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.