Falling asleep anytime, any place, anywhere and major mishaps with myopic men in Rome

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Madrid Spain 1995

I woke up, from an unwise session mixing cider and vodka, with my face submerged in my handbag. The bar was so noisy it was amazing I’d gone to sleep. The bag must have been functioning as a pair of ear muffs, or a mini tent. This falling asleep in public, when I’d overindulged, had been a key element of my behaviour since I’d started drinking alcohol. I had fallen asleep at clubs, next to blaring speakers, or in the middle of the dance floor. Indeed when I went to a party the first thing I’d do was identify where I would later go to sleep, which was usually the host’s bed, not entirely welcomed by them. “Wake up,” said my friend Susanna, shaking my arm, “the bar’s closing we’re going to have to go home now.”   Susanna had moved to Spain and I was visiting her as well as covering a story about the independence movement in the Basque country. I’d already got into trouble in Madrid, scouring the streets for ecstasy with a Moroccan drug dealer, and ending up in San Blas, an area so dodgy the dealer said “we must leave.” I’d never experienced racism in Spain, as people thought I was a rich South American, but when I was walking around Madrid with the Moroccan people looked at me like I was dirt.

Nonetheless, I had a deep affection for Spain, as I had lived in Spain for four months when I was 18 in 1988. It was the first time I’d been happy in my entire teenage years. In England I felt miserable and ugly, in Spain I felt attractive and like I fitted in. I’d travelled all over Spain learning Spanish, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Salamanca. People said I spoke Spanish so well I must be a spy. I met the first man I fancied, a German who, rather dubiously, said he liked SS uniforms as they looked so good on blondes. I snogged him but obviously couldn’t have sex. He wrote to me from Germany but, of course, wasn’t available as he had a girlfriend there. When I got back from Spain and was doing my Spanish S level oral exam, the examiner asked me what monuments I’d visited in Salamanca. “None,” I said shame faced, “I spent my whole time getting pissed in bars.” “Well you must have done something right, your Spanish is amazing,” she said. “Well it’s amazing what you can learn with a double vodka in your hand.” Of course I’d sometimes got into problems with alcohol in Spain, a presage of things to come, as the measures were so enormous compared to British pubs. But, in typical denial, I just thought this was a problem with Spain and Spanish bars, not that I had a problem with alcohol.

I went to the Basque country to do the feature for the BBC and, amazingly for me, nothing actually went wrong. I got all the interviews, didn’t leave any of them in the back of a cab, and was warmly welcomed by the Basques. I was a bit horrified though when I was recording a pro-independence rally in Bilbao that all the demonstrators started shouting for “coche bombas en Madrid,” car bombs in Madrid. ETA, the Basque nationalist/terrorist/independence group (depending on your perspective) was still active and supported by a significant minority.

I went back to Madrid to say goodbye to Susanna, who’d saved my life when she’d phoned when I was about to cut my throat. She’d sat with me in the depths of my clinical depression, trying to make me talk. But all I could do was stare at the walls. Susanna and I had been friends since I was 10, when we bonded intensely at Wycombe Abbey, an all girls’ boarding school. Night after night all the little girls in the dormitory would howl themselves to sleep, desperately missing their parents and families. One night we had a screaming contest so loud we all had to be put in the sanatorium. I had been keen to go to boarding school, conned by tales of Enid Blyton and Mallory Towers. But there were no midnight feasts at Wycombe Abbey. Just hours of homework which we had to finish with a torch under our duvets every night. We had tiny moments of joy, greeting the stern matron with our knickers on our heads but we couldn’t even indulge in my childish passion, shoplifting Hello Kitty toys, as we weren’t allowed out alone. Solitary only children, Susanna and I became inseparable in the first term. And although I left after a year, we were still very close throughout my teenage years. Susanna was one of the only people I told the full horror of what was happening during my parents’ divorce. To my other school friends, I pretended my parents were still together and said nothing at all. Susanna was like me, chaotic, and our friendship was characterised by frequent mishaps. But we loved each other and it is still one of the most important relationships in my life.

Rome 1987 Me: 17 Susanna: 18.



“Will you do threesome?” said a fat, hairy, man in the front car of a convoy of vehicles pursuing us down the street. “You are very pretty, how much do you want? I’ll pay you a thousand lire.” How much? we thought panicking and rushed off down the street. But in fact a thousand lire was about 50p. We’d set out dressed appropriately so we didn’t have any trouble with men. In virginal outfits with white lace tops and skirts. We were clearly street smart, mature and experienced and thought looking like a virgin was a turn off to men. As the convoy of cars had swelled to 15, including a tank and a juggernaut, we realised we’d made a slight mistake.

As we rushed down the street, all the men in the cars started flipping their hands as if we were gay. Oh my god, I thought with horror, not only do these men think we’re prostitutes but they think we’re MEN as well. It was then that I realised what my mother’s stern words not to go to a hotel near the station in Rome had meant. We were in the middle of the red light district and these men thought we were transvestite prostitutes. I suddenly noticed the lurid neon signs on the bars around, clearly pointing to a thriving trade in lady boys. I had never questioned our identity as girls, until now, and being mistaken for (very convincing) girly men was not a compliment.

I had just left an all girls’ boarding school, Roedean, at the age of 17. I was very academic and had passed the entrance exam to Oxford when I was sixteen. I only needed two Es in my A levels to get in. But I was definitely still a virgin and had barely been kissed. I was practically a child at 17. I had still been playing with my teddies, when I was sixteen, running an supremely efficient toy hospital. This inter-railing trip around Europe was the first adult experience I’d had in my life. I was travelling with Susanna, who was slightly more clued up than me. But our naivete had been a magnet for trouble with men everywhere we went.

We ran away from the line of cars following us, taking shelter in a bar. The man in the bar, who had nose hair as long as a beard, gave us an oleaginous look, scanning us up and down and saying that girls like us, “would have a great future in films. “ From his leering looks it was obvious what kind of films he was talking about. He also ran a strip club and invited us to come along and participate.

“We’re not interested in things like that,” I stuttered, blushing deep red.

“Well what about water sports, or a tiny bit of S and M.”

“I don’t like scuba diving and I’m too full for sausage and mash.”

“Can you say that on camera,” he oozed at my face, “you’ve got such a great voice.”

Although not as pretty as my luscious, blonde, best friend, I was a virgin, very busty and extremely innocent. Even in my naïve, childlike, state I could see that this would be an attractive commodity in the world of porn. Not that I had any experience of porn, the only kind of sex I’d looked at was my parents seventies bible, the Joy Of Sex.   This prompted me to write a pornographic novel at the age of 10 which had limited scope as I had no idea what a vagina was and thought babies came out of your bum.

Shaken by our experience in the red light district, we decided perhaps going out alone was unwise. There were three young men working in our hotel who had asked us to go out for the night. They must be safe, I wisely said, as they all had thick glasses on. Short sightedness was clearly a recipe for moral probity, I thought. Also, as there were three of them, perhaps it wasn’t a date.

When they arrived that night there were two of them and they’d taken their glasses off. We went out with them to a fun fair outside Rome but we decided we’d better lose them as their eyesight had improved. We then ended up surrounded by an angry and threatening group of men, facing possible gang rape, until we ran, hysterical, to the car of an Italian family.

“What are you doing out here alone?” said the mother, once we were in the car.

“Our friends took off their glasses,” I said, “we had to get away.”

“Italian men are bad news,” the woman said.

“I know,” I said, “they’re as bad news as a force 9 earthquake on the Richter scale.”

We’d had problems with men going right back to France. Men kept hassling us asking why we were alone. So we’d invented two imaginary friends, Hubert and Napoleon, who accompanied us everywhere. This was inspired by a schizophrenic we saw having an animated conversation with no one in the street. But the men didn’t care whether we were mad or not, they still wanted to sleep with us. I say “us,” in fact they all wanted to sleep with my blonde best friend and got me, with my fluent French, to work as a free interpreter. This lack of attention from men, when Susanna was around, had caused certain problems in our relationship. The situation wasn’t helped by my father who’d always told me I “would never be as pretty as Susanna.” Tiny jealousies niggled between us and on Susanna’s 18th birthday I tried to set fire to her hair. I put the little flame out with a bottle of champagne.

We arrived in Juan Les Pins on the south coast of France too late to go to a bank. The place was rammed and we couldn’t find a hotel anyway. So we decided to sleep on the beach. We were soon moved on by the police. When we asked them where we could go they said, “sleep on a park bench.” We took refuge on an empty boat, thinking we could rest there for the night. Until interrupted by a group of thirteen year old French boys who wanted to have sex with us. I say “us,” one of them did fancy me, although his friends said he was mad and should shag Susanna instead. We ended up sleeping, as the police had suggested, on a wooden bench. The resilience of youth!

It was in Venice that we both had our first experience of dope. We had gate-crashed a party in an amazing apartment and someone had handed a spliff to us. At that point the police raided the apartment, causing us to take refuge under a bed. We passed the spliff from one to the other stretched out under the bed, trying not to drop ash in our mouth. Walk on the wild side was playing on the stereo as the police crashed around the room arresting everyone in sight. But luckily they didn’t notice us silently stoned under the bed.

We had more trouble with men on our way down to the Italian coast. A geriatric man who kept telling us to be quiet, tried to snog me on the night train as I was asleep. I was horrified, turning on the light, that someone so old could be trying it on. But it was not the last time I would be molested in my bed.

When we arrived at the coast we’d fucked up our money again, missing the bank and not able to change our travellers cheques. We started stealing bread from tables at a restaurant, and a kindly Italian family invited us to join their meal. When they found out I was only 17 they were horrified saying, “you’re a minor, how can your parents let you travel alone? “

Little did they know that my parents had been in a reverse custody battle for me since their divorce when I was 12. I say reverse as neither of them wanted me. “Go and live with your father,” said my mother trying to eject me from the house at the age of 13. But he couldn’t have me either, he said.

My mother had sent me back to boarding school after the exit from Wycombe Abbey, as she wanted me out of the house. This ejection to boarding school turned out to be a lucky escape. After my father left I was so frightened of my mother I thought I would be murdered in my bed. I spent the whole time checking the house for serial killers, under my bed, in my cupboards, even the cutlery drawer and the deep freeze. They were resilient and flexible creatures these serial killers I thought. Checking wasn’t enough, I also had to find hiding places from the serial killers, such as concealed panels behind the walls, and practice all my escape routes which involved leaping out of the attic window and running along the roof. This was the origin of the OCD that in later years almost wrecked my life. It was only recently I realised that there were no serial killers at Roedean, they only existed at my mother’s house. If I’d been forced to stay at home I could have become like my uncle, who thought he’d discovered a palatial Roman bath, under a traffic light in Knightsbridge, which he thought he owned.

We went from the Italian coast by ferry to Greece, Susanna getting all the attention on the ferry, of course. Bemused by the Greek language signs all over the place, we hopped on a train to meet some friends of Susanna’s at Tholon, a tourist resort. Of course as the signs, unintelligible squiggles to us, went by, we didn’t know whether we were getting any nearer to our destination or not. We kept asking “are we near to Tholon?” and eventually someone said we were there.

We marched into the town stopping by a bar to ask for directions to the hotel. “Hotel?” they said in bemused tones, “this village doesn’t even have a road.” We looked around, the dearth of tourists was clear to see. A farmer wandered by with a donkey, carrying a bale of hay. Confused, we said we were looking for Tholon, but this didn’t seem to be it. “Tholon,” they laughed hysterically, “that’s on the other side of Greece.”

“So where are we going to stay?” we wailed.

“There are a few people camped on the beach,” they said, “but you haven’t got a tent.”

“No,” I said.

“Well you’ll have to sleep under a tree.”

“A tree?” I choked being shaken back to one of the most traumatic memories of my childhood and the origin of my problem with serial killers. I was eight, in Jamaica, watching Friday the 13th. A woman had run away from the killer and looked like she’d escaped, out of breath, leaning against a tree. Suddenly the killer reached round and cut her throat. I’d had an obsessive fear of having my throat cut since then. I barely slept a wink that night. You may wonder why I wanted to cut my own throat. Apart from desiring death, this was also, logically, to prevent the serial killers from getting in there first.

We eventually made it to Tholon, where we slept under a roof instead of a plant. But it was idyllic in Tolon beautiful and unspoilt. And no one had come onto us. In Tholon we were surrounded by sweaty youths. And I was totally ignored as I didn’t speak Greek.

Susanna and I returned to the UK, my Afro hair turned to straw by neglect, looking like Worzel Gummidge in a hurricane. But our return was not without controversy. One of us had lost our ticket and we had to vault over the barriers at Kings Cross. After this wild adventure when we’d barely emerged alive, I settled back into the madness of life at home.

Looking for Mr Right and ending up bonkers instead of bonked


Exotic babe, 25. Slim, curvy, very attractive, intelligent, creative, professional seeks intelligent, attractive, well travelled man, 22-35.

Such was the alluring advert I placed in Time Out in 1995. I got sack loads of mail, several from men who said they “couldn’t resist” an advert like that. I weeded through all the photos, eliminating those with two heads or over 65, and created a pile of men I potentially wanted to meet. I then called them to see if we would click on the phone. Some were clearly deranged, aggressive, or thick as a jellyfish, so I created a smaller pile of people I was going to meet.

My favourite of the lot was an incredibly good looking DJ who played at clubs all over the place. Blonde, chiselled and cool I decided he was just the man for me and had fervid fantasies about becoming a DJ’s groupie. I had just started seriously clubbing and taking ecstasy. Unfortunately, he wanted my photo before he’d agree to meet. I sent him the photo but tragedy struck when he didn’t like it at all. His friend phoned me up, saying he didn’t want to meet but was looking for advice on a trip to Cuba instead. Hoping he might change his mind, I gave the advice but never heard from him again.

I became obsessed by the notion that he was “the one” and would spend hours looking at his photograph. That I was developing these feelings about someone I’d never met didn’t strike me as odd at all. If only I’d sent a different photo the outcome would have been different, I wailed. I became so infatuated that eventually I had to burn his picture on the gas stove to put out the fires of “love” in my mind. That worked to an extent but it did make a nasty mess.

Dejected, I set out to meet the other men. One looked like a foetus and was nothing like his photograph. I walked past him five times at the tube station thinking, “oh fuck that can’t be him.” What can you say when your presented with someone who looks like an afterbirth? I was too shy to say, “you look nothing like your photo, please fuck off” and wasted an hour with him.

Another seemed promising and I ended up canoodling with him in a hotel. I was lonely and bored and wanted some action now. He then phoned me up saying that he wanted to meet me in hotel rooms and pay me for sex. Not realising what a great opportunity this was to make extra cash, I said I wasn’t that type of girl and slammed down the phone.

There were quite a few men who were very into me. But I just wasn’t into them. The vast amount of interest I’d generated with my ad seemed to be turning to dust as I couldn’t find someone I liked who wasn’t into kinky sex.

A very interesting option presented itself to me as I was outside my father’s house in Notting Hill. I was discussing a man with a friend from school who I said “was much more marriage material” than her ex. I was wearing a see through peach coloured dress and straddling my bike. An incredibly attractive man with a dog looked me dead in the eye, saying “whoever he is, he’s a lucky man,” then walked off down the street. It wasn’t me that was getting married you silly man, I was talking about my friend.   I stared after him, mouth gaping, not knowing what to do, then eventually did nothing, of course. I became convinced I had “ruined my life” by not following him down the street. If I had, I was sure, we would have got married immediately. I had fantasies about the wedding, thinking the best man would be an Emperor Penguin and the bridesmaids, sheep. I wanted a unique wedding with an animal theme. Jesus was the Lamb of God so I was sure the church would let in a flock of sheep. My imagination blossomed: flamingos and peacocks could waft theatrically around, handing out canapés. And the horse drawn carriage could be pulled by a zebra instead. It has to be said that when I mentioned this fantasy to a man I was on a date with he immediately ordered the bill. Morose, I trailed around Notting Hill, with a pair of binoculars eyeing every man and especially men with dogs. When the police stopped me and inquired what I was doing I waved the binoculars shouting, “I’m looking for a man with a dog.” They mentioned something about psychiatric services but this was obviously a joke. I even thought of putting up an advert in the newsagent saying “desperately seeking man with dog.” Alas my efforts to find him were in vain and I never saw him again. It didn’t cross my mind that he was probably a player to come out with a comment like that.

At work, I had moved to the Aramaic and African desk in the BBC World Service newsroom, with a very civilised start time of 11.30 or 1 o clock. I still managed to be half an hour late every day, huffing in sweating and panting when my editor had gone to the loo. Part of my job was going to editorial meetings at the language services every day. It was there I met Gogol the gargoyle who had a profound effect. Gogol was married, to someone working in the next door room. But this didn’t stop him trying to put his wick about as much as he could.

“Leave us” he would say, waving his hands dramatically to shoo everyone out when I came in. “We need to be alone.” He would then try to chase me round the room to have a snog. I would dodge this, more and more expertly as time went on. But he was totally lacking in shame and then tried to snog me in front of ten people in the lift. We would go out for coffee, or rather he would have coffee and I would have a glass of wine. He would tell me he loved me and not to worry about his wife. His wife wasn’t my primary worry, it was turning to stone if I ever woke up next to him in bed. Of course it was sexual harassment. But I felt sorry for him. Without any awareness of sex addiction, I realised he had a problem and couldn’t help the way he behaved.

I got into serious trouble at the Aramaic Service by writing a news story that mentioned that an Israeli had bought land from a Palestinian. “No Palestinian has ever sold land to an Israeli,” shrieked a Palestinian member of the editorial team, looking like he was going to wallop me in the face. Little did I know that I had strayed into one of the most contentious areas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although most of Israel was established by force, Israelis had in fact been buying land from Palestinians from before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Palestinians had been murdered for selling land to Jews and a few years later, in 1997, the Palestinian Authority made it a capital crime to sell land to Jews. But the fact that they had to do this showed it was still going on. I’m sure the Aramaic translation of my story that was actually broadcast mentioned nothing about the land sale at all probably saying the Israeli had beaten him round the head and stolen the land.

One day I was heading with trepidation into Gogol’s office (not because of a political squabble but simply because he might try to feel me up) when I saw a tall, dark, handsome, stranger there. “Caroline,” Gogol rushed towards me to give me a hug. “Ah,” he flicked a hand towards the man, “this is Akbar, a reporter with the Aramaic TV news.”   Mr Hotstuff gave me a big smile and I smiled right back. This was much more the type of editorial meeting I wanted to come to.

We repaired down to the bar at the end of my shift and talked for hours and hours. He was gorgeous, and fascinatingly knowledgeable about the Middle East. We swapped numbers and agreed to go on a date. After all my searching in Time Out I had found a man right on my doorstep at the BBC.

Things swiftly progressed to a snog and then canoodling in bed. I wasn’t just keen on this man, I was absolutely obsessed. I spent twenty three hours and fifty five minutes a day thinking about him. The other 5 minutes I might have, briefly, considered work. I spent all my day on the Aramaic desk fantasising about having sex with him in every position conceivable. Of course, to my practically virgin mind, this only meant one or two. Without any awareness of love and sex addiction, I realised I was totally hooked and that, to me, he was heroin. I wondered if I should write an article about “heroin sex” for GQ. Romantic thoughts about ditching miniskirts and converting to Islam floated across the whirling Arabian sands of my mind. I noticed from all his family photos that his family looked fundamentalist and were all covered up. But he was so Western, I thought. What did it matter if you couldn’t see his family’s faces in their photographs?

But then just as I was about to have sex, disaster struck. He lost his job, as his whole television station closed down. Suddenly he was facing deportation and said he couldn’t continue the relationship until he knew what was going on. Bereft, I agreed to cool things down.

After a couple of weeks, it was clear he was going to get another job. He called me, wanting to meet up. I went round to his flat, hitting the walls with excitement, thinking this would be the time. We soon ended up in bed. But when I was almost naked expecting him to caress my lady parts, he said he didn’t touch women “down there” it was “a cultural thing.” I felt like I’d been slapped in the face, but, infatuated as I was, I carried on. But when he tried to fuck me it just wouldn’t go in. “Relax” he snapped, not making me relaxed at all. “Umm,” I said, my mind wanting to do it but my body saying no. In fact, though I was totally obsessed with the guy, no matter how many times I tried I couldn’t have sex with him. I went to extraordinary lengths to try to stretch my lady parts, buying a gigantic dildo and practising at home. Not wanting to waste any opportunities, I took the dildo into the BBC where unfortunately it fell out on the cash desk in the middle of the canteen. But all my efforts to stretch were in vain, I was tight as a drum and the damned thing wouldn’t go in.

We compromised with me giving him multiple blow jobs instead. But in the end he got fed up of the lack of sex and said he was sick of me. I felt like I’d fallen out of a lifeboat without a life jacket and the boat was now slipping away. I was devastated and almost cried; but of course I never cried. My parents had been so poisonous to me that I swore I would never cry as I didn’t want them to know how much they’d wounded me. I still can’t cry now.

Post-Akbar, I realised that no matter how desperate I was to have sex with someone, if they didn’t warm up my muffin it wasn’t going to happen at all. Having come up with nothing but a giant plastic dildo in my quest for a man, I settled back into life at work thinking I was as likely to marry Bigfoot as find Mr Right.

Next Saturday: Falling asleep in my handbag and major mishaps with myopic men in Rome.

Big Dicks in Buenos Aires and the biggest f*** up of my journalism career

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Buenos Aires Argentina 1994

“You’re very pretty,” said a fat, elderly, man with a glass eye and an artificial hand, as I was meandering lost down the street. “Would you like to go for a drink?”

“With you?” I choked, admiring his front but not his crumbling façade. “To be honest I’m rather busy I haven’t got time to socialize.”

This was something the men in Argentina had in common with men in Jamaica, a complete lack of shame in making advances to women forty years younger than them.

“Well what about you give me your number and we go for a drink later?” he smiled.

“I don’t think so,” I said, eyeing the metal hand, “you’re not really my type.”

Unfortunately everyone in Argentina assumed I was Brazilian which was not a good thing at all. Brazilian women had a reputation for being highly sexed and very available. Countless men approached me in the street asking me out on dates, not all of them geriatric but clearly assuming my answer would be yes. I was even offered a job at a Strip club but said I was fed up with nights.

The young men in Argentina were phenomenal, the best looking men in the world, like an Italian stallion crossed with an American footballer. But I was warned by several well-meaning older women that they were trouble and not to get involved. The women were beautiful too, leggy and very thin, although I wasn’t surprised to find out that there was a high proportion of eating disorders.

I was in Argentina to investigate setting up as a freelance reporter for the BBC. And to cover the story of the bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires in which 85 people died. The bombing, in which hundreds more people were injured, had caused international outrage after allegations that local right-wing elements in the Argentine police were involved.

The brutal military junta that ruled Argentina had only stepped down ten years earlier in 1983. They’d conducted a 7 year “dirty war” against opposition supporters, in which at least 10,000 were killed. The victims were tortured and dumped in unmarked graves. Even before this, there’d been allegations of Nazi supporters in Argentina going back to the Second World War.

The taint of the military junta was still in the air and there was something vaguely fascist about the architecture in Buenos Aires with its massively wide avenues. The Argentines, who are mainly Italian in origin, with some indigenous blood, thought of themselves as the Europeans of South America. Indeed I was told of a government programme to “mejorar la raza,” improve the Argentine race, by importing Europeans. They obviously weren’t talking about importing the inhabitants of Leicester or Birmingham. Thus when I did a live radio interview, on “Bonkers in Buenos Aires”, the main question they kept asking me was, “isn’t it just like Europe here.” With the smell of the military junta lingering like a noxious fart, I replied that it was not at all like Europe, so they took me off the air.

The main problem with setting up as a stringer in Argentina was that at this point, before the crash of the peso and total economic collapse, it was very expensive indeed. Thus I learned to ask the price before every cup of tea, to avoid a nasty shock when I got the bill. The Argentines, whose average wage was obviously much lower than in Europe, seemed oddly sanguine at the prospect of paying 8 US dollars for a sandwich, which I thought very dear. It was as if they thought that the fact that everything was so expensive was a sign of economic recovery. But the schizophrenic nature of the society was clear when you walked round the shops. Instead of showing a price for all the clothes, everything was displayed in instalments. While not balking at paying 8 dollars for a sandwich, no one could afford to buy a pair of shorts or a suit. In fact everything was shown in instalments in Argentina suggesting a population living beyond its means.

I threw myself into covering the story of the bombing of the Jewish centre, visiting the site of the attack, interviewing survivors and relatives of those who died. There were tears in my eyes as I listened to the testimony of the survivors and everything was recorded on my trusty tape recorder.

Alas, disaster struck, when I left both tape recorder and all the poignant recordings in the back seat of a cab. I put an advert out on Argentine radio begging for the return of the tape recorder but never got it back. This was one of the biggest fuck ups of my journalism career and of course I kept it very quiet.

My journalistic credibility in shreds I sought solace in men and bumped into a tall New Zealander at my hotel. His name was Eric and he was even more disturbed than me. He had apparently seen his father murder his mother when he was a child and had never been the same again. He had a pronounced twitch and a thousand yard stare. Lonely and upset I welcomed him into my room. But when he took his clothes off I practically fell off the bed. “Is your father a donkey?” I said, staring at his dick which was about the same length as my arm. “It is big,” he nodded shamefaced, “it’s been a great problem for me.”

I reached out to touch the knob, which had swelled to the size of a tree. “Well there’s no way that’s going to fit.”

I was practically still a virgin, having slept with one and a half men. The half was a businessman whose efforts to shag me had been thwarted by a hairy wart on his nose.

“We could try it the other way,” Mr Big Dick, said thrusting it towards my bum.

“You must be joking,” I said “if that went up my insides would fall out.”

We decided that alcohol was the passport for entry for the giant dong. So he plied me with drink until I was pissed enough to try and get it in. Alas, there was no success and we had to give up. He did admit, which in my naïve way I discounted, that he sometimes had to visit prostitutes because of the size of his dick.

Of course, once I returned to the BBC, I was silent on the subject of leaving the tape in the cab. I simply said the documentary, “didn’t quite work out.” But my flatmate, who was working for Newshour as well, unhelpfully told everyone the saga which made them all laugh. I decided that paying 8 US dollars for a sandwich and being chatted up by geriatrics with one hand, was not my cup of tea.   I would carry on reporting until I could get a paid job elsewhere.

Despite the lack of success in Buenos Aires, Mr Big Dick visited me at my flat in London to try again. This time, through luck or penis shrinking pills, the vast thing did go in. But we soon had a falling out as he caused a flood in my house, and then refused to pay for it saying I had to claim on his insurance instead. I dispatched him and his giant dick back to New Zealand and decided I would have to cast my net into the wider population to find a man.

Next Saturday: looking for Mr Right and ending up bonkers instead of bonked

Q: How do you avoid being shot by the police in Jamaica? A: be white, middle class, or duck…


I arrived at my mother’s house in Jamaica, just before Christmas 1993, frazzled after the 10 hour flight and dying to go to bed.

“I’m not having you mess the place up,” she said, as I walked through the door. “Your clothes look messy, you’d better go and stay in a hotel.”

“I’ve come 5,000 miles to see you, I am not going to stay in a hotel,” I said, trying to muster up sufficient outrage which was difficult as I was ready to drop. I say outrage but in fact this “welcome” from my mother was familiar, every time I arrived in Jamaica to see her the first thing she would say was “go and stay in a hotel.” I was very messy, a consequence of having severe mental health problems all my life. That the messiness was connected to her and my father’s behaviour never crossed her mind at all. When I was fifteen, my mother took me to a solicitor’s office and said she was evicting me from the house. Because she said, “all you need to do is leave one cup in the middle of the room and the whole room looks like a slum.” The solicitor said that to evict a 15 year old, for creating an imaginary slum, would land my mother in problems with social services and the psychiatric unit as well. My mother was totally silent but the threat of eviction remained.

There were other reasons why I was in Jamaica, apart from to be un-welcomed by my mother and visit my family. I was furthering my reporting career by covering a story on a new police task force – the Anti-Crime Investigative Detachment, or catchily, ACID for short. ACID had notoriously shot two suspected criminals inside a hospital in Kingston in front of all the patients and staff. Perhaps the police were being humanitarian and thought the men might survive, despite being shot in the back of the head, if they shot them near A and E. A doctor I interviewed said the policeman had put his boot on the (unarmed) man’s head, in the middle of the maternity ward, and shot him at point blank range. The words, “you’re under arrest,” never came out of his mouth. At that time the police in Jamaica were killing 150 people a year which in a population of just over 2 million was one of the highest rates in the world. It was five times the rate of police shootings in 1990’s South Africa where the police don’t exactly have a reputation for TLC. Although the Jamaican police said all those shot were armed criminals who’d got into confrontations with the police, in fact most of them were shot in the back of the head. A senior police officer later explained this, saying it might be “to prevent them shooting someone in front of them” or because they were “running away.” It wasn’t just human rights groups that said these were extra-judicial killings and that these police units operated as death squads.

These special police squads started to be set up in the 1970’s when there was almost a civil war going on. Squad after squad were formed and then disbanded after they hit the headlines for excessive brutality and failed to make a dent in the country’s extremely high murder rate. ACID was the latest of these squads. Jamaica was at that time facing a crack epidemic with around 20,000 crack addicts in a population of only 2 million. The government blamed much of the violence in society on drugs and gangs and said that targeting the drug dons and gang leaders would cut the violence out.

The situation was complicated by the fact that human rights groups said that many policeman were involved in drug dealing themselves. A contact I met, an English aristocrat living in the countryside in Jamaica, woke up one morning to find six bodies on his lawn. Realising that the dustmen would not clear this away, he phoned the police to find out “what the f*** was going on.” He was told that he should be pleased as the police had foiled an attack on his house from a group of men trying to steal his cash. “I don’t have any cash” he replied bemused. He’d given it all to teenage strippers he’d met in dodgy clubs. He told me he later found out the police had made a deal with some local drug dealers which went sour. The police had asked for $50,000 dollars to turn a blind eye. The dealers had given them $50,000 but Jamaican and not US. The police had egged the criminals on saying there was cash at my friend’s house. As the men approached the house the police shot them all dead, proclaiming their civic duty in foiling an attack.

I thought the figures for police shootings were bad in the 1990’s but was horrified to find out that they’d practically doubled in recent years with almost 300 killed in 2013. Apart from drug deals gone wrong, the reasons for the killings has stayed the same: the police can’t get convictions against criminals in court. Juries are intimidated, the courts have huge backlogs, and cases are dismissed as the police evidence isn’t good enough. Most of the people shot probably do have some connection with crime. But some are entirely innocent passers-by or people in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Police violence in Jamaica is inflicted on the underclass. But there were other forms of violence that were much more middle class. Throughout the West Indies there was, during colonial times and for decades after, an excessive attitude to “disciplining” children. My grandfather, the head of the Jamaican civil service, left the family home to live with another woman but would return to the house to beat the shit out of his son. His son later developed schizophrenia and became totally dysfunctional. During my teenage years my uncle apparently decided that he “owned” the whole of Knightsbridge, leading to tiny problems with the law. The police would call our house after he’d eaten stratospherically expensive meals and expressed astonishment at being asked to pay or started removing all the furniture at the end of the meal. He ended up in Brixton prison which he apparently announced was “the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in in my life.” They didn’t keep him there he was too nuts. While at home he hacked down the rafters of his house, to remove bugs planted by the ninety year old neighbours who were clearly a sleeper CIA cell. I don’t know where my uncle is now or if he is alive. My mother always blamed his schizophrenia on the beatings and never forgave her father. She refused to visit her father while he was dying or go to his funeral.

Another friend of mine, and a neighbour also developed serious mental health problems and addiction after their parents repeatedly beat them. In later years, my drug dealer told me that his father, a senior legal figure in Trinidad, had disciplined him by hammering nails into his hand. A raging crack addict and dealer it’s not hard to see why. Some have blamed this excessive attitude in Caribbean parents on slavery and the harsh physical punishments inflicted on the slaves. But when I mentioned it to a friend of mine of Bangladeshi origin, who’s grown up in Britain, he said his parents were the same and so were most of his friends. There are countless other examples of this among parents not just in the Caribbean but in other developing countries and in Britain as well. I also have a white Scottish friend whose mother repeatedly beat him who unsurprisingly developed an addiction to smack. In fact as someone who knows an inordinate number of addicts it is amazing how many, even middle and upper class addicts in Britain, grew up with violence in their homes.

My mother would try to beat me with a belt when I was young but was largely unsuccessful as, from the age of 8, I was stronger than her. The last time she did this, for something that wasn’t even my fault, I pinned her down on the floor, and ran away. Unfortunately I took my carefully crafted departure note, along with bicycle and Bunny with me to the park when I left. So my strongly worded outrage and promise to “never come home” was not delivered to my parents until I got back, bored, that night. My father rarely smacked me, luckily in fact, as it had no effect on my discipline or obedience simply leading to kinky sexual fantasies in later life.

All these parents who beat their children excessively were probably beaten themselves, or grew up in violent homes. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as many of these parents, now forty something, have broken the cycle and treated their children with love. Thus many people I know who are alcoholic, drug addicts or have serious mental health problems have had children who are perfectly normal and have none of these issues themselves. This gives the lie to theories that alcoholism and addiction and mental health problems are genetic or inherited: some of the people I know who are most disturbed have the most balanced children now. Trans-generational trauma is my explanation for families with generations of alcoholics, mad people and drug addicts. If you grow up in a chaotic, violent, alcoholic home, where whisky is on the menu at 9am, you are likely to become an alcoholic or some kind of addict too. A significant number of people who have eating disorders have been sexually abused.  “All You Need is Love” sang the Beatles and you do need boundaries with children as well. But if children are sure they are loved and valued by their parents you can break the cycle of madness, alcoholism and addiction now.

Believe it or not I miss my mother and wish she was here now. She wasn’t bad but she was mad and dangerous to know. If she was here, I’d sit her down in a chair and say “what the fuck was all that about?” Unfortunately her answer is something I’ll never know.

Next Saturday: Big dicks in Buenos Aires and the biggest f*** up of my journalism career