Life out here doesn’t mean isolation from the Überkultur of the metropolis. It is true that great ballet or world class orchestras don’t seem to make it (for fairly obvious reasons) but ‘alternative comedy’ certainly does. So it was that in one week we have been treated to visits from Simon Amstell and Stewart Lee: both on tour, the latter ostensibly to try out new material on a grateful but suitably unpredictable audience as we ‘edgies’ tend to be. It is also worth noting that the rail service enables access to interesting events such as Grayson Perry’s recent appearance at the Royal Institution on the topic of What is Art Best At?
He's out there. That’s what your friends and family will tell you. And who am I to disagree? We’re all here today because men and women have been pairing off for sex, love and the whole nine yards quite a while before Blind Date hit our screens 25 years ago. I’m sitting in my Friend’s house overlooking the river and we’re drinking large glasses of Merlot. Light fading, there’s a lapping tranquillity beyond the picture window as trunk-thighed rowers carry long boats on their heads. Friend pushes the olive bowl towards me and touches my arm. “If I was in your position, I’d make a list of what I’m looking for in a man, and find him through online dating.”
The frozen bison grass vodka was flowing on Tuesday, and as Ognisko's stylish restaurant started to fill up we, the speakers, had a great time ensuring a little Dutch courage was present. The Editor at Large (Copstick), The Political Editor (Ian Dunt), the International Editor (Ali May, who compèred brilliantly) and the Editor (Jamie Maclean), that is. And it seemed our guest speakers, Sarah-Jane Lovett, Nichi Hodgson and Jonathon Green (aka Bob Logic, aka Mr Slang) weren't feeling much pain either.
When did you develop a taste for reading – where and what would you read? I've been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, spending hours lying on my stomach on the grass or my bed depending on the weather. My parents are amongst the best read people I know (barring erotica) and our house was full of books. Once I was too old for Beatrix Potter I used to read alien tales such as Heidi and Little House on the Prairie, aspirational stories such as Ballet Shoes, the plain silly St Clare's series (banned by my own convent boarding school) and the thoughtful Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, and then I'd pretend to be one of the heroines, drifting round the garden talking to myself.
We may hate Disney for many things: the xenophobic racism of old Walt’s hiring policies, the ‘family-orientated’ banality of its cartoons, the destruction-cum-dumbing down of as any children’s classics as its millions can buy, but, for those whose reading matter requires but a single hand, its greatest sin is the destruction of 42nd Street, New York City and especially the blocks between 6th and 8th Avenues. Prior to their gelding by the Mouse, what a cornucopia of delight those seedy blocks offered the pornophile.
Do you think Christian Grey a violent obsessive with a downright nasty jealous streak? Or is he just another romantic, powerful hero in a similar vein to Heathcliff or Darcy? I ask this because the 50 Shades of Grey film comes out in February, just in time for Valentine’s Day lovers to bond over popcorn and butt plugs. I’m going to see it myself with a gang of other 30-something mums, so I’m thinking of making us letter t-shirts that spell out ‘T-A-R-G-E-T A-U-D-I-E-N-C-E’.
The recent attacks in Paris have filled everyone with renewed foreboding and re-awakened memories for me of the fascinating years I spent in a liberal, peaceful, ambitiously tolerant Cairo back in the 1980s. Life in Egypt and much of the Arab world, most notably Syria, has changed drastically since then. The levels of violence and anger which surfaced during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring were shocking. Although Mubarak was ousted, and then Mohamed Moris, along with his strict Islamic agenda and the sharia basis to the constitution he was proposing, tension still remains. The wonderful country and welcoming people face dissension and regression. Tourists are staying away, cutting off vital sources of income. Worse still, previously independent women are often closely monitored, prohibited even from roller skating, or being downright abused. I'd already noticed in the TV coverage of the demonstrations the almost universal wearing of hejabs and more severe abayas by the few visible women in the crowds When I was there my uncovered English head wasn't particularly remarkable or inflammatory because less than half the local women were covered, and if they were they wore beautiful scarves rather than plain, repressive black.
I was born in Iran, raised to become a good muslim. My last name was Sheikholeslami, which translates to 'The Wise Man of Islam'. I was wise enough to know this wasn’t me. I’ve dropped my name, my religion and my country. One of the reasons I emigrated to the UK was the fact that I aspired to be surrounded by values such as freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of press. When I came across Have I Got News for You in Britain, I imagined an Iran with its own version of HIGNFY would be a democratic Iran, a free Iran. The truth is people who cannot laugh at themselves are dangerous people. The world of political Islam is, sadly, one devoid of humour and hung up on self-righteousness. The assault against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris is an attack on all of those values that I sought to have, and all in the name of political Islam.
Just before Christmas, we were all very baffled down here in The Old Doom Bar about what that lot up-country were playing at. It is a commonplace among us lads to express our appreciation of an attractive female with the phrase ‘I wouldn’t mind her sitting on my face’. And just when BT had brought us broadband and we could settle down to a bit of vicarious face-sitting, the ghost of Mary Whitehouse has risen to deprive us of this innocent homage to the female body.
2014 has been an interesting year in the world of erotic fiction; sales of romantic erotica, in particular, have been boosted by Sylvia Day’s Captivated by You, the fourth instalment in the Crossfire series. Apparently, Day’s first novel in the series, Bared to You, was not only Penguin UK’s biggest book of 2012 but also the publisher’s ‘fastest-selling paperback of the last ten years’.