Saturday 25 June 2016

Leaving do

The British people have voted by a narrow margin (four per cent) to leave the European Union, on the grounds that it's a millstone round our neck, it's dragging us down, it's burying us in red tape, and so on. Now we're about to be free of this ghastly institution, things can only get better and better. All our troubles will be over. Or so it's fondly believed.

But the opt-outers have been sold a pup. They've been conned. They've been taken for a ride. Ambitious politicians who want to make a name for themselves and climb the greasy political pole have spun a load of fibs.

They've painted an entirely false picture of the EU. That it's the cause of all our ills, that it tells us what to do, that it snares us in pointless regulations. And in particular that the large number of immigrants it sends our way are responsible for just about every pressing problem from unemployment to homelessness, the beleaguered NHS and high welfare bills.

Never mind that it's all untrue. Never mind that those familiar problems actually have a whole host of causes, mostly unconnected with the EU, like government spending cuts, a shortage of doctors, and not enough house-building. No no, they're all the fault of the horrid EU and we have to leave it fast or sink into a lethal quagmire.

What the EU really does has been deliberately suppressed. That it outlaws prejudice and discrimination. That it protects the environment. That it defends and improves workers' pay and conditions. That it strengthens our legal rights. And much more.

But all this has been thrown out of the window in favour of relying on our own government. A government that believes in austerity, spending cuts, selling off our public services, keeping wages down, and generally making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

If people really think they'll be better off under our homegrown politicians, with their contempt for ordinary folk, they are surely sadly mistaken. As the months and years go by, and nothing much changes, they will realise just what a massive trick has been played on them. And their fury will be horrible to witness.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Memory lane

I'm not one for nostalgia. I don't sit around fondly remembering some supposed golden period of my life when everything fell into place and I coasted along on a wave of trouble-free happiness. I wouldn't be so daft.

I may have a terrible memory, but I remember enough to know there was no such golden period and every part of my life has thrown up problems and crises and disappointments as well as the things that went well and made me happy.

There can only be some imagined golden period if you gloss over the negative bits and exaggerate the successes. If you ignore the leaky roof and the grumpy landlord and the extortionate rent and flag up the sexy girlfriends, the wild parties and the brilliant rock festivals. But I can't do that. I always remember both sides of the picture, the rough and the smooth, the crap and the haute cuisine.

Neither do I believe, as many people seem to, that the difficult bits of my life in 2016 are somehow more difficult and more frustrating than anything I had to deal with in years gone past. It may seem like it at the time, when I'm desperately trying to sort out something horribly complicated, but I know in retrospect it'll seem much more prosaic.

Schooldays are the best days of your life? You must be joking. The comfortably settled years of middle age? Give me a break. They weren't any better than life right now, and in some ways were a lot worse.

I have very few momentos of my early life, and I don't feel the lack of them. I'm not one to pore over blurry old photos or musty childhood toys or a faded school blazer, overcome by wistful pangs and a tear or two. What's gone is gone and I'm impatient to move forward.

The good old days? Don't make me laugh.

Friday 17 June 2016

Hatred unleashed

As someone virtually hate-free, I find it impossible to understand the sort of extreme hatred and violence that led to the murder of MP Jo Cox yesterday. I'm baffled as to what on earth went on in the mind of her assailant Tommy Mair.

Instead of seeing her as the rest of us would - a conscientious MP helping her constituents, a mother of two children aged three and five, someone with all sorts of plans for the future - he saw her as simply an object of hatred, a symbol of something detestable, someone to be brutally disposed of. So he shot her and stabbed her and left her for dead like a piece of trash.

As I say, I hardly ever feel hatred, and certainly not such virulent hatred. People can annoy me, puzzle me, frustrate me, offend me, but I don't hate them, I just deal with them as best I can and move on. To my mind, hatred achieves nothing but a poisonous and frightening atmosphere.

But some people delight in stirring up hatred, and the current referendum campaign has prompted a torrent of hatred from one reckless politician after another - hatred of elites, of bureaucrats, of migrants, of foreigners, of Europeans, of welfare claimants. It's hardly surprising that some individuals like Tommy Mair take their cue from these public figures and let rip with the same hatred, so ferociously that other human beings become simply enemies to be eliminated.

Of course the politicians make no reference to the widespread hatred of politicians, but that may also have been a factor in Jo Cox's killing. It seems to me that the hatred of politicians has never been so intense - and so mindless.

Maybe the politicians will now reflect on what their casual vitriol is unleashing. Maybe.

Pic: the late Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, West Yorkshire

Sunday 12 June 2016

Sticking together

An article today claims that the best predictor of whether a relationship will last or not is how conscien-tious you are. If you're efficient and reliable, your relationship will do well. If you're scatty and disorganised, sooner or later it's break-up time.

If you answer yes to these five questions, then supposedly everything's rosy and the two of you will stick together like glue into a blissful old age.

a) do you pay attention to detail?
b) do you get chores done straightaway?
c) do you like order?
d) do you follow a schedule?
e) do you ensure you are always well-prepared?

Well, I'm not sure conscientiousness predicts anything at all. Some people might love a partner who's so well organised and methodical, but it would drive others round the bend. They'd hate the constant activity and fussing and demand some mindless lazing about for a change. They'd ask why everything has to be done right now and why it can't wait till tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year.

Jenny and I are both efficient and reliable people, which is definitely one reason why we've stayed together for so long. We absolutely loathe disorder and mess, and we would certainly say yes to all those questions. We don't let the greasy dishes pile up. We don't leave dirty clothes everywhere. We don't run out of food. Our household is a well-oiled machine and we like it that way.

If I have to stay for any length of time in a more shambolic household, I do find it hard to cope with. I keep wanting to leap up and sort everything out, and I have to resist my organising urge and hide my dismay. Interestingly, some of those households consist of very long-standing relationships, which just goes to show the experts are wrong yet again.

Health warning: take all quizzes with a pinch of salt.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Worry wart

Like many other people, I'm prone to anxiety. I worry about all sorts of things I don't need to worry about, but I'm unable to stop. However much I try to reassure myself that I'm a capable person and everything will work out, the anxiety continues.

It seems an awful lot of people don't like to admit they're affected by anxiety. They find it embarrassing, or they think they'll be shunned, or they think nobody will understand. So they keep quiet and hide it behind a fake facade of confidence and poise.

But it's estimated that four in every hundred people are affected, and that social anxiety is the third most frequent psychological problem after depression and alcohol dependence. That's a pretty big hidden problem.

Luckily my anxiety is fairly mild. It's purely internal and I don't get the physical symptoms of sweating, shaking or nausea. I don't get paralysed. I don't get panic attacks. I just worry needlessly. And have bad dreams.

There were calls this week for more research into this widespread condition, as little is still known about the causes. In my case, it probably goes back to my insecure childhood, but my whole family is anxiety-prone so it may also be genetic.

One of my blogmates, who's a therapist, says that nowadays there are lots of techniques for curbing anxiety and nobody needs to suffer. There's a long waiting list for therapy on the NHS though, and long-term private therapy can be very expensive. But as my anxiety is quite mild, and as I've developed my own ways of overcoming it, I don't feel any urgent need for treatment. It's simply another personal foible that I deal with.

I wonder what it's like just to take things as they come?

Friday 3 June 2016

Thoroughly battered

Journalist Alexi Duggins has been battered and fried by a predictable social-media onslaught after saying that the great British tradition of fish and chips was the most disgusting meal on earth - "a dreadful mush of artery-hardening grease....that should have stayed in the bad old days of British cuisine."

His article was scathing enough to give hundreds of fish-and-chip lovers instant apoplexy and send them scurrying to the internet to vent their wrath.

"Just go somewhere quiet and die there. You have nothing to contribute to human progress, you pointless philistine" was the sort of comment thrown at him. Chippy owners complained loudly that he was damaging their businesses.

He was invited to work a shift at a renowned fish-and-chip shop. He did, but remained unconvinced that fish and chips were a tasty, healthy meal. He was quite taken by the fried halloumi though (he comes from Cyprus).

As a vegetarian, I haven't eaten fish and chips since my twenties, but it was one of my favourite meals. I loved the combination of fish and batter, and I've always loved chips. I could think of many disgusting meals, but that's not one of them.

Clearly there are plenty of fish-and-chip enthusiasts who don't take kindly to their beloved dish being sneered at. We're talking a national institution here, a piece of British heritage along with the Union Jack, the Royal family and Big Ben. Think carefully before you rubbish it.

"I have since learned what it's like for the internet to scream that you're as popular as venereal disease" says a bruised Alexi. He's a brave man to have repeated his scepticism about this revered dish. There could easily be another outbreak of apoplexy.