Friday 30 September 2011

All about pyjamas

Okay, you're all so totally sickened by politicians, you couldn't be arsed to even comment on them. Fair enough. In which case why don't I give you all a break and turn to a much lighter subject.


It's often assumed that pyjamas are an English invention, dreamed up by some shivering aristocrat in a draughty, iced-up castle somewhere near Chipping Norton.

Not so. The original paijama were actually loose-fitting pants with a drawstring waist, commonly worn by Asian men and women. The word pyjama comes from a Persian word that found its way into English.

You might think pyjamas are thoroughly mundane garments. Not at all. Heated controversy surrounds them. Opting for pyjamas as daywear is seen by many as the height of vulgarity and indecency. Some schools and supermarkets have banned them from the premises. But for some Chinese, wearing pyjamas in public shows they're well-off enough not to sleep in long-johns and string vests.

Are pyjamas sexy or are they passion-killers? Depends on the person - and the pyjamas. Jennifer Lopez was once spotted in some very exciting white satin pyjamas. But the truth is lesser mortals tend to look dowdy and slovenly rather than hot to trot.

Opinion is equally divided over whether they're the most comfortable garments ever or a cumbersome nuisance. Personally I would say the latter. I only wear pyjamas when I'm away from home, so as not to frighten the horses. Normally I wear a nightshirt to let my boy bits breathe.

I could go on. The strange idea of pyjama parties. That curious term, "the cat's pyjamas." The pros and cons of ironing pyjamas. Celebrities caught in their pyjamas. But life's too short.

Next week: face flannels.

Note to Jenny Woolf and Cinnamon: I keep trying to post comments on your blogs but they just disappear without trace and I get Google error messages. I don't know your email addresses so I can't contact you directly.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Too many soundbites

Some people (Jenny included) seem to have the impression that I loathe all politicians. Not true. I don't loathe all politicians. Only the ones who don't do their job properly and lie their way out of admitting it.

Of course we need politicians. And we need governments and local councils and all the other public bodies. How else would we organise our society efficiently and fairly and stop it descending into chaos?

I'm full of admiration for many of the politicians of the past who genuinely improved society and the lot of ordinary people whose living conditions were appalling. The politicians who founded the welfare state and created the NHS, old age pensions and child benefits. The ones who slapped new taxes on the wealthy and used the money to help the poorest.

I'm full of admiration for more recent politicians who legalised abortion, legalised homosexuality, encouraged equal pay for women, opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fought racism and sexism.

Unfortunately there are still too many politicians who seem more concerned with lining their own pockets and ego-tripping than creating a fairer society and helping those who're struggling to survive and have a decent existence.

Too many politicians live in a cossetted bubble far removed from the miserable lives of those at the bottom of the heap. They're full of smooth soundbites about protecting the vulnerable and deprived, but in reality nothing much changes. How can a cabinet stuffed with millionaires seriously care about a debt-ridden office cleaner? They don't.

I don't loathe the politicians who sincerely want a better society and do something to achieve it. On the contrary. But the others - they should be booted out and told the gravy train is over.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Ostrich tendency

It's hard not to feel depressed by the exceptionally sorry state of the world. Just about anywhere you live, the prospects right now are pretty bleak. The world is like a large bear licking its wounds after some unexpected attack, and hoping tomorrow will be an improvement.

The relentlessly doom-laden headlines about economic ruin make me want to turn and run for the hills, or bury my head in the sand, ostrich-like*. I feel like chucking out the TV, not reading the newspapers, and generally shutting out the rest of the world until things start to get better.

I feel like narrowing my attention to my own little microcosm of friends and loved ones, making sure they're safe and sound, getting whatever pleasure I can and doing my best to preserve my sanity.

The problem is that we've all got used to expensive and comfortable lifestyles that rely on sizeable salaries, affordable outgoings and plenty of jobs. As soon as the world's economies go pear-shaped and all those underpinnings look precarious, life gets very scary indeed.

Sometimes I think those religious hermits who spent their lives in a Himalayan cave, devoting their days to meditation and contemplating the snowy peaks, needing nothing more than a few modest gifts from their admirers, had the right idea.

They never had to worry about the imminent collapse of the banking system, or the price of electricity, or government borrowing, or loopy politicians. They just sat there serenely in the lotus position, pondering the sound of one hand clapping, and smiling benignly as their latest visitor cringed at plummeting share prices on their iPhone.

So let me know when the world is back on track. In the meantime, I'll turn off my mind, relax and float downstream.

* In reality of course ostriches never bury their head in the sand. If they did, they'd suffocate.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Crystal balls

Just what will my future bring? I really want some clarity here, I don't like being in the dark about the rest of my life. So I decided to consult the renowned Esme Plunge, clairvoyant and palmist, the oracle all the celebs swear by. Well, Harry Potter anyway.

I sidled warily into her gawdy consulting room, with its oriental knicknacks, flocked wallpaper and red-tinted lighting. Why do psychics always go in for such aesthetic vulgarity?

Her androgynous appearance, consisting of a heavy, muscular physique in a frilly blouse, a long floral skirt and three inch heels, made me wonder if she was a transvestite or a trainee transexual. I tried to concentrate on the matter in hand.

She peered intently into her crystal ball. "Ah, I see a wonderful future for you, dear. You will win three million pounds in the lottery, marry a famous actress and become a dog-breeder. I'm so pleased for you, darling."

"But I never do the lottery" I said. "I'm already happily married to the world's sexiest woman and I can't stand dogs - boisterous, slobbering, yapping, half-witted creatures. I'm afraid your crystal ball must be out for lunch."

"Oh no, dear, that's where you're wrong. You may think your life is fixed but the next twelve months will bring big changes, very big indeed. Hold on to your clutch bag, you're in for a bumpy ride."

I fixed her with a steely glare. "I've never heard such 24-carat bollocks" I said. "If you're a clairvoyant, I'm a rattlesnake. Be warned, I shall report you to Trading Standards in the morning. Good day."

As I made good my escape, I heard a volley of foul-mouthed expletives from her consulting room. This is going straight onto Facebook, I thought. Oracle to the stars, my arse. More like Tiffany's epiphanies.

Pic: The extraordinary Esme Plunge.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Poison pens

I'm constantly baffled by the army of people who dedicate themselves to making other people's lives more painful. Not just criticising them or looking down on them but actively doing everything they can to wound and torment them.

If you're a celebrity, or just someone temporarily in the headlines, as well as the normal personal problems you have to deal with there's an endless barrage of venom and abuse from complete strangers who seem to have nothing better to do than to stick a knife into someone else.

It used to be just newspaper and TV journalists who went in for gratuitous vilification. Now it's all those ordinary Joes and Julies who've taken to the internet to slag off anyone they disapprove of, often under a cowardly cloak of anonymity that makes it virtually impossible for the victim to retaliate.

I've always recoiled from such poisonous filth, and most of the time I follow a strict rule of never making a comment about public figures unless it's supportive. Groups of people, like politicians and journalists themselves, I regard as fair game because I'm not attacking anyone personally.

But what have people like Kate and Gerry McCann ever done to deserve all the rabid denigration they've received from the media and the public? All the accusations that they were irresponsible parents, that they did away with their own child, that they're just attention-seekers, and so on and so forth. What sort of cheap thrill and sick pleasure do people obtain from spewing out all this shit?

Why don't these twisted individuals concentrate on sorting out their own lives rather than poking their nasty noses into someone else's - someone they've probably never even met and have a totally false picture of? How many skeletons are hiding in their own squalid little closets?

Friday 16 September 2011

Afro massive

And now for something completely different. Once upon a time Aevin Dugas, a 36 year old social worker from New Orleans, decided she was fed up with "chemically relaxing" her hair, i.e. artificially straightening it to satisfy the white folks.

So she went back to a natural afro, and just let it grow. And grow. And grow. And now, 12 years later, she has the biggest afro in the world, with a circumference of 4 feet 4 inches.

"I love it. I would never go back to chemically relaxed hair" she says.

Big hair like that is not without its problems though. Of course everyone wants to touch it, often without asking, as Los Angelista also found out when she went natural. It annoys her but she allows touching as long as people don't pull it or "smash" it.

It catches in things like doors and trees. It picks up straws from people's drinks. She can't see properly when she's driving. In the summer heat, her hair gets so hot it starts steaming, and sometimes she thinks she's going to pass out.

So she doesn't wear her hair loose all the time. Often she bundles it up into a doughnut or a braid. She says wearing it loose all the time would damage it because it would get too tangled.

And when she washes it she uses up to five conditioners at once to keep it looking good.

But she doesn't seem too bothered by all these little glitches and snags. If anything she seems to find them amusing and intriguing. She certainly isn't tempted to go back to a "normal" hairstyle.

Good for her. She's a cool cookie. And afros rock!

PS: I always loved Angela Davis's afro. She was one of my sixties heroes.

Pic: Aevin Dugas

Watch an interview with Aevin here.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Set in my ways

The popular stereotype of oldies is that they're set in their ways, resistant to change. But there's another way of looking at it - they have opinions and habits they've developed over a lifetime, thought about constantly and come to regard as thoroughly sound and sensible. So why give them up in a hurry in favour of the latest fashionable idea?

When you're young, your opinions and habits are young also. You may not have had them for long, they may not be firmly held, and if something more attractive presents itself you may easily be tempted to buy into it. Your convictions may be shallow and swept away by a strong wind.

When I was young, I changed my beliefs frequently. I hadn't thought about them very deeply, and there were always opinions that seemed wiser or more convincing or just more exciting. I was an anarchist, a socialist, a communist, a libertarian, you name it. I shifted my position every month. At one point I declared I was a radical feminist and all mainstream politics was a waste of time.

I'd be in favour of living alone, then cohabiting, then communal living. I'd be rooting for celibacy, then monogamy, then free love. I'd be passionate about renting, then owning a house, then squatting. I just wasn't able to sift the ideological wheat from the chaff, to come to a mature judgment about which beliefs stood the test of time and which were built on sand.

As I grew older, certain ideas stood out as well grounded in reality while others seemed based on delusion and wishful thinking. So yes, I've got a bit set in my ways. For many years now, I've been backing socialism, monogamy, home-ownership and sexual equality. Not forgetting of course rock music, ice cream and lacy dresses.

It's true, I'm more resistant to change than I used to be. If you want me to adopt your beliefs rather than mine, you'll need some very strong arguments. If you haven't any, then kindly stop knocking on my door.

PS: And how about entrenched habits, I hear you ask. Well, there's vegetarianism, thriftiness, politeness, neatness, asking awkward questions, looking in people's windows....

Saturday 10 September 2011

The myths of 9/11

Not only is the tenth anniversary of 9/11 being absurdly over-hyped, but two big myths are still being propagated - that 9/11 changed the world and that we're now all scared stiff of terrorists.

The attacks on the Twin Towers caused appalling carnage and lasting shock and trauma. But what changed the world wasn't that atrocity but the increased violence and destruction unleashed by the British and American governments, using 9/11 as a convenient excuse.

The obliteration of the World Trade Center was a grotesque criminal act that justified a huge worldwide hunt for those responsible. What it didn't justify was declaring war on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and causing well over a million innocent deaths that had nothing whatever to do with 9/11. It also didn't justify systematic torture and imprisonment in the name of fighting terrorism.

The other thing that changed the world was of course the global economic crisis caused by a wave of collapsing banks - and the cost of fighting all those wars (at least $2000 billion in the USA). But reckless banking didn't begin on 9/11.

The second myth is that we're now all scared stiff of terrorists. I don't think so. Our chances of being involved in a terrorist attack are still so minute we're more likely to be killed in a car crash. Personally I'm far more nervous of the actions of the British government, which seems indifferent to increasing unemployment, homelessness, poverty, ill-health and soaring living costs. Now that's a real threat.

Why give a few deranged terrorists, wherever they may be hiding, far more importance than they deserve?

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Not getting enough

French wives may or may not be pleased to know that their husbands now have a legal duty to have enough sex with them during the marriage. If he doesn't, he could be liable for hefty damages of up to 10,000 euro*.

France's civil code says married couples must agree to a "shared communal life", and a judge has now ruled this includes regular sex. Even if the husband excuses himself on the grounds that he's too tired, or has health problems, it won't impress the court. The 51 year old Nice man who claimed just that was still found to have shirked his marital duties.

The judge ruled that a sexual relationship between husband and wife is the expression of their mutual affection, and in this case it was absent. By getting married, he said, couples agreed to share their life and this clearly implied they would have sex with each other.

So those guys who're not so excited by their wives as they used to be, or just can't be bothered with the whole awkward business, or find they can't quite manage what's required, had better sort themselves out or they could face a large hole in their bank account.

A bit tough on those blokes who for good medical or psychological reasons simply can't make the grade and have to disappoint their loved ones. Are they now expected to do their conjugal duty whatever it takes?

And there again, some women may not be too keen on sex and wouldn't relish the prospect of hubby trying it on at every opportunity on the grounds that he's legally required to have plenty of sex with his spouse.

I don't recall the British marriage vows including a promise to have heaps of nooky as part of the deal. Surely "shared communal life" can be achieved by all sorts of means that don't necessarily include erotic bliss.

So is this some kind of feminist triumph for thwarted French wives who want their fair share of sexual pleasure? Maybe. But only if it makes inattentive males more considerate. Not if it turns them into priapic gropers.

* £8,500 or $14000 or A$13200

Friday 2 September 2011

The other 9/11 victims

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, there's the usual focus on the almost 3,000 people who died, but little is said about the 20,000 with serious illnesses caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris.

The health hazards of two massive skyscrapers collapsing and poisonous material spewing all over the surrounding area should have been obvious, yet thousands of emergency workers, volunteers, local residents, cleaners and other tradespeople went about their business for weeks with very little protection.

Now thousands are suffering from a range of disabling illnesses including asthma, sinusitis, muscular and intestinal conditions, lung diseases and memory problems. Many are unable to work or live a normal life.

Up to 80,000 people were present in the aftermath and new patients are coming forward all the time with previously undiagnosed disorders. People are expected to fall sick for at least another 20 years.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that everyone should have been evacuated from the area and proper decontamination teams sent in to remove all the toxic residue. Yet the dust and debris - which included asbestos, lead and mercury - was generally treated as a mere nuisance rather than a major health emergency.

Alex Sanchez is just one example of this peculiar oversight. He helped clean dust from numerous buildings in Lower Manhattan. In only two buildings was he given even a face mask. Now he has severe breathing difficulties, headaches, gastric problems and is no longer able to work. His life has been wrecked just as much as for the families of the dead.

The government has set up a $2.9 billion fund for monitoring, treatment and compensation for the 20,000 plus "other" victims. But the question remains - why was this serious health hazard not clearly recognised in the first place?

PS: Some first responders get help, some don't. Ralph and Barbara Geidel have spent close to $100,000 on his medical treatment since 2003, when the former fireman and first responder was diagnosed with tongue and neck cancer. The Zadroga Act, which set up the compensation fund, doesn't cover cancer. Yet a study in The Lancet says firefighters at Ground Zero are 19% more likely to get cancer than those who weren't there. Ralph's brother Gary died in the World Trade Center attack.

Pic: Alex Sanchez