So 'Cone O' Tragedy' ticks just about every 'Don't' in the list of bad blog design. Whenever I put up another piece about some obscure arcade game and what I think about it, I alienate most of my artsy, poetic audience. Whenever I write about my opinions on the UK performance poetry scene, everyone who reads the video game stuff yawns and switches off. Even amongst my miniscule audience, I ensure there's something to bore everyone.
But it's inefficient, alienating one demographic at a time. So here's a little something that will alienate everyone simultaneously. I think I'm probably oversharing (on multiple levels) but I've written it now, so it seems a shame not to post it. Uh, so anyway. I just wanted to warn you.
It's called a speculum, and it's a little tapered metal thing. The article on the website said it was about 4cm in diameter, but I reckon it was closer to 3cm. It's attached to this long transparent plastic hose, and the far end of the hose connects to a white box a bit like a shower control panel, with a dial and buttons, and the other end of the hose - the speculum end - gets daubed in lube, then pushed up your anus. Well, not your anus, obviously. My anus.
A couple of weekends ago, I went for colonic irrigation - or colonic hydrotherapy, as most practitioners now call it. For those of you who don't know, it involves having a hose shoved up your bum, then water pumped into your bowels. Our appointment was at nine o'clock on Saturday morning. I say 'our', because me and my girlfriend went to have a session together. You know, like normal couples do.
On the drive there we tossed a coin to decide what order we'd go in. She won the toss and elected to go first. We drove down a road plastered with wet autumn leaves that had collected in big drifts in the gutters and got mashed to mulch under car tyres, and I thought about mashed up food and the insides of my colon. My girlfriend started slowing down as we came to a line of detached suburban houses, set back from the road. She wasn't sure she could remember the exact number, so we peered through the rain-streaked windscreen between squeaks of the wipers, trying to figure out which house looked like it might belong to a professional bum-cleaner.
'What will you do if it's just a fat bloke in a stained vest, smoking a fag and holding a bit of pipe?' said my girlfriend.
I laughed, a little hysterically, and gripped the door handle. 'Are you sure this place is okay?'
'I don't know.'
'Don't you? Why did you choose it?'
'It was the only one I could find in Norwich.' My girlfriend saw my fraught expression and added, 'She seemed really nice in the email. She gave us a list of things we had to do in preparation. I printed it out but I think I must have left it at work. God knows what my colleagues are going to think if they find it.'
'That you're going for colonic irrigation?'
'Oh, I've told them already. I think this one is the place.' She swung the car into an unremarkable driveway and the tyres crunched on pea shingle as we pulled up.
I took a deep breath. 'Well, here goes.'
We walked round to a door at the side and rang the doorbell. From inside, we could hear frenzied barking. I could feel my chest tightening. I wasn't sure what I was going to say if someone answered the door and gave us both a blank look.
The door was opened by a healthy-looking, normal-looking lady with short hair and a wide smile. 'Hi,' she said. 'You're here for the hydrotherapy?'
Her soft tones and gentle manner suggested she knew how nervous we were. We were led into a converted kitchen area and invited to take a seat. On the side of the room by the door were shelves laden with homeopathic tinctures in big brown glass bottles, and on the opposite side was a large treatment table and the aforementioned hose and control unit, which was made by Mira, the company that made my parents' shower. I really like a good power shower, and I reckon Mira are a great manufacturer, so I tried to cling to that mundane detail as the lady started asking us a short questionnaire about our dietary habits and bowel movements.
'Now you two are friends, but you're not together?' she said.
Me and my girlfriend looked at each other. 'No,' she said, 'we're together.'
'Oh, okay,' said the woman. 'So you're comfortable with answering some personal questions?'
We both nodded. I could feel myself beginning to blush.
My girlfriend went first. While she got up onto the table and rolled onto her side, I picked up a copy of Reader's Digest and pointedly engrossed myself in an article about a woman and her boyfriend who got stranded on an island populated by komodo dragons. The woman walked over to a portable CD player.
'Okay,' she said. 'I'm just going to put on some chill out music.'
As the kitchen filled with the strains of Morcheeba, I read about how the bacteria coating komodo dragons' fangs mean a single bite is usually fatal, so they follow wounded prey, waiting for them to die, and the lady gave my girlfriend a rectal examination and asked if there had been any blood in her stools. The whole treatment took about 40 minutes, during which time I kept my head buried in reading material.
After my girlfriend had been unplugged and had popped to the adjacent loo, it was my turn.
The woman handed me a powder blue towel. 'If you just go through into the loo and pop off your bottoms, then we can get started.'
I went into the bathroom, where there was a loo and a set of electronic scales and a sink and lots of toilet rolls. As I undid my belt and dropped my trousers, I reflected on the fact that I was paying a stranger to poke a lubed finger up my bum then pump me full of water. I hoped she didn't think I was doing it as a weird sex thing.
I left my trousers and boxer shorts puddled on the floor and emerged wrapped in the towel. I climbed up onto the padded treatment table.
'If you just want to move the towel round so it's open at the back,' said the lady, 'then roll over onto your side.' I shuffled the towel round a little awkwardly, then rolled over, away from her, and found myself staring into a large glass fishbowl. I concentrated on distorted goldfish as the woman told me to relax, 'this may feel a little uncomfortable at first.'
It felt a lot uncomfortable. She later told me that 'blokes seem to find it harder than girls, because...' she turned to my girlfriend for confirmation, 'I guess girls are more used to, y'know... medical procedures.' I think what she really wanted to say was 'having large cylindrical objects inserted into them', and, I must concede, the speculum is, to date, the largest thing I've ever knowingly had inserted into my anus. About 3cm in diameter and smeared in lube, it held my sphincter open as I rolled over onto my back. It was very cold, and hurt, as if someone were using thumb and forefinger to forcibly peel open my ringpiece.
'Okay, now I'm going to turn the water on,' said the lady in a clear, even tone. 'If you want to stop at any time, just let me know, but you'll have to give me a minute or two while I pump it all out.' She reached up to the control unit, pressed a button and turned the dial. She looked down at me, smiling. 'Can you feel it?'
At first I wasn't sure, then I felt a cold, trickly sensation. 'It's quite a weird feeling at first,' she said. 'Like you really need to go, then you don't again.'
This was true. I felt suddenly bloated and uncomfortable, like when I wake up the morning after a phaal and realise I've got about thirty seconds to get to the bathroom before the bumbay doors swing open and decorate my bed in fragrant ochres and chestnuts.
The lady asked me to move my towel down a little, and began massaging to the left of my stomach. 'This is the last part of your intestines, before it comes out, so if there's any food waiting it'll be here,' she said, tapping with her fingers the way the chest specialist did once to get phlegm off my lungs.
'Tim Clare?' my girlfriend called from her chair on the other side of the kitchen. 'Is it okay?' I could hear the glee in her voice.
'Yeah,' I grunted, as the tide reversed and water began sluicing back out of me into the transparent hose. There was a little round mirror on an articulated arm positioned to allow me to watch shit floating out of my bum, and I made a point of not looking at.
'It feels weird, doesn't it?'
'Just try to relax as much as possible,' said the lady.
As someone who occasionally gets performance anxiety pissing at public urinals, and has to wait until the bloke next to him has left before he can start to pee, I found it especially hard to relax while every physical cue was telling me that I was copiously shitting myself flat on my back in a stranger's kitchen. For all our supposed animal instincts, socialisation seems just as deeply hardwired into us, and as much as I told my body it was okay, my sphincter's clench reflex gripped that speculum like a bulldog with a chew toy, tenaciously trying to hold in the torrent of liquid pouring from my gaping backside.
Now, if you're still reading at this stage, you may - quite reasonably - be wondering, why was I doing this? Why did I not only consent to have a large object pushed up my arse, but pay for it, and take my girlfriend along? And perhaps the only answer you can come up with is that it was probably a weird sex thing.
Okay. I know how it looks, but it was not a weird sex thing. I think, maybe, to explain, I have to talk about the punts.
Once, I was sitting outside The Anchor pub in Cambridge, having a drink with my girlfriend. It was a sunny day, and the river was crammed with people punting. There were so many punts that there was barely enough room for them to get past each other. It was hot, and people were getting impatient, and the boats were so gridlocked I thought someone could probably use them as a bridge to run from one bank to the other, hopping from punt to punt like a middle-class pirate.
I traced three possible routes from where I was sitting to the opposite bank. I turned to my girlfriend with a big grin.
'I reckon I could run from here to the other bank,' I said. I'd had a pint and a half of Guinness, and the sun had left me a little lightheaded, and my girlfriend had a beautiful smile. 'I'm going to do it.'
I expected her to look worried and tell me not to, and then I'd engage in some brinkmanship for a bit, pretending I was really planning on doing it, and she'd giggle and tell me to stop it, and at last I'd back down, then we'd both laugh about it and I'd seem sexy and impulsive without actually having to do anything.
Instead, she said: 'Yeah! Do it!'
I stuck my head through under the rope between our table and the water's edge. I looked at all the punts bunched together. The seats were covered with tartan blankets, black brollies tucked down the side. In one of the punts, a panting bulldog sat at the stern. In another, a little Japanese boy with a blue patch over one of his spectacle lenses pointed at the dog and squealed with delight.
I glanced back at my girlfriend. She was watching with excited anticipation. She really believed I was going to do it.
I'm going to do it, I thought.
'I'm going to do it,' I said.
'Do it,' she said.
I looked back at the river. One of the boats in the middle, piloted by a swarthy guy in a black vest with curlicued bramble tattoos across his biceps, was starting to break through the pack. There were lots of parents with young children.
If I run across their boats, they will think I'm stupid and rude, I thought.
'Right,' I said, moving as if to get up from my seat with what I hoped looked like sexily impulsive intent. I hoped my girlfriend would believe that I was serious, and finally tell me not to, so I could back down without looking like a fraud. I paused. She didn't say anything. I imagined myself clattering across the punt with the smiling German tourists in it, souring their day out. I pictured the old lady in the cotton blouse and the powder blue sunhat looking upset as I thumped through her boat with my big drunk feet. I imagined her returning home feeling a little less safe, a little less optimistic, because of the reckless young bell-end with a poor capacity for judging the mood.
The big-armed guy pushed hard with his pole, and his punt, containing an attractive blond girl, prowed loose into open water. The other boats began to drift apart. I sat back in my chair.
'I don't think it's possible now,' I said.
'Yes it is,' said my girlfriend.
I looked at the remaining punts. It obviously was.
'Nah,' I said, shrugging. 'I left it too late. I should've gone when I first said.'
My girlfriend looked disappointed. I took a sip of warm Guinness, and the world felt smaller.
So a month or so later when, after a reading an online article about a journalist who went to an intensive detox resort in Thailand where people shat out marbles and purple slime and chunks of raw steak into colanders, we started trading jokes about how we should go to have colonic irrigation as a couple, and wouldn't that be funny, and about how people would probably think it was a weird sex thing, and about what we thought might come out, I suppose I didn't want to back down. I didn't want to feel that tickle of nerves and excitement about getting into something unwise, only to put on my dull, grown-up face and say 'No, no, that's something I'd never do really.' I didn't want the joke to be over. Not even when she emailed me saying she'd found a place that actually did colonic irrigation. Not even when she suggested booking in as a couple. I thought, this is stupid. I thought, this will end in pain. I was, frankly, terrified. But it made me feel excited. It felt like something new and strange was going to come into my life. It made me feel I had the power to choose new things, to create my own future. And I didn't want that feeling to stop.
Also, I thought it might make me feel good. I was worried about my crap diet, and I'd read about people doing it and feeling pounds lighter and more energetic than they had in years. I'd started going to saunas a couple of months earlier, and they made me feel absolutely euphoric.
We met at a sauna evening. I'd just done a stand-up gig in Norwich. It had gone much better than I'd expected, and my friends Yanny and Molly said they were off to have a sauna. They suggested I come along. I said I couldn't. I had to get the train back to Cambridge, I had work to do, I hadn't brought a change of clothes with me, if I stayed I'd have to sleep on a sleeping bag on John and Molly's floor and I wouldn't get a decent night's sleep so I'd be knackered the next day, I hadn't been invited so it might be weird my turning up... I had lots of good reasons not go. But I was high from the gig, and I thought fuck it, and I went anyway. And I met someone, and I fell in love.
Not so long afterwards, I mentioned to my new girlfriend how I hadn't been on holiday in years, and how great it would be to just pick somewhere without thinking about it and go there.
'Let's do it!' she said.
I'd never been on holiday with someone I was going out with before. I'd never spent that long with just one person ever. We hadn't been going out very long. I thought, this is stupid. I thought, this will end in pain. I was, frankly, terrified. But it made me feel excited. It felt like something new and strange was going to come into my life. It made me feel I had the power to choose new things, to create my own future. And I didn't want that feeling to stop.
Love, for me, is like this beautiful dream-house. Every time I've moved in, it's seemed wonderful for a while, then suddenly one of the rooms has turned into one of those slow deathtraps from Saw, where to get free I've got to smash my own bollocks with a hammer otherwise a harpoon will jaw my ribcage apart and wrench my heart out, and then it turns out the trap's rigged and I get my balls smashed and my heart ripped out anyway. But then, after a few months, maybe longer, I find myself standing outside the house again, admiring the paintwork, remembering the time I spent there, and it looks so inviting, and I think, maybe this time it'll be different. Maybe this time, there'll be no buzzsaw deathmaze. And I go back in.
Maybe there can be empowerment in masochism. I guess I do things that conventional wisdom says are stupid, things I know will probably hurt, because at some level, it's my way of saying fuck you to a godless universe and those self-indulgent feelings of sucking nihilism that come a-creeping into my bedroom when the lights go out and I find myself staring up at the cracks in the ceiling, wishing I could transform into some wishy-washy religious fruitjob rather than confront the sledgehammer reality of pragmatic atheism.
After the lady unplugged me, I waddled to the bathroom. 'You may find you have a bit still to come out,' she said. 'Men tend to be a bit more tense than women, so you might have been holding it in.'
She wasn't kidding. The instant I'd locked the door and sat down on the toilet, I passed what felt like several basinsful of frothy brown fluid, and instantly felt two stone lighter. I emerged feeling bouncy and relieved.
I doubt I would ever do it again. I found it unpleasant throughout, my bum hurt for days afterwards (the only time I glanced at the mirror I swore I saw a dark trail of blood, and immediately looked away, my heart racing), and I paid sixty quid for the privilege. I'm talking about the colonic irrigation of course, not the last-minute holiday with my girlfriend, which turned out to be one of the most romantic, happiest times I've ever experienced.
Afterwards, as we drove home, my girlfriend expressed disappointment that both our sessions had produced nothing in the 'foreign objects' box on our report forms. Then she turned to me and said, 'You don't think she thought it was some kind of weird sex thing, do you?'
Those of you who know me (and, after this blog post, I suspect now you all feel you know me a little too well) know I find this world, and life, pretty scary. So why, on top of that, do I do things that scare the shit out of me?
I don't know. To be free of shit?