Sunday, 11 October 2015

Losing control

I have a deep fear of losing control of my life, of everything unravelling and disorder and chaos taking over.

I fear that at any moment the precarious web of underpinnings that my life depends on could collapse and leave me floundering and helpless.

I never assume, as others do, that my life will just trundle on in much the same way for the next umpteen years with nothing to worry about but minor ups and downs.

Totally irrational of course, because in reality my life has been fairly uneventfully trundling on for several decades. There's been no major disaster to knock everything off track.

Yet here I am obsessing over keeping control of everything and worrying that just one bad decision or careless moment could send me over the precipice, like one of those cartoon characters who takes a step too far and ends up hovering in mid air.

But maybe my anxiety is a perfectly normal response to the fragility of modern life and our dependence on so many people and things that are beyond our personal control - economic crises, wars, natural disasters, incompetent governments.

Maybe it's the assumption of everything carrying on as before, of everything we rely on continuing ad infinitum, that is the irrational view. And then when something calamitous does occur, it comes as a much nastier shock than it should have done. It seems like the end of the world rather than a temporary setback.

Oh well, I'm not floundering and helpless just yet. It must be divine intervention.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Way to go

Apparently the traditional funeral is a thing of the past and there's a growing trend towards either no funeral at all - a quick cremation and that's that - or an elaborate themed funeral that's more like a fancy wedding.

A lot of people who object to the formality and rising cost of a conventional funeral are keeping it simple with a cardboard or wicker coffin and a speedy cremation. And that's it. No luxury coffins, no hearse, no besuited undertakers, no priest, no pomp and ceremony. Just a streamlined despatch.

There are still objections from some that such a down-to-earth approach doesn't show enough respect for the dead person. But to my mind, what shows respect is not a lot of funereal pomp but remembering the person fondly in the years to come and appreciating what they added to your life.

On the other hand, more and more people are going in for glitzy funerals featuring fancy dress, personal mementos, special locations, or horse-drawn carriages. The occasion is seen as a celebration of life rather than a sombre farewell, and a chance to recall the dead person's big interests and passions.

Well, that's certainly an improvement on the pervading gloom and despondency of the customary funeral, with everyone dressed in black, muttering polite condolences and all looking as if the world is about to end.

But personally I'm all in favour of the streamlined option. When I finally pop my clogs, I want the simplest possible departure - rapid cremation and no fuss and bother. Instead of spending thousands on the old-style send-off, whoever I leave behind should jet off on a luxury holiday somewhere and just think of me occasionally while they're sightseeing or enjoying the local cuisine.

Better a bit of personal indulgence than fat profits for some funeral parlour.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Don't ask

When Emily Bingham of Michigan went on to Facebook urging people not to pester women about their plans for children, she had no idea it would strike such a chord that her plea has been shared some 40,000 times.

She said that endless probing about babies-to-be, without any knowledge of the woman's personal circumstances, can be hugely upsetting and intrusive.

She wrote: "This is just a friendly PSA that people's reproductive and procreative plans and decisions are none of your business. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. You don't know who is struggling with infertility or grieving a miscarriage or dealing with health issues. You don't know who is having relationship problems or is under a lot of stress or the timing just isn't right. You don't know who is on the fence about having kids or having more kids. You don't know who has decided it's not for them right now, or not for them ever."

But mothers in particular are often so keen to have grandchildren that they raise the subject constantly. Or a couple is told their lives are "incomplete" without a child or two. Or if they have a son or daughter they're asked when they're having a complementary daughter or son. Or they're told an only child must be lonely and needs a sibling.

As someone without children, it simply never occurs to me to ask a woman about her plans for children, or more children. I wouldn't assume she even wants any, unless she says so. As Emily Bingham says, such questions can open a massive can of worms that's best left unopened.

Surprisingly enough, I can't recall my parents ever asking me if Jenny and I were planning a family. I'm not sure if it was indifference or tact, but either way it was a relief not fielding those awkward questions.

Apart from anything else, it puts a childless couple on the defensive. They're forced to justify what others see as an abnormal situation. But why should they have to defend their personal behaviour?

Some questions are best left unspoken.

Pic: Emily Bingham

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Bedroom secrets

Okay, I know you're all dying to hear my bedroom secrets. I know your curiosity is killing you. But beware, you might be shocked to the depths of your being. You might be horrified beyond belief. You might even pass out or sob uncontrollably. Very well, if you think you can handle it, here goes:

1) I seldom sleep in, I seldom nap
2) I'm invariably asleep within ten minutes
3) I'm usually up and about by 7.30 am
4) I always have bad dreams
5) I sleep on my left side or my right side, never on my back or front
6) I find it easy to get out of bed in the morning
7) I prefer a nightshirt to pyjamas
8) I sleep naked if it's warm enough
9) I read books in bed but never newspapers
10) My bedside cabinet contains my watch, my alarm clock, my glasses and a book
11) I find it hard to sleep on planes
12) I slept for 13 hours straight after arriving in Vancouver Island, Canada
13) I never take sleeping pills - they don't work and just make me feel weird
14) There are no teddy bears in our bed
15) Our hotel room in San Francisco had the creakiest bed of all time
16) We slept on a futon for several years
17) We have single duvets, which avoids duvet-hogging
18) We have breakfast in bed every Sunday morning - toast and marmalade and a cup of tea
19) We change the bed linen often
20) I can have a completely coherent conversation while I'm asleep
21) My sex life is none of your business

Er, that's it. You can doze off now. Or just have some toast and marmalade.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Safety first

It's a strange paradox that although we all want to feel safe and secure and protected, at the same time we do things that are absurdly reckless and dangerous.

We want to feel safe. We want to know that whatever life throws at us, whatever misfortunes we run into, we'll survive the challenges and our lives won't be ruined or ripped apart.

We seek dependable partners, we accumulate money, we buy houses, we surround ourselves with friends, we live somewhere peaceful and civilised, we look for secure long-term jobs, we avoid people we find difficult or disturbing.

At the same time though, we constantly do things that threaten our safety, put our lives at risk, and jeopardise everything we hold dear. There's a part of us that chafes at the endless safety-first approach and yearns for a bit of adventure and excitement and throwing all caution to the winds.

So we find ourselves getting hopelessly drunk, driving at crazy speeds (or both), chain smoking, jaywalking, getting into fights (well, the guys anyway), climbing wobbly ladders, not to mention bungee-jumping, sky-diving, rock-climbing and snorkelling.

I freely admit to driving too fast (on occasion), to jaywalking, to climbing wobbly ladders. And a few other reckless habits. I mean, they're not really THAT dangerous. I haven't come a cropper yet, have I? So there you are then. No need to worry.

Of course the other paradox is that it's often the thrill-seekers, the ones forever putting themselves in danger, who live to tell the tale, while Cautious Clara is unlucky enough to kill herself in a freak accident involving a faulty safety harness.

We all want to be safe. Except when we don't.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A tight fit

Is it just my impression, or are there more and more disputes over school uniforms and whether certain items of clothing are "appropriate" or not?

A rising number of schools seem to be adopting detailed dress codes that tell pupils what they can or can't wear, and what styles of clothing are banned because they're "indecent", "unacceptable" or "distracting".

This inevitably leads to pupils being told they're wearing something inappropriate and ordered to go home and change. And very often the child's parent complains that the school is being draconian and the clothing singled-out is quite inoffensive. Not only that, they say, but the school is drawing attention to something that would otherwise have gone unremarked-on.

The latest controversy occurred at a high school in Stoke on Trent, where two female pupils were sent home because their trousers were "too tight around the legs and bum". A male pupil was also ticked off for trousers that "made his private parts look indecent".

I have to wonder if anyone would even have noticed their "exceptionally tight" trousers if a member of staff hadn't commented on it. And so what anyway? Are tight trousers really preventing pupils from concentrating properly on their studies? Are they really damaging the school's reputation or encouraging other pupils to break the school rules? It all seems way over the top to me. A case of slightly puritanical staff reading something sexual into quite ordinary clothing.

Personally, I can't remember either of my schools ever admonishing me for "inappropriate" clothing. Either my clothing was always "appropriate" or the staff simply weren't so censorious or strait-laced. I do remember some boys at my secondary school wearing quite tight trousers and longish hair. But then, it was a single-sex school and maybe the staff felt clothing wasn't an issue because there were no girls around to be "distracted".

I guess as long as there are school dress codes, there's going to be endless controversy over whether certain pupils are breaking the code or not. And head teachers endlessly getting hot under the collar about "having to set minimum standards".

This one will run and run.

Pic: Harriet Dale of Trentham High School, Stoke on Trent

PS: There's a superb critique of school dress codes here

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Refugee hell

Like many others, I'm acutely aware of the growing global refugee crisis and the terrible images of desperate people being killed and injured in their attempts to reach a safe haven.

The recent picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi being washed up on a beach in Turkey - his brother and mother also died - has dramatically emphasised both the crisis and politicians' inability to get a grip on it.

The current British government, apparently oblivious to the country's proud record in absorbing thousands of refugees in previous decades, is being increasingly hostile to the present flood of refugees, seeking to batten down the hatches and turn them away.

Other countries like Germany have been far more sympathetic and welcoming and have taken in much larger numbers. They've recognised that those exhausted souls struggling through one country after another aren't spongers and scroungers but distraught human beings in dire need of help and resettlement.

But politicians aplenty trot out all the usual absurd excuses for giving them the brush-off. The country's already overcrowded. Public services can't cope. They'll be an endless burden. They're just chancers out to exploit us. They're all criminals and sex traffickers. They're a threat to the British way of life. And so on.

The aspiring Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has suggested the UK could take at least 10,000 refugees on the basis of 10 families going to each large town.

We could surely take many more than that if we really wanted to. If there was political will and human compassion - and even the Dunkirk Spirit - rather than sour-faced hostility. Of course public services are severely stretched. They have been for decades. But they could be expanded easily enough with a bit of ingenuity and determination instead of the usual helpless shrugs.

After all, migrants not only work in the public services themselves, they pay taxes that help to finance those services. So why not take a few more?

The "I'm all right, Jack" attitude of those comfortably-off politicians who won't lift a finger to help the less fortunate is quite sickening.

Pic: Aylan Kurdi's body is taken from the sea

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Seriously scary

On the whole I'm a responsible person. I take things seriously, I do what needs to be done, I bite the bullet. I don't procras-tinate or deny or disappear. I don't create messes for others to clear up. I don't blame my mistakes on other people. I don't say "That's someone else's job".

I keep things ticking over. I get the car repaired. I go to the doctor. I pay the bills. I keep the house insured. I do the food-shopping. I don't sprawl on the sofa all day, slurping beer and watching reality TV.

I'm good at all that small-scale responsibility, looking after myself and my partner, keeping the household going. What I'm not good at, what totally terrifies me, is any large-scale responsibility - anything that involves not just me but large numbers of other people. I run from that as fast as I can. I'm sure it would end in colossal disaster.

I could never have been an airline pilot, or a hospital administrator, or a train driver, or a roller-coaster operator, or the manager of a vast public stadium. The stress of knowing I was personally responsible for the safety of hundreds or thousands of ordinary folk would make me a nervous wreck in weeks.

Even being responsible for a large number of staff - a shop or office manager, say - would freak me out. Knowing they depended on me for their income and job satisfaction. Knowing I depended on them to turn up, to do their jobs properly, to not rob the till or insult the customers. I had opportunities to be a bookshop manager but I always resisted them, preferring to be a humble but contented employee.

So yes, I'm good at responsibility chez nous. Good at oiling squeaky doors and unblocking sinks. But responsibility for hundreds of trusting, vulnerable human beings - that's seriously scary.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Fizzing furiously

Do we really live life more intensely when we're young? Is it really true that as children we feel everything more passion-ately, more vividly, but as we get older we're more phlegmatic, shrugging off with a brief flicker of interest things that once got us so aroused?

Of course it isn't. Oldies feel things just as acutely. We may not go rushing off to protest rallies or dance the night away (though some of us still do), but we're just as emotional and passionate as we ever were. Things can still stab us in the heart or knock us for six.

You only have to listen to a few oldies exclaiming about some pet grievance or some cherished political opinion to realise that they're not exactly burnt-out old cynics happy to let life drift past them with an indifferent "So what?"

I constantly amaze myself with my continuing passions about life's vicissitudes. In fact it's because I've lived so long, and know how little has been done to resolve problems I've been aware of since I was a small child, that I get so angry and forthright about the need to fix them. Often angrier than when I was young and thought these injustices would soon be put right.

And it's because I've lived so long, and can recall a more enlightened time of full employment, better working conditions, generous welfare benefits and cheaper housing, that I'm utterly distressed at the way we're hurtling back to a Victorian era of struggle and deprivation, and I'm incandescent with disbelief and outrage. How could anyone of any age not be passionate about this wilful political vandalism?

No, my emotions certainly haven't dried up with advancing years. On the contrary, they're fizzing as furiously as they were in my naive, pubescent self.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Object lesson

I think couples are often objectified in the same way as women are objectified. People make judgments on the basis of what the couple looks like, with little or no knowledge of what actually goes on "inside" the relationship.

A relationship dismissed as sterile, or unbalanced, or destructive, by casual observers might actually be a very happy and fulfilling relationship, but only the couple themselves know that, while the naysayers have got it entirely wrong.

But people do love to judge other people's relationships, seemingly quite oblivious that they're almost certainly misreading them and simply making an arse of themselves.

Celebrity couples in particular seem to attract this vacuous opinionising, but couples everywhere have been subjected to it at one time or another. I'm sure we all know couples whose friends or relatives have said "That'll never work. They'll have split up in six months", and then lo and behold, ten years later they're still going strong.

Apart from anything else, how people behave in public can be very different from how they behave in private, in the seclusion of their own household, where they can be completely natural and uninhibited. In public they may change their behaviour dramatically, putting on a show of politeness or generosity or open-mindedness (or for that matter naked aggression) that's totally false.

In which case making impassioned judgments on the basis of what couples are choosing to show you is not only superficial but gullible.

Even the smartest guesses can never plumb the infinite mystery of human pairings.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Baring all

Some couples claim there's nothing they wouldn't want their partners to see, that they just let it all hang out and they don't care what their partner thinks. Such openness is part of a genuine, honest relationship and why on earth would they want to hide things? What's to be shy about?

I've met couples who seem to do exactly that and not feel at all awkward about it. They share the bathroom, show each other their wobbly bits, hoover up cake and chocolates, plough through chicklit, and don't feel any furtive need to conceal anything.

I incline that way too. I might feel a bit embarrassed at times about having an audience, but seldom do I actually hide anything - unless I'm asked to. There are very few things I'd rather keep to myself.

I was checking through a list of activities that people commonly don't want their partner to witness, and personally I wouldn't be too bothered by any of them. For example:
  • Getting dressed or undressed
  • Trying on clothes
  • Weighing yourself
  • Eating something unhealthy or bingeing
  • Enjoying a trashy novel/music/film etc
  • Boozing
  • Smoking
  • Pleasuring yourself
  • Personal grooming
  • Crying/being seriously upset
  • Buying something expensive
  • Using pornography
Not that I've ever smoked or used porn, so those two can be ruled out. But as for the others, what's the big deal? Why would I want to keep them out of sight?

It's sad that someone feels so embarrassed or ashamed by their body or their behaviour, or so scared of a judgmental and censorious partner, that they simply can't stand to be seen. But such reticence is easily learnt, and hard to shake off once it's engrained.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Boringly moderate

I'm a remarkably un-obsessive and un-addictive person. I'm boringly moderate about virtually every-thing*. I have no habits so out-of-control that they soak up money, ruin my health, burden other people, or might get me sacked.

I've never smoked. I drink very little alcohol. I don't gamble. I don't visit prostitutes. I don't use porn. I don't have affairs. I don't crave junk food. I don't go in for plastic surgery. I don't self-harm. I've taken "fun" drugs just four times. As I say, boringly moderate. Yawningly restrained.

The things that blight other people's lives either don't interest me, actively repulse me or satisfy me in modest amounts. I don't feel the urge to grab more and more of something, to binge crazily on something well past the point of initial pleasure.

Many people would say I'm just afraid of living, letting my hair down, having a good time. I'm too self-controlled, too "sensible", too inhibited. Maybe that's true. But I feel I've had a great life and I'm not conscious of missing some vital experience by being so moderate.

In some people's eyes, this natural restraint makes me smug, or self-righteous, or censorious. I hope not. I really feel for people who're in the grip of some all-consuming addiction that's wrecking them and is the despair of of their helpless loved ones. Like the richly talented but so susceptible Amy Winehouse.

I suppose I've always believed in the saying "A little of what you fancy does you good." Too much of what you fancy and the pleasure will wear off rapidly, leaving you jaded and disappointed. For other people though "You can't have too much of a good thing" rules the day.

* Well, except politics. And religion. And meat-eating.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Big smack for Jack

Huge controversy over the opening of a Jack The Ripper Museum in East London. Those for it and those against it are slugging it out, abuse is being hurled in all directions, the museum windows have been smashed, and the owner is lying low.

Supporters say it's informative and sympathetic to the victims. Opponents say it's misogynist rubbish and local residents were hoodwinked about the nature of the museum.

Needless to say, most of the protesters haven't actually been round the museum, but they feel free to criticise it and demand its closure.

The critics maintain that when the museum was first announced to the locals, the idea was to "recognise and celebrate the women of the East End", showcasing 150 years of social history including the Match Girls Union, the Suffragettes, and the Bengali women who fought racism.

Residents say they were shocked to find the original plans had been scrapped in favour of a museum about an infamous 19th-century murderer of female prostitutes.

Well, I rather think the protesters are going a bit over the top. Yes, a museum about women of the East End, especially feminist women, would have been excellent. But is a museum about a woman-hating murderer such a dreadful alternative?

The museum's owner, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, denies it's celebrating or glorifying the murderer. He says it's very much from the point-of-view of the victims.

Since almost nobody has actually checked out the museum's content, who can say what angle it takes and whether the protesters have valid arguments or whether they're going ape-shit over a contrived outrage?

Surely anyone with any sense of fair play would at least properly investigate what they're fuming at before making such a public song-and-dance about it. But such scruples seem to be a thing of the past.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Safe and sound

As a straight white man living in a sedate area of a British city, I take my physical safety for granted. The chances of my being mugged or shot or raped or otherwise attacked are so miniscule I don't need to worry about it.

Not so for many, many other people who have to think about their physical safety all the time. Women wary of any unknown man on the street. Gays wary of anti-gay thugs. Black people wary of hostile whites. Atheists living in a religion-dominated society. Families living in the midst of civil war. Sexually abused children.

No society can call itself civilised when so many of its citizens feel physically unsafe and at risk from those around them. We should all feel safe and protected and unthreatened. But the reality is very different.

Luckily all I ever have to worry about is emotional safety - that there are people who care for me and respect me and that I'm not going to be constantly judged and appraised and found wanting. That people won't laugh if I do something wrong, or push me away if I feel lonely, or patronise me if I'm distressed. And by and large, in that way too I feel safe.

I hugely admire those people who're determined to be themselves and live their lives to the full despite huge threats to their physical and emotional safety. They refuse to be intimidated or scared and just carry on regardless in the face of widespread menace. I marvel at their strength and single-mindedness. I could never be that tough.

It's a sorry state of affairs when some women still feel the need to go out with a man or another woman, simply to ward off unwanted male attention. Even when we're well into the 21st century? It's scandalous.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Moral panic

The media have ruthlessly ganged up on the hapless Lord Sewel for snorting coke and using prostitutes*, as if this is the most outrageous behaviour ever and he should obviously be hung, drawn and quartered and buried in an unmarked grave.

The stink of hypocrisy hangs over this weird vendetta. Since plenty of his fellow peers and MPs must have taken illegal drugs of some kind, or cheated on their womenfolk by visiting prostitutes or having affairs (or both), the singling out of one politician unlucky enough to be spied upon by the Sun surely deserves sympathy rather than vilification.

What's really outrageous is a newspaper secretly filming Lord Sewel in his own flat, doing things he assumed were entirely private, and then publishing what they had filmed with the quite deliberate and cynical aim of wrecking his political career.

What's equally outrageous is that his colleagues, rather than commiserating with him, condemning the sleazy tactics of journalists, and pointing out that what he does in his own flat is his own business and nobody else's, have castigated him for his "shocking", "unacceptable" and "disgraceful" behaviour and agreed with the media that his political career is over.

Why taking coke and using prostitutes (in his own home) should make him no longer fit to do his public job of overseeing the work of House of Lords committees is anyone's guess. As far as I know, nobody has ever suggested he's falling down on the job or was too strung out to grasp a piece of legislation.

The simple fact is that if the Sun hadn't intruded on his private life, he would still be happily doing the job he was asked to do, and his political competence would never have been questioned.

Don't get me wrong. I have no time for men who use prostitutes. It's an activity that does huge psychological and emotional damage to the women who're lured into it, and the pathetic creeps who keep it going should know better.

And goodness knows what his wife Jennifer makes of it all.

But the media have no right to splash Lord Sewel's private activities across front pages unless they're of genuine public concern - which in this case they blatantly aren't. It's a classic knee-jerk moral panic over something quite piffling.

* allegedly

Friday, 24 July 2015

Baseless rumours

For some years now the media have been suggesting that the supermodel Veronica Trinket and myself are an item. I keep denying this baseless rumour but they still spread it at every opportunity. Even stern legal warnings from Sue, Grabbit and Runne don't deter them.

Anyone with half a brain can see how absurd this idea is. Firstly, I'm very happily married to a red-hot spouse. Secondly, what on earth would a twenty something supermodel see in a crumbling oldie like myself? Thirdly, I suspect there's no such person as Veronica Trinket but the media haven't even bothered to check.

The willowy young blonde who frequently visits me while my partner is away from home is certainly not this Trinket person. She is simply the landscape gardener who tends to the shrubs and young trees when they need some attention. On occasion I offer her a cup of tea or a chocolate biscuit, but absolutely nothing else is offered or asked for. It's true that she bears a slight resemblance to Ms Trinket but that's obviously a mere visual coincidence.

The grainy photos of a smiling young girl, strongly implied to be the secret love-child of our clandestine relationship, are plainly faked by some enterprising newshound whose journalistic career is faltering. The missing left ear and the toeless right foot clearly suggest some rather clumsy fabrication.

As for those doddery old gits who stop me in the street and ask me what my secret is and how they can "grab a bit of the girlie action", I shoo them away with a contemptuous snort. All I'm grabbing at my age is blood pressure pills and reading glasses. They shouldn't believe everything they hear.

Pic: an alleged photo of the alleged Veronica Trinket

Friday, 17 July 2015

Shut up and kiss me

I was surprised to hear that kissing isn't nearly as universal as I thought. It's far from being the normal way of showing your affection for someone. In large swathes of the world, it's considered abnormal or even unpleasant.

A study of 168 cultures around the world shows that in only 46 per cent of them do couples kiss romantically, despite previous research that claimed kissing was habitual everywhere. Even in Europe there were several cultures where kissing was unusual.

I must say that if I lived in one of the non-kissing cultures, I would feel seriously deprived. I adore kissing and do it as often as possible. Women or men, it makes no difference, it's just as exciting. It's such a wonderfully sensual and intimate experience. There's nothing like it.

And how can people actually find it unpleasant? Is it the moistness? The mingling of oral fluids? The exchange of micro-organisms? The physical closeness? The risk of catching something?

Some people just object to public displays of affection full stop. They find them unnecessary or distasteful or narcissistic. They believe such effusive gestures should be kept private, and preferably kept in the bedroom.

Personally I enjoy seeing couples romantically entwined, freely showing their love and tenderness for each other. It's an uplifting sight in a world where many people feel alone and neglected.

Of course most British males still recoil from kissing each other, for fear of being thought effeminate or, shudder shudder, homosexual - or just plain weird. They still prefer a handshake or a playful slap on the shoulder to anything more pleasurable. The need to be "masculine" lingers on.

Come on, give us a kiss, mister. You might even like it.

"Shut up and kiss me" - a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Not so golden

I'm not a nostalgic person. I don't yearn for some long-gone period of my life that seemed more enjoyable and idyllic than the one I'm in now.

Whatever chunk of my life I look back on, I'm very aware that it had its boring, miserable and frustrating bits as well as the rewarding bits.

I certainly don't pine for the "Swinging Sixties" as some people do. Yes, it was a time of creative ferment and the loosening of stuffy conventions, but it also saw a lot of men exploiting women in the name of "sexual liberation" and a lot of people wrecking themselves with relentless drug consumption.

I don't pine for some supposed golden age of daily life before we were swamped by the trivial and venomous outpourings of social media. It wasn't much fun trudging to the public phone box in the pouring rain, or trudging to the library to check on some disputed fact. Thank heaven for mobiles and Google.

Neither do I have nostalgia for some blissful, happy-go-lucky childhood. As you all know, my childhood was a tale of bullying and emotional violence along with the magical seaside holidays and Sunday picnics. No way would I want to go through all that again.

I think the nearest I get to nostalgia is looking back fondly to the Harold Wilson era when the welfare state and public services were cherished, money and profit weren't the be-all and end-all, there was more respect for the old and vulnerable, and the young had a much easier start in life. But even that era had its downside - homophobia was still rife, sexual norms were still very straitlaced, society was still very authoritarian in many ways.

Nostalgia's not my thing. I must have left my rose-tinted spectacles on the bus.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Needy or what?

When does needy become over-needy? When does wanting emotional support become demanding and dependent?

It's easy to start relying on other people a bit too much, especially if sympathy comes naturally to them and they're reluctant to push people away when they're looking for help.

It's easy to think it's impossible to get through something on your own, that you just don't have the resources, and tempting to simply act helpless and wait for someone to give you a leg-up.

I hope I'm not over-needy myself. I do try to get through personal crises on my own without leaning too much on other people. I'm not one to rush for a shoulder to cry on or a soothing voice to tell me everything's going to be okay.

If anything, I'm probably not needy enough. I was brought up with the attitude that boys don't act fragile and vulnerable, they tough it out and fake gritty resilience even if they're secretly a barely functioning emotional wreck.

The fact is that we can't always deal with things on our own and even the strongest person may need a helping hand when everything's going pear-shaped.

But we probably all know someone who homes in on sympathy and wants more and more attention and support, until the friendly ear turns into growing impatience and wary avoidance.

Luckily I have a long-standing partner who by now is very attuned to my emotional state and knows when I need an "agony aunt" and when I need to work through something on my own. If she thinks I'm being over-needy, she won't hesitate to tell me. I'm not allowed to play the snivelling bag of nerves for too long.

Which is all to the good. I'd hate to be thought of as an emotional leech.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Spilling the beans

Therapist-cum-life-coach Tori Ufondu only works with men - because they're often reluctant to open up about themselves and it's more challenging to break down their inhibitions. She finds working with women less rewarding because "sessions with women feel more like talking to my girlfriends".

Interesting that she still finds men more tight-lipped and defensive, when there's a general impression that men are getting more open and happy to talk about what's going on inside. Personally I find the men I come across just as unforthcoming as ever and not at all good at spilling the personal stuff.

Tori finds that once she's helped a guy to open up, he reveals all sorts of hang-ups he's never been fully aware of, let alone shared with other guys (or women).

Like difficulties getting on with workmates, or being a slave to other people's expectations, or fear of failure, or sexual frustration, or not recognising his partner's changing identity. Big issues that are seriously affecting his life.

Clearly men's inability to share what's troubling them is doing harm. Seventy eight per cent of all UK suicides are male. A lot of those men must have been bottling up distressing thoughts and feelings that other people could have helped with.

I'm not brilliant at pouring out the personal stuff myself. I'm much more open than when I was young but it still doesn't come naturally. I still have to drive away those masculine inhibitions about "keeping it all to yourself" that were drummed into me as a boy.

But as my regulars know, over the years I've identified all sorts of personal quirks and phobias and anxieties and prejudices I used to be oblivious of, and my self-awareness has expanded dramatically.

I'm sure some of you will promptly tell me that my self-awareness is far from complete and remind me of numerous negative traits that annoy the hell out of you and are shamefully misanthropic. But I'm getting there.

However embarrassing or agonising it may be to spill the beans, letting it all fester and coagulate inside is asking for trouble.