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.