Wednesday 30 October 2019

Winging it

It's weird how my inner feelings can be so at odds with my outer self, or how other people see me. Despite being a very well organised person, I always feel the exact opposite - that I'm hopelessly disorganised, never quite on top of anything, always running to catch up, haphazardly responding to things.

To other people's eyes, I'm wonderfully organised. I meet people at the right place at the right time. I keep the house clean and tidy. There's always enough food indoors for a few decent meals. I keep track of all the money going in and out. I arrange domestic repairs promptly. I keep the garden in good order. Everything's ticking over nicely, no to-do lists full of tasks left undone for months. Who could ask for more?

Yet on the inside I always feel as if I'm desperately winging it, never properly prepared for anything, doing everything at the last minute, vaguely muddling through, leaving all sorts of loose ends and neglected chores. I feel that other people are much better organised than I am and I'm barely keeping my head above water. I feel that my apparent adeptness is some kind of lucky accident, nothing to do with any deliberate action on my part.

Perhaps I just don't want to believe that I'm well organised because it makes me look like some sort of goody goody, someone lacking in the normal human failings that people find endearing and comforting. People would prefer to know that the windowsills are thick with dust, the garden is an unkempt wilderness, the bed linen hasn't been changed for months, that faulty tap is still dripping, and there's nothing in the fridge but some stale cheese and one mouldy potato.

Sorry, but the goody goody seems to have the upper hand.

Saturday 26 October 2019

Glorious botching

There hasn't been much talk of multi-tasking recently. Which is odd, because supposedly the reason why some people could juggle so many different roles was because they could do six things at once and do them all brilliantly - or at any rate competently.

Well, that was the theory. Then researchers discovered that most people can't multi-task, or at least not effectively. You might think you're doing everything splendidly but in reality you're just muddling through.

I have to say I'm probably the world's worst multi-tasker. Give me two things to do at once and I'll botch both of them - gloriously. Expect me to have an intelligent conversation while I'm driving the car and without doubt I'll drive straight into the closest shopfront.

Expect me to answer the phone while I'm picking out items at the supermarket and you can be sure I'll forget who I'm talking to while simultaneously knocking fifty tins of baked beans off the nearest shelf. Which in itself is a deft piece of multi-tasking - but not the one intended.

I'm afflicted with absolutely single-minded concentration. I can focus superbly on one particular thing -  to a degree that sometimes drives Jenny nuts. But if you ask me to spread my concentration a bit more widely, you're on to a loser. Something's got to give, and invariably it does. I catch sight of a fascinating article in the paper, settle down to read it, and instantly forget there's something in the oven.

The cliché has it that women are better at multi-tasking than men, but I'm not sure that's true. I think some people just happen to be better at it than others, whatever their sex. If such a thing really exists, that is.

Tell you what though - I can be obsequiously polite to someone while at the same time marvelling at their infinite stupidity. Does that count as multi-tasking?

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Coffee nirvana

When did coffee shops become so amazingly popular? So popular that right across the world, even in remote villages and on modest ferries you can get a first-rate cup of coffee.

Their earlier incarnation, the coffee bars of the nineteen fifties and sixties, were fashionable for a while but then lost their appeal, until eventually they were seen as a quaint relic of the past, frequented only by the likes of sad loners, tourists and cheating husbands. I can't remember ever going to one myself.

In those days of course few people had even tasted a top-notch coffee. Most of us were used to the insipid taste of instant coffee out of a jar, consisting of mysterious brown particles, and knew nothing better.

Now there's a coffee shop on virtually every street and the number escalates by the day. The quest for the perfect coffee - the freshest, tastiest, healthiest, climate-friendliest cup of joe, made from the most ethically-sourced beans on the planet - has become a relentless obsession. I'm as keen on a good cup of coffee as anyone else,  but I can't help thinking the search for coffee nirvana has gone a bit too far.

It's now quite normal to drop into a coffee shop several times a week, and pay anything up to a tenner for a coffee and a pastry. Anyone who never enters a coffee shop or doesn't like coffee is seen as a bit strange.

I have to admit Jenny and I like coffee shops. We go for a coffee and a chat every week at Caffè Nero (I know, I know, tax avoidance etc, but we love their coffee). We'll have a coffee if we're meeting friends or sitting in an airport or just killing time. But I'm not a fanatic about the taste. A decent latté will do me fine. I hope the beans weren't harvested by downtrodden peasant farmers, but I'm not going to spend the morning investigating.

I'd rather amuse myself by trying to spot the cheating husbands.

(Thanks to Kylie for the idea)

Saturday 19 October 2019

The cutting edge

When I was young the word "trendy" was an insult. People laughed at the "mindless trendies" who were slaves to every passing fashion and couldn't bear to feel they were behind the times.

Now that's all changed and there's a total obsession with being trendy at all costs, being at the cutting edge of clothing, cookery, movie-watching, house décor, musical taste, holiday location, climate awareness, and even vocabulary - woe betide us if we use an obsolete term about other people (diabetics, transsexuals, dykes, nutters, natives etc).

The joke is that most trends are so nebulous and often simply assertions by some (fashionable) journalist, beauty editor or pundit. One person's boldly expressed trend will flatly contradict someone else's. In one place we hear that short skirts are back, in another that long dresses are now all the rage. Staying at the cutting edge is an arduous task when everyone disagrees about what the cutting edge consists of.

For years now I've never been remotely trendy and I just do and wear what I feel like doing and wearing. If my decisions happen to coincide with some fashionable dictat, it's mere coincidence. And few people actually care if I'm up-to-the-minute or not, except in the political sphere where being "off-message" can lead to instant ostracism rather than a healthy debate.

I remember trying to keep up with my fellow pupils at boarding school (when I was still young and impressionable) and failing miserably. I would attempt an Elvis-style hairdo, or adopt the required footwear of winkle pickers or chisel toes, or buy some Buddy Holly-style thick-rimmed glasses, but they all knew I was insincere and simply trying to fit in, and I'm sure they laughed at me behind my back.

It was only a year ago I bought my first backpack, after everyone else had had them since the year dot. I still haven't succumbed to a smartphone, Netflix, WhatsApp, airbnb or Uber. But I do take a very trendy set of hessian bags to the supermarket. Do I get any brownie points for that?

Tuesday 15 October 2019


So we spent a few days in Montreal, as Jenny thought it was a wonderful city and wanted me to share her enthusiasm. I have to say though that I wasn't as taken with it as she was.

I felt slightly intimidated by the massive and impersonal high-rises and skyscrapers, some a good forty or fifty storeys (and visually pretty bland). I felt quite insignificant, like a small child on the sidewalk. And I felt a bit drained, as if the skyscrapers were sucking something out of me. They were too grandiose, too excessive.

The city had no central focus, it was just a huge sprawl of hotels, businesses and little squares, unlike Manhattan, which has Central Park, or Belfast, which has City Hall, or Sydney, which has the Harbour Bridge.

But having said all that, Montreal has its attractions. Like the Musée des Beaux Arts, which is full of fantastic artwork. We spent nearly five hours there, drinking it all in. Like the Parc du Mont-Royal, just above the city centre, where the belvedere at the summit has a panoramic view across the city. Like the Basilique Notre-Dame, sumptuously decorated and breathtaking.

We also went to the Musée d'Art Contemporain, but were surprised to find there was only one exhibition at the time, the rest of the museum being closed to install new exhibits. Which made no sense as there were dozens of blank walls which could have been hung with hundreds of artworks. Why weren't they? Lack of funding maybe? They must be disappointing an awful lot of tourists.

Accommodation-wise, we did very well. The last time Jenny was in Montreal she found a spacious hotel apartment complete with fully equipped kitchenette, and we stayed there again this time round (Le Square Phillips Hotel).

So Montreal didn't quite capture my heart, but it was worth visiting.

Pic: Le Vieux Port, Montreal, one of the better preserved districts

Friday 11 October 2019

The Canadian Maritimes

And now all can be revealed. Jenny and I have been on a 10 day guided tour of the Canadian Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island). After that we spent a few days in Montreal, as Jenny wanted me to see what she thinks is a wonderful city.

One defining feature of the Maritimes is seafood - muscles, oysters, scallops and lobster in particular. Vegetarians are still unusual and Bernadette, our tour manager, worked hard to provide adequate veggie meals wherever we went.

There's pretty spectacular scenery too, especially on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island and on the Fundy Trail in New Brunswick. The trees were sporting their amazing autumn colours - yellow, brown, red, orange.

The Maritimes are still thickly forested, with little sign of the commercial interests like mining and fracking that are threatening much of Northern Ireland's natural beauty. And there are lots of unspoilt little fishing villages.

We learnt about some of the indigenous communities that fought for their survival against invading English and French forces - such as the Acadians, the Mikmaq, the Inuits and the Glooscap. They refused to be cowed into submission.

At the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, we discovered that Bell not only invented the first practical telephone, but invented many other things like metal detectors, the hydrofoil, the audiometer and the wheat husker.

We learnt that New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada, and many of the inhabitants speak both French and English. Jenny and I soon realised that our pathetic grasp of French hardly mattered as English is spoken everywhere.

The residents of the Maritimes are keen on lighthouses, with over 160 in Nova Scotia alone. They also like model lighthouses, which pop up in people's front gardens and other unlikely spots.

Like our guided tour of New Zealand in January, this tour gave us a great overview of the area and what makes it distinctive. We more than satisfied our nagging curiosity.

We were hoping to meet up with Wise Web Woman. But like most people, I confused St John's Newfoundland (where www actually lives) with Saint John, New Brunswick. So we never met up. Maybe some other time....