My stepson’s in love with a lovely girl from Kalamazoo. There are love letters and gifts; last week, she sent him a pair of Batman pyjama trousers. He’s worn them ever since.
We’ve met the family, of course, and the family cockatoo. They seem very nice. I say ‘met’, we’ve only seen them and spoken to them on Skype. Dani’s love story with Nicole isn’t any more three-dimensional than that. The entire relationship so far has been conducted online.
Now there’s something wonderful about that. Distance doesn’t have to get in the way of relationships any more. If you’re lonely, there’s an app for that. It’s called Tindr. It’s how one of my nephews met his girlfriend. It’s the new way to check each other out.
Two creative friends of mine hit the headlines the other day when they invented the opposite of Tindr: an app called Binder, as in “How’s your girlfriend?” “Oh, I just binned her.”
If you haven’t got the guts to tell her to her face, the app will happily do it for you. There was a storm of protest from some quarters. A feminist Guardian journalist was appalled. But most of us saw the funny side.
Apparently something like 70 per cent of all modern relationships begin online. It makes me pine for the romance of the chance encounter; that twist in the fabric of your daily life when everything changes and you didn’t see it coming. I wouldn’t be happily married now if al-Qaida terrorists hadn’t flown two planes into the Twin Towers. In the wake of the tragedy, my wife’s boss, one of the most respected creative directors in the world, was telephoned by American defence secretary Colin Powell and asked to the White House to advise them on how to communicate to the public.
This prevented him from being president of the Golden Drum Advertising Awards in Slovenia. So they asked my wife instead. She didn’t want to chair a jury – they can be a quarrelsome lot – but she was happy to be one of the jurors. So they phoned me and asked if I’d be president. I said yes straight away.
My plane into Venice was late and the taxi took two hours to get to the judging venue over the border in Slovenia. When I finally arrived, all the jurors were there and there was only one seat left, next to a beautiful Hungarian girl.
When I told her I’d been delayed in Venice, she smiled and said: “Did you come by gondola?”
I laughed, my heart did a forward roll and two cartwheels. I was in love and there was nothing I could do about it.
NO WI-FI? WHO CARES?
I’m typing this outside in my wife’s parent’s place in Zirc, a little hilltop town two hours outside Budapest. A summer shower is hammering on the tin roof above me. I’m looking out on to their garden where they grow peaches, potatoes, carrots, onions, cherries, strawberries, apricots and lettuce. In the kitchen, my mum-in-law is getting the lunch ready. Down the tree trunk opposite me, travelling upside down, comes a tiny bird with a long curved beak, called a csuszka. I can hear geese squabbling in the distance. I can’t get a signal. There’s no wi-fi. I couldn’t care less.
Monarchy days are numbered
What’s your relationship with royalty? My Auntie Bess was a fierce royalist. She lived in London and would turn out, miniature Union flag in hand, to any royal celebration. She bought souvenir mugs and plates, she cooed over royal babies and she thought it was wonderful that the Queen Mum was still salmon fishing well into her seventies. Most surprising of all, perhaps, she was Irish.
The Irish have a particularly troubled relationship with the British royal family. My little brother went to Mullaghmore to do his PhD in social anthropology. I went to visit him.
It was a beautiful little village. We fished for flounders, jumped off the pier and lit bonfires on the beach at night. The locals were friendly and kind. There were any number of houses where Michael was welcome for tea and toast or something a little stronger. But above the village was a castle and from its turrets the Union flag flew, a reminder to everybody that the British had lorded it over the poor Irish for centuries. The castle was the home of Lord Mountbatten.
One Saturday morning, his lordship, an 80-year-old man, went out fishing with his eight-year-old grandson and a local teenager. There were lobster pots to be lifted and mackerel were shoaling in the bay. As the sun shone down on this innocent scene, the boat was blown out of the water by an IRA bomb and all aboard were slaughtered. It was a cruel way to express your resentment of royalty.
It seems that royalty have a troubled relationship with us, too. They court the media and welcome its sticky embrace when there is a syrupy, soft-focus occasion like a royal birth, wedding or a special jubilee. But when editors print Prince Philip’s latest foot-in-mouth pronouncement or show film of the family playfully imitating the Nazi salute, there is official “disappointment” at such discourteous media intrusion into their “private” lives.
The British respect for inherited wealth and status seems odd to me. Trace it back through the swirling fog of war and treachery and you’ll find that the rich and powerful acquired their land, their jewels, their tapestries and their palaces by force of arms and interbreeding.
In modern society, there is no logical reason we should bend the knee to somebody else’s granny and call her ma’am. Why do our civic authorities feel they have to paint the railings and mow the grass before a royal visit? What are the crowds actually cheering for when they salute a monarch sweeping past in an enormous, shiny limousine, waving a gloved hand? The honest answer is, they don’t know. They have no idea. When the “royal
correspondent” sticks a microphone in their face and says “So why did you come along today?” they will inevitably say “Because I think she’s wonderful!”
In The Queen And I by the late Adrian Mole author Sue Townsend, the monarchy is dissolved in a coup and the royal family sent to live on a housing estate. Prince Charles can’t get his head round it, the Queen
Mother takes to the bottle but Princess Diana loves it.
Personally, I believe the monarchy’s days are numbered. The people who lead us, literally or symbolically, should come from among us. They should live like us and understand us. They should earn their position on merit and trust, through their wisdom, experience and competence to make decisions on our behalf. The way things are just now, the ruling elite at Westminster have more in common with the monarchy than they do with the electorate. It’s time that changed.