Friday 30 March 2018


There's a Facebook meme on the go, in which every day for (say) 28 days you voice your gratitude for something in your life. As I'm probably not grateful enough for all the blessings that have fallen on me, I thought I'd borrow the meme right here.

So, some of the things I'm grateful for:
  • Being fit and healthy at the age of 71 (apart from slight hypertension and a trace of prostate cancer)
  • Having visited some beautiful cities and countries (Australia, the USA, Canada, Germany, Italy - with New Zealand coming up in January)
  • Having lived with a smart, amusing, supportive and independent-minded partner for the last 35 years
  • A windfall from my mum which helped us buy our present house
  • Having met so many interesting, quirky, unusual and surprising people
  • Having had so many enjoyable, challenging and worthwhile jobs
  • Living in a country that's relatively peaceful, democratic and prosperous (apart from the Troubles, that is)
  • The natural world, with all its astonishing plants, rivers, beaches, landscapes and wildlife
  • Everyone who has helped me out in a crisis and got me back on track
  • All the public services, from the NHS to education, welfare benefits, pensions and national parks
  • Always having enough money and never being on the breadline
  • Always having a home and never being homeless
  • The internet and all the wonderful people I've met through Facebook and blogging
  • Everyone who has opened my mind to new ideas and new viewpoints
  • Never having to worry about sharks, crocodiles or poisonous snakes
  • Rock music, books, films and art
  • Never being caught in an earthquake, a bushfire or a flood
  • Being able to read and write
  • The freedom not to follow a religion
  • Not being an angry, self-righteous bully like my (late) father
No doubt there are things I've missed out, things so obvious I take them for granted. But I like the idea of a regular roll-call of gratitude. It reminds me that the world isn't as horrible as I sometimes paint it.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Fleeting glimpses

  • I won't leave any great achievements behind me when I die. I shall simply vanish into the ether. I have no problem with that.
  • I'm used to doing things on my own. If other people are hovering, I get flustered (if they're hoovering, I get even more flustered).
  • Most cats find me frightening. They rush off at top speed when they see me. But some cats are extra friendly and want lots of stroking.
  • I know I shouldn't judge by appearances but I do. I like to think I can suss someone out. Usually my assumptions are quite wrong.
  • Sometimes I have no patience whatever and get instantly exasperated. At other times I have all the patience in the world. There's no logic to it.
  • I'm not easily duped or scammed. I have a pretty acute shit-detector that alerts me fast. In fact I'm a bit too sceptical for my own good.
  • How handy it would be if toenails and fingernails stopped growing once they reached their full size. Why do they need to keep growing??
  • Flying doesn't scare me. Planes are incredibly well maintained and very safe. After all, the pilots and crew want to stay alive.
  • I may be six foot, but I don't think of myself as tall unless I see myself in the mirror. I tend to think I'm a similar height to other people.
  • I'm compulsively polite. I hate having arguments with people, so I always try to smooth things over with a few bland comments.
  • It's strange that I've never seen myself walking down the street.
  • I wouldn't be seen dead with a pair of Calvin Klein underpants. Or a pair of budgie-smugglers. Or a pair of budgies. Or even a single budgie. Even if it was very lonely and desperate for company.

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Dainty nibbles

We don't like to call other people greedy, do we? Firstly, it's obviously insulting. Who wants to be thought of as greedy? And secondly, it's a matter of opinion. What one person sees as greed, another sees as a natural and understandable desire for something they don't have.

I guess we'd all agree the fabulously wealthy are greedy. I mean, who needs to accumulate millions or billions of pounds? You can only spend so much on having a comfortable lifestyle, and beyond that it's just money in the bank, money the less fortunate could desperately do with.

But when it comes to ordinary folk, what makes them greedy? Are they greedy for wanting a bigger car or a bigger house or more holidays or more clothes? Or are they just after the good things in life, the things seen as part of a normal, run-of-the-mill lifestyle?

I wouldn't call myself greedy. As I see it, I have just enough of everything I need and enough to make me happy. I have a spacious house and garden, sufficient money, plenty of good food and wine, some beautiful paintings, hundreds of books, regular holidays. What more could I want?

Of course greed also encompasses those little everyday things, like asking for an extra slice of cake, or another cup of tea, or more potatoes. If everyone else has finished eating, will they think I'm greedy asking for more or will they just think I have a healthy appetite?

When it comes to alcohol though, you can drink like a fish and nobody accuses you of greed. If you stop at a glass or two, you're seen as a hair-shirted killjoy. Suddenly greed is just fine.

And greed is always more acceptable in a man. A man can happily stuff his face, while a woman should stick at dainty nibbles. Nothing too un-ladylike....

Thursday 15 March 2018

The blockade

When he heard Donald Trump had become US President, Erik Hagerman was so shocked and dismayed he decided he'd had enough of the news and from then on was going to ignore it. He would live his life news-free and be a lot happier for it.

Well, so far he seems to have kept his promise and not one news item has spoilt his day. He's fully occupied breeding pigs and making sculptures. Or so he says. It's hard to believe he's indifferent to the President's latest crazy decision or the latest mass shooting, but apparently it all passes him by.

I couldn't cut myself off from the world to that extent. I know so much of the news nowadays is depressing and horrifying, I know it's probably not good for my blood pressure or my emotional well-being, but I couldn't just shut it all out.

Apart from feeling I should be fully informed about what goes on in the world and how people live their lives - including those lives that are violent, nasty and depraved - there are also news items that are encouraging and instructive and I would be missing out on them.

In any case such a boycott (what he calls the blockade) would be almost impossible to maintain without an iron will and all sorts of rigid restrictions. I doubt if I would keep it up for more than a week or two without cracking. I would see a group of people having a heated debate about something and I would be itching to know what they were discussing.

And I have to admit I'm also hooked on those quirky little stories that provide a bit of light relief. Like the controversy among National Trust members as to what you should spread on your scones first - the jam or the cream. I love how people can get so frenzied over such utter trivia.

Pic: Erik Hagerman

Sunday 11 March 2018

Frightfully vulgar

It's rare these days to hear someone being called "vulgar". But it was a frequent comment when I was young, and I remember my parents finding any number of odd things "vulgar". Glaring vulgarity had to be avoided at all costs.

Nowadays nobody seems to care very much if their behaviour could be labelled "vulgar". They carry on doing their own thing regardless, and if anyone disapproves, too bad. Seeing something as vulgar has itself become vulgar.

But my parents had a long list of things they deemed vulgar - not wearing smart enough clothes, not mowing the lawn often enough, not using a tablecloth, not washing up straight after a meal, to name a few - and they policed this code of vulgarity strictly.

Of course what "vulgar" really meant was lower-class or under-educated. It meant what they did on council estates or in factories. It meant the behaviour of people with no sense of decorum or etiquette. It meant those too dim to have any sophistication or good taste.

But that's all changed. Now the very suggestion that someone is being vulgar is seen as pretentious, snobbish, superior. It's seen as a mean attempt to spoil someone else's pleasure. It's seen as blinkered, old-fashioned prejudice.

I suppose my parents' strictures had some positive effect, however absurd some of them were. I may have lived my whole adult life without using a tablecloth, but nevertheless I've picked up a sense of "doing things properly" rather than doing them any-old-how, which is probably an advantage.

I guess the idea of vulgarity still lives on in other guises. Today, instead of saying something is vulgar, you say it's embarrassing or cringey. Or you say the person is attention-seeking. Or you complain that everything is being dumbed down.

And dumbing things down is surely the height of vulgarity.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Teenage cliché

It's an old cliché that teenagers are wild and reckless and thoroughly irrespons-ible, endlessly getting paralytically drunk, popping dangerous drugs, driving like lunatics and addicted to sex.

Well, I'm sure that was never true for more than a small number of teenagers, while the rest are no more reckless than anyone else, or actually quite restrained and responsible.

I have to admit the popular cliché never applied to me, as I was never particularly unruly or impetuous. I first got drunk when I was 22, I've always avoided dangerous drugs, I'm a habitually cautious driver and I've never been sex-mad.

This wasn't entirely a matter of personal inclination. For five years I was at boarding school, where there wasn't much choice about being well-behaved. We had no access to drink, drugs or cars and any unruly behaviour would have been jumped on pretty quickly. We were expected to be models of propriety at all times, nothing like all those stroppy teenage tearaways we heard about.

While other teenagers were rebelling left right and centre, I was quietly studying for exams, reading set books, playing cricket and learning French. The only drink I ever saw was orange juice and the only drug I ever took was aspirin.

To some extent I caught up after I left school and got immersed in the alternative culture of the sixties. For a few years I could even have been described as mildly rebellious. But it didn't take me long to settle down and become, if not a model of propriety, something close to it.

I don't regret missing out on teenage wildness, though. It might have been fun, but it might have ended in tragedy. One drink too many, one drug too many, and I might have come to a sticky end.

Friday 2 March 2018

Don't tell mum

I guess it's normal for kids to realise at some point that it's a mistake to tell their parents every detail of their lives. The innocent habit of blurting everything out regardless gives way to a more reserved approach in which you keep certain things to yourself.

You realise that some of the things you do and say are likely to get a hostile or at least chilly response from your uncomprehending parents, and you learn to keep them to yourself or save them for more understanding friends.

I have a long list of things that I've never mentioned to my mother or father (mainly my mother as my father died many years ago) - in some cases things from decades ago that my mother knows nothing about. For example:
  • The times I tried cannabis and LSD
  • The odd instance of petty theft
  • My not-very-orthodox sex life
  • Most of my political views (my mother is very right-wing, as was my father)
  • My presence at gay pride and pro-choice rallies
  • My taste in books, music and films
  • The crummy bedsits I used to live in
  • One or two girlfriends she wouldn't have approved of
I also haven't told her about the trace of prostate cancer. Well, I know she would only worry about it, even though it's pretty insignificant at this point.

The fact that I keep so much to myself is I suppose one reason why we've never been especially close. Closeness is dependent on a fairly open and honest relationship in which you can talk freely to each other. If I have to think twice about everything I'm about to say, that creates a huge barrier between us.

I imagine other people censor themselves with their parents in much the same way, though maybe to a lesser extent that doesn't preclude closeness. I envy those who can talk to their parents without such crushing inhibition.