Thursday, 28 May 2015

The curse

I find it extraordinary in this day and age that there are still so many taboos about menstruation. It's just a natural bodily function - so why all the embarrassment and squeamishness?

Women still feel obliged not to mention their periods, in some cases not even to their family or close friends. They have to hide tampons and pant-liners from work colleagues or acquaintances. Any visible sign such as blood on clothing is seen as utterly mortifying. The whole messy business has to be strictly hush-hush, as if it's something to be deeply ashamed of.

Even adverts have to be coy and euphemistic. Blood isn't red, it's blue. Periods are "the time of the month", while menstrual products become "feminine hygiene". In films and books, periods are seldom discussed - people don't want to know about about "that sort of thing".

Religions of course are even more censorious and puritanical. Menstruating women are seen as unclean and impure. They may be forbidden to pray or perform religious rituals. They may be excluded from normal daily life. They may have to refrain from sex. Otherwise they'll contaminate everyone around them.

Sometimes in the supermarket queue, I see women carefully shielding their tampon packets from view. Heaven forbid that a man might be alerted to their disgusting monthly leakage.

And from what I can gather, many men are still too sheepish to buy their girlfriend's tampons. They imagine the cashier will have them down as a screaming weirdo rather than a helpful, considerate bloke.

It's not periods that are "the curse". It's all the prudishness and revulsion that turn them into something hideous.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Blind spot

When we don't understand someone's attitudes or behaviour, when they're outside our normal experience, what do we do? Do we ask them a few questions, try to understand how they see things? Or do we just lash out at them through fear of the unknown?

Personally I try to understand. If there's something about a person that makes no sense to me, I don't just hurl abuse at them or tell them they're crazy. I try to get under their skin and see things from their point of view.

If I still can't understand, I don't see it as their problem, but mine. I probably lack the insight, or empathy, or openness, to appreciate what's going through their mind. My own blinkered attitudes are maybe preventing me from understanding.

But many people's reaction to such bafflement is to go on the attack. To try and obliterate what they don't comprehend, push it away, get rid of it. And the level of abuse can be extraordinary, utterly extreme.

A friend of mine, who I've always seen as enviably liberal, open-minded, compassionate, turns out to have a surprising streak of prejudice.

Although in general she's very progressive about sexuality and sexual preference, and totally supports gay equality, when it comes to transgender men and women, she's relentlessly hostile. She absolutely doesn't get it, and doesn't want to.

Clearly a fan of Germaine Greer on this particular subject, she regards everyone transgender as self-deluded and perverse. She finds numerous ways of belittling and discrediting them - they're trapped in gender roles, they just want to dress up, there's no such thing as "feeling female" or "feeling male", they want to be castrated, they're attention-seekers. And so on.

Does she want to understand? Does she want to know their side of the story? Does she try to put herself in their shoes? No, no and no. She has her own reality-free interpretation of their behaviour, and she pursues it regardless.

I find her prejudice horrifying, shocking, perplexing, repugnant. I told her I couldn't agree with anything she said, but it had no effect. She's totally unaware of her blind spot and can't see past it. It's an odd and uncharacteristic quirk.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Unforgettable girls

The confusion over Cate Blanchett's "relation-ships" is a reminder that platonic friendships can be just as intense and rewarding as sexual couplings, even though the latter are usually seen as the real deal.

Many women say they've had female friendships just as important to them as sexual relationships - emotionally, mentally, and on every level - yet such friendships are often dismissed as trivial and superficial.

Journalist Daisy Buchanan writes "I barely remember the boys I went out with as a student, but the girls are unforgettable. They're the ones you'd have 72 hour 'dates' with and they're the times I feel nostalgia for.

"Modern female friendship - at least at the start - can be more like a love affair than an actual romance itself. Anxiety, jealousy, neediness; it's a lot like falling in love.

"It makes me wonder whether no relationship can be entirely platonic, and that you don't have to experience sexual feelings towards a person in order to feel romantic ones."

I'm not sure men could say the same about male friendships though. From what I know, they seldom have that intensity and richness. I've certainly never had a male friendship like that myself, either at school or in adult life.

As for sexual relationships being superior, quite often sex is the only thing that keeps them going, and the friendship aspect is minimal. Or conversely, there may be minimal sex and it's more like a tight and complex friendship.

But there's a general assumption that sex somehow enriches a relationship in a way that's lacking in an "ordinary" friendship. The logic is never quite explained but the cliché persists.

A curious cliché considering the high divorce rate and all the sexual relationships that collapse just as often as the platonic variety. Clearly they're going sour as much as they're being enriched.

Let's hear it for the infinite possibilities of friendship, in or out of bed.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Nooks and corners

I think it's about time I dredged up a few more random facts about myself. All those fascinating little quirks you're dying to hear about. All the obscure nooks and corners of my tangled personality.

1) I hate tomato ketchup, HP Sauce, mayonnaise and chutney. And most concocted sauces and condiments except for pesto, soy sauce and marmite.
2) Dogs are usually all over me, while cats tend to look wary and run away. But I like cats more than dogs.
3) I loathe boxer shorts, beards, comb-overs, hairy chests and crotch-hugging male cycle pants.
4) I never wear pyjamas - they're uncomfortable if I'm tossing and turning. I prefer nightshirts or sleeping naked.
5) I have virtually every birthday card Jenny has given me.
6) I never get jet lag, only tiredness after long journeys. I adjust very quickly to different time zones.
7) I can't sit for long on a stool, it gives me severe back ache.
8) I've worn glasses since I was 17, but I've never been called Four Eyes.
9) I've never had a nickname.
10) I've never heckled anyone.
11) My shoulder bag contains a filofax, a purse, a notebook, a Belfast streetfinder, an umbrella, some biros, door keys, car keys, an office key and some plastic bags.
12) I have some crooked teeth but I've never worn a brace.
13) I have a very poor sense of smell.
14) I love thunderstorms.
15) I'd absolutely hate to be bald.
16) I find shoelaces fiddly and annoying. Why not velcro?
17) I've never lost my voice.
18) I was once so drunk an entire evening was wiped from my memory. But I've only had four hangovers in my whole life.
19) I like watching gymnasts, but ballet leaves me cold.
20) I think kissing is way more fun than sex.

Pic: Melissa Ibbitson, from Lincoln, who is so addicted to tomato ketchup she gets through nearly 70 kilos a year.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


It must be really hard for a parent whose child develops views they simply can't understand or sympathise with, and who gradually severs all contact and wants nothing more to do with them.

Every parent must assume a life-long bond with their child, one that grows increasingly close and rewarding, and when instead that bond disintegrates, it must be immensely painful. Even more so if the child dies.

I thought of that when I was reading about Christianne Boudreau, the Canadian woman whose son Damian became a Muslim, joined Islamic State and died in Syria at the age of 22.

How does she come to terms with what became of him? How does she cope with such a profound loss?

One thing she does is to remember him as he used to be, before his conversion, before the estrangement. "To me he was a young man who was compassionate, caring, loving and protective. That was the boy I knew. I'll always remember him as that. Not for what everyone makes him out to be."

She also supports organisations that are working with families to stop a loved one embracing fundamentalism.

But it's a common dilemma for parents. I've read of wealthy couples whose child disowns them, scornful of their affluent lifestyles and shallow values. Or stiff and starchy, penny-pinching couples shunned by a child who prefers a more spontaneous, freewheeling way of life. Or a new step-parent rejected by a child who's loyal to their original parent and sees the newcomer as an unworthy chancer.

Once a gulf like that develops, it's very hard to bridge it again. Too often, both sides become set in their ways and the stand-off continues indefinitely. They say blood is thicker than water, but that's nonsense. Families can break as easily as friendships. And the fracture can cause unbelievable pain.

Pic: Christianne Boudreau

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Acting normal

We're all so good at acting normal, aren't we? I guess at least 50 per cent of the population are somehow screwed up but you wouldn't know it. We've all perfected the art of putting on an appropriate public persona and keeping whatever is festering away inside very carefully hidden.

Most of us have been messed-up by one unfortunate experience or another - drug abuse, alcoholism, violent partners, childhood bullying, workplace bullying, extreme mental health issues, stalking, strange obsessions and compulsions, you name it.

Yet to most people we seem quite mentally and emotionally healthy, going about our daily lives in an unassuming way, not showing any signs of inner turmoil or distress, apparently well able to cope with whatever life throws at us.

Only occasionally do we let slip some small clue, some oddity, that makes people wonder if we're as normal as we seem to be. Usually it's only our loved ones, or our closest friends, or a therapist, who are privy to some secret agony that's tearing us apart and which we're desperate to end.

Many of these hidden torments are things other people wouldn't understand or sympathise with. Or we're deeply embarrassed and ashamed of them. Or we don't want to expose how much pain and hurt they cause us. So we keep our lips sealed and deal with the anguish as best we can.

As you know, I have plenty of neuroses and hang-ups of my own. Some of them I've revealed but others I seldom confide to anyone. If people were more open-minded, more tolerant, more compassionate, I wouldn't need to be so secretive, but the fact is that prejudice and intolerance are widespread. Anyone revealing something a bit out of the ordinary can be vilified.

So like most people I'm adept at acting normal. Or so I believe. But more than likely my engrained eccentricities are all too obvious to everyone. Just don't probe them too deeply. There might be an alarming shriek of pain.

PS: After Ione Wells wrote about an experience of attempted rape, more than 50 people confessed on her website to similar experiences and said they were previously too afraid or ashamed to speak out. A number of students at her university confided similar experiences to her. And I bet that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Doubting donor

I have very mixed feelings about giving money to charity, and I know some of my blogmates are equally ambivalent.

On the one hand, I want to help people who've gone off the rails in one way or another - jobless, homeless, mentally or physically ill, victims of natural disasters and a hundred other desperate situations. I've had a lot of good luck in my life and I should help those who haven't been so lucky.

But then I read stories about charities that are badly run or waste money and I wonder if my donation will actually be put to good use. I hear about overpaid chief executives, expensive offices, or pointless projects, and I hesitate to hand over some of my hard-earned cash. I've worked for several charities myself, so I know that money isn't always best spent.

On top of that, I think of all the tax I pay to the government and ask why they can't look after people properly instead of expecting charities to fill all the gaps. Are my donations to charity merely encouraging that indifference?

If it's a cause dear to my heart, I'll brush away the doubts and give something anyway, just hoping the money (or the used books or used clothing) will end up helping someone in need.

Nowadays also there are so many charities fighting for attention, it's hard to decide which ones to respond to. New charities are popping up every minute. all making out that their particular cause is more urgent than anyone else's. They play on our emotions, on our sense of guilt and horror, and make us feel that ignoring them is an act of sheer heartlessness.

Who wouldn't want to help the victims of the Nepal earthquake, or a collapsed factory in Bangladesh, or a hurricane in Indonesia? Or for that matter all those in our own country who're sleeping rough or short of food or just finding life unbearable?

But I can't help everyone. Who do I care about the most? And will my donation be used wisely? I write my cheque and hope for the best.

For those of you dying of curiosity about my three week absence, Jenny and I were in Washington DC and Chicago. Nothing much to blog about, but we had a fabulous time.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Wot, no tot?

Do some people decide when they're young that they don't want children, and then bitterly regret it when they're older? Not as far as I know. Certainly not in my case (or Jenny's either).

I can't recall any time at all when I've looked at someone else's baby or child and felt a longing for a child of my own. I'm very content being me and I've never had any desire for a miniature me to keep me company.

It's not an aversion to children. Other people's children can be charming and inspiring and great fun to be with. Even when they're being grumpy and stand-offish, since I have no parental responsibility for the grumpiness, I can just be amused by their bad behaviour. Well, for five or ten minutes maybe - my patience isn't infinite.

I guess I never felt that having a child would add something essential to my existence, that it would give me something I didn't have already. I've always had a rich cultural and intellectual life that's more than enough to keep me happy.

I don't think my father ever really wanted children.  He spoke of having children as a "duty" and would get in terrible rages if me or my sister disappointed him in any way. But I don't think that's a significant factor in my own disinclination to have kids.

Even now, as I get older and it's possible I might get frail and needy, I don't regret the lack of children who could help me out when it comes to it. I'll cross that bridge as and when. In any case, I wouldn't want to restrict other people's lives with my own neediness.

So no regrets. I watch all the children trundling into the primary school a few doors away and I just wonder what it feels like to be a child, as I've long since forgotten. But I've no wish to be one of the (slightly anxious looking) parents.

There will now be a short intermission. Back in a couple of weeks or so.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Candid camera

Katie Price of all people has highlighted the abuse that occurs in some nursing homes, and suggested they should all have cameras in every room so relatives can see what's going on and be sure everything's okay.

She says she knows what she's talking about because at one time she was a carer for the elderly in nursing homes. So she can tell the good homes from the bad ones.

"Sadly over the last few years we've seen too many cases of abuse in nursing homes - places that you trust to care and look after your elderly relations" she says.

Her solution is cameras - so everything is visible 24 hours a day and nothing untoward could escape the public gaze. Anyone could check on what's happening - not just relatives but social workers, doctors, or just concerned individuals.

"Some will say this is an invasion of privacy - I say it's helping protect those who can't protect themselves."

What would the residents think of having cameras everywhere, I wonder? Would they welcome such routine monitoring or would they dislike the intrusion into their daily lives?

My sister, who has MND, is in a nursing home right now because my brother in law, who usually looks after her, has just had a major operation. I'm assured she's happy there and has no complaints. But it would be especially reassuring to see everything on camera and be certain she's being well-treated.

The fact is that there have been some absolutely shocking examples of outright cruelty and neglect in nursing homes, behaviour that could have been nipped in the bud if those outside had been aware of it.

It seems to me that only those with something to hide would object.

PS: Some American states have passed laws to allow electronic monitoring in long-term care facilities. They include Texas, New Mexico, Washington, Oklahoma and Maryland. Hidden cameras have caught abuse three times in Pennsylvania - they recorded mocking, manhandling and slapping. There's an interesting article about cameras in nursing homes here

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Toxic cake

The utterly absurd row over a gay-themed cake shows no signs of abating. The Northern Ireland bakery that refused to make the cake has been taken to court by the Equality Commission while Christian groups are weighing in with support for the bakery.

It all started in November last year when Ashers bakery rejected an order for a cake with the message "Support Gay Marriage" and the name of a gay organisation, Queerspace.

The bakery said their deeply-held Christian beliefs made it impossible to provide the cake, so the customer got it made by another bakery.

Ashers Bakery is now defending itself in court against the Equality Commission's charge of unlawful discrimination.

It's ridiculous that a disagreement over a cake should have escalated into a full court hearing with both sides earmarking thousands of pounds for the legal costs. The Equality Commission has already spent £8,500 on the case while Christian groups have pledged large sums in support of the bakery.

Surely the initial disagreement could have been settled in a few minutes in some simpler way?

The bakery could have taken the attitude that the message on the cake was the customer's concern and nothing to do with the bakery or its religious convictions. They could have easily baked the cake and ignored the message, just as they ignore a thousand other "irreligious" messages they come across.

Customer Gareth Lee could have shrugged off the ludicrous objections, got the cake made somewhere else (as he did) and thought nothing more of it. He could have simply dismissed the bakery staff as intolerant diehards incapable of treating other people as human beings rather than religious hate-figures.

But Mr Lee agreed to front an Equality Commission court case which turned the whole thing into a global cause célèbre in which Christians and gays have been hurling abuse at each other for months.

We now await the court's verdict. Even if Judge Isobel Brownlie decides in Mr Lee's favour, it will be a rather hollow victory, as the bakery won't be keen to change its practices. It may simply look for ways of getting round the law.

And the case has led to the infamous "conscience clause", a proposed law about to be debated at Stormont, which would allow Christian businesses to turn away gay customers whenever they felt like it.

This one will run and run.

Pic: the sinful cake

PS: The case has now finished, but the Judge will give her decision later. "It is not a straightforward area of the law. Obviously this is a case in which I propose to reserve my judgment."

Friday, 20 March 2015

Family values

If ever there was a phrase that means precisely nothing, it's "family values". Or rather, it can mean anything you want it to mean, usually to criticise those households that are seen as weird and degenerate.

It's one of those phrases that are used to conjure up some idyllic, nostalgic paradise when everyone lived in a perfect family made up of happy, carefree individuals smothered in love and affection.

Not many families are that perfect. Most families are full of frictions and frustrations and grievances of one kind or another, and for them "family values" probably just means putting up with people who drive you nuts on a daily basis.

And if "family" implies two heterosexual parents with children, then where does that leave childless couples, or those who're on their own, or gay couples? Presumably they're a bit blemished, a bit lacking, unable to share the deep joys of family values, whatever they may be.

I'm particularly sickened when politicians pose with their spouse and children, as if that's the ideal arrangement we should all be aspiring to, and as if only politicians with these credentials can be trusted to run the country properly. As opposed to say, lesbians, who are sure to turn the country into a hopeless basket case.

Even Barack Obama feels obliged to parade his wife and kids at every opportunity, just to prove he's a regular joe who's fit to be president.

As for those politicians who regularly extol "family values" and are regularly caught with prostitutes or shagging their buxom interns, how nauseating is that?

To hell with family values. A bit more compassion, empathy and human kindness will do me fine.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Give us a clue

I don't like uncert-ainty. Or at least not the type of uncertainty that significantly affects my life. It makes me feel too vulnerable, too adrift.

Some people thrive on uncertainty. For them, the more of it the better. They love having absolutely no idea what the future will bring and what fate's going to throw at them. They find it exciting, stimulating, challenging.

I don't feel that at all. I would feel a lot more secure and confident if I knew what's in store for me. How much money I'll have, whether I'll get a serious illness, when I'm going to die, whether I'll lose my mind.

If I knew all that, at least I could plan my life a bit better, allow for disasters or triumphs, create a smoother path for myself. I wouldn't be suddenly overwhelmed by some unexpected catastrophe and be left floundering.

Small uncertainties, those that have no major effect on my life one way or the other, don't bother me. What the weather's going to do, whether I can get a vegetarian sandwich, whether my new jeans will run in the wash - those I can deal with. It's the big uncertainties, the potentially life-changing uncertainties, that freak me out.

It's curious that I'm so bothered by uncertainty this late in life, when my future is relatively short. When I was young and my future stretched ahead of me indefinitely like Route 66, the much greater uncertainty didn't phase me at all. I just sailed along blithely, unheeding of what the next day would bring.

How did this strange quirk come about, I wonder?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Bumptious tourists

When I'm on holiday, I'm very conscious that I'm a tourist in someone else's country and I do my best to respect those I meet and not behave like an arrogant prick expecting everyone to fawn all over me.

I was amazed at the selfishness of the two American women who scrawled graffiti on the Colosseum and then took a selfie of themselves and the graffiti. Signs in both English and Italian warn against defacing the walls. Yet they took no notice*.

There are tourists who get hopelessly drunk and pester the locals, who expect everyone to speak English, who poke fun at local customs, or who demand special discounts and concessions. They must annoy the hell out of those on the receiving end, but they're oblivious to how their behaviour comes across.

Of course a lot of things are not the same as home, and I do my best to be patient and flexible. Different security procedures, for example, or opening times, or hotel routines. Why get in a lather over something a bit unexpected? Why not simply adjust to it and relax?

I remember once catching the ferry to Sirmione on Lake Garda. Ahead of us were a group of around 50 schoolkids. Could they issue a single ticket for all of them? No no, each child had to be issued with a separate ticket, which seemed to take forever. But there was no point in complaining - that's the way it was done.

I think a lot of tourists see their holidays as merely a commercial transaction, demanding their money's worth and complaining loudly if they're not getting exactly what they signed up for.

But it's so much more than a business deal. I see a holiday as an invitation to visit someone else's country, a bit like being invited to someone's home, and I try to acknowledge their generosity and indulgence by behaving with courtesy and consideration.

In particular, I'm considerate of all those hard-pressed employees of hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and tourist attractions who are often treated with disdain - if their presence is even noticed.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

*Police reported them for damaging the ancient site. They now face a court hearing.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Lost for words

People sometimes say that my shyness, my tendency to be tongue-tied with other people, is due to my being too self-conscious.

I don't know about that. What exactly is "too much" self-consciousness anyway? If anything, I think I'm probably not self-conscious enough. I'm more than capable of blurting out something stupid or insensitive without realising, or of saying the complete opposite of what I'm really thinking or feeling.

To my mind, the more self-conscious people are, the better. The more aware we are of how we're behaving, how we're affecting other people, what sort of impression we're making, the more likely we are to treat people decently rather than nastily.

Even if we're talking total self-absorption, that's not so awful either. Okay, so the person might be jabbering away about themself, but at least they're not planning a shooting spree or a mass beheading. The worst they can do is bore you to tears.

I think my shyness is due more to the assumption that other people won't accept me for what I am. If I just gabble away freely, sooner or later someone will object to something I've said and there will be an unpleasant exchange. People take offence at the strangest things, and I can't predict what they will be. So I find myself listening rather than talking so as to avoid sudden umbrage.

My shyness is probably also a reaction to wasting so many hours of my life listening to people confidently holding forth on things they know absolutely nothing about, or things that have already been dissected ad nauseam by all and sundry. I hesitate to add yet another ill-informed or superfluous opinion to the surrounding hubbub.

And at the end of the day, I'd just rather be a shrinking violet than a pompous windbag.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Endless abuse

I know this is grim reading, but I was horrified by the sheer scale of the sex abuse scandal in Oxford-shire, not to mention the generally pathetic response of police and social workers, who allowed the abuse to go on for so long.

It's reported that over 370 girls were systematically assaulted, raped and tortured over a fifteen year period, and that those who should have protected the girls and stopped the abuse either turned a blind eye, trivialised what was happening, or blamed the victims for provoking the abuse. And not one person has been subsequently disciplined or sacked.

I don't know where to begin in dissecting this whole appalling saga, which speaks volumes about the incompetence of public servants who are meant to be shielding the vulnerable but end up shielding the predators.

There was clearly a well-established network of men carrying out the abuse, but they were able to continue their atrocities for many years before finally being arrested.

The case review just published says that not only were police and social workers generally in denial, but they blamed the girls for their "precocious and difficult behaviour", accused them of putting themselves at risk, ignored underage sexual activity, and denied the girls had been groomed and violently controlled.

It's hard to know what can be done to prevent such widespread abuse happening all over again in the future. If trained professionals whose specific job it is to protect vulnerable children utterly fail to do so, will further training or new legislation make any difference? If those who are meant to keep children safe simply don't seem to understand the concept of safety, how will they ever change?

I can't see any effective remedy short of sacking all those who allowed this nightmare to go on for so long, and employing people with a genuine concern for children's well-being who will stop sexual and emotional abuse the moment they discover it.

And the whole insidious culture of blaming the victim, which is still so rampant, must be reversed once and for all and attention focused on those who allowed so many victims to pile up year after year.

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