Thursday 27 March 2014

Under the influence

People are fond of saying "you must put the past behind you", but it's not as easy as you think. You can push away the past as much as you like, but it has a nasty habit of coming back to bite you.

I have a natural tendency to forget about experiences that were unpleasant, or at least to remember the experience but forget the negative emotions that went with it. If someone suggests I might have been very upset, I reflect for a second or two and think maybe I was. Maybe.

All those feelings of embarrassment or rage or shame or betrayal that stick in other people's minds evaporate from my own mind very quickly, as if they never occurred in the first place. It's a sort of mental de-cluttering mechanism that clears away stuff that's no use to me.

But whatever I remember or don't remember, those experiences are still a part of me and still affect me in all sorts of ways. For example, things people have said and done to undermine my confidence, perhaps way back in my childhood, can still dent my confidence even now.

However much I talk myself up and tell myself I'm an intelligent, experienced person who should be effortlessly confident in most situations, still there's this undercurrent of past experience that can lead to nagging self-doubt.

Saying you must put the past behind you is a bit like saying you must forget your gender. It's so embedded in your mind that it continues to have repercussions whether you like it or not.

The best thing you can do is stop the past being too much of a nuisance, like an over-energetic dog that keeps leaping all over you. If you can get it to lie quietly in a corner, not bothering you, you're doing well.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Risk assessment

My attitude to risk is very contradictory. Some highly risky things don't bother me at all. Others bother me a lot, probably more than they ought to.

I have no qualms about flying, even right across the world. I know there's always a risk of crashes, of fires, of hijacks. But statistically it's the safest form of travel and I have every confidence my next flight will be disaster-free.

I'm okay with driving too. I know that's a very dangerous form of travel, and that serious, possibly fatal, accidents occur all the time. But I'm confident that as long as I'm always alert and attentive, catastrophe is unlikely.

On the other hand, I'm very nervous about hospitals and operations. I'm aware that most operations are routine and successful, but I'm rather too aware of the small percentage that go horribly wrong and leave you in a worse state than before - or even dead. I mean, just suppose I'm one of that small percentage?

I'm also wary of financial risk. I keep my money in the bank and that's it. I'm suspicious of investments and fancy money-making schemes that may go suddenly pear-shaped, swallow up all my money and leave me penniless.

I can be very timid about making big changes in my life, be it a new job, a new home, even a new political allegiance. It might seem like a positive move, it might enhance my life, but what are the unforeseen consequences? Could I be making a reckless mistake, one I live to regret?

Oddly enough though, I was quite sure that moving from London to Belfast was the right thing to do, even though I had no job to go to, I had no relatives living there, and the peace process was only in its early stages. I somehow had confidence it would all work out, and it did.

Why am I quite nonchalant about some risks and over-anxious about others? Why am I so inconsistent? The vagaries of the human mind are a constant puzzle.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Pretentious, moi?

Am I pretent-ious? Do I try to impress people with all sorts of phoney tricks and gambits? Do I think the real me is too dull and too ordinary to interest people?

Sometimes I decide, yes, I'm totally pretentious, I'm trying to wow everyone with my superior education or my clever arguments or my worldliness or my political right-on-ness. I want them to think I'm a bit special, a bit remarkable, someone they'll remember when they've forgotten a hundred other people.

Then I think, no, that's utter crap, I'm not the slightest bit pretentious, I know my education was mediocre and most of my clever arguments are bullshit and I'm about as worldly as a dormouse and politically right-on as the weather forecast.

I know perfectly well I'm probably as dull and ordinary as the next person and there's no point in pretending otherwise. I might think I'm special but that's just my inflated opinion of all the personal clich├ęs and platitudes that I fondle and caress in the privacy of my own ego.

At the end of the day, pretending to be more sophisticated than I am isn't going to fool anyone. People aren't that stupid, they can tell the difference between meaningless bollocks and emotional and psychological truth. They want to see the real me, however dull and ordinary and messy, they don't want some showy performance.

So no, I don't think I'm pretentious, but I may just want to think that, I may just want to convince myself I'm a regular guy with no airs and graces. Other people may be laughing like drains, ready to point out all my pompous pronouncements and vacuous statements and puncture my balloon of self-satisfaction.

Please do. Honest opinions are always welcome. You're not likely to dent my ego, which is about the size of a garden pea and has probably already slipped down the back of the sofa. Go on, tell me the truth. Pretentious, moi?

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Flight into oblivion

I'm fascinated by the disapp-earance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Five days on, not a single trace of the plane has been found, despite a massive search operation. What the hell happened to it?

Theories proliferate by the hour. Was it a terrorist attack? Did the pilot commit suicide? Did a structural fault cause the plane to decompress and break up? Was the co-pilot distracted by female passengers he invited into the cockpit? Was the plane sabotaged? Was it hijacked? Did one of the pilots have a mental breakdown? Was there a total electrical failure? Right now it's anyone's guess.

And I think of the 239 passengers and crew, assuming they were on a routine flight to Beijing, maybe looking forward to a holiday, or visiting families, or just getting back home. Relaxing, joking, watching movies, snoozing. Then all of a sudden, apparently with no warning whatever, thrown into oblivion.

Distraught relatives and friends clustered at the two airports, waiting frantically for news, hoping for a miracle but facing up to the grim reality. Wishing their loved ones had been on any flight except that one. Their lives abruptly shattered, all their expectations for the future thrown into disarray.

So what the hell went wrong? As one aviation expert said, "It's pretty baffling. Whatever happened on that flight deck, the pilots did not do what pilots do. They aviate, they navigate and they communicate. If something happens at altitude, the first thing they want to do is squawk emergency."

And the search for the remains of flight MH370 continues.

Pic: the long, long wait for news

Friday 7 March 2014

Callous neglect

A new survey says the average British household owns 138 books, but less than half of them have been read. The others are poor lonely things that have been callously neglected.

Our own bookshelves have a lot more than 138 books - more like a thousand, I would say. But the unread portion is probably about right - something like half. So why are they unread, I hear you asking?

1) We know they're excellent books and we fully intend to read them when the time is ripe. When we're both retired maybe.
2) We read a few pages of the book, couldn't really get into it, but kept it in case we were more attuned at some later date.
3) We didn't know we even had the book. We must have bought it some time. Or maybe somebody gave it to us. We must read it.

One journalist* suggested "It would be a slightly scary household where every single book had been read." Indeed it would. It would suggest powers of concentration, determination and enthusiasm bordering on the miraculous.

It would be almost as scary if none of the books had been read, and the whole collection was merely an attempt to impress any well-read visitors. It would be awkward though if the visitor suddenly asked you what you thought of Jonathan Franzen's views on family dynamics.

The same journalist guessed that the volumes in the lavatory were most likely to be read, though probably not if you were busy vomiting at the time.

But there's something very cosy and reassuring about bookshelves, whether the books are read or unread. The mere fact that many of the books were written decades or even centuries ago gives a sense of continuity and permanence that soothes all those hovering anxieties.

That is, until one of your oldest paperbacks simply disintegrates as you're lovingly dusting it, and turns into a useless heap of confetti.

* Ben Milne of the BBC