Saturday 31 October 2015

Was my face red

Mistakes and mishaps always make me laugh. I know it's wrong but I just can't help myself. The mirth of the unex-pected. The mirth of human frailty.

Someone falling into a pond, denting the car, dyeing everything purple in the wash. Someone delivering the wrong speech, catching the wrong train, going to the wrong funeral. Isn't laughter a spontaneous reaction to the unforeseen?

Naturally I sympathise as well. I feel for the person who's messed up, especially if it's a friend or someone I admire. I know how I would feel in the same situation. Thoroughly embarrassed and angry with myself. I wouldn't appreciate the laughter one bit.

But I usually end up laughing at myself, once the dust has settled and the initial embarrassment has faded. A week later I'll be chuckling as I tell the story to someone else, painting a vivid picture of my idiocy or absent-mindedness.

Of course I'm not talking about blunders that lead to severe injury or death. They have to be treated with the seriousness they deserve. But a politician struggling with an over-filled bacon sandwich? Who could fail to be amused?

Mishaps are especially funny if they happen to someone who's normally the soul of rectitude -  pompous, strait-laced, sanctimonious. When they come a cropper like anyone else, it's delicious. I remember when a particularly loathsome boss had his house burgled. When the staff heard about it, they could hardly stop laughing. It was such a wonderful come-uppance.

The richly ironic gaffes are comical too. Like the gay-bashing politician caught in bed with a rent boy. Or the "happily-married" vicar whose secret mistress goes public. The ultimate futility of such strenuous pretence can only be relished.

How dull life would be without the endless joys of human error.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

You have to laugh

A tricky thing, a sense of humour. You have to be careful how you use it. It can lighten the mood and cement a friendship. Or it can so seriously offend someone they never want to speak to you again.

As you know, I have a well-developed sense of humour which I apply to the most unlikely situations. I see the funny side of everything, no matter how grim or disastrous, and I often have to restrain myself to avoid causing offence to someone in a highly sensitive state who absolutely doesn't see a shred of humour in what's happening.

Mind you, sometimes people are too over-sensitive, ready to take offence at just about anything, and then however carefully I tread I can still prompt horrified glances and stony silences.

Some subjects are a complete humorous no-no unless you know your companions very well and are confident they'll take the joke in the spirit it was intended. If not, then keep well away from religion, disability, transgender, death, abortion, terminal illness, or anything where there's the slightest hint of condemnation, callousness or sheer ignorance. Your flippant witticisms will not in any way be appreciated.

I think it's often assumed that because I'm joking about something deadly serious, I have no sympathy or concern for people who're facing hellish experiences and hardly know if they're coming or going. On the contrary, I have huge sympathy but every situation has its comical side, however macabre or grotesque, and I can't help noticing it. Gallows humour, anyone?

If someone at my own graveside suddenly saw the funny side of my departure from planet earth and couldn't help tittering uncontrollably, I wouldn't object. I'd rather that than a pall of gloom and misery.

Of course a sense of humour can sometimes be used as a defence against the shocking reality of a situation, a way of blotting things out and not letting your feelings overwhelm you. But perhaps that's okay as well if it enables you to process your emotions in your own good time.

By the way, did you hear the one about the undertaker and the gravedigger?

Sunday 25 October 2015

Smart or smarting?

I'm pretty paranoid about seeming stupid. I dread the possibility that I'll inad-vertently say something so clueless that those listening will inwardly wince or titter at my idiocy.

All those attentive faces that were assuming I had something intelligent to say will suddenly freeze and conclude I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer and they can safely ignore me.

Which I guess is one reason I tend to be shy in company and say as little as possible. I'm not one of those people who gabble away non-stop and couldn't care less how others judge their remarks.

I'm assuming of course that people are mean enough to gloat over my inanities rather than being sympathetic to an unintended blooper they could as easily have made themselves. I assume they're privately guffawing rather than feeling a twinge of friendly recognition.

I guess the root cause of my paranoia is the sneaking belief that most people are more intelligent than I am. I suppose it goes back to my failing the 11 plus and then leaving school with disappointing exam results. Not to mention those deeply flawed IQ tests.

But at the end of the day it's just the nagging suspicion that what I think is an intelligent, perceptive remark is actually half-witted but I just haven't realised that. So I keep the remark to myself and say nothing. Better to look opinion-less than gormless.

It's rather galling though if ten seconds later someone else comes up with the exact same thought, which is greeted enthusiastically, and I kick myself for being so self-doubting.

Okay, stop tittering at the back. And stop giving me those funny looks.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Undue punishment

I'm always dismayed by those people who no longer see someone as a human being, no longer sympathise with their personal problems or emotional crises simply because they've said or done something that's deemed insulting or distasteful.

Jim Wells, a Stormont MLA, has been vilified by many people since he told a gay couple back in April that children with gay parents might be abused. He also told a lesbian couple he disagreed with their lifestyle.

His remarks were clearly homophobic and were investigated by the Public Prosecution Service, who said last week he wouldn't be charged with any offence.

But a lot of people decided that having made such insulting comments, he was beyond the pale and should become a social pariah indefinitely.

This strikes me as shockingly mean and heartless, as for some time now his private life has been hell after his wife Grace suffered two devastating strokes, can't communicate with him and is barely aware of the outside world.

He has been intensely lonely and depressed and desperately misses the close relationship he had with his wife, the one person he shared every detail of his life with. He says the past six months have been the darkest of his life.

He has been deeply hurt after people he had known for four decades - and who he considered friends - stopped contacting him after the incidents in April.

"The phone went very silent for a while" he said. "I was maybe getting just two or three calls a day from a core group of people and I don't think I would have got through everything without their support. People I thought were friends stopped contacting me even to ask about Grace, and that was very difficult to cope with."

We all sometimes make stupid and ill-judged comments. But that shouldn't mean that people stop caring about us, stop sympathising with our personal misfortunes, and treat us like some kind of evil monster.

It's an undeserved punishment.

Pic: Jim Wells

Sunday 18 October 2015

Suitably soothing

Seeing as Ursula thought my last post was "disturbing and disturbed" (not for the first time, I'm sure), I shall make up for it by donning the straitjacket, swallowing the pills, and suggesting 25 things that are soothing, comforting or reassuring. Such as:

1. Smooth, untouched snow
2. The smell and feel of morning mist
3. Someone playing with your hair
4. A purring cat
5. A warm shower
6. The sound of pattering rain
7. Crisp, cold, clean water
8. A flickering candle
9. The scent of a loved one
10. Waking up naturally and slowly
11. Soft fabric against your skin
12. Long heart-felt hugs
13. The breeze blowing your curtains
14. The first stretch of the morning
15. A smell that recalls a fond memory
16. Walking barefoot in grass
17. Skinny-dipping
18. Laughing to yourself at a private joke
19. The sound of waves
20. The smell of your favourite food
21. The taste of chocolate
22. Unexpectedly hearing a much-loved song
23. A surprise call from an old friend
24. Rustling leaves
25. A brand-new, fluffy towel

How's that? Am I forgiven? Or do I need the straitjacket a little longer?

Thursday 15 October 2015

Crazy thoughts

Getting unwanted and peculiar thoughts is more usual than you might imagine. But most people don't like to admit to them because they don't want to appear crazy or irresponsible or dangerous.

It's very common to think about doing violence to other people - murdering them, attacking them, poisoning them, setting fire to them, or being sexually violent. Or you might be convinced you've run someone over, or unwittingly harmed them, or made them ill. Or you imagine your house is about to collapse, or you're dying of terminal cancer, or your car has a deadly fault.

Apparently the vast majority of parents have unwanted thoughts about harming their children (no doubt when little Rebecca is being especially arsey), but they wouldn't dare tell anyone else - unless the other person has confided first.

I have my fair share of bizarre thoughts I'd rather not share. After all, I want to be seen as sensible and responsible, not as some raving lunatic who wants to knife the next-door neighbour.

But when you bear in mind the sort of stresses and strains (and obstreperous people) we all have to cope with in our daily lives, it's hardly surprising our imaginations go a bit wild and start dreaming up outrageous solutions. How convenient it would be if that workmate who criticises everything you do suddenly vanished.

If you keep those odd thoughts to yourself and don't act on them, then it's no problem, it's just the normal workings of the human brain. What's alarming is those individuals who not only have odd thoughts but act on them and cause mayhem. Like the gunman who runs amok in a college, or the nurse who secretly poisons her elderly patients.

Goodness knows what that little old lady on the bus is quietly plotting....

Sunday 11 October 2015

Losing control

I have a deep fear of losing control of my life, of everything unravelling and disorder and chaos taking over.

I fear that at any moment the precarious web of underpinnings that my life depends on could collapse and leave me floundering and helpless.

I never assume, as others do, that my life will just trundle on in much the same way for the next umpteen years with nothing to worry about but minor ups and downs.

Totally irrational of course, because in reality my life has been fairly uneventfully trundling on for several decades. There's been no major disaster to knock everything off track.

Yet here I am obsessing over keeping control of everything and worrying that just one bad decision or careless moment could send me over the precipice, like one of those cartoon characters who takes a step too far and ends up hovering in mid air.

But maybe my anxiety is a perfectly normal response to the fragility of modern life and our dependence on so many people and things that are beyond our personal control - economic crises, wars, natural disasters, incompetent governments.

Maybe it's the assumption of everything carrying on as before, of everything we rely on continuing ad infinitum, that is the irrational view. And then when something calamitous does occur, it comes as a much nastier shock than it should have done. It seems like the end of the world rather than a temporary setback.

Oh well, I'm not floundering and helpless just yet. It must be divine intervention.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Way to go

Apparently the traditional funeral is a thing of the past and there's a growing trend towards either no funeral at all - a quick cremation and that's that - or an elaborate themed funeral that's more like a fancy wedding.

A lot of people who object to the formality and rising cost of a conventional funeral are keeping it simple with a cardboard or wicker coffin and a speedy cremation. And that's it. No luxury coffins, no hearse, no besuited undertakers, no priest, no pomp and ceremony. Just a streamlined despatch.

There are still objections from some that such a down-to-earth approach doesn't show enough respect for the dead person. But to my mind, what shows respect is not a lot of funereal pomp but remembering the person fondly in the years to come and appreciating what they added to your life.

On the other hand, more and more people are going in for glitzy funerals featuring fancy dress, personal mementos, special locations, or horse-drawn carriages. The occasion is seen as a celebration of life rather than a sombre farewell, and a chance to recall the dead person's big interests and passions.

Well, that's certainly an improvement on the pervading gloom and despondency of the customary funeral, with everyone dressed in black, muttering polite condolences and all looking as if the world is about to end.

But personally I'm all in favour of the streamlined option. When I finally pop my clogs, I want the simplest possible departure - rapid cremation and no fuss and bother. Instead of spending thousands on the old-style send-off, whoever I leave behind should jet off on a luxury holiday somewhere and just think of me occasionally while they're sightseeing or enjoying the local cuisine.

Better a bit of personal indulgence than fat profits for some funeral parlour.