Saturday, 22 July 2017

Chatterbox envy

I do envy those folk who can natter away effortlessly, without a hint of self-doubt or embarrass-ment or inhibition. They move seamlessly from topic to topic, the words bubbling up in a non-stop stream. Nothing seems to deter them, be it other people ear-wigging, loud music or scampering children.

How do they do that? I find it hard to think of the next sentence, never mind prattling on for half an hour. I get too self-conscious and too wary of my listener's reactions. Suppose I say something stupid or inappropriate or nonsensical? And will they be interested in what I'm saying or bored to tears?

Booze doesn't help. Far from loosening my tongue, a glass or two of alcohol is more likely to send me to sleep or freeze my brain completely.

It's easier if I know the other person well and I'm fairly relaxed in their company. Or if we get onto a subject I'm passionate about. If it's a stranger I've never met before, and they're just making routine small talk, I dry up rapidly.

It's not that I'm uninterested in people. On the contrary, I'm fascinated by other people's lives - their habits and problems and tastes and peculiarities. But I'm no good at that casual chattering that encourages someone to reciprocate. I can be with a person for quite a while and still know next to nothing about them.

Not saying very much seems to be a family trait. My mother, father and sister were always fairly taciturn, speaking only when they had to rather than spilling everything out. Entire meals could go by with no one saying a word other than "Could you pass the salt" or "These peas taste funny". Motor-mouths we were not.

Supposedly we get more talkative as we age, because we simply aren't bothered any more by what others think. Well, I keep hoping this magical nonchalance will make its appearance, but it never does.

I'd quite like to have the gift of the gab.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Cities under siege

Is tourism out of control in some over-popular cities? The long-suffering residents certainly think so, but still the tourists keep flooding in, pouring out of cruise ships and budget flights. They don't see why they should keep away.

Dubrovnik in Croatia is feeling especially under siege now it's a frequent filming location for Game of Thrones. On a busy day the tiny city is visited by three cruise ships disgorging up to 9,000 tourists. The locals have to fight their way around through the throngs of camera-wielding gawpers.

Florence, Barcelona, Capri and some of the Greek islands face the same daily invasions.

Venice is notoriously over-run, the dwindling population now far outnumbered by the millions of visitors. Jenny and I have been there three times, and on the last occasion the best-known areas were so jammed with people we could barely move an inch. There was no way we could properly appreciate the sights when we were elbow to elbow with other sightseers.

There's regular talk of limiting the number of visitors to the city, but nothing comes of it. The sight of mammoth cruise ships gliding down the Grand Canal and dwarfing the old buildings is obscene, but they're still allowed in. The lure of tourist money always silences the objectors.

Jenny and I tend to visit the less-frequented cities, where tourism is still manageable and not too obtrusive - like Chicago and Berlin. Not so much through concern for the harassed residents elsewhere but simply because they're cities we want to visit.

But even if there's any agreement that a city is now too overwhelmed by tourists, it's hard to see what counter-measures would be acceptable. Turnstiles? Timed admission? An entry fee? A limit on cruise ships and flights? People are used to freedom of movement, going wherever they please, whatever the difficulties.

The locals are just expected to grin and bear it.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Fuggy no more

A doctor has disputed the widespread consensus that passive smoking damages your health. She says the Professor who first proved the link between smoking and lung cancer also said that the health risks of passive smoking were negligible.

But the clampdown on passive smoking gathered pace and now smoking is banned in just about every public building. The ban has been generally accepted as necessary and beneficial.

As a lifetime non-smoker, all I can say is that the ban on passive smoking has definitely improved my quality of life. Instead of going into an office and fighting my way through a thick and smelly fug of tobacco smoke, I can relax and enjoy reasonably fresh air.

It also means that my clothes are still fairly clean at the end of the day and not reeking of smoke and needing a good wash. I remember not wanting to get too close to one heavy smoking workmate who seemed to only wash his clothes about once a week.

I recall vividly my early days in my first-ever job in a newspaper office. The tobacco smoke was so dense I felt as if I was suffocating. I seriously considered resigning because I could hardly breathe.

Fortunately after several days of near-asphyxia, I became acclimatised to the fug and it no longer bothered me. And it's interesting that although I was exposed to heavy smokers day in and day out, it hasn't affected my health, which is still pretty good. I have no lung or circulation problems.

For many years my mother was exposed to my father's cigarettes (he smoked about ten a day and died of lung cancer), yet she's still alive and kicking at the age of 95.

But am I glad we've seen the last of those foul, stinking offices.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

On the take

It seems many hotel guests are so light-fingered they nick everything they can from their hotel rooms. Only the item size and limited space in suitcases prevents wholesale asset-stripping.

Everything is seen as fair game - bed linen, towels, pillows, even batteries, light bulbs and kettles. And as hotels would never dare to search their customers' suitcases as they leave, it couldn't be easier to smuggle things out.

Some items are seen as legit. Like anything that can't be re-used. Or anything unused that might have been used and gets replaced for the next guest. So most people freely take things like shampoo, soap and shower gel.

And if there isn't enough loot in your hotel room, then there's always the unattended housekeeper's trolley ready for a surreptitious raid.

Personally I can't shake off my engrained moral stance that it's wrong to nick stuff. Even if it's going to be replaced. Even if it's only worth a few pence. Even if the room cost was exorbitant. Even if nobody will ever know.

So I never pinch anything. Not even the fancy pens and stationery with a swanky hotel logo. Or a bar of soap. Or the sachets of coffee. I'm obviously a glaring oddity among a tsunami of casual thieves.

As for light bulbs and batteries - are people really so hard up they need to grab them? It's not as if they're charming souvenirs. Why on earth bother?

I guess if the hotel is part of some vast global chain, people often think systematic hoisting doesn't matter as it's merely a tiny dent in their obscenely enormous income. That's as may be, but I still think Theft Is Wrong. Call me old-fashioned....

Or maybe it's just my secret nightmare that as I check out, my suitcase bursts open and an avalanche of hotel property tumbles out around me. The embarrassment would finish me off.