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