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.

Monday 4 April 2022

Childhood blanks

It suddenly came to me that I know next to nothing about my early childhood. My mum was very silent about a lot of things (like the second world war and her personal ailments) and my infancy was one of them.

There are so many unanswered questions that only now occur to me. For instance:

  • Did she conceive easily?
  • Was her pregnancy easy or difficult?
  • Did she have a miscarriage?
  • How long was she in labour?
  • Was it an easy birth or were there complications?
  • Did she have a a caesarean?
  • Was I an easy or difficult baby?
  • Did she adjust easily to being a parent?
  • Did my father give her enough help?
I have some of the answers but mostly I'm in the dark. I assume she got pregnant easily because I was born very soon after the war (March 1947). As far as I know it was an easy birth and she didn't need a caesarean. And presumably I was an easy, well-behaved baby but maybe she just preferred not to remember what a pain in the arse I was. But I didn't speak until my sister appeared in April 1949 (it must have been the excitement of getting a sister).

So in general my early childhood is a bit of a mystery. All I really know for certain is that my mum got pregnant, gave birth to me and changed a lot of nappies (and they were the old-style cloth nappies, long before disposable nappies came on the scene).

Unanswered questions - the story of my life.