Tonight I watched Celebrity Masterchef. Marie Helvin, the model, some guy that I think may have been in the pop band Imagination and, love of my life at age 10, the one and only, Paul Young, all competing to come up with the perfect culinary dish to win the title of this BBC2 cooking competition.
Jesus, it was strange seeing him. I used to actually keep a notebook to record my obsession with Paul Young, making a note of each new poster that I bought, which eventually covered the entire walls of my bedroom, (except for an increasing number of Aha ones, but I don't talk about that little betrayal). I even had a life size one which I got in installments through Smash Hits - one week his feet, the next his legs and groin etc. I firmly believed I was going to marry him and was devastated when he got together later with Supergirl actress Helen Slater. The cow. I even had a Paul Young scarf, with a very distorted picture of his face on it, as well as his pretend signature which I ordered through his fan club, of which I was, of course, a member.
The only other club I remember joining through the postal service when I was young was the Desperate Dan Club. I'm not quite sure where my fascination for Desperate Dan arose from, as it wasn't exactly a popular girl's thing to be into. I remember getting all the stuff through the post, and how excited I was to open it. There was this picture of him on the front of the Membership Card with a big bristly chin, about to tuck into a Cow Pie. As I opened the pack, I was confronted by a test that said unless you can answer these three questions, you cannot join. You are not a true Desperate Dan fan as you are not tough enough. It was three jokes, of which you had to guess the punchlines. Easy probably. But I didn't get one of them, and I remember the shame, the utter humiliation of the fact that I had this stupid membership pack, which I'd been so excited to receive, and yet I had just exposed myself to the fact that I wasn't worthy to join it because I wasn't tough enough. Ok, no body else knew, but I knew, I knew I wasn't up to the job. I remember thinking it's because I'm not a real boy - now they've found me out. I slung the membership pack into the back of my sock drawer, hoping it wouldn't be discovered by my Mum or any other potential Askers of Difficult Questions, who might realise the truth that I was trying to infiltrate some secret boyhood that I could never truly belong to.
I never wore dresses growing up, except on the odd occasion, and they were still somehow ungirlish and unflattering, with frills or flaps on them too large that they engulfed my entire chest. Me and both my other sisters all had our hair cropped short, a trio of little pseudo boys, until I finally protested against being constantly mistaken for a 'sonny' and decided to grow my hair long. That was when I was ten, and I have never worn it short since, some kind of life long compensation for feeling for so long like I'd been born into the wrong body.
I didn't look like other girls, and I was sure as hell at the time that I didn't feel like other girls. I did like playing with my Sindy dolls, but my favourite game used to be 'let's tie Sindy up and pretend a train is coming to drive over her'. That was one of my favourite film themes as I was growing up - the silent movie 1920's starlet tied to the train tracks whilst the black caped baddie chuckles on the sidelines rubbing his hands in glee, and the train hurtles towards her whilst the hero grapples dotingly with her ropes. I think I wanted to be that curly haired girl, dressed in some flimsy negligee, squealing silently and struggling in black and white as the piano tinkled on and on in the background. I think I also wanted to be the baddie in the cape, and the dashing hero as well. How kinky.
So yes, I did like playing with dolls, but that was about it as far as my girlishness went. I was strikingly tall for my age, and very strong, not delicate at all. I remember playing kiss chase in the little school when I was six or seven and finding it a highly erotic experience, but whenever a boy caught me, I would punch him in the chest and run off shouting "NO!". I hated those namby pamby girls that would just relent and giggle and toss their pigtails in the air. The boys loved them. I never wore pretty shoes, and the boys never fell in love with me.
My two best friends at that age were Jamie Pope and John Stewart. John Stewart was the Pete Doherty of Sandford House School, the bad boy amongst a classroom of seven year olds. God he was sexy. He used to swear and use words like 'shit' and I was terribly impressed, amongst this bunch of mainly drab and dreary girlies and boys. My favourite lunchtimes were when him and Jamie said I could join in with their games (no other girls were allowed the same privilege), which mainly involved dragging Action Man in and out through the holes in the wire fence behind the playground bushes. God I felt cool and I loved playing with Action Man. John Stewart NEVER tucked his shirt in.
I used to have fantasies at night of staying behind at school to play alone in the shed that was in our playground. In my fantasy, John Stewart would appear, and he would tie me up in the shed. This tying up thing seems to have been a bit of a theme for me. I didn't know why the idea of being tied up by this boy was so exciting, and nothing else would happen but that, but it gave me a feeling in my body I liked a lot. At night I would pull my arms out of the sleeves of my nightie and slide them underneath it so that my hands could roam freely over my body. I didn't know why I liked this either, but I did.
John Stewart never did find me in the playground as I wanted him to, and I moved up when I was eight to the big school next door, where boys were no longer allowed. But it started to really perturb me that I didn't really feel like other girls seemed to feel, and still looked the gawky young boy in the brown round toed shoes. Little Lord Fauntleroy, my sister used to call me. In fact, she still does, when she's feeling fond.
When I was eight I also got a silver bike for my birthday. I remember being so chuffed that I had a fancy cool bike, and so disturbed when I realised it was a boy's bike. For a while boys from around the council estate across the road would come and play with me, and admire my bike and take a ride in my Police Car, which you could sit in and peddle and it was cool and it had a flashing light on the back. But they never fancied me.
In fact, the only people I remember there being any kind of fancying scenarios with, were girls. There once was this girl, who for some reason came to play round at mine one time, whom I hadn't the foggiest who she was, and for at least half of the day I thought, was in fact a boy. She was so androgynous with her short hair and jeans. I remember feeling curiously drawn to her, finally asking her outright whether she was a boy or a girl. When we sat together on my Dad's reclining chair, I still remember a strange feeling in my belly as we sat squashed together, our arms pushed up against each other.
The only other frisson was with one of my best friends at the time, whom I played with a lot. She was Indian and I would go round to her house and her Mum would dress me up in saris and I'd like it because I felt pretty and feminine for once, and her parents had a Hindu shrine in their bedroom with a picture of Ganesh in front of their mirror. I was fascinated by him with his big long elephant nose and the smell of incense that wafted around him. Sometimes we would eat curry for tea but mainly we had Findus Crispy pancakes which I adored, particularly the ones with cheese inside. Sometimes she and I would play 'peeping tom', where one of us would take our clothes off and have a shower and the other would pretend to come in by mistake and look. It seemed to always end up being me in the shower. One sunny day in my back garden, my friend confessed she was in love with me. By this point I was ten, and absolutely horrified by her confession. Sadly, in a blind panic and confusion, I stopped being friends with her that summer, denouncing her a 'lezzy'. Oh dear.
Looking back, I see that in certain ways, my life plays out now pretty much in the same ways it did then. The parallels are unnervingly striking. Perhaps the only difference is that now my hair is longer and I most definitely look like a girl, I made sure of that. And I'm not so into tying my dolls to imaginary train tracks, at least not all the time. And that sometimes, when I'm caught by a boy, I won't always punch him in the chest, but let him kiss me on the lips. But only if he kisses like John Stewart.
And ah I remember, the actual point of this meandering post, was to tell you about Paul Young. Well, my beautiful animus, my soul singing icon of sexiness who set my heart and loins a flutter with "Wherever I Lay My Hat" in 1983, he won through to the quarter finals of Celebrity Masterchef with his dish of Cajun Prawns with a basil coulis and wild rice. Despite looking somewhat haggard, he had tears twinkling in his eyes. Bless his cotton socks.