Monday, 23 April 2018

Pampering required

I do like my comfort as I get older. Gone are the days when I would put up with spartan, rough-and-ready conditions, telling myself it was much more fun and much more "real" than pampered luxury.

It's a very long time since I went to rock festivals in fields swimming in mud and litter, shivering in a leaky tent and joining endless queues for food, drink and toilets. Nowadays I'll only go to a gig in a warm indoor venue with proper seating and toilets that don't mean a wait of 20 minutes. Or alternatively I'll stay at home in even greater comfort and listen to a few CDs.

Likewise I've never been camping since a disastrous experience at the age of 13 when I went to a two-week Boy Scout camp in Yorkshire and it rained solidly for the whole fortnight. I was soaked and miserable from start to finish and couldn't wait to return home. Any suggestion of camping since then has filled me with horror and met with a prompt and unshakable refusal.

For several years I lived in a damp, dismal, under-heated bedsit lacking any mod cons and so dispiriting I hesitated to invite anyone round. I spent as much time as I could in more appealing places like museums and art galleries. What a relief it is now to be in a warm, cosy house where visitors are welcome.

I used to cycle everywhere as a teenager, but I'm no longer prepared to be freezing cold, deluged with rain, splashed by passing cars or insulted by angry motorists. Not to mention the time it takes to get anywhere. I prefer to be in a car with a roof over my head, cocooned in warmth and moving at a steady clip.

I'll leave others with greater resilience to enjoy rugged lifestyles. A bit of pampering is more to my taste.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Bottle opening

It's still a hot topic - who is more knowledgeable, youngsters or oldies? There are young people who regard older people as ignorant and behind the times, and oldies who regard the young as clueless and wet behind the ears.

Personally I believe it's a mixture. Both oldies and youngsters are clued-up on some things and baffled by others. No age group has a monopoly on knowledge. Just because you've lived for 60 or 70 years doesn't mean you've acquired more knowledge than a teenager. You may just have accumulated more wrong ideas and pointless skills.

A recent survey reveals 40 things oldies are more likely to know than youngsters. Like how to sew on a button, multiply without a calculator, wire a plug, spell correctly, play chess, iron a shirt, polish shoes, name different birds, make marmalade or give first aid. I'm pleased to say I can do most of them, so how clever am I?

But youngsters could no doubt name 40 things they know that oldies probably don't know - especially things involving technology or passing exams or the damage we're doing to the planet or academic bullshit. And of course they'll ask why anyone needs to know how to sew on a button or make marmalade.

I certainly don't feel I'm more wised-up than the young. For all the things I'm familiar with, there are dozens of other things I know nothing about. Furthermore I'm now much more conscious of my enormous ignorance than when I was young. Back then I was confident I understood all the world's problems and how to solve them. The tangled complexities of life totally escaped me.

Still, some knowledge is important, some isn't. As long as I have the essential skills like opening a wine bottle, unwrapping a chocolate bar, swearing at politicians and dodging Bible bashers, everything's just fine and dandy.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A torrent of bugs

One familiar media standby is poor hygiene and how this or that everyday object is crawling with nasty bugs that could finish us off. In fact it's nothing short of a miracle that we're still alive, given the horrendous torrent of germs we're constantly exposed to.

Surveys keep telling us that the level of contamination on our smartphones, computer keyboards, dishcloths, kitchen worktops or toilet seats is staggeringly high because of our filthy habits.

The latest hygiene scare comes from a professor at the University of Arizona, who tells us our shoes are teeming with dangerous bugs. He says a new pair of shoes worn for two weeks could pick up 440,000 units of bacteria. Although he concludes the risk of catching anything really nasty is low, he suggests regularly cleaning your shoes with detergent.

Is he serious? How many people are going to keep scrubbing their shoes with detergent on the off-chance that if they don't, they're not long for this world? I would hazard a guess the number isn't far off zero.

Personally I take no special hygiene precautions other than washing my hands now and then, not wearing outdoor shoes in the house, and occasionally sweeping the kitchen floor. Am I constantly ill? Not at all. I'm actually remarkably healthy.

But I'm aware that a surprising number of people are hygiene-crazy and probably horrified enough by these scare stories to scurry around cleaning everything in sight and worrying they'll miss that one lethal bug that could do them in. The daily stream of lurid health warnings is the last thing they need.

The reality is that we're probably far more likely to die from jaywalking than from a vicious germ on the worktop. I'll say it loud and proud - I'm not afraid of my dishcloth.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Namby pamby

One thing I thank my parents for is that they never expected me to conform to a gender role but just let me be what came naturally. They never expected me to like or do certain things because I was a boy rather than a girl.

They never expected me to like sport, or stamp collecting, or climbing trees, or films with tough male heroes. I did have a model railway and a Bayko building set (sort of like Lego), but that was my preference and nothing to do with them. I used to play keeping house with my sister and I used to play with her dolls and her cuddly toys.

Likewise my parents didn't expect me to be muscle-bound or physically tough. They didn't expect me to be impassive or unemotional. And they didn't expect me to hide my vulnerability or insecurity. They were very non-coercive in that respect.

Boarding school however was a different matter. There was a strongly masculine atmosphere. You shouldn't be emotional, you shouldn't show your vulnerability, you had to be competitive and forceful and loud, you had to be a sports-lover, and if you were bullied or pushed around, you just had to suck it up. Any hint of anything feminine or "namby-pamby" was firmly squashed.

Fortunately not much of this macho outlook rubbed off, partly because it just wasn't me, partly because of the more easy-going attitude at home, partly because it struck me as immature and repressive. How I endured it for so long (five years) without rebelling or running away, I don't know. I must have been a very stoical child.

Some people say boarding schools have changed and they're much more enlightened nowadays. Somehow I doubt it. In a boys-only community without any girls to challenge them, a masculine ethos must inevitably take over and permeate everything.

They sure as hell won't be admiring each other's new frocks.

Pic: Schoolboys who weren't allowed to wear shorts came to school in skirts.

Friday, 30 March 2018


There's a Facebook meme on the go, in which every day for (say) 28 days you voice your gratitude for something in your life. As I'm probably not grateful enough for all the blessings that have fallen on me, I thought I'd borrow the meme right here.

So, some of the things I'm grateful for:
  • Being fit and healthy at the age of 71 (apart from slight hypertension and a trace of prostate cancer)
  • Having visited some beautiful cities and countries (Australia, the USA, Canada, Germany, Italy - with New Zealand coming up in January)
  • Having lived with a smart, amusing, supportive and independent-minded partner for the last 35 years
  • A windfall from my mum which helped us buy our present house
  • Having met so many interesting, quirky, unusual and surprising people
  • Having had so many enjoyable, challenging and worthwhile jobs
  • Living in a country that's relatively peaceful, democratic and prosperous (apart from the Troubles, that is)
  • The natural world, with all its astonishing plants, rivers, beaches, landscapes and wildlife
  • Everyone who has helped me out in a crisis and got me back on track
  • All the public services, from the NHS to education, welfare benefits, pensions and national parks
  • Always having enough money and never being on the breadline
  • Always having a home and never being homeless
  • The internet and all the wonderful people I've met through Facebook and blogging
  • Everyone who has opened my mind to new ideas and new viewpoints
  • Never having to worry about sharks, crocodiles or poisonous snakes
  • Rock music, books, films and art
  • Never being caught in an earthquake, a bushfire or a flood
  • Being able to read and write
  • The freedom not to follow a religion
  • Not being an angry, self-righteous bully like my (late) father
No doubt there are things I've missed out, things so obvious I take them for granted. But I like the idea of a regular roll-call of gratitude. It reminds me that the world isn't as horrible as I sometimes paint it.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Fleeting glimpses

  • I won't leave any great achievements behind me when I die. I shall simply vanish into the ether. I have no problem with that.
  • I'm used to doing things on my own. If other people are hovering, I get flustered (if they're hoovering, I get even more flustered).
  • Most cats find me frightening. They rush off at top speed when they see me. But some cats are extra friendly and want lots of stroking.
  • I know I shouldn't judge by appearances but I do. I like to think I can suss someone out. Usually my assumptions are quite wrong.
  • Sometimes I have no patience whatever and get instantly exasperated. At other times I have all the patience in the world. There's no logic to it.
  • I'm not easily duped or scammed. I have a pretty acute shit-detector that alerts me fast. In fact I'm a bit too sceptical for my own good.
  • How handy it would be if toenails and fingernails stopped growing once they reached their full size. Why do they need to keep growing??
  • Flying doesn't scare me. Planes are incredibly well maintained and very safe. After all, the pilots and crew want to stay alive.
  • I may be six foot, but I don't think of myself as tall unless I see myself in the mirror. I tend to think I'm a similar height to other people.
  • I'm compulsively polite. I hate having arguments with people, so I always try to smooth things over with a few bland comments.
  • It's strange that I've never seen myself walking down the street.
  • I wouldn't be seen dead with a pair of Calvin Klein underpants. Or a pair of budgie-smugglers. Or a pair of budgies. Or even a single budgie. Even if it was very lonely and desperate for company.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Dainty nibbles

We don't like to call other people greedy, do we? Firstly, it's obviously insulting. Who wants to be thought of as greedy? And secondly, it's a matter of opinion. What one person sees as greed, another sees as a natural and understandable desire for something they don't have.

I guess we'd all agree the fabulously wealthy are greedy. I mean, who needs to accumulate millions or billions of pounds? You can only spend so much on having a comfortable lifestyle, and beyond that it's just money in the bank, money the less fortunate could desperately do with.

But when it comes to ordinary folk, what makes them greedy? Are they greedy for wanting a bigger car or a bigger house or more holidays or more clothes? Or are they just after the good things in life, the things seen as part of a normal, run-of-the-mill lifestyle?

I wouldn't call myself greedy. As I see it, I have just enough of everything I need and enough to make me happy. I have a spacious house and garden, sufficient money, plenty of good food and wine, some beautiful paintings, hundreds of books, regular holidays. What more could I want?

Of course greed also encompasses those little everyday things, like asking for an extra slice of cake, or another cup of tea, or more potatoes. If everyone else has finished eating, will they think I'm greedy asking for more or will they just think I have a healthy appetite?

When it comes to alcohol though, you can drink like a fish and nobody accuses you of greed. If you stop at a glass or two, you're seen as a hair-shirted killjoy. Suddenly greed is just fine.

And greed is always more acceptable in a man. A man can happily stuff his face, while a woman should stick at dainty nibbles. Nothing too un-ladylike....

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The blockade

When he heard Donald Trump had become US President, Erik Hagerman was so shocked and dismayed he decided he'd had enough of the news and from then on was going to ignore it. He would live his life news-free and be a lot happier for it.

Well, so far he seems to have kept his promise and not one news item has spoilt his day. He's fully occupied breeding pigs and making sculptures. Or so he says. It's hard to believe he's indifferent to the President's latest crazy decision or the latest mass shooting, but apparently it all passes him by.

I couldn't cut myself off from the world to that extent. I know so much of the news nowadays is depressing and horrifying, I know it's probably not good for my blood pressure or my emotional well-being, but I couldn't just shut it all out.

Apart from feeling I should be fully informed about what goes on in the world and how people live their lives - including those lives that are violent, nasty and depraved - there are also news items that are encouraging and instructive and I would be missing out on them.

In any case such a boycott (what he calls the blockade) would be almost impossible to maintain without an iron will and all sorts of rigid restrictions. I doubt if I would keep it up for more than a week or two without cracking. I would see a group of people having a heated debate about something and I would be itching to know what they were discussing.

And I have to admit I'm also hooked on those quirky little stories that provide a bit of light relief. Like the controversy among National Trust members as to what you should spread on your scones first - the jam or the cream. I love how people can get so frenzied over such utter trivia.

Pic: Erik Hagerman

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Frightfully vulgar

It's rare these days to hear someone being called "vulgar". But it was a frequent comment when I was young, and I remember my parents finding any number of odd things "vulgar". Glaring vulgarity had to be avoided at all costs.

Nowadays nobody seems to care very much if their behaviour could be labelled "vulgar". They carry on doing their own thing regardless, and if anyone disapproves, too bad. Seeing something as vulgar has itself become vulgar.

But my parents had a long list of things they deemed vulgar - not wearing smart enough clothes, not mowing the lawn often enough, not using a tablecloth, not washing up straight after a meal, to name a few - and they policed this code of vulgarity strictly.

Of course what "vulgar" really meant was lower-class or under-educated. It meant what they did on council estates or in factories. It meant the behaviour of people with no sense of decorum or etiquette. It meant those too dim to have any sophistication or good taste.

But that's all changed. Now the very suggestion that someone is being vulgar is seen as pretentious, snobbish, superior. It's seen as a mean attempt to spoil someone else's pleasure. It's seen as blinkered, old-fashioned prejudice.

I suppose my parents' strictures had some positive effect, however absurd some of them were. I may have lived my whole adult life without using a tablecloth, but nevertheless I've picked up a sense of "doing things properly" rather than doing them any-old-how, which is probably an advantage.

I guess the idea of vulgarity still lives on in other guises. Today, instead of saying something is vulgar, you say it's embarrassing or cringey. Or you say the person is attention-seeking. Or you complain that everything is being dumbed down.

And dumbing things down is surely the height of vulgarity.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Teenage cliché

It's an old cliché that teenagers are wild and reckless and thoroughly irrespons-ible, endlessly getting paralytically drunk, popping dangerous drugs, driving like lunatics and addicted to sex.

Well, I'm sure that was never true for more than a small number of teenagers, while the rest are no more reckless than anyone else, or actually quite restrained and responsible.

I have to admit the popular cliché never applied to me, as I was never particularly unruly or impetuous. I first got drunk when I was 22, I've always avoided dangerous drugs, I'm a habitually cautious driver and I've never been sex-mad.

This wasn't entirely a matter of personal inclination. For five years I was at boarding school, where there wasn't much choice about being well-behaved. We had no access to drink, drugs or cars and any unruly behaviour would have been jumped on pretty quickly. We were expected to be models of propriety at all times, nothing like all those stroppy teenage tearaways we heard about.

While other teenagers were rebelling left right and centre, I was quietly studying for exams, reading set books, playing cricket and learning French. The only drink I ever saw was orange juice and the only drug I ever took was aspirin.

To some extent I caught up after I left school and got immersed in the alternative culture of the sixties. For a few years I could even have been described as mildly rebellious. But it didn't take me long to settle down and become, if not a model of propriety, something close to it.

I don't regret missing out on teenage wildness, though. It might have been fun, but it might have ended in tragedy. One drink too many, one drug too many, and I might have come to a sticky end.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Don't tell mum

I guess it's normal for kids to realise at some point that it's a mistake to tell their parents every detail of their lives. The innocent habit of blurting everything out regardless gives way to a more reserved approach in which you keep certain things to yourself.

You realise that some of the things you do and say are likely to get a hostile or at least chilly response from your uncomprehending parents, and you learn to keep them to yourself or save them for more understanding friends.

I have a long list of things that I've never mentioned to my mother or father (mainly my mother as my father died many years ago) - in some cases things from decades ago that my mother knows nothing about. For example:
  • The times I tried cannabis and LSD
  • The odd instance of petty theft
  • My not-very-orthodox sex life
  • Most of my political views (my mother is very right-wing, as was my father)
  • My presence at gay pride and pro-choice rallies
  • My taste in books, music and films
  • The crummy bedsits I used to live in
  • One or two girlfriends she wouldn't have approved of
I also haven't told her about the trace of prostate cancer. Well, I know she would only worry about it, even though it's pretty insignificant at this point.

The fact that I keep so much to myself is I suppose one reason why we've never been especially close. Closeness is dependent on a fairly open and honest relationship in which you can talk freely to each other. If I have to think twice about everything I'm about to say, that creates a huge barrier between us.

I imagine other people censor themselves with their parents in much the same way, though maybe to a lesser extent that doesn't preclude closeness. I envy those who can talk to their parents without such crushing inhibition.

Monday, 26 February 2018

A splurge to remember

I'm constantly amazed at how much some people spend on weddings, and what they could have done with all that money instead of splurging it on a single day of celebration.

I see the average cost of a wedding is now £27,000, which includes £4,354 for venue hire, £3,630 for the honeymoon, and £3,353 for the food. I guess it also includes a special car to arrive in, a photographer, the wedding dress, wedding favours and umpteen tips for the service providers. That's a staggering amount to mark the fact that you love someone.

I'm not criticising those who choose to splash out so much on their "big day". It's their choice and nothing to do with me. If they want a super-ceremony they'll always enjoy looking back on, why not?

But personally I can think of much better uses for £27,000. Like building up a deposit to buy a home. Or several luxury holidays. Or updating the kitchen. Or buying a new car. Or regular visits to a favourite restaurant.

When Jenny and I finally married, after cohabiting for many years - because her occupational pension would only go to her spouse if she died - we didn't want an elaborate ceremony. We had a hefty mortgage at the time, and money was short. And anyway, we knew we loved each other and wanted to stay together, and we didn't see the need for a lot of fancy razzamatazz to prove it.

So we had a very simple ceremony, with two old friends as witnesses, and then took them for a slap-up meal at - yes - our favourite local restaurant. Total cost of the wedding was the marriage fee, whatever that was, plus the restaurant bill of around £80 at today's prices. Not exactly ruinous!

A good job we didn't have confetti. That would have been another fiver....

Monday, 19 February 2018

Filling the gaps

Am I a voyeur? Of course not. Perish the thought. How disgusting would that be? But hang on, what do we mean by voyeur? There are several different meanings.

It can mean taking a sexual interest in naked women (or men). You can rule that out. It can mean enjoying someone's pain or distress. You can rule that out too.

But being a voyeur can also mean taking an unhealthy interest in other people's lives. In which case don't we all do that from time to time? Aren't we all prone to be rather too curious about people, even when it's something that's strictly none of our business?

I want to know why someone's marriage broke up. Or what caused their death. Or whether they've had plastic surgery. I'm curious about all those little details that are glossed over. I'm just curious period, and inevitably that curiosity may verge on the intrusive.

I can't see what's wrong with that. Curiosity is a natural human trait. It's better to be curious than indifferent. After all, I'm not saying the person has to satisfy my curiosity. I'm not forcing them to reveal something they'd rather hide. If they want to keep quiet, fine, they're entitled to their privacy. I'm just saying that I'm curious and want to fill in the gaps.

The most obvious example of voyeurism is of course the insatiable pursuit of celebrities, the desire to know every tiny detail of their lives. Why do we need to know all this? Isn't it enough to enjoy their acting or music or whatever their talent is?

If a celeb is involved in some sort of scandal or dubious behaviour, then my curiosity is aroused. But otherwise I ignore them. Their private lives don't interest me.

So I'm a sort of voyeur. So sue me.

Thanks to Kylie for the inspiration

Monday, 12 February 2018

One or two?

The endless argument about which is the best lifestyle, living alone or living with someone else, polarises a lot of people. Some reel off all the benefits of being on your own while others say no, no, it's much better to cohabit.

Having spent long periods both on my own and living with someone else, I see the perks and drawbacks of both. But the abstract argument about which is best misses the point, because in reality it's a question of what suits your particular personality. Gregarious types like company, retiring types want solitude.

Personally I much prefer living with someone else. I like the company, the emotional support, the private jokes, the shared experiences, the joint decision-making, the reliance on the other's expertise, the hugs and cuddles. And the bed's a lot warmer!

When I lived alone (for about eight years), I liked the independence, the simplicity of only considering myself, the ability to freely indulge my own tastes, the lack of distractions.

That doesn't amount to much though compared to cohabiting. Being on my own may have been great in some ways, but I was aware there was so much missing. Especially the emotional support, shared experiences and hugs and cuddles.

Living alone is probably okay if you have a big social network - plenty of friends and family to give you the benefits of company - or if you spend a lot of time travelling and you're not at home very much, but if you only have one or two friends, as I had, and you're always inside the same four walls, then it's not such fun.

But I know people living on their own who are perfectly happy and would hate to share their space with anyone else.

Whatever floats your boat....

Friday, 9 February 2018

Thoroughly endearing

Okay, that's enough of the introspective burblings. Yes, I'm full of neuroses but I have plenty of normal, healthy traits as well. In fact I have some highly laudable ones. I uncovered an old blog post in which I listed all my charming and endearing qualities. I think it's about time I dusted them off and gave them another airing:

1) I don't harbour malicious thoughts about friends, loved ones or workmates.
2) I don't hurl anonymous abuse on Twitter.
3) I'm not interested in porn.
4) I'm not misogynistic or homophobic.
5) I'm deeply disturbed by all the poverty, violence, misery and oppression in the world.
6) I've never had an extra-marital affair.
7) I like fluffy kittens and cupcakes.
8) I mind my own business and try not to judge other people's lives.
9) I don't gossip, and I'm good at keeping secrets.
10) I don't annoy the neighbours with loud music or all-night parties.
11) I deplore machismo, male posturing and the rape culture.
12) I've never been to a prostitute.
13) I do my share of the housework.
14) I'm a good listener.
15) I don't hide my emotions.
16) I'm not easily offended.
17) I'm not the jealous type.
18) I like teddy bears and ice cream.
19) I'm not an angry or bad-tempered person.
20) I do all my own laundry.
21) I take off my high heels on delicate parquet flooring.

The first person to accuse me of being smug and boastful will get a clip round the ear.

Monday, 5 February 2018

In the shadows

Unlike so many other people, I'm not an attention-seeker. Or at least, not as an adult. Of course as a child, like most children, I sought attention non-stop. I wanted everyone to look at my new toy or laugh at my hilarious joke or adore my brilliant drawing. But somewhere along the line I began to find the attention annoying rather than enjoyable.

Nowadays I habitually shy away from attention. I don't want people hanging on my every word. I don't want people scrutinising me and judging me. I would rather keep out of the limelight and not be noticed. I find too much attention embarrassing and awkward.

I'm always astonished at those people who have such a craving for attention that they don't care how awful or childish they look, how stupid or rude or insensitive. As long as they're the centre of attention, they're happy.

So why do I avoid attention? What made me want to hide in the shadows? Well, for the reasons given above, for a start. Because sooner or later I'll say something stupid or rude or insensitive and wish I'd never opened my mouth. Because I'm much more likely to say something clueless than something smart. Because someone out there will be forming a negative opinion of me. Because attention-seeking is a competitive sport and I'm not a competitive person.

I suppose it's partly a family thing. Most of my family are and were unassuming attention-avoiders, keeping themselves to themselves, and I must have picked up the habit. The only blatant attention-seeker was my father, who expected an audience at all times and got furious if we ignored him.

Which is one of the drawbacks of attention-seeking of course. If you're not getting enough attention, you're liable to sulk and throw tantrums until you do. Or do something totally crazy just to get everyone's eyes on you.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to run away and hide.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Sleepy suburbs

Some people always nurse a fond affection for wherever they grew up. Even after moving to other towns and cities - and countries - to better their lives in some way, they end up returning to their childhood locality and going back to their roots.

But probably most people are glad to have escaped their old patch, which they found stultifying and restricting and thwarting their full potential in life.

Personally I have no nostalgia for the sleepy suburb I was brought up in. I was only too happy to spread my wings and move somewhere more exciting.

I spent my first 13 years in a typically boring London suburb called Harrow. For nine years after that I lived in Pinner, just north of Harrow.

Nothing of any interest happened in either place, unless you count the annual Pinner Fair, which took over the main street for a day, or the odd drug-taking scandal at Harrow School.

When I was offered a journalistic job in London at 22, I seized it and moved to the big bad city, which proved a huge shock after my previously sheltered existence. Rough sleepers, squats, druggies, flamboyant homosexuals, militant feminists, sexual orgies, outrageous art, wild rock concerts. It was quite an eye-opener for this naive suburbanite.

I stayed in London for another 31 years, by which time I was thoroughly steeped in its general craziness and creativity, and going back to the suburbs would have meant being a dolphin trapped in a fish tank.

Then I moved to Belfast, even farther from my original home, and discovered the different blend of craziness and creativity that prevails in Northern Ireland. And after 18 years in this extraordinary city, I have even less desire to return to a soporific English suburb. I shall be very happy if I never see Pinner again, ever. Or its dull, sedate streets.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Hopeless fumblings

For the benefit of Ursula, who maintains that I flag up all my strengths and gloss over all my weaknesses (she can't have been reading my blog posts very carefully), here's a list of some of the things I'm crap at:

1) Parallel parking
2) Cooking
3) Small talk
4) DIY
5) Remembering
6) Painting and decorating
7) Child minding
8) Sport
9) Yoga
10) Going to the gym
11) Car repairs
12) Meditation
13) Science
14) Love letters
15) Growing vegetables
16) Ice skating
17) Taking exams
18) Suffering fools gladly
19) Getting a good night's sleep
20) Card games

And I'm sure that's just a small sample of the 101 things I screw up or fumble with on a regular basis. Any impression you might have that I'm a perfect human being who sails effortlessly through life's daily challenges is wholly mistaken and should be scrapped right now. Agreed?

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Imperfect flesh

I'm surprised that so many people - mainly women but also men - find it so hard to expose their body to doctors and nurses. People have so much inhibition, shame and self-loathing about what they look like and how they might be judged.

I've never had any problem showing my body to health professionals. I'm sure they couldn't care less what I look like - whether I'm fat or old or ugly or bald or whatever. They're just doing a job and what the patient looks like is neither here nor there. I'm sure they've seen every possible variety of human oddities and one more won't faze them. They don't expect anyone to be "normal" as they know we come in all shapes and sizes.

But there are many people who're completely thrown by the idea of exposing their imperfect flesh for examination. They would rather ignore worrying symptoms than face a doctor's scrutiny.

I read that many women avoid smear tests because they're embarrassed by the look and smell of their pubic areas. Or they worry that they're wearing the wrong sort of underwear or clothing. Or they feel awkward about their body shape. So they invent all sorts of excuses for not getting tested.

I guess some men are equally embarrassed about showing their bodies, though we don't hear much about them. The guys who're mortified by their beer bellies, general flabbiness, or rampant hairiness. I'm sure they're out there.

I'd like to confirm my human frailty and vulnerability by telling you how I squirm and cringe as the doctor examines me, but it wouldn't be true. I honestly don't give a toss what she thinks of my spreading bum or misshapen toenails or weedy chest. I just want to know if there's anything unhealthy going on and get it treated. That's my only concern.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Little luxuries

I guess we all have a different idea of what's a luxury and what's just a routine part of daily life. It all depends on your personal circumstances of course and how much spare cash you can afford to throw around.

A survey of people's little luxuries revealed some surprising "luxuries", like someone making you a cup of tea, or a lunch date with a friend, or quilted toilet paper. I wouldn't have thought any of those were very special.

For me, a luxury is something much grander, more unusual, and more pampering. Something that lifts me out of my everyday existence and makes me feel on top of the world, however briefly.

Some of my personal luxuries are:

1) Eating out. Hugely extravagant but a lovely occasional treat.
2) Foreign holidays, especially in places I've never been to before.
3) Extra-delicious food. In particular bread, cake, desserts, chocolate.
4) Wine, prosecco, champagne.
5) A trip to the theatre. Only rarely given such crazy prices!
6) My weekly chat with Jenny in the local coffee shop.
7) Books. I love being totally engrossed in a really good book.
8) A beautiful piece of furniture that cost a lot but I can enjoy it for years.
9) Ditto a beautiful painting.
10) Lazing in the garden on a hot, sunny day. Not that frequent in Belfast!

It's all very relative though. To someone desperately poor, getting a takeaway, having a manicure or buying new bed linen might be the height of luxury, while to someone fabulously rich, to feel any sense of luxury they'd have to buy yet another Rolls-Royce or a £10,000 coat.

It's interesting how yesterday's luxuries often become today's standard items - like washing machines, mobile phones and air travel. And how quickly we take them for granted, as if they were always easily affordable.

"Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury" - Coco Chanel