Posts Tagged With: relationships

The truth about love

Romantic love makes your knees turn to jelly

Romantic love makes your knees turn to jelly

Hey – this is supposed to be an adventure journal, a ripping travelogue from steamy South America! So where do I keep disappearing to? You have every right to ask. I should be writing this with trembling, blood-stained hands. I should be telling you about my hair-raising adventure in the Andes where I contracted double-malaria after being attacked by a herd of tsetse flies. Or I might be dictating this to an amanuensis because I am attached to an oxygen machine after my swash-buckling travails through the Amazon jungle, wrestling crocodiles and with only a tub of Marmite sandwiches to keep me going. But no, folks. The sad truth is that I have been hiding out in my little pad in Porto Alegre, watching Brazilian soaps, reading George Gissing, frying fish and depressing over Bradford City losing twice in the space of a week. Life is a crock of cockroaches at the moment. But I don’t feel sorry for myself – oh no! In fact, by busily doing nothing, I have had time to reflect on something we all cherish, crave and care about.

L-O-V-E. A mystery we never seem to solve. Can we learn more about it, or is it something you can only feel? Who knows most about it? Poets and songwriters? Jilted lovers? If you learn more about it as your life goes on, then I should know quite a bit by now, seeing as I am entering my dotage. One of my very favourite poets, W.H. Auden, spent his whole life trying to understand what those four little letters really mean. He begins one poem wittily:

W.H. Auden spent a lifetime writing about love

Wystan Auden spent a lifetime writing about love

Some say love’s a little boy, 
And some say it’s a bird, 
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that’s absurd, 
And when I asked the man next-door, 
Who looked as if he knew, 
His wife got very cross indeed, 
And said it wouldn’t do.

And he ends by asking how he will know love when it comes: 

Will it come like a change in the weather? 
Will its greeting be courteous or rough? 
Will it alter my life altogether? 
O tell me the truth about love.

Of course, I cannot hope to ever match Auden’s insight and wit. I’m from Bradford, remember. But over the years I have had a few ideas about love myself. Romeo I am not; Casanova neither. But having had a few broken hearts and plenty of time to mull over the whole business of romantic love, I would like to share a few of my thoughts and maybe shatter a few myths. So here goes:

LOVE LASTS FOREVER: Who said that? How do they know? Sorry to disappoint you, but love is not a solid, static thing that sits permanently on your shoulder. Love is the most fluid thing; it won’t just stick around. Love comes and goes and sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop it flying off like a bored budgerigar. The point is not to feel guilty about it. No-one is to blame when love steals away. The surest things can change. But fear not: love will come back another day and make you glow all over once again.

Jealousy is self-love tinged with hate

Jealousy is self-love tinged with hate

LOVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WORK: Yes and no. If you spend all your time cultivating loving relationships you might end up as a bus driver. Love is here today and gone tomorrow and there isn’t much you can do about it. But there is a lot you can do to improve your work options. And someone who loves their work is much more attractive than a shabby sentimentalist who can’t even buy you dinner. I say: work hard at finding something you love doing for a living, and let love come and find you. Unless, of course, you love buses.

LOVE AND SEX ARE DIFFERENT: Whoever said that deserves a chocolate cookie! The trick is never to confuse the two. But for that trick you need to be a master magician, unfortunately. How many people get married because the sex is good only to find themselves waking up every day next to a wazzock. You see, passion cools, and it’s better to assess the respect you have for your lover when the flames have died down. Because respect is the key to a long, loving relationship. You need to find someone you deeply admire, but still fancy. Tricky, huh?

LOVE IS FEELING JEALOUS: Isn’t it natural to feel a twinge of jealousy when your lover is swooning in someone else’s company? Maybe. But being possessive can be catastrophic and says more about your insecurity. If you genuinely love someone you will want them to enjoy their freedom, too. Besides, if your partner is really enjoying someone else’s company that much, you had better let them go. Just make sure you have a hobby to turn to when you get dumped. I collect plastic submarines.

LOVE IS SAD: I have learnt this the hard way. Love might be quick to depart, but there is always a little bit left over that stays in your system. As you get older, it builds up and can easily turn to nostalgia. Better to allow the old loves to mature inside you, like good wine. Without the sadness that love leaves behind, we would never experience the joy of finding and treasuring love in the first place. Joy and sadness: these are the essence of love.

LOVE, AND BEING “IN LOVE”: “I love my partner, but I’m not in love with him anymore.” I’ve heard this a few times, but what does it mean? It means you don’t really love your partner, or rather, you love him like a brother. But you can live without your brother, so you really need to move on. Love means staying “in love”, and I don’t mean sizzling in the flames of passion, I mean the delight you feel just watching your partner experiencing moments of happiness. Falling “in love” is so wonderful that sometimes we fantasize about having a fling on the side. But if you are prepared to risk all on an illicit affair, better dust off those suitcases in the garage.

Poet Wendy Cope doesn't know what to say on Valentine's Day

Poet Wendy Cope doesn’t know what to say on Valentine’s Day

Love is not “staying together through thick and thin”. It is not a test of commitment. Love is freeing your spirit, not trapping it in a dingy flat in Shepherd’s Bush. Love doesn’t calculate; it liberates. It doesn’t build up resentment; it forgives and renews itself. Love is like a butterfly that doesn’t die. Oh dear – now I’m trying to sound poetic. So I’d better finish with a proper poem, or part of one. Wendy Cope wonders what to say to the man she’s been with for donkey’s years when another Valentine’s Day arrives: 

Today’s the day we have to be romantic.
Our love is old and sure, not new and frantic.
You know I’m yours and I know you are mine.
And saying that has made me feel romantic,
My dearest love, my darling valentine.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. But that’s enough romance. Next week I will post some pictures of me grappling with a big brown bear in a supermarket car park. I thought the bear loved me…I was wrong. 

I found this alligator in my swimming pool, so I've been a bit busy

I found this alligator in my swimming pool, so I’ve been a bit busy…honest!



Categories: Books and Writers, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What’s it all about?

I need to remember the meaning of life before I kick the bucket...

I need to remember the meaning of life before I kick the bucket…

If I get knocked down tomorrow by a number 27 bus there may be a moment when my whole life flashes before me and I think, “What was all that about?”. I might just have the strength to reflect upon what exactly I have learnt from my 50 odd years at the crease. Not much, of course, apart from the obvious: that beer is the reason we carry on, that we do everything to impress our mothers, that women are gods, that vinyl is better than CDs and that Bradford City is the greatest football team the world has ever seen. But seriously, folks, what lessons have I really learnt from life? Well here are a few to be going on with:

Love is essential, but it’s not enough. That’s because, love it or hate it, we also have to work. The happiest people I have met are those who love what they do, those who would do it for nothing. Love is a feeling; it comes and goes and there’s not a lot we can do to make it stay. But work happens every day and if you don’t get excited by it, life is going to be a long, frustrating haul.

Kindness is a virtue. I once invented a character called Brian Bottomley. He was ugly, overweight, had bad skin, dressed terribly, and smelt like an old cabbage. “How can we possibly like him?”, I asked my friends. The answer came back: “Well, if he’s a kind person, we can forgive him all the rest.” After all, it is doing good things and helping others that makes us happy.

Stamp-collecting is for saddos...LPs are 12 inches of pure pleasure

Stamp-collecting is for saddos…LPs are 12 inches of pure pleasure

Don’t compromise in relationships. It’s easy to kid yourself, in the heat of passion, that your new squeeze is Adonis or Helen of Troy. But unless you develop deep respect for your paramour, the pillow talk will soon turn sour and the sight of unwashed underwear make you gip. Love is finding someone who is endlessly fascinating. And that can take years. Settling for less won’t bring you joy.

What’s your hobby? I’ve heard it said that English men are famous around the world for three things: having bad teeth, having hobbies and being gay. It’s all those camp actors, lousy dentists and stamp collectors that did it. Nevertheless, without a hobby, without something that engrosses me and makes me feel like a demi-god sometimes, my life would be a poor show. Work and the family are just not enough. We need to lose ourselves in something.

Don't forget to do that thing that broadens your horizons

Don’t forget to do that thing that broadens your horizons

Travel is golden. There is a lot to be said for staying in one place, putting down roots, having a wide choice of friends. But it’s the adventurous spirit that finds the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. “See the world, lad, before you settle down”, my grandad said. England can be an inspiring place, but it’s just one little, funny country. Travel can turn the Brian Bottomleys of this world into the George Clooneys. Well, you know what I mean.

Material wealth won’t make you happy. In his book Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton explains how people today are less happy than before, despite being much better off financially. That’s because they can’t bear the shame of not having as much as the next guy. They bust a gut to keep up with the Jones’s. Everybody could get by with a lot less if they realised that being rich is a state of mind.

Ignorance is not bliss. Tony Benn, my all-time favourite politician, once made a joke about his time as a government minister saying that he wanted to raise the school-leaving age from 15 to 65. Learning enriches your life all the way. One day even I will understand the link between interest rates and inflation, or the opening speech of Measure for Measure.

Music is divine. Words are all very well, but they often get in the way. They dominate, assert themselves, trick you, bully you. Most of all they interrupt the silence. Music is purer. Through music we listen to our inner selves.

The inimitable Monty Python team...I want everybody to laugh at my funeral

The inimitable Monty Python…I want everybody to laugh at my funeral

Death is something to look forward to. Imagine being 539 years old. You would be tetchy, bored witless, seen-it-all-before cynical. You’d also probably be pretty disgusting to look at. If coming into the world is a great adventure, why can’t going out be a greater one? Friends and family are wonderful, but to be on your own again for that rollercoaster ride into the great unknown must be the ultimate thrill. “To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream,” as Hamlet says. By the way, I want the Monty Python theme tune (The Liberty Bell) played at my funeral, alright? And if I don’t hear it I’ll haunt the lot of you!

Categories: Music, Musings, Travel, Vinyl | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Till Death Us Do Part…

It's just me and you, duck!

It’s just you and me, duck!

Whoever invented monogamy should be shot. I mean, only being able to have sex with one person for the rest of your life just isn’t natural, is it? Surely sex is one of life’s great adventures: something that grows and blossoms like a flower; something to be shared and then discovered anew with different people. T.S. Eliot once said we measure out our lives in coffee spoons. But isn’t the truth that we measure our lives by the quantity and quality of the lovers we’ve had? If you only manage one or two dull, uninspired bed-mates in your life it’s all been a bit of a failure, hasn’t it? Ah, but what about love, I hear you say…

A Bradford pub, where you're bound to encounter all sorts of carrying on...

A Bradford pub – where you’re bound to encounter all sorts of carrying on…

When I was in my 20s I discovered at least one truth about love. It happened one night in a pub in Bradford when a mate turned up with a “girlfriend” we had never seen before, a woman he had met and was now “living with” in London. When she had slipped to the toilet he blurted something out: “Jane is really great. I love her…but I’m not in love with her”. Ah, there’s the rub. The difference between the two is paramount, Hollywood even. The question is then, how do you stay in love with the same person for donkey’s years? Doesn’t passion always turn to routine and couples turn into something more akin to brother and sister? Surely sex is a spark, an electric rush that is ignited by novelty, secrecy, newness, naughtiness.

In Brazil it is quite common to meet middle-aged couples who have been together since they were at school. Admirable, you might say – enviable even. No horrid break-ups to go through, no cringing jealousy to suffer, just a long solid slice of togetherness. Sweet. But hang on a minute – don’t they ever fantasize about sleeping with somebody else? Have they managed to shut their eyes to any tempting, sexy beings who pass their way? Or have they conditioned themselves to stop fancying other people, to think about something else, to have a cold shower and read some poetry?

T.S. Eliot taking a fancy to Stravinsky's wife, or thinking about coffee spoons

T.S. Eliot taking a fancy to Stravinsky’s wife, or thinking about coffee spoons

It’s a funny world. Now we have realised that monogamy is a shibboleth of organised religion, a dictate of the church – a lie no less – why don’t we just put it all behind us and start having multiple partners? Well, some brave people tried that in the 1960s – open marriages they called it. Didn’t work. Why? Because somebody got jealous, somebody’s ego just couldn’t handle it. In the end open marriages became normal marriages again, only with somebody else. Our romantic love has to be focused on one person only. It just isn’t possible to love two people at the same time. Or is it?

When I was in my 20s (again), there was one unforgettable Christmas in Bradford when I found myself in the delightful and unrepeatable position of having three women on the go. Perhaps I was just a scoundrel, I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that I loved them all in my own way. If I had been forced to choose one it would have been very difficult. I was lucky, though. If a woman has several partners she gets labelled as loose – tarnished in some way. When a man does it he’s a stud, a kind of hero, someone to be envied. Funny that. Perhaps that goes back to the bible, too.

Right - from now on if you even look at another woman I'll knee you in the nuts, you toe rag!

Right – from now on if you even look at another woman I’ll knee you in the nuts, you toe rag!

Of course, when you get older you have children and then you are responsible for a family; the goalposts have changed. The family is something sacred, hallowed turf from which it is scandalous and disreputable to stray. But that’s only because we accept it as such. There is nothing “natural” about the family unit because there is nothing natural about modern society. Indeed, the family unit can be seen as an incredibly conservative institution, something that fits nicely with the individualism and materialism which prop up capitalism. Perhaps that is something we just have to live with “for the sake of the children”. Nobody wants to be the first to start a revolution, or try another open marriage.

So, the greatest challenge in life – fidelity – is one we just have to accept, along with rotting teeth. We have to constantly stop and check ourselves from going a step too far with someone we fancy because we are married or “spoken for”. When we, the faithful, get to the end of our lives, I hope we can look back with great pride and self-righteousness; I hope we will say “we didn’t succumb to temptation, we didn’t give in”. 

Sir John: more sex, please, I'm British

Sir John: more sex, please, I’m British

The former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, was asked near the end of his life if he regretted anything. “Not enough sex”, he said. As he had been married and had several lovers in his time, I suppose he meant “not enough sex with different people”. You see, love and sex are wonderful things, but there’s just not enough of them in our lives. 

“Speak for yourself” I hear you say. Well, in writing this I seem to have learned at least two things about myself: 1) I fall in love too easily; 2) I’m a coward.

Categories: Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The green-eyed monster is coming…

Aaah! I hate myself, but I can't stop thinking about...

Aaah! I hate myself, but I can’t stop thinking about…

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Shakespeare (Othello)

Falling in love is not just exciting: it’s a wondrous, life-affirming tonic that leaves us all a-tingle. Then there are those breathless moments of passion that follow. So seductive is the feeling of new love, that many people cannot stay in a relationship for long as they feel the magnetic pull towards another fresh romance.

But being drunk with passion has its ugly flipside: being dumped. And there is a particularly nasty kind of dumping guaranteed to turn your insides to sewage: being told by your precious loved-one that you have been replaced by a new sexual partner. Suddenly, you feel like a bag of entrails left outside the abattoir. In short, life as you knew it has ended with a sickening thud.

Why oh why can’t we just get over it and move on? Why can’t we wake up the next day and jump out of bed with a spring in our step, a free agent ready for new amorous adventures? Why does sexual jealousy turn into a blackening obsession that mortifies everything it touches?

"Why can't you understand? It's over. You're history."

“Why can’t you understand? It’s over. You’re history.”

I speak from experience, of course, having endured three catastrophic bouts of sexual jealousy by which I was reduced to a pallid, paranoid cretin. I was never brave enough to top myself. But with self-esteem at zero and falling, the mental strain was sometimes so intense that it makes me shudder to recall those dark and bitter days. To anybody who has had the green-eyed monster on their backs, the symptoms are all too familiar:

  • Dawn wakings: when all you can think about is your ex-lover cavorting rapaciously with her new beau, trying to sleep is bad enough; but any light slumber is shattered at around 5am when you wake up with your heart racing into another day of morbid obsession
  • No appetite: interest in food is eliminated with remarkable efficiency; as I got paler I also shed pounds of paunch. Actually, being dumped is a great way to slim, though certainly not my preferred method
  • Drinking: the bottle seems like an easy means of escape, so you hit it with reckless abandon, until you realise that every time you get sozzled, the reason you drank so much in the first place hasn’t gone away; in fact it hits you like a bucketful of wet cement
  • Smoking: my old nicotine habit rocketed with each new breakdown; the first thing you reach for at 5am is a ciggy, hoovered up so fast the tip becomes a red-hot poker; if any of my organs could complain, the lungs would have screamed for mercy at such times
  • Becoming a bore: only your dearest friends have patience with you as you rant about your ex from morning till night, inventing absurd possibilities and pathetic schemes which all come to nothing

One thing I did avoid, mercifully, was any kind of contact with my dumper – that way madness lies. A mate of mine, however, didn’t have such willpower. He once followed his ex and her new lover back to her place late one night, then sat outside in his car and watched the windows light up through the house, until the bedroom light finally went out. As he watched, he was chain-smoking and imagining the new couple love-making. Sheer torture, no less. I would prefer to drink three or four pints of seawater myself.

"I bet they're swooning over each other! How could she just cut me out of her life?"

“I bet they’re swooning over each other! How could she just cut me out of her life?”

So what did I learn? After all, these kind of emotional upheavals are supposed to be character-building, or so everyone tells you: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and all that. Maybe. Someone once said to me I was unlucky and it would have been better if none of it had ever happened. Maybe.

Well, for what it’s worth I did learn some things. For instance, jumping into bed with somebody else doesn’t work; falling in love with someone else does, but that can take a long, long time. I learnt that I’m probably an obsessive type, for whatever reason, and that these things hit me harder and for longer than other people. And that I was pretty useless at choosing the right kind of girlfriends (though usually they chose me). Perhaps the most heartening thing was the deepening friendships that developed when I was on my own: you certainly learn who your real friends are when you are having an emotional breakdown. And how much your family can support you, even though they get fed up of hearing your sob stories.

In the end, the sad truth is there is nothing you can do. Nothing works – nothing at all. Except, not giving up on life. Hold on, grit your teeth and hold on. Then, when you finally do come out of that long dark tunnel, you will sing like a nightingale with a bag of monkey nuts.

Categories: Musings | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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