Wednesday 28 December 2022

The cost of Christmas

A Cardiff woman, Caroline Duddridge, who regularly hosts Christmas dinner for her 11-strong family, was finding the cost quite a financial strain. So she hit on a novel solution - charging them for the meal.

They were asked to pay between £2.50 and £15 according to their ability to pay, which raised about £180. That didn't cover the whole cost but covered quite a lot of it.

She explained that after the death of her husband in 2015, her income was halved and Christmas dinner wasn't so easily afforded. Also, why should the host bear the full financial burden of a slap-up meal?

She says some people have accused her of being a Scrooge, but her friends thought it was a good idea.

I'm a bit divided about this. Yes, she shouldn't have to bear the entire cost of Christmas dinner, especially when there are additional costs for Christmas decorations, Christmas presents, and no doubt plenty of alcohol.

A lot of people get themselves into heavy debt to pay for Christmas, so maybe asking for some help towards the cost is simply sensible.

On the other hand, isn't there a more informal way of covering the cost? Couldn't she just have a quiet word with the attendees and say a contribution to the expense would be much appreciated?

And why is she always the host? Couldn't some other family members host the Christmas dinner?

Apparently quite a few families already make a charge for Christmas dinner. With more and more people facing the rocketing cost of living and finding the price of even everyday meals quite challenging, never mind Christmas, this may be an idea whose time has come.

How else to make ends meet?

Pic: Caroline Duddridge

Saturday 24 December 2022

Things you might not know

I love doing lists, but I haven't done one for a while. So here are some things you might not know (or remember) about me:

  • I don't get jet lag
  • I only have 26 teeth
  • I had a small trace of prostate cancer, which disappeared
  • I don't like red wine
  • I've been a vegetarian for 47 years
  • I often talk to myself
  • I hate long haul flights
  • I can do a perfect Aussie or cockney accent
  • I hate the dark
  • My piano teacher quit, saying I was unteachable
  • I did jury service twice
  • I was a trade union rep for five years
  • I had 12 sessions of psychotherapy
  • I took LSD twice
  • I've given blood 33 times
  • My favourite animal is the squirrel
  • Cats usually run away from me
  • I've lived at 13 different addresses
  • Football leaves me cold
  • I've never worn boxer shorts
Some of these things require explanations, but that could get very long-winded. However, feel free to ask me questions, express disbelief, or have a good laugh.

One comment on the above: It's a shame I didn't apply myself more seriously to learning the piano, as I'm sure if I'd learnt to play properly it would have given me a lot of pleasure. And I could join Jenny, who not only plays piano but has a degree in music. But I don't regret my half-heartedness. I regret nothing.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Bookworm reawakened

Journalist Nancy Jo Sales decided she was too addicted to phones and screens when she realised she had read only five books in 2021, and only eight in 2020. She used to be a compulsive bookworm, devouring books at every opportunity.

She determined to look at screens a lot less and get back to reading books. And she succeeded. She has read 46 books in 2022, and plans to read at least 60 next year. She feels happier, she's sleeping better, and above all it's fun.

Luckily I haven't succumbed to a screen obsession. Not having a smartphone helps. Not having a craving for attention also helps. So I've continued to be a persistent reader, getting through around 60 books a year.

But I'm always astonished when I get on a bus or train nowadays and most of the passengers are on their phones. Not a book in sight. There's so much wonderful stuff to read but they don't want to know. Or am I just a book snob?

I read a lot first thing in the morning, as I often wake up at 4 or 5 am. I also read when I'm waiting to see the doctor or the practice nurse.

I can't read for hours at end, and I don't find anything "un-put-down-able". I read 10 or 20 pages of something and then need to have a break before I continue.

Even if I read a book and conclude that it's a clunker - badly written, hardly any plot, one-dimensional characters and too many loose ends - there's usually something to take away from it, if only a few memorable crooks and eccentrics.

Who could ever forget Ebenezer Scrooge or Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood (or Hermione Granger if you're a Harry Potter fan)?

Friday 16 December 2022

Battered paragons

People from other countries must be fascinated by the way the Sussexes (aka Harry and Meghan) are puncturing the Royal Family's carefully crafted glossy public image by trotting out one unpleasant jibe after another.

For years the Royal Family's operating principle has been to keep quiet about anything unsavoury and only talk about what preserves their innocuous and inoffensive public front.

Now Meghan and Harry are dishing the dirt big-time and making all sorts of scurrilous claims about other members of the Royal Family, and it's not a pretty sight.

I'm not saying anything about their accusations, as I have no idea whether all the stuff they're coming out with is true, exaggerated, embellished or simply made-up. All I know is that they accuse the Royals of racism, bullying, lying, gaslighting, planting negative stories, and treating Meghan like a usurper. And no doubt there are more claims to come.

Certainly the whole saga casts a very unedifying light on the Royals and how they operate behind the scenes. They may seem to be paragons of decency and civilised values but that's now up for debate.

The many admirers of the Royals must be pretty gobsmacked by the ongoing public furore. It seems that in the main they're either defending the Royals against what they see as an unjustified and narcissistic attack on them by a slightly unhinged couple, or they're defending Meghan and Harry against what looks like the Royal Family's undeclared mission to ostracise and discredit them as embarrassing mavericks.

The shine has definitely gone off the Royal Family's reputation, and even the benign charisma of the late Queen is looking a bit questionable.

Pic: Her Majesty is not amused

Monday 12 December 2022

Safer streets?

I'm glad to see that the British government is to outlaw sexual harassment in the street in England and Wales. A long-overdue law is about to be passed, after years of lobbying by cam-paigners.

The law aims to criminalise behaviour such as following someone walking home at night, making obscene or aggressive comments to them, obstructing their path or driving slowly near them in public spaces.

It's certainly about time such widespread harassment (directed at women day in and day out) was stopped so women can walk the streets without being subject to such unwanted behaviour.

I wonder though whether the new law will actually achieve its objective of preventing harassment. It's possible many men will simply ignore the law, assuming either that women won't take any action, or that they can deny any wrongdoing, or that it will be difficult to prove specific acts of harassment. It would be one person's word against another's, as is often the case with rape.

If the woman is harassed by a complete stranger, he can make himself scarce and the woman can do nothing as she can't identify the man in question.

That said, the new law may work like the anti-smoking laws, and there will be a gradual cultural shift in which street harassment becomes as unacceptable and unthinkable as having a fag in a no-smoking area.

I shall be watching the operation of the new law with great interest. But I don't have much confidence that it will stop male pestering.

Thursday 8 December 2022

All too much

Suicide is a very strange business, isn't it? How come people feel so desperate, so helpless, so beleaguered that they resort to such an extreme solution? How come they just want to leave everything behind and end their life?

Sometimes it's understandable that someone has taken that drastic step. Their life is so terrible that more of the same for years to come is simply too much to contemplate. Other times it's a complete mystery. Someone seems to have a great life, with everything going their way, and out of the blue they're found dead.

Why do some people struggle on, however dismal their circumstances, while other just give up and decide it's all too much?

It was very understandable when one of Jenny's old school friends killed herself. She was a diagnosed schizophrenic and had had severe mental health problems for many years. Her quality of life was drastically limited and there was no sign of that ever changing.

But other people are found dead and there were no warning signs whatever. Why they did what they did leaves everyone baffled. Even people who were close to them and knew them really well (or thought they did) can't begin to explain it.

What's truly shocking though is when someone doesn't just take their own life but takes other people with them. This seems to be getting more common. Like the man who killed six people before turning the gun on himself at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia. And the man who killed his wife and three children in a domestic dispute in Phoenix, Arizona, before taking his own life.

They might have been able to explain their own suicide, but how do they justify ending other people's lives as well as their own?

Sunday 4 December 2022

Still shy

I've been shy ever since I can remember. At the age of five I hardly said a word when my mum and I met the headmaster of my first ever school. She had to convince the head that I wasn't normally so quiet and I would open up once I attended the school (which I did, once I was used to the teachers and the other pupils).

There's a difference of opinion about shyness. Some people say it's just selfish, leaving the conversational effort to other people and not offering anything yourself. But you could equally say that chatterboxes are selfish because they hog all the conversation and deter others from speaking.

Is shyness selfish or is it an inherent personality trait that you can't overcome however hard you try? You may really want to gabble away, but you just can't manage to?

Perhaps it's partly that the outgoing types hold opinions and beliefs so passionately that they just have to explain them to other people, while my own opinions are more flimsy and provisional and I'm not confident about airing them?

Perhaps also I'm much more interested in other people's lives, which are full of surprises and fascinating revelations, while my own life seems far too humdrum and routine to appeal to anyone else? Listening to others comes more naturally than talking about myself.

Then again, I'm often rendered shy by anyone who's intimidating or overbearing and doesn't seem to respect me.

Being shy isn't the same as being introverted of course. Shyness means not having the confidence or the ingenuity to chatter away easily, while introversion means enjoying your own company more than the company of others.

So if I enjoy both, what does that make me?

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Fit as a fiddle?

It's generally assumed that to live to a fit old age, you need to stick to a healthy lifestyle. Regular gym workouts, a nutritious diet, no meat-eating, no alcohol or smoking, plenty of exercise.

Well, there are numerous people who've ignored all the medical advice, been conspicuously idle and self-indulgent, who live to a ripe old age anyway. Or of course done all the right things for decades and dropped dead at 60.

My mum didn't bother with medical advice. She never went to a gym, lived on ready meals and processed food, never took much exercise, and lived till she was 96.

Likewise my maternal grandma got little exercise, smoked and drank, never went to a gym (gyms were a rarity in those days), and lived till she was 91.

Some people say the important thing is not your lifestyle but whether you actively enjoy life and fling yourself into it. That'll keep you going when all the world-weary gym enthusiasts and teetotallers quietly fade away.

In any case, do I really want to live to 96 (or even longer)? I imagine I would be so disenchanted by then (not to mention decrepit) I would be happy to bow out.

But even if you have the healthiest lifestyle in the world, a sudden unexpected illness can come along and disable you - or even finish you off. My sister was having a good life until she developed motor neurone disease at 56 (amazingly, she's bed-ridden but still alive 17 years later). There's nothing she could have done to keep it away - what causes MND is still a mystery.

As for me, I have a fairly healthy lifestyle (minus the gym workouts) but I don't kid myself it'll keep me fighting fit. There are plenty of nasties waiting to pounce.

Friday 25 November 2022

Tight lipped

I've tried very hard but I still haven't learnt how to be a chatterbox. I'm far too self-conscious to gabble away effortlessly and not be too worried about other people's reactions.

I listen to the chatterers spilling out their thoughts and wonder how they manage to do it. Are they just natural chatterboxes? Were they encouraged to chatter as children? Do they simply lack the inhibitions that affect others? I wish I had the secret of this very useful ability.

I'm far too aware of other people's possible reactions. Suppose I say something stupid or inappropriate or offensive or nonsensical? And will they be interested in what I'm saying or bored to tears?

Alcohol may loosen some people's tongues but not mine. A glass or two of wine doesn't make me more loquacious, quite the opposite. It's more likely to send me to sleep or block my brain completely.

I'm quite talkative if it's someone I know well and I don't feel they're judging me. Or if we get onto something I'm passionate about. If it's a total stranger and I feel scrutinised, I clam up rapidly.

In my case, the way I was brought up probably has a lot to do with my reticence. My parents and my sister were always quite tight-lipped, speaking only when necessary rather than pouring everything out. Entire meals would be as silent as the grave except for the odd request to pass the salt or the occasional hearty sneeze. My father thought conversation got in the way of eating.

The gift of the gab is a talent that I missed out on.

Monday 21 November 2022

A tragic past

Would you be unable to live in a house where some terrible tragedy occurred, or would you be able to ignore it and carry on with life as usual?

Kincora Boys Home in east Belfast (just down the road from here) is currently being demolished to make way for a new housing development.

The home was once the scene of serious organised child sexual abuse, causing a scandal and attempted cover-up in 1980, with claims of state collusion. It has been quietly rotting ever since, with a lot of people wanting nothing to do with it.

But one developer isn't put off by the site's seedy reputation and work is about to start on a £1.8 million apartment block comprising nine flats.

It's hard to say what my reaction would be if I actually set foot in one of the new flats, but I'd like to think I wouldn't be put off. If the building itself has gone, and the scandal happened over 40 years ago, I'm sure I could easily ignore the history and just get on with my life.

But would it be as simple as that? If I actually lived in one of the new flats, would I be constantly reminded of the past to the extent that it haunted me and forced me to move out?

Certainly a lot of people wouldn't even contemplate living there, given the site's associations. The very idea would horrify them.

Jenny is quite sure she couldn't live in a place that had such a dark pall hanging over it. She couldn't possibly ignore what had gone on there previously.

It remains to be seen whether the new apartments will be sold easily or whether prospective buyers will give them a wide berth.

Pic: Kincora Boys Home

Wednesday 16 November 2022

Paint throwers

A man and a woman have been charged with criminal damage, disorderly behaviour and burglary after throwing paint at a Barclays Bank in Belfast city centre. The two protesters from Extinction Rebellion want an end to fossil fuel extraction, which Barclays finances.

I have to say I don't support the protest because it's unnecessary. There are plenty of people urging an end to fossil fuel extraction so the message is well and truly out there without the need for such vandalism.

Extinction Rebellion maintain that nobody is taking the accelerating climate breakdown seriously enough and they're making these dramatic protests to bring some urgency to the situation.

They've also thrown paint at valuable paintings, halted traffic on the M25 motorway, halted public transport, blocked oil facilities and glued themselves to buildings and roads.

It all generates eye-catching media headlines, but what has it actually achieved? Fossil fuel extraction is still going on at the same rate, or even increasing according to some reports. 

Some of the protests have caused serious problems for those caught up in them. During the motorway protests people were unable to get to work, unable to keep hospital appointments or have operations, and unable to reach dying relatives. Not surprisingly, a majority of the public disapprove of these protests.

I'm not dogmatically against political protests. In the right circumstances and carried out in the right way, they can be very effective. I remember taking part in the poll tax protests in London in 1990, which ended in a riot and helped bring about the cancellation of the new tax.

But disrupting people's everyday lives to make an already well-publicised point is never going to be popular.

Pic: Barclays Bank, Belfast city centre

Friday 11 November 2022

Who needs presents?

Journalist Allison Pearson says she's lost count of the number of people who have told her they're not buying or expecting presents for Christmas. Gifts for the children, yes, but not for adult relatives or friends.

When so many people are watching the pennies because of the cost of living crisis, having to exchange Christmas presents is an expense they could do without. And how many people even appreciate the pricy gifts they're presented with?

I think she's right. Yes, children expect presents and will be sorely disappointed if they don't get any. But adults don't need presents. Allison would rather people brought a bit of food and drink, or simply loaded the dishwasher. That would be warmly welcomed.

Jenny and I decided some time ago not to give each other presents for Christmas or birthdays. We were always racking our brains for something suitable and drawing a blank. We realised that all we really wanted at Christmas was just some tasty food, a glass or two of wine, something entertaining on the telly, and a few games of Scrabble. Presents weren't necessary.

Lots of people get into huge debts at Christmas because they feel obliged to give presents to all and sundry but simply can't afford it. Then they spend months trying to pay off the debts and maybe failing to do so. But media images of Christmas, with vast piles of presents under a Christmas tree, perpetuate the idea that it's normal to give presents and not giving any is unthinkable.

Well, perhaps we would start thinking the unthinkable.

Monday 7 November 2022

Trashing celebs

One of the hardest things to adjust to if you're an up-and-coming celebrity must be the fact that everyone can write about you and they can be as abusive and malicious and vitriolic as they want, they can spread lies and half-truths and scurrilous accusations, and there's very little the person targeted can do about it.

They can demand a retraction or correction, but won't necessarily get one. They can sue for libel but that's expensive and chancy. They can use an interview to try and scotch the most ludicrous stories and inventions, but people might still believe them anyway.

It's all a bit like trying to hold back floodwaters with a bucket. So much is being written about you on such a colossal scale, it's impossible to react to more than a tiny percentage. The rest you just have to do your best to ignore.

Knowing that so much hostile and trumped-up nonsense is being aimed at you day after day must be a very surreal and unnerving experience.

What feeds this unwanted deluge of commentary is the general assumption that the writers are simply exercising freedom of speech and can therefore say what they like as long as it's legal. And also the assumption that celebs are "fair game" and being subject to venomous criticism goes with the territory.

Then again, some celebs actually welcome everything that's written about them, however derogatory. They just revel in all the attention as it shows that they're famous and controversial and they've caused millions of people to focus on them.

Personally I'm glad absolutely nothing is being written about me and I can enjoy the cosy cocoon of total anonymity.

Thursday 3 November 2022

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Going back to dress codes, I see that school pupils are still being told to change their "unacceptable" hairstyles, and can face expulsion if their refuse.

So I'm pleased that the equality body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has just advised schools not to penalise pupils with afros because that's a form of racism.

Unfortunately the guidance only applies to afros and not to other hairstyles. And it says nothing about workplaces, which might also be picky about hairstyles.

I've never understood why schools and workplaces are so censorious about someone's hairstyle, if in most cases their hairstyle makes no difference to anything. I accept that a hairstyle may be objected to if it's a safety hazard, like long hair if you're using dangerous machinery, but otherwise, why all the fuss?

A pupil's unusual hairstyle won't stop them learning, and an employee's odd hairstyle won't stop them doing their job.

Strangely enough, neither me nor any other boy at my two schools were ever ticked off for unacceptable hairstyles. That was partly because in those days most boys opted for an unadventurous "short back and sides". They didn't have long hair as that only became popular after I left school in 1965. And they didn't dye their hair as that was seen as effeminate. But even those boys with a slicked back Elvis hairstyle were never told off. Hair just wasn't controversial.

Of course beards are never in contention for schoolboys as you can only grow a beard from around the age of 18. But there are still workplaces that ban them as "unprofessional". As a bookseller, my hairstyle was never questioned. If I had had hair down to my ankles nobody would have objected, though they might have wondered how on earth I washed it.

Sunday 30 October 2022

Falling chimney

Two of you asked me for more details of the falling chimney that almost finished me off.

I was a child at the time (not sure what age). I came home from school one afternoon and as I usually did I walked down the narrow alley between my parents' house and the house beside it and went in through the back door.

A few minutes later there was an almighty crash and I discovered that the chimney had collapsed and fallen into the alley. If I had got home a few minutes later I would have been badly injured or even dead.

An experience like that tends to linger in the back of your mind. When we moved into this house it had a slightly leaning chimney and I was always a bit nervous that it would collapse, despite several roof specialists saying it was structurally sound. We finally had the chimney removed to cure a persistent roof leak and I was relieved that it had gone.

But things like the falling chimney remind me of how we assume safety and security and pretend disasters will never happen. Or we're sure they'll happen to other people and not us. Or we say they're statistically unlikely.

Well, you have to think like that, don't you? If I constantly conjured up all the disasters that might befall me (burglaries, car crashes, internet fraud, muggings) life would become impossible, I'd be a nervous wreck.

In fact the nearest I've ever come to a serious disaster is some hair-raising near misses when I was driving a bit carelessly. If it hadn't been for some quick evasive action by other drivers it could have been nasty.

But hey, I lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Question time

It's a long time since I did a Question and Answer, so I thought I'd do another one. Respectable questions only of course, nothing too outrageous. So there's no need to brace yourself.

  • What is your greatest fear? Creepy-crawlies. They move so fast.
  • When were you happiest? Now. Retirement is very liberating.
  • What personal trait do you deplore? Non-existent cooking skills.
  • And in others? Arrogance, narcissism, self-righteousness.
  • Your biggest embarrassment? Drinking too much and being violently sick.
  • Describe yourself in three words. Quiet, anxious, friendly.
  • What do you dislike about your appearance? Nothing.
  • What would your superpower be? Knowing the future.
  • Apart from property, what's your dearest purchase? Cars and holidays.
  • Your most unappealing habit? Being shy and tongue-tied.
  • What scares you about ageing? Possibly getting a disabling illness.
  • Your celebrity crush? I don't have one. I don't put celebs on a pedestal.
  • Would you choose fame or anonymity? Anonymity. Fame is a nightmare.
  • Who should you say sorry to? An old girlfriend I abruptly jilted.
  • Who would you most like to be? No one. I'm quite happy with myself.
  • When did you last cry? At my mum's funeral.
  • Any brushes with death? I was almost crushed by a falling chimney.
  • Would you prefer sex, money or fame? Money, in case I live to 100.
  • An important life lesson? Don't judge by appearances.
  • Tell us a secret. But then it wouldn't still be a secret.
(Questions pinched from the Guardian)

Friday 21 October 2022

Casual fling

One thing that's changed for the better during my lifetime is clothing etiquette. Clothing was much more formal when I was young, but over the years has become increasingly casual and relaxed.

Where once men were expected to wear suits and ties for all sorts of professional and white collar jobs, now they're often in open-neck shirts and loose-fitting pants. Women might be wearing something similar rather than tight skirts and high heels.

There's no longer a strict ban on fancy hairdos, excessive jewellery, unusual nail polish (i.e. not red), unusual tights (i.e. not flesh coloured), flashy earrings, tattoos and piercings (though a tattoo reading "I'm overworked and underpaid" might raise a few eyebrows).

Anyway the change is fine by me. I'm not bothered by people's clothing so much as whether they can do their job efficiently. Obviously I would draw the line at pyjamas or dungarees or bikinis but comfortable, easy to wear clothing seems better than formal clothing that's restrictive and annoying.

I know some people aren't happy with the changing expectations, and insist formal clothing makes them more confident in the wearer's abilities, but I think that's more a lingering opinion than a serious argument.

Even on special occasions like funerals and weddings, where dark suits and formal clothing used to be obligatory, many attendees now dress quite casually or even flamboyantly. I once felt embarrassed that all I had to wear for a funeral was a bright green jacket, but today nobody would bat an eyelid.

What's more, suits can be very pricey and tough on your budget, so making them optional is a positive step forward.

Luckily I've mostly had jobs where casual clothing is the norm, so I haven't actually owned a suit since my early twenties. I was glad to get rid of it.

Monday 17 October 2022

Retired and annoyed

I tend to get annoyed when someone asks how my retirement is going, and I'm trying to work out why. I think it's because either they're expecting me to say it's fantastic and everything's a bed of roses, or alternatively that it's dreadful and I wish I was back at work. But the reality isn't so black and white.

There does seem to be a common assumption that retirement is great and there's no downside, that you're rolling in money and always off on the next cruise or the next luxury city break.

Of course this wonderful image is half-true at best, as the minuses of retirement are usually glossed over or spun as if they're benefits. To name a few:

  • You might have medical problems that limit what you can do
  • You might be expected to look after boisterous and exhausting grandchildren
  • You might be very short of money
  • You might miss your old workmates
  • You might feel isolated or lonely or bored
  • You might have to care for frail elderly relatives
At the moment I'm genuinely enjoying retirement, though I do sometimes feel isolated and a bit lonely. It's hard to make new friends and acquaintances to replace the friends you worked with. Many people are so consumed with the day-to-day demands of their family they simply have no time for new friends.

The other thing that annoys me is someone asking what I do now I'm retired, as if, stripped of employment, I have no other interests and don't know what to do with myself. Why should I have to justify my retirement with a list of worthy activities? Why shouldn't I just watch rubbish TV all day if I feel like it?

How's my retirement going? Is that a trick question?

Thursday 13 October 2022

Will trickster

Wills are normally dealt with behind closed doors and out of the public eye. It's generally assumed that the will was properly dealt with and the named beneficiaries got whatever was due to them.

But I've commented before that there's little official monitoring of how wills are handled, and there's plenty of scope for skullduggery and fraud if someone is so minded.

As the sole executor of my mum's will, I could easily have siphoned off a large sum by making out she had less money than she actually had. Nobody would have been the wiser as I was the only one with access to all her bank accounts and the true amount in them.

My sister, brother in law and niece all trusted me to deal with the will honestly. I gave them full details of all financial transactions and they never asked me any awkward questions.

It's rare for someone to be taken to court for mishandling a will, but the High Court has just jailed Mark Totton after he failed to pass on £237,500 to his mother's grandson and granddaughter. He has also refused to explain what happened to the money and has given no indication it will be forthcoming.

He was jailed for contempt of court for not providing information about the estate and constantly flouting court orders to do so. He was also ordered to pay the legal bills for his niece and nephew, some £18,000.

He claimed he had suffered depression because of the row over his mother's will - a row caused by his own trickery!

I wonder what happened to the missing money. Is it just salted away in some secret account or has he spent it on wine, women and song?

Pic: Mark Totton

Sunday 9 October 2022

Doodle house

Would you be happy to live in a house that's covered with doodles from top to bottom? With not a single square inch left uncovered - doodles on absolutely everything from walls and ceilings to beds and kitchen utensils.

Twenty eight year old Kent artist Sam Cox became so fascinated with doodles that he decided to cover his entire house with them. Luckily his wife Alena seems to be as keen on the doodles as he is.

He says the couple who sold him the house begged him not to doodle on the walls but he ignored them. "They told me, whatever you do, please don't doodle. I didn't listen."

There's no way I could live in a house festooned with doodles. They would just be too overwhelming, too disturbing. And surely with doodles everywhere you look, you'd be dreaming of the wretched things?

The artist claims he hasn't had any complaints from his neighbours yet - so he has no plans to tone down the property's appearance or move house any time soon.

If he ever wanted to sell the house, I imagine not many people would like the idea of living with wall-to-wall doodles rather than more conventional decor. I doubt if suburban Kent is ready for such avant-garde eccentricity.

What do you think? Could you live with thousands of doodles or would you run a mile?

PS: Lots more pictures in the link above

Wednesday 5 October 2022

Petty peeves

There are the major annoyances that drive you crazy. Then there are the petty irritations that niggle at you but are more or less endurable.

I stumbled on an old post about a journalist with twenty five of his petty irritations. I didn't actually list my own, so here are some of them now.

  • Loud music in restaurants and coffee shops. I have to almost shout to be heard. If I ask for the music to be turned down, they adjust it very marginally.
  • Doorstep chuggers*. A Red Cross person appeared yesterday, and I told him we already donated to the Red Cross. He laughed as if this was a joke.
  • Loud phone conversations on trains and buses. Can't they wait until they get off? Can't they text instead?
  • Changing layouts in supermarkets. I knew where the tofu was but now it's been relocated goodness knows where. Why oh why?
  • Cashpoints declining my card. So I insert the card again and it's fine. Presumably some random security measure.
  • TV adverts. None of which interest me. I don't need pant-liners or perfumes or hair conditioners. Just get on with the programme.
  • Incorrect weather forecasts. It's pouring with rain but the forecast said dry all day. The best bet is still to look out of the window.
  • Cyclists riding on pavements. I understand why - they don't want to ride on busy main roads. But it takes pedestrians by surprise.
  • Misdelivered mail. Both our own and our neighbours'. Luckily people are kind enough to redeliver the mail.
  • Untrained dogs the owners can't control. They leap on me and sniff me, while the owner mutters some feeble apology. Just keep Fido to yourself!
The only one on the original list was loud phone talkers on public transport. If you're curious, the list is here.

*Chuggers: charity muggers

Saturday 1 October 2022

Trigger puzzle

I don't understand how the TV companies decide on trigger warnings. They give frequent warnings about things that seem trivial, but ignore things that seem much more important.

Most TV dramas start with a warning that the programme contains strong language and violence. But how likely are these things to trigger a seriously distressing or traumatic reaction?

Surely most people are well used to strong language and aren't going to collapse if they hear the words "fuck" or "arsehole" or "bastard". Likewise they're well used to scenes of violence and won't have a meltdown if they see a punch-up.

On the other hand there are no warnings about, say, rape or torture or self-harming, which I would have thought could be genuinely distressing if you've had personal experience of any of those things.

I've seen some quite horrific scenes in TV dramas that deserved serious trigger warnings, but there weren't any and such scenes come as a total surprise. So as I say, why are some things flagged up while others are ignored?

Furthermore, why are trigger warnings only given on TV dramas? News bulletins and newspapers are probably far more likely to include disturbing scenes and reports, yet there are no trigger warnings.

Do they assume news watchers are immune from emotional distress and need no warnings? Or else there are so many things likely to upset them it would be impractical to list every single possibility?

Or is there a tendency to avoid trigger warnings in case too many people stop watching?

Trigger warning: this blog may contain dodgy opinions and inebriated nonsense. You are advised not to show it to gullible children or snooty aunts.

Tuesday 27 September 2022

Crumbling respect

The respect for authority figures that was the norm when I was growing up has gradually crumbled over the years. Crumbled so far in fact that it has almost gone into reverse, with more and more people saying they distrust "experts" and other authority figures and intent on going their own way.

When I was young, people generally submitted to every sort of authority figure. Be they doctors, teachers, parents, government ministers, civil servants or police officers, we did what they asked us to do because obviously we were ignorant young dimwits and they were older and wiser.

That attitude slowly caved in and people started to question authority figures and the idea that they knew best. Did they really know best or were they fallible individuals who could get things horribly wrong as well as totally right?

Confidence in experts has been shaken by a constant succession of disasters and blunders. Like the inferno at Grenfell Tower, which was covered in inflammable cladding. Like incompetent surgeons who leave patients in agony. Like houses that are knowingly built on flood plains.

Bit by bit automatic respect for authority figures has drained away as people got the confidence to challenge what they said. And quite right too. Instead of assuming they won't be questioned, they have to justify their opinions and take people's scepticism into account.

That questioning can be overdone of course. Those people who say they never trust an expert and rely on their own judgment are taking distrust too far. They're often grossly misinformed and horribly wrong themselves.

We need a happy medium where the opinions of experts aren't instantly dismissed but carefully examined and evaluated before we rely on them.

Thursday 22 September 2022

Being offended

The big feature of cancel culture (aka polarisa-tion) is that it puts "being offended" into a whole new context. "Being offended" has suddenly become a huge deal, a hazardous minefield to be traversed with difficulty.

When I was young, if someone was offended, it was just a routine human reaction, like being upset or scared or sad or disappointed. If you were offended, you either shrugged it off or asked the person to apologise. And that was that.

Now it's practically a mortal sin to offend someone. Everything you do or say has to be vetted in advance in case it might offend someone. You're meant to know exactly what might cause offence and avoid it.

"Being offended" is no longer enough. The offence must now be "purged". The person concerned must not only apologise profusely, they must be abused and ostracised, punished in some way, even sacked from a job they may have done for decades.

If the offence is a thing, the offending book or article or statue must be banned, destroyed or otherwise removed from the public gaze. Whether the book has literary merit, or the statue has cultural significance, is beside the point.

It's not enough to say, Oh well that book was of its time, you'd expect some dubious references, a bit of racism or sexism, but it's not the end of the world, it's still a great bit of writing and people still enjoy it. Trying to obliterate it is an absurd over-reaction.

Unfortunately the new obsession with "being offended" means that people hesitate to discuss certain sensitive subjects for fear of the reaction and are effectively silenced. How can that be a good thing?

Sunday 18 September 2022

Believe it or not

It never ceases to amaze me how people will believe not only the unlikely but the clearly impossible. Even if other people pick a hundred holes in whatever they're champion-ing, they take no notice. I guess it's true that people often believe what they want to believe.

The Queen's death has been the signal for a tsunami of nonsense about the royal family, most of it totally absurd but eagerly propagated day after day.

One of the most bizarre is a video that criticises Meghan Markle for wearing an old outfit of Diana's at the Queen's funeral. This is despite the fact that the funeral won't even take place until tomorrow. But hey, that's just a minor detail.

Then there are the claims that some public figure has actually died and been replaced by a look-alike, the best-known example being Paul McCartney. Supposedly he died in a car crash on 9 November 1966.

The claim that the US's last Presidential election was rigged and that actually it was won by Donald Trump also widely persists despite numerous declarations that the election was completely fair and legitimate with no evidence of fraud.

Many people still believe it's possible to change sex even though it isn't. If you challenge them with the biological facts, they simply reiterate their opinion.

And then there are those who deny that major events ever happened - like the moon landing, 9/11, the covid virus and the Holocaust.

How do people manage to have such baseless beliefs despite all the opposing evidence? How do they convince themselves that they're right? It intrigues me.

The only blatantly false belief I've ever held is the existence of Santa Claus. I was ten before the truth dawned on me. No idea why it took me so long.

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Tact shortage

Tact. "Skill and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues". A word that isn't used much these days, but perhaps it should be. It seems to me our society has become conspicuously tactless.

Many people feel free to blurt out whatever nonsense comes to mind, or to act in a clumsy and thoughtless fashion, regardless of how their words and actions might be perceived by others.

I'm thinking for example of the dozens of employees of Clarence House, the King's current residence, who were abruptly informed by email that they would be sacked. Could they not have been given the news in person?

I'm thinking of all those people who criticise celebrities, picking holes in every aspect of their personalities and their lives, oblivious to how upsetting this might be to those on the receiving end day after day.

Likewise, all the abuse directed at frontline employees who're simply trying to do their job and aren't responsible for their employer's failings - shop assistants, doctors' receptionists, paramedics, call centre staff, delivery drivers.

Then there are the MPs bullying and harassing their personal staff, who are expected to put up with such behaviour by "taking the rough with the smooth".

Some people might say that Brits habitually employ a very British form of tact - not mentioning a subject at all in case they offend someone. They avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics, the royal family, transgender and relationship breakdowns for fear of the reaction.

But it seems to me that nowadays such diplomatic silence is not so common and people are holding forth on anything they feel strongly about, regardless of how it might go down with their listeners.

Do tell me I'm wrong and there's plenty of tact around - I'm just not noticing it.

Saturday 10 September 2022

Ready to go

One thing Jenny and I have never dared to do is take on a "fixer-upper" (a crumbling old house that needs a lot of work to put it right) and spend the next few years living with constant building work and all the related disturbance.

We were thinking of building an extension onto our previous house, but thought better of it in the end. We thought the complexities of it all would stress us out alarmingly - working out exactly what we wanted done, getting planning permission, finding a good builder, putting up with all the disruption, keeping a close eye on the work in progress, and deciding on all the interior fixtures and fittings.

Now it would probably be out of the question anyway as building costs have rocketed and initial estimates of the cost of building work are being so greatly increased that they become unaffordable. People often run out of money half-way through the project and have to take out extra loans.

One thing that delighted us about our current house was that absolutely nothing needed to be done to it, we could just move into a comfortable home and enjoy it. It had already been extended to create a huge kitchen-diner and extra bedrooms.

As for actually building your own house, nothing would have induced us to do something so daunting. Jenny and I are fans of the "Grand Designs" TV programme, in which people build their own houses and invariably run into all sorts of unforeseen and costly problems along the way. What's remarkable is their resilience and determination to keep going in the face of one crisis after another.

No fixer-uppers for us. Give us a ready-to-go every time.


So the Queen has died and King Charles takes over. A very simple news item, which for some reason calls for voluminous news coverage. You'd think war had been declared or an earthquake had destroyed London or there'd been a nuclear explosion. Oh well, let's see what Charles makes of the job.

Tuesday 6 September 2022

Globe trotting

It's taken for granted nowadays that tourism and travelling around the world is completely normal, and anyone who prefers to stay at home is a bit weird. Don't they want to see other countries, sample other cultures, see how other people do things?

When I was a child, this huge appetite for global tourism didn't exist. Most people took their holidays in domestic seaside resorts and had no wish to jet off to some far-flung location. Did that mean their lives were somehow impoverished? I don't think so. They just didn't have the modern wanderlust.

But is mass tourism necessarily a good thing? Personally I think it's gone too far. Many popular holiday spots are now so overwhelmed by tourists that the local infrastructure and services can't cope and longstanding residents up sticks and move somewhere quieter.

The huge extent of air travel that underpins this feverish globe-trotting is not only polluting the planet but has led to declining in-flight comfort as airlines cram more and more passengers into their planes.

So what is gained from all this travelling around? Are people generally better-informed, more open-minded, more interesting? Not that I've noticed. People can fly all over the world and still be remarkably ignorant and ethnocentric.

I've got to the age when I've lost the taste for long-distance travelling, now that my energy levels are less than they were. And I'm happy to stay at home. It doesn't make you an unadventurous stick-in-the-mud. It doesn't mean you're uninterested in the rest of the world. After all nowadays you can find out anything you want about other countries by half an hour's googling.

It seems to me this escalating desire to zoom all over the globe has got a bit out of hand. Why not appreciate our own country a bit more?

Friday 2 September 2022

Goodbye cycling

The only time I've cycled regularly was between the ages of 18 and 20 when I didn't have a car and as a local journalist I needed to travel around to interviews and meetings. I've often thought about taking up cycling again but never done so.

Cycling was safe enough when I was a teenager. There were far fewer cars on the road and cyclists weren't routinely insulted and provoked by motorists as they are now. Cyclists were respected and treated as bona fide road users.

A number of things have put me off cycling again. There's the abuse and contempt just mentioned. Why should cyclists have to put up with that?

Then there's the lack of dedicated cycle paths. Mostly you have to cycle on main roads, competing with speeding motorists, massive lorries and parked traders' vans. The risk of an accident is pretty high. For cycling to be totally safe, there would have to be set-apart cycle paths completely separate from roads and vehicles. Unfortunately that would require a lot of spare space next to roads, which in most cases simply doesn't exist. So dicing with death on busy roads it is.

There's also the possibility of theft. The rate of bicycle theft has gone down, but it's still pretty huge - around 150,000 thefts a year in the UK.

If I even float the idea of cycling to Jenny, she says it's far too dangerous and virtually forbids it. I think she's right though, it's very hazardous. I watch wobbling cyclists trying to manoeuvre around heavy traffic and they do look horribly vulnerable. Unlike motorists, they don't have a metal shell around them to provide some protection.

So much as I would love a few energetic cycle rides, I'm not taking it any further.

Monday 29 August 2022

Why a pre nup?

Pre nuptial agreements have been around for a while, but most couples still marry without one. Are they a good idea or not? Certainly Jenny and I never considered a pre nup, we just expected each other to behave sensibly in any sort of crisis.

The usual objection to pre nups is that they immediately imply you don't trust each other and need elaborate safeguards to stop the other person behaving badly.

I guess most couples assume the marriage will work out just fine and there's no need to provide for all sorts of unlikely situations. Even if they know how many marriages collapse, they still don't think their own marriage might crumble.

I had a look at what pre nups usually cover:

  • Rights over property, inheritances and other assets
  • Protecting each spouse from the other's debts
  • Each spouse's entitlement to the other's support
  • How assets will be split if you divorce
  • Providing for children by a previous marriage
Jenny and I have never had a dispute over any of these things (we have no children to worry about). We agreed very early on that all our assets would be jointly owned and we wouldn't have separate bank accounts. This has worked well and neither of us is secretly salting away thousands of pounds or trying to claim sole ownership of the house.

People do add some unusual provisions to pre nups. An American couple agreed that if one of them cheated on the other, they would then have to pay all the household bills. Other pre nups have included the right to random drug tests on a spouse, the condition that a husband watches only one football game a week, and restrictions on the use of social media.

Pre nups might very well avoid some of the nastier marital bust-ups. But who wants to envisage bust-ups when you're still besotted with each other?

Thursday 25 August 2022

Beyond my ken

There are many things people do that leave me scratching my head in bewilderment. Why do people do these things? What's the great attraction? Oh well, different strokes for different folks, as they say.

And what are all the things that puzzle me? I listed some of them a few years back. Mostly they still apply.

  • The obsession with celebrities
  • Tattoos
  • Tongue-piercing
  • Stag and hen weekends
  • The prejudice against public services
  • Posting naked selfies on Facebook
  • Wearing a face veil
  • Having private quarrels in public
  • Personalised number plates
  • Going mental on a plane
  • Nouvelle cuisine
  • Barbecues
  • Thongs*
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Weddings on the other side of the world
  • Gangnam
  • Letting kids run wild
  • Teeth whitening
  • Designer labels
  • Lads' mags
The gangnam fashion didn't last very long, so I think I'll substitute bottled water. Why pay through the nose for something that's no better than tap water - and may actually be tap water?**

Luckily I've never been on a stag weekend (and never been invited to one). It's hard to imagine anything I'd enjoy less. And thankfully I grew up at a time when naked selfies were unheard of. When nakedness in general was something to be studiously avoided. I also grew up at a time when barbecues were a quaint custom in far-flung countries like Australia, where rain was virtually unheard-of. Somehow they caught on in the wet and gloomy UK.

*that's the underwear and not the Aussie footwear

**an estimated 25 per cent or more of bottled water is just tap water

Sunday 21 August 2022

Hugs and kisses

For as long as I can remember, I've been very physically demon-strative. I love hugging and kissing and holding hands, to me it's friendly and it's fun and it makes me feel closer to someone.

I think it's partly a reaction to my parents, who weren't very keen on physical affection. My father avoided it completely, while my mother stopped hugging and kissing me after she heard it might turn me into a homosexual (I know, it's hard to believe people actually thought that way).

So I'm happy to kiss and hug anyone who fancies a bit of kissing and hugging. Like me, some people enjoy it and can't get enough. Others recoil from it, seeing it as something affected and unnecessary, strictly the province of celebrities and chat-show hosts. I certainly wouldn't force a hug on someone who seemed unwilling.

I'm not ruling out men. I know affectionate physical gestures between heterosexual men are generally seen as a bit peculiar and even threatening, but I've never felt that. Why shouldn't men get the same pleasure from a kiss or a hug as women?

It may come as a shock to some (or it may not) that I've kissed hundreds of men. The explanation is simple. When I supported the Gay Liberation Front in the early 1970s it was the custom at meetings to greet your friends with a kiss. Not wanting to appear unfriendly or staid or homophobic, I followed suit and merrily kissed every man I met, even casual acquaintances. It was greatly enjoyable.

But for most men, shaking hands is all they can manage. My brother in law is strictly a hand-shaker, and clearly very suspicious of anything more affectionate. He doesn't know what he's missing.

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Alive and kicking

There's a British TV drama right now called "Marriage", which depicts marriage as being boring, frustrating and claustro-phobic. It may seem like a blissful union to start with, is the message, but as time goes by it'll become something very tedious and joyless.

Most of the critics agreed. Marriage sooner or later turns rotten, this is a brilliant portrayal of what it becomes, telling it like it is etc.

Well, Jenny and I couldn't recognise this depressing view of marriage. Is the typical long-term marriage really so dismal and vacuous? Are couples really so non-communicative, so ground-down, so forlorn?

Our marriage may go back 27 years but as far as we're concerned it's still very much a "blissful union" and we don't at all feel it's degenerated into something tedious and joyless. We get on very well, we enjoy doing things together, we have wonderful conversations about everything under the sun, we resolve our differences easily, and there's lots of laughter and excitement.

We don't feel there's anything lacking in our relationship. We don't think that maybe we'd be better off with someone else. We don't think we've taken some wrong turning and landed up somewhere we don't want to be. We're very happy just where we are.

If the average marriage really is as dismal as this TV drama makes out, I feel sorry for all those couples trapped in such an unsatisfying situation. Did they just marry the wrong person in the first place, have they simply lost interest in each other, or do they lack the skills needed to reinvigorate a tired relationship?

All I can say is, Jenny and I are very lucky our marriage hasn't become so "hollowed out" and is still alive and kicking.

Saturday 13 August 2022

Enough is enough

Why do some people think it's okay to force their beliefs or their principles onto others, along with abuse, threats and self-righteous moralising? Where does this creeping authoritarianism come from?

An Isle of Wight restaurant has stopped offering vegan dishes because of "nasty" and "bullying" vegans who constantly complained about what was on offer.

They used to cater for vegans. They had vegan cream teas, even BLT sandwiches with vegan bacon. But they got tired of the "holier than thou" attitude of vegan customers and the abuse directed at restaurant staff.

Now they have no vegan dishes at all. Owner Sally Cooper says it isn't a given that they should adapt their menus to suit the customers. "If you want vegan food, go to a vegan restaurant. If I went to a vegan restaurant and asked for a steak I wouldn't get one, nor would I expect to."

Jenny and I are both vegetarians, and we're sometimes disappointed by the small number of vegetarian options on a restaurant's menu, but we wouldn't dream of telling the restaurant to change its menu for our convenience. If we're not happy, we can always go somewhere else.

We accept that most people are meat-eaters, and very unlikely to change, so of course restaurant menus are going to be meat-based. We just have to work around that situation to cater for our own tastes.

It would be a shame if people concluded that vegans are rude intolerant individuals who just want to force their own dietary preferences onto other people. As anyone with vegan friends could tell you, that's not the case.

Pic: the restaurant in Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Tuesday 9 August 2022

Something to loathe

When I'm constantly reading about other people's obsession with their bodies and what they look like, all the bits they dislike and want to change, I wonder why I give so little thought to my own body and why I'm not fretting in similar vein about all the bits I'm dissatisfied with.

As long as I look fairly normal and don't have four ears or twenty fingers, I take my body for granted and only give it serious attention when I'm buying clothes or shaving or showering. The rest of the time my body might be non-existent, just a sort of ghostly form hovering around me.

Why would I dislike my nose, or mouth, or hair, or tummy bulge, or protruding ears, or wobbly bits or wrinkles? They just are what they are. I've much more interesting things to think about than my skinny lips or my bald patch.

People often explain their bodily discontent by saying they lack self-confidence and changing this thing they dislike would give them a boost. But surely self-confidence stems from something far more basic than your physical appearance?

Or is it absolutely natural to dislike bits of your body, meaning I'm some kind of weirdo for not doing so? Should I be peering in the mirror every morning and finding something I loathe? Should I be desperately unhappy about my tummy bulge and planning some plastic surgery?

No, I refuse to abhor my body. It's not the ideal male body (whatever that might be) but it's good enough for me. Other people might think I could "improve" something or other but their opinions don't interest me.

I'm leaving my sticky-out ears just as they are, thanks. Sticky-out ears are super-cool.

Friday 5 August 2022

Clothing watch

Why the endless media obsession with the clothes worn by celebs? Who made them, how much they cost, whether they've been worn more than once, which celeb is wearing the most stunning dress etc.

Right now, it's the politicians who're being scrutinised. Like the two MPs vying to be the next Prime Minister. Apparently Rishi Sunak was wearing £450 shoes from Prada, while Liz Truss was wearing £4.50 earrings from Claire's Accessories.

Why on earth does it matter? Does Rishi Sunak's choice of shoes mean he'll make a better Prime Minister? Do they mean he's profligate and squanders money, while Liz Truss is more financially prudent and spends frugally? No, I don't think so either.

Male MPs usually manage to avoid clothing-censure by wearing the standard masculine uniform - shirt, tie and (dark-coloured) suit. If they ever dared to wear anything more casual, they'd get a swift rebuke. Woe betide the MP who turns up in purple hair, a pink suit and Crocs.

The obsession with celebrity clothing peaks at award ceremonies. All the female attendees are expected to wear some sensational outfit, and there's frenzied discussion of which celeb trounced all the others.

The celebs squeeze themselves into some tight-fitting ensemble they can hardly breathe in, just to make the maximum impression on the clothing-watchers. Apparently Kim Kardashian lost over a stone to get into a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe.

Celebs are regularly ticked off for wearing scruffy casual clothes on an everyday shopping trip, as if they're somehow "letting down their fans" or "letting themselves go". Are they seriously expected to go shopping in a Dior gown and stilettos?

Final thought: If President Zelensky can do his job in a t shirt and combat pants, why can't British MPs?

Monday 1 August 2022

There were benefits

Up to now I've always looked back on my boarding school years in a very negative way. I was bullied constantly, the quality of teaching was poor, emotions were suspect, I had to play rugby and cricket though I had no interest in sport, there was a big emphasis on religion though I was an atheist and so on.

But the school did have its benefits, some of which have greatly improved my life, and I need to acknowledge those benefits.

Alcohol was forbidden, smoking was forbidden, and drugs weren't available since the rest of the town was "out of bounds". There was no gambling. So there was no chance of becoming any kind of addict. Sex and dating were forbidden, so there was no risk of getting a girl pregnant or having under-age sex. Or for that matter becoming a sex addict. And being cut off from the town, there was little chance of committing crimes like shoplifting or vandalism.

On the other hand, we could listen to whatever music we fancied, so I heard every possible variety of rock music as every boy had his own favourite singer or band. And the only albums I had to pay for were for my own favourite singer of the time, Cliff Richard (Yes, believe it or not, Cliff Richard. Thankfully my musical tastes have changed for the better).

So I emerged from my adolescence as a clean-living, almost strait-laced young man, free of any addictions or psychological hang-ups, and able to get on with my life in a straightforward, uncomplicated way.

I've continued to be a clean-living individual, not in thrall to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sexual promiscuity or any other unhelpful habits. Which to some people may sound horribly boring, but it's a lifestyle that suits me just fine.

So at my ripe old age, my memories of boarding school have finally mellowed.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

An old cliché

There are so many much-repeated words of wisdom that make little sense when you start thinking about them. Like the old cliché "money can't buy you happiness".

Well, it partly depends on the person, doesn't it? Some people find that having plenty of money makes them extremely happy. Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger look happy enough.

Other people may find that wealth brings unhappiness in its wake - begging letters, the paparazzi, bogus media stories, endless public scrutiny and judgment, lack of privacy.

But a load of money certainly makes everyday life easier - you're not worrying endlessly about how to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Naturally the millionaires and billionaires try to ward off other people's envy and ease their own guilt by making out that having lots of money might be more of a liability than a benefit. But I don't see many of them disposing of their super-yachts and country mansions in order to be happier.

I think lots of people are firmly convinced that money CAN buy you happiness. How else to explain those incredibly expensive and elaborate weddings? Or all those fancy gas-guzzling 4X4 cars? Or all those luxury barbecue grills?

Personally I think happiness comes from living the life that's right for you, in the place that's right for you, having a compatible partner and having a few close friends. None of those things are dependent only on money, though money may oil the wheels a little.

But it's nice to have enough cash to splash out at the supermarket and not fret over every penny you're spending.

Tammy: If you get round to reading this, I'm sorry to hear from Jean that you've had a stroke and  you're having trouble reading and typing. I hope you make a good recovery and it's soon back to "business as usual".

Saturday 23 July 2022

Tied down

As you know, I'm ferociously opposed to ties, which I regard as totally pointless items of clothing - not suggesting professionalism as some would maintain but suggesting a mindless adherence to tradition.

Once again there's a huge fuss about men not wearing ties, in this case in the French parliament. Right-wing MPs are complaining that left-wing MPs in the France Unbowed Party (the FLI) are going tie-less. According to them the FLI MPs should be wearing ties as "a mark of respect due to our institutions and our compatriots".

Right-wing MPs in a letter have asked the parliament speaker to enforce an obligation to wear a tie in the chamber to prevent "more and more casual clothes". What on earth are they envisaging? MPs entering parliament in their pyjamas?

The LFI have replied that "in 2022 wearing a tie does not imply smart dress but more adhering to a particular social group".

Wouldn't the tie-fanatics be better employed making a fuss about something truly important, like poverty, the cost of living crisis, the destruction of Ukraine or climate breakdown?

Does it really matter that some MPs prefer not to wear a dangly thing around their neck?

Whoever drafted the parliamentary rule book clearly never considered this thorny issue. Apparently the rule book isn't specific on whether MPs should wear ties.

Perhaps the LFI should retaliate by insisting that the right-wingers should show more respect for the country's institutions by wearing a top hat and tails.

PS: I guess the only female equivalent to the tie is tights, which are uncomfortable and inconvenient but not entirely pointless - they can keep you warm.

Pic: French MP Adrien Quatennens

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Lying dead

I'm always taken aback by accounts of someone lying dead for weeks - or months or even years - before their dead body is discovered. I'm especially taken aback when it turns out they had dozens of neighbours, some of whom suspected the worst but were ignored when they raised the alarm.

The body of London woman Sheila Seleoane lay undiscovered for some 2½ years before the police finally broke down the front door and found her body.

She lived in a 20-flat block in Peckham. Several of the neighbours hadn't seen her for a while and had noticed an increasingly revolting smell. But when they contacted the housing association that owned the flats, and contacted the police, nothing was done, even though she hadn't paid any rent since August 2019.

You think it couldn't happen to your own neighbours, but it can. Some years ago the man living next door to us lay dead for several days before someone checked on him and discovered his dead body. He was very much a loner so it wasn't that surprising. Jenny and I had only met him a few times and he was never very friendly so we never got to know him.

It seems to be a very English thing that you don't have much to do with the neighbours. And of course if they go everywhere by car, you never bump into them on the street so there's little chance of befriending them.

It's not the case in Northern Ireland where people are much more likely to know their neighbours and would actively investigate if someone hadn't been seen for a few days. It's hard to imagine a person here being dead for several years without anyone knowing. We know most of our immediate neighbours and would certainly ask questions if they hadn't been seen for a while.

But what an awful way to go - gradually decomposing while your neighbours go about their daily routines.

PS: An inquest into her death will be held on Thursday

Pic: Sheila Seleoane's front door