Tuesday 31 January 2017

Kids online

Opinions are sharply divided on whether parents should post pictures of their kids online, especially those depicting embarr-assing, outrageous or unruly behaviour. Are they just innocent records of childhood or are they unethical invasions of privacy that might horrify their children at some later date?

An intriguing question for those of my generation, since there was no internet when we were young, and often very few photos. My parents weren't much interested in taking photos, and there are virtually none of the childhood me.

Since my childhood was so long ago, and since my memory is crap, I would love it if there was a vast collection of photos I could trawl through to fill the gaps in my memory and see all the crazy or clever things I got up to.

Journalist Kashmira Gander is firmly against parents sharing photos of their kids online. What will those kids think years later when they see themselves smashing their face into a birthday cake, throwing a massive tantrum or being sick on the carpet? Surely they'll cringe and ask what possessed their parents not just to take the photos but to post them all online?

Personally I wouldn't be too bothered. We all know kids behave badly so why should photos of the bad behaviour be a problem? Obviously I'm now grown-up and I behave normally so why should it worry me? It would just be an amusing trip down memory lane.

In any case, if grown-up kids look at their childhood photos and they're horrified, all they have to do is ask their parents to delete them all. Or at least the especially mortifying ones.

I just wonder why parents are so intent on capturing every moment of their child's life for posterity - no matter how trivial or obvious or boring. Isn't it enough to have watched them growing up and got pleasure from it?

Not any more.

Saturday 28 January 2017

Laid-back oldies

Author Lynne Reid Banks has concluded there are many advantages to being older. She has listed a whole lot of them:
  • You don't care what people think of your opinions
  • You can get away with eccentricities the young can't
  • You can sleep in most days
  • People will happily drive you around
  • People don't expect so much of you
  • You've no qualms about complaining vigorously
  • You can get away with being lazy, self-indulgent or offensive
  • You lose your sense of shame
  • You no longer strive for self-improvement
  • You no longer worry about the state of the world
  • Your appearance doesn't matter any more
Well, I have to say I don't go along with any of them. I think she's being remarkably self-centred and arrogant. But she is 87, which is 17 years older than me, so maybe by that age she's entitled to be as self-centred as she likes.

I don't see myself the same way, though. I don't feel indifferent to other people's opinions. I don't feel I can do whatever I like because of my age. I don't feel it's okay to complain about everything. I don't feel like parading my eccentricities. I don't think people should expect less of me. And I don't see why I should give up trying to improve myself.

I don't see myself as some useless old dodderer who expects everyone else to bend over backwards to accommodate me. I have more self-respect than that. People should demand the same of me as they demand of younger people, and I should meet those expectations as far as I can. I find it acutely embarrassing when other oldies are berating some hapless shop assistant or insisting on some special treatment others wouldn't get.

It would be different if I was frail and infirm and incapable of looking after myself properly. But as I'm still fit and healthy that doesn't apply. So I don't see any reason to dump my social obligations and act like a helpless child.

I may be old but I'm not a basket case.

Pic: not Lynne Reid Banks!

Tuesday 24 January 2017

I just can't look

I've never been a prude, unlike the rest of my family. I'm not squeamish about weird sexual fetishes, colourful cursing, scantily-clad females or TV dramas full of gory surgical scenes and violent stabbings. I object to a surfeit of such stuff but not the things themselves.

My attitude is, it's all part of life's rich tapestry and I want to know everything there is to know. I don't want to miss anything, no matter how strange or gruesome, and I'm not going to behave like some delicate flower that's about to wilt.

I'm not a prude about my body either. I'm happy to display myself in the nude if the occasion requires. Why be coy about it? At boarding school, I swam naked with other boys every day and thought nothing of it. I was never embarrassed stripping off for a new girlfriend either.

There's nothing offensive or unsightly about my body, so why hide it? I couldn't care less how it shapes up compared to other bodies. It is what it is, and if people are sniffy about it, that's their problem.

I don't believe people are really as sensitive and finicky as they make out. Are they truly so fragile that a splash of blood or a juicy expletive gives them an attack of the vapours and has to be instantly banished?

I can understand it if someone who's been personally involved in some especially grisly and horrific event can't bear seeing something that triggers off memories and painful emotions. That's rather different from twitchy squeamishness.

But I'm surprised how many people flinch at the sight (or even thought) of blood. It's just a red liquid, right? I suppose for some it's the association with accidents and tragedies. Or it's the idea of yourself bleeding. Or it's just a defensive reaction.

Show me everything, warts and all. I can handle it.

Saturday 21 January 2017

More undesirables

Way back in 2011, I listed a few things I thought the world could do without, things that are pointless, annoying or ridiculous. Well, I realised there are plenty more of those. So I thought I'd spring a few more on you. How about:

High heels. An absurd invention. They prevent women from walking or running properly. They're painful and they damage your body. And if they're so sexy, who aren't men wearing them?

Breast implants. What's wrong with natural breasts? Why do they have to be surgically altered? Why the self-hatred? They're just a nice little earner for plastic surgeons.

Aphrodisiacs. Either you're feeling sexy or you're not. I can't believe all those weird aphrodisiacs with rhino horn or cobra blood or baboon urine actually work. Love, laughter and wine usually do the trick.

Nibbles. What's with all the little bowls of nuts, olives and crisps? They just spoil your appetite for the actual meal. And leave crumbs all over the carpet and down the back of the sofa.

Stag nights. Just an excuse for binge-drinking, sexist jokes and general debauchery. And most of those present are squirming and wishing they were a hundred miles away.

Wedding cakes. Supposedly the multi-tiered cake started as a status symbol. The more tiers and the higher the cake, the more prosperous you were. A handy cash-cow for the local bakery.

Twitter. Now synonymous with hate-filled trolls who persecute anyone with unorthodox opinions. People usually too cowardly to reveal their real identities. An anti-social menace.

Miniature dogs. What's the attraction of grotesquely tiny dogs? I gather they're mostly artificial breeds prone to unpleasant ailments due to their small size. Normal-size dogs, please.

Celebrity gossip. I'm sick of the endless obsession with the minutiae of celebrity lives. I enjoy their art or music or films, but I'm indifferent to their marital spats or their diet tips.

Boxer shorts. Totally impractical garments. Not remotely sexy or enticing. Completely unsuited to the male anatomy, which requires something tighter and snugger.

Do add your own bêtes noires if you so wish.

See also the original list

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Good enough

Thankfully I'm not a perfect-ionist. Wanting everything to be brilliant, unique, or just better than it is, must be an exhausting and impossible task. Personally I'm happy for things to be "good enough" and I'll stop right there, thanks.

And by "good enough" I don't mean skimping or accepting something a bit shoddy. I just mean I aim for a certain standard, one most people would be comfortable with, and striving for some rarified excellence doesn't interest me.

I don't want a kitchen that's 100% hygienic and germ-free. I don't want bed linen that matches the wallpaper. I'm not going to mow the lawn every three days. I'm not going to replace all my nondescript shirt buttons. Life's too short for such nonsense.

But I've known people who were obsessive about housework, who couldn't bear a speck of dust or splodge of grease anywhere. Or obsessive about work, always scanning their emails, rewriting memos and double-checking every little detail. Or gardening fanatics who couldn't stop weeding and pruning and power-jetting the patio.

It must be hard to live with a relentless perfectionist. No matter how often you say everything's fine as it is, they'll insist they just have to tweak this or adjust that, and nothing will deter them. They won't be able to sleep at night if the soup spoons don't match or the plates are wrongly stacked.

Perfectionists have their place though. A world without them would be an inferior one. Without the frenzied perfectionists who invented the washing machine and the internet and the CD player, and who fought for improved legal rights and housing standards and working conditions, our lives would be much depleted.

I'm just not that driven. I want an easy life. So sue me.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Easily fooled

It's shocking that schools are so poor at teaching basic principles of analysis, research and critical thinking that many young people can't tell fake news from real news and easily mistake unsubstantiated nonsense for the truth.

I don't know about British schools, but in California a senator and assemblyman have both proposed bills to fight fake news by teaching children how to detect misleading, fabricated or inaccurate media and social media reports.

Senator Bill Dodd wants to see a "media literacy" curriculum, while Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez seeks lessons on "civic online reasoning".

It's astonishing to an oldie like me, well used to sceptical sifting through media reports and subjecting them to several tests of authenticity - Is this confirmed elsewhere? Is it credible? Is this a news source renowned for making things up? Are there obvious discrepancies and omissions? - that young people aren't taught this basic skill and happily absorb fabricated rubbish without a thought.

When even long-established reputable newspapers give space to dubious unverified stories, it only encourages the spread of fake news. I'm amazed at the constant airing of wild claims about Donald Trump's private life (I know all the details but I'm not giving them even more publicity). They may be 100 per cent true, they may be 100 per cent false, who knows? But why are they reported at all, when right now, there's no evidence whatever to support them?

People are all too willing to believe stories that fit with their particular view of the world, and reluctant to consider they might be a pack of lies.

Last year I complained to the BBC that their story about Vegemite being turned into homemade alcohol was totally untrue, and eventually they admitted it. But not before the story had spread all over the media with no attempt to check it.

The sooner young people can tell the wheat from the chaff, the better.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Awaiting wisdom

The popular cliché says that as you age you get wiser, you're more self-aware and you've left all your youthful delusions behind. You're no longer taken in by charming rogues, slick sales patter or unlikely news stories. But is it true? Am I really older and wiser?

Up to a point, yes. But I'm sure I still have all sorts of entrenched ideas and opinions that wouldn't stand serious scrutiny. They may make sense to me, while to others they're obvious nonsense. Like my belief in people's innate goodness or the power of positive thinking.

I doubt if I'm much more self-aware either. Okay, I'm familiar with all my neurotic hang-ups and quirks, I know my strengths and weaknesses, but there must be lots of subtle character traits that are plainly visible to others but less visible to myself. I just happily overlook them.

I've dumped a few youthful illusions for sure - that I would come up with a literary masterpiece, or dazzle people with casual wit, or be a reassuring shoulder to cry on, or be present at the imminent socialist revolution. Some cherished beliefs simply can't survive stark reality.

But have I just replaced the old illusions with a bunch of brand-new ones? Like the belief that everything's being dumbed down and we no longer think anything through properly? Or the idea that sensation is now more sought-after than fact?

I certainly don't feel any wiser than my twenty something self. I don't feel that I'm on top of things or better at handling a crisis or brimming with expert advice. I still feel I'm muddling through a complex life as best I can, about to collapse in helpless dismay at any moment.

The pearls of wisdom have passed me by.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Lonely hearts

There's constant talk of an epidemic of loneliness, of hordes of people feeling so lonely and isolated it's affecting their mental health and even causing premature death.

This seems to me a wild exaggeration, falsely depicting a routine emotion as something catastrophic and overwhelming. Okay, so you feel lonely, You may feel lonely quite often. But is that such a problem? If you're a resourceful person, you simply acknowledge that feeling and then find ways of enjoying your own company and not pining fruitlessly after social contact.

That probably sounds glib and self-satisfied to some. They'll say I don't understand how painful and miserable feelings of loneliness can sometimes be. I don't understand how important company is to some people and how empty they feel without it.

But if people are pining that much for company, of course they're going to end up miserable because 24/7 company simply isn't possible. Even if you have a partner and children, they won't always be around. If you've never developed enough self-reliance and self-enjoyment to disperse feelings of loneliness, you're in for a lifetime of emotional gloom.

In the end loneliness is just another feeling like sadness or helplessness or embarrassment. You find ways of dealing with it so it doesn't become a millstone, a liability. Expecting other people to come along and solve it for you is unrealistic. You have to draw on your own resources instead of thinking the answer is somewhere else.

I'm lucky in having a partner who provides me with constant company. But even before that, when I lived alone in a dismal bedsit, I don't remember feeling lonely that much. I had many ways of amusing myself and I didn't yearn for someone else to be present. I liked my own company.

"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness" - Maya Angelou

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Fire on the Titanic

I'm fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic and what caused it - numerous human errors and cock-ups that led to the collision with the iceberg and then led to the ship sinking so fast it was impossible to save everyone.

What I didn't know was how a huge fire below decks probably speeded up the sinking, and was hushed up by the ship's owners and by the crew.

A TV documentary on Sunday* explained how the fire had raged for weeks in the coal store before the maiden voyage, the temperature so high it buckled one of the watertight bulkheads and made it brittle.

When the ship collided with the iceberg and water started pouring in, the bulkhead cracked, water poured through it and the ship sank more rapidly.

If the Titanic had stayed afloat another hour or two, all the passengers could have been saved by RMS Carpathia, which came to the rescue after getting distress signals. But because the ship sank so fast, over 1500 people died.

There were other human errors that led to the massive loss of life, like the shortage of lifeboats, life jackets not being given out, and general confusion among the passengers and crew, but the fire was a major factor.

It's no surprise to discover White Star Line instructed the crew to keep the fire secret so as not to damage the company's reputation. Even the official inquiry thought the fire was irrelevant and declared the sinking an Act of God. On the contrary, it was the result of human carelessness and misjudgments on a huge scale.

The steel used in the bulkheads, for example, was not of the highest, fire-resistant quality. The ship's owners cut costs by using lower-grade steel. The bulkheads were reduced by several feet to allow for a grander central staircase. They also used low-quality rivets.

Act of God, my arse!

* "Titanic: The New Evidence", Channel Four, January 1 2017