Issue 14
Volume 4 Number 2
June 1999

In This Issue

 • Contents
 • Cover Illustration
 • Editorial
 • A Beginner's Guide to Self-Mutilation
 • "...And I Would Like To Spank Stephen Baxter..."
 • Gu*nness is Good For You
 • Shopping Habits of the Camiroi
 • Letters of Comment to Plokta
 • Vijay Pulls it Off
 • Everybody's Free (to send us letters)
 • Mind the Gap

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A Beginner's Guide to Self-Mutilation

THERE are all sorts of things that they don't tell you about getting older. I mean, they might well have told me, but if they did I certainly didn't listen. I know they told me about not having very much time to myself, but I ignored them. And I'm pretty sure that they told me about the way that time passes more quickly as you get older. The last few years have gone in a flash and it's getting worse.

But nobody mentioned about whims. I think that as you get older, it becomes harder and harder to act on a whim. Oh, it is if anything easier to spend money on a whim. More money, fewer necessities, more feeling of what you need and want, less whimsical somehow.

Steven and I used to do quite a lot of whimsical things. One day it was sunny, so we took the train to Clacton on Sea. We carried with us a smallish picnic consisting of a bottle of Pimm's, a bottle of lemonade and two glasses. We had some suncream, but it wasn't nearly strong enough to cope with 2 people who'd just drunk a bottle of Pimm's and fallen asleep on the beach. And I hadn't brought a swimming costume so I had to swim in my clothes. Though, in truth, if I had had only a little more nerve I would have gone half a mile down the beach to the nudist bit and swam there. Which would have been much more sensible. And if I had realised just how cold and damp and sunburnt I would be on the train going back to London at the end of the blisteringly hot day, that is what I would have done.

Another time we took a day trip to Antwerp. We caught the train after work on Friday to Harwich and got the overnight ferry. Another train deposited us in Antwerp at seven in the morning, and we wandered from caf* to caf* drinking beer, playing pinball and watching the world go by until we had to take the ferry home again that night.

We do still try to leave chunks of life unplanned. The other week we cycled off in search of our local City Farm. We'd not been there before, but the Pod is two now and quite fascinated by animals. And city farms are a free resource for the underprivileged children of East London. So we strapped our own personal urchin into her baby seat and struck out along the London Cycle Network. Which is jolly good at taking you about twice as far as a direct route would, but not on any of the major roads.

If you cycle in London, then people explain to you at regular intervals how dangerous it is and how they wouldn't do it personally and how you must be mad to put a child on the back of the bike. This is because the roads they use, whether in cars or on buses, are the 10% of London roads with all the cars on. And the roads we cycle on are part of the 90% that aren't. In many cases this is because the road has been blocked halfway down, leaving a space big enough for a bike, but not a car, to get through.

Alison getting pierced
Two staples or three, madam?

But I digress. The city farm has ducks and geese, and rabbits, and plenty of sheep and goats (with a ram called Rambo). Two impossibly cute Shetland ponies, and a calf. And a pair of large pigs. We asked what they were called. "The black one's Chops," said the girl helping out. And what about the massive sow, as big as a horse? "Oh, that's Babe." Babe snuffled and rolled onto her enormous belly. It was completely clear what had happened, and the little swineherd confirmed it. "Yeah, when she first came here she was only a foot long."

We cycled over to Tesco's and bought some lunchy stuff, and then sat in the park by the playground and ate it. Some kids played football around us, and Marianne joined in a bit. The gentle breeze cooled us down in the warm summer sun. "What month is this?" I queried, quaffing my Jenlain. That would be March. I blame global warming.

But all of this, while delightful, and while completely screwing up my preparations for Eastercon, didn't have the real sense of whim about it. I mean, taking your child to see some animals is sort of a sensible thing to do really, isn't it? And everything's like that now. One has responsibilities. Can't just do irrevocable things and hang the consequences.

So this morning I was wandering past a shop that advertised 'Ear Piercing While You Wait'. Normally when I see such a sign, I think "No, getting my ears pierced would be stupid, really. What about when I wake up and regret it?" But this time I thought "Cut the crap, my biological clock is ticking and I want to get my ears pierced now."

There is some history here. When I was a little girl, I wanted my ears pierced more than anything. I suppose I was about nine or ten. And my mother, in that way that mothers have, said "You can't get your ears pierced until you're sixteen". And I begged and pleaded, but it was no use. It was awful. I was convinced that all the other little girls had their ears pierced, and that I would be a social outcast unless I had mine done too. But my mother was unyielding.

So I decided to adopt desperate measures. Any normal girl would have nipped down the market when her mother wasn't watching and lie about her age. Instead, I turned to the encyclopædias in the school library in search of aversion therapy -- and found tales there of weird native tribeswomen who hung heavy loops of steel from their ears. A little imagination allowed me to envisage all sorts of appalling accidents that could happen. And gradually the desire to have my ears pierced was replaced by a horror of putting odd bits of metal through my body.

But at some point over the last 25 years, the aversion therapy clearly wore off. And I didn't notice for a long time. Until this morning, when I was down the market. Steven and Marianne had gone on home while I finished off a few errands. When I saw the sign saying 'Ear Piercing While You Wait', I thought, "Hey, that's a good idea. Or, at least, a much better idea than dropping off your ears to pick up later." So I went inside and got my ears pierced. On a whim. An actual whim.

My mother was appalled.

--Alison Scott

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