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.