Sunday, 15 September 2019

Clothes line

Just about every week there's a new row about school uniforms. A pupil is sent home for breaking the school's code, or the school has a new code that parents object to. There seems to be a lack of flexibility and common sense all round, be it from pupils, parents or school staff.

Pupils are being ticked off for having corn rows, afros, dyed hair, the wrong length of hair, make-up, too-short skirts, the wrong colour of tights, the wrong kind of shoes, the list is endless. And school staff seem increasingly strict about minor breaches.

It was all a lot simpler when I was at school. There were uniform codes the same as now, but in general, however daft they seemed, everyone stuck to them and didn't kick up a stink over something they weren't allowed to wear. Getting an education was thought more important than arguing about the uniform.

My uniform code was short hair, trousers, jacket, shirt and tie, and smart shoes (no trainers in those days!). The girls' code was shoulder-length hair, below-the-knee skirt, opaque blouse, jacket, plain bra, plain stockings (or tights in the sixties) and smart flat shoes.

I don't remember anyone ever objecting to the uniform, or insisting on their own choice of clothes. It was just accepted that the uniform was adhered to.

But now more and more pupils demand the right to choose their own clothing and uniform codes are often seen as repressive and old-fashioned. Why shouldn't a girl have corn rows or patterned tights or scarlet lipstick? Why shouldn't a boy have long hair or jeans or sneakers?

It gets even more fraught when pupils call for gender-neutral clothing, including what's normally confined to the opposite sex. Transgender boys demand to wear skirts and dresses and make-up and take legal action when they're denied.

Well, why shouldn't kids wear whatever they feel comfortable in? As long as it doesn't interfere with their studies, what's the problem? If a boy wants to prance around in a Laura Ashley frock, so what?

Pic: Very smart pupils at Truro High School for Girls, Cornwall.

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And some wonderful news. According to my latest prostate scan, the tiny trace of prostate cancer that I've had for 2½ years has completely disappeared. I'm officially cancer-free!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Use it or lose it

Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. Time for something more positive. Something that'll cheer you all up. Ah, I know just the thing. De-cluttering.

One thing Jenny and I wholly agree on is decluttering - or better still, permanent non-cluttering. We've always had a horror of homes packed with useless junk and dust-gathering knick-knacks, homes so awash with assorted stuff that you have to fight your way through the rooms and clear a ton of rubbish off the chair seats before you can sit down.

Our house couldn't be more different. If there's something we don't want or need, it's thrown out pretty quickly. Just about everything in the house is in regular use, apart from a few ornaments and bits of pottery that we love and remind us of the holidays they stem from. Oh and apart from a large number of books. The local charity shops must have made plenty of money out of our frequent throw-outs.

In fact our house is so bereft of superfluous items one visitor likened it to a guest house. I think some visitors actually feel slightly uncomfortable without the usual agglomeration of cosy bits and pieces they're expecting.

But our house is a palace of junk compared to a house I stayed in many years back, belonging to my friend Chris's aunt. She was fiercely religious and believed there should be nothing in the house that wasn't strictly necessary for everyday living. There were tables, chairs, beds and cupboards and that was about it. The idea of an ornament would have given her conniptions.

My mum, as you may remember, was a compulsive hoarder, and after a move to a care home, her flat had to be cleared of umpteen years' accumulation of unworn clothes, old newspapers, holiday brochures, rotting chocolates and very variety of pointless rubbish imaginable.

An image so vivid and unforgettable I vow never to repeat it.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

It'll be okay

What I'm in dire need of right now is reassurance - and lots of it. The state of the outside world is so alarming that a lot more is needed than a stoical shrug of the shoulders - or looking the other way and pretending everything's normal.

I need to know that things won't get any worse - and may even get better. I need to know that the people we elected to look after our well-being are doing just that. I need to know that the future will improve on the present.

I need reassurance that the planet isn't heading for destruction. That humanity isn't heading for destruction. That Britain's chronic political paralysis won't last much longer. That the rampant hatred and xenophobia and misogyny will die down. That the NHS won't be sold off to the highest bidder. That the old and disabled and vulnerable won't be treated like intolerable burdens.

It's not enough to trot out the usual vacuous phrases. "Don't worry, it'll all be okay". "It's not as bad as you think." "It'll all look better in the morning." I want serious, convincing, evidence-based reassurance. I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I want to see the sunny uplands on the horizon.

I can't just shut out the world and retreat into my own little personal bubble of friends and family and my favourite TV programmes. The world keeps tapping me on the shoulder saying "Do you see the mess we're in? What's being done about it? Does anyone care?"

I need reassurance - and lots of it.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

A mug's game

I'm always fascinated by neighbour disputes, especially the really crazy ones that go on for years and cost a fortune. What motivates people to push these disputes to the bitter end, whatever the financial and emotional cost?

Cilla Carden of Perth, Australia, is planning more legal action against her neighbours, citing their cooking smells, cigarette smoke, chairs scraping on concrete, reflective light, the sounds of children playing basketball, and pet birds.

Seriously? Aren't all those things just what you would expect from a family enjoying their home? Are they meant to creep around super-silently, avoiding any kind of noise or smells or signs of their existence? I would say Ms Carden is ludicrously intolerant and unable to live and let live.

Jenny and I have had a few problems with neighbours, but there's no way we would pour money into lawyers' pockets to deal with them. There are always other ways of sorting things out.

We once had a flat in a London mansion block, and the neighbours were fond of riotous all-night parties. We kept a detailed diary of the disturbances and asked the local council to take action. The neighbours were fined a large sum and moved out shortly afterwards. Result!

A few years before, in another block of flats, our downstairs neighbours were amazingly noisy, one with a constant hacking cough we could hear all too clearly. We asked them politely if they could be less noisy, but their response was to let down our car tyres.

While we were still wondering what else we could do, they moved out and were replaced by a much quieter couple we befriended. Problem solved.

Now we live in a detached house so neighbour nuisance is less likely, though we did have some neighbours who were also fond of late-night parties. Luckily they tired of such revelry, two of them moved out and the one person left is quiet as a mouse.

Legal action? It's a mug's game.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Crazy dreams

My dreams are very different from other people's. Everyone else seems to dream about real events and real people, while my dreams are totally abstract - bizarre figments of my imagination.

I often dream about an awkward workplace situation, even though I haven't had a paid job for some 16 months. I'm sitting at an office desk with no idea what I'm meant to be doing. Or I'm in a works canteen where everyone is stuffing themselves but I don't know where the food is being served. Or I'm at work trying to read an important report in a language I don't recognise or understand.

Where does this stuff come from? I've never been in any of these situations so my brain seems to go on a solo run as soon as I fall asleep.

I never dream about actual workplaces I've been in, or the people I've worked with. I never dream about the genuinely embarrassing, awkward situations I've encountered.

I dream about Jenny very occasionally and once I dreamt about a Facebook friend, but that's about it. I don't dream about my family, my friends, my neighbours or people I've met during the day. My dreams are nothing but a kind of nocturnal spam.

I've never heard of any other adult whose dreams are so abstract, but surely they must exist? Or does everyone dream about Aunt Gillian upsetting the teapot when she paid a visit yesterday? Or does everyone dream about winning the lottery or meeting their favourite celebrity?

I think I need some urgent adjustments to my dreaming software. It's seriously defective and needs to be replaced by something more normal. I want to dream about Annie Lennox. Or Bonnie Raitt. Or even Aunt Gillian will do.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Letting go

One of the hardest things about being a parent must be giving up the constant supervision of your children and trusting them to make their own decisions - hopefully sensible and intelligent ones.

When you've been keeping an eye on your children 24 hours a day since they were born, it must be quite a wrench to be less vigilant and stop constantly checking up on them.

I'm reminded of this by yet another teenager dying of a suspected drugs overdose at the Leeds music festival. The 17 year old girl had taken not just one drug but a whole cocktail of drugs. She trusted whoever gave them to her and assumed they weren't dangerous.

And every so often kids decide it would be hilarious to wreck the local children's playground or daub graffiti on the wall of the parish church.

At some point a parent has to allow their child to go out on their own and be responsible for their own actions. You have to make a judgment as to whether they'll be safe or whether they'll get into some kind of trouble - drug abuse, sexual harassment, a car accident, shoplifting.

I imagine the farther your child goes, and the longer they're away, the more nervous you get. If they're backpacking in Australia for two months, for example. Or maybe it makes no difference.

Of course at a certain age a child is legally entitled to do whatever they want and their parents can no longer stand in the way.

When I was a teenager I generally made sensible decisions, but not always. I remember driving my girlfriend home once when I was very drunk, as people did in those days. Luckily I didn't have an accident.

Just let go, they say. Easier said than done.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Apocalypse buffs

What turns people into survivalists? Why does someone decide they need to make elaborate prepar-ations for some sort of future apocalypse or arma-geddon? Why don't they just potter along hoping for the best like most of us do?

Apart from anything else, it's such a hit and miss business. You don't know exactly what you're preparing for so you don't really know what you should be stocking up on or making provision for. An economic crisis? A war? A biblical plague? Climate collapse? Aliens from outer space? It's all so nebulous.

Personally I've never had the slightest urge to prepare for some dire future emergency. I've survived for 72 years without taking any special precautions, and I doubt there'll be an apocalypse any time soon.

In any case, where do you put all the stuff you've set aside? You would need a very large house or basement and how many people have those? You would also need plenty of cash to buy all this extra stuff.

There was a wonderful story a couple of years ago about Joseph Badame, an American guy who had spent $1 million making massive preparations for a possible economic crisis, was made bankrupt by medical bills after his wife's stroke and faced having to dispose of everything he had stockpiled - including huge amounts of food.

At the estate sale, he met a Puerto Rican food truck operator hired to work at the sale and she told him of all the Puerto Rican families who were starving after Hurricane Maria had hit the country.

He arranged for all the food he had stockpiled - thousands of dollars' worth - to be shipped to Puerto Rico.

So something good came out of his personal tragedy.

Pic: Joseph Badame

Friday, 16 August 2019

Off the cuff

One of the slightly scary things in life is how a sudden decision, made without proper thought or reflection, made more or less on the spur of the moment, can have quite unexpected and even life-changing consequences.

A politician tweets a racist and abusive comment and his political career is instantly halted. A motorist goes through a red traffic light and is seriously injured in a head-on collision. Someone invests their life savings in a dodgy company and loses the lot. A woman befriends a man who turns out to be a stalker.

A lot of these off-the-cuff decisions are made under the influence of alcohol or drugs or infatuation or misplaced trust. Or someone feels the need to "break out", to escape from a rut, to be their "real self". Or it's just put down to "a moment of madness".

Often the decision seems quite out of character, something the person would never normally do, something that's totally inexplicable.

In the book I've just read, The Silent Wife by A S A (Susan) Harrison, a woman who is known to be placid, sensible and easy-going suddenly decides to do something shocking and illegal (no spoilers!), something that will completely change her life and possibly put her in jail.

It's not something she's reflected on for a while, weighed up the pros and cons. She makes the decision very abruptly and then goes through with it. It seems unbelievable, but in reality people do just that - make life-changing decisions with barely a moment's thought.

Luckily all my spur-of-the-moment decisions have turned out to be good ones and haven't led to disaster. I haven't lost thousands of pounds, got sacked, been hen-pecked, destroyed my health or ended up in jail.

I feel sorry for those people who've wrecked their lives with some stupid impromptu decision they forever regretted. It could happen to any of us.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Elephant in the room

So what to write today? I could blather on about this, that or the other thing - my neighbours from hell maybe, or my tyrannical boss, or my lucky escape from near-disaster. But all those little personal stories are starting to feel utterly trivial beside the enormous elephant in the room, the one thing that now dominates British life and every other conversation - Brexit.

On October 31 Prime Minister Boris Johnson, backed by a bunch of dogged fanatics, has promised to take the UK out of the European Union. Just like that.

He has only the vaguest idea of what will happen next or how our everyday lives will be affected. He just thinks it's a jolly good idea, and in any case it was voted for in a referendum three years ago and he has to obey "the democratic will of the people".

Like millions of others, I'm in despair at the possible consequences of this hare-brained decision. There have been hundreds of grim predictions from expert after expert about the negative effects on business, on the economy, on the public services, on agriculture, on the environment and on scientific research - just about everything in fact. But the predictions have been ignored by the Prime Minister, who regards them all as hysterical scare-mongering.

Jenny and I probably won't be personally affected, unless the predicted food and medicine shortages come about, but other people could be quite severely affected. But hey, we have to abide by the democratic will of the people, even if they voted for the mass slaughter of ugly babies.

I can only hope common sense prevails before it's too late, but that seems increasingly unlikely. The Brexit juggernaut is careering down the hill and nobody knows how to apply the brakes. An almighty crash seems unavoidable.

Pic: Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Neighbourliness

It's conventional wisdom that we should be friendly with all our neighbours so we can support each other in an emergency or whenever we need help - mowing the elderly neighbour's lawn, lending garden tools, watching the house while you're away, and so on.

But in practice it doesn't actually work like that. The neighbours might prefer to keep to themselves - especially if they have several kids and are fully occupied with parenting, or are just the reclusive type, or they decide you're not on their wavelength, or they don't want you to see the mess they surround themselves with. All sorts of hidden reasons in fact.

Then again you might think you're quite capable of dealing with emergencies and sorting out your problems without the neighbours poking their nose in, so why cultivate friendships you don't really need in the first place?

Although Jenny and I have been living here for ten years, we don't know the neighbours very well. Mostly we know their names and we say hello to each other but that's about it.

I take in parcels for the couple next door, and trim our joint hedge occasionally. The couple next to them are much friendlier and we've had some good chats since they moved in a few months back.

There's another neighbour a few doors up who looks after our house while we're on holiday, and we're very friendly with him and his wife and kids.

But the other neighbours keep themselves to themselves and I know next to nothing about them. I seldom meet them on the street as they travel everywhere by car.

I know much more about my Facebook friends than my neighbours, and that probably applies to most people. My Facebook friends may even give me helpful advice in a crisis my neighbours wouldn't even know about.

Well, so be it. I just take my neighbours as they come.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

The spartan years

I would define my life nowadays as privileged. I have a loving partner, a comfortable home, enough money, good health, plenty to eat and drink, and (at the moment) I live in a peaceful country. But I wasn't always so privileged.

Between 1973 and 1979 I lived in a tatty bed-sit in Abbey Road, London (yes, that Abbey Road). There was no central heating, just a small gas fire, there was no toilet or wash basin (only a communal bathroom downstairs), there was no washing machine, there was a one-ring cooker, there was damp all the way up the staircase of the building, and needless to say, any requests to the landlord for repairs or improvements were ignored.

I could have afforded somewhere more comfortable, but I was trying to save money to buy a flat so I was economising. I never invited anyone round, as the shabbiness would have been too embarrassing.

The one-ring cooker discouraged any serious cooking, so I lived mainly on snacks like fruit, biscuits, fruit cake, boiled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches. Not surprisingly, I was a lot thinner then (about 10½ stone).

The other tenants weren't interested in joint approaches to the landlord to get things fixed. The elderly woman upstairs had a serious whisky habit and was usually drunk. The elderly woman downstairs just wanted a quiet life with no fuss or bother.

To keep myself amused, and avoid cabin fever in my tiny bolthole, I would go to all the museums and galleries and take long walks round the neighbourhood. I went to the cinema regularly, especially the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead. Or I would take a book to one of the local coffee bars and sit reading for hours on end. In the summer I went to seaside resorts, my favourites being Eastbourne, Folkestone, Hastings and Broadstairs.

Then in 1981 I met Jenny, and things took a turn for the better.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Promises promises

Do people take their wedding vows seriously? Do they honestly intend to stay with their spouse through thick and thin, through hell and high water, through the grimmest of circumstances? Or do they make that promise a bit tongue-in-cheek, not really meaning it? Like you agree to the terms and conditions on an insurance policy, without actually reading them?

I don't recall what wedding vows Jenny and I used. I don't remember us writing our own vows, so I think we must have used the traditional ones, which go something like this:

"I, whoever, take thee, whoever, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part."

But since around 40 per cent of marriages end in divorce, clearly in practice everyone has their particular limits, and what one person will happily tolerate will drive another to pack their bags.

Whatever their wedding vows, people may be unable to cope with their partner getting a nasty illness, becoming an alcoholic, being work-obsessed, being a total slob, joining some weird cult, or sleeping around. And you wouldn't expect anyone to put up with ongoing violence or cruelty or gaslighting.

I doubt many spouses really believe they should tolerate absolutely anything, however distressing or humiliating. I suppose the wedding vows are still very much a puritanical hangover from the days when wives were expected to endure whatever their husbands inflicted on them.

Jenny and I have never had our pledge of loyalty put to a serious test - certainly none of the things I just mentioned. How would we cope if one of us got a dreadful illness, or turned into a pugnacious bully? Hard to say unless it actually happened.

Only a saint could adhere faithfully to the wedding vows. And not many of us are saints.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Hair talk

Hair. Something that spawns a hundred opinions. Compli-mentary, censorious, shocked, delighted. People are seldom emotionally neutral about a hairstyle, either their own or someone else's.

So let me share some of my own opinions about hair:
  • I've only had three hairstyles in 72 years. As a kid I had a parting, as a twenty something I had a long hair and a beard, and now the parting (and the beard) is long gone.
  • A lot of people with curly hair would prefer straight hair (my own is straight), but I love curly hair. Especially wild Jewish and Afro hair. I'm baffled by the prejudice against natural Afro hair.
  • I'm also baffled by the prejudice against ginger hair. I love it.
  • I love dreadlocks and corn rows.
  • I like dyed hair, but I also like natural grey hair.
  • I love short haired women. And short hair is so much easier to look after.
  • Some people have hairstyles that totally don't suit them. But you can't say so.
  • Hair that droops over someone's eyes is rather ridiculous.
  • I'd hate to be bald. But I don't fancy a wig.
  • Comb-overs are absurd. You'll never catch me with one.
  • Why is the simplest woman's haircut twice the price of a man's?
  • Men's hairstyles are odd right now. Undercut, Caesar cut, buzz cut, Mohawk. Strange mixtures of long hair and short hair.
  • I'm wary of men with buzz cuts. Are they drug dealers or paramilitaries? Or both?
  • I don't have any fancy shampoos. I just buy the cheapest I can find.
  • I tried not washing my hair for a while, as supposedly hair is self-cleaning. I just ended up with stinky hair.
Basically I prefer women's hairstyles to men's. They're more imaginative and they don't look like a prison cut. And they're nicer to fondle. But jeez they're a lot more fuss and bother.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Unwanted advice

I don't like unasked-for advice. I don't like getting it and I try not to give it. Most of it is plain annoying; it's either irrelevant or offensive or misinformed or smug. I've very seldom had advice that I actually found useful.

When I gave up journalism and became a bookseller, a lot of people were surprised and said I should have stayed in journalism - it was more exciting, better paid, more prestigious etc. I didn't agree with them, I took no notice, and I was irritated by their assumption they knew what was good for me. I spent many enjoyable years as a bookseller (23 in fact) and I never regretted quitting journalism.

When Jenny and I sold our flat in Islington in London and moved to Belfast, once again a lot of people were surprised and said we must be mad to move from a civilised city to an unpredictable trouble spot. We ignored the doubters and now we've been in Belfast for 19 very happy years. We don't miss London's congestion and high prices and pretensions in the least.

Luckily I've been treated to such gratuitous advice very rarely. Family members are renowned for dishing out earnest advice on every subject, but even my family has been reticent in this respect, despite my making decisions they must have found baffling or idiotic or disappointing. Of course that may be because my family are reticent about almost everything.

I try not to give unwanted advice to others, unless they specifically ask for it. How can I possibly know what's in the best interests of another person? Even if I've been through similar experiences, what was right for me isn't necessarily right for them. And suppose they followed my advice and came a cropper because of some crucial factor I wasn't even aware of? So much for my smart-alec interference.

Sometimes silence is golden.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Health emergency

The NHS in Northern Ireland is in dire straits. More than 288,000 patients* were waiting for their first outpatient appoint-ment at the end of March. It's now routine for people to wait over a year to see a consultant or receive medical treatment, unless it's a life-or-death emergency.

Felicity McKee, who ironically is a nurse, has moved from Northern Ireland to Wales to get proper healthcare, after getting the brush-off from one health worker after another in her home country. In Wales a patient is nearly 50 times less likely to be waiting over a year for care than in Northern Ireland.

The main reason for the crisis in the NHS is the 2½ years shutdown of the Stormont government because of a row between the two big political parties. There has been no Minister of Health to take the necessary decisions, and the civil servants have had to keep things going as best they can.

The reason I tell you all this is because I dread the possibilities if my trace of prostate cancer turned into something much bigger, or if I developed some other major illness. How long would I have to wait before I got the necessary treatment? Would my health have got a lot worse by then?

Of course there's always the option of going private, but our savings are limited and if I needed major treatment on a regular basis, we simply couldn't afford it. If I arranged a private session with a consultant, the NHS wouldn't accept the consultant's findings and I would still have to wait to see an NHS consultant before I could get any treatment.

In any case I'm strongly opposed to going private (a) because I'm fiercely loyal to the NHS and (b) because if large numbers of people go private and vanish from NHS waiting lists, then the situation in the NHS doesn't look quite so bad.

There are rumours once more of a return to direct rule from Westminster, in which case the situation might improve. But at the moment things look pretty bleak.

*Out of a population of 1.7 million. That's 17 per cent.

Pic: Health workers at Ulster Hospital.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Goodbye to innocence

Are children today having a more fraught and difficult childhood than the children of previous decades? Is childhood innocence becoming a thing of the past, with today's children exposed earlier and earlier to adult realities?

Yes, says the charity Action For Children. They spoke to 5,000 children, parents and grandchildren and found a wide consensus that modern childhoods were getting worse amid increasing social pressures.

Youngsters were under pressure to achieve at school, fit in with their peers and cope with wider anxieties such as Brexit, poverty and the climate crisis.

Two-thirds of parents and grandparents felt childhood was getting worse, and a third of children agreed. All said bullying - both online and offline - was the main problem, followed by pressure to fit in socially, now more intense because of social media.

A very sad state of affairs. My own childhood seems like unalloyed bliss compared to what children face today.

Yes, I had a bad-tempered father and I was bullied at school, but now that all seems quite trivial when set beside present-day anxieties.

I glided through my school years with little awareness of the outside world and its problems. I wasn't too worried about passing exams, as I wasn't planning to go to university. I went on wonderful family holidays. I felt very little pressure to fit in with anyone else. At home we all enjoyed the popular radio sitcoms and comedy shows of the time. I spent hours whizzing round the neighbourhood on my scooter. I played in the street with no fear of child-molesters or knife-carriers or drug-dealers.

I truly was in a sealed childhood bubble that was seldom disturbed by the grim reality of things like the Suez Crisis, the cold war or nuclear threats, or by mental health issues like eating disorders, self-harm or body loathing. My cosy little world of pleasure and novelty was rarely punctured.

Childhood today seems more like a battleground.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Don't post me

Is it okay to post photos of your kids on social media without their permission? Londoner Cecily Hardy thinks not. She's banned her mother Leah from posting images of her without asking her first.

I agree with her. Children may not want images of themselves posted for all sorts of very good reasons - they don't like the photo, it can be misused, they feel exposed and vulnerable, it may lead to abusive comments, it's an invasion of privacy, or their parents are being presumptious.

It seems obvious to me that children should actively consent to images on social media, and their agreement shouldn't be taken for granted. And if they're too young to give meaningful consent - then don't post.

I think the same applies to anything you write about them, especially whatever might embarrass them.

It's all very well saying, but people want to know how my children are getting on, and posting photos is a way of letting them know. If my children object, aren't they just being over-sensitive and awkward?

No, they aren't. They can probably imagine all sorts of negative consequences that the doting parent simply hasn't thought about.

Image theft is very common. People can steal a child's image and then claim the child as their own. They can use the image for child pornography. They can use it in all sorts of inappropriate ways.

Little details on a post can identify the child, where they live and what school they go to, and complete strangers can locate them and prey on them.

In this age of widespread social media abuse, I'm surprised parents still casually post photos and stories of their kids as if it's a charming and harmless thing to do. They ignore the risks at their peril.

Pic: Leah Hardy (without her children!)

Friday, 5 July 2019

Bathroom habits

Okay, let's talk bathrooms. Some interesting new stats that say we spend an average of 416 days of our life in the bathroom - showering, bathing, moisturising, shaving, applying make-up, cleaning our teeth and even checking our emails and reading our favourite books. Some of us just go there for a bit of peace and quiet.

Seven out of ten of us find sharing a bathroom frustrating, in particular when someone else is hogging the room, the toilet roll hasn't been replaced or there are hairs in the wash basin.

Jenny and I are lucky enough to have three bathrooms - a regular bathroom, an en suite and a downstairs cloakroom. So hogging the bathroom isn't an issue any more, though it often was in the past.

We know exactly what annoys each other - yes indeed, the non-replaced toilet roll or hairs in the basin, but also towels and shampoo bottles left lying around, a dirty mirror, used plasters, toothpaste tubes without caps - and we're good at avoiding the annoyances. We're very considerate of each other's feelings!

We don't like sharing the bathroom and we close the door for privacy. This seems rather unusual as other people happily do their thing with an audience, but that's how we are. We like undisturbed seclusion....

I've used the bath only twice since we moved in ten years ago. I prefer the speed of the shower. A lot of people enjoy wallowing in a hot bath with a glass of wine, especially when it's cold, but not me. I prefer wallowing in a good book.

I certainly don't linger in front of the mirror, inspecting all the wrinkles and crinkles and assorted age-related ravages. A quick glance to make sure I haven't gone bald or lost a tooth and that's it. Luckily, being a man, nobody cares what I look like as long as I have all the expected body parts and I'm not naked or wearing a dress.

And no, I didn't write this in the bathroom.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Roughing it

So the Glastonbury Festival is as popular as ever, despite the vagaries of the English weather and the spartan conditions. The Somerset countryside is once again under siege from thousands of rock fans flocking to see their favourite bands.

I've never been to the festival, and it's certainly not on my bucket list. I steer well clear of it for all sorts of reasons:

1) I don't enjoy camping
2) I keep away from drugs
3) I don't like staying up late
4) I get nervous in large crowds
5) It's no fun wading through mud
6) I don't want to be rained on
7) I dislike long queues for awful food and squalid toilets
8) I'm likely to be so far from the stage I can barely hear the music
9) I don't like being surrounded by litter
10) I prefer to listen to CDs in the comfort of my own home

I've only been to an outdoor rock festival once, and that was the Isle of Wight festival in 1969, which featured Bob Dylan, the Who and 29 other bands, most of them now long-forgotten.

I can remember very little of the music, partly as I say because of the distance from the stage, partly because I spent so long queuing for food, partly because I was exhausted and sleeping. So even without taking drugs I managed to miss most of it. Rather a waste of the admission charge, which no doubt was astronomical.

As I've explained before, I haven't been camping since I was 13, when I went to a Scout camp and was solidly rained on for a fortnight. Everything was swimming in mud, the tents were leaking, my clothes were permanently damp, and I couldn't wait to get home again.

Some people may enjoy roughing it for a few days, but I think I'll stick to my domestic comforts and all mod cons.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Honeymoon period

It's intriguing that honeymoons are now considered an essential follow-up to marriage, though they only became commonplace at the end of the nineteenth century. And that despite initial disapproval from doctors who thought they were bad for women's health!

Not many couples forgo a honeymoon, and when they do it's usually for a good reason - one of them is starting at college or starting a new job, they're short of cash, they're moving house, they're running a business, they've already cohabited for several years, or the bride-to-be is about to give birth!

Jenny and I didn't have a honeymoon as such, partly because we had cohabited for fourteen years, partly because we didn't see the point, and partly because we married mainly for financial reasons - Jenny's local government pension could only be passed on to a spouse. But we did go on holiday after the (register office) wedding. Nowhere very exotic or romantic, just a tour of northern England including Stoke on Trent potteries, Whitby, Scarborough, and to see friends in Chester and York.

We could have gone somewhere more spectacular, but we were counting the pennies a little because we had a huge mortgage to pay for.

It didn't cost very much because we travelled around by car and stayed in very unassuming hotels and guest houses. We kept expecting to feel subtly different now we were married, but of course we didn't - we were the same as before, but with an official document to wave about.

I imagine many couples don't actually do very much on their honeymoons. Organising an elaborate wedding is so stressful probably all they want to do is lie on a beach for two weeks and get their sanity back.

As long as they take care what they eat and drink. Honeymoon food poisoning is remarkably common.