Friday, 27 February 2015

Hard not to judge

How difficult it is to avoid judging someone's physical appear-ance, however much you tell yourself that their appearance doesn't matter and what's important is those personal qualities you can't actually see.

One writer who took part in "Fat Talk Free February" comments on how hard it was not just to ignore someone's looks but to resist appearance-based compliments, like saying how youthful, or thin, or pretty, or sexy, they were.

She says women are especially prone to comment on each other's appearance as a way of bonding and communicating.

But she points out the subtly damaging effect of being constantly complimented on your looks rather than your kindness, intelligence, loyalty or sense of humour. Women quickly learn that their value to the world seems to lie in how they look.

Like most people, I tend to form an opinion on other people's appearance, but that doesn't mean I'm oblivious to their personalities. I'm well aware that a quite ordinary appearance could be hiding a brilliant mind or enormous generosity or musical genius.

A woman once accused me of being a typical man who habitually objectified women. I'd never been accused of that before and I found it quite mystifying. Perhaps she was confusing body awareness with objectifying. Of course I'm aware of other people's bodies, but I'm always fully conscious they're a human being and not a thing.

I suppose one benefit of being male is that other men seldom comment on your appearance, so your looks aren't given an inflated importance. Nothing is said about the pot belly, the thickets of body hair, the sagging flesh or the wrinkles. And for that matter, nothing much is said even if you look impossibly fit and healthy with the skin of a twenty something.

Most men just don't care very much about other men's looks. They're far too busy judging the looks of every passing woman. But if anything, women probably judge each other far harder than men are even capable of.

I mean, thigh gaps, anyone? Cellulite? Asymmetrical tits? Nothing but nothing is spared.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

I'm listening

It's common nowadays for people to say they just don't care what others think of them. And they say that as if it's a very wise and mature attitude.

I really don't know where they're coming from. I don't share their attitude at all. To my mind, sensitivity to what others think, and to the effect my opinions and behaviour might have on them, is part and parcel of being a human being.

That doesn't mean I'm a slave to other people's views. It doesn't mean that if someone criticises me, I immediately backpedal and apologise and rush to satisfy them. It doesn't mean that if they come up with some totally bigoted, ignorant, intolerant diatribe, I'll bury my own views and mutter something harmlessly neutral.

But it does mean that although I like to express my views as honestly as possible, I'm considerate of how others might react and I won't be deliberately provocative or taunting or dismissive merely for the sake of it.

It also means that if someone has views diametrically opposed to my own, I won't just dismiss them out of hand as ignorant nonsense, I will at least examine them carefully to see if there's any truth in what they're saying.  Because even the most prejudiced individual can have unexpected insights into something I haven't really thought about.

And it means that if I know someone's feeling vulnerable, or hurt, or distressed, I'm not going to upset them even more by saying something they wouldn't want to hear even if they were feeling more resilient.

As Ursula said, if people don't care what others think, how come they're all ears if what others are saying is in their favour - if it's flattering?

Who are they kidding?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Less than human

I find it extra-ordinary than men can quite casually make use of prostitutes, many of whom are in the grip of some personal problem that can only be worsened by having to perform constant sexual acts they aren't enjoying.

They are more than likely weighed down by mental health issues, emotional problems, drug addiction or the scars of childhood sexual abuse, but these burdens are of little interest to the customers whose only goal is instant pleasure.

Clearly it's seen first and foremost as a simple financial transaction much the same as buying a loaf of bread or a bottle of shampoo, and the personal well-being of the person giving the service is of scant concern.

I really don't understand how a man can have such an impersonal and functional attitude, can so easily and callously objectify another human being.

It also amazes me that men can so happily visit prostitutes but hide it from their wife or girlfriend, knowing full well how horrified she would be if she found out. They are able to lead a kind of double life of everyday respectability alongside a seedy other self.

I've never been to a prostitute in my life. In my younger days I was totally unaware of the reality of prostitution. It was something that was joked about, Carry-On style, as if it was some sort of light-hearted frolic. At that time I wouldn't have indulged simply because it seemed a bit vulgar. Nowadays of course, having had my eyes opened, I wouldn't contemplate it because of the intrinsic dehumanising that's involved.

Also I don't have that compulsive sexual urge that men who use prostitutes claim to be in thrall to. Good grief, isn't your regular partner enough for you? I'm not sure I believe in that sexual compulsion anyway. Men love to fall back on it, but it's such a convenient excuse for bad behaviour.

The oldest profession in the world? Nothing professional about it. It's just emotional and physical abuse dressed up as human need.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Love actually

I think it's about time this entry from February 2012 was reposted....

It's funny how when you start a relationship with someone, you've no idea how long it's going to last. It could be 30 days or 30 years. Or 30 minutes. Which is one reason why making out with someone new is so exciting.

When I first met Jenny at a central London bookshop and nervously fixed a date, I hadn't a clue what would happen.

We might have had a violent argument 10 minutes later and both walked off in a huff. We might have tried our best to get on with each other and decided it was a case of Mr Chalk and Ms Cheese. One of us might have had some personal passion the other totally detested.

If anyone had predicted we'd still be seriously in love over three decades later, I'd have scoffed and told them to catch themselves on*. I'd have said, how likely is that when relationships come and go like taxis. Surely sooner or later we'll get bored with each other, get itchy feet, and start looking for an upgrade.

But the months and years rolled on and in some mysterious way we found ourselves still together, still enamoured, despite all the predictable squabbles, misunderstandings, grievances and stand-offs. They were never severe enough to break the deep bond that had somehow established itself.

That we've reached the present day in such enduring harmony never ceases to amaze me. It's as if we've been on a long journey through unfamiliar territory with a thousand opportunities to get lost, get eaten by wolves, fall into a ravine or be crushed by a landslide, and by some miracle we've avoided all the dangers and reached our destination.

I can only give thanks to whatever guardian angel is looking after us and keeping this old banger** on the road.

* come down to earth. A common Northern Irish expression.

** the relationship that is. Not Jenny or me.

(I've changed the image again. Jenny and I have slipped back into anonymity. Well, you've all seen the real us now....)

Monday, 9 February 2015

Birthday bash

Singer and model Myleene Klass has caused huge controversy after suggesting children's birthday presents are getting way over the top and it's just not on to ask parents of schoolmates to donate £10 each for a present.

She says "I know I am in a privileged position compared to many, but I live in the real world and have countless friends who wouldn't be able to put that sort of donation into a schoolbag. Being a parent is expensive enough, without birthdays adding up."

Reaction from other parents was sharply divided. Some told her privately they totally agreed and were glad she spoke up. Others, including the school headmistress, were hostile and claimed she was "attacking the school's community spirit."

She points out that if the parents of all 26 children in her daughter's class gave £10 for each child's birthday, that would be an awful lot of money they could maybe ill afford. She suggests going back to the custom of simpler, cheaper presents that she remembers from her own childhood. "My family simply wouldn't have been able to afford a contribution like that for my schoolfriends' birthday presents."

She adds "If my girlfriends gave me a gift to the value of £300, I wouldn't accept it - and I'm an adult. For a child to get a present of that value is sheer madness."

She complains that kids' parties are out of control as well. If one child has a massive party, the stakes are upped and other parents feel pressure to do the same. "If we were all still giving jelly and custard
and playing pass the parcel and having bouncy castles, this sort of crazy cycle wouldn't happen."

I must say that when I was a kid, birthdays were no big deal and me and my sister were lucky to get a birthday card and some very ordinary present. My parents would never have embarrassed my classmates' families by asking them to shell out for our birthday gifts. We didn't usually have birthday parties either. A birthday cake and a few sweets were seen as more than adequate.

We didn't feel disappointed. We didn't feel our birthdays were a washout. We were quite happy with such a modest celebration.

When did birthdays become such a spree of conspicuous consumption?

Pic: Myleene Klass and her daughter Ava

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Emotional gremlins

Wouldn't we all be very different if we could free ourselves from anxiety and fear? If we could go through life with endless confidence and optimism rather than all those doubts and insecurities that get in our way?

Virtually everyone is hampered by anxiety and fear to some degree, however skilled we might be at seeming cool, calm and collected. We all have those moments when we just want to flee some situation that stirs up the emotional gremlins.

I'm no stranger to anxiety and fear, but at least they take a fairly mild form and don't interfere too much with my daily life. It's unusual to feel so overwhelmed that I simply make my excuses and run for it.

I know people whose anxiety and fear is so intense they can be totally hobbled by it. People who have panic attacks that last for days on end and stop them doing anything but lie in bed in a helpless heap. People whose chronic anxiety means everything has to be double-checked, triple-checked, quadruple-checked before they're sure they haven't done anything horribly wrong.

Luckily I've never known those extremes. But there are things I would hate to do because I'm sure the anxiety would consume me. Like giving a lecture, or acting, or chairing a public meeting, or talking to a mega-celebrity. In fact anything where I'm visibly "onstage" and being scrutinised by large numbers of people.

And wherever I go, I'm always aware of a little frisson of fear, a slight apprehension about other people, though I know perfectly well they're probably harmless. Then there are specific fears, like a fear of the dark, or hospitals, or confined spaces, or old age. How wonderful it would be if I could just breeze through life, go with the flow, take everything as it comes, all with unshakable poise.

Which is as likely as turning into a mermaid.

Friday, 30 January 2015

On a pedestal

I've been musing over the deep need to idealise people. Not just celebrities but politicians, lovers, teachers, authors, all sorts of people. They're put on a pedestal and seen as perfect, their human weaknesses stubbornly overlooked or denied.

Of course there are also those who refuse to idealise or venerate anybody, or even systematically tear everyone to bits with icy contempt.

But it's the urge to idealise that fascinates me. I was especially curious about the massive eulogising of Barack Obama when he was still the presidential candidate. It was hard to find anyone willing to criticise him.

Yet right from the start I assumed he was unlikely to be the brilliant president people were predicting. Surely everyone was aware of all the presidents (and prime ministers) who turned out to be bitterly disappointing? But no, people wanted to believe Obama would be a dazzling success, and they refused to think otherwise. Surprise surprise, many of the same people are now sadly disillusioned.

So many people are painted as saintly figures who can do no wrong, even when the grubby reality is plain to see. We seem to need someone to look up to, however much varnishing and laundering it requires. Seeing everyone as they really are is too depressing, too sobering.

I like to think I'm immune from such stupidity, but of course I'm not. I always remember how besotted I once was with Elena, in blissful denial of the humdrum reality. I worshipped her calmness, her wisdom, her sophistication, her gracefulness, unwilling to believe that inside she was probably harbouring the same neuroses, anxieties and prejudices as all the rest of us. I refused to look past the no doubt carefully crafted exterior.

We all have our rose-tinted spectacles to hand, ready to enhance some unlikely person.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Name change

It's very strange that French courts can order parents to change their child's name if they think it could cause social embarr-assment - or as the law puts it "mockery or disobliging remarks".

Surely it's up to parents (or the child) to decide if a name might be a liability and drop it in favour of something less open to teasing. Why do the courts need to be involved in what's really just a matter of common sense?

French courts recently rejected the name Nutella, foreseeing silly references to the chocolate spread of the same name. They also rejected the name Fraise (Strawberry) as there are rude expressions that use the word - like "ramène ta fraise", meaning "get over here" or "butt in".

It seems that although the courts are able to ban a name, they only get involved if someone asks them to. Apparently the registrar who recorded Nutella's birth alerted the local prosecutor who called in a family court judge.

If the courts made a habit of judging people's names, they'd be at it all day every day. I'm not familiar with dodgy French names, but I can think of plenty of English names that could in theory be problems (though oddly enough in reality they may be no problem at all). And last names can be just as awkward as first names.

But names aren't set in stone. If a child gets ribbed over an unfortunate name, then all they need do is change it. If their parents won't let them, they can at least change it when they're older. My father's first name was Edward, but he hated it and always used his second name, Colin.

Who are the courts to decide what name is acceptable and what isn't? You and I might think that the names given to Bob Geldof's kids - Peaches, Pixie and Fifi Trixibelle - would invite endless ridicule, but as far I know they never tried to change them.

Likewise all the Smellies and Ramsbottoms of the world who don't feel the need to be something more prosaic but soldier on regardless.

I'm sure those judges have better things to do than to ban names that reflect popular sandwich fillings. Like dealing with criminals.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A faltering finale

A survey of people's biggest worries found that after number one (being overweight), the next two were getting old and their financial future.

I'm not surprised by those two. They're two of my worries as well, for the simple reason that I have no idea how long I'm going to live, no idea how much it'll cost me, and no idea if I'll run out of money. The future is largely unknowable and all sorts of unforeseen events could put a spanner in the works.

My worries also stem from the fact that we live in a very ageist society where vulnerable old people are often ignored or mistreated, and not given the help, support and respect they deserve after a lifetime of work, often in vital services like the NHS. I can't be confident that if I fall on hard times other people will come to my rescue and make sure I'm okay.

And I'm one of the more fortunate ones. I've benefited from a lifetime of rising property prices, I haven't had any children to pay for, I'm still fit enough to work, and I have no money-draining addictions.

Today's young people are in a much worse position when they contemplate the future. The state pension is being steadily eroded, but they have little money to put into a private pension. They have tuition fees to repay, they're stung for massive rents and mortgages, bringing up children is more and more costly (£230,000 a child at the last count), and wages are being ruthlessly slashed through zero-hour contracts, part-time work and a skinflint minimum wage.

Many young people can barely get through the week, let alone save anything. No wonder they often look totally blank when asked about pension plans.

Old age should be a a time of carefree enjoyment, not gnawing financial worries. Old age should be a joyous finale to a strenuous life.

Pic: Beatrix Ost, New York artist and writer

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Po-faced fanatics

The Charlie Hebdo massacre has prompted a lot of soul-searching and fierce debate about whether the magazine is right or wrong to poke fun at religion. Some people defend the magazine unconditionally while others say they are being deliberately provocative for no good reason.

It seems to me that Suzanne Moore in The Guardian makes the best point about the whole thing. "Why must I have respect for religions that have little respect for me?" she asks.

In her case she's talking about the widespread religious view that women are second-class citizens and should be treated as such. But of course many religions are equally intolerant of gays, transgender people, atheists, people with "inappropriate" clothing and appearance and so on.

Suzanne Moore goes on to say "Tolerance has to be reciprocal or it is not tolerance at all." Precisely. Tolerance can't be one-sided. If a religion wants to suppress what I do or believe, then why should I respect what they do or believe?

Of course there's a difference between not respecting repressive religions, but keeping that disrespect to yourself, and on the other hand publicly mocking and criticising those religions. Is public mockery acceptable or does it merely fan the flames of religious intolerance and make the situation worse?

I think people have to make up their own mind about that but personally I'm reluctant to mock another person's deeply held beliefs merely for the sake of it or merely to exercise my freedom of expression. I'm content for people to follow whatever beliefs they wish to, without comment, just as long as they're not attacking my own beliefs. In that case, they're fair game and I have every right to attack them back.

You could argue that Charlie Hebdo magazine went too far in deliberately lampooning a major religion. But then you could also argue that those who object, and those who think such disrespect deserves a bullet in the head, are simply self-righteous, po-faced fanatics with no sense of humour or perspective.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Come flirt with me

I was never very good at flirting, and never very good at sussing that I was being flirted with. Someone would have to flirt really blatantly for me to notice it.

Mind you, at my advanced age it's not often that anyone flirts with me, and I can't even remember the last time anyone did. Probably around the time the Spice Girls were in nappies.

Of course there may have been secret admirers who were too shy to flirt with me. They may have been nursing an unrequited crush they couldn't bring themselves to divulge. Sure, and there goes a flying pig.

It was a different story in my twenties. Quite a few women flirted with me so boldly I could hardly miss it. If I didn't fancy them, it was sometimes hard to fend them off.

Personally I think flirting is good clean fun, as long as it's just that and not a serious attempt to steal someone's mate. And as long as the flirtee is enjoying it and isn't feeling uncomfortable and invaded. But some people totally refuse to flirt on the grounds that it's immoral and dangerous.

It's embarrassing though to watch seedy, unattractive middle-aged men compulsively flirting with women who probably find them repulsive. Have they any idea how ridiculous they look? Presumably not or they wouldn't be doing it.

It's also embarrassing to watch people flirting simply to prove their physical attractiveness and desirability, which they're permanently unsure of. The desperate need for reassurance is sad.

But life would be dull without flirting. It adds a bit of spice to the everyday routine. So what the hell, come flirt with me....

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Jumping the gun

What struck me about the Lincolnshire couple whose baby was born 11 weeks early in New York was the amazing generosity shown to them by so many people.

Instead of a chorus of "Why on earth fly when you're heavily pregnant?", people were falling over themselves to help the unfortunate couple - Katie Amos and Lee Johnston - who were facing a £130,000 medical bill.

The hospital said the couple's travel insurance would cover the bill. A housing charity gave them somewhere to live. A nurse at the hospital gave Katie a pile of clothes. And thousands of pounds have been donated to help them with their living expenses - as their son Dax won't be fit enough to fly back until March.

Actually quite a few things struck me about this story:

1) The potentially ruinous cost of health care in the States. People are frequently bankrupted by astronomical bills.
2) Such a basic event as having a baby doesn't qualify for free assistance but is fully chargeable.
3) In the light of (1) and (2), they were wise not to skimp on travel insurance.
4) They'll have time to get to know New York very well on their enforced 10-week stay.
5) Is their son now entitled to American citizenship, having been born in the USA?
6) They'll probably be too embarrassed to set foot in the USA ever again.
7) Alternatively they'll make lots of new friends over there and be keen to keep in touch.
8) Dax's first words are likely to be "Give me some candy, dude".

Or in the light of his expensive birth, they might even be "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"

Pic: Lee Johnston and Katie Amos

Friday, 2 January 2015

Broken heart

Parents who refuse to accept their children for what they are, who want their children to have certain beliefs or interests, or worse still want them to be a carbon copy of themselves, are a menace. It's a shame they can't be prevented from having children in the first place, such is the distress and misery they cause.

Seventeen year old Leelah Alcorn of Kings Mill, Ohio, was a tragic victim of such parental dogmatism. Born a boy but having told her devoutly Christian parents she wanted to be a girl, they forced her to undergo conversion therapy to cure her transgender feelings.

Last Sunday she walked in front of a truck on Highway I-71 and was crushed to death. She left a suicide note saying her parents had broken her heart and made her hate herself.

This is hardly a unique case. So many parents won't accept their children's personal identity and try to push them in some direction they're not comfortable with, which simply screws them up. They find their children's independence deeply alarming and hard to adapt to.

Fathers want their sons to join the family business. They want them to be tough, unemotional high-fliers. Or they want them to be sporty outdoor types. Mothers want their daughters to go into traditional female jobs, or to be pretty and submissive, or to have lots of children. Religious parents want their children to share their beliefs. Socialist parents are terrified their children will become gung-ho capitalists.

There are children who are pushed to become champion swimmers or concert pianists or mathematical geniuses, but who eventually crack up under the strain and give it all up to become civil servants or baristas.

My own parents sent me to a school completely unsuited to my personality - emphasising sport and religion and regarding anything artistic or cultural as unimportant. Clearly I was unhappy but I wasn't allowed to switch to a more suitable school. The emotional fall-out still lingers.

Children need to be nurtured, not moulded.

Pic: Leelah Alcorn

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A bit cut up

Spurned lovers consumed with anger and jealousy often retaliate in amazingly extreme ways. It's not enough to vent their feelings, they sometimes resort to physical destruction on a grand scale.

Fifty nine year old Philip Gamble was so enraged at his wife of 38 years leaving him for another man that he broke into her flat and cut up all her clothes and furnishings, causing around £5,000 worth of damage.

He cut out the crotches of her bikinis, sliced the back of all her tops, slashed her trousers and cut the zips out of her boots. He sliced curtains and poured bleach on them, damaged a mattress and duvet, and turned off the fridge-freezer.

Then just for good measure he replaced all the slashed clothes neatly in wardrobes and cupboards as if nothing had happened. It was only when Jean Gamble took some clothes out of a wardrobe that she noticed the damage.

In court on Monday he was given a three months' suspended sentence for what the judge described as "silliness".

I think if I were Jean Gamble I would have seen it as a lot more than silliness. Deeply distressing and misogynistic violence, more like. It must have simply confirmed her decision to leave him.

So what would I do, I wonder, if Jenny walked out on me after 33 years to shack up with Mr Much-More-Appealing? Would I just wallow in private agony or do something more dramatic? Would I respect her decision and wish her well or go on a wild rampage and destroy her most precious possessions?

I like to think I would take the news in a civilised way - lick my wounds, drown my sorrows in chocolates and wine and start looking for someone else. But who knows how unhinged I might get over the wreck of such a long relationship? Who knows what crazy emotions might take over? I'm not sure I could guarantee decency and understanding.

Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The wrong sort of pie

That's quite enough of all the intro-spective burblings. So now for something completely different. The wacky world of pie-eating champion-ships and the young lad on work experience who made a fatal blunder.

The Annual World Pie-Eating Championships in Wigan - now in their 22nd year - were reaching another gripping finale as the competitors chomped and chewed their way through the traditional meat and potato pie.

The winner - Barry Rigby, 37, from Wigan, a warehouse supervisor and part-time fitness instructor - was very pleased with himself for scoffing his pie in a lightning speed of 42.6 seconds.

But his moment of glory was short-lived when the contest was declared null and void because the pies were too big. Instead of being the required 12 centimetres across and 3½ centimetres deep, they were found to be twice the size.

The work-experience guy had mixed up his orders and delivered the 24 competition pies to a divorce party instead of the pie-eating contest.

It's not reported how Barry reacted to the devastating news. Did he take it philosophically, shrugging his shoulders and saying it was just one of those things? Or was he apoplectic with rage, smashing the furniture and vowing never to eat another meat and potato pie? We can only guess.

Tony Callaghan, owner of the contest venue Harry's Bar, says "Everyone took it in their stride and demonstrated the professionalism of pie-eating at this level." I suspect that was tongue in cheek - or even savoury pie in cheek.

Don't laugh. The world of competitive pie-eating is very serious. Very serious indeed. Last year pie-lovers from as far as Australia flocked to Wigan in the hope of taking home the coveted crown. Aspiring pie-eating champions spend the whole year whittling down their chewing times to a record-breaking minimum.

If you think you could do better than them - it's just pie in the sky.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Where there's a will....

People have often told me I have a lot of willpower - which I guess also means self-discipline. They're quite right. When I'm determined on something, I don't let minor obstacles stand in my way.

I'm not put off by strong emotions, or sudden impulses, or other people's nay-saying. I don't find excuses for not doing anything. I don't procrastinate. If I've made up my mind to do something, then I do it.

I'll go into work even if I'm feeling poorly, if there's a job that needs to be done.

I'll tackle something difficult despite all my neurotic fears and anxieties and doubts.

I'll plod through all those tedious job applications even if I'd rather be listening to Joni Mitchell.

I'll be polite and courteous to someone, even if their behaviour makes me want to strangle them.

I'll look at every room in that huge art gallery, despite my weary eyes and weary legs.

I'll get to the top of that mountain, however beautiful the view from halfway up.

Maybe sometimes my willpower gets the better of me and overpowers sensible thoughts and valid emotions. Maybe sometimes I'm set on doing something that doesn't need doing, just to prove that I can do it and not seem feeble or pathetic.

But it does mean I do things others wouldn't feel up to. It means I've tried my hardest to achieve something, and I won't later regret copping out. It means I've done what I wanted to do and not succumbed to other people's head-shaking.

I would never have been to Australia three times if I'd given in to my loathing of sleepless and mind-numbing long-haul flights. But I was determined to get there, and what an experience it was.

Grinning and bearing it can sometimes be amazingly rewarding.

PS: On reflection, I think this post is nonsense. By willpower and self-discipline, all I really mean is determination. In other words, if I'm determined to do something (for whatever reason), then I'll do it. I'm just complicating something very simple.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Shrinking violet

Carla Bruni may have a compulsive need to exhibit herself and be in the public eye, but I'm the exact opposite. I crave anonymity and invisibility and avoid public scrutiny wherever possible.

I know that if I come to other people's attention, sooner or later they'll be judging me and maybe finding me wanting. Simply by noticing me, they make me self-conscious, self-doubting and abruptly shy. Even being publicly thanked for something is mildly embarrassing.

I'd hate to have a job where I'm regularly exposed to large numbers of people, or even worse to have to make speeches or presentations to them. I'd hate to be a celebrity or someone suddenly thrust into the limelight by some newsworthy event.

But it's not fashionable, not "normal" to be so reticent. It's supposed to be natural to want attention, to want an audience, to want others to recognise you and appreciate you. We all love someone who's the "life and soul of the party". Or do we?

Some people (like Carla Bruni) don't feel they really exist unless others are acknowledging them and referring to them. Without that constant attention, they feel incomplete, insubstantial, vestigial.

I have no doubt at all that I exist. To me, my identity is as solid as a rock. I don't need others to convince me of the fact, or to turn me into flesh and blood. I see no need to display myself to the rest of the world. What I see in the mirror is good enough for me.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Way out of line

I don't think I could be "normal" if I tried. My thoughts and feelings are so way out of line with what passes as "normal", I'm reconciled to the idea that I'm thoroughly eccentric. Or at the very least "different".

I feel profoundly sad about things other people don't even notice. I feel totally unmoved by what utterly enrages them. I get absurdly anxious about supposedly routine events. I adore things that others find incomprehensible.

I've never wanted children, or wanted to live in the suburbs, or wanted a high-flying job, or wanted two weeks on a beach at Torremolinos.

I feel really peculiar wearing a suit and tie, or reading a mass-market tabloid. I haven't eaten meat for nearly 40 years. I hate fizzy drinks, instant coffee and beer. Fashions in clothing totally pass me by.

I've always been a socialist, even when half the population was besotted with Mrs Thatcher and socialists were seen as "the lunatic fringe", "the reds under the bed" and "the enemy within". I was abnormal with bells on.

Of course "normal" is impossible to define anyway. It means different things to different people,and every survey of "normal" behaviour comes up with a different formula. It's one of those nebulous ideas that keeps slithering out of your grasp like a bar of soap.

So I think I'll just carry on as usual, even if it makes other people feel uncomfortable. Or bemused. Or censorious. Better that than running round in circles chasing an ever-moving target. As Popeye said, I yam what I yam.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Dear Santa

Dear Santa

I hope you are well. I hope that your new diet is working and that Alcoholics Anonymous is keeping you off the booze.

Gosh, there are so many things I want for Christmas, I don't know where to start. Here are some of them anyway:

1) A perfect memory that actually remembers everything. Like the plots of books and TV dramas. Like people's names. Like whichever shop it was that had that brilliant potato peeler.

2) Super-fast legs so I can forget the car and walk the seven miles to work in ten minutes.

3) A maximum body-weight setting so that however much chocolate cake, trifle and ice cream I eat, I don't gain an ounce.

4) Fluency in several languages so I can read all those great books that have never been translated into English.

5) A female body for a month so I can wear all those fabulous clothes I can only drool over as a bloke.

6) A totally adjustable body temperature, so I'm always comfortable however cold or hot the climate, and I don't need central heating or air conditioning.

7) Telepathy, so I know whether someone is telling the truth or lying non-stop. Or whether they're just pretending to like me.

8) Infinite empathy. However extreme a person's emotions, I can understand them instantly. I can feel exactly what they're feeling.

9) The gift of the gab. Whoever the person, whatever their situation, I always have something to say, and it's always what they want to hear.

10) A magic wand that will melt all the pain in other people's hearts.

I think that's enough to be going on with. Don't worry if there's one or two you can't manage. I know you must be awfully busy!

I hope Mrs Claus has recovered from the flu and that the elves aren't dabbling with the crack cocaine again.

Big hugs, Nick

PS: You're my favourite person ever in all the world!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Ghastly snobs

The fashionable insult right now is "snobbish". Any reference to anyone less well-off or less fortunate than yourself, however innocent or well-meaning, is likely to bring cries of snobbery raining down from all sides.

The most visible victim recently was Emily Thornberry, the Labour MP who tweeted a picture of a nondescript house with a white van outside and was widely vilified for her disgusting snobbery, even though she made no comment on the photo other than "Image from Rochester".

Big-name politicians are now terrified they'll be accused of snobbery, elitism and being "out of touch with the ordinary voter" - if there's any such thing as an "ordinary voter". They're falling over themselves to be seen quaffing a pint, scoffing a bacon sarnie or puffing on a furtive fag.

I've been accused of snobbery myself on occasion, which always baffles me as my awareness of poverty, disadvantage and crap jobs is prompted entirely by my loathing of inequality and injustice and in no way implies that I feel superior or conceited about my own more fortunate circumstances.

But dismissing someone as a snob is a handy quick-win, a way of slickly discrediting them and implying that everything they say is fed by some impure motive. It's also instantly intimidating, because nobody likes to be seen as a snob, even if they are.

The term snob should be aimed at genuinely snobbish behaviour, like being rude to shop assistants or sneering at someone's poor grasp of English, and not mindlessly lobbed at anyone with a few quid to spare.

Let's go for the real snobs, not the imaginary ones.