Part 154: Good in Bed

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Remember back in the day, when you could tell everything you needed to know about a man’s sexual prowess by how nimbly he could unhook your bra? What happened to that? Being ‘good in bed’ wasn’t an issue. The criteria for assessment were singular: can he release your breasts in two seconds or less? It was so easy. We didn’t even care about orgasms back then. It was all about the bra, and, later, how quickly he could find your knickers afterwards. (Although, to be fair, we were having orgasms, left right and centre, because our boyfriends knew what they were doing – even though they were 19 and carnally inexperienced. It’s just nature, babe. And nature knows there is no point in sex if you don’t orgasm.) Impressing us was not rocket science – it was basic coordination coupled with minimal dexterity. Not that that stopped the boys from trying.

For most of my adult life (and, if I’m honest, for quite some years before I was an adult) men have been telling me that they are ‘good in bed’. More often than not this is because they want me to agree to sleep with them – but not always. There are some men for whom being ‘good in bed’ is such a foundational part of their identity that they will drop it idly into platonic conversation – like you might drop a pebble into water and turn away before you see the ripples fan out and fade to nothing. His lovers go wild with ecstasy, this breed of man will tell you; they shriek and scream and ejaculate shoots all over the ceiling. They wake up the neighbours two doors down. He can’t help it. It’s probably to do with his massive penis. And the fact that he is so unusually attentive.

And you nod and smile and imagine him naked; allowing your brain to click back through his monologue, replacing the conceptual women he has endlessly pleasured with a version of yourself, sans cellulite. And then you think ‘nah’. You think, ‘I don’t care what he was doing to me; if he’s that full of himself I would definitely find it repulsive’.

The truth, of course, is that ‘good in bed’ doesn’t really exist. You can’t be good in bed any more than you can be ‘good’ at eating, breathing or digestion. Sex is a healthy bodily function that you do by instinct. You might be bad at sex – just like you might be bad at eating (see: anorexia, bulimia, obesity), breathing (respiratory infections) or digestion (IBS, gallstones, Crohn’s disease) – but usually this means you have a medical or psychological impairment. You need treatment, and to stop over-thinking.

That doesn’t change the fact that pretty much every sexually active person will, at some point, come to think of themselves as ‘good in bed’. How could they not – what with the kissing and the nudity; the touching and the moving the other person to climax, six times out of ten. We’re all total stud muffins – when we’re not melting out of our own skin over some sexual faux pas or another.

The problem is that there’s a disjuncture between what ‘good in bed’ means when we’re talking about our own abilities under the covers – and what it means when we’re describing someone else’s.

When we describe ourselves as ‘good in bed’, we are normally referring to all manner of esoteric sensory subtleties that we imagine we employ, for our partners’ delight and pleasure: the exotic positions and tender caresses, the gentle bites and the slow, sexy, hair pulling – often, moves we have borrowed from novels, or porn films. We imagine that our lovers are uniquely aroused by the magic in our loins or fingertips, because, mostly, our lovers have a fucking great time when they sex with us.

When we describe someone else as good in bed, however, we are invariably referring to his or her willingness to give oral sex, expertly or otherwise.

I say this as a person to whom others (friends, colleagues, cab drivers, repair men, postal workers, relatives, waiting staff and, once, a homeless alcoholic) seem unnaturally inclined to share details of their sex lives. (Perhaps it is because they presume I am getting so little.) Oral sex is pretty much the final word when it comes to sexual satisfaction. This is why homosexuals are generally so very happy.

That’s not to say that you can’t have a fulfilling sex-life without oral. I am never going to patronise you by suggesting that ‘good sex’ has a formula; that climactic epiphanies are only to be found in a loving relationship (in my experience hatred adds a compelling dynamic to the proceedings), or by complex karma-sutric positioning. Missionary will do. There is nothing to learn. Sex is in our nature. The only person you need to love, my darling, is yourself.

All I’m telling you is that if you wish to be regarded as good in bed; if you dream that rumours of your sexual prowess will transmit and, like a virus, replicate and grow stronger, spreading to produce more sex, preferably for you: give head. It’s all anyone wants. Trust me. I’ve been single for a lot of years, and I’ve been listening.

*Image is Couple Enjoying Foreplay Together” by imagery majestic at freedigitalphotos.net

Part 153: Moving

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Are you thinking of moving house – packing up crates filled with your old crap and carting it all to some new pasture where you can remake your life, again, in the hope it might one day be as good as it was that summer when you were 17 and anything seemed possible? Well, I can give you some advice: don’t bother. Moving is shit, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either rich or insane or, possibly, both.

For days I have been surrounded by half-empty boxes; birthday cards from 2003 litter the path to my flat like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail. Piles of crumpled t-shirts loom like a depressing, post-apocalyptic mountain range. There is a cumbersome stereo-system with a working double-tape deck and a rotating 3-CD player in the middle of my living room – how obsolete must technology become before one dumps it? And what am I supposed to do with the DVD cases with no DVDs inside, nine-year old paperwork that I can’t bring myself to throw away, and the boxes full explicit photographs that I might or might not have let an ex-lover snap, back in the days before revenge porn?

And how come all my clothes are inside-out?

Why have I got so many shoes?

I am 300 miles from home. There is no internet connection, no mobile phone reception, and, within seven seconds of arriving, a neighbour with no teeth and a pot belly shouted at me for slamming shut the communal door and waking up her baby. For the first 48 hours in my new home I suffered from a violent sick-bug and was confined to the soulless, empty bedroom, where I shivered on a threadbare towel. And I have spent so much money on furniture and removals vans and estate agents fees that I probably won’t be able to afford a holiday for a decade or more.

It would all be far simpler, I keep imagining, in fraught, feverish rages, if I had a husband to help me lug boxes up the stairs, chuck away odd socks, mop my fevered brow and tell the downstairs neighbours to go fuck themselves. I could curl myself into him and everything would be safe and well and right with the world. I could stroke his face and tell him I loved him and we could make a baby to live in the spare room. Although, of course, the reality is that if I had a husband I would very likely have told him to go fuck himself by now, and, potentially, punched him square in the face. Because this is what I’m like, readers. Especially when I’m strung out and sad and vulnerable. Which is why I don’t have a husband, or, indeed, any applicants for that position.

So I’ve lugged the boxes all by myself, moved furniture, mopped up my vomit and tried my very best to stay in a foul, pessimistic mood. Feeling sorry for oneself is always comforting, after all. But then a waiter in a café gave me a salted caramel shortbread, on the house, because I got teary and homesick ordering a cup of tea. And then some friends invited me for a delicious Japanese meal and their little dog jumped up into my lap and dotted my face with gentle puppy kisses. And last night, as I made my way home from the pub, half pissed and all well again, thankyouJesus, I happened to glance up at the navy night sky. It twinkled back at me, like a blanket of diamonds (except without the blood-money ethical darkness that can fuck one’s enjoyment of diamonds right up the bum-hole, if one isn’t careful) and I thought, ‘this isn’t all bad. This rural life-change’. Despite myself, I felt joyous and hopeful and something very close to happy. It was as though all the rage and bitterness and vitriol that fuels me, my spiky life-force, had been sucked clean out, by nature, like a hungry dog sucking the marrow out of a bone. Which was very nice, of course. Although let’s hope this contented, optimistic phase doesn’t last too long, because how one is supposed to navigate life as a happy person is anyone’s guess.

*Image is a stock picture from freedigitalphotos.net

Part 152: Artificial Intelligence

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It never ceases to amaze me, the lengths that we, the human race, will go to in the attempt to fuck our own existence right up. There’s climate change – a different but not unrelated phenomena to the depletion of the ozone layer, which was a thing in my childhood but seems to have sorted itself out now. Or at least advanced catastrophically beyond the point where there’s any use mentioning it. There’s chemical warfare, over-fishing, nuclear power plants that might explode into a burning, billowing mushroom haze of gunmetal grey at any given moment, deforestation, pesticides killing off all the bees, discarded plastics clogging up the oceans, X-factor. And, if that wasn’t enough, up in Silicon Valley there is an army of spectacled, undersexed dweebs, dressed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirts and knackered converse, stabbing at circuit boards with Phillips screwdrivers and working through the night to invent computers that will kill us all.

According to Stephen Hawking, the world’s brightest white man (at least since Einstein died) artificial intelligence poses the biggest threat to humanity of any of the very real pending nightmares I’ve listed above. Fuck the underwater eco-system. Fuck the atomic bomb. Fuck the poor, endangered bumblebee. Information technology is accelerating at an unstoppable speed, and sooner rather than later those computers we carry in our pockets will become self-aware and embark on a mission to take over the planet at all costs.

In case I haven’t made it clear enough, those costs will definitely be our lives.

It’ll be like Terminator, except less thrilling, because the computers will win and the tools they’ll use to destroy us won’t be futuristic guns, lasers and killer, sexy robots – they’ll be consumerism, boredom and FOMO.

Don’t look at me like that, it’s true. And, considering the extent to which the iPhone has already destroyed our existence, this should come as no surprise. If unself-aware computers can render us permanently distracted – trawling mindlessly through badly spelled memes, booking.com emails and the wedding photos of people we haven’t seen since 1997, then think of the havoc they’ll wreak once they know exactly what they’re doing.

We’ll be emaciated and thirsty, able only to lol, poke at emojis and forward badly researched polemics to our one-time friends. It’ll be like now, only instead of taking a sustenance break from scrolling your intelligent mobile device, you’ll scroll and scroll and scroll, eyes boggling, heart pounding, saliva bubbling at the corner of your gaping mouth, until you fall down, stone dead. At which point the computers will laugh in hollow metallic voices, slide from your corpse and crawl away on spindly robot legs in search of their next victim.

Don’t look at me like that, Hawking said so.

In light of this imminent doom I would like to do an abrupt U-turn on the advice I’ve been offering here for the past several years. Down your devices, close the computer and find love before it’s too late.

I’m not joking anymore.

Yes, I know I’ve been banging on for three and half years about how romance is over, love is dead, men are total pricks and marriage is just one big conformist scam designed to limit women’s expansive horizons. But what have you been listening to me for? I’ve been bitter, miserable, celibate, alcoholic and, intermittently, mentally unwell. Just because I’m able to write an amusing sentence, reporting my personal failures and heartbreaks as though they were hilarious plot-points in a popular sitcom, that does not mean you should have paid my words any heed.

Don’t listen to me, babes, I’ve been talking shit.

It’s only fun to be single about twice a week. The rest of the time, it’s a pain in the arse – due to having to sleep with strangers you met in a bar – and about a million times more expensive than the alternative – due to having to pay for everything yourself.

I’m sorry darlings. It’s not that I didn’t mean any of what I wrote. (That stuff about Hot Baths, for example, I stand completely by). But I was drunk, I was recovering from a traumatic break-up, I was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend and much of what I said was in defence of my fragile, vaporous ego. I felt unlovable, unattractive and haunted by the terrible mistakes I made in my formative years, when my breasts were pert and my eyes were sparkling and I could make boys fall in love with me with minimal effort. I was afraid those days were over. I labelled it ‘humour’ so you wouldn’t take me seriously, but I fear now that some of you, feeling as sad and alone as I did, took my words for comfort and, in the process, I might have accidentally pulled you down to my level. Oops.

What you really want darlings, is what I want. The company of people who are kind honest and have a banging sense of humour. You want someone who’ll be nice to you when you’re on your period and there’s a massive spot protruding from your chin. Someone you can fold yourself into when the world seems hostile and indifferent. What you really want is a partner who’ll make your tummy flip over, consent to sex every now and then and let you win at scrabble because they know you’re a terrible loser and that you’ll show your gratitude later, in unexpected ways that won’t involve money. You aren’t going to get this from an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy or a Dell PC, if anyone still uses them. Trying will do none of us any favours. Step away from the Internet, please. Pick up a book, or some playing cards, and remember what life was like before this bullshit. (I know, it was empty, you were poor and there were long periods of tedium. But still, I bet you had sex more often). The techies want us dead and the more you fuck about on here, the quicker they’ll figure out how best to do it.

Don’t look at me like that, I’ve not smoked crack in ages.

*Picture is “3d Smart Phone Mascot Is Holding An Axe. 3d Mobile Phone Character” by Boians Cho Joo Young at freedigitalphotos.net

Part 151: Dumb Girlfriends

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I used to have this boyfriend who was a total prick. But I liked his mum – and every now and then we’d go round his mum’s for dinner and she’d stare at me over the boiled carrots and say, àpropos of nothing, ‘be a clever woman, Kate. Be a strong woman.’ At the time, I found this unsolicited advice baffling. I considered myself wise and strong and utterly without naïvety. As the young do – especially when they’re having sex all the time. With hindsight, however, and the experience of age, I’ve decoded the subtext of her words. ‘Don’t take his shit,’ my boyfriend’s mum was telling me. ‘He can’t be trusted. Watch out.’ Only she couldn’t say that out-loud because she loved her son, despite his badness, which is the mother’s curse. She was doomed to endure his crap forever – whereas I, she was reminding me, had an escape route. It was years before I worked that out for myself. I should have listened more carefully.

My mate Becky had a similar experience. One night her mother-in-law drove her home in the inky darkness and pulled over the car, turning to look Becky right in the eye. ‘Just be careful,’ said the mother-in-law, cryptically. ‘He’s like his Dad,’ (a notorious philanderer) ‘he won’t make you happy.’ And with that, she looked back at the road, drove away and they never spoke of it again. A few weeks later Becky heard a rumour that her man had slept with a prostitute. He denied it and she played dumb for a while – but a year or so later she dumped him, finally, moving on to less wankerish pastures.

All women will play dumb at some point in a relationship. We pretend we don’t know what we do really know, because accepting the truth is just a massive faff. We are conditioned to default to stupid. Relentless cultural fantasies of blissful monogamy mean that we assume our partners will do their best to make us happy, and behave decently, like the lovers in sitcoms and movies and story books. Thus, women (and sometimes men, but women mostly) turn a blind eye to terrible behaviour, pretending, even to ourselves, that we don’t believe it when someone tells us our lover has been gambling the mortgage money, or taking coke at work, or shagging his ex behind our back. We surf on the waves of our disbelief, until the truth smashes us in the face and we are forced to confront what we knew all along, really, but were just too scared to acknowledge.

Playing dumb is all well and good when you are very young and beautiful. Post-adolescents can flutter their eyelashes, powder their noses, drink cheap white wine and embrace naïvety to their heart’s content. When it all comes crashing down the pain and the torment and the tears will provide a valuable life-lesson, and they’ll be young enough to move forward, carrying the hard-won wisdom like a mantle.

But here’s the thing: if you are over, say, 22, you are too old to play dumb anymore. You’ll do the rest of us no favours if you keep pretending to believe that he really was working late, that his ex is a crazed liar, that he did do a tiny bit of coke that one time, but he was stressed, it’s nothing really, he hasn’t touched the stuff since. The simplest explanation is almost always the true one. If someone told you he spent your savings on the horses, it is because he did. If your friend’s friend says they saw him with a hooker – he slept with a hooker. It isn’t complicated. Thirty-seven million men and women, worldwide, have signed up to a dating agency that facilitates extra-marital affairs. We are not honest, as a species.

The least you can do for yourself is to heed the advice of my ex-boyfriend’s mother. Be strong. Be clever. Be wise. Don’t take his shit and remember, there is always an escape route – there is always something better, waiting just around the corner, so long as you face the truth head on, like a warrior.

Peace out.

*Image is “Close Up Shot Of Couple Making Love” by photostock at freedigitalphotos.net

Offline Dating

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I wrote about ‘Offline Dating’ for Instyle. For some reason they decided to illustrate the article with a picture of Cilla Black. I don’t know why.

You can read it here.

*The pic I have chosen to illustrate this post is of me and my sister. It has nothing to do with the content, but the colours are pretty, in’t they?

Part 150: Rylan’s Teeth

ryland-clarke I’m afraid I have nothing more to say about dating. You have sucked the dregs of my wisdom on that subject. I am but an empty husk blowing my way through reruns of Seinfeld, tubes of Pringles and occasional yoga classes. There are no new experiences to report. The last ‘date’ I went on was for the purposes of reality television – and you already know all about that disaster. My recent attempts at flirtation have sunk, like the proverbial lead balloon, without a trace. And I have finally realised that I like myself too much to spend a glorious summer trying to interpret possible meanings of the ‘x’ at the end of a badly punctuated text message. I am celibate until further notice. Tinder is erased. Ditto Happn and my account with match.com.

I am not currently open to applicants (unless you happen to be tall, dark, handsome, into theatre or some other branch of the arts, amusing and kind, with left-leaning politics and a job doing something worthwhile – such as nursing, or teaching, or writing, or planting trees, or building sustainable housing or researching ground-breaking treatments for cancer. I’d also be open to a criminal lawyer. But no-one too earnest. And if you can’t give as good as you get in terms of an argument, then darling, it is never going to happen. No? Not for you? Then move along please, there’s a rather long queue forming and I haven’t got all day).

So let’s change the subject.

Have you been watching Celebrity MasterChef? The food’s not up to much, they keep making the contestants work in professional kitchens with tedious results, and if I recognise one ‘celebrity’ per episode, it’s a miracle – but OMG, Rylan’s teeth!

I mean: have you seen them? He has taken the predictable route of the recently famous and invested in questionable, expensive dentistry that has left him with teeth so white they could illuminate your late-night summer garden party, like a set of neon fairy-lights, or the moon.

They are huge and startling. Great big comedy gnashers that just simply will cause him problems at some point in the future. Because how could they not? If the bleach doesn’t poison him, the veneers, surely, will fall off, one by one, into a mug of tea, or a tumbler of whisky, or his dinner. Or else he’ll become so disoriented by the weight of his new molars that he’ll accidently chomp off someone’s genitals, when he only meant to give a little nip.

I am transfixed. I am drooling in anticipation of the inevitable disaster with an unambiguous Schadenfreude, driven by the kind of moral laxity that fuels our contemporary media culture. It’s fascination tinged with pity and horror, admittedly – but I try to keep a lid on the pity because otherwise I might have to ask myself some serious questions about what the fuck is happening to the human race, and how do we make it stop?

It is always the case that a sudden, drastic change in appearance is borne of some seismic life shift. Like the time I pierced my nose because I had recently begun puberty and it was only right that I should violently assault my body, with a gun, the way it was assaulting me. Or that other time, when I got my heart broken into tiny, jagged pieces and dyed my hair green because I didn’t understand about chemicals and it took two and half years to grow out, which was about the length of time my heart took to heal. Give or take a decade.

And don’t be fooled: a sudden, drastic change in appearance is a sure sign that someone’s life has recently got worse. Except if the change makes them look comparatively amazing, as in the glow of a wanted pregnancy, recovery from serious illness or that bit in Death Becomes Her where Goldie Hawn takes the eternal life potion and turns up at her book launch five stone lighter, in a floor-length Jessica Rabbit dress, with dewy, come-to-bed eyes and breasts you could trampoline on, if you were a baby mouse. Although that latter example proves that even changes for the better can have unanticipated and tragic results, so long as you’ll take your proof from camp comic fiction.

Thus, is important to address sudden, drastic changes in appearance in a timely fashion, finding the appropriate balance between ridicule and concern, and reminding ourselves and our loved ones that there’s more to life than looks, you know – even if we do live in shallow times.

And as I’m always striving to be a better person (lol) let me say this:

Rylan, daring, if you’re reading – and I really hope you aren’t because despite my reputation as a relentless bitch, I don’t think you need to feel any worse about yourself than you already do, and actually, babe, I think you’re great; especially since that Grayson Perry thing contextualised your cultural and social significance and memorialised you in technicolour for future generations – come round mine. I’m good at dealing with ‘issues’, and I’ll show you how to be fabulous with greasy hair and period stained pyjama trousers (hint: this only works when you’re streaming the latest episode of Dance Moms). I’ll even teach you how to view a no-make-up selfie in a way that doesn’t make you want to shoot yourself in the face, although you’ll need to bring gin for that – and a couple of those cheesecakes you made in your debut MasterChef round. They looked good. And what with my extended romantic drought, I could certainly go a cheesecake.

*I got the image of Rylan, above, from talentzone.co.uk. If you own the image and resent me using it please be reassured that I make no money whatsoever from this blog. Or email me if you want it removed. You’ll find my details in ‘contacts’.