Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 37

Things have moved much faster than I thought possible. I'm going to have to put my mother in a home. She's doing crazy stuff and apparently is still compos mentis.

It's one of those growing-up things that you tick off as you go: graduate, get job, travel world, buy flat, get married, have 2.4 cash-draining barbarians and consign parents to dodgy private care home and remember to drag said barbarians to visit them on public holidays. Job done -- start cycle over.

To be honest, I thought the last one would be absolutely years away, but a recent family dinner has convinced me that we have arrived at this point years ahead of my back-of-cigarette-pack roadmap for life.

It was my mother's other half's birthday last month and the occasion of a family dinner. Attendance was a three-line whip and the fact that I spent a whole three days at home over Christmas does not count as a get-out clause. I swear, three days used to get you a lot more.

I hate going to these things when single so I always try to drag someone along -- it seems only fair to share such good fortune around. Alison used to be ideal for this, in that my mother liked her, but she seems to think that being married is like some kind of get-out clause so I call Susan.

"Suze, you have to come, you know what these things are like, my life will be put in the spotlight and I hate glary lights."
"No, there is no way I'm coming with you, besides the spotlight will be good for you, it will help you answer questions about your own life."
"Are you making this stuff up? Did you attend glary spotlight 101? The spotlight isn't good for anyone. Besides, you know I don't react well under such glary conditions. I come out in hives... er and make rash promises."
"You don't come out in hives and you never actually deliver on your rash promises. And I quote: 'I'll help you paint your flat'."
"Hey, I came around afterwards with wine, which is a much better deal, come on!"
"No. Your mother always gives me a funny look."
"I know, I get that too, and I have no idea what it means."
"Funny, I mean it's like she's saying 'oh look Susan's here, again'."
"I swear that's exactly what I get, I think she's trying to tell me something."

Things were going just fine until we hit dessert and they suddenly got out of hand until my mother dropped her... er, motherlode, so to speak. She said she had been taking new advice.

I thought she was going to say that she had been seeing a financial consultant about how to dodge tax and leave more cash to her children, or had read some more thrilling features in the Daily Mail, which to be honest is where she gets most of her top tips.

It's hard to be believe, but it was oh so much worse than the Daily Mail. I know that sounds really really hard to believe, but it's true, I swear. My mother has been to see a spiritualist. Not just a spiritualist, but one about me. You know, like a dating spiritualist.

"Yes, I thought the time had finally come," she told everyone, and I mean everyone, all 14 or so assembled people, which is the usual family style to reveal discreet family information.

And it wasn't just that she told everyone, it was that she made it sound the most natural thing in the world. You know, like she were ticking her off her own boxes on her life road map... radically redecorate home, holiday extensively, see spiritualist about errant offspring. Tick.

"Are you serious?"
"Oh yes, she told me to bring half a dozen items that identified you."
"Half a dozen? Are you kidding?"

No she wasn't. My mother took a number of photographs, both recent and not so recent.

"I too the graduation photo, she liked that."
"Are you kidding? No one likes that."

Don't ask, I have no idea where all the stupid questions were coming from. My graduation photo is literally the worst ever. Like officially.

"Oh she liked that one, she said more boys should have long hair."
"Really, she sounds like a very strange woman. Don't hold the table in suspense, what did she tell you."

This brought a huge satisfied grin to my mother's face, finally she could unburden herself with all the details picked up from the spiritualist.

"She told me the most important thing, the thing that all mothers want to hear."

I thought about this really hard for like two seconds, what did all mothers want to hear? Surely it had something to with weddings, grandchildren and the election of Tory governments.

"She told you when Sarah is getting married?"
"No, she said that you would be settled with 18 months. She said she was positive. All the signs were there."
"The signs? No one said there would be signs. What's that like a convergence in the force?"
"She said your life was coming to a head."
"A head? Are you sure? I don't particularly like the sound of that. Didn't she give you any details, like a telephone number? A vague description would be handy, you know like brunette/blonde? I hope it's not a blonde, I'd be kind of disappointed."

Susan sighed really loudly at this. I'm not sure why -- it's not like her hair could be any darker.

"Oh Mrs Mac, I don't suppose she gave you any clues as to what she looked like, he's so picky..." Susan started before my sister stepped in -- and by that I mean leapt.
"For someone who really has no right," she opined.

She leaned her head on her too good looking boyfriend when she did that, you know, in case I missed her point.

"Oh, you're sweet. I know you two get on like a house on fire and really, to be honest, I hope it burns down."

My mother was looking very pleased, but to be honest I was disappointed on the lack of details.

"No more details, but it will definitely happen."
"Oh that's such a shame, Gord, you will just have to date people for more than one date."
"Oh that sounds tough, I'm not even sure that's possible. I thought the whole basis for modern dating morals was 'date and dump'."
"No, Gord, that's a modern dating moral vacuum."
"Are you sure? That means my whole approach is flawed."
"Gord, you never said you had an approach," Susan says.
"I must say results would seem to bare that out," my mother says all deadpan, which makes everyone laugh.

I tell you, my mother and Susan can be so harsh at times.

The Demographic Shift is a regular column on Brand Republic

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Demographic Shift – 36

I'm kind of reeling to be honest. Have just been to see my GP and was on the receiving end of very bad news. I'm not sure it gets much worse.

I swear that I virtually never used to go to see my doctor. I'm almost never ill as such, but over the last two years I've had to make a string of visits, culminating in this recent one where my GP delivered his knockout blow.

Isn't there supposed to be a course these guys go on? You know the one where you learn how to deliver v. bad news in a gentle and not in any way alarming fashion? As I have to tell you, after visiting my doctor, I was very alarmed, which is not all my natural state. I'm literally known for being totally anti-alarmist -- although, to be fair, I do have a slight unexplainable soft spot for '68 Guns'. And no, I don't know what that's about either.

I digress, Welsh rockers aside, my GP did not even pause or prepare me in anyway. No, this guy he just scratched his beard a little and then he came out with it. And to be honest, the thing with the beard scratching? I'm pretty sure that was because he had food in it and really nothing to do with the bad news that he was pushing my way.

When I arrived at the doctor's surgery this time round I knew I was in trouble, as one of the first things he said to me was that I was going to have to change my lifestyle before it was too late. I really don't have a problem with changing my lifestyle, I really don't. I've been to yoga and known to drink green tea and really it was no big deal.

"This looks familiar, how did you get that?" he asked me.

I thought about this and tried to think of a plausible excuse to brush aside the truth and avoid telling him how I had acquired the exact same injury (knackered calf muscle) as I had twice before. I had done it in the exact same way and it was totally my own fault that I was Mr Limpy.

Somehow beginning the sentence with the words "I kicked someone really hard" and finishing with "and I got this stabbing pain so intense that I sort of fell over", which to be honest is not very Zen and not much of a tactic in kickboxing.

"Well…"

"How hard did you kick?"

Again admitting that you kicked someone so hard that they fell over sounds kind of mean, but I swear the other guy came over like a big Christiano Ronaldo girl (and you know I mean girl in the gender-neutral sense) and literally threw himself to the ground in a very unsporting manner. I was convinced if I hadn't fallen over as well, I could definitely kicked him again, which I know isn't particularly Zen-like.

At this point, my GP started to go through his notes. "March 2000, fractured big toe, X-rayed? How is that?"

"You know, still not very bendy? But to be fair that was self-inflicted."

And then he went on. There fractured rib; fractured wrist, torn shoulder muscle, the time I thought I had broken my nose when it wouldn't stop bleeding and the time I got kicked so hard in the groin that I had some… well very bad feeling down below.

"You should think about finding activities that do not result in fractured bones and torn muscles."

No more torn muscles and fractured bones? What was he saying? That was all part of the fun. Wait a sec? That makes no sense. OK, that bit is not fun, but the rest is, I'm sure it is.

OK, the bit where you have to punch tiles and break bricks with your hands is a drag and to be honest, the part where you have to fight two guys at once is sometimes not a complete joyride, particularly if like me you have a tendency to get stuck in the corner of the martial arts studio and trade punches and kicks with the two guys who've concerned you while the instructor shouts: "Move! Move! Get out of the corner!"

Get out? What's he talking about? I'm fighting for me life here. Movement is not... wait a second. The fighting for your life bit, complete with head moving in unnatural manner as 16oz hammers of redness rain down, is not much fun either. But anyway, still who said it was meant to be fun.

"I'm not sure. What are you suggesting?"

"Have you thought about tai chi?"

As if to emphasise this, he sort of moved his hands slowly across his body. To be honest, I have been to a tai chi class. It was taught by a guy called Graham, he had a green sweater, wore loafers and it was the most unZen like experience of my entire life. And I know about Zen, I read 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'.

To be fair, I had only gone along to tai chi with Susan after we'd been watching an episode of 'Mind Body and Kick Ass Moves' on BBC Three. I think she was attracted by the gentle swaying, which is mainly because Susan's idea of exercise is ordering skinny lattes at Starbucks.

"Oh that looks really good, I think I could be good at tai chi."

"Well, you like to wave, so I think it could be a winner."

"Funny."

"No, seriously waving is very important, and I've seen you hail cabs."

I, on the other hand, thought it looked kind of cool as the Chinese Grand Master in the TV show was able to throw people across the park and he was like 60. Graham, however, did not at all convince me that he would be able to throw people across the room. Somehow I'm sure that throwing people across the room is very important. Oh wait, maybe I was approaching this with the wrong attitude?

And then he hit me with it. Just like that.

"Really you can't go on like this, you are going to have to change your lifestyle, your body can't take this kind of punishment, you know you're approaching middle age, don't you?"

"OMG, middle what? That sounds bad. How are you spelling that?"

What on the hell is that? Is that like some spin-off from Middle Earth full of tiny little troglodyte like-people? Apparently not, it is so much worse than that. Suddenly everything hurt all over again.

"Middle age, Gordon."

"You know when you say it slowly like that it sounds just like cancer, but much much worse, are you sure you have the right person?"

Having meditated on the tai chi issue (see very Zen like), I reluctantly call Susan to see if she fancies giving it another try.

"Are you joking? I couldn't go back."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely, that green jumper guy really put me off. I need to find a better dressed instructor. My yoga teacher has a Gucci yoga mat. Actually, you know, I think it might be a fake, but really that's the level of sartorial excellence I'm looking for. Littlewoods green sweater man is really not for me."

See, I knew there was a problem with tai chi. Susan is so good at getting straight to the heart of the matter.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Demographic Shift - 35

According to research women lure men into parenthood like some honey trap. I only mention this as I've been dating again and really it was all going smoothly until junior popped his head up.

Is there a rule? Because really, you know, there should be. It should be a rule that says quite clearly anywhere between one and eight weeks into a new relationship is too soon (like way too soon) to be talking about children.

Research from LSE says that men see raising children as the price they have to pay for a good relationship with a woman they like. The funny thing is (and it's really not that funny) that it's women who are considerably keener to have children but the study discovered that 12% of women were regretful parents, which is double the number of men.

Somehow having an in-depth discussion after six weeks doesn't really work for me. I don't mind it being mentioned. I'm not allergic to the odd baby comment ("oh isn't he cute, really cute?" "errr, I guess") that's quite fine, I'm just not willing to take it further at least until the end of the first trimester. Did I say trimester? I meant quarter... or something like it. I don't even know what a trimester is. Doesn't have something to do with rugby? I'm pretty sure it does. It sounds kind of familiar like that. I could imagine a commentator saying something like "Job done, that's a trimester for Jason Robinson". That from me, who is not usually big on sporting metaphors.

Anyway, so I have been dating and was out with said girl and we are riding in a black cab on our way home after dinner one Saturday night not that long ago.

Here's another rule they should have. Everybody should observe this to ensure general harmony on the domestic front. Never start serious conversations in the back of taxis -- it's a recipe for major league disaster. See what I did? I used another sporting metaphor. I'm on a roll.

I digress -- taxi conversations. What happens when you're in a taxi is that it's like having a three-way conversation. There's the two of you and then there is the taxi driver. The whole time you're having this conversation you have one eye on the cab driver and you're wondering (at least I do) what he makes of all of this. This is why, apart from being too old for such antics, there's no kissing in the back of taxis, I mean ever (unless you drank the alcohol lake again). Really the back of a black cab is like an exclusive mini theatre with an audience of one. You can't quite be yourself so what happens is you avoid answering questions properly. Instead you skirt, duck and conversationally dive, which only pisses the other person off who, for some reason is unaware of the rule that you can not really have proper conversations in the back of cabs. So by the time you get home everything kind of explodes and ends badly.

I continue to digress. So we're there, in the taxi, me fully aware of the taxi rule but being able to do nothing about it. I kind of want to say "we're in a taxi, we have to observe the rules" but don't, which is probably a mistake.

"So," says "said girl", and it was one of those big rolling "SOs" that tell you something serious is possibly coming your way, "what do you think of kids?"

My first thought when she said this was panic. I don't know why -- it was just a feeling that I found really hard to suppress. Somehow it seemed a really weird thing to say. Don't ask me why. I'm saving it all for therapy. Apparently it's all the rage again.

I of course proceeded to answer her question in the best way that I know, not exactly evasively, but cautiously.

"How do you mean?"

"I mean have you thought about kids?"

"Thought about them?" I scratched my head. "What do you mean exactly when you say thought about them?"

At this point she shot me one of those looks, you know those dagger like looks, that are all pointy and, well, dagger like.

"What?"

"Nothing," she said.

"No, seriously what?"

"Seriously nothing."

"OK."

"OK fine," she said and crossed her arms and legs.

We didn't have far to go but we still hadn't spoken another word to each other until we were back at her place and walking through the door.

"You're avoiding the subject. It's a really simple question."

"Ask me again then."

"Have you thought about having kids?"

"No," I said, and then I shrugged.

She shot me another look. I mean I knew she would, which is why I kept quiet in the cab as women don't believe you if you say you have never thought about having kids, which is why it is best not to get into this conversation in the back of a cab. Because it is one of those conversations that only goes one way.

I swear it's true. I haven't thought about having kids and men don't talk about it. We don't sit around thinking of babies' names and wondering what it would be like. I'm not saying this is all women do, but I know it is certainly high up on the list of some...

"No?"

I shook my head. "No."

"But you must have?"

"I promise you, I haven't spent time thinking about it."

It's not like I'm alone on the subject. Research from the LSE says that in Britain 12% of women and 21% of men at age 42 are uncertain or have mixed feelings on the subject. At 30, 33% of women and almost 50% men were undecided. That's a big FIVE O.

"Not even a bit?" she asked.

"Not even a bit."

"Don't you think that's a little odd?"

"Odd? Er... no and at least no odder than you asking me what I think about having kids."

"You think I'm odd?"

"I never said that, I…"

"You just did."

"No, I said it's odd having a big conversation with someone about children when you've only been out seven or eight times. I mean you're only 31 and everyone knows the clock doesn't start ticking until you're 36 and..."

And then I paused and I realised that not only had I quoted from 'When Harry met Sally', but also what I had said was really one of those sentences you should keep to yourself. I've never been any good at that.

When she didn't say anything, I couldn't help myself adding: "But you know that just could be me, I'm funny like that."

Absolutely no reaction other than the stony-face kind and when she was still looking at me after another very long 10 seconds or so I had already come to a conclusion.

"Maybe I should sort of go?"

"Yeah, I think I'll sort of call you a cab."

I was telling this to Susan who is always so harsh on matters of the heart. I don't know where she gets it from.

"You always do that."

"Do what?"

"Provoke fights so you can get yourself out easily. All men do that, it has nothing to do with children."

"That's so untrue. I just really have not thought about it and it was weird."

"You know that's a lie. Why don't you call her up apologise. Tell her that you'd really like to see her again."

"No, it's too late. I'm always totally in favour of no going back."

"That doesn't explain your previous stalking behaviour."

"And you're so funny."

"Well tell the truth, what's the real reason you won't call her again?"

"We were just incompatible."

Susan laughed at this, which I knew immediately meant that I had said far too much.

"What?!"

"Incompatible?"

"Incompatible is a good word."

"It's weak is what it is. With you, incompatible is code for some perceived bodily defect or other. Talk about living in glass houses, you really should stop throwing stones Gord. I personally don't have a problem with noses but some people..."

Susan can be so harsh sometimes.