No. 91 A Twin Room in the Honeymoon Hotel

I’d chosen a romantic hotel in the South of Goa for Mr and Mrs Bentley-Livingstone. The hotel was quite magnificent for a cheap package, set in front of a long/wide stretch of sandy beach. On arrival we were pleased to be able to swap the double for a twin room, the hotel reception insisted on Gill and I keeping the free bottle of bubbly that had been put in the original room to celebrate the wedding that never happened. I got the feeling all the staff knew of my non-wedding, they were very kind during our two week stay. We were only disappointed to be located miles away from the cool Goa places my Pelekas friends had spoken about, but we soon found that taxis were cheap and/or we were able to hitch to Baga beach where there were parties and huts with DJ and disco light (a lone Indian turning on and off the centre piece lone red bulb from a switch by the door).
Normally I would have loved the hippy vibe of this part of Goa, but the day after Archer had left, MS symptoms had flared up and my walking was shite. Sand was uncomfortable, walking on the beach felt like dragging wellies out of Glastonbury mud, tired after a festival of rain, with wet sand in the wellies – under the feet, over the feet and between the toes. Drinking was the only thing that relieved the discomfort and I was happy to be in a hot country, the best place for recovery.
I spent most days round the pool, eeking every bit of vitamin d out of the sun. Gill needed more stimulation so her and another singleton we’d met in the hotel paired up and explored the surrounding areas.
Every evening a band played in the dining area outside by the pool. Sometimes Gill stayed out late with her new friend which conveniently left me with nothing to do but eye up the lead guitarist of the band. It was hard deciding whether to go for it sooner rather than later, but the build-up left me with something to fantasize about while I dozed by the pool. I never saw my prey/his prey in the day until he appeared from nowhere on our last afternoon and crouched down by my sun bed. We smiled at each other and I gave him a cigarette. I was trying to cut down by smoking Silk Cult, the guitarist tore off the filter before accepting my lighter which was one from my Greek collection, the classic naked Greek God with huge penis. He laughed, I’d been writing my college therapy journal and I showed him my pen, also from my Greek collection but not so Greek, the pen was the classic man at beach with trunks on, turn it upside down, man’s trunks come down (not so sexist cause all the hetro men had the women whose bikini top and bottoms came down). My Indian guitarist laughed again, he needed no more encouragement.
When the band finished playing that night I hung about in the foyer, leaning on an ornate pillar, smoking. The guitarist appeared guitar less. I kind of realised he could get in trouble for what we were about to do, we needed to be discreet. We walked out of the hotel separately, I caught him up a few meters along, then we turned down a side lane together. We did it standing up against a building of some sort, nearly erotic, but not quite, it seemed such a Goa package hotel guitarist moment and reminded me of Essex Music Men time (No. 25-29), but I didn’t want to go back in time.
Gill and I travelled home the following day, my legs a little more steady and feet less fizzy after my liaison with guitar man, shagging I believed to work better than MS drugs on offer.
“I want to settle down, I’m so bored” I said to Gill as we sat on the plane, pouring out our third gin and tonic. Gill had had her children and two marriages really young, she was a decade older than me, I considered her a proper person, settled, she had her own flat, a proper job and sons not much younger than me. I was beginning to envy everyone who had a children.
“You will.” She said.
“Life’s pretty shit though, generally I mean.” I could talk like this with Gill, she was like a surrogate aunt and a bloody good Samaritan, even better than me.
“You’ve had it tough, you’ve had a huge disappointment, MS is shite, you’re doing really well.” She stopped to suck on the tiny piece of lemon from the plastic glass. “Things will get better. I always think if you get one good day out of two, or about 100 good a year, life’s worth living.”
Gill hugged me as our taxi from Gatwick dropped her off at New Cross, she waved me off as the driver turned into the Old Kent Road.
I began counting the days that were good, if I had two bad days in a row I would expect two good the next, and so on. A few months later our manager told us that the Marie Stopes Annex was closing down and she would be retiring. I was transferred to work in the Marie Stopes House, just down the road. Working with people who could afford private health care was completely different, clients didn’t respect clinic staff in the same way as the women coming for abortions and I found myself resenting them. Sensing my displeasure in the front line, my new manager allowed me to do the fertility and vasectomy counselling, this began with a week of studying fertility counselling and sitting in on a few vasectomies. Tim Black, the then big boss of the Marie Stopes organisations, carried out these ‘little op’s’. The men didn’t seem to mind me witnessing their balls being mucked about with by this grand doctor, but I can still recall the smell of burning skin.
A few months into the new job my Annexe friend Mary left the House and there was now no one I felt I could relate to. I counted the bad days, and I counted the bad days.
It’d been nearly a year since I’d met Archer, I’d had my 30th birthday and the summer was ending. My legs weren’t great again and I’d given up going to hospital appointments and had started seeing a homeopath, I’d take little white pills and hope for the best. With no men to talk about (or avoid talking about) my sessions with Ian became mostly about my past and family. Despite having my private landline, I hadn’t spoken with my parents in a while. I invested in an answering machine, hoping that might make me more accessible to others but it was depressing to come home from work or college with no flashing light so I turned it off. One Saturday I was counting the bad days and making a graph of their ascent when Gill rang.
“Fancy a party tonight?”

No. 90 (part 2) The Posh Punk and the Spaghetti Bowls

“I’ve got a flat, I’ve got a fucking flat!”
“You’re beautiful Liz. Will you marry me, yah?”
“Yes, will you help me move in?”
Within two weeks Archer had moved into my one bedroom council flat, on the second floor of Dhonau House, a block on the Longfield Estate in Bermondsey.
I’d known Archer two weeks and one day when the vicar visited us and we booked the wedding in St Anne’s church for a Saturday in November, seven weeks away. We also booked a West African restaurant in New Cross for the reception, for our close family with food that Mr and Mrs Bentley and Lord Meredith and Lady Petronella Livingstone would hate.
Those seven weeks went by quickly, we were so loved up, I was so happy, he was so happy, I felt loved, adored and not so jealous of my sister who was now married and had recently given birth to my beautiful niece.
I took Archer to Essex to meet my parents before the wedding.
“Are you sure about getting married?” My father asked, mimicking what the vicar had said in our meeting.
“Yes.” I said, un-wrapping spaghetti bowls my Aunt had given my dad to give to us for an engagement present. That was family acknowledgment enough for me, even though I didn’t eat spaghetti.
That same week we visited Archer’s mother and step father in their  mansion in Hampshire. We stayed alone together in the summer-house at the bottom of the mansion’s 2/3 acre lush garden.  We drank bottles of champagne and crashed the night there where we dropped. At breakfast we ascended into the main house and his mother, Lady Petronella, seemed very happy with me as his chosen bride and she gave Archer a cheque as we left after a help yourself stand up breakfast.
Mary took me to Selfridges and I bought a dress, not a proper wedding dress, but it was reduced in price, cream coloured, longer than a mini, and it would double up as a fun dress to wear on honeymoon in Goa.
The week before the wedding I was sorting out a seating plan for our small reception when there was a knock on my flat door. Nothing unusual, next door were drug dealers and sometimes people got the wrong door in the dark.
“Where is he?”
“Archer?”
“He owes me money.”
“He’s working late”
“Bullshitting little twat. He’ll be in the pub, he’s usually there but he’s changed pubs cause he owes half the pub. And we don’t know what pub. Bet he ain’t paying you rent neither.”
Then it dawned on me, the engagement ring he said he’d bought and was at the jewellers probably didn’t exist, all the money he said he had probably didn’t exist and if Archer was prepared to lie about everything else, I guessed that meant he probably didn’t love me. I’d been carried away in a nugget of love I was so desperate for. This man standing before me was like my superego, ticking me off and my relationship was all bullshit. I felt shamefully stupid, ridiculously embarrassed.
When Archer returned late that night he crept into bed, me pretending to be asleep. We slept back to back. When the alarm went I got up and went into work as usual, leaving him sleeping.
“Go home Liz,” the Annexe manager said when she caught me in tears in the office. “You need to sort it out – now.”
Archer was still in bed when I got back to the flat, he knew it was over.
“You have to go.” And that’s all that was said.
He got up slowly and began packing 3 bin liners and a rucksack, each taking about an hour, I watched him while he put one item in, then sat on the bed with his head in his hands, and so on, I couldn’t bear it any longer and went into the kitchen and chain smoked, popping my head round the door every so often. I had mixed feelings and felt bad for him, he’d been with me when I got my new flat, he’d helped me clean layers and layers of grease off the kitchen walls, he’d tried to clean the chimney (even though the neighbour called the fire brigade as we filled the block with smoke) and he’d helped carry the double mattress from the second-hand shop on the Old Kent Road through the estate and up the stairs of the block, into my little 1940’s flat. He’d even stayed in to let in BT to put the phone in, at the time me thinking it was easier for him to have the day off work than me.

“The wedding’s off,” I told my mother on the phone “will you tell everyone please?” Despite the new realisation of my mother’s emotional neglect, right now I was able to forgive her, I needed her practical help, it wasn’t her fault, she’d been evacuated age 8, her father in both wars, her older brother died of lung cancer post WW2, her sister put in a mental hospital after ineffectual ECT and that was before starting on her relationship with my father. She’d had it tough and at this point in my life I was able to value my family’s non-judgmental and non- intrusive approach to my boyfriends and my life. “And Gill’s coming with me on the honeymoon.” Gill was a friend I’d met at the Samaritans and she’d agreed to split the cost of the trip I’d already paid for.
“You have a lovely time” Mum said.

That night was the first I’d been alone in my new flat, this was also the first time I’d had a proper place I could call home since leaving Essex.  I cried myself to sleep on the soft double mattress, it was comforting to know I couldn’t disturb anyone.  My relationship with Archer was nothing in comparison to the ten years on and off with Fraser. I knew I would get over him quicker, we weren’t so entrenched, but the pain was as intense and the shame I felt continued until Gill and I got on the plane to Goa.  My more empathic friends were kind and somewhat relieved of the outcome, they’d been concerned how quickly and how alcoholic things were heading with my new fiancé.  My less empathic friends took the piss which added to my shame, but it was ridiculous, and I didn’t blame them either, why would they understand my pain, my loneliness and the loss of a loving relationship I thought I  could, might have?
The person who knew nothing was Ian.  Maybe it was just as well there was never an engagement ring, like my cut eye from Fraser, I’d got away with it. I was no worse than Archer, I was keeping so much from my therapist, but unlike Archer I had no escape, I was locked into a relationship with Ian for at least three years while I was training.  The shit would come out soon enough.

img_2132

No. 90 The Posh Punk (part 1)

When we’d finished the day’s clinic Mary and I went to the Intrepid Fox, a pub in Wardour Street where we liked to drink snake bites.
“Are you and Fraser done now?” Mary asked, two pints in.
“Yes, that’s it, I’m going to be single for a bit, maybe a year, maybe two?”
“No sex for a year, you sure?”
“I’ll manage.  I need to focus on my therapy and the course.”
Mary left the pub around 8pm, leaving me chatting with a group of punks I’d recognized from clubs Marni and I used to hang out in. I didn’t look like a punk anymore but continued to relate to their ideologies.
“You’re beautiful, yah” said the pink Mohican punk sat next to me.
“Thanks” I said, drunk, confident and chuffed with myself for finally moving on from Fraser.
Do you want some blues, yah?” It was a work night and I was due back at the Annexe in the morning.  But what the fuck, I fancied him.
“I’m Archer, yah” This posh man with tanned skin and sharp blue eyes shook my hand, leaving in my palm a small packet of blue pills.
“They match your eyes” I said, staring right into them, clenching the packet. I disappeared to the ladies and swallowed a few. I wasn’t so keen on blues, they weren’t any worse than white powder speed, but they reminded me of Fraser and when I used to sell at clubs. I stopped selling soon after I’d started, one Monday at Gossip’s psychedelic night I had 150 pills and Fraser was jealous cause I’d been talking with people from bands that he didn’t know.  He blatantly bought the lot off me and ate most of them on the spot. Off his head he went back to the Gunnersbury tower block, alone. That was the night he got caught by the Bizzes. Fraser had built a breakfast bar in the small kitchen, so if they came round he’d hide in there, but that night he’d got so paranoid from the blues and because one of the lifts wasn’t working he got confused and lost, running round the tower block stair wells and then he got angry with someone and they called the police before he could get into the flat and into his bespoke hidey hole.  I didn’t like blues after that and it had left me feeling a degree of responsibility for Fraser’s imprisonment. But that was then.  I’d moved on.
The other punks left and Archer and I stayed until the landlord kicked us out. We were well up on the blues and loitered outside the pub. It was pissing it down.
“I’ve got keys to a kind of hotel.” I said and took his arm. We made our way from Wardour Street through the back streets of Soho to the Annexe.
“I work here, sssshush…” I slurred as I put the key in the door of the Annexe, looking around in case someone might see us enter the clinic. I took out the King Missile tape from my Walkman, took out the Tchaikovsky tape that was in the player in reception and swapped them over. There was half a bottle of wine in the downstairs office fridge Mary and I had started after clinic earlier. I filled up two clean paper cups from the stack we gave to women if they’d forgotten their wee samples.
Archer sat on one of the low slatted waiting room chairs. I sat on top of him, writhing around and singing along to King Missile, “Jesus was so cool, he turned water into wine…” We slugged back the wine.
“Great music, your great, yah” he was posh, polite and full of compliments.
‘Gary and Melissa loved to make love, loved to make love to each other, loved to make love with each other over and over and over again……’ King Missile’s lyrics beat out from the cassette player as Archer and I snogged. After Gary and Melissa exhaust everything that is sex, they kill themselves, whilst having sex, of course.
When the tape ended I got up from Archer’s lap and opened the door into one of the consulting rooms. It had a couch in the middle, a desk to the left, a screened off area for women to change in to the right and the ultrasound scanner with a computer on a table by the side of the couch. I jumped up on it,  I did this on Ian’s couch too.
Archer explored the room and picked up the box of rubber gloves on the shelf behind the bed that was shared with packets of morning after pills, contraception pills and all other forms of contraception including packets and packets of femidom that none of our staff could get rid of and were going out of their sell by date.
“What’s your surname Liz? Yah.” he asked, stretching the gloves over his hands and pulling at the fingers so the plastic pinged back making that plastic ping sound.
“Bentley. As in the car” I felt as posh as him.
“Now, Miss Bentley, would you please take your clothes off. I need to examine you?” behind the door was a hook with Dr Choudary’s white coat hanging up.
“Archer, put the coat on.” I pointed at the coat.
“Fuck, yah,” he took off all his clothes, getting his bits stuck in his jeans as he put the white coat on then he pushed his cock through a gap in between the press studs.
I lay on the bed while Dr Archer poked around the rest of the room, delving into drawers and under the table where the computer sat.
“Fuck, you ladies go through it, yah” he held up a large vagina speculum. “This goes right up there, yar?”
“That’s nothing. A baby’s head’s got to come out of there.  But not here, it’s a pre abortion clinic.”

“Okay, yah”

I took off my jeans and lay on the bed with my legs open as wide as they had to be in the Southend GU clinic stirrups.  Dr Archer put the spectrum back and did his Doctors duties.
Like Gary and Melissa we did it ‘over and over and over again’ until come drowned my belly button having ignored the contraception shelf. Dr Archer took off his gloves and ripped off some of the crumpled blue paper towel that covered the bed, once ready for a client.
The blues were wearing off and we were tired but it was still pissing it down. Too late for tubes and too fucked for night buses, I put on the reception electric heater and we cuddled together on the floor of the clinic room, covering ourselves with two small blankets that were used to cover the women while they were being examined.
“You’re clearly not a doctor, yah.”
“Course not, I just work here, but I’m training to be a counsellor.” There weren’t babies born here, but in the not too distant future I would begin counselling women who were ambivalent about their pregnancies and some going on to give birth. I drifted into sleep worried that we may be caught here and I’d lose my job, or that I’d do a pregnancy test wrong and a woman would come back and they’d be no form cause I’d got rid of it and kept her tenner and I’d be done for stealing and lose my job. I wouldn’t be telling Ian any of this but I needed to remember to pick up one of the morning after pills from the consulting room.
I woke before 6am, just a few hours before we’d gone to sleep.
“Archer, the cleaner will be here soon, we need to get up.”
I made us a quick cup of tea and we were out.
“I might as well go straight into work” Archer said as we stood outside Warren Street tube.  He’d told me the night before he worked in a picture frame workshop in Fulham. Like Fraser, he was a carpenter, but he wasn’t a junky, he’s eyes were sharp. Things were looking up.  Archer took my number and I watched him disappear down the escalator as I’d watched Fraser the day before. I sat in the café, nursing a coffee and nibbling on a scone until at my usual time of 8.30am I arrived back at the clinic.  Mary was already there, ushering the cleaner out.
“She’s mad,” Mary said closing the door and locking it again after I’d walked in. “She thinks we’ve got ghosts. She said the kettle was warm and that the ghost must have been having a cuppa while she was cleaning upstairs. You’re wearing the same clothes Liz. Where did you stay last night? What the fuck is that?” Mary had pressed play on the tape recorder and King Missile was on the Gary and Melissa bit where they’re having sex with friends. I swapped the tapes back just in time for the first pre abortion client to enter into the clean clinic to soothing classical music.

“Do you have an appointment?”  I smiled an empathic smile and the woman cried.

No. 89 (cont.) and Fraser No. 31’s visit to the pre termination clinic.

“I’m loving college.” I was excited to tell Ian my news. “It’s great. We don’t have to do essays yet, just read and write a journal.”
It was strange knowing so little about this man I was seeing now 3 times a week (all at half price).  I didn’t know if he had a wife, children or a gay lover. The other rooms in the flat (apart from the bathroom) had their doors closed.  A few sessions previously Ian had invited me to lie on the couch, adjacent to the chair I was used to, is it lie or lay?  Made me think,  I didn’t lie to Ian, I just missed out bits because I was ashamed or embarrassed. Now on the couch I missed sitting opposite him, I’d been feeling more confident and had been enjoying looking him in the eye. The advantage of my position on the couch meant I could just see the top of Saint Pauls and lean over for a glimpse of Ian’s green eyes, if I wanted. He would either smile or look irritated but it was worth the risk.
“Here is the letter I promised.”  He handed me a copy of the letter to Southwark housing. I glanced at it, not reading the main content because it harped on about MS.  He continued talking.  “As you are a patient at Guy’s hospital, I wanted you to know that if anything happened that you were in hospital there would be a way we could continue our work. I should be able to find a room there.”
“Ok,” I was confused and annoyed with him, then I thought how funny it would be to have Ian visit me in hospital. If he couldn’t find a room maybe he’d sit on my bed and pull the curtains across.  I was used to visiting others, but not the other way round.  I’d stayed in the ear nose and throat hospital as a child to have my tonsils out. I had to have them out in a London hospital as I’d been born with a hole in my heart and was under Great Ormond Street. I hated the ENT hospital, there were cockroaches everywhere and because of my heart hole I had to have injections 3 times a day.  I would see the big black nurse (at age 8 I hadn’t seen a black person apart from in the Sambo books and on jam jars) come for me on the bed and I’d scream and would have to be pinned down as my little bottom got so swollen and bruised from each needle. At visiting times I waited eagerly to see my parents walk into the ward but they didn’t come until it was time for me to go home the week later.
“Parking in London is impossible” my mother had said on the train back to Essex. She hadn’t recovered from the parking fine she got outside the flower shop the day of granny Jones funeral.

I thought all this but remained silent during that session with Ian, watching the clouds swiping above the river Thames. My thoughts turned back to Fraser and how he might be since I’d told him I wouldn’t see him.
“You seem irritated, angry today.” Ian broke the silence.
“No!” I wasn’t but I was on the verge of thinking Ian had come up with something. I had been reading a book ‘The Healing Power of Illness’ and relating the text to my physical symptoms, and I was feeling angry with Fraser.
“I wonder if it makes you angry that I am concerned enough about you to take your condition seriously.” He broke the silence again, referring back to the letter.
“I’m not angry, it’s just boring talking about me when I’m worried about Fraser.”
So I continued to talk about Fraser and what he might do without me, would he attempt suicide? Overdose like Ray (No. 24) I’d spoken to callers at the Samaritans like him, at least I would be more prepared and I had the number of his drug support worker.
“What do your parents think about you having MS?” Ian was insistent in keeping the conversation on me.
“I don’t know. We don’t talk about it. My friend, who’s mum goes to the church, said that something had been read out in a Sunday service for everyone to pray for my family and there was a collection for the MS Society. I haven’t spoken with them since I rang my dad to get me from Fraser’s and he did. I stayed the night in Rayleigh. My stuff’s still there, him, me and Marni packed it all in his car. I had to leave the furniture, Mum was furious as they’d given me the matching wardrobe and chest of drawers.” I paused, then changed the subject.
“My friend had to fill in a form to get onto a counselling course, not the one I’m on, but they asked him whether he’d taken drugs and if he’d taken more than ten ecstasy or acid tabs they wouldn’t accept him.”
“You’re worried I may judge you as a trainee?”

“No, I’m talking more about Fraser’s drug taking.” It was too easy to get back onto the subject of Fraser. “I know I was in a co dependant relationship, we’ve touched on it in college. I took heroin but only because I wanted to be with him and I was jealous of his drug dealer. I don’t like needles, the hospital always bruises my arms with blood tests so I look like a junkie anyway.”
I sat up. The sky seemed clear, but my eye was playing up and my sight blurred, I wanted to itch it but didn’t want to dislodge the make up covering my bruised eye.
“We have reached the end today.” I was relieved.
On the walk back to Borough I thought about the session. At college we’d been studying different types of therapy. What I was experiencing was I thought based on Freud, Jung and a woman called Melanie Klein, I liked Melanie, I understood the good and bad breast, the splitting.  I both hated and loved my parents, and Fraser. In class discussion some said that going to therapy more than once a week was indulgent and clients would become dependent. The counter argument was that some clients (the more fucked up ones I guess they meant) needed to become dependent on their therapist in order to be ‘re-parented’ and able to separate functionally, having had an emotional and psychological ‘holding’ experience, one they didn’t get as babies or had fucked up along the way somehow.

Most of the other students on my course were older than me, the typical counsellor types – white, middle aged women hippy types or nearly posh types wearing the cliché twin set and pearls, like Thatcher. There was one black woman and no men, just one man tutor who walked with a stick and I wondered if he had MS like me. We spent a lot of time talking about our experiences of personal therapy.
“My therapist has a print of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ in his room, but only the hands bit, not the naked man bit.” I joked.
“That’s appropriate.” the tutor had said. I thought about my friends mum with dementia, and how she’d held my hand and how my mother hadn’t, I felt sad as it struck me that holding hands hadn’t featured in my life, not with my parents or my boyfriends, no hand holding or romantic stuff. Poor Fraser used to try, he’d bought me a rose one Valentine’s day but I hated carrying it around the west end and accidently on purpose left it in a pub bog.

Dear Mr Beckett,
RE: Elizabeth Bentley 25.6.64
I believe you are the housing officer for the above young woman. I am writing to support her recent application for council accommodation. I am Miss Bentley’s psychotherapist and have been working with her for the last 9 months – ongoing. Elizabeth was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1987. She has other autoimmune health conditions that are being investigated at Guy’s hospital. She has been homeless for the last year and this is affecting her condition, physically and psychologically. I am concerned that this could soon affect her working life.
I trust you will take this matter seriously.

Yours sincerely,
Ian Barnes

Seriously? My ‘condition’ hadn’t been taken seriously before.  After tests in Moorfields eye hospital and the Nervous diseases hospital (including an MRI scan and an EEG where wires were stuck on my head with glu and fucked up my Mohican so I ran out of the hospital chased by doctors) I was sent an appointment for Neurology at the Whittington Hospital. I sat alone in a quiet waiting room for at least an hour. There were no TV’s, just a table with leaflets and women’s magazines. I remember reading an interview with Margaret Thatcher in an old Women’s Own. She’d not long begun her third term as prime minister, the journalist asked her about divorce which had been on the increase and in the headlines.
“I have known families, both professionally as a lawyer, as a member of Parliament, and personally, where it was very much better that the family broke up because there was a streak of violence, there was constant rowing, and where the children have been better when it has broken up, and those things happen.”
My parents should have separated. My father should have left. I thought about my father and his affairs, the arguments with my mother. The only time I ever agreed with Thatcher.

“We’ve been studying ‘borderline personality disorder’.”  I told Ian at our next session.  “We were given a copy of a list from the DSM and if you ticked more than 6 boxes you would be diagnosed and I ticked at least 6.” I laughed, I was definitely trusting Ian more. “Before I got my job at the insurance office. I was bored. Marni and I had got back from the jamboree, helping my dad out, he was in charge of the stores. There were 2,500 scouts from all over the world and me and Marni were the only girls there apart from the woman my dad was having an affair with. Have I told you about her before? My parent’s relationship is pretty much like Charles and Diana’s. There are three in their marriage.”
“You knew about your father’s affair as a child?”
“Everyone knows, but no one says anything. I think they’re all at it.” I continued telling Ian about the family stories that had been creeping back into my awareness.  “I’d thought it was the last straw when we all went on holiday together and when we came home mum screamed that she was leaving and taking us girls but she didn’t and we sat on the stairs listening to them arguing. Wishing they would separate.”  Then I started to cry.  I hadn’t cried before in a session and I didn’t know why I was crying now.  I was confused, overwhelmed and again relieved when the session was over.  I had learned in college that things sometimes got worse before they get better. “No Pain, no Gain” my tutor’s mantra. He’d said “In psychotherapy you don’t treat a symptom, you explore the underlying nature of the symptom, the symptom eventually becomes irrelevant to the client.” I had a weekend to go before my next session and I was feeling strangely vulnerable.  Marni was away for the weekend with Lang and I was alone with no plans.  I tried to eat a healthy meal then it all got out of control and I puked again.  I longed for the weekend to be over then Wand came round with acid. I hadn’t done acid for years, I hated it but it was something to do.  I had a bad trip and Wand left before I’d come down.  I tried to write down what was happening but when I put pen to paper the ink came out red like blood and I couldn’t get Charles Manson’s face out of my head.
It was a relief to get back to work Monday, feeling jaded from the acid I dragged myself up the narrow staircase of the Annexe to the tiny upstairs office to sort through the post. Rumour was that the Marie Stopes Annexe used to be a sex shop, we had great delight in opening packages containing porn videos and vibrators.
“Mary!” I called down, we’ve got some new books!”
“Hello”, came the Scots accent back. I limped back down the stairs, my joints were so painful getting up/down. Fraser stood at the bottom.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” The door opened behind me and two women entered the clinic, both looked like they were too late for an abortion. They walked past Fraser and he smiled but he looked like shit, I couldn’t see past a grey sleeveless tee shirt that hung down over stained jeans hanging over his now dishevelled body. His arse had gone, his eyes were pinned and he stunk.
“Och aye,” his accent couldn’t anymore throw me back into love.  Something had changed.
“Fraser, you have to go!” I ushered him out of the door.
“Liz, you ok?” Mary my colleague called from the kitchen.
I virtually pushed Fraser out of the clinic and we stood on the corner of the street across the road by the café where people sat with scones and coffees.
“I need some money, for a place, I’m moving out of Dougie’s. Need to get away. They’re no good for me Liz.” I could feel the eyes from the café punters on us, probably wondering what the fuck I was doing with this guy. I had been toning down my punk appearance to fit in with college and to be taken more seriously at work.
“Wait here.” I left Fraser by the café and went back into the clinic, picked up my bag from behind the reception desk.
“You really ok?” asked Mary.
“I don’t know.”
“Let me know if you need any help?”
There was now a queue of women in front of the reception desk and urine specimens were building up, some covered with plastic bags, some in large clear water bottles, we needed a small sample but women would sometimes hand us over a pint of early morning wee.

Fraser followed me to the cash point by Whitfield Street tube.  He peered over as I took out all the money I had in my bank account. I counted out £80. He looked disappointed when I gave him £60.
“Fraser, I need £20 for myself, I need to eat.”
“Och aye!”

I watched his thin frame disappear down the escalator of Warren Street tube.
“That’s it Fraser. That’s really it. No more.”

(No. 31 cont. Fraser and the soft toy )

“Ye didnae think I’d come n see ye.” Fraser stood in front of me, pupils pinned.
I readjusted my towel, covering my small cleavage. Fraser back on the gear was an unknown quantity, I’d already risked my life when he’d hung me out of the 15th floor of the tower block we’d lived in. I’d promised myself I would never see him again. I also wanted to please Ian (the therapist no. 89), I’m sure he thought I could do better, but he didn’t know Fraser, I didn’t feel he could understand how nice he could be, how sexy he was, how he was a great carpenter, a great guitar player – if only he’d get off the drugs for good, then everything would be alright.
“Is Marni in?”
“No, she’s home soon. She’s out to get food.”
“I’ll come in then.”
I knew he didn’t believe me, and at that moment I didn’t care, he was smiling, his presence, his scar and familiar accent melted me into the hallway lino like a scene in Train Spotting. Neither of us believed anything about each other. He lied about the gear, I lied about not having boyfriends while he was in prison.
He crossed past me like he always crossed the lines of life and relationships. I followed him into the living room and we sat on the sofa.
“I’m off the gear.” He said. “Come back home.”
I looked straight into his eyes and saw the tower block, then realised I’d been wrong, his pupils weren’t pinned, I was so used to judging him – he actually looked good. He looked gorgeous. I leaned forward, held his head and snogged his face off. The towel fell to my waist. He leaned me over the arm of the sofa and fucked me. The phone rang as he was pulling out.
“You gonna get that?”
“It’ll be for Marni.” I retrieved my towel and dashed to the bathroom to clean my back. The phone kept ringing. “I’ll get it, she’ll be back soon.” I rushed back into the living room but it was too late, Fraser was unfurling the coil of the lead as he listened to the caller.
“Aye, aye,” he repeated. I tried to grab the receiver from him, but before I could get it back he’d slammed it down. “One of your boyfriends?”
“I haven’t got any boyfriends.”
“Why the fuck did you leave then? I fucking go to work, get home and you’re gone, everything has fucking gone. You and Marni planned it, that fucking bitch. Where’s all your shit? Where’s that fucking bitch.”
Fraser’s shouting was more threatening than the man at the Samaritans and the fear of being burgled. I was scared. He picked up the coffee table high above his head and chucked it at the door, it clipped my eye as it flew, he picked up the TV and threw it onto the telephone table where a plant pot toppled and smashed onto the floor covering the carpet with fresh soil. I ran back to the phone and dialled 999, Fraser came after me, trousers at half mast, I screamed down the phone, dropped it then jumped up at him grabbing hold of his long hair, pulling a chunk out, we were on the floor and I was beating my fists on his chest.
Before long the police were banging on the door.
“It’s the bizzes, you called the fucking bizzes,” I covered myself with the towel and Fraser pulled up his trousers. We sat back on the sofa, like naughty children about to get a ticking off.
A man and a woman officer this time. I pulled my fringe over the cut eye.
“We had an argument, I’m sorry for bothering you. Everything’s fine now.”
“She gets paranoid, then she kicks off”

“We’re sorry” I reiterated.
The police made notes and left just as blood began to trickle down my face.
“You’ve cut your eye. I’ll get something.” Fraser disappeared into the bathroom and I looked in the mirror in the living room above where the stereo and TV used to sit. There was a large cut above my left eye, the eye that was just getting better from the optic neuritis, an MS symptom that had left me with blurred vision for the last 6 months. In the mirror I could see the state of the room. It was fucked. I wished Marni was there, or Wand, or someone. Ian would be horrified, I was starting my counselling course Tuesday and my eye was swelling, there would be a bruise. Yes Fraser, I’d cut my eye alright. I thought about what Ian might say. “You didn’t cut your eye. Fraser cut your eye. ” I thought about the girls in the pub when I was 16 . I didn’t get beaten up, those girls beat me up. But I was shagging about. The phone call could have been one of my ex men, he was right to be angry. I had done a runner, I had left him. The confusion and complexity of loving and hating someone at the same time was overwhelming.
Fraser came back into the room and dabbed my eye with wet toilet paper.
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” We sat on the sofa again and we cried into each other.
“Maybe it’s a good idea if we don’t see each other, for a bit. Just while I sort myself out. You’d better not ring or come round here again, Marni will fucking kill you for this.”
We looked at the devastation. “You’ve still got Scotty,” he picked up the small teddy on the floor near my mattress, poking out from under the sofa. “You must still love me.” He smiled through his tears, still like a child. “You do don’t you?”
“I still love you Fraser.” And I did. He handed me Scotty and I watched him walk down the stairwell and down Long Lane towards the tube. I put the portable TV back on its table, turned it on to check it was still working and began the massive clear up of the living room. The brush from the dustpan and brush was soft, and that and the hoover struggled to get up the wet plant soil. It was good enough, Marni wouldn’t notice the rest.
I was starving, hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day. I found some dried pasta and stale bread in the pantry, ate the bread while I cooked the pasta and when just about soft, I shoved every piece of the swirly fusilli down my mouth as fast as I could. I drank a pint of water and with bloated stomach went to the toilet, knelt on the aubergine toilet mat, put the swollen fingers of my right hand down my mouth and threw up every bit, I drunk another pint of water and kept making myself sick until only bile came up. It was a relief my stomach was empty again. I wasn’t so overwhelmed now and flushed the toilet enough times to clear any evidence and cleaned round the bowel with toilet paper. I scrubbed my hands with soap and cleaned my teeth hard until my gums bled. My new dentist would kill me if he knew I was throwing up again, I hadn’t had to resort to this for months, since I’d been seeing Ian.
I picked up Scotty from the sofa. That fucking soft toy Fraser had bought me when he was on a weekend release. I’d always hated soft toys , Scotty was no different. I called it “SC” Fraser thought that was short for Scotty but it was short for Shit Cunt. I tried to pull its ears off but needed help. With kitchen scissors I cut the fucking stupid cuddly toy so it was completely mutilated. I opened the window and threw the remnants of SC into the square of the estate. It landed in the children’s concrete play area, some bits into the multi coloured spider climbing frame, other bits sank into the pit that had no sand in.

No. 89 The #Therapist (part one)

Ian’s private practice was at his flat at Falcon Point, Bankside, a riverside council block situated between Blackfriars Bridge and the New Tate, overlooking Saint Paul’s. In 1992 there was no New Tate, that stretch of Southwark’s riverside was quiet, and council flats couldn’t be sold off.
I was early for my assessment and had drunk a swift pint of cider in the Founders Arms in front of Ian’s block, also overlooking Saint Paul’s. The pub had been quiet and the river still.
“Ian Barnes,” his voice through the intercom.
“It’s Liz,” I laughed to myself, it came out like ‘sleaze’ my Essex nickname when I was forever drunk in the Crown in Rayleigh.
“Take the lift to the 6th floor. I’ll be waiting at my door.”
I got out of the lift and took no notice of him, just followed his arm gesture that showed me into his therapy room. I sat on the chair with my back to the view of Saint Paul’s.
“We have an hour and a half today. After that sessions are 50 minutes. What brings you to counselling?”
“I’ve split up with my boyfriend, but I still love him. Also, my work has put me on a diploma in counselling course. I didn’t do much at school, I’ve never studied before, that’s all a bit scary. I have to go into therapy as part of the course so I thought I’d get heads up.”
A small black note-book sat on Ian’s lap, a pen resting on top secured to the book with an elastic band. I was glad he wasn’t writing this down.
“I know a lot about counselling already.” I continued. “There are counsellors where I work. I know about problems. When I was fifteen one of my father’s friends took me to one side in the pub and told me he was having an affair with his wife’s twin sister. I listened and he cried. I’m a good listener. When I worked in an Insurance office one of my colleagues was gay but hadn’t come out to anyone apart from me and he told me he was a Samaritan volunteer and that I’d be good at it. I left my job to go on the dole and travel and stuff and I became a Samaritan volunteer. I’ve even gone into Brixton prison as a volunteer. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more suicidal than the callers. That was a joke, sorry. Sorry. It’s not funny.”
I dared to look at Ian, he wasn’t smiling.  He was about my father’s age, 50ish, handsome on first glance, like my father, and just as frumpy, he wore what were probably Marks and Spencer corduroys his wife would have bought him, I assumed he had a wife, he looked like he had.
“How did you come across me?”  Another question and I was off again.
“The BACP book, we have the directory at work, you were the first on the list, nearest to me. I work as a clinic advisor, receptionist in the Marie Stopes Annexe, in Whitfield Street, West End, it’s an abortion clinic. I don’t see the abortions, they go out for that, but I had to go to all the clinics and watch so we understood what the women are going through. I haven’t had an abortion by the way. We see the women when they find out they’re pregnant. A lot come from Ireland, some girls as young as 12, they’ve been abused or raped. When the last client leaves we take the classical music off, put our own music on then we drink wine and dance. My friend Mary sings opera style punk. Then we go down the pub. I really like my job.” I stopped for breath but couldn’t bear the silence. “We listened to ‘Suicidal Tendencies’ today, they’re a Californian thrash band.” Ian looked bored. There were bound to be other clients needing him more than me, all I needed to do was get Fraser out of my head, then I’d be ok and I needed to make sure Ian knew I was fit for the course.
From my bag I got out a carton of low sugar Ribena and pulled away the straw sellotaped to the side, I pierced the lid open with the sharp end of the straw and Ribena spilled over my hand and onto my jeans, some trickled down the wooden leg of the chair, a frumpy chair, similar to those in my parent’s living room. I drank the Ribena, leaned over and threw the carton at a wicker basket a few yards away. It landed upside down, there were blackcurrant drips on the chair, coming through the holes of the basket onto the floor. I picked out some of the man size tissues from the table by my side and tried to mop up the mess I’d made.
“I’m fine really, I just worry that it’s ok to become a counsellor and work with people and their relationships when I’m still in love with a heroin addict just out of prison for armed robbery? That’s kind of a joke, he’s been out of prison for 9 months.”
I was testing Ian out, seeing if he would be shocked. He didn’t seem to find my chat shocking or funny. I talked and talked, at times wondering if I was talking too much. Fraser, Fraser, Fraser. I chatted about how he looked like Kevin Costner in the Robin Hood film and how he had a scar down the left side of his face from where a symbol had been thrown offstage into the crowd at a punk gig and struck him.
Before the end of the session Ian asked me to fill in a form with questions about my health, GP etc. We agreed to meet for 12 sessions. At the end of the 12th session, Ian handed me a copy of a letter he would send to my GP.

Dear Dr Payne,  (that’s what he was called)

Re Miss Bentley, 25th June 1964, c/o 5, Bartholomew House, Long Lane, London SE1

I understand that this young woman is a patient of yours and I believe you would wish to know that she has recently approached me for counselling regarding primarily, difficulties over a personal relationship. I gather that she has been diagnosed as suffering from multiple sclerosis which understandably causes her additional anxiety.
Miss Bentley feels she would like to continue with our arrangement ‘ongoing’.
Yours sincerely,
Ian Barnes

Fucking MS.  I shoved the letter in my bag and marched back to Long Lane where I had been staying at Marni’s flat after fleeing from the tower block where Fraser and I had been renting a room from Dougie. Marni rented her council flat from a solicitor, who was also sub-letting. It was two bedroom, but one bedroom was set up for the solicitor, just in case a housing officer turned up. The deal was that she wasn’t to use it. I slept on a thin mattress in a sleeping bag on the living room floor. All evidence of me staying there was hidden every morning under the sofa, in case the solicitor or housing officer turned up. Neither ever did.
Marni was away visiting a commune in Spain for the week. I had an early night in her bed. It was luxury in comparison, despite the spunk stained black sheets that stunk of patchouli oil. It was easier to get out of Marni’s bed than up from my mattress. Everything was painful and uncomfortable. My toes and finger joints were red and swollen, my legs numb with pins and needles and my knees hurt like fuck especially first thing in the morning. I had been under 3 different hospital clinics, Guy’s neurology, Guy’s Rheumatology, and a new lupus clinic at St Thomas’s hospital. I didn’t like consultants or hospitals and even though it turned out I didn’t have lupus, I ditched the other departments and only went to the lupus clinic because the nurses were kinder, the clinic brighter and the consultant listened and didn’t try to thrust new bullshit medication down my throat.
That morning I’d had another session with Ian, he’d upped my sessions to twice a week, Thursday at 6pm, Friday at 8am. I was doing a ‘buy one get one half price’ deal. I didn’t understand why he’d done this but went with it. I was feeling a bit better, not obsessing so much about Fraser and I was starting my counselling diploma course the following week.
“I’m concerned about you,” Ian unusually interrupted. “You have a good job, one that you like and one where you are appreciated, your course begins next week and you are homeless,” with an emphasis on the homeless. I hadn’t thought of myself as being homeless, just in between accommodations and boyfriends. “Have you thought about applying to the council for a flat? I would be happy to write a letter to help an application.”
The next letter from Ian was in the making, and as soon as I got to work I rang Southwark housing for the relevant form. I was on an extra late shift, at a different Marie Stopes Clinic called PreTerm in Mortimer Street and didn’t finish until 9pm. There’d been a drama the previous Friday evening when a boyfriend of one of the women had broken in shouting “Where is the bitch who killed my fucking baby?” Luckily my colleague Cathy was in the toilet emptying urine samples so she locked herself in, climbed out of the window, down the drain pipe (PreTerm was on the first floor) and called for the police. The man turned over furniture and a few pot plants but the police were there fast and carted him off. Cathy had been given a week off to deal with the stress.
At the end of the shift I counted the day’s money. I was stuck for cash and needed fags and booze to get through the weekend. I looked through the pregnancy test forms. At least 4 were negative. I put £20 and two of the forms into my bag. The rest of the money went into the safe and the forms filed neatly in the ‘weekly pregnancy test’ drawer. Once the building was locked I walked back to Goodge Street tube station, tore up the forms into tiny pieces and watched them flutter to the bottom of the bin outside the station.
On the tube I felt a little guilty.  Ian had been getting me to think about my feelings and I was beginning to link these with past events.  I felt guilty now like I had done when stealing money from the church collection after Mr and Mrs Agerer left  (No. 2).
“Can you do maths?” A church steward had asked, taking note of my uncontrollable crying.  I fucking hated going to church but my parents had forced me to go, even though they never went themselves.
“Yes,” I’d said between sobs, not knowing if this would be the right answer. From then on I was given the special role of collecting the collection money from all the Sunday school departments including the Bible Cors where my sister had recently graduated. Every week from the collection I took the equivalent of a pound in six and threepences and spent them on sweets at the offie, I soon graduated to buying ten sovereign filter from the machine outside the offie.

Maybe I stole because I was being forced to do something.  I was an atheist.
My present guilt subsided when I reminded myself that most of Preterm reception staff stole money and anyway, I was doing a night shift at the Samaritans – that surely made up for it, giving of my free time to the community. I bought a litre of cider, had a quick drink and joint back at Marni’s and by the time I got to the Samaritans I was guilt free.
That night I was the only volunteer on the late shift, I had long since given up shagging other volunteers and preferred to do shifts alone.
“Hello,” it was a man, his voice deep, then silence. There was no heavy breathing so I kept on the line, then he spoke again.
“I know you’re there on your own. I saw the last one leave.” The last volunteer had left at 12.30 which meant the caller could have been watching for a few hours. The Samaritan’s window was frosted and had steel bars protecting us. I heard the sound of a train whizz through New Cross from the window, and heard the same train down the phone. He was calling from the payphone outside the station.
“I’m ready to come and see you now,” and he put the phone down. I was frightened but used to dealing with fear alone. The next volunteer was due in at 3.45am, nearly two hours to go. I picked up a bread knife from the kitchen and checked that the back door was locked, I checked the front door then locked myself in the telephone room. The next volunteer arrived early, I put the knife away and rang my supervisor to off load.
“Busy shift, there was a weirdo on the phone but nothing I’m worried about, my taxi’s here, I’ll ring you later if I’ve forgotten anything,” I would never fess up my fear, I wanted to be a good Samaritan – the best.
I didn’t speak with the taxi driver, I fantasized that the driver was also the man on the phone and was relieved when he dropped me off in Long Lane, in front of the flats. On the low wall in front of the block lay a homeless man asleep, his flies undone and his todger out, collapsed after a final drunken piss of the night. There were frequently men there that Marni and I encountered on the way home from clubs, the spill over from cardboard city at Waterloo. Bermondsey was a rough old place back then.
I walked up the stairwell. Marni’s yellow door was wide open. I didn’t walk in, I ran to the next block where her boyfriend Lang and Wand (from Pelekas) were squatting. I banged on the door and Lang answered it, looking like shit, dyed black spiked hair sticking out all over, dark rings round his eyes, scrawny man. Don’t know what she saw in him, he didn’t seem so cool away from Pelekas.
“Marni’s door’s been kicked in!”
“Has she been burgled?” Lang wasted no time in putting on his Dr Martin’s that lay by the newspaper covered wall of the hallway. The stale smell of the squat poured out into the night air.
“I didn’t go in. I was scared,” I didn’t care to be scared in front of Lang, he legged it, in front of me to the flat. When I walked through the kicked in door he was already in Marni’s bedroom looking under her bed.
“They haven’t taken any of it,” he gathered up his expensive camera equipment that Marni stored for him, her flat being safer than his and Wand’s squat.
I discovered Marni’s sound system had been nicked from the living room. Nothing else seemed to have gone.
“Where are you going?” I called. Lang was out the door.
“Back to bed,” he said his voice trailing down the stairwell.
“The stereo’s gone, they may come back, I can’t lock the door. Don’t leave me.” Lang was gone. “Come back you fucking little selfish American twat, I fucking hate you, you cunt, you fucking little shit cunt….”
Lang didn’t come back and Wand didn’t come to my rescue. The police came took notes then told me to ring the emergency council services. I had to wait for the man to sort the door and lock. It was comforting knowing the man and his todger were there. They might wake up if any disturbances happened. The council man turned up as the man got up and put his todger away.
“You should have been an emergency,” he said, clinking tools from his battered khaki fabric bag. “Young girl like you, left on her own,” clink clink. He finished the job and gave me a form to sign. I wasn’t sure whose signature to forge, Marni’s or the solicitors, I went for Marni’s, don’t suppose it mattered.

It was proper morning, I had a bath and was just thinking about which bits of the night’s drama I would tell to Ian in our next session when there was a knock at the newly fixed door. Thinking it was Lang or Wand I opened it.

img_2026

No. 88 Nowhere Man

I read ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M. Scott Peck.  I was coming to the end of this particular road.  I was experiencing ‘dark nights of the soul’ every other night and if the witches didn’t keep me awake, the bad egg smell from the corrosion in the water and heating system did.

I sat opposite Nowhere Man on the tube, having just visited Sam at Bart’s hospital. Sam had AID’s and was dying. I felt alone with my impending grief as Sam’s other friends were men from the gay community I’d decided I was excluded from.
I had already used the top of my cigarette packet for a roach, the packet was nearly empty so I put the remaining fags behind my ears and made the rest of the packet into an origami robot, with a massive dick that stuck out like ‘Jake the Peg’. Nowhere Man laughed, he looked a bit younger than me, dark skin, lean and fit. I wrote my number with eyeliner down the side of the dick of my robot man, gave it to Nowhere Man, and got off at my stop.
Nowhere Man called from a call box the next evening. He understood numbers and places and we agreed to meet at Eros, Piccadilly Circus at 8pm the following Friday.
I stood by the God of sensual love and desire, not aware of the meaning of Eros, Psyche or anything else that I was continually acting out. I did however feel like a circus, a clown one minute being bullied at work and a dancing horse the next, climbing over and around sexually transmitted diseases and the human condition of death and dying.
Nowhere Man was only a few minutes late. We got onto a bus, me distracting the driver trying to find my travel card while he got on behind me and found us seats upstairs so we could smoke. We ended up in a flat high up a tower block in a pretty North London area I hadn’t been to before, near Swiss Cottage. In the flat there were Nowhere Men everywhere, sleeping bags in corridors and on the kitchen floor. My Nowhere Man got a condom from a man standing up smoking a roll-up. We fiercely snogged our way into the bathroom and fucked, briefly.
I was shocked, but this time not by my own behaviour, I was shocked at this group of men who had nothing. There were hundreds of Bosnian refugees in and around London, victims of torture from Serb-run detention camps. These men had an air of trauma I recognized from Samaritan callers who had been abused.
I didn’t stay at the flat, I found my way back to my own flat via 3 different night buses – deep in thought. I wanted to understand the world more. I wanted to go deeper into the human psyche than my work as a Samaritan volunteer and I knew to do this I had to look deeper within myself.