Tuesday 27 November 2007

Affair assumption

At my grand old age, people must assume I've had several affairs, that at some time or another I must have been carrying on behind Jenny's back. But I never have.

It's partly because I'm just not devious or cunning enough to keep an affair secret. It's partly because I never had the energy to keep two women on the go at once. And it's partly because I've never been besotted enough with another woman to want a serious fling. I'm obviously an engrained monogamist.

Well, it's difficult enough keeping one relationship going, if you're serious about making it work and giving the other person the tender loving care they expect.

How people manage to do that twice over I don't know. I suspect they don't, that one or the other partner always gets short shrift, marginalised and neglected and frustrated.

But I'm amazed how affairs can be kept secret for so long. You hear of affairs that lasted five or ten years without the husband or wife ever knowing. How can anyone really close to their partner not pick up on suspicious behaviour pretty early on?

I'm sure I couldn't have had an affair for more than a week without leaving Jenny some fatal clue - a mysterious phone message or an unfamiliar fragrance or a dubious-sounding 'engagement'. I expect my face alone would give me away, as I'm not good at hiding my emotions.

Some people actually relish the danger, the frisson of a clandestine mate their regular squeeze is unaware of. But I couldn't stand the stress and strain myself, it would destroy all the pleasure.

No, I'm as clean as a whistle in that respect. Boringly loyal and devoted and dependable. Even though I'm a hopeless rebel in so many other ways.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Junk male

We all have a tendency to hoard stuff we don't really need. But the story of Welshman John Jones is a caution to us all to keep the hoarding instinct under control.

Mr Jones had squirrelled away so much rubbish over 20 years he could only move around his Aberystwyth house through a series of specially built tunnels.

And after he was found dead under bags of rubbish, the coroner concluded he had probably died of asphyxiation, crushed by all the junk.

As it was impossible to remove the body through the solid mass of garbage, he had to be brought out through a window by firefighters.

The rubbish was piled high not just in the house but in the garden shed, the garden and several garages rented from the local council.

Let that be a lesson to all you knick-knack collectors out there. Start clearing it all out before you meet a grisly end.

Hoarding is one of the most common obsessive compulsive disorders, alongside hygiene mania and irrational double checking (like returning home to check the gas is off).

Many sufferers go to great lengths to hide their obsessions for fear of social ridicule and ostracism. Fortunately I've never been one of them, though I do tend to double check things like plane tickets and flight times rather too often.

Mind you, my mum's a bit of a hoarder. But I think she's safe - she hasn't had to build any tunnels yet.

Wednesday 21 November 2007


What exactly are those baying mobs outside courtrooms trying to achieve? Do they think screaming abuse at offenders adds something useful to the situation?

I look at all those shrieking voices and maddened faces and raised fists and I wonder how they think all that hatred and raging emotion is helping anyone.

Especially if the person concerned hasn't even been found guilty of anything but is still awaiting a court hearing. Or even if they insist on their innocence and say it's all a big mistake.

I suspect that quite often it's also an embarrassment to the victims, who just want to see the offender dealt with by the court without all the self-appointed guardians of morality spoiling for a fight.

Given the prevalence of these instant lynch mobs that pop up wherever there's some controversial figure on trial, I'm very thankful mob rule was replaced by due legal process and that nowadays (in theory at least) you get a fair hearing with a proper weighing-up of the evidence.

Otherwise I shudder to think what these headstrong vigilantes would do to people before they were restrained or ran out of steam.

We all know the horrific blunders some of them have made when left to their own devices, like singling out a blameless paediatrician in the belief she was a paedophile. Or putting the boot into harmless Muslims they imagine to be terrorists.

But as long as the sensation-hungry media keep feeding lingering close-ups of these rabid zealots to their fascinated audiences, I'm afraid we're going to see many more of them on the streets.

Saturday 17 November 2007

Getting away with rape

There's been a lot of talk in the last few days about the tiny number of rape convictions in the UK and what can be done about it.

The blame is directed widely: at the police for not taking rape victims seriously; at lawyers for not presenting stronger evidence; at judges for finding excuses for rape; and at juries for giving people the benefit of the doubt.

But to my mind they're all missing the point. I think the real problem is that the evidence given by the victims doesn't point clearly enough to rape, to lack of consent, to coercion.

Too often it seems that instead of the expected struggle and resistance and non-cooperation the victim actually gave in to the other person quite easily and with barely a murmur of protest.

Well, says the victim, that's because I didn't want to make it worse. If I had put up too much of a struggle, I'd have been attacked more viciously and ended up seriously hurt. So I played it safe and did what I had to so it'd be over quicker.

Of course that's totally understandable. Who wants to finish up stabbed or strangled or dead? Who wants the rapist to get so furious they lash out wildly and whack you to bits?

But for a jury looking for clear-cut evidence of non-consent, the cautious, non-provocative approach creates too many doubts about what happened, and they don't know who to believe. So they end up acquitting.

I honestly don't know the answer to this. If the court wants resistance but the victim rejects it, then how do we get more convictions?

PS: The other obvious reason for the dearth of rape convictions is that many women don't even report it for fear of the consequences - humiliation, disbelief and further violence. The level of unreported rape uncovered in surveys is truly shocking.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Tough ambitious females

It's depressing how many working women feel they can't be themselves but can only prove their worth by being even more macho and ruthless than men.

It happens in so many jobs - estate agents, politicians, office workers, sales reps. Instead of bringing a bit more sensitivity and humanity into the workplace, they just switch themselves off and become as hard-bitten and go-getting as the men. They turn into soulless apparat-chicks.

Of course they don't necessarily want to be like that. In most cases they probably feel they have no alternative if they want to be taken seriously and climb up the career ladder.

Too many men still think a woman who treats her customers and workmates like human beings is some sort of pinko wimp who's just not up to the job - and is trying to undermine her male co-workers' credibility.

I've nothing against ambitious women, if that's their bag. If they want to be a company boss or a government minister, that's fine by me. As long as they don't morph into a hawk-eyed harridan on the way.

But I've had to deal with a few of these tough nuts in my time and it's no joke. Like Tracey of Floggem Estate Agents who regards any criticism of her perfect homes as a sign of insanity and acts as though I'm privileged to be invited to look at them.

Or Teresa Bullshit, MP, who tells me the health service is under colossal pressure and expecting prompt medical attention is simply unrealistic and irrational.

It's a strange irony. We applaud the fact that there are now so many women in the workforce, but if half of them are just trying to outdo the men in tight-arsed arrogance, what's the point?

Saturday 10 November 2007

Wake the pilot

I've never been afraid of flying. So even the story about the pilots being asleep as the plane came into land didn't bother me.

Yes, you read that correctly. It's just emerged that a plane en route from Baltimore to Denver was getting frantic calls from air traffic control as it neared Denver Airport at twice the normal approach speed and well over the normal altitude.

They managed to arouse the pilot and co-pilot from their blissful slumber and the plane fortunately was landed safely.

The blame is put on long shifts and inadequate rest periods in-between. Plus the boredom of a routine flight.

Personally it only makes me more confident about flying when I hear that a plane can land okay despite snoozing pilots. Clearly the safety procedures are robust enough to allow for human errors like these.

In fact I'm far more nervous about hospitals than I am about planes. The death rate on scheduled flights is miniscule, while the death rate in hospitals from superbugs, blood clots, drug overdoses and surgical errors is alarmingly high.

As I've said before, the chances of coming out of hospital with an extra ailment you didn't have on arrival are pretty huge.

So if I get off a plane and someone tells me the pilots were fast asleep ten miles from the airport - no worries. I'll just head for baggage reclaim with the usual spring in my step.

Wednesday 7 November 2007


I've often criticised the National Health Service, but after seeing Michael Moore's film Sicko I'm bloody glad I have the NHS and not the horrific set-up that exists in America.

In the USA, 50 million people have no medical insurance whatever and those who do are frequently refused treatment for all sorts of bogus reasons, as the insurance companies make higher profits by denying as many claims as possible.

The idea of free universal health care is seen by the country's leaders as a communist conspiracy that threatens democratic freedoms and civilised values.

But what a payment-based system produces is thousands of people dying needlessly, a greatly increased risk of serious illness and shorter lifespans. Not to mention widespread debt, despair and destitution.

Moore interviews a middle-class couple who had high-earning jobs but ran up such heavy debts after heart attacks and cancer they had to sell their home and move into their daughter's spare room.

He shows video footage of a woman unable to pay for hospital treatment who was removed from the hospital by the insurance company and dumped on a city street.

A man who sliced off two fingertips on a circular saw was told an operation to sew back one fingertip would cost $60,000.

People with terminal illnesses needing vital treatments are refused payment on the grounds that the treatments are experimental, ineffective or inappropriate. Or that it was a pre-existing condition that invalidates the insurance.

Moore travels to Canada, the UK, France and Cuba, where he is gobsmacked by the high-quality care available to any citizen for free, simply to improve their quality of life.

You could describe the USA's health chaos as third-world standard, except that many third-world countries have far superior (and free) health services.

It's a shocking and shameful film, which I hope humiliates the USA right across the globe. Go see it.

Photo: Michael Moore interviews an NHS doctor

Sunday 4 November 2007

Waits and pleasures

You never know what to expect at restaurants. A perfectly-cooked meal from a friendly, attentive waiter or a tasteless mess flung on the table by a harassed, po-faced second-jobber? Be prepared for anything.

Jenny and I had just been at an art gallery private view, sloshing down our free glasses of wine and salivating over dozens of stunning prints. As usual, we wandered up the road to our favourite pizzeria and ordered a couple of pizzas.

We chatted a bit as we waited for our food.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After 20 minutes, we asked what was happening. "Ah, there's a large group upstairs so there's a half-hour wait. But your pizzas are in the oven. Another two minutes." (A large group upstairs? So what?)

Two minutes came and went. We waited some more.

And waited.

And waited.

After 35 minutes, we asked to see the manager. "Ah, there's always a half-hour wait on Fridays. You should have been told. Another three minutes." Jenny asked if we could have a discount for the long delay. Yes that was possible, she said. (Five per cent? Ten per cent?)

After 40 minutes, the pizzas arrived. Mouth-wateringly delicious as always. Not wanting to ask for the bill, which might take another half-hour, we went straight to the cash desk.

"Oh, there's no charge" we were told "Your meals are free."

We walked out in a state of dazed disbelief. As I said, be prepared for anything.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Life expectancy

How lucky we all are! Average lifespans are going up all the time and before long there'll be centenarians galore, not to mention armies of ninety-year-olds.

But do we really want to live to 100? Do we really want to live so long we can hardly remember what we did for a living or who we once shacked up with, let alone our first love or our teenage rampages?

Why is length of life considered so much more important than quality of life? What's the point of reaching 101 if by that time you're half-blind, deaf, senile and stuck in a wheelchair?

Personally I'd prefer dropping dead at (say) 70, still in good health, mentally alert and savouring life to the full, to staggering on for another thirty years becoming more and more decrepit and an increasing burden to everyone else.

In fact I'd like to keel over in the middle of something I particularly enjoy like climbing Slieve Donard*, scoffing a huge bowl of ice cream or exploring some foreign city.

I certainly don't want to end up in a so-called care home, where the chances are instead of being cared for I'd be treated with casual indifference by underpaid, uncommitted staff.

No, I'm happy to stay alive as long as I'm firing on all cylinders and my brain is still fizzing with all the spectacle and novelty of the world around me.

Once the fun disappears and my body starts falling apart, I hope someone will do the decent thing and pop something nasty in my morning coffee to save me from a miserable fadeout.

Frankly I want to go out with a bang and not a whimper. And with my dignity still intact.

* Highest mountain in Northern Ireland, one of the Mourne Mountains.