Saturday 30 April 2016


People say innocence is a splendid thing, and isn't it awful when you finally lose it and become a wised-up adult? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could somehow return to that blissful childhood state?

Well, no, I don't agree. Innocence puts you at a huge disadvantage and opens you to all sorts of trickery and exploitation. The sooner you lose it the better, in my opinion. The sooner you get to know the wicked and devious realities of adulthood, the better equipped you'll be to get what you want out of life.

Personally, I lost my innocence very late in the day. I was absurdly naive and blinkered for far too long. Not only did I believe in Father Christmas until I was ten, and probably the tooth fairy as well, it was only in my late teens, after I left school and started work, that I abruptly realised how dumb I was and how much of the world's horrors and injustices - and simple facts of life - had been kept from me by my over-protective parents.

I remember emerging from my totally single-sex schooling into a female-packed workplace and realising I knew virtually nothing about women except that they were shaped differently. It took me a while to stop being intimidated by them and start feeling comfortable in their company.

As a local newspaper reporter, I was rapidly confronted with the more unsavoury aspects of life that were hidden from me for so long. Homelessness, squalid housing, poverty, political corruption, alcoholism, violent crime, suicide - the list was endless. I was shocked at so many ugly truths. But my eyes were opened, I was learning fast, and the bubble of innocence had popped.

For the first time I started thinking seriously about my personal identity and realising it wasn't what I had assumed. I had taken for granted that I was much the same as the other young boys I knew - heterosexual, traditional, obedient, well-behaved. I discovered I wasn't necessarily any of those things but was rebellious, deviant, politically left-wing, eccentric. I had to totally reconstruct my idea of myself and kill off the innocent little boy.

So, no, innocence isn't a splendid thing. It's a liability to be shaken off at the earliest opportunity.

Wednesday 27 April 2016


Rudeness has got completely out of hand since I was young. In fact rudeness is now a feeble description of the routine viciousness and spite aimed at everyone from celebrities down to cheating spouses and badly-dressed schoolgirls. We need a much stronger word to sum up this wholesale character assassination.

When I was a kid, rudeness never went much further than telling someone to get lost, take a running jump, mind their own business, keep their nose out of it. The blunt swearwords of today like fuck, cunt, prick, arse-licker, were seldom heard and "bloody fool" or "blithering idiot" were the height of disdain.

But now rudeness has morphed into something utterly hideous. It's standard practice for people to face death threats, rape threats, grotesque sexual fantasies, savage attacks on every aspect of their clothing and appearance, the hope that they'll get terminal cancer or some nasty disease, and the most extreme abuse imaginable.

I don't know why people feel the need for such ferocious attacks, but they've turned public discourse into something horrific, a sort of verbal bloodbath that leaves its victims reeling. The familiar decent, considerate Brit of yesterday seems increasingly scarce, elbowed out by the spitting, snarling Brit of the Twittersphere.

I long for a return to that innocent era when people kept their insults within sensible limits, didn't set out deliberately to hurt and distress, but merely wished to show disapproval without causing too much offence.

I can't imagine sending a death threat to anyone - or anything half as cruel. In fact I seldom insult anybody, even in the mildest terms, as I know how hurtful the slightest put-down can be. I can only be insulting if I'm furiously angry, and that's not often.

Simple rudeness has turned into an ugly, slavering monster.

Sunday 24 April 2016

Double standards

An alarming number of people still think it's okay to criticise a woman's appearance at every opport-unity. Men do it, women do it, the media do it, the internet trolls do it. Yet men are generally immune from such criticism, even if they look like they've just been dragged through a hedge backwards.

Why is such criticism seen as normal? Why are women seen as fair game? Why do some people enjoy tearing them to bits?

The historian Mary Beard is just one example. She was said to be "too ugly for television", to have disastrous hair, terrible teeth, embarrassing clothes, and much worse. Fortunately she's resilient enough to shrug it all off as hateful nonsense, but why should she have to put up with such comments?

Of course for men the hidden agenda is to control women by insulting and intimidating them. For women, the motive is to undermine other women who're seen as competitors. For the media, the aim is simply to whip up controversy and get more readers. As for the internet trolls, there are all sorts of sadistic tendencies at work, too varied to disentangle.

Men on the other hand are usually spared such ruthless appraisals. They can have paunches the size of blimps, body hair like a shag-pile carpet, and suits that might have fit them ten years ago, and nobody says a word because well, they're blokes and they're different. You don't criticise their appearance, only their football team or their make of car.

Personally, I hardly ever criticise a woman's appearance. I know women are anxious enough about how they look without me adding to the anxiety. In any case, it's none of my business how other people present themselves to the world. And there are more important things to attend to than a shapeless dress or hairy armpits.

Like all those women who're being raped or pimped or stalked or genitally mutilated, for starters.

Monday 18 April 2016

Hugs and kisses

Journalist Shane Watson says she's increasingly confused about social hugs and kisses. When are they appropriate and when not? And just how effusive or affect-ionate should the hugs and kisses be?

I don't have any trouble with the etiquette for embraces myself. Enthusiastic hugs and kisses are routine in Northern Ireland, even for slight acquaintances or people you haven't seen for decades. We're very physical with each other and not remotely embarrassed about it, even if we get it a bit wrong. Nobody reels in horror as we kiss them flamboyantly on the cheek, or hug them like long-lost relatives.

But Shane finds herself more and more in awkward clinches, either under-doing it or over-doing it, liable to frosty or shocked responses. What is now the correct way of greeting or departing, she wonders? Does anybody know?

Numerous encounters seem to call for kissing, she says. Politicians in the street; exceptionally decent taxi drivers; the au pair's husband; your boss. Is there anyone you absolutely shouldn't kiss?

Well, I think she's getting herself a bit steamed up over nothing. My rule of thumb is, if it's someone you've met before and not a complete stranger, kiss them or hug them and if they give any sign they don't like it, then just back off. What's the problem?

Of course some people simply dislike hugging or kissing or any kind of embrace unless it's a loved one or relative, and physical contact with anyone else makes them squirm. Fine, they can just make that clear and you file a mental note to refrain.

Personally I'm happy to kiss anyone, male or female, but most men are still horrified at the idea of kissing another man, so I have to limit myself to the customary hug or handshake or shoulder-pat. Why are men so weird about kissing each other, I wonder? Surely they're not still nervous about gay overtones? Hey, it's 2016, guys!

So kiss me, hug me, greet me as fondly as you like. I guarantee I'll enjoy it.

Friday 15 April 2016

Stop the world

Stop the world, I want to get off.
Also, I demand a refund. It's not what I expected.
Too much hatred and violence.
Too much corruption.
There must be other worlds I can try.
Can you send me your full brochure?

What do you mean, I've spent 69 years here, it's a bit late in the day to ask for a refund?
How did I know things would get so awful?
It all looked very promising fifty years ago.
So kindly apply the brakes and I'll just quietly alight.
And then I'll float languidly round the cosmos admiring the view.

What do you mean, I can't get off until my time is up?
That could be another twenty years.
Nobody warned me it would be so long.
And not even an interval.

What do you mean, all the other worlds are full?
People are dying all the time, aren't they? There must be room for more.
Surely you can squeeze me in somewhere?
I'm quite thin. I don't take up much space.
I'll make it worth your while.

Just give me a break, all right?

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Innocent abroad

I feel more and more like an innocent abroad. I potter through my very moderate and ordinary life while other people's behaviour seems to get wilder and wilder and increasingly incompre-hensible.

Here I am tootling off to work, getting the shopping, doing my daily walk round the block, watching TV and generally being a decent, upright citizen, while the world around me becomes one huge orgy of self-indulgence and lunacy.

Every day I'm reading of men snorting cocaine off their mistress's tits, millions being stashed in offshore tax havens, binge-drinkers collapsing in near-fatal stupors, day-trippers taking selfies on the edge of 200-foot cliffs, rock stars taking daily cocktails of mind-blowing drugs, people with tattoos from head to foot, and I feel like Tinker Bell.

I feel like the newbie at Big School. Or a tourist stumbling into a harem. Or a small boy finding his big sister's diary. Or a mountain hermit who's met nobody for 20 years. I reel in permanent shock at what others see as run-of-the-mill.

I'm hopelessly restrained and incapable of excess. I have a totally non-addictive personality. Moderation in all things describes me perfectly. I don't smoke, I don't take fun drugs, I drink very little, I don't over-eat, I don't gamble, I don't squander money, I have no debts. I'm disgustingly sensible.

I'm baffled by those who can't help but over-do it. And not just over-do it, but over-do it dramatically, vertiginously, obsessively. Taking selfies of every single moment, whether it's sitting on the toilet or picking their nose. Drinking entire bottles of whisky as if it's water. Taking a crowbar to their ex's Mercedes. Such single-mindedness, such ruthlessness.

Well, I suppose it takes all sorts. How suicidally boring life would be if we were all so cautious and abstemious and no one had the urge to snort cocaine off someone's tits. So carry on snorting, by all means.