Saturday, 25 January 2020

Just be honest

It annoys me when environ-mental activists preach to us about what we should be doing to prevent climate breakdown, but ignore their own advice when it comes to their private lives.

They tell us to stop flying, stop driving, get electric cars, stop eating meat, stop burning wood, stop using fossil fuels, stop using plastic. They imply that we're not taking climate breakdown seriously, that we're clinging to all our bad habits and resisting the necessary changes.

Then what do you discover? The very same activists are jetting round the world to one climate conference after another, driving around in gas-guzzlers, tucking into giant steaks or throwing another log on the wood-burning stove.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying they should instantly give up all these things and revert to some kind of stone-age existence stripped of all our modern-day comforts and pleasures. That would be absurd.

What I object to is the hypocrisy, that they preach one thing while doing something quite different. That they make a show of ideological purity and integrity when in reality they're as fallible and imperfect as the rest of us. That off-stage they're wrestling with the same day-to-day dilemmas as everyone else - how do we give up all these harmful practices and still have a decent life? What would be an easy adjustment and what would be a painful sacrifice?

If they'd just admit that yes, they still fly around the world, that yes, they still have a petrol car and still drive hundreds of miles every week, I would applaud their honesty and human frailty. But pretending to be holier than thou when they know very well they're not - that really pisses me off.

Why can't they just level with us?

As a balance to my scathing review of Keith Richards, I would add that I love Annie Lennox, who seems far more talented and a much nicer person all round. Both her music and lyrics are a lot more interesting than the Stones'. "Diva", "Bare", and "Songs of Mass Destruction" are all brilliant albums. She also does masses of charity work for Amnesty International, Oxfam, the British Red Cross and the Burma Campaign among others. And surprise surprise, there's no misogyny.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

All about Keef

Having just finished Keith Richards' massive memoir "Life", I have to conclude he's a pretty unlikable character. He may be a brilliant musician, but the way he treats other people leaves a lot to be desired. I'm amazed at the self-indulgence and self-centredness and rampant misogyny.

He takes for granted that as a global celebrity he should be waited on hand and foot, and he doesn't seem very grateful for all that hidden support.

Domestic staff like cleaners, cooks and chauffeurs are barely mentioned, except the one occasion where the cook accidentally blows up the kitchen.

Women are mainly servants and sex objects, usually referred to as bitches, chicks, brassy matrons or groupies. He shags every woman who looks willing and relies on the groupies to keep him fed, do his washing and generally look after him.

He is (or was) a hardened druggie, who takes every substance going and regularly has to go cold turkey to keep himself fit enough to do the job. Considering he was almost permanently stoned, it's amazing how much of his life he actually remembers.

He says virtually nothing about his children (Marlon, Alexandra, Angela, Theodora and Tara*), as if he had little to do with them, but maybe he just didn't want them to have too much public attention. He mentions Marlon a few times, but clearly Marlon was mostly brought up by other people (and he really objected to his father's behaviour).

He obviously doesn't care that he's a role model for thousands of young males, many of whom will copy his selfish and irresponsible attitudes. As long as he's doing his hedonistic thing, that's all that matters. It's as if he's never grown out of the hippie lifestyle of the late nineteen sixties - sex, drugs and admiring chicks.

It would be interesting to know how his friends and acquaintances and staff see him and whether they think of him as a royal pain in the arse or a lovable rogue.

*Tara died aged two months - a cot death

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Balancing the books

I like indepen-dent bookshops. A lot have closed down because they just couldn't make ends meet, but others somehow soldier on year after year due to the sheer determination and ingenuity of the owners.

There's a great independent bookshop in Belfast called No Alibis. As the name suggests, it specialises in crime books, but it has a more general stock as well. Jenny and I dropped in a while back for a talk by the Australian crime writer Jane Harper.

There's also Keats and Chapman, a second-hand bookshop I'm embarrassed to say I've never checked out (well, it's a bit off the beaten track).

Lots of other people like independent bookshops too, and often come to the rescue if they're in danger of going under.

When John Westwood, who runs the Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire, specialising in antique and second-hand books, found he hadn't sold a single book all day, one of his staff tweeted the worrying news, and in no time orders were flooding in from all over the world.

John was astonished. "We had someone call from Inverness [in Scotland], telling us they wanted to spend £10 on any book - they didn't care what, they just wanted to support us. Then we had a guy come in who told us he lived locally but had never visited before. His friend in San Francisco saw the tweet and told him he had to go in and buy something."

He has had to bring in extra volunteer staff to help deal with the backlog of hundreds and hundreds of orders.

"It's truly amazing. I think it really shows the passion people still feel for books. The feel of them, the smell of them. That can never be replaced by anything else."

So the shop started by John's father in 1958 has a new lease of life. And all thanks to the awesome power of Twitter.

Pic: John Westwood

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Just a snip

I go to the men's hairdresser about every two months. I get an extensive trim that takes five or ten minutes. The charge is £9.50 ($12.40) or £7.50 if I go for the special over-sixties rate - which I don't because I can well afford £9.50.

If a woman wants a similar cut, taking a similar five or ten minutes, at a woman's hairdresser, she'll be charged treble or quadruple the price. This is actually illegal but it's never been challenged in court so it continues. Many women are understandably annoyed at this sex-based difference.

If they do the obvious thing and ask a men's hairdresser to give them a short back and sides, they're usually told the business only caters for men. This is what actor Georgia Frost was told when she objected to paying the female rate.

"I pointed to the client [whose hair he was cutting] and said, I'm literally asking for this haircut you're doing now, and he just said No." She thinks the refusal is partly because a men's hairdresser is seen as a male sanctuary, and partly because of a belief about what a woman should look like. And maybe a touch of homophobia.

There are a few salons that offer sex-neutral pricing, such as Butchers and Cut UK, but they're still very rare.

What is urgently needed is a test case under the Equality Act to challenge the ongoing dual-pricing. It's not as if it's a negligible pound or two, it's a huge difference.

Of course if you're having colouring or highlights or extensions or some fancy hairdo, a high price reflects the work involved. But £30 or £40 for a few minutes' snipping and razoring? It's ridiculous.

PS: A female columnist on the Guardian says the cheapest price for a woman's haircut in her London neighbourhood is £53.

Pic: Georgia Frost

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Nosey parkers

As a non-parent, I'm grateful I've escaped all those unwanted criticisms that parents are confronted with. As if it isn't hard enough dealing with an unruly, angry child, unhelpful comments from others just add insult to injury.

In an American poll*, nearly two thirds of mothers said they felt they had been criticised for their parenting decisions, from their own family as much as from total strangers.

Discipline, sleep and diet were the topics that usually brought criticism, but anything was grist to the mill. I guess those who are long-time parents often feel entitled to criticise the supposed failings of new parents.

I don't criticise other people's behaviour, unless they're behaving especially badly. I don't even criticise people's table manners, something that gets a lot of people stewing.

And as a non-parent who has little idea of what parenting involves (apart from watching my own parents), and certainly not the day-after-day stress of living with volatile, self-centred, truculent youngsters, I wouldn't dare challenge a parent on his or her parenting skills.

So much of the criticism is a matter of opinion anyway. "Your children are being too noisy". "You should give him a good smack". "You're being too indulgent". "She's manipulating you". Mind your own business and shut the f--- up.

Looking back on my own childhood, I can see now that I must have been an absolute pain in the neck at times. I disagreed with my father on most things and I could be stubborn as a mule. Luckily he was a middle-class father who would think twice about clobbering me, however maddening I was being.

I have every sympathy for hard-pressed parents. However much you love your kids, there are times when they're simply utterly exhausting.

*A poll of 475 mothers of children under five by the C.S.Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Chasing beauty

I can't believe the amount of time and effort and money people spend on beautifying themselves. The beauty industry is worth hundreds of billions of pounds as people slap on the moisturisers, mascara and hair-dye and make furtive visits to the botox clinic or the plastic surgeon.

Personally I'm quite happy with my appearance. I have no beauty routine of any kind. I wash, wash my hair, shave, get dressed, that's it. I never tried to look like some fashionable male model or rock star*. I don't spend hours in front of the mirror wondering how to improve my looks. I have far more interesting things to do.

Women have always been told, one way or another, that their natural appearance isn't good enough and a vast range of beauty routines is needed to make them fit to be looked at and admired. Thorough depilation, skilful make-up, frequent hair-dos, flattering clothes - the list is endless.

It's not just women either. Plenty of men are now being sucked into the beauty game with their own lengthy requirements list. Thin and muscular, a full head of hair, no man-boobs, perfect skin. They're just as likely to be hogging the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning, hard at work with the eye-bag concealer.

I must say all this beautifying leaves me cold. I've always been drawn to natural-looking women, who to my mind look fine just as they are. Women with fancy hair-dos, thick make-up and skin-tight dresses look more like drag queens.

And the quest for a perfect body leads to all sorts of mental and emotional problems. The number of men and women being treated for eating disorders is rising rapidly. So too is the number of girls wanting to be boys because of the relentless pressure on girls to be physically flawless.

The frantic pursuit of unattainable beauty leaves a lot of casualties in its wake.

*except for a brief John Lennon period when I had long hair and a beard.

PS: Hair dye can be toxic. Actor Keira Knightley revealed that she now wears wigs in her films as constant hair-dyeing caused her hair to start falling out.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Still here

When I was young, I was quite certain I'd die before I was thirty. I was sure I'd be gone long before I got wrinkles, crows' feet, arthritis, dodgy eyesight and all the other attributes of old age. I'd be a victim of some freak accident or illness that would finish me off.

There was no good reason for this irrational belief. I wasn't addicted to drugs or alcohol. I didn't have a life-threatening disease. I wasn't doing a dangerous job. I wasn't a reckless driver. I was perfectly healthy. Yet I was convinced I didn't have long for this world.

I think I secretly liked the idea of dying in my prime. A tragic and romantic end to a promising life. A prodigious talent snuffed out far too early. Well, in my case, not quite a prodigious talent, more like a few vague and useless abilities.

And now here I am at the age of 72, still very much alive, still perfectly healthy and set to live another decade or two. Jenny is sure I'll live to 100 at least. How did that happen? What guardian angel is keeping an eye on me?

I've lived to see Boris Johnson, the internet, the obesity epidemic, peace in Northern Ireland, Taylor Swift, climate collapse, ripped jeans and bankrupt banks. I've seen every grisly and brutal thing human beings are capable of. I've been round the block a few times, as they say.

I must say I don't feel as if I'm 72. I feel that a seventy something should be an enormous repository of wisdom, an expert on every subject, in which case I'm sadly lacking as I still seem to have the skimpy and unreliable knowledge of a thirty year old. Anyone coming to see me for some brilliant advice on their latest life crisis would be sadly disappointed. I can just about change a light bulb.

I'm still waiting for the prodigious talent to kick in.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Frocks and heels

For some time now drag queens have been highly controversial. When men imitate women as entertainment, is it just a harmless bit of mock-femininity, or is it barely-disguised misogyny?

I'm ambivalent about drag myself. I see the arguments on both sides, but then I've never been to any drag shows, so the only examples I'm familiar with are pantomime dames like Widow Twankey or the odd female impersonator on TV or in movies (like Tootsie).

Of course as family viewing they would have been carefully sanitized and free of any overt misogyny or nastiness.

Personally I'm not convinced the world of drag is riddled with misogyny. In some cases maybe, but not as a general rule. I think most of it is the harmless fun they make it out to be. It amuses me to see men decked out in absurdly over-the-top hair-dos, gigantic bosoms in ultra-tight dresses, and precarious five-inch heels. I don't see how that's insulting to women. It seems to me they're just playing around with female stereotypes. Or am I missing something?

I was fascinated by drag queens as a kid. The family always went to a Christmas pantomime and I would be chuckling at the sight of Widow Twankey in Aladdin or the cook in Dick Whittington.

I love Grayson Perry's pottery and art work. I also love his alter ego, the flamboyantly-dressed Claire, and so it seems do plenty of women. What's not to like about his crazy dresses and footwear (and his teddy bear Alan Measles)?

If a man wants to put on a dress or prance around in high heels, why not? After all, male clothing is so dull and boring, why not jazz it up a little?

I can't see the harm. But I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Pic: Grayson Perry, alias Claire

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Crowded out

It seems that tourism is being rapidly ruined by a number of fashionable trends that are turning once quiet and peaceful locations into an over-crowded nightmare of idling coaches, massive queues and selfie-mania.

Firstly youngsters are latching onto the "30 before 30" game, which as it suggests means visiting 30 countries before the age of 30. At the same time oldies are working through bucket lists with a long tally of never-visited countries.

Secondly people are travelling simply to look well-travelled, heading for desirable countries and then posting selfies from all the iconic spots to trump other people's selfies with their own far superior shots.

I'm baffled by all this. I visit other countries because they look like interesting places, not out of some competitive urge to outdo my friends and acquaintances and prove how cosmopolitan and up-to-the-minute I am.

The alarming result of this one-upmanship is that all the well-known tourist locations are being swamped and are having to limit the numbers with restrictions of one kind or another. And what should have been an enjoyable experience becomes a miserable one as tourists jostle each other for the best view and the best selfie.

Social media is partly to blame. People jet off to somewhere they've seen idyllic photos of on Facebook or Instagram, only to find that hundreds of other people had the same idea and are queuing up to get their two minutes in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Venus de Milo.

I guess Jenny and I are lucky to have seen a lot of famous locations while they were still relatively under-visited and not the over-run tourist traps they've now become.

And we've got selfies to prove it.

PS: Even Chernobyl is now suffering from over-tourism, with people taking selfies in the famous control room, where radiation can be 40,000 times higher than normal levels.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Girl friends

I didn't have that many serious relation-ships before I met Jenny, and they only lasted a few months or even weeks. It wouldn't take long for one of us to become disenchanted with the other and call it a day. I was very picky about who I dated and the women likewise.
  • There was Sue, my very first girl friend, a trainee solicitor who had a mental breakdown after completing her exams and stopped dating.
  • There was Gill, a religious Tory supporter, who was great fun but we finally fell out over politics.
  • There was Caroline, a go-getter and reckless driver who got bored with my laid-back-ness.
  • There was Pamela, who I dropped because she was oddly submissive and deferential to men (I always preferred assertive women).
  • There was Maggie, scatty and accident-prone, who I ruthlessly abandoned after falling for Trish at a party.
  • There was Grethe, a single mum with a truculent son, who I stopped seeing because her highly-stressed chain-smoking was only fuelling my own anxieties.
  • There was Rosie, who took a fancy to me when she was fighting with her existing boy friend, but then made it up with him.
  • And of course there was Trish, a freewheeling sixties flower child. We lived together for about six months before I decided we were incompatible and abruptly pulled the plug. That's something that bugs me to this day. I have no idea what I meant by incompatible. As far as I remember we got on very well. Maybe it was just the masculine fear of commitment.
There were lots of women I lusted after along the way, but they showed not a flicker of interest in return. Hardly surprising since I was never a dazzling Mr Beefcake, more a pigeon-chested Mr Average. I've posted before about my obsession with Gina, who I was besotted with but who always politely rebuffed me.

Then in 1981 I met Jenny. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

A nurse's story

When I was in hospital for my prostate operation in 2017, I was aware of how busy the nurses were, scurrying from one patient to another checking their vital signs, keeping an eye on whatever equipment they were plugged into, giving them help of one kind or another. But I didn't know the half of it.

A book by the former nurse Christie Watson* reveals the reality of a nurse's job and just how demanding and meticulous and scary and messy it can be. I can only admire those resilient souls who take on such a difficult job and do it so well.
  • They have to clean up shit, piss, vomit, diarrhoea, blood and all sorts of foul liquids that a sick patient produces.
  • They have to give patients the right medicine, at the right dosage, in the right way, at the right time. One tiny slip can lead to a major emergency or even death.
  • They may work very long shifts (often night shifts) of 12 hours or more with barely time to eat or use the toilet, such is the relentless pressure.
  • They have to be familiar with hundreds of common or less common medical conditions and how each is treated.
  • They need to be alert to the smallest change in a patient's condition that means urgent action is needed.
It's not a job for dawdlers or the faint-hearted. They do it for the satisfaction of helping very sick people become fit and healthy again, and seeing pain and terror and misery replaced by smiling, grateful faces. They want to do a job that really means something, not just a pen-pushing office job.

Quite a few nurses don't last the course. Sooner or late they realise they're not up to the unremitting demands and responsibilities of the job and they quit.

Jenny was a nurse for a while. My sister Heather was a nurse for a while. My niece Lucy has just qualified as a Registered Nurse and I applaud her for it. I think of all the pain and suffering she will relieve and the many hundreds of lives she will save.

*The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story by Christie Watson

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

First and foremost

I was reading about first time experi-ences, which got me thinking about my own most memorable first times. There are quite a few. In fact most first times are memorable for one reason or another.

My first day at work in a local newspaper office is hard to forget. Firstly because at that time smoking wasn't banned in offices and half the staff smoked like chimneys. The fug was so thick I could scarcely breathe and I seriously thought of resigning. Secondly half the reporters were women and after my single-sex education they seemed like an alien species. It took me a while to get used to them!

My first sexual experience was a bit disastrous because my then girlfriend Trish insisted on sex even though she was menstruating. By the time we finished there was blood all over the place. Luckily I left the rented flat before the landlord discovered the mess. It looked like a major crime scene.

My first trip abroad was with my sister and parents to Paris. I remember accidentally locking myself out of my hotel room and trying to explain to one of the staff what had happened in my very poor French. I was so mortified I just wanted to fall through the floor.

The first house I owned (with Jenny) felt like a huge responsibility after living in flats for so many years. When we first moved in I was very nervous something awful would happen - the roof leaking, the chimney collapsing*, the boiler exploding, you name it. After a few weeks of uneventful occupation, I wondered why I'd been so jittery.

Some first times escape me - like my first taste of alcohol, my first hangover, my first day at school, my first driving lesson. Clearly they weren't very memorable. Or else I've buried the memories because they're far too embarrassing to revisit.

* In my first childhood home, the chimney did in fact collapse, seconds after I'd walked past it. A few seconds later and I would have been under a heap of rubble.

Friday, 6 December 2019

On their own

At this time of year there are plenty of media articles about joyful family Christ-mases, with granny and grandpa knocking back the whisky, kids playing with their new toys, and parents happily serving the turkey and sprouts.

There's not much mention of the folk who'll be on their own at Christmas, all too conscious of the festivities going on around them and wishing they were included. It may be only one day, but when you're feeling left out, it can seem a lot longer.

Of course there may be a good reason why they're on their own. Maybe they have the sort of personalities that drive others away. Maybe their relatives live on the other side of the world. Maybe they can't stand their family and want to avoid them. But whatever the reason, it can be a miserable day for some.

When I was living on my own in London, I often spent Christmas by myself, but I didn't feel lonely. I would settle down with a good book, go for a long walk on Hampstead Heath, and work my way through a packet of mince pies. One Christmas I read The Gulag Archipelago, a strange choice for Christmas I know, but it was horribly riveting.

As I've said before, I don't often feel disconnected from other people. I feel very connected to all those with similar passions and interests - especially art, music, books and films - so the lack of connection with particular individuals doesn't bother me. If I'm in an art gallery surrounded by other people, I feel completely at home even if I don't know a single soul. In fact if someone starts talking to me, I might very well shoo them away!

But it's a shame the huge emphasis on Christmas as a rowdy, gregarious get-together only makes the lonely feel even lonelier.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

And another thing....

So it seems there's yet another advantage we baby boomers have had over the young, which we're only now coming to appreciate.

Yes, many of us have had very fortunate lives compared to younger generations who are facing any number of challenges - tuition fees, soaring rents, soaring house prices, falling salaries, welfare cuts, a crumbling NHS and all the rest. We've done very well and we're shocked at how bad things have got for the young. We always confidently assumed their lives would be even better than ours.

And now I realise that all these years we've had another benefit that we never recognised at the time but is now becoming glaringly obvious - we never for a second worried about how our behaviour might be bad for the climate.

We happily drove thousands of miles, flew thousands of miles, ate meat every day (well, not me, I'm a vegetarian), enjoyed log and coal fires, enjoyed oil and gas central heating, and bought things that had been flown across the world. We never saw anything wrong with what we were doing. We took it all for granted.

Only in the last few years has it sunk in that we're facing a massive climate breakdown and need to radically change our lifestyles to put things right.

Suddenly I have to examine everything I do and consider if it's harmless or if I'm damaging the climate. If I'm doing damage, I have to ask myself, is it really necessary or can I do without it?

No longer can I just mindlessly follow my whims without a thought for the consequences. No longer can I casually whizz around the world, or crank up the central heating. All that innocent indulgence is a thing of the past. And something forever denied the young.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

A blind eye

I have to admit that when I notice someone doing something reprehens-ible - something criminal or cruel or anti-social - I'm always in a quandary. Should I turn a blind eye or should I take action? Many's the time when for one reason or another I've turned a blind eye.

I'm sure I'm not the only one. How many of us are prepared to take it further if we risk violence, abuse or some other kind of retaliation? I suspect most people would hesitate before diving in.

When I was working at a London bookshop once, one of the staff quite casually walked out with two bulging carrier bags of stolen books. Nobody said a word. None of the other staff, including me, were prepared to intervene. Why, I couldn't say. I guess we were all waiting for someone else to make the first move.

Another time Jenny and I were in a supermarket when the manager stopped an elderly man who was walking out with some stolen cheese and physically knocked him to the floor. On this occasion we took action. We were so disgusted by this inhuman response that we abandoned a trolley full of shopping and took our custom elsewhere.

When I see a mother shouting and screaming at her truculent child, I'm tempted to defend the child and tell her to calm down. I don't though because I tell myself that (a) it's none of my business and (b) what right do I have as a non-parent to criticise her behaviour? But that allows her to keep shouting and screaming.

There are more trivial misdeeds - dog shit left on the pavement, parked cars blocking cycle lanes, people dropping litter. But I can't object to everything, I'd soon be known as the mad bossyboots at number 90. So I keep quiet and let them get away with it.

My mother was bolder, a shameless busybody. She was always embarrassing me by ticking people off for their bad behaviour.

I'd end up ticking her off for ticking people off.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Fascists and fusspots

People are so easily offended nowadays. They fume and rage at virtually anything that doesn't meet their lofty expectations of other human beings. They're unable to take things in their stride and just live and let live.

Personally I'm not easily offended. Not because I'm thick-skinned, which I'm not, but because I seldom see what someone's said or done as offensive. I'm more likely to conclude they're just being ignorant, or insensitive, or thoughtless, or having a bad day. Or simply looking for attention.

If I took offence at every opinion about old people for example I'd be doing nothing but firing off complaints. Every day there's an abundance of crazy comments about us oldies. Such as:
  • Old people are an increasing burden on the NHS
  • They've outlived their usefulness and should hurry up and die
  • They drive slowly and erratically and hold up other drivers
  • They're greedy and take too big a share of our resources
  • They're an embarrassment when they try to dance
  • They're all fascist reactionaries who voted for Brexit
  • They've sabotaged the life prospects of young people
  • They clog up supermarket aisles with their trollies full of All Bran
  • They're totally out of touch and living in the past
  • They're pernickety fusspots who want everything to be just-so
Okay, I exaggerate - but not much. If I got publicly indignant about every stupid observation, I'd be exhausted by the end of the day. I just marvel at people's willingness to write off 20 per cent of the population (all those over 65) as dysfunctional, useless has-beens.

Mostly I simply ignore it all, and liken it to the half-baked ramblings of the irascible drunk in the local pub.

The elderly irascible drunk, naturally. These old people, just no inhibitions....

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Dire straits

I don't recall ever being sunk in despair. Despair meaning that sense of complete hopelessness, helplessness, inability to escape from an awful predicament. That sense that whatever you do, you're not going to solve the dreadful mess you're in.

I'm very lucky. Other people experience despair on a regular basis, even a daily basis if they're extremely poor, heavily in debt, coping with a serious disability or suffering domestic violence.

I've been in tough situations where it was hard to see any way out, but I never sank into black despair. I always believed there was light at the end of the tunnel, things would get better, the crisis would pass.

Even when I lived in a spartan and freezing bedsit and couldn't afford anywhere really comfortable, and the landlord refused to do any necessary repairs, and my upstairs neighbour was a raucous alcoholic, I never lost hope that things would eventually improve. And they did.

Even when we were selling our London flat and moving to Belfast, and the prospective buyer went on stalling and delaying for months, and we seemed to be going nowhere, I never sank into despair (though I got pretty near it). We just kept pushing and prodding until finally the sale was completed and we were off.

But this is all utterly trivial compared to what others go through. I can't imagine the wrenching despair felt by those unlucky people caught in the catastrophic floods in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire - their homes and businesses ruined and their lives turned upside down. Or the despair felt by longstanding migrants to Britain who're suddenly told by the government they aren't welcome here and should leave the country. That's real, overwhelming despair.

I've been lucky so far. But despair may be just lying in wait.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Not a curmudgeon

Ten years ago I remarked that although elderly males are commonly depicted as grumpy old men, I had yet to become one and remained the cheerful, easy-going, philosophical person I had always been.

I'm pleased to report that remains the case and I haven't yet degenerated into the sort of surly, abusive curmudgeon people hastily cross the road to avoid.

I don't habitually rage and curse at stupid motorists, hate teenagers and sales assistants, fume at red tape and form-filling, attack dumbing down and falling standards, or despise anything invented in the last 20 years.

I don't accept the mantra that "everything's getting worse", "the country's going to the dogs", "everyone's so selfish nowadays", and all those other pessimistic pronouncements.

On the contrary, there's so much about life today that's inspiring and uplifting and stimulating. The endless possibilities of the internet for getting information, keeping in touch with people, sharing jokes, and looking for tradespeople. The cultural riches of art, music, books and films. All the new ideas and tastes brought by migrants from all over the world. The increasing political awareness of the young, worried about climate breakdown, authoritarian governments and their personal future.

When I'm lucky enough to have all that, why get worked up about a few sullen teenagers, offhand shop assistants or careless motorists? They're wee buns in the grand scheme of things, minor irritations to be noted and forgotten.

My father was one of the "everything's getting worse" brigade, convinced we were all going to hell in a handcart and thankful he wouldn't be alive much longer. I'm glad to say I couldn't agree less with the old misery guts.

Just think, without the internet I would never have met Simon's Cat.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Attention deficit

When I was young, attention-seeking was a cardinal sin. You had to be quiet and unassuming, hiding your light under a bushel. My parents were always telling me not to draw attention to myself, not to show off, not to make a spectacle of myself.

It wasn't just my parents. This was a social norm most people adhered to. Persistent attention-seekers were seen as immature, vulgar, weird, a bit mentally lacking. It was best to ignore them, to avoid encouraging them.

Nowadays we've gone to the opposite extreme. Attention-seeking is routine, and thousands of people spend their lives seeking as much attention as possible. Their every move is broadcast on Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social media sites. We know what they had for breakfast, when they last had a pee, the embarrassing pimple on their nose, their sexual disappointments, their ingrowing toenails, their fear of hedgehogs. There's absolutely nothing they keep to themselves.

They'll do virtually anything to get attention, especially politicians. They tell lies, they make wild allegations, they smear their opponents, they pour out vitriolic abuse. So long as it stirs up heated controversies that keep them in the public eye.

I've never succumbed to this new fashion. I have no desire to be the centre of attention. If anything I have a horror of attention, a deep aversion to other people inspecting me too closely, judging me and gossiping about me. I much prefer to be on my own, enjoying my favourite activities without a flock of curious people around me.

It's not that I have anything to hide. I don't have all sorts of sordid secrets I'm desperate to keep under wraps. I'll reveal anything, even the most personal quirks and oddities, but preferably to an audience of one. I just get nervous when too many people are watching my every move.

So I don't think I'll tell you what I had for breakfast.

(PS: Blogging is just fine. I'm happy to reveal all to my cosy little band of blogging friends)

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Addiction free

I may have 101 idiotic neuroses, from dislike of darkness to social anxiety and imposter syndrome, but one thing I'm thankful for is not having an addictive personality. Something I've inherited I guess, as I can't think of any other family member who has (or had) any addictions. Well, apart from my father's 10-a-day fag habit (which he gave up instantly after having a stroke at the age of 55). And apart from my mother's persistent hoarding.

It's simple enough to get addicted to something, after all. Casual enjoyment can very quickly turn into a raging compulsion. And goodness knows, there are plenty of addictions to choose from - tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, the internet, OCD, fast food, chocolate, sugary drinks, hoarding, the list is endless.

I've always found it easy to stop doing something when it gets to the threshold of addiction. I just tell myself "Okay, that's enough" and I stop. I have two glasses of wine and that's it. I shop for the clothes I need and that's it. I eat a chocolate or two and that's it.

It's not that I'm terrified of getting addicted. It's not that I've had to deal with someone's chronic addiction. I just know when to stop before something enjoyable becomes something compulsive, an urge I can't resist. Maybe I have a strong sense of self-preservation that stops me doing something obviously self-destructive. Whatever.

I just don't understand addiction, because I've never been addicted. My mother was a relentless hoarder, and I despaired at the mountains of junk in her flat. But I hadn't a clue why she felt the need to hoard. I know lots of people who drink far too much and I don't understand that either. Though I can imagine the pain and distress of knowing you're addicted to something and desperately wanting to get it under control.

"Just say no" isn't as simple as it seems.