Part 49: Embarrassing Bodies

Up until last night, when I saw Lifers, Embarrassing Bodies was the best thing I’d seen on telly made by British people*. And yes, that includes the episode of Eastenders where Bianca found out Ricky had been sleeping with Natalie behind her back, and used her superpower: the ginger banshee-wail to chase Nat right out of town.

I’ve been a fan of Embarrassing Bodies since the very first episode. Watching it with din dins and doing a competition with yourself to see if you can stare at infected, oversized labia and still finish your sesame prawn toast is, like, the most fun one can have on a Friday night, unless one leaves the flat and speaks to other people.

It’s not just me. Times columnist and feminist warrior woman Caitlin Moran once wrote a v.funny column confessing her love for the programme. This column includes my favourite simile of all time, in which Ms Moran crystallizes the delicate delight of squeezing pus from a spot by comparing it to cleaning a miniature custard spillage from a doll’s house sized jug (I’ve got no money and The Times sits behind a pay-wall, so I was only able to access the column when I was round my mate Tom’s and he let me use his Dad’s login, thus I can’t find the link to post here.)

Because I haven’t got enough to do, I spent much of today watching youtube clips of Embarrassing Bodies and trying to find one where they hadn’t edited out the genital close-ups. Although, sadly, I couldn’t find any scabby helmet footage to share with you, there were a riveting range of less graphic excerpts, which reminded me why the programme is a TV classic. Yes, it’s informative, and grotesquely fascinating, but like any good telly the appeal is mainly dark-humour based. It’s proper funny watching someone talk about their buried penis with a straight face.

In one particularly memorable episode, channel 4 achieved next-level hybrid hilarity-heaving when they broadcast a real-life medical doctor trying not to recoil as he pulled a speculum full of cheesy discharge out of a thrush-ridden cervix (couldn’t find that clip on youtube but, kudos to C4, I can assure you that I did leave the prawn toast that night). It’s not all about the genitals though. I was also pretty impressed by this on-the-road snippet, where Dr Dawn invites an unfortunate young lady with an ear wax problem into her truck and advises against cotton bud use (for any family members reading these words – OMG! Is that Holly?).

But the one thing that always gets me when they interview the patients is the ubiquitous ‘and how does this affect your sex life?’ question. This question is alarming on two main counts. First, because it suggests an unhealthy interest, on the doctor’s part, in the carnal activities of the gruesomely afflicted. Sex is not a medically relevant concern most of the time, or at least, I imagine that it wouldn’t be the main thing on my mind if I woke up one morning and found my vag had crusted over with oozing green stuff (sorry, sorry, that image was painful for me as well). Second, and most importantly in terms of the argument I’m making here, the patients always have an answer. Yes, that’s right, people with weeping, gangrenous genitals are able to say things like ‘oof, since my fanny turned green sex is agonising actually’, and ‘yeah, I find it hard to keep an erection when it’s weeping like this.’

WTF?

This means that the patients with the diseased and damaged carnal machinery are getting laid. And they’re getting laid a lot more than I am. And though I do have some detached empathy for these televised disease specimens, and though, of course, I wouldn’t want to switch places with someone who’s sick or injured, I was a bit jealous of the EB patients for a while, and walked around feeling all inadequate about my less than active sex life. Until I realised that – OMG (again)! A real person has to sleep with the embarrassing bodies. And not just weirdos with a fetish for festering flesh. Normal men and women who got married to or started dating a hottie in good faith, and were later unlucky enough to have their lover fall victim to the plague. This is what they mean by ‘in sickness and in health’.

Can you imagine? (You’ll have to. I already grossed us both out in the last paragraph with that crusty vag imagery.)

I’m going to sum up quickly, because I’m sure it won’t take much persuasive rhetoric to convince you that sucking a fungus-ridden willy is unglamorous and disgusting. So, to my central thesis: The only way to guarantee that you’ll never be one of the poor, unseen souls who has to get down and dirty with an ‘embarrassing body’ is to stay single. And with that sentence people, I rest my case.

* tbh, I’ve got no idea what nationality the people behind either of these programmes are, I just wanted to make it clear that I’m not suggesting these very British documentaries are better than The Sopranos, which is obviously the best programme I’ve seen on telly made by anyone, ever.

Part 48: The Present Tense

As the more grammatically astute of my regular readers may have noticed, every now and then I like to play fast and loose with my tenses. I suppose you could blame my late twentieth century comprehensive education for this writer’s tick (outrage! They never taught us grammar!); but actually, I’m like, well satisfied with my education (who wants a school experience comprised of manicured lawns, Latin, pompous high-achieving toff class mates, and compulsory prayer? Not I). No, I like to think of the tense shifts that occur in my prose as a distinctive facet of my insightful and brilliant ‘voice’. It’s a bit like how I hold on to my SE London accent for dear life – because of the attachment I have to my home-town – even though I’m sure that flattening it to RP would be a good move, career wise (bland is the new black apparently). But it’s not just a contrived personality thing; oscillating between the simple present/past progressive in a single post allows me to express in my writing a sense of the fragility of time, plus it adds an authorial omnipotence to the words that makes me feel a bit like God. Even though I’m almost sure I’m not God, most of the time.

And though I def feel I’m getting there in terms of representing my inner life as a sequence of words on a screen, if I was (were – that’s what posh people say innit? So it must be right) really brave, my stylistic choice, tense wise, would be even more radical. The present tense, as I’m sure you’re aware from your own forays into literature, makes everything more exciting, more fresh, more vitally immediate. Thus the present tense is my absolute fave, and if it wouldn’t totes confuses my readers (that’s you, hi) I’d use it all the time. Like the Chinese.

I’ve known about the pleasure of the present in the literary sense for some time. It’s only since I decided to become a happy person however, that I’ve realised joy in the immediacy of the moment – which is the essence of the present tense in its written form – is transferable to the bits of my life that aren’t written down. That is, all of the bits I haven’t rehashed here, or theorised in the (somewhat neglected) draft notes for my thesis.

All of the above is a convoluted way of saying that one can only enjoy being single if one revels in the now. Indeed, I’m going to put my metaphorical neck on the line and say that being single might be (scrap that, too tentative) is the only time when it is actually possible to achieve genuine happiness in the moment. And happiness in the moment, as all the spiritual guides and enlightened people who have ever offered advice will tell you (if it’s spiritual advice you’re after btw, then I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now; no, seriously), is the only kind of happiness that is worthy of the name.

Consider a simple daily pleasure from the life of an average singleton: The Big Bang Theory on telly, bar of aero mint chocolate, cup of tea. You are not anxious about the future in any vague or specific way; it is as it is. There is no one who might not call, no one who might not ask you to marry him/her, no one who might forget to order plain instead of egg-fried rice when you send him out for dinner. Bliss.

Once you embark upon a relationship of course, expectations change. Choccie and TV just ain’t enough no more. They promised us milestones dammit (I specifically remember that class in R.E). Milestones where we can quantify our happiness by engaging in rituals that mark the achievement of established norms, and taking photographs. This weight of personal and cultural expectation means that in coupledom all happiness is held hostage to the future. Life becomes a Sisyphean cycle of delayed gratification, where every delight is undercut with anticipation of the joy of a future moment. First date (sex), first kiss (sex), first sex (will he ask for my number? Will she call?), engagement (wedding), pregnancy (baby’s birth), baby’s birth (okay, I’ll give you this one, but only because of the relief one must feel at the cessation of all that pain), wedding (‘marriage’ idyll). And that’s it. There’s nothing to look forward after the wedding except more babies, which is why people undertake affairs, and invent rituals where they can renew their vows.

It is no surprise to me that those in the spiritual know – monks, nuns, priests*, prophets etc – choose a life of celibacy (I’m not suggesting you go that far, casual sex and spiritual fulfilment aren’t totally incompatible). They’ve realised what it’s taken me almost (but not quite!) thirty years to discover: satisfaction is married to the present tense – happiness exists only now, and only inside you; just watch it vaporize as you tie it to the future, or attempt to suck it from the soul of some unsuspecting lover.

*let’s not get into the Catholic pedophilia thing right now. It’s a bit bleak for a post tagged ‘humour’.

Part 47: Pervy Old Married Men

My karaoke speciality, as friends, a few strangers, and members of my extended family will be well (painfully?) aware, is the Beautiful South’s musical masterpiece Don’t Marry Her (Fuck Me) (i.e. the uncensored version). I like to sing it, where possible, sitting on a barstool, legs crossed at the ankles, eyes twinkling with the mischievous yet armoured glare of the free-spirited mistress; holding the microphone with a kind of nonchalant confidence that suggests vocal genius. As I’m sure anyone who’s been present for one of my many performances will recall, I deliver the opening verse with an especially moving quality of emotional engagement.

For readers who don’t know the words to the song by heart, the opening goes like this:

Think of you with pipe and slippers,
Think of her in bed,
Laying there just watching telly,
Think of me instead,
I’ll never grow so old and flabby,
That could never be,
Don’t marry her,
Fuck me.

I enjoy singing this song for several reasons; most of which are too off-subject to tackle here, but one of those reasons is the truism embedded in this first verse: that men will tire of their wives, and they’ll tire of them quicker if they succumb to fat. I’m not saying I agree with it – and I’m certainly not blaming the wifeys, but the facts speak for themselves. Years of seeing you shuffling from bedroom to bathroom and back again in a frayed, yellowing dressing-gown, of watching and feeling your once tight buttocks morph into sagging orange-peel skin-sacks will inevitably wear upon your hub and send him running towards the firm breasts of a younger, perter ladee. Soz to any newly-weds who felt a jolt of defensive anger reading those words, but it’s true.

Jokes.

I don’t mean all men, obvs. I’m being deliberately provocative to get a rise here. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself. This post does have a legitimate theme though, because as most women who’ve been single – or in any way sexually attractive (i.e. had a vagina) – between the ages of 18 to 30 will have noticed there’s a particular type of older married man. He is between the ages of 35 and 60; greying, with an inflated sense of the quality of his looks and intelligence. Disillusioned by his own life choices, which usually involved marrying a bland teenage/university sweetheart, making babies, and giving up a promising corporate career to wear off-the-rack suits from Next to his public sector job; he seeks to capture the glamour of the life he thinks he could’ve had by attempting to embark upon illicit affairs with Hot Young Things. He finds himself unable to socialise with younger women without becoming a creepy, drooling perv.

He talks in a leering, pop-eyed manner about ‘sex’. ‘Accidentally’ touches your leg when you accept the offer of a lift home. Recites endless monologues about the misery/mundanity of his home life. Stares a little bit too long at your boobies. Initiates soulful eye-contact over the photocopier. Eventually makes a pass when you’re pissed and/or vulnerable enough that he can be sure of a gentle rejection.

Of course, all but the most damaged of Hot Young Things are horrified by such attention. And I’m not just saying that so you’ll think I’ve got morals. No mentally stable lady in the midst of a satisfying but fleeting youth wants to have sex with a slack, grey grandad. Not even for practice. Having to bat them away with wearisome regularity somewhat sullies the otherwise joyful roller-coaster that most of the single ladies are riding during the 18 to 30 period.

Dating an insecure man seeking respite from an unhappy marriage is not an avenue which is going to lead to fun-time. As Nikki, of Irvine Welsh’s Porno reminds us: ‘impotence is bad, and clinginess is awful, but the two in tandem simply cannot be tolerated.’ She is correct; dealing with the mental and physical issues pervy old married man is guaranteed to bring as baggage takes up precious time and energy, which could otherwise be spent drinking irresponsible quantities of alcohol, and heavy-petting faceless, burly strangers.

Tbh, I’m not entirely sure what it is about us lady-girls that these men find so attractive, apart from the obvious – although a tight bum-bum will only get you so far, sexually. I have a suspicion it’s something to do with what they presume it is the easily manipulated, youthful naivete of the unwrinkled. If they can conceal their underlying normality, and become the exotic object of lust and admiration in the eyes of a semi-Lolita figure, then the men with the grey chest hair can reinforce the mental image they have of themselves as relevant and original. The sad irony of course is that by hankering after such an affair these men only perpetuate the pathetic cliches they’re attempting to avoid.

I have no desire to spend middle age concerning myself over the thickening of my waist and its effect on my husband’s libido. Also, I can’t imagine that the thought of engaging in sexual liaison with an hairy old grandad is going to become any more appealing just because I married him when he was hot and young, and then aged a bit myself. So, no ta, that is not the route I’ll be taking.

What I’m hoping is that I’ll stay single for as long as poss, and then, when my looks start to go meet a George Clooney type who’ll have sown his oats, lived the fantasy, and be ready to surrender to companionship and teacakes. Until then, it’s like the song says: let’s fuck while we’re young and save tedious commitment for some indefinite point in the future. There’s no rush. And I’m telling you, marriage is not the path to fabulous.

Part 46: Online Dating

About a year or so ago (don’t come to me for current affairs babe, I’ve told you before, I’m too self-involved, there was a viral marketing campaign for International Internet Week called ‘Can you draw the Internet?’ (which was the brain-child of one of my more successful friends). Although I didn’t officially offer an entry I did take part in my own way- by scribbling a couple of doodles on the back of a used envelope during one of the more boring meetings I had to attend for ‘work’. My conception of the internet, sketched in red biro, looked something like this: a frenzy of human hands typing at a qwerty keyboard; fireworks of fact sparking through fingers; gormless, open-mouthed information-seekers, with foreheads pressed to the screens of their computers, absorbing and releasing fizzing knowledge molecules; a mirror reflecting infinite images of boobies; square-eyed men tugging at their penises.

The reality, of course, is that the internet is nowhere near that exciting. It is actually made up of hundreds of vast buildings, constructed from breezeblock, housing giant, wheezing over-heated computers that store and spew out code, which our home PCs convert into words and images. These super-computers are maintained by wheezing, under-sexed geeks dressed in sweat drenched cotton T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, stabbing manically at misfiring circuit-boards with Phillips screwdrivers. True story. It’s very unromantic, and certainly not the ideal environment in which to meet a future spouse/sex-tag team mate.

I would literally rather be on my own for ever and ever, eating cat-food out of a tin, wearing flanel tracksuits and obsessively watching movies starring the love-rival who was once my best friend (a la Goldie Hawn before she takes the eternal life potion in Death Becomes Her), than go on a date with someone I met online. I’m not judging you, if that’s your thing. More than one of my closest friends has met someone on the internet and indulged unspeakable activities (oral sex on Waterloo bridge, felching); I just find the whole thing supremely depressing.

Mind you, I have dipped my metaphorical tootsies in the online dating pool – in the throes of a ‘try-anything-once-or-I’ll-be-alone-forever’ hysteria. I never got as far as meeting up with any of the specimens who attempted to engage me in online banter (‘do you like willies? I have a big willie’ was an actual message I recieved on mysinglefriend.com, quality-control didn’t work there Sarah Beeny, creepy perverts have friends too), but I got far enough in to know it wasn’t for me. I struggle to maintain sufficient levels of oxytocin to sustain desire for men I meet and make myself sexually available to in real life; a whole new kettle of fish is going to get spilt (if I may mix my metaphors) should I start trying to stimulate attraction for ones I’ve met virtually.

If you need evidence, other than my instinctive aversion to the practice, that online dating is a reason to be single I would point you in the direction of the match.com ads. Those vacuous micro-stories featuring the mousy-haired hipster and her musical soul-mate. These advertisements, I presume, attempt to present a quirky love story that might appeal to the try-hard bohemian youth of Hoxton. While it is no surprise to me that advertising ‘creatives’ (the embodiment of the try-hard Bohemian East End set) came up with this smug, vomit inducing, corporate fairytale, I am somewhat amazed that the match.com people agreed to pay actual money for the idea. I would’ve laughed in the ad-agency’s face, and probably resorted to violence.

Still, at least match.com had a go. You’ve got admire them, in a way, for having the audacity to attempt to sell the experience of meeting up with a stranger in the hope that it might lead to romance. It seems an inherently flawed concept. I encounter strangers every day (for free!) and there are maybe two or three a year who come anywhere close to meeting the strict criteria I adhere to when selecting men to make sweet love with (muscular back, smile that suggests an acquaintance with danger, feigned indifference to my beauty). I’m 100% sure that paying £20 a month and seeing a photo of the stranger before the encounter would make zero difference to the odds of animal attraction. Plus, online dating would mean that I’d have to engage in ‘dating’ in the American sense. My worst fear. The idea of dinner and a movie in no way appeals to me as suitable pre-sexual activity. The kind of awkwardness that dating fosters i.e. cringe-waves so intense they make you want to evaporate from your own skin, like a vapour, can only be tempered with alcohol consumed in binge volume, without the sobering addition of food. This is the British way.

Oh God, who am I kidding? Even the British way’s depressing, leading as it does to equally awkward morning-after encounters; where you’re forced to hand over your number to the simpering moron who you only agreed to share a bed with because you were too pissed to face the night bus home. Just thinking about it makes me go all reclusive and start googling pet shops that sell cats. Why do people put themselves through this stuff? For sex? For babies? It can’t be worth it. Fuck the dating thing; online or off-line, it’s too much pressure – a cup of tea and a twix’ll do me.

Part 45: ‘Serious’ People

What’s happened to the world? Oh, yeah, a major recession. Let’s blame that. I need to blame something. There must be a reason why so many of the otherwise charming, attractive, charismatic people I meet hold themselves, their opinions and the sanctity of sincere conversation, without laffs, in such high regard. Everyone wants to be taken seriously. All the time.

Even the hot, rich young man I had a fleeting fling with at the end of last year wanted to tell me his fears about the ‘economy’ before he fucked me; lest I think the fact he wanted sex without strings made him superficial and moronic (he needn’t have worried, the former is my second favourite characteristic in a casual lover, after the obvious). What happened to wooing a lady with a series of self-derisory and hilarious witticisms, and pretending you didn’t have soul – like what boys used to do in Plumstead, in the ’90s? What happened to being able to say words without people thinking you totally meant them?

I reserve sincerity for my ‘academic’ work, and occasional moments of emotional intimacy. Other than that, the only time I mean words is when they are ‘I love you’, or ‘go fuck yourself’. On almost all other occasions I’m half-joking, or being deliberately contrary to provoke a more interesting discussion (yes, even here). Like the time I defended paedophilia to a room full of horrified acquaintances at a dinner party. I didn’t actually mean it – it’s just that I have yet to pass an agreeable evening which involves extended discussion around a subject on which all the company concur. Where’s the fun in that? In my family, no party is worthy of the name until someone has threatened to punch someone else in the face, and thrown up in a plant pot. You should come along one time, it’s totes fun-glamour, and we rarely assault invited guests.

The large number of po-faced ‘serious’ people occupying my social space at the mo suggests that the human race needs to collectively loosen up. We’ve become too uptight, as a species. Let’s take a chill pill or a real pill. Yes, we’re totally fucked in every possible direction (spiritual, fiscal, ecological), but that doesn’t mean we need to think and talk about it all the time. And certainly not when trying to seduce a mate. What about making flirty, observational banter, where you say something mildly controversial about a person in the room and hope I a) don’t know them and b) laugh? What about taking my fingertips with the long red nails between the palms of your hands, looking me in the eye, and telling me I’m beautiful, in a tone of voice which also conveys that you don’t absolutely mean it? What about buying a drink and telling me an amusing anecdote from your life, one that reveals a sense of humour and hidden reservoirs of sophistication? Alright, I know that you personally might not be actively trying to sleep with me, but you wouldn’t say no, if you were desperate.

There’s artistry to unexpressed depth, to the undercurrent of meaning that undulates between human beings in the throes of sociality. That thing actors and playwrights call subtext. The serious people forget this. So listen: If you’re deep of soul, or intellectually accomplished, I will get it. Even if it’s concealed by indifference. Trust. Not that it means I’ll like you more. ‘Depth’ is well overrated; despite what common wisdom would have us believe, there is no such thing as a person who is shallow, or a person who is ‘fake’. The human condition is to feel; some of us just hide our capacity for feeling better than others. Although I will concede that there are liars and users and thieves amongst the ranks of the feeling people, and that they aren’t (speaking from experience) advisable long-term partner material. Mind you, if life’s a bit tedious, they do provide a more than adequate injection of drama, and they’re bound to be better company than the ‘serious’.

So yeah, until the serious single people can take themselves less so, or until the amusing single people can introduce themselves into my social circle, I am totally staying single. Because the thing is, when you say exactly what you feel, and mean it, it’s like a Spielberg movie: you leave nothing to the imagination. And as you should definitely know, when dealing with the ladies, the imagination is the ultimate erogenous zone.

Part 44: Offspring

I haven’t got any baby childs. I thought I’d better make that clear, in case the overwhelming number of irresponsible and irrational character traits I’ve exhibited in the previous entries made you concerned for the welfare of any possible offspring*. Mostly this is fine; I’m okay with it. I’m almost entirely sure that I am in no way financially or emotionally stable enough to introduce a child into the world and then teach it things (right now for example, I have £20 in my bank account, having pissed away all my wages on rent, bills, and booze, and I just spent the last fifteen minutes sobbing at a fake Staffie in a glass box that some old man brought onto the Antiques Roadshow). Even so, for reasons that might be hormonal, or biological, or actual genuine desires stirring in my loins**, sometimes I want a little fat baby, with cheeks I can bite. Not as often as I want a puppy, but still, often enough that motherhood is a thing I’m starting to seriously consider.

Apart from the cheek biting, there’re several reasons why offspring are a thing I think I might want:

– I’m quite bored a lot of the time, except when I’m at work, having relocated to city some 300 miles away from all my friends and family. A baby will give me something meaningful to do with hours otherwise spent watching Melissa Joan Hart interviews, and wishing I had her life.

– I sleep a lot, and am starting to worry that this is a massive waste of time. Apparently a baby will put paid to sleep with immediate effect.

– I could dress it in cute outfits.

– Having children is sort of the point of human existence. At least, it’s the only point anyone can convincingly argue (using the theory of evolution, the answer to all of modern (wo)man’s questions).

Obviously there are an equal, if not larger, amount of reasons NOT to have a baby; like the fact that being pregnant is bound to encourage all sorts of tedious strangers to approach you in the street, and offer unsolicited advice. Also, the fact it might make you start using the phrase ‘as a mother…’ to preface your opinions; which is bound to cause a murderous mushroom cloud of rage to explode in the brain of whoever you’re talking to, and provoke them into attacking you with the prongs of a fork, in the eye.

If you’re still alert at this point in the argument, you might be thinking that being single is another obvious reason NOT to make babies, in which case: you’re wrong. The fantabulous part of being unattached and submitting to the ‘I-want-a-baby’ brain fog at this particular period in history, is that being single is no longer a barrier to fertilisation. This is a realistic daydream. You can get sperm quite easily on the Internet. I also know someone who had a baby with her gay best friend, and someone else who got pregnant by a bohemian stranger because she was bored of waiting for an honest/solvent/agreeable/sexually attractive/available man to materialise from the slim pickin’s provided by God (if He really wants us to go forth and multiply, he needs to, like, sort out the quality and availability of the current single-man stock).

One drawback is that single mothers are still subject to a reasonable amount of stigma, if the rodent-featured Peter Hitchens’ appearance on last week’s Question Time is it all indicative of the current political/social attitude of Middle-England. Not to belittle the considerable load the single mother must shoulder, but being frowned upon by the uptight, right-wing, Christian portion of society seems as good a reason as any to opt for a difficult life choice. And If I’m going to be a single Mama, I want to camp it right up: I’ll be the real life version of that drunken, sluttish, mother in the Harper Valley PTA song; knocking back cheap bourbon, raisin’ my chile my way, and stinging anyone who dares to criticise me with a sharp jab of wit from my pointy tongue. This would not be possible if I had a loving, supportive partner, who might want me to dress demurely, compromise on child-rearing decisions, and remain sexually faithful.

Sadly though, unless I want to risk inserting anonymous donor sperm from a questionable website into my womb, it looks like my dreams of being a Southern American single mother in the North of England may not actually come to fruition. My sex life is, erm, not likely to result in impregnation, and straw poll of all my gay mates over the past 18 months (i.e. a hysterical, wine-fuelled plea, stuttered out between choking sobs in yet another discussion about why I’m ALL ALONE) has been definitive: in response to the question ‘would you donate some of your sperms so I can have a baby?’, the unanimous reply has been ‘no, are you fucking mental?’

Looks like motherhood will have to wait until I’m coupled. Still, the liberty to drink several measures of Glenfiddich over ice without harming a foetus is a reason to be single, right?

*With thanks to bodhisattvaonritalin for the suggestion of ‘Offspring’ as a title for this blog.

** For most of my life, I believed that the ‘loins’ were the fleshy part of the body located on the inner thighs. You know; the long, sensitive bit of soft squidgy stuff that definitely isn’t muscle? That made sense to me, as the sexual context in which the word loins is most often employed made me think of there. Then, one time, my Dad bought some fish labelled ‘Tuna Loins’ from Sainsbury’s and I called up the store to complain because tuna doesn’t have loins. Turns out the word ‘loins’ refers to the meaty bit between the ribs and the pelvis, and the lower back (fish anatomy wasn’t the customer service operative’s strong point, but tuna definitely have a meaty bit under their ‘ribs’). Who knew?

Part 43: Romantic Comedy (or, Jennifer Aniston)

After receiving this blog’s title (‘Romantic Comedy’, a suggestion tweeted by @elizacummings*) I was going to hijack this virtual space and use it as a platform to have an 800 word feminist rant re: the devastating damage improbable portrayals of love via the rom-com genre inflict upon women. I intended to utilise my wit and humour to frame an analysis of all the ways that sickly cinematic representations of ‘girl-meets-guy, it goes wrong, it gets sorted’ have negatively impacted on me as a woman (and, by default, all other people with lady bits) by making me feel unpretty, undersexed, unlovable and giving me unrealistic expectations of future romances.

Then I realised I didn’t care, and decided to write about Jennifer Aniston instead.

Jen-Jen, aka the caramel-haired singleton who played Rachel in Friends, has become synonymous with the rom-com genre. In fact, it’s kind of all she’s done with her career since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off**, and I’m almost too young to remember that (I’m being unkind here, because I know she did also do that one where she was a depressed supermarket cashier with greasy hair and an unflattering blue uniform).

Her prominence in the Romantic Comedy genre, coupled with the media painting her as VICTIM (the capitals there are intended to emphasise the extent of the tarnishing) in her divorce from the once-hot Brad Pitt, led her to garner ‘America’s Sweetheart’ status.

We mostly think of her, if we think of her at all (usually when we click on the celebrity side-bar of the Daily Mail website) as a girl-next-door type – unlucky in love, kind-hearted, nice, beautiful-in-a-wholesome-way. And rather boring.

I’m going to blame her showbiz chums for this perception, because I once watched a hard-hitting documentary on her life (alright, it *might* have been an E! True Hollywood Story) where they all described her in saccharine terms: ‘everybody loves Jen’, ‘she’s so nice’, ‘she is such a good person’.

Listening to her friends and co-stars speak, you imagined Jen was the kind of fluffy, simpering yawn-maker who forces you to get drunk at parties just so you can do something outrageous to offend them. Or maybe that’s just me. I usually respond with instant dislike to people whom others describe as ‘nice’. It’s an appellation that more or less guarantees the bearer will be tedious company who refuses to slag off stupid people over coffee, and might want to talk about kittens.

The thing is though, in this same ‘documentary’ Jen came across as a bit edgier and more interesting than her rom-com persona, and the testimonies of her co-stars, suggested.

She smokes for a start, and drinks like a fish. Which is good because she mega rich, and is therefore someone I definitely wouldn’t feel bad about stealing fags from on a boozy night out.

There is also other evidence that she might not be as boring and one-dimensional as her movie-roles would suggest. For example, after she split up with Brad, she did the sensible thing and stayed single for ages, shagged loads of different blokes and turned up at various red carpet events looking ten types of amazing.

You’ve got to admit single people, that Jennifer’s life, which includes owning massive houses in California, sleeping with hot actor-types, and perfecting the shiny-shiny hair look, is – from the outside – a lot more fabulous than Angelina Jolie’s (which is, presumably, the kind of life Jen could have had, had she stayed married to her ex-hub), which includes wiping the bums of international children, and making depressing art-house films about the Bosnian War.

I’d say that Jennifer Aniston was in her prime at the height of her singledom. When she’d been alone for ages, had that ‘I just rocked off the beach glow’ and didn’t seem to give a shit, even when the tabloids were flinging nasty handfuls of misogynistic shit about ‘why Jen can’t keep a man’ all over her slinky red maxi-dress.

And even though I’ll never think Marley and Me is a film that should have been made. Even though I will never have silky golden hair, or marry a sexy Hollywood Movie star and discard him right before he’s past-it, I’m a little bit in love with Jen, without being jealous.

Yes, Jennifer Aniston is a reason to be single, because she’s made her millions by selling the vision of true-love to a brain-addled audience in movie after movie, and yet managed to stick her own fingers (or finger, I think the V-sign is a British thing) up at convention and have a good full life without a man.

She has even managed to maintain her good-girl image while juggling casual sex with alcohol, cigarettes and yoga***. Hurrah!

Let’s just hope these rumours of her current, happy romance leading to a second go at marriage turn out to be false. Nobody likes a customary happy ending. Unless it happens to them.

*I’m still taking suggestions people, until Sunday, so if you have an idea for a blog then tweet me @ElfinKate, or use the comments box below.

** Even Friends was, essentially, just a ten-season rom-com with Ross and Rach at its centre.

***She gets extra amazing points for doing that in America; where there are religious nut-jobs posing as viable presidential candidates, and Mormons.

Part 42: (Not) Having to share your whole free chicken at Nando’s

In January, after a twenty-year commitment to the cause of vegetarianism, I woke up one day, thought: ‘fuck this’ and ordered a steak, rare. I ate it in a pub on the edge of the Thames; overlooking the twinkly, winking lights of London, sipping whisky-on-the-rocks, as one of my favouritist friends looked on in disbelief.  It was magical, and it opened my eyes to unethical pleasures such as those that include eating dead animals with soulful moo-cow eyes and shocking your friends.

I ate that whole rib eye all to myself and I enjoyed it a large amount. But I digress; I have already written a post about steak, and I realise I need to stay fresh and relevant to keep the peeps (that means you) interested. There’s nothing worse than tedious repetition. Apart from death and taxes. So this post is about another kind of meat altogether: chicken. Specifically, the kind of chicken you get at Nando’s; even more specifically, the kind you get at Nando’s for free. A big greasy whole chicken, served with rice and/or coleslaw, spiced to a heat of your choosing.

I’m going to be honest here: I’ve not been to Nando’s since I started eating meat. I have actually only ever been to Nando’s three times in my life. On two occasions I ordered a big mushroomy thing with haloumi cheese in a bun, coleslaw and rice. On the other occasion I was in South Africa (which is, for you uninformed readers, the birth place of Nando’s), and they didn’t do a vegetarian option (apparently, Africans aren’t really into the veggie thing), so I had a couple of portions of chips, with coleslaw and rice. You can see why I started indulging in carnivorous activities again.

Look, I know that the end of this sentence is going to be a total affront to anyone of a similar age and income bracket who reads this blog and identifies with me and my being-single plight, but I don’t think Nando’s is all that. The food tastes a bit like it has been cooked without love, and you have to order and pay at the counter, rather than being served by a waiter at a table. The only thing that endears me to Nando’s at all is the fact that a friend of mine once featured on a v.catchy tune that references the restaurant chain and makes me feel all sexy. Even though it was written about someone else. You can listen to it here, if you’d like.

Because I’m not, as I hope I’ve made clear, what you would call a Nando’s regular, I’m not entirely sure what the person who suggested the subject matter of this post* (@RiaZed, you can find her on twitter) meant by ‘whole free Nando’s chicken’. I’m not stupid, before the commenters start.  I get the general gist of the idea; I just don’t know why Nando’s give away free chickens to people, or how they decide who qualifies.  In fact, I have a few questions about this particular practice: Are the chickens free range? Can anyone eat a whole chicken to themselves in one sitting? Does giving people gratis chicken eat into Mr/Ms Nando’s profit margins? If not, couldn’t he/she just charge everyone less for their meals?

My lack of first-hand experience of the whole chicken-at-Nando’s thing is essentially unimportant though, because I’m totally into not sharing food. Even if I don’t like the food all that much. I’d rather throw what I haven’t eaten in the bin, or fling it to the seagulls, than offer it to another human person**.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up as the eldest of multiple siblings. Perhaps it’s because I’m a selfish, heartless, unpleasant bitch who deserves to die alone. Who knows? What I know, is that the sight of a fellow diner shoving food that was destined for my lips into their own face makes me feel uptight and indignant. Is there anything more irritating than someone asking ‘can I try that?’ after you have obtained food bound for your own intestines?  Yes, there probably is (late running trains, the ‘insufficient funds’ message on the screen of an ATM, seeing someone from television in the street and not being able to remember where you know them from), but even so. It is minorly annoying.

I’m not sure it is possible to be in a relationship and not have to share, unless the cliché about love making you want to share things is true. I hope it isn’t, after thinking about it, because even though there’s no way I could manage an entire Nando’s chicken all on my own, I definitely don’t want to see someone else all up in something that is MINE! MINE! MINE!

And that people, is a reason to be single.

*This week I’m writing posts in response to reader suggestions – tweet me or leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can do!

**With the exception of the hungry, starving, and homeless. I do have a flicker of compassion (sssh! don’t tell anyone).

Part 41: Nakedness

Nakedness (or nudity, as I would have titled this post if it were up to me*) is not something we English are, generally speaking, all that comfortable with.

In case you’re unfamiliar with our culture, I would describe the English as a private, uptight people. A people who do not really wish to see fellow members of our species bare naked. Unless we’re going to have sex with them. And not even then, sometimes.

I think this might be the real reason we didn’t join the Euro – agreeing to a single currency, after all, is only one step away from agreeing to political away-days at the UN’s sauna. It was nothing to do with any economic foresight on our part. I can’t say blame what ever politico decided to back right out of that shiz – I too wrinkle my button nose, and shake my head very, very hard to vanish away thoughts of Berlusconi and Angela Merkel in the buff and dripping with sweat.

My family though, in our mission to overthrow social expectation at every turn, just love being in the nude, despite being English.

Most of my fellow British nationals think that it’s quite weird when I tell them I have regularly seen my Dad’s naked body, and have often had a conversation with him, while he stood unclothed on the landing. As I have with my Mumma, and most of my sibs. Except my middle brother (who doesn’t get any British points for his abstention from the nudity, because he quite often dances to Beyoncé in the public areas of the parental home, dressed only in tighty-whiteys and sheeny-shiny gold high-heels adorned with sequins).

I don’t know why we bucked the national trend. It’s probably the German genes.

You would think, by the reaction I get from friends, people I meet in pubs and cab drivers when I mention that the sight of my parents dressed in ther rawhides is not totally unfamiliar to me, that we’re the kind of deviant perverts that Sun readers feel compelled to burn at the stake.

But it’s alright peoples, calm down.

We are not perverts, at least not in any sexual sense.

I should probably also mention that we’re not nudists either.

We do not relish hanging it all out at the beach, or around the table over a Sunday dinner.

We’re just relaxed about revealing our varying degrees of ageing flesh to one another, on a fairly regular basis, on our way from the bathroom to the bedroom and back again.

I don’t think that it has fucked me up very badly either. I’m comfortable in my own skin, and I don’t feel too embarrassed when I have an Unfortunate Mishap in public. In fact, I quite enjoy it when my nipple pops out of my top in Tesco and says hello to all the sad, sallow shoppers.

Even that time when a little boy opened the door of the coach toilet just as I was about to pull up my jeans, thus revealing my lower half to the entire cohort of toothless passengers, made me laugh more than it made me blush.

I choose to see this as a healthy, if exhibitionist, attitude towards my body image (perhaps someone important needs to appoint me as role model to vulnerable young women at risk of body dysmorphia due to the only bare naked ladies they see being in porn films, or on the cover of vacuous lads’ mags).

You’d think being all comfy with my body would fare me well for sucessful relationships. And yes, I suppose I do like being nude with another. The thing is, even though I live alone, the familial nudity is a total relationship killer.

As I know from past disasters, should I take a hot young man to meet the family, there is every chance that he might, one day, I-spy my naked Mumma, and be put right off his breakfast.

I’m not sure if this is totally a reason to be single. But it’s certainly a reason to keep any relationships casual enough that the meet-the-parents thing remains a distant, far off notion. One to indulge in only when you’re sure that this is The One, and that he has levels of love strong enough to hold when he realises: ‘these people are seriously fucking weird.’

* As I promised last week, I shall be writing all blogs this week based on suggestions from readers. If you have one, post below or tweet me @ElfinKate #reasonstobesingle. Go on, I dare you, make it really hard. Today’s: ‘Nakedness’ was the suggestion of @TheTorbes via twitter.

Part 40: Evolution

I’ve been reading a lot about the Japanese lately. Not in any scholarly sense – my research is a bit more urban London (modernist decay, hip-hop, fried chicken shops) than urban Tokyo (modernist progress, shiny glass buildings, sushi) – but just in passing; in news stories with intriguing headlines that pop up on facebook; in the lifestyle sections of free Newspapers that I find underneath seats on the tube; in a book on the shelf of the Wasabi branch at my University called Why Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat. It’s unclear to me whether info re: the Japanese is suddenly ubiquitous, or whether some latent instinct within me has been aroused, leading to the subconscious hunting and devouring of Japan based trivia. Whatevs. What I can tell you is this: over the past few months there’s been a half-hearted media hoo-ha over the huge-and-growing number of young, single and fabulous Japanese nationals. On Friday, the latest of these alarmist stories got all up in my face via a guardian article on the swathes of Japanese women who have rejected motherhood and bought a little doggy instead.

I’m totally down with the idea of dogs before babies right now; I personally am unable to see a dog of any size, age, or temperament in the street without stopping to tickle it with my acrylic pink fingernails and whisper sweet nothings into its grateful earhole. Little tiny children, in general, leave me feeling on edge, under pressure and irritated. I don’t know if that means I’ve got problems, or if I, like the Japanese single people, am more highly evolved than the coupled.

What do I mean? Well…

In another article I read a few months back, the writer proposed this unlikely statistic as a truth: over 70% of Japanese women in their mid to late twenties are single. In an interview with one of the single people, or possibly with an expert (the details evade me) a hypothesis was put forward: that the dearth of young Japanese couples was a result of the singles being ‘more highly evolved’ – than those in relationships, presumably. Despite my looking for it, I can’t find this article to link to, and so have no way of evidencing the veracity of the first part of this paragraph. Perhaps I dreamt it. No matter, because despite my well documented (at least on these pages) suspicion of evolution, now that I can use it to my advantage, it makes perfect sense. Single people are ‘more evolved’ and therefore, obviously, have every right to feel smug and superior to those in relationships.

Evolution is, for those of you unaware of the most widely applied scientific theory of all time (at least, the most widely applied by non-scientist lay people), the survival of the fittest. The strongest, best looking, and most intelligent prosper, have a good time, and make babies to further their blood line, while the ugly and stupid writhe in misery and die childless. Duh! Of COURSE there would come a point when this meant that we’d need to reject institutions of coupledom in all their forms (‘seeing’ someone, ‘going out’ with someone, ‘marrying’ someone, being polygamous with lots of someones). Being reliant on another member of the species for procreation, health and happiness is just not sensible, people, if you really think about it properly by frowning and staring out of the window.

Of course, there are a couple of barriers to introducing singledom as a kind of conscious genetic mutation that will ensure the survival of the species. The first is, obviously, sexual desire – even if we know we are better off without lover lovers, we do sometimes still want them right? The second is procreation. We need a lover lover to make a baby, and as the point of evolution is the survival of the fittest, it would be a very stupid thing for nature to evolve the fittest so that they can’t make offspring.

Nature’s not dumb though – even if she is sometimes a bit vengeful and makes it rain all summer so I can’t wear flowery, sleeveless dresses. And so she’s done a few things to help us highly evolved single people along. For example, as the pets before parenthood article link above points out, lots of the super evolved singles have diminished sex drives…a point I touched upon on this very blog but a few weeks ago. Nature also made us clever enough to invent artificial insemination, IVF and donor eggs etc. So you actually don’t need to have sex with a partner to get pregnant, you just need to procure some sperm, which isn’t that hard to do, and can even be facilitated over the internet, should you wish (but not here, this isn’t that sort of site, and anyway, I’m keeping my sperm donor contacts to myself in case I need to call upon them in the months and years to come).

What I’m hoping is that nature does her thing for singledom even more decisively by intervening in the biology of the human species. I can’t see why she wouldn’t, I imagine nature is most certainly a single lady herself, and she has already shown some solidarity with the cause by intervening in the biology of other species. Like the whiptail lizard who, according to this, simply clones little baby versions of herself when she can’t find a suitable partner to gene-mesh with. Come on nature…think of the possibilities….