Young People and Sex

I enjoy listening to podcasts. They are a way of making otherwise humdrum routine activities enjoyable. Part of my exercise routine involves a boring bike ride which is only saved by being just the right length for a BBC radio drama. I need about three of these to get me through mucking out the goat shed’s tons of fetid manure.

I also use podcasts to help me with my Welsh language proficiency and am always on the lookout for new podcasts in Cymraeg to broaden my experience. Many of the podcasts I subscribe to have a decidedly agricultural bias to them. This results in vocabulary being skewed to the farmyard and animals; I’m pretty fluent in discussion varieties of diarrhoea in sheep and goats, but less articulate if the subject turns to politics, culture or the economy.

You can therefore imagine my pleasure when I found the podcast “Siarad Secs” (Talking Sex) on the BBC. A new Welsh language podcast on a totally different subject; miles away (hopefully) from sheep and the farmyard. However, I had not considered this fully. While I might enjoy sticking my toes into a new subject I had forgotten one of my pet peeves. I hate listening to young people talking about sex.

It is not that I am prudish. I’ll happily listen to others talking about sex, just not young smug people. People who have just exited puberty and discovered the joys of sex tend to think they have become, in their inept fumblings, masters of the subject overnight. I can appreciate that if you wanted to discuss how strong the sexual drive can be, or how inanely it can make us behave, or even the degree to which it can command our lives, then by all means chat with a young person – the more immature the better.

However, young people tend to be all lust and relatively little experience. We don’t take people just after passing their driving test and ask them to tell us at length about their views on driving. Though I have found that new drivers, like the newly sexually experienced, are overly keen to tell you of their skills and offer you their opinions. But we don’t encourage this or go out of our way to experience it. No-one’s heart jumps for joy when their young surgeon says “This will be the first time I’ve done this op“, we like our authorities to know more than us and to have had a modicum of experience.

It is not simply a matter of numbers; not simply how often, or in what permutations, someone has had sex. It is how experienced they are in the full range of our sexual lives. Those in the first flush of youth can tell us about the drives of the libido but will never understand the changes that happen later in life when libido flags. They will never understand how Sophocles felt he’d escaped a “savage monster” and George Melly felt “unchained from an idiot” when libido thankfully waned.

It also takes time and experience to learn the wisdom of the importance of sex other than as a recreational pursuit. Those searching for partners, or looking to establish families, are likely to offer fewer pearls of wisdom than those who have managed to establish long-term relationships and created stable families where the importance of sex for bonding and reproduction come to the fore. One needs to be older to know, if one is lucky enough, how to sustain a long term sexual relationship once the novelty has faded. Even more importantly, it takes time and consequently age, to know how to sustain love in a relationship when sexual life has changed with age and infirmity.

I’ll grit my teeth and persevere with the podcast . At least I know how to say “Sut i roi condom ar fanana“(*) if I ever need to and it does make a change from all the talk about the weather and mud. But I don’t think I’m ever going to truly enjoy listening to smug folk pat themselves on the back for talking about sex, it may be new and exciting for them but for the rest of us its a case of “been there, done that”.


(*) How to put a condom on a banana

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I have, over a period of nearly half a century, read this book three times. Interestingly it has made a very different impression on me on each occasion.

I first read the book in my late teens. This book was one of the important texts of the day and every young man and woman had read it. One would have risked being seen as uncultured if one hadn’t read this book. I knew that it was an acclaimed dystopian vision of the future and an important warning of the dangers of totalitarianism by one of the century’s greatest thinkers. However, I have to be honest and say that much of this was lost upon me. At the time I was in the revolutionary socialist phase of my development and thus found the warnings about the dangers from an over powerful state rather fanciful. Though I did see the risks associated with increasing consumerism I couldn’t really see the risks of increasing technological advancement. As a child of the 60s the Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” speech was still ringing in my ears. But essentially the major problem was that I was an adolescent male. The idea that a future could be full of easy sex and free recreational drugs didn’t really scare me. At some level I think I might have thought it a utopia rather than a dystopia.

A few decades passed until I read the book again. Now I was a middle-aged man with a mortgage, children and many responsibilities. I re-read this book and discovered what all the fuss was about. This was a book that really frightened me. As a parent of children, I could see the dangers that he foresaw. The risks of the loss of liberty, the debasement of relationships and art, the dangers in shallow and glib answers to deep and difficult problems were all things I now knew first hand. He was warning us of an exploitative, consumerist society where little matters other than consumption and the fulfilment of appetites. As a ‘baby boomer’ I had witnessed these changes first hand and worried, if the changes continued unabated, what the future my children might inherit.

Recently, again after an internal of some decades, I read the book again (It had been chosen by my book club).If my first reading had led to disbelief, and the second to anxiety, the third reading led to depression. Now with enough years under my belt I was able to see that the book was not just a dystopian novel but Huxley has been shown to be eerily prescient and the book is, with hindsight, rather prophetic. The decoupling of sex from reproduction and relationships now seems almost complete in our days of contraception and tinder. The predicted use of psychotropics to cure us of our angst and unhappiness is now well established. His warning that there would an assault on the idea of the family (as it suits neither capitalism nor communism) seems to be starting in earnest. Many aspects of family life (the education of children, the care of the elderly, for example) and now the responsibility of the state and when the family is discussed it is often seen as a problem – the place where unspeakable evils happen to children or where parents fill their childrens’ heads with antiquated cultural views. Huxley feared that we would not be able to play without the use of gadgets we have to buy and anyone who has watched the changes to play in children and adults can see that this is a growing problem. He feared art would become debased, and films (or rather the “feelies”) would descend to simple tales of excitement, ” .. plays, where there’s nothing but helicopters flying about, and you feel the people kissing’; anyone who has seen Die Hard 5 or The Fast and The Furious 9 know that this has already happened. Some of his wildest predictions have some echoes to recent changes:-

‘Why do the smoke-stacks have those things like balconies round them?’ enquired Lenina. ‘Phosphorus recovery,’ exclaimed Henry telegraphically. ‘On their way up the chimney the gases go through four separate treatments. P2O5 used to go right out of circulation every time they cremated someone. Now they recover over ninety-eight per cent of it. More than a kilo and a half per adult corpse. Which makes the best part of four hundred tons of phosphorus every year from England alone.’ Henry spoke with a happy pride, rejoicing wholeheartedly in the achievement, as though it had been his own. ‘Fine to think we can go on being socially useful even after we’re dead. Making plants grow.‘ Brave New World (p. 31). Random House. Kindle Edition.

We now presume consent for organ donation, our dead bodies are not a gift to others but presumed property of the state – just as the motto of the Brave New World proclaims – “Everybody belongs to everyone else“.

If there is a problem with the novel it is that it tries to cover too much ground and there are many, many themes. There are trenchant discussions on the role of suffering in life, the place of religion in society and whether truth and happiness can ever be compatible. It does rather lead the penultimate chapter to be less part of the novel and more a philosophical essay. However, these are minor flaws in what is an excellent novel. If you have not read it you really should. If you have already read it then it may be worthwhile reading it again if, like me, you were a callow youth first time around.

Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

I have mentioned before that years of indolence and gluttony led me to develop Type II Diabetes a few years ago. It should really have been no surprise as my usual diet read like a nutritionists warning sheet – “Don’t eat these things!” – pies, sandwiches, cakes, sweets. The only vegetable I enjoyed was the potato and preferable after this had been deep-fried. Added to this I had a serious aversion to exercise. I tended to see my body as just the apparatus for moving my head from place to place, and anything that made me sweat or short of breath was clearly something to be avoided.

For the best part of a decade I had coasted thinking that because I had given up smoking (three packs a day) I had done all that was necessary for my health routine. It was while basking in the glory of my smoke-free life that I received the news of my diabetes and the reminder that I was going to die, and possibly my demise would not be a long time from now. After serious revision of my diet and serious weight loss (over three stones) my sugars were brought under control and I managed to get a bit fitter. I noticed for me, as the scientific research had said, a lower carbohydrate diet and regular exercise through walking brought my sugars close to the normal range.

I started walking every day, the dogs were delighted and they too became fitter. I started jogging and running. I saw my daily turns round the block as my “running away from death” exercises. Then I thought; if walking is good, and running is better, then surely getting a pair wheels will be able to put even more distance between me and the grim reaper with his scythe.  I thus decided to buy a bike. Well, before this. I resurrected an old bike that I had kept in the garden for a decade under a tarpaulin with some holes in it. I freed the bike with two cans of WD40 and banged the chain into some form of flexibility with a mallet. The rear brakes worked, if you had plenty of notice to apply them, while the front brakes thankfully didn’t work ,as when they rarely did grip they did it with a grip sufficient to toss you over the handlebars. After a few weeks on old rusty I noted my sugars were better (probably the exercise of trying to combat the resistance of years of rust) and thus I decided to buy a new bike.

Now I am aware that I am prone to fads. I run at things with headlong enthusiasm  for a month or so then loose interest so I was a little wary in buying a bike. I had quite a shock when I read reviews of bikes which suggest that this was an excellent buy at only £1000. There were also many warning in the magazines about buying BSO’s (bike shaped objects) as they suggested that these mass produced cheap and cheerful bikes were more trouble than they were worth and would not save you money in the long run. Fortunately my Scottish heritage came to the fore, my reluctance to spend money got the better of me, and I decided to buy at the lower and of the market.

After research I found out about B’Twin a French company with a long and established history of bicycle manufacture who now operate in the UK under the Decathlon name. They manufacture the high end bikes but also much more basic, and affordably priced, models. I plumped for the Riverside 120 hybrid bike and the affordable price included free delivery.

B'Twin Riverside 120
During its inaugural run

The bike came within 48 hours and was very easy to set up. Screwing on the handlebars and attaching the pedals were all that was necessary to be up and on the road. It also came with a basic set of lamps. There was a booklet which usefully described how to set the bike dependant on your size which was clearly written and  helpful. The bike only has 8 gears rather than the 18 or 21 which are often offered. This had actually appealed to me as I found that the complicated gearing systems were too much for me, I would jump gear to gear trying to find a comfortable ratio to work in and there was far to much choice. I would either be standing on the pedals trying to use my weight to slowly turn them or my legs would be a blur, like an egg beater, as they whirled against little resistance and I made little, and wobbly,slow , headway. Eight gears are fine – gears 1 to 3 are for going up hills, 4 is pottering or into string winds, 5 to 8 are for going fast – it really is quite simple.

The simple gearing, correct position and absence of years of accumulated rust and resistance have made the bike a joy to ride. I have only had it week or so (so we are still in the possible ‘fad’ territory) but I have used it many times each day. By the end of the week I am faster and fitter that I was at the start and I have enjoyed my time on the bike. Hopefully, I am putting a little bit more distance between me and my funeral but in any event I am having fun. If you are in the market for a cheaper bike, something simple to use day-to-day then I’d recommend this. Even is this is a fad I haven’t bankrupted us and will still have a way to get to the village if the car breaks down.

 

The Death Of Stalin

The Death Of Stalin

We try to go to our local cinema in the town on a fairly regular basis as we wish to give it our support. Like many small communities we are loosing many of our services as they are concentrated in the cities and larger towns where the economies of scale make them viable. So we go regularly, not because we are film buffs (though we do enjoy cinema), but to try and keep up the audience numbers. It will be another thing certain to disappear in the near future.

The car and personal transport led to the decline of public transport systems; the railway has long gone and the bus services are very rudimentary. Shopping malls and internet shopping have decimated the local towns shops. Internet banking is now taking the banks and building societies away from the small towns and, at the moment, plasma televisions, film streaming and on-demand viewing are banging the last nails of the coffin of our local cinema.

Therefore on a cold Friday night in January we joined the six others who made up the audience to see the latest film on offer. Including the two staff on the evening the number of people just, and only just, made it into double figures ! The cinema itself is pleasant, the seats are comfortable, the screen is large, the sound is state of the art and the prices are reasonable. The film we saw was also very good, but  I fear our hopes of saving our cinema are rather forlorn.

The film was saw was The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci. This is a comedy and political satire based on the events surrounding the death of Stalin and the consequent scramble for power after his demise. The script is historically accurate and the tensions and power-plays of the time are used to good comedic effect. In the early part of the film the difficulties of knowing Stalin are well shown, how do you live with a paranoid psychopath who has total power ? The feelings of tension and fear that this would engender are skilfully drawn. The acting is first class and it was a wise move to forgo using Russian accents as it left a natural feel to the performances and allowed some excellent comedy turns (especially Jason Isaacs as General Zhukov). It was a pity there were only eight of us in the auditorium to enjoy it.

However, after the film I noticed I had a nagging doubt. There had been nothing amiss with the acting, direction or production and, as I said above, the script was extremely funny. The anxieties of some of the characters was revealed but there was a huge gaping hole in the story. The experience of Soviet citizens living through this nightmare. Although there were scenes which alluded to the terror, these were slight and almost dismissed at times. The assassinations, the firing squads, the tortures, the secret police, the destruction of families, the corruption and the sexual abuse were there but only on the edge of the frame.

While recognising that this was a comedy I can see why many would say that there is no need to spend time on the horrors of totalitarianism. But would we have made a film of this nature about the difficulties of power battles in the Nazi high command ? Would we have had a comedy character for Mengele ?  Lavrentiy Beria was at least Mengele’s equal. Stalin introduced him as “our Himmler“, at the Yalta Conference, and he would not allow his daughter to be alone with this known sadist, rapist and mass murderer. This man was the head of the dreaded NKVD which organized the terror which engulfed Russia and he was also responsible for the ethnic cleansing which followed after the Second World War. Is this really a suitable subject for a skit?

It is surprising that we have quite clear double standards when we look back at the atrocities in our recent past. We have no difficulty in condemning the horrors of Nazi Germany but seem to have a blind spothouse-of-terror-2084 when we remember the horrors which arise from the left field : the horror of the Gulags, the horror of the cultural revolution in China, or the horror of the killing fields in Cambodia. The totalitarianism of the left has not been kinder than that of the right nor has it been less industrious. They are equally responsible for mass murder and abuse. The House of Terror, established in 2002 by Maria Schmidt in Hungary reminds us of this fact lest we forget. So, although I concur that this is a well-made and successful satire, I was left feeling uncomfortable as I am not entirely convinced that life under Stalin was a laughing matter.