Monday 28 May 2018

In the know

Why do so many people fancy themselves as amateur psycho-analysts, convinced they know others better than they know themselves, and never hesitating to voice their half-baked opinions as if they're gospel truth?

I only half understand my own self after 71 years, and what goes on in my mind is a source of constant bewilderment. Yet people who barely know me are sure they've discovered exactly what makes me tick and can explain it to me.

I've been confidently identified as smug, self-righteous, obtuse, taking things too literally, lacking empathy, self-obsessed, spineless, cruel and many other things quite unrelated to reality. Such accusations are painful while I'm still taking them seriously and haven't yet dismissed them as nonsense.

I'm not the only target of course. Everyone's at it these days, psychoanalysing all and sundry from casual acquaintances to friends, relatives and celebrities. Just give them the opportunity and they're off, ruthlessly pulling someone's personality to pieces. Scurrilous motives and selfish intentions are routinely detected in the most saintly and generous individuals.

I can only suggest that before they point out the mote in their neighbour's eye, they look at the enormous beam in their own.

But aren't I as bad? Don't I tear people to bits just as easily? Actually no I don't. I try to focus on what's good about them and not what's bad. I don't randomly paint them as nasty and venal (Aha, how smug and self-righteous! How brazenly self-deceiving! What obvious virtue-signalling!)

No, seriously, what dazzling insight other people possess. Fancy knowing exactly what makes me tick and why I do what I do. If only I was so splendidly self-informed. If only I could pin down this slippery, mercurial personality so deftly.

Thursday 24 May 2018

All tarted up

After ten months of deliberation, the British government has produced some utterly feeble guidance on what employers can and cannot require women to wear in the workplace. Guidance so feeble most firms will probably ignore it.

They'll continue to require their female employees to wear make-up, low-cut blouses, short skirts and high heels, and women will be too nervous to refuse because they're hazy about the law and they doubt they'll get any support.

Why am I so concerned, you might ask, about how women have to dress in the workplace? I'm a man, it doesn't affect me, I can wear loose, comfortable clothing and that's fine. I won't be sent home for forgetting my stilettos.

No matter how ugly I am, I won't have to wear make-up. No matter how short I am, I won't have to wear heels. I won't be expected to flash my freshly-shaved legs. I won't be asked to expose plenty of chest hair.

But I've worked in and visited numerous workplaces where women are obliged to wear impractical and uncomfortable clothing for all sorts of dubious reasons - because "it's more professional" or "it creates the right image" or "it shows you're taking the job seriously". Why should women have to be tarted up to the nines to be trustworthy when men only need a suit and tie?

It's grossly unfair and discriminatory, and that's why I object to the government's pathetic advice which fails to say loud and clear that expecting women to wear something totally different to men is almost certainly illegal in every case.

I look forward to the day when women and men can wear similar clothing at work and nobody will think anything of it. When women aren't eye candy for the male employees. When how they do the job is all that matters.

Sunday 20 May 2018

Carry on dozing

So last week I went to St Ives in Cambridge-shire to visit my 96 year old mum, who's now in a care home. She's well looked after and seems to be happier than when she was still in her own flat and increasingly unable to keep it in order.

She's now in a sort of twilight state between normal consciousness and complete mental detachment. Sometimes she absorbs what I'm saying and makes relevant responses. At other times she takes nothing in and I have to keep repeating myself and explaining what ought to be the obvious.

She asked me what I had had for lunch and I said a mozzarella, tomato and basil panino from Costa. She asked me what mozzarella was, although she's been to Italy numerous times and should know very well what it is. Then ten minutes later she asked me again what I had had for lunch and I went through the same rigmarole.

She increasingly lacks any curiosity about the outside world. The TV was on but she took no notice, despite some interesting items about attempts to lift an overturned lorry full of milk and the possible value of some unusual antiques.

She has no interest in my life, or Jenny's life, or anyone else's life. If I pass on any family news, she nods politely and that's it. She doesn't bother to keep in touch with any of her old friends. Political events pass her by, however dramatic or intriguing. She did however intend to watch the royal wedding.

She spends most of her time dozing and eating, happily oblivious to anything going on outside the four walls of the care home.  It seems to me a rather empty existence but it appears to be all she wants. I daresay if I reach the grand old age of 96 that'll be enough for me too. Why bother any more about the outside world?

Just carry on dozing, mum. Wishing you sweet dreams.

Pic: Not my mum but she looks very similar

Saturday 12 May 2018

All in the stars

I don't believe in astrology. I don't believe my personality is what it is because of the planets' where-abouts the moment I was born. Nor do I believe my future is determined by where the planets might be at any given date and time. It's about as credible as the Lost City of Atlantis.

I have a friend who is very serious about astrology, who once drew up my birth chart and made various predictions about my life. Needless to say, none of the predictions came true. She must have accidentally got Jupiter in the wrong place. Or confused Saturn with Pluto. Or done the birth chart while she was drunk.

I think most people are sceptical about astrology, but that doesn't stop them checking their astrological horoscope every day or telling you they're a typical Gemini or Virgo. Hell, I even see my own personality as typical Pisces - facing both ways, fond of water, romantic, imaginative, compassionate, gentle etc.

It's quite tempting also to believe the old astrological dictum that anyone on the cusp of two star signs is always a bit unhinged. A worrying thought when like me you're straddling Pisces and Aries, and the signs of unhingedness are there for all to see.

But it's a good way of getting to know someone you've just met. You can ask them what star sign they are and whether they live up to it or not. If they scowl at you and say it's all total bollocks, it could be the start of a wonderful friendship.

I was told once by a journalist that newspaper horoscopes are usually written by someone who knows nothing about astrology and simply makes it up as they go along. I can well believe it. How hard can it be to predict that "good things are coming your way" or "you'll overcome a temporary setback"?

I could do that. Gissa job, mister.

Monday 7 May 2018

Good riddance

According to a survey, six out of ten people feel more affection for their childhood home than their present one. They associate their childhood home with their happiest memories, so much so that some would buy it if they could. Some go as far as recreating the same decor and furnishings in their current home.

Well, I'm not one of the sixty per cent. I have no affection whatever for my two childhood homes. Not only are some of my childhood memories far from happy, but I actively disliked the houses themselves.

The first one was poky and dingy and the four of us (including my sister) were constantly tripping over each other. All the woodwork was being eaten by woodworm and one day the chimney collapsed, almost killing me. A busy railway line at the bottom of the garden provided a constant background noise, which we were used to but was still intrusive.

The second house was much bigger but never felt cosy or comfortable. Everything in the house was heavy and noisy and the carpets and curtains did little to absorb the noise. I always felt I had to be as quiet as possible and not add to the racket. And there was the same busy railway line at the end of the garden.

I much prefer the house I'm in now. It's roomy and light, full of lovely paintings, posters and ornaments, and surrounded by lots of beautiful trees. It's not noisy and it's woodworm-free. And there's no railway line anywhere near it. I have no wish to buy either of my childhood homes or have anything more to do with them. Nor do I want to recreate the ghastly decor and furnishings my parents were so fond of.

Whoever is now living in those childhood homes - they're welcome to them.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Cannot connect

"Men fail us, Sally thinks, because they mostly won't or can't communi-cate. It's their greatest failing as a sex. Of course Pete would help anyone who asked, but taking an interest in people's lives, being sympathetic to their problems, talking things over, putting people in touch or doing a good turn, and above all really saying what they feel - this is what she craves.

"Pete won't talk to anyone he doesn't already know, and on the rare occasions when he does have a chat, he will come away without having discovered a single interesting thing about them, such as the state of their health, the number and ages of their children, whether their business is going well or badly this year, and what they think about Strictly and basically how they're feeling about life in general. Sally is forever astonished and exasperated by this.

"Among men it's as if incuriosity is a badge of honour, with the result that they all going stumbling blindly around in a fog of unknowing, and proud of it too. How did men discover anything ever when they won't ask?" - from Amanda Craig, The Lie of the Land

So very true. Why are so many men so bad at communicating? I've tried many times to befriend a man, only to find that he's okay talking about impersonal subjects such as cars or sport or politics or beer, but as soon as I try to get to know him properly, to get under his skin, a barrier goes up and I can't get any further.

It's a kind of fear of being personal, as if revealing their inner selves will result in some terrible calamity or humiliation or degradation. They're afraid they'll be laughed at or despised or crushed. Astonishing and exasperating indeed.