No. 95 Ever wondered why you pick boyfriends who are so inaccessible?

“We are ending in six months,” Ian said “and you have picked a partner who is moving to the other side of the world, leaving you, the month before we end. I wonder what you think about that?”
“Nothing, it’s a deal we have, just for 6 months. It ties us over.”
“And the deal involves one where you are left.”
“Yes, but it would work the other way round, if I was going to Australia.” Shane was one of my more successful ‘Time Out’ dates I’d allowed Ian in on.
“And what about your feelings?”
“It’s just sex”  There was silence.  Who was I kidding?
“You’ve talked a little more recently about the hole in your heart and I’ve been thinking.”
“What?”
“Well, treatment is different today, but when you were born, it wasn’t unusual that when a child was diagnosed with having a hole in the heart, they might die. I was wondering if your parents, particularly your mother, struggled to bond with you because they thought you might die.”
“I guess that’s possible.”
“I wonder also, if this has come up in relation to our ending, and your continued struggle in relationships. You already know that you and Shane will end, before the relationship has really started, you perhaps tell yourself, like you did in our earlier work, that you can avoid the feelings around this and around our ending and your feelings towards me.”
“Maybe”
“I wonder then that your body becomes the location for these feelings.”
Stop fucking wondering Ian.  Sometimes I hated him so much because he was so often spot on. I’d had another relapse (soon after the Lake District trip with Darren) and was back using a walking stick.
I was so angry with Ian’s interpretation that it made me more determined to make the very most out of my ‘Time Out’ relationship with Shane – as much as I made the very most out of each session with Ian as I counted down the weeks we had left.
Shane was Irish, a social worker and another biker. Every Wednesday evening (the only day of the week I didn’t see Ian) he would ride over on his motorbike with a bottle of wine. He’d knock on the door and say:
“Pardon me, but I seem to have run out of coffee. Would you like to have sex?” and we’d have sex, with much bottom spanking.
Shane didn’t give a shit about me having MS, he wouldn’t have had fantasies of having to look after a girlfriend in a wheelchair, he would be gone in a few months, and anyway, he liked my walking stick, he said it was kinky and we played with it, I’d bought one of those fold up ones from the walking stick shop (James Smith & Sons, New Oxford Street, my MS friends had told me about) the new stick flipped out like a magic wand. Being a social worker Shane said he liked to be around people in need – just like Ian, just like me, all wounded healers no doubt. And Ian was right, yet again, I was becoming attached to Shane and just before Christmas when he told me he’d bought his one way ticket to Australia I cried and he hugged me tight, I think he felt the same.
“Let’s go out tonight, for a change,” he said. “Have you got anything that looks vaguely S&M?”
“Umm.” This time Niall’s Barbour jacket would not do the trick. Here I was again, regretting getting rid of my old leather and suede kinky clothes with their tassels and mesh, fortunately I had kept a tan leather mini skirt which still fitted and I found a black tight large knit top and put it on, undid my bra and slid it out from under the top. “This do?” I flipped my stick out, clipping Shane’s thigh with the rubber ferrule.
“You look great” he said, always looking like he was about to go to an S&M club with his leather waistcoat and tight leather trousers, but tonight, he took off the waist coat, whipped his t shirt off, and put it back on, leaving us both with semi-bare chests, of a sort. We snogged, ordered a cab and snorted cocaine.
We arrived at the Rubber Nipple Club somewhere in or around Vauxhall just after midnight (I’ve googled but I can’t find a trace of where it was, only the Royal Naval Club comes up in Portsmouth, which reminds me …..). The taxi had been delayed so we’d done another line of coke, or two. Shane paid for us to get in and the bouncer smiled at him, I knew he’d been here many times before, but on other S&M nights when it was called other things (maybe the RNC was a one off ?), and not of course on Wednesday nights, that was our night.
We walked into a large space that was sectioned off into different areas. There was a cage in the middle with a woman in it, swinging on a swing and sticking long thick needles into her nipples. There was a large table where people stood, queuing to get on for a whipping session, the whip held by a tall woman wearing a red bask, stockings and high black leather boots. There was another man/woman sat in similar attire but wearing the highest and thinnest of heels I’d ever seen, a man wearing only a nappy knelt on the floor beside her, licking the heels of her boots. There were many more matriarchs strolling around the club holding leads followed by their masked gimps. There were chains, belts and something that looked like a leather stretching rack which had a sign ‘out of use’ on it. I was glad I’d bought my walking stick, I didn’t really need it, the cocaine had taken symptoms away, temporarily.
Shane led me into a room that from the outside looked like a vagina with red flowing material covering the outside walls. Inside was like being in a vagina, the walls dressed with pink and red creased different fabrics and feathered crepe paper blowing in front of a fan that hung from a corner of the ceiling. There were benches around the room, also covered with pink/red materials, and a space in the middle with dark cushions spread over the floor where four or five people licked and romped. It was dark in the womb, so difficult to see detail, but you could feel, smell and hear hot wet sex. The throbbing base of the house music from outside of the womb merged with the gurgling underwater dolphin-like music playing inside.  It didn’t turn me on, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that it was possible, at any moment I may bump into a client.
I was relieved to discover Shane’s role in the club was one of a voyeur. I followed suit and as curious as I was, I was looking forward to when we would be back in my flat. After the womb we walked into a much larger space with a stage where a drag queen was belting out Abba and Sylvester “You make me feel, Mighty real” my all-time favourite disco song. Shane went to the bar which was in another space somewhere and I stood, dancing against the back wall, playing with my stick like it were my dance partner. Men came to talk with me, I felt like I fitted in and was having such a great time that I hadn’t noticed Shane had been gone for probably an hour. He eventually returned with drinks which we drank quickly then headed home in one of the many taxis that were parked outside the club. Shane rang in sick the next morning and we cuddled in bed. He left around midday, wishing me a merry Christmas and arranging his next visit for the Wednesday after New Year.
After he’d left, and the drugs and drink had worn off, my physical symptoms returned, this time with a depression. With no boyfriend, Marni now moved away and other friends busy, I decided to go to my parents for Xmas. I hadn’t stayed at the family home since I’d left. It was strange being in my old bedroom. My parents had since decorated it with yellow flowery wallpaper. They’d taken out the twin beds and replaced it with one single. The room seemed so small and I wondered how they’d got the two beds in in the first place.  On Xmas eve I had a dream I was looking in a book about insects and the spiders in the picture came alive, got out of the book, grew and waved their tentacles at me.   I was trying to scream in the dream but couldn’t. I woke with my jaw aching.
Rayleigh at Xmas was tolerable, I was beginning to see a more vulnerable side to my parents as they were getting older. I got taxis to the Rayleigh pubs and met with old friends, lovers and Boyfriend No. 21, still glued on his stool until last orders when he’d fall off.  I ate my dry Xmas turkey with stewed veg and for the first time at my parents since age 15 I didn’t make myself sick.  Ian had cured me of that, at least.

Dad had agreed to drive me back to London the day after boxing day. As soon as I got in the car I felt more depressed.
“Can I put a cassette on?” I asked, sick of listening to radio 2.
“Yes, let’s listen to The Seekers.” I put on The Seekers tape, the one we’d listened to when Dad rescued me from Fraser’s Gunnersbury block, that block that they use now in the location of ‘People do Nothing’, that block that you can see clearly from the A4, the one I’d been avoiding for years, and avoiding Fraser.

Dad still didn’t understand how to use the car cassette and only played them when I was with him, there were only two, The Seekers and the Carpenters ‘best of’ and we’d only done two journeys together since he’d got a car with a cassette.  The songs made me feel worse “…. and I know I’ll never find another you…”  then halfway to London I swapped tapes “I’m on the top of the world …” the songs reminded me of Fraser. It was strange that of all my boyfriends it was Fraser who had affected me the most, the one I related to the most, the one where we felt on top of the world after an injection of heroin, the one who drove me into therapy. I was worried that when Ian and I ended our work together I might relapse, find Fraser again or worse still seek out another co dependant relationship. Shane was a blip, a way of making the ending with Ian more tolerable. I wondered whether I was finally, after all these years, internalising the work we were doing, I had become dependent on Ian, that was why things were changing, he’d re-parented me, emotionally, but it would soon be time to say goodbye and fly the nest. Maybe after I stopped seeing Ian I would find my prince charming, maybe that’s how it worked?

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No. 94 Cont. ‘Riders on the Storm’

Darren picked me up Friday morning at 9am on the dot. I hoped he wasn’t disappointed I lived in a council flat. My neighbour’s stairwell and our front doors had recently been used as a location for the drug dealer’s house in Gary OIdman’s film ‘Nil by Mouth’.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” Darren asked. I stood in the hallway wearing pvc trousers and a thin black leather jacket I’d bought off a friend in an attempt to get the ‘old’ Liz look back after Niall. “I’ve got a spare pair of waterproofs and gloves you can borrow, have you got another jacket?”
“Only a Barbour coat thing” I yanked Niall’s airport gift off the coat hook. “That do?”
“The weather’s looking shit, best thing to keep dry. If you came off, that thin leather jacket wouldn’t save you anyway.”   We togged up, helmets and gloves on, and set off.
Being on the back of the bike with numb legs was fine but being on the back of the bike with only short petrol breaks, in the rain, all the way to the Lake District was challenging. The fantasy of a fun rocking horse ride in GOSH was turning into the nightmare x-ray machine of the 1960’s.

At the beginning of the journey I’d put my arms around Darren’s waist but he pushed me away so I had to hold onto the back handle, for dear life. After an hour or so my arms ached so much that at times I didn’t think I could keep holding on. I missed my other biker boyfriends who loved me holding onto their torsos and stroking their leather trousers at traffic lights, looking into the cars beside, and stroking the trousers more. I wished I was with someone else and was already concerned about Darren’s lack of intimacy but there was no going back now.
We arrived at the family run hotel on the shores of Lake Windermere. I was dying for a cigarette but I’d told Darren I didn’t smoke as he hated it. We had food then went to bed. In my small rucksack I’d packed one of the silk underwear sets Niall had bought our last Valentines days, not quite the crutch less knickers and peep-hole bra I wore when we watched his porn, but something on the more subtle sexy side. I’d hoped Darren would like it. But he didn’t seem to notice and just rolled on and off then went straight to sleep. I lay awake all night, pining for past lovers.
Our room was enormous, more like a suite. In the morning Darren leapt out of bed naked and got out an ironing board and iron from the large dresser. He ironed everything he was about to put on. Army life I guessed, I had 48 hours to accept him, he would have to accept me, I needed a fag.
“It’s pissing it down, too wet for the bike. I’m gonna get breakfast and have a walk into town.”
“Ok. I’m gonna lie in. Would you get me some Silk Cut? I like a cigarette on my hols. I buy a packet and it lasts me all year, just the odd one.” It wouldn’t bother him. He wasn’t going to be kissing me anyway.
“Sure” he said and left me lying in bed. I made myself a cuppa with the tiny carton of sterilised milk and went back to sleep.  A few hours later:

“Wake up. Fancy the cinema? Nothing else to do, it’s still pissing it down.”
Without the Kawasaki underneath him and Darren’s seemingly lack of interest in me, he was becoming more and more unattractive. My body was aching like fuck from the ride and my Dr Martins were wet inside. I tried to make myself comfortable in the small intimate cinema. The film was Twister, it was shit, I worried that the tornadoes in the film were happening outside the tiny picture house. I worried that if the weather got any worse, we’d not be able to go home the next morning. I worried that I might die on a motorway, sliding off the bike at 110mph, my fingers not able to hold on any longer.
“Shall we get some food?” he asked, when the film credits came up.
“I’m not hungry, you get something and I’ll hang out in the bar or the room.” I then did what I was used to doing, rather than believing that Darren had intimacy issues, I turned it back on myself, like my bulimia symptoms and I decided that perhaps Darren didn’t fancy me and that I was fat, ugly, worthless. Whatever the case, I didn’t want to eat a meal. I needed time alone to push down my disappointment and increasing awareness of my stupidity for going away with a complete stranger. What a fucking idiot I was.
Back at the hotel I went to the bar, smoked the pack of Silk Cut, drunk a bottle of wine and enjoyed a hearty meal of peanuts sandwiched in crisps. I was good at filling ashtrays and getting pissed and felt better immediately.
I chatted with the barman and played ‘Riders on the Storm’ and ‘The Entertainer’ on the hotel piano, my right hand still numb but I seemed to be able to play ok on booze, maybe the journey had strengthened my hands. The barman sang along. “If you give this man a ride, sweet family will die. Killer on the road.” The fantasy of dying on the motorway was becoming greater. “Gotta love your man, take him by the hand, make him understand.” Maybe I should talk with Darren, see how he felt? No, I did that with Fraser and Niall, didn’t get me anywhere.
When the barman eventually closed up I went up to our room to find Darren fast asleep. I crept under the covers, making sure our bodies didn’t touch. I went straight to sleep.
“Are you coming down for breakfast?”   He said in the morning.
“I’m not hungry, you go”
I couldn’t face any happy couples or families enjoying their full English. I looked out of the window. Thank fuck it was sunny. I got up, used the last of the sterilised milk sachets for a cuppa and ate the complimentary ginger nuts. I packed away my underwear and put on my boots which were still damp inside. Darren came back from breakfast, showered, ironed clean clothes, put his leathers over them, we togged up again and left the hotel.
The journey home was tough, but not quite the ‘Twister’ hurricane I had fantasized. After each mile I was relieved to be closer to home, but unlike the journey there, Darren didn’t seem to want to get home, he wanted to enjoy weather and kept turning off the motorway for breaks in ‘pretty’ places.  He’d get his out camera and take photos of me in front of the Kawasaki, or I’d have to take one of him in front of the Kawasaki. The excruciating journey became twice as long as I’d anticipated.
We arrived back at my flat at 9pm, Sunday evening, on the dot. I was surprised that he parked his bike, took his helmet off and walked with me to my flat door.
“I bought you this” he said standing outside the door, handing me a multi coloured paper bag, inside was a small china teddy with ‘Windermere’ painted on it.
“Ah, thanks.  It’s cute,” Oh no, another fucking teddy.
“I’ll ring you.” He said. Not even a peck on the cheek.
I put the china teddy on my kitchen windowsill and waved Darren off, I heard the bike rev up and then the beautiful sound coming from the cylinder engines that soon faded away. I breathed a sigh of relief, I had made it home, I had survived another risk taking adventure. I put the china teddy on the windowsill, knowing it would be in the charity before long.
I was surprised when Darren rang a week later.
“I’m sorry I haven’t called before. I had an accident, I came out of hospital yesterday.”
“Are you ok?”
“Not really, I came off the bike.”
“Where? How?”
“I was driving back from yours last Sunday and as I was pulling into my road I took the corner too sharply, ridiculous.”
“After all those hundreds of miles…”
“I broke my leg and slipped a disc.”
I felt guilty and visited Darren the following evening in his yuppie flat in Wapping, not far from where I’d met Niall in his first flat. I took him food and heated up a ready meal. He had a cleaner who’d been looking after him since he’d come out of hospital. His leg was in plaster and he could hardly move. I didn’t stay long – we had nothing to talk about.
“Take this!” He said as I was about to leave. He held out a Counting Crows CD, I hated the band.
“No, it’s ok, they’re your favourites” And if I borrowed the CD I’d have to come back to return it.
“No, go on.” I felt sorry for him, he seemed as lonely as I was.  I took the CD home and put it on the windowsill by the teddy.  I lit a fag and listened to my latest ‘Time Out’ message on the answerphone.

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The following day there was a ‘Time Out’ message from Stuart.

No. 93/94 Sergeant Darren and Liz’s Lonely (hole in the) heart’s Club Band – Part 1.

Do you remember Blind Date when they did the older people? And you thought “Oh no it’s the older people.” I’d often fantasized about going on Blind Date, but not as an older person. One of the Beastie Benitses boys (No. 80) went on once, I’d seen the episode before but watching him on the repeat was just as exciting. Ian my therapist still provided most things for me, but no physical intimacy, thankfully (unlike Brian Thorn who was a person-centred psychotherapist we studied in college who gave a client (the vicar’s wife) a naked embrace! (This truly does warrant an explanation mark)).
Since Niall I hadn’t had sex for at least 2 months, possibly the longest time I’d gone without since breaking my virginity with The Rat (No. 5) in 1979.
In the mid/late 90’s blind dating (apart from Cilla Black repeats) was limited. No internet, no mobile phones, it was such a taboo practice I never told anyone that I trawled through the few heterosexual age appropriate men listed each week in the Time Out Lonely Hearts and the Guardian Soulmates (in the back of the Saturday A3 Guardian Guide).
Each day I would pick one and leave a short but expensive message on the 090 number provided, leaving my landline number 071 231 2600, an easy number to remember which I’m sure helped with my call backs.
My first caller was Richard who wasn’t as age appropriate as he’d let on. He was old, bearded and jolly like Rolf Harris before he got caught. Richard made an effort and travelled to Bermondsey from North London and bought me Sunday lunch in one of my local pubs. I was hugely disappointed and the fear of someone I knew possibly seeing us, put me off my food. Richard however troughed though his food and my left over’s. He smelled of fry ups and reminded me of Dame Clod from Cardozo Road. Even though I didn’t want to see or smell him again, I felt rejected that he never called me back after the date. I wasn’t over Niall and I’d blurted out to Richard on the phone that I had MS and wondered whether it had put him off, hence I rehearsed new lines for my next dates.
“I’ve done my knee in at the gym” (they may ask you where you go to the gym”
“The local one but I’m not going at the moment” (they may ask you what is actually wrong e.g.“Have you seen a doctor?”)
“Yes, I’m having physio, it’s a meniscus tear”
“Are you having an op?”
“No, it’s not that type of tear”
I had it all worked out.
The next man to respond was Darren who didn’t lie about his age, he was 35, Scorpio, year of the water tiger. Welsh accent, he sounded good. From our brief phone conversation at 39.5 pence a minute I’d learned he was in the army and had a motorbike, a big one, a really big one, a Kawasaki GTR 1000.
We met at a bar near Tower Bridge and drank non-alcohol drinks. Darren had ginger, tight curly hair, he was tall and his face scarred, but not like Fraser No. 31’s sexy scar from the flying symbol, it was more like he’d picked his acne or chicken pox spots as a child, it was still kind of sexy. He reminded me of Peter Gilmore, star from the 70’s BBC drama The Onedin Line, I fancied him.
Darren had been in the army since leaving school, he now trained cadets somewhere in East London, I saw no reason not to give him a go. At the end of the date I showed Darren my Fiat Panda and he showed me his golden ticket to sex.
“That’s nice,” I said. “Really, really nice. That’s one sexy bike.”
“Thanks” he said, rubbing off a grease mark with his elbow. He retrieved his leathers from somewhere around the body of the beast. He had proper leathers, not the gear I was used to with boyfriends on scooters and Honda 250’s. He got into the fitted leather suit, covering his Levi jeans and gleaming white Adidas T-shirt.
“I’m thinking of going to the Lake District at the weekend, fancy a bit of touring about? Can you get Friday off work?”
I only worked Wednesdays, of course I could, would just mean missing one session with Ian. I felt like a break, we were approaching our ending and the therapy had been ramping up.  I’d been having recurring nightmares where I kept seeing a baby strapped onto a machine, screaming.

Ian and I talked more about what life was like when I was born. I knew my sister had been a text-book baby and my birth had been difficult, Mum had gastroenteritis twice whilst pregant and when I came out I just cried and cried. My Dad had told me that they took me to the doctors on a number of occasions but the doctor just said I was “grumpy”. My parents must have persisted because at 6 months old I was diagnosed with having a hole in my heart, and from then on I was closely monitored by Great Ormond Street Hospital GOSH!
“I wonder that it may have been hard for your mother to bond with you.” Ian had questioned. I went back to Rayleigh to specifically ask my mother what I was like as a baby. She clearly had struggled, she couldn’t talk much, it just wasn’t her way, but she got out her copy of the 1960’s Glaxo mother and baby book. Inside were notes in her hand writing of our baby development.
For me there were just two lines ‘Reduced to 3 meals at 3 weeks. Started solids at 3 weeks!’
“And Ian, I promise you the explanation mark was there. No wonder I had an eating disorder. Poor mum. Maybe she had post-natal depression.”
The recurring nightmares stopped when I realised they were flash backs, I was looking at myself, as a baby, being x rayed at Great Ormond Street, in a monstrosity of a machine, held up naked, in a room so stark and frightening, crying my eyes out. My previous early memories of Great Ormond Street had been the three rocking horses of different sizes in the reception area of the hospital. I was never allowed to go on them, initially I thought perhaps it was because I was too small, then as I grew older I realised this was not so. I was discharged from GOSH age 12 when the hole in my heart finally closed, thanks to a lot of swimming, so the doctors said. By then I had grown out of rocking horses.

No wonder I wanted to get on the back of Darren’s bike and ride off into the distance. No wonder I’d done a parachute jump and joined the dangerous sports society to do undercover bunji jumping when it was illegal and had gone underground after the Noel Edmunds Saturday show suicide jump, and so it went on …  always craving adventure.

The Lake District on the back of the Kawasaki beast would be an adventure. The following morning I booked 2 nights at the Regent Hotel in Ambleside.

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No. 92 Part 3 …. Niall’s apart

The hotel receptionist said she would contact the out of hour’s doctor and they would ring me ASAP, the wait felt like an eternity and I was worried that Niall would get back to the room before the call.
When the English speaking doctor finally rang, my suicidal feelings dispersed, I just felt stupid and guilty that I may have taken him away from his family Christmas.
“I can’t sleep” I said. “I’ve been travelling and the insomnia is making me depressed.” The ‘elephant in the room’ non-wedding still not mentioned.
“I’ll write a prescription for something to help you sleep,” he said calmly. “You can pick it up at reception in the morning.”
“Thanks” I said, concerned that although Niall may not find out about my call from the doctor, there would likely be an extra bill when we checked out.
I felt better knowing that if I didn’t sleep tonight, I could take the pills in the morning. I tried to step outside of my experience, think about what I could do to feel better, I had so much experience now as a counsellor and my Samaritan volunteering, but why was I such a ‘wounded healer’? I thought, what a good idea it would be to have multi lingual Samaritans on duty 24 hours at every hotel in the world, I wondered about the many celebrities and business people who were found dead in hotel rooms. I wondered whether Princess Diana felt suicidal at times, I’d watched her documentary the month before on Panorama, she’d had bulimia too and had put the disorder on the map so others didn’t feel so shameful, she was alright, maybe I was too?  But she had kids , more to live for …. and so it went on. I wrote down my thoughts, using up all the hotel stationery, I would read these out to Ian on my return, so he could really understand how low I could get. I tried to get to sleep again, counting past boyfriends in my head, it seemed more interesting than counting sheep but left me feeling like a failure again.
A few hours later and Niall still hadn’t returned, remembering it would be daytime in England I slung on the purple and green ‘non’ wedding beach dress and walked back to the empty reception. I asked the night receptionist if I could make a call to England.
“Gill, it’s me”
“Happy Christmas!” she said. “Or was yours yesterday? This is gonna cost you a fortune”
“Just wanted to hear your voice”
“You not having a good time?”
“Shit”
“Why?”
“It’s just shit. I think we’re splitting up” I sobbed, not caring what the reception staff thought of me.

“Ok, you’re back soon, try to make the most out of it. Do you want to stay at mine for a bit when you come home?”
“Maybe, thanks. I’m gonna check flights home in the morning. I’ll ring you again when I’m home.”
“Bye darling. You’ll be fine. Christmas is shit anyway, wherever you are.”
I don’t know what time Niall came to bed but I slept through. In the morning I went back to reception to see if I could get flights back to England sooner but it was practically and financially hopeless. I didn’t feel the need for the prescription so mentioned nothing of it, neither did the receptionist. Back at our room Niall was up and we packed to go to our honeymoon destination, both in a lighter mood. Now the ‘non’ wedding day was over we could move on – a little.
On arrival at Treasure Island we were greeted with garlands and a welcome song by the authentic Fijian clan who owned and worked the land and the resort.
“Congratulations” said the Treasure Island receptionist as he took our cases and showed us to our bure on the beach.
“Thank you” I said. “They’ll be free bubbly.” I nudged Niall, my humour returned. He had forgotten to tell the resort about the ‘non’ wedding/honeymoon, the bed in our bure was covered in rose petals, a congratulations sign, origami towels in the shape of a heart (no birds this time) and the expected bottle of bubbly with two champagne glasses.
“Let’s get fucked” I said, popping the bottle.
The ‘non’ honeymoon wasn’t nearly so bad as the ‘non’ wedding, just a few wobbly moments and arguments when we were left to our own devices. I quickly got into The island lifestyle, I loved the large and beautiful Fijian women who soon had me measured up and making me a grass skirt, bra and headdress to flaunt around the beach in. The men were fit as fuck and played their light reggae sounds at every available moment, as their music lifted my esteem with ukulele and mandolins, the heaviness in my legs lightened and I was able to jog in and out of the little aqua waves, meters away from our bure.
With a Barcardi and coke from the minibar I saw in the new year of 1996 alone on the beach in the front of our bure. I watched fireworks from all over Fiji touching the stars, the coloured explosions awakening my creativity, why had it left me? Why hadn’t I got my ukulele with me? I was determined to be more creative this next year. Niall had always said he needed space, I would give him all the space he needed, or maybe it was just me he needed space from? Maybe I was too much for him? Maybe I was too much for anyone? I was never far away from darker thoughts.
On return to our bure after our final breakfast on Treasure Island the maid had made an origami elephant with our towels. We’d already showered and the towels remained intact as a centre piece in the honeymoon bure, we propped an envelope on the elephant’s trunk with our tip, the elephant to remain in the room, perhaps as a symbol of our difficulty in communicating with each other.
Back in England our relationship rubbed along until my birthday in the June when Niall got a job out of London and moved out of the flat. We’d lasted two years. He wrote me a letter the following week, a kind, honest, well thought out letter, admitting that the decision to split was his own, not his parents. He apologized deeply for hurting me, he listed my attributes that he envied, he told me there were times I’d intimidated him with my strength of personality and he acknowledged that was coming from his childhood stuff. He reassured me he wouldn’t leave me stranded financially re my job as his company secretary. But ultimately, I wasn’t for him, he didn’t want me.
I wrote back, with a kind and honest, well thought out letter expressing sadness and frustration that we weren’t able to work things out, “I too felt intimidated at times with our differences, especially financially, that was my stuff, I did always pay my way and had we got married I know my father would have contributed greatly to our wedding and trip around the world. I feel so sad that all the work we did put into our relationship and this new-found honesty will not be used for us as a couple, of course this work will not be wasted, but that does not feel relevant at this time of grieving. I deeply care for your well-being and happiness.” I tagged an M. Scott-Peck quote at the bottom of the letter, corny I know, but I hoped it had meaning for us both.
‘If you are determined not to risk pain, then you must do without many things: having children, getting married, the ecstasy of sex, the hope of ambition, friendship – all that makes life alive, meaningful and significant’

For Niall, my requests for more intimacy were met with rejection, I was too much for him and I was needing to be needed and so frightened of rejection I would go along with anything and everything, I had serious work to do on myself,  despite all my therapy, but how could I change who I was?  I’d already tried to do that.  Was it just my personality?  I was who I was surely?  I was confused as fuck.
A few weeks later my father made an unexpected visit to my flat.  This was the first time either of my parents had visited me in any of my london accommodations.  Despite Niall’s financial generosity I was in some difficulty and it seemed my parents were actively concerned about me now I was living on my own again, and disabled. I had sorted out some social benefits and was in the process of looking into getting a motability car with disability living allowance. Ian had told me he was retiring as a psychotherapist and we were working towards ending our relationship. In the light of my struggle in communicating with Niall, I felt I wasn’t ready to end, I had so many things I needed to talk with him about, there were pieces of the jigsaw yet to be found, but at least I had some time to work on my puzzle.
“I see a woman with MS” said Dad, having a rest from mowing my small yet large garden for a one bed council flat. My Dad had recently retired from his job as a welfare officer but was continuing to visit pensioners as a volunteer. “She’s a lovely woman, a spinster, she lives alone, she’s quite happy with her life.”
I knew Dad was trying to be kind, but it irritated the fuck out of me and I wanted to tell him to fuck off, instead I cried. He carried on with the mowing, he couldn’t cope with my tears, or any upset, but he knew he’d said the wrong thing.
“I want a family,” I said, unplugging the mower and chucking the lead at him from the kitchen window. He put the mower away in my tiny shed and I made us a cup of tea. We sat on my wooden pub type bench in the garden.
“I don’t care about your spinster old lady, that’s not me, I want to be normal, like everyone else, I want a husband, kids, all that normal stuff.” I sobbed and sobbed.
My father did what he could only do and gave me some money to tide me over and pay for Ian’s next therapy bill. Ian was doing my parents job, my father right now paying for it, literally – ironic.
Another few weeks later I did what I should have done years ago, and perhaps this was partly what Niall had meant re him needing space from me, I needed an outlet to explore MS, come to terms with it in a way I hadn’t before. I got in contact with the MS society (ironic again as my parents had a standing order for £20 a month with them). The Society directed me to a local MS group in Bermondsey where I met two women I grew to adore, for the first time I had friends who I could talk with, outside of my therapist, friends who were up for talking about mortality, relationships and MS. Friends who I could call upon to talk about the basics of life with MS, they understood and we laughed and laughed.
Friends however could not take away my longing for a relationship. I was 33 now, every time I got a period it was like a tick toc, tick toc, a time bomb, if I didn’t sort out my shit I feared I would become that spinster in a one bed council flat being ‘quite’ happy.

 

No. 92 Cont. Niall’s away …..

Unlike Archer (No. 91) a ring was on the cards. Niall and I took a taxi to Hatton Garden and I chose a vintage emerald and diamond ring. A visit to both sets of parents was planned to celebrate our engagement. I felt like a princess.
“Lovely” my Mum said as she took my hand and studied my ring “It’s just like Granny Bentley’s”. I missed Granny Bentley and hadn’t been aware I’d chosen a ring just like hers.

Mum presented Niall and I with a full set of Botanic Garden Portmierion dinner plates, cups, saucers and a gravy jug. This wasn’t cheap stuff, they were taking us more seriously than my previous attempt at engagement. All were excited and happy in the Bentley household.

In Cork, Barbara and Tom welcomed us too. Barbara also studied my ring and showed me other engagement rings from her deceased family. I was touched and thought the visit had gone well until we were back at Cork airport. Niall had just bought me a Barbour jacket from one of the duty free shops, I was delighted and we’d gone to the bar to have a drink while waiting for our flight.
“Mum said she had a friend with MS” Niall said.
“Oh?” I hated it when people talked about MS third party.
“She said that when her friend had a baby she couldn’t hold it.”
I didn’t know how to respond to this, I couldn’t find my usual humour – I just felt like a knife had gone straight through my heart. Why hadn’t she talked with me about MS? I could have reassured her like I’d done with Niall. We sat in silence, by the look on Niall’s face there was probably more to tell, but he’d learned quickly to keep anymore of the conversation he’d had with his mother to himself. Something changed right there and then and I began to think more about the Cork visit. I had been excluded, like when Barbara had visited London, no one’s fault, it was just how it was, I couldn’t walk round art galleries.  Niall’s parents lived in a 5 storey house, I slept on one floor and Niall on another. I understood that because they were Catholic and we were only engaged, why should we sleep together?  But I would go to bed and he and his parents would stay up drinking. I wondered now what else they’d been talking about – me? our engagement?  Again, I didn’t blame them, why would anyone want their son to marry someone with such a condition?  It raised so many questions about everything, I felt overwhelmed.
I went back to the bar to get more drinks, more conscious than ever of gliding like a Goddess, this wasn’t going to get to me, fuck them, fuck everyone. I ordered us both double gin and tonics.  The flight was delayed, we ordered more, and more. I felt sick but the gin allowed me to forget about the visit, the comment and that Niall perhaps had a responsibility to stick up for me as his fiancé. Alcohol helped me to focus on denying there was a problem with his family, with me, with us or perhaps with him and his family.

A few weeks later I was sitting at our desk at home, calculating Niall’s quarterly dividends.  He stood behind me and massaged my shoulders, he had a soft, gentle touch, one of the many things I loved about him.

“Let’s go away and get married” he said.
“Gretna Green?”
“I was thinking of something more exotic.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I want to visit Russel in New Zealand, I want to do a trip round the world. We could get married at the same time.”
Before the week was out, Niall had spent a fair few thousand pounds on a four week trip around the world, Bangkok, Sydney, Auckland, half way through getting married Christmas day in Fiji, followed by a week honeymoon on ‘Treasure Island’ (a Fijian island) before a final stop in Los Angeles.
“Please don’t tell your folks,” I asked Niall with my new awareness that they may not be best pleased.
“You’re telling yours aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but they wouldn’t care where we got married, they just want us to be happy. Your folks are different, different culture, everything.”
“That’s not fair.”
“What about if I don’t tell mine either? We’ll keep it a secret, as much as one can when we’re taking a month away from work and friends.”

Secrets are always shite, I almost knew before I said it, but I was desperate to marry and it seemed like a good plan, perhaps the only plan available to us.

“Do you think this is posh enough for a Fiji wedding?” I asked Niall, holding against my body a cheesecloth purple and green full length beach dress.  It was a week before our trip and I’d been counting the days down before I would be a Mrs.

“It’s perfect” he said, there was a pause as he looked at me and I knew it was coming “I can’t do it.”  Niall had spilled the beans to his father, since he’d made the mistake of telling me what his mother had said about MS, he’d been keeping all contact with his folk’s away from me.  “But we can still have an amazing time, and we’ll still stop off in New Zealand and see Russell.”

“My second honeymoon without getting married, the dress will be great for the beach.” My humour miraculously returning, making light of the reality and the reality was that I felt unworthy of Niall, he didn’t love me enough to stand up to his parents. Or was it just me?
With this doubt in mind I went along with it. I hadn’t told anyone about our wedding plans, including Ian my therapist, everyone just thought we were having an extended break. There was no shame around upsetting anyone, or looking like an idiot – again. It wasn’t until we arrived in Bangkok that my internal shame and rejection began working its way out of my system. My MS symptoms didn’t like the new reasoning behind our worldwide trip so my shite walking meant I was restricted to hanging out in the 5 star hotel pools. I tried, mildly successfully, to focus on sunbathing and swimming, ticking off the countries we visited, feeling privileged to be where I was, but the reality was that Niall and I were on the slippery slope to the ending of our relationship.  I was lonely when Niall was site seeing and we argued when we were together.  My skin getting darker with each sunny day, my mood darker with each moon.
We arrived in Fiji on Christmas Eve. One of the most beautiful places I had ever been to, palm lined beaches, coral reefs, clear lagoons and the people were so happy and friendly it made it worse, I wouldn’t have believed it could get any worse, but the isolation I felt became intolerable, I hadn’t been sleeping and was exhausted.
The hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas and filled with large family groups from all over the world settling down for Christmas dinner. Niall and I walked passed the room where we would have been married, neither of us bearing to peak in.   We sat down to eat, we were the odd ones out, the only couple, not speaking with each other because we didn’t want to argue in front of the celebrating groups. We would have been married now.  I had no idea what Niall had told the hotel, how he had cancelled the wedding, did all the staff know?  I wished I was back in Goa with Gill, this was far, far worse, I couldn’t laugh about it.  It felt too tragic.

When we’d finished the Christmas meal Niall went to the bar and I went to our room. It was best we weren’t alone in our room together, arguing over the elephant in the room ‘the wedding’ never to be talked about. I’d decided to do the trip, my internal voice repeating ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it’.  So I lay in the beautifully made bed with crisp white sheets, shifting the origami towel birds over to Niall’s side of the bed, trying not to disturb their heart shape. I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to be anywhere, I felt out of my depth in a country I didn’t understand, where I thought no one could understand. I wanted to be back in London but I couldn’t be further away, I wanted to be on Ian’s couch, telling him how rejected I felt. While I was away I would be paying for the sessions I was missing, I wondered if I could just get home now, take the next flight home. I didn’t feel I could get through another night of insomnia, feeling worthless with Niall asleep by my side. I picked up the phone from the bedside table and dialled 0 for reception.
“I need to speak with the emergency doctor please.”

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No. 92 Niall’s and Niall’s …. (Part 1)

“It’s in one of those new yuppie flats in Wapping, a friend of a friend, “Gill said, “the guy is going to New Zealand and having a goodbye shindig. Thought you could do with some fun. ”

I’d had to leave my job at Marie Stopes, I wasn’t sad about that.  I’d seen a social worker and between him and my GP, they’d signed me off work and I was getting incapacity benefit.  I continued volunteering at a counselling community service and kept up my therapy now 4 x a week on Ian’s couch, he’d reduced the fees further.  I spent most days studying and resting, moving about was uncomfortable.  I’d just completed the final 5,000 word case study for my course, surely I deserved a night off?  I was fed up of being a hermit, missing sex and I was wondering whether I could still pull as an over 30.

Gill and I arrived by taxi to Tobacco Dock, the party was in a tiny flat/bedsit. The bed was hidden away behind the cupboard, fold away, a modern version of the one in the Samaritan’s telephone room. There was nowhere to sit, I found a wall outside in the corridor to lean up against, my glass soon filled with different cocktails by the man who lived in the adjacent flat.
“Sex on the beach,” I said as he refilled my glass “hmm, nice.”
I sipped at the drink, not taking my eyes off this Irish, stout bald man wearing a suit on a weekend, flitting between his and the party flat.

“What’s your name , how old are you and where do you come from ” I mimicked Cilla Black.

Niall was 26, 4 years younger than me and from Cork. I liked that he was short enough not to look down on me and that he worked in computers, he was eager to tell me he earned £70,000 a year which seemed like a ridiculous amount of money, a far cry from my most recent non-salaried boyfriends.
“I’m moving next weekend,” he said. “Can I get your number and take you for dinner in town, in  a couple of weeks, when I’m sorted?”
“Sure,” I said. “Where you moving to?”
“Pimlico, I’m renting this flat out.”
“Very nice” I said, wondering whether I was punching above my station, I looked ok so maybe my looks counterbalanced the money and disability side of things.
“It’s a penthouse. It’s grand.”
As the cocktails kept coming and going, Niall’s Irish accent began to take a hold, just like Fraser’s Scottish accent had. But Niall was the complete opposite of Fraser or Archer, or any of my past dalliances. He was also interested in psychotherapy and we became locked in conversation about Freud and the ‘Narcissism of Small Differences’, me secretly hoping our different cultures and financial status would pale into insignificance.
“I’m flat sitting this amazing penthouse for two weeks from Monday, why don’t you come over and I’ll do dinner.” I said, ever impatient for intimacy. “It might be a break from the chaos of moving.” I’d agreed to do the house-sit for the Samaritan’s director and his boyfriend, but was beginning to regret it, worried I’d feel more isolated without my landline. With a new boyfriend I wouldn’t be so lonely and I figured if he got the impression I knew ‘proper’ people that had penthouses too, it may counterbalance more of  our differences if he ever came round to my council estate. 

Living was difficult on the Longfield Estate.  I was keeping a diary for the housing re noise pollution from the druggy flat next door. I was becoming more and more sleep deprived, internalising the heavy beats that had become part of my nightmares. I had tried to join in when it started, but I was the only white person in the flat and although I didn’t feel unwelcome, I was bored with getting ‘off my head’ so I didn’t fit in. The estate had also just been used as a location for I.D., a film about John (Reese Dinsdale) a nice friendly undercover policeman with a lovely wife who changes into a neo-nazi fascist, and if I remember rightly rapes her (there was certainly marital conflict). One day about a hundred extras (likely to have been paid extra for a skinhead shave) ran up and down Dunton Road outside my block. I couldn’t have Niall see my accommodation, not yet, it might put him off me, and that would be before telling him I had MS, or him working out I had an unconscious fast ticking biological clock.
The first two weeks of our relationship took place at my friend’s Borough penthouse, when I moved back into Dhonau House we spent our dates hanging out in Pimlico in nice pubs and posh restaurants, and staying at Niall’s penthouse.
The following Friday afternoon I was running late to meet Niall. I’d just found out I’d passed my Advanced Diploma in Counselling and had been celebrating with peers the night before, that on top of the lack of sleep from continued noise pollution next door, the numbness in my legs and feet was seemingly worse. I rang Niall at work.
“I’m not feeling great, but we need to celebrate, I’ll be on my way soon”
“Grand! I’ve got to work a bit later, meet me in The Gallery, get a cab, I’ll pay.” I’d hoped Niall would offer the cab up, there was no way I could do the buses.
I had previously read that MS attacks could come on quickly, but I’d never anticipated how quickly. Surely not as quickly as a taxi ride from Bermondsey to Pimlico? The taxi pulled up on double yellows on the corner of Lupus St. Funny, as I was still seeing Dr Hughes at the Lupus clinic in St Thomas’s even though I didn’t have it, they were still a source of support and respected my more alternative approach to managing MS. It was all neurological stuff. I was learning from Dr Hughes that everybody’s condition was so different anyway, it all seemed a bit pointless.
I pulled myself out of the taxi but without the vehicle to lean on I collapsed. I couldn’t walk. I could not put one foot in front of the other, I couldn’t lift my legs, the numbness of my feet had crept up my legs and I couldn’t feel a thing from the waist down. I sat on the curb watching the taxi creep away in the rush hour traffic, I didn’t expect the driver to notice his last passenger’s predicament. He had a pick-up in Soho to get to.
I sat there, calmly on the cold pavement, wishing I’d worn something warmer, watching commuters come out of Pimlico tube and their legs walk past me. Niall would probably be in the pub by now, wondering where I was. I rummaged around in my bag for the homeopathic pills I carried for shock.
“Do you need any help?” I looked up to see an old woman sitting in a wheelchair with a blanket round her legs, but the voice came from the woman pushing her. “You look like you need some help.” They both smiled at me.
“Yes, thanks, I’m not fine, I’m not drunk, I’ve had an MS attack. I can’t walk, I don’t think.” I was surprised to hear myself saying I wasn’t ok. We used to joke about it in college, FINE stood for Fucked up and In Need of Emotional Support. I knew my symptoms were complex, there was a link between my mind and my body, but right now I was fucked up and in need of practical help.
“Where do you need to get to?”
“The pub” I pointed at The Gallery which was yards away. “I’m meeting my boyfriend. I’ll be alright when I get there. I just need to sit down and rest.”
“Do you want to sit on my lap?” asked the woman in the chair. I laughed, she was tiny and ancient. I was contemplating how it could possibly work without damaging her when another woman appeared at the scene.
“Liz!” It was Mary from the Marie Stopes Annexe. “What’s happened?” It was such a relief to see my old colleague, it had been months since I’d seen her, a coincidence alright, the younger woman put the brake on the wheelchair and her and Mary took one of my arms each and carried me the few yards into the pub. I fell onto a comfy padded seat by the door. Mary ordered me a gin and tonic and the other woman left.
“70 grand!” She said when I told her about Niall.
“He doesn’t know I have MS yet” I said.
“He will now” she said as Niall walked through the pub door and joined us.
“I’m not staying.” She said. “Look after her,” she said to Niall. “She’s a special lady, MS or no MS”
“Fuck off Mary” I said and turned to Niall. “I don’t need looking after.”
Niall and I talked over many more gin and tonics. I explained that MS wasn’t a big deal, and that I was just having a blip. He didn’t seem to know anything about it and we celebrated my diploma.
“How are we going to get you back?” He said after last orders were called.
We were drunk and the alcohol helped my confidence, I leant on Niall and we giggled as we stumbled to the house, usually a minute’s walk from the pub it took us fifteen. Niall’s penthouse was on the 5th floor, he was stronger than he looked, he grabbed my waist and pushed me stair by stair up to the top. It took us another thirty minutes, stopping on each landing, laughing and snogging. Once in the penthouse we drank vodka and tonics then Niall lifted me onto the queen size bed and we had sex, it was weird, I couldn’t feel what was going in or out, but all closeness I welcomed.
A few months went by and we became an ‘item’, Niall had even stayed at my flat. Despite the MS all was well, I was thinking a lot in therapy about how my MS symptoms were my way of dealing with emotional states and stress. I wanted to learn how to express anger and rage rather than shame and guilt but I wasn’t sure why or with whom I would feel so angry. The counselling in the community service was going well. Sitting down was probably the only job I could have done, a fine choice for someone with MS, and I had a status for the first time in my life. I was a professional with an advanced diploma.

With Niall and my new status I began to feel underdressed and/or not posh enough, I began toning down my ‘Liz’ quirky/punk dress sense and became more ‘normal’ looking. I let the bleached hair and shaved sides grow out and by the very nature of eating out so much I began putting on weight.  I’d learned that eating disorders where just a symptom of something, I knew something was working in my therapy as this symptom had fallen off, it was like I’d never had it.  I had no interest in throwing up, it was becoming comfortable to have a full tummy and I was morphing into a female Niall, a ‘proper’ short and round couple, me with a lot of curly hair, him with none.

We lived in luxury on Niall’s rental income, him still able to save up to buy another flat. He would hire cars and take us to five star hotels and spas. Life was great.

“What’s she doing with him?” some ignorant man at a bar said within earshot one weekend. They couldn’t see I had MS, I’d left my stick in the car on that occasion, meditating my way through the pub like a gliding goddess. They couldn’t see how lucky I was that this kind, interesting man loved me and he was earning £70,000 a year. We glided out of the bar.

I adored Niall so much so that I began to feel ashamed of my past so I tried to get rid of it.  I sold my keyboards, my record collection, and put all my leather and suede dresses, skirts and jackets in a second hand shop in New Cross. Whilst decluttering I came across the shoe box, full of Fraser’s prison letters, I was wondering what to do with the box when the phone rang.
“Och aye” No surprise to me it was Fraser, I was now a keen believer in Carl Jung’s theory of the ‘collective unconscious’ “How you doing? Douggie gave me yer number.”
“I knew it would be you”
“You been missing me?”
“I’m sorry Fraser, I’m in a relationship and I don’t want to hear from you again.”
The phone went dead, no persistence, nothing. I had changed, he could tell in my voice. The shoe box went into the outside bin. For a moment I almost retrieved it, but the lid had slid off and the once ordered blue prison letters were now merged with spaghetti hoops from another flat.

One weekend Niall’s mother flew over from Cork. We met her in a pub on the Friday night. I got a cab from Bermondsey into the West end and Niall met her straight from work. I was nervous. They were both there when I arrived, Niall had saved me a seat in the bar that was crammed with office affairs having Friday drinks, snogging in suits and high heels.
“Lovely to meet you” Barbara said with her soft Irish lilt, she got up and shook my hand while Niall pulled out my saved seat from the table, “it’s packed.”

Barbara looked me up and down, her eyes stopped at my stick. I sat down and discreetly slid it under the table, wondering whether Niall had told her of my MS.
Mother and son sat close to each other enjoying pleasant chit chat about the art galleries they would visit over the weekend, I remained quiet, listening as best I could above the pub noise. I didn’t have a clue about art and felt excluded but happy I’d been invited to meet her. The pub thinned out and Niall talked business with his mum about his flat and job and property income. I was interested in their close relationship, so different from mine with my mother. I’d told my parents of my diploma and the response I’d got was as if I’d told them I’d got a certificate for an aerobics class. Niall and I had laughed about how it might at least get in the church magazine, like the MS diagnosis had. It wasn’t their fault , they didn’t understand what counselling was, not many did.
“Shall we call it a night then?” asked Niall.
“Grand.” Barbara said.
“Okay” I said. Wondering where she was staying.
“I’ll get us cabs.”
The penny still hadn’t dropped. Niall hailed a cab. The driver wound down the window,
“Where to mate?”
“Bermondsey”
I kissed him, said goodbye to Barbara and got into the cab clutching stick and bag in one hand and the £20 note Niall had given me for the fare in the other. I didn’t see him for the rest of the weekend, he was doing the galleries with his mum and sorting out business. I guessed they hadn’t invited me because I couldn’t walk round galleries. Barbara stayed in Niall’s big bed and he slept on the sofa in the same room, this I found strange. When I told Ian about the arrangement in my next therapy session I popped my head up from the couch, I wanted to see his reaction, did he think it strange too? I left the session still wondering.

The months raced by. Christmas in Pimlico came and went, and soon Niall and I were celebrating our year anniversary. Southwark council finally took my pleas for a flat swap seriously, the noise pollution was affecting everything and I was struggling with the stairs so I was transferred to another one bedroom flat but on a new estate, opposite The Den (Millwall football club) – and it had a garden. Niall made me his company secretary and I became his property manager, I could work from home and I opened a private counselling practice at the flat. Making it into a bedside and a therapy room /office. I was so in love and life was suddenly comfortable and accessible, even my walking was slowly improving.

One night, after watching a porn video together, Niall got down on one knee, his dressing gown open. I laughed, unprepared for his obvious question.
“Will you marry me?”

Would I?  Could this be third time lucky?