Saturday 29 August 2015

Seriously scary

On the whole I'm a responsible person. I take things seriously, I do what needs to be done, I bite the bullet. I don't procras-tinate or deny or disappear. I don't create messes for others to clear up. I don't blame my mistakes on other people. I don't say "That's someone else's job".

I keep things ticking over. I get the car repaired. I go to the doctor. I pay the bills. I keep the house insured. I do the food-shopping. I don't sprawl on the sofa all day, slurping beer and watching reality TV.

I'm good at all that small-scale responsibility, looking after myself and my partner, keeping the household going. What I'm not good at, what totally terrifies me, is any large-scale responsibility - anything that involves not just me but large numbers of other people. I run from that as fast as I can. I'm sure it would end in colossal disaster.

I could never have been an airline pilot, or a hospital administrator, or a train driver, or a roller-coaster operator, or the manager of a vast public stadium. The stress of knowing I was personally responsible for the safety of hundreds or thousands of ordinary folk would make me a nervous wreck in weeks.

Even being responsible for a large number of staff - a shop or office manager, say - would freak me out. Knowing they depended on me for their income and job satisfaction. Knowing I depended on them to turn up, to do their jobs properly, to not rob the till or insult the customers. I had opportunities to be a bookshop manager but I always resisted them, preferring to be a humble but contented employee.

So yes, I'm good at responsibility chez nous. Good at oiling squeaky doors and unblocking sinks. But responsibility for hundreds of trusting, vulnerable human beings - that's seriously scary.

Monday 24 August 2015

Fizzing furiously

Do we really live life more intensely when we're young? Is it really true that as children we feel everything more passion-ately, more vividly, but as we get older we're more phlegmatic, shrugging off with a brief flicker of interest things that once got us so aroused?

Of course it isn't. Oldies feel things just as acutely. We may not go rushing off to protest rallies or dance the night away (though some of us still do), but we're just as emotional and passionate as we ever were. Things can still stab us in the heart or knock us for six.

You only have to listen to a few oldies exclaiming about some pet grievance or some cherished political opinion to realise that they're not exactly burnt-out old cynics happy to let life drift past them with an indifferent "So what?"

I constantly amaze myself with my continuing passions about life's vicissitudes. In fact it's because I've lived so long, and know how little has been done to resolve problems I've been aware of since I was a small child, that I get so angry and forthright about the need to fix them. Often angrier than when I was young and thought these injustices would soon be put right.

And it's because I've lived so long, and can recall a more enlightened time of full employment, better working conditions, generous welfare benefits and cheaper housing, that I'm utterly distressed at the way we're hurtling back to a Victorian era of struggle and deprivation, and I'm incandescent with disbelief and outrage. How could anyone of any age not be passionate about this wilful political vandalism?

No, my emotions certainly haven't dried up with advancing years. On the contrary, they're fizzing as furiously as they were in my naive, pubescent self.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Object lesson

I think couples are often objectified in the same way as women are objectified. People make judgments on the basis of what the couple looks like, with little or no knowledge of what actually goes on "inside" the relationship.

A relationship dismissed as sterile, or unbalanced, or destructive, by casual observers might actually be a very happy and fulfilling relationship, but only the couple themselves know that, while the naysayers have got it entirely wrong.

But people do love to judge other people's relationships, seemingly quite oblivious that they're almost certainly misreading them and simply making an arse of themselves.

Celebrity couples in particular seem to attract this vacuous opinionising, but couples everywhere have been subjected to it at one time or another. I'm sure we all know couples whose friends or relatives have said "That'll never work. They'll have split up in six months", and then lo and behold, ten years later they're still going strong.

Apart from anything else, how people behave in public can be very different from how they behave in private, in the seclusion of their own household, where they can be completely natural and uninhibited. In public they may change their behaviour dramatically, putting on a show of politeness or generosity or open-mindedness (or for that matter naked aggression) that's totally false.

In which case making impassioned judgments on the basis of what couples are choosing to show you is not only superficial but gullible.

Even the smartest guesses can never plumb the infinite mystery of human pairings.

Monday 17 August 2015

Baring all

Some couples claim there's nothing they wouldn't want their partners to see, that they just let it all hang out and they don't care what their partner thinks. Such openness is part of a genuine, honest relationship and why on earth would they want to hide things? What's to be shy about?

I've met couples who seem to do exactly that and not feel at all awkward about it. They share the bathroom, show each other their wobbly bits, hoover up cake and chocolates, plough through chicklit, and don't feel any furtive need to conceal anything.

I incline that way too. I might feel a bit embarrassed at times about having an audience, but seldom do I actually hide anything - unless I'm asked to. There are very few things I'd rather keep to myself.

I was checking through a list of activities that people commonly don't want their partner to witness, and personally I wouldn't be too bothered by any of them. For example:
  • Getting dressed or undressed
  • Trying on clothes
  • Weighing yourself
  • Eating something unhealthy or bingeing
  • Enjoying a trashy novel/music/film etc
  • Boozing
  • Smoking
  • Pleasuring yourself
  • Personal grooming
  • Crying/being seriously upset
  • Buying something expensive
  • Using pornography
Not that I've ever smoked or used porn, so those two can be ruled out. But as for the others, what's the big deal? Why would I want to keep them out of sight?

It's sad that someone feels so embarrassed or ashamed by their body or their behaviour, or so scared of a judgmental and censorious partner, that they simply can't stand to be seen. But such reticence is easily learnt, and hard to shake off once it's engrained.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Boringly moderate

I'm a remarkably un-obsessive and un-addictive person. I'm boringly moderate about virtually every-thing*. I have no habits so out-of-control that they soak up money, ruin my health, burden other people, or might get me sacked.

I've never smoked. I drink very little alcohol. I don't gamble. I don't visit prostitutes. I don't use porn. I don't have affairs. I don't crave junk food. I don't go in for plastic surgery. I don't self-harm. I've taken "fun" drugs just four times. As I say, boringly moderate. Yawningly restrained.

The things that blight other people's lives either don't interest me, actively repulse me or satisfy me in modest amounts. I don't feel the urge to grab more and more of something, to binge crazily on something well past the point of initial pleasure.

Many people would say I'm just afraid of living, letting my hair down, having a good time. I'm too self-controlled, too "sensible", too inhibited. Maybe that's true. But I feel I've had a great life and I'm not conscious of missing some vital experience by being so moderate.

In some people's eyes, this natural restraint makes me smug, or self-righteous, or censorious. I hope not. I really feel for people who're in the grip of some all-consuming addiction that's wrecking them and is the despair of of their helpless loved ones. Like the richly talented but so susceptible Amy Winehouse.

I suppose I've always believed in the saying "A little of what you fancy does you good." Too much of what you fancy and the pleasure will wear off rapidly, leaving you jaded and disappointed. For other people though "You can't have too much of a good thing" rules the day.

* Well, except politics. And religion. And meat-eating.

Saturday 8 August 2015

Big smack for Jack

Huge controversy over the opening of a Jack The Ripper Museum in East London. Those for it and those against it are slugging it out, abuse is being hurled in all directions, the museum windows have been smashed, and the owner is lying low.

Supporters say it's informative and sympathetic to the victims. Opponents say it's misogynist rubbish and local residents were hoodwinked about the nature of the museum.

Needless to say, most of the protesters haven't actually been round the museum, but they feel free to criticise it and demand its closure.

The critics maintain that when the museum was first announced to the locals, the idea was to "recognise and celebrate the women of the East End", showcasing 150 years of social history including the Match Girls Union, the Suffragettes, and the Bengali women who fought racism.

Residents say they were shocked to find the original plans had been scrapped in favour of a museum about an infamous 19th-century murderer of female prostitutes.

Well, I rather think the protesters are going a bit over the top. Yes, a museum about women of the East End, especially feminist women, would have been excellent. But is a museum about a woman-hating murderer such a dreadful alternative?

The museum's owner, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, denies it's celebrating or glorifying the murderer. He says it's very much from the point-of-view of the victims.

Since almost nobody has actually checked out the museum's content, who can say what angle it takes and whether the protesters have valid arguments or whether they're going ape-shit over a contrived outrage?

Surely anyone with any sense of fair play would at least properly investigate what they're fuming at before making such a public song-and-dance about it. But such scruples seem to be a thing of the past.

Saturday 1 August 2015

Safe and sound

As a straight white man living in a sedate area of a British city, I take my physical safety for granted. The chances of my being mugged or shot or raped or otherwise attacked are so miniscule I don't need to worry about it.

Not so for many, many other people who have to think about their physical safety all the time. Women wary of any unknown man on the street. Gays wary of anti-gay thugs. Black people wary of hostile whites. Atheists living in a religion-dominated society. Families living in the midst of civil war. Sexually abused children.

No society can call itself civilised when so many of its citizens feel physically unsafe and at risk from those around them. We should all feel safe and protected and unthreatened. But the reality is very different.

Luckily all I ever have to worry about is emotional safety - that there are people who care for me and respect me and that I'm not going to be constantly judged and appraised and found wanting. That people won't laugh if I do something wrong, or push me away if I feel lonely, or patronise me if I'm distressed. And by and large, in that way too I feel safe.

I hugely admire those people who're determined to be themselves and live their lives to the full despite huge threats to their physical and emotional safety. They refuse to be intimidated or scared and just carry on regardless in the face of widespread menace. I marvel at their strength and single-mindedness. I could never be that tough.

It's a sorry state of affairs when some women still feel the need to go out with a man or another woman, simply to ward off unwanted male attention. Even when we're well into the 21st century? It's scandalous.