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The International Writers Magazine: Misery gets No Company

Simon Says
Mark Cunliffe

Its half past twelve at night, exactly thirty minutes into 2008 and I am stood in my small back yard, looking up into the cold fresh New Year rain, completely naked.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, to leave the warmth of the front room and Jools Holland and pad out into the yard to bring in the New Year and say goodbye to the wretched 2007 in this different way. But then that’s me I suppose, I tend to do things a little differently, a little odd.

My name is Simon Taploe. I’m hurtling towards the age of 30 and already lamenting the loss of the number 2 at the front of my age. There are times when I can pretty much lament my entire life too. You see; nothing ever seems to go right for me. I’m a walking disaster area. As a result I’ve decided to jot a few things down, help you see why the last couple of years say led me up to the naked in the rain thing.

I live in my Aunt’s house, a tiny terrace with 70's wallpaper. This suits my mood. My Aunt is now living in Spain, so the house is mine for as long as I want. I previously lived with my parents, my lovely long suffering mum and my monosyllabic dad. They’re ok really; they had to be to put up with me moping around I suppose.

I’m prone to depression, or melancholy as the Victorians rather romantically put it. Believe me there’s nothing romantic about it I can tell you. It’s like saying an STD is romantic! ‘I think I love you', but what am I so afraid of’ as the song says, is - well, herpes, syphilis and gonorreah actually. As you may have noticed there, I’m also a bit of a smart Alec. Always one with a wisecrack, no matter what circumstance. I have no excuse for it; it’s like an illness. My one-liners once broke up a relationship I was having. I was in a wine bar with friends; as we were often want to do on a Saturday afternoon, when my girlfriend of the time expressed her love of musicals. I said I wasn’t keen. I really should have left it there. Instead I said a love of musicals was pretty dire and that they weren’t acceptable songs, and to prove a measure of their unacceptability I suggested they were not the type of song one would want at one’s funeral. My girlfriend of the time, keen to debate now, said that she would dearly love one played at her funeral, and cue one liner, I said "In that case I’ll play ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’" Now I thought that was funny, she did not. Cue end of relationship.
I thought we shared a sense of humour too, well we had to, she didn’t have one.

I like to think that medics have yet to discover an ailment called comedy tourettes; the incessant inability to not try and make a joke of something. I have that I am sure. It’s no wonder my mum is long suffering. Auntie’s house therefore came at the right time.

What didn’t come at the right time was another break up, my break up from my longstanding girlfriend, Fran. The girl I met and thought was my soul mate after the end of the witch relationship. Fran was lovely and we were lovely. We were together for three years and would have sworn it would last forever (trust me, it never does).

I’m not saying it was fairytale. She had problems just as much as I, she used to self-harm. A terrible thing to do that, its not like biting your lip or giving yourself a Chinese burn, or doing that thing at yourself in the mirror, you know that thing where you put your tongue down into your chin and go "Derr! Spaz!" as if you were 14 again. Those are things I tend to do when annoyed with myself, no it’s far worse, and often hurts the people around you more than it hurts yourself. So the relationship fell apart, despite all our best efforts, just as I became unemployed. You see, for a long time I was a wage slave, a civil servant, though believe me I wasn’t very civil about anything, working with the great unwashed in a benefit office in a town that made Basra look like a suitable 'Wish You Were Here' holiday spot. Anyway after several years of working my bunions off I realised that it really wasn’t doing my health any good and not having any money worries or debt I thought, with the help of Fran, I don’t have to do this shit. So I quit. A great move, for the blissful year of being with Fran, then she left me, and I was alone and without a job. Bleak is not the word.

So now I’m a writer. It’s long been an ambition of mine. Ok technically I’m writing obits in the local paper two days a week but its still writing, of sorts. It’s a tough task. Actually no, its two days a week it’s a piece of piss, especially when you consider your last job saw a crack addicted state benefit claimant come at you with a knife after what had been an already stressful day. But what is tough about obits are trying to keep a straight face when the grieving family sends in a poem to note the loss of their loved one. You just know that Auntie Janice has been desperate to get a poem in print since winning that parker pen at the school’s writing comp all those years ago. Here’s one I had to place recently

"We sat by your hospital bed, to show you that we care
We went away to fetch a nurse, we came back and you weren’t there"

I mean, come on?! It’s not just me is it? That is wrong.

Fran’s with another bloke now, bastard. How does that happen? I personally think that after a split the ex has to leave the town, city, region, country whatever. That way you don’t have to know how well they are progressing with their lives. I mean to say, its rubbing your nose in it isn’t it?

So largely as a part time writer for a local rag I don’t have too much to do. Most of my days are spent attempting to write the novel that will define the 21st century, or mulling over philosophical theories. No really, you can do a lot of that during the ad break for This Morning. On occasions I go out and visit the library or buy a paper or just generally mooch around. I read a lot of books, always have done. I’m quite clever did I mention that? I have 10 GCSE’s, 4 A-levels and a degree. Trust me kids, it doesn’t get you anywhere, despite what the teachers say. I mean look, the teachers are the ones with all those qualifications in the first place, if having them means you get on in life why stop at being a bloody teacher?

Too clever by half is what my mum says, she reckons that is why I get so moody I think to much, put too much thought in things that don’t require it, may be she’s right, and she certainly think it explains my sarcasm. Anyway like I say I try and go out, but not much. Not much confidence you see, prone to anxiety and black moods. It’s a funny thing, I have a lovely GP who is concerned for me and referred me to see a guy who can help with my depression, a counsellor. So one day I get an appointment to go and see him. Now when you’re a bit low in esteem you have to really gear yourself up to attend things, I mean to say when the most important thing in your day is the decision to have a rich tea or a digestive with your coffee and that day’s episode of Doctors, you really have to build up to the bigger things like going to get help to sort out your life.

So my appointment was for 1pm that afternoon. I hardly got a wink the night before as the horrid Insomniac Jack came a calling, and then I generally spent all morning pacing up and down the house trying to get my brain in a positive order when suddenly the phone rings. Now, I hate phones, always have done, and I can’t stand using them. Anyway finding courage, I answer it to be informed that the counsellor has made a mistake and the appointment is actually 11, could I get down there ASAP?

Well now, I ask you, that’s help indeed isn’t it? I mean you go to seek medical advice to help combat your fear of going out and the nerves it brings on to be told that the build up you are doing for 1pm is a waste of time and you have to move now without build up! I was even more of a nervous wreck!

Still I keep going and it’s helping. I suppose one of the reasons I struggle outside in big areas full of people was because of the ex, Fran. She would always look out for me but sometimes she couldn’t help putting me in places that were uncomfortable for me. For example, Fran was a very slight girl. A bit on the boyish side, nothing wrong with that, I like that type of gamine beauty. But it’s a bit of an effort when you’re out shopping with her and she has to go to kids sections to get her clothing! So there I am dressed in my usual long coat, looking naturally uncomfortable and well, yes I suppose from a distance, if you weren’t aware of the situation yes, I probably look a bit shifty, as I stand there, a grown man of 27, sweating near the female changing rooms of the ages 13-15. You get some funny looks I can tell you. And some of those security guards would do very well at Guantanamo Bay I’m sure. Still, I do miss her. I don’t miss the shopping though.

I wish I were more like my mate, Lennie. Now there’s a confident man. The swine. Very flash and with it he can be. Never really had trouble getting girls, or getting them pregnant either. I swear that one day an abortion clinic will be in his name, The Lenny Bee Ward, He deserves a wing at least. We call him Lennie Bee for short, his surname is Polish and far too difficult to pronounce. Polish American and Jewish extraction, we often mock sing to him as The Beatles "Lennie Bee, Lennie Bee, Lennie Bee, Oh Lennie Bee…speaking words of wisdom, Lennie Bee!" The funny thing being he seldom speaks words of wisdom. We used to work together at the job centre; he’s the only chap I still knock around with. He’s a good man, deep down. He can’t understand my predicament at all, though he does try and help, taking me out for drinks and pointing out single girls, though frankly it’s more than a hindrance. You see Lennie is ok if he gets a girl. The other week we were out and he nips to the gents and I got talking to this girl by the bar and Lennie comes back and spots how well I’m doing and goes to chat to her mate, you know, do the business, as he would say. Anyway this girl’s mate susses Lennie out for what he is in two seconds flat and gives him the cold shoulder, which I find refreshing and hilarious. I excuse myself to Sarah, the girl I was talking to, getting on famous with you might say, and go to the gents. Only to come back and find Sarah has gone cold. I ask what is up, and she tells me that my friend Lennie has informed her that I am gay. He does this act of charity towards me, his best friend, because he wasn’t getting any and so, therefore, neither am I. Cheers Len.

Now I admit, I’m not gay, but I’m not exactly manual labourer material either. That’s another thing kids; don’t work with books all day like the teachers say it’s liable to make you look effeminate. Anyway, slightly pissed as I am, I try and prove I’m not gay and offer a kiss, but nothing doing, I move in for a kiss and the next thing we know we’re on the pavement and likely as not barred.
Who needs enemies eh?

So yeah, that’s my life. Christmas was quiet, but then we all say that don’t we? Of course it’s quiet, you’ve eat too much, drank too much and watched too much TV, who in their right mind is up for a riot after all that? I just went round to my parents for dinner and then have mooched around till New Year’s Eve, a time I hate. Actually loathe New Year, was going to go to bed, but then I thought what’s the point, the fireworks would only wake me up and then I’d never get back to kip. So I locked myself in, took the phone off the hook and watched the tele all night, consuming my way through the house’s alcohol, until finally, taking no more I decreed I would see in the new year starkers in the garden.
Why? I still don’t know, but come on; I bet it’s a damn sight more original than how you spent it? Not bad for a sad act like me. Oh well, here’s to 2008!
© Mark Cunliffe Jan 2008>

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