Evicting the little boy within

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The Independent Culture
I CELEBRATED the end of 1995 by sitting in a series of radio studios doing a series of "Reviews" of the "Year", about which I remember next to nothing because I was too busy brooding about the past and worrying about the future to pay attention. Sometimes the only thing to do is go to bed and shudder, but that makes for lousy radio. "Over to you, Michael, and what's your strongest memory of 1995?" "Shuddering." "Thank you."

Perhaps I should go to a shrink or a counsellor. I went to one, once, in misery, but the mise en scene was too easy to read. The shrink sat in an armchair to make me feel at ease, but it didn't; I just thought, "He's sitting in an armchair to make me feel at ease," which made me far more tense than I would have been if he'd been behind a desk. And then there was the box of Man-Sized Kleenex. "Why Man-Sized?" I wondered. "Is it meant to be reassuring? Why does he think I need reassuring? Do I have gender identity confusion? Hell, no!"

It was as blatant as a massage-parlour: you go in all tense, are coaxed into a cathartic release of bodily fluids into a Kleenex, and leave feeling relaxed. Mind relief? Sixty quid; better now, dearie?

But even so, I think it might have been all right had he not told me that I should learn to love the little boy trapped inside me. Little boy? I thought; what is a little boy doing trapped inside me? How did he get there? And, more to the point, far from learning to love him, I want him out.

Then I burst into tears, and sat there, surrounded by wads of sodden Kleenex, filled with a hopeless post-coital brothel sadness at having produced precisely the response expected of me. Not different. Not special. Not Man-Sized at all. Just... shrunken.

So, no more shrinks for me. If at some point the urge comes upon me to feel oddly diminished, I shall just buy the Sunday Times instead; it does the job just as well, and only costs a quid. No counsellors, either; I know what they would say. "You must stop fretting and exist in the present," they would say. "Learn to live for the moment." "The moment?" I would say, fretting. "When's that going to be, then?"

I've been waiting for it for ages: the Moment. The green light, the tap on the shoulder, the message in my pigeon-hole telling me that the rehearsal period is over, everyone's happy, they reckon I'm ready, just a moment while they cue up the tape, reset the lighting, and then on I go. Starting positions; this time we're going for a take.

But that's not how it works, not for me. Some people - the movers and shakers, the pushers at the edge of the envelope - seem to have heard the director call "Action." Not me. One day I'll hear him shout "Cut," and that'll be my lot. No point in asking for a re-take because everyone will have melted away, gone off to the wrap party, and I'll be alone in the dark.

No point in flogging the metaphor to death, either. It's just that I think it may be time to sort things out. Sitting in the radio studios while other, harder-nosed, proper journalists told their tales of Bosnia and politics, derring and do, I thought ill of myself so far. "It's not really man's work," I told myself; and, for once, I was listening.

It's funny how computers can nudge us towards self-knowledge. Wondering whether I had addressed the business of Man's Work before, I ran a little search through my old columns, and discovered that I had used the word "manly" on average once every three weeks. I quite clearly do suffer from gender identity confusion, and what a bitch it is. There is nothing less manly. But identifying the problem is one thing; finding the solution, quite another. What is Man's Work?

Should I give it all up and become a bush pilot? A charter yacht skipper? Should I light out for the far north, to become a nut- brown hard man of the wilderness, with forearms like knotty oaks, living on a diet of gravel and bloaters?

And then I remembered Paul Dunphy. Mr Dunphy does Man's Work, Bouncing. Mr Dunphy is a Bouncer at a curious mist-haunted joint backing on to the Grand Union Canal, with the piano-lid taped shut and a strange melancholic air reminiscent of the refectory of a Polish Workers' Holiday Village in pre-Solidarity days.

I had the inestimable privilege of being Bounced by Paul Dunphy recently, and quite right too; I had arrived, sober and properly dressed, at a Christmas party to which I had been invited. But Mr Dunphy had a List, and my name was not on it. The problem could possibly have been solved with the wild- eyed party "organiser", but Mr Dunphy was not having any of that. Solving is solving, and Bouncing is Bouncing, and the two are eternally incompatible. "Excuse me!" said Mr Dunphy, menacingly. "EXCUSE ME! I am In Charge of Security for this Premises!"

Oh, but he was majestic, standing there in an almost visible puddle of utter testosterone, everything clenched, even his actual head. Had I been gay, I would have swooned. "In Charge," he shouted. "My Premises! Stroppy rude word! Rude word like you! Rude? You don't rude word know what rude is! Leave my Premises! My Premises!" It was magnificent, and the tiny note of hysteria at the end only added to the marvellously butch effect of it all.

So now Paul Dunphy is my role model. I have made a little Dunphy out of wool and stuffing, and I shall take it to bed every night and cover it with burning kisses. In the daytime, though, I shall be rude, remorseless, a tremendous asset to any business which finds it politic to abuse, insult and eject members of the paying public who may wish to patronise the - yes! - Premises.

Starting now. Who do you think you are? You've had your lot. I'm in charge of this column. Sod off. Go on. Bugger off, now. !