Bee-doo bee-dee-doo!







Bee-doo bee-dee-doo, bee-dee-doo, bee-dee-doo,
bee-deebee-deebee doo doo doodoo doo!

That’s the only way to summarise the embarrassment of riches which constituted Guest Week Three. A week in which – as a flurry of occasionally quite anxious e-mails and phone calls confirmed – my esteemed contributors collectively pulled out all the stops, pushed themselves to the limits, and devoted extraordinary amounts of time, energy and commitment into producing some quite magnificent pieces of writing.

(Can I say that about content on my own site without sounding bumptious? Yes, I think I just about can.)

Buni spoke of being raised by Bunny Girls, of unrequited longings, and of new directions in his life. Fiona wondered what the world would be like if we all had tails, cruised strangers in traffic jams, and slavered over her shoe collection. Melodrama dicussed jute production with taxi drivers, met a dodgy guru on a train, and did the whole dutiful daughter bit for Diwali. Zena took us on a nightmarish white-knuckle ride of dope-induced paranoia, and yet was still able to draw positive and life-changing conclusions from her experience.

And then there was Mark, with his jaw-droppingly superb “Science Of…” series: elegant, droll and profound in equal measure, an utter delight to read, and (as Peter intimated) clearly of publishable quality. Respect, dude!

My heartiest congratulations and warmest gratitude to all concerned, for delivering a truly classic week.

On to Week Four, then. Our guests for the next seven days are:

Asta, a regular reader/commenter of well over a year’s standing, and the proud winner of last year’s epic Shirt Off My Back Project. Asta lives in Canada, in a city, by a lake, which may or may not be Toronto. (If my old PC was still working, then I’d be able to tell you exactly where she lived. How perfectly blush-making of me to have forgotten.)

Danny, an old mate of – what is it now? – some fifteen years’ standing, who lives in Birmingham with his partner Paul. Having finally submitted to my repeated cajolings to “read my bloody blog for once in my life, why don’t you?”, Danny now proposes to break something of a major blogging taboo. Yes, readers – he’s going to be talking about sex. Eek! Brace yourselves for some Adult Content…

Gordon McLean of Something, one of Scotland’s most popular weblogs. Gordon works in Technical Communications, and his no doubt honey-drenched tones have regularly soothed the sick and the suffering on his local hospital radio service.

Martin Gale, formerly of Embra Nights. Martin is 25; he lives in Edinburgh with his boyfriend; he has recently retired from blogging; and he works in the Internal Audit department of a financial company. And he writes a lot about sex. Martin – meet Danny. Danny – meet Martin. Hands on the top of the table where I can see them please, boys…

Venus Kensington of Something Sparkles – a blog which has only been running since the middle of last month. Venus lives with her husband in Vancouver, and we look forward to making her acquaintance.

So, to recap: that’s two Canadians, two Scots, and two filthy fruity sexpots. Yes, it’s Scottish-Canadian Sex Week on Troubled Diva! Guest Week Four starts…NOW.

8. Is That All There Is? (Peggy Lee, Cristina)

(Posted by Buni)

Now the drugs don’t work
They just make you worse
But I know I’ll see your face again

(Richard Ashcroft 1997)

My first outing to a nightclub, back in 1985, was a turning point in my life. I was 13 and had been going out with a guy, much older than myself, for a few months (he didn’t know my age). On this particular night, he took me to two clubs; Heaven, which at the time was owned by Richard Branson; and Propaganda, which was frequented by the likes of Boy George, Marilyn, Malcolm McLaren, and the rest of the 80’s London set. Also at this time, disco was changing its course and becoming a whole new animal. Those were heady days for me back then and I lapped it all up with pleasure and delight. I really couldn’t get enough of it.

As such, I kept on doing it for years. You name a year and I’ll tell you which club I was going to; 1985-87: Heaven / Propaganda / The Sound Factory; 1987-89: Triganomatria / Skipper’s / Mirage (all in Portugal); 1989-94: Heaven / RVT / Love Muscle – The Fridge / Trade; 1994-present: The Garage / The House / Deluxe / Essential / The Bomb / NG1. All those years defined by where I was clubbing at any given moment.

The moment of decline was back in about 1999-2000. I can even remember the moment; I had been out with friends and, as per usual, got totally plastered and well and truly off my face on all sorts of things. There I was, surrounded by friends, dancing away, smiling ‘the smile’ and having a great time. Though, I wasn’t having a great time. I slowed my dancing and had a really good look about me, looked at the people, listened to the music and everything around me. I started to think about what I was really doing there, why I was there? It had all become so standard, so uniform. It was the same thing every weekend. I was bored. I said good night to my friends, got my coat and walked out of the club. Never to return.

Instead, I focused my attention on the gay scene in Nottingham and getting a man in my life. NG1 club had just opened up and the old Admiral Duncan had just undergone a drastic refurbishment, from a right dirty little hole (that we all admit we loved) to a more contemporary designer bar. I was out now to have a few drinks, a few laughs and if I meet someone, all the merrier. However, things didn’t quite turn out that way and it wasn’t long before I was back to my old ways, just in a different club.

This takes us up to about 3 or 4 months ago, when I was diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolaemia. To be honest, I thought that something like this diagnosis might happen; my grandfather died of a heart attack at 56 and my father is just slightly younger than that and beginning to get palpitations and has had some 6 strokes now. The only difference is that my diet is the polar opposite to my father’s. He will eat all kinds of crap and I don’t. So for the last few months I’ve been making little tweeks to my life, like I’ve turned veggie, stopped smoking, curbed my drinking and up to about a month ago, I was calming down on the clubbing again.

Then I met ‘him’ and started to go out clubbing again. We’ve had an absolute ball, a real giggle and he’s been like a breath of fresh air to my life. I’d have liked it to go a step further but he’s not having it. I’m hurting. As such, I don’t really feel like going out now and doing the same things again. It’s been quite strange but this week, answering T.D’s questions, I’ve been forced to think about all these things and I’ve come to the conclusion that ……that’s it; that is all there is

As of this moment I officially retire from hardcore clubbing, here on Troubled

Most of you will probably be thinking, “What on earth is he on about?” I cannot underestimate the gravity of my conclusion. In Nottingham I am defined by my social being, it is who Bob is. But alas, no more. Knocking this on the head is just part of the subsequent changes I’ve made over the last few months as a result of my diagnosis. It’s up to me now to find new and wonderful things to do at weekends. I have a few ideas and I won’t be quiet for too long. I have a couple of book ideas that I might just play about with and I enjoyed my climb up Mount Snowdon so much that I might expand on that experience.

On another note, that is all there is of my guest week. It’s been a demanding week emotionally and mentally. I’m just going to crawl back to my little blog that nobody reads, that doesn’t link to anybody and few people link to.

Thanks to Mike for giving me the opportunity to rant like a mad man about these things, you’re a gem, a very brave gem at that. And finally, thanks to those who read (and commented on) those rants.

Apologies to the Welsh.

More travels with a God-man

(posted by Mike, in response to Melodrama)

Two posts below, Melodrama describes an encounter with a Hindu “God-man” (viewers of the popular Asian-British comedy series Goodness Gracious Me probably have some idea of the type of person she describes), and reminds me that I might once have met a Thai Buddhist equivalent.

We were changing planes at a smallish airport, on the way back from Koh Samui to Bangkok. The God-man entered the departure area with an entourage of maybe twenty or so acolytes, his entrance met by a general fluttering of awed recognition from all the other passengers and airport staff.

He was dressed in the orange robes of a Buddhist monk – except that these immaculately arranged robes were clearly of a far superior quality than the norm. I placed him in his mid-to-late forties – quite possibly a decade older, but carefully preserved. His hair was neatly groomed; his facial features were dark and pronounced, exquisitely chiselled, softly masculine, old-school matinee-idol handsome, and curiously untypical for a Thai. His one facial expression – a sort of beatific half-smile – never wavered for a second. His whole demeanour was one of calm, authoritative wisdom, of the sort that required no further outward manifestation; it was tacitly assumed. Without saying or doing anything, his whole being radiated the most extraordinary charisma. True star quality. I had no idea who he was, but I could feel it just as strongly as everyone else around me.

Oh-so-humbly, the God-man eschewed the dangerously materialistic luxuries of airport seating, placing himself instead on the floor, against a wall, facing out towards a large open section of the building. His acolytes immediately arranged themselves around him, in a semi-circular clump, all facing towards him. Gradually, more and more passengers added themselves to the outside of the group, which fanned itself further and further out into the hall. Nobody seemed to be doing anything much. They simply looked at him – or at the ground in front of him – in a suitably supplicating fashion, and he smiled back. This seemed to be enough for all concerned. To my secular European eyes, the scene was intriguing, mystifying, baffling. Who was this guy, anyway?

A year or two later, as I was browsing a copy of Esquire magazine (yeah, me neither), I came across a long article on a recent series of sex scandals involving various highly regarded Thai monks, who had been systematically abusing their power and influence over some of their female followers. Apparently, these discoveries were rocking the foundations of the religious establishment over there. (Does this sound at all familiar?) A lengthy mention was made of one particularly well-known tarnished guru, and his spectacular fall from grace. A small photo accompanied the relevant paragraphs.

It was him.

7. What does it take (to win your love?) (Junior Walker & the All Stars)

(Posted by Buni)

“I don’t ask for much in a man. He only has to be tall, rich, funny, sexy, single, strong, good-looking, smart, romantic, charming, warm, sweet, sensitive, athletic, warm, kind, generous, punctual, sincere, and of course he has to feed me ice-cream in bed every night for the rest of my life.”

As a younger man, I have to admit that the above was pretty much the case; I would have all these criteria about men and if they didn’t match those criteria then they were history, or didn’t even get a look in. There are young guys that I know at the moment and they are exactly the same, so idealised. They have their own criteria and standards, some are similar to the above and some are not, but there is the general gist of having this ideal man in their life that they think is going to bring eternal happiness. If they have found the above, good luck to them.

As I’ve become older, I’ve become more relaxed with myself as a person, I’ve noticed that I’m not such a fascist about these things. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my standards and high standards they are too, but the men who come into my life don’t have to have all of the above criteria.

There are many guys that I like a lot; guys that I’ve met over the years that I find are likeable, respected, admired, and having maturity and good judgement. As I said these are guys that I like a lot and where I’ve thought about taking things a step further. However, something has held me back. In my analysis of ‘taking things further’, I’ve thought to myself about attachment, “Would it be hard for me to get along without……..?”, a sense of caring for the other person, “Could I do almost anything for……?.”, and in my eyes, the most important aspect of a sense of trust, “Do I feel I can confide in >>place name here<< about virtually everything?”

I’ve been carrying on carrying on, doing my thing and getting on with life; not particularly looking about for anything serious where men are concerned. This has gone on for about 2 or 3 years (I’ve been single for 5) and I’ve recently, finally met a guy where I have found myself thinking long and hard about the attachment, sense of caring and trust and I have to admit that he has met all of the above criterion and standards, and more. I felt love again. However, the feelings are unrequited, it’s a shame but I’ll get over it. He is a cracking guy with a good head on his shoulders, and, he is likeable, respected, admired, mature and possesses good judgement. However, he’s a lot younger than me and so his criterion is that the guy he’d like would be tall, funny, sexy, single, strong, good-looking, smart, romantic, charming, warm, sweet, sensitive, athletic, warm, kind, generous, punctual, sincere, and of course they have to feed him ice-cream in bed every night for the rest of his life.”

Maybe it’s all down to timing or something? I have no idea. You just can’t win them all can you?

This entry may be revised in two or three years time.

Travels with a God-man

(Posted by Melodrama)

I’m posting from my parents’ home today. After working half-day, I rushed to the railway station and settled in my seat for a hopefully peaceful two hour ride to my parents’. Ten minutes after I settled in, I heard an announcement that all trains were delayed due to a minor derailment. How could I expect otherwise with my luck this week? When finally the train started, I looked around and noticed I had a God-man and a subdued looking fellow, apparently his disciple in the next seat.

I mostly ignore my co-passengers, and I buried my nose in the magazines I carry solely for the purpose of avoiding co-passengers. When the train finally started, the God-man started making conversation with everyone and I purposely tried my best to avoid conversation.

Finally, the God-man asked me where I was headed and I muttered something inaudible and looked away. The Gm (God Man) finally started making conversation with people sitting across the aisle and started lecturing about the virtues of Hinduism. Then he started a flirtatious conversation on his cellphone with someone. Well! Things were getting interesting. I don’t know whether any reader on this blog has ever seen an Indian Gm or not. Most dress in orange or white robes, have sandalwood paste smeared on their foreheads, wear loads of long rudraksha beads or gems and spout pseudo Hindu philosophy while subtly mentioning their ashrams anywhere outside India. This guy was pretty much like that and very curious about everyone else and flashy to boot.

If being a God-man is anything like what this fellow was, its not such a bad idea being a God-woman. I just need to work on getting some rich, decadent disciples first!

The science of mistaking

(Posted by Mark)

Whatever you think you know, however well you believe something corresponds to another, the promises or hearts you’ve broken, the games you’re playing, your timing, what you want or what you worry about, the gifts you give and the ideas and motivations you’ve been trying to second-guess, the one common thread through them all is that you will make mistakes.

We all make a mess of our lives from time to time,
It’s part of the process that you stumble as you climb.

We can’t help it because to err is human. With every intention of being accurate, honest, responsible, caring or diligent, we will nevertheless make mistakes because we are intrinsically imperfect creatures. It is how our mistakes are made, the consequences of them, their frequency and their nature which are the real issues rather than any debate over whether they are made. Because, and it’s really simple, we all make them.

Making mistakes
Mistakes are made for many different reasons. We may not know exactly what we are doing or what was expected of us in a particular job or function, we may be unwell or tired and thus less able to concentrate fully on the task set to us, we may have been attempting to do too much, resulting in many jobs done less well than a few tasks completed successfully, we may even have introduced deliberate mistakes in an attempt to test or discredit someone else. All these are recognised, if not exactly acceptable, ways of explaining why our mistakes have been made.

One of the most frustrating occasions is when you are challenged as to your mistakes with the question, “Well, why did you do that?”. If you explain that you are overworked or ill or unsure of your task and they accept this, then you can get on with correcting the error and all will be well, only in a slightly longer amount of time than anticipated. It is when the other person refuses to accept your explanation that matters get irritating. “I don’t want your excuses” has been a line used on me, which is guaranteed to annoy: asking why and then not listening or refusing the answer is a colossal waste of time which could be better used in remedying whatever is deficient. Suffice to say, I have tried to avoid doing work for that person ever again.

Other, more personal mistakes can be made because we have blinded ourselves as to what we want, where are heading in life, or simply because we don’t want to know what the real situation is. We make these mistakes in the belief that we are doing what is for the best or at least what we want to believe is the best, and then allow ourselves to be drawn deeper and deeper into confirming that mistake, which in turn deepens the hurt we feel and which we cause others.

Admitting mistakes
“I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken” is the polite way of telling someone that they are plain wrong. What they claim to know or have understood is somehow faulty. This can be accidental misunderstanding: a difficulty with an accent, two words which sound similar to each other, a bad telephone line, a concept not quite fully grasped; or it can be a deliberate misunderstanding, in order to be humorous, heighten tension, intentionally mislead or twist words and meanings to suit the respondent’s own purposes. This is the first mistake and leads most often to an immediate second mistake, which is denying that any such misunderstanding went on.

Some people really hate having to say they are sorry, don’t they? Admitting your mistake and acknowledging this to someone else is very, very easy but for some it seems to represent something far more serious like a character flaw or a signal that they have fallen slightly shorter than the Olympian ideals which they have set themselves. I don’t exempt myself or anyone else when I say that there are certain situations where we all hate to say we are sorry, because we hate to admit we are wrong. If there is a subject upon which you consider yourself the expert and you get a detail or fact wrong, when challenged by someone who claims to have superior knowledge, it can be difficult to admit your mistake. We like to feel that we have certain talents and gifts, and don’t necessarily like being contradicted or corrected. A slice of humble pie is often the dish of the day when we take our self-importance too far, and occasionally the odd person demonstrating that we are imperfect can do wonders.

One difficulty is the devaluation of the word ‘sorry’, which can be used for anything between accidentally detonating a nuclear device and having someone tread on your foot on an Underground train. While wailing “mea culpa” at the top of your voice and committing hari-kiri may seem an excessive way of apologising, so too does a mumbled “sorry, I ‘spose” seem a minimal and less-than-heartfelt was of expressing your regret. It is the sincerity of the apology and the promise that such a mistake will not be repeated which indicates the real force of meaning behind the word, and not simply the use of the word itself.

Forgiving mistakes
To continue the Alexander Pope quotation, “to err is human, to forgive, divine” but forgiveness can’t occur until that little two-syllable word has been uttered. The scale of the absolution correlates directly to the scale of the transgression. Minor mistakes and the ensuing apologies are easily waved away as their significance is little and the effect they have had on the other person is hardly important. More serious errors of commission or omission will be far harder to excuse as their direct consequence will be felt more keenly by those who have suffered.

The hurt – the real hurt felt can sometimes make you think that nothing could ever let it go, erase the memory of the distress, of the heart-sickening, stomach-aching distress which stays and stays and stays, lingering as though it’s a physical part of your body, your memory attaching the mistake committed against you to all the things you hear and see, despoiling what you love and have loved, crying dry tears and turning away from mirrors – may preclude forgiveness. God may be all-forgiving, but we are far from gods and our ability to forgive is more limited, bounded only by our capacity for love. Forgiveness can be the benchmark of love or its absence: do you love me enough to forgive me? Can you love me enough to forgive me? They are questions we should hope we never to need to ask.

Sing for absolution,
I will be singing and falling from your grace.

But if we are forgiven, then doesn’t that open up just a little ray of light? A tiny corner of a painted-out window to look through and see what we nearly missed, what we nearly threw away, what we nearly destroyed? Isn’t it the understanding that mistakes will be made, that they can and are regretted, that they are not inevitably to be repeated, and that lessons have been learned – isn’t that worth forgiveness? I believe so.

Shit Happens, I Know

(posted by Zena)

But I’m not sure I’m ever going to get over realising how superficial most (men) of the world is (are). People who have looked through me for years, suddenly want to go out with me. People offer me seats, parking spaces, all manner of fine things, and I know that I’m exactly the same now as when I was heavier. More, so, perhaps.

And what happens if I meet someone, and we get together, and then I get fat?


(Posted by Fi)

Oh dear I’ve made it to the final hurdle and run out of steam. You’ve probably all gone home for the week already anyway, so I’ll just talk about shoes.

I love shoes. Not in a fetishistic way, just in that way that one woman can love her shoes. Don’t understand what I mean? Go stand in a shoe shop and watch women fight over the final pair of suede boots with the kitten heel and tasseled edgings around the top that have been reduced to sell.

My favorite shoes are my most comfortable ones. I heard someone say that in life you need comfortable shoes and a comfortable mattress cause if you’re not in one you’re on the other. I’d have added a couch in there myself but it would have thrown the “one/other” format off. They’re made by a company that does far too much sponsorship so I won’t add to it here. Rhymes with “dyke” though. They’re also the least feminine shoes I own.

After the running shoes there’s a myriad of flats, sandals and flip-flops before we get to kitten heels. Kitten heels are called that because they were discovered by kittens, specifically Puss in Boots, whilst accompanying Dick Whittington to London noticed that high heels caused her boots to sink into the ground and flat soles were just not stylish enough.

I have boots with Cuban heels too. Cuban heels are special because in the early sixties JFK had to threaten Castro with nuclear retaliation if he didn’t stop the propagation of Cuban heels across the USSR, they were putting the US kitten heel industry in danger of extinction. The gambit paid off and ever since Cuban and kitten heels have been in a carefully balanced eco-system.

Platforms however are entirely different. For one thing I hate having trains stop beside them when I wear them. Very inconvenient. People stand on your toes, nudge towards the front and just cramp your style underneath the arches. They do however turn you into one tall b*tch that nobody is likely to f*ck with.

Probably my best pair of shoes, albeit the most uncomfortable are a pair of YSL Rive Gauche black leather sandals with leather laces that tie up to the top of the calf muscle and 4 inch metal spiked heels. They’re lethal. I came close to killing three people including myself with them one evening in an incident I try not to think about involving a bannister, a very short dress and a desire to relive the thrill of sliding down said bannister.

When we think about heels, what do we actually conclude? Were they designed by men to make women easier to catch? Were they favored by women because they countered the height difference? Are they merely useful tools for stamping on people’s feet? Do they really accentuate the legs, tighten the calf and thigh muscles and flatter the female form or are they merely a way of warning people you’re coming up behind them with that endless click-clack noise… I don’t know, I just like shoes.

6. Was That All It Was? (Kym Mazelle)

(Posted by Buni)

Do you ever get to the end of a relationship, be it for a night or a for a much longer period, and through all the upset of it finishing / ending you have to think to yourself, “Was That All It Was?” – just a way to pass the time?

The former, where you’ve been out for the night with mates or perhaps on a date, you’ve had a few drinks and the beer / wine goggles are kicking into action. Though, for that night and that night only, the other person was the most important, beautiful and interesting person in the room; they meant absolutely everything to you, or so you thought.

The next day, the sun rises, the milk and postie comes and goes. You wake with that realisation that, there is someone else in the bed with you. Then it all comes flooding back, the flowing drinks, the flirtatious attention, the dancefloor, the taxi (the shocked taxi-driver), the hall, the bedroom……, to now. You then have to admit to yourself that it wasn’t such a bad night after all, you had a good time didn’t you? In fact thinking about it, it was a damn good night. You take a glance over your shoulder to check out the bedmate for some reassurance. They stir; NOT YET! Actually they’re not at all bad. It’s at this point that you have a choice; more of the same, a repeat performance or tea / toilet / polite conversation. You decide on the first option, just to make sure that you did have a good night. After – much delayed – polite conversation you ask if they’d like to get together again, perhaps their phone number? While they’re putting on their clothes, you’re politely told that they think your both old enough to realise you’re not going to call each other. “Let’s be grown up about this, eh? We had some fun, that’s all.”

Was That All It Was?

The latter is more involved. It may or may not start like the above but the ending is different, you both realise that you are old enough and mature enough to call them / them calling you. You begin to see each other and grow fond of each other. Time passes and your lives become interwoven into a neat tapestry of commitment. The initial insecurity about letting your barriers down about certain things has been overcome, you know they’re not going to hurt you. Don’t you. You enjoy a period of happiness and then at some point, something happens, for whatever reason there has been a short circuit somewhere in the relationship and it all starts to falter. It all starts to go terribly, horribly wrong; before you know it you’re back to square one (see above). You feel bitter and betrayed. It wasn’t your fault it was theirs, they >>ADD YOUR REASON HERE<< and they didn’t see your point of view. We’ve given up x amount of our lives for each other and that’s it, over, done, finito.

Was That All It Was?

The science of second-guessing

(Posted by Mark)

Advertisers like to state about their products that they are ‘the thing you can rely on’ or comment that ‘if only everything in life was as reliable as Brand X’. It’s part of the way that they play upon the unreliability of so many aspects of our life, feeding into our insecurities about dependability and inconstancy, hoping that we will recognise their product as a way of enhancing our otherwise topsy-turvy, late again, broken down humdrum. Of course, Troubled Diva readers are far too canny to be duped by such messages, but issues of inconsistency and reliability are why we spend time (or waste time, depending on your particular viewpoint) on the science of second-guessing.

Is it true?
Interpreting what people say and what people mean is, to put an honest face on it, bloody difficult. Firstly, you need to establish whether they are wilfully lying to you, whether they are lying to you by omission, or whether they have dressed up the message in obscure, arcane or masked language. If they are outright lying to you then you have the option of corroboration, unless they are expressing a personal opinion. The old “it’s not you, it’s me” line is particularly apposite here, for the varying shades of meaning and duplicity it can cover. Translating what the other is saying is akin to revealing a Potemkin village.

When Catherine the Great toured her empire, she wished to see things in the best possible light, despite her advancing years and failing eyesight. In order to ensure that the Empress was presented with a positive view of her domain, her chief minister Potemkin ordered that elaborately constructed and beautifully crafted fake villages be built in the Ukraine and Crimea for the Imperial visit. Thus, when Catherine toured these places she was shielded from the poverty, drudgery and desperation of the average peasant, instead seeing happy, clean and well-dressed subjects outside their warm, safe homes. Once the tour was over, these villages, like film sets, were struck and normal life was resumed. Seeing past the façade of guarded conversation is very much like taking a closer look at the Potemkin village to reveal the stagecraft behind.

Body language considerations come into play as well. The most interesting time to interpret body language is when you believe that someone is lying. And, as with all good things, the best way to interpret this is through the use of monkeys. The ‘speak no evil’ monkey tells us that when someone is speaking with their fingers to their mouth, or using their hand to block the sounds, they are lying. The ‘hear no evil’ monkey tells us that the liar will somehow protect their ears, by covering them with the hand or directly blocking the earhole with their finger. The ‘see no evil’ monkey tells us that when lying, the person will rub their eyes when talking. There are a lot of other characteristics, but we don’t have enough monkeys for them.

Is it sure?
Of course, second-guessing at a meaning is not only necessary when the other person is lying. They may well be truthful, but unclear in their own mind as to what message they are trying to convey and by speaking their unorganised or unstructured thoughts, they will help themselves to decide. In this case, you are attempting to get to the root of their feelings, not necessarily their words: opening a small window into their minds to work out the real meaning rather than how they are expressing it. This is extremely intricate because you are sifting through a disorganisation of potentially conflicting or self-contradictory opinions and statements, as well as emotions which ebb and shift while they are trying to form a coherent, unified approach to the situation. To get to the determinate point may well take many narrow, bending roads.

Perhaps this is why an oft-repeated phrase in arguments or when having the dreaded ‘deep and meaningful’ conversation is “I don’t know”. The questions which you ask or are asked may well be ones you can prepare for or ones which directly address the thinking you have done on the issue, but there are always those particular posers which leave you answerless. Then it is the turn of the questioner to second-guess whether you are answerless because you haven’t thought about it, because you are trying to work out a way of making it sound better, or whether you are devising a way to leave certain things out.

Is it complete?
Whether they are telling you the truth or not, they are probably not telling you everything, so you’ll need to be alert to omissions. “This is pretty much everything,” you will be told. What this means is that it is not everything. There is the possibility that this is a stylistic tic of spoken language which this person has adopted and that they do mean everything, in fact. There is also the possibility that they are covering themselves in case certain factors or consequences occur, in which case they will legitimately be able to point back at the conversation to defend themselves with “Well, I did say ‘pretty much’, I didn’t mean everything”. You’ll have to decide which of the two you believe.

There are also situations where you can only hear half the story. When A splits up with B and you only hear one viewpoint, it’s fairly safe to say that you can second-guess some of what really went on, but until you’ve heard about or directly spoken to the other side to get their perspective, you are still a long way from completing the picture. Even when you have both sides, the variety in how certain incidents are recalled, how they each expressed themselves, what actions took place in what order may all be wildly changed. Whether this is done for self-serving or self-protecting reasons is what you have to work out for yourself, as well as trying to adopt a middle view and then seeing what they’re missing out and why.

Also, you can second-guess meanings through the detail of the language: the more vague the wording, the more likely that real reasons and key motivations are missing. You can probably make your own list, but ‘sort of’, ‘kind of’, ‘partly’, ‘appears to’ are all genuine contenders for a Top Ten of words and phrases which mask the deeper, underlying meaning, and getting past them appears to be sort of partly tricky. You see what I did there? Second-guess me, go on.

Is it them?
What you believe and what you want to believe are two completely separate things and you should be careful not to colour your second-guessing with wishful thinking, as this is likely to lead you into areas that the other person hasn’t even mentioned. What you thought was the case and what you wanted the situation to be should not be merged because then you are speaking to the other person on completely different levels and your estimates of what they really mean will be way, way off. Such conversational disconnects provide us with the basis for most sitcoms where, along with mistaken identity, amusing consequences tend to follow. In real life, these disconnects are not often as funny, more often they are disappointing and emotionally charged.

These are just a few of the elements in the science of second-guessing, which resembles an elaborately choreographed verbal dance between people, occuping many different strata of meaning: emotional, social, familial, financial, rational. I’ve deliberately avoided mention of solutions and results in second-guessing because they vary depending on what you are trying to get at, and also because your second-guessing may well have no fixed results. Trying to calculate the motivations of others is frustrating precisely because some statements or actions are motiveless. Even when there are motives, the chances are that you will only second-guess correctly a small percentage of the real reasons. But it’s still better than taking everything at face value, right?

5. Are you ready for love? (Elton John)

(Posted by Buni)


I’ve always questioned how some people can just flit from one relationship to another; one relationship ends, another starts; or a relationship hasn’t quite ended, and the other is starting already. How? How is this so and how do they do that?

Take ‘X’, they’ve been seeing ‘Y’ for the last year and a half. Things haven’t been easy for a while and they have been drifting apart. One day, Y says to X that they should split (NO chromosome jokes please), which they do. Then, before you know it, X is seen out and about in town with Z. Barely a few weeks have gone by and they’re at it again.

At this point I should point out that I’m all for picking yourself up and getting on with life, but it just seems so……..disposable. What about depth of feeling, do they have depth of feeling or are they just going along for the ride? Are they just settling into taking second best (i.e. pretty much anyone) as it’s a much more appealing option than being single. I have no idea.

I have absolutely no qualms about being single. I’m not desperate for anything, maybe that’s why I can’t see the above perspective. If I go out or go clubbing, I rarely if ever go looking for anything, I go to have a good laugh, spend time with friends and relax. If I meet someone then that’s just a bonus. I like to meet guys, there is no denying that, but I’m not one for flitting about. I like to bide my time, meet a guy I genuinely like and then go for it. I’m a typical Taurean, once stirred I go at it like a bull.

Kill Bill

(posted by Buni)

HaraKiriIt must be terribly difficult for a director to come up with decent plot lines, cinematography and direction each and every time they release a film. This must be especially so when the said director happens to be Quentin Tarantino who, with such iconic films to his name as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs (amongst others), happens to have quite successfully pulled it off this time too.

Kill Bill is an all round action movie that is pleasing to the eye as well as the ears. With the former, you can clearly see where his influences are; there is traditional Japanese and U.S. cinematography that switches to some of the best Manga out there. With the latter, Tarantino has cleverly spliced together tracks as diverse as Nancy Sinatra, Luis Bacalov, Isaac Hayes, Bernard Hermann, Tomoyasu Hotei and many others to create a soundtrack that is both exciting and inspiring.

Many have commented on the level of violence within the film and the graphic way it is portrayed. The violence within this film is however, well within context. It is a Samurai film about Samurai Assassins, they’re not going to be doing crochet or ‘pearl one’ for 110 minutes are they? At the end of the day, we know what level of violence we are going to get with Tarantino anyway, if you don’t know by now, where on earth have you been? I’ll give him dues in this area; he switches from contemporary colour in the goriest parts to the more traditional black and white Japanese Samurai films of the 60’s and 70’s, just to save us from the level of red out there.

I said earlier that Tarantino manages to pull off cool, iconic film after cool, iconic film. I’ve though long and hard over the last 24 hours to try and attempt to work out how he manages this. The only conclusion I can come to is that he flies in the face of critics and not only avoids but also uses clichés in the areas of the that it matters most; he’s not afraid to use clichés from his own films either. His advantage is that they are his own; he created them so he will bloody well use them.

Finally, I’d like to comment on the totally obvious way he has created a serial film. Wednesday nights viewing was only Part I, we still have Part II to go yet. I’m not so sure I like this idea or the fact that the film ends just at the point where you start to think that you’re getting into it. I’m not going to ruin the ending for anyone so all I’ll say on the matter is that my point about films is that I find them more interesting and enjoyable when they just leave you wondering if there is going to be another.

The five stages of working in Paris.

(posted by Mike, who has been up since 4:00 this morning and is therefore feeling a bit jet-lagged, even though the time difference was only an hour, and who is aware that what follows might consequently be a rambling, spaced-out jumble of a piece, but – since time is so tight in his newly acquired eurotrash-business-jetset lifestyle – is also keenly aware that it’s this or nothing, and that he can’t leave everything to his actually quite scarily talented guest posters, and oh God, he’s rambling already, OK, focus…)

1. This is bewildering.

Pitched into an unfamiliar (dare I say alien?) environment, where all life’s little details feel somehow other, one’s capacity for making the wrong choices increases exponentially. On difficult days, my expectations will shrink back to that classic, irreducible, middle-class English ideal: to get safely from one end of the day to the other without suffering any noticeable embarrassment along the way.

During my first week in Paris, this proved impossible. I pushed doors marked tirez, and pulled doors marked poussez. I caused bottlenecks in front of crowded Métro barriers, frantically scrabbling through my satchel for that sad little placcie bag containing my carnet of tickets. Given a choice of directions, I invariably set off in the wrong one. I struggled with suitcases, room keys, breakfast juice dispensers, coffee machines, small change, tables in cafés, plates of unfamiliar food (how the hell are you supposed to eat escargots, and why did I order the bloody things in the first place?), tips, the language (how I hated it when well-meaning Parisians answered my faltering French with grammatically perfect English, always, always, always – humour me, goddammit!) … embarrassment compounded embarrassment, leaving me feeling trapped inside a bad sitcom.

Mr. Bean Goes To Paris. Sometimes, I could almost hear the laugh track. I could even feel myself starting to pull the facial expressions. Behind closed doors, I sometimes did. Hey: got to keep yourself entertained somehow.

2. This is exciting.

Hang on a minute – I’m in freakin’ Paris! Cool as!

Pavement cafés! (Refreshingly free of all that creeping demographic segmentation, with hand-holding teenage couples bunched up next to gnarly old men, and neatly coiffed Madames next to merry groups of homeward bound office workers – every single last one of them smoking of course, but somehow getting away with it, because this is Paris, and this is what you do. Comme il faut, sort of…)

Beautiful manners! (None of that sod-you-mate Brit solipsism in evidence here, thank you…)

Timeless, understated elegance! (Thank God I got that ridiculous it’s-for-a-play-it’s-meant-to-look-stupid Hoxton Twat bleached fin hairdo chopped off in the nick of time…)

Iconic buildings! (Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Centre, Notre Dame, Louvre…)

All those sexy Marais ‘mos a-poutin’ and a-struttin’! (I’d do you, and you, and you, and you…)

Two nights running, I met up with Sarah, who had seen my shout-out on the blog a couple of weeks previously. Up until that point, my existence in Paris had been a steadily de-humanising round of work / eat / read / sleep. Now, I could finally start having proper conversations again. It still took a couple of drinks each night to unfurl my tightly sprung mental coils, but Sarah’s stimulating company gradually eased me back into a more functional, natural engagement with my surroundings.

Towards the end of the second night, I met Sarah’s charming Italian boyfriend, who spoke no English. So there we were, none of us native French speakers, conversing in the one non-native language which we all shared. My first proper French conversation in years. I don’t think I fared too badly, all things considered. The wine helped, of course – as it always does with foreign languages, relaxing you into a state where, the less you consciously try and search for them, the right words will instinctively start to bubble up to the surface of their own accord.

Sitting in the back of the Italian boyfriend’s car, zooming along the Seine embankment past all the illuminated guide-book sights, heading towards the twinkling Eiffel tower (that hourly light show turns out to look much better from a distance), I found myself grinning with glee. Wheeee! I’m zooming through night-time Paris in the back of a car! This is living!

3. This is fantastic.

Commuting to and from the office every day on the Métro with all the other workers, headphones playing Blur’s Think Tank or – best of all – Bowie’s Reality, newspaper on my lap, I started to feel like quite the proper Parisian. No longer the innocent abroad, but a seamless part of the crowd. Striding purposefully across the Port St. Cloud, with the crisp, clear Autumn sunshine lighting up the glass buildings ahead, and all those gorgeous height-of-autumn colours in the trees of the Parc St. Cloud, and on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne behind me. Heading back after an intensive (best behaviour in front of the client!) but surprisingly satisfying day’s work, to the hotel where they know me by name, and the little Internet place over the road, and my favourite local café/bar next door, and those wonderful early morning markets underneath the raised Métro tracks…oh yes, I’m up and running now, and lovin it lovin it lovin it.

4. This is routine.

Almost as soon as you’ve reached Stage 3 – the very next morning, in fact – Stage 4 stumbles up, bleary eyed, and clobbers you round the back of the head. In a trice, the thrill of the new evaporates, leaving you once again with that familiar feeling: same old, same old. After all: routine is routine, wherever you go. Suddenly, you’re back to wanting out.

5. This is enough.

You’re exhausted – okay, so it’s earnt exhaustion, “good” exhaustion – but no less knackering for all that. You feel ground down, fed up, wanting your man back, your home back, your life back. The misery of the shabby, over-familiar satellite lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport is the last straw – especially when you find that the bar’s shut. All your fellow passengers irritate you to distraction. The massed ranks of self-important business wonks are de-briefing into mobiles, with as much manufactured assertiveness as they can muster, all with the same emotionally distanced and faintly absurd vocal patina. There’s a tense Daily Mail type on your right, eyes narrowed and suspicious, muttering her inecessant litany of minor grumbles about absolutely f***ing everything to her silent, defeated looking husband, who looks as if he stopped listening years ago. You can’t get home quick enough.

On the plane, you put REM’s Bad Day on repeat, and crank it up nice and loud. When was the last time you kept hammering the same song over and over, because it gave you that “Yes! This is ME!” feeling? Pissed-off music for grown-ups. Bloody marvellous. Sipping your G&T from the trolley, you revel in your misery. In fact, you positively celebrate it. Dinner’s waiting when you get home. As you start planning your comic monologue, a wry smile creeps over your face.

I’ve not been in Paris this week. I’ve been in Cologne instead. Meaning a whole new set of unfamiliarities, of course – but somehow, I’m becoming familiar with the very state of unfamiliarity itself. If that makes any sense at all. (I can’t tell anymore; it’s getting on, I feel even more f***ed than I did when I started.) I’m beginning to sense that – for now at least, until even the familiarity of the unfamiliar ossifies into dull routine, as it surely must – this is actually doing me the power of good.

The Art of Science/The Science of Art

(Posted by Fi, after Mark and Zena)

How often have you heard the phrase “I know what I like and I like what I see”? How meaningless and subjective can that statement appear to people who have a different frame of reference to the observer. One man’s spam is another man’s steak. So what if I think that modern art is a load of old Pollocks. What really Lichtenstein’s my Klimt and makes my Gaugin Gogh is a nice Seurat or Monet. I can’t explain what it is about those 19th century French painters that makes my Botticelli all warm inside.

What does all this have to do with Science? Well, if we are to believe Robert Pirsig in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the unifying value behind art, science and religion is quality: a judgement brought by the observer to the object being observed and not just a street made of chocolate.

With science we postulate theories, make logical progressions through experimentation and draw conclusions that support our original theory. With art… with art… well… we sort of dab paint on canvases and step back and hope it doesn’t look too crap. Or we cut out square blocks and put them one atop the other and sell them for millions of pounds.

Science has its foundations in art of course, undocumented unfortunately, but true nonetheless. The famous caveman scientist Ug-ugog used stick-figure cave paintings to develop his first invention “fire”. Fire was such an immediate success that the cave was turned into an art gallery with nice lizard canapés served hourly and freshly fermented mammoth pee lager available at the bar.

Conversely art’s roots can be traced back to science. Across the other side of the super-continent Pangea another caveman known as Og-ogug was attempting to determine the origins of a particular species of spineless fish by pinning it up on the wall and rummaging around through the internal organs. The resultant cross of biology and art was also turned into a science museum where tour guides refused to tell you where the nearest dunny was and small pamphlets for coming attractions were handed out.

This conflict and chicken/egg-style paradox lead to the emergence of the first two true religions: The Church of the Fish and the Flowchart Appreciation Society. Suddenly the continent was in turmoil, split right down the middle. Whole tribes went to war to defend the premise that reading the fish innards revealed the future against the blasphemous idea that the flowchart predicted the way. Thousands died clutching small keychains of fishguts or postcards depicting the best panels from the flowchart.

Unsurprisingly, it all ended in tears when the true messiah, Mastadon Smith, left his tall black obsidian obelisk in the middle of the monkey enclosure…

The science of giving

(Posted by Mark)

Giving up
First up, let’s establish the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a quitter. If you’re not winning, and you’re not cheating well enough either, then give up. Persistence doesn’t always pay off, and though few people like a loser, even fewer people like someone who just doesn’t know when to let go. As Zena so correctly points out, failing and then quitting immediately gives you more time to go and fail somewhere else. Spread the failure around, don’t keep it all to yourself.

Yielding when you know that you can no longer win represents a realistic and honest attitude, rather than a bloodyminded insistence that however bad the situation gets, you will continue until the bitter end. For some reason, though, society regards the fact that a captain will go down with the sinking ship as somehow heroic and noble rather than really moronic; though I can see the point that this would serve.

If the ship is sinking, then it must be the captain’s responsibility and he can’t be a very good captain if his ship is scuppered, therefore letting him perish along with the vessel allows you to get rid of an inept mariner. Now that’s good thinking, but still not very heroic. And I’m sure that rats aren’t too chuffed that they’ve been given a bad name simply because they had the sense to desert the sinking ship. Which in turn raises the question: if a ship of rats is sinking, would the rat captain desert or go down with the boat? I think we should be told.

There are, as always, a few minor exceptions to the rule that capitulation is often a sensible course of action. If you have swum halfway across the Atlantic, it seems foolish to give up, turn around and swim all the way back. You should just radio for a cruise ship instead. Also, you should recognise when it is a good time to give up: a split-second after the aircraft has taken off is a bad time to realise that you aren’t yet ready to face your fear of flying. For the best example of when not to quit, watch Lloyd Bridges’ attempts in Airplane and you will see what I mean. Otherwise, though, feel free to give up immediately.

Giving gifts
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis. Quite true, especially if the gift is a bloody big horse made of wood with armed warriors inside. However, as the construction of such an animal is time-consuming at best and pointless at worst, most of us make do with making something smaller, or just selecting and buying pre-manufactured balsa mares gifts. Though I run the risk of being accused of hubris, I would aver that I am quite a good gift-giver, provided that I have remembered the occasion and that I am in the unlikely position of having any money at all. When memory and wealth collide, though, profligacy surely follows.

It’s a great feeling when you see something and immediately think to yourself, “I know exactly who would love that!”. The only better feeling is being there to watch them open it and, hopefully, dance a little jig in celebration at having received a perfectly chosen present. Last birthday, I was on the receiving end of the perfect present. My friends all clubbed together and bought me 12 Bond DVDs, in a box which they had made and decorated with pictures of Bond girls cut out from newspapers and magazines which also contained little tins of caviar, some crispbreads and a bottle of vodka. I recall being speechless with gratitude (and, ahem, booze), though there was no jig-dancing. There was chin-cutting and blood-letting, but no jig-dancing.

Giving money
I would refer you to Messrs Kiedis et al and their previous statement to “give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now”.

Giving directions
As referred to many, many times before, I am an absolutely hopeless navigator, preferring instead to work out my route through ‘zen navigation’: wherever you end up is where you were meant to be. I am, however, quite good at giving people directions. Not directing them in the “1.5km north-north-east” sense, mainly because I never know where north is, wherever I am. I give people real-life directions, though occasionally putting in a bit too much detail:

“Right, go to the end of the street, where the coffee shop is, take a right and walk down just as far as the HMV. Stand with your back to the HMV window display and on your right, across the road, you’ll see a small alleyway. Go down there until the second wheelie-bin, turn left then right and you should be about 20 seconds away. Got that?”

I’m also good at drawing little maps, which is pretty necessary when directing people from my flat to, well, anywhere, but mainly to the tube station. Wiggly lines means the canal, little pint glasses shaded three-quarters black mean pubs, little five pound notes mean banks, shopping baskets mean supermarkets … you get the drift. Camden being Camden, I was wondering whether I should put in other little symbols to denote some of the more ‘local’ attributes: little needles could represent either piercing studios or drug dealers, outstretched palms could mean beggars, and little black inverted crucifixes could indicate goths. It would give the map a bit more of a community flavour, I think.

The two pre-eminent experts at giving directions are my flatmate Mike and my father. Knowing London intricately well, most probably better than either the front or the back of their hand, they seem capable of instructing people through all the back streets, byways, alleyways, one-way streets and short cuts. Whereas I tend to know some areas very well and others hardly at all, Dad and Mike have a knowledge to rival The Knowledge. This is significantly better than most of the minicab drivers who stand by Camden Town station and whose knowledge of Camden itself is rather bad, never mind the rest of London. Half the time, I end up giving them directions – perhaps I should give them a copy of my local map.

Giving as good as you get
Although I am not one to advocate retaliation, it’s vital in the cut and thrust of conversation to be able to stand one’s ground and refuse to be intimidated, cowed or bullied. And it’s even more important that you manage to get at least one cheap gag into a conversation before you’re shot down. Parrying and blocking another person’s verbal barbs is tricky, and is often easier when you’ve never met them before because you have a licence to be as rude or intentionally offensive as you like. It’s especially fun to watch and listen to other people when they are duelling with their wits, mainly because they will probably reveal some secret or some gossip that they weren’t supposed to let slip. Either that or you can learn new put-downs.

It would be perfectly possible to enter into the ‘an eye for an eye’ versus ‘turn the other cheek’ debate here, but I’m certainly bored of it and I imagine you are too. I say that you’re entitled to riposte when someone is deliberately and nastily attempting to belittle or humiliate you. Those who would patronise and humble others in order to make themselves feel good, look good in front of their friends or provide themselves with a way to pass the time, those people should prepare themselves for some equally vituperative and forceful comebacks. I really hate it when people talk down to me, so I see no reason why I should do it to anyone else, and would hope that this is a common view. But then the real measure of a heated conversation is whether the person who’s dishing it out can take it, so you might as well test them.

Giving yourself to the moment
Carefree abandonment. Even the words sound fun, never mind whichever actions or inactions they represent for each person. Surrendering into what you really want to do has to be the most exciting part of the science of giving, without any doubt.

The Science of Failing

(posted by Zena, after that talented bloke Mark)

Some people think Failing is an art – imprecise, open to the vagaries of colourful creative types – but I’ve got it off to a science. If that is indeed a phrase. I suspect not. But hey, no editor, so bugger you.

The thing about having failed is it’s on your CV (resumee, honey) for ever. Done deal. So I’ve failed at a couple of jobs, more than a fair handful of relationships, and at small every day tasks, numerous times. No, really. But then my refugee antecedents give me naturally high standards. Standards I can only fail by. Imagine, a big red stamp over your life: FAILED.

This is like “failing math” in a John Hughes movie circa 1987. Failing math has baggage like being dressed up as Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, and wearing too many bangles and too much eye makeup.

The upside of failing is that you can change course mid-fail (seri-fail?). You can see the eyeliner on the wall, and the accessories piling up and think to yourself “how did I get here?” like you’re in a Talking Heads song, and then get into Failers Anonymous and you’re only twelve steps away from being new and improved like washing powder or gunpowder or even talcum powder.

I made this up. I have no idea what a failer is. Someone who is currently in the process of failing: someone who has the characteristics of failing hardwired into their personality; a person who never passes, only fails. This is getting depressing, non?

Alternatively, it could be Fayla: the latest North London hip hop diva (have you noticed how all those words end in -a?), and then of course you’re a massive success. Or a showgirl. One or the other.

I think you can be the victim of someone else’s failure. So my parents are moderately middle-class people – my dad’s a lawyer – who haven’t quite had the life they expected. My Dad’s judgement led to him mistiming and mis-judging a couple of crucial deals that would have meant he could retire at thirty. So I guess that makes my mother a failee: she’s living a certain degree of failure, as a result of the actions of someone else. It’s a good reason not to get married, too, methinks.

I’m just “writing with the door closed” as they say on all those annoying creative-goddess within weekends that I have paid oh-so-much money to have my creative-genes attuned. I’ll stop now. Must go fail at something else.

Big Yellow Taxi

(Posted by Melodrama)

I do not own a car and rely on cabs to ferry me all around Calcutta. I favour cabs because:
(i) I just do not have the patience to wait for a bus or a tram or the metro.
(ii) I hate crowds.
(iii) I have started enjoying the thrills and heart-stopping moments involving rides in Calcutta cabs.
(iv) I am lazy.

Calcutta cabbies fall under two categories, the bengalis or the non-bengalis. If you have hailed a bengali cabbie, the probability of having an interesting conversation is high. In the past, I have discussed Rabindranath Tagore (I knew next to nothing about Tagore, but after the ride I felt I was equipped with enough trivia to put any self-respecting, cultured bengali to shame), the communist state government in Bengal, the decline of the jute industry, why Dalhousie square was renamed BBD bag, the Goethe Institute and the Calcutta Film festival. Most bengali cabbies are inquisitive and over-helpful and will ply you with advice until you are ready to yell “Tagore” in exasperation.

The non-bengali cabbie is another ball game. You will never need to visit an amusement park as long as you take rides in cabs in Calcutta. The cabbie often harbours the misconception that he is Schumacher and your heart will be in your mouth as you see him weave and twist in the traffic. No self-respecting Calcutta driver drives in a lane, so how can our cabbie? You open your eyes and just when you think the bus charging into your cab will flatten you and you start whispering your final prayers, the cab will lurch and you will bang your head against the cab top and will find that the cabbie is cheek to cheek with the lorry that was along your cab and the driver has stuck half his torso out of the cab to abuse the bus driver who dared to take over his right of way. When you reach your destination the cabbie will have no change and you will often find his meter tampered and spiked. A long argument will ensue between you and the cabbie and will result in you resolving never to take a cab again. Then when you need to return home, you hail a cab and breeze into it and forget all your resolves until your next encounter with a non-bengali cabbie.

The science of worrying

(Posted by Mark)

There’ll always be something on your mind you’ll never quite find
Won’t you ever make your mind up?

I find it possible to worry about almost anything at any given moment, despite the fact that I lead what is, in comparison to a lot of the world’s population, a rather worriless and pleasant life. So why worry? Although not quite at the “did I leave the gas on?” level of ill-remembered fretting, many of the things I worry about are embarrassingly trivial. It’s quite similar to sitting around thinking about whether you could ever train cats to play football when someone asks, “What are you thinking?” to which you have to lie “Er, reconstruction in Iraq”, otherwise you sound pathetically shallow (and not a little crazy). With some of the topics for my worrying, such shallowness abounds.

This is the most understandable of worries: Did I do X? Have I called Y? Will I get to my location on time? Have I taken the right turning? Will they remember who I am? Did he leave the tickets/keys where he said he would? What’s my name?

Speed-fretting such as this is fairly low grade and can be dispensed with quite quickly. If you are worrying about being lost, then stop being English for a second and just ask a bypasser for directions. You can check your mobile phone to see whether you called someone or whether you are running late. And if you get to your destination and things aren’t entirely perfect, there will probably be either a good explanation or a way of fixing things so it all turns out well. That’s the optimist in me talking. For advanced worriers, the consequence tree has many branches and each different aspect of an outcome will produce another mini-worry chain.

No, the real problem with speed-fretting is when you are worrying about so many different things at the same time that you fall into a kind of shutdown mode. Combining multiple worries can send you into a catatonic state whereby you are incapable of any form of remedial action to resolve your panic. Here’s an example worry chain: Lack of money + delayed train + missed call + not sure of directions + meeting for the first time = a very nervy worrier who is about to go into a state of mental breakdown. And there’s no real solution to this one, other than to stop. You could try the ‘go to your happy place’ trick, but I’m not sure that works and it sounds a bit hippie-ish for my liking.

Work is another area where worrying takes hold. This is usually because you have too much to do and too little time to achieve it. Here again the shutdown mode is evident, because while you are trying frantically to finish off as much as you can, you’re also thinking about what’s next, what can be shelved, what can be delayed and what you can make excuses for. Your mind is not focused on the one thing you are supposed to be doing at that time, and so you make a botched job of it, meaning that the remedy work which will eventually come back to you will add to your overall burden. Don’t you just love vicious circles? For this kind of worrying, there are really only two cures: cigarettes and coffee. If you don’t smoke, take it up. If you don’t like coffee, learn. You’ll need all the nicotine and caffeine you can get to work your way through nightmare days.

You shouldn’t, you know, but it’s terribly easy to. It ought not to make a difference, but it really does. Yes, it’s the old worry: what people think. I am 100% positive that I have inherited this trait from my mother, who has an incredibly bad case of “what will the neighbours think” syndrome. WWTNT syndrome is particularly severe in the particular leafy corner of tube zone 4 where our family house is located, with net curtains going all aflutter when strange cars drive down the road and curiously coincidental bumping-into-by-accident meetings whenever I was bringing someone home back in the days I still lived there.

I went to pieces when I should have shouted and screamed instead
So sorry, I said

To be more accurate, I don’t worry about what people think about me in isolation; I manage to feel this while simultaneous thinking that if they have a problem, they can go to hell. This combination of low self-confidence and misplaced belligerence is hardly a sign of good mental health and yet I know that other people get this as well. First impressions are always a worrying time because although everyone knows that the best way to make a good impression on someone is to be yourself and be relaxed, the situation in which you are meeting someone for the first time is probably going to be a bit stressful, to say the least. Also, the most annoying way of ensuring that you have worried yourself into a gibbering frenzy is to keep thinking about it; sod’s law, really.

A good example of worry paralysis is when meeting up with people you have never met; for example, taking a random situation from nowhere in particular, at blogmeets. Turning up at the right place and at the right time is a good starting point. And then you just sit there, trying desperately to remember people’s faces from the photos you quickly checked out the day before when you realised that you were just about to go off and meet a whole bunch of people about whom you know incredible amounts of information yet whose faces are completely unknown. Occasionally, you might glance over at another table and think “well, they look like they might be bloggers” but then quickly dismiss it because anybody could be a blogger. You recall that one of the people you are due to meet wears glasses. Well done, that narrows it down to half the UK population.

Then you realise that you have no idea what one or two of the prospective attendees are called; oh, you know their site name, but their real name? Nope, no idea. So you either stay seated, firmly in the grip of worry paralysis, or you start to wander around the place in the vague hope that you might recognise someone or that someone might recognise you – this is known as worrywalking: you’re not actually going to anywhere definite, but the act of moving is a displacement activity while your mind roams through myriad possibilities.

If you are eventually lucky enough to find or be found (thanks Hg), then you have to worry about the fact that people might be talking technical things (uh-oh) or just that they’re all a lot funnier and have better social lives than you. At the beginning, you stay very quiet, trying to work out what the hell terms like RSS, A-list and MT mean so that you don’t make a fool of yourself. Eventually, the worry will pass and you will slip seamlessly into conversation, so for anyone worrying right now: fear not, there is hope. (Top tip: keep hammering on about being Z-list so no-one realises that you actually have no idea what you’re doing; it’s worked for me so far. Fingers crossed.)

Some of your worries will have foundation. There is a chance that you might miss the beginning of a film, your partner could be having an affair, your friends may be talking about you behind your back – however likely or not, these are all within the realms of possibility. Some other worries, however, will be entirely groundless and quite fantastic. This is generally the time when you should stop worrying about alien invasion and begin considering the distinct possibility that you are clinically insane.

While sitting on the steps outside my work building a while ago, enjoying an elevenses cigarette, I looked up at the building site diagonally across from where I was sat. The construction work was still in an early phase and the building’s skeleton was the only completed part. Looking up at the girders and beams criss-crossing up and up, I wondered to myself whether a sniper sat on one of the beams would be able to shoot me from that distance. I then wondered whether, if a sniper starting shooting into the crowd, I would be able to find adequate cover from the fusillade of bullets which would be raining down upon the commuters and workers crossing the road. While I was trying to work this out, I realised that I probably would be able to find cover, but not in time, and this started to worry me.

I should point out that this is paranoia of the highest level and I have (a) laughed it off since then, and (b) seriously considered getting professional help. However the momentary worry I had, before realising that this was entirely the fault of an overactive imagination, a slightly warped approach to urban planning and probably a bit too much coffee, was definitely real. It is annoying, though, that I had not only to deal with some of my real worries, but that I was also inventing new and implausible ones to further send myself into a nervous breakdown. Fortunately, I managed to stop myself worrying about my worrying, because that’s just taking it a bit too far.

The science of wanting

(Posted by Mark)

As a child, I remember being told that ‘I want’ never gets. As a lesson in manners, it was extremely effective and is probably the root cause behind my overwhelming compulsion to say thank you far too many times in shops, thereby alerting the sales assistant to the fact that I am a twit. As a lesson in life, however, it is not strictly accurate. ‘I want’ often does get.

We live in a material world, and I am a material girl erm, bloke. Acquisition and immediacy are highly important in our everyday comings and goings as chattels and goods have become status symbols and brands have developed to be instantly recognisable. Truly, we want it all, and we want it now (or next-day delivery at the very least). Previously, conversations might go:

“Nice shoes.”
“Thank you, I’ve only recently bought them.”

Now it is far more likely to be:

“Nice shoes”
“Yes. They’re the new Nike Dunk Low Pro B hoops shoes.”

For some reason that I have never fully understood, trainers are very, very important. It is essential to have the correct trainers and to make sure that you are wearing the latest footwear fashions and brands the moment they are released to the slavering, drooling masses. It is the equivalent of having a large sticker on your feet stating that street credibility may go down as well as up. And I don’t agree with it. I may not know much about co-ordinating my own ragtag clothing ensembles (especially not if I’m only going to work; why dress up for them?), but I have to disagree with ‘the street’ on the issue of trainers. Wanting the latest fashions and trends every fifteen seconds is simply unreasonable, it makes me mad as hell and I won’t take it any more.

Come the catastrophic, nay apocalyptic, day when I become a father to a Master or a Miss Londonmark, I hope to be able to sidestep the whole ‘new trainers every day’ issue by presenting my child and heir with a simple choice: you can have the trainers, Mark II/Marcia, and you can buy new ones as often as you like. However, you will have to work for them. I’ve signed you up with a temp agency and although you’re only seven, they’ve waived the whole underage working restrictions thing. You start 9.00am on Monday as a legal secretary, and don’t forget to put some overtime in if you want to pay for this week’s board and lodging. Harsh, you may cry. Get to work, I say.

Although we always want things, childhood is the time when we are most insistent. “Want, want, want” cries the child as he/she/it points at an ice cream or a balloon and, in order to avert wailing and tears, the child is pretty likely to get the object of his/her/its desire. This does not work when you are a twenty-six year old standing outside Micro Anvika on Tottenham Court Road pointing at the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Apple 23″ cinema display screen, because it is unlikely that anyone will care whether you start screaming and crying, unless they decide to have you sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Otherwise the similarity between childhood wants and adult wants are reasonably similar: food and toys.

When denied the ice cream which they want, want, want, a child may sulk or holler but then, like I did when I was a child, they will make a promise with themselves: “When I grow up, I’m going to eat ice cream every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m not going to eat horrid vegetables, I’ll eat tubs and tubs and tubs of ice cream instead”. It’s when we get to adulthood that the thought of an ‘ice cream only’ diet may sound appealing but we know it to be impractical. We bound our wishes with realities, in this case the realities of nutrition, body shape and balanced eating.

Perhaps we also lose the singlemindedness of our childhood: for a brief moment, the ice cream is the most important thing to have in the world and we strain in our efforts to get it. After the denial of gratification, and the tantrum it brings, however, the desire has passed and we focus on something else, this time needing the new item with the same blaze of intensity. Adulthood brings with it an ability to rationalise away snap decisions and impulses, and to moderate our monomania. Which is, I think, a little bit of a shame.

When we say “I want you”, we are neatly combining many differing and possibly self-contradictory things we would like to say, but either lack the words or lack the courage to say them: I want you to be around me, I want to you to agree with me, I want you to support me, I want you to affirm me, I want you to have sex with me, I want you to live with me, I want you to laugh at my jokes, I want you to take care of me, I want you so I’m not alone, I want you to change me, I want you to change for me, I want you so I’m not scared any more, I want you to stay with me, I want you.

The title song of the latest Rufus Wainwright album expresses want wonderfully:

I just want to know
If something’s coming for to get me
Tell me, will you make me sad or happy
And will you settle for love
Will you settle for love?

Of course, the wants we have for others may rarely, if ever, be fulfilled. An entire artistic subject has been based around concepts and examples of unrequited love; I believe some dead bloke called Shakespeare may have written the odd poem about it, even. Our childhood monomania for ice cream/balloons may well have developed during our transition to adulthood into a more narrow focus away from transitory pleasures and towards … well, love.

Of course, in the process of wanting others, we may well be found wanting by them. Our capacities for reciprocation, generosity, care, tactility, expression, thoughtfulness and all the other attributes which light up our eyes may well not be enough for another. You can want someone too much; one person’s detachment is smothering to someone else. Whether wanting is measured in quality or quantity depends entirely on the individuals concerned. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast guidelines for us to follow – we just have to muddle through, minds fogged by desire.

Is it the pursuit of perfection, a realisation of pragmatism, the search for the divine or perhaps baser instincts which drive us into wanting someone? Or, more likely, is it a combination of these? I’ve always felt ever so slightly envious of couples who have known that they were meant for one another from the first moment they saw each other. I don’t begrudge them their happiness by any means, but the romantic deep within me still gives a nearly imperceptible sigh. It’s probably because we were force-fed all those fairy tales from infancy, where everyone lives happily ever after at the end, but I don’t see why the world can’t work that way simply because it doesn’t at the moment. Starry-eyed nonsense, I know, I know.

But if you’re allowed to want a new car, want peace on earth, want an ice cream, want to be loved, or whatever it is you want, then I’m allowed to want as well. And that’s the beauty of the science of wanting.