Saturday, 20 December 2014

The wrong sort of pie

That's quite enough of all the intro-spective burblings. So now for something completely different. The wacky world of pie-eating champion-ships and the young lad on work experience who made a fatal blunder.

The Annual World Pie-Eating Championships in Wigan - now in their 22nd year - were reaching another gripping finale as the competitors chomped and chewed their way through the traditional meat and potato pie.

The winner - Barry Rigby, 37, from Wigan, a warehouse supervisor and part-time fitness instructor - was very pleased with himself for scoffing his pie in a lightning speed of 42.6 seconds.

But his moment of glory was short-lived when the contest was declared null and void because the pies were too big. Instead of being the required 12 centimetres across and 3½ centimetres deep, they were found to be twice the size.

The work-experience guy had mixed up his orders and delivered the 24 competition pies to a divorce party instead of the pie-eating contest.

It's not reported how Barry reacted to the devastating news. Did he take it philosophically, shrugging his shoulders and saying it was just one of those things? Or was he apoplectic with rage, smashing the furniture and vowing never to eat another meat and potato pie? We can only guess.

Tony Callaghan, owner of the contest venue Harry's Bar, says "Everyone took it in their stride and demonstrated the professionalism of pie-eating at this level." I suspect that was tongue in cheek - or even savoury pie in cheek.

Don't laugh. The world of competitive pie-eating is very serious. Very serious indeed. Last year pie-lovers from as far as Australia flocked to Wigan in the hope of taking home the coveted crown. Aspiring pie-eating champions spend the whole year whittling down their chewing times to a record-breaking minimum.

If you think you could do better than them - it's just pie in the sky.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Where there's a will....

People have often told me I have a lot of willpower - which I guess also means self-discipline. They're quite right. When I'm determined on something, I don't let minor obstacles stand in my way.

I'm not put off by strong emotions, or sudden impulses, or other people's nay-saying. I don't find excuses for not doing anything. I don't procrastinate. If I've made up my mind to do something, then I do it.

I'll go into work even if I'm feeling poorly, if there's a job that needs to be done.

I'll tackle something difficult despite all my neurotic fears and anxieties and doubts.

I'll plod through all those tedious job applications even if I'd rather be listening to Joni Mitchell.

I'll be polite and courteous to someone, even if their behaviour makes me want to strangle them.

I'll look at every room in that huge art gallery, despite my weary eyes and weary legs.

I'll get to the top of that mountain, however beautiful the view from halfway up.

Maybe sometimes my willpower gets the better of me and overpowers sensible thoughts and valid emotions. Maybe sometimes I'm set on doing something that doesn't need doing, just to prove that I can do it and not seem feeble or pathetic.

But it does mean I do things others wouldn't feel up to. It means I've tried my hardest to achieve something, and I won't later regret copping out. It means I've done what I wanted to do and not succumbed to other people's head-shaking.

I would never have been to Australia three times if I'd given in to my loathing of sleepless and mind-numbing long-haul flights. But I was determined to get there, and what an experience it was.

Grinning and bearing it can sometimes be amazingly rewarding.

PS: On reflection, I think this post is nonsense. By willpower and self-discipline, all I really mean is determination. In other words, if I'm determined to do something (for whatever reason), then I'll do it. I'm just complicating something very simple.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Shrinking violet

Carla Bruni may have a compulsive need to exhibit herself and be in the public eye, but I'm the exact opposite. I crave anonymity and invisibility and avoid public scrutiny wherever possible.

I know that if I come to other people's attention, sooner or later they'll be judging me and maybe finding me wanting. Simply by noticing me, they make me self-conscious, self-doubting and abruptly shy. Even being publicly thanked for something is mildly embarrassing.

I'd hate to have a job where I'm regularly exposed to large numbers of people, or even worse to have to make speeches or presentations to them. I'd hate to be a celebrity or someone suddenly thrust into the limelight by some newsworthy event.

But it's not fashionable, not "normal" to be so reticent. It's supposed to be natural to want attention, to want an audience, to want others to recognise you and appreciate you. We all love someone who's the "life and soul of the party". Or do we?

Some people (like Carla Bruni) don't feel they really exist unless others are acknowledging them and referring to them. Without that constant attention, they feel incomplete, insubstantial, vestigial.

I have no doubt at all that I exist. To me, my identity is as solid as a rock. I don't need others to convince me of the fact, or to turn me into flesh and blood. I see no need to display myself to the rest of the world. What I see in the mirror is good enough for me.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Way out of line

I don't think I could be "normal" if I tried. My thoughts and feelings are so way out of line with what passes as "normal", I'm reconciled to the idea that I'm thoroughly eccentric. Or at the very least "different".

I feel profoundly sad about things other people don't even notice. I feel totally unmoved by what utterly enrages them. I get absurdly anxious about supposedly routine events. I adore things that others find incomprehensible.

I've never wanted children, or wanted to live in the suburbs, or wanted a high-flying job, or wanted two weeks on a beach at Torremolinos.

I feel really peculiar wearing a suit and tie, or reading a mass-market tabloid. I haven't eaten meat for nearly 40 years. I hate fizzy drinks, instant coffee and beer. Fashions in clothing totally pass me by.

I've always been a socialist, even when half the population was besotted with Mrs Thatcher and socialists were seen as "the lunatic fringe", "the reds under the bed" and "the enemy within". I was abnormal with bells on.

Of course "normal" is impossible to define anyway. It means different things to different people,and every survey of "normal" behaviour comes up with a different formula. It's one of those nebulous ideas that keeps slithering out of your grasp like a bar of soap.

So I think I'll just carry on as usual, even if it makes other people feel uncomfortable. Or bemused. Or censorious. Better that than running round in circles chasing an ever-moving target. As Popeye said, I yam what I yam.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Dear Santa

Dear Santa

I hope you are well. I hope that your new diet is working and that Alcoholics Anonymous is keeping you off the booze.

Gosh, there are so many things I want for Christmas, I don't know where to start. Here are some of them anyway:

1) A perfect memory that actually remembers 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 car and walk the seven miles to work in ten 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 all those 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 drool over as a bloke.

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

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

8) Infinite empathy. 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. 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 in other people's hearts.

I think that's enough to be going on with. Don't worry if there's one or two you can't manage. I know you must be awfully busy!

I hope Mrs Claus has recovered from the flu and that the elves aren't dabbling with the crack cocaine again.

Big hugs, Nick

PS: You're my favourite person ever in all the world!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Ghastly snobs

The fashionable insult right now is "snobbish". Any reference to anyone less well-off or less fortunate than yourself, however innocent or well-meaning, is likely to bring cries of snobbery raining down from all sides.

The most visible victim recently was Emily Thornberry, the Labour MP who tweeted a picture of a nondescript house with a white van outside and was widely vilified for her disgusting snobbery, even though she made no comment on the photo other than "Image from Rochester".

Big-name politicians are now terrified they'll be accused of snobbery, elitism and being "out of touch with the ordinary voter" - if there's any such thing as an "ordinary voter". They're falling over themselves to be seen quaffing a pint, scoffing a bacon sarnie or puffing on a furtive fag.

I've been accused of snobbery myself on occasion, which always baffles me as my awareness of poverty, disadvantage and crap jobs is prompted entirely by my loathing of inequality and injustice and in no way implies that I feel superior or conceited about my own more fortunate circumstances.

But dismissing someone as a snob is a handy quick-win, a way of slickly discrediting them and implying that everything they say is fed by some impure motive. It's also instantly intimidating, because nobody likes to be seen as a snob, even if they are.

The term snob should be aimed at genuinely snobbish behaviour, like being rude to shop assistants or sneering at someone's poor grasp of English, and not mindlessly lobbed at anyone with a few quid to spare.

Let's go for the real snobs, not the imaginary ones.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Lies and more lies

What do you do when someone publishes an unauthorised biography that's "trashy, vindictive and full of lies" about your life? How can you stop thousands of people reading what you regard as damaging tripe?

Aretha Franklin has let rip at the biography by David Ritz which reportedly claims she's jealous of other singers, fought alcoholism at the height of her fame, is delusional about her love life and was promiscuous from an early age.

She strongly contests what he's written. "As many of you are aware, there is a very trashy book out there full of lies and more lies about me. Clearly the writer has no class, no conscience or standards!

"His actions are obviously vindictive because I edited out some crazy statements he had the gall to try and put in my book written 15 years ago. Evidently, he has been carrying this hatred ever since."

Of course if the claims in a biography are unflattering, insulting and destructive, then the subject is highly likely to deny everything and accuse the writer of making it all up, peddling unverified rumours and gossip, and having some deep-seated grudge.

When the two are in such heated disagreement, who can possibly know if the book is telling it like it is or if, as she maintains, it's a pack of vicious lies?

In such situations, my immediate reaction is not to read the book at all, because if its truthfulness is doubtful, what's the point? I might as well be reading some muck-raking tabloid.

The obvious thing to do is sue for libel, but that's a costly business and the outcome might not be in her favour. So far she hasn't gone down that road as she's hoping her statement is enough to stop people reading it, or at least taking it seriously.

But I doubt her reputation will suffer, whatever the wild claims. Is anyone bothered that she's a flawed human being who might have behaved badly at times?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Sadly misinformed

My father was a horribly self-righteous man. He always had to be correct, and he had to have the last word. Only he knew what he was talking about, the rest of us were sadly misinformed.

Luckily I don't take after him. When I voice my opinions, I expect other people to have different ones. I welcome argument and debate. If I hear a good enough counter-argument, I'll back down and change my opinion in a second.

My father hated it when I argued with him, when I challenged his sacred views. He hated me having opinions contrary to his own. I can't recall a single occasion when he agreed with something I said. He dismissed all my opinions as stupid, half-baked, ignorant or deliberately provocative.

I guess it was his extreme rigidity that drove me furiously in the opposite direction. From an early age I welcomed a plethora of views on every possible topic. The more varied the views the better. Only by exploring every possible line of thought could I be sure of arriving at a sensible, considered conclusion. To suppress opinions, however far-fetched or absurd, was to cripple my mind.

What annoys me isn't different opinions but people's reluctance to voice them. When people don't engage with my views at all but stay conspicuously silent, I wonder what they're thinking. Do they find my views so misconceived, so confused, there's no point in even acknowledging them? Do they simply dislike arguments? Do they dislike having to think? Whatever the reason, I feel frustrated by the lack of a good head-to-head.

But how kind I am to my critics, how lavishly easy-going. My father must be turning in his grave.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Sour grapes

I'm always taken aback by those who begrudge other people's success. The extreme bitterness and jealousy that often goes with it is astonishing.

Sometimes it's understandable. If someone manages to get a promotion or a plum job or a glamorous assignment that you feel you should have been given yourself, then of course you're likely to feel royally pissed off for a while.

But a general tendency to trash other people's achievements, maybe something they're worked hard for over a long period - where does that come from? Why the need to put the boot in?

I'm really pleased for someone when they succeed at something they've long been aiming for. I'm happy they've finally got what they wanted after years of frustration or despair or self-doubt. I'm glad they've finally cleared all the hurdles and reached their goal. Why wouldn't I be?

I'm especially pleased when someone has managed to give up something that was badly harming them - alcohol or drugs or an abusive relationship or a stressful and unrewarding job. I love it when they've found the strength and self-confidence to move on and improve their life.

Even if someone's success isn't hard-fought-for but has just fallen into their lap - like a lottery win or a sudden inheritance - I still don't begrudge them their good luck. Okay, I'd enjoy having a huge pile of cash (who wouldn't?), but I'm doing okay as I am so why should I care?

I have no problem with someone who's successful - unless they're rubbing other people's noses in it. That's what really makes me mad.

PS: A classic case of begrudgery. The opening night of Gordon Ramsay's new restaurant was sabotaged by a rival making 100 fake bookings.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Bad sex

Having taken a quick look at the ten authors shortlisted for the annual Bad Sex In Fiction Award, I have to say the passages quoted are pretty excruciating. But then again, can any fictional description of sex ever do justice to the real thing? I think not.

Sex is such a personal and physical experience, I don't really think any writer, however brilliant, can capture it at all realistically. Their attempts are inevitably going to be leaden, bizarre or over-the-top.

Certainly I've never read any description of sex that accurately reflects my own experience. The images conjured up are quite laughable, like a non-swimmer trying to describe what it's like to swim.

So in a way the Bad Sex Award, however amusing it may be, is rather unfair on the poor embarrassed authors who're singled out for special attention. I'm sure their efforts are not much worse than all the authors who've been lucky enough to escape notice.

In fact I wonder why sex has to be described at such length in novels anyway. What's the point of these flowery renderings of a bit of nooky? We all know what it's like (well, those of us who actually engage in it), so why not just leave us to fill in the details? A lot of writers could save themselves a lot of creative torture and a lot of guffawing readers by putting the red pencil through the whole shebang.

But just to give you a taste of the Bad Sex offerings, here's a typical passage:

"Her hair was piled high, but when she shook her head it came cascading down in a glowing wave over her shoulders, and fell as far as her knees. The rippling curtain did not cover her breasts which thrust their way through it like living creatures. They were perfect rounds, white as mare's milk and tipped with ruby nipples that puckered as my gaze passed over them."

That's from Desert God by Wilbur Smith.

And now I have to go, I'm laughing so much it hurts.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Rough diamond

I'm a bit of rough diamond, I guess. I may think of myself as wise and sophist-icated, but in my actual dealings with other people I can be as gauche and clumsy as a confused adolescent.

I'm never very confident in social situations. I'm not sure what to say or what to do or what's expected of me. If in doubt, I tend to say nothing and retreat to a quiet corner where nobody will bother me.

If I meet someone I've always seen as especially intelligent or talented or inspirational, I can be so overcome with childish awe that it's all I can do to stammer out a few gormless platitudes before lapsing into an embarrassing silence.

Everyone else seems to be so at ease, chattering away effortlessly to complete strangers, baring their soul with no apparent qualms, never at a loss for words. Whatever the trick is, it seems to have passed me by.

In private though, alone with my thoughts, I don't feel at all hesitant or wrong-footed. I feel worldly-wise and experienced, ready for any crisis, equal to the challenges of daily life. I know I'm just as smart and practical and capable as the next person. But as soon as I'm with other people, the awkward me, the ham-fisted me, suddenly springs out of hiding and takes over.

I'm too self-conscious, I suppose. The legacy of a frightening and insecure childhood. Losing that self-consciousness and just letting everything flow is a knack I've never picked up. I envy those who've mastered it. It must make life a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.

Or maybe I just need that old Irish standby, the gift of the gab.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Off message

Father of two Bobby Smith is fuming with rage over a sculpture of two women and their children outside the Library of Birming-ham. To him it's not just a sculpture, it's a political statement that offends his delicate sensibilities.

He objects to the idea that this is a "normal" family and says "kids are always better off with both parents in their lives." He obviously thinks sculpture should convey an ideologically right-on message and has never grasped the strange notion of freedom of artistic expression. Presumably he believes the only "correct" sculpture would be one of Mr and Mrs Average of Acacia Avenue, Anytown.

He was so incensed that he travelled from Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire to Birmingham to make his protest. He stuck photos of himself and his two young daughters onto three of the figures and threw a sheet over the other one.

So does he feel better for his valiant protest on behalf of normal, properly-parented families? Hard to say. In the photos, he looks glum and wary rather than pleased with himself. In fact he looks as if he's just lost a fiver and found a penny.

The artist, Gillian Wearing, explained sensibly enough that "a nuclear family is one reality but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed."

There seems to be an increasing tendency to see works of art not as complete in themselves but supposedly "representing" some wider bunch of people who then complain they're being insulted or maligned in some way. The unsuspecting artist is said to be denigrating women, or men, or gays, or heterosexuals, or whichever group is dancing with rage.

Can they not accept that a work of art isn't a political manifesto but simply an aesthetic and emotional creation with nothing to say other than whatever the random onlooker takes from it?

As for the idea that the sculpture is making fathers invisible, you only have to walk down any busy street to see dozens of them with their children in tow. If Bobby Smith could tear his attention from "incorrect" art-work for a few minutes, he might actually notice some of them. Unless they're all covered with sheets, that is.

Pic: A Real Birmingham Family by Gillian Wearing

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Groom or doom

Surveys keep telling us most women dislike their bodies and would like to change them. Well of course they dislike their bodies. Is that surprising when everyone around them says they're not attractive until they've been through a string of laborious grooming procedures? The obvious conclusion - their natural self without all the recommended beautifying and prettifying must be a hideous sight nobody wants to look at.

The message blares out endlessly from the mass media, from movies, from parents, even from friends - if you've missed out on make-up, skincare, body-hair removal, weekly hairdos, nail polish, push-up bras or shapewear, then you're simply not feminine or glamorous enough and nobody will give you a second glance.

The message for men is totally different, in fact almost the opposite. If they pay any undue attention to their appearance, they're just narcissistic - or maybe gay. Real men simply sling on a few nondescript clothes, comb their hair and that's that. Nobody cares two hoots about the condition of their skin, or when they last had a haircut, or all the hair carpeting their chest. Nobody suggests their natural self is something to be worked on obsessively to make it passably attractive.

In fact some men seem to revel so shamelessly in their wild and woolly appearance that I sometimes think a little pressure to beautify themselves female-style wouldn't come amiss.

Of course there's nothing wrong with prettifying yourself as such. It must be a lot of fun dolling yourself up occasionally. I'd quite like to doll myself up now and again but gender forbids. No, the problem is the implication that if women don't doll themselves up, they're ugly ducklings who'll never get to the ball.

Well, ducklings look pretty good to me, even without make-up....

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Prima donnas

I've worked with plenty of prima donnas in my time. Or should I say I did my best to work with them, as they're impossible to please however hard you try.

The tell-tale signs of a prima donna being:
  • Changing their opinion every ten minutes
  • Never being satisfied with anything
  • Wanting everything their own way
  • Puffed-up with self-importance
Trying to pin them down on anything at all is like nailing down a lump of blancmange. Trying to meet their ever-shifting demands is like wrestling with an octopus. They're endlessly evasive and enigmatic.

I could name someone I work with right now as a classic prima donna. But since another key feature is sensitivity to criticism, I think I'd better wait till I've moved on to pastures new.

The obvious prima donnas are of course those showbiz stars who insist on all sorts of special treatment to go with their elevated status - obscure dietary requests, new toilet seats, air purifiers, specific room temperatures, everything in their favourite colour, special toilet paper, you name it.

But prima donnas pop up in every walk of life - families, political campaigns, dinner parties. There's always one, driving everyone else nuts. They never notice how annoying their impulsive and erratic behaviour is to those around them.

There was a bookshop manager I once worked with who was never happy with my work. Whatever I did, he always wanted it done differently, and every day his diktats would change. However I defended my time-tested methods, he always thought his methods were better.

I've never been a prima donna. I'm good at working with other people. I may be neurotic, insecure, anxious and timid, but I'm at least consistent and pin-downable. No guessing games required.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Rush to judgment

Ursula suggested I write a more frivolous post. Well, given there's something utterly frivolous on my mind right now, what the hell, no sooner said than done....

I can't believe the fuss everyone's making about Renee Zellweger's changed appearance. Do they have too much time on their hands? Are they paid-up members of the Image Police? Do they never change their own appearance? Why this rabid Renee-trashing?

Personally I'm the old-fashioned type who believes a person's appearance is their own affair and nothing to do with me. I wouldn't be happy if everyone was zooming in on my own appearance and saying they didn't like the change, they preferred the old me, had I had plastic surgery etc etc. I'm amazed she's taking it so calmly and hasn't fled to some secret hideaway.

I couldn't care less if Renee Zellweger had piled on 10 stone, cut all her hair off and went everywhere in bright pink pajamas. It's none of my business. And the fact that she suddenly appeared in public after a long absence doesn't entitle every Tess, Debbie and Harriet to weigh in with their opinions (and yes, it does seem to be mainly women slagging off one of their own).

What does strike me though is that she now bears an uncanny resemblance to J K Rowling - the same face, the same expression, the same hairstyle. Has she turned into J K Rowling? Has J K Rowling turned into Renee Zellweger? Is this a weird double-case of identity theft? Is Renee now a phenomenally successful author while J K is now a Hollywood icon?

All I can say is, I love the name Zellweger. I could roll it around my tongue all day. Zellweger, Zellweger. A name to conjure with. A name to savour. Apparently zellweg means "path to a small monastery." If the current hysterical opinionising goes on much longer, a monastery would probably suit her nicely.

Pics: J K and Renee. Or possibly Renee and J K.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Unbearable loss

These three children - Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin - were all killed, together with their grandfather Nick, when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine.

The three children were flown back to Perth in Australia on Thursday to be returned to their parents.

I can't begin to imagine the bottomless grief their parents must be suffering as a result of this utterly stupid attack on a commercial plane whose passengers had nothing whatever to do with the conflict.

Anthony Maslin and Marite Norris say they are living in a hell beyond hell, that their pain is intense and relentless. "No one deserves what we are going through, not even the people who shot our whole family out of the sky."

The loss of one child is bad enough, but the loss of all three must be an unbearable agony. How can they ever recover from it? How can they have anything like a normal life ever again?

Do the fanatics who shot down the plane have even a flicker of guilt or remorse over what they did? Do they grasp in any way the massive suffering they've caused? Probably not. Probably they see the dead plane passengers as simply unfortunate casualties of war, not to be dwelt on.

Gaining territory is more important than broken hearts.

And in a related news item, an Australian company has developed a water-based alternative to cremation that avoids the 200 kilogrammes of greenhouse gas emissions from a traditional cremation. It simply speeds up the natural decomposition process, taking about four hours in all. Stew instead of roast, as one of my Facebook friends put it. Brilliant.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Squalid impulses

I'm not a hateful person. If there's something about someone that rubs me up the wrong way, I don't hate them for it. I adjust to it, I work around it, I try to understand it. I don't hate them any more than I would hate a rock for being jagged or a snake for being poisonous.

I don't understand people who seem to be a never-ending torrent of hatred. Everything sets them off - a noisy neighbour, a demanding boss, a rude sales assistant, a smarmy politician. Any excuse and they let rip, tearing everyone to shreds. Where does all this bile and venom come from?

I've only hated two people in my life, people who treated me so badly all positive feelings were crushed and loathing took over. I just wanted to be free of them so I could repair my battered self-respect.

Of course you're probably already thinking I'm too good to be true, too magnanimous by half. I'm obviously denying my real feelings, bottling things up, keeping a stiff upper lip. I'm an emotional snob pretending to be better than everyone else and immune to squalid human impulses.

Well, I can assure you there's nowt bottled up. The fact is that hatred just doesn't come naturally to me. Which is surprising since all my immediate family are (or were) more than capable of intense hatred. I could list a dozen things that set them off like Pavlov's dogs.

It's often said that people hate what they don't understand, or what they secretly envy. I think there's a lot of truth in that. But if you don't understand something, why not try to unravel it? If you envy something, why not join in? Why the need for such bitter hostility?

"Let no man pull you so low as to hate him" - Martin Luther King.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Crossed fingers

A lot of people are adamant they achieve things through their own efforts. Luck has nothing to do with it, they say. It's all hard work, determination and shrewdness.

I think they're kidding themselves. Yes, a bit of hard graft is needed. But so many things are down to luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Knowing the right people. Being first in the queue. Hearing something on the grapevine. There are plenty of people who work their asses off with nothing much to show for it.

I know how much luck I've had in my own life. So many things that could have gone horribly pear-shaped worked out surprisingly well. I benefited from the years of prosperity that were followed by recession and shrinking opportunities. Quite by chance I picked up skills that have come in useful ever since.

Other people have even greater luck. They inherit huge sums of money. They win the lottery. They're born to well-connected and multi-talented parents, or turn out to be prodigiously talented themselves. They happen to invent something that becomes a universal must-have.

Knowing as I do how much of my life has depended on good luck, I'm always a bit nervous about the future. Will this astonishing run of luck continue or will it abruptly hit the buffers? Will I suddenly find myself in dire straits, the rug pulled from underneath me? All I can do is cross my fingers, hope for the best and keep on truckin'.

So what will the future bring? Windfalls or pitfalls? Thrills or bills? Trick or treat?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

BĂȘtes noires

Ten things I'd like to see the back of:

1) Ties. I don't care how many people think I look good in a tie. They're pointless anachronisms.
2) Religious imperialism. Trying to foist your religion onto the uninterested, the uncomprehending and the undressed and just going to bed.
3) Instant coffee. It's not coffee by any stretch of the imagination. It's sludge.
4) Lying and hypocritical politicians. That's around 99 per cent of them then.
5) Finger food that falls to pieces, leaves you all greasy and tastes of nothing.
6) Powerpoint presentations. If you have to swamp us with statistics, just put them in an easily disposable handout.
7) People who think they're fascinating but are actually so boring you want to shoot yourself.
8) Absurd excuses for rape. There are NO excuses for rape.
9) Poverty. It ruins people's lives. It's demeaning, depressing and utterly dehumanising.
10) Unbudging know-it-alls who view any alternative opinions as the jabberings of an idiot.

Oh and did I mention ties?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Spying fever

It seems that a lot of people are now so mistrustful of their partners that they're secretly spying on them to check on what they're doing and where they are. They're so suspicious of what their partners are telling them - or not telling them - that they're obsessively monitoring their activities.

They're looking at emails, texts, computer files, photos, GPS locations, bank accounts, call logs, calendars, website histories, Facebook accounts, you name it. There are now apps that can quietly track just about every aspect of your partner's life and give you any information you want at the touch of a button.

And apparently lots of people are doing just that. According to one technical surveillance firm, business is booming, especially among women trapped in abusive marriages who need to discredit their husbands in order to get a divorce.

Increasingly, people are no longer accepting what their partner tells them, or shrugging off the odd dubious explanation, but are bothered enough to find out just how truthful and trustworthy he or she actually is.

It must be dreadful when you lose trust in your partner and are sure they're hiding things they don't want you to know. But can you really justify such exhaustive snooping on everything they're doing? Is it necessary self-preservation or is it totally obnoxious?

Personally I've always trusted Jenny and I've never felt the need to spy on her every move. I often have no idea at all where she is but why should that make me suspicious? Why should I imagine she's secretly seducing someone or topping up a concealed bank account?

But the fact that such detailed surveillance is now so widespread and easy to use would make me think twice about bedding the next-door neighbour. If I knew that my supposedly private phone calls and texts could be instantly relayed to someone else, I think I'd keep my libidinous longings to myself.