Far away in Scotland two star-crossed lovers languish behind a screen of vegetation. They are reluctant lovers who seem to take no delight in each other's company. For they are giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang by name and their rather sterile love nest is an enclosure in Edinburgh Zoo. Tian Tian may be pregnant or she may not, although even if she is, it will be the result of artificial insemination, for her male companion finds chewing bamboo shoots infinitely preferable to a boisterous romp with Tian Tian. You may think they seem to have very little going for them, just a restricted and monotonous diet of bamboo and a bunch of humans taking blood samples from them and trying to persuade them to do what really ought to come naturally to pandas. Yang Guang seems weighed down with private worries, probably about unemployment and the unpredictable rate of inflation.
These two pandas, however, have one huge advantage over their human counterparts in the mating game - they have actually met and got to know each other. They know what their partner looks like. Many humans do not.
Consider that electronic cattle market the computer dating service in which hapless men and women try to convince themselves, as well as other poor subscribers, that they are beautiful, intelligent and amusing in spite of the pressures and demands of modern life. Yes, they have probably seen each other in a carefully staged webcam encounter, involving clods of make-up or handfuls of hair gel, boldly presented golden cleavage or a skilfully positioned hairpiece a la Jon Bon Jovi.
The young man informs the young lady (or maybe they're not so young) that he is over six feet tall and the finance controller of a large company. Only when she meets him in the pub car park does she discover that he wears platform shoes and a couple of weeks later that he is a wages clerk.
Punters routinely lie about their age, income and height. What is more serious is the fact that they also lie about their marital status. Many ageing men locked in a boring marriage regard the dating company as a sort of escort agency where the sexual services may have to be delayed until after the small talk. The lady conveniently forgets to mention her two delinquent children and her pending messy divorce in which no-one has yet been cited.
Imagine if, in addition to all this, the man and the woman had to chew bamboo shoots, give blood samples and speak Chinese. In view of that, it seems to me that the pandas do a pretty good job.
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