Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Sex wars

I know the opening of this post may sound a bit sexist, but it’s not meant to be.

It’s just that I’m mystified why women take so long to work out that men don’t care about housework. Oh I know that we complain that they don’t do enough of it, but we still go on believing that they would really prefer a nice clean house if only they weren’t so lazy. The truth is that if we weren’t there, they probably wouldn’t do it, but we still feel we’ve done them a favour when we do it and expect them to be grateful.

Men do housework for several reasons: they’ll be nagged silly if they don’t; they can’t stand the guilt that hearing scrubbing noises gives them while they’re doing something more interesting, or because they have an unusually well developed sense of justice. But, they never do it because they’re ashamed of how dirty the windows look, because they’ve noticed the sheets are less than spotless or that someone’s just written their name in the dust on the furniture. They’re really not that bothered whether the house ‘looks nice’ or not.

So when I watch my teenage granddaughter getting her knickers in a twist because her older brother isn’t as appalled as she is by the state of the house when the grown ups are out, I just wish that she and every other young girl could learn the plain truth about boys early. You can make them do the housework, but you can’t make them care about it.

She’s recently added to her ‘it’s not fair’ list the fact that her brother is a slob. They each have a minimal quota of household chores, plus clearing up after themselves and their friends, but she says she’s forced to do his share to stop the house becoming a tip and what’s worse, he doesn‘t even appreciate what she‘s done for him.

But do you think she’ll believe that the reason he can’t appreciate it is because, since he hasn’t even noticed that the house is a mess, still less care, he can’t see that she’s done anything for him? And will she believe that the answer is just to do her share and stop worrying about his because he‘ll do that when his Mum reminds him of the consequences of not doing it? Yes, it’s no to both.

Friday, October 24, 2008


God bothering

Cliff's post on the atheist bus has reminded me of how often I’ve wanted to write about religion.

I don’t like saying I’m an atheist because it implies that I’m actively engaged in something, but I haven’t philosophised my way there, I just can’t believe God exists and I don’t remember a time when I ever could. There’s someone who sees and hears each and every one of us? I just think about that number, 6.7 billion, divided into the number of seconds in a month say, and that gives 0.0004 of a second each - that's if we all get equal shares, and well…. But not believing in God doesn’t stop me loving hymns, carol services or nativity plays. Only my over-emotional blubbing does that.

I always hoped for a Damascene moment, but it didn’t come and so I was never able to see the Church in spiritual terms - just as a powerful organisation with a bloody history, clergy who seemed anything but holy, preaching the wrath of God for our sins, especially ones of the flesh, which always seemed to take up a lot more of the clergy’s time than the others.

But perversely, I don’t really enjoy meeting fellow non-believers. I often find them irritatingly smug, as though they’ve discovered a truth that the other poor suckers have yet to.

And strangely, I’m not a fan of Richard Dawkins either. He may have made a convincing case that God doesn’t exist, but that’s the easy bit. Now let him explain the more interesting questions of why so many people desperately need to believe he does; how God has inspired so many great works of art, acts of kindness, sacrifice and compassion; why people find it so difficult to accept that this life could be all they get and that death is the end, or why little old ladies in Italy get up at some ungodly hour to sit on a hard pew in a church every day (I’m not sure if there is an ungodly hour in church?)

Philosophers argue that people have only to look at science and nature to find all the wonder, beauty and spirituality they could need. So why don’t they? Why don’t they find the same sense of security and indestructibility, sanctuary, sense of community or rallying point in times of national joy and tragedy that they find in the church?

So, whilst I never got a sudden, blinding flash of light type conversion, a slow and gradual process has converted me to the idea that on balance, religion has shaped society for the better.

There are people who can never be prevailed upon to act decently and it was religion, or the Church at least, that kept their most ignoble urges in check in a way that the Law never could. They could imagine what a spell in jail would be like and make a judgement on whether to risk it, but God’s punishment was an unknown and therefore to be feared much more.

And whilst it may not have been difficult to persuade people that murder or robbery was wrong, the sexual urge is so strong and instinctive, that it needed God's disapproval of unmarried sex to encourage abstinence, or at least caution, but in doing so it went a long way towards protecting young women from sexual predators and other miseries.

So it seems I was wrong, the Church is a good guy after all.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let go of all my grudges. If the Pope weren’t quite so eager for more little Catholics, he might be persuaded to promote birth control and save a few million children from being born into poverty every year. He could lift the requirement for celibacy for priests, and allow them the option of a wholesome married life instead of lusting after choir boys. And he might even rethink the idea that homosexuals are perverts that can be cured and allow them to enjoy a life without guilt and secrecy. And I’m sorry, but I can never, ever, forgive them for Joan of Arc.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Give us a clue

I glance idly down at the Sunday paper, turned to the cryptic crossword page. Oh no, I’m not being drawn into that rubbish, 10 minutes reading through all the clues and not able to answer a single one, waste of time, boring. But then I’m intrigued by the bits that my loved one has filled in and find myself staring at: Random examination a teenager might make? I’ve got one, I’ve got one, I shout and excitedly fill in spot-check. And then: Worker’s to run off with horny type. I see it begins with an A - ant, antler? ANTELOPE, yippee. I drag my loved one back into it and over the next couple of days obsess about it until we complete all but two of the clues.

I’m hooked and looking forward to next Sunday’s paper. Now I don’t want anyone spoiling my fun by reminding me that there are people out there who regularly complete this crossword in 12 minutes. I know that and I also know that some clues will remain a mystery even when the answers are provided, as in: Duck went fast, reportedly, back to juicy snack. I can see by the letters already in place that the answer’s orange, but why? Yes, duck goes with orange and orange is a juicy snack, but what’s going fast all about?

So now I have another distraction to keep me away from writing about Chicago, my heartbroken son and the annoying French school kids, as well as a bar in Turin where they pour the biggest gin and tonic and Jack Daniels I’ve ever seen.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I am after all, just an Eeyore

"Mostly sunny day, to some, can look a lot like partly gray."

"After all, what are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow."

"Why, what's the matter?" "Nothing Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it" "Can't all what?" said Pooh, rubbing his nose. "Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush." "Oh!" said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, "What mulberry bush is that?" "Bon-hommy," went on Eeyore gloomily. "French word for meaning bonhommy," he explained. "I'm not complaining, but There It Is?"

I haven’t posted for nearly two months. I’m not short of subject matter - I’ve been to Chicago, one of my family is heartbroken and homeless and there’s the mystery of why French school kids are so much more irritating than our own.

Any of these topics would normally be worth a few words, but however feverishly I try to nail them down, they skip away like will-o-the-wisps, and I find myself indulging my negative mood in pointless exercises like: if I were part of a small group of survivors of a plane crash in a remote region of the world, what would be my contribution to our survival?

The guide perhaps? My orientation skills cannot be described as excellent, so it’s unlikely that I’ll be the one who knows that going south will lead us to safety, or indeed which way south is without a giant sun as a clue and of course it would be raining. My suggestion would probably lead us straight into the cooking pots of the last surviving tribe of cannibals.

Fire raiser? Doubtful, as you can bet that while I’m still racking my brains to remember how Ray Mears lit a fire without two sticks to rub together, the little upstart stockbroker, who’s never even heard of Ray Mears, will have started a bonfire-size blaze with some fiendishly cunning new government bonds.

Pull a rabbit out of my hat with a vast supply of cereal bars, chocolate and a 3 litre box of wine? Of course not, because at the last minute I’ll have taken them out of the suitcase to make room for the tennis racquets, flippers and snorkel or they’d have been catapulted, along with any handy bits of string and cutting implements, into a nearby ravine upon impact.

First-aider? sorry, all I remember is don’t put keys down the back of a nosebleed sufferer; calming influence? you must be joking with all those terrifying noises coming from every tree; story-teller? I’ll be suffering from a cold and just lost my voice; morale raiser? nope, too busy trying to find a knife sharp enough to slit my wrists.

Well how about I rustle up a nourishing soup with the mushrooms my eagle eye has spotted? Oh yes, I could do that. Well thank you very much. I see, you think that because that's my contribution at home, it's all I can do - back room stuff. So, there's to be no heroics for me eh? Just get out there and make sure those mushrooms aren't the variety that make your tongue swell up and turn black, and keep us fed while we all get on with the important work. Oh no, hang on, it's ok, no need to do a thing, we have our very own Crocodile Dundee, who's just leaned languidly over a tree stump and charmed a giant snake into the pot.

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