The Ugly Truth :: Out of the Bag

'To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth.' – Vladimir Nabokov

bulk :: 12st 5
age :: 42 (as of yesterday)
elbows :: 2
elbows in head :: 0
regrets :: a few
pretentious quotes :: 1
marital status :: single
children :: 0
% of physical truth in Bête de Jour :: approx. 75%
% of emotional truth in Bête de Jour :: 100%
occupation before Bête de Jour :: TEFL teacher
occupation after Bête de Jour :: up in the air

As the many ham-fisted, wrong-footed or otherwise abortive attempts I’ve made over the last couple of years testify, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. (So hard in fact, that in the end, rather than just blurt it out, I disguised the reveal in last week’s hitching trip.) Just in case there’s still any doubt, however, or just in case you’re more confused now than you were a week or so ago, let me just clarify:

I’m not the ugly brute I’ve been claiming to be for the past couple of years. There. I’ve said it.

I know a few of you had your doubts, some of them verging on the vociferous. Well, congratulations. Your cynicism was not unfounded – at least not entirely.

Right. So. Where to start?

First, I think, with an apology. I know that some of you who’ve come to know me as Stan Cattermole will be upset to think that I don’t exactly exist. It’s happened before on the few occasions I’ve come clean to readers of the blog. A couple of times the reaction has really surprised and shocked me. I’ve encountered feelings of anger, betrayal, humiliation and even bereavement. And before I begin to explain how all of this came about, I would just like to apologise to anyone who feels hurt, angry or cheated at this point. Especially those of you who have felt close enough to me to share some of your own lives and emotions in private correspondence. I’m sorry if you feel double-crossed because of this revelation, but really, nothing has changed. I’m still exactly the same person underneath. Exactly the same. And I hope that by the time you finish reading this, you will accept that.

Leading on from that point, I’d like to properly introduce myself to you, finally. My real name is Karl and although I may not be the freakish deformed character I made myself out to be, I have had my moments…

…and perhaps more pertinently, I certainly felt ugly for most of the first twenty or so years of my life.

I wasn’t ugly though. I was just an average-looking kid with dodgy eyes, a concave chest and an enormous inferiority complex.

I grew up feeling terribly afraid of people, and more generally of life as a whole. I went through a lengthy phase of vomiting every morning before I went to school, simply because I was so daunted by the daily confrontations that school-life tossed into my face. For a long time after that, I was afraid of going into shops – essentially, I was afraid of people. Without wishing to allocate blame, I blame my parents. A kind of non-blaming blame, because it wasn’t their fault that they were trapped in a seemingly loveless marriage, dominated for the most part by my father’s alcoholism and concomitant vileness. But I think it was because of all that, and because of never feeling particularly wanted or loved by my parents, that I turned in on myself and became terrified and self-hating.

And the reason I mention all of this is to try and show that some of what fuelled Stan’s story was very closely associated with my own childhood, and my adulthood too.

To tell the story more specifically of how Bête de Jour came about, we have to go back to September 2007, when the London-based social networking site I’d been helping to run was falling apart, and I found myself moderately depressed and totally lost, clueless as to what I was going to do with the rest of my life. It was around then, with my future splintering around my ears, that I had a dream.

I dreamt that I was talking to a funny-looking friend of mine, and I said to him, ‘Why don’t you write an ugly man’s guide to finding love?’ In response, my friend looked vaguely offended and said he would be too embarrassed. Then he said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ And I thought about it – still in the dream – and I thought, ‘That’s actually not a bad idea.’ Then I woke up, still thinking about it, and still fairly convinced it made sense for me. I needed something to write, and also, I needed somewhere to hide. I’d had an unpleasant experience with the internet which I’m sure I’ll talk about before very long, and I felt very strongly that I needed to distance myself from it. So what followed was a combination of autobiography and fictionalised autobiography – sometimes highly fictionalised autobiography, and a bit of straight fantasy for good measure. Plus lots of straight, daily-bread blogging.

The main difference between Stan and me at the time was that Stan was depressed because he was 30, morbidly obese and loveless, whereas I was depressed because I was 40, a little bit fat, and somewhat broken, very much reeling from a four-year odyssey through the rancid lower intestines of internet businessland. We both needed to write something. By that point, I had been writing fairly aimlessly and certainly without any palpable success for over 20 years, and teaching English as a foreign language to scrape a living. I was actually pretty close – certainly closer than I’d ever been – to finally giving up the dream of writing for good, and getting a proper job.

The biggest difference between Stan and me, however, was that I was in a relationship at the time. And at the time, it was going very well. Mostly. My girlfriend went on to become the basis for some of what happened with Sally and Morag, and when we actually began to break up at the end of 2008, our break-up morphed into Stan’s break-up with Morag, dead fox and all. Except we’d been together for two years by then, and Stan and Morag had only managed a couple of months.

Oh, and another significant difference was that Stan, as you can see from this photo of me, aged 23, is significantly better-endowed…

So, in December 2007, I became Stan Cattermole and started blogging about my life, dressed up as Stan’s life, and for a long while I assumed that like most of my other projects, it would just dry up and fizzle out, uninspired  and unregarded. But then people started to read, and more importantly, people started to write to me. At first, this made me feel terribly guilty because I knew that our correspondence was based on something that wasn’t entirely true. But then I felt very strongly that everything I wrote as Stan was at the very least emotionally true, entirely so. It was me. So I put my guilt to one side and I did what came naturally. I wrote back, and I made friends.

Also, for a long, long time after starting the blog – at least for the first year – I kept expecting to be found out. Every time I clicked on a new comment, I imagined someone declaring that Stan was obviously fake and that I was a despicable charlatan. But it didn’t happen. It just kept going…. At the time, I used to dread being outed, but when I found myself alone in London at the beginning of 2009, I began to will it to happen. I wanted to be me again and able to write about my real life, which was suddenly much more desolate than Stan’s. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because I’d written myself into a corner and was trapped utterly by this large, elbow-headed man. By then of course, I was writing the book, and had signed a contract with Harper Collins which said I wasn’t allowed ‘to alter the direction of the blog before paperback publication’. So I was in it for the long haul. As they say.

I want it to end now too by the way. Now is approaching the end of August ’09, which means I’ve got at least another nine months of pretending, and maybe occasionally appearing in public with a bag on my head. Last week I was on GMTV, my true identity hidden by a paper bag. Although I can’t deny it was fun, it was also painfully ridiculous, and I still find it difficult to believe that the whole thing has gone on for so long.

I’m not complaining of course. Well, not much.

And if you are actually reading these words, then I guess it’s over. Cattermole is out of the bag. And although I am doubtless feeling highly relieved, I don’t want to give the impression that I in any way regret Stan and everything he’s done for me, because of course I don’t. He’s been wonderful therapy and I really think he’s helped me evolve to some extent. The only regrets I do have concern the extent of any hurt caused by the upheaval of the truth, something of which as yet I’m completely unaware.

I hold out hope, however, that the upset will be minimal, because – as I see it at least – the truth isn’t that staggering a departure from the lie; to reiterate, the truth is merely that I’m not the brutal, brutal physical mess I was pretending to be. On the other hand, lots of the old stories, ninety per cent of the day-to-day stuff and the vast majority of the relationship stuff was pretty much verbatim.

So, really, ultimately, this is not so tragic. Is it? No, of course it isn’t. In fact, it’s positively Good News. Especially if you ever cared for Stan. Just think: he was never tied to a chair as a child – that was my father; he never had plates thrown at him by his mother – that was my brother; and he never coerced a kitten into licking his nipples and penis – it was a puppy, and he did the licking. Actually, that already sounds worse. It should give you some idea though, of the difference between what I wrote as Stan and what actually happened, so…

I was thirteen when I licked a dog’s balls. I don’t know why I did it. It was just a weird teenage experimentation thing, and I was lonely. It was on the living room floor of my sister’s house in Chatham. I was alone in the house, just me and my only friend at the time, a red setter called Boot. Here he is. Bless him.

So Boot was lying on his back with his legs open – gagging for it, he was – and I leant over his genitals, slowly, and I licked his balls. Just once I think, and believe me, it held no pleasure for me. I don’t know if you’ve ever examined a dog’s scrotum – maybe you’ve even licked one yourself – but it’s not an attractive thing. At least Boot’s wasn’t. It was all sparsely haired and liver-spotted, much like the balls of a tired old man. I imagine.

This is the two of us together. Don’t we make a lovely couple?

I loved that dog.

So there you go. We’re equally troubled, Stan and I. And equally flawed and equally furnished.

Of course, I realise that now the truth is out there, you might tend not to believe anything I say. I’ve probably given up a certain amount of my privileges when it comes to being believed. I am the Elephant Man who cried wolf and I guess I’m going to have to live with the consequences of that. And it’s a shame because I’m actually one of the most scrupulously honest people you’ll ever meet. No, honest I am. It’s just that, for the purposes of this blog, I gave the truth a little tweak, that’s all. Just a little tweak.

I realise also that for many of you, none of my attempts at justification will cut any ice and my apologies will ring hollow and meaningless. Well, I’m sorry. All I can say is, none of this was ever meant to be deceitful. Despite the lies.

So. What are your thoughts? Are we still friends? I’m still having a party on Friday if you fancy it. Partly to celebrate my birthday. Partly to celebrate the publication of the paperback. But mostly to celebrate the fact that, for the first time in my life, I am actually ready to accept who I am. (Before I was Stan Cattermole by the way, I was Graham Pond for six years. Before that, a whole bunch of other people. I’ve had a bit of an identity crisis, pretty much since I was a child. But I’m done with it now. And I feel really good about that.)

Anyway, there it is. Make of it what you will and if it’s at all possible, I hope to see you on Friday. At the Royal George on Charing Cross Road. Please don’t stab me.

Thanks.

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you'll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven't already.

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