Friday, 29 October 2010

Voyage XVI – Fantasies

I go back to my cabin and get out my drawing things. It’s getting dark now but the lighting in here is really good – like one of those daylight bulbs you can get. I lean back and look at what I’ve been doing lately. The fact is they’re mostly of Lucy, but not from life obviously – from my imagination.
Back home, when I was about thirteen I suppose, I started making my own pornography. I just started one day when I didn’t know what to do next and I was doodling and the lines of a woman’s body just emerged from the pen like magic. I suppose I’d spent so much time looking at the magazines they’d just got printed on my brain. So, I never could get hold of enough real porn, and most of it was pretty dreary to be honest, so I started making my own.
I didn’t have a type – I drew redheads with freckles and olive skinned women with black hair, slender women and voluptuous women, mature women and teenage girls, shaved women and hairy women, women undressing, women masturbating, women together. After a while I didn’t draw anything much else, and I think I got quite good at it, considering I’d never actually seen a real live naked woman in my life (and certainly not an actual vagina) and still haven’t to be honest.
God knows what would have happened if mum had found any of it.

I’ve been thinking about what Joe said, about being gay. It’s funny but I never really thought about it before. Freud said that everyone naturally has homosexual tendencies (and other tendencies too). I never really wanted to put men in my drawings at all. I’m not really sure why. I tried once or twice but it felt sort of, I don’t know, sort of ugly. If I think of men having sex it just seems sort of clumsy and a bit disgusting to be honest. I don’t know where that idea comes from. I try to think of Joe like that, sexually I mean. He’s a nice enough looking bloke I suppose. If I was going to handle someone else’s penis I suppose his’d be as good as anyone’s. I just don’t really fancy it. I suppose I should be a bit more broad-minded, in a ‘don’t knock it until you’ve tried it’ sort of way but I think I’d have some sort of sense even without trying it, that I’d like it, but I don’t. Margaret Mead said that extreme heterosexuality is actually a sort of perversion. Anyway, I just like looking at women. I think they’re absolutely fantastic, and if that makes me a pervert, well, so be it.

Sometimes I spent almost all night in the Wendy house, looking at porn, thinking about women. It was really dark and a bit dingey in there, damp and dusty, with the ivy coming in and the spiders and such like, but it did feel very peaceful, especially if the rain was really battering down outside and the trees were whipping about on the railway embankment or the fog-horn down at the harbour was going. I usually went down there in just my dressing gown and wellies so I could cover up immediately if anyone came, and I kept the drawings and photos in a sketchpad so I could close that up quickly too. Nobody ever did. My mum used to wonder why I was exhausted in the morning. Sometimes I couldn’t get up in the morning at all.
I used to think about women I knew – the one who ran the pet shop for example – she was a little weird looking (quite a long nose and big googly eyes) but you could tell she would be a good shape under her clothes, and then there was Amelia’s friend Katrina. She was fucking amazing. Really tight jeans – you could see the outline of her vagina when she sat down. And then there were some of the girls at school – Camille especially, and then later on there was Gill of course. She was the best. I used to imagine coming across her while I was out walking on the Downs in the wind and rain – her in just a plastic mac and boots after she’d been out riding. I imagined seeing her sit down on the wet grass, open her coat, letting the rain wash over her pale breasts and belly (not caring if anyone was looking), watching her slip her knickers down over her boots and throw them aside and then begin to touch herself. Or else I imagined her walking up the hill ahead of me – seeing her bare arse under her coat and watching those two fleshy folds between her legs squeeze and slip together as she walked. I don’t know why but it was always cold and drizzling, or else snowing in these fantasies. I always liked the feel of the cold air on my skin and the wet grass. I don’t know why.

Of course the actual girls at school thought I was a joke. I don’t think I ever actually made an appearance in my own fantasies – that would have been just too ridiculous. I was just forced to watch them, but that was ok.

Actually though, don’t laugh, but I don’t think it was just about sex. I really wanted more than that. I suppose I’m a bit of a romantic too. Honestly, I really wanted to sit on a balcony by the sea with a girl and watch the sun go down and sip champagne or something, and pick flowers for her, and make her sloppy compilation tapes with people like Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers. I wanted to slow dance with her to Body Talk. I know, I know. It’s a ridiculous record. I can’t even remember who recorded it now, but every time I hear it I despair. I just wanted that, to do that – to hold onto her (whoever she was), moving together, lost in each other, oblivious, going round and round on the dance floor, breathing into her hair, my hands on her hips at the end of the evening, and her not embarrassed and wanting to get away but there with me, as relieved and amazed as I’d be. And when they turn the music off and the lights go on, to look shyly into each other’s eyes and hope that this was not all.
Jesus Christ I wanted that. I never asked any of them to dance, I admit. If they weren’t going to say yes in private they certainly weren’t going to say it in public.

Well anyway... I don’t know if any of the other blokes felt the same way – we never talked about it, but that was what I wanted – I wanted to be in love. I still do, more than anything in the world. I want a girl who will come to parties, and come for walks in the country, and most of all I want her to share my bed. I want someone to sleep with, and that’s not a euphemism. Ok, I admit I want her to be sitting there on the balcony watching the sunset with no knickers on, but I also want to bring her croissants and orange juice in the morning.
That’s what all this is really about. All that stuff Joe talks about – about careers and so on. I can’t tell him all this. Of course I’d love to earn a living doing something I like, and rent a nice room in Brighton or out in the country, go to university, maybe travel a bit. I’d love to do those things, for myself. But really, the main thing is, when I do those things, maybe I’ll meet her, and what’s more, maybe she’ll want to get to know me and I’ll have a proper relationship. I don’t feel very manly for admitting it, but that’s what I want.
And then we have the reality, as mum would have said.
I don’t know where all this comes from, this hope. Mostly my life has been fairly useless, but somewhere, part of me has always had this idea that, if only I could meet a girl and she got to know me properly, without all this shit about money and living with my parents in the way, that it would be alright, and I’d stand a chance.
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Joe X – Dreams

Another day, another session, and he’s consulting some papers on his lap when I come in. He doesn’t look up but says ‘I got you a coffee. Two sugars, right?’
I sit down. ‘Thanks’ I say.
‘I want to pursue this question about your, er, putative career...’
I snort with derision. My “career” indeed. That’s a laugh.
‘Why do you find that funny?’
I shake my head and try to avoid saying ‘I don’t know’. I do know, it’s because it’s unimaginable, me, with a career. I have an image of all those people in suits or uniforms being terribly important and responsible and serious about life. I can’t imagine myself like that.
‘Ok’ he says, trying not to look exasperated, ‘what would you most like to have done, no, what would you most like to have changed about your life? Anything you like...’ He clicks his fingers ‘...different. What would it be?’
Again I sit and my mind goes all over the place. So many things, none of them very realistic...
‘Go on, a place of your own? A round the world air ticket?’
God, I think, yes, either of those. To get away, be myself somehow. I nod and he smiles, and I think he’s going to say ‘But you need to earn the money first’, which my mum would have said (she used to take great pleasure in “bringing me back to the real world” as she called it) but he doesn’t.
‘Alone or with someone else?’
I consider the people I know, go through them one by one. There’s nobody.
‘Maybe I could meet people when I’m out there’ I suggest.
‘Highly likely’ he says.
I have this image of a group of fairly cool but not too pretentious people, maybe about my own age, maybe more varied, male and female, hanging out in a bar, or just in someone’s room, and I feel completely relaxed with them, and we chat but I don’t feel I necessarily have to say anything. It’s just easy, and there’s a girl...
‘What are you thinking about?’ he says.
‘Oh, this fantasy I have, of a group of friends, a girlfriend...’
‘What are they like?’
‘I really don’t know. They’re just friendly, relaxed...’
‘Anyone you know?’
‘Not really.’
‘What about the girl? What’s she like?’
I feel a little inhibited at first, but then it occurs to me I wouldn’t mind him telling me about his boyfriend (maybe I should ask him some time) so I go on to talk about her, how she’s witty and funny and likes a lot of attention, and how we spend a lot of time in bed just cuddling and listening to music...’
‘And having sex?’
I smile sheepishly. ‘Lots of sex’ I say.
‘I should bloody well hope so’ he says, cheerfully.
I take a moment to enjoy the fantasy. He watches my face. He sees it turn from happy reverie to hopeless.
‘What happened there?’
‘It’s just... the money. I lived with my parents for fuck’s sake. What am I going to do?’
I see him think about how to put it. ‘I actually don’t know Gabriel...’ He sees me sag a bit ‘But hang on. That’s not the point. The point is there’s no point in thinking about work and savings and insurance and all that crap if you don’t know what you want it for. You’re putting the cart before the horse Gabriel. We don’t live to work Gabriel. Live in your dreams for a while. Work out what you want to do, feel it, see it as a possibility. Then you find your way...’
‘But that’s all I have done Joe. I’ve done nothing but dream, and it just doesn’t make it seem any more possible.’ I’m almost in tears again, lost.
‘But what you’ve said doesn’t seem very impossible – friends, a girlfriend, a place of your own, a trip abroad...’
‘But it does. I have to work.’
‘That’s the finding your way part. We can talk about all that another time. The take-home message for today is just that your hopes are not unrealistic. Really. Ok?’
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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Journey X – The Temptation

Miranda tells me firmly that we must find me a place with other people that’s safe and comfortable and where they’ll take good care of me. Then I’ll be able to maybe find a new guide and move on. She gets up, looking considerably closer today, purposefully striding about, in the rain too, gathering up our stuff, talking to herself. Meanwhile I’m sitting on a stump half asleep, sipping my coffee. It’s all a little too busy for me. It’s barely light yet and we had a visitation in the night – silent thankfully. They just hung around watching me swearing at them. I got the impression I’d hurt their feelings more than anything. Well, if they will hang around looking spooky all night what do they expect? Miranda said I shouldn’t take the piss. Things are bad enough for them already but I think (I didn’t say this out loud) if they want to get lost they should just go and get on with it, not keep bothering us non-lost types. They’re really beginning to get on my wick, keeping me up all night...

We pass on through more of the same forested, mountains-and-valleys landscape as before. Miranda says it reminds her of the place she grew up, with lots of heather and bracken and little streams. It’s not that I don’t like it. I’m really just beginning to want to get somewhere. I told this to her and she gave me an odd little smile.
Meetings with the lost spirits are getting further and further apart. Miranda tells me they tend to gather in some areas more than others and she seems decidedly livelier here, away from them (‘although there’s always a few loners about’ she says). The countryside’s still pretty wild out here and we have the place to ourselves. Once again my thoughts turn to the proximity of her scantily clad little form. All in all, maybe I prefer it that she’s too small (or far away) to actually have sex with. I like the way we get on and chat and flirt and look after each other and I think maybe sex would spoil it, or anyway, I’d probably mess it up somehow – make a twat of myself. It’s better this way.

Our final encounter with the lost spirits happens on a night of heavy rain – another night of total darkness and we’re camped in a bog. Miranda is convinced this is the right path but is very frank with me – there will be lost spirits again, and they might not be so easily dissuaded. I don’t ask how she knows.
For a few nights now she’s been running off at night like before and I am once again unhappy about it but not so easily fobbed off with her reticence on the subject. I pester her and tell her I’m not going to ‘leave it’. So she gives in and tells me she’s been protecting me, going out and keeping them away. I ask if that was how she got hurt that time before. She goes very quiet.
‘With some of them you have to be prepared to give them something in return’ she says vaguely, not looking at me. ‘There has to be some sort of offering. That’s the way it is.’
I look at her. I don’t know what she means. I don’t think I want to know.
Then suddenly she looks up at me and says brightly ‘We’ll soon be there. It’ll soon be over.’
She turns to go and I catch her arm and hold her back. She looks at my hand, at first wearily, then irritably. I let her go.
‘It’s ok’ she says, and is gone into the darkness.
I never did find out what it was they got up to out there. The thought made me feel sick, especially in the light of what we saw later. I didn’t sleep. I sat and waited for her to come back and we slept together in the morning.

So we come to a place where the valley becomes extremely narrow and steep sided, with ranks of stunted oaks growing out of the sheer sides. The valley floor is narrow and sodden and thick with rushes and reeds. It sees the sun only briefly but floods regularly and we struggle to find a patch of dry ground to pitch the tent on, hoping not to get washed away if there’s a flash flood. Evening comes. We watch the mists come down and wait for frightening things to start happening. There’s nothing more, she tells me, that she can do to hold them off. We sit and wait to see what happens.
‘Will they hurt us?’ I ask quietly, the rain dripping off my hood into my lap. She’s hidden there, in my cape, peering out. She looks so tiny – barely visible.
‘Not necessarily’ she says, like there might be something worse they could do.
‘What then?’ I say. ‘Will they capture us?’
‘Something like that’ she says.
‘Something worse?’
She says nothing. We wait.
‘I could try swearing at them again’ I suggest.
‘Probably worth a try’ she says without much enthusiasm, ‘if it makes you feel better.’
More silence.
‘If I hadn’t lead you astray you’d have been somewhere safe a long time ago’ she says quietly.
‘But you tried. You took me to that hill town place.’
She shakes her head. ‘I was being selfish. I needed somewhere to rest, recover. I wasn’t thinking about you.’
I look down at her. She looks so sad, yet strangely defiant.
‘I really don’t mind you know’ I say, and I want to tell her it was worth it because I love her. It seems a stupid thing to say, while we sit there, peering into the darkness, watching for spirits.
‘I just didn’t want to lose you’ she says ‘and I wasn’t ready to go, maybe. I thought I was.’
‘Do you have to go? Can’t you change your mind?’
She begins to reply but instead says shush and holds her finger up. I stand and listen. There’s a low roaring sound coming from away up the valley. As it gets louder I can feel it in the ground. It’s different from last time, more like a sobbing or a pulsing, like a machine or a heart beating deep in the soil. We stand there together, listening to it growing in volume. It sounds like a flood. It occurs to me it might be a flood. I look about for an escape route but Miranda is not moving. She knows that it’s pointless to run. The sound gradually expands to fill the landscape, coming from all sides, surrounding us and then we see them, figures of all shapes and sizes emerging from the shadows, changing all the time, growing and shrinking, materialising and melting into the darkness all around us. There are so many of them. It is overwhelming. They cluster around us and press their faces into ours – repulsive, terrifying, seductive. A tiny spikey one with a slug for a tongue insists that I am no better than she is, deep down. A bloated giant bawls at me over and over again to listen to him. A wraith wrings her hands and grizzles that there was nothing she could have done. There is so much bitterness and recrimination. It bludgeons, seeps and injects itself into my innards like gas gangrene – the things they’ve been through, what they’ve suffered, and what suffering they’ve inflicted on others. For that is the difference here. The spirits that have collected here have done terrible things. They are not merely victims. These really are the monsters. I look about me, try to tell them what I think of them but the wind takes my words away. A groaning throbbing lament drowns out everything that I might have wanted to say. This heaving mass of the unforgivable before us is past all understanding.

It seems like hours we stand there as they heave and jostle around us. The noise and the stink are terrible. It is the sound of all the agony and the degradation and the abuse they’ve endured and caused and I can feel it entering me, probing, trying to find something in me to latch onto. They want to know if perhaps I could have done those things too, or if I’d have them done to me perhaps? Or would I like to watch? because that can be arranged. It’s intolerable and meaningless. All their stories are long lost. What they did has no explanation any more. They try to explain their actions away nonetheless.
I curl up and keep my eyes shut – try to keep it all out.  
Everybody has it in them they say. Every man has his price. What would I be prepared to do, hmm? If I was desperate enough? Hmm?
Who is to judge them? Who can blame them? After all, it had to be done. Everybody else was doing it. It was legitimate trade. They were just doing their jobs. They did what they did for the purity of the race, to the glory of God, for King and country, for vengeance, for the family’s honour, for the greater good.
And didn’t they deserve it after all, those scum, because they stood in the way of progress, because they were different, because they were weak, because they didn’t matter, because they happened to be there and they were alone and nobody to protect them.
It was the final solution. They were asking for it. They probably enjoyed it.
Wogs, Queers, Bitches, Pakkies, Kikes, Commies...
And on and on and on...
Gradually their jeers and harangues begin to wash over me, to have less and less effect. There’s no connection. It’s just noise.
I look down at Miranda, her hopeless eyes fixed on them and I sit down with her.
We sit and observe them, these horrors, impassively and I pull her toward me. She looks at me and doesn’t understand but realises that she is safe with me. We sit and look at them and they begin to seem small and ridiculous. The wind and the noise die down and just a frustrated grumbling and whining follows. I can sense them milling about, knowing there’s nothing they can do and yet unwilling to give up. Finally, as morning comes the last of them discretely disappear and Miranda and I pack up and move on as quickly as we can. She looks up at me with a new kind of expression, almost like she admires me or something. ‘We need to get you home’ she says.
The path takes us up to the top of the valley by late afternoon and there before us lies a broad rolling landscape of meadows and woodlands and lakes. It looks like heaven. 
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Voyage XV – Sex education

The voyage has definitely settled into a routine now. I don’t actually spend a lot of time with Ray and the crazy gang, although I’m always aware of them. I find them hard to ignore. I am drawn to them though. I admit it. There’s something about them, something ugly but fascinating. Don’t know. Have to think about it.

Then sometimes I sit near to Lucy and the others. I feel a bit stupid, hanging around them like a little dog, hoping for some attention but quite often Damian or one of the others’ll say hi and how am I. I’m never sure if Lucy welcomes my presence but she doesn’t complain. She doesn’t say much at all to be honest.
But then there’ll be other times, like that wet day in the library when I found her looking at those pictures and she’ll call me over and say ‘Have you seen this?’ with a look of disgust and fascination on her face and I’ll go over and she’ll read me a passage from usually a history book, or something on politics and she’ll start on about how they don’t know what they’re talking about because of something she read back when she was writing her thesis and these people just haven’t got a clue. Then she turns the book over, her hand still on the page so she won’t lose it, and checks the author and it’s never anyone she’s heard of, but then she has to go back and look again. It’s like she can’t leave it alone.
Her main thing seems to be about the “objectification of women” and the “male gaze”. I thought at first she was talking about gays. She thought that was funny. I didn’t mind her thinking I’m funny. I never went to university of course, although I read a lot. I’d read The Female Eunuch, which impressed her a bit, although I wasn’t sure I agreed with a lot of it. I always had a problem with this stuff because it’s always seemed to me that women are very much in charge, but then with a family like mine that’s not too surprising is it. I tell her about this and she tells me that I experience women as emasculating. I tell her I never really wanted to be like the other blokes anyway and actually I’d like to come back as a woman next time if that was possible (but as a lesbian of course) and she’s just full of scorn, like it’s just their exclusive club and how dare I presume to even want to join? She goes on about menstruation, and pregnancy and sex discrimination as if being a woman is all about being proud of your suffering, and I want to say ‘But what about all these other fantastic things about being a woman?’ but I don’t feel qualified.
‘For a start’ she says, ‘You can’t know what the heck you’re on about, pretty much by definition, simply because you are a man. You simply cannot identify with a woman. You cannot know what it means. The whole way you view the world is different. You have this idealised image of what a woman is but no conception of the reality, and I really can’t be bothered to go into it with you. Trust me, you couldn’t handle it.’
I look at the page again. I can’t handle being a man either.
‘I don’t know’ I say. ‘I just like women, better than men anyway.’
‘Sure you do’ she says, obviously unconvinced. ‘But you like the ones with nice tits better, am I right?’
‘I think that’s different’ I say tentatively.
‘Oh you do.’
I’ve been thinking about this and I have an answer ready.
‘It’s like, if you’re friends with someone, you don’t just like them for one thing. Maybe you like that you can go out to gigs with them, and maybe their record collection, and maybe sometimes you have a laugh together, but you know they’ll never be the person you go to, to tell your troubles to, or for a walk in the country. You do those things with someone else...’
‘Is there a point to this?’
‘With women, the way they look is maybe just one part of why I’d spend time with them, and maybe if what they look like is the only thing, then maybe I’d just want to have sex with them. But if I wanted to have a relationship there’d need to be other things, like...’
‘Like doing your dishes, or saying “there, there, poor baby”...’
‘No, like going out walking or talking about life, or having a meal out.’
‘As a prelude to sex. It’s all about getting women into bed Gabriel. Don’t fool yourself.’
‘No’ I say, ‘I reckon it’s possible to be friends with a woman and not be thinking about sex with her.’
‘Has that ever happened to you?’
‘Well... no, but I’m sure it could.’
‘I think you’d have to be gay. Really.’
I almost ask about Damian and Matt but don’t really want to know. I don’t really feel qualified to say anything here. I never had a female friend in my life but then I never had a proper girlfriend either, so what do I know? Come to that I never had much in the way of real close friends at all – not ones I could really talk to.
‘All that men are doing when they look at a woman’ she continues, ‘is deciding if they want to fuck her and then working out how to make it happen. It might not be obvious. He may end up being a friend because he still thinks he’s in with a chance, or maybe he thinks he’ll get off with one of her friends.’
‘But even then, what if he does actually like her and enjoys her company, even without sex?’
‘How do you mean?’ she says, with exaggerated patience.
‘Well, women talk more about people and life and...’ I suddenly remember the sixth form common room, a group of us, sitting around for lunch, and then afterwards if there was a free period I always ended up chatting to Rachel or Camille, or Sally. Ok, I did fancy Camille, but I knew she was out of my league, and Rachel was taken, and Sally just really wasn’t my type, not physically. I can’t believe I forgot about them. I wonder what happened to them. Rachel, I know got married quite soon after leaving, and the others went to uni of course. The blokes were always talking about physics or Michael Moorcock or Genesis or something and I just didn’t know anything about that stuff, but I could talk to the girls, Rachel and Sally especially for ages. Camille I was always a bit self-conscious with. I’d forgotten about that.
I explain some of this to Lucy and she listens and then says ‘Still...’ and goes back to her book.

My mind wanders back to my sisters too, to Amelia especially. I always liked her toys – the doll’s house, and the books she had. And then there were her friends and her clothes and make up – I just loved all the colours and textures and smells of it all. I should point out that I never tried her stuff on, or not seriously – I’d have looked ridiculous, obviously, and I’d have wanted to be beautiful, not just a boy in drag.
Maybe I should have been a girl. You do hear these stories about people who are anatomically one sex but genetically the other. Who knows? I know I hated being a boy anyhow.
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A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.