Sunday 28 February 2021

An air of authority

Strange things, uniforms. Good in some ways, not so good in others. Some people like wearing them, some don't. What difference would it make if they were abolished tomorrow?

I was fortunate to do jobs that didn't require a uniform - things like bookselling, journalism, admin, charity work. I've only owned one suit in my entire life, when I was a journalist, and I can't remember now if it was obligatory or I just wanted to be a snappy dresser.

Both my schools had uniforms, and I can't remember having any opinion of them one way or the other, apart from feeling smarter than the other kids in the street. I didn't yearn for something more fashionable, as I was never interested in fashion.

I suppose the advantage of uniforms is that they can give you an air of authority and expertise. And of course you don't have to agonise over what you're going to wear today. The decision has been made for you.

The disadvantage is that some people are hostile to anyone in a uniform, equating a uniform with officialdom, bossiness and condescension. They'll have a go at paramedics, nurses, police officers or even cabin crew.

I'm not keen on those workplace dress codes that are effectively uniforms - short skirts, high heels and make-up for women, or suits, plain shirts and ties for men. The idea is that they look more "professional" but personally I couldn't care less if a woman's skirt is long or short, I just want to know if they're good at the job.

Supposedly a lot of men go weak at the knees at the sight of a nurse's uniform. I can't say I've ever had that reaction. Dazzling intelligence is far more likely to put me in a spin. Or dazzling achievement. Or just a zest for life. With or without a uniform.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Fizzing with rage

I'm not easily offended, so I'm often astonished at how easily other people take offence at things that seem to me quite trivial.

Am I very resilient, very thick-skinned, and very self-confident, or am I just totally insensitive and unable to understand why other people feel so hurt and upset by something?

If you wear something associated with another culture, this is "cultural appropriation". If you don't agree that trans women are women, this is "transphobia". If you criticise female circumcision or honour killings, this is "disrespecting other cultures". If you don't accept someone else's version of reality, this could be a "hate crime".

There are no doubt plenty of people who would chastise me for being middle-class, for being privileged, for being well-off, for sounding posh, for being complacent, and so on, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I'm certainly not going to fizz with rage and demand grovelling apologies. People are entitled to their opinion, even if I think they've got me all wrong.

Obviously some remarks really are offensive - condemning homosexuality as an "unnatural perversion" or describing women as "crazy and hysterical". But other remarks are more tactless or tasteless or stupid than offensive. Getting worked-up over every stupid remark is a pointless waste of breath.

In a society that values freedom of speech, of course some people are going to say things that upset others. Yes, they might be offended for a while, but it's hardly the end of the world. If they stop to reflect, they might even see some truth in whatever's being said.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Thursday 18 February 2021

In your dreams

Dreams are very mysterious. In general they have no obvious meaning or advice for us, yet we get dozens of them every night. What for? Why don't we just sleep soundly with no dreams whatever?

My dreams are mostly anxiety dreams. I'm lost somewhere and trying to find my way home. Or someone sinister is chasing me through an empty building. Or I'm at a dinner party and have no idea who the other people are or what to say to them.

All my dreams tell me is that I'm an anxious person, which I know only too well. Why remind me of the self-evident? Why don't I have dreams telling me how to banish anxiety? Or even dreams that say my brain is right now deleting all my anxieties?

Psychologists have puzzled over the meaning of dreams for centuries and no doubt will keep doing so, and will keep drawing a blank. Many therapists are convinced dreams have plenty of meaning if you just interpret them in the right way, but I haven't found that myself. However I interpret my dreams, whatever I imagine they're telling me in some coded form, I usually end up none the wiser.

I hardly ever dream of people I know. If I did they might suggest something interesting about that person - that they're creepy or crazy or cranky. Even people I worked with for many years, even family members, even famous public figures, never appear. One supposedly common dream is to be meeting the Queen, but I must disappoint Her Majesty on that score.

Another apparently common dream is to find yourself naked in a public place, but I have to say that wherever I happen to be, I'm always fully clothed. Clearly whatever mechanism controls my dreams, it believes in public decency.

But I'm still waiting for a dream where I'm bursting with self-confidence and optimism, and anxiety is a thing of the past.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Good riddance

It's a great relief that my advanced age means all the awkward and embarr-assing things I had to do as a youngster are now well behind me and I'll never be subjected to them again. To name but a few:

  • Obeying my parents. Or furtively disobeying them, doing what I wanted to do anyway and making sure they didn't find out.
  • Dating. All those nerve-racking encounters with complete strangers, all those clumsy conversations and inept questioning.
  • Losing my virginity. All in all a rather gauche and fumbling experience, trying not to make a complete fool of myself.
  • Trying to look handsome/dashing/virile etc. Nowadays my only aim is to be not quite as wrinkled and flabby as other seventy somethings.
  • My first day at school. I've forgotten it, but it must have been quite an ordeal for a young boy who wasn't sure what to expect.
  • My first day at work. Wondering what I was supposed to be doing and almost suffocating in the dense cigarette smoke.
  • Going on strike. Necessary as it was, other people's lack of interest in our grievances was disconcerting.
  • Getting on the property ladder. Desperately trying to get enough money together to buy a flat and escape greedy landlords.
  • Learning to drive. Always scared I would do something wrong and smash into a line of very expensive parked cars.
  • Playing football/cricket/rugby. As I was obliged to do at school, utterly indifferent to all of them and hating every minute.
Who'd want to be young again? Who'd want to go through all those things a second time? Not me, for sure.

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Costly nosiness

How much privacy are spouses entitled to when it comes to personal information about their financial transactions? Are they entitled to keep it secret or should they be more transparent?

Suspecting her husband of infidelity, Karen Santi opened one of his paper bank statements, read messages on his computer, and sent some of the information to a financial advisor.

It seems she didn't find any evidence of an affair, and her furious husband Lawrence retaliated by seeking a court non-disclosure order to stop her passing the information to anyone else.

The divorce case is continuing, but meanwhile Mrs Santi has been told to pay £54,000 of her husband's £90,000 legal costs, a sum she says will "wipe out her liquid assets".

She maintained that looking at the confidential information of the other in the context of a marriage breakdown was understandable.

Well, this situation would never arise for me and Jenny, because all our financial transactions are on joint accounts and neither of us have individual accounts. Whatever one of us spends is immediately visible to the other.

I can see the £100 she paid for that fancy handbag and she can see the £100 I spent on Calvin Klein underpants (just kidding).

So if one of us was shagging someone else, it would be obvious pretty quickly - that unexplained hotel bill or that purchase from Posh Frocks.

But if we had separate accounts, would I feel justified in having a furtive peek at my spouse's bank statements? If I suspected a clandestine affair, maybe I would. But I'd be more cunning about it and not leave any traces of my nosiness.

Not that either of us has any hankering for affairs. We have much more interesting and guilt-free ways of enjoying ourselves.

Karen Santi is paying a high price for her suspicions.

Pic: Karen Santi

Saturday 6 February 2021

A nice cuppa

Molly Chesney from Newark in Nottinghamshire, who's 48, claims she's never had a cup of tea in her life. Yes, she's tried a few herbal teas, but never an ordinary cuppa. She says just seeing it and smelling it puts her right off.

I must say it's hard to believe. Not a single cup of tea in 48 years? Surely she's pulling our legs?

But apparently it's not unusual. Quite a few people are revolted by tea and won't drink it. No doubt their friends try to persuade them it's delicious, but they don't get very far.

Personally I can't get enough of the stuff, and neither can Jenny. We drink at least six or seven cups a day each. It would be more if it wasn't for our two cups of coffee in the morning.

We don't drink much else in fact. No beer, no Coca-Cola, no fizzy drinks, no energy drinks. Maybe a glass of wine in the evening, that's it.

When we're staying in a hotel, with the usual stingy allotment of teabags per room (about four), the first thing we do is buy a large packet of teabags to allow us our customary daily quota.

Too much tea is said to be bad for you - you're liable to suffer headaches, anxiety, indigestion and insomnia. That may apply to others, but Jenny and I have never been afflicted.

The ex-Labour Cabinet Minister, Tony Benn, was renowned for his love of tea. He would drink it from massive mugs, claiming once that he drank a pint of tea every hour. Clearly it didn't do him any harm, as he was 88 when he died.

"I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea" - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Enough already

I like novels that focus on one or two characters and explore their lives and personal-ities in great detail. I get to know them so well they become extremely vivid, almost flesh and blood, and I can really get to love them or hate them.

Novels with too many characters drive me nuts. Firstly I can't keep track of them and I have to keep reminding myself who is who, who's related to who, who's shagging who, who does what job, who died, who has a nasty illness, and so on till I'm thoroughly confused. It doesn't help that I have a memory like a sieve and will forget the character on page 51 once I'm on page 52.

Secondly, when there are so many characters you never get to know them in any depth. They flit in and out and often are little more than shallow caricatures. You know the sort of thing - Jim the controlling husband, Karen the timid wife and their two children, truculent Simon and well-behaved Tessa.

And once they become caricatures, it's hard to tell them apart. Is this uncle one, uncle two or uncle three? They're all grumpy, opinionated and doddery. Which is which?

So why do authors flood their books with so many characters? One author, Anne R Allen, confesses: "One of my personal writing issues is I tend to pack my books and stories with way too many characters. If a fascinating person walks into one of my stories, I feel it would be rude not to let them join the party. This drives my editors batty. They think confusing the reader is worse than being rude to fictional people. And of course they're right."

Right now I'm re-reading Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood. I love it precisely because it centres on one person - Rennie - and tells you more and more about her.

Rennie sticks in my mind. Not so, uncle three.