Thursday, 17 April 2014

Bedroom secrets

A lot of people don't like to talk about their negative bedroom habits. Or their partner's. And I don't just mean sexual, I mean all those other little things that can drive the other person nuts.

Like snoring. Or hogging the duvet. Or being overheated. Or smoking in bed. Or eating pungent food in bed. Or sleeping with the dog.

I think most of us couples like to give the impression that everything in the bedroom is just fine. We get into bed, we snuggle up together, we make love, we read for a while, we fall soundly asleep. All very cosy and comfortable.

It's not really the done thing to admit to all the petty irritations and annoyances, the things our partner detests, the things that keep us awake, the things we're ashamed of. What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom, right?

Which is why people don't like to admit they sleep separately. That can trigger all sorts of false assumptions about sexual problems, marital difficulties, incompatibility, other personal failings. There are good reasons for sleeping apart, but they're not the ones other people think of.

And we like to give the impression that even if we do have the odd infuriating bedroom habit (which of course is highly unlikely), our partner is infinitely tolerant and understanding and would never see it as an insurmountable problem, more an endearing and amusing foible that only makes them love us all the more.

So true to form, I'm not going to reveal any of my iffy bedroom habits, or any of Jenny's. Suffice it to say that we don't sleep separately (that's the honest truth, guv) and that we enjoy snuggling up together.

And that's all you're going to get out of me, whatever blandishments you offer. My lips are now firmly sealed.

(Thanks to Ramana for the inspiration)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Forgiveness

I'm a forgiving person. I don't hold grudges. I don't look for revenge. I don't persecute people for their shortcomings. I don't think of people with bitterness and resentment.

But that doesn't mean that I overlook their faults, that I don't care if they've done something nasty or harmful. It doesn't mean I just turn the other cheek or pretend it never happened.

Of course I feel angry or disappointed or shocked or disillusioned. I might want them to make up for what they've done. I might want them to see the error of their ways. But I don't harbour any vicious or hateful feelings towards them. To my mind, that would damage me more than it damages them.

I certainly don't believe in an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. That doesn't solve anything, it usually only escalates the bad feeling as it turns into a tit-for-tat cycle of violence.

On the other hand, I don't much believe in the sentimental idea that forgiveness is only real forgiveness if you not only shun revenge but feel affection and compassion for the person who's wronged you. I think that's possible only if it's someone you love deeply in the first place, like a spouse or a child. With anyone else, it's asking an awful lot, especially if the person has done something quite brutally and coldly abusive.

Plenty of people have treated me badly, starting with my father, but if I'd nursed grudges against them, plotted revenge against them, I would have become a horribly sour and twisted individual. It would have driven all the happiness and buoyancy out of me and utterly contaminated my life. And why give such people the satisfaction of knowing I'm busy obsessing about them, fixating on them, when they're simply not worth thinking about?

But forgiveness seems to be a very under-rated practice right now, in the age of relentless smear campaigns and character assassination. It's about time it came back into favour.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Give me glamour

How do you define glamour? What do you find glamorous? It definitely means something but it's hard to pin down. Probably everyone has their own idea of what it is.

Of course at my age a lot of things I used to find glamorous are now quite mundane, as I'm more aware of the artifice behind the public image - like all the Oscars palaver and all those photo-shopped supermodels - but there are still plenty of things I find glamorous.

So what does glamorous mean? I would say especially exciting or attractive or stylish. Having an almost magical or enchanted quality, something so special it seems almost unreal.

For me, certain places have that quality - Sydney or Vancouver or Venice. Certain people, like George Clooney or Claudia Schiffer. Certain things, like beautiful scarves or pottery or paintings or jewellery. Even little things like nail varnish or passport visa stamps or signed copies of books.

Some things just aren't glamorous, like food or restaurants. We all know the behind-the-scenes drudgery and anxiety that goes into the finished product, so glamour disappears. A plate of risotto may be delicious, or nutritious, or satisfying, but glamorous it ain't.

I would hate it if I got to a point where nothing seemed glamorous any more. The world would be so depressingly humdrum, squalid, dreary. What I like about glamour is its instantly uplifting quality. It makes me feel life is worth living, the world is full of unexpected treasures and delights, there are things so wonderful they make me gasp and go weak at the knees.

Whatever your definition of glamour, life would be sadly lacking without it. Like a face that never smiled.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Niggling doubts

However much we try to hide them, I think the most basic human emotions are insecurity and vulner-ability. That's how we feel when we come out of the womb, that's how we feel when we're old and fragile, and that's how we feel in between, despite the veneer of confidence we have to assume for the sake of our jobs, our families, our 101 responsibilities.

How often does some apparently poised, decisive, suave public figure confess that actually they don't feel that poised inside, they often feel nervous and stupid, or they feel like an undeserving impostor?

Deep down, however successful and happy people seem to be, I think there are always niggling doubts and fears - that our supposedly solid lives aren't as solid as they look, that our good fortune might not last, that an unlucky turn of events could unravel it all.

Deep down we crave reassurance, comforting words, signs that everything will continue, signs that we're truly loved and cherished, signs that the intricate scaffolding of our lives isn't about to collapse.

Of course we have to act confident to get things done, to keep other people's respect, to get what we want in life. But this air of confidence is something we learn, a cultivated show of strength that hides the vulnerability we don't want to display.

And we don't want to display it in case it's abused; in case we're seen as weak and submissive and ready to bow to someone else's will. So it's only sensible to keep it out of sight. But the vulnerability's still there, even if you can't see it. It doesn't magically disappear as we grow up. It hovers inside us like a chilly breeze, curtailing the sunshine.

Beware the seamless show of confidence. It might just be a confidence trick.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Under the influence

People are fond of saying "you must put the past behind you", but it's not as easy as you think. You can push away the past as much as you like, but it has a nasty habit of coming back to bite you.

I have a natural tendency to forget about experiences that were unpleasant, or at least to remember the experience but forget the negative emotions that went with it. If someone suggests I might have been very upset, I reflect for a second or two and think maybe I was. Maybe.

All those feelings of embarrassment or rage or shame or betrayal that stick in other people's minds evaporate from my own mind very quickly, as if they never occurred in the first place. It's a sort of mental de-cluttering mechanism that clears away stuff that's no use to me.

But whatever I remember or don't remember, those experiences are still a part of me and still affect me in all sorts of ways. For example, things people have said and done to undermine my confidence, perhaps way back in my childhood, can still dent my confidence even now.

However much I talk myself up and tell myself I'm an intelligent, experienced person who should be effortlessly confident in most situations, still there's this undercurrent of past experience that can lead to nagging self-doubt.

Saying you must put the past behind you is a bit like saying you must forget your gender. It's so embedded in your mind that it continues to have repercussions whether you like it or not.

The best thing you can do is stop the past being too much of a nuisance, like an over-energetic dog that keeps leaping all over you. If you can get it to lie quietly in a corner, not bothering you, you're doing well.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Risk assessment

My attitude to risk is very contradictory. Some highly risky things don't bother me at all. Others bother me a lot, probably more than they ought to.

I have no qualms about flying, even right across the world. I know there's always a risk of crashes, of fires, of hijacks. But statistically it's the safest form of travel and I have every confidence my next flight will be disaster-free.

I'm okay with driving too. I know that's a very dangerous form of travel, and that serious, possibly fatal, accidents occur all the time. But I'm confident that as long as I'm always alert and attentive, catastrophe is unlikely.

On the other hand, I'm very nervous about hospitals and operations. I'm aware that most operations are routine and successful, but I'm rather too aware of the small percentage that go horribly wrong and leave you in a worse state than before - or even dead. I mean, just suppose I'm one of that small percentage?

I'm also wary of financial risk. I keep my money in the bank and that's it. I'm suspicious of investments and fancy money-making schemes that may go suddenly pear-shaped, swallow up all my money and leave me penniless.

I can be very timid about making big changes in my life, be it a new job, a new home, even a new political allegiance. It might seem like a positive move, it might enhance my life, but what are the unforeseen consequences? Could I be making a reckless mistake, one I live to regret?

Oddly enough though, I was quite sure that moving from London to Belfast was the right thing to do, even though I had no job to go to, I had no relatives living there, and the peace process was only in its early stages. I somehow had confidence it would all work out, and it did.

Why am I quite nonchalant about some risks and over-anxious about others? Why am I so inconsistent? The vagaries of the human mind are a constant puzzle.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Pretentious, moi?

Am I pretent-ious? Do I try to impress people with all sorts of phoney tricks and gambits? Do I think the real me is too dull and too ordinary to interest people?

Sometimes I decide, yes, I'm totally pretentious, I'm trying to wow everyone with my superior education or my clever arguments or my worldliness or my political right-on-ness. I want them to think I'm a bit special, a bit remarkable, someone they'll remember when they've forgotten a hundred other people.

Then I think, no, that's utter crap, I'm not the slightest bit pretentious, I know my education was mediocre and most of my clever arguments are bullshit and I'm about as worldly as a dormouse and politically right-on as the weather forecast.

I know perfectly well I'm probably as dull and ordinary as the next person and there's no point in pretending otherwise. I might think I'm special but that's just my inflated opinion of all the personal clich├ęs and platitudes that I fondle and caress in the privacy of my own ego.

At the end of the day, pretending to be more sophisticated than I am isn't going to fool anyone. People aren't that stupid, they can tell the difference between meaningless bollocks and emotional and psychological truth. They want to see the real me, however dull and ordinary and messy, they don't want some showy performance.

So no, I don't think I'm pretentious, but I may just want to think that, I may just want to convince myself I'm a regular guy with no airs and graces. Other people may be laughing like drains, ready to point out all my pompous pronouncements and vacuous statements and puncture my balloon of self-satisfaction.

Please do. Honest opinions are always welcome. You're not likely to dent my ego, which is about the size of a garden pea and has probably already slipped down the back of the sofa. Go on, tell me the truth. Pretentious, moi?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Flight into oblivion

I'm fascinated by the disapp-earance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Five days on, not a single trace of the plane has been found, despite a massive search operation. What the hell happened to it?

Theories proliferate by the hour. Was it a terrorist attack? Did the pilot commit suicide? Did a structural fault cause the plane to decompress and break up? Was the co-pilot distracted by female passengers he invited into the cockpit? Was the plane sabotaged? Was it hijacked? Did one of the pilots have a mental breakdown? Was there a total electrical failure? Right now it's anyone's guess.

And I think of the 239 passengers and crew, assuming they were on a routine flight to Beijing, maybe looking forward to a holiday, or visiting families, or just getting back home. Relaxing, joking, watching movies, snoozing. Then all of a sudden, apparently with no warning whatever, thrown into oblivion.

Distraught relatives and friends clustered at the two airports, waiting frantically for news, hoping for a miracle but facing up to the grim reality. Wishing their loved ones had been on any flight except that one. Their lives abruptly shattered, all their expectations for the future thrown into disarray.

So what the hell went wrong? As one aviation expert said, "It's pretty baffling. Whatever happened on that flight deck, the pilots did not do what pilots do. They aviate, they navigate and they communicate. If something happens at altitude, the first thing they want to do is squawk emergency."

And the search for the remains of flight MH370 continues.

Pic: the long, long wait for news

Friday, 7 March 2014

Callous neglect

A new survey says the average British household owns 138 books, but less than half of them have been read. The others are poor lonely things that have been callously neglected.

Our own bookshelves have a lot more than 138 books - more like a thousand, I would say. But the unread portion is probably about right - something like half. So why are they unread, I hear you asking?

1) We know they're excellent books and we fully intend to read them when the time is ripe. When we're both retired maybe.
2) We read a few pages of the book, couldn't really get into it, but kept it in case we were more attuned at some later date.
3) We didn't know we even had the book. We must have bought it some time. Or maybe somebody gave it to us. We must read it.

One journalist* suggested "It would be a slightly scary household where every single book had been read." Indeed it would. It would suggest powers of concentration, determination and enthusiasm bordering on the miraculous.

It would be almost as scary if none of the books had been read, and the whole collection was merely an attempt to impress any well-read visitors. It would be awkward though if the visitor suddenly asked you what you thought of Jonathan Franzen's views on family dynamics.

The same journalist guessed that the volumes in the lavatory were most likely to be read, though probably not if you were busy vomiting at the time.

But there's something very cosy and reassuring about bookshelves, whether the books are read or unread. The mere fact that many of the books were written decades or even centuries ago gives a sense of continuity and permanence that soothes all those hovering anxieties.

That is, until one of your oldest paperbacks simply disintegrates as you're lovingly dusting it, and turns into a useless heap of confetti.

* Ben Milne of the BBC

Friday, 28 February 2014

Muck averse

I'm not good with muck. Filth. Unpleasant substances in general. I don't want to get anywhere near them if I can help it.

I'm too fastidious. A typical white-collar worker, bourgeois neat-freak, afraid of disturbing the pristine features of my sanitised existence.

The thought of working on a farm, say, sloshing through mud and manure and bog every day, fills me with horror. Likewise working on a hospital ward, mopping up all the messy excretions of the human body. Or cleaning out sewers or dealing with oil spills.

Mucky domestic chores are okay. That's muck on a manageable scale, something I can handle without too much cringing. But serious, everywhere-you-look levels of muck - I avoid it at all costs.

Friends and loved ones are exempt of course. Whether it's hangover vomit or the effects of serious illness, dealing with mess goes without saying, be it psychological, emotional or physical.

Country dwellers must laugh at dainty townies like myself, as they routinely splatter themselves with muck and slime and think nothing of it. The sight of besuited government ministers delicately wading through the floods in their brand-new wellies must have amused them greatly.

At boarding school I played rugby and by the end of a game I was often plastered with mud from head to toe. Which wasn't too bad as I looked forward to a hot shower and leaving all my filthy clothes with the laundry service (no, we didn't even wash our own clothes - spoilt brats or what?). But if I could find a good excuse not to play, I jumped at it.

So - no muck please, I'm far too squeamish.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Shocked

When I was younger, I used to say that nothing shocked me any more, that I'd seen and read so many horrifying things that nothing had the same impact as it used to.

But somewhere along the line something changed and now I find that an increasing number of things shock me profoundly. I don't know if it's because people's behaviour is genuinely becoming more extreme and outrageous, or because I've become more sensitive, or because I recoil from the sheer brutality and heartlessness of what's going on. But whatever it is, these are just some of the things that shock me:

1) Abusive social media campaigns. Like the one directed at Northern Ireland MLA* Anna Lo recently, thick with racism and sexism.
2) Extreme drunkenness in public, often requiring emergency hospital treatment and sometimes fatal.
3) Systematic bullying in workplaces, causing widespread stress and sickness.
4) Routine lying by politicians, leading to general disillusion with politics.
5) Withdrawal of welfare benefits to the poor and disabled, causing severe distress and hardship.
6) Mass shootings at schools, traumatising pupils and their families for years afterwards.
7) Female genital mutilation, on a huge scale in numerous countries.
8) Wholesale rape by soldiers as a military tactic and a display of power.

I'm getting used to being shocked. But I'm not getting used to the things I'm shocked by. And there seem to be more and more of them.

*MLA: Member of the Legislative Assembly. Our equivalent of an MP

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Pink peeve

Mr Pinkie (for it is he) is a little exasp-erated that he's seen as some sort of spokesbear for pink bears in general.*

"All pink bears are different. I'm not speaking for anyone but myself" he says. "Just because I'm a celebrity hairdresser doesn't mean every pink bear wants to fiddle with people's hair. Other pink bears may find the whole idea repulsive. Some pink bears may prefer to do nothing more than sprawl on the sofa all day munching sweet-potato brownies.

"But every goddam journalist asks me these dumb-ass questions like, So what do pink bears think about cycling helmets? What do pink bears think about vitamin supplements? I mean, how the hell do I know what other pink bears think? Am I supposed to be some kind of mind-reader? Is there supposed to be some mysterious essence of pink bear I'm somehow secreting about my person? What total arseholes they are.

"I'm Mr Pinkie and that's my sole area of expertise,okay? Just do me a favour and stop seeing me as the Voice of Pinkness.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I'm way behind with Julie's highlights. And if you want a haircut, you'll have to wait six months like everyone else. I don't care how many banknotes you wave at me, I shall ignore them. Just get out of my hair."

* or even for soft, pink, fluffiness

More about Mr Pinkie here

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Duty free

I have trouble with the idea of duty. To me it implies something compulsory, something I'm expected to do whether I like it or not because that's the custom. Whether I want to do it, whether I'll enjoy doing it, is irrelevant.

I'm sorry but I just refuse to do something I haven't freely chosen, simply because other people expect it of me. They can talk about "duty" as much as they like, but I prefer to decide for myself what's the right thing to do.

People talk about the "duty" to look after your elderly parents, fight for your country, report road accidents, pay taxes, give evidence in court, serve on a jury, or vote in elections. But is it always right to do these things? No, of course not. In many instances there are very good reasons for not doing them, and self-respect and the public interest demand that you refuse.

Should I look after my elderly parents if they never loved me, always behaved badly to me and were glad to see me gone? Should I fight for my country if I believe the war is pointless, brutal and unwinnable? Should I give evidence in court at the risk of facing hostile lawyers and reliving an emotional trauma?

The decision should be up to the person concerned. They shouldn't feel pushed into something they have deep reservations about. They shouldn't be doing it just to look good or to avoid public disapproval. They should be doing it because they genuinely believe it's the correct thing to do.

I've done jury service twice, but not because it was seen as my duty. I did it because I believe people should be tried by their peers, by people like them, and not by someone remote from their own lives. I did it because I wanted to see if the jury process was as fair and objective as it's made out to be (and the answer was yes). I felt I had done it for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.

Forget duty. How about passion and commitment?

"What destroys a man more quickly than to work, think and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure - as a mere automaton of duty?" - Friedrich Nietzsche.

Pic: Witness Nicole Alvarez at the trial of Michael Jackson's physician.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Forever hurt

One of the saddest things is people who've been hurt so much in their life that feeling hurt becomes the default emotion, the one you sense constantly if you're with them for any length of time.

They've got into the habit of feeling hurt,and have lost the ability to be happy. They see everyone around them as potentially hurting them and are permanently on the defensive.

I remember one woman I worked with - let's call her Beth - who looked forever beaten-down and subdued, hurt leaking out of her like sweat, always waiting for the next wounding remark, always complaining about the way people treated her.

I never discovered why she felt so hurt, who had done what to her to fatally undermine her resilience and self-esteem. But the emotional damage, the crushed psyche, was plain to see.

It was hard to befriend her because she was so suspicious of people's intentions, so sure that sooner or later she would be treated badly yet again. All I could do was handle her as gently as possible and not do anything to confirm her suspicions.

I can recall several women who carried this strong sense of hurt, but I can't recall any such men. I'm sure there are men who have been hurt just as much but are conditioned to hide the hurt and not show any sign of it. They may be in acute emotional pain but they put on a sanguine demeanour that gives nothing away.

I'm sure my father was full of hurt, but he would never admit it. He thought it was okay to be angry, or jealous, or possessive - healthy masculine emotions - but hurt was strictly taboo. A feminine thing, something for cissies, something humiliating. He bottled it all up and thought we couldn't see it.

He went to his grave still hurting. Because he was too ashamed to tell us.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Cupid's arrow

Holy haddock! Jenny and I have been together for nearly 33 years. How did that happen? How come we're still so besotted, so enamoured, so captivated? How come we never derailed, how come the train never left the tracks and plunged down a cliff? How come Cupid's still cheering us on?

It's extraordinary really. Jenny's never left me for another man (or woman). I've never left her for another woman (or man). We haven't got bored with each other. We haven't had the mother and father of all blazing rows and split up the next morning. We haven't disappointed each other (much). We haven't decided the other is a waste of space. Neither of us have drunk ourselves to death or gone nuts or taken an overdose. We're still the best of pals, giggling behind the bike shed.

How come the usual pitfalls that other couples succumb to seem to have passed us by? What's the magic ingredient? What's our special formula for continued romantic bliss? Er, dunno really, I'll get back to you on that. I just have to consult my astrologer, my therapist, my relationship adviser and my feng-shui analyst. And then I'll feed all the results into my super-powered, algorhythmic, multi-permutational software app and get the definitive route map. Or possibly the perfect recipe for kidney bean chili if something screws up.

But wow, we've been round the block a few times. We've weathered so many crises together. Using the wrong toothbrush. Leaving the toilet seat up (or down). Running out of knickers. Finding a giant spider in the bath. Not finding the giant spider and hoping it's not hiding under the duvet. Wondering if that strange noise is a deranged burglar with a freshly-sharpened machete or a creaking floorboard. Telling the Jehovah's Witness we're both Druids. Somehow we've dealt with them all and lived to tell the tale.

So miraculously, incredibly, thrillingly, we're still together after all these years. How many more, I wonder?

Happy Valentine's Day to all my lovely blog buddies.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Hidden lives

We all know about Too Much Infor-mation. But what about Too Little Infor-mation? What about all those everyday things we'd love to ask people about but it's impossible to do so?

I'll see a woman in the street and I'll think, Does she have a boyfriend or a husband? Are they happy together? Are they unhappy? What do they love about each other? What do they dislike? Is she well-off? Is she broke? What's her favourite activity? What does she totally hate doing? What are her obsessions? What are her phobias?

I shall never know because I can't ask. She's a closed book, an enigma, just another person on the street I'll probably never even see again. The perpetual pang of unrequited curiosity.

Sometimes I feel other people are asking similar questions about me. They stare at me quizzically, appraisingly, as if there's something they're dying to know. I wonder what's going through their mind. But just as I can't question them, they can't question me.

Even when I'm alone with someone, they seldom tell me very much about themselves. Either they prefer to keep things private or they don't think I'm trustworthy or sympathetic enough. Unlike some people, who find that everywhere they go, they attract astonishingly intimate and heartfelt confessions. So much so, they start to think it might be less of a burden if they looked a bit more off-putting.

As it is, most of my information about other people comes from the media. I eagerly devour the agony columns, the gossipy interviews, the heartbreaking stories about refugees, flood victims, premature deaths. It's odd that I know more about all these complete strangers than I do about the next-door neighbour or the greengrocer. Or the sad, defeated-looking woman who just got off the bus.

PS: There's another explanation for people not confiding in me. They think I look over-sensitive and possibly easily upset by whatever harrowing story they might tell me. So they keep quiet.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A yen for risk

I'm fascinated by the way people crave risk as much as they crave safety. Human nature demands this strange contra-diction.

On the one hand we want safety. We want a home, a job, friends and family, things that make us feel protected and secure, things that ward off the horrors and uncertainties of the outside world.

But at the same time we don't want to feel too staid and set in our ways, we want a bit of excitement in our lives, so we also want risk. We drink too much, eat too much, drive recklessly and take dangerous drugs, busily compromising the very same safety and security we're striving for the rest of the time.

Some people go farther. The reliable bank clerk and home-owner who also has a yen for rock climbing, sky diving, bungee jumping or surfing. Or even a fervent desire to work in war-torn countries where they face death every day. They can only take so much safety and security before they crave the exact opposite, something that is physically threatening but gets the adrenaline going like nothing else.

Personally I have a strong yearning for safety, and I steer away from risk. I'm a timid soul who seldom does anything riskier than exceeding the speed limit or standing on a cliff-edge.

If I feel any sense of risk in my life, it's only the vicarious danger oozing from the media, with its screaming headlines about cancer epidemics, plane crashes, multiple pile-ups and mass shootings.

I guess that's one reason we're all such avid news-consumers. It gives us that exhilarating whiff of looming peril that livens up our usually predictable existence. It persuades us we're taking constant risks when in fact we've never been safer.

But I think I'll pass on the bungee-jumping for now, if that's all right with you.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

True or false?

So - time for some fun. How well do you think you know Nick? Here are twenty statements about me. Which are true and which are false? If you want to make it easier, just name three things you think are correct. I'll give you the answers in due course....

And the answer is: I've been very mischievous. Every statement is false. There's not a shred of truth in any of them. As for number one, it didn't happen to me but it happened to my father. There were a lot of very sensible guesses though!

1) I was born with two thumbs on my left hand, and one of them was surgically removed.
2) I'm allergic to avocados.
3) I once shared a taxi with John Lennon.
4) I often dream of burning buildings.
5) I blush frequently.
6) I have a heart-shaped birthmark on my left thigh.
7) I'm prone to fainting.
8) I used to have a terrible stammer.
9) I swear profusely when I'm drunk.
10) I used to be anorexic.
11) I'm afraid of flying.
12) For my 40th birthday party, I wore a blue minidress, black tights and blue 3 inch heels.
13) I detest broccoli.
14) I once lost two stone in a month.
15) I've never had any pubic hair.
16) I used to sleepwalk.
17) I first had sex in a London tube train.
18) I once hiccupped non-stop for three hours.
19) I've read "Crime and Punishment" eleven times.
20) I bruise easily.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pot shots

One of life's little mysteries is the way people condemn things out of hand. Things they don't understand and don't want to understand.

How can you decide that something is sinful or immoral or damaging purely on the basis of some knee-jerk reaction, some blind instinct totally detached from the facts?

People who slam a play without seeing it, or a book without reading it. People who condemn immigrants or refugees with no comprehension of the circumstances they find themselves in. People who sneer at alternative remedies or veganism or psychotherapy without knowing the first thing about them. People who knock teachers when they haven't set foot in a school in 40 years.

On the basis of a few tabloid headlines, or neighbourhood gossip, or a dinner-party anecdote, they casually let rip at anyone or anything they fancy, oblivious to the distress and alarm they might be causing to those on the receiving end. It never occurs to them that they might be totally misinformed, prejudiced, wrong-headed.

Personally I try not to condemn anything I know very well I'm ignorant about. If I'm not sure of the facts, I prefer to keep my mouth shut until such time as I am. I'm not going to pontificate simply to impress an audience.

If I don't understand something, I'll confess to being puzzled, or being uncertain, or being undecided, rather than feign knowledge I don't have. I'll try to find out a bit more about the subject and road-test whatever half-baked preconceptions and stereotypes are floating round my head.

But I think a lot of people actually feel embarrassed or uncomfortable at the idea that they're ignorant about something. Instead of admitting their ignorance, they parrot the latest fashionable opinion and hope nobody examines it too closely. All I can say is, I'd rather stay silent than talk out of my arse.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Ow, that hurts

I'm quite susceptible to little hurts. A dozen times a day I feel hurt that I've been rejected, or ignored, or slighted, or not appreciated, or not understood, or treated brusquely.

But they're only little hurts, a bit like nettle stings or pinpricks. They only last a minute or two and then they're forgotten. I'm too resilient to dwell on them for long. I don't magnify every little hurt into a tearful melodrama. I shrug them off as a trivial part of daily life, just a sign of the rough and tumble of a hectic world.

The big hurts are a different story. The sort of hurt when a long-time friend suddenly snubs me, or my professional competence is doubted, or someone questions my sincerity or integrity. That goes deeper, like a thorn in my flesh. It pierces through the usual resilience and lodges somewhere, constantly resurfacing in bursts of bewildered pain.

That's the sort of hurt that can't just be shrugged off, though I'm still able to see it philosophically as an unfortunate but inevitable part of being human. I'm not the type of person who deals with serious hurt by getting bitter and vengeful, trying to cause as much hurt as was done to me.

I know some people would say that's a cop-out, that I'm bottling up my feelings and it's far healthier to ease the hurt by flinging it back where it came from. But that's not the way I see it. I want to drain the hurt, not add to it. So I keep it to myself and let it run its natural course.

Then again there's the biggest hurt of all, which is grief. Luckily up till now I've never experienced major, all-consuming grief, and I hope I never have to. I can only imagine how I might cope with it. Very well? Very badly? Probably the latter. Such excruciating hurt would knock me for six.