Broken People Need Not Apply: Part I

This blog celebrates its first birthday this week. If you’ve read the bastard over the last 12 months, thank you. My guarantees for year two are some shorter posts and more references to breasts. In the meantime, by way of a special birthday treat, here’s the first portion of a bumper two part post. Enjoy.

This is a story about the dangers of being single when you have no self-confidence. Whatever you imagine you’re projecting, you are in fact sending out a series of subtle psychological cues that are picked up by those who identify with that self same lack. If you’re lucky, that person will be kind, selfless and empathetic when it comes to your foibles. If you’re unlucky, you’ve been marked as a resource – a well of support and affection, by a selfish, needy consciousness that will now proceed to drain the life out of you; contaminating your heart and mind with all the black, ugly waste products from their confused, damaged id. That’s right, you’re about to be used as a crutch for a broken personality.

You may consider what follows to be a cautionary tale.

How to turn a human into a soft target

I’ve got a natural sympathy with the disaffected, always have. I’m one of them you see. It’s not that I like people that wear as it as a badge exactly, much of the time I don’t, but I do understand them. I understand what it’s like to feel rejected by the mainstream, to be singled out as different in some way. I know how it feels to shudder in your own skin, to feel like the punchline to a joke you don’t understand. People who feel this way can smell it on others in an instant. Time and again ladies of a certain psychological makeup would look at me and see a viable target staring back at them. Their only mistake was to assume I was looking for a kindred spirit.

When did I become marked by the devil and how did this happen? I’ve made a career out of invoicing my mother for every ruinous trait I’ve ever adopted so it’d be inconsistent to stop now. My old dear’s a special person. If the Earth were colonised by a higher intelligence, our new overlords would recognise, on account of their enormous brains, that ma mere was a rare creature and so must be separated from the herd to guarantee her survival. They’d want to study her.

She’s always been vulnerable, never fully capable of looking after herself in any meaningful way. Look, she can vacuum and pay bills, she’s not an invalid but emotionally she’s always been needy. Her controlling instinct and tendency to talk at you, rather than to you, has made sustaining a healthy relationship with men almost impossible. Never sure why the degenerates and no hopers washed up on her shore and so never destined to learn any lessons, she’s adapted her need to be needed by surrounding herself with society’s dead flesh. Not a large woman by any means, she nevertheless has extraordinary gravity, pulling in satellites that remain in her orbit for years. To date, none of them have added value to her life or broadened her horizons. They’re wastrels, hypochondriacs, misfits, simpletons, manic-depressives, criminals, fools, users and the decrepit – occasionally, all of the above.

Perhaps she wouldn’t know what to do with the strong-minded. Perhaps the strong-minded have avoided her. Regardless, both she and her miserable acolytes are stuck with each other. The names have changed over the years but they’re all fundamentally the same person.

It’s impossible to be brought up in this freaks gallery and not feel some degree of comfort or reassurance when you encounter similar souls. Having witnessed first hand the tendency amongst the socially sick to exploit and manipulate, such is the bad practice brought to bear on initially healthy relationships, you’d think I’d cross the road to avoid such people, even if it meant getting squished, but life doesn’t work that way. The people you associate with growing up determine what kind of people you’ll be able to relate to as an adult, though you may aspire to leave them behind.

In my home in the ’80s and ’90s, there were no balanced people or intellectual people or professional people, just a revolving door of backsides. I thought myself to be rationally minded and consequently I was horrified by the intrusion, but unbeknownst to me this crash course in human failure was already making me more suggestible toward those of my own age who for whatever reason, were already ruined.


When I was 14 I met a girl called Semaphore, not her real name but an appropriate substitute because the signals were there from the very beginning. In the first two years we were little more than friendly acquaintances. She’d marked me out as a prospect relatively early. I had a good friend called Aldo Shacks, probably not his real name, I never asked, who was, when I met him, a friendly buffoon with an infantile stripe who later morphed, due to laziness and bad peer selection, into a real life David Brent. He might have sued Ricky Gervais but sadly for him, in libel cases, the truth is an absolute defence.

The fact I hung around with Aldo at all made me a marked man. It inferred I was a certain type of person, less serious perhaps, indifferent to bullshit, non-threatening and so on. You can tell a lot about people from the company they keep and because I found Aldo good fun in the early days, while being wilfully blind to his imbecilic potential, I sent out a signal that I was a similar type of chap. I was like Aldo but with better jokes…and self-awareness…and pride.

Few of my friends understood vulnerable people as I did, or if they did understand them they’d made the sensible decision to keep their distance. Aldo and I were different, we spoke to anybody and although I was more cautious by nature, this had a significant social consequence. It projected a target onto my genitals.

By the summer of 1993 I was spending a lot of time with another main male chum of the period, Rumble Cripps (not his real name). Cripps, who was a more cynical boy than I, thought Aldo was a cunt and consequently treated him with undiluted contempt. The two of them represented a war for my soul really, with Mcfriendship on one side and Rumble’s brand of hard-nosed cynicism on the other. As the year got into its stride, Rumble was ahead. Semaphore meanwhile, was filling the gap in between as the cheerful, if hyperactive feminoid who pleasingly, from a teenage boy’s point of view, was tactile and gooey eyed in your presence.

Cripps and Semaphore lived close to our school, within walking distance of each other. This detail, seemingly trivial, would have disastrous consequences. In May of ’93 Cripps had gone to the school to have a pre-exam discussion with a teacher. On his way out of the building he was listening to the Throwing Muses on headphones while crossing the road and the music gods, perhaps fairly, decided to punish him. A small truck smashed into him at 30mph. Witnesses saw the poor wretch thrown fifteen feet. First on the scene was Semaphore, who’d called to him as he walked out of view, only to turn the corner and see a crumpled heap of blood and bum notes on the roadside.

Cripps thankfully survived the accident but his misfortune was also my misfortune, in fact I suffered more and for longer. His death crash had put him out of action socially. I’d go to see him during his recovery and we’d cut some chat but in those first weeks he was in no condition to go out and his truncated concentration span made maintaining a conversation hard work. By the time he was better, I was in the shit. That short walk from Cripps to Semaphore’s place made going to see her a mite too convenient during that summer holiday. Following my brief catch ups with the twitching roadkill, I’d make the ten minute walk to Semaphore’s pad of sexual promise, where a bright and busty reception was guaranteed. The fly was throwing himself on the web.

It’s not that I didn’t know that Semaphore was trouble, I just chose to ignore it. Much of this is attributable to a noxious cocktail of hormones and flattery. Interest from girls had been sparing up to that point. I wasn’t Joseph Merrick ugly or indifferent company but from the perspective of a teenage girl I was handicapped in many ways. My mother insisted on dressing me like Noel Edmonds and although I was able to mitigate this to a degree by introducing some colour restraint and balance to the wardrobe, I hadn’t (and still don’t have) any sense of fashion, or indeed, interest. Every day was fancy dress for me and I always went as the same thing, a badly wrapped Christmas present.

In a giant London comprehensive full of cockneys, mockneys, geezers and treacle tarts, my accent, modelled on the BBC news circa 1936, made me ridiculous to most ears. Inverted snobbery was rife and fashionable. I might as well have turned up in a top hat and frock coat. Kids are always credited with having great imaginations but I saw precious little evidence of this in the field. A persistent cabal of troglodytes consistently caricatured me.

What I initially liked about Semaphore was that she didn’t seem to care about these differences, oh, and that she clearly wanted to sex me into the next world. Part of her indifference was that she was no mainstream minnow herself. With hindsight her identity was a mess and her life was a series of affectations, but at the time I found these props rather interesting. I didn’t know any other girls who liked to wear waistcoats or whose musical tastes were so mature. In many respects she was more masculine than me, interested in sports, something I hated, and never one to wear dresses or the like. Perhaps her declaration of bisexuality with an aggressive lesbian bent, just months after the official end of our relationship, shouldn’t have taken me by surprise but it did, retconing my misfortune as a sexual experiment for which I’d needlessly suffered.

In 1993 however, Semaphore was still heterosexual, as least she was determined to believe as much, and she imprinted herself on me before I knew I was captive. Over the course of many weeks, trapped together in her bedroom, listening to her records and chatting about toss, nature took its ugly course and one day, in October, we became a disgusting item.

What had Semaphore seen in me? Good humour maybe? Kindness? A chance to reassure her conservative parents that she’s wasn’t gay? Whatever it was, it wasn’t commonality. One thing we both knew, if we were being sensible, was that we were very different people. Hers were the values of the Daily Mail indoctrinated lower middle class, those aspirational non-entities that live in the suburbs in semi-detached homes with their dogs and their family car and their fear of difference, enjoying a polite existence which never threatens to break the banks of the mediocrity within which they slowly drown.

To Semaphore I was frustrating and difficult. She liked my intelligence, she said, but hated it exerting itself, as it had a tendency to forensically dissect her lifestyle and interests. She was grateful that I’d managed to see the snap in her that other boys had ignored, whereas in truth I’d seen her interest in me. She’d often bleat about the teacher that had described her as vivacious, a compliment she held on to because it was the first of one, but that teacher had misunderstood; Semaphore was emotionally retarded; an easy mistake to make but a costly one.

Because I’d seen a veritable Emperor’s wardrobe of interesting traits, in Semaphore’s mind it followed that there must be something wrong with me. Though she was a preener, someone who talked herself up endlessly, Semaphore loathed her own identity. Hers was a defensive mentality, an “I’m right and the world is wrong” view of life, borne of frustration because few had ever bought into the Semaphore myth as she’d shaped it. Instead they saw the faintly ridiculous and volatile entity that existed in its place. It took someone as naïve as me to miss the obvious.

Semaphore hated herself and as soon as I paid her the reverence she’d always thought due, she inherently distrusted it, and me. What kind of man could love a girl as wretched as she? What sort of person would want someone so terrible? Surely it would only be a matter of time before I came to my senses? If that day ever came, reasoned she, I’d have to be punished. It wasn’t enough to wait for it to happen either. I’d have to be warned of the consequences in advance and if that made me hate my new belle, well, needs must!

When you’re a 16 year old boy and a ripe girl plants her bare breasts in your face, there’s a lot you’re prepared to overlook. However a few weeks into my stint with Semaphore I knew I’d gone too far with this benefit of the doubt thing. She was already possessive beyond all reason and her personality had started to relax in horrible ways. The fact the relationship lasted a further two years is therefore attributable to my lack of guile and the hope, cultivated over a lifetime of association with loons, that reason could ultimately overcome imbecility and settle minds. It can’t.

As it went on I discovered that Semaphore had no bottom. Not literally of course, that would be weird, but in the sense that there was nothing lining her personality, no substance, nothing to root her in common sense. Despite a relatively benign upbringing, Semaphore was ruined long before I unzipped my fly. She had middle-aged parents, both of whom were grey and lifeless, which may explain why she was unforgivably reactionary and prone to defecating these ideas all over me, tarmacing me until I threw up. Not especially bright and prone to making wild generalisations which she couldn’t defend, she was a grotesque little Englander; a racist who trumpeted clichés about blacks diluting British national identity and the country being weakened by immigration. She justified this by saying that black children had bullied her, though even at 16 I could work out that this had reinforced an existing prejudice rather than creating one.

Like many people in her part of the world, namely racist Eltham where Stephen Lawrence had been murdered that year, she was conservative and pig ignorant. She was the kind of person who’d watch Fawlty Towers and laugh with the racism rather than at it, unable to zero in on the fact that the target of the joke was her. She was a blinkered snob, someone who looked down on her brother’s wife for being common and reading The Sun, while failing to understand that if said woman was a chimp, then at least she knew she was a chimp, whereas Semaphore was just a chimp in a waistcoat who thought she was human.

I tried to get out of the relationship many times but on each occasion she was ready for me. She was quick to learn that I hated confrontation or any kind of scene, as the embarrassment half killed me, as it would any self-conscious person, and consequently she wasn’t averse to humiliating me in public if the situation demanded it. Whether we were walking along the street, in the home or even on holiday, Semaphore went nuclear when threatened with dismissal, promising to kill herself if I persisted, killing anyone I went out with afterwards, just in case I had a replacement lined up and/or promising to attack any friends of mine, whom she suspected of voicing dissent.

She wasn’t afraid to turn tyrant in her effort to swim against the tide. Violent tantrums were common. I was kicked and punched during the more demented rows, my bedroom door was punched so hard that there was an indentation in it and she even smashed the genitals that she’d once coveted. This was the textbook definition of ingratitude.

Semaphore, if you’re reading this, you wasted a lot of my time. I’d like it replaced or, if that’s difficult, financial compensation. My lawyers have looked at it and we’ve agreed that £25,000 per incident is about right. Get in touch so I know where to send the bill.

The war on two fronts

Just as my mother was never satisfied with having just one loon on the payroll, my subconscious mind craved more. On the eve of our relationship, Semaphore had introduced me to a friend of hers, Bungaroosh Betty (not her real name). Betty and I were two bohemians meeting in the dying days of Weimar. We only had a short time to get to know gaiety before evil crashed the party.

Betty got to know many of my friends but it was me that made an impression on her, a terrible, victim sized impression. Undoubtedly she smelt kindness on me, or Lynx, but the only thing we know for certain is that she chose not to reciprocate. I’ve now known Betty for years but if I’m being honest, only our first week of friendship was equitable and true, the rest can be categorised as a prolonged period of exploitation followed by a controlled and arms length association.

Later, when picking over that period of exploitation, some would say it had started when I’d got drunk at a school party and given her the wrong idea. Others said it was a mistake for me to wear so much red. In truth no one knew what happened, or why. Some said even she didn’t know. All I can tell you is that we had a good week in which we exchanged phone calls, had a few laughs and might have met once or twice. Then, with Semaphore honing into view, she hit me with the lie that was to define our friendship.

Did she hint at it at first or just come out with it? I don’t remember, but I can still recall the shock of being told, with all the conviction of an EastEnders character, that this seemingly cheerful girl was the victim of repeated assault from within the family home. Still, you don’t live a lifetime with degenerates and not develop a palate that can differentiate between all flavours of bullshit. I wonder if Betty would believe it now but I suspected her from day one. Still, what could I do? I’d made a new friend and I didn’t know her well enough to assume she was lying, I merely suspected it. Suddenly I was Betty’s confidant, someone she could discuss her domestic nightmare with. As a reasonable sort of person I was more than happy to listen too, though the vagueness, the apparent lack of motive and her novel solution, namely to seek refuge around my place, made the whole thing feel synthetic.

If I was privately cynical I was fortunate enough to have a chorus that were only too happy to say it aloud. Semaphore quickly grew to dislike her friend, questioning why she had to spend so much time at my place, hiding from an imaginary nemesis. Others were more vocal still, calling her “disturbed”, “mental” and “attention seeking” and those were the good reviews.

If Betty was lying, and she was, then no one should doubt her commitment to the cause. She was prepared to do anything to maintain my attention and keep interest levels as high as possible. In another life she might have been a great soap writer. She’d theatrically pass out on my stairs, on my bedroom floor, once on my bed, toppling over and smashing her head against its iron frame. I was left knelt over a body, not as alarmed as hoped for, trying not to sound bored as I went through the motions – “are you alright – Betty, hello?” and so on. I usually found that the quickest ways to revive her was to announce that I was going downstairs to call an ambulance. We’d play hunt the bastard, with Betty cowering in the corner of my room, swearing blind she’d seen her evil relative hiding between two parked cars on the street below. No matter how long I stood at my window, no matter how hard I looked, I could never see him. It was fun for a while.

Still, like all parlour games Betty’s phantom concussion and quadrillion neuroses quickly became boring. She flat out refused any help that might have solved a real world problem; calling the police, telling her Mother, whose piss-poor parenting I quickly blamed for my woes, moving out or seeing a Doctor, even though her apparent injury could be explained any number of ways and therefore need not incriminate anyone. One thing wasn’t in doubt, however, Betty was brain damaged.

Her problems weren’t restricted to violence. Later, as Semaphore dug her heels in and repelled all other female company from my sphere of contact, Betty adapted to get what she could. As I started to socialise without Semaphore, which was the only option if I wanted a normal life, Betty was ever present amongst our cabal at the local inn. Boyfriends we’d never meet would be abusive toward her, she might have even entertained a rape fantasy; there were so many problems it’s hard to remember the detail.

To guarantee I’d walk her home on those drunken Friday nights, a would-be sex attacker was invented that loomed at the end of her road. Of all her distortions, outright bullshit and twisted fantasies, this perhaps, was the only verifiable one, not simply because there was never anyone there, though she made a good show of looking pensively at the shadows, but because she made the classic mistake of forgetting her own story. Thirteen years later, following a curry nearby, a too lazy to walk home Betty asked a friend of mine if he’d drive her to her door. “There’s a guy who’s been hanging around the end of my road…” she told him. You had to admire his tenacity; he’d been looming for the better part of fifteen years.

It never occurred to Betty that putting time and effort into her personality might negate the need to be an eternal victim. Instead she opted to become a fantasist, gaining attention using stories that she imagined would turn her into someone people wanted to look after, rather than the real world response, which was to engender boredom and resentment on a grand scale. I got the worst of it and for the longest time, partially because Betty hoped I’d run from Semaphore to her, and partially because she knew I’d humour her. I felt too sorry for her to cut her off, was tolerant enough to take it on the chin and didn’t dare turn on her, in case I’d got it horribly wrong and she responded by hanging herself in my hallway (as she surely would have done to punish me for telling the truth). In case you think I’m being hard on Betty, I’ve left out the worst of it. She’s a girl designed to fill books.

Eventually Semaphore became a less and less prominent part of my life – I barely saw her in the last six months of our “relationship” and, perhaps sensing the game was up and that I’d returned to a normal Semaphore-hating social circle, she slipped away. Betty, who was part of that circle, did not. Nazi Germany had been defeated but the Commies were still in town.

At 19 I was exhausted. You’ve read this far, you know the feeling. I’d been radicalised to hate attention seekers and possessiveness. That’s straight forward enough but why, you may ask, did I allow it to go on in the first place? It’s not an unreasonable question. Perhaps I thought so little of myself that these, I reasoned, were the only kind of people I was ever likely to get; the only ones who’d be interested. That’d be plausible except that I never for one second thought I was doing anything other than slumming it. Perhaps I was afraid to abandon them to less tolerant and crueller people? No, that’s not fucking true. Perhaps the good humour I prided myself upon was little more than an affectation and they saw through it to the frightened and pliable boy underneath. There’s smoke there and maybe even a little fire.

Regardless of why, so intense were their campaigns and so destructive had their behaviour been, that this particular victim’s tolerance was all but spent.

Come back on Friday for the concluding part in which I get a temporary reprieve from lunacy only to see it return in new and unlikely forms. Plus having learnt who shouldn’t apply for the coveted Mrs Whitfield position, learn a bit about who should and why I’m not holding my breath (spoiler: I’m asthmatic).

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You need a girl, mate.

    • That’s just it, I don’t need one at all. I want one, maybe but only a certain kind. If no one fitting these very flexible criteria is interested then I’m content as I am. I tried the alternative you see and, well – maybe I should write a couple of blog posts about that.

      Oh, hang on…

      • Have you ever considered gaydom? It is quite fashionable now.

      • In fact I was gay for a fortnight, back when trying it out for a concentrated period was all the range. I expected to try a bit of everything but in practice it amounted to happy hour in The Admiral Duncan and the inaugral lecture of the UK Top Gun Society.

  2. Then you are screwed, metaphorically at least.

    Needless to say, your catalogue of relationship experiences would be a therapist’s wet dream — I could give you a run for your money though. I attract the dreaded self-harmer and odd rape victim — which makes me think all men are bastards and thus fuels a self-loathing that already has fuel in adundance.

    But as long as there is something good on the TV then I can stave off suicide.

    • But there so rarely is…

      In fairness only one of the persons mentioned, the dreaded Semaphore, was a relationship experience, the others were just having a crack at creating one. I’d like to think some were well intentioned, maybe to begin with, in their minds…, but that was soon ditched in favour of using me to satisfy a need. My view is simple. If you need a counsellor, make an appointment with one. If you need a Father, build bridges with your own or if that’s not possible, learn to accept he’s gone. Partners, or whatever you prefer to call them, are just that. If that’s not what you’re truly after, leave those singletons alone.

      • Yeah, but you try telling any woman what you think she wants and see where it gets you… Oh, hang on, you live in the same town as me don’t you – Singelton.

      • I thought I’d seen you on the tram.

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