Thursday 31 March 2022


I envy those people who can remember all the salient plot details of a TV drama, and can tell you instantly that X was suspected of murdering Y in episode three, when I can barely remember who X was and who was murdered.

Either I have a very defective brain or some people just have a brilliant memory for detail while I promptly forget half of what I'm watching.

I have a better memory for the characters than the plot. I don't really care "whodunit". I'm not interested in all the red herrings and false trails and bogus clues. Just name the villain and stop wasting my time!

But I'm very aware of the introverted florist who hates swearing and is devoted to her tabby cat, even if her part in the plot rapidly escapes me. Never mind the identity of the murderer, does the florist become more outgoing? Does she develop a potty mouth? Does her cat live to a ripe old age? That's what I really want to know.

The detectives are usually more interesting than the plot or who did the dirty deed. They've invariably got drastic personal problems of one kind or another. Alcoholism, mental disorders, domestic violence, drug addiction, you name it. My favourite is Saga Norén in The Bridge. Her social clumsiness, lack of empathy and emotional ineptness make her seem cold, insensitive and blunt, but she's honest and direct and a brilliant detective.

Jenny loves speculating as to who's the murderer. She'll come up with wonderfully elaborate theories about the culprit. And she'll remember all those incriminating details very clearly. Sometimes she's spot on, sometimes she's way off track.

Well, I'm pretty sure it was Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the billiard room. Though it might have been Professor Plum. Who knows?

Sunday 27 March 2022

A long way to go

A lot of people assume that since the Belfast Peace Agreement of 1998, the toxic legacy of sectarianism is gradually dying out. However this isn't the case and people are still being picked on for their religion (or perceived religion).

Just last Wednesday 13-year-old Louis Kerr from north Belfast was subjected to sectarian abuse by a gang of around ten youths as he made his way to football training. He was also physically attacked and given two black eyes and a bruised head.

He was attacked simply because he lives in a protestant area. He probably isn't even actively religious but his presumably catholic attackers didn't care about that. He was just seen as a "wrong 'un" who was "in the wrong place".

There are plenty of community workers, teachers and others trying to replace sectarianism with more normal attitudes, but progress is slow, especially when such attitudes are passed down through the generations.

Thankfully our neighbourhood in east Belfast doesn't see any such incidents. This is a very mixed area with people of different religions, skin colours and sexual preferences living peacefully together. A more middle-class area, in short.

Unfortunately our politicians aren't above aiming sectarian remarks at each other, which hardly encourages ordinary folk to mend their ways.

It's hard to see what more could be done to eradicate these noxious attitudes. So called integrated schools (schools that take pupils from all religions) are slowly increasing in number but they're still few and far between. Again certain politicians do their best to stop them opening.

Regrettably sectarianism will be with us for a long time yet.

Pic: Louis Kerr

Wednesday 23 March 2022


There's no agreed definition of success, is there? We all have different ideas of what success is and whether our own lives have been "successful" or not.

For one person, success could be a huge salary, an expensive car, a big house and lots of children. For another, it could just be staying solvent, managing to pay the bills, having some close friends and going on the odd outing.

For someone who's disabled, it could simply be getting out of bed in the morning, or being pain-free, or being treated courteously.

My own life may not have been "successful" in some people's eyes. They may say I've not been ambitious enough or pushy enough or making the most of my talents or abilities.

But as far as I'm concerned, I've had a very successful life. I've enjoyed all the jobs I've had, I've met lots of very interesting people, I've always had enough money to get by, and I've travelled all round the world.

That's more than enough for me. You can keep all the flashy and over-priced trappings of conventional success. You can keep all the luxury limos with their cocktail cabinets and wide-screen TVs. You can keep all the fancy awards and honours and decorations.

I admire people who're driven to amazing achievements, like Olympic champions or concert pianists or mountaineers, but I could never be that sort of person. I wouldn't have either the tenacity or the motivation. I'd rather linger over a tasty meal than clamber up a mountain. I'd rather stroke koala bears in Australia.

Thursday 17 March 2022

Bad vibes

There are certain homes I would never buy if they had unsavoury associations from the past. Some people may not be deterred by such things but I'm sure I would always be aware of the bad vibes.

For instance, if there had been a murder at the house, or child abuse, or domestic violence, or the house had been haunted, or been a brothel, or housed a terrorist (or even been a bomb factory). I wouldn't want anything like that hanging over my head.

There's a derelict house not far from here, Kincora House, that was the centre of a child sexual abuse ring in the nineteen seventies. Nobody wanted to live there after that discovery and it's due to be replaced by a new apartment block.

Of course you might not know of any such goings-on unless it had been all over the media, or unless a nieghbour told you. You might only find out after you've moved in, or you might never find out if it's been successfully hushed up. Somehow I doubt the estate agent would tell you.

But a lot of people aren't bothered by such associations and can happily ignore them. Abigail Dengate lives in a house at Margate, Essex, where a serial killer buried two bodies. She says "People have had a lot to say about this house and its history but to us it's just a home. I wasn't thinking about who once lived here and what he did."

Well, perhaps I have an over-active imagination, but I'm sure I would think of the murderer pottering around the house, working out how he would kill his victims and what he would do with the bodies. I would think of the victims screaming or pleading for their lives.

It would certainly put me off my cornflakes.

Pic: Kincora House, Belfast 

Sunday 13 March 2022

Just obeying orders

Since like many others I'm thinking a lot about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I feel I should write something about it. But what can I write that hasn't been said a hundred times already?

One question that often occurs to me is how on earth the Russian pilots who're relentlessly bombing buildings and innocent civilians can justify what they're doing. How do they live with themselves? How do they carry on, knowing they're killing and wounding more and more people, continually adding to the carnage and suffering?

One captured pilot, Maksim Kryshtop, said he was just following orders. He said he could have refused to obey the orders, but this would have shown weakness and cowardice.

No doubt if pilots refused to fly the bombing missions and deserted, they would face heavy penalties. In World War Two, 158,000 Russian troops were executed for desertion.

But the pilots must somehow have become entirely detached from the human beings they're bombing, and totally oblivious to the pain and misery they're causing. They simply see people on the ground as targets to be obliterated.

Presumably also they've swallowed the crazy propaganda that Putin has been spreading for years - that Ukraine is run by neo-nazis, drug barons and terrorists and that the invasion is liberating the Ukrainian people.

They were told the Ukrainians would welcome them with open arms, relieved at the prospect of their evil leaders being toppled. They're astonished when far from being welcomed they're greeted with hostility and told they weren't wanted and should return home before they were killed.

I have a simple request to Russian bomber pilots - just say no.

Pic: Maksim Kryshtop

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Mealy mouthed

Apparently the English are renowned abroad for not saying what they really mean and coming up with something that hides their true feelings. I love those charts that explain what foreigners think we mean as opposed to what we actually mean. For example:

  • "I was disappointed" (I was absolutely furious)
  • "I hear what you say" (I totally disagree)
  • "With the greatest respect (You're an idiot)
  • "That's an interesting proposal" (It can't possibly work)
  • "I'll bear it in mind" (But do nothing about it)
  • "You must come to dinner sometime" (It would be a nightmare)
  • "It's fine" (It can't possibly get any worse)
  • "There's a slight problem" (This is a disaster)
  • "It really doesn't matter" (That was incredibly offensive)
  • "It's not ideal" (It's totally inappropriate)
Well, you get the idea. I gather Americans are more direct, and more likely to say exactly what they think, whatever the reaction might be. They don't understand all this English subterfuge.

I must admit to falling into this trap myself. I'm not brave enough to say to someone "That was a really boring evening and I'm not going to repeat it." I'm more likely to say "That was fun. We must do that again sometime", meaning the exact opposite.

The English custom is to be elaborately polite even in the most dire circumstances, and never to say anything blatantly rude. One must avoid confrontation at all costs and keep the atmosphere calm and comfortable.

I admit to finding any sort of confrontation quite agonising, and I go to extreme lengths to avoid it. I wouldn't have been much good as a police officer or a politician or a debt collector.

But maybe the English have the right idea. Maybe skirting round a delicate issue is better than picking a fight.

Saturday 5 March 2022

Expensive soup

Modern art still divides people. Some people think it's all rubbish, others think it's endlessly fascinating. Personally I'm firmly with the latter.

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the appeal of modern art. It's really up to the viewer to get something out of it. If you put aside all conventional notions of what art should be and look at it with an open mind, then it can be highly enjoyable - and even a lot of fun.

But despite how long modern art has been with us, and despite all the attempts to explain it, I still hear all the familiar criticisms:

  • But what does it mean?
  • My six year old could have done that
  • She's just pulling our leg
  • How can that be worth half a million?
  • It looks like something out of a dumpster
  • It's a grotesque version of the human body
  • Why can't she just do a normal painting?
  • He's just trying to shock us
Yes, I think some artists are simply pulling our legs. Like Carl Andre's Bricks, which is just that - a pile of 120 bricks. Or Damien Hirst's Away From The Flock, which is a dead sheep in a tank of formaldehyde.

But they're the infamous exceptions. The majority of modern artists are producing genuine artwork that challenges traditional ideas of what art consists of and is exciting and thought-provoking.

When Andy Warhol said "Art is what you can get away with", I think that quote in itself was tongue in cheek. Warhol produced some highly original artwork that was much more than a practical joke.

Of course all the controversy just pushes up the price of modern art so that Warhol's paintings of Campbell Soup Tins have been sold for anything up to £15 million. That's some very expensive soup.

Pic: Spider by Louise Bourgeois

Tuesday 1 March 2022

Secret pleasures

Kylie asked an interesting question in her last blog post. What are the guilty pleasures you spend money on and what do you definitely not spend money on?

She mentioned a Tik Toker whose guilty pleasures are manicures, coffees, magazines and uber eats.

Well, I'm not prone to guilt, so for me it's more a question of unhealthy or extravagant or secret pleasures. So what am I (or Jenny) spending less money on? Or no money at all?

  • We're eating out less
  • We never buy ready meals
  • We only buy printed newspapers on Saturday and Sunday
  • We don't buy scented candles or pointless knick-knacks
  • We have no subscription services except Sky
  • We hardly ever go to the theatre
  • We hardly ever use taxis
  • We don't have any pets
  • We don't buy bottled water
  • We have no extended warranties
  • We don't belong to a gym
  • We buy cheap books from the local charity bookshop
  • I get a lot of books from the local library (for my book club)
  • I don't have a smartphone, only a PAYG phone
  • I don't have a camera
  • I never buy designer clothes
  • I never wear formal clothing
  • I never wear a suit
  • I never buy magazines
  • And I've never had a manicure (or a pedicure)!
But I couldn't give up coffee, or chocolate, or ice cream, or the internet, or books, or music, or trips to the cinema, or holidays. Some things are just essential for my wellbeing.

I certainly wouldn't squander money on a luxury car, a second home, a swish barbecue set-up, cosmetic dentistry, or an exercise machine. Who needs them?

But above all we aren't the sort of people who rush to replace some household item or piece of clothing simply because it's no longer fashionable. We have a lot of things that are decades old and no longer remotely fashionable, but we're quite happy with them, and that's all that matters.