Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sexing by Numbers - Who's Counting?

How many times have you had sex? 

How many times have you had sex with each person? 

These questions have been uppermost in my mind this week after reading a couple of news stories in which people state, specifically, how many times they have shared bodily fluids.
First, it was the wife of the UK’s Jeremy Kyle, Carla, who was reported to have had sex 20 times with polo player James Carr at his Ascot home when Jeremy was away filming in the US. For those of you who don’t know, Jeremy is the UK’s answer to Jerry Springer, a very good presenter on mainstream TV (although occasionally prone to what I would call bullying) and quite a hottie (well, a hottie by ITV standards). Carla is reported to have enjoyed a smoking break outside her home with Mr Carr, after which he led her inside etc. etc. (I thought people lit up after sex – is lighting up before a new thing? Or am I just behind the times?).
Now, there’s another story in the news: a schoolboy who was seduced by “disgraced teaching assistant” Caroline Berriman, claims to have had sex 50 times with her, when she was 30 and him 15.
I’m not going to pass judgement on either situation, but I’m fascinated by the specifics of the numbers. How many people actually count, let alone remember? Pretty much everyone can recall their first time, and I suspect most can also remember their first time with a new partner. But after you’ve listened to them banging on about themselves (I’m thinking about men here), don’t you just get on with it whenever you choose and forget the time codes? 

Sex is difficult enough to negotiate, both emotionally and physically (not to mention the post-coital laundry), without having to bring maths into the equation.
I already have a strangely prurient interest in these stories: such as, what was the 11th time like, Mr Carr? Did you keep a notebook full of polo statistics and, after riding your horse in a match, put something in the margin along the lines of  “Later that day: another great ride”? 
I’d be interested in seeing Jeremy’s diary for this period, too, because he, on national television, confessed to not having had sex with his wife for a very long time. Now this sum, I find easier to deal with, because, if you’re not getting it, you can always remember the last time. It’s all the counting between the first and last times that I’m struggling with.
I can, for example, remember my first kiss. It was at a schoolfriend’s party and with a boy called Wyndham. I remember he was wearing a bottle green V-necked sweater and had brown-rimmed National Health glasses. I was 13. I can also remember the first time anyone saw my breasts – so terrified was I, as an innocent in South Wales, they could hear my screams in England. 

More recently, I remember the last time I kissed someone (who shall remain nameless). But as for all the kisses and liaisons in between, who’s counting? As I grow older, most of the time I can’t even remember where my tongue is, let alone where it’s been (I’m regretting not having gone to the pub last Saturday to see Wales beat England in the Rugby World Cup, though, because Welsh men can’t keep their tongues in their mouths after spectacular wins).
Speaking as a woman in relation to men, what do we really remember after sex? Not always the guy’s name, that’s for sure, so why would you record the notch on the bedpost? Here’s a list of what I remember (all things relate to the man’s actions, not mine, by the way):-

1.     Snoring.
2.     Farting.
3.     Stealing the duvet.
4.     Breaking the door handle in the rush to escape (just me, then? He never paid for the repair, either).
5.     No wine to keep me drunk enough to keep fancying them for the next 40 minutes (at most).
6.     No milk in the fridge for a cup of tea in the morning.
7.     The car registration number (just me, again?).
8.      The registration number of the next car, when car number one is traded in (there’s a pattern emerging here, I can tell. For those of you interested: TB0 440H, followed by MUH 853P).
9.     Choking.
10.  Three licks, followed by the words “My tongue’s tired.”
11.  No licks at all.
12.  Waiting for the early morning wake-up call that all the books tell you guys have, when they are already suited up and looking for the car keys to drive to work.
13.  Texts from ex-girlfriends.
14.  The decreasing content level in the baby oil bottle at the side of the bed (advice: mark it with a Biro when you leave, girls).
15.  The bailiffs arriving to take away the bed you are sleeping in.
16.  The police arriving to take away the guy you are sleeping with.
17.  The ex-girlfriend arriving with an axe to chop up the bed and the guy.
18.  Getting rid of him so that you can catch up with Law and Order: SVU on the DVR.
19.  Wondering what on Earth you were thinking the night before.
20.  Another reason why I am never drinking again.

And that’s just for starters. The nice ones. Wait until I get going on the guys I didn’t like.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Single Supplements - Give Us a Break

Business travel at a fraction of the cost. 

The French boutique airline, La Compagnie, which in June started operating flights between New York, London and Paris, appears to have it all – until you try to register on their site. As I travel between all three places and enjoy my creature comforts, when I tried to sign up I discovered I couldn’t, as there were just two options: Mr or Mrs.
As a single woman, I have always refused to tick the “Miss” box on any application form, for one simple reason: no man is ever asked to tick “Master” or “Mister" i.e. a man is never asked to declare whether he is married or not. While many sneer at “Ms”, it is, to me, entirely correct. The only reason women were ever required to declare their marital status was because, as singles, they were deemed unable to have the resources to pay their bills: having a man as an appendage made a woman reliable (allegedly. They’ll learn).
I had this argument with British Telecom some years back, when they asked if I was a Miss or a Mrs. I refused to tell them and questioned whether men were required to say if they were single or married. Of course, they were not.
La Compagnie also offers special deals, yet the current ones are all “for two”. I have no partner, I travel alone, yet always find myself excluded from the things I enjoy the most. I can’t, for example, have the Chateaubriand or the paella “for two” in a restaurant. I once ordered the latter and said I would pay the full price, but was refused on the grounds that it would be “too much for one person”. No amount of my arguing that I would just leave half of it would persuade the waiter to help me part with my money. I very much doubt they would have treated a man with the same gastronomic contempt. I ended up with a pork chop. For one.
Single women are still perceived as weirdos when out alone or, at best, second class citizens. In San Francisco one lunchtime last year, I was pointed to a really nice table in the middle of the restaurant, only to be bumped when the maitre d’ spotted a couple behind me in the queue. She then told me I could sit at the bar or outside. The bar was overcrowded; the outside seat had a great view of Alcatraz (possibly the only time anyone has wanted to escape to the prison). I left without eating and phoned to make a complaint. 

“We really don’t treat women like that,” said the manager. “You just did,” I pointed out, adding that the couple who took my table probably had a green salad between them and a jug of tap water. I would have had champagne, wine, three courses, and probably still been in there when dinnertime came around, to begin the routine all over again.
It is hard enough being single in a world where travel companies continue to charge single supplements, tax breaks benefit couples, and society as a whole celebrates and fawns over marriage, without having to deal with the anti-singles frustrations socially. I happen to be a big fan of marriage: I come from a very stable background and am lucky enough to have had a loving mother and father who could not have been better parents. It just hasn’t worked out that way for me. I’m not bitter about it; I don’t really think about it, unless I am asked. I have a wonderful family, incredible friends and, for all its obstacles, a better life than most people in the world. I am truly blessed.
But I still get treated like a social leper as a single woman. Most married couples don’t include you at their social functions unless they have a recently divorced/largely unmarketable/psycho man in their circle that they might be able to palm off on you. Then there are the practical difficulties to deal with when you are out. If you have to go to the toilet when you are in a restaurant, you have limited choices: leave your stuff at the table and return to find it removed by a waiter who thinks you have done a runner, or have it stolen by a passer-by. 

The third option - asking the people at the next table to keep an eye on your things - attracts the kind of looks you might get had you handed them a rifle and asked them to commit armed robbery in your absence.
It’s not as if I haven’t tried to meet someone who will split the Chateaubriand with me, but it hasn’t gone well. I recently attended a gathering of singles, where a French hobbit grappled with my friend’s right breast in what appeared to be an attempt to secure her stick-on name badge. He was 103, if he was a day. Next, a walrus appeared at my side, claiming to be a criminal psychologist. The walrus was also in the early stages of dementia, because he asked me my name five times. 

There was also an attempt to entertain us by a 'close-up magician', who tried to hypnotise us with non-existent snake oil. We had to imagine our hands were glued together with said oil and then try to pull them apart, the premise being that we wouldn't be able to. Er, we did.
The truth is, that if a man is single, there is something wrong with him (all the good ones really are taken); but if a woman is single, the chances are that she has had the good sense and guts to ditch the men who have that something wrong with them. That’s not to say there aren’t strange women out there (heck, I know some guys who would categorise me as that) but, for the most part, there are far more bright, sharp, funny women on the market than there are men. 

If a man is free, trust me, there’s something wrong with him, and unless you act fast to secure Windows 2016 about now (you have to look out for those inevitable Christmas break-ups), you’re going to miss out on the good guys next time around, too.
So, as I sit contemplating my Chateaubriand and paella free lifestyle while planning my travel over the next few months, I’m going to suggest to you, Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur, enabler and grand empowerer of people, that you get behind my campaign to get great deals for single women. I can’t think of anyone better to have on our side, and all it needs now is for me to sign off. 

Yours, hopefully, Jaci Stephen (Ms).



Friday, September 25, 2015

Not Written in the Stars

My guardian angel has given up on me. 

After threats of misery, heartache and lifelong trauma unless I hand over my credit card details, he has moved on to others clearly more needy than I am.
I thought I had shaken off Adrian the astrologer, but, possibly sensing that the guardian angel was winging away, he has returned with a vengeance. Fearful of my destiny unless I sign up to his cosmic plan, he is now offering a discounted rate.
Adrian seems even more worried for me than the angel was (they’re so fickle, these celestial beings) and has written to ask if I could imagine a life without fear.
To be honest, Adrian, I didn’t have any fear in my life until you popped into it, telling me all sorts of weird stuff about planets coming to eat me when I slept, and the like.
I don’t think Adrian is very in tune with me. For example, he asks me to imagine knowing “exactly what you wanted and how you should go about getting it.” Been there, done that, Adrian. Knew it. Got it. Next.
Any goal, any obstacle, meeting every challenge . . . he goes on, and the ultimate prize is apparently my finding “the treasured gift hidden within”.
Within where, exactly? And what kind of gift? Oh, hang on, here we go: “Imagine being able to build the financial empire you’ve always dreamed of.”
Dreams really aren’t Adrian’s thing, because I’ve never dreamed of building a financial empire; just having enough to shop in Whole Foods once a month, that would suit me.
I can’t help feeling that Adrian’s got my planets, if not my entire solar system, muddled with someone else’s. He asks me to imagine what it would be like to travel the world (done that – in fact, it’s why I find myself sitting in New York, even as I write), or write “that novel” (did that – 1990; you are way behind, Adrian). He adds: “or even just buying the home of your dreams”.
Now, there’s the problem: if I had not bought so many homes of my dreams, I would have a financial empire by now. The very last thing I need is another one, when I am already trying to offload the two I currently have.
To deliver the things that I apparently need for my “Transit Period Guide”, Adrian has reduced the price of the purchase to $19, or, as he puts it, “a fraction of the normal price . . . just 19 dollars!”
That’s still 2 x 1.5 litres of Montepulciano at Grand Cru, my local wine store in New York, or as much as I can drink between the hours of 5pm and 7pm at Adella, my favourite wine bar. It’s also 19 – yes, 19 – Celeste pizzas from Peapod (with 19 cents change). So, you see, Adrian, you can cost price all you like, but the pizza is still going to be a lot more reliable than you appear to be.
Adrian has a very simply solution: “We just need to find a way to help you move past the financial obstacles that are holding you back!” You’re telling me! Like paying angels and astrologers to empty my bank account.
The “exclusive” offer and “amazing discount” is apparently going to come to an end very soon, and Adrian urges me to act fast because I “CAN” have everything I dream of.
Okay: I dream of playing the piano to a room full of people disappointed when the guy they have booked drops dead at the keyboard.

I dream of meeting a man I can keep chained in the basement to stop him breathing the same air as other women, while I go out partying.

Most of all, I dream about taking over the controls of a Jumbo 747 when the pilot collapses with food poisoning at the wheel/stick/control panel, or whatever it is. 

You see? Apart from the words “wings” and “drinks trolley”, and the knowledge that the pilot sits at the front, I know eff all about planes; that might be a bit of a problem, I can see. 

But when I was asked on a recent radio interview what was my ultimate fantasy, it was the last one. Saving people’s lives has to top the list every time – apart from the dream of Wales beating England in tomorrow’s Rugby World Cup match, obviously.
So, Adrian, my “Devoted Guide”, as you keep calling yourself, unless my $19 is going to buy me the fulfilment of these dreams, I ain’t paying. I’m actually questioning your devotion, anyway. 

I once went out with a Jewish Hungarian Australian dentist who said he was falling for me in a big way; the next day, he came out in a facial rash and broke up with me, so forgive me for being a bit suspicious on the whole devotion front.
If you get to speak to my angel, though, do give him my regards; it was good while it lasted. 

But while the sky might have no limit in your celestial and planetary worlds, the sphere of credit cards most definitely does.


Friday, September 11, 2015

The Heart of Darkness

The truth is, no one ever knows. 

You can’t touch emotional pain, and the most you can hope for is that you are surrounded by people who know you well enough and care enough about you, to hear the subtext of your heart. 

Where physical injury is given permission to take time off to recuperate, the suffering of the muscle that pumps our lives must pretend that all is well; that is its duty. One day, it will stop of its own accord, or, as all too often happens, the leaseholder (for that is, at the end, all we are) will take the decision to hand it back. 

Sometimes, the pain is just too much, and calling time on it feels easier than the ache of infinity.
There has been relatively little media attention bestowed upon National Suicide Prevention Week, which officially ends tomorrow. The S word is still one that people tend to avoid until a celebrity brings it into the spotlight. And even then, the search for logic overshadows the fundamental reason why people choose to end their lives: you just want your heart to stop its noise.
There is still relatively little sympathy for anyone who chooses death over life. It is seen as the choice of a deranged mind, a selfishness that defies rational thought; the ultimate act of violence. From the moment we are born, we have a fear of the dark; anyone who chooses voluntarily to enter that space is branded a coward. In reality, it is probably the bravest decision anyone can make.
It’s hard to describe to anyone who has not experienced the precipice of darkness exactly what it feels like; the best I can manage is that it feels like nothing: a state of being devoid of all sensory perception; a blob of pain that nothing other than total annihilation can wipe out. Sometimes, it is triggered by an event; sometimes, it arrives without warning; sometimes, it pierces a moment of joy as a demon serving to remind you of your vulnerability. It’s just an absence of life.
Fear not, I am not about to buy a one way ticket to the Brooklyn Bridge, but this is a week in which it is worth making ourselves extra aware of the fragility of people around us. Depression can strike anyone at any time, and my way of dealing with it has been to build up a memory bank that has, incredibly, served as a life reinforcement when the darkness comes calling.
During one such moment, I asked a friend what had stopped him from committing suicide. He said “The thought of someone breaking the news to my parents”. 

Another friend, who had lost her mother to cancer, became emotional when I told her of my feelings because, as she rightly pointed out, “when you see the struggle some people go through to hang on”.
When a close friend killed himself 20 years ago, I remember hearing my favourite piece of music, Mozart’s Requiem, just after, and sobbing because he would never hear it again.
When the walls fold in, none of this may count; but I reinforce these three things regularly in the hope that even their whisper will save me from drowning.
There is so much else to be grateful for. 

I have a wonderful family, great friends, and what seems, to many, an enviable lifestyle. I envy no one, I am healthy, and I am incredibly loyal to those around me, even though many have taken advantage of that. 

That’s okay; it’s life. 

There are givers and takers; drains and radiators. Life is at its best when there are two givers, two radiators. A taker will always take advantage of a giver; a drain will always bleed a radiator dry. You just have to seek out the good guys. 

There are more than you might think.
Nothing matters more than people, who will always surprise you. When I wrote an article last year about some pressing problems, the kindness not only of friends, but complete strangers, was overwhelming. That, too, has added to my memory bank.
So, as National Suicide Prevention Week draws to its close, I want to say thank you to all the people who have prevented me from jumping, both literally and metaphorically. 

Thank you for your love, your kindness, and listening to me when I talk rubbish. 

Thank you for being there when lesser people would have walked away. 

Thank you for wiping my tears, and for building me up when I am consumed with self-loathing.

Thank you for being my lifeline.

Thank you for being the door keepers to the darkness and blocking my way when I wanted to walk there. 

Thank you, from the bottom, the top, and the middle of a heart that keeps on beating.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Stalked by an Angel

It’s a thin line between an angel watching your back and being on it. 

This, I have discovered to my cost, after my guardian angel started stalking me.
A friend has pointed out that this is what they have to do, otherwise how could they guard you. But I’m not convinced. Seriously. I am being stalked by an angel.
I don’t think I actively sought out a guardian angel, as I have so many people I don’t see in my life as it is, without having to cater for another. But I figured that with the flying advantage (do angels get Flying Miles, by the way? Just asking, because I’m a few thousand short for my next trip), they might be a little less demanding. Not so. 
If you read my previous blogs, you will know how Padre, the angel hunter and I, became acquainted; you will also know that I did not give the heavenly throng my credit card details.
However, ever since I made the briefest contact, the angel has been on my back (you see what I mean?). I have been told to fill in forms, click on links, get in touch by every means possible, otherwise I will lose the good fortune (mainly monetary) that is apparently winging its way to me (geddit?).
Padre is even more persistent than Adrian the astrologer, who appears to have given up on me. Padre has warned that I have just 72 hours before the angel gives up on me, too. It’s a bit of a strange missive, because he declares he “must reveal to you without delay” and then doesn’t relay anything of significance at all (it’s what I call a delaying tactic).
This revelation has to do with “a very positive thing for the proper progress of your imminent happiness.” Hmmmph. More delays. Is my happiness progressive, or is it imminent? Imminent, to me, means the next two minutes; progressive could be 2018, at the earliest.
Now, here’s the key: “A phenomenon in angelical magic will be triggered on your behalf after you have read this letter.” I tell you: it’s another slow week for angels, because mine (whose name I have forgotten) cannot stop writing to me. I suspect he is not even going to be taking Labor Day off.
The letter tells me that within one minute, “you will have struck a decisive blow against your greatest enemy.”
Okay. Let’s give it a minute. 60, 59, 58, 57, 56, 55, 54, 53, 52, 51, 50, 49, 48, 47, 46, 45, 44, 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32, 31, 310, 209, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 (I’m getting really excited now), 6, 5, 4, (I am wetting myself), 3, 2, 1 . . . 
Nope, nothing. I think it may be because I don’t really have any enemies. There are people I don’t like, but I get them out of my life pretty quickly (and if they don’t like me, I just put a curse on them). Maybe there are enemies I am not even aware of, lurking in the shadows, although I am beginning to think that my angel is making up enemies purely in order to justify his job.
The next 72 hours are going to be crucial, too, bringing about a “great upheaval” – 60, 59, 58 . . . No, I really can’t go through that again.
The “spiritual angelical forces” are going to sort everything out and help me “strike a decisive blow against your greatest enemy”. My life of “poverty . . . emotional loneliness . . . misfortune, burdened with endless problems, drenched in bad news” (geez, you really know how to cheer a girl up on a weekend) is going to be over. My angel is going to destroy the enemy once and for all.
Now, listen up, angel. Listen real good. Because I’m going to teach you something.
Your greatest enemy is always yourself. You are the only person who stops you from achieving your goals. All the external bad forces in the world are no match for the inner strength that, as humans, we carry within us. You can flap your wings all you like and smile your silly smile from your fluffy blonde cloud, but you won’t change one of life’s fundamentals: we are the guardians of our own destiny.
So stop stalking me, angel, and stop contacting my friends just because they are on my Facebook page.
When you come up with a cure for yeast infections that doesn’t involve sending one’s vagina to a yoghurt convention, feel free to contact me again; because, until then, you are useless. 

You can call it what you like, but stalking by flying is still stalking, whichever way you look at it. 

Stick to what you're good at and tell a few unsuspecting virgins they are pregnant.

Now go away before I set God on you.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New York State of Mind - for Emma Freud and Richard Curtis

Dear Emma, Richard and family. Welcome to New York! I am sure that everyone will be full of good advice here as to what you should do, where you should go etc., so I thought I would chip in with a few useful pointers, too. UK’s loss in NYC’s gain!

1.     Don’t “Rush to the Macy’s sale”. There will be another one in 30 seconds. Every day. For 365 days. And 366 in a Leap Year.

2.     Don’t go to Macy’s. If you don’t break your neck rushing to the Macy’s sale, sure as hell you will do so rushing for the elevators. That one woman with three hatboxes you watched in old movies has been replaced by 20 overweight women with strollers.

3.     Say stroller, not pushchair.

4.     Don’t even think of asking for a European wine outside of a smart hotel. There is only one. Pinot Grigio.

5.     Allow an extra 40 minutes for every restaurant experience you will be sending back the corked Pinot Grigio and debating with management holding it up to the light saying they can’t see any cork in it.

6.     Fear not for the “blizzard” everyone is already warning you about that will allegedly arrive in January. It won’t. It’s a flurry.

7.     Every man is gay. Keep Richard locked up at all times.

8.     Shop online at Peapod. Don’t do Fresh Direct, which is way more expensive. Don’t shop at Food Emporium unless you want to spend the next three days crying. And starving.

9.     Don’t attempt irony. I cannot stress this enough.

10.  Every 4th drink is free. If it’s not, move on.

11.  Avoid Irish bars. People in them are even marginally less funny than they are in Dublin on a Saturday night. “You’re gonna laugh at this” means you won’t.

12.  Learn how to talk about sport in bars. Here are some useful phrases - all to be spoken in a VERY LOUD VOICE while (preferably) throwing a chair: F*****g moron! ISIS c**t! Tom is innocent! Yay, the Heat, maaaaan! No f*****g way ISIS c**t! etc. etc.

13.  There is no such thing as a free hot dog. They may tell you that in Rudy’s dive bar, but you will still be paying the price several days on. Trust me.

14.  Don’t snog anyone in Rudy’s dive bar. Especially after 3am. And especially if they have consumed a free hot dog. And REALLY trust me on that.

15.  Do not interpret the lit-up pedestrian icon at every junction as a signal that it is safe to cross the road. It isn’t. It is an incentive to every driver to accelerate and try to kill you.

16.  Customer service is second to none. Buy everything. Use it. When you are bored with it, take it back and say you want them to exchange it. They will. You won’t have three birthdays while arguing your case at the Marks and Spencer Returns desk.

17.  Don’t trust the Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupons. You will find that most things are at least 25% less on Amazon.

18.  If you fall into the Bed, Bath and Beyond 20% off coupons trap, remember you can always take everything back (see 16).

19.  Don’t fly American Airlines. Ever. Life is too short. Unlike their waiting times, while they try to fix mechanical faults.

20.  Don’t watch FOX news. It is not good for your blood pressure.

21.  Do watch Suits (hot lawyers), The Good Wife (more hot lawyers), Law and Order: SVU (hot lawyers and cops with a mutilated body every episode), Mistresses (best garbage on TV), How to Get Away with Murder (or How to Get Away with Stretching a Weak Premise to its Limit), Chasing Life (the sometimes upside of cancer).

22.  Don’t give your phone number to anyone after 4am. You really will get a call the following morning from a stranger whose opening gambit will be: “Hi, we met on the subway last night.”  Some of us have learnt the hard way.

23.  Join Chelsea Piers. It is by far the best gym/sports venue in the city. Don’t opt for the “Are you happy to go circular?” in the pool. It is really a Jaws remake.

24.  The answer to anyone asking “D’you want to join me in a shot?” should always be NO. Shots are the Devil’s work.

25.  You will never bump into Jimmy Fallon. Be content with breathing the same air. Anything else is delusion.

26.  Central Park is full of mosquitoes and thousands of people who run or cycle in the opposite direction from the one in which you are traveling.

27.  Never spell with two LLs where one will do.

28.  They love Brits here. And I mean really love us. If in doubt, put on your best Downton Abbey accent. You will get everything for free.

29.  Address everyone as “Sir” or “Madam”, especially cab drivers. Over politeness goes a long way here – unless it is interpreted wrongly, in which case you will be stabbed.

30.  ENJOY! You are embarking on a great adventure that you will love! The UK’s loss is New York’s gain *sings Star Spangled Banner while saluting*. Oh yes, I forgot. Learn the damned words to that.