Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 45

There's new research out and while it newsflashes us that men are stressed about many things -- fertility and having kids, to name two -- it also says they concerned about meeting the "one". No, that isn't a reference to 'Star Wars' or ‘The Matrix', it's all about women.

I only know about this new exciting research from Wellbeing, you know the multi-vitamins people, because Susan called me and told me so. She's full of good news like that.

Apparently, if it wasn't for the small inconvenience of meeting the right person also know as "the one", which is apparently not a reference to "the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force", according to Wellbeing, we would all have tied the knot some time ago (ideal time for men it emerges is 30) and put our parents/relatives out of their misery -- and I mean that in a nice way.

In her usual telephonic style Susan is already talking before I have had the chance to say anything as much as hello. She has launched into a conversation and, like a lot of conversations I have with Susan, my participation is in no way strictly necessary.

"Hey."
"I know why you do it. I know what your problem is."
"My problem? I have a problem already?"
"Yes, you know you have a problem."

See what I mean? It's like she started without me and I'm already lost.

"I'm lost."
"Of course you are, but I'm sure that will pass."
"No seriously, I'm lost."
"I was talking about your general lack of commitment and such."
"And such? Really that is a little vague, I mean what does and such mean?"
"Oh that refers to ancillary issues relating to lack of commitment. Like I said ancillary. Anyway, I know why you do it."
"OK, hit me with it, so what's your theory?"
"It's because of the 'one'. There's new research and it's so you."
"The one? I have no idea what you're talking about."

I cross my arms, fidget, and scoff loudly at this, baulking at even the slightest suggestion that I could be carrying a torch for some girl or other who dumped me along time ago. OK, so I have a vague idea of what Susan is talking about.

"You have no idea what I'm talking about? I bet you're sitting there with your arms folded."
"That's rubbish. Besides..."
"Rubbish? That's not exactly the convincing denouncement I was expecting. And anyway, since you found the one and then carelessly lost the one..."
"Careless? I'm not careless I'm the exact opposite of careless. I'm... uncareless."
"Uncareless? That's weak, I think diction fails you. Anyway, as I said, carelessly lost the one now you need to find the other one."
"The other one?"
"The other one is the one that you keep," Susan says, pleased with herself.
"Any idea what she looks like? You know just so I know."
"No idea sorry, but I'm sure you'll work it out eventually."
"Really? That's not very helpful. I thought you might have a hint."
"You want a hint?"
"Yes, that would be cool."
"OK, here's a hint -- work it out for yourself."

With that Susan hangs up on me. Sometimes I swear I have no idea, I mean seriously what's that about. And the hanging up? Don't get me started.

Once Susan is off the phone, I find myself preoccupied with the subject of "the one". I know that I really shouldn't, aware that in so many ways spending time thinking about something as inane as whether there is or is not a one, or whether the concept (concept?) of the one actually exists, elevates the whole subject to heights that are wholly inappropriate.

As let's be honest here, the question (is there or is there or not, and why do we, according to Wellbeing, get stressed about it) equates to nothing more than the simple (self-help manual inspired) question as to whether there a girl out there who is "like, you know, totally right for you?". Those I hasten to add are my own italics for my own specially imported valley-speak brain.

I'm wishing I filled out one of those envelopes now and exchanged with my closest friends. You know the ones that you open 10 years after graduating and reveal that you had in fact hoped to be X or Y in your future life perfect. I'm pretty sure I would have put some crap like how I wanted to be Earnest Hemmingway. Well to grow a beard, live on a Caribbean island and drink rum at least. Somehow, though, I don't see Hemmingway wasting his time worrying about the one. Maybe Martha Gellhorn would have known.

If I could ask him this question he would rightly point out that I sounded like "some kind of girl", and not just any girl, but a rather stupid one at that and I think it's an important distinction, at which point he would have slugged me one, knocking me out cold, and returned to the bar to drink rum and talk about important things like men and war. Me I don't seem to have any thoughts about men and war. Other than my rah rah support for the justified regime-changing war in Iraq.

It's sad, but the only thing that makes me feel a little better about wasting my so-so-valuable time on this subject is that I know it isn't just me. I know I am far from alone. It's other people and at least most of the people I know, you know give or take those who are very happily together or in fact married.

Adam for instance, who just like me, will talk about this one girl on a regular basis and about how this one girl got away. She's his one. You know like a POW. Like Steve McQueen on a motorbike… except with the escaping part. Unlike the cooler king, this girl made a clean break.

I digress. There is this girl. She's like every girl and she got away. Maybe Suze is right. Maybe all this talk about the one stops you finding the other one. On an impulse I decide to test the theory on Adam and I dial his work number.

"Hey."
"Hey, I'm just on my way out to a meeting."
"It's OK, I'm just calling to field test a new theory, you know snap research, it won't take long."
"Oh yeah, what's the story?"
"Er, women, what do you think?"
"Sorry stupid question. I worry sometimes that we don't have any other topics of conversation."

This makes me laugh, I swear it is so true. Obviously there is TV, cultural goings-on and football -- but really, I know nothing about football and… wait a second….

"You're sadly right, I plan to get some new hobbies, you know some day, to give me something else to talk about. I'm going to wean myself off women in the same way I did cigarettes."

Adam laughs at this.

"Yeah, but you'll back on the women in no time flat. How many times is it you have now given up smoking? You're like a guest star social smoker at every other event."

It's true, I've become lazy and smoke a couple a week. I should mention this now and get it out of the way. I am the maker of grand drunken gestures, evening promises and other things that I generally don't stick to.

"That's true, but about women I'm serious."
"Funny, I'm not sure the women in your life have ever seen it that way."
"I'll let you have that one. I'm feeling pretty magnanimous this morning."
"Really?"
"Uh huh, really."
"OK, so what's your research?"
"The one. You know as in 'she's the one'. You've been down the road. I thought I'd start with you."
"Oh you mean Karen Young? The girl I filed under 'too stupid to realise was the perfect girl and have since lived to regret'. You mean that one?"
"That's exactly what I was saying to myself, you've been there and done the whole one thing."
"What brought this on, anyway?"
"Susan apparently there's some new research out. I should say in advance that I don't personally believe in the theory of the one."

Adam laughs at this, as well.

"It doesn't matter whether you believe or not. The theory of the one is like God. Believing or not believing doesn't change the fact that God is still out there, which is kind of like the one."

I sigh deeply. That makes absolutely no sense and I tell Adam this.

"That makes no sense."
"It makes perfect sense, which why the theory holds water. We're screwed, face it."
"Damn I hate all that screw-iness.
"Anyway got to go, I have lesser stuff to deal with -- namely work. You should try it."
"Hey!"

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 44

I feel like I've hit another marker of some sorts. I've suffered my first divorce and like all break-ups, it's kind of unpleasant.

OK, so strictly speaking, it's not my break-up or divorce, what with me not being not married, but it's my friend's divorce, and hey I feel like I'm part of the story (did someone say "me me me"?).

My friend Rob is getting divorced after 13 years, give or take. The wedding was a bit of a landmark in a number of ways. It was the first that I attended as a grown-up, it was the wedding of my oldest friend who I have known for a staggering 30 years, and it was the first wedding of any of my friends.

At the time, the wedding was something of a shocker. Not only had Rob been on my list of people who would never get married (since proved to be a useless bit of gossipy forecasting on my part, but hey you've gotta try), but here he was getting married at a youthful 24 when I hadn't even finished with education.

I was, at the time, just halfway through my journalism course at Cardiff and seemed to spend a lot of time going back and forth to Wales, which as a pastime is not something much I recommend.

I really want to give you a rose-tinted recollection of the Hertfordshire village wedding, but since I remember so little about it this is a little difficult.

I basically remember three things about the very sunny day and none of all these are at all significant.

We had pre-ceremony drinks in pub just down the road from the church in Stanstead Abbots and all the usual suspects were there, looking rather grand for the first time in hats and tails.

It was my first effort at doing anything officious at a wedding. That time restricted to usher duties before rapid promotions gave me two stints as best man.

The groom gave me some cufflinks as a present and about this I feel bad. They were really rather nice cufflinks and to honest I went on to lose one of them in a pretty shoddy fashion. I left it at some girl's house after some dubious carrying on after some awards ceremony. I still have the other one, but really not much good on its own.

The other thing I remember is getting a dressing down from the mother of one of the bridesmaids, who got it into her mind that I was somehow corrupting her daughter, who she reminded me was 17 and hadn't even decided which university to go to.

But really other than that, it was a charming affair held in a huge marquee, which went on late into the night.

This, of course, now all seems like rather a long time ago. They went on to have a child, now a seven-year-old, and eventually split up and finally divorce. The good news is that it's all amicable. Well, at least it was until the mother decided she wanted to take up a job offer in the States, cueing discussions about where their child was going to live.

Discussions is really a misnomer, because really it's a case of one side saying he should stay and the other that the kid should go, with little room for middle ground. As Rob puts it, he has ticked all the boxes.

"I got married, have had a child, split up, got divorce and met someone else. Now I have a possible custody battle."

I really don't have anything to match that and it all seems very far removed from that sunny day in the country.

As we sit and talk about this in another pub over beer and gastro food, we are getting all reminiscey about girls come and gone, shattered glass doors and stuck-in-tree stories. I can't help feeling bitter about getting stuck up the tree after Rob removed the makeshift ladder.

After a couple more drinks, I get somewhat emboldened and share my never get married theory and to be honest he takes it really rather well.

"That's quite funny, in retrospect it happened quite quickly. You have some catching up to do."
"Catching up is so not my strong point. It's all that running and panting. It's not good for you, I'm convinced about this."

It's at this point, I decided that I should to share the cufflinks story. I feel kind of bad about it. Not entirely sure why, I mean I've lost a lot of gifts over the years. As I tell him Rob asks me the question that I occasionally ask myself about various people.

"So what was her name?"
"You know, I have no idea, she was tall and really that's about as far as it goes. I've tried to remember a few times, but really all I can come up with was that she was the wrong girl and I'm not entirely sure how it happened."
"The wrong girl?"

I should explain. I had been sitting there at some awards bash and gone over with every intention of speaking to this girl and I did, but somehow I ended up embroiled with her friend and have never quite managed to piece together how this happened. I guess that's kind of telling, what with the whole failure to piece together going on. I just remember going home in the morning, one cufflink short, and thinking, that was odd.

"I feel like I should have gone back to the counter and asked for a refund."
"You know there's no counter, right?"
"I do, but there should be a counter, I could explain that I took the blue pill, but had really been shopping for the red pill instead."
"You won't get a refund."
"Yeah, I kind of figured it might be too late for that."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 43

My friend Marcus, he who lives on the side of a hill in Stallingwalling, calls me out of the blue right at a crucial moment and I have to ask if I can call him back a little later. He demands to know what I'm doing that is so important and, to be honest, I'm really I'm a little embarrassed to admit it publicly.

"Er... I'm right in the middle of something."
"In the middle of something? Are you eating? It's 10 o'clock?"
"No not eating, exactly."
"Exactly?"
"OK not eating at all, I'm..."
"Yes?"
"Well..."
"It's a little tricky."
"Tricky? Are you in the bathroom?"

In the bathroom? Is he insane? Maybe that's a Stallingwalling thing. Who takes the phone to the loo? Other than the people I see at work busy urinating away while blahing on their mobile phones while still firing on all cylinders, which is somehow faintly disgusting, but hey that's just me.

"Of course I'm not on the loo."
"So where are you?"
"Well, I'm just sitting on the couch?"
"You're watching TV aren't you? That's so lame."

Lame? OK, fair enough. It's true I was watching TV. How rude is that exactly? Blowing people off just to watch a show. Thing is I'm watching a programme that I have sadly become a little addicted to and really I wouldn't exactly go around telling everyone about it, but even the other day at an ad agency lunch we spent some time discussing the goings on in 'The OC'. There was much concern expressed for the future of Sandi and Kirsten's marriage.

I know, I'm very sad, but I'm upfront about this (that's a good thing right?). I have seen almost all of it -- what with Channel 4 running the show half a dozen times a week across E4 and E4+1, it's really hard to miss. Besides, in my defence (OK, I do somehow feel the need for defence) there is very little on that I bother to watch on a regular basis. Honest.

Let's see. 'Channel 4 News', bits of MTV2 and occasional slices of Channel 4's property programming strands: 'Grand Designs', 'Property Ladder' and 'Location Location Location' et al.

Besides, I'm expected to watch property programming and let's face it, really it's kind of educational. It offers us all the chance to laugh at occasional really stupid people and if you are inclined, as I seem to be, to shout at the TV screen something along the lines of "ARE YOU INSANE? WHY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD ARE YOU PUTTING A TOILET IN YOUR KITCHEN?"

I digress, the show in question is 'The OC' It's not just me, it seems that quite a few other people watch this show and as someone at Channel 4 said to me "Don't feel too sad, anyone who is anyone is watching the show".

"What are you watching?"
"'The OC'?"
"The O what? Is that a spin-off from ER?"
"Not quite, 'The OC', you must have heard of it? It's like the big thing in youth and, well, not so youthy TV?"
"Youth TV are you mad? I have two children who have systematically removed all connections to anything vaguely youth-related."

Oh that sounds bad, really I'm not liking the sound of that at all, I'm sure he means that in a good way.

"But in a good way, right?"
"Are you mad? Of course not in a good way. What's 'The OC' about anyway?"

This is a good question. As I think this over I start to hum the theme tune by LA rockers Phantom Planet ("We've been on the run, driving in the sun... California, here we come").

Well, you see there's this kid from the wrong side the tracks (known as Chino, kind of like a pair of trousers, but not) who is adopted by this Jewish lawyer and his Waspy wife who have a geeky comic book kid and he ends up dating his sort of adopted mother's illegitimate half sister having previously dated the right side of the tracks school social chair who ends up getting drunk, sleeps with the gardener and is currently rebelling by falling for another girl... Wait a second, when you actually start to explain it like that it sounds absurd. Do you think... no, that can't possibly be the case.

"Er... it's kind of about dating, the evils of screwy relationships and not dating. Really there is a lot of not dating."
"What else?"
"Well it has a slight obsession with 'Star Wars' metaphors and..."
"You know you're not quite selling it."

Then I get it -- one of the most enjoyable things about 'The OC', other than rebelling lesbians and do-goody liberal Jewish lawyers saving the world, is the music.

In one episode alone this season (not yet aired in the UK), it featured five songs from the new Beck album.

I did a quick count of the first two seasons and found I owned at least 30 of the songs featured. If you were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, it's the iPod 101 playlist you would be listening to.

The Killers, The Thrills, The Eels, Elliott Smith, Rilo Kiley, Pixies, Feeder, Kasabian, The Chemical Brothers, Bright Eyes, Beth Orton, Damien Rice, Ryan Adams and Belle & Sebastian to name... er... just 14.

The music is outstanding, the show's creators are PLUs who play all the music they like. It's like someone took the best tunes around and created a rolling music video, but with amusing dialogue and a sunny backdrop and Star Wars gags.

"So really you're saying it's like 'Beverly Hills, 90210', but with better music"
"Er, you know really it's more like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' but, you know, without the slayage or the vampires -- but still with the one liners and integral pop culture references and music."
"Buffy? You really do need to get out more and that's coming from someone who doesn't get out at all."

You know I'm sure he's right, but... did I mention it has Jim from 'Neighbours', who was for a brief '24' time Vice-President of the US, and he's evil and married to an equally evil gold digger?

OK, point taken, I'm going out.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 42

Who would have guessed men have a biological clock too? Not only that, but apparently people can hear them from miles around.

We're in a nice big North London pub near Muswell Hill and Adam is talking about his Secret New Girlfriend. It's been like almost three months and no one has met her -- hence the SNG tag.

Susan is being all Susan and pushy, demanding to know when we can meet her to check her out. She wants an introduction and she is asking why, as this is a Friday night, the SNG is not here in the pub with us enjoying all the gastroness.

"It's early days, that's all and I'm taking it slowly," Adam says.
"What are you talking about? Early days? It's three months, that's like a marriage. Early days is like two weeks."
"No, Gord that's only you in your speeded-up relationship world where you feel pretty good about it after a week, feel a little nervous after two and desperately try to dump them after three," Susan says like she's suddenly all knowing.

I shake my head. No way, that's not me, and I tell her this.

"No way, that's not me."

Everyone else looks at me and nods.

"Oh yes it is, that's exactly you," Bob says.

This is really quite something as Bob hardly says anything, he's more a nod-and-smoke-the-Marlboro-Lights guy. Every group should have one.

"No honestly, I don't get cold feet at least until week four. I always try to hold out to week six, that way I know I'm definitely not doing anything rash."

Everyone laughs at this. It's like I'm the funniest guy in the world suddenly.

"Hey, enough with the laughter already, we were talking about Adam's SNG."
"Like I said, I'm taking it slowly. I'm not in a rush."
"Ooohhh he thinks she might be the one," Rachel says.

Funny thing is that Adam doesn't deny this. He just shrugs his shoulders and takes a sip of his drink.

"Well, I wouldn't mind having kids one day and so I decided to take things slowly."
"Kids? This is new, you never mentioned this before," I say. "What? You're like secret father-in-waiting guy?"
"Oh, I could hear this biological clock ticking from here," Rachel says.

His biological clock, this is a revelation. Since when did men get one of those, I mean it's news to me.

"Hang on, you men have biological clocks too, are you sure?"
"Oh yes, of course they do. I hear them all the time."
"What? If you were a superhero your special power would be biological clock detection?" I ask unconvinced.
"Oh, but she would be very handy in a hospital," Susan says, "errr... or something."
"Yeah... or something," I say.

Rachel's comment is really rather funny because Rachel can't even hear her own biological clock ticking. She has told us all on numerous occasions that she does not want to have children. She actually insists this is the case.

We don't quite believe her, as she is hardly ever out of a relationship for more than five minutes. This is really the only reason she is out with us tonight, having only just dumped massage-oil, mini-break guy.

I'm wondering exactly how loud Adam's clock is ticking? I mean, is it like a gentle high, hat or more of a big bad bass drum kind of thing.

"So Rach, tell us exactly how loudly is Adam's biological clock ticking."
"It's like a boom boom. I'm thinking within the year."
"Within the year, oh come on, you're worse than my mother."

Adam laughs at this, but doesn't say anything, which is really just confirmation for the rest of us about exactly how active his clock is. Picking up on this Rachel wastes no time in driving home how spot on her analysis appears to be.

"See, told you, listen to that silence, that tells you everything that you need to know."
"Wow the power of the SNG," I say.

Susan seems slightly distressed by all this SNG talk and comes over all wanty and needy.

"Oh why haven't I got a Secret New Boyfriend? I think I should have one, it's not fair."
"But Suze I thought you did have one, I thought I heard that you made a special little Rabbit purchase."

Everyone howls at this, apart from Susan that is, who is totally mortified that Rachel has blown the secret about the latest purchase.

"Don't worry Suze, one day you'll be able to date a real boy."

Later, we are sitting back at my house drinking a little bit more wine when I started to wonder about the biological clock thing again. I mean, seriously, it's something that I've never thought about before. So I ask Rachel if she can hear anything.

"Well you'll have to turn the TV down a bit."

So I reach for the volume and turn it down a little.

"You might have to turn off the PlayStation as well. I think it might be interfering with the vibe."
"Are you sure? I'm having a bit of a good game here."
"Gord, you have been doing the same thing for 20 minutes while we talk. You are flying around blowing things up."
"I know, but I'm honing my X-Wing piloting skills. It's more difficult to master than you imagine. You see the thing is it has a really wide turning circle, which can expose you to Imperial fire and..."
"Gordon, really you should stop," Rachel says.
"And the fact that you actually have X-Wing piloting skills of any description at your age is really so worrying that it's hard to put into words," Susan says.

"OK, OK, already," I say and I turn the thing off and put on a little Conor Oberst on the stereo and I turn back to Rachel.

"So Rach what can you hear? Anything? Bit of a drum roll? What?"
"Actually," she says, "you sound exactly like me. I can't hear a thing."