Thursday 25 June 2015

Safe and sound

I really take for granted that as a British citizen, as a man, and as a white person, I can generally feel safe and unlikely to be attacked or discriminated against.

Apart from my childhood, which you've all heard about ad nauseam, I've been privileged compared to millions of people across the world who live in constant fear and insecurity, always about to be humiliated or victimised, about to lose their home or their job, or die in some incomprehensible war or religious crackdown.

I can go about my daily life with confidence and optimism, sure that on the whole I'll achieve what I want to achieve, that people will treat me fairly, that I'll be given respect and consideration.

I'm not going to be harassed and insulted by the opposite sex, I'm not going to be stopped for driving while black, I haven't been forced into the exhausting, badly-paid jobs that are reserved for immigrants. I won't be kicked around and exploited because my social status is zero.

When I stop to think about it, I count my blessings that I was born where I was, in the sex and skin that I was, into the family I was, into the neighbourhood I was, and not into totally different circumstances that would have doomed me to a hard, miserable, frantic existence.

I suppose what reminded me of all that is the way immigrants are being treated both in Britain and across the world. The desperation of all those wretched mobs at Calais. The asylum seekers treated with such contempt and cruelty by the Australian government. The torrent of refugees from the bedlam in the Middle East.

I can imagine only too well what they must be feeling, what they must be going through. It's a million miles from my own cushy experience.

I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I was certainly dealt a good hand of cards.

Pic: The Turkish Coast Guard stops a boatload of migrants trying to reach Greece.

Sunday 21 June 2015


I'm far too easily intimidated. There are so many things that instantly demolish my fragile self-confidence. Like people who're wealthy/ hyper intelligent/ posh/ famous/ naturally chatty/ beautiful.

Why oh why, you might ask. Why do all these things matter so much to you? Just be yourself and people will like you or not like you and that's it. And it won't matter a damn if they're wealthy or posh or whatever.

Easy to say but not so easy to do. And don't tell me you never feel the same way yourself. Don't tell me you're never unravelled by someone whose talents and abilities make you feel like the village idiot. Someone who makes you wish the ground would swallow you up.

I mean, most people are thrown by celebs. Someone meets their revered actor or footballer or guru and what happens? They're struck dumb. They've no idea what to say. They're paralysed by the aura that surrounds this household name. And they stand there, their mouth opening and shutting like a goldfish, and then the star moves on and they're kicking themselves for being so gormless.

If I ever came face to face with (say) Sarah Silverman, the conversation would probably go something like this:

Me: Wow, you're Sarah Silverman.
SS: That's correct. Well spotted.
Me: Wow, I just have to say, your stuff is brilliant. Totally brilliant. Really, it's so fucking brilliant. And did I say it was brilliant?
SS: Thank you so much. Now if you'll excuse me....
Me (mouth opening and shutting like a goldfish): Of course. Oh my God - Sarah Silverman. Jeez.

So don't anyone try and tell me you had this witty, scintillating, 30-minute convo with (say) Tina Fey. I won't believe you. I won't.

Admit it. You would be intimidated. You would feel like the village idiot. You would want the ground to swallow you up.

The trouble is, it never does.

Monday 15 June 2015

Cold feet

It seems that a surprising number of those about to marry already doubt that the relationship will last. And quite a few of them consider leaving their spouse-to-be at the ceremony. But for one reason or another they go through with it - often only to confirm their original doubts and get divorced.

A survey of 1,600 divorcees found that 49 per cent were worried on their wedding day that the marriage was a big mistake, and two thirds thought about calling it off.

So why did they squash their doubts and carry on anyway? They thought their partner would change for the better. They thought "it would all work out". They were too embarrassed. They felt guilty letting their partner down. They succumbed to family pressure. Or they thought it was just "wedding nerves".

One woman who explains her numerous doubts says she only realised how empty her marriage was when a workmate got engaged and she burst into tears.

I wonder how many of the divorcees cohabited before they married. It seems to me that a period of cohabiting will make it very clear whether you're suited to each other and likely to stay together or whether it's just not going to work.

Jenny and I cohabited for 14 years before we married, and by then were confident we would stay together. Even though the marriage was basically for financial reasons (I would only inherit her occupational pension if I was a spouse), we had no doubts whatever as we did the necessary at the local register office.

But I can understand those with cold feet not having the nerve to stand up and say "No, I just can't do it". Especially if it's a mega-bucks white wedding with all the trimmings. Disappointing hundreds of people and throwing all that cash down the drain. Looking like a complete idiot for going along with huge preparations.

Who wants to be a party-pooper?

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Out of context

It's very odd when a judge excuses physical violence towards a child on the grounds that "cultural context" should be considered and many newcomers to Britain punish their children by hitting them.

There seems to be a growing trend for certain groups to insist that the law should adapt to their particular beliefs or practices, rather than the law being applied to everyone on the same basis.

There are demands for sharia law, or religious strictures about homosexuality, or FGM, or even honour killings, to be legally acceptable on the grounds of personal conscience or social tradition or whatever, as if people are entitled to modify the law to suit their own purposes.

High Court Judge Mrs Justice Pauffley (pictured), ruling on a case where a boy had been repeatedly hit by his Indian father, said allowance must be made for the family coming from another culture.

Many communities newly arrived in Britain slapped and hit their children for misbehaviour, and the "cultural context" should be considered, she said.

Needless to say, child protection experts were astonished by her remarks, saying that culture is irrelevant to child abuse and every child has the right to be safe and protected from violence.

Of course they're absolutely correct. If certain groups are allowed to be exempt from the laws the rest of us have to follow, solely on the grounds of their deeply-held beliefs, the law would soon lose all credibility and respect. It would become just something to be fiddled or finessed. And once again the lawyers would have a field day.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Give and take

What's the formula for an enduring relation-ship? How come Jenny and I have stuck together for 34 years and not 34 days? What's the glue that keeps it all going? Well, I can think of one or two things.

1) Respect the need for privacy. If the other person prefers to dress/undress in private, or use the bathroom in private, or just be on their own for a while, why not? Total sharing at all times doesn't suit everyone.

2) Accept those idiosyncracies. We all have odd obsessions and habits - hoovering every ten minutes, or scraping out the marmalade jar, or leaving dirty clothes everywhere - and there's no point in trying to change them. That's how we are.

3) Sharing the domestic chores. If one person is doing the lion's share of the chores, and feeling increasingly resentful, it's a recipe for disaster. It has to be even stevens.

4) Maintain the romance. If all the romance has gone out of the relationship, it's dead in the water. There have to be things that keep you a bit starry eyed, a bit soppy, and hopelessly enamoured.

5) Mutual self-expression. It's all a charade if one person is totally doing their thing, while the other is permanently suppressing themself and being what the other wants them to be. You both need to grow.

6) Shared perspectives. Seeing everyday issues in a similar way is important. How clean you expect the house to be, what to spend your money on, how much socialising you like to do. Total incompatibilities can be fatal.

7) Loving each other's bodies. Even as we get older, and wrinklier, and saggier, we still love what we see. We don't hanker after something younger and fresher. Whatever we look like, it's just fine.

8) Communication.* Whatever's going on inside, let the other person know. Too much secrecy and holding-back, too much image-control, will strangle the relationship.

Or to put all that in a nutshell - plenty of give and take. Oh, and plenty of sweet nothings.

* This one thanks to Dave Martin (see comments)

Monday 1 June 2015

Parlez-vous Brit?

How often do you hear us Brits saying that we're embarr-assed by our ignorance of other languages? Over and over again. And how often do schools and politicians announce plans to improve language skills? Virtually never. Will we ever be a nation of multi-linguists?

There's still a general belief that there's no need to learn other languages because, after all, English is spoken so widely that wherever we go we can usually get by with our mother tongue. Why go to all that effort to learn another language that we probably won't speak very well anyway?

People from other countries, who often speak several languages fluently, are commonly astonished at the British inability to do the same. For one thing, their linguistic versatility makes them more employable while our ignorance makes us less so. And they can readily move to another country in search of a better job or lifestyle.

But language-learning is getting a lower and lower priority in British schools. It's not seen as an essential skill but as something fairly unimportant. And as far as I know, bilingual schools, where pupils have to speak a foreign language while they're in school, don't exist at all.

The language teaching was so bad at my teenage boarding school that after ten years of French lessons (I started at age eight), I failed my French A Level. It was only many years later, after a holiday in Italy, that I got the urge to learn Italian and now know the language quite well. I'm nowhere near fluent though.

I've met quite a few people from abroad who speak several languages perfectly and it pains me that their schools are so much better at the job than ours - contrary to our politicians' claims about the excellence of British schooling.

I would love to go to Italy or Spain or Germany and do the locals the courtesy of conversing in their own language fluently and adeptly, without expecting them to have learnt mine. But that's not going to happen any time soon.

É una situazione molto ridicola, molto assurda.