Thursday 28 October 2021

But it's tradition

It's common for someone to justify their beliefs or actions by saying "Well, it's traditional". It's a handy explanation because few people are going to challenge the idea of "tradition", implying as it does something that thousands of people have been doing or saying for centuries.

Why do so many people have turkey at Christmas? Because it's traditional. There are plenty of alternatives, but no, it has to be turkey because turkey's traditional.

Why do brides invariably wear white? Because it's traditional. You could wear something green or blue or red but that wouldn't be traditional.

Why are so many boys circumcised? Because it's traditional. You can produce good reasons for not doing it, but you'll probably be ignored because tradition wins out.

If falling back on "tradition" really means that you're too timid to make your own choices and so you just follow the herd, then that's rather sad. But if you really love turkey, and you really love white bridal dresses, and you really think circumcision is beneficial, fair enough, go ahead.

Of course many traditions are to be applauded - like democracy and free health care and public transport and politeness and donating to charities and teetotallers. Something that goes back centuries can be pointless and irrational and toxic, but it may also be a valuable contribution to our daily lives.

Some traditions are so absurdly over the top I can only look on in disbelief as they take place. Like the state opening of parliament, with the Queen trundling along in her golden coach and all the uniformed flunkeys who preside over the various opening rituals. The state opening costs around £214,000.

PS: I was circumcised, but I never found out why. My parents weren't Jewish. It's something I could have asked my father, if we hadn't been estranged for 20 years.

Sunday 24 October 2021

Hidden messages

Some people habitually read things into what others say. They never take a remark at face value, they always speculate on what the person is actually saying. Is it really a put-down, or a cry for help, or a sign of indifference? What are the hidden messages?

I hardly ever read things into other people's remarks. Maybe I'm stupid or insensitive or unimaginative, but I do tend to take what others are saying at face value. I don't assume there's some subtle meaning I have to tease out.

I remember a woman I knew telling me she always read too much into what others were saying. This had led to a few heated arguments with her boyfriend when he insisted that what she was imagining was nonsense.

Journalists are front-runners in interpreting people's remarks in a hundred different ways. Could that politician's chance remark mean they're considering resigning? Or they're getting dementia? Or they're angling for promotion? Or they're panicking over some imminent scandal? Of course most of it turns out to be claptrap.

Actually I'm fibbing slightly when I say I don't read anything into people's remarks. I like to be liked and I do try to figure out from what someone's saying whether they like me or not. Did I detect a certain frostiness there? Did I detect a note of warmth? Did they agree with what I just said? Did they look disapproving? I can't quite go along with the "just be yourself and don't worry about the reaction" brigade.

Mostly I confine my speculation to novels and the fate of fictional characters therein. Whether I guess right or guess wrong, it's of no consequence.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Sibling rivalry

Apparently sibling rivalry isn't just one of those dubious cliches, it's real. There are plenty of siblings who really do compete frantically with each other and can't bear it when their brother or sister seems to be doing much better than them.

A quarter of people polled on the subject admitted to sibling rivalry. They confessed to competing over just about everything - their careers, their homes, their cars, their holidays, their education, their cooking skills and, naturally, who their parents like best.

Well, I'm relieved to say my sister and I have never been prone to sibling rivalry. Our relationship has always been amicable, reasonable and non-competitive. We've both lived our lives as we wanted and we haven't spent a second comparing our different "score cards". We've never been jealous of the other's achievements, or gloating at their failures.

We were never bothered about who our parents liked best. Clearly my father, and possibly my mother, preferred my sister, but so what? It didn't stop me getting on with my life.

What motivates siblings to compete with each other anyway? Why are they desperate to be top dog and always one step ahead of the other? I really don't know, but I suppose if parents are the competitive type, that can get passed on to their children. Luckily our parents weren't in the least competitive.

But if your relationship with your sibling is the longest relationship you'll ever have, then constantly competing with each other will spoil your life in a big way.

And there's no easy fix, because siblings are bound to each other for life. You can't divorce them, you can't simply dump them. Somehow you have to find a modus operandi.

Just try to stop quibbling with your sibling.

Thursday 14 October 2021

Call my bluff

At the age of 74 I still don't feel like an adult, only an overgrown child. There are so many things I can barely cope with, and only with a lot of effort.    There are so many things I stealthily keep away from, quite sure I'd instantly mess them up.

I may have all the physical trappings of adulthood. I've had three mortgages, I own a house, I've owned several cars, I was the executor of my mum's will, I've had paid jobs on and off for 53 years, I've travelled all over the world.

Yet I still don't feel like an adult. When people treat me like an adult and expect me to behave like an adult, I'm straight into impostor syndrome. I do my best to live up to what's required, but it's mostly a feverish pretence, a frantic pursuit of this ever-elusive quality known as adulthood.

People expect me to make intelligent, informed decisions on a whole range of subjects, when I'm all too aware that actually on most subjects I have a hazy, anecdotal knowledge at best. I rack my brain for relevant wisdom, find the cupboard is bare and cobble together some supposedly authoritative opinion that might get me convincingly through the next five minutes.

I'm looking around desperately for a real adult, someone who actually has adult-like capabilities and can rescue me from this scary demand for responsibility and guidance. I want to be like the newsreaders who just pass on the stream of information fed into their earpieces.

I might look like a mature adult, but it's all an illusion. In reality I'm still a confused child hoping I'm doing and saying the right thing but always suspecting I'm totally goofing up. Sooner or later someone's going to call my bluff.

PS: A post on Facebook - "My personality is basically a mix between a needy five year old child who can't control her emotions, a teenage rebel who makes poor life decisions, and an eighty year old woman who's tired and needs a nap."

Saturday 9 October 2021

Tactical error

One of the big debates among political protesters is what sort of protest to engage in - what is most likely to get the result they want and what is most likely to get the public on their side. Choose the wrong thing and you simply alienate everyone.

The recently formed campaign "Insulate Britain", which is seeking a much bigger government programme to remedy badly insulated homes, is attracting a lot of opposition over its recent activities.

Day after day they've been blocking major roads in southern England, causing huge disruption, and those people who have been stuck in the resulting traffic jams have been angry and upset.

Carers, nurses and other key workers have been unable to get to work. People have been unable to get to hospital appointments or get to dying relatives. Furious motorists have been physically dragging protesters off the roads.

I don't see how this bloody-minded obstruction of people's daily lives can possibly be justified, or how it's going to have any more influence on the government than some other sort of protest that is dramatic without being so disruptive.

The police have arrested dozens of protesters, and the government has threatened them with jail sentences, but the protests continue regardless.

I would also be furious if protesters had stopped me from getting to work or getting to a medical appointment. Luckily I'm retired and luckily also there's no offshoot of Insulate Britain in Northern Ireland (as yet).

So far the government is unmoved, and the protesters are just pissing off the general public.

Tuesday 5 October 2021

I'll sleep on it

A long time ago I made a list of all my sleep-related quirks and habits. I thought my more recent followers might like to see it.

  1. I seldom sleep in, I seldom nap.
  2. I'm invariably asleep within ten minutes
  3. I'm usually up and about by 7 30 am
  4. I almost always have bad dreams
  5. I sleep on my left side or my right side, hardly ever on my back or front
  6. I find it easy to get out of bed in the morning
  7. I prefer a nightshirt to pyjamas
  8. I sleep naked if it's warm enough
  9. I read books in bed but never newspapers
  10. My bedside cabinet contains my watch, my alarm clock, my glasses, a box of tissues and a book
  11. I find it hard to sleep on planes
  12. I slept for 13 hours straight after arriving in Vancouver Island, Canada
  13. I never take sleeping pills - they don't work and just make me feel weird
  14. There are no teddy bears in our bed
  15. Our hotel room in San Francisco had the creakiest bed of all time
  16. We slept on a futon for several years
  17. We have single duvets, which avoids duvet hogging
  18. We have breakfast in bed every Sunday morning - toast and marmalade and a cup of tea
  19. We change the bed linen often
  20. I can have a completely coherent conversation while I'm asleep, and not remember a word of it the next day
  21. My sex none of your business

Friday 1 October 2021

In a nutshell

Slang is always contro-versial. Is it a valid part of the language or is it something to be avoided? Does it add colour and vividness or is it just sloppy?

Lucy Frame, the principal at a London secondary school, has decided slang should be avoided, though only in lessons and not in the playground. She has declared that if pupils are using slang they aren't expressing themselves clearly and accurately.

I think she's being ridiculous. Everybody uses slang, and why not? Unless it's a term that's offensive or mystifying, what's the problem?

One academic who was asked to comment pointed out that Shakespeare is full of slang and teachers don't see any difficulty with that. He accused the school of "cultural and linguistic snobbery".

All slang really refers to is unfamiliar words that haven't yet become commonplace. But if the unfamiliar word conveys something useful, isn't that what language is all about?

And who decides if a word is slang or just an ordinary, routine word? Who decides for example whether "getting hitched" or "tying the knot" are slang terms or unremarkable bits of English?

If slang just means an unusual and ingenious way of expressing something, I'm all for it. It livens up the language and gets people's attention.

So that's my opinion "in a nutshell". Which might or might not be slang.

PS: The full list of slang banned by the school is:

  • He cut his eyes at me (shot me a withering glance)
  • Oh my days (my goodness)
  • Oh my god
  • That's a neck (you need a slap for that)
  • Wow
  • That's long (boring, tough or tedious)
  • Bare (very, extremely)
  • Cuss (swear or abuse)