Sunday 28 May 2017

Safety first

The mass-murder in Manchester has revived the old debate about security checks and procedures - whether you can stop someone who is bent on carnage, or whether a determined person will dodge every security check going.

A friend of mine (let's call him Dennis) is totally against security checks of any kind. He thinks they seldom catch a would-be terrorist, and mostly all they do is cause long queues and huge annoyance to thousands of people. And if security checks become routine in one area of life, a terrorist will simply adopt a new method.

A former friend of mine (let's call her Esther) thought the opposite. She believed the more security checks the better, that even if they didn't often catch anyone she was happy to face any number of them if they reassured people and made them feel safer. Especially on planes which many people are scared of anyway.

I guess I lean towards Esther's view. Not having any security checks is just an invitation to a terrorist to do whatever he wants because nobody will stop him (and it's usually him). Security checks will never be foolproof because they're always one step behind a terrorist's ever-changing methods, but they do act as a deterrent and they do sometimes catch someone and prevent a horrible massacre.

Security checks are irritating but they're hardly a huge burden. Airport security is tiresome and finickety but it's all over in five minutes. I don't mind having to show photo ID at airports and polling stations. I don't mind having my shoulder bag examined. I don't mind being frisked.

Surely the tedium of security checks is trivial beside much more pressing concerns like political incompetence, greedy landlords, rubbish jobs and wages, extortionate house prices, and a hundred other things. Unfortunately, in today's terrorism-prone world, they're necessary and they're here to stay.

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Cool, calm and terrified

It's odd how my inner perception of myself can be so different from the outer reality and how other people see me.

People tell me I'm well-organised, always on top of things, reliable, efficient etc. And I know this is true - I get the car serviced, mow the lawns, pay the bills, keep the food cupboards well-stocked, and so on.

But I feel like I'm totally scatterbrained, barely in control of anything, scrabbling to keep my life in order, and that if I don't keep a very close eye on things, total chaos will break out at any moment.

I think I'm working on the basis that it's only good luck that keeps everything so well organised, and that a streak of bad luck could send everything haywire. The implausibility of a run of good luck lasting some five decades fails to register.

Likewise, people see me as cool, calm and collected, able to deal with any minor crisis without panicking and losing my head. But inside I'm probably doing exactly that and wondering how the hell I'm going to sort things out. I may look calm, when actually I'm just sitting tight and hoping the crisis will magically pass by.

Then again, I'm seen as polite, courteous, never flying off the handle, never pouring abuse at anyone. In private however I can be shamelessly rude and vicious about that gormless receptionist I just spoke to, or that grumpy old bigot down the road.

I don't see myself as especially polite or courteous. I often think it's touch and go whether I let rip at someone or hold my tongue and move on.

I'm good at holding my tongue. It hides my scattiness.

Saturday 20 May 2017

It wasn't me

No, we baby boomers aren't to blame for every problem on the planet.
No, we aren't all greedy, selfish, irrespon-sible, heartless monsters.
No, we aren't deliberately kicking away the ladders we once climbed.
No, we aren't personally answerable for tuition fees, unaffordable houses, unaffordable rents, unpaid internships, static wages, awful working conditions, and all those other things the young are struggling with.

I've always wanted every new generation to be better off than the previous one.
That used to be the case right through the last century.
It greatly distresses me that things are getting worse for the young and not better.
It greatly distresses me that the young are being treated so badly.
But I'm not running the country and I'm not responsible.
Put the blame where it belongs - with politicians, estate agents, big business, landlords, and all the people who actually drove through those destructive changes and turned the clock back sixty years.
A lot of those changes weren't in manifestoes and didn't have public approval.

Personally I'd like to see an end to tuition fees, more council housing, rent controls, decent wages for all, an end to zero hours contracts, and stronger trade unions.
But there's little I can do to bring all that about.
I put crosses on ballot papers, sign petitions, attend rallies, write to my MP.
Is anyone listening? Is anyone taking any notice? Will anything change?
It doesn't seem very likely.
The politicians don't care much about the young and their problems.
The politicians are far removed from such difficulties.
Most are comfortably off, with nice houses, nice salaries, staff to look after them.
They don't know what it means to be struggling and debt-ridden.
So blame them and not the baby boomers.
Blame those who have the power to improve people's lives but prefer to make them worse.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Amorous outrage

Goodness, people do over-react to public displays of affection. You'd think they'd never seen a couple publicly kissing before. Or holding each other's hands. Or fondling each other enthus-iastically. Why all the prudish tut-tutting?

The Daily Mail reported that "Emmanuel Macron was seen kissing his glamorous wife after being inaugurated as France's youngest ever president".

This is news? The French President kissing his wife in public? (Never mind the irrelevant opinion that she's "glamorous") Is such kissing a revolutionary act? Do we need to know they're capable of kissing each other? Might we otherwise suspect they hate each other and avoid kissing at all costs? Why is the act of kissing so significant?

The media were equally obsessed when President Trump held hands with Theresa May. And when Victoria Beckham kissed her daughter Harper. And when Artem Lukyanenko was all over Ksienija ┼Żuk at the Eurovision Song Contest.

But it's not just the media of course. Ordinary folk can get amazingly steamed up about "inappropriate intimacy" in a public place.

Unless they're so over-excited "get a room" seems the only possible response, who cares if people are showing their affection for each other? Is that such a sin? Considering the gloom and worry on so many faces nowadays, isn't it rather sweet that two people are so fond of each other and obviously enjoying life?

There are many things more disturbing than a visibly amorous couple. Like people who leave litter everywhere, or scream racist abuse, or vandalise public property, or pester passing women.

The more public affection the better. It brightens my day.

Friday 12 May 2017

Literary gaffes

I love books. I love reading. I've always got a book on the go and a pile of unread books I'm looking forward to. If I'm not reading a book, I feel intellect-ually and emotionally under-nourished.

But there are certain literary failings that crop up over and over again (in novels, that is) and regularly annoy the hell out of me. For instance:
  • Endings that leave half a dozen plot strands unresolved. I mean, whatever happened to Wendy? Did she finally leave Tom or did they kiss and make up? And whatever happened to Sophie? Did she ever kick her heroin habit?
  • A constant parade of uninteresting minor characters who're instantly forgettable and add nothing to the plot. Why not leave them all out?
  • A plot so complicated and full of twists and turns that it's impossible to keep track if you have a poor memory and an IQ less than 250.
  • A pretentious writing style that equates obscure words and references with literary merit and equates simplicity with lack of imagination.
  • Numerous flash-forwards and flash-backs that leave me thoroughly confused and wondering which day or year or century we're currently in.
  • Stories told by several different narrators which never quite come together and leave gaping holes in the plot that nobody ever explains.
  • A book that would have been perfect at 300 pages, but the author thought it needed another 200 pages to do justice to their literary brilliance.
  • Astonishing coincidences and lucky breaks that miraculously save a character from a sticky end. The unexpected £50,000 inheritance from a long-forgotten aunt or the sudden discovery of an identical twin sister living in Sidcup.
Still, these habitual flaws are all part of the package. Something as complex as a novel is bound to go astray somewhere. A novel perfectly written, perfectly plotted, and easy to follow, has probably never existed, and never will.

Friday 5 May 2017

Flaws and failings

Maybe it's just another media obsession, but it seems to me self-loathing is on the increase. People hating the way they look, or thinking they're worthless, or always feeling inadequate when they're with other people.

How come so many people aren't happy with themselves, aren't content just to be whatever they are but are constantly picking themselves to bits in such a masochistic way? What went wrong with their upbringing or their experience of adult life that has made them so self-critical?

After my very negative childhood, which I'm sure you're all tired of hearing about, I should have developed some serious self-loathing myself, but strangely enough I didn't. I've always been happy with myself and I've never sat around listing all my defects. I never took much notice of other people's put-downs but nonchalantly sailed on regardless.

I remember a woman I worked with once, who was steeped in self-loathing. She had an endless list of personal flaws and failings, and nobody could convince her they either didn't exist or were totally trivial. Her mother was a well-known poet so wrapped up in her work she had little time or affection for her daughter, but that can't have been the only cause of her self-loathing.

There was a woman I had a brief fling with who was also full of self-loathing. Although she had a lovely flat, plenty of money and a young son she doted on, she had a very low opinion of herself and had tried to kill herself several times. Nothing I did or said made any difference, and in the end I had to part company with her because her gloomy self-dissections just wore me down.

Once you're in the habit of self-loathing, it's very hard to shift. It seeps into every area of your life and other people's compliments and reassurances are like water off a duck's back. But what's gone wrong with our society that this trait is so widespread?

Monday 1 May 2017

In hospital

Well, having been in the Ulster Hospital for 4½ days, I must say I was totally impressed with everything. It was the exact reverse of all those media stories about English hospitals, with their long trolley waits, staff shortages, bed shortages, cancelled operations, lack of cleanliness etc.

I was admitted at 7 am on Thursday and operated on at midday. I was then transferred to the brand-new inpatient block that opened a few weeks ago, and they kept me in for several days to ensure there were no problems. I was seen as "high risk" as I'm over 60!

The new block is absolutely state of the art. Instead of the old communal wards, there are private rooms with en-suite bathrooms throughout, giving patients as much quiet and privacy as they want, and no long queues for communal bathrooms.

Everything in sight was pristine, with cleaning staff hoovering and mopping and wiping, and bed linen changed, every morning.

The food was fine - hardly cordon bleu standard but tasty enough not to be left on the plate. There were plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options.

The TV was free so I regularly watched the news and also the final episode of Line of Duty. There was a zapper to control the light, the blinds, the TV and call for a nurse.

All the medical staff were wonderful - friendly, helpful, conscientious, well-trained. They kept a close eye on my vital signs like blood pressure, pulse and temperature, ensured I wasn't dehydrated, and kept checking if I needed any pain relief (strangely enough, despite all the nerve endings in the prostate, I had no pain whatever). They explained anything I wanted to know and kept me updated on when I might be discharged.

Before I was admitted, I was nervous that my stay might be such an unpleasant ordeal I'd be desperate to leave. As it  happened, it was so comfortable and relaxing I was almost sorry to go.