Wednesday 28 September 2016

Feel the fear

You know what they say. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Well, I've done that often enough.  My whole life has been a story of overcoming my natural timidity and saying, fuck it, I really want to do this and I'm going to do it.

I fear all sorts of silly things. Other people's reactions. Simple tasks that turn into never-ending nightmares. Any kind of DIY. Looking like an idiot. Setting off some appalling catastrophe. Getting in too deep. Saying the wrong thing. Letting people down.

But over the years I've learnt to put all these absurd fears to one side, take a deep breath and plunge in anyway. I know from experience that most of the fears will turn out to be unfounded and everything will work out fine. So I brace myself, leap off the cliff-edge, and guess what. Nothing dreadful happens.

I don't look like an idiot. Nobody laughs at me. There's no appalling catastrophe. The world doesn't end. Life goes on.

To look at me, you probably wouldn't suspect I'm awash with secret fears. I've had lots of practice at seeming confident and on top of things. My face doesn't give much away. I'm adept at feigning world-weary nonchalance. As most of us are after years of having to deal with things that frighten the life out of us.

But it's not the done thing to reveal your private fears. Maybe to your closest friends after a drink or two. But not in public, not to just anyone. And certainly not in the workplace. There you're expected to be poised and ready for anything. So we keep our fears and our faked bravado to ourselves.

But hey, what's all the fuss about? Haven't you heard? You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Problem solved!

Friday 23 September 2016

Embarrassing and stuff

That clich├ęd put-down that someone should "act their age" is one of the silliest remarks ever. Why should someone act their age? What on earth does it mean anyway?

What behaviour exactly is suitable for someone of sixty? Or seventy? Or eighty? Are they meant to wear something that hides every inch of flesh? Or lurk in a corner not saying anything controversial? Or avoid all mention of sex, drugs or gangsta rap?

I suspect all it really means is "Don't do anything a twenty something might do because it's, like, totally embarrassing and stuff, and we'll have to ignore you and pretend we don't know you."

Which in turn really means "We reserve the right to control your behaviour because we're young and cool and you're a fuddy-duddy old person who's only allowed to be fuddy-duddy."

Well, bollocks to that. We oldies have spent most of our life being told what to do by employers, spouses, children and parents, and in our twilight years we claim the right to dress and behave any way we want for a change and take no notice of any strait-laced objections.

Madonna in particular gets regular taunts that she should "act her age" and not come on so sexy and flamboyant. She tells her critics to get lost, that she's going to act any way she wants "because it's MY age and it's MY life."

Good for her. I shall follow her example. I don't feel the need to be sexy and flamboyant, but anything else I fancy doing - I shall just go right ahead and bugger how old I am. I shall dance and cavort and swear and contradict and shock and too bad if it ruffles some feathers.

Because it's my age and it's my life.

Saturday 17 September 2016

A torrent of abuse

I make no apologies for returning to the subject of political abuse, which has reached horrifying levels and deeply worries me as it's a deliberate attempt to censor and silence people you disagree with.

It's now completely normal for public figures with controversial views to be deluged with literally thousands of abusive and threatening messages, both online and offline, and little is being done to stop it.

Women with strong feminist opinions (or any opinions) are targeted. Critics of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, are targeted. Black people are targeted. Sportspeople are targeted. Even school pupils who don't "fit in" are targeted by other pupils. And not just with mild, half-hearted abuse but with vicious, brutal abuse, including death threats and the hope that they're in line for a terminal illness.

Baroness Wheatcroft, who opposes Brexit, says the level of hostility against her during the referendum campaign was appalling. Even now the post and emails she's receiving are unbelievable and "all inhibitions have gone".

It's encouraging that public figures facing this torrent of abuse day in and day out are carrying on and not quitting under the pressure. But many of them wonder if it's worth the relentless hatred, especially if it's affecting their friends and families and not just themselves.

What's really worrying is the fascist overtone of it all. If it gets to the point where people are hiding their views and staying silent to avoid an online lynching, if they're keeping their heads down and playing safe or their lives will be hell, then democracy is in serious danger.

I've already said I don't feel at all British. If I was prone to shame, which luckily I'm not, I think I'd be utterly ashamed to live in a country where such savage, ruthless abuse of anyone you dislike is increasingly seen as normal.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Old and crabby

Here's an odd thing. People are meant to get ruder and grumpier as they age (men especially). They're meant to stomp about, casually insulting shop assistants and shunning friendly greetings. But that's not me at all. If anything I think the older I get the more polite I get.

While the media and the internet are awash with bad-tempered oldies pouring abuse on all and sundry, I just look on with dismay, wondering why they have to be so nasty. What happened to turn them so sour and bitter?

Personally I become more and more convinced that abuse and insults achieve nothing and simply alienate the person being abused. It merely creates bad feeling and makes life more difficult. If it's a question of "getting something off their chest", why can't they just rant and rave in the privacy of their own home rather than taking it out on someone else?

I find politeness often brings results where rudeness doesn't. People treated with respect are more likely to respond positively. Also, I believe in the old principle "do as you would be done by". I don't like other people being churlish and snappy to me, so why should I be churlish and snappy to them?

There's something dignified and decorous about being polite, while constant grumpiness seems only selfish and insensitive. It's also depressing, which is why I give the wilfully grumpy a wide berth.

The grumps have all sorts of excuses for their behaviour. They're just reacting to the awfulness of life. They're fed up with declining standards. They're depressed because of their health problems. Well, we're all fed up with one thing or another, but we don't all think that entitles us to have a go at someone.

So if you're looking for a crabby old codger - you won't find one here.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Bag of nerves

When I lived in a bed-sit in Paddington, London, in the early 1970s, when I was twenty something, I encount-ered the most nervous woman I've ever met. I never did find out what was bugging her.

I can't remember how I met Tanya, but one evening she came round to my bed-sit, and from the moment she arrived she was physically trembling. I said she seemed nervous and did she want to tell me why?

She said it was too painful to talk about and she'd rather not say. I tried hard to get her to relax. I thought if she relaxed a bit, she would open up. We had a few cups of coffee, and we chatted, and she told me she was a nurse. She was still trembling, still unwilling to say why, but it was clear she wanted to go to bed with me.

I said I wouldn't feel right having sex when she was plainly very agitated about something. Maybe she thought sex would be somehow reassuring or soothing, but I wasn't happy about it. I felt I would be taking advantage of someone in a state of desperation.

I thought she might try to seduce me by kissing me or taking her clothes off, but she didn't. She accepted my reluctance and eventually said goodnight and left.

I was none the wiser about her extreme nervousness, and still am as I never saw her again. She vanished as mysteriously as we had met.

Sometimes I try to fill in the blanks. Had she been attacked? Raped? Bullied? Humiliated in some way? Deeply shocked by something? Had she witnessed a horrific car crash or a violent death? I'll never know. But something had had a very dramatic, very disturbing effect on her.

Forty years on I'm still puzzled by that lingering question mark of an evening.

Sunday 4 September 2016

The silent type

I've been shy since I was a small boy. It's something that's not easy to change. So many things are involved, it's hard to disentangle them and overcome them. What would be the result anyway? Morphing from a shrinking violet to a bumptious loud-mouth?

Attitudes to shyness keep altering. Once it was just seen as an endearing though awkward personality trait. Then it became a dysfunctional, embarrassing failing to be treated and cured. Now the endearing but awkward view is back in vogue.

The shy but famous have gone to extreme lengths to avoid agonising social contact. It's said that Emily Dickinson would only speak to visitors through a half-closed bedroom door. I'm not that bad, but I find it hard to talk to anyone I don't know, or who looks unfriendly, looks bored, or seems smarter or more knowledgeable. I become painfully self-conscious, my mind goes blank, my confidence plummets, and I stand there in helpless silence like the village idiot.

Blogging has been a godsend, as I find it easier to spill my thoughts when I'm not actually face to face with someone, and when I can safely assume my regular visitors will be interested in what I'm saying. And of course I have all the time in the world to rehearse my thoughts, without the need for an instant comment or an instant reply.

Shyness is sometimes seen as a virtue - speaking only when there's something worth saying and not blabbering on pointlessly simply for the sake of it. But without the compulsive chatterers, social life could grind to a halt amid a sea of taciturn faces.

Nobody suggests manic chatterers should be treated and cured. It's accepted they have their function, however tiresome it is if you're buttonholed by one of them. But it's very tempting to sit back and listen rather than try to interrupt the relentless flow of words.