Monday 27 July 2015

Moral panic

The media have ruthlessly ganged up on the hapless Lord Sewel for snorting coke and using prostitutes*, as if this is the most outrageous behaviour ever and he should obviously be hung, drawn and quartered and buried in an unmarked grave.

The stink of hypocrisy hangs over this weird vendetta. Since plenty of his fellow peers and MPs must have taken illegal drugs of some kind, or cheated on their womenfolk by visiting prostitutes or having affairs (or both), the singling out of one politician unlucky enough to be spied upon by the Sun surely deserves sympathy rather than vilification.

What's really outrageous is a newspaper secretly filming Lord Sewel in his own flat, doing things he assumed were entirely private, and then publishing what they had filmed with the quite deliberate and cynical aim of wrecking his political career.

What's equally outrageous is that his colleagues, rather than commiserating with him, condemning the sleazy tactics of journalists, and pointing out that what he does in his own flat is his own business and nobody else's, have castigated him for his "shocking", "unacceptable" and "disgraceful" behaviour and agreed with the media that his political career is over.

Why taking coke and using prostitutes (in his own home) should make him no longer fit to do his public job of overseeing the work of House of Lords committees is anyone's guess. As far as I know, nobody has ever suggested he's falling down on the job or was too strung out to grasp a piece of legislation.

The simple fact is that if the Sun hadn't intruded on his private life, he would still be happily doing the job he was asked to do, and his political competence would never have been questioned.

Don't get me wrong. I have no time for men who use prostitutes. It's an activity that does huge psychological and emotional damage to the women who're lured into it, and the pathetic creeps who keep it going should know better.

And goodness knows what his wife Jennifer makes of it all.

But the media have no right to splash Lord Sewel's private activities across front pages unless they're of genuine public concern - which in this case they blatantly aren't. It's a classic knee-jerk moral panic over something quite piffling.

* allegedly

Friday 24 July 2015

Baseless rumours

For some years now the media have been suggesting that the supermodel Veronica Trinket and myself are an item. I keep denying this baseless rumour but they still spread it at every opportunity. Even stern legal warnings from Sue, Grabbit and Runne don't deter them.

Anyone with half a brain can see how absurd this idea is. Firstly, I'm very happily married to a red-hot spouse. Secondly, what on earth would a twenty something supermodel see in a crumbling oldie like myself? Thirdly, I suspect there's no such person as Veronica Trinket but the media haven't even bothered to check.

The willowy young blonde who frequently visits me while my partner is away from home is certainly not this Trinket person. She is simply the landscape gardener who tends to the shrubs and young trees when they need some attention. On occasion I offer her a cup of tea or a chocolate biscuit, but absolutely nothing else is offered or asked for. It's true that she bears a slight resemblance to Ms Trinket but that's obviously a mere visual coincidence.

The grainy photos of a smiling young girl, strongly implied to be the secret love-child of our clandestine relationship, are plainly faked by some enterprising newshound whose journalistic career is faltering. The missing left ear and the toeless right foot clearly suggest some rather clumsy fabrication.

As for those doddery old gits who stop me in the street and ask me what my secret is and how they can "grab a bit of the girlie action", I shoo them away with a contemptuous snort. All I'm grabbing at my age is blood pressure pills and reading glasses. They shouldn't believe everything they hear.

Pic: an alleged photo of the alleged Veronica Trinket

Friday 17 July 2015

Shut up and kiss me

I was surprised to hear that kissing isn't nearly as universal as I thought. It's far from being the normal way of showing your affection for someone. In large swathes of the world, it's considered abnormal or even unpleasant.

A study of 168 cultures around the world shows that in only 46 per cent of them do couples kiss romantically, despite previous research that claimed kissing was habitual everywhere. Even in Europe there were several cultures where kissing was unusual.

I must say that if I lived in one of the non-kissing cultures, I would feel seriously deprived. I adore kissing and do it as often as possible. Women or men, it makes no difference, it's just as exciting. It's such a wonderfully sensual and intimate experience. There's nothing like it.

And how can people actually find it unpleasant? Is it the moistness? The mingling of oral fluids? The exchange of micro-organisms? The physical closeness? The risk of catching something?

Some people just object to public displays of affection full stop. They find them unnecessary or distasteful or narcissistic. They believe such effusive gestures should be kept private, and preferably kept in the bedroom.

Personally I enjoy seeing couples romantically entwined, freely showing their love and tenderness for each other. It's an uplifting sight in a world where many people feel alone and neglected.

Of course most British males still recoil from kissing each other, for fear of being thought effeminate or, shudder shudder, homosexual - or just plain weird. They still prefer a handshake or a playful slap on the shoulder to anything more pleasurable. The need to be "masculine" lingers on.

Come on, give us a kiss, mister. You might even like it.

"Shut up and kiss me" - a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Not so golden

I'm not a nostalgic person. I don't yearn for some long-gone period of my life that seemed more enjoyable and idyllic than the one I'm in now.

Whatever chunk of my life I look back on, I'm very aware that it had its boring, miserable and frustrating bits as well as the rewarding bits.

I certainly don't pine for the "Swinging Sixties" as some people do. Yes, it was a time of creative ferment and the loosening of stuffy conventions, but it also saw a lot of men exploiting women in the name of "sexual liberation" and a lot of people wrecking themselves with relentless drug consumption.

I don't pine for some supposed golden age of daily life before we were swamped by the trivial and venomous outpourings of social media. It wasn't much fun trudging to the public phone box in the pouring rain, or trudging to the library to check on some disputed fact. Thank heaven for mobiles and Google.

Neither do I have nostalgia for some blissful, happy-go-lucky childhood. As you all know, my childhood was a tale of bullying and emotional violence along with the magical seaside holidays and Sunday picnics. No way would I want to go through all that again.

I think the nearest I get to nostalgia is looking back fondly to the Harold Wilson era when the welfare state and public services were cherished, money and profit weren't the be-all and end-all, there was more respect for the old and vulnerable, and the young had a much easier start in life. But even that era had its downside - homophobia was still rife, sexual norms were still very straitlaced, society was still very authoritarian in many ways.

Nostalgia's not my thing. I must have left my rose-tinted spectacles on the bus.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Needy or what?

When does needy become over-needy? When does wanting emotional support become demanding and dependent?

It's easy to start relying on other people a bit too much, especially if sympathy comes naturally to them and they're reluctant to push people away when they're looking for help.

It's easy to think it's impossible to get through something on your own, that you just don't have the resources, and tempting to simply act helpless and wait for someone to give you a leg-up.

I hope I'm not over-needy myself. I do try to get through personal crises on my own without leaning too much on other people. I'm not one to rush for a shoulder to cry on or a soothing voice to tell me everything's going to be okay.

If anything, I'm probably not needy enough. I was brought up with the attitude that boys don't act fragile and vulnerable, they tough it out and fake gritty resilience even if they're secretly a barely functioning emotional wreck.

The fact is that we can't always deal with things on our own and even the strongest person may need a helping hand when everything's going pear-shaped.

But we probably all know someone who homes in on sympathy and wants more and more attention and support, until the friendly ear turns into growing impatience and wary avoidance.

Luckily I have a long-standing partner who by now is very attuned to my emotional state and knows when I need an "agony aunt" and when I need to work through something on my own. If she thinks I'm being over-needy, she won't hesitate to tell me. I'm not allowed to play the snivelling bag of nerves for too long.

Which is all to the good. I'd hate to be thought of as an emotional leech.

Saturday 4 July 2015

Spilling the beans

Therapist-cum-life-coach Tori Ufondu only works with men - because they're often reluctant to open up about themselves and it's more challenging to break down their inhibitions. She finds working with women less rewarding because "sessions with women feel more like talking to my girlfriends".

Interesting that she still finds men more tight-lipped and defensive, when there's a general impression that men are getting more open and happy to talk about what's going on inside. Personally I find the men I come across just as unforthcoming as ever and not at all good at spilling the personal stuff.

Tori finds that once she's helped a guy to open up, he reveals all sorts of hang-ups he's never been fully aware of, let alone shared with other guys (or women).

Like difficulties getting on with workmates, or being a slave to other people's expectations, or fear of failure, or sexual frustration, or not recognising his partner's changing identity. Big issues that are seriously affecting his life.

Clearly men's inability to share what's troubling them is doing harm. Seventy eight per cent of all UK suicides are male. A lot of those men must have been bottling up distressing thoughts and feelings that other people could have helped with.

I'm not brilliant at pouring out the personal stuff myself. I'm much more open than when I was young but it still doesn't come naturally. I still have to drive away those masculine inhibitions about "keeping it all to yourself" that were drummed into me as a boy.

But as my regulars know, over the years I've identified all sorts of personal quirks and phobias and anxieties and prejudices I used to be oblivious of, and my self-awareness has expanded dramatically.

I'm sure some of you will promptly tell me that my self-awareness is far from complete and remind me of numerous negative traits that annoy the hell out of you and are shamefully misanthropic. But I'm getting there.

However embarrassing or agonising it may be to spill the beans, letting it all fester and coagulate inside is asking for trouble.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

The enigma of maturity

A theme I come back to over and over is maturity. What is maturity exactly? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Should we strive to be mature or not give a shit and just be ourselves?

If it means behaving responsibly, considering other people's needs, being as kind and generous as possible, not leaning on others, not picking fights or tearing people to pieces, then I'd go along with all that.

If it means constantly restraining yourself, giving things up or toning things down, not being too gushing or flamboyant, always being polite and inoffensive, doing what other people expect you to do, suppressing your natural tastes and responses, then phooey to all that, that's just crushing your real self in the name of social acceptance.

Oldies in particular are supposed to act in a mature way and not like reckless, hedonistic youngsters. We're supposed to "act our age", dress blandly and sedately, never rant or rave, never do anything alarming or unexpected, never inconvenience anybody, and generally try to fade into the background.

Well, phooey to all that as well. If I want to rant and rave, or dress in bright pink and purple, or do something that embarrasses all and sundry, I shall do so. I'm certainly not going to shut myself down because somebody or other thinks that's age-appropriate.

But I think most of us, however long we've lived, struggle to be mature in any sense at all. We act responsibly or considerately if we feel the need, and other people are demanding it, but the rest of the time it all goes pear-shaped and we're just blindly following our impulses and our engrained bad habits.

From time to time we do something quite shocking and disgraceful, and then we think "Jeez, that was childish. I really should behave like a mature adult". And 24 hours later we do something equally shocking and disgraceful.

Maturity? A concept that's as slippery as an eel.

"Maturity is a high price to pay for growing up" - Tom Stoppard