Monday 27 February 2023

Unloved amendments

A huge controversy over the news that Puffin Publishing have made a stack of amend-ments to books by the children's author Roald Dahl after a "review of the language" to make them more suitable for younger readers.

Words like "fat" and "idiot" and "ugly" have been removed on the basis (I assume) that they might encourage impressionable youngsters to be abusive and judgmental.

However there has been vociferous criticism of the changes from all and sundry, including the Prime Minister and the Queen Consort. They defend the original texts and don't see why they should be altered. They say the changes mute the vigour of the books, which thousands of children are still enjoying, although Dahl himself died in 1990.

Surely it's all rather a storm in a teacup. I can't see what's wrong with a few reasonable changes to his books to reflect modern life and remove possibly offensive language. It's not as if Dahl's books are being totally rewritten and turned into something unrecognisable as his.

Anyone who objects to the original texts is free to stop buying them and find something more "wholesome" for their kids to read. No one is forcing them to read Roald Dahl. Why not keep printing the original versions for those who enjoy them, and just ignore those who don't?

As far as I know, none of his extensive family have objected to the changes. It would be interesting to know what they think.

PS: Books are routinely altered, and sometimes totally rewritten, after a publisher's editor has looked at them. But nobody complains about that.

PPS: Puffin say they will in future publish both the original and amended texts.

PPPS: Alice in Wonderland might need some changes, especially to the Red Queen who keeps threatening to behead everyone!

Thursday 23 February 2023

Curiouser and curiouser

I'm a naturally curious person, and Jenny is even more so, which is one reason we get on so well, I guess.

I'm insatiably curious about all sorts of strange things. Such as:

  • The relentless social media trolling of public figures
  • The damaging effects of second homes on localities
  • Over-tourism likewise
  • The survival tactics of squirrels
  • What cats might be thinking
  • Detransitioners and "gender identity"
  • The re-writing of popular books to prevent offensiveness
  • Why people have cosmetic surgery
  • Advances in medical treatment
  • Witch-hunting cults
  • The shortage of women's toilets
  • The psychological toll of sudden fame
I'm not content to simply "take things as they come". I'm not content with superficial knowledge. I want to know more. I want to know why people behave in a certain way, why crazy ideas become fashionable, why people's lives go off the rails.

My mum was remarkably uncurious. I could spend an hour or two with her and she'd show no curiosity about anything. She would follow the news but never questioned any of it. Although she knew I was left-wing (while she was very right-wing) she never probed me about my opinions, she just ignored them.

But how can people not be curious? The world is so full of bizarre and inexplicable behaviour, how can anyone not want to ask a hundred questions? How can anyone just carry on as if nothing unusual is happening?

People often lose their child-like curiosity as they get older. According to behaviourist Ian Leslie we ask 40,000 questions a year between the ages of two and five - around 110 each day - while adults ask a mere 20. No wonder so many peculiar ideas become mainstream - not enough people query them.

Curiosity killed the cat? What nonsense.

Sunday 19 February 2023

It could be worse

It always annoys me when people don't take other people's difficulties seriously but casually dismiss them on the basis that "others have it so much worse."

How often do you hear someone saying that X shouldn't be depressed or anxious or distressed because they have a great life compared to people in other countries who have real problems to worry about, like drought and famine and earthquakes and civil war. They should consider themselves lucky to have such minor problems.

But those problems aren't minor to the people coping with them. Severe psychological blocks that interfere with your life and your relationships need to be properly responded to and not dismissed out of hand.

It all assumes a sort of "league table of suffering" in which one person's suffering is rated as low down the table and someone else's suffering is way up at the top. As if X's suffering is not true suffering but Y's suffering is the real thing.

But suffering is suffering. Is my desperate grief over the loss of a loved one any less important than the misery of an earthquake victim who has lost her home? To an onlooker, one might seem less significant than the other, but to the person concerned their distress might be totally overwhelming and incapacitating.

Certainly I'd be pretty pissed off if I was severely depressed and someone said to me "Oh, you're not really depressed, Nick. You're simply not the type. You're as tough as old boots. Just give yourself a good talking-to and you'll be fine." Which would be about as helpful as a kick up the bum.

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Space hogging

Some axe-grinding journalists do their best to make couples like us, living in large houses, guilty about our "space hogging" and insist we should be selling up to a family and down-sizing.

Well, it's a nice controversial subject for their next column, but they conveniently ignore all the good justifications for staying put and not moving.

Firstly, our house may be large but all the rooms but one are in regular use. We now have our own separate studies, which we didn't have in our previous house. And we have two bathrooms so there's no one banging urgently on the bathroom door.

Secondly, if there had been a lot more houses built over the last 20 years or so, there would be plenty of family-size houses and nobody would need to vacate a large house. Even if thousands of people sold their large houses right now, there would still be a drastic housing shortage.

Thirdly, a lot of elderly couples are staying in large houses because they intend to leave them to their children when they die. The bigger the house, the more it will be worth and the more benefit it will be to a large family.

Fourthly, a lot of elderly people living in large houses also give money to their children to help them buy a house of their own ("The bank of mum and dad"). In which case they're not depriving their children of a house.

Fifthly, many families couldn't afford to buy a larger house because of the price differential between small and large houses.

Is this just a desperate defence of our raging greed? I hope not.

These sanctimonious journalists should think more carefully before they lay into us "space hogging" home owners.

How big are their own homes, I wonder?

Saturday 11 February 2023

Unwanted busybodies

The mysterious disappearance of Lancashire woman Nicola Bulley has brought dozens of amateur detectives out of the woodwork, convinced they know something the police don't know and confident they can find her.

These hot-headed vigilantes are proving to be a total nuisance, upsetting Nicola's family and friends, obstructing the police and pestering local residents. The police have had to issue a 48-hour dispersal order for the village of St Michael's on Wyre and have warned people about their behaviour. A private security firm is now patrolling the village.

The wannabe sleuths have been breaking into derelict houses looking for signs of Nicola's presence. They've been taking intrusive videos. They've been speculating wildly about Nicola's whereabouts. They've been abusing witnesses. And they've been trespassing on private land.

Nicola's friend Heather Gibbons said "We are at the point where people coming to help look for Nicki are actually doing the complete opposite."

What prompts people to be such a pain the neck, persistently getting in the way of the police and having to be warned off? Who invited them to barge in and air their wild theories about Nicola's disappearance? And why do they think they know better than the professional investigators?

If they had a grain of common sense and tact, instead of making a distressing situation even more distressing for those directly affected, they would content themselves with following the inquiry in the rest of the media like the rest of us. But no, they have to get in on the act, no matter how much of a nuisance they're causing.

At this rate, the police will have to seal off the entire village to keep out the unwanted busybodies.

Update: Nicola's body was pulled from the River Wyre on February 20

Pic: the spot where Nicola was last seen

Tuesday 7 February 2023

Economically inactive

The Chancellor is obsessed with getting the "economically inactive" back to work to relieve labour shortages and increase his tax take. In particular he's focusing on the 50 to 65 year olds.

Well, Jenny and I are both economically inactive (unless you count spending money!) and very happy to stay that way. Neither of us have any intention of doing the Chancellor's bidding.

Most organisations would reject me anyway at my advanced age, though Jenny (who's ten years younger) might be favourably considered.

But it would take a hell of a lot to tempt either of us to go back to the world of work. Given that we now have total freedom over our life and what to do with it, why would we want to return to some regimented workplace with its tedious tasks, its incompetent and overbearing managers, irritating workmates and wearisome commutes?

Even if we were offered lavish salaries, generous annual leave and hefty bonuses, we still wouldn't be interested. Retirement suits us just fine and we have no wish to emerge from it.

Neither of us take after those strange individuals who carry on working into their eighties and nineties, without any desire to become couch potatoes or potter round the garden.

In any case the Chancellor doesn't seem to realise that many people are "economically inactive" for a very good reason. They're looking after their parents or grandchildren, they're seriously ill, they don't need the money, or they can now devote more time to the favourite hobby that work got in the way of.

Sorry, Jeremy, you'll have to look elsewhere for your missing wage slaves.

Friday 3 February 2023

Doggie handling

People are regularly bitten by dogs, and this often sets off a lifelong fear of dog bites. Luckily I've never been bitten by a dog so I'm not afraid of them. Partly that's because I have some idea of what causes a dog to bite.

In January a dog walker was mauled to death in Surrey. It's not clear why they got out of control, but she was walking eight dogs and I guess if one of them got a bit agitated the others might have got equally agitated and turned on her.

The number of injuries from dog bites is rising. Between 1998 and 2018, hospital admissions for dog-related injuries doubled in England, with about 8,000 people now admitted each year.

I'm not afraid of being bitten because I know that bites are usually a response to fear and so I take care not to approach a dog that looks a bit nervous or alarmed and I certainly wouldn't try to stroke or fondle it. I was reading today that a wagging tale doesn't necessarily mean a dog is happy to be approached, it only signifies some strong emotion - it could be enjoyment but it could equally be anxiety or fear.

I often stroke dogs that are tied outside a shop because they're usually glad of the attention they're not getting from the owner. I always feel sorry for them because they look a bit bewildered, wondering if and when their owner is going to reclaim them.

We had two Scottish terriers when I was a child, and they never bit anyone, even though the first one was neurotic enough to abruptly sink its teeth into someone. Jenny and I have never had a pet dog or cat because it would demand too much attention - not to mention visits to the vet and holiday arrangements.

Dogs, like humans, need careful handling.