There are two particularly cruel scenes in the novel I Am Not Gog, and the second of them is also quite distasteful. I’m sorry about that, but they were both important to the story and partly based on real events.
The first involves a couple of nasty girls at school: Madie and Tates, the two bullies who set about ripping young Lydia’s false fingernails off. Their names are simple anagrams of two English words. If you want to cheat and see what they are anagrams of, I’ve put the solutions after the space at the bottom of this blog.
As ghastly as the scene is, it actually happened to the real-life person who inspired the character of Lydia. I used to work at one of the social projects she frequented. I found myself not particularly busy one day, so I sat with her and chatted about this and that. Somehow, our conversation led her to be reminded of an incident when she was young. She said some girls had ripped her fingernails off.
I naturally thought she was talking about her real fingernails and was horrified. ‘They did what?’ I said. She repeated herself, elaborating only a little, and went on to say how horrible and cruel they were and that they were probably jealous or something. I was trying to figure out if she was making it up, because it was too awful a thought to believe. I was stunned, and of course I felt terribly sorry for her.
I would have then got much more detail and back-story out of her to see if it was credible, but I was called away to do something elsewhere in the building and forgot about it. The opportunity to get more from her on the subject never presented itself. It never seemed appropriate. ‘Tell me more about your horrific torture’ doesn’t feel quite right. It was much later, while considering the event’s inclusion in Lydia’s story, that I realised the woman had probably been referring to false nails, which is much more credible. I dearly hope she was.
In the same chapter of the book, the nail-ripping event is followed by another event that is even worse, even more cruel, and on top of that, uncomfortably distasteful, and so it also stretches the bounds of credibility. Well, dear reader, let me help you to believe.
It was inspired by a conversation I overheard during a recess at college when I was about fifteen. A loose group of us were hanging about outside having sneaky cigarettes. A boy new to the college had attached himself to a subset of the loose group.
There was also a girl at our college with a distinctive look. She was very solidly built. She wasn’t overweight, just stocky and strong. She had dark-ginger hair that never moved. I can’t remember whether it was curly or just thick, but it was sort of like a helmet. She had large, thick-rimmed black spectacles. I guess it was her spectacles that inspired one of the more waggish of our loose group to name her ‘Gog’, from ‘goggles’, I suppose. She happened to be walking by during the recess in question. This triggered several off-colour remarks from some of the boys (I don't recall them being loud enough for the girl to hear, thankfully).
Then the new boy chipped in. He went on about what a lark it would be to ask her out on a date, get her to lie down, get her to lift her jumper or skirt up, and then suddenly pee on her. The darkness of this surprised and appalled me. Where does that come from? Such cruelty is obviously innovated from the need to impress his new peers, to amuse them, something meant to be funny, but to invent that? It has stayed with me all these years. One can see how, with peers of lesser moral fibre than we had, ‘jokes’ such as this could so easily escalate and become reality. If a thing can be imagined, somebody somewhere has probably done it.
I didn’t want to bring these horrible things into your lives, but I needed some things to happen to Lydia so that she would ultimately come to be in such an irrational and unstable state that she would take a man hostage. Other people gave the events to me. It’s their fault, not mine. Life gave me lemons and I made lemonade (forgive the accidental infantile euphemism). In any case, the vile doings of Madie, Tates, and Alex all stand for things far, far worse than these two childish events: those things in our world that together help to create and perpetuate UMDIP, the Unnamed Modern-Day International Phenomenon that is the ultimate target of the allegory in I Am Not Gog, the true nature of which, unfortunately, really is far too awful for most people to believe.
Scroll down for the anagram solutions, should you care to...
Madie is an anagram of ‘media’. Tates is an anagram of ‘state’.