Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Great questions of our time: Sex, sleep, or food?

Let me make this crystal clear: I want you to argue with me on this one.

So Jason Mulgrew brought up this question the other day: what’s best, food, sex or sleep?

Obviously one can survive without sex, whereas the other two are necessary. So, given the choice between bad sex and none at all, I’d choose none at all. In contrast, I’d chose bad food or sleep over none.

But that’s almost meaningless, since the body needs both sleep and food, no matter how bad, and the idea of choosing whether I prefer bad food or bad sleep is just too depressing.

Let’s consider the good.


Those nights after a long day and a hard workout, when every limb feels heavy. And you manage to muster the physical energy to stand under a hot shower so that your skin is tingling through the weariness. And the bed is made with fresh sheets, and you slide in between them and drift into blissful deep sleep.

(That probably came across like a virgin trying to write erotica. I admit I was using my imagination. I haven't had a good night's sleep since 1991.)


I have maintained for years that those people who use food merely as fuel don’t know how to cook. Because no-one can eat grilled haloumi with a glass of dry Rose, or asparagus and sundried tomato risotto with parmesan with a Marlborough Sauv Blanc and tell me that this is mere bodily fuel.


Don’t worry. I’m not going to describe good sex in lurid detail. You all know what good sex is. The sort that renders you oblivious to the world around you at the time, sees you grinning stupidly afterwards and makes your toes curl in pleased embarrassment on a bus full of commuters in the morning. You all know.

Sex, sleep, or food?

The thing about good sleep is that by definition, you’re not consciously experiencing it. Good sleep is experienced in the future and the past, but never in the present. So I’m ruling it out.

Good sex has more beneficial side effects than good food. It elevates the heartbeat, gets the endorphins flowing, promotes a sense of well-being. So assuming that there’s no possible repercussions (ie, it’s your own partner you’re with), sex has to win on the virtuous side of things...fundamentalist attitudes aside.

But then again, sex requires a certain amount of effort. You can have decent sex on your own, of course, but I’m not sure that competes with good food. And sex with someone else, well, it involves someone else. And therefore there’s a certain amount of pressure to make sure they’re enjoying themselves, they know you’re enjoying yourself, they know you know they’re enjoying…anyway, you know what I’m saying here.

Food, not so much. You can share a banquet of dhal, matter panir, alu ghobi and tomato kachumber with friends, or you can hunker down with an avocado, some olive tapenade and some good beer on your own. It can last a few exquisite minutes or be savoured over hours.And you never ever run out of flavour combinations.

I hate to come to this conclusion. But food is the best thing ever invented.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Why do they call it cold turkey, anyway?

Turns out I don’t even have a computer in my office for the next week, so the chances of me managing to post every day are looking increasingly Nicole Ritchie. And I am wrecked tonight. I enjoyed a peaceful hour’s sleep last night between eleven pm and midnight, and a luxuriously long stretch between three and five thirty this morning. My new office has a policy of not allowing its employees to drink coffee at their desks, so I hope you can feel my pain here.

It’s strangely peaceful, working without a computer. Once the withdrawal pains abated and my hands stopped shaking, I found myself able, for the first time in months, to concentrate on the same thing for more than five minutes. I don’t know about you, but even when I’m reading the world’s most entertaining thing on the internet; one of my favourite blogs, or a snarky recap, or an email from a close friend, I can rarely get through a page without flicking to another screen and reading the two in tandem.

And yet today, I was able to sit down, open a file, and an hour later find myself able to recite all the relevant details from four years of litigation. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. And I will take it as a favour if any jaded young litigators out there refrain from telling me that it’ll turn out to be more of an ill-conceived infatuation than true love. Let me have my illusions, at least for today.

Still, nice as it is to work computer-free, coming home to the world’s slowest dial-up connection bites. Even buying a laptop and paying for remote wireless won’t improve matters much. I may have to move back into the city.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One (I): The Great Emasculator

It’s Sunday night, and I don’t think I’m going to have time to blog tomorrow. Obviously I would hate to contribute to a sudden surge in work productivity, so I’m blogging on a Sunday evening so you have something to read. No, no; you’re welcome.

When I was eighteen, I moved out of home into a share house, and got a kitten. The kitten, whom I named Disraeli, was a grey tabby with ears so disproportionately large that my friends used to call him Dumbo the Cat. What no-one told me at the time was that ears are like feet in this regard; they are an indicator of the eventual size of the animal. These days Raeli is an enormous sleepy old creature with very little harm in him. In those days, he was something of a terror.

One day, when Raeli was about five months old, and as playful as one would expect from a kitten who was growing up in a sociable share house, my boyfriend and I found ourselves alone in the house for an afternoon. It was February, and hot as hell, and we were young and libidinous. So we found ourselves upstairs in my bedroom, naked and intimately involved.

Neither of us spared a thought for the kitten, alone in the house with no-one to play with. Neither of us thought to close my bedroom door. And the thing about sex is, especially if one is engaging in the position that spreads the gospel, certain parts of the male anatomy tend to swing and dangle. And the thing about young kittens is, especially if they are bored…well, I can tell that my male readership is wincing, so I’ll skip over the details. Claws were bared, contact with delicate parts of the male anatomy was made, yelping ensued. And from then on we closed the bedroom door.

Six months later, I moved in with another female friend, Polly*. Raeli was an adolescent cat by now, and whilst he liked the gentle patting that my housemate and I would bestow upon him, lying there and purring like the pampered soul he was. He also appreciated the rough-and-tumble games that her boyfriend would play.

Until one day when he came out of our shower and walked into the corridor, a scanty towel wrapped around his waist. And the cat came bounding up to him eagerly. And he said hi, cat, let’s rough-and-tumble, and he squatted down to pat the cat.

And the thing about being male, and only wearing a towel, is… And the thing about young cats is…

Yeah. Exactly.

Now, whilst this second incident was playing itself out, I was in my own bedroom with my new boyfriend English**. We heard the cry of shock and pain, and I went to check. No lasting damage was done, and I went back to my room, reporting to English what had happened.

Cue two months later. English and I are getting amorous on my bed. The cat pushes the door open (they didn’t click shut in this house, and thus the cat could effect entry whenever and wherever he chose) and padded inside. I heard him come in, but didn’t see any reason to let his presence stop what we were doing until English sat upright, and with wild eyes yelled



“The cat’s going to eat my knob!”

Raeli. The great emasculator.

*Not her real name, but the one I’m going to use for her from now on. Polly is still a dear friend of mine, but abandoned me to study fungi in California.

**Now one of my closest and dearest friends, who abandoned me to work in London. They all swear it’s not me, it’s them…

Friday, August 25, 2006

Toddler Circus: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

For those of you keeping count at home:

Number of people who have said goodbye and good luck = 1
Number of people who have said have a good weekend, see you Monday = 6
Number of people I have corrected on the above assumption = 0.

I am such a coward.

But that's not why I'm posting. I have a query.

My best friend is extremely attractive, and her boyfriend is very hot. Therefore, they would have adorable children. Opinions divide on whether I’m more ‘pretty’ or ‘funny-looking’, but luckily my husband is impossibly gorgeous, so I think we can safely assume that our children would be pretty damn cute as well.

Given this information, don’t you guys think that my friend and I would be being selfish if we didn’t share the beauty of our children with the world?

See, we’re having a disagreement. She thinks that having children at the same time so they’d be the same age, then teaching them tricks and sending them out to perform and therefore fund our early retirement is wrong. Exploitative, even. I think that the world needs our Toddler Circus for its own good, and if we make a little money on the side that’s just icing on the cake.

So, what do you think? Should we have children and turn them into an International Travelling* Toddler Circus?

Come on. Tiny acrobats! Wee little trapeze artists! Very short clowns! That doesn't do it for you?

*I should point out that her children will be Finnish citizens, for reasons that I’m sure are perfectly logical and well-thought out. Thus the International Travelling bit.

Sleeplessness, awkward departures and advice needed

To whoever came here looking for Ukranian nudists: yeah, sorry about that.

To everyone else: Hey, you know what’s a really good idea, if you’re a caffeine-sensitive insomniac? Drinking an enormous mug of black tea and then trying to sleep next to someone with a bad cough. I tell you, some nights even la petite mort doesn’t result in le peu sommeil.

Was that too much information?

Next week I’m starting a six-week work placement elsewhere, and I expect to be a lot busier than I am now. Well, it would hardly be possible to be less busy than I am now, so what I mean is: I expect to be busy. I’m going to try and continue to post every (week)day, but I give you all fair warning that the entries are likely to be a lot shorter. So don’t come bitching to me later.

I’m doing my best to sneak out of this office today without saying a round of goodbyes. Ostensibly this is because I’m only officially on a six-week secondment but in reality it’s because I have a weird shyness about saying goodbye to people. I’m not a shy person, as anyone who’s met me can attest, but every now and then I have an attack of the cowardlies. Last week a guy who works on my floor left; he’s not part of my department, but we’ve chatted in the kitchen a few times, and he’s a friendly, sociable sort of bloke. What did I do when I heard he was leaving? Sneak past the goodbye drinks gathering rather than make awkward goodbye conversations. I doubt he noticed, but still, what kind of misanthropic coward am I?

So I’m ridding myself of the piles of paperwork gradually in the (possibly vain) hope that no-one will notice that my desk is completely bare. And I’m sneaking out when everyone else is at their regular Friday afternoon meeting. I’m ridiculous. Especially because I already know what will happen: I’ll pick up my bag to go, someone will then finally notice and say goodbye, and then I’ll end up having to do an even more awkward round of goodbyes, now holding all my stuff. The firm I’m going to will then decline to hire me on an ongoing basis, I’ll slink back here and have to face another round of questioning whilst I explain where I was.

Fun times, I tell you, fun times.

On a different subject entirely: I’m thinking of buying a laptop. I have about $AU1500 to spend. It needs to have wifi, but apart from that I don’t have any particular requirements; basically I use my computer for chatting to people and writing stories. I’ve never owned a laptop, so if any of you have recommendations either regarding specific brands or general laptop buying principles, I’d be keen to hear them. Email at right or comment below. Thanks.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Picking up a slipper. Or a hairbrush. Or anything with a hard flat surface, really.

"You're a bad, bad, bad little girl but I feel sorry for you, so I will rub something soothing and cool on you after I spank you with my slipper!"

I tried, but I just can't leave you on that note. The above quote is from today's Cary Tennis column and it's the funniest thing I've read all day. Go see for yourself. You might have to watch a brief advert first, but it's worth it.

Picking up women, picking up a book and picking your battles

My brother read this page for the first time the other week, and his only comment was “you are hungover at work a lot”. I indignantly denied it, but honesty compels me to admit that today, well, I do have a wee headache. Wednesday night Scrabble seems to lead me into excess. Nothing says fun like playing complicated word games under the influence of alcohol.

The friend who was hosting Scrabble lives behind a pub. I was running early, so I sat down at one of their outside tables and began reading a book. A minute later, an American in the back seat of a passing sedan called to me “Are you looking for me? Are you looking for someone?” I looked up, said “Nope” and went back to reading. “Oh”, he said, sounding a little disappointed. “Have a nice night”.

For future reference, men of the world, if I were looking for someone, I probably wouldn’t have my nose buried in a book. And whilst we’re on the subject, if I’m out with a friend with whom I am engrossed in conversation, we’re probably not looking to meet men. If you try anyway, and one of us responds to your opening gambit with a non-committal “mmm” and then immediately goes back to our conversation, we’re definitely not looking to meet men. If you persist, and we finally tell you that we’re having a private conversation, that does not make us bitches.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with trying to approach a woman in a bar. The American guy wasn’t out of line (plus he had a cute accent). But take a moment to read the body language, for your own sake as well as ours. If you persist in trying to chat us up after we’ve made it clear we’re not interested, it makes you look like you don’t believe woman can have fun on their own, that we all need a man, that you have the right to ruin our evening to prove something to yourself. It makes you look like an obnoxious asshole.

Oh, and on the subject of obnoxious assholes, it’s been weeks since I made fun of Bush, so I hope you’ll forgive me for doing so again. I know, I know, it’s lazy journalism on my part since it’s not exactly difficult to do, but now he’s pushing my personal buttons and claiming to be a man of letters with a slavering media even posting a complete book list. Now, even on its face this is a puerile attempt at restoring public confidence in a man who can’t get enough of fart jokes. The Carpetbagger Report looks at the word count and decides that there is no way Bush could have read that many books. Frankly, I’d be concerned if he had: should a President in this much trouble be spending several hours a day reading novels?

(Via Shakespeare’s Sister)

I don’t know how to finish this post, and re-reading it I realise I sound angry rather than funny. I’m sorry about that. As I write this, a good friend of mine is battling against an injustice that threatens his future happiness, and I’m worried about him and angry at my own impotency.

I have several friends going through serious life events at the moment, and it brings home to me how sheltered my own life is by comparison, how trivial my concerns. I’m in awe of all of you; your strength and grace in the face of tumult, your ability to confront painful life decisions and work through them, the fact that you all keep giving and living and loving. I’m honoured to know you, and I hope the universe gives you a break soon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If I added sex to this post, it would be titled My Three Favourite Things

"In tribal societies in which gift giving is economically important, there may be exchange of gift giving of identical (or useless) gifts which serve to maintain the relationship between donors. In Australia, the ritual of the round, known virtually to all adult members of society has some parallel functions. It symbolise entry to a group (and, for that matter, makes pointed an exclusion). It binds a group together." National Times January 1978

Buying a round of drinks is safe here, for now, but Scotland is trying to ban the tradition..

I don’t tend to take part in round buying, but that’s mostly because I spend my time with other wine-drinkers, so it’s easier to just buy a bottle and plonk it down between us (and by us, I of course mean a group of people larger than two, and when I say a bottle, I mean a bottle, and not several bottles, because that would be irresponsible behaviour on my part. Moving on now) and the other people present will get the next one, whether then or the next time we catch up. But the tradition of the round is not something to be messed with. As the quote indicates, it’s about something deeper than a desire to get as drunk as possible as fast as possible. It’s a symbol of hospitality, of inclusion, of egalitarianism.

I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t understand the problem of excess alcohol consumption. But could the Scottish…people who are in charge of these sorts of things…have chosen a worse way to go about this? Don’t attack the problem, attack a time-honoured tradition that appeals to a sense of national identity and is, at best, adjacent to the problem. Not smart.

Wednesday Book Review

Talking of traditions, I’m going to stick with this one (not least because it means that I have a post ready to go on a slow news day). Today, though, I’m boring myself writing these reviews, which means you’re too bored to read them, so I’m keeping it brief. Please imply deep literary insights as liberally as you wish.

Running With Scissors: a Memoir – Augusten Burroughs

Augusten’s mother, a bipolar wannabe poet, gives him into the care of her shrink when he is twelve. Augusten, who is obsessed with neatness and order, grows up in a household where nothing is ever cleaned, the Christmas tree stays up until May and the psychiatrist examines his turds for divine messages. None of the adults condemn 13-year-old Augusten’s ‘affair’ with a 33-year-old man, let alone his smoking, drinking and total failure to attend school.

Burroughs writes with an astounding lack of self-pity, leaving room for the reader to be outraged at his dreadful childhood. It’s funny. It’s smart. Read it.

Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow (List book 207)

Henderson is a clownish multi-millionaire with an unhappy second marriage, a drinking problem and a total lack of social graces. In an attempt to find himself he heads to Africa. The book details, in seriocomic fashion, his often farcical and self-parodying attempts at heroism and self-knowledge, eagerly embracing what he sees as the mystical wisdom of the tribes he encounters.
I’m told this is Bellow’s most popular book. Personally, I was bored stupid by the long conversations and internal monologues that lead Henderson to his enlightenment. Blah.

A Far Cry from Kensington – Muriel Spark

The tale of a young war widow in the nineteen-fifties and the Kensington boarding house she lived in. Spark has a sparse, wry style which I enjoy, and the narrator’s liberally-dispensed advice on how to live one’s life makes her a memorable character. A pleasant read, although it’s not on my list of books to buy*.

*I read far too much to be able to buy all the books I want to read. I also reread my favourite books over and over. The theory is that I borrow everything from the library and then buy copies of those that I want to re-read. In reality, I tend to borrow from the library, think to myself that I should really buy that book, go to the bookstore and get tempted by something entirely different which my library doesn’t stock. I can’t help it. I love new books. I love the way they smell, and the way they feel, and the hours of bliss that they promise. And much as I adore and am grateful for my library, borrowed books are not the same**.

**I was forcibly reminded of this today, reading Kensington over lunch. An unknown member at my library likes to make grammatical corrections in self-satisfied capitals. A line that reads “she continued to speak, think and act as if I was motherly” will have ‘was’ crossed out and WERE written in the margin in blue ink. I’m something of a grammar pedant myself, and I grumbled just last night because a headline on the prime-time news read “Rate rise effects*** housing prices” – but the idea of defacing literature, second-guessing the choice of words by people who use words to make art, blows me away.

***I don’t know what it is about this one specifically. I have at least two regular correspondents who misuse this word. In most cases, I leave them alone about it because it’s not like it’s harming my world. In the case of the prime-time news, however, I think I’m justified in getting cross. Do you know how many people would love to work in television journalism? Do you know how many of them are literate? Come on, people.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Different ways to pass the time

Okay, I confess: I’m too much of a wimp to post about polyamory. So you guys go ahead and screw whoever you want, I’ll just be over here talking about performance art.

You know how sometimes, something is so quintessentially itself that you have to wonder whether it’s a satire?

It’s not a satire . It’s “a slow crushing dance with a pig for one person at a time." According to the artist: "The work left me with an undercurrent of pigginess, unexpected fantasies of mergence and interspecies metamorphoses began to flicker into my consciousness."

What I particularly love about this piece is that viewers of the art are only allowed in one at a time, for up to ten minutes. This is ostensibly in order to create a sense of intimacy and rapport between the performer and artist. Now I'm not an art critic, but it seems to me that the only thing created by standing in silence for ten minutes and watching a woman cuddle a dead pig would be a bad case of the church giggles.

An undercurrent of pigginess. I mean, Jesus.

In other news, men from different countries have different perceptions of themselves as lovers. That’s not what the article says, of course, but it’s the only thing that I can glean from it. 60% of Italian men make their partners climax every time? Okay then, I’m sure that’s absolutely true, because after all it’s not at all an accepted fact that most women fake sometimes and most men can’t tell*. British men spend the longest time on foreplay, and Filipinos, in a beautiful turn of phrase, are “world-beaters” at masturbation.

Australian men are ‘amongst the most faithful’ in case you’re wondering why they reported this in an Australian newspaper.

See, to me these sorts of surveys raise more questions than they answer. For example, what counts as foreplay? Does the clock start ticking at the moment you roll over in bed, plonk a hand on her breast and say How About It, or at the point where, dressing for dinner, you choose the aftershave that renders her unable to form multisyllabic words? Where does it end; is foreplay any act but penetrative sex? That presupposes a certain…linearity to a sexual encounter, if you see what I mean.

It’s as if sex is a formal dance, with a defined set of steps and figures. Partners make indirect eye contact from across the room before approaching one another. They move through the steps considerately, careful not to rush through one figure to the next. And at the end they thank each other politely and retire.

But what if the dance starts from that first lidded glance across the room and continues through the night? And what if it shifts from Viennese Waltz to Foxtrot to Lambada until the steps merge into something new, something without a name? What if the dancers were so lost in the moves that they couldn’t begin to guess how long they’d been dancing?

I suppose then we’d have no way of comparing ourselves to others. And where’s the fun in that?

*Incidentally, guys, the female orgasm, like the male orgasm, has some fairly distinct physiological characteristics which can’t be faked. If you can’t tell, you’re not paying attention, which might be why she’s faking in the first place. I’m just saying.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Okay, okay, you all hate moderation. I’ve turned it off again. However, I will still delete any comment that gives away personal information; I can’t edit comments without moderation turned on, so it’s delete or nothing. Here’s a good rule of thumb; assume I’m more protective of my privacy than you are. Thanks.

Other lessons learned from Friday: I got to confirm my suspicion that posting judgmental opinions about other people’s private lives is the best way to elicit comments. So tomorrow, please tune in for Polyamory: Sleeping Around Has Never Been So Acceptable.

I’ve been musing on internet content the past few days. In part this is because the circle of people reading this is widening, which is great but brings home the possibility that one day soon complete strangers will stumble upon me and be so smitten by my brilliance that they will avidly devour every post, pausing only to ring every friend and acquaintance they have and urge them to do the same.

Please note: I said possibility, not probability.

What I was actually thinking about in relation to this was posting responsibly and in particular adult content. Obviously I blog about adult themes to some extent already, but I try and stay away from gratuitous content (well, apart from that whole ten inch penis thing, but I swear that was in context). If I were a parent, I don’t think I’d have a problem with my kids reading about ‘adult themes’ in this context (and I acknowledge that the “if” in that sentence looms large). Added to which, your average thirteen-year-old, left alone with an internet connection and a box of tissues (sorry) is not going to come across my site (sorry again) in the first place.

But is there a line past which I should fear to cross? And if I do cross it, what do I do about that? Put up a banner warning of adult content?

The real reason I’m wondering about this is that I’m gearing up for National Novel Writing Month in November. This is the first year since 2002, when I first attempted (and won) NaNoWriMo, that I don't have exams in November, and so I'm excited to try again. Since there’s no way I can blog as well as meet that deadline, and I’m an attention junkie, I figured I’d post sections of the novel daily.

In its currently envisioned form, this novel includes some very explicit stuff. So much so that I’m not sure I’m going to have the guts to post it anyway. But if I don’t, I can’t post the rest of it, because it’ll make no sense. And to censor it…well, I’m in danger of claiming that the nude scene in the B movie is necessary to develop the character, here, but in this case, I am willing to make the argument that the point of the story is lost if the sections in question are not explicit.

I’m not leading anywhere with this, I'm just musing. I'll get back to posting the funny just as soon as I can manage it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Age differences

Abacus’ comment on my previous post raised a question I’ve been meaning to ask, actually. Is moderation putting you guys off commenting?

(Of course, if it is, I’ll never know, so this may be a moot point)

Because you've all stopped talking to me, and I have to wonder why. I don't want to discount the possibility that it's just because I've been terribly dull recently, but just in case it's the moderation, for the record: I will only edit or refuse a comment that reveals personal information about me and my loved ones, or which is clearly spam. In general, I love comments and I don’t want to discourage them. Disagreement and debate are heartily encouraged. I also like emails. And single malt whisky, should you have any of that lying around.

Okay, let’s talk about age gaps in dating. I’m having one of those days in which my reading and my emailing is throwing up the same themes over and over again, and this is one of them.

An old post of Aunt B.’s mentioned this formula:

If you take your age, divide it in half and add seven, that’s the youngest* age you can date without looking sleazy.

This would mean that I could date anyone 21 or over, and men 42 or younger can date me. Obviously the formula allows the age gap to widen as we grow older, which I think is part of its charm. It’s generally accepted that as we get older, age differences matter less. And hell, that seems like a good enough age range for me to work within, should I be looking to date.

When I was seventeen I dated a 24-year-old, which obviously falls outside the formula. I don’t know that he was someone I’d call sleazy, but he would arguably have had trouble impressing women his own age; he was unemployed, lived in a share house and dedicated most of his energies to obtaining and partaking of the best-quality marijuana he could find. Which pretty much sums up my life at seventeen, except that I wasn’t quite as dedicated to the quest for the perfect bud.

And that's the trouble, I think. If there's a significant age gap, shouldn't there also be a discrepancy in lifestyle and world view? And if there isn't, what does that say?

I don’t know that it’s sleazy, exactly, to date outside the formula. It does make me wonder about the personal power of the people involved. Age, especially for men, confers a certain status; youth is characterised by naivety. So if a man dates someone significantly younger than him, is it because that’s the only form of superior status available to him? If a woman chooses a younger man, is that because she seeks a level of unquestioning devotion that is unavailable to her from a man her own age?

Or is it simpler; choosing the nubile beauty of youth over the wisdom and wit of greater years?

I don’t know, and I realise I’m sounding terribly judgmental here. There are exceptions to every rule and nothing about human relationships can be boiled down to a formula. But I like this one for its simplicity. How about you?

*Not oldest. That would make no sense. Thanks for spotting that, Michelle.

Sex seminars

I had a dream last night that I came up with the perfect topic for today’s post. In the dream I even knew exactly what I would write, and it was pithy and funny and insightful. I felt an enormous sense of relief that I had something so good to write about, and an eagerness to get to work and share it with you.

Of course I have no idea what it was, now. But how sad it is that I’m dreaming about coming up with posts?

This article makes me a little angry. It’s about the growing number of ‘sex seminars’ in North America, which teach sexual techniques to women; how to give amazing fellatio seems to be number one on the agenda. Coupled with the growing interest in pole dancing classes for non-strippers, which are available even in my small city (I’m at work so I’m not going to google a link for you), at-home ‘fitness’ videos by Carmen Electra and the growing norm of Brazilian waxes, it’s pretty clear that women who are not in the sex industry nonetheless want to improve their sexual performance and desirability.

I don’t have a problem with this, in and of itself. Frank talk about sexuality is a healthy thing, and I like to believe that it’s more and more acceptable for women to be openly interested in sex. Hopefully, amongst all of this talk about stripping techniques and role-play there’s room for discussion about sexual health and egalitarian relationships.

And yet, and yet.

Where are the classes for men on how to give skilled cunnilingus? What man goes to a sex toy party and discusses how to use various equipment for his and his partner’s pleasure? For that matter, why do these classes for women focus on providing skilled services for their man, and not on how to increase their own enjoyment of sex? Nowhere in these articles is there a suggestion that ‘sex seminars’ teach women what positions or what angles increase their own chances at an orgasm. The focus is on being as skilled as a professional sex worker in order to pleasure your man.

Being good at what you do, and knowing that you bring pleasure to the person you love (or at least lust for) can create a sense of pride which a lot of women tag as sexual empowerment. But I can’t escape the feeling that in the race to be everything a man wants in bed, women are losing sight of what they want. We define how sexy we are by the cultural norms around us, and they are increasingly mandated by the porn industry. There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent shift in our expectations of men. Women are allowed to want sex now, as long as we want the right sort of sex; porn sex.

Being desired is a powerful aphrodisiac. But it doesn’t beat making love with a man who knows how to please his woman and enjoys using that knowledge. That's the kind of sex we want.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sartorial splendour

Hey, look what my friend made me! No, up there. Above you. No, not on the ceiling, that would be ridiculous, how do I know what’s on your ceiling? At the top of the…you know what? Never mind.

I’m posting later and later in the day recently. And whilst trying to come up with content, I’m reading other blogs, and every time I think I’ve found the best I discover more, and then I get discouraged because really, how many things can there be to say, and what are the chances that they haven’t already been said by someone funnier and smarter than me?

And then I sit down and tell you about my day anyway.

You know it’s going to be a good day when a workmate takes you aside to discreetly whisper that you appear to have ‘cobwebs or something’ on the hem of your skirt, and you duck to the bathroom to investigate and it turns out to be a fairly extensive foundation stain that won’t shift no matter how long you spend scrubbing it with paper towels and hand soap.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A few months ago it took me until lunchtime to realise that I’d managed to put my trousers on, I kid you not, inside out. How does that even happen? Did I not notice that the zipper was difficult to do up? Another day I teamed new dark brown slim-cut pants with a rather sharp Cue jacket. The pants were slightly looser than normal, and I spent all day feeling slim and pretty until I realised at around 3pm that in my dimly-lit bedroom that morning I had in fact donned an old, shabby, stretched pair of black trousers that I no longer deem suitable to wear out of the house let alone the office. Classy.

This time, though, the problem was far too obvious to tough the situation out, and I had to go skirt shopping. I am not a big fan of clothes shopping in the first place, and the prospect of browsing dress shops looking like I’d been defecated on by an agile pigeon did not fill me with joy. That was problem one.

Problem two was that I didn’t have either of my usual style consultants with me.

Why do I need the help? I’m an average sort of height and an average sort of weight. My dress size is so common that I rarely find things in the sales. I think I’m unusually proportioned, but what woman doesn’t? And after all, I’m only looking for a plain black knee-length work skirt.

But as any woman will tell you, it’s not that simple. Skirts of a certain cut make me look like a six-months-pregnant stripper in denial. The wrong length makes my legs look elephantine. Belts on anything make me look like a sausage, and don’t ask because I don’t understand either. Intellectually, I know that the problem is the clothes, not me. Emotionally it’s a different matter.

So I spent an excruciating hour struggling in and out of various skirts, twisting to see myself from all angles whilst preventing myself from seeing the full true horror that is my flabby white self. The saleswomen, spotting a vulnerable customer if ever there was one, spent the time urging me to try on more and more clothes, attempting to cajole me into entire suits “for that pulled-together look” whilst still reassuring me that my current black jacket matches all of their black skirts perfectly “because it’s easy with black”. (Which is piffle, by the way. Not all blacks are created equal. I’m an ex-goth: I know that of what I speak). In the end I escaped by throwing far too much money at them in exchange for a basic A-line, and bolting to the nearest public bathroom to change before limping, blistered, back to the office.

Someone tell me why women are supposed to like clothes shopping so much?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday Book Review (now with 100% more music)

Only two books this week; I’ve been strangely disinclined to read as much as usual for some reason, and I chose not to sub a previously-read book in.

Also, remember how I said more books, less exposition? Yeah. That second part didn't work out so well.

Albert Camus – The Outsider (List book 206)
(Note: the French title of this book is L’Etranger, and thus English translations are sometimes titled The Stranger rather than The Outsider. Just in case you might have been confused by this. No, no, don’t thank me – it’s a public service)

I grabbed this from my Unread pile this morning largely at random, thinking only that it was slim enough that I could read it at lunch. And thus began a series of coincidences.

Firstly, today’s media has been all over the fact that George W Bush has been reading this book whilst on holiday. Apparently the fact that Dubya can read is in and of itself a newsworthy topic. (Incidentally, the Cure song Killing an Arab is based on The Outsider, and don’t think the irony of this has been lost on liberal bloggers).

Secondly. We bought the latest Interpol album (Antics – which is fucking brilliant, by the way) on the weekend, and have been listening to it on repeat in the car for the past five days. The husband tells me that at least one commentator considers this a concept album in which the songs comprise a continuous narrative. I’m unconvinced, but my interest was piqued by the claim that ‘Evil’, my favourite track on the album, is loosely based on the Camus book I was holding.

Whilst there are similarities (the lyrics in Evil seem to make reference to a murder on a beach, the subsequent solitary confinement of the perpetrator and an upcoming trial), I don’t think it’s necessarily deliberate. Interpol sing about lost love, frustrated passion and desperate longing. The Outsider, by stark contrast, is the tale of a man committed to truth and simplicity but divorced from the complex passion and depth of feeling of those around him.

Told in first person, the protagonist Meursault details a series of events that through different eyes would be emotional and dramatic; his mother’s funeral, his befriending and abetting of a local pimp who badly beats up a mistress, the beginning of a sexual relationship with a woman he has fancied for a long time, his murder of an Arab stranger and his own subsequent trial and execution. Heady stuff, and yet through Meursault’s eyes they are all just events, things that happen to him without meaning or reflection.

Camus said about The Outsider that 'In our society, any man who doesn't cry at his mother's funeral is liable to be condemned to death’. Meursault is no Josef K: he has clearly and without provocation committed an act of murder. However, it is the focus on his lack of remorse that Camus is interested on, and it is on this basis that Meursault is executed rather than given a lighter sentence.

Meursault’s lack of self-reflection, his alienation from the social world, make him unknowable and unlikable. However, his refusal to play the game, to do anything except state the truth, however unpalatable, wrings from the reader a certain admiration. As with The Catcher in the Rye, I can imagine that any adolescent would identify with the protagonist’s nihilism.

It’s a great book. I recommend it. Also, buy (burn, download, steal from your blind and helpless neighbour) Interpol’s Antics. Fucking brilliant.

Margaret Drabble – The Seven Sisters

Also written in first person, The Seven Sisters is the diary of Candida, a middle-aged divorcee alienated from her three grown daughters, making a new and much-circumscribed life for herself in London. After a period of grimy poverty, she comes into some money and travels through Tunisia and Naples with a group of female friends. How these women in the ‘third age’ of their lives interact with one another and themselves is the focus of the work.

I had difficulty engaging with this book, although I’ve enjoyed the author’s work before. In Candida, Drabble has created an uptight, self-conscious character who is given to deconstructing herself and her own need to impress and connect with others. The trouble is that she’s done it extremely well, and so the book reads like, well, a self-conscious personal diary written by an amateur. She plays with narrative style and perspective as a form of self-analysis, which makes one question Candida’s candidness; but rather than piquing my interest, this just made me more irritated with the character.

It’s a tricky skill, writing a flawed character in a way that doesn’t lose the reader’s sympathy. Drabble skilfully charts the growing optimism and personal strength of a woman thrown on her own resources, who is able to lose the ‘bleating, whining tone’ of her earliest entries in favour of a more positive voice…but personally, by the end of the book, I no longer cared.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Keeping one's head above water

I woke up last Monday to brilliant sunshine. The light striped my bedroom floor, promising warmth and welcome outside. Contemplating what to wear, I found myself excited at the prospect of lace camisoles instead of heavy shirts, of bare legs in strappy heels instead of wool trousers and boots, of vitamin D seeping into bare skin.

This is what spring means, and I rejoiced in its coming.

And then I realised what else spring means: no more camouflage. A winter of carbs and sloth have taken their toll, and action must be taken. So I dug out my swimming costume from the bottom of the drawer and set forth.

This has been going quite well, so far. I’ve made it to the pool a few times, remembered how much I like to swim, and started to build a routine. In the water, my total lack of hand-eye coordination doesn’t seem to matter, which is a major plus. I swim for half an hour or so, and walk back to work feeling peaceful and refreshed.

Until today. Today was neither peaceful nor refreshing. But the doctors tell me my eyesight will be restored just as soon as the PTSD improves.

The pool I go to has four lanes, labelled Slow, Medium, Fast, [Very] Fast. When I get there at around 11.30am, there are two people in each of the middle lanes (Medium and Fast), one bloke in Slow and no-one in Very Fast. Now, I’m coming back to swimming after a year or so away, and so I’m not fast by anyone’s estimation. But once you get more than two people in any lane it becomes too crowded for comfort, so Medium is out. The guy in the Slow lane is walking up and down the pool, stopping halfway to do stretching exercises, and occasionally just floating on his back. He's also obese, and therefore taking up a lot of space. So Slow is out as well.

I hop into the Very Fast lane. This affords me about five minutes of total freedom in which I manage a few respectable laps. But I’m out of shape, and already I’m slowing down a little. This, of course, is when another girl joins my lane.

And she is fast. Like, turbo-powered. I manage to speed up for one or two laps in order to avoid shaming myself completely, but the effort takes far too much out of me. I start swimming one lap as fast as I can manage, stopping at the end to let her catch up and overtake me, and then swim another.

Even with the rests I'm slowing badly. This is getting embarrassing, but I don’t want to leave the pool, so I’m keeping an eye on the other lanes in the hopes that a slower one empties.

Finally! Slow Guy heaves himself out of the pool and walks towards his towel, behind my lane. I wait a minute to check that he’s leaving and not just grabbing equipment before moving; I don’t want to find myself in the Slow lane with a guy in floaties. In my peripheral vision it looks like he’s just winding a towel around his waist, but it’s taking a surprisingly long time. When, a few minutes later, he has neither headed back into the pool or out to the locker rooms, I turn around to check the situation.

This is a mistake.

For some reason he’s decided to change under his towel instead of head to the relative privacy of the locker room. It’s a large towel, and he’s evidently done this before, so anyone looking into the room from the street would see nothing untoward.

I am not on the street. I am in the pool. Below him. From where I stand, in the shallow end, I am therefore looking up and under his towel. And I’ve caught him in that delicate moment between dropping his swim shorts and pulling on underwear.


I look away immediately, blushing. Fast Girl is still pounding up and down the lane, giving me increasingly annoyed looks as she comes past, because I haven’t been swimming for a while now. I figure that at least Slow Guy’s definitely clearing out, and therefore I can steal his lane.

Except that to lever myself out of this lane I have to turn around again. And I don’t want to do that.

I really, really don’t want to do that.

So I take a deep breath and plunge into a new lap. It’s surprising what emotional scarring can do for one’s speed.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Not so fast, Doctor

I don’t know where to start with this story that claims women stop wanting sex when in a secure relationship.

Actually, that’s not true.

How about I start by saying: this is one of the most ridiculous reports I’ve read in a long time. It misreports and exaggerates the findings to give it journalistic bite, fails to take causal factors into account and arrives at a hypothesis which is not borne out by the data. Plus it irritated the shit out of me.

Sound Byte Journalism
“The female sex drive starts sputtering to a halt as soon as a woman has got her man”. Sounds drastic, huh? It continues:
“Women's libido plummets so rapidly when they believe they are in a secure relationship that after just four years the proportion of 30-year-old women wanting regular sex falls below 50 per cent.”
Wow. Ignoring the hideous syntax for a second: Below 50% in only four years? That is indeed a rapid plummet. Except if you read on.
“While 60 per cent of 30-year-old women reported wanting sex "often" at the start of a relationship, the figure fell to below 50 per cent within four years.” So actually, within four years of a steady relationship, only 10 per cent of female respondents reported a decrease in sex drive.

Ignoring Causal Factors
These are 30 year olds, by the way. Do you want to guess what the average age of woman experiencing her first pregnancy is these days? Google is frustratingly silent on the subject of German rates, but in Australia it’s, what do you know, age 30. Not that that could have anything to do with it.

Also, 90% of the respondent women, irrespective of how often they wanted sex, reported wanting tenderness. Male desire for tenderness fell off rapidly (and you can’t fake tenderness, so if they’re not wanting it, they’re probably not creating it). Which is causing the other?

So [only] ten per cent of women experience a decline in sex drive in the first four years of a committed relationship – the same years, incidentally, in which they are the most likely to bear and rear young children, and in which their mates show a decline in tenderness.

Clearly, social science has no part to play in this!

Interpreting Data to Fit Hypothesis
“Dr Klusmann [...] has compared his findings to the sexual habits of prairie voles and offers an evolutionary explanation.

He believes that women, having found a man with whom to procreate, keep "resources" scarce to keep the man interested. Men, on the other hand, maintain a higher sex drive in the hope of keeping their mate faithful and other men at bay.”

Prairie voles?

I looked up prairie voles. They are 'famously monogamous’ and form pair-bonds for life. Like humans, the prairie vole releases a chemical called vaspressin when it mates, creating an addictive reward cycle such that it is drawn to mate again and again with the same vole.

And…that’s it. That’s the basis of comparison. Clearly the two species are practically one.

Let’s revisit the good doctor’s theory.

Women, having found a man with whom to procreate, keep ‘resources’ scarce to keep him interested. Men maintain a higher sex drive in order to keep their mate faithful and keep other men at bay.

I am reluctant to speak to the second half of this claim (but please, men, comment!) so I’ll concentrate on the first sentence.

If it’s true that a man’s desire to have sex with his life partner doesn’t decrease throughout the relationship, a premise which is at the heart of this article, what possible reason or motivation would women have to do this? From this particular evolutionary perspective, wouldn’t women be more likely to want to continue to have sex with their men, thus ensuring that they stay around and help rear the children rather than go off and form new pair-bonds?

There's no suggestion that this 'withholding of resources' contributes to the fact that male libido stays steady through a relationship. This, therefore, makes no sense at all.

In addition, there are much-vaunted reproductive advantages for women in having one regular sexual partner. The risk of pre-eclampsia (a dangerous condition in pregnancy) goes down where the woman has had one regular sexual partner for a longer period of time. There is evidence that female fertility is improved if having intercourse with one partner.

In both of these cases it is not the security or emotional wellbeing that makes the difference; it is the sex, or more specifically, the semen. Having regular unprotected intercourse with one man makes the female body more receptive to that DNA. Infrequent intercourse would work against a woman who is trying to optimise her reproductive abilities.

Also, if the above were a compelling reason to withhold sex, wouldn’t more than 10 per cent of women employ the strategy?

Shoddy journalism and shoddy science. That’s all this is. And you just know it's going to be all over the popular media.


I mean to post this the other day and forgot. If anyone reading this is an AOL customer and doesn’t yet know about last week’s monumental screw-up , stop reading this immediately and go to that link.

For more information, check out memepool; they have several links up analysing the fallout.

Slow news day

The today will be like a competition in running with barriers. The barriers will be small, but there will be a lot of them.

And a very good morning to you, too.

Seasons should change gently, gracefully. Naked winter should flush pink like a girl rising from a bath, slipping into crisp white cotton springtime. This year winter seems to have lurched into spring like a man caught bonking his neighbour’s wife, hopping around frantically tugging up his trousers with one shoe on and crashing into a chest of drawers. One day it’s all Hallmark frost, the next it’s t-shirts and sandals. Very confusing, and the worst of it (for me, and it’s all about me) is that changes in atmospheric pressure stop me sleeping. I woke up at 3 o’clock this morning.

The problem with insomnia is that one never knows when to give in and get up for the morning. I considered it briefly at 4, but still held out hope of sleep. By 5 the lying-still-and-hoping technique was palling, but I couldn’t quite muster the resolve to move. By 5.30, half an hour before the alarm was due to go off, I was drifting in and out of uneasy sleep.

The upshot, of course, is that I’ve had four hours sleep and a series of unsettled and unpleasant dreams. I mean, damn. The upshot of the upshot is that until I shake the rancid scraps of dream from my mind I don’t have a lot to talk about.

Apparently I’m not the only one reaching for content today, though: you’re telling me they only just noticed that these mountains – which, one assumes, have been around for millions of years - look like breasts? (link safe for work).

Yep. It’s a slow news day.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Hey, remember that poll?

So, were you thinking of maybe hijacking a plane from London, flying to America and blowing up a city? Want to practise first? Be my guest!

Okay, that was tasteless. Moving on.

Look, it’s becoming increasingly clear that I will never be able to post the results of the great Ten Inch Penis survey. The original problem was that two separate polls were running; one asked people to rank the five criteria whereas the other, due to technological limitations, merely asked people to specify the most and least important. So that didn’t help. No matter: I had this complicated algorithm worked out to collate the findings into one coherent set of results, the fruits of which I was going to share with you.

The second or more enduring problem is that I don’t have access to the complete second set of results, and they’ve proved impossible to obtain. So there goes my complicated algorithm.

However, I do have most of the results, so rather than posting some funky graph (ha! Like I know how to do that anyway) I’ll just give you the gist. All in all I got about sixty responses, the majority of which were women in their twenties and thirties but from a range of professions and even countries. Oh, and some men posted, too. That was nice.

The vast majority (about 90%) of women picked Good Sense of Humour and Intelligence as their top two characteristics. Responses were evenly divided when it came to ranking them first and second; that is, about half said that Intelligence was more important, the other half ranked it second below Humour.

An even bigger majority – maybe 95% - ranked Ten Inch Penis and Earning Capacity as the lowest two. About three quarters put Earning Capacity second last, the other quarter considering it the least important. Looks sat squarely in the middle.

Standard deviations: where age was known, older women tended to prioritise earning capacity over looks, younger women going for the physical appearance first. Men, who were asked to guess what women wanted, agreed that Intelligence and humour were more important than a large penis. However, as I suspected, they tended to guess that Earning Capacity was more important than the female answers actually suggested.

I did hope to be able to post some of the comments that came out of the poll, but I can’t do that just yet. Conversations around the poll have been intriguing, though. Would it be better to date someone a bit dim who made you laugh, or someone intriguingly smart who never saw the funny side? Can a lot of money make up for a lack of good looks? How many of us have ever encountered a ten-incher in real life, anyway?

I haven’t anything funny to post about this, really. But the gist is this: guys, if you’re funny and smart you’re probably doing okay in the pick-up stakes. And if you’re not, you’re obviously not hanging out with the right people – i.e, my friends and colleagues.

If you’re rich, well-endowed and boring as batshit (and batshit’s pretty boring, let me tell you), you’re out of luck. Sorry.

You know, that doesn’t look quite as convincing in type as it sounded in my head. I wonder if I phrased the survey wrong?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

30%. Seriously.

Is it unreasonable of me to post about US politics? I never know whether that’s unfair or not, since I have a feeling I’d get bristly if people from other countries bitched about Australia, but I do think that what’s happening there is often reflected here, so that’s my justification. Plus, I’m not really commenting about Bush voters. I’m just linking.

Okay, read this link. At least the first paragraph. 30%, people. 30. Per. Cent.

Now read this one. It averages out to 39.7%.

When you look at the age spread of the first group, the chances of them forming a substantial part of the second group grows. Not that I’m making any comment about Bush voters. I’m just linking.


Turns out I have less than no css skills (well, I did know that already. More to the point, it turns out that I cannot in fact teach myself code in one afternoon), so I must give all credit for the fixed template to my friend Angela. There’s some changes left to be made, but at least it looks vaguely put together again. So I can get back to what I do best: writing.

Well, technically what I do best is waste time. And hang out with people in bars. And read too much. And…well, anyway, I can get back to one of the things I do less incompetently than web page design: writing.

And I wanted very much to write to you all today. Sometimes, I know, I can be a little, well, negative. A little sarcastic and judgmental. But today the milk of human kindness flows through my veins and I am full of joie de vivre. I am having a spectacular day.

Take this morning, for example. The sun was shining gently through the windows, urging me to spring up and begin my day. Which I duly did. Such a nice way to start the day.

Much better than having the alarm clock go off at a startlingly loud volume, having mysteriously retuned itself in the night to a popular music station complete with Intensely Irritating DJs. And realising it was zero degrees outside and the fire was long out. And that the cat was meowing outside the door so that hitting snooze would have been futile. That would have sucked. Luckily that didn’t happen. I don’t know why I mentioned it, really.

And then the drive to work was peaceful and serene, all the cars observing the road rules and definitely not swerving in and out of lanes at 120kph, blaring their horns and acting like five year olds with anger issues.

They’ve finally turned on the heating at work, too, so that instead of sitting here in our coats and gloves (no, really), we’re all enjoying working in sub-tropical temperatures. It’s like being on holiday! Somewhere really hot! But without any of that annoying sand, water or remotely heat-appropriate clothing, and with a total absence of those awful cocktails! Can life get any better?

All of this, though, would count as just a standard good day. What really inspired me to call today a spectacular day (a word I do not use lightly) is the wonderful lunchbreak I just had. I love working in the city. It’s so colourful and cosmopolitan, with things happening all the time. This is great, because when I’m walking along I have a tendency to try and enjoy my own company, sink into my own private thoughts, that sort of thing. I know! Unsociable and unfriendly, right? Thankfully, this crazy city is here to stop me indulging this dangerous, misanthropic tendency.

In the space of 45 minutes, I got two separate exhortations to “smile!”. I love being reminded to smile. Obviously, it’s my duty to present a cheery and smiling face to total strangers all the time and I’m grateful to those civic-minded citizens who willingly do their bit to help me be the very best Barbie - I mean, smiling girl – I can be. Thanks, Greasy Dude and Maniacal Business Man!

Also, apparently it’s good for the circulation to be a little bit cold sometimes, so I’m ecstatic that the drycleaners hadn’t received my coat back yet despite swearing that it would be ready today. Mmmm. Nothing like a brisk walk in insufficient clothing to get the blood flowing. Also, if I’d been wearing the coat, how would I have got my regular dose of validation from letting men stare openly at my breasts? All in all, things couldn’t have worked out better.

At least the woman at the dry cleaners let me know about the non-delivery of the coat quickly, rather than ignoring me for twelve minutes whilst she examined every single photo in an customer’s wedding album and discussed what type of cake they had and who made the dress. Because that would have been ridiculous, what with it being a customer service job and all. Especially since there were three of us waiting, all clearly on our lunch breaks. Can you imagine?

Walking back to the office, I got a rare excuse to demonstrate my agility and lightning-quick reflexes when a car decided to whip round a left-hand corner whilst I was entering the pedestrian crossing, forcing me to leap backwards out of the way. I was just bemoaning the fact that office culture doesn’t allow me to fit in enough exercise, so this was great.

Now I’m off to make coffee. I hope the kitchen’s jam-packed full of people who want to comment at length on the weather, the football and what that other guy’s got in his sandwich. I can’t think of anything more fun.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More Books

No substantive post until I get the template sorted out, I’m afraid. For now:

Wednesday Book Review

Winter Breaks – Joseph Connelly

Connelly writes English social farce, much like Tom Sharpe but (to my mind) significantly funnier. He has an ear for internal monologues, and much of the narrative happens inside his character’s heads. Winter Breaks is the sequel to Summer Things, which was possibly a little funnier. In the sequel, the characters are even more dysfunctional, and it’s harder to feel enough sympathy for them to stay interested in their stories. Nevertheless, a funny light read. Good for holidays.

Paullina Simons – Red Leaves

Some authors write one or two brilliant books and then lose their way. Others only become mistresses of their craft in later works. Simons is one of the latter.

Red Leaves is an early work, and it’s got some technical faults. It seems unsure of whether it’s a murder mystery or a social drama, and the result is a clumsily paced narrative. The switch between the first half of the book, which chronicles the last week of the main character’s life, and the second half in which a detective tries to discover her murderer, is jarring; the first half is too long for a book revolving around the mystery, and too short for the reader who has become intrigued by the character herself. The revelations of the latter half are oddly paced, and the dénouement unsatisfying. Simons excels at human drama and the conflicts of people trying to balance love and morality. Luckily, that’s what she has concentrated on since Red Leaves. Read Tully or The Bronze Horseman instead.

Anne Tyler – Ladder of Years

I love Anne Tyler to bits, and none of her books have disappointed me yet. So when I say that Ladder of Years may well be my favourite, I don’t say it lightly. There’s something strangely compelling in the theme of a person who walks away from their life and trappings to start again (Douglas Coupland’s Miss Wyoming and Douglas Kennedy’s The Big Picture are both great examples), and that’s what Tyler concentrates on here. She writes in a style so realistic it could be accused of dwelling on minutiae, but she is so intelligent and incisive that every detail is valuable.

If Tyler has one fault, it’s that her couples are all variations on the same theme; a talkative, scattered, slightly childish wife contrasted against a dour husband. That said, she has sympathy for how these types create and reinforce a symbiotic relationship, and Ladder of Years examines how one’s self-identity is connected to the role we play in the eyes of others. It’s a beautiful book. I loved it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bear with me

I decided to start playing around with the template, but quickly realised the depths of my ignorance when it comes to these things. So bear with me, and hopefully I'll have something prettier soon. Definitely by tomorrow. Or Friday. Say the end of the month to be safe.


Well, that’ll teach me to joke about my inability to sleep. A random bout of insomnia kept me awake for a large part of last night, and now – just to shake things up a bit – I’m tired. I said yesterday that I can sleep better alone. That’s not exactly true: if I’m going to sleep easily (a matter largely out of my control), a warm body in bed next to me won’t change that. And it’s far more friendly. It’s the nights that I can’t sleep that are the problem, because I convince myself that every flicker of movement on my side of the bed will wake the husband, and so I compound the insomnia by trying to lie as still as possible. It’s not a smart move, but one is so rarely smart as 3am. Damn circadian rhythms.

But hey, at least my joking about bathroom etiquette didn’t lead to this situation.

I’ve never really understood why urinals are so ubiquitous anyway. Every man I know, when this topic has come up, has said that they find them confronting, uncomfortable or at the very least, fairly gross. The average home doesn’t have a urinal in it, so I think we can assume that my sample group is fairly typical. And a quick google reveals that the etiquette is very complicated.

I can understand that in a nightclub or something, the need to use the space efficiently trumps the desire for privacy, but in the average workplace, why hasn’t there been a trend towards cubicles? I mean, isn’t it still mostly men who design these things? Are there really so many men trying to pee at once that they’re necessary? I work in a fairly large office, I’d estimate that over half of my co-workers are female, and yet there’s always a buffer stall available in our three-stalled bathroom, so why the desperate need for pee-space? It seems to me that the office bathroom has enough opportunities for social faux-pas and paranoia without designing them for maximum exposure.

Talking of which. Someone on my floor has managed to inject a whole new level of paranoia into the office bathroom experience. Our (relatively small) bathrooms are directly across a narrow corridor from three meeting rooms. Taped to the inside of the bathroom door leading out onto the corridor is this sign:
Please Be Aware That Conversations Can Be Clearly Heard Outside.

Now, presumably, this is a well-meaning sign. I imagine that a couple of women were gossiping or laughing in the bathroom one day, were overheard outside (people rarely shut the doors to the meeting rooms), and awkwardness ensued. The sign is intended as a public service.

But think about it for a second.

It’s awkward enough, in a confined space, when you have to, you know, do something that might potentially make an embarrassing noise. But hey, we’re all adults, and it is a bathroom, and if there’s anyone else in there it’s safe to assume they’ll politely ignore any more biological sounds. Fine. But now there’s a sign, in large font, laminated no less, which reminds everyone who steps in and out of that room that the noises they make can be Clearly Heard Outside.

I mean, talk about pressure. I’d almost rather be caught snoring in public.

*I was going to call this post Toilet Humour, but I didn't want to raise any false hopes.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Unaddressed issues of etiquette

Okay, there are some areas of modern etiquette I’ve never been quite sure about. And I don’t think I’ve seen them addressed in an advice column. So I throw the field open to you, my (three) readers.

Firstly, if your co-worker is snoring quite audibly at his desk behind you, is it politer to ignore him or wake him up? Because…no, really, that’s what’s going on right now. It’s really quite awkward. I’m actually blushing in sympathy, because I can’t imagine a more embarrassing thing happening to me than discovering that I’ve been snoring in front of my co-workers. I just…I can’t even think about it.

(How does one do that, anyway? I can’t sleep unless I’m in my own bed, preferably alone, in total darkness and total silence, and it’s neither too hot nor too cold, the moon isn’t full, the weather outside isn’t too overcast or humid, the stars are aligned and the day doesn’t end in a Y. And this guy has managed to fall asleep sitting upright in the middle of an open-plan office. Un-fucking-believable.)

Secondly, is it permissible to use the disabled bathroom at work to change clothes, if one is going out after work? My floor has a unisex but totally detached disabled bathroom, which is quite spacious. And there’s no disabled people on my floor. And we don’t really get visitors. So it’s not like anyone else uses it, or at least no-one with more legitimate needs. Is that okay? This is a serious question: I’ve wondered for years.

Thirdly, and still on bathrooms, can we all agree that answering one’s mobile phone whilst using the facilities is generally not acceptable? It’s bad enough that we have to listen to one another’s, er, biological functions in the bathroom, I don’t want anyone else listening in.

Fourthly, people who don’t bring towels to the gym and drip all over everything. Now you may say to me, but that is not an unaddressed etiquette issue, everyone knows that that is completely revolting. You obviously don’t go to my gym.

Oh, thank God, he’s stopped snoring.

Bread and circuses

The only problem with excellent weekends is that they are inevitably followed by, well, weekdays. And when that happens, the only thing I can do to stave off the ennui is to relive the weekend in tedious detail.

(And read clown jokes, one of which made my day today.

Saturday night, at Boho, was an exercise in narcissism. We arrived fairly early for dinner and cocktails, both of which were wonderful (if pricey) and settled in for a good, wide-ranging gossip. As we ate, the place started to fill up, and it just kept filling. A couple of hours in, it was near impossible to move through the crowd to get to the bar or downstairs to the bathrooms.

I was assisted in the latter endeavour by the roaming transvestite accordion player (and oh, how I wish I had more occasions to use that phrase), who liked the much-vaunted bustier enough that he took me by the hand and escorted me down the stairs, scattering people in his wake. The only drawback to that was that the downstairs crowd then assumed I was part of the act, and I had to fend off a few requests for a song on my way to the facilities.

Unfortunately it became almost impossible to get a drink. Plus I still couldn’t talk, and was therefore in grave danger of having to listen to someone else for a change. So we only stayed for three hours before calling it quits and heading home to a cheese platter and sticky wine.

This is where the narcissism comes in: it took me three hours to get ready in the first place.

Now, admittedly, a good hour and a half of that was dying my hair in a desperate attempt to cover up the encroaching grey. And look, much as I don’t like to boast, I’m committed to truth in journalism, so it’s only fair to say that I looked pretty damn hot. But still. Three hours, people. It’s not like it was an Oscars night, and I’m sure all my pretty pretty friends managed to get themselves dressed up in a reasonable timeframe. And they all looked fabulous, and far more appropriately dressed than I. I’m a little ashamed, to tell the truth.

(But only a little. I looked hot.)

In a study of contrasts, I spent Sunday in old jeans, digging in chicken poo. Come November I expect my garden to be a wonderland of woodland plants. You don’t care. Okay then. Enjoy your day.

Friday, August 04, 2006


May I be serious for one second? I don’t get political very often around here, but does everyone know about the government proposal to institute a code which stays on the permanent medical record of women considering pregnancy terminations? There’s a double whammy here: not only does the code seriously infringe women’s privacy, but doctors who have previously been associated with termination services can’t use it because they are obviously biased towards termination. Abbott is quoted as saying that the package is a source of “personal satisfaction” which should set off warning bells, because he’s on record as being anti-choice.

Granted, we still have choice in this country. But given the terrifying developments in the US of late, this trend bears watching.

Illness and books

Augh. Sorry, guys. I’ve been ill. I’m still ill, but at least now I’m ill at work, complete with internet connection. Plus I sound like Marlene Dietrich, which is a plus.

After spending two days indoors, I went stir-crazy and demanded we go out for Thai food last night. I employed the extremely sensible and well-thought-through technique of drinking enough wine that I forgot about how sore my throat was, and then talked and laughed a lot. I’m not a doctor, but I suspect that may have contributed to my current condition. It’s all a bit pathetic, really: I have a cough, but my throat is so sore that coughing is painful. My compromise is to make completely ineffectual, sad little “ahe, ahe” coughing noises that make people roll their eyes.

I was hoping that by dragging myself into work I’d get sympathy, but no such luck. My boss is taking great delight in asking me something, and then when I reply in a croaky whisper, saying “What? What’s that? Speak up, I can’t hear you!”. The Floydophile (remember him? The guy who decided to go on a Women Need To Lower Their Standards rant the other day?) is throwing hilarious ripostes my way such as “Oh, so you can’t yell at your husband for a few days, huh?” which…why is that funny? And what does one say in response? I realise the All Women Are Shrieking Harpies school of “humour” is an old and established one, but on what planet is this an appropriate thing to say to me?

Sorry, this is dull. Illness; neither funny nor entertaining. Which gives me the perfect segue to something else that is neither funny nor entertaining:

Wednesday Book Reviews: now on a Friday!

Edna O’Brien: The Country Girls (List book 204)

Stuffed full of predictable Irish characters; the hard-drinking, hard-hitting father, the martyred and early-dying mother, the quasi-pedophiliac love interest (okay, I have no idea if that’s a clichéd Irish character. It’s still pretty creepy) and the doomed best friend. That said, it’s neither self-pitying nor does it follow the usual predictable coming-of-age pattern. Liked it.

John Irving: A Widow for One Year

I have a mixed relationship with Irving. Sometimes he’s sententious, sometimes hilarious, and I can’t help wonder whether his ostensible concern for women masks a desire to write about Bad Things happening to them. Therefore I had no idea what to expect from Widow.

And wow. I loved it. Irving has a way of weaving tragedy and even melodrama into a plot without the reader feeling as if the entire story was constructed to allow that scene to happen. The book is about dealing with loss and grief, and the stories that people spin in order to make sense of their worlds. And it’s funny and well-paced and addictive, and go read it.

Kazuro Ishiguro – Remains of the Day (List book 205)

I hate reading books when I’ve already seen the film, especially when the film is good. When a writer describes something in beautiful spare prose I don’t want to flash back to the scene in the film.

Nevertheless, I recommend this - the writing is exquisite - but not if you’re feeling fragile about your own path in life. The tragedy creeps over you as you read, and I’m not one to get all angsty about the meaning of existence but goddamn.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No post today

Is there any nicer sound in the early morning, once one has woken up and decided to take the day off sick, than that of rain pelting against the window? I think not.

So I'm home sick today, and I'm not planning to post - you'll have to do some work instead. Wednesday Book Review will turn up tomorrow instead, if anyone cares.

Keep warm. I'm off to the couch.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I’m not given to small talk at the best of times. Long self-involved monologues yes, small talk, not so much. Today, with my scratchy sore throat, I seem to be giving off inconveniently Friendly Approachable vibes.

I went to my regular café this afternoon for a pot of tea, and the cook stopped by my table to comment on the fact that I wasn’t eating lunch there, just the tea, and was I American, because I sounded American. And there I am, smiling politely and darting longing glances back at my book, unable to reply in more than a whisper.

Annoying Co-worker is in fine form, wandering up to deliver long monologues apropos of nothing. And I do mean apropros of nothing; I’ll be typing away, having only said “hi, good morning” to him all day, and then he’s there, standing over my desk, saying “once, I was working on a probate case, and there was this issue with the Episcopalian church…”

By the time Lunchroom Guy (naïve philosophy along the lines of “everyone used to be so much happier in the old days”, seems to live in the lunchroom, and I have not yet discovered his name despite daily chats for four months) cornered me I was ready to hide. Which it turns out I should have done, because I know now entirely too much about his fiance’s ring preferences.

Heerrrree, linky linky linky…

1. Sleeping positions:

I am a pinching koala and tree!
Find your own

Now, the description of this suggests that Koalas Make For Excellent Lawyers, which, syntax issues aside, would be good news if I were the “koala” in this picture. Actually, I can’t sleep with someone touching me at all and I suspect that, if anything, I am the tree. Or a rose stem, covered in thorns and totally unwelcoming. Neither the husband nor I are big people, and we have a queen sized bed, and even then I find myself edging over to the side in my sleep. It’s nothing personal to him; I’m just a light and irritable sleeper, and I’ve never been able to sleep snuggled up.

Although I do like the bit about Pinching Koalas and Trees being surrounded by friends. That’s nice.

2. Hey, look, Google Earth and Wikipedia
made a baby!

3. (I always feel like I need three links. What’s with that?)
This story makes me wonder whether sexual urges and cannibalism are more linked than we like to admit.

I can't think of a better note on which to finish than that, can you?


Bleeeurghhh. The house was freezing this morning, to the extent that I asked the husband if we could ring in cold and stay in bed. No, apparently. My throat feels like someone has taken sandpaper to it, and I want nothing more than a nap. Let that serve as my apology for a dull post. Another night at home for me, covered in the furry cushions that I call my cats.

Yesterday I had an orientation sort of thing with the law firm I’ll be doing work experience at next month. This was great, except that I made the mistake of claiming I wanted to experience court work, which turns out, in this firm, to translate to lots of time spent at the Family Court. It should be exciting, in a potentially-getting-shot-at sort of way. Either way, I should get in as much blogging as possible between now and then, because I can’t imagine I’ll have the same level of downtime when I’m working there.

Having now been introduced to all the lawyers I imagine they’ll expect me to remember their names. I’m notoriously bad at this. It’s not so much that I forget names, it’s that I forget faces. If I’ve met you twice and talked to you for ages, and then the third time we run into each other you’re wearing glasses? I probably won’t recognise you. Too often have I introduced myself to people at parties, only to discover that we’ve met several times.

This is made worse by the fact that I am odd-looking and therefore easily recognisable myself. True story: one sunny day, when I was about 16, I was with a friend who wanted to buy some marijuana. She and I met her supplier in a park for maybe three minutes whilst the transaction happened. The supplying friend also had a mate with her, and quick introductions were made before we all went our separate ways. Two and a half years later, in an extremely dimly lit nightclub, the friend-of-the-friend-of-my-friend came up to me (now 19 and heavily gothed) to say hello, having recognised me from that moment. I mean, seriously, people, are these the standards I should be striving for?

These days I try and pick out a distinguishing characteristic with which to distinguish people, but in an office full of fifty-something white men in grey and black suits, that’s going to be somewhat difficult. So far I can distinguish between Tufty Ears and Down Low, but I just know that Needs a Haircut will catch me unawares with a nicely trimmed noggin.

Anyway, that’s in the future. The only thing in my present is another cough lozenge. Do those things have calories?