Disconnected…

I usually write this blog at home, sitting in the living room in front of the telly. This one is being written over several days in various outdoor places. As I write now, my internet connection has been down for 10 days, two hours and 17 minutes. (That’s why there was no blog last week. Sorry!) Since I’ve got out of bed this morning, I have not read an email, or visited a Web page, or downloaded a song, or sent an instant message. I am coming to you live.

It is just me. Just a guy with a disconnected laptop, lounging on a deck chair in Hyde Park, alone. No little windows will pop up with a friend wanting to chat. No emails telling me how to artificially extend my penis. No bad news about the economy and Syria and reality television. An argument could be made that this is as undisturbed an environment as I have seen in years.

And I hate it. I can’t breathe. I am lost. I am a man without identity.

Here under the trees near the Serpentine, I have set up my outdoor space to reflect my online world. I am speaking to no one. I have put on my music, as loud as is acceptable, and tuned out. There are other people around, but I will not speak with them unless absolutely necessary, even the really attractive ones in hotpants — say, if one of them is on fire or about to eat something poisonous. I made a deal a long time ago that my writing self would be different from my real self, and this deal has required me to make some sacrifices. Social skills were the first to go. Talking no longer happens. I spend a lot of time online for reference and research, so when I am writing this blog, or poetry, or a few pages of what I hope will someday be my debut novel, I am no longer David. I am simply my online identity.

When I am writing, I will only communicate online as well. And I write a lot. So there are these people… people with whom I have discussed particularly memorable past sexual experiences and debilitating hangovers and illicit substances, all on Facebook messenger, or via e-mail and text messages, or over MSN and BBM… these people, I’m not even sure I would recognise their voices.

Watch! Watch! Watch as my tentacles spread throughout the country and, lo, the world! Here I am in London — and now I am in Edinburgh! To New York! To Australia! To Mali! I am everywhere at once. Ding! A missive from Italy! Allow me to join you, weary traveller. I would stay longer, but I must go to Spain! There is sun there, but I have not the time. I am everywhere, but not too long, because there is more and more and more. And it all comes with a soundtrack of my own choosing. Do I want the Stones to accompany me on my journey? Vivaldi? Ella Fitzgerald? How about Bob Marley? Wait, I don’t have the new Jay-Z/Kanye album? Click-click-click-woosh… now I do! Where to next? Where to? And on and on! And on!

And it is now gone. The Internet is down. What the fuck is the problem anyway?

Who am I if I am not an MSN handle? If I am not intothenightlife, what is it I have become? My link to the world, where people create and envision and dream and hope, it no longer exists. It is a Microsoft Word file, empty, cursor blinking, taunting me, type, type, here, no one can here you scream, your life is a vacuum.

Back home… I am venturing to the bathroom. On foot. Shit, remember when I used to shower and dress nicely every weekend morning? I am wearing the only clean t-shirt I have left, and I have not shaved since Tuesday. My head has indents in it, in the shape of the headphones, and my face is pallid, empty … but yearning. I must get back. There is no time. I must get back to my laptop. Perhaps the Internet has returned! Perhaps we are back on the road! Perhaps I am me again!

We are not back. The Internet is still down.

BT has sent around an engineer, an IT gentleman. It is his job to fix this problem. He is from Ireland, has curly brown hair, wears an earring in the wrong ear, and stands about five-foot tall in heels. He looks like a particularly butch Premiership midfielder. He is a nice guy, jovial, upbeat, hopeful. I bet he talks to his parents weekly, at least. He likely has a dog who follows behind him, and licks his face in the mornings, and fetches his slippers. He pays his bills on time, loves TalkSport radio, and smiles and says, “’Ello mate!” to the newsagent when he buys his Sun newspaper every morning. He is telling me he cannot help me. Right now I would like to rip his fucking face off with a staple remover, slowly, meticulously snipping at the edges of the cheeks, under the chin, around the ears, fftt fftt fftt at the hairline, nice little clips all around, and then, yes, we’re ready now, YANK, splurt, splash, all that’s left is a skull with some wet flesh and that earring attached. (So sorry… I watched Red Dragon the other night!) I hope his eyes stay in their sockets. I want him to see what he has wrought.

Help me. I’m lost. I am a broken man, a ghost, a shell, a dead desiccated oyster buried under dry sand. A character in search of a play. A camel in search of a desert. A bone in search of a dog. I have been out there for so long, hiding from the rest of you so well, that the shakes are uncontrollable. Perhaps a drink of water. No, no, what if it comes back while I am gone?

I don’t know what to do. Maybe I could look through old screen shots. Yes, yes, my Microsoft Explorer, if I shift to offline mode, has saved some sites I visited a few days ago. Ah! It’s a Google search from Thursday! A preview of last night’s game! (Didn’t quite turn out as predicted.) Oh, look, it’s a story by a friend of mine — by friend, I mean an email address halfway across the world which belongs to a body I have not met — on a spunky little independent Web site. That story was funny. Remember that story? Remember when you read that last week, intothenightlife? Oh, those were the days. Such memories. Such great times.

Ah, but I am hungry, and I must find more sustenance. Regurgitation will not suffice. The big dog must eat. Connecting to server… connecting to server… connecting to server… sweet heavens, can’t I just connect? Help me connect. I need to connect. I am nothing here. I have no leg to stand on.

Help. Help. Yelp. Yellow. Yemer. Yemen. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. A rat in the house may eat the ice cream. Algebra. Trigonometry. The unbearable lightness of being sad I miss the comfort in being sad two’s comfort but THREE’S A CROWD! THREE’S A CROWD!

Wait, wait… wahey, check it out… what’s that… the Internet’s back! The world has opened again! OK… see you later suckers!

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Headbangers ball

I can hit my head against solid surfaces and objects really, really hard.

That might be perceived as a flippant statement, maybe a little in-joke you don’t get, or a philosophical metaphor for the struggle of the human brain to fathom the weight of existence. It is neither. I’m simply telling you: I can bash my forehead into things, and it doesn’t really hurt.

I first noticed this ability in primary school, where such God-given talents are usually discovered. This might come as a shock to you but, in primary school, I attempted to make up for my inadequacies and insecurities about girls by brazenly attempting to attract attention to myself. My early, crude attempts involved armpit noises, blotches of ketchup smeared dribbled down my chin to simulate blood and, until puberty hit, impersonations of Mickey Mouse’s voice. None of these seemed to go over well.

Then, one day, when I was trying to make Suzie Johnson laugh on a bus ride home from school, I took my spelling book and bashed it against my face. Suzie had been telling me she was having trouble with spelling, how she just couldn’t get the letters in right order, how she just couldn’t make the words fit right in her head, no matter how hard she studied. I had a word-a-day calendar at home, and I’d recently learned osmosis. I told her she should just try to put the book to her head, or maybe sleep on top of it, and perhaps it would all just seep in. “Check it out,” I said. And then…WHAP!

The reaction was immediate. The eyes of the entire bus locked on me. Joy, the bus driver who had known me since kindergarten, mistakenly thought I’d hit Suzie with the book and made me do the walk of shame to the front of the bus, sitting directly behind her, like all the troublemakers. I told her I didn’t hit Suzie; it was my own head I’d hit. To prove it, I smacked myself with it again. “David!” she exclaimed. “Why on earth are you doing that?” Everyone on the bus was still staring at me. I had their rapt attention. It was exhilarating. Their looks answered Joy’s question, easily.

After that, I honed my talent into an art form. During lunch, I’d gather friends around and let them take shots at me with the cafeteria trays. It became rote to walk into doors face-first and then fall back dramatically, pretending I was in agony before breaking a smile to let them know that, no, I was fine. At parties, I would ask a girl to dance, and if she said no, I would ram my face into the wall. Sure, they were horrified at first, but after a while, they were simply repulsed. It never failed to get a laugh from my friends, and it got everyone talking about me, and, really, that’s all I wanted.

Eventually I even trained myself to take repeated shots, usually against some sort of table, a woodpecker-type motion: WHUP-WHUP-WHUP-WHUP-WHUPWHUPWHUP! My all-time high was 16 in a row. Even I started to get dizzy at about 14, though that was more because of the quick downward thrusts than anything else.

The years passed, but this skill never waned. As I got older, alcohol entered the equation, upping the ante. Oftentimes, toward the end of the night, everyone would gather around, making sure their glasses were off the table, and then watch Daring David’s display. Alcohol made me somewhat cocky, though, and a couple of times I would come up with rather large cuts in my forehead. It still never hurt, though.

It even comes in handy at work. When I’m having a particularly bad day, or just had another conversation with on of the resident idiots, I can quietly retreat to my office, close the door and use my head to perform a slow, rhythmic beat on the desk.

We all have a little talent like this. One friend can say words backwards as easily as he can forwards. (Palindromes make his nose bleed.) Another can rattle off the names of every ’80s rock band member, with instruments. One can bend his fingers the wrong direction so that they touch his wrist. I’m sure you have one too. Mine just happens to be a resilient forehead. My talent’s advantage is that it makes a loud noise, and sometimes leaves a rather frightening welt. Maybe it all started at the age of three, when I fell and busted my head against a stair, receiving a permanent scar on my forehead, but I feel like kind of a tough guy; sure, I can’t lift a pair of dumbbells without busting a blood vessel, but I can take as many head shots with a flat object that you can muster. There should be some sort of Strongman competition for this. Or maybe I should go on Britain’s Got Talent… or Jackass.

Of course, um, I’m in my late 30s now, which means I rarely perform anymore — or at least I try to limit my performances to the right moments. I usually don’t call people over anymore. I’ve found more subtle, quiet ways to make sure everyone around pays attention to me now. But when the right moment comes, almost always at a bar, I’ll pick my spot and just lay one down. The trick now relies more on the element of the unexpected; maybe we’ll be discussing politics or something, and someone will make a point I hadn’t thought of and have no instant response or comeback to. The debate has been lost. What better time? WHAP! WHAP! WHAP-WHAP-WHAP! After that, people tend to forget whatever it is we were talking about. I know I do.

Look! I can even do it against a keyboard! Fgo iftp uit eca etrffvm,frf4vrfvk gjuhhuyyhuddyt dytduy7y8t7t6t67.

All right. I’m done here. I think something just haemorrhaged.

In an age of 24-hour news, how do we know what’s right?

In recognition of World Press Freedom Day 2012

How good is the media? Which branches of it can I trust? Where will I find balance and substance instead of trash and sensationalism? How believable are the anonymous sources on the Internet? How can we trust the media amid the rapid pace of technological change and the apparent erosion of journalistic ethics? How, in other words, do I find truth?

These are always important questions, especially since no industry has felt the impact of technological change more significantly than the communications industry.

In the early days of journalism, reporters used to write their stories on typewriters. A long, unwieldy editing and production process followed before the final product appeared — a printed newspaper. Today, reporters and photographers produce their work on laptops and transmit them electronically and instantly to their offices. There, it moves from computer to computer, undergoing the editing process, getting headlines and captions written, and flowing into pagination ready for printing with the touch of a computer button.

In TV news, too, technology has made for instant coverage of major events around the world, and even in space.

Because news is now transmitted instantly, the consequences of getting it wrong are more serious. The responsibility for getting it right is much greater. The war in Vietnam was said to have been the first conflict that brought the horrors of war into people’s living rooms. That was true, but back then several days still elapsed, during which there was time for reflection and editing, before the footage actually appeared on TV screens.

By the advent of the first Gulf War, technology had changed all this. Correspondents, using relatively portable transmitting equipment, were able to broadcast from the middle of the desert live, and appear instantly on television screens. Thus we saw a network correspondent reporting that Scud missiles, reportedly carrying chemical agents in their warheads, were incoming. The initial report was false. There were Scud missiles, but not with chemical warheads. By the time the erroneous information was corrected, millions of viewers may have missed it.

The roles of reporter and editor are even more critical today in the rush to publish or broadcast without forfeiting integrity. While the media can be a significant force for good, there are also lapses from professional journalistic standards that are disturbing.

Any journalism student should have heard of Janet Cooke, the Washington Post reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for her moving story about a child crack dealer. It read beautifully. It seemed well documented. There was just one thing wrong with the story — the child crack dealer she wrote about didn’t exist.

You’d think such a scandal would put a serious crimp in journalistic invention but, sadly, such transgressions are still with us. Manipulation of the news is a problem, and an embarrassment to journalists of integrity.

Within hours of Osama bin Laden’s death being announced last year, some media organisations ran a picture showing his bloodied, lifeless face with a bullet-hole in the head. The picture was very quickly proven to be a hoax. Who was the source of the image? Was it checked or challenged? Or did media houses, in the rush to beat their competitors, simply accept at face value whatever was thrown at them. Worse yet, was it a news organisation that created the false image in the first place?

Take The Mirror’s 2004 account of British soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq, for example. The abuse apparently did take place but, to illustrate their story, The Mirror staged photos at a Territorial Army base in Lancashire and offered them to readers as the real thing. Rightfully, it cost then-editor Piers Morgan his job.

Too often we have tasteless intrusiveness: the cameramen up a tree, shooting through windows families who have pleaded for privacy; the TV reporter who holds a microphone in the face of an 11-year-old AIDS victim and asks how he feels knowing he’s going to die. And don’t even get me started on the scandal of phone-hacking!

When it comes to public figures, their private lives are not off-limits to reasonable scrutiny by the media. That’s the price that must be paid by those who seek our votes, demand our trust, and make significant decisions. However, this scrutiny by the media must be reasonable and purposeful, not merely prurient.

Around the world, thousands of journalists work honourably at their profession, striving to be fair and responsible, often under deadline stress. But the errors of others are used to impugn them all.

The Internet has also contributed to problems. Anybody can get on it, pretend to be a journalist, and publish a scurrilous rumour. There’s a 1993 New Yorker magazine cartoon I came across recently. It shows a dog tapping away at a computer keyboard and saying to the dog on the floor beside him: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It’s funny, but it makes a serious point. The Internet is often an anonymous medium. So while we embrace it and recognise the increasingly important role of the “citizen journalist” we still need to test the credibility of those who tell us things on it.

Even the best news organisations made mistakes and are often obliged to make retractions. But if we look for the real cause of media transgressions, we see that they were caused by inventing, manipulating, overstating, or misinterpreting the facts.

Why? In large part, it is because of the intense competition between media organisations. Hundreds of new cable channels are competing among themselves and challenging the traditional networks. TV news magazines are in fierce combat for audience supremacy. Print newspapers are competing for readers against supermarket tabloids, weeklies, and throwaway freebies. The Internet proliferates. Talk radio jousts with everybody.

All journalists should consider journalistic lapses and the effect they have on their credibility as a whole. Standards need to be constantly criticised and reassessed. News organisations need to ensure that mechanisms are in place to permit readers/viewers/listeners to air their complaints, or to rebut perceived misstatements and inaccurate reporting. The role of the Internet as a reliable news source needs to be questioned.

If all this adds up to a wake-up call for the media, and leads to better self-policing, that’s good. Journalism today could do with a little more attention to principle, a little more concern about ethics.

As a reader, you may be asking, “What can I do about all this?” You are on the receiving end of a torrent of information that will guide many of the decisions you make in life. Therefore, you must make intelligent judgments about what you read, listen to, and watch. You have a responsibility to determine the truth about what is going on around you in your local community, and the nation, and the world.

When some elements of the media offer up material you think is inaccurate, distorted, or distasteful, there is an opportunity to be heard. Editors listen. The good ones, at least. They get a daily flood of letters from the public on all kinds of subjects. They don’t always agree, but they pay attention to public reaction to what they published. And when mistakes are made, they generally correct them. So call or write your newspaper or TV/radio station when you think they’ve got it wrong.

The saving grace of the media is its incredible diversity — from the sleazy supermarket tabloids to The Times, from TV news magazines to Oprah. The media can often be very good, indeed. It sheds a spotlight on dark corners of our society. It topples public officials found unworthy of our trust. It is the voice and protector of those who would otherwise have no voice.

But when it is not so good, it needs individuals like you to help it be better, to hold it to higher standards.

The garden cycle

Last weekend, with the trees not quite fully leafed out, the sun’s unabashed rays filled my back garden with Spring’s bright light. The place glowed with a certain timbre, like the soft glare off old early risers, the little plants that will mature and set seed before the canopy forms.

Until the garden grows and mulches the soil with its own shady cover, there’s an inordinate amount of weeding to do. The soil is moist and crumbly and the weeds came out easily. I grasp stem and leaves at ground level, rock the plant slightly to one side with a slight pull just barely beyond the point that the plant resists, and the root pops free. I shake it to free the soil still clinging to its roots. It’s good to have dirt under my fingernails again!

Weeds enjoy a success that’s astounding. Our efforts to eradicate them are a little comical — there is no way we’ll ever win. The weeding’s not unpleasant, though. It’s a chance to get a feel for things again, to check the soil’s tilth, and to get new green matter into the compost I’ve just started. I’m surprised at how much I think about that compost pile. The balance of nature’s uncontrived give and take creates a balance that our plots don’t usually enjoy.

What we ask of the garden is often more than we compensate it for, and then fertility declines. You can feel it: a thinness, even in heavy soil. The colour is wan. Composting is essential.

From what I remember from my 4H Club days, one-part to two-parts proportion between green materials and brown is a good rule: grass clippings, garden trimmings and weeds; brown leaves and hay. The addition of healthy garden soil and farm manure helps the composting process along. The vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and other miscellaneous kitchen waste I put in seem to amount to nearly nothing.

Adding them to the pile seems hardly worth the effort. Every couple of days, though, I add the odd kitchen scraps. It’s valuable for its minor nutrients and the microbial diversity it encourages. I push my garden fork into the pile once a week or so; When it seems to give, I turn it, move the dark, crumbly stuff into the garden and return the rest to the pile. Good compost can be slow in coming, and there’s little we can do but attend to it.

The work nurtures me, though, maybe as much as it nurtures the plants — this giving back to the good earth. Shepherding the utterly common along its way to fostering new life offers a glimpse of the wondrous side of living.

The threshold between hope and fear

After watching a debate about religious fundamentalism on BBC1’s The Big Question this morning, just before heading out to enjoy the sights and sounds of London, I was reminded of this commentary I wrote just over a year ago…

Late at night in the A&E reception, my tired eyes kept tripping back to the three children playing.

One white and two black, all aged around five, they fooled around and squealed as if nobody was sick and the whole world was a playground. As one mother went to help the nurses move her husband, the other mother kept watch.

“You know, I think we can get beyond race,” a Jewish friend whispered to me while watching the children. “It’s religious differences people have a hard time getting over.”

Religious differences, he reasoned, lead to all kinds of wars; the military conflicts that are all over the globe at any given time as well as the “culture wars” that infuse domestic politics. Religious differences stir up anger, he said, because one person’s rejection of another’s beliefs is perceived as an insult.

When you don’t subscribe to someone else’s religion, they perceive that you’re declaring their beliefs to be wrong or stupid. Faith, by its very definition, involves things that can’t be proven. But people are always trying to prove their faith is the right one. They “prove” it, one might suppose, by shunning and, in some cases, eliminating those with different beliefs.

That might be true. I don’t know. The problems of race and religion both are complicated — complicated by class, economics and opportunity. Complicated by culture. Complicated by history. In sociological circles there’s a theory that race is a “social construct.” The idea, as I understand it, is that racial differences are based not on biological distinctions but cultural ones, differences of language and socialisation, experience and expectation.

Considering the migrations and interminglings that have made up human history, I can see the logic. Each of us learn what it means to be black or white, Vietnamese or Japanese, and we relate to the rest of the world accordingly. That’s why it’s possible for people with barely a trace of African ancestry to identify as “Black” and for the world to relate to them as such. It’s why, in places such as Africa, the Middle East and Bosnia, tribal and religious divisions transcend biological similarity.

In hospital waiting rooms, these differences tend to be suspended. There, love is vulnerable and raw. Worry settles like fog, and death lurks in the hallways. Families look across a room at one another and what do they see? They see themselves.

The only way we can live together is if we say the celebration of our differences requires us to say that our common humanity matters more.   – Bill Clinton

Ennui

Give me some spirit. Give me some fire. Give me some soul, brother! Give me something that works me, that makes me want to jump around, live, breathe, laugh, dance, fuck, snort, inhale, walk around on my hands, upside-down jumping jacks, a-one-and-a-two, work it work it, make me feel it, make me want it, make it worth all the shit and piss and bile. I can spew alone no longer. Make it worth it. I don’t want to fidget, sigh, fret, or sulk. I want to be! Can I be? Can somebody give me an amen?! AMEN!

I am waiting for something to inspire me. I want it to lurk behind the bushes and then leap out at me, injecting me with vigour and spice and mirth and fervour, jolt me out of my doldrums, hold me by my feet and shake me, get that loose change out, strip away all the bullshit and make me go go go go GO! Is it out there? How about you? Can you provide it?

I’m tired of work. I’m tired of struggle. I’m tired of waiting around. I’m tired of cordial hellos and Oyster cards and pension plans and proper work behaviour and that’s-a-nice-haircut and increasing Tube fares and matching outfits and rising interest rates and X Factor wannabes and quick download times and The Only Way Is Essex girls and shoe polish and corrupt bankers and hospital superbugs and killer fish that walk on land and the controversial Jeremy Kyle. I want no part of debates on feminist theory, or which pizza is best, or coalition governments. I do not care about Coke Zero; I don’t care how I, too, could be a winner; I do not care if I can hear you now.

I want you to take all that shit and rip it out of me, stomp on it, dissolve it, let your saliva disintegrate it, like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.

I want to run down the street naked covered in ice cream and chocolate sprinkles. I want to do a somersault into a newspaper stand. I want to stretch a rubber band to Groat’s End and douse it with Vaseline. I want to impersonate talcum powder. I want to go belly-flopping in the ocean with these people. I want to irrigate my ears with iodine. I want to take part in the BCFC. I want to surf cornfields. I want a tattoo of a bum on my bum.

I want to wrap my penis in pancake mix and have sex with Betty Crocker. I want to make birds explode with Uncle Ben. I want to get Joey Barton, Dereck Chisora, Kerry Katona and one of the Geordie Shore girls in a room and discuss intestinal gas. I want them to provide enemas at Starbucks.

I want to believe. I want to sit alone in my room and create something beautiful, something that makes your eyeballs roll back in your head, your testicles contract, your pubic hair fall out. I want you to renounce all your worldly possessions and follow me, in this new world, where plants grow goatees, where children are born with rainbow-coloured nipples, where we boil footballs for Christmas.

Let’s go clay shooting with protective cups. Play croquet wearing leather pants. Gargle with antifreeze. Teach octopi to play the piano. Start a professional supermarket trolley-racing league. Carbon freeze dwarves and make them into bobblehead dolls. Make pudding from the ozone layer. Wrap up in bubblewrap and mail ourselves to Mali. Start toenail-clipping collections. Win a million pounds and join 100 million record clubs for a penny. Make love to life-size cutouts of Ann Widdecombe. Marry an albino black man. Make prank calls to the ghost of Elvis. Dye our skin hot pink. Splice our souls. Party softly. Slumber loudly. Molest penguins. Burn rubber. Peel out.

Do you get it? Do you?

Dammit, I just want to do something! Don’t you? Before it’s too late?

Gym rat

My friend Sheldon is a lucky guy. He’s very tall, first off, a vastly underrated attribute; you can get away with a lot of physical deficiencies if you’re very tall. (You know there are women out there who will only date tall guys? No matter what kind of guy a short fella might be, they won’t even give anyone under, say, 6-foot-1 a chance. It’s terrible. Thankfully, men are never so shallow.) But Sheldon’s real talent, if you ask me, is his ability to stay the exactly same weight and shape as he was in college. It’s quite amazing, really; I’ve seen the boy down two Big Macs, two portions of fries plus ice cream like it was nothing, and he never looks any worse for wear. If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to fit back in the car.

It doesn’t matter if Sheldon injected a gallon of bacon fat into his neck every day for the next three years, the man would not gain a pound. He’s tall, scrawny and infinite; save for maybe a bald spot, potential spectacles and future forays into facial hair, he’ll look exactly the same in 20 years as he does right now.

Like the rest of the planet, I am not so fortunate.

I’m not rich, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m making enough money to not have to worry about bouncing cheques, late rent payments or having to skip meals. That’s all fine and good, of course, but this has led to a comfort level that is bordering on deterioration. Being a happy member of tax-paying society has its advantages — erm… Monday morning conversational stimulants… um… unlimited stapler access — but, at its core, it requires that I spend a lot of time sitting in meetings or sitting on my arse in front of computers. It leads to inactivity, complacency… and corpulence.

Let’s face it: I’ve gained some weight. It’s time to stop pretending I haven’t. I’ve tried to lie to myself about it. I’ve blamed family genes. I’ve blamed the mirrors in my flat for being at the wrong angle. I’ve even scolded the dry cleaners for shrinking my clothes. But it’s all bullshit. I’ve gained a little weight. I’m 39 years old, with expendable income, a desk job (sort of) and poor dietary habits. It was bound to happen.

I have a weird thing about weight. In the past, I’ve starved myself for weeks at a time, I’ve spent months eating only a couple pieces of wheat bread a day, I’ve even resorted to taking diet pills. These techniques were marginally effective at best, and they required more effort than they offered production. And, frankly, I don’t have the time or energy to do them anymore. They’re the last resorts of a crazy person, someone with serious huge strange weird weight issues, and though I might be that person, it’s just not feasible to live life that way. I’d either have another heart attack at 40 or pass out climbing the stairs to my office. Not going to happen. Besides, a certain measure of being an eight-hours-at-a-desk guy is complacency; if I’d decided I’d had enough, there are plenty of working-outside construction jobs waiting for you, matey. No? Then stop complaining.

Nope. There are two ways I could go with this new problem. First, I could just keep doing what I’m doing and try to talk my way out of it. This has been the plan for the last few months or so. I’ve employed a number of cute linguistic tricks in order to deceive what my friends’ and family’s eyes are clearly telling them, but I always fall back on one.

The trick? A case study in passive aggression. Whinge about how I’m a fat pig and disgusting and obese and repulsive and how I’m the most repulsive, overweight human I know and I have no idea how they can even talk to someone so sickening. Now, I’m not obese. I’m not even close to it. I’m just not in good shape. I know that, they know that, but they might not necessarily know that I know that. So I just go on and on like that for a while, and eventually, out of exhaustion and pity, they tell me, “David, you’re being silly, you’re clearly not fat.” I feel better in a completely vacuous way, and I got them to say it: David, you’re not obese. If they are thinking that I think I’m too fat, maybe they won’t notice that the obvious: That I’m carrying an extra 10 or so. (I’ve even done this, repeatedly, to a couple of girls I like, which I’m sure they find irresistibly hot.)

But this is a waste of time for all involved, and ultimately someone will notice the emperor has no clothes. So I’m taking the next step, the one everyone says they’ll take but never does: I’ve started going to the gym.

I’ve toyed with this notion in the past, but I don’t think anyone, myself included, ever really thought I’d go through with it. But the decay of the body is inevitable — I’m beginning to notice rather cavernous wrinkles around my eyes, and I recently had my first back spasm. I’m a grownup! — and you can only hide so long. It’s time to suck it up.

So I did. A few months back, as the guest of a friend, I visited a posh London fitness club where, as it turned out, lots of gay men go to lift and separate. A tall (tall!) gay man named Marvin showed me around, saying, “You’ll have some fun here. You’ll love it.” (I pity young gay men. You can’t get away with being flabby if you’re a youthful gay man. Straight guys can always find some poor sap woman who likes us because of our souls, or our hearts, or our bank accounts, someone willing to overlook the love handles and double chins. Young gay men, being young men, are intensely shallow and only care about looks. Got to be rough. I knew instantly that if I joined that gym, every day I would have been the worst-looking guy there.) But it was too far from work and home to seriously consider becoming a member. A hundred quid a month worth of a member, that is!

Instead, I’ve started using the free, quite-well-equipped sports centre at work. My goal is to just run on the treadmill at least four times a week and maybe lift a few light weights. Plus, as an added bonus, I’ll often have company (or distraction) in the lovely shapes of Kelly and Lara. Will it work? Do I have the willpower to do it? Can I pull it off? Well, it certainly beats arguing with my friends on the extent of my grotesqueness.

The worst part about this is that it’s not going to get any easier. The body doesn’t bounce back as well as it used to, and that’s not going to turn around. I have a feeling I’ve signed myself up for a life sentence; as the gym rat, constantly spinning on the wheel, trying to outrun time and death. I don’t like my odds.