It’s a question of… not getting hurt

There are a large number of quotes along the lines of how you should “love like you’ve never been hurt” and how it’s better to “have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. Now that’s all very fine in theory but is romantic love really worth the work, the heartbreak and the hours lost on analysing every single “why” that pops up in a relationship?

Having steered clear of intimate contact of any sort with men for several years (close to seven years to be exact), I can frankly say that it’s a lot less painful not to be in love and I’m much more efficient when I only have to concentrate on stuff not related to my feelings. Until recently in fact I had totally forgotten how time consuming and excruciating it can be to have another person occupy your mind and soul in that way.


Some may say that the wonderful moments spent with the “loved one” largely make up for the hassle but I find it hard to agree. What’s the use of those moments if you spend many, many more glued to your phone, freaking out about why that person apparently has better things to do than to answer your text messages? What good does it do to take down your barriers and reveal yourself to someone who doesn’t care enough about it to acknowledge your feelings or even, your relationship?

Someone asked me the other day what the worst things a guy I was dating had ever said or done to me was. I thought of the time where I got a nosebleed during sex and the guy asked me if he had to stop because he’d “like to finish”. I thought of the time where another one told me that, when he kissed me, he “nearly felt like having a quickie” (I think it was the “nearly” that pissed me off the most). Of course I also recalled the guys who cheated on me, and those who made promises they never kept. I remember the guy who spent hours crying about an ex girlfriend, expecting me – his current one – to comfort him (which I did because I’m stupid in that way). And yes, I will never forget being in bed with that someone very special and finding out he was texting another girl while fondling me. That was hurtful. (I wonder why I was surprised when he later broke up with me by text on New Year’s Day…).

But let’s face it: what really hurts is to discover that you’re still that girl your mother told you not to be. The one who makes excuses for the other person’s shortcomings, who accepts things she shouldn’t, who sees signs of devotion where there aren’t any but ignores all the warning signs and who spends time thinking about someone who is not thinking about her at all. The one who stays when she should leave.

As relationship quotes go, I prefer this one: “Definition of stupid: knowing the truth, seeing the truth, but still believing the lies”. The truth is that most of the time I know when things aren’t really as they should be, just as well as I know they won’t change. The lies are the ones I’m telling myself. I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to stop doing that: overlooking the obvious and forgiving a guy when I shouldn’t, just because I don’t want to lose him or whatever I think we have together. Until then I think I’ll have to return to being fulltime celibate or accept getting hurt. And right now, the first solution seems by far the simplest.



Filed under Fly on the windscreen

It’s a question of… women being responsible for rape

The late Marilyn French has often been quoted for saying that “all men are rapists”. She never actually said this, a fictional character in her book The Women’s Room did. In fact, the real sentence is: “In their relations with women, all men are rapists, that’s what they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes”.

There are of course many reasons why Marilyn French’s “all men are rapists” is taken out of context time and time again. Sadly, more often than not, it’s used to ridicule feminists and dismiss rape as some minor fact of life. This repeated kind of attitude ends up leading to study results like the one that came out last month in the UK.

The study claimed 54% of women (yes, women) thought rape victims were to blame for their attacks. Over one in ten (and one in four of the 18-24 year olds) said that dancing provocatively, flirting, wearing revealing clothing, accepting a drink or having a conversation with the rapist made the victims “partly responsible”.

As for the men, one in three of them claimed they didn’t think it was rape if they made their partner have sex when they didn’t want to, and 13 % admitted to having had sex with a partner too drunk to know what was happening. (And why shouldn’t they? After all, in 2005, a UK High Court set the tone by throwing out the case of a student raped while she was drunk and unconscious, stating: “drunken consent is still consent”).

In other words, rape happens, deal with it. You’re probably to blame for it if/when it happens to you anyway. And, above all, do not expect pity from other women. This is nothing new. As the Marilyn French character also said in The Women’s Room: “Most women don’t want to know much about rape. It’s men who are interested in it. Women try to ignore it, try to pretend the victims asked for it. They don’t want to face the truth.”

When I was 20 years old, I did a short internship at a TV station. The only person there who was nice to me was a sports reporter. He took me with him when he did interviews and I was flattered when he asked me out for lunch on my last day. At the restaurant, he held my hand and showed me his press card. I was impressed (and yes, inexperienced in many ways). On our way out, he suggested we have coffee at his place, just a block away. I acquiesced without hesitation to be polite but also because I was interested in seeing how he lived. We hadn’t even kissed so I did not for one moment imagine that we were going to his place for anything else than coffee.

The moment he closed his door, he changed dramatically. Two minutes later, I was pinned to the floor and he was telling me to shut up. He said no one could hear me because the neighbours were all at work. When he’d finished assaulting me, he stood up, zipped his pants and told me I’d better leave because he had a scheduled game of tennis.

I left with my ripped shirt and torn self and wandered around aimlessly for hours before finding a train home. And I did something terribly stupid: I didn’t talk about what had happened to anyone for over six months. I believed I was responsible for what had taken place because I had gone home with him for coffee. I felt guilty for not having been able to fight him off. I felt incredibly stupid for having lain there helplessly instead of punching him.

I ran into my assailant less than a year later at a sports event we both were covering. He couldn’t understand why I told him to go away when he came over and started chatting, assuring me that he remembered what had happened between us “fondly”, as “a tender moment”. To this day I remember his smile when he said it, and to this day I hate myself for not having shut him up.

When I finally started talking about what I’d been through with my closest friends, I found out many of them had been sexually assaulted too, some in ways and at ages a lot worse. They didn’t like talking about it though and none of them had reported it because they somehow felt they were accountable for what had happened. As the eminent Dr Freda Adler says “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused”.

And that is what women – and men – are still being brought up by society to believe. Rape is still pretty much “allowed”, the majority of rapes are not reported and of those who are, only one in 14 ends in a conviction (in the UK). It’s even widely allowed to laugh about it. There are t-shirts on sale saying things like “It’s not rape if you yell surprise”, “Sometimes no means yes”, “It’s not rape if she blinks twice for yes”, “Anti-abortion but pro-date-rape”, “Wanna go 50/50 on a rape charge?” or (the female version) “No means no… Well maybe if I’m drunk”.

One of six American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. A woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read. In India, a rape takes place every 25 minutes. Are these violated women (and girls) to blame? Never. Not even if they’re drunk, if they’re wearing a short dress or if they’ve been friendly to their assailant(s). Never.

Today – March 8 – is International Women’s Day. As every year, there will be thousands of people – men and women – who will make jokes about it, about obsolete feminists and about how there is not much left worth to fight for. But there is. And we should.


Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… settling for second best

In a few days (February 4) yet another “relationship” book will hit the bookshelves – and most probably the bestseller lists, considering the massive PR work that’s been done around it.

Its “enticing” title is Marry Him: The case of settling for Mr Good enough. In it, author Lori Gottlieb advocates that single women over 30 should stop looking for ‘Mr Right’ and instead marry the first ‘Mr Second best’ who comes along. If not, they’ll end up unmarried and childless at 40 – which would be terrible because as Gottlieb states: “In reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family”.

Seen on a bench in London…

Therefore, she goes on, one “should not worry about passion or intense connection” when choosing a partner and also “overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics”. For marriage is not “a passion-fest” but a partnership formed to run “an often boring non profit business”. And she means this “in a good way”. (Makes you wonder how she can draw the conclusion that the only thing all women really want is “to get married”!)

The “theory” about women having difficulties getting married once they’ve passed 30 is far from new and often goes hand in hand with statistics that are just as ancient. A 24-year old article from Newsweek stating that professional women over 30 only have a 20% chance of walking down the aisle (and women over 40 years a 2,6% chance) is still being actively, and wrongly, referred to today.

But let’s look away from that fact that Gottlieb is stuck in another era. There seems no need either to emphasize that all women do in fact not want to get married at all. Let’s concentrate instead on the “settling for second best” business.

Contrary to Gottlieb, I think that women learn very early on that the “perfect man” (as depicted in various movies, be it in the role of a father or a lover) does not exist. Sure, many of us may dream of getting swept off our feet by some kind of Richard Gere / George Clooney / Luke Wilson (my personal favourite), but do we actually believe it’s going to happen in true life? I don’t think so.

We do however often fall in love with – and marry – men who are not Mr Perfect – at least in our friend’s and family’s eyes. I for one don’t consider any of the men my friends married as ‘Mr Rights’. In fact, I wouldn’t “settle” for any of them, not even at 40. And this despite none of them having bad breath or a questionable sense of style. As for the men I’ve been involved with, well I don’t think my parents or friends ever thought of any of them as Prince Charming.

The thing is though, when you fall in love, the object of your affection becomes “perfect” even if he, like every person, has many flaws. It’s not like you actually believe that the imperfections don’t exist, it’s just that you don’t care about them. And that’s a good thing. Because by the time these flaws do become apparent and irritating (and they nearly always do), your relationship should be strong enough to live with them.

Considering the work it is to be – and to stay – married, there is no meaning in “settling” for someone. It’s unfair on yourself and on the person you’re marrying. On your wedding day, you should be totally and head over heels in love. It’s a minimum requirement. (This might be easier if you don’t spend a year planning your wedding or live together for a decade before actually getting wed).

I have not read a “relationship” book since “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” came out. I think the sexist, prehistoric views it promoted put me off that kind of literature forever. I will therefore not be reading Gottlieb’s seemingly just as archaic and damaging book. I don’t buy her “women are too picky” theory. (In fact, I often think women aren’t picky enough). And I don’t support the “go for Mr Good enough” option. It’s degrading for both sexes.

I believe a woman can have everything she wants – love and children included – without getting married. I believe that “settling” for someone will not provide happiness or a good home to raise your offspring. Most importantly, I believe authors, women and the rest of society should stop viewing marriage as a life achievement award for the female gender. Because why on earth should women settle for that?


Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… putting Valentine’s Day into perspective

Love is a many splendored thing – as is Valentine’s Day, in its own, very particular way. Being single I’m not officially allowed to frown upon February 14 because I’d come across as a sore, bitter spinster of some sort.

However, as I’m constantly being assailed with Valentine’s Day and all things related at the moment, I do think I’m authorized to say that February 14 is slightly overrated and often turns out to be a moment of unnecessary stress for everyone, single or not.

I actually believe it’s worst if you’re in a relationship. You cannot mock or ignore it, not even by saying that you’re against commercial holidays, Hallmark version. It’s unforgivable to treat Valentine’s Day like any other day. That would just seem, well, petty. And you can’t even trust your “cool” partner who says he or she doesn’t care about it, because it’s a lie. Believing that sort of nonsense causes much pouting and frustration.

The pressure is not so much on finding the right present, restaurant or frilly underwear as on “being romantic”. And let’s face it, if you’re not naturally inclined, acting romantic – or reacting to another persons romantic behaviour – is not that easy, especially not on a given day. However, it is essential to try, because you must prove that “you care”.

While I’m all for telling the important people in your life that you love them (some might even say I overdo it in that area), I’ve never been a great fan of Valentine’s Day. (It might have a little to do with the fact that two different men offered me cheese – yes, cheese – as a Valentine’s gift). Like every event where expectations have to be met, it often turns out disappointing. It also feels somewhat unnatural – which might be explained by the fact that it is.

Let me explain. Among the three “Saint Valentines” once acknowledged by the Catholic Church, not one had any links with romantic love. In fact, like Christmas, Easter and many other “holidays”, Saint Valentine’s Day was invented to Christianize a pagan celebration. In this case, Lupercalia, a Roman festival held partly in the honour of Lupercus, God of fertility and husbandry and protector of herds and crops, and partly in honour of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus (supposed founders of Rome). The celebrations involved sacrifices of goats and a dog, and men running round flagellating women to ensure their fertility.

Not much to do with love either, you might say. Wrong. Because Lupercalia was also a kind of “sex festival’. On February 14, small pieces of paper with teenage girls names written on them would be put in a big jar and teenage boys would choose one at random. The newly formed “couple” would then join in the erotic games and festivities of Lupercalia and remain sexual partners for the rest of the year.

In other words, “real” Valentine’s Day shouldn’t have anything to do with cards, flowers, hearts and red-coated chocolate. It’s supposed to be a sex lottery. Maybe one day, it will become so again. But in the meantime, you’d probably better start making more traditional plans.

As for me, I’ll be neither depressed nor feeling sorry for myself on February 14. Despite my single status, I’ll even be celebrating it fondly as the very special day it is. I say this because my son was conceived on Valentine’s Day.

So if your guy gives you cheese like mine did on that same day, don’t despair. Something truly marvellous might happen next.


Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… having sex like fish

Sometimes you learn the most incredible things in places you’d least expect. It happened to me the other day when I was visiting the Parisian aquarium (Cineaqua). I suppose the things I discovered are common knowledge to some, but to me it was big news.

It all started when my son got talking with a young woman working there. She showed him a fish and told him it was 22 years old. I started wondering if it was time to send our sole goldfish at home to “a farm” somewhere (seeing myself retired with it is not an appealing vision). Then she turned to me and asked if she could tell him about hermaphrodites. I promptly agreed. Having recently had to explain to my offspring what porn was, I didn’t mind leaving this one to her.

It turns out that 10% of fish are hermaphrodites. I had no idea. This particular one – a grouper of some sort – started life as a “non-sexual” fish, then became a female at 4 years old and a male at around 12. As the lady told my son: “when it gets really fat, you know it’s turned to a male”.

Needless to say, I spent a few hours looking up the sexual lives of fish afterwards. That’s how I now know about protandrous hermaphrodites (fish that first develop to males, then to females) and protogynous hermaphrodites (the opposite, like the grouper). I also found out that many sequential hermaphrodites (that’s the general term for fish capable of transforming from one sex to another) use their abilities to maintain the balance between male and female fish populations.

For example, in a monoandric harem (ok, I’ll stop using words I didn’t know existed a few days ago) – a harem consisting in one male and several females – if the male dies for some reason, the strongest female will “turn” (within days!) and take his place. A sex change to make up for lack of males in one place? Fish are genius!

As for reproduction, well they’re quite progressive too, being avid partisans of random in-aqua fertilization and group sex. As the aquarium woman told my son: “They all get together and just spurt out sperm and eggs in the water and it all mixes and ends up making baby fish” (and yes, I was forced to have the sperm and egg conversation later on…).

It turns out that sharks are some of the only fish to actually copulate. They are also one of the only species to have different and external “genitals” so you can tell male and females apart (though sharks don’t have actual penises).

Of course, not all fish swim around “spurting” their reproductive material. Some females make nests, lay eggs and wait for a male to come along and “sprinkle” them. Sometimes, the male makes the nest (a fancy bubble nest), he then gets a female in there and “wraps” around her, squeezing her till eggs drop out. Others are “live bearers” (like guppies) and carry their eggs internally. And wait till you hear this: the female guppy can “stock up” on sperm and use it at different times, so she doesn’t have to wait for a male to be around to spawn. Again: genius! (True, these same fish have a tendency to eat their newborn progeny too, but hey, nobody’s perfect.)

And last, but not least, let’s not forget the female fish that take a big mouthful of eggs and sperm and store them in their mouths till the eggs hatch (note to men: see, fish don’t swallow either).

While I may not envy fish for their sex lives (though the water element is pretty enticing and the sex change possibilities interesting), I’m truly enthralled by having found out about yet another brilliant way nature works. And I now look at our goldfish with renewed interest…


Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… Carrie Bradshaw being wrong

Many years ago, I had a boyfriend who got turned on by watching ‘Sex and the City’. While this slightly spoiled the series for me, it did however also have advantages. For example, it meant that I didn’t have to turn down sex upfront. I just needed to answer “Hmm, no, let’s play a board game instead” when he asked, “Shall we watch a few episodes ofSex and the City’?”

The best thing about his SATC addiction though was that he purchased all six seasons – and left the whole set of DVD’s with me when we separated.

A few days ago, I quiet unexpectedly went to bed with season one of ‘Sex and the city’ after a long leave of absence with Carrie Bradshaw and her friends. I initially wanted to test my new Ikea bed laptop cushion (very satisfactory by the way) by working, but my WIFI connection refused to enter the bedroom. Which led to the DVD option.

So there I was, plunged yet again into the life of the successful, beautiful and sexually fulfilled women of New York (even further away now from my actual life than when I first watched the series…).

After a few episodes something strange happened: I realised my vision of Carrie Bradshaw had changed. Before, her relationship with the supposed commitment phobic Mr Big filled me with compassion. I knew exactly how she felt. Now? Not so much.

In fact I thought Mr Big showed a hell of a lot of patience most of the time. When she’s chasing him around wanting to be introduced to his mother (she obviously has never had a mother in law!), when he finds out she’s been spying on his ex-wife or when she has a meltdown because they haven’t had sex for several days (and he doesn’t want to in the middle of a boxing match). The worst part? When she breaks up with him because he won’t say that “she’s the one” there and then on the sidewalk.

I’m not saying I’ve never been just as clingy, jealous and stupidly in search of “proof that he loves me”. I have. Many times. Many, many times. But somehow over the years I’ve apparently lowered my expectations to men, relationships and romance. I no longer relate to Carrie Bradshaw when she dissects Mr Big’s every word and gesture. I’ve never been the “I want a big ring and a big marriage” type of woman. But I had never realised how much she was.

Being so suddenly annoyed by Carrie Bradshaw has been an unsettling experience. I’m not happy with suddenly understanding men who think women are slightly pushy. I’d much more prefer telling myself that I’m getting worked up by ‘Sex and the City’ because it reminds me of a time where I actually had relationships. Either way, one thing’s certain: I’m going to have to check out the remaining five seasons one more time to be sure.


Filed under Speak and spell

It’s a question of… the perfect diet

There is no escape: after the holiday season, it’s diet season. The same magazines that were encouraging me to “shed a few kilos” before Christmas in order to fit into my (inexistent) party dress are now telling me to diet once again so I can become a “new and fit” me. Apparently, all my pre-Christmas efforts didn’t go well… (which makes sense as I didn’t fully engage in any).

To be honest, the magazines aren’t the only ones subtly pushing me towards a little weight shifting. Every time I open my cupboard my clothes shout out “don’t even bother!” I have reached a point where I can only fit into one pair of jeans (because they’re the stretchy type) and am thankful for the cold weather because sporting oversized sweaters doesn’t look too strange. I can’t stand wearing my bra and well, even my underpants are tight – which must be the ultimate sign. So yes, one can say that I really do need to lose some weight.

Will I be buying diet books or following diet recipes from the magazines? Start ingesting vomit-worthy diet drinks, roam the Internet in search of the perfect diet pill or engage in some new detox fad? I think not.

First of all, I’ve learnt the hard way that I’m not the type of person to follow a set program, count calories or eat things I don’t like just because they have a low GI. I refuse to go all protein, fibre or grapefruity – for the simple reason that it’s downright cruel to my system and I wouldn’t last a week without turning into a very irritable and depressive being.

Also, I’m not stupid. Like most people, I know exactly where my unwanted kilos come from and I know that in order to lose them the best diet is also the most simple one: eat less, drink less and move more. I’m not saying it’s an easy diet – I like my chocolate, wine/beer and couch sitting as much as the next person – but it’s by far the easiest for me, and it works.

My perfect diet…

Women’s magazines have taught me a few things throughout the years (it’s not because I don’t follow their diets that I can’t read about them!), so most of this is based on “standard dieting”.

  • I eat breakfast (nothing new here), and 5 to 6 smaller (or medium’ish…) meals during the day (nothing new there either!).
  • I don’t eat after 7 pm (very hard – that’s when I normally start pigging out) but often drink a glass of wine before bedtime. The wine is more for my own comfort. I don’t care about the sugar it contains, what matters is that it’s alcohol and it’s diuretic. Basically, in the morning, I may have a small headache, but I weigh a little less (because of the water loss, but still, it keeps spirits high!)
  • I go “logically healthy” (I eat what I know is good for me). I eat more vegetables than usual, take fruit and yogurts instead of cake, continue having meat and fish and develop a true liking for soup and hard-boiled eggs.
  • I try to avoid bread and to cut down the pasta (one of my deadly sins). I keep dark chocolate in the house though. (It’s good for you and also, I’m an addict). I put even more chilli on my food than I normally do (on cheese, on chocolate, on salad… don’t know why).
  • When I get a hunger pang, I eat pickled gherkins and caperberries in huge quantities.
  • I don’t start jogging or doing sit-ups because I’m not that kind of person. But it would probably do me good. If I’m really motivated, I get out an old stretching video I have and do some moves in front of the TV. It’s the kind of exercise that doesn’t get me too sweaty but still makes me feel good (about my incredible willpower).
  • Then there’s the water issue. Supposedly, it’s important to drink massive amounts of this. While you’ll never get me to bounce around lightly with a 1 litres bottle of Evian sticking out of my bag (I mean, who does?), I do try to drink water throughout the day, but “spice it up” with lemon juice or herbs so I don’t feel like gagging after the second glass. I also replace some of my cuppas of PG tea with green tea (a little suffering when on a diet is normal after all…). I never ever try Chinese diet tea unless I have an urge to spend half the day running to the toilet!

After three weeks of this “personal diet”, I generally lose between 4 and 6 kilos – and keep them off (until I start over-eating again).

Now you may be asking yourself why, if it’s that simple, I can’t fit into my underwear today. I have no valid answer. I know I feel much better when I can wear (all) my clothes and fit into my bra. I know that it’s not that great an effort to lose a few kilos – even for the food-loving person that I am. I sit here trying to find convincing excuses but I really can’t think of any. So I suppose that means I’ll be starting a diet.

Next Monday.


Filed under Fly on the windscreen

It’s a question of… New Year’s Eve traditions

Up until I was about 17, I always spent New Year’s Eve with my parents. After that, it started getting complicated. I remember the first New Year’s party I went to “on my own” as a big deception, ending with me cleaning up while my drunken friends were either being sick or doing things they’d later regret.

For years on row in fact, the celebrations were, well, not much fun. It would start with weeks of discussing where to spend New Year’s Eve and with whom. Once this question had been solved, there would be the endless “what shall I wear” one… followed by a party that never lived up to expectations.

There are however a few New Year’s Eves I remember fondly. One was with friends I have known since school at what might have been the first real New Year’s dinner we put together. We had finally reached the age where eating real food sitting down was no longer “uncool”.

It must be mentioned that not many of these friends originated from the same country. So as we were approaching midnight, everyone started preparing different things to welcome the New Year.  Where I come from (Denmark) we either jump over string or off a sofa when the clock strikes twelve (to symbolise jumping into the New Year). Pretty simple compared to my Peruvian friend who started running round the block with a suitcase (to assure that she would be travelling) while my Spanish friend was frantically popping grapes into his mouth 12 seconds before midnight (a grape and a wish each time the clock chimed). Another friend (Italian) was strangely throwing things out of the window (to get rid of the old year), I think my Salvadorian friend was the one eating lentils (for luck) and I later found out (I won’t tell you how…) that another of my Latin American friends was wearing yellow underwear (to attract money). (I’ve forgotten what my Swedish friend was doing under the table, but it might not be related to New Year’s Eve traditions…).

In other words, thanks to all these different traditions, we had a wonderful night – and all jumped into the New Year with grapes and lentils in our mouths and a saucepan filled with coins (I can’t recall why and whose tradition that was).

This year, I’m spending New Year’s Eve with my parents. It’s become a “new” tradition since my son was born and it’s a wonderful way to start the year (and not only because of the good food). The program will be the same as every year: we’ll listen to the Queen’s speech, we’ll watch Dinner for one (“same procedure as last year”), my father and my son will shoot off fireworks, and at midnight we’ll all hold hands and jump over a string into the New Year.

Wherever you are and whatever traditions you have,

I wish you and your love ones a very Happy 2010.


Filed under Everything counts

It’s a question of… the blue moon on New Year’s Eve

In my family there are certain things you do before sitting down around the New Year’s Eve dinner table wearing silly hats. I don’t know if it’s something my mother once invented to make me tidy my room, but belief has it that the way you leave the old year sets the global direction of the new one. In other words, you’re supposed to have done things like clean your home, pay your bills and shave your legs before downing the champagne and lighting up the fireworks.

As I’ve never been a particular good cleaner or bill payer (not to mention the hair growth on my legs – I’d probably lose a few kilos if I shaved them), I was glad to find out that moon energy can also help me get a good start this year. It so happens that on New Years Eve 2009 there will be a full moon, a blue moon and a partial lunar eclipse.

Whereas a full moon normally occurs once a month, a blue moon – the name given when a full moon appears for the second time in the same month – is a rare event, especially on New Year’s Eve. There hasn’t been one since 1971 (and the next blue moon on New Year’s Eve won’t occur till 2028).

Why is this so important? Well, it’s believed that the (alleged) powers of the full moon are magnified threefold when it’s a blue moon. The blue moon is also considered to be the “purpose moon” – an ideal time for setting new goals that stand a real chance of being attained. Add this to the lunar eclipse – which symbolise endings and letting go – and you have a perfect occasion for creating a new and special start of 2010.

There are different ways to do this but for me a little “moon magic(k)” seems the appropriate way to go. As I don’t have a particular need or possibility of going skyclad (i.e. doing a ritual in the nude) and will probably have a hard time finding even five minutes of silent alone time for moon meditation on New Year’s Eve, I’m opting for the pen and paper wish method. This is done by writing down what you want to leave behind or let go of – or writing what you want to bring into your life. And then burn it. For extra “wish power”, it apparently helps to write it on a bay leaf (but you should know it’s harder – and smellier – to burn!).

Even if you’re not inclined to blue moon beliefs, penning down your vision of 2010 still isn’t a bad idea. According to psychologists, listing your goals and dreams on paper makes them 10 times more likely to happen. So start scribbling – all whilst remembering that blue moons, bay leaves and lists won’t do everything. To make 2010 to what you want it to be, your own energy and willpower will be needed too.


Filed under Everything counts

It’s a question of… online dating

A guy I know recently changed his relation status on Facebook from being “in a relationship” to “single”.  According to the usual procedure, his 150 listed friends were immediately informed and one of them reacted by publically writing not to worry because he could now join the ranks of men who (I quote) “get laid thanks to online dating”.

I’m not sure the comment comforted my recently separated (and obviously depressed about it) Facebook friend but it got me thinking about the change there’s been in online dating these past years.

When I first signed up on a dating website six or seven years ago, it totally changed my life. Within a day I went from single mum who had forgotten the mere existence of males aside her son, to being a woman who actually looked at men in the street again and, oh yes, regained her flirting instinct too. All this because of e-mails I had gotten from total strangers.

I did not put a picture of myself on my online dating profile – something that would not have gone down well today. Most men now demand it (and by ‘demand’ I mean as in ‘command’), along with a whole lot of adverbs impossible to find in one single person. At the time, the market was somehow less competitive and more flaw forgiving.

Not having a profile photo didn’t prevent me from “meeting” a lot of nice guys who sent me long, personal e-mails and read mine in details responding to them with wit and concern. After a week – and for several weeks to come – I was in daily e-mail contact with three of these men. They never once wrote about sex or sexual encounters.

Somewhere down the line, we got to the “phone contact” point. It went fine with man n° 1. We talked for hours, and went on to more explicit texting, but never actually met. (Like me, he had “multiple contacts”, hooked up with one of them and thus gallantly ended our “relationship”).

Man n° 2 I never actually spoke to on the phone, because too much e-mailing nullified all dating prospects and sent us into a friendship zone in which we stayed for several years before losing contact.

As for man n°3, he was the proof that online too, I sometimes misjudge men terribly. The first time he called he somehow got talking about his ex-wife and how she’d “falsely accused him” of “slapping her around” and that he’d had “nothing to do” with her broken nose or arm… I didn’t give him the benefit of doubt.

Despite this last “mishap”, these first online dating experiences were totally uplifting and did wonders for my then battered female ego. I ended up moving in with the next man I met online. He was the kind of guy I’d never have met in real life – or if I had, we wouldn’t have been even faintly attracted to one another. It lasted two years, in part for these reasons.

I have since signed up a few times on dating websites but the whole thing has sadly lost its appeal. Men my age are now all searching for women at least 10 years younger (!) and expect photos and phone numbers to be exchanged immediately. (And for a reason I can’t fathom many think I want a picture of their genitals). Instant messenging is preferred to e-mails and instant virtual sex seems to be preferred to the whole “getting to know” process. The trouble is, having tacky cybersex with a virtual stranger is rarely a good starting point for a relationship.

Online dating the way I first knew it has changed. The supermarket effect is worse now than ever. I feel a complete idiot filling out a search page to decide if the guy I’m looking for can have a moustache, be a teacher and like Chinese food, or spending hours answering random questions about myself so I can get a selection of “compatible” men e-mailed. And don’t get me started on the specialised dating websites, like the ones for Christians, Muslims, Jewish or Pagan singles, for Sci Fi lovers, dog lovers, farmers, vegetarians, golfers, geeks, plus-size singles… Everything is calculated, arranged – and in my eyes, ultimately, that’s not how the laws of attraction work.

I’m not saying my recently dumped Facebook friend shouldn’t give online dating a go. Nor am I saying that it doesn’t work for a lot of people  (It did after all work for me for a time). But I do believe that love, like sport, is not an exact science. I think a cat lover can be a match to a dog lover, and that you can dream of a red-haired millionaire and fall blissfully in love with a blond guy on minimum wage. It’s worth keeping that in mind when playing the dating game online. Love can’t be perfect and nor should it be.


Filed under The sinner in me

It’s a question of… musicals

In the “it was much better before” categories of life, I put musicals somewhere on the top of the list. I’m not saying Mamma Mia didn’t delight me more than chocolate mousse when it came out – it did (I mean come on, Abba songs!), but in general, modern musicals just don’t measure up to the ones I watched when I was young(er!).

Where have they gone, where are the reruns on television? I mean, it’s Christmas, so where’s my Wizard of Oz and Meet me in Saint Louis? (Now replaced by reruns of Home alone 1, 2, 3 and 4 – talk about “Christmas classics”!). For years and years, Christmas wasn’t Christmas without watching Judy Garland sing Somewhere over the rainbow (my all-time favourite song), hiding under a pillow during the part with the flying monkeys and secretly wishing for a pair of ruby slippers. I really miss those magical moments and feel sorry for all those children who will never be in awe before this wonderful black and white movie suddenly turning into a coloured one…

I have my mother to thank for first introducing me to musicals. She took me to see South Pacific and Sound of music when I was around 10, and those songs have stayed with me ever since. How anyone can go through life without singing about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens is beyond me. And it’s priceless to have a song like I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair as an alternative to I will survive when you get your heart broken.

Because that’s what musicals do: they give you songs to get through life – and even a few quotes. Though I must admit that living by my favourite quote from Gigi has kept me in stupid situations a few times (that would be the “I’d rather be unhappy with you than unhappy without you” one).

Singing – and the dancing that often goes with it – has a tremendous liberating effect and no songs fit better into your life than the ones from a musical. I dare not imagine how my teen years (and twenties, and thirties) would have been if I had not had Grease songs to sing (and yes, I do know them all by heart!).

So if you don’t get reruns of musicals where you live either, I sincerely hope you’ll find a few well-chosen DVD’s in your stocking.

Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year – full of old musicals.


Filed under Speak and spell

It’s a question of… believing in something

This morning I watched a woman on TV help people find their “inner elf” (while giving them a massage…). Despite my love of all things mythical and my fondness of elves, I didn’t quite buy her theory about us all having one by our side. I mean, wouldn’t the elf’s presence interfere with that of the guardian angel also supposed to be hanging around?

Knowing what to believe in is something that’s getting harder as I grow older. Take Christmas for example. When I was a little girl, it was pretty simple: there was the story about baby Jesus and the one about Father Christmas. Then you get a little older and understand the real meaning of virgin (as in Mary) and things get a little confused. From that moment on, everything goes downhill. You read that Jesus was in fact not even born in December and that the real “Father Christmas” was a Turkish saint and didn’t wear the red suit trimmed with fur and a belt till he appeared in some Coca-Cola advertisement.

I willingly admit that Christmas for me today is not a question of the Christ’s birth. (If you think about it, a Christmas tree, Christmas food and heaps of presents have nothing to do with it either). I do however celebrate this time of the year with gusto, sing carols about the “little lord  Jesus” and sometimes, even go to church on Christmas Eve.  Why? Because it’s tradition, because it’s cosy and because it  brings together the family. And I believe in that. I love the rituals surrounding Christmas; I like the smell and the taste of it. And I don’t mind telling my son about Jesus or Father Christmas, because they’re great stories and well, without them, we wouldn’t be able to celebrate Christmas the way we do. It also makes the “season of giving” spirit easier to explain.

Of course, I also try to give him a little “outside” knowledge and point out that – as he’s already learning in school – many Christian celebrations are closely bound to old beliefs. He knows how Christmas is related to the winter solstice and Viking Yule, and of course, having friends with other beliefs, he’s aware that our Christmas is just one of the possibilities.

Many erudite men and women have established that it’s important for humans to believe in something. And while the best thing is probably to believe in oneself, there’s no harm in getting a little help from somewhere or someone else. Be it a God or a Santa, an angel or an elf – or a whole bunch of them. As long as the helpers stay helpers and don’t become judges or controllers…

I for one will be setting out a bowl of porridge tomorrow for the Christmas elf. Just in case. So he’ll be nice to me the rest of the year…


Filed under Everything counts

It’s a question of… buying a vibrator

The "Bone", the vibrator designed by Tom Dixon. Price: 99 £

The feeling of “becoming a woman” supposedly overwhelms you when you get your period or loose your virginity. This may be true for others, but for me the doors to womanhood opened the day I purchased my first vibrator. I remember very clearly thinking to myself “Now, I’m a real woman” when I walked out of the store.

I was 25 and had recently changed jobs, leaving an all-male team to join a largely female one. My work conversations moved from football and sex to… sex. The real change was how the subject was discussed. (Let’s just say my new female colleagues were a lot more fun to listen to…).

The question of going out to buy vibrators came up when one of my colleagues heard about a newly opened “Sex supermarket” in Paris. The idea of walking around with a shopping trolley in a supermarket selling only sex toys and all things related widely appealed to all of us. And so, one evening after work, we took off.

The "Squeel" (from, "a wheel of 10 teasing tongues"

The whole experience was delightful. There was only one “connoisseuse” amongst us, but she patiently explained the pros and cons of the various models before letting us put them in the trolley. We each came out with something different and then went out to eat at a very chic restaurant with our bags and big smiles. (For those in Paris, there are now 4 of these supermarkets in town).

My first vibrator was a very plain model in pink plastic. It looked like the ones you see in home catalogues under “massage and relaxation”. Nothing fancy, but it was most certainly the best 30 francs (5€) I ever spent (prices have gone up since!). And was just as efficient as the showerhead – with the advantage of sparing me a trip in the tub.

A "Rabbit" model, made famous by "Sex & the City"

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain this, but I will anyway: vibrators are used to masturbate, not to “replace a man”. True, the result is much quicker (and the orgasm stronger) – and always 100% guaranteed. Nevertheless, men – and women alike – need not feel threatened by it. A vibrator is a masturbation device, nothing more. It doesn’t take away anything from anyone; it just adds a few extra moments of pleasure to life.

Since my first sex toy purchase, there have of course been others. Today I function with a so-called Rabbit (offered by my mother) and a pocket vibrator for travelling (offered by my best friend). If I had money to spare, I’d give a Rabbit to all my female friends – and they would be forever grateful.

Of course, a lot of them already have vibrators. One friend got hers early on from her mother, who told her it was for “combating cellulite” (she was very happy to discover its real use). Another has had to find a new hiding place for her sex toys since her daughter found her “love-beads” and hung them on the Christmas tree…

The great thing is that vibrators have become mainstream. You can discuss them freely, you can buy them easily without having to set foot in a sex shop (I’ve even seen vending machines with pocket vibrators in public toilets) and the choice is amazing (underwater models, ones that vibrate in rhythm with your iPod or your cellphone, designer models, Swarovski crystal-encrusted ones, Hello Kitty ones… not to forget the latest eco-friendly, green technology vibrator: “The earth angel“).

The OhMiBod connects to Ipod or Iphone for "good vibrations"

Surveys show that between 50 and 55% of English and American women use vibrators, as do 40% of Danish women (if someone has the percentages for French women, I’d like to know). That still leaves a lot of women who don’t have that pleasure. In other words, if you’re still looking for that “special” Christmas gift, you know what to buy. The holiday season is all about giving joy. With a vibrator, you can’t go wrong.


Filed under The sinner in me

It’s a question of… men peeing outside

I live on a boulevard in Paris: a wide, multi-lane road with trees on each side, on which my office window has a direct view.

For a reason I have yet to elucidate the tree just in front of my window is the one men always choose to pee behind. And ‘behind’ is of course the wrong word. A tree on a boulevard is as round as anywhere else, so no matter where the peeing person stands, I get a full view of something I’d rather not.

In a week, I’ll see an average of 6,3 men peeing on that tree (yes, I count…). And I’m not just talking about the man who lives two benches down. I’m talking about office guys, delivery guys, simple going-for-a-walk guys; I’ve even seen a neighbour taking a leak there!

It goes without saying that I’ve never seen a woman doing the same. This tree is not a discreet place. There are cars passing constantly at less than one meters distance on one side and a busy sidewalk plus 12 floors of people living on the other side. Why do men pee here as often as the dogs that pass? I ask myself that every day…

Oh, I know all about the wonderful sensation of “freedom” men feel when peeing outside, I know that it’s much easier to do it without wetting yourself when you don’t have to squat, but still, why should I have to watch strangers pee outside my window? Why can’t they wait, use the public toilet or go into the café (both less than 50 meters down the street)?

Each month, 56 000 m2 of Paris are soiled by urine. One can only guess how many men pee in the streets every day to cover such a surface. My answer is: too many.

A few months ago, Susana Ferreira, a journalist from the  Wall Street Journal did a story about the “Anti-pipi Brigade”  in Paris. A lot of (non French) bloggers followed up on it. It  was after all a great story: 88 “agents de la Brigade des incivilités” roaming the French capital in the search of  street “urinaters” and handing out tickets. (I do wish they’d  visit my street, but I’ve never seen them for real).

In 2009, about 2000 tickets (with fines up to 450 €) have  been given in Paris to men relieving themselves illegally.  That’s not much compared to New York where the police have handed out over 18 500 summonses for public urination this year.

My point: I think men who pee outside are pigs. If it’s so important for their “manliness” to do it, they can let the little one out in their own garden or in some remote field. And whilst they’re at it, they might want to practice how to pee straight…

You can watch the video about the Parisian “Anti-pipi Brigade” here.


Filed under Fly on the windscreen

It’s a question of… Sankta Lucia and candles

Last years not-so-fantastic Lucia buns

Today, the 13th December, I’ll be making yellow buns, twisting them into strange forms and sticking raisins in them. It’s part of a Scandinavian tradition that also involves young girls dressed in white, walking around with candles and singing.

These joyous celebrations are made in honour of Lucia, patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Italy – which in itself can seem a little strange as the nominal religion in Scandinavia is protestant, and protestants don’t “believe” in catholic saints.

It’s said that Lucia was condemned to be burnt for not wanting to marry a pagan. But she resisted the fire. Another story says she secretly took food to the poor at night and carried a crown of candles on her head so she could see where she was going. A third story has her taking out her eyes to convert a Prince to Christianity. All stories somehow make it possible to connect her with light – and that’s important. Because the 13th December is not only the day Lucia died (a sword finally got her), it was also known as the shortest day of the year (before the Gregorian calendar was adopted), the winter solstice, which of course has pagan roots. In other words, saint or no saint, Lucia is the bearer of light and Lucia Day a celebration of the days getting longer again.

Sofia Hogmark, Lucia of Sweden 2009

Lucia Day is celebrated in all of the Nordic countries, but is probably taken most seriously in Sweden. Every year there’s a national competition to chose the Lucia of the year (think Miss Sweden without the bathing suits) and most towns have their own local Lucia competition.

When I was a small girl in Denmark, our school (like most others) organized a Lucia procession each year. We all wanted to be the Lucia bride – that’s the girl who leads and who gets to carry a crown of candles on her head (the others just follow holding a single candle). But, at the time, the “politically correct” had not yet been installed and only blond longhaired girls had a chance of getting elected – which excluded me.

A danish version, as I remember it…

The shorthaired and/or dark haired girls got their vengeance later, when the Lucia bride cried as teachers combed candle wax out of her hair or, in some cases, because her hair was burnt… (I’m told that nowadays, battery driven candles are used instead of real ones).

However odd the Sankta Lucia celebration may seem, I love it. So, as my neighbours light their third Hanukkah candle today, we’ll be lighting our third advent candle (another protestant ritual – also done on a crown…) and a whole lot other candles for Lucia, whatever her real story might be. Maybe it all comes down to what the Chinese say: “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”…

A more “professional” swedish version of the Lucia song…


Filed under Everything counts

It’s a question of… Tiger Woods and other men

Big news: men have affairs. This happens even when their wife is beautiful, even when they have young children, and yes, even when they’re presidents. And yet, every time, the infidelity seems to come as a surprise.

Take Tiger Woods. True, he’s been “outed” by no less the ten mistresses in a few days and that’s a lot. But what is it that makes this so big a scandal? That he cheated on his wife? That the women are making money on selling the details? That some of them are porn stars? That they’re all white? That he had unprotected sex? Or is it that he actually thought he would get away with it? (Did Magic Johnson? Did Michael Jordan?)

Nah, the real scandal is “How stupid is he?”. By now, men should know that when they think with the wrong head they end up getting caught some day, some way. (Especially when they have the paparazzi hanging around day and night.) Be it for a blowjob (Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton), because your lovechild shows up at your funeral (François Mitterand), because you bang your children’s nanny (Jude Law) or because you get your “acquaintance” pregnant (again, most recently, Jude Law).

What never ceases to amaze me is that not only do these men cheat on their partners, they do it without protection. Again, how stupid are they? Boris Becker, Mick Jagger, Prince Albert of Monaco, John Edwards… all have at least one “love child” (which, in some cases seems a rather inappropriate word). And across the world, there are millions of non-celebrities in the same situation (with mothers who don’t sell the story and fathers who don’t finance their child’s upbringing).

Cheating on your “second half” is most certainly a lack  of respect in the first place, but not wearing a condom  when doing so is the last straw. Not to mention the  texting, taking pictures of or filming the lurid details, or  talking about it explicitly on the phone (remember  Prince Charles’ phone conversations with Camilla?).

The question is, and will probably always be, why do  men do it? I don’t think you need to be a couple’s  counsellor or a psychologist to answer the question. My personal theory is simple: men are like children, they need continuous attention and always lured by a new toy. That’s why they also often “pass the line” when their partner is pregnant or busy looking after their young offspring. They sense the new kid in the house is going to take the attention away from them, so they seek it elsewhere. Or maybe it’s even simpler, maybe my friend Natasha is right: “It’s because they’re men”. Not that any of these “excuses” are valid of course.

Lots of films deal with infidelity, but none, in my eyes, as well at “Heartburn” with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  If you watch the full movie (do!), look out for the last scene – it’s the one to remember.


Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… friends on Facebook and Twitter who aren’t

From fairy friends on Facebook…

After several years of “being on Facebook”, I’m still drawn to it the same way I am to chocolate. I know too much of it is bad for me, but without my daily dose I get twitchy. I’ve never really been able to explain “why” convincingly to those who aren’t or “never will be” on Facebook. (Probably because it sounds strangely deranged to say: Facebook brings me moments of happiness every day). The thing is, it’s nice to share thoughts and moments of life with close friends, long lost friends, friends I barely remember and even… friends who technically aren’t.

I don’t have a lot of these “fake”  friends. I normally don’t send friend  requests or accept them from people  to whom I’ve never spoken or that  I’ve never seen in real life. That is,  until I got a garden in Fairyland.

Fairyland is one of the many games on Facebook and the only one I participate in. Put succinctly: you plant (fake) seeds, others come and (fake) water them, and some leave (real) messages (if only the same could apply to my real plants at home, they would last much longer).

I’ve made quiet a few fairy friends over the last one and a half year  (that would be the ones who come to water my garden regularly – and vice versa). Two of them, Megan and Maureen, have gone from being fairy friends to “just” friends on Facebook. I felt a “connection” with them early on (maybe because of their frequent allusions to alcohol) and really enjoy “knowing them” more closely because they’re interesting and fun-loving people.

My garden in Fairyland, where I've met many magical people

And then there’s Gill. She’s not on my Facebook friend list (yet), but she reads my blog. I know this, because she often leaves me messages in my garden with allusions to it. It really makes my day – and goes to show that fairy friends can be just as good friends as “real” ones.

… to follower friends on Twitter

Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t offer you friends, but followers – while making you a followee at the same time. It’s not a give and take situation: the people you follow and whose lives you read about don’t necessary follow you. For example, I follow Stephen Fry (like over one million other people), I sometimes even comment on his tweets – but he doesn’t follow me, doesn’t read anything I write and never will. Stephen Fry is not my friend, nor is a certain John Chow (even though he sends me e-mails) or Guy Kawasaki. But I don’t bear a grudge. They’re still nice people.

There are however a few people on Twitter  that I now consider as friends  (well at  least in Twitterworld). We’ve  had a few  DM’s (DM = direct message – like a “private” tweet), I try not to miss too many of their tweets and I truly care about what’s going on in their lives.

My first twitter friend was Barry. I came upon him one night because I was watching Golden Girls and so was he. I have since followed him from his job at a UK call centre back to his natal Scotland where he’s started studying (though I’m not sure what…) and also works in a pub. The way he’s turned his life around and his tenacity are a real inspiration to me, and even though we don’t share the same love of Starbucks and men’s underwear, he’s the follower I’d be the most sad to lose.

I will probably never get to meet my Facebook or Twitter friends-who-aren’t-really-friends in real life. But I cherish their presence online (and let’s be honest: I spend a LOT of time online). Not because I don’t have enough “real” friends, but because these new friends know me in another way and we have things in common I don’t share with others.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to understand that.


Filed under Everything counts

It’s a question of… Copenhagen (and media coverage)

The famous tourist poster created by Viggo Vagnby in the 1950's

Today the capital of Denmark will become the centre of the world. But as the Copenhagen climate summit 2009 begins, so does the media coverage – with all its merits and flaws.

It will come as no surprise that however important this summit is for the planet (and I believe it is), only half of the news reports from Copenhagen will be about climate change, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.

Why? Because when you’re a journalist and you’ve been sent to an event that goes on for ten days, there will be times where finding new topics to report about will lead you down deceiving paths. Mostly, the roads already taken.

While you wait for the world leaders to find some kind of consensus, your newsroom is waiting for… news. And you can only give percentages, talk about who’s there and who’s not and interview scientists so many times.

Of course, there will have to be reports about the security, the activists roaming outside and the planned demonstrations. But once you’ve covered this – and unless of course there’s any unfortunate event in this area – well, you’ll have to find something else to report about (other than the food and accommodation being offered to journalists and delegates – which, frankly, who cares?).

Now let’s see… When Denmark was recently, and once again, elected the happiest place in the world to live, journalists from all over were sent there to find out why. I watched a few of these programs and was stunned by the naïve use of stereotypes.

Ok, so Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography  – but that was 50 years ago! Still, journalists find it necessary to state that Danes are all naked on the beaches (women aren’t even topless anymore), that going to swinger clubs is a common thing (certainly no more common than in the UK or France) – oh, and that no one locks their bikes (yeah, right…). Of course, there is also always a mention about same-sex unions (legalized 20 years ago… so, again, old news) and the prams left “unattended” on the sidewalks.

When watching reports from the Copenhagen climate summit these next ten days, you should therefore expect reports about: anything related to sex and nakedness, deprived over-tolerant, over-liberal Danes who drink beer and allow their children to do anything, and probably also bikes (a topic that can be adapted to the summit: massive Danish bike-riding = fight against the worlds global warming). Take all this with a pinch of salt. The “there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark” was a concept Shakespeare invented some 400 years ago, without ever visiting the country.

I hear now on the radio that the Copenhagen climate summit has officially opened. And media coverage has begun: today, you can read and hear about prostitutes offering free sex to UN-delegates in Copenhagen. So much for global warming.

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Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… escalator accidents

There are things in life you never think about – until they happen to you. Like escalator accidents. And surprisingly, once they do happen and you tell others about it, you suddenly find out that everyone else has an escalator story to tell too.

Considering the awful things I’ve heard from others, my own experience – even though it left me walking through a crowded station in my underpants – wasn’t that bad. Unlike some who have had clothing or shoes stuck in escalators, I didn’t lose any fingers or toes, just my dignity.

For reasons I’m unable to explain, my skirt got sucked into the gap between the side of the escalator and the moving steps one morning in the underground (or subway if you prefer). I tried to pull it out, but it just kept disappearing farther into the gap. Alerted by my (really frantic) screaming, someone pushed the emergency button just in time. By then, I was at the end of the escalator, on my knees, and unable to move.

I stayed in that not so flattering (nor comfortable) position for half an hour while the staff tried to reverse the sense of the escalator and get the skirt free. It couldn’t be done. I was therefore asked to take off my skirt and cross the station (rush hour…) in my that-day-not-so-sexy panties to reach the railway offices. Here, a train operator (who was smiling a little too much) lent me a pair of his spare trousers (and may I add, they were not my size or colours).

I later found out that escalator accidents happen quite often. Apparently, in the States, 10 000 people end up in the emergency room every year because of them (I don’t know the numbers in France). The victims are often children standing too close to the sides or sitting down, or teenagers who don’t do their shoelaces, or silly people like myself who wear too long skirts… Apparently, Crocs shoe wearers are also very escalator accident-prone. And so are dogs. A friend of mine told me of a terrible accident she saw where the dog’s paw got ripped off. Escalators are more powerful than you can imagine.

Before my embarrassing, and yes, a little scary, skirt experience, I never thought about the dangers of escalators. When hearing about accidents, I had the classic “that would never happen to me / my child / anyone I know” reaction. I mean, how difficult can it be to get on and off an escalator? Now, I know better. I take the stairs whenever possible and have become quite hysterical about how and where my son stands on the steps when we do take the escalator. I now also wear pretty underwear every day. You never know…

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Filed under Life in general

It’s a question of…. bad sex scenes

The “Bad sex in fiction” award 2009 has just been announced. The winner this year is American-turned-French writer Jonathan Littell for his book The Kindly ones (originally published in French as Les Bienveillantes). Now this is not just any writer or any book. It’s the one that won the Prix Goncourt and the Grand Prix de l’Académie française in 2006. Supposedly a good piece of literature (I haven’t read it), but the sex scenes in it are really bad (I have read some of those – well I had to, didn’t I?).

I’m not pouring water on a drowning man. Littell has sold thousands of books and will probably sell even more after this. And writing good sex scenes is very difficult, even for the best of authors. Be honest, how many times have you sat in the middle of page-turner to find yourself suddenly cringing over some over-explicit and often totally unrealistic sex scene?

Danielle Steele provided me with my first literary sex. It was OK – except men were always “exploding” in the heroines. I remember being extremely disappointed when I started having sex because I never felt the “explosion” (all I felt was the body on top suddenly going heavy and crushing me). But I suppose what’s bad (or impracticable or downright laughable) literary sex for some, is good for others.

I can safely say that my “awakening” came with The Godfather and the scene at the wedding where Sonny’s having stand-up sex with his mistress and she walks away from there with the aftermaths still between her thighs. I haven’t re-read it for many, many years, but it really had a great  effect on me in my early teens. (In the film it doesn’t come  across nearly as arousing). I “stole” the book time and time  again from my parent’s shelves as some forbidden fruit.

Why exactly? I have no idea. Maybe if I had already had  sex at the time and had known how difficult perfect stand-  up sex really is, it wouldn’t have captivated me so much…

It’s hard to say what makes a sex scene good in writing. Recently, I came across an author who pens down sex massively and explicitly but gets away with it fine: Adele Parks. But there are many more. For some strange reason (and despite The Godfather), most are women. I’m not making this up; it’s a fact. Women writers are better at it, maybe because they are more truthful. You need proof? Amongst the short-listed authors for the “Bad sex in fiction” award there was only one woman for nine men…


Filed under The sinner in me

It’s a question of… Nutella

It should be forbidden by law to have Nutella in the house. As it isn’t, I installed a personal rule many years ago banning me from buying it – except in case of an emergency. I’m trying to find what critical situation might excuse me having Nutella all over my face this very moment, but have difficulties concentrating:  I’m eating it directly out of the jar with a spoon. And, despite me putting the jar back in the kitchen after every spoonful, I know I’ll continue going back and forth till there’s nothing left.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Nutella commercials lately. You know, the ones with children and how it’s really good for them to eat two slices of white bread with Nutella every morning (as long as they drink a glass of juice at the same time). If it’s good for them, it’s good for me, right? Of course, the enlightened person I am knows about the 1173 calories hidden in the jar I’m about to finish, but I keep reminding myself that Nutella’s mostly a hazelnut spread and that nuts are good for you…

Many French people believe that Nutella is French. When I was younger, I thought it was Austrian because it was always shown beside what I believed to be mountain flowers (I had a long “Sound of music” phase). I’ve just found out that it is in fact Italian (a Mr Pietro Ferrero made the first version in 1946).

I’ve also learnt that it’s sold in over 75 countries across the globe but doesn’t taste the same according to where you buy it. The Italian version has less sugar than the French one, which is softer than the German version, and so on. But apparently, the addictive side of Nutella is common for all.

On the official homepage, it says that Nutella outsells all brands of peanut butter combined worldwide. This I find strange (my own peanut butter consumption taken into account), but believable: the three Nutella fan pages on Facebook have over 5 million members; the biggest peanut butter fan page I could find hardly has 5000.

My jar of Nutella is now empty (and my keyboard sticky). I wonder how many of these I’ve finished off since I was a teenager? Quite a lot – after all, it has always been the first antidote for heartbreaks and despair. I don’t even have that excuse today. But then again, do I really need an excuse to eat Nutella?



Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… making Christmas simple

In the stack of magazines collecting dust next to my bed there are many old Christmas issues. Every year at this time I go through them, reading for the hundredth time about how to make the perfect Christmas dinner, diet in time to fit into my party dress, decorate my tree and make my own Christmas cards. None of which I ever really have the intention of doing, but I’m under the impression that reading about it somehow awakens my “season spirit”.

The main mission of these magazines seems to be “to  keep Christmas simple”. My 2005 issue of Prima has no  less than “430 ways to make Christmas simple” written  on the front page. The year after, 33 more ways  apparently showed up. Oh yes, the 2006 issue of  Prima offers “463 ways to make Christmas simple” on  the remarkably similar cover.

To think that there are more than 400 things to do in  order to make Christmas simple seems awfully complicated. As for the omnipresent advice about how important it is to plan ahead, well, if I had done that, I would probably be thinking about Easter right now instead of reading about the “1001 tricks, tips & clever ideas” for Christmas…

It’s not that I don’t want to plan ahead. Every year, a few days before Christmas when I’m all stressed out about the things I still haven’t done (like presents…), I promise myself that next year I’ll do better (I could hardly do worse). It never happens, because as my son said today (about something entirely different): “We’re always eaten by time”.

And in the end, it doesn’t matter. Christmas has never been a failure because I didn’t make my own pudding or because I wrapped my presents in newspaper, 10 minutes before putting them under the tree. As for the dinner, well I have to admit, we spend Christmas with my parents so no worries there; my mother’s the best cook in the world.

The best way to make your Christmas simpler is probably to stop comparing it to the ones pictured in the December magazines. Although even they seem to show a sense of humour nowadays. Guess what Prima’s front page advice for 2009 is? “Relax, it’s Christmas”. Now that’s funny.




Filed under Life in general

It’s a question of… high heels

One of the (many) things my mother never succeeded in teaching me was how to walk in high heels. Or let’s just say heels, because they don’t have to be many inches or centimetres high for me to look like a drunken duck when I wear them. (I once strained my ankle badly falling in flat mules).

Mums don’t give up easily (which, generally speaking, is probably a good thing). So every now and then she still buys me a pair of high-heeled shoes I wish I could wear. I have quiet a collection ready for me to “slip on” for whenever I’m invited to a place where I never have to stand up.

I know high heels make you taller and thinner and give you a killer posture. All of which wouldn’t do me any harm. But how people actually walk in them remains a mystery to me. I for one would never criticise Victoria Beckham for anything because I’m in total awe of her extreme high heel walking talent (though I have read she’s going to need a bunion operation soon…).

A few months ago, a special Heels Academy (“Talons Academy”) opened in Paris to teach women how to walk in heels. Strangely enough there’s a course for “day heels” and another for “night heels”. Not sure what the difference is (the height assumingly?), but it’s not making things easier if you also have to adopt your walk to the time of the day! There have also been several “races in heels” going on round the world and I’ve seen videos from Sweden and Holland of “workout in heels” classes.

According to podiatrists and insurance companies though, wearing high heels is a health hazard. Thousands and thousands of women are injured every year when they fall in their stilettos and many more suffer bone deformities and long-term knee injuries. Last year, Scotland’s biggest railway stations even put up posters asking female customers not to wear high-heeled shoes because so many had slipped and tripped and hurt themselves causing havoc for other train passengers.

All this to say that despite the high heel epidemic amongst the “celebrities”, despite all those beautiful and sexy stilettos I pass every day in the shop windows, and even despite my mother’s continuing efforts to try and get me on the wagon, I won’t be wearing heels any time soon. Except maybe lying down, but that is an entirely different question.

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Filed under Fly on the windscreen

It’s a question of… having a gaydar

My lack of gaydar has cost me a lot of time and relationship failures in past years. It’s even become a laughing matter amongst my friends. Every time they hear I’m into someone they automatically ask if he’s gay. Sadly for me, he often turns out to be.

You’d think that missing a gaydar is only problematic when you’re gay, but no, it can be just as bad when you’re straight.

My long string of “intuition deficiency” induced stories started when I was 17. I spent a whole year with an extreme crush on a friend everyone seemed to know was gay except me. I finally got the message one day when we met for lunch. As I approached him (with a big smile) he hissed: “Go for a walk and don’t come back before at least 10 minutes. I think the guy sitting on that bench is going to hit on me”. That was how he told me. The only small consolation I had that day was when the guy on the bench’s girlfriend turned up.

I have since fallen in love with gay or bisexual men time and time again. I met my first bisexual boyfriend on holiday in the south of France. He worked in a hotel kitchen doing pastry but after hours he did stripteases in a nightclub where, well yes, I suppose there were a lot of male customers. Maybe that should have given me a hint. Or the fact that he always wanted to borrow my clothes.

Actually someone told me he was “à voile et à vapeur” (literally “in sail and steam” – French expression for bisexual), but my French wasn’t that advanced and l just thought that he liked to sail (duh!). Then one night we had dinner with two of his friends. He introduced the girl as “my ex-girlfriend” and the guy as “my ex-boyfriend”. And I finally got the message. It didn’t bother me. But the fact that the two ex’s were dating somehow did.

My second bisexual boyfriend cheated on me with a skater (clichés happen…). But to this day, he’s the best kisser I’ve ever met – and he taught me a lot. In my opinion though, bisexual men are not a good option. I have a tendency to be jealous. Having to be “double-jealous” is really too hard.

After my last (very recent) gaydar failure I did what I usually do and once again turned to my best friend (who’s gay) for advice. I mean, why can’t I learn to see if a guy is gay BEFORE falling in total obsession? What can I go by? After all, not all gay men like musicals, Cher and design objects – and a lot of straight men do.

My friend can’t really help me. Neither can any of my other gay friends. They all say they don’t have gaydars either. Or, well, they do, but theirs have a defect too: they assume that practically everyone is gay. And that kind of wishful thinking can lead to a lot of dispappointment too!


Filed under The sinner in me

It’s a question of… getting lost in translation

English is not my first language; neither is French for that matter. Even after 25 years in France, I sometimes say funny things – that aren’t supposed to be. Normally this happens when different languages get entwined. When I use a word from one language and transpose it directly to another, or when I translate an expression word by word. Even something simple like “no hard feelings” or “you should take that with a pinch of salt” doesn’t really make sense when said in French. (Not to mention “I was bored stiff” or “I’m going to wet my whistle first”).

I’ve also sometimes had difficulties when the same word has different meanings in the same language. When I first came to a French-speaking country (and hardly understood a word), I was sent to the school doctor for a check-up. She asked me something about “règle” and I gave her my ruler. Had I been using my head I’d probably thought it strange that a doctor would want my ruler. But how was I to know that “règles” also means “period” (yet another word with different meanings!)?

All this to say that I have a big tolerance and a lot of affection for confusion and comical situations that happen when different languages merge or meanings get lost in translation (for example when you use a translator found online). It makes me laugh when I hear stories like the one about Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux using a slogan in an American advertising campaign saying “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”, or about Parker marketing a ballpoint pen in Mexico with an ad saying “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant” (instead of “and make you embarrassed”).

A few days ago, I found a website where people send in photos of translation mishaps. A lot of them made me laugh out loud. If you need to smile a little (and who doesn’t?) – the link is here.


Filed under Speak and spell

It’s a question of… school reunions

Every now and then, I listen to the “Wear Sunscreen” CD my mother gave me a decade ago. It helps me put things in perspective. One of the phrases that always sticks with me is: “the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young”.

This makes perfect sense. I get a real kick out of talking with people who knew me “back then” when I was bolder and more adventurous, when I wore black nail varnish and dog collars and spent much energy on falling in love and writing poems about it.

And I’ve been very lucky in that sense. A lot of my close friends today are the same I went to school with. We’ve accomplished to stay in each other’s lives despite the fact that we’ve followed different paths, often in different countries. I’m deeply grateful for that.

But through the years, I had also lost contact with quiet a few others who had contributed in making me the person I am today. Enter Facebook. Thanks to which I’ll soon be going to my forth school reunion (I changed schools a couple of times). By now though, I am well prepared and know what to expect. I won’t even be contemplating going on a diet, buying new wrinkle cream or sweating over “what will they think of me?”. Because I know now that it won’t change a thing (and it’s too late anyway).

My very first school reunion made possible thanks to Facebook was with my old primary class. Most of us had not seen (or heard of) each other in over 25 years.

Actually getting an answer to the “I wonder what’s become of…” and seeing everyone again was an intense and strange experience. Of course people change physically over time and course, not all turn out the way you thought they would. But all in all, “the way we were”, in the group, with each other, doesn’t change that much. Old patterns and old roles stay and that’s unsettling. As is discovering how your former classmates remember you (rarely the way you’d want to be remembered!)

Memories are without a doubt the most surprising thing with these reunions. Friends you spent hours and hours with, in school and outside, remember things you don’t recall – and the other way round. It’s like you sometimes each lived in parallel worlds.

And then of course, there’s seeing the boys you were once so smitten with that you wanted to die, and actually being able to tell them. Except that they are now men, often married and don’t always look like your idea of super hunk anymore (though I must admit I had much better taste then than today!).

And when the evening is over and you’re all high on emotion and visions of your youth, you make the promises of “staying in touch this time”. You might not always follow up the way you think you’re going to, but it doesn’t really matter. You know now where they are, and thus, where some of you is. And that’s nice.


Filed under Everything counts

It’s a question of… not liking Mondays

When the Boomtown Rats had their ”I don’t like Mondays” hit, I was about 10. It took several years of listening to it on the radio however before I understood that the song was not about someone hating school, but about a real-life school shooting.

What at the time was still a rare event – a 16-year-old girl opening fire on a school playground across her home – has since become a recurring and horrifying news item. Though the shooter is not often a girl and does not often live to tell why she committed such a senseless act. The answer Brenda Ann Spencer gave when she was arrested was that she “didn’t like Mondays”. Would it have been better if there had been a rational reason for an absurd act? She’s still in prison and was denied parole for the forth time this year.

I know many people who don’t like Mondays. After all, Monday is generally the day you choose to start on something “life-changing”: diet, stop smoking, going to the gym… Good intentions, but not always something to look forward to. It’s a “back to work” or “start looking for a job again” day. It’s also a medical fact that there are more heart attacks on Mondays.

As for me, I pretty much like Mondays. It’s the day I start looking forward to the weekend again.


Filed under Fly on the windscreen

It’s a question of… getting a Zhu Zhu hamster

I’m pretty sure that there have always been must-have-for-Christmas toys around. Right now, I can’t remember exactly what it was when I was a child. Most likely some TV-advertised device that looked fun on screen but turned out disappointing in real life. Like the Barbie-doll that didn’t really dance by itself or the game that only had a drawing of an explosion (unlike the real “bang” seen on television).

From what I can understand this season’s hottest toy is a robotic hamster from Zhu Zhu pets. I myself have always been a guinea-pig person, but I have no difficulties seeing the appeal of a Patches, Chunk, PipSqueak, Mr Squiggles or Num Nums. These hamsters are cute. They make sweet sounds, run around and play, but don’t need to be fed or have their cages cleaned (they don’t have one), and they don’t bite if you wake them up (probably because they don’t sleep). Also, you can (did you even doubt it?!) get a whole lot of cool accessories. Because every hamster needs a skateboard and garage…

The best thing about the Zhu Zhu hamster however is its price: under ten US dollars (or English pounds or euros – currency isn’t what it once was). So even though my son has not yet been hypnotized by a Zhu Zhu hamster on TV (apparently they’ll only go on sale in France in 2010), I’ve been surfing around the web to find one for him (and admittedly also for myself… Even fake hamsters need playmates).

Its turns out, not surprisingly, that all toy retailers in the US as in the UK are out of stock. And Amazon and eBay resellers have them at over six times the original price. So he/we won’t be getting a fake hamster for Christmas. And no, not a real one either. My mother won’t let us…


Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… getting the flu shot

This time last year, I hurried out to buy the regular flu vaccination as soon as it was available. I found it in my refrigerator in June. When I threw it out I told myself “good luck that I never used it” – but that’s only because I was lucky enough to pass winter without getting ill.

Forgetfulness was not the reason I didn’t get the shot, nor was fear of needles. Fear of side effects from the vaccination was.

Now I’m not against vaccines at all. On the contrary, I think the parents who don’t get their children the “classic” shots are irresponsible. I did however spend several months constantly nauseous and generally “off” after a hepatitis B vaccination. Since then, I haven’t been as “shot-popping” as I once was. I do the strict minimum.

This year I didn’t even bother to buy the regular flu shot when it came out. But now I’m asking myself if I should get the H1N1 flu shot. And even more important: should my son get it? Is it wrong to do it – or not to do it?

In France (where I live) parts of the population considered “at risk” were offered to get the shot this week. Of the people I know, some have done it, others haven’t. None of those who asked their doctor “should I get the vaccination?” got a clear answer.

When French medical workers were offered the N1H1 flu shot the week before, only 10% got vaccinated. Is it any wonder why 76% of the French population say they’re not getting the shot either?

As for me, well I still haven’t made up my mind. People often criticise the police state side of society. But in this case, I’d really like someone to take over – and take the responsibility if the wrong choice is taken…


Filed under Fly on the windscreen

It’s a question of… choosing your vampire

The major movie event this week “seems” to be New moon. I have to admit that I’m pretty jealous of Stephenie Meyer’s success. It has the same effect on me as Helen Fielding’s achievement with Bridget Jones’s Diary: Why didn’t I think of that?

I haven’t read Meyer’s books or seen New Moon (yet) but I did see the first film, Twilight. Just to find out what all the fuss was about. Being a very (very) big fan of Buffy the vampire slayer, I didn’t expect to become an immediate groupie of the Twilight team. No danger of that. I think the weird jumping-around-in-trees-at-incredible-speed scene was the last straw.

Of course, had I found Edward the vampire or Jacob the wolf mildly attractive – or Bella a little bit interesting – I would probably have become a Twilight addict too. But for me, the only fantasy-worthy vampire in the film was Carlisle Cullen (played by Peter Facinelli), and even he can’t compete with the all-male Buffy vampires : Spike (James Marsters) and Angel (David Boreanaz).

New Moon apparently has fans divided between Edward and Jacob. Just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer had an Angel team and a Spike team. I was massively into Spike (and unconditionally so after “Smashed”, season 6,  9th episode… ).

But I think that the reason I was (and still am) such a great Buffy fan is because of Buffy. She’s the “Chosen One”, she’s strong, sexy, and unafraid of “the darkness”. She’s a fighter. But she’s also funny and gets to fall in love and (well, yes…) have sex with hunky guys and vampires (real dangerous vampires – not the Twilight version that get all shiny in sunlight). Nothing to do with Twilight’s Bella, who kind of needs to be protected all the time.

All this to say that I am of course going to see New Moon (as soon as I can catch in on a streaming website). To satisfy my curiosity and the Judy Blume teenager that’s still in me. But I beg you: if you’re a Twilight fan and haven’t yet watched Buffy the vampire slayer, please do, starting with season 1, episode 1, and see for yourself. Only then will you really know which vampire to choose…


Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… cyberbullying

I’ve always been wary of people in a group. Somehow, being in a group can lead us humans to do appalling acts we would have been quite incapable of engaging in on our own. Perfectly nice people become bullies, and otherwise petty aggressors become outright criminals. This is why I always try to steer clear of people in groups on streets and in public transports and why I’ve never been totally at ease in a stadium.

Recently, I’ve been painfully reminded about what hurtful consequences the “group effect” can also have in a playground and how an otherwise happy and confident child can be reduced to a unhappy and insecure one in just a few days of “group therapy”. Luckily, my son is still in an age where he tells me a lot of what goes on in school and I can still do some damage repair.

However, I believe that anyone who’s been a target for bullying will remember it for life. I still recall the many times I sat huddled up in a corner of the playground hidden under my coat while my classmates made fun of my name… And yet, compared to what I see and hear about today, that’s nothing.

I also remember with much shame a few episodes where I was the one “helping” with bullying someone. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t the leader of the pack. Whether you’re in the pack or outside but not doing anything to stop it, it’s still terribly wrong and damaging. Peer pressure might be an explanation, but it’s never a viable excuse.

Children can be incredibly cruel to one another. I don’t know if it’s because they’re too young to understand how hurtful they can be, if their minds are not yet evolved enough, or if it’s because they’re not yet as good retaining their natural human instinct as (most) grown-ups are. Another reason may be a lack of proper adult supervision or appropriate “moral input”…

The reason I’m writing all this? I received an invitation yesterday from a young girl I know to join a Facebook group. The group was directed against a schoolmate of hers. I have no idea who the targeted girl is but I can well imagine how the creation of this group has affected her because it affected me deeply.

I suddenly got a preview of what kind of bullying my own child can become a victim of – or generate himself – within a very short time. And I find it frightening. The girl who sent me the hate group invitation is an otherwise intelligent and sweet girl, from a loving family – which is probably why her act shocked me even more. If she can do this kind of heartless and stupid thing without measuring the consequences, I can only imagine what those bullying my child in the playground today will be capable of doing online tomorrow.

The worst thing about it? If or when it happens, I won’t be able to do as much as I’d like. Because the older he gets, the less I’ll be able to monitor his each and every move online and off.

A recent UK study revealed that 50% of young people have been cyberbullied and 29% had told no one about it. An American study showed that cyberbullying victims were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had not experienced cyberbullying.

There are so many, many things to protect your children from today and so many things to teach them. It’s no longer a question of not accepting sweets from a stranger, looking out for cars before crossing the street or saying no to drugs. Amongst many other new dangers, parents have to teach their children Internet safety and online behaviour too – and let’s be honest, many of us don’t respect – or understand – a lot of this ourselves.

To the girl who sent me that Facebook invitation and to the ones who joined her group, I would however like to repeat what my parents taught me long before Internet was invented and what I in turn tell my own son very often: Always treat others the way you want to be treated. It may be ancient advice, but it works in cyberspace too.


Filed under Fly on the windscreen