Wednesday 26 December 2018

Up in the air

The lengthy closure of Gatwick Airport last week due to drone activity made me think about the possible risks and glitches of air travel.

As other travellers do, no doubt, I ruminate on all the potential problems that might sabotage the two of us and leave our carefully-planned trips in ruins. Of course if we thought there was a serious chance of all these mishaps occurring, we wouldn't book the trips in the first place. But I remain a sunny optimist who assumes such hitches are most unlikely.

That assumption is borne out by experience. Although we've flown all over the place, including Australia, the USA and Canada, my baggage has never so far been lost. It went astray once returning to Belfast, but was found and delivered to me the next day.

I did once go down with food poisoning on a trip to Australia. A very unpleasant experience. But it wasn't due to the airline food. I just happened to be sitting next to the one other person on the plane with food poisoning, and we deduced that the culprit was an egg sandwich from Costa at Heathrow.

I've never been thrown off a plane because of technical problems. My flight has never been diverted to some far-flung airport. I've never been hijacked. I've never experienced an engine fire. I've never had a drunken pilot on board (as far as I know). I've never been caught in severe turbulence. Virtually all my flights have been remarkably uneventful and routine.

Hopefully that luck will continue. I have great confidence that my plane will stay safely 35,000 feet in the air and I can happily watch rubbishy movies or snooze without any sudden mid-air crisis to disturb me.

The fact is that planes are astonishingly safe. I'm 86 times more likely to die in a car than in a plane. So why worry?

I won't be blogging for a while. But don't worry, I'll be back in due course! In the meantime, talk among yourselves....

Thursday 20 December 2018

Santa's big plan

It's time for my traditional Christmas interview with that much-loved festive figure, Santa Claus. So here goes.

Nick: Well, Santa, are you looking forward to delivering all those presents on Christmas Eve?

Santa: You must be joking. It's an absolute nightmare. It's one crisis after another. The elves go on strike for better pay and conditions. Or the sleighs need urgent repairs. Or the reindeer have fallen sick. Or the wrapping paper's run out and we can't get any more for a week. I'm too old for this malarkey. I've had it up to here. Once Christmas is over, I'm retiring to my Caribbean penthouse and someone else will have to take the reins.

Nick: That's terrible. But you've done the job for quite long enough. You deserve a good long rest. Everyone takes you for granted. If they don't have the right presents on Christmas Day, they abuse you non-stop on Twitter and send you threatening letters. You could do without it.

Santa: Too true. I can't wait to put it all behind me. I can shave off this horrible scratchy beard, chuck out this ludicrous bobble hat, throw away this ridiculous red outfit (I've always hated the colour red), stop being polite to all those little brats who come to the grotto, and stop saying "ho ho ho" every two minutes.

Nick: So what are your plans for retirement? What's on your bucket list?

Santa: I'm going to get super fit. A whole new lifestyle. It's horrifying how much weight I've gained sitting on my arse in the toy factory all day. From now on it's the gym every morning, jogging, rock climbing, yoga. I'll be thin as a rake, with rock-hard muscles and the heart of a teenager. You won't recognise me if you pass me on the street.

Nick: That's terrific. I can't wait for the selfies in six months' time.

Santa: No selfies. I've had enough attention to last a lifetime. I shall just vanish.

Nick: Ho ho ho!

Sunday 16 December 2018

Reality or innocence?

The whole subject of safeguarding children is a real hot potato. To what extent do you protect them from the horrors of the outside world and to what extent do you keep them happy and secure in a little childhood cocoon?

There are no clear answers. Every parent has their own guidelines as to how much cocooning or how much real-life exposure is appropriate or healthy. When real-life nowadays is often so squalid and monstrous, it's a serious dilemma.

Certainly in my own childhood I was very much cocooned. My parents tended to keep me away from newspapers, news reports and gruesome local happenings and encouraged me to stay immersed in my own private world of model trains, comics, glove puppets and my sister's dolls house.

When I started work as a local newspaper journalist, it came as a big shock to discover the realities of everyday life that I had been so ignorant of - poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, grim working conditions and all the rest.

But what should parents do? On the one hand, they want their kids to enjoy a carefree innocent childhood for as long as possible, and not risk their being traumatised by everyday atrocities they aren't ready to deal with.

On the other hand, they don't want their kids to grow up naive and unworldly, unaware of just how brutal and barbaric and wretched some people's lives may be, and how we all need to do our bit to create a fairer world.

These days of course it's virtually impossible to keep your child cocooned. Very early on they'll discover social media and the extremes of real life will be thrust at them in every appalling shape and form. To keep them cocooned you'd have to live on a desert island or in a mountain cave.

Parenting has never been such a complicated business.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Emotional labour

Christmas calls for a huge amount of emotional labour - manipula-ting your emotions in order to please others - and women in particular are expected to provide it.

Emotional labour was originally defined in terms of the workplace - jobs where you have to be nicer or harsher or pushier than you would naturally be, at the cost of your psychological well-being. But of course it can equally apply to occasions like Christmas.

It's seen as the woman's job to smooth over ruffled feelings, manage children's expectations, deal with tactless relatives, bottle up family feuds, and generally keep people happy for the duration. The stress involved is colossal, but men are usually excused from such emotional labour on the grounds that they're "not very good with emotions", "haven't been socialised to do it" or "would make a mess of it". How very convenient for them.

Luckily for Jenny and I, we don't have big family Christmases anymore and are normally on our own. So the only emotions we have to manage are each other's. And the only quarrel will centre on how many points you get for axalotl in our Scrabble tournament. Or whether we should watch Some Like It Hot or Casablanca.

But emotional labour was very necessary when I was working. I had to be constantly nice to bookshop customers, councillors, charity supporters, social workers and whoever else my job required me to mingle with. Suppressing anger, abuse or antagonism, however justified, was the order of the day.

As a customer, I've had to be studiously polite to bank officials, civil servants, tradespeople and call centre staff to ensure they treat me properly and don't try any funny business. Telling them exactly what you think of them would be fatal.

But sometimes I forget myself. I once told Santa he was a drunken old fool who needed to lose some weight. I haven't had a present from him since.

Saturday 8 December 2018

Koalas and kangaroos

The idea of a holiday has changed dramatic-ally since I was a kid. The simple holidays of sixty years ago are now seen as laughably spartan and primitive, the cheap and cheerful customs of the time.

Our family would spend a fortnight either with my mum's parents at Southend, Essex, or with my father's mother at Perranporth, Cornwall. My sister and I would pass the days on the beach, building sandcastles, eating ice lollies, collecting sea shells and going to the amusement arcades. We were perfectly happy because it never occurred to us in those days that holidays could be far more ambitious.

Other families did the same. It was taken for granted that you took your holidays in Britain and kept the local seaside resorts thriving.

Gradually things changed. Flying became cheaper and more routine and people started heading for sunnier and more scenic countries. Having travelled all over Europe, their wanderlust then took them to the rest of the world.

Now people think nothing of travelling across the globe not just for holidays but for weddings, birthday parties or even to see their grandchildren.

Jenny and I were no exception. After a few British holidays, we thought, why are we being so unadventurous? Why are we pottering round Cornish villages when we could be taking a train through the Rockies, walking over Sydney Harbour Bridge, saying hello to a kangaroo or a koala, standing on top of the Empire State Building or riding the L train in Chicago?

So we joined the footloose masses, signed up for all those shameful long-haul flights with their shocking levels of carbon emissions and had a look at the USA, Canada and Australia. Which I have to say, despite the environmental misconduct have been some of the most amazing experiences of my life (in my defence, I've done my bit for the environment by being a vegetarian for some 43 years).

Perranporth has well-and-truly lost its magic.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

More undesirables

I once listed ten things that seemed totally pointless, things that should never have existed and did little or nothing for anyone's quality of life. I thought I would add another ten items to the list:

1) Group photos. Of politicians, school pupils, employees etc. Either grinning inanely or looking sullen and awkward. Who needs them?
2) Posed selfies. Taken after an hour of primping and preening to achieve a phoney visual perfection that fools nobody.
3) Vegan cheese. Which despite the hype are nothing like traditional cheese. Peculiar flavours that are virtually inedible.
4) Crisps. A nice taste and a satisfying crunchy noise, but that's it. Thin slivers of a single large potato with zero nutritional value.
5) High heels. Serve no purpose except to pander to male fetishism. If they make you look "professional", why aren't men wearing them?
6) Push-up bras. More male fetishism. Even more uncomfortable and annoying than the regular ones.
7) Trigger warnings. Trying to anticipate every possible upsetting trigger in the universe is absurd. Why not just deal with what's upsetting you?
8) Bottled water. No better than tap water, and only adds to the mountain of plastic waste that's polluting the planet.
9) National anthems. Inane ditties that only encourage jingoism and nationalism. "God save the Queen" indeed.
10) Stretch limos. A bogus air of luxury travel for your special occasion, blocking the traffic wherever they go.

So now you're sure to tell me you love nothing better than prancing around in high heels and a push-up bra, scoffing vegan cheese and Pringles, while posing for a selfie and singing the national anthem. How very perverse of you.

If you're interested, the original list can be read here.