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(Source: Grauniad)

The mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man based in Scotland.

Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, posted an update declaring that, rather than a 35-year-old feminist and lesbian called Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, he was “the sole author of all posts on this blog”.

“While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground,” the update read. “This experience has, sadly, only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism. However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers.”

Gay Girl in Damascus blog extracts

I used to go to bed around 4 a.m. frequently, a habit that came from: my former interest in astronomy and observing the night sky, watching late night programming on television and listening to late night shows on the radio, surfing the web late at night. All of these however do not currently have merit – I am no longer interested in astronomy, I do not even own a TV set now and surfing the web later is not better than earlier in the day. So I go to bed around 2 a.m. but I intend to make it more like midnight, followed by an hour or so of reading a good recipe book and eating cake so my dreams will be filled with Nigella, Queen of Gastroporn.

I have this dream where she is walking towards me, arms outstretched, she licks her lips, removes her bra, then suddenly a refrigerator full of profiteroles appears and she takes me by the hand … “Charles won’t mind,” she whispers in my ear. I look her straight in the eyes, I’m breathless. “My darling, don’t get sand in the profiteroles …”

I’ve had a few disastrous interview experiences in my time. In my twenties (back in the 1980s, kids, before the fucking internet) it was difficult to find a teaching job in the UK so I decided to try and become a probation officer. I had to have an interview for a social work qualification at Nottingham University very early in the morning.

I had no money to stay in Nottingham overnight so I walked from my friend’s flat in Earl’s Court, London, to St Pancras Station. This took several hours overnight. I caught the first train to Nottingham. By the time I arrived for the interview I was delirious with tiredness. Nottingham is not easy to get to, no matter where you are in the UK.

As an opening question they asked me where I had come from. I said “Newcastle” (fuck knows why). They looked at my application form and said “But it says here that you are from London.” I replied “Yes, I came from London.” They obviously thought that I was a compulsive liar and completely unsuitable as a budding probation officer – I was not offered a place on the course.

My sister had an even worse experience having an interview at a lawyer’s firm in London. My sister had just been to the dentist and half her mouth was numb. The man interviewing her had a very bad speech impediment. My sister says that it must have looked like she was taking the piss out of the poor man interviewing her. She was not offered a place with that firm.

After sitting on my arse in an office for a couple of years, I found myself on boards to interview job applicants. On one occasion I was a bit surprised at who my co-interviewer was. Called Sue Beard (seriously), she was someone I had not known had interviewed applicants. We sifted the application forms. One of the job seekers we decided to interview had a degree in psychology. Sue commented that she would be interested to ask about that.

The interview went along OK, then Sue clearly decided to ask about the applicant’s degree. She said, “Now, this psychology then, what’s all that about?”

The applicant looked nonplussed by the question and I then made sure that Sue did not get to interview for any more posts.

(For those of you who love a twist, Sue Beard became the first Mrs Stainforth.)

I must know about a dozen people who evangelise about Facebook on an almost daily basis. Let me give you an example of how these conversations usually go:

Them: “Are you on Facebook?”
Me: “No.”
Them: “Oh, you really should be!”
Me: “Why?”
Them: “It’s just brilliant!”
Me: “Why?”
Them: “It just is. You should get on Facebook.”
Me: “Again, why?”

… etc., etc.

So, anyway, at the age of 48 I am finally on Facebook. But what is the fucking point?

Perhaps one of those people who rave about Facebook can explain to me what’s so great about it. I already grasp why it was originally created, and I’ve nothing against those who use it like any other social networking tool. But in all honesty, I watched my young friend Melissa using it (she is apparently obsessed and checks it six times a day), and I’m still at a loss as to what it’s actually for.

Why, for example, should I give a shit that someone I know is a bit nervous today because they’ve got a dental appointment? Or that someone else “can’t wait for Friday!!!”?

Well, fuck a doodle doo!

I can think of no reason why I’d want to know such mediocre details from the lives of ordinary people (known to me or otherwise), and I feel fairly certain they’re not interested in the dull goings-on of my daily grind. Yet, this is what I see “Facebookers” indulging in at every office I visit. They seem to me to be most interested in the number of “friends” they have; which brings to mind the games of children collecting Pokémon cards (or some such).

I could understand it if Facebook were a useful tool like, say, LinkedIn or even MySpace (both of which actually make a hell of a lot more sense to me), but it just seems like a mindlessly trivial way to waste a few hours. Usually, on employer’s time. Perhaps that’s the point …

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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