Friday 29 July 2016

Tangled and dark

However well you think you know someone, however long you've lived with them or been friends with them, you never know them completely. You never know the deepest, darkest parts of their mind - the bits they don't want to show you, the bits they're ashamed of, the bits that are hard to deal with, the bits they're disturbed by.

Over and over again I read of people who've suddenly done something quite out of character, something utterly shocking or extraordinary, something their nearest and dearest could never have predicted or thought possible.

Like builder's merchant Lance Hart, 57, from Lincolnshire, who eleven days ago murdered Claire, his wife of 26 years, and his daughter Charlotte, before turning the gun on himself. Friends and neighbours were stunned by his actions, describing him as a happy, friendly man. One neighbour thought he was "the nicest guy you could ever meet", who "would do anything for anyone".

Yet out of the blue he goes on this rampage of destruction nobody can explain and you wonder what was simmering away under the surface. He was upset by the breakdown of his marriage, but that hardly justifies such carnage.

But you read about these aberrations all the time - husbands who run off with the au pair or reveal weird sexual kinks, women who have endless plastic surgery or wreck their ex's brand-new car. Or just those sudden streaks of greed or meanness or prejudice or cruelty. Or of course terrorism.

After thirty plus years together, Jenny and I know each other pretty well. But I'm sure there are parts of us we've never fully revealed to the other, parts that are still shadowy or mysterious. Hopefully nothing as sinister as homicidal tendencies, only those things that for one reason or another we can't quite own up to.

You think you know someone inside out? Think again.

Saturday 23 July 2016

Console me

I need consolation
It's a horrible world out there
a world of brutality and violence
I need to be soothed
I need to be told
that it isn't as bad as all that
that there are good things
positive things
that there is joy and happiness
that the ugliness
is wildly exaggerated
I need to be treated
with gentleness and affection
with tender loving care
that calms my heart
and my churning emotions
I need a friendly port in a storm
a holy sanctuary
a quiet refuge
a place of safety
where I can leave the horror behind
and rediscover
my purest self
I need consolation
I need a cauterising balm
I need a healing hand

Wednesday 20 July 2016

True or false?

Anxiety comes in different shapes and forms. I have plenty of anxieties but I guess the biggest is whether I'm being true to myself or not. What you might call honesty anxiety.

When I'm talking to other people, I'm forever thinking, am I being honest? Am I telling the truth or am I faking it? Am I simply saying something because it's polite, or it's what they're expecting, or it avoids an argument, or it's an easy-to-understand cliché? Am I dodging any remark that might make the conversation too difficult, too emotional, too startling?

A lot of people seem immune to such agonising.  They gabble away, apparently unconcerned whether they're telling it like it is or making it all up. Maybe they don't even see the difference. Whatever they say is grist to the mill, is oiling the social wheels, and who cares if it's total bollocks or if it's deep-down, straight-from-the-heart, innermost-self sincerity?

I'm amazed at the number of people who spout blatant, outrageous lies and don't seem remotely bothered about what they're saying. It must be some sort of private game to tell the biggest whoppers and get away with it.

But then again, what is truth and what is falsity anyway? If I say something out of politeness, is that false because I'd rather say something a bit rude, or is it genuine because I believe politeness helps you get on with people?

If I fob someone off with a glib cliché, is that false because it misrepresents a more complex reality, or is it genuine because I don't want to embarrass them with some detailed and baffling explanation they really don't need?

Maybe I just have an exaggerated dislike of lies and dishonesty. Where others merely shrug them off, I feel truly sickened and polluted. I feel tricked and insulted. I feel like I've trodden in something nasty.

Friday 15 July 2016

Bumbling along

I've never been remotely competitive. I watch people outdoing each other for the trendiest job or the flashiest house or the smartest children, and I really wonder why they try so hard to impress other people rather than just doing their own thing and enjoying themselves.

I've watched other people strenuously climbing the greasy pole to that sought-after managerial job, or mortgaging themselves to the hilt to get that palatial house, or boasting about their swish holidays in some exotic location. I just think, well, good luck to them, but I'm quite happy bumbling along on a more modest path, savouring what I already have and quietly ruminating.

Ah, but why do you go on about it, comes the obvious retort. Maybe you're jealous of their fancy lifestyles and secretly you'd like the same. Or maybe you're embarrassed at your lack of ambition and humble achievements, but don't want to admit it.

I don't think so. In fact my instinctive reaction to people openly competing with each other is to ignore them and walk away. At political meetings where a bunch of men are vying with each other to make the sharpest, wittiest comments, I have no wish to get involved. I just wait patiently for them to run out of steam.

Being childless, I've never needed to brag about how well my children are doing, how intelligent they are, what plum job they've landed. If I did have children, they'd probably be the ones who slouch around in scruffy clothes and lurch casually from one un-glamorous job to another.

Whether it's intellectual brilliance, career advancement, the property ladder, cultural awareness, sexual conquests or alcohol consumption, I couldn't care less if other people seem more dazzling or more capable. I just carry on ploughing my own furrow.

PS: I've noticed some people's blog posts are not showing the Comments section. If mine isn't, just click on the blog title and the Comments section will show up.

Saturday 9 July 2016

Wild child

My blogmate John says he would never have guessed I was pretty wild in my late teens. Clearly he sees me as a sedate, well-behaved individual who would never have done anything seriously outrageous or shocking.

Well, as I told him, my wildness was a predictable reaction to the very authoritarian boarding school I attended from thirteen to eighteen. While I was there, every minute of every day was tightly scheduled by those running the school, and deciding for yourself what to do was simply not an option.

There were precise times for getting up, having breakfast, going to classes, having lunch, doing homework, and every other routine activity. There were strict rules about what clothing to wear. There was a long list of prohibitions, like visiting the town centre or befriending the locals or writing to the papers. You were told what to do and what not to do, and woe betide you if you stepped out of line.

Not surprisingly, as soon as I left school and stumbled on the counter-culture of the late 1960s, with all its libertarian beliefs and emphasis on doing your own thing, I was hooked. Suddenly I could think what I liked, do what I liked, wear what I liked, go where I liked. After such regimentation, it felt utterly euphoric, and I got pretty carried away by my new-found freedom.

I grew a beard, I grew long hair, I wore gaudy clothes, I went around barefoot, I dabbled in drugs, I played rock music at top volume, I supported every left-wing cause going from gay liberation to easier abortion, cohabitation and equal pay. I went on protest marches, I chanted "kill the pigs", I took part in sit-ins and occupations. I lived it up and explored myself in a big way. Strangely, I was in no hurry for sex, and was unaccountably celibate till I was 22.

Of course inevitably once I got the freedom bug out of my system and felt confident I could be myself without being rapped on the knuckles, I simmered down and got a bit more laid-back. My tastes were much the same but I pursued them in a quieter, subtler fashion. I lost the beard and the long hair, got more choosy about my protests, decided drugs were not my thing, and so forth. And the rest is history.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

No longer welcome

I can't imagine what it's like to be nervous about walking down the street, or being at work, or riding a bus, for fear someone will aim some kind of racist abuse at you. But this is happening more and more since the referendum - in England at any rate.

People are being targeted simply because they look different, or are speaking another language, or have a foreign-sounding name, or wear foreign-looking clothing. Suddenly they face a tirade of insults and threats, and often the ultimatum that they should "go back home".

No matter that they might have lived in the UK for decades, might be British citizens, might pay hefty taxes, might never have claimed benefits, might never have been unemployed. No matter how much they resemble ordinary, humdrum Brits, they are treated like some sinister alien who "doesn't fit in", who "isn't one of us".

An increasing number of those targeted, or likely to be targeted, are saying they now feel so unwelcome and so uncomfortable they are thinking of moving to another European country, or indeed back to their home country.

They came here because they saw the UK as somewhere open-minded and tolerant where they would feel accepted and appreciated, but now everything seems to have changed and they feel like suspicious outsiders.

Says one anonymous Eastern European, too scared to give her name, living in Surrey, "I have been living here for almost ten years and must say I have never felt uncomfortable until now. I don't feel comfortable to speak my own language in the street, as I don't want to provoke anyone or even to be seen as just another immigrant."

What a shocking state of affairs. As I've said before, I'm not ashamed to be British because I don't identify with the mindless bigots persecuting "foreigners" in this way. But I'm certainly not proud to live in a so-called civilised country that's so saturated with xenophobia.

Saturday 2 July 2016

No shame

I'm immune to shame. It's something I just don't feel, ever. I can't imagine what it even feels like. People say "I'm ashamed to be British" or "I'm ashamed of my parents" and I really don't understand what they mean.

It seems to me you only feel shame if you're embarrassed by your own thoughts and emotions and actions, and by other people's responses to them. You think there's something wrong with you for being the way you are, so you feel disgraced, disgusted with yourself, "rotten".

I've never seen it like that. I'm not embarrassed by my own behaviour. Why should I be? It's what comes naturally to me, and I can't stop that. If I make mistakes, it can't be helped. I do the best I can in any situation and if it falls short, that's just bad luck. If other people judge me for my mistakes, I don't care. I know they make as many mistakes themselves, so they've no right to be so judgmental.

It's strange that I pay a lot of attention to other people's opinions - as I don't like to offend or upset anyone - yet those opinions never cause me shame. They might cause me to act differently, or choose my words more carefully, but shame seems like a weird over-reaction.

Why should I be ashamed to be British? I'm not responsible for the actions of 65 million other Brits. If a bunch of them create havoc in some foreign city, it's nothing to do with me. I may share their nationality, but I don't share much else.

And why should I be ashamed of my parents? Your parents are what they are, with all their shortcomings and daft beliefs, and it doesn't reflect on me in any way. I'm a totally different person, and my parents' oddities are neither here nor there.

It might be different of course if I'd done something seriously outrageous. If I was a serial killer or an arsonist or a wife-beater. But my misdemeanours aren't in that league.