Wednesday, 13 April 2011


One of the more interesting areas I studied during my BSc psychology was the mystery surrounding intelligence. And while the research was quite extensive, I never came across any evidence as to whether or not there is any relationship between the standard IQ as we know it and good old-fashioned common sense. Something tells me that there would almost certainly be a direct negative correlation between the two. That is, as the IQ goes up, the common sense goes down.

I am aware that this idea is not completely revolutionary stuff but the thing is, when people tell anecdotes about the inadequacies of otherwise clever people, they are usually alluding to things like the doctor who can’t boil an egg or the top barrister unable to tie his own shoe-laces. I am not, in case you hadn’t already guessed, either a doctor or a top barrister but neither am I completely dense. I’m okay. I enjoy documentaries and intelligent conversation, I always buy a decent newspaper with my morning Americano, sometimes I even read it. However, the things I have done are so ridiculous that, if my theory holds true, I should one day be able to crack the secrets of the universe.

Anyway, of my many debacles, my absolute number one is most definitely the time I was 21 years old and found myself travelling alone to America. I had been abroad many times before but always with the company of friends, relatives, or a boyfriend, never completely alone. In the past I had generally drifted into the airport without saying or doing very much and then just sort of magically appeared in another country a few hours later. As I entered the airport alone this particular time it never really occurred to me that I should have perhaps taken more notice during previous excursions. I mean, I knew the drill: Check in, put hand luggage through the x-ray, step through the bleeper thing, read magazine with special ‘how to stay slim on holiday’ section while devouring king-size Mars bar, get on plane.

What could possibly go wrong?

“Is this your suitcase?” the frosty, frumpy looking check-in lady asked me.

“Um, no, not really,” I answered.

“If it’s not your suitcase, then whose is it?”

“Well, it’s actually a Chinese guy’s called Xue, but he prefers to be called Ryan, thinks he’ll fit in better with an English name. Not sure of his surname,” I explained innocently, describing my new oriental flat-mate.

The check-in lady looked slightly disconcerted by this which I found a bit strange. I mean, I borrowed cases all the time, my own being a bit small for a month’s supply of Marlborough Reds and 15 pairs of shoes. I made a mental note to buy a bigger case for my next holiday.

“It belongs to a Chinese male who uses a fake English name you say. How long have you known him?”

“About a week now I think,” I replied.

“And was there anything in the case when he gave it to you?” she asked.

“Yes, a walkman and a sock,” I replied proudly, feeling rather pleased by my brilliant recall for what could have been easily forgotten details. Perhaps there were professions where a superior memory paid well, I mused. I suppose in a job like the police force it’s important to have those sorts of skills. And I’d get to hang out with all those dishy policemen too. I could climb through the ranks ending up in CID if I played my cards right. I’d definitely phone the local police station as soon as I got back to make some enquiries.

“Did you pack your own things?” asked Frosty Frump.

I cast my mind back to the previous evening.

“No, not entirely. I did get some help.” I answered, starting to feel a bit agitated.

“No need to get angry now. Just be calm,” she said.

“I’m really not, I’m fine, I just don’t understand why I’m being asked all these…”

“I was talking to myself Miss Pollock.”

Fast forward to 2011 and I now understand why I was dragged off to be extensively interviewed and have my possessions waded through by a pair of security guards. I never did make that call to enquire about a career in the police-force; Dad suggested they might have it on record that I had quite recently called them to ask if they would take a gigantic, hairy spider out of the bathroom. Apparently you’re not supposed to call the emergency services for things like that.

Yes, really, not even if you want to cry and it’s bigger than the sodding cat.

Friday, 5 November 2010


Okay, so far the internet dating thing hasn’t really worked out. Yes, I have a few dates lined up but, really I don’t expect anything to come of it. The thing is, to borrow a cliché, it’s not them, it really is me. I don’t mean that in a pathetic ‘Oh my god, I’m so ugly/fat/dull that nobody will ever want me’way, it’s just that if I take a long hard look at the evidence, I’m not in actuality, relationship material - perhaps because on some level I don’t really want to be. I mean, obviously, I want all the nice bits, but like the illusion of celebrity, the price is too high for the return. I’d like to have the fame equivalent of being the least attractive one in a successful band that no-one takes any notice of. They get all the good stuff like the money, the groupies and the lifestyle without being hounded by the press and photographed with a hang-over. Similarly, I want to be in an exclusive relationship with all the romance and fun stuff but not one where I have to actually, well… see very much of them.

My first boyfriend and I had it sussed really; we spent the majority of our time ‘together’ with him on the (then very popular) Play Station while I read or watched videos. Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice he wasn’t in the room anymore. I’d be talking to myself for a good ten minutes before I’d hear the familiar blip blip of his favourite game coming from the bedroom and realize I was sans company.

We lasted an astonishing ten years, not despite leading separate lives but because we led separate lives. I didn’t know he’d finished with me until I heard he was engaged. I thought the flat seemed a bit empty but I put that down to the cat dying.

I told Jane my dilemma. Of course, like most things that occur to me, she had already not only considered it, but come up with an answer to the predicament.

“I’ve got great idea how to deal with this common snag to relationships,” she assured me.

“I hope it’s better than your low ebb theory,” I replied sulkily.

Jane’s low ebb theory works on the premise that if you want a man who in his right mind would never really want to get tied down, find them when they are not in their right mind (i.e., the low ebb). Lusting after the caring, hunky ex-model from the gym? Desperately dreaming about your accountant with the PHD who works for the RSPCA in his spare time? Easy. Seek him out when he’s about to be made redundant or his best mate’s just emigrated to Outer Mongolia. Before he can say ‘But I only usually date 6 foot anorexics with huge inheritances’ you’ve got the ring and your first child is on its way. He won’t leave you when his life’s back on track because he’s just so damn sensitive. Jane likens it to getting that dress you always wanted in a sale rail because the zip’s broken.
“But then of course you go home, mend the zip and end up with the bargain of the decade!” she says, without the merest hint of irony.

I have to give Jane her due, it’s a feasible idea but the problem I have with it is that I don’t want the hunky man purely by default, I want him because he actually likes me, job or no job, best mate or no best mate.

“The low ebb theory was designed for catching eligible men, this one however helps you avoid having to spend too much time with him once you’ve got him, therefore leading to the seemingly ever elusive objective, the ‘happy relationship’”she replied, “I call it the ‘Services solution’.”

“Well, I’d never envisaged having to actually pay for it, I mean indirectly is one thing but… I suppose I could cut down on buying shoes…”

“Not that sort of service you raving nympho! Men in the services. Army guys, air force hunks, marines. Think about it: you really do have the best of both worlds. He’s back at home. You spend a wonderful few days together, can’t wait to finally see each other, you look stunning because you’ve spent fourteen hours getting ready and haven’t eaten for 3 weeks, he’s in awe of your natural beauty. Then just as you’re beginning to find his ‘endearing idiosyncrasies’ well, just extremely fucking irritating quite frankly, he’s off for another seven weeks, leaving you to build him up in your head again and him to miss you until the next time.”

“If it’s such a great idea, why didn’t you find a man in the services?” I queried.

“Because by the time I figured it out, I was married to Tom. A low ebb marriage I hasten to add.”

“Really? I thought he seemed okay. Didn’t seem like he was on the low ebb to me.”

“Not his low ebb darling. Mine.”

“Oh yes, I remember now. You’d put on about 12 pounds because you were so depressed after being kicked off that film-making course for sexually harassing the tutor.”

“It was 7 pounds and for god’s sake, I was flirting. Honestly, since when has flirting been an expellable offence?”

“Jane, you asked him what the title of the film ‘Baise Moi’ meant.”

“Yeah, so what?”

“And when he told you, ‘it means “fuck me”’, you said, ‘I know, I just wanted to hear you say it.’”

“Well, I did…” Jane said with a dreamy look in her eyes.

“Rumour has it that by pure coincidence you simultaneously dropped your pen just as you were saying it.”

“Who told you that?”

“I can’t remember now, I think it might have been Mark Philips.”

“That makes sense, he always was a stirrer and a gossip. He never liked me you know, told me I was a men-obsessed, scheming lookist. All I pointed out was that the saying ‘youth is wasted on the young’ should be ‘youth is wasted on the ugly’. I think it was a very shrewd observation.”

“So, anyway, what happened to him in the end anyway?”


“No, the guy you sexually hara…flirted with.”

“He fell in love and got married. Apparently they’re very happy” she said, very matter-of-fact.

“Low ebb?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“And you say they’re happy?”

“So I’ve heard.”

“And they see each other more than twice a year?”


“With no game-plan, no subterfuge, no permissible absenteeism? She isn’t a traveling sales-woman, an airhostess or something?” I found myself asking, looking for the inevitable rub.

“No, they simply fell in love. They spend time together, they talk, they laugh. Plain old simple l-o-v-e.” she said and looked at me, rolled her eyes and sighed.

“Honestly, Zoe, it does happen sometimes you know.”

Friday, 8 October 2010

Blind date

I recently went on a particularly horrific blind-date. Think of the type of bloke that, as Judge Judy once said, “If he was the only man left on earth, I’d join a nunnery,” and multiply it by about, ooh, a billion, and you are half way there. Now I know that things such as physical attractiveness are highly subjective and it is of course shallow to concentrate on merely appearances but it is also fair to say that most people know what they do and don’t like; some women like dark men, some men like tall women, etc and it’s not an insult to anybody if some people don’t fit a person’s preferences. Personally, I have an aversion to painfully thin, bald men who are shorter than me (I’m a tiny 5 feet 2 inches). So after being presented with a man (I use the term loosely) of said description I decided to change my expectations of the evening to perhaps a little light chat and a giggle. After all, it’s always good to make new friends and having just moved to a new city completely alone, a new friend would have been very welcome.

To start with we spoke about pretty standard stuff and although he wasn’t funny or particularly engaging (there are only so many different types of lock you can listen to a person talk about before feigning interest become nigh on impossible), he seemed normal(ish). That was until I asked him to tell me about himself. He told me he fitted locks (hence the fascinating conversation) and that he was very good at English. This surprised me as 1) He was English and 2) He didn’t seem particularly good at it.
“Yeah, I got a first at A level, didn’t I” he said.
I know it was naughty and very bad manners but I couldn’t help myself from putting him right.
“A levels are graded from A to E. You can’t get a first,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah I got an E level, that’s what I meant,” he said.
“There’s no such thing as E level,” I replied, starting to enjoy myself. This was much more fun than talking about the merits of the deadbolt versus the mortise.
“Listen sweetheart, I’ve got socks older than you,” he said rather aggressively, not realizing that he had actually just paid me a huge compliment (either that or he really, really needs some new socks). Ah, I thought, revolting and thick, lucky me. At least he hates me now and I can fuck off home without him trying it on. A few embarrassing minutes silence later, he found the courage to tell me exactly what he thought of me. He stared intently into my eyes.
“You are a very, very beautiful woman,” he said, “And I’d love to make love to you.” Oh for fuck’s sake.
Remembering times when I had unsuccessfully tried to soften blows, I decided this time to be brutally honest.
“Look. I’m really, really not interested in anything romantic or sexual with you in any way and never will be. I’m sorry.” There, I’d done it; straight to the point, absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever. “That’s fine, fine, no really, really fine. Let’s just start off as friends and see where it goes,” he said.
Oh God.
After a very painful five minutes of him gazing lovingly at me while I ate my chips, stuffing them down and trying to look as unattractive as possible, I felt enough time had passed to be able to leave. We began the short walk back, getting to my front door in less than a minute. “I know I’m not the best-looking guy in the world,” he said, giving a whole new meaning to the understatement “But I’m cultured. Intelligent.”
Of course, I thought, how could I forget your first at E level.
“I know stuff my love. Shakespeare. To be or not to be” he said.
“Ah, yes. I can imagine exactly how Hamlet must have felt. At this very moment in fact,” I said, wishing Jane was there to throw faces at.
“Faux pas for example,” he continued, oblivious to my sarcasm, and indeed to what he was actually talking about, “I mean. Do you think they had faux pas back in the olden days?”
“I can say with absolute certainty that they did.” I said. And then I had a brilliant idea how to end this evening and get in the house alone without too much difficulty. “What do you think?” the impish little devil in me made me say. Surely he would lose his nerve, realize he couldn’t pretend to know what he was fluffing on about and go home to read his encyclopedia of locks or hopefully go and look up the meaning of ‘faux pas’ in the dictionary.
It didn’t work.
“Beg your pardon my love but could I come in for a Jimmy riddle?” he asked. I squirmed and wondered how many turn-offs it was humanly possible to have in just one person. But, more importantly, how the hell to get rid of him so I can do something more pleasurable - like clean the cat shit out of the litter tray? Maybe I should act like I do when I really do like someone, I thought, that normally makes them run off. Or take off my make-up, that would scare him. Pretend to be mental. In the end I opted for the rather weak idea of pretending to fall asleep. Perhaps then I could scream, “Get out of my fucking flat” and blame it on a bad dream. Then as luck would have it, the phone rang and I had the perfect excuse. “I’m sorry,” I said, “But it’s my friend, she’s really upset and wants to talk in private.” He left, happy with the illusion that we had spent a pleasant evening together.
“So then,” said Jane, “How did it go?”
“Do you think they had faux pas in the olden days?”
“Are you pissed?”
“Do you know what Jane, it was shit, he had absolutely no redeeming qualities and I give up, I give up. I’ve travelled from Australia to America twice, Holland, Spain and Austria in less than five years and all I ended up with was a married womanizer who refused to buy me drink after I jumped on a plane to see him.”
“Wasn’t that the same guy who wouldn’t pay you back seven pounds for the car park after you spent a hundred and thirty pounds on a hotel on the grounds that he had bought you a bacon sandwich?”
“Yes, the very same man.”
“And didn’t he ask you to take money out when you went clubbing even though it took you four hours and an eighty pounds train ticket to get there?”
“What’s your point Jane? You know there aren’t any decent men left.”
“Actually you’re wrong. I know I’m usually very cynical but Stephanie has just found a very nice man where there happen to be lots more and you are able to see what they look like first and get to gauge their personality before you meet them…”
“I’m not bloody internet dating Jane.”

NEXT WEEK: My adventures of internet dating.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A couple of accurate and funny poems by Wendy Cope.

Two cures for love

1)Don't see him. Don't phone or write a letter.

2)The easy way:get to know him better.

I worry

I worry about you -
So long since we spoke.
Love,are you downhearted,
Dispirited, broke?

I worry about you.
I can't sleep at night.
Are you sad? Are you lonely?
Or are you all right?

They say that men suffer,
As badly, as long.
I worry, I worry,
In case they are wrong. (Wendy Cope 'Serious Concerns' 1992).

Next week: Learning lessons from 'The Rules.'

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Art of Misery.

Recent research has found that, on average, 70% of suicidal callers phoning The Samaritans will change their mind and decide to carry on living. Apparently, this information was provided by the callers themselves after being contacted by The Samaritans. What I want to know is: how did they contact the other 30 percent? Or did they just think, “Oh, well, seventy percent have confirmed they’re still with us, so that means the others must have died.” Say they asked the said people to fill in questionnaires and the enquiries went along the lines of ‘Did you call feeling suicidal?’, then surely the next question that inevitably must have followed (i.e. ‘Did you change your mind?’) is a moot point. I would have been tempted to write, ‘No, I killed myself, I’m writing this through Derek Acorah.’ Obviously, there are some people who may have unsuccessfully attempted suicide but you cannot really get accurate statistics through such dubious research methods.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about life and death and other equally cheery subjects. After some reflection, I came to the conclusion that I am, if truth be told, quite ambivalent about life versus death because, quite frankly, I find the whole ‘life’ thing rather painful most of the time. Apart from hedonistic pleasures and fleeting moments of happiness, my life has thus far, not turned out quite as I had hoped. However, thinking laterally, I philosophised that actually I can use this to my advantage (please note: sometimes my attempts to make myself feel better with unconventional theories don’t always work out – see last blog). The way this works is that happy, fulfilled people face their mortality with such an ensuing dread that it has been scientifically proven that they will do anything to counteract that fear, leading to all manner of neuroses (I knew three years studying psychology would eventually come in handy). Us miserables, on the other hand, don’t have that problem. We can stare the grim reaper in the face and shrug: “What’s that you say, Mr Reaper, no more celibacy, anxiety and being ignored by employers? I’m gutted.” That’s not to say we actively embrace or encourage a premature demise, we don’t deliberately fall over into railway tracks or stick our wet fingers into electric sockets, but we can however, travel on a plane for example or inadvertently come across the din that is ‘dance’ music without worrying that it may kill us. Notice I didn’t mention things like smoking or drinking to excess. This is because both these things ruin your looks, cost too much and rather than kill you off completely, might just make you really bloody ill, wrinkly and skint. Yeah, I know a plane crash might not kill you either but I think the survival rate is pretty low, stop being pedantic, you know what I mean. But I suppose if you are over 80 and you’re also a miserable, then you can basically do what you want because being really ill will probably kill you off regardless. My friend Jane said she is going to try heroin and get fat when she’s 80. When I queried as to why, her reply was ‘because I can’. I have to admit I can see the logic. After being constantly on ‘fat watch’ since I was 14, the thought of having a takeaway without it being ruined by a mental running commentary of each calorific mouthful and it’s consequences (‘prawn cracker 20 calories = walk round the block, curry 500 calories = cancel leaving house for three weeks, special fried rice, 2000 calories = consider leaving country’), it actually sounds like a decent plan. In fact being an obese, alcoholic, druggy eighty year sounds like pretty darn good fun if you don’t mind the fact that nobody will want to have sex with you (but let’s face it, at eighty they probably won’t anyway).

So while all those annoying happies become more and more neurotic through repressing the truth about their mortal souls and avoiding contemplating the inevitable, us miserables can quietly smile to ourselves in the knowledge that apart from not causing anyone any psychological or physical pain, in the end, very little, really matters.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

I've been had.

“You’ve been had, I’m afraid,” my best and longest-standing friend Jane told me, “I’m sorry to tell you, and I know you’re a relentless smart arse, but there are some things a psychology degree doesn’t teach you.”

At first I couldn’t quite take on what she was saying; I’m a discerning woman, I have been known at times to detect the most plausible-sounding of deceptions, I always correctly identify the liar on ‘Golden balls’. But somehow I had been, as Jane said, quite simply duped by a textbook philanderer. I hated being shafted by a stereotype almost as much as I hated having to let him go – cliché stitch-ups were only supposed to happen when I was a naïve 18 year old, not now I’m a cynical thirty-something. What's more, in retrospect it’s pretty clear that the writing was on the wall virtually from day one, but blinded by lust and flattered by a combination of bullshit and a much needed massage to the ego, I chose to ignore the huge warning sign he should be made, by law, to have tattooed on his forehead.

To start with this decision was a quite deliberate attempt to avoid pain, cunningly disguised to myself and others as ‘being sensible’. This mastermind-level theory basically meant I had carefully made sure I hadn’t done anything that may have made me confront the truth. Later on however, the denial became subconscious as his philandering took on comical proportions. According to Jane, this is quite commonplace. “Zoe, I know a bloke who was caught in the act at a house party, actually caught in the act I tell you! And do you know what he told the girlfriend?” Jane said. “He said he had come out of the toilet, trousers still undone, slipped over and fell, penis first, into her!” Jane guffawed, “And yes, she chose to believe him! Alien abductions, a case of mistaken identity via a particularly horny doppelganger, it doesn’t matter what bullshit they peddle, they know you’ll go for the less painful option of accepting the lie!”
“But surely,” I said, a bit confused, “she must have been really, really stupid?”
“No, not at all, very clever actually, she was just romantically retarded. Like you.”

Looking back, I have to agree. He had a wife he claimed he was separated from but strangely, by his own admission, she wasn’t aware of this small but rather crucial nugget of information. Very convenient really; he knows they are separated but she doesn’t. Okaaay. He noticed me raise an eyebrow on telling me this.
“She thinks we’re just, you know, kind of…er…on a break.” This roughly translated meant she didn’t have a clue because, obviously, they were very much not on a break at all. “Like Ross and Rachel on Friends!” I said. “Yeah, brilliant programme, loved that show – genius,” he replied, relieved by this lucky chance to side step his dubious cover story.

I know what you’re thinking: “If you are intelligent and he basically told you without telling you, then why did you stick around? What did you expect?” Well, the truth is (and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it) to begin with I chose to bury that information somewhere deep down in the depths of my subconscious, along with the knowledge that my parents have had sex at least twice and the fact that if I don’t die young, I’ll die knowing what it’s like to be invisible to men and have grey pubic hair (is it wrong to find the former more palatable?).
“The thing is, you had little alternative but to choose to believe him,” Jane said, “because otherwise you wouldn’t get to have sex with this hunky, funny, clever, talented, charming man you were presented with. Either that or move your own personal goal posts of acceptability.” Unsurprisingly, given a particularly long spell of celibacy, I chose to opt for the latter. Okay, I thought, so he’s married – that could be an advantage! Yes, I will use it to my advantage: no wondering where he is at night, no worrying about him having an affair (I am the affair!) and I get to spend ninety percent of my leisure time sitting around in my pyjamas looking like crap. The other ten per cent of the time I would look amazing, be amazing and have an amazing time. It was perfect. I started to wonder why I had never considered this brilliant alternative relationship type before. After all, there are internet dating sites especially for those wishing to embark upon an affair, so this was hardly revolutionary stuff. And so the bar was moved from ‘potential boyfriend’ to ‘steamy affair without all the crap.’ I could live with that. Sex with gorgeous hunk – good. Freedom – good. What’s not to like?

As it happens, what I didn’t like was the fact that, far from being his special, sexy, femme fatale, I was actually a small part of a pattern of pathologically opportunistic behaviour. I found out that, contrary to my delusions of being his exclusive mistress, I was in fact part of a long line of girl ‘friends’ with whom he regularly tried his luck. To add insult to injury, he even propositioned someone while we were on a romantic weekend, mistakenly thinking I was safely ensconced at the bar! And the more I found out, the worse it got. The man was an incorrigible serial adulterer and so any woman, from the stunningly beautiful and witty, to the vaguely shaggable dullard, was a challenge that he fundamentally just could not let pass by. I tried to make myself feel better about it by reflecting that millions of women had to be preferable to him having an obsession with just the one. That is, if he was flirting indiscriminately, then he was clearly not serious about them and therefore no threat was posed. Surely, I reasoned, if womanizing was just his stock-in-trade, then he was unlikely to have any feelings for any of the girls; they weren’t in the least bit special to him.

And then I realised that by definition, sadly, that included me.