Sunday 26 December 2021

Begone, Mr Grumpy

I don't want to become one of those miserable old geezers who're convinced the world is going to pot, nobody does their job properly any more, there are fraudsters everywhere you look, young people have no respect for their elders, motorists drive like maniacs, and good taste is a thing of the past. I want to see the world through a positive lens rather than finding fault with everyone and everything.

If you don't watch yourself, it's easy to slip into habitual pessimism, especially when the media love to focus on disasters and cock-ups rather than most people's uneventful daily lives. Or if you have such a rose-tinted view of the past that today's world seems like a steady decline from once-impeccable standards.

So hopefully I'm still abiding by my pledges against grumpiness (originally drawn up in 2012):

  • I won't moan and groan
  • I won't become a grumpy old man
  • I won't let the world's problems get me down
  • I won't make mountains out of molehills
  • I won't let petty irritations annoy me
  • I won't complain about my bodily deficiencies
  • I won't denigrate other people's lives
  • I won't tell other people what to do*
  • I won't rant and rave
  • I won't demonise young people
  • I won't be cynical
  • I won't be paranoid
  • I won't see the worst in people
  • I won't be nostalgic
  • I won't believe everything was better in the old days
  • I won't think that I know best
  • I won't think life's conspiring against me
  • I won't be offended by bad manners
  • I won't be offended
  • I won't over-react
Of course Jenny might say I'm not as sanguine as I make out, that there's a grumpy old man lurking just under the breezy exterior. Well, if Mr Grumpy does make an appearance, I'm sure she'll silence him pretty promptly.

*except politicians and bankers, obviously

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Reluctant adult

A lot of children want desperately to be adults. They find childhood totally frustrating - always being told what to do, prevented from doing things, treated like idiots, not understanding what the grown-ups are talking about.

They passionately want to be adults so they can do what they want, make their own decisions, understand life a bit better, not be constantly watched.

Not me. I can't remember ever yearning to be an adult or chafing under all the parental restrictions. I think I wanted to be a child forever, always looked after and never having any adult worries.

Even though my childhood was far from ideal, with a bad-tempered father and a dreadful boarding school,  I must have concluded that all things considered perpetual childhood would be the ideal state.

Maybe it was because so many of the adults I came across seemed to have numerous worries and burdens and didn't seem very contented with their lot in life. My parents themselves had been on the verge of divorce at one point and other adults had to cope with huge mortgages, nasty bosses, serious illnesses and endless bills. I could stay a child and avoid all those frightening problems.

I didn't see adulthood as a land of opportunity, more as a land of increasing encumbrances and obstacles. The drawbacks seemed to greatly outweigh the benefits. How often did I hear an adult saying how much they enjoyed being an adult? Not often enough for my liking.

Of course now I've been an adult for so long I can better appreciate the benefits and make light of the encumbrances. But I guess there's still a small part of me that thinks childhood was really rather idyllic and why couldn't I have been a self-indulgent, irresponsible teenager a little longer?

Friday 17 December 2021

High risk

I always wonder what it's like to live with someone in a high risk occupation, or who enjoys high-risk pastimes. Does it terrify them or do they just take it in their stride?

I imagine they must be always scared stiff that their partner will sooner or later have a serious accident and end up either dead or disabled. It would be hard to take it in your stride when there's a very real risk that today might be their last day ever. And if you have children then the possibility of their losing their father is an added worry.

I had a friend once whose husband was a police officer, and I don't think she ever lost her terror of his dying on the job. He worked in a city where acts of violence were common and many police officers had been injured or killed.

The number of high-risk occupations is large. Police, fire fighters, the military, construction, bomb disposal officers, jobs involving hazardous materials, working in a covid ward. Plus the high-risk pastimes like sky-diving, rock-climbing, bungee-jumping and potholing. So there must be many anxious partners out there, trying to suppress their fears and just carry on with their daily life.

Do they try to persuade their partners to do something less risky or do they accept that they love what they do so much they couldn't possibly give it up?

Luckily neither Jenny or I have had high-risk jobs or pastimes. I wonder how I would have coped if Jenny had been a police officer, say. I suspect the answer is not very well. I would have had feverish imaginings of her being caught in some melee involving guns and knives and ruthless criminals. Carrying on with my daily life would have been quite a struggle.

Pic: Israeli police woman

Monday 13 December 2021

Fleeting glamour

I've changed a lot over the years as I've become more worldly-wise and learnt more about the reality of other people's lives. One thing I realised as I got older is that all those jobs I thought were so glamorous as a kid aren't that glamorous at all. Behind the beguiling facade there's always a lot of hard work and stress and self-doubt.

When I was a kid I used to hanker after seemingly glamorous jobs - brain surgeon, airline pilot, journalist, author, artist, film director, rock musician. They all seemed so exciting, so prestigious, so exotic. Gradually it sank in that the reality was rather different from my imaginings.

Jobs that involve relentless global travel and dreary hotel rooms. Jobs that mean working all hours to finish something. Jobs where the customer is never satisfied. Jobs that attract abuse and hate mail. Jobs requiring scrupulous attention to detail for hours on end. Jobs where you're bullied, patronised or sexually harassed.

Yes, I was a journalist for a few years, but there was little glamour involved. I had to write up such mundane events as golden weddings, church fetes, court hearings or the induction of a new mayor. I had to get quotes from politicians who wanted to keep something under wraps. I had to wait in pouring rain for someone important to emerge from a meeting. Hardly an enviable existence.

There are regular reports of someone in some supposedly glamorous occupation being unable to withstand the pressures - succumbing to drug or alcohol addiction, developing mental disorders or even committing suicide. The glamour can wear off very quickly.

The jobs I did after journalism - bookselling, admin worker - were pretty humdrum. Sometimes I thought, maybe I should be doing something more glamorous? Until I realised all the glamour was an illusion.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Set in our ways?

It's a common complaint among younger folk that we oldies are set in our ways, incapable of being flexible or "keeping up with the times". Being set in your ways is seen as something very negative, something to be avoided at all costs.

Well, suppose we look at it another way. Suppose we say the problem's not being set in your ways but what ways you're set in.

If the ways you're set in happen to be positive and sensible - progressive politics, open-mindedness, generosity, kindness, respect for others, supporting the vulnerable - what's wrong with that? Let's have more of it.

But if the ways you're set in aren't so positive - drunkenness, misogyny, narcissism, bullying - then yes, that's not so attractive and you need to change.

If being set in your ways means having firm principles that are of benefit to yourself and others, surely that can only be welcomed. If the alternative is not having any firm principles but simply following the latest trend or doing and saying anything that's convenient, what good is that?

In any case, whatever our age, the reality is we're all set in our ways. We're just set in different ways. Oldies may believe in good manners and thriftiness, but the young may be equally fixated on their own little habits - clubbing, recreational drugs, alcohol, smart phones. They just don't see it as being set in their ways.

I don't mind admitting I'm very intransigent when it comes to treating other people decently and making our society more egalitarian. I don't see any problem with that. I'm not going to chuck all my entrenched beliefs out of the window just because they're not fashionable right now. I'm set in my ways and happily so.

Sunday 5 December 2021

Just suppose

Now here's an interesting mental exercise. Can you imagine a world without celebrities? Without fame? A world where we're all ordinary, anonymous people and nobody is idolised or given special attention? It's almost impossible because the celebrity syndrome is so pervasive.

Just suppose actors and artists and musicians and sportspeople were simply appreciated and their talents recognised, without their being mobbed and obsessed over, without their being accosted and stared at wherever they went, without screaming media headlines when they got divorced or had a baby or wore a risqué dress.

Just suppose nobody cared where Lady Gaga lived or who she lived with or how wealthy she was or what she was wearing or what was her big break or whether she has fibromyalgia or if she gets stage fright or what is her favourite food or what she finds embarrassing. Just suppose people loved her music but had zero interest in her personal life.

Difficult, isn't it? We're so used to this huge stratum of society called celebrities, who get endless attention and adulation simply because they're talented, who're constantly in the media, whose every trivial utterance is treated as if it's the holy grail, that it's almost impossible to imagine their sudden absence. It's easier to imagine the death of the planet than the absence of celebs.

A celeb-free world is a bit easier to imagine here in Northern Ireland where public figures aren't idolised to the same extent as they are in England. In general they're treated as ordinary folk and if they start acting as if they're someone special they're quickly told that they're "losing the run of themselves".

But just suppose there were no celebs. The paparazzi would be out of a job. And the media would have to find some genuine news stories.

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Marriage wreckers

I was revisiting a long-ago post on why marriages collapse. It can happen very easily. All it takes is a total difference of opinion about some pattern of behaviour. What seems quite normal to one of you is baffling and infuriating to the other. Is it about sex? Money? Housework? Politics? Violence? Weirdness?

With Jenny and I, I think the one thing that would absolutely drive us apart is sexism. Jenny has always been a passionate feminist who expects me to do my fair share of the household tasks and treat her with respect and consideration.

If I suddenly became the stereotype bloke, sprawled on the sofa watching Match of the Day and clutching a bottle of beer, while she scuttled round the house with the hoover and changed the bed linen, she wouldn't put up with that for long. I'd be packing my bags and moving out.

Of course there are some strong runners-up as marriage wreckers. Like politics. Jenny and I are both ardent socialists, but if one of us suddenly became a rabid right-winger, banging on about dangerous vaccines and imaginary viruses, that would be pretty terminal.

Like domestic order. We're both minor neat-freaks, wanting everything in its place and a place for everything. If one of us was always messy, never clearing anything up and leaving a trail of clothing and chocolate wrappers and dirty mugs everywhere they went, the other would be driven totally mad.

Like weirdness. We both have our peculiar habits and opinions, but they're all pretty benign - nothing disturbing enough to horrify the other. Nothing to justify a sudden moonlight flit.

And there's the very obvious contender - one of us having an affair. As it happens, neither of us has bowed to temptation, though we may have toyed with the idea on occasion, when someone utterly delicious caught our eye. But apart from anything else, deceit and subterfuge aren't in my nature.

Anyway, Jenny needn't worry too much about an outbreak of sexism.

Match of the Day? I'd rather pluck out my eyeballs.