedians such as Frankie Boyle, Jack Dee, Lee Evans, Eddie Izzard, Roy Chubby Brown, Jim Davidson, Lenny Henry, Harry Hill, Jason Manford, Sean Lock and Dara O’Briain. But seeing Stanhope tonight was more than just a comedy gig. It was a pilgrimage, a calling, to be in the presence of someone who gives meaning to the suffering of living. I would spend the rest of my life hanging out with the guy, following his teachings and doing odd jobs around his place in Bisbee. His attitudes, outlooks and nihilism make sense to me in a world full of bullshit, corruption and fear. Thank you Stanhope for creating your own cult, even if that cult does poke each other in the eyes.
Have you noticed how everything fun and enjoyable also has a darker edge to it? The things you most like to do can end up killing you, strengthening my belief that we as a species aren’t really meant to be here. Take sex for example. That’s fun but wait, what’s that? STD’s and HIV? Herpes and unwanted pregnancies…RAPE?! Why ruin it?
Smoking…that’s pretty cool, except for the toxic, poisonous, cancerous chemicals, the yellow teeth, the receding gums, the aging skin etc. Wait, I shouldn’t do that either?
Okay then, what about takeaways?…no cooking, no washing up, exciting menu choices…oh that’s bad for me too? High cholesterol, fatty liver, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease…that doesn’t sound like a good menu.
Ah wait, I’ve thought of something that is fun and enjoyable and good for you…Love? You can’t find anything wrong with love. Yes I can. Unrequited love, loss, bereavement, heartbreak, adultery. Oh shit, that’s not fair…you see the negative in everything; my glass is half full. Yeah but it can never be full though can it?! I see the negatives because they are right there staring you in the face. What’s that cliche? Everything in moderation…well fuck moderation, what does it earn you? There’s no prizes for dying old and no prizes for dying young. Unlearn everything you’ve ever been taught because it’s all bullshit, we are animals, we are primates, square pegs shoehorned into a round hole of centuries of civilization…and it isn’t natural…that’s why we dream of and invent gods and monsters, we burn witches, we gas Jews, we behead each other, we bomb each other….so you see, religion isn’t even a force for good.
You think zoos are cruel? We’re the ones in a bloody zoo…we’re the ones imprisoned in a cage far from our natural habitat. We have lost our one true gift, the power of consciousness. We’re born free and live the rest of our lives as dystopian wolves in sheep’s clothing. You think you have real choice, you think you have any power at all? You don’t. All of this is a roulette, lottery clusterfuck. There’s one destination; no reward, no judgement day, no meaning to it…sensible will take you to the grave, anarchy will take you to the grave, exercise will take you to the grave; so what you gonna do? Hide away from it all? Never take risk again? What is stopping you from living your life without these shackles and embracing the full experience of this world, warts and all?