Saturday 30 October 2010

Still together

Curious as we are, there are questions we hesitate to ask long-established couples, because there's always a sub-text that's a bit dodgy.

Like "So how come you're still together after 17 years?" which translates as "But you're like chalk and cheese. You squabble all the time. You like completely different things. Surely you should have split up ages ago?"

Secretly you keep wondering how they continue to rub along after so many years. Surely they've both changed so much they must now irritate the hell out of each other? But you just can't ask. It implies all the wrong things.

Even less can you ask "So how's your sex life? Still going strong?" because there's always the awful possibility they gave up on it long ago, or one of them has bizarre sexual tastes the other finds repulsive.

Asking if they're the same fiery political radicals they used to be can be hazardous too. You might find one of them's done a stealthy U-turn and become a crusty old bigot railing at the feckless and the workshy.

It may be that that old-established couple is just as compatible and besotted as they were on day one. They may still get on like a house on fire. But asking too many leading questions is inviting disaster.

Instead of a cheerful confirmation that they've never been closer, you might suddenly get frosty stares, shifty evasions and elaborate lies. Or even a bitter rant about how their other half doesn't understand them, is an obsessive control freak, or is emotionally paralysed.

Wiser just to enjoy their company and their apparently still viable relationship than to broach those delicate questions you're dying to ask. They could backfire dramatically.

And naturally Jenny and I remain as compatible and besotted after 29 years. How could you suggest anything different? What do you mean, how's our sex life? What do you mean, are we still fiery political radicals? How dare you, what a cheek. What is this, the Gestapo? Kindly leave the premises immediately....

No, the pic's not me and Jenny, just a happy-looking couple!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Meat rage

Just why do meat-eaters have to be so viciously abusive to vegetar-ians? I mean, what is their problem?

Harriet Walker in the Independent directs a tirade of insults against us meat refuseniks as if we were some alarming social menace. So what did we ever do to her except decide to eat differently?

Referring to the PETA* ad in which a scantily dressed Pamela Anderson is marked with the sort of prime cuts you see in a butcher, she says " Let's face it, there's nothing sexy about vegetarianism. As the thousands of beardy, socks-and-sandals wearing diehards will attest, this advert is the raciest thing to have happened to the movement since Linda McCartney."

Well now, Harriet, let me point out a few things:

1) Why should vegetarianism be sexy? It's a diet choice, not a miniskirt. If I want sexy, I'll watch a Penelope Cruz movie.

2) I don't have a beard and don't wear sandals. I do wear socks though, since tights might raise a few eyebrows.

3) Oddly enough, women vegetarians don't have beards.

4) I'm no more a diehard than those who insist on eating meat and dismiss vegetarianism as rabbit food. I simply dislike the unnecessary killing of animals.

5) The advert is only racy if you think a bikini-clad Pamela Anderson is cutting-edge erotica. In this day and age, I think not. And again, why do stuffed peppers and pumpkin risotto have to be racy? Is there nothing free of sexual innuendo?

Still, perhaps we should be more sympathetic. Such irrational torrents of abuse are of course a typical side-effect of eating large quantities of meat. She really can't help herself, she's the victim of an uncontrollable addiction. I do hope she gets better soon.

*PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Friday 22 October 2010

Naked fury

Nude protests are catching on. Those intrepid souls who don't mind baring all their physical imperfect-ions are doing so to oppose a wide range of injustices.

The latest campaigners to shed their clothes are those angered by high apartment rents in Berlin. They visit apartments on offer, strip off and dance.

The protests are organised by a group called Hedonist International, which has also stormed a neo-Nazi pub.

Some estate agents called the police while others were more laid-back and laughed it off as a harmless amusement. But Berlin's socialist mayor was rattled enough to announce rent-capping in newly-gentrified districts.

There have been many other nude protests - against the fur trade in Dublin and Barcelona, office dress codes and airport full-body scanners in Berlin, political reforms in Mexico City, animal cruelty in Sydney, bullfighting in Pamplona and tree felling in Los Angeles.

Naked campaigning isn't favoured in Britain though. I guess people are either too embarrassed by their wobbly bits, they don't think anyone will take any notice (except dirty old men), or they don't want to die of frostbite.

I wouldn't mind stripping off myself if the cause was right. I couldn't care less about my wobbly bits, we all succumb to gravity sooner or later. I stripped off often enough in front of my fellow pupils at boarding school to lose any sense of awkwardness.

Maybe the traditional British stiff upper lip is more than a match for mass nudity. We'd just survey a line of bare buttocks while sipping our Starbucks latté and mutter casually "Some rather enticing curves. Work-outs or anorexia, I wonder?"

Pic: Protest against the fur trade in Barcelona. The placard reads: "How many lives for a coat?" Couldn't find a decent pic of the apartment protest.

Monday 18 October 2010

Too outspoken

Should a teacher who thinks schools are appallingly run speak out in public or should she be quiet and keep her frustration and rage to herself?

Katharine Birbalsingh, Deputy Head of St Michael's Academy in South London, gave a scathing speech to the Tory Conference, saying state schools were badly run, bureaucratic, dumbed-down and tolerant of unruly behaviour.

Fairly common opinions, you would think, shared by thousands of teachers and parents across the country. Not exactly controversial. Even Ofsted, the schools supervisory body, condemned her own school as "inadequate".

But she has now been sacked after the Head and school managers decided her speech was unacceptable and she should have kept her mouth shut and pretended school standards were just fine.

She has taught in state schools for over a decade, so she knows what she's talking about. She thought it was about time someone spoke up and told the truth.

"British education is not just broken, it is fundamentally broken. Teachers are too scared to speak out because they think they'll lose their job" she says.

Regardless of whether you think the Conservative Conference was the right place to speak out (she's a Conservative supporter), the question is whether she has a right to voice her revealing and thought-provoking opinions about a schools system that virtually everyone is dissatisfied with.

If her speech helps bring about some much-needed changes, then why should she be penalised for it?

She says she worked a 70 hour week "because I love children and I like making life better for them." I fail to see how sacking her helps either the children she's dedicated to or the "inadequate" school which clearly needs a good kick up the administrative arse.

Pic: Katharine Birbalsingh

Thursday 14 October 2010

Lost masterpiece

So I thought I'd say something about the meaning of life, the history of the universe and the global epidemic of existential angst.

- Ssh. Time for some silence.

- What do you mean?

- Silence is very therapeutic. It cleanses your inner being.

- That's as may be. Who're you anyway? Who said you could take over my brain?

- Oh, I've been running your brain for a long time. You were making such a mess of it, I was asked to step in.

- That's outrageous. You can't just jump into my brain. Bugger off right now.

- I'm only doing my job. You'll thank me for it later.

- You'd better be gone in five minutes. Now as I was saying, the meaning of life in a nutshell, stripped down to its basic essence, is this....

- There're huge parts of your brain you're not even using. Did you know that?

- Don't be ridiculous. My brain is as busy as a beehive. The level of activity is breathtaking.

- There's a bit here that's completely dormant. The bit that contains the literary masterpiece of the 21st century.

- Good grief. How do I activate it?

- It needs a special password. Do you know it?

- No. Fuckity fuck fuck. Buggery bollocks. So I'll never write it. It's lost in a neurological black hole. I could have been another Dostoevsky.

- Too bad. At least you enjoy pink frocks and six-inch stilettos. Goodness, is that the time? Must rush, I've got another ninety brains to fix before lunch.

- As I was saying, the meaning of life....

Monday 11 October 2010

Unsightly smalls

You'd think a humble clothes line in someone's back garden would be pretty uncontro-versial. Well, think again, because in the States it's becoming a serious bone of contention.

Many householders hate the things. They think they're ugly, vulgar, over-intimate and spoil the look of the neighbourhood. They want to get rid of them completely.

But other people are all in favour. They see them as a natural and sensible way of drying clothes that's also environmentally-friendly. They want everyone to use them.

Temperatures are rising, and not just in the tumble-driers. Line-lovers are deliberately flouting their landlords and neighbours and hanging out their clothes to dry anyway. So take us to court, they say. It won't stop us.

They point out that tumble-driers use about 10 per cent of household electricity, second only to fridges and freezers. This is a colossal waste of energy when energy consumption is going through the roof. And what's so ugly about a clothes line anyway?

Jenny and I always use a clothes line in good weather. Or drying racks inside when it isn't. We've never used a tumble-drier and don't intend to start now. We know that clothes dried outside always smell fresher and cleaner when we bring them in.

Nobody gets steamed up about clothes lines round our way. You can see them in every other garden, even draped with lacy underwear. Nobody thinks they're unsightly or unseemly.

Okay, so our clothes line doesn't sport many fashionable designer labels. Some of the clothes may be past their best. Some may be ten years old. We don't care and nor do the neighbours. There are more serious things to get our knickers in a twist about.

Friday 8 October 2010

Drawing a line

A cruise entrepren-eur visiting a new terminal at Portsmouth was shocked to discover that passengers on his five-star cruises might come across smelly, shirtless, unshaven lorry drivers. This would ruin the luxury ambience, he said.

As well as whiffy lorry drivers there would be young people lying around and customers might trip over them. Lord Sterling of Swan Hellenic wants the cruise passengers to be segregated from the unsavoury hoi polloi to "create a certain atmosphere".

I presume that means an atmosphere of snobbery and elitism well away from the unwashed minions who drive their caviar and oysters across Europe.

Actually segregation might be a good idea. Then the lorry drivers and fun-loving youngsters wouldn't be made to feel uncomfortable and awkward by the sneering glances of the well-to-do as they embark on their exclusive £8000 cruises.

They could take off their sweaty shirts and sprawl around without feeling inhibited. They could even play loud music and flaunt their tattoos without anyone cramping their style.

The cruise passengers could have a special deluxe lounge where they can enjoy each other's fully-dressed fragrance, properly seated in well-padded chairs, and aren't forced to endure the trauma of irregular behaviour and uncouth habits.

Lord Sterling is quite right to be concerned. If you just had any old person mixing with any old person, who knows what unpleasantness it could cause? One's tolerance is limited, dontcha know? One has certain expectations and too much lowering of standards does rather strain one's fortitude. One has to draw a line somewhere, dammit.

Now where's that steward with my G and T?

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Off the boil

I don't understand anger. I'm a pretty placid, patient person, and when I see other people fuming and raging about something I wonder where all that boiling energy comes from.

My father was an extremely angry person. Not half an hour would go by without him raging about something or other - the government, my mother's messiness, my own messiness, his boss, other people's bad manners, young people, you name it.

It wasn't altogether surprising when he suffered a stroke and discovered his blood pressure was way too high. But that didn't stop him flaring up about one thing after another. He seemed to see everything and everyone as a personal affront, out to annoy him and make his life difficult.

When I was ten, my lovely grandma took me aside and advised me not to grow up full of anger like my father. It would only make me unhappy, she said. For some reason I was so struck by what she said that I resolved from that moment not to be an angry person but to be more philosophical.

And so I have been. All my life I've found it difficult to get angry about anything. People who know me are always flabbergasted if I get seriously angry, they assume something enormously traumatic must have occurred.

I just don't see the point in getting angry. To my mind, it seldom achieves anything except to make a difficult situation worse and to alienate people. Decisions taken in the heat of anger tend to be either disastrous or badly flawed. The energy it consumes leaves me drained and battered.

I know that if I take a deep breath, stay cool, and assess the situation calmly and carefully, I'll react far more sensibly than if I explode in anger. Other people will also react more sensibly, not being cowed and intimidated by a violent outburst.

Some people think that by not getting angry I'm repressing some vital part of myself, something healthy and life-enhancing. I don't think so. I see it as taming a rather primitive and destructive emotion that tends to cause more harm than good. I have no time for it.

PS: If it's repressive to avoid anger, then isn't it also repressive to modify any kind of unpleasant behaviour, like rudeness or malice? That would be absurd.

Finally met up with the wonderful Grannymar, who's been a blogmate for around three years now. I thought I knew all about her but there was plenty more to find out. We were amazed to discover how long we'd been chatting....

Saturday 2 October 2010

Loss of libido

On top of everything else expected of today's women, they're assumed to be hot for sex at any time of the day or night. If they aren't, they're obviously suffering from Female Sexual Dysfunction, and they need a few pills to gee them up again.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom. Which Ray Moynihan, an Australian lecturer, demolishes in his latest book.

There's no such thing as Female Sexual Dysfunction*, he says. It's a pseudo-medical disorder promoted by drugs companies to market drugs that supposedly put it right. Except that they don't because it doesn't exist.

Yes, some women aren't very interested in sex, or their interest has declined. But that's perfectly natural. They may be too busy, other things may be more enjoyable, men's behaviour may be offputting. That's not necessarily a problem. Even if they think it is, it's really a psychological or relationship problem, and counselling is more suitable than a bunch of chemicals.

How come it's "normal" for women to be hot for sex, or somehow defective if they aren't? And it's not just men who say that. It's also the agony aunts and lingerie boutiques. Nobody dares stick their neck out and say "Actually sex is no big deal. So what if you're not panting for it?"

One female journalist compares sex with shopping. You may have been crazy about shopping when you were young, but twenty years on it's just a bit of a chore. Should the doctor give you pills to make you shop more often? How ridiculous.

Women are often afraid, she says, that if they aren't interested enough in sex, their man may leave them for a woman who is. So what they're really concerned about isn't loss of libido but loss of security and status.

And if there's anything guaranteed to make you less interested in sex, it's the endless onslaught of sexual images and references in the media. We feel permanently surfeited by it, even without doing it. No wonder there are still so many women who say "Not tonight, darling, I've got a bit of a headache."

* Of course this is just a modern version of the discredited idea of frigidity