I was recently asked to serve as a character witness for a dear old friend of mine. We fell out of touch a few years ago (nothing dramatic really, just a simple, ultimately irrelevant disagreement about Caligula), but now it appears he’s got himself into a spot of bother. While obviously I could not comment on the details of the alleged crimes, I was happy to testify to the quality of the man.
It was a very long time ago when we first met; we were introduced by a mutual friend (well, probation officer) who felt we had much in common. It took a while for me to warm to him, but once I did, we had such good times, some of which, I’m afraid, were on the other side of the law. Well, I was fifteen — what could I know? One often throws caution to the wind during one’s youth, but we also were deeply committed to the things we cared about. We used to dream, we used to vow, we tried to right the wrongs of the world; alas, we tried and we failed. But he taught me a good hairdresser could save my life, he was the one responsible for my liberal use of the v-word (vile or vulgar, depending on my mood), and he used to kiss me a lot. Naturally when I was asked to stand up on his behalf, I didn’t say no, how could I?
I spent yesterday sequestered (I know it’s usually jury members who get closed off but I fancied a little break from Christopher and his relentless ‘holiday spirit’). The hotel was not up to my usual standard (they really took the mini part of mini-bar to heart), but overall I found my judiciary experience quite rewarding.
Being asked to serve as even the smallest cog in the great machine of justice is a responsibility we should all take very seriously, and I can assure you I did. I immediately went out and purchased a new suit. I don’t mind telling you that it was devastating — a gorgeous fit, lovely velvet lapels and cuffs: it really screamed ‘trustworthy but up for it’ (which was precisely the look I was going for).
I also spent hours preparing my testimony. I can’t give away too many details presently (though you’ll no doubt be able to read the juiciest ones in the papers as soon as the verdict’s handed down), but I wanted to make sure I appeared specific, vivid, and certain. As I am a journal keeper of the highest order, I dug out my old diaries just to see, just to see all the things I’d written (and illustrated) about him. Obviously there was much that demanded to be kept private, but in the end I felt my selections reflected his actual character while also keeping the court engaged and entertained (alas, we do live in an internet-based world where people cannot stay focused long without hearing a joke or something about how cute kittens are; fortunately my statement offered sufficient levels of both).
I had been working closely with my friend’s barrister, this charming man with just enough grey at his temples and leather elbows on his tweed coat. He instructed me on how best to word my answers to his questions. We did some role-playing (no costumes sadly): he asked, “What two words do you feel best describe the defendant?”; I answered, “Morbid and pale.” He asked, “How did you first meet?”; I answered, “He spent six years on my trail.” We went over my memories, including a ridiculous twenty-four hour Claude Brasseur film marathon and his rather sweet and tender habit of singing me to sleep. By the time I checked into my hotel, I was feeling quietly confident enough to totally relax during my massage and foot sanding.
However, I was not prepared for the ruthless tactics of the prosecution counsel. Firstly, he was extremely attractive, a strategy surely designed to undermine the credibility of any eyewitness with eyes (I plead guilty as charged). Secondly, he was a little too interested in the more intimate details of my and my friend’s relationship. For example, I do believe even the judge blushed during this exchange:
Mr Crown: Can you recall any instances of violence or aggression?
Miss Whitt-Wellington: No, sir, I cannot.
MC: Are you saying you were unaware that he had killed a horse?
MW-W: Well, no, but it was only because he got confused.
MC: I see. And could you please explain the time he threatened “to smash every tooth in your head“?
MW-W: He was just being romantic — he had a rather unusual sense of pillow talk.
MC: And the same reason explains his belief that “you should be bludgeoned in your bed”?
MW-W: I find it hard to believe that a well-travelled man such as yourself is unfamiliar with that euphemism.
MC: Would you answer the question, please?
MW-W: I could draw it if you’d prefer.
I did my best to keep up with his seductively delivered verbal attack, and in the end, I was dismissed with the phrase “No further questions” (though his slipping me his business card makes me hopeful that additional cross examination may be on the table at a later date). I didn’t stick around for the end of the trial. I was greeted at the train station a few hours ago by Christopher who graciously was not wearing a novelty Christmas jumper.
Sadly, justice these days seems a little hit-or-miss (and by hit-or-miss, I mean clearly racially biased) so only time will tell if my friend will get what he deserves. However, I did the best I could to honestly represent him and am grateful I was afforded an opportunity for a quick walk down memory lane. I will say, despite the years and the possibility that he committed such horrendous crimes, he still looked rather delicious. Yes, he’s older now, and he’s a clever swine and I was happy to be the one to stand by him. As he was cuffed and led from the court, he smiled and mouthed I’m still fond of you so he knows, he knows, he knows I’d love to see him once he’s in the clear. I think I shall go to sleep tonight with a soft voice singing in my head.
On the other hand, if he is convicted, well, eighteen months’ hard labour seems fair enough.
We used to live in a world where not only did parents not have to warn their kids about strangers, relationships between children and mysterious adults were actually encouraged. Parents would often suggest their sons and daughters do odd jobs around strangers’ houses, take their money and sweets, get into their vans. Ahhh, good times. But those days are gone. Kids today—at home and at school—are repeatedly pounded like fists with the message that stranger equals danger.
Sadly, our world has become so effed up that I believe the Stranger Danger mantra is beneficial advice for grown women as well. Particularly when it comes to the dating scene, too many ladies are “hooking up” with strangers to disastrous results. I could you cite you thousands of horrible, blood curdling stories of broken hearts, lives and engagements, but I am not in the business of scaring people. Instead, just think on this: remember that last jerk you dated? Who was he before you met him? Answer: a stranger.
So if you can’t date strangers, whom am I suggesting you date? Well, firstly, I must remind you that we are living in the 21st century where love and marriage are teetering on the edge of extinction. The truth is: you needn’t date anyone. Flirt, dally with, shag, all fine, I don’t care. But if you are still chasing that boyfriend-girlfriend-happy-ever-after dream, I would suggest you get with the program.
But alas, I know that not all women are as enlightened as I and the continued popularity of padded bras, dating websites and issues of Cosmopolitan magazine indicates that ladies are still actively looking for love in all the wrong places. Cease and desist forthwith. If you’re going to date, date someone you already know.
Make a list of the people you know. Exclude anyone who is related to you by blood. Cross out any exes. Erase anyone you work with—it might seem tempting at a drunken Christmas party, but office romances rarely end well. Also, get rid of anyone with whom you have a doctor-patient relationship. When the relationship goes sour (which it eventually will), you’re going to have get a new GP and if you think finding a permanent partner is difficult, good luck finding two decent doctors in one lifetime.
It’s likely there is one group of candidates left on your list: your friends’ partners. Do I shock you? Well, hear me out. I am certainly not suggesting that you participate in an illicit affair. As you know, I believe trust and honesty are points of paramount significance between friends. Your assumption that I would suggest such a betrayal is appalling to me.
Instead, gather all your coupled friends around the table and propose a deal. If you explain that you need some attention, some affection, perhaps even a bit of rumpy pumpy, I can guarantee that at least one of your friends is sick to death of those very things and would gladly offer up her partner to you in exchange for something she needs: a break. Between the two of you, you’ll be able to devise a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Now this solution will only be temporary, of course, but all those blind dates, online chats and singles nights at bars won’t be leading to anything permanent either. You know that. This strategy has many advantages: your friend has already told her partner all of your worst qualities so you needn’t try to hard to be someone else. Naturally, you already know the good, bad and ugly of the partner so you know in advance which areas to avoid (finances, work stress) and which to accentuate (athletic skills, nipples). You’ve also got a built-in break up strategy—the phrase “we can’t do this to her anymore” will end it quite quickly. Plus you’ll be helping your friend out. Everybody’s a winner.
Wise and wonderful women around the world know that when it comes to finding love, strangers are just too risky. Recycling isn’t just for rubbish: a secondhand romance may be just what you need.
The reason for this is primarily that I do not trust the concept of romance that it forces upon us. Think of the men you see professing their love in adverts that are shown this time of year: bringing a woman flowers, buying her jewellery, actually listening to her when she’s speaking—all because they’re just so much “in love.” It’s baloney.
Now I’ve known a few men in my time and I’ve certainly seen many who claim to be in love. Back in the States, a gentleman in my intimate circle would often go doolally when he first met a new woman, professing to everyone he could find that he was madly in love. We all knew that when he uttered those words what he really meant was “I have met a new woman whose soul I can destroy,” for shortly after the “honeymoon” period of his new romance, he began systematically draining the life out of her, all the while complaining that she was no longer the girl he fell in love with. After witnessing him play this scene out with at least thirty-three women over the period of two years, I finally suggested he look into becoming a cowboy because that’s a lifestyle where breaking the spirit of another creature is a talent that is truly appreciated, but he claimed the chaps chafed him. I’ve no doubt that whatever filly he is romancing this February 14th will find herself crumpled in the corner of her room crying “What did I do to deserve this?” within a few months.
Now before you worry that this is a tirade against men, get it very clear in your head that it is not: the problem is so-called romance, not men. Despite the fact that statistically men are more likely to be the ones who ruin relationships (which has certainly been the case in every single one of mine), I’ve not got a word to say against them as a gender. Some of my best friends have been men. I don’t doubt some women can be mean and cruel as well.
Before you get yourself dolled up to the nines for your Valentine’s dinner, I beg you to pause for just a moment and consider your true feelings about your alleged paramour. When you look into his or her face, what is it that you really feel?
Do you feel grateful for all they have given you?
If so, that’s called being a whore. It’s a viable career choice for many, but don’t confuse it with real love.
Do you feel a flutter in your chest?
These are palpitations and can be an early symptom of coronary artery disease. Instead of seeing a date movie, you should be at your GP surgery, getting a cardiac catheterisation.
Do you feel safe and/or comfortable?
If so, please be aware that, according to the American Psychological Association, 74% of all murder-suicides involve intimate partners. Make sure you have an escape route planned is all I’m saying.
If you have answered the question honestly and are still one hundred percent convinced that what you feel when you look at your partner’s face is honest-to-god true love, then go ahead and go out to your romantic dinner. You’re clearly living in a state of denial, but who am I to judge?
My dear friend Alice Wintergreen seems to have gotten herself in a pickle again. She really does have a knack at that, which is both charming and maddening as her pickles always seem to correspond with needing something from me at a time when I just don’t have much energy left to give (yes, dear readers, I am not perfect). However, once again I came to her rescue, despite the fact it meant that I was unable to listen to a radio programme to which I was looking forward all week. Why must I always be the good friend? I suppose it’s my curse.
Alice spends each Thursday afternoon at our local library. She calls it her “me time” and claims that she uses the hours to look at the newspapers, read aloud to the children’s group, and peruse the biography section. However, Christopher (who, on occasion, has witnessed Alice in action) tells me that what she is actually doing is what his mates call “cruising.”
Now, as you know, I’m not one to sit in judgment of anyone’s choices, and certainly not the choices of a dear friend whose poor taste in lovers has left her bereft of gentlemanly company. More power to her, I say. However, participating in this kind of activity can have its consequences and had led to the pickle in which Alice now finds herself within.
What it boils down to is this: she has caught the favour of a certain man about whom she says she would rather kill herself than sleep with. Apparently this man is a nice enough sort, and she doesn’t wish to hurt his feelings in any way. But she definitely does not want to sleep with him (nor does she want to kill herself), and it is over this that she has been crying at my kitchen table for the past few hours.
Per usual, my advice was thoughtful, correct and succinct: shut the fucker down.
So many of us are taught that other people’s feelings matter and far be it from me to suggest that they don’t (but they don’t). The truth is that when we try to “spare another’s feelings,” we rarely do so. Instead, we drag it out, making things better for neither party. When we delay being honest in an effort to be kind, we risk one of two things: being weaseled into doing something we don’t want to do – or – hurting the other party even more
Let’s examine those two options more closely. When I was younger, I briefly went through a stage, as most teenagers do, when I thought “Sod my parents’ millions, I want to make it on my own.” I therefore sought employ with a telemarketing agency (I had a seductive telephone voice even as a youth). The first rule we learned was keep them talking. The longer we could keep a person talking, no matter how politely they were rejecting our sales pitch, the easier it would be to finally reel them in. If Alice were to sit down with this man and try to soften her rejection with a drawn out explanation, I don’t doubt her evening would end with the dreaded walk of shame. Sadly, I say this out of personal experience. Even clever people like my good self can be talked into changing our minds after a while. If only I had heeded my own advice, I could have avoided that Maryland jail time for Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practices. I guess sometimes we’ve got to learn the very hard way.
However, the other possible consequence of “trying to be nice” is making it a thousand times worse for the other person. How many times does anyone need to be told “I would rather eat glass than go to bed with you” before they finally just step in front of the #3808 at Trenton Transit Center? The answer is surprisingly few, I found out to my dismay (rest in peace, Homeless Tim). Sugarcoating a rejection is like sugarcoating cyanide: they’re equally destructive but at least cyanide kills within seconds. Injuries from being hit by a train may lead a person to linger at death’s door for weeks.
If we’ve learned nothing from the Jerry Springer Show, we’ve learned that putting one’s hand up to someone’s face and simply saying no is the cleanest way to break off a relationship. Yes, there may be some shouting and a few chairs broken over the audience’s heads, but it is still the quickest and most morally correct way to deal with the situation.