Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 18

I wasn't going to write about weddings for oh so many reasons, but then a number of things happened that were all wedding related - in part one of 'When Weddings Go Shock!'.

Not least among the things that have happened is news of a new book that suggests that British women are more desperate to find a husband before they are 35 than their American sisters.

More of that later. First, a wedding... which is, of course, very closely related to the area of finding a husband. What I found out this week was that you can throw weddings together literally at a moment's notice. I'm sure instant matrimony has been with us for a long time, I've just never noticed before as this was the first surprise wedding I've been to.

I'd been thinking about this friend, when out of the blue she called me. After we had both trotted through work-related updates this terrible silence -- a thunderous, punctuated, pregnant pause -- took hold of the line, which within a couple of clicks told me that news of an OMG ominous nature was most certainly coming my way. And it was.

Said friend Haley, it turns out, was throwing a surprise wedding and not just any old wedding, but her own. I say surprise wedding because pretty much everyone present looked pretty surprised. I think I was near the end of the list of people to find out about the speedy (I mean happy) occasion. When I asked a friend (the bride's best friend) when she found out, after stammering somewhat she said she heard about it last week.

"It might have been 10 days ago though. I mean, now I think about it."

"But still," I said.

"Mmmm, but still. But really, come on," she said jauntily, "I told her ages ago, absolutely ages ago, that she should have married him, I mean they like each other."

Me, I like pizza, but have decided to take this no further. So as far as I was concerned, this was about the stupidest piece of advice I've heard in a long time and really goes to show that, when it comes to marriage, people should not give advice. I obviously didn't say this, because I've got myself in trouble at weddings in the past and have decided that keeping my mouth firmly shut is really the best possible strategy. What can I say, I like to say impolitic things at inopportune moments. I'll grow up now.

Besides as Susan said, having taken a long hard look at the couple, and tilting her head and resting her hand on her chin as did, "You know, I think that they might actually be in love", and I guess you can't really beat that, advice or no advice. Marriage though...I'll stop.

Still the good news was, despite the surprise, shock and sprint to the altar, Haley at 34 made it under the all-important wire, which is what we're really concerned with in this column. It seems unfair to mention this somehow, and I wouldn't have done (hey, I thought she was younger) but Susan, being a keen observer of all wedding-related news, pointed it out to me when she called me with her own surprise (depressing) wedding-related news. Susan's a keen observer of all this kind of stuff.

"Another couple of months and she would have sailed passed the 35 mark. I think she would have had a different perspective then."

"That's my thesis," I told her, "but how do you mean perspective?"

"Well, things start to seem a little hurried, don't they? Clocks are ticking and everyone is rather aware that they really should get moving."

I can't argue with Susan I think she's spot on. I know all of this, but what I didn't know was that British women are apparently more desperate than their American cousins.

The proof comes with the forthcoming publication of a new book in the States, 'How to Find a Husband When You're Over 35'. It's coming out in the UK as well, but for some reason Time Warner UK is planning to reduce the age to 30.

Market research apparently seems to suggest that the cut-off for British women is much lower than American women who, having mastered the art of dating, are willing to wait a bit longer.

I'd guess they'd have to, with such priceless advice as "Date a man twice a week for two months before having sex". No last-minute surprise weddings on the other side of the Atlantic, then.

Susan's shock wedding next time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 22

One of the problems of the demographic shift, as I've already written, is dating. Weird things start to happen to you when at some point you run out of people to date and decide that sleeping with your friends really isn't that bad an idea in part one of 'Dating Frenzy'.

It's completely true and I think it has happened to all of us. You get to a point and you start to think "well really, you know X (who has been your good platonic friend for years) is really rather attractive". Usually you have got to this point because you have just run out of people to date.

You have dated all of your friends' friends and there is just no one left to hand. That's how it starts. Where it goes from there is one night you get kind of drunk and, before you know it, you have totally screwed up a friendship. OK, there are those in the odd case who claim this was the road they took to find true love, but who believes that crock? For most, it means never (ever) talking again. The embarrassment/guilt/weird feeling of choice is just too much.

I have to tell you at the outset that I'm far too bright to have engaged in this activity (OK, that's a total lie, but hey), but anyway this incident isn't all about me.

It started a little while ago when Adam rang me up and said he'd had reached an important decision. I asked him if it was about his job, his future, or something terribly important like that, but no it was much worse than that. It was about Susan.

That's right, Susan. I was immediately anxious, with good reason, because being particularly smart and attuned in these matters I knew it meant…

"You know, I really quite fancy Susan."

I pretended that I hadn't quite heard him and he repeated it slightly louder.

"No you can't. That's not allowed."

"What do you mean not allowed?"

"Well, Susan is my best female friend and so... I mean no."

"But she's single and I wouldn't mind going out with her."

"I know all of that, but you can't. I mean, not under any circumstance."

"Hang on what are you saying exactly?"

"I'm not saying anything."

"But I can't go out with Susan."

"Yeah, except that."

There was a long telephonic pause, but not a quiet pause as Adam was shuffling and huffing on the other end of the line.

"It's not just you, none of us can go out with Susan."

"None of us?"

"Absolutely, I mean think about it? We've all done it in the past. Slept with friends, it's never ended well. It was kind of OK then when the field was not so thin, but it's different now. More serious, so there is no way you can go out with Susan. Besides, you've got form in this area. It's like willingly getting on the road to disaster."

"The road to disaster, oh come on?"

"Seriously, it's like the dating equivalent of people in horror flicks saying 'let's split up'."

"I know what this is about. You fancy Susan and you're worried that if I went out with her and it went well we could end up together. You're just hedging your bets."

"I am not hedging my bets. I've told you loads of times before I don't want to go out with her and I'm pretty sure she doesn't want to go out with me. Believe me, I would have done something about it by now. Besides, if it was the case I would get jealous every time she dated someone -- and I don't. Instead, I just think 'Suze, you really can do better than this', which is clearly quite different."

"So why can't I go out with her then?"

There are so many reasons why Adam can't go out with Susan that there are simply too many to list, but really I think it would be just too icky for words. Imagine if they did go out, it would be like your (my) parents... there would be sex and everything (let's not examine that too closely). Adam, however, refused to budge.

"I'm going to ask her out."

"Adam, don't do it."

"Why? Do you know something that I don't?"

I thought about this. I thought really hard about it, but (overriding my natural predilection for flippancy) I realised that in relation to Adam and Susan I didn't know anything that he didn't.

"Sadly, not."

"So, you have no idea what she would say if I ask her?"

"None, but I can tell that you would be Mr Rebound. Susan has just been dumped after an 18-month relationship. So that's all you'll be -- Mr Rebound."

Adam laughs at this. Actually, Adam laughs loudly at this.

"Mr Rebound, that's weak."

"Hey, I don't believe any of that crap, I'm only telling you because Susan does. They all do. Surely you've worked that out by now?"

"What? You're telling me that women seriously buy into the Mr Rebound theory?"

"Of course they do. I thought it was bull until I was sitting there one day and I heard Susan and my sister Laura talking about Mr Rebound."

It's completely true, I swear. It was a couple of years ago before my sister met her perfect boyfriend and she was just about to dump some guy. It was so clinical, so matter of fact, that I could not believe they were discussing it in front of me. My sister said that she planned to dump this guy right before New Year after three or four months.

And Susan tells her that he was only Mr Rebound anyway. "Absolutely," my sister goes, "no big deal." Like Mr Rebound had absolutely no feelings at all. I think about Mr Rebound sometimes and I wonder how things worked out for him.

It was like Mr Rebound was just collateral damage, a leftover piece of carnage from the break-up of her last major serious relationship, and the two of them discussed it quite casually but made clear that this was perfectly normal female behaviour. I told Adam all of this. I told him about Mr Rebound and I told him that this is the fate that awaited him.

"Adam, Susan -- as nice is she is -- will throw you out with the trash."

"Come on, Mr Rebound has to work out sometime. I mean all Mr Rebound relationships can't be doomed to failure?"

"I'm sure there is some research on this. If not, I'm going to suggest someone do some. I think this is really important. I think it would be valuable."

"I don't care about Mr Rebound, I'm going to do it anyway."

"Adam, I really wish you wouldn't."

"Look, if she says no she says no, but if she says yes then that is what she says. And if she does you'll have to deal with it."

Next week: what Susan says and what it all leads to. Just a hint: none of it's good and it all ends in the Evening Standard.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 17

There's big news. Alison is pregnant and it has had a rather strange effect on me as I'm deeply jealous.

OK, so that was a misleading way to start. I'm jealous in part and am not (in any way, shape or form) jealous of the morning sickness, the holier-than-thou total abstinence from alcohol ("I hope you're enjoying that wine. I can't drink for a year"), the alarming rate of growth nor the weird culinary developments.

No, I'm not jealous of any of that (that would just be plain weird), but I am jealous of the fact that Paul and Alison have already decided that it is he who is going to take a long "career break". Paul is going to be a househusband, a verifiable stay-at-home dad.

They haven't set a time limit, but have decided in typical forthright Alison style ("it's based on pure economics, Gordon") that because Alison is best -- best job, best looking, best house -- and, most importantly, has high-paying corporate lawyer job, Paul will stay at home.

Paul is over the moon. He knows it will be hard work, but he's looking forward to the challenge.

"You mean the crying?"

"Not particularly that as such."

"You mean the dirty nappies?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Oh I get it. You're looking forward to those happy clappy baby groups you will have to attend. I hear you have to sing time and shout baby names like Adam on 'Cold Feet'? Did you see that?"

"I did, it was alarming, but you know it might be fun and I always wanted to broaden my social circle."

Paul was joking. Paul would be exactly like Adam in 'Cold Feet' and would be scathing of the certain kind of touchy-feely new-age father types, as I think we all should.

"So what is it then?"

"You know what I think it is? The general randomness, the late nights and early mornings and the fact that they keep you guessing. That and the idea of just ambling about with a pram."

Paul is not alone in this, according to a new survey done by baby painkiller brand Calpol, which says that almost 50% of modern fathers would be prepared to stay at home and change nappies than head out to work.

I have to admit that even thinking this feels vaguely misogynistic in the "oh, it looks much easier and less stressful than real 'real work'". And, of course, I know that this is, in fact, no way true and that many of these modern fathers are in for a shock, including Paul who I think is under the impression that he will get to watch lots of daytime TV, cook and shop a lot. Who knows, maybe he will as these are three activities that he enjoys immensely.

Me, I'm totally sold on the idea -- children aside. A friend who lives nearby, Polly, has taken to it incredibly enthusiastically that she can now not imagine wanting to go back to work.

"You know I'm thinking of having another one and then maybe just freelancing pretty much forever."

She has discovered all kinds of things since becoming a mother, including the secret life of baby groups and the fact that the Greek bakery does fabulous carrot cake (which she ate a lot of).

I continue to digress. The fact that Alison is pregnant is, in fact, a huge surprise. Because for ages, she had been saying she was going to wait until she was some unseemly age (for giving birth that is) of 38. Frankly, this seemed a little old, but she seemed set. Then bam, or maybe wham bam is more (coarsely) precise.

Susan was as surprised about the development as I was, but apparently, despite her outward bravado, Susan said that secretly Alison had decided she'd reached her cut-off point.

"Her what?" I asked.

"Oh you must have heard of the cut-off point?"

"Err no."

"Well the cut-off point is something of an issue. It's basically the point when you can't wait any longer to... well you know."

"No. I don't, can't wait any longer for what?"

"To get pregnant, you moron. God, you really are living up to your name, aren't you?"

"Hey, that was a bit uncalled for."

"Sorry, but you were being dense."

Apparently, it's everywhere (the cut-off point that is). It started, Susan says, with one of her friends, Elspeth, who called her at work with her own ("shocking") news a few months back. It was shocking chiefly because, the last I'd heard, Elspeth didn't have a boyfriend.

"But didn't she dump Tom months ago?"

"She did, but they got back together a couple of months ago."

"You've been holding out on me."

"I didn't think it would last. So technically I was just delaying. I thought they were sure to break up."

The last I'd heard Elspeth had dumped Tom (her musician boyfriend) and thrown him out because he was generally lousy and inattentive (forgot birthdays) and no good (he cheated) not to mention the fact that he owed her thousands of pounds, almost entirely as the result of a Class A drug problem (also known as cocaine).

"This is the same guy that, when she threw him out, she went to the trouble of changing the locks on her house?"

"Same guy."

"And now she's pregnant?"

"And now she's pregnant."

"That's odd. He didn't really strike me as father material. I had this idea that fathers would generally teach their kids to play cricket and football and build model WWII fighter planes from plastic Airfix kits?"

"Did your dad do that with you?"

"Now that you mention it... but I'm serious, that's my game plan."

"That's sweet."

"But isn't Tom's major talent cutting and slicing white lines?"

"Elspeth used to say that he could play the piano rather beautifully. He used to play to her when they first went out. Later he would cut lines of cocaine on top. She used to think that was sexy."

"I can see that."

"He hocked it, of course. He hocked everything."

"Lucky kid. So, why so rash on Elspeth's part? She always struck me as a rather sensible girl."

"She'll be thrilled to hear you say that," Susan said laughing.

"Well, I'm going to reappraise her. She might lose her sensible girl rating. I might have to downgrade her to really rather rash girl. So what happened?"

"Elspeth reached her cut-off point, that's what happened."

So with both Elspeth and Alison and more bound to follow, the cut-off point is appearing to be something of a trend. Trend is the wrong word. What it is, I think, is more of a generational and demographic consequence. It is something else that seems to coincide with exiting the advertisers key 18- to 34-year-old group. In Alison's case, she's almost I know 35, which seems, for a lot of women, to be their 'cut off point'.

"Elspeth decided ages ago that her cut off point was 35. She said she didn't care if she had found the right man. She always said she wanted to be pregnant by then."

"So, Tom gets a call-back because Elspeth is running out of time?"

"Basically."

"So much for true romance."

"Gord, think true biology."

"I'm not sure if that's going to catch on."

Saturday, March 06, 2004

The Demographic Shift – 16

I'm starting a new club. I've been thinking about it for a long while and now seems like the time to go ahead. You've guessed it, the new club is, of course, going to be a... property club, which it seems has becomes Generation's X overriding interest in life.

Yes, I did think of starting a book group. I'm a big fan of the TV show on Channel 4 of the same name. Wacky wheelchair-bound writers? Angst-ridden Americans? Statuesque Danish blondes? Fantastic, absolutely love it. My only problem with a book club is, well, the books. People will earnestly suggest we read such middlebrow as 'Captain Correlli's Mandolin' or 'A Year in Provence' and then proceed to discuss it with straight faces. It can't possibly be worth the pain, besides I'm firmly convinced that, like the show itself, it's probably only possible to belong to a book club in an ironic and possibly even fictional sense.

I digress. Back to property. The thing about property is everyone thinks they have nothing to say about it, but someone only has to mention the word flat or house and before you know it entire evenings have swiftly passed.

I got the idea for the Property Club from Susan. Susan's full of top ideas. She called me the other week with what she claimed was urgent news. Suze is full of urgent news.

"I have urgent news?"

"Really on a Wednesday?"

"What are you watching?"

I was actually watching something really bad on Sky One. What can I say? Sue me.

"Oh, something on the History Channel, you know another documentary on WWII bombers. German cities look so much better flat."

"Turn to Channel 4 right now, you'll never guess who's on it?"

So taking Susan's advice I flicked over to Channel 4 and a programme called 'Grand Designs'. It's the show with interior designer Kevin McCloud, who is a sort of bald version of the much-loved Sarah Beeny. He says things like "the key to a successful build is..." a lot. It usually follows the story of an intrepid youngish couple who have the desire to live in a really big space in the middle of nowhere.

Susan's call was about such a youngish couple, one of whom we had gone to university with.

"OMG," I said.

"That's right, he has a lot less hair."

Susan was right. The chap in question (let's call him John, it's his name after all) did indeed have a lot less hair. He also had a small child, who without any kind of apology, he and his partner had named Bart. That's right... Bart, your dad had a sense of humour (a big one). That's the trouble with TV, it gives people ideas (and not necessarily good ones).

John and his missus were building their place from scratch. I can't remember where exactly because, after Susan had hung up, I promptly switched back to the crap I'd been watching after it became clear that there was no disaster in the offing. Let's be honest, the only reason anyone watches these programmes is in the hope of a little property-style schadenfreude.

From the post-match report that Susan gave me later everything went swimmingly for John, leaving him with a quite large space in the middle of some forever-Bronte swirling piece of English countryside. No walls fell down, they didn't run out of money or massively overspend. It was executed, it seemed, exactly to plan. People are disappointing on so many levels.

I can't help thinking that, now finished, John will sit around in his big house in the middle of nowhere and look around and then turning towards his partner remark on a regular basis: "It's big, isn't it?". John is just like those peculiar friends of mine who live in the middle of nowhere. While John is no friend of mine, I imagine that he is someone else's peculiar friend who lives in the middle of nowhere. It's nice to know that I'm not alone on this matter.

All was not lost though as it gave me the great idea for The Property Club bringing people together on a regular basis to wax lyrical about walls, roofs and gardens.

I am, I'm afraid, going to lump DIY in with property because the two are just so closely related. Just ask Sarah Beeny or her fellow Channel 4 presenter Kirstie Allsop over on 'Location Location Location' and latterly 'Relocation Reclocation' (not sure why you only get two relocations). Obviously, as I've previously admitted, I know nothing about DIY, but am eager (not very) to learn something. In particular, I'd like to know why those wooden panels that I put up in the hallway fell down twice? There must be some Montgomery Scott-like ("I can't change the laws of physics") explanation.

I'm not completely fixed on what the weekly categories might be. I think it is something that will evolve organically. I'm sure, however, that, whole weeks will be devoted to such alcohol-friendly subjects as remortgaging, which is currently all the rage. The things I know about remortgaging... OK, I won't bore you here with those stories, they're better in the pub anyway.

Property development is bound to be another favourite. Adam has already expressed an interest in this area ("We should find a project", "Are you insane?"). He has a copy of Sarah Beeny's book 'Property Ladder: How to Make £££s Out of Property'. I have no idea why he keeps trying to persuade me this is a good idea. I'm much more useful on the theoretical side of things. He doesn't seem to understand that if you do one of these "projects" you end up getting really stressed out. Which is what I go to work for.

Other subjects I'm considering are property envy. This is, I think, a major one and was really at the root of Susan's call alerting me to John, Bart & Co and their (big) dream house.

"God, I wish I had a house."

"But you have a very nice flat."

"I know, but I think I've reached that stage when a house is really what I should be living in rather than a flat."

"I'm sure you could buy one you'd just need to move to Hertfordshire or some other commuter hell."

"That's a bit radical. Maybe I'll just marry the next guy I meet. He's bound to have a flat. We can property combine."

"That's a term?"

"Gord, property combining is all the rage. It's what happens when people get married in their late 20s/30s. They both have lots of baggage, which includes multiple pieces of property."

"Well good luck with that. What brought this on?"

"I've started to obsess about stairs of late. I miss having stairs. You don't notice these things if you don't live in a flat. Alison has great stairs."

It's true, Alison does have great stairs, but she has four storeys and so a need for all those stairs.

"Susan, you know I worry about you, why are you obsessing about stairs?"

"Well, I just don't think people were designed to live on one level. I really can't explain it, I'd just like some that's all. Oh, and the house to go with them."