Invasion of the Driverless Cars


Mark Simpson on the head­less horse­men of the com­ing ‘carpocalypse’

Look out! They’re com­ing! And they’re driv­ing really, really carefully!

This year driver­less cars will arrive in the UK. As part of Government-sanctioned tri­als, the ghost cars will be quietly and sin­isterly creep­ing around selec­ted parts of Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. Though some would argue that Milton Keynes was conquered by robots years ago.

The UK Government also recently announced that a driv­ing licence would not be neces­sary to use a driver­less car and expressed its inten­tion to make Britain a world centre for driver­less cars.

This may ulti­mately res­ult in much safer roads, less con­ges­tion, faster travel times and cheaper insur­ance, as well as a life-changing boon to dis­abled and eld­erly people. But it will be the begin­ning of the end of the world as we’ve known it for most of the last cen­tury. Albeit in a very bor­ing fashion.

Yes, for the time being the only com­mer­cially avail­able self-driving vehicles are harm­less open-air shuttles for ped­es­trian zones that oper­ate at an under­whelm­ing max­imum speed of just 12.5 mph. But don’t be fooled.

Proper car man­u­fac­tur­ers are plan­ning to change all that. Nissan aims to launch driver­less mod­els by 2020. Tesla claims that their cars will be 90 per cent cap­able of autonom­ous driv­ing this year. And Google believes that its Level 4 autonom­ous cars – that is, totally self-driving – will be avail­able to the pub­lic within the next 3 to 5 years. One of their zom­bie cars already passed the Nevada state driv­ing test in 2012. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers believes that by 2040, 75 per cent of all vehicles will be autonomous.

Worse, the dast­ardly road robots are here already, or at least their fifth colum­nists in the form of all those ‘driver’s aids’ fit­ted in pro­duc­tion cars today. Self-parking and emer­gency brak­ing are com­mon, while adapt­ive cruise con­trol is avail­able on a wide range of pro­duc­tion cars – using cam­eras, lasers and radar, it can con­trol your dis­tance from the vehicle in front as well as, on some mod­els, stay­ing in lane.

Some cars such as the latest Nissan Qashqai can now even ‘read’ speed limit signs – just in case you don’t have a passive-aggressive part­ner to do that for you.

But per­haps the most dan­ger­ous fifth colum­nists for the driver­less cars inva­sion are the humans who enthuse about them. They paint a pic­ture of a safe, stress free, lux­uri­ous future in which we’re all Lady Penelope, driven around by our robot Parker, who never ever makes any mis­takes – and doesn’t see what’s going on in the back.

Or else they think they they’re going to be David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider, with his trusty, rather tasty KITT. Or Tom Cruise in Minority Report in his sexy autonom­ous Lexus. In real­ity, driver­less cars will be much more like the chirpy, crappy robot taxis in Total Recall. But without the joy­stick over­ride that Arnold was able to grab hav­ing uprooted and ejec­ted the annoy­ing robot driver.

Once humans are unplugged from the busi­ness of driv­ing cars and become instead glor­i­fied lug­gage, the auto­mobile will stop being an exten­sion of the human body/spirit/ego. Instead of some strange, techno body-art, this wheeled thing that humans have had a tor­rid, Freudian love-affair with for over a cen­tury will become a long dis­tance auto­matic pick-up machine, shut­tling people around like stock in an espe­cially gigantic Amazon ware­house. While they update their Twitter status with pic­tures of the view of the strange ‘Real World’ glimpsed from the car win­dow – and buy more stuff online.

One man’s uto­pia is another’s ‘car­po­ca­lypse’. Cars will van­ish from the sides of our streets and car shar­ing will become usual rather than excep­tional. Über + driver­less cars = the end of mass car own­er­ship. Taxi drivers, chauf­feurs, lorry drivers and much of the ancil­lary motor­ing busi­ness of car deal­ers, gar­ages and spare parts will be scrapped. Essex will become depopulated.

With fewer cars and greater effi­ciency, con­sump­tion of fuel is likely to fall dra­mat­ic­ally, and along with it gov­ern­ment rev­enue. People await­ing organ trans­plants might have to wait longer, since traffic col­li­sions are the main source of human spare parts.

There will be no going back. There’s no reverse gear on car auto­ma­tion. Once sur­rendered to robot cars, human agency is gone forever. I don’t mean that in a Stephen Hawking AI Skynet takeover sense – though that as well – but that even­tu­ally most driver­less cars, like Google’s already, won’t have steer­ing wheels or pedals.

They would only get in the way, and be a reminder to the pas­sen­gers of their obsol­es­cence. Most of all, it would be frankly crazy to allow people who haven’t actu­ally driven any­thing for years except their fin­ger over their smart­phone – or Grand Theft Auto – to take con­trol of a vehicle in an emer­gency.

We don’t need to wait until all or even most of cars on the roads are driver­less. Once there are sig­ni­fic­ant num­bers of them on the road they will change the way human-operated cars drive – mak­ing them drive more like machines. Which is very bad news when humans do it. Studies have shown that human drivers shar­ing roads with autonom­ous cars copy the autonom­ous cars’ driv­ing styles and leave less space between the vehicle in front. But are not able to stop nearly as quickly.

As the num­ber of driver­less cars on our roads rise, insur­ance premi­ums for human oper­ated cars are likely to rap­idly become pro­hib­it­ive, espe­cially when com­pared to goody-goody autonom­ous ones that never nod off, smoke, eat, drink, do their hair, use their mobiles or look for a Genesis CD while driving.

Perhaps the scar­i­est devel­op­ment is the way autonom­ous cars could have ‘eth­ics set­tings’ to deal with the ‘trol­ley bus dilemma’ – do I kill that child or my pas­sen­ger? Split second decisions which were usu­ally a secret between you and your god will have to be legis­lated and coded.

We will have made machines not just our unpaid and unloved chauf­feurs but also our judges and executioners.

Originally appeared on Hitachi CVSL blog

Swing it Around Like You’re in a TV Commercial’

 “Swing it around like you’re in a TV commercial.”

I like this spunky new hair gel ‘Now can be amaz­ing’ ad from Lynx, cur­rently air­ing in Australia. Especially since it’s the per­fect anti­dote to the ball-shrivelling dreary para­noia of ads like this.

In fact, it’s prob­ably my favour­ite ad since Philips/Norelco ‘I’d F*ck Me’ where a young man play­fully chats him­self up in front of the bath­room mir­ror. Like the Philips ad this one isn’t afraid of its own shadow, and instead of mak­ing apo­lo­gies just embraces and cel­eb­rates male beauty and van­ity — and the spirit mak­ing the most of it while you have it.

More than this, it’s an ad which encour­ages young men to be any­thing that they want to be — to be ‘amaz­ing’. In much the same way that young women have been encour­aged for some time.

Hence the ‘Kiss the hot­test girl — or the hot­test boy’ moment. This is not, as has been pro­claimed by gay blogs, a ‘gay kiss’ so much as a bi-curious one, since it’s the same guy kiss­ing the girl and then the boy. Which is in keep­ing with what we might term the James Dean ethic of the ad — don’t go through life with ‘one hand tied behind your back’. Especially if it’s your best hand.

This is par­tic­u­larly impress­ive com­ing from Lynx (known as Axe in the US), a brand which is not usu­ally asso­ci­ated with pro­gress­ive advert­ising and in fact often asso­ci­ated instead with a hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity: ‘I only smell nice coz it attracts women and that proves I’m not gay, OK?’. (Though there have been sort-of excep­tions, such as this Axe ad star­ring Ben Affleck back in 2007.)

But then, I told Lynx all about their hys­ter­ical het­ero­sexu­al­ity and how dated it was in a world in which young men take male van­ity and self care for gran­ted — and aspire to be everything - when they con­tac­ted me last sum­mer ask­ing for my input into their re-branding. I’d com­pletely for­got­ten about this con­sulta­tion when I saw the ad, and just thought it was cool. I don’t know for sure whether my cri­tique made it into the brief for this ad, but it seems quite pos­sible I may have been admir­ing my own reflection.

Though being hon­est, I’m not entirely sure he’s really made the most of his hair with that bird’s nest look.…

Objectify Yourself — Why Straight Young Men Crave Gay Adulation

attitude6I’ve penned an essay in the February edi­tion of Out magazine — with a David Gandy cover — about why straight young men won’t leave me alone:

The way straight young men chase and hustle gay atten­tion today rep­res­ents a major, mil­len­nial shift in atti­tudes. Part of the reason that men offer­ing them­selves as sex objects were frowned upon in the past was that they could be objec­ti­fied by any­one — includ­ing people with pen­ises. They were queered by the pen­et­rat­ing queer gaze.

Now they beg and plead for it. They instinct­ively know that male objec­ti­fic­a­tion is about enjoy­ing and cel­eb­rat­ing male passiv­ity, even — and espe­cially — if you’re straight. So get­ting the gays proves not only your hot­ness, and cool­ness, but also your meta­phys­ical ver­sat­il­ity. It proves that you are a proper, fully fledged, all-singing, all-dancing sex object.

Read the essay here.


Confessions of a Front Seat Driver

HyacinthBy Mark Simpson

Some people are more pro­act­ive pas­sen­gers than oth­ers. Hyacinth Bucket in the clas­sic sit-com Keeping Up Appearances takes what we might call a ‘hands on’ approach to being driven.

Mind the sheep, dear!’

They’re in the FIELD!’

Richard, I don’t appre­ci­ate your tone.’

Minding the sheep.’

We all laugh at the snob­bish battle axe’s incess­ant and insist­ent back­seat driv­ing. Not least because it is meant to be hor­ribly sym­bolic of her mar­riage to Richard. He may sit in the driver’s seat, but it’s def­in­itely his pas­sen­ger who does the driv­ing. In a nice big hat.

Every driver hates a back­seat driver. Until you’re a pas­sen­ger your­self. According to a 2011 sur­vey, 92% of motor­ists admit to being back­seat drivers themselves.

This how­ever didn’t stop 51% of them get­ting angry behind the wheel as a res­ult of advice from pas­sen­gers, or the same num­ber claim­ing it was the biggest dis­trac­tion for drivers. While 14% even claimed they were involved in an acci­dent or near miss as a res­ult of being told to blow their horn in a more refined way, dear, or some such.

The offi­cial advice from car safety experts is not to dis­tract or frus­trate the driver with back­seat driv­ing. They say it could be dan­ger­ous – both to your safety and to your rela­tion­ships: part­ners are ranked by motor­ists as the worst back seat drivers. I sup­pose no one likes being cri­ti­cised by their part­ner, par­tic­u­larly if being mar­ried to them has made you won­der if weeks in trac­tion in the General Hospital might be a nice break.

But what pre­cisely is a back seat driver though? Well, accord­ing to Wikipedia, it is ‘a pas­sen­ger who is not con­trolling the vehicle but who excess­ively com­ments on the driver’s actions and decisions in an attempt to con­trol the vehicle.’

Which con­firms what I have always known: I’m not a back­seat driver.

You see, I never excess­ively com­ment. There are so many things I could say, but I stoic­ally bite my lip instead. Granted, there are still plenty of things that I do say, but they are always kept to the abso­lute min­imum — and always thought­fully designed to impart only the most per­tin­ent pearls of my pre­cious driv­ing wis­dom to the per­son for­tu­nate enough to find them­selves at the wheel in my presence.

Besides, I don’t sit in the back. I prefer to sit up front, where I can see much more clearly what mis­takes the driver is mak­ing, such as driv­ing too close to the vehicle in front – and then too far away – and what haz­ards he or she has failed to anti­cip­ate, such as the decept­ively harm­less pen­sioner stood at the bus stop, lean­ing on a walk­ing stick, who could sud­denly and with no warn­ing what­so­ever sprint into the road. (And by the way, it needs to be men­tioned that sheep in fields can jump hedges.)

Sitting up front also means you can more eas­ily com­mu­nic­ate with the driver, some­times using non-verbal sig­nals, such as sharp intakes of breath, grabbing arm-rests or anxiously check­ing and re-checking the seat belt. Even though I’m not actu­ally Catholic, I usu­ally carry Rosary beads with me as I find count­ing them loudly and cross­ing myself can be quite salutary.

And of course, if all else fails, there’s always stamp­ing on an ima­gin­ary brake pedal with a look of wide-eyed abject ter­ror on your sheet-white face.

I also do my best to help the driver by lean­ing for­wards at junc­tions and shout­ing ‘YOURE ALL RIGHT THIS SIDE!’. Or ‘YOU CAN GET A BUS THROUGH THERE MATE!’ When I’m not fid­dling with the ste­reo and the air-con con­trols. I invari­ably find that people haven’t set these at their optimum levels – and are tuned in to the wrong radio sta­tions. I don’t expect any thanks for these little con­sid­er­a­tions. Which is just as well as none ever comes.

OK, so per­haps I’m just ever so slightly con­trolling. But hon­estly, have you seen the way other people drive? It’s not my fault that I’m a bet­ter driver than them and it would be just plain dis­hon­est of me to pre­tend oth­er­wise. Not to men­tion selfish – how are they going to get bet­ter if I don’t tell them they should use the gears to brake more?

You wouldn’t believe how down­right ungrate­ful and rude people can be some­times. Unfortunately, not all drivers are as open to advice as Hyacinth’s hus­band. I’ve been yelled at just for sug­gest­ing that their screen wash isn’t as effect­ive as the brand I use. And that their wiper blades need replacing.

But when that hap­pens I just tell them that they shouldn’t talk to pas­sen­gers and con­cen­trate on the road instead. And adjust my hat.

Off Their Trolleys — The Hobbesian Horror of the Supermarket Car Park

By Mark Simpson

There’s a place where drivers lose all reason and all human­ity. A place where not only the Highway Code but the European Convention on Human Rights appar­ently no longer applies. A Hobbesian world at the edges of civil­iz­a­tion, where ped­es­tri­ans are mere squidgy pin balls to be flipped between car bump­ers, where any­thing goes and noth­ing is off limits.

Except stay­ing longer than two hours.

I’m talk­ing of course about the super­mar­ket car park. We’ve all been there. And we’re all going back. Even though we really, really don’t want to.

According to the AA acci­dents in car parks are the most com­mon single cat­egory of car insur­ance claims. A crack­ing 20% of all claims – equi­val­ent to six mil­lion – are for dam­age caused there, and most of these are for super­mar­ket car parks. Though the true fig­ure is prob­ably even higher since many people, mind­ful of their excess or of los­ing their No Claims Bonus, don’t bother claim­ing for minor dam­age unless it can be proven to have been caused by someone else.

But good luck with that, since accord­ing to other research at least a fifth of drivers hit­ting another car in a car park would just drive off if they thought that no one would notice.

It’s true that many super­mar­ket car parks func­tion as meet­ing places for young tear­aways with souped-up hot hatches throb­bing men­acingly with bass tubes. However, although noisy, these guys are usu­ally rel­at­ively well-behaved – per­haps because an expens­ively lowered sus­pen­sion tends to make you more care­ful. The ones you really want to watch out for are the 4x4s with ‘Baby on board’ stick­ers in the back win­dow. The main reason people buy 4x4s isn’t ‘safety’ of course – but just so they can speed over speed bumps. And pos­sibly people.

Many drivers instead of slow­ing down, actu­ally accel­er­ate off the Queen’s Highway into super­mar­kets. For them, super­mar­ket car parks seem to be a cross between a track day and the dodgems – WHEEE!!! What’s more, they’re FREE!!! The fact that there will of course be other vehicles mov­ing very slowly, or sta­tion­ary – or revers­ing out of park­ing bays – only seems to add to their urgent need to get to the wine aisle ASAP and spend half an hour or so look­ing for a dis­coun­ted wine that looks dead posh.

Supermarket car parks are also pave­ments, since people have to get to and from their cars – and load them up with their shop­ping before leav­ing. Which should give one pause. I mean, you might have thought that even the most reck­less of drivers would be inclined to take more care here, if only because by defin­i­tion they are about to become ped­es­tri­ans nego­ti­at­ing the Death Race 2000 car park them­selves. But only if you’d never actu­ally used a super­mar­ket car park.

Things are so bad, so red in tooth and claw in super­mar­ket car parks, that local by-laws really should require all super­mar­ket trol­leys to be equipped with defibrillators.

Don’t let it be said though that super­mar­kets don’t bring the exotic into all our lives. You don’t have to travel to the Continent to see people driv­ing on the other side of the road – just go to Tesco, Asda or Sainsburys. And in the Italo-French style, junc­tions in super­mar­ket car parks have been dis­pensed with – or rather, the mean­ing of a dot­ted double line across the car­riage­way changed to: ‘DON’T LOOK YOU LOSER! JUST ACCELERATE!!’.

All in all, it’s prob­ably just as well that some­thing used in the con­struc­tion of super­mar­ket car parks com­pletely dis­ables indic­at­ors.

Another fun past-time seems to be open­ing your car door without con­sid­er­a­tion to the one parked next to you, leav­ing an indelible memento of your intim­ate incon­sid­er­a­tion on their paint­work. You might try avoid­ing this by park­ing in the farthest corner of the park­ing area, sur­roun­ded by legions of empty bays. So far away that you actu­ally have to take a bus to get to the entrance. But this never ever works.

Someone will always take the trouble to ignore the acres of empty spaces and drive out of their way to keep your lonely car com­pany by park­ing right next to you – and then din­ging you. Quite often, as an added gift, you will find your­self wedged in by two 4x4s and have to turn your­self into Elastoman to get into your (doubled dinged) vehicle.

And if, by some Biblical mir­acle, some inef­fable stroke of luck, you man­age to avoid all these ter­ri­fy­ing haz­ards presen­ted by other drivers when doing your weekly shop, still you will not I’m afraid escape unscathed. You will return to your car with your unex­pec­ted items in the bag­ging area and find that you have been rammed by a rogue shop­ping trolley.

Probably one thought­lessly dis­carded by Thomas Hobbes.


Incompletely Combusted — How Diesel Didn’t Save the World

By Mark Simpson

(ori­gin­ally appeared on LeasePlan 10/9/14)

Can hate be good?’

This was the ques­tion posed ten years ago in an anim­ated ad that was as impossible to avoid as the products of incom­pletely com­bus­ted fuel in built-up areas. It began with noisy, dirty diesel engines fly­ing over a pretty, super-saturated green coun­tryside which rebelled against them.

Hate some­thing, change some­thing’ chor­uses the soundtrack, and a flock of shiny, newly-designed, silent, clean – and green – diesel engines arrive from Japan and the coun­tryside greets them in joy­ful rap­tures. Diesels have saved the world!

Grrr’ as the promo was called, was tre­mend­ously pop­u­lar. It won sev­eral awards, includ­ing Adweek’s ‘com­mer­cial of the dec­ade’. More the point it also suc­ceeded in boost­ing the sales of diesel engine Honda Accords from a mere 518 units in 2003 to a gag­ging 21,766 in 2004.

Now, I’m sure that Honda’s newly-designed diesel engines were rather bet­ter than the ones that went before, but the basic premise of the ad and more par­tic­u­larly of gov­ern­ment and EU policy since the early Noughties that diesel rep­res­ents a ‘green’ fuel that we should all embrace, was total organic fer­til­izer.

But embraced it we have. A dec­ade on and half of all UK car sales are now diesel, the total on our roads rising from 1.6M in 2004 to 11M of the clat­ter­ing things today. With the res­ult that London is one of the most pol­luted cit­ies on earth (again). Stung into action by whop­ping EU fines for being so filthy, its mayor Boris Johnson recently announced a £10 sur­charge start­ing in 2020 for dies­els enter­ing the cap­ital. Ever the pop­u­list, he also offered sup­port to The Sun’s cam­paign to ‘com­pensate’ diesel own­ers for scrap­ping their cars. Diesel own­ers who have been in effect sub­sid­ised by pet­rol drivers for the past dec­ade or so through a VED based on CO2 emissions.

London is unlikely to be alone in spurn­ing diesel. By the end of the dec­ade 18 cit­ies across UK are expec­ted to fail to meet EU clean air tar­gets for NOx, or nitro­gen oxide, thanks to ‘green diesel’.

Hate some­thing? Diesel engines emit ten times as many fine par­tic­u­lates as pet­rol engines and up to twice as much NOx. Particulates dam­age the lungs when inhaled and can cause per­man­ent stunt­ing of children’s lung growth. NOx pol­lu­tion is linked to 7,000 deaths p/a. Last year the UN’s WHO declared that diesel caused lung can­cer and was as ser­i­ous a risk as pass­ive smoking. Research estim­ates that diesel-related health prob­lems cost the NHS more than ten times as much as com­par­able prob­lems caused by pet­rol fumes.

Cheery car­toon stuff indeed. Ironically, the anim­ated diesel uto­pia ad of 2004 showed a rural set­ting, where diesel engine pol­lu­tion is min­imal. It’s actu­ally in densely-populated urban areas with high volumes of traffic – i.e. where most people in the world now live – that the real prob­lem lies.

The compression-ignition engine, to give it its tech­nical name, was ori­gin­ally designed by Rudolf Diesel 1897 to replace sta­tion­ary steam engines – and was inten­ded to run on coal dust. It is, to be sure, an engin­eer­ing mar­vel. Lacking a car­bur­et­tor or spark plugs, instead the high com­pres­sion of the air in the cyl­in­der heats and ignites the heavy, paraffin-like fuel when it’s injec­ted. The higher com­pres­sion ratio of the diesel engine com­bined with the higher dens­ity of diesel fuel means that mod­ern diesel engines have an impress­ive 20–40% MPG advant­age over petrol.

Which is the reason why they were touted as ‘green’ when com­batting global warm­ing became the head­line envir­on­mental issue. Because of their greater effi­ciency they pro­duce less CO2 per mile than pet­rol engines. Theoretically, by switch­ing to diesel we would be help­ing to save the planet from man-made cli­mate change. But you don’t have to be a cli­mate change sceptic/denier to con­sider this a very the­or­et­ical, per­haps almost meta­phys­ical concept, given all the other variables.

And there’s noth­ing the­or­et­ical or, alas, meta­phys­ical about the impact of the other things that dies­els emit in much greater abund­ance than pet­rol engines. It’s in the very nature of a ‘coal dust’ diesel engine that it will be ‘dirtier’ because the fuel is not fully-combusted.

Shockingly, it’s pre­cisely for this reason that European stand­ards for diesel exhaust have not been as strict as for pet­rol engines. It’s also increas­ingly clear that much-touted mod­ern tech­no­lo­gies to con­trol diesel pol­lu­tion don’t work very well in the real world, as opposed to the labor­at­ory – or car­toon com­mer­cials. A 2011 gov­ern­ment test to meas­ure emis­sions from vehicles in every­day use found that while pet­rol emis­sions had improved by 96%, emis­sions of NOx from dies­els have not decreased for the past 15–20 years.

Remember those other vari­ables I men­tioned? Well it turns out that the soot or car­bon that dies­els emit may be second only to CO2 in climate-warming. And 70% of car­bon emis­sions in Europe, North America and Latin America are from diesels.

Full dis­clos­ure: I’ve always hated dies­els. I used to live atop London’s highest hill. A keen cyc­list I would usu­ally find myself gasp­ing behind a diesel belch­ing stinky soot straight down my sporty throat. As I type this prob­ably a zil­lion par­tic­u­lates are embed­ded deep in my lungs, fizz­ing away and hasten­ing the day I develop cell abnormalities.

Can hate be good? I don’t know. But schaden­freude at the fate of smug dies­els can be bloody brilliant.

The Sexiest Man Alive is a Super Spornosexual With Big Bis & Huge Hammer

People Mag have crowned the Australian actor Chris Hemsworth as this year’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’.

Hemsworth was an early — and eye-poppingly rapid — adop­ter of sporno­sexu­al­ity. If the mont­age below grabbed from the inter­web is to be believed, Chris made the trans­form­a­tion from svelte soap opera met­ro­sexual to hench Hollywood sporno­sexual in just a year.

The cre­at­ine he was tak­ing must have had, er, super powers.


How The Prostate Came Out of the Closet

Mark Simpson snaps on the latex gloves and gives men’s pro­states a thor­ough examination

(Originally appeared in a shorter, more taste­ful form in The Daily Telegraph, 12 Nov 2014)

Movember’ is upon us again, and so are the ironic and per­haps not so ironic upper lip pubes, remind­ing us of the very import­ant, very worthy – and until Movember, very over­looked – issue of pro­state can­cer, a dis­ease which affects 42,000 men each year, and kills 11,000.

But this is per­haps also a good time to remem­ber that pro­states don’t just get can­cer – and they’re not just for November, or for pro­du­cing an alkaline secre­tion which helps sus­tain ejac­u­lated sperm in the vagina. They can also give a great deal of year-round pleas­ure. Mind blow­ing, leg-shaking, eye-rolling, neighbour-panicking pleasure.

While the very exist­ence of the female G-spot remains a mat­ter of hot debate, the male G-spot is mighty real. Situated just below a chap’s urin­ary blad­der, wrapped around the urethra, the pro­state is a walnut-sized but­ton con­veni­ently placed about a finger’s length from the anal open­ing – proof pos­it­ive of ‘intel­li­gent design’.

And more and more are being reached reg­u­larly – not just by med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers look­ing for ‘enlarge­ment’. The 21st cen­tury is shap­ing up to be the cen­tury of the prostate.

Reach’ it and you – and pos­sibly your bed­room walls – will be left in no doubt as to its exist­ence. As Seann Scott William dis­covered in the col­lege com­edy ‘Road Trip’ – released in 2000, around the time Movember was just get­ting bristly – when his arrog­ant frat-boy char­ac­ter ‘EL’ attempts to make a sperm dona­tion, and is ‘helped out’ by a slightly sad­istic, latex-gloved female nurse.

That was awe­some!’ he says, dazed-amazed after­wards. And by the film’s end he’s instruct­ing his girl­friend to ‘use three fin­gers’. Probably pro­vok­ing many a young man’s interest in his own prostate.

2000 was cer­tainly a busy year for that tick­lish gland. In ‘Me, Myself & Irene’ another com­edy released later the same year, Jim Carrey plays a split per­son­al­ity Jekyll and Hyde char­ac­ter – the obnox­ious ego­ist half also turns out to enjoy anal inser­tion: this time in the form of an eye-wateringly XXL dildo dur­ing a night of pas­sion with Renee Zellwegger.

Yes the male anal­ity on dis­play in these Millennium movies was largely at the expense of the males con­cerned of course, but because the men being pro­stat­ic­ally pleas­ured were straight, both movies effect­ively told their audi­ences that in the new cen­tury men enjoy­ing their rears being played with was not spe­cific­ally ‘gay’. Just ridicu­lously intense.

Which seems to have been all the per­mis­sion that straight men needed. A dec­ade or so on from its Hollywood ‘out­ing’, that hitherto hid­den gland def­in­itely has no sexual ori­ent­a­tion – and little or no shame. ‘I’m going to stick my whole thumb up your ass this even­ing’ says a newly-engaged women fairly ran­domly to her lucky boy­friend in the TV drama ‘Fargo’.

Prostate mas­sagers’ of all shapes and baff­ling sizes (vibrat­ing and non-vibrating) fill the pages of online sex toy stores. Men’s mags such as Esquire and Men’s Health inter­rupt their guides to the mys­ter­ies of the female body to give advice on how to get your girl­friend to mas­sage your pro­state just right while giv­ing you a blow job. Entire books are devoted to the sub­ject, prom­ising you ‘The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure’.

And a giant green butt plug was inflated in Paris last month – the city that in another epoch was fam­ous for Mr Eiffel’s phal­lic Gallic tower.

Not want­ing to be, ahem, behind the curve, Harvard University is now offer­ing sem­inars on anal sex titled: ‘What’s What in the Butt: Anal Sex 101’, where you can learn ‘anal ana­tomy and the poten­tial for pleas­ure for all genders!’

The back bot­tom is the new front bot­tom – as a peek at straight online porn will con­firm. It’s pos­sibly not without sig­ni­fic­ance that the ori­fice that straight men seem most inter­ested in women these days is one they share them­selves. After all ‘anal sex’ is a highly revers­ible concept.

This was graph­ic­ally and nois­ily demon­strated in the leaked vid of the pro foot­baller a few years back which appeared to show him being ‘scored’ by an ex female part­ner with a ‘strap on’. The tabs talked then of course about how ‘bizarre’ and ‘kinky’ his private past-time was – but as with William’s ‘Road Trip’, his loud enjoy­ment of it will have just made many foot­ball fans won­der what they’ve been miss­ing by always play­ing up front instead of at the rear.

Certainly the pos­sib­il­ity of male passiv­ity is advert­ised every­where you look now. After all sporno­sexu­al­ity, hard-core, body-centred, second gen­er­a­tion met­ro­sexu­al­ity, is as much about the lunge-sculpted ass as it is the tits and abs. Straight Essex boy Dan Osborne kindly offered the read­ers of gay mag Attitude his naked muscle butt recently in a gen­er­ous double-page spread – with the strap line ‘Sex is fun. Be safe and enjoy it.’

Dan offers his bum (safely) to Attitude readers. 'Enjoy!'
Dan offers his bum (safely) to Attitude read­ers. ‘Enjoy!’

Posh boys are also at it. The male row­ers of Warwick University have just released their latest nude char­ity cal­en­dar, aimed at women and gay men, and ‘fight­ing homo­pho­bia in sports’ – rammed with plenty of arse shots (because there’s no penis in their nude cal­en­dar, they’re all bot­tom). In these pro­static times the male der­rière has been thor­oughly sexu­al­ised. Mostly by the men attached to one. Or as one of the row­ers puts it in their pro­mo­tional video: ‘Regardless of gender or sexu­al­ity we are invit­ing you into that moment with us.’

Some stick-in-the-muds will of course har­rumph that male anal play and passiv­ity is ‘unnat­ural’ and ‘sod­om­it­ical’. To which I always reply: If God hadn’t inten­ded men to try anal play he wouldn’t have given them pro­state glands. Unless he just wanted to really mess with their heads.

And He – or naughty, naughty She – gave them to all men, whatever their sexual ori­ent­a­tion and whatever their sexual hang-ups. Your pro­state gland doesn’t care whether you’re straight, gay, bi or homo­phobic – just whether or not it’s loved.

But then, that quaint old homo­phobic ral­ly­ing cry ‘Backs against the wall lads!’ was always a bit of a giveaway. Ever so slightly hint­ing that if ‘the lads’ didn’t press their rears against some­thing solid they wouldn’t be able to res­ist impal­ing them­selves on the ‘poof’.

Yes, of course, des­pite some of the pro­stat­itc pro­pa­ganda – includ­ing this art­icle – not all men enjoy their pro­states being mas­saged. Whether they are straight or gay. But the out­ing of the pro­state gland as a poten­tial organ of (pass­ive) male pleas­ure – of male ver­sat­il­ity – regard­less of sexu­al­ity frees gay and bisexual men from the very heavy bur­den of rep­res­ent­ing all male anal pleas­ure. And straight men from hav­ing to be full-time ‘studs’.

So next time you see a Village People mous­tache in November, remem­ber that the pro­state is a gland men should be proud of. And in touch with. One way or another.




Pride & Prejudice

I think the time has come to share a secret about my past I’ve kept hid­den for far too long.

Back in the 20th Century, when I was still a teen­ager (just) – and a long, long time before I became cyn­ical old queen – I shook a bucket for the miners as a mem­ber of an unlikely lefty group called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners dur­ing the Great ‘Coal Not Dole’ NUM Strike of 1984–85.

I had no idea a film had been made about that unlikely out­fit until I happened to see, mouth akimbo, the trailer for Pride online a couple of months back. And if someone had told me before I’d seen it that the story of how some well-meaning gay London lefties reached out to a Welsh min­ing com­munity dur­ing that year-long show­down with Margaret Thatcher’s gov­ern­ment had been made into a big budget com­edy film star­ring Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton I wouldn’t have believed them.

To be hon­est, even after see­ing the Pride with my own eyes at the cinema the other day I still can’t quite believe it.

I knew many of the char­ac­ters in Pride, some of them very well: feisty, flame-haired, wise-cracking Steph – ‘I’m the Lesbian in Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ – (played by Faye Marsay) let home­less, pathetic me stay in her coun­cil flat until I was slightly less home­less and pathetic. And of course, like every­one else, I was in love with the 23 year old canny Irish Commie Mark Ashton (played by Ben Schnetzer), albeit mostly from a dis­tance. Largely for the love of Mark, and per­haps a deeply-buried, highly polit­ic­ally incor­rect hope that one day a burly miner might show me his, er, grat­it­ude, I atten­ded meet­ings in a crowded roll-your-own-smoke-filled room above a gay pub in Islington. (Which were usu­ally, like most meet­ings, crush­ingly bor­ing, so I com­pletely under­stand why the film instead pre­tends that LGSM was just ten people).

I was unem­ployed so had plenty of time to shake a bucket out­side Gays The Word book­shop in Bloomsbury, The Bell pub in Kings Cross and in Camden Market bel­low­ing ‘LESBIANS AND GAYS SUPPORT THE MINERS!!!’ at slightly baffled or alarmed passers-by. Of course this was a form of hope­ful think­ing as much as it was a slo­gan. Even back then, many gay people were very Tory. But in the end, LGSM reportedly col­lec­ted more money for the miners than any other sup­port group in the UK. I doubt though it was thanks to me – I may have had a lot of time on my hands, but I was a very lazy activist.

I remem­ber wit­ness­ing two LGSM mates who weren’t at all lazy being har­assed and unlaw­fully arres­ted by the police while col­lect­ing in Camden. I gave evid­ence against the police in an unlaw­ful arrest case – the court of course acquit­ted the police and found my mates guilty of being gay, lefty and sup­port­ing the miners.

I have a recol­lec­tion of attend­ing some stu­dent event in Manchester on behalf of LGSM at which I gave some kind of speech. And I was, I think, at the Pits & Perverts gig at the Electric Ballroom, shak­ing a bucket again – and very prob­ably at Pride in 1985 where Welsh miners fam­ously led the march.

I also made the trip to Dulais Valley in an LGSM minibus, but I think it was after the strike had ended. I don’t recall much about the trip, save that every­one was lovely. Everyone that is except me. After get­ting back from the miners’ social club I drunk­enly shagged one of the char­ac­ters in the film on a very creaky bed­room floor belong­ing to the fam­ily that had very kindly put us up. Mortifyingly, every­one crammed into the tiny house knew about it the next day.

If I sound a bit vague about some of the details it’s because I don’t remem­ber a great deal about that era. In my defence I’ll say I’m not the only one: Jeff Cole, on whom the young ‘heart of gold’ ‘Jeff’ char­ac­ter (played by Freddie Fox) is based, someone whom I hadn’t spoken to for over twenty years for no other reason than life, as it does, push­ing people apart after push­ing them together very closely for a while, reas­sures me he also can’t remem­ber very much. And he was the offi­cial pho­to­grapher of LGSM, who made the won­der­ful no-budget doc­u­ment­ary about LGSM in 1985 which was part of the inspir­a­tion for Pride. (See below.)

Perhaps I don’t recall much because it was another cen­tury, another Millennium, and I was a dif­fer­ent per­son. With ideals and full of – Christ! – earn­est­ness. Maybe none of us should really remem­ber what it was like to be a teen­ager when we’re middle aged. It’s just so unfair on both ver­sions of us.


Mark Simpson 1985
Showing off my Camden hair cut (Russell Square, London 1985)

What do I think of the film? Well, obvi­ously I can’t offer an impar­tial review of it, as I’m far too close to the sub­ject mat­ter – and yet at the same time strangely dis­tanced from it by a faulty memory. In truth, I dreaded going to see it, partly because I thought it was going to be a kind of gay Brassed Off (which I loathed – all that emetic Londoncentric con­des­cen­sion), and partly because I wasn’t sure I really wanted to remem­ber that era. I think many gay lefties and dream­ers from the 80s are suf­fer­ing from PTSD – Post-Thatcher Stress Disorder.

Particularly since in many ways, and des­pite the naked homo­pho­bia of the 1980s Tory Party, gays on the make were to become the hot pink shock troops of Thatcherite indi­vidu­al­ism. After all, no one believed in the power of money, shop­ping and per­sonal rein­ven­tion more than they did. The ‘gay life­style’ was to take off in the late 80s, largely repla­cing gay polit­ics in the 90s — and even­tu­ally becom­ing a straight aspiration.

Pride though played me like a violin outisde a soup kit­chen and had me laugh­ing and blub­bing in all the places it wanted me to. And I recog­nised, in won­der, many of the char­ac­ters in a way that I really didn’t think I would. It was like meet­ing old friends again – in the pomp and splend­our of their/our youth, com­plete with those 1950s style hair­cuts and t-shirts we all had back then. Except that Mark Ashton was even more cha­ris­matic and attract­ive and myth­ical than Ben Schnetzer’s por­trayal of him.

Stephen Beresford’s script does a near-miraculous  job of stay­ing true to the both the spirit of the times, and the lead­ing char­ac­ters – bring­ing both alive. It’s incred­ibly well-researched, thanks in no small part to the advis­ory role of Mike Jackson, beanie-wearing LGSM Secretary (played by Joseph Gilgun) – or ‘the Accrington sod­om­ite’ as Mark calls him in the film, through a loud-hailer.

If I have a cri­ti­cism it’s that Pride is at its weak­est in some of its fic­tion­al­ised parts – the use of homo­pho­bia for easy drama (there was never any trouble, in fact, on any of the LGSM vis­its to Wales), and the ‘sym­path­etic’ com­ing out storyline of ‘Joe’ — an inven­ted char­ac­ter — and his stifling middle-class fam­ily, all tap into the clichés of ‘the big gay movie’ that we’ve seen too many times before. I don’t think these devices were really needed – since the LGSM story is not a com­ing out story but rather a story about already out-and-loud gay people going back. But what do I know? The film is a smash hit.

Minor carp­ing aside, I’m happy to accept Pride as my cath­artic memory implant of 1984–5, free­ing me at last from my youth­ful pinko PTSD. It also offers in the end a truth that is more than just sen­ti­mental feel­goodery. Despite the crush­ing defeat of the miners and the (pipe?) dream of social­ism by Margaret Pinochet. Despite Aids — or AIDS!!! as it was then (Mark Ashton died from ‘the gay plague’ in 1987, aged just 26). And des­pite Section 28, the ori­ginal anti ‘gay pro­pa­ganda’ law, intro­duced by the Tories as a way of exploit­ing a tabloid hate cam­paign.

Two very dif­fer­ent and dis­tant com­munit­ies under siege came together and dis­covered they had a great deal in com­mon – and not just that they both knew, as Mark puts it in the film and as I recall (I think) at the time, what it’s like to be bul­lied by the police, the tabloids and the Government and labelled ‘the enemy within’. After the strike a grate­ful big butch NUM block vote forced the Labour Party to finally adopt a gay equal­ity pledge which was to help change Britain forever in the fol­low­ing dec­ade when (New) Labour swept back into power.

And as the film sug­gests, in an echo per­haps of Billy Eliot, miners learned how to dance to disco instead of nurs­ing a pint watch­ing the ladies, while their wives learned how to take on the law and polit­ics instead of mak­ing sand­wiches. The Victorian sexual divi­sion of labour and lov­ing on which many work­ing class com­munit­ies had been based was begin­ning to break down. This was a pro­cess that was only accel­er­ated over the next dec­ade or so by the loss of ‘male’ heavy industry jobs – like min­ing – and the cre­ation of ‘fem­in­ine’ ser­vice industry jobs (often part time and poorly paid — and non-unionised). Although Thatcher laid waste – quite delib­er­ately – to much of South Wales, the North and Scotland, a new gen­er­a­tion of young men and women would adapt to the brave new post-industrial, and argu­ably post-heterosexual world they found them­selves grow­ing up in. Laughable as it may seem, Geordie Shore is the tanned, bleached, pumped proof of this.

Pride is a timely reminder that the revolu­tion in the way our soci­ety thinks about and treats gender and sexu­al­ity came from the left and its ideals of solid­ar­ity – not just the atom­ising nature of con­sumer­ism and indi­vidu­al­ism. And cer­tainly not by the design of our first woman Prime Minister with her ‘Victorian val­ues’. Thatcher fan-boy David Cameron’s intro­duc­tion of same sex mar­riage was inten­ded as a rewrit­ing of his­tory, a brazen co-option of all the heavy-lifting vic­tor­ies for gay equal­ity by the left in the pre­vi­ous years in the teeth of vehe­ment oppos­i­tion by his own ‘nasty party’ and its many allies in the press. (And by him per­son­ally: only a dec­ade ago Cameron voted twice against the repeal of Section 28 – the second time in a free vote.)

If Mark Ashton were alive today he’d prob­ably remind us of that him­self. He might also add, with char­ac­ter­istic hon­esty and real­ism, that the reason why Pride can be such a smash hit now and regarded with such fond nos­tal­gia by many people who prob­ably sup­por­ted Thatcher at the time is because the miners, the organ­ised work­ing class and ulti­mately social­ism as a polit­ical force were his­tor­ic­ally defeated in the 1980s and no longer rep­res­ent a threat. And the gays got married.

But then his­tory is made out of strange, tragi-comic para­doxes, which in the 20th Century we used to call ‘dia­lectics’. No won­der some of us can’t remem­ber some of our per­sonal ones properly.

Stripping Down the Male Body

Disability char­ity Scope have been air­ing a cheeky ad this sum­mer designed to encour­age people to donate clothes. It’s a funny trib­ute to the iconic Levis ‘Laundrette’ ad of 1985 and fea­tures a very studly 24-year-old model and per­sonal fit­ness trainer Jack Eyers in the Nick Kamen role. And boy, does he fill it.

Instead of strip­ping off to wash his clothes, Eyers denudes him­self to donate to the cause. As he gets down to his white box­ers we sud­denly get a close-up on his hi-tech pros­thetic leg, which has remained hid­den until now. In terms of the way the ad is shot and struc­tured his pros­thesis is basic­ally his penis. It becomes another way of ‘strip­ping down’ and ‘reveal­ing’ the male body. Of sig­nalling both tough­ness and vul­ner­ab­il­ity, passiv­ity and activ­ity, loss and pos­ses­sion at the same time.

Jack Eyers kink

And Eyers isn’t shy about it. His pros­thesis is, as he says in an inter­est­ing inter­view with the Telegraph’s Theo Merz here, some­thing he likes to show off rather than hide because it looks ‘pretty cool’. It also doesn’t neces­sar­ily harm his employ­ment pro­spects in an industry wak­ing up to both the eye-catching poten­tial and, para­dox­ic­ally, the ‘nor­mal­ness’ of dis­ab­il­ity. (You might also want to check out Theo Merz’s exped­i­tion to Newcastle in search of the sporno­sexual here - in which he dis­cov­ers the man some Telegraph read­ers would like to pre­tend doesn’t exist is ter­ri­fy­ingly, ab-tauteningly real.)

Alex Minksy

Even less shy is US Marine vet turned under­wear model Alex Minsky, who has been gar­ner­ing a lot of well-deserved atten­tion for his saucy shoots — and most par­tic­u­larly for the way, with his body art, sculp­ted muscles, styled facial and head hair, he has totally aes­thet­i­cised him­self, pros­thesis and all. He’s also a model who clearly isn’t afraid to become a form of per­form­ance art. Splendidly kinky per­form­ance art. (Some naked selfies were leaked earlier this year — which only served to, err, enhance his reputation.)

Alex Minsky pressup

Perhaps part of the appeal of the buff, sexu­al­ised chap with pros­thetic limb(s) is not just the ‘inspir­a­tional story’, but also the fantasy of total con­trol over the body — even after some­thing as trau­mat­ising as ampu­ta­tion. And of course the hi-tech, fas­cin­at­ing pros­thesis that seems to bring ‘bionic’ powers blends with the cyborg nature of sporno­sexu­al­ity itself — a bod­ily mer­ging with tech­no­logy, in which the body is ‘machine tooled’ into some­thing more excit­ing by nutri­tional and med­ical sci­ence, Technogym decline presses and Nair for Men. (Though for most this mer­ging is done by upload­ing smart­phone selfies to Facebook.)

Alex-Minsky-9 alex-minsky-modello-senza-gamba-6

I ana­lysed the ‘Laundrette’ ad in Male Impersonators as a ‘sem­inal’ moment in the objec­ti­fic­a­tion of the male body — its ‘looked-at-ness’. Kamen’s strip in the liv­ing rooms of the UK in the mid-1980s (along with sev­eral other ads in that cam­paign, which increas­ingly sought to sub­sti­tute the product for the model’s unshow­able penis) really did mark a moment at which we woke up to the male body as a fully-fledged object of desire. Everyone in the laundrette, male and female, is hav­ing a really good look. And it’s worth men­tion­ing he’s doing his own wash­ing — no ‘little woman’ in his life to do it for him.

Like Top Gun, which was released the fol­low­ing year, ‘Laundrette’ pack­ages this new male nar­ciss­ism as ‘tra­di­tional’ and ‘retro’, when the real 1950s it is notion­ally loc­ated in con­fined this kind of fare to under­ground gay mags like AMG — cer­tainly not prime-time TV.

Thirty years on we’re all still hav­ing a really good look. So much so that we require much more visual stim­u­la­tion. Our gaze is more demand­ing, more pen­et­rat­ing. Back then Kamen’s body was pantingly-described as ‘hunky’, but now his slim, svelte body looks not rather coy in com­par­ison to today’s ripped, pumped, inked and sexed-up spornos, with or without gleam­ing, well-oiled pros­thetic limbs.

Not to men­tion almost a dif­fer­ent species.

The Smell of Halfords


There’s a won­der­ful smell that greets you when you enter Halfords. It’s the smell of rub­ber, paint, car wax, oil, static elec­tri­city, air freshen­ers – and dreams. Dreams of a newer, faster, shiner, cleaner, louder car with flash­ing  LED lights on the dash­board. Dreams of tool boxes the size of side­boards, chamois leath­ers big enough to wear, and a SatNav that will also play Transformers 3. Dreams of camp­ing week­ends, roof racks and boxes, and really rather afford­able moun­tain bikes for the kids.

The friendly, lower-cased halfords logo is one of the most famil­iar and reas­sur­ing land­marks to be found in out of town retail parks. Kind of a Fenwick for Dad, there are now over 460 stores in the UK and Ireland, which took £863M in rev­enue last year.

The retailer of car parts, car enhance­ment, camp­ing equip­ment and bicycles and owner of sub-brands Bikehut, Boardman, Carrera, Apollo, Trax, Victoria Pendleton, Urban Escape, and Ripspeed, was foun­ded in the mid­lands in 1892 by a Mr Frederick Rushbrooke as a whole­sale iron­mon­gery. Later he moved his busi­ness to Halford Street, Leicester – from whence the name – and star­ted selling cyc­ling goods. Halfords expan­ded rap­idly and opened its 200th store in 1931 and pur­chased the Birmingham Bicycle Company in 1945, but as the Twentieth Century love-affair with the internal com­bus­tion engine picked up speed, Halfords became more asso­ci­ated with all things car.

Once through the door of today’s Halfords, and past the walls of screen wash and anti-freeze, there are so many excit­ing – in a James May kind of way – places to head for! Camping (best-selling item accord­ing to at time of writ­ing: 25L Jerrycan with Tap, £14.99), Travel and Touring (Halfords Advanced Mesh Headrest Dog Guard, £59.99), Car Maintenance (Rolson 60KG Folding Hand Truck, £10), Bikes (Carrera Zelos Limited Edition Road Bike 2013, £599.99), and Car Accessories (California Scents Xtreme Hurricane Breeze – ‘a revolu­tion­ary new air freshener, which con­tinu­ously provides incred­ible freshen­ing res­ults’, £1).

In days gone by, the first place I made for were the flash­ing lights and sounds of In-Car Technology (best-selling item: Edge 5.25” car speak­ers, £10), with its wall of car ste­reos and speak­ers. Like many other spotty youths, I would spend ages play­ing with the but­tons and select­ing dif­fer­ent speaker con­fig­ur­a­tions until moved on by staff – usu­ally after select­ing the sub-woofer once too often. Nowadays, des­pite the arrival of Sat Navs and other gad­gets (usu­ally in a kill-joy locked glass cab­inet), In-Car Technology looks sadly neg­lected. Smart-phones – and Amazon – have a lot to answer for.

Before the inter­net, head­ing to Halfords to buy a new car ste­reo used to be the first thing you did after buy­ing a used car – much more press­ing than, say, arran­ging a cover note. And let’s face it, Halfords has long depended heav­ily on the used car owner mend­ing, mak­ing do – and tart­ing up.

For years – the years when I would always buy the Haynes manual for my latest used car, also from Halfords of course – I would insist on fit­ting the wretched ste­reo myself, tak­ing forever, lacer­at­ing my fin­gers, bodging it and driv­ing around with a rat­tling head unit until I bought another car. Likewise speak­ers, bulbs and wipers. Nowadays like many of their cus­tom­ers I’m more than happy to pay Halfords a few quid to fit these things them­selves, under their nice stripy tent out­side. Perhaps I’m more secure in my mas­culin­ity now. Or per­haps I’ve just real­ised that life, like con­necter cables, is too short. (In recent years Halfords have also branched out into MOTs, ser­vice and repairs – there are now 250 Halfords Autocentres.)

But the holi­est of hol­ies in Halfords has to be the Car-Cleaning Products aisle (best-selling item: Megular’s One-Step Headlight Restoration Kit, &19.99). Usually occupy­ing pride of place in the middle of the store and stretch­ing for as far as the eye can see it has every kind of product that you might want to buff, clean, pol­ish, primp and pimp your car with – and scores of oth­ers you didn’t even know exis­ted. Car vacu­ums (cord­less, mains and cigarette-lighter powered), pol­ish­ers, buf­fers and steam clean­ers, car detail­ing products, soft top clean­ers, uphol­stery and leather clean­ers, paint restor­ers, sham­poos, sponges, and more kinds of waxes than there are shades of lip­stick (and just as pricey).

If ever a chap try­ing to wriggle out of house­hold chores says to the woman in his life that it’s not in man’s nature to clean and pol­ish or hoover – just frog march him down to Halfords, ladies, and show him the altar of Autoglym.

If the world of Halfords as described sounds a little old-fashioned, a little bit naff – less Fenwick for dad than Woolworths – that was part of its charm. But it may also be why former Pets at Home boss Matt Davies was appoin­ted Chief Executive last year to shake the busi­ness up after sales began to slip. Worryingly, a major makeover is under­way. The Halfords dividend was cut by a third this year (the com­pany was floated on the Stock Exchange in 2004) in order to ‘refo­cus invest­ment’ on revamp­ing its stores.

The plan, ‘Getting into Gear 2016’, involves Halfords spend­ing £100M over three years on mod­ern­ising stores, improv­ing staff train­ing, and ‘invest­ing in its digital infra­struc­ture’: which roughly trans­lates into tak­ing on com­pet­it­ors like Amazon with a bet­ter web­site and bet­ter click-and-collect ser­vices. Half of the invest­ment will go on expand­ing the ‘Bikehut’ cyc­ling sec­tions in 150 stores, intro­du­cing chan­ging rooms – and, worst of all, devot­ing less space to car enhance­ment products.

In other words, Halfords is going back to its bicyc­ling roots –– albeit a brand new Victoria Pendleton and Chris Boardman fla­voured boutique world of ‘hybrid’ bikes and designer cycle-wear. And it’s fall­ing out of love with car stuff.

Halfords sounds as if it’s is in real, shock­ing danger of becom­ing cool. I just hope, that even if they change everything else, they don’t change that smell.

Originally appeared on LeasePlan

Trunks Should Be Worn High (& Adjusted Privately)’

Trunks 1938


It seems that Cape May’s Speedo ban was rel­at­ively lib­eral com­pared to the beach blanket American Puritanism that pre­ceded it. Until the 1930s you could get arres­ted on East Coast beaches just for show­ing your (male) nipples, no mat­ter how baggy and unap­pet­ising your swim­ming trunks were.

In Europe and on the West Coast top­less bathing for men has long been no nov­elty on pub­lic as well as private beaches. But in the more inhib­ited East a male cos­tume con­sist­ing solely of trunks was, until just recently, cause for arrest on almost all pub­lic beaches and raised eye­brows on many a private one.

At Atlantic City top­less bathing suits are still for­bid­den, and only this year has Long Island’s ultrademo­cratic Long Beach allowed men to air their backs and chests. This trend which ori­gin­ated on the French Riviera has ser­i­ously dis­tressed man­u­fac­tur­ers who claim there is little field for ori­gin­al­ity of design in trunks. For proof of their con­ten­tion, see Long Beach pic­tures below.

On the one hand it seems laugh­able that the male breast should have been regarded as so inflam­mat­ory of lust to the good burgh­ers of East Coast America. But then again, given the flag­rant rise of pro­voc­at­ive, pec-tastic sporno­sexu­al­ity on our 21st Century beaches, maybe those clenched American WASPS were right.

At any rate, those trunks cer­tainly aren’t being worn ‘high’ any more. That would be a ter­rible waste of obliques.

 Tip: David Somerlinck


From Boy 2 Man in the Mirror (in a windy bedroom)


Hugo Cornellier took a selfie a day from the age of seven until he was nine­teen and then turned it into a selfie-movie. And in the pro­cess turned him­self into a YouTube celebrity.

There’s some­thing quite haunt­ing about it, not just in the stop-motion doc­u­ment­ary of a boy’s trans­ition into man­hood in a self-regarding, accel­er­ated age — and the way he can’t make up his mind whether or not a beard really suits him — but also the way that a selfie-movie turns every­one else in your life into a blur, the only con­stant being your eyes gaz­ing into the lens. Or is it the abyss?

Oh, and the other con­stant being the swiv­elly IKEA com­puter chair every­one has these days.

It reminds me of the won­der­ful 1960 movie ver­sion of HG Wells’ The Time Machine, star­ring Rod Taylor, the ori­ginal Jon Hamm, in an Edwardian swiv­elly chair that travels through time. As his hor­ri­fied friend with the com­edy ‘Scotch’ accent warns him:

If that machine can do what you say it can, des­troy it George before it des­troys YOU!”

But of course, as Mr Corneillier’s selfie time machine demon­strates, it’s already far, far too late for us to save ourselves. From ourselves.

It’s a Queer World available on Kindle


A warped look at a fin de siècle world of 1990s pop cul­ture where noth­ing is quite as straight — or gay — as it seems.

It’s a Queer World, based on my monthly columns of the same name for Attitude magazine, turned out to be both a vale­dict­ory for the 20th cen­tury and some­thing of a proph­etic text for the post-sexual sexed-up 21st cen­tury we’re now brows­ing in.

First pub­lished 1996 by Vintage, UK (1999, Haworth US). Now avail­able in a slightly slimmed-down 2014 Kindle edition. —

With wicked, wacky humour, this book is one of the most enter­tain­ing ever writ­ten on pop­u­lar cul­ture and sexu­al­ity” — GT Magazine

“An acerbic delight from cover to cover.… Simpson excels at cast­ing a cyn­ical gaze over British and American pop cul­ture with hil­ari­ous res­ults. Bitchy yet pithy is a rare com­bin­a­tion to pull off, but Mark Simpson has it in buck­ets.”” Bay Windows

You’d have to be a chronic depress­ive not to laugh.” — New Statesman & Society 

“Brilliant… ser­i­ously funny.” — Scotland on Sunday 

“Mark Simpson is one of the bright­est writers around, as this col­lec­tion amply proves.”  - Time Out

“May bring a tear to your eye.” — Irish Gay Community News 

“Erudite, incis­ive, sassy… fresh, hil­ari­ous.” — Publishers Weekly 

Spunky.” — Lambda Book Report

The lit­er­ary equi­val­ent of a very dry mar­tini imbibed at high alti­tude. Giddy, ginny cyn­icism at its best.” — Glenn Belverio

“Simpson at his scath­ing and irre­press­ible best… a fierce ana­lytic intel­li­gence, a zippy and incis­ive way with words and an inex­haust­ible sense of adven­ture.” — Dr David Halperin 


How to Spot a Spornosexual

Mark Simpson, father of the met­ro­sexual and the sporno­sexual, inter­viewed by ‘The Grooming Guru’ Lee Kynaston about tits, abs, ass and the sum­mer of spornosexuality

Danny O shower 2

LK: We’re hear­ing a lot nowadays about get­ting a ‘beach ready body’. Who exactly are men get­ting their beach bod­ies ready for? 

MS: Dr Frank N’ Furter.

Or rather, Facebook. Which is much the same thing, given the way social media and selfies are turn­ing a gen­er­a­tion of young men into Rockys, mostly minus the gold pos­ing pouch – for now.

For many men the point of sum­mer hol­i­days today seems to be a dead­line to get ‘into peak con­di­tion’ – which often means bulk­ing up then lean­ing out. All of which requires mil­it­ary pre­ci­sion plan­ning. The beach is now an ama­teur physique con­test. But a very ser­i­ous one. And the judging is done mostly online once the hol­i­day snaps are uploaded.

A beach-ready body is a competition-ready body. And of course, it is a com­pet­i­tion. For attention.

Spornosexuals wel­come any atten­tion, and most are very inter­ested in women’s atten­tion, but in the end it’s the gaze of other men that is prob­ably val­ued most by spornos – since only other men are obsessed with the male body enough to really appre­ci­ate all the hard work they’ve put in.

Danny O Shower
Even baggy trunks can’t hide Dan Osborne’s sporno­sexual excitement

Where’s the pres­sure com­ing from on men to look like Dan Osborne (minus the Jackson tat­too obvs)? Celebs? Media? Women? Other men? What caused things to shift in gear in the last few years?

A com­bin­a­tion of porn, selfies and social media have made young men very body-centred and eager to objec­tify them­selves. In a visual world men want to be wanted – oth­er­wise they might dis­ap­pear. And once embarked on this pro­cess of self-sexualisation they objec­tify one another. So we find ourselves in the midst of a ‘big arms’ race.

You have to become a brand. You have to ham­mer your­self into a hot com­mod­ity in the fact­ory of the 21st Century – the gym.

Also, although it is in many ways encour­aged by the promis­cu­ity of the inter­net, sporno­sexu­al­ity is per­haps a reac­tion against it. In an age of e-everything, and dis­em­bod­ied gad­gets, where the cyber con­stantly eats into the real, men need some­thing very phys­ical to cling to. Their own over­stated body.

What hope have older guys — ones a bit past their prime like me — got? 

Lots and lots of drugs. Or sup­ple­ments and high pro­tein low carb diets. And a younger per­sonal fit­ness trainer who knows which ones work, and who can inspire and beast your body into a middle aged approx­im­a­tion of his. Failing that there’s always Photoshop.

It’s not impossible. After all in his late 40s Marc Jacobs turned him­self from a fatty into a shred­ded sporno­sexual. And landed him­self an actual porn star part­ner, for a while.

In fact, older guys have even more reason to turn them­selves into spornos than younger guys. If you have a buff body it can help dis­tract from the slip­page going on in your face….

Kelly Brook mar­vels at the way David McIntosh’s tits leave hers in the shade

You’re on a beach. You spot a per­fect example of a Spornosexual. How do you recog­nise him? What’s the visual checklist?

1) You don’t spot him, his body spots you. And forces you to look at it.

2) He’s not in the least bit self-conscious about being nearly naked – because in a sense he isn’t. His body is a man-made arte­fact, and his designer, muscle enhan­cing tatts are a kind of drapery. He was in fact designed to be viewed nude.

3) He looks slightly sur­real. Or hyper real. A male Barbarella, the sporno­sexual is the sexu­al­ised product of nutri­tional sci­ence, smart­phones and well-equipped gym­nasia. His body is an adult bouncy castle.

4) He might some­times look a bit of a bruiser, but he’s still a cruiser. Always check­ing out who is check­ing him out.

5) It’s not just about the tits and abs it’s also about the ass. The sporno­sexual wants to be wanted from behind as well as the front, and spends a great deal of time and toil doing squats and lunges to make sure they have a muscle bubble butt that will stop traffic.

spornosexual arse

 h/t DAKrolak

Spornosexual Gallery of Shamelessness

Hairdresser Cars on Fire

mazda-mx5-05by Mark Simpson

Feeling envi­ous or threatened by someone else’s motor? Unable to afford it? Resentful of the pleas­ure and joy it clearly brings them? Allergic to bold style, design, and nice col­ours? Frightened of open-top cars because the world can see how ugly and bald you are?

Never fear! There is an easy, cost-free way to instantly feel bet­ter and make every­one around you admire and respect your enorm­ous endow­ment of car know­ledge! All you have to do is spit out two spite­ful words:

“Hairdresser’s car!”

And that’s it. Once a vehicle is iden­ti­fied as being the kind driven by over-paid har­vesters of head veget­a­tion it is com­pletely dis­missed. It has ceased to be a car at all, in fact. It has been outed as worth­less and ridicu­lous a vehicle as a hair dryer. However much you might secretly want one.

But what does that bar-room phrase ‘hairdresser car’ really mean? Well, first of all, it’s clearly not actual hairdress­ers as a spe­cies we’re talk­ing about, since a goodly pro­por­tion of, pos­sibly most, hairdress­ers are women. And the kind of men – and let’s face it, it usu­ally is men – who say ‘hairdress­ers car!’ are quite cap­able of dis­miss­ing some­thing as a ‘woman’s car’.

No, the notional hairdresser of the Hairdresser’s Car is impli­citly male. But not male enough. And the kind of car they have in mind is found want­ing not because it’s strictly for chicks but because it’s a seem­ingly ‘male’ car whose mas­culin­ity is sus­pect. Gay. The Hairdresser’s Car is all mouth and no trousers. Style over sub­stance. Pretty but no poke. Intake over horsepower. Passive not active.

And it takes a real man to be able to tell the dif­fer­ence between a real car and a Hairdresser Car. Which is why real men are so keen to point out a Hairdresser Car. Sometimes you might be for­given for think­ing that they’re a tad obsessed. They’re the kind of chap that would have, in a pre­vi­ous age, always been on the lookout for suede shoes, and who became dan­ger­ously apo­plectic at ear­rings on ear­lobes attached to a man.

With cars of course this is all ration­al­ised into talk about the hand­ling, brak­ing, torque, accel­er­a­tion, horsepower. The mas­ter­ful, manly qual­it­ies of a real car that Hairdresser’s Cars are sadly lack­ing in. But this is, to use a tech­nical term, bull­shit.

Take one of the most fam­ous Hairdresser Cars, the Mazda Mx-5. I hap­pen to own one, which might explain my chip­pi­ness. I am also A Gay. But not an actual hairdresser. Because it isn’t espe­cially power­ful or fast – and most par­tic­u­larly because it is a soft top sports car that doesn’t wear apo­lo­getic cam­ou­flage trousers and is rather pretty – it is, I am told over and over again, an HC.

But as any­one who actu­ally under­stands any­thing about cars will know, the Mx-5 is one of the greatest driver’s cars ever made, designed for tak­ing wind­ing English coun­try roads at heart-stopping, scarf-fluttering speed.

Nah. Hairdresser’s Car, mate.

Ignorance, envy and timid­ity are what really drives the auto­phobic Hairdresser Car concept. Take per­haps the most fam­ous HC the Audi TT. When it was released back in 1998 it was a lit­er­ally shock­ingly beau­ti­ful design. True, its hand­ling and per­form­ance didn’t really live up to its bold looks, but this isn’t the reason it was dis­missed as an HC. It was dis­missed as an HC because every­one wanted one. And every­one wished they had the balls to drive one.

In fact, I was so envi­ous of them myself I looked for ways to dis­miss them too. Though I prob­ably called them ‘sales exec­ut­ive cars’ instead of hairdresser’s cars.

All these years later we’ve become used to the geode­smic good looks of the TT, and used ones are very afford­able. Many of the sons of the men who dis­missed them froth­ingly as an HC back in 1998 are now driv­ing them on the way to the gym or the tan­ning salon. The younger gen­er­a­tion expect styl­ish design as a mat­ter of course. They want their cars to be fun. They want them to look good – while they go about their busi­ness of look­ing even bet­ter. We’re all hairdress­ers now.

Which reminds me, another sin of the the HC is that they are most flag­rantly not fam­ily cars. They’re selfish. Selfishly remind­ing fam­ily men of their school-run, fam­ily hol­i­day, B&Q chains.

A sur­vey of your actual hairdresser’s cars a few years ago found that the most pop­u­lar car amongst hairdress­ers wasn’t in fact the Audi TT or even the Mx-5 but rather the Mini One. Hairdressers were 3.5 times more likely to drive one than non-hairdressers. On its intro­duc­tion in 2001 the Mini car was acclaimed by most review­ers, includ­ing self-consciously blokey Top Gear, as one of the best-driving, most fun small cars around.

And that, ladies and gents, is prob­ably the biggest, most unfor­giv­able sin of the Hairdresser Car. It’s fun.

Originally appeared on LeasePlan

Mazda hairdresser

A Hitchhikers Guide to Freeloading


Mark Simpson fondly remem­bers when he depended on the kind­ness of strangers

When an ambu­lance rush­ing to Plymouth General Hospital with a man suf­fer­ing from a life-threatening blood clot stopped to pick up a couple of hitch­hikers, one of whom engaged the man, writh­ing in agony, in chit chat it made the head­lines.

Probably because most people found it dif­fi­cult to believe that people still hitch-hiked at all, let alone that any­one – ambu­lance drivers or oth­er­wise – actu­ally stopped to pick them up.

Likewise, the incredu­lity that greeted 66 year-old John Waters’ new bookCarsick, about an attempt to hitch from the East Coast of the US to the West, shocked people not just for its appar­ent reck­less­ness but because he actu­ally succeeded.

Hitchhiking seems to belong to the era of cas­sette play­ers and leaded pet­rol. The out­stretched thumb and bit of card­board box with a hope­ful des­tin­a­tion scribbled on it in marker pen was once a staple of the driv­ing scenery in the UK. No longer. Insurance issues, fears of crime, and prob­ably a rise in gen­eral con­tempt towards ‘free­load­ers’ have reduced the will­ing­ness of people to stop.

But the sup­ply of hikers has also been stemmed by increased car own­er­ship and by the arrival of stu­pendously cheap coach tick­ets. Megabus will get you from the North East to London for £5. And fre­quently stops to pick up punters in places, such as Scotch Corner Services, that would have been used by hitch­hikers try­ing to thumb a ride. Megabus are in many ways a kind of com­mer­cial hitch­hik­ing service.

As a free­load­ing lay­about in the 80′s I used to do a lot of hitch­ing. And it wasn’t entirely because I had no money and plenty of time. I used to enjoy the promis­cu­ity of hitch­hik­ing. And by that I don’t mean sex – the nearest I came to that was a pock-marked Frenchman near Perpignan, who was so embar­rassed by my polite refusal that he drove 80 km out of his way.

No the promis­cu­ity of hitch­hik­ing is the cas­ual ran­dom­ness of who­ever stopped to offer you a ride – which you almost never would reject unless they weren’t going your way – and the intim­acy of the hour or so car jour­ney with the ‘ride’. Who would often tell you, a com­plete stranger that they will never see again, more about their lives and their hopes and fears than their mates. Though admit­tedly quite often they would tell you mostly about their hol­i­days. The one they’d just had or the one they were look­ing for­wards to. ‘Only five weeks now. Can’t wait.’

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was always on holiday.

Many’s the time I stood at start of the M1 at Brent Cross – a spot once so pop­u­lar with hitch­hikers there was actu­ally a queuing sys­tem – with my thumb out­stretched to the world. And the world can answer your digital pray­ers in the strangest ways.

Such as the day in the Summer of 1985 when a brand new Volvo Turbo came to a precision-engineered halt in front of me. Behind the wheel wasn’t the expec­ted sales rep (a com­mon hitch­hik­ing ‘john’), but a precision-groomed Max Hastings, first journ­al­ist to enter a lib­er­ated Port Stanley in the Falklands War and soon to be editor of The Daily Telegraph, on his way home to Northampton. We spent a very pleas­ant forty minutes together chat­ting, and I mar­velled at his then very rare car phone, which he used to call his wife, who was dis­ap­poin­ted because fog meant she couldn’t ride her horse that day.

Hitchhiking was a truly class­less soci­ety – at least for the time you’re shar­ing someone’s posh car.

Probably my best hitch­hik­ing exper­i­ences were on the Continent. I was once picked up north of Paris by a Professor of Philosophy at Lille University. Since I had just dropped out of a philo­sophy course at Oxford University we had a great deal to talk about – in his strained English and my much worse French. A glut­ton for pun­ish­ment he ended up tak­ing me for a meal with his wife at a swanky bras­serie in Lille and put­ting me up for the night.

Gallic gen­er­os­ity didn’t stop there, how­ever. The very next day I was given a lift by two young sis­ters on their way to a wed­ding din­ner. They insisted on tak­ing me along, and every­one was ridicu­lously kind and friendly to this sun­burned, dishevelled English free­loader with very little French sat at the table gob­bling their (very tasty) food and guzz­ling their fine wine. Afterwards they dropped me off at the ferry ter­minal in Calais.

Sometimes you ended up accept­ing lifts that you prob­ably shouldn’t. Back in the UK, hitch­ing to Brighton, I was picked up by a motor­cyc­list on a fright­en­ingly power­ful bike. We arrived, me rid­ing pil­lion, breath­lessly quickly. But doing a ton on a bike with no hel­met can be very noisy, apart from any­thing else, and I was deaf for days.

Waiting times in the 80′s var­ied, and some­times you could end up a bit stuck at a windswept round­about, as the para­noia and the rain soaked into your soul. But the wait was gen­er­ally a lot shorter if you were hitch­ing with a young woman: one of the pair e given a lift by the Plymouth ambu­lance driver was a woman – reportedly dressed in a short skirt and blouse ‘des­pite the foggy weather’.

I once hitched back from Cambridge with a female friend. Although she wasn’t wear­ing a short skirt and blouse, I don’t mind admit­ting that I hid in the bushes while she stood by the side of the road. We waited all of two minutes before a Ford Sierra screeched to a halt. I can still see the crest­fal­len look on the driver’s face when he saw me scram­bling out of the hedgerow. ‘Oh, and this is my mate,’ she said, smil­ing sweetly. ‘You don’t mind giv­ing him a ride too, do you?’

Now that I’m a car owner myself do I stop to give lifts to hitch­hikers? Well, no, not really. Largely because they’re so few and far between these days that the sight of one by the side of the road is so sur­pris­ing that by the time you’ve got over the shock they’ve dis­ap­peared into the distance.

Plus I hate free­load­ers. Unless they’re John Waters. Or cute.

Originally appeared on easier­to­leaseplean