Friday 30 October 2020

Survival instinct

We humans are said to have a survival instinct that keeps us alive in dangerous situations. However daunting the odds, however desperate everything seems, when the chips are down, we'll always struggle to stay alive.

Well, that's debatable to say the least. There are plenty of examples of people who seem to have no survival instinct whatever. People who commit suicide, who are keen on extreme sports, who drive too fast or take unfamiliar drugs. Or for that matter refuse to follow basic safety measures in a pandemic.

People die every day because they give little thought to survival and simply do what they feel like doing.

I wouldn't say I have much of a survival instinct. What I have is more a problem-avoidance instinct. I don't want to do anything that might jeopardise my physical or mental health and make my life a problem for myself and other people around me. I don't want to become a burden or a nuisance or an object of pity.

Not that any possible survival instinct has ever been seriously tested. I've never been trapped in a burning house, kept prisoner in a locked basement or been stranded on a mountain top. I've never had to survive more than busy main roads or too much alcohol or gnawing hunger.

Mind you, the survival instinct isn't just about physical survival. It can also mean mental and emotional survival. Can you survive abusive parents or an aggressive boss or a domineering spouse without crumbling psychologically?

I've survived in that sense several times in my life. So maybe I have a survival instinct of sorts, just not the one people normally think of.

I've been lucky enough never to lose my mind.

Monday 26 October 2020

Crossing the line

It amazes me what some people (usually women but also men) will put up with from their partner in the way of bad behaviour and still stay with them rather than walking out. They'll find some excuse for even the most atrocious goings-on.

The most obvious example is Melania Trump, who has endured the most appalling behaviour since meeting Donald Trump 22 years ago, but there are plenty of other examples. Lots of politicians are serial womanisers but for some reason their wives stick with them.

So I wonder what would cause me to think "that's enough, that's crossed the line" and walk out of a relationship. It would have to be something pretty major, something quite unforgivable. Suppose your partner was guilty of:

  • A serious crime like a physical assault or a hit-and-run
  • A huge fraud
  • A severe addiction
  • Persistent lying and deceit
  • Being generally abusive and belittling
  • Insulting your friends and family
  • A string of affairs
  • Domestic violence
  • Refusing sex
  • Persistent misogyny
  • Using pornography
  • Using prostitutes
What would your attitude be?

Of course it's easy enough to say I would never put up with X or Y when I've never been put to the test, but would I feel differently if these things actually happened? Like others, would I find excuses for what the other person has done rather than take the drastic step of leaving them?

If there's a lot at stake, a lot to give up, like power and wealth and fame in Melania's case, would I still walk away or would I stay put?

I admire those public figures who do say "enough is enough" and pack their bags. Like Marina Wheeler, who finally tired of Boris Johnson's behaviour after 25 years and left him to it. However delinquent someone's conduct, it's never easy to start again.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Defining moments

It's always revealing when you ask someone what were the defining moments in their life - the things that made a huge impression on them, or set them on a totally new path in life, or caused them to radically rethink something.

If you asked me what were the defining moments or events in my own life, I would come up with the following:

  • Meeting Jenny when my life was somewhat stalled. We've achieved so many things together and had such amazing experiences.
  • My first English teacher, John Fraser, who gave me a love of the English language and linguistic skills that were a lasting asset job-wise.
  • My school friend David who gave me a copy of the Communist Manifesto and prompted a life-long belief in socialism and an egalitarian society.
  • My first bookshop job and the immediate feeling that this was something I could enjoy doing for many years. Which I did.
  • Buying our present house. For a long time we assumed we could never afford a house, but circumstances conspired to make it possible. This is our second house and it ticks all the boxes!
  • My first trip to Australia. It was extraordinary landing in Hobart and being on the other side of the world in such a spectacular country.
  • Moving from my cold and spartan bedsit in Abbey Road, London, my home for 6½ years, to a slightly better bedsit.
  • Moving from London to Belfast. We both liked Northern Ireland and decided to take a massive gamble, ditch our existing jobs and move there. It's been a big success and we've never regretted our decision.
  • Hearing that my tiny trace of prostate cancer had vanished of its own accord.
  • Retiring from paid employment 2½ years ago after 53 years of working. I don't miss work and I'm having a great time.
Will there be more defining moments? Who knows what the future will bring?

Friday 16 October 2020

Mysterious bottles

There's a health food shop down the road that does very good business and stocks every possible variety of trendy cures, supplements and unadulterated foods. But how many of them have any real benefit?

I've always been a bit sceptical of health food shops and the claims they make for their products. Research often concludes that these fashionable remedies and concoctions do little for people's health.

Personally I put my faith in a balanced, nutritious diet and prefer to consult properly qualified doctors rather than a self-appointed expert in a health food shop. The only things I buy there are foods like figs, dates and brazil nuts.

Once I inquired about natural remedies for insomnia and was recommended a tiny bottle of valerian. It cost £9 ($11.60) and had no effect whatever. Once bitten, twice shy, and I made no further inquiries. Luckily my insomnia faded of its own accord.

But it's surprising how many people swear by some natural remedy or other, which they insist gave them a whole new lease of life. Lots of people take vitamin supplements, even though you shouldn't need them if you have a nourishing diet.

The Royal Family are said to be very keen on homeopathic remedies, despite many studies concluding they're worthless.

Some patent remedies just sound a bit fishy. Others are plain ludicrous, like ear candling. This is meant to draw wax out of your ears. But several things can go horribly wrong and land you in the nearest hospital.

But there's always a huge market for unorthodox treatments that are made out to be better for your body than the drugs promoted by Big Pharma. Even if there's no solid evidence that they even work.

I think I'll stick to good wholesome food rather than mysterious bottles of who-knows-what.

Monday 12 October 2020

Forbidden kisses

Once again Jenny and I have lucked out. While others are having to restrain themselves and keep their distance, we can have as much physical contact as we want because we're a long-established couple. We can hug, kiss, cuddle and fondle as much as we like at absolutely negligible risk.

Spare a thought for those blighted individuals who're trying to start a relationship and are constantly having to rein back their natural desire to be as physically close as possible.

They're supposed to keep two metres away from each other at all times and even a one-second kiss or a quick shoulder-squeeze is forbidden. They have to act like total strangers strictly on their best behaviour rather than passionate lovers who can't get enough of their bodies.

Sex itself would break all the rules so that's out of the question, unless you're prepared to take the risk, follow your impulses and jump into bed.

I must say if I couldn't have any physical contact with Jenny I'd feel incredibly frustrated. Physical affection is a big part of our relationship and having to give it up would be really hard.

I enjoy physical affection in general. It's a Northern Irish habit to hug and kiss a friend when you meet them and (normally) I do the same. I'll hug and kiss anyone, be they male, female, straight, gay, whatever. It's fun and it's friendly and it's pleasurable.

It's strange really, because physical affection was pretty rare when I was growing up. My father wasn't keen on it and my mother gave it up when she got the idea it might turn me homosexual. At my single-sex boarding school physical contact was strictly limited to rugby scrums and fooling about in the shower room. I guess once I left home my long-repressed impulses re-emerged.

And thankfully I never had to think twice before kissing my girlfriends.

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Table talk

I've commented before on my relaxed attitude to table manners. I don't bat an eyelid at things that drive other people bonkers. But there are plenty of people (including some of my blogmates) who shudder with horror at someone visibly breaking all the usual rules.

I'm really not bothered by people talking with their mouth full, eating with their fingers, licking their fingers, wolfing down food, blowing on their food, stretching for something across the table, making slurping noises, piling their plate with as much food as possible, or scraping their plate of every last morsel.

I'm too focused on what the other person is saying to dwell on their table manners - unless they're belching non-stop or flinging food on the floor. Which thankfully isn't customary among those I usually eat with.

Like many things, this probably goes back to my childhood. My parents were never very strict about table manners at home and it was basically "anything goes" as long as us kids weren't totally sloppy. Doing our share of the washing up afterwards was more important.

Restaurants were a different matter. My mother was quite a messy eater herself but happily criticised other people's table manners in restaurants. I would listen with some embarrassment as she loudly ticked someone off. At least she didn't complain to them directly, which would have been even more embarrassing.

What bothers me more than how a person eats is someone who spends the entire meal looking at their phone and sending texts. Or parents who chomp away obliviously while their children run amok. Or a wobbly table that keeps shifting up and down unpredictably.

Perhaps restaurants should be divided into two sections - one for messy eaters who can be as slap-happy as their like, and one for careful eaters who follow all the rules.

Then we'd all be happy.

Saturday 3 October 2020

Pushy parents

Well, Ms Scarlet Blue suggested I do a post about skirmishes, but I don't think I want to relive what at the time were very upsetting experi-ences. So I shall swerve away from that topic and try something else.

Like parental expectations. Parents who expect you to do (or not do) certain things with your life. Parents who want you to be just like them. Parents who expect huge achievements rather than modest unremarkable lives.

They expect you to have lots of children and grandchildren. Or take over the family business. Or be a high earner. When you want none of those things.

My parents were happy when I started work as a journalist, but a lot less happy when I abandoned journalism and became a bookseller. They thought I was wasting my abilities as well as not earning enough.

My mother was always disappointed that I never had children or grandchildren, but at least she didn't harp on about it. She was pleased when my sister had a daughter but I'm sure what she really wanted was a massive brood.

My father clearly thought I wasn't masculine enough - that I was far too sentimental and cared far too much about society's losers. He expected me to be tougher and harder and stop excusing other people's weaknesses.

Yes, there are parents who genuinely have no route-map for their children, and are happy with whatever lives they choose. But there are plenty who're less relaxed and want to push them this way or that.

I see what they're after. They want their kids to have fulfilling lives, they have their own idea of what will enable that, and they try to influence their kids accordingly. But their kids may have very different plans.

No, dad, I'm not a chip off the old block and I never wanted to be.