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 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’.

Part 148: Fox Sex

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At the bottom of my garden lives an extended family of foxes. I’m not sure how many there are down there exactly, but at the end of last summer – as I fell out of a taxi one balmy September dawn – I counted nine of the brutes roaming about the street, casually tearing into dustbins, discarded kebabs and small household pets. I tripped over the pavement and scrabbled for door keys at the bottom of my handbag, and they stopped momentarily to appraise me, before turning back, unbothered, to their scavenged feasts.

The foxes that live in my garden are not the fat, healthy, wholesome creatures of Disney movie, Attenborough documentary and Animals of Farthing Wood fame. They are rangy and skeletal, with matted, patchy fur, missing teeth and filmy, glaucomic eyes. They are often unsteady on their feet; injured and bloody, dragging a lame leg behind them as though they have just lost a bar-fight and downed couple of whiskies to take the edge off. Although they are nominally nocturnal, I have, on occasion, spotted them stumbling above ground to sleep off a hangover in a shaft of mid-morning sunlight. I get the feeling that if I lit up a crafty Mayfair and offered to twos them, the foxes at the end of my garden would be well pleased, and accept without delay.

Whenever there is an intermittent media panic about the explosion of the urban fox population – when one is rumoured to have savaged a baby or left a stinky, disease-riddled deposit on a suburban doorstep – I am, without question, on the foxes’ side. I am quite happy to live cheek by jowl with these sly, debauched beasties who remind me of a better, wilder version of myself.

Except for the sex.

Have I not mentioned the sex?

They have loads of it. All the time. Furious, uninhibited love-making that climaxes in a screaming, orgasmic intensity that I haven’t known since that friend of a friend back in 2008 – who might have been excellent in bed, but who was also evasive and tedious and has recently grown a beard and impregnated an office worker, thereby solidifying his position as a man who nobody hot will ever fuck again. More’s the pity.

I try not to envy the sex lives of my foxy neighbours, on the grounds that jealousy directed at feral, flea-bitten animals, routinely slaughtered by home-made traps and posh people on horseback, is potentially a mental health issue. But it’s hard. Because despite their myriad difficulties, there are perils of modern dating that foxes just don’t have to contend with – which is why they have hot sex with such abandon so often. (Unlike, for example, me.)

Foxes do not have to deal with man buns, beards hosting visible breadcrumbs, Tinder, misjudged teenage tattoos spoiling an otherwise flawless physique, dick-pics, jokes that might have been racist but you weren’t really listening so you can’t quite tell, amateur rappers, finding yourself without contact-lens solution on a one-night-stand, whatsapp, the half-my-age-plus-seven rule, pubic hair grooming, grandparents who just want you to find a nice bloke and settle down, hyper-masculinity, fractured Freudian dreams, sex-toys, the institution of marriage, condoms, six weeks of radio silence and then a text that says ‘hey. How’s things?’, Valentines’ Day, Match.com, Calvin Harris tweeting pictures of Taylor Swift in hot-pants, the morning after pill, being invited to weddings without a plus one, Nando’s.

When you think about it, you can hardly blame them. Foxes have it sorted. Even if they do keep me up all night with their carnal indulgences, so that I sleep through my alarm with frightening frequency (fox sex is not, by the way, a valid excuse when you’re late for work). After all, who wouldn’t be shagging left, right and centre if you removed the social and psychological torture of romantic relations and kept it all about the orgasms and bodily fluids?

What I’m saying then, is that, in the next life (God if you’re listening, now’s the time to pay close attention), I’ll be an urban fox please. Although, let’s get real: I already am.

*The image that accompanies this article is from badtaxidermy.com. It’s called ‘deranged fox’. Which is a pretty excellent title. I might use it, if I ever write an autobiography.

Part 147: Social Mobility

Like most British people with time on their hands and no sexual partners to waste it with, I spend a lot of my life thinking about class identity. Because I speak like an EastEnders regular – all glottal stops, dropped aitches and harsh, unforgiving character assassinations – everyone assumes I’m working class. And, to be fair, there are certainly indications that I might be. I lost my virginity on a council estate, I call my grandmother ‘Nan’, I’ve eaten tinned rollmops, and there were at least three girls called Charlene in every class at my school.

But people move on, things change, and nowadays describing myself as ‘working class’ feels a bit disingenuous. After all, I work at a Russell Group university, have friends who went to Harrow, and sometimes, at meetings, I start sentences with a passive-aggressive, ‘I think you’ll find’ – rather than smashing up the board-room and directly telling my colleagues that they are wrong, and also, possibly, morons.

It’s been a long hard slog – from a sink estate in Thamesmead to the hallowed halls of a 1950s red-brick. I’ve stumbled over the class barrier and, mostly, I fit right in. I air my dirty laundry in a sex blog, stave off alcoholism with occasional periods of abstinence, and send thank-you notes to minor acquaintances at every opportunity. There are still occasions when I stand around baffled – unsure whether I’m being insulted or complimented by strangers who tell me my outfit is ‘fun’. But the food is better at parties, I know more people called Dominic and I groom my body hair far less often.

The only real drawback to social mobility, so far as I can tell, is the men. There is a crisis of masculinity, and it has reached its peak with middle class millennials, who just won’t let you know whether they want to fuck you until your eyes bleed, or leave promptly and swiftly erase your number from their phone – or perhaps, kind of, both. They aren’t quite sure – could they maybe think about it and get back to you next week, or in a couple of months, when they’ve talked it over with their sister and possibly, their Dad?

The middle class is exclusively populated by men who cycle around on fixie-bikes, with tight trousers and over-sized beards, like an archetypal butch from a 1970s gay porn movie. Or else ones who leave the house dressed in un-ironed combats and ancient converse, wearing a faded t-shirt with a 90s cartoon character printed on the back.

For fuck’s sake, aspirational 1980s parents. What were you doing to your boys?

I’m not saying that there aren’t cunts among the working classes. I’ve definitely had my fill of the unreconstructed South East London lager lout – with his gym fixation, close personal relationship with his mother and an ounce of skunk hidden in the glove compartment. But at least they’ve always got quick wit and predilection for danger, and – so long as you aren’t married to them – will let you know outright when they’ve expended their sexual interest in you, and wish to move onto pastures new.

There is nothing less sexy than middle-class British politeness. Which is why the heterosexual middle classes are mostly joyless and ambitious – with haggard young women attending luncheons in beige two-pieces and portly, blustering husbands ‘working late’ over dinner with a perma-tanned escort.

For those of us who grew up in Woolwich, showing our nipples to potential love interests for drinks, romantic subtlety is not a thing that can learned by mere exposure. It doesn’t matter how many times you try, we do not get when understated flattery is an indication of supressed lust, and when it is a glib, insincere utterance borne of an awkward conversational lull, which indicates your questionable breeding.

We just want you to ask us out, or to stop talking. Just stop talking. And fuck us. Please. Because in less than a decade’s time our wombs will have dried up like crispy autumn leaves in a heat-wave, and there will be no babies. And we’ll have to have sex for pleasure rather than procreation, like plebs – which would defeat the object of transcending the working class in the first place.

ANNA: A (Short) Movie

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I’ve got this friend called Tom, who is 6’2 with piercing blue eyes and a caramel-smooth English accent, which hasn’t even a twang of the US, despite the fact he has lived in LA for near enough a decade. He spends most of his time drinking mojitos and basking in the Californian sunshine. (The dickhead.) But don’t hate him too much, because he has also been working very hard, writing movies in between Skyping to offer advice on my tragic love life.

It is no surprise, what with my influence, that Tom’s latest short film, ANNA, is all about a relationship that goes terribly wrong. He has put an incredible team together and it is going to be amazing.

Tom is currently crowd-funding for ANNA, and because he has been such a brilliant friend to me (what with the romantic advice and the trips to LA and the lakeside holidays and the Bloody Marys and that time he played me La Roux’s Bulletproof to stop me crying about my ex again) I said I would write about it on my blog and ask readers to donate, pretty please, if you have any spare cash and like the concept. (And it’s the least you can do, what with having milked the fruits of my creative labour for free these past three years.)

If you’d like to check out Tom’s campaign and maybe pledge some money to help get the film made, you can find it by clicking here.

Peace out.