Friday, 3 February 2023

Doggie handling

People are regularly bitten by dogs, and this often sets off a lifelong fear of dog bites. Luckily I've never been bitten by a dog so I'm not afraid of them. Partly that's because I have some idea of what causes a dog to bite.

In January a dog walker was mauled to death in Surrey. It's not clear why they got out of control, but she was walking eight dogs and I guess if one of them got a bit agitated the others might have got equally agitated and turned on her.

The number of injuries from dog bites is rising. Between 1998 and 2018, hospital admissions for dog-related injuries doubled in England, with about 8,000 people now admitted each year.

I'm not afraid of being bitten because I know that bites are usually a response to fear and so I take care not to approach a dog that looks a bit nervous or alarmed and I certainly wouldn't try to stroke or fondle it. I was reading today that a wagging tale doesn't necessarily mean a dog is happy to be approached, it only signifies some strong emotion - it could be enjoyment but it could equally be anxiety or fear.

I often stroke dogs that are tied outside a shop because they're usually glad of the attention they're not getting from the owner. I always feel sorry for them because they look a bit bewildered, wondering if and when their owner is going to reclaim them.

We had two Scottish terriers when I was a child, and they never bit anyone, even though the first one was neurotic enough to abruptly sink its teeth into someone. Jenny and I have never had a pet dog or cat because it would demand too much attention - not to mention visits to the vet and holiday arrangements.

Dogs, like humans, need careful handling.

Monday, 30 January 2023

False assumptions

I suppose we all make grand assumptions about other people based on the little we know of them - how they behave, how they look, how they speak. Such assumptions are probably wrong as often as they're right. Certainly people have made some very odd assumptions about me. For example:

  • Because I'm still thin, then I must work out at the gym (I've never been in a gym)
  • Because I'm a well-spoken white male, then I must have been head of some prestigious organisation (I was mostly a bookseller)
  • Because I go for walks in a tatty jacket and ancient jeans, and we have a nine year old Renault Clio, then I must be poor (which I'm not)
  • Because I live in a very large house, then I must be wealthy (which I'm not)
  • Because I'm fairly fit and healthy, and free of addictions and psychological disorders, then I'm smug and self-righteous (which I'm not)
  • Because only 9.3 per cent of Northern Irish folk are atheist, then I'm religious (which I'm not)
Of course I make umpteen assumptions about other people, and probably most of them are wrong. I make assumptions about how intelligent someone is or their political beliefs or what food they eat or how well-organised they are.

I assume that someone has seldom left their neighbourhood, only to find they've travelled all over the world. I assume that someone rarely reads a book, only to find they've read all the classics I've never read.

Well, there's no harm in making false assumptions, I suppose, as long as I'm prepared to correct those assumptions if they prove to be nonsense.

As for those assumptions that I'm simultaneously a hopeless romantic and a hardened cynic, that wouldn't be far from the truth.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

No going back, thanks

Some people say they'd give anything to be young again. Others say, you must be joking, I had a terrible childhood, no way I would want to repeat it.

I must say I'm firmly in the latter camp. As some of you already know, I had a bad-tempered and self-righteous father who sent me to a boarding school that was totally unsuited to my personality. And when I went there I was bullied by some of the other boys for not being stylish or laid-back enough. Not to mention the poor-quality teaching and regimented daily routine.

So I'm very glad I won't be young again, but others have much more positive memories of nurtured talents, blossoming friendships and inspiring teachers.

My sister had a much more enjoyable childhood. She was an obedient child who managed to keep our father sweet and who attended a local school that suited her more straightforward personality. And having lived with motor neurone disease for 18 years, she might well wish she was young and healthy again.

Of course those people who would love to be young again are surely forgetting how much wisdom and experience they've accumulated in the intervening years. Would they really want to relive a time when they saw everything with such innocent and gullible eyes and all the subtleties and profundities passed them by?

And surely they've forgotten that they were totally controlled by their parents, which was fine if they felt cherished and appreciated but not so fine if they didn't. A lot of children can't wait to break free of their parents and start their own independent life.

Without doubt, the twenty years of my life just gone have been far and away more enjoyable and fulfilling than the first twenty.

Friday, 20 January 2023

Jealousy deficit

Jealousy is something I don't understand. I've never resented other people's achievements or skills or possessions or advantages in life. I've never been suspicious of what my spouse might be doing behind my back. I'm quite happy with my own life and don't need to behave like a neurotic child.

Some people get so irrationally jealous they resort to absurd acts of destruction and violence. A man shreds all his girlfriend's clothes or vandalises her car. Or he goes to her supposed lover's house and throws paint over all the windows.

My father was the jealous type. He was always suspicious of my mother's friends and wanted to know exactly what she was doing if she was out somewhere. He even imagined she was having lesbian affairs with her female friends. She never showed the slightest hint of lesbianism but that didn't put him off.

I don't take after him at all. I know lots of people who're more intelligent, more talented, better educated, wealthier, with beautiful houses, with fewer hang-ups, but I'm not jealous of them or even mildly envious. I just think, well, good for them, they're luckier than me in all sorts of ways, they seem to have great lives, but I don't need to resent them because my own life has worked out very well and why spend my time hankering after what someone else has got?

What bothers me isn't other people's achievements but their need to make sure everyone knows about them. They have to casually mention that little Benjamin attends the best school in the neighbourhood. Or that they got their house for £20,000 less than the asking price. Or that they flew business class to somewhere or other. Such relentless boasting gets rather tedious.

"The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves." - William Penn

Monday, 16 January 2023

Not likeable

The new film Tár, about the (fictitious) downfall of Lydia Tár, a feted female conductor, has attracted some very odd criticism. In particular that such a predatory and abusive character should have been portrayed as a man and not a woman, and that the character "isn't likeable".

Good grief. When did characters in movies (or TV dramas or books) have to be likeable? If that was the case, hundreds of movies and books would have to be pulped immediately. Mean and nasty characters are commonplace, from Hannibal Lecter to Lord Voldemort to Humbert Humbert.

Fictional characters aren't meant to be likeable. Crazy or mysterious or plain horrible but not necessarily likeable. In children's books perhaps but not in adult reading.

The other gripe some people have about fictional characters is that they're not "realistic". Heaven help us. If you want realistic, you should be heading for the mass media, not books or movies. In any case, one person's realistic is another's totally incredible, so you can't win on that one.

One criticism I would share is the objection to gratuitous violence. People recoiled from Bonnie and Clyde because of its graphic savagery. The New York Times complained that the movie's brutal killings were "pointless and lacking in taste". The suggestion of violence, or simply a powerful sense of menace, can be just as effective as explicit violence.

But I guess daft criticism, like poverty, is always with us.

Pic: Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár

Thursday, 12 January 2023

Non believer

It's about time I nailed my colours to the mast and confessed that I don't believe in gender identity and I don't believe transwomen are women. We're either male or female, we behave in ways that are seen as masculine or feminine, and that's it. And it's absolutely impossible to change sex.

Apparently that makes me transphobic, bigoted, fascistic and anti-semitic (and in some cases even anti-abortion). I need to wise up, educate myself, and show some kindness towards the most oppressed and suicidal minority in the world. And if I try to defend my views, I'll be shunned and no-platformed.

But the way "trans" people are currently viewed is relatively recent and very different from how they were viewed (and viewed themselves) just a few decades ago.

In the last century, male transsexuals, as they were then known, lived as women but never for a moment believed they were real women. Neither did they believe they had actually changed sex. There were very few of them and because of that they were fairly easily accepted as make-believe women.

That's all changed and now it's not enough to see them "living as" women. We're expected to see them as the real thing, identical to those women who've been born and brought up as women. If they "feel like" women, then that's what they are, and it's not open for discussion.

Prominent public figures who oppose the new transgender beliefs have been viciously trolled and denigrated, often the target of death threats and in some cases forced out of their jobs. Their requests for an open-minded debate on transgender, recognising different opinions, are ignored.

A huge number of people actually disagree with the new thinking, but hesitate to speak up for fear of the consequences. So the nonsense proliferates.

Pic: Professor Kathleen Stock, who was forced out of her post at Sussex University after a militant campaign by trans activists.

Sunday, 8 January 2023

But is it true?

Okay, that's quite enough extroversion/ introversion/ shyness/ awkwardness etc. So now for something completely different.

There has been much talk recently about films and TV series that are seen by many as authentic document-aries although they are heavily fictionalised and may bear little relation to the truth.

The TV series The Crown was widely criticised as a travesty that totally misrepresents the Royal Family. The actor Judi Dench accused the show of being "crude sensationalism" while former Prime Minister Sir John Major criticised his depiction in the programme and said that a scene involving conversations about the Queen abdicating was "a barrel-load of malicious nonsense".

Now Julia Stonehouse, daughter of the late Labour Minister John Stonehouse, who unsuccessfully faked his own death, supposedly to start a new life with his mistress in Australia, has criticised the new TV drama Stonehouse as full of lies and mixing fact with plenty of fiction.

John Preston, who produced the series, defends it by saying it's based on a true story but some scenes and characters have been imagined for dramatic purposes.

The problem is that viewers won't know what's true and what's invented, and they may very well believe the inventions rather than the reality. Julia Stonehouse says her family has been plagued for almost 50 years by false press reports, books, TV programmes and now podcasts. Trying to correct all the nonsense is an uphill task.

Personally I think programmes purporting to be a genuine documentary should either explain  from the start that none of it is necessarily the truth, or it should set out to be the unalloyed truth throughout.

Mixing truth with undeclared fabrication for entertainment purposes is surely reckless and irresponsible and I don't understand why such stuff is permitted.

Pic: Julia Stonehouse

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

Oiling the wheels

I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that extroversion is the healthy norm, while introversion is an inconvenient aberration.

It's extroverts who oil the wheels of social activity, chatting to people, making connections, keeping things going. Introverts on the other hand, by keeping to themselves and avoiding contact with others, aren't keeping anything going but are leaving other people to do the social donkey work.

And I say that as an introvert myself. Of course I can make all the usual excuses for my behaviour. I was brought up in a very anti-social household, I just happen to be an introvert and that's hard to change, or most social events are banal and tedious so why bother to attend them?

But perhaps instead of trotting out the familiar excuses (which no doubt extroverts are sick of hearing), I should figure out how to engage other people and make more connections with them?

I sometimes imagine what life would be like if most people were introverts and only a few were extroverts. It would surely be a disaster. Everyone keeping to themselves and ignoring other people. Social activities fading away. Nobody to promote new initiatives. And the remaining extroverts afraid of being too exuberant or talking too much or generally alienating the introverts.

Am I being too hard on myself? Am I exaggerating the downside of introversion? Am I exaggerating the benefits of extroversion? Am I conveniently ignoring those extroverts who love the sound of their own voice and jabber away non-stop? Am I ignoring those extroverts who are simply tactless and embarrassing?

The jury's still out. I'm still mulling it all over. So watch this space.

PS: I think I might be a sort of shy extrovert - an underlying extrovert who's shy about letting my extroversion rip.

Wednesday, 28 December 2022

The cost of Christmas

A Cardiff woman, Caroline Duddridge, who regularly hosts Christmas dinner for her 11-strong family, was finding the cost quite a financial strain. So she hit on a novel solution - charging them for the meal.

They were asked to pay between £2.50 and £15 according to their ability to pay, which raised about £180. That didn't cover the whole cost but covered quite a lot of it.

She explained that after the death of her husband in 2015, her income was halved and Christmas dinner wasn't so easily afforded. Also, why should the host bear the full financial burden of a slap-up meal?

She says some people have accused her of being a Scrooge, but her friends thought it was a good idea.

I'm a bit divided about this. Yes, she shouldn't have to bear the entire cost of Christmas dinner, especially when there are additional costs for Christmas decorations, Christmas presents, and no doubt plenty of alcohol.

A lot of people get themselves into heavy debt to pay for Christmas, so maybe asking for some help towards the cost is simply sensible.

On the other hand, isn't there a more informal way of covering the cost? Couldn't she just have a quiet word with the attendees and say a contribution to the expense would be much appreciated?

And why is she always the host? Couldn't some other family members host the Christmas dinner?

Apparently quite a few families already make a charge for Christmas dinner. With more and more people facing the rocketing cost of living and finding the price of even everyday meals quite challenging, never mind Christmas, this may be an idea whose time has come.

How else to make ends meet?

Pic: Caroline Duddridge

Saturday, 24 December 2022

Things you might not know

I love doing lists, but I haven't done one for a while. So here are some things you might not know (or remember) about me:

  • I don't get jet lag
  • I only have 26 teeth
  • I had a small trace of prostate cancer, which disappeared
  • I don't like red wine
  • I've been a vegetarian for 47 years
  • I often talk to myself
  • I hate long haul flights
  • I can do a perfect Aussie or cockney accent
  • I hate the dark
  • My piano teacher quit, saying I was unteachable
  • I did jury service twice
  • I was a trade union rep for five years
  • I had 12 sessions of psychotherapy
  • I took LSD twice
  • I've given blood 33 times
  • My favourite animal is the squirrel
  • Cats usually run away from me
  • I've lived at 13 different addresses
  • Football leaves me cold
  • I've never worn boxer shorts
Some of these things require explanations, but that could get very long-winded. However, feel free to ask me questions, express disbelief, or have a good laugh.

One comment on the above: It's a shame I didn't apply myself more seriously to learning the piano, as I'm sure if I'd learnt to play properly it would have given me a lot of pleasure. And I could join Jenny, who not only plays piano but has a degree in music. But I don't regret my half-heartedness. I regret nothing.

Tuesday, 20 December 2022

Bookworm reawakened

Journalist Nancy Jo Sales decided she was too addicted to phones and screens when she realised she had read only five books in 2021, and only eight in 2020. She used to be a compulsive bookworm, devouring books at every opportunity.

She determined to look at screens a lot less and get back to reading books. And she succeeded. She has read 46 books in 2022, and plans to read at least 60 next year. She feels happier, she's sleeping better, and above all it's fun.

Luckily I haven't succumbed to a screen obsession. Not having a smartphone helps. Not having a craving for attention also helps. So I've continued to be a persistent reader, getting through around 60 books a year.

But I'm always astonished when I get on a bus or train nowadays and most of the passengers are on their phones. Not a book in sight. There's so much wonderful stuff to read but they don't want to know. Or am I just a book snob?

I read a lot first thing in the morning, as I often wake up at 4 or 5 am. I also read when I'm waiting to see the doctor or the practice nurse.

I can't read for hours at end, and I don't find anything "un-put-down-able". I read 10 or 20 pages of something and then need to have a break before I continue.

Even if I read a book and conclude that it's a clunker - badly written, hardly any plot, one-dimensional characters and too many loose ends - there's usually something to take away from it, if only a few memorable crooks and eccentrics.

Who could ever forget Ebenezer Scrooge or Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood (or Hermione Granger if you're a Harry Potter fan)?

Friday, 16 December 2022

Battered paragons

People from other countries must be fascinated by the way the Sussexes (aka Harry and Meghan) are puncturing the Royal Family's carefully crafted glossy public image by trotting out one unpleasant jibe after another.

For years the Royal Family's operating principle has been to keep quiet about anything unsavoury and only talk about what preserves their innocuous and inoffensive public front.

Now Meghan and Harry are dishing the dirt big-time and making all sorts of scurrilous claims about other members of the Royal Family, and it's not a pretty sight.

I'm not saying anything about their accusations, as I have no idea whether all the stuff they're coming out with is true, exaggerated, embellished or simply made-up. All I know is that they accuse the Royals of racism, bullying, lying, gaslighting, planting negative stories, and treating Meghan like a usurper. And no doubt there are more claims to come.

Certainly the whole saga casts a very unedifying light on the Royals and how they operate behind the scenes. They may seem to be paragons of decency and civilised values but that's now up for debate.

The many admirers of the Royals must be pretty gobsmacked by the ongoing public furore. It seems that in the main they're either defending the Royals against what they see as an unjustified and narcissistic attack on them by a slightly unhinged couple, or they're defending Meghan and Harry against what looks like the Royal Family's undeclared mission to ostracise and discredit them as embarrassing mavericks.

The shine has definitely gone off the Royal Family's reputation, and even the benign charisma of the late Queen is looking a bit questionable.

Pic: Her Majesty is not amused

Monday, 12 December 2022

Safer streets?

I'm glad to see that the British government is to outlaw sexual harassment in the street in England and Wales. A long-overdue law is about to be passed, after years of lobbying by cam-paigners.

The law aims to criminalise behaviour such as following someone walking home at night, making obscene or aggressive comments to them, obstructing their path or driving slowly near them in public spaces.

It's certainly about time such widespread harassment (directed at women day in and day out) was stopped so women can walk the streets without being subject to such unwanted behaviour.

I wonder though whether the new law will actually achieve its objective of preventing harassment. It's possible many men will simply ignore the law, assuming either that women won't take any action, or that they can deny any wrongdoing, or that it will be difficult to prove specific acts of harassment. It would be one person's word against another's, as is often the case with rape.

If the woman is harassed by a complete stranger, he can make himself scarce and the woman can do nothing as she can't identify the man in question.

That said, the new law may work like the anti-smoking laws, and there will be a gradual cultural shift in which street harassment becomes as unacceptable and unthinkable as having a fag in a no-smoking area.

I shall be watching the operation of the new law with great interest. But I don't have much confidence that it will stop male pestering.

Thursday, 8 December 2022

All too much

Suicide is a very strange business, isn't it? How come people feel so desperate, so helpless, so beleaguered that they resort to such an extreme solution? How come they just want to leave everything behind and end their life?

Sometimes it's understandable that someone has taken that drastic step. Their life is so terrible that more of the same for years to come is simply too much to contemplate. Other times it's a complete mystery. Someone seems to have a great life, with everything going their way, and out of the blue they're found dead.

Why do some people struggle on, however dismal their circumstances, while other just give up and decide it's all too much?

It was very understandable when one of Jenny's old school friends killed herself. She was a diagnosed schizophrenic and had had severe mental health problems for many years. Her quality of life was drastically limited and there was no sign of that ever changing.

But other people are found dead and there were no warning signs whatever. Why they did what they did leaves everyone baffled. Even people who were close to them and knew them really well (or thought they did) can't begin to explain it.

What's truly shocking though is when someone doesn't just take their own life but takes other people with them. This seems to be getting more common. Like the man who killed six people before turning the gun on himself at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia. And the man who killed his wife and three children in a domestic dispute in Phoenix, Arizona, before taking his own life.

They might have been able to explain their own suicide, but how do they justify ending other people's lives as well as their own?

Sunday, 4 December 2022

Still shy

I've been shy ever since I can remember. At the age of five I hardly said a word when my mum and I met the headmaster of my first ever school. She had to convince the head that I wasn't normally so quiet and I would open up once I attended the school (which I did, once I was used to the teachers and the other pupils).

There's a difference of opinion about shyness. Some people say it's just selfish, leaving the conversational effort to other people and not offering anything yourself. But you could equally say that chatterboxes are selfish because they hog all the conversation and deter others from speaking.

Is shyness selfish or is it an inherent personality trait that you can't overcome however hard you try? You may really want to gabble away, but you just can't manage to?

Perhaps it's partly that the outgoing types hold opinions and beliefs so passionately that they just have to explain them to other people, while my own opinions are more flimsy and provisional and I'm not confident about airing them?

Perhaps also I'm much more interested in other people's lives, which are full of surprises and fascinating revelations, while my own life seems far too humdrum and routine to appeal to anyone else? Listening to others comes more naturally than talking about myself.

Then again, I'm often rendered shy by anyone who's intimidating or overbearing and doesn't seem to respect me.

Being shy isn't the same as being introverted of course. Shyness means not having the confidence or the ingenuity to chatter away easily, while introversion means enjoying your own company more than the company of others.

So if I enjoy both, what does that make me?

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Fit as a fiddle?

It's generally assumed that to live to a fit old age, you need to stick to a healthy lifestyle. Regular gym workouts, a nutritious diet, no meat-eating, no alcohol or smoking, plenty of exercise.

Well, there are numerous people who've ignored all the medical advice, been conspicuously idle and self-indulgent, who live to a ripe old age anyway. Or of course done all the right things for decades and dropped dead at 60.

My mum didn't bother with medical advice. She never went to a gym, lived on ready meals and processed food, never took much exercise, and lived till she was 96.

Likewise my maternal grandma got little exercise, smoked and drank, never went to a gym (gyms were a rarity in those days), and lived till she was 91.

Some people say the important thing is not your lifestyle but whether you actively enjoy life and fling yourself into it. That'll keep you going when all the world-weary gym enthusiasts and teetotallers quietly fade away.

In any case, do I really want to live to 96 (or even longer)? I imagine I would be so disenchanted by then (not to mention decrepit) I would be happy to bow out.

But even if you have the healthiest lifestyle in the world, a sudden unexpected illness can come along and disable you - or even finish you off. My sister was having a good life until she developed motor neurone disease at 56 (amazingly, she's bed-ridden but still alive 17 years later). There's nothing she could have done to keep it away - what causes MND is still a mystery.

As for me, I have a fairly healthy lifestyle (minus the gym workouts) but I don't kid myself it'll keep me fighting fit. There are plenty of nasties waiting to pounce.

Friday, 25 November 2022

Tight lipped

I've tried very hard but I still haven't learnt how to be a chatterbox. I'm far too self-conscious to gabble away effortlessly and not be too worried about other people's reactions.

I listen to the chatterers spilling out their thoughts and wonder how they manage to do it. Are they just natural chatterboxes? Were they encouraged to chatter as children? Do they simply lack the inhibitions that affect others? I wish I had the secret of this very useful ability.

I'm far too aware of other people's possible reactions. Suppose I say something stupid or inappropriate or offensive or nonsensical? And will they be interested in what I'm saying or bored to tears?

Alcohol may loosen some people's tongues but not mine. A glass or two of wine doesn't make me more loquacious, quite the opposite. It's more likely to send me to sleep or block my brain completely.

I'm quite talkative if it's someone I know well and I don't feel they're judging me. Or if we get onto something I'm passionate about. If it's a total stranger and I feel scrutinised, I clam up rapidly.

In my case, the way I was brought up probably has a lot to do with my reticence. My parents and my sister were always quite tight-lipped, speaking only when necessary rather than pouring everything out. Entire meals would be as silent as the grave except for the odd request to pass the salt or the occasional hearty sneeze. My father thought conversation got in the way of eating.

The gift of the gab is a talent that I missed out on.

Monday, 21 November 2022

A tragic past

Would you be unable to live in a house where some terrible tragedy occurred, or would you be able to ignore it and carry on with life as usual?

Kincora Boys Home in east Belfast (just down the road from here) is currently being demolished to make way for a new housing development.

The home was once the scene of serious organised child sexual abuse, causing a scandal and attempted cover-up in 1980, with claims of state collusion. It has been quietly rotting ever since, with a lot of people wanting nothing to do with it.

But one developer isn't put off by the site's seedy reputation and work is about to start on a £1.8 million apartment block comprising nine flats.

It's hard to say what my reaction would be if I actually set foot in one of the new flats, but I'd like to think I wouldn't be put off. If the building itself has gone, and the scandal happened over 40 years ago, I'm sure I could easily ignore the history and just get on with my life.

But would it be as simple as that? If I actually lived in one of the new flats, would I be constantly reminded of the past to the extent that it haunted me and forced me to move out?

Certainly a lot of people wouldn't even contemplate living there, given the site's associations. The very idea would horrify them.

Jenny is quite sure she couldn't live in a place that had such a dark pall hanging over it. She couldn't possibly ignore what had gone on there previously.

It remains to be seen whether the new apartments will be sold easily or whether prospective buyers will give them a wide berth.

Pic: Kincora Boys Home

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Paint throwers

A man and a woman have been charged with criminal damage, disorderly behaviour and burglary after throwing paint at a Barclays Bank in Belfast city centre. The two protesters from Extinction Rebellion want an end to fossil fuel extraction, which Barclays finances.

I have to say I don't support the protest because it's unnecessary. There are plenty of people urging an end to fossil fuel extraction so the message is well and truly out there without the need for such vandalism.

Extinction Rebellion maintain that nobody is taking the accelerating climate breakdown seriously enough and they're making these dramatic protests to bring some urgency to the situation.

They've also thrown paint at valuable paintings, halted traffic on the M25 motorway, halted public transport, blocked oil facilities and glued themselves to buildings and roads.

It all generates eye-catching media headlines, but what has it actually achieved? Fossil fuel extraction is still going on at the same rate, or even increasing according to some reports. 

Some of the protests have caused serious problems for those caught up in them. During the motorway protests people were unable to get to work, unable to keep hospital appointments or have operations, and unable to reach dying relatives. Not surprisingly, a majority of the public disapprove of these protests.

I'm not dogmatically against political protests. In the right circumstances and carried out in the right way, they can be very effective. I remember taking part in the poll tax protests in London in 1990, which ended in a riot and helped bring about the cancellation of the new tax.

But disrupting people's everyday lives to make an already well-publicised point is never going to be popular.

Pic: Barclays Bank, Belfast city centre

Friday, 11 November 2022

Who needs presents?

Journalist Allison Pearson says she's lost count of the number of people who have told her they're not buying or expecting presents for Christmas. Gifts for the children, yes, but not for adult relatives or friends.

When so many people are watching the pennies because of the cost of living crisis, having to exchange Christmas presents is an expense they could do without. And how many people even appreciate the pricy gifts they're presented with?

I think she's right. Yes, children expect presents and will be sorely disappointed if they don't get any. But adults don't need presents. Allison would rather people brought a bit of food and drink, or simply loaded the dishwasher. That would be warmly welcomed.

Jenny and I decided some time ago not to give each other presents for Christmas or birthdays. We were always racking our brains for something suitable and drawing a blank. We realised that all we really wanted at Christmas was just some tasty food, a glass or two of wine, something entertaining on the telly, and a few games of Scrabble. Presents weren't necessary.

Lots of people get into huge debts at Christmas because they feel obliged to give presents to all and sundry but simply can't afford it. Then they spend months trying to pay off the debts and maybe failing to do so. But media images of Christmas, with vast piles of presents under a Christmas tree, perpetuate the idea that it's normal to give presents and not giving any is unthinkable.

Well, perhaps we would start thinking the unthinkable.