Friday, 30 January 2015

Joke Shop Man

I can understand why the typical person has problems with me.  I’m not a typical person, as you’ve probably gathered.  I don’t do what people expect another person to do, or look how another person is expected to look.  Several of these things are my own personal choice, some of them are not.

This doesn’t necessarily turn someone who is “unusual” into a misanthrope.  You know that you will not like everyone, and not everyone will like you.  You can factor in this knowledge into your daily dealings with people, and adjust your expectations.  That’s what I do, anyway.  If I find someone an utter cock, then I try to have as little to do with them as possible in order to save my own mood, if not sanity.  No, I can deal with regularly annoying people.

What I was surprised to discover, and nobody had actually told me about, is that other “unusual” people are no better than the “normal”.  In fact, they are quite often worse.  Much worse.


It was April 2000.  Hardly the greatest of times, and  indeed one to which few people would look back with much nostalgia.  I was a year into my so-called treatment for my alleged “mental illness”.  Of course, they don’t recommend you doing what you feel like doing, which is staying at home in a dark room waiting to go to sleep for 14 hours a day (though I’ve since discovered such things are much better for you than psychiatric medication and therapy).  No, they tell you to get out.  See the world.  Do stuff.  Interact with people.  Take your mind off things.

My night shift job at Asda limited my options a bit.  In the service industry, our motto is “Working Daft Hours Because You Don’t”.  Which is fine for most people, but for those of us who work atypical shifts, it can restrict your opportunities for a social.  Most of the time back then that didn’t bother me.

I’d somehow managed to latch onto a couple of people at the comics conventions I went to.  They, for some reason, thought it’d be a good idea to hold regular meets with other local comics fans in a pub opposite the Birmingham Hippodrome.  Attending, I worked out, was just about feasible.  Stoke to Birmingham was around 45 minutes by train, and even though I worked on Saturday night, I could get there and back in a reasonable amount of time.
I never got it quite right.  My sleeping pattern meant I only would get about 4 hours sleep if I was going to get to Birmingham in time for the 2pm start.  I usually achieved this by nailing wine or vodka in rapid time to knock me out.  I always made it there, but what state I was in when I got there, was at best variable.

I think I went four times in all.  Once I got so drunk in the afternoon, I was unable to work in the evening.  A calculation error, I gather.  I presumed excessive drinking was what you were supposed to do.  Well, everyone else was.  Another time I had a panic attack in the pub and just sat slumped in a corner while everyone stared at me.  The one trip I made when I was actually off work, I found I’d consumed too much to engage in reasonable conversation.  To compensate, I carried on drinking cans of Stella Artois on the train.  I’m sure you can see some kind of pattern developing here.  I wish I could have done the same 15 years ago.

I went one last time.  I’d realised that drinking a lot during the meet was probably not a good idea either for my mental health, or ability to socialise or even work later on.  I stuck to Coke.  I arrived early, as usual and after a brief chat with the second person to turn up, decided “Ah yes, I’ll write about this event for my website.  I’m sure people are curious about what exactly happens during these events”.  So as more people turned up I spoke less.  Never having been much good at group conversations or knowing much about what these people were talking about, I felt it best to keep quiet.

A word about the people attending these Pub Meets : They were not the typical comics fan you imagine, all Cosplay, nerding and pedantic.  No, these were the self-styled hipsters of comics fandom.  Trendy types, usually artists or writers running their own bizarre small press comics or zines.  Generally left-wing, open minded  and self-styled lovers of the unusual. I thought they would like me better.

I went home that evening thinking that at least I hadn’t got hammered or ended up a mental wreck, so it must have gone reasonably well.  I posted my article on the website and a link on the message board that I and the other people frequented.  Reading it back a few years later, I could see how it could have been construed as a bit crass and cutting in places, but no more than any of the rest of the stuff I wrote.

To say I got a hostile reaction…well…is a bit like saying Warren Buffett has a few bob tucked away.  I was shredded by them.  I was called a sad wanker, massively inappropriate and a complete and utter little shit.  So much for a niche community being understanding of outsiders, then.  I could take that.  I heard worse at school.  But what really upset me was one person (I forget who) saying “You come all this way and you don’t make any effort.”

No effort.  Right.

Did they not know what I had to do, what I had to go through and what I had to fight off to go there?  To make no effort would have been easy.  I could have stayed at home.  In fact, I probably should have stayed at home.   That was the nail in the coffin for me and my relationships with those particular people.  I’m always one who has to learn the hard lessons of life in the hardest way.

A couple of years later, I went to what turned out to be my last ever comics Convention, the 2002 Bristol Expo. I ran into a few of those people.  By “ran into”, I mean they sat at a nearby table.  They noticed me, and exchanged meaningful glances and giggles with each other,  a pattern of behaviour I recognise from school bullies.  They never said a word to me the entire day.  I guess it’s easy to courageously express your negative opinions about people when you’re behind a keyboard, and coincidentally well out of smacking range.  Easier to feel safe when in a group rather than alone, too.

As a great man once said “I say fuck people.  People ruin everything.”
Graphical version of the average Comics Pub Meet back then. Click for larger version.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Noises For The Leg

Offered without comment
I’m not sure where it all began.  You’d have to ask my parents.  But nearly 40 years is a long time ago.

I’ve often said, maybe even as much as half in jest that my parents were there for me when it really mattered – my conception.  There are many stories about this event.  Some of them may even be true.  I have heard it happened on a sofa somewhere, or on the Isle of Man, or maybe even behind the back of the Three Mariners in Lancaster.  But, whatever, it happened.

My parents did, of course not plan, for this.  Though they were vaguely aware of the mechanics of human reproduction, in my mother’s words they “never thought it would happen to us”.  So I was certainly unplanned.  As for “unwanted”, I have my own suspicions of what they thought at time, but I will leave you to speculate on these matters.

It was a cold, dark and rainy night in Preston when I was born.  Or at least I presume it was.  Nights are generally like that in Preston on December evenings.  The date was planned in advance.  An induced birth to ensure my mother was out of hospital before Christmas.  I was finally pushed out at 7:21pm on 8th December 1975, just in time for my mother to catch the 15th anniversary episode of Coronation Street.  My father presumably worked late to avoid being there until he absolutely had to be.


The world wasn’t quite as baby-friendly as it is now.  And both my mother and I spent the majority of time at home, at the time my grandma’s house near Preston town centre.   My father presumably took the bus or walked to work at his job at General Accident near Winckley Square,  leaving his wife and mother to sort everything else out.  Or perhaps not.

To say my mother and grandma did not get on is an understatement.  One of her main pieces of advice to all young women nowadays is “never live in another woman’s house”.  In fact, she even goes to far as to blame many of my “problems” (her euphemistic term for the myriad issues I’ve had to suffer and deal with for the last nearly four decades) on the stress she suffered having to live under my grandma’s roof for nine months in the mid-Seventies.  As I always say, I can’t discount the possibility, but it’s very convenient to blame somebody who’s been dead since 1986.

So, in the summer of 1976, while other people were sweltering,  drinking lager or being eaten by ladybirds, my mother was dragging my father (kicking and screaming, quite probably) to the estate agents in order to buy their own house.  They settled on a mid-terrace in the cheaper end of Fulwood, just north of central Preston.  Close enough for my father to travel to work, and yet far enough away from his mother so she couldn’t just pop in.  This is the first place I remember living in.


When I finally became ambulatory, sometime early in 1977, I’m guessing my parents had realised I wasn’t the typical child.  Wheras most small children cling to their mothers for safety and security, I sought time alone and generally engaged in solitary activities, either sanctioned or not by authority figures.  (This is presumably why my mother has always preferred my brother to me, as he was clingy and tactile, and indeed was still sitting on her lap at the age of twelve).  What I lacked in sociability, I made up for in ingenuity.  Numerous were the times I managed to escape from the house, once even dragging something to stand on to get to the door handle my two-year-old arms were as yet unable to reach unaided.  I, of course, was always blamed for this.  Which is easier for parents to deal with than the fact they weren’t watching a child who had a history of absconding.  It’s almost as if I wanted to get away from them.

My mother didn’t really know how to handle me.  I don’t think I was like any child she’d had to deal with before.  My father, on the other hand, knew exactly what he wanted from me.  He wanted me to be a man.  You’d have thought that my obvious breaks for independence would have made him happy.  But no, he had (and still has) a terrible temper and extreme lack of patience and empathy.  He had very fixed ideas of how children should behave (“seen and not heard” was his philosophy).  And if the child had the temerity not to match these standards, he just hit them.  Preferably round the head so they remember better.  One of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood is him doing this to me for some minor misdemeanour and my mother yelling at him “Don’t hit him on the head, hit him on the legs.”  I’m not sure whether I should find that funny or sad.  Or both.

My father and I have never been close, or even really on speaking terms.  We’re both adults now, me close to middle age and him close to old age, and we’ve yet to have a proper conversation about anything.  I don’t suppose it’ll ever happen now.  What in all honesty could we ever talk about?

I’ve been told by my mother he regrets the way he brought me up.  But he’d never tell me that personally.  No, he never would.  Sadly, life isn’t a human interest movie, and closure is rarely achieved.  All things considered, my father should be grateful I’ve turned out as well as I have.  But I doubt he even thinks about that.

I’m just something that happened, as some kind of accident.  A long time ago.

Monday, 26 January 2015

You Done My Brain In

At least I made it as far as Sheffield this time.  The last time I tried, they told me not to bother


I hadn’t had an easy time of it recently.  Having lost my job, I had to sell my house and move back home. And when I say home, I mean Preston, a town in which I hadn’t lived since just past my eleventh birthday.  My parents, for all their many and enormous flaws had given me their spare room.  I spent many hours in there.

I had no money by this stage, as I was waiting for the house sale to clear.  I’d like to say I was starving in a garret somewhere for the sake of my art, but I wasn’t.  Starving I was, but mainly because I didn’t feel particularly like eating.  Never a big eater, me.   In fact, I usually stayed in bed with my head under the covers for most of the day.  My weight eventually ended up around just under 9 stone.  Probably not the healthiest weight for someone who’s 5 feet 11 inches.

My parents went on holiday, presuming that a grown man at 31 could look after himself, even one that was in my state.  I cannot remember the exact circumstances, but I took a reasonable amount of Paracetamol/Aspirin caffeine  tablets.  My sister, 19 at the time, simply looked at me and said she couldn’t deal with this sort of thing and left me to it.  The shame precluded me from swallowing any more.

The following Monday, the Doctor said that, yes, there probably was something wrong. So here’s a speedy referral to the psychiatric outpatient department at the hospital.  “If all else fails, try psychiatry”, as they say.  I cannot remember the shrink’s name, but he did give me plenty of mirtazapine, and a fun time queueing up at the hospital pharmacy to get it.  It just made me feel tired but not sleepy.   I was hoping for something stronger.

Having been treated with little else but pills for nearly a decade, he decided to actually listen to what I had to say.  Previous assessors just seemed to assume I was just unhappy and gave me Prozac (ineffective) and group therapy (inappropriate).  He agreed that there were probably other issues than the obvious ones and looked at the next thing on the list.  Autistic Spectrum Testing.


For as long as I could remember, I always knew there was something not quite right about me.  There were the other children, and there was me.  We never met in the middle.  Neither I nor they could figure out what the other was doing.  So, children being the cute little darlings they are, they decided to ostracise me for their own personal amusement. I’ve read in certain places that some theorists consider bullying an essential part of socialisation.  In order to fit in, you have to be made to fit.  I can only say that they never had to go through what I did.

Were they ever in a corner of the classroom, panicking about being forced to interact with others?  Were they ever mocked daily by the kind of pupils the teachers believed could do no wrong?  Did they ever shut themselves in their room and refuse to go to school, yet have their mother drag them out, despite her being told what was happening?  I can’t say for sure they didn’t, but judging by their successful and prominent lives, I’m guessing not.

I was scheduled an appointment at the nearest place that did testing for Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Sheffield, in my case.  My parents were given a questionnaire to fill in about my early life.  As anyone who’s had to go through this will know, the whole AS Testing industry is based around diagnosing small children, as in the 21st century that’s generally when it’s picked up.  The specialists haven’t done enough research to deal with the level of differentiation in symptoms observed in adults.  So what they do is get the best picture of what they patient was like as a child, and figure it out from there.

My mother filled it out. I sent it off without reading.  I didn’t want to know what she’d written.

I made it to the Medical Centre at the second attempt, 90 minutes early.  (The first time,  the train was cancelled after I reached Manchester Piccadilly.  When I phoned to explain my absence, they told me I should have left more time.  I knew I’d planned to arrive an hour before my appointment, but I didn’t argue and just accepted when they said it’d be easier to reschedule me rather than accept me being 45 minutes late.)  I played Tetris on my iPod while waiting.  I presume the Consultant had no other pressing matters that day as he saw me after I’d been waiting half an hour.

He went through all his questions.  I went through all my answers.  It was easy enough, as I’d been through enough therapy and assessment sessions that I’d said it all many, many times before.  He said he’d read what my mother had put on the questionnaire, but thankfully didn’t elaborate.  And then he announced that, yes, his opinion was that I had Asperger Syndrome.  I’d suspected as much for a while, but unlike thousands of others in this age of internet diagnosis surveys and Dr. Google, I hesitated from saying anything as, well, I’m not medically qualified, am I?

He said he’d send a letter to my GP confirming his diagnosis and any recommendations for further treatment, if any.  My guess was he knew little could be done in my situation.  A diagnosis of Asperger’s, for a person in their thirties, is pretty much for information purposes only.

I left and walked back to the train station.  What to do now?  Nothing had changed, yet everything had.  Welcome to being an Official Basket Case, Mr. Lawrenson.