Lez Miserable: "Ooh, look at that one - it's got veins!"

Meet our new columnist, Eleanor Margolis, as she takes a frank, funny and cynical tour through life as a twentysomething lesbian. In her first piece, her vibrator bites the dust, and her mother is keen to help her replace it.

It’s morning. I’m having my "early 20s English lit graduate, existential ennui-stricken lesbian, post-sleep nap". All of a sudden, the puppies licking my face in my dream scarper. They’re being chased off by something that I can only describe as part-werewolf, part-blender. I sit bolt upright in bed. I’ve been woken by a loud rattling sound coming from my chest of drawers.

I freeze. I recently watched Paranormal Activity. I know how this goes.

After about 30 seconds frozen to the spot, my mouth slightly open and my heart pounding, I summon up the courage to investigate. I sneak up to my chest of drawers, empty Mini Cheddars packets crunching under my feet, and tentatively open the “haunted” drawer.

Relief. No lurking satanic spirit here. Just my vibrator that has somehow managed to switch itself on. I pick it up, study it for a few seconds, then switch it off. I try to switch it on again. Nothing. I replace the battery – number one rule of being single: always have spare batteries. Still no sign of life.

And then it hits me – I’ve bored my vibrator into an early grave. Was that final buzz in fact a death rattle? I only ever used it on one setting – continuous vibrate. All the other vibration patterns just seemed a bit… Edwina Currie.

So this is where I’m at, sex-wise. I can’t even keep my vibrator interested. I may be the first woman in history to have hit ‘lesbian bed death’ without the remotest sign of lesbian bed life.

Something must be done. First things first, I’m going to need a new vibrator. I Google “buy sex toys”, which is now tattooed onto my search history alongside, “diabetes symptoms”, “dealing with neurosis” and “is nipple hair normal?”

The selection is overwhelming. My old vibrator was fairly basic – a longish thing that, up until a few moments ago, went bzzz. The new, sexually adventurous me wants something fancier. Rabbits seem a bit 90s and all these double-penetration gizmos with twirly bits coming out in every direction just aren’t very… me.

“Ooh, look at that one – it’s got veins!

My mum has snuck up behind me (one of the many hazards of having moved back in with my parents). She’s peering over my shoulder, squinting slightly because she doesn’t have her reading glasses on. Horrified, I slam my laptop shut.

“The problem with your generation,” she says, “Is you think you invented sex.” And off she trots to make a cup of Lady Grey.

Back to my search. I remember Fab, the online eclectic cool stuff shop, does a line in masturbation-chic. I got an email about it a while ago, back when me and the old vibrator were going strong. I check out what Fab has to offer and come face to face with the battery-operated companion of my dreams. It looks like an Alessi peppermill, perfectly combining two of my greatest loves: design and having orgasms. A few clicks later, it’s mine.

But this isn’t enough to cure my case of the borings. Must buy more sex toys. Must be exciting. I’ve never owned a strap-on, but suddenly feel that I need one. Immediately. Maybe I’ll start carrying it around in my bag, just in case. I browse through various online sex shops, and end up spending £50 on a high-end strap-on. I reason that I should get something sturdy. I remember an old Jewish saying that my mum likes to quote when justifying spending £500 on a toaster: “What’s cheap is dear.”

The next day I’m woken up by more vibrating. This time it’s just my phone. I pick up and grunt something.

“Hello, is that Ms Margolis?”

“Yeah…”

“My name is Andy, I’m calling from Barclays, regarding some unusual activity on your debit card”.

Shit.

“Oh…”

Andy takes me through some security questions. I know exactly what’s coming. And here it is:

“Now, Ms Margolis, I need you to confirm that you recently spent £50 at bedroompleasures.co.uk?”

My free hand is tightly clamped to my face.

“Uh, yeah. I may have done that”.

“Are you certain, Ms Margolis?”

“Yes. That is a thing that I definitely did.”

“OK, Ms Margolis. I’m going to unblock your card immediately. I’m very sorry for any inconvenience.”

So, the moment I step out of my sandwiches, clothes and Superdrug own-brand ibuprofen bubble of spending drudgery, alarms go off. It’s like the bank knows that I never get laid. It assumes that someone sexy and exciting must have stolen my card. Time to face it, Ms Margolis: you’re staid.

I thank Andy and hang up. I spend a few minutes screaming into my pillow.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose column "Lez Miserable" will appear weekly on the New Statesman website. She tweets @eleanormargolis

A cart full of sex toys. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Getty
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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt