Tuesday, December 20, 2005

i ain't unwrapping no present, fool!

happy christmas from my new best friends, the a-team, and me. normal service will be resumed, well, probably on Christmas Day when I tire of my family at 5pm and decide to write a blog entry rather than watching my dad laugh like a drain at some woefully unamusing Morecambe & Wise skit, while my mother gives me a lecture on how modern comedy "just isn't funny any more".

Thursday, December 15, 2005

i enjoyed writing this. so there.

So what if it was published six years ago? I've only just read Martin Amis's memoir, Experience, so I feel perfectly entitled to write a review. Should you not want to read it, I should point out there's Clarkson and Sir Cliff at the bottom... Go on, you know you want to!

"But it's all about his bloody teeth.."

I don't remember who said this to me, on the subject of Martin Amis's Experience, but they were bang on the money. He is obsessed with his teeth, and at pains to point out that the work he had done on them was medical, not cosmetic, every time they come up.

Indeed, there's a great bit in the postcript to the book, on the subject of the press, where Amis observes, "If these pages have so far been without rancour, it is because I feel very little."

Well, "Mart", you could have fooled me. In fact, every time The Teeth come up (and believe me, they have a far more starring role in the book than either his ex-wife or current partner), an adjunct is usually added over how the press disgracefully made out that his surgery was frivolous and unnecessary. This seems to enrage him enough to give us another few pages on the subject, complete with gruesome descriptions of his bleeding gums etc. Now, I've had a fair amount of (largely unsuccessful) work done on my teeth, including fourteen extractions and the cruel imposition of traintrack braces in my first term of university, but I'll be the first to admit that it's not a greatly fascinating subject to anyone else.

Amis seems to feel that the fact that James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov were similarly dentally challenged is somehow significant, stopping on the brink of suggesting that crap teeth equal a tendency towards becoming an experimental prose stylist.

I don't know, perhaps I'm carping. Perhaps he's justified in his complaints about the Press's obsession with his teeth rather than his pen: I have to admit that neither Amis impinged greatly on my consciousness until quite recently, and I was too busy taking exams and not pulling (aka: being a teenager) to remember any of the apparent furore that accompanied the events described in the book.

This, I began to feeling as I got further in to the book, was a bit of a drawback. Amis blithely assumes that the reader knows the salient features of his life and plays merry hell with chronology, leaping from childhood to middle age between sections, if not paragraphs. I suppose to the more savvy reader this prevented the boredom of rehashing well-known events; I, however, was left floundering as it seemed the 7-year-old Amis suddenly started having problems with his ex-wife.

None of this means I didn't enjoy reading the memoirs - far from it, they were extremely readable, and certainly illuminating on the subject of Kingsley Amis's writing. Amis junior admits he's not his father's perfect reader - claiming that is Christopher Hitchens - but his analysis of the misanthropy of Stanley and The Women in light of his father's split from Jane Howard, for example, is usefully illuminating. I've now vowed to give it another go, having got to page three, and discarded it with a distinct 'harrumph' at the last attempt.

In fact, the descriptions of KA and the analyses of his writing are so good, and his sweary, bigoted, wine-sodden presence so overwhelming, that I finished the book wishing that it was just about the father-son relationship. Amis is clearly afraid of offending the living - having, he feels, been so comprehensively screwed by biographers and journalists himself, he seems reluctant to pass anything but the most anodyne judgement on contemporaries, and even refuses to quote more than "fuck off" from Julian Barnes's friendship-ending letter to him.

With KA, on the other hand, he faces an opponent able to defend himself - Kingsley produced his own published memoirs, and also left a comprehensive account of himself in his letters, particularly to Larkin - despite, bizarrely, his death. Perhaps if Amis lives as long as his hero and mentor Saul Bellow, his contemporaries will die off before him, and we'll be able to get a brutally honest assesment of them, too.

Anyway, Experience is not the only book I've read recently, but I won't try your patience with thousands more words about random books published years ago. After Christmas, however, prepare for the deluge: it seems that all I'm getting in the way of presents is books, after foolishly drawing my family's attention to my Amazon Wishlist.


In other news: despite it having been broadcast without comment last month (!) both the Mail and Mirror today carry the story that Jeremy Clarkson gave a Nazi salute on Top Gear. Now, as you know, Clarkson is God on this blog, and therefore could probably invade Poland without drawing a rebuke from me... but I thought it worth mentioning as the Mirror headlined it "SIEG VILE" and even devoted an oped to denouncing it, noting: "FA Bosses are keen to stop fans whipping up trouble next summer by singing anti-German chants and the theme from war movie Dambusters".

Yes, you read that right. Such high-mindedness from the paper that brought us "ACHTUNG SPITFIRE" and front page photos of Gazza in a WWII helmet at the last World Cup. I could mention the Daily Mail's 1930s "HOORAY FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS" headline, but I won't.


Also causing a flicker on my total-lack-of-self-awareness-ometer today is Sir Cliff Richard. Although he might have spared us his usual Christmas warblings (or has he? am I still to encounter them?), he's constitutionally unable to keep his yap shut on the subject of Christmas Christianity.

He's spoken out in the Mail on (yawn) political correctness, yes, that curse of our society meaning we are all busy saying "Winterval" and, er, being prevented from going to carol services by lefty do-gooders worried about angering Muslims. Cliff's pearls of wisdom on the subject: "I'm saying, 'Hello, I've got friends who are Asian. I wish them Happy Diwali, they wish me Happy Christmas.' In fact they enjoy Christmas."

No! Thank god we have an ambassador for multiculturalism like you, Sir Cliff. I hope they sing along to the Millennium Prayer, too, like all true Brits should. He also offered this piece of stunning political forecasting: "As far as I'm concerned, if Jesus was Prime Minister, we'd have absolutely no problems whatsoever. If he was also Treasurer, we'd also have no trouble with money."

Sadly, he added, "But we're not realistically ever going to find people like that." Shit. Really? And I was so holding out for the Holy Ghost to be foreign secretary - bet Chirac would give us our EU rebate then.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'm reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac

To A Friend in Search of Rural Seclusion

When all else fails,
Try Wales
- Christopher Logue

As previously discussed, I spent the weekend in the countryside - the Sussex/Hampshire border, to be exact. The visit marked a rare departure for me as I usually hate the countryside, and most particularly, taking holidays in it. I am a city girl through and through, and get itchy if out of trotting distance of a newsagents, supermarket and public transport point. I think I'd probably enjoy the countryside a hell of a lot more if I could drive, because then it would be something pretty I'd glimpse at speed from a window, rather than something stuck to my shoes.

Besides which, I'm a lover; not a walker - something I reflected on as I trudged to the next village on Sunday to buy the papers. I think my hatred of the country stems from childhood, when my parents would uproot me from in front of the TV every summer and drag the whole family off to some godforsaken corner of France, believing that the "authentic" French farmhouse experience - no central heating, intermittent running water, overpowering smell of livestock, bugger all to do - was somehow more worthy than a week in the Costa del Sol. I guess it's a Catholic thing: the less fun you're having, the better an experience must be for you.

Even now, my mother still tries to tempt me on holiday with her and Dad. "We'll pay for your flights," she coos. "It'll be a real chance to get away from it all". But sadly, bitter experience has taught me that I don't want to get away from it all, I want specifically to stay in the middle of it all, eating convenience food and exploring the possibilities of 24-hour media access.

Another problem is that my mother (and sister) believe that sunbathing is an activity. It is not. It is the absence of activity, whilst being too hot and having things land on you. Tack two of Mother's Holiday Recruitment Plan is, therefore, "ooh, it'll be really sunny". Even she really ought to be able to read my lack of desire to go sunbathing in my constant refusals to do so, and incredibly pasty complexion. (Blood Donation Nurse, peering concernedly at me: "Are you always that pale?" Me: "Yes." Nurse: "Oh. Gosh.") In recent years, however, my total refusal to venture outside between April and September unless absolutely necessary has won me new found respect from my mother, who has even acknowledged that years of sunbathing may have taken their toll, admittingly ruefully, "I look a bit like a handbag".

Anyway, now I refuse to go on holiday except to cities, and not in summer. The cottage this weekend was an exception, and I hope my companion for the weekend appreciates my noble sacrifice on his behalf, particularly as there was initially no heating, and I fell over in a puddle on the first day, manking my jeans. My back-up trousers, alas, were not actually trousers, but a pair of ill-advised black city shorts/pedal pushers, which are a bit too much like piratey pantaloons for my taste. Combined with my new trilby (the subject of many jibes by my ex-boyfriend over how I look like Liza Minelli), knee-length boots, jacket and jaunty stripy gloves, I had to fetch the papers looking like a Michael Jackson impersonator who had fallen on particularly hard times (perhaps an easily explicable occurrence...)

So there you have it: I hate the country, and the country hates me right back. It senses my presence, and over the years has thrown whatever it could at me in the form of freak weather and over-affectionate animals. I might well be a professional cynic not to appreciate the rolling hills, fresh air and general bucolic idyll... but I think I like it that way.

An Illustration of Why I Hate The Countryside...

Fantasy, and Reality

the definition of a bad idea

From the Daily Mail's article on Agnetha from Abba:

"Her last relationship was with Dutch forklift driver Gert van der Graf, who had stalked her with cards and letters for 20 years before romance finally blossomed.

After they split in 1999, he hounded her until she sought a restraining order on him."

Honestly - how could she ever have guessed he was the obsessive type?

Anyway, more later - I'm back from my weekend of rural seclusion, and raring to blog... but there is a rather large fire in Hertfordshire which is demanding my attention.

Friday, December 09, 2005

the weekend essay, apparently.

Warning: the following post is probably of no interest to anyone without a lively interest in medieval history. I accept that not everyone shares my deep and abiding love of the subject, and I do not judge you. If you were the sort of child who played with the other kids, rather than sitting indoors reading about Lucrezia Borgia, I'd skip this one.


Well, I promised you Anne Boleyn, and I am delivering Anne Boleyn. I recently watched the TV adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl, adapted from Philippa Gregory's best-selling novel. It was a little unsettling at first - the makers seemed to have decided that the impression of historical realism could best be created by shaky, Office-style camerawork, and lots of rustling.

The other Boleyn girl was Anne's older sister Mary - a beautiful, blonde, slightly drippy thing, who attracted the attention of Henry VIII and was soon persuaded to be his mistress. Natasha McElhone certainly fulfilled the beauty criteria - next to Jodhi May, who played Anne, there was no question who was the looker. Her Mary was a bit more pious than I remembered (admittedly, not from any serious historical study, but from, er, another historical novel).

It was quite a brave decision to base a plot on what most people would consider to be a minor character in the saga of the Boleyn family. Not that this kind of thing hasn't happened before, and very successfully too - look at Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, or the Flashman series - but what was unusual about this was that it didn't pretend that Anne wasn't the main attraction. Her very lack of beauty made her more fascinating - after all, it was pretty bloody obvious why Henry fancied her meek, gorgeous sister - but Anne seemed to win him over by being rude to him and playing chess in a provocative way (who knew that worked?)

Anyway, I'll be the first to admit it was a watchable hour or so of television, and one I would recommend. I bet you'd never guess that Anne Boleyn was one of my heroines as a child, what with getting to be Queen despite being a bit plain, brunette and intellectual, rather than dimpled, rosy-cheeked and unthreatening.

While we're on the subject, may I take the opportunity of recommending some historical fiction as light Christmas reading? It's trashy, the stories may well be familiar enough to let you skip through it, and there are some genuinely great mental people in history who should be better known to the public at large.

Take, for example, Queen Juanita of Spain, sister of Catherine of Aragon. She was proper mad, and after her beloved husband died, used to transport his dead body everywhere she went, and kiss it. Unhygienic? Just a bit. In fact, medieval royalty - due to rigorous in-breeding - did mad rather well. Another 'eccentric' was Charles VI of France, whose main hallucination was that he was made of glass. Needless to say, this was a bit of a drawback in everyday life.

(Another historo-loon: uber-historical novelist Jean Plaidy would have you believe that Catherine de Medici managed to send one of her sons, Charles, mad and gay by showing him hardcore gay porn woodcuts from an early age, so that her favourite son, Henry - who actually was gay - could inherit the throne. The youngest son of the family might also be familiar to you as the cross-dressing suitor in Elizabeth who asks if he can touch her 'chatte'. Throw in the fact that the family's only daughter was a nymphomaniac, and Catherine herself had a nasty habit of dishing out poisoned gloves, and imagine what family Christmases were like with the French royal family.)

And perhaps it is true that there are only three stories in life and literature. Certainly the "oh-bollocks-I-need-a-male-heir" gambit was very popular in medieval monarchy, to the extent you'd think someone would twig that maybe they should just let women inherit the throne and be done with it. Yes, she might well turn out to be terrible at reigning, but that was a risk you were always going to take by handing the throne to any milk-fed inbred - I'm sure it can't be coincidence that the best medieval monarchs - including Elizabeth I, and France's Henri 'Paris is worth a mass' Quatre - had some 'hybrid vigour' from non-royal parents. Marrying your cousin? Never going to end well.

Oh dear. I seem to have written a history essay. Perhaps I'm turning into Simon Schama. I await my own BBC2 'History is Fun' show, where I jump round saying "Yeah? Did Henry like THAT? NO!" with bated breath. I can't help getting animated on the subject; I'm sorry. I learned everything I know about Kings and Queens from historical fiction, so I owe it a great debt - history at school, cruelly, was always about the Industrial Revoltion and new methods of ploughing and Jethro Tull's horse-drawn seed drill. I did wonder if the powers that were thought there were too many people doing History at university, and deliberately devised the GCSE syllabus to put us off. And doing the subject at university would have involved looking at the causes of stuff, and documents, and all the stuff I can gleefully ignore as an amateur, in order to get to the smiting, shagging and longing looks from castle battlements.

In other news: A great story came out of Japan last night: a trader at financial firm Mizuho Securities made a typo which cost the company around £128 million. Its Christmas party was also cancelled due to the incident.

The trader (who may well be wishing hara-kiri was still an option) wanted to sell one share in a company for 600,000 yen. Alas, the order went through as a sale of 600,000 shares at 1 yen each. Oops. Cue instant chaos, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth etc (if you want the technical details, I suggest you read the original Times article here, since, I am deeply ashamed to confess, my knowledge of financial markets is a little rusty).

If it weren't for the fact that I am deeply opposed to traders and financial markets, despite knowing approximately bugger all about them, I would actually feel quite sad for the man. But the trouble is that it's very hard to feel sorry for someone who works in such a ridiculous job - the whole concept of trading, especially futures trading, just seems set up for this kind of thing to happen.

The best thing about the story is undoubtedly the fact that incidents like this happen enough to have a proper name: fat finger syndrome. What a cracking piece of terminology! When I saw it on the BBC news ticker, I was genuinely intrigued, imagining a new disease where your fingers instantly swelled like up to resemble artisan sausages, or something similarly grotesque.

You can't beat a catchy epithet, if you want to get a reasonable amount of press coverage for something. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy was on a highway to nowhere until some genius came up with Mad Cow Disease - fame, fortune and being used as the title of a crap Kathy Lette novel awaited...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

the hors d'oeuvres of anger are modulated into the appetizers of wrath...

So it turns out that my rage yesterday was but an amuse bouche to the full-on smorgasbard of ire with which I am suffused today.

Several things have caused this: the approach of Christmas, my total lack of money due to the grasping thugs at Southwark Council who have put our council tax up by a whopping 40%.

But chief among the reasons for my disgruntlement is the fact I'm trying to break in a new pair of shoes. Yes, I know it's not the Middle East situation, or extraordinary rendition - but trust me, in the tiny personal universe of my feet, it's as bad.

Unlike hangthedj, who seems to buy a new pair of shoes every week, I lack the steely determination and (presumably) elephant hide-like skin to make new shoes fun. Despite affixing no less than four plasters to be soon-to-be-tested tootsies this morning, I currently look like I'm suffering from a particularly chic version of trench foot.

And tonight is the company Christmas party, where I had hoped to be Cinderella (if Cinderella had turned up early doors and, instead of dancing with the Prince, had scoffed all the canapes and tried to sneak out with two bottles of wine tucked into her waistband).

And all day my colleagues have been giving me dire warnings - telling the story of the trainee who was sick on the Chief Executive (worrying. as I typed that, he appeared in front of me - maybe he's like the Candyman...) and advising me to steer clear of the canapes, "which might have been hanging around all day".

What they do not know is that I have an appointment with around thirty Frenchmen in Elephant & Castle at nine, so will be long gone before anyone starts photocopying their arse.

Anyway, a proper post tomorrow - although, quite possibly, it will be about Anne Boleyn.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

cold baked beans and diagnosis murder.

Three fun facts to kick off the day with (all learnt by me in the course of my work):

  • The bigger a bat's testicles, the smaller its brain.

  • Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin's first date was in a chip shop.

  • Shadow Chancellor George Osborne's real name is Gideon.

    I feel unable to mount a sustained. coherent argument on anything today, such is my generalised rage. I seem to be able to get angry at anything, anywhere, and to hold forth on the subject for a surprisingly long time. But you don't want to read my sub-Hefferesque bile on Robbie William's libel win, or the fact that, although it seems to escape all newspaper columnists, Christianity is for life, not just for Christmas. You want laughter mixed with ruefulness, twinkling observations and wry sideways glances, don't you?

    Besides which, I'm far too excited about PMQs today, with David 'blank sheet of paper' Cameron taking on Big Tone mano-a-mano at the despatch box. Watching the Channel 4 news last night, I finally realised I'd never really listened to Cameron's voice before - I saw his entire Party Conference speech with the sound turned down. He's got lovely gestures, but until yesterday I couldn't have recognised him speaking.

    It made me realise what a string of judgements I make about people based on how they talk - perhaps there was a point to banning Gerry Adams' voice all those years - one of my most bizarre childhood memories - although I wish they'd also ordered that one of the people who did the dubbed voiceovers for Eurotrash had been employed as his 'voice double'. That would have undermined the credibility of the IRA and no mistake.

    And frankly, Cameron's voice was what I should have expected. Classless in the studied way of the extremely-posh-but-embarrassed-about-it, a little bit higher than I would have imagined - but the overall impression was of blandness, which seemed fitting, given that that's the salient quality of his campaign. "Come on," his supporters cried, "there's almost nothing to hate about him! How dare you take the piss that he went to Eton - class obsessive! Look, his wife's got a tattoo - that's modern for you!"

    There's a great line from Wendy Cope's Triolet, which begins by observing, "I used to think poets were Byronic/ Mad, bad and dangerous to know". After meeting some poets, she observes, "They're mostly wicked as a ginless tonic/ And wild as pension plans". That, to me, is David Cameron. I actually think he might he started the drug rumours to seem a bit more cool and yoof.

    I mean, take that line - "I had a normal university experience" - did you? did you really? You got a first in PPE from Oxford, so you must have worked quite hard, for a start, and your days probably involved less sitting round in your pants, eating cold baked beans and watching daytime TV than the average student's.

    Then there was your membership of the Bullingdon Club, Oxford's infamous dining society. Now, I know some people who were members of similar societies, and let me tell you, they were tossers. Not wild, debauched, elegantly-wasted Byronic tossers, either, but narrow-minded, slow-witted bores. It's my contention that they smash up restaurants because it's so boring talking to each other about shooting weekends and Monaco that the cleverest member of the group snaps, and hurls the first piece of crockery. After that, the aristo herd instinct kicks in.

    But enough of my rampant prejudice; he seems to be doing well at PMQs, and I suppose it's time to give him a chance. (I reserve the right to take this largesse back if he does something awful when naming his shadow Cabinet, e.g. ignores Boris Johnson, or appoints Nicholas Soames Minister For Health.)

    Told you I was full of rage.

  • Monday, December 05, 2005

    the chronicles of narnia: a bunch of arse.

    Polly Toynbee's article in the Guardian about her hatred for of the Chronicles Of Narnia's 'toe-curling, cringe-making' Christian allegory struck a chord with me.

    Before we start: cards on the table. My father is a permanent deacon of the Catholic Church, my mother an RE teacher. Both are, it's fair to say, more than a Little Bit Religious, and they sent me to a Convent school, and took me to church every Sunday until I was 18 and escaped to university.

    Interesting statistic: that means I must have gone to church more than a thousand times before my eighteenth birthday. Since turning 18, I'd estimate I've gone about twenty times.

    Anyway, it's probably pretty obvious to you (if you've been paying attention) why I don't like religion - I am militantly pro-gay rights, pro-choice and anti-being told what to think.

    But, like many a child, I was not always such a contrarian on the subject. I took my first communion, I got confirmed (admittedly with a slightly-joke confirmation name, Agnes, which summed up the worst excesses of medieval religion's obsession with gore and virgins). My rebellion only really extended to occasionally refusing to say 'I do' when asked to say whether or not I rejected Satan at the Easter Service and eating the odd unconsecrated wafer left lying about. (Yeah, OK, it's hardly saying the Black Mass in my bedroom, but it felt naughty at the time...)

    Actually, I think the thing I did which probably most scared my mother was claim to have had a dream vision of heaven aged about 9. As any Catholic will tell you, it doesn't do to get excited or enthusiastic about religious belief, that's best left to crazy evangelicals and other, more common, religions.

    So, as you might expect, my parents were keen on improving literature, particularly that with a Christian bent - and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe duly arrived one Christmas. I read that in a day (a combination of fast reading and terminal boredom, I'd imagine) and I liked it. Might have even shed a tear or two when the stone table broke, and the little mice gnawed Aslan's ropes off.

    Then I read the Magician's Nephew; liked that better - out with the fauns and the dangerous confectionery, in with different coloured magic rings, a scary Queen and the deplorable word - this was more like it.

    But then, reading on over the next few months, I became more and more repulsed as my emerging egaliterianism blossomed. What happened if you weren't chosen to become a King or a Queen? That's surely much more likely, that you'll just be some pleb - and then you don't get to do anything interesting with your life, you just knock around as a bit part player. And why do you have to be blonde to be a princess? Had I been excluded from princess-dom by melanin?

    Those were my first objections - now, I could give you so many more - and not just religious. For example, the blatant racism of the 'Calormen', obviously intended to be Arabs. But that's for another day... it's the religious bits that currently have my goat; and I doubt they'll let it go.

    The Last Battle, the final book in the series, is a classic example of the apocalyptic hysterics that seem to affect religious writers. After some nasty business in which a talking ape convinces all the Narnians that the Anti-Christ, Tash, is the same as Good Ol' Aslan, everyone is summoned to walk through a mysterious door to test their faith (read: die).

    Well, excuse me if I don't think that pointlessly snuffing it is a particularly admirable pursuit. Could they not have proved their goodness in another way? Joined a folk band? Volunteered at a local homeless shelter? That's the trouble with religious types, first whiff of trouble and they decide the best solution is to die. Honestly.

    Anyway, here's the delicious: they all walk through the door and find themselves in Heaven (which manifests itself as the ability to run without getting tired. Yeah, great, eh? Tiredness or nay, endless jogging not my idea of a great afterlife). All apart from Susan. Oh Susan, silly, silly Susan. You see, she was only interested in "nylons, lipstick and invitations" and therefore did not go to Heaven and participate in the Great Celestial Fun Run.

    I think it might have been a horrible coincidence that I read The Last Battle aged about 14 - about the time I too was developing a lively interest in, well, if not lipstick and nylons, then certainly invitations. And presented with the choice between hanging out with a bunch of goody two-shoes fitness obsessives for evermore, or going out on the razz and the ability to wear tights, I'm afraid I turned to the Dark Side.

    So it cheered me to be reminded that one of my favourite authors, Philip Pullman, hates the Narnia Chronicles too, denouncing them as propaganda. Ironically, I came near to an epiphany last Christmas when reading the His Dark Materials trilogy - this, I thought, this is why I hate religion! All the exclusionism of "I'm going to Heaven and you're not", like God is some kind of nightclub bouncer, and if your name's not down, you're not coming in. And the endless need for hierarchy. And the total fear of human sexuality and its power.

    So if you haven't read the Pullman books, imagine that I am jumping up and down inside your computer right now, begging you to read them. They are excellent - they even made reading Paradise Lost in the first place worthwhile (yes, that good).

    gay marriage

    I hope you’ll excuse me today for recycling old material, but since today marks the first day of ‘gay marriage’, thanks to the Government’s Civil Partnership Bill, I thought it only right to celebrate it in some way - even if I don’t think the current legislation goes far enough. So, for your delight and edification, an article I wrote in more youthful, idealistic days. I apologise for the bit about the pigeons.


    First of all, I'd like to sidestep the whole John Kerry "I support civil unions but not gay marriage" gambit. Most marriages are essentially civil unions anyway, whether or not Christian vows are included to please parents or to satisfy the bride's desire for a big entrance and a white dress. The way I see it, there are three main objections to gay marriage: biblical, traditional and social.

    Since the two countries in which gay marriage is touted, Britain and America, are Christian, I hope you'll forgive me using Christian arguments. The Old Testament, it is true, talks about a man leaving his mother and father and joining with his wife, and Sodom and Gomorrah is condemned pretty strongly. Interesting, and in one of my favourite passages from the Old Testament, Lot is so disgusted by the baying crowd's desire to sodomize his male guests that he offers them his virgin daughters instead. Good honest family morals there.

    The trouble with using Biblical evidence is that it relies on some pretty acute picking and choosing of texts: for some reason, the strictures against homosexuality are championed, whereas no one mentions much of the Old Testament's other useful advice for life. Do you know what to do if you have a mouldy skin disease? What about purifying yourself after a period? (I think the first answer is see a priest; the second involves burning some doves.) Not only this, but as The Economist's pro-gay marriage editorial points out, religious objections should not (and under the American constitution cannot) affect the legislation of a secular state.

    Secondly, traditional. Marriage, we are to believe, is a sacred and long-established tradition where two people who love each other form a lifetime bond, which has consistently preserved society as we know it. Wrong. Until this century, marriage was a means of property transferral via the medium of a woman (at least for those with property), and a woman's only way of securing her and her children's future. Love had nothing to do with it - it was only in the late 18th century that the idea of 'companionate marriage' suggested that it would be nice for the participants to be fond of each other. Of course, divorce rates were low - women risked losing their children and being condemned to a life of poverty, as well as to a lively social stigma. If we are to re-imagine marriage as a loving bond between two people, why should they necessarily be a man and a woman? Even a cursory examination of historical or literary writings from previous eras will show you that homosexuality isn't a modern phenomenon - it just wasn't allowed to interfere with the cultural function of marriage. If we acknowledge that homosexual relationships exist, why not encourage them to be monogamous and long-term, rather than taking place furtively outside a loveless marriage?

    The social argument is that marriage is a stabilising force - many Daily Mail pieces lament the decline of marriage as evidence that the youth of today aren't willing or able to take responsibility, and cannot function in adult society. Research shows that marriage reduces the incidence of domestic violence, for example, and forces both parents to undertake commitments to children. I'm sure this will sound glib, although it's not meant to: if marriage is great, why not have more of it?

    One of the most common complaints about gay men and women is the culture of promiscuity which is supposed to be inevitably linked to homosexuality. Although there are promiscuous queer people, as there are straight, the sheer numbers of gay couples who rushed to be married in San Francisco recently shows that many wish to formalise and celebrate their relationship. Why would we stop them?

    The institution of marriage has never looked more shaky, with an ever-growing percentage ending in divorce. Perhaps the only way to revitalise marriage is to shrug off the phenomenon's historical baggage and revisualise it as a solid, stable and loving bond between two people - regardless of gender.

    But if you'll excuse me, I've got several years of pigeon-sacrificing to catch up on.


    told you the pigeons were upsetting. anyhoo, to look forward to later in the week: Buying Porn for MRSA Sufferers; Use-By Dates Are Made Up By Supermarkets; Quite Literally, I Am Always The Bridemaid; and Why I Hate Narnia.

    Friday, December 02, 2005

    my ambition: to touch celebrities

    Statistic of the day: At parties, men are twice as likely to ask for a pay rise, three times as likely to strip and five times more likely to be sick on a colleague than women.

    But to business: Yesterday didn’t start well. An epic shower session from the Housemate Who Cannot Be Named meant that I stumbled into work late, with unwashed hair. Not the best day start to any day.

    Things perked up a bit later, however, when Weave (she of never-updated blog Weave Ponders, see left) texted mid-afternoon to offer tickets to the League of Gentlemen panto, and aftershow party, courtesy of everyone’s favourite right-wing media organisation (no, the other one). I wavered briefly, until she clinched it with the un-turn-downable, “Derren Brown’s going”.

    Well, that was always going to swing it. Many’s the time I have dreamed of nodding sweetly as Derren explains the finer points of Neuro-Linguistic Programming to me, before interjecting with an incisive, “yeah, but, it’s all old-fashioned slight of hand, at the end of the day, isn’t it?” How we would laugh together at the simpletons who follow religions and believe that men in shiny suits in Vegas can talk to the dead. I might have even touched his parrot.

    Weave was late; I, as usual, was early, and had joined four other people at the prison-eating bench in Hammersmith station McDonalds to pie down a Nugget Happy Meal. Fellow diners included a six-foot woman wearing clothes of such consummate vileness she could only have been a model. I even became one of those people I hate by ordering a Diet Coke, to accompany my myocardial infarction and chips.

    When we finally took our seats, I reflected that the experience was coming dangerously close to vindicating my choice of journalism as a career, especially as Stephen Merchant ambled past me for the second time this month. All the more so when Sean Hughes sat down next to Sarah, with a scruffiness that only the rich and Irish can truly pull off with aplomb.

    Cursing myself for sitting on the left, denying me the chance to touch a celebrity (something I never turn down), I glanced round... to be confronted with Derren Brown, heading for the seat next to me. And all I could think at that perfect moment was: My hair! I hate my bloody housemate.

    All my hopes and dreams of him pickpocketing my phone and putting his number in, before returning it without me even noticing (ooh, he's quick like that) - dashed. At least that’s what I’m going to blame it on in all future anecdotes about the incident. Weave's suggestion that I go up to him and say, "look into the eyes - not around the eyes - look into my eyes" was given short shrift.

    There’s something odd about celebrities in real life: they look, well, not exactly glossier than us mere mortals - but somehow more in focus. (For the record, Derren had a strong, manly clap and was wearing very shiny shoes.) And there's nothing better than demonstrating to slebs how totally and utterly unimpressed you are with their proximity. And then running off and texting all your friends.

    The show was good, if a little obvious - featuring lines surely stolen from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Panto Jokebook, circa 1380, along the lines of "are you enjoying it? well, tell your face". According to Gail Porter, who we collared at the after-party (yes, Grinch, she is still sexy with the slaphead), they only had a few weeks to pull it together.

    I don't think she was impressed when in response to her assertion that, "we couldn't have done as well in three weeks or whatever," I replied: "Well, I'd like to think so, really." But she did not see my seminal performance in St Peter's College Blind Date (cruelly overlooked for a Tony, 2002) so I suppose she must be forgiven.

    Anyway, the weekend brings the first Christmas party of the season (although I cracked on Wednesday and had my first mince pie). Let's hope I don't become another vomit-stained statistic.