Sunday, 4 December 2022

Still shy

I've been shy ever since I can remember. At the age of five I hardly said a word when my mum and I met the headmaster of my first ever school. She had to convince the head that I wasn't normally so quiet and I would open up once I attended the school (which I did, once I was used to the teachers and the other pupils).

There's a difference of opinion about shyness. Some people say it's just selfish, leaving the conversational effort to other people and not offering anything yourself. But you could equally say that chatterboxes are selfish because they hog all the conversation and deter others from speaking.

Is shyness selfish or is it an inherent personality trait that you can't overcome however hard you try? You may really want to gabble away, but you just can't manage to?

Perhaps it's partly that the outgoing types hold opinions and beliefs so passionately that they just have to explain them to other people, while my own opinions are more flimsy and provisional and I'm not confident about airing them?

Perhaps also I'm much more interested in other people's lives, which are full of surprises and fascinating revelations, while my own life seems far too humdrum and routine to appeal to anyone else? Listening to others comes more naturally than talking about myself.

Then again, I'm often rendered shy by anyone who's intimidating or overbearing and doesn't seem to respect me.

Being shy isn't the same as being introverted of course. Shyness means not having the confidence or the ingenuity to chatter away easily, while introversion means enjoying your own company more than the company of others.

So if I enjoy both, what does that make me?

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Fit as a fiddle?

It's generally assumed that to live to a fit old age, you need to stick to a healthy lifestyle. Regular gym workouts, a nutritious diet, no meat-eating, no alcohol or smoking, plenty of exercise.

Well, there are numerous people who've ignored all the medical advice, been conspicuously idle and self-indulgent, who live to a ripe old age anyway. Or of course done all the right things for decades and dropped dead at 60.

My mum didn't bother with medical advice. She never went to a gym, lived on ready meals and processed food, never took much exercise, and lived till she was 96.

Likewise my maternal grandma got little exercise, smoked and drank, never went to a gym (gyms were a rarity in those days), and lived till she was 91.

Some people say the important thing is not your lifestyle but whether you actively enjoy life and fling yourself into it. That'll keep you going when all the world-weary gym enthusiasts and teetotallers quietly fade away.

In any case, do I really want to live to 96 (or even longer)? I imagine I would be so disenchanted by then (not to mention decrepit) I would be happy to bow out.

But even if you have the healthiest lifestyle in the world, a sudden unexpected illness can come along and disable you - or even finish you off. My sister was having a good life until she developed motor neurone disease at 56 (amazingly, she's bed-ridden but still alive 17 years later). There's nothing she could have done to keep it away - what causes MND is still a mystery.

As for me, I have a fairly healthy lifestyle (minus the gym workouts) but I don't kid myself it'll keep me fighting fit. There are plenty of nasties waiting to pounce.

Friday, 25 November 2022

Tight lipped

I've tried very hard but I still haven't learnt how to be a chatterbox. I'm far too self-conscious to gabble away effortlessly and not be too worried about other people's reactions.

I listen to the chatterers spilling out their thoughts and wonder how they manage to do it. Are they just natural chatterboxes? Were they encouraged to chatter as children? Do they simply lack the inhibitions that affect others? I wish I had the secret of this very useful ability.

I'm far too aware of other people's possible reactions. Suppose I say something stupid or inappropriate or offensive or nonsensical? And will they be interested in what I'm saying or bored to tears?

Alcohol may loosen some people's tongues but not mine. A glass or two of wine doesn't make me more loquacious, quite the opposite. It's more likely to send me to sleep or block my brain completely.

I'm quite talkative if it's someone I know well and I don't feel they're judging me. Or if we get onto something I'm passionate about. If it's a total stranger and I feel scrutinised, I clam up rapidly.

In my case, the way I was brought up probably has a lot to do with my reticence. My parents and my sister were always quite tight-lipped, speaking only when necessary rather than pouring everything out. Entire meals would be as silent as the grave except for the odd request to pass the salt or the occasional hearty sneeze. My father thought conversation got in the way of eating.

The gift of the gab is a talent that I missed out on.

Monday, 21 November 2022

A tragic past

Would you be unable to live in a house where some terrible tragedy occurred, or would you be able to ignore it and carry on with life as usual?

Kincora Boys Home in east Belfast (just down the road from here) is currently being demolished to make way for a new housing development.

The home was once the scene of serious organised child sexual abuse, causing a scandal and attempted cover-up in 1980, with claims of state collusion. It has been quietly rotting ever since, with a lot of people wanting nothing to do with it.

But one developer isn't put off by the site's seedy reputation and work is about to start on a £1.8 million apartment block comprising nine flats.

It's hard to say what my reaction would be if I actually set foot in one of the new flats, but I'd like to think I wouldn't be put off. If the building itself has gone, and the scandal happened over 40 years ago, I'm sure I could easily ignore the history and just get on with my life.

But would it be as simple as that? If I actually lived in one of the new flats, would I be constantly reminded of the past to the extent that it haunted me and forced me to move out?

Certainly a lot of people wouldn't even contemplate living there, given the site's associations. The very idea would horrify them.

Jenny is quite sure she couldn't live in a place that had such a dark pall hanging over it. She couldn't possibly ignore what had gone on there previously.

It remains to be seen whether the new apartments will be sold easily or whether prospective buyers will give them a wide berth.

Pic: Kincora Boys Home

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Paint throwers

A man and a woman have been charged with criminal damage, disorderly behaviour and burglary after throwing paint at a Barclays Bank in Belfast city centre. The two protesters from Extinction Rebellion want an end to fossil fuel extraction, which Barclays finances.

I have to say I don't support the protest because it's unnecessary. There are plenty of people urging an end to fossil fuel extraction so the message is well and truly out there without the need for such vandalism.

Extinction Rebellion maintain that nobody is taking the accelerating climate breakdown seriously enough and they're making these dramatic protests to bring some urgency to the situation.

They've also thrown paint at valuable paintings, halted traffic on the M25 motorway, halted public transport, blocked oil facilities and glued themselves to buildings and roads.

It all generates eye-catching media headlines, but what has it actually achieved? Fossil fuel extraction is still going on at the same rate, or even increasing according to some reports. 

Some of the protests have caused serious problems for those caught up in them. During the motorway protests people were unable to get to work, unable to keep hospital appointments or have operations, and unable to reach dying relatives. Not surprisingly, a majority of the public disapprove of these protests.

I'm not dogmatically against political protests. In the right circumstances and carried out in the right way, they can be very effective. I remember taking part in the poll tax protests in London in 1990, which ended in a riot and helped bring about the cancellation of the new tax.

But disrupting people's everyday lives to make an already well-publicised point is never going to be popular.

Pic: Barclays Bank, Belfast city centre

Friday, 11 November 2022

Who needs presents?

Journalist Allison Pearson says she's lost count of the number of people who have told her they're not buying or expecting presents for Christmas. Gifts for the children, yes, but not for adult relatives or friends.

When so many people are watching the pennies because of the cost of living crisis, having to exchange Christmas presents is an expense they could do without. And how many people even appreciate the pricy gifts they're presented with?

I think she's right. Yes, children expect presents and will be sorely disappointed if they don't get any. But adults don't need presents. Allison would rather people brought a bit of food and drink, or simply loaded the dishwasher. That would be warmly welcomed.

Jenny and I decided some time ago not to give each other presents for Christmas or birthdays. We were always racking our brains for something suitable and drawing a blank. We realised that all we really wanted at Christmas was just some tasty food, a glass or two of wine, something entertaining on the telly, and a few games of Scrabble. Presents weren't necessary.

Lots of people get into huge debts at Christmas because they feel obliged to give presents to all and sundry but simply can't afford it. Then they spend months trying to pay off the debts and maybe failing to do so. But media images of Christmas, with vast piles of presents under a Christmas tree, perpetuate the idea that it's normal to give presents and not giving any is unthinkable.

Well, perhaps we would start thinking the unthinkable.

Monday, 7 November 2022

Trashing celebs

One of the hardest things to adjust to if you're an up-and-coming celebrity must be the fact that everyone can write about you and they can be as abusive and malicious and vitriolic as they want, they can spread lies and half-truths and scurrilous accusations, and there's very little the person targeted can do about it.

They can demand a retraction or correction, but won't necessarily get one. They can sue for libel but that's expensive and chancy. They can use an interview to try and scotch the most ludicrous stories and inventions, but people might still believe them anyway.

It's all a bit like trying to hold back floodwaters with a bucket. So much is being written about you on such a colossal scale, it's impossible to react to more than a tiny percentage. The rest you just have to do your best to ignore.

Knowing that so much hostile and trumped-up nonsense is being aimed at you day after day must be a very surreal and unnerving experience.

What feeds this unwanted deluge of commentary is the general assumption that the writers are simply exercising freedom of speech and can therefore say what they like as long as it's legal. And also the assumption that celebs are "fair game" and being subject to venomous criticism goes with the territory.

Then again, some celebs actually welcome everything that's written about them, however derogatory. They just revel in all the attention as it shows that they're famous and controversial and they've caused millions of people to focus on them.

Personally I'm glad absolutely nothing is being written about me and I can enjoy the cosy cocoon of total anonymity.

Thursday, 3 November 2022

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Going back to dress codes, I see that school pupils are still being told to change their "unacceptable" hairstyles, and can face expulsion if their refuse.

So I'm pleased that the equality body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has just advised schools not to penalise pupils with afros because that's a form of racism.

Unfortunately the guidance only applies to afros and not to other hairstyles. And it says nothing about workplaces, which might also be picky about hairstyles.

I've never understood why schools and workplaces are so censorious about someone's hairstyle, if in most cases their hairstyle makes no difference to anything. I accept that a hairstyle may be objected to if it's a safety hazard, like long hair if you're using dangerous machinery, but otherwise, why all the fuss?

A pupil's unusual hairstyle won't stop them learning, and an employee's odd hairstyle won't stop them doing their job.

Strangely enough, neither me nor any other boy at my two schools were ever ticked off for unacceptable hairstyles. That was partly because in those days most boys opted for an unadventurous "short back and sides". They didn't have long hair as that only became popular after I left school in 1965. And they didn't dye their hair as that was seen as effeminate. But even those boys with a slicked back Elvis hairstyle were never told off. Hair just wasn't controversial.

Of course beards are never in contention for schoolboys as you can only grow a beard from around the age of 18. But there are still workplaces that ban them as "unprofessional". As a bookseller, my hairstyle was never questioned. If I had had hair down to my ankles nobody would have objected, though they might have wondered how on earth I washed it.

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Falling chimney

Two of you asked me for more details of the falling chimney that almost finished me off.

I was a child at the time (not sure what age). I came home from school one afternoon and as I usually did I walked down the narrow alley between my parents' house and the house beside it and went in through the back door.

A few minutes later there was an almighty crash and I discovered that the chimney had collapsed and fallen into the alley. If I had got home a few minutes later I would have been badly injured or even dead.

An experience like that tends to linger in the back of your mind. When we moved into this house it had a slightly leaning chimney and I was always a bit nervous that it would collapse, despite several roof specialists saying it was structurally sound. We finally had the chimney removed to cure a persistent roof leak and I was relieved that it had gone.

But things like the falling chimney remind me of how we assume safety and security and pretend disasters will never happen. Or we're sure they'll happen to other people and not us. Or we say they're statistically unlikely.

Well, you have to think like that, don't you? If I constantly conjured up all the disasters that might befall me (burglaries, car crashes, internet fraud, muggings) life would become impossible, I'd be a nervous wreck.

In fact the nearest I've ever come to a serious disaster is some hair-raising near misses when I was driving a bit carelessly. If it hadn't been for some quick evasive action by other drivers it could have been nasty.

But hey, I lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Question time

It's a long time since I did a Question and Answer, so I thought I'd do another one. Respectable questions only of course, nothing too outrageous. So there's no need to brace yourself.

  • What is your greatest fear? Creepy-crawlies. They move so fast.
  • When were you happiest? Now. Retirement is very liberating.
  • What personal trait do you deplore? Non-existent cooking skills.
  • And in others? Arrogance, narcissism, self-righteousness.
  • Your biggest embarrassment? Drinking too much and being violently sick.
  • Describe yourself in three words. Quiet, anxious, friendly.
  • What do you dislike about your appearance? Nothing.
  • What would your superpower be? Knowing the future.
  • Apart from property, what's your dearest purchase? Cars and holidays.
  • Your most unappealing habit? Being shy and tongue-tied.
  • What scares you about ageing? Possibly getting a disabling illness.
  • Your celebrity crush? I don't have one. I don't put celebs on a pedestal.
  • Would you choose fame or anonymity? Anonymity. Fame is a nightmare.
  • Who should you say sorry to? An old girlfriend I abruptly jilted.
  • Who would you most like to be? No one. I'm quite happy with myself.
  • When did you last cry? At my mum's funeral.
  • Any brushes with death? I was almost crushed by a falling chimney.
  • Would you prefer sex, money or fame? Money, in case I live to 100.
  • An important life lesson? Don't judge by appearances.
  • Tell us a secret. But then it wouldn't still be a secret.
(Questions pinched from the Guardian)

Friday, 21 October 2022

Casual fling

One thing that's changed for the better during my lifetime is clothing etiquette. Clothing was much more formal when I was young, but over the years has become increasingly casual and relaxed.

Where once men were expected to wear suits and ties for all sorts of professional and white collar jobs, now they're often in open-neck shirts and loose-fitting pants. Women might be wearing something similar rather than tight skirts and high heels.

There's no longer a strict ban on fancy hairdos, excessive jewellery, unusual nail polish (i.e. not red), unusual tights (i.e. not flesh coloured), flashy earrings, tattoos and piercings (though a tattoo reading "I'm overworked and underpaid" might raise a few eyebrows).

Anyway the change is fine by me. I'm not bothered by people's clothing so much as whether they can do their job efficiently. Obviously I would draw the line at pyjamas or dungarees or bikinis but comfortable, easy to wear clothing seems better than formal clothing that's restrictive and annoying.

I know some people aren't happy with the changing expectations, and insist formal clothing makes them more confident in the wearer's abilities, but I think that's more a lingering opinion than a serious argument.

Even on special occasions like funerals and weddings, where dark suits and formal clothing used to be obligatory, many attendees now dress quite casually or even flamboyantly. I once felt embarrassed that all I had to wear for a funeral was a bright green jacket, but today nobody would bat an eyelid.

What's more, suits can be very pricey and tough on your budget, so making them optional is a positive step forward.

Luckily I've mostly had jobs where casual clothing is the norm, so I haven't actually owned a suit since my early twenties. I was glad to get rid of it.

Monday, 17 October 2022

Retired and annoyed

I tend to get annoyed when someone asks how my retirement is going, and I'm trying to work out why. I think it's because either they're expecting me to say it's fantastic and everything's a bed of roses, or alternatively that it's dreadful and I wish I was back at work. But the reality isn't so black and white.

There does seem to be a common assumption that retirement is great and there's no downside, that you're rolling in money and always off on the next cruise or the next luxury city break.

Of course this wonderful image is half-true at best, as the minuses of retirement are usually glossed over or spun as if they're benefits. To name a few:

  • You might have medical problems that limit what you can do
  • You might be expected to look after boisterous and exhausting grandchildren
  • You might be very short of money
  • You might miss your old workmates
  • You might feel isolated or lonely or bored
  • You might have to care for frail elderly relatives
At the moment I'm genuinely enjoying retirement, though I do sometimes feel isolated and a bit lonely. It's hard to make new friends and acquaintances to replace the friends you worked with. Many people are so consumed with the day-to-day demands of their family they simply have no time for new friends.

The other thing that annoys me is someone asking what I do now I'm retired, as if, stripped of employment, I have no other interests and don't know what to do with myself. Why should I have to justify my retirement with a list of worthy activities? Why shouldn't I just watch rubbish TV all day if I feel like it?

How's my retirement going? Is that a trick question?

Thursday, 13 October 2022

Will trickster

Wills are normally dealt with behind closed doors and out of the public eye. It's generally assumed that the will was properly dealt with and the named beneficiaries got whatever was due to them.

But I've commented before that there's little official monitoring of how wills are handled, and there's plenty of scope for skullduggery and fraud if someone is so minded.

As the sole executor of my mum's will, I could easily have siphoned off a large sum by making out she had less money than she actually had. Nobody would have been the wiser as I was the only one with access to all her bank accounts and the true amount in them.

My sister, brother in law and niece all trusted me to deal with the will honestly. I gave them full details of all financial transactions and they never asked me any awkward questions.

It's rare for someone to be taken to court for mishandling a will, but the High Court has just jailed Mark Totton after he failed to pass on £237,500 to his mother's grandson and granddaughter. He has also refused to explain what happened to the money and has given no indication it will be forthcoming.

He was jailed for contempt of court for not providing information about the estate and constantly flouting court orders to do so. He was also ordered to pay the legal bills for his niece and nephew, some £18,000.

He claimed he had suffered depression because of the row over his mother's will - a row caused by his own trickery!

I wonder what happened to the missing money. Is it just salted away in some secret account or has he spent it on wine, women and song?

Pic: Mark Totton

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Doodle house

Would you be happy to live in a house that's covered with doodles from top to bottom? With not a single square inch left uncovered - doodles on absolutely everything from walls and ceilings to beds and kitchen utensils.

Twenty eight year old Kent artist Sam Cox became so fascinated with doodles that he decided to cover his entire house with them. Luckily his wife Alena seems to be as keen on the doodles as he is.

He says the couple who sold him the house begged him not to doodle on the walls but he ignored them. "They told me, whatever you do, please don't doodle. I didn't listen."

There's no way I could live in a house festooned with doodles. They would just be too overwhelming, too disturbing. And surely with doodles everywhere you look, you'd be dreaming of the wretched things?

The artist claims he hasn't had any complaints from his neighbours yet - so he has no plans to tone down the property's appearance or move house any time soon.

If he ever wanted to sell the house, I imagine not many people would like the idea of living with wall-to-wall doodles rather than more conventional decor. I doubt if suburban Kent is ready for such avant-garde eccentricity.

What do you think? Could you live with thousands of doodles or would you run a mile?

PS: Lots more pictures in the link above

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Petty peeves

There are the major annoyances that drive you crazy. Then there are the petty irritations that niggle at you but are more or less endurable.

I stumbled on an old post about a journalist with twenty five of his petty irritations. I didn't actually list my own, so here are some of them now.

  • Loud music in restaurants and coffee shops. I have to almost shout to be heard. If I ask for the music to be turned down, they adjust it very marginally.
  • Doorstep chuggers*. A Red Cross person appeared yesterday, and I told him we already donated to the Red Cross. He laughed as if this was a joke.
  • Loud phone conversations on trains and buses. Can't they wait until they get off? Can't they text instead?
  • Changing layouts in supermarkets. I knew where the tofu was but now it's been relocated goodness knows where. Why oh why?
  • Cashpoints declining my card. So I insert the card again and it's fine. Presumably some random security measure.
  • TV adverts. None of which interest me. I don't need pant-liners or perfumes or hair conditioners. Just get on with the programme.
  • Incorrect weather forecasts. It's pouring with rain but the forecast said dry all day. The best bet is still to look out of the window.
  • Cyclists riding on pavements. I understand why - they don't want to ride on busy main roads. But it takes pedestrians by surprise.
  • Misdelivered mail. Both our own and our neighbours'. Luckily people are kind enough to redeliver the mail.
  • Untrained dogs the owners can't control. They leap on me and sniff me, while the owner mutters some feeble apology. Just keep Fido to yourself!
The only one on the original list was loud phone talkers on public transport. If you're curious, the list is here.

*Chuggers: charity muggers

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Trigger puzzle

I don't understand how the TV companies decide on trigger warnings. They give frequent warnings about things that seem trivial, but ignore things that seem much more important.

Most TV dramas start with a warning that the programme contains strong language and violence. But how likely are these things to trigger a seriously distressing or traumatic reaction?

Surely most people are well used to strong language and aren't going to collapse if they hear the words "fuck" or "arsehole" or "bastard". Likewise they're well used to scenes of violence and won't have a meltdown if they see a punch-up.

On the other hand there are no warnings about, say, rape or torture or self-harming, which I would have thought could be genuinely distressing if you've had personal experience of any of those things.

I've seen some quite horrific scenes in TV dramas that deserved serious trigger warnings, but there weren't any and such scenes come as a total surprise. So as I say, why are some things flagged up while others are ignored?

Furthermore, why are trigger warnings only given on TV dramas? News bulletins and newspapers are probably far more likely to include disturbing scenes and reports, yet there are no trigger warnings.

Do they assume news watchers are immune from emotional distress and need no warnings? Or else there are so many things likely to upset them it would be impractical to list every single possibility?

Or is there a tendency to avoid trigger warnings in case too many people stop watching?

Trigger warning: this blog may contain dodgy opinions and inebriated nonsense. You are advised not to show it to gullible children or snooty aunts.

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Crumbling respect

The respect for authority figures that was the norm when I was growing up has gradually crumbled over the years. Crumbled so far in fact that it has almost gone into reverse, with more and more people saying they distrust "experts" and other authority figures and intent on going their own way.

When I was young, people generally submitted to every sort of authority figure. Be they doctors, teachers, parents, government ministers, civil servants or police officers, we did what they asked us to do because obviously we were ignorant young dimwits and they were older and wiser.

That attitude slowly caved in and people started to question authority figures and the idea that they knew best. Did they really know best or were they fallible individuals who could get things horribly wrong as well as totally right?

Confidence in experts has been shaken by a constant succession of disasters and blunders. Like the inferno at Grenfell Tower, which was covered in inflammable cladding. Like incompetent surgeons who leave patients in agony. Like houses that are knowingly built on flood plains.

Bit by bit automatic respect for authority figures has drained away as people got the confidence to challenge what they said. And quite right too. Instead of assuming they won't be questioned, they have to justify their opinions and take people's scepticism into account.

That questioning can be overdone of course. Those people who say they never trust an expert and rely on their own judgment are taking distrust too far. They're often grossly misinformed and horribly wrong themselves.

We need a happy medium where the opinions of experts aren't instantly dismissed but carefully examined and evaluated before we rely on them.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Being offended

The big feature of cancel culture (aka polarisa-tion) is that it puts "being offended" into a whole new context. "Being offended" has suddenly become a huge deal, a hazardous minefield to be traversed with difficulty.

When I was young, if someone was offended, it was just a routine human reaction, like being upset or scared or sad or disappointed. If you were offended, you either shrugged it off or asked the person to apologise. And that was that.

Now it's practically a mortal sin to offend someone. Everything you do or say has to be vetted in advance in case it might offend someone. You're meant to know exactly what might cause offence and avoid it.

"Being offended" is no longer enough. The offence must now be "purged". The person concerned must not only apologise profusely, they must be abused and ostracised, punished in some way, even sacked from a job they may have done for decades.

If the offence is a thing, the offending book or article or statue must be banned, destroyed or otherwise removed from the public gaze. Whether the book has literary merit, or the statue has cultural significance, is beside the point.

It's not enough to say, Oh well that book was of its time, you'd expect some dubious references, a bit of racism or sexism, but it's not the end of the world, it's still a great bit of writing and people still enjoy it. Trying to obliterate it is an absurd over-reaction.

Unfortunately the new obsession with "being offended" means that people hesitate to discuss certain sensitive subjects for fear of the reaction and are effectively silenced. How can that be a good thing?

Sunday, 18 September 2022

Believe it or not

It never ceases to amaze me how people will believe not only the unlikely but the clearly impossible. Even if other people pick a hundred holes in whatever they're champion-ing, they take no notice. I guess it's true that people often believe what they want to believe.

The Queen's death has been the signal for a tsunami of nonsense about the royal family, most of it totally absurd but eagerly propagated day after day.

One of the most bizarre is a video that criticises Meghan Markle for wearing an old outfit of Diana's at the Queen's funeral. This is despite the fact that the funeral won't even take place until tomorrow. But hey, that's just a minor detail.

Then there are the claims that some public figure has actually died and been replaced by a look-alike, the best-known example being Paul McCartney. Supposedly he died in a car crash on 9 November 1966.

The claim that the US's last Presidential election was rigged and that actually it was won by Donald Trump also widely persists despite numerous declarations that the election was completely fair and legitimate with no evidence of fraud.

Many people still believe it's possible to change sex even though it isn't. If you challenge them with the biological facts, they simply reiterate their opinion.

And then there are those who deny that major events ever happened - like the moon landing, 9/11, the covid virus and the Holocaust.

How do people manage to have such baseless beliefs despite all the opposing evidence? How do they convince themselves that they're right? It intrigues me.

The only blatantly false belief I've ever held is the existence of Santa Claus. I was ten before the truth dawned on me. No idea why it took me so long.

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Tact shortage

Tact. "Skill and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues". A word that isn't used much these days, but perhaps it should be. It seems to me our society has become conspicuously tactless.

Many people feel free to blurt out whatever nonsense comes to mind, or to act in a clumsy and thoughtless fashion, regardless of how their words and actions might be perceived by others.

I'm thinking for example of the dozens of employees of Clarence House, the King's current residence, who were abruptly informed by email that they would be sacked. Could they not have been given the news in person?

I'm thinking of all those people who criticise celebrities, picking holes in every aspect of their personalities and their lives, oblivious to how upsetting this might be to those on the receiving end day after day.

Likewise, all the abuse directed at frontline employees who're simply trying to do their job and aren't responsible for their employer's failings - shop assistants, doctors' receptionists, paramedics, call centre staff, delivery drivers.

Then there are the MPs bullying and harassing their personal staff, who are expected to put up with such behaviour by "taking the rough with the smooth".

Some people might say that Brits habitually employ a very British form of tact - not mentioning a subject at all in case they offend someone. They avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics, the royal family, transgender and relationship breakdowns for fear of the reaction.

But it seems to me that nowadays such diplomatic silence is not so common and people are holding forth on anything they feel strongly about, regardless of how it might go down with their listeners.

Do tell me I'm wrong and there's plenty of tact around - I'm just not noticing it.