We live in an era of texts not trysts, and Jane Bussmann is very unhappy about it!
Once, the only way a young man could hope to pull a girl was for his manservant to deliver a quill-and-ink invitation to visit his sick aunt. She understood this as her cue to ride to his place on a lame horse in a rainstorm, thereby catching pneumonia and finding herself forced to recuperate in his east wing for six months. If she didn’t die, come springtime, he could freely address her as ‘Miss’. But the point was, romance was tricky but, well, romantic. Today, our heroine would count herself lucky to get a post-pub text saying: ‘U up 4 it??’
It’s time to opt out of convenience and make communication work for us again. We’ve got pens, if our keyboard-crippled fingers can just about use them. Our grandfathers wrote stacks of love letters, and some of them to our grandmothers; they were something to keep forever. Drop your iPhone down the loo these days and that’s a wave of feelings deleted, in their place a small blank screen.
Whatever happened to the good stuff ?
Whatever happened to heart-rending, ennobling, romance?
The great British tryst, for instance, was an art form. To a background of air raids and social revolution, down dark city streets, trysts made everything meaningful. Without them, Graham Greene would have written travel guides for glum Catholics. The English Patient would have been a public information film about never leaving home without a passport. Titanic would have been a really duff ferry.
Now we find ourselves again in an age of recession and war, it’s time to seek out those dark lanes to make sense of it all. One problem: there are no dark streets. There are no private lanes either. Communication was supposed to work for us, but we’ve let it infest not just our practical lives but our much more important impractical ones; these days, even Narnia would have CCTV. And if you’re not bothered by the thought of being watched by a sweaty security guard as he picks McNuggets out his teeth, today, where there is footage, there is also YouTube. Nothing is private.
In the golden age of Hollywood, a torch singer could discreetly invite a young admirer to her hotel room. These days, Popbitch reports, it still happens – but the first thing Lady Gaga did was demand the admirer hand over his phone, so their wooing wouldn’t make it onto the internet. What grim foreplay. Even the magnificent Joan Collins wouldn’t get in an elevator with the Stud today, and her Wikipedia private life entry is one word – Phew! (This may not be true…)
There are Brits who still love romantic meetings. They’ll endure the cold, damp, brambles and scratches, all in the name of love. Quite why these assignations aren’t given the respect they deserve today baffles me.
We could learn a lot from foreigners. Take two ends of the flirting spectrum. Uganda, in East Africa, has high moral values and prospective partners meet at an ‘introduction ceremony’.
These rituals are huge, expensive, and public. I gatecrashed one. There was the suitor and his family on a dais before 300 people, as though about to be executed. Before the boy could be declared a contender, he had to be insulted by her relatives. A tradition in all societies, perhaps, but in Uganda, taken very seriously: her family had hired a professional insulter, a cocky man in a red T-shirt.
‘They make good money,’ said my host. ‘70,000 shillings per ceremony.’
The groom’s family, taking no chances, had hired their own abuse expert, a rakish type, bafflingly holding a crate of Fanta. He offered it to the bride’s insulter, and the insulting began.
‘I’m not taking that,’ he said, ‘it’s obviously poisoned. Go on, go home. Your boy hasn’t got a hope.’
‘We’ll take our dowry with us then,’ the rival countered, to shocked laughter from the audience – Uganda is a very polite society.
And so it went on, for three hours, until the bride approved her suitor. Shrieks of delight from the audience: the girl had found love and, more to the point, we could all start eating. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve lived in Los Angeles, the logical conclusion of Western civilisation and not exactly the most romantic place in the world. Here, your life – or as they’d put it, your wealth opportunity – is about efficiency. Hence LA’s most popular website, www.craigslist.org.
Here’s a Hollywood resident looking for romance: ‘Waitin’ in my car, corner of Melrose and Robertson. Lookin’ for a woman to get in my car. I got 40 minutes. WARNING: THIS ALL IT IS.’
That’s nothing; how does ‘educated guy looking to spend time with an older woman (32+)’ advertise himself ? He posts a photograph of his intimate parts, presented cookery-show style on a kitchen counter. You wonder if this is how Charlie Saatchi wooed Nigella Lawson.
The 21st century has brought many miracles, but it’s time to hand some of them back. Perhaps we should make 2011 the year that we stop looking for the correct upgrade, the correct interest rate and the correct B vitamin. And start looking for dark lanes and shadowy, secretive corners – and rediscover the lost art of romance.
By Jane Bussman, Do Not Disturb (In-hotel Magazine)