Thursday, 14 October 2021

Call my bluff

At the age of 74 I still don't feel like an adult, only an overgrown child. There are so many things I can barely cope with, and only with a lot of effort.    There are so many things I stealthily keep away from, quite sure I'd instantly mess them up.

I may have all the physical trappings of adulthood. I've had three mortgages, I own a house, I've owned several cars, I was the executor of my mum's will, I've had paid jobs on and off for 53 years, I've travelled all over the world.

Yet I still don't feel like an adult. When people treat me like an adult and expect me to behave like an adult, I'm straight into impostor syndrome. I do my best to live up to what's required, but it's mostly a feverish pretence, a frantic pursuit of this ever-elusive quality known as adulthood.

People expect me to make intelligent, informed decisions on a whole range of subjects, when I'm all too aware that actually on most subjects I have a hazy, anecdotal knowledge at best. I rack my brain for relevant wisdom, find the cupboard is bare and cobble together some supposedly authoritative opinion that might get me convincingly through the next five minutes.

I'm looking around desperately for a real adult, someone who actually has adult-like capabilities and can rescue me from this scary demand for responsibility and guidance. I want to be like the newsreaders who just pass on the stream of information fed into their earpieces.

I might look like a mature adult, but it's all an illusion. In reality I'm still a confused child hoping I'm doing and saying the right thing but always suspecting I'm totally goofing up. Sooner or later someone's going to call my bluff.

PS: A post on Facebook - "My personality is basically a mix between a needy five year old child who can't control her emotions, a teenage rebel who makes poor life decisions, and an eighty year old woman who's tired and needs a nap."

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Tactical error

One of the big debates among political protesters is what sort of protest to engage in - what is most likely to get the result they want and what is most likely to get the public on their side. Choose the wrong thing and you simply alienate everyone.

The recently formed campaign "Insulate Britain", which is seeking a much bigger government programme to remedy badly insulated homes, is attracting a lot of opposition over its recent activities.

Day after day they've been blocking major roads in southern England, causing huge disruption, and those people who have been stuck in the resulting traffic jams have been angry and upset.

Carers, nurses and other key workers have been unable to get to work. People have been unable to get to hospital appointments or get to dying relatives. Furious motorists have been physically dragging protesters off the roads.

I don't see how this bloody-minded obstruction of people's daily lives can possibly be justified, or how it's going to have any more influence on the government than some other sort of protest that is dramatic without being so disruptive.

The police have arrested dozens of protesters, and the government has threatened them with jail sentences, but the protests continue regardless.

I would also be furious if protesters had stopped me from getting to work or getting to a medical appointment. Luckily I'm retired and luckily also there's no offshoot of Insulate Britain in Northern Ireland (as yet).

So far the government is unmoved, and the protesters are just pissing off the general public.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

I'll sleep on it

A long time ago I made a list of all my sleep-related quirks and habits. I thought my more recent followers might like to see it.

  1. I seldom sleep in, I seldom nap.
  2. I'm invariably asleep within ten minutes
  3. I'm usually up and about by 7 30 am
  4. I almost always have bad dreams
  5. I sleep on my left side or my right side, hardly ever on my back or front
  6. I find it easy to get out of bed in the morning
  7. I prefer a nightshirt to pyjamas
  8. I sleep naked if it's warm enough
  9. I read books in bed but never newspapers
  10. My bedside cabinet contains my watch, my alarm clock, my glasses, a box of tissues and a book
  11. I find it hard to sleep on planes
  12. I slept for 13 hours straight after arriving in Vancouver Island, Canada
  13. I never take sleeping pills - they don't work and just make me feel weird
  14. There are no teddy bears in our bed
  15. Our hotel room in San Francisco had the creakiest bed of all time
  16. We slept on a futon for several years
  17. We have single duvets, which avoids duvet hogging
  18. We have breakfast in bed every Sunday morning - toast and marmalade and a cup of tea
  19. We change the bed linen often
  20. I can have a completely coherent conversation while I'm asleep, and not remember a word of it the next day
  21. My sex none of your business

Friday, 1 October 2021

In a nutshell

Slang is always contro-versial. Is it a valid part of the language or is it something to be avoided? Does it add colour and vividness or is it just sloppy?

Lucy Frame, the principal at a London secondary school, has decided slang should be avoided, though only in lessons and not in the playground. She has declared that if pupils are using slang they aren't expressing themselves clearly and accurately.

I think she's being ridiculous. Everybody uses slang, and why not? Unless it's a term that's offensive or mystifying, what's the problem?

One academic who was asked to comment pointed out that Shakespeare is full of slang and teachers don't see any difficulty with that. He accused the school of "cultural and linguistic snobbery".

All slang really refers to is unfamiliar words that haven't yet become commonplace. But if the unfamiliar word conveys something useful, isn't that what language is all about?

And who decides if a word is slang or just an ordinary, routine word? Who decides for example whether "getting hitched" or "tying the knot" are slang terms or unremarkable bits of English?

If slang just means an unusual and ingenious way of expressing something, I'm all for it. It livens up the language and gets people's attention.

So that's my opinion "in a nutshell". Which might or might not be slang.

PS: The full list of slang banned by the school is:

  • He cut his eyes at me (shot me a withering glance)
  • Oh my days (my goodness)
  • Oh my god
  • That's a neck (you need a slap for that)
  • Wow
  • That's long (boring, tough or tedious)
  • Bare (very, extremely)
  • Cuss (swear or abuse)

Monday, 27 September 2021

Missing tips

When Jenny and I are in a restaurant, we're always aware that tips added to a credit card payment may never reach the server but be stealthily extracted by the management. Which is why we always leave a cash tip on the table instead.

Restaurant staff have been fuming about these missing tips for years, but it's only now that the British government is acting to stop what is effectively theft and ensure any tip or service charge goes to the server it's intended for.

It will become illegal for restaurant, bar and café owners to siphon off the tips, a move benefitting up to two million workers. Members of staff will also be able to see tipping records, and if necessary take employers to a tribunal*.

But this won't be any help to those servers who encounter the no-tips brigade, those mean-minded diners who either never give a tip or only give a tip if the food and service are impeccable. Which is unlikely.

We always give a tip unless the meal was a genuinely disastrous experience. We're not going to quibble about a dirty knife or insufficient smiling or bland coffee. And we know how much the probably underpaid servers rely on tips to top up their pay.

Of course tipping is an absurdly antiquated practice that should have been abolished years ago and replaced by decent and reliable salaries. Nevertheless there's a certain satisfaction in seeing a server's face light up when they get an unexpectedly generous tip.

I imagine the new law can't come in fast enough for all those servers who're systematically fleeced by their employers.

*But will the new law be properly enforced?

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Still bewildered

Back in 2013 I listed some of the modern-day trends that I simply don't understand. Things that leave me scratching my head in bewilderment. Things that seem daft or unnecessary or absurd or risky. The list stays much the same, except for Gangnam, which nobody even mentions any more. So here's the slightly amended version:

  1. The obsession with celebs
  2. Tattoos
  3. Tongue-piercing
  4. Stag and hen weekends*
  5. The prejudice against public services
  6. Posting naked selfies on Facebook
  7. Wearing a face veil
  8. Having private quarrels in public
  9. Personalised car number plates
  10. Going berserk on a plane
  11. Nouvelle cuisine
  12. Barbecues
  13. Thongs**
  14. Cosmetic surgery***
  15. Weddings on the other side of the world
  16. High heels
  17. Letting kids run wild
  18. Teeth whitening
  19. Designer labels
  20. Lads' mags
I went to a barbecue quite recently, but I still don't see the attraction. Eating indoors is more comfortable, and you don't get rained on. Of course the climate here doesn't encourage outdoor eating - it's more likely to be cold and wet than warm and dry. Big kitchen diners are more popular than barbecue grills. I imagine barbecues are more common in the States and Australia with their long hot summers.

* bachelor and bachelorette parties in the States
** the underwear not the footwear
*** other than reconstructive surgery

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Sheer anarchy

I lost my faith in politicians a long time ago, and this sort of thing is why - the ongoing anarchy in the Holylands area of Belfast, an area of concentrated student housing close to Queen's University.

Literally for years now, since 2005, students have been running riot in the area, having wild all-night parties, vandalising cars and property, throwing rubbish onto the streets, and intimidating longstanding local residents.

The besieged residents complain continuously to Queen's University, Ulster University, Belfast Council, Stormont, and the Police Service, but nothing effective is ever done.

Statements are issued condemning the students' behaviour and threatening them with various sanctions, a few students get arrested, but the anarchy continues regardless and the beleaguered residents despair over the politicians' apparent utter indifference to their plight.

Predictably the buck is continually passed from one authority to another, each one offering trumped-up excuses for their hopeless inability to end the disorder. Meanwhile families lie awake at night, trying to ignore the sounds of breaking glass, vomiting and ear-splitting music.

No doubt the university top brass have nice quiet homes to retreat to in respectable areas of the city, so there's no danger of their own comfortable existence being jeopardised. They can sit back and watch it all on the telly like the rest of us.

And they can sleep soundly at night without shrieking mayhem outside their bedroom window.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Why fame?

For the life of me I don't understand why so many people want to be famous. I can understand wanting to be rich and never having any more money worries, but wanting to be famous? What's the point? Do they realise the massive downside of fame?

Probably not. Celebrities tend not to mention the downside because it would spoil their image and because it would make them look like spoilt brats. They prefer to maintain the illusion that fame is wonderful and they can't get enough of it.

All the public usually see is celebrities swanning around in fabulous designer clothes, being presented with prestigious awards, being applauded and fawned over, getting preferential treatment wherever they go.

What they usually don't see is the endless invasion of privacy, the hordes of paparazzi, the social-media abuse, the phoney "friends", the obsessive fans, the fabricated media stories.

It seems to me that being famous just makes your life more difficult, more treacherous, more overwhelming. Why would you want to live in a goldfish bowl day in and day out, with people watching your every movement?

There are regular stories about people who've been unexpectedly thrust into the limelight and been badly damaged by it. Like Steve Dymond, who died seven days after taking part in the Jeremy Kyle chat-show.

A lot of musicians have had psychological crises after a sudden rise to fame - like Katie Melua, who had a mental breakdown in 2010 and was in hospital for six weeks.

Fame ? You can keep it.

Friday, 10 September 2021

But is it true?

I tend to assume that everything in a biography/ autobiography/ memoir must be true because they're based on real lives and real people. And because they all sound so convincing, so credible. Surely they haven't made anything up?

But actually quite a few biographies and memoirs have been either partly or totally fabricated. Wikipedia lists 12 such examples since 2001, some of them completely fake. Like Michael Gambino's The Honored Society, in which he claimed to be the grandson of a notorious Mafioso. He was exposed by Carlo Gambino's real son, Thomas Gambino.

I've read a lot of autobiographies, including those by Michelle Obama and Keith Richards, and I've assumed that everything they say is true, but that's not necessarily the case.

Even if they seem more or less truthful, there are always things that by their very nature must arouse suspicion. Like long verbatim conversations. Whoever remembers conversations in such detail? For that matter, whoever remembers the entirety of their life in such detail? Isn't some of it what they think happened or would like to have happened rather than what really occurred? And might a few things have been tweaked a little to look more flattering, or less shameful?

Family members and friends often dispute what someone says in a biography or autobiography. They claim there was no such family feud, or estrangement, or disinheritance, or child abuse. Of course they would, wouldn't they? They don't want their good reputation dragged through the mud.

People who fabricate whole memoirs are so likely to be exposed by someone who knows the truth, you have to wonder why they do it. I suppose they calculate that by the time they're exposed they'll already have made a tidy sum from their sensational lies so it hardly matters.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Not so lucky

Winning a fortune may seem like a wonderful idea, but the reality may not be so enjoyable. All sorts of unforeseen conse-quences could make you wish you'd never had the money at all.

Margaret Loughrey, from Strabane in Northern Ireland, who won £27 million in the national lottery, killed herself a few days ago. Some months after her huge win, she said "If there is a hell, I have been in it. It has been that bad. I was a happy person before. All it has done is destroy my life."

She bought a historic old mill that was plagued by fires and vandalism. She was found guilty of assaulting a taxi driver while drunk. She was ordered to pay £30,000 for discriminating against a Catholic employee. And other unspecified mishaps.

She only bought a lottery ticket on the spur of the moment. She was living on welfare benefits of £58 ($80.50) a week and was returning home from the Job Centre when she decided to buy the ticket.

I wouldn't want to win such a vast sum. I wouldn't know what to do with it. I'd hate all the attention I'd get, especially from people wanting handouts or people who hated me for getting such a windfall. Everyone would be gossiping about me behind my back.

Whoever I gave money to, other people would be saying I should have given the money to them or someone else more deserving. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet would give me unsolicited advice on how to spend the money. I'd suspect every friendly approach of hiding an appeal for cash.

There's the option of receiving the money anonymously, but I doubt that would last very long. Once I was seen to be spending on a lavish scale, questions would be asked and my win would surely become known.

No fortune for me, thanks. I'm very happy just as I am.

Pic: Margaret Loughrey

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

What might have been

When I think of my parents (both now dead), I have a strong sense of loss. But it's not the loss of what was, or what they meant to me. It's the loss of what might have been, what I never had.

It's not the loss of what was, because I was never close to either of them. They were so different from me and never understood the sort of person I was, or what I wanted to do with my life. And they were both very cagey about anything personal.

Some people are lucky enough to have a close relationship with one or both of their parents, one that's enriching and inspiring and supportive. When those parents die, there's a deep sense of an important part of one's life being taken away. All at once there's a big hole that needs somehow to be filled.

In my case that particular sense of loss is absent. What I feel is more the loss of what might have been - exactly that sort of intimate bond with a parent that might have greatly enriched my life.

Above all, the lack of that close relationship means I know next to nothing about my parents' personal lives and they remain shadowy, blurry figures. Just about everything that happened to them before I was born is a mystery. Likewise much of what they thought and felt. Did they ever get anxious or depressed or frustrated or despairing? What went through their minds? Mostly, I have no idea.

They must surely have wanted close bonds with their children (otherwise why have children at all?), so why did they do so little to foster that closeness? Why were they always so reticent, so guarded? Why couldn't they open up? It leaves another sort of big hole - but one that can never be filled.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Imperfect bodies

Apparently a majority of men (53%) have negative feelings about their body image, which isn't far off the figure for women (62%). They don't like being fat, or bald, or paunchy, or not tall enough, or too hairy, or not very muscular. Or a dozen other things.

I'm always baffled by this, as I have no problems with my own body image. In fact it almost feels there's something wrong with me for finding my body so acceptable. Am I just not critical enough? Is my nose a funny shape? Are my eyes too close together? Surely there's something I absolutely loathe? Nope, I just can't work up any negativity about my physical self.

Yes, I'm an oldie and I look it, but that doesn't bother me. Yes, I've got a bit of a tummy bulge, but so what? Yes, I've got a small bald patch, but it's only other people who can see it. Yes, I've got some crooked teeth, but to my mind they look more natural than rows of perfectly straight, shining white choppers. I'm not going to spend hours of my time regretting what I look like.

I'm certainly not going to shovel cash into the bank accounts of the purveyors of botox, cosmetic surgery, hair restorer, tummy control shapewear and all the other products exploiting people's self-loathing. I'd rather spend my money on exotic holidays, brilliant novels and wonderful paintings than on desperate attempts to turn the physical clock back.

Because that's mainly what this negativity is all about, isn't it? The desire to recapture one's youth and reverse the ageing process. Well, I hate to disillusion anyone but ageing will have its way, whatever your efforts to halt it.

There are only two things certain in life - death and taxes.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Flight of folly

I'm endlessly amazed at the dotty projects local councils get up to, quite often ignoring widespread advice that the project is dotty and should be scrapped.

Westminster Council in London thought it would be a super wheeze to build an artificial 25 metre (82 feet) hill next to Marble Arch. For £4.50 you could climb up to the top and see supposedly splendid views across the city.

Unfortunately the hill (the Marble Arch Mound) has been panned and ridiculed by just about everyone, including most of the visitors, local residents and 23 local amenity groups. Not only are the views far from splendid, they include rubble, building works and scaffolding. And unfortunately the hill (hillock would be more accurate) cost a staggering £6 million.

The £4.50 charge has been temporarily dropped and hundreds of people have flocked to the hill just to see how bad it is.

I'd like to think Belfast Council wouldn't dream up anything so monumentally daft, but you never know.

I wonder how long it will be before the Mound is discreetly removed at dead of night (or dead of several nights) and the council pretends it was never there in the first place. "Mound? What Mound? Where did you get that idea?"

Pic: the infamous Mound

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Distasteful legacies

It's the custom to pass on your inheritance (if you're lucky enough to have one) to your offspring or other family members. Eyebrows are raised if you hand it all to the local cat shelter or the Teddy Bear Society (yes, there is one).

But not everyone approves of this practice. Actor Daniel Craig, who has a three year old daughter, a stepson and an adult daughter, says he won't leave his children a large inheritance because he finds the practice "distasteful".

He thinks it's better to "get rid of it or give it away before you go". He adds "Isn't there an old adage that if you die a rich person, you've failed?"

His estimated net worth is currently over $180 million, and he's due to pick up another $100 million from future film deals. That's quite a hefty sum to not inherit.

He may be one of those who think handing your children a huge windfall just makes them lazy and self-centred and they should have to make their own way in life, presumably just as their own parents did.

But what if your children are already grown-up and doing very nicely? Should you then deny them an inheritance because they don't need it?

And if your children are grown-up but not doing very well, should you still deny them an inheritance because you think they squander money left right and centre and should just get a grip on their life?

Or what if you just can't stand one of your children and think they're a right pain in the arse? Do they also get nothing? (as happened with my father, who left me precisely zilch)

Whatever the reason for disinheriting family members, I imagine resentment and bitterness are almost sure to follow.

Friday, 13 August 2021

Hard to imagine

I have a problem with novels that other people don't seem to have. I find it very hard to conjure up a vivid mental picture of the characters. Even if I read a description of someone several times, they remain words on the page and I get no clear image of them. I can summon up a stereotype of an old man or a young woman or a gurgling baby, but nothing more specific.

Most people seem to conjure up characters in their head quite easily. They have a very haunting image of the person, almost as vivid as someone in real life. They know exactly what Elizabeth Bennet or Jay Gatsby or Jane Eyre look like, while I have no such image.

If I have a vivid picture of someone, it's only because I've seen them in drawings or films - like Miss Marple, Frankenstein's Monster, Oliver Twist or Winnie the Pooh. I may know what they look like even if I haven't read the book - like Harry Potter.

It's frustrating because I feel I'm not really enjoying a book fully, I'm not totally immersed in it, if I can't picture the characters in my head. I can follow the plot and know what's going on, but there's something missing. It's like being in a very bare room with only a few sticks of furniture.

I guess I just have an inability to translate words into a visual image. They remain words and for some reason don't fire up my imagination as they should.

I'd love to see novels that have illustrations of all the main characters. I seem to remember that being a common practice when I was young (in Dickens for instance), but somewhere along the line they got dropped.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Speech! Speech!

Social phobias of one kind or another are very common, and one of them is fear of public speaking. That's certainly one of my own fears, and fortunately an ordeal I've managed mainly to avoid.

I can talk easily enough in small groups, when I know all the people present very well. I was a trade union rep for several years and I had no problem chairing meetings, bringing up topics and getting people to make decisions. With only a handful of people scrutinising me, it wasn't too scary.

But large groups are a different matter. I've never had the nerve to make a speech at a marriage, a birthday party, a farewell do or a funeral. All those dozens of eyes in my direction would paralyse me. Not to mention the stress of writing the speech - wondering what would be appropriate, or flattering, or amusing, or what on the other hand might go down like a lead balloon and insult half the assembled company.

Even the need to make a short speech at work thanking people for a leaving present was enough to cause deep embarrassment as I tried frantically to cobble together a few pertinent comments without looking like a total halfwit.

In public meetings, I see plenty of people sounding off, clearly confident they have something very valid to say, while I'm sitting there in silence, not at all convinced it's worth opening my mouth in the face of much more informed and original opinions than my own.

Those meetings where a circle of attendees are asked to introduce themselves are also quite excruciating because I'm sure whatever I say is bound to seem trivial and pointless rather than interesting or heart-warming.

A witty speech is called for? Don't look at me....

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Punch bag

I know I've got a slight bee in my bonnet, but I can't help noticing that a lot of people are getting more aggressive and abusive, and I wonder why that is. Why are they unable to behave in a civilised manner?

The latest victim of all this aggression is the humble Punch and Judy Show. Two Punch and Judy performers on Dorset beaches are having to contend with spectators who don't want to pay, who swear and shout, who dodge the donation box, and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

This never used to be the case, but nowadays it seems that if spectators aren't 100 per cent satisfied, they feel entitled to disrupt the show and make a huge disturbance.

One performer, Mark Poulton, had to post on his Facebook page calling for the abuse to stop. He said "We love making people happy, seeing everyone smile, and enjoying themselves. If you don't wish to pay for the show, please politely decline and move along, please don't hurl abuse at people simply for trying to make a living."

Of course some people would like to end Punch and Judy Shows, which they see as glorifying male violence, and I tend to agree. Or maybe you could write a modernised version with a more assertive July telling Punch to pull his weight or pack his bags.

As a kid I went to quite a few Punch and Judy Shows, and really at that age the political message entirely escaped me. I just thought it was funny in the same way as children's violent cartoons are funny. But I guess that message can seep in unconsciously.

Punch and Judy Shows have always been a traditional part of seaside holidays and it would be sad if they disappeared simply because of the loud-mouthed abuse from a few uncouth (possibly tipsy) bystanders.

Pic: Take that, Punch, you nasty little man

Sunday, 1 August 2021


It's easy to take for granted in a relationship that your partner can be trusted - that they'll do what they say, behave the way you expect them to, and in general not present you with any nasty surprises.

I feel sorry for those women who can't trust their men an inch - who're never sure where they are or what they're doing, and always suspect they're up to something disturbing or illegal or shameful. They're forever on tenterhooks, wondering what fresh embarrassments are on the way (I guess there are also men who can't trust their women but far fewer of them).

Jenny and I have complete trust in each other. We don't dread finding out something shocking about the other person.

Jenny knows I'm not going to raid our savings and disappear into the night, or develop some insatiable addiction to gambling or alcohol or drugs or porn, or burn the house down, or wreck the car, or run off with a buxom blonde twenty years younger, or live in a cave seeking spiritual enlightenment, or smash windows in Whitehall, or join the British National Front.

She knows I value her company and won't be down the pub every evening with my mates, discussing football, making misogynist jokes, ranting about immigrants, getting blind drunk, and then heaving a sigh and saying "Oh well, I suppose I'd better be getting back to the old ball and chain."

I guess there are women who've lost all trust in their men but stick with them anyhow, rather than start afresh with a new partner who might turn out to be equally untrustworthy. After all, could they ever trust a man again?

It's very easy to destroy trust and very hard to rebuild it.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The glorious past

There are two types of nostalgia, and I don't subscribe to either of them.

There's nostalgia meaning a belief in some sort of golden period in the past, when everything was better than nowadays - people were kinder, more reliable, more efficient, more honest etc etc. You would actively like to go back to that period and leave all the deficiencies of the present day behind.

Then there's nostalgia meaning the belief that standards used to be higher, people took more of a pride in what they did, whereas now the bare minimum will do and sloppiness and mediocrity are rampant. Journalism has degenerated into tittle-tattle, bad grammar goes uncorrected, letters from businesses make no sense, and so on.

Well, I've never believed in a golden period. Whatever years you look at, there are plenty of failings along with the benefits. In the 1960s for example, often seen as a glorious decade, yes, you had high salaries, cheap housing and free university tuition, but you also had homophobia, much more racism, and until 1967 abortion was illegal.

But the problems of previous eras tend to be conveniently forgotten while the problems of the present are all too evident and emphasised day after day by the media, often blown up out of all proportion.

As for slipping standards, well, they are and they aren't. Yes, standards of some things like letter-writing, journalism and degree courses may have declined, but what about the coronavirus vaccines, or complex medical treatment, or computer software, or the increasing reliability of cars? No diminishing standards there.

Personally I've no desire to turn the clock back. I think I'll stay right here with the internet and all its little miracles. So thanks but no thanks.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Armchair critics

What really struck me as I was watching an Amy Winehouse documentary last night (she died ten years ago yesterday) was how many people happily pontificate about who or what caused her death and heap blame on whoever they think pushed her over the edge.

People who never met Amy, know nothing about her except what they read in the media, but set themselves up as instant experts on her complex psychological state.

They'll casually pour scorn on her mother, her father or her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, also people they've never met, oblivious to the effect their vitriol might be having on the recipients.

All they're doing is adding insult to injury. Her parents, still struggling with deep grief ten years on, also have to fend off the endless barrage of accusations and derision from people who think they know better than her family and friends what might have saved her.

Who knows what could have saved her? She was clearly in a very bad way when she died, but rejected any type of therapy or professional help. She suffered from bulimia, alcoholism, a period of drug addiction, and was mentally and emotionally very fragile and unstable.

To begin with she enjoyed her sudden rise to fame, but that turned into another psychological hindrance she could have done without.

Her parents Mitch and Janis are adamant they did everything they could to help her but were constantly thwarted. They're obviously hurt and shaken by all the criticism from complete strangers.

These armchair critics would be better off minding their own business and reflecting on their own imperfections - which no doubt are numerous.

Monday, 19 July 2021

The flying ordeal

So to continue the plane theme, it's amazing what people like us put up with in economy class when we simply can't afford anything better. You can forget about comfort and convenience - they were long ago dispensed with in the search for bigger profits and maximum bums on seats.

  • For anything up to 12 hours, I'm stuck in a tiny seat with not enough room even to stretch my legs. Chances are the person in front will recline their seat to the utmost until it's about three inches from my face. If I ask them not to recline their seat, they'll likely be rude and defensive.
  • Moving around is strictly limited. In theory I can walk up and down the aisle, but with dozens of people doing the same, and cabin crew doling out meals and drinks, I'm forced into immobility. As I'm normally a physically restless person unable to sit for more than an hour or so, this lack of movement is torture.
  • Eating a meal is a nightmare. The tray table is so small I can't lay out the different items properly and I have to juggle them ingeniously to keep them all on the table and stop them falling on the floor. Needless to say the food itself is usually barely edible and only eaten because I'm starving.
  • If I'm in a window seat, I have to brace myself to tell the adjacent passenger/s I need the toilet, and be ready for the standard hard-done-by look. If I'm not in the window seat, I have to undo my seat belt, unplug my earphones and try not to look hard-done-by.
  • Odds are there are queues for the toilets and the people currently using them are taking so long they must be cutting their toenails, looking for their missing contact lens or weeping copiously. And if you need the toilet while meals are being served and the aisles are blocked, you're stuffed.
Which is why if I'm on a 12 hour flight, I insist on Premium Economy. At east I have a bit more room to manoeuvre.

PS: If I'd included all Jenny's comments on economy class, this post would have been twice as long!

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Casual flyers

I've always been captivated by planes. As someone with no understan-ding at all of aerodyn-amics, I constantly marvel that these incredibly heavy machines (the Dreamliner is 190 tons) somehow not only manage to take off but travel thousands of miles across the world with no visible means of support.

Jenny is even more captivated. She was an ardent plane spotter as a kid, and often visited Heathrow, which was close to her parents' house.

When we first met we were always financially stretched, so we didn't actually fly anywhere until 1994, when we went to Venice, Florence and Rome. Before I met Jenny my only flights were in a private plane flown by a friend's mother, and a short family hop from the now defunct Lympne Airfield in Kent to Paris.

Now of course we've flown all over the world and think nothing of it. Unfortunately millions of other people are equally casual flyers and the resulting pollution has made us rethink our flying habits. We may abandon long-haul trips altogether. But short-haul trips are unavoidable to go elsewhere in the UK.

I've never been afraid of flying. Planes are maintained to much higher standards than the average car, and besides, the flight crew don't want to die because of some botched repair job. If the crew are happy, so am I.

I do always wonder, when I'm in a really massive plane trundling down the runway, whether it'll actually take off or end up in the adjoining field, but of course it always does take off.

Our only edge-of-the-seat experience was when our plane from the US was coming in to land at Gatwick in thick fog. The pilot circled several times before deciding it was okay to land, and when the plane touched ground there was a huge round of applause from the passengers.

I could say something about in-flight conditions - and the food - but I'll leave that for another day.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

A helping hand

It's terrible getting old, people say. You've got aches and pains every-where, people don't respect you any more, you're baffled by all the new ways of doing things, you know death's just round the corner.

Well, actually life can be terrible at any age. As a child, you're always told what to do by other people, there are so many things you don't understand, you want things you can't buy, you're put in clothes you loathe, you're forced to spend time with distant uncles and aunts who mean nothing to you.

When you're middle-aged, you're loaded with ongoing responsibilities like bringing up children, looking after elderly parents, paying off a mortgage, building up a retirement fund, scrambling up the career ladder, coping with tyrannical bosses, maybe saddled with a huge overdraft.

Any age can be ghastly. But the real difference between one age and another is how much help and support you get.

Children have the support of their parents and relatives and siblings and teachers. They're surrounded by other people who want them to have happy and fulfilling lives.

The middle-aged are usually supported by a family network that helps with child-minding, ferrying children to school, giving parenting advice, providing loans and dealing with emergencies.

If they're lucky, older people will also have a family and friends to keep an eye on them, but they may not be so fortunate. Deaths may have wiped out their family and many of their friends and they may end up quite isolated and unable to get the support they need. They may struggle to keep their spirits up and get through their daily lives.

It's not old age that's the problem. It's whether you have a helping hand when you need it. Or preferably a whole bunch of helping hands.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Taken for granted

People who've been fortunate in life often take it for granted. They take their life and whatever they've achieved as the natural order of things - not the result of luck, family background, inheritance or where they live but as something that simply "happened".

I've never had that attitude. I've never taken anything for granted, and I'm very aware that some bizarre twist of fate could take away all those things I'm accustomed to overnight. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is cast in stone, life can change utterly in a moment.

I think taking things for granted is a good definition of entitlement. Instead of thanking your lucky stars for being so fortunate, you feel you have what you have because you're entitled to it.

It makes a big difference if your life only took a turn for the better as you got older. If you've always had a privileged life and never had to struggle for a step upward, then you're more likely to take things as a matter of course.

If your early life was deprived or constrained, then you realise you can't take anything for granted and when things improve you always have a sense that life is precarious, fragile, that nothing is as solid as it seems.

In my late twenties I didn't have much money, I lived in a spartan bedsit, I had few friends and my father wouldn't speak to me. As my life gradually brightened over the years, I enjoyed the change but I was never complacent about it. I knew so much was down to luck or being in the right place at the right time.

Your life is more precarious than you think. As a deadly virus has been reminding us for many months.

Friday, 2 July 2021

Back chat

Up till two years ago I never suffered any troubling physical pain, which at the age of 72 was both wonderful and remarkable. But that changed when I was pruning a bush in the garden, straightened up a bit too fast and had an agonising back seizure.

Luckily the pain stopped a few days later, but I was left with an intermittent back ache, and occasional pain, which has persisted ever since. I've no idea what's causing it and I don't think my doctor does either. When I spoke to her on the phone a few days ago she thought it was a "musculo-skeletal weakness" and said she would refer me to a physiotherapist.

Chronic pain afflicts an awful lot of people - over 40 per cent of the UK population. Some 17 per cent suffer from back pain. Yet back pain is still hard to diagnose because there are so many possible causes. Which means it's also hard to treat successfully.

After two friends recommended it, I tried a chiropractor who relieved me of a large sum of money but had no effect at all on my back.

I must say I was disappointed by the doctor's response. Obviously I have a "musculo-skeletal weakness" (how vague is that?) but the question is, what's causing it? I was expecting her to suggest scans or X rays or some other investigation but she didn't. I'm doubtful physiotherapy is the answer, as some years ago I saw a physiotherapist for a different condition and she concluded that physio wasn't helping me and wasn't the right treatment.

My back ache/pain is especially annoying when it spoils one of my favourite activities - walking. It often occurs after I've been walking for 20 minutes or so. It's bearable but it mars my enjoyment somewhat.

All I can do is keep googling back ache and see if anything useful comes up.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Half a tree

I'm always fascinated by neighbour disputes. They're usually so bizarre you couldn't make them up. Endless rows about things that seem utterly trivial, things that could have been resolved rapidly over a friendly cup of tea.

A Sheffield couple complained about the next-door fir tree that was overhanging their own driveway. They said pigeons were nesting in it, making a lot of noise and crapping on their car.

The adjacent family refused to have the tree either pruned or removed, so the fed-up neighbours got a tree surgeon to cut down the half of the tree that was over their driveway.

Not surprisingly, the other family were outraged, though there's little they can do as the law allows you to cut down overhanging tree branches. But the tree now looks pretty weird and naturally attracts a lot of comment.

What would I have done if I was the fed-up couple, I wonder? I can see their point about crapping pigeons, as pigeons often crap in our back garden. But abruptly cutting down half the tree is a rather drastic and aggressive solution.

I might have suggested cutting down the offending tree and planting a new tree well away from my own driveway. There are fast growing trees like eucalyptus that would look fine in a few years. But clearly the family for some reason are very attached to the fir tree.

Surely they knew that fir trees are potentially very large trees that can reach 262 feet (80 metres) and were likely to overhang the neighbours' property sooner or later? So why plant one in that unsuitable spot?

And how come there are no pigeons nesting in the remaining half of the tree?

Pic: the offending tree

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Positive ageing

We all know about the negatives of getting older. But what about the positives? There are plenty of them but they don't get so much attention.

Guardian columnist Emma Beddington has listed the things she likes about ageing, and there's a lot I would agree with. Namely:

  • Less fighting with my partner. This happened a lot when I first knew Jenny. Our arguments would go on for days before we managed to kiss and make up. Nowadays we seldom fight over anything, we've devised ways of defusing the situation by being more tolerant, more patient, or just "letting go".
  • Accepting my appearance. I was never a matinee idol or a gorgeous hunk in the first place, and never bothered by the fact, but now I'm even less bothered. I look my age and have no desire to try all those desperate tricks to look younger and fresher.
  • Less bluffing. If I don't understand what someone's saying, I'm more likely to ask for an explanation instead of pretending I'm in the know. I won't make out I'm familiar with cryptocurrency or aerodynamics or particle physics when obviously I'm not.
  • Less social anxiety. I'd like to say that's the case but it isn't. I still have trouble engaging with other people, having an intelligent conversation or believing what I'm saying is worth saying. I'm almost as tongue-tied as when I was a teenager. I guess I care too much about other people's reactions.
  • Delight in small things. I no longer hanker after enormous and spectacular pleasures, nice as they may be. I'm just as likely to exclaim over something quite minor like a choc ice or a display of roses or a dazzling sunset.
I could add a few more things, but that's enough for now....

PS: Pic is not Emma Beddington, by the way

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Marked for life

It seems to be conventional wisdom among therapists that your experience of childhood will have enduring repercussions throughout your adult life. The way you were brought up leaves its mark in many ways.

But not everyone agrees that childhood is that significant in your character development. Some would say that's just an excuse for poor adult behaviour, and that it's entirely up to you what you make of your adulthood.

I strongly believe that your adult behaviour is greatly influenced by your childhood experience, and that it's very hard to throw off that experience. The attitudes and assumptions you're exposed to as a child become deeply embedded and can affect your whole personality.

It seems obvious to me that my woefully inadequate childhood led directly to me being a rather clueless adult. My parents and my boarding school between them left me with poor social skills, low self-confidence, repressed emotions and dismal self-awareness. I've spent my life trying to overcome those failings, but with limited success.

The sceptics would tell me my childhood is past history and has no influence whatever on my adult life. Instead of harping on about my childhood, I should just forget about it, focus on the present and grab life's opportunities.

Well, I have indeed grabbed life's opportunities, but I'm still conscious that other people are often better-performing adults than myself, quite confident about all sorts of things that still make me nervous and hesitant.

Or so it seems. It may be that their apparent confidence and social poise is only skin-deep, and underneath they're equally nervous. They're just good at hiding their trepidation. Or hiding their blunders.

In the final analysis, I've made the most of my life and had lots of fun on the way. That's good enough for me.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Not a recluse

Where is the dividing line between healthy and unhealthy intro-version? When does preferring your own company morph into being a self-absorbed recluse?

I've always been an introvert. I'm very content being on my own, though I do also like a certain amount of social contact (just a bit), to prevent too much self-absorption and to be inspired by other people's ideas and attitudes.

I'm also a gregarious person, meaning I enjoy mingling with crowds of people because it feels safe and cosy. I like watching and listening to them. But I don't want to talk to all these people (how on earth could I?), I just like them being around.

Because I like my own company, I'm not good at making friends. The need isn't urgent enough to trigger the necessary socialising and making connections. So I have loads of online and offline acquaintances but no close friends apart from Jenny.

I'm not a misanthrope. I don't detest other people. I don't prefer animals to humans (yet). I don't have some sort of perpetual grudge against humankind. I'm interested in other people and their foibles and hang-ups and idiosyncracies. I'm just not curious enough (nosy enough?) to actively befriend them.

So am I a healthy or unhealthy introvert? Do I spend too much time on my own? Am I too self-absorbed? Am I too detached from other people? Do I have reclusive tendencies? What's the yardstick exactly?

I would define an unhealthy introvert as someone who hardly ever leaves the house, who basically dislikes other people, who maybe is afraid of them and thinks they're up to no good, who shuns their friendly or solicitous gestures.

Hopefully I'm a long way from such a desperate lifestyle.

Friday, 11 June 2021

So far to go

Medicine has come a long way in protecting our health and well-being and extending our lives. It has given us vaccines, antibiotics, keyhole surgery, heart by-passes and all sorts of new treatments that didn't exist in previous centuries.

But there's much further to go. There are still many debilitating physical ailments that cause pain and distress to millions. There are still medical conditions that are a total mystery after many years of research.

I wonder what medical advances we will have made in 100 years' time? Or 200 or 300? Won't it be great when:

  • We have joints that never wear out but can rejuvenate themselves.
  • We have effective painkillers for every type of pain, however severe.
  • We have no drop in energy levels as we age.
  • We have a pill that dissolves all unwanted fat.
  • We get older without looking old. So we always look like a twenty something.
  • We have a cure for cancer.
  • We have perfect photographic memories.
  • We can reverse short-sightedness and long-sightedness.
  • We can sleep soundly for eight hours every night.
  • We all have huge IQs.
Of course we of the 2020s will all be gone by then so we won't be able to enjoy the onward march of medical skill. And just as we often take for granted the advances of the last few centuries, so the children of the future will take tomorrow's medical miracles for granted and have no idea that people were once in constant pain or needing replacement hips and knees.

Personally I'd love to have perfect eyesight without the need for glasses. And I'd love to have a perfect memory without the constant fumbling for recollection. One day it will be possible. But I'll be a long-scattered pile of ash before that day arrives.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Workout myths

I've never been to a gym in my life, except for my school gym. As I get older, I think maybe I should be going to a gym regularly to keep myself fit and healthy, but I never do. Mainly because there's no reputable gym in my immediate neighbourhood, but also because using a gym sounds incredibly boring and unenjoyable.

So I was glad to see an exercise expert saying that actually intensive exercise and gym workouts aren't as essential as people make out, and ordinary everyday levels of physical activity are quite enough to keep us fit.

Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard professor, lists ten myths about workouts that need to be demolished. He says deliberate intensive exercise is a very modern activity our ancestors never bothered with. They only exercised when it was necessary or rewarding. "No one in the stone age ever went for a five-mile jog to stave off decrepitude, or lifted weights whose sole purpose was to be lifted."

He says it's not true that our remote ancestors were super-strong and super-fast and we need gym workouts to bring us to the same level of fitness. They were fit enough for a few hours hunting and gathering a day but that was it. They sat around just as much as we do. He says sitting is fine as long as you alternate it with other activities.

Well, that makes me feel a lot better about my fairly minimal activity level - doing the household chores, doing a bit of gardening, taking my daily walk, occasionally running for the bus. It seems that's quite sufficient without labouring away in a gym or running marathons.

So there's no need to demonise the sofa.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Fame? No thanks

I value my anonymity and my privacy. I value being able to wander around with nobody paying me any special attention. I value not being a recognisable public figure.

I wonder why so many people want to be famous. Do they have any idea what fame actually involves? Do they have any idea how it disrupts any form of normal life or normal friendships?

Being recognised as you walk down the street might be fun for a while but it must soon get tedious. People stare at you, follow you, make comments about you, try to talk to you. You can't just walk around in your private reverie, enjoying the scenery or the sunshine. You have to be always prepared for other people's attention. It must be a constant nuisance.

Your photo is regularly in the media, accompanied by details of your every move and activity, most of it idle gossip and rumour. Hundreds of dubious stories are circulating, mostly depicting a totally bogus person with little resemblance to the real you.

If you're interviewed for TV or the media, you'll be asked plenty of idiotic and trivial questions, like what's your favourite food or how do you stay so thin or what was your most embarrassing moment.

If you're desperate for some privacy, you have to plan it well in advance, working out how to avoid the paparazzi, keep your movements secret and stay well away from the general public.

Of course you might say this is all sour grapes, that really I'd love to be famous but I'm not, so I make out fame is horrible and not at all glamorous or fulfilling. But no, I love my anonymity. I certainly wouldn't want to be gawped at all day like an animal in the zoo.

Friday, 28 May 2021

When grief surprises

There's no simple logic about who you grieve over and who you don't. You might expect that serious grief is reserved for our family members, especially parents and siblings. If you grieve for other people, it's not so intense, not so all-consuming.

But it doesn't necessarily work like that.

I had no major grief when my mother and father died, as I had never been very close to them. I'd been estranged from my father for 20 years, as you know, so there was no closeness there. I wasn't close to my mother either, as we were very different, thoroughly chalk and cheese, and though it was truly sad to see her gradual mental and physical decline, I didn't grieve for her.

I've actually grieved more, or at least been more emotionally affected, by the death of people outside my family - like public figures I admired and who died at an early age. So much potential unrealised, such a shocking waste.

I was very upset when John Lennon died. He had so many creative years ahead of him still, and suddenly he was gone. Likewise Amy Winehouse, who was so amazingly talented but who was struck down in her prime.

I was stunned when Martin Lamble, drummer with Fairport Convention, who was only 19, died in a road accident on his way back from a gig in Birmingham. He was a friend of a friend and I had met him several times.

I was shaken when two people I worked with in a London bookshop both died of cancer in their thirties -  Amanda of breast cancer and Nigel of lung cancer. They were both lovely people and shouldn't have met such an early end.

Grief, and who provokes it, can surprise you.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Everybody does it

I was shocked to read of an Irish school where manipul-ative, controlling, pressurising relation-ships are so common the students think they're normal. They have no idea relationships are meant to be about equality, respect and kindness.

The majority of 200 students questioned about their relationships at a school in Tralee, Ireland, reported being constantly "told what to do, who to talk to, who to block, who to spend time with, and what to wear". The students said the behaviour upset them but "everybody does it".

I think back to my own time at school, and I can't remember anything remotely like that. Yes, there was a bit of bullying at my boarding school, usually just making fun of someone, but nothing as toxic as what these students are describing.

Social media is partly to blame, I'm sure. It's become so common now for people to criticise other people, and anonymity means they can be as abusive and threatening as they wish with no comeback. So abusive and threatening comments are normalised as routine behaviour.

Lack of self-confidence must come into it as well. If young people don't have the confidence to follow their own instincts, resist coercion and tell the person concerned to get lost, then things can only get worse.

It seems that today's students need lessons not just on what is and what isn't sexual consent, but also on what a normal relationship consists of - caring and affectionate behaviour that respects the other person's needs and wellbeing. It's extraordinary that anyone needs to be reminded of such things.

PS: I see that in England, the Department for Education has introduced a compulsory Sex and Relationships Education curriculum in all schools, focusing on relationships in primary schools and sex and relationships in secondaries.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Brain drain

Oh dear. Some new research suggests that any amount of alcohol can damage the brain, even so-called moderate drinking. In which case teetotallers have had the right idea all along, and should be much brainier than us boozers.

Of course it's only one bit of research and has yet to be confirmed. So I'm not giving up alcohol any time soon. Jenny and I have roughly a glass of wine a day, which doesn't seem excessive. It's a pleasure we wouldn't want to lose.

But does this research ring true? Well, I've been drinking small amounts of alcohol for most of my life and I haven't noticed any drastic changes in my brain, except the slight forgetfulness that comes with advancing age anyway. 

If alcohol was damaging my brain, surely I'd be pretty gaga by now and having to be reminded who I am and what I'm doing.

And life-long teetotallers should be much smarter than I am and running rings round me. There are plenty of teetotallers in Northern Ireland (or so they say!) but some of them are quite visible dimwits, which sheds some doubt on the research.

Then again, I don't know what my brain would be like if I'd been a life-long teetotaller. Would I be so clever I'd be running rings round everyone else? Would I have polished off a cryptic crossword in ten minutes? Who knows?

And although we all lose millions of brain cells as we get older anyhow, apparently that still leaves us with more than enough brain cells to keep us functioning efficiently. So if alcohol kills a few more, does it really matter?

I await further research with interest. Cheers!

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Sign of the times

If your neighbour put a small BLM sign in their window, would you think "Good for them, it's a great campaign, we should all support it"? Or would you think "People shouldn't put up controversial political slogans in their window"?

A resident of Cheam, a posh south London suburb, has caused a stir by sending an anonymous letter to a neighbour complaining about the Black Lives Matter sign in their upstairs window. The offended party (they don't say if they're male or female) says the sign "does not reflect well on the neighbourhood" and looks like "a protest message to your neighbours".

I can't help wondering if the origin of the family in the offending house (Aj Shehata's parents were born in Sudan) might have something to do with the complaint.

It seems like an absurd over-reaction. The BLM sign is so small it's barely visible. Most passers-by would probably not even notice it. Yet the letter-writer thinks it's a serious blot on the landscape.

The Shehatas' neighbours are also bemused by the complaint. Some of them say they'll put up BLM signs in solidarity.

My own neighbours have had "Thanks to the NHS" signs in their windows for months. Nobody is the least bit bothered by them.

It would be a different matter if they were displaying (for instance) huge "Bring back the death penalty" signs. I would be the first to leap into action and demand they be removed. But a miniscule BLM sign? Some people clearly have too much time on their hands.

If the letter-writer had had the decency to ring the Shehatas' doorbell and have a proper conversation with them, the matter could probably have been resolved quite easily without the need for a stroppy anonymous letter.

Pic: the Shehata family's house. The BLM sign is inside the circle.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Silver splitters

Apparently there's a rising trend for "silver splitters" - older couples who divorce in their fifties or sixties, often after decades of marriage, and either marry again or stay single. They no longer want to stay together till the bitter end, but decide to split up and make a new start while there's still plenty of their life left.

But one relationship counsellor says that people underestimate the consequences of splitting, both for themselves and other family members. It can be much more expensive than they thought, it can greatly upset their children, and it can be hard to cast aside the psychological bonds of a long-lasting relationship.

Personally, I can't imagine leaving Jenny and starting again with someone else. After so many years of forging such close bonds with each other, I'm sure it would be incredibly difficult to begin that process all over again with another person. At every step I'd be bringing a whole lot of emotional baggage from my previous relationship, which surely would get in the way of making a new one.

Of course if your existing relationship is disastrous, if there's domestic violence, if you have fiercely differing views on many subjects, if you simply don't get on, if your partner is an alcoholic or a drug addict, then it's a lot easier to make the break, though even then there may be a reluctance to give up on a relationship you've invested so much in over so many years.

Then again, some former spouses simply don't want another relationship. They decide they're perfectly happy living on their own. As one divorcee put it: "All of my girl friends who have got divorced went wild in the year afterwards. They were having a blast dating guys."

What you might call Silver Seducers.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Letting rip

I'm baffled by people who get some sort of kick out of criticising total strangers - people they've never met, maybe never heard of up till now, people they know nothing whatever about, people who have nothing to do with their own lives.

They don't care how insulting or hurtful or ignorant their criticism might be. They don't care what effect they're having on the people concerned. They don't care if what they're saying is a complete fabrication. They think it's perfectly okay to put the boot in whenever they feel like it.

I try to avoid such gratuitous attacks on people. I'm no fan of the royal family, but I don't lay into them at every opportunity*. I just ignore them. Naturally I'm aware of all the scandals involving public figures, but I don't promptly add my vitriolic comments to the usual social media pile-on. I mind my own business.

My mother was fond of making disparaging remarks about homosexuals. I used to ask her why she was so obsessed with a group of people totally unconnected with her own life, whom she'd never met, who didn't affect her life in any way, but she wouldn't listen.

There are plenty of people whose views I disagree with, whose personal behaviour appals me, whose mad ambitions alarm me, but I don't feel the need to publicly hurl abuse at them or tear them to bits. I have much more interesting things to do.

It's now routine for public figures, especially women, to get torrents of unrelenting hatred day in and day out. Why should anyone have to live with this kind of permanent denigration? I'm certainly not going to add to it.

*the racist and misogynistic abuse heaped on Meghan Markle is quite shocking.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Off or on?

Wise Web Woman started an interesting thread on whether you should wear your shoes in other people's houses, or take them off. Is removing your shoes common sense or fastidious nonsense?

There are strong views either way. What the shoe-removers say:

  • It's a question of hygiene. They don't want shoes that have picked up who-knows-what filth on public streets dropping that filth on their floors, especially on pale-coloured carpets and rugs.
  • Thousands of harmful bacteria lodge on people's shoes, and are easily shed inside a house. If children regularly play on the floor, they could pick up something nasty.
  • In some countries it's normal to remove your shoes on entering a house, and not doing so is seen as disrespectful. Often the householder will supply slippers to replace outdoor shoes.
However there are also good reasons for not removing your shoes:

  • You might have some sort of deformity or foot infection. A disability might make it difficult to remove and replace your shoes. You may have holes in your socks. Your feet may feel cold easily. Or there are splinters in wood flooring.
  • The hygiene aspect is exaggerated. The chance of catching something toxic from a person's shoes must be pretty low, or we'd all be falling ill very day. We're a lot more likely to get food poisoning.
  • With no shoes on, you're more likely to pick up bacteria from the householder's carpets and other floors, especially bacteria left by dogs and cats.
But if someone prefers to keep their shoes on, they shouldn't be forced to remove them or asked for a reason. That would just be rude.

Jenny's brother asks visitors to remove their shoes in his house. So do the couple two doors down from us. We're happy to do so, on the grounds of hygiene. But there isn't a no-shoes rule in our own house. What filthy beasts we are!

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Virus meltdown

To judge by what I read in the media, after a year of lockdowns we're all in psychological turmoil, battered by so many restrictions and vetoes that we're unable to function normally.

According to the health experts, we're more anxious, more depressed, more lonely, more frustrated. We no longer know how to relate to other people or have a routine conversation. Once the lockdowns are over, we'll struggle to relearn our social skills and get back to normality.

Well, I think they're laying it on a bit thick. I don't see much sign of psychological turmoil among my friends or neighbours. Or among my blogmates and Facebook pals. People seem to be a lot more resilient and adaptable than the experts make out, and coping with the unusual situation very well.

I had a long conversation with a friend outside Tesco on Monday, and we had no problem with conversation. We were chatting away happily for some twenty minutes. There was no sign that either of us was unduly anxious, depressed or otherwise psychologically clobbered.

The children going to and from the local schools seem to be as happy and boisterous as always. I don't see anyone trailing along looking miserable and listless.

Maybe I just move in the wrong circles. Maybe in some milieu unknown to me people are quivering wrecks, incapable of acting normally and desperately in need of help. But if so, I haven't come across them.

Of course the lockdowns are causing financial problems, medical problems, schooling problems, travel problems. But serious psychological problems? I suspect that's much less common than the experts would have us believe.

But hey, the media have to find something sensational to write about, and there's still plenty of mileage in covid meltdown.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

The urge to destroy

One of the many things that baffle me is the crazy urge to destroy that some people possess. However you look at their actions, they make absolutely no sense except as a brainless desire to annoy and inconvenience other people.

Right now there's a massive wildfire in the Mourne Mountains, 30 miles south of Belfast. There have been many wildfires there over the last few years, some of them clearly started by arsonists. Why deliberately destroy many acres of beautiful scenery and innocent wildlife?

A 24 year old man has been arrested in Surrey after dozens of mature trees were randomly chopped down. Again, there have been other similar tree-felling incidents over the years, and never any plausible explanation. Needless to say, the locals are always incensed by such vandalism.

Memorials, monuments and gravestones are regularly defaced, broken and covered with graffiti. Plastic rubbish, which could harm or kill marine creatures, is left on beaches. Obstacles placed on railway lines could cause crashes and derailments. Equipment in children's playgrounds is wrecked beyond repair.

Goodness knows what the motivation is. Is it some personal grudge or grievance? Is it the urge to disrupt other people's seemingly happier lives? Is it the need to impress some bunch of friends they hang out with? Is it to give them a sense of power? It's a mystery.

It's impossible to understand why some people want to destroy something valuable and life-enhancing rather than to nurture it. Unfortunately it can be the work of a moment to destroy something, while nurturing can take a lot more effort and dedication.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Driven out

For some years now there have been angry complaints from people in more desirable parts of the country that their children are being driven out of the area by wealthy incomers pushing up property prices to levels the locals can no longer afford.

Politicians are taking all sorts of counter-measures but none of them seem to have much effect, and the proliferation of expensive second homes and holiday homes in attractive areas continues apace.

It seems to me that as long as outsiders can afford hefty prices for local homes, and as long as residents can enjoy a large profit by selling up, the trend to "colonise" picturesque villages and towns - and appealing parts of cities - can only continue.

I think the politicians who are trying to turn back the tide are onto a losing battle, but they're reluctant to make the obvious suggestion - that if the locals can no longer afford the rocketing house prices, then there's actually nothing wrong with moving some place where property is cheaper.

After all, that's what Jenny and I did, and it's worked out very well for us. We gave up on Islington, one of the most expensive parts of London, because we couldn't afford to move from a flat to a house. We sold our flat and left for Belfast, where we were able to buy a semi-detached house for cash, with plenty of money left over.

A lot of Londoners defeated by the property prices are now heading for cheaper cities and towns where not only are houses affordable but the quality of life is better - less congestion, a slower pace, friendlier people and lots of nearby beauty spots. Often they wonder why they didn't make the move much earlier.

Being driven out could be a blessing in disguise.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

A bit on the side

Adultery is something that always puzzles me. Most people these days are so busy with one thing or another, I wonder how on earth they find the time to have a second relationship on top of their existing one.

I also wonder how they endure the stress of constantly keeping the other relationship secret and preventing their regular partner from getting suspicious.

And what about the extra expense, if you're barely solvent as it is? The hotel rooms, the restaurant meals, the travelling around, the presents.

I've never had any desire for a clandestine affair. Not just because I'm very happy with my existing partner but because I'm a fairly straightforward person and deceit and subterfuge doesn't come naturally.

When you're putting all your effort into maintaining a long-standing relationship, surely putting a similar effort into a bit on the side must be totally exhausting?

But it seems to be amazingly common. You can't open a newspaper without reading about someone's affair. Or some randy Don Juan who's had one affair after another for decades.

What's also intriguing is the very different attitudes of the person who's been cheated on. Some go completely crazy, physically attacking their partner, destroying their clothes or possessions, even walking out. But others shrug their shoulders and accept that their partners will never be faithful so they may as well get used to it.

I've never been tempted into infidelity. There was a woman once I was strongly attracted to, but I quickly decided that the damage it could do was simply not worth a bit of furtive and possibly disappointing sex. In any case, she was much younger than me and wouldn't have been remotely interested.

A bit on the side? Not for me, thanks.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Feeling frugal

Frugality runs in my family. We all have a tendency to spend money sensibly and sparingly. We're not the sort to go on wild gambling sprees or buy luxury cars or go on round-the-world cruises.

Whatever I'm buying, I'll always look for a bargain. I steer away from designer clothes with absurdly high price tags. I don't buy fashionable clothes that will probably be out of fashion in six months' time. I don't buy fancy expensive furniture that was recommended in some magazine.

Of course there are some exceptions. I'll pay over the odds for a high-quality pair of shoes. I'll shell out a hefty sum for a foreign holiday. I'll dig deep for a really wonderful original painting.

But on the whole I don't splash my money around. I'm not an impulse buyer and I shop strictly for what I want. I don't go in for retail therapy and I don't go in for flashy purchases like jewellery or mountain bikes or upmarket sound systems. My needs are modest.

My mum always prided herself on her frugality, which got more extreme as she got older. She couldn't resist a special offer at the supermarket, or a cut-price holiday deal, or a dirt-cheap winter jacket. Her frugality was a bit of an illusion though, as she was also a hoarder and had bought so many "bargains" that her flat was completely stuffed with them.

But whenever I saw her, she would always tell me gleefully of her latest bit of penny-pinching, and how on-the-ball she had been. All of which was totally unnecessary because she was very well-off, but liked to prove she was a canny shopper who was never conned into wasting money.

I think any sign of luxury actually horrified her.


For those of you who've read about the Northern Ireland rioting and might be wondering if Jenny and I are safe, yes we're perfectly safe. The mayhem in west Belfast doesn't affect us because we live seven miles away in east Belfast. So worry not!