I’m going to use this column to answer some non-specific though pressing questions of the type you commonly hear in pubs and nightclubs, hospital queues and works canteens. Do works canteens still exist? Those places with bottles of brown sauce and vinegar on Formica tables, where lathe operators and their apprentices come to eat pasties? Do lathe operators still exist? Are there still apprentices for tea, tea that is drunk strong enough to melt t’spoon, while thumbing softly greasy copies of Tit Bits and making ribald, explicit comments about the conical bras on the secretaries and wages clerks who are painting their nails while discussing layaway frocks and Saturday night cock? Are there still places like that, Norman? Are there? Where young Brylcreemed men with an itch for a chair in the room at the top, for cash and class, peruse Esquire for a glimpse of the elan that’s available in pastel shades down South? Don’t answer, Norman. It is a rhetorical question. We have rhetorical questions in the South.
The truth is, I’m bored. Bored, bored, bored. I want a break from your depressingly repetitive, whining, self-righteous letters. Oh, God, when you’re not looking for excuses and justifications for pathetically unkind and self-serving behaviour, you’re begging for better and smoother lies to attain unjustified advantages. Each new delivery is a depressing litany of fearful, blinkered, furniture-humping, fickle, low expectations. No, Norman, I can’t recommend a transgender nationality that has better-tasting genitals than the Brazilian ladyboys you’ve experienced. And not again, not for the third time, Norman, no, I don’t think it’s unreasonable of your wife to go off on some nancy Open University course just when you and your mates had planned your annual conga eel fishing trip, so there’ll be no one there to look after your son (her stepson). And again, Norman, least said soonest mended is probably not the best option all round when you’ve managed to infect eight members of the same family with genital warts, including one in a coma, and added the slider of crabs. And no, Norman, it’s not reasonable to ask for your money back when you discover that the telephone sex line you’ve been regularly patronising was in fact your wife on the extension upstairs, and that she has every right to be pissed off because you said the telephone sex with her disguised voice was better than the actual sex with her flesh.
And then to Sarah, Rachel and Camilla and the dozens of other irrepressibly half-full optimistic women who continue to write in mascara-stained tears to ask if I can suggest a sexual position or a drug that would make cohabiting bearable: no there isn’t, and no I can’t.
Divorce the cretins, for God’s sake! Walk away. Why do you all put up with expectations of men that are lower than the ones you have of Netflix? So, for this month only, Norman, I’m answering the big questions that make you look to the heavens rather than examine your own groins like puckish chimps. So:
Can an omnipotent god create a rock he can’t pick up?
This question has kept monks, hermits, and men in scratchy shirts who don’t get out enough puzzling for well over 1,000 years. It is a question with a built-in trapdoor. So what do you think? Don’t stress yourself. Both answers are wrong. Or not right. When a reasonable question has no reasonable answer it usually means it’s the wrong question. So you should reword it. Why would God want to make a rock he can’t pick up? To settle a dare? A bet? To impress the guys down the Vatican? What you should question is the word “omnipotent”. Just say it a couple of times. It’s a very... erect word. A very... assertive word. A can-do word. A superhero word. It’s a blokey word. And it’s too small, too limiting for God. The question should be: could a perfect god make a rock he couldn’t pick up? Now the answer is far easier. The more theologically pressing question is: could a perfect god do something evil? The Old Testament is full of acts that look spiteful, occasionally wicked and they are either directly caused or condoned by God. Isn’t the vengeance of a vengeful god itself an imperfection? These are not easy questions. But they should keep you away from “which manbag should I wear?” Incidentally, the answer to that is: neither. Any sartorial journey that ends up at the crossroads of “which manbag?” is using the wrong fucking fashion sat-nav.
What has led to the greatest improvement in a chap’s life over the last 500 years?
OK, form an orderly queue. Plainly: antiseptic, antibiotics, anaesthetics, indoor plumbing, the kettle, trades unions, motorcars, aeroplanes, trains, bicycles (the greatest of these, internationally, is the bicycle), the international rule of law, the international rule of association football, the internet, the moving camera, white bread, the chip... They’re all contenders. Each in a grand or precise way has improved the lot of men. And we could throw in the safety razor, lucky underpants and amateur pornography. But it’s ideas that really change the world we live in. Penicillin and plastic bags help a lot, fridges and hot water make manliness more comfortable and Tom Ford’s fragrance range makes it smell better, but the idea that has pushed our lives into the light more than any other -ism or -ology is feminism. Oi! Sit down. I’m not finished. This is important. Because you need to man up and recognise how many of the good things you take for granted, how much of the mayo in the sandwich of your life is down to women’s liberation. And we’re not talking about the liberation to make lesbian porn or neck alcopops. It’s not the liberation of pole dancing and pubic alopecia. The women’s movement has given you half the human race as a present, as equals and friends. And nothing has been bigger than that. Liberation combined with contraception was a really big deal for everyone’s sex life. Actually, it invented the sex life. But the great winners of the women’s movement weren’t women. It gave them a great fury at the scale of the injustice of the past and the distance yet to cover. The trouble with righting some wrongs is that it makes the remaining ones seem even more unbearable. But it’s you lot who were the real beneficiaries of the movement. You did precious little to help. You sat on the sofa with your hand down your pants and sneered while at every step forward, women made your life better. And it cost you nothing. But it gave you a better mum, better sisters, better people to work with, to drink with, to tell you jokes, to go on holiday with and just to hang out with. Think of your last weekend session in the pub. Now imagine it without girls.