Monday, 6 April 2020

Publish and be damned

Controversy rages over whether Woody Allen's Memoir "Apropos of Nothing" should have been published, given he's now got a rather seedy reputation and seems to be something of an unrepentant misogynist. And given that it's published, should we buy it or read it?

Well, the irony is that according to those who've read it, like Catherine Bennett in the Guardian, it's not at all a whitewash job crushing all the accusations and portraying him as a jolly decent chap who's been unfairly maligned. On the contrary, it makes his rampant misogyny crystal clear and destroys his once shiny reputation.

In which case we should all be reading it to acquaint ourselves with his thoroughly predatory attitudes.

But the row once again raises the question, is it right to ban books, or any other artistic product, because of the off-stage behaviour of the person concerned?

To my mind, a person's artistic output should be judged on its intrinsic merit, and however reprehensible their personal life, that's an entirely separate issue.

Once you start saying a book should be boycotted because of the author's "misbehaviour", you're politicising it and weaponising it. Art shouldn't be a political football, it should be a cultural experience pure and simple.

Otherwise what's the difference between right-on politicos shunning the work of a "misogynist" author and a government banning a book it deems "immoral" or "subversive" or "unpatriotic"? They're both claiming the right to decide for the rest of us what's in the public interest and what isn't. And who gave them that right? Not me, for one.

All the controversy has just whetted my appetite to read the book and see for myself just how much unbridled lechery was hidden behind the charming facade.

PS: Here's a more positive review of the book -

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Compensation culture

So Jenny and I may be in lockdown, and unable to indulge some of our familiar outside pleasures - coffee and pastries at Caffè Nero, a Fiorentina at Pizza Express, a movie at the Queens Film Theatre, or a new art exhibition at the Metropolitan Arts Centre - but we're compensating with a little more of our usual domestic pleasures:
  • A few glasses of New Zealand or Aussie white wine
  • Peppermint Aero, Twix, Lindt truffles
  • A long walk round the huge Stormont estate (walking is allowed)
  • A Scrabble tournament - so far Jenny 4, Nick 4. I scraped ahead in the seventh game with "XI" (fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet), which scores 9
  • Watching DVDs. We've just ordered two more - Notting Hill and Gimme Shelter (the Stones film, not the other one)
  • Watching Location Location Location. I love nosing around other people's homes - and potential homes
  • Reading books voraciously. My current read is The Narrow Land by Christine Dyer Hickey. The one before was Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Listening to music. Especially Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Laura Mvula, Annie Lennox, Courtney Barnett
  • Doing sudokus. Jenny can do the really tricky ones that always defeat me
  • Watching the spring growth in the garden. The camellia bush is finally flowering, weeks after everyone else's 
  • Seeing what's new on Facebook. No cute kittens recently
  • The usual free-wheeling political discussions in which we put the world to rights, find an antidote for the coronavirus, instigate world peace, finish off capitalism, and wonder when Labour's going to get its act together
What could be more enjoyable? But it's a slightly guilty enjoyment knowing that out there thousands of people are dying, leaving grief-stricken loved ones, health workers aren't properly protected from the virus (my niece is a nurse in Cambridge), and thousands of people are losing their jobs and facing destitution.

Frightening doesn't begin to describe the desperate situation we're all in.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Still posh

I've always found regional accents fascinating and rather charming, as long as they aren't so thick as to be indeciph-erable (Glaswegian for example). But there's a lot of prejudice against certain accents. My mum hated the cockney accent, which she saw as ugly and grating.

I love the Liverpudlian accent, also the Australian and Irish accents. Apart from anything else, they make a nice change from the posh English accent, which is still the one you hear most in movies and on TV.

People read all sorts of things into accents. Whether someone is trustworthy, whether they behave well or badly, whether they're acceptably British or not, whether they're employable or not.

And those prejudices change from one year to the next. Regional British accents used to be seen as off-putting and quaint, but now they're often sought after because many people find them warmer and friendlier than posh English, which can come across as cold and arrogant.

My own accent is still posh English, despite being in Northern Ireland for twenty years. It can be hard to shed a well-established accent even if everyone around you has a different one. People who speak English as a second language quite often still have the accent of their original language, however much they try to lose it.

I find it rather ridiculous when politicians try to boost their popularity by erasing their posh English delivery and putting on a more proletarian accent. Those folk with the genuine article must find such antics absurdly unconvincing.

Oo do they fink they're fooling, guv?

Pic: Cockney money slang. Godivas, fivers; monkeys, £500; ponies, £25; edges, 50p; carpets, £30.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Who knows best?

Goodness, how attitudes to authority have changed in my lifetime. If my ten-year-old self had been told how dramatic-ally respect for "authority" would drain away in the next few decades, he would have been gob-smacked.

When I was young, we habitually deferred to authority figures of whatever kind. Be they government ministers, civil servants, police officers, teachers or parents, we invariably did what they told us to do because "they knew best" and "they were in charge". The idea of seriously rebelling against them, of routinely challenging their wisdom, was pretty unthinkable.

That all changed in the sixties when young people everywhere finally decided authority figures didn't necessarily know best and started questioning just about everything they said. They railed against the rigid ideas of "the establishment" and "the system" and demanded wholesale changes.

The authority figures didn't know what had hit them. They had to adjust rapidly as their ideas and assumptions were torn to bits by bolshy teenagers and uppity undergrads attacking homophobia, sexism, racism, apartheid and any number of other isms and entrenched beliefs.

The rebellious trend continued apace until now hardly any authority figure can open their mouth without someone shouting "bollocks" or doubting their expertise and credibility. They struggle to convince people they actually have something worthwhile to say.

The Brexit campaigners took this trend to its ultimate extreme, declaring that "experts" weren't to be trusted and that the opinion of the person in the street was as valid as so-called expert opinion. If Joanna Somebody thought Brexit would be a fantastic success, wasn't that good enough?

And then suddenly the coronavirus epidemic arrived, and all at once people were listening to the experts again - even the Prime Minister. Only the medical specialists knew all about the virus and what measures were needed to combat it. A dramatic about-turn by the know-it-all politicians and pundits.

After the epidemic is over, will experts once again be trusted? Only time will tell.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Four legged friends

So we're all looking for something to distract us from the never-ending coronavirus coverage. Something amusing, something quirky, something intriguing. And something to break the monotony of self-isolation. I have the answer - all those things you never knew about cats.
  • Cats spend 70 per cent of their lives sleeping, around 13-16 hours a day.
  • Stubbs the cat was mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, from July 1997 till his death in July 2017. Stubbs was flooded with cards and letters, and drew 30 to 40 tourists a day hoping to meet the mayor.
  • The world's longest cat was a Maine coon called Stewie, measuring 48.5 inches. The tallest cat is Arcturus, a Savannah cat from Southfield, Michigan, measuring 19.05 inches.
  • A house cat can reach speeds of up to 30 mph.
  • The oldest ever cat was Creme Puff, who was 38 years and 3 days when he died in August 2005 in Austin, Texas.
  • The record for the loudest purr by a domestic cat is held by Merlin, a black and white cat from Torquay, Devon. His purr is 67.8 decibels, nearly the same volume as a shower! Most cats purr at around 25 decibels.
  • Unlike humans, cats can't detect sweetness.
  • Cats only use their meows to talk to humans, not each other.
  • The average cat can jump eight feet in a single bound, nearly six times its body length.
  • A cat's sense of smell is 14 times better than a human's.
  • Cats only sweat through their paws and nowhere else on their body.
  • A group of cats is called a clowder.
  • A cat can rotate its ears 180 degrees - with the help of 32 ear muscles.
  • A cat's nose is as unique as a human's fingerprint.
  • A cat's heart beat is almost double that of humans, from 110 to 140 beats a minute.
  • A male cat's left paw is typically its dominant paw, while female cats are usually right-pawed.
  • Cats can spend up to a third of their waking hours grooming.
  • Cats will refuse an unpalatable food to the point of starvation.
  • Female cats can get pregnant when they are only four months old.
  • Grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and chives are extremely harmful to cats.
So you see, for three whole minutes you didn't think of the virus. Don't you feel better for it? Of course you do. Next up: all those things you never knew about toilet rolls.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Give us a kiss

There's still a widespread dislike of public displays of affection. "That sort of thing" should take place in private and well away from curious bystanders. Your passionate kissing and canoodling is an unwanted distraction to those around you.

That's certainly the attitude here in Belfast. It's very unusual to see a couple kissing, holding hands, embracing or just stroking each other fondly. If they're greeting each other, or saying farewell, they might hug or kiss, but in general such behaviour in public is strictly taboo.

Some people would go so far as to say they find such displays "disgusting" or "vulgar", while others just find them embarrassing or theatrical.

Personally I'm not bothered by public affection, as long it doesn't descend into anything overtly sexual. I like to see people showing their love for each other. It's especially nice to see older couples holding hands or kissing. And it's equally nice to see young couples in the first flush of romance and enjoying each other's bodies. Why shouldn't they?

Of course it's mainly heterosexual couples who indulge in such public affection. Despite more relaxed attitudes to sexual preferences, gay couples still aren't free to express their feelings so visibly in case of hostile reactions. It's quite a surprise when I see a couple of women or a couple of men holding hands or kissing. It's still a brave thing to do.

When I was growing up, it was generally understood that the back row of the cinema was reserved for amorous couples, exploring each other as enthusiastically as they liked. I'm not sure if that tradition still holds but certainly there's no sign of it at our local cinemas. Patrons of the Queens Film Theatre are far too genteel to favour "that sort of thing".

I like shows of affection. Much better than shows of hatred.

PS: Jenny points out that a woman might feel uncomfortable about a public embrace, but is loath to make a fuss in the midst of a busy street.

PPS: The coronavirus has put rather a dampener on any kind of intimacy for the time being....

Friday, 13 March 2020

Dodgy doors

I bet you've never given a second thought to revolving doors. You enter, you exit, and that's that. They're of no more interest than a lamppost.

I hadn't thought about them myself until Wednesday, when I went through a revolving door and collided with a glass panel next to the door. Luckily I didn't break anything but my nose was bleeding profusely for several minutes.

When I googled "revolving door injuries", I found they were quite common. People have had broken noses, broken teeth, hip fractures, skull and brain injuries. So I got off lightly with my bleeding nose.

Then I got to wondering, what's the point of revolving doors anyway? Why not just have an ordinary door or an automatic sliding door? Supposedly, revolving doors speed up exit and entry, and reduce heat loss from the building. But does that justify any possible injuries? I think not.

It's interesting that a 2006 study found that only 20 to 30 per cent of people use revolving doors when given the option. I have to wonder why so many people avoid them. I suppose they might be afraid of injuring themselves or getting trapped in them. They might be too heavy to push, or the compartments might be claustrophobically narrow.

Of course you could say the accident was probably my own fault for not looking where I was going. That's as may be, but I don't want to risk another injury - possibly a worse one. I shall now keep well away from revolving doors and use ordinary doors instead. I haven't bashed my nose on one yet.

PS: I was lucky Jenny was with me and she happened to have a plaster to stem the bleeding.

PPS: Both revolving doors and ordinary doors are a coronavirus hazard, since they have to be pushed and hundreds of people have touched the same door. Automatic sliding doors are preferable as you don't have to touch them.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Cruising for a bruising

Jenny and I were never much interested in cruising. Being cooped up on a boat with thousands of other people, with maybe only fleeting visits to the various cities en route, isn't our cup of tea.

We may have had a lucky escape. Now there are three cruise ships in lockdown over a mass of coronavirus cases (one in Yokohama, Japan, one in Oakland, California, and one in Luxor, Egypt) cruising looks distinctly risky right now. Passengers on other cruise ships must fear they too will catch the virus before they get back home. Then they'll have to go through the same ordeal of being in quarantine and possibly having to change their onward travel arrangements.

The chance of catching the virus is increased by the fact that the air conditioning on a cruise ship is constantly recirculating the air and helping to transmit the virus to previously healthy passengers.

A lot of people are so worried about any kind of travel, in case they pick up the virus while travelling, that the hospitality industry has been badly hit. Hotels, restaurants and airlines have seen such a huge slump in bookings that they're facing big financial losses.

Personally I don't think travelling is any more risky than going into a crowded supermarket or a crowded cinema. The chance of catching the virus from a random stranger is surely very remote. Jenny and I are still planning to visit Vienna in early summer, which seems sensible enough given that Vienna has so far only had 50 confirmed cases (most of them recovered and no longer infectious) in a population of nearly two million.

My attitude is, either I catch the virus or I don't. There's no point in worrying myself to death over it.

Pic: The Diamond Princess, now docked in Oakland

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Private agonies

When I was young I used to think that although a few people were psychologically screwed-up and overwhelmed by life, most of us were healthy, well-adjusted individuals who found life easy to deal with.

It's only now, with a lifetime's experience behind me, that I realise that actually the vast majority of people are in some way psychologically damaged and find life an endless struggle. Very few people are lucky enough to have got through life without traumatic or calamitous experiences of some kind, experiences that often leave life-long mental and emotional scars.

Just scratch the surface of someone's seemingly calm exterior and you can open quite a can of worms. It could be something as simple as persistent self-loathing or as complicated as a heap of paranoid delusions. We're all hiding some inner demon we'd rather not display or talk about, and pretending we're as normal as apple pie.

It's good that more and more people are finding the courage to break the silence and reveal their personal agonies. Celebrities in particular are confessing to their eating disorders, acute anxiety, crippling depression or secret fears. And that encourages the rest of us to be equally candid.

I think my father had a bucket-full of inner demons but he never talked about them. He felt he had to be the tough, resilient, dependable head of the household and must never show vulnerability or weakness. We might have had a closer relationship if he'd been able to expose himself more.

I've blogged in the past about my many neuroses and hang-ups due to my dysfunctional parenting, boarding school bullying etc etc. I've managed to have a fulfilling life despite all the inner snarl-ups, and I feel better for revealing so much private turmoil. Bottling it all up is dangerous - sooner or later something has to give and it won't be pretty.

As the old saying goes, Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Tangled hair

Why shouldn't women (or men for that matter) colour their hair any way they want? If they fancy being pink, purple, red, yellow, blue or green, why not? Doesn't it make life more interesting, more fun?

You and I may think that, but for many people apparently it's more bewildering than interesting. An unusual hair colour conjures up all sorts of weird stereotypes about the person concerned.

If they don't instantly suspect you're a druggie, a prostitute or a nutcase, they'll decide you're a wild unreliable party girl, or your boss will say you look too unprofessional for a public-facing role.

There are still plenty of prejudices around hair. Ginger hair can attract snarky remarks. Afro hair styles are frowned on by many employers. Grey hair can make a woman "too old for the job".

Length itself is still an issue. Women are expected to have long hair, men short hair. Even schoolboys have been excluded from school for having over-long hair. I had long hair once in my John Lennon phase, but I've had short hair ever since - a lot more manageable.

And of course there's baldness. Perfectly okay for men (though a lot of men hate being bald and would rather not be). But not okay for women. If you have cancer, then baldness is acceptable. Otherwise it's shocking and ugly and surely you should be wearing a wig.

It's extraordinary that a simple thing like human hair should be subject to such a complicated tangle of prejudice and disapproval and false assumptions. But then the whole human body is subject to just that. Accepting it for what it is seems to be a non-starter.

I guess the only people who can get away with any old hairstyle are celebrities like rock musicians, hospital patients and prisoners. Anyone else had better tread carefully.

PS: A wonderful quote I just came across: "Humans have a big cluster of dead keratin tendrils growing from our heads and we arrange them in different configurations and worry about whether other people find our keratin tendril arrangements aesthetically pleasing."

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

A bit of company

Loneliness isn't just a problem for older people, as commonly assumed. In fact studies suggest young people are more likely to feel lonely than the old. The image of young people as forever clubbing and surrounded by bosom pals is a bit of a myth.

A new apartment block in Helsingborg in Sweden aims to reduce loneliness in several ways. Firstly around half the tenants are young people under 25, while the rest are pensioners. Secondly all new residents have to sign a contract requiring them to spend at least two hours a week with the other residents. And thirdly individual flats are fairly small while the communal areas are spacious and cosy.

You might think some residents would object to such enforced socialising and retreat to their own flats, but on the contrary the scheme seems to be working well.

With (apparently) no pressure at all from the block's managers, residents are happily getting to know each other and saying how much better they feel as a result.

I think I'd be quite happy there myself (assuming no Jenny of course). Two hours a week of socialising is hardly onerous, and I'm sure I would benefit from a bit of company. It would be fun to talk to a few young people and get their take on life, and it would be good to talk to other oldies and see how they're dealing with old age.

You'd have to be careful how you selected people for the scheme though. You wouldn't want persistent moaners or political obsessives or crashing bores. If there were people you had to avoid, that would defeat the whole idea.

My mum complained constantly of loneliness in her last few years, and being in a scheme like this would have greatly improved her life.

Loneliness is too often seen as "one of those things" you just have to cope with. This scheme shows that doesn't have to be the case.

Pic: residents Fia Stegroth (20) and Gunnel Ericsson (86)

Saturday, 22 February 2020


I see the journalist and author Julie Burchill shares the same emotional peculiarity as myself - an inability to feel shame, regret or remorse. We never brood over our past actions, thinking we should have done something very differently - or not done it at all. We never feel that we humiliated ourselves or acted like a fool. We don't look back, we just carry on.

Why worry about past shortcomings? My attitude is, I did the best I could at the time, on the basis of my knowledge and experience and common sense, and if that turned out to be not good enough, then so be it. If I made some glaring mistake, I'll correct it. Otherwise I put it all behind me and move on.

Isn't it rather pointless to stew about one's past behaviour, to pick everything apart and find oneself wanting? Isn't it rather self-indulgent? And isn't it a colossal waste of energy? We're all human, we all make mistakes, why make such a big deal out of it? Why not just wind your head in, as they say here, and get on with life?

A survey this week said the average person spends 110 hours a year regretting what might have been. Some 57 per cent wish they'd chosen another career path, while a quarter pine for lost loves. That's an awful lot of regrets. If a survey funded by KP Peanuts is to be believed, of course.

The trouble is, once you start regretting, there's no end to it. You can regret marrying the wrong person, or buying a house on a flood plain, or having so many children, or having no children at all, or not going to uni, or staying in that crap job for so long. You could drive yourself nuts. And never enjoy what you're actually doing right now.

Je ne regrette rien.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Remembering Nick

I saw this interesting question in a book I was reading - "What would you like to be remem-bered for?" It begs the question of course whether you want to be remem-bered in the first place. I guess a few hardened criminals might want to be forgotten as quickly as possible.

I must say I don't care if I'm remembered or not. It's not as if I've made some huge contribution to society like inventing the internet or helping Jews escape from Nazi Germany. I've led a very ordinary life and I don't think I'm remarkable in any way at all.

In fact I wonder why some people are so keen to be remembered. Are they screaming narcissists, do they just want to be famous, do they feel insignificant? All I know is, I don't care if I vanish into oblivion the moment I die. I think the more important thing is whether I enjoyed my life, which I have.

But if by any chance I do happen to be remembered, what for?

Obviously I'd like to be remembered as a civilised, intelligent, considerate, open-minded person, rather than a ranting bigot, a serial killer or a tyrannical boss. In particular I'd like to be remembered as a critical thinker, someone who asked searching questions and didn't just accept the fashionable ideas of the moment.

Or perhaps I'm more likely to be remembered as the hopeless dimwit who gets lost in any tangled TV or movie plot. Or the weak-bladdered old codger who goes for a pee four times a night. Or the scatty driver who gets into the wrong lane and wonders why he's being hooted at.

Or they'll totally mis-remember me and think I was their college lecturer or their driving instructor. Which is okay as long as the people in question were totally brilliant and turned their whole life around.

But not otherwise.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Culture vultures

Jeanine Cummins, author of American Dirt, has been vilified by political activists for writing about people and things that are outside her own personal experience. They say she's guilty of cultural appropriation.

The book is about a mother and daughter who flee Acapulco in Mexico for the US to escape a drugs syndicate. Her journalist husband had been writing articles about the cartel and they took their revenge by murdering the rest of the family.

But the critics point out that she's not black, not Mexican, not a migrant, and not involved with the drug trade, so she shouldn't have written the book. She should have left it to those with direct experience of the subject matter.

What that implies though is that nobody should write about anything other than their personal experience, and anything merely imagined or fantasised is off-limits. This would obliterate whole swathes of fiction and leave us only with autobiography (even biography would be impossible, as it's not written by the person concerned).

Authors like Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Kamila Shamsie and Aminatta Forna have rushed to Jeanine Cummins' defence, saying that the whole point of fiction is to imagine things you haven't personally experienced, especially things that nobody has even thought about before.

If the critics are so concerned about the authenticity of American Dirt, why don't they write their own novels on the same theme instead of trying to demolish hers?

Yes, it's obviously cultural appropriation if you're blatantly ripping off someone else's culture for your own personal gain. But if all you're doing is imagining other people's experiences, where's the harm? You may even be drawing attention to scandalous situations that need to be remedied.

The keyboard warriors should find some more deserving targets.

PS: A scheduled author tour has been cancelled due to serious concerns about the author's safety.

Pic: Jeanine Cummins

Monday, 10 February 2020

Trust eroded

It seems the police are increasingly not pursuing so-called petty crimes like burglary, theft and minor assault. And the police watchdog, the Inspector of Constabulary, says this is corroding the public's trust in the police.

As a result, the public are often not reporting such crimes, assuming nothing much will be done about them.

Well, to be fair to the police, what do people honestly expect? Do they really think the police can solve every crime that comes their way? Do they really think all that's needed is a bit of hard graft and shrewd detective work?

Are they serious? If a random stranger has picked your house to burgle or your car to break into, how the heck do you identify that random stranger? Unless they've left something incriminating behind them, like their wallet or a shop receipt, where on earth do the police start looking?

If nobody has actually seen the burglar or car thief, there's not even a photo or description to go by. So you're looking for a needle in a haystack.

I'm sure the victim would love to see the offender getting his just desserts in a courtroom, but let's face it, it's unlikely.

It makes perfect sense to me that the police prioritise really serious crimes like domestic violence or fraud or arson. Anyone worried about being burgled should take out adequate insurance to cover the possibility. And get decent locks on all their doors and windows.

Luckily Jenny and I have seldom been crime victims. We've never been burgled and we've only experienced car thefts twice. And I was mugged once. We never expected the police to find the culprits. We just put it down to bad luck and moved on.

Maybe Dixon of Dock Green* was able to magically nab the villains. But that wasn't real-life, it was TV make-believe.

*Long-running police TV series from 1955 to 1976.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

New-look zoo

I hate the idea of animals being stuck in tiny cages and enclosures instead of roaming freely in the wild. So I'm pleased by the new proposal to convert Belfast Zoo from a tourist attraction to a conservation centre, with many of the existing animals released into the wild or more natural surroundings.

The proposal has been presented to Belfast Council, with some councillors in favour and others opposed. And of course the zoo staff and their union are worried about possible job losses if the zoo is slimmed down.

But it can't be right that all those majestic animals, which normally have miles and miles of open space as their daily habitat, are cooped up in small enclosures where all they can do is prowl aimlessly round and round.

It may be all right for small animals like meerkats and prairie dogs, which have plenty of space to run around in, or fish in massive tanks, but the larger animals must be thoroughly miserable in their cramped quarters. It's a known fact that elephants for example die much earlier in zoos than elephants in the wild.

The plan's critics say some animals simply couldn't be returned to the wild. Barbary lions are now extinct. Other animals used to captivity wouldn't survive a natural habitat full of predators or polluted with pesticides.

They say it's important for children to see as many animals as possible in the flesh, that seeing animals on the internet or on TV just isn't the same.

Presumably the zoo would retain those Northern Irish animals in danger of extinction, such as the barn owl, the red squirrel, and the Irish black honeybee.

Jenny and I have been to the zoo a few times, and we love watching all the animals we never normally encounter, but it can't be right that most of them are there simply to entertain us or feed our curiosity.

They deserve better than that.

Pic: meerkats at Belfast Zoo

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Viral panic

It's horribly predictable that the coronavirus epidemic has led to an increase in hostile attitudes towards the British-Chinese. It doesn't take much for hidden prejudice to emerge when a suitable target appears. All these incidents have been reported in London:
  • A man with a Chinese appearance at Gatwick, who hasn't been to China in two years, was told by a nearby couple "They should wear their masks"
  • A woman was asked persistently if she had ever eaten bat soup
  • A woman noticed other train passengers moving away from her
  • Restaurants in Chinatown have seen a big decline in customers
The risk of catching the coronavirus is infinitesimal; only two people have definitely got it in the whole of the UK. There's a far bigger risk of dying from the flu. An average of 600 people a year in the UK die from flu complications, and in 2008-2009 there were over 13,000 flu deaths. But people are panicking and imagining that simply sitting next to a Chinese person puts them in mortal danger - even if they're British citizens and have never been to China.

There are around 10,000 British-Chinese in Northern Ireland, but oddly enough the local papers haven't asked them if the coronavirus has led to abusive encounters. Since Northern Ireland is over 90 per cent white, racist attitudes are not uncommon, and if London is anything to go by, it's highly likely they've increased in recent weeks.

We're friendly with a Northern Irish man and British-Chinese woman who live a few doors down, but I haven't yet had a chance to ask her if the coronavirus has caused any negative remarks. Hopefully not as this area is heavily middle-class and presumably more tolerant than elsewhere.

But irrational prejudice pops up in the most unlikely places.

Pic: An almost deserted Chinatown in London.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Itchy feet

Why the increasing urge to travel? Why the burning desire to go to all those far-flung places? Why the need to check out all those famous spots, despite their often being over-run with thousands of other tourists?

I had little desire to travel when I was young. It wasn't a big thing in those days anyway. Staycations were normal and families up and down the land would spend a fortnight at Southend or Torquay or Eastbourne and not even contemplate going "abroad" or going "to the continent". That was strictly for the nobs, the celebrities, the political bigwigs. Not for the likes of us.

Even well into middle age I had no great yearning to travel the world. I was happy enough sampling the cultural delights of London, or having a day out at "the seaside". Why would I want to go down under or visit the yanks or look at sacred temples? It seemed like an awful lot of effort for some nebulous benefit.

It was only after I met Jenny and she wanted our holidays to be a bit more adventurous that we went all over northern Italy and then farther afield to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And enjoyed it all immensely.

Now of course, just as half the world is getting itchy feet and jumping merrily onto long-haul flights, the spectre of climate pollution is stopping us in our tracks and forcing us to rethink our holiday plans.

Should we give Eastbourne another try? A quick trip to the Shetland Isles perhaps? Should we dial back to the nineteen fifties and decide we've done enough "abroad" for the time being?

The problem is, those casual mentions of "our trip to the Maldives" or "our little break in the Bahamas" are now so common that we'd have trouble convincing anyone that we really really enjoyed our rain-swept week in the Lake District.

I might even have trouble convincing myself.

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?

PS: Good example: Prince Charles flew 125 miles by helicopter to make a speech about lowering aircraft emissions (02.02.20)

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