Falling asleep anytime, any place, anywhere and major mishaps with myopic men in Rome

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Madrid Spain 1995

I woke up, from an unwise session mixing cider and vodka, with my face submerged in my handbag. The bar was so noisy it was amazing I’d gone to sleep. The bag must have been functioning as a pair of ear muffs, or a mini tent. This falling asleep in public, when I’d overindulged, had been a key element of my behaviour since I’d started drinking alcohol. I had fallen asleep at clubs, next to blaring speakers, or in the middle of the dance floor. Indeed when I went to a party the first thing I’d do was identify where I would later go to sleep, which was usually the host’s bed, not entirely welcomed by them. “Wake up,” said my friend Susanna, shaking my arm, “the bar’s closing we’re going to have to go home now.”   Susanna had moved to Spain and I was visiting her as well as covering a story about the independence movement in the Basque country. I’d already got into trouble in Madrid, scouring the streets for ecstasy with a Moroccan drug dealer, and ending up in San Blas, an area so dodgy the dealer said “we must leave.” I’d never experienced racism in Spain, as people thought I was a rich South American, but when I was walking around Madrid with the Moroccan people looked at me like I was dirt.

Nonetheless, I had a deep affection for Spain, as I had lived in Spain for four months when I was 18 in 1988. It was the first time I’d been happy in my entire teenage years. In England I felt miserable and ugly, in Spain I felt attractive and like I fitted in. I’d travelled all over Spain learning Spanish, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Salamanca. People said I spoke Spanish so well I must be a spy. I met the first man I fancied, a German who, rather dubiously, said he liked SS uniforms as they looked so good on blondes. I snogged him but obviously couldn’t have sex. He wrote to me from Germany but, of course, wasn’t available as he had a girlfriend there. When I got back from Spain and was doing my Spanish S level oral exam, the examiner asked me what monuments I’d visited in Salamanca. “None,” I said shame faced, “I spent my whole time getting pissed in bars.” “Well you must have done something right, your Spanish is amazing,” she said. “Well it’s amazing what you can learn with a double vodka in your hand.” Of course I’d sometimes got into problems with alcohol in Spain, a presage of things to come, as the measures were so enormous compared to British pubs. But, in typical denial, I just thought this was a problem with Spain and Spanish bars, not that I had a problem with alcohol.

I went to the Basque country to do the feature for the BBC and, amazingly for me, nothing actually went wrong. I got all the interviews, didn’t leave any of them in the back of a cab, and was warmly welcomed by the Basques. I was a bit horrified though when I was recording a pro-independence rally in Bilbao that all the demonstrators started shouting for “coche bombas en Madrid,” car bombs in Madrid. ETA, the Basque nationalist/terrorist/independence group (depending on your perspective) was still active and supported by a significant minority.

I went back to Madrid to say goodbye to Susanna, who’d saved my life when she’d phoned when I was about to cut my throat. She’d sat with me in the depths of my clinical depression, trying to make me talk. But all I could do was stare at the walls. Susanna and I had been friends since I was 10, when we bonded intensely at Wycombe Abbey, an all girls’ boarding school. Night after night all the little girls in the dormitory would howl themselves to sleep, desperately missing their parents and families. One night we had a screaming contest so loud we all had to be put in the sanatorium. I had been keen to go to boarding school, conned by tales of Enid Blyton and Mallory Towers. But there were no midnight feasts at Wycombe Abbey. Just hours of homework which we had to finish with a torch under our duvets every night. We had tiny moments of joy, greeting the stern matron with our knickers on our heads but we couldn’t even indulge in my childish passion, shoplifting Hello Kitty toys, as we weren’t allowed out alone. Solitary only children, Susanna and I became inseparable in the first term. And although I left after a year, we were still very close throughout my teenage years. Susanna was one of the only people I told the full horror of what was happening during my parents’ divorce. To my other school friends, I pretended my parents were still together and said nothing at all. Susanna was like me, chaotic, and our friendship was characterised by frequent mishaps. But we loved each other and it is still one of the most important relationships in my life.

Rome 1987 Me: 17 Susanna: 18.

MADRIDPICTURES

 

“Will you do threesome?” said a fat, hairy, man in the front car of a convoy of vehicles pursuing us down the street. “You are very pretty, how much do you want? I’ll pay you a thousand lire.” How much? we thought panicking and rushed off down the street. But in fact a thousand lire was about 50p. We’d set out dressed appropriately so we didn’t have any trouble with men. In virginal outfits with white lace tops and skirts. We were clearly street smart, mature and experienced and thought looking like a virgin was a turn off to men. As the convoy of cars had swelled to 15, including a tank and a juggernaut, we realised we’d made a slight mistake.

As we rushed down the street, all the men in the cars started flipping their hands as if we were gay. Oh my god, I thought with horror, not only do these men think we’re prostitutes but they think we’re MEN as well. It was then that I realised what my mother’s stern words not to go to a hotel near the station in Rome had meant. We were in the middle of the red light district and these men thought we were transvestite prostitutes. I suddenly noticed the lurid neon signs on the bars around, clearly pointing to a thriving trade in lady boys. I had never questioned our identity as girls, until now, and being mistaken for (very convincing) girly men was not a compliment.

I had just left an all girls’ boarding school, Roedean, at the age of 17. I was very academic and had passed the entrance exam to Oxford when I was sixteen. I only needed two Es in my A levels to get in. But I was definitely still a virgin and had barely been kissed. I was practically a child at 17. I had still been playing with my teddies, when I was sixteen, running an supremely efficient toy hospital. This inter-railing trip around Europe was the first adult experience I’d had in my life. I was travelling with Susanna, who was slightly more clued up than me. But our naivete had been a magnet for trouble with men everywhere we went.

We ran away from the line of cars following us, taking shelter in a bar. The man in the bar, who had nose hair as long as a beard, gave us an oleaginous look, scanning us up and down and saying that girls like us, “would have a great future in films. “ From his leering looks it was obvious what kind of films he was talking about. He also ran a strip club and invited us to come along and participate.

“We’re not interested in things like that,” I stuttered, blushing deep red.

“Well what about water sports, or a tiny bit of S and M.”

“I don’t like scuba diving and I’m too full for sausage and mash.”

“Can you say that on camera,” he oozed at my face, “you’ve got such a great voice.”

Although not as pretty as my luscious, blonde, best friend, I was a virgin, very busty and extremely innocent. Even in my naïve, childlike, state I could see that this would be an attractive commodity in the world of porn. Not that I had any experience of porn, the only kind of sex I’d looked at was my parents seventies bible, the Joy Of Sex.   This prompted me to write a pornographic novel at the age of 10 which had limited scope as I had no idea what a vagina was and thought babies came out of your bum.

Shaken by our experience in the red light district, we decided perhaps going out alone was unwise. There were three young men working in our hotel who had asked us to go out for the night. They must be safe, I wisely said, as they all had thick glasses on. Short sightedness was clearly a recipe for moral probity, I thought. Also, as there were three of them, perhaps it wasn’t a date.

When they arrived that night there were two of them and they’d taken their glasses off. We went out with them to a fun fair outside Rome but we decided we’d better lose them as their eyesight had improved. We then ended up surrounded by an angry and threatening group of men, facing possible gang rape, until we ran, hysterical, to the car of an Italian family.

“What are you doing out here alone?” said the mother, once we were in the car.

“Our friends took off their glasses,” I said, “we had to get away.”

“Italian men are bad news,” the woman said.

“I know,” I said, “they’re as bad news as a force 9 earthquake on the Richter scale.”

We’d had problems with men going right back to France. Men kept hassling us asking why we were alone. So we’d invented two imaginary friends, Hubert and Napoleon, who accompanied us everywhere. This was inspired by a schizophrenic we saw having an animated conversation with no one in the street. But the men didn’t care whether we were mad or not, they still wanted to sleep with us. I say “us,” in fact they all wanted to sleep with my blonde best friend and got me, with my fluent French, to work as a free interpreter. This lack of attention from men, when Susanna was around, had caused certain problems in our relationship. The situation wasn’t helped by my father who’d always told me I “would never be as pretty as Susanna.” Tiny jealousies niggled between us and on Susanna’s 18th birthday I tried to set fire to her hair. I put the little flame out with a bottle of champagne.

We arrived in Juan Les Pins on the south coast of France too late to go to a bank. The place was rammed and we couldn’t find a hotel anyway. So we decided to sleep on the beach. We were soon moved on by the police. When we asked them where we could go they said, “sleep on a park bench.” We took refuge on an empty boat, thinking we could rest there for the night. Until interrupted by a group of thirteen year old French boys who wanted to have sex with us. I say “us,” one of them did fancy me, although his friends said he was mad and should shag Susanna instead. We ended up sleeping, as the police had suggested, on a wooden bench. The resilience of youth!

It was in Venice that we both had our first experience of dope. We had gate-crashed a party in an amazing apartment and someone had handed a spliff to us. At that point the police raided the apartment, causing us to take refuge under a bed. We passed the spliff from one to the other stretched out under the bed, trying not to drop ash in our mouth. Walk on the wild side was playing on the stereo as the police crashed around the room arresting everyone in sight. But luckily they didn’t notice us silently stoned under the bed.

We had more trouble with men on our way down to the Italian coast. A geriatric man who kept telling us to be quiet, tried to snog me on the night train as I was asleep. I was horrified, turning on the light, that someone so old could be trying it on. But it was not the last time I would be molested in my bed.

When we arrived at the coast we’d fucked up our money again, missing the bank and not able to change our travellers cheques. We started stealing bread from tables at a restaurant, and a kindly Italian family invited us to join their meal. When they found out I was only 17 they were horrified saying, “you’re a minor, how can your parents let you travel alone? “

Little did they know that my parents had been in a reverse custody battle for me since their divorce when I was 12. I say reverse as neither of them wanted me. “Go and live with your father,” said my mother trying to eject me from the house at the age of 13. But he couldn’t have me either, he said.

My mother had sent me back to boarding school after the exit from Wycombe Abbey, as she wanted me out of the house. This ejection to boarding school turned out to be a lucky escape. After my father left I was so frightened of my mother I thought I would be murdered in my bed. I spent the whole time checking the house for serial killers, under my bed, in my cupboards, even the cutlery drawer and the deep freeze. They were resilient and flexible creatures these serial killers I thought. Checking wasn’t enough, I also had to find hiding places from the serial killers, such as concealed panels behind the walls, and practice all my escape routes which involved leaping out of the attic window and running along the roof. This was the origin of the OCD that in later years almost wrecked my life. It was only recently I realised that there were no serial killers at Roedean, they only existed at my mother’s house. If I’d been forced to stay at home I could have become like my uncle, who thought he’d discovered a palatial Roman bath, under a traffic light in Knightsbridge, which he thought he owned.

We went from the Italian coast by ferry to Greece, Susanna getting all the attention on the ferry, of course. Bemused by the Greek language signs all over the place, we hopped on a train to meet some friends of Susanna’s at Tholon, a tourist resort. Of course as the signs, unintelligible squiggles to us, went by, we didn’t know whether we were getting any nearer to our destination or not. We kept asking “are we near to Tholon?” and eventually someone said we were there.

We marched into the town stopping by a bar to ask for directions to the hotel. “Hotel?” they said in bemused tones, “this village doesn’t even have a road.” We looked around, the dearth of tourists was clear to see. A farmer wandered by with a donkey, carrying a bale of hay. Confused, we said we were looking for Tholon, but this didn’t seem to be it. “Tholon,” they laughed hysterically, “that’s on the other side of Greece.”

“So where are we going to stay?” we wailed.

“There are a few people camped on the beach,” they said, “but you haven’t got a tent.”

“No,” I said.

“Well you’ll have to sleep under a tree.”

“A tree?” I choked being shaken back to one of the most traumatic memories of my childhood and the origin of my problem with serial killers. I was eight, in Jamaica, watching Friday the 13th. A woman had run away from the killer and looked like she’d escaped, out of breath, leaning against a tree. Suddenly the killer reached round and cut her throat. I’d had an obsessive fear of having my throat cut since then. I barely slept a wink that night. You may wonder why I wanted to cut my own throat. Apart from desiring death, this was also, logically, to prevent the serial killers from getting in there first.

We eventually made it to Tholon, where we slept under a roof instead of a plant. But it was idyllic in Tolon beautiful and unspoilt. And no one had come onto us. In Tholon we were surrounded by sweaty youths. And I was totally ignored as I didn’t speak Greek.

Susanna and I returned to the UK, my Afro hair turned to straw by neglect, looking like Worzel Gummidge in a hurricane. But our return was not without controversy. One of us had lost our ticket and we had to vault over the barriers at Kings Cross. After this wild adventure when we’d barely emerged alive, I settled back into the madness of life at home.

Looking for Mr Right and ending up bonkers instead of bonked

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Exotic babe, 25. Slim, curvy, very attractive, intelligent, creative, professional seeks intelligent, attractive, well travelled man, 22-35.

Such was the alluring advert I placed in Time Out in 1995. I got sack loads of mail, several from men who said they “couldn’t resist” an advert like that. I weeded through all the photos, eliminating those with two heads or over 65, and created a pile of men I potentially wanted to meet. I then called them to see if we would click on the phone. Some were clearly deranged, aggressive, or thick as a jellyfish, so I created a smaller pile of people I was going to meet.

My favourite of the lot was an incredibly good looking DJ who played at clubs all over the place. Blonde, chiselled and cool I decided he was just the man for me and had fervid fantasies about becoming a DJ’s groupie. I had just started seriously clubbing and taking ecstasy. Unfortunately, he wanted my photo before he’d agree to meet. I sent him the photo but tragedy struck when he didn’t like it at all. His friend phoned me up, saying he didn’t want to meet but was looking for advice on a trip to Cuba instead. Hoping he might change his mind, I gave the advice but never heard from him again.

I became obsessed by the notion that he was “the one” and would spend hours looking at his photograph. That I was developing these feelings about someone I’d never met didn’t strike me as odd at all. If only I’d sent a different photo the outcome would have been different, I wailed. I became so infatuated that eventually I had to burn his picture on the gas stove to put out the fires of “love” in my mind. That worked to an extent but it did make a nasty mess.

Dejected, I set out to meet the other men. One looked like a foetus and was nothing like his photograph. I walked past him five times at the tube station thinking, “oh fuck that can’t be him.” What can you say when your presented with someone who looks like an afterbirth? I was too shy to say, “you look nothing like your photo, please fuck off” and wasted an hour with him.

Another seemed promising and I ended up canoodling with him in a hotel. I was lonely and bored and wanted some action now. He then phoned me up saying that he wanted to meet me in hotel rooms and pay me for sex. Not realising what a great opportunity this was to make extra cash, I said I wasn’t that type of girl and slammed down the phone.

There were quite a few men who were very into me. But I just wasn’t into them. The vast amount of interest I’d generated with my ad seemed to be turning to dust as I couldn’t find someone I liked who wasn’t into kinky sex.

A very interesting option presented itself to me as I was outside my father’s house in Notting Hill. I was discussing a man with a friend from school who I said “was much more marriage material” than her ex. I was wearing a see through peach coloured dress and straddling my bike. An incredibly attractive man with a dog looked me dead in the eye, saying “whoever he is, he’s a lucky man,” then walked off down the street. It wasn’t me that was getting married you silly man, I was talking about my friend.   I stared after him, mouth gaping, not knowing what to do, then eventually did nothing, of course. I became convinced I had “ruined my life” by not following him down the street. If I had, I was sure, we would have got married immediately. I had fantasies about the wedding, thinking the best man would be an Emperor Penguin and the bridesmaids, sheep. I wanted a unique wedding with an animal theme. Jesus was the Lamb of God so I was sure the church would let in a flock of sheep. My imagination blossomed: flamingos and peacocks could waft theatrically around, handing out canapés. And the horse drawn carriage could be pulled by a zebra instead. It has to be said that when I mentioned this fantasy to a man I was on a date with he immediately ordered the bill. Morose, I trailed around Notting Hill, with a pair of binoculars eyeing every man and especially men with dogs. When the police stopped me and inquired what I was doing I waved the binoculars shouting, “I’m looking for a man with a dog.” They mentioned something about psychiatric services but this was obviously a joke. I even thought of putting up an advert in the newsagent saying “desperately seeking man with dog.” Alas my efforts to find him were in vain and I never saw him again. It didn’t cross my mind that he was probably a player to come out with a comment like that.

At work, I had moved to the Aramaic and African desk in the BBC World Service newsroom, with a very civilised start time of 11.30 or 1 o clock. I still managed to be half an hour late every day, huffing in sweating and panting when my editor had gone to the loo. Part of my job was going to editorial meetings at the language services every day. It was there I met Gogol the gargoyle who had a profound effect. Gogol was married, to someone working in the next door room. But this didn’t stop him trying to put his wick about as much as he could.

“Leave us” he would say, waving his hands dramatically to shoo everyone out when I came in. “We need to be alone.” He would then try to chase me round the room to have a snog. I would dodge this, more and more expertly as time went on. But he was totally lacking in shame and then tried to snog me in front of ten people in the lift. We would go out for coffee, or rather he would have coffee and I would have a glass of wine. He would tell me he loved me and not to worry about his wife. His wife wasn’t my primary worry, it was turning to stone if I ever woke up next to him in bed. Of course it was sexual harassment. But I felt sorry for him. Without any awareness of sex addiction, I realised he had a problem and couldn’t help the way he behaved.

I got into serious trouble at the Aramaic Service by writing a news story that mentioned that an Israeli had bought land from a Palestinian. “No Palestinian has ever sold land to an Israeli,” shrieked a Palestinian member of the editorial team, looking like he was going to wallop me in the face. Little did I know that I had strayed into one of the most contentious areas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although most of Israel was established by force, Israelis had in fact been buying land from Palestinians from before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Palestinians had been murdered for selling land to Jews and a few years later, in 1997, the Palestinian Authority made it a capital crime to sell land to Jews. But the fact that they had to do this showed it was still going on. I’m sure the Aramaic translation of my story that was actually broadcast mentioned nothing about the land sale at all probably saying the Israeli had beaten him round the head and stolen the land.

One day I was heading with trepidation into Gogol’s office (not because of a political squabble but simply because he might try to feel me up) when I saw a tall, dark, handsome, stranger there. “Caroline,” Gogol rushed towards me to give me a hug. “Ah,” he flicked a hand towards the man, “this is Akbar, a reporter with the Aramaic TV news.”   Mr Hotstuff gave me a big smile and I smiled right back. This was much more the type of editorial meeting I wanted to come to.

We repaired down to the bar at the end of my shift and talked for hours and hours. He was gorgeous, and fascinatingly knowledgeable about the Middle East. We swapped numbers and agreed to go on a date. After all my searching in Time Out I had found a man right on my doorstep at the BBC.

Things swiftly progressed to a snog and then canoodling in bed. I wasn’t just keen on this man, I was absolutely obsessed. I spent twenty three hours and fifty five minutes a day thinking about him. The other 5 minutes I might have, briefly, considered work. I spent all my day on the Aramaic desk fantasising about having sex with him in every position conceivable. Of course, to my practically virgin mind, this only meant one or two. Without any awareness of love and sex addiction, I realised I was totally hooked and that, to me, he was heroin. I wondered if I should write an article about “heroin sex” for GQ. Romantic thoughts about ditching miniskirts and converting to Islam floated across the whirling Arabian sands of my mind. I noticed from all his family photos that his family looked fundamentalist and were all covered up. But he was so Western, I thought. What did it matter if you couldn’t see his family’s faces in their photographs?

But then just as I was about to have sex, disaster struck. He lost his job, as his whole television station closed down. Suddenly he was facing deportation and said he couldn’t continue the relationship until he knew what was going on. Bereft, I agreed to cool things down.

After a couple of weeks, it was clear he was going to get another job. He called me, wanting to meet up. I went round to his flat, hitting the walls with excitement, thinking this would be the time. We soon ended up in bed. But when I was almost naked expecting him to caress my lady parts, he said he didn’t touch women “down there” it was “a cultural thing.” I felt like I’d been slapped in the face, but, infatuated as I was, I carried on. But when he tried to fuck me it just wouldn’t go in. “Relax” he snapped, not making me relaxed at all. “Umm,” I said, my mind wanting to do it but my body saying no. In fact, though I was totally obsessed with the guy, no matter how many times I tried I couldn’t have sex with him. I went to extraordinary lengths to try to stretch my lady parts, buying a gigantic dildo and practising at home. Not wanting to waste any opportunities, I took the dildo into the BBC where unfortunately it fell out on the cash desk in the middle of the canteen. But all my efforts to stretch were in vain, I was tight as a drum and the damned thing wouldn’t go in.

We compromised with me giving him multiple blow jobs instead. But in the end he got fed up of the lack of sex and said he was sick of me. I felt like I’d fallen out of a lifeboat without a life jacket and the boat was now slipping away. I was devastated and almost cried; but of course I never cried. My parents had been so poisonous to me that I swore I would never cry as I didn’t want them to know how much they’d wounded me. I still can’t cry now.

Post-Akbar, I realised that no matter how desperate I was to have sex with someone, if they didn’t warm up my muffin it wasn’t going to happen at all. Having come up with nothing but a giant plastic dildo in my quest for a man, I settled back into life at work thinking I was as likely to marry Bigfoot as find Mr Right.

Next Saturday: Falling asleep in my handbag and major mishaps with myopic men in Rome.

Stumbling down the wild side of the sexual street at the BBC

BBC PICTURE SUMMER

BBC 1992

My BBC career started, as it continued, with a mishap or two. “The train,” I puffed charging into my interview at World Service Radio, at least 45 minutes late, “got stuck in a tunnel, it might have been a bomb.” A roomful of BBC managers raised their collective eyebrows in disbelief. If there had been a bomb, they certainly would have heard.

Having been as well informed about news at Oxford as a lost Japanese soldier who thought the Second World War was still going in 1963, I had decided to sort out this vacuum in my knowledge with typical OCD flair. I was reading two newspapers a day, making notes about the bulletins of radio and TV news, knew every capital and President in the world, in short was a veritable encyclopaedia of what was going on. I sailed through the interview, although my ship was rather late, and was ecstatic to be told that I had got a place as a Radio Journalist Trust Trainee. This was a scheme designed to get ethnic minorities into the BBC.

The BBC had clearly dug down deep into the underprivileged masses to find its new recruits: four out of six were Oxbridge graduates from expensive private schools. It was obviously fine to be an ethnic minority, as long as you weren’t common as well. I started off my training at Broadcasting House in September 1992 and had moved into my first flat, a three bedroom flat in Central London for sixty eight thousand pounds. God we were lucky then. I was benefitting from the housing crash of the late 80s early 90s with its interest rates high enough to get banged up by the police and tidal wave of repossessions. With a gift from my mother, who’d abandoned me to go back to Jamaica, and my thirty thousand pound mortgage I could easily cover this. I was 22, had a mortgage and my own flat. But I was still a fucking virgin, of course.

I was the only trainee who hadn’t done a postgraduate in journalism studies and the differences soon became clear. I wouldn’t have hit a deadline if it slapped me in the face. I immediately took a shine to the only other smoker in the group, a half Asian man called Krishna who’d been to Cambridge and Westminster. I decided this was a match made in heaven, though tiringly he did have a girlfriend as well, who he was always complaining about. She doesn’t understand me, he would say. I didn’t realise that that was what men always say before they play away. So love lorn was I at my inability to tie down the relationship with Krishna that in all the pictures of the RJT trainees I look like I’m going to jump under a train. When I finally got him in bed, he said, “you’re not a virgin are you?” “N…No…I stuttered and proceeded to give him my first ever blow job. He loved me, he said. Then he didn’t. He was leaving his girlfriend. Then he wasn’t. It was a roller coaster of emotion I could scarcely hang on to. When he didn’t come to my birthday party I was bereft. When he told me he wasn’t leaving his girlfriend, my suicidal depression deepened and I ended up with a carving knife at my throat. Just as I was about to do something, I’m not quite sure what, my beloved best friend phoned from Spain. The moment was broken and I’ve never been that close to suicide again.

When I arrived at the newsroom at World Service Radio, in the  Art Deco splendour of Bush House, the problem the BBC was trying to counter became painfully obvious to me. I stared into a roomful of faces as white as a party of polar bears. There was clearly a confusion, in the minds of many there between the words “white” and “write.” As well as a belief, despite numerous literary masters to contradict, that people whose first language was not English could not be trusted to write.

“Oddbog Babak is coming for an attachment from the String-vestian service,” muttered the editor of the European desk.

“Oh dear,” frowned the Chief Sub, “well we’ll put him on something simple like copy tasting.”

A funereal air presided over the European desk when I arrived. I learnt, later that morning, that this was because their reporter in Lithuania had died of starvation with a BBC freelance contract in his hand. The payment had been delayed between the Assignments unit, News Process hub, accounts department, Four Men and their Dogs department and the actual payments desk. By the time it had reached its final destination at the Onward Movements desk, the poor reporter had expired.

Not that frugality was a watchword at the BBC – I noticed that several taxi drivers had set up tents on the pavement, meters running, as they’d been waiting outside for so long. And the staff would abandon profuse amounts of food, leading all the mice in central London to head there for a snack. I believe, while I was at Bush House, the mice outnumbered the staff 50:1.

I then moved down to the main current affairs programme, Newshour, where the egalitarian nature of the BBC was clear to see. Out of a department of 30 only two had not been to Oxbridge and they kept very quiet. Several of the managers had been at Oxford with Benazir Bhutto, they all had a story or two. And everyone had written authoritative books on at least one country by the age of 25.

It was at Newshour that I decided I would finally give in to temptation and start to experiment with girls. Part of the reason I’d been so obsessed with Krishna, was because I thought I was gay. I wanted to be normal and normal in 1993 didn’t equate to snogging girls. For a year after I left Oxford I had not fancied men at all. This was one of the main reasons I had clinical depression and wanted to kill myself. The psychiatrist at St Mary’s hospital didn’t help at all, eyeing me up in my cycling shorts and saying, I “couldn’t possibly” be a lesbian. But that’s what I thought I was, I told therapist after therapist. I could even sleep in the same bed as Alex, who I’d thought I was in love with at Oxford, and feel not the tiniest tingling at all. I decided to stop equivocating and put a bi-sexual advert looking for a girlfriend in Time Out. I referred to myself as an “exotic babe” and got stack loads of replies. I started leaving my shifts at Bush house to go on secret dates with sexy women instead. Indeed, horror of horrors, I bumped into someone I was working with at Newshour at a lesbian club, which led to many awkward moments over the photocopier. I went crashing around clubs in Soho with groups of lesbians, and did meet a TV producer I wanted to date. But I realised, when I was clubbing, that I would often be eyeing up the only man in the room. I did like women, but I realised I wasn’t gay. I’d just gone off men.

My father had told me I was ugly and too short and my head was too big. When I got into Oxford at the age of sixteen, he said “that’s all very well but why don’t you just grow.” He then carted me round to doctors who might make me grow. This precipitated a crisis where I became obsessed with having an operation to extend my legs, suitable only for dwarfs, that could have resulted in my legs being amputated. My father was prepared for me to go ahead, perhaps he wasn’t fully aware of the risks, but thank god I didn’t do it. He didn’t help my self-esteem by sitting around with his girlfriend taking the piss out of Jamaicans and saying that black people were “different” as they “had a different pelvis shape.” My father had a curious history. He’d married my black Jamaican mother in 1967, in defiance of his rich father who was a friend of Lord Lucan and supporter of apartheid South Africa. My grandfather, naturally, boycotted the wedding and didn’t speak to his son for five years afterwards. When I asked my father if he had married my mother to piss off his father, he was totally silent and went pale as a tub of Dulux Ultra White. My grandfather wasn’t the only member of my family who thought that black people were as equal as a wombat taking on a wildebeest in a war over turf. At my father’s hunting, shooting and racing family in Gloucestershire, I had to sit around as a child listening to black people being the butt of the joke. I consequently didn’t like hunting and tried to abscond and join the antis when I was dragged to the Boxing Day Meet at the age of eight. My (noisy) impersonation of the Fantastic Mr Fox went down like a lead balloon.

It wasn’t just my father who thought I was ugly. All the Sloane men in Chelsea I was hanging out with when I was a teenager, and all the boys on our inter-railing trips preferred my blonde best friend. Even Alex had rejected me.   I felt totally scorned by men and had turned to women instead. Though of course being me, only attracted to men who were unavailable or gay, and too scared to embrace being a lesbian, I was still a fucking virgin at 23.

But I soon learnt the advantages of being a young woman with a posh, sexy, voice. I could not only reel in the women on Time out with my profile recording but persuade men to do interviews as well. When I rang important men in hotel rooms late at night, they would fall over themselves to speak to the BBC telling me they “loved my voice.” If only I’d recognised my potential, I’d have set up a telephone sex line on the side. I realised I had a weapon in the interview wars, that there was a particular tone of voice, that would persuade most men to do an interview. But production was not for me. I wanted to be a reporter and that meant I had to go abroad.

Bi-lingual in Spanish and English, I decided I would go to Latin America and Spain. I set off for Cuba in 1993.

Next week: losing my virginity to Jesus, narrowly avoiding being possessed by a pig at a Voodoo ceremony in Cuba, and how lettuces failed to save the Cuban economy.