Friday, 29 July 2011

The Burden of Pain

A friend of mine (Hi A.M.!) emailed me today to advise me of a mishap involving her finger, a canine mouth, and the visceral introduction of doggy teeth to human digit. I don't think she was overly impressed at my somewhat ambiguous response to her malady, but as the ijury was described, it didn't meet the very exacting standards by which I, and indeed I believe, all men measure injury and pain.

I assumed her finger was ok, what with her saying her finger was, well, for the most part, ok. Anything that doesn't need stitches is classed as ok in my world. Actually, anything needing less than 20 stitches counts as ok. 20-40 stitches classes as vaguely interesting, as long as it's going to leave a cool scar (chicks dig scars, or so we are told), anything 40-80 stitches merits mild concern, anything 81 and over are classed as worthy of special mention. 
There are of course, exceptions, no matter how small the stitched area, were the need for the stitches was caused by blade or bullet, then that makes them noteworthy.  Similarly, if it's a guy talking about how he rescued a hot chick, then even if it's one stitch, it's of noteworthy magnitude, if the chick wasn't hot, then it has to be 25 stitches or more.  If she was downright hideous then the benchmark is 50 or more.  If the stitches were caused by saving a politician, then no amount are deemed acceptable, indeed, the mere act of saving a politician merits the affliction of additional wounds causing even more stitches.
If any of the stitches are within 14.728" of the scrotal area, then anything over 2 stitches makes you a god.  Anything actually on the immediate environs of the clackersack or skinflute, unless caused by some kind of STD, elevates you to Supergod status. Unless you were dumb enough to get that thing pierced voluntarily. What's the deal with that, never once have I had the urge to get 'Mr Party Time' out, slap it on the counter and say "drive a nail through that bad boy for me".  I did have a mate who had an ampalang piercing. It was grim.  If you don't know what an ampallang piercing looks like, I have simulated one using a picture I conveniently found of a sausage and two eggs. Never let it be said I have too much time on my hands.  Well, ok, let it be said, because it's true. Anyway... As an aside, the aforementioned friend once drunkenly told me that if he was 'relaxing in the gentleman's way' (i.e., twanging the one-string bass, bashing the bishop, tearing the head off it, saluting the general, etc etc), if he took the bar out, and put his finger over the normal aperture, when he got to the vinegar strokes, it would come shooting out of the sides.  But enough about that, back on to the whole pain thing. 
Additionally, men have the oft forgotten burden of having to conform to the 'Indiana Jones Corollary' which means we are prohibited from exhibiting any outward signs of pain, no matter how punishing the physical stress being experienced, however, should a girl subsequently tend our wounds, we are obliged to wince at the merest dab of ointment.  The magnitude of the wince is directly proportional to the hotness of the girl providing the treatment:
5.  Absolute Boiler: Permitted: low pitched grunt or growl. Recommended: Anything heavily laced with expletives, ideally "Jesus f**king Christ, what the f**k are you f**king doing to me you f**king sadist!" 
4.  Acceptable after 10 beers: Permitted: Yelping, or the aforementioned growl. Recommended: A lesser degree of expletives, not quite as directly phrased, such as "Holy f**k, that stings like a b*tch"
3.  Acceptable after 5 beers: Permitted: a breathy "aaaahhhhhhhh".  Recommended: Mild cursing, along the lines of "Sh*t, that b**tard stings... I'm going to suffer in the morning."
2. No beers required, Decent in all categories:  Permitted: A sharp intake of breath followed by a twitch of the afflicted area. Recommended: Giving her a steely stare as she tends you, so you can reinforce how tough and manly you are.
1. Absolute stunner: Permitted: A soft intake of breath, but no twitching. Recommended: Occasionally looking into her eyes, as long as you are sure she is looking into yours. Mandatory: using your undamaged (or least damaged) hand to hold her wrist as she dabs some TCP onto a wound, thus facilitating eye contact, then pulling her toward you. Always prohibited: Everything else mentioned for classifications 5-2 above. 
Of course, there is one other classification of injury which, when included to the mix, only serves muddy the waters further, I refer of course, to the specific kind of fingular (which I know isn't actually a word, so don't go all 'Daily Mail' on me!) mayhem caused by guitar strings. Any pain, discomfort or even mild annoyance caused in the creation of music (particularly that of a rocktacular variety. such as that unleashed by bands of almost mythical stature and legendary ability, not that I'd want to mention The Portraits by name, for we they are far too humble to fully agree with our their deification, although of course it would be rude of us them to disagree) requires a specific type of salvation.  In the interests of completeness, I will explain how, just in case you happen to be in the environs of a rock star (like, say, Bonio) or even, a rock Superstar (such as the bass player from The Portraits, who is not only handsome and intelligent, he helps old people change car tyres, is good to his mother, and has a libido which, if it could be tapped into the grid, would power several European countries.  I mean, just small ones, Belgium, Portugal, Britain, maybe Italy at a push. Unless the girl is mega hot, in which case France, Germany and Russia would also be included.  Now, where was I....)

Ah yes, if you are a lady lucky enough to be in the presence of a rock behemoth who needs some TLC, there is of course a strict protocol to be followed.  Firstly, you must quickly ascertain the source and severity of his malady.  Then, regardless of what the reason is, you must divest yourself of your upper garments, for such articles as shirts, blouses, t-shirts and of course, the villainous brasierre can cause a dangerous build up of static in the lady, and an even more deadly build up of frustration for your rock star.  Bear in mind, should the rock star experience a libido build up of to massive a proportion, bad things happen.  Everyone thinks it was the Chixulub meteor impact which wiped out the dinosaurs, but no, it was an unmonitored build-up of sexual frustration from a well known rock star, which became so massive that it gained sentience, invented a time machine, and travelled back in time to blow itself up, which ended the dinosaurs, which in turn, gave rise to the age of the mammal, and of course ultimately, mankind. Once you are safely topless, you can then undertake a thorough physical examination of your rock star, bearing in mind that this may involve some very detailed work, some of which will require further nudity on your part, and if the situation is critical (if you are wondering when it would be critical - the situation will always be critical) you may be called upon to undertake such actions as may be required to cause your rock star to increase his heart rate and core temperature, raising his level of cardiovascular activity and relieving him of stress. And other things. After you are sure the rock star has been taken care of, it may be an idea to cook him a nice meal, after all, he will have to keep his strength up!

This has been a public service announcement on behalf of The Portraits.  Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Stuart 401 - The Wilderness Years

It's been a few days since I meandered down memory lane, so I think it's about time we went back to what was, upon reflection, one of the darker periods of my life. It's a period that I think a lot of people can relate to, though, I'm not the first guy to go through some bad spells, mostly caused by a woman, and I dare say I won't be the last!

So, where did I leave off.  I alluded, in my last memoir entry that meeting my ex-wife started off well, but then went downhill.  It started off positively, as all relationships do.  It was a bit of an odd one though, the night I met her, I wasn't where I was to actually meet her, if that makes sense! It probably doesn't, but I am going to explain, so settle back, get a coffee (or a beer, or glass of wine) and get ready for the story.

When I was younger, I was a fairly prolific pen-pal.  It started when I was at high school, when I signed up (via my German class) to a foundation called Youth International, and I was given a German pen pal (called Sandra Dollar, as I remember, although I can't remember where in Germany she lived - we wrote to each other sporadically for a few years, but, as is my wont, I tended to leave longer and longer gaps between my replies, before just stopping altogether) which prompted me to sign up for other pen pals.  One of the hard rock/heavy metal magazines of the time (the sadly missed Raw) had a section where you could sign up for pen-pals free.  Bear in mind, that this was before the explosion of the WWW, white mail was still the principle form of communication. Anyway, one of the pen pals I started writing too was called Wendy, and she lived in deepest, darkest Ayrshire.  After writing back and forth for a while, plans were made for a meeting, so with my best friend Ian in tow for support, we made the journey from Fife to Ayrshire in my trusty (who am I kidding, it was a wreck!) old Ford Escort.  We got there eventually, and I'm not going to lie, the night started badly. Firstly when Wendy answered the door, I didn't recognise her (the door opened, this sight loomed large, and I put on my most charming smile and politely enquired "Hi, is Wendy there?" only to be told "I am Wendy...". I rescued it though, "Cool, you are in then", followed by what I hoped was another winning smile!), then to add injury to insult, as I sat down to the repast which she had prepared (and was truly awful), the chair I picked promptly collapsed under me, and I wound up falling on the dog. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening. We eventually wound up making our way into town, where Ian proceeded to get merrily rat arsed (leading to an encounter which has entered into our own particular folklore - Ian had disappeared, and I needed to have a slash, I walked into the gents in the pub to find Ian hunched over a sink. "I'm not being sick" he said, just as the guy who was standing at the urinal said "Aye, that's right pal, get it out, you'll feel better for it!"), and I proceeded to largely ignore Wendy all night (mostly because she was just an awful person, she had the charisma of a fart in an elevator) and concentrated on her cousin.  Had I known what the future was to hold, I'd have legged it there and then and walked back to Fife if I'd had to!

Shona and I started chatting, first on the phone, and then I agreed to make a return trip to Ayrshire, on my own this time, to spend the weekend down there, something which was to become a recurring feature for the next wee while.  Initially, it was all good - we only saw each other 2 days, so it was hard for it to be anything other than fun. I'm skipping over many of the unimportant details, but eventually I wound up buying a house, and we moved in together.  Almost immediately the slow, but terminal decline started. She didn't like my friends, so I hardly saw them. I had to spend time with her friends, but that deal didn't go both ways. To start with, she didn't work, but despite her doing pretty much nothing all day, I still made dinner when I got home from work (which actually worked out ok, sadly she had inherited her mother's cooking skills - that is to say, she had absolutely none), I did the housework whilst she, basically took up space.

Eventually, she wound up decreeing that we were getting married.  Why did she do that? Well, I bought myself a new PC. Her logic was that I got something I wanted, she decided she wanted a wedding, I wasn't really given much more than a fait accompli. It's probably telling that as I found myself standing at the top of the aisle (sorry, geek alert, but technically, the aisle isn't an aisle. If you look at the image to the right - the shaded areas are the aisles, the central walkway is.. well, the central walkway!  I'm here to educate as well as entertain!) I knew that it wouldn't work.  And so it came to pass.  By then, I had a reasonably senior job with British Aerospace (technically they were called BAE Systems, but they are better known as British Aerospace), which meant I was the senior buyer for a fairly large project which dealt with helicopter defensive systems.  One of the side effects of this was that I needed to work away from home.  A lot.  A typical week for me saw me in the Edinburgh office where I was based on the Monday, Tuesday to Thursday (inclusive) I'd be in the London office, Fridays I could be in either office.  On top of that I had to take regular trips elsewhere, including the US and Canada. Shona, my ex, used this time to conduct a series of illicit affairs.  By that time, the internet was in full swing, and my ex used it prodigiously to, it would appear, sleep with as many of the male members of the British population as she possibly could.

I found out about her infidelity by accident. I was able to conclude some meetings early, so I was able to switch my flights and get back a day earlier.  I got home, came in, and she was on the phone in the bedroom, talking to her sister about whatever guy she was banging at the time, totally oblivious to the fact that I'd entered. She seemed to be proud of the fact that I was unaware of her infidelity.  Needless to say she was somewhat perturbed to turn round and find me standing there.  Not long after, during my next trip out of the country on business, she departed.  That was the best part of 10 years ago now, and since that day, I have seen her once (she came back a few weeks later to pick up the last remaining things she wanted ). I have no desire to see her again, nor do I ever really think about her any more, beyond when I'm recounting my past for someone, or writing things like these.

Since then, my love life, and my work life, have seen ups and downs.  I wound up leaving BAE, which was a mistake, and taking a job with a company called Havelock, which was a bigger mistake.  I was employed to create a new sub-contract procurement department, but to say it didn't go well, is something of an understatement, so within 3 months I was handing back my company car and taking a job with a local ice hockey club, which was initially hugely enjoyable, but the good times there came to a shuddering halt when the league the team played in collapsed.  I stuck it out for another year, as the team went fully amateur, but I quickly discovered that no one wants to invest in an amateur team, so after a season which saw success on the ice matched by failure off the ice in the commercial department (which was me) the owners knew I wasn't the man for the job, I knew I wasn't the man for the job, so we parted company.

By then I was involved with an American girl, who was nothing like my ex, which was the attraction I think.  Sadly, however, when she got a student visa to come and live here, it was pretty clear that there were issues on both sides - she was way more controlling than I was used to (she would get stroppy if things weren't done her way, if I wasn't doing what she wanted, when she wanted it - she's since realised that herself, and is not anywhere near as bad now), whilst I just wasn't ready for another 'proper' relationship.  By this point, it was about 3 years or more since my ex wife and I split, and since then I'd gotten used to living on my own, so when Michelle came to live with me, I found myself being very... withdrawn, I think would be the most suitable term.  One of Michelle's constant accusations was that I was emotionally unavailable.  If I'm being honest, I probably was. The issues stored up in my head from the disintegration of my marriage rose from the murky depths, and ultimately, we split up.  Michelle moved back to the US, and we had at best sporadic contact for the next 18 months.  Slowly however, we sort of gravitated back into each other's lives, and more or less by default, got involved with each other again.  Then, Michelle, who was previously overweight, got gastriobaric surgery, lost a ton of weight, looked awesome, and then met someone else.  The distance between us (in terms of geography) became more and more of an issue, as she got more and more attention back home.

I think that makes a logical point to stop for the evening. So, I hope you have enjoyed this sojurn into the ups and downs of my recent history, at least as far as my love life goes!  Next time, we'll bring it up to date with what I've been up to over the past few short years.  It shouldn't take long.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

We Interrupt This Programme...

If you are wondering what has happened to my life story, fear not, it will be back very very soon.  I was going to unleash the next section tonight, but a) I've not written it yet (I write these things on the fly, I don't have a pre-prepared article to post, it's all raw gold, people) and b) I need to rant.

I don't rant often (who am I kidding, I do it all the time), but when I do, there tends to be a fairly robust amount of swearing.  I can't help it, when I become indignant or enraged, I become a bubbling mass of profanity.

So, picture the scene.  I've been out in Dunfermline, making my weekly trip to take mother shopping.  As I was leaving, I drove out of the village, turned the corner and about 50 yards down the road, was a broken down car.  There was an elderly gentleman standing at the side of it, so I naturally stopped, asked if everything was ok - it was clear from 50 yards away that the old guy was in a bit of pain (unrelated to the current situation it turned out), and it transpired that his wife, also elderly, had been driving as the old guy had hurt his back and was under doctors orders not to drive.  Anyway, long story short, his wife had hit a curb in a fairly percussive fashion, and had blown the tyre out. I had a look, and right enough, there was a big gash in the type, and it was painfully obvious that the old guy was never going to get it changed.  So, again, not even thinking about it, I asked him if he had a spare, which he did,so I set about changing his tyre for him.  As I was busying away, we got to chatting, I'd assumed that he'd only just broken down.  But no, it turned out that he had been there for "oh, at least half an hour".

Now, this is not what could be called a quiet stretch of road. In the 10-15 minutes it took me to change the type, at least a dozen cars or more passed me, and I started to get more and more pissed off, not at the old guy, but at everyone else.  I'm not looking for anyone to tell me how good a person I am for helping the couple, I'm really not, I don't consider myself a good guy.  If I'm being honest, I'm probably a bit of a dick (I could list all the reasons why, but we'd be here a while), I didn't do it because I'm a good guy, I did it because it just would never cross my mind not to. In this kind of scenario, my thought process is:

1.  Does this guy need help?
2.  Can I help?
3.  Help the guy.

What pissed me off is that there must have been dozens of people who drove past in the 30 or so minutes that this poor old couple were stuck, surely the law of averages states that at least one of them would have the physical and mental ability to offer help.  Changing a tyre is not a tricky thing to do! I get why girls generally aren't keen/able to go it (although thinking about it, most of the girls I know who have cars probably would just roll their sleeves up and get on with it) - loosening the wheelnuts and jacking the car up does require a bit of grunt. But there is not one man I know who would not be able to change a tyre.

What kind of society are we breeding, where (lets be conservative) let's say 2 dozen people can drive past an elderly couple, clearly needing help, and have every single one of them choose (let's face it, it IS a choice) not to stop and at least check to see if there is something they need help with - even if they can't offer help, they could check that help's on it's way, they could offer to call someone for them.  But no, these guys were ignored for 30 minutes or so. on a day which had been punctuated by a number of thunderstorms.  Are we really now so craven a society where it doesn't even cross peoples mind that these old guys might need a hand?  Every single day, a little more of my faith in humanity is stripped away.  Today, I lost about a months worth.

At least some good came out of it, I got the chance to do a good deed, and yeah, know what, I felt pretty good about helping, the couple were more than grateful for the help, and my piece de resistance (spelled wrong, I know) came right at the end.  I got their wrecked tyre into the wheelwell of the car, got the jack back in, and the second I closed the boot, there came a loud peal of thunder.  Never before have I felt so manly. I pretty much had to stop myself turning and saying "The thunder god is pleased with this day, now bow before me, puny mortals!"

Seriously though, I fear there is going to be a day soon where I wake up, and find that I have no faith left in humanity.  I can see there being a news report on me not long after, which will end with the words "before turning the gun on himself".  If such a day comes, feel free to sell the story of how you knew me to the highest bidder.  Make stuff up!!

Anyway, normal service will soon be resumed.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Stuart 301 - The Wonder Years

Despite everything, I enjoyed my high school experience, certainly enough to sign on for the voluntary 6th year of high school.  To my eternal shame, I managed to fail Higher English the first time around, so I had to resit it (along with Chemistry, but I wasn't overly bothered about that, to be honest I re-sat it just to make up the minimum number of classes I had to take).  6th year was, if I'm being honest, pretty much irrelevant. I wasn't there 49% of the time.  Now, I know what you are thinking, you are tutting inside your head saying "what was the point of going back if you were going to play truant all the time".  Well, I have never once skipped school in my life. It turned out that when I took the classes I needed to either re-sit failed classes, or just take new ones for the heck of it, I filled 21 of the available 40 periods of class. Yes, I know that the 19 free periods I had is actually 47.5% of the time, not 49, but there will be no grading on this memoir. Thursdays, for example, were double Chemistry, single English and then... well, home. My classes for the day were done by first break.  I still don't know how I was able to get away with it.

But, like all good things, my reign of apathy at Queen Anne came to an end.  In time honoured fashion we congregated in the senior common room on our last day, having various pieces of furniture signed (bad luck to anyone who wanted to sit on a chair the day after we left school - I even think someone went home with the dart board), hanging out with our friends, promising each other that no matter what, when we left school we would absolutely stay in touch.  Then we left school and that was the last time any of us saw a fair proportion of each other! Take me, for example, probably an extreme example, but apart from my best friend (and fellow Portrait) Ian, I have not clapped eyes on any of my former classmates in 10 years or more. A couple of them are friends on FB (hi Bradders, Peggy, Weaver, Denise and Shaun!!), and there are tentative plans to meet up with Mark for a day's shooting at some point.  Who knows, maybe I'll wind up bumping into some more at some point!! I've not made a concerted effort to avoid anyone from school, it's just the path life has taken me.  I actually would quite like to meet up with some of the people from school I didn't hate (if you are on my FB page you can assume you are in that select group!).  Hopefully one day I will!  After I've lost more weight!!

So, glossing over a few bad decisions I made immediately after leaving school, it wasn't too long before I found myself thrust into the big bad world of employment.  My first stint was as a trainee HR administrator for Marconi Command and Control Systems (a company which, purely co-incidentally, no longer exists).  To say it was a bit of a culture shock, was something of an understatement.  Office politics was something I was at that point blissfully unaware of - that changed pretty damn quick!! I was the only guy (apart from the HR director, who had terrible halitosis and lived in his separate office) in an office full of women.  Sounds like fun? Yeah... not so much.  There were two clear factions - the HR Officer (although back in those times, HR was still called 'Personnel') and the training officer, versus the secretary, with the HR manager trying to keep out of it, mostly by shutting herself away in a meeting room.  Then of course, there was me. Stuck in the middle, sadly, not literally. Actually, there was one other male in the vague environs of the HR department.  There was an office which was more or less annexed into HR during a remodelling of the offices, which belonged to our legendary safety manager. Jim was indeed, a legend.  He came in one day saying "I'm sure I had something to do today..."  It turned out he was on holiday (and yes, I've done that too). He once dropped a car on his head, and fell down a hole holding something vaguely dangerous.  However, not long after I started (fresh of face, 17 years old, naive in the ways of the world, really) Jim, who was something of a letch had been caught looking at the secretary's admittedly ample bosom.  Just as I walked round the corner I was treated to the sight of once fairly animated secretary rip open her blouse to expose her breastal corsetry with an exclamation of "There you f**king go, have you had a good enough look now???".  I didn't know where to look (well, I did, but I didn't want to be obvious in case I was next in the firing line), Jim, I don't think ever moved as quickly before or since as he did that day when he bolted to his office.  The next day when I came in, the secretary had a bunch of flowers on her desk.  No prizes for guessing who sent those!

When my time as a trainee in HR ended, I was moved to QA, where I wound up doing a whole bunch of stuff, until my temporary contract came to an end and I found myself looking for a job.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have made a couple of contacts with agencies when I was in HR, and I wound up getting what turned out to be almost 5 years worth of continuous temporary work with an agency called Bordax (who, again purely co-incidentally don't exist any more).  It was during this time that I was able to accumulate a wealth of experience in a number of fairly diverse jobs.  Looking back, I am actually fairly glad that I had that period in my life, by the time I thought about settling down I'd managed to knock off most of my rougher edges and had started to develop into a much more rounded (although at that point, not round - that came later, sadly) and more driven person.  I'd acquired a lot of knowledge which had stood me in good stead in later years and in retrospect, wouldn't change this part of my life. I worked for defence companies (well, the Dockyard in Rosyth, where I think everyone in Fife has worked at some point or another), the oil industry (that opened my eyes!! That could be a whole chapter on it's own!), construction, each job gave me new skills and new ways of approaching obstacles in my path.

On the downside, it was during this phase in my life that I drifted away from many the friends I had from school, as I previously said, not intentional, just the way things happened.  I regret that part, although at the time, it didn't really cross my mind.  During the week I worked, at the weekend I went out usually with Ian and Shaun, we got drunk, tried to pull the ladies, mostly failed (some things never change, sadly!!), went to concerts, played squash, played pool, drank some more. The usual. Good times.

The good times of course, couldn't last forever, and before long, my life was about to change, initially for the better, or so I thought, but ultimately, for the much worse.  I was about to make the 3rd cardinal mistake of my life (and yes, I know I've not divulged what numbers 1 and 2 were, hey, I gotta keep some air of mystery about me).  I was about to meet the woman who was destined to become my ex wife.

If  crappy dramas in TV have taught me anything, it's that it is always best to leave your audience with a cliffhanger. So, with that in mind, tune in (probably) tomorrow for Stuart 401 - The Wilderness Years.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Stuart 201 - The Rise of the Libido

Hello again.  Last time I took you on a meandering path through my early childhood, so tonight we get hot and steamy with the sordid tales of my teenage years.  People of a nervous disposition should look away now...

My time at Townhill Primary came to it's logical conclusion, and my move from primary, to secondary education, courtesy of the teachers and fellow pupils of Queen Anne High School. It was like being ripped from the comfort zone which was the familiarity of primary, and thrust, wide eyed and restless into the shark pool of high school - at least that's how it seemed at the time. So indoctrinated were we of tales of never ending bullying and brutality, that we took to travelling in packs, the Townhill people in one pack, those from Commercial Primary in another, and so on for all the feeder schools which populated QAHS.  I remember bits of my first day, we were herded to the assembly hall, where we were given an introduction by, I think the rector, but can't be 100% sure, anyway, we had already been assigned houses and classes, and I found myself in class 1C2, in the house of Carnegie. We were rounded up by the person who would become our registration teacher (the name of mine escapes me, she was a woman, or so it was alleged) and like the proverbial lambs to the slaughter, out we trooped.  Still, the ties to our primary schools abounded over all else, and our troupe of reprobates still found itself factioned by primary school.  All old grudges or vendettas were instantly forgotten as you bound yourself with familiarity in the shape of people from your old primary. It would take a while for the barriers to come down, but slowly, they would.

I actually don't remember much of my first year at high school.  There was so much to take on, gone was the cosy environment you were used to, in it's place was a bewildering array of classes, rooms, teachers, protocols, we were shunted from pillar to post. Maths, English, Music, Languages (in my case German), Classics, History, Modern Studies, Geography, Chemistry, Biology and Physics.  Throw in the odd class here and there of SHE (Social and Health Education - I still don't know what the point of that was), Domestic Science (where I learned to bake an apple crumble), Technical Drawing (where I learned that even with a ruler, I could be trusted to draw a straight line), Woodwork and Metalwork (I still can't believe they let me loose with power tools), one class per week of Religious Education, and of course, gym.  Gym was a particular brand of misery for me, for the sports I enjoyed (and showed at least some degree of competence at) were those which weren't 'cool', in other words, I didn't like football. I didn't mind watching football, but unlike my father (who in his younger days was semi-professional) and my elder brother (who played for well known Junior teams), my footballing prowess was... well, non existent. I liked racquet sports (tennis particularly), I wasn't bad a cricket (I remember cracking someone's ribs with a well aimed full toss once), I had enough size on my side to be fairly reasonable at rugby, I was pretty good at hockey, but that was pretty much it.  Track and field bored me, my absolute lack of ability at basketball was matched only by lack of ability at football and at Queen Anne, basketball and football were the two dominant sports.   So, it came to pass that I was never one of the 'cool' kids, but I actually found that I was ok with that. I had some friends who were in the cool group, but I was always on the periphery, hanging around like a fart in an elevator.

The big changes in my life, however, were starting to manifest themselves outside of school. By the time the summer holidays at the end of first year had some and gone, and I was a world weary 2nd year (Still in C2, but now prefixed by the all important '2' - I wasn't one of the new kids on the block any more!) returning to school, I found myself paying more and more attention to the girls in my class, for lo, the interesting bumps they had betwixt their neck and navel were starting to demand attention.

There was a reason for this. For, during that summer, I became familiar with a rite of passage known to boys since time immemorial. Any gentlemen reading this will find themselves nodding sagely, with a wistful look on their face, as they too recount the first time they learned of the particular pleasure which can be found from 'relaxing in the gentleman's way'.  As there is no delicate way of describing this part of my life, I shall just barge on like a bull in a china shop.  Yes folks, you have guessed.  That summer, my left hand stopped being just the thing I wrote with, and became my self-contained portal into the world of shaking hands with the unemployed. Before long, it appeared that there was almost nothing on earth which was incapable of causing some degree of urge from the nether regions.  All of a sudden whoever it was who decided that 'Page 3' was a good idea was essentially worshipped.  It didn't take much to act as a starting gun for another bout of hand to gland combat. I'm pretty much convinced that my parents were on the verge of sending me to the hospital, I spent so long in the bathroom I suspect they were worried I had dysentery.  All of a sudden, school became an exercise in trying not to walk around all day with a semi, lest your school trousers (the fashion of the day demanded that they be fairly tight of leg and snug of groin) act as a sanding pad against the old soldier. What made it worse for me, was that my English teacher was the legendary Mrs Riddell. Mrs Riddell was, it was widely agreed, a looker. One of my memories from 2nd year English was overhearing some construction workers as they passed my classroom, ogling at teacher from outside, when one was heard to utter "she's a f**king stunner eh, she'd get it".  The classroom went silent, Mrs Riddell went scarlet and all the boys in the room I think crossed their legs as if controlled by some Pavlovian instinct, whilst all the girls narrowed their eyes and looked accusingly at whatever boy they had a crush on.   Being a competitive soul, even with myself, eventually I decided to see how many times in one day I could crack one off. I'm not going to lie, it hurt, but, in true Mastermind style, I'd started so I was going to finish.  By the time I did, my left arm was cramping, my heart was racing, my nether regions were howling in distress, but I had managed it.

I was still at high school (just) when I had my first proper encounter with an actual living, breathing girl, as opposed to the underwear section of the Kays catalogue.  I won't reveal the (un)lucky girl's actual name, let's call her Jemima, but she was my first real girlfriend, and my first physical encounter of the interesting kind.  We were both of the age where experimentation gets the better of you (although as it turned out, Jemima had been more experimental than I was - I wasn't the only one grateful for her existance!).  I remember the event with startling clarity, what was on the tape she put on (a mixture of Black Sabbath and AC/DC), the day of the week (it was a Saturday), although the actual date escapes me.  Anyway, we had been going out for what was essentially forever (i.e., more than a fortnight) and we had kissed, I'd given her boobs a few nervous fondles, and we were in her house, everyone else was out, we got to kissing and then she started to divest herself of clothing. Again, not going to lie, this actually confused me, I remember it being a warm day, but even so... Eventually, she took pity on me and more or less commanded that I too make my birthday suit the Mode de Jour.  She presciently ascertained that I'd never done this before (I'm not sure how, although I think the mixture of lust, confusion and blind panic in my eyes may have something to do with it) and so pushed my back on the bed and more or less just jumped on top of me.  I will be forever grateful that she did for, if I'm being honest, I wasn't really sure what the hell I was meant to be doing.  I'm sure if you ask any of my exes, they will say that not much has changed!! At least then I had the excuse of being 16 (as was she, so it was all legal!). Anyway, as it finally dawned on me that I was actually doing IT, twanging the one string bass suddenly became the second best thing I could do, and second by a long distance.  It was all I could do not to sing out loud.  I clearly remember afterwards wondering "ok, so what do I do now..." I wasn't sure if I asked for feedback, tips on how to do it better, did I ask her to give me a score, I was utterly ignorant of post coital protocol. I think I said something like "wwwuuuuuhhhh.. Uuuuuuhhhhhhh. Crikey. Phhhhhhhhhhhhh.. wow... ".  What can I say, I've always had a way with words.

Of course, I was now convinced that I was a ladykiller of the highest degree, second only to James Bond (and even then, only just second).  If only I knew that I was about to embark on what can only be called "a bit of a dry spell".

Tune in again tomorrow for part 3, where our hero completes high school, eventually gets a girlfriend and learns that consuming too much alcohol and vomiting all over your friend is, for some inexplicable reason, frowned upon!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Stuart 101 - The Early Years

I'm nowhere near famous. Certainly not famous enough to merit an autobiography, but that mere trifle hasn't stopped me thinking about making some kind of note of my life thus far. Why? I have no idea, but recently it has, for some unknown reason, seemed like a good idea. If nothing else, it will hopefully spark some happy memories for me, and will, I hope, be at least vaguely amusing.

Everything you are about to read is true, some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent (i.e., me, of course!). There may well be some gratuitous nudity at some point. You have been warned.

Where do I start. Well, I was born 2 months early, 2 months to the day, in fact.  I was yanked out on November 15 (which was a Wednesday and, as I was even then nice and considerate, I popped out at 4:30 in the afternoon - no reason to keep mum up all night really, was there!), when I wasn't due to make an appearance until Jan 15. I always have had a thing for being early, although as I get older, it seems harder and harder to remain punctual! Apparently when I was born, I could fit into a shoebox. Given that I was 2 months premature, I'd have been happier had the hospital shoved me in something a bit more appropriate than a shoebox, maybe, oooh, I don't know, an incubator, perhaps?

It's fair to say, I was something of a surprise.  My dad was 40 when I popped out, my mother 36, my brother 16.  Apparently, I was the result of a broken leg.  "How so??" I hear you cry.  Apparently, dad had broken his leg and couldn't jump off quickly enough, the result - one of his little swimmers struck the gynaecological equivalent of oil and after a couple of victory laps, hit the button marked 'Fertilise".  I'm reasonably certain that my mother thought I was trapped wind for the first few months.

Anyway, despite weighing only around 3lbs when I was presented to the world, and causing a bit of concern for the first couple of weeks, by mid January the nursing hospital decreed that I was well enough to go home.

So, my mum and dad loaded the 2 month old me carefully into the car (I never asked either what the make of car was, I really need to try and remember to ask my mum at some point), and left the hospital to take me back home to Townhill. All was good with the world. Of course, this being me, it couldn't happen the easy way, and so it came to pass that as mum and dad drove me home (I have a mental picture of them having glowing smiles and singing along to a Julie Andrews song for some bizarre reason), dad decided to go rally driving. By that, I mean hit a patch of black ice and flipped the car, which would up on it's roof, in a ditch.  My comments on this are sadly unrecorded for posterity, but as it meant a swift return to the nursing hospital, it's fair to say I was probably fairly pissed off.  As luck would have it, I appeared to have escaped major injury and after a couple of weeks of observation, operation 'Take Stuart Home, v2.0' was a success.

My recollections of the next few years are hazy at best, not going to lie.  So, to fill the space, I will mention a bit about my family.  My parents, Vi and Sandy were Fifers born and bred, but they had moved to Whitney in Oxfordshire to find work.  When mum was finally convinced that she wasn't just suffering from a massive bout of constipation and did actually have a small person growing inside her, she decreed that she was going home to Scotland to have the baby.  My mother, who I love dearly, is a fearsome beast when roused, and knowing my father, I think he'd have known better to put up any kind of resistance beyond a cursory "are you sure, dear?". When I was born, I had 3 living grandparents, my 'big gran' (my maternal grandmother) and my 'wee gran' (who was, apparently genuinely titchy, I don't think she quite made it to 5') and my 'di'.  My maternal grandfather died in the 50s, so I missed meeting him by a considerable margin. I had the usual assortment of uncles, aunts, cousins etc.

The halcyon days of my early childhood were spent in Wilson Street, Townhill, where my mother still resides. It's sometimes kinda strange, depending on my mood, being in my mum's house, if I'm feeling particularly introspective I will wander into what was my bedroom and think back.  I can remember most of the posters I had on the walls, I can remember all the various room configurations, how the room looked when my bed was against this wall, or that wall, where I kept my toys, little things like that. Any time I feel like that and I go in there, some of things which pop into my head are quite strange, for example, I remember Sundays as a kid being really quite depressing, but I don't know why. It's not like I hated school, I actually quite liked going to school, but for some reason, Sundays always resonated badly with me, and it's as true today as it was then - I still don't like Sundays.  I'm sure there's a reason for it, but I've yet to figure it out!  I had the same interests as any small child, namely, eating, sleeping and of course, practising for my future as a lothario, learning, as you can see, how to look good with a pipe (although I am sadly lacking a smoking jacket).  There's always something authoritative about a guy with a pipe.

One of my earliest memories was nursery.  I must have been, I'm guessing, 4 when I went to nursery, which was held in a community hall which was an annexe to the local library.  My overarching memory is standing at the window was my mum walked away, crying, I'm guessing because I didn't want her to leave.  I'm fairly certain this was a recurring theme, but other than that, I remember vaguely enjoying my time at nursery, which makes my perpetual wailings at the start of every day somewhat odd. Anyway, I remember some things more than others at nursery, I remember a sort of indoor climbing frame, stickle bricks, and free milk. Whole milk as well, none of your semi-skimmed stuff.  Actually, the milk must have been fairly gross, but at the time it was great! It came in little 1/4 pint miniature glass bottles with a silver foil lid (I must confess my detailed memory of the bottles comes from primary school, but as these were the same as we got in nursery, I think I can get away with it), into which we poked thin blue straws.

No sooner had I adjusted to nursery, than the next great upheaval in my life occurred - Primary School.

I was fairly lucky, in that my parents house was literally a minute away from Townhill Primary.  Don't believe me? I took this picture from my parents front garden a few years ago, the school is the building on the left
It was great.  I could essentially wait until I heard the bell ring for the start of the day, and then leave the house.  After the bell rang, the kids had to line up in the classic Noachian 2 x 2 arrangement and wait to be allowed into the classes, thus affording me enough time for one more cosy second before I was out of the door, over the wall (what can I say, I was a rebel) and into the line with my classmates.

One of the peculiarities I've discovered when I got thinking about this is how little I remember of my primary school days. For example, I remember a few of my primary teachers, Miss DuPre in P4, Mrs Rowan in P3 (I think - actually, an odd memory form my time in her class is the time I got into trouble for smacking her on the ass. I don't remember why I did it, I'm sure it must have had a good reason, but that's long gone!) I think my P7 teacher was Mrs Bell, but that's all I remember.  Similarly, my classmates from those times are equally hazy,which, given most of them were in the same class as me for my entire life at primary is a bit odd.  Some I remember with clarity, or at least parts of them. I remember a girl called Andrea who lived near my gran, my best friend from primary times was Alan Grant whose father was some kind of shepherd I think, Denise Lumsden (who has recently become a FB friend, so if you are reading this "hi!"), Andrew Gaitens who later lost an eye in some kind of accident, there was a guy called Rodger, a girl called Linda (who may, or may not have been the first girl I kissed, you'd think I'd remember stuff like that huh, but no, apparently not), and a whole bunch of other people.

School days were taxing, but not crazily so, although I did exhibit annoyingly lazy traits quite early on which became a recurring theme throughout my scholastic life - I figured out how much effort I'd need to put in to make sure that anything I did I could do adequately enough to pass, but not so much work that I'd actually excel. If I had the chance to go  back to my young self and offer one piece of advice it would be this - "you aren't that dumb, if you work hard, then you can achieve things, so don't be a dick and get on with it".

Summer holidays were never ending, or so they seemed. Summers in retrospect always seemed warmer, longer, more fun than they probably were.  A lot of my time during the summer holidays was spent with my big gran, both my parents worked, so my gran looked after me, I sometimes would have to stay there overnight, and for some reason her house always vaguely scared me, although I'm not sure why.  These memories have just popped into my head actually, I've not thought about her house in Forest Place for years, but now I am, I don't remember many specifics, other than a picture of a wedding (one of my uncles) on the small dresser which was in the spare room, and the texture of her sheets, which were different from the ones my parents had.  I do remember she had an open coal fire, with a coal bunker around the back, also remember her kitchen, which was smaller than the one in my parents house, and had a small table upon which I would take my lunchtime repast on those days where I went to my gran's for lunch from school.

My big gran and I were always close. Some of my happiest memories from my early childhood involve my gran, mum and I taking walks through the forest which formed the backdrop of the parts of Townhill village where both my parents and my gran lived. My big gran was always something of a character, as she gold older she got a bit more eccentric, although she remained in full control of her mind until about 2/3 weeks before she died at 94. She was never one to hold back any opinions, I once remember visiting her in hospital where she proceeded to announce that "that poor auld thing over there, she's just no right", before shouting across the ward "I SAID, YOUR NO RIGHT ARE YOU". The poor thing she was talking too just nodded a silent assent. It was often the easiest way to deal with gran, just agree, and then move on!

You may be wondering why I'm talking more about my maternal grandma than my paternal grandparents. Well, my dad's mum died when I was very young, I must have been about 7 or 8, and she died on Xmas eve.  To be fair to my dad, despite having lost his mother the day before, he made sure that Xmas for me went on as usual.  I don't have many artefacts from my childhood, but one thing I do have is a book. It's called "The Little Boy and his House" and it formed part of my Xmas present from my paternal grandparents. It's one of my most treasured items and would be one of the things I would rescue should my house ever catch fire. My paternal grandfather followed a couple of years later, so by the time I was about 10, both of my paternal grandparents had passed on, so it was just me, my parents and my big gran.

That said, I can still remember some  things about my dad's parents - they had a whistling kettle for one thing. Not for them the convenience of a normal plug in kettle, no, if they wanted a cuppa (and my wee gran did, pretty much constantly - I'm sure she consumed half the tea produced by the good people at Tetleys) they put the water in the kettle, put the kettle on the stove, and waited for the whistle.  My gran (or di, I don't remember which) also had a real fondness for beef flavoured crisps. Even now, on the rare occasion I have a packet of beef crisps, the smell automatically makes me think of my long departed grandparents.

Anyway, I think that makes a logical breaking point for tonight - if I write too much, then no one will come back for the juicy expose of my early teenage years - the life, the love, the frankly alarmingly frequent bouts of onanism...