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!

Monday 5 April 2021

Fait accompli

Every so often someone makes the headlines by complaining that too many foreign words are making their way into English, and this has to stop. They give the impression that if this tendency goes on, there won't be any English language left. It will have been replaced by all the foreignisms.

American imports get a lot of the blame - words like cookie, closet, movie, apartment, campus, fries, soccer, mailbox. But other languages have given us plenty of words as well. Croissant from French. Delicatessen from German. Glitch from Yiddish. Macho from Spanish. Karaoke from Japanese. Gung-ho from Chinese. Moped from Swedish. Paparazzi from Italian. In other words, English is being infiltrated by other languages non-stop.

So why is this a problem? There seems to be some idea of linguistic purity - some mysterious essence of English - which is being corrupted by all these foreign intruders. They're turning our rich and sophisticated language into some second-rate and polluted language that's embarrassing to use.

What a load of nonsense. Words derived from other languages are constantly enriching and enhancing English. Without them our language would be static and stale and would gradually wither. New and unfamiliar words are fun to decipher and adapt to. And of course they're fun to try out on people who've never heard them.

In any case, what about all those English words that find their way into other countries' languages? I daresay those people who object to the pollution of English are quite happy to pollute other languages with our own linguistic migrants.

I suspect that the wholesale invasion of English by other languages is not a faux pas but simply a fait accompli.

Thursday 1 April 2021

War mongering

Journalists are always trying to stoke up a supposed generation war - young people hate the old and vice versa - whereas in reality young and old may get on very well and sympathise with each other's problems.

An article in the Independent claims that "the generation wars seem worse than ever" and "the debate is becoming more toxic". Really? Where's the evidence, apart from a load of dubious anecdotes and stereotypes?

Most families include people of different ages and different generations. Are they all at loggerheads, constantly fuming and accusing each other of heinous offences? No, of course they aren't.

Some people get on well, some don't. That's all there is to it. I wasn't at war with my mother or my grandparents or my aunts and uncles. We may not have had the same opinions or attitudes but we rubbed along okay. I was estranged from my father for 20 years but that was exceptional.

Yes, some young people accuse us oldies of making their lives worse while we enjoy the fruits of much better lives. Yes, some oldies accuse young people of knowing it all despite their limited experience of the world.

Most of us take people as we find them however and don't trot out such one-sided stereotypes.

There's a natural tendency though for each generation to think they know better than any other generation - the young because they see us oldies as hopelessly out of touch with the modern world, oldies because we have so much more experience of the problems that life throws up, and the middle-aged because they're in the midst of so many situations the young haven't yet encountered and the oldies have forgotten about - like parenting or running a business.

Bu it takes more than self-righteousness to make a war.