Saturday 29 June 2019

Roughing it

So the Glastonbury Festival is as popular as ever, despite the vagaries of the English weather and the spartan conditions. The Somerset countryside is once again under siege from thousands of rock fans flocking to see their favourite bands.

I've never been to the festival, and it's certainly not on my bucket list. I steer well clear of it for all sorts of reasons:

1) I don't enjoy camping
2) I keep away from drugs
3) I don't like staying up late
4) I get nervous in large crowds
5) It's no fun wading through mud
6) I don't want to be rained on
7) I dislike long queues for awful food and squalid toilets
8) I'm likely to be so far from the stage I can barely hear the music
9) I don't like being surrounded by litter
10) I prefer to listen to CDs in the comfort of my own home

I've only been to an outdoor rock festival once, and that was the Isle of Wight festival in 1969, which featured Bob Dylan, the Who and 29 other bands, most of them now long-forgotten.

I can remember very little of the music, partly as I say because of the distance from the stage, partly because I spent so long queuing for food, partly because I was exhausted and sleeping. So even without taking drugs I managed to miss most of it. Rather a waste of the admission charge, which no doubt was astronomical.

As I've explained before, I haven't been camping since I was 13, when I went to a Scout camp and was solidly rained on for a fortnight. Everything was swimming in mud, the tents were leaking, my clothes were permanently damp, and I couldn't wait to get home again.

Some people may enjoy roughing it for a few days, but I think I'll stick to my domestic comforts and all mod cons.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Honeymoon period

It's intriguing that honeymoons are now considered an essential follow-up to marriage, though they only became commonplace at the end of the nineteenth century. And that despite initial disapproval from doctors who thought they were bad for women's health!

Not many couples forgo a honeymoon, and when they do it's usually for a good reason - one of them is starting at college or starting a new job, they're short of cash, they're moving house, they're running a business, they've already cohabited for several years, or the bride-to-be is about to give birth!

Jenny and I didn't have a honeymoon as such, partly because we had cohabited for fourteen years, partly because we didn't see the point, and partly because we married mainly for financial reasons - Jenny's local government pension could only be passed on to a spouse. But we did go on holiday after the (register office) wedding. Nowhere very exotic or romantic, just a tour of northern England including Stoke on Trent potteries, Whitby, Scarborough, and to see friends in Chester and York.

We could have gone somewhere more spectacular, but we were counting the pennies a little because we had a huge mortgage to pay for.

It didn't cost very much because we travelled around by car and stayed in very unassuming hotels and guest houses. We kept expecting to feel subtly different now we were married, but of course we didn't - we were the same as before, but with an official document to wave about.

I imagine many couples don't actually do very much on their honeymoons. Organising an elaborate wedding is so stressful probably all they want to do is lie on a beach for two weeks and get their sanity back.

As long as they take care what they eat and drink. Honeymoon food poisoning is remarkably common.

Friday 21 June 2019

The guilty cyclist

I was astonished by a recent court case about a woman who stepped into the road while looking at her phone and was knocked down by a cyclist. The judge ruled that the cyclist was as blameworthy as the pedestrian, as "cyclists must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways."

Well, of course they should, but if someone suddenly steps into the road totally oblivious to what's coming towards them, how is a cyclist meant to prepare for that?

Should he (or she) swerve into the middle of the road in case a pedestrian does something stupid? Should he scrutinise all pedestrians for possible reckless intentions? Should he ring his bell at two-second intervals to warn the local birdbrains?

That would be ridiculous. A cyclist has to assume pedestrians will stay on the pavement unless it's safe to cross the road. If they're not even looking at the road, how is the cyclist to blame?

I was involved in a similar accident in the early nineties. I was approaching a zebra crossing, didn't see anyone about to cross, but then as I drove over the crossing I knocked a woman down. I couldn't understand how she suddenly came to be on the zebra crossing.

Naturally I stopped, apologised profusely and asked if she was hurt. She was unable to answer and I could only assume she was too shocked to speak or was under the influence of alcohol or medication, and therefore too befuddled to notice the oncoming car. In any case there was no visible injury.

I didn't think I was in any way to blame, as I looked carefully at the zebra crossing while approaching it, and didn't see anyone about to cross. But this particular judge might have thought otherwise as "motorists must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways."

Do you think the judge was right? Or wrong?

PS (later on Friday) The cyclist has been ordered to pay around £100,000 in compensation and costs, which he says will leave him bankrupt. The woman has been awarded £4,161.79 in damages. So in financial terms the cyclist is seen as around 25 times more guilty than the woman.

PPS (Saturday) A friend of the cyclist has set up a GoFundMe page to help him pay the legal bill. She has so far raised over £50,000. He may need less than first thought, as the £100,000 was the sum asked for by the pedestrian, while the judge indicated that £10,000 would be more appropriate (the exact sum will be decided at a final hearing later).

Monday 17 June 2019

Fancy a chat?

The growing problem of loneliness has prompted a new initiative you might call "opportun-ities to chat". Coffee shops have introduced "chat areas" and train companies are experimenting with "chat carriages".

The idea is that people who want some social contact can head for these chat areas and strike up conversation with others in the same boat.

Alexandra Hoskyn was 33 when she started the Chatty Café Scheme three years ago. Her son, Henry, was four months old and she felt isolated and deprived of adult company. So she encouraged coffee shops to set up chat areas where lonely people could meet and talk.

Now more than 1,000 cafés, hospitals, council offices, supermarkets and other venues have set up chat tables and the trend is catching on.

It seems like a great idea to me. You can chat to someone knowing they also want to chat, instead of risking a brush-off or just keeping yourself to yourself.

I don't know of any such "chat areas" in Northern Ireland, although Costa Coffee and Sainsbury's have introduced them elsewhere. Mind you, the Northern Irish are naturally chatty and will natter away to anyone anywhere. Sit next to someone on the bus and you could very well hear their entire life story by the end of the journey.

Loneliness has been linked to many medical conditions such as dementia, obesity, high blood pressure and mental disorders, so it seems a no-brainer that anything that makes it easier to link up with other people can only be a good thing.

I'd like to give it a try. Just as long as I'm not landed with some gung-ho political nerd who wants to discuss the finer details of Brexit for at least half an hour....

Thursday 13 June 2019

Older and wiser?

I expect most younger people dread getting old. As far as they can see, it means only getting more decrepit, getting confused by anything new or complicated, and hankering after "the good old days". But that's a rather jaundiced picture. Getting old also brings plenty of benefits. Such as:

1) You no longer want to drive so fast or so recklessly.
2) It's okay to talk to yourself.
3) You have much clearer priorities.
4) You don't care as much what others think.
5) You can nap whenever you feel like it.
6) You can enjoy rereading old books - or watching TV shows or movies - because you've forgotten the ending and most of the plot.
7) It's easier to manage your emotions.
8) Your secrets are safe because your friends' memories are no better than your own.
9) Almost all the major, difficult decisions in life are behind you.
10) You have a higher sense of self-worth.
11) Much less stress - no more jobs, children now independent.
12) You seldom need to wear formal, uncomfortable clothing.
13) You find it easier to ask for help.

I'm not entirely sure about number four. I still care a lot about what others think - what they think about me, or about other people, or about themselves, or about politics, or about life in general. I certainly don't want to offend or upset people, so I think before I speak. Or stay silent.

But hey, yes, getting old isn't the awful armageddon younger people sometimes think it is. A lot of things get much easier - and much more fun.

Sunday 9 June 2019

Just say it

One of the big changes in my lifetime has been the loosening of the old taboos about what can be openly discussed and what can't. There are now so many things that are talked about quite freely which in my younger days weren't talked about at all, or only in private behind closed doors, and even then with huge embarrassment and trepidation.

The list of now permissible subjects is pretty long and getting longer - mental health problems, suicide and death, sexual preferences and difficulties, disabilities, domestic violence, sexual harassment, intimate parts of the body, grisly medical treatments and many others.

When I was young all these topics were considered barely mentionable for one reason or another - too morbid, too personal, too squeamish, too upsetting, too graphic, too horrifying - and lips were sealed for fear of causing visible consternation.

The result was that many people grew up totally ignorant of things that could cause serious problems in their life, and had no idea what to do about them. They would think they were the only person in the world with such problems, and would get more and more upset about them.

Now people grow up much better informed, able to air all manner of personal traumas to other people, blurting out whatever's on their mind without feeling like a freak, and with much greater self-awareness.

We can tell the world about our prostate operations or depressive episodes or erectile dysfunction or bulimia and nobody bats an eyelid. The raised eyebrows, warning looks and frosty responses are in general long gone.

Some people of course have never adapted to the new era of uninhibited frankness and are stuck in the old taboos. I think one reason I found it so hard to talk to my mum in her later years was because there were still so many things she couldn't bring herself to talk about.

Tell it like it is - why not?

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Was my face red

I often ask myself, what was my biggest ever embarrass-ment? I can't think of any really appalling embarrass-ment, the type where you want to fall through the floor and never be seen again. But of course there are myriads of minor embarrass-ments, the sort where I feel a bit of an idiot for a few minutes and then it rapidly becomes a fading memory. To name a few:

1) Driving the wrong way round a roundabout. Yes, I actually did that, though it was only a very small roundabout so no harm done.
2) Driving the wrong way down a one-way street. I've done that several times, to a cacophony of horn-sounding from other drivers.
3) Confidently getting someone's name totally wrong. Happily calling them Rebecca when their actual name is Natalie.
4) Confidently asking after someone's children when they don't in fact have any.
5) Discovering a large and conspicuous stain on my pants after I've returned home from a very smart social event.
6) Daydreaming briefly while someone is talking to me, then finding I've lost the thread and have no idea what they're talking about.
7) Tucking into a meal at someone else's house, then noticing everyone is waiting for the host to start their meal first.
8) At someone else's house, casually opening what I think is the toilet door and finding it's a bedroom with a strange couple in mid-snog.
9) Returning home from a restaurant where the food and service were superb and realising we didn't leave a tip.
10) On my way out of an airport, discovering that in an absent-minded moment I left that brilliant book I was reading on the plane.

At least my embarrassments are usually in front of a fairly small audience and are quickly forgotten. Pity those celebs and public figures who embarrass themselves in front of an audience of thousands or even millions and never live it down because the videos will be circulating on the internet till the end of human existence.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Holy writ

It seems to be a growing trend that those who challenge popular opinions with a radically different view are hounded and insulted and told to shut up. Their refusal to toe the conventional line is seen as abnormal, perverse, unacceptable.

Historian Hallie Rubenhold, who has exposed the miserable lives of Jack the Ripper's victims, has been the target of "offensive", "stupid" and "almost laughable" attacks from Ripper fanatics with fixed views on the five women who died.

She has challenged the prevailing belief that the murdered women were all prostitutes, saying that three of the women weren't prostitutes, simply "sick, starving, brutally treated women" who just happened to cross their killer's path.

"There are people out there who feel they have ownership of these women's stories and there is an orthodoxy. If you question those 'facts', then God have mercy on you. The response I've had to this is unbelievable."

You would think people with an interest in a particular subject would welcome different views that added to their understanding of it. You would think their only concern would be to discover the truth, whatever that may be. But no, their views turn into holy writ, and anyone who questions them is seen as a heretic, a blasphemer.

I tend to keep quiet about some of my own views that run counter to the fashionable wisdom, for fear of a hostile reaction. There's no point in confronting people who are most unlikely to change their existing opinions.

I'm increasingly glad I'm not a prominent public figure with markedly unconventional views. The predictable vicious trolling would be hard to cope with. The old British tradition of open-minded consideration of opposing views seems to be crumbling rapidly.

All that matters nowadays is being right.

Pic: Hallie Rubenhold