Thursday 27 October 2016

Goodbye, dating

One great relief now I'm older is that I no longer face the fraught business of dating and starting a relation-ship. Thankfully all that's behind me and I'm well settled with my partner of 35 years. Unless disaster strikes and I find myself back in the dating game at the age of 80.

I can remember well all the embarrassments and uncertainties of going out with someone new and fretting over the necessary stages - chatting up, dating, kissing, mutual checking-out, then possibly the bedroom (or car or settee) and sex.

Am I doing this right? Am I going too fast? Am I putting her off? Am I frightening her? Am I looking hopelessly inept? What exactly is she up for? How do I tell?

Nobody ever gave me guidance on the dating thing. The boys at my single-sex school seemed to have little contact with girls and had nothing to say about it. My parents were also saying nothing, expecting me to work it all out for myself.

I was grateful when the woman took the initiative and suggested the next step. Some women virtually dragged me into bed, which made it very easy but rather intimidated me - with a predictable let-down under the sheets.

How thankful I was at the grand old age of 34 when I got it together with Jenny and the trials and traumas of dating were finally over.

Dating seems even more fraught these days. Expectations of possible partners are now so high you wonder how people ever fall for each other and can tick all the boxes. The wrong hairstyle or cut of jeans could be fatal.

But goodness, how exciting it was when a date was going well, and that deliriously smart and attractive woman actually seemed to like me. A lot.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Try being human

The artist Grayson Perry has written a book about the destructive nature of "mascul-inity". Like other men who have explored the same subject, he doesn't think we should junk the concept altogether. He says it just needs a bit of tweaking, a bit of adjustment, to make it more positive.

He thinks there's a more tender, sensitive version of masculinity, typified by men like Barack Obama and David Beckham, that should replace the cold, brutal stereotype many men still aspire to.

I think that's a cop-out. To my mind, however you define masculinity, however you try to soften it and purge its unsavoury reality, it'll never totally lose the underlying nastiness. It's so strongly linked with sexual aggression, emotional stunting, domestic violence, competitiveness, arrogance, egotism and dominance, it's hard to see how it could ever be positive.

I think the whole idea of masculinity is obsolete. It's of no benefit to anybody, either women or men. It should be consigned to the history books. It should be given a decent burial.

The answer to the problem of toxic masculinity is so simple. Instead of searching for some less tainted version of "masculinity", men should simply act like human beings. They should be kind, considerate, generous, supportive, emotional and loving. They should treat other people as equals to be valued and cherished. They shouldn't see weakness, vulnerability and fear as things to be exploited.

Could any version of "masculinity" ever embrace that sort of behaviour? However advanced your definition, wouldn't it still be a bit dubious? Wouldn't it smack of sissies, softies, slop-bags, wimps? Wouldn't it be something for you and your mates to sneer at? Wouldn't it be laughably "effeminate"?

Men can redefine masculinity till the cows come home. It will still be a millstone around our necks. It will still reek of entitlement and belligerence. But human beings are always welcome.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Of all the luck

I react in two different ways to the horrors and miseries of the world. Sometimes I feel sad that so many people are struggling and floundering and unable to better themselves. At other times I feel happy that I'm lucky enough to have a comfortable, peaceful life while others don't.

The sadness tends to win out, but why should it? Why shouldn't the happiness win out? Why shouldn't I fully appreciate my good fortune, even if I'm very aware it's not shared by everyone? Why be sunk in gloom just because others are?

I think I have a problem with the idea of luck. I can't accept its randomness, its capriciousness. I can't accept that if you're lucky you should just be happy and celebrate it.

I find that hard. I dwell on the fact that others are less lucky, others are stumbling around while I'm not. I feel uncomfortable about it. I feel I've had it too easy. I feel I don't deserve it. I feel a sort of survivor's guilt.

But all I'm doing is taking the edge off my happiness. Spoiling it with pointless doubts and misgivings that make me feel bad instead of just enjoying my luck. I won't simply accept luck for what it is, a sort of burst of sunlight that happened to fall my way and brighten my life.

Why look a gift horse in the mouth? I've been lucky. My life has worked out exceptionally well. Why question it? Why pick it to pieces?

Saturday 15 October 2016

The wrong voice

Apparently business is booming for voice coaches (aka speech therapists). Lots of people are sufficiently unhappy with their accent or way of speaking to ask a voice coach to help them change it.

They think their voice is too posh and want it to be more ordinary. Or they have a regional accent and want a London one.  Or they're foreigners who still speak English with a foreign accent and want to lose it. Or they feel they don't speak clearly or forcefully enough.

Whatever the motive, they're ready to spend £400 upwards to have their voice altered so they feel more confident and less of an oddity.

Well, I won't be joining them any time soon. I'm quite happy with my accent, even though it's very noticeably posh English and makes many people assume I'm a rich bastard with a country mansion full of priceless antiques. If they only knew....

I'm not keen on the daft assumptions, but I don't mind that little extra respect my accent encourages. Service does sometimes seem a little brisker and friendlier as soon as I start speaking. Or maybe I'm imagining it.

But I don't know why someone would want to shed a regional accent. Most of them are very attractive and a refreshing change from bog-standard BBC English. In fact I gather some employers prefer regional accents because they sound more friendly and reassuring than cool, clipped London posh.

I can understand those foreigners who want to lose the foreign accent, though. Unfortunately racism and xenophobia are a fact of life and people are very likely to treat you badly if you don't speak "proper" English. Naturally foreigners want to blend in and be taken for "one of us".

But I doubt anyone would actually hanker after the genuine "Queen's English". Who on earth would aspire to that bizarre nasal, strangled tone the Queen uses? I would want to die if I spoke like that.

Monday 10 October 2016

Mountains or molehills?

People's real-life identities are very different from the ridiculous gender roles that follow us all around, but if there's one way men fit the stereotype, it's their urge to be rugged, self-sufficient individuals.

The evidence is that men are less likely to ask other people for support and tend to keep their problems to themselves, even if they're being torn apart by grief, sadness, hatred, or other extreme emotions.

It's a step forward that so many male celebs have admitted recently to their battles with depression, anxiety and other psychological issues, things that in the past they may have kept strictly under wraps, but there's still a long way to go.

It seems to me most women tend to spill out their troubles to anyone who'll listen, and their close friends for sure. They're less likely to bottle up agonising emotions and pretend everything's fine.

Certainly when I was young I conformed to the male stereotype and kept my miseries to myself. When I was bullied at school, as far as I remember I never confided in the housemaster or the head prefect or anyone who might have helped me. I guess I would have seen such an admission of weakness and helplessness as too humiliating. Men are meant to be strong and resilient and all the rest of it.

Now I have Jenny to confide in, of course I share my negative feelings with her all the time, and I'm lucky to be able to. But I still hesitate to show them to anyone else, even people I know very well. I ask myself, why would they want to listen? This is simply the emotional buffeting and turbulence of dealing with life. They'll think I'm making a big fuss over nothing.

It's not that I'm trying to be rugged and self-sufficient, just that I think I'm making mountains out of molehills. Desperate sadness? Overwhelming grief? Crushing helplessness? Who am I kidding? People out there know real distress, real trauma, not the petty emotions I'm peddling.

How am I feeling? Absolutely fine, thanks. On top of the world.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

False impressions

I seem to have given you lot the impression that I'm a perma-nently miserable old sod, awash with neuroses and hang-ups of every possible kind, and that feelings of happiness and enjoyment are quite beyond me.

This is a total travesty of the truth - as Jenny could easily tell you - and needs to be rapidly corrected. The fact is that I'm often happy and relaxed and probably no more neurotic than anyone else. I just happen to have written about my neuroses so often they've unfairly taken centre stage and the rest of my emotional life is left hovering in the wings waiting desperately to speak its lines.

I think the problem is that fears and anxieties and phobias and all the rest are a lot easier to write about than happiness and enjoyment. What can I say about happiness except that I'm happy or not? Euphoric or not? Delighted or not? There's nothing more to say, is there?

I suppose in some cases I could be specific and say, ah yes, I'm happy because I landed that job or booked that holiday or caught up with that long-lost friend. But mostly I feel happy for no obvious reason (as one does). Suddenly I'm over the moon, and I really couldn't tell you why. There could be chaos all around me,there could be a dozen crises on the horizon, but I'm unaccountably and bizarrely happy. How do I explain that? I can't.

So you'll just have to take my word for it that I'm happy as often as I'm neurotic, even if I don't mention it. I may be whooping with joy or leaping with excitement, but how would you know? Only if I install a webcam. But that might reveal a few ugly truths along with the bursts of happiness, so I think I'll pass on that one.

Neurotic or happy? Tell you what, I'm a multi-tasker. I can do both.

Sunday 2 October 2016

Reports of happiness

So the invest-igation continues into the possibility Nick is sometimes happy and relaxed, despite all his kinks and hang-ups. A top-flight team of investigators has been tracking the famous blogger's movements day and night in the hope of verifying the reported glimpses of happiness.

Natalie H (Head of the investigation team): So how's it going? Any results yet?

Miranda G (Chief investigator): Sod all. We thought there were signs of happiness on Thursday around 3.17 pm, but it was a false alarm. He seemed to be smiling but it was just a meaningless grimace.

NH: Disappointing. How about when he was watching his favourite TV drama on Monday evening?

MG: Not a flicker. Totally deadpan throughout. Even when he was eating his special cookies. Even after several glasses of wine. No sign of visible enjoyment. It could have been a toothpaste commercial.

NH: Bizarre. What happened to this guy? Some catastrophic childhood trauma? Was he rendered incapable of happiness at an early age? Did he work for some ball-busting multinational on a zero-hours contract? Has he got some misery gene?

MG: I'm as baffled as you are. I've tracked hundreds of these supposed terminal neurotics and believe me, sooner or later we've got them on tape laughing hysterically. They all crack in the end. Except this guy. He's got me beat.

NH: Are you sure he hasn't spotted us? Are you sure he doesn't suspect anything? If he's on to us, he'll be making damn sure there's no sign he's happy. No smiles, no guffaws, no thigh-slapping, nothing. Just a flawless mask of anguish.

MG: No, he can't have rumbled us. We've totally kept out of sight. Maybe it's some religious thing. He can only be happy at certain times. Like when there's a full moon. Or the spring and autumn equinox.

NH: I don't buy that. We know he's not religious. Are you sure you're watching him all the time? You haven't dozed off or checked your Facebook page?

MH: Course not, I'm a professional, I never sleep on the job. Believe me, if he so much as scratched his ear, I'd know about it. He's just a joyless old fart.

NH: I hope not. Okay, carry on. He can't keep this up for ever.

Pic: Visible signs of happiness