Monday, August 1

#1: the seven ages of Mike.

1969: 7 years old.

Obsessed with comics: Sparky, Whizzer & Chips, TV Comic, Beano, Dandy, Cor!, Beezer, Topper. Capable of holding elementary conversations in Finnish, and relatively sophisticated conversations in French. Much time spent with an ever-expanding cast of imaginary friends, many of them middle-aged women: Mrs. Hayfries (pleasant and sensible; husband a bit of a drip, with his cardigan and pipe and all), Mrs. Albertine (sent to prison for hitting a policeman on the head with a rock cake, chucked from her kitchen window), and Mrs. Checkerbocker (who came over from Poland after the war, don't you know). Bit of a crush on Cliff Richard. Favourite TV programmes: Basil Brush ("That's all we've got time for this week, Basil." "But you CAN'T leave him like THAT!"), Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!), Blue Peter (Val, John & Pete, natch), Wacky Races (yay for the Arkansas Chugabug), Scooby-Doo (bit of a crush on Freddy).

1976: 14 years old.

Obsessive, horribly debilitating crush on a boy in the year below, whom I had to admire from afar because getting too close made me too self-conscious to cope. (Looking back, I think he probably knew, and found it quite sweet, and handled me really rather considerately.) Equally obsessive fascination with punk rock, as also observed from afar via the weekly music press (NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, Record Mirror, National Rockstar). Concentration slipping at school, as the combination of puberty and the long hot summer of 1976 sent my hormones racing. Hideously bad acne; hideously poor personal hygiene and dress sense. Traumatised by my father's rapid courtship and re-marriage, bringing a flamboyant stepmother and three boisterous new step-siblings into my quiet, ordered, fiercely private world. Much time spent in floods of tears: of loneliness, self-pity, bewilderment, inadequacy, frustration, humiliation and despair.

1983: 21 years old.

First boyfriend, chosen simply because I was desperate to have one, and he was the first to ask. All previously cherished romantic idealism flies straight out of the window, as I struggle to cope with his own obsessive nature and overblown, unnervingly intense devotion. As a result, I discover that I have it in me to be something of a cold, hard bastard. Hair died blonde, in a vague attempt to look like Kirk Brandon, and slathered in gloopy fistfuls of Boots "Country Born" hair gel (turquoise and sticky, leaving my hair with the look and texture of dried straw). Wednesday nights at the Asylum, dancing to Blue Monday, Buffalo Gals, Let's Go To Bed. Saturday nights at Part Two, attempting to pull without the aid of my over-sized Trevor Horn glasses (or "cruise shields"), and making some wildly optimistic misjudgements in the process. Move to Berlin in the late summer, ending up in an idealistically communal flatshare with a cheery, easy-going bunch of hippy-ish schoolmistresses, ten years my senior.

1990: 28 years old.

The Social Lynchpin years kick off in earnest, as our pool of friends expands at an almost exponential rate, and our Edwardian terraced semi becomes everyone's favourite weekend hangout and late night bar. Recently promoted at work, to a position of considerable technical responsibility; but the new role is a poor fit for my skills, and I'm finding it a struggle. My partner of five years' standing is spending at least one week in three overseas, as his new job takes him all round the world; our drinks cabinet is bulging from all the duty-frees. The flourishing social life keeps me going in his absence, but adds to his stress when he's back in the country, and craving some personal space between trips. (Some Sunday afternoons, we gaze around the sitting room and wonder how all these people even got here.) Sick of all the Proclaimers jokes, I replace the cruise shields with contact lenses, get a sharp new haircut, and see my stock rise accordingly, becoming quite the belle of Nero's in my Keith Haring T-shirt and white jeans. Apparently, I am a swan. Let's just say that I am not slow to grasp the opportunities which this affords.

1997: 35 years old.

After seven wasted years in a job which I refused to admit that I hated and was no good at, I have shifted sideways; despite the perceived drop in status, I am vastly happier, with a renewed sense of purpose. Two years of intense, full-on clubbing mayhem reach their zenith in the summer; having taken things to their logical conclusion (and several points beyond it), I slowly start to turn the corner. But it's small steps, and it will be quite a while before I give up entirely on those mad Sunday mornings at Trade. With the swanky labels swapped for Ben Shermans, 501s, biker boots, and that petrol blue Schott bomber jacket, I am every inch the card-carrying urban faggot; each issue of Gay Times is studiously ingested from cover to cover, as my sense of gay identity strengthens and deepens - but also, in a wider context, obscures and reduces. I've got big gay blinkers on, and I don't much care.

2004: 42 years old.

Two changes of employer later, I'm travelling extensively in Europe, and understanding for the first time just why my partner found it so stressful, all those years ago. Having mercilessly pruned our social life in the city (barring those decadent, bohemian midweek nights at the Dorothy Parker round table in the local tranny bar), priorities are now firmly directed towards our weekend lives in the country, where a whole new identity is establishing itself. It's no longer the "weekend cottage" bolt hole; it's now a real home, within a real community. A holiday in Peru turns into an endurance test, as a whole sequence of health problems besiege me throughout, and for several weeks thereafter. As the physical problems subside, so mental ones take their place, as I enter my first sustained period of depression since the mid-life crisis of 1999. By the end of the year, I have stabilised; a week of unparalleled, blissful luxury in a magnificently appointed spa resort signals my full recovery.

2011: 49 years old.

Freed from the necessity to earn a regular income, my life has developed and enriched itself in ways which I could never have forseen in the dark, lost, chemically addled years of my thirties. In early middle age (hell, I'm not f**king fifty yet), I have reconnected with those talents which childhood had signalled, and adolescence had buried. Success (as measured on my own terms and nobody else's) is no longer a freaky, unsettling headf**k; I have learnt both to accommodate it, and to build on it. It feels like waking up from a long sleep. Best of all, I have finally shaken off the low-level fatigue which had held me back for years; energies flow easily through me now, both mental and physical. The final vestiges of Neurotic Boy Outsiderism have also fallen away, leaving me able to sup at the table of the great and good without losing my core sense of self. Freed from distracting desires which could never be adequately fulfilled, I pass through life with confidence and purpose, the multiple identities of my past consolidated into a unified whole. The thirty-four inch trousers remain, however, a considerable source of regret.

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