Saturday, May 22, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 21

I should have written about this before. It's such an obvious one and maybe more than anything else, it's about the different stages that people go through when growing up, including this shifting one, so it's time to talk about the truth about cars.

I should come clean straight away and say that I don't actually have one. For a long time, this was something of a badge of honour for many reasons. Cars were a pain in the arse, they were gas-guzzling pollution monsters that clogged up the place and, of course, they were terribly expensive.

I think these are all kind of standard opinions to have for your twenty-nothing. It wasn't, of course, always the case. As a once typical British teenager, I could not wait to get behind the wheel of a car. Pestering parents for extra driving lessons until I hit that magical sixth-form age of 17 when I could take my test.

Admittedly my road was a slightly bumpy one (I passed on my fourth attempt -- which means I was a really, really, really good driver, honest), but before long I was tearing about the Hertfordshire countryside with my friends in our parentmobiles.

Bad cornering, dangerous overtaking, driving around roundabouts the wrong way (just once, mind you, and it was Scott and not me), too many passengers and a gentle parental reminder not to speed every time a car was borrowed were all par for the course.

There were the odd disasters, but oddly despite the boy racers in us all (girls included) not too terribly gory for print. My list of hits was small: one lamp post (scratched wheel hub); one Mercedes Benz (dented bumper); one wall (broken headlight).

I digress. That is all in the past and, more recently, I am finding my lack of car'age increasingly disturbing.

Not in a bad way, just in that way that when you take a look around you and you decided that something is missing and (being a guy) you decide that's a very expensive stereo/television/computer/car. Car has become the latest slash. It's weird because at first I couldn't quite work out what all this disturbing desire for wheels was.

Maybe what's really weird is that I am not particularly desperate to drive anywhere. It's not like I've got my application (and cardigan) for the Touring Club of Great Britain ready and I have no plans to go motoring in Europe (I hear they have some fine autobahns though, if anyone else is tempted).

More weirdly, I think Adam managed to put his finger on just what the problem was, which is strange in itself.

"You're just going to tell me that the whole thing about cars is a sign of masculinity or something, aren't you?"

Adam shakes his head casually as if this was the last thing on his mind.

"No, not at all, I have a much better theory."

"A better theory?"

"Much. Cars are the ultimate sign of growing up. I was just going to say that you're feeling this thing about cars now because as you exit the 18- to 34-year-old demographic you realise, probably correctly, that you need to make some statement -- just like when you were 17. Besides, cars are all about statements, one kind or another."

Adam's a genius, what can I say. Adam is usually good for advice on terrible relationships, Eastern religions and psycho-analytical trends, but not usually useful basic life advice.

"I'm impressed, seriously."

"That's a first."

"I know, it's confusing for me also. You're right. I need to make some kind of statement."

Statements, like advice, are tricky things. We all know this. For instance wearing the colour yellow or voting for the BNP are really not terribly pleasant statements. They should be generally discouraged, if not stamped out.

After a little thought, I found that the statement I wanted to make was also very reflective of all the ways that I'd changed and possibly a little worrying, because I realised what I really want is a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

"Adam, what kind of statement do you think a Jeep Grand Cherokee makes?"

"What you mean those petrol-drinking tanks so beloved by Americans and hated by much of the population to the point that liberals and greens have a campaign running to stop people buying SUVs because they are killing the planet?"

"Uh huh, what kind of statement do you think it makes?"

"Well, I think it's exactly the kind of motoring statement that the friends of the formerly most left-wing person people knew would be expected to make. You're just making a warmongering, pro-American, unPC point, riding roughshod all over it and not to mention you're taking up a lot of the road. Not forgetting those things are just road-kill hunters -- they're just looking for a target to take down."

See, I told you it was disturbing. He's completely right. I don't think I could buy a more unPC automobile unless I could get hold of a Humvee -- I can't help thinking those are so cool. Apparently orders for Humvee's went ballistic (pun coming) after the war in Iraq. Americans were so impressed by all the rolling news coverage of US troops tearing around the desert in those big bouncy armoured Humvee's that the sales of the civilian model exploded (I think that's probably too many puns).

I must say that my affection for the Humvee pre-dates the war in Iraq and goes back to that magical time of late 2001 when I got my copy of 'Grand Theft Auto III'. In a game that encouraged you to steal cars, the Humvee was fantastic to bump down those hills of San Francisco-type streets.

There is all of that, but there is something holding me back and that is also part of the statement and the demographic shift. Making a statement is all well and good, but then there's the other stuff too.

Many of my friends now have cars. They didn't all use to, but they do now. And now when they talk about them, it is not the speeding or the stereo that occupies their thoughts, but more the four doors and the baby seat.

Most recently, this conversation has been going on right here in the Brand Republic office, where there is much talk of four-door-ness (I don't have a problem with four doors, it's just what you use them for) and space for little people. I'm also worried that I'll talk about traffic a lot. And I know it won't stop there. There is the whole life of cars to get wrapped up in, which I know involves lots of MOTs and automobile clubs. There's more I'm sure and it's all more baggage.

I think I might have to put off my purchase. You see? I'm totally torn. So I do what I always do when I hit this stage of affairs. I call Susan. Susan, after all, has a car. It's sporty and French and has only two doors. It's not as cool as Alison and Paul's red Mini Cooper, but then Alison is best looking, best job, best house and best car.

"You want a Jeep Grand Cherokee?"

"I'm convinced it's the vehicle for me."

"But they're like tanks, they're giant."

"I know I think that's part of the attraction."

"Gord, are you really quite sure?"

"Well, now you mention it. I have been having second thoughts. I'm worried about the four-door situation. I'm not sure that I'm ready for four doors in my life. You only have two, so you can't be ready either. So although I'm deeply attracted to the idea of owning a Jeep Grand Cherokee, I'm concerned that I may not be ready for it. What do you think?"

There's a pause. I sense big thoughts down the other end of the line.

"You really want to know what I think?"

"Of course."

"Oh grow up."

Susan is so harsh sometimes.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 20

Dating is a very funny business. I mean, seriously, this is the only way that I can explain a recent outing (excuse the pun) with a straight lesbian. I thought she was a one-off, but this oxymoron, it turns out, is part of a burgeoning demographic group.

Straight lesbians are a whole new demographic group of essentially straight single women who, having reached a certain age -- on the edge of demographic wasteland -- and given up on the world of men, are either permanently or temporarily dabbling elsewhere. Maybe that's not such a good phrase (oh well).

It's like they are wearing a sign that says "boy, do men suck". Except that the sign is not all that visible because I certainly didn't spot it. Maybe that's the point.

The girl in question, let's call her Laura (it's her name after all), seemed perfect on paper. I added it all up: she was attractive, lived in North London, was a fashionable media type and, importantly, seemed to want to go out with me. Like I said, perfect on paper.

I'll be honest, I think the positive paper assessment might have led to an uncharacteristic amount of excessive optimism on my part, which led me to forget top dating adviser Sun Zu's number one piece of advice about no plan surviving contact with the enemy, which loosely translates as "first dates can be very tricky".

Truthfully though, the evening wasn't so much tricky as rather gobsmacking and we foundered like some Victorian tall ship on the (vodka) rocks.

I don't know, maybe it's me. I mean, it could be because when I told a few people about the evening later their reaction was almost universally the same as Adam's.

"You went on a date with a lesbian? That's fantastic."

"Well, it think it's fair to say that she was a straight lesbian rather an 'actual' lesbian."

"But still, I'm so jealous. I'd love to date a lesbian, even one who has a tendency to being straight. It's the perfect combination."

"I'm not quite sure how you get to that conclusion."

"Dude, they're only interested in one thing."

"You know, I didn't get that impression."

"It's completely true. They are only interested in commitment-free sex."

"Yeah, Adam, but only with other women."

I digress. At the early stage, things over vodka's things were going extremely well. She'd actually bothered to read Donna Tartt's second novel rather than just buy it, as I had done. Somehow that seemed a good sign. Then, as you do, we were started talking about some of the less-than-suitable people we'd previously been out with, which is where things got a little weird as it turns out (on paper at least) they could have been some of the same people. Laura hadn't dated a guy in years.

"You mean all of your most recent relationships have been with women?"

"Yeah, you can close your mouth now, it's not exactly a fetching look."

"So, it's been a while?"

She nodded: "I just couldn't seem to meet the right man."

What a great line. I mean totally outstanding. I just wish she hadn't said it to me as I have the biggest mouth in the world and can never resist an opportunity, no matter how inappropriate, to respond to such great lines. It's been (in part at least) my downfall.

"Well, you haven't exactly been sitting around on your hands waiting around to meet Mr Right, have you?"

Did I mention that somewhere along the line I completely failed to grasp the concept of tact? It was completely true, but it went down like a mad mullah in a synagogue.

Maybe it would have been OK if I had left it there (who am I kidding?), but I'm completely hung up with numbers, not just 18-34 but page impressions and word counts, and so I couldn't really help myself pushing a little to find out exactly how long it had been since she last dated someone of the opposite sex. What can I say, it seemed important, as things do after a vodka or two.

"So how long has it been?"

"Let's just say a while."

"What's a while though?"

She was eyeing sharply by this stage. "A WHILE."

I nodded. "So why now?"

"Why not?"

"No, seriously."

"You really want to know?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

"Because you asked. You're shocked, aren't you? I mean, generally."

I was shaking my head, but I think I might have said yes. I'm such a fool when it comes to dating lesbians. I should have been thinking about commitment-free sex, but you know what it's like. It's really hard to focus on what's important sometimes.

We did sort of limp on for a little longer, but not much. Susan, I knew, would absolutely love this and would no doubt take it as a sign that my love life had plumbed new depths.

"Your love life has plumbed new depths," was about the first thing Susan said when I told her.

"Gee thanks, now remind me why I tell you anything?"

"Gord don't worry about it. Vaginatarians, lesbitarians or just think about all those Celesbians."


"Think of Liz Hurley, Geri Halliwell, Drew Barrymore & Co publicity cooing about the other women they would shag if they were gay, just as they stress that they're not. Although no one's sure about Geri. It's all part of the same thing. Women in their early 30s, having given up waiting for Mr Right, are turning to each other. It's a fad though... they're really just straight girls playing at being lesbians."

"How do you work that out? You're not about to confess anything are you?"

"Dream on."

"If you insist."

"No, it's a fad because when it comes down to it, your straight lipstick lesbians would run a mile if they met a real one."

"Oh that's... so reassuring."