Tuesday, 22 June 2010

sex talk

So here I am on the verge of editing a series of conversations on the subject of sex.

A great moment, to have so much candour on tape (well... digitally etched in 0's and 1's anyway)...

Now my job is to faithfully represent those who said yes.


To the man who at the age of 42 decided to have penetrative sex for the first time - and revealed to me that what he truly craved was intimacy...

To the woman who realised as we spoke that what she wanted from a man when she was younger was for him to button up her blouse...

To the man who's had plenty of sex, with plenty of women and who's now (and only now) discovering the eroticism of commitment...

To the woman who was raped at 14 and who found in our conversation the courage to say she doesn't regret it, because she likes who she is now...

And to the man who switched sides, discovered how much he loves men and was honest enough to say that he preferred being inside a woman because it felt more natural...

To the woman who went to college and decided not to have sex...

And to the woman who said yes to me today, without really knowing what she's saying yes to yet...

Thank you.

I'll do my best to edit you well.

And with your blessing, I look forward to sharing with others some of the trust and honesty you've shared with me.




Friday, 18 June 2010

digitally native

So, yesterday I met Jane.

Jane is an Englishwoman who lives in Switzerland with her partner Jason and her two children, Skye and Noah.

Jane feels safe in Switzerland. And so did I, with Jane; from the moment I met her.

And that moment was at Villeneuve station, where I recognised her almost instantly.

All the way from Platform 3 to Platform 1; both odd numbers.

We’d been in fairly constant contact already that morning. Joking, talking about directions, swapping jokes about Americans on trains, timings and lunch.

And we did all this without saying a word. We weren't on the phone - well, we were sort of on the phone.

But we'd not been Talking. We’d been Tweeting.

(Yes, that’s right, the man of dialogue has Twittered.)

So the reason I recognised Jane because was because her avatar on Twitter is a photo of her. (Unlike mine; I hide a bit behind The Dialogue Project’s logo: ten circles in a circle.)

Let me be clear: I’m not much a Twitterer, or a Tweep or a Twit. In fact it’s only really since Jane and I agreed to meet that I’ve tweeted at all.

But I’m as glad that I’ve tweeted as I am embarrassed to admit it. I really am. (Glad and embarrassed to be @2plus2makes5.)

It’s a cliché perhaps, but as a late adopter I’m discovering that Twitter is an amazing way of finding threads and paths you wouldn’t otherwise tug or tread.

Its lightweight form is the ultimate medium for linking content and conductor.

It’s gloriously democratic, brutally concise and gorgeously familiar.

People are frank, concise and witty in their tweets.

And they’re hugely forgiving.


But perhaps my favourite thing about Twitter is that people on it tend to think while they write. So it feels very live; very present.

And that’s because it plays to the strengths of its technology: it’s instantaneous and playful. (Facebook feels positively pedestrian in comparison.)

You can come in and out of it when you like. There’s no need for long goodbyes or apologies for absence.

No expectations and plenty of surprises.

But what use is it?

Well – there’s the obvious thing of keeping in light touch with the thoughts and movements of friends and colleagues. (Light touch mind you.)

But as well as that, thanks to Twitter I’ve allowed into my daily diet the banter of @stephenfry, the publicising forcefield of @eddieizzard, the deepest thoughts of @worldcupmotty and the razor sharp wit of @Aianucci. (And by the way I mourn still the loss of his fictional and ferocious@MTuckerNo10).

@rioferdy5 even sent me a message last night. Yes – Rio! Rio Ferdinand. (As a Leeds United fan this means more to me than you can possible imagine.)

Thanks Rio, you’re my hero. (And you’ll always look good in white to me.)

But Twitter comes into its own I think in two ways:

The first is as a mediator of events, on special occasions - like yesterday, when Switzerland conquered the mighty Spain.

Or on the night of our recent General Election here in the UK, when immediacy was everything – for 48 hours anyway.

Or when the Israeli soldiers jumped on the Gaza bound boat – when the urgency to know met the horrow or finding out. But when (more importantly than speed) truth burst out before anyone could kill it with a machine gun or mute it with an iron bar.

On these occasions, journalists, writers, passers-by and (dammit) people who care about what’s happening, can (and do!) abandon the formal heavyweight channels like the BBC, Sky News or CNN and write second by second about what their witnessing, thinking or feeling. And in a multiplication of six degrees of separation you can surf their turf – and make up your own mind on who’s view to choose or challenge.

Secondly - there’s something else that Twitter does.

It creates (bizarrely) friendships. Real friendships. (As well as virtual ones.)

Out of the candour that seems so natural in its natural digital habitat, springs a host of multiple opportunities for more contact, better contact, richer and deeper contact.

Because for some Twitter's not just a destination on a train journey, it’s a junction too.

Or so it was, at least, with me and Jane.


The day I met Jane was indeed the day that Switzerland beat Spain in the World Cup

But actually for me, it wasn’t the Swiss attack that made June 16th 2010 such a special day.

For me (and maybe for Jane too) there was a different kind of attack at the centre of that day.

And another goal too, the story of which I will unfold, gently, once Jane has read a draft of what I’ve written.

And then, and only then, I’ll post it. And you (whoever you are) can read it.

So for now, thanks @janeprinsep, for one of the most amazing conversations I’ve had in years.

And for letting me into your life, just a bit.

And for allowing me to share the recording of the conversation we had. (Once I've edited all 92 minutes and 34 seconds of it.)

More of that soon.

Till then – thanks Twitter.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

hop suisse

So today was a good day.

No, not a good day; a great day. A day that started with me getting up at 5.15am.

To travel to Victoria station in a cab.

To travel to Gatwick by train.

To travel to Geneva by plane.

To travel to Villeneuve by train.

To meet Jane.

And on the train to meet Jane, I heard an American say: “The thing about the British is that they pay their bills. Because that’s what they’ve always done. Not like on the continent. So it’s time to get out.”

“How interesting,” I thought. And true. We do pay our bills. I’m just not sure which continent he was talking about; or where (or what) he was getting out of.

I wanted to ask him. But he got out. At Lausanne.

Not like me.

I was going all the way. To Villeneuve. On the train to meet Jane.

Which is why I happened to spend most of today in Switzerland. Today of all days.

The day the Swiss surprised the world (especially the Spanish) by beating l’Espagnols 1-0 in their opening game in the World Cup. An extraordinary result on an extraordinary day.

I got to sit in a lakeside café in Villeneuve and watch the second half of the match with the locals, most of them elderly.

At half-time it was 0-0.

“Oh good” I thought. I’ll get to see the brilliant and much fancied Spanish team come good in the second half and tear into their civilised opposition. And just in case I needed any other reason for watching, Howard Webb, the English referee was in charge.

And so, the game unfolded. The Swiss went off script. An attack. A Swiss attack. And more than that… A goal! They’ve only gone and scored. The Swiss have scored against Spain!

The whole café erupted as one.

Well… almost.

What actually happened was that some of the old ladies actually looked up at the screen. But the four young guys (one of them in a Spanish colours) almost got up from their seats. I was less contained. It was too much for me.

The World Cup had suddenly burst into life and I totally forgot myself. Enthralled by the possibilities of an upset and (like a true Englishman) instinctively responding to the fate of the underdog, I carefull put down my café au lait and clapped.

Three times I think.

Might have been twice.

Then, as I realised I was being (relatively) rowdy, I suddenly remembered where I was and stopped clapping. I looked around and some of the old people were clearly glad I’d stopped.

Feeling slightly chastised, I regained my sense of logic. Surely (I thought), Spain would now be stung into a sense of revolt. Now they’d assert their superior skill, unleash their thrilling best and quench all thoughts of a giant-killing on their way to finally winning the World Cup…

But no.

The Swiss – against all the odds - held on.

In fact, they not only held on, they pushed again, coming close even to a second goal.

Audacious fellows!

And as time went on – as it does in football games, inexorably and at random intervals: 63 minutes, 71 minutes, 84 minutes - the atmosphere in the café changed.

More old people came in. Older people than before I mean. Really old people now. And the slightly less old people (who’d already had lunch) started ordering hot chocolates and ice . “God knows how this tension will end!” I thought. Quietly. To myself.

The Spaniards lashed out and hit the bar. (The footballers I mean, not the people in the café.

But the Swiss guard packed the penalty area, determined to hold their defence strong against the rampant Mediterranean onslaught…

They were so nearly there. I felt myself getting incredibly excited.

But it was no longer enough to be in Switzerland. Now I wanted to be Swiss.

But I’m not Swiss. I’m English. And so is Howard Webb the referee, who boldly added a gigantic FIVE minutes injury time to the game.

This didn’t go down well with the café. (I didn’t look around but I felt sure I was being cast disapproving looks. A big bill was coming my way; for my café au lait.

But however high the cost it was a bill that would be paid. (The American was right.)

Now surely the Spaniards would penetrate…

But no.

They could not, would not penetrate.

The final whistle blew. The cafe exploded. (One guy stood up and cheered.) Some of the old people smiled at each other. And got up to leave.

I drank up my coffee, left a healthy tip and walked out into the street to brave the drizzle.

And as I walked… the streets began to change. Switzerland began to change. A small (wealthy) country had taken on a big (poor) country and won.

The silence was broken by old ladies happily giving me directions whilst drivers illegally honked their way through the town. The grey light became a perfect background for the bright red-crossed flags, casually draped on young shoulders.

This had suddenly become a big day in Villeneuve. And a great day in Switzerland.

And I was there - by chance - on this great day.

But all this triumph was not what made my day was great.

My day was made great because of Jane. And the conversation we had.

But that’s for another time. Another time soon.

For now – to mark this special day, I now have a red lighter in my pocket that bears the same two words as a hand written placard I saw in the crowd…

Hop Suisse.

It might mean: “Hop you Swiss! Leap to previously unleapt heights.”

Personally, after being with the Swiss today, and an English woman who’s discovered much about herself and was kind enough to share some of her experiences with me…

I think maybe a vowel has gone missing.

I do hop so.

Monday, 14 June 2010

beautiful balls

Imagine whilst typing an email that you have to hit your computer keys absolutely bang in the centre or you create random letters, spelling out “q kicw tiy” instead of “I love you.”

Or trying to change gear in your car, but finding that without pinpoint accuracy you find yourself not in third gear but in gear 3.01 or .02 or .03... none of which move your car forwards.

Or imagine making love and discovering that unless you hit the spot exactly right (and I mean
exactly right) you might as well miss by a million miles.

And then imagine brushing your teeth with a tooth brush that doesn’t bend.

Or a solid plastic mattress.

Or a knife that doesn't give slightly as you press your Marmite into your toast.

This (or something like this) is the situation facing the world’s footballers in South Africa.

At the centre of the World Cup lies not a football, but a piece of sports equipment. And like so many innovations, it’s both immaculate and emasculating.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that the days of mis-shaped, water-sodden, brown scuffed bouncing bombs were good ones. Progress is a wonderful thing. Science is a beautiful thing. But sport is a beautiful thing too, until science and progress forget that to be truly beautiful they must be at the service of something – in this case: the beautiful game.

Perhaps we’ve been spoilt in recent years and we’re only just realising it. Since the 1980’s we’ve enjoyed a shifting heavenly territory between a true sphere and the imperfect, inflectable, affectable globe we all love.

And we do all love it. Not the game perhaps, but the object.

All of us, from the earliest of ages instinctively love a ball. Any ball. We love the way we can bounce it, predict it, manoeuvre and cajole it. We love the way it defies us,
chastises us, plays with us. The way it connects us to our friends and makes playmates and heroes of them and us. The ball is simple, complex and boundless.

And the ball after all, reminds us of the shape of our home; our imperfect, unpredictable, spherical, little big planet.

But now... in South Africa we have the ‘perfect’ ball: the jabulani. But this ball is no cause for celebration.

It’s too perfect. Like a nervous tourist, it’s determined and designed not to be affected by the foreign land it’s in.

First, it’s too precise. It responds too exactly to the very specific point of pressure that’s exacted. There is no room for misinterpretation. No space for chance. Hit it with a machine (thousands and thousands of times in a row) and it will fly (thousands and thousands of times in a row) in the programmed direction. Head it goalwards with your sweaty forehead while a Serbian is tugging your shirt, and it will sail away into the electronic advertising hoarding saying simply Adidas.

And then
it’s too hard. It doesn’t give like a ball needs to give. The spherical distortion that occurs so briefly but beautifully when boot or brow embraces ball just isn’t happening. And because there’s no give, there’s no phase of movement (milliseconds after the ball’s been kicked) when the ball retrieves its natural shape and in doing so turns, spins, dips and drops into the slightly lower difference in air pressure. And in high altitude... where there’s less air to play with, we need this perfection even less.

So - free kicks are flying over the bar, goalkeepers are seeing the ball too late. (No Robert, not you - you just fluffed it. Don't worry. It'll all be forgotten when we win.)

I predict we will see in the coming days and weeks more powerful straight volleys than ever before, longer hooked clearances out of penalty areas, perhaps even a goal scored by a goal keeper. And at some point surely a gigantic bounce looping over a keeper’s head into the goal.

There’s potential in this too – witness the masters in action already: Rooney’s cross field passes against the USA, the Germans power shots against Australia and South Africa’s first goal, a beautifully blasted volley.

And still to come... The latin touches of Chile, Spain and Brazil. If anyone can make this beach ball respond gracefully it will be Ronaldo (although not by the look of things against Ivory Coast), Xavi or Robhino. But even these most sophisticated of ball boys may find their subtle art made less rich.

The precious podium on which the ball stands before the beginning of each game tells us something about its perceived status in the eyes of cash conscious FIFA.

But the ball is not the trophy.

Artistry, passion, justice and aggression; the desire to win fuelled by pride, love and self-expression; these are the components of the world’s beautiful game and these are the qualities we thirst to see win the prize, once every four long years.

So please, dear Adi Dassler...

Can we have our ball back please?