Monday 27 September 2021

Missing tips

When Jenny and I are in a restaurant, we're always aware that tips added to a credit card payment may never reach the server but be stealthily extracted by the management. Which is why we always leave a cash tip on the table instead.

Restaurant staff have been fuming about these missing tips for years, but it's only now that the British government is acting to stop what is effectively theft and ensure any tip or service charge goes to the server it's intended for.

It will become illegal for restaurant, bar and café owners to siphon off the tips, a move benefitting up to two million workers. Members of staff will also be able to see tipping records, and if necessary take employers to a tribunal*.

But this won't be any help to those servers who encounter the no-tips brigade, those mean-minded diners who either never give a tip or only give a tip if the food and service are impeccable. Which is unlikely.

We always give a tip unless the meal was a genuinely disastrous experience. We're not going to quibble about a dirty knife or insufficient smiling or bland coffee. And we know how much the probably underpaid servers rely on tips to top up their pay.

Of course tipping is an absurdly antiquated practice that should have been abolished years ago and replaced by decent and reliable salaries. Nevertheless there's a certain satisfaction in seeing a server's face light up when they get an unexpectedly generous tip.

I imagine the new law can't come in fast enough for all those servers who're systematically fleeced by their employers.

*But will the new law be properly enforced?

Thursday 23 September 2021

Still bewildered

Back in 2013 I listed some of the modern-day trends that I simply don't understand. Things that leave me scratching my head in bewilderment. Things that seem daft or unnecessary or absurd or risky. The list stays much the same, except for Gangnam, which nobody even mentions any more. So here's the slightly amended version:

  1. The obsession with celebs
  2. Tattoos
  3. Tongue-piercing
  4. Stag and hen weekends*
  5. The prejudice against public services
  6. Posting naked selfies on Facebook
  7. Wearing a face veil
  8. Having private quarrels in public
  9. Personalised car number plates
  10. Going berserk on a plane
  11. Nouvelle cuisine
  12. Barbecues
  13. Thongs**
  14. Cosmetic surgery***
  15. Weddings on the other side of the world
  16. High heels
  17. Letting kids run wild
  18. Teeth whitening
  19. Designer labels
  20. Lads' mags
I went to a barbecue quite recently, but I still don't see the attraction. Eating indoors is more comfortable, and you don't get rained on. Of course the climate here doesn't encourage outdoor eating - it's more likely to be cold and wet than warm and dry. Big kitchen diners are more popular than barbecue grills. I imagine barbecues are more common in the States and Australia with their long hot summers.

* bachelor and bachelorette parties in the States
** the underwear not the footwear
*** other than reconstructive surgery

Sunday 19 September 2021

Sheer anarchy

I lost my faith in politicians a long time ago, and this sort of thing is why - the ongoing anarchy in the Holylands area of Belfast, an area of concentrated student housing close to Queen's University.

Literally for years now, since 2005, students have been running riot in the area, having wild all-night parties, vandalising cars and property, throwing rubbish onto the streets, and intimidating longstanding local residents.

The besieged residents complain continuously to Queen's University, Ulster University, Belfast Council, Stormont, and the Police Service, but nothing effective is ever done.

Statements are issued condemning the students' behaviour and threatening them with various sanctions, a few students get arrested, but the anarchy continues regardless and the beleaguered residents despair over the politicians' apparent utter indifference to their plight.

Predictably the buck is continually passed from one authority to another, each one offering trumped-up excuses for their hopeless inability to end the disorder. Meanwhile families lie awake at night, trying to ignore the sounds of breaking glass, vomiting and ear-splitting music.

No doubt the university top brass have nice quiet homes to retreat to in respectable areas of the city, so there's no danger of their own comfortable existence being jeopardised. They can sit back and watch it all on the telly like the rest of us.

And they can sleep soundly at night without shrieking mayhem outside their bedroom window.

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Why fame?

For the life of me I don't understand why so many people want to be famous. I can understand wanting to be rich and never having any more money worries, but wanting to be famous? What's the point? Do they realise the massive downside of fame?

Probably not. Celebrities tend not to mention the downside because it would spoil their image and because it would make them look like spoilt brats. They prefer to maintain the illusion that fame is wonderful and they can't get enough of it.

All the public usually see is celebrities swanning around in fabulous designer clothes, being presented with prestigious awards, being applauded and fawned over, getting preferential treatment wherever they go.

What they usually don't see is the endless invasion of privacy, the hordes of paparazzi, the social-media abuse, the phoney "friends", the obsessive fans, the fabricated media stories.

It seems to me that being famous just makes your life more difficult, more treacherous, more overwhelming. Why would you want to live in a goldfish bowl day in and day out, with people watching your every movement?

There are regular stories about people who've been unexpectedly thrust into the limelight and been badly damaged by it. Like Steve Dymond, who died seven days after taking part in the Jeremy Kyle chat-show.

A lot of musicians have had psychological crises after a sudden rise to fame - like Katie Melua, who had a mental breakdown in 2010 and was in hospital for six weeks.

Fame ? You can keep it.

Friday 10 September 2021

But is it true?

I tend to assume that everything in a biography/ autobiography/ memoir must be true because they're based on real lives and real people. And because they all sound so convincing, so credible. Surely they haven't made anything up?

But actually quite a few biographies and memoirs have been either partly or totally fabricated. Wikipedia lists 12 such examples since 2001, some of them completely fake. Like Michael Gambino's The Honored Society, in which he claimed to be the grandson of a notorious Mafioso. He was exposed by Carlo Gambino's real son, Thomas Gambino.

I've read a lot of autobiographies, including those by Michelle Obama and Keith Richards, and I've assumed that everything they say is true, but that's not necessarily the case.

Even if they seem more or less truthful, there are always things that by their very nature must arouse suspicion. Like long verbatim conversations. Whoever remembers conversations in such detail? For that matter, whoever remembers the entirety of their life in such detail? Isn't some of it what they think happened or would like to have happened rather than what really occurred? And might a few things have been tweaked a little to look more flattering, or less shameful?

Family members and friends often dispute what someone says in a biography or autobiography. They claim there was no such family feud, or estrangement, or disinheritance, or child abuse. Of course they would, wouldn't they? They don't want their good reputation dragged through the mud.

People who fabricate whole memoirs are so likely to be exposed by someone who knows the truth, you have to wonder why they do it. I suppose they calculate that by the time they're exposed they'll already have made a tidy sum from their sensational lies so it hardly matters.

Sunday 5 September 2021

Not so lucky

Winning a fortune may seem like a wonderful idea, but the reality may not be so enjoyable. All sorts of unforeseen conse-quences could make you wish you'd never had the money at all.

Margaret Loughrey, from Strabane in Northern Ireland, who won £27 million in the national lottery, killed herself a few days ago. Some months after her huge win, she said "If there is a hell, I have been in it. It has been that bad. I was a happy person before. All it has done is destroy my life."

She bought a historic old mill that was plagued by fires and vandalism. She was found guilty of assaulting a taxi driver while drunk. She was ordered to pay £30,000 for discriminating against a Catholic employee. And other unspecified mishaps.

She only bought a lottery ticket on the spur of the moment. She was living on welfare benefits of £58 ($80.50) a week and was returning home from the Job Centre when she decided to buy the ticket.

I wouldn't want to win such a vast sum. I wouldn't know what to do with it. I'd hate all the attention I'd get, especially from people wanting handouts or people who hated me for getting such a windfall. Everyone would be gossiping about me behind my back.

Whoever I gave money to, other people would be saying I should have given the money to them or someone else more deserving. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet would give me unsolicited advice on how to spend the money. I'd suspect every friendly approach of hiding an appeal for cash.

There's the option of receiving the money anonymously, but I doubt that would last very long. Once I was seen to be spending on a lavish scale, questions would be asked and my win would surely become known.

No fortune for me, thanks. I'm very happy just as I am.

Pic: Margaret Loughrey

Wednesday 1 September 2021

What might have been

When I think of my parents (both now dead), I have a strong sense of loss. But it's not the loss of what was, or what they meant to me. It's the loss of what might have been, what I never had.

It's not the loss of what was, because I was never close to either of them. They were so different from me and never understood the sort of person I was, or what I wanted to do with my life. And they were both very cagey about anything personal.

Some people are lucky enough to have a close relationship with one or both of their parents, one that's enriching and inspiring and supportive. When those parents die, there's a deep sense of an important part of one's life being taken away. All at once there's a big hole that needs somehow to be filled.

In my case that particular sense of loss is absent. What I feel is more the loss of what might have been - exactly that sort of intimate bond with a parent that might have greatly enriched my life.

Above all, the lack of that close relationship means I know next to nothing about my parents' personal lives and they remain shadowy, blurry figures. Just about everything that happened to them before I was born is a mystery. Likewise much of what they thought and felt. Did they ever get anxious or depressed or frustrated or despairing? What went through their minds? Mostly, I have no idea.

They must surely have wanted close bonds with their children (otherwise why have children at all?), so why did they do so little to foster that closeness? Why were they always so reticent, so guarded? Why couldn't they open up? It leaves another sort of big hole - but one that can never be filled.