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'o p s i m a t h y & t h e r o a d t o s e e d l e s s n e s s'


"opsimath - n. someone who learns late in life."

- the chambers english dictionary

and so i start at university... at my age. no, no, really.
enrollment was a purgatory of young people trying to look disinterested and fashionable, a good two hours of sitting and waiting, effectively, to sign my name on a piece of paper. i spend my time silently ridiculing the more amusing examples of youth, before realising that one or more of them are probably on the same course as me.
i expect to spend a great deal of my time at university telling people to pull their trousers up and asking them if they're aware that their hats are on backwards.
the university itself is a kafka's nightmare of corridors and confusing code-like room numbers: tm2-37, bel1-05, bp2-53, etc. sheets of different colour a4 paper are stuck on every wall directing students to this room or that, arrows pointing up stairs, down hallways, down stairs, across courtyards. and even when i know where it is i'm going, i still manage to misjudge the distance, thinking a room is just around a corner only to find out that there's a whole nother corridor, sometimes two, between where i thought it was and where it actually is. students are e v e r y w h e r e, bustling this way and that, choking up corridors, revoltingly young, making me feel like an impostor, which, trust me, helps. i think some of them have been there for years, not attending classes, just trying to find their way out.
taken from the cover of my course handbook: "available as a pdf document for those with sight disabilities. contact your undergraduate centre"... it took hostess elisabeth to point out what was wrong with this sentence, namely that a pdf document wouldn't actually be all that much good to a blind person and that the full stop after "disabilities" should in fact have been after "document". doesn't foster much confidence in an institution of learning does it?
a few of my fellow students:
* emmanuel apparently sleeps only three to four hours a night and is always imbibing diluted red bull, and yet is always immaculately turned out; when his student loan comes in he plans to buy a motorbike.
* sophie has a pierced lip and tells me she likes "metal and screamo", whatever the fuck that means; sophie is always itching to talk about her latest purchase for her ps2.
* tori warns me that sometimes she wears a purple wig and that if i see someone that looks like her with purple hair then... that'll be her.

on my way home one night i spy a plump dead rat by the railway lines. a week or so later and it's been reduced to a small wizened bag of black leather containing a jumble of polished bones. those maggots don't hang about.

stuart invites me out for an evening of what he describes as "chin-strokey theatre", an evening that hostess elisabeth immediately insists on calling my "big gay night out with stuart". we go and see metamorphosis, at the lyric, hammersmith. stuart likes it, i'm not so keen. i thought the acting was pretty ropey and the dialogue much the same (gimme berkoff's adaptation anyday). apart from a few nice visual touches i thought it was pretty much rubbish. we go for a drink at a nearby pub after the show and stuart reinforces hostess elisabeth's view on the sexual orientation of the night by ordering half a shandy. so, not only a shandy, but half a one. blatant flaming poovery i'm sure you'll agree. the pub in question lends further credence to the gay theme by announcing above the bar that it has something called 'sausage of the week'; our euphemism glands go hog wild.

back at university (i refuse to call it "uni"), when our lecture is double booked with another class, we're told to wait in the hallway for another room to be found. a girl who works at the university, who brings a few lost students to where we are, listens for a while to our protests at being cheated out of a room. "are you all first years?" she asks, when we reply that we are she just laughs loudly, the intimation of course being that by the second and third years we'll be more than used to this kind of thing happening.

out of nowhere, a day's work in harlesdon. no, i didn't know whereabouts it was in london either. i'm told that the kfc on the high street has bullet proof glass between the employees and the customers; apparently the food is slipped through a hole in the glass like in a bank. nice.

i think elin chrom sounds like a bond villainess.

late one night, after she'd been fed, i'm pretty sure the cat looked me in the eye and said the word "marinara". a plea for vegetarianism?

this week i turned down a free ticket to see daddy cool. i think this was the right decision. i mean, michelle collins and the music of boney m.? on one stage? i think i may have had some kind of genital embolism.

i brush passed a meandering fool of a woman in tescos, kentish town, and all of a sudden i'm being shouted at as if i'd slapped the silly cow. she shrieked that "an excuse me would have been nice" i tell her that not stopping dead in the middle of the fucking checkout aisle might also have been 'nice'. another woman nearer me joins in the shouting, telling me not to swear at the first woman because she was a woman. um... ofuckoff. i inquire of the second woman who it might have been that had requested she put in her two penneth; i fail to receive a suitable, or intelligible answer. the shouting goes on for some time. i can tell that the first woman is getting more and more angry and i sense she might be toying with the idea of suggesting, rather loudly, that i pushed into and passed her (which would have been a bald-faced lie but would have strengthened her position in the eyes of other customers, not to mention make me guilty of assault). i look at the security guard and he rolls his eyes. i tell the first woman that i didn't even touch her and she tells me that i have no manners. i smile, shake my head and leave. the whole thing had blown out of all proportion in less than half a minute, it was all a bit dizzying and utterly fucking absurd... people.

for a much recommended night out, you could do a great deal worse than go and see 'lady macbeth of mtsensk' at the royal opera house. a great evening of sex, murder and disco dancing; and while the first two might be staples of opera, the third has to be worth a ticket. great music too -it's interesting to note that when the opera was first staged, the pravda described it as "chaos instead of music". as a side note i should say that the bloke playing sergey's hair was perfect, very russian, if that's makes any sense. go see. (and no, i don't know how to pronounce 'mtsensk' -answers on a postcard)

while in new york, at a flea market, hostess elisabeth came across a box of 30 black and white pictures, 23½ x 28cm, printed on card. the lid of the box read 'thematic apperception test'. under this is printed "this test is sold on the understanding that the plates are not to be publicly displayed and may be purchased only by authorized persons", which, realising that there could be fewer people less "authorized", immediately made her want to own them. if you've accessed the above link, you'll know that this is a psychological test, to interpret patients' moods, attitudes and their, what i've chosen to call, 'potential mentalness'. most of the pictures are pretty grim or sinister (unless that's just my unbalanced reading of them) and have been criticised in the past for an unhelpful leaning towards the negative. what concerns me is the answers that might have been given when it came time to show card #16, which is totally blank.

a 'fun' fact: "lettuce is a member of the sunflower family".

and so, utterly at my wit's fucking end with electric shavers and at a loss to know just how much i'm supposed to pay before i get one that actually, o i don't know, f u c k i n g w o r k s, i have reverted (for the first time in close to 20 years) to wet shaving. and i have to say i really rather enjoyed it. there's something relaxing and methodical about it and i've been surprised with how little trouble my skin's given me as a result. urgh, i've just had a horrible thought, does this make me a 'man'?

having had to re-book due to the aforementioned lady macbeth, the date was finally set for my vasectomy. friday 13th. and no ordinary friday the 13th either, the morning metro informs me that if the date 13/10/2006 has all of its individual digits added together, they add up to 13. and so they do. apparently this hasn't happened since 1520. so, a great day to be having your unmentionables sliced open and tinkered with, no? the date also happens to be my mother's birthday ("happy birthday mum, no grandchildren from me!") i should mention at this point that not only were both my parents born on a 13th, they also married on one. the superstitious among you might argue that this explains a great deal about their progeny...

perhaps more laid back about the whole process than some would argue i should be, i looked on the 'procedure' as nothing more serious than, say, going to the dentist's to have a tooth removed. it was far from bravery, appearing to me as nothing more than a necessity. having decided that it was what i wanted, it was simply me putting my money where my mouth was, or more accurately putting my gonads where my mouth was, but then that sounds a little too athletic... and not a little unpleasant.
before i left university that day i was asked why i wasn't staying for a drink in the bar; i told them about my appointment with the knife (or to be more accurate 'diathermy', they zap you open, zap yer tubes and zap you closed again -it's all very star trek). emmanuel's reply was "well you've got bigger cojones than me", which sounded like a challenge but i thought a direct comparison inappropriate and likely to lead to disappointment and/or involuntary regurgitation for all concerned.
on the way there i passed a man holding a child, then another. they both seemed perfectly happy with the situation and why shouldn't they be? but it felt like nothing at all to do with me.
i had a definite and comforting feeling of 'opting out'. i didn't experience, nor have i ever experienced, any doubt in what i was doing. to use neubauten's phrase, "to be no part of it".
i met hostess elisabeth and after a very nice burger here, we head off to get this road on the show. at the marie stopes house we're lead from waiting room to waiting room, up and down the narrow stairs. i'm glad to find that the counseling consists of little more than "you've thought about this, right?" as i'm not sure at my age i should have to justify my position beyond a "yes", particularly when i'm the one paying for the procedure. i'm asked to sign a form to say that i don't mind a fully qualified but not fully experienced doctor (dr. islam) to perform my vasectomy, while being overseen by a senior doctor (dr. black -very friday 13th). i'm assured that dr. islam has been fully trained and that there's nothing to worry about and so there wasn't, the things that could be said to have later gone 'wrong' with the whole business had nothing to do with any inexperience on dr. islam's part, or indeed on dr. black's...

we were finally directed downstairs to where i paid and then i alone was directed further down to the final waiting room, leaving hostess elisabeth upstairs to ponder my fate. in this final waiting room the walls were lined with a series of sun-loungers covered in blue toweling, presumably because lying down puts less pressure on any post-vasectomy testicles than sitting upright(?). the sun-lounger i chose made a loud half grinding / half flatulent sound as i sat on it, a disturbing and awkward sound in the near silent room. while waiting for the diathermic axe to fall, i browsed through a strange magazine called golf punk, which seems to be trying to make golf 'cool' again... just by putting the word 'punk' after it. so, only thirty odd years since that term was fresh and exciting then. while browsing i luxuriate in the ability to cross my legs, knowing that it'll be a good few weeks until i can do so again with any degree of confidence.
anyhoo, in i go and it's strides off, lie down, pants down, t-shirt up, lickety-split. about the time that the needle goes in (and i'm told to lie back and stop watching -pah), the nurse starts an idle conversation with me. i realise halfway through that she has in fact been employed solely as a diversionary tactic, as she takes no part in the actual procedure at all. in no time at all dr. islam has zapped my scrotum asunder and is rooting around inside like a woman looking for her keys in her handbag. and he roots around and roots around. suddenly there's a pinching pain and i wince. wasn't i meant to be anaesthetised? it was a strange kind of pain. ironically, considering my dentist analogy above, the pain was not unlike the pain of silver foil on a dental filling, that kinda of sharp grating 'electric' pain... but concentrated testicularly. it transpires that he's having a job grabbing hold, and then keeping a hold of my vas deferans and has to ask dr. black to step in. so then, i thought, it would appear that i have unusually slippery tubes, so i've learned something today. i imagine the tubes as a nest of wriggling albino eels, oily and uncooperative. dr. black manages to grab the eel and zaps it. thin colourless smoke rises off of my bollocks. another first then. dr. islam then goes in search of the other tube but the same problem occurs, again dr. black steps in and after more rooting around (i imagine him up to his elbows), and a little more pain (after which dr. black tells me he'll give me more, ikidyounot, "jungle juice") the second eel is finally trapped and zapped. i had been told upstairs that the procedure would take 6-8 minutes. i think mine took closer to 15.
having been beaten to the chop by the elusive tobias, i had been warned by him that while the vasectomy itself didn't hurt (um, well, maybe most don't), the aftermath when the drugs wore off was, well, to use his words "hooooo, mama - that hurts". luckily i had very little actual pain when this happened, more a kind of distant ache... maybe because i took painkillers the very second i started to get sensation back in me plums. anyway, 'tis done... if i can leave one piece of advice behind concerning vasectomy aftercare it is this: don't run while naked. trust me.

recommended: (audio) 'lady macbeth of mtsensk' by shostakovich / (comestible) tregroes chocolate waffles with soft butter toffee centre -ooooh, my w o r d / (visual) 'lady macbeth of mtsensk' by shostakovich / (sensorial) wet shaving!

reviled: (audio) ambulance ltd. -thank you nudey / (comestible) tesco 'finest' carbonara sauce / (visual) intimate bruising / (sensorial) 'electric' pain in me nethers