Friday 1 December 2023

Keeping up appearances

I know I've said this before, but I'm constantly baffled by the extent of people's dislike of their bodies - and their appearance generally.

The market for physical improvements seems to be growing all the time, as people find parts of their body deficient and seek ways of making them perfect.

Botox, fillers, cosmetic surgery, shapewear, hormones, steroids, workouts, you name it. So many people just aren't happy with the way they look, even if their friends say they're fine just as they are. They'll take all sorts of risks to change the offending item - even going abroad to dodgy clinics they've never heard of before.

I've never been bothered by my appearance, and not just because I'm a man and less critical of my body than a lot of women. Apparently men are getting just as self-critical and more and more of them want to improve some body part they're unhappy with.

I suppose one reason I'm quite okay with my body is that my favourite activity is abstract thinking and that tends to exclude any thoughts about my appearance. I'm more likely to disapprove of some politician's nonsensical utterance than the shape of my nose or the size of my bottom.

One exception though - I do dislike facial and body hair and prefer hairless bodies, even though getting rid of the stuff can be an expensive and tedious business that many women object to. I've never understood why so many men grow beards and moustaches under the impression that these masculine adornments are a huge turn-on for women. Well, they might be or they might not.

So I won't be chucking thousands of pounds at some greedy cosmetic surgeon any time soon.

Monday 27 November 2023

Allergic to Christmas

Most of us find preparing for Christmas pretty straightforward. But spare a thought for people who're allergic to Christmas - or rather allergic to the common ingredients of Christmas food.

Anne Murray, from Lanark, Scotland, is allergic to things like citrus and cinnamon. As she has severe asthma any exposure to these ingredients could kill her without immediate medical treatment.

She almost died in November 2016 when she smelt "pine cones impregnated with citrus" in a garden centre. Fighting to breathe, she grabbed her inhaler and ran out of the garden centre. Two days later she was still struggling to breathe and needed hospital treatment.

"I can't be anywhere near things that smell of Christmas, or eat anything Christmassy like mince pies or stollen cake" she says. "Just smelling a mince pie could kill me."

I assume I can eat whatever I like without falling violently ill. At Christmas especially I want to tuck into anything that's going without having to steer clear. It's tragic that some people can't be so free-and-easy.

Allergies generally seem to be increasing, both in childhood and in adulthood. Many adults are developing allergies they never had in childhood and despite a lot of research the cause is still unknown. There's a wide range of allergens, including soya beans, sesame, and tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans.

Buying any food products must always be risky. You have to assume food labels are 100 per cent accurate about what is or isn't in the product and there are no inadvertent mistakes. Two women died after eating mislabelled food from Pret a Manger, which led to tighter food labelling laws.

It's easy for those of us without allergies* to take for granted our less complicated lives.

*I tell a lie. I have a slight allergy to wheat. If I eat anything containing wheat my nose starts running.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Lonely or what?

There's still a lot of talk about the "epidemic of loneliness" and what can be done about it. The general conclusion is that lonely people need to get out more and spend more time with other people. But I don't think it's nearly that simple.

My own view of loneliness is quite complex. For me, I would say boredom is more of a problem than loneliness. If I'm totally absorbed in something then I don't feel lonely because I'm just not thinking about other people.

A feeling of loneliness is said to arise if you can't find people who're on the same wavelength as you, but I don't expect people to be on my wavelength. Society is now so fragmented into umpteen tiny groups of like-minded people that the chance of my happening to meet someone I see eye to eye with is pretty slim.

If I'm not on the same wavelength as other people, that makes me feel isolated or unusual but not lonely. But then I was brought up in a family who had very different views to myself, so I'm used to being out on a limb.

What I really need isn't people on the same wavelength but people who can give me useful advice about how to deal with life's problems. That's where I feel a lack. Like someone who can diagnose a faulty washing machine or fill in a complicated application form or just give me a more optimistic view of the horrifying world we now live in.

There's more to loneliness than meets the eye.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Could I pass?

Fifty six years on, I sometimes wonder if I could still pass the driving test, given all the changes there have been to the Highway Code and given there is now a theory test I never had to contend with.

I just tried a sample theory test and answered 38 out of 50 questions correctly - or 76 per cent. The pass mark is actually 86 per cent, so if I were taking it again I'd need to do some serious swotting. But I suppose for a first try, having never done a theory test before, that's not too embarrassing.

Some of the questions seem to have little to do with driving ability though. Like "How can you avoid wasting fuel?" or "How can you stop your car radio being stolen?" or "Where should you not park?" But you still have to know the answers.

You also have to be familiar with the Highway Code, which runs to 162 pages. I know it's been updated numerous times, to cover things like giving way to pedestrians and allowing for cyclists, so there'd be more swotting required.

As for the practical side, my ability to drive a car might not be what it used to be. I passed my driving test first time but no doubt my standards have slipped a bit since then. There must be a natural tendency to become a bit careless over the years and not drive quite as safely. Dodging traffic lights, speeding, driving too close to another vehicle, risky overtaking. I have to say I'm guilty of all those. So whether I could still satisfy a driving examiner is debatable.

Still, as yet I've never had a serious accident, so I must be doing something right.

PS: I've just discovered there are two parts to the theory test - multiple choice and hazard perception. If you fail one part that's a total fail and you have retake the whole theory test.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

So much misery

Misery memoirs (recalling the writer's terrible childhood with all its cruelty and abuse) seem to be as popular as ever.

Britney Spears is the latest person to have recalled not only her childhood misery but her adult misery as well. How she was harassed, taunted and belittled by her husband, how her heavy-drinking father had legal control of her life for over 13 years, and so on.

I suppose some people would argue that there's no need to recount all this negativity at such length, that lots of people have been exposed to childhood misery of one type or another, who needs to be told about it yet again?

I disagree. The more we know about the appalling way some people have been treated as a child, the more incentive there is to ensure children grow up with caring and supportive parents who encourage them to make the most of their lives.

Mind you, that's assuming all those misery memoirs are truthful in the first place, and haven't been somewhat embellished and exaggerated to attract more readers.

The English barrister Constance Briscoe successfully defended herself against her mother Carmen's accusations that her "true story of a loveless childhood" was "a piece of fiction".

But Kathy O' Beirne's story of abuse in a Catholic institution, Don't Ever Tell, was denounced as unreliable by her family, while James Frey was discredited for his fictionalised autobiography A Million Little Pieces.

I'm surprised people feel the need to exaggerate their experiences, which are probably horrifyingly awful in the first place. I would say the more misery memoirs we read, the more we know the truth about the dreadful childhoods some people have endured.

Pic: Constance Briscoe

Friday 10 November 2023

A swamp of pomp

Americans (and others) must be quite bemused by the absurd pomp and ceremony of the British State Opening of Parliament, which took place on Tuesday. But the archaic rituals and traditions are faithfully clung to and nobody suggests it's about time for something much simpler and cheaper.

The essence of what happens is very basic. The King and Queen arrive at Parliament and the King gives a speech announcing what the government intends to do in the next year.

If that's all he did, easy peasy. But along with that goes all the overblown grandiosity that hardly anybody dares to question.

  • The King and Queen travel to Parliament in a horse-drawn golden coach
  • When they arrive, the national anthem is played and a gun salute is sounded in Green Park
  • Sarah Clarke, the Black Rod, has to summon MPs to hear the speech
  • The Serjeant at Arms leads the procession of MPs with a ceremonial mace
  • The King and Queen wear ceremonial crowns and outfits
  • Various other items of royal regalia like the Great Sword of State are used in the state opening
Nobody has the nerve to say, hold on a minute, why all this palaver, why can't the King just rock up at Parliament, give his speech and then nip back to Buck House for a snifter? Job done.

I can't imagine the King himself enjoys all this unnecessary baloney. Probably he gets back to the Palace and says to Camilla "Thank God that's over. All that theatrical rigmarole. Pass the gin, darling."

I long for some amusing glitch in the proceedings. Like the crown falling off the King's head or him having a coughing fit in mid-speech. But no such luck.

Pic: King Charles looks forward to his G and T

Monday 6 November 2023

Gas guzzlers

When parents drop off their kids at the two nearby schools, more and more of their cars are those massive, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Usually there's only two people in them - parent and child - and I wonder why such huge cars are necessary.

SUVs are increasingly popular in the UK, despite being so bad for the environment. By early 2023 more than half of all new car sales in Europe were SUVs or the like. Why oh why?

Jenny and I still have our humble nine-year-old Renault Clio. It gets us from A to B and that's all we need. If we had had children we might have acquired something bigger, but what would be the point?

When I was young, most people drove bog-standard saloon cars, as they were then called, and strangely enough children still got to school and parents got to the supermarket. Nobody hankered after vehicles more suitable to pot-holed rural farm tracks.

My parents didn't even own a car, so I walked to school and back every day. Cheaper and healthier than being driven there.

Clearly the SUV drivers don't care about the enormous carbon emissions, hefty fuel consumption and danger to children (I read that children are eight times more likely to die when struck by an SUV compared with an average passenger car).

What is it with these fashionable monsters?

PS: I realise some of you may actually own an SUV. Do tell me why, I'm always open to debate!

Thursday 2 November 2023

After death

A lot of people make requests about what should happen after their death. Sometimes their requests are followed to the letter, sometimes they're totally ignored.

Would I follow Jenny's requests after her death? Would she follow mine? I suppose it depends partly on the nature of the requests. Routine ones like scattering ashes in the local park are easy enough to comply with. But I imagine crazy ones like erecting a tombstone in the Outer Hebrides* would be ignored by most relatives.

My mum never made any after-death requests as far as I know. We opted for a simple cremation and that was that. I've never drawn up any after-death requests and neither has Jenny. If I die first (which is likely because I'm ten years older) Jenny can do whatever she wants with my mortal remains. I won't be capable of either approving or disapproving.

Mind you, I do carry an organ donor card that allows the harvesting of any useful organs after I die, so I guess that counts as one after-death request.

If I had a second after-death request, it might be that people think well of me and forgive all my failings. Or even declare me a national treasure. That would be much better than a Scottish tombstone.

It annoys me when people try to read the dead person's mind and say that Aunt Emma would have wanted this or wanted that. Obviously they can't possibly know what she would have wanted so they're probably talking nonsense.

So when Nick dies, how about throwing the wildest party ever? It's what he would have wanted.

* Outer Hebrides - a series of islands off the west coast of Scotland

Sunday 29 October 2023

Infinite clutter

I'm fascinated by hoarders and why they start hoarding - and why they can't stop. It's a complex mental process that psychologists themselves can't really explain.

As my regulars will know, my mum was a compulsive hoarder. After she died, huge amounts of junk and clutter had to be cleared out of her flat. There were newspapers and bank statements and travel brochures going back years.

When my brother in law tried on one occasion to remove some of he accumulated clutter, my mum was furious and forbad him to remove anything. Even when she was warned that the state of the flat was a fire and safety hazard, she took no notice. I've no idea why she was attached to all this stuff. I can only assume it comforted or reassured her in some way.

Just recently I encountered another hoarder, whose flat was equally full of junk - a lot of it brand-new items that had never been used. She did at least accept that the hoarding was out of control and she needed to have a serious clear-out.

Jenny and I are the opposite. We like neat and tidy surroundings and we discard or recycle as much stuff as we possibly can. We can't imagine the house being so cluttered we'd find it difficult simply to move around or do everyday tasks.

Psychologists struggle to explain the hoarding urge - why people get so emotionally attached to things that they have to keep them, and get so angry when anyone suggests parting with some of them.

Just how does it start? Were their parents hoarders? Did their parents throw away things they treasured? Did their parents encourage spending sprees? Were their parents afraid of discarding something vital by mistake? Whatever the cause, psychologists are still very much in the dark.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Waning wanderlust

I'm of two minds about travel. On the one hand, it can broaden your mind, undermine prejudices, give you novel experiences, show you how other people live. On the other hand, planes and cruise ships are massively polluting and many popular cities are plagued by over-tourism.

I've got the point where, for now at any rate, having travelled all over the world, I've had my fill of travelling and I'm quite happy to stay at home and enjoy my own city and my own country. People who're perpetually travelling find this sudden lack of wanderlust strange and try to persuade us to keep on the move.

It doesn't help that air travel is becoming such a complicated business, fraught with unexpected difficulties like computer failures, strikes, staff shortages, lost baggage, cancelled flights and unforeseen extra charges. I could do without all the hassle and stress and uncertainty.

And then there's the hefty charge for travel insurance. Once you're over 75 and you have one or two medical conditions, the cost of insurance goes through the roof. Is it worth paying such huge sums?

As for travel broadening the mind, I didn't see much evidence of that in my parents, even though they visited Italy many times. My mum professed to love Italy, but she also disliked Italian food. Pizza, pasta, tiramisu, whatever, she wasn't a fan. She still preferred traditional English food.

So for the time being I'm staying at home and marvelling at all those hardened travellers who'll put up with anything the airline throws at them to get their two weeks in some exotic location. Rather them than me.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

The F word

Most people nowadays take a very laid-back attitude to swearing. So what if someone swears? It's a good way of letting off steam and much healthier than bottling up your feelings and letting them fester.

I've never been a natural swearer. I'll get annoyed or frustrated about something but I don't swear, mainly because the usual swearword these days is "fucking" and I would rather be more inventive than saying fuck this or fuck that every five minutes.

Also I'm aware there are still plenty of people who avoid using swearwords as being a lazy way of talking, so I tend not to use swearwords myself in case someone starts bristling.

When I was young "fucking" was never used as a swearword. It was merely a colloquial word for sex that was frowned upon by the grown-ups as being in very bad taste and NOT TO BE USED.

But we had plenty of swearwords and disparaging remarks, far more than we have today, some of them quite original and colourful - like "jump off a cliff" or "get stuffed" or "you're a waste of space".

I keep expecting the word "fucking" to lose its allure and gradually fall out of use, but on the contrary it's as popular as ever. It looks like it's fucking well with us for years to come.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Rival attraction

Journalist Christa Ackroyd aims to raise £600,000 to restore the house near Bradford where the Brontë sisters were born and turn it into a major tourist attraction. She sees it as a rival to the house in Haworth six miles away where Charlotte, Anne and Emily lived with their father, which gets a million visitors a year.

She thinks the house would inspire other would-be writers as well as encouraging people to follow their dreams.

Personally I don't understand why the places where famous people were born or used to live have such fascination. Surely what's compelling is what they've produced - books, music, art, plays or whatever.

Wandering round a house gawping at the fixtures and fittings is hardly likely to inspire someone to write a brilliant novel. Either you have literary talent or you don't and I don't see how looking at someone's choice of curtains and wallpaper is going to inspire anything except a fleeting desire to update your own interior furnishings.

I'm sure the Brontë sisters themselves would be baffled as to why millions of people would think it worthwhile to traipse round the houses they used to inhabit, exclaiming at this or that domestic item.

I'm sure some of it is just naked one up manship. How impressive to say you spent the day treading the same floorboards as the Brontë sisters rather than moaning about the bus service in Caffè Nero.

I'd much rather spend an hour or two browsing in Waterstones than check out Charlotte Brontë's ironing board.

Pic: Charlotte Brontë

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Over and done with

People sometimes ask me if I have any regrets in my life, and my answer is always the same - no, no regrets, I simply do my best in any situation, and if things don't work out, I just move on.

Regrets seldom achieve anything positive. They only make you feel bad and stupid and thoughtless. And usually the thing you regret is over and done with and you can't rewrite the past.

I don't have any regrets, but there are many things I'd like to have done but didn't, which is rather different. And I don't wish I had done those things, I'm simply aware that I could have done them but for one reason or another I didn't. I don't see those things as a big failure in my life.

I'd like to have lived closer to my mum when she was going downhill mentally and physically. I'd like to have been able to drop in every day or two to see how she was doing. But I was 350 miles away in Belfast so that was impossible.

I'd like to have learnt to play a musical instrument, but I wasn't encouraged to do so and my first attempt at piano lessons went badly; my piano teacher declared me unteachable. But maybe if I'd tried again later in my childhood, it would have worked out.

I'd like to have been a successful novelist, but I simply didn't have the intellect or imagination or self-discipline to complete a novel. I did give it a try but after about 100 pages I hit total writer's block and couldn't get any further.

So I don't regret any of those lapses. I'm very philosophical about them. I could have done all sorts of things but for lack of talent or inclination or because of circumstances they never happened. So be it. Che sera sera.

Friday 6 October 2023

Mean and self-righteous

My father was a mean and self-righteous man. He always thought he knew better than me and knew what was good for me. If I tried to put him right he got very annoyed.

When I'd been seeing Jenny for a while, I gathered he didn't approve of the relationship and thought I was "exploiting" Jenny.

He never explained what he meant by that. If he meant financially, that was nonsense because Jenny had a hefty credit card debt and I had some savings. If he meant I was leaning on her in some way, that was also nonsense because we were leaning on each other.

In any case he never met her and knew nothing about her so he just had a load of preconceptions about her and about our relationship. Jenny never had a chance to straighten him out.

If I was really exploiting Jenny, as a strong feminist she would have got shot of me at top speed. But we've been together now for 42 years so I must be doing something right.

Jenny would love to have had the chance to confront my father and tell him exactly what she thought of his disparaging attitude, but it wasn't to be. He died seven years after Jenny and I met, still refusing to talk to me because of the numerous grudges he held against me.

To accuse his own son of exploiting someone and not giving me the opportunity to defend myself is pretty low. But it wasn't the first time he had just jumped to conclusions and run with them.

Pic: Not my father, I have no online photos of him.

Monday 2 October 2023

Happy to wait

This increasing trend not just to buy fashionable clothes or go to fashionable restaurants but to go on massive waiting lists for them is absurd.

The Mary Jane Harrietta shoe is currently almost impossible to get hold of, with a waiting list of 800 people. Or you can wait four years for a table at the Bank Tavern restaurant in Bristol.

You or me would surely say, I'm not going on a huge waiting list, that's ridiculous, I'll try another type of shoe/ another restaurant that's more easily available.

What if when you finally get your table at the restaurant, it turns out the chef is having an off day and the meal simply isn't up to much? Then you'll kick yourself for enduring the long wait.

Is it sheer snobbery that people are prepared to go on a waiting list for months or years rather than walking into the local Pizza Express and getting a table straightaway?

Do people get a bit miffed if they're number 754 on the waiting list and they discover their friend is at number 23? Might a few banknotes be exchanged so as to jump the queue?

And how miffed would you be if the famous restaurant burnt down just as you got to the top of the queue?

Pic: the hard-to-obtain Harrietta pumps

Thursday 28 September 2023

Trigger happy

I've voiced my doubts about trigger warnings before, but they're still very widespread and sometimes completely over the top.

I see the veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen has seen red over the multiple trigger warnings for the play he's currently acting in.

Audiences are warned that the play contains strong language, sexual references, discussions of bereavement and cancer, loud noise, flashing lights and mentions of smoking.

No doubt if the theatre thought really hard, they could come up with even more things that might trigger the unwary. Is there some unofficial competition among theatres to provide the biggest number of trigger warnings?

"I think it's ludicrous" said Sir Ian. "I quite like to be surprised by loud noises and outrageous behaviour on stage."

I don't remember so many trigger warnings in my childhood, though there might have been some about sex and violence.

Do people actually avoid an entire play or film or whatever because of one thing that might upset them? It seems unlikely to me.

If people are severely upset by, say, loud noises, shouldn't they be seeing a therapist and trying to get rid of such hyper-sensitivity?

Surely anyone who's seriously keen on culture and the arts will expect at some point to be offended or shocked or startled by something they're experiencing. One of the basic aims of art is to shake you up a bit, to question your usual assumptions. If you're likely to cringe at something a bit out of the ordinary, perhaps you're better off mowing the lawn.

PS: I agree with Infidel that there should be a warning about flashing lights, which can cause seizures and other physical disturbances.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Dress sense

Dress codes may be more relaxed than they used to be, but even so it's often anyone's guess what to wear at a social occasion.

Smart or even formal clothes used to be obligatory at things like funerals, weddings, job interviews, church services, restaurants, theatres and workplaces, but nowadays smart casual or even casual (or even a bit scruffy) is often quite normal at such occasions.

Personally I've never understood why formal clothes are considered so necessary at so many gatherings. They add little except a sense of good taste or good manners.

I wore smartish clothes for my mum's funeral, because I thought that would be expected, but it didn't change how I felt about my mum dying. I would still have felt the same if I was wearing a tee shirt and shorts or some faded dungarees. Obviously my mum had no objection!

Many workplaces no longer stipulate smart or formal clothing and only require their employees to be presentable. That's fine by me. My concern isn't what an employee is wearing but whether they're good at their job.

Even tattoos and piercings are now seen as normal and unremarkable, even in many work situations. When I was young they would have been met with horror and dismay unless you were a builder or a plumber or some sort of trades person.

Of course some people simply like the chance to dress up and show off, and they'll find some dramatic and eye-catching outfit for the occasion. Definitely not a tee shirt or ripped jeans.

I haven't owned a suit for over 50 years, and luckily have never been required to. If anyone can be bothered to attend my funeral, they can wear whatever they like. Budgie smugglers or bikinis? Be my guest.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Going on and on

I don't understand people who want to live forever - or at least many more years than their natural lifespan.

Tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, who's 45, follows a strict behavioural regime every day, convinced it will extend his life by umpteen years (it's not clear how many extra years he reckons he'll have).

He eats lots of vegetables, takes 54 pills every morning, does intensive workouts and undergoes red-light therapy (whatever that is). He looks healthy enough, but will a few extra years really justify this strenuous and time-consuming regime?

At the age of 76 I reckon I've lived quite long enough. I've had a fulfilling life with very few regrets. I've met lots of interesting people, soaked up every type of culture, travelled around the world. I've no desire to hang on till I'm 100 and due to get congratulations from King Charles.

How will this guy know if he's increased his lifespan, anyway? If he lives to 100, how will he know if that's his natural lifespan or his artificially extended one? Lots of people live well into their nineties (as my mum did) without any special attempts to live longer.

And why exactly does he want to live longer? Does he think the extra years will make him happier, or more knowledgeable, or more confident? Or is it just for a rather odd sense of achievement?

Not so long ago people often died in their thirties. Now many of us live three times as long. Surely that's enough? Do we really need to go on and on and on? Isn't that just a tad narcissistic?

Pic: Bryan Johnson

Saturday 16 September 2023

The joy of trees

I had no idea trees were so good for our mental and physical health. I thought they were just pretty objects that absorbed a lot of carbon.

Far from it. Apparently if you spend just 15 minutes walking among trees, your whole mood changes. You'll be calmer and you'll feel less tension, anxiety, anger, hostility, depression and fatigue.

It'll also improve your cardio-vascular health and your immune system, and lower your blood pressure.*

Who knew? How come in 76 years on this earth I've never known all that? Why isn't it common knowledge? Why isn't it written about in the media? Why has no doctor ever enlightened me?

As it happens, this immediate neighbourhood is awash with trees so I'm getting the benefits all the time. The local park is full of trees and so is the Stormont estate just up the road.

So that's another good reason why we should be planting as many trees as possible, quite apart from the carbon-absorption aspect. We have five trees in our garden and front yard - a cherry blossom tree, a pittosporum, a eucalyptus and two rowans. So we're doing our bit for everyone's health.

I guess the healthiest place to live would be a log cabin in the middle of a forest. Could be a bit impractical though, when you needed a bit of shopping or some medical attention. I think I'll stay where I am for now.

*Harvard University School of Public Health

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Sight unseen

There's been a big increase in the number of people who buy a house or flat unseen - except on videos or virtual tours or 360-degree photography. The trend really took off during the pandemic, but has continued since.

I wouldn't be happy doing that, I would always want to visit the place and have a good look round it in the flesh, as it were. There could always be something wrong with it that isn't apparent from a remote viewing. Like a nasty smell or a neighbour who plays loud music at 2 am.

Then again, do you find out everything you need from a physical viewing? The average viewing is only 20 minutes, and often less than that. If the place has been thoroughly redecorated and refurbished, there could be something seriously wrong with it that you don't notice because its been hidden.

So in practice a physical viewing isn't much better than a remote viewing. Of course you can get a surveyor's report that will tell you if it's structurally sound, but that still won't tell you about the nasty smell or the noisy neighbour.

Jenny and I spent about 20 minutes looking round this house, which looked fine but the surveyor's report told us a lot of things we were unaware of (nothing too serious thankfully - nothing to stop us buying the house).

I've read a few times about people buying a property after seeing it online, only to find that the house or flat doesn't exist or it's owned by someone else and not the seller. But that seems to be very rare.

Call me old-fashioned but if I'm thinking of buying a house, I want to have a look at the actual thing, not some online sample.