Saturday 28 August 2021

Imperfect bodies

Apparently a majority of men (53%) have negative feelings about their body image, which isn't far off the figure for women (62%). They don't like being fat, or bald, or paunchy, or not tall enough, or too hairy, or not very muscular. Or a dozen other things.

I'm always baffled by this, as I have no problems with my own body image. In fact it almost feels there's something wrong with me for finding my body so acceptable. Am I just not critical enough? Is my nose a funny shape? Are my eyes too close together? Surely there's something I absolutely loathe? Nope, I just can't work up any negativity about my physical self.

Yes, I'm an oldie and I look it, but that doesn't bother me. Yes, I've got a bit of a tummy bulge, but so what? Yes, I've got a small bald patch, but it's only other people who can see it. Yes, I've got some crooked teeth, but to my mind they look more natural than rows of perfectly straight, shining white choppers. I'm not going to spend hours of my time regretting what I look like.

I'm certainly not going to shovel cash into the bank accounts of the purveyors of botox, cosmetic surgery, hair restorer, tummy control shapewear and all the other products exploiting people's self-loathing. I'd rather spend my money on exotic holidays, brilliant novels and wonderful paintings than on desperate attempts to turn the physical clock back.

Because that's mainly what this negativity is all about, isn't it? The desire to recapture one's youth and reverse the ageing process. Well, I hate to disillusion anyone but ageing will have its way, whatever your efforts to halt it.

There are only two things certain in life - death and taxes.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Flight of folly

I'm endlessly amazed at the dotty projects local councils get up to, quite often ignoring widespread advice that the project is dotty and should be scrapped.

Westminster Council in London thought it would be a super wheeze to build an artificial 25 metre (82 feet) hill next to Marble Arch. For £4.50 you could climb up to the top and see supposedly splendid views across the city.

Unfortunately the hill (the Marble Arch Mound) has been panned and ridiculed by just about everyone, including most of the visitors, local residents and 23 local amenity groups. Not only are the views far from splendid, they include rubble, building works and scaffolding. And unfortunately the hill (hillock would be more accurate) cost a staggering £6 million.

The £4.50 charge has been temporarily dropped and hundreds of people have flocked to the hill just to see how bad it is.

I'd like to think Belfast Council wouldn't dream up anything so monumentally daft, but you never know.

I wonder how long it will be before the Mound is discreetly removed at dead of night (or dead of several nights) and the council pretends it was never there in the first place. "Mound? What Mound? Where did you get that idea?"

Pic: the infamous Mound

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Distasteful legacies

It's the custom to pass on your inheritance (if you're lucky enough to have one) to your offspring or other family members. Eyebrows are raised if you hand it all to the local cat shelter or the Teddy Bear Society (yes, there is one).

But not everyone approves of this practice. Actor Daniel Craig, who has a three year old daughter, a stepson and an adult daughter, says he won't leave his children a large inheritance because he finds the practice "distasteful".

He thinks it's better to "get rid of it or give it away before you go". He adds "Isn't there an old adage that if you die a rich person, you've failed?"

His estimated net worth is currently over $180 million, and he's due to pick up another $100 million from future film deals. That's quite a hefty sum to not inherit.

He may be one of those who think handing your children a huge windfall just makes them lazy and self-centred and they should have to make their own way in life, presumably just as their own parents did.

But what if your children are already grown-up and doing very nicely? Should you then deny them an inheritance because they don't need it?

And if your children are grown-up but not doing very well, should you still deny them an inheritance because you think they squander money left right and centre and should just get a grip on their life?

Or what if you just can't stand one of your children and think they're a right pain in the arse? Do they also get nothing? (as happened with my father, who left me precisely zilch)

Whatever the reason for disinheriting family members, I imagine resentment and bitterness are almost sure to follow.

Friday 13 August 2021

Hard to imagine

I have a problem with novels that other people don't seem to have. I find it very hard to conjure up a vivid mental picture of the characters. Even if I read a description of someone several times, they remain words on the page and I get no clear image of them. I can summon up a stereotype of an old man or a young woman or a gurgling baby, but nothing more specific.

Most people seem to conjure up characters in their head quite easily. They have a very haunting image of the person, almost as vivid as someone in real life. They know exactly what Elizabeth Bennet or Jay Gatsby or Jane Eyre look like, while I have no such image.

If I have a vivid picture of someone, it's only because I've seen them in drawings or films - like Miss Marple, Frankenstein's Monster, Oliver Twist or Winnie the Pooh. I may know what they look like even if I haven't read the book - like Harry Potter.

It's frustrating because I feel I'm not really enjoying a book fully, I'm not totally immersed in it, if I can't picture the characters in my head. I can follow the plot and know what's going on, but there's something missing. It's like being in a very bare room with only a few sticks of furniture.

I guess I just have an inability to translate words into a visual image. They remain words and for some reason don't fire up my imagination as they should.

I'd love to see novels that have illustrations of all the main characters. I seem to remember that being a common practice when I was young (in Dickens for instance), but somewhere along the line they got dropped.

Monday 9 August 2021

Speech! Speech!

Social phobias of one kind or another are very common, and one of them is fear of public speaking. That's certainly one of my own fears, and fortunately an ordeal I've managed mainly to avoid.

I can talk easily enough in small groups, when I know all the people present very well. I was a trade union rep for several years and I had no problem chairing meetings, bringing up topics and getting people to make decisions. With only a handful of people scrutinising me, it wasn't too scary.

But large groups are a different matter. I've never had the nerve to make a speech at a marriage, a birthday party, a farewell do or a funeral. All those dozens of eyes in my direction would paralyse me. Not to mention the stress of writing the speech - wondering what would be appropriate, or flattering, or amusing, or what on the other hand might go down like a lead balloon and insult half the assembled company.

Even the need to make a short speech at work thanking people for a leaving present was enough to cause deep embarrassment as I tried frantically to cobble together a few pertinent comments without looking like a total halfwit.

In public meetings, I see plenty of people sounding off, clearly confident they have something very valid to say, while I'm sitting there in silence, not at all convinced it's worth opening my mouth in the face of much more informed and original opinions than my own.

Those meetings where a circle of attendees are asked to introduce themselves are also quite excruciating because I'm sure whatever I say is bound to seem trivial and pointless rather than interesting or heart-warming.

A witty speech is called for? Don't look at me....

Thursday 5 August 2021

Punch bag

I know I've got a slight bee in my bonnet, but I can't help noticing that a lot of people are getting more aggressive and abusive, and I wonder why that is. Why are they unable to behave in a civilised manner?

The latest victim of all this aggression is the humble Punch and Judy Show. Two Punch and Judy performers on Dorset beaches are having to contend with spectators who don't want to pay, who swear and shout, who dodge the donation box, and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

This never used to be the case, but nowadays it seems that if spectators aren't 100 per cent satisfied, they feel entitled to disrupt the show and make a huge disturbance.

One performer, Mark Poulton, had to post on his Facebook page calling for the abuse to stop. He said "We love making people happy, seeing everyone smile, and enjoying themselves. If you don't wish to pay for the show, please politely decline and move along, please don't hurl abuse at people simply for trying to make a living."

Of course some people would like to end Punch and Judy Shows, which they see as glorifying male violence, and I tend to agree. Or maybe you could write a modernised version with a more assertive July telling Punch to pull his weight or pack his bags.

As a kid I went to quite a few Punch and Judy Shows, and really at that age the political message entirely escaped me. I just thought it was funny in the same way as children's violent cartoons are funny. But I guess that message can seep in unconsciously.

Punch and Judy Shows have always been a traditional part of seaside holidays and it would be sad if they disappeared simply because of the loud-mouthed abuse from a few uncouth (possibly tipsy) bystanders.

Pic: Take that, Punch, you nasty little man

Sunday 1 August 2021


It's easy to take for granted in a relationship that your partner can be trusted - that they'll do what they say, behave the way you expect them to, and in general not present you with any nasty surprises.

I feel sorry for those women who can't trust their men an inch - who're never sure where they are or what they're doing, and always suspect they're up to something disturbing or illegal or shameful. They're forever on tenterhooks, wondering what fresh embarrassments are on the way (I guess there are also men who can't trust their women but far fewer of them).

Jenny and I have complete trust in each other. We don't dread finding out something shocking about the other person.

Jenny knows I'm not going to raid our savings and disappear into the night, or develop some insatiable addiction to gambling or alcohol or drugs or porn, or burn the house down, or wreck the car, or run off with a buxom blonde twenty years younger, or live in a cave seeking spiritual enlightenment, or smash windows in Whitehall, or join the British National Front.

She knows I value her company and won't be down the pub every evening with my mates, discussing football, making misogynist jokes, ranting about immigrants, getting blind drunk, and then heaving a sigh and saying "Oh well, I suppose I'd better be getting back to the old ball and chain."

I guess there are women who've lost all trust in their men but stick with them anyhow, rather than start afresh with a new partner who might turn out to be equally untrustworthy. After all, could they ever trust a man again?

It's very easy to destroy trust and very hard to rebuild it.