Three Minute Affair

(posted by Fi)

The exit ramp from the motorway took me down to a set of lights, sadly however it took everyone else down too and a queue of vehicles was waiting to get through the lights. Only half a dozen cars were getting through each time and the starting and stopping became automatic to me as my mind wandered and I found myself looking forwards into the car in front.

Inside the blue Renault Clio there was only the driver, her long dirty blonde hair falling below her shoulders, I could see her dark roots showing through, she looks about my age and she… she’s watching me in her rear-view mirror. Start, move forward, and stop.

Looking again, I can see her playing with something with her teeth, nibbling her fingers or something. Is she watching me? Yes, she’s watching again, to see if I’m still looking. Against her back windshield a plump orange soft-toy playing a furry blue guitar is also watching me. I suddenly feel embarrassed at appearing intrusive and nosy and I hook my own hair behind my ears and look away.

Her car is so much cleaner than mine, and just as it isn’t until you see how good someone else’s haircut is, or how nice someone’s new clothes appear that you feel bad about your own. First thing this weekend I swear I’ll wash this hunk of junk and make it shine. God, I hope she doesn’t think I’m some sort of slob because I have a dirty car. Start, move forward, and stop.

What is she doing with her fingers? I keep angling my head to one side to try and see past her headrest but each time she leans to one side too. I find myself wondering what music she’s listening to, where is she coming from, where is she going? I find my mind inventing all sorts of scenarios; she’s on her way home from work in her boyfriend’s car. She’s single and the back seat is full of bags of shopping. She’s going to see her parents to tell them she’s moving out to stay with her lesbian lover.

For a few minutes this woman has become an obsession for me, she consumes my thoughts, is she thinking about me? I can see her eyes, the mirror makes them appear darker and tilted forward seductively, ocean blue, which probably means she’s just a dark blonde who lightened her hair colour, rather than a brunette trying to be a blonde. Ha, I smooth a hand through my own blonde hair, how does she like those apples? Start, move forward, and stop.

I thought she had time to get through the lights, maybe she was just too slow, a voice inside me says she did it on purpose to stay here at the lights and draw this affair out a minute longer. She’s now first in line, with me directly behind her. After this change we’re likely to head our separate ways. Is she thinking what I’m thinking? What would happen if I got out and walked up to her window? Would she deny that she was watching me? Would she accuse me of staring at her? Maybe she’s not even bothered by it and feels quite flattered by the attention. And maybe I’d just be left standing there at the side of the road like a lemon.

It can only be a few seconds now until the lights change, already I notice the flow of through-traffic is lessening and the boy-racer in the Ford Escort beside me is like a horse champing at the bit, he grins and I turn away with, what is hopefully a disdainful look. One last look forward before I release the hand brake.

The dirty blonde winks one of her azure eyes at me, turns to one side and spits her gum out; it sails in a wide arc and lands in the grass at the side of the road. The fantasy scenarios are put back into the mental filing cabinet and reality takes hold again as the lights change and she pulls away to whatever life awaits her. It was probably never meant to be, anyway.

Life is an unfair mistress

(Posted by Melodrama)

This week of being a guest blogger does not seem to please the fates or the forces or whatever it is that makes life go tickety-tock where I am. First I was looking forward to blogging heaven over here. What? Another blog to post my deep, profound words on? Yeah! Sadly, I have been besieged by work this week. Today morning while stapling a sheaf of papers, I forgot that my finger was below and I was in such a fit of caffeine-induced working enthusiasm, I stapled my finger along with the papers. Actually a little flap of skin. Now, I have a tiny loose flap of skin exposing some pink flesh and the said report was sadly splattered with blood and my cabin, with choice expletives. Nice beginning to a day.

La familie, well, the progenitors if you really need to know, compounded my misery by ringing me up right in the middle of the morning and telling me all the details of the vacation they are taking next month and rubbing it in by sighing about how sad it was I couldn’t join them. Then, I fell out of my chair after lunch. I hate chairs with wheels. I am not normally so accident prone or so angsty, I think it has something to do with this troubled diva guest blogging. I am almost convinced.

On asides, my brother is back from college for Diwali (if you guys don’t know what that is with the number of punjabis you have in the UK, then you ought to feel ashamed of yourselves.) and its Diwali time once again which means having to meet people I don’t want to meet, namely relatives and my parents’ friends and forcing myself to be nice to them so that I am not branded ‘that rude spinster daughter of the Singhs’ and forcing myself not to snap back when asked about my marriage plans. Why am I celebrating Diwali at my parents again? I think I need to go shopping today evening to cheer myself up and to post a cheery post for once on TD.

The science of timing

(Posted by Mark)

As any professional comedian will tell you, timing is an essential weapon in their armoury, as to be able to deliver the coup de grâce on cue will determine their on-stage success or failure. Timing is important in other professions as well: one would hope that a bomb disposal expert has a keen sense of timing, for example. Likewise a clockmaker, a neurosurgeon, a referee, someone who times things for a living (sorry); all must be aware of the perfect moment, the ticking of seconds into minutes and deadlines approaching.

Timing pressures are not confined to professions, however. In our personal lives, timings are crucial also: our lives are run by wristwatches, alarm clocks, the beep-beep-beep of reminders on mobile phones. We make arrangements at specific times and get irritated if we have to wait. Our time is running out. How did it come to this?

Timing a joke
I feel inclined to argue on behalf of nature rather than nurture when it comes to comic timing – some people are just hopeless at telling jokes. Often it’s not the actual timing but instead the sequence of the various constituent parts of the joke (assuming that the narrator has remembered them all successfully, another pitfall for the wannabe stand-up comedian) which eludes the storyteller. However, let’s assume that the joke has been remembered, and remembered in the right order. Now it’s no use just gabbling the whole thing in one go. You need to build a sense of anticipation.

The old music hall adage still holds true: make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait. It is the first and third of these which are most vital (unless they are crying with laughter, in which case the second element is good too) as they focus you on timing the joke well enough to make them actually laugh. So, don’t just trot out the whole shaggy dog story at once, take your time. Ad-libbing is helpful here, as is irrelevant and potentially misleading detail: by padding out the tale for a little bit longer, you pique the listener’s interest. And, for God’s sake, get the punchline right.

Timing journeys
Damn, I’m late. Again. What’s it to be then? I can walk, I can run, I can hop onto a bus, I can try the Tube, I could hail a taxi, I can see if there’s a train. What’s it to be then? Being someone who, paradoxically, hates other people being late but am mostly late myself, I am constantly looking for new and inventive ways of cutting a few minutes from any particular journey time. As a point of pride, I consult the Underground journey planner and then scoff at their suggestions, preferring instead to follow my own route based on not only a knowledge of tube lines but also the most easily navigable stations, the correct doors to use when alighting from the train and trying to get to another platform as speedily as possible, which places have lifts rather than escalators and, of course, which places are just bloody well closed due to the ineptitude of the people who run the Underground.

We’re always looking for the quick route, the short cut, the way to avoid the traffic. One of the signs of getting older is when discussions of bands or films or books mutate over the years into discussions about the best way to get from A to B while dodging bottlenecks and, preferably, also dodging the congestion charge zone. Rather than smile and change the subject when someone tells you about their journey to meet you, instead you launch into a long conversation about how,precisely, they got there; what route, were the traffic lights working, how are those roadworks affecting the contraflow, etc, etc. Or perhaps that’s just the British obsession with all things car-related.

Also, whinging about public and private transport has never been brought closer to an artform that in the British Isles. After years of poor planning, mismanagement, delays and ‘essential engineering works’, the transport infrastructure of this island is amazing not due to breadth of coverage nor the services it provides, but rather it’s incredible that it even works. There are plenty of things wrong with the system and if you’re taking a twenty-minute journey, it’s wise to leave a good hour beforehand to take into account the inevitable mishaps which will occur, yet somehow you can pretty much always get to your destination. You just get there a little bit late, or at least that’s my excuse.

Timing criticism
The human animal is a sensitive creature, capable of perceiving slights and withdrawing into itself at the merest hint of criticism, justified or otherwise. To get a point across to someone, it’s necessary to be diplomatic, tactful and most of all, borrowing a phrase which Evelyn Waugh regarded as essential for schoolmasters, to “temper discretion with deceit”. You should also time your ‘we need to talk’ moment very carefully indeed. Manipulation is a demanding enterprise and not to be taken lightly: I wait until Spurs have won before approaching my flatmate about getting him to repay money, for example.

It’s not just about getting your own way, although obviously that’s always gratifying. Knowing when and where to pick a fight or to have a serious, emotion-laded conversation can often be the make-or-break point in a friendship or relationship. It’s often hard to find the ‘right time’ to approach someone about a delicate issue, as well as being difficult to say the words you need to say. At times it’s also difficult to wait for the right moment, rather than unload your heart right here, right now. You have to be able to get the time with someone first before you can say your piece, confess to your worries or your concerns, and then try to get them to engage.

Just because you’ve picked the perfect time doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed for them to answer, either; you’re just giving them every opportunity to be in the right frame of mind to hear your opinion. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a response. If not, then you’re just going to have to wait. The science of timing is more precise that some of the others I’ve written about but it’s also one of the more demanding. When thoughts are getting muddled in your mind, allowing contradictions and doubts to counteract what you previously held true, it’s helpful to talk them out with the person concerned or with a good friend, but you have to find or make the time, and then be sure that they are receptive. For all the timing in the world, it’s the arrival that matters.

4. Who’s gonna ride your wild horses? (U2)

(posted by Buni)

Now that I’ve finished insulting the Welsh and scaring the bejeesus out of everyone with my Carrie moment, I’ll continue.

I have to admit that I’ve never owned a wild horse, nor do I care to, and if I did I’m sure my flat would begin to look even worse than it does now . Also, I don’t think my lease allows me to have un-caged pets. I’ve always enjoyed riding horses though, some friends in Portugal owned a couple and as it happens they weren’t wild either. They were light-tan and dark, something breed.

The only time I’ve ever come into regular contact with these animals was about 1973 / 74. We used to live in a village called Aldbury in Hertfordshire. As you can see form the map, it’s a very small place with a tiny little population. We used to live just off Stocks Road (which is on the map) at a place called Little Stocks which, in the 19th century, used to be the guest house of Stocks Country House.

About the time that we were living there, Stocks had been purchased and redeveloped by Victor Lownes, who co-owned Playboy with Hugh Hefner. I would have been about 3 at the time and my sister would have been 5 so she would have gone to school. My mother, who had been a keen rider in her youth, had a part-time job exercising Victor Lownes’ horses. He’d taken it upon himself to become a bit of a ‘Lord of the Manor’ in those days, having lavish weekend parties and him and his guests would be riding his horses all over the estate.

The only problem with this set up was that my mother had to leave me with people while she worked. Firstly, there was her best-friend Karen, who was the mother of my best friend Lincoln, she was a total hippy girl and introduced my mother to doing hot knives on Ivanhoe Beacon one solstice and as Stocks was being used as Victor’s home / Bunny-school, there were of course the Bunny Girls.

My recollection of this period is really quite clear, I can even draw a floor plan of our home and memories I relive to my mother are received with surprise though, I have no recollection of the Bunny-Girls. However, stories told to me by my mother usually entail me being smothered by the Girls and told how cute I was. There is one story of where I walked down the steps of the pool outside and just carried on under the water, I was saved by being dragged out of the water by my shirt collar by a Bunny. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me bring this story around to who is going to ‘Ride My Wild Horses’ as I’ve been rambling. I have a good idea who I’d like to but won’t mention it on here.

So, there you have it, that’s how Buni got to be ‘part’ raised by Bunny-Girls.


(Posted by Fi)

An eccentric Japanese girlfriend invited me to one of her famous “Super Happy Fun Dinner Parties” as she calls them. Usually it’s just an excuse for her to put her hair up in buns and wear her Cheongsam and play the doting mistress of the house. The only problem is that she comes across more like a B-list celebrity in Widow Twanky drag. It’s a shame but as her friend I just can’t bring myself to tell her that there’s a panto somewhere with her name on it.

After the original stir-fry evening she diversified to sushi, fondue and nouveau cuisine before trying to host a murder mystery dinner. The dinner was something of a failure due to my reluctance to play dead when there were such fine wines to be sampled that evening. I waved people away telling them that I was an alcoholic zombie and that they should pay me no attention, but if they could pass me the Russian Cigarettes I’d refrain from mauling them and eating their brains.

“This time diff’rent” she told me “You like this time. You wear something sexy.”

So I showed up in a cocktail dress with ruffles down the back and my hair up in a chignon. This turned out to be a monumental mistake. My definition of sultry sexy didn’t match her definition of trashy sexy. My friend had organised a spanking party.

The light bulbs had been replaced for red bulbs and a girl in a bikini covered in various finger foods and nibbles had replaced the dining table. I was surprised not to see cocktail sticks with pineapple and cheese cubes protruding from anywhere. My friend who was more bubbly than usual on these occasions handed me a carnival mask at the door. Everything was going so well apparently and everyone was having a very naughty good time, she assured me. It looked a lot like a budget version of Eyes Wide Shut.

My friend had enlisted the help of someone she’d met over the Internet who ran these sorts of parties in a similar vein to Tupperware parties, only with less plastic and more rubber. An assortment of canes and whips dangled from her hat stand and people kept brandishing paddles and looking for a willing bottom to practice on. I immediately felt a surge of anger when I realised that all the women were masked and all the men carried paddles.

The paddles turned out to be harmless slapsticks, with holes through the actual paddle part so they could cause a loud slapping noise without hurting. I found this out after I was struck with one as I dipped a carrot stick into the thousand-island-dressing in a dish on the bikini-girl’s hip as I gave her a polite smile that said “rather you than me”. The offending male was rather sheepish when I glared at him through my cat-mask and asked him what exactly he thought he was doing.

For some reason I couldn’t get the mental image of Michael Palin in Castle Anthrax out of my head as the eight score young blondes and brunettes, all between sixteen and nineteen-and-a-half, cut off in the castle with no one to protect them begged for a spanking, a spanking! And then the oral… no, hang on a moment. I spent most of the evening either sitting in a chair or standing against a wall to prevent anyone getting any ideas and left early. I’m adventurous, but not desperate.

The science of playing

(Posted by Mark)

Play is an important part of our daily lives, as evidenced by the old advertising slogan “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”. Of course, many people prefer to substitute words such as ‘coffee’ or ‘non-prescription drugs’ rather than ‘Mars’, but that’s really their own business. It’s the other elements in the slogan that are important, especially ‘work’: play is a key factor in the work/life balance. Whenever an employer tells you that they encourage a healthy work/life balance, don’t assume that this means 50/50. They actually mean 95/5. After all, they’re not paying you to have a life, are they? (If they actually are, then tell me where you work.)

That said, work can afford some opportunities for play as well. Playing air guitar while sitting in an office swivel chair can be pretty fun, provided no-one has noticed you. The only trouble is if you put a bit too much gusto into the power chords, as this accidentally pushes your chair across your little area of open plan, knocking you straight into the recycling bin, as well as ripping your headphones out, thereby opening up your music to the entire floor. Not that I know this personally, you understand. (Whistles nonchalantly.)

Playing up
There’s nothing quite like a good hands pounding on the table, bawling your eyes out, toddler-style tantrum, is there? So cathartic and so immature at the same time. I regret the fact that because we have grown up, started jobs and relationships, incurred financial and social responsibilities and are just so fran-tic-a-lly busy, we don’t get to have a loud, no-holds-barred tantrum any more. Or at least, we’re not supposed to, despite the fact that the pressures on us are greater. It seems very inequitable that when we are young enough to jump up and down legitimately, howling in anger, there is actually very little for us to shout and scream about, yet when we are old enough to have job, money or personal worries, it is not really acceptable to sit in the middle of an office, legs crossed, screaming to high heaven and crying like a baby.

Well, I think that we should bring tantrums and playing up back into adult life. If we get all the horrible things like bills to pay and meetings to attend, then I think we should be allowed some of the decent things as well, starting off with the inalienable right to holler and launch hissy fits as and when we deem necessary. Further items on this Regression Manifesto will include the right to sulk, the right to claim “you just don’t understand me” and then stomp off to our bedrooms, the right to do our homework in front of the television, and the right to wear whatever damn underwear we want when we get run over in the street.

Playing hard to get
If you are coy, then you’ll already know. If you’re not, then I’m not telling.

Playing into their hands
It’s that particular moment when you realise, “I’ve been had” accompanied by a slight sinking feeling in your stomach and generally also partnered by the beginning of laughter from others. Walking straight into a trap, be it verbal or a practical joke, or even just being set up to supply an answer that had already been predicted; these are just a few ways of playing straight into somebody’s hands. They have you where they want you, you have swallowed the bait and they are now reeling you in. However, unless you are prepared to take the radical step of never saying anything and never going anywhere ever again, there isn’t an awful lot you can do about playing into people’s hands, I’m afraid. Vigilance is your best option. Oh, and a very low gullibility level will help no end also.

Playing away
Don’t ever think you won’t get caught. You will. Don’t ever think you won’t hurt people. You will. Don’t ever think it won’t haunt you. It will. Don’t ever think that it’s not a bad idea. It is. Don’t ever think that you won’t lose friends. You will. Don’t ever think that it’s worth it. It isn’t. Don’t think you’ll keep it secret. You won’t. Don’t ever think that tears won’t be cried. They will. Don’t ever think that it’s just the way you are. It isn’t. Don’t ever think that you’re being clever. You’re not. Don’t think you won’t feel ashamed when you look back. You will.

Playing for keeps
There is a time when playing stops being fun and suddenly gets very, very serious. Whether it’s a ‘friendly’ game of pool, a kickabout in the park or even a poker night at a friend’s house, however much you are enjoying simply playing, a competitive edge enters the game at some point and remains there, under the skin. I remember that playing Trivial Pursuits at college was possibly one of the most competitive things I have ever done: out of the players, two were graduate students who already had their Firsts, two of the others would go on to get Double Firsts, the another player got a 2:i and then there was me. Oh dear. As they were predominantly English Lit students, the Art & Literature category of questions quickly became a bloodbath, as you might imagine, and it was arguably the quickest game I have ever played (and lost quite badly).

Although it’s not quite the same as the ‘win at all costs’ strategy of game-playing, when you switch from a gentle, well-isn’t-this-fun mode into a destroy-destroy-destroy mode, playing for keeps isn’t all that easy to conceal. In a ‘friendly’ game of pool, for example, the sudden and insistent snookering of your opponent will be pretty obvious and very likely to push them into an equal tactic of attrition. Chess, despite stalemates, has never been anything other than playing for keeps and so neatly avoids the courteous first few moves before the deluge. Of the more physical sports, you know things are going badly when a little game of three or four people playing keepy-uppy descends into a mélee of twelve or so people performing sliding tackles, grabbing shirts and making sure that they foul everybody bar that big bloke who spent some time inside, so don’t mess.

Playing by the book
No matter where you are, what you are doing, or who you are with, one of the people around you will be the rules person. You know what they’re like: all events must be played out according to his/her little book. The type of person who whips out a calculator when the bill for dinner arrives, the person who insists on making an entire cinema row move because they have to sit in “their” seat, the person who doesn’t believe in tipping because it isn’t in their rule book. This level of formal, constricted thought is liable to get more relaxed people whipped up into a frenzied rage. “Can’t we just go out and see what happens?” is the lament, while the response is invariably something along the lines of “But what’s the plan?” Although this person will be invaluable when the car breaks down, when someone gets ill or when the fate of the world is at stake, while you’re just going out for a few beers, they will be massively irritating. There are times when the book should be shelved and left at the library.

So, play up! Play up! And play the game. If you’re not winning, you’re not cheating well enough.

Strictly Ballroom

(Posted by Fi)

I can’t stand silence. Silence is either justified by the amount of time it takes to load a new CD, or the break in the argument where you scrabble for a better foothold. I associate long silent pauses with the intake of breath before I’m lectured for leaving a fork in the microwave, spending all my money on clothes or stepping out onto icy lakes. Well, it looked solid enough!

Perhaps I’m part of that generation that needs constant distraction before anything can be done, but I can’t concentrate without music. I spent a week studying for my finals without music and it was the longest, most boring week I have ever spent. Now, I had the honest intention of continuing this article, but I suddenly feel quite silly typing the merits of music and how I can’t live without it when Buni is doing such a good job of it and Quarsan did last week. So instead I shall expand on Melodrama’s piece below.

Perhaps a more important thing to talk about than my fantasies of being swept through a crowded ballroom to the open dance-floor and twirling to the Blue Danube Waltz in a satin gown and gloves with Bruce Campbell is the nature of relationships. What makes two people want to tolerate each other, share themselves intimately, disclose deep, dark, potentially-dangerous-after-the-break-up secrets?

I don’t want to cause a fuss here, but let me make it perfectly clear that men are not complex. They do not have the same intricate inner workings of women and they are not unfathomable pools of emotions swirling effervescently in a bubbling turmoil of feelings and needs. Brian O’Halloran simplified what men want out of relationships quite simply: “insert someplace close and preferably moist; thrust; repeat.” If a man stays silent in a relationship it’s because he has nothing to say, if a woman stays silent it’s because she’s run out of things to complain about and is wondering what’s wrong with the man. They don’t have enough to think about and we have too much.

Men as partners are easy to please, in general of course, take these guidelines and tailor them to suit your man;

1. Provide regular meals, don’t question where they end up, provide air freshener of a scent that you like since he never seems able to smell anything wrong with the bathroom.

2. Keep a running total of every anniversary, birthday, event and Saint’s day that he’s forgotten to celebrate. This is ammunition and works better than hollow-point nine millimetre shells in the war that is argumentation.

3. If he sleeps late, let him. Make your own breakfast and remind him that if he wanted pancakes and maple syrup with bacon and scrambled eggs he has to be up early enough. Be sure to leave enough on the plate when you’re finished to show just how good you make it (even if it’s out of a packet). On the mornings that he does wake up early, tell him you’d like breakfast in bed.

4. Stay silent. Play music if you’re angry about something. Make the music suit your reasons for being angry but complain about nothing until he asks. If he asks, he cares, if he doesn’t then you’re entitled to do just as bad back and when asked why, justify it with rule number 2.

5. If you want kids, leave handy reminders everywhere. Childhood toys to remind him how much fun kids have. Point at kids in buggies and wave at them, then turn with your smile turned all the way past cute to dangerously sweet and say “how adorable!” Asking outright is the polite way to ask for a break-up.

These five rules obviously aren’t set in stone, they’ve been handy guidelines for dealing with men. The basic sleep, eat, sex pattern is 99% universal, albeit not necessarily in that order, more like, eat, sex, eat, sleep, eat, perhaps skipping the second eat every second time. My mother always claimed that the key to a lasting relationship wasn’t patience, but tolerance. Because any annoyance can be countered, but new ones will constantly crop up here and there. If you set a limit to how much you’ll put up with and reach that limit, it’s time to reassess your position in the relationship and what you feel you’re getting out of it. Now, quick guidelines for living with women;

Volume I, chapter 1, paragraph 1;

1. You are never, ever, ever, to think for one second that you are right, be you male or female. Even if she is wrong, you can never make a woman admit that she is wrong, which is why we argue the way we do.

2. If you think that the secret behind women can be named, categorised, analysed and unlocked, then you’re living in a dream world…

If you want to extract a moral from this piece, it’s simply put that the ballroom fantasy must remain rooted in reality to have any sort of meaning. Even were I to be lucky enough to get Bruce Campbell into a dinner jacket and find a ballroom with polished floors and ornate golden chandeliers, reality would step in and make my shoes one size too small. Everything depends on your breaking point. How much can you put up with before things start becoming a problem and how much do the little things matter to you when you’re dancing with the man of your dreams?

The science of breaking

(Posted by Mark)

Bones are brittle, hearts are fickle and promises are made to be broken. Whatever the act of severance, be it physical or emotional, the effects of breaking can be as hard to mend as years of yearning or as simple as a two week plastercast. Sticks and stones, if used with enough force and malevolent intent, may well break my bones, but sadly the playground wisdom requires correction when it comes to the part where words can never hurt me. I’ve had a few broken bones (leg, ankle twice, wrist) but they were healed far more speedily than the little scars which I believe we all bear from words. One of the worst sentences in the English language? Easy: “I don’t love you any more”.

Breaking the routine
Matt Bellamy (no relation to David or Craig) sings “Change everything you are, and everything you were, your number has been called” and I’m not about to disagree with him. Life can be a drudge unless you are very careful to perforate the tedium regularly with changes to the timetable or variances to the pre-established way of things. My own little train tracks of despair are easy to map: home, work, pub, home; in a little five-day cycle which is broken fewer times than I’d like. This isn’t a lament – it’s up to me to break the cycle and I know it.

Breaking a habit, whether it’s the usual series of events every day or an addiction like smoking, takes a measure of willpower; furthermore, most people have a habit of some kind or another, and yes, the less harmful habits count too: biting nails, ice cream, your favourite “can’t miss” TV show – they’re all habits and our acceptance of them in others varies, depending on our own particular vices.

How do we make the change? Well, that’s the prize question, without doubt. You can get patches or gum to combat your nicotine cravings, but unless Ben and Jerry are holding out on us, an ice cream obsession may not have such an obvious escape route. Perhaps if we are to break out of our patterns of living, it’s the smaller things we need to adjust first. Sound easy? Of course it isn’t. When I’ve finally quit smoking, I’ll let you know how it went.

Breaking the ice
Whether a social lacuna has opened up and is threatening to absorb the entire company into the black hole of dullness, or whether you have just arrived at a gathering and know absolutely no-one there, you will need to somehow introduce yourself, get a dialogue moving with some of the people around you and generally begin to integrate into the rest of the party; to adopt a rather overstretched and ridiculous metaphor, you need to break the ice of silence with the icepick of your wit to reveal the fresh-flowing pool of conversation which lies beneath. (I’ve just re-read that sentence. I might need psychiatric help.)

So, how can you go about relieving any awkwardness or discomfort when a silence has lasted just that little bit too long and the expectations of the next speaker have built up to levels where only Churchillian rhetoric would be able to fill the void? Try some of these and see what you think:

  • “I hear that the Pope is actually a woman.”


  • “Who here have I not told about my operation?”


  • “JFK isn’t dead, you know. Neither is Elvis. They live together in a bungalow in Kings Langley.”


  • “Did you know that the fastest land mammal is not the cheetah, as believed, but actually my mother-in-law?”


  • “Do you say ‘lattay’ or ‘lartay’, out of interest? I only ask because I read this piece …”

With any luck (and you’ll need luck), the response to any of these all-gold nuggets of ice-breaking will be either (a) open and ill-controlled laughter, or (b) some kind of considered and sincere response. If it is option (b), then you will be able to ridicule your respondent successfully for the rest of the evening and you stand a very good chance of being regarded by your peers as a god of comedy. Either that or a very mean-spirited and sarcastic person, but the difference between the two is very fine.

If surrealism or outright lies seem inappropriate for breaking the ice (a first date or a funeral are good examples), then you may be forced to sit back, concentrate fiercely, and fake some sincerity. Sincerity always plays well with other people as it gives the impression that you actually care what they are saying or whether they are breathing, and people like to feel cared about. Really the only trick here is the old husbands’ favourite: memorise the last five words the other person has said, then ask a question based on whatever information those five words have contained. The other person will be sufficiently enthused that you have bothered to do even that much that they will witter on for hours, like as not. You’re on a hiding to nothing if they don’t.

Breaking promises
Some promises don’t really count – we all know that, so it’s no use pretending that every single promise you ever make will be held fast and true for the rest of life and unto eternity. Just as there are big lies and little lies, so there are important promises and minor promises and we all have our own ways of distinguishing between them. I would suggest that there is a great difference between breaking a promise that you will be able to give someone a lift to the train station and breaking a promise that you will be faithful to your partner. There’s a sliding scale and although I or you or your partner or your best friend can choose a point at which you shouldn’t break promises of such-and-such level of importance, the only person who really knows what they would and would not do is you.

Not only do we break the promises we make, sometimes we also make promises which from the outset we have no possible way of keeping. Herein lies an unbreakable: optimism. You hold your lover’s hand, stare intently at the face which makes you want to be a better person, slide the back of your hand down their cheek, brush away a tiny fleck of hair back over their ear and say to them: “I will never hurt you”. And you mean it. At the point, at that frozen moment, you mean it with every sinew straining, every nerve tingling, every excitable heartbeat. But one day, you will hurt them. You may not wish to, but you will; it’s unavoidable, but it won’t stop you promising.

Breaking your heart
Breaking your heart invariably involves the breaking of promises; some important promises and some less important. I’m sitting at the keyboard thinking about what I can write about heartbreak and I have just realised that my stomach is churning a little bit, I’ve stared into space now for a good few minutes, and I’m thinking about tidying up a few things. I don’t want to write about heartbreak, because that means I’m going to have to relive it, doesn’t it? And that’s the last thing anyone wants to do; however happy and settled you may be right now, however in love with your current partner, however comfortable in your current stage of life, you don’t want to think about the time when you had committed so much and then had it all destroyed.

Perhaps that’s why, in serious break-ups, both people cry. The breaker and the broken both cry for themselves and for each other, for the pain they have caused and the pain they are feeling. Amid the tears, there are justifications, counter-arguments, pleadings, denials, arguments, old ground retrodden, infidelities relived, memories burnished and then sullied – but there are definitely tears. I wonder whether it would be possible to go around the world and let each person visit places they have lived or seen and allow them to place a small red plaque at every appropriate place, with the plaque reading: “A part of me broke here”. And if we could do that, would there be any other colour than red anywhere?

But we bounce back from our disappointments and from the aching. Although the science of breaking is generally a negative one, there’s always the possibility that whatever has been broken may one day be fixed, good as new.


Diet Tips For Girls

(posted by Zena)

I’ve spent my whole life on a diet. Well, a series of diets. I’ve probably lost and gained my entire body weight two or three times.

Motivation’s always been an issue: the latent-ardent-feminist within abhors the get-thin-for-men school, and I’ve just never had the willpower to get by on two lettuce leaves and half a stick of celery (which I have just realised will surely be the name of my Spike-alike production company).

But something happened.

It’s a long story, but I’ll try and give the seven-inch version.

On March 7th I went to stay with some friends for the weekend. No big deal; friends from church who’d been inviting me to hang out for a while. D, I’d known since I was about fifteen, and M, his wife, I’d met in the last few years since they’d been together. While we weren’t best friends, it felt like we had a hippy-searching-style understanding of the world, and I was looking forward to a relaxed, chilled weekend. Also, I’d heard she was a good cook, which is always great. I’d had a crazy day at work, running around, and was starving when I got there, as I hadn’t eaten all day.

When I got there on Friday night, D was already a little stoned – which in itself doesn’t bother me that much – and M had taken the kids somewhere and would be back shortly. D told me he liked to chill at the weekend, and I thought, that’s cool, so do I. I’ve smoked a small-to-middling amount of dope in my life, and don’t really have a problem with it. Just, like most women, I get slightly morose rather than giggling at the cracks in the pavement.

D offered me some hash cake. I said I’d never had it before. He said it was better than smoking: smoother, faster, no munchies. Sure, I made an error of judgement, I could have said no, blah blah blah, but I trusted him, and I’m an experimental type of person. I get off on new experiences, and I figured this would be one. And it was.

Later, I found out that putting a hundred quid of stuff in one little cake is not so smart. And about the vagaries of cooking, and you don’t know how much you’re having, and all that jazz.

After ten minutes, when I wasn’t bouncing off the ceiling, D offered me a second piece, which I sensibly declined. After half an hour, the room started spinning a little, and everything felt slightly muzzy. By the time M got back with the kids, I couldn’t really focus. We sat down for dinner, and at 9pm – about an hour and a half after I’d eaten it – I was overcome with the most death-defying paranoia ever.

I was convinced that I was going to die. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, and shaking it so violently that the plates broke. I remember trying to put my hand through their glass kitchen cabinets. I remember my heart beating so fast I thought I was having a heart attack. I remember feeling that I couldn’t control my bodily functions.

D and M handled it badly. He was so stoned that he couldn’t really deal with it. M kept saying “D, she’s your friend, you sort her out.” All I wanted was for someone to hold my hand or give me a hug and tell me everything would be alright. D kept telling me to sleep it off and it would be fine, but I knew I would die if I went to sleep. I clearly remember M saying “D, this is the third time this has happened, you have to stop giving this to your friends.”

The kids – 5 and 7 – seemed pretty freaked out, and who wouldn’t be, a strange woman coming over and trying to wreck your house. I wanted them to call an ambulance, and remember them having a huge row, as they didn’t want to get the authorities involved. Later, I found out that I was lucky not to be hospitalised from the amount of dope in my system, and lucky I didn’t end up cowering in the corner of some small room for three months.

When I really lost it, and started shouting and smashing things up again, they pushed me outside – it was raining heavily – “to walk it off”. I didn’t have a coat, and I was freezing, and scared. After about ten minutes, I begged to come back in and said I would “behave”. They put me in their spare room with a couple of litres of water (D had said early on to keep drinking or I would dehydrate, and I was paranoid I would die).

It was about 11pm – the room was overtaken by Aztecs who wearing my skin inside up, which was pretty unpleasant. (I’d just seen the show at the Royal Academy that week). I remember thinking to stay calm, and it’s only the drugs, but I couldn’t. I tried to go to the toilet, but couldn’t co-ordinate myself to get up. Around 11.30, I remembered that I had some friends. Called my boyfriend, his phone was switched off. Then I called a good friend, S, and she realised straight away that something wasn’t right, and I told her as best I could what had happened and how scared I was.

S got the address, and came over to collect me. By this time, D and M were in bed, and I just walked out of their house in my pajamas, and S gave me a hug, and took me home, and cosied me up in her spare room. She stayed up all night with me, talked to me when I got scared again, and was a better friend than I could ever imagine.

By Saturday, the paranoia was coming in waves, and so I had periods of lucidity which was good, but I was petrified I was changed forever in some way. My boyfriend came round and hung out, and on Saturday night he took me home. I was weird for at least a week, couldn’t really go out, and he stayed with me and looked after me. Usually I’m the looker-after and needing things from people, feeling incapable and delicate was a scary, new feeling.

That week, the handful of friends I told were amazing. People came over and cooked me vegetables (I was petrified of putting anything unhealthy in my body), and were just nice to me. It took about a month to realise I was completely back to “normal” – whatever that is.

D and M? They woke up on Saturday morning to find me gone. The last they’d seen of me I was trying to kill myself, and D finally called my mobile about 5pm. I couldn’t really talk to him. He said it was my fault, as I should have told him I was on anti-depressants (which I’m not), as that’s why I had a bad trip. He wasn’t at all apologetic. I decided that I didn’t like how he behaved and didn’t want to talk to him again. For a few months I was angry: I wanted to call Social Services because I didn’t think living with stoners was good for the kids (he told me they come home from school and say “are you stoned today, Daddy?”). After about three weeks I told him that if I ever heard that something like this had happened to anyone else, I would have no problem calling the police. And also, that I never wanted to be in contact with him again.

I learned things, though. One: always have breakfast. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had eaten something that day. And – related – that you only have one body, and you really need to look after it. It’s within your control, you have choices, and I felt like I was so near to death (all paranoia, I’m sure, but real scary nonetheless) that I wanted to make the most of the time I have left. Two: what good friends I have. Like lots of people, I occasionally feel friendless and insecure, and this experience showed me how much my friends really value me.

For two weeks, I only wanted to eat steamed broccoli (strange, I know), and lost some weight. Then I thought, I could eat in a way that looks after my body all the time. And that, folks, is how it all started…

3. Do you like the things that life is showing you? (still Diana Ross)

(posted by Buni)

Oh god Mike, you do ask them don’t you?

Do I like the things that life is showing me? Hmmmmm. >>rubs chin<<

Have you ever seen that scene in The Fifth Element where Leeloo, the Supreme Being is watching visuals about war, genocide, poverty etc etc. It feels something like that sometimes. I’m not saying I’m like ‘The supreme Being’, (that’s far too modest) I’m saying I would watch the TV or catch something on the internet and it just cuts me up inside how awful things can be. Last May the tube went on my TV and I just couldn’t be bloody bothered to go get a new one. I don’t miss the TV either; I am able to filter things through the internet.

Earlier on in the year, I went on a stag weekend to climb Mount Snowdon in North Wales. I had my reservations about the weekend; after all it was my first stag. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the summit either. That weekend was really very special for me in many ways.

Firstly, we were all there because a very good friend was getting happily married to a wonderful lady. It just goes to show that love and happiness is out there, you just have to find it. That’s the fun part.

Secondly, for years I had struggled hopelessly with vertigo. I would avoid heights at any cost and break out into the most terrible sweats. I thought I’d managed it by bungee jumping, which scared the living crap out of me, but that failed as well. When we began the ascent of the mountain, I could feel the bile rise slowly at the back of my throat, my heart and stomach were being pounded by a herd of elephants and to top it all, I had no bloody cigarettes. I was up a mountain with vertigo and no bleeding baccie. Nightmare. But I managed it.

The third and final part of this is that when we got to the summit, it was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. Miles and miles of some of England’s Wales’ finest countryside; an eagle flying close to the summit soared past us and I just thought, this is it, this is beautiful.

Of all the things that life is showing me, those are the things that I take notice of now. Everything else can go whistle in the wind for all I care. The past, the present, it’s all miniscule compared to events like that. We are tiny.

How to annoy your girlfriend/ partner unit/ wife at midnight

(Posted by Melodrama)

Before I begin my list, let me clear up some misconceptions that I fear a few of you might be harbouring. I get to post early because I am on another continent, a continent that is more to the east than your piddly (adjective not applicable if you’re an OOSAn) continent and hence rise and shine and check email/ get to work/ blog earlier than most of you. Now that my geographical coordinates have been well-established, I can proceed with my post.

(i) Use a camera film container as an ashtray. Shut it tightly and leave it sitting innocently where it originally was and let your girlfriend/ partner unit/ wife open it at midnight on the bed to have cigarette ash and gunk cascade all over her nice, white, clean sheets.
(ii) Tell her exactly at the stroke of midnight when she’s about to sleep, how much you have accomplished today and how organized you’ve been all through the day.
(iii) Remember that you’ve forgotten to book her tickets for her trip the next day.
(iv) Tell her that your sister has invited you for the weekend and you have accepted and that you are extremely sorry you can not make it to see her parents this weekend despite the fact that their invitation is more than a month old.
(v) Remind her that she has to wake up early to go jogging because she is beginning to put on an awful amount of weight.

Families And How Not To Survive Them

(whoops: posted by Zena)

I grew up in an industrial city outside of London, and arrived in the smoke about twenty seconds after I graduated. Anxious for the fun and frolics of urban/urbane life, I left my close-knit family behind. We’ve been through our ups and downs – whose hasn’t? – and they’ve never quite got over my leaving our six-digit postcode area.

But life moves on.

My brother and sister-in-law are about to have their umpteenth child, and as a result of a host of medical complications, it’s arriving tomorrow, by cesearean. For my other nieces and nephews, I hopped straight on a train, laden with gifts, to share in the big day and greet them personally. I would count holding my first nephew in my arms as among the top five most emotional experiences of my life: the miracle of new life blew me away.

Originally, my brother said don’t bother coming, we’ve had so many kids. But I thought that in the future, this kid’ll ask me if I was there when they arrived, and I’ll say “naaah, hardly worth coming up for you.” And the advantage of planned ceasars, is I could book a relatively inexpensive ticket weeks ago.

I was kinda planning on it being a surprise – they thought I wasn’t coming, and then I’d appear, laden with gifts for all the other kids (you know those books that say the other kids have to get gifts so they don’t feel left out? I got my own – Freudian – carry cot and baby doll when my little sister arrived. She was good at shopping, even in the womb.)

But I’m not great at surprises, and when I talked to my brother this afternoon, and he said he’d call me in the morning, I couldn’t help myself, and said, “I’ll be there. I’m on the ten o’clock train.” He was cool about it in a slightly reserved way, but called me back tonight and said that R, my sister-in-law “isn’t accepting visitors” tomorrow at all, and I shouldn’t come.

I feel a mixture of emotions: over-ridingly, that it’s her baby, and I obviously don’t want to create any extra stress or tension during what can be a difficult time anyway. My other siblings have apparently already been told they can’t go tomorrow, but because no-one was expecting me, I wasn’t in on all that. I was only going to go for five minutes with my mum (grandparents are allowed, apparently).

So now I’ve got a zillion large gifts from the Early Learning Centre sitting in my hall, and a ticket I’m not going to use, and a terrible feeling that somewhere on the worthless-stupid-unwanted continuum.

For me, times like this are family times: a whole brand-new person joining our family. And wanting to share that with my brother and sister in law, and nieces and nephews and parents and unles and aunts. R calls the shots, obviously, and if she doesn’t want me there, I’m not going to go (my Mum said I should just visit for the day anyhow, and not see the baby, but that’s just stupid).

I feel hurt. And rejected. And times like this make me realise quite how alone in the world I really am.

2. Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? (Bryan Adams)

(posted by Buni)


Of course I have you silly boy, I’ve loved many women, just never shagged any of them that’s all. All that fanny batter and lips and stuff, jeeeeeess.

One of my first loves was a girl called Dawn, I think. She had a dark, bobbed haircut and dressed like a boy (perhaps an early indication of something to come?) She also had the most enormous collection of gingham shirts. It was summer of, oooh let me think, 1975 or 6 (when was that heatwave?) and I don’t think the girl wore the same shirts twice. Though she did climb the same trees twice, that much I do remember. I remember her most of all because I have a scar on my head as testimony to her amazing female strength.

Do you remember when you were kids – or you may even still be doing this as adults – where you stand back to back and link arms, then one of you stoops forward so that the other person is going backwards? Well, as we didn’t have computer games in those days, that’s what we did and I think Dawn forgot her amazing female strength and pulled me straight over her head. I went flying backwards, arms flailing and all I could see was the teacher’s desk coming over the sunset, whereby I cracked my own head on the corner of said desk and cut my head open. At first I thought nothing of it and then a girl called Zoe started screaming and pointing frantically at me. I just stood there like, “Chill girl, all I did was have a flying lesson”. Then the teacher piped up, which had the rest of the class screaming and there was I, looking at everyone in my class looking at me and pointing and screaming.

Then I felt it. A very slow warm substance was running down the side of my head. I lifted my hand to the part of my head where the feeling was coming from and all I could see was red.

At that moment and no other, the panic set in and I can still remember now thinking to myself, “Just…….to….get….to….nurse” like out of a cartoon where they can’t……..quite…….reach….something. The school where this all happened wasn’t a particularly large school. Along one side of the building was a corridor and all the classrooms and offices fed off of this main corridor. To get to nurse I had to walk down the corridor, passed all the classrooms to the end near where Mr. Matthews the Head, had his office.

There I am, walking ever so slowly (as I didn’t want to mess up the shiny floor) down the corridor, arms held out like Jesus Christ, palms up, horrified look on my face and blood absolutely running down my head like its going out of fashion. I swear it was like a dominoe effect going down that corridor; past one class, the screams started, past another, more screams, then another, past the games hall where I recall all of a sudden the pupils just stopping and their balls just slowly stopped bouncing, they just stood there staring and screaming while I walked past them.

I call this my Carrie moment.

In the end it was just a little gash, but very deep and it turns out that at the top of your head is like a reservoir of blood. I needed a couple of stitches.

The science of corresponding

(Posted by Mark)

cor•re•spond•ing adj. 1. similar in character, form or function; able to be matched, joined or interlocked; 2. dealing with written communication; having this responsibility; having an honorary association with a group, esp. at a distance (from the group’s headquarters).

What an arid description; I’m not sure that I’ll continue reading this dictionary (I have a sneaking suspicion that the zebra did it in Zurich with the zucchini). The science of corresponding is about much more than a simple match – most matches I know (other than the ‘strike well away from the body’ kind) are complex and intricate things, demanding subtle interpretation and an appreciation of nuance. Readers who have actually met me are allowed to begin laughing with derision at the previous sentence … 3, 2, 1, now.

“Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch.” Well, quite. Often a third party interceder is the best way of securing some form of romantic relations between two people who are apparently unable to manufacture such unions by themselves. In other words, some of us need a meddling interloper to come in, rearrange our lives a little bit, serve up a potential partner on a plate (not literally) and then nudge us towards the happy ever after ending. Others of us prefer to take the bull by the horns (again not literally) and make our own matches. It’s not so much the process whereby people correspond to each other in a relationship that interests me as much as the way that friends view couples; especially if/when their loyalty conflicts with their honest opinion.

Recently, I met the new boyfriend of a good friend. I chatted with new bloke Peregrine and my friend Drusilla (names changed to protect everyone) for a little while before we all circulated and I saw him occasionally during the evening. The next day, a mutual friend Constance (name again changed etc) asked me what I thought of him. Aware that Constance and Drusilla were friends, I ummed and aahed for a little bit, offering up the usual platitudes, “He seemed very pleasant”, “I liked his shirt”, “A nice speaking voice”, etc, etc. Constance then asked me the same question again, having realised that I was attempting to sidestep it. I fell back on the slightly pathetic but nevertheless heartfelt “She seems happy”.

Friends are simultaneously the best and worst people to ask about your relationship, or to have commenting on someone else’s. They are the best because they will be able to recognise similarities, correspondences, reasons why you are with somebody which you might not even realise yourself; they can see personality points in the other person which you find endearing and confirm your own opinions, they can provide examples of things your partner has said or done which you didn’t know but which reinforces your thoughts about them. All good positive, life-affirming stuff.

Your friends are also the worst people because they will, assuming you have good friends, be honest with you and there are times when it’s a lot more convenient to fool yourself that the current relationship is perfect for you when it patently isn’t. Such denial, though undoubtedly convenient (and I feel sure that most people have fallen prey to it at some point or another), might be acceptable to you but, to your friends who have either to listen to you try and put a brave face on things or watch as you construct and maintain your façade, denial is not an option. The brutality or care with which they take you aside and chat to you is, of course, entirely up to them, provided it graduates beyond the “What is she wearing?” stage.

This is a question which could never be asked of Drusilla herself, who is always beautifully well co-ordinated. She is very much aware of corresponding one item of clothing to another; colour, shape, texture and shade all interwoven together to splendid effect. Mixing and matching one’s wardrobe may often be the subject of as much gossip as the matches one makes with partners. I will confess immediately that I am hopeless with fashion and clothes. I know what I should be wearing, but somehow it never quite works; whereas my father could wear virtually anything and make it look stylish, I am keenly aware that I make an Agnès B pullover look like secondhand M&S: I’m just more Lada than Prada.

There’s a world of difference between sending or receiving a letter/email commencing “Dear Sir” and any form of correspondence starting “Oi, Sparky”. The conventions we follow when communicating through the written word are intriguing, as they explain a lot about us before we have even started the real purpose of the message. The former example indicates to me that my bank are wondering about my overdraft (again), whereas the latter signals that my friend Alex has got back into contact with me and is wondering whether I’m going to his birthday bash this year. Especially in the case of the bank letter, there’s often no need to read further.

What else do letters tell us? Quite a lot, though there is often ambiguity in the meaning. A long letter may mean that the correspondent leads life in the social fast lane with a hectic evening calendar, and thus has plenty of rip-roaring tales to relate, or simply that they are a less-than-frequent writer, saving up several days’/weeks’/months’ worth of news before sending a message of epic length. A scrawled and poorly spelled missive may demonstrate that the sender prizes the content over the style or they may simply not have taken very much care over the letter, regarding it as a duty rather than a pleasure to compose. An email with plenty of acronyms and abbreviations may refer to a shared familiarity with the concepts within the body or it may show that the writer has tried to get their chore completed as quickly as is possible. To confirm or deny these varying interpretations, the recipient will read the content and apply their own prejudices and foreknowledge of the sender (not necessarily in that order).

Regardless of the content of the epistle, there is still something exciting about receiving an email or a letter from someone close. It means they are thinking about you, and however much of an egotist you may or may not be, it’s somehow exciting and affirming to receive a message, however correctly spelled, detailed or frequent the messages are. Often at the beginning of a relationship, there is a certain sense of nervousness about the sending and receiving of text messages, emails, postcards or letters. There is perhaps a certain freedom in the written word which is constricted when speaking to them, either directly or by phone. Apposite sentences constructed from the perfect word choices may express your feelings or your thoughts in a more elegant, direct or poetic way than a stumbling half-conversation conducted over a crackly mobile phone line.

And then there are the decisions. How much can I write without giving too much away? Will this message be kept for posterity or will it be deleted immediately and never considered again? Will the other person realise what I am hinting at? For all that written correspondence can manage, a subtle undertone and feeling is probably the hardest to achieve. Sincerity and sarcasm alike are finely balanced on the page whereas they are evident in a person’s voice and demeanour. It’s a lot more difficult in writing than in speaking to get the perfect juxtaposition between what you want to write and how you want the other person to read it. But therein lies more the art than the science of corresponding.

A Tall Tail

(Posted by Fi)

One of the recurring non-sexual fantasies that plagues my life, along with what I would do were I taken back in time to certain eras, is what would human life be like if we had tails?

It’s not a new idea to me. As a child I wanted to grow up to be a cat, they have it easy; you feed them regularly, stroke them a few minutes a day and they’re loyal loving pets. This future career choice was forgotten as soon as it became my chore to empty the kitty-litter box. From that point on cats were just as smelly as humans were, except that humans have better waste-reprocessing facilities.

I’m not talking about dog-tails that are more like wire coat hangers dipped in a Hoover-bag, but prehensile muscular tails that rival limbs. Tails you could dangle from trees with. Tails you could carry that extra bag of shopping with when your fingers are going numb and breaking out in blisters. That’s the sort of tail I’m after, but what sort of consequences would it involve? For a start, as with every new invention or discovery, the sex industry would find a way of exploiting it. Cat suits would have greater appeal for one thing. Hardcore would involve a new appendage to be inserted into any available orifice. The height of kink would be a shaven tail with a pierced tip dangling provocatively between the male star’s legs. However, it wouldn’t be an exclusively male addition. Women performers would have them too, solo performances would be totally different, and a 69 would become an 88.

Would this lead to a ban of tails being shown on television at anything higher than a 45-degree angle? Would a new type of condom be invented to avoid rug-burn from the fur? Once the adult entertainment industry had exploited every possible use for tails, the more day-to-day uses would become apparent. Opening doors with both hands full wouldn’t be so difficult anymore. Dusting while hovering would be a cinch. Scratching that bit in the middle of your back you can never quite reach would be as easy as pie and having to slap guys who pat you on the rump would become a thing of the past with the new whiplash backlash technique.

According to Darwin, humans once had tails. So where did they go? Did we evolve to the point where eating from trees was no longer necessary? Did each generation’s tail get shorter or did they all fall off one fine day and the creatures turned and looked at their asses and collectively said “Aw hell, what do we do now?” before bludgeoning a cow to death with a large obsidian monolith?

If you’re more inclined to believe the Adam in the Garden of Eden theory of origin then reach round and feel the base of your spine, just at the coccyx. Isn’t that the perfect place to put a tail? Human thinking would change too. Instead of being confined to bipedal walking around in two-dimensions, a third dimension would be more accessible to us. Not as easily as if humans developed wings, but then that’s silly, we’re not descendant from birds. However, being able to climb up and over pipes would change everything.

Department stores could fill up all that extra space, replacing the floor with giant mattresses for those of us too inept to stay aloft. You would thread your way up and through giant jungle gyms to the stall or desk of your choice, making bumping into people even rarer as you can get there at different altitudes. Hanging onto a pipe with your tail you converse with the sales clerk as she hands you various samples to try, you hold one as you try the other, ten metres up. Office cubicles could be stacked on top of each other for extra productivity per cubic meter. Apartments with high ceilings would be the home of the elite or those with big families.

It’s not all roses though. A serious re-thinking of things as simple as clothes and chairs would be required. Creatures with tails either rest on their stomachs or hunkered up. I can’t imagine that this would be very comfortable for humans, so would chairs be forgotten altogether in favour of the “Human-o-frame”©? A metal construct like a kiddie swing but without the swing part, from which you can swing happily whilst watching television or typing? Nobody would want the seats on buses, instead we’d fight for the handholds and the over-head bars, and buses would go past with people swinging like carcasses on meat hooks.

Clothes would need redesigned, obviously not the top half or anything below the knee, but would pockets within clothes be designed to store our tails in, or would new holes be required so we could retain the use of our tails while out and about?

None of my skirts would look good with a tail swinging about underneath. G-strings would need to be totally done away with altogether. Seams and stitching would need to work around this new hole at the back of underwear and outerwear and you’d never be able to put slacks on the wrong way round without exposing a little too much.

How would criminals be restrained? A third cuff would be required to restrain roaming appendages. Would barred cells become a luxury and be discarded in favour of vertically walled pits? Would the military create special ordnance for this new body-part; clip-on night-vision binoculars, tail-mounted grenade launchers, and camouflaged blades for close-quarters engagements? Would everyone have access to clip-on accessories like blender-attachments, the new improved tail-held whisk, the tail-controlled electric carving knife, and the specifically tailored for the tail mobile phone? Hands-free everyone, its the way forward.

Tail design and accessories could become big business, with companies competing for the most aesthetically designed tails. Would we want hair-covered monkey-style tails? Leather-skinned, dragon-like demonic tails? Bare pink skin tails like arms without hands attached or sectioned chitinous tails as though we had giant millipedes protruding from our behinds?

At any rate, my cats don’t complain about their tails, but then they can’t talk and I can only be thankful of that. Maybe I wouldn’t dream about this so often if I’d had mine stepped on as often as they have.

The science of knowing

(Posted by Mark)

Nosce te ipsum. Know thyself. While Francis Bacon has been attributed with that stalwart of business training session slogans “Knowledge is power”, I vastly prefer Oscar Wilde’s opinion on the subject of knowing: “There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating – people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing”. And so, perhaps to counteract the art of guessing, we have the science of knowing.

Knowing trivia
My name is Mark, and it’s been two days since I last played a quiz machine. I just couldn’t help it; I saw the bright, flashing lights, the sounds of coins dropping and electronic twangs and bumps and I was drawn towards the touchscreen. I know it’s a problem, but with the group’s help, I know I can fight it. Actually, I know no such thing. There is something wonderful and at the same time slightly shameful about quiz machines. I think it’s because after years in primary, secondary and higher education, I now use my knowledge not to find a cure for cancer, nor to broker a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, nor to write a Nobel Prize-winning piece of literature, but rather to remember how many goals Peter Beardsley scored for Newcastle United or when Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister.

The way that my (and it’s not just me, it’s also other people’s) eyes light up when they see a Cluedo, Trivial Pursuits or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? machine in the corner of the pub is, I realise, a sign that my social life may need some form of enhancement product. I would defend quiz machines simply by stating that they are, in fact, intensely social. When three or four are gathered around the machine desperately trying to put car models in the order in which they were produced, it promotes team work and friendship. The occasional shouting across the room to the guy who you are positive will know Pele’s first name manages to draw other people into your circle as well as make them feel good about themselves because they are regarded as an ‘expert’. It’s a feelgood thing. Being able to draw disparate friends with different spheres of knowledge together in the noble pursuit of getting rich quick is certainly a talent, and while I might not be saving the world in style, I am doing my own little bit for society. Well, society in our pub, anyway.

Knowing the score
Akin to knowing how the land lies, knowing the score is all about being up-to-date, to the minute, with the times, with one’s finger on the pulse, being au courant with the latest trends and news. What I am doing writing about this is therefore something of a mystery as I can rarely be said to know the score; indeed often I don’t even know that the match is being played. Knowing the score originates from the Middle Ages when “the score” was a term for the amount owed by one person to another, or the balance of a business account, so by knowing the score you would be aware of exactly how much you owed. As the language has evolved and filtered through the centuries, it now simply means that you know what’s hep, hip and with it, daddy-o.

Of course, if you were to take the term “knowing the score” more literally, you would be able to have the perfect entrée into the average male conversation. “What was the score?” “Oh, 2-1”. Naturally, we will actually need to know what the result of the football, rugby, cricket or other sporting event was in order to participate properly in this, but assuming that you are aware of the tally after the final whistle, you now have a quick way to get acceptance. You should try and back this up with a few other key phrases:

  • “Shocking defence” (football)


  • “It’s all down to the slips” (cricket)


  • “You’ve got to convert them, though” (rugby)


  • “Magic arrows” (darts)


  • “It’s about temperament” (all sports)

After a few careful minutes gauging the reactions and team allegiances of your newfound friends, you will be able to discuss all manner of sporting events with them, free from the fear of being regarded as ignorant or, even worse, uninterested.

Knowing too much
No-one likes a smart aleck, or so the saying goes. I beg to differ. I think that a lot of us really do like the smart aleck mainly because without the person who knows too much, most detective stories or thriller films would not exist. It’s the classic scene and you can pretty much cast and write it yourself. Edward G Robinson is the gangland boss who is attempting to pull off the heist of the century. Alan Ladd is the good guy in the wrong place and the wrong time who has stumbled into the dastardly plot. Peter Lorre is the henchman entrusted with making sure that Ladd is silenced. All you need is a half-decent score, the RKO logo and a gangster’s moll and there’s a sure-fire film noir hit for you.

Too much is generally a bad thing to know, however, for that particular person. As a form of criticism, it is a strange one. Are we not supposed to like someone because they are intelligent? Are we not supposed to like them because they worked hard at school or they educated themselves to a high standard? It’s not really clear, but I think the main reason we’re not supposed to like them is because we’re not supposed to display the fact that we know things. Like Tennyson, we are supposed to be “wearing … learning lightly, like a flower”. It is bad form to be constantly showing off (like quoting Tennyson, Wilde and Bacon in one post, for example; oops) that one has done such heinous things as, well, read books or paid attention. Perhaps it’s better to know too little, but then we return to the cult of the gentleman amateur and, as my mind constantly does, we turn to Sherlock Holmes whose knowledge of literature, astronomy and philosophy may have been nil, but whom no-one would accuse of knowing too little.

If, as is often said, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then I will end the science of knowing here, hoping that while it may not be comprehensive, it may at least be said to have a little thrill about it.



(posted by Fi)

I only just managed to log in. This editing window is far too complicated for me so I’m just going to write a bunch of stuff and push the “post & publish” button when I’m done. Trust me, its better for you and me both if I don’t try and mess with these settings. User Interfaces are not my strong point.

Maybe a bit about myself to start with, since everyone else seems to have settled in already and I’m the one showing up in a tizzy at lunchtime when Mike specifically requested that we sign in at 9 a.m. on the dot (he’s such a taskmaster).

I write. Lots. When I have a spare moment I write more. I write database manuals for a living and articles for websites on the side. The technical work balances out the diverse and ecclectic mix of subjects I am commissioned to write which pay less but prevent me from pushing my manager’s nose through his brain-stem.

I live with my partner and two cats in None-of-your-business and I’m here to write. You don’t have to read, you can skip them if you like, but I’ll try and entertain you along with these beautiful people.

Welcome to My Wonderland (Girl Stuff, of which there’s bound to be a lot, this week)

(posted by Zena)

Gee, those other guestbloggers get up early. So here I am. Thanks for letting me type in your space, Mike.

Here’s what I’m interested in: men, women, the “disconnect” as I once heard some very annoying relationship coach describe it as, and how women’s bodies play a part in all of that.

I’ve recently lost some weight. Quite a lot of weight, actually. Nearly four stone. I tend not to tell people how much, because then I become the sort of person who previously needed to lose four stone. And then some: I have a way further to go, but I prefer not to get into that.

I look different – to most people. I feel different – to me. And boy, do men – I’m straight – treat me different. So that’s some of what I’m going to explore this week. But first, chocolate digestive biscuits. Get coffee, come back, we’ll talk.

Hello and Good Morning Troubled Diva Readers…

…and fellow guestees.

(posted by Buni)

Thanks Mike for the intro. x

Cripes, this is all a bit daunting isn’t it, a little like being put on stage at Wembley with an overly bright spotlight shining in your eyes and the crowd just staring, waiting for you to deliver something amazing.

I was kind of expecting this and so considering I also have a 9 – 5, college tonight and tomorrow, and of course, my hectic social life as the Doyenne of Nottingham Café Society to attend to, I gave Mike the opportunity to ask me 7 questions which I would do a write up on over the 7 days. I will be posting in between though and of course, there is always MY SITE. Oops, too loud?

Mike saw it another way, and proceeded to ask me 7 song titles as questions. So without further ado, as I know you all have jobs to go to, I give you ………….>

7 Titles in 7 Days.

1. Do You Know Where You’re Going To? (Diana Ross)

This is actually a good place to start the week as it’s a subject that has been on my mind of late. I’ve always been quite a restless person; I get very bored very easily. As a child I was always out and about with friends, constantly doing things, we were very dynamic. I get very irritated by laziness. We are dead longer than we are alive, grasp the nettle. Take risks. Live life to its full potential and embrace it. Not to do so, I believe, breeds regret. I don’t want to have any regrets when I grow older. I want to be able look back and say what a bloody good time I’ve had and think about all the great people I’ve met along the way.

My outlook on life is to think about where I’d like to be and try to find a way to get there. Being this restless person, it is inevitable that I would have a ballpark idea about where I’d like to go to or a place where I’d like to be. However, they are just that, ideals. I’ve always been this sort of person who thinks ahead, anally breaking the years up into three or four year segments and thinking about what each segment would contain, I would compartmentalise my life into challenges. I am currently at the end of a three year period and, as my friends will testify, I’m becoming restless with semi-structured thoughts about what my plans are.

To understand where you are going to, it’s terribly important to be able to understand where you’ve come from and where you are at present. I’ve come from what could be called a dysfunctional family, my mother having married five times, it was a highly insecure state and marred by family arguments and fights. We moved about a lot, even to other countries, and my sister and I got used to not staying friends with people for too long in case we moved again (and I might add, not getting too used to our step-fathers). It’s only now that I’ve lived in Civvie Street in Nottingham for nearly a decade that I’m not worried about losing friends and can now establish long term friendships. As such, my social life is excellent.

One of my primary thoughts as a young man was to get away from home as soon as possible; I tried at the tender age of 15, running away from Portugal (where we were living at the time) to Manchester and I called my mother the following Wednesday to tell her where I was; I tried a little later at 17, with my parents consent this time, to go and live in London. That didn’t work out and I ended up homeless for 3 months; then after returning from a European Interrail holiday, I tried later on when I was about 19, when I joined the Navy. That is the pivotal moment in my life, where everything changed.

I have to admit, joining the Navy was totally against my belief system. I was a pacifist, against the establishment, war and everything it entails. I was a kind of hippy kid with long hair and a desire to spend most of my days getting stoned. When I said where I was going to, all my friends said that I was mad as I wouldn’t be able to handle the discipline. I had no choice, I had to get away. Also, being the sort of kid who had ‘flights of fancy’ about certain things and never stuck to them, my Mother just asked if I thought it was the right thing to do.

There I was, 19 years old, no qualifications with a stable job and a new ‘home’ at the base. This carried on for about 3 years when I was asked if I wanted to take redundancy. This was a really tough decision as the Navy had been my back-bone and ‘aunt’ for the whole time and I never really considered life outside of the gates. It was ‘us’ and ‘them’. In the end I took the money and ran, to Nottingham to go to university here. University isn’t all that much different from the Navy; you get the social life and the binge drinking; people from all walks of life joining together; and once you’ve got your work done , your time is your own. I graduated in 2000.

That’s really what the last decade has been, through my 20’s; building a foundation to work on through my 30’s. At present I’m really quite free. I no longer have the hassles I had as a child, I have no baggage to validate it either. I also now have the security that was lacking as a child. I’d like the next decade or so to be one of personal growth; experiencing things, travelling and meeting new and wonderful people. There is such a big wide world out there that I can’t possibly imagine only seeing it for two weeks every year and the rest of the time spent in Nottingham. Moreover, I’d like to meet someone who has the same desire that I have. It would mean so much more if I could experience these new and wonderful things with someone.

From reading this, I suppose the first thought that comes into my mind is that where I want to go to isn’t tangible. It’s not a place like Barcelona or some other destination; it’s a place in the mind that you get to when you know you’ve done pretty much all there is to do. I don’t mean making pots of money or anything remotely similar, I’ve had that in Portugal and believe me, money doesn’t bring happiness; you just don’t worry about bills. Happiness in my eyes is from knowing you’ve given it the best that you’ve got, your best shot.

Does that answer your question? I’m going to seek happiness, experience and self-fulfilment and to share that with someone.