Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Avoiding Victorian values, Quentin Crisp, and pulling faces at your best mate.

I've been amused this week to hear news of the Conservative Party "coming out" in favour of traditional married families as the best way to bring up kids for the good of society. One of their lot, Dominic someone or other even got in a killer line about just how great it was back in the Victorian times. Back then of course, we all knew where we stood. Families stayed together, men were men, women were in corsets, kids were up chimneys and there was no reality TV. It must have been great.
It's complete and utter bunkum of course. Anyone whose studied the 19th century will tell you that it was a time of massive social upheaval and change. Our large towns and cities were no go areas at night. Gangs of feral kids prowled around causing no end of mischief, serial monogamy was the norm for the massed ranks of "underserving poor" from whom the majority of us owe our descent. For the middle-classes, the strict gender polarity encouraged meek, mild and servile women and men who bought books which advised on how best to beat your wife and kids to instill proper family order. Gay men got lengthy prison sentences, lesbians were'nt invented.
It's amazing that anyone who thinks they're even semi-intelligent can cite the period positively with a straight face. The Victorians were great self-publicists. They lived behind thick velvet drapes of self-deceit and hypocrisy, and if you lift the lid on their moth ball stinking world, you discover all kinds of unpleasantness. No, I'll take the chaotic but honest early 21st century over the chaotic but hypocritical 19th thanks very much.
The idea behind the Tory talk is to incentevise marriage through the tax and benefit system, as if all those happy co-habitees will run to the altar upon hearing the news that such a decision will be worth an extra £1 a week to the household budget. I'm sure people will go on as before, marrying if they want to, not bothering if they don't feel like it, trying to do the best by their kids even if their relationships end. In other words doing what people have always done in the tricky area of human relationships - muddling through.
Rach and I have nearly been married ten years. We married dead young, although we didn't really think so at the time. Why did we marry rather than stay cohabiting ? Good question. A few of our friends at the time were doing the same, we went to quite a few weddings and just thought - "wouldn't that day in the sun be nice?"
Probably completely the wrong reason for anyone to get married, but I'm sure if folks are being honest they too will cite similar reasons. In the event,we both felt a bit daft. The day was good from what we can remember, but I think both of us now realise we'd do things very differently today. To a large extent it all got taken out of our hands, we became functionaries in a well rehearsed social script. So I totally understand why people would not want to bother with any of that.
Before we became a couple we were best mates. Proper best mates, we still are. We always struggle to say the words "my wife" and "my husband", likewise the less loaded "partner". It just makes us laugh. We're all of those things, but above all of that we are bezzies.
For a while after we got wed we seemed to slide into this peculiar game of grown-ups. We acted the role of husband and wife. I tried my hand at DIY, Rach did some baking. It didn't last and we soon fell back into our old routine of talking absurd nonsense, making each other laugh continually and chuckling at the muggles. Now if there's baking to be done we usually ask Mr Kipling, and if a shelf needs putting up, well, we do without. We both follow the Quentin Crisp school of domestic maintance - "after four years, the dust just doesn't get any worse." This makes us feel louche and bohemian, rather than just filthy. It also allows more time for watching reality TV, dancing around the kitchen, wandering about and pulling faces at each other.
Male bloggers often make a habit of referring to their spouses as "the good lady", "my better half" or even the splendidly music hall "ball and chain". I can't refer to my best mate as any of them. It would be ridiculous. Likewise with anything vaguely romantic in a hearts and flowers sense. We both find the thought hilarious.
Even more absurd to us is the idea of us having kids. As a happily married couple we should of course be doing the decent thing and be providing shiny Dave mit som jungen for his back to the future project. Rach never wanted kids and I never for a moment presumed she'd change her mind. Only now are people beginning to accept, that yes, we really mean it. We like having nephews and nieces and think it's right that we should support those who do have them through the tax system. It's a mark of civilisation.
What I'm getting at with all this, is that there is a freedom today to make your own relationships exactly how you want that was not there to the same degree for our grandparents. Even less so for our 19th century forebears. I would have loathed to have had to have been the archetypal 1950s husband and father, never mind the even more repressed Victorian version. Friends who are dads are generally much more clued up and involved in the life of their kids than even my own relatively involved dad was 20 or so years ago. Find what works for you and do it. If it's consensual and does you good then why not ? The problem I have is when politicians of any stripe start trying to tell me how I should conduct my personal relationships. Let a thousand flowers bloom, love who you like how you like and don't give a drunken bishop what anyone else thinks, least of all a lousy politico.

1 comment:

Alex Bordessa said...

Me and Batman (also aka my Best Mate) haven't done the wedding thing, though we've been together for a very long time. Admittedly, it would be a nice to have a day in the sun. One day maybe. A friend of mine insists she'll be my bridesmaid. I've told her she's got the job, if it should ever happen, but not to hold her breath.

Sometimes Batman says he wants a divorce, but I ask if that's a proposal of marriage, cos if he wants a divorce, he'll have to get married first ;-)