from Room 101 (or things that can fuck off) - Hamish Ansley

Part I
Gender Stereotypes

I grew up in a household comprised largely of females, and where the only other male present wasn’t exactly someone I aspired to be like. And while it wasn’t all evenings spent listening to show tunes and braiding each other’s hair, it probably goes some way to explaining my okay-ness with conversations about menstruation, and the fact that I think most men are oversexed, insensitive Neanderthals. But, apparently, because I possess the kind of genitalia that I do, I’m not supposed to think that way. I’m supposed to conform to the ideas that society has formulated about what a man is. And those ideas tend not to include the ability to write coherently or expressively. Nor do they include having an expansive vocabulary, or an appreciation of literature. Nope, I’m supposed to be a beer-guzzling, rugby mad tit-fancier. Actually, while I intended that to be disparaging, I love beer, don’t mind rugby, and have a perfectly healthy interest in female protuberances. Perhaps I’m manlier than I thought. But, certainly, the idea that a man could not possibly, or even want to, be a writer is complete loose stool-water. I think I’m right in saying that the majority of writers throughout history have been male. Of course, the oppression of women for ages has a lot to answer for there. There would, no doubt, have been more female writers if they weren’t simply kept chained in the cellar for acts of sexual abasement and getting stains out of shirts. Still, men wrote literature (even the nanciest of all nancies, poetry) and it was generally okay and acceptable for them to do so. They weren’t accused of being frilly-knicker-wearing sissies. Well, except Oscar Wilde, of course. And Byron was rather fond of expensive silk handkerchiefs. Anyway, Wilde’s preference of bed-fellow or Byron’s ardour for posh nose-rags (or my preference for doing the vacuuming over mowing the lawn, for that matter), doesn’t make either of them less of a man. Just as the ability to do lots of press ups or survive in the wilderness doesn’t make one more of a man. Or even likeable. Let’s face it; Bear Grylls is an annoying twat. 

Part II

In recent history (i.e., within the last year) I embarked on my first flatting experience. I figured I was growing a bit old to still be swinging from the apron strings, as ‘twere, and hoped that I might miraculously be cured of the chronic social ineptitude which kept me living at home for so long, by forcing myself to share a house with a bunch of relative strangers and their idiosyncrasies (by which, of course, I mean propensity for using my shit without first asking permission, using all the lavatory paper and neglecting to buy more, sexual jollity at obscene hours, untidiness, general absence of personal hygiene, and many other charming and endearing quirks). So far, I feel more socially retarded than ever. But it has been an… interesting experience. And by ‘interesting’ I mean it has provided fuel for a (hopefully) comedic rant that I am desperately penning in order to meet a decent word limit for this journal – a fact I am self-reflexively making light of in an effort to further pad out the piece and to try to explain why it is probably terrible without resorting to putting a little self-conscious note at the end which makes me feel so utterly pretentious as it seems to suggest that I think my work is so unfathomably complex and more difficult to penetrate than even the most aloof woman wearing a chastity belt made of barbed wire and steel recycled from decommissioned aircraft carriers and therefore requires explanatory notes.

Anyway… back to the main narrative, if there ever was one in the first place. I live with two of the fairer sex and a male who is not-totally-fabulous-but-more-than-a-little-bit-queeny. An ideal group for me (I thought), as (and not to generalise too much about the latter) I am much more comfortable (perhaps surprisingly given the aforementioned gaping black hole in my social skills) in feminine company. This is largely due to my upbringing. I grew up in a household comprised largely of females and, consequently, bask in the magnificent radiance and reclinable, leather-upholstered-comfort of conversations about menstruation and all of the other things that women talk about which seem ceaselessly to revolve around their gynaecological functions. I’m being facetious. Obviously (I hope). Women talk about myriad things and that’s precisely my point. The openness and depth of women’s (now there’s a sentence teetering precariously on the edge of smut given its proximity to one mentioning gynaecology…or maybe I just have an excessively debauched mind) conversation is something I very much relish. I’m not particularly masculinely minded – another happy (and this, for once in my miniscule, pus-filled life, is not sarcasm) consequence of my upbringing. I don’t really consider myself a man, except in the sense that I possess the requisite genitalia.

Subsequently, I find male conversation rather unsatisfying. When men stop masturbating for long enough to talk to other men (or, indeed, to women – usually after an extended period of open-mouthed ogling), the conversation invariably involves a succession of monosyllables and grunting. Not unlike the masturbation, really. It’s also a scientifically proven fact that, if male conversation lasts longer than nought-point-two-five seconds, it will inevitably and rapidly descend to the verbal equivalent of comparing reproductive appendages. This, I have termed ‘cockfighting,’ for obvious punning reasons. In the minds of men, there must always be an alpha-male – even in conversation.

Except, it’s not really conversation at all. There is no mutually beneficial imparting of wisdom or sharing of interesting information. And being good at conversation, knowing lots of words and what order to put them in to create wit or irony or a bitter scathing dry sarcastic insult of the clearly vapid, pubescent-stubble-faced arse-pimple stood opposite does not win one the ‘cockfight.’ No, words are intelligent, and therefore un-masculine. How we (and by ‘we,’ I mean, ‘they.’ I refuse to accept any responsibility) evolved as a gender is beyond me. Men don’t listen to each other. Not properly. They only listen to the statistics. If one man claims to be able to lift lots of heavy things or chug vast quantities of hard liquor (and these are the things that men like to claim), the man next to him will probably boast that he can manage double. While riding a horse. In a rodeo. On LSD. Over red hot coals. While wearing an eye patch. And having sex with… whatever her name is… that exoskeletal one from the Fast and Furious movies (which I refuse to refer to as ‘films,’ and the titles of which I, likewise, refuse to italicise out of respect to decent cinema, and because they are such undeserving piles of utter steaming turgid dross) whom they all salivate over but whom I think possesses all the beauty of two of the coarsest, blackest, strayest pubic hairs sellotaped (with that cheap nasty stuff that doesn’t stick very well) to the end of a broom handle. Men, you’re giving (y)our gender a bad name. Just stop being such dicks.

Part III
A boy, a girl, and a pizza

In a previous edition of these rants bearing the frankly plagiarised title of Room 101, I made reference to my chronic and, it’s no exaggeration to say, catastrophic social ineptitude. It has become something of a fun, albeit self-indulgent, tradition for me to do so. Or perhaps, for those of you reading, it’s a torture. Like family Christmas, it could so easily fall into either category. Anyway, I cannot claim to be a social butterfly, or any of the similarly luridly coloured and proverbially socially agile majestic winged creatures of that particular phylum. In reality, I am the butterfly’s lowly, distant, and, given that its species outnumber those of butterflies by a factor of ten, probably massively inbred cousin, the rather more monochromatic social moth. I live much of my life in darkness about social things and how to deal with them so, consequently, when the blinding bright lightbulb of a social occasion or conversation or potential friendship is illuminated, I clumsily and repeatedly bang my head against it.

Fortunately, I am occasionally given a reprieve from being a complete social retard. It’s a rare act but a powerful one. Indeed, if I were to take a lot of LSD or a similarly psychoactive substance, it might give me cause to believe in a divine and sympathetic being who floats around on a cloud consuming Mars bars all day and toying with the puny humans on… whatever the supercharged, celestial equivalent of the Xbox is. Instead, I believe (or at least hope) that there are people out there who possess enough goodness, or simply a healthy enough dose of their own special intoxicating blend of weirdness, to look past my social failings and perhaps want to get to know me better. Believe it or not, I have actually met some of these people. Bless their poor unfortunate souls. Indeed, these people often have a not ungodlike ability to make me feel at ease and to bring out my best bits. No, not my genitals. They bring out the best bits of my character, if such bits do actually exist. Like a video technician compiling the highlights of the latest gripping encounter between two opposing bunches of sweaty, bulbous, bum-grabbing men chasing a ball around a paddock for no discernable purpose. Or like alcohol. But with much less heavy-headedness. Or embarrassment. Or raging self-disgust. Or waking up cling filmed to a lamp post wearing little more than a pair of pink stiletto heels (which, after the initial shock, actually looked pretty cute).

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to meet one of those reassuring creatures recently, at my place of work. This was a double blessing, as my place of work is a depressing sinkhole for individuality. It’s a death ship, piloted largely by a pack of joyless cretins, whose idea of comedy is the most appalling, primary school toilet humour imaginable. Arses. So, to meet one of those rare people who enables me to feel less like a social fish out of water meant that the red mist became a rather lovely cabernet sauvignon. The dreary working hours are made infinitely more tolerable in the company of someone whose head my deadpan wit doesn’t slide straight over like a dog struggling for traction on a hardwood floor. In fact we got along sufficiently well that our acquaintance extended outside of work and, among other occasions where we ‘hung out,’ as I believe young people say, she and I began a tradition of sharing a pizza and a yarn once a week after one of our coinciding shifts aboard the HMS Imminent Suicide.

Yes, that’s right, she and I. She’s a girl. A female. Holder of two X chromosomes. A lady person. A fact I find completely unremarkable but which, in the rest of the population, induces cocked eyebrows and a deafening cacophony of jawbones slapping pavement. Why this should be so is beyond me. The small circle of friends I havemanaged to accrue as a social science experiment gone wrong consists entirely of the fairer sex. This is not a boast. It is merely because men’s tendency to turn everything into the World Trouser-Snake Championship (by which I mean an endeavour to determine who has the mightiest man-parts, rather than some kind of late night adult channel nudist snooker competition in which the penis is used as a cue) makes me want to cut off my own equipment and fling it from a tall building, or into the nearest fast moving body of water. I simply find women less of a frustration to get along with. But, apparently, sharing a pizza with a member of the opposite sex is a noteworthy phenomenon. Indeed, we became the subject of rumour at work. Tongues were wagging about… well, where we might have been putting our tongues. I am, of course, referring to cataglottism, typically known as ‘French kissing,’ and not the C word for that other kind of oral aerobics. Kindly remove your mind from the gutter, will you? Having never, to my knowledge, been the hot topic on the gossip mill, I have to confess that I was, for the briefest of moments, mildly chuffed at being the talk of the sewing circle. That was until I realised it was much more conducive to comedy ranting if I was annoyed about it. But it is truly irksome that a boy and a girl can’t have a conversation, or be in the same room, or even within the same postal code, without it being presumed that there’s something more than friendship going on between them. Unfathomable as it seems, some men and women (i.e. this man and basically any woman) are capable of occupying the same piece of real estate without their genitals suddenly and inevitably aligning and rushing towards each other with flaming ardour. Sharing a meat-lovers’ pizza does not mean that I hoped my meat would get some lovin’. It’s not some highly codified method of informing the world that we’ve arranged the fleshy, salty-sweet areas of our respective anatomies in a similarly harmonious, delicious, and orgasmic way. I mean call me old fashioned, but my idea of a romantic bedroom soiree involves slightly less barbecue sauce.

Glowstick - Hamish Ansley

Somewhere in the bush on the side of a mountain. That’s where we were. One hundred and fifty fourth-form students subdivided into smaller groups and led by teachers we had previously known only as figures in brown suits behind desks or in front of whiteboards. The same as every other school camp, as far as I could tell. A sensory overload of gravel tracks and greenery that the curriculum deemed somehow character building. I watched the sportive among my group leaping confidently over mud-filled ruts and climbing steep rock grades with ease. I heard their energetic shouts ahead of me and, behind me, the wheezing of the asthmatics and those who spent intervals and lunchtimes smoking in the C-block toilets. The track wound and descended to a clearing by a ford, which we were to cross to continue our hike. I lingered at the edge of the clearing for a bit, sitting on a stump, not wanting to join the others and their enthused chatter just yet.

She appeared beside me at the edge. Two white legs in denim shorts and hiking shoes. She paused for a moment. Said nothing. I just looked up at her and then back down at the mud. She leapt child-like down the short drop, joining the rest of the group. I followed. A few had already begun to cross the ford, stepping deftly from rock to rock, avoiding the stream which was shin-deep in places. I did my best to appear confident and did the same – making it nearly all the way, before hesitating between two rocks which could both have taken me across. I thrust my foot at one courageously, before changing my mind, overbalancing, and slipping into the water. Laughter and sarcastic applause hit me, colder than the stream. One wet shoe and one dry. She gave me a sympathetic smile as I climbed the bank.
– You ok? She asked. The first words she had ever addressed to me.
– Fine. I said, not knowing what more to add.

She walked several places ahead of me – an exquisite creature among the incessant repetition of nettles and ferns. The greens and browns of the world around me swirled with her image in my mind, muddying the clarity I sought about how to confess my adoration. The twisted branches were bars between me and my desire to speak to her. I wished to set fire to them all, and was thankful when we finally emerged from their oppressive arms. The long summer day was just fading as we gained the lodge, greeted by warm chicken wraps and cool drinks. I watched her assemble hers delicately, with a pair of fine white hands and a turquoise bracelet on her wrist. She sat with friends, chatting amiably but not finishing her meal. She became sullen and quiet as it grew dark, turning the bracelet around her wrist nervously. The colour of her confidence had disappeared along with the daylight.

Though the night was clear and warm she grew visibly more anxious as we were led up the hill. It was only then I realised why. We would each be dropped off, one by one, in the bush and left for two hours. Alone. Two girls nearby were carrying torches, but they were soon confiscated. We were to sit in complete darkness. That was the point. I relished the thought. Two hours to just sit and be! She clearly detested it. Even in the low light I could see her pupils wide and her cheeks flushed with triangles of red. She spoke frantically to her friends, saying she didn’t want to do it, she wanted to go back, could she be left somewhere where she could see the stars? Her voice was hoarse and her breathing shallow. I had smuggled a glowstick in my jacket pocket. Much easier to conceal than a torch. I knew it would shine yellow when I snapped it.  

I could give it to her. She’ll appreciate it more than me. I don’t mind the dark. How I wished to be the one to assuage her anxiety.

We reached the edge of the bush, and stood in loose clusters, waiting to be delivered into the darkness. I approached her. Her anxiety had reached its peak. Her hands were clasped under her chin and she was trying not to shake. Her friends continued to console her. I willed them away silently. I wanted to speak to her alone but they wouldn’t leave. She shivered though it was warm. I stood sheepishly on the edge of her group, my hand clasping the glowstick in my jacket pocket.
A stern voice in the dark called for us to form a queue. Quickly. We were led into the bush, a procession of bodies, and dropped off one by one. I sat on a patch of decaying leaves and took out the glowstick. It had snapped in my pocket and radiated yellow. 

I saw myself in the darkness and threw the glowstick into the night.

Contributor's Note

I'm a writer of mainly short prose - a proportion of which is (hopefully) comedic - and poetry. Beginning graduate study in English in 2014.


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