If people like your good selves hadn't been reading this stuff, I would have stopped writing it a long, long time ago. Thanks again to every last one of you.
One, maybe two more after this and then we're over and out. I have a significant decision to make regarding exactly where I take this.
If I had a pound for every cold, callous person I have met in my life, the sort who 'don't do feelings' and dismiss those that do as soppy or insecure, I would probably have an additional tenner to my name but that isn't the point. One of my great irritations in life has been the lectures from people who have had easier lives and speak from altogether more fortunate positions than myself. I don't want to know what you, with your nice family who loved and provided for you, made you feel wanted and like a significant part of their lives, would do in my position precisely because you have never, ever been in anything that vaguely resembles it. You're dealing in at best ignorance and at worst outright misinformation. DO NOT lecture, hector or harass me about 'moving on', 'getting over it' or anything else. You have precisely nothing to offer here.
Now fuck off, your Mum's on the line and I think she wants to cuddle you.
A (quite brilliant) doctor and I were discussing something called 'Bullseye Syndrome' a few years back. Remember at the end of the show when that all round twat Jim Bowen would ask the audience what the contestants should do? “GAMBLE, GAMBLE, GAMBLE” cry the sheep with nothing to lose. Sheep who have no idea what the five hundred pounds those guys or girls had already won might mean to them. The point is – it's remarkably easy to offer 'advice' from a more comfortable position and tell someone to do something you'll never have to do yourself. This is how you can spot the difference between someone who's had a complicated life and another whose existence might have been relatively straightforward. Those who have spent most of their time in cruise control, broadly getting things their own way, tend to lack empathy, be more judgemental and over-simplify complicated questions. Just an observation.
In reality, every last one of us needs external validation of some sort, be it from our friends, significant other, work colleagues or somewhere else. A little reminder that we are of worth to humanity in one way or another is essential and can not be derived exclusively from ourselves. If nobody would miss you should you kick the bucket tomorrow, then what does that say about you and your life? The degree to which individuals require this might vary from one to the next, but that does not mean it's in any way precious or insecure simply to acknowledge how essential it is. Apart from the tiny minority of psychopaths and sociopaths amongst us, we all have feelings and a sense of self that needs to be maintained in one way or another. I'm fortunate to have met some wonderful people in the last few years who I know would miss me were I dead.
Thanks all of you – for being here and for being you.
I reflect on this because it was something that was sorely lacking in my life when I most needed it, principally when I was a teenager and a young adult. This is a confusing, sensitive and often fragile period of our lives, when we exude a confidence to the outside world in order to deter life's parasites and vultures, but precious little is absolutely certain. They call these your formative years for a very good reason, namely because your environment fuses with your DNA to form something I often refer to as a person's hardwiring. Sociologists and shrinks often talk about serial killers and other human tragedies in the context of them either being pure evil on legs, or the product of a broken home and environmental dysfunction. In reality, it's very, very rarely down solely to one or the other and usually owes itself to an unfortunate mix of the two.
I mean, there are plenty of functional psychopaths and sociopaths out there who are capable of blending into society, whereas many people from appalling domestic situations do not go on to behave in destructive or diabolical ways.
So what's the truth here?
I desparately wanted my parents to love and approve of me. One of the reasons that Rob never took the faintest interest in formal education was precisely because he'd seen how much work I'd put into the whole experience, and still, it produced next to nothing in terms of a rising approval rating from my parents. I barely touched alcohol until I was a young adult, stayed in and buried my head in books when parties and socialising were out there as options. I took exams deadly seriously, believing (falsely) that the hard work now was some sort of downpayment on an altogether more straightforward future. But more than anything, it was the love and pride of Bob and Irene that I craved. Looking back, my thoughts on this are that unless your child becomes a serial rapist or mass-murderer, that's your child and you should regard him or her as something precious in your life.
But...nothing I ever did ever seemed to be enough. Every achievement was downplayed to protect the 'feelings' of other people who saw themselves as bigger fish in the family hierarchy. Look, if YOU are not happy with your own life then YOU go and do something about it. I'll do everything I can to help and support you. DO NOT drag other people down to your level or diminish the positive things they might have done just to make YOU feel better in some perverse way. Going into further education was wrong because it made me a 'parasite' who didn't have a 'proper job', but then getting a 'proper job' was somehow wrong too. Not even being called into a meeting and told that I was the sort of 'state system product' that Oxford and Cambridge wanted to apply to them was enough to earn a few nice words, just a little bit of external approval.
I mean, what the fuck did you actually WANT me to do with my life? What could I have done to keep YOU happy?
I can't believe I was forced to look at the equation that way, but that is really how it was.
Bob, I know you don't give a shit and never did. Living in sheltered accommodation with one leg smacks of not-so-instant karma, doesn't it?
Irene, stop deluding yourself you were in any way a half-decent mother, or that you were powerless to improve the situation. Buy yourself a big mirror, then stand and look in it for a very long time.
Between you, you've managed to make my young life a nightmare...and wreck the potential I once had.
Well done. Hope you're happy.
It's 2002 and things are looking generally positive. The money I'm being paid for this job is a parcel of shit, something of an insult, but I'll put that down to the fact I'm young and relatively inexperienced. There are people who have been here too long, become complacent and sloppy, stopped caring whether that's down to lack of carrot or stick (in reality, there probably needs to be an element of both to keep people motivated). The cash situation will resolve itself if I just keep doing what I'm doing, working harder than they do, displaying a general level of competence virtually unknown in that place. One other person in our office knows his arse from his elbow and, as is often the case, he's not calling the shots. I often wonder what happened to Dennis, top bloke and very good at what he did, dispelling the myth about Canadians being a bit slow...eh.
The rest are pretty fucking useless – some I regarded as friends but we have to look through a crystal clear lens here. It probably owed more to demotivation than an inate lack of ability, but perhaps the decision that was ultimately made not to persist with many of them down the track (more of which another time) was the right one. Anyway, they've stuck me on this management development award, which would ultimately see me sent to France, in an altogether different state of mind than when the process started I should add. I've also just implemented a new contract with a large-scale catering firm, which isn't too shabby for a lad of twenty years old. When people I work with now talk about the perils of 'business implementation' and what have you, I smile and remember I was doing a slightly more low-brow version of it when I was barely out of college. It really isn't as hard as it's cracked up to be.
When the conventional wisdom would flip overnight, and turn into something nasty, I never lost touch with these realities. Why did you stick me in a competitive environment with certain people's blue-eyed boys? Why did I leave so little room for argument that they had no choice but to send me to France? Why did you entrust me with something that required dedication and detailed knowledge, instead of asking a guy with 10+ years of experience to do it? Because I had something they didn't and had proven it for long enough for that reality to be unavoidable. It's as simple and as complicated as that.
Nicola was the daughter of the managing director of the outfit. What did I know about her? Well, she seemed pleasant enough, and quite nice on the eye without being absolutely spectacular. She saw some people she could have a laugh and a joke with and others she couldn't, which is pretty much like most of us. She had a boyfriend, but their relationship was messy and she was quite open about the fact that she'd cheated on him with more than one person. I knew for a fact that she'd slept with a lad from work after a Christmas Party (avoid them like the plague if you're reading) and then confused the poor fella by asking that they be 'mates' afterwards. He seemed genuinely to be in love with her and I don't know if this sense of confusion or heartbreak was the reason he left, but it cannot have helped.
We didn't talk much, but things were civil and polite when we did. I was never one of those she regarded as a genuine friend or someone she could open up to, but then not everybody is.
One morning I walk past her like I had dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. Do I actually say hello and ask how she is, or just nod and acknowledge her presence? I don't get the chance to mull that one over for long. Something appalling happens and I'm shaken, like a fighter who's taken a mammoth right hand flush on the jaw. The electricity ripples through my body and I'm queasy, sick, fragile and in a bad place. My head shakes involuntarily. Something akin to a nasty flush comes across my cheeks although I've no idea whether or not they have changed colour. This is controlling me and not the other way around. A few seconds later it hits me – you remember Carly don't you? How could you forget that day when you were fourteen and the rules of this life suddenly changed?
Oh, for the love of God, no. Somebody kill me, please.
I didn't know what this was at the time, but I was limerent again.
I want to die, right now...
A matter of three weeks later, we're on that management development course. Not exactly being Oxbridge material, Nicola can only have been there because of family connections but she's there nonetheless, and doing okay until she tells our training manager than she sees herself being an air hostess in five years' time. I'm presented with some mathematical problem-solving and a touch of public speaking about people management, two of the few areas in which I'm fairly strong. We go out that night and I can barely so much as look at her. I'm twitchy and frightened, barely functional and what I do say is cold and robotic. She addresses me as 'Dazzler' as we walk back to the hostel, a nickname I would come to despise in the years that followed for that reason. Please, it's Dazza and only Dazza if you can. She tries to hold my hand at one point, playfully I presume, and I recoil in horror, not feeling worthy of something like that.
Her mate Jo (a lovely girl and seriously fit with it) then asks me why I've been so insular and withdrawn, basically ignoring them. Nicola chips in herself and makes things a thousand times worse. Look, the reason I've been avoiding contact with you is not because I don't like you or want nothing to do with you, quite the opposite. I have these 'feelings' that are out of my control and am not entirely comfortable with. Of course, I tell her it's all in her head and she's been imagining it. As had been the case back in 1996, something had crystalised before my eyes – this is why she's here. Her dad has got her on the payroll, precisely so he can find someone who will be a 'significant other' to her but can also be controlled and have sufficient fear of losing everything to stay in line.
I knew that my life, at least for the forseeable future, would not be the same and was about to become a whole load more complicated.
The odds of becoming involuntarily infatuated on this girl were about 500-1. I think we should put it down to rotten luck.
She was initially blameless, but sadly I can't say that with the benefit of knowing what happened later.
I've got a funny feeling my switchboard is going to go mental tonight – I'll leave you with some more New Order and thanks for reading.