“Better than birthdays”


Even if I think about it very hard, I don’t remember the specifics of birthdays as much as the emotions – clutching excitement, a great feeling of being important and cherished, candles yes, cake yes – images-12but overwhelmingly special.   I have friends older than me now who cannot enjoy birthdays any more. They are just evidence of time passing. Funny cards don’t make them smile and they decry presents as “unnecessary.”   And as you get older, especially if you live alone, and for very often for good reasons – getting enough exercise, eating properly, seeing somebody with whom you can exchange at least greetings and probably chat – life becomes ritualised, even as in this case the ritual of denial.

It took me ages to accept that I was so used to shopping for hordes, that I bought too much and it was a frightful waste.   And then I noticed that I was in danger of “it’s Monday, I must do …” whatever it was.   Why should every Monday be the same?18fde72   So I began to consciously welcome changes to routine.   A warm memory of my mother is when I welcomed her to the flat in which I was living with my first husband, deprecating my efforts to make her comfortable and she hugged me “Forget it. I don’t need all that.” As she got older, her needs became simpler. It was a good lesson.   And some of my friends live a distance away and some have schedules that are very demanding. So what we have come to is rather wonderfully that any day could be your birthday, any settled pattern can be thrown to the four winds.

I don’t see as much of LM who has been my representative and my friend for 20 years as I would like (she should be paid for living) but to her among other things I owe my introduction to Lord Dodo’s loose leaf cookery book, an enormous white hydrangea in a matching basket, the most beautiful flowers for Christmas/New Year/or any other excuse: care packages of salads, soup, bread and anything else that caught her eye, and the steps,cc579b3b-76e7-49bd-9aa5-941566e21264-jpg-_cb317968543_ the solid platform short ladders you need when you can’t stretch easily any more.   Definition of a friendship – when your friend arrives with something useful out of the blue.      You get all those feelings I described of myself as a child.

Pam the Painter came to lunch on Friday and handed me a small china mug with an English bullterrier on it (and it is, as my father would say “a good one” ie the right shape) and a witty comment and I got all wet eyed.   She found it in her parents’ house during monumental clearing out and thought I might like it. I do.

"meet Jimmy Choo"

“meet Jimmy Choo”

On Saturday Percy Snowdrop (a film academic who teaches in the north) came through and I went him to meet him near the British Museum. He has a small carefully chosen collection of drawings and pictures (he started at art school) and he showed me on his tablet his latest acquisition – a signed drawing, a wonderful drawing by Jean Cocteau.  2013_2_l_ange___jean_cocteau_textiles_coussin_1_det_pdf_ht As he is the only person I know who would want such a thing, I don’t know who was more excited.   And I know that he got ploughed over by his editor this year and consigned a book into limbo he had deeply believed in.   Part of my admiration for him is that he loves to teach and I cheer for the self belief that drawing embodied.

I go to the market most Saturdays, I pick up this and that in independent chemists, I do the laundry.   Not this week. I bought a book and a card and I sat and drank tea and ate apricot tart and told stories and heard stories and saw him off to Kings Cross.

When I was a kid, there was a song which began “A very merry unbirthday to you,” which became a family sentiment, if you forgot, were late or away for a birthday.   But I like this version even better.   I don’t give a damn about the years, they are going to come anyway.   I care about contact and thought and pleasure and joy, mine and everybody else’s.   The world is hard, it always was. Welcome to better than birthdays.sparklers-5

…the way that you do it*

Most of the street has been closed or blocks sold off to developers, the biggest of which is Chanel,

by Marjean Brooks

probably a tax dodge because the presiding designer is elderly and this isn’t going to make money. My friend the Kandinsky Kid lives opposite, in a property largely unmaintained for 40 years and has endured round the clock disturbance, Saharan dust and flapping plastic over many months. As the vanity came up for launch, she remarked to the gaffer as she went to get the paper in the morning that, as they were going to wash all the windows in preparation, they might wash the other side of the street too, so affected had she and her neighbours been by the development. And they did.   So for the first time in two years, daylight comes through her windows.

Tina (not her name) went on holiday to France, her enjoyment somewhat dented by the loss of a suitcase on the way back. Enquiries soon revealed that it had been stolen, recorded on CCTV if anybody could be bothered to watch, but the absence of personnel makes that all too easy. Cameras usefully record but they don’t monitor. So she got in touch with Eurostar who offered her their standard reimbursement of some £50 odd pounds and asked her to email her bank details. Tina said she was sorry, she preferred not to. The man on the telephone asked if she had PayPal. She apologised, she did not. “Leave it with me” he said.   He turned up her booking and reimbursed her credit card. She sent him an email to thank him and he rang back to acknowledge her email, adding “the fault is ours, anything we can do …”

While after 2 weeks without BT broadband and the booking of first one and then a second engineer, neither of whom showed, Pam the Painter went to the local techno store. True, she’d had a nightmare there last year but she was desperate. This time, she was met by a young man who answered her every question and as she left, she asked for the manager and told him that the assistant deserved a rise.   Manager grunted glumly “That’s not going to happen. What’s he done that so special ?” and she got the bit between her teeth.” Listen” she insisted “ a year ago you patronised me into the ground. You reduced me to tears of irritation.  This young man just sorted everything out as far as he can. His service should be recognised. If it isn’t that’s your problem. I’m marking it: that’s mine.”

And I was buying 4 items in a supermarket I don’t use when I saw a man my own age, inspecting and choosing apples with great care so as I went past, I said “Spoilt for choice !”   And he grinned.   About five minutes later, I came across him again, choosing oranges with the same care.   So I sidled up and whispered, “Don’t look now but I am following you !”   He turned to me with a film star smile – “I should be so lucky !” he said, I gave him my hand and we both burst out laughing.

Every time I write stories like this, I wonder if I risk sounding like Pollyanna who only saw the best in people – and I know damn fine that’s not true.   Whether it’s in the stars, God’s will or Nostradamus, we have matched sets of anguish, stupidity and every kind of violence. But as an exclusive diet, it poisons you.   We can rail and stamp to let off steam but this is where we are – though the restrained clarity of the General Secretary of the UN Antonio Guterres in the face of the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi made a nice change. However justified, a rant risks being lazy journalism.

The fine strong invisible threads of human intercourse are more important now than they have been for years.   They are warmer, brighter and more important than intergalactic space travel or buying a new phone, let alone a new bottom.    Good news is like a smile ie cheap and warming.

Oh, and the hellebore has just bloomed …

*the song says “It ain’t what you do/It’s…

A close up of Helleborus ericsmithii

oh, cluck

It all began when I found a hole in the exterior frame of the bathroom window.  Well, if it’s nothing, it’s nothing but if it is an incipient problem, Wal’s the man. Wal may own a stack of real jewels and 20 fur coats but he is a detail man who has built a successful business dealing with everything from lift refits through custom furniture to serious refurbs.   And one of his mottos is “There ‘s only one way to do things and that’s prop’ly”.

But we all know it is small things that give the most trouble and that as soon as you say you’ll fix this thing or that for a friend, Fate hears and prepares to test you. Neither Wal nor I was listening to Fate on this particular morning.

“It has to be done before the winter” he said” because otherwise the damp will get into the window frame and you’re looking at thousands.” We agreed that I had put off painting the garden wall for far too long and Wal disclosed rancour at the dilapidated trellis and black metal post holders.

Living very close to various levels of neighbourly noise, what I would actually like is a very high wall – preferably one that shocks you when the voice level goes above normal speaking – but it’s not practical.   “You will have to choose the trellis” said Wal. That night I decided that I didn’t want trellis, doesn’t keep out noise or light or animals.   “What I’d really like is chicken wire” I said, half expecting him to comment – praise for economy, aesthetic recoil ?   “I see, “said Wal levelly. “Readily available and inexpensive” I breezed, not to be drawn.

A couple of days later Wal rang me. Chicken wire was absent from three big name home improvement outlets. Various trade contacts had demurred.   “I am going to Tooting” announced Wal.   “I have a sat nav” he continued with dignity. “This thing is not going to lick me.”   He rang half an hour later to tell me that he was sitting in a traffic jam in Tooting, empty handed. The place that had promised to have it, didn’t.   And he confessed that – 18th century French china, yes: chicken wire, a noticeable blank – but he was not going to be beaten.   He called a trade supplier who got it in for him the following day.

Jim had started prepping and painting when Wal delivered the chicken wire and stayed for a cup of tea. Two days later when it came to the time for Jim to put up the chicken wire, none of us could unroll it. And Wal, who can dead eye a flaw in a diamond at fifty paces, sat at the kitchen table and picked and wheedled, remarking “I’m quite good at this usually” until he put it aside, kindly warning me not to touch it, took a deep breath and called his old friend who makes furniture.

Graham asked what length were we talking about ? Yes, he thought he had that.   Only to call back later, after Wal had left to superintend the exact placement of his favourite client’s white carpet on to three layers of adhesive and underlay (“In one shot ! “) to explain that he didn’t think what he had was enough but he’d get some more, no problem and the boys would put it up next week as they passed through.

Later that evening, Graham rang Wal again to ask if there was something we should know about the availability of chicken wire ? Why it was so difficult to get hold of ?   He had had to go to several places (this is in Norfolk) but not to worry, he had it now.

The garden looks wonderful – you can’t beat fresh paint, thank you Jim. And although it poured with rain yesterday, that laid the dust and revived the tired plants, all just in time before season’s end.

The chicken wire is still to come, by chance I have to be out that day so I shall leave the garden looking like one thing and come home to it looking like another.

And I thought I was being so clever ….  

just think…

I didn’t listen to much of the Senate hearings re Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.   It has been described as “a watershed moment”, a phrase indicating a decision and moving on.   But history is littered with them and it is by such phrases that we know that hope springs eternal, and it will take rather longer to get anywhere different. Kavanaugh is Trump’s man and Blasey Ford is a woman who felt she must go on the record. This has been politically manoeuvred, it would be in any country, whether admitted or not. We’re just not used to the US picking its scabs quite so publicly.

The contrast in presentation was interesting: she was calm and steady, he was shrill. I doubt Blasey Ford would have put herself – not to mention her husband and family and I hope they know what they are in for – through this, if it weren’t true. Though the truth is always stranger than fiction.

When your own country is in a mess, it is comforting if not constructive to know that you are not alone. Division is international. Currently, those rocks sticking up out of the sea, colonised only by screeching seabirds, look a good deal more organised than several human territories.

In the UK, facing what a woman passer by lassoed by an interviewer described as “the greatest crisis since WWII”, a couple of years down the line and still shouting, there is less fact than opinion and a great deal of blame.

In the US, there is the same but more so, further complicated by an overriding preoccupation to be right, or to be seen to be right, and all that underpins both.   America has its own villains and media ubiquity makes it hard to know if you can trust anybody.

Somewhere in the melee I heard a male voice ask (I paraphrase) “Is every man in public life going to have to go through this ?”   But if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear. Let us be very clear.   There are some very good men around and some women you wouldn’t want to eat with. There are rotters in high places. And some women have been shamefully used. And incidentally referring back to Blasey Ford, don’t underestimate how powerful is the sense of foolishness you might have at 15 or so, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people (which you couldn’t know) and things getting ugly.

No, I was not attacked, only bad mouthed. And I did tell my parents. And was believed. My father wanted to kill my verbal assailant – at which point my mother became my heroine by telling him to sit down – “You’re not leaving this house like that.” And we talked. It was my first experience of the sink the human mind can be. But the sort of role reversal claiming all men are beasts is as irrelevant and unjust as being opposed to women having opinions, contraception and education.

I can’t be against men.   I have been married to two and gave birth to a third.   It was a much more publicly acknowledged and respected feminist than I will ever be who said to me just after my son was born “Hooray. That means one good man we can count on.”

Throughout a considerable medical history, the only doctor who endangered me was a woman. I think of people I have worked for and with, companions and colleagues, mentors who helped me, minds I have admired and it probably comes out 60/40 men to women, because there are still women thank heaven who do think before they try to fit children into their lives, and want above all things to be good mothers. This cannot be over simplified, is endlessly to do with individual circumstances and situations, and is impossible to make generalisations about.

In the much vaunted system called democracy – which some think is on the ropes – we take pride in being able to ask questions and debate positions.   It is a far from ideal system. There isn’t one. There are only people who make systems work and people who want to believe in them and still more people who believe that questioning only makes systems more reliable.

life skills

As your best friend aged about 14 (the artistic one with pretty hair) took up with some awkward monosyllabic spotty thing with an abiding interest in his brother’s motorbike, somebody would remark laughingly “Oh well, opposites attract!”

“look heavy, feel light”

But I always wanted more of an explanation than that. It’s fine being attracted across difference, but does the attraction endure, is it enough to override the inevitable friction?   Do you and this Significant Other learn to negotiate a pattern that works in the face of the pull of polar opposites?   Or – is the hidden truth that you’re not so different after all ?

Managing to co exist might not even be a pretty pattern, as long as it works and both sides acknowledge that it has to, though in the extremes of wealth and poverty, such patterns are rationalised or waved aside. We all live in patterns of behaviour and I have no more faith in “opposites attract” than I have in “happily ever after.”   These old saws must apply occasionally on the way to becoming truisms but it is just as true – or more so – that partnerships persist for all sorts of reasons. And many of those are a good deal less likeable than the attraction of difference or us against the world. Most partnerships continue because humans are creatures of habit who don’t like change and anyway, don’t want to be alone.

(AR and Smiley Neighbour several weeks ago:

SN: And have you see Bodyguard ?

AR|: Yes. Tripe.

SN: Oh Anna, it’s wonderful !   You are so hard to please …

No I didn’t take this position to be provocative.   I watched the first episode.  Totally unfair to make a judgement on one episode, I know, but I’d rather read a book. For me there was no opposite or soulmate similar to be attracted to, and I am not persuaded by what “everybody else” thinks.   That only means there are more of them, not that they are right. You need tension for drama and the only discernible tension in Bodyguard was in the underwear.)

Years ago before women’s magazines were just the repository of murdered trees, aesthetic surgery and transient celebrity, we used to ask our readers’ opinions – oh not about anything major – Good God, that would mean encouraging women to think ! But they replied in big enough numbers to be interesting and when asked what attracted them to their Significant Others, the standout winner was a similar sense of humour. (This is a considerable time ago and it is popular to believe that humans are quite different now – but I am not convinced. Nice is still nice, nasty is horrible and most of us are made up of both. No change there then.)

So we weren’t talking about that moody sense of opposition (or unlikely hearts and flowers) so much as mutuality, what would make you pull together, get you past the disagreement. There were imponderables like rocks in a river but the river ran round them and apparently, you could vote differently, have quite different attitudes to money, sex, when to eat and what to wear – as long as you could have a laugh about it.

And if you could have a laugh about it, dare I hope that you could even begin to discuss it ?   And instead of the cold shoulder, there would be a warm shoulder, the one you clutched as you laughed in the kitchen. I grew up in a marriage like this and it was the inspiration of my life – my whole life, not just the marital one.   I’ve lost count of the number of times I have suggested it to whoever I was talking to, about whatever the problem was.   ( I shall never forget the woman who replied, scandalised “We don’t talk in bed !” ) Laughter gives account of you and then you can begin to discuss.

Not everything works out, not even in fairy stories.   And it’s not that I think that everything has to be lighthearted and funny, far from it. But if life is a battle or a series of them, a sense of humour is a weapon, not to dismiss but acknowledge and defuse, to engender better feeling and communication than sulks and stand off.  

less is more

Until this morning I had attributed this gnomic wisdom to the dress designer Chanel but according to the search engine it is variously credited, mentioned in song lyrics and even the subject of a book. I last thought of it when I watched the great and good and not so great or good at John McCain’s funeral and wished somebody would be brief.

Speaking the eulogy is a snare and a delusion: setting out to list the departed’s strengths, you want to include shortcomings too, lest he or she sounds boring or inhuman.   |If (s)he has lived a long and eventful life, you’d like to cover the range of that.   You want to be well thought of by your listeners, all of whom will have their own version of the departed and some may have quite a lot more to say in one direction or the other. The temptation is to speak about how you fitted in with the dead man or woman. Resist. You are still here and can account for yourself.   (S)he is silenced, and it is to honour the absent one that your listeners have gathered. But, I want to whisper, remember the old show business adage “Leave ‘em wanting more….”

meet snappy!

And the more is not just to do with length but also quality.

I didn’t set off to write about funerals and memorials. I haven’t been to very many, though this may change.   Slightly older friends who, where they used to go to dinner, now go to funerals and get upset and tired – largely because, in spite of protested faith, neither has reconciled to the end of mortal life as we know it. I don’t understand this. I thought the whole idea about having a set of religious or spiritual beliefs was to be comforted in the inevitable.   I am.

Wal announced he didn’t want a funeral, he had been to one too many recently and they were all conspicuous outpourings of money and time which had very little to do with the departed and a whole lot to do with those left behind.   Mourners need a mechanism by which to grieve but I think we could do it a whole lot better than we do.

Less is more is one of those sayings that suggests an alteration of focus.   In a film with all sorts of gifted actors called This Beautiful Fantastic (Simon Aboud), my only real cavil was that the ending seemed to be in quite a different style from everything that had gone before. And if the preceding story was in the key of less, the ending was too much more. I loved the film, I’d recommend it but I want to embroider “Less is more” on a sampler for the film maker.

Wal’s mother, one of the early executives of a US film company, wore couture. She even had her shoes and other accessories made. Her jewellery was mostly real.   And she taught him “Look at yourself before you go out and take one thing off. Less is more.” While at the other end of the pay scale entirely, my mother practised the same style.   The only exceptions to her rigorous trimming down were the Royals (“well it’s all real and symbolic so that’s different”) and Rosalind Russell who could and did wear trimmings a go go, and still managed to look elegant.

Heaven knows, less is more when you cook.   Plain is much more fancy.   It took me years to understand that the answer to new friends was not a new recipe, but an old favourite.

I cannot think of an area of interest in which the maxim does not apply.   There are swathes of music which are more more more , so ornate the ears protest.   There are furnishings that set my teeth on edge.   There is writing which indeed may be English but I wouldn’t swear to it, where you read a page and you have to go back and read it again: after 20 pages or so, you’re punchdrunk.   I may be disappointed that I am not as intelligent as I thought I was but the truth compels me to admit that I don’t understand what I am reading – so it’s better gone. And I can go on to something more …  

light a candle


What a week.   A friend’s brother flew over from LA, cleared in his latest round of tests, well and happily spiky, only to collapse and die. “Can’t talk” she emailed. “Wanted you to know.”   Another friend reviewing documentaries found her professionalism worn thin through hours of rape, the Rohinga, rape, Isis, rape, Myanmar, rape, knife culture, rape, gangs, Grenfell and rape.   After a blissful week of quiet, my upstairs neighbour returned to unpack and trundle around, mostly after midnight. There is nothing of her sideways and she sounds like a troop of horse. My first sleep broken, settling down again (getting cross doesn’t help), is unlikely.   Second go at Aftermath – an exhibit about the art emerging from WWI and the years that followed: terrific (look up George Clausen whose portraits are a bit twee but whose landscapes are notable) but not lightweight.   Another friend spoke about the number of Jews planning to leave Britain: her calm shook me rigid. She doesn’t want to go, she was born here and prefers it to anywhere. “But don’t dismiss the intention” she said. “It’s real.”  

When you can’t sleep, never mind why, whatever else is in your mind becomes distorted and frightening – but even so …   The background noise is threatening to spill over into the foreground any minute now.   A correspondent half my age said it reminded him of the “phoney war”, those weeks when WWII war was declared but eerie calm prevailed while government sought to rally the military and prepare the public. With the present Labour and Conservative incumbents at each other’s throats, do they even think of us ?

I went yesterday to a section of London near me that I haven’t been to since I fell and had to walk my legs in again. The only flower shop sells artificial, fashion shop(upmarket) is now a juice bar, fashion shop (humbler) is empty and boarded up. Gone is the pet parlour, four other eating places, the cinema … I stopped counting empty properties.   This used to be a neighbourhood. Now it is three bus stops on the way to another neighbourhood.

It is customary to complain about rent and rates and invoke the internet.   Personally I hate shopping for anything of colour, texture or fit over the internet but for others, the speed and so called convenience is preferable to shopping as we knew it. And once shops go, other businesses do too.   Sometimes I feel that living in a consumer society is particularly corrupting, all I Want alongside Me Too.  

And then you have a moment. Not desperation or rage or ineptitude, but joy.

I was on the bus going home, I could do commercials for the bus even though the experience is often close to 19th century shipping steerage. A man as tall as my son, very dark and neat, got on and beside him, the most beautiful child – a little boy with skin so dark it’s pale, lit from within, enormous eyes and the whole attitude of the body unalloyed curiosity and pleasure. “Upstairs, daddy ?” said a very clear little voice and his father gently explained that they would be staying downstairs, it was only a few stops – so I leant forward and said ”If you get tired of him, I’ll have him …” And we beamed at each other. “He’s just two and he doesn’t know all the words, he’s just so excited they’re coming out of his mouth” and he moved him into a seat by the window while he, the father, sat on the gangway opposite me.   I held out my hand. “Where’s the family from ?”   “Nigeria” he said and shook hands.   I said, thinking of my son’s “brother” Uzo “You’re the same size as my son- and he (indicating the child) is beautiful.” He thanked me gravely and the little boy peeped round the bulk of his father, smiling . “Yes, we’re talking about you” I said. “And if you listen, your ears will turn pink !”” Delight.   We spoke a bit, not much and then they went to get off, till the boy turned to me as he left to wish me goodbye, the very small prince of a nearly forgotten kingdom.


This little word has an impact like few others.

“Dancing may be part of the buildup…”

I never knew who came up with describing the long running show I did at the first incarnation of Capital Radio as being about “personal, sexual and emotional problems” but whoever it was, I am most grateful because, I discovered, for large numbers of people, the word “sex” or any thereof derived like sexy or sexual, dismissed any other consideration. (Remember, this is without image).   And the powers that be have just “got” sex televisually – not sex in context, not sex imaginatively – but moody shots of this bit of the body and that, her falling on to a handy surface, him following her down, rumpy pumpy.   And please don’t tell me how good Line of Duty was. Because a writer does one fine series, it does not follow that he or she is thereafter infallible. Television may wish it were so, but that is another matter.

Sex sells.   It sells everything, whether inferred, laughed at, referenced wittily or so obviously that it either pleases you or it doesn’t. Evidence, heaven forbid, you have passion fatigue – you know, like compassion fatigue. As in headache.

Sex is a drive.   In the right place – as in the case of a young woman advising against sex in the shower( “please put me on the record, don’t do it: I nearly broke my neck”), at the right time (that’s a moveable feast – I’ve known men who loved the idea that somebody was coming upstairs, you should pardon the expression).

Sex can become a compulsion.   I knew a woman, secretary to a subsequently disgraced MP, who quit because she said “No mention of enthusiasm for you, nothing. It’s just one of those things he does. You’re there. It itches? He scratches.”   And make no mistake, just because you can’t see an unmistakable physical sign, it doesn’t mean there aren’t women like this too. As in “this is going to happen sooner or later, let’s do it now, it might be fun..” And if it is, we’ll do it again and if it isn’t well hey, can’t win ‘em all … (Please use a condom : even lovely people have venereal disease.)

Sex is attractive. We’re animals. Highly developed but animals and if through the development of human history, mating has become separated from being able to conceive, that’s just made the codes and the transgressions of them occur more frequently and as a friend of mine said petulantly “Harder on the hair…”

Sex can be used as a weapon – no I am not being cute. The language of soft porn from (pulling a name out of the ether) Harold Robbins to 50 Shades of Grunge is about being taken against your will so you take no responsibility except possibly for having a suitable body cavity: an interesting rework of victim mentality. I haven’t gone back into history, when different behaviours were acceptable and then transgressed, or changed and faded, before being almost tidally re-asserted. Nothing changes absolutely in human history.

It is possible to sit quietly fully clothed, man or woman, and describe rape as sexual violence but it is unreasonably powerful because when you are in the situation, there are other transgressions involving vulnerability, humiliation, pain – all horribly effective – and rape is acknowledged as a weapon of war. But in the situation of rape you are emotionally engaged – not dispassionate.   And while we are doing this apparently endless rap about the equality of women, leaving aside the issues of nourishment and exercise, men are almost without exception heavier and stronger than women.   And you’d have to be very much in tune with yourself (and not off your face) to employ self defence when you are so attacked – always remembering the element of surprise is overwhelming.   And men are raped too.

In its broadest meaning, sex is one of the great pleasures in life, so far untaxed.   And people have very differing appetites, needs, recognitions, triggers and meanings.   You may think it has no part of your life but that is to define it by its absence.   There is a vast range of sexual practices I recoil from, starting with bad manners and bad breath and ending with genital mutilation, but sex is.