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?