Wednesday 29 January 2020

Itchy feet

Why the increasing urge to travel? Why the burning desire to go to all those far-flung places? Why the need to check out all those famous spots, despite their often being over-run with thousands of other tourists?

I had little desire to travel when I was young. It wasn't a big thing in those days anyway. Staycations were normal and families up and down the land would spend a fortnight at Southend or Torquay or Eastbourne and not even contemplate going "abroad" or going "to the continent". That was strictly for the nobs, the celebrities, the political bigwigs. Not for the likes of us.

Even well into middle age I had no great yearning to travel the world. I was happy enough sampling the cultural delights of London, or having a day out at "the seaside". Why would I want to go down under or visit the yanks or look at sacred temples? It seemed like an awful lot of effort for some nebulous benefit.

It was only after I met Jenny and she wanted our holidays to be a bit more adventurous that we went all over northern Italy and then farther afield to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And enjoyed it all immensely.

Now of course, just as half the world is getting itchy feet and jumping merrily onto long-haul flights, the spectre of climate pollution is stopping us in our tracks and forcing us to rethink our holiday plans.

Should we give Eastbourne another try? A quick trip to the Shetland Isles perhaps? Should we dial back to the nineteen fifties and decide we've done enough "abroad" for the time being?

The problem is, those casual mentions of "our trip to the Maldives" or "our little break in the Bahamas" are now so common that we'd have trouble convincing anyone that we really really enjoyed our rain-swept week in the Lake District.

I might even have trouble convincing myself.

Saturday 25 January 2020

Just be honest

It annoys me when environ-mental activists preach to us about what we should be doing to prevent climate breakdown, but ignore their own advice when it comes to their private lives.

They tell us to stop flying, stop driving, get electric cars, stop eating meat, stop burning wood, stop using fossil fuels, stop using plastic. They imply that we're not taking climate breakdown seriously, that we're clinging to all our bad habits and resisting the necessary changes.

Then what do you discover? The very same activists are jetting round the world to one climate conference after another, driving around in gas-guzzlers, tucking into giant steaks or throwing another log on the wood-burning stove.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying they should instantly give up all these things and revert to some kind of stone-age existence stripped of all our modern-day comforts and pleasures. That would be absurd.

What I object to is the hypocrisy, that they preach one thing while doing something quite different. That they make a show of ideological purity and integrity when in reality they're as fallible and imperfect as the rest of us. That off-stage they're wrestling with the same day-to-day dilemmas as everyone else - how do we give up all these harmful practices and still have a decent life? What would be an easy adjustment and what would be a painful sacrifice?

If they'd just admit that yes, they still fly around the world, that yes, they still have a petrol car and still drive hundreds of miles every week, I would applaud their honesty and human frailty. But pretending to be holier than thou when they know very well they're not - that really pisses me off.

Why can't they just level with us?

PS: Good example: Prince Charles flew 125 miles by helicopter to make a speech about lowering aircraft emissions (02.02.20)

As a balance to my scathing review of Keith Richards, I would add that I love Annie Lennox, who seems far more talented and a much nicer person all round. Both her music and lyrics are a lot more interesting than the Stones'. "Diva", "Bare", and "Songs of Mass Destruction" are all brilliant albums. She also does masses of charity work for Amnesty International, Oxfam, the British Red Cross and the Burma Campaign among others. And surprise surprise, there's no misogyny.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

All about Keef

Having just finished Keith Richards' massive memoir "Life", I have to conclude he's a pretty unlikable character. He may be a brilliant musician, but the way he treats other people leaves a lot to be desired. I'm amazed at the self-indulgence and self-centredness and rampant misogyny.

He takes for granted that as a global celebrity he should be waited on hand and foot, and he doesn't seem very grateful for all that hidden support.

Domestic staff like cleaners, cooks and chauffeurs are barely mentioned, except the one occasion where the cook accidentally blows up the kitchen.

Women are mainly servants and sex objects, usually referred to as bitches, chicks, brassy matrons or groupies. He shags every woman who looks willing and relies on the groupies to keep him fed, do his washing and generally look after him.

He is (or was) a hardened druggie, who takes every substance going and regularly has to go cold turkey to keep himself fit enough to do the job. Considering he was almost permanently stoned, it's amazing how much of his life he actually remembers.

He says virtually nothing about his children (Marlon, Alexandra, Angela, Theodora and Tara*), as if he had little to do with them, but maybe he just didn't want them to have too much public attention. He mentions Marlon a few times, but clearly Marlon was mostly brought up by other people (and he really objected to his father's behaviour).

He obviously doesn't care that he's a role model for thousands of young males, many of whom will copy his selfish and irresponsible attitudes. As long as he's doing his hedonistic thing, that's all that matters. It's as if he's never grown out of the hippie lifestyle of the late nineteen sixties - sex, drugs and admiring chicks.

It would be interesting to know how his friends and acquaintances and staff see him and whether they think of him as a royal pain in the arse or a lovable rogue.

*Tara died aged two months - a cot death

Thursday 16 January 2020

Balancing the books

I like indepen-dent bookshops. A lot have closed down because they just couldn't make ends meet, but others somehow soldier on year after year due to the sheer determination and ingenuity of the owners.

There's a great independent bookshop in Belfast called No Alibis. As the name suggests, it specialises in crime books, but it has a more general stock as well. Jenny and I dropped in a while back for a talk by the Australian crime writer Jane Harper.

There's also Keats and Chapman, a second-hand bookshop I'm embarrassed to say I've never checked out (well, it's a bit off the beaten track).

Lots of other people like independent bookshops too, and often come to the rescue if they're in danger of going under.

When John Westwood, who runs the Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire, specialising in antique and second-hand books, found he hadn't sold a single book all day, one of his staff tweeted the worrying news, and in no time orders were flooding in from all over the world.

John was astonished. "We had someone call from Inverness [in Scotland], telling us they wanted to spend £10 on any book - they didn't care what, they just wanted to support us. Then we had a guy come in who told us he lived locally but had never visited before. His friend in San Francisco saw the tweet and told him he had to go in and buy something."

He has had to bring in extra volunteer staff to help deal with the backlog of hundreds and hundreds of orders.

"It's truly amazing. I think it really shows the passion people still feel for books. The feel of them, the smell of them. That can never be replaced by anything else."

So the shop started by John's father in 1958 has a new lease of life. And all thanks to the awesome power of Twitter.

Pic: John Westwood

Sunday 12 January 2020

Just a snip

I go to the men's hairdresser about every two months. I get an extensive trim that takes five or ten minutes. The charge is £9.50 ($12.40) or £7.50 if I go for the special over-sixties rate - which I don't because I can well afford £9.50.

If a woman wants a similar cut, taking a similar five or ten minutes, at a woman's hairdresser, she'll be charged treble or quadruple the price. This is actually illegal but it's never been challenged in court so it continues. Many women are understandably annoyed at this sex-based difference.

If they do the obvious thing and ask a men's hairdresser to give them a short back and sides, they're usually told the business only caters for men. This is what actor Georgia Frost was told when she objected to paying the female rate.

"I pointed to the client [whose hair he was cutting] and said, I'm literally asking for this haircut you're doing now, and he just said No." She thinks the refusal is partly because a men's hairdresser is seen as a male sanctuary, and partly because of a belief about what a woman should look like. And maybe a touch of homophobia.

There are a few salons that offer sex-neutral pricing, such as Butchers and Cut UK, but they're still very rare.

What is urgently needed is a test case under the Equality Act to challenge the ongoing dual-pricing. It's not as if it's a negligible pound or two, it's a huge difference.

Of course if you're having colouring or highlights or extensions or some fancy hairdo, a high price reflects the work involved. But £30 or £40 for a few minutes' snipping and razoring? It's ridiculous.

PS: A female columnist on the Guardian says the cheapest price for a woman's haircut in her London neighbourhood is £53.

Pic: Georgia Frost

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Nosey parkers

As a non-parent, I'm grateful I've escaped all those unwanted criticisms that parents are confronted with. As if it isn't hard enough dealing with an unruly, angry child, unhelpful comments from others just add insult to injury.

In an American poll*, nearly two thirds of mothers said they felt they had been criticised for their parenting decisions, from their own family as much as from total strangers.

Discipline, sleep and diet were the topics that usually brought criticism, but anything was grist to the mill. I guess those who are long-time parents often feel entitled to criticise the supposed failings of new parents.

I don't criticise other people's behaviour, unless they're behaving especially badly. I don't even criticise people's table manners, something that gets a lot of people stewing.

And as a non-parent who has little idea of what parenting involves (apart from watching my own parents), and certainly not the day-after-day stress of living with volatile, self-centred, truculent youngsters, I wouldn't dare challenge a parent on his or her parenting skills.

So much of the criticism is a matter of opinion anyway. "Your children are being too noisy". "You should give him a good smack". "You're being too indulgent". "She's manipulating you". Mind your own business and shut the f--- up.

Looking back on my own childhood, I can see now that I must have been an absolute pain in the neck at times. I disagreed with my father on most things and I could be stubborn as a mule. Luckily he was a middle-class father who would think twice about clobbering me, however maddening I was being.

I have every sympathy for hard-pressed parents. However much you love your kids, there are times when they're simply utterly exhausting.

*A poll of 475 mothers of children under five by the C.S.Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Saturday 4 January 2020

Chasing beauty

I can't believe the amount of time and effort and money people spend on beautifying themselves. The beauty industry is worth hundreds of billions of pounds as people slap on the moisturisers, mascara and hair-dye and make furtive visits to the botox clinic or the plastic surgeon.

Personally I'm quite happy with my appearance. I have no beauty routine of any kind. I wash, wash my hair, shave, get dressed, that's it. I never tried to look like some fashionable male model or rock star*. I don't spend hours in front of the mirror wondering how to improve my looks. I have far more interesting things to do.

Women have always been told, one way or another, that their natural appearance isn't good enough and a vast range of beauty routines is needed to make them fit to be looked at and admired. Thorough depilation, skilful make-up, frequent hair-dos, flattering clothes - the list is endless.

It's not just women either. Plenty of men are now being sucked into the beauty game with their own lengthy requirements list. Thin and muscular, a full head of hair, no man-boobs, perfect skin. They're just as likely to be hogging the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning, hard at work with the eye-bag concealer.

I must say all this beautifying leaves me cold. I've always been drawn to natural-looking women, who to my mind look fine just as they are. Women with fancy hair-dos, thick make-up and skin-tight dresses look more like drag queens.

And the quest for a perfect body leads to all sorts of mental and emotional problems. The number of men and women being treated for eating disorders is rising rapidly. So too is the number of girls wanting to be boys because of the relentless pressure on girls to be physically flawless.

The frantic pursuit of unattainable beauty leaves a lot of casualties in its wake.

*except for a brief John Lennon period when I had long hair and a beard.

PS: Hair dye can be toxic. Actor Keira Knightley revealed that she now wears wigs in her films as constant hair-dyeing caused her hair to start falling out.