Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A night in a hotel.....

On Bank Holiday Monday we spent the night at the Hoxton Hotel. Decadent, given that we live in London. To be fair, it was on offer, and we'd (well, I say we, probably more I), had always quite fancied staying there.

I could wax lyrical for the entire blog about what I love at that place (pretty much everything); the only thing I'd change being the standard double bed. As we are used to a super-king, neither of us got much sleep. Hey ho. Is a night in a hotel really about the sleep??

I recently read Alain de Botton's 'How to think more about sex'. As you might be aware from previous posts, I don't really have an issue thinking about sex often. But I'm always up for reading current thoughts on the matter ;-)

He mentions that couples in long term relationships  can sometimes liven things up with a night in a hotel. To be fair, he does also go on to talk about couples introducing a 3rd person  to the relationship, so I'm not convinced about all of it....

I should point out at at this stage of the game, that I'd booked the room before I read the book. Travel magazines are my porn. I have a pile of Conde Nast magazines that are taller than a little person.

But a change of location, however small (SW11 to EC2A), can have a profound effect. Putting aside the padded headboard, a chaise in the room at a very condusive height, and the possibilities of a free afternoon, something happened, and it must be primarily the change of environment. 

We ended up having conversations we'd never had before, revealing things that the other didn't know. We laughed, we explored, we took some photos in the photo booth...  but we also shared and listened in a way that we don't often get time to do in the average week.

And maybe that's just about timing, though I doubt it. I think it's more to do with a break of routine, setting aside time to do something and out of the ordinary, in a different location, and seeing were that takes you.

So go on, check into a hotel for the night. See what happense. Let me know.... x

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Obesity - What's it really about?

Yesterday's figures show that the NHS spent £91.5million on Obesity last year, and Gastric Bypass Operations have increased 530% in five years. As usual, much of the news seems at some point or another to feature deeply unflattering pictures of obese people walking about, or holding chips etc etc. You get my drift.

I’ve always been slightly baffled by the way we deal with weight. I read a book some years ago (& annoyingly can't now find it), in which the Author suggested that our dislike of fat, our desire to be thin, comes from a deep seated and modern western Guilt about having so much. In the old days, plumpness was a sign of health and wealth - take a look at Ingres - our definition of beauty in those days was voluptuous, overfed, large milky breasts, as my boyfriend might say.


Now, I’m not going to argue that being overweight is healthier than being underweight, or that obesity isn’t really as much of an issue as people make out. But I do think that our attitudes need to change.

I’ve been overweight most of my life, bar a couple of extreme diets at various points in my twenties, and even then, I didn’t manage to get down sufficiently to fit into the ‘Normal’ weight category. At one point I dropped nearly 3 stone, and for a while, I loved that body, I loved being able to walk into a high street store and get anything I wanted, I loved being healthy. But it didn’t really feel like me. And slowly but surely the weight crept back on.

I’m relatively happy the way I am, but from a health perspective, I’d like to be smaller. I still have a desire for chocolate on a daily basis, but I’d say that in the last couple of years, since I vowed not to diet anymore, my eating patterns have improved hugely. It’s a slow process. I’ve learnt to accept I’m never going to be a size 8. Despite a relatively healthy diet (and I use that word in the proper sense, rather than the Weight Watchers/Slimming World/Atkins/Lighter life sense), which is now primarily gluten free (unless I’m out and then I might indulge in the bread basket), I haven’t really lost any weight. Apart from about half a stone when the gluten free began. Which has stayed off. I also don’t really do much exercise, apart from walking whenever I can. So I have to acknowledge the fact that my body is such, that if I want to significantly lose weight, I am going to have to portion watch more carefully, and up the exercise. Such is life. We can’t all be Kate Moss. 

But what I do now isn’t really the issue. The weight piled on in my teens and early twenties. I think my attitude to food wasn’t great during that time, and my eating was probably both hormonal and emotional. If I look back honesty, I think food was a way of regulating emotions. You don’t realise it at the time, but thinking back, that’s what it did. It was a coping mechanism for my everyday life - and my life wasn’t too bad!

Now, here’s the crux. We all have a coping mechanism. For some it’s an abundance of exercise, and those endorphins become addictive. For some it’s restricting their food, and the sense of control becomes addictive. Some drink. Some take drugs. Some are OCD. Some watch movies obsessively. Some have sex obsessively. None of us are perfect. Everyone has their thing. Which is why I find our reporting, and our attitudes in general (and I’m not lumping everyone in with this) to obesity, somewhat disappointing, archaic, and frankly, dishonest. And why I find the increase in Gastric Bypasses terrifying.

I know a girl who had a Gastric band. She saved up and had it done privately. Every so often she has to go back and get the band loosened or tightened up - every time she has to pay for that. And the counselling was negligible. I’m not convinced she’s much happier than she was before. And her weight still fluctuates. Yes she’s smaller, so I guess in terms of long term health, that’s better for her. But to me, it’s a marketing con. A way to make money out of vulnerable people. And it doesn’t address the issue. Which is psychological.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have conditions which make it easier for them to put on weight, harder for them to lose it, there’s also some genetics thrown in there for good measure. But I’d hazard a guess that for the majority, their weight issues aren’t weight issues, or certainly weren’t to begin with. For whatever reason, that particular person sought to deal with their stresses, their unhappiness, their disappointments, in some cases their abuse, be it emotional or physical, with food. Some limit their intake, some eat to excess. But the initial drivers are surely the same? 

So, let’s please stop with the attacks. The ridiculous ‘They should just eat less’. Of course they should. Don’t you think that they know that? But they may have been using food as a coping mechanism for years. And you know what, it’s the hardest addiction to have, because we need food to survive in a way that we don’t need alcohol, or drugs, or cigarettes. So you try kicking something that deep rooted, that’s needed for survival, but is also your addiction. And it’s just as hard for bulimics or anorexics. 

But we aren’t quite so harsh with Anorexia or Bulimia are we? Because they are thin. And thin is desirable. And fat means you have no control. And we don’t like that either. We like people to be in control of themselves. But I’d suggest that fat does mean control - the food is controlling the problems. Just in a different way.

At some point, we need to start spending the money on counselling, on educating, on making healthy food as cheap as convenience food. And it needs to start from a young age. Toby Young tweeted a while back that he thought it was insane that a government committee had suggested we teach kids self-esteem in school, and that that should be taught at home, innately learnt from parents. I thought that was fascinating. Given that self-esteem is so clearly tied up with our early years, and most notably, our relationship with siblings and with parents. And those parents have their own issues - a mother’s relationship with food especially is one that deeply affects the child’s. Or certainly did in my case. Parents often reward kids with food - when they do well at something, when they’ve tidied their room, or to get them to behave. It’s a habit you see in supermarkets every day. And it’s destructive, but perhaps symptomatic of a busy and stressful world. So, let’s educate our children, let’s help them, let’s give them self-esteem lessons. We teach them how to protect against STI’s, and how to work out Pythagoras, but the basic personal development skills aren’t important?? Really? 

We need to learn how to treat ourselves better, how to be kinder to ourselves and to others who are struggling, and check ourselves next time we look with scorn on someone significantly over or underweight. Because they’ve just chosen a different way to deal with the problems that we all have, and theirs are just more obvious. Now, to lunch.....

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Friendship: Changeable, Reciprocal, Transactional? Debatable...

I’ve read a slew of articles over the past year or so, with women fessing up about how they’ve lost friendships because they started earning more money than their best mate or vice versa, or how they were ‘dumped’ by a friend, or they’ve done the dumping. Wikipedia defines Friendship as a ‘relationship between two people who hold mutual affection for each other’. It then goes on to say that the value of friendship is often the result of friends consistently demonstrating the following:

  • The tendency to desire what is best for the other
  • Sympathy and empathy
  • Honesty, even in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth
  • Mutual understanding and compassion; ability to go to each other for emotional support
  • Enjoyment of each other's company
  • Trust in one another
  • Positive reciprocity — equal give-and-take between the two parties
  • The ability to be oneself, express one's feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgement

Now, a brief look at the above makes me think that to do all of those things is a pretty tall order. How many times do we tell white lies to our friends? How often could we say that’s there is equal give and take? How many friends do we have who we know won’t judge us at all, and vice versa?

Our behaviour and our attitudes change as we do – for example – aren’t we more likely to judge a friend in a deteriorating relationship who has cheated on their partner, if we’ve been cheated on? How do a couple who are struggling to conceive deal with their friends getting pregnant – how overjoyed can they get, or pretend to get, when they so desperately want what their friends have? And similarly, how awkward do the couple who are pregnant feel around those friends – how does that impact on the friendships...Trust changes – if you tell a secret to a single friend, that’s different to telling a secret to an attached one – the latter inevitably means that 2 people know, not just your best bud. Which isn’t to say that the single friend might not at some point share your story. And positive reciprocity is a tough one – equal give and take – how does that work when one earns ten times what the other earns. It’s not all about money obviously – it’s about caring, time spent, thoughtfulness, showing up etc etc, but how do those friendships navigate socializing, birthdays and Christmas when the financial disparity is so great?

Friendships ebb and flow. It’s taken me a good few years to learn that. And we have friends for different reasons, for different occasions, for different periods of our lives. We have friends we call when we want them to agree, and friends we call who we know won’t agree, will tell us the harsh truth and challenge us like we need to be challenged. We all have mates who are always late, or always unreliable, or who always cancel, or who never pick up the phone and always wait for us to contact them. And we probably do all of those things ourselves with certain friends, even though we’d hate to admit it. Especially at the moment that someone’s done it to us.

I think as you get older, you learn to accept people the way they are – or you let them go. Because they’re unlikely to change, and the dynamics of the friendship are unlikely to change. Expecting the friend who always waits for you to organise everything to suddenly start planning evenings out, is like expecting the fuckbuddy to turn around and propose marriage. It’s rare that the nature of the friendship changes to that great an extent. Unless something dramatic happens in one or either life. And it’s especially rare that the dynamics within a group of friends changes, particularly those which are longstanding. Everyone has their place, their status within the group – so the one who got picked on at school, will remain the butt of jokes in adulthood, because those people need those relationships to stay as they are – they are part of what makes us who we are. Shatter those, and what becomes of us....?

The loss of friendship can be huge. Sometimes it’s mutual – a gradual growing apart, where both parties both think well of the other, check their Facebook page every once in a while and wish them Happy Birthday. If you bumped into them in the street, you’d probably go for a cuppa, catch up, and then not see them again for years. But some aren’t mutual – they can be messy, painful, awkward and more. I’ve let a few friendships go in my time – if someone has consistently behaved badly, or broken trust, then I’ve sadly found myself withdrawing. Often because initially it hurts, and after that, you just think that you don’t really want that person to be a part of your life anymore. But on the other side, I’ve lost a couple of friends and I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve probably said or done something I shouldn’t, or just generally been irritating or too outspoken, and that person has withdrawn. And as years go by, it feels like it’s far too late to ask why, to understand, to apologise. And pointless. Because they’ve made their decision, and there’s really very little you can do about it. Which is fine if you’re not really in touch anymore, less easy if they’re still in your social circle. But you get on with it - aware you’ve probably fucked up, or been misunderstood. Either way, it’s done. And there’s someone out there wondering the same about why you’re no longer close to them.

But I’m also a believer that as you get older and life changes you, that some of those friendships that have been lost, or aren’t as close, may yet evolve. And even when you think you don’t have enough time in the day, new people come into your life and become great friends – there’s always room for another.

Finally, what started me writing about Friendship today, was a Facebook rant from an acquaintance of mine, who updated his status saying that he had had it with Friends who were using him, who took freebies off him, that he was all out of money and freebies, so not to contact him unless they wanted to give him something back. He was clearly aggravated (and has since removed the post), but it sort of amused me. Because there was this idea that friendship is transactional. Less about give and take, and more about ‘I’ve given you x amount in the last year, so I’d like x amount back’. I also instinctively think that what often annoys us about people is stuff that we maybe recognise in ourselves a bit..... But it’s funny, because the idea that Friendship is ever truly even is just bonkers. The best you can do is nurture the friendships that you want to keep, because they do take work. And accept that it’s never going to be truly reciprocal, but it should all even out in the wash. And if it doesn’t, it’s your choice to keep that person in your life and accept them as they are.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Personal Admin - the pursuit of Good Customer Service...

I spend a couple of days a week working as a private PA, as well as having some ad hoc clients. It pays the bills alongside the comedy and the writing, I rather enjoy it, and you get to sit in someone’s house, rather than in an office. People often ask what I do, and my usual answer is “all the personal admin we never get time to do, myself included”. Everything from Meter readings, filing emails, paying bills, sussing out if you could get your Utilities cheaper, to the more fun tasks – organising Christmas presents and cards, researching travel, planning parties, shopping. It’s varied, you have to learn how someone works and then try and fit your methods (which you know work) into their routine – making their life as smooth as possible.

And yet, I rarely get or take the time to sort my shit out. I’m much better than I used to be, and my email inbox is another beast – anything more than a page and I start to stress out – everything is in folders, there’s even one for the boyfriend. But the dressing table in the bedroom is a 50/50 split of cosmetics and paperwork. I then bought 3 stand-up magazine files to put my filing in – the idea being that one was urgent, one was comedy/writing, and one was for filing. They’re all now mixed up. And that’s before we’ve even got to the other piles dotted around the flat. I don’t know quite why I love sorting out someone else’s stuff, and so rarely sort out my own. Maybe paperless is the way to go. In a burn it and regret it later sort of way.......

I think the main reason we put this sort of admin off, is that it takes FOREVER. There are the odd occasions when it’s your fault – you can’t find any paperwork because you’ve probably thrown it out in a fit of pique, and you definitely can’t remember the password from 1999. Then you remember it’s your dead dog’s name, your ex’s name, or worse, a holiday from years ago that you could never afford today. Then you’re not only frustrated but depressed ;-)

But it’s not always our fault. There’s a startling lack of competence in so many companies, that it sometimes beggars belief.  Having worked in Retail in my time, both on the shop floor and in Head Office, my aim was always to be as helpful as possible, to offer the best Customer Service and Brand Experience possible, because, really, that’s my job. And whilst there are companies offering amazing service – Net a Porter, Luigi’s Deli, LRB to name a recent few, there are some shockers. And I’m afraid, that in my old(er) age,  I find myself adapting a Grumpy Old Women state and complaining every time. Because I’m sick of shoddy service.

My O2 broadband is finally back to normal having been moving at a snail’s pace – 0.25Mbps to be exact (it should be 6.0) for what feels like eternity. About a month ago they emailed to say I’d reached my limit (I know, who still gets Broadband with a limit), and they would be slowing my speed down until the next bill. So, I upgraded – no more limit, speed cap to be reduced. Except, the speed cap wasn't removed. Cue emails backwards and forwards with the 'tech' team who seemed incapable of answering my questions, or realising the blindingly obvious, 4 phone calls with the 'tech' team (one of whom was a complete dick), who still refused to believe the speed cap was on, until they did. They offered me a month free - effectively the time I was with zero broadband. Not acceptable. Am awaiting a response from the CEO's office, because yes, I found the email format, followed him on Twitter, and emailed him - because all too frequently, the people at the top of an organisation have no clue what is happening beneath them.

A month or so ago I turned up for a Nail Appointment at Nails Inc, having booked in a week before, and confirmed by text (their system, not mine) the day before. There was no booking in the system for me. This was the second time it had happened. One of the girls admitted that a member of the team was on a promotional day and had been double booked, so it had “probably been taken out of the calendar”. They apologised, but didn’t really seem to think that cancelling and not telling the client was a biggie! What??! That is your entire business! I went mental. And I went mental on Twitter. Cue some vouchers. They redeemed themselves, but I’ll never go to that particular branch again.

My utmost favourite, was when I was trying to buy the boyfriend a pen, but knowing he likes a very thin line, I wanted to know how thick the nib was. I emailed Mont Blanc, and asked them if they could give me the spec of the pen and the nib. A lady from Customer service emailed back, with their Manchester Store address on the signature of the email (presuming that’s where Head Office was), and said she wasn’t sure what size it was, perhaps I could pop into a store and take a look. I replied and said that as they were a luxury pen maker, perhaps a) she should know, and perhaps b) as the store was downstairs from Head Office, she could go and take a look herself....

I’ll stop there, before the moaning takes hold. These are just a few examples. And to be fair, if I get good Customer Service, I often email and say so, so I’m not a complete grump.
But it does make me realise that if something goes wrong, you need time to put it right. In the same way as you need time to do all your paperwork. And most people don’t have time. So most people miss out on offers, miss deadlines and payments, and miss out on refunds which they are surely due. (Setting aside the fraudulent companies that submit PPI claims for people that aren’t due them and hold all the legitimate claims up.... stepping off my bandwagon now... ) And I think a lot of Companies rely on that. They rely on us not pursuing what we are due. What is right. And we really should. Otherwise nothing will change, and that would be a shame.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Sex: Drive, Initiation, Foreplay and Dialogue....

For all the literature, all the free porn, all the primarily patriarchal hype around sex that suggests men are always up for it, and women are often claiming headaches, I would suggest that most women have a higher sex drive than men. This sexually omnipotent and carnivorous man, twinned with a nurofen’d up, limp woman, is a myth. One increasingly divorced from reality. I can only speak for the women I know, and they vary in age, circumstance and background. But they are all more sexually driven than the guys.
But that creates its own problems – namely that it is assumed the woman is raring to go.... Alongside the sex drive issue, I’d also suggest that there is a prevalent and underlying norm of the man as “initiator” of sex. Yes, there are plenty of articles in Cosmo suggesting you surprise your man in a Mac and nothing underneath, or blindfold him at dinner. But in my experience, men rarely like surprises. And whilst those female instigated sex sessions are fun and spontaneous, they aren’t considered the norm. If they were, we wouldn’t be told to try them out – they’d already be common parlance.
The problem with the man as initiator of sex, is that it takes him significantly less time to be ready for action. And if he’s initiating, he’s probably been thinking about it for a while, so he’s already gee’d up. And the woman might be completely unawares. And therein lies the rub. The man is already nearly at the finish line, and the woman hasn’t put her trainers on. I’m not talking about how long a guy lasts here. I’m talking about the actual act of sex. And yes, I’m sure it happens the other way around too. But I’d hazard a guess that that’s less frequent.

I would suggest that in the same way a man takes it where he can get it when he’s single, a woman takes it where she can get it when she’s attached. I can hear some women and men reeling at this as they read it, but hey ho ;-) It's just a theory. Which leads the man to think she’s always up for it and ready to go, when really, she still needs all the foreplay she used to get. I’m not including quickies here – well up for those, and often something rather hot about being bent over the sofa at a moment’s notice (let's hope the boyfriend's mother isn't reading this post!). I’m also well aware that this isn’t the case for everyone – I know there are plenty of women who experience a decrease in their sex drive, as well as men; plenty of people who aren’t really all that fussed about sex, etc etc. So I can only go on the experiences of myself and my friends.
I think we also suffer from a modern day feminist problem – men have been encouraged to make sure the that the woman’s needs are taken care of, or to put it another way, to make sure she comes first. Which can sometimes lead to a “getting it out of the way”, for want of a better phrase. And that is something to be avoided at all costs. Foreplay isn’t the woman’s orgasm. It’s all the stuff that leads up to it. The stuff that gets her panting for you to venture downwards and then go about making her come.

And so I find myself coming back to the question for the couple in a long term relationship - How do we keep the foreplay up? Tracey Cox would suggest you place his mouth on your nipple and say “I really like it when you do that”, removing his hand should it venture between your legs until you’re ready, and so on and so forth. But do we really want to have to ask further down the line? How do we educate? And more importantly, are there things we’re no longer doing to or for them, that we used to? How will they tell us? How do you find a happy medium between the quickie and the 4hr sex sessions you had at the beginning? How do you communicate that you’re turned on and still fancy them, but that you also still need warming up?
I’m not sure I have any answers. But I think it’s something that we don’t speak about, and we should. There’s a culture of talking about every delightful gory detail with your friends, when it’s casual sex, but people rarely talk about the ins and outs (I can’t help it) of sex in a relationship when they’re with their mates. It’s not a done thing. Probably for good reason, I hear my boyfriend wail as he reads this.

But it strikes me that that is the wider issue. Are we only happy to talk about sex when it’s good? I’ll be honest, I doubt I’d write about a lack of sex if there was one. I doubt I’d write about it if the sex was awful. Maybe in a comedy sense, but certainly not in an honest, “let’s talk about this” blog. Obviously we talk less once we’re with someone because there’s a privacy element – I get that, believe it or not J But it strikes me there’s still a gap in the market – somewhere between the agony aunt pages, Ann Summers parties, and deafening silence.
A friend once said that when a relationship is good, sex is 10% of the equation, and when a relationship is bad, sex is 100% of it. I think that makes a lot of sense. It shouldn’t be the be all and end all, but it is what makes the difference between a friendship and a relationship – it’s pretty important. And it deserves more honest and open dialogue. Not just within a couple, but amongst friends, within society as a whole.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

What is Foreplay? Part 2

So, Foreplay.

I sat down to write about Foreplay a few weeks ago, and it threw up some amusing issues. Notably, that Foreplay is rather changeable, depending on whether you're talking about a 1 nighter, a fling, the start of a relationship, or once you're in a long term relationship.

Wikipedia says:

"Not to be confused with Fourplay". Amusing. And then...

"A set of emotionally intimate and physically intimate acts between two or more people meant to create desire for sexual activity and sexual arousal".

So, it's to create desire for sex and also sexual arousal.

Now, it was a bit of a running joke that in my single days, I often used to proclaim that "dancing is foreplay". You're essentially rubbing your body up and down someone elses and swaying your hips - that's how I like to dance, not the rubbing bit, but feet still, hips moving - saves on the heels and the sweat :-) No jumping up and down for me, not without a sports bra. Now if that isn't a build up to sex, I don't know what is. And there's the issue - it's really 'build up' rather than Foreplay isn't it? As my amused boyfriend pointed out, if I consider dancing an essential element of Foreplay, then we are buggered. Cos he does not dance. Well, not yet anyway. He's got a family barn dance to contend with shortly, and I'll be surprised if one of my Aunts, or Uncles doesn't drag him up for a Dosey Doe. Though hopefully they won't proposition him for sex afterwards, as I might....

But there is a build up in 1 nighters, flings, at the start of a relationship, that isn't there further down the line. If it's casual, it's highly likely it's been a while, that there is alcohol involved, some dancing has been done, and it's purely a case of working out how long before one of you suggests a cab. If it's the start of  relationship, there's a period of discovery, of exploration, of navigation, of speedy control.... it's a time for both parties to work out what the other one likes, and more importantly, for both parties to articulate what they want.

And then you're into the relationship, and Foreplay changes, doesn't it? There isn't the excitement of "will we, won't we" before you've consummated a relationship. There isn't a period of starvation, unless one of you has been away. There isn't the same level of exploration, though you still get to discover new things. But it's an entirely different ball game, excuse my pun.

I'd suggest that when it's casual or new, the challenging part of Foreplay is the Sexual Arousal (working out what they like, showing them what you need etc), not the creation of Sexual Desire. Whereas in a relationship, you know how to arouse the other person, but the time spent creating the Sexual Desire isn't there to the same degree. Because it's sort of a given that you fancy your partner, and that you'll want to get down and dirty. But it's quite possible that you don't always feel in the mood at the same time. Which leads me on to sex. And who initiates it. For the next blog post.. :-)

Feel free to proffer your Foreplay thoughts in the meantime... And I'll leave you with a quote from Rob Alex (no clue - if you google Quotes on Foreplay he comes up. Boom. Boom):

"Foreplay starts in the morning, not a few minutes before intimacy. Don't miss the opportunity to make foreplay last all day".

I think I'm going to have start getting up earlier.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

What is Foreplay? Part 1

Some week ago on Facebook, the social barometer du jour, I asked people to define sex, and a couple of days later, to define Foreplay. The former got 32 replies, the latter only 10.... Which I think says a lot. I'm going to talk about Foreplay in 2 or 3 posts, but here are a selection of the replies to get you started....  with thanks to my friends who commented :-)

Define Sex

"Anything where someone consciously brings you to orgasm. Whether you're conscious or not."

"It's been so long I've forgotten, pretty sure this, right now, isn't it. Pretty sure this is social networking. I know if you're Christian, you're supposed to squeeze guilt in there somewhere."

"Anything I'm not allowed to do with another woman..."

"It's been so long I've forgotten, pretty sure this, right now, isn't it. Pretty sure this is social networking. I know if you're Christian, you're supposed to squeeze guilt in there somewhere."

"My old flatmate defined sex as anytime she had an orgasm-either with another man/woman or herself. On the same note if she hooked up with a dude/woman and didn't orgasm she said it didn't count towards her number of sexual partners."

"Ok, penetrating yourself DEFINITELY doesn't count."

"What I don't understand is why we are hung up on sex but don't consider intimacy. Is it worse for a guy to have sex with a prostitute or a kiss on the lips with an ex partner? Isn't it the level of intimacy between them that changes it from a joint masturbatory act into sex?"

Define Foreplay

"he empties the dishwasher."


"giving the sheets a scrape ? :P"


"Better than sex."

So, some interesting answers on Foreplay compared with the sex ones. I think I would define it as the pleasurable stuff before orgasms happen, but I think some might say it's the pleasurable stuff before penetration. Some might want to distinguish between genital and non genital stimulation. Some might just want some!

More anon....

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

I like a little structure....

I headed out without an umbrella at the weekend, despite the previous showers, because both my iphone weather apps stated there would be sunshine and clouds for the rest of the day, but no rain. When caught in a rather heavy shower on our return from coffee, my boyfriend remarked it was unusual that I wasn’t more prepared. I replied that the rain was unscheduled. Like the weather can be arranged... Like the app can be held to account....

I also have a tube app, a train app, and a bus app. They provide me with information, en route, that hitherto I just didn’t have. But they are sometimes wrong, and I find myself highly irritated when they f*** up. Life carried on just fine before I had them, yet now, I place a faith in them that is realistically, unwarranted. If my battery is low or my 3G not working, I feel that lack of information. Or, to be more self-analytical about it, I feel less in control.

I like timetables. Structures. Rules. Filing. Order.  It’s a sort of bizarre mix that on the one hand I have a skill for organisation, my own and others, and on the other, a deep need to express myself creatively, away from bureaucracy, to avoid everything that is 9-5. But in both spheres, the desire for some sort of framework, for boundaries, is palpable.
For me, I think that freedom and creativity is enhanced, grown, encouraged even by rules. Without a structure to work off, how do you go forward? I have been doing more Improv in the last year or so. Primarily because it used to terrify me, but also because I thought it would help with the Stand- up. The joy of Improv, which is also the bit that used to terrified me, is that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. I know. Scary. You’re on a stage in front of people, who are there to be entertained, and you have absolutely no idea what is going to occur. There is zero preparation. If you plan, it will be shit, because the whole point is to come on stage and be in the moment – to respond rather than lead, to work together and discover together as you go, rather than forcing your own agenda.

It all sounds rather Utopian, right? And it sort of is. But, believe it or not, there are actually loads of rules you need to follow to be a good Improviser. You have to say “Yes, and...” rather than “Yes, but...”. Ideally you need to get out who you are, where you are, and what you are doing, within 3 lines – no mean feat. Those are just the first two. There are loads. If you want to know more, check out Hoopla, The Maydays, Spontaneity Shop, or the awe inspiring Mr David Shore – currently up in Edinburgh with Monkey ToastUK.
So then, if Improv isn’t getting away from rules and structure, what is? In what walks of life are there none? My boyfriend and I discussed this over lunch. When you’re sleeping, said he. Rioting. Though as he pointed out, rioting is really only seen against a backdrop of rules and structure, a breakdown of those things. Maybe when you’re inebriated or out of it? But even then, there are probably social structures in play. So, sleeping. That’s essentially it. Though the very act of sleeping means that physically we are structured, if not mentally and emotionally.

Which makes me think that I’m not all that strange, to need the frameworks that I do?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Mother and Daughter

I talk about my Mother in my stand-up routine. The opener is that she's like Hyacinth Bouquet on crack. Which is a pretty good description - if you stayed with her, you'd know what I mean.

I think it's fair to say we didn't have the best of relationships when I lived at home. My mother is a heady mix of mental and old school. Mental: she made my dad get a blind put up in the frosted window in the bathroom incase the neighbor might be spending his days looking out for a glimpse of the shadow of her head. She commissioned a painting by a local artist in Cornwall and had me put in it – in my graduation outfit, holding our dead miniature poodle Candy, whilst flying through the air –

Old School: she doesn't believe in sex before marriage, she thinks the man should walk on the outside of the pavement (I know, I was flummoxed by this one - apparently to protect the woman from splashes or any oncoming traffic that takes a wrong turn...), and that the man should sit on the outside of the table in a restaurant - so that he can order for you, and so that he is in the prime position to pick up the bill. Come to think of it, maybe she's just got issues with men being on the outside!

She also comes from the school of parenting that thinks it's best to talk to you like you are a child, even when you are 32. To be fair, she talks to all her siblings like that as well, so I'm not alone. But it's somewhat frustrating to be faced with a woman who thinks she knows best all the time, when frequently, she doesn't. It's also hard to relax when she keeps telling you to "watch that wine" when you sit on the sofa with a glass of red, concerned that her cream suite might be sullied by a slip of the hand, even though she waves her biro around readily whilst trying and failing the medium hard Sudoku.

We've had our ups and downs, and in latter years, we've found a middle ground of sorts - we even sometimes manage 3/4 days of living together (Xmas etc) when we don't argue. We've come a long way, as Take That would say. But it's still fairly fractious. Primarily because I fight tooth and nail to retain my sense of self, and by that, I mean my adult self, when I go and visit them. And my mother talks to me, endows me, with my childhood, or worse, my teenage self. And after about 4 days (hence my usual stay is no more), I give up the fight and do indeed become the frustrated teenager I once knew. Because it's pretty hard to drop and keep anchor against a tide that strong.

She doesn't really realise. I think she's been like that her entire life, and she's getting on a bit, so I think change is over hopeful. And, those that know her would probably say that her plus points outweigh the negatives. She is one of the most thoughtful and kind people I know. Last year, when I was fed up of flyering in the rain at Edinburgh, day after day, she came out unannounced at 11pm (leaving my father in the hotel room), to help me flyer for my midnight chat show. She's photocopied press clippings of Birmingham previews and was handing them out. I was both touched and mortified that my mum was out amongst the drunken rabble that late at night, trying to flyer for a show that we were selling as "sex on a bed"... I sent her back to the hotel with a tear in my eye. I don't know many mums approaching 70 that would have done that.

My boyfriend and I watched Beginners last night - a rather beautiful and true story of a man who came out to his son aged 75, once his wife had died, and lived until 79, embracing all that life, and the gay world he had never dared to enter, had to offer. And watching the son nurse his dad as cancer took hold, and trying to negotiate the change in their relationship, was profound. I've always joked I'd put my Mother in a home if she got ill. And I think she believes it. But I know deep down, I'd want to look after her, the same way she has looked after me, my dad, her mother, and so many of her friends.

And so, I find myself in a dilemma of sorts. It saddens me that she doesn't really get to see the real me, and I wonder if I ever get to see the real her. She's been a wife and mother so long, I'm curious to know who that young woman was, what desires, disappointments lie beneath all the fuss, the incessant cleaning, and the almost obsessive desire for a cashmere jumper in every colour. And I want her to know me, the adult - the person my friends see, my boyfriend sees, rather than this surly teenager who emerges after any length of time spent together. And I don't know really know how we make that happen.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

What's with the crying??

I’m not talking about the Olympic blubbing, of which there has been much, mine included. I’m talking about women crying. When we do it, how often we do it, when it’s appropriate to do it? I cried when one of my friends got engaged, when my nephews were born, when someone at work behaved like a total dick, when my brother was ill, when Ross and Rachel got together, when Andy Murray lost Wimbledon, when I missed out on the 70% off Mulberry bag in the Net A Porter Sale in 2006. I’m kidding. I got that one.

In my latter years, I’ve liked to think that I’m reasonably self-aware, that during my twenties I’d worked out a little better who I was, what I wanted, and where I could improve – professionally and personally. For example, I’ve worked out that I need deadlines – I can put things off wonderfully, so I enter competitions, I work with other people, I join courses – all these things help me to stay on track. But I’ve felt that I've got to know my insecurities, my weaknesses and strengths.

And then the man came along. It’s one thing knowing your fears when you’re single. Quite another when you’re attached. Because they’re not at all the same thing. When you’re on your own, you are self-sufficient. Sometimes it’s lonely, and sometimes you just want someone to scoop you up and look after you, but often, you quite enjoy being able to spend a hungover Sunday in deeply unflattering jogging pants, with pickled onion Monster Munch and some Minstrels all to yourself, feeling happy you didn’t take the inappropriate 20 something home, or happy that you did, and that he’s now gone.... You work out how to exist on your tod. It takes strength, and that strength manifests itself in walls. Barriers. A protective layer. Built up slowly, carefully, with love and comfort. And it feels really safe. Not satisfying long term. But safe and secure. Homely.
So you think you know yourself pretty well. But being in a relationship is teaching me that there’s loads I don’t know. Because I’m not used to the vulnerability that it brings. Once you let someone in, you are no longer self-sufficient. The benefits of a relationship far exceed any downsides, certainly if they’re the right one for you, and that’s why you forge ahead into unchartered territory. But then what happens, at least in my case, is that you find yourself having conversations you’re not used to having, being in situations you’re not used to working with. And then the tears come.

I’m not talking floodgates. But when we have a conversation about something important, I find myself welling up. Often not because of the subject matter, but just because I find actually having the conversation hard. I’m not used to them. I’m not used to expressing my needs, my fears, my insecurities, to someone I love. I’m used to chatting about them with my friends. But that’s an entirely different ball game isn’t it? To be fair, I can count the important conversations on one hand – we’re nearly 18months in, we’ve lived together for nearly 5months. We’re still in the honeymoon phase. Ish. But bless him, the ones we have had have resulted in me being teary at best, snotty and red eyed at worst.
Amusingly, he is calm and collected. And we often end up laughing at my inability to stop the tear ducts. But he raises the point, that there is surely something else going on. And having initially laughed it off as hormonal, or because it’s a full moon (actually, I think both of those things can impact hugely, but I’ll save my lunar thoughts for another day), or putting it down to past baggage, I had to accept that yes, clearly there was something else going on. I’d say some of it is down to not expressing things immediately as they come up, which hysterically, is something I thought I’d got really good at doing in my single days. But no. So that’s a part of it. I think being in a relationship leaves you completely open to joy and to hurt, and I think the awareness of that vulnerability, makes you more emotional generally. This is just a theory – I’d be interested to hear what people think on that. I guess for those that have always been in relationships, they might think I’m mental, but for the stalwart singles who have recently converted J I’d be fascinated to know if they experience something similar, or if it’s just me.

And those that know me, might be surprised to read this. Primarily because I’m usually laughing, and I’m fairly jolly 95% of the time. Even more so since the arrival of the man and giving up the day job. All in all, life is pretty good. So, perhaps I should be embracing the tears, and hoping that in time, talking about the tricky stuff gets easier. Perhaps in time, my view of what is tricky will change?  I think it will. And I figured, maybe it’s important to share the vulnerability – to talk about it. Maybe we all find this stuff hard and we don’t talk about it enough.... ?

In the interim, it turns out that mascara down the face, isn’t entirely off putting (I think there are porn connotations but I’ve not delved.......), so it’s not all bad ;-)

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Theatre Etiquette and PDA's

Last Saturday night, my boyfriend and I went to the theatre. As is sometimes our way, I had my arm around his shoulder. Not an out and out sexual move.... More an accommodation of his arm frequently occupying the arm rest, and my chest being of a size that doesn't really afford a comfortable version of the atypical audience stance: arms folded.

About 15mins in, a gentleman sitting not directly behind us, but to my boyfriend's left, tapped my hand that was resting on the aforementioned shoulder. Much like he would swat a fly. I, in a meeker moment it must be said, moved my arm immediately, muttering to my boyfriend why I'd had to move, and then sat feeling slightly embarrassed and annoyed.

Embarrassed that my occasional shoulder stroking had provoked such a response. Annoyed that something so minor had prompted the man to act. How many times have I sat in silence as a fellow theatregoer chomps through a sandwich, unwraps sweets, turns off their beeping phone, moves their head incessantly thus blocking my view, or, heaven forbid, talks throughout. Seriously. We have no idea how to behave in the theatre anymore, a generation of movie goers, used to tweeting and watching. Well, we're not tweeting in the theatre yet, but give it time. Though to be fair, I also think we're still a tad reverential when it comes to watching theatre - staying to watch something that we'd have turned off if it was on the telly.

But, was my shoulder stroking just as bad as the other theatregoer crimes? I'm not sure. Put it this way, if someone had been doing that in front of me, I wouldn't have said a word. Amusingly, and rather hotly, it must be said, my boyfriend challenged him at the Interval. The gentleman in question looked rather shocked, which was nice to see. The boyfriend refrained from making an out and out threat, but did suggest he shouldn't be touching women in public, which was rather amusing.
We are rather against PDA's in this country, British as we are. And if I'm honest with myself, the image of me snogging my boyfriend for about 2hrs on date 2 in a busy bar, make me slightly cringe, enjoyable as it was at the time. Though in my twenties, there was nothing I liked more than some public tongue action. Quite why I liked the exhibitionism of that is for another blog :-) but it raises the more pertinent question: Why do we generally frown upon PDA's - is it that we're not 12 vodka shots down? Do we just grow up? Or is there something more inherently reserved and British about it all?

And it's not just PDA's in a romantic sense. I'm not a mother, but I have many friends who are, and I've seen it all. From the friend who waps out her boobs whenever the child is hungry, with no care in the world, to most recently, a friend who put on a black apron type garment to breast feed in public. Admittedly we were having lunch with her parents, so maybe revealing a nipple to her Father wasn't an option. And maybe she feels more comfortable wearing it. To be honest, if you've pushed a baby out, I think you deserved to do whatever you want. But I did find myself joking that the child might be traumatised into only eating in the dark in later life, preferring camping etc etc.

Maybe it's nice to be more restrained. It's all about what's hidden underneath, what is constrained. All about the reveal. But I wonder if there's something idealistic about that. Life is surely about the nitty gritty; the pungent, messy, happy, sad, stretch marked, wrinkled, insecure, strong, fleshiness of it all. Maybe it's good to get the full reveal, curtain back, to know what you're dealing with, and still choose to embrace it. And I wonder if for my generation, that desire to be a little more forthright, a little more public, is a counter to our parents' generation of repression. Or certainly mine!