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

Friday, 15 July 2022

Harder than I thought

What I've realised as I get older is that things that seemed very easy when I was young are actually much harder than they look. I was simply too ignorant to be aware of the complexities.

  • Like pregnancy. I always wondered why new mothers were congratulated. Surely giving birth was a doddle, something any woman could do in her sleep. I was totally unaware of all the possible obstacles - infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancies, birth defects. I gradually realised congratulations are quite justified, given all the possible pitfalls.
  • Like grief. I used to think grief was something very temporary, a short period of anguish that soon gave way to a calmer outlook. It took me a while to realise grief can be quite overwhelming, deeply traumatic and can last for months, years, or even an entire lifetime. It can't just be "shaken off" like a winter cold.
  • Like divorce. Why all the fuss? A couple don't get on any more, so they split up and go their separate ways. All very straightforward. It gradually dawned on me that it can be immensely painful not only for the couple themselves but for any children they have. The sense of failure and inadequacy and guilt can be huge.
  • Like moving house. You just buy a house and move in, right? Certainly that's how I saw the family's move when I was 13. I was blithely unaware of the buying process, all the preparations for moving, and then the whole settling in palaver. I suppose partly because I was at school, and partly because I didn't have to do any of the donkey work. It was only when Jenny and I bought our first flat that we realised what a nightmare the whole process is.
If it looks easy, it probably isn't.

Monday, 11 July 2022

Messy emotions

There are regular articles in the media about why men are so bad at making intimate, emotional friendships, instead keeping other men at a distance with banter, impersonal topics like politics and football, treating compliments like a joke, and evasive side-stepping ("So how's it all going?" "Fine")

All sorts of fancy theories are floated, like "toxic masculinity", gender roles, being too self-contained, and not doing enough to strengthen friendships.

Is it really that complicated? I think it's all very simple. A lot of men are afraid of emotions and afraid of intimacy. They think that if they show their emotions or anything too personal, there could be awful consequences.

And mostly that fear develops in childhood, when you realise that your father is afraid of expressing his emotions. And it develops because boys tease any boy who isn't masculine enough and looks a bit too "effeminate". And it develops because of the idea that men should always be tough and strong and resilient and shouldn't show any sign of weakness.

I've tried quite a few times to befriend other men, but invariably it fails because we can never get beyond a certain psychological barrier that keeps any deeper feelings or revelations from exposure.

I think men are more sensitive to their public image than women. They see themselves as phlegmatic, practical, matter-of-fact, and emotions are seen as something unpredictable and messy that undermines that gritty self-image. I know, idiotic isn't it?

Emotions are an important part of anyone's personality. Trying to keep them hidden is not only hard work but is a losing battle. Sooner or later those emotions will slip out.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

How to eat

Apparently all those rules of etiquette we used to follow at meal times have gradually lost favour and new ones are taking their place. Some oldies think this is a big step backwards to slovenly behaviour, but youngsters are all for it.

According to a new survey, the disappearing habits include not talking with your mouth full, not eating until others have their food, using your cutlery and not your fingers, family mealtimes, saying thank you for your meal, and asking to leave the table.

Mealtime etiquette isn't entirely vanishing though. The old rules are being replaced by new ones, such as no vaping, putting mobile phones away and not having loud phone conversations at the table.

I've had heated discussions with people who still stick to the traditional rules and object strongly to anyone ignoring them.

But as I've said before, surely the point of a meal is to enjoy yourself and have an interesting conversation. It's hard to enjoy yourself if you're constantly wondering if you're breaking some unwritten rule of etiquette and afraid someone will object to your uncivilised behaviour.

Mind you, there are some habits that really ought to be frowned on but never are. Like getting hopelessly drunk and annoying everyone in the vicinity. Like letting your children run riot and doing nothing to stop them.

Not to mention those hardened drinkers who urge their neighbours to "have a top up", even if they don't want one. With the implication of course that if they aren't happily refilling their glasses they're some kind of party pooper.

I could think of worse things than being a party pooper.

Friday, 1 July 2022

I am what I am

Some time ago I wrote about Guardian columnist Emma Beddington and the five things she likes about ageing. Naturally there are many more than five benefits, and I thought of a few she didn't mention.

  • Increased scepticism. I'm less likely to believe other people's dubious claims, opinions and stories. I'm more likely to think, yes, and pull the other leg, it's got bells on.
  • I have less interest in what's fashionable or popular. It's amusing to see the latest ridiculous bit of clothing or furniture or quinoa-and-seaweed recipe, but mainly I just go my own way.
  • I have less desire to solve other people's problems. They're mostly too complex and too baffling to be put right by a well-meaning lobby group or two. Nowadays I leave them to the politicians.
  • I can recall lots more interesting experiences than a twenty something. I've been round the block a few times, and come up against harsh reality often enough.
  • I can opt out of tedious events by claiming to be too tired/too frail/not up to a long journey. This is where the stereotypes of doddery old codgers can be rather useful.
  • I can excuse any domestic scruffiness by saying I don't have the energy for exhaustive housework. I mean, you can't really expect a septuagenarian to be plucking cobwebs from the ceilings.
  • All the horrors of flirting, dating and romantic disillusion are well behind me. I don't have to worry that my date will hate my clothes or my taste in food or my political opinions.
Of course I'm not saying that all this applies to oldies in general. I'm sure there are plenty of oldies who totally love social events and still want to be at the height of fashion. But I am what I am, as Popeye said.

Emma Beddington's five likes can be found here.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

No, you can't

I don't usually write about politics, but I have to share my shock and dismay at the US Supreme Court's new ruling that the Constitution doesn't include any right to abortion.

It's more than politics of course. It's a major blow to millions of women who for very good reasons don't want to have a child and will now be driven to desperate measures - travelling abroad or to another state, or using back-street abortionists - to free themselves from pregnancy.

Judges Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett voted to overturn Roe v Wade. The other four judges voted to keep the original decision.

As any woman knows, there are many valid reasons for seeking an abortion - the woman was raped, she accidentally became pregnant, she's extremely poor, she's extremely ill, she couldn't cope with another child, the child would be disabled in some way, or the child is incestuous - and forcing her to give birth is cruel and doctrinaire and utterly blind to the circumstances.

Of course the decision to have or not have an abortion should be up to the woman concerned, and it's absurd that the law can intrude on such a personal matter.

Those who oppose abortion sometimes maintain that women "casually" rid themselves of a child, as if they're discarding an unwanted present. They must surely realise the emotional anguish and turmoil that accompanies both the fraught decision to have an abortion and the aftermath of what they have done. To suggest the woman takes the decision lightly is ridiculous.

I can only hope that some way is found to reverse this new ruling and restore the original judgment in Roe v Wade.

(My apologies for all the mansplaining!)

Pic: Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump

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NB: Some of your comments are still not appearing on blog posts, but I'm getting them by email so I can transfer them to the blog.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Put it behind you

How often have you heard a politician or some other public figure - or even a family member or friend - refer to some traumatic event in your past and say "You've got to just put it behind you"?

Do they realise how deep a trauma can be and just how hard it can be to "put it behind you"? Yes, maybe you can bury a minor personal upset, but a truly devastating emotional injury is a different matter.

A serious trauma can embed itself in your psyche so deeply that it lingers for years, set off by one chance trigger after another. You can't simply tell it to go away. You can't simply shove it in your mental attic, shut the door and forget about it.

So those people who tell you to put it behind you are being both offensive and ignorant. Offensive because they imply it's something quite superficial and easily disposed of, and ignorant because they don't understand the reality of living with profound emotional anguish.

My mum's brother was flying a Spitfire in World War Two when he went missing and was never heard of again. I think my mum was still grieving her loss when she died at 96.

Northern Irish people are told to "put the Troubles behind you". Survivors of the Grenfell Tower inferno are told to "put it behind you". Ex-prisoners are told to "put it behind you". What if they can't?

But it's a convenient attitude for people who don't want to deal with the intransigence of someone's mental suffering and just want it to be gone. Do they think you can wave some magic wand and poof, it's all done and dusted?

Friday, 17 June 2022

Unruly shrubs

An 84 year old Essex woman has been told by her local parish council to cut back the shrubs in her front garden as they're obstructing the pavement and creating a health and safety risk. They say they're responding to complaints.

Becky Curtis can't understand what all the fuss is about. She says there's still plenty of room on the pavement and nobody should have any trouble getting past the shrubs.

I can't understand all the fuss either. Why doesn't the council just tell the complainers (surely no more than two or three) that the shrubs aren't an obstacle and they have better things to do than monitor shrub size? This is the proverbial sledgehammer being used to crack a nut.

In out neighbourhood there are loads of privet hedges that encroach on the pavement but nobody ever suggests cutting them back. Even cars parked partly on the pavement are never sanctioned, although they're a genuine hazard to pedestrians.

Parish councils have dozens of important duties. You'd think they would focus on something more essential than a few exuberant shrubs. Some under-employed jobsworth obviously thought this was an excellent way of killing some time.

Mrs Curtis, a longstanding member of Dedham Horticultural Society, is resisting the council's demand with the support of many villagers. She says lots of people compliment her on her front garden.

It's not clear what enforcement action might be taken. Will the council send in some shrub trimmers? Will Mrs Curtis be fined? Will her rubbish bins not be emptied? The mind boggles.

Pic: Becky Curtis and the naughty shrubs

Monday, 13 June 2022

The right image

Nobody wants to admit it, but one of our key objectives as an adult is giving ourselves a positive image. We approach every situation with an eye to what behaviour will make us look good and what behaviour won't.

There's no return to the days when we were small children and just blurted out whatever came to mind, without any thought for the consequences. We could look foolish or stupid or mean or rude many times a day because we hadn't yet got the knack of image-management.

As an artful adult however I do my best not to look in any way "bad" and I try to manage other people's reactions so they have a positive image of me. I try to avoid any impression that I'm anti-social or a law-breaker or that I'm selfish or arrogant or violent or domineering. I want people to think "He's a nice bloke, a sensible sort of guy, I like him."

Of course nobody wants to confess to ongoing image-massaging, it sounds so calculating and cold-blooded, but that's what we do. Nobody wants to be the bad parent, the bad patient, the bad student, the bad neighbour. So we tweak our behaviour to make it reassuringly "as expected".

And naturally we gloss over those big mistakes, or hastily conceal them. Those embarrassing workplace cock-ups or domestic blunders we'd rather not own up to. The car we wrecked or the kitchen we set on fire or the valuable antique we threw away. No no, they never happened. Or not the way you think.

If we believe our behaviour is spontaneous and unrehearsed, we're kidding ourselves.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

So unnatural

It makes me laugh when people say that some activity or other is "unnatural", as if it's somehow totally perverted and bizarre.

Don't they realise that most of the things we do and most of the things we possess are "unnatural" - meaning they don't arise in nature but have been artificially created?

What's natural about plastic or mattresses or cars or violins or.... ? (I could trot out a very long list here). Our whole modern way of life is based not on nature but on hundreds of human inventions that have given us (or given most of us) comfortable, convenient lifestyles and all sorts of ingenious leisure pursuits.

Yet still there are those individuals who insist that homosexuality or talking in a foreign language* or men wearing dresses or women in high-powered jobs are "unnatural" and these deviant practices should stop.

The last thing I want is to be natural. I wouldn't fancy living in a mud hut in mid-winter foraging for food every day. I wouldn't fancy being without blogs or books or TV or newspapers. I wouldn't fancy catching all sorts of nasty diseases because of the lack of vaccinations and advanced medical treatment. Thanks but no thanks.

Predictably enough, activities that were seen as "unnatural" a few decades ago now seem totally normal, like homosexuality and same-sex marriage and women wearing trousers and men changing nappies.

Mind you, it's obviously unnatural not to possess a smart phone. I mean, how perverted is that?

*There have been several incidents on public transport where people have been told to stop speaking a foreign language. If they don't comply, they get physically attacked. Pure xenophobia.

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Dressing your age

We oldies are often advised to "dress our age", whatever that means. As if left to ourselves we'd dress like lunatics or like Coco the Clown.

Thanks for the advice but I won't be following it. I'll dress the way I've dressed ever since I was a teenager - in a shirt and jeans (I'll gloss over the occasional budgie smugglers). Of course it's different for women, who have a wider range of clothing and are more likely to fall foul of the sartorial busybodies.

But what exactly does "dressing your age" mean anyway? Does it mean hiding all the wrinkles and wobbly bits and other signs of ageing? Does it mean not showing any flesh? Does it mean dressing respectably and discreetly?

Why should anyone have to tone down their clothes to satisfy some arbitrary notion of what's "appropriate" or "suitable" for old codgers? If people want to wear flamboyant, startling, highly coloured clothes and flash a bit of cleavage, why shouldn't they?

Why is it okay for young people to wear revealing, flesh-baring, figure-hugging clothes but not okay for oldies to expose a bit of leg? Why this age-based censorship? Why this squeamish puritanism?

As for the long list of what oldies should never wear under any circumstances - leather trousers, miniskirts, elastic waistbands, chunky earrings, leggings, sheer clothing, velcro shoes, low-rise pants etc etc (and that's just the women) - why should anyone take any notice? Who takes these prohibitions seriously?

Flaunt your wrinkles and wobbly bits, I say. They're the sign of a life well-lived.

Pic: The actor Karen M Chan

Monday, 30 May 2022

It's the hormones


It's common practice to excuse men's misbehaviour, in particular teenage craziness, by saying it was "testosterone-fuelled" and so they couldn't help themselves. "The hormones took over".

I think that's total baloney. Where's the evidence that testosterone was the culprit rather than simple loss of self-control or unfettered rage or a sense of entitlement? How come some testosterone-soaked men can control themselves easily enough while other men can't?

There's little scientific backing for the supposed link between testosterone and misbehaviour. Studies of aggressive behaviour and testosterone are inconclusive. About half the studies found a relationship and about half of them didn't.

I must say I was never aware of displaying any testosterone-fuelled behaviour when I was a teenager. Of course for several years I was at a strict boarding school, which greatly reduced the possibilities for extreme behaviour. But even after I left, my behaviour wasn't especially wayward. I certainly wasn't sex-obsessed - I had no sex of any description till I was 22.

I didn't go in for wild rampages or shoplifting sprees or wanton vandalism. I was commendably well-restrained (or as well-restrained as any teenager is capable of being). We had no family car so I wasn't about to go for an illegal drive and smash it to pieces.

It's too easy to blame men's misbehaviour on testosterone. It excuses them from responsibility for their own actions and the responsibility to behave decently and sensibly. It's about time this nonsense was dumped.

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Go with the flow

Anxiety is seen as something very abnormal that we shouldn't be experien-cing. The assumption is that it needs to be banished or at least greatly reduced. But is that right? We live in an increasingly uncertain world in which the future is far from predictable, so isn't anxiety a rather normal reaction to what's going on around us?

There's climate breakdown, the invasion of Ukraine, the cost of living crisis and the crumbling NHS, just to pick the most obvious problems.

Yet we're told we should be free of anxiety and trundling along happily in our little domestic bubble, not paying too much attention to what's happening in the rest of the world. Just go with the flow and follow your instincts.

But if more and more people are saying they suffer from acute anxiety, doesn't that suggest that anxiety is actually a normal reaction and that calmness and serenity (or whatever is the opposite of anxiety) are not normal at all?

In which case, what needs adjusting is not our individual reactions, which are perfectly healthy, but the world around us that's causing those reactions?

I've been an anxious person for decades, and no matter what I do to lessen the anxiety, it stubbornly persists. And I think it's significant that I wasn't anxious as a child but very happy-go-lucky and carefree. It was only as I got older and learnt more about the wider world that my anxiety developed. Is that really so surprising?

Perhaps we should live with our anxiety as a healthy emotion and not bust a gut trying to get rid of it.

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Five comments failed to appear on my last blog post. Only two comments were missing on this one. Things are improving.

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Footie

Supposedly men are all obsessed with football, cheering on their favourite team and trashing whoever their team is playing against. They'll sit in the pub for hours discussing the finer points of X's missed goal or Y's penalty kick.

It all leaves me cold. I was required to play football at my prep school but I hated every minute of it. I couldn't see what was so compelling about men getting balls into nets. Wouldn't they prefer to settle down on the sofa with a good book? Apparently not.

The young lad next door goes in for long sessions of ball-bouncing. That's okay for about ten minutes, but then I start to wonder if he could find some slightly quieter pastime. Like weightlifting.

My thoughts turned to football after repeated pitch invasions this week by football fans, with one fan head-butting a player, other fans throwing smoke bombs, and a club manager being taunted. Football clubs are urgently discussing how to prevent the disorder escalating.

All I can say is, why oh why? What's the point of running onto the pitch and causing mayhem? It just makes football fans look like uncontrollable lunatics.

As for the obscene amounts of money footballers command just to turn up and play a few games (Christian Ronaldo, Manchester City, £29 million a year; Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City, £23 million a year), how can they possibly be worth such inflated sums? Is a footballer really worth 300 times the salary of the average hospital surgeon?

It's a nice little earner though, if you're a dab hand at getting balls into nets.

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Comments from five of my blogmates - Mary, Joanne, Ramana, Beatrice and Wisewebwoman - haven't appeared on my blog. Presumably a technical glitch at Blogger. I hope they sort it out soon, it's a bloody nuisance.

Monday, 16 May 2022

Hassles and hurdles

Jenny and I are back from a week in Liverpool. And what did we conclude after our trip? For one thing, we've lost some of our enthusiasm for travelling - especially long distance travelling.

We're getting less patient with all the hassles and hurdles we have to negotiate just to spend a few days somewhere different. In this case, fiddly journeys to and from ferry terminals, a ferry departing 2½ hours late, noisy guests in nearby hotel rooms, and a biting wind that prevented any proper walks along the waterfront.

Not to mention the tricky ins and outs of booking a holiday in the first place. Which is the best airline? Which is the best hotel? How much are we prepared to pay? What does Trip Advisor say? Will the flights be cancelled or delayed? Will the hotel be in the middle of building work? So many imponderables.

Of course there was plenty to enjoy in Liverpool. We revisited some of the excellent museums and galleries, we met up with a couple of old friends in Chester, and we had some great food and drink. And we had a fabulous view across the Mersey from our ninth floor hotel room. But are the enjoyable bits worth all the annoying bits? We decided that maybe they weren't - unless we were so keen to go somewhere that the annoying bits simply wouldn't matter.

So we're still happy to visit places in the UK or Ireland, but we'd be loath to visit anywhere farther afield unless it was somewhere we really really wanted to go to. Especially when my energy levels at 75 are flagging somewhat.

But watch this space. We may suddenly have a burning desire to visit Costa Rica. Or Jamaica. Or Mexico. Who can predict the odd twists and turns of the human brain?

Pic: Tate Liverpool

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

The old normality

Belfast is rapidly returning to a kind of normality after two years of pandemic restrictions. Very few people are still wearing masks or using hand sanitiser and few shops still have limits on customer numbers.

But it's not the new enlightened normality a lot of people were predicting, it's more the old restrictive normality that people wanted to change.

When we were all outside our houses on Thursday nights clapping for the health workers who were dealing with incredible pressures in an underfunded NHS, and we were aware of all the other frontline workers who were keeping society going - teachers, lorry drivers, supermarket staff, transport workers, postal workers, the emergency services - it looked like a big step forward.

A lot of us hoped that once the pandemic was over, those frontline workers would get the proper appreciation they deserved - big salary rises, special bonuses, better staffing levels, better working conditions. They would be seen as vital cogs in society and not invisible minions nobody cared about.

Some businesses did indeed compensate their employees generously, but most didn't and in fact if anything salaries and working conditions are now worse than they were pre-pandemic. Not only are wage levels still in many cases dismal but the rapidly rising cost of living is eating into them.

Most people are once again taking frontline workers for granted or even abusing them when they slip up. The politicians are setting the tone by refusing to reward them for their hard work and their high exposure to covid.

Health workers who always went the extra mile and did absurdly long shifts (and still do) are now taking out loans and using food banks in order to keep going.

The old normality is reasserting itself quite ruthlessly.

Friday, 29 April 2022

What did we do?

I was wondering how parents react to a perceived failing in their child. Do they blame themselves for something lacking in their child's upbringing, or do they say, it's just one of those things, we're not at fault?

What got me wondering was reading Carol Shields' book Unless, in which a young woman suddenly abandons university to live on the street with a sign saying "Goodness". Her parents are baffled as to why she's taken this path, and her mother in particular wonders whether something in her upbringing has caused it.

Of course the daughter's strange behaviour could be caused by any number of things other than her upbringing, but naturally her parents start pondering their own possible influence in what's happening.

I also wonder if women in general are more likely than men to assume a personal blunder when a child goes off the rails (or just does something disappointing).

I get the impression (nothing was ever made explicit) that my parents were disappointed by my choices in life and felt I could have "made more" of myself. They maybe expected me to be a high-flying journalist or a best-selling novelist. In which case, did they blame themselves for not making me ambitious enough? Who knows?

It must be tempting for parents to criticise themselves for all sorts of perceived failings in their child, even if there's no obvious cause, and even if the supposed failing is not seen as such by anyone else.

It must also be tempting to have grand ambitions for your child that are simply unrealistic, and will inevitably lead to parental disappointment. Let's face it, you're more likely to be raising a tone-deaf karaoke fan than a budding Beethoven.

Monday, 25 April 2022

Dying for a pee

One big advantage of being a bloke is that I'm not expected to wear all those impractical, uncomfort-able clothes that women submit themselves to. I can wear clothes that don't impede me in any way, clothes I'm not desperate to remove after being in them for half an hour.

The comedian Jessica Fostekew was describing a party she attended, saying that her bunched toes were agony inside her pointed high heels and going to the loo in her spanx-lined jumpsuit was so complicated she was holding her pee in for as long as possible. Not to mention the make-up she was trying not to smear.

So why does she wear all this stuff? As a self-employed comedian, not subject to any workplace dress code, she can wear whatever she wants so why not just wear something comfortable?

If a man can be hilarious in a jacket and pants and sensible shoes, why not a woman? Is a woman's joke only amusing if  she's torturing herself and desperate for a pee? Of course not.

If a man was required to wear stilettos all day, he'd soon be ripping them off and refusing to wear them. I'm amazed so many women actually claim to enjoy having them on. Who are they kidding?

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Costly panic

I must say I sympathise with Kevin Berling, the Kentucky man who told his boss he didn't want a surprise birthday party because he suffered from anxiety and the party might give him a panic attack. His boss took no notice, the surprise party went ahead, and Mr Berling did indeed have a panic attack, forcing him to leave the party. He was later sacked.

He sued the company for discriminating against his disability, and was awarded $450,000 (£346,000) by the jury - $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 for lost wages.

The company claimed he had violated a workplace violence policy and that the other employees were the victims, not Mr Berling. The jury thought otherwise.

Clearly there are firms that still have little understanding of mental disorders and refuse to make any allowance for them. They trivialise the problem and force the employee to "soldier on" regardless. A costly mistake in this case.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who dislike surprise birthday parties (or surprise anything come to that) Why should they be compelled to attend and feign enjoyment, if that isn't how they feel? It just amounts to total insensitivity on the part of those other employees who were determined to hold the party whether he liked it or not.

In my lengthy working life I was never subjected to a surprise birthday party. I'm not sure how I would have reacted. Pleased or mortified - or a mixture of both? I was given a surprise leaving ceremony and present at my final workplace, which left me both chuffed and nonplussed - mostly chuffed.

Luckily I'm not prone to panic attacks, and no budget-busting law suits were called for.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

On a postcard

I was saying earlier I know little about my mum's thoughts and feelings, not only regarding my early childhood but many other things. She was very secretive about whatever was going through her mind.

The same goes for my sister. We've never been close and we've never kept in touch on a regular basis, so there are lots of things I still don't know about her. Such as:

  • Would she say she had a happy childhood?
  • Did she like one parent more than the other?
  • Were her schooldays happy?
  • What does she feel about having a terminal and severely disabling illness?
  • What did she feel about having to give up her work?
  • What are her likes and dislikes?
So what do I actually know about her? I assume she enjoyed her schooldays and had a happy childhood. She got on with our father much better than I did. She started a nursing course but didn't complete it. She had several jobs at the BBC (she almost became a radio newsreader), then had various jobs at a hospital, a doctors' surgery and an infants school.

After marrying, she had a daughter in 1982 and then in 2005 was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. The reason she has survived so long is that her lungs and heart are still healthy despite her general physical decline.

Oh, and another thing - she has a photographic memory. So if aged five I broke her favourite doll, she'll remember it vividly.

So what I know about my sister could be written quite comfortably on a postcard. Considering I've known her for 73 years, that's remarkable. But I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with the bare outlines!

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

The price of cake

Should a restaurant charge you for bringing in your own birthday cake? One man who asked a restaurant if it would be okay to bring in a birthday cake was told there would be a "cakeage" charge of £10 a person.

It's not clear if he went to the (unnamed) restaurant anyway or whether he went elsewhere. But his complaint started a predictable Twitter storm, with some people saying the charge was unjustified and others saying it was quite reasonable as the diners would be using a restaurant table and probably wouldn't have ordered a dessert. It was also pointed out that restaurants operate on very low profit margins and can't afford to let people sit and eat their own food.

I must say I'm on the side of the restaurant. I don't see why people should be allowed to eat their own food when the whole point of going to a restaurant is to have food provided.

I gather a cakeage charge is very common when diners want to bring their own celebration cake. Maybe £10 is a bit steep, but if you have a dozen diners and none of them order a dessert, that could be a loss to the restaurant of £80 or so - hardly a trivial sum. And don't forget the cost of washing up all the dirty plates afterwards.

London restaurateur Asma Khan says she not only bans diners from bringing in their own cakes, she also bans them from singing Happy Birthday. That seems a bit extreme. There's no cost involved and in my experience other diners find the celebrations rather charming.

Not that I need worry about cakeage charges. I haven't had a birthday cake for many years. I prefer Lindt truffles and choc ices.

Friday, 8 April 2022

Out it pops


Because such things weren't talked about much when I was young, I was actually middle-aged before I realised that pregnancy was quite a complicated and perilous business.

For a long time I thought it was all very simple - you got pregnant and then nine months later out popped the baby. What was all the fuss about? Why were mothers always congratulated for doing something so routine?

It gradually dawned on me that pregnancy was in fact quite a trial. Every stage can be problematic. You can fail to conceive, fail to remain pregnant, fail to have a healthy diet or a healthy lifestyle. The baby can be premature, or defective, or harmed by medical mistakes, or suffer a cot death.

So if you manage to overcome all those hazards, congratulations are very much in order. Hardly a case of "out pops the baby". More a case of surviving a tough obstacle course against all the odds.

So I welcome the increasing trend to be more candid about pregnancy and all its difficulties. It means I'm much more aware of the ordeal women may be privately going through, however straightforward it may all seem from the outside.

I'm amazed that after all the problems of pregnancy, women don't always say "that was dreadful - never again" but are often willing to go through it several times to satisfy their burning desire for children. I can only admire their unflagging determination.

I'm very glad pregnancy is something that only happens to other people.