Saturday, 1 October 2022

Trigger puzzle

I don't understand how the TV companies decide on trigger warnings. They give frequent warnings about things that seem trivial, but ignore things that seem much more important.

Most TV dramas start with a warning that the programme contains strong language and violence. But how likely are these things to trigger a seriously distressing or traumatic reaction?

Surely most people are well used to strong language and aren't going to collapse if they hear the words "fuck" or "arsehole" or "bastard". Likewise they're well used to scenes of violence and won't have a meltdown if they see a punch-up.

On the other hand there are no warnings about, say, rape or torture or self-harming, which I would have thought could be genuinely distressing if you've had personal experience of any of those things.

I've seen some quite horrific scenes in TV dramas that deserved serious trigger warnings, but there weren't any and such scenes come as a total surprise. So as I say, why are some things flagged up while others are ignored?

Furthermore, why are trigger warnings only given on TV dramas? News bulletins and newspapers are probably far more likely to include disturbing scenes and reports, yet there are no trigger warnings.

Do they assume news watchers are immune from emotional distress and need no warnings? Or else there are so many things likely to upset them it would be impractical to list every single possibility?

Or is there a tendency to avoid trigger warnings in case too many people stop watching?

Trigger warning: this blog may contain dodgy opinions and inebriated nonsense. You are advised not to show it to gullible children or snooty aunts.

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Crumbling respect

The respect for authority figures that was the norm when I was growing up has gradually crumbled over the years. Crumbled so far in fact that it has almost gone into reverse, with more and more people saying they distrust "experts" and other authority figures and intent on going their own way.

When I was young, people generally submitted to every sort of authority figure. Be they doctors, teachers, parents, government ministers, civil servants or police officers, we did what they asked us to do because obviously we were ignorant young dimwits and they were older and wiser.

That attitude slowly caved in and people started to question authority figures and the idea that they knew best. Did they really know best or were they fallible individuals who could get things horribly wrong as well as totally right?

Confidence in experts has been shaken by a constant succession of disasters and blunders. Like the inferno at Grenfell Tower, which was covered in inflammable cladding. Like incompetent surgeons who leave patients in agony. Like houses that are knowingly built on flood plains.

Bit by bit automatic respect for authority figures has drained away as people got the confidence to challenge what they said. And quite right too. Instead of assuming they won't be questioned, they have to justify their opinions and take people's scepticism into account.

That questioning can be overdone of course. Those people who say they never trust an expert and rely on their own judgment are taking distrust too far. They're often grossly misinformed and horribly wrong themselves.

We need a happy medium where the opinions of experts aren't instantly dismissed but carefully examined and evaluated before we rely on them.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Being offended

The big feature of cancel culture (aka polarisa-tion) is that it puts "being offended" into a whole new context. "Being offended" has suddenly become a huge deal, a hazardous minefield to be traversed with difficulty.

When I was young, if someone was offended, it was just a routine human reaction, like being upset or scared or sad or disappointed. If you were offended, you either shrugged it off or asked the person to apologise. And that was that.

Now it's practically a mortal sin to offend someone. Everything you do or say has to be vetted in advance in case it might offend someone. You're meant to know exactly what might cause offence and avoid it.

"Being offended" is no longer enough. The offence must now be "purged". The person concerned must not only apologise profusely, they must be abused and ostracised, punished in some way, even sacked from a job they may have done for decades.

If the offence is a thing, the offending book or article or statue must be banned, destroyed or otherwise removed from the public gaze. Whether the book has literary merit, or the statue has cultural significance, is beside the point.

It's not enough to say, Oh well that book was of its time, you'd expect some dubious references, a bit of racism or sexism, but it's not the end of the world, it's still a great bit of writing and people still enjoy it. Trying to obliterate it is an absurd over-reaction.

Unfortunately the new obsession with "being offended" means that people hesitate to discuss certain sensitive subjects for fear of the reaction and are effectively silenced. How can that be a good thing?

Sunday, 18 September 2022

Believe it or not

It never ceases to amaze me how people will believe not only the unlikely but the clearly impossible. Even if other people pick a hundred holes in whatever they're champion-ing, they take no notice. I guess it's true that people often believe what they want to believe.

The Queen's death has been the signal for a tsunami of nonsense about the royal family, most of it totally absurd but eagerly propagated day after day.

One of the most bizarre is a video that criticises Meghan Markle for wearing an old outfit of Diana's at the Queen's funeral. This is despite the fact that the funeral won't even take place until tomorrow. But hey, that's just a minor detail.

Then there are the claims that some public figure has actually died and been replaced by a look-alike, the best-known example being Paul McCartney. Supposedly he died in a car crash on 9 November 1966.

The claim that the US's last Presidential election was rigged and that actually it was won by Donald Trump also widely persists despite numerous declarations that the election was completely fair and legitimate with no evidence of fraud.

Many people still believe it's possible to change sex even though it isn't. If you challenge them with the biological facts, they simply reiterate their opinion.

And then there are those who deny that major events ever happened - like the moon landing, 9/11, the covid virus and the Holocaust.

How do people manage to have such baseless beliefs despite all the opposing evidence? How do they convince themselves that they're right? It intrigues me.

The only blatantly false belief I've ever held is the existence of Santa Claus. I was ten before the truth dawned on me. No idea why it took me so long.

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Tact shortage

Tact. "Skill and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues". A word that isn't used much these days, but perhaps it should be. It seems to me our society has become conspicuously tactless.

Many people feel free to blurt out whatever nonsense comes to mind, or to act in a clumsy and thoughtless fashion, regardless of how their words and actions might be perceived by others.

I'm thinking for example of the dozens of employees of Clarence House, the King's current residence, who were abruptly informed by email that they would be sacked. Could they not have been given the news in person?

I'm thinking of all those people who criticise celebrities, picking holes in every aspect of their personalities and their lives, oblivious to how upsetting this might be to those on the receiving end day after day.

Likewise, all the abuse directed at frontline employees who're simply trying to do their job and aren't responsible for their employer's failings - shop assistants, doctors' receptionists, paramedics, call centre staff, delivery drivers.

Then there are the MPs bullying and harassing their personal staff, who are expected to put up with such behaviour by "taking the rough with the smooth".

Some people might say that Brits habitually employ a very British form of tact - not mentioning a subject at all in case they offend someone. They avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics, the royal family, transgender and relationship breakdowns for fear of the reaction.

But it seems to me that nowadays such diplomatic silence is not so common and people are holding forth on anything they feel strongly about, regardless of how it might go down with their listeners.

Do tell me I'm wrong and there's plenty of tact around - I'm just not noticing it.

Saturday, 10 September 2022

Ready to go

One thing Jenny and I have never dared to do is take on a "fixer-upper" (a crumbling old house that needs a lot of work to put it right) and spend the next few years living with constant building work and all the related disturbance.

We were thinking of building an extension onto our previous house, but thought better of it in the end. We thought the complexities of it all would stress us out alarmingly - working out exactly what we wanted done, getting planning permission, finding a good builder, putting up with all the disruption, keeping a close eye on the work in progress, and deciding on all the interior fixtures and fittings.

Now it would probably be out of the question anyway as building costs have rocketed and initial estimates of the cost of building work are being so greatly increased that they become unaffordable. People often run out of money half-way through the project and have to take out extra loans.

One thing that delighted us about our current house was that absolutely nothing needed to be done to it, we could just move into a comfortable home and enjoy it. It had already been extended to create a huge kitchen-diner and extra bedrooms.

As for actually building your own house, nothing would have induced us to do something so daunting. Jenny and I are fans of the "Grand Designs" TV programme, in which people build their own houses and invariably run into all sorts of unforeseen and costly problems along the way. What's remarkable is their resilience and determination to keep going in the face of one crisis after another.

No fixer-uppers for us. Give us a ready-to-go every time.


So the Queen has died and King Charles takes over. A very simple news item, which for some reason calls for voluminous news coverage. You'd think war had been declared or an earthquake had destroyed London or there'd been a nuclear explosion. Oh well, let's see what Charles makes of the job.

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Globe trotting

It's taken for granted nowadays that tourism and travelling around the world is completely normal, and anyone who prefers to stay at home is a bit weird. Don't they want to see other countries, sample other cultures, see how other people do things?

When I was a child, this huge appetite for global tourism didn't exist. Most people took their holidays in domestic seaside resorts and had no wish to jet off to some far-flung location. Did that mean their lives were somehow impoverished? I don't think so. They just didn't have the modern wanderlust.

But is mass tourism necessarily a good thing? Personally I think it's gone too far. Many popular holiday spots are now so overwhelmed by tourists that the local infrastructure and services can't cope and longstanding residents up sticks and move somewhere quieter.

The huge extent of air travel that underpins this feverish globe-trotting is not only polluting the planet but has led to declining in-flight comfort as airlines cram more and more passengers into their planes.

So what is gained from all this travelling around? Are people generally better-informed, more open-minded, more interesting? Not that I've noticed. People can fly all over the world and still be remarkably ignorant and ethnocentric.

I've got to the age when I've lost the taste for long-distance travelling, now that my energy levels are less than they were. And I'm happy to stay at home. It doesn't make you an unadventurous stick-in-the-mud. It doesn't mean you're uninterested in the rest of the world. After all nowadays you can find out anything you want about other countries by half an hour's googling.

It seems to me this escalating desire to zoom all over the globe has got a bit out of hand. Why not appreciate our own country a bit more?

Friday, 2 September 2022

Goodbye cycling

The only time I've cycled regularly was between the ages of 18 and 20 when I didn't have a car and as a local journalist I needed to travel around to interviews and meetings. I've often thought about taking up cycling again but never done so.

Cycling was safe enough when I was a teenager. There were far fewer cars on the road and cyclists weren't routinely insulted and provoked by motorists as they are now. Cyclists were respected and treated as bona fide road users.

A number of things have put me off cycling again. There's the abuse and contempt just mentioned. Why should cyclists have to put up with that?

Then there's the lack of dedicated cycle paths. Mostly you have to cycle on main roads, competing with speeding motorists, massive lorries and parked traders' vans. The risk of an accident is pretty high. For cycling to be totally safe, there would have to be set-apart cycle paths completely separate from roads and vehicles. Unfortunately that would require a lot of spare space next to roads, which in most cases simply doesn't exist. So dicing with death on busy roads it is.

There's also the possibility of theft. The rate of bicycle theft has gone down, but it's still pretty huge - around 150,000 thefts a year in the UK.

If I even float the idea of cycling to Jenny, she says it's far too dangerous and virtually forbids it. I think she's right though, it's very hazardous. I watch wobbling cyclists trying to manoeuvre around heavy traffic and they do look horribly vulnerable. Unlike motorists, they don't have a metal shell around them to provide some protection.

So much as I would love a few energetic cycle rides, I'm not taking it any further.

Monday, 29 August 2022

Why a pre nup?

Pre nuptial agreements have been around for a while, but most couples still marry without one. Are they a good idea or not? Certainly Jenny and I never considered a pre nup, we just expected each other to behave sensibly in any sort of crisis.

The usual objection to pre nups is that they immediately imply you don't trust each other and need elaborate safeguards to stop the other person behaving badly.

I guess most couples assume the marriage will work out just fine and there's no need to provide for all sorts of unlikely situations. Even if they know how many marriages collapse, they still don't think their own marriage might crumble.

I had a look at what pre nups usually cover:

  • Rights over property, inheritances and other assets
  • Protecting each spouse from the other's debts
  • Each spouse's entitlement to the other's support
  • How assets will be split if you divorce
  • Providing for children by a previous marriage
Jenny and I have never had a dispute over any of these things (we have no children to worry about). We agreed very early on that all our assets would be jointly owned and we wouldn't have separate bank accounts. This has worked well and neither of us is secretly salting away thousands of pounds or trying to claim sole ownership of the house.

People do add some unusual provisions to pre nups. An American couple agreed that if one of them cheated on the other, they would then have to pay all the household bills. Other pre nups have included the right to random drug tests on a spouse, the condition that a husband watches only one football game a week, and restrictions on the use of social media.

Pre nups might very well avoid some of the nastier marital bust-ups. But who wants to envisage bust-ups when you're still besotted with each other?

Thursday, 25 August 2022

Beyond my ken

There are many things people do that leave me scratching my head in bewilderment. Why do people do these things? What's the great attraction? Oh well, different strokes for different folks, as they say.

And what are all the things that puzzle me? I listed some of them a few years back. Mostly they still apply.

  • The obsession with celebrities
  • Tattoos
  • Tongue-piercing
  • Stag and hen weekends
  • The prejudice against public services
  • Posting naked selfies on Facebook
  • Wearing a face veil
  • Having private quarrels in public
  • Personalised number plates
  • Going mental on a plane
  • Nouvelle cuisine
  • Barbecues
  • Thongs*
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Weddings on the other side of the world
  • Gangnam
  • Letting kids run wild
  • Teeth whitening
  • Designer labels
  • Lads' mags
The gangnam fashion didn't last very long, so I think I'll substitute bottled water. Why pay through the nose for something that's no better than tap water - and may actually be tap water?**

Luckily I've never been on a stag weekend (and never been invited to one). It's hard to imagine anything I'd enjoy less. And thankfully I grew up at a time when naked selfies were unheard of. When nakedness in general was something to be studiously avoided. I also grew up at a time when barbecues were a quaint custom in far-flung countries like Australia, where rain was virtually unheard-of. Somehow they caught on in the wet and gloomy UK.

*that's the underwear and not the Aussie footwear

**an estimated 25 per cent or more of bottled water is just tap water

Sunday, 21 August 2022

Hugs and kisses

For as long as I can remember, I've been very physically demon-strative. I love hugging and kissing and holding hands, to me it's friendly and it's fun and it makes me feel closer to someone.

I think it's partly a reaction to my parents, who weren't very keen on physical affection. My father avoided it completely, while my mother stopped hugging and kissing me after she heard it might turn me into a homosexual (I know, it's hard to believe people actually thought that way).

So I'm happy to kiss and hug anyone who fancies a bit of kissing and hugging. Like me, some people enjoy it and can't get enough. Others recoil from it, seeing it as something affected and unnecessary, strictly the province of celebrities and chat-show hosts. I certainly wouldn't force a hug on someone who seemed unwilling.

I'm not ruling out men. I know affectionate physical gestures between heterosexual men are generally seen as a bit peculiar and even threatening, but I've never felt that. Why shouldn't men get the same pleasure from a kiss or a hug as women?

It may come as a shock to some (or it may not) that I've kissed hundreds of men. The explanation is simple. When I supported the Gay Liberation Front in the early 1970s it was the custom at meetings to greet your friends with a kiss. Not wanting to appear unfriendly or staid or homophobic, I followed suit and merrily kissed every man I met, even casual acquaintances. It was greatly enjoyable.

But for most men, shaking hands is all they can manage. My brother in law is strictly a hand-shaker, and clearly very suspicious of anything more affectionate. He doesn't know what he's missing.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Alive and kicking

There's a British TV drama right now called "Marriage", which depicts marriage as being boring, frustrating and claustro-phobic. It may seem like a blissful union to start with, is the message, but as time goes by it'll become something very tedious and joyless.

Most of the critics agreed. Marriage sooner or later turns rotten, this is a brilliant portrayal of what it becomes, telling it like it is etc.

Well, Jenny and I couldn't recognise this depressing view of marriage. Is the typical long-term marriage really so dismal and vacuous? Are couples really so non-communicative, so ground-down, so forlorn?

Our marriage may go back 27 years but as far as we're concerned it's still very much a "blissful union" and we don't at all feel it's degenerated into something tedious and joyless. We get on very well, we enjoy doing things together, we have wonderful conversations about everything under the sun, we resolve our differences easily, and there's lots of laughter and excitement.

We don't feel there's anything lacking in our relationship. We don't think that maybe we'd be better off with someone else. We don't think we've taken some wrong turning and landed up somewhere we don't want to be. We're very happy just where we are.

If the average marriage really is as dismal as this TV drama makes out, I feel sorry for all those couples trapped in such an unsatisfying situation. Did they just marry the wrong person in the first place, have they simply lost interest in each other, or do they lack the skills needed to reinvigorate a tired relationship?

All I can say is, Jenny and I are very lucky our marriage hasn't become so "hollowed out" and is still alive and kicking.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Enough is enough

Why do some people think it's okay to force their beliefs or their principles onto others, along with abuse, threats and self-righteous moralising? Where does this creeping authoritarianism come from?

An Isle of Wight restaurant has stopped offering vegan dishes because of "nasty" and "bullying" vegans who constantly complained about what was on offer.

They used to cater for vegans. They had vegan cream teas, even BLT sandwiches with vegan bacon. But they got tired of the "holier than thou" attitude of vegan customers and the abuse directed at restaurant staff.

Now they have no vegan dishes at all. Owner Sally Cooper says it isn't a given that they should adapt their menus to suit the customers. "If you want vegan food, go to a vegan restaurant. If I went to a vegan restaurant and asked for a steak I wouldn't get one, nor would I expect to."

Jenny and I are both vegetarians, and we're sometimes disappointed by the small number of vegetarian options on a restaurant's menu, but we wouldn't dream of telling the restaurant to change its menu for our convenience. If we're not happy, we can always go somewhere else.

We accept that most people are meat-eaters, and very unlikely to change, so of course restaurant menus are going to be meat-based. We just have to work around that situation to cater for our own tastes.

It would be a shame if people concluded that vegans are rude intolerant individuals who just want to force their own dietary preferences onto other people. As anyone with vegan friends could tell you, that's not the case.

Pic: the restaurant in Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Something to loathe

When I'm constantly reading about other people's obsession with their bodies and what they look like, all the bits they dislike and want to change, I wonder why I give so little thought to my own body and why I'm not fretting in similar vein about all the bits I'm dissatisfied with.

As long as I look fairly normal and don't have four ears or twenty fingers, I take my body for granted and only give it serious attention when I'm buying clothes or shaving or showering. The rest of the time my body might be non-existent, just a sort of ghostly form hovering around me.

Why would I dislike my nose, or mouth, or hair, or tummy bulge, or protruding ears, or wobbly bits or wrinkles? They just are what they are. I've much more interesting things to think about than my skinny lips or my bald patch.

People often explain their bodily discontent by saying they lack self-confidence and changing this thing they dislike would give them a boost. But surely self-confidence stems from something far more basic than your physical appearance?

Or is it absolutely natural to dislike bits of your body, meaning I'm some kind of weirdo for not doing so? Should I be peering in the mirror every morning and finding something I loathe? Should I be desperately unhappy about my tummy bulge and planning some plastic surgery?

No, I refuse to abhor my body. It's not the ideal male body (whatever that might be) but it's good enough for me. Other people might think I could "improve" something or other but their opinions don't interest me.

I'm leaving my sticky-out ears just as they are, thanks. Sticky-out ears are super-cool.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Clothing watch

Why the endless media obsession with the clothes worn by celebs? Who made them, how much they cost, whether they've been worn more than once, which celeb is wearing the most stunning dress etc.

Right now, it's the politicians who're being scrutinised. Like the two MPs vying to be the next Prime Minister. Apparently Rishi Sunak was wearing £450 shoes from Prada, while Liz Truss was wearing £4.50 earrings from Claire's Accessories.

Why on earth does it matter? Does Rishi Sunak's choice of shoes mean he'll make a better Prime Minister? Do they mean he's profligate and squanders money, while Liz Truss is more financially prudent and spends frugally? No, I don't think so either.

Male MPs usually manage to avoid clothing-censure by wearing the standard masculine uniform - shirt, tie and (dark-coloured) suit. If they ever dared to wear anything more casual, they'd get a swift rebuke. Woe betide the MP who turns up in purple hair, a pink suit and Crocs.

The obsession with celebrity clothing peaks at award ceremonies. All the female attendees are expected to wear some sensational outfit, and there's frenzied discussion of which celeb trounced all the others.

The celebs squeeze themselves into some tight-fitting ensemble they can hardly breathe in, just to make the maximum impression on the clothing-watchers. Apparently Kim Kardashian lost over a stone to get into a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe.

Celebs are regularly ticked off for wearing scruffy casual clothes on an everyday shopping trip, as if they're somehow "letting down their fans" or "letting themselves go". Are they seriously expected to go shopping in a Dior gown and stilettos?

Final thought: If President Zelensky can do his job in a t shirt and combat pants, why can't British MPs?

Monday, 1 August 2022

There were benefits

Up to now I've always looked back on my boarding school years in a very negative way. I was bullied constantly, the quality of teaching was poor, emotions were suspect, I had to play rugby and cricket though I had no interest in sport, there was a big emphasis on religion though I was an atheist and so on.

But the school did have its benefits, some of which have greatly improved my life, and I need to acknowledge those benefits.

Alcohol was forbidden, smoking was forbidden, and drugs weren't available since the rest of the town was "out of bounds". There was no gambling. So there was no chance of becoming any kind of addict. Sex and dating were forbidden, so there was no risk of getting a girl pregnant or having under-age sex. Or for that matter becoming a sex addict. And being cut off from the town, there was little chance of committing crimes like shoplifting or vandalism.

On the other hand, we could listen to whatever music we fancied, so I heard every possible variety of rock music as every boy had his own favourite singer or band. And the only albums I had to pay for were for my own favourite singer of the time, Cliff Richard (Yes, believe it or not, Cliff Richard. Thankfully my musical tastes have changed for the better).

So I emerged from my adolescence as a clean-living, almost strait-laced young man, free of any addictions or psychological hang-ups, and able to get on with my life in a straightforward, uncomplicated way.

I've continued to be a clean-living individual, not in thrall to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sexual promiscuity or any other unhelpful habits. Which to some people may sound horribly boring, but it's a lifestyle that suits me just fine.

So at my ripe old age, my memories of boarding school have finally mellowed.

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

An old cliché

There are so many much-repeated words of wisdom that make little sense when you start thinking about them. Like the old cliché "money can't buy you happiness".

Well, it partly depends on the person, doesn't it? Some people find that having plenty of money makes them extremely happy. Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger look happy enough.

Other people may find that wealth brings unhappiness in its wake - begging letters, the paparazzi, bogus media stories, endless public scrutiny and judgment, lack of privacy.

But a load of money certainly makes everyday life easier - you're not worrying endlessly about how to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Naturally the millionaires and billionaires try to ward off other people's envy and ease their own guilt by making out that having lots of money might be more of a liability than a benefit. But I don't see many of them disposing of their super-yachts and country mansions in order to be happier.

I think lots of people are firmly convinced that money CAN buy you happiness. How else to explain those incredibly expensive and elaborate weddings? Or all those fancy gas-guzzling 4X4 cars? Or all those luxury barbecue grills?

Personally I think happiness comes from living the life that's right for you, in the place that's right for you, having a compatible partner and having a few close friends. None of those things are dependent only on money, though money may oil the wheels a little.

But it's nice to have enough cash to splash out at the supermarket and not fret over every penny you're spending.

Tammy: If you get round to reading this, I'm sorry to hear from Jean that you've had a stroke and  you're having trouble reading and typing. I hope you make a good recovery and it's soon back to "business as usual".

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Tied down

As you know, I'm ferociously opposed to ties, which I regard as totally pointless items of clothing - not suggesting professionalism as some would maintain but suggesting a mindless adherence to tradition.

Once again there's a huge fuss about men not wearing ties, in this case in the French parliament. Right-wing MPs are complaining that left-wing MPs in the France Unbowed Party (the FLI) are going tie-less. According to them the FLI MPs should be wearing ties as "a mark of respect due to our institutions and our compatriots".

Right-wing MPs in a letter have asked the parliament speaker to enforce an obligation to wear a tie in the chamber to prevent "more and more casual clothes". What on earth are they envisaging? MPs entering parliament in their pyjamas?

The LFI have replied that "in 2022 wearing a tie does not imply smart dress but more adhering to a particular social group".

Wouldn't the tie-fanatics be better employed making a fuss about something truly important, like poverty, the cost of living crisis, the destruction of Ukraine or climate breakdown?

Does it really matter that some MPs prefer not to wear a dangly thing around their neck?

Whoever drafted the parliamentary rule book clearly never considered this thorny issue. Apparently the rule book isn't specific on whether MPs should wear ties.

Perhaps the LFI should retaliate by insisting that the right-wingers should show more respect for the country's institutions by wearing a top hat and tails.

PS: I guess the only female equivalent to the tie is tights, which are uncomfortable and inconvenient but not entirely pointless - they can keep you warm.

Pic: French MP Adrien Quatennens

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Lying dead

I'm always taken aback by accounts of someone lying dead for weeks - or months or even years - before their dead body is discovered. I'm especially taken aback when it turns out they had dozens of neighbours, some of whom suspected the worst but were ignored when they raised the alarm.

The body of London woman Sheila Seleoane lay undiscovered for some 2½ years before the police finally broke down the front door and found her body.

She lived in a 20-flat block in Peckham. Several of the neighbours hadn't seen her for a while and had noticed an increasingly revolting smell. But when they contacted the housing association that owned the flats, and contacted the police, nothing was done, even though she hadn't paid any rent since August 2019.

You think it couldn't happen to your own neighbours, but it can. Some years ago the man living next door to us lay dead for several days before someone checked on him and discovered his dead body. He was very much a loner so it wasn't that surprising. Jenny and I had only met him a few times and he was never very friendly so we never got to know him.

It seems to be a very English thing that you don't have much to do with the neighbours. And of course if they go everywhere by car, you never bump into them on the street so there's little chance of befriending them.

It's not the case in Northern Ireland where people are much more likely to know their neighbours and would actively investigate if someone hadn't been seen for a few days. It's hard to imagine a person here being dead for several years without anyone knowing. We know most of our immediate neighbours and would certainly ask questions if they hadn't been seen for a while.

But what an awful way to go - gradually decomposing while your neighbours go about their daily routines.

PS: An inquest into her death will be held on Thursday

Pic: Sheila Seleoane's front door

Friday, 15 July 2022

Harder than I thought

What I've realised as I get older is that things that seemed very easy when I was young are actually much harder than they look. I was simply too ignorant to be aware of the complexities.

  • Like pregnancy. I always wondered why new mothers were congratulated. Surely giving birth was a doddle, something any woman could do in her sleep. I was totally unaware of all the possible obstacles - infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancies, birth defects. I gradually realised congratulations are quite justified, given all the possible pitfalls.
  • Like grief. I used to think grief was something very temporary, a short period of anguish that soon gave way to a calmer outlook. It took me a while to realise grief can be quite overwhelming, deeply traumatic and can last for months, years, or even an entire lifetime. It can't just be "shaken off" like a winter cold.
  • Like divorce. Why all the fuss? A couple don't get on any more, so they split up and go their separate ways. All very straightforward. It gradually dawned on me that it can be immensely painful not only for the couple themselves but for any children they have. The sense of failure and inadequacy and guilt can be huge.
  • Like moving house. You just buy a house and move in, right? Certainly that's how I saw the family's move when I was 13. I was blithely unaware of the buying process, all the preparations for moving, and then the whole settling in palaver. I suppose partly because I was at school, and partly because I didn't have to do any of the donkey work. It was only when Jenny and I bought our first flat that we realised what a nightmare the whole process is.
If it looks easy, it probably isn't.