Monthly Archives: October 2006

Off the top of my head and with a dubious criterion…

Do lists like this, especially ones that are so short, tell us anything about ourselves?  To create these ones I set myself a single criteria:  For each category, I had to write the first five things that came into my mind.  No amendments, no deletions.  Try it! So here’s the result:

My 5 Favourite Live Albums of all time

The Last Waltz – the Band, Dylan et al

Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

Get Yer Ya Yas Out – The Rolling Stones

The Skiffle Sessions – Van Morrison, Kenny Lonnigan and Chris Barber

The Three Tenors (1990) – Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras

My 5 Favourite Hit Songs of all Time

My Sweet Lord – George Harrison (Sure, it’s a copy of “He’s so Fine” but so much better)

Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys

Different Drum – Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies

Taxi – Harry Chapin

Friday on My Mind – The Easybeats

My 5 Favourite Films of All Time

Lawrence of Arabia

A Room With a View

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Death in Venice

Once Upon a Time in the West

My 5 Favourite Books of All Time

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin

The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoevsky

Vanity Fair – Thackeray

My 5 Favourite Albums of All Time

Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones

Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan

Revolver – The Beatles

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie

Astral Weeks – Van Morrison


Filed under Books, Film, Music

Art, women and the whiff of paedophilia

I was in the gallery today looking at the prolific output of etchings by Norman Lindsay, all of them of naked women and the occasional boyish looking man.  Struck again by the sanctioning nature of art, how the framing and mounting of pictures makes them apparently devoid of prurient qualities.  Which is ironic considering that Lindsay was a great iconoclast who was roundly criticized for attacking, through his art, the middle class values of the first half of the 20th century.  Now, of course, he is an icon himself and his once scandalous work is accessible to the same middle class that was so affronted 6o years ago.


And yet…and yet.   Art continues to confound me.  Here are the same pictures – of artistic merit certainly and with an impressive fidelity of vision – but erotic nonetheless.  And, I wonder, would any of these respectable people around me staring so closely and with such careful appreciation, feel the same level of acceptance if the same pictures were photographs under their sons’ pillows?  Art somehow gives us permission to be a voyeur.


There is no doubt, however, that Lindsay loved the female body and when I walked outside I was feeling much the same way.  And then I looked around, of course, and found that the female body, no less than the man’s, comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, most of them totally ignored by Lindsay.  His imaginative idylls are full of idealised women.  So even then, women were created in the image of men’s desire.  True, the female form in these etchings, in keeping with standards of the time, is fuller and rounder compared with the skinny young things that depict today’s perfect woman.  But they are idealised nonetheless and equally unrealistic.


I wonder why the penchant for skinny women is so prevalent in the popular culture of the Western world.  This woman-as-girl fixation often smells to me suspiciously like paedophilia dressed up as fashion.  And women – either actively or through aspiration – seem complicit in this.


Anyway, art as is entirely appropriate, gives us  mirror through which we can look at our world differently.  To that extent, I found the exhibition well worth the cost.


A long time ago I was standing in an art gallery trailing behind an elderly couple obviously unimpressed by the modern art before them.  Suddenly, they stopped before a picture and the following conversation took place:

“Now, you see, Myra, that’s what I call art.”

“Well, you can tell what it is, can’t you.  It’s really beautiful.”

“And very realistic.”

“That’s right, it’s just like a photograph.”

“Just like a photograph.”

Pregnant pause.

“Myra, it is a photograph.”

“Oh, yes, so it is.”

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Filed under art, Men, sex, Women

If you love something…

A teacher I know told me this story of something that occurred in her first year of teaching.  She had a class of ten year olds and over the course of the several months she had taught them how to debate and analyse issues from a number of different points of view.  One day a student raised the point that keeping the much-loved classroom pet, a small yellow canary, in a cage instead of allowing it to be free, was cruel. My friend saw an ideal opportunity for the practical application of democratic principles.

She decided to have the class debate the pros and cons of setting Monty free.  Which ever view prevailed, on the basis of evidence and logic, would result in the canary remaining in the cage or being allowed to fly wherever his heart led him.  After half an hour it was clear that the class consensus was for the door of Monty’s cage to be opened and for his incarceration to end.

Everyone sat forward expectantly as the teacher opened the cage door and lifted the little bird gently onto her palm.  Then with a gentle flourish upwards, she ushered Monty into the air saying, “Fly, little birdy, fly!”  The class clapped and cheered.

Now, Monty – under the effects of freedom’s mighty intoxication or maybe just severe depression – flew up and up and straight into the whirling blades of an overhead fan.  With a sudden crump and a blaze of yellow feathers, the tiny bird fell lifeless to the classroom floor.

Intensive counselling and sustained rest were needed to overcome the more traumatic effects of this tragic event.  Even some of the children were affected.

Lessons that we can take from this little tale?

  • If you love something and set it free, it may come back to you quicker than you think.
  • Just because a decision is democratic doesn’t mean it’s a good decision.
  • If you love something and you set it free and it doesn’t come back, it may be dead.


Filed under life, Love, school

Bargain hunting in the mall of shiny dreams

I am moving slowly through the air-conditioned mall surrounded by the faces of Saturday shoppers.  I am going to have a haircut.  Outside the sun is shining and the Indian Ocean, just a few kilometres away is wondering where I am.  Its waves rush hissing up the sandy beach searching for my feet, waiting for me to grow small within it. 


But a haircut is a haircut.


I wonder why everyone else is here.  How did they wake to such a beautiful day and find themselves meandering lost-like through this artificial landscape?  They are looking for something, something that is promised by the bright lights and gaudy banners.  When will you wake up, I think.  Soon you have to wake up; life doesn’t go on forever.  And then I remember Woody Allen in one of his early stand-up routines saying, ”Do you like my watch?  My grandfather sold me this watch on his deathbed.”

And I wonder if for many people, maybe the habit of acquisition is just too strong, its intrinsic emptiness lost to their perception forever. 

Here is the triumph of advertising over the human spirit. 

There is a metaphor for this blind consumerism.  Imagine a jail where every conceivable safeguard has been put in place to prevent escape by the prisoners.  There is a high wall with a moat and minefields, the guards are heavily armed.  The cells are buried deep within a labyrinth of booby-trapped tunnels beneath metres of reinforced concrete.  Multiple doors protect each cell and each door is made from the strongest metals known to man.  The inmates are chained to their beds.


And then, just to make perfectly sure that no one escapes, each prisoner has been hypnotised into thinking that he is free…

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Sex, childhood and the Kingdom of Heaven

The famous French crime writer, Georges Simenon, was once asked if he had been religious as a child.  “Oh, very religious.  When I was eleven I got a scholarship to the College of St. Louis and I was thinking of becoming a priest.  I got rid of that idea when I was thirteen.”  And what happened when he was thirteen?  “I made love for the first time.  I saw all that about guilt and sin was nonsense.  I found out that all the sins I’d heard about were not sins at all.”

I suspect that at thirteen, M. Simenon, like most adolescents, fell into sexual activity out of natural curiosity and inclination rather than for the purpose of “making love.”  For all its bad press, sex is fairly easy to learn, even for teenagers, and far less confounding than love.  Nonetheless, the French writer does touch on a universal social phenomenon; that of the relationship between religion and our view of sexual behaviour formed from a young age.  The effects can be profound and deep and yet rarely positive, particularly in respect to our sense of guilt.

My own childhood and adolescence, however, while imbued with generous portions of both sex and religion was relatively benign in its articulation of the relationship between the two.  Despite attending Sunday School and church for almost all of my formative years – under duress, it’s true – the matter of sex was never raised.  If it was alluded to then I was too obtuse to recognise it. 

The only lasting effect of Sunday school was that brought about by our 16-year-old lay teacher who told enthralling tales of the strange and lingering deaths of missionaries in far away jungles.  I remember that one such story involved the hapless Christians being tied upside down in a bag of snakes.  If it were not for Sunday School I would never have learned that our small-town war memorial was actually filled with the bones of dead soldiers.

But my religious and sex education remained separate and unrelated experiences.  The theory of sex was as absent in church as the practice of it and not for me the wandering hands of conniving clergy or preying priesthood.

I believed in God and that punishment for sin was as inevitable as school on Monday and the infallibility of parents.  I just had not made any connection between sex and sin.

And between the ages of eight and sixteen my sex life, with boys and girls, was prolific and richer in variety and purer of motive than it was to be at any other time of my life.  That this life was hidden from the adult world was not at all the product of guilt or shame but of that very peculiar English inheritance, embarrassment.  I was never remotely imbued with a sense that God would punish me for sex with others and myself.  But the thought of my parents learning about the games we played was mortifying.

When a sixteen-year-old friend returned home for holidays after years in a Catholic boarding school and told me that he believed masturbation was a sin against his body, I was genuinely incredulous. 

Did my little town protect us from sexual guilt, was our little church aware of the need to keep scripture and sex separate?  Not at all.  We were a community living out the last vestiges of our English ancestry and we did so with equal measures of hypocrisy, ignorance and, it’s true, a deep distaste for public indiscretion.

But I am grateful to have lived in that time and place.  Nothing sexual abhors me, only its use to exploit, control or hurt others.  And that’s not a bad legacy for life.


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Filed under life, Love, Religion, sex

Sexual conundrum #72

If sex is all in the head, is it socially acceptable to blow my nose in public?


Filed under sex

The urge to splurge


5 Reasons why you should not shop today

You are just encouraging those little bastards in advertising to find new ways to exploit, stereotype and manipulate our lives.

It won’t make you happy… No, really, not even shopping for shoes.  In all the world’s scriptures, not once does it say “And thou shalt find peace in the gardening section of K Mart.”

The money you spent could have bought you an experience instead of just a thing.  And experience lasts a lifetime.  Guaranteed.  If you have a choice between owning stuff and doing stuff, choose the latter.

You are going to die one day.  And you know it.   Don’t you think today might be a good time to work out why you’re here.  Nothing you can buy today will add up to a pile of beans when you are on your deathbed (unless it’s morphine, of course).

Everything you buy is consuming our planet.  Everything you buy is one more thing for you and one less thing for someone else in the world.  Give that money to someone who will make a difference.

5 Reasons why you should shop today

Even those little bastards in advertising create employment and employment leads to wealth and wealth builds our capacity to give.  And giving is tax deductible.

Shopping won’t bring happiness, it’s true, but it will buy you comfort.  And owning a new plasma or handbag can at least distract you from being unhappy. 

Some stuff we own actually is an experience e.g. that ipod reveals a whole world of music and lifts that spirit to another place; the new computer links you to people you never would have met before; those new shoes lead you to a restaurant where you meet the love of your life.

Sure, you are going to die one day.  But not this day, right?  Today you can enjoy yourself a little, OK?  I mean, enjoyment might not be the meaning of life but then, maybe it is.

Everything you buy consumes part of our planet, it’s true.  But what if you buy a book on recycling?

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Filed under consumerism, life, shopping

What is wrong with men?


My ex-wife used to say to me sometimes, in a tone that imputed that I was personally responsible or at least an accessory to the fact, “What is wrong with men?”  This was invariably in response to some television report relating some truly awful atrocity somewhere in the world.  Anyway, I would rally myself briefly to the defence of my gender by saying something like, “What’s wrong with men is that they never recover from the mothering of their early years.” Not a rational answer, I know, but anyone in a marriage knows that they are neither formulated, consummated or regulated on the basis of rationality.  And anyway, I tended to believe, even then, with Oscar Wilde’s view that “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”  But deep inside I did, and do, sometimes wonder what is wrong with men. 

And nowhere do I find men’s behaviour more disquieting, more inexplicable and cruel, than in the case of rape.  To bring out some of the vexed complexity of this question it is worth looking at the rape of men by men.  In this case, the story of T.E. Lawrence, the famous Lawrence of Arabia, might be a useful case in point.

 I don’t want to deal here with the argument about whether or not Lawrence was actually raped since ample evidence exists to support it as a real event or one simply invented by Lawrence himself.  Neither am I ignoring the much more prevalent history of rape against women.  What I am trying to do is look at the phenomenon through a different lens. The contextual facts surrounding Lawrence’s ordeal are relatively straightforward.  In 1916, Lawrence, dressed in Arab clothing and working to mobilise the Arab tribes against the Turks, was arrested in the town of Deraa.   He was not recognised but, according to his own memoirs (The Seven Pillars of Wisdom), was beaten and raped by Turkish soldiers.  He later wrote, ”I gave away the only possession we are born into the world with – our bodily integrity,” The publishing of this in 1926 was even more confronting for the public than it would be today and sparked years of debate that has not yet abated.  Lawrence represented man as warrior – what did his admission/story tell us about him and what did it say about men generally?  

The key point here is that the rape of soldiers by soldiers has been a feature of human history for as long as war has been documented. 

“This indignity was more often inflicted on members of the officer class in the belief it robbed them of their authority as a leader of men, sometimes resulting in the victims suicide.  Gang rape was also considered a means of punishment in some cultures, the Romans, Persians, Ottomans and other societies practiced it.The Ottoman Turks were infamous for inflicting it throughout the Great War on captured enemy troops, beating and gang raping enemy officers often as a matter of due course.  Prisons and garrisons often had personnel who specialized in this abuse, although there was nothing homosexual about it.

The Turkish soldiers perpetrating this war crime certainly never considered themselves gay, like male rapists in prison the act has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the attacker or victim.  ‘It’s not about sexual gratification, rather a sexual aggressor using somebody else as a means of expressing their own power and control’.” (John Godl

So what we find emerging is the notion of sexual behaviour as a means of control, as the exercise of a power differential.  Even more worrying is to find that, at different times and within different cultures, it has also enjoyed varying degrees of institutionalisation.  For Lawrence, the effects on his life were profound.  In later years he paid to be beaten by other men, some say to exorcise his own rape, others that it was a form of denying and conquering his own sexual impulses.

 So, what is wrong with men, why are they more likely to commit rape than women?  I do not know but I think we will miss the answer if we look to hormonal or physiological differences between genders.  It seems to me that operating at the core of some men’s psyche, and often at an unconscious level, is this need for power that, stripped of approved and formal avenues for expression, finds that expression in the debasing act of rape.   Like so many aspects of sexual behaviour – sadism, masochism, fetishism – we too often look for meaning from the sexual act itself when, it seems likely, sex is merely the tangible enactment of something deeply rooted in our sense of ourselves. 


Filed under life, Marriage, Men, rape, sex, TE Lawrence

“…a virgin on the brink”

I was reading a post the other day where the writer mused, “I wonder what it’s like to hear The Smiths with ‘fresh’ ears.” (  This is something I also have trouble with these days as I look back on my old CDs and try to objectively assess each one’s merit given the distance created by time, my changing tastes and modern music.  The problem is, of course, that it is also difficult to divest oneself of the powerful associations of music, particularly where it links to our youth or a particularly special time of our lives. And yet, by coming at certain albums with the advantage of time and maturity, it is also possible to  re-evaluate them in a way that we might have found impossible in our more impressionable days.  Some, it’s true, reveal a paucity of depth that leaves us wondering what could have possibly possessed us to have ever bought them.  Others, though, attain a new level of respect as we recognise subtle nuances in the lyrics and complex layers of musicianship. I doubt if, even then, however, we really regain the emotional awakening and personal revelation that some songs brought to us when we first heard them.  I read a quote somewhere, – from the Sixties, I think – which captured the powerful connection we bring to music when we are younger: “Holding in your hands the latest Beatle’s or Stone’s album was like being a virgin on the brink.” And, as for The Smiths, well, I went out and bought a collection of their singles.  Somehow I’d missed them and what a surprise and joy it was to find songs like “Please Let Me Get What I Want,” “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Big Mouth Strikes Again.”  Couldn’t help but wonder what else I’d missed from that period when music took a backseat to other things that were happening in my life…But that, as they say, is another story.


Filed under Music

10 Things I’ve Learned About Love

You can’t hurry it (OK so I stole that from Diana Ross but, hell, you try and think of 10 things and not fall back on a cliché or two).

There are two things in life you can’t buy – talent and love.  Sex, of course, you never stop paying for.

Never give advice to friends who have just fallen in or out of love – the giveaway sign is the refrain “Yes, but this is different.”   Just walk away, man.

Don’t give away every secret in the first euphoria of love.  One day you are both going to regret that she/he knows about that incident involving the one-eyed trapeze artist and the cucumber.

If the sex is great, try not to think about where he/she learnt how to be so good.  Unless that turns you on, of course.

Do not cook him/her a great meal.  It’s natural and common to do so but, trust me, if this relationship turns into kids one day, the memory of this meal is going to add real poignancy to the culinary catch phrase “Where’s the tin-opener?”

Plato wrote, “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” Maybe so, but it still doesn’t make you Keats.  Restrict extravagant expressions of love to the telephone.  Without documentary evidence, you can always deny it later.  

You know that best friend of his/hers, the one that is so happy for you both?  The one that is a bit of a sad clown but kinda cute?  Well, she/he hates you and one false step and you are going to get it.  Between the eyes and in the back.  Simultaneously. 

When she says, “I am not interested in marriage” and it is only the first date, start saving for the engagement ring.  When he says, “I am not interested in marriage” and it is only the first date, take him to the nearest jewellers.

Remember, there are two main kinds of love – love of one’s self and love of someone who also loves one’s self.  I often wonder if either are worth the cost or effort.

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