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.