Tuesday 31 August 2010

Wight trashed

Britain is today stunned and alarmed by the mysterious disappear-ance of the Isle of Wight and its 130,000 residents. Where the island should be, there is now only open sea.

The captain of the Southampton to Cowes ferry noticed at 8.13 am that the island was no longer there. "I couldn't believe my eyes" he said. "it was simply gone. I thought we must be sailing in the wrong direction but no, we were right on course. I tell you, I was knocked for six."

Relatives phoning island residents get an unobtainable signal. Brenda Pargeter of Leicester said "I'm desperately worried about my sister Betty. I've no idea whether she's alive or dead. How can an island just vanish?"

It seems there are no witnesses to the disappearance. It happened with no warning, in a matter of minutes. Police and Coastguard officers have mounted a massive search operation around the coasts of Britain, Ireland and France.

Already several theories have been put forward to explain the missing island.

* A sudden explosion ripped through it. But no debris has yet been found.
* It has drifted to another location. But this would happen slowly enough to be noticed.
* Collapsing foundations submerged it. But again, no debris or dead bodies have appeared.
* A powerful underwater vortex has sucked the island to the bottom of the sea.
* A colossal atmospheric force sucked it into the sky. It is now orbiting the earth.

The Association of British Travel Agents has advised holidaymakers with bookings on the island that in the event of it not reappearing in the next few days, full refunds will be made.

Anyone with information about the missing island is asked to contact Southampton Police urgently on 023 1010 2121.

Pic: where the island used to be

Saturday 28 August 2010

Hormone havoc

I've never experienced anything resembling the male menopause, and I'm dubious about its existence. But some doctors claim that 20 per cent of men will suffer from it eventually.

Not surprisingly, that rather astonishing figure comes from a doctor who makes his living from treating menopausal (andropausal?) men. Other doctors suggest a much lower figure of 2 per cent.

Given that the symptoms (fatigue, scattiness, insomnia etc) are supposed to result from lack of testosterone, and given that men's testosterone levels keep falling after the age of 40, surely if there really was such a condition practically every ageing male would have it?

Also, given that women have virtually no testosterone, shouldn't they be even more incapacitated and barely able to function? Or do women's hormones work differently?

But one man, Dan Hegarty (a doctor himself) claims his life was falling apart. He was nodding off at work, he was unable to read the paper, his marriage was failing. After topping up his testosterone levels, he says he got a new lease of life and all the signs of physical decline were rapidly reversed.

Well, it's hard to argue with that miraculous recovery. But how come I've never gone through any such physical collapse and at the grand old age of 63 my body still seems to be functioning pretty efficiently?

Is my body mysteriously compensating for my depleted male hormones or was Dr Hegarty really suffering from some sort of psychological loss of confidence and inertia which then righted itself?

All I know is that some doctors seem to be making an impressive income from identifying the andropause and treating men who've succumbed to it. Did I catch a whiff of snake oil?

A Northern Ireland man applying for a nursing post in Australia was told he had to take an English language test. After protests from the Australian Nurses Federation, the test was waived. So what language did they think was spoken here? Irish? Welsh? Swahili?

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Wild card

Female admirer: So what's your next post about, Nick?

Nick: I've got nothing more to say. I've said it all. Everything. I've covered all angles. Peeked in every window.

FA: Don't be silly. There must be hundreds of exciting and important things you've never even thought about.

Nick: Nope. They've all been aired. All my absurd neuroses, from A to Z. All my political dogmas, in mind-numbing detail. All my sexual fetishes, complete with lurid graphics.

FA: I don't remember anything about sexual fetishes. Are you sure about that? Give me some examples.

Nick: I'm sorry, but on legal grounds, for health and safety reasons, and to protect the privacy of individuals who're now in very prominent positions in public life, I can't make any further comments.

FA: How disappointing. You could have given us some fascinating insights into the dark corners of your tangled personality, the seamy undercurrents of your complex inner life.

Nick: I doubt it. I'm quite ordinary, really. I'm just your bog-standard bloke in the street, the man on the Clapham omnibus, the guy with the pie. Well, apart from the cross-dressing and the chicken impersonations, obviously.

FA: Obviously. But all these horrifying world events. The floods in Pakistan. The dwindling helium reserves. The sudden popularity of padded bras. You must have something to say about these extraordinary developments?

Nick: Nah, it's all been said much better by a thousand overpaid hacks. Why say it all again? You're not wearing a padded bra, I hope?

FA: Jeez, what do you take me for? I'm 100 per cent natural from top to bottom.

Nick: Sure, and the Pope's a Buddhist. Now if you'll excuse me, I think the guinea pig's eating my mascara.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Eye for an eye

If someone had attacked you so violently you ended up paralysed, would it be a fitting punishment for the attacker to be paralysed in return? An eye for an eye, as it were?

A man who was left crippled after being hit with a meat cleaver asked a Saudi judge to sentence his assailant to surgical paralysis. The judge is now getting medical advice on whether this would be possible, before he decides what sentence to pass.

The paralysis could be induced by severing the man's spinal cord.

Apart from the question of whether any criminal, however serious the offence, should be subjected to such a gruesome and debilitating punishment, it is extraordinary that the victim should have a say in what punishment is meted out.

In most countries this would be a matter strictly for the judge, precisely because the victim might demand something utterly barbaric.

It is extraordinary too that the traditional "eye for an eye" attitude is still seen as a sensible legal principle. If the real cause of the attack is a fit of uncontrolled anger, how is physical paralysis the solution? Surely it can only breed bitterness and more anger?

I also wonder what surgeon with any conscience or humanity could possibly agree to deliberately paralyse a presumably fit and healthy man, simply because a judge decides it is an appropriate punishment. How could he live with himself afterwards?

Monday 16 August 2010

Lurking nasties

Goodness knows what's happened in the average hotel room before I occupy it, but I'm not too bothered. As long as it looks fairly clean and tidy, I'm not going to fret about all the nasty residues I might be unwittingly exposing myself to.

The fabulous Los Angelista just described a particularly unsavoury-looking hotel room she stayed in during a work trip. She said the bed looked so uninviting she actually slept on a chair rather than risk whatever might be living in the bed linen.

One of her commenters declared that most hotel rooms are so unhygienic (and he cites You Tube footage to prove it) he takes antiseptic wipes to disinfect every surface he's likely to use. He also puts the remote in a plastic bag and kips down in a sleeping bag rather than crawl between the sheets.

Well, this seems rather extreme to me, but who knows what horrible experiences he's had in the past, or what ghastly illness he's inadvertently acquired from seedier and grubbier guests?

Personally I've never contracted anything grisly after staying in a hotel (not even food poisoning), so I'm very sanguine about cleanliness standards. I wouldn't stay in a room that's visibly filthy but as long as it looks clean enough I'm not going to ask any questions. I'm certainly not giving the room an extra going-over on the off-chance that cholera or typhoid is incubating happily on the bidet.

Maybe I'm in the minority here. Maybe others are more germ-conscious than I am. I know there are plenty of women who still decline to sit on a toilet seat without a protective layer of tissues.

But I happen to believe my immune system is robust enough to resist the germs and toxins lurking mischievously in room 23's en-suite. As far as I'm concerned, they simply don't exist.

Tuesday evening: I'm off to London for a couple of days to see my 88 year old mum. See you all again shortly.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Less is more

Buying things is so normal we're quite used to our homes being crammed with pretty bits and pieces, the latest gadgets, twenty handbags and a mountain of paperbacks. But suppose you were limited to just 100 personal possessions?

An American couple dissatisfied with their hard-working, hard-spending existence decided to take up the "100 items" challenge and drastically reduce their huge stack of belongings.

Tammy Strobel, who worked long hours for an investment business, was so unhappy being "caught in the work-spend treadmill" that she resolved to totally change her lifestyle. Her husband Logan Smith, a doctoral student, decided to do the same.

They gave lots of their possessions to charity. They got rid of their TV. They got rid of their two cars and bought bikes. They moved to a smaller studio flat with less room for stuff. Eventually they reached the target of just 100 items each. And they say they really do feel happier.

The sudden brake on spending has led to other unexpected benefits. They've paid off debts of $30,000. They have more money to travel. Ms Strobel has changed her job and works fewer hours. And she has time to volunteer for a non-profit organisation.

I'm impressed by their determination and their ability to change their way of life so radically. A houseful of stuff may be unnecessary but for most of us it's cosy and familiar and reassuring. The thought of losing practically all of it would be most alarming. Particularly the hundreds of much-loved books and the fabulous paintings and all the CDs that are virtually glued to my ears.

A smaller home would be hard to adapt to as well, now I'm used to so much space to stretch out in. Jenny and I would once again be tripping over each other and intruding on each other.

I suppose it makes a difference that we've never been the sort to keep up with the Joneses. We buy things because we genuinely want them and think they'll genuinely improve our lives. Which means it would also be harder to part with them. So we won't be taking up the "100 items" challenge just yet. Less is not yet more.

PS: Some brave souls have even given up their homes and now base their lives entirely on a few bits of technology like laptops, iPads and Kindles.

Pic: Tammy Strobel and Logan Smith

Sunday 8 August 2010


I obviously missed my vocation. Tattooing is suddenly all the rage. Getting them, getting more of them, removing them. If I was a tattooist, I'd be doing very nicely.

I suppose it was the celebs who started the fashion, as usual. People like Pink, with tattoos all over the place. Now every Tom, Dick and Harriet is popping into the tattoo parlour to endure the agony of plonking a swallow on their shoulder, a snake on their ankle or "I love Susy" on their arm.

And once they've started, they're always tempted to add a second and a third. If they're hopelessly addicted they end up with every square inch of their body lavishly illustrated.

But there's always the risk that a few years down the line they decide the tattoo of King Kong or Dr Spock or Lara Croft was a big mistake. Or Susy has walked out and been replaced by Julie, who objects to being constantly reminded of Susy.

So the tattooists are in demand again, inflicting more pain as they laboriously remove the offending item and try to restore the decorated skin to its original state.

I've never been tempted by tattoos myself. When I was young they were associated with manual workers, heavy drinkers and hairy lesbians, but that wasn't what put me off. I just didn't like the idea of mutilating my skin for artistic purposes. I felt art belonged on canvas or photographic paper and not on the human body. I guess that's still my attitude.

I did once know a woman with extremely erotic tattoos on her buttocks. At least they were meant to be erotic, but I found them strangely off-putting. I couldn't help thinking of all the other men who had touched them and puzzled over them.

No, I like my skin just as it is, thanks. I intend to keep it that way.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Not quite married

Even though Jenny and I have been married for 15 years, we don't think of ourselves as married. We're still much more comfortable with the idea that we're cohabitees.

To me at any rate, the term marriage still implies all sorts of ugly expectations about roles and behaviour and duties which I don't go along with. The husband as breadwinner, the wife as housekeeper, obedience, submission, sex with the lights off, suburban sterility, you name it.

I know very well that all those stereotypes are out-of-date, and in theory marriages can be whatever you want them to be, but nevertheless just the thought of marriage gets all those preconceptions bubbling up and makes me feel instantly limited and put-upon.

Cohabitee on the other hand means nothing at all except living together. It doesn't imply anything about how you should behave, your lifestyle, the sort of home you live in, your domestic status. All it means is that you've chosen to live together, for whatever reason, because it's convenient or appealing.

It's entirely up to you how you live together. You're free to negotiate every little detail, from housework to sex, from organising to communicating, without any prior assumptions about what's traditional or appropriate. You can do whatever feels right for you, whatever comes naturally.

So whenever either of us accidentally mentions being married, or being a husband or wife, the other shudders and screeches and generally has conniptions. It's in bad taste, it's like farting at a dinner party or swearing in front of the vicar. It poisons the happy home.

The bit of paper's useful of course, financially and legally. But all the cultural baggage that goes with it - thanks but no thanks.

Monday 2 August 2010

Loosening the reins

When I was young, it was still the custom for couples to get their parents' approval before they got married or engaged. Nowadays that would be considered laughable.

In the fifties and sixties, some parents would resort to anything to keep their beloved offspring out of the clutches of someone they deemed unsuitable - even locking them in the house. And in those days even smoking the odd joint or liking Mick Jagger could qualify as unsuitable.

There would be furious arguments between teenagers and parents about the freedom to choose your own girlfriend or boyfriend, and parents would claim the final say in the matter.

Thankfully that's all changed and most parents no longer assume the right to interfere in their children's relationships. They believe it's their children's decision, and if they make mistakes, then it's just a question of trying again with someone else. No big deal, and it's unlikely to ruin anyone's life.

Even cohabitation, which was still quite rare when I was growing up, is now considered not only totally normal but like marriage a matter for the couple and nobody else.

But some parents still try to influence their children's choices. They're convinced a relationship can only end in disaster and they have a duty to cut it short, even at the risk of their child snubbing them instead.

They object that the girlfriend or boyfriend is the wrong class, the wrong colour, a spendthrift or just a permanent loser. They think their child is too naive, too besotted, too young, too mixed-up. Their judgment is not to be trusted.

They still can't accept that their children have to make up their own minds and determine their own lives. They can't accept that the most unlikely relationships can prosper and survive despite everyone else's doubts. They can't quite cut the apron strings.