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.

Thursday 6 July 2023

Spilling the beans

I think one thing that helps sustain a long-term relationship is as much honesty as possible. Whatever's on your mind, getting it out in the open always helps (well, usually) and brings you closer to each other (well, usually).

I don't say total honesty because there are always things you prefer to keep under wraps for very good reasons. I'd be surprised if there's any couple who're totally honest with each other at all times.

Jenny and I are very honest with each other about our thoughts and feelings, but some things we keep to ourselves. I won't say things that might cause her extreme embarrassment or offence, or things she simply wouldn't understand, or reveal intimate details about previous girlfriends.

I imagine Jenny keeps silent about similar things (substituting boyfriends for girlfriends).

That's the main reason I've never even considered having a secret lover. Keeping it secret would be an act of such total dishonesty I simply couldn't do it. Likewise I couldn't be secretly addicted to gambling or alcohol or drugs.

Of course there are situations when tact demands that total honesty be ruled out, like when one of us buys a new item of clothing and wants the other to compliment us on our choice. There's no way we'd say it was hideous (well, only if it was truly ghastly).

On the rare occasion that I've been dishonest and kept something important from Jenny, I've always regretted it afterwards and wondered why I kept it from her. I guess I was simply scared of her possible reaction.

Apart from anything else, it's hard work keeping a big secret for weeks or months on end. It's much easier to spill the beans and have done with it.

Sunday 2 July 2023

Cancel culture

More and more restaurants are imposing cancellation charges if people don't turn up for a booking. And the charges can be pretty hefty - anything from £20 to £375 a head depending on how many people were booked in and what they were expected to eat and drink.

Some restaurants impose cancellation charges even two weeks beforehand, if they think they're unlikely to get a fresh booking. They've probably taken your credit card details so they can charge you automatically without contacting you. They'll only waive the charge if there's a good reason for cancelling, like a death in the family.

As far as I know none of our local restaurants take cancellation charges, so maybe people in our area are more conscientious about keeping a booking. Certainly Jenny and I always honour a booking, or we cancel in plenty of time if there's a good reason why we can't make it.

I think cancellation charges are totally justified, given that an empty table means a big loss for the restaurant, on top of the rocketing prices they're already paying for food, energy, equipment and experienced staff.

It doesn't take much to get out your phone and cancel a booking well in advance. I don't understand why people are so arrogant they think it's quite okay to make a booking and then just not turn up.

There are even cases of people making simultaneous bookings at several restaurants, deciding on the day which one to go to and forgetting about the others. Do they really think that's acceptable behaviour? The mind boggles.

Cancellation charges are here to stay, but only because of an epidemic of utterly self-centred individuals.