Wednesday 30 December 2020

Something positive

After this awful year of a rampaging virus, all manner of personal restrictions, thousands of people losing their jobs or getting into debt, rising alarm about climate breakdown and anxiety about the possible consequences of Brexit (for us Brits, at any rate), I thought it might cheer us all up to recall some of the good things that happened during the year.

  • Marcus Rashford, the footballer, secured more free meals for school children and launched a book club to encourage children to read
  • Captain Tom Moore raised almost £40m for NHS Charities after walking laps around his garden ahead of his 100th birthday
  • Frontline health workers saved thousands of people from dying, and risked their own health to do so
  • Kamala Harris became the first female, first black, first South Asian US Vice President Elect
  • Due to movement restrictions and a slowdown of social and economic activities, air quality improved in many cities
  • There was a huge wave of support for Black Lives Matter, and increasing anger over police violence towards black people
  • Birthdays became less about presents and more about creative ways to connect with loved ones
  • Lashana Lynch became the first black female 007
  • Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free and universal access to period products
  • Comfy clothes reigned supreme as more people worked from home and didn't need to dress up for work
  • Musicians used social media to give us personal concerts from home
  • Harvey Weinstein and other prominent public figures were brought to court for sex crimes
  • We had more time to bake/read/cook/exercise/play Scrabble, and to make new plans for our lives
So all we can do now is hope for a much better 2021 and a return to a more normal way of life. And lots more videos of obstreperous cats.

Pic: Kamala Harris

Thanks to Glamour UK

Saturday 26 December 2020

How very reassuring

One thing we all learn as we grow up is the art of reass-urance - how to make the totally weird or alarming seem quite normal and manage-able. If we didn't pick up this vital skill, we'd all feel permanently overwhelmed by the horrors and peculiarities of the world around us.

From the government insisting the pandemic will soon be over, to mommy asking little Rebecca why she's crying, we become adept at playing things down, minimising things, insisting nothing's as bad as it seems.

Sometimes it's to reassure other people who're feeling panicky and anxious and powerless. Sometimes it's to reassure ourselves.

Politicians in particular are well versed in playing things down. No no, poverty isn't as widespread as we think. No no, there are plenty of jobs available.

Parents are equally adept at soothing their children's umpteen worries. No of course we're not getting divorced, darling. No of course that dog isn't going to bite you. No of course the planet's not about to explode.

Those reassurances may be total lies, but rather that than leave someone floundering in a state of helpless fright.

Jenny and I are always reassuring each other about something or other. We both know the other is deliberately reassuring us, and we only half believe what we're hearing, but we feel better for hearing it, which is the whole point.

My being a worried-well type, always imagining the slightest physical aberration might be the first sign of something horrible, reassurances from doctors are especially welcome.

Reassurances from politicians on the other hand aren't at all welcome. We all know frequent lying is part of the job description so I'm seldom convinced.

Finally, I can reassure you that this blog post is entirely harmless and reading it will not precipitate skin rashes, blurred vision or any horrid neurological conditions.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

All about beards

Emma Brockes in the Guardian says she's always trusted men with beards. And a study by the University of Texas backs her up, finding that salesmen with beards are seen as more trustworthy than those without.

She has argued with friends about it. Some see beards as a cover-up - what's the guy hiding? But to her they mean respectability.

People are very polarised about men with beards. In general, they either love them or hate them. The pro camp like their masculinity and find the man more attractive than his hairless mates. The anti faction find them pointless and distinctly off-putting. Women may find kissing less enjoyable if they're negotiating a thicket of hair.

Personally, as you know, I'm not keen on beards. I had one briefly in the seventies when I fancied the John Lennon look, but I've been clean-shaven ever since. Those men who grow their beards to absurd lengths just look ridiculous.

Also, beards need constant upkeep. They have to be trimmed, they have to be kept clean, bits of food get stuck in them. Who knows what you might be kissing? And they can be horribly itchy.

But beards are very fashionable nowadays. I see more and more men with them. Maybe they simply can't be bothered to shave. Maybe their partners prefer them with beards. Maybe they're just proving they're man enough to grow one. Or maybe their religion requires men to have beards.

Fashions come and go, though. Apparently in the mid 18th-century being clean-shaven was seen as the height of manly sophistication, and very few men had beards. But facial hair was so important to the Victorians that many men, unable to grow their own, were forced to buy false beards and moustaches.

So would I trust a salesman with a beard more than one without? No, it makes no difference to me. What I'm looking for is a trustworthy product.

Friday 18 December 2020

Crush resistant

Can seventy somethings have crushes? Or are we much too old and world-weary for such romantic nonsense? Have we become immune from such over-the-top responses to other people?

The jury seems to be out. Some people say, yes of course oldies can have crushes. We haven't become so stony-hearted and emotionally tepid that such reactions are no longer possible.

But others maintain that oldies are much too savvy for such flights of fancy, much too level-headed. We see people exactly as they are and not through rose-tinted spectacles.

I was never a crush-prone individual, so I can't really say one way or the other. I think crushes have to involve idealising the other person, and I was never one for idealising people. I can only recall two serious crushes in my lifetime, and the second one was extremely fleeting.

The first was a server at a London restaurant I used to lunch at every day - The Stockpot near Trafalgar Square. In my late twenties at the time, I was smitten by her distinctive way of walking and her enormous self-confidence. I couldn't stop thinking about her. For months on end I kept telling myself I should ask her out but somehow never had the nerve.

The second was a woman who was interested in buying our previous house, when I was 62. I can't begin to explain my extraordinary reaction. There was something about her that totally threw me. I can only describe it as electrifying. She turned me to jelly so completely I could barely maintain a conversation.

However, that crush lasted about ten minutes because I never saw her again. It wasn't so much a crush as a helpless emotional meltdown.

But some people swear they've had constant crushes throughout their lives, even into their sixties and seventies. Can that really be true?

Monday 14 December 2020

If I'd been a girl

Like most men, I guess, I sometimes imagine what my life would have been like if I'd been a woman. Strangely though, considering my advanced age, I've never imagined how my childhood might have changed if I'd been a girl.

Instead of being packed off to an all-male boarding school at age 13, I'd probably have gone to the same secondary day school as my sister. This might have changed my life quite a lot.

Why? Because till the age of 13 I spent a lot of time with my sister and was very close to her. We played together, did things together, hung out together. But once I was at boarding school I only saw her occasionally and we were no longer so close. I was living my life, she was living hers, and this created a distance between us.

If I'd gone to the same school as her, we'd have shared our experiences as girls - how we were treated by boys, our periods, our clothes, our crushes, how we saw our bodies and all that stuff. We'd have been together at home, doing the domestic chores, doing our homework, going out with friends, and presumably the closeness would have continued.

Unfortunately that wasn't to be and after I left boarding school, although I tried hard to restore the old closeness, it was gone. After a while we both left the parental home and again we were leading separate lives that added to that sense of distance.

Nothing has happened over the years to change that, and despite all my efforts there has only been the bare minimum of contact between us. We can't have exchanged more than a few dozen emails in several decades.

Life is what it is and I've had to come to terms with the estrangement. But my life would have been so much richer if I was still as close to my sister as I was in my early childhood.

There's a deep sense of loss that can't be shed.

Thursday 10 December 2020

Health warning

I was startled to read that so many footballers and rugby players have developed dementia at an early age, probably as a result of heading balls (the former) and violent tackles (the latter) and being concussed. Clearly these sports are more dangerous than we realise.

I was especially interested because I played both football and rugby at school and because I have a very poor memory. But I doubt if there's any link between the two. As far as I remember (!!) I've always had a poor memory. And I never had more than minor injuries when I was on the field.

In fact I loathed the two games so much I did everything I could to avoid both the ball and the other players. I never headed a football and I never made any violent rugby tackles. I was always against violence of any sort. Being a well-brought-up young man, I was more likely to tap the other player on the shoulder and ask if he would be kind enough to give me the ball for a minute or two.

If I do ever develop dementia, the cause is more likely to be bashing my head on door frames because they're not high enough for me. I remember getting quite a thwack on a door in a holiday cottage that presumably was built for much shorter occupants a century or so ago.

Otherwise I've never had head injuries of any kind - not from cycling or car accidents or from accidents at home. So hopefully I'm fairly safe from any head injury-related dementia.

How soon before fathers stop encouraging their sons to play football and warn them against it?

Sunday 6 December 2020

Rush to judgment

It suddenly came to me that something very odd is going on. There's a growing trend for authoritari-anism but also a growing trend for anti-authoritari-anism. How can they both be happening at once?

On the one hand, people rush to pass judgment on others, often people they've never met and have only heard of through the media. They home in on anyone who's provoked a bit of controversy and tell them forcefully where they're going wrong. They call for people to apologise for their actions, recant their opinions or lose their jobs.

Or they think people getting welfare payments or public housing or being granted asylum are being treated too generously and demand a stop to this burden on the taxpayer.

Or they call for harsher punishment for criminals and complain that prisons are too luxurious and should be more repressive.

At the same time there are people demanding more freedom and declaring they won't be told what to do. They object to the virus restrictions and oppose vaccines, face masks and distancing. They go to huge parties where hundreds of people are crowded together, spreading infection.

Or they object to any measures to reduce obesity-related health problems and insist on their right to be as plump as they wish and eat whatever they fancy.

Or they complain about complicated recycling rules and make a point of dumping their rubbish in any old bin. They won't be ordered about by the "nanny state".

Well, I'm not sure what that makes me as I wouldn't identify with either tendency. I'm one of those irritating middle-of-the-road types who takes whatever attitude seems to be most sensible - which might be authoritarian (if absolutely necessary) or might be the opposite. I don't take a position simply because it's fashionable/ woke/ trending on social media.

I naturally recoil from extreme opinions of any kind.

Wednesday 2 December 2020

Nasty niffs

Interesting to read that during the pandemic 25 per cent of the population have stopped showering every day and 14 per cent have stopped using deodorant. Presumably because people aren't going out so much and don't see the point of such scrupulous hygiene.

It reminds me yet again that we're all a lot fussier about cleanliness than we were a few decades ago. When I was growing up I had a bath once a week and that was basically it (very few homes had showers at that time). I might wash other bits of me when the need arose, but otherwise the weekly bath was considered more than enough. And deodorants weren't used as routinely as they are now.

A lot of people must have been pretty whiffy but either nobody noticed or they thought it rude to mention it. I never noticed any general smelliness when I was young (apart from cigarette smoke), but then my sense of smell was always poor.

At some point people got much more hygiene-conscious, everyone was installing home showers, and deodorants were being lavishly applied. The under-washed began to feel distinctly unpopular as the super-washed multiplied.

But have we now gone to the opposite extreme of obsessive cleanliness? Some would say yes, that too much showering and washing removes the protective organisms from our skin and makes us more prone to infections. We've become terrified of producing the slightest unsavoury odour.

Personally I can't be bothered with baths any more, and I don't shower every day, only when I feel the need. Our bath has been used about three times since we moved in to this house 11½ years ago. I've never been keen on the wallow-in-a-bath-with-scented-candles scenario.

But one thing's for sure - blogging avoids all nasty niffs.