Poetry and Patience (and no, that’s not a hitherto unpublished Jane Austen novel)

I do not love poetry. That’s a generalization. Most of it leaves me cold. If someone chooses to wax lyrical about figures on an old vase, then that’s fine; just don’t ask me to get all excited about his rhyme scheme and imagery. I quite like teaching poetry, mind you, for the simple reason that unexciting rhyme schemes and imagery are ludicrously easy to write about and students, so long as they refrain from panicking at the mere thought of iambic pentameter and villanelles, can generally do well in poetry sections of exams. And I don’t write it — my poetic genius amounts to a skill for composing limericks more or less on the spot (when I’m in the mood, that is).

Having said that, there are a handful of poems and a handful of poets that do absolutely speak to me. As I have said before, I do not consider myself a feminist; so the fact that the poets whose works never cease to impress and delight me are, in the main, women is not some strange solidarity with the sisterhood; rather, it is an appreciation of brilliance in its own right. I cannot urge you strongly enough to read the works of Carol Ann Duffy (beautifully insightful and passionate, though perhaps a little lacking in humour); of Dorothy Parker (because she has a pithy, cynical verse to suit just about every situation a woman can find herself in); and of two less well-known Somerset-based poets, Thommie Gillow  and Melanie Branton (both of whom use their personal experiences as a basis for side-splittingly wicked and trenchant verse). Like I said, this isn’t some feminist rant — I’m not singing the praises of Sylvia Plath or Christina Rossetti or Victoria Whatsit — nor yet claiming that women are universally better poets than men. This is simply my opinion.

The poem is by Dorothy Parker; the portrait is of Joan Crawford, and I drew it because I wanted an image of someone who looked like she'd readily tell men to go to hell if they didn't live up to her expectations.

The poem is by Dorothy Parker; the portrait is of Joan Crawford, and I drew it because I wanted an image of someone who looked like she’d readily tell men to go to hell if they didn’t live up to her expectations.

So all that up there was a lead-in to all this down here. And all this down here is based on Dorothy Parker’s ‘Indian Summer’.

We’ve all encountered — some of us may even have been — those women who find their perfect man, and then set about changing him so much that he stops being perfect any more — and then leave him because he isn’t the man they fell in love with.  This happens a lot, though I don’t think I’ve ever been guilty of it (have I?). However, another trap that women, and possibly some men, fall into is to try and win their ‘prize’ at any cost. They’ll change their appearance to be more appealing to the object of their desires; they’ll alter their habits; they’ll re-enact Groundhog Day until their version of Andie MacDowell finally succumbs. But this is a mistake. Because they’re putting on an act, and eventually, the effort of keeping it up will be just too much. The real Bill Murray will eventually come out… and then where will they be?

But what that rather saccharine film overlooks is something else that can happen when what starts out as love degenerates into Machiavellianism.

I’m more familiar with this scenario from the female point of view, so let’s go with Billie and Andrew instead of Bill and Andie.  Billie loves Andrew to the point where she questions her own sanity. She is obsessed, addicted, fixated on him and only him.

When did your name
change from a proper noun
to a charm?

Its three vowels
like jewels
on the thread of my breath.

Its consonants
brushing my mouth
like a kiss.

I love your name.
I say it again and again
in this summer rain.

I see it,
discreet in the alphabet,
like a wish.

I pray it
into the night
till its letters are light.

I hear your name
rhyming, rhyming,
rhyming with everything.

(‘Name’, Carol Ann Duffy)

 (I really wanted to insert Branton’s ‘Everything reminds me of you’ here as it’s way more apposite and witty than the Duffy — but hey, copyright… though you will eventually find it online I’m sure.)

EDIT: Branton’s poem is now available here: https://melaniebranton.wordpress.com/performance-poetry/everything-reminds-me-of-you/
Read it — it’s brilliant.

In order to win Andrew’s affection, Billie manipulates — well, pretty much anything manipulable that comes within her reach. She plots and schemes. She makes sure she says the ‘right’ thing at the ‘right’ time; she’s so understanding and laid back; she’s fun and, oh, such a helpmeet and support to Bill in his time of need; when it comes to dedication to her cause, she makes Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Secretary look like some light-weight flibbertigibbet. She swallows her pride, quashes her doubts, masks the hurt of Andrew’s indifference and continues in her valiant endeavours to win his love. And every time Andrew knocks her down, she gets up all the more determined that that prize will be hers. She doubles, triples, quadruples her efforts. So centred is she on her goal that she fails to see what’s really happening.

Eventually, Andrew can resist no longer. Maybe Billie’s gone away for a while to regroup and come back with new schemes under her belt (or wherever schemes are more appropriately kept) and he finds he misses her; maybe it’s just a slow dawning that his life would not be complete without her; maybe he even realizes all the sacrifices she’s made for him and is truly and sincerely touched that she’d do that for him. He looks at her, and he knows — just knows — that this woman is the love of his life.

Ah, but if only he’d wised up earlier — maybe a week earlier would have been enough; a month definitely would; and if the synapses in his brain could have made the connexion half a year ago… well… we’d have been playing the Eurythmics version of ‘Sweet dreams are made of this’ and not Mr Manson’s.

Because, you see, as Dotty observed:

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying —
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

(‘Unfortunate Coincidence’, Dorothy Parker)

Billie’s won her prize. She’s staked her all. She’s got what she wanted. Triumph is hers. Only… only now, she begins to wonder why she wasted so much time on achieving something so tawdry. This is not the priceless golden prize she yearned for; this is some baser thing entirely.

Remember a few paragraphs back I mentioned that Billie was so centred on her goal that she was failing to see what was really happening?  Well, every time Andrew knocked Billie down, his golden aura was losing some of its lustre. Every time she had to swallow her pride, some of her adoration was being ingested with it; every time she quashed her doubts, she was also stifling her passion; and every time she masked her pain, she was also throwing a veil over the rose tinted lenses that were causing her to think that this, this selfish, self-absorbed idiot was worthy of her attentions. And where once there was love and devotion, now there is resentment and contempt.

For you,
you poisoned opium,
a drug addicted life I led
and such constricted blood I bled.
But I’m through now,
I’m done.

[…]

You sad, pathetic, mind blowing drug.
To think I let you fuck me up.

(‘This is for you’, exerpts, Thommie Gillow)

So, boys and girls, don’t do it. Unto thine own self be true. By all means take things slowly; be patient (‘you can’t hurry love,’ The Supremes informed us half a century ago); but ultimately, if he (or she) doesn’t love you for who and how you are, be like Dorothy and shrug your shoulders, and damn him (or her) to hell before your endeavours pay off and you find yourself well and truly lumbered.

 

 

Buy books (and magazines)!

Branton: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/index.asp?id=73

Duffy: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rapture-Carol-Ann-Duffy/dp/0330433911

Gillow: http://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Stepmother-Tried-Kill-Me/dp/1909136255

Parker: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Penguin-Classics-Dorothy-Parker/dp/0143106082

 

 

 

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Ubiquitous Exes & Elusive Crushes

You’ve probably heard about the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon — you know, when you hear a word or a name for the first time, and then it suddenly seems to be everywhere. Indeed, if you hadn’t heard of it before now, it’s a fairly safe bet that by this time tomorrow, you’ll have seen or heard a reference to it again. It is, of course, an illusion. You’ve probably heard the word (or whatever) countless times without it penetrating your consciousness; but once it has, you become sensitized to it, and are — unbeknownst to you — on the alert for its recurrence.

Yesterday, for example, one friend told me that building work on a property in which she has an interest would have to be suspended because it was suspected that there was asbestos in the plaster, and another told me he’d just come back from a Health & Safety course, in which they’d learnt, amongst other things, what to do if they suspected asbestos in an area where they were required to work. Had I not been surprised to learn that plaster sometimes contains asbestos (OK, this may be common knowledge but it was news to me), I would probably have concentrated more on the delay in the renovation plans, rather than on its cause, and the subsequent reference to that silicate mineral would have been equally unremarkable. But instead, I thought ‘Wow! Asbestos in ordinary domestic plaster — blimey!’ and it was thus foremost in my mind when later mentioned.

bmp

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, much as I love it (everyone should have a few little moments of ‘Ooh! Freaky!’ in their lives), is just an ignis fatuus. The Ubiquitous Ex Phenomenon is not.

What, you ask, is the UEP when it’s at home?

I shall explain. It has various manifestations, probably more than even I know about and I came up with the concept, but in its purest form, it’s this:

You are in a relationship with someone out of whose nether regions you believe the sun shines. This person is so utterly wonderful that you cannot believe your luck. You worship the ground your idol walks upon. Life is good. But then the lying cheating no-good wretch proves that not only are his (or, indeed, her) feet made of clay, he’s pretty much made of mud through and through, and even his gold Rolex is a fake. You feel betrayed. Your emotions vary from despair through resentment to anger. If you never see this individual ever again, it won’t be a moment too soon.

So you go your separate ways. You eliminate any trace of the bastard from your life, even redecorating your house if the wallpaper somehow contrives to remind you of him. And there will, indeed, be a phase you have to pass through where everything does make you think of him — you think you see him just about everywhere you go, only to realize it’s not him, it’s just a bloke who bears a passing resemblance to your erstwhile beloved. But you take yourself in hand and work through this. Eventually, the purge is complete and you begin to get on with your life again. No longer does he cast a shadow over your every action. You rashly allow yourself to become carefree and to live a normal life once more.

And what’s more normal than popping into the supermarket to do a bit of shopping? There you are, squidging the mangoes for ripeness, when you look up, and find him (real him, not figment-of-your-imagination him) next to you, minutely examining the papayas. He doesn’t even like papaya, for heaven’s sake! Or fruit! Or supermarkets! Next week, in celebration of his having gone and taken his allergies with him, you get a cat, which you take to the vet for vaccinations. Inevitably, there in the waiting room, you’ll find your evil ex, who — to celebrate being free of you and your arachnophobia — has treated himself to huge hairy tarantula. And it’s the same when you go to the dentist, the library, the gym… Even though either he never went to these places or you’ve been careful to select ones he never used, you’ll find him there. Or you go out for dinner with your new squeeze — whom do you find at the next table? You even take a fortnight’s holiday in Corfu — and who’s on the same flight? You go for a job interview — and guess who else has applied for the position (despite your fields being so very disparate)? You cannot possibly avoid your Ubiquitous Ex. It is, in fact, utterly pointless even to try.

Whilst not quite the same as the UEP, much the same thing happens when you’re misbehaving — when, for example, you skive off work or school in order to paint the living room, or go to a gig, or get over your hangover. You can guarantee that your boss or teacher or that annoying bloody tattle-tale will, taking advantage of his lunch break or free period, manage to be in B&Q when you go to get another pot of paint because your now vaccinated cat has knocked the first one off the step ladder, or will be casually walking past the venue when the gig is over, or even — goodness knows how — will turn out to be the brother of your housemate’s best friend and you’ll find him  there in your kitchen when you stagger in, still bleary-eyed at lunchtime, saying ‘Thank god I pulled a sickie today — remind me never to touch rum  and  vodka ever again.’

There is, of course, the flipside to the Ubiquitous Ex Phenomenon — which is the Elusive Crush Phenomenon. The ECP is that strange twist of fate that means that, even though you know that the object of your heart’s desire always goes swimming at the local leisure centre at 7 o’clock on a Thursday evening, or regularly participates in the Sunday pub quiz at the Coach & Horses, or invariably walks his dog round the canal basin before work, your efforts to coincide with him will be futile. You can bet your bottom dollar (whatever that is) that no matter how wrinkly you get by staying in the pool all Thursday afternoon and evening, no matter how much trivia you gen up on so as not to make a fool of yourself when you have to compete in the quiz all alone because you can’t find anyone else to be in your team, no matter how many miles you trek around those tow paths with your borrowed dog, he will simply not be there. (He’ll be too busy flying to Corfu or squeezing tropical fruit or tickling his tarantula, to the immense chagrin of his ex, to be where you want him to be.)

Something bouncy and something with a sting in its tail.

When I was a child, it was my ambition to be an artist, but as time passed, that waned somewhat, and, although I’ve done quite a bit of cartoony/illustrative/digital stuff over the years, ‘fine art’ is pretty much alien territory for me. However, I recently broke my arm quite badly, an injury which left me with almost no grip in my right hand. Rather than squeezing a stress ball for hours on end, I thought I’d pick up a pencil and see whether I could produce anything.

These are the first two pencil sketches I’ve ever done, and my first two attempts at anything approaching photo-realism… I still have a way to go, I know, but I’m quite pleased with them 🙂

2014-09-05 23.44.392014-09-06 21.28.47

Don’t believe the Cant

When I was three or four years old, my mother took me to some function at which the Play School presenter, Brian Cant, was making an appearance. I have no idea if it was a pantomime or if he was opening a new children’s library or what (and as my mother has been dead for almost twenty years, I can’t ask her). But that doesn’t matter; what does matter is that this event left me traumatized and questioning everything I knew about life.

Now, in these days of ‘Let’s accuse every celebrity in the BBC of molesting every small child they ever laid eyes upon,’ it is important to state that I had no physical contact with the affable Mr Cant, nor (probably) did he notice I was even there. No, my psychological upheaval stemmed from something completely different.

Brian Cant, you see, was big; he was also sandy-haired and pink cheeked. And this was wrong. This was impossible. This was weird, incomprehensible, scary magic. Because the Brian Cant I knew and loved, the Brian Cant my mummy had taken me to see, was about four inches tall and black and white and lived inside our television in our ‘sitting room’. (I assume I’d never watched Play School at anyone else’s house.) I had been looking forward to this excursion and my disappointment was as great as my confusion — I wanted to see a little man, a kind of animated toy or pet man, not an ordinary thirty-something-year-old bloke!

Brian as I knew and loved him -- small and in black and white. Original image here: ttps://www.flickr.com/photos/thelowry/14103848700

Brian as I knew and loved him — small and in black and white.
Original image here: ttps://www.flickr.com/photos/thelowry/14103848700

My poor mum was quite taken aback by my reaction. She’d expected happy smiles and giggles — I absolutely adored Brian, she thought — not floods of tears and hysterics. When, eventually, she managed to extract from me the reason for my utter dismay, she was almost as shocked as I was. It had never occurred to her that I might think that our telly was full of miniature people, of various degrees of interest to a pre-school-age child, who occasionally allowed us glimpses into their lives and activities. Indeed, in her bid to give me a rational and balanced view of the world — this was in the days when she was just mildly eccentric and not fully bonkers, so, rare though it is that I would connect ‘rational and balanced’ with any of my mother’s later actions, there was a time when that wasn’t such a bizarre concept — so, yes, as I was saying, in her bid to give me a rational and balanced view of the world, my mother had never told me any of the more usual lies: I knew that there were stories about Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other such figures — but they were just that, stories, and I knew that it was my mum and dad who left the presents in the middle of the night (actually, it’s only just, writing this, occurred to me to wonder why, if they didn’t subscribe to the Santa Claus myth, they felt the need to adhere to the nocturnal gift giving convention — weird…), surprised me with hidden eggs on Easter Sunday, or handed me a sixpence if one of my teeth fell out.

Anyway, time passed, and I’d all but forgotten this incident, until the other day when I was having a conversation with a friend who is of the opinion that any form of theism in this day and age is a mental illness. For early man, he posits, observing that when the sun shone, the crops grew and people were less prone to illness would lead to the logical and, indeed, scientific conclusion that the sun was some kind of G/god, and the onlooking primitive peoples, whose manners were impeccable, knew to thank H/him for these boons. From this, it also made sense to propitiate rather than antagonize that benevolent deity… and if that involved sacrificing a few virgins (because co-incidentally the harvest was more plentiful or more of the newborn lambs survived the first time they tried this), then it would seem like a small price to pay. This was man questing for knowledge and understanding and using the limited tools and resources he had available to him. Only then science got increasingly sophisticated and the sun was proven not to be a G/god but a huge burning mass of hydrogen and other gases, and bumping off virgins could have absolutely no effect on its behaviour. Thus, my friend concludes that anyone who, given the vast wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary, chooses to believe in a deity must be mentally unbalanced. (I shall say no more about his beliefs as he may wish to expound them in his own blog, and, as they are his, he will express them better than I can — if he has already done so, or does so in the future, I will append a link so you can get the full picture.)

So, back to me. When I was three or four, my mother had carefully ensured that I didn’t believe in anything that wasn’t demonstrably real, whilst still telling me the stories of the unreal. As mentioned, I knew about Father Christmas — I just didn’t have any delusions about his corporeality. By the same token, by the time I was seven, I knew all about Jesus Christ and his cronies, as well as about Zeus and Janus and Osiris, and also all about William Brown and his mates, as well as about Moomin Troll and Pippi Longstocking and Paddington Bear… because I was a precocious child and my mother liked reading to me and encouraging me to read for myself. Being of a reasonably logical disposition, Violet Elizabeth Bott’s threat to ‘thcream and thcream until I’m thick’ always struck me as a fairly self-defeating method of achieving her aims — but nowhere near as daft and masochistic as that fella who thought that letting random Romans torture him was a good idea, even though he had magic powers and could easily have made them stop.

In those days, my mum and I had the ideal relationship. I liked learning things; she liked teaching me things. Hence her shock when she found that she’d slipped up regarding telling me the truth about the people I saw on telly. My conclusion was, however, given no information to the contrary, a perfectly sound one: I’d never seen anyone I knew personally on television and I’d never seen any tiny black and white people not on television. Therefore, it was obvious to me that the two were separate entities. See? Completely logical.

But once I got over the shock of discovering that I was wrong, I was able to adjust my perceptions and still enjoy my daily dose of Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty, and Jemima (but not Hamble — never could stand Hamble, ugh!). And this is, to me, the difference between religion and science and (hopefully) enough to reassure my friend that I’m not suffering from mental illness. Were I, almost half a century later, to insist that everyone I saw on TV was a miniature human being who was now leading a colourful, HD life in a much larger and flatter box than the monochrome one I once believed to be Mr Cant’s home, then I’d be showing the same wilful resistance to enlightenment demonstrated by those who, even when presented with more evidence than they could shake any number of sticks at, still insist that there is a G/god (just one, mind you, the one of their choosing) and H/he’s responsible for everything.

Sorry about lying; lying about sorry

People lie. It is a basic fact of life, and anyone who says they have never in their life uttered a falsehood is simply proving that they do.

But they lie for a variety of reasons — to save their skin, for a quiet life, for personal gain, because it’s fun; and the severity of the lie varies vastly, from ‘I’m just about to set off’ (‘damn, better go have a shower and make a move’) to ‘no, I did not murder my neighbour; I thought he was great’ (‘I so throttled the curmudgeonly old git with his own regimental tie — and I stole his life savings as well, hah!’). I may philosophize further on the reasons for lying some other time, but for now I want to concentrate on the lie of saying ‘I’m sorry.’

sorr-eee

We British are famed for apologising for things that aren’t our fault — and that’s fine up to a certain point. You know the kind of thing: someone walks into us and we say ‘oh, sorry’ when really we’re thinking ‘oi, moron, why don’t you look where you’re going?’ This is a lie; but in the global scheme of things, it is of no importance. It avoids confrontation and is almost as meaningless as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when we make a purchase in a shop — ‘Three turnips, please’ / ‘That’ll be £2.10. please’ / ‘Thank you’ / ‘Thank you’ — it means nothing; the shop owner wants us to purchase his root vegetables and we want to buy them; no one is doing anyone a favour or a kindness here; but these little conventions, although meaningless and insincere, help oil the wheels of social interaction and make life that little bit pleasanter — ditto saying ‘oh sorry’ when some clodhopping great lout barges into us.

So, I’ll forgive that Apology Lie (hey, this is my Blog so I reserve the right to grant absolution if I see fit).

The next Apology Lie is a kind of verbal nervous tic some people have. I’m sure you’ve come across these self-effacing individuals who seem unable to construct a sentence without an apology — a simple query becomes ‘I’m really sorry, but do you take sugar in tea?’ (not because they’ve already asked you three times and are apologising for not having taken in the information; nor yet because you are in an important meeting and they are apologising for interrupting; no, it is clearly because regret that they are not psychic and cannot, simply by looking at you, tell that you like one and one quarter teaspoonfuls of Tate & Lyle in your beverages) or, when your plane is four hours late and they have patiently awaited your arrival at the airport all that time, despite having much better things to do with their lives, they greet you with ‘oh, sorry, I’m so sorry, we’re not going to be able to do what we planned tonight after all’ (because, yeah, obviously, it’s their fault the air traffic controllers decided to throw a wobbly and disrupt everyone’s schedule).

I tend to want to slap these people, but general indolence means that never have. So, grudgingly and because it requires less exertion than trying to teach them the error of their ways, I’ll forgive them too. They’re still guilty of uttering an Apology Lie, but it’s probably not their fault that they seem to have a warped form of Tourette’s Syndrome that causes them to ejaculate expressions of irrelevant politeness rather than the more traditional obscenities.

Or how about the person who, when short-changed in a shop, says ‘Sorry, I gave you a twenty-pound note, not a ten’? Why on earth would anyone apologise because another person’s mistake has affected them in a negative way? I assume that this is just a social nicety, a way of saying ‘I appreciate that you weren’t trying to rip me off, and I’m not angry — but you made a mistake and I want you to put it right.’

If you suspect you might be one of these overly-apologetic individuals, here’s a Buzzfeed quiz so you can check: http://www.buzzfeed.com/robinedds/sorry-not-sorry?bffb=quiz#2b09qty

To my mind, when a person says they’re sorry, it encompasses the unspoken corollary of ‘I will try my damnedest not to do it again and will, if appropriate and possible, make reparation.’ After all, we can all screw up. ‘I’m sorry I spilt red wine on your dress’ carries with it ‘I will endeavour not to gesticulate whilst holding a full glass; and I will pick up the bill for the dry-cleaning.’ However, for many, saying sorry seems to be a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

Take, for example, the Apology Lie some parents tell for the ill-manners of their offspring, whilst doing nothing to teach them better ones. Having routinely let their child run riot in the supermarket, they excuse their poor parenting with ‘Sorry, he’s a bit fractious today’ — once is perhaps forgivable if it’s the first time the infant has been exposed to that environment, but the parents should remove him forthwith, and, in future, find someone else to take care of him. But, hey, why bother when a simple ‘sorry’ will mean that the annoyance of those inconvenienced will instantly dissipate and harmony will reign alongside the chaos?

Until recently I had a friend who tried my patience to breaking point. Whilst this person has some good qualities (had she not, we would never have become friends in the first place), her incessant cycle of causing-offence-and-apologising, causing-offence-and-apologising — not just to me, but also to my friends — eventually left me wishing to terminate the association. Eventually is key there — because I sighed-and-forgave, sighed-and-forgave quite a few times before reaching that point, gradually losing interest in maintaining the friendship with each cyclical repetition. In fact, I was about to send her the following message, when matters came to a head (considerably to my relief) for other reasons:

[Name], this is the last message you’ll receive from me. The fact of the matter is that I cannot be friends with someone who either attacks me (but then wimps out and apologises when I respond) or wilfully chooses to take my comments as barbs (and accuses me of deliberately starting a quarrel, only subsequently to apologise and say she hadn’t meant it). As a form of banter, it gets old fast. You perhaps think that backing away from dissent and being so thin-skinned is a sign of sensitivity — alas, I just find it trying. You maybe think that the word ‘sorry’ automatically wipes the slate clean and gives you licence to be as obnoxious as you please once more. I know you have other friends who feel that that’s the case, or that because of your [personal circumstances], they should pussy-foot around you and make allowances for inconsistencies. But you’ve never thought that I was like that, and I’m not about to change just because you happen to be feeling a bit fragile and/or put-upon.

And all this continual lashing out and then saying you’re sorry and expecting to be forgiven? No, you say something hurtful, you apologise, you are forgiven once — but ‘sorry’, if it’s at all sincere, should mean ‘I regret doing that and won’t do it again,’ not ‘I regret doing that now, but I’ll do it again (and again) cos I know you’ll forgive me again (and again).’ There’s a process of attrition that goes on, and, quite honestly, you’ve worn away my patience. If you’re having a bad day, find someone else to attack — someone who’ll accept your insincere apologies and not think ‘oh, FFS, here we go again — yawn.’

Whilst terminating a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is painful and awkward, it does happen and there are several tried and tested formulae one is able to fall back on should they be needed; but dumping a friend, as opposed to merely letting the relationship dwindle into nothingness? Oh, that’s much more awkward (less painful, but way more ungainly), especially when one of the friends seems anxious to continue the relationship whilst the other does not, as was the case here; but how could I believe a word she said when she failed to have the courage of her convictions and her apologies meant nothing?

Do I regret losing this friend? No, not in the slightest. Have I heard the last of her? Hmm… before I wrote this, I would have said not — indeed, it seemed probable that she’d be back, apologising profusely and suggesting we do something together; once she’s read this (if she does), then she’ll likely realize that her absence is more desirable than her presence.

And if she did come back, contrite and humble, what would I say? Oh, that one’s easy. I’d very politely tell her I wished her well (I do; I’m not malicious) but that the friendship between her and me had run its course. Because, just as dumping a friend is awkward, not picking them up again is much more straightforward. The real difficulty is when there’s a much stronger emotional attachment there; when the feeling of loss is so great that it outweighs the knowledge that the person who hurt you will do so again, apology or no apology. Frankie has a bad day and comes home and beats seven shades of excrement out of Sammy; Sammy knows that, for his/her own physical and mental sanity, s/he should get the hell out of there and not look back — but when Frankie is clearly so devastated by the hurt s/he’s caused and swears that it’ll never happen again, and maybe subtly hints that Sammy was, possibly, slightly, in some inadvertent way, responsible for his/her transgression, then Sammy, against his/her every atavistic instinct of self-preservation, gradually relents and thinks maybe this time, it’ll be OK; maybe this time, Frankie’s telling the truth. Not that it has to be domestic violence, of course; the same applies with any breach of trust. If my erstwhile friend said ‘I am so so sorry for the way I behaved; please let us put the past behind us and start afresh,’ I would reply ‘I too am sorry for the way you behaved; but I am not prepared to give you any more fresh starts’ — because my brain, emotions, psyche are not addled by love, or by the memory of love-that-was. I can identify an Apology Lie at a thousand paces — but even with such cerebral acuity, it took me a while to cotton on. So if Frankie says those same words to Sammy, what chance does s/he stand? Oh, eventually s/he’ll come to realize that the treachery lies in his/her lover’s very sincerity — but it’ll take time.

There are, of course, people who never apologise. Whether they are in the right or in the wrong, they do not say ‘sorry’. Arguably, this is because they are incredibly honest, and it does, to a certain extent, absolve them of any charges of uttering an Apology Lie. But it also makes them seem like arrogant tossers, and that’s not good either.

Personally, I try to avoid doing things for which I might need to apologise. It makes life so much easier and, as mentioned here and elsewhere, I am lassitudinous in nature. This doesn’t mean that, if you ask me to pick up a jar of coffee while I’m in Asda, I mightn’t forget — and then I will most certainly apologise, because I am sorry that you will be reduced to drinking tea when you were looking forward to coffee, and — though I can make no promises about the future quality of my memory — I will endeavour not to let you down next time. Heavens, I may even offer to go back specially and get you your Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence.

But if I do something big and bad (who? me? as if!), then I do it fully aware of the consequences and ramifications, and I will not feign repentance I do not feel.

Which might mean I’m a psychopath… because, from what we read in the media, it seems that, much to the vociferous indignation of Joe Public, psychopathic mass murderers and serial killers never show any remorse. The nearest and dearest of the victims, as well as the online commenters, always seem outraged in equal measure by the enormity of the act and by the perpetrator’s unconcern at having committed it. I have always found this illogical. A murderer who kills one person and is then beset by guilt is hardly likely to go on and slay a dozen more. That’d be silly. But sometimes, society demands dishonesty. An Apology Lie won’t bring back the dead but, it seems, it will, in some way I fail to understand, make those left behind feel better.

The Last Man Standing

I decided to try my hand at fiction for a change. So here’s a short story.

‘The important thing is to set yourself goals and succeed,’ said Pat. ‘It is of no importance what those goals are; all that matters is that you have them and you achieve them — whether it’s growing the biggest marrow for the village fete or winning a Nobel Peace Prize — success is all that matters.’ The four people at the table were enthralled. They were very young and this was their first week away from home. ‘Imagine,’ Pat continued, ‘that you had spent ten years working twelve hours a day to achieve your professional dream and then you met the love of your life — and had to choose between them. Which would you sacrifice?’

‘Why do we have to choose?’ asked Rachel, perhaps a little petulantly — she was accustomed to having her cake, eating it, and then being given a second one to replace it.

‘Because I’m asking you to. The one you choose, and your reasons for doing so, are what interest me,’ said Pat. ‘Answer me that, and I will predict where you will be in ten years’ time.’

‘Got any tea leaves?’ asked Ian, who believed himself to be a cynic and a wit.

‘Plenty,’ said Pat. ‘Oolong, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, PG Tips… but they’re all at home, and we are here in this remarkably empty country pub, under the beady eye of that lovely barmaid who may well decide to call time if we don’t buy some more drinks. I got the last ones; so Thomas, it’s your round, I do believe.’

‘Can you affor— ?’ began Lucy, before being silenced by Tom’s scowl. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t been so forthcoming about himself.

‘Same again?’ he asked. All assented. Lucy very pointedly stressed that she wanted a tonic water as she was driving.

‘Not because you’ve taken up gardening?’ asked Ian, somewhat cryptically. Lucy stuck her tongue out at him.

‘So,’ said Pat, ‘take your pick and give your reasons — but to make it more interesting (and to stop you changing your minds), write your choice on the beer-mat in front of you and then turn it over so the rest of us can’t see.’

Rachel, Ian, and Lucy duly complied, each in turn, as there was but one pen among the group. Tom was still at the bar. It seemed he’d just asked for ‘the same again’ and hadn’t counted on this including one for the barmaid as well.

‘Ready?’ asked Pat.

‘Yes,’ said Rachel; ‘I suppose so,’ said Ian; ‘What about Tom?’ said Lucy.

‘Tom can catch up,’ said Pat. ‘Lucy, you go first?’

‘Me?’ said Lucy, somewhat superfluously, give that she was the only person of that name present. ‘OK, I’d choose love. I’d try and continue with my career, but I’d ultimately choose love.’

‘Why so?’ asked Pat.

‘Because love is what makes the world go round; without it, no amount of professional success is meaningful.’

‘A charming answer, Lucy. What say you, Rachel?’

‘I don’t believe in “the love of your life”. Not just one. The concept is silly. What if you never meet that person? The odds are surely against it given that there are — what is it? — seven billion people in the world.’

‘So you’d choose your career?’ asked Lucy.

‘Oh no,’ said Rachel. ‘I can’t imagine working so hard for so long. That’s the sort of thing the dull and uninspiring do. I’d choose love. But someone who loved me and could afford to give me a half-way decent standard of living.’

‘Only half-way?’ queried Ian. ‘You do surprise me!’

‘What? What’s Rache done to surprise you?’ asked Tom, back from the bar with a tray of drinks and some of those strange English pub snacks that taste delicious when consumed on licensed premises and disgusting anywhere else.

‘Chosen love over career,’ said Ian.

‘Really!?’ exclaimed Tom, with such enthusiasm that Lucy’s dismay was plain for all to see.

‘No, not really,’ said Pat. ‘Anyway, tell us your choice, Thomas, now you’re back.’

‘Oh, um… job, probably… I mean, if I’d spent ten years trying to build up a business or get promoted to a responsible position, I’d probably want to stick with that.’

‘And you, Ian?’ asked Pat.

‘Oh, easy… I’d choose weed. Whether that counts as the love of my life or as the thing I’d worked at for ten years, I couldn’t tell you — both probably — but that’s the one I’d choose.’

‘How about you, Pat?’ asked Lucy.

‘Me? Well, I’m considerably older than you so for me it’s less hypothetical… Last time I chose love; next time, if there is one, I’ll choose career. Just for the variety. Nothing more. Both are overrated, I suspect.’

‘You chose love?’ queried Lucy.

‘Is that so hard to believe?’ asked Pat.

‘No. No! I didn’t mean that!’ said Lucy. ‘It’s just that there’s no mention of a partner on your uni profile page, so —‘

‘So you assumed I had no interest in matters of the heart? Perhaps I don’t now.’

‘Anyway,’ interrupted Rachel, who didn’t really care for conversations in which she wasn’t the centre of attention. ‘What’s going to happen to us, Dr Wilson? You said you’d tell our fortunes.’

‘That’s not quite how I worded it,’ said Pat, ‘but it amounts to much the same thing.’

‘You can really tell where we’ll be in ten years’ time from so little information?’ asked Tom.

‘Well, I do know a little more about you than that. I’ve seen your academic records, and you’ve had a tutorial with me…’

‘So you’re basing your predictions on our A Level results and the stuff we said in your class? Not on our love/career choices?’ asked Ian.

‘No,’ said Pat. ‘Not at all.’

‘Just on our answers to your question, then?’ asked Lucy.

‘Oh no, not on them,’ said Pat.

‘Just tell us!’ exclaimed Rachel.

‘Very well. Rachel, you are beautiful, spoilt, and envisage a parasitical lifestyle, possibly as what I believe is called a WAG. Your parents are stupid enough to be amazed at your intellect and rich enough to reward you materially for it. Thomas, you are academically brilliant. Your parents are working class, and your father is probably unemployed. You fantasize about Rachel, even though you know she’d never give you a second glance, and you ignore Lucy who clearly adores you. Your—’ Pat’s speech was interrupted by the beep of a text message arriving on someone’s phone. Lucy blushed. ‘Do you want to answer that?’ asked Pat. Lucy shook her head. ‘Very well, as I was saying, Thomas, your impecunious state, however, leads you to choose career over love and family. Ian, you’re nowhere near as street smart as you want us to think. I doubt you’ve smoked more than three roll ups in your life, let alone a spliff, and even if you have, you probably whitied on the first toke… and I can see you have no idea what I’m talking about, which rather proves my point. And Lucy, you are sweet and a little naive. Academically mediocre. You’re carrying a candle for Tom, even though you know there’s no reciprocation there. You’d choose love, but I doubt that Tom’s the love of your life. I suspect you’re just in love with being in love.’

‘Screw you,’ said Ian. ‘You get off on insulting your students or something, Dr Wilson?’

‘Yeah,’ added Tom, ‘that’s a bit below the belt.’

‘It is kinda true, though,’ said Lucy. ‘Or the part about me is, at any rate. I do like being in love and I had to come through Clearing to get to uni.’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sakes, just cut to the chase!’ exclaimed Rachel. ‘What’s going to become of us?’

‘Oh,’ said Pat. ‘You’re all going to die.’

‘Yeah, right,’ said Ian. ‘Tell us something we don’t know. Everybody dies, dude.’

‘You are, of course, correct; but — hmm… don’t you find this round of drinks a little sweeter than the last?’

The students vaguely murmured their assent, but they were clearly more interested in that ‘but’ than in the taste of their drinks, though Rachel did say ‘I don’t see how you can say that given that we’re all drinking different things.’

‘So where was I?’ asked Pat.

‘Predicting our deaths,’ said Ian.

‘Why yes, so I was. How precisely do you want to know?’

‘I don’t want to know,’ said Tom. ‘You initially said you’d tell us where we’d be in ten years time. That’s what interests me. Will I get a first? Will I have a PhD?’

‘Oh, no. No, I’m afraid not, nothing like that. Oh, please don’t look so dismayed. It won’t matter.’

‘And me? Will I marry my multimillionaire?’

‘Uh huh,’ said Pat.

‘But my — my looks — will I still be beautiful?’

‘Oh, Rachel, Rachel,’ said Pat. ‘Excuse me one moment — I have to make a phone call. I’ll answer any questions you might have straight afterwards.’

Ian and Rachel began to say something, but were shushed by Tom. Lucy took the opportunity to read her text message.

‘Hello? Yes, yes, ambulance please. And maybe police. Oh, thank goodness. Look, I’m having a drink with four of my students — I’m a lecturer at the university — and they’ve just told me they’ve all ingested a new type of drug, looking for “the ultimate high” apparently. No, I don’t know what it was. Well, I’m no expert, but they seem very unwell. The two boys are doubled up in agony, and one of the girls seems to be having difficulty breathing. The other seems relatively unaffected at the moment — oh, no, no, now she’s clutching her stomach as well. Yes, yes, we’re in the Last Man Standing. Thank you.’

Pat ended the call and looked at the suffering students. By now, all appeared to be in extremis. The barmaid, too, could be heard making rather desperate-sounding noises.

‘Oh dear,’ Pat resumed. ‘I suppose I’d better speak quickly as you don’t appear to have long left — I had expected us to have a little more time. In ten years’ time, you will all be but a memory. I slipped a little something into the last round of drinks I bought. I did wonder if you might detect a slight bitterness, but apparently not. You may be experiencing stomach cramps, but, whilst unpleasant, they won’t kill you. No, the cause of your demise will be coronary or respiratory failure. If you try to speak now, I imagine that you’ll have difficulty uttering any coherent sound. Please try… oh good, I thought as much. Wouldn’t want you saying too much in the ambulance. You won’t make it to hospital, of course, but you might survive until the ambulance gets here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better go and check on that poor barmaid — I bought her a drink, too, you see.’

The groaning grew fainter; the breathing all but subsided; the volume of the ambulance and police sirens grew louder as those vehicles approached. Pat went out to meet them, and returned a few moments later with various representatives of the emergency services.

But something was wrong. Something had changed. Rachel and Ian still lay slumped together on the bench seat; Tom had fallen from the stool he had occupied and lay, twitching slightly, on the floor. The nameless barmaid hadn’t moved. But Lucy — Lucy wasn’t there! And suddenly the Pat’s rather clipped and smug voice was heard intoning a second time the words ‘…I slipped a little something into the last round of drinks I bought. I did wonder if you might detect a slight bitterness, but apparently not. You may experience stomach cramps, but, whilst unpleasant, they won’t kill you. No, the cause of your demise…’

‘I recorded you,’ said Lucy, who equally suddenly emerged from the ladies’ toilets. ‘On my phone. When I realized what you were saying about us to the emergency operator. I didn’t drink the drugged drink. I’d asked for a tonic water as I was driving. It tasted a bit odd. I thought maybe you’d got me a vodka and tonic by mistake — I like gin and tonic, but I’ve never tasted vodka and tonic. I didn’t want to risk being over the limit. And I didn’t like to tell you you’d made a mistake, so when you weren’t looking, I poured it into that plant. The others saw what I was doing. Ian nearly gave the game away. I didn’t — I didn’t think for one moment that it was poisoned…’

Lucy’s eyes filled with tears as the enormity of what had happened dawned upon her. One of the ambulance crew put an arm around her. A police officer was putting Pat in handcuffs.

‘Let’s get you checked out at the hospital,’ said the paramedic to Lucy.

‘There’s just one thing I want to know first,’ said that survivor. ‘Why did you do it, Dr Wilson? What could you possibly hope to gain by murdering five people? Was it to test out the drug, or—? Why?’

‘Why?’ said Pat. ‘Don’t you know? Because I could, Lucy, because I could.’

‘But you couldn’t, could you? I’m still here. You failed.’

 

Muddled messages, mammaries, money, and morality; or why I wish people’d make their bloody minds up

I want to begin this grumble by making three points, all of which will gradually become relevant.

    1. I don’t particularly consider myself a feminist.
    2. People find me intimidating.
    3. I used to have fabulous breasts.
I'm not sure whether these women are showing photos of some men with whom they've established a meaningful, cerebral relationship, or whether they're protesting against viewing men as sex objects... must be one of the two, surely? (Photo pinched from Pat Dye's photostream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ohiostate/3794241546/in/photostream/)

I’m not sure whether these women are showing photos of some men with whom they’ve established a meaningful, cerebral relationship, or whether they’re protesting against viewing men as mere sex objects… must be one of the two, surely?
(Photo pinched from Pat Dye’s photostream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ohiostate/3794241546/in/photostream/)

I don’t particularly consider myself a feminist — or an eco-warrior or a monarchist or any type of activist — although I may embrace some of the philosophies and ideals of all these groups. I am secure enough in my own skin not to need to ‘belong’ to a group or a club to justify my existence or beliefs (indeed, I’m fairly Groucho-esque when it comes to joining such things). Moreover, labels are restrictive. If one is in favour of this tenet, it is assumed that one will also be in favour of that tenet, and one ends up having to explain one’s own particular interpretation of the label and debating its merit with others who have assumed that same form of labelling but construed it in a different way. Easier then, to be me, and leave the bickering to those who enjoy such things.

Usually.

But, because I want to write about my mystification over certain aspects of feminism, I will now explain my stance on the matter.

Men and women are different. We don’t think alike and we each have physiologically-determined strengths and weaknesses. There is, inevitably, some cross-over, but in general terms, this is how it works.

If I had what I’ll call a ‘practical’ problem, I would have no qualms about consulting a male friend, safe in the knowledge that he’d be perfectly happy to solve it by the application of tools, money, or giving me a lift in his car; if it were a ‘non-practical’ problem, I’d be much more likely to tell a female chum as I’d feel that she’d be more likely to appreciate that soothing words and shared outrage were the order of the day, a concept that a lot of men find hard to grasp. That’s not to say that women can’t provide practical help, or that no man is capable of being a shoulder to cry on; nor do I wish to imply that one is better than the other; just that there is, often, a difference.

Furthermore, most (but not all) men are physically stronger than most (but not all) women; and, as I’d say I’m of average strength for my age and sex, somewhere in the region of 50% of women are also stronger than me. This means that if I’m struggling with a heavy suitcase at a station and a man (or, indeed, a younger, fitter woman) offers to carry it for me, I’m going to smile sweetly and say thank you. I am not going to say ‘You sexist pig (ageist bitch?); how dare you insult me in this manner? I will give myself a hernia rather than betray my bizarre principles and accept your generous assistance.’

And if a man holds a door open for me, helps me on with my coat, or tastes the wine when the waiter brings it, well, that’s all fine by me — just as it would be if a woman did these things.

Now, there are things that would not be acceptable — but again, they would not be acceptable from either sex —  like those listed in an article by Laura Bates published in The Guardian a few weeks ago.[1] Ms Bates tells us that women frequently report certain sexist scenarios that they regularly have to endure in the workplace. So I posted posted the article on Facebook to get a reaction, and was amazed to see how many of my friends seemed to identify with Ms Bates’s nameless complainants.

Laura Bates's sexist scenarios faced by women.

Laura Bates’s sexist scenarios faced by women.

Many moons ago, when I got married, my husband commented to his best man that many people find me scary. The best man responded: ‘Scary? She’s not scary! She’s fucking terrifying!’ I have no idea why I should have this reputation — I think I’m sweet and affable. Anyway, bearing in mind that I might be in a minority of one in this opinion, it’s safe to say that (with the exception of number 10) I’ve never encountered any of this silliness — probably because that’s how I view it, as silliness, and the type of man who’s prone to this kind of behaviour is likely terrified of being made to feel a fool in public. People tend to behave in a way that they believe they’ll be able to get away with — as soon as they realize they can’t, or at least, not without loss of face, they usually desist.

Hah! you say; but she has already admitted to having to avoid unwanted sexual attention. Yeah, I have (remember the magnificent breasts I mentioned earlier?). But, as discussed elsewhere (https://midmus.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/band-wagon-mechanic-needed-urgently/), any attempts at harassment were never a big deal — even the stupidest of men are capable of understanding the word ‘No’ if it’s delivered firmly enough. (I refer here to those unfortunate men who think they’re God’s gift and that women find them and their sleazy advances irresistible, and not to those with more severe psychiatric issues. Trying to educate the latter is much like trying to persuade the mentally ill mother that her children really aren’t possessed by the devil and giving them ten minutes in time-out might be preferable to drowning them in the bath tub. Fortunately both workplace rapists and deranged mothers are relatively few and far between.)

Which brings me on to articles like ‘Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny’ and #YesAllWomen which worry me because of their propagation of paranoia.[2] The article begins with a photograph – evidently a stock photograph, I might add — of a man with his arm round the shoulders of an annoyed-looking woman, bearing the caption ‘He does it when other men aren’t looking.’ It goes on to talk about the case of Elliot Rodger, clearly a disturbed young man, who killed six people and himself, having previously posted videos on YouTube about how he felt it unfair that women didn’t want to have sex with him, and leaving behind a legacy in the form of a misogynistic ‘manifesto’. Elliot, however, was not (I would hope) typical of his gender or his generation — indeed, the author of the article, Amanda Hess, remarks that ‘Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown deemed him a “madman”.’ Ms Hess links this tragedy to the experiences of women who ‘took to Twitter to share their own everyday experiences with men who had reduced them to sexual conquests and threatened them with violence for failing to comply—filing their anecdotes under the hashtag #YesAllWomen.’

Well, no. #NotAllWomen. Let’s stop generalizing and pretending that we’re all victims and men are all oppressors. Some are, of course; but most aren’t. Generalizations are fine when they aren’t insidious and do admit of exceptions (men are taller than women; women watch soaps and men watch Top Gear — yes, in general, but I still have a female friend who’s 6’2” and loves Clarkson et al. and a male friend who’s 5’6” and never misses an episode of Corrie).

Ms Hess, however, would probably disagree with me — even men who seem nice on the surface probably have a darker side. She goes on to observe that ‘men who objectify and threaten women often strategically obscure their actions from other men, taking care to harass women when other men aren’t around.’ Ah. OK. A your-word-against-mine scenario. Seriously, ladies, if some sleaze bag is grabbing your bits in the stationery cupboard, fight back — scream, leave marks that he can’t easily explain away, and go to the police. If he’s just making lewd remarks, ignore him, tell him to fuck off, laugh in his face and tell him you’ll send him a link to a website that’ll tell him how he can have a bigger penis in six weeks ‘cos you’ve heard he’s a bit lacking in that department — or just avoid being alone with him. Because it cuts both ways — hell hath no fury and all that; a spurned woman can cry assault just as easily as a would-be Lothario can force himself on an unwilling victim.

Amanda Hess also (constantly referencing Elliot Rodger’s totally irrelevant murder spree) cites the example of a friend refusing to give a drunk her phone number and using the excuse that she was married (as opposed to simply saying she wasn’t interested) ‘because aggressive men are more likely to defer to another man’s domain than to accept a woman’s autonomous rejection of him.’ I guess that’s one interpretation — as is this: she was too cowardly to say ‘in your dreams, sweetie’ and preferred to hide behind her man’s authority, an authority that this apparent feminist was bestowing on him because it suited her own purposes.

And this brings me on to one of the main problems I have with feminism (the way it’s twisted and manipulated to suit the individual’s own, often rather bizarre, agenda) and, indirectly, to my own once beautiful boobs.

Take a moment, if you will, to think about women’s breasts. You may do this in whatever way you want. Maybe you see them as objects of sexual desire; maybe as things for feeding babies; maybe you just see them as parts of the female anatomy; maybe you like them; maybe you find them gross; it doesn’t matter — I just want you to think about them.

Now, having thought about them, tell me what all the fuss is about. On the one hand we have the (frankly quite farcical) No More Page 3 brigade who feel that breasts should not be part of our breakfast newspaper experience; and on the other we have the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, a book group for women (and a few carefully vetted men) who enjoy discussing literature unencumbered by upper-body clothing in New York’s Central Park, and Scout Willis’s promotion of the #FreeTheNipple campaign as a protest against Instagram’s policy of not featuring female nudity.[3] (Somewhat ironically, The Sun limits us to only two nipples a day to letch over, whilst Huff Post offers us around forty of the liberated little blighters on the same page.)

So which is it to be? Are boobies bad or should they be released and allowed to frolic unfettered in the wild?

Please don’t try the ‘Page 3 exploits women, but the other two are the women’s own choice’ line because it’s utter bollocks. The girls who pose for Page 3 choose to do it, in the same way as the semi-naked bibliophiles and Bruce’s kid’s cronies. Or perhaps not ‘in the same way’, as Page 3 models choose to do it for money. And maybe that’s the problem. Showing your nipples in exchange for cash is immoral, but flashing your tits for your principles is admirable?

Oh, and don’t get me started on these so-called Slut Walks: ‘I will dress like a slut and encourage men to treat me as a sexual object just to prove I’m not a slut and shouldn’t be treated as a sexual object.’ Sure, people should be able to wear what they want without being judged or attacked (sexually or otherwise), but I wouldn’t advise marching around certain Catholic parts of Northern Ireland dressed all in orange, or wearing a black balaclava to go to the bank. Clothes give off signals — and if a woman has spent four hours dressing up, doing her hair and nails and make-up, waxing her legs and plucking her eyebrows, in the hope of fascinating the man she’s had her eye on for ages, she’d be really disappointed if he failed to notice; but she has to accept that what she hopes will be attractive to him will also be attractive to others.

I’m not defending The Sun as such — it strikes me as being a fairly disreputable kind of rag as a whole — but is this really the worst of its misdemeanours? Anyone remember its coverage of the Hillsborough disaster? It seems, though, that some people have decided that it is, for whatever reason, the epitome of only the perceived sexist ills in our society. (Curiously, its editor, David Dinsmore, maintains that it was his female readership that persuaded him to keep flashing the titties, and is quoted as saying ‘I make the paper for the readers. I don’t make it for the No More Page Three campaign, I don’t make it for the Twitterati and I don’t make it for readers of The Guardian.[4]) Just as Amanda Hess was able to link Elliot Rodger’s killing spree to her friend being propositioned by a drunk at a party, so these No-More-Page-3-ites blame The Sun for any- and everything they can — and then create petitions, so very very many petitions.

Take this one by the indescribably sweet and ingenuous Lucy Holmes (oh, I just want to hug her, I really do).This is from her ‘David Dinsmore: Take The Bare Boobs Out Of The Sun #nomorepage3’ petition on change.org:[5]

We are asking David Dinsmore to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper.
We are asking very nicely.
Please, David.
No More Page 3.
George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he, David?
Philip and Holly don’t flash up pictures of Danni, 19, from Plymouth, in just her pants and a necklace, on This Morning, do they, David?
No, they don’t.
There would be an outcry.
And you shouldn’t show the naked breasts of young women in your widely read ‘family’ newspaper either.
Consider this a long overdue outcry.
David, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects.
Enough is enough.
Thank you.

You see? So naive, bless her. I do not profess to be a marketing professional, but I guess I’m a bit more media savvy than our Lucy. If The Sun is ‘Britain’s most widely read newspaper,’ it holds that position because it has a winning formula — changing it is probably not going to be good for circulation. George, Phillip, and Holly are targeting an entirely different demographic — but if semi-naked teenagers were proven to be what was needed to increase their market share, I’m sure they’d make the necessary adjustment. And if it’s a ‘”family” newspaper’ that surely means that the adults buying it don’t have an issue with their offspring seeing bare breasts before they go to school — or that they rip out any offensive material (and stash it under the mattress for later — ahem — perusal) before letting the sprogs get their hands on the rest of the paper. Either way, it’s for the newspaper-buyer to decide what is and is not suitable for the younger members of the family — not Mr Dinsmore and still less Ms Holmes.

I have also noticed that quite a few of my friends have over the last couple of days posted a link on their chosen social media site to another petition, this one demanding that that newspaper withdraw its ‘Win a date with a Page 3 Girl’ competition.[6] But why is that any worse than similar promotions to, say, win a day out with a Texan teenage heartthrob called Austin Mahone or an intimate dinner with the singer-cum-reality TV star, Peter Andre?[7] Surely we can assume that the Page 3 girl, the teenage boy, and Mr Andre have all agreed to be raffled off in this way, and could have said ‘On yer bike, mate; I refuse to be drooled over by some random competition winner!’

So, in these times of sexual equality, why is it OK to treat men in this way but not women? I am, for once, not trying to be deliberately provocative here — I genuinely don’t see how the two differ. If the objectification of women is sexist, so is the objectification of men; and yet the former seems to be regarded as an outrage and the latter as ‘a bit of fun’.

It has been put to me that, in the latter case, the men are identified as individuals in their own right, not just as generic figures. So, whilst those entering the competitions may well do so because they are sexually attracted to either Mahone or Andre (and it’s really not going to be because they want to discuss Obamacare or Tony Abbott’s views on Aboriginal affairs, is it?), it’s a case of genuine fandom rather than random lust. The ‘Page 3 Girl’ has no name or identity beyond being female and stripping off and flashing her bits; thus, where Austin and Pete are people, she is simply a stereotype. It’s not a bad argument… and I’m almost convinced. Almost, but not quite. Because I’ve seen The Chippendales and I’m fairly certain that none of the squealing women in the audience cared one iota about the names, interests, and personalities of those buff young men. I think what The Sun is doing wrong here is favouring its male readers — and women are getting jealous. Maybe they should even up the score by running a ‘Win a date with a Chippendale’ raffle as well…

I am in my fifties. The quondam glory of my breasts has suffered the relentless toll of both time and gravity. Thirty years ago, when their magnificence was beyond compare, they were seen only by me, my lovers, and possibly the occasional flatmate who inadvertently walked in on me in the shower or other state of undress. Back then, I probably knew Page 3 existed, but it wasn’t something I was aware of as such. Because if I had been, and if I’d known I could have made money from letting a photographer take pics of my boobs and an editor plaster them all over Page 3, I’d have done it… in a heartbeat.

References (all accessed 4 September 2014)

 [1] Laura Bates, “10 sexist scenarios that women face at work”, The Guardian, 30 July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/jul/30/10-sexist-scenarios-women-deal-work-ignored-maternity-risk-everyday-sexism?CMP=fb_gu

[2] Amanda Hess, “Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny”, Slate, 27 May 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/05/_yesallwomen_in_the_wake_of_elliot_rodger_why_it_s_so_hard_for_men_to_recognize.html?wpisrc=obnetwork

[3] http://nomorepage3.org/; Alison Flood, “Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society takes off”, The Guardian, 8 May 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/08/topless-pulp-fiction-appreciation-society-book-club; Barcroft Media, “#FreeTheNipple: Topless Protest Against Internet Censorship Follows Scout Willis Instagram Challenge (NSFW PICTURES)”, The Huffington Post, 4 June 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/04/freethenipple-topless-protest-internet-censorship-scout-willis-instagram-challenge-pictures_n_5443907.html?1401881878&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

[4] Ian Burrell, “My female readers persuaded me to keep Page Three topless photos, says Sun editor”, The Independent, 5 November 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/my-female-readers-persuaded-me-to-keep-page-three-topless-photos-says-sun-editor-8922320.html

[5] Lucy Holmes, “David Dinsmore: Take The Bare Boobs Out Of The Sun #nomorepage3”, http://www.change.org/p/david-dinsmore-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3

[6] http://action.sumofus.org/a/the-sun-page-three/?sub=fb

[7] https://uk.celebrity.yahoo.com/gossip/omg/meet-austin-mahone-show-him-around-london-yes-really-115621339.html; http://www.prizeo.com/prizes/peter-andre/an-intimate-dinner-date?utm_content=peter&utm_campaign=peter