Monday 28 July 2014

Eat and be damned

Apparently it's quite routine for women's eating habits to be casually criticised by passing men - often complete strangers. Everyday Sexism gives numerous examples of women being told they should eat less, or eat more, or keep away from chips or ice cream, or watch their figures.

If it's not the choice of food that gets criticised, it's the way they're eating it. They're stuffing themselves, they're shamelessly gorging. They can't control their appetites.

A surprising number of men believe that what a woman is eating is yet another thing men have a right to comment on and control. It's just another way of making a woman feel inadequate and belittled.

It's bad enough that women often feel guilty about what they're eating in the first place. Blatant criticism by random strangers is the last thing they need. Yet how do they avoid it if they're obliged to eat in public?

How ironic that so many men feel entitled to eat and drink anything they like, at the cost of pot bellies and acres of flab, while at the same time ticking off women for every suspect mouthful. Of course they're well aware of the contradiction, but see nothing wrong with making a woman squirm.

Do they think women welcome this gratuitous advice? Do they think it's just amusing banter? Do they think it's their job to discipline careless females? Or are they just common-or-garden bullies?

It's encouraging that some women aren't intimidated and give as good as they get. This is Lindsay on Everyday Sexism: "Bloke: I find women who drink pints unattractive. Me: Great, I don't want to attract you. *buys another pint* "

I like her attitude.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

One night stands

So is the one night stand a good thing or a bad thing? Is it to be avoided at all costs or is it exciting and rejuv-enating? And what if you're already involved with someone but you're tempted by a bit on the side?

Caroline Kent in the Telegraph is all in favour of the ONS, at least if you're in between partners and it's an easy way of satisfying your raging libido. If you're feeling lonely and depressed, she says, "sometimes you just need to get the sad shagged out of you." Even her friends' warnings that she might be bedding a serial killer doesn't put her off.

When I was young the idea of a one night stand was universally condemned by polite society. Such reckless promiscuity was shameful. Sex was only allowable once you had fallen in love and got married. If it turned out you had no sexual experience and hadn't a clue what you were doing, too bad.

Naturally most people took no notice and had one night stands anyway. They kept quiet about them, pretended they were wide-eyed virgins and hoped there would be no sudden pregnancy to give them away.

If you're feeling horny, says Caroline, why not act on it? The only alternative is to sit around feeling sorry for yourself, cram your life with so many activities you forget about sex, or rely on a bit of DIY.

It's hard to find anyone these days who objects to casual sex, apart from religious hardliners. Where's the harm? You might find yourself with some rather odd characters, but it's better than enduring hermit-like celibacy.

Of course one night stands when you're already partnered are a different matter, and a lot more controversial. Some individuals turn a blind eye and aren't especially bothered. They don't see it as a threat or a betrayal or an insult, just as a natural desire for a bit of novelty and variety.

Others find such philandering deeply hurtful and humiliating, an implied criticism of their own inadequacy and undesirability, a desperate wish to find someone, anyone, who will be more satisfying.

As I've said before, I've never been tempted into any extra-marital shenanigans. I don't feel the need and I've never been that besotted with anyone. As for other people's behaviour, that's a matter for them. Judge not that ye be not judged.

Wednesday 16 July 2014


Sometimes I feel as fragile as a soft-boiled egg.
Sometimes I feel as tough as old boots.
Sometimes I want to roll on the lawn like a puppy.
Sometimes I want to be as still as a statue.
Sometimes I want to talk complete gibberish and spout imaginary languages and laugh like an idiot and pull ridiculous faces.
Sometimes I want to hide behind a tree.
Sometimes I want to stick out like a sore thumb.
Sometimes I want to turn cartwheels on the beach.
Sometimes I want to be invisible.
Sometimes my brain is like sludge and I'm not at all sure who I am or what I'm doing or why I'm thinking of tractors or how I managed to cut my left thumb.
Sometimes it's all too much and I just want to crawl into a hole and die.
Sometimes I'm so happy I could just float away and I want the moment to go on forever.
Sometimes I feel like a bowl of custard.
Sometimes I feel like a turnip.
Sometimes I feel inside out and upside down.
Sometimes I feel I'm the wrong way round.
Sometimes I'm waiting for the punchline.
Sometimes I'm waiting for the trick question.
Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water.
Sometimes I feel like pie in the sky.
And sometimes there's a knock at the door and it's the Jehovah's Witnesses and they ask me if I'd like a copy of the Watchtower and I say no thanks I belong to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and they blink uncertainly like lost kittens and I tell them I can smell something burning and I close the door.

Saturday 12 July 2014

All too much

You would think this painting is pretty unremarkable compared to the way women are now routinely depicted in the news media, art galleries, films and advertising. A bit of bare flesh, a bit of cleavage, not much clothing.

But it was all too much for the sheltered folk at the Mall Galleries in London, who took one look at it and decided it was "disgusting" and "pornographic". They removed it from the Society of Women Artists' Annual Exhibition and replaced it with something they thought was more suitable.

They explained that they had had a number of complaints and children who happened to be walking through the gallery on the way to other events might be disturbed by it.

Disturbed by what exactly? The modest patch of pubic hair? The partially-uncovered breasts? The unbuttoned culottes? The self-confident swagger? Is it in any way threatening or violent or deformed or sinister? Why would any child pay any particular attention to it, let alone be disturbed by it?

The artist, Leena McCall, was furious at the removal of the portrait. She said she was baffled as to how a painting with no intimate flesh apart from "the pelvic triangle" could be seen as pornographic.

Art galleries everywhere have copious nude portraits and sculptures of both sexes that attract no complaints whatever. Why the strange over-reaction to this slightly unusual painting?

The journalist Rowan Pelling suggests it's because the subject is not the normal passive, unassuming female but looks assertive and appraising - provocative even.

And she wonders "if the cross-legged Puritans responsible for defenestrating the portrait have ever seen Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du Monde at the Musée d'Orsay, with its splendid sprawl of black-haired vulva." A painting which leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination.

All a bit of a whipped-up storm in a teacup, surely?

Pic: Ms Ruby May, Standing by Leena McCall

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Hard work

It's a well-worn cliché that only hard work will get you what you want in life. But it's also a load of bollocks. Hard work might get results, or it might get you precisely nothing.

There are plenty of people out there sweating away day after day with little to show for it. All the money's going to their bosses or their landlord or their season ticket and they struggle to make any real improvements in their life.

Other people lie on their yachts all day and do nothing but watch the money pour in from their various investments and property empires. Their only hard work is tying their shoelaces.

I must admit I've done very little hard work in my life. I've been lucky enough to have fairly leisurely jobs with plenty of time for chatting and fooling around. The only serious exertion was the start of the academic year at a university bookshop, humping hundreds of weighty textbooks into the shop and trying to keep up with the deluge of impatient students and their voluminous booklists (that was in the pre-internet, pre-Wikipedia days of course). It was pure bedlam.

What wealth and comfort I've acquired has been almost entirely through luck rather than hard work. Constantly rising property prices, especially in London, and an unexpected windfall from my mum. Or to put it another way, being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people.

I suppose you could also say I haven't squandered all my money on drink or drugs or gambling or hookers. If you have any kind of expensive addiction, then any amount of hard work, however well it's paid, won't bear much fruit.

I was reading only today that the average income for a writer is now about £11,000 a year. You can sit in front of your pc for decades, laboriously cranking out page after page of hard-won creativity, and have only a massive overdraft as your reward.

Listening to all these millionaire government ministers urging us all to solve our problems by working a bit harder is pretty sickening. I'd like to see them scrubbing a few floors on their hands and knees. That'll be the day.