Monday 27 April 2020

Leap in the dark

Living with Jenny now seems like the most natural thing in the world, but it wasn't always like that. It took me a long time to decide that yes, we could probably live together without driving each other nuts.

Falling in love was easy enough. We took a shine to each other the moment we met and that has never faded. But for me living together was a major commitment that might or might not have worked out.

I had had affairs with several other women and the first question that always came to mind was, could we live together harmoniously or would we wind up clawing each other to pieces? I rather suspected it would be the second.

So although Jenny was keen to live with me very early on, it took a fair bit of persuading for me to agree to give it a try. I had to swallow the possibility that we might be driven crazy by each other's infuriating habits and tastes and end up calling it a day.

After all, I had lived on my own for 6½ years and got used to my own company. How would I adjust to suddenly living with someone else, someone I still knew very little about and might be the totally impossible flatmate from hell? It was a big leap in the dark, but one I took because in the end it felt like the right thing to do.

Needless to say, in the early days of cohabiting we had plenty of squabbles and bones of contention, but we discovered our relationship was solid enough to survive them without falling apart. And 39 years later, we still have squabbles and bones of contention and we still settle them amicably.

Far from driving each other nuts, we've nourished each other in a thousand different ways.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

University of life

How true that formal education only goes so far and most of our education is from the university of life. Anyone who imagines they will leave school fully equipped for adulthood will be rapidly disabused.

When I look back at my schooldays, it's laughable how many essential adult skills they never taught me and how naive and ignorant I was until I enlarged my education by other means.

I may have absorbed plenty of French, Latin, Mathematics and Chemistry, but my awareness of anything other than academic was abysmal.

One glaring omission was any knowledge of women. I went to two single-sex schools and saw little of the other sex before I started work. It took me a while to adjust to these strange beings with their very different view of life.

I never learnt any practical skills apart from woodwork (Why woodwork? You may well ask). I'm still an ignorant bungler when it comes to cookery, clothing repairs and alterations, painting, electrics, plumbing, or car mechanics. I wasn't taught anything about money matters like banking, mortgages, insurance, wills or tax returns. All those things I had to find out for myself over the years.

And what of all those social skills I only picked up after leaving school - dating, sexual relationships, holding down a job, dealing with difficult people, being true to myself, being discreet, and how to behave at things like leaving dos, marriages, births and funerals. About the only social skills I acquired at school were dodging bullies and routinely exposing my naked body.

Probably the most useful skill the university of life has taught me is critical thinking. When I was young I was remarkably gullible and would happily soak up other people's ideas. Gradually I learnt to look at those ideas more carefully and see if they actually made sense or not. An awful lot of them didn't.

A skill that's been much more useful than chemistry.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Final regrets

I was remem-bering the five major regrets people have on their deathbed, as recorded by an Australian woman who spent many years looking after dying patients.
  • "I wish I'd been true to myself, not to what others expected of me"
  • "I wish I hadn't worked so hard"
  • "I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends"
  • "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings"
  • "I wish I'd let myself be happier"
If I was on my own deathbed, I wouldn't quote the first three. I've always been pretty much true to myself and resisted people's attempts to turn me into someone else.

I've never worked especially hard, and I never took a job requiring long hours and constant pressure. As for friends, I never had many to start with, but I've kept in touch with those that remain, and with my family.

But I do think I don't express my feelings enough, I suppress them and assume nobody wants to know about them. And I wish I could be more relaxed and easy-going and let myself be happier and less anxious.

There must be other regrets people mention - like not travelling more while they were fit enough to do so, not having a healthy enough lifestyle, not being very good parents, or pursuing the wrong career.

I'm not generally prone to regret. Disappointment is as far as I go. I remain disappointed for example that I didn't have a closer relationship with my mum in the years before she died. As hard as I tried to get through to her, she always kept me at a distance and never revealed very much of herself.

I'm disappointed that I have several friends in Australia who I hardly ever see because of the distance between us. Yes, we keep in touch through our blogs or Facebook pages or email, but that's never the same as face-to-face meetings. Why can't Australia be a bit nearer?

Damn geography.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Under siege

This constant threat posed by the coronavirus is causing the most dramatic sense of being "under siege" I've ever experienced in my lifetime. Nothing else comes near to it. I didn't live through the Second World War, I didn't live through the Troubles, I've never faced repeated flooding or being caught in turf wars by drug dealers. For me this is something very new and very strange.

I'm reminded of under-siege situations I've been through in the past, but they're utterly trivial by comparison. They were hugely stressful at the time but compared to what we're living through now, they pale into insignificance. I wasn't facing the possibility of an agonising death. I wasn't liable to be infected by absolutely anyone I came too close to. I wasn't at serious risk whenever I went out to the shops. They were just difficult situations that came and went.

Several times I've been "under siege" by neighbours. People who were endlessly noisy, people with drink problems, people who had all-night parties, people clattering across wooden floors in high heels.

Now I think, well, I may have had annoying neighbours, but at least I could still go into the outside world without the threat of deadly germs everywhere I went. At least I could continue my everyday life without every step restricted by the two-metre rule.

At least Jenny and I are under siege together. We can discuss how it feels, how it's affecting our daily life, how long it might last, and how well the government is handling the situation (answer - not very well at all). It must be worse for people living on their own, maybe with nobody to talk to or vent their feelings with. I feel a bit like a small child again, only allowed to leave the house if I promise to be VERY VERY careful and not do anything silly.

Friday 10 April 2020

It gets worse

There have been some huge social changes in my lifetime, one being the lowering of expect-ations from one generation to the next. Things my generation took for granted and confidently anticipated are now impossible fantasies for many young people.

When I was young, it was readily assumed that as people got older they would buy their own home, have a permanent job working reasonable hours, earn generous salaries, have enjoyable and fulfilling jobs (as long as they had a good education), belong to a trade union that constantly improved their wages and working conditions, always be solvent (except for a mortgage), and get excellent medical treatment.

Boy, has all that changed, and changed radically. All those expectations have been blown to smithereens by various political and economic twists and turns.

What do today's young people expect? Unless they have wealthy parents, or parents with good connections, or a family business, or exceptional skills or talents, or a shedload of luck, then probably the following:
  • Be unable to afford their own home
  • Pay an extortionate rent or still live with their parents
  • Have a temporary job or zero-hours contract working at any time of the day
  • Have a miserable salary
  • Have a boring and impossibly demanding job
  • Not be in a trade union as they're no longer so powerful
  • Never be solvent and face a lifetime of debt
  • Have poor medical treatment because the NHS is hopelessly overloaded
When I was young, it was assumed that every future generation would have a better life than the one before. We never dreamt they would have a worse life, with new burdens and obstacles we knew nothing of. And we never dreamt they would be blaming the older generation for the deterioration.

I worry that after the present virus emergency is over, with probably the loss of thousands of jobs, the young will have even worse prospects. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Monday 6 April 2020

Publish and be damned

Controversy rages over whether Woody Allen's Memoir "Apropos of Nothing" should have been published, given he's now got a rather seedy reputation and seems to be something of an unrepentant misogynist. And given that it's published, should we buy it or read it?

Well, the irony is that according to those who've read it, like Catherine Bennett in the Guardian, it's not at all a whitewash job crushing all the accusations and portraying him as a jolly decent chap who's been unfairly maligned. On the contrary, it makes his rampant misogyny crystal clear and destroys his once shiny reputation.

In which case we should all be reading it to acquaint ourselves with his thoroughly predatory attitudes.

But the row once again raises the question, is it right to ban books, or any other artistic product, because of the off-stage behaviour of the person concerned?

To my mind, a person's artistic output should be judged on its intrinsic merit, and however reprehensible their personal life, that's an entirely separate issue.

Once you start saying a book should be boycotted because of the author's "misbehaviour", you're politicising it and weaponising it. Art shouldn't be a political football, it should be a cultural experience pure and simple.

Otherwise what's the difference between right-on politicos shunning the work of a "misogynist" author and a government banning a book it deems "immoral" or "subversive" or "unpatriotic"? They're both claiming the right to decide for the rest of us what's in the public interest and what isn't. And who gave them that right? Not me, for one.

All the controversy has just whetted my appetite to read the book and see for myself just how much unbridled lechery was hidden behind the charming facade.

PS: Here's a more positive review of the book -

Thursday 2 April 2020

Compensation culture

So Jenny and I may be in lockdown, and unable to indulge some of our familiar outside pleasures - coffee and pastries at Caffè Nero, a Fiorentina at Pizza Express, a movie at the Queens Film Theatre, or a new art exhibition at the Metropolitan Arts Centre - but we're compensating with a little more of our usual domestic pleasures:
  • A few glasses of New Zealand or Aussie white wine
  • Peppermint Aero, Twix, Lindt truffles
  • A long walk round the huge Stormont estate (walking is allowed)
  • A Scrabble tournament - so far Jenny 4, Nick 4. I scraped ahead in the seventh game with "XI" (fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet), which scores 9
  • Watching DVDs. We've just ordered two more - Notting Hill and Gimme Shelter (the Stones film, not the other one)
  • Watching Location Location Location. I love nosing around other people's homes - and potential homes
  • Reading books voraciously. My current read is The Narrow Land by Christine Dyer Hickey. The one before was Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Listening to music. Especially Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Laura Mvula, Annie Lennox, Courtney Barnett
  • Doing sudokus. Jenny can do the really tricky ones that always defeat me
  • Watching the spring growth in the garden. The camellia bush is finally flowering, weeks after everyone else's 
  • Seeing what's new on Facebook. No cute kittens recently
  • The usual free-wheeling political discussions in which we put the world to rights, find an antidote for the coronavirus, instigate world peace, finish off capitalism, and wonder when Labour's going to get its act together
What could be more enjoyable? But it's a slightly guilty enjoyment knowing that out there thousands of people are dying, leaving grief-stricken loved ones, health workers aren't properly protected from the virus (my niece is a nurse in Cambridge), and thousands of people are losing their jobs and facing destitution.

Frightening doesn't begin to describe the desperate situation we're all in.