“When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
“If you’re put on a pedestal, you’re supposed to behave yourself like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”
Accepting compliments can be hard. I’m always quite impressed by people who just acknowledge them and move on graciously. I just got flustered, which was probably just as well because I never got many. Practice brings experience though and I can now just say, “Oh, thank you very much,” and move onto something else. I realised in the end that it’s not really about you, it’s about the person giving the compliment. So, as long as they get to say their piece and you’re not a dick about it one way or another, it’s alright. Not a big deal, really.
This entry is really about the usual things I write on here: being an idiot; making a balls up of going out with nice people, and doing my best to not be quite such a dick – and failing, usually. But it’s also about being viewed as something that you know you’re not. The idea of being put on a pedestal by somebody; it’s a natural extension of a compliment, isn’t it? The idea that this person is so magnificent that they don’t just deserve complimenting, they deserve to be worshipped, basically. It’s a shit idea, and it comes from the same place – it’s not about the person on the pedestal, it’s about people who want to worship someone. And who deserves that? Well, you might, but I don’t.
After I’d been dumped by my regular girlfriend (whom I put on a pedestal, myself, until I realised what it meant and stopped) for good – although it felt bad at the time – I didn’t really go out with anyone for what was quite a long time by my standards. Part of the reason was because I was, to be honest – devastated. We’d talked about getting married and all the rest of it. As far as I was concerned, my philandering days – which I’d previously decided wouldn’t even exist – were over and I was going to be settling down with Clare.
When even I realised that it was never going to happen – by accepting my invitation to dumpsville, population me – I felt lost. Broken. Finished. I still went out, but without any interest at all in girls.
I vividly remember talking to a girl in a club – with Ploggy – who told us that since she’d broken up with her boyfriend, she’d not been in a relationship for three months. Ploggy pointed out that since I’d been given the boot, I’d not been in a relationship for the best part of a year and a half. Like I say, I was finished.
At the Odeon, where I still worked, although on radically reduced hours since Clare’s list of things I had to do in order for her to not dump me forever, I also wasn’t on the lookout for a relationship of that kind. There was a girl who’d recently graduated from Hull called Sharon. Sharon was a truly delightful girl. I couldn’t imagine anyone falling out with her because, I suppose, she was about as inoffensive as it’s possible to be.
We worked together periodically – on the hot dog and popcorn bit, on the tickets here and there. I think the thing that made the connection between us was that she was singing ‘Plastic Man’ by The Kinks whilst stacking hot dog buns. I listened, enjoying the fact that another human being at the Odeon enjoyed a fairly obscure single from 1969 (number 31) twenty five years later, and joined in with the line that goes, “…Plastic legs that reach up to his (bom-bom) plastic bum…” slapping my hand on the popcorn warmer to emphasise the bom bom bit. She looked at me with the smile of recognition that you get when you don’t expect anybody to know what you’re on about, but they do.
We talked about music after that. Specifically – and here comes my memory made almost entirely of flashpoint memories – grunting on records. She mentioned ‘Back On The Chain Gang’ by The Pretenders and I countered with ‘Chain Gang’ by Sam Cooke, both of which feature excellent, rhythmic backing grunts – ‘Hoo. Hah.’ Maybe The Pretenders’ grunts might have been a tribute to Sam Cooke’s, I don’t know. Probably. Anyway, we both enjoyed the sound of men grunting on records about prisoners (literal, or prisoners of love in the case of The Pretenders). So that was something. That and mildly purile references to bottoms on obscure Kinks singles from 25 years previously. Something else. That’s an in-joke for Kinks fans. Cheers.
We bumped into each other outside a bank in town a day or so later and had another little chat. All very pleasant, all above board. No funny business. Here was I, having conversations with lithe, attractive young women with no intention of anyone getting in anyone else’s knickers. Down that path lay madness, so I thought.
Sharon, being the sort of person whom an organisation such as the Odeon actually wanted working there had signed up to a management training scheme that they had advertised in the staff room. Anyone could apply, providing they had a degree. I, too, had a degree, but no interest whatever in spending the rest of my life’s evenings and weekends standing around looking important in a flea ridden foyer, handing out free tickets to people who were a pain in the arse so that they’d go away. They wouldn’t have had me anyway because I was unreliable. I only sporadically turned up to work at all, and even when I did, I was always – always – battered and spent the nights continuing to batter myself further and further into a state of, at best, partial consciousness.
Sharon’s first placement was to be the Odeon’s flagship venue – the Odeon, Leicester Square in that London. On her last day, a few of us went to the pub for a drink and everything was very pleasant – still no funny business. The height of a hot summer, too.
People drifted off towards closing time leaving, finally, just Sharon and me. We were kicked out of the now deserted pub and, somewhat worse for wear due to the drink and being battered anyway from being at work, began to stagger home, which was more or less across the road for me. I noted Sharon was unsteadily walking with me.
“I don’t know what you’re doing,” I slurred, “But I’m going home.”
“I’m coming with you,” said Sharon.
I laughed. “Fair dos.” And to my house we walked.
Back at my house, getting involved in relationships didn’t seem quite the terrible prospect it once had. Sharon spent the night and not chastely either.
Sharon unclothed was extraordinarily lithe. A washboard stomach. She was also pretty tall. Not actually taller than I barefoot, but with shoes on she was. This was partly attributable to the fact that I only wore deck shoes which had soles made of thin cardboard. At work, I wore a pair of desert boots that a Jayne, who I briefly went out with when I returned from university for the last time, had bought me. She’d bought them because she was of a very similar height to Sharon and didn’t like it when she was taller than I was – when we had shoes on. It didn’t bother me.
Very shortly afterwards, she moved to London. We commenced a long distance relationship. I’d been in one before that had gone quite badly, so I didn’t really have my hopes up, but Sharon was – and I can’t stress this enough – a deeply kind, tolerant and understanding young woman and I wasn’t so daft as to be under the impression that all women were like this, even though pretty much everyone I’d ever been out with were all similarly lovely, give or take.
Even though Sharon was now working at the Odeon in Leicester Square, she had been housed in a block of flats in Wimbledon. I say a block of flats, but it was more like a student hall of residence. Her room was as tiny as any I’ve ever stayed in and, being the long, hot summer of 1995, it was absolutely mafting – a Hull word for exceptionally hot.
I behaved myself at home, at least in terms of not getting off with anyone else. When I went to visit her it was at a point in time when train fares were affordable to ordinary people, so I went relatively often. Maybe a couple of times a month for a few days at a time.
As there was still no money in the Middlerabbit coffers – I was still doing the PGCE I’d signed up for in a vain attempt to stop Clare dumping me – and Sharon, being sensitive, generous and kind, would send me money. I know. I know. I wasn’t in love with the idea of my girlfriend subsidising my indolent lifestyle, but nor did I have enough about me to politely turn it down. I was grateful, but still considered it a pretty poor show on my count. She was hardly loaded. She’d come and stay with me when work permitted. She worked a lot more than I did. Mind you, so did pretty much everybody else…
At some point in our relationship, I’d succumbed to my palsied brain’s idea that having sex was bad in terms of the creative urge. I’m not entirely sure where that one came from, but I went along with it.
My visits tended to follow a similar pattern. I’d get the train, she’d meet me at the station and we’d get the tube to Wimbledon, drop my bag off, go and eat something, go to the pub, go back to her flat where it was far too hot to share the single bed she’d been allocated, so she slept on the floor. In my defence, I did protest, but shamefully, probably not too vehemently. Whatever, Sharon slept on the floor. There was no sex because I told her I was being fucking zen or some other big pile of crap.
To be honest, even at the time, I couldn’t really have told you why I refused to participate in that. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with Balf about it.
“Off to London for a nice bit of shagging, eh Middlerabbit?” he commented as I was packing my bag. I don’t really know why I bothered. I’d left some stuff with Sharon at her flat – toothbrush, spare shreddies, socks and what have you.
“There’ll be none of that, thank you very much,” I admonished him.
“You what?” he exclaimed, evidently not believing me. “Give over. ‘Course there will. What are you going for, if not that?”
“Nope. No jumping about and hair pulling. No good comes of that, Balf. You’ve not been paying attention, have you?”
“Fuck off,” he said.
I shook my head in seriousness.
“Why not, for fuck’s sake? What’s wrong with you? Sharon’s fucking gorgeous.”
“Because it’s bad, Balf. Bad.”
“You’re off your tits, you,” he told me, not for the first or last time.
“No. Bad.” I repeated.
A banal conversation to recall verbatim – more or less – but welcome to my world.
I think I might remember it because even though I thought I was – in some way that I couldn’t articulate for probably very obvious reasons (which were, I didn’t have any) – I thought I might do well to have a think about it.
Again, shamefully, I think what it was, was that Sharon was so lovely and so willing to go along with more or less anything that I came up with, I think I was just pushing it to see how far it would go.
I know. I’m a twat. I am. I’m not proud of it, quite the obverse. The reason I’m writing this at all – or one reason – is sort of a confessional. Even though very few people will ever read this, it feels public enough. Perhaps I’d be better off getting hold of these people who’ve been unfortunate to be on the receiving end of my stupidity/thoughtlessness/callousness and just apologise/confess to them in person. I’ve tried with the odd one whom I’ve stumbled across on social media (I’ve not gone so far as to actively search anyone out. For instance, I was trawling through Twitter a while back, looking for literacy stuff for work and came across a photograph of three people sat ’round a desk, one of whom I immediately recognised from her teeth and nose as a girl I’d dicked around at university, so I dropped her a line which she – entirely reasonably and understandably ignored: my loss, my fault. I can’t complain, even if I was a bit disappointed because I really enjoyed talking to her. Others, I’ve just not come across. I did have a brief reconnection with Clare, but that went really badly, so maybe it’s for the best) but I expect they probably consider themselves well shut of the halfwit/arsehole/philandering shithead they went out with way back when, and consider themselves well rid and can’t be arsed. Fair enough. Either that, or they’re worried in case we’ll meet up and I’ll still be so devastatingly attractive that their world would be turned upside down by a re-introduction. But somehow I doubt that. Come off it, Middlerabbit – it’s about you, isn’t it?
Yeah. It is.
Well, that and keeping my hand in with writing because I’m writing a book and it turned out to be a right load of shit, so it needs re-writing and it’s a bit of a pain in the arse. In some ways, this blog thing is probably just another form of procrastination so I don’t have to bother buggering about with editing that much. But yes, it’s still about me. I know. I know.
So yeah, I think I was probably just pushing it. Taking advantage of someone’s better nature, even though I was doing it in the opposite way to normal. Not better, just weirder. Which is no better, is it?
As Sharon was mainly at work from late morning until late-ish most nights and I was skint apart from handouts, I’d just traipse the streets of London. Without the benefit of Ralph McTell showing anything that’d change my mind. Mainly, I enjoyed myself. You still had to pay to get into museums, so I couldn’t afford that although most of the art galleries were free so I spent a fair bit of time in those.
Otherwise, I’d settle myself in some bookshops and more or less use them as libraries, except without the option to take anything home. I didn’t go to any libraries, which would probably have been a better idea.
Once, having found myself more or less bored of life – or at least London, despite Oscar Wilde’s famous comment – and would park my arse in front of the Odeon and watch people coming and going. Whilst doing this on one occasion a chap sat down next to me and struck up conversation. It was alright, and I was feeling garrulous up to the point where he asked me if I wanted to go to his flat where had loads of issues of ‘Arms & Ammo’ magazine, or whatever it was, at which point I made my excuses and said I had to be somewhere. Having everywhere to go but nowhere to actually stay, I ducked in and out of side streets in a circle, with the vague yet disturbing thought that the gun obsessed nutcase might be following me. The thought grew in my mind and for that reason, I stepped off the path and into the doorway of a closed shop where, twenty seconds later I watched the nutter walk past, giving me a sideways glance of utter loathing.
Narrowly avoiding soiling myself at the thought of being shoved into a suitcase, soundly bummed and dead at the hands of one of probably only about twelve subscribers to ‘Arms & Ammo’ magazine, I scooted out in the opposite direction and spent the next three hours getting on and off the Tube at the last minute and wandering round the big smoke with one eye over my shoulder the entire time. A fanny I might be. A garrulous fanny at times (although not in general), whose legs are his best friends at times like that.
And that’s how the summer of ’95 went: wandering around London, sleeping in my girlfriend’s bed while she was lumbered with the floor in her sweatbox of a flat, refusing to have sex with her because it would – as I told her – interfere with my meditation. I know. I told her I was one of those meditating people. I was toying with the idea that I might have been a Zen Buddist Jew, despite knowing full well that I wasn’t actually any of those things. Probably it went back to when I was the kid who’d considered being a monk until he realised that the religious aspect of it might have not really been up his street. Or the obedience. Specifically the obedience, really.
By winter, I was sick of it. I’d started my placement at a school that’s now long gone in East Hull and it was a bit of a pain in the arse. Schlepping across town on my pushbike at half seven every morning to face kids who you’d describe as ‘troubled’ was pretty hard going. Then sitting in the staffroom with the science department who spent every single dinnertime discussing, with straight faces, the science behind Star Trek, about which I knew nothing and cared less. My old man had done his best to put me off teaching as a career, but I only really signed up in the first place because you could get on a course quickly enough to stop Clare from ditching me, so I wasn’t really thinking about teaching when I applied.
Even though I realised what a pain teaching was likely to become, I decided to stick with it because it suited me in some ways. Not just the shortish day and the holidays, although I’m not going to pretend that they’re not a big part of it because they are. What suited me during the working day was what turned out to be something I couldn’t and can’t really do anything about. An accident of birth, you might call it. Certainly, it’s not something I’ve worked at. Along with most other things, yes. Cheers.
I don’t have a Jesus complex, but I do think I might be Saint Francis of Assisi sometimes. Animals and small children are drawn to me. I don’t know why and, at times, it can be mildly irritating at barbecues when I’m sat surrounded by all the kids and dogs and the rest of the grownups are enjoying the quiet that I’ve furnished them with by, effectively, being a bit like the pied piper in terms of leading the noisy ones to the other end of the garden and larking about with them. I say it can be mildly irritating, but I think I probably quite like it. I’ve always thought that if dogs think you’re alright, that goes a long way. I appreciate that that’s bollocks, because even if you’re some sort of murderer rapist – possibly with a large collection of ‘Arms and Ammo’ magazine at home – your dog’s always pleased to see you, so dogs might not be the best judges of character. Nor cats – for the opposite reason – although they’re unstereotypically drawn to my tractor beam as well. Perhaps it’s just the smell. Let’s not rule it out, eh?
And that element of Saint Francis of Assisi that I’ve inherited from someone, somewhere down the line makes most days a bit easier, what with most kids gravitating towards me. Perhaps it’s because I’m still relatively infantile. I don’t know. Like I say, I can’t do anything about it. Not all kids, obviously. Not all animals either, but a high enough proportion to make my life a bit more pleasant than it otherwise might be.
Anyway, I think having to go to work five days a week – and then working Friday and Saturday night at the pictures – probably put me in a bit of a bad mood. An intolerant mood, perhaps. Working that much meant that I couldn’t go and see Sharon and, while absence theoretically makes the heart grow fonder in practice, I found the opposite to be true. I say the opposite, but having said that, I’m not convinced what the antonym of ‘fonder’ is. ‘Less fond’? I’ll look it up. There are a few possibilities, all of which seem about right, especially ‘indifferent’. Indifferent is exactly how I felt. Nothing had changed particularly, with the possible exception of my outlook. I didn’t really see the point of going out with her anymore.
For starters, as we lived in different cities, we didn’t actually ‘go out’ at all. Even when we saw each other, my self-imposed sexual abstinence – which I also imposed on her, somewhat selfishly – took something else away from a supposedly adult relationship, even though I might not have counted as an adult, at least emotionally and mentally. She kept sending me money that I didn’t want. Not that I sent it back, of course; I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, especially as I was, really.
So, we never really saw each other and on the rare occasions that we did, I was busy being a clever twat. Sharon did all the heavy lifting and I was just a dick. I really don’t know why she bothered. Well, I do: she mistakenly thought I was great and deserved to be admired.
As winter slithered onwards, I mentally broke up with her. When I say, ‘mentally’, what I mean is: in my head, as far as I was concerned, it was all over. I just didn’t tell her, because… well, there were a few reasons, but they were all a load of bollocks tarted up a bit in my brain so that I could procrastinate and hope she just worked it out and we never spoke of it again. My reasons, which I tried without success to convince myself were somehow noble and chivalrous were, of course, nothing of the sort. As we never really saw each other in the flesh anymore – and not at all as far as literally looking at one another’s flesh went – I didn’t want to dump her on the phone because that was bad. This was before mobile phones, so I didn’t even have the option of dumping by text, which I also probably wouldn’t have done for the same reason. I didn’t want to dump her by letter for the same reason – I wrote a lot of letters in those days.
From time to time, I would consider dumping her on the phone, but even then I didn’t know how to do it. There was nothing wrong with Sharon. She did nothing wrong. She was kind, considerate, generous, tolerant – all the things, especially the last one, that make some human beings good people. What was I supposed to say? I just couldn’t be arsed with it anymore? That was the truth.
Whilst she was pretty faultless, her affability might have also been a bit of the problem as well. If you get on with everybody – and she did, no wonder – that means you’re not upsetting anybody. I don’t think ‘upsetting people’ is a good thing, but if you’ve never said anything that has rubbed someone up the wrong way, I think you might be playing it a bit safe with your opinions. Not that the opposite’s any better. What I’m struggling to express is that Sharon, lovely as she was, was a bit of a dullard. We never had a row about anything because she just went along with whatever bollocks I came up with and she did it happily. At least she appeared to.
As I said about the chastity I decided to inflict on us both for no real reason – I strongly suspect that I was just pushing it to see how far it would go. And what I found was that I could have pushed it anywhere I felt like and she’d have gone along with it.
I can’t go out with someone like that.
I don’t mean I’m looking for blazing rows every minute of the day, but I don’t want agreeing with about everything. I appreciate that some people want that – I work with some of them – but I don’t. I can’t think of anything worse than blind, well, worship I suppose you might call it. I know I’m a twat – at least some of the time – and if I’m going to improve – which is what I want to do – I’m going to need telling. And doormats don’t tell anybody anything, however lovely they are.
And that’s what I wasn’t getting. Told. Obviously, there’s a limit, but that’s like most things in life, isn’t it? If there’s no food to eat, you’re going to die because of it. If you eat too much food, you’re going to die because of it. Most things require a bit of balance, don’t they? I’m not one of those people who think that the answer to everything is compromise, because I don’t. If there’s a canyon and one person wants a bridge across it and the other one doesn’t, building half a bridge is a waste of time. Compromising on comprising, eh? Pfff.
Sharon was much too kind to ever tell me that I was being a dick and at least part of the joy of going out with someone else is that you get a bit of perspective on yourself and you can sort yourself out a bit – if you feel like it.
I don’t know if you feel like that – maybe you don’t need any perspective on yourself. Maybe you don’t need someone to tell you when you’re being a dick. Maybe you’re never a dick. But I am, and I want telling.
I started ignoring the phone so I wouldn’t have to sit on the stairs listening to Sharon telling me how great I was and trying to think of something to say to someone who pretty much just agreed with everything I said.
I spoke to my housemates about it because Dave was living in Gloucester with his girlfriend. Ploggy and Balf weren’t the ideal people to ask for advice about relationships because they were never in one. Having said that, they had more about themselves than I had because they said that I needed to tell Sharon how I felt, instead of ignoring the phone and being a dick about it.
I don’t automatically accept what I’ve been told, telling being what I’m looking for, remember, but I do give it thought. And what I thought was that they were right.
Next time the phone rang, Balf answered it and told Sharon that I was in and I would be coming to the phone, even as I silently gesticulated that I wasn’t and I wouldn’t. This was on the 23rd of December 1995. I know the date because I’d just got back from my folks’ house, wishing my old man a happy birthday.
I decided to get on with it. I told her that I couldn’t do it anymore. It was too far and too much. That was the best I could come up with and it was a bit shit.
She asked me what I meant and I told her I was breaking up with her. She started to cry. I told her it wasn’t her fault, it was being so far away so much and never seeing each other and all that. I didn’t want to upset her, but I wasn’t doing very well.
She announced that, that being the case, she would resign from her management course at the Odeon and move back to Hull. I told her that it wouldn’t make any difference. She expressed confusion – reasonably, given my reasons for breaking up.
I told her that, had she not moved away, we’d probably have broken up sooner.
She asked if we could talk about this another time. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to drag it out. Ideally, I didn’t want to speak to her at all, but as I was, this would be the last time. I didn’t like it and I wasn’t proud of myself.
She asked again to discuss it later. I asked what the point of that would be.
She said it was awkward at the moment because she was sat in her mother’s living room, surrounded by her entire extended family who’d arrived there for Christmas.
I felt worse, but not to the extent I was actually going to do anything about it. I told her I was sorry and I hoped she’d be alright. I nearly suggested that being around a supportive family when I dumped her might have been a good thing as they could all tell her what a tit I was and how much better off she’d be without me, but even my tiny mind decided against airing that particular chestnut down the phone line. She hung up.
It wasn’t quite the last I heard from her though. In the week between Christmas and New Year, nobody can have been at home when the postman knocked because I found a “We missed you…” card from the post office telling me to go and collect a parcel that was too big to go through our letterbox. The post office collection point was about five miles away and I walked there the next day to pick up my package.
It was an A4 jiffy bag that contained a VHS of ‘Snoopy Come Home’ and every last thing I’d left in her flat, including toothbrushes, lighters, fag papers, used bus tickets… You name it, she’d shoved it into a bag and sent me it. I knew what it meant. It meant she was physically clearing all signs of Middlerabbit’s existence from her home, in order to mentally do the same. Fair dos, eh? I didn’t blame her. Snoopy Come Home was my Christmas present, as we’d talked about the first films we saw at the pictures at some point previously.
And so it was at Desmond Avenue that Sharon became known as ‘Poor Sharon’, because she was lovely and I was a twat.
I don’t regret breaking up with her, because it was never going to work out between us. I regret being a twat about not answering the phone; being a twat when I did answer the phone; being a twat about refusing to have sex with her; being a twat about accepting her bed while she slept on the floor; being a twat accepting her money when I really shouldn’t have and being the sort of twat who can’t cope with a diet of something approaching adulation.
I’d put girls on pedestals before, I had no idea what it was like to be up there. I assumed it would be good. I thought they’d like it, but they tended not to, so I knocked it on the head and things improved with them.
Then, going out with Sharon, I found out what it was like up there. I didn’t like it. Maybe some people do. Maybe some people want that, but they must either be brilliant, faultless people, or twats who lack self-awareness. Maybe even more than I do, which would be surprising.