Monday 30 January 2023

False assumptions

I suppose we all make grand assumptions about other people based on the little we know of them - how they behave, how they look, how they speak. Such assumptions are probably wrong as often as they're right. Certainly people have made some very odd assumptions about me. For example:

  • Because I'm still thin, then I must work out at the gym (I've never been in a gym)
  • Because I'm a well-spoken white male, then I must have been head of some prestigious organisation (I was mostly a bookseller)
  • Because I go for walks in a tatty jacket and ancient jeans, and we have a nine year old Renault Clio, then I must be poor (which I'm not)
  • Because I live in a very large house, then I must be wealthy (which I'm not)
  • Because I'm fairly fit and healthy, and free of addictions and psychological disorders, then I'm smug and self-righteous (which I'm not)
  • Because only 9.3 per cent of Northern Irish folk are atheist, then I'm religious (which I'm not)
Of course I make umpteen assumptions about other people, and probably most of them are wrong. I make assumptions about how intelligent someone is or their political beliefs or what food they eat or how well-organised they are.

I assume that someone has seldom left their neighbourhood, only to find they've travelled all over the world. I assume that someone rarely reads a book, only to find they've read all the classics I've never read.

Well, there's no harm in making false assumptions, I suppose, as long as I'm prepared to correct those assumptions if they prove to be nonsense.

As for those assumptions that I'm simultaneously a hopeless romantic and a hardened cynic, that wouldn't be far from the truth.

Wednesday 25 January 2023

No going back, thanks

Some people say they'd give anything to be young again. Others say, you must be joking, I had a terrible childhood, no way I would want to repeat it.

I must say I'm firmly in the latter camp. As some of you already know, I had a bad-tempered and self-righteous father who sent me to a boarding school that was totally unsuited to my personality. And when I went there I was bullied by some of the other boys for not being stylish or laid-back enough. Not to mention the poor-quality teaching and regimented daily routine.

So I'm very glad I won't be young again, but others have much more positive memories of nurtured talents, blossoming friendships and inspiring teachers.

My sister had a much more enjoyable childhood. She was an obedient child who managed to keep our father sweet and who attended a local school that suited her more straightforward personality. And having lived with motor neurone disease for 18 years, she might well wish she was young and healthy again.

Of course those people who would love to be young again are surely forgetting how much wisdom and experience they've accumulated in the intervening years. Would they really want to relive a time when they saw everything with such innocent and gullible eyes and all the subtleties and profundities passed them by?

And surely they've forgotten that they were totally controlled by their parents, which was fine if they felt cherished and appreciated but not so fine if they didn't. A lot of children can't wait to break free of their parents and start their own independent life.

Without doubt, the twenty years of my life just gone have been far and away more enjoyable and fulfilling than the first twenty.

Friday 20 January 2023

Jealousy deficit

Jealousy is something I don't understand. I've never resented other people's achievements or skills or possessions or advantages in life. I've never been suspicious of what my spouse might be doing behind my back. I'm quite happy with my own life and don't need to behave like a neurotic child.

Some people get so irrationally jealous they resort to absurd acts of destruction and violence. A man shreds all his girlfriend's clothes or vandalises her car. Or he goes to her supposed lover's house and throws paint over all the windows.

My father was the jealous type. He was always suspicious of my mother's friends and wanted to know exactly what she was doing if she was out somewhere. He even imagined she was having lesbian affairs with her female friends. She never showed the slightest hint of lesbianism but that didn't put him off.

I don't take after him at all. I know lots of people who're more intelligent, more talented, better educated, wealthier, with beautiful houses, with fewer hang-ups, but I'm not jealous of them or even mildly envious. I just think, well, good for them, they're luckier than me in all sorts of ways, they seem to have great lives, but I don't need to resent them because my own life has worked out very well and why spend my time hankering after what someone else has got?

What bothers me isn't other people's achievements but their need to make sure everyone knows about them. They have to casually mention that little Benjamin attends the best school in the neighbourhood. Or that they got their house for £20,000 less than the asking price. Or that they flew business class to somewhere or other. Such relentless boasting gets rather tedious.

"The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves." - William Penn

Monday 16 January 2023

Not likeable

The new film Tár, about the (fictitious) downfall of Lydia Tár, a feted female conductor, has attracted some very odd criticism. In particular that such a predatory and abusive character should have been portrayed as a man and not a woman, and that the character "isn't likeable".

Good grief. When did characters in movies (or TV dramas or books) have to be likeable? If that was the case, hundreds of movies and books would have to be pulped immediately. Mean and nasty characters are commonplace, from Hannibal Lecter to Lord Voldemort to Humbert Humbert.

Fictional characters aren't meant to be likeable. Crazy or mysterious or plain horrible but not necessarily likeable. In children's books perhaps but not in adult reading.

The other gripe some people have about fictional characters is that they're not "realistic". Heaven help us. If you want realistic, you should be heading for the mass media, not books or movies. In any case, one person's realistic is another's totally incredible, so you can't win on that one.

One criticism I would share is the objection to gratuitous violence. People recoiled from Bonnie and Clyde because of its graphic savagery. The New York Times complained that the movie's brutal killings were "pointless and lacking in taste". The suggestion of violence, or simply a powerful sense of menace, can be just as effective as explicit violence.

But I guess daft criticism, like poverty, is always with us.

Pic: Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár

Thursday 12 January 2023

Non believer

It's about time I nailed my colours to the mast and confessed that I don't believe in gender identity and I don't believe transwomen are women. We're either male or female, we behave in ways that are seen as masculine or feminine, and that's it. And it's absolutely impossible to change sex.

Apparently that makes me transphobic, bigoted, fascistic and anti-semitic (and in some cases even anti-abortion). I need to wise up, educate myself, and show some kindness towards the most oppressed and suicidal minority in the world. And if I try to defend my views, I'll be shunned and no-platformed.

But the way "trans" people are currently viewed is relatively recent and very different from how they were viewed (and viewed themselves) just a few decades ago.

In the last century, male transsexuals, as they were then known, lived as women but never for a moment believed they were real women. Neither did they believe they had actually changed sex. There were very few of them and because of that they were fairly easily accepted as make-believe women.

That's all changed and now it's not enough to see them "living as" women. We're expected to see them as the real thing, identical to those women who've been born and brought up as women. If they "feel like" women, then that's what they are, and it's not open for discussion.

Prominent public figures who oppose the new transgender beliefs have been viciously trolled and denigrated, often the target of death threats and in some cases forced out of their jobs. Their requests for an open-minded debate on transgender, recognising different opinions, are ignored.

A huge number of people actually disagree with the new thinking, but hesitate to speak up for fear of the consequences. So the nonsense proliferates.

Pic: Professor Kathleen Stock, who was forced out of her post at Sussex University after a militant campaign by trans activists.

Sunday 8 January 2023

But is it true?

Okay, that's quite enough extroversion/ introversion/ shyness/ awkwardness etc. So now for something completely different.

There has been much talk recently about films and TV series that are seen by many as authentic document-aries although they are heavily fictionalised and may bear little relation to the truth.

The TV series The Crown was widely criticised as a travesty that totally misrepresents the Royal Family. The actor Judi Dench accused the show of being "crude sensationalism" while former Prime Minister Sir John Major criticised his depiction in the programme and said that a scene involving conversations about the Queen abdicating was "a barrel-load of malicious nonsense".

Now Julia Stonehouse, daughter of the late Labour Minister John Stonehouse, who unsuccessfully faked his own death, supposedly to start a new life with his mistress in Australia, has criticised the new TV drama Stonehouse as full of lies and mixing fact with plenty of fiction.

John Preston, who produced the series, defends it by saying it's based on a true story but some scenes and characters have been imagined for dramatic purposes.

The problem is that viewers won't know what's true and what's invented, and they may very well believe the inventions rather than the reality. Julia Stonehouse says her family has been plagued for almost 50 years by false press reports, books, TV programmes and now podcasts. Trying to correct all the nonsense is an uphill task.

Personally I think programmes purporting to be a genuine documentary should either explain  from the start that none of it is necessarily the truth, or it should set out to be the unalloyed truth throughout.

Mixing truth with undeclared fabrication for entertainment purposes is surely reckless and irresponsible and I don't understand why such stuff is permitted.

Pic: Julia Stonehouse

Wednesday 4 January 2023

Oiling the wheels

I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that extroversion is the healthy norm, while introversion is an inconvenient aberration.

It's extroverts who oil the wheels of social activity, chatting to people, making connections, keeping things going. Introverts on the other hand, by keeping to themselves and avoiding contact with others, aren't keeping anything going but are leaving other people to do the social donkey work.

And I say that as an introvert myself. Of course I can make all the usual excuses for my behaviour. I was brought up in a very anti-social household, I just happen to be an introvert and that's hard to change, or most social events are banal and tedious so why bother to attend them?

But perhaps instead of trotting out the familiar excuses (which no doubt extroverts are sick of hearing), I should figure out how to engage other people and make more connections with them?

I sometimes imagine what life would be like if most people were introverts and only a few were extroverts. It would surely be a disaster. Everyone keeping to themselves and ignoring other people. Social activities fading away. Nobody to promote new initiatives. And the remaining extroverts afraid of being too exuberant or talking too much or generally alienating the introverts.

Am I being too hard on myself? Am I exaggerating the downside of introversion? Am I exaggerating the benefits of extroversion? Am I conveniently ignoring those extroverts who love the sound of their own voice and jabber away non-stop? Am I ignoring those extroverts who are simply tactless and embarrassing?

The jury's still out. I'm still mulling it all over. So watch this space.

PS: I think I might be a sort of shy extrovert - an underlying extrovert who's shy about letting my extroversion rip.