Fear and loathing in Spinneys Supermarket
I love supermarkets. Yes, I said it. But I am not alone.
You love the supermarket too. It’s okay, you can admit it. You may occasionally indulge in conversations about how you only buy ‘local’ and ‘organic’ produce from some ‘independent’ cheese boutique.
But deep down in your little consumer heart, you love to roll along those aisles and drool at the heaving walls of breakfast cereals and tins of anchovies and shoe polish and little cakes with hilarious names.
Under those bright lights you gleefully toss the packages into the shopping trolley, your mind in a celestial haze far away from the grinding boredom of real life. You feel safe there. You feel good.
You may think you visit the Supermarket to buy food, but it is you in fact who is being eaten. Not products but vicious beasts prowl those shelves, hungry for the green paper in your wallets. You may believe you choose which items end up in your basket, but it is the items that choose you.
People don’t like to think they are being sold too. It makes them feel cheated, tricked. Enlightened souls try to educate us about the evils of ‘consumerism’ and how advertising and branding actually force you to get up off your greasy sofas and buy ‘things you don’t need’.
It’s not consumerism if you don’t pay for it.
Relentless in their fight against ‘The Man’ these erudite beings use their smartphones to discuss ‘consumerism’ as wander round those same supermarket aisles, picking up their Fairtrade oatcakes and vegan wine. I know this because I have seen them. I hide between the stacks of extra value toilet roll and watch them muse away. And I have seen you too.
Those bleak orbs glowing from inside a mountain of cheesy flavoured puffs? The whispering from within the columns of bleach? The messages written in condensation against a chiller cabinet full chicken kievs? That is me. Lurking. Watching. Waiting.
You may not have time to really scrutinize over which little carton of cream is best for that recipe you are making tonight. Unlike myself, you probably have somewhere important to be.
Instead you reach out with a quivering hand and grab something off the shelf. But unknown forces are at work. As you leaned towards that bottle of shrew’s milk you actually took in consideration the brand names, the colours, the logos, the prices, the special offers…
You are too busy to really care what it says on the label anyway. ‘Pah, I have a life!’ you say.
I am different. I want to be sold to.
I spend hours staring at a row of products which are obviously all exactly the same and ask the question.
‘Why? Why should I buy YOU? Why? Why? Why?’
I used to actually ask this question out loud to the packets of bacon miss-shapes until my therapist explained it was one of the reasons I kept getting arrested (thanks Paula).
Today my mission was simple. I needed a bottle of squirty kitchen cleaner stuff to try to remove a layer of grime from my camping stove. An easy choice you might think.
Staring at me from the shelf at eye level (a position that brands pay big money to occupy) was a motley crew of poisonous water guns, each one emblazoned with its own little message of hope and lies.
First up we have ‘AJAX Cuisine’ with the absurd claim of ‘100% Brilliance’. How on Earth the boys in the lab come up with that statistic I will never know.
Paling by comparison, ‘SCOTCH BRIGHT’ could merely claim it cleaned surfaces ‘Easily’. To me, this sounds like pure laziness, the empty threat of a brand of neon bleach that had never seen the post-apocalyptic horrors of my kitchen.
With a quiet dignity, ‘DETTOL Kitchen’ took me through a series of benefits that was nicely summed up by suggesting it could kill ‘99.9% of germs’. A fine set of credentials I am sure you will agree.
Until, that is, you notice ‘AJAX Super’ claiming a second spot in the top 4 for the AJAX overlord. In a display of gratuitous arrogance, the Manchester City of cleaning products claims to outdo DETTOL by killing ‘99.99% of germs!’ How could I resist?
Just as I am muttering a final decision to myself, the familiar strong arm of the security guard grips my shoulder in that loving way and leads me away somewhere. My consumer experience for today is about to end. But there is always tomorrow.
‘Paula, yeah, he’s here again…’
Fishing for sex: The sleazy world of Craigslist Beirut ‘personal’ ads.
(NB: All information in the article is real. The postings were, and will be for a limited time still available to view on Craigslist. All emails are still sitting in my inbox. I would print the addresses but it is probably illegal, although judging by some of these guys, they would probably love it.)
So. Where to begin.
Craigslist is a centralized network of online communities, featuring free online classified advertisements with a site dedicated to almost every major city in the world. Each local site has sections specializing in housing, items for sale, services and community. Oh yeah, and sex ads. Lots of sex ads.
I suppose I could try to wriggle my way around the subject by talking about my deep love of online classified listings, how hilarious and inexplicably twisted people can be when they are shrouded in anonymity, how I was ‘curious’ or found myself reading ads ‘by accident’. But, as you will no doubt agree, the point will remain exactly the same. I was sitting in a café, reading the casual sex pages of the Beirut Craigslist website. There, I said it.
The odd thing about this site is that unlike in other parts of the world where it can be a gold mine of free furniture, stolen bikes and strange landlords, nobody seems to use the Beirut Craigslist. The jobs section is bare. The flat rental department features around one new posting per week. Unwanted pets, not even a hamster.
So when I entered the ‘Personals’ section I was quite surprised to find anything at all. As you will see if you visit the site, the links are arranged into different categories. There is the very ambiguous ‘Strictly Platonic’ for those prudes who cannot admit to their own depravity even whilst hidden behind their IP address. Following this is the regular ‘Men 4 Men’, ‘Women 4 Men’ and ‘Women 4 Women’ columns, the much racier ‘Misc Romance’ and finally the pure filth that is ‘Casual Encounters’. I have always wondered about the latter section, whether it means you are up for it without taking your socks off or can perhaps spare a free hand whilst also doing a bit of light housework.
The postings, if there are any, follow a very strict pattern depending on the genre. The Women4Men section is dominated by adverts for prostitutes, with images presumably taken straight from porn sites (none of them look very Lebanese at least). The Men4Women area is a bit more genuine, with a few business men looking for a cheap lay whilst here on a sales trip and the majority appearing to be unattractive middle-aged men from the USA looking for a woman who is prepared to put up with their ugly mug in exchange for an American visa. The percentage of said marriages which end with one of the newlyweds buried in the back garden is not available on the site.
If you want some action and are happy to be frank about it then the Men4Men, Misc and Casual sections are the place to be. Without wanting to offend anyone I believe it is common knowledge that gay men are a little more gung ho in their approach to getting some hanky panky, an assumption which is certainly not disproved here. Graphic descriptions, orgy planners and pictures of naked body parts are to be found aplenty here, and the response rate to these postings, as you are about to find out, is nothing short of enthusiastic.
By way of testing the water I decided to reply to one of the emails under the user name Fred Haley, the author of the curiously titled book ‘Satan was a Lesbian’ (anyone recognize the poster from a bar in Gemmeyzeh?). I decided to reply to a post with a high chance of a response and found one looking for people to make up the numbers at an orgy following the Vanity Party. I foolishly did not save the original posting so cannot recall it verbatim but the general gist was as follows.
‘Looking to get an orgy together after the vanity party, email with a pic if interested.’
That was it. No specifications for age, appearance, political leanings, piercings, pets or otherwise. Just guys wanting an orgy. Replying in a serious manner would undoubtedly get me a serious response. But I wanted to see how far they might be willing to push this. My reply was as follows.
I am fit, 35 but look 31, built, some tattoos.
When are you planning your party? Time is an issue because I have a court appearance coming up. I wanna make sure I have some fun before I go away for a while.
Get in touch if you are for real and we will speak.’
Unremarkably this did not get a response, but it almost certainly caused some small debate between the orgy hosts as to whether or not they wanted a muscly, tattooed jailbird popping over for a game of hide the beef jerky.
Orgy Organizer 1; ‘But I think it will be exciting, a real thug at the party’
Orgy Organizer 2: ‘But we don’t know what he has done. Maybe he is a car thief, maybe a murderer’
Orgy Organizer 1: ‘Can we ask him? Is it rude to ask?’
Orgy Organizer 2: ‘I think we should keep him in the ‘maybe’ pile?’
But still I wanted more. There was nothing to prove that any of these posts were actually real people who really did use this service to meet up and get jiggy wid it. So in the interests of journalism and academic research (ahem) I moved on to plan B. Creating my own posts. And here they are.
1) Lonely Fishing Enthusiast – M4M – 42 (Beirut (Hamra))
And maybe other things.
Can travel anywhere between Beirut and Tripoli.
I have my own van.
Author’s note: This was my first post and the one I took the piss the hardest with. I was absolutely certain that nobody was interested in meeting a lonely gay fisherman to talk about ‘rods, reels and nets’. The picture of the old bearded chap alone should give that away. The ‘I have my own van’ line was just the cherry on the cake. Nobody would write back to this, right?
2) Rich man, marriage – M4W- 30 – (Beirut/USA)
My car (BMW) can be drived by you sometimes.
Many thing in my house are made of gold (like Midas ahahahahahahaha).
I am good for love and (many) children.
Let us meet.
Author’s note: OK so I expected to get a few hits with this. I thought there would be at least a few women out there looking for a rich Arab husband.The ‘Midas’ joke might just about be plausible too. I also tried get across the fact that whilst this guy was boasting about being rich, he was not a walkover, and that the lady he chooses would sometimes be allowed to ‘drived’ his car, but not every day.
3) Seeking shaven beast
Need a real smooth companion.
Get in touch if you are soft to touch.
I can travel to your place (as long as you have no pets).
No time wasters.
Author’s note: This I definitely expected to get replies from. Given that Mediterranean/Arab guys often have a little more body hair than their western counterparts, I thought it not unreasonable for somebody to have a fetish for baldies, if not full on alopecia.
4) Dominatrix W4M (30) (BEIRUT)
Are you a pathetic worm?
Of course you are. You are a maggot with no self esteem. You are not very good at your job. You have reduced fertility and no woman would want your neanderthal offspring anyway. You lay awake at night imagining all the things you would say to people if you actually had a set of balls in your withered little sack. You are cannon fodder. You are toilet water. You are a cockroach in a plastic bucket. You are a manufacturing error.
You think nobody knows these things about you.
But I do.
And I will let you know.
Each and every single day
Author’s note: I was certain what I had written was just a bit too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Telling someone ‘You are not very good at your job’ is hardly psychological humiliation. I did enjoy writing the phrase ‘withered little sack’ though. I also picked the most unattractive picture of a dominatrix I could find on Google (and some of them were really hot).
So the bait had been set. My expectations were low, and any response at all would have brought me some satisfaction, even if it were only to justify that I had spent a whole afternoon conducting this ‘project’. But before closing the computer down to spend the evening interacting with actual people I thought I would have a quick check of my email.
What? How could it be? The first post had only been put up less than an hour ago. It must be some spam about cheap Viagra, or perhaps an email from Craigslist requesting that I somehow prove I am a gay, alopecia loving, wealthy, unmarried dominatrix who likes to go fishing in his/her spare time. My heart was actually starting to beat faster as I opened the inbox.
It was a reply! To the Lonely Fishing Enthusiast. A wonderful, single word reply.
So the fish had started to bite. I left the virtual nets in place and went into to town for a beer.
The next day I opened up Fred’s email address and was thrilled to find 4 more replies. And 3 of them were for the gay fisherman…
The first I opened was a tragically sincere email from Phil.
I just read your ad on craigslist and I’m wondering what are you looking for? I’m Canadian male in Beirut for the summer and looking for someone to spend time with and maybe have fun with too. So please let me know if you’re interested in that. P.s. I dint know anything about fishing .’
Well Phil, I am sure you are a nice guy, but did you READ my post? I said I want to talk about rods and reels and fishing stuff. And here you are, with your shameless lack of fishing knowledge, thinking I’m some cheap hussy. You tart. The next one was from Eddie.
I saw your Ad on CL and i thought it was interesting, i don’t know much about fishing i am more a hunting kind a guy, but i was curious, are you lebanese? do you fish here in Leb??? and why did you put the ad in m4m section are you interested in men sexually???’
See that Phil, at least Eddie knows about hunting. And he is asking if I am interested in men sexually, not just assuming. But there are more.
I found your add online while I was looking for something else… It sounds cool… And nice pic. Haha… I am from Canada… And have been trying to travel around the world for about 15 months… Now i am in cyprus, and I want to come to Beirut/middle east for a few months, and I love fishing! Haha… I’ll send you a pic, but I’d love to know a little more about you… Was that you in the picture?
Perfect! Ronan loves fishing! Right Phil, you are definitely out, Eddie you are on the waiting list, Ronan let’s get the van fired up and head for the hills.
Sadly I am not gay or a fisherman, otherwise I would feel like a kid on Christmas day. The next email I received was a rather patronizing response to the Rich Man Seeks Wife ad. As she was both attempting to offer services of a commercial nature (which breaks the Craigslist rules) and she offended me personally be insinuating that my ‘Midas Charm’ would not be enough to lure anyone in I have included her contact details. Feel free to write to her.
I establish contacts to outstanding singles in the Mid East, Europe, America and Asia.
If you are not successful in your search & you seek some exceptional mate in your life kindly check my websites:
Please reply for further details.
Thanks & best wishes
The thing is Anglelika, the phrase ‘If you seek some exceptional mate’ has put me right off. I might be a hilariously bad mannered, rich Arab guy but I do not view women as biological specimens. ‘Exceptional mate’ makes the game sound like ordering from a catalogue of farm animals. So piss off, you cyber pimp. I did check her blog though and she has her own Podcast of love making songs to download. Track 1: Barry White.
Next email received was for the Dominatrix. I had expected a more depraved reply and was shocked by Rami’s polite response.
‘Hello my dear
my name is rami… i am 26 years old guy living in beirut and used to be in california.. please let me know what you want so we can have a friendly meeting to discuss what you want from me and i will be at your quiet service
Waiting your reply
Well what a sweetheart he sounds. What reason could he possibly have for wanting a big, fat, leather-clad trollop tell him he is a bad person whilst he was tied to a radiator with his own socks? Is it because he is too nice? Maybe he had a mean piano teacher as a kid that really got him going? I will probably never know (Rami if you are reading this please let us in on the mystery).
There was nothing yet for poor old baldy lover. Were there no hairless men for our fictional hero to meet with? There was still time for him, but it was now getting late in the day and real life was calling again. Time to close the computer and check the nets again in the morning.
It’s 8am and I am so excited I log into Fred’s account before even checking my own email. Ten replies! Ten! Most of them for Gay Fisherman, too. What the hell have I started? Could it be that the Gay Fisherman is actually an untapped genre in the word of ‘Miscellaneous’ relationships? Perhaps it’s the Brokeback Mountain factor, two guys, alone in the wilderness, arranging their worms to catch a bite from something. If this thing develops into a registered fetish (where do you register a fetish?) then I want it known that you heard about it here first.
Over the coming days the calls for gay fisherman were slowly overtaken by the dominatrix, who is now the runaway winner of the contest. And not all of them were as submissive as Rami..
Adam got the ball rolling with this. ‘I love feet nd would love to be ur slave from time to time’ Thanks for that Adam.
And Chris is apparently a man of stamina. ‘I need someone who could show me they have what it takes to keep up with me.’
Habibi seemed to think a Dominatrix would be interested in his hobbies. ‘I like outdoor activities, walking, skiing, travelling.’
And my personal favorite LeSheik had a confession to make. ‘Unfortunately im married and i prefer the secretive encounter :) i never tried the dominatrix thing, c’est la vie, im sorry :)’
God I hope he is a real Sheik…
I got a second message from Phil, who removed any references to his lack of fishing knowledge from his email. Either he went away and read a copy of Trout and Salmon magazine or he was just trying to bluff it. No game Phil, no game.
But before I leave you I want you to know that Rich Arab Guy finally got a genuine message. I am sure he would be delighted…
‘Is your cock long and hard as gold, would you like me to pleasure u, u r so sexy what would u like me to do to u..’
The Midas touch indeed…
Happy fishing folks
PS – If anyone is a Gay Fisherman/ Rich Arab/ Dominatrix I may be persuaded to pass some of this information on (free of charge) as I actually started to feel a bit guilty about leading people along. xx
by Beirut Beat
How to unblock a Lebanese toilet: Survival tips
Pretext- Why might your toilet be blocked?
The toilets and related plumbing in Lebanon are notoriously fragile. Even the most modern establishments request that you ‘kindly’ put all tissue paper in a small bin next to the toilet. Given this fact, it would be little surprise that your toilet might choke up if you accidentally flushed a stripy H&M sock down the pan. The task of retrieving the sock may become infinitely more disgusting if you have just tried to flush pieces of lettuce rejected by your pet tortoise, now floating around the bowl like ships lost at sea. So what can you do?
Step 1: Flush again
You may as well give this a go. Anything to avoid having to put your hand in there. Maybe you were worrying about nothing. Or maybe the toilet will groan like a dyeing elephant and fill up to the brink with more filthy water. It’s time to change out of your work clothes.
Step 2: Get the rubber gloves on
Since you cannot find any clothes you are prepared to splash toilet juice on you are now probably in your underwear. Pull on the rubber gloves (I would suggest pink but yellow will suffice) and say a little prayer to Mazu, Chinese Goddess of water and protector of sailors. You are going to need the help.
Step 3: Dive in.
As your gloved hand slides further and further into the bowl your level of revulsion and disgust will rise exponentially. Do not worry about this, it is about to get worse. A lot worse. As you finally touch the bottom of bowl you will realize that the sock has been sucked right up into the U-bend. Creeping further into the unknown you will understandably be afraid that some toilet beast is lurking, waiting to nibble your fingers off. You lean in too far and the glove fills up with water.
Step 4: Retreat
Pulling off the glove and rushing to the sink to wash your hand, you will feel the urge to sit and cry on the bathroom floor for a while. You may as well. You deserve a break.
Step 5: Bring in the artillery
The difference between men and monkeys comes down to our use of tools. It’s true that monkeys don’t wear H&M socks and so would never be in this mess in the first place, but that’s not the point. It’s time to improvise. In your closet there are probably some wire coat hangers. Get one out and unravel it. Poking around the toilet for a while will give you an idea of the complex shape of the piping system. Sculpt the hanger into a shape that takes into account the various twists and turns. Catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, in your underwear twisting a piece of wire with tears drying on your face. Cry a bit more.
Step 6: Mission Impossible
Pushing the wire round invisible bends in the pipe is like performing keyhole surgery, except far more difficult. You hit a wall, twist your arm and push on. The wire keeps going, further and further into the abyss. You reach too far and the glove fills with water again. Except this time you don’t even care. You will defeat the toilet even if it kills you. Just when you feel like you might have to actually climb into the bowl, Trainspotting style, the hook on the end of the wire catches something. A bite of the end of the line? You pull back with all your strength but it is struggling. Just, a bit, more…
Step 7: Self destruct
Whatever was on the end of your coat hanger managed to get away. You have been defeated. There is nothing else left to do. You will flush the toilet for a final time and the subsequent flood will wash you away. Goodbye stool world!
But the toilet is spluttering, shuddering, shaking. It nearly rocks itself off your bathroom floor, but instead the flush roars and washes everything from the pan. You must have dislodged the sock with your efforts. It is now in a better place. You have won. And that deserves a drink.
How to be a genius.
‘Become a genius in 12 months!’ is the rather bold claim made by the people who run the site becomeagenius.net. According to their web page, if you order their genius training program ‘not only can you raise your I.Q. but you will also start having genius ideas and insights ‘. You may ‘uncover your inner genius, NO EFFORT REQUIRED’ by ordering a copy of their book, dubiously priced at ‘approximately £31.95’. I decided the real test of intelligence here was to navigate away from this page, as quickly as possible, and never return.
My interest in life’s great over-achievers came about after watching The Aviator, Martin Scorcese’s biopic about American industrialist and renaissance man Howard Hughes. Hughes, who became one of the richest men in the world after founding Trans World Airlines, was also, amongst other things, a record-breaking pilot who designed his own planes and an Oscar nominated film producer and director. He was also rather strange.
Suffering from a severe case of OCD, Hughes became increasingly reclusive, refusing to cut his hair or nails or pick up any object without a tissue to protect him from germs, later choosing to subsist exclusively on chocolate bars and milk and urinate in empty bottles. So how did such a crackpot manage to achieve so much? With a little research I quickly discovered that he was not alone. The Dutch post-impressionist Van Gogh chopped off his own ear, revolutionary electrical engineer Nikolai Tesla would only stay in hotel rooms which were divisible by the number 3 and Greek scientist and philosopher Empedocles jumped into Mount Etna to prove that he was immortal.
And then, like a falling apple, it hit me. If genius could cause weird behaviour, perhaps weird behaviour could lead to genius? The idea itself was so stupid that, by my own theory, I was one step closer to enlightenment already. The problem was, not only did I have limited resources, I had grown too attached to my ears to want to hack them off and I didn’t really feel up to plunging to a fiery death in an active volcano. Instead I chose to follow in the steps of 3 great men using only what was available between my bedroom and the local shops.
The Tycho Brae Method During the late 1500s, Danish nobleman Tycho Brae debunked many theories surrounding astrological phenomena and eventually became Official Imperial Astronomer to Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II. Mr Brae was also a raving alcoholic. In a drunken state in the late 1566, our hero challenged a fellow nobleman to a duel, in the dark, in which he lost his nose. He was also rumoured to employ a clairvoyant dwarf who wore a jester’s outfit, and to have owned a moose, which itself died after drunkenly falling down steps in his house.
To see if I could carry on Brae’s legacy, I armed myself with several bottles of wine and and a notepad and hit the night in search of new constellations. Strangely, I was so consumed by my work that evening, that I cannot remember a thing. When I woke up the next morning on the roadside, everything in my pockets, including the notepad full of precise astrological measurements I assume I had been making, had been stolen. The true results of this experiment may tragically never be known, but I do think I understand how that moose felt.
The Yoshiro Nakamatsu Method Dr Nakamatsu, the 82 year old Japanese inventor, claims to hold the world record for number of inventions, over 3000 to date (according to him). These include, most notably, the floppy disk, the digital watch, the DVD and the taxi cab meter. But he is not a raging booze hound like Uncle Tycho. Instead, Dr Nakamatsu gets his inspiration by holding his head underwater until he is nearly drowned. At the point of death, his mind fills with ideas, which he writes down on a special underwater notepad. An underwater notepad which he invented.
Not put off by the inconclusive results of my last experiment, I locked myself in the bathroom and began to fill the bathtub. Ignoring my flatmate banging on the bathroom door to use the toilet, I plunged my head underwater and waited for the genius to flow. And around 2 and a half minutes later it came to me. In a flash of siren song and brilliant colours I saw it, the most wonderful, beautiful and desirable invention that would change the world forever. But as I tried to scribble down the details, I realised that my notepad was not a special waterproof one like Dr Nakamatsu’s, and had been reduced to a soggy ball of nonsense. I now had just one more chance.
The Howard Hughes Method. I felt it was necessary to plan ahead for this experiment and neglected to cut my nails for several weeks, eating only Milka bars and peeing in the empty wine bottles leftover from the Tycho Brae experiment. I decided it might be a tad ambitious to design and build a real plane from my bedroom, so instead bought a child’s Air Fix model of The Spruce Goose (Hughes’ most famous aircraft) and decided to build it without looking at the instructions.
However, gluing tiny pieces of a plastic aircraft together with hideously long fingernails whilst holding tissues to protect from germs is harder than it sounds. I managed to stick both hands to the left wing of the plane and a tissue to my face, causing me to tumble over into several jars of wee. But if I had learned anything from Howard Hughes, it was not to give up. And sure enough, 72 hours later it was finished. Most people have said it is possibly the worst model they have ever seen, but I never expected to be recognised in my own lifetime. Besides, the only real judge of our achievements is ourselves.
It shouldn’t take a genius to work that out.