Sunday, 11 December 2011

Undesirables

Do you ever contemplate all those things that should never have been invented, never seen the light of day? Here's my very own list of ten things the world could do without....

1) Ties. Utterly pointless and unattractive. Politicians and car salesmen are no more plausible in a knotted thing.
2) Shoelaces. Come undone when you're out walking. Get knotted when you're trying to undo them.
3) Binge-drinking. What's the big attraction of drinking yourself senseless and getting liver disease?
4) Powerpoint presentations. Telling you what you already know, or don't need to know, in a soporific visual format.
5) Chat shows. Thinly disguised advertising in which evasive celebrities trot out predictable personal clich├ęs.
6) Plastic surgery. Self-mutilation as the answer to self-loathing. How weird is that?*
7) Starters. Two or three expensive mouthfuls of some trifling little "delicacy". I'd rather get stuck into a proper plateful of food.
8) The colour orange. Hideous on just about anything except the fruit. Orange means "I have no taste."
9) Musak. Shops that play mind-numbing background music. I'm straight out of the shop before my brain turns to mush.
10) Family trees. I couldn't care less about my great great grandfather or my second cousin twice removed. I don't care if they were millionaires or tramps. It's what's happening now that interests me.

Okay, don't tell me, you like nothing better than binge-drinking after your plastic surgery, wearing your bright orange pants and your bright orange kipper tie. If that's the case, I don't like you any more and I shall have to exclude you from my inner circle of suave and enlightened intimates. Please don't darken my doors again.

* I should add that I have nothing against plastic surgery for sound medical reasons like correcting disfigurements.
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I won't be blogging for a while. Nothing to worry about, in fact something very very exciting! Will tell you all about it later....

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Deathbed regrets

If you're on your deathbed, the chances are you'll be reflecting on your life and how well or badly it went. And in many cases, you'll be regretting something or other you didn't do, or didn't do whole-heartedly enough.

An Australian woman* who spent many years looking after dying patients and listening to what they said about their lives has come up with a fascinating list of the five major regrets they mentioned most often.

1) "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
2) "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."
3) "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."
4) "I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends."
5) "I wish I'd let myself be happier."

How sad that so many people feel their life was a false one and they repressed their real self, hid their feelings and stifled their happiness. We still think far too much about other people's expectations, or imagined expectations, and feel we have to change our own behaviour accordingly. It's very hard to just be yourself, however bizarre or outrageous or inappropriate this might seem to others.

How common too that people wish they hadn't worked so hard and spent more of their time enjoying their own personal pleasures, or doing things with their partners or children. Sometimes this is our own fault, chasing after perfection and unachievable goals. Sometimes it's the nature of the job and long hours are necessary simply to get the work done. But either way, it's not healthy.

And how difficult it can be to stay in touch with friends when we're all leading such busy lives. When we're rushing from one urgent task to another, friendships can easily be neglected for so long they lapse altogether. Then a few years down the line we discover all those bosom buddies we used to have such fun with have somehow vanished. And our psychological well-being suffers.

What a shame we don't take a good look at what we're getting out of life while there's still time to do things better. Once you're on your deathbed and heading for oblivion, it's too late.

* Bronnie Ware is a writer and singer/songwriter from New South Wales.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Losing your looks

How withering it is to say of someone "Of course she's losing her looks." So many awful implications packed into one short sentence! So many sexist and ageist assumptions so blandly expressed!

What does it actually mean? First, that the person is no longer attractive or sexy and no longer so appealing to potential boyfriends or girlfriends, or their spouse. They'll be struggling to date anyone or stir their partner's passions.

Second, that your looks naturally change from a positive feature to a negative one as you age. As soon as a few wrinkles or a bit of sagging flesh appear, this can't be anything but a turn-off to other people.

Third, that you've lost something rather than gained something. You've been depleted, belittled, made less significant.

Fourth, that you've passed your peak and are now generally going downhill. You're declining, deteriorating, falling apart.

No wonder many women who're told they're losing their looks (or who think it as they gaze critically into the mirror) feel somewhat depressed and alarmed. With the battery of confidence-shattering assumptions the phrase conjures up, it's hardly surprising. They feel they're heading for a dismal future of being ignored and downgraded which they can do little about given the inevitability of the ageing process. The desperate rush to plastic surgeons for a make-over is grotesque.

And how unfair that men are much less likely to be damned with the same phrase. It seems men don't so much lose their looks as become more distinguished and venerable, or even charmingly avuncular. Even if there's hair sprouting from every orifice, they have a pot belly the size of a cauldron and skin like a farmtrack, nobody seems to notice and criticism is strangely muffled.

How refreshing it would be if people were seen as changing their looks rather than losing them, and if a much-wrinkled face was considered no worse or better than a wrinkle-free one. How uplifting if wrinkles were seen as a sign of wisdom and experience and not as some sort of personal disability. How heartening if taut-skinned teenagers weren't so absurdly over-rated and idolised and were given their proper value in the scheme of things.

And pigs might fly.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Just a joke

Blistering outrage as the famous petrol-head and loudmouth Jeremy Clarkson says public-sector strikers should be executed. So far over 22,000 complaints have been received by the BBC.

Some people insist it was just a stupid joke. Others believe he was being deliberately inflammatory and offensive.

Whatever your opinion, it once again raises the tangled question of whether to allow total free speech, however outrageous and vicious, or whether to restrain people with a battery of legislation.

The UK has a mass of laws forbidding discrimination and hate-crimes, and promoting equal treatment for all citizens. But it's often asked firstly if such draconian laws are necessary and secondly if they actually work.

There seem to be remarkably few court cases relating to any of the equality laws, even though scandalous examples of homophobia, misogyny, racism and workplace favouritism and bullying go on day after day.

The legal constraints may act as a deterrent in more formal and public settings where prejudice will be immediately visible and acted on, but in more private situations many people are still happy to mouth off and ostracise as freely as they like.

Okay, so laws will always be flouted if people can get away with it. They may be only a limited restraint on inflammatory behaviour. But without them all hell would break loose and we'd see the sort of mass-hatred that in other countries leads to routine beatings, lynchings and executions.

The local equivalents of Jeremy Clarkson aren't just making mindless "jokes", they're running amok with machetes and machine guns. I don't want to go down that road.

Pic: Jeremy Clarkson

Jenny has a related post on living with diversity in Northern Ireland