When I set out to attend St Thomas’s School of Pain, I had every intention of writing a weekly blog post, sharing the ins and outs and, most importantly, any amusing moments here. I even knew what they were to be called – First Term at St Thomas’s, Second Form at St Thomas’s, In The Third at St Thomas’s and Last Term at St Thomas’s. I suppose I may yet get to that last one, as it’s only week three now. However, when I set out to attend said School of Pain, I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for. Sure, I said ‘oh it’s going to be tough’ and ‘I might keep a diary as I go’ but in all honesty, I had not the slightest beginning of a clue. Even after the first day, curled up in my room in a hospital flat with my bottle of ginger beer, I didn’t have any grasp of what lay ahead.
What I’m now going to do is probably both cruel and frustrating to you, dear reader; I’m not going to tell you about it. This course is not about getting rid of the pain I’m in, or even reducing it. It’s not, as I had thought, about different techniques to soothe the pain or to control it. Rather, what I have to try to get my head around – and to be honest I think it will take a little while yet – is that I suffer from chronic pain, and that it is incurable and will most likely be with me for life. Assuming I’m fortunate enough to live to say, 80, I over have twice the years I have currently lived still ahead of me, and for all fifty two of those years I will mostly likely be in pain. The goal of this course is to teach us is to accept the pain, and help us live a full and fulfilling life as independently as possible with that pain. We were warned that the approach taken may feel “proddy and poky” at times, but I had no idea quite how painful that prodding and poking would become. It’s less proddy and poky in a “you’ve got a bit of a belly” type of poke, and more in a “here’s a really tight, painful knot in your back that this super-duper deep tissue sports massage is going to knead out. And here’s another. And another. And another…” until you are tender as a ripe peach and feeling as bruised as an apple juggled by a fool with poor hand-eye coordination. Nerves have been hit again and again – mostly figuratively – and as such I feel tender, tired, vulnerable and raw, and I have little to no desire to share that. Ultimately, what I’ve been thinking, confronting, feeling, and coaxing out from under the emotional rug in the last two weeks is so very personal that I have little inclination to talk it through with close friends or family, much less write about it here for the titillation of the World Wide Web.
That said, all is not lost dear reader[i]. There are some things that have happened in the last couple of weeks that I can share and which will hopefully provide some degree of amusement to your good self (and in at least one person’s case, your good father’s self to boot.) Some of these Things are related to St Thomas’s – it’s not going to be kept a complete mystery forevermore – but for (my) sanity’s sake I’m going to save those up for another time, possibly when I haven’t had a tearful day in ‘class’ with two more to go this week alone – I am starting to think I should have taken out shares in Kleenex. Instead, for this post, I present to you the dramatic last episode[ii] in the current series,
Tinder Tales: The Downfall of Mr #6
Having met Mr #6 one weekend afternoon for a lovely, cultural first date involving the National Gallery and plenty of chatter about art and especially about literature, I was quite eagerly anticipating Date 2. The fact that he proved himself a more than adequate kisser at the end of Date 1 also boded well. I slightly misjudged my walk to the pub where we were to meet, but wasn’t more than five or so minutes late, and to my joy arrived to see him waiting with two glasses of red, and thankfully not both for him. Not that I keep score, but wine waiting on arrival is a good way of acquiring brownie points. Sadly things swiftly tumbled downhill from there. Table acquired, we began chatting. I feel should have a disclaimer or some such here to highlight that while I don’t expect all readers of this blog to agree with my political views, such as they are, your side of the bargain is to accept my political views and acknowledge that if you don’t like what I have to say, you’re probably reading the wrong post, if not the wrong blog.
Ensconced at a table for two, our introductory chat covered a cheerful array of subjects from work to chronic pain, as well as a more literary twist as he was carrying a copy of Charles Webb’s novella The Graduate, the book which brought to the world Mrs. Robinson – and if you’re not humming the Simon and Garfunkel tune now, shame on you. I can’t remember precisely how we got onto the subject, but somehow our conversation ended up venturing towards the dangerous waters of Politics. At the outset however, while I know this is considered an infamously poor choice of conversation topic for dinner parties, I wasn’t too worried. In fact, I was engaged and excited, and though that balloon was soon to be popped, it started its life happily inflated; we both studied politics as part of joint honours courses at university – and had both graduated, so on paper at least didn’t suck entirely when it came to understanding at least some elements of the elephantine subject. We had agreed on other, non-political things so far and during our last date I had come to fairly quickly respect his views on art and literature, even if I didn’t agree on all of them. Incidentally, around the time our conversation took its political turn, I also remember thinking how cute and romantic the couple two tables over from us were, curled up together and scattering affectionate kisses and hand-strokes throughout their little tête-à-tête. The relevance of that small, inadvertent observation shall later become clear.
The start of the conversational rapids was fun in a mild-mannered, gentle way, and suggestive of an exhilarating course ahead. Slowly however, I started to become aware that the waters of the colloquy were in fact far murkier than I had anticipated. Murky and, you know, racist. And sexist. And homophobic.
As I have shared previously, one lesson learned from a previous Tinder Tales date (#2? #3? I forget) was that “You don’t have very long fingernails,” isn’t a great statement to make on a date, even if you attempt to prompt a response from your short-talonned companion by adding “do you?” after a hesitation that would have Nicholas Parsons taking the subject off you to pass to Gyles Brandreth[iii]. To build on that lesson, Tinder Tale #6 teaches us that something to add to the list of Things Not To Say On A Date – at least a date with me – is,
“I voted UKIP. Twice.”
Now, I am not quite naïve enough to assume that I shall end up one day happily settled down with a person who shares every iota of my political viewpoint (not least because I don’t know my own opinions to a level of detail such that I could check), I would at least like to find myself with someone whose political opinions I can respect. And this isn’t as hard as some may think it should be – ‘respect has to be earned’ – because my respect tends to be something a person has by default, in virtue of their being human. That person has to actively do something in order to lose my respect. I shan’t be so cruel as to scar you with every detail of the conversation that followed, but suffice it to say that if you ever try to seriously explain to me not only why the borders of our country should be closed, but how immigration should be “reversed” by sending home people who aren’t British, I may start to struggle to maintain my respect of your political opinions. If you go on to explain how second generation immigrants, whom, if I am to offer a sweeping statement, I take to be as British as myself, should be sent back to “their home country”, I will struggle still harder, and may also begin to call into question your judgment in general. Though to be fair, we would agree that they should live in their home country, just disagree rather strongly on which country that is – and to my mind, I would be 100% right in saying that country is Britain.
Things that will continue to aid you in your quest to lost my respect include then explaining how thousands of years of English heritage grant one a greater right to reside on British soil than those who also live, and have only ever lived, in this country and whose parents travelled here decades ago – especially if you cannot trace your own lineage back despite declaring yourself to be one of those with thousands of years of English heritage. How would your Britain-residing ancestry, claimed to be ‘pure’ over thousands of years, be affected if you were to discover that your grandfather or great grandfather lived the entirety of his life in The British Raj? You also could also strengthen your case for loss of respect by using the words ‘English’ and ‘British’ interchangeably – or does your English heritage grant you a right to live on Scottish or Welsh soil? Are inhabitants of the United Kingdom to consider ourselves interchangeable (as to be (un)fair often seems the case when, for example, Andy Murray, the Brit, wins a tennis match while Andy Murray the Scot loses a match) or are English, Scottish and Welsh forced to be eternally separated by invisible borders; daffodils, roses and thistles segregated in their separate flowerbeds, while the poor Northern Irish are beyond the reaches of even a friendly cross-border wave, separated as they are by that all-too aquatic barrier, The North Channel?[iv]
I digress. Let’s imagine for just one moment that you fear (erroneously) that your views on the importance geographic ancestry and its associated rights aren’t doing the job when it comes to eroding my respect for your political opinions. Why not try another tack; sexism. Raising this topic of conversation is to conversation with Emily as waving a red flag would be to a bull – especially if that bull had a metaphorical soapbox and a history of using it. So things you could say to help your respect-reducing efforts do indeed include suggesting that heterosexual relationships where women earn more money than men are doomed to failure.[v] But if you really want to put your all in and do your damnedest to lose my respect as quickly as possible, I can tell you that there is one simple sentence that will do the trick and do it most succinctly, as it drops down into the chasm opening between us like a tonne of bricks thrown into a river with concrete shoes and an anchor for a necklace;
“Feminism is a trade union for fat chicks.”
But what, I hear you cry, if casual racism just isn’t your cup of tea, or sexist undertones, overtones, and steamrollerthroughthemiddle tones just don’t hit quite dickish note you desire? Never fear; there is one more thing you can try: homophobia. Now, remember the cute couple across from us? Well, what will make this all the more potent is if that adorable canoodling couple are both women. To avoid traumatising you with too much detail, I shall cut to the chase. One efficient way to finish your pitch for my incredulous repulsion is to exclusively refer to gay marriage in a derisive tone of voice while using air quotes. Alternatively, the words “gay adoption is abhorrent” will do the trick even more effectively. Or, just to be safe, do both.
Needless to say, despite interesting opinions on literature and an impressive knowledge of art history and how to make it interesting to his companion on a first date, there shan’t be a date 3. I can only hope that the couple across from us heard either none, or all of the conversation held that evening; at least if they heard all of it, they would know quite what a bigoted idiot he was.
When I explained that I didn’t think a third date would work, he was surprised and disappointed in my decision, but stated that morals were important to him (and from my perspective a very strange set of morals they are too) and he was respectful that it was my choice to make. So kind of him not to try to date me by force. He also sent a final text stating,
“Never known a straight person so committed to gay ‘marriage’!”
And that, dear reader, was two inverted commas too far. End of conversation. Number: deleted.
[i] It’s not obvious I’ve been reading Jane Eyre, is it dear reader? No, I thought not.
[ii] There may yet be an epilogue, but if it comes into existence it will be in another post. Not this one. Yes, I am being lazy.
[iii] Or Paul Merton. Or Susan Calman. Or one of the many other contestants of Just A Minute. If you’ve not heard it before, you’re missing out (currently on BBC Radio4, 6.30pm on a Monday. Go, now, and download.) And if you want to be absolutely blown away, then first try talking for sixty seconds on the subject of ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Once you’ve most likely failed at this, then listen to David Tennant’s first go on his first appearance on the show, and prepare to be amazed.
[iv] Yes, that is indeed a rhetorical, not to mention wordy and long-winded question.
[v] Incidentally, the expansion of this idea on our date seemed to me to be more offensive to the male gender in its suggestion that male egos are quite so fragile. If you read this Mr #6, then I invite you to contemplate whether this is simply a reflection of your own fragility you are mapping onto your gender to avoid any sense of individual ownership?