Thursday 26 December 2013

All due respect

I totally disagree with that old cliché "respect has to be earned". I think everyone should be respected until such time as they do something that forfeits that respect.

A complete stranger is as worthy of respect as an old friend you've known for years. They deserve respect simply because they're another vulnerable human being, with the same feelings and needs and weaknesses.

If a person hasn't "earned" respect, does that mean I can treat them as badly as I like, kick them around, abuse them, until such time as they've qualified for better treatment? Whose barbaric idea is that?

This absurd principle is trotted out all the time to justify hostile attitudes towards immigrants, welfare claimants, single mothers and all sorts of minorities people don't want to treat decently.

It means people are regarded as second-class citizens unless they've jumped through all sorts of demeaning and ingratiating hoops to raise their status.

It's like saying people have to earn kindness, or courtesy, or fairness. Shouldn't these be the normal way to behave?

Do we say a new-born baby has to earn our respect? Do we say a dinner guest has to earn our respect? Of course not.

Everyone deserves an initial respect, be they malodorous beggars, beer-slurping couch potatoes or clock-watching pen-pushers. Surely respect should be the norm unless it's forfeited by something unforgivable or reprehensible? Or unless the person's actually attacking or robbing you.

To my mind, respect is the cornerstone of a civilised society. It's not some prize to be competed for. It's not a carrot on the end of a stick. It's a basic right.

Saturday 21 December 2013

A foolish debacle

If there's any moral to draw from the Saatchi/ Lawson/ Grillo case, it's this - taking people to court isn't very wise. It can cause more harm than good and blacken your own reputation more than the person in the dock.

What exactly was gained by accusing the Grillo sisters of fraud? Elisabetta and Francesca have done well. They were cleared of fraud, there were no damaging claims about them except that they spent money rather freely, and several papers are now offering them large sums for their stories.

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson on the other hand have not done so well. Saatchi was painted as a bad-tempered tyrant who terrorised his wife, the Grillos and his employees. Nigella was painted as a habitual drug user who was often "off her head", incapable of running the household properly, and addicted to pricey designer clothes.

None of these claims were substantiated, but they will stick in people's minds and be seen as facts even if they're half-truths or total lies. Charles and Nigella will forever be seen as an ill-matched couple constantly sniping at each other and prone to eccentric behaviour.

You do have to wonder why a court case was ever seen as the answer to the Grillos' lavish spending and why a simpler and more discreet solution couldn't be found. Like giving them a strict monthly spending limit. Like restricting their spending to certain items. Like taking away their credit cards altogether. Anything rather than drag them through the courts, with the inevitable media feeding frenzy and smear campaign that was bound to follow.

Not to mention the massive legal bills that just add to the huge sums spent by the Grillos. Good money after bad, you might say.

If you ask me, it's not the law that's an ass so much as those foolish people who put too much faith in it.

Pic: Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo

Sunday 15 December 2013

The snare of jealousy

Jealousy and envy are healthy, says Caprice*, since they're both connected to that strong feeling of loving somebody. Well, I can't agree with her.

To my mind, jealousy always means begrudging what the other person has and wishing you had it yourself. It means wanting to stop them from having it, by violent means if necessary. It means hating them and hoping they come to a sticky end. It means thinking they don't deserve what they have, that they've somehow got it unfairly. How can all that be healthy?

I'm glad I'm not prone to jealousy. I'm glad I'm able to appreciate other people's talents or possessions or friends or good looks without wanting to destroy them or wish some misfortune on them. On the contrary, I'm pleased for them. I'm pleased that in a brutal and unpredictable world they're lucky enough to have something of value, something positive, something that's a source of joy and well-being.

I remember a workmate of mine many years ago who was always eaten up with jealousy over what she saw as the privileged lifestyle of her bosses. Every day she was seething with resentment and rage, and the other employees would steer clear of her dispiriting rants.

Celebrities seem especially susceptible to jealousy, to people so pissed-off at their success and popularity that they flood the internet with abusive bile aimed at bringing them down from their lofty pedestals. Straying sexual partners can attract similar venom from the person spurned, finding their clothes trashed, their cars vandalised, their laptops sabotaged.

Jealousy is an ugly and corrosive emotion. I can see nothing healthy about it. It sinks a corkscrew into your soul.

* Caprice Bourret - British model and businesswoman.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Ten questions

I was intrigued by the ten questions Jenny Woolf posed to her blogmates. So here are my answers, for what they're worth.

1. If there's one chocolate left in the box, do you have to eat it, or can you leave it sitting there?

I could leave it for years. I'm very strong-willed when it comes to food.

2. What do you want to remember most of all, if you survive to be very old?

My trips to Australia, all the fun times with Jenny, walking in the Mourne Mountains.

3. Would you enjoy being a very rich and famous celebrity?

No. Being pursued everywhere by the paparazzi and demanding fans would be a nightmare.

4. What piece of music do you personally find most emotionally moving?

There are so many, from Mozart's Piano Concerto Number 21 to Goldfrapp's Black Cherry album.

5.  How do you deal with depression, anxiety and bad times?

I never get depressed for longer than half an hour, but anxiety is my middle name. I've tried many many ways of controlling it but nothing works for very long.

6. What do you love doing that bores everyone else stiff?

Grinding coffee, washing up, chopping vegetables, washing my hair.

7. Did you ever encounter an inanimate object that seemed to have a will of its own?

Shoelaces. They knot and unknot whenever they feel like it.

8. What is your very favourite hotel or restaurant?

The San Cassiano Hotel in Venice. It's on the bank of the Grand Canal.

9. Do you think prisoners who have committed particularly vile crimes should be segregated in jail for their own safety?

That's for them to decide. Long-term segregation can be very psychologically damaging.

10. What do you wish you had known when you were 18?

I wish I'd known a lot more about sex!

(There was an eleventh question about the photos in her post, but since you can't see them....)

Saturday 7 December 2013

Off trend

I couldn't be pretentious to save my life. I do what I want to do, and if it isn't trendy or cultured or flashy enough, that's too bad.

I see other people with their Armani jeans and iPads and Lady Gaga tickets and the Morrissey book and I think, well, that's fine, whatever turns you on, but I'm not going to rush out and buy all the latest fashionable bits and bobs just to prove I'm a cutting-edge sophisticate who knows where it's at. Whatever It may be. And wherever It may be lurking.

I insist on buying cheap chain-store jeans, tickets for old-timers like K T Tunstall, books by obscure authors nobody's ever heard of, and comfort food scarcely mentioned by all the celebrity chefs. I know practically everything I do or say is thoroughly off-message, and I don't give a damn.

The few times I've actually tried to be up-to-the-minute, style-conscious and so-hip-it-hurts, it's been a dismal failure and whispered put-downs and stifled giggles are the order of the day. I just somehow lose the plot and look like a pathetic wannabe trailing hopelessly behind the smug pace-setters.

When I was at boarding school, I tried desperately to be as smoothly masculine and rugged as the other boys, but of course it didn't work. However hard I tried, I still ended up as the effeminate wimp who simpered when I should be growling, and let my hair flop everywhere instead of slicking it back like Elvis.

As a teenage dater, I sometimes tried to be the cool, monosyllabic guy with the perfect social poise, but inevitably I reverted to type and remained the bashful, stuttering greenhorn terrified that any intelligent woman would laugh hysterically at my mumbled request for a second date.

No, I leave the pretentious posing and posturing to others, and continue to go my own way, gazing curiously at the breathless trend-setters scurrying along several miles ahead.

Don't mind me. I'm quite happy where I am.

Monday 2 December 2013

Too much information

It may be weird, but I don't really understand the concept of Too Much Inform-ation. I'm happy for other people to tell me whatever they want about themselves, and if they feel comfortable with it, then so am I. I don't care how strange the subject, if it's important to them, I'm glad they told me.

But of course it doesn't work the other way round. I say things I'm comfortable with, only to discover that other people are NOT comfortable with them and clearly think I've Gone Too Far. I have to hastily retreat and apologise and withdraw the awkward remark. Which I hasten to add, I don't mind doing; I don't want anyone to be squirming at something I've casually blurted out, oblivious to other people's sensibilities.

The thing is, there's very little about me I wouldn't want others to know. I know I'm full of faults and shortcomings and oddities but so is everyone else, so why be nervous about sharing them? Other people don't see it that way though; they feel there are certain things that shouldn't be shared, that they don't want to know, and if I do share them they cringe.

I do in fact keep quiet about a lot of things I'm pretty sure other people wouldn't want to hear. But then I mention something else that seems to me quite innocent and unremarkable and I find I've Said The Wrong Thing. And I scratch my head and wonder what caused such a frisson.

If anything, I would say most people give me Too Little Information. They're so afraid of embarrassing themselves, or embarrassing me, or looking crazy, or being self-centred, or exposing something too intimate, that they stick to neutral, well-trodden topics that avoid anything genuinely revealing. I think we're all far more guarded than we need to be.