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Living

Number 47

My name is Jane. I began at Number 47. It’s where I was conceived and spent the first five years of my life, though I was not born there. I was born at the Lexden Road Maternity Home. That is also where my mother (and some of the best people I know) came into this world. After some nights spent there, where the new mothers were given Guinness to build up their strength, my mother took me home to where she and my father had started their married life four years earlier.

Number 47 is a sixteenth-century house, already divided into a downstairs office with a split-level apartment upstairs by the time I arrived. We lived ‘over the shop’, as downstairs was my father’s drawing office. My earliest memory is of hiding under his drawing board and watching the legs of all the passers-by, until someone rumbled me and then it was all faces, not legs. I started running off at an early age. (There’s a little more about that, here)

When we lived there, no-one wanted older property; everyone wanted new places filled with new stuff. We had gargoyles, wall paintings and mismatched antiques. Others had fitted carpets, three-piece suites and wallpaper. That’s just how it was. Before my parents moved in, another newly-married couple had lived there briefly. They moved out because of the door thing. The woman saw a door that wasn’t there, but had been centuries before. It got to her, she said they had to leave and they did. So, we were there and we co-existed with the door thing quite happily.

The door thing also meant that doors occasionally opened and closed without being visibly touched. My parents were pragmatic about this; if we were happy and the house was happy there was nothing broke to fix. They were right, of course. You can’t live in the centre of ‘Britain’s Oldest Recorded Town’ without some story or other attaching itself to the property. An added bonus was that you never felt alone in any room in the house, especially the living room where we had the door that wasn’t there.

The only time history got in the way was in the garden. The house had been built on the site of a very large Roman villa (as had most of the top half of North Hill). As a result, my father, a man of few words and very rare expletives (the exact opposite of my mother, but that’s another story) would appear borderline garrulous and profane when digging. Shards of pottery, coins, tiles, and all manner of ancient refuse conspired to make gardening a chore.

I loved it there and felt at home. There was a sense of belonging that went beyond the tangible, the practical and the everyday. On my mother’s side of the family we go back for generations in that town. Number 47 was simply a five-minute walk from where some of my ancestors had arrived and settled as Flemish Protestant refugees in the sixteenth century. That same Dutch Quarter had, three hundred years later, also been home to my great-great-great grandmother. At the age of fifteen she left her family to marry a German soldier at Colchester Garrison and start a new life in South Africa. She came back, we always do. We run off, we come back.

Since we all left Number 47, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to revisit two times. The first was when it was on the market for sale in 2006. I posed as a potential buyer and the estate agent was ecstatic – it was (and still is) a difficult property to market (its design, its location and the fact that it’s Grade II listed mean that there’s very little you can do to the property). I was shown round, while the agent spoke nonsense, and a lot of it. So little had changed in the house that I was quite taken aback. I spent longest in the room where my sister was born, it felt good in there (especially as the agent left me alone while he took a call).

The second time I visited was this year. The front door was open, well actually it was off, so I went in. I met the man who bought it in 2006 – he and his family have only now put together the money to renovate the house. We had a long chat over a cup of tea, as you do. Then he asked me about the door thing, said he found it a bit odd but not troubling. I agreed, but for me it was never odd – I’d known no different growing up there. The door thing is a North Hill thing, too – at least two other buildings, to my knowledge, have it.

That comforts me, a sense of community and continuity in a time of increasingly swift change. Number 47 is still my home.

Categories
Living

Headfuckers: a Precautionary Tale

Headfuckers are people, places or experiences that mess with your mind. That’s it. The name gives the game away – they are bad news. As a one-off (this is invariably the place or experience variety), they can provide you with a ‘WTF?’ moment and a story to tell your friends. Trust me, this is the best case scenario.

For experiences or places, most times the choice is yours – if, in a perverse way, you enjoy a headfuck, well then you can revisit at your leisure/ pleasure. There are, of course, exceptions to this – such as the workplace, where choice is limited by economic necessity. I have worked in these places, I know. After a while, it is easier to accept headfucking as the norm. That is, until it starts to affect your relationships and life outside work.

People are tricky headfuckers. If you have a gut reaction to someone that says ‘stay the hell away!’ go with it, it works. Whether you’re attracted to that person for friendship or sex, it won’t end well and the path to the end won’t be that much fun, either. Remember, you will never get back those days of your life that they have wasted. Ever. Sitting around waiting for someone to turn up, to give you a straight answer, to respond to your text or email, to call you when they said they would? Don’t. Life’s too short. There are people out there you could be having a good time with now. Yes, you know them – the ones who’ll not let you down, the ones who’ll not give you mixed messages, the ones who’ll not just lurk on Facebook. They do exist.

Maybe, just maybe, you go back to the headfuck because you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt (‘Everyone else says they’re a good person – must be me, let’s try again’). Seriously, don’t waste your time (that’s the headfucker’s job). Go with your instincts and get out with your self-respect intact, not in tatters. If you doubt your instincts (why?), ask yourself: ‘Would I be ashamed to treat another person this way?’ Chances are (unless you’re a headfucker, too) the answer will be ‘Yes’. Get the fuck away from them. Now.

If you find the headfucker sexually attractive and hold out hope for some action this, too, is a waste of your time. These people are all about themselves. The most you can hope for is that you are helping them to jerk off (in whatever miserable way they see fit) – and surely that’s not the best you can have, even if times are lean. It may even be that they are sexually dysfunctional, given that their mind is such a mess. Certainly, you won’t get any satisfaction from a headfucker (though they may well do so, at your expense).

So, what precautions can you take? Here are some simple ones:
1. Maintain your self-esteem (no-one needs to set the bar this low).
2. Trust your instincts. Bad feeling? Keep a distance physically and online.
3. Keep a supply of good chocolate to hand (not candy bars)
4. Keep good friends close. The ones who tell it like it is and who make you laugh out loud.
5. Take B vitamins and/ or eat Marmite daily.
6. Stay busy.
7. Exercise – mentally and physically.
8. Get enough sleep.

Look after yourself, you’re worth it.

Categories
Living

Being Stalked

I am, this week, marking my second month stalker-free. This, by the way, doesn’t mean there’s a vacancy to fill. It does mean that the space I had for breathing easy has now been returned to me. The stalking itself lasted eight months, but its impact will stick around longer than that.

My stalker was someone I knew, but with whom I never socialised, who suddenly wanted to take on a ‘protective friend’ role as I was going abroad. He had my email and phone contact details from others and added me on Facebook – sending messages to ask how I was. He apologised for not being friendlier when we lived in the same town and said he wished he’d taken the time to get to know me then. I believed he was simply socially inept and accepted his apologies.

I now know I should have kept the distance I’d maintained before. Although I was thousands of miles away – on another continent – it soon became apparent he wanted to get closer and closer. He became more and more demanding. I ceased any contact. He infected my email, my Facebook account, my LinkedIn account, my cell phone, my postal address (to which he sent a photo of me with a note scrawled on the back). In fact, he infected all the ways I had of keeping in touch with friends and family far away.

The first person I told asked what I’d done to encourage him. Wrong. If you’re stalked it is not about what you’ve done, it is about who you are. The second person I told said I was a strong person, so I should get over it. Wrong again. You don’t need to be in tears to be hurting. I waited and waited for it to stop – the contact wasn’t daily or even weekly, but it started to make me fearful when I opened my email, or switched on my phone. I’d blocked him on Facebook, couldn’t do it on LinkedIn. He was using other people’s phone numbers and other people’s email addresses to keep getting through. By February, I’d had enough and came off Facebook and LinkedIn altogether.

The messages always came in pairs – so, I learned to wait for the second one. The first would be almost conciliatory and rational, along the lines of ‘well, if you don’t want to keep in touch that’s your choice’. The second would (put politely) describe me as up myself; asking what was wrong with me and why on earth I didn’t want to be with him. I knew I had to tackle the issue, but still hoped it would just go away. The final straw came one night when I was on my own, and had two phone calls, two messages, two texts. I was physically sick.

I lawyered-up – a great guy in the City of London who told me clearly and concisely that a crime had been committed and advised me of my options. What I decided to do in the end, with the help, support and love of friends, may have worked. I live in hope.