Innocence Passed Me By

Australian werewolf in London

Ben Winch
Dec 5, 2017 · 7 min read

It’s ironic, this ruse of the “tell-all” diary, since nothing would be easier here than to deny my past — to position myself in the moment, just a roving pair of eyes — but how deep a portrait is that? To get deeper, I’d have to tell my story. But it’s not so easy. Time was, when I was living it, I would probably have loved to be thought “dissolute”, or at the very least reckless/adventurous, at least by some people. But now? It’s as if I’m attending a job interview! What if x reads this, or y? But it may be time to bring out the resumé.

Columbia Road, East London

If I could only — like Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones in his rock memoir Lonely Boy — say “I was a werewolf”. It’d be true, to a degree: I spent more time than was healthy out at nights, “prowling”, I guess, would be the word.

If I could only, like Billy Idol in his book Dancing With Myself, say I was on crack, addicted to porn, that I kept my Manhattan apartment so dark that if I dropped a black t-shirt on the ground it’d take me hours or days to find it again. Well I wasn’t on crack. As to porn, I was a late uptaker with the internet and rarely had a functioning television, which saved me the worst of that indignity, but I’d go to humiliating lengths to get sex and that obsession nearly ruined my life. Unlike Billy Idol, though, I never felt justified in this; I had no excuse. I never went on the Rebel Yell Tour, for one thing, about which Billy said if you weren’t a sex addict when it started you sure as hell were by the end of it.

I could say this stuff — I just said it — but without a video of me in leathers raising one fist to the sky to the sky with women screaming all around me, what sense does it make? Who did I think I was? One thing: I felt a huge amount of unspent, bottled energy. I felt like exploding. For years, I felt I was not in my right time, place or role at all. Obviously, my not going on the Rebel Yell tour hit me hard.

Luckily, in 2012, long after the worst of all this had passed but with distant echoes of it still occasionally ebbing through my system, I met my wife Ciannait. But how did I make it through the lonely years preceding? To some extent I switched off — I had to. To go to work for five-to-six days a week (six was better, I often thought, because it further facilitated my “switching off”); to return home tired and drained but with some sense of achievement, however abstract: “Another day, another dollar”; and then to turn werewolf for a night or three and squander what I’d earned. But don’t laugh: it made sense, because I survived it. Really, after the acid-bath of shame that was the latter half of my first marriage, those next six years were all about surviving.

Since meeting Ciannait, my standard of living, health and happiness have increased dramatically, but of course there’s conflict. When I met her, for a year or so, I was earnest to a fault: I wanted to be responsible, to make sure I didn’t repeat old mistakes. I got fit. I took karate; I could feel the good energy that circulated every time I finished class. At first I didn’t push the creative thing, then slowly I delved back into writing. When the dole office insisted I study to keep my dole-payments I took web design, which reinforced my sense that I could do this thing — make a splash in the writing and/or music world. I remember when I first started recording music again, while housesitting my Dad’s place in the country. I was disciplined: I’d get up in the cold at 7am (that place is in the foothills of the Dividing Range, and it was winter) and do my exercises on the bare wood floors. It was a peak experience, but it didn’t last. On later visits to Dad’s to housesit (2–3 a year) I started dabbling with old vices — sneaking cigarettes, smoking pot. I got complacent, I guess. My life seemed so stable; I’d look forward to those times away to shake myself up. But there came a time when, had I been in a city rather than a one-horse town four hours from Brisbane, I might have done something rash. Well, I did do something rash: I had a bad trip on magic mushrooms, a shock so intense that I saw it, then and after, as the start of my decent into relative ill-health. It caused a chain reaction, from which maybe I’m only just fully recovering. Somewhere in there Ciannait and I got married, in a relatively healthy period I fooled myself would last, but a few months later I was floundering, unable to accept the quietness of my life. But hang on… quietness?! With three young stepsons I definitely had my share of noise. But the repetitive sameness of it all — family life in smalltown Australian semi-suburbia — took its toll.

It’s funny, in one sense I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been. I may have been sick of Byron by the time we left there, and even now that I’m in London I’m worried re my creative/professional future, but my marriage is one thing I surely needn’t worry about. It feels so healthy, what Ciannait and I have, not to mention thrilling, deep, fun. And yet I do worry, maybe for the same reason I’ve always worried — because sex, to me, has always seemed so fraught, so dangerous, so intrinsically likely to cause pain. Also (and this may sound crazy) now that I have sex — better sex than I ever dared hope for, at least since I met my first wife 24 years ago — I feel kind of… lost. What do I do with the energy I used to expend chasing after women? Luckily I’m older; the energy’s dissipated, but not totally. Maybe it’s just the adrenalin I’m missing, but there’s more to life than sitting at a desk, after all.

I don’t really know what this blog-post is about, but I know what I wanted it to be about: that line of Bowie’s from the strange drum-and-bass-styled nineties Eno-collaboration “We Prick You”, which only really struck me this morning: “Innocence passed me by”.

It’s a strange process, writing these posts: I think of a punchline and then step back from it, to take a running leap. What can happen, of course, is I step back so far that I run out of steam before I reach the target. But at the same time the unique value in this format (in the public blog, as opposed to the private journal) lies precisely in that contextualising (the “run-up”), in that attempt at communicating, though not at the expense of spontaneity. It’s a delicate balance. I want to share a feeling — the sense of a (small) revelation — but I don’t want to retrace my steps, to waste time explaining what I already understand. Somehow I feel that would be counter to the project’s spirit, which is about my apprehending something new, as it’s in the process of unfolding — otherwise the writing will be dead, a reiteration, without drama.

And then, I can only bring myself to publish this stuff because it’s mostly concerned with the present, and that present finds me relatively guilt-free, shame-free and without secrets. For five years after my first wife and I broke up, I thought almost daily (sometimes many times daily) of the pain I’d caused her. At that time, anything I wrote would inevitably have been backward-looking. Maybe only now, in London, do I feel sufficiently focussed on the present to believe that each of these blog-posts will be, in its own small way, a revelation.

But wait, that Bowie line demands something more. Innocence — did I never have it? Not as regards sex, no, I don’t think so. (And it’s sex that Bowie, in his cryptic way, is singing about.) For as long as I can remember, sex has seemed anything but innocent. As a child I saw and heard and inferred things that convinced me sex was a vicious game. It made me cynical. And it took me forty years to get over it — if in fact I have gotten over it, which I sometimes doubt. If, for now, I have stumbled on a respite, I still fear its absence. Only by descending to a nadir of self-destruction, and then slowly crawling up out of it, was I able to see this gift when it was offered me, and to act on it, and to make it work. I only hope I can continue to cherish it rather than sliding back down again.

(Handwritten Thursday June 29th to Sunday July 2nd 2017, with my wife and stepsons away in Germany for a week. Feeling alone.)

Hand Drawn Heart

How do you give up journal-writing when you’ve kept a journal for 25 years? You start a blog. The deal: what I write, I publish. But since this is coming from the same impulse that kept me journalling so long, it’s raw.

Ben Winch

Written by

Ben Winch

Writer/rocker travelling light to the horizon’s glow.

Hand Drawn Heart

How do you give up journal-writing when you’ve kept a journal for 25 years? You start a blog. The deal: what I write, I publish. But since this is coming from the same impulse that kept me journalling so long, it’s raw.