Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I am a woman. I shop. I have to shop in order to keep body and soul together, not just my own but my husband’s as well. I even enjoy shopping sometimes. And I can truthfully state that if I had more money, I’d do more shopping. But even if I had a never-ending floodtide of banknotes and wall-to-wall credit cards, my shopping list would still include items of ‘woman-shopping’. Woman-shopping items are those useful things that keep life moving on. The useful things that stop other things from falling apart or looking dirty. The useful things that have to be bought, though we’d really rather not pay for them, thank you. The useful things that men don’t buy, won’t buy and only know they should buy if they have a wife or mother to tell them.

‘Man-shopping’ items are non-essentials: things for pleasure and leisure or for eating between meals. Man-shopping items come in sexy black bottles or cans with ring pulls. Even if a man-shopping list includes some rare item of foodstuff this will invariably come in a single pack, ready-to-serve, microwavable, one-person portion that wouldn’t feed two even if the two were both gnats.

Woman-shopping items come in giant sizes, enough for the whole family and twenty unexpected guests with enough left over for tomorrow’s lunch. Woman-shopping items come multi-pack, long-life and are totally and completely resealable for easy use and storage.

I was recently next in line to a man doing man-shopping in the local supermarket. His basket held three of those four-can packs of lager, the ones with plastic carrying handles; one bottle each of whisky, port, vodka, a very nice claret and one large brand-name cola. He had in fact purchased a necessity in the form of shampoo, but this came shrink-wrapped in see-through plastic with aftershave lotion: two matching bottles in deep aqua-green, screw-capped in mean and moody black and labelled in sexy silver. In the interest of fairness, I must report there was also some food in his basket. From the wide aisles laden with an infinite variety of foodstuffs, he'd actually managed to locate and retrieve, without incident or serious injury to himself, two fruit yoghurts and a pack of four wholewheat bread rolls. My trolley held: ‘two for the price of one’ teabags, inevitable toilet rolls, washing up liquid, (‘three for the price of two’ of course), rubber gloves, baked beans, dried pasta, cat food, potatoes (not ready washed) and three items of medicine/toiletries purchased in advance of need.

Apart from this enviable talent for ignoring the practicalities of life without experiencing any twinges of guilt or remorse, men have a gift that makes it all the more difficult to understand how they can be so unbelievably useless at the day-to-day stuff. Quite simply, men can focus single-mindedly on a job without being sidetracked. We are told that men get further in life and achieve more goals because they are much better than women at concentrating on the matter at hand. Women know the real reason is because men (a) only ever have themselves to consider and (b) haven’t got enough brain cells to manage more than one task at a time anyway. Unlike women, who multi-task cheerfully without smudging their lipstick or even breathing heavily. Unfortunately, this male super-power is never used for mundane supermarket shopping. Men save it for the really big game – comparison shopping.

Comparison shopping means being able to find the best item for the best price that will look good and function perfectly throughout an unduly extended life period. Men do this well. Men turn comparison shopping into an art form, which they perform with the nerve and tenacity of an arctic explorer and the grace and skill of a prima ballerina. But after all, as they are rendered nervous and troubled by anything that isn’t working properly, perhaps they really need to be able to do this well. They already have to spend hours doing things like rewiring perfectly sound wiring, polishing out imaginary scratches on the pristine surfaces of their cars and spend days reconfiguring their computers so that version 4.0 of ‘Dark Lord, The Ultimate Revenge!’ starts up 3 nanoseconds faster than the default speed of 2.5 microseconds. Having shopped with care in the first place must really ease those stress levels…

Or does it? Perhaps they’d be happier if they bought whatever was handy, with a modicum of regard for a reasonable price, and then stopped worrying about it. Nature is chaos. As soon as something is created and brought to perfection it begins to decay. If men could accept as truth this small concept, perhaps they wouldn't get so stressed about perfection. And then, as long as the wheels didn’t actually drop off, they’d be a lot happier altogether.

Wedding Presents

I have no quarrel with the ceremonies that surround us, that mark the various occasions on our travel through this vale. My problem is a ceremonial nicety that I really don’t find very nice at all. There’s a fly in every ointment and my particular greasy winged foe dabbles its feet in the royal icing of wedding cakes. My stumbling block, however, is not the actual wedding itself, but the wedding presents.

Once upon a time, when you accepted an invitation to a wedding you also accepted the responsibility of looking for a wedding present. Something suitable. Something beautiful, useful, something hopefully that they would like to have and you wouldn’t be embarrassed to give. However well intentioned the wedding guests, the combatants could still end up with two table lamps, three toasters and an optional piece of kitsch, according to how many aunties and uncles they had mustered for the fray. But this was okay. It came with the territory. It even afforded some amusement, some light relief to the solemn occasion. And it filled the loft with things that would bring back memories of the happy day. Sadly the element of chance that caused the fun has all but disappeared.

Nowadays you get wedding present lists. Lists of staggering complexity. Cross-referenced to avoid duplication. Grid-referenced to the closest M & S with catalogue numbers and colours and sizes and even, praise the Lord, prices! This precludes any opportunity for a free spirit to purchase a deep and meaningful gift that might say a little bit more about the personalities of the happy couple and a lot less about the current top ten favourite ‘Herbgreen’ or ‘Rosetrellis’ patterned dinner service.

It also seems that the size of the box reveals the size of your heart. The size of your bank balance just doesn’t cut it with these guys. And if you’re finding it difficult to care at all about the joining of these two acquisitive souls in financial harmony it can cut a wound in your conscience even deeper than the swathe it cuts through your cheque book.

Being older than thirty-something probably has a lot to do with my predilection for a festive feast. I do enjoy a wedding. Well-worn gatherings of well-worn friends to mark another turning point in their lives enormously enriches the old familiar pattern of mine. Bearing witness to ritual publication of sworn fealty between two souls (and sometimes also God) whilst wearing nice frocks and trousers – has been known to cause me to pause and ponder about what I believe in and why. I’ve worked out that, though I’m not completely convinced about the validity of the exercise, I do like the cake.

And as I journey through the aforementioned vale, it seems there’s increasingly more opportunity to indulge in a bit of dressing up and ceremony. Old friends marry new acquaintances, their divorced other halves take up with young things who’ve been lying to their families about the state of their living arrangements. With all this cross-country shuffling of partners comes an increasingly larger band of sons and daughters. And these sons and daughters start to marry as well. They too have weddings. I may have to pay lip service to relationships that are tenuous and new partners who are tedious. I may find my lip curling sometimes, driven to ‘observe the niceties’ and desperate to avoid them, but I still enjoy the cake. And I’m still happy to come to celebrate your happiness even if it’s only one of you I know or care about.

There’s just one thing I need to get sorted out please. I’ll gladly come to sing holy chants or file past the previous entrants to wedded bliss in the local registry, but can I make up my own mind what to get as a gift? You’ve invited me because you like me (hopefully) and I like you. My invitation’s not a credit card voucher for your new kitchen and I don’t want to be made to feel I’m paying for my wedding supper. Let me be the judge of what I find appropriate to bestow to mark this union, preferably with something that has a longer life span than a slide-top bread bin with non-slip feet, and more loving than an overpackaged set of freezer-to-microwave with a grouping of lurid vegetables rendered on the side. I hope you’ll be happy, I really do, but I’d like it not to depend on frilly sheets or talking bathroom scales. Don’t send me that list. I’ll reach deeper into my pocket, and faster, when I think you’re not expecting anything but my very best wishes for your future.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This is for the Liners:

Q. How many internet mail list subscribers does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Exactly 500:

1 to change the light bulb and to post to the mail that the light bulb has been changed.

7 to share similar experiences of changing light bulbs and how the light bulb could have been changed differently.

4 to caution about the dangers of changing light bulbs.

17 to point out spelling / grammar errors in posts about changing light bulbs.

21 to flame the spell checkers.

49 to write to the list administrator complaining about the light bulb discussion and its inappropriateness to this mail list.

20 to correct spelling in the spelling/grammar flames.

32 to post that this list is not about light bulbs and to please take this email exchange to alt.lite.bulb.

69 to demand that cross posting to alt.grammar, alt.spelling and alt.punctuation about changing light bulbs be stopped.

41 to defend the posting to this list saying that we all use light bulbs and therefore the posts **are** relevant to this mail list.

106 to debate which method of changing light bulbs is superior, where to buy the best light bulbs, what brand of light bulbs work best for this technique, and what brands are faulty.

12 to post URLs where one can see examples of different light bulbs.

8 to post that the URLs were posted incorrectly, and to post corrected URLs.

2 to post about links they found from the URLs that are relevant to this list which makes light bulbs relevant to this list.

15 to concatenate all posts to date, then quote them including all headers and footers, and then add pointedly, "Me Too".

6 to post to the list that they are unsubscribing because they cannot handle the light bulb controversy.

9 to quote the "Me Too's" and happily add, "Me Three!".

3 to suggest that posters request the light bulb FAQ.

1 to propose new alt.change.lite.bulb newsgroup.

24 to say this is just what `lt.physic.cold fusion was meant for, leave it here'.

53 votes for alt.lite.bulb.