The Roles of Gender in Peep Show

Mark and Jeremy, played by David Mitchell and Robert Webb.
Mark and Jeremy, played by David Mitchell and Robert Webb.

Hello.

Long time no blog. Apologies for that, but without a higher level of authority demanding I churn out posts; it’s really never going to happen. If you’d like to see how well I manage on a tighter rein; please see my weekly Giggle Beats column.

With that, on to the reason for this post.

Following a brief Twitter exchange, I happened to mention that, during my university years, I wrote an essay on the representations of masculinity in the sitcom Peep Show. I won’t lie; I’d been to the pub, I’d had a few and just wanted to sound clever. The fact I was boasting about my film-theorising skills probably tells you everything you need to know about the sort of drunk I become.

Anyway, a couple of people were interested in reading it – more so than at the time of writing it – so I’ve reproduced the essay below, including terrible grammar and severe predilection for the word ‘fundamentally’. I warn you; it’s a tad pretentious; but I was young, naive and excited to be taking a course titled ‘ Cultural Identities and British Television’, so what do you expect?

I got a First for it, which I’m still incredibly proud of. It may seem like bragging, but I failed the next module I took because I spent the entire word count of my essay referring to a noted female film theorist as ‘he’. This was very much the peak of my achievements.

Without further ado, here it is. Apologies for any and all ham-fisted descriptions of feminism.

‘Discuss masculinity and the roles of gender in Peep Show’

‘Peep Show’ is a modern single camera sitcom from Channel 4; it started in 2003 and is currently still being commissioned. It is a modern take on the ‘buddy’ sitcoms such as ‘The Odd Couple’ (1970), ‘The Likely Lads’ (1964) and ‘Men Behaving Badly’ (1992). Its key defining feature is that it is shot entirely from the point of view’s (POV’s) of the characters and that the audience is privy to the inner thoughts of the two main protagonists; Mark and Jeremy. The programme manages to play with the juxtaposition of what people think and what they say. It is an essential text to look at in regards to masculine representations as it offers new insight into not only how men act and behave but a more brutally honest reflection of the thought processes they make. As Mills (2008) states; ‘…It allows the audience access to Mark and Jeremy’s interior monologues only, thus focusing attention on the difficulties of particular kinds of masculinity’ The programme tackles, albeit comically, subjects such as racism, sexuality and disability from the perspective of somebody in the modern cultural climate. It toys with the difficulty that comes from trying to handle these taboo subjects in an acceptable way in public, and in particular attempts to paint a realistic picture of what it means to be masculine in today’s society.

The role of masculinity has changed dramatically over the past forty years, with men finding it increasingly harder to position themselves in society. This was an after effect of the rise of feminism, as women’s roles found a more dominant place and voice in the world it led to a complete turn around on the archaic idea of men as the providers and the world as a patriarchal society. While this was certainly a step in the right direction for women it left men unsure of their new place in the vastly changing world. If women were now confident and independent enough to be their own person and equal men in all manner of fields, from the work arena and socially to at home where did this leave the men? Even today this is a question that still remains fundamentally unanswered.

Social theorists believe that ‘Masculinity is the sum of men’s characteristic ‘practices’ at work, with their families, in their communities, and in the groups and institutions to which they belong.’ Edley and Wetherell, (1995, p.71) and these are precisely the areas that we view the characters of Peep Show through. We are present to every aspect of their world and the numerous personas that they need to adopt in order to survive in each. ‘Peep Show’ offers an up to date representation of masculinity, which is at once unsure of itself and constantly contradictory. Mark and Jeremy would at first glance seem to embody the binary opposites of masculine depictions. Jeremy the lay about ‘creative’ that begs and borrows his way through life foolishly convincing himself it’s in the name of art – deriving from the growth of 90’s Lad culture, and Mark the sophisticated, intelligent achiever that has his eye on the latest trends – a result of hegemonic masculinity and the more modern concept of the feminine male  – a reaction itself from 80’s ‘body culture’. They are as Mills states the ‘puritan and the playboy’, but as the series unfolds we begin to realise that it is never as clear cut as this. The two constantly flounder between these bench marks of masculinity never quite sure where they fit in, and this fundamentally is what lies at the heart of the modern male’s dilemma. It is not so much a case of what is masculine? but what is the acceptable version of masculinity to purport? So Mark constantly tries to be the ultimate modern man, aware of the needs to be emotionally aware and openly sensitive while being dependable and physically protecting but in fact the audience see how crippled he is by the embarrassment he suffers when it these types of subjects rear their head. One major factor resulting in this dilemma is the fact that Mark and Jeremy don’t really like or trust each other. ‘Friends give us a sense of belonging and provide emotional support. People without such relationships are more vulnerable to a variety of problems’ Spangler (1992, p .95). Spangler goes on to say that ‘most men expressed a fear of appearing homosexual.’ (1992, p.96) This shows that a lack of true friendship results in a vulnerability in individuals which in this case reflects Mark and Jeremy’s failure to possess a comfortable and honest masculinity, however this reluctance to attempt companionship is a by product of the hegemonic masculinity they have been subjected to from previous sources. Afraid to show any form of compassion for one another as previous incarnations of masculinity (the majority of which will have been through television) have deemed this to be unacceptable or at least showing weakness in character. This shows that the masculine roles that have gone before are just as much a cause of the masculine crisis as feminism.

As it stands ‘Peep Show’ represents every aspect of masculine identity without ever fully conforming or adhering to any one specific form. The characters undergo a vast number of attempts to be viewed in different ways. This plays in to the theory of masculinity as performance; ‘masculinity becomes seen as an act rather than an essence. It exists as a set of lines and stage directions which all males have to learn in order to perform.’ Edley and Wetherell, (1995, p.71). As the intellectual, the sensitive, the sophisticated or the butch and body conscious each attempt is undermined by the characters inability to fully agree with the accepted role. Mark attempts to appear more health conscious and fit by taking up jogging, this clearly harks back to the narcissistic urge of the body culture, but finds that he is all too aware of being ‘found out’ as not actually being that way. Mills discusses in his essay on Peep Show and the Surveillance Society the principal factor in humour arising from the characters is there inherent awareness of how others perceive them. This while siding with the idea of a society that is constantly being monitored also supports the idea of masculinity crisis. Mark and Jeremy can never fully fit into what a male ‘should be’ because they are too worry about how that looks. They are unsure of it themselves and this only makes it harder because they don’t want to be seen as being unsure. This is one factor that is amplified by the modern style of the sitcom that was previously missing in shows past. Gary and Tony in ‘Men Behaving Badly’ were happy to be the beer swilling louts they were because like most traditional comedy characters they possessed a blissful ignorance. In ‘Peep Show’ Mark and Jeremy purchase too much self awareness to the point of crippling themselves with it. With each new attempt to been seen in a different way they chip away at what true identity they have left leaving them completely unsure of the person they are let alone the person they are trying to be. As Davies and Harre (1990, p.46) suggest ‘An individual emerges through the process of social interaction, not as a relatively fixed end product but as one who is constituted and reconstituted through the various discursive practices in which they participate.’

In many ways the characters of Johnson and Superhans present the ultimate in terms of masculinity for Mark and Jeremy. Both are comfortable and in control of their own perceptions of what masculinity is. Johnson is the sophisticated and successful alpha male, while Superhans is an opinionated and vulgar ‘free spirit’ who constantly seems to have success with women and some minor success in the music business compared to Jeremy. Both Mark and Jeremy are left looking up to these idols of the male form, somehow blinkered to their imperfections, Johnson is a misogynist and dictator at work and Superhans is an avid drug user and pervert. Yet it could be said that these two clear examples of types of masculinity are shown to be wrong or at least not fully formed and that modern masculinity needs to be more than just one element. Johnson and Superhans show weakness in character as a result of their dogmatic ways, Johnson is discovered to be an alcoholic and Superhans is a constant drug abuser driven to pits of depression and paranoia. So maybe with the characters of Mark and Jeremy being unsure of what it means to be masculine they are somehow saving themselves from worse dilemmas of following one believed route.

One major criticism of masculinity in television is that the form is dominated by male opinion that most if not all programming is subject to the ‘male gaze’ this is where programmes view characters and situations from a male orientated perspective. This was true even of programmes with a much higher female demographic; audiences were viewing everything from that of a dominant male so that women were objectified and dominant hedonistic men were viewed either as aspirational figures or as competition. Meehan (1983) concluded that the ‘presentation of women always in relation to men, cheerleaders to the male players, is a male vision, the product of a medium in which male creators have predominated.’ One thing ‘Peep Show’ does is challenge this idea. While it is instantly easy to say that the text only serves to perpetuate this concept, after all we view everything from the male character’s point of views it also allows us to view them from others perspectives. So while we only hear Mark and Jeremy’s thoughts on subjects, when they provide social faux pas we also get a look at the situation from other characters around. So in the case of Toni in series one and two while we know Jeremy views her very much as an object of lust, when we view him from her POV we can instantly identify with her feeling of power and control over this love sick ‘puppet’ which her overt sexuality allows her.

There are a range of female characters on offer in Peep Show from mainstays to one offs and transient characters and they, it could be fair to say, offer more of an impact on the lives of Mark and Jeremy than any of the other male characters. One major narrative of the show is Mark and Jeremy’s attempts to find love, romance and sexual conquests. Mark is constantly jumping to the conclusion that he has found ‘the one’ within minutes of meeting any woman that shows a hint of interest while Jeremy is completely controlled by the suggestion of sexual intercourse even in some cases if he doesn’t reciprocate the attraction as in the case of Sophie’s mother in series four. Sophie too finds herself promoted above Mark in series two, which immediately opens up debate on the link between sex and status. This would seem to place the women in the driving seat which, apart from certain female led sitcoms (‘Absolutely Fabulous’, ‘Pulling’), is very rare in the genre. This could be seen as a refreshing element to the show and is also a clear indicator to the difference in gender roles. The males have yet to find an image and place in society but the females seem to have worked out their roles, successfully juggling their achievements and status’ with their need to still be regarded as attractive and feminine.

So Peep Show does seem to offer an honest and frank representation of masculinity and the different roles of gender in the Naughties. While its principal aim is to subtract humour from the situations encountered by its protagonists, a lot of the humour and the situations themselves arise as a result of the crisis of masculinity and clashing with those, primarily female, who have a firmer grasp on their role. Unlike shows such as ‘The Professionals’ (1977) or ‘Men Behaving Badly’ it does not subscribe to a singular ideal of the male, instead it provides an amalgam of personas and roles, encompassing all manner of perceived masculinity. The crisis of masculinity is not so much an era that males are going through but, in fact, the modern depiction of masculinity itself. All modern men are in crisis; it’s only Mark and Jeremy that let the world in on theirs.

References

Davies, B. and Harre, R. (1990) ‘Positioning: The discursive production of selves.’ Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(1): 43-64

Mills, B. (2008) ‘Paranoia, Paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me:’ Peep Show, sitcom and the surveillance society.’ Screen 49 (1), pp. 51-64

Edley, N. and Wetherell, M. (1995) ‘Men in Perspective: Practice, Power and Identity.’ Cornwall: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf

Meehan, D. (1983). Ladies of the Evening: Women characters of prime-time television. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow

Spengler, L. (1992) ‘Buddies and Pals: A History of Male Friendship of Prime Time Television’, in Craig, S. (ed) Men, Masculinity and the Media. California: Sage Publications, pp 95-96

Bibliography:

MacKinnon, K. (2003) Representing Men: Maleness and Masculinity in the Media. London: Arnold, pp 65-86

Armstrong, J and Bain, S. (2008). Peep Show: The Scripts and More. London: Channel 4 books.

Whannel, G., ‘The Lads and the Gladiators: Traditional Masculinities in a Postmodern Televisual Landscape’, in E. Buscombe (ed) British Television: A Reader (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000), pp. 290-302.

Hunt, L. ‘Drop everything… including your pants’: The Professionals and hard action TV’ in Osgerby, B. and Gough-Yates, A (eds), Action TV: Tough Guys, Smooth Operators and Foxy Chicks (London: Routledge, 2001), pp.127-142.

Hollows, J.  (2003). Oliver’s Twist: Leisure, Labour and Domestic Masculinity in the Naked Chef. International Journal of Cultural Studies. 6 (2) pp.229-248

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Jolly Mixtures Forever

Hello,

Welcome to the third invite to the third night of the third instalment of the sketch night – Jolly Mixtures. (For the keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed I’ve been titling these invites with the Batman-numerical system.)

First off; a big thank you to everyone who came along to the first two, the second in particular was a brilliant turnout and way beyond what we expected. We hope everyone enjoyed it and will be back for this month’s instalment, which is on Wednesday 29th May.

We promise the same mixture of sketches, characters, songs and general idiocy with the wonderful Jolly Birds – Rob Gilroy, Graham Oakes, Nicola Redman and Amy Gledhill.

So come on down to the Caroline Street Social Club, Caroline Street, Saltaire, on Wednesday 29th May, doors: 7:30, show: 8:30 – for £3 worth of fun, frolics and sketch-erly goodness. Part of your One-a-Month.

See you all there.

Jolly Mixtures Returns

Jolly Mixtures logo

Jolly Mixtures logo

We’re back!

After huge popular demand (a couple of people couldn’t make the first one) Jolly Mixtures returns for a second night of sketch-based hi-jinx and mirth.

All the regulars return – Amy Gledhill, Graham Oakes, Nicola Redman and Rob Gilroy – with a new batch of sketches, songs and characters. Please come and support this new night as it promises to keep getting better.

Featuring writers who have contributed to BBC Two, E4, BBC Radio One, Radio Two, Radio Four and Radio Four Extra and performers who have been named ones to watch by a variety of people including the local constabulary.

Same time – 8:00pm (doors 7:30)

Same place – Caroline Street Social Club, Saltaire

Different date (obviously) 18th April, 2013.

If you couldn’t make the first night or simply thought “What the hell have I been invited to now? Bloody social media.” then please reconsider as Jolly Mixtures is shaping up to be a great new monthly sketch comedy night of fun and frolics.

Don’t forget to share this with your friends, even if you can’t make it share it with people who may like it. Alternatively share it with people who will hate it, just to wind them up.

Jolly Mixtures

Jolly Mixtures

Jolly Mixtures

Here’s a quick announcement for a new Bradford-based sketch night I am running. I’d be ever so delighted if you would read it, pass it on and attend. Wouldn’t that be nice? Thank you.

Jolly Mixtures is a night of brand new sketch, character and musical comedy.

Starring: Rob Gilroy, Amy Gledhill, Graham Oakes and Nicola Redman.

Do you like laughing? No? What’s wrong with you, you big misery guts. Sort yourself out. All those that do like a giggle, though – step this way. Jolly Mixtures is a brand new night of the best sketch, character and musical comedy that Bradford (and the surrounding areas) has to offer.

Featuring a cast of writers who have written for the likes of Tom Deacon’s Road Trip (Radio One), Dave Gorman’s Pub Olympics (Radio 2), The Now Show (Radio 4), The News Quiz (Radio 4) and Newsjack (Radio 4 Extra).

As well as performers that have gone on to be crowned; Funny Women Finalist, Laughing Horse New Act of the Year Competition Semi Finalist , contributor to BBC’s Jesting About and ‘Best Male Comedian’ – Whitley Bay sixth form prom.

So what’s not to like? Unless you happen to hate sketch comedy in which case this might not be for you. But it probably will be because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like sketch comedy?

So please come on down to the Caroline Street Social Club, Saltaire on the 14th of March and support the new night – only £3 in!

March 14th, 2013
8:00pm till 10:30pm
Doors: 7:30pm
Caroline Street Social Club, Saltaire, BD18 3JZ
Entry: £3

Jolly Mixtures – ‘Mixtures’ because you won’t know what you’re going to see next and ‘Jolly’ ‘cos it’ll be funny and that.

Is There Anything There?

Is there anything more frustrating than a faulty wi-fi connection? Surely not. Even the prisoners in solitary confinement stare at three little bars less than I do when I’m trying to get mine working. It’s hardly an advancement in society; it’s the technological equivalent of taking two steps forward and fifty steps backwards. Like inventing the wheel and deciding it would look much better if you squared-off the edges. Nothing is as dull as waiting for it to right itself – it’s the most impressive form of torture there is. If you were extracting information from the enemy; you’d better forcing them to try and keep a secure broadband connection to Virgin Media, than you would be using water boarding. No other activity brings about the same desire to self-harm as much as this.

And why is it that when you urgently need to ‘log on’ – to send an important email or find the name of that actor with the moustache in Midsummer Murders – that it then decides to be even more temperamental than usual? Having a wireless connection is like have a petulant child; only, it’s a child that somehow has access to all the information you could ever want in the world, ever. And won’t give it to you until you work out why it’s sulking.

One of the most annoying things is that, when you’re working; there is no greater distraction than the internet. You can while away whole days looking at YouTube videos of cats performing the Macarena, or spying on distant relatives through Facebook and passing judgement on a wedding you weren’t invited to. Before you know it; more than a week has gone by and you have nothing to show for it except a couple of Amazon purchases and a few dubious Wikipedia facts about Louis XIV. It’s a wonder Julian Assange leaked anything at all, I’d have spent too much time watching auctions on eBay; never plucking up the courage to bid on them, myself. All these distractions, all this information that, moments before you’d switched on your computer; you had no desire to know, suddenly become more important than sorting your online banking or finishing that piece of work before the deadline. And yet; when your wi-fi signal breaks, nothing takes up more of your time than trying to fix it. Now, that may only amount to pressing ‘repair’ every few minutes, but suddenly you are unable to think of anything else. Any capacity for thought becomes impossible until you can sort it out, even if the one thing you’ll do once it’s sorted, is force yourself to avoid the internet.

So that’s what I’ve been doing whilst writing this piece – opening ‘My Network Connections’ and staring at the blank screen. I have re-clicked, re-wired and re-shaken everything and I still can’t get a response. It’s like watching the two leads from Kramer vs. Kramer try and make amends. It isn’t going to happen. Much like a scab, if you leave it alone; it will eventually sort itself out. And so, devoid of distraction, I have no choice but to do some work. Curse you Richard Branson!

From 17th October, 2012

If Carlsberg Did Laser Quest…

I’ve been inundated with requests from people wanting to know how the stag do went. I haven’t, but humour me. It went very well, actually. My worries over what to book were largely ill-founded. Namely because by the time we got everyone together and had had a few drinks, none of us were in any fit state to do anything. I’ll be honest with you, the level we operated on sunk quite low, quite early on. In my desperate attempts to be a ‘classy’ stag do, I had underestimated how un-classy we were as a group. There’s nothing worse than a bunch of 20 year olds off their face on Babycham and rum and coke. The weekend went off without a hitch, everyone enjoyed themselves but it did teach me one valuable lesson – never play laser quest when you’re drunk.

I booked laser quest because I thought it would be silly, but mainly because it would be infinitely less painful than paint balling. I like the great outdoors – the silence, the peace, the serenity, so it baffles me why anyone would decide the perfect game to play there would be one where you fire capsules of emulsion at each other. If it’s trying re-create an army-style scenario in a safe environment then I think it would work just as well to watch Dad’s Army in a tent. Anyway, I picked laser quest – for those that don’t know what laser quest is; it’s like a lightsabre battle from Star Wars but set in a warehouse in Sheffield and kitted out by Chad Valley. I should have known it was going to be an odd affair when we turned up twenty minutes later than our arrival time, drunk, to find our opposing team waiting. Our nemeses consisted of two middle aged parents and a child in his mid-teens. OK, it’s not exactly al Qaida, but they were a fearsome bunch.

The bloke in charge had all the enthusiasm of someone who had started working there at 16 and now found he was 28 with nothing to show for himself but some cargo pants and a film studies degree. He was also pretty oblivious to the fact that most of us were slightly inebriated, to the point where we were turning the guns on ourselves before leaving the changing room. Then we went in. What followed can only be described as the biggest drugs trip I’ve ever experienced. Now, given the fact that I’ve never taken drugs, using a permanent marker for too long can set me well on the way to tripping the light fantastic, but this was something else. You’re essentially running around a darkened room, wearing a UV breast plate that lights up blue or red, waiting for a friend to come and kill you – so far so pathetic. However, having had one too many bottled lagers there was an incredibly sinister side to it. My most prevalent memories included trying to shoot a forty year old woman in the head with what can only be described as one of those scanning guns you find in Asda, running so hard into the young lad that we both fell over and lying on the floor screaming as a friend pinned me down with his foot and repeatedly ‘shot’ at me, laughing maniacally. There is nothing more hideous than considering your own mortality whilst seeing a loved one standing over you, holding a gun, illuminated with fluorescent light.

All round the experience was an eye-opener, more so for the family who’ll, no doubt, think twice before booking another Saturday afternoon activity again. I can’t speak for the others but I now feel like some sort of Vietnam veteran, getting crippling flashbacks every time I open the fridge door. It will be a long while before I play laser quest again, drunk or not.

From 10th October, 2012

Competitive Streaking

I performed in a competition yesterday. A stand up comedy one, obviously, not one of those ‘eat as many pies as you can, in an hour’ type competitions. Although I would easily walk that; I’m a monster with a quiche. It was a New Comedian of the Year competition in London and the Quarter Finals. I had already gotten through the heats, which in itself was a fluke. There were only two audience members in attendance and eleven acts; I think I got through by default of the fact I’d travelled furthest. There’s nothing worse than pity votes but I’ll still accept them; it’s the only way I’ll ever win a Bafta. I may even walk with a limp up to the podium, drawing more fake-respect from the audience. I’m vain, like that. I used to get people to cheer anytime I used my potty but I stopped after a while because my university friends were never as willing to participate.

This time round it was a more enjoyable process, as there was a good handful of audience members. No disrespect to the two girls who bravely sat through a barrage of desperate amateur comedians last time, but you could hardly fill a room with their laughter. In the end it would probably have made more sense to get them to use the microphone. It was just a bit unnecessary for us; we were close enough to be heard – it was less of a gig and more of a conversation between friends, where someone had decided to bring their own amplification system along.

The problem with competitions though, is that it’s such an odd experience. The fun of doing stand up is trying to enjoy yourself as much as the audience is. Obviously you don’t crease over in blind hilarity at your own jokes, that would probably dampen the experience for others, but you can get enjoyment out of it, if it’s going well. Much as you can with a relationship. It’s very hard to elicit laughs in a comedy club or a relationship if it isn’t going well. That’s why so many marriage councillors have started enforcing a ‘no heckle’ policy; it’s not as constructive as you’d think. Competitions however, do have a tendency to raise the pressure and therefore hinder your ability to find it fun. It’s much more about having to be the best of the best. Think; The Apprentice but with more references to bodily functions. I don’t mind doing them because I know it’s all part of being a comic and progressing in that world, plus you can meet lots of nice people, it’s just that there’s an unspoken tension there. You’re always eyeing up the competition. Are they funnier than you? Do they look nervous? That guy’s wearing a blue T-shit, so am I, will it make me less funny if I go second? It verges on paranoia. And because (I assume) everyone feels the same, no one dares bring it up. It’s like when an aeroplane crashes in the mountains and the survivors have to eat each other. You’re never going to be popular if you’re the first person to stand up and say “I think we should have a nibble on Sharon.”

I was thinking about that above analogy when I was there, then I got on to thinking; ‘if something happens now, who would I eat first?’ That’s why very few people talk to me at these sorts of things. And probably why I didn’t win. I wish it had been the pie-eating contest.

From 3th October, 2012

Stag Do to-do

This week, I’ll be mostly organising a stag do. Now, I know what you’re thinking; “You, Rob? A stag do? Well they go hand in hand, what with you being a lad’s lad an all?” Well, no actually, it’s not as simple as that. I know my usual bloke-ish charm seems well-suited to a day of paint ball-ing, binge drinking and lap dancing, but actually; deep down, I’m quite a sensitive soul. I’m not used to the sight of breasts in public, and if truth be told, I’m allergic to emulsion. It’s made even worse by the fact that the lucky man himself, is further from the perceived image of a ‘stag’ than me. And that’s saying a lot considering I use a napkin to eat crisps. I fear if we were to do anything too ‘staggy’ it might give him an aneurism. The last thing I want is to finish off the night in A&E because the groom had one too many Babychams and then fainted at the sight of a thong. The problem is; if you’re not interested in all of that, how do you organise a stag do? At the moment it’s shaping up like a weekend away with a prayer group.

The stag’s original brief was ‘just a meal with some friends’, which sounds nice, intimate and modest. However, considering the group of people will be coming from all four corners of the country, it seems like a bit of a waste to make them travel all that way to split the price of a stuffed crust. I knew it had to be something more, but, as I’ve already stated, my idea of a fun day out is going to Waterstones and browsing the hardbacks, maybe using one of the sofas provided, if I’m feeling wild. So I endeavoured to find a suitable plan of action – the best place to start is always the internet (unless you’re addicted to online gambling).

The first site I found was something like StagDoMaximum.com. It presented me with a with a choice of packages – like a travel agent for the emotionally repressed – all with their own idea of what a stag do could be. Each was made up of different elements, which were essentially; BMX-ing, Lap Dance, Night Club or Go-Carting, Lap Dance, Night Club or Base Jumping, Lap Dance, Night Club – as you can see, a pattern is forming. Nightclubs aren’t really my scene. If I wanted the ‘night club experience’ I’d stand in the middle of a busy train carriage, during an earthquake, while listening to Radio One. It’s not for me. Or the stag for that matter. Another option was ‘Dinner and a Dance’ which, on the face of it, sounds lovely – a bit of goulash and a waltz or pasta and a foxtrot, but no. This delightful option was having a home-cooked meal while a naked woman danced on the table. Now the only home-cooked meals I’ve ever eaten have been at my mums and she’s in no fit state to be dancing after cooking a roast. It’s not even that I don’t like naked women, far from it, but do you really need to see them when you’re tucking into your beef stroganoff?

The only possible exception to the list of stag options is wine tasting. That sounds grown up/respectable/fully clothed so it’s definitely a possibility. The only snag is; the groom is as capable of handling his drink as a hook-handed, fundamentalist on a long haul flight to America (yes, topical!). I give up. It’s too much hard work. We’ll just stick with the stuffed crust. They do balloons there, right?

From 26th September, 2012

Childish Whining

I’ve got a niece. At the time of writing she will be two days and nearly twelve hours old. Not much is it? Imagine living in a world where you missed some of the big defining moments of the last 20 years, like the invasion of Iraq. Hard to believe, isn’t it? To be fair to her, she also missed out on last week’s episodes of Coronation Street. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose. It just seems odd to me that anyone would be born from 1990 onwards. I was born in ’87, so I only just scrape through but it’s like when you meet kids that were born in ’93 or ’96. What have they got to show for themselves? At least we had the Spice Girls and Pat Sharp. Shocking, isn’t it? Not that my niece is aware of her sheltered upbringing. She’s too busy doing what she can to make things uncomfortable for me.

Take the other day; the day I met her. She’s beautiful and tiny and just what you’d expect from a baby, i.e. she doesn’t do much. It’s not that I expected her to cartwheel into the room and let off fireworks to announce her arrival, but there could have been a bit more ceremony. I mean, she just lies there and sleeps. She doesn’t even cry like a normal baby, it took a good few prods to the ribs to get any sort of reaction out of her, and even then she pulled a face and fell back to sleep. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good nap, everyone does – right after lunch, just before Deal or No Deal – perfect. But all she does is sleep. I can’t imagine she’s that tired. Presumably she’s awake through the night; sat bolt upright in her cot with bloodshot eyes as though she’s been on a 24hour bender of Pro-Plus and Red Bull. If it wasn’t for the fact she’s a chronic squirm-er when she sleeps, you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between her and a doll. Even some dolls have the common courtesy to wet themselves, just to let you know all’s well.

Squirm she most certainly does, and that just makes it all the more difficult for me. Now, I love kids and babies but I’m not built to deal with them. How are you supposed to hold them? It’s like trying to carry a bag of marshmallows with a bomb inside – they’re not that heavy or that big but you know if you drop them there’ll be hell to pay. What’s worse is that she’s handed round like some sacred game of pass-the-parcel, people awkwardly trying to make the drop off. Drug dealers have operated with a greater degree of nonchalance. So the turn falls to me, and there I am; juggling this squirmy mess of limbs with everyone shouting “support the head” like a group of teachers during a team building exercise. How can you support the head when “E.T” seems intent on throwing it back? If she’s not careful she’s going to give herself whiplash. The last thing I need is a law suit.

So, I finally I manoeuvre her into a position that isn’t far from being comfortable, certainly for her, anyway. I’m not quite so lucky; I’ve shifted my weight to my left buttock and am holding her head up with my right arm. If you remove the baby from this picture then I look as though I’m suffering from a virulent bout of piles. The narcoleptic princess then falls into a deeper sleep, with no intention of awakening. Meaning I’m stuck there, my body contorted like some sort of acrobat in down time, holding this tiny pink sloth, too scared to move. And Deal or No Deal’s on. Is it really worth missing my nap for this? Yes.

Dedicated to Isla Lily, lovely to meet you.
From: 19th September, 2012.

Feeling Old Women

I’ve just had my haircut and I’m not happy with it. The barber did that thing of showing me the back and saying “How’s that?” and I did the usual thing of going “That’s brilliant, thanks.” It wasn’t brilliant. It was fine, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but you always have to seem over-appreciative, don’t you? It’s not that I’m not grateful but it’s his job, yet I still feel the need to wax lyrical about it, as though he needs the constant reassurance. I’m pretty sure his self-esteem is better than that. Unlike mine after having it cut. I’m always holding out for compliments. Not because I’m big-headed (although I am) more because I need a second opinion about the hairstyle. I’m always convinced it looks stupider the further you are from it. Anyway, he said “How’s that?” I said “That’s brilliant, thanks.” And then he did something I’ve never seen before; he kept cutting. I’m not just talking about neatening the edges. He kept hacking away at it. For at least another ten minutes. I was horrified. Clearly he didn’t understand the small print on our verbal contract.

To cut a long story short (no pun intended (yes there was otherwise I wouldn’t have written it)) I came out of that barbers, or salon if you’re that way inclined, with my hair devastatingly shorter than I was comfortable with. The reason I don’t like it too short is because my hairline starts quite far back. It’s not receding you understand, it’s been like that since I can remember – I like to think of it as a deep-set fringe – but having short hair only highlights this issue, which others feel bound to address. I don’t know why having short hair suddenly turns everyone into a follicle expert, but they’re all on hand to tell you how fine your hair is or how it’s receding (it’s not). It wouldn’t happen with plastic surgery; you wouldn’t come out of an intense course of liposuction, only for your friends and family to say “Good one, but next time you might want to have a look at that backside. It’s starting to spread.” You keep your comments to yourself and I’ll keep my vastly deteriorating scalp to mine. If I can, I make no promises; I’ve had a lot of problems with malting recently.

None of this would bother me, however, if today wasn’t my 25 birthday. Suddenly I feel that pang of age (could be angina?) and I don’t like it. I know most of you will say 25 isn’t old but you try thinking that when your fringe starts so far back you have to comb forward. I’ve stopped smiling altogether because my wrinkles are becoming too deep. You could literally use my face as a toast rack. You wouldn’t want to though, there’s no place for the jam. I am desperately trying not to think about age but I’m halfway to 50. If I was a dog I’d have been put down long ago, or at least be wearing one of those plastic cones 24/7. Trust me; it’s not easy getting old, you can wear all the trainers and ride all the bikes you like but you’re not young anymore, you’re just that weird guy in the stupidly big shoes, who cycles to work.

I’ve given up trying to fight it anymore, there’s no use. I’ve booked in at the solicitors to get my will drawn up and I’ve cancelled my subscription with Bupa. I would sign up to one of those life insurance plans but I doubt I’d make full use of the free Parker pen. No, that’s me done, I don’t want to make a big deal of my birthday; they all merge at this age, anyway. No party, no cake and no presents. Well, maybe one – I could do with a hat.

From: 12th September, 2012.