Friday, 25 September 2020

Body blow

I should be used to it by now, but I'm always surprised by how many people dislike their body image and how few are happy with the way they look. Apparently the lockdown made many people even more critical of their physical appearance.

A parliamentary report found that 61 per cent of adults and 66 per cent of children feel negative about themselves most of the time. And the vast majority felt worse since the lockdown.

The women who felt worse blamed diet culture, post-natal pressures, the lack of older women in the media, and being bombarded with images of photoshopped, edited and sexualised women.

Men said body image concerns for them are also common but discussing them is still taboo, with pressure to "gain muscle mass" and look masculine.

What surprises me is that instead of regarding their physical appearance as their own business, and no one else's, so many people are striving after the fashionable "look", as displayed by highly untypical botox and surgery enhanced supermodels.

I feel like some kind of freak for actually being happy with my body as it is and not wanting to make it more "desirable". I don't want to be bulging with muscles, purged of body hair, a stone lighter, wrinkle-free or a bit bigger "down there". If people dislike the way I look, too bad. My only consideration is whether I'm physically healthy or not.

I have no wish to pour hundreds of pounds into the bank accounts of the beauty industry moguls who want me to buy perfume, moisturiser, body lotion, make-up, hair removal products, nail polish and all the other more and more numerous "must have" beauty aids.

If anyone thinks my nose is the wrong shape or my bum's too big, that's their problem, not mine.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Domestic cocoon

It's still seen as normal to actively socialise. If you confess to being not much of a socialiser, or even preferring your own company to the company of others, you're still seen as a bit abnormal, a bit weird, a bit standoffish. You're dismissed somewhat disparagingly as "a loner".

I have to admit I'm one of the weird brigade. As Patti Smith says "I'm not a very social person. I could go days without talking to anyone in particular".

I like the odd chat with my neighbours or my book club mates, or my hairdresser. It's convivial and energising. But I don't need constant company. I'm very happy pursuing my own interests, thinking my own thoughts, wandering through the far reaches of my imagination. What more do I need?

I know most psychologists declare that socialising is good for your mental and physical health, and that too little socialising is bad for you, but that's a bit of a sweeping judgment. We're all different, and some of us are quite healthy enough keeping ourselves to ourselves.

I'm glad the hairdresser's daughter is thriving at her new school. I'm intrigued that the next door neighbour has taken up cycling. But I don't need these chance conversations to maintain my well-being. They're rather like that extra slice of cake that I don't really need because I've had plenty of cake already.

But the emphasis on a chatty "normality" means many people are still too embarrassed to admit they're reluctant socialisers. So when necessary, when they're obliged to mingle with others, they pretend to be eager to talk, or even to be the life and soul of the party. Then they thankfully retreat to their domestic cocoon.

Isn't one of the true pleasures in life lounging on the settee with a good book, oblivious to the rest of the world?

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Lonely no more

What's happening in the world is so relentlessly miserable and depressing, I'm not going to add to the misery. So here's something happy and heart-warming for you.

After Tony Williams, from Alton in Hampshire, lost his wife Jo to pancreatic cancer in May, he says it was "unbearable torture" living without her. In desperation he put a poster in his window saying he had no one to talk to and couldn't stand the unremitting silence. "Can no one help me?" it ended.

His story went all around the world and led to a tsunami of emails, calls, letters and gifts. He was overwhelmed by the widespread sincerity and empathy they displayed. "These people really feel my loneliness as their own grief and sometimes I've been reduced to tears."

Tony has had help and support from neighbours and does have some family, but doesn't see them regularly. Messages have come from as far away as the USA, Canada, Australia, the Middle East, Spain and Iceland.

When asked what his advice would be to other elderly people in a similar position, he said "My advice is to do as I've done. Not necessarily in the same way - but you have to somehow go out and meet people."

There's an awful lot of people in the same situation, feeling dreadfully lonely but not sure what to do about it.

What happened to Tony shows there's an enormous amount of goodwill and kindness out there, as soon as people voice the need for it.

Anyone who's known unshakable loneliness will be ready to help Tony reconnect with the outside world.

Pic: Tony Williams, his wife Jo and poster

Sunday, 13 September 2020

A bigger slice

There's a lot of talk nowadays about people feeling "entitled", or feeling they have an automatic right to all sorts of things because - well, because they do. Such people are roundly condemned as arrogant elitists who just want to grab a bigger slice of the pie. The criticism is usually aimed at a certain type of person - well-off, privately educated, right-wing, pompous.

But hang on a minute, shouldn't we all feel entitled - to a decent life, a comfortable home, a worthwhile job, an adequate income, and physical safety? Isn't that the least we can expect as a country's citizens?

What people are really objecting to is not so much entitlement as greed - wanting more than your fair share of whatever's available. Wanting half a dozen houses, an enormous salary, a prestigious job, and the best of everything, from haute cuisine to limousines, private jets and luxury tailoring.

There's a lot wrong with being greedy, but nothing wrong with feeling entitled, if that simply means wanting an enjoyable life rather than a life of constant struggle and deprivation.

As for myself, I certainly feel privileged as my life has gone very well compared to the lives of many others. But I've never felt entitled in any sense. I've never felt greedy and I've never felt that anything should be handed to me. I hoped and expected to have a decent life but I never felt entitled to it. I assumed hard work, luck and sensible behaviour would get me the necessities of life so I wouldn't need any outside help. And by and large that's been the case.

But I quite like a bit of haute cuisine. Not to mention bon vin. I may not be entitled to them but I wouldn't like to be deprived of them.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

The ties that bind

As you know, I loathe ties with a vengeance. Utterly pointless items of clothing that are supposed to make the wearer more respectable, more professional, more sexy and more normal. In reality they're just annoying things that flap around and half-asphyxiate you.

Luckily throughout my working life I could get away with very casual clothing. I was mostly a bookseller or an admin worker and in both cases tie-wearing was seen as either weird or pretentious.

So why am I so tie-averse? Here are twenty good reasons for not wearing ties:

  • They're ugly
  • They get caught in machinery
  • They get food stains on them
  • You only see the stains when you take them off
  • They can strangle you
  • They're passion killers
  • Employers love them
  • They have no plausible function
  • They attract germs
  • They're hard to fasten
  • They can be grabbed by small children
  • Dictators wear them
  • You get them as presents when you have a hundred already
  • You get them as presents when you really want champagne and chocolates
  • You can hardly breathe
  • They fall in your soup
  • They're boring
  • You feel like your father
  • Your mother keeps straightening them
  • Your mother thinks they're smart
The irony is that while a man in a tie is seen as more professional and trustworthy, this doesn't apply to a woman. In her case she is only professional and trustworthy if she's wearing high heels and make-up. Try explaining that to a visiting Martian.

And try to explain why male politicians wearing ties are now almost universally seen as incompetent and untrustworthy.

On the few occasions when I was obliged to wear a tie, I had usually forgotten how to knot it and had to resort to a youtube video. Which in itself is a point against ties. What other item of clothing can only be put on with the help of the internet?

Friday, 4 September 2020

No tiny feet

Jenny and I decided very early on that we didn't want children. Lots of our friends and acquaint-ances were having children and they seemed happy enough with their choice, but it wasn't for us.

We just never had the urge. There may be many men and women who're naturally broody and simply can't wait for the patter of tiny feet, but we never felt like that. We had other priorities.

We've always been content as just the two of us, and didn't want a couple of kids possibly complicating our relationship. And we never woke up one middle-aged morning thinking, oh my god we should have had kids, and now it's too late.

There were other factors of course. My parents did a pretty clumsy job of bringing up us kids, and I didn't think I'd be any better than them. Why not leave parenting to those who have an obvious gift for it?

I think both childless couples and couples with children are somewhat baffled by each other's choices. The former think, what's the big attraction of spending twenty years bringing up unruly kids and never having any peace and quiet? The latter think, they don't know what they're missing, there's nothing like it, it's a unique experience.

Childless couples are still accused by some of being selfish, of not helping to raise the next generation. Well, we may not have children but we're paying for other people's children - their healthcare, their education, the libraries they use. So I think we're doing our bit.

No patter of tiny feet for us. Only the tiny paws of trespassing cats.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Count me out

There are more and more people emphasising their Britishness and expecting others to do the same. But I've never felt especially British and I wonder why people have to bang on about it so much. Why is it so important?

I watch rallies where everyone is waving union jacks and shouting about how British they are. I follow the row over the Last Night of the Proms and how the typically British closing songs are being interfered with. I listen to people complaining that the country isn't really British anymore and they no longer recognise it.

Who cares? I happen to be a British citizen because I was born in England, but I have no particular attachment to Britain. If anything, I'm quite repelled by what's going on in England right now. Hatred, trolling, xenophobia, vicious denouncements of other people. Whatever happened to the British tradition of "fair play" and "sympathy for the underdog"?

I don't believe for a second that Britain is the greatest country in the world, that it does everything better than other countries. There are plenty of things Britain makes a complete mess of, most visibly its handling of the virus pandemic. There are many things Britain does that are totally shocking, like its treatment of those who are poor, homeless, disabled or mentally ill.

I may be a British citizen, but I'm well aware that other countries do a lot of things much better than us, and we would do well to pick their brains and follow their example rather than seeing the rest of the world as a bit backward.

I don't want to glorify my Britishness. I don't want to go around waving a union jack. I just want to be seen as a thoughtful, considerate human being who wants everyone to have a decent life. Isn't that enough?

PS: Just seen another example of British incompetence. Average internet speeds in the UK are among the slowest in the developed world, below Barbados, Panama and Thailand. The UK failed to make it into the top 40 countries.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

On the spectrum

It seems to me the pandemic has produced a wide spectrum of attitudes from blasé nonchal-ance on the one hand to paranoid fear on the other, with reasonable caution somewhere in between.

On the one hand there are those who think the whole pandemic is wildly exaggerated, with frenzied scare-mongering from politicians, health experts, trade unions and journalists about the number of deaths, the possibility of infection and the stupidity of those who shun even the most basic precautions.

They happily mix with jam-packed gatherings of hundreds of people, and scoff at any suggestion they're helping to spread the virus to all and sundry.

On the other hand there are those who're terrified of being infected and believe just a few seconds' exposure to someone else could see them in hospital fighting for their lives. They take every possible precaution and rage at anyone who isn't. They won't even leave the house except for a very good reason.

Photos of mass gatherings fill them with horror and they wonder why such irresponsible activities aren't being instantly closed down.

I'd say I'm somewhere in the middle. Yes, I feel more vulnerable than I used to, but I think the chance of being infected is greatly exaggerated (I haven't had the virus although it's been around for eight months or so, and I know very few people who've had it). Nevertheless it makes sense to follow all the recommended measures like wearing a mask and distancing. Why ignore all the precautions and expose myself to risk for the sake of some egocentric obsession with "personal freedom"?

One thing's for sure. The "new normal" of anti-virus measures everywhere we go will be the reality for quite a while. The free-and-easy gadding-about of 2019 is but a distant memory.

Friday, 21 August 2020

Shared traits

How do you maintain a relationship (and a marriage) for nigh on 40 years without the D-word rearing its ugly head? How do you keep things sweet despite all the possible pitfalls and trip-wires? I think it helps a lot if you share a few basic behavioural traits. For instance:
  • We love each other to bits, obviously.
  • We're both neat and tidy. We put the cap back on the toothpaste, we don't leave discarded clothes on the floor, we don't leave food remnants in the sink. It must be hell if one of you is a messy slob and the other isn't.
  • We're both vegetarian and we both like similar foods. Especially Italian and Indian food.
  • We're both energetic and keep ourselves busy. We don't sprawl on the sofa all day, watching old sitcoms.
  • We're both voracious readers. If one of us never read anything but cookery books or car manuals, that would be that.
  • We're both over-thinkers, analysing everything to the nth degree - politics, news events, other people's quirks, shopping trends, you name it.
  • We both do our share of the housework. We don't (on the whole) assume such-and-such is the other person's job/ the woman's job/ the man's job.
  • We both like Scandinavian crime dramas.
  • We consult each other about everything, and never make important decisions (even choice of curtains) unilaterally.
  • We both like breakfast in bed (toast and marmalade) on Sunday mornings.
  • We don't fight over who's going to drive the car.
  • We're both minimalists with a horror of clutter. We have regular clear-outs of stuff we no longer need/ want/ use/ enjoy.
  • We're both socialists. It's hard to understand how political and ideological opposites can live together without coming to blows.
There must be other things I've forgotten, but that's fairly comprehensive. It makes me realise how lucky we were to run into each other. What are the chances of two random strangers sharing so many attitudes?

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Steeped in Brooklyn

It's strange that I feel like a Brooklynite even though I'm not. I was on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge for ten minutes in 1996 and that's it. But it feels like a very familiar place to me.

It's obvious why. I've seen so many films and read so many books based in Brooklyn that I'm acquainted with a lot of Brooklyn streets and landmarks. Plus I once had a friend in Brooklyn who would tell me about her favourite local coffee shop, her walks with the dog, typical Brooklyn street scenes, how Brooklyn was coping with the Hurricane Sandy devastation in 2012, and all sorts of local details. Plus I've looked at Brooklyn on street view so I've digitally been to the Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery.

Right now I'm re-reading "Say Her Name" by Francisco Goldman, who lived with his wife Aura in Degraw Street, Brooklyn, until she died in a tragic surfing accident at the age of 30.

So you can see I'm thoroughly steeped in Brooklyn lore and culture, although I've never set foot in Williamsburg or Carroll Gardens. One day I might actually go there and and see how much of my mental image corresponds with the reality.

Because I'm getting constant reminders of Brooklyn, it seems more real to me than the neighbourhood I first lived in as a child, which is now no more than a distant and fading memory. I've never been back there since the family moved house in 1960.

I guess other people must have vivid images of places they've never been to. Images so tangible you have to remind yourself they're not the real thing.

Pic: Park Slope, Brooklyn

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

I've never

I like those memes where people list all the things they've never done. They're just as interesting as all the things people have done. And they always set me wondering. Why have they never done X or Y? What stopped them? What influenced them? Anyway, just for the record, here's my own list.

I've never:
  • worn boxer shorts (they're uncomfortable)
  • had jet lag (I adjust quickly to different time zones)
  • heckled anyone (it's pointless)
  • lost my voice (I never talk for long enough)
  • gone bald (shortage of testosterone?)
  • had children (never had the urge)
  • had a nickname (can't explain that one)
  • broken a bone (I've just been lucky)
  • had a good sense of smell (roses? what roses?)
  • tried cocaine (not keen on drugs)
  • had cosmetic surgery (I'm just fine as I am, thanks)
  • been religious (it never made any sense to me)
  • voted Tory (I've always been a socialist)
  • had a tattoo (I don't need to decorate my body)
  • been to a (commercial) football match (no interest in football)
  • dreamed of being naked in a public place (or meeting the Queen)
  • been arrested (not the best way of protesting)
  • eaten oysters or caviar (they look disgusting)
  • forged someone's signature (never needed to)
  • read Ulysses or War and Peace (I don't have the stamina)
I've never forged a signature, but I've committed most petty crimes like speeding and litter-dropping and driving under the influence (well, it was 51 years ago). And of course others I'd better not publicly admit to. I've never murdered anyone, though one or two people seemed to have been actively inviting it.

Oh, and I've never chased after a wild boar that stole my laptop. While stark naked.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Taken for granted

I'm bemused by those tourists who seem to have no respect or consideration for the places they're visiting and the local people. They charge into a place, have their fun and charge out again, not caring if the residents have been inconvenienced, annoyed or generally taken for granted.

Over-tourism has been a problem for a while, but the virus pandemic has made things even worse because so many Brits have now opted for staycations rather than risking foreign holidays.

Thousands of tourists are overwhelming seaside resorts to the extent that some of the locals are scared to walk along the busiest streets or go food shopping, in case they catch the virus.

When Jenny and I go on holiday, we see ourselves as guests of the country we're in. We're respectful, considerate, unassuming. We try not to be over-demanding or impatient or arrogant. We don't want the locals to get a bad impression of our own country from the way we behave. We don't expect them to be fawning all over us, nervous we might complain or be abusive.

We leave generous tips where tips are expected. We don't hassle hotel staff in the middle of the night. We don't leave our hotel room looking like a bombsite. We don't demand huge discounts on souvenirs. We don't expect to jump queues ahead of the locals. We don't shout drunken insults at everyone. We don't moan that everything's better at home. We don't under-dress. In short, we don't behave like spoilt arseholes.

I also try to find out more about the country I'm in, rather than just trundling round the well-known tourist attractions. I want to know something about its history, its economy, its culture, whatever is distinctive about it.

Is it really that hard to behave decently?

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Am I free?

If "justice" is a rather nebulous idea, then "freedom" is even more so. It's a wonderful idea, bandied about everywhere you look, something we're all meant to be seeking. But in real life can it ever be achieved?

If freedom means free of all kinds of restraint and obligation, free of all our domestic tasks, free of other people's demands, free of pretence and secrecy, then that's not possible, because we can't just wish away all the things that tie us down.

If freedom means being able to do whatever we want, that's not possible either as there are hundreds of laws telling us what we can and can't do.

I might feel free for a few blissful minutes when there's absolutely nothing to attend to, and nothing bothering me, but permanent freedom? I think not.

Even if I were wealthy enough to afford a bunch of people to look after all my daily needs and wait on me hand and foot, I still wouldn't be free. I would still be worrying about my investments, fending off begging letters, evading the paparazzi, and shooing trespassers out of my country estate.

Unless of course you mean simply the freedom to live your life the way you want to live it. With restraints and obligations, sure, but ones you welcome, ones you're happy to comply with because your life as a whole is a fulfilling one. A sort of comfortable captivity, you might say. In which case, I would say I'm extremely free.

As for that old cliché "freedom means nothing left to lose", then the ultimate freedom would be a sentence of life imprisonment. Doesn't sound much like freedom to me.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Justice denied

The more I read of people seeking "justice" after some horrendous crime, the more I realise it's a bit of a fool's errand, because we all have different ideas of what "justice" means and the chances of our particular idea of justice being met are very low.

Does justice mean retaliation? Or punishment? Or a show of remorse? Or putting someone in jail? It can mean all sorts of things.

Lissie Harper, the widow of PC Andrew Harper, who died after being dragged behind a speeding car for over a mile, said that for many months she had hoped "justice would come".

When the three teenagers in the car were found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, she said she was "immensely disappointed".

But what justice can there possibly be when your husband has died in such a horrific fashion? Nothing can bring him back to life, nothing can erase the grief and suffering she has endured since his death, nothing can compensate for the ruin of all her hopes for the future.

Even if the three teenagers are jailed for life (they'll be sentenced on Friday), how will that help her? It would be a heavy punishment, but punishment isn't the same as justice. Punishment won't ease her pain, or her family's pain.

My idea of justice in this case would probably be equally horrific deaths for the three teenagers, maybe in a nasty car crash while speeding away from some attempted crime. That's not something the law can arrange, though.

But no idea of justice could possibly compensate for that fateful knock on the front door, and a very sombre police officer telling you that your husband is dead.

Pic: Andrew and Lissie Harper

PS: Lissie Harper has written to the Prime Minister asking for a retrial, but it's not clear on what grounds a retrial might be justified. On Friday, one of the teenagers was jailed for 16 years, and the other two for 13 years.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

In an ideal world

I wrote once about the faculties I would like to have in an ideal world. Faculties that would overcome all the annoying limitations of our human bodies and make life so much easier. These are the things I came up with:

1) A perfect memory that remembers absolutely everything. Like the plots of books and TV dramas. Like people's names. Like whichever shop it was that had that brilliant potato peeler.

2) Super-fast legs so I can forget the bus and walk the 3½ miles to the city centre in five minutes.

3) A maximum body-weight setting so that however much chocolate cake, trifle and ice cream I eat, I don't gain an ounce.

4) Fluency in several languages so I can read lots of great books that have never been translated into English.

5) A female body for a month so I can wear all those fabulous clothes I can only lust after as a bloke.

6) A totally adjustable body temperature, so I'm always comfortable however hot or cold the climate, and I don't need central heating or air conditioning.

7) Telepathy, so I know when someone is telling the truth or lying non-stop. Or whether they're just pretending to like me.

8) Infinite empathy, so however extreme a person's emotions, I can understand them instantly. I can feel exactly what they're feeling.

9) The gift of the gab, so whoever the person, whatever their situation, I always have something to say, and it's always what they want to hear.

10) A magic wand that will melt all the pain and misery in other people's hearts.

Goodness, wouldn't life be very different if we had the benefit of all those super-faculties? If the technology of human bodies advanced at the same pace as all our machines and gadgets and appliances? The mind boggles.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

I'm just me

I've never felt in any way "masculine", and I'm not drawn to any of those things men are supposed to be passionate about. When men talk about being more masculine or more manly, I couldn't care less. It all goes right over my head. I have zero interest in
  • Football
  • Cricket
  • Fast cars
  • Gadgets
  • Flirting with women
  • Sexual prowess
  • Heavy drinking
  • DIY
  • Action movies
  • Technical stuff
  • Being the "top dog"
  • Extreme sports
Of course there are certain masculine behaviour patterns I'm obliged to follow to avoid being ostracised by polite society. And there are things I do quite unconsciously because they were endlessly drummed into me when I was growing up. All men are sexist to some degree, whether they realise it or not, just as white people are all racist. The trick is to suss out those sexist habits and suppress them.

It seems to me that being a civilised human being is more important than being masculine, especially if being masculine means harassing and mistreating women. Behaving decently does more good than trying to be on one end or the other of an entirely artificial spectrum. I'm just me and I can't be bothered to chase after some dubious behavioural norm.

Every so often there's a major debate about what it means to be masculine, how masculinity can be "detoxified", why men feel insecure and confused etc. To me these debates seem quite pointless, when the simple answer to all the confusion is surely, stop pursuing false goals, just behave like a normal intelligent human being and you'll be fine.

Fortunately I always gravitated to workplaces where the men had as little interest in being masculine as I did. They never thought me peculiar for being a light drinker, ignoring the big match, or not gawping at someone's tits. What they enjoyed was witty conversation, idle gossip, good food and weird haircuts.

Masculinity? You can keep it.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Digging up the dirt

This new trend of digging up something a person said 20 or 30 years ago and using it to discredit them seems ridiculous to me. We all had different attitudes when we were younger, many of them deeply embarrassing by today's standards, and just about anyone could be discredited on that basis.

Tony Sewell, the new chair of the government's commission on race and ethnic disparities, has had to apologise for saying homosexuals were "the greatest queer bashers around, "tortured queens playing hide and seek" who "made their own sexuality look dirty".

Of course the comments are grotesque and offensive, but they aren't recent comments, they're ones he made in 1990. Why should they be dredged up 30 years later as if he must have the same opinions in 2020? And why should they be used to try and oust him from a job that has nothing to do with homosexuality?

He has said clearly that those remarks "do not reflect my views today nor indeed the views of modern society." Isn't that enough to draw a line under the subject?*

We all have skeletons in the closet when it comes to unsavoury opinions we held when we were younger, and less sensible and circumspect than we are now. I supported all sorts of odd causes I wouldn't support now. I criticised people for personal failings I would now have more sympathy for.

If anybody could lose their job because of some off-the-cuff insult from decades ago, there would be an awful lot of sackings, and an awful lot of job vacancies. Can any of us say we've never let slip an ill-considered remark?

Unfortunately in the age of the internet such mortifying remarks are preserved for posterity and aren't easily buried.

* More to the point, he has denied the existence of institutional racism, which surely disqualifies him from a job concerning racial inequality

Sunday, 12 July 2020

No recollection

I've always envied people with excellent memories, and always seen my own dreadful memory as an embarrassing deficit. But that's not necessarily the case. I'm realising that in some ways a poor memory can be a distinct advantage, and not a liability at all.

My sister has a photographic memory, and my father was the same. My memory in comparison with theirs is sadly lacking.

But having such a superb memory isn't always an asset. You can remember in great detail occasions when someone slighted you, offended you, upset you, or betrayed you. You might feel a lasting sense of grievance that your memory is endlessly reviving.

I on the other hand rapidly forget most of those incidents, leaving me unaware that someone once offended me and allowing me to move on without that emotional baggage.

I know I was bullied at boarding school, but I don't remember how I was bullied or who was bullying me, or how upset I must have been at the time. All I know is that I was bullied, and it just becomes a sort of minor historical detail.

I can avidly reread a book, knowing I've completely forgotten what I originally read and can therefore enjoy it as if for the first time. The characters and plot seem entirely fresh and unfamiliar.

I'll forget all the beginner's errors and mortifying mistakes that occurred in my various workplaces and recall only the successes. So instead of thinking "that job was a disaster" I think "I did that job pretty well."

I'll blot out how traumatic it was enduring many months of next-door neighbours keeping us awake with constant all-night parties. Now I only remember it as an annoying episode that thankfully came to an end.

Yes, it can be frustrating when I forget something really important, but a bad memory isn't the awful burden I often imagine it to be.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Familiar flaws

I've read several thousand novels in my life, so many that whenever I'm immersed in a new book I can see all the flaws as well as the merits. Which doesn't mean I don't enjoy the book, it just means I'm unlikely to be gushing with praise. If it's really bad I won't be rereading it, it'll be off to the charity bookshop.

However many awards the book has picked up, however many celebrities have recommended it, if there are shortcomings or defects, I'll spot them pretty quickly as I'm well attuned to what's good writing and what isn't.

I'll react instantly to one-dimensional characters, an overabundance of characters, implausible plots, irrelevant sub-plots, clunky metaphors, rambling descriptions, high-flown language, confusing flashbacks and flash-forwards, factual inaccuracies and so on. They just leap out at me.

I always wonder why the author couldn't see all these faults when they were writing the book, or why their editor didn't see them and suggest some hefty rewriting. I can't be the only one who sees all the faults and wonders why they weren't corrected.

Not that I would ever stop reading books, however flawed and irritating they may be. I get huge pleasure out of reading. I love interesting characters and original plots and unexpected twists, I love trying to guess the endings, I love quirky oddballs I can easily identify with, I love sad, lonely characters who find love and happiness. And I love being whisked out of my familiar everyday surroundings to a completely different world someone else has imagined.

Books are a bit like people. They may have glaring faults but we overlook them because they also have endearing and inspiring qualities we can't do without. And we know they won't go on a drunken rampage or wreck the car.

Re the pic: I'd thoroughly recommend City of Girls. Beautifully written, very entertaining.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Raised eyebrows

I have a large streak of scepticism. Probably why some people don't take to me - they get the sense I'll never quite believe what they say, even if it's true. And whatever they're enthusiastic about, I might rubbish it.

Well, I'm not quite as bad as that, but I do weigh up what people say very carefully and raise my eyebrows at anything that sounds implausible or far-fetched, or plain ridiculous*. Some of the things I'm sceptical about:
  • Any variety of "alternative remedies"
  • Politicians' promises
  • Gurus who've achieved perpetual bliss and enlightenment
  • Adverts offering me an improved memory, boundless self-confidence, increased energy and vitality etc
  • Estate agents' descriptions of houses
  • Estimates by tradespeople
  • So-called sex changes
  • Phone calls claiming my internet connection is faulty
  • Stories told in celebrity memoirs
  • Businesses that claim to be protecting the environment
  • People who say DIY is easy
  • Lucrative investment opportunities
  • Conspiracy theories
I haven't always been such a sceptic. I was absurdly gullible as a youngster, instantly believing what people said to me and then being taken aback to find they were talking nonsense - or plain lying. Years of painful exposure to smooth talkers and devious rogues forced me to be a bit more questioning.

It seems to me that lying is now seen as quite normal, and people in all walks of life lie about virtually everything, assuming nobody will check the facts and uncover the reality. Celebrities in particular spin their personal back stories every which way, and I take all their dramatic confessions with a bucketful of salt.

But being sceptical doesn't stop me enjoying life. It doesn't mean I'm a nihilist or a spoilsport or a curmudgeon. I savour my chocolate truffles and ice cream and pinot grigio and juicy novels and rousing music like anyone else. I'm just no longer such an innocent abroad.

* Despite my habitual scepticism, there are some things I always believe. Like claims of rape, misogyny and domestic violence.