Thursday, 25 May 2023

My whole life

At the age of 76, I've now known every stage of human existence, from childhood to old age, so I have a total life experience. I know what it's like to be a child, to be middle aged, and to be nearing the end of my life. No longer do I have a vast and unknown sweep of life ahead of me, but I've got the whole picture.

I know what it's like to be a child, fitting in with my parents' beliefs and prohibitions, largely innocent of adulthood and its horrors and liabilities, free to enjoy my childhood games and obsessions without having to think about bills or mortgages or roof repairs.

I've met the challenges of middle age, when you're constantly exhausted by the demands of full-time work, household maintenance, looking after elderly parents, and maybe raising several children. You're rushing from one task to another with little time to explore your own needs and desires.

And now I'm in the throes of old age, adjusting to all the minor dysfunctions of my ancient body, hoping I'll have enough money for however long I'm alive, hoping I won't develop dementia and become a useless vegetable (but also knowing the joys of retirement and not being in thrall to some vicious boss).

In particular, it's great being able to look back at my entire life, knowing exactly what happened to me and what I did with whatever opportunities arose. I know my life has been a success and not some string of disasters and miscalculations. When I was living on my own in the 1970s, I was rather pessimistic about the future, and had no idea things would work out so well.

The once unknown future has revealed itself.

Sunday, 21 May 2023

Cynicism be gone

One of the challenges of old age is not to be overwhelmed by cynicism, not to be jaundiced by all my knowledge of life's tricks and dodges but to still be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and optimistic about what the future might bring.

There are too many oldies who sink into unrelenting scepticism, scoffing at everything in sight and refusing to believe anyone could be honest or decent or well-meaning.

Yes, I'm aware of all the corrupt politicians, profiteering businesses, bullying bosses and foot-dragging bureaucrats, but I don't allow them to poison my general view of life or my attitudes to other people.

I've had a few periods of acute cynicism over the years, which didn't do me any good but only spoiled my enjoyment of life and turned me into a miserable sod.

Cynicism is apparently bad for your health too. A research study in 2014 found that people with high levels of cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism.

It strikes me that cynicism is closely related to misanthropy - disliking human beings and avoiding human society. But I'm not misanthropic. I don't (in general) hate human beings, I just find the behaviour of some of them baffling and peculiar. I certainly wouldn't actively shun human company, that seems a rather eccentric thing to do.

One thing that feeds cynicism is that unpleasant experiences stick in the memory more vividly than pleasant ones. I'll remember someone who shouted abuse at the bus driver but I won't remember the person who gave up their seat to an unsteady oldie. From there it's easy to generalise quite wrongly about how nasty people are.

Cynicism, be gone. I have no use for you.

Wednesday, 17 May 2023


A woman has admitted to agony aunt Philippa Perry that she finds her obese father "disgusting" and hates being around him. She says "How do I get through to him that he needs to address his weight?"

I have to admit that I'm mildly "fatphobic" myself, even though I know very well that a person's weight is often beyond their control because of medicines they're taking, or their genetics, or a hormonal aberration, or addictive food.

I like to think that all you need do to stay thin is to have a bit of self-control and not to eat too much, but of course it's not that simple.

Philippa Perry scolds the woman in question for being fatphobic and lacking compassion and empathy. She points out that 64% of the population are classed as overweight and that 64% is full of wonderful, funny, intelligent and kind people. She rejects the out-of-date idea that they're weak-willed gluttons.

Nevertheless I confess that as a thin person I sometimes find it hard to see past someone's size and focus on their personality. Very prejudiced of me I know but it's hard to shake off such an engrained habit.

I guess my mother had something to do with it, as she was herself rather fatphobic and would always make whispered remarks to me about someone's size.

I like to think that when I was growing up most people were thin, which proves that people can be thin if they really want to be. But my erratic memory is probably deceiving me once again.

Okay, I plead guilty, I'm not as right-on as I think I am.

Pic: Beth Ditto

Saturday, 13 May 2023

Tipping point

According to one newspaper article, companies in the States are getting quite aggressive about urging customers to leave generous tips - even in self-checkout situations where no staff are needed, and in situations where tips haven't previously been the norm.

In the UK there's no similar pressure by companies to give tips, and it's still very much up to the individual whether they tip or not.

Jenny and I usually give tips to cabbies, restaurant staff, hairdressers, housekeeping staff in hotels, and sometimes to coffee shop staff. We don't refuse to give a tip unless we've had very bad service or a very bad experience of some kind.

We know that most of the people we give tips to are likely to be financially stretched and probably rely on tips to make ends meet. They may very well be getting no more than the legal minimum wage for working in tough conditions for long hours.

Of course they should be earning a decent wage that lets them be free of money worries, but the reality is that they're not getting a decent wage and probably never will be.

An interesting tip situation arose on our recent trip to Edinburgh. The hotel had a policy of not servicing rooms unless the guest asked for it, presumably to reduce the number of staff needed and reduce the amount of laundry.

That was fine by us, except that we only had our room serviced once so that leaving a tip for that one day seemed excessive and we didn't leave one. Unfortunately if other guests thought the same then the housekeeping staff's income from tips must have been drastically reduced. Did the hotel raise their wages accordingly to compensate? Somehow I doubt it.

Friday, 5 May 2023

A small penalty

One of the small penalties (if that's the right word) of having a big and fully furnished house is that you have to constantly resist the temptation to buy more bits and pieces, however beautiful or sentimental or nostalgic they may be.

Yes, I know, first world problem and all that, some people don't even own a tent let alone a house, but nevertheless for us possession-laden oldies it's a very real dilemma.

Jenny and I look in a shop window and see a lovely jug or vase or bowl or ornament that would look great in our living room or kitchen or bedroom, and we have to steel ourselves to simply admire it and then regretfully pass by. It's either that or we end up with a house full of clutter and increasing buyer's remorse - blaming ourselves for not being more disciplined.

It makes me realise how people can accumulate so many possessions that the huge surplus has to be stored in a garage, or the attic, or a storage facility - or all three. Temptation is impossible to resist and those impulsive purchases keep piling up.

Jenny's dad was keen on blue and white pottery. It was on display all over the house on shelves and mantelpieces and dressers. There wasn't quite enough to cause a serious storage problem but it was getting that way.

It's strange thinking back to my days in a one-room bedsit, when I had hardly any possessions, a far cry from a house full. There was barely enough room for a few clothes and books and a small amount of food. There was no way I could be tempted into buying anything I absolutely didn't need.


This is bizarre. Blogger has deleted two of my old posts for "violating our illegal activities policy". As they don't explain why the posts are illegal, and the posts themselves have been deleted, I have no idea what they're referring to. Update 13 May: I asked Blogger to review their deletions and they instantly reinstated the posts. I still have no idea why they were deleted in the first place!

Monday, 1 May 2023

In the nude

What is it about nude statues that gets people so worked up? Time after time nude statues are declared to be obscene and have to be covered up or removed. What causes this absurd over-reaction?

The latest statue to incur vigorous protests is the statue of a mermaid at Monopoli in South East Italy. It's said to be unrealistic, with large breasts and a large bottom.

Adolfo Marciano, head teacher at the Luigi Rosso art school, whose students created the sculpture, said "The mermaid is like a tribute to the great majority of women who are curvy, especially in our country. It would have been very bad if we had represented a woman who was extremely skinny."

Anyway, who says a statue has to be "realistic"? The whole point of art surely is that artists can express themselves however they want. If art always had to be realistic, an awful lots of famous sculptures and paintings would have to be scrapped.

But this sort of controversy over an art work is a regular occurrence. The head teacher of a Florida school was forced to resign in March after parents complained they weren't told that lessons would feature Michelangelo's David, which one of them said was pornographic.

In 2002 the US Justice Department was reported to have spent thousands of dollars on curtains to hide a number of nude statues from photo ops. Three years later they changed their mind and removed the curtains.

So what is it about a nude artwork that gets people so steamed up? It's simply a depiction of the human body and all its physical features. Why do they find the human body so embarrassing? Have they never seen one before?

Pic: the controversial statue

Thursday, 27 April 2023

Over emotional

One of the things that makes modern life difficult is that so many people no longer simply express their emotions, they have to act them out in as many ways as possible. They have to "perform" their emotions.

They don't just get angry, they shout, they're abusive, they throw things, they issue threats, they attack people. They aren't just happy, they jump up and down with excitement, they tell everyone how ecstatic they are, they expect everyone to gush and enthuse.

This is what I would call over-emotional. Meaning not that you express too many emotions, or that you have an emotional reaction to just about everything, but that you act out your emotions instead of keeping them to yourself.

It must be terribly exhausting for those concerned. Isn't it enough to say you're angry and what you're angry about? Why go to such lengths to "prove" your emotions?

And yes, you've guessed it, I tend not to go that far. I usually express my emotions quite simply, without any fireworks - which rather disconcerts those who are more emotionally effusive.

So I'm rather bemused when someone on the telly is waxing euphoric about the meal they've just cooked, or the valuable antique they found in a junk shop, or their newly updated bathroom. You'd think they'd just won a fortune in the lottery (now that might well merit waxing euphoric).

People who make a meal of their emotions used to be unusual. They used to be dismissed as drama queens. Nowadays drama queens are two a penny and it's the emotionally reserved who're the oddballs.

Sunday, 23 April 2023

Dodgy adults

People tell their children to behave like an adult - or behave like a grown-up. Either way that leaves plenty of scope as the behaviour of most adults is far from exemplary. The reality is that adults:

  • Lie
  • Make things up
  • Commit crimes
  • Drink too much
  • Eat too much
  • Smoke
  • Drive dangerously
  • Sell addictive drugs
  • Start wars
  • Cheat on their spouses
If anything, children should be telling adults to behave more like children. Because most of those adult tendencies/ nasty habits are absent in children, who still boast healthy and harmless lifestyles. They may lie or make things up, but that's about it.

Adults are in fact a thoroughly bad influence on children, and nothing like as superior as they would like to think. Unfortunately there are adults everywhere you look and children are easily swayed by them.

The average adult, if promoted as a role model for children, would probably be horrified. They would say, for goodness sake don't copy me with all my neuroses and all my failings. Find somebody more worthy of inspiring you.

So the immediate question when told to behave like an adult would have to be - which adult? Do I behave like Uncle Charlie, who drinks like a fish, flirts outrageously and drives like a maniac? Or do I behave like Aunt Delia, who's sensible and considerate and kind?

When I was young, I was indeed inspired by a lot of adults. Not because they were adults but because they had qualities that I admired and wanted for myself. I was especially influenced by an English teacher who made mastering English a whole lot of fun. Yes, he was an adult but that was irrelevant.

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Without kids

Author Ruby Warrington says in her book "Women Without Kids" that ever since she got married she's constantly told she should be having children and that she's selfish and damaged for opting out.

It's not just remarks from other people. Everywhere she goes there are adverts for pregnancy tests, baby products and other child-related items. She sometimes feels ashamed that she doesn't have a maternal yearning, and used to wonder if there was something wrong with her.

Well, frankly I wonder what sort of people she's associating with, if so many of them are questioning her childlessness. As far as I can recall, nobody has ever suggested to me or Jenny that we should have had children.

We're often asked if we have children or not, but no one suggests that there's something wrong with us if we don't. Our parents may have wanted us to have children, but if so they never said.

Given the shocking state of Britain right now, with public services crumbling and the cost of everything rocketing, and all the evidence of climate breakdown, it's amazing that people still feel confident enough to have children. Goodness knows what sort of world they'll encounter by the time they're adults.

Then again, if nobody had children, who would look after oldies like us in our dotage? We'd be left high and dry.

Anyway, those people who chastise women (and surprise surprise it's usually women who're admonished, not men) should mind their own business and stop trying to guilt-trip the happily child-free.

Saturday, 15 April 2023

Kids deprived

Urban parents want their children to be able to play in the street, as they did themselves when they were young, but increasingly they're being forced to keep their children indoors because of complaints from neighbours and local councils and because of heavy traffic.

Neighbours are objecting to balls landing in their gardens or hitting their cars, and councils are saying that the children are causing a nuisance, obstructing the highway and making people feel "unsafe" in their homes.

When I was young I didn't play in the street myself but plenty of other kids did and I don't recall any complaints from anyone. In those days people were more tolerant and didn't see any problem with boisterous children.

Allowing children to play in the street gives them a lot more freedom than if they're stuck indoors and constantly watched by their parents. It's a shame that the practice is dying out.

Increasing traffic doesn't help either, as it makes roads more dangerous and chokes them with parked cars that might get damaged. In many residential areas there's a 20 mph limit but drivers don't always stick to it.

Emma Wreyford in Bristol has an 11 year old daughter. "It should be such a lovely age for that sort of outdoor play but it's almost impossible. Here the car is king and public space is there for the rights of drivers to store their cars."

I don't see any obvious answer to the problem. Cars aren't going to conveniently disappear and intolerant neighbours are unlikely to suddenly be more tolerant. A lot of children are being deprived of a sense of freedom our generation took for granted.

Tuesday, 11 April 2023


When I was growing up the idea of "bad taste" was commonplace and most people took care not to do or say anything that was "in bad taste".

My parents were constantly telling me I shouldn't do this or that because it would be in bad taste. Anything sexually too explicit, anything that insulted the dead, anything too critical of other people's appearance. All sorts of things were frowned on.

Today the idea of bad taste seems to be fading rapidly. Politicians and celebrities and journalists say the most outrageous things and get away with it. They might be briefly criticised but that's it. On social media there's no idea of bad taste at all and people say exactly what they want, including rape threats, death threats and all sorts of violent intimidation.

In fact for many people nowadays "bad taste" doesn't even refer to questionable behaviour, but only to an unfashionable personal choice, like orange wallpaper or shag pile rugs.

Some people scoff at the idea of bad taste and admire those who "tell it like it is". In practice this just seems to mean pouring out streams of invective against anybody and everybody, and not caring who you're upsetting or belittling.

But I was so thoroughly conditioned by my upbringing to avoid anything that was in bad taste that it's virtually impossible to change. I'm still very careful not to say or do anything controversial, anything that goes beyond the bounds of polite socialising. There's no way I could simply blurt out whatever comes to mind, however shocking or repulsive.

Other people's over-the-top comments never cease to amaze me.

Friday, 7 April 2023

Public peeing

The complaints are piling up about public peeing. In other words people (mainly men) frantic for a pee, relieving themselves anywhere they fancy and sod the local residents who have to clear up the mess.

Partly it's because so many public toilets have closed due to funding cuts to local councils - half of them have gone in ten years - and partly it's because time-honoured inhibitions about public behaviour are lapsing.

If you're in a city centre, there will be shops with toilets. But if not, what are you supposed to do if you're desperate? You'll resort to any place where you don't think you're observed and let rip.

Obviously it's behaviour that most people find disgusting and anti-social, but what alternative is there when public toilets are rapidly disappearing? Are you supposed to pee in your pants? Are you supposed to knock on someone's door and ask to use the toilet? Are you supposed to stay at home?

At the same time people are less inhibited about their behaviour in public and more likely to just do as they think fit. When I was growing up peeing in public was totally taboo but that taboo has lapsed a bit in the meantime, along with taboos about audience behaviour, not cheating in exams, blatant lying and all the rest.

Westminster Council in London is trying a new deterrent - hydrophobic paint. It's water-repellent, meaning that anyone who pees against it will get splashback on their trousers and shoes. Of course people who're blind drunk probably won't even notice the splashback, but it's worth a try.

No chance at all of getting more public toilets. The British government is cutting public services to the bone, which means more toilet closures, not less.

Monday, 3 April 2023

Dream homes

I'm very glad we moved into a house a few years' back that needed absolutely nothing doing to it. It had plenty of rooms sensibly laid out, it had an extension, it was structurally sound. We could just move in and relax.

I've read so many horror stories of people who decided to get work done on their house and ran into endless difficulties. Trying to find a builder who wasn't already snowed under with jobs. The price constantly rising. An ongoing shortage of skilled builders and building materials.

At the same the media are always showing us "dream homes" and urging us to refresh our "tired" home've guessed it, getting the builders in! Be careful what you wish for, as they say.

There does seem to be a general fashion these days for "doing up" your home rather than being content with what you already have.

When I was a child, I don't remember anyone in our street re-doing their house. It would have been regarded as pointless extravagance. Our house was cramped but it never occurred to my parents to build an extension. They eventually moved to a larger house when I was 13, and never added an extension to that one either.

I'm not sure my parents even imagined a "dream home". If they did, I suspect it was simply one that was well looked-after. My father was forever repainting one room after another and keeping all the windows clean. That was good enough for him.

Dream homes are fun to read about but for us that's as far as it goes.

Wednesday, 29 March 2023

False impressions

When Jenny and I first moved to Belfast in 2000, a lot of people were puzzled by our decision. Why Belfast, they asked? What was wrong with London? So do you think you'll be staying there for good or might you be moving back to England?

Well, we couldn't understand all the fuss. We'd had holidays in Northern Ireland several times and really liked the country and the people. There were beauty spots everywhere, property was much much cheaper than London, and there wasn't the ubiquitous congestion - on the roads, on the trains, on the buses.

Londoners constantly fed news headlines about terrorism, bombs and paramilitaries assumed we would be dicing with death every time we popped out to the shops. The reality of course is that there are small pockets of violence but 95 per cent of the country is as safe as anywhere in England. Actually crime levels where we live in East Belfast are almost zero compared with crime levels in Islington, North London, where we used to live. In Islington car thefts, muggings and burglaries were routine occurrences.

I mention all this because the new TV drama Blue Lights, which focuses on the police force in Belfast, suggests that Belfast is nothing but a hotbed of violence and disorder that the police struggle to cope with.

In fact the drama is set mainly in a specific area of West Belfast where violence and disorder are indeed a constant feature. But other parts of Belfast, like our own East Belfast neighbourhood, are almost embarrassingly sedate and sleepy. The only sign of violence is a grand old house being noisily demolished.

We would say that our quality of life here is a lot better than in London. The Big Smoke is vastly overrated - and totally unaffordable.

Pic: The lovely Belmont Park, five minutes' walk from our house.

Saturday, 25 March 2023

Unbearable noise

Some people find everyday noises so disturbing they have to get away from them. They simply can't endure someone chewing gum, tapping their fingers, slurping tea, snoring or sniffing. As yet it's not clear why they react so strongly to sounds most people would just find slightly irritating.

I see there's a word for this common condition - misophonia. I'm glad to say I don't have any such aversion to certain sounds. There are lots of things that slightly annoy me but no more than that.

Jenny has a strong antipathy to tea-slurping, noisy food-chewing, snoring and sniffing. Whether her antipathy is greater than other people's I have no idea. But it means I have to be careful to avoid the habits that set her off.

It's estimated that 18 per cent of the population have misophonia - an extraordinary figure that amounts to 12 million people. They often think they're alone because it's something that's hardly ever discussed. Apparently there's an assumption that women are more prone to it than men, but that isn't the case.

There are some sounds you might think would drive me crazy, but for some reason they don't. When we lived in a flat in London, the woman upstairs was forever walking round the flat in high heels. She made quite a racket but I was able to disregard it. Likewise another flat-neighbour had a hacking cough throughout the day and often during the night as well. I imagine both sounds would drive misophonics clean round the bend.

One advantage of blogging is that my blogmates aren't exposed to whatever noisy habits I might be guilty of. I might be slurping my tea like a thirsty elephant but nobody knows except me.

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

Power junkies

I've never understood those people who're obsessed with power. People who're desperate to be the Prime Minister, or the chief exec of some huge company, or a police officer or a judge. Some job in which they can disrupt other people's lives, tell them what to do and what not to do, cause them pleasure or misery.

I'm reflecting on power junkies because of Boris Johnson's frantic attempts to be reinstated as prime minister and his reluctance to accept that he's had his day, he's disgraced himself, and he ought to just sit quietly on parliament's back benches.

I've never wanted power. I was always happy in quite low-level jobs where I had no power over anyone but I was just enjoying what I did.

In any case, people who gain power often find they don't have as much power as they were expecting. Former prime ministers for example have complained that their hands were often tied by legal restraints, rebellious MPs, unpredictable voters, media scrutiny and unexpected crises. How much power you have is always subject to other people's behaviour.

But that doesn't stop people wanting power. They love the adrenaline surge of having control over other people's lives, as well as always being in the public eye and indulging their pet obsessions. And like Boris, once they lose that power, they're desperate to have it back.

And unfortunately they often misuse that power. We're all aware of the regular reports of bribery, corruption, sexual abuse and nepotism linked to people in high office. They think they can get away with it and they frequently do.

I'm glad the power gene passed me by.

Thursday, 16 March 2023

Back home

I never considered moving back to my parents' house as a young adult, but more and more children are doing so as the cost of living crisis continues.

The number of adult children living with their parents in the UK has jumped to five million, with more than half those aged 19 to 23 doing so.

Parents aren't necessarily happy about it, if they've got used to having the home for themselves. And they may be distressed that their child is finding life so difficult.

I never thought of returning to the parental home, as I'd never been close to my parents, and as my father had taken an active dislike to me. We'd have driven each other nuts in no time. In any case, I would have felt very restricted by having always to allow for my parents' attitudes and scrutiny.

Also there was no cost of living crisis at the time (the seventies in London). My year as an undergraduate was paid for by the state so I had no outstanding student loans. I lived in a rented bed sit with minimal costs for gas and electricity. I didn't need a car as public transport was excellent. My salary was more than adequate. So there was nothing to make reverting to the parental home a serious option.

So what if I'd got on famously with my parents and my financial situation was dire, would I have moved back in with them? Maybe. But I'd have to have got on with them extremely well. And how many children get on with their parents extremely well (as opposed to somehow rubbing along)? Not that many, from what I can gather.

Saturday, 11 March 2023

Who is Jane?

Most novelists seem to assume that their readers all have photo-graphic memories and can follow every twist and turn of their books without the author's help. Even if the plot is labyrinthine and the book is overflowing with characters, you're expected to keep track of it all quite effortlessly.

Unfortunately some of us have such appalling memories we find it hard to keep up and could do with a little assistance from the author to ward off galloping confusion.

The sort of thing that bugs me:

  • A chapter that starts without naming the character and you're supposed to know who it is by their physical description on page two.
  • Mention of a character's tragic accident sometime in the past, and you're meant to remember what was the tragic accident.
  • A character who refers to his "harrowing" divorce. Why was it harrowing? Was that explained somewhere?
  • A character with a voluminous back story that's impossible to remember but fifty pages on it becomes crucial to the plot and you're meant to be familiar with it.
  • A character called Jane suddenly appears on page 77. Is this a new character or was she mentioned earlier in the book?
Well, you get the general idea. Maybe some authors think it's insulting people's intelligence to keep clarifying details you might have forgotten. But that's preferable to finishing a book in a state of confusion because the reader is assumed to be absorbing everything with sponge-like efficiency. I'm afraid not. My memory is more like some slippery surface that things may or may not stick to.

How wonderful it would be if on seeing Jane on page 77 I'd think, Ah yes, she's Tim's cousin, she has short cropped hair, she's allergic to peanuts and her roof leaks.

Fat chance.

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Even worse

Three years ago, I lamented that the assumption that every succeeding generation would do better for themselves than the previous one seemed to be dead and buried. I noted all the ways in which the young were now worse off than their parents and grandparents. I never imagined things would get even worse. But they have.

Job conditions and salaries are worse, homes are even less affordable, zero-hours and part-time contracts are more common, personal debt is colossal, there are even longer waits for medical treatment, and the interest rate for student loans has increased.

When I look back on my younger days, it's hard to believe I had it so good. Salaries were generous, homes were relatively cheap, most jobs were permanent (and often included annual bonuses), I was never in debt (except later on with a mortgage), and medical treatment was prompt.

My year as an undergraduate now seems extraordinary. I got free tuition, a maintenance grant and a travel grant. If I did a degree now, I'd be up to my eyeballs in debt, and paying it off for years to come.

Some youngsters blame us oldies for this deterioration, which is nonsense because we oldies have always wanted people's lives to get better, not worse. It's the politicians who've presided over a flagging economy and crumbling public services. It was Prime Minister Tony Blair who ended free university tuition in 1998. It's successive governments that have allowed the growth in precarious job contracts. And it's the present government that has allowed the NHS to fall apart.

It must be very upsetting for parents that their children will be so much worse off. They must have wondered whether to have children at all, given the bleak future they'll be up against.

Friday, 3 March 2023

Doubt sets in

I've got to the age when I start to doubt some of my memories, seeing as they're so long ago and there may be nobody to corroborate them.

Certain memories I can rely on because there's physical evidence of them. I know I went to a certain prep school because the school's still there. Ditto my boarding school, my various workplaces, the houses and flats I've lived in, the cities I've visited, the famous people I've met. And so on.

But when it comes to entirely subjective memories, ones stored only inside my own head, after all this time can I really be sure they happened? Or that they happened in the way I seem to remember?

Was I really almost crushed by a falling chimney? Did I really almost drown at Southend beach? Was I really almost run over by a speeding car? Was I really bullied at boarding school as much as I make out? Did I really lock myself out of a hotel bedroom in Paris? Or are these memories greatly embroidered, or even totally fabricated? Am I confusing my own memories with something I read somewhere? There's no one to confirm that yes, my memories are accurate and not just a tangle of distortions and make-believe.

We all know that if we ask a dozen people for their recollections of an event, their accounts will probably differ wildly and the objective truth may be hard to find. In which case my own memories may be equally unreliable.

Unlike some celebs, I've never been tempted to re-invent my childhood to make it look more dramatic or exciting or extraordinary. My memory is so poor that a week later I would have forgotten what I invented.