I have a new favourite word: Deliciate. It means to delight oneself, to revel. Isn’t it a wonderful word?
It’s the kind of word that when I read it I’m struck by the obviousness of what my life should be about. You see I’m a pretty hardcore nihilist. I not only believe there is no God and little in the way of rhyme or reason to our lives but I take that liberating terrifying thought and wherever possible try to create a life of my own making.
I think The Classic Crime rather miss the point of the joy that is to be had in nihilism (in fairness they have a touch of the Bible basher about them). Who says it must be a negative? Well, me for starters and that’s why I’m writing a book on the subject. I forced myself to wait until I had my PhD because I knew that once I surrendered it might take over.
I came across the word deliciate today just when I needed it. On Monday I make the first leg of my trip to Turkey where I’ll spend a fortnight apart from the fiancé, the kids, the house and all the distractions of real life. I can’t wait but I have been feeling oddly guilty and utterly self-indulgent. Why? I mean, why the bloody hell shouldn’t I?
I’m a rubbish nihilist.
I worry incessantly. I’m all about the theory you see. Philosophically I’m there, no question. But in the day to day I’m forever trying to justify my beliefs. Sure they can be a little unorthodox but the fiancé and my family aren’t phased. Similarly, my friends are either sufficiently disinterested (let’s be honest, we’re all preoccupied with our own stuff aren’t we?) or adequately supportive to not get me spiralling into self disgust on their account. So who’s left? People I don’t care about? Some mysterious other that I don’t believe in?
There’s a saying in academia that the best way to learn something is to teach it. The idea is that when you consider how to convey a message to a virgin audience, you are more critical about ensuring the key elements are all there. My PhD identifies me as an expert on Malaysia but I learnt some of my best lessons when I gave lectures and presentations. The questions asked afterwards helped me appreciate what I’d left out and the process itself enforced order on my rambling thoughts.
So hopefully this book will be my reconciliation between my theory and my practice. I’m hoping that the process of researching and writing it will change me as I talk of application and universality. At any rate I shall deliciate in my project and follow the ideas and whims that occur to me.
That’s all. A short column this week but I’ve lots going on. Take care and I’ll be in touch soon.
The view from my old apartment in KL where I did much musing
I write this week from a large and comfortable room in South Wales. The Union are playing on the stereo (it sounds weird to say iPhone plus non-Apple brand portable speaker unit) and my brother and his girlfriend are divvying up the days chocolate purchases (while playing with the kids’ toy gun) as my mum looks over our map of castles. There is a crate of tourist literature but we all seem incapable of going beyond the map that surely by now we could each draw from memory.
It’s a very different holiday from my last trip to Wales.
Three years ago the fiancé and I were in a no man’s land of relationship. He was sleeping on a sofa in the conservatory of the house he shared with his wife and I was simultaneously telling my girlfriends that yes of course he was clearly still sleeping with his wife and telling him that of course I understood that while he and her were over, he didn’t want to leave his kids. It sucked. I lied to everyone (because I believed him when he said he and her were over and because I didn’t understand how it was taking so long to move out). I had just turned 26 and being madly in love with a thirty something with kids made no sense to me.
It was stalemate. I refused to let the relationship move forward in terms of plans. I plan everything and rather than discuss one-day-in-the-future I was booking a train trip across Siberia. We were on different life paths and in such circumstances you need a hell of a lot more than just love.
The fiancé wasn’t able to put down a deposit on a house but the situation was tearing us apart before we’d put down any foundations. My departure day was fast approaching and the walls that were invisible when I was on the other side of the world were suddenly blocking any potential view of a shared future when we were able to meet for coffee.
He decided to move out and stay with his sister for a few weeks and the day he moved out we went to Wales. I cannot for the life of me remember how we settled on Wales. I think perhaps it was so impersonal to us both that it felt like running away and escaping.
It’s a funny way to build a future. Day one of our first minibreak was arguably the worst of his life. Not only did he stop living with his sons but I was offering no guarantees of anything. I wanted him to leave because it was what was right for him. I’d discuss a future together once he’d lived his new reality. Still, I was unbelievably happy. Although I was about to leave the country, I felt validated. Sometimes they do leave their wives.
I cooked for him. We had the run of the B&B and decided not to go out. I cooked meatballs at a professional range oven and chattered away; trying to make up for meeting him online, for unwittingly making him fall for me and for inadvertently turning his life upside down. A big challenge for a miniskirt and a bowl of pasta. It was a bittersweet trip but it was enough. We built foundations on sandy beaches and a game of Connect 4 but it was something. Finally there was something real.
I knew we were returning to roughly the same area when my mum booked a week in a country house for my brothers and I but we have literally been retracing our steps. I had largely forgotten the last Wales trip since upon my subsequent return from the Far East we started laying better foundations so it has been strange to be feeling what I can only describe as ghosts of a relationship that never was.
You see, that first break nevertheless felt a little sordid. I felt hidden away like a dirty secret. Just because we were finally officially single (to this day I don’t really believe you can be truly separated if you still live together), it didn’t deny that we weren’t when we met. We each knew that this was something special and as such we needed to do things right; I am nobody’s mistress (I am far too egocentric).
In Tenby we wandered, lost. I remember standing and looking at a half demolished building and a strange melancholy settling over us both. Returning this week I bought a coffee table for our living room and noticed how pretty the town is. I see how scared and uncertain I was by comparison with my confidence of today. Then I wondered whether I even knew the man I was with or whether I was simply projecting my wants onto him. Today we made the same joke (my brother: “that was a joke”) simultaneously.
I suppose I’ve come full circle. It has taken my return to appreciate what has changed. It was another six months before I would move to Gloucester but since then we’ve not just got engaged and bought a house together but I’ve become a stepmother (my eldest stepson referring to me as such for the first time this month). The children are the key. Last time they were the elephants in the room that I couldn’t appreciate my lack of noticing. This time they are the centre point of my thoughts and I can only now appreciate how different the lives of my fiancé and mine were.
And I thought I was just coming to look at Castles!
* Subtitle kindly provided by the beautiful Rachel Brislen
Being somewhat right wing myself it has been interesting to see those with liberal attitudes calling for strong action against the rioters. That interracial marriage was once seen as an abomination due to perceived differences between types of people would have made aghast the same people quick to label the rioters animals this week.
Perhaps I feel a little apart because for a number of years I’ve felt that there are different types of people. When I lived in the North East I had ethnic gypsies living on either side of me. They caused me and my non-gypsy neighbours a lot of distress. They trespassed my property, intimidated me and stole from me. Their behaviour lacked not only civility but any aspect of self reflection. It often seemed that they were driven purely by instinct and existed without the facility to evaluate options.
I had some wonderful support through my local council where someone came to talk through how to cope with living with gypsies. This individual’s sole responsibility was to talk to non-gypsies and help them understand the motivations of the gypsies. While being very politically correct, the session nevertheless had connotations of understanding animal behaviour. A dog will bare its teeth from fear, as a defensive move but this may wrongly be interpreted as aggression. Similarly, the gypsy children that scaled my fence and ran amok in my garden did not intend intimidation but simply lacked the recognition of what non-gypsies perceive as boundaries (the door to the proverbial caravan is sacrosanct but beyond that, all outside is communal).
While the benefits were that I was better able to live in an area with a large population of this “other” I nevertheless created a category in my mind to excuse the behaviour of those people. It was somehow less personal if I didn’t view them as people like me but instead saw them as an inferior or primitive group that knew no better and ought to have my sympathies for their lives that lacked the richness of my own with its literacy and freedoms.
It helped a little but the solution was ultimately to move. No matter how I framed it, I was surrounded by a people that were feral. Their ignorance was threatening by merit of the pride they took in it.
So when I say I’m not new to the idea of labelling sub-class* people animals, I’m really not. I’ve been there for an extended period. I’ve felt the frustrated bile of helplessness as while faintly apologetic, your local police and government can do nothing to help you. Those not directly affected try to be understanding but either roll their eyes or get uncomfortable when you mutter that they should be sterilised or rounded up like vermin.
It’s not so much a desire to harm those people as a passionate urge for them to leave you alone and a fury that they won’t. You know you are being absurd and unreasonable yourself but they just keep on being so “other.”
Logic dictates that empathy is the only way to manage your feelings. Aside from moving, it was the only thing that helped me. That isn’t to say I think we should be soft on the rioters. Quite the opposite but the people that really matter are those that didn’t riot.
My gypsy neighbours infected me with some of their hate (truly, they were bitter and miserable beings) and I have a long way to go before I fully let go of that. Their lives are low and lacking value (the two boys I saw grow up in the house next door are currently serving jail sentences) and mine needn’t be. If I let my life be blighted then I give them a power that is wholly undeserved.
Those that have hit the streets to clean up the devastation have thrilled me. The message they give out is exactly what I’m in favour of. Not to reduce the criminality but there’s a sense of sweeping away the garbage. I hope the rioters are one by one identified and punished but equally that those affected are able to see the guilty as being so much beneath them and not worthy of their hate.
I’ve no interest in trying to understand the rioters. They do not understand themselves, lacking as they do any clear objectives. Just as I leave the psychopaths to the experts to worry about, neither do I wish to concern myself with those whose minds are flawed in the way of someone who destroys homes and businesses. Aside from the need for them to be held accountable, my concerns are for the victims (and I do not see the guilty as being victims of circumstance).
I hope that what emerges is the Big Society of Cameron’s dreams. I hope that the affected communities become defined by their coming together to rebuild their lives and not by those so low that creating fire and mayhem is the only way they can create something. I hope that people can move on and recover and hold onto that which makes them different and better that the scum that steal and burn.
That’s all I have right now. Hope.
* I use the term sub-class as to group them with the working class seems deeply offensive to decent working class people.
This month Cosmopolitan ran a story on porn; ‘Exploitative or erotic? Sexy or sordid? Porn is now not only big business but an accepted part of the male sexual psyche. So what role should it play in women’s lives today?’ All fair and good and the story gave a pretty good range of views including a brilliant piece by Caitlin Moran who wisely observed ‘The act of having sex isn’t sexist so there’s no way pornography can be inherently misogynist.’
My main interest in porn is the way some women seem to think they are entitled to decide what their partner uses. I saw a post on handbag.com many years ago that stayed with me; the poster argued that when entering a relationship with her she expected a man to grow up and put his immature bachelor pastimes behind him. Some games console time was permitted but getting drunk with his mates, junk food and pornography were out.
I thought she was joking at first.
In day to day practicalities men in relationship do settle down of course. The fiancé just about never sees his friends without me because they’re all in relationships and I get on with most of their partners. We generally eat well and we’re far more likely to watch Mad Men than porn (although if I’m fair that’s possibly because Christina Hendricks doesn’t make porn).
But it’s nice to have a break. I’m going away for a few days and while my plans include afternoon tea with the girls, shopping for curtains and discussing baby plans with my newly pregnant friend, the fiancé will probably play a lot of Xbox, order a skanky Chinese takeaway and see what new grot the internet has to offer.
Do I care? Of course! I’m disgusted that after the many beautiful Asian meals I’ve cooked, he’ll still eat a gloopy day-glo possible-rat-not-pork dish.
But it’s none of my business. Likewise, unless it was having an impact on our sex life, I don’t think I have the right to comment on how much or what type of porn he uses. The reason is because I think we all have a secret life and are fully entitled to that.
I’ll start my defence with romantic comedies. Romantic comedies feature unrealistically attractive, funny and romantic men who magically change the lives of women. Their plots tend to be fairly weak and real men often compare unfavourably to the tall, witty and sensitive characters on screen. No wonder most men hate them!
Imagine if a man wanted to control his partner’s consumption of Rom Coms? He’d be derided as being controlling and completely unreasonable. The films would be defended as escapeism and something to simply enjoy. Women know they aren’t real and we don’t really expect life to be like that.
Just like porn then?
I consume Rom Coms like porn. It’s a cheap fix when I can’t be bothered to plan a date. I prefer to watch them alone and keep a box of tissues to hand to clean up the tears that the fiancé has termed emotional ejaculate. I know my habit is a bit unhealthy but it’s not like I do it often and I still prefer the real thing (even if he does insist on self congratulating himself after issuing a kiss that leaves me weak at the knees).
I can’t give a good reason for liking Rom Coms. The best I can offer is that they meet a need. Or perhaps desire is a better word. I have lots of desires. I like to daydream about moving back to Malaysia. I don’t actually want to move back but I like to think about it. I have hundreds of fantasies, many of which I’ve never told the fiancé about. I like that they’re mine. There are things I like to do when I’m alone that I don’t tell him about. We typically exchange emails around lunchtime updating each other about our day and I sometimes leave things out.
I like the statement that there are two types of men; those that watch porn and those that lie to their partners. I’d pick honesty any day. Perhaps it’s because I see curtailing your partner as an alienating activity I see porn as the exercising of a secret life or perhaps it’s an act of self-defence as by demonstrating my reasonableness, I feel more comfortable taking liberties myself (next month I’m going to Istanbul by myself for a fortnight). Perhaps I’m just realistic enough to recognise that nobody can be everything to someone and more importantly that I wouldn’t want to be everything to someone.
So what role does porn play in this modern woman’s life? For the most part, none. I go months without thinking about the stuff. Which seems to me a reasonable way to go about things.
Disclaimer: While not being a consumer of pornography I nevertheless believe in the right of expression whilst protecting the interests of the potentially vulnerable. As such I applaud the efforts of organisations such as CAAN (Consenting Adults Action Network). Unless something is explicitly and demonstratively harmful I do not believe our right of access or engagement should be curtailed.