Geoffrey, 65, university lecturer, meets Alex, 62, model and fashion writer. Geoffrey on Alex What were you hoping for? To meet someone interesting for a pleasant evening. First impressions? She had very long, silver-blond hair, and a cashmere shawl that was effortlessly wrapped around her. What did you talk about? Not Brexit – though we agree! University lecturing, children, siblings, dead parents, potential grandchildren, wedding rings, languages, Iran, China, Dignitas, bad dates, exes. Any awkward moments? We both mistook the fruit-topped cheesecake as being the tiramisu we had ordered. Good table manners? Of course. Best thing about Alex? Simpatico. Would you introduce her to your friends? Oh yes. She would be a great asset to a party. Describe her in three words Sophisticated, Italian, charming. What do you think she made of you? A pleasant evening’s conversation. Did you go on somewhere? Only to the station. And... did you kiss? Subtly. More cheek to cheek. If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be? To have had more time to talk on our respective journeys home. Marks out of 10? 8. Would you meet again? I’d invite her to a party. Alex on Geoffrey What were you hoping for? A fun evening out, good food and good conversation. First impressions? A friendly gentleman. What did you talk about? The state of UK higher education (I used to be a university lecturer), the pleasure of becoming a grandparent (I am going to), the pitfalls of online dating and, finally, death. Geoffrey is a great conversationalist. We laughed a lot. Any awkward moments? I did not pay attention to the menu and ended up choosing the wrong starter. I could not eat it and had to alert the waitress to take it away. Geoffrey was too polite to say anything but there was this awkward wait. There was also a mix-up with a tiramisu that was not a tiramisu at all. Good table manners? Yes, definitely. Best thing about Geoffrey? His easy-going manner and friendliness. Would you introduce him to your friends? Sure. Actually, he knew an old flame of mine very well. It is a small world. Describe him in three words Affable, well-mannered, personable. What do you think he made of you? He seemed to enjoy the evening. Did you go on somewhere? The station. And… did you kiss? Just some air kissing. If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be? I made a fool of myself over the starter. The food was altogether very good; it was an oversight on my part. Marks out of 10? A good 8. Would you meet again? As friends. He gave me his card. . Alex and Geoffrey ate at Chucs Cafe Kensington, London SW7. Fancy a blind date? Email email@example.com. If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com
How does it feel to campaign against racism, come out, have an abortion or lose a parent to suicide? People who went through the same things, years apart, share their stories. ‘The biggest achievement of the anti-abortion lobby is making women feel guilty’ Sam , 26, and Diane Munday, 88, had abortions five decades apart Sam and Diane are sitting in Diane’s front room in Hertfordshire, hands warmed by mugs of coffee, chatting as if they are old friends. In fact, they have just met, brought together by their similar personal and political experiences, which took place some 50 years apart. “Back in the 1960s, nobody talked about abortion. It was a word that was never said, never written,” says Diane. When her dressmaker and friend, married with three young children, died from a backstreet abortion, “it knocked me between the eyes,” she says. She thought of her again when, married with three children herself, she became pregnant at 29: “I knew the minute that pregnancy was confirmed that I wasn’t going to continue with it. I had reached my limit in my circumstances.” Her choice, in 1961, was between an illegal abortion, and paying a doctor to say that a legal termination was necessary for health reasons; she opted for the latter. Diane’s abortion took place on Harley Street in London. “Oddly, I came round from the anaesthetic remembering the young woman who died. She was dead and I was alive because my husband and I, borrowing from my mother, could afford an abortion. I said to myself: ‘I will fight for other women to have the privilege of being able to control their own fertility.’” Diane went on to play a key role in helping to change the law: “And here you see me, aged 88, still fighting.” She turns to Sam: “So tell me about your experience.” Sam explains, that after she suffered terrible side-effects from hormonal contraception she and her then-boyfriend tried natural family planning, which failed. “The first time I was pregnant, two years ago, I was terrified. I didn’t have a stable relationship, a good job, a proper home I could raise a child in. I was too young.” Diane responds, softly: “It wasn’t right for you.” Thanks to campaigners such as Diane, who fought for the Abortion Act 1967, Sam had a legal termination at a Marie Stopes clinic. “I decided to have a surgical abortion under general anaesthetic because I was so afraid, but it was fine,” she says. “The only time I really felt scared was going through to the operating theatre. I started to cry, and asked someone to hold my hand. Then I was out. “There’s still a lot of silence. I found the silence so suffocating, I decided to talk about it on Twitter. I was scared of anti-choicers harassing me, but within a few hours at least 40 people had messaged me, giving their support. It was mostly women who’d had abortions, saying they had never spoken about this before, that their family didn’t know.” Sam is shocked to hear that Diane had a similar experience, half a century earlier. She joined the Abortion Law Reform Association (now Abortion Rights), in 1962: “The first public meeting I spoke at, I went in trembling. They were respectable ladies wearing hats and gloves. I stood up and said, ‘I have had an abortion.’ During the tea interval these ladies came up to me, one after another, saying, ‘You know dear, I had an abortion back in the 30s, I’ve never told anybody before.’ I wasn’t alone.” Despite Sam’s openness, she still felt a sense of shame when she needed a second abortion after emergency contraception failed; by now, she says, “I knew the relationship was not one that I could have a child within.” “Again, you made a responsible decision,” Diane reassures her. “I really think it’s the biggest achievement of the anti-abortion lobby: making women feel guilty.” Diane drank only half a glass of champagne when abortion was partially legalised in 1967, and is still waiting to drink another half glass: she says she will not rest until it is legal for everyone. Sam, who campaigns for Marie Stopes, agrees: “The only thing left now is for abortion to be taken out of criminal law and be treated as a healthcare issue across the UK, including Northern Ireland. It’s for us to continue the work. I’m so grateful that you all fought so hard for us to have those rights,” she tells Diane. Diane smiles. “That makes me feel very happy. There are only a couple of us early pioneers left now – you’ve got to carry that fight on for other women.” Sam has tears rolling down her cheeks. “Do you want another coffee?” asks Diane, gently. ‘We’re hearing the exact same slurs and experiences as we did 40 years ago’ Roxy Legane, 28, and Nona Ferdon, 91, civil rights activists Midway through their conversation, Nona Ferdon proudly shows Roxy Legane photographs of her standing with Martin Luther King Jr, pictures that were taken on a march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Nona explains how, as a clinical psychologist working in Hawaii, she was part of a medical unit that joined the civil rights demonstration. “The atmosphere was very tense,” she says. “Two weeks before, people had been stampeded with horses and policemen. We gathered around at a chapel, and it was the first time I heard We Shall Overcome. The second verse was: ‘Black and white together, we shall overcome.’ That was very much the feeling.” Her eyes brighten as she talks. Five decades later, Roxy is battling racism – and, as a woman of colour, experiencing it. She works with anti-racist groups and runs the community project Kids of Colour in Manchester. Her own memories of racism go back to childhood. “My dad wasn’t welcome at my mum’s parents’ house. He was from Mauritius, and they were white, and thought he couldn’t provide what they wanted for her, and for me there was racism wrapped up in that. [Also] growing up in a predominantly white environment, being around lots of micro-aggressions.” She tells Nona that progress feels slow. “Last year I put on an event about racism in education, and a 13-year-old talked about his experiences of violence and restraint at school. Older people in the room were saying, ‘We’re hearing the same slurs and experiences that we heard 40 years ago.’ That is shocking and frustrating.” She describes being contacted by a mother whose seven-year-old, a mixed-race child, was spat at by a white child of the same age, and told she could not play with white children; and meeting young people of colour who, flattened by the oppression they face, say, “I just want to be white.” Nona agrees that progress is slow. But, she says, “There have been tremendous changes in the US. I remember the day the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, people of colour circled around, block after block, trying to vote.” Before this, they had been prevented from voting because they had failed impossible, deliberately obtuse literacy tests that included questions such as, How many bubbles in a bar of soap?, she explains. While Nona still feels the outlook is bleak, with Trump in the White House, she tells Roxy: “Please believe me, there have been such massive changes. If you could put your mind back into 1950 – it was a different world.” “I feel aware of how far we’ve come,” Roxy says. “But similarly aware of how much there is to be done. In the UK, we’re good at covering up our racism – but it can be seen in who is most likely to have poor housing, or be in the prison system, or unemployed, and that comes back to people of colour. We look at the US and think: how can they do that to migrant children? But we split up and destroy families here, too.” When Roxy talks of how drained and helpless she can feel, Nona encourages her to talk, to take care of herself. “You’ve got to have someone you can sit down with and say, ‘My God, you won’t believe what he said to me…’” She adds, “I’ve tried to teach my grandchildren this: every day you live is a footstep in tomorrow, and a brick in the person you want to be.” Once the conversation has drawn to a close, Nona’s daughter takes us to visit the 10 leonberger puppies they have bred. “Now this is what I call self-care,” says Roxy, as she holds one close. ‘I was 19 and I’d drive to work crying my eyes out’ Alex Evans, 45, and Paul McGregor, 29, lost their fathers to suicide, 18 years apart When commercial manager Alex Evans, 45, meets entrepreneur Paul McGregor, 29, at the Guardian’s offices, it looks from the outside like an ordinary business meeting, all handshakes and nice-to-meet-yous. But in the room there is a tension, as if we are all holding our breath. Paul, his voice steady, goes first. “My life was straightforward until I was about 18. I grew up in Essex with my parents and older brother. I was quite academic at school, played a lot of football. My mum and dad were childhood sweethearts. On the outside it looked like a happy family. But when I was 18, my dad just broke. His eyes were distant, he was saying things – we didn’t know what to do.” After taking antidepressants and being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, he killed himself on 4 March 2009, at the age of 45. Paul now tells his story at events to raise awareness of mental health issues; but Alex, from Sussex, has not spoken at length about his father’s death before. “My family was broken,” he begins. His father was an alcoholic, and in the year before his suicide he lost his driving licence, his job, and the phone was disconnected. He killed himself on 29 October 1991, aged 44, when Alex was away with friends. Before leaving for that trip, Alex says, “I got home after my Saturday shift at McDonald’s, and saw Dad asleep, slumped in the corner of the kitchen, absolutely paralytic, all the dirty dishes piled up. I tried to wake him and he went for me. He kneed me in the balls, tried to headbutt me.” His brother broke up the fight. “The emotion broke. I was outside, crying and angry. Something inside snapped and I said, ‘I’m never going to cry about this again.’” His jaw clenches as he explains what happened next: his father tried to apologise, but Alex slammed the door and walked out. That was the last time they saw each other. Paul, the younger man, identifies the link between their experiences. “I think you’ve probably trained yourself not to show your emotions. But as you were talking, one emotion came through that I can relate to massively, and that’s guilt. As you were talking about what you didn’t do, I could see you starting to well up. It’s the same with me.” Both men spent their young adulthood hiding their grief. “I was 19, and I’d drive to work crying my eyes out,” says Paul. “Then I’d get to work, and it was: ‘Everyone all right?’ and then I’d get back in the car and cry.” “In the year or two afterwards, I was the archetypal angry young man,” says Alex. “I had my head shaved, a big gold earring, I was like a red mist on a hair trigger. A lot of people saw this horrible man when I was out – and then I’d be in bed weeping, with no one to offload on to.” While Paul found a therapist, Alex has never felt able to. “My wife says, ‘You’re so unemotional, Alex.’ She doesn’t see that sometimes when she goes to bed, I get some old photo albums out, with the suicide letter. I can get quite weepy, and I feel very lucid in myself about my emotions. I can have a conversation with myself about how I feel. But when she walks in, I’ll freeze. We have no secrets and I love her dearly, but I still find it hard to let go.” Both agree that social attitudes around mental health have changed for the better – but not around suicide. “There was definitely a stigma,” says Alex. “I always joked about it: when people asked how he died, I’d say, ‘The usual way – he stopped breathing.’ I used to hate myself for doing that.” Paul thinks little had changed by 2009. “I remember my dad saying ‘Be careful near the local psychiatric hospital, because there’s loads of loonies and nutters that might be round there,’” he says. “If that’s what he was conditioned to believe, then that’s probably why he was silent for so long.” When Paul asks how it felt this year to outlive the age at which his father died, Alex says that he felt as if a weight had been lifted. “I’ve almost found it’s freed me up a bit. I’m writing my own story now. I’ve got past the point where he was, and it’s uncharted territory.” For Paul, it is talking that has been freeing. “But that doesn’t mean I’ve dealt with it – there are still times when it’s horrible,” he says. Alex agrees. “Part of me thinks – even knows, deep down – that you never get over it. There’s something about it that just wrenches you. But this is the longest I’ve spent talking about it. It’s part of the feeling that the road is opening up.” ‘Gay marriage is a symbol; it’s society trying to do better ’ Tochi Onuora, 20, and Jean Thomson, 90, were both outed at school Sitting in his host’s living room, surrounded by her books and newspapers, Tochi is telling Jean what it was like being outed at school, 70 years after she was. He was 13 and had come out to close friends when, suddenly, everyone seemed to know he was gay. “I had a support network, and people’s reactions weren’t bad, so I was fine – relieved, almost. But I don’t think that’s the usual experience,” he says. It was not Jean’s experience: at 12, she fell in love with a girl of 14 at her Scottish boarding school. “She was going to be a musician, and if you had some time off during the day you could go and see her practising the piano.” Love notes between this musician and a few other girls were discovered in their underwear drawers. Her voice falls as she describes the traumatic school disciplinary process that followed, in which Jean was forced to admit they had kissed. “I was called as a witness. It was humiliating. She didn’t play the piano after that. It was a dreadful thing to do to her, and it was a terrible thing to happen to me, too. I never really recovered,” she says. Jean feels an enduring sense of isolation. Tochi’s experience of growing up gay has been less lonely, he says, in part because of technology. “I have a sense of being different, but I’m an ethnic minority, as well, so I’m not unused to that. Then again, I’ve grown up with the internet, and if I hear something negative and I want to find reassurance, I’ll do some research. And then I can say, actually, I’ve read these 10 articles and seen this person talking about it on YouTube. I might see someone has posted on my university’s LGBT+ social media channels, and I’d feel comfortable approaching them in real life. It’s less isolating.” Jean tells of a period in her life when she also found a community. While lesbianism was not illegal – unlike male homosexuality, which was only partially decriminalised in 1967 – it still felt that way. Jean’s voice lifts as she describes developing a circle of gay women friends through the Minority Research Group, formed in London in 1963. “I read an advertisement for it, and recognised that it was a gay thing.” There she met two women activists, Esmé Langley and Diana Chapman, who “had decided there were too many isolated gay women. Women from all over the country flocked there; it was really the beginning of the gay women’s movement.” Jean asks Tochi how the history of the criminalisation of homosexuality affects him. “At school, I knew if someone said something homophobic, I could go to a teacher,” he says. “I think that privilege of not having to think about it on a legal level is very different. But there is still a feeling that this isn’t quite OK, and that means you might delay coming out, or just get very good at performing. “Sometimes, at a time when some of the legal versions of discrimination have been addressed, it means, when you do complain about something, people think they resolved it 15 years ago. But I still I feel I can’t go to certain places. When I see a St George’s flag I cross the street, because I feel like that’s a symbol of someone who doesn’t agree with my existence. People think we solved racism and discrimination against LGBT people. I’m like, no, we didn’t.” Their views differ on the issue of gay marriage: for Jean, it is “an unnecessary addition to the gay world. I don’t see any reason to be the same as people who are having heterosexual partnerships.” “I was really happy about it,” says Tochi. “It’s society recognising that it hasn’t been good enough, and trying to do better for LGBT people.” “I think things have changed quite considerably, but it’s still difficult,” says Jean. “I don’t think I could have had this conversation with a gay man 20 years ago – there would have been much more of a sense of danger about it all.” Tochi laughs. “Twenty years ago! That’s when I was born.” . If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name and address (not for publication). Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. 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Bob Dowling on the lessons he’s learned. First of all: why me? The whole family knows I never write anything. An old girlfriend once said my letter read like a social security card. My favourite poem is Ode To A Girdle *, partly because of its brevity. And this is a fine time to try to get me to start writing. I’m 98: when I get an idea into my head, I forget what it was before I can write it down. Why not wait till I’m 100? I live with three of my six grandsons, a seven-year-old and three-year-old twins, in Connecticut. It’s mayhem, but we had four children in four years, so I’m used to mayhem. One time we were going to visit my wife’s parents and had all the kids and the dog in the car. When I started driving, I realised we had left a suitcase on the roof, because our clothes were flying all around the road. When I stopped to retrieve them, the dog tried to get out and I accidentally shut the door on his ear. He flew around the car, shaking blood everywhere and scratching up the kids until everyone was howling. The twins’ father – Tim’s brother – has them enrolled in every athletic event in North America. He recently had them challenge me to a running race. We went down to the beach, where my son drew a starting line and a finish line in the sand, and shouted: “Ready, set, go.” I had a bad start and came in third. A few days later there was a rematch: 25 yards, this time on grass. I lost, because I stepped in a chipmunk hole; the little bastard dug two holes six inches apart. I’m working towards a third race, somewhere flat. Now that the state has taken away my driver’s licence and I have to walk everywhere, my legs are starting to round into shape. I’ll leave those shrimps in the dust. Actually, the state didn’t take away my licence. When I got notice that it would expire on my 98th birthday, I figured they would never give me a new one, so I sold my car. Then I found out that, in America anyway, they will renew your licence no matter how old you are, as long as you pay the fee. I went to get one, just for identification purposes. They asked if I wanted to renew it for six more years, but I only did two. I do miss my car. There was never a chance of me having an accident. Everybody got out of the way as soon as they saw me coming. I’m thinking about getting a golf cart instead. Lately, I’ve been looking into medications for memory loss. I can’t recall what I had for lunch, but I can clearly remember things that happened 90 years ago, like the fight between Florence Parker and Sylvia Needles on the lawn of the Methodist church. That’s where all the kids went to fight, because it had a nice grassy lawn. Kids seemed to fight a lot back then. But the doctors say the medication route is not promising; they say it’s a waste of money. What they recommend is exercise, and a good diet. I think fear is the greatest problem of the elderly. It prevents you from doing the things you like doing. I used to be a distance swimmer, racing across harbours all over the state, but now I swim only where I can touch the bottom. Lately, I’ve been swallowing water when I swim, so I started doing backstroke. It works fine, as long as I don’t swim into a boat. The point is not to worry about the fear too much: do as much as you can, and take advice from friends and relatives. Anyway, where was I? * Tim Dowling writes: This is news to me. I can only imagine my father is referring to On A Girdle, by the English lyric poet Edmund Waller (1606-1687), which begins: “That which her slender waist confin’d, Shall now my joyful temples bind.” He’s right, though, it is brief: three stanzas, 12 lines, a mere 83 words in total.
For Brad Ngata and Glenn Chaplin, some crucial time with a life coach helped them gain insight into what makes the other tick. Names: Brad Ngata and Glenn Chaplin Years together: Almost 25 Occupations: Hair stylist and business director It was a surprise to almost everyone gathered in the Blue Mountains garden, not least Glenn Chaplin when his partner, Brad Ngata, got down on one knee and proposed. It was Australia Day 2015, more than two years before the marriage equality laws were passed, but for the couple celebrating 20 years together, it was time. “We had all our friends there [and] it was a perfect beautiful day.” Marriage wasn’t something Ngata had been interested in until he went to the “beautiful, intimate, small wedding” of a friend. “I thought, I want to do that. Why can’t I do that? I should be able to do that.” The couple met at Sydney’s Taxi Club on Australia Day in 1995. Chaplin was on a date with someone else – “It wasn’t really working, obviously,” he says drily – and there was an instant attraction between the two. “We looked across the dance floor and that was it,” says Ngata. The next day Ngata told friends at the hair salon where he worked that he’d met “the one”, although he also remembers them joking that he said that every week. The couple were soon inseparable, spending hours watching black and white films together. “It just felt right,” Ngata says. “Right from the start.” For Chaplin, the defining moment came a few years later: “I knew I’d be with him forever when he gave up drinking,” he says. Ngata has been sober for 22 years, something Chaplin is very proud of him for: “He was unreliable before that but when he gave up drinking, he got reliable and mature.” It had been a long time coming, Ngata says. “I was kind of failing at a lot of things in that time. So it was my rock bottom. It was time to make that decision and I did, and stuck with it.” His life improved dramatically. “I think, too, it was having someone who was on your side, [who] gave you the courage to push forward.” Not long after that, Ngata quit his job and the pair decided to open their own salon. “We always knew that we wanted to work together,” Chaplin says. Although he kept his job at Amnesty International while they waited for the business to grow, it didn’t take long. “It pretty much exploded, in a good way,” Ngata says. “We [were] quite ambitious in that way, so there was a lot of building, and then we doubled the size of the salon, and then [we were] winning awards, we had a lot of PR. Everything was happening.” That was a heady time in the Australian fashion world, and the couple and their downtown Sydney salon were at the centre of the storm. They were connected to everyone – designers including Ksubi, Sass & Bide and Fleur Wood – and Ngata juggled runway looks with celebrity haircuts while Chaplin ran the business and produced the shows. They travelled the world together and, in 2012, opened a second salon in the city. The pair were together all day every day and there was rarely an escape from work pressures. “There’s been incredible highs and then incredibly challenging times, but I think we couldn’t have gotten through it if we couldn’t rely on each other,” Ngata says. About 10 years ago, they visited a life coach – a step they recommend to other couples. Ngata says: “[Sometimes] you need that third person, who understands how to get the best result on all different kinds of levels, and to be that third person where you’re in a safe place. You can have relationship hygiene, talk about [things], say it, get it out and then get really good advice and tools to try and fix it somehow.” The coach helped them to get insight into what makes the other tick. They went to her for four years: “That was probably the best thing we did because we didn’t realise how we both grew as individuals from doing that,” Chaplin says. A few years later they decided to step out of the fashion whirl and downsize to a single, smaller salon in Darlinghurst, just as luxurious but much more relaxed. They also split their time between Sydney and a home in the Blue Mountains. “We moved there to have a quieter life, and get Glenn into a garden because that helps to de-stress him.” Getting out of the city each week gives them time to reconnect to one another. “[I realise] how important that is to us, to have that downtime, because you jump in the car, you go over the Anzac bridge, and that’s it. Everything, it can all wait until Wednesday. And that’s something that we afford ourselves the luxury of having, even though we work hard to keep it.” Being away from the hustle of the city has strengthened their bond and the house gives them space to do their own thing. “I always say the ideal for me is to know that Brad’s there, but in the other room,” says Chaplin, with a laugh. Next year they’ll celebrate 25 years together and they plan to finally tie the knot. The passing of the marriage equality bill in 2017 was significant for them and they want to make things official. “We know how committed we are and, given 25 years, we’re very committed,” Chaplin says, “but I think that just signals it to everyone else.” Ngata jokes: “My straight clients say to me, get married, be miserable!” So what’s their secret for staying together? “I think you’ve got to get on with it,” says Ngata, “because if you don’t, then there’s no point. [And] you’ve got to communicate. That took a lot of therapy to get to that point: Open your heart was what I’ve been told to do. Face the fear and do it anyway. Just step over that line.” Through everything, their commitment to each other hasn’t wavered. They’re in it for the long haul, Ngata says. “There’s good times and there’s bad times, as much as a cliche as that sounds. But ... Glenn was there when I was going through a pretty dark period. So I’m there for him when he’s going through a period for him … You’ve got to look at the whole history of your relationship and not just be defined by one moment in it.” Chaplin agrees: “Never does it cross your mind in a serious way that you’d leave each other. You just bear with whatever you’re going through and you know that, ultimately, it’s going to be fixed and it’ll all come good again, and you trust that.” . We want to hear your stories about staying together. Tell us about you, your partner and your relationship by filling in the form here
It’s been a decade since micro pigs were first touted as perfect little pets, only for their owners to look on in horror as they grew and grew. And yet we keep on buying them …. Grace weighs 178kg (28st), sleeps on a special orthopaedic mattress and gets through £20 worth of food a week – the “micropig” that Nigel Graham from Malvern bought his wife, Sam, has turned out to be anything but. The craze for small pigs, known as micro or teacup pigs, took off about a decade ago. The Beckhams were reported to have bought mini pigs in 2009; Paris Hilton was regularly photographed with a tiny pig in her handbag around the same time. Micro pigs were thought to be the perfect pets – as intelligent as dogs; good for people with allergies to (conventional) pet hair. But as more and more tales have emerged of pigs growing well beyond their promised mini size, the notion of the micro pig has gradually been exposed as a myth. In fact, when the Grahams bought Grace in 2014, the trend was already well established, perhaps proving that all sense goes out of the window when faced with the utter cuteness of a piglet. Esther the Wonderpig is perhaps the world’s most famous pig, with a strong online profile. She belongs to Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter in Ontario, Canada, who were told she wouldn’t grow to be heavier than 32kg – she now weighs about 295kg (46st). In 2012, Colin and Susie Webb made the news with 160kg (25st) Babe, the pig with which they shared their terraced house in Scarborough. Micropigs “are a fallacy” says Kevin Kersley, who breeds kune kune pigs – which are small, growing to around knee-height, but not micropig-sized – and chair of the British Kunekune Pig Society. What breed are the pigs sold as tiny porkers? “Your guess is as good as mine,” he says. “Unscrupulous people tend to breed the runts of the litter to try to decrease the size of the pig, but genetically the original size is built into the offspring, even though its parents may be small. I’d imagine there would be some kune kune in there, to start off with a small size.” What’s more, he says, pigs should not be kept as house pets. “You can keep them in a paddock, or if you’ve got a big enough garden.” And you’d need more than one pig: “Never keep a pig on its own, that’s just downright cruel. They are a herd animal.” They need to be registered with Defra, and you need to know a decent farm vet, not your usual veterinary surgery. This year, one pig sanctuary, Pig Inn Heaven, said it was struggling with the number of requests to take in “micropigs” that had outgrown their owners. “We have rescued pigs from one-bedroom flats and cellars,” Janet Devereux, who runs the sanctuary, told the Daily Telegraph. On her website is this sober reminder: “A micro pig is a piglet, then it grows.”
People stay in touch with exes for all sorts of reasons. Some do it to bolster their ego, says Annalisa Barbieri. Two years ago, I started a relationship with a wonderful older man, but from the beginning something seemed a little off. After we celebrated our first anniversary, I had the shameful impulse to ask to see his phone. He agreed . There I saw what was bothering me: a previous girlfriend had been texting him every day, and he had been replying: photos, kiss emoticons, five-minute-long voice messages. It had been going on every day for the year we had been together. They apparently had an intense, somewhat problematic, two-year relationship, but she moved abroad. He says they were going to break up anyway. I felt they were being disrespectful towards me and towards themselves, putting all this energy into something that had theoretically ended and not allowing new relationships to fully blossom. He said they texted because they remained good friends, that’s all. That is hard for me to believe. He said he was not aware this could be so damaging to me . He told me he had stopped messaging her so often and that, for him, it made no difference. A year has passed and everything is great. However, I still have moments of doubt. He travels a lot and works in the same field as h is ex, sometimes travelling to the same places. I can’t help but imagine emotionally charged encounters, if not more. Does my insecurity have some sort of foundation, or I am making a bit too much of this? I wonder what made you ask to see his phone after a year? And I wonder what made you write now? I think we can become insecure when we know something’s not right, and that some people make us feel more insecure than others. We tend to lack confidence in situations, or people, when we feel information is being withheld and we don’t know the full story – so we fill in the gaps with our own imagination. I would have liked to know a bit more about your past relationships and if you’ve always been like this. If so, then it’s worth looking at why relationships make you feel insecure. Or maybe this is your first serious relationship and you don’t have exes, so you can’t understand why people stay in touch with theirs. When I found out my first boyfriend still occasionally saw his ex, I couldn’t understand why, either. But people stay in touch with exes for all sorts of reasons, some of them benign and some not so much. Some people like to have their exes on the back-burner to bolster their ego. I’ve known men like that. Five-minute-long voice messages and texts every day is quite a commitment, however: does he lavish the same attention on all his friends? What’s the context? I’m also intrigued that he’s older, has experience of relationships, but doesn’t seem to think that being in touch with his ex might bother you. Plus, so much texting yet it “made no difference to him”? Then why do it? I think he’s being disingenuous. Gavin de Becker writes (brilliant, fascinating) books about how we ignore our intuition, often to our detriment. It has made me realise the power of intuition, which social conditioning has largely taught us to ignore for fear of seeming silly or paranoid. We don’t feel we can trust our instincts, so often look for proof instead – as you did with your boyfriend’s phone. In De Becker’s book The Gift Of Fear, he writes about giving a talk and asking how many people in the audience had children. Then he asked: “How many of you have left your children with a babysitter?” And finally he asked: “How many of you aren’t absolutely sure about your babysitter?” A few hands went up. So he said: “What are you doing here? Go home.” This isn’t really about who your boyfriend is in contact with or not; it’s about the fact that you feel something isn’t quite right. Pay attention to that feeling and explore it. There may be nothing going on, or you may just feel doubtful about him and have pegged all those doubts on to this one thing. For this relationship to have a future, you need to be able to trust him with your fears and know he will try to understand them; he should not only respect them, he should assuage them. A relationship where you doubt both him and yourself will eventually exhaust you. . Send your problem to email@example.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.
These judgments come with a large dollop of bias – we’re all motivated to believe that our age group is superior. As a member of Generation X, I naturally derive much of my self-esteem from reflecting on the fact that I’m neither older nor younger than I am. On one hand, the baby boomers’ ruination of the planet (and the property market) was well under way before I’d even learned to ride a bike. On the other, not being a millennial or Z-er, at least I learned to ride a bike, rather than spending my childhood in a darkened room staring at a screen in preparation for a career writing articles explaining to my elders why the films they liked as teenagers were actually horribly problematic. In short, I have examined the evidence for the merits of each generation, and reached the dispassionate conclusion that mine is best. Perhaps you’ll object that this is a load of nonsense; my defence is that almost everything we think we know about the generations is nonsense. Partly, that’s just because there’s too much variation within generations to generalise very much, and the lines we draw between them are arbitrary. But it’s also because it’s all but impossible to pick apart what’s attributable to membership of a given generation, versus being a given age. For example, a phenomenon known as the “reminiscence bump” means older people retain more vivid memories of their youth than their middle years, and those memories are more likely to be positive, too. So as you age, and other memories fade, you’re more likely to conclude that life today, and young people, are much worse than in the past. Then again, “the boomers ruined everything” argument, beloved of millennials, isn’t much less suspect. There’s plenty wrong with the world today and, well, of course that’s the fault of an earlier generation. But the true test of boomer awfulness will come in 50 years, when we see if the generation levelling the charge screwed things up any less. The most blatant instances of this confusion are the insults hurled at millennials and Generation Z: mainly that they’re a) narcissistic and b) irritatingly entitled and uncommitted in their attitudes to their jobs. There’s a case to be made that these claims are false, yet as the psychologist David Costanza explains, even if they’re true, they’re probably age-related. Younger people have always tended to be more narcissistic. And we use the first part of our careers to try things out, so it’s hardly surprising that the older you get, the more likely you are to be satisfied with your job. So we should be honest with ourselves. Even when there’s merit in our judgments of others, there’s such a large dollop of bias – motivated by a need to feel superior, or to find someone to blame – that we can’t trust any conclusions we reach. In my case, I assume it’s a form of mid-life crisis: I’m trying to distance myself from death, by defining myself against an older cohort; at the same time, I’m bolstering myself against the threat of professional replacement by people with more energy, and life ahead of them, than I have. Which is a pity. If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, we’re all in the same handbasket; it might not be the best use of our time to be debating who has the best seat. Read this In his 2018 book The Happiness Curve, Jonathan Rauch marshals uplifting evidence that life gets better after 50, regardless of your generation.
‘Her mother drives me insane.’ (Posed by models) Composite: Getty/Guardian Design TeamA few years ago, I met a lovely lady who had just separated from her partner and had two young children. She has since divorced and we have bought a house together. Mostly, everything is great. However, her mother, who lives on the other side of the world, visits the UK two or three times a year – and stays with us for two or three months each time. I cannot keep living with her. She drives me insane! She doesn’t respect the rules of the house and she is always there. I have explained my issues to my girlfriend, but to no avail. I don’t want to lose her, but I am running out of patience.• When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments that appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed.• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.• If you would like fellow readers to respond to a dilemma of yours, send us an outline of the situation of about 150 words. For advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns.• All correspondence should reach us by Wednesday morning. Email firstname.lastname@example.org (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.
While I binge on crisps, watching Love Island, my 65-year-old mother collects triathlon trophies and snorkels in bogs. Can I ever keep up?. At midday on 9 June this year, my 64-year-old mother was approaching the halfway point of her second Ironman triathlon. I, meanwhile, was eating breakfast in bed (three packets of Quavers, white chocolate Magnum), too hungover to open both eyes at once. We’d both dedicated our weekends to testing the limits of human endurance. It’s just that I’d done so at a festival for gays, watching Samantha Mumba announce, “I refuse to leave this stage without acknowledging Martha P Johnson”, before dropping that train of thought as quickly as it arrived and launching into her 2000 banger Body II Body. I’m cursed with belonging to a sporty family. It’s not that I am particularly unathletic, more electively idle – a condition that is thrown into sharp relief by the attention-seeking antics of my mother, who once ran 100 miles over the Himalayas in five days, and brother, who has won three cycling gold medals at the Paralympics. Next to them, perfectly reasonable activities – such as eating five Creme Eggs in the bath while listening to Stevie Nicks – begin to look lazy or unwholesome. Mum has exercised compulsively for as long as I can remember, first swimming, then running, then running marathons. She is not great at directions, so schoolmates would report opening their curtains on winter mornings to be greeted by the sight of her jogging through their garden in a sports bra and head torch, trying to locate a footpath. There was even a short-lived foray into bog snorkelling; she came 13th in the world championships, neglecting to mention that only 14 people had been mad enough to enter. But things stepped up several gears when she discovered the fitness app Strava. Instead of encouraging people to compare their children (Facebook) or thigh gaps (Instagram), Strava tracks users’ run and cycle times and ranks them against others who have downloaded the app. To say that Strava ignited Mum’s competitive spirit would be like saying Donald Trump doesn’t love the people of Mexico. The app compares your performance across a number of metrics, including age and gender, meaning there is always plenty of urgent data that Mum wants to discuss. A number of missed calls at an unsociable hour used to indicate a family tragedy. Now, it means Mum has won a Strava trophy (she’s in the top 10 fastest women to have completed a particular segment of a race) or – better yet – a “Queen of the Mountain” crown (she is number one, the fastest of all). When she’s displaced from the top spot, lunches are abandoned and conversations halted mid-flow, so that she can rush out on her bike and attempt to reclaim her crown. On a cycling holiday in Colombia, she instructed one of the men to race just ahead of her in order to decrease wind resistance and unseat a rival on the app. “After we finished, we couldn’t get wifi for a couple of hours,” she told me. “It was a tense afternoon.” I could imagine. My sister’s lack of interest in Mum’s analytics is so violent that she has placed restrictions on how much Strava chat she’ll tolerate (three minutes before she hangs up). I try to be more encouraging, and even joined Mum on a run as she trained for her latest Ironman. I managed 8k, prompting frenzied claims from her that I could probably run a marathon if I trained really hard. Perhaps I could, but what would be the long game? A plastic medal and a JustGiving page to make my colleagues hate me? Maybe my problem is that a lifetime surrounded by Lycra has rendered sporting achievements unremarkable – encouraging the mistaken belief that I could probably run 100 miles over the Himalayas, too, if only I weren’t so well-balanced. The only sportsperson I’ve ever truly admired is the Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, and that’s mostly because of a competition where he refused to skate and instead lip-synched to his own heavily Auto-Tuned version of a Rihanna song. Don’t try and tell me that’s less iconic than traditional sporting achievements such as running fast or jumping high. That’s not to say I never exercise. I’ve been known to slutdrop to Little Mix for upwards of five hours at a time, and I cycle to work, inspiring one editor to remark (quite unkindly) that she’d seen me “wobbling along the canal”. Once a year, when I go home for Christmas, I do a day of gym classes with my mum as a kind of annual MOT; if I don’t die, I consider myself to have passed. I briefly abandoned this homeopathic approach to physical activity in 2017, when a stranger at a house party prodded my belly and told me to “suck it in”. After I’d disposed of his body, I embarked on one of those 12-week transformations that you see advertised on the bus. When the trainer asked me my fitness goal, I said it was to look like Tom Daley, but aged 13, because I wanted to manage expectations. For the next three months I subsisted on dry chicken and rice cakes, going to the gym every evening and dreaming of Minstrels every night. By the second month I was so immune to discomfort that I dislocated my shoulder while using a dumbbell and popped it back into the socket myself. In my protein shake-addled mind I’d become He-Man, minus the Anna Wintour bob. For someone who sits at a desk all day, it felt good to challenge myself in a way that wasn’t seeing how many packets of crisps I could eat during a single episode of Love Island Australia. But when the 12 weeks ended, I immediately degenerated into my old ways. Exercising every day hadn’t given me more energy, or filled me with endorphins, or made me look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club – it had just driven me dangerously close to becoming the kind of person who posts changing room selfies. Faced with such a sobering prospect, I gave up. Perhaps my mistake was being motivated by vanity alone, whereas my mum is driven by a higher cause: her own immortality. This year she turned 65, moving her up an age category at events, and so increasing her chances of winning competitions. “It feels like a landmark age,” she told me, “and rather than be defined as someone old, I want to be defined as someone who wins medals.” She’s never been massively tactful (on my boyfriend: “You’re better-looking, but he’s a nicer person”), and in recent years I’ve watched her grow increasingly frustrated with some of her peers. “They’re boring,” she complains whenever she meets someone new. “All they want to talk about is their ailments.” These days, she prefers going on group holidays where the average person is 20 years younger, and upending their expectations of what a grandmother on a bike looks like. In the end, perhaps we’re both motivated by the same spirit of rebellion. As a pensioner, Mum isn’t expected to be hitting the gym five times a week. As a young-ish gay man, I emphatically am. Watching her compete, I feel proud. But also grateful to have been spared whichever gene compels you to snorkel in a bog. . If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email email@example.com, including your name and address (not for publication).
‘My husband is still my soulmate but I have an amazing boyfriend as well’. I met my wonderful, loving husband at 18 and married him at 20. That was 16 years ago, and while we’ve had a fabulous, supportive marriage, the sexual side of things had begun to grow stale. A couple of years ago, we decided to spice things up by visiting sex clubs together, a mutual decision that excited us both. While attending the same event, we both met other people we really connected with. It was completely unexpected, but we now consider ourselves polyamorous. My husband is still my soulmate, and I can’t imagine life without him, but I have an amazing boyfriend, as well. I also have a new best friend – my husband’s wonderful girlfriend. At first, we expected to feel some jealousy, but it never arose. Within the polyamorous community there is a word for the opposite emotion, “compersion” – the feeling of joy that someone else is happy. Now, the four of us consider ourselves a family and share holidays, nights out and celebrations, as well as supporting each other through the tougher times. In addition, we give each other permission to see others casually for sex, as and when the desire arises. It may not be for everyone, but our new-found situation has brought us closer. The trust between us is unbelievably strong, and we know we are together because we love each other very much. There are no secrets and communication is better than it has ever been. For us, it’s about making the choice to be together, while enjoying and exploring all the wonderful, sensual opportunities that life brings. . Each week, a reader tells us about their sex life. Want to share yours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussions remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site
Restricting yourself to a single age group is like going to an ice cream parlour and ordering three scoops of the same flavour. There is a narrative that generational warfare is increasingly common in our divided world: the Brexit schism of older leavers and young remainers; the middle-aged property investors whose mortgages are paid by generation rent. Then there’s the explosion of tech and shifting cultural values that lead to head-scratching and eye-rolling; each generation bitches about the one below it, we’re told, treating the one above with an unfair disdain. But this is not something I recognise in my own life. I have some brilliant friends, and I count myself especially fortunate that they are from all generations. I had my 30th birthday in August, which I freaked out about in a way I did not expect; but it was glorious to see so many pals together in one place. I can’t remember any other recent setting where people with decades between them were introducing themselves, chatting and drinking: 60-year-old mates asking a mid-20s couple who they vote for; two football fans, one born the year the other went to his first game, aged 19; me, being mocked by some people for being ridiculously young, and by others for being “ancient now”. Having friends from a single age group is like going to an ice-cream parlour, ordering three scoops, and picking the same flavour for each. Here’s a guide to what makes my friends from each generation special. As the great R&B philosopher Aaliyah said: age ain’t nothing but a number. The silent generation: ‘They can dole out advice about what matters in life and what really, really doesn’t’ You may not have come across the term “silent generation”, but that makes it all the more apt. The Pew Research Center defines its members as being born between 1928 and 1945 – a time when children, their parents struggling through the Great Depression and the second world war, were expected to be seen and not heard, and when individuals came of age in an period of austerity. I don’t have lots of friends who fall into this category. But I have a few – enough for me to quibble with the “silent” description. The best thing about the mid-70s crew that hang out at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond in north London, for instance, is that they have experienced so much, and can dole out advice about what matters in life and what really, really doesn’t. A lot of this wisdom is shared while naked, tits akimbo (appearance is one of the things that I am reliably informed does not matter). The other pals in this age range I have collected from places where age is disregarded – when travelling or in psychiatric wards (mosquito attacks and mental breakdown are both great levellers). A shoutout here to Nancy, a mid-70s expat artist who nursed me through a horrid cold in her casbah on the Morocco-Algeria border. The baby boomers: ‘We hang out at their houses because of the sash windows and the Agas that warm the kitchens’ It has been estimated that boomers (born between 1946–1964) are 17 times wealthier than my generation, the millennials. If intergenerational tensions were to come into play, it would most likely be with this cohort. However, it actually works out well: for example, when my boomer friends offer to get more rounds in, or waive theatre ticket reimbursements. We mostly hang out at their houses, because of the beautifully restored sash windows and the Agas that warm the kitchens. One benefit of having friends who were teens or young adults when some of my favourite music and art was produced is hearing their tales; why listen to Q magazine-reading lads at house parties bang on about Dylan going electric when I have friends who were actually there, or who rushed out to buy Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures on its release? People in this age group are often embarking on new stages in their own lives: retiring or divorcing, their kids leaving for university or the world of work. There is a mutual bond of: “What the hell are we going to do with our lives?” Also good for: borrowing books and long walks in nature; debating everything; and shamefully crying on their shoulders. Generation X: ‘Their kids, if they have them, are old enough not to be boring’ Perhaps half of my social circle (and a significant number of exes) come from this group, usually defined as born between 1965 to 1980. Criticised in their youth for being directionless slackers, as exemplified in Richard Linklater’s 1991 film , um, Slacker, perhaps they sympathise with the slurs aimed at my generation. My Gen X friends are great fun. On the rare occasions when they have babysitters, they grab the opportunity to come out for prosecco and to grill me about my life, which mostly they imagine to be more exciting than it is. They will come to galleries with me and not spend the entire time on their phones; their kids, if they have them, are usually old enough not to be boring. Because most Gen X folk are still working, they are often great colleagues who can give and take advice, swap gossip and (in the case of those with senior positions, who have smashed it) serve as inspirations. They will also come for strolls and brunch on Sunday mornings when my younger friends are still hungover in bed. X marks the spot. Millennials: ‘Traduced as snowflakes for daring to want a stable place to live, we pull together’ I was born in 1989, almost bang in the middle of the millennial birth range of 1981 to 1996. As soldiers on the frontline of getting utterly screwed over by a clearly discriminatory economic system, we are a close-knit bunch. Constantly traduced as “snowflakes” for daring to want a stable place to live, or for the diva demand of eradicating prejudice, we pull together. We are the only generation to have grown up in the transitional phase between offline and online. That’s quite a big thing, given how much the rapid advancement of tech has changed the world. Nostalgia is common, and any article about a 90s throwback will be popular: dial-up internet; jelly shoes; Pogs; Nokia 3310s. It isn’t that long ago, but it’s a different world. In line with the boom in spending on experiences rather than material things, my twentysomething and thirtysomething friends and I enjoy new activities and restaurants, swimming and weekends away, laughing for days. We will be there for one another: looking out for each other’s mental health; cheering one another’s achievements in the WhatsApp groups; arranging, rearranging and then finally having drinks; working through our identities; and, when romantic relationships crumble, slagging a pal’s ex off indiscriminately before they inevitably get back together. Generation Z: ‘I appreciate their wit and creativity. I do not appreciate them asking me what a CD is’ I don’t have many Gen Z friends (1997 onwards), because they are all busy making hilarious videos on TikTok. I cannot tell you the number of times tears have filled my eyes laughing at the online content made by today’s teens. The buddies I do have from this group, I mostly communicate with on social media: Instagram or, more often, Twitter. They are more acquaintances than true friends, but I appreciate their wit and creativity. I do not appreciate them asking me what a CD is. They’re an inspiring bunch, leading the fight against global heating, and holding our politicians to account. I try to offer younger friends advice and help them out – as my older pals do for me; possibly, I act as a cautionary tale. I have always gravitated towards people older than I am, but the kids are definitely all right. You can see, then, that expanding one’s social circle to include all ages is the way to go. Photographed together, I don’t want my friends to resemble an over-50s life insurance advert, nor an influencer post of mid-20s giggles. I want friends who perform in rap battles on the weekends, but also friends who browse garden centres. I want friends who listen to no other station than Classic FM, and friends who quote freely from Mean Girls. (And don’t assume that the former are my older friends and the latter my peers.) In the past, I have not encouraged these groups to intermingle. But following the success of my birthday, I may make more of an effort to mix and match. Generational warfare? Fake news, mate. . If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email email@example.com, including your name and address (not for publication).
More than 30 million people in the UK dress up for Halloween, research suggests. Photograph: Fairyland Trust/PAAn estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste – equivalent to 83m bottles – will be generated from throwaway Halloween clothing sold by leading retailers in the UK this year research suggests.An investigation by Hubbub, an environmental charity, into the seasonal outfits available from 19 supermarkets and retailers – including Aldi, Argos, Asos, Amazon, Boden, John Lewis, M&S, Next, and Tesco – found that 83% of the material used was polluting oil-based plastic likely to end up in landfill.Among 324 separate textile items, the most common plastic polymer found was polyester, which accounted for 69% of all materials, while cotton made up only 10%.Hubbub has teamed up with the Fairyland Trust, a family nature charity, to urge consumers to choose more environmentally friendly options.Chris Rose, of the Fairyland Trust, said: “The scariest thing about Halloween now is plastic. More costumes are being bought each year as the number of people participating in Halloween increases. Consumers can take action to avoid buying new plastic and still dress up for Halloween by buying from charity shops or re-using costumes, or making their own from non-plastic materials.”There are also calls for manufacturers and retailers to rethink their product ranges for seasonal celebrations. As well as costumes, consumers are tempted with plastic-based accessories including synthetic wigs, hats, masks, buckets, party decorations, glittery makeup and even outfits for dogs.The research found that more than 30 million people in the UK dress up for Halloween and more than 90% of families consider buying costumes. Seven million outfits are thrown away each year, and only a tiny proportion are recycled.Hubbub and The Fairyland Trust are also calling for better and more consistent labelling on such clothing as many consumers do not realise that materials such as polyester are plastic. A 2017 study found that less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing.Trewin Restorick, the chief executive of Hubbub, said: “These findings are horrifying. However, the total plastic waste footprint of Halloween will be even higher once you take into account other Halloween plastic such as party kits and decorations, much of which are also plastic, or food packaging.”David Bolton, a policy adviser on retail products at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are working hard to reduce unnecessary plastic use; however, the materials used for children’s costumes are chosen for safety. Retailers take child safety extremely seriously and this is why we support the current choice of materials.”The Guardian approached several of the companies named in the report for comment. A spokesperson for M&S said: “All M&S kidswear is designed to be hand-me-down quality, including fancy dress costumes which can be reworn, passed on to friends and family or ‘shwopped’ through our partnership with Oxfam. Across our business we’re tackling plastic usage by reducing, reusing and recycling.”A Tesco spokesperson said: “We’ve removed more than 4,000 tonnes of plastic from 8,000 products so far and have made clear that there is no place for materials that are not recyclable. In our Halloween range we have moved to alternative materials wherever possible, such as fabric trick or treat buckets and sustainably sourced paper-based tableware.”Amazon declined to comment.
My friend and teacher Swami Shivapremananda, who has died aged 94, was a monk and yogi who spread the teachings of Sivananda yoga throughout the world. A regular visitor to the British Wheel of Yoga’s annual congress, he led many retreats and yoga seminars in the UK and also in mainland Europe. He was also the author of a number of books in Spanish and English, including Yoga for Stress Relief (1997), and a regular contributor to Yoga & Health magazine, of which I was the editor from 1990 to 2013. Born Sukhendu Ranjan Ray in Berhampore, West Bengal, he was the son of Sudhendu Ranjan Ray, an educationist. His mother, Swarnalataa (nee Bagchi), came from a wealthy commercial family dealing in silk. After studying at St Paul’s school in Darjeeling he graduated at St Xavier’s College, Calcutta (Kolkata). There were early plans for him to enter the civil service, but fate was to intervene. In 1945, at the age of 19, he travelled to Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, where he met Swami Sivananda, the founder of the Divine Life Society. He was to stay there for more than 16 years, changing his name to Shivapremananda when he was ordained and studying the major branches of yoga, comparative religions and philosophy while serving as Swami Sivananda’s personal secretary. From 1949 he taught at the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy, based at the ashram in Rishikesh, and was editor of the Divine Life and Wisdom Light monthly magazines. He also took part in social work under the auspices of the Sivananda Eye Relief camps and visited monasteries in the Himalayas and Tibet. In 1961 he became a director, first of the Sivananda Yoga-Vedanta Centre in Milwaukee and then, from 1964 to 1970, of a similar centre in New York. After moving to South America he founded Sivananda Yoga-Vedanta centres in Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Santiago, sharing his time between those places while also travelling to Europe and India every two years. Erudite but never pompous, Shivapremananda will be remembered by those who knew him as an outspoken, insightful voice, full of practical common sense. His honesty and personal integrity were unwavering and he did not suffer fools or hypocrites gladly. He was kind and generous with his time and resources, and made a large bequest to the children’s hospital in Buenos Aires, where a wing has been named in his honour.
The former Daily Mail editor had been living in his secluded dreamworld. But then he had to go and spoil it all with a letter attacking his successor Geordie Greig. To the executive offices of Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, and a story that you sense will end with a screenwriter floating dead in a swimming pool. For while a certain faded newspaper executive’s office is physically located in the Associated building on London’s High Street Kensington, I’m afraid that, in spiritual terms, this individual resides on Sunset Boulevard. And some shots have been fired. But who is this descending the staircase, wild-eyed and writing excruciatingly humiliating letters to the Financial Times? Why, I believe – yes, it looks like Paul Dacre, forgotten star of the silent newspaper era. You know, before everyone pivoted to video. Then pivoted back again, having made somewhat less of a success of it than Hollywood did with the talkies. Anyway, let us bring up the lights and hear what the former Daily Mail editor is saying as he emotes furiously down the stairs of his dreamworld: “You see, this is my life! It always will be! Just us, the printing presses, and all those wonderful readers out there in the dark. All right, Lord Rothermere – I’m ready for my closeup.” Wonderful. Tragic, camp, hilarious – of course. But wonderful. Legends don’t die; they just stew in the C-suite. But forgive me, for I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s widen our shot from the corpse – perhaps my own, after writing this – and go back in time a bit. Last Saturday’s Financial Times featured a letter written to the paper by Dacre, and it was impossible to behold this document for even a moment without the words reassembling themselves into Norma Desmond’s famous speech. The missive was prompted by the paper’s interview with the current Mail editor, Geordie Greig, who, over the course of a lunch, chanced to mention that 265 advertisers who had deserted the Mail under Dacre have returned to the fold since his successor assumed the editorship. Alas, the suggestion that he was commercially dislikable – the only kind of dislike that matters – was rather too much for our silent star. And so to the letter. “Admirable chap he may be,” runs Dacre’s first blatant euphemism for his favourite four-letter word, “but Geordie Greig is as economic with the actualité as your paper is in reporting Brexit.” Oooooh! Since digressions seem to be permitted, I do hope that, even in seclusion, Dacre is still attended by one faithful retainer/damaged former news editor, who forges daily fan mail to him and assures him: “Madame is the greatest star of all.” Anyway, back to madame. “He claims 265 advertisers came back to the Daily Mail in his year as editor,” she hisses. “In fact, far more than that number left during the same period.” Don’t you just adore dirty linen – the only type of washing that isn’t a lady’s job. In similarly relaxed style, Dacre goes on to fret to the FT about “your writer’s ludicrous caricature of the Mail before I stepped aside” – before you what, sorry? – “before I stepped aside at 70 after 26 years in the chair”. It’s somewhat disappointing that the FT headlined this letter “A solid start, but Greig has some way to go yet”, when it clearly should have gone for: “I AM big – it was the papers that got small.” Dacre goes on to list his achievements with the Daily Mail down the years – billions in profits, increased circulation, successful campaigns and a number of much-loved but dated Cecil B DeMille pictures. No mention of all the unvaccinated kiddies, but perhaps the FT edited him for space, or a late-breaking letter from a sustainable businesswoman. “As for Mr Greig,” comes the next clear euphemism for Dacre’s favourite word, “I congratulate him for making a solid start as editor and continuing so many of those campaigns but I’m sure he’ll forgive me for suggesting that he (or his PR) defers his next lunch with the FT until he has notched up a small fraction of those journalists’ achievements.” And with that, it is signed: “Paul Dacre, chairman and editor in chief, Associated Newspapers.” Well then. No matter how kindly we may wish to look upon former idols, this letter has more than a touch of the messy bitches to it. In fact, as a show of weakness, it is almost too much. To put it in terms I know he would appreciate: the former Mail editor seems to have had some sort of dignity malfunction. Yes, outspoken Paul Dacre has accidentally flashed a bit of weaknessboob there, giving onlookers much more than they bargained for. Stunned newspaper fans – all five of them – commented how Dacre seemed not to care who saw as he flaunted his vulnerability in a revealing letter that left nothing to the imagination. Furthermore, that doesn’t seem to be the end of it. Indeed, it was an exquisite torment to read a follow-up story on Wednesday, headlined: “ Paul Dacre’s position at Mail in doubt after attack on Geordie Greig.” In many ways, we don’t need to pay any attention to the article in question, on account of it having appeared in the Guardian, a newspaper neither Dacre nor I would ever dream of having in the house. On the other hand, we have both had one of our secretarial retinue print out a hard copy of the article from the online version of that publication, from which I learn that senior Associated executives have been “infuriated” by Dacre’s flash of weaknessboob (again I paraphrase). Words such as “unprofessional” are used. According to this report: “The row has focused attention on Dacre’s actual role at the publisher of the Daily Mail. He signed the letter to the FT using the title of ‘chairman and editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers’.” And why shouldn’t he? “The title was regarded by many internally as a way of honouring a long-serving employee rather than an active editorial role.” Oh. Oh dear. That sounds TOO awful. Worse than when Paramount invites Norma Desmond in and she thinks she’s getting a movie, but in fact it just wishes to rent her classic automobile. The report concludes: “The new twist in the dispute between Dacre and Greig will put pressure on [Mail proprietor] Rothermere to resolve the issue of Dacre’s status. One company insider said the whole point of giving Dacre a title was to keep him in the tent and avoid the possibility of him becoming an external critic. ‘Clearly,’ they said, ‘that hasn’t worked.’” Early days, early days. Still, if it doesn’t come good for Dacre in the executive suite, he does have other irons in the fire. A couple of months ago, it was announced that Channel 4 had commissioned a landmark series detailing “Paul Dacre’s worldview”. I am, of course, absolutely dying to see this show, which I’m intrigued to understand will be more than a 60-minute looped shot of a Spitfire shooting up a Viagra factory. So yes, all very promising, but don’t call the programme a “comeback”. As Norma warns Joe Gillis: “I hate that word. It’s a return, a return to the millions of people who have NEVER forgiven me for deserting the screen.” Well, quite. I feel absolutely sure that Dacre’s best days are ahead of him, just like the UK’s after the leaving the EU, or a single mother trying to re-enter the job market after having a baby. But if not, this current performance should serve as a delight to all – a glorious swansong, if you will, from Fleet Street’s finest.
Renowned horticulturist who created the spectacular Rosemoor garden in Devon and nurtured the grounds of the Hackfalls Arboretum in New Zealand. iIn the world of horticulture, only a few people have managed to create a garden of world renown. Lady Anne Berry, however, played an active part in making two. In the UK she is known as the founder of Rosemoor, the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden in Devon, and in New Zealand is admired for her role in nurturing the beautiful grounds of Hackfalls Arboretum on North Island. Berry, who has died aged 99, donated her house at Rosemoor, plus its eight-acre garden and a further 32 acres of pasture, to the RHS in 1988, having established a collection of rare and unusual trees, many of which were grown from seed she had collected herself. Two years later, after marrying the dendrologist Bob Berry, she resettled on his family’s ranch, Hackfalls Station in New Zealand, and set about expanding and improving upon its Homestead Garden, planting hundreds of rare specimens and native plants. Together, both gardens have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years. Although Rosemoor is the smallest of the RHS’s properties, it is one of the most interesting in terms of its planting and was visited by more than 200,000 people in 2018. Anne consciously wanted to recreate it as what she called a “mini-Wisley” – a reference to the RHS’s flagship garden in Surrey – and to establish a place where rare and interesting plants could be found growing in conditions that were favourable to them. Devon, with its mild climate, is an ideal for such aspirations; for the RHS, whose mission is to educate the public about plants and how to grow them, it was an important addition to their portfolio. In the same way, Hackfalls Arboretum provides a living textbook of trees. Many people regard arboretums as rather bland, mainly because there are few flowers and not much in the way of colour apart from autumn foliage. But the Homestead Garden, which consists of about half an acre of mainly flowering shrubs, provides an additional attraction for those who like their gardens to look more domesticated. Anne was born in Wolterton Hall in Norfolk to Robert Walpole, the fifth (and last) Earl of Orford, and his wife, Emily (nee Oakes). Anne inherited Rosemoor, a salmon fishing lodge, on her father’s death in 1931, and continued to live there with her mother until 1939, when she married Eric Palmer, a colonel in the territorial army, and moved away to follow him on various postings. During the second world war she leased Rosemoor to the Red Cross to house evacuees, but in 1945 returned with her family to run the estate as a dairy farm. Up to and beyond this point Anne had shown no real interest in gardening, and by her own admission the grounds of Rosewood were “dull”, with little of note apart from the conventional displays of summer annuals. In 1959, however – while convalescing in Spain after a bout of measles – she met Collingwood Ingram, a world authority on Japanese cherries and a distinguished ornithologist and naturalist. He and Anne went walking in what is now Los Alcornocales natural park in Andalucía, and he introduced her to the concept of “right plant, right place”. He also invited her to visit his own garden, The Grange, in Benenden, Kent. Catherine Horwood, in her 2010 book Gardening Women, describes how Anne later returned from a “raid” on The Grange with a Land Rover and trailer laden with plant material. This provided the foundation of the transformation of Rosemoor from a neat but boring Victorian set-piece to a garden that blended into the Devon landscape and offered a plethora of choice plants to admire. Apart from Ingram, other mentors included Joyce Heathcoat Amory, who with her husband, John, was pioneering woodland gardening at Knightshayes Court in nearby Tiverton; Lionel Fortescue, owner of the Garden House at Buckland Monachorum in west Devon, who advised her on grouping plants to show them at their best; and Harold Hillier, the nurseryman and founder of the Hillier Arboretum in Hampshire. Hillier introduced her to Carl Ferris Miller, the arborist, who inspired her with a love of holly. Soon she was returning from a visit to John Bond, former head gardener at the Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park, who offered her some of the recently introduced blue holly hybrids ( Ilex x meserveae) and she recalled returning to Rosemoor, “with my little car absolutely buried in holly plants inside and on the roof”. Eventually her accumulation of holly became so well regarded that the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (now Plant Heritage) made her one of its first “national collection holders” – individuals who grow a particularly good range of species from any one genus. Bond was instrumental in persuading Anne to donate Rosemoor to the RHS in 1988. It was not an easy decision, but by then her husband had died (in 1980), and, now nearly 70, she felt that by handing over her beloved garden it would at least continue to be maintained to the highest standards. It became only the second garden to be donated to the RHS, after Wisley, which was donated in 1903. Within a year of transferring ownership Anne was in New Zealand on an International Dendrology Society tour. She had visited the country as a child and then again in 1977, when she had first met Bob Berry. At the time both were married, but when Anne returned in 1989 both were widowed, and when she met Bob again he proposed to her. Anne accepted, embarking on her new life on North Island with gusto and making significant improvements to the garden at Hackfalls, providing an aesthetically pleasing space that was also populated with a wide range of interesting shrubs, including native species. When Bob was 90 and Anne was 87, the couple finally moved away from Hackfalls to live at the Kiri Te Kanawa retirement village in Gisborne in 2006. There Anne carried on with more modest horticultural interests, working in the garden of St Mark’s Church in Gisborne and propagating many of the plants herself. She kept in close touch with Rosemoor via email and wrote the occasional piece for the Devon branch of the Plant Heritage newsletter. A cistus (Cistus x fernandesiae) was named Anne Palmer in her honour and is still widely available around the world. In 1986 she was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour, the RHS’s highest accolade. Bob died in 2018. She is survived by two sons from her first marriage, John and Anthony. . Anne Sophia Berry, horticulturist, born 11 December 1919; died 8 September 2019
The 50-year-old star, best known for starring as Rachel in ‘Friends’, joined Instagram on Tuesday this week..
Would the alleged magic of cannabidiol have an effect on me or is it all snake oils and placebos?. Shortly before I sat down to begin writing this, I squirted a 1 milliliter dropper of full-spectrum hemp extract, also known as CBD oil, under my tongue. It contained – according to the bottle – 6.25 mg of CBD per dosage, and tasted – also per the bottle’s label – of cold-pressed oranges. I wasn’t sure what to expect, if anything. But with the mania around CBD approaching fever pitch, I was curious to know if I, too, could in some way be touched by its allegedly remarkable powers of stress reduction, relaxation, and all-around wellbeing. We live in dire times. What’s the harm in trying to get away from it all without actually having to go anywhere? I bought the oil a week ago at the 420 Store, which bills itself as “New York’s first luxury, dedicated CBD store”. Most of its wares are displayed sparingly on pristine white shelves, and run the gamut from bath salts and skin creams to flavored gummies and tinctures. All contain some amount of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis compound (different from THC, the plant’s main psychoactive compound). The shop has a self-serious, high-gloss ambience, with a touch of wellness-derived spirituality thrown in, like some hybrid of Sephora and a Burning Man prayer circle. It made me want to laugh, but also made me mad, which is the same reaction I have to most attempts of the wellness industry to commodify and market the myriad stresses that accompany our attempts to exist in the modern world. The 420 Store opened its doors in June, six months after hemp was removed from the FDA’s list of controlled substances. Although there were already plenty of CBD products on the market, this had the effect of ungating a dam; suddenly CBD seemed to be everywhere, from bodega counters to subway ads to shiny Soho storefronts to Walgreens. CBD had effectively become the new pumpkin spice, sprinkled on products high and low and everywhere in-between in an attempt to cash in on its alleged magic. CBD is purported to provide relief from a host of bodily ills like inflammation, pain and digestive problems to stress and anxiety. As such, the market is now crowded with CBD-infused chocolate bars, beverages, gummies, body lotions, pills, tinctures, face masks, and pain creams. The products are not limited to humans: a reportedly growing number of pet parents now turn to cannabidiol as the latest remedy to treat their pups. I had read a lot about CBD in preparation for my experiment and had mixed, which is to say highly skeptical, feelings about it. On the one hand, I know plenty of people who have found relief from a host of ailments in both medical cannabis and CBD products. On the other, where opportunity appears, snake oil quickly follows. A 2017 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association compared 84 different CBD products sold online and found that almost 70% of them under- or over-labeled their dosages. Dr Jordan Tishler founded and has run the Boston-based medical cannabis practice InhaleMD for six years (which in the cannabis world, makes him “one of the old guys”, he said). He’s also an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He takes a slightly dim view on the CBD gold rush. “I’m like, this is a side step; this is foolishness,” he said. “People are so obsessed with talking about CBD that they’ve stopped talking about cannabis. And at the end of the day, cannabis is what helps my patients. CBD is close to useless.” Topicals, Tishler explained, wouldn’t do anything to me (“They’re another mythology– cannabinoids don’t go through your skin,” he said). Ingestible products such as vapes and oils might have an impact, but have been known to contain heavy metals like arsenic and mercury. The FDA doesn’t regulate cannabis products, and many of them aren’t subjected to third-party laboratory testing. Tishler recommended buying products only from legitimate dispensaries that require a medical marijuana card, which I didn’t have, so I went for the OTC variety. I started with the topicals: TriBeauty’s CBD Superfood Mask, Tribe Revive’s CBD-infused pain cream, TriBeauty’s CBD eye cream, and Uncle Bud’s CBD body lotion. All of them smelled nice; the pain cream had a pleasant wintergreen aroma, while the face mask was redolent of pineapple (it doesn’t actually include pineapple, though it does include kale, spinach, and green tea). And all of them were, well, creamy; I appreciated their ease of application and lack of discernible oiliness. Did any of them make me feel anything? No. Of course they didn’t; the only thing I felt was the menthol in the Tribe Revive pain cream, which made my arm tingle like I’d slathered on Bengay. The amount I was getting from the creams was miniscule, in the ballpark of 1 to 5 mg. The doses that tend to be effective in humans, says Tishler, are 10 to 20 mg per kilogram. “The average human is about 70 kg,” he says. “That’s 700 to 1400 mg of CBD per day. Nobody can get that.” Annoyed but not surprised, I pressed on to ingestibles. I bought the Vitamin Shoppe’s Ancient Nutrition’s organic CBD hemp caplets (10 mg) and Winged’s Happiness “mood support complex”, (15 mg of CBD per soft gel, “uniquely formulated for women”). From the 420 Store, I bought Wyld’s blackberry gummies (25 mg per gummy); Grön’s Fair Trade dark chocolate bar (100 mg per $23.99 bar – yes, you read the price correctly); and Toast’s cold-pressed orange tincture (250 mg of CBD per one-ounce bottle) – the one I took before I started writing this. From TribeTokes, I tried Tribe Tincs’ full-spectrum CBD tincture (1,500 mg of CBD per one-ounce bottle). Had I taken them all at once, I would have easily exceeded the 700 mg mark, but the thought of potentially incapacitating myself with CBD was not appealing. I had a job and shit to do. So I proceeded with some vague sense of moderation. Unlike the lack of effectiveness of the topicals, the ingestibles presented a spectrum of results. On one end were capsules by Winged. One capsule’s evening primrose oil and “good mood complex”, it read, “may support balanced hormone levels as well as the brain’s ‘happy’ neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Get your smile on girl!” Instead, I felt nothing (aside from disgust for the company’s car salesman-esque messaging) . Toast’s tincture did taste and smell just like oranges, as advertised, but was similarly uneventful. As for the Grön bar, it tasted like any other decent artisan chocolate bar, but the idea of eating the whole thing just to glean some kind of purported CBD effect was unappetizing. So I gave up, unaltered. Trying to toe the line between Tishler’s recommended effective dosage, my need to be a functioning adult, and, at this point, determined to feel … something, I took the Tribe Tinc’s prescribed 50 mg dosage. While I disagree with its claim of flavorlessness – to me, it carried a definite note of weedy funk – it did produce a noticeable feeling of general wellbeing, a sense that life had somehow become something I didn’t need to worry about very much. I felt my mind stray from thoughts of deadlines, rising sea levels, and the president’s sphincter-like visage to how beautiful my bag of frozen compost looked when I removed it from the freezer. Whether this was because I took it on the weekend or wasn’t feeling particularly anxious to begin with, I don’t know; there’s also the possibility of the (very real) placebo effect. But what I can say is that, for whatever reason, 50 mg of CBD seemed to have a positive effect on me, insofar as it seemed to redirect my mind to a more sunny locale. Likewise, taking one of Wyld’s 25 mg gummies seemed to alter my outlook on the day. It helped that the gummies actually taste like blackberries and are thus delicious; they also have a pleasing soft-chewy texture. Not long after taking one, I started to feel somewhat relaxed – so relaxed that I literally walked into traffic later that afternoon (thankfully, it was moving slowly, as was I). For my last adventure in CBD, I decided to go big, and also straight to the source. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, I climbed a flight of stairs to the snug but brightly lit Lower Manhattan office of Tribe Tokes. There I was greeted by Kim Byrnes, the company’s cofounder, who proceeded to guide me through a CBD dab. Byrnes, clad in midriff-bearing athleisure wear (she’s also a longtime pilates instructor) is an incredibly enthusiastic proponent of both CBD and THC – both, she told me, have helped her treat her ulcerative colitis and other ailments. She sounded almost encyclopedic as she talked about the numerous methods of CBD ingestion and their comparative merits. A dab is a highly concentrated form of CBD, containing about 10-15 mg of CBD. You inhale its vapor through a dab rig, a close cousin to the bong. The result, Byrnes said, is a “body high – it feels nice and relaxed and calm”. She put a concentrate of 7 Point Natural’s CBD Terp Sauce, a mix of CBD crystals and cannabis terpenes (organic compounds) in the rig’s nail and heated it up. I sucked the resulting vapor deep into my lungs, and, because I’m a rank amateur, scorched my esophagus. But on my second pull, I managed to get light-headed for a minute, and then felt … fine. It was only after leaving the TribeTokes office that I began to understand what Byrnes was talking about. All of the afternoon’s obstacles seemed to fall away from me, leaving me to walk a clear, gloriously smooth path through the rest of my day. Tourists walking four abreast down the sidewalk? Whatever, I thought. They’re just enjoying my city’s unparalleled beauty. A 15-minute wait for the train home? Not a problem, I thought; more time to watch adorable rats frolic on the tracks. I felt beatific rather than annoyed by all of the obstacles the city placed in my path. But more than anything, I felt lucky. I am lucky that I’m at a point in my life where I’m not suffering from aches and pains or even much anxiety, aside from the usual geopolitical-climate-crisis-end-of-days variety. Had I written this story a few months ago, when I was dealing with the aftermath of a terrible relationship and wrenching shoulder and back pain, I might have been much more receptive to the claims being made by the CBD industry. But on this day, I was a contented skeptic. My head felt clear, my limbs felt loose, and the world rolled out its carpet in front of me, beckoning me to bask in the sunshine of my mind’s own invention.
Some wiggle room please: jelly’s charms are making a come back. Photograph: Dean Belcher/Getty ImagesFor a year now, I’ve been a member of a Facebook group for … gelatin enthusiasts.Called, amazingly, Show Me Your Aspics (get it?), it’s a haven for about 30,000 fans of fluctuant foodstuffs, often referred to by the brand name “Jell-O” in the US and “jelly” in the UK. Members share photography from retro cookbooks (like this picture of a mutilated sea bass reconstructed with a conga line of gelatin-ensconced shrimp on its back) or jiggle videos of various jellies being spanked with spoons (those are my favorite).Some of it is appetizing, much of it is emphatically not, but all of it qualifies as “oddly satisfying”, a category of web content that emerged from Reddit in 2013 and encapsulates a variety of quotidian-yet-hypnotic stuff – like watching people cut soap or squeeze slime.The question of why some people find wobbly Jell-O so appealing is subjective. According to a Facebook post by my fellow group member, University of the Pacific food historian Ken Albala, gelatin’s allure lies in:> “The irresistible jiggle, threatening collapse with every twist and turn. The thrill of the spoon smoothly cleaving its slick glossy flesh. Then in the mouth, that bounce, the subtle firmness that first resists then gently yields to the pressure of the teeth.”But that’s just one guy’s opinion. For the rest of us, wiggle videos may provide anxiety-reducing ASMR. Philosopher Evan Malone has even made a case for the phenomenon of “odd satisfaction” being a product of the grace of witnessing a “perfect fit”.What is clear is that jelly’s charms are catching on: lately, the worlds of fashion and art have also been ready for some jelly.To wit: for SS20, Balenciaga showed three gowns, domed like gelatin molds and bouncing with their wearer’s every step. At Alexander McQueen, Kaia Gerber, her face gleaming with highlighter, wore a petal-like confection evocative of the flowers fluted into 3D jelly cakes (artistic desserts popular in Mexico and Vietnam). At Issey Miyake, dresses horizontally striped with juicy colors descended from the ceiling, pouring over models who jiggled joyfully inside them.Then there is the contemporary Irish designer Sinéad O’Dwyer, who molds silicone directly on her models, creating vividly colored garments flaunting the suggestive visual metaphor between jelly and flesh.Gelatin is also relevant to the art world, where its moldability makes it a useful medium for experimentation.Since 2007, culinary artists Bompas & Parr have been crafting jelly architecture, like a zesty orange version of Buckingham Palace. Their work also inspired photographer Jenny van Sommers to create her mesmerizing The Jelly Film, in which four jellies express their personalities through dance (just watch it).More recently, as observed in the New York Times Magazine, queer and female artists have drawn upon gelatin’s fleshy sensuality, camp appeal and associations with feminine domesticity to inform their work.Artist Alison Kuo (another Show Me Your Aspics member) engaged “notions of sacrifice” by manhandling Jell-O in a live performance piece in Manhattan early this year. Artist duo Lazy Mom and photographer Joseph Maida both use gelatin in their jolie laide subversions of Instagram aesthetics. Sharona Franklin, a disabled artist whose sculptures recall her reliance on transgenic medicine, creates found object-filled jellies so eccentrically chic that this week, fashion copycat watchdog Diet Prada posted allegations that Gucci plagiarized her.Yet what if you cannot reconcile jelly’s growing appeal with its slaughterhouse origins, and are distressed that the worldwide gelatin industry itself is on the rise – estimated to be worth $4bn by 2024?In that case, consider casting your lot in not with art but science. Synthetic biology startup Geltor aims to have the first lab-grown vegan gelatin to market in 2020.In search of the optimal wobble, the company used genetically engineered mastodon collagen in its early prototypes.With growing interest in next-gen gelatins, the appeal of jelly is undoubtedly spreading.
The new golden age of advice columns provides rare moments of unity and moral clarity. Photograph: AlamyThis week it was a man objecting to his wife cooking herself a comfort meal. “Am I the asshole?” he asked the internet. She was sick, he explained, in the grip of an endometriosis flare up, and made bolognese to cheer herself up. The problem is he’s vegetarian and would either have to cook for himself or go hungry for one whole night.“I argued calmly I felt like I was being cheated out of a nice meal,” the most un-self-aware man on the planet wrote on Reddit’s AITA (Am I the Asshole?) forum, a modern crowd-sourced advice column where people seek arbitration on their behaviour.“She burst into tears and asked why I was being so fucking difficult about this. Now I feel like a dick. So, Reddit, AITA?”It was screenshot, reposted and discussed in a frenzy of can-you-believe-this.Before him it was a father wondering if it was so wrong he and his wife let their “active” four-year-old “explore” a “medium-nice” restaurant while they ate. He was upset when a waitress juggling a tray of food reprimanded their precious child.“I felt it was completely uncalled for,” the second most un-self-aware man on the planet wrote to Slate’s parenting advice column, Care and Feeding.> Each of these viral problems achieved something seemingly impossible in our divided, hyper-partisan online worldFlash back further and you’ll find a woman with a potentially fatal allergy to mushrooms grappling with parents-in-law who were sneaking mushrooms – even mushroom powder – into almost every meal.“Short of taking them a doctor’s note, telling them my allergy is real, I’m not sure what to do,” she lamented to New York Magazine’s Ask Polly.Each of these viral problems achieved something seemingly impossible in our divided, hyper-partisan online world. They provided rare moments of unity and moral clarity.“In these difficult times, I’m glad we can all come together and agree that this man objectively sucks,” the feminist writer Jessica Valenti tweeted about the first problem.We are living in a new golden age of advice columns. They’re everywhere – thanks to readers like me who can’t get enough – and they’re better than ever.They range from the pithy (Reddit) and the utilitarian (Ask a Manager) to the genuinely philosophical. When I can’t sleep at night, sometimes I turn on the Dear Sugar podcast – the smooth voices, wisdom and empathy of hosts Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond is a weighted blanket for the soul.The first golden age of agony aunts, as they were once known, began in the mid 19th century and was powered by technological and cultural change: mass media and mass literacy converging with shifting social mores. Cheap to produce and compulsive to read, these columns proliferated in newspapers and magazines, instructing anonymous readers – frequently concerned women – how to behave properly and, often, be good wives.The new boom is similarly made possible by technological shifts. Asking for, sharing and bingeing on advice is ever more accessible.The irresistible allure of other people’s problems remains a big drawcard. “They’re even more assuring these days because they’re an antidote to the angst of observing everyone’s polished social media,” one friend and fellow addict observed. “They’re a reminder that everyone doesn’t have their shit together.”They’re also an affirmation of the indignities and frustrations we all endure. It’s little surprise the genre of AITA problems that often strike a chord with women are those that highlight the cluelessness of some men about the imbalance of labour, both domestic and emotional, in heterosexual relationships (like the aforementioned vegetarian left to fend for himself for one meal). Many women share these questions as if to say “see what we have to put up with out here?”But there’s more to the new gilded age than that.In a world where traditional moral structures and authorities have crumbled and real world communities have fractured, these corners of the internet offer rare, ordered space to collectively process who we are today, and what an ethical, satisfying life might look like. From the most irritating minutiae of modern life (Help! My Sister’s Fiancée Has a Fake Service Dog) to the biggest questions (I’m Paralysed by Anxiety About Climate Change) someone has asked – and someone has answered.For me, it’s the answers more than the questions that keep me coming back.> There’s less moral absolutism, and more, let’s figure this outAdvice columns are no longer just a place to ask questions we can’t broach with family or friends for fear of embarrassment. Many now serve to answer questions that would be wholly foreign to our parents.The unimpeachable, all knowing (and usually straight, white and prim) agony aunt has given way to a more diverse generation of writers who openly discuss their own faults and lives, or crowds coming together in comment threads and forums. There’s less moral absolutism, and more let’s figure this out.Since coming out as trans, Dear Prudence’s Daniel Mallory Ortberg frequently helps his readers navigate coming out to their families or how to be a good ally. Consent in the age of MeToo was explored across three moving episodes of Dear Sugar, where the hosts reckoned with their sexual histories alongside their listeners. Ask Polly has become something of a beacon to listless, anxious and broke millennials seeking reassurance that they’re doing OK. “Learn to treat yourself the way a loving older parent would,” she told one questioner. “Tell yourself: this reckoning serves a purpose.”Maybe it’s because we live in such uncertain times – an era marked by the absence, indeed the refusal, to commit to solutions to the big problems threatening our very existence. Reading about climate change, inequality and rising extremism can make us feel hopeless and adrift.Is it any wonder that a place where problems, however small, are earnestly shared and thoughtfully resolved is so alluring, and can maybe even help us sleep at night?
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After #MeToo, I wondered if my real problem with young feminists was how little they seemed to need us older ones. As far as I could see, they didn’t even want to know us. I remember a woman who screamed like a feral animal. She was leather tan and sinewy. Spiked bleached blonde hair, sculpted biceps, low-slung cargo pants with Doc Martens, veins bursting from her neck, eyes bugging from her drawn face. She stood on the sidewalks of New York City with a folding table covered with poster-size images from hardcore pornography: women wearing dog collars, women on leashes, women leaned over and viewed from behind, their backs crosshatched with scars. Much of the time she displayed a blowup of the famous Hustler magazine cover showing a naked woman being fed upside down into a meat grinder. “This is what your husbands are masturbating to,” she shouted in a barking monotone. “Wake up, women! Don’t be passive! Sign the petition!” Most everyone turned away or just kept walking. This was back in 1990. I was 20. To be 20 years old in 1990 in New York City was, as far as I was concerned, to own the world. I owned practically nothing of material value back then, but somehow this was all part of a magical transaction in which I knew I’d eventually get ahead even if it seemed, for the moment, like I could barely keep up. The city was still a wild kingdom, a stone-and-steel fortress with rage burning inside. The crack epidemic was long under way and also a long way from ending. Aids was everywhere – ravaging the bodies of the visibly ill and beckoning from public service announcements that preached condoms or death. The graffiti was only beginning to come off the subway cars. Every man, woman and, yes, many children (including those commuting to fancy prep schools) had been mugged or knew someone who had. Every woman knew what it was like to be creepily rubbed against by some dude in a crowded space, and when this happened many of us either jammed our elbows into his abdomen or rolled our eyes and moved away. One time, as I walked down a mostly empty Columbus Avenue around midnight, a man walked up to me – a redheaded, bearded man perhaps 10 years my senior – reached his hand out, and shoved me just below my left collarbone. It was a fairly hard shove, and I almost lifted my arm to shove him back. Instead, the moment passed and I just looked at him in disgust and confusion as we both continued along our way. I remember feeling grateful that the situation hadn’t escalated into anything worse. What I don’t remember is connecting the incident to anything like what would now be called institutionalized misogyny. This was not systemic oppression of women. This was simply life in the big city. Today, the angry, ranting woman with the folding table is gone from the sidewalk. In her place are millions of angry women marching in the streets and, even more so, ranting online. We are tiny pixels coalescing into a giant portrait of rage in all its definitions. Twenty years after the redheaded man shoved me on Columbus Avenue, men were going down like bowling pins against the unstoppable forces of #MeToo. What could you call the fall of 2017 other than the Fall of the Fall of Man. It was a season of hurricanes and rapid soil erosion, namely the mudslide that began with Harvey Weinstein and quickly pulled more men down with it than anyone could reasonably keep up with. Or maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Maybe it wasn’t a mudslide as much as a giant oil spill from the tanker on which contemporary western society had been carrying its assumptions about male behavior. Like fossil fuels themselves, this behavior had long been construed as a necessary evil, one for which any purported cure seemed as futile and flimsy as a reusable shopping bag. ( Hit him with your stiletto if he gets handsy! Make him get in touch with his feelings! Pry his eyes open and force him to read the Scum Manifesto!) I’m not going to even try to summarize the events of that fall or list the men who went down in the spill of #MeToo. Entire books will be written about that movement, the best of which probably can’t be embarked upon until enough years have passed to allow authors even a modicum of perspective. What I can tell you about the fall of 2017 is that it coincided with a downward slope of my youth that was far steeper than I had any grasp of at the time. The autumn of 2017 marked my second year back in New York City after being away for the better part of two decades, most of it in California. Though I’d left California in 2015 in the wake of irremediable, if mercifully amicable, marital separation, it had taken nearly two years to officially get divorced, and this new status carried a sting whose effects sometimes proved paralytic. How could I have imagined that replacing the license plates on your car could feel like a death? (Somehow I’d managed to keep my car registered in California until the last possible minute.) Who knew that shopping for a new health insurance policy could make you feel like you’re on a plastic pool raft floating aimlessly in the Dead Sea? (OK, I guess everyone knows that.) I’d left New York when I was nearly 30. I was now 47. Whereas my chief experience of the city was that of a young woman, I was now faced with re-entering it as a middle-aged one. It wasn’t just that I had been young in New York; New York was my youth. It was the place where I’d spent my entire 20s. It was the place where I figured out what kind of person I wanted to be. That’s a different thing from actually figuring out how to be that person, and it took leaving New York to accomplish that task, but as they like to say in California, setting your intention is the most important phase of the journey. New York was the backdrop for my earliest triumphs and stupidities. It was the first and last place I ever lived where on any given night you could step outside and feel like absolutely anything could happen, that the course of your life could shift like a subway train switching from the local track to the express. It was the place where I had my first real job, my first grown-up boyfriend, my first martini, my first call from a debt collector, my first call from a hospital pay phone telling me someone was in serious trouble. It was the site of my earliest rough drafts and rough treatments, the ones visited upon me as well as the ones I inflicted on others. Now that I had returned, it was as if my 20s were being handed back to me in used condition. What a strange remnant to hold in your hand; what a bittersweet walk down memory’s plank. Here I was again, a girl alone and on the town. I was my most primordial self, a girl who was rabidly ambitious in some ways but inexplicably lazy in others. I was a girl who technically hadn’t been a girl for the better part of 30 years but who nonetheless felt a strange remove from the word “woman”, which seemed to convey a poise and seriousness I hadn’t yet attained. I may have been in my mid-40s, but I was still all jokes and hammy self-deprecation, still unable to accept compliments, still flirting with men by defaulting to my best Diane Keaton in Manhattan impression, even though it had been decades since I was attracted to the kind of men who were attracted to that. I was all the things I’d been when I was young except for the young part. I had a nicer apartment, a little more money, and a little more professional recognition. I had a dog (this I’d longed for in my 20s the way some women long for babies) and a car that I had to move for alternate-side street cleaning. But my days were more or less the same. I sat at my desk and drank coffee. I did my work when I could, but more often I stared into space and wondered what would become of my life. I surfed the internet at a connection speed that would have been unimaginable in 1995. In part because of that connection speed, the space I stared into most of the time wasn’t my own physical space but some unholy rotation of social media, news media and floating junk courtesy of cyberspace. By the time Donald Trump entered office, I probably spent at least three-quarters of my waking hours with my head in this space. By the time #MeToo reached full force, my brain no longer felt connected to my body. At times, my brain no longer felt associated with my brain as I’d once known it. There were moments in which I couldn’t remember the names of people I’d been acquainted with for years. In intense, animated conversations with friends and colleagues, I’d find myself revving up to some sort of grand insight and then suddenly sputtering out mid-sentence, like a rollercoaster propelled halfway up a loop but unable to make it all the way around. Bunched up in my desk chair, I would stare at the computer screen for hours, hunting for words as though tracking lions on safari and practically sweating from the exertion. More than a few times I wondered if I was experiencing some form of dementia. I once read that there’s scientific proof of a correlation between increased nostalgia and creeping senility. And since returning to New York, I’d been soaking in nostalgia. Everywhere I went, my 20s played in my head like a song stuck there permanently. Every neighborhood, every subway station, in some areas every street corner, echoed with some memory from that time. There was John’s pizzeria on Bleecker, where, at 21 and playing hooky from college upstate, I sat with a man – a boy, really – who both was and wasn’t my boyfriend and listened to him reminisce about his old girlfriend, who, he said, was “sexy without being pretty, if that makes any sense”. There, among the slabs of buildings of Midtown Sixth Avenue, were the offices of more temp jobs than I could count: banks, law firms, insurance companies, each with its own mini kitchen and passcode-protected employee restrooms. There, at 57th and Broadway is a Duane Reade pharmacy that was once Coliseum Books, a place where the feral woman had often stood and yelled: “Sign the petition!” I remember being dumped on Delancey Street, kissed on Charles Street, having a strange and short-lived personal assistant job in a musty apartment on Sutton Place. I remember standing on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 49th Street as hail rained down like shellfire one summer night following a long, somewhat drunken dinner with an older man in a powerful position whose meal invitations I dreaded but nonetheless felt obliged to accept. Those meals had started out as business lunches but then migrated into semi-business dinners. During these dinners, the man would tell me certain details about his personal life, which was in a state of acute crisis. I didn’t particularly want to be there but I accepted the invitations because there was in this transaction the implicit notion that he could help my career, albeit in a rather vague, abstract way. I accepted them so because not doing so felt like a kind of professional self-sabotage, as foolish and irresponsible as missing deadlines. At no time did the man make an ultimatum or proposition me directly. I never felt like I was being sexually harassed and obviously no one was kidnapping me from my apartment and forcibly escorting me to the Oyster Bar, where the man would sit waiting for me, smoking probably the fourth of 15 cigarettes he’d smoke that night. I’ll cop to a certain psychological gamesmanship on my part as well. I’d occasionally bum a cigarette from him, an act that gave me a sense of distance and control but that surely read to him as an intimate gesture. At least a few times, after I probably had one too many glasses of wine, I became rather suggestive and flirtatious, inquiring into his personal life, seeing how much I could get him to disclose as he got drunker. I did this in part as a defense mechanism. The more we talked about him, the less we talked about me. But I also did it because I wanted to mess with his head, and I was young enough then to think that doing so would serve as some kind of tacit punishment for his behavior. The truth, of course (which anyone but a young twerp would have the wisdom to realize), was that messing with his head was its own reward for him. I wasn’t censuring his behavior as much as reinforcing it. As for my own, I’ve been cringing about it ever since. Looking back, it would be easy to say I behaved like this out of some instinctive subordination to the man’s power. There’s an element of truth to that, but there’s also an angle at which the situation could be viewed as quite the opposite. From this angle, I behaved the way I did because in some ways the power imbalance between the two of us was tipped in my favor. I was young and the man was twice my age. He may have had professional power over me, but it was limited and in no way unilateral. In fact, thanks to the personal details I’d siphoned out of him, I probably could have placed one phone call and made his life very difficult. And so I carried on with my coquettishness until somehow the meals became fewer and farther between and then finally ended, probably because he took up with someone else. I carried on this way because my life was an open horizon and his was an overstuffed attic. I behaved this way because I must have known on some unconscious level that, at 25, I had more of a certain kind of power than I was ever going to have in my life and that I might as well use it, even if the accompanying rush was laced with shame. This was the summer of 1995. Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill had come out that June, and I listened to it pretty much on constant repeat through August. One night, after doing my silly routine with this man and riding the subway home in self-disgust, I sat in my room and played Jagged Little Pill and then wandered into the kitchen to talk to my roommate. I remember grumbling to her about my dinner companion, complaining about his lechery while conveniently omitting the parts when I’d dramatically exhaled on my cigarette, looked him straight in the eye, and said something devastatingly witty and possibly a tiny bit dirty. (I’d like to add that I winked, but that wouldn’t past the truth test, since I’m physically unable to wink.) Instead I said: “God, what a perv.” “Sounds annoying,” my roommate said. “But hey, you keep showing up. You must be getting something out of it.” During the Fall of the Fall of Man, I thought a lot about the showing up I’d done over the years. Every woman seemed to be taking this kind of inventory. It was like a novel everyone was reading, one with a plot that seemed easy enough to follow but whose underlying themes and messages amount to an abstruse thicket of personal projection and postmodern obfuscation. Like any sentient being, I’d been shocked and disgusted by the Weinstein revelations and saw no reason to equivocate about the reliability of his accusers or the severity of his punishment. But as the list of perpetrators piled up and the public censure piled on, the conversation around #MeToo (lacking a specific category, each new scandal was not a story or an issue but a “conversation”) began to split down generational lines. The first incident to put this divide in notably sharp relief involved a secret Google spreadsheet called the Shitty Media Men list. This was an anonymously sourced, living document meant to warn women about certain men in the media business, mostly publishing, who were known for inappropriate sexual or sexually charged behavior. It included all kinds of men, from powerful editors to freelance writers, and described alleged misdeeds that ranged from “weird lunch dates” to inappropriate flirting to stalking to physical violence and all-out rape. And though the list was never officially published and disappeared from Google Docs almost as quickly as it emerged, enough screenshots were taken that the perpetrators became common knowledge almost immediately. Within hours of the list’s discovery, the chief line of inquiry around it, even more so than “Who started it?”, was whether infractions like “weird lunches” should be lumped in with crimes like rape. Unsurprisingly, I found myself on the side of the oldsters who were deeply troubled not just by this “lumping” (again, there seemed to be only one operative word, and in this case it was “lump”) but by the idea that anonymously sourced accusations could be made against publicly named people without warning or any sort of due process. “This is so wrong!” my same-age friends and I ranted. “You can’t just do this! These millennials don’t get it!” We said this as we forwarded the screenshots among each other, gawking at the names we recognized. “Weird lunch!” I said to more than one person. “Welcome to publishing! I’m going to write a memoir about my early days in New York and call it Weird Lunch.” And as the “conversation” lurched along and the narrative of the “generational divide” became the default narrative, I found myself reminded of this passage of time on a daily, even hourly, basis. When a scandal broke involving the actor and comedian Aziz Ansari, I felt that my membership on Team Older Feminist was so official that I might as well take out a charge card at Eileen Fisher and call it a day (though has anyone under 40 ever used a “charge card”?) And so the ground began to shake around the fault line. The older feminists scolded the younger ones for not being tough enough to take care of themselves. If the construction worker whistles at you, give him the finger! If the drunk guy sitting next to you at the wedding reception gets fresh, kick him in the shins! In turn, the youngsters chastised the oldsters for enabling the oppressive status quo with cool-girl posturing. We shouldn’t have to suppress our humanity by letting insults roll off us! We shouldn’t have to risk our safety with physical violence because patriarchal norms have taught the drunk wedding guest he can act like that! Neither side was entirely wrong, of course. But both sides were talking past each other in ways that suggested there was no meeting in the middle. In the New York Times, Daphne Merkin identified a gulf between what women said publicly about #MeToo and the eye-rolling that went on in private. “Publicly, they say the right things, expressing approval and joining in the chorus of voices that applaud the takedown of maleficent characters who prey on vulnerable women in the workplace,” she wrote. “In private it’s a different story. ‘Grow up, this is real life,’ I hear these same feminist friends say.” In the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan, whose tendency toward a certain impish prudery has never made her popular among young feminists, wrote that the Ansari fracas, at least the version of it chronicled on Babe.net, constituted “3,000 words of revenge porn”. She decried the helplessness of “a whole country full of young women who don’t know how to call a cab”. On cable news, the HLN anchor Ashleigh Banfield looked straight into the camera and addressed “Grace” directly. “What you have done in my opinion is appalling,” said Banfield, calling the allegations “reckless and hollow” and charging Grace with having “chiseled away at a movement that I along with all of my sisters in the workplace have been dreaming of for decades”. This being cable news, Banfield’s producers invited Katie Way to appear on the show. And this being the digital era, Way declined the offer not with a “no thanks” but by popping off an email that called Banfield a “burgundy lipstick bad highlights second wave feminist has-been” and noted that “no woman my age would ever watch your network”. As I watched all of this whiz past me on my computer screen, sharpened by the reading glasses I’d lately been forced to wear, I wondered if my real problem with young feminists was how little they seemed to need us older ones. As far as I could see, they didn’t even want to know us. At 25, I not only wanted to know people like Daphne Merkin and Ashleigh Banfield, I wanted to be them. There were hundreds of women in my imaginative orbit – some of them over 50 or possibly even 60 – whom I felt this way about. I knew none of them, but I wanted to be all of them. Together, they formed a great phalanx of wise elders whose only duty to me was to be themselves. My duty, in turn, was to watch and learn. By which I mean that was my duty to myself. But something was different back then. I shared a planet with those elders. We occupied the same universe. We breathed the same air. The same cannot be said for the relationship between my generation and those that are coming up behind us. The world has changed so much between my time and theirs that someone just 10 years younger might as well belong to a different geological epoch. To a young person, someone like me is not so much an elder as an extinction. Is it any wonder, then, that older generations’ contributions to the conversation are, at best, a kind of verbal meteor shower, the flickering, nattering remains of planets that haven’t existed for eons? So this is where I find myself. Amid my exasperation and confusion, I have wandered into a devastating but oddly beautiful revelation: my generation will be the last to have known the world in its analog form. As a result, we’ve grown old before actually getting old. We’ve become dinosaurs before we’re even 50. And it’s here, from this primitive-creature vantage point, that I find myself pressed up against yet another revelation: the questions we face now when it comes to men and women are questions that arose a split second ago. Modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years. Civilization as we know it has been churning away for perhaps 6,000 years. Until the birth control pill came along in 1960, we were all essentially prisoners of nature, with women’s conditions being markedly worse, sometimes obscenely so. Until 1960, the idea that women could compete with men in the job market, that men should do housework, that women had any purpose in life higher than having babies and men had any purpose higher than financially supporting those babies or going to war to protect them, was something close to unthinkable. That we have come so far in so little time is a marvel. That we should expect all the kinks to have been worked out by now is insane. In the scheme of things, the 59 years that have elapsed between 1960 and today is a nanosecond, a flash of time so imperceptible that it has passed in increments of billions by the time you have read this sentence. It was already nearly 30 years ago that the feral woman was out there with her folding table yelling: “Sign the petition.” It was already nearly 30 years ago that, as far as I was concerned, I owned the world. It feels like yesterday. Then again, every day feels like yesterday. Every day becomes yesterday before you know it. Copyright 2019 by Meghan Daum. From the forthcoming book The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through The New Culture Wars by Meghan Daum to be published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster . Printed by permission