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!