Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Some romantic stuff for you Valentine Day vets

1. O Tell Me the Truth About Love – by W.H. Auden

Some say that love's a little boy
And some say it's a bird,
Some say it makes the world go round,
And some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.

Does it look like a pair of pajamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does it's odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

2. 50 ways to please your lover
Flowers and chocolates could never say "I love you" like the best romantic art. Hereís a list of cultural treasures that will make your Valentine swoon

1 POEM Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day? by William Shakespeare (printed 1609) One of the many intriguing questions relating to the Bard of Stratford is: to whom did he address his sonnets? For centuries, it was assumed to be a woman. Now, the pendulum has swung the other way. Does it much matter who was the recipient of such effusive, eloquent lines? What Shakespeare is professing here is love's endurance. Or, as Philip Larkin said: "What will survive of us is love." What's wonderful about this poem is its freshness and familiarity, and the fact that it gave titles to at least two comic novels, HE Bates's The Darling Buds Of May and John Mortimer's Summer's Lease.

2FILM Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz made this wartime romantic drama on a tight budget with low expectations - just one more Warner Brothers genre picture, adapted from a mediocre stage play. But somehow, as critic Roger Ebert put it, the film's black-marketing plot became "a trifle to hang the emotions on". Everyone who has seen it pictures themselves as Bogart or Bergman, and when relationships end we try to imagine our love was sacrificed to a higher purpose, like preserving the integrity of the French Resistance. This Valentine's Day, Casablanca is being re-released - catch it on the big screen, and pretend once again that your problems amount to more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.

3SCULPTURE Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch (c150 BC) Found by a peasant on the Greek island of Melos in 1820, this classic icon was in several pieces. Fragments included a left hand holding an apple - presumably the golden apple presented to Venus by Paris of Troy. Originally the goddess of love would have been painted in a blaze of colour, and bedecked in jewellery, but modern tastes prefer the purity of white marble. On buying the sculpture, the French state made much of her beauty, but a few decades later, the painter Renoir was unimpressed, describing her as a "big gendarme". See her at The Louvre, Paris.

4 BOOK Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) Despite Hollywood's best efforts there are, apparently, still some intelligent people who do not quite get Jane Austen. Grieve for them. P&P is Austen at her most romantic, a cobweb of a story involving the marrying off of the Bennet girls, in particular Elizabeth, whose on-off relationship with Darcy keeps the pages turning like a roulette wheel. Unlike its modern imitators, however, P&P ends happily, with marriage, which just goes to show how expectations have changed over the past 200-odd years.

5SONG Crazy In Love by Beyonce (2003) In the 21st century, the pop charts are filled with R&B love songs that seem to be written (and sometimes performed) by robots: sleek, skittering and sexy, but a little cold. When Justin Timberlake recently claimed to be bringing sexy "back", his voice was so distorted he barely sounded human. So thank goodness for Beyonce's blasting Crazy In Love, a thrilling confession to her partner Jay-Z that's the closest thing in modern music to the euphoric rush of finding yourself gloriously in love. It's also a fabulously affirmative reply to questions posed in the The Chi-Lites' 1970 hit Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So), from which the thumping brass hook was lifted.

6FILM Before Sunrise/ Before Sunset (1994/2004) Before Sunrise was a pleasant enough movie about two young strangers on a train - callow American Ethan Hawke and earnest Frenchwoman Julie Delpy - who agree to spend a day together in Vienna. It reminded you, possibly, of how quickly you could fall in love when you were young. But that memory becomes potent and urgent in the sequel, when the couple meet in Paris 10 years later, and realise it may not be too late 7PAINTING The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt van Rijn (1667) There are as many interpretations of this painting as there are books about Rembrandt, and although few believe that the woman is either a bride or Jewish, the 19th century name for the painting has stuck. One thing is agreed: this couple is very much in love. He places his hand tenderly on her fully clothed breast, and her fingers fall lightly on his. Far from being a quick grope, this is a timeless image of gentle, intimate love from an artist whose long-term mistress had recently beaten him to the grave. See it in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

8BOOK Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847) Pronounced Woothering Heights, Emily Bronte's only novel has influenced everyone from Stephen King to Kate Bush. On one level, it is pure, gothic shlock. On another, it is poetic perfection and way ahead of its time. Heathcliff - part Ted Hughes, part Gordon Brown - is its totemic hero, a brooding, mysterious, disruptive presence in the Earnshaw household to which he has been charitably introduced. The target of his passion is Catherine Earnshaw but fate transpires to keep them apart. Heathcliff, described by one pundit as "a gentleman psychopath", beats his own wife and tells Cathy in her husband's presence: "I wish you joy of the milk-blooded coward." In short, he is that ultimate of female fantasies, a bit of rough. "Wuthering", by the way, is Yorkshire for stormy weather.

9song Let's Get It On by Marvin Gaye (1973) If actual seduction sometimes seems like too much effort, Gaye kindly does most of the job for you with his timelessly persuasive hit. If a technologically superior and terrifyingly warlike alien race beamed down to Earth tomorrow, our best defence would be hooking up Gaye to every single PA system in the world and blasting out Let's Get It On. The lascivious sentiments transcend all language barriers and would undoubtedly create galactic harmony, once everyone had re-emerged from the bedroom.

11POEM The Daemon Lover by Anon (date unknown) When it was announced more than 30 years ago that Antonia Fraser was to publish an anthology called Scottish Love Poems, some cynically wondered if there would be enough to make a book. There was more than enough, it turned out. The Daemon Lover appeared in the section Doomed Love and is the ballad of a married woman and mother of a young son swept away by a man smitten by her. Though ancient, its theme is evergreen, revealing that love cannot always conquer all. Inevitably it all ends badly. Very badly.

12FILM Gregory's Girl (1981) "Tits, bums, fannies, the lot " For all its Scottish west coast coarseness and knockabout incidental details, Bill Forsyth's comedy remains adored because it puts such heart behind a young Cumbernauld man's oafish but absolutely genuine attempt to win a young woman's affection. He is considerably less eloquent than his famous ancestor in love-foolery, Romeo Montague, but much more deserving of success.

13PAINTING The Ecstasy of St Teresa by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1652) The quintessential image of Roman Catholic passion, St Teresa is in paroxysms of ecstasy when an angel appears to her. The sheer eroticism of this Baroque sculpture didn't go unnoticed by Bernini's contemporaries, and is still remarkable today. But it's no more explicit than St Teresa's own description of being speared by God's angel: "He left me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans, and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it." See it in the flesh at the Cornaro Chapel, Rome.

14BOOK Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner (1984) Anita Brookner is the laureate of lonely, single women usually pining away in prim flats within spitting distance of Harrods. In Hotel Du Lac, however, Edith Hope, a romantic fiction writer with an uncanny resemblance to Princess Anne, has been exiled to the Swiss lakes. Financially well-off and as romantic as one of her own characters, it emerges that she has jilted her fiancé, a socially desirable but boring fellow, and retreated to the Alps to regain her senses. As she reviews her life, including her monthly meetings with her married lover, she confronts that age-old dilemma: whether to take second best or hang on for something better.

15SONG Lay Lady Lay by Bob Dylan (1969) These days, Dylan appears to delight in rendering his greatest hits almost unrecognisable when performing them live, turning melodies upside down and honking through lyrics. But captured on record, Lay Lady Lay is a swooning, beautiful love song. Of course, it might be that your intended hates the cult of Dylan, in which case you might want to substitute a cover. Recently, there was a dreamy reading by eccentric American singer-songwriter Magnet, but avoid thrash-metallers Ministry's version.

17FILM In The Mood For Love/2046 (2000/2005) If every love has a beginning, middle, and end, only the first and last of these suit Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai's gorgeous film-making sensibilities. In The Mood For Love imagines 1960s Hong Kong as a closed world of romantic tension, where the affair between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, whose spouses are cheating on them, is played out entirely in looks: exchanged through cigarette smoke, reflected by mirrors. The sequel, 2046, suggests that Leung's later pain over what might have been, is so exquisite that he prefers it to the love of several other beautiful women (including Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi).

18PAINTING The Kiss by Gustav Klimt (1907-08) The climax of Klimt's "golden period", The Kiss is a remarkable combination of figure painting and pure decoration. The bodies of the two lovers disappear into a swirl of patterns, and many see this as a metaphor for that feeling of melting away in a moment of high passion. Although the woman is passive, she does look like she's thoroughly enjoying herself. It has been suggested that she is modelled on Klimt's lover, Emilie Floge. See it in the Osterreichisches Galerie Wien, Vienna.

19BOOK Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (1994) The Greek island of Cephallonia is the setting for this wartime romance which melted many hearts. A young Italian captain supplants a local fisherman in the affections of a doctor's daughter. So far, so inevitable, but war encroaches, havoc ensues, and love is tested. Can it survive man's inhumanity to man? Can anything?

20SONG Don't Look Back by Teenage Fanclub (1995) Even from their noisy beginnings, Scotland's Teenage Fanclub have always been hopeless romantics, and Don't Look Back - from their glorious, sunshine-packed album Grand Prix - is perhaps the closest they've come to crafting the perfect love song. It's also a good proxy for tongue-tied romantics struggling to find the courage to talk to the distant object of their affections, containing as it does the line: "If I could find the words to say ", guaranteeing it a place on lovesick mixtapes for all time. It was written and sung by bassist Gerry Love.

was notable for its acerbity, mordant wit and no-bullshit attitude towards relationships. It's humorous but also tender. The poet's lover is a Spurs-supporting, Arsenal-hating, old-fashioned kind of guy, with a sexy voice and an A-registration Vauxhall Astra estate, reminding us that what inspires love is often unfathomable, various and beyond logic.

23FILM Brokeback Mountain (2005) It took a century for mainstream American cinema to acknowledge that the love between two men was suitable, or even possible, material for widescreen romance. And it took a Taiwanese director (Ang Lee) to make it. For all its beauty and drama, Brokeback Mountain treats the cowboys played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal not as spokesmen for an issue, but real men whose passion is a serious problem in their world. The social impediments keeping Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte's lovers apart seem frivolously low-risk by comparison.

24PAINTING Francesca Da Rimini by William Dyce (1837) Like Rodin, Aberdonian William Dyce took his subject from Dante's epic poem The Inferno. The young Francesca, married to an old and deformed man, falls in love with his younger brother Paolo while reading to him. Dyce's original composition included the bent figure of the husband on the left, creeping in to murder the young lovers. But in 1882 the canvas was trimmed, leaving nothing more than a sinister hand to give the painting even more dramatic suspense. See it in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

25BOOK Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857) "C'est moi," Flaubert is supposed to have said apropos his most famous creation, Emma Bovary. One has always wondered in what context he made that remark, Madame Bovary being a hopelessly limited woman who talks herself into marrying a decent but stupid village doctor only to rebel and commit adultery with disastrous consequences. Perhaps Flaubert, like Madame Bovary, dreamt in vain of romantic love, in which case he may well have had reason to say what he did.

26SONG I Will Always Love You by Dolly Parton (1974) Unfairly eclipsed by Whitney Houston's 1992 cover, Dolly Parton wrote and recorded the original during her break-up with record producer Porter Wagoner. Eschewing the vocal gymnastics of Houston, Parton delivers a heroic version straight from her damaged heart, and it's impossible to listen to it without welling up. Keep your beloved close so you've got something to hang on to.

27FILM True Romance (1993) "What you did was so romantic," sobs Patricia Arquette to her new husband Christian Slater after he shoots her vicious pimp in the head. In a twisted way, she's right: the point of the film is that the love between this young couple is so pure that it's bulletproofed from all the violence around them. Writer Quentin Tarantino had an unhappy ending in mind, but director Tony Scott was rooting for these kids, and let them get away. He was right too.

28PHOTOGRAPHY Made In Heaven by Jeff Koons (1989-91) More pornographic than romantic, Jeff Koon's notorious poster campaign featured himself and his new wife, Italian porn star Cicciolina, indulging in unambiguous sexual acts. Koons insisted that these photographs should be taken seriously as paintings, because they were printed with oil ink on canvas. He also claimed - tongue, as always, firmly in cheek - to have gone through a moral conflict which would take viewers into the "realm of the Sacred Heart of Jesus".

30BOOK The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915) Sub-titled A Tale of Passion, The Good Soldier, written and published in the midst of the first world war, has one of the best first lines in literature: "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." Ford - the author of more than 70 books - considered it his finest hour. At its core is Edward Ashburnham, who the novel's narrator discovers has been having an affair with his wife for nine years. A beautiful tragedy.

31SONG The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack (1972) The first time many people heard The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, it was in Clint Eastwood's stalker thriller Play Misty For Me, soundtracking a bedroom scene. That particular relationship didn't end so well, but Roberta Flack's smoky, sensuous reading of Ewan McColl's original (which the folk legend wrote for his wife Peggy Seeger) shucked off any negative connotations to become a favourite for lovers. If you have to have "our tune", there are few better.

32POEM In Paris With You by James Fenton (2003) Last year James Fenton compiled The New Faber Book Of Love Poems, jam-packed with all the usual suspects - Burns, Byron, Shakespeare, Donne, Marlowe, etc. Rightly eschewing modesty, Fenton included several poems of his own, including In Paris With You, a hymn to love and lust and to their spiritual capital. "Don't talk to me of love," he writes. "I've had an earful / And I get tearful when I've had a drink or two."

33FILM Brief Encounter (1945) Times have changed so much since this film was advertised as "a story of the most precious moments in a woman's life!" that it might now seem an amusing historical curio, as Celia Johnson's unhappy housewife agonises over the choice between her very husband (Cyril Raymond) and the "attentive" doctor (Trevor Howard) with whom she's having a chaste yet passionate affair. It was, however, so perfectly framed by David Lean, so carefully written by Noel Coward, that it still says a lot about how we live our lives to train schedules, and dream of something - or someone - better on the commute.

34SCULPTURE Cupid And Psyche by Antonio Canova (1787-93) The Goddess Venus, on hearing that a beautiful young woman called Psyche was being hailed as the new Venus, sent her son, Cupid, to make her suffer. But Cupid fell deeply in love with the young woman and, risking his mother's wrath, he saved her from death. Canova captured this moment in marble, creating a perfect harmony of interlocking bodies. The two perfect youths are wrapt in total concentration on each other, the whole composition radiating from the intensity of their gaze. After trials and tribulations, Psyche became immortal and her mother-in-law gave up the fight. See it at the Louvre, Paris.

35BOOK The Progress Of Love by Alice Munro (1986) Love in all its guises - filial, platonic, sexual, parental, imagined - is covered in this stupendous collection of stories by the Canadian mistress of the form. The setting is small town and rural; the characters drawn from what passes for ordinary life. But, as ever with Munro, there is an undercurrent of sexuality and violence, of frustration and unfulfilment and disintegration. For those without rose-tinted specs.

36SONG She's The One by Robbie Williams (1999) Of course, Angels is the Robbie song that's played most at weddings (and funerals), but is it really all that romantic? Isn't Williams singing about "loving angels instead"? Far superior is the deceptively simple She's The One from 1999, a Robbie Williams song that's suspiciously a million times better than the rest of his musical output - perhaps because it was written by World Party's Karl Wallinger and not Guy Chambers. "I was her, she was me," it begins, encapsulating in one line how a relationship can alter your entire being. It's not all romance and flowers, though; apparently Wallinger hates the fact that Williams turned the track into a megahit.

39FILM Harold And Maude (1971) Hal Ashby's film was a spectacular failure on its release, coming just a year after Love Story. Audiences who had happily wept for the doomed romance between Ryan O'Neal and his pretty, dying girlfriend Ali McGraw were repulsed by the very idea of Harold (a suicidal young death-fetishist) and Maude (a life-loving collector of bizarre art 60 years his senior). As it happens, that relationship seems entirely natural on screen, the characters - as played by Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon - being literally perfect for each other. Ashby's instinctive non-conformist thrust makes this one of the great movies about two lovers against the world.

40SCULPTURE The Kiss by Auguste Rodin (1888-89) For Rodin, The Kiss was "a large sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula", which he extracted from his epic work, The Gates Of Hell. The couple (Dante's doomed lovers Paolo and Francesca) were clearly far too blissful for his apocalyptic bronze, and they were replaced on the gates with a stretched and struggling pair. The original figure group was commissioned in marble by the French state, but its eroticism was too much for some; at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, it was hidden from public view, with admission only by personal application. See it in the Musée Rodin, Paris.

41BOOK Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877) The eponymous Anna falls in love with Vronski, a handsome young officer, for whom she abandons her husband and child. Believing Vronski has tired of her she leaps under a train. Thus a novel running to nearly 800 pages is condensed into two sentences. Apparently, Tolstoy got the idea for the book after he viewed the body of a young woman who had committed a similar suicide. Daft lists of 100 things to do before you die never seem to suggest reading it. Do. Do!

42SONG You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC (1980) Bawdy and more than a little gaudy, AC/DC's deathless hard rock anthem probably isn't the best song to employ as a seduction tool, as it's entirely concerned with the aftermath of an earth-shaking romantic liaison, and reads like an uncharacteristically heartfelt compliment to a biker chick from a cynical Hells Angel who thought he'd seen everything in the sack. Analysts still aren't entirely sure what Brian Johnson means when he growls about "knocking me out with those American thighs" - how do they differ from British ones, exactly? - but the air-punching, celebratory sentiment can help cement a one-night stand into lasting union.

43BOOK The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915) Like all the best writers, Lawrence is easily parodied. This, his best novel, concerns three generations of the Brangwen family, focusing in particular on Ursula Brangwen and her emotional and sensual life. She is that most maligned of creatures, a New Woman. When originally published, The Rainbow was denounced as obscene, which, though always a boon to publishers, is hard to fathom in these more explicit times. That said, Ursula is probably the first woman in English fiction to have the need for and courage to grab a sex life. Not that she is alone in The Rainbow; Anna Victrix, another liberated woman, scandalised prudes with her erotic, pregnant dance (p169). "She danced in secret before the Creator," wrote Lawrence, "she took off her clothes and danced in the pride of her bigness." Saucy or what!

44FILM Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) The relationship is over from the beginning, as Kate Winslet has had all memory of her ex-boyfriend (Jim Carrey) erased by a team of maverick scientists. Outraged and heartbroken, Carrey takes advantage of the same service, but begins to suspect that even lost love is too precious to be forgotten. Even sadder, yet thrilling, is the final proposition: you would relive every moment, including the bad ones, if you were given that choice.

47PAINTING The Defence Of Guenevere And Other Poems by Frances and Margaret Macdonald (1897) Recently discovered, the 21 watercolours on vellum illustrate the chivalric poems of William Morris. Margaret and Frances Macdonald were later to marry and go their separate artistic ways, but in 1897 they were still inseparable. The Glasgow sisters chose to skip the action sequences, instead revelling in tales of courtly love and tragedy. They conjure up a misty land of luminous ladies in voluminous robes, bedecked with jewels and flowers. Men make only rare appearances, in a world where tragic virgins mourn their heroic knights. See them in the State University of New York at Buffalo.

48POEM A Subaltern's Love Song by John Betjeman (1945) When it was recently revealed that John Betjeman had for years kept a secret lover, many were the expressions of wonderment. Goodness knows why because his poems reek of lust if not love, albeit often expressed with boyish, Pooh-ish enthusiasm, and none the worse for that. A Subaltern's Love Song, addressed to the gorgeous tennis-playing Miss Joan Hunter Dunn - "Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun" - brings unbidden to mind Serena Williams.

49FILM Cyrano De Bergerac (1990) Edmond Rostand's story, and particularly this red-blooded adaptation by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, will never stop giving hope to the hopelessly romantic. Gerard Depardieu fills the role of the gigantic-nosed hero with physical panache, his love for Roxane (Anne Brochet) so magnificent that its unrequitedness is almost beside the point. Watching this film together is a perfect test of compatibility - you cannot love someone who does not love Cyrano. But you can challenge them to a duel.

50SONG Are You Lonesome Tonight? by Elvis Presley (1960) Perhaps the most beautiful-looking man in the history of pop music - in the early days, anyway - Presley has already seduced most listeners after the first verse of this wronged-lover tale, set against the spare but cosy musical backing of male-choir humming. Then he plays his ace card: a spoken-word mid-section that begins with a quote from Shakespeare and ends with: "You lied when you said you loved me but I'd rather go on hearing your lies than go on living without you." Somehow, the King manages to make this foolish kind of surrender sound desirable.

3. Psychologist Says Neurochemical Processes Explain Romantic Attraction -- by Mary Cochrane

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Beatles' George Harrison wondered in his famous love song about the "something" that "attracts me like no other lover."

A University at Buffalo expert explains that that "something" is actually several physical elements that -- if they occur in a certain order, at the right time and in the right place -- can result in true love.

"There are several types of chemistry required in romantic relationships," according to Mark B. Kristal, professor of psychology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. "It seems like a variety of different neurochemical processes and external stimuli have to click in the right complex and the right sequence for someone to fall in love."

First, there's smell, made up of learned or cultural preferences, such as the smell of a dozen long-stemmed red roses.

"Smell forms part of the framework that conforms to cultural attractiveness standards; for example, smelling like a strawberry instead of mildew," he says.

Next, there are pheromones, which are more mysterious to us humans.

"Pheromones are unlearned, and perhaps unsmellable, signals that enter the brain through the olfactory system. They can function in sex, alarm, territoriality, aggression, and fear," Kristal said, adding that while sex attractant pheromones may explain changes in libido, they don't explain why we choose a specific person for a mate.

"In humans, specific mates are more probably chosen on the basis of other sensory cues: visual, regular olfactory, auditory and tactile cues," Kristal notes. And these cues, especially smell, strengthen with time.

"After a certain amount of bonding, specific mates may be more recognizable to each other by smells rather than by pheromones. Studies show that people can recognize unwashed t-shirts belonging to their mates by the smell."

Then there is the brain, which produces its own substances that are involved in bonding.

"Two related brain peptides, vasopressin and oxytocin, have been shown to be involved in both the permanent or long-term social bonding that underlies mating," Kristal says. "The neurotransmitter dopamine, in a part of the brain called the VTA, is certainly involved in the rewarding properties of love and sex."

But aphrodisiacs -- foods, drugs and other substances that claim to increase sexual interest -- are a "myth," according to Kristal, who advises that it would be better to "smell good and look successful" in order to attract a potential mate this Valentine's Day.

And keep handy a copy of the "Something" CD, just in case.

(cochrane@ -- 716-645-5000 ext 1412)

4. F is for fantasy
If you've ever dreamed of wild sex with the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, don't worry - you're not alone. In a groundbreaking analysis of what makes Britain tick sexually, Brett Kahr has uncovered the fantasies that fuel our sex lives, and what they tell us about ourselves
By Tim Adams/The Observer

Brett Kahr is a bright, polite, charming man whose early academic career took him from Cornell to Oxford to Yale; he also has more sexual fantasies in his head than anyone who has ever lived. Kahr, who is 46, has been collecting these fantasies on and off for years, but since 2002, he has considerably increased his productivity rate: 19,000 fantasies from the UK, another 4,000 from America. Each one has been carefully catalogued and archived: B for bondage or bestiality, C for coprophilia or Cherie Blair.

Kahr is a Freudian psychotherapist based in Hampstead, north London. When I meet him in his consulting rooms - there's a couch for lying on and a supply of tea and organic mango juice - he sits a little uncomfortably in one corner, not quite used to being the subject under discussion.

He is about to publish the findings of an ongoing obsession, Sex and the Psyche, the most comprehensive analysis of the secret desires of the British ever undertaken. I wonder a bit about the motivation for the book. He says he knows all the Woody Allen jokes, but he believes, too, that there was no getting away from it. Twenty-five years of listening to people expose their innermost fears and longings had convinced him that nothing was more urgent; sexual fantasy is at the heart of the anxieties of 'both healthy and tormented individuals,' he says. 'I could not,' he adds, with the doomy finality of a man accepting his fate, 'avoid the subject any longer.'

In his book, and in person, Kahr is acute about the oddness of a job which involves him starting work at 6.45 in the morning (many clients like to see him before they start work) and grappling all day with the details of interior lives that may promote 'thundering orgasm' or lead to suicidal despair. In his youth, he wanted to be a concert pianist. Instead, he spends his time working through the traumas of, say, 'Mrs Elphinstone' who, when she masturbates, thinks 'about her elder brother and her 17-year-old nephew, Claude, both of whom have really hirsute chests which she adores' - in contrast to the torso of 'Mr Elphinstone', which appears to her like that of 'a skinned chicken'. His book is full of such crippling dilemmas, so many that you get quickly inured to the peculiar sadness and comedy of human desire.

The bulk of respondents in Kahr's study, a representative 18,000, revealed their most intimate daydreams to an internet questionnaire organised by the pollsters YouGov. Much of his analysis, however, is based on 132 five-hour face-to-face interviews with volunteers from all walks of life who discussed with him their sexual biographies.

Kahr seems unfailingly interested in the extremes of British lust, though he insists that these are fantasies of absolutely normal citizens; 'none of them has been hospitalised or imprisoned; they are all at liberty,' he says, a thought which becomes increasingly alarming as his book goes on. He approaches each of these secret stories with undimmed curiosity, 'like an anthropologist who has stumbled upon a relatively untouched, faraway tribe'.

Some of the revelations must have tested his professional straight face. One man confesses to his long-held wish to 'bind both the Queen and Baroness Thatcher with ropes and then make love to each woman in turn'. Some are deeply disturbing - a woman whose parents perished in the Holocaust who has always become aroused by the thought of SS officers in jackboots. Kahr says he has been for a long time intrigued by a comment of Freud's suggesting 'that every sexual act is a process in which four persons are involved': the two people in bed and the two others in their heads. He sees himself in the tradition of Alfred Kinsey and Nancy Friday, a liberating force, and insists that that force is still needed when it comes to the British and sex.

'Kinsey in particular has been a huge influence,' Kahr suggests. 'He was an extremely brave man. I don't think it takes great courage to write a book about sex in 2007, but in 1948 it did. Before Kinsey, no one in America knew that anyone else masturbated. After his book came out, it turned out that pretty much everyone did. In that alone, he did humanity an incalculable service.'

Kahr believes he has taken Kinsey's 'huge platform' and tried to add one missing piece to it. He has tried to discover not what we do in the bedroom, but what goes on in our minds while we are doing it. He laces his confessionals with general conclusions and a compelling array of tables and extrapolated facts. The conclusions include the observations that the vast majority of British adults always fantasise about someone other than their long-term partner, that many fantasies involve forms of harm that, if acted on, would put their authors in prison, and that a surprisingly small percentage of people fantasise about celebrities, but when they do, they are often abusive.

Along the way, he charts some of the patterns of British sexual behaviour: the fact that eight million adults in Britain are sexually inactive, while half a million have sex more than once a day; or that the average British heterosexual male has 15.64 partners in a lifetime, while the average British woman has 14.56 men (these figures are significantly skewed, he adds, by a very promiscuous 4 per cent, 1.8 million British adults, who have had more than 100 partners). Three-quarters of all adults, male and female, admit to 'current masturbation' (though presumably they were able to break off long enough to fill in the form).

The internet is increasingly the stimulus of this solo pursuit: more than half of Kahr's male respondents admitted to having surfed the web for pornography. There is a strong taste for the home-grown: the British find Cliff Richard more of a fantasy figure than George Clooney; Carol Vorderman comes out ahead of Nicole Kidman. Some facts suggest a geographical variant: Scots of both sexes have far more success in reaching orgasm than Londoners.

These facts are punctuated in Kahr's book by a couple of thousand quoted fantasies in no particular order. Some cut to the chase: 'Being on a boat with loads of big-breasted women'; 'Shagging my secretary in the stationery cupboard' or a 'football changing room!!!'; many are sad: 'Sex with my husband like it was before we were married'; 'Stu from Neighbours'; 'Philip Schofield'. Many are so extraordinarily elaborate, involving unexpected encounters in copses with all sorts of well-endowed family members and office juniors, that it is exhausting to keep up. When he speaks of his project, Kahr tends to characterise his progress in it as 'wading through' or 'mired in' or 'immersed in a vat of'; there are times, I imagine, when only his good humour kept him from going under. He had to offer counselling to the small army of typists which transcribed his tapes; his hard drive exploded at one point and he could not help but think it was because of what he had exposed it to.

It's odd, but when faced with 556 pages of sexual fantasy, you quickly find yourself flicking past the apparently repetitive desire of the British male to engage with his sister-in-law bent over a kitchen table and instead dwell on Kahr's analysis. In many ways, his interpretations leave you wanting more. Having presented the often hilarious, frequently tragic spectrum of British desire, he is scrupulously equivocal about the implications of it all. Sometimes, fantasy is entirely healthy; sometimes, it is totally destructive. Sometimes, it is a good idea to tell your partner 'all your heart'; often a fantasy shared is a relationship finished. In the absence of a prescriptive relationship with desire, Kahr makes the argument that, at the very least, his study will help the average reader understand that he or she is not alone in interior weirdness, that perversion is a relative concept, that we are all in it together.

When it comes to discussing his own sexual biography, he is, understandably, a closed book, not wanting the details of his life to get in the way of his ongoing relationships with his patients, 'all of whom are Observer readers', some of whom have been consulting him weekly for 10 or 15 years. He lets a few details slip: he grew up in New York with Freud on every bookshelf; his mother is an art historian, his father was a property developer. His vocation was in the blood though. Three generations back, his family was Viennese and there was a great uncle who trained with Freud in the 1930s. He is, he grudgingly admits, 'partnered with a woman, no children'.

I wonder whether he thinks, during his time practising in London, that Britain has become more sexualised and more open to Freudian analysis? He approaches this question, like all my questions, with some careful gusto. 'Well,' he says, 'when I started working in this field in the early 1980s and told people what I did, they would recoil and say, "God, I bet you are analysing me and reading my mind right now!" A paranoid reaction. In the Nineties, it was so different: people would say, "Gosh that is so fascinating, I would love to find the time to see what was going on in my head." Now in 2007, people are so sophisticated when I mention it they will start comparing Freudians they have seen with cognitive behavourists. The stigma, you might say, has faded greatly.'

He thinks programmes such as Sex and the City have helped us to be able to talk about sex and to laugh about it, which is always 'a great developmental achievement - though obviously people who have grotesque abuse as part of their sexual history are going to find that extremely difficult'.

I wonder how much censorship there was of fantasies that appeared in the book? 'Well,' he says, 'the most horrific fantasies do not come anywhere near getting into print. I did not feel comfortable putting in the extreme murderous fantasies and the extreme fantasies around the abuse of infants and children.' These made up perhaps between 3 and 4 per cent of the whole sample; it was a great frustration of the internet survey, he suggests, not to be able to offer professional help to some of the most troubled respondents. The more 'gratuitously graphic in terms of blood lust' have been archived, however. Kahr hopes he can find a permanent home for his paper mountain of desire at a new institute of clinical sexology, available to others working in the field.

One of the things he hopes he has brought to that discipline is the insistence that these things matter greatly. 'The big criticism of British psychoanalysis worldwide is that it has neglected the sexual element and looked much more at mother-infant bonds, attachment theory,' he says. He recalls being told when he trained in couples therapy at the Tavistock Clinic that an analyst should not ask a couple about sex unless the couple brought it up first. He couldn't help believing that this was wrong. Experience has led him to suggest that contentment in the bedroom is often the subtlest barometer of the solidity of a relationship.

I wonder, conversely, if he has any truck with the old-fashioned British notion that the more we focus on our own fantasies, the more self-obsessed we become, the more subject we are to them.

'Ah!' he says, caricaturing this position, 'the "just get on with it" school of thought.' He laughs. 'It's a nice idea. But let's take the case of a man who is obsessed with his sister-in-law, a trope which I have seen countless times, a displaced incestuous anxiety. These men desperately try to force that idea out of their mind; it's like the Woody Allen voiceover always going on in their heads - "What am I thinking? She's got kids! She's my wife's sister!" - but in fact the thoughts in these cases do not disappear; in my experience, they become intensified. Most people do not have the capacity to block their psychic life. The only way they can do that is by using external things, whether it is prostitutes, pornography, alcohol, smoking, drugs, whatever, to medicate the mind. These are not healthy options. And, unmedicated, these thoughts will exacerbate...'

In many ways, though, Kahr sees fantasy lives as a way out of some of these psychological dead-ends, a mechanism that allows us to indulge our darkest wants without necessarily acting upon them. He suggests, too, that generationally we may be becoming more comfortable with the idea of fantasy. 'My editor at Penguin is in her twenties,' he says. 'I think she thinks a lot of material in the book is quite tame. Most people I have spoken to of her age are completely unfazed. But the oldest slice of the population will possibly be horrified.'

Does he think the MySpace and blogging generation are so used to sharing intimacies in an anonymous environment that it is becoming second-nature to them? 'I think we are certainly entering a new era,' he says. 'It may be to kids at university I will be seen as part of a Mary Whitehouse generation, being prudish about cybersex. I am not a computer man at all; I feel I write best with a pencil. But certainly all of that anxiety is coming into our consulting rooms. I think the last 10 couples I have assessed have all involved some kind of cyber-infidelity. We don't have the co-ordinates to know how to deal with that. What does it mean if your husband is cheating on you with a two-dimensional image on a screen? Is it the same as cheating with his secretary, as in the old days?'

Kahr has coined a term for this virtual or fantasy infidelity, the 'intra-marital' affair; he suggests it is just another thing that the increasingly embattled modern couple has to deal with. He sees fantasies about celebrities, the vicarious life of reality TV, as an extension of that impulse.

'Celebrity can have the effect of making us feel anonymous in our own life,' he says. 'The best way to get beyond that is to find a way to be a celebrity in your own household. I see a lot of couples who have spent all of their adult life together, who have slept together every night for as long as they can remember, yet they have absolutely no idea what is going on in their partner's mind. If you were filming them, it might look quite normal, but underneath, there is no intimacy. The craving for fantasy then takes root because you are afforded no celebrity within your own relationship. It's hard to keep your head together then.'

Before I go, I wonder how Kahr keeps his own head together, so full is it of other people's subterranean impulses. He suggests a couple of ways. First, he has created for himself 'a strong psychological digestive tract'; second, he never forgets the importance of 'play'. In his spare time, he writes songs for the theatre. Just before he embarked on his labour of love, he released a CD; critics compared him with Cole Porter. He would never set a patient's case to music, he says, but a faith in 'Anything Goes' romance certainly seems to help.

The statistics
Percentage of adult Britons (sample size 19,000) who have fantasised about:

·Sex with regular partner: 58%
·Sex with someone of same sex: 25%
·Sex with someone else's partner: 41%
·Sex with a friend: 32%
·Sex with a friend's partner: 23%
·Sex with a work colleague: 39%
·Sex with a stranger: 37%
·Sex with a man and a woman at the same time: 15%
·Sex with two or more men: 18%
·Sex with two or more women: 35%
·An orgy: 20%
·Being watched during sex: 19%
·Stripping off in public: 5%
·Playing a dominant or aggressive role during sex: 29%
·Playing a submissive or passive role during sex: 33%
·Tying someone up: 23%
·Being tied up: 25%
·Sex with a sister: 1%
·Sex with a brother: 1%
·Sex with animals: 3%
·Romantic scenes: 37%

(Sex & the Psyche is published on 22 February by Allen Lane)

5. A Valentine's Greeting
Chemistry of Love
By Dr. SUSAN BLOCK/Counterpunch

It's Hearts 'n' Flowers Time again, or maybe it's Panties 'n' Dildos time for you. Whatever your fancy or fetish, even if you manage to somehow steer clear of love and sex the rest of the year, it's futile to resist that itching in your heart, that longing in your loins around Valentine's Day.

If love and sexuality are important to you, as they are to me, then Valentine's Day is almost a religious holiday, a time to stimulate your lover(s), celebrate your love or, at least, masturbate yourself. If you love love, you've just got to make love to someone you love on Valentine's Day, even if that someone is you. That's right. Better to make good clean love to yourself than feel sorry for yourself or make bad love to someone you really don't love.

Still, loving someone besides yourself is one of the great delicious challenges and blessings of life. But don't panic, there's still time. Even if, as you're reading this, it's too late for Valentine's Day, it's never too late for nookie, and it's never too late for love.

"The spiritualization of sexuality is called love," said Nietzche in The Twilight of the Idols, "It is a great triumph over Christianity." Not to mention every other organized religion.

Sex is my obsession. Love is my religion. Sometimes I'm not sure if I believe in God. But I always believe in Love. I know love exists, because I can see it in my lover's eyes, I can hear it in his voice, I can feel it in his arms, I can smell it on the back of his neck, and I can taste love in his kiss. I love the physicality of love; it gives me faith, breaks down the agnostic in me, and makes of me, against all odds, a true believer.

But my belief in love goes beyond the physical. I believe the more love there is in the world, the less violence. And I'm not just talking here about love of humankind. That's a wonderful, very important kind of "altruistic" love, but it can only go so far because it's not passionate (and who the hell wants to go to bed with all of humankind anyway?). Violence is passionate. It can only be defeated by an equally passionate, powerful force like romantic erotic love. Duke Ellington said it best: "Love is supreme and unconditional. Like is nice but limited."

But how can we make love last? That is the question, and the answer lies in the story of our lives on earth, and the chemistry of our feelings...

In the beginning, there is love. A hot and steaming love supreme that can heal our wounds, open our eyes, shake up our governments, give us more zing than a case of Red Bull and make us hap-hap-happier than we ever imagined possible.

And it's real. As scientifically real as the chemical changes it unleashes within our bodies. But alas, it is not eternal. Nor is it exclusive.

Just look at nature: exclusivity in love is rare as an endangered species. The Nile crocodile, the American toad, the wood roach, the klipspringer, the siamang, the reedbuck, some beetles, most birds, muskrats, some bats, beavers, deer mice, a few monkeys, some wild dogs, and the ironically named dik-dik are monogamous creatures. At least, they're into serial monogamy. But that's about it.

Monogamy is not the norm in nature, since it's not normally to a male's genetic advantage to stay with one female when he can get it on with several and recycle more of his genes. For females, monogamy isn't natural either. Despite the old saying, Hoggamus higgamus, man is polygamous. Higgamus hoggamus, woman's monogamous , studies show that human females aren't much more faithful than males, even though almost all societies punish women for cheating far, far more than men.

Hoggamus, hiscuous, nature's promiscuous. From nature's viewpoint, romantic love merely serves an evolutionary purpose for both sexes: to make us so HOT for each other that we reproduce. Otherwise, considering the high cost of child care, we very well might not. We fall in and out of love so we'll mix up our genes (I call it "Integration through Intercourse"), increasing their odds of "winning" the human race, genetically speaking, if not environmentally.

Never mind that society values long-term monogamy. Nature isn't so pious. Anthropologists tell us that nature only provides for us to feel "in love" for a few months, or at most a few years, enough time to rear a child through babyhood, somewhere between the three-year tingle and the seven-year itch. At this point, theoretically, the kid is brought up by the "village," tribe or school system, leaving the parents relatively free to fall in love with someone else and start the process again. In modern terms, you could say that's when Junior goes off to kindergarten, and Mummy and Dadda go off and have affairs.

It all seems like a nasty trick that Mother Nature is playing on those of us who'd like to make love last. Especially around Valentine's Day. And there's only one solution. If you want to make love last, you just have to trick nature.

Trick nature? You can't fool Mother Nature, can you? Don't be intimidated by Her PR. You can fool Her. At least sometimes. And "sometimes" might be all you need to keep love hot through Ice Ages of mortgages, meetings, seductive strangers, dirty diapers, soul-consuming children, depressing political situations, personal tragedies and platinum anniversaries.

The trick is to crack the Chemical Code of Love. It all comes down to chemistry--literally. Falling in love floods your bloodstream with a fricassee of powerful chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine, phenylethylamine (PEA) and other natural cousins of amphetamines, stimulants and painkillers.

Yes, falling in love is like being on drugs. Hard drugs. It's a natural high far finer and smoother than anything you could inject, smoke, snort, drink or swallow. Of course, love isn't something you can pick up at the pharmacy or even on the black market. It strikes you like a mystical gift from God, or a practical joke from tricky, fickle old Hot Mama Nature. Then it stirs up that euphoric, love-juicy chemical goo that permeates your cells, creating a place within you where hormones meet holiness, wildflowers bloom, angels dance, and the city never sleeps.

To differentiate it from long-term love, I call this marvelous, giddy, speedy, slightly insane, falling -in-love feeling "Hot Love." Hot Love is the supernova of affection, but like the song sings, it's just too hot not to cool down. After a while, your body builds up a tolerance to the PEA and other sizzling chemicals. Inevitably, the feeling fades. And you wonder (as the two of you go to bed yet again without coupling madly like you used to), where is the passion? Where has love gone?

It's a sad, sad, universal story. But don't despair! All is not lost, chemically speaking. If your relationship continues past the Hot Love stage, another set of chemicals flows into your bloodstream. These are opiate-like endorphins and sweet-feeling oxytocin that sensitize your nerves, stimulate muscle contraction, enhance orgasm and make cuddling feel absolutely divine. I call this stage "Warm Love," as it brings on that nice, warm sense of well-being you get when you're really comfortable with someone.

The coolest thing about Warm Love is that, unlike Hot Love, it can last forever. No tricks necessary. In fact, it's quite habit-forming. That's why breaking up is so hard to do. Even when you really don't like someone anymore, and you know you should move on, it often feels like you "can't." Why? Because you're chemically addicted. Oxytocin, when it's got you hooked on the wrong partner, can be tougher to kick than heroin. In fact, the prescription painkiller, OxyContin, based on somewhat similar ingredients, is considered one of the most addictive medications on the market.

But if you're with the right person, the cozy compounds that concoct Warm Love create a "good addiction," helping to keep you happy together long after your Hot Love peaks have petered out. Warm Love chemicals aren't just a high; they're a health benefit, naturally strengthening your heart and immune system. And yet, without that exhilaratingly giddy fizz of Hot Love, you may feel you've fallen out of love. Have you?

Well, yes and no. It's natural to only feel Hot Love with your partner in the beginning. Then, if you just go according to Nature's Plan, the relationship evolves into Warm Love, never to scale the delightfully dizzying summits of Hot Love again, or at least, not very often. Not that all of us require multiple helpings of Hot Love throughout life. But without it-even with plenty of Warm Love-most of us feel a bit empty and bored. That's why so many people in genuinely "happy marriages" have affairs, restlessly seeking that elusive Hot Love fix.

After all, the easiest way to experience Hot Love is with a new lover. Novelty triggers PEA like the sun brings out the string bikinis. It may be disturbing, but it's undeniably true: there is no aphrodisiac like fresh meat.
But it's also possible to trick those mercurial Hot Love chemicals into kicking in- -if both you and your partner really want to- -by adding new elements to your old relationship.

Of course, you knew that already, didn't you? Every self-help sexpert and romance hustler tells you to try new things. But do you actually do it? See, that's the trick.

Sometimes all it takes is the simplest novelties: Surprising each other with a sexy (but not appalling) new look or spending the weekend in a strange (but not uncomfortable) locale. Yes indeed, these are some of the oldest tricks in the book because they very often work, literally tricking your nervous system into reacting as if "Wow! Something new is happening here! I'm falling in love!" Your chemical soup is stirred, your heart beats fast and fireworks explode, all with the same old sweetheart.

There are more exotic ways to fool Mother Nature into giving you a Hot Love chemical shower. The following suggestions are easy enough to incorporate into your relationship. They just require two very valuable commodities: time and faith. Indeed, like the faith of a religious fundamentalist, you have to allow yourself to be tricked into believing what you know to be objectively false, i.e., "My wife of 20 years is a young, hot hooker" or "My husband is really three guys and a bi chick, all of whom are after me."

Also, this stuff only works if you've already shared loads of Hot Love, at least in the beginning of your relationship. Chemistry can't be conjured from nothing. So with that caveat, the essential "suspension of disbelief" and the willingness to put some real quality and quantity time into this endeavor, let's give these tips a whirl:

1) Sharing Fantasies. Fantasy creates the feeling of novelty in the erotic theater of your mind. Cynics have a hard time with this, of course. But even cynics can be softies if the fantasy is compelling enough. Fantasies don't have to be completely made up; some of us just don't have the imagination for it. Sharing memories can be just as good or better than sharing totally made-up stuff, especially if these are memories of Hot Love experiences you've had together (your first kiss, your first sex). You can also share memories mixed with fantasies. Remember that time you made love on the beach? Or off that mountain path? Or under a blanket in the first class cabin of that flight to Paris? That was exciting. Now what if someone was watching? What if they joined in? Whew, I'm getting hot already...

2) Role-Playing. Take fantasies a little farther by dressing up, acting the part, wearing masks, using props. You might even pretend to meet for the first time, maybe in a bar. If you play it out and don't giggle too much, it's amazing how easily your Hot Love button can be pushed even when you know the sexy stranger with whom you're carrying on some serious flirtation is really just your familiar old spouse.

3) Make Love First if You Want to Make Love Last. Make love a top priority--or better yet, THE top priority--in your lives. If you've got a busy schedule, you have to schedule sex. Make plans for love, Hot and Warm. But remember: the best laid plans may not get you laid the way you planned! Be open to the magical mysteries of surprise.

4) Chemical Combo. Give your lover a massage to activate Warm Love endorphins as you whisper fantasies to kindle Hot Love amphetamines. Take a scary roller coaster ride together to ignite Hot Love, then fall into a soft Warm Love bed in a strange (but comfy) motel.

5) Try New Sexual Things. Sample sex toys. Watch porn. Look at erotic art. Or maybe a good horror movie (fear can be an aphrodisiac). Go to a swing party. You don't have to really "swing." You can go and just watch, maintaining your monogamy, while voyeuristically experiencing the excitement of multiple partners engaging in public sex. Try feeding each other oysters, damiana, playing bondage games---the list of potential aphrodisiacs is endless. Some are better than others, depending on your taste, your values and your mood. Experiment. That's one way to fire up your PEA Bunsen burner. But keep in mind that Hot Love chemicals are highly combustible. Things that ignite them can also elicit feelings of paranoia, anger, jealousy and embarrassment. Remember, a little bit of fear is like spice in your enchilada. But too much fear spoils the meat. Don't let yourself become a Hot Love junkie, oblivious to your partner's Warm Love needs. Take good care of each other with lots of reassuring Warm Love when you undertake Hot Love experimentation.

It's not easy to make true love that lasts more than three or four Valentine's Days. It's a delicate chemical soufflé. If you can whip it up right, you'll keep love and sex hot and warm your whole life long. Hey, it's worked for me for the past 14 years, and I have high hopes - hell, I have FAITH, Brothers & Sisters, Lovers & Sinners - that it will keeping working for years to come. But if it doesn't work for you, if you can't make love last, hey, you're only human. Forgive yourself. But never give up. Remember the wise words of that horny old Victorian, William Makepeace Thackeray: "To love and win is the best thing; to love and lose, the next best thing."

And if you need a little inspiration or stimulation, you can come to my Valentine Saturday Night celebration where we'll have all of the above Hot Love stimulators (except the roller coaster), and more. Come one, come all, come with someone you love, even if that someone is you.

(Dr. Susan Block is a sex educator, cultural commentator, host of The Dr. Susan Block Show and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure. Visit her website at Send all hate mail, love letters, commentary, questions and confessions to her at


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