Christina Patterson: Andrew Lloyd Webber's lesson: there's more to life than sex

The Saturday Column
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The Independent Online

If your email inbox is a snapshot of your soul, then mine's a little bit depressing. There's one from Tesco, offering me "20 per cent off Technica TVs, beds and bedding", one from M&S offering me "Dream Denim from our online jeans shop", another from someone called Karin Herzog (sister of Werner, perhaps?) telling me that it's time to take an "Anti Ageing Focus".

More personally, there's one from someone called Duncan offering to be my "friend for corresponding" and one from Svetlana, a "pretty Ukrainian lady" who calls me "Honey" but, it turns out, is looking for "a good mature man". And then there's one from a man (or woman) called Jesse. "We sell this medication," he or she tells me, "twice as low as it's sold in other online pharmacies." The medication, it transpires, like lots of other offers of medication in my inbox, isn't paracetamol.

Away from the email inbox, however, it's probably safe to say that the hottest topic of conversation, in offices and cafés across the land, and at the dinner parties that Baroness Warsi seems to think we all have in order to slag off Muslims, isn't the top 10 remedies for erectile dysfunction. We are, in fact, more likely to talk about our impotence in the face of earthquakes, tsunamis or revolutions than about our inadequacies in the sack. Which is why Andrew Lloyd Webber should probably get a medal to go with his peerage and his knighthood.

On next week's Life Stories, he tells Piers Morgan that his surgery for prostate cancer has left him unable to have penetrative sex. He looked, he says, "into the alternative possibilities". He went to a "sex education" clinic for people who had lost their prostates, where the counsellors suggested Viagra. They also suggested a kind of pump. Lloyd Webber took one look at it, and laughed. Unfired by the concept of sex à la Heath Robinson, he decided to admit defeat. "I am a ladies' man who can never make love," he said. "I am resigned to that."

If I were his wife, I'm not sure how thrilled I'd be if my husband described himself as a "ladies' man", although I might well have gathered that someone who'd been married three times was unlikely to have suffered from a lack of sexual enthusiasm. I might well not relish the thought of a nation conjuring an image of my husband hunched over a penis pump, and I might have preferred it if he'd stuck (metaphorically speaking) to "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" and not "My Ding-a-Ling". But I think I'd also have felt quite proud. I'd have felt proud that my husband was prepared to talk about something that so many people regarded with shame, proud that he spoke of me with such love, and proud that he was someone who had learnt, when so much of the world hadn't, to keep a sense of perspective.

I'd have felt proud because we're all obsessed with sex. We're obsessed with who's having it more than us, and with who's having it less. We're obsessed with who's having it with who, and with who's not having it at all. We define people, in fact, by who they're having sex with, and whether they're having it in the right context, and whether they might also be having it in the wrong context, and whether they're having too much, or too little.

The main thing, however, is to be having it. If you aren't, you're clearly a freak. Just think of poor Ann Widdecombe. You might think that being lowered on to a stage in a harness while exploding out of some black-sequinned palazzo pants was about as much shame as a human being could take, but if you thought that, you'd be forgetting that Ann Widdecombe has been living with a much deeper shame for years. Ann Widdecombe, remember, is a virgin. That's OK in Jesus's mother (who, one can only presume, wasn't) but it really isn't for anyone else.

Sex, like pretty much everything else in life, can be wonderful, or quite nice, or appalling, or boring. You have only to watch the current TV dramatisation of Women in Love to be reminded that it can also be fantastically hard work. It's a long time since I read DH Lawrence, but at least in Lady Chatterley's Lover there's a little stab at levity, even if it does (if my childhood memories of finding and reading it in the downstairs loo serve me) involve the ingenious threading of daisies. In Women in Love, or at least in the first episode of the TV version, which was all I could stomach, sex is a deep, dark, determined business, entirely unleavened by humour, or by joy. It was so grim, in fact, that it should probably, and particularly at the end of a week in which Britain has, yet again, topped the league tables in teenage pregnancies, be prescribed viewing in schools.

If we were told we could have fabulous sex whenever we wanted it for the rest of our lives, I'm sure most of us would feel (if a little tired) pleased. Sex, like food, and wine, and sunlight, and warmth, and maybe even the occasional bit of exercise, is a nice respite from the cacophony in our heads. Sometimes, it's much more than a respite. Sometimes, it feels like something you'd rearrange your life for, though it's probably worth remembering at these moments the proverb that tells us to "be careful what you wish for" along with the one that reminds us that "this too shall pass". Most of life's spectacular moments become less spectacular when they become a part of our routine. It's the old balance of freedom and captivity.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is, I think, unlikely to say on his deathbed what John Betjeman said on his: that he wished he'd had more sex. He would, clearly, much prefer to have sex with the wife he loves, and is still attracted to, than not. But he has also learnt what any news bulletin, on any day of the week, will tell you: that most people on this planet don't get everything. "I'm alive," he told Piers Morgan. "I have my music. I have my children. I am," he said, in a lesson which nearly all of us could learn, "the luckiest man."

Speaking for dictators is really rather stressful

If you think your job is hard, then spare a thought for some of the people in the news this week. It can't be that much fun to be "the most annoying person in modern politics", even if competition for the crown (Ed Balls, John Bercow, Nick Clegg) is actually rather fierce. But it must be much, much worse to be a spokesman for a dictator.

My heart has gone out to the Syrians who have, over the past fortnight, been desperately trying to construct what a New Labour politician would call a "narrative" around their president's pronouncements. A woman on the Today programme, who was sticking to her government's figures for dead demonstrators, and to our old friend "foreign interference", sounded as if she was having a breakdown on air. The Syrian ambassador, Sami Khiyami, has put in several brave appearances, saying that shootings by security guards were "most unfortunate", and that Assad's plans for reform, which he announced on taking office in 2000, had, due to "changed priorities", been subject to delay. When Jeremy Paxman raised the subject of torture, he looked deeply hurt. He looked, in fact, like a nice man doing a bloody awful job.

Moussa Koussa does not look like a nice man. He looks like a man who might well have authorised the bombing of a plane with 243 civilians on it, and the shooting of people who didn't like his government, or his views. But we all have our breaking point, and I suppose there comes a time when even not-very-nice dictators' spokesmen decide to swap mad dogs in the midday sun for Englishmen in the rain. "Moussa", by the way, means "drawn out of water". "Koussa" means – and this may explain his need to be a bit macho – "courgette".

Will Lansley listen to the binman's moving rap?

A few months ago, I wrote a column criticising Andrew Lansley's plans for the NHS. I tried to make it snappy, but I wrote it in prose. A binman from Loughborough has done something much, much better. He has recorded, and filmed, a rap about Lansley's proposed reforms, and it's gone viral.

MC NxtGen, or Sean Donnelly, as the census probably calls him, has used Lansley's white paper "Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS" as the starting point for an extremely lively critique of Lansley's plans to hand the commissioning of drugs and services over to GPs. While the refrain "Andrew Lansley, greedy! Andrew Lansley, tosser!" might indicate a certain lack of sophistication, the substance of it doesn't. "We will," he says, while doing that weird finger-flicky thing that rappers do, "become more like the US", and, with witty reference to PCTs, GPs, "service purchase arrangements" and "private companies", he explains why.

It is, I have to say, brilliant. It's also strangely moving. If a 22-year-old binman can engage with government policy with such energetic and thoughtful conviction, maybe a 54-year-old Health Secretary can actually listen.