The rudest letter I ever wrote

It was 1997, and I was 16 years old. Despite having an on-off boyfriend, I was very lonely. Then I stumbled across a now-defunct music magazine called Select, which had a contact ads section at the back. The pages weren’t exactly lonely hearts, though I’m sure that was on the minds of numerous advertisers, but they were an opportunity for geeky outcasts to meet other misfits.

In January of that year, a man called Graham placed an ad that said ‘Adventurous and insatiable male hermit, 19, requires intelligent corespondents [sic] to astound, bewilder, tantalise and bore. Self-important wordy sarcastic types encouraged.’ (The spelling mistake was the magazine’s, but I didn’t know that.) Graham seemed smart and interesting, so I wrote him a rather combative letter, trying to be sarcastic while simultaneously taking his ad entirely seriously. The one-page letter was typed on my parents’ word processor.


I’m cringing just reading it now! Back then, my personality was an odd combination of zero self-esteem, due to being abused physically and emotionally at home and bullied all the way through school; and self-confidence, having recently discovered that a lot of men wanted to have sex with me. At times, when I thought about my life to date, I felt suicidal – and, at that age, I was still self-harming and had only just stopped being anorexic.

Graham wrote a caustic reply in response to my opening gambit:

Graham's intro

Touché! So started a friendship that would last from then until the present day, off and on. Looking back, Graham’s letters were much more readable and mature than mine, but then I guess he was more than three years older.

However, I may have been an embarrassingly gauche and daft correspondent, but I certainly wasn’t boring. I was sure I had nothing to offer in terms of my personality, so tried to convince Graham I was irresistible – as I believed this was the only reason a man could ever be interested in me. In my first letter, I told him ‘I spend my days straddling naked men’. He retorted, ‘You didn’t say whether or not the naked men were conscious.’

In another letter, I naughtily tried to turn him on:


The rest of the letter is so racy and smutty that Graham asked last night, ‘Are you sure you want it out there if you’re applying for jobs? It’s X-rated!’ So I will save it for the memoir.

Back in 1997, Graham totally refused to take the bait and reciprocate. He said later that he had no idea what to make of me! He was much more withdrawn, reserved and measured than I was (then again so was pretty much everyone, including Julian Clary).

But our friendship progressed. Graham eventually sent me a perfectly attractive if rather sullen photo of himself:


However, he was extremely self-deprecating about his appearance, and I tried to reassure him:


Reading back through the letters I sent him, though there were jokes in, I was also incredibly depressed. I was still focused on self-harming:


And I couldn’t stop feeling sad and angry about my childhood:


But having a good friend to write to helped ease my pain very slightly, and he’s still there for me 22 years on.


This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss,, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

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The day my mum stole my shoes

When I was 13, I fell in love with a pair of boots. They were just so beautiful and stylish and shapely, in black leather with high stiletto heels. I’ve scoured Google Images and can’t find the exact pair of boots, of course – these were only available in 1994 – but here’s an example of the kind of style I’m talking about.


The boots were £25, and I saw them in Dolcis in St Ann’s Shopping Centre, Harrow. I was especially keen on buying them, because my first ever concert was coming up. I was going to see my favourite band Duran Duran, as my new penpal Anna (a fellow Duranie) had won us tickets in a radio competition by identifying a clip of the track ‘The Reflex’.

It was January 1994, the concert was at Wembley Arena in a week’s time, and I was putting together the perfect outfit. I already had a black and white frilly New Romantic blouse, which in retrospect was hideous, and a black mini skirt and black tights. In my view, all I needed to complete the look were these boots, the pièce de résistance of the ensemble. Despite being a plain child with a face full of hair, I was harbouring a delusion that Simon Le Bon would somehow see me in the crowd, pull me out onto the stage and declare his undying love for me – if only I had the right clothes.

duran81[Duran Duran as New Romantics in 1981.]

So I told my mum about the boots, even though I knew there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of her buying them for me. She rarely bought me anything, and I didn’t get pocket money when I was 13, either. The rationale was that my mum would buy me anything I needed, but what she deemed necessary fell within a very narrow bracket. Still, I wanted to tell someone about the boots.

‘I’ve seen these amazing boots!’ I breathed. ‘They’re so beautiful, Mum! So stylish. They’re black leather and are in Dolcis in Harrow. Can we go and see them?’

To my amazement, my mum said yes. We went to Dolcis and, to my relief, the boots were still on display. My mum agreed that they were lovely. As I’d known she would though, she refused to buy them for me. ‘Your feet are still growing, darling,’ she murmured, ‘and your bones are soft. You don’t want to squash your feet into pointed shoes and wear heels yet, otherwise your feet will be misshapen when you grow up.’

I sighed. I very much did want to squash my feet into pointed shoes. I was disappointed, of course, but accepted my mum’s rationale as a reasonable and caring explanation for why I couldn’t have the boots. As a consolation prize, she said I could wear her slouchy flat navy boots to the concert. They were the wrong colour, of course, and weren’t nearly as stylish or shapely, but they were better than nothing.

slouchy[Totally the wrong boots.]

The day of the concert rolled around. I donned my black and white frilly blouse, my black skirt and tights, and the wrong boots, frowning at myself in the mirror. If only I had a fairy godmother who could transform my unattractive footwear into the perfect stylish ankle boots I’d seen.

Then my mum came home – and she was carrying a Dolcis bag! She put it down by the front door while she took off her coat and shoes. I looked in the bag, and saw a shoebox with the name of the boots on and my size, size 3. This couldn’t be happening! Surely my mum hadn’t bought them? I peeked in the box. It contained my boots!

‘MUM, YOU BOUGHT THEM FOR ME!’ I shrieked, launching myself at my bewildered mum and wrapping her in an enormous hug. ‘THANK YOU SO MUCH! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!’

I couldn’t believe it. I’d always had my mum down as a joyless, neglectful mother who had never paid any attention to me or cared what I wanted or needed – but I had been wrong.  She was the best mother in the world. She truly loved me.

My mother disentangled herself with distaste. She never liked me hugging her. ‘What?!’ she snapped. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘The boots!’ I repeated in ecstasy. ‘You bought the boots for me!’

My mum looked down at the bag. ‘Oh, no darling,’ she said vaguely. ‘These aren’t for you. They’re for me.’

Then I remembered that, being 4’10”, my mum also took a size 3 shoe.

I stared at her. ‘For you?‘ I asked, my excitement ebbing away into an unrecognisable ache in my chest.

‘Yes,’ my mum said, smiling distantly. ‘You couldn’t possibly have thought they were for you. I mean, I already told you they’re bad for your feet. You’re still growing.’

And so, for the next few years, I had to watch my mother walking around in my dream pair of boots.