A relatively uncomplicated matter in a changing world, one would think, is the question of what makes one human being physically attractive to another. Beyond that unconvincing chat-show cliché about the most important erogenous zone being the brain, we know that, in the real world, looks matter, and we tend to assume that the basic ingredients of allure remain more or less consistent.
But the truth is that sex is as much prey to passing fashion as anything else. There was a moment in the 1990s when the Thatcherite ethic of conspicuous excess reached the bedroom and men genuinely seemed to hanker after women of vast, often artificially inflated physical proportions. Now something even more startling is happening on the male side. The sex god of the moment is the nerd.
Whereas once an evolutionary imperative drew women to strong, powerful hunter-gatherer types, today it leads them to the geek whom no one had previously noticed but who has the keys to our great digital future. He is not a leader nor a warrior, he is utterly lacking in charm, but he is in tune with the new technology.
So two uptight, inarticulate Englishmen ended up competing in the final of Strictly Come Dancing. Suddenly, the nation's viewers had become fascinated by the spectacle of two rather dull sportsmen getting in touch with their sexuality in front of the cameras. One of them, in spite of being a scrum-half, was nerdish in the traditional sense; the other looked and moved like a hunter-gatherer but, when interviewed, revealed himself to be awkward, gentle and ever so slightly dreary.
Inarticulate, gauche, anxious to please - it turns out the modern woman rather likes that in a man. How else can one explain the fact that the gawky Liberal Democrat Lembit Opik has over the past few days become the nation's favourite love-rat? Once the nerd's nerd, Opik had found the perfect fiancée in a sweet, tense weather-girl whose words, facial expressions and gestures were never quite in sync.
One day he discovered that, when it comes to sexual success, the geek will inherit in earth. Finding himself with a pair of young Romanian singers whose press photographs made them look oddly like the Siamese twin sculptures of Jake and Dinos Chapman, Opik made his move. Now, astonishingly, newspapers have taken to discussing the intimate endowments of the man nick-named (could this have been this from one of his press releases?) "Tripod".
When men like Tripod and the scrum-half are revealed to be the must-have romantic accessory of the moment, then much of what had previously been mysterious in the world of contemporary entertainment becomes clearer.
Noel Edmonds has not only returned from the obscurity of Crinkly Bottom but has become a beloved national figure. The sweet but nondescript boy in I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! triumphed over opponents clearly more interesting than he was. The actor who played the lizard-faced Gareth in The Office is said to have been courted by Hollywood producers. The goofy Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais's other sidekick, has been voted comic actor of the year.
The next step will be for actors of traditional, manly roles to get in touch with their inner geeks. Superman is out; Clark Kent is in. It is bad news for hunter-gatherers everywhere, but 2007 looks like being the Year of the Nerd.
Farewell, my darlings
By a cruel accident of timing, Charlie "Hullo, My Darlings" Drake died on the very day when his former colleague Bruce "Nice To See You" Forsyth was enjoying a moment of great public triumph on TV. Drake and Forsyth had appeared, with Bernard "I Only Arsked" Bresslaw in the 1958 London Palladium pantomime Sleeping Beauty, but while one went on to behave like a true star of comedy - that is, like spoilt child - the other became a game-show compere.
The star ended up falling out with more or less everyone and losing his sense of humour as he grew older. Forsyth, three years younger, can still do a silly, self-parodic dance on Saturday night TV and make us like him, almost inspite of ourselves.
* At first, the increased popularity of hunting with dogs in the months following the ban on the killing of foxes a couple years ago seemed like a classic case of English bloody-mindedness. The fact of legal discouragement had merely made these brave country folk all the more determined.
Soon, many of us assumed, boredom would set in. What, after all, was the point of going to the considerable expense and bother involved if the main object of the exercise- taking an unpredictable course across country and at speed on horseback - had been removed?
Weirdly, the lack of risk and excitement seems to have added to the attraction. Hunting was not, it turns out, about the pursuit of the fox at all. What mattered was getting dressed up, meeting up with other riders, and then taking a bit of gentle exercise behind some hounds and men in pink coats.
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