Thursday, June 02, 2005

Being Obedient

Talking to people in the street recently for a television piece about all of this, one moment stood out. I had thrust the microphone under the noses of middle aged, old aged, young, black, white, Chinese, Scandinavian, Australian men and women, on their own, in couples of all sorts, arm in arm as obvious lovers and in any number of combinations of friends and family. Slightly to my surprise they had all revealed a remarkable degree of consistency in wanting some conventions. I began to wonder if I was just asking very square people. Then appeared this young woman. Maybe twenty-one or two. She would never have made it through a metal detector and got on a plane. She was a walking hardware store. A metal peacock, she was pierced from crest to toe. And she looked like she had the plots of the novels of Terry Pratchett tattooed on her body. Young, independent, an upright bed of nails she was magnificently rebellious. And her language matched. "Can I ask you a question?" "Yeah" she sneered a sexy smile. "Do you date boys or girls?" "Boys". "Well then if you went to eat somewhere on a first date, would you expect him to pay?" "Course I fucking would. Cos he's a fucking bloke." "Would you worry that that might mean he'd expect you to sleep with him?". "Course I fucking would because he's a fucking bloke" Then she added, "But I wouldn't".

I met a woman in a shop on Saturday, whom I have know not well for years. Maxine, How are you? maxine I said. She answered that she was fine (and her tone added silently "given the circumstances") She thought I knew that her husband had died. Six weeks ago, In fact it had slipped my mind that he had relapsed and was so ill. I don't know her that well. So we stood in the electrical shop having one of those odd conversations in which i tried to say something that wasn't entirely trite and she tried not to burst into tears. It made me think of the Victorian Widow. In the book there is a reference to Collier's Cyclopaedia and the victorian rules for widowhood. Despite their ridiculous sounding detail now, their one clear advantage was that they signalled a woman's loss. They signposted her grief. I would have known that Maxine was mourning in Victorian times. I am not suggesting we go back, but it's a good example of the way formality has given way to informality for women. And that contrast between the formal and the informal is worth exploring for its effect on womens' lives.

I nearly got stabbed again the other day. Well at least I got shouted at by a gang of young men. Cycling along the seafront I was very well behaved and sticking to the bike lane. Three bikes all came to a halt because they were standing in our way. We couldn't move to the pavement and they just glared at us when we pointed out that they were in the cycle path. "Yeah?" "So?" There was a tone of injured little boy pride in their voices as if they'd been caught stealing fruit or lying about their homework. It seemed odd that they couldn't just step aside and we could all smile at each other.

Anyway I weas grumpy middle aged man and said something. I expected to be spat at. Should I have just ignored it? It made me furious.

I launched the book the other day at a gig in the Brighton Festival. The splendid, sardonic and charming Guy Browning shared the stage with me. He talked and read. I talked and read. And then we asked people for their dilemmas. Guy and Simon's Guide to Manners and Living.

My boss tells lies the whole time - what should I do?I have a friend who is exhausting. Every time she rings, it lasts for 45 minutes and it exhausts me. What should I do?My parents used to give very formal dinner parties. The guest list was worked out in incredible detail, the seating plan military. But that just doesn't work for me. So how do I choose guests? How do I seat them? How do I make it really fun? Are there any rules?How do we date now? What are the new rules between men and women? Can a man pay for dinner? Can a woman? What are the rules for writing an e-mail?

It went on for an hour and a half. So, what are your dilemmas? What are your answers to the questions they were asking? Email me now...