Friday, 23 September 2016

Embarrassing and stuff

That clichéd put-down that someone should "act their age" is one of the silliest remarks ever. Why should someone act their age? What on earth does it mean anyway?

What behaviour exactly is suitable for someone of sixty? Or seventy? Or eighty? Are they meant to wear something that hides every inch of flesh? Or lurk in a corner not saying anything controversial? Or avoid all mention of sex, drugs or gangsta rap?

I suspect all it really means is "Don't do anything a twenty something might do because it's, like, totally embarrassing and stuff, and we'll have to ignore you and pretend we don't know you."

Which in turn really means "We reserve the right to control your behaviour because we're young and cool and you're a fuddy-duddy old person who's only allowed to be fuddy-duddy."

Well, bollocks to that. We oldies have spent most of our life being told what to do by employers, spouses, children and parents, and in our twilight years we claim the right to dress and behave any way we want for a change and take no notice of any strait-laced objections.

Madonna in particular gets regular taunts that she should "act her age" and not come on so sexy and flamboyant. She tells her critics to get lost, that she's going to act any way she wants "because it's MY age and it's MY life."

Good for her. I shall follow her example. I don't feel the need to be sexy and flamboyant, but anything else I fancy doing - I shall just go right ahead and bugger how old I am. I shall dance and cavort and swear and contradict and shock and too bad if it ruffles some feathers.

Because it's my age and it's my life.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

A torrent of abuse

I make no apologies for returning to the subject of political abuse, which has reached horrifying levels and deeply worries me as it's a deliberate attempt to censor and silence people you disagree with.

It's now completely normal for public figures with controversial views to be deluged with literally thousands of abusive and threatening messages, both online and offline, and little is being done to stop it.

Women with strong feminist opinions (or any opinions) are targeted. Critics of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, are targeted. Black people are targeted. Sportspeople are targeted. Even school pupils who don't "fit in" are targeted by other pupils. And not just with mild, half-hearted abuse but with vicious, brutal abuse, including death threats and the hope that they're in line for a terminal illness.

Baroness Wheatcroft, who opposes Brexit, says the level of hostility against her during the referendum campaign was appalling. Even now the post and emails she's receiving are unbelievable and "all inhibitions have gone".

It's encouraging that public figures facing this torrent of abuse day in and day out are carrying on and not quitting under the pressure. But many of them wonder if it's worth the relentless hatred, especially if it's affecting their friends and families and not just themselves.

What's really worrying is the fascist overtone of it all. If it gets to the point where people are hiding their views and staying silent to avoid an online lynching, if they're keeping their heads down and playing safe or their lives will be hell, then democracy is in serious danger.

I've already said I don't feel at all British. If I was prone to shame, which luckily I'm not, I think I'd be utterly ashamed to live in a country where such savage, ruthless abuse of anyone you dislike is increasingly seen as normal.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Old and crabby

Here's an odd thing. People are meant to get ruder and grumpier as they age (men especially). They're meant to stomp about, casually insulting shop assistants and shunning friendly greetings. But that's not me at all. If anything I think the older I get the more polite I get.

While the media and the internet are awash with bad-tempered oldies pouring abuse on all and sundry, I just look on with dismay, wondering why they have to be so nasty. What happened to turn them so sour and bitter?

Personally I become more and more convinced that abuse and insults achieve nothing and simply alienate the person being abused. It merely creates bad feeling and makes life more difficult. If it's a question of "getting something off their chest", why can't they just rant and rave in the privacy of their own home rather than taking it out on someone else?

I find politeness often brings results where rudeness doesn't. People treated with respect are more likely to respond positively. Also, I believe in the old principle "do as you would be done by". I don't like other people being churlish and snappy to me, so why should I be churlish and snappy to them?

There's something dignified and decorous about being polite, while constant grumpiness seems only selfish and insensitive. It's also depressing, which is why I give the wilfully grumpy a wide berth.

The grumps have all sorts of excuses for their behaviour. They're just reacting to the awfulness of life. They're fed up with declining standards. They're depressed because of their health problems. Well, we're all fed up with one thing or another, but we don't all think that entitles us to have a go at someone.

So if you're looking for a crabby old codger - you won't find one here.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Bag of nerves

When I lived in a bed-sit in Paddington, London, in the early 1970s, when I was twenty something, I encount-ered the most nervous woman I've ever met. I never did find out what was bugging her.

I can't remember how I met Tanya, but one evening she came round to my bed-sit, and from the moment she arrived she was physically trembling. I said she seemed nervous and did she want to tell me why?

She said it was too painful to talk about and she'd rather not say. I tried hard to get her to relax. I thought if she relaxed a bit, she would open up. We had a few cups of coffee, and we chatted, and she told me she was a nurse. She was still trembling, still unwilling to say why, but it was clear she wanted to go to bed with me.

I said I wouldn't feel right having sex when she was plainly very agitated about something. Maybe she thought sex would be somehow reassuring or soothing, but I wasn't happy about it. I felt I would be taking advantage of someone in a state of desperation.

I thought she might try to seduce me by kissing me or taking her clothes off, but she didn't. She accepted my reluctance and eventually said goodnight and left.

I was none the wiser about her extreme nervousness, and still am as I never saw her again. She vanished as mysteriously as we had met.

Sometimes I try to fill in the blanks. Had she been attacked? Raped? Bullied? Humiliated in some way? Deeply shocked by something? Had she witnessed a horrific car crash or a violent death? I'll never know. But something had had a very dramatic, very disturbing effect on her.

Forty years on I'm still puzzled by that lingering question mark of an evening.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The silent type

I've been shy since I was a small boy. It's something that's not easy to change. So many things are involved, it's hard to disentangle them and overcome them. What would be the result anyway? Morphing from a shrinking violet to a bumptious loud-mouth?

Attitudes to shyness keep altering. Once it was just seen as an endearing though awkward personality trait. Then it became a dysfunctional, embarrassing failing to be treated and cured. Now the endearing but awkward view is back in vogue.

The shy but famous have gone to extreme lengths to avoid agonising social contact. It's said that Emily Dickinson would only speak to visitors through a half-closed bedroom door. I'm not that bad, but I find it hard to talk to anyone I don't know, or who looks unfriendly, looks bored, or seems smarter or more knowledgeable. I become painfully self-conscious, my mind goes blank, my confidence plummets, and I stand there in helpless silence like the village idiot.

Blogging has been a godsend, as I find it easier to spill my thoughts when I'm not actually face to face with someone, and when I can safely assume my regular visitors will be interested in what I'm saying. And of course I have all the time in the world to rehearse my thoughts, without the need for an instant comment or an instant reply.

Shyness is sometimes seen as a virtue - speaking only when there's something worth saying and not blabbering on pointlessly simply for the sake of it. But without the compulsive chatterers, social life could grind to a halt amid a sea of taciturn faces.

Nobody suggests manic chatterers should be treated and cured. It's accepted they have their function, however tiresome it is if you're buttonholed by one of them. But it's very tempting to sit back and listen rather than try to interrupt the relentless flow of words.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Do not disturb

We should all be exposed to the widest possible range of ideas and opinions, so our knowledge of the world and other people is as complete as it can be. So I'm not in favour of the arbitrary censorship of supposedly "undesirable" and "dangerous" ideas.

Which is why I strongly support the University of Chicago's statement that it won't go along with such censorship, whether it's trigger warnings on books with "disturbing" content, no-platforming of "offensive" speakers, or the existence of "safe spaces" free of upsetting opinions.

All these things are contrary to their commitment to academic freedom, says the university.

Unfortunately the statement has been leapt on by those whose life is dedicated to mocking what they call "political correctness". Or what the rest of us call treating people decently and not crapping on them. So there's a reluctance to say that in this case the anti-PC brigade may have a point.

In general I find the whole concept of "political correctness" odious and mischievous, an ongoing attempt to resist greater equality and maintain elitism and privilege. Same-sex marriages? Transgender folk in the "wrong" bathroom? All-women short lists? Whatever next? It's political correctness gone mad!

However it seems to me that what the University of Chicago and other universities are resisting isn't "political correctness" but something much more familiar - over protectiveness.

They're not opposing tiresome bans and restrictions so much as the over protective indulgence of students too squeamish to deal with ideas and opinions very contrary to their own. Instead of hearing out those ideas and evaluating them, they want to shut them out and pretend they don't exist. Sorry, but that just ain't possible.

There's nothing radical or progressive about trying to silence people you don't agree with. It's much smarter to check out those opposing ideas and then comprehensively demolish them. Listen politely, then whip the rug from under their feet.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Marmite and sponge cake

As I've probably said before, I don't feel at all "British" and I don't understand those who do. The word means such totally different things to different people, I'm not even sure what I'd be identifying with.

One journalist suggests it means Wimbledon, the Shipping Forecast, Marmite, Shakespeare, Royal Weddings and Mary Berry's Victoria sponge. Goodness knows why he picked that particular combination. In any case, I have no interest in any of those things except Marmite. So does that mean I'm disgracefully un-British?

None of the things I'm actually interested in - like fiction, coffee, music, art, foreign food, ceramics - are exclusively British but come from all over the world. Which surely makes me Global or International rather than British.

Neither do I feel British in the sense that Britain is better than any other nation. That's an absurd idea. Every nation has its virtues and vices, Britain included. How can the country of rampant porn, horrendous online abuse, widespread poverty and soaring personal debt be better than any other country?

If feeling British means defending all those wonderful traditions foreigners are undermining with their weird primitive beliefs, then obviously I don't subscribe to that idea either.

Or we're expected to feel fervently British if someone British has excelled at something. When Team GB did so brilliantly at the Olympics, we were told we should be "proud of ourselves", as if I was personally responsible for such prowess. Er no, it had nothing whatever to do with me. They just happen to have similar passports.

The fact is I have a British passport only because I was born in Britain. Beyond that arbitrary accident of birth, "British" means nothing but a confusing bundle of quaint and irrelevant stereotypes.

British? Thanks, but no thanks.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Big fib

As you grow older you're supposed to leave behind all those excruc-iating anxieties and uncertain-ties and naiveties of childhood and become sophisticated, confident and fearless. Well, I'm still waiting for that magical transformation - so far there's precious little sign of it.

Judging by what I hear, I suspect that's the case with most people. They may look to have morphed into emotional and mental maturity, but only because they've learnt to hide all the helpless fumbling and put on a public front of seamless self-assurance.

It seems to me that instead of vanishing, those crippling anxieties and certainties simply revolve around something different. Instead of anxieties about sexual inexperience or exam questions, you uncover anxieties about losing your job or defaulting on the mortgage. Or if you're getting on a bit, anxieties about declining health or all your friends dying.

The idea that adulthood brings poised cool-headedness is no doubt a soothing belief when you're in the midst of teenage angst and desperately wanting it to end, but the reality is rather different. In any case, you only have to look at your own flustered, confused parents to realise there's no such enviable maturity to look forward to.

But it's somewhat reassuring to learn that since most people you meet are secretly haunted by nagging anxieties and doubts of their own, you can feel entirely equal to them and not be fooled by their phoney aplomb.

I don't think I ever seriously believed I would miraculously blossom into a perfectly composed adult sailing through every tricky situation. It was pretty obviously a big fib, along with the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and the man in the moon.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Gender bender

I don't share the view that drag queens are sexist and offensive and mock women. A few of them maybe, but surely the great majority have nothing against women and are simply playing with the idea of femininity.

Most of them are obviously just having a laugh by sending up the whole female stereotype of tight dresses, dizzy heels, big hair and massive tits. Or they're simply enjoying wearing clothes they can't normally wear. Or they're seeing what it's like not being masculine for a while.

Okay, some drag queen performers make a point of insulting and belittling women, but then so do a lot of straight comedians. It's not drag that's sexist, it's women-hating individuals who happen to be in drag. Big difference.

The great thing about drag (or cross dressing) is the way it subverts the usual gender norms. You expect to see a bloke in the standard male outfit of suit and tie - or shirt and jeans - and suddenly there's a guy in a sequinned frock, blonde hair down to his waist and bright red lipstick.

That can only be good in a society where gender stereotypes are still so rigid that anyone who wears clothes of the "wrong gender" gets a rough ride.

I guess the most famous drag queen is RuPaul, and I don't recall anyone accusing him of being anti-women.

The other thing drag queens are accused of is making straight men "uncomfortable". Well, if that means they're disconcerted by men who don't wear what they're supposed to wear and flaunt their unorthodox clothing, that's fine by me. We all need to question these suffocating dress codes that stop us being what we want to be.

"Drag is a sarcastic spoof on culture, which allows us to laugh at ourselves" - RuPaul

Pic: Ireland's very own Panti Bliss

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Raging epidemic

It's the elephant in the room. It goes on all the time - in homes, on the street, in workplaces, at public events. It's a raging epidemic nobody is able to control. Yet ordinary folk like you and me seldom discuss it.

Physical, verbal and emotional harassment of women. Going on everywhere you look, sometimes stealthily, sometimes quite blatantly. Every day of the week.

Men don't want to discuss it because they'd rather pretend it doesn't exist. Or they don't want to admit they're guilty of it. Or they keep silent out of male solidarity.

Women don't want to discuss it because they've already discussed it to death. Or because so many men trivialise it and excuse it that complaining is pointless. Or because it's too degrading and humiliating to talk about.

It's not going to stop until society as a whole takes it seriously. Until there's a zero tolerance attitude. Until all the men in positions of responsibility veto such behaviour from their employees instead of turning a blind eye or condoning it. Or doing it themselves.

It's not going to stop until it's treated as the disgusting, perverted, dehumanising activity that it is. Until it's seen as a sickness, an addiction, a mental disorder. Until those concerned are ostracised and condemned.

It's not going to stop as long as men see it as harmless banter, as a joke, as normal male behaviour, as something that impresses other men, as something women are gagging for really, or as something women have invited.

I hate misogyny of any kind. Men who indulge in it sicken me. I don't want anything to do with them. They need to wake up, smell the coffee, and treat women with the respect and courtesy all human beings have a right to.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Feet of clay

Hero worship is a funny thing. Generally rational, sensible people pledge their allegiance to someone, and henceforth that person is so perfect they can do no wrong. If you voice the mildest criticism of their idol, they go bananas.

Can they not see that everyone has feet of clay, everyone has personal failings and hang-ups, that absolutely nobody is perfect? Apparently not.

The cult-like worship of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a case in point. His thousands of supporters, aka Corbynistas, are quite sure he can walk on water, that he is a political genius, and any setbacks are always the fault of someone else.

Anyone who suggests Jeremy is falling down on the job, that he's not an effective leader, that he's not doing enough to woo the voters, is treated to a hail of abuse and venom as if they had insulted the Queen.

There are plenty of similar "heroes" whose fans jump on critics like a ton of bricks. Like Caitlyn Jenner or Lady Gaga or Margaret Thatcher. They're put on an artificial pedestal they simply don't deserve.

As a teenager, I was a bit of a hero-worshipper myself. First it was rock stars like the Beatles and the Stones, then it was fashionable rebels like the psychiatrist Ronnie Laing, the black activist Angela Davis and militant feminists like Germaine Greer.

But you would expect adulthood to bring a more realistic view of the world and the realisation that there are no heroes, only fallible mortals who get drunk and swear and make colossal blunders the same as the rest of us. Nobody but nobody is a pure and saintly human being, and treating them as if they are is just idiotic.

I can safely say I haven't hero-worshipped anyone for decades, and I'm astonished at the number of people who do. I threw away the rose-tinted spectacles some time ago.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Tangled and dark

However well you think you know someone, however long you've lived with them or been friends with them, you never know them completely. You never know the deepest, darkest parts of their mind - the bits they don't want to show you, the bits they're ashamed of, the bits that are hard to deal with, the bits they're disturbed by.

Over and over again I read of people who've suddenly done something quite out of character, something utterly shocking or extraordinary, something their nearest and dearest could never have predicted or thought possible.

Like builder's merchant Lance Hart, 57, from Lincolnshire, who eleven days ago murdered Claire, his wife of 26 years, and his daughter Charlotte, before turning the gun on himself. Friends and neighbours were stunned by his actions, describing him as a happy, friendly man. One neighbour thought he was "the nicest guy you could ever meet", who "would do anything for anyone".

Yet out of the blue he goes on this rampage of destruction nobody can explain and you wonder what was simmering away under the surface. He was upset by the breakdown of his marriage, but that hardly justifies such carnage.

But you read about these aberrations all the time - husbands who run off with the au pair or reveal weird sexual kinks, women who have endless plastic surgery or wreck their ex's brand-new car. Or just those sudden streaks of greed or meanness or prejudice or cruelty. Or of course terrorism.

After thirty plus years together, Jenny and I know each other pretty well. But I'm sure there are parts of us we've never fully revealed to the other, parts that are still shadowy or mysterious. Hopefully nothing as sinister as homicidal tendencies, only those things that for one reason or another we can't quite own up to.

You think you know someone inside out? Think again.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Console me

I need consolation
It's a horrible world out there
a world of brutality and violence
I need to be soothed
I need to be told
that it isn't as bad as all that
that there are good things
positive things
that there is joy and happiness
that the ugliness
is wildly exaggerated
I need to be treated
with gentleness and affection
with tender loving care
that calms my heart
and my churning emotions
I need a friendly port in a storm
a holy sanctuary
a quiet refuge
a place of safety
where I can leave the horror behind
and rediscover
my purest self
I need consolation
I need a cauterising balm
I need a healing hand

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

True or false?

Anxiety comes in different shapes and forms. I have plenty of anxieties but I guess the biggest is whether I'm being true to myself or not. What you might call honesty anxiety.

When I'm talking to other people, I'm forever thinking, am I being honest? Am I telling the truth or am I faking it? Am I simply saying something because it's polite, or it's what they're expecting, or it avoids an argument, or it's an easy-to-understand cliché? Am I dodging any remark that might make the conversation too difficult, too emotional, too startling?

A lot of people seem immune to such agonising.  They gabble away, apparently unconcerned whether they're telling it like it is or making it all up. Maybe they don't even see the difference. Whatever they say is grist to the mill, is oiling the social wheels, and who cares if it's total bollocks or if it's deep-down, straight-from-the-heart, innermost-self sincerity?

I'm amazed at the number of people who spout blatant, outrageous lies and don't seem remotely bothered about what they're saying. It must be some sort of private game to tell the biggest whoppers and get away with it.

But then again, what is truth and what is falsity anyway? If I say something out of politeness, is that false because I'd rather say something a bit rude, or is it genuine because I believe politeness helps you get on with people?

If I fob someone off with a glib cliché, is that false because it misrepresents a more complex reality, or is it genuine because I don't want to embarrass them with some detailed and baffling explanation they really don't need?

Maybe I just have an exaggerated dislike of lies and dishonesty. Where others merely shrug them off, I feel truly sickened and polluted. I feel tricked and insulted. I feel like I've trodden in something nasty.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Bumbling along

I've never been remotely competitive. I watch people outdoing each other for the trendiest job or the flashiest house or the smartest children, and I really wonder why they try so hard to impress other people rather than just doing their own thing and enjoying themselves.

I've watched other people strenuously climbing the greasy pole to that sought-after managerial job, or mortgaging themselves to the hilt to get that palatial house, or boasting about their swish holidays in some exotic location. I just think, well, good luck to them, but I'm quite happy bumbling along on a more modest path, savouring what I already have and quietly ruminating.

Ah, but why do you go on about it, comes the obvious retort. Maybe you're jealous of their fancy lifestyles and secretly you'd like the same. Or maybe you're embarrassed at your lack of ambition and humble achievements, but don't want to admit it.

I don't think so. In fact my instinctive reaction to people openly competing with each other is to ignore them and walk away. At political meetings where a bunch of men are vying with each other to make the sharpest, wittiest comments, I have no wish to get involved. I just wait patiently for them to run out of steam.

Being childless, I've never needed to brag about how well my children are doing, how intelligent they are, what plum job they've landed. If I did have children, they'd probably be the ones who slouch around in scruffy clothes and lurch casually from one un-glamorous job to another.

Whether it's intellectual brilliance, career advancement, the property ladder, cultural awareness, sexual conquests or alcohol consumption, I couldn't care less if other people seem more dazzling or more capable. I just carry on ploughing my own furrow.

PS: I've noticed some people's blog posts are not showing the Comments section. If mine isn't, just click on the blog title and the Comments section will show up.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Wild child

My blogmate John says he would never have guessed I was pretty wild in my late teens. Clearly he sees me as a sedate, well-behaved individual who would never have done anything seriously outrageous or shocking.

Well, as I told him, my wildness was a predictable reaction to the very authoritarian boarding school I attended from thirteen to eighteen. While I was there, every minute of every day was tightly scheduled by those running the school, and deciding for yourself what to do was simply not an option.

There were precise times for getting up, having breakfast, going to classes, having lunch, doing homework, and every other routine activity. There were strict rules about what clothing to wear. There was a long list of prohibitions, like visiting the town centre or befriending the locals or writing to the papers. You were told what to do and what not to do, and woe betide you if you stepped out of line.

Not surprisingly, as soon as I left school and stumbled on the counter-culture of the late 1960s, with all its libertarian beliefs and emphasis on doing your own thing, I was hooked. Suddenly I could think what I liked, do what I liked, wear what I liked, go where I liked. After such regimentation, it felt utterly euphoric, and I got pretty carried away by my new-found freedom.

I grew a beard, I grew long hair, I wore gaudy clothes, I went around barefoot, I dabbled in drugs, I played rock music at top volume, I supported every left-wing cause going from gay liberation to easier abortion, cohabitation and equal pay. I went on protest marches, I chanted "kill the pigs", I took part in sit-ins and occupations. I lived it up and explored myself in a big way. Strangely, I was in no hurry for sex, and was unaccountably celibate till I was 22.

Of course inevitably once I got the freedom bug out of my system and felt confident I could be myself without being rapped on the knuckles, I simmered down and got a bit more laid-back. My tastes were much the same but I pursued them in a quieter, subtler fashion. I lost the beard and the long hair, got more choosy about my protests, decided drugs were not my thing, and so forth. And the rest is history.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

No longer welcome

I can't imagine what it's like to be nervous about walking down the street, or being at work, or riding a bus, for fear someone will aim some kind of racist abuse at you. But this is happening more and more since the referendum - in England at any rate.

People are being targeted simply because they look different, or are speaking another language, or have a foreign-sounding name, or wear foreign-looking clothing. Suddenly they face a tirade of insults and threats, and often the ultimatum that they should "go back home".

No matter that they might have lived in the UK for decades, might be British citizens, might pay hefty taxes, might never have claimed benefits, might never have been unemployed. No matter how much they resemble ordinary, humdrum Brits, they are treated like some sinister alien who "doesn't fit in", who "isn't one of us".

An increasing number of those targeted, or likely to be targeted, are saying they now feel so unwelcome and so uncomfortable they are thinking of moving to another European country, or indeed back to their home country.

They came here because they saw the UK as somewhere open-minded and tolerant where they would feel accepted and appreciated, but now everything seems to have changed and they feel like suspicious outsiders.

Says one anonymous Eastern European, too scared to give her name, living in Surrey, "I have been living here for almost ten years and must say I have never felt uncomfortable until now. I don't feel comfortable to speak my own language in the street, as I don't want to provoke anyone or even to be seen as just another immigrant."

What a shocking state of affairs. As I've said before, I'm not ashamed to be British because I don't identify with the mindless bigots persecuting "foreigners" in this way. But I'm certainly not proud to live in a so-called civilised country that's so saturated with xenophobia.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

No shame

I'm immune to shame. It's something I just don't feel, ever. I can't imagine what it even feels like. People say "I'm ashamed to be British" or "I'm ashamed of my parents" and I really don't understand what they mean.

It seems to me you only feel shame if you're embarrassed by your own thoughts and emotions and actions, and by other people's responses to them. You think there's something wrong with you for being the way you are, so you feel disgraced, disgusted with yourself, "rotten".

I've never seen it like that. I'm not embarrassed by my own behaviour. Why should I be? It's what comes naturally to me, and I can't stop that. If I make mistakes, it can't be helped. I do the best I can in any situation and if it falls short, that's just bad luck. If other people judge me for my mistakes, I don't care. I know they make as many mistakes themselves, so they've no right to be so judgmental.

It's strange that I pay a lot of attention to other people's opinions - as I don't like to offend or upset anyone - yet those opinions never cause me shame. They might cause me to act differently, or choose my words more carefully, but shame seems like a weird over-reaction.

Why should I be ashamed to be British? I'm not responsible for the actions of 65 million other Brits. If a bunch of them create havoc in some foreign city, it's nothing to do with me. I may share their nationality, but I don't share much else.

And why should I be ashamed of my parents? Your parents are what they are, with all their shortcomings and daft beliefs, and it doesn't reflect on me in any way. I'm a totally different person, and my parents' oddities are neither here nor there.

It might be different of course if I'd done something seriously outrageous. If I was a serial killer or an arsonist or a wife-beater. But my misdemeanours aren't in that league.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Leaving do

The British people have voted by a narrow margin (four per cent) to leave the European Union, on the grounds that it's a millstone round our neck, it's dragging us down, it's burying us in red tape, and so on. Now we're about to be free of this ghastly institution, things can only get better and better. All our troubles will be over. Or so it's fondly believed.

But the opt-outers have been sold a pup. They've been conned. They've been taken for a ride. Ambitious politicians who want to make a name for themselves and climb the greasy political pole have spun a load of fibs.

They've painted an entirely false picture of the EU. That it's the cause of all our ills, that it tells us what to do, that it snares us in pointless regulations. And in particular that the large number of immigrants it sends our way are responsible for just about every pressing problem from unemployment to homelessness, the beleaguered NHS and high welfare bills.

Never mind that it's all untrue. Never mind that those familiar problems actually have a whole host of causes, mostly unconnected with the EU, like government spending cuts, a shortage of doctors, and not enough house-building. No no, they're all the fault of the horrid EU and we have to leave it fast or sink into a lethal quagmire.

What the EU really does has been deliberately suppressed. That it outlaws prejudice and discrimination. That it protects the environment. That it defends and improves workers' pay and conditions. That it strengthens our legal rights. And much more.

But all this has been thrown out of the window in favour of relying on our own government. A government that believes in austerity, spending cuts, selling off our public services, keeping wages down, and generally making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

If people really think they'll be better off under our homegrown politicians, with their contempt for ordinary folk, they are surely sadly mistaken. As the months and years go by, and nothing much changes, they will realise just what a massive trick has been played on them. And their fury will be horrible to witness.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Memory lane

I'm not one for nostalgia. I don't sit around fondly remembering some supposed golden period of my life when everything fell into place and I coasted along on a wave of trouble-free happiness. I wouldn't be so daft.

I may have a terrible memory, but I remember enough to know there was no such golden period and every part of my life has thrown up problems and crises and disappointments as well as the things that went well and made me happy.

There can only be some imagined golden period if you gloss over the negative bits and exaggerate the successes. If you ignore the leaky roof and the grumpy landlord and the extortionate rent and flag up the sexy girlfriends, the wild parties and the brilliant rock festivals. But I can't do that. I always remember both sides of the picture, the rough and the smooth, the crap and the haute cuisine.

Neither do I believe, as many people seem to, that the difficult bits of my life in 2016 are somehow more difficult and more frustrating than anything I had to deal with in years gone past. It may seem like it at the time, when I'm desperately trying to sort out something horribly complicated, but I know in retrospect it'll seem much more prosaic.

Schooldays are the best days of your life? You must be joking. The comfortably settled years of middle age? Give me a break. They weren't any better than life right now, and in some ways were a lot worse.

I have very few momentos of my early life, and I don't feel the lack of them. I'm not one to pore over blurry old photos or musty childhood toys or a faded school blazer, overcome by wistful pangs and a tear or two. What's gone is gone and I'm impatient to move forward.

The good old days? Don't make me laugh.