Friday 29 January 2016

No change

It's commonly thought that as you get older your outlook on life changes dram-atically and you're a very different person from your charming twenty something self.

Supposedly you become a crusty old right-winger, you recoil from anything new, you shout grumpy abuse at anyone you come across, you become tight-fisted and mean, and so on.

Well, even if that's generally the case, which I doubt, I must say it doesn't apply to me. I don't feel I've changed very much from that shallow, naive youngster groping his way through life forty odd years ago.

I still feel shallow and naive, I still feel marginalised and insignificant, I still feel I'm groping through life, I'm still baffled by most of what goes on around me, I'm still shy and retiring, and I still feel judged and misunderstood.

I'm certainly not a crusty old right-winger; if anything I've become more radical and sympathetic to new social trends like gay marriage and the personal openness found on social media. I don't recoil from anything new; if it's something that's going to enhance and improve my life, I grab it eagerly. I'm habitually polite and never shout grumpy abuse, even at people who thoroughly deserve it. I'm not tight-fisted and mean but very happy to spend freely on holidays, books, good food, wine and anything that enriches my existence.

My inner identity has barely changed through the decades. The external things may have changed - I have more money, I own a house, I've changed jobs, I've moved to a different city, I have a long-term relationship, I've become a hill-walker. But what's going on inside is much the same and shows no signs of fossilising into some hard-bitten, intolerant replica of Basil Fawlty.

Now excuse me while I grope my way through the rest of the day, trying yet again to make sense of it all.

Sunday 24 January 2016

Spilling it out

I still contend that there's no such thing as over-sharing. Why not just spill it all out? What is there about our lives that needs to be kept from other people? Maybe if you're a serial bank robber, you might want to hide it, but otherwise, the more we tell others, the more they'll understand us, which surely is all to the good?

I'm happy to share virtually anything, however personal or weird or illegal or seedy. There's nothing I'm ashamed of, nothing I regret, nothing that makes me cringe. All I keep to myself are things that might jeopardise my job, or embarrass Jenny, or be totally misunderstood, or get a police officer ringing my doorbell. Other than that, why bottle it all up?

Of course what is "over-sharing" to one person is just routine chat to another. While one person might be fascinated by the details of my sex life or medical problems, someone else might be utterly repulsed and head for the door. There's no way of predicting people's sharing threshold, so if I don't know them, I'll feel my way quite cautiously until I get some helpful signals.

Obviously I don't just blurt out anything and everything to every passing stranger. If someone looks like the shy and reserved type, I'll stick to the usual small talk and harmless banter. If they look as if they want something deeper and more honest, I'll open up a bit and see how it goes. I'm not going to foist of load of possibly shocking revelations on someone unprepared for them.

Contrary-wise, I'm very happy for other people to be as open as they like about their inner lives. It's interesting and revealing and brings us closer. We may be facing the same personal problems. They may be dying to get something off their chest. They may be baffled by something I can make sense of. Where's the benefit in forever hiding yourself behind a mask of polite, platitudinous nonsense?

I'm not a sphinx. I'll give it to you straight.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

First impressions

I got to thinking about what I look for in someone I've just met. How do I sum them up? What are the important things to know? These are the questions I tend to ask:

1) Are they my sort of person? Do they share my views, my general outlook, my hang-ups, my tastes?
2) Are they trustworthy? Are they what they seem to be? Or are they two-faced and slippery?
3) Are they intelligent? Do they look at things critically, shrewdly? Or do they just take things at face value?
4) Do they respect me? Do they accept me for what I am? Do they take me seriously? Or do they look down on me?
5) Are they interesting? Do they have unusual views and quirks? Are they surprising and unpredictable?
6) Are they genuine? Do they tell it like it is, or do they pretend to be something they're not?

Of course this may be the only time I meet them and I may never see them again. But I still ask all these questions, just to get a grip on them, to see below the surface. It's an entrenched habit.

If it's someone I might work with, then I'll ask other questions. Are they reliable? Will they do what they say they'll do? Are they supportive? Will they help me or attack me behind my back? That sort of thing.

It seems unusual to assess others in such detail. A lot of people simply go by instinct. Either they feel comfortable with someone or they don't. Either they like the look of someone or they've got nasty eyes. Maybe that works, maybe it doesn't.

Sometimes that's all you've got time for. Sometimes you just know in a split second that someone's an arsehole. Sometimes all you notice is how drop-dead gorgeous they are. Sometimes all you want to know is where the booze is hiding. Life's funny like that.

Friday 15 January 2016

Grooming fever

Apparently men's grooming is booming. Male beauty products are more and more popular, along with visits to beauty salons. Things like moisturisers are now seen as essentials rather than luxuries, and men are primping and preening like never before. Or so we're told.

Well, I wouldn't know if it's true or not. The men of my acquaintance aren't in the habit of confiding their beautifying regimes, if they have any. I have no idea if they merely rinse their face and comb their hair or if they spend hours moisturising, waxing, concealing their eye-bags or changing their hair-colour.

I suspect younger men are keener on grooming and looking good than older men, who're more likely to say, What the hell, people should accept me the way I am, and if they don't like it, tough. Older men with beer bellies, hairy nostrils and comb-overs are still all too common. But who knows in what unexpected places this sudden focus on personal appearance is taking root?

Personally I've always been a minimal groomer. I wash and I shower and I try to look presentable and that's about it. Oh, and I moisturise my inflammation-prone forehead. And I had some laser treatment to reduce my facial hair as I didn't like the permanent five o'clock shadow.

I've never been tempted to do anything else. I'm not bothered by my eye-bags, I still have plenty of hair (which isn't yet grey), I'm too lazy to purge any of my body hair, I don't care for perfume, and there's nothing else that needs moisturising. So I'm a bit of a dead loss to the beauty industry. I prefer to spend my cash on books, music, wine and good food.

So you won't find me semi-naked on a beauty salon couch any time soon. I'm more likely to be scanning the shelves at Waterstones for some tantalising prose.

Monday 11 January 2016


Some people believe that as we get older we're incapable of change and we cling to the opinions and habits formed when we were young. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", as the saying goes.

I think that's defeatist rubbish, trotted out by people who don't want to change, who cling to some supposed idyllic past and don't want to adjust to new demands and expectations.

They often justify this head-in-the-sand attitude by saying we're all "hard-wired" to think and behave in certain ways and that's that. Any attempts to think differently are doomed from the start.

I couldn't agree less. I know my thoughts and emotions have changed in numerous ways since I was young, and even since ten years ago. I couldn't be more different from the naive, submissive, muddled, careless schoolboy I once used to be. If the eight-year-old me met the 68-year-old me, we simply wouldn't recognise each other. We would seem like complete strangers.

As a youngster I was emotionally illiterate - barely aware of my emotions, let alone able to express them clearly. My opinions were sternly conservative, heavily influenced by my solidly conservative family. I was utterly naive about relationships, politics, sex, and the often desperate lives of those who didn't share my middle-class upbringing.

At what is now approaching a ripe old age, I'm all too informed about those things I used to be blithely ignorant of. Almost too well informed, to the point of weary cynicism. I'm more and more conscious of my emotions, and the depths of pain and suffering and joy and enthusiasm they involve. I don't have so many of the glib, know-it-all opinions about other people's relationships or behaviour or personal crises.

I think a person's readiness to change is boundless. All that's needed is an open mind and flexibility. Hard-wired, my arse.

Thursday 7 January 2016


Self discipline seems to be out of fashion. It's a dirty word almost. The big thing right now is to go with the flow. Follow your instincts. Let it all hang out.

People all around me are doing exactly that and it's embarrassing. They get impossibly drunk. They shout at shop assistants. They jump queues. They chuck rubbish everywhere.

Supposedly self discipline crushes the life out of you, puts you in a psychological corset. It makes you a party-pooper.

What utter nonsense. I have huge self discipline and huge will power, and I think my life is much the better for it. I've achieved things I wouldn't have achieved otherwise. By controlling my behaviour, not going to extremes, making more of an effort, I've made the most of my abilities and the opportunities I've been given. I don't feel my life has been remotely crushed.

There are plenty of people moaning that they're not getting what they want out of life, that they've been short-changed, that others are leaping ahead of them. Well, okay, maybe they've just had a lot of bad luck. Maybe things simply haven't gone their way. Perhaps they had crap parents and crap schools. But I can't help feeling that somewhere along the line they might have achieved more if they'd taken themselves in hand and pushed themselves a bit.

But that's not a popular sentiment. "Let it all rip" is the preferred attitude these days. I fear it can only end in tears.

Monday 4 January 2016


I'm a veteran of bravado.
Pretending to be confident
when really I'm shitting myself.
It happens all the time.
I may look like a mature, poised, sophisti-cated adult
but underneath the suave exterior
is a terrified toddler
totally convinced
that anything that can go wrong will go wrong
because I'm really not up to the job
I'm floundering wildly.
Then I put on my old-stager's face
I've done this a million times, it says
I could do it in my sleep
do it standing on my head
it's child's play
hoping no one sees through me
hoping no one smells a rat
hamming it up for all I'm worth
as I stoically muddle through.