Senseless – Paul Golding

sless(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

As in his previous book, the author has a wide vocabulary and an artful turn of phrase, e.g. nacreous = mother-of-pearl, clavicle = collar bone, amputated from recollection.

There’s a vivid description of a posh gay nightclub that plays classical music called The Moonlight. I have heard of a club just like this but under a different name.

I liked the judicious use of Yiddish and Polari. Air stewards are sometimes called ‘trolley dollies’ but ‘cart tarts’ is a new one.

There’s an excruciating, vivid description of an S & M scene involving the use of metal catheter rods. I felt very vulnerable reading this, especially just before going to bed and hoping not to encounter the episode again in my dreams.

He takes us back to the early days of AIDS when many dentists wouldn’t treat people who were HIV + and when telling someone that they’d lost weight was no longer considered to be a compliment. People were scared of ice cubs in their drinks for fear of contracting pneumonia from the water.

The author appears to have grown up when he tells the story of his partner living with AIDS: Reviewing that time, I would describe the detachment of Matthew’s retina as an important landmark — important for both of us. In his case, it proved beyond physical doubt that which, until now, had been open to mental denial: the premature beginning of his premature mortality. In mine, it proved some­thing other — less brutal, less futile, and less immediate in the fathoming. Hitherto I had amounted to a ravel of contrasts, to a tangle without rhyme or rationale, to a mish-mash of advantages and handicaps. I had muddled through my changing stages guised as a figment, not a character, and existed in a state of mounting contradiction, until, far from having grown mature, I had merely grown extreme, become the personification of an oxymoron: strongly weak, politely rude, cleverly stupid. I defied straightforward definition. Little wonder that I should have seemed, and felt myself, incapable of making a straightforward living. Then came the retina thing, the watershed which was to induce a great, but gradual, alteration in my being. … and I would think about the thought of blindness; and I would shut my eyes. And I would stumble in the shambles. I would find myself unable to get far, even in my own, familiar surroundings. I couldn’t engineer a corridor without reaching out for the wall. I couldn’t pick the proper key for the front door. I couldn’t dial the telephone – not by touch alone. I couldn’t strip a new CD of its cellophane. I couldn’t light a cigarette. I couldn’t set the microwave. I became useless. But I could cheat, needless to say: I could peer for an illicit second, as if peering from beneath the darkness of some sadomasochistic blindfold. Why? To glean the things that might need to be known if things went wrong.

The descriptions are very moving. Apart from one nurse, the National Health Service comes off badly: You’ve heard of false alarms. This was almost one. I rang the e for Hivvies, to ask them to bleep Nilson, but Click: recorded answer: The clinic is now closed; please try our central switchboard. I tried. No-one replied. I phoned Enquiries. I jotted down the number for Casualty; dialled Engaged. Engaged again. And then, in one of those brainwaves that can sometimes tempt you to believe in higher powers, I suddenly remembered the name of an eye-hospital where the Find had operated in the antediluvian past, before the floods. …. They had stuck him in a women’s ward — no beds on the men’s side; but still: better for the likes of us to be amid a gaggle of buttoned-up grannies than among a bunch of ancient codgers with their goolies hanging out of their pyjamas….On no account should he go on his back. Matthew said: Doggie-position here we come. I said: Needs must. Matthew said: Devil drives. The nurse said: Would you keep your voices down; you’re in a ladies’ ward, if you don’t mind. I asked how long this posturing lark was meant to last. Procedure, she snapped, and reckoned – assuming that no complications cropped up at the halfway check-up – that it took three weeks on average. Matthew went: Christ. I went quiet. (Three weeks? Didn’t she know about the Hivvy stuff? How was Matthew meant to get to the clinic for his infusions of Ganciclovir?)… I asked about last night. Average. He’d woken up with cramp and tried to walk about, but felt so stoned (because of his sleeping tablets) that he’d been forced to ring for help. Fat chance. The nurse had been busy chatting on the phone about some backpacking trip somewhere….. Because Matthew was feeling lousy, and his patience was running out. Hadn’t they done enough tests? Hadn’t they taken enough blood? . . . So, why couldn’t someone come up with some sort of result? Nilson purported to be expecting feedback any day now I pointed out that Matthew had been hearing about Any Day Now for nearly a month.

You’re clearly better off out of hospital then in, wherever possible: Outside — never mind the racket and the squalor and the drizzle and the stink of fries — outside was paradise. Matthew’s mobility, because he’d been laid-up so long, was, admittedly, on the dodgy side — shuffly; and his breathing sounded tired; and his eyes weren’t up to much. But I had an arm, and he had a smile, and we were off (come hell or high water, Captain) to my flat ­where, within forty-eight hours, things looked, even if not all beautiful, brighter. His appetite was on the mend (he was want­ing special milkshakes, packed with vitamins and calories); his energy was on the rise (he was forcing himself to move about); he was back to his usual whims and usual gags (time for my bath — and no peeping, Captain); he was sleeping without tablets, or sweats, or nightmares; even his sight seemed to have improved marginally. Over breakfast, he would tilt his head enquiringly, and conclude that Yup, peripheral flashes had to be better than total darkness — in the light of which I wasn’t about to wonder whether this unforeseen revival resulted from Matthew’s resumption of Ganciclovir or his rupture with Hospitality.

His partner retains his sense of humour. When told he has a detached retina, he jokes about he prefers detached with swimming pool to semi-detached.

The expertise of some carers: Next, Matthew did a thing which moved me so powerfully that I could hardly bear to admire it, but Connor must have seen something coming, because he dealt with it sublimely. Matthew ran his enquiring palms along the nurse’s arms, and inward from the stranger’s shoulders to his clavicles, and now, the better to envis­age that youthful face, began to sculpt around — thumbs under jawline, indices over eyebrows, fingers all over the puzzle. Connor bowed, to help with the charting of this facial map. But Matthew went still further: he felt up for that pastoral head of hair, roughed it, and, after dealing it a pat, mumbled: Now I can picture you in my mind Connor said: That’s to be encouraged, but don’t be tiring yourself now With which, he restored Matthew’s hands to the place where he had found them, on his chest, and gently folded them across each other….Time to import a catheter. This was the bit which I found hardest. I couldn’t bear to note how Matthew’s penis had regressed, how it had shrivelled back to an infant’s bud. Nor could I bear to admit that I, who had vowed to protect his dignity, was now, in my perfidy, permitting such denigrating invasions to be carried out. Connor told me that it was all for the best, that this was men’s stuff; so I told Connor that the men’s stiff was precisely what riled me. My boy had, in his dam been well-endowed. Now he looked reduced to (scarcely a penis at all, but) some clitoral travesty, some hormonal mishap

My ideal for a relationship where both parties keep their individuality: Dreamily, sporadically, we discussed the possibility of joining domestic forces in a manner which, while befitting our mutual dependence, would equally suit our independent styles. We even considered buying a couple of flats — adjacent, so that nei­ther of us would need to feel hampered, but with an internal layout whose very unorthodoxy matched our outward stand­ing. My personal preference was for a sole, interconnecting door (a secret panel, inserted, say, in a bookcase somewhere) through which we could conduct our forbidden passion with­out recourse to the public landing.

An unpleasant thing about clerics: Fr Dudley arrived, wreathed in that special clerical blend of incense and stale armpit

He is right to be pedantic as in: Yet, rather than ignore this irritating usage of an adjective as adverb, I would bristle and rebuke him: Wrong — he was (not Good, but) Well.

There some amusing phrases such as, ‘Is the Pope a catheter?’ but also some annoying ones such as a habit, on almost every page, of writing a (but not X) was b. e.g. : a one-way ticket to Paris (not France but) Texas.What I, meanwhile, had to do was look (not on the bright side, but) about. Galvanize myself.

And in to adjacent sentences: He suggested that I (not write, but) type the result. The finished product should look like a (not coercive, but) collaborative exercise.

He is also fond of using quotations from dictionaries, such as, when someone is talking crap’ = ordure

I had to look up exequial (= relating to a funeral.)

I liked his invention of the word `Greige’ – old men seem to have a habit of wearing grey and/or beige clothes.


“they awarded themselves the bonus of white Colombian granules chopped to finest powder with the cutting edge of credit cards which were still, then, the preserve of the financially smart – granules which, once aligned at a sharp diagonal along the lid of the pan, were snorted up through a tightly-rolled banknote of freshly-minted £50.”

Yet despite my outward shabbiness, I came well groomed, came interlined in pristine cash: 600 well-earned pounds, three-score tenners precisely, which I remember spreading like the scalloped wing of a period fan upon the patina of my hopeful future, the result of my hopeless past.’

“…worrying less about whom I was screwing than about things that I wanted for Matthew. I knew what I could bring to him: my loyalty and my love. I knew what I had promised him: dignity and laughter. But I also knew what was beyond me to provide.”
“We drank a nightcap. We shared the bed. We wore T-shirts and underpants. We slept the sleep of close companions. Stainless and becalming.”

‘He wore brown paisley socks with his black Levis, which – sorry – a queen would never do.’


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