There’s a freezer in my foyer

This is not an old house, by English standards, the standards that scoff at anything that’s been standing for fewer than two hundred years. It’s modern inasmuch as modern means “not very well put together”, with awkward corners and creaking floors. It has a green gate. It has four bathrooms. People are impressed by the number of bathrooms. “One between two,” I say, “and one for guests”. It feels nice to have a guest bathroom, even if the toilet roll holder falls to the floor every time you try to get some toilet paper. A small price to pay.

These are the things that are broken in the modern-ish house with the green gate: the freezer (we have two – there are higher numbers of most things in this house than is usual; Australians, X Boxes, televisions, vases, cupboards, copies of 50 Shades of Grey) (and also lower numbers of other things – spoons, bowls, wine glasses, full boxes of laundry powder), one of the four hobs, the washing machine, the dishwasher, the upstairs shower, the fan, the toilet roll holder.

Other things aren’t broken so much as old. The television, which hums. The couches, on which the leather peels like so much old skin. The paint job. The microwave. Whatever dripped slimily from U-bend when I unscrewed it to recover a pearl earring.

Things break one by one, toppling, as if the failure of one contributes to the load of the next, though the dishwasher did not have to freeze our ice cream, and it was never the job of the upstairs shower to keep control of the toilet paper. It’s become a bit like a tolerance test. You can handle a cold shower, but what if it’s coupled with no clean plates? The rankness of a dead freezer isn’t the worst thing in the world but if the television then doesn’t turn on when you want to watch Love Island… well. You don’t have to be an unreasonably intolerant person for that to rankle.

Of course, when something breaks, it gets fixed or replaced. Slowly, because this is London. Unwillingly, because of the same. We had a rat trapped in our dishwasher for 24 hours, which throws the 2 weeks without a working freezer into perspective. One stays with you; the other just makes for a room temperature gin and tonic, and there are worse things. I know bartenders and blondes who would disagree with me on the last, but they’ve never had a rat with a broken leg crying in their dishwasher, so they don’t know.

It’s almost a badge of honour, the breaking, when they’re simply worn through. We’re  a few in a long line of people who have resided in this space, bounced on these springs, stood beneath the sporadic spray and wondered, again, why seated showers weren’t more of a thing. The fridge has been stuffed with their choices (me: four different types of cheese and a brown bag of kale), their cupboards with the same (7 jars of canned tomatoes, 2 bags of chili flakes, some jam). We’re all just passing through, breaking things. We’ve broken the most, I feel certain of it. I know because there’s not much left to break.

He said to me the other day, “This is the nicest place we’ll ever live”. I scowled because plastic plants, and purple bath mats, and weeds on the balcony and the Christmas tree we’ve not taken down since 2014. Because our room has no windows and is built of cinder blocks, one stacked on the other like the work of toddler destined for not much. Because I am not a car even though I sleep in a space intended for a car and don’t mind it most of the time. Humans are smaller than cars, for the most part. Having a car’s bedroom as your own isn’t so bad. It’s about the same as a room temperature gin and tonic. The dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are intoxicating.

I don’t think I’m going to be a billionaire, exactly, I haven’t pictured a house on the Thames and a flat on Old Compton street, with a timeshare in the French countryside for good measure (except I did just then), so it shouldn’t have been a shock, being informed that I’ll probably never do better than 1/6th of a £3 million pound property in Marylebone.

But: we spent the weekend away from London, in a 16th century house with low beams and a spinning wheel on the staircase and casement windows – with lawns the size of London parks and a private cricket pitch and it suited me quite well, in case you were wondering. I’m not what you call an outside person, but I wasn’t against the space. And the lights. Cars don’t need sunlight to survive, but I’m beginning to suspect that I might.

It’s not that things were perfect. There’s plenty of falling apart in the putting together of a 16th century house, held up by scaffolding and the skin of its old wooden teeth. It’s just that: if it’s yours, breaking something simply means a broken thing. It doesn’t mean 9 electronic apologies, phone messages, meeting a fat deliveryman at the door who refuses to carry the freezer up the stairs.

I’ve lowered my expectations thusly: windows. Windows, and a freezer that resides anywhere but the foyer. And a timeshare in a farm house in France.

My Kingdom For A Gimmick

We live in a marvelous-type world, where there are nine thousand different ways to cook chicken and you can buy every single one of them for under a fiver. We live in a confusing world, where everything you want, or need, or some combination of the two, is available to you from one hundred different outlets, all within walking distance.

What this means for someone like me, with some small bits of disposable income and disposable time, with a chronic inability to make up my mind and a predilection for the nearest, shiniest thing, is that the best way of selling something to me is to couple it with a gimmick.

Want me to buy your food? Make me eat it in pitch blackness. Make me shell out fifty quid for something I won’t see until it comes out the other end the next day. Make a short man in dark glasses guide me to my table. Make sure he spills my wine, just a little bit.  Make me smear my fingers across my plate, identify the bits of meat beneath my fingernails as crab. Tell me afterwards that I ate crocodile and springbok. Ensure that I know that it could have been the fingers of babies, the heart of my mother, and I’d never be the wiser.

Want to me to stay in your hotel? Make it a love hotel, with a garish sign, next to a sushi bar in an alleyway that smells of fish. Make my room classroom-themed, so I can have sex on the same kinds of desks my students sit at every day. Put a locker in the corner and lay out a plaid skirt on the bed. Cherry-flavoured lubricant isn’t exactly on-theme but I won’t complain if it’s free. I’ll still enjoy writing crude messages on the blackboard with the chalk I hate.

Want me to go to your cinema? Best make it a multi-sensory cinematic experience (yes, really). Give me a little cardboard tray with numbered pottles that sync, in the form of dramatic flashing digits, with events onscreen. I want to eat spun sugar studded with black pudding at the very moment that shard of glass enters Mercutio’s body. I want to drink poison with Romeo. I want to eat Juliet’s heart. I didn’t know that I wanted this before, but I do.

Want me to drink your cocktail? Use words like “infused”. Turn it upside down. Freeze it. Heat it. Dance naked around it and filter it with your eyelashes. Fill it with things like rosemary, which isn’t drinkable and is therefore confusing. Infuse my drink with rosemary smoke, so that I choke as I drink, so that my insides melt, so that I’m convinced that this is the best thing I have tasted, simply because I have never tasted anything like it before, even though it tastes terrible. If you can serve it to me in a birdcage, so much the better.

Want me to go to your party? Don’t have it in a bar. Don’t have it in a house. I’ve been in many; I have my own. No – let us celebrate whatever needs celebrating in the abandoned train tunnels under Waterloo station, so that brackish water drips into my drink. Make a forest of pine-trees; create an underground lake complete with flat-bottomed boats – make me row it after several glasses of bad white wine so that I nearly drown in water up to my knee. I want to be cold. I want to be confused. I think I want to be a train.

Want me to buy your lipstick? It’s not enough that the shades are beautiful, that they suit me, that your prices are reasonable. There are so many for me to choose from in this reeling rainbow, how could I possibly know that yours is better? Make a star sign her name to it. Convince me that this is how they became famous, this one slash of colour. I need the smack of celebrity about it, I want Rihanna on my face, Lady Gaga smeared across my lips. I want to look like Maleficent. I want to be Angeline Jolie. This one, the red one, does it taste like Brad Pitt?

Want me to run your 10k race, the expensive one, when there are so many others for less, for charity, when I could run that distance for free in the park near my home? Give me a DJ. Give me smoky tunnels of flashing lights to run through, so that I might forget that I can’t breathe. Don’t give me a medal at the end – give me a dainty necklace in rose gold engraved with a bird. I can fly. I am a bird. I think I’m going to vomit.

I’m going to have to get married in space, and be buried in a clear Perspex box suspended across the Thames. I’ll live my life wearing clothes constructed of real pieces of fruit and used condoms. I’ll breathe cinnamon-scented air that makes me choke and have live grass sewn into my scalp in lieu of hair. I can’t do anything normal anymore. Roast meals with my family, a chick flick, a walk in the park. What’s the point? I’ve done it before.

Amazing Greys – your new favourite show if you have compromised feelings about old people

Originally published here.

If you’re at home on a Saturday night, then you’ll probably watch Britain’s Got Talent. You can be forgiven for this.

Where else, in one achingly drawn-out two hour period, could you reasonably expect to see a dancing owl, Simon Cowell’s freshly-conditioned chest hair and a 79-year-old woman wrapping her legs around a young man’s face? Well, probably Vegas, but you couldn’t eat salt and vinegar Hula Hoops in your pajamas at the same time, and that would be a sad thing.

HOWEVER. If you turned the TV off after BGT then you would have missed out on the most confusing show ever to turn up on ITV. Behold:

This is not a McGuinness family portrait.

 This show is called Amazing Greys, because somebody in the show’s production department is a fucking genius and deserves to have a minor tube station named after them. In this show, Paddy McGuinness touches a woman old enough to be his mother aggravatingly familiarly while middle-of-the-road-twenty-somethings (ie YOU) attempt to trounce elderly folk in the field in which they once excelled.

This is me at the beginning of the show, questioning my life decision.

Saturday’s show featured a weight-lifter, a cyclist, a darts player, a quiz-show maven and a DJ, all old, all grey-haired and all dressed as sexually-confused Eaton schoolboys.

End Blyton should write this book.

The problem with this show was the presumption that age precludes a person from excellence. These were people who had won medals and broken records – who had practiced their craft for decades. And we were expected to believe that varicose veins and a few years of retirement would have turned them into something that the most utterly average of young people could decimate.

 Of course, predictably, the best part of the whole thing was watching the young hopefuls get trashed. Squatting their own body weight while watching grandpa do the same, only faster and more decorously. Those that managed to beat their elderly opponents did so only because of head-starts and other contrived whatnot. And one imagines that they all then went home and were much nicer to their grandparents.

It was almost kind of depressing, watching as a prime example of the prideful young adults struggling to maintain their dignity onscreen. My grandmother used to teach young soldiers to drive tanks. Now, at 100 years old, there are probably still many things she can do better than me (teaching soldiers to drive tanks is among those things, understandably. I can’t even drive a Toyota).

Converted? Or drunk?

It’s pretty well pitched though, this celebration of purportedly past-it pensioners.

The inclusion of Paddy McGuinness as host is a stroke of genius, since we’re already solidly accustomed to him in character as the host of a show that we should find horrifically demeaning but actually are very entertained by. It’s his calling. It’s his path. It’s almost offensive to me, his ability to piss me off even as I think about him naked. He should be Prime Minister, quite honestly.

Yes, cans of Dark Fruit Strongbow were consumed while I watched. Yes, the wide-legged purple pants of the under-used female co-presenter gave me conflicting feelings. Yes, I enjoyed the spectacle of 25-year-old able-bodied wankers being obliterated.

Does this change the fact that this is ageist gap-fill television? No, it does not. Will I watch it again? No comment.

Lessons in Sex Brought To You By Television

Originally published here.

There are many reasons to watch television. Having voices in the background whilst you eat crumbed chicken and brown sauce between two pieces of stale white bread distracts you briefly from your crippling loneliness. It’s nice sometimes to be reminded that the world is not a merely a cesspit of brutality, but also a place where dolphins court by passing strands of seaweed to each other. If work is boring and your friends aren’t texting you back, it’s good to know that you always have the option of lying about a dead parent and appearing, knock-kneed and badly lit, on a talent show.

But the main reason we watch television is for the sex.

Ross and Rachel pining for each other through rainy windows. Nick and Jess savaging each other in quirky bathrobes. Meredith and McDreamy disrobing on operating tables. They have jobs and lives and hobbies and families but the part we wait for – the part we pine for – is… well, it’s the touching. Particularly if the two people doing it are unreasonably attractive, and have had to wait at least a year before throwing down.

It’s not all about make-believe, or even the satisfaction of fantasy. It’s also about learning. No matter how prevalent sex is in our own lives, we’re always looking for more information, as if sex can’t possibly be limited to what we’re actually doing. Because if that’s all there is to it – fantasies on the tube, Ask Reddit threads about masturbation, desultory encounters before bedtime – then what’s the point?

Luckily, in the same way that television can teach you about the mating habits of dolphins and the performance potential of prison guards, it can teach you about sex. There are lessons to be taken from the love affairs we love so much. This is sex education at its finest, shiniest and most heavily edited:

Always have sex with your best friend. Even if you don’t end up together, you will certainly end up having a close and intimate friendship. Nothing is lost by having that longed for drunk encounter. Just take your top off.

If you can’t have sex with your best friend, have sex with your best friend’s close relative. They love you. They want you to be happy. They feel the same about their family. Complete the circle of love. Just take your top off.

If you can’t do either of the above, then make sure you have sex with people you see all the time. The person who delivers your pizza, for example. Your colleague. Your boss, your teacher, your gardener. After the deed, you want to make sure that you see them every day, so you can look them in the eye and mutually reminisce over the time when your genitals smelled the same.

Sex almost never leads to disease, pregnancy or children. Also, condoms? A figment of your sad, closeted imagination.

Sex is not a private act between two people. Sex must be discussed in intimate detail with both friends and strangers immediately after the deed. Bonus points if you’re hugely insulting to your erstwhile partner; triple points if they overhear you.

Only good-looking people have sex. Only young people have sex. In summary: only young, good-looking people have sex. If you can’t find five points of similarity between yourself and Selena Gomez, you’re out of luck.

All women want to be saved by sex. Or money – but mostly by sex.

When you’re having sex, you always look like your best self. Shadowed, with skin like milk, writhing in the horizontal dance of life. Muscles flexed, hair snarled. You’re a goddess. You’re a dream.

Disasters will bring out your carnal side. Oh, everyone you love has turned into a zombie? Have sex. Your husband’s a drug dealer? Have sex. Bomb? Apocalypse? Flood? You know what to do.

Your life isn’t interesting unless you’ve having sex. So you’ve got a great job, a big apartment and loving friends. Big deal. Tell it to someone who cares.

 This leads us to the big one. Sex is actually the only important thing in your life. Don’t waste your time thinking about death and taxes. All you need is mutual nudity for a feeling of total completion.

 

And there you have it – lessons in sex from those who know best. Keep these rules in mind when engaging in a pants-down-party and people will love you more, you’ll be happier, and the sun will shine on your shiny life. Next time you’re watching a David Attenborough documentary, keep these in mind. Even the dolphins play by the rules.