Friday 29 December 2023

Family values

Politicians are fond of extolling "family values" and lamenting how they're not as well observed as they used to be.

Well, they might be observed a bit more if anyone could agree what "family values" actually are. The phrase is so vague that everyone gives it a different meaning. The dictionary definition refers to high moral standards and discipline, but other things might be mentioned like decency, loyalty, stability, clean living, and care and affection.

It was understood in the past that "family values" referred to a heterosexual couple, and didn't include gay couples, childless couples or single-parent households, who were beyond the pale. All possible family arrangements are now included in the term, and presumably are deemed capable of family values, whatever they might be.

Perhaps we should forget about "family values", however they're defined, and emphasise something more specific like "parenting values", which people might understand more easily. Or we could call for "civilised values", a term that would include everyone, whether or not they count as a family.

Unfortunately the term "family values" is flung about quite hypocritically by politicians and others. How often some politician who goes banging on about family values turns out to have a mistress, a drug habit, a sexual fetish or something that gives the lie to his (and it's usually his) sanctimonious public utterances. It happens so frequently that whenever a politician mentions family values nowadays, I instantly wonder what he's trying to hide.

"Family values" is just another phrase that's used as a handy smear, to suggest that your political opponents have no such values and are hedonistic rabble lacking moral standards or civilised behaviour.

Certainly Jenny and I never mention family values, which to my mind definitely implies children. But we still aspire to high moral standards.

Monday 25 December 2023

When Christmas was banned

Not many people know that Christmas was once banned in England. If you tried to celebrate it you could be fined up to five shillings (or £26 in today's currency).

In the 1600s Protestants throughout Europe were suspicious of Christmas celebrations. They were too closely associated with Catholicism, there was no mention of such a thing in the Bible, and they thought the festivities had become too drunken and debauched.

In 1645 Parliament declared that Christmas, Easter and other such festivals were no longer to be observed with special services or celebrations, and an outright ban followed in 1647. The ban was unpopular - there were riots in Kent and elsewhere the same year. But in 1652 the ban was strengthened when shops were ordered to stay open on Christmas Day.

However by 1656 many people were ignoring the ban, and even in London shops stayed shut and festivities continued, with MPs kept awake by the sound of Christmas parties next to their lodgings. An attempt at further legislation quickly failed.

Like many "moral" bans, the ban on Christmas was largely unenforceable, particularly without the machinery of modern government or even a police force.

The ban is especially ironic nowadays, when Christmas celebrations are not just permissible but almost compulsory. If you don't have all the expected trimmings and trappings - presents, decorations, turkey dinner, festive sweaters, festive movies, Christmas cards etc etc - you're clearly some miserable party-pooper who needs to lighten up and get with the programme.

There must be plenty of exhausted parents out there (especially women) who rather like the idea of a ban on Christmas. But it'll have to remain a private dream. Christmas is here to stay.

* Many thanks to the Oliver Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, for details of the ban

Friday 22 December 2023

Inherently evil?

Although I still believe that human beings are basically good-natured and kind, and only turn nasty if they've been badly mistreated in some way, there are still many who believe some people are intrinsically evil and nothing can be done to change that.

Yes, there are monsters from middle-class backgrounds, people who've apparently had loving and devoted parents, but their childhood might not have been as healthy as it seems. Their parents may have been so wrapped up in their work or otherwise self-absorbed that they never gave their children the attention they needed.

Like 16 year old William Cornick from Leeds, who murdered his teacher in 2014, and came from a respectable middle-class home. His mother was a human resources manager and his father was a council executive. All those who knew him were baffled that he could have done something so dreadful.

But if you look closely at the background of hardened criminals, you often find a history of ill-treatment. Many serial killers are abused - physically, psychologically, sexually - as children by a close family member.

Children can easily be damaged by their home life. Years of poverty and deprivation, squalid housing, or parents with drug or alcohol issues, can leave a child with a deep-rooted bitterness about the unfairness of life, and that can lead to them lashing out in unpredictable ways.

I just can't believe that some people are inherently evil. It seems like a very cynical and negative view that ignores the huge influence of childhood experience on impressionable young brains. I'm sure good-natured children can easily become vicious and destructive if they're exposed to uncaring parents for long enough.

But perhaps I have a slightly rose-tinted outlook that defies reality.

Monday 18 December 2023

So much hatred

Why do some people hate other people so much?

I think it's largely because they're unable (or unwilling) to put themselves in the shoes of the person they hate.

How can you hate immigrants when you know something about the circumstances they're fleeing from (civil war, famine, discrimination, economic failure, dictatorship) and how gruelling was the journey to a more civilised country? What would you have done in the same situation as them? Wouldn't you also decide life could be better somewhere else?

How can you hate a bullying employer who maybe has money problems, has mental health issues, has a crumbling marriage, has difficult children, has a parent with dementia? Would you not have sympathy for a person who's facing so much adversity on so many fronts? There but for the grace of God etc.

How can you hate the unemployed when there may be good reasons why they're unemployed - they have a serious illness, they lack the necessary skills, employers are prejudiced against black people or women or ex-prisoners. But the assumption is that the unemployed must be work-shy layabouts.

Of course hatred can be based on many things. It can also be based on jealousy - resentment against those who seem to be having better lives. It rankles intolerably that other people have more luck, or are especially talented, or just know how to climb the greasy pole. But again, are those people having the fabulous lives you credit them with? Or are their private lives a disaster?

You don't have to hate people. You can still dislike them and you can still be annoyed by them. Isn't that enough?

Pic: a work-shy layabout

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Can I die now?

I'm all in favour of assisted dying, meaning dying at a time of my choosing rather than waiting for my death to occur naturally, perhaps with a terminal illness and after months of agony, incontinence, dehydration and other awful complications.

Baroness Meacher tried in 2022 to change the law to allow assisted dying, but she didn't manage to do it before the end of the parliamentary term, when it fell by the wayside.

The actor Diana Rigg strongly supported assisted dying before she herself died of severe cancer in 2022, after months of miserable suffering. She didn't understand why people were expected to go through such suffering rather than dying at the earliest opportunity.

Of course there are people who fear that a law permitting assisted dying would be exploited by those with bad intentions like wanting to get their hands on someone's money. But they would surely be a tiny minority, and appropriate safeguards would be built into the legislation.

There is clearly widespread support for assisted dying. A 2019 poll of over 5000 UK adults found that 84 per cent supported some form of assisted dying. In which case MPs should stop dragging their feet and legislate for it.

I would hate to have to be looked after for months while I waited in agony for my death to arrive. Being permanently incapacitated for no good reason except "allowing nature to take its course" would be dreadful.

I'd just want to say goodbye to my wrecked and ravaged body.

Pic: Diana Rigg

Saturday 9 December 2023

Odds and sods

  • I won't leave any great achievements when I die. I shall simply vanish into the ether. I have no problem with that.
  • I'm used to doing things on my own. If other people are hovering, I get flustered (if they're hoovering I get even more flustered).
  • Most cats find me frightening. They rush off when they see me. But some cats are extra friendly and want lots of stroking.
  • I shouldn't judge by appearances but I do. I like to think I can suss someone out. Usually my assumptions are quite wrong.
  • Sometimes I have no patience whatever and get instantly exasperated. At other times I have boundless patience. There's no logic to it.
  • I'm not easily duped or scammed. I have a pretty acute shit-detector that alerts me fast. In fact I'm a bit too sceptical for my own good.
  • How handy it would be if toenails and fingernails stopped growing once they reached their normal size. Why do they keep growing??
  • Flying doesn't scare me. Planes are incredibly well-maintained and very safe. After all, the pilots and crew want to stay alive.
  • I may be six foot, but I don't feel tall unless I look in the mirror. I imagine I'm a similar height to other people.
  • I'm compulsively polite. I hate arguing with people, so I always try to smooth things over with some bland comments.
  • It's strange that I've never seen myself walking down the street. Do I have a funny walk? Do I look like an old codger?
  • If I try to do two things at once I just get confused. I have zero aptitude for multi-tasking.
  • I'm not a drama queen. When people turn some minor incident into a frantic uproar, I just stay calm and dignified.
(You might remember some of these from earlier posts)

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Politics? No way!

There are many reasons why I always ruled out becoming a politician. It's been suggested a few times that I would be an excellent one, but goodness knows why. The very idea is laughable.

The most compelling reason was the constant clash between what I would want to do, what my constituents would want me to do, and what the party line happened to be.

To have to keep deciding between those three things must be hugely stressful. If for example I thought it was sensible to close a local hospital and transfer all its services to a new and better equipped hospital a couple of miles away, but my constituents wanted the local hospital to stay open, and the party line was something different again, what would I go with?

Then there's the mounting hostility towards politicians generally, for being out of touch with their constituents, pursuing expensive vanity projects and lining their own pockets. Female politicians especially are subject to a never-ending torrent of abuse, personal attacks and death threats. Many politicians have been forced to install elaborate security systems simply for their own safety.

And despite threadbare knowledge of the subjects I would be legislating on or making decisions about, I would have to add my shaky opinions to what might already be some totally misguided measures, with who knows what unforeseen consequences. What do I know about interest rates or planning applications or carbon emissions? No more than the average person-in-the-street.

No, I just couldn't have done it. I wouldn't have lasted six months.

Friday 1 December 2023

Keeping up appearances

I know I've said this before, but I'm constantly baffled by the extent of people's dislike of their bodies - and their appearance generally.

The market for physical improvements seems to be growing all the time, as people find parts of their body deficient and seek ways of making them perfect.

Botox, fillers, cosmetic surgery, shapewear, hormones, steroids, workouts, you name it. So many people just aren't happy with the way they look, even if their friends say they're fine just as they are. They'll take all sorts of risks to change the offending item - even going abroad to dodgy clinics they've never heard of before.

I've never been bothered by my appearance, and not just because I'm a man and less critical of my body than a lot of women. Apparently men are getting just as self-critical and more and more of them want to improve some body part they're unhappy with.

I suppose one reason I'm quite okay with my body is that my favourite activity is abstract thinking and that tends to exclude any thoughts about my appearance. I'm more likely to disapprove of some politician's nonsensical utterance than the shape of my nose or the size of my bottom.

One exception though - I do dislike facial and body hair and prefer hairless bodies, even though getting rid of the stuff can be an expensive and tedious business that many women object to. I've never understood why so many men grow beards and moustaches under the impression that these masculine adornments are a huge turn-on for women. Well, they might be or they might not.

So I won't be chucking thousands of pounds at some greedy cosmetic surgeon any time soon.

Monday 27 November 2023

Allergic to Christmas

Most of us find preparing for Christmas pretty straightforward. But spare a thought for people who're allergic to Christmas - or rather allergic to the common ingredients of Christmas food.

Anne Murray, from Lanark, Scotland, is allergic to things like citrus and cinnamon. As she has severe asthma any exposure to these ingredients could kill her without immediate medical treatment.

She almost died in November 2016 when she smelt "pine cones impregnated with citrus" in a garden centre. Fighting to breathe, she grabbed her inhaler and ran out of the garden centre. Two days later she was still struggling to breathe and needed hospital treatment.

"I can't be anywhere near things that smell of Christmas, or eat anything Christmassy like mince pies or stollen cake" she says. "Just smelling a mince pie could kill me."

I assume I can eat whatever I like without falling violently ill. At Christmas especially I want to tuck into anything that's going without having to steer clear. It's tragic that some people can't be so free-and-easy.

Allergies generally seem to be increasing, both in childhood and in adulthood. Many adults are developing allergies they never had in childhood and despite a lot of research the cause is still unknown. There's a wide range of allergens, including soya beans, sesame, and tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans.

Buying any food products must always be risky. You have to assume food labels are 100 per cent accurate about what is or isn't in the product and there are no inadvertent mistakes. Two women died after eating mislabelled food from Pret a Manger, which led to tighter food labelling laws.

It's easy for those of us without allergies* to take for granted our less complicated lives.

*I tell a lie. I have a slight allergy to wheat. If I eat anything containing wheat my nose starts running.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Lonely or what?

There's still a lot of talk about the "epidemic of loneliness" and what can be done about it. The general conclusion is that lonely people need to get out more and spend more time with other people. But I don't think it's nearly that simple.

My own view of loneliness is quite complex. For me, I would say boredom is more of a problem than loneliness. If I'm totally absorbed in something then I don't feel lonely because I'm just not thinking about other people.

A feeling of loneliness is said to arise if you can't find people who're on the same wavelength as you, but I don't expect people to be on my wavelength. Society is now so fragmented into umpteen tiny groups of like-minded people that the chance of my happening to meet someone I see eye to eye with is pretty slim.

If I'm not on the same wavelength as other people, that makes me feel isolated or unusual but not lonely. But then I was brought up in a family who had very different views to myself, so I'm used to being out on a limb.

What I really need isn't people on the same wavelength but people who can give me useful advice about how to deal with life's problems. That's where I feel a lack. Like someone who can diagnose a faulty washing machine or fill in a complicated application form or just give me a more optimistic view of the horrifying world we now live in.

There's more to loneliness than meets the eye.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Could I pass?

Fifty six years on, I sometimes wonder if I could still pass the driving test, given all the changes there have been to the Highway Code and given there is now a theory test I never had to contend with.

I just tried a sample theory test and answered 38 out of 50 questions correctly - or 76 per cent. The pass mark is actually 86 per cent, so if I were taking it again I'd need to do some serious swotting. But I suppose for a first try, having never done a theory test before, that's not too embarrassing.

Some of the questions seem to have little to do with driving ability though. Like "How can you avoid wasting fuel?" or "How can you stop your car radio being stolen?" or "Where should you not park?" But you still have to know the answers.

You also have to be familiar with the Highway Code, which runs to 162 pages. I know it's been updated numerous times, to cover things like giving way to pedestrians and allowing for cyclists, so there'd be more swotting required.

As for the practical side, my ability to drive a car might not be what it used to be. I passed my driving test first time but no doubt my standards have slipped a bit since then. There must be a natural tendency to become a bit careless over the years and not drive quite as safely. Dodging traffic lights, speeding, driving too close to another vehicle, risky overtaking. I have to say I'm guilty of all those. So whether I could still satisfy a driving examiner is debatable.

Still, as yet I've never had a serious accident, so I must be doing something right.

PS: I've just discovered there are two parts to the theory test - multiple choice and hazard perception. If you fail one part that's a total fail and you have retake the whole theory test.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

So much misery

Misery memoirs (recalling the writer's terrible childhood with all its cruelty and abuse) seem to be as popular as ever.

Britney Spears is the latest person to have recalled not only her childhood misery but her adult misery as well. How she was harassed, taunted and belittled by her husband, how her heavy-drinking father had legal control of her life for over 13 years, and so on.

I suppose some people would argue that there's no need to recount all this negativity at such length, that lots of people have been exposed to childhood misery of one type or another, who needs to be told about it yet again?

I disagree. The more we know about the appalling way some people have been treated as a child, the more incentive there is to ensure children grow up with caring and supportive parents who encourage them to make the most of their lives.

Mind you, that's assuming all those misery memoirs are truthful in the first place, and haven't been somewhat embellished and exaggerated to attract more readers.

The English barrister Constance Briscoe successfully defended herself against her mother Carmen's accusations that her "true story of a loveless childhood" was "a piece of fiction".

But Kathy O' Beirne's story of abuse in a Catholic institution, Don't Ever Tell, was denounced as unreliable by her family, while James Frey was discredited for his fictionalised autobiography A Million Little Pieces.

I'm surprised people feel the need to exaggerate their experiences, which are probably horrifyingly awful in the first place. I would say the more misery memoirs we read, the more we know the truth about the dreadful childhoods some people have endured.

Pic: Constance Briscoe

Friday 10 November 2023

A swamp of pomp

Americans (and others) must be quite bemused by the absurd pomp and ceremony of the British State Opening of Parliament, which took place on Tuesday. But the archaic rituals and traditions are faithfully clung to and nobody suggests it's about time for something much simpler and cheaper.

The essence of what happens is very basic. The King and Queen arrive at Parliament and the King gives a speech announcing what the government intends to do in the next year.

If that's all he did, easy peasy. But along with that goes all the overblown grandiosity that hardly anybody dares to question.

  • The King and Queen travel to Parliament in a horse-drawn golden coach
  • When they arrive, the national anthem is played and a gun salute is sounded in Green Park
  • Sarah Clarke, the Black Rod, has to summon MPs to hear the speech
  • The Serjeant at Arms leads the procession of MPs with a ceremonial mace
  • The King and Queen wear ceremonial crowns and outfits
  • Various other items of royal regalia like the Great Sword of State are used in the state opening
Nobody has the nerve to say, hold on a minute, why all this palaver, why can't the King just rock up at Parliament, give his speech and then nip back to Buck House for a snifter? Job done.

I can't imagine the King himself enjoys all this unnecessary baloney. Probably he gets back to the Palace and says to Camilla "Thank God that's over. All that theatrical rigmarole. Pass the gin, darling."

I long for some amusing glitch in the proceedings. Like the crown falling off the King's head or him having a coughing fit in mid-speech. But no such luck.

Pic: King Charles looks forward to his G and T

Monday 6 November 2023

Gas guzzlers

When parents drop off their kids at the two nearby schools, more and more of their cars are those massive, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Usually there's only two people in them - parent and child - and I wonder why such huge cars are necessary.

SUVs are increasingly popular in the UK, despite being so bad for the environment. By early 2023 more than half of all new car sales in Europe were SUVs or the like. Why oh why?

Jenny and I still have our humble nine-year-old Renault Clio. It gets us from A to B and that's all we need. If we had had children we might have acquired something bigger, but what would be the point?

When I was young, most people drove bog-standard saloon cars, as they were then called, and strangely enough children still got to school and parents got to the supermarket. Nobody hankered after vehicles more suitable to pot-holed rural farm tracks.

My parents didn't even own a car, so I walked to school and back every day. Cheaper and healthier than being driven there.

Clearly the SUV drivers don't care about the enormous carbon emissions, hefty fuel consumption and danger to children (I read that children are eight times more likely to die when struck by an SUV compared with an average passenger car).

What is it with these fashionable monsters?

PS: I realise some of you may actually own an SUV. Do tell me why, I'm always open to debate!

Thursday 2 November 2023

After death

A lot of people make requests about what should happen after their death. Sometimes their requests are followed to the letter, sometimes they're totally ignored.

Would I follow Jenny's requests after her death? Would she follow mine? I suppose it depends partly on the nature of the requests. Routine ones like scattering ashes in the local park are easy enough to comply with. But I imagine crazy ones like erecting a tombstone in the Outer Hebrides* would be ignored by most relatives.

My mum never made any after-death requests as far as I know. We opted for a simple cremation and that was that. I've never drawn up any after-death requests and neither has Jenny. If I die first (which is likely because I'm ten years older) Jenny can do whatever she wants with my mortal remains. I won't be capable of either approving or disapproving.

Mind you, I do carry an organ donor card that allows the harvesting of any useful organs after I die, so I guess that counts as one after-death request.

If I had a second after-death request, it might be that people think well of me and forgive all my failings. Or even declare me a national treasure. That would be much better than a Scottish tombstone.

It annoys me when people try to read the dead person's mind and say that Aunt Emma would have wanted this or wanted that. Obviously they can't possibly know what she would have wanted so they're probably talking nonsense.

So when Nick dies, how about throwing the wildest party ever? It's what he would have wanted.

* Outer Hebrides - a series of islands off the west coast of Scotland

Sunday 29 October 2023

Infinite clutter

I'm fascinated by hoarders and why they start hoarding - and why they can't stop. It's a complex mental process that psychologists themselves can't really explain.

As my regulars will know, my mum was a compulsive hoarder. After she died, huge amounts of junk and clutter had to be cleared out of her flat. There were newspapers and bank statements and travel brochures going back years.

When my brother in law tried on one occasion to remove some of he accumulated clutter, my mum was furious and forbad him to remove anything. Even when she was warned that the state of the flat was a fire and safety hazard, she took no notice. I've no idea why she was attached to all this stuff. I can only assume it comforted or reassured her in some way.

Just recently I encountered another hoarder, whose flat was equally full of junk - a lot of it brand-new items that had never been used. She did at least accept that the hoarding was out of control and she needed to have a serious clear-out.

Jenny and I are the opposite. We like neat and tidy surroundings and we discard or recycle as much stuff as we possibly can. We can't imagine the house being so cluttered we'd find it difficult simply to move around or do everyday tasks.

Psychologists struggle to explain the hoarding urge - why people get so emotionally attached to things that they have to keep them, and get so angry when anyone suggests parting with some of them.

Just how does it start? Were their parents hoarders? Did their parents throw away things they treasured? Did their parents encourage spending sprees? Were their parents afraid of discarding something vital by mistake? Whatever the cause, psychologists are still very much in the dark.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Waning wanderlust

I'm of two minds about travel. On the one hand, it can broaden your mind, undermine prejudices, give you novel experiences, show you how other people live. On the other hand, planes and cruise ships are massively polluting and many popular cities are plagued by over-tourism.

I've got the point where, for now at any rate, having travelled all over the world, I've had my fill of travelling and I'm quite happy to stay at home and enjoy my own city and my own country. People who're perpetually travelling find this sudden lack of wanderlust strange and try to persuade us to keep on the move.

It doesn't help that air travel is becoming such a complicated business, fraught with unexpected difficulties like computer failures, strikes, staff shortages, lost baggage, cancelled flights and unforeseen extra charges. I could do without all the hassle and stress and uncertainty.

And then there's the hefty charge for travel insurance. Once you're over 75 and you have one or two medical conditions, the cost of insurance goes through the roof. Is it worth paying such huge sums?

As for travel broadening the mind, I didn't see much evidence of that in my parents, even though they visited Italy many times. My mum professed to love Italy, but she also disliked Italian food. Pizza, pasta, tiramisu, whatever, she wasn't a fan. She still preferred traditional English food.

So for the time being I'm staying at home and marvelling at all those hardened travellers who'll put up with anything the airline throws at them to get their two weeks in some exotic location. Rather them than me.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

The F word

Most people nowadays take a very laid-back attitude to swearing. So what if someone swears? It's a good way of letting off steam and much healthier than bottling up your feelings and letting them fester.

I've never been a natural swearer. I'll get annoyed or frustrated about something but I don't swear, mainly because the usual swearword these days is "fucking" and I would rather be more inventive than saying fuck this or fuck that every five minutes.

Also I'm aware there are still plenty of people who avoid using swearwords as being a lazy way of talking, so I tend not to use swearwords myself in case someone starts bristling.

When I was young "fucking" was never used as a swearword. It was merely a colloquial word for sex that was frowned upon by the grown-ups as being in very bad taste and NOT TO BE USED.

But we had plenty of swearwords and disparaging remarks, far more than we have today, some of them quite original and colourful - like "jump off a cliff" or "get stuffed" or "you're a waste of space".

I keep expecting the word "fucking" to lose its allure and gradually fall out of use, but on the contrary it's as popular as ever. It looks like it's fucking well with us for years to come.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Rival attraction

Journalist Christa Ackroyd aims to raise £600,000 to restore the house near Bradford where the Brontë sisters were born and turn it into a major tourist attraction. She sees it as a rival to the house in Haworth six miles away where Charlotte, Anne and Emily lived with their father, which gets a million visitors a year.

She thinks the house would inspire other would-be writers as well as encouraging people to follow their dreams.

Personally I don't understand why the places where famous people were born or used to live have such fascination. Surely what's compelling is what they've produced - books, music, art, plays or whatever.

Wandering round a house gawping at the fixtures and fittings is hardly likely to inspire someone to write a brilliant novel. Either you have literary talent or you don't and I don't see how looking at someone's choice of curtains and wallpaper is going to inspire anything except a fleeting desire to update your own interior furnishings.

I'm sure the Brontë sisters themselves would be baffled as to why millions of people would think it worthwhile to traipse round the houses they used to inhabit, exclaiming at this or that domestic item.

I'm sure some of it is just naked one up manship. How impressive to say you spent the day treading the same floorboards as the Brontë sisters rather than moaning about the bus service in Caffè Nero.

I'd much rather spend an hour or two browsing in Waterstones than check out Charlotte Brontë's ironing board.

Pic: Charlotte Brontë

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Over and done with

People sometimes ask me if I have any regrets in my life, and my answer is always the same - no, no regrets, I simply do my best in any situation, and if things don't work out, I just move on.

Regrets seldom achieve anything positive. They only make you feel bad and stupid and thoughtless. And usually the thing you regret is over and done with and you can't rewrite the past.

I don't have any regrets, but there are many things I'd like to have done but didn't, which is rather different. And I don't wish I had done those things, I'm simply aware that I could have done them but for one reason or another I didn't. I don't see those things as a big failure in my life.

I'd like to have lived closer to my mum when she was going downhill mentally and physically. I'd like to have been able to drop in every day or two to see how she was doing. But I was 350 miles away in Belfast so that was impossible.

I'd like to have learnt to play a musical instrument, but I wasn't encouraged to do so and my first attempt at piano lessons went badly; my piano teacher declared me unteachable. But maybe if I'd tried again later in my childhood, it would have worked out.

I'd like to have been a successful novelist, but I simply didn't have the intellect or imagination or self-discipline to complete a novel. I did give it a try but after about 100 pages I hit total writer's block and couldn't get any further.

So I don't regret any of those lapses. I'm very philosophical about them. I could have done all sorts of things but for lack of talent or inclination or because of circumstances they never happened. So be it. Che sera sera.

Friday 6 October 2023

Mean and self-righteous

My father was a mean and self-righteous man. He always thought he knew better than me and knew what was good for me. If I tried to put him right he got very annoyed.

When I'd been seeing Jenny for a while, I gathered he didn't approve of the relationship and thought I was "exploiting" Jenny.

He never explained what he meant by that. If he meant financially, that was nonsense because Jenny had a hefty credit card debt and I had some savings. If he meant I was leaning on her in some way, that was also nonsense because we were leaning on each other.

In any case he never met her and knew nothing about her so he just had a load of preconceptions about her and about our relationship. Jenny never had a chance to straighten him out.

If I was really exploiting Jenny, as a strong feminist she would have got shot of me at top speed. But we've been together now for 42 years so I must be doing something right.

Jenny would love to have had the chance to confront my father and tell him exactly what she thought of his disparaging attitude, but it wasn't to be. He died seven years after Jenny and I met, still refusing to talk to me because of the numerous grudges he held against me.

To accuse his own son of exploiting someone and not giving me the opportunity to defend myself is pretty low. But it wasn't the first time he had just jumped to conclusions and run with them.

Pic: Not my father, I have no online photos of him.

Monday 2 October 2023

Happy to wait

This increasing trend not just to buy fashionable clothes or go to fashionable restaurants but to go on massive waiting lists for them is absurd.

The Mary Jane Harrietta shoe is currently almost impossible to get hold of, with a waiting list of 800 people. Or you can wait four years for a table at the Bank Tavern restaurant in Bristol.

You or me would surely say, I'm not going on a huge waiting list, that's ridiculous, I'll try another type of shoe/ another restaurant that's more easily available.

What if when you finally get your table at the restaurant, it turns out the chef is having an off day and the meal simply isn't up to much? Then you'll kick yourself for enduring the long wait.

Is it sheer snobbery that people are prepared to go on a waiting list for months or years rather than walking into the local Pizza Express and getting a table straightaway?

Do people get a bit miffed if they're number 754 on the waiting list and they discover their friend is at number 23? Might a few banknotes be exchanged so as to jump the queue?

And how miffed would you be if the famous restaurant burnt down just as you got to the top of the queue?

Pic: the hard-to-obtain Harrietta pumps

Thursday 28 September 2023

Trigger happy

I've voiced my doubts about trigger warnings before, but they're still very widespread and sometimes completely over the top.

I see the veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen has seen red over the multiple trigger warnings for the play he's currently acting in.

Audiences are warned that the play contains strong language, sexual references, discussions of bereavement and cancer, loud noise, flashing lights and mentions of smoking.

No doubt if the theatre thought really hard, they could come up with even more things that might trigger the unwary. Is there some unofficial competition among theatres to provide the biggest number of trigger warnings?

"I think it's ludicrous" said Sir Ian. "I quite like to be surprised by loud noises and outrageous behaviour on stage."

I don't remember so many trigger warnings in my childhood, though there might have been some about sex and violence.

Do people actually avoid an entire play or film or whatever because of one thing that might upset them? It seems unlikely to me.

If people are severely upset by, say, loud noises, shouldn't they be seeing a therapist and trying to get rid of such hyper-sensitivity?

Surely anyone who's seriously keen on culture and the arts will expect at some point to be offended or shocked or startled by something they're experiencing. One of the basic aims of art is to shake you up a bit, to question your usual assumptions. If you're likely to cringe at something a bit out of the ordinary, perhaps you're better off mowing the lawn.

PS: I agree with Infidel that there should be a warning about flashing lights, which can cause seizures and other physical disturbances.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Dress sense

Dress codes may be more relaxed than they used to be, but even so it's often anyone's guess what to wear at a social occasion.

Smart or even formal clothes used to be obligatory at things like funerals, weddings, job interviews, church services, restaurants, theatres and workplaces, but nowadays smart casual or even casual (or even a bit scruffy) is often quite normal at such occasions.

Personally I've never understood why formal clothes are considered so necessary at so many gatherings. They add little except a sense of good taste or good manners.

I wore smartish clothes for my mum's funeral, because I thought that would be expected, but it didn't change how I felt about my mum dying. I would still have felt the same if I was wearing a tee shirt and shorts or some faded dungarees. Obviously my mum had no objection!

Many workplaces no longer stipulate smart or formal clothing and only require their employees to be presentable. That's fine by me. My concern isn't what an employee is wearing but whether they're good at their job.

Even tattoos and piercings are now seen as normal and unremarkable, even in many work situations. When I was young they would have been met with horror and dismay unless you were a builder or a plumber or some sort of trades person.

Of course some people simply like the chance to dress up and show off, and they'll find some dramatic and eye-catching outfit for the occasion. Definitely not a tee shirt or ripped jeans.

I haven't owned a suit for over 50 years, and luckily have never been required to. If anyone can be bothered to attend my funeral, they can wear whatever they like. Budgie smugglers or bikinis? Be my guest.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Going on and on

I don't understand people who want to live forever - or at least many more years than their natural lifespan.

Tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, who's 45, follows a strict behavioural regime every day, convinced it will extend his life by umpteen years (it's not clear how many extra years he reckons he'll have).

He eats lots of vegetables, takes 54 pills every morning, does intensive workouts and undergoes red-light therapy (whatever that is). He looks healthy enough, but will a few extra years really justify this strenuous and time-consuming regime?

At the age of 76 I reckon I've lived quite long enough. I've had a fulfilling life with very few regrets. I've met lots of interesting people, soaked up every type of culture, travelled around the world. I've no desire to hang on till I'm 100 and due to get congratulations from King Charles.

How will this guy know if he's increased his lifespan, anyway? If he lives to 100, how will he know if that's his natural lifespan or his artificially extended one? Lots of people live well into their nineties (as my mum did) without any special attempts to live longer.

And why exactly does he want to live longer? Does he think the extra years will make him happier, or more knowledgeable, or more confident? Or is it just for a rather odd sense of achievement?

Not so long ago people often died in their thirties. Now many of us live three times as long. Surely that's enough? Do we really need to go on and on and on? Isn't that just a tad narcissistic?

Pic: Bryan Johnson

Saturday 16 September 2023

The joy of trees

I had no idea trees were so good for our mental and physical health. I thought they were just pretty objects that absorbed a lot of carbon.

Far from it. Apparently if you spend just 15 minutes walking among trees, your whole mood changes. You'll be calmer and you'll feel less tension, anxiety, anger, hostility, depression and fatigue.

It'll also improve your cardio-vascular health and your immune system, and lower your blood pressure.*

Who knew? How come in 76 years on this earth I've never known all that? Why isn't it common knowledge? Why isn't it written about in the media? Why has no doctor ever enlightened me?

As it happens, this immediate neighbourhood is awash with trees so I'm getting the benefits all the time. The local park is full of trees and so is the Stormont estate just up the road.

So that's another good reason why we should be planting as many trees as possible, quite apart from the carbon-absorption aspect. We have five trees in our garden and front yard - a cherry blossom tree, a pittosporum, a eucalyptus and two rowans. So we're doing our bit for everyone's health.

I guess the healthiest place to live would be a log cabin in the middle of a forest. Could be a bit impractical though, when you needed a bit of shopping or some medical attention. I think I'll stay where I am for now.

*Harvard University School of Public Health

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Sight unseen

There's been a big increase in the number of people who buy a house or flat unseen - except on videos or virtual tours or 360-degree photography. The trend really took off during the pandemic, but has continued since.

I wouldn't be happy doing that, I would always want to visit the place and have a good look round it in the flesh, as it were. There could always be something wrong with it that isn't apparent from a remote viewing. Like a nasty smell or a neighbour who plays loud music at 2 am.

Then again, do you find out everything you need from a physical viewing? The average viewing is only 20 minutes, and often less than that. If the place has been thoroughly redecorated and refurbished, there could be something seriously wrong with it that you don't notice because its been hidden.

So in practice a physical viewing isn't much better than a remote viewing. Of course you can get a surveyor's report that will tell you if it's structurally sound, but that still won't tell you about the nasty smell or the noisy neighbour.

Jenny and I spent about 20 minutes looking round this house, which looked fine but the surveyor's report told us a lot of things we were unaware of (nothing too serious thankfully - nothing to stop us buying the house).

I've read a few times about people buying a property after seeing it online, only to find that the house or flat doesn't exist or it's owned by someone else and not the seller. But that seems to be very rare.

Call me old-fashioned but if I'm thinking of buying a house, I want to have a look at the actual thing, not some online sample.

Friday 8 September 2023

Can I do more?

I don't think much about climate breakdown these days. It's one of those things I have little control over, so what's the point of dwelling on it?

Jenny and I do whatever we can to avoid over-consumption, atmospheric pollution, long-distance travel, global supply chains and all that, but at the end of the day there's only so much we can do as two individuals.

Our contribution to climate breakdown is miniscule. The real offenders by far are manufacturers, big corporations and the very wealthy, and they're the ones that need to drastically change their perspective and their belief that they can exploit the planet's resources indefinitely. Sadly there's little sign of their doing that.

I could spend all day obsessing about what more I can do to reverse climate breakdown, and drive myself totally neurotic with anxiety and fear and self-doubt, and it wouldn't do much for my mental health.

But the media contribute to the idea that we should all be scrutinising our every purchase and every activity and asking ourselves if there's more we could do to save the planet and curtail our selfish and extravagant spending patterns.

An entirely hypocritical stance of course, as the media do everything they can to increase our consumption levels with their pages on property, motoring, fashion, travel, home furnishings and all the rest.

Given the general head-in-the-sand attitude and lack of urgency on the part of the biggest polluters I don't see any realistic chance of climate breakdown being reversed, and we might as well prepare for the worst. Many people have already had a taste of the worst in the form of extreme weather events like floods and heatwaves.

And there are still people who deny climate breakdown is even happening.

Monday 4 September 2023

Generous or what?

I must admit I'm not an especially generous person. I'm not in the habit of giving loans, giving sandwiches to homeless people, paying for someone else's groceries, volunteering at a food bank, helping someone move house, or just giving things away.

On the other hand I'm generous in other ways. I often give large tips to restaurant servers and cabbies and hairdressers, I give clothes and books to charity, I give money to charity, and I've given blood 33 times. So I'm not all bad.

Of course generosity is a slippery concept, and depends very much on the context. If a billionaire gives a sandwich to a homeless person, that's not exactly generous because the billionaire has nothing to lose. But if someone desperately poor gives the sandwich, that's generosity in spades.

Generosity can also take subtle and invisible forms we tend to overlook. Like taking the time to listen to someone who's in distress, or being tactful about someone's awful cooking or hideous haircut, or guiding someone out of a tight parking space.

And generosity can mean not just giving something but waiving something. Like cancelling a debt or letting a flat rent-free or not charging for a bit of professional advice (not that I've ever been the recipient of such gestures, sorry to say).

I could resolve to be more generous, but I don't think it's something you can just switch on. I think it's something that comes naturally, maybe with generous parents or generous friends showing the way.

Anyway, what about all the fascinating and thought-inspiring posts I've churned out in the last 16 years. Isn't that a magnificent act of generosity?

Thursday 31 August 2023

Tricks of the trade

I was thinking about the TV programmes where people have houses full of junk and clutter, stuff they've probably bought on a whim only to be shoved away in a corner somewhere and forgotten. Then I was musing about all the little tricks that encourage us to spend more/consume more than we actually need.
  • Like souvenirs. It's the done thing to come back from a holiday with souvenirs of the places you've visited. It doesn't matter how tacky they are, as long as they prove you've been to X, Y and Z. Personally I don't go in for that, I buy something because it's pretty or amusing or informative, but not as a souvenir.
  • Like fashion. Just about everything is now subject to the whims of fashion. Have I got the latest smart phone or the latest trainers or the latest lavishly praised bestseller? The answer is no, I don't have the latest anything, only what I take a fancy to. With my stout shoes and dumb phone and umbrella I'm gloriously unfashionable.
  • Like elaborate weddings. It's not enough to pop round to the local registry office, you should be dancing and carousing in some exotic location and getting expensive presents from all the guests. Well, too bad, Jenny and I were happy with the local registry office.
  • Like the idea that your kitchen/living room/bathroom is looking a bit "tired" and needs updating. Why not blow a few thousand on "refreshing" it and impressing the neighbours?
  • Like the idea of pampering, of treating yourself. Feeling a bit low? Life's getting you down? Then why not give yourself a little treat? How about a box of chocolates, or a manipedi, or a hairdo, or a box set?
Hopefully I'm wise to all these tricks, but marketing grows ever more sophisticated....

Saturday 26 August 2023

Still covering up

Almost ten years ago I wrote about Julie Bailey, a whistle-blower who was relentlessly persecuted and harassed after she exposed sub-standard care and unnecessary deaths at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.

Supposedly, since then whistle-blowers have received stronger protection and support and can expose malpractice without being treated as the guilty party.

Well, that's the theory. In practice it seems that little has changed and whistle-blowers can still be told to shut up and stop making trouble.

The recent case of Lucy Letby, the nurse who murdered seven babies at the Countess of Chester Hospital and could easily have murdered several more, showed that pointing out wrong-doing can still be seen as a hostile act rather than a necessary warning.

Two medical consultants, Dr Stephen Brearey and Dr Ravi Jayaram, both raised concerns about unexplained infant deaths at the hospital as early as July 2015.

But both were rebuffed constantly by hospital managers. Dr Jayaram was told "not to make a fuss". It wasn't until June 2016, after repeated complaints, that Letby was finally removed from her clinical duties.

Of course it's obvious why whistle-blowers are so badly treated. The members of staff who are at fault are desperate not to lose their good reputation, and in this case the good reputation of the hospital. So they turn on the whistle-blower to save their own skin and they refuse to admit to any mistakes.

There needs to be a new attitude that says it's okay to make mistakes, we all make them, and that admitting mistakes as soon as possible is a positive move and not a negative one. Confessing promptly to mistakes shouldn't damage your reputation, it should enhance it.

How many dangerous mistakes are still being covered up?

Pic: Lucy Letby


No, I haven't died. Jenny and I have been in Liverpool for the Art Biennial, and to see two old friends in Chester. We had a great time and saw loads of wonderful artworks.

Thursday 17 August 2023

Wrong think

I think it's extremely worrying that hundreds of trans activists around the country feel it's perfectly okay to condemn people for having opinions they disagree with and it's perfectly okay to then persecute, harass and abuse them until they change their opinions or keep a strict silence. And it's perfectly okay if the persistent wrong-thinker is sanctioned or sacked by their employer and their life is shattered.

The Irish comedy writer Graham Linehan, who co-created the unforgettable character Father Ted, has been persecuted for years now over his opinion that nobody can change sex, that transwomen aren't women, and that sexual self-identification is a nonsense. As a result of his stance, he has lost lucrative work, become financially destitute, and has seen his marriage collapse.

Just this week his scheduled appearance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was cancelled because of his views on transgender. The venue Leith Arches said that "his views do not align with our overall values." Whatever that means.

It's incredible and shocking that in the year 2023 someone's opinions can be ruthlessly monitored and they can be victimised and censured simply for having an opinion that differs from the prevailing view.

Who gives these fanatical activists the right to act as thought police? Why don't they realise that what they're doing is outrageous? And why aren't more people speaking up and saying this is unacceptable behaviour?

It's beside the point whether you agree with Graham Linehan's opinions or not. What matters is that there's a long tradition of freedom of speech in Britain and suddenly that tradition is being relentlessly trampled on.

PS: He performed in front of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday evening.

Pic: Graham Linehan

Sunday 13 August 2023

No kids

Jenny and I decided very early on in our relationship that we didn't want children. We just never had that overwhelming urge to reproduce and "continue the family line". And we still feel the same 41 years later.

We know all the arguments for having children. You'll love their unpredictable ideas and comments and questions. You'll be invigorated by their physical energy. We need plenty of young people to keep the economy healthy and provide care and services for the elderly. And we hope our children will look after us when we're old and decrepit.

None of these arguments were strong enough to make me want offspring. Firstly, I have plenty of unpredictable ideas of my own. Secondly, I'm invigorated very easily and don't need any further invigoration. Thirdly, there are plenty of people to provide for the elderly, including all the young migrants the government is trying to keep out.

As for our children looking after us, that argument is highly dubious. In particular, why should children feel obliged to look after their parents, just because their parents brought them into the world?

And there's an assumption that people's children will be physically and mentally fit as well as happy to care for their elderly parents. But they may turn out to be disabled or seriously ill or mentally disturbed and unable to fill that role. They might be dead, they might hate their parents, they might live on the other side of the world. That optimistic assumption about being cared for is full of holes. And very presumptuous.

If other people want to have children, good for them, and I hope they get a lot of joy and satisfaction from doing so. Just as long as I can enjoy a restaurant meal without hyper-active children running amuck.

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Asking for help

Journalist Oliver Keens admits he's still the stereotype male when it comes to asking for help. He can't shake off the entrenched idea that men should be helping other people, not seeking help themselves.

He thinks this is a common male trait, but is he right? Men are supposed to be reluctant to consult a doctor or ask for directions or clarify a puzzling restaurant menu or seek help when they feel depressed or suicidal.

It may be true that other men are that unassertive, but personally I've never been shy of asking for help or asking questions. I would ask for help in all those situations.

If men think they should be able to solve problems without help, that asking for help means they're some sort of sissy or failure, that's ridiculous.

No wonder three quarters of suicides are males if men are reluctant to voice their feelings of hopelessness and despair and defeat to other people. I'm sure that if I was feeling as bad as that, I wouldn't hesitate to tell Jenny or ring the Samaritans - or both.

And I would consult a doctor straightaway if I had any seriously worrying symptoms. I wouldn't just shrug them off and hope they'd go away. It helps of course that I have several great doctors I would happily confide in.

I know women can be exasperated when a man refuses help even when it's the obvious thing to do. The enduring fantasy of masculine self-sufficiency and independence has a lot to answer for.

Friday 4 August 2023

Helpless parents

It must be incredibly distressing for a parent when their child adopts some clearly self-destructive behaviour but won't listen when they encourage him or her to change their ways before it's too late.

Zhanna Samsonova, a Russian online influencer who had followed a strict diet of raw tropical fruit for ten years, and said she hadn't drunk water for six years, has died, reportedly of malnutrition, exhaustion and infections, at the age of 39. Her mother Vera was alarmed at her daughter's extreme diet and had tried to coax her into more sensible eating habits but got nowhere.

Can you imagine what her mother must have gone through, watching her daughter waste away but being unable to keep her alive?

Other parents must suffer the same way when their children become drug addicts or heavy drinkers or hardened smokers, and steadfastly refuse to accept that their behaviour is doing them harm. No doubt the parents often blame themselves for their children's bad habits, thinking they must have triggered them in some way. But of course self-destructive habits have very complex causes.

As one parent says: "It's devastating and very sad and tragic at times, just heart-breaking. As a parent, you want to save them. You want to shake them and scream, Why are you doing this? The problem is that there is no good answer to the question, Why are you doing this? There is so magic cure for the heartache and sorrow you experience as a parent."

I may have been a pain in the arse to my parents at times, but at least I never had them worrying that I was on a path of self-destruction. For one thing, I'm not that keen on tropical fruit.

Pic: Zhanna Samsonova - when she still looked healthy

Monday 31 July 2023

Blissful ignorance

When I was young I seldom gave any thought to the possibility of old age and all it implied. I lived in a self-absorbed juvenile bubble, aware only of my youthful vitality and my still coalescing personality.

When we visited my mother's parents, all I took in was that they were old. I thought very little about what that entailed. I was aware that granny had a bad back and some arthritis but that was about it. Most of her life was a complete mystery to me, likewise grandpa's.

Of course one reason I thought so little about old age was that for most people in those days old age didn't last very long. The generally-observed retirement age was 65 and most people only lived for a few years after retiring. Because of that they were less likely to develop the multitude of medical problems that afflict so many of today's oldies. So if I ever thought about old people's health, I assumed they were physically fit rather than frail and decrepit.

I think it's also the case that youngsters, if they think of old age at all, simply don't want to know that one day they might be old and enfeebled, so they try not to think about what's coming down the line. They tell themselves that they'll never get old, or they'll die before they reach old age, or that all the infirmities of old age might happen to others but not themselves.

I was convinced at one time that I wouldn't live very long and would thus avoid old age altogether. In my twenties, I was quite sure I wouldn't reach 30, and was rather surprised when I did. I also thought I might die at 70, as my father did, but that never happened either.

Thursday 27 July 2023

Nightmare holiday

When we book a holiday, we assume it will go ahead as planned and there'll be no last-minute glitches to stop us in our tracks.

Luckily we've never fancied Greece so we didn't book a holiday in Rhodes. Those vacationers who happened to be there when the wildfires broke out must have been tearing their hair out and wondering what was coming next. Hotels burning down, luggage lost, flights cancelled, bedding down who-knows-where. Dream holidays in ruins.

Meanwhile those holiday-makers who've booked a stay in Rhodes some time in the future are wondering if it will ever happen. Every day they ask the same questions. What's the latest? Are the fires still burning? Are our flights still on? Does our hotel still exist? They're left in an uncertain limbo.

Not forgetting of course the distressed residents of Rhodes themselves, who're seeing their homes and businesses burnt to the ground and tourists keeping well away. They can't just jet back to their home country, they have to adjust to what's going on around them.

To cut down on flight pollution, we decided on staycations this year rather than anything more ambitious. We're glad we did. We've booked a stay in Liverpool in a few weeks' time. This being the UK we can be sure temperatures will not hit the mid-forties celcius. We'll be lucky if they reach the twenties.

We were in Melbourne once when the temperature hit 40 celcius, and doing anything in that heat was almost unbearable. Anything higher than that would have been pretty gruelling.

Sunday 23 July 2023

Bricks and mortar

Given the current housing crisis, dating youngsters are said to be paying more attention to the housing situation of their dates. Which may seem rather unromantic, but it's something that looms large nowadays.

Unless your only concern is whether you love each other, how compatible you are, and how likely you are to stay together, and you absolutely refuse to think about such practical issues as bricks and mortar, then housing is bound to come up sooner or later.

Does your date own a flat or house? Are they planning to? Do they have enough funds to do so? Or are they easily affording a hefty flat rental?

Such considerations weren't so pressing when I was young and dating. If you gave the matter any thought at all, you assumed your date was happily housed somewhere and able to afford whatever it cost.

I hardly gave a moment's thought to housing when I was dating, and neither did my parents, even though parents generally were often very curious about a prospective mate's financial status and future prospects.

When I met Jenny we were both working in bookshops. Although our salaries were low, we assumed we wouldn't have any trouble renting and subsequently buying a flat or house. At that time this was such a reasonable assumption that we barely discussed it. Since then of course both rents and property prices have sky-rocketed and salaries have declined.

So it's not surprising that the practicalities of where you and your loved one might live, and whether you can possibly afford it, often comes up.

Not very romantic but hard to avoid.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Word association

I'm bemused by those fanatical campaigners who think that endless tinkering with the words and phrases we use somehow makes life better for all those groups of people who're discriminated against.

The latest daft initiative from an obscure pressure group reprimands anyone who uses phrases including the word black, because according to them this could be racist. We shouldn't say someone deserves a black mark, or we're feeling in a black mood, or we're in someone's black books, or we bought something on the black market. We should find alternative phrases that avoid the word black.

This seems to me absolutely dotty. If I say I'm in a black mood, how on earth is this linked to racism? Wouldn't people understand it to mean simply that I'm feeling rather grumpy and irritable, with no sense whatever of a racist overtone?

Surely the way to combat racism is not to make umpteen changes to our vocabulary but to treat black people like fellow human beings, with courtesy and respect and fairness. Obviously we avoid the offensive n-words that are clearly abusive, but terms like "black mood" are referring to something quite different.

Yesterday I met my first black bus driver (Yes, Belfast is still mostly white). I would think that treating him as just another bus driver rather than something unusual and surprising is probably more appreciated than no one mentioning their "black mood".

I hope nobody offers him a black coffee or some black grapes. You never know, he might be mortally offended.

Saturday 15 July 2023

Putting the boot in

Anyone who really thought the British media had changed its ways in recent years and become more serious and more responsible must have been sorely disillusioned by the reporting of the Huw Edwards saga. It was atrocious.

To fill in the background for my American visitors, Huw Edwards is a very well-known news presenter who has worked for the BBC for 39 years. He reports on all the grand occasions like general elections, Royal coronations and state visits.

On July 7 the Sun (a down-market right-wing tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch) reported on allegations that a "well-known BBC presenter" had paid £35,000 to a 17-year-old man for "indecent images".

Instead of briefly mentioning these dubious unsubstantiated claims on an inside page, and stressing they were merely allegations, virtually all the mainstream media pumped out banner front-page headlines wondering who was the mysterious senior presenter and clearly implying he was a ghastly sleazeball who deserved his come-uppance.

Even the supposed serious papers like the Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent all gleefully splashed the story for several days, seldom questioning the allegations and finding him "guilty until proved innocent".

On July 10 the young man's lawyer stated that "nothing inappropriate or unlawful has taken place" and that the allegations are "nonsense". So where the truth lies is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile Huw Edwards is reported to be so distressed by the coverage that he is now in hospital with "serious mental health issues". He is known to have had regular episodes of depression throughout his life.

The way the media, including papers that should have known better, have put the boot in on the basis of a totally unproven story in the Sun is despicable and I can only feel very sorry for poor Huw, who has always seemed decent and likeable.

Pic: Huw Edwards

NB: Huw is pronounced Hugh

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Who needs grudges?

I don't understand people who hold grudges. Especially when they hold grudges not just for days but for years on end. What on earth do they achieve from it?

My father formed a grudge against me when I was 22 and didn't speak to me for 20 years. He wouldn't even let me into his house, so I had to see my mother at a local pub. There was no reasoning with him.

The grudge may be based on a complete misunderstanding of someone's words or actions, but they won't be corrected. They get some sort of emotional satisfaction from shutting the person out or refusing to treat them in a normal courteous fashion.

People are left out of wills in favour of the local dogs' home or some distant relative who is somehow seen as more deserving. People aren't invited to social gatherings or they're constantly abused and insulted behind their backs.

I've never held a grudge against anyone. Yes, there are people who've treated me badly or shunned me for no obvious reason, but I just put it down to "human error" and get on with my life. I don't want all that negative emotion festering away inside me.

Grudges can have such destructive consequences. From Putin having a long-standing grudge about the break-up of the Soviet Union to the next-door neighbour persisting with some convoluted boundary dispute to a local council hounding you for painting your door the wrong colour (this is currently happening to Miranda Dickson in Edinburgh).

There are plenty of people I could hold grudges against, but I'm just not going to waste my time and energy on them.