Saturday, 24 July 2021

Armchair critics

What really struck me as I was watching an Amy Winehouse documentary last night (she died ten years ago yesterday) was how many people happily pontificate about who or what caused her death and heap blame on whoever they think pushed her over the edge.

People who never met Amy, know nothing about her except what they read in the media, but set themselves up as instant experts on her complex psychological state.

They'll casually pour scorn on her mother, her father or her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, also people they've never met, oblivious to the effect their vitriol might be having on the recipients.

All they're doing is adding insult to injury. Her parents, still struggling with deep grief ten years on, also have to fend off the endless barrage of accusations and derision from people who think they know better than her family and friends what might have saved her.

Who knows what could have saved her? She was clearly in a very bad way when she died, but rejected any type of therapy or professional help. She suffered from bulimia, alcoholism, a period of drug addiction, and was mentally and emotionally very fragile and unstable.

To begin with she enjoyed her sudden rise to fame, but that turned into another psychological hindrance she could have done without.

Her parents Mitch and Janis are adamant they did everything they could to help her but were constantly thwarted. They're obviously hurt and shaken by all the criticism from complete strangers.

These armchair critics would be better off minding their own business and reflecting on their own imperfections - which no doubt are numerous.

Monday, 19 July 2021

The flying ordeal

So to continue the plane theme, it's amazing what people like us put up with in economy class when we simply can't afford anything better. You can forget about comfort and convenience - they were long ago dispensed with in the search for bigger profits and maximum bums on seats.

  • For anything up to 12 hours, I'm stuck in a tiny seat with not enough room even to stretch my legs. Chances are the person in front will recline their seat to the utmost until it's about three inches from my face. If I ask them not to recline their seat, they'll likely be rude and defensive.
  • Moving around is strictly limited. In theory I can walk up and down the aisle, but with dozens of people doing the same, and cabin crew doling out meals and drinks, I'm forced into immobility. As I'm normally a physically restless person unable to sit for more than an hour or so, this lack of movement is torture.
  • Eating a meal is a nightmare. The tray table is so small I can't lay out the different items properly and I have to juggle them ingeniously to keep them all on the table and stop them falling on the floor. Needless to say the food itself is usually barely edible and only eaten because I'm starving.
  • If I'm in a window seat, I have to brace myself to tell the adjacent passenger/s I need the toilet, and be ready for the standard hard-done-by look. If I'm not in the window seat, I have to undo my seat belt, unplug my earphones and try not to look hard-done-by.
  • Odds are there are queues for the toilets and the people currently using them are taking so long they must be cutting their toenails, looking for their missing contact lens or weeping copiously. And if you need the toilet while meals are being served and the aisles are blocked, you're stuffed.
Which is why if I'm on a 12 hour flight, I insist on Premium Economy. At east I have a bit more room to manoeuvre.

PS: If I'd included all Jenny's comments on economy class, this post would have been twice as long!

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Casual flyers

I've always been captivated by planes. As someone with no understan-ding at all of aerodyn-amics, I constantly marvel that these incredibly heavy machines (the Dreamliner is 190 tons) somehow not only manage to take off but travel thousands of miles across the world with no visible means of support.

Jenny is even more captivated. She was an ardent plane spotter as a kid, and often visited Heathrow, which was close to her parents' house.

When we first met we were always financially stretched, so we didn't actually fly anywhere until 1994, when we went to Venice, Florence and Rome. Before I met Jenny my only flights were in a private plane flown by a friend's mother, and a short family hop from the now defunct Lympne Airfield in Kent to Paris.

Now of course we've flown all over the world and think nothing of it. Unfortunately millions of other people are equally casual flyers and the resulting pollution has made us rethink our flying habits. We may abandon long-haul trips altogether. But short-haul trips are unavoidable to go elsewhere in the UK.

I've never been afraid of flying. Planes are maintained to much higher standards than the average car, and besides, the flight crew don't want to die because of some botched repair job. If the crew are happy, so am I.

I do always wonder, when I'm in a really massive plane trundling down the runway, whether it'll actually take off or end up in the adjoining field, but of course it always does take off.

Our only edge-of-the-seat experience was when our plane from the US was coming in to land at Gatwick in thick fog. The pilot circled several times before deciding it was okay to land, and when the plane touched ground there was a huge round of applause from the passengers.

I could say something about in-flight conditions - and the food - but I'll leave that for another day.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

A helping hand

It's terrible getting old, people say. You've got aches and pains every-where, people don't respect you any more, you're baffled by all the new ways of doing things, you know death's just round the corner.

Well, actually life can be terrible at any age. As a child, you're always told what to do by other people, there are so many things you don't understand, you want things you can't buy, you're put in clothes you loathe, you're forced to spend time with distant uncles and aunts who mean nothing to you.

When you're middle-aged, you're loaded with ongoing responsibilities like bringing up children, looking after elderly parents, paying off a mortgage, building up a retirement fund, scrambling up the career ladder, coping with tyrannical bosses, maybe saddled with a huge overdraft.

Any age can be ghastly. But the real difference between one age and another is how much help and support you get.

Children have the support of their parents and relatives and siblings and teachers. They're surrounded by other people who want them to have happy and fulfilling lives.

The middle-aged are usually supported by a family network that helps with child-minding, ferrying children to school, giving parenting advice, providing loans and dealing with emergencies.

If they're lucky, older people will also have a family and friends to keep an eye on them, but they may not be so fortunate. Deaths may have wiped out their family and many of their friends and they may end up quite isolated and unable to get the support they need. They may struggle to keep their spirits up and get through their daily lives.

It's not old age that's the problem. It's whether you have a helping hand when you need it. Or preferably a whole bunch of helping hands.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Taken for granted

People who've been fortunate in life often take it for granted. They take their life and whatever they've achieved as the natural order of things - not the result of luck, family background, inheritance or where they live but as something that simply "happened".

I've never had that attitude. I've never taken anything for granted, and I'm very aware that some bizarre twist of fate could take away all those things I'm accustomed to overnight. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is cast in stone, life can change utterly in a moment.

I think taking things for granted is a good definition of entitlement. Instead of thanking your lucky stars for being so fortunate, you feel you have what you have because you're entitled to it.

It makes a big difference if your life only took a turn for the better as you got older. If you've always had a privileged life and never had to struggle for a step upward, then you're more likely to take things as a matter of course.

If your early life was deprived or constrained, then you realise you can't take anything for granted and when things improve you always have a sense that life is precarious, fragile, that nothing is as solid as it seems.

In my late twenties I didn't have much money, I lived in a spartan bedsit, I had few friends and my father wouldn't speak to me. As my life gradually brightened over the years, I enjoyed the change but I was never complacent about it. I knew so much was down to luck or being in the right place at the right time.

Your life is more precarious than you think. As a deadly virus has been reminding us for many months.

Friday, 2 July 2021

Back chat

Up till two years ago I never suffered any troubling physical pain, which at the age of 72 was both wonderful and remarkable. But that changed when I was pruning a bush in the garden, straightened up a bit too fast and had an agonising back seizure.

Luckily the pain stopped a few days later, but I was left with an intermittent back ache, and occasional pain, which has persisted ever since. I've no idea what's causing it and I don't think my doctor does either. When I spoke to her on the phone a few days ago she thought it was a "musculo-skeletal weakness" and said she would refer me to a physiotherapist.

Chronic pain afflicts an awful lot of people - over 40 per cent of the UK population. Some 17 per cent suffer from back pain. Yet back pain is still hard to diagnose because there are so many possible causes. Which means it's also hard to treat successfully.

After two friends recommended it, I tried a chiropractor who relieved me of a large sum of money but had no effect at all on my back.

I must say I was disappointed by the doctor's response. Obviously I have a "musculo-skeletal weakness" (how vague is that?) but the question is, what's causing it? I was expecting her to suggest scans or X rays or some other investigation but she didn't. I'm doubtful physiotherapy is the answer, as some years ago I saw a physiotherapist for a different condition and she concluded that physio wasn't helping me and wasn't the right treatment.

My back ache/pain is especially annoying when it spoils one of my favourite activities - walking. It often occurs after I've been walking for 20 minutes or so. It's bearable but it mars my enjoyment somewhat.

All I can do is keep googling back ache and see if anything useful comes up.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Half a tree

I'm always fascinated by neighbour disputes. They're usually so bizarre you couldn't make them up. Endless rows about things that seem utterly trivial, things that could have been resolved rapidly over a friendly cup of tea.

A Sheffield couple complained about the next-door fir tree that was overhanging their own driveway. They said pigeons were nesting in it, making a lot of noise and crapping on their car.

The adjacent family refused to have the tree either pruned or removed, so the fed-up neighbours got a tree surgeon to cut down the half of the tree that was over their driveway.

Not surprisingly, the other family were outraged, though there's little they can do as the law allows you to cut down overhanging tree branches. But the tree now looks pretty weird and naturally attracts a lot of comment.

What would I have done if I was the fed-up couple, I wonder? I can see their point about crapping pigeons, as pigeons often crap in our back garden. But abruptly cutting down half the tree is a rather drastic and aggressive solution.

I might have suggested cutting down the offending tree and planting a new tree well away from my own driveway. There are fast growing trees like eucalyptus that would look fine in a few years. But clearly the family for some reason are very attached to the fir tree.

Surely they knew that fir trees are potentially very large trees that can reach 262 feet (80 metres) and were likely to overhang the neighbours' property sooner or later? So why plant one in that unsuitable spot?

And how come there are no pigeons nesting in the remaining half of the tree?

Pic: the offending tree

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Positive ageing

We all know about the negatives of getting older. But what about the positives? There are plenty of them but they don't get so much attention.

Guardian columnist Emma Beddington has listed the things she likes about ageing, and there's a lot I would agree with. Namely:

  • Less fighting with my partner. This happened a lot when I first knew Jenny. Our arguments would go on for days before we managed to kiss and make up. Nowadays we seldom fight over anything, we've devised ways of defusing the situation by being more tolerant, more patient, or just "letting go".
  • Accepting my appearance. I was never a matinee idol or a gorgeous hunk in the first place, and never bothered by the fact, but now I'm even less bothered. I look my age and have no desire to try all those desperate tricks to look younger and fresher.
  • Less bluffing. If I don't understand what someone's saying, I'm more likely to ask for an explanation instead of pretending I'm in the know. I won't make out I'm familiar with cryptocurrency or aerodynamics or particle physics when obviously I'm not.
  • Less social anxiety. I'd like to say that's the case but it isn't. I still have trouble engaging with other people, having an intelligent conversation or believing what I'm saying is worth saying. I'm almost as tongue-tied as when I was a teenager. I guess I care too much about other people's reactions.
  • Delight in small things. I no longer hanker after enormous and spectacular pleasures, nice as they may be. I'm just as likely to exclaim over something quite minor like a choc ice or a display of roses or a dazzling sunset.
I could add a few more things, but that's enough for now....

PS: Pic is not Emma Beddington, by the way

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Marked for life

It seems to be conventional wisdom among therapists that your experience of childhood will have enduring repercussions throughout your adult life. The way you were brought up leaves its mark in many ways.

But not everyone agrees that childhood is that significant in your character development. Some would say that's just an excuse for poor adult behaviour, and that it's entirely up to you what you make of your adulthood.

I strongly believe that your adult behaviour is greatly influenced by your childhood experience, and that it's very hard to throw off that experience. The attitudes and assumptions you're exposed to as a child become deeply embedded and can affect your whole personality.

It seems obvious to me that my woefully inadequate childhood led directly to me being a rather clueless adult. My parents and my boarding school between them left me with poor social skills, low self-confidence, repressed emotions and dismal self-awareness. I've spent my life trying to overcome those failings, but with limited success.

The sceptics would tell me my childhood is past history and has no influence whatever on my adult life. Instead of harping on about my childhood, I should just forget about it, focus on the present and grab life's opportunities.

Well, I have indeed grabbed life's opportunities, but I'm still conscious that other people are often better-performing adults than myself, quite confident about all sorts of things that still make me nervous and hesitant.

Or so it seems. It may be that their apparent confidence and social poise is only skin-deep, and underneath they're equally nervous. They're just good at hiding their trepidation. Or hiding their blunders.

In the final analysis, I've made the most of my life and had lots of fun on the way. That's good enough for me.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Not a recluse

Where is the dividing line between healthy and unhealthy intro-version? When does preferring your own company morph into being a self-absorbed recluse?

I've always been an introvert. I'm very content being on my own, though I do also like a certain amount of social contact (just a bit), to prevent too much self-absorption and to be inspired by other people's ideas and attitudes.

I'm also a gregarious person, meaning I enjoy mingling with crowds of people because it feels safe and cosy. I like watching and listening to them. But I don't want to talk to all these people (how on earth could I?), I just like them being around.

Because I like my own company, I'm not good at making friends. The need isn't urgent enough to trigger the necessary socialising and making connections. So I have loads of online and offline acquaintances but no close friends apart from Jenny.

I'm not a misanthrope. I don't detest other people. I don't prefer animals to humans (yet). I don't have some sort of perpetual grudge against humankind. I'm interested in other people and their foibles and hang-ups and idiosyncracies. I'm just not curious enough (nosy enough?) to actively befriend them.

So am I a healthy or unhealthy introvert? Do I spend too much time on my own? Am I too self-absorbed? Am I too detached from other people? Do I have reclusive tendencies? What's the yardstick exactly?

I would define an unhealthy introvert as someone who hardly ever leaves the house, who basically dislikes other people, who maybe is afraid of them and thinks they're up to no good, who shuns their friendly or solicitous gestures.

Hopefully I'm a long way from such a desperate lifestyle.

Friday, 11 June 2021

So far to go

Medicine has come a long way in protecting our health and well-being and extending our lives. It has given us vaccines, antibiotics, keyhole surgery, heart by-passes and all sorts of new treatments that didn't exist in previous centuries.

But there's much further to go. There are still many debilitating physical ailments that cause pain and distress to millions. There are still medical conditions that are a total mystery after many years of research.

I wonder what medical advances we will have made in 100 years' time? Or 200 or 300? Won't it be great when:

  • We have joints that never wear out but can rejuvenate themselves.
  • We have effective painkillers for every type of pain, however severe.
  • We have no drop in energy levels as we age.
  • We have a pill that dissolves all unwanted fat.
  • We get older without looking old. So we always look like a twenty something.
  • We have a cure for cancer.
  • We have perfect photographic memories.
  • We can reverse short-sightedness and long-sightedness.
  • We can sleep soundly for eight hours every night.
  • We all have huge IQs.
Of course we of the 2020s will all be gone by then so we won't be able to enjoy the onward march of medical skill. And just as we often take for granted the advances of the last few centuries, so the children of the future will take tomorrow's medical miracles for granted and have no idea that people were once in constant pain or needing replacement hips and knees.

Personally I'd love to have perfect eyesight without the need for glasses. And I'd love to have a perfect memory without the constant fumbling for recollection. One day it will be possible. But I'll be a long-scattered pile of ash before that day arrives.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Workout myths

I've never been to a gym in my life, except for my school gym. As I get older, I think maybe I should be going to a gym regularly to keep myself fit and healthy, but I never do. Mainly because there's no reputable gym in my immediate neighbourhood, but also because using a gym sounds incredibly boring and unenjoyable.

So I was glad to see an exercise expert saying that actually intensive exercise and gym workouts aren't as essential as people make out, and ordinary everyday levels of physical activity are quite enough to keep us fit.

Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard professor, lists ten myths about workouts that need to be demolished. He says deliberate intensive exercise is a very modern activity our ancestors never bothered with. They only exercised when it was necessary or rewarding. "No one in the stone age ever went for a five-mile jog to stave off decrepitude, or lifted weights whose sole purpose was to be lifted."

He says it's not true that our remote ancestors were super-strong and super-fast and we need gym workouts to bring us to the same level of fitness. They were fit enough for a few hours hunting and gathering a day but that was it. They sat around just as much as we do. He says sitting is fine as long as you alternate it with other activities.

Well, that makes me feel a lot better about my fairly minimal activity level - doing the household chores, doing a bit of gardening, taking my daily walk, occasionally running for the bus. It seems that's quite sufficient without labouring away in a gym or running marathons.

So there's no need to demonise the sofa.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Fame? No thanks

I value my anonymity and my privacy. I value being able to wander around with nobody paying me any special attention. I value not being a recognisable public figure.

I wonder why so many people want to be famous. Do they have any idea what fame actually involves? Do they have any idea how it disrupts any form of normal life or normal friendships?

Being recognised as you walk down the street might be fun for a while but it must soon get tedious. People stare at you, follow you, make comments about you, try to talk to you. You can't just walk around in your private reverie, enjoying the scenery or the sunshine. You have to be always prepared for other people's attention. It must be a constant nuisance.

Your photo is regularly in the media, accompanied by details of your every move and activity, most of it idle gossip and rumour. Hundreds of dubious stories are circulating, mostly depicting a totally bogus person with little resemblance to the real you.

If you're interviewed for TV or the media, you'll be asked plenty of idiotic and trivial questions, like what's your favourite food or how do you stay so thin or what was your most embarrassing moment.

If you're desperate for some privacy, you have to plan it well in advance, working out how to avoid the paparazzi, keep your movements secret and stay well away from the general public.

Of course you might say this is all sour grapes, that really I'd love to be famous but I'm not, so I make out fame is horrible and not at all glamorous or fulfilling. But no, I love my anonymity. I certainly wouldn't want to be gawped at all day like an animal in the zoo.

Friday, 28 May 2021

When grief surprises

There's no simple logic about who you grieve over and who you don't. You might expect that serious grief is reserved for our family members, especially parents and siblings. If you grieve for other people, it's not so intense, not so all-consuming.

But it doesn't necessarily work like that.

I had no major grief when my mother and father died, as I had never been very close to them. I'd been estranged from my father for 20 years, as you know, so there was no closeness there. I wasn't close to my mother either, as we were very different, thoroughly chalk and cheese, and though it was truly sad to see her gradual mental and physical decline, I didn't grieve for her.

I've actually grieved more, or at least been more emotionally affected, by the death of people outside my family - like public figures I admired and who died at an early age. So much potential unrealised, such a shocking waste.

I was very upset when John Lennon died. He had so many creative years ahead of him still, and suddenly he was gone. Likewise Amy Winehouse, who was so amazingly talented but who was struck down in her prime.

I was stunned when Martin Lamble, drummer with Fairport Convention, who was only 19, died in a road accident on his way back from a gig in Birmingham. He was a friend of a friend and I had met him several times.

I was shaken when two people I worked with in a London bookshop both died of cancer in their thirties -  Amanda of breast cancer and Nigel of lung cancer. They were both lovely people and shouldn't have met such an early end.

Grief, and who provokes it, can surprise you.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Everybody does it

I was shocked to read of an Irish school where manipul-ative, controlling, pressurising relation-ships are so common the students think they're normal. They have no idea relationships are meant to be about equality, respect and kindness.

The majority of 200 students questioned about their relationships at a school in Tralee, Ireland, reported being constantly "told what to do, who to talk to, who to block, who to spend time with, and what to wear". The students said the behaviour upset them but "everybody does it".

I think back to my own time at school, and I can't remember anything remotely like that. Yes, there was a bit of bullying at my boarding school, usually just making fun of someone, but nothing as toxic as what these students are describing.

Social media is partly to blame, I'm sure. It's become so common now for people to criticise other people, and anonymity means they can be as abusive and threatening as they wish with no comeback. So abusive and threatening comments are normalised as routine behaviour.

Lack of self-confidence must come into it as well. If young people don't have the confidence to follow their own instincts, resist coercion and tell the person concerned to get lost, then things can only get worse.

It seems that today's students need lessons not just on what is and what isn't sexual consent, but also on what a normal relationship consists of - caring and affectionate behaviour that respects the other person's needs and wellbeing. It's extraordinary that anyone needs to be reminded of such things.

PS: I see that in England, the Department for Education has introduced a compulsory Sex and Relationships Education curriculum in all schools, focusing on relationships in primary schools and sex and relationships in secondaries.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Brain drain

Oh dear. Some new research suggests that any amount of alcohol can damage the brain, even so-called moderate drinking. In which case teetotallers have had the right idea all along, and should be much brainier than us boozers.

Of course it's only one bit of research and has yet to be confirmed. So I'm not giving up alcohol any time soon. Jenny and I have roughly a glass of wine a day, which doesn't seem excessive. It's a pleasure we wouldn't want to lose.

But does this research ring true? Well, I've been drinking small amounts of alcohol for most of my life and I haven't noticed any drastic changes in my brain, except the slight forgetfulness that comes with advancing age anyway. 

If alcohol was damaging my brain, surely I'd be pretty gaga by now and having to be reminded who I am and what I'm doing.

And life-long teetotallers should be much smarter than I am and running rings round me. There are plenty of teetotallers in Northern Ireland (or so they say!) but some of them are quite visible dimwits, which sheds some doubt on the research.

Then again, I don't know what my brain would be like if I'd been a life-long teetotaller. Would I be so clever I'd be running rings round everyone else? Would I have polished off a cryptic crossword in ten minutes? Who knows?

And although we all lose millions of brain cells as we get older anyhow, apparently that still leaves us with more than enough brain cells to keep us functioning efficiently. So if alcohol kills a few more, does it really matter?

I await further research with interest. Cheers!

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Sign of the times

If your neighbour put a small BLM sign in their window, would you think "Good for them, it's a great campaign, we should all support it"? Or would you think "People shouldn't put up controversial political slogans in their window"?

A resident of Cheam, a posh south London suburb, has caused a stir by sending an anonymous letter to a neighbour complaining about the Black Lives Matter sign in their upstairs window. The offended party (they don't say if they're male or female) says the sign "does not reflect well on the neighbourhood" and looks like "a protest message to your neighbours".

I can't help wondering if the origin of the family in the offending house (Aj Shehata's parents were born in Sudan) might have something to do with the complaint.

It seems like an absurd over-reaction. The BLM sign is so small it's barely visible. Most passers-by would probably not even notice it. Yet the letter-writer thinks it's a serious blot on the landscape.

The Shehatas' neighbours are also bemused by the complaint. Some of them say they'll put up BLM signs in solidarity.

My own neighbours have had "Thanks to the NHS" signs in their windows for months. Nobody is the least bit bothered by them.

It would be a different matter if they were displaying (for instance) huge "Bring back the death penalty" signs. I would be the first to leap into action and demand they be removed. But a miniscule BLM sign? Some people clearly have too much time on their hands.

If the letter-writer had had the decency to ring the Shehatas' doorbell and have a proper conversation with them, the matter could probably have been resolved quite easily without the need for a stroppy anonymous letter.

Pic: the Shehata family's house. The BLM sign is inside the circle.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Silver splitters

Apparently there's a rising trend for "silver splitters" - older couples who divorce in their fifties or sixties, often after decades of marriage, and either marry again or stay single. They no longer want to stay together till the bitter end, but decide to split up and make a new start while there's still plenty of their life left.

But one relationship counsellor says that people underestimate the consequences of splitting, both for themselves and other family members. It can be much more expensive than they thought, it can greatly upset their children, and it can be hard to cast aside the psychological bonds of a long-lasting relationship.

Personally, I can't imagine leaving Jenny and starting again with someone else. After so many years of forging such close bonds with each other, I'm sure it would be incredibly difficult to begin that process all over again with another person. At every step I'd be bringing a whole lot of emotional baggage from my previous relationship, which surely would get in the way of making a new one.

Of course if your existing relationship is disastrous, if there's domestic violence, if you have fiercely differing views on many subjects, if you simply don't get on, if your partner is an alcoholic or a drug addict, then it's a lot easier to make the break, though even then there may be a reluctance to give up on a relationship you've invested so much in over so many years.

Then again, some former spouses simply don't want another relationship. They decide they're perfectly happy living on their own. As one divorcee put it: "All of my girl friends who have got divorced went wild in the year afterwards. They were having a blast dating guys."

What you might call Silver Seducers.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Letting rip

I'm baffled by people who get some sort of kick out of criticising total strangers - people they've never met, maybe never heard of up till now, people they know nothing whatever about, people who have nothing to do with their own lives.

They don't care how insulting or hurtful or ignorant their criticism might be. They don't care what effect they're having on the people concerned. They don't care if what they're saying is a complete fabrication. They think it's perfectly okay to put the boot in whenever they feel like it.

I try to avoid such gratuitous attacks on people. I'm no fan of the royal family, but I don't lay into them at every opportunity*. I just ignore them. Naturally I'm aware of all the scandals involving public figures, but I don't promptly add my vitriolic comments to the usual social media pile-on. I mind my own business.

My mother was fond of making disparaging remarks about homosexuals. I used to ask her why she was so obsessed with a group of people totally unconnected with her own life, whom she'd never met, who didn't affect her life in any way, but she wouldn't listen.

There are plenty of people whose views I disagree with, whose personal behaviour appals me, whose mad ambitions alarm me, but I don't feel the need to publicly hurl abuse at them or tear them to bits. I have much more interesting things to do.

It's now routine for public figures, especially women, to get torrents of unrelenting hatred day in and day out. Why should anyone have to live with this kind of permanent denigration? I'm certainly not going to add to it.

*the racist and misogynistic abuse heaped on Meghan Markle is quite shocking.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Off or on?

Wise Web Woman started an interesting thread on whether you should wear your shoes in other people's houses, or take them off. Is removing your shoes common sense or fastidious nonsense?

There are strong views either way. What the shoe-removers say:

  • It's a question of hygiene. They don't want shoes that have picked up who-knows-what filth on public streets dropping that filth on their floors, especially on pale-coloured carpets and rugs.
  • Thousands of harmful bacteria lodge on people's shoes, and are easily shed inside a house. If children regularly play on the floor, they could pick up something nasty.
  • In some countries it's normal to remove your shoes on entering a house, and not doing so is seen as disrespectful. Often the householder will supply slippers to replace outdoor shoes.
However there are also good reasons for not removing your shoes:

  • You might have some sort of deformity or foot infection. A disability might make it difficult to remove and replace your shoes. You may have holes in your socks. Your feet may feel cold easily. Or there are splinters in wood flooring.
  • The hygiene aspect is exaggerated. The chance of catching something toxic from a person's shoes must be pretty low, or we'd all be falling ill very day. We're a lot more likely to get food poisoning.
  • With no shoes on, you're more likely to pick up bacteria from the householder's carpets and other floors, especially bacteria left by dogs and cats.
But if someone prefers to keep their shoes on, they shouldn't be forced to remove them or asked for a reason. That would just be rude.

Jenny's brother asks visitors to remove their shoes in his house. So do the couple two doors down from us. We're happy to do so, on the grounds of hygiene. But there isn't a no-shoes rule in our own house. What filthy beasts we are!