Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bubble perms and Bros

I'm sure Bros is supposed to be prefixed or suffixed with some kind of punctuation, you know, like Wham! were, although I'm also beginning to wonder if my memory failures when it comes to The Eighties aren't altogether to do with how terribly tasteless a decade it was.

When we reminisce a particular era it is generally the one when we were in our teens, hence it comes with a focus on fashion, music and not much else. I can noteably boast that I was indeed born in the 'Summer of 69', was therefore ten and a half years old at the start of the 1980s and already owned a severe musical fixation on Queen. The girls at school arrived with scented erasers and other unnecessarily pastel-shaded accessories, stuffed into Duran Duran pencil cases, to be unpacked and repackaged into some other artists' 'merch' the following week. I was kind of envious, I suppose, but it wasn't enough to turn me away from rock music.

I don't dislike Eighties synth. pop. Far from it. I still quite like to listen to Depeche Mode or The Smiths from time to time. No, only the first part of that statement is true - amongst my fellow Eighties reminiscers it is somewhat more respectable to claim to have listened to The Smiths, but if I'm honest I used to think Morrissey was a pretentious twit and he hasn't done a whole lot to change my opinion since. I have at least grown up enough to recognise the quality of his work and I don't have to like him to like the music.

So, 1982 was the year I became a teenager, although I can't say I was one in the social sense until 1985, by which point my kind of music was becoming more popular. Yes, yes, I too was devastated when Wham! called it a day and have never quite recovered from George Michael's 'shock revelation'. We laugh about it now, but seriously. How were we to know in The Eighties? It took most of us about a year to figure out Boy George's gender, so we had no hope when it came to sexual orientation.

Apart from the Athena man. Did anyone honestly believe he could have engaged in an act that would conceive the baby he carried? I doubt it, but it was a lovely poster, if you like that kind of thing. Myself, I opted for a couple of slightly more political posters, which I am as embarassed to describe as anyone else reading this will be when they register the thought: 'Oh God! I had that poster!'.

One was a painting of a mushroom cloud, with the words 'When Will They Ever Learn?' emblazoned across the bottom. I was especially proud of it, I assume, as I had it on the outside of my door. On the outside? What was I thinking? Well, I was probably thinking that at least out there I won't have to look at it.

The other poster was a photo of the tail of a humpback whale, again snappily sloganned 'He roams the seas in freedom with no enemy save man'. What can I say? I'm an old hippie who buys posters. Besides which the alternative was a girl scratching her bottom with a tennis ball.

Right, anyway, I had the posters, I got along respectably with the music, I had a wedge hair cut for a bit, then that whole permed on top, straight at the back hairstyle took over, so I had one of those, then the Big Hair bands entered the charts and I abandoned the pretence of being Phil Oakey's backing singer in pursuit of the status of rock chick.

Now at this point, being as there's not a whole heap of evidence to the contrary, I could claim that I grew my hair, permed and styled it in a large, wavy, fringed rocking out kind of style, had a tassled leather jacket and so on. I did have the perm and the fringe, but what these youngsters don't realise as they start up again on the 'perms are good' fad is that perms are very, very bad. How bad? Have another 'very' and we're getting there.

First off, if you comb or dry your hair it frizzes into something resembling what hamsters sleep in. If you don't comb it you look like Kevin Keagan - that's how he looks now, not then. Then there's the notion of 'letting it drop' a bit, which whilst it's 'dropping' means that your shoulder length hair is now sprung up round your ears, and then it finally drops somewhere around the time that an inch of straight-haired regrowth is sprouting out of your head.

Perms strip the colour (my grandmother's claims I had dyed it red were unfounded, but she declared it all better when I dyed it black again and I'm still dying it now), split ends abound and finally when it's over you get to look back and, if you're very lucky, be extraordinarily grateful that there's not a whole heap of evidence of how ridiculous you looked with your bubble hair.

As if perms weren't degrading enough, I tried white shoes, photo-print t-shirts and all the other stuff we thought was great, but I'm a perennial scruff, so never could carry it off convincingly. In 1987 I finally settled into Converse boots, scrunched-up socks, leggings and big baggy jumpers and that's pretty much where I stayed for the last three years of 'the decade that taste forgot'. Even taking inflation into consideration, Converse boots were a damn sight cheaper then (my grandmother had much to say about these too, none of it particularly complimentary), which was as well, considering they lasted approximately four weeks, before the rubber fell to pieces, taking the canvas with it.

I shall own up to a dalliance with pop at the end of The Eighties, in the sense that I bought cassettes released by Bros, Wet Wet Wet and Bobby Brown (and went to a couple of concerts by the latter - he was very good, by the way). I even had some of those famed MC Hammer big droopy pants, in shiny metallic blue. I thought they were 'boss', because things were 'boss' globally then, not just in Liverpool.

Perhaps it is merely the act of passing out of one's teens and into one's twenties, although for me this coincided almost exactly with the end of The Eighties, so I can't be sure, but I left behind all the transience of youth and settled on 'a look'. No more fashion silliness for me, I'm sure I must have consciously decided at some point. I also found myself watching 'Top of the Pops' with the idea of later buying anything of value, then the thought would slip away and it became another 'album I must get round to buying'.

"Eventually", said my mother-in-law, "You get so far behind that you just give up."

Balls. She was right about that, although I'm not done yet, or at least not with the music. I'm pleased to say that I've not allowed my musical tastes to be pigeon-holed and will still listen to anything, including Wham! and Bros, with or without decorative punctuation; at heart I will always favour rock music, especially that cheese we loved back in the day. However, as much as I may hanker after a youth that was not spent as a sexy, big-haired rock chick, the rest you can keep - the pastel fashions, perms and stilettoes were not really my look, and as for those MC Hammer pants...

Is it any wonder I only wear black these days?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No. She's deadly serious...

Interesting that I should find myself getting in on this debate. I always have a lot to say about everything although generally choose not to, or at most may engage in a private rant and then let it drop. However, I was asked for an opinion, thus I am giving it.

'Single Girl In The City' wrote an enpassioned response to Penelope Trunk's Boston Globe article: 'Want to have a baby? Now's the time' and I don't blame her, not just because her experience of men would lead most women to a nunnery.

It reminds me of the articles I used to read in the Femail section of The Daily Mail, penned by the likes of Melanie Phillips and Linda Lee Potter, that would have me throwing my notepad and a fair few expletives around. I recall with special fondness a paper (published under the guise of academia) which suggested working women's fight for equal pay was stealing the family wage from their male counterparts, because working women are single and working men aren't. Apparently. It's not the 1950s, love. Take off your pinny and stop smiling at your bloody washing machine.

And so to Ms. Trunk, who is entitled to her point of view, especially as she's clearly making a decent living out of having one. In case you haven't been and read her article, she states that women who want a family and a career should do the family bit first and put their career on hold. She says a lot more besides, so it's worth a read - only to put in context what follows and also what 'Single Girl In The City' has to say.

It is a biological reality that for women WHO WANT TO HAVE CHILDREN, this is best planned for and achieved well before the age of 35. To conceive later in adulthood poses various risks to both the mother and child, including increased incidence of Down's Syndrome, SpinaBifida etc. for the child and Pre-eclampsia and other complications of pregnancy for the mother. Early onset of menopause may bring lapses in ovulation and prolonged use of contraception can also impact negatively on fertility.

We know this already. It's what makes it perfectly acceptable for the old yet virile Michael Douglas to wed and bed Catherine Zeta Jones whilst the equivalent female with accompanying toy boy is frowned upon. Curiously in a species that has by and large managed to bypass or control most base instincts we still cling to the conventional wisdom that the ability to procreate is paramount to whether a sexual relationship attains social acceptability. This continues to extend to our treatment of gay and lesbian relationships.

Tying childbirth and / or parenthood to long-term partnerships is fundamentally unnecessary in contemporary western culture, where increasing acceptance is given to the notion of choosing a single life or indeed choosing to join a pre-existing family unit, regardless of the sexual orientation of the individuals concerned. Putting aside the technology that allows for women to conceive without men, rearing a child can be achieved in the absence of one or even both biological parents - all children need is a stable and consistent emotional bond. With whom they form that bond is of no consequence.

In summary then, it's obvious that if a woman wants to have a baby of her own then she's best doing this earlier in adulthood. If a man wants to father a baby then he needs to meet a like-minded woman and fully commit not just to the deed, but the aftermath also. Women undoubtedly have far greater freedom to choose to parent in the absence of a partner. However, that freedom comes at a cost.

To even imply that women can have both a successful career and a family is nonsense, generally. Accepted: there are exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between. For almost every woman, the decision to start a family is one that is made knowing that from there onwards they are parent first, professional woman second. The career becomes the means to provide for the family. The family is not created to be a backdrop to the career.

The underlying issue is not about that ticking biological clock; it's about the fact that the world of work still refuses to acknowledge it. For women, the choice is family or career and it's not a choice men are faced with. Placating women with token gestures of paternity leave is not enough, because ultimately there is a game of sexual politics afoot and it goes something like this.

Women have one means to control and dominate men: their sexuality. The woman who gives off the 'one day I want a baby' vibe is terrifying, for she is implicitly stating to her male superiors that a) she is going to need time off; b) she is going to need to trap a man in the process and it might be one of them and c) she is an actively sexual being. On the other hand, there are the women who climb that ladder successfully because either they emulate men to such an extent that they are essentially men, or they exude a certain air of 'will suck cock for promotion' and men understand that this is as far as it goes, if it does get that far at all. Either way they are asexual beings (the former having given up their female sexuality, the latter prepared to sell it) and therefore not a threat.

A woman's career proceeds in a man's world, where equality does exist, but only if certain sacrifices are made. As long as this is the case, successful career women will remain largely despicable creatures, barren and devoid of maternal or other nurturing instinct, because those are the unwritten terms and conditions they accepted.

Alas the psychological research that suggests women will gain more satisfaction from finding a partner than having a good job, if it exists, is worth nothing. Firstly finding a partner and becoming a mother are entirely separate pursuits: one may engage in either independently of the other. Secondly the daily hassles associated with living with a partner and caring for a family are far more significant factors in long-term stress and ill-health than any possible counter-action caused by the happiness of securing a husband or a good job. The big things come, but then they go again and it's the little things that wear us down. And there really is a wealth of research to demonstrate this.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Ankle Deep and Rising

I am ashamed to admit that when Boston Legal character Alan Shore first exhibited a disorder called 'Word Salad' I'd never heard of it. And me a scholar of Psychology too. However, in such a capacity I discover that the correct term for the disorder is 'schizophasia', something that can be brought on by stress, as depicted in the show, but is more likely to be associated with the disorganised thinking common in people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

As far as my own disabilities in vocabular vocalising are concerned, I'd make a pretty meagre salad - more like a salad drawer just before a trip to the supermarket in fact.

So far I've established that my issue with losing half my words is quite possibly related to caffeine consumption. It first started at university, generally when I was engaged in wading through a significant workload and it seemed the more I had to do the worse the word drought became. Ironically (if caffeine is indeed to blame) the first symptom was that I couldn't find the right combination of phonemes to request a cup of coffee. Fortunately my non-verbal communication skills remained largely unaffected and, thanks to the beautiful thing that is advertising, I was able to rattle a fist up and down and get the message across.

My acceptance since that the problem was not related to the workload is because there was a clear correlation between the amount of caffeine I consumed and the amount of work I had to do. Since then the episodes of aphasia have recurred during other times when I have been working hard on something requiring extensive thought processes, be they creative or otherwise. Again this is when I am drinking more coffee.

Now then, I didn't start this post with the intention of presenting a pseudo-scientific analysis of the effects of caffeine on language cognition, but I will say that the evidence for a link between tip of the tongue phenomena and excessive caffeine intake is compelling. My purpose was to point out that even though I am currently drinking far less coffee than I have for months I have started to experience brief (yet infuriating) periods of aphasia that leave me grasping for simple, common words, whilst my extended vocabulary remains in tact.

I surmise therefore that it is not the caffeine, but only because it pleases me to do so. After all life without coffee would be no life at all, much like a life without words, which strikes me as a bit of a paradox - if I'm wrong. The only conclusion that is acceptable is that it is more to do with having too many neural resources committed to the symbolic representation of language on the page - a very different cognitive process from deciding on meaningful combinations of sounds.

Hence my reasoning is thus: either I am overdosing on caffeine or thinking and this is a vent. It is a means to an end only; the end being that I will have written something and therefore cease worrying about not writing something, thereby freeing up mental resources. Consider it a lock on the canal of the mind and nothing more and you won't leave feeling disappointed or cheated.