Friday 31 March 2017

Sticks and stones

The old saying goes "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Quite untrue of course, as unkind words can pierce like daggers for months or even years afterwards.

Sticks and stones are unlikely to do any serious injury, but telling someone they're stupid or ugly or useless can be highly disturbing, especially to someone who has little self-confidence in the first place.

I can still remember my father calling me half-witted, or naive, or self-centred, and that was over 50 years ago. Even if I tell myself I'm none of those things, the words still stick in my mind like a splinter in my finger.

A blogger once called me anti-semitic, although I've never been anything of the kind. Needless to say, I stopped looking at his blog, but the insult lingers on.

I've been called smug and self-righteous, which also stings because I'm always open to differing opinions and I know very well I might be misinformed or biased.

Cruel and nasty words can do immense damage. There are regular reports of school pupils who have killed themselves after persistent name-calling by other pupils.

People who were previously happy and bubbly can become mental wrecks in a matter of months when verbal abuse is flung at them day after day.

To realise how destructive words can be, you only have to think of the way they were used in Nazi Germany to dehumanise whole groups of people.

Newspaper columnists are well aware of how much words can hurt, and often seem to take a vicious delight in using the most offensive language they can think of against someone who probably won't be allowed to answer back.

Words can hurt. They can be brutal. They can be deadly.

Sunday 26 March 2017

Temperamentally subdued

Some people are naturally sociable. They make friends easily, they're gregarious, they enjoy being with others and mope when they aren't, they love throwing dinner parties, they're born chatterboxes, and they can get on with just about anyone from any background.

I'm not like that at all, quite the reverse. I like the occasional chat with other people, I like the occasional party, but in general I love being on my own and relishing my own company. I don't make friends easily, I'm not a chatterbox, dinner parties make me nervous as hell, and there are many people I simply can't get on with.

I envy those who are naturally sociable. It makes social occasions so much easier, it means you're comfortable in a crowd of people, there's less fear and anxiety, you're not stuck for words, and you've got plenty of friends to talk to when you're in trouble.

It's hard to say why I'm more of an introvert. It may be genetic or the way I was brought up (my parents weren't that sociable and seldom invited people round), it may be my confidence-sapping years at boarding school (which was totally the wrong choice for my personality), it may be too much exposure to egotistical loudmouths at one social event after another. But whatever the cause, I'm just not a people person.

It doesn't help that the "less sociable" are still often seen as inadequate rather than different, snooty and standoffish rather than temperamentally subdued, wet blankets and party poopers rather than fans of quiet enjoyment.

But one thing I always wonder - how do the socialisers keep up the pace? Where do they find the energy? Rushing from one social event to another, chattering nineteen to the dozen, organising ten things at once, keeping all the balls in the air. If I lived that way, I'd be chronically exhausted.

Excuse me while I unplug the phone and curl up on the sofa with a big fat book....

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Demanding oldies

I get annoyed at the constant refrain that the mounting pressures on the NHS stem mainly from the soaring number of oldies and their complex medical needs.

There's a definite implication there that we oldies are just a burden, a millstone, an endless drain on the NHS, that we should feel guilty and irresponsible for living so long and needing so much care and attention. Shouldn't we just hurry up and die and stop being such a bloody nuisance?

Okay, so the growing number of oldies puts a strain on the NHS. So there's a rising demand from a particular segment of the population. So just deal with it. Provide the necessary funding and staff and other resources to meet the demand. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there's more than enough money available.

Just don't keep harping on about oldies and their medical needs as if we're spoilt children asking mummy for a new smartphone. Are young people with housing needs made to feel they're a burden? No. Are women who get pregnant treated as a burden? No. So why this judgmental emphasis on unhealthy oldies and their failing bodies? Can someone change the record?

The irony is that it's very much the NHS itself that's enabling people to live so long nowadays. All sorts of new drugs have helped people to stay alive by preventing heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, diabetic comas and many other medical emergencies. And new surgical procedures are rejuvenating people's hearts and arteries.

But of course that means we're all living much longer and needing more medical attention farther down the line. Well, you can't keep us all alive on the one hand and then complain we're overwhelming the NHS on the other, The NHS is there to provide a vital public service. So stop whinging and provide it.

I'm not a burden, I'm a human being.

Friday 17 March 2017

Suicide watch

There's a long-running argument about whether disturbing behaviour shown on TV dramas and films leads to copycat responses and whether in the public interest it should be avoided or at any rate limited. Or should scriptwriters be free to depict anything they want, however cruel or gruesome or destructive?

MPs have just urged tighter restrictions on the portrayal of suicide, saying too much detail about suicide methods can prompt people to kill themselves - especially if the method shown is quick, easy and painless. They say a scene can still be dramatic without such "unnecessary" detail.

The Samaritans agree, saying that being less explicit would mean fewer people at risk from "irresponsible content".

It's a tricky argument. How much can certain scenes and details be reined back in the name of susceptible people, without curbing artistic and creative freedom? Should anything be officially reined back, or should we just accept that some vulnerable people will always be influenced?

If we agree with reining things back, is that the thin end of a dangerous wedge? Would more and more things be restricted "in the public interest" until scriptwriters feel they're being bound hand and foot?

Then again, is it right to actively prevent people from suicide, if they're set on it? If they think their life is so hopeless or so painful they simply want to end it, who are we to force them to carry on living?

And again, if such measures are adopted, in the internet age there must be many other sources for anyone wanting practical details. So how effective would these limited precautions actually be?

I don't have any easy answers. I want vulnerable people to be protected, but I would also fiercely defend artistic freedom. I need to think some more about this.

Monday 13 March 2017

Silent mum

What do you do with a 94 year old mother who's immensely secretive, won't discuss her problems and mishaps, doesn't want anyone to know about them, doesn't want anyone to interfere or make decisions on her behalf, and is almost impossible to contact anyway because she won't answer her landline, doesn't have a mobile phone and doesn't have email?

It's a maddening and frustrating situation. I know from third parties (usually days later) that my mum is regularly having falls and being taken to hospital for check-ups, but she won't discuss her falls or why she might be having them so it's highly likely she'll be having more.

Her memory's not too good, she may be forgetting to pay bills, walking is getting more difficult, and she has a flat full of junk and clutter that needs to be cleared out (and which she may be tripping on). But she refuses to discuss any of these things, insists she's on top of everything and says there's no need to worry.

Most of my information comes from other people - my brother in law (who lives nearby), social workers, carers, paramedics, her GP, the managers of her sheltered housing block. Trying to get anything out of my mum is like getting blood out of a stone. She's happy to tell me about her favourite TV programmes or last week's musical evening. But her personal problems - forget it.

Without knowing the cause of her falls, it seems that all we can do (my brother in law, my sister and I) is accept she's going to have more of them, and just hope they aren't serious enough to cause broken bones or some major injury.

Probably she doesn't want to worry us, but then we just worry about all the things she's not telling us.

Pic: not my mum!

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Real women

The broadcaster Jenni Murray has lashed out at transgender women, saying they're not real women, they're just acting out gender stereotypes, and surgery doesn't make them female.

Not surpri-singly, she's come in for a lot of stick for totally misunderstanding what transgender is all about and adding to the widespread prejudice that transgender women already have to cope with.

What the hell is a "real woman" in any case? It's one of the very gender stereotypes she claims to object to. The requirements are so restrictive and so old-fashioned, I doubt there's a single woman on earth who could measure up.

This is what a "real woman" would have to sign up to:
  • Doesn't go out to work
  • Belongs in the kitchen
  • Enjoys shopping
  • Enjoys housework
  • Enjoys making a home
  • Looks after her man
  • Is loyal to her man
  • Doesn't argue with her man
  • Lets her man be the boss
  • Is heterosexual
  • Is married
  • Has children
  • Looks after the children
  • Is sexy and attractive at all times
  • Doesn't let herself go
  • Is ready for sex whenever her man wants it
  • Enjoys being flirted with
  • Enjoys being coerced
  • Is the power behind the throne
  • Gets her way with feminine wiles
Now name me one woman of your acquaintance who gets anywhere near falling in with that lot. Or would even want to. Does Jenni Murray fit the bill? I doubt it somehow.

Never mind transgender women. Why should any woman have to conform to such a constricting definition of womanhood? Why can't a woman simply be what she wants to be?

Women don't need to be told whether they're real or not. They're real just as they are.

PS: After what several of you have said about the growing-up-female experience being such a crucial part of female identity, I accept that a transgender woman can never be a true or complete woman in that respect. Likewise when it comes to the things only a born woman can experience - menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, post-natal depression, endometriosis etc. Never let it be said that I don't change my mind....

PPS: The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said something very similar to Jenni Murray, that growing up female is very different from growing up male with the benefit of male privilege, and that a trans woman is therefore not the same as a born woman. I think maybe trans women have to be a bit humble, and have respect for the opinions of born women, and accept that they simply aren't the same.

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Dyed in the wool

One way I've wised up as I get older is my growing awareness of the enormity of prejudice and discrimi-nation. I've realised it's much deeper and much more permanent than I thought.

When I was young, and typically optimistic the world could be rapidly changed for the better if people just pushed hard enough, I fondly imagined prejudice against gays, or transgender people, or blacks, or foreigners, was a very temporary thing and would soon die away.

I was completely ignorant of how engrained these prejudices were, how reluctant people were to drop them, how much they passed from one generation to another, and how eagerly they were nurtured by politicians and the media.

I assumed other people were basically tolerant and open-minded and couldn't hold such prejudices for long without realising how damaging and inhumane they were. I assumed they were as fleeting as snow-storms or flash-floods.

Gradually it dawned on me that these prejudices were often rock-solid. You could argue against them till you were hoarse, but people still held them, utterly convinced of their soundness. The very idea of dropping them would seem like an act of madness.

I realised that although prejudice against certain groups had lessened, it had happened incredibly slowly and was still far from over. There's still strong opposition to gay marriage, to giving transgender people jobs, to promoting blacks, to treating foreigners fairly. In fact many people would like to turn the clock back and remove all the rights these groups have painfully and laboriously gained.

So nowadays, a great deal older and wiser, I assume that rather than demolishing prejudice, which seems near to impossible, the only realistic attitude is to work around it and try to chip away little bits here and there.

My optimistic younger self would be shocked at my new-found pragmatism.