Monday, 11 November 2019

Attention deficit

When I was young, attention-seeking was a cardinal sin. You had to be quiet and unassuming, hiding your light under a bushel. My parents were always telling me not to draw attention to myself, not to show off, not to make a spectacle of myself.

It wasn't just my parents. This was a social norm most people adhered to. Persistent attention-seekers were seen as immature, vulgar, weird, a bit mentally lacking. It was best to ignore them, to avoid encouraging them.

Nowadays we've gone to the opposite extreme. Attention-seeking is routine, and thousands of people spend their lives seeking as much attention as possible. Their every move is broadcast on Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social media sites. We know what they had for breakfast, when they last had a pee, the embarrassing pimple on their nose, their sexual disappointments, their ingrowing toenails, their fear of hedgehogs. There's absolutely nothing they keep to themselves.

They'll do virtually anything to get attention, especially politicians. They tell lies, they make wild allegations, they smear their opponents, they pour out vitriolic abuse. So long as it stirs up heated controversies that keep them in the public eye.

I've never succumbed to this new fashion. I have no desire to be the centre of attention. If anything I have a horror of attention, a deep aversion to other people inspecting me too closely, judging me and gossiping about me. I much prefer to be on my own, enjoying my favourite activities without a flock of curious people around me.

It's not that I have anything to hide. I don't have all sorts of sordid secrets I'm desperate to keep under wraps. I'll reveal anything, even the most personal quirks and oddities, but preferably to an audience of one. I just get nervous when too many people are watching my every move.

So I don't think I'll tell you what I had for breakfast.

(PS: Blogging is just fine. I'm happy to reveal all to my cosy little band of blogging friends)

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Addiction free

I may have 101 idiotic neuroses, from dislike of darkness to social anxiety and imposter syndrome, but one thing I'm thankful for is not having an addictive personality. Something I've inherited I guess, as I can't think of any other family member who has (or had) any addictions. Well, apart from my father's 10-a-day fag habit (which he gave up instantly after having a stroke at the age of 55). And apart from my mother's persistent hoarding.

It's simple enough to get addicted to something, after all. Casual enjoyment can very quickly turn into a raging compulsion. And goodness knows, there are plenty of addictions to choose from - tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, the internet, OCD, fast food, chocolate, sugary drinks, hoarding, the list is endless.

I've always found it easy to stop doing something when it gets to the threshold of addiction. I just tell myself "Okay, that's enough" and I stop. I have two glasses of wine and that's it. I shop for the clothes I need and that's it. I eat a chocolate or two and that's it.

It's not that I'm terrified of getting addicted. It's not that I've had to deal with someone's chronic addiction. I just know when to stop before something enjoyable becomes something compulsive, an urge I can't resist. Maybe I have a strong sense of self-preservation that stops me doing something obviously self-destructive. Whatever.

I just don't understand addiction, because I've never been addicted. My mother was a relentless hoarder, and I despaired at the mountains of junk in her flat. But I hadn't a clue why she felt the need to hoard. I know lots of people who drink far too much and I don't understand that either. Though I can imagine the pain and distress of knowing you're addicted to something and desperately wanting to get it under control.

"Just say no" isn't as simple as it seems.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Playing with fire

The just-published report on the fire at Grenfell Tower makes me even more certain I couldn't live at the top of a tower block. I would always feel nervous that a sudden fire might reach my flat and I couldn't escape from it.

It may sound irrational, because fires in high-rise blocks are very rare, but the fact is that you're totally reliant on adequate fire-control measures that may or may not have been installed and may not be working when the need arises. You're also reliant on firefighters who may have no detailed, well-rehearsed plan for dealing with a high-rise fire (as was the case at Grenfell Tower).

At Grenfell the fire alarms weren't working properly, there were no sprinklers in the building, there weren't enough firebreaks to contain the fire, there was only one staircase, and of course there was highly inflammable cladding on the outside. Many high-rise blocks still have inflammable cladding that hasn't yet been replaced.

We've never had a flat above the first floor (second floor if you're American). I'd happily live on the second or third floor, which would be fairly easy to escape from, but any higher and I'd feel distinctly unsafe.

I'm not worried though about high-level hotel rooms. A huge fire in a hotel would ruin their reputation so I assume they have very strict fire-control measures, closely monitored by the authorities. In which case I'm happy to be on, say, the fifteenth floor a long way from street level. Also, I'm only in a hotel for a few days and it isn't my permanent residence.

If you live in a high-rise flat, you may have fantastic views, you may have exceptional privacy, you may be well insulated from the hurly burly of the city, but that wouldn't be enough if it might also be a death trap.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Winging it

It's weird how my inner feelings can be so at odds with my outer self, or how other people see me. Despite being a very well organised person, I always feel the exact opposite - that I'm hopelessly disorganised, never quite on top of anything, always running to catch up, haphazardly responding to things.

To other people's eyes, I'm wonderfully organised. I meet people at the right place at the right time. I keep the house clean and tidy. There's always enough food indoors for a few decent meals. I keep track of all the money going in and out. I arrange domestic repairs promptly. I keep the garden in good order. Everything's ticking over nicely, no to-do lists full of tasks left undone for months. Who could ask for more?

Yet on the inside I always feel as if I'm desperately winging it, never properly prepared for anything, doing everything at the last minute, vaguely muddling through, leaving all sorts of loose ends and neglected chores. I feel that other people are much better organised than I am and I'm barely keeping my head above water. I feel that my apparent adeptness is some kind of lucky accident, nothing to do with any deliberate action on my part.

Perhaps I just don't want to believe that I'm well organised because it makes me look like some sort of goody goody, someone lacking in the normal human failings that people find endearing and comforting. People would prefer to know that the windowsills are thick with dust, the garden is an unkempt wilderness, the bed linen hasn't been changed for months, that faulty tap is still dripping, and there's nothing in the fridge but some stale cheese and one mouldy potato.

Sorry, but the goody goody seems to have the upper hand.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Glorious botching

There hasn't been much talk of multi-tasking recently. Which is odd, because supposedly the reason why some people could juggle so many different roles was because they could do six things at once and do them all brilliantly - or at any rate competently.

Well, that was the theory. Then researchers discovered that most people can't multi-task, or at least not effectively. You might think you're doing everything splendidly but in reality you're just muddling through.

I have to say I'm probably the world's worst multi-tasker. Give me two things to do at once and I'll botch both of them - gloriously. Expect me to have an intelligent conversation while I'm driving the car and without doubt I'll drive straight into the closest shopfront.

Expect me to answer the phone while I'm picking out items at the supermarket and you can be sure I'll forget who I'm talking to while simultaneously knocking fifty tins of baked beans off the nearest shelf. Which in itself is a deft piece of multi-tasking - but not the one intended.

I'm afflicted with absolutely single-minded concentration. I can focus superbly on one particular thing -  to a degree that sometimes drives Jenny nuts. But if you ask me to spread my concentration a bit more widely, you're on to a loser. Something's got to give, and invariably it does. I catch sight of a fascinating article in the paper, settle down to read it, and instantly forget there's something in the oven.

The cliché has it that women are better at multi-tasking than men, but I'm not sure that's true. I think some people just happen to be better at it than others, whatever their sex. If such a thing really exists, that is.

Tell you what though - I can be obsequiously polite to someone while at the same time marvelling at their infinite stupidity. Does that count as multi-tasking?

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Coffee nirvana

When did coffee shops become so amazingly popular? So popular that right across the world, even in remote villages and on modest ferries you can get a first-rate cup of coffee.

Their earlier incarnation, the coffee bars of the nineteen fifties and sixties, were fashionable for a while but then lost their appeal, until eventually they were seen as a quaint relic of the past, frequented only by the likes of sad loners, tourists and cheating husbands. I can't remember ever going to one myself.

In those days of course few people had even tasted a top-notch coffee. Most of us were used to the insipid taste of instant coffee out of a jar, consisting of mysterious brown particles, and knew nothing better.

Now there's a coffee shop on virtually every street and the number escalates by the day. The quest for the perfect coffee - the freshest, tastiest, healthiest, climate-friendliest cup of joe, made from the most ethically-sourced beans on the planet - has become a relentless obsession. I'm as keen on a good cup of coffee as anyone else,  but I can't help thinking the search for coffee nirvana has gone a bit too far.

It's now quite normal to drop into a coffee shop several times a week, and pay anything up to a tenner for a coffee and a pastry. Anyone who never enters a coffee shop or doesn't like coffee is seen as a bit strange.

I have to admit Jenny and I like coffee shops. We go for a coffee and a chat every week at Caffè Nero (I know, I know, tax avoidance etc, but we love their coffee). We'll have a coffee if we're meeting friends or sitting in an airport or just killing time. But I'm not a fanatic about the taste. A decent latté will do me fine. I hope the beans weren't harvested by downtrodden peasant farmers, but I'm not going to spend the morning investigating.

I'd rather amuse myself by trying to spot the cheating husbands.

(Thanks to Kylie for the idea)

Saturday, 19 October 2019

The cutting edge

When I was young the word "trendy" was an insult. People laughed at the "mindless trendies" who were slaves to every passing fashion and couldn't bear to feel they were behind the times.

Now that's all changed and there's a total obsession with being trendy at all costs, being at the cutting edge of clothing, cookery, movie-watching, house décor, musical taste, holiday location, climate awareness, and even vocabulary - woe betide us if we use an obsolete term about other people (diabetics, transsexuals, dykes, nutters, natives etc).

The joke is that most trends are so nebulous and often simply assertions by some (fashionable) journalist, beauty editor or pundit. One person's boldly expressed trend will flatly contradict someone else's. In one place we hear that short skirts are back, in another that long dresses are now all the rage. Staying at the cutting edge is an arduous task when everyone disagrees about what the cutting edge consists of.

For years now I've never been remotely trendy and I just do and wear what I feel like doing and wearing. If my decisions happen to coincide with some fashionable dictat, it's mere coincidence. And few people actually care if I'm up-to-the-minute or not, except in the political sphere where being "off-message" can lead to instant ostracism rather than a healthy debate.

I remember trying to keep up with my fellow pupils at boarding school (when I was still young and impressionable) and failing miserably. I would attempt an Elvis-style hairdo, or adopt the required footwear of winkle pickers or chisel toes, or buy some Buddy Holly-style thick-rimmed glasses, but they all knew I was insincere and simply trying to fit in, and I'm sure they laughed at me behind my back.

It was only a year ago I bought my first backpack, after everyone else had had them since the year dot. I still haven't succumbed to a smartphone, Netflix, WhatsApp, airbnb or Uber. But I do take a very trendy set of hessian bags to the supermarket. Do I get any brownie points for that?

Tuesday, 15 October 2019


So we spent a few days in Montreal, as Jenny thought it was a wonderful city and wanted me to share her enthusiasm. I have to say though that I wasn't as taken with it as she was.

I felt slightly intimidated by the massive and impersonal high-rises and skyscrapers, some a good forty or fifty storeys (and visually pretty bland). I felt quite insignificant, like a small child on the sidewalk. And I felt a bit drained, as if the skyscrapers were sucking something out of me. They were too grandiose, too excessive.

The city had no central focus, it was just a huge sprawl of hotels, businesses and little squares, unlike Manhattan, which has Central Park, or Belfast, which has City Hall, or Sydney, which has the Harbour Bridge.

But having said all that, Montreal has its attractions. Like the Musée des Beaux Arts, which is full of fantastic artwork. We spent nearly five hours there, drinking it all in. Like the Parc du Mont-Royal, just above the city centre, where the belvedere at the summit has a panoramic view across the city. Like the Basilique Notre-Dame, sumptuously decorated and breathtaking.

We also went to the Musée d'Art Contemporain, but were surprised to find there was only one exhibition at the time, the rest of the museum being closed to install new exhibits. Which made no sense as there were dozens of blank walls which could have been hung with hundreds of artworks. Why weren't they? Lack of funding maybe? They must be disappointing an awful lot of tourists.

Accommodation-wise, we did very well. The last time Jenny was in Montreal she found a spacious hotel apartment complete with fully equipped kitchenette, and we stayed there again this time round (Le Square Phillips Hotel).

So Montreal didn't quite capture my heart, but it was worth visiting.

Pic: Le Vieux Port, Montreal, one of the better preserved districts

Friday, 11 October 2019

The Canadian Maritimes

And now all can be revealed. Jenny and I have been on a 10 day guided tour of the Canadian Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island). After that we spent a few days in Montreal, as Jenny wanted me to see what she thinks is a wonderful city.

One defining feature of the Maritimes is seafood - muscles, oysters, scallops and lobster in particular. Vegetarians are still unusual and Bernadette, our tour manager, worked hard to provide adequate veggie meals wherever we went.

There's pretty spectacular scenery too, especially on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island and on the Fundy Trail in New Brunswick. The trees were sporting their amazing autumn colours - yellow, brown, red, orange.

The Maritimes are still thickly forested, with little sign of the commercial interests like mining and fracking that are threatening much of Northern Ireland's natural beauty. And there are lots of unspoilt little fishing villages.

We learnt about some of the indigenous communities that fought for their survival against invading English and French forces - such as the Acadians, the Mikmaq, the Inuits and the Glooscap. They refused to be cowed into submission.

At the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, we discovered that Bell not only invented the first practical telephone, but invented many other things like metal detectors, the hydrofoil, the audiometer and the wheat husker.

We learnt that New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada, and many of the inhabitants speak both French and English. Jenny and I soon realised that our pathetic grasp of French hardly mattered as English is spoken everywhere.

The residents of the Maritimes are keen on lighthouses, with over 160 in Nova Scotia alone. They also like model lighthouses, which pop up in people's front gardens and other unlikely spots.

Like our guided tour of New Zealand in January, this tour gave us a great overview of the area and what makes it distinctive. We more than satisfied our nagging curiosity.

We were hoping to meet up with Wise Web Woman. But like most people, I confused St John's Newfoundland (where www actually lives) with Saint John, New Brunswick. So we never met up. Maybe some other time....

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The jealous ex

Some exes get insanely jealous of the new lover and do everything they can to wreck the budding relation-ship. Luckily that seldom happened to me, and most of the exes accepted the situation, either happily or reluctantly.

My girlfriend Trish had an ex but he didn't make any trouble. It would have been difficult as he was living in Birmingham and Trish and I were in London.

Grethe had an ex and was bringing up their son Reuben. The couple were in regular contact but he never tried to separate us.

Rosey had a boyfriend, Barry, who didn't accept our relationship at all and was actively trying to end it. He would tell her I was totally the wrong type for her and it would all end in tears. She did break up with me eventually, and I guess Barry's opinions had something to do with it.

Jenny also had an existing boyfriend but again he didn't make any trouble, probably because Jenny was obviously very keen on me and he didn't think he would get anywhere.

But I've heard plenty of people complaining not just about their ex's jealousy but about their current partner's jealousy. Constant questioning about where they're going and who they're meeting. Making out they fancy someone they just casually glanced at. Claiming a casual note to someone looks flirtatious.

My father was fiercely jealous and possessive. He always questioned my mother about people she was meeting and often implied there was a sexual element. He would even claim some lesbian affair was going on.

I've never been the jealous type myself so I didn't try any dirty tricks when a girlfriend fell for another man. However upset and bewildered I was, I would never have tried to destroy someone else's happiness.

Come to terms with it and move on, is my attitude.

I won't be blogging for a while. Will explain all in due course! In the meantime, please talk among yourselves....

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.

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


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.