Sunday 29 October 2023

Infinite clutter

I'm fascinated by hoarders and why they start hoarding - and why they can't stop. It's a complex mental process that psychologists themselves can't really explain.

As my regulars will know, my mum was a compulsive hoarder. After she died, huge amounts of junk and clutter had to be cleared out of her flat. There were newspapers and bank statements and travel brochures going back years.

When my brother in law tried on one occasion to remove some of he accumulated clutter, my mum was furious and forbad him to remove anything. Even when she was warned that the state of the flat was a fire and safety hazard, she took no notice. I've no idea why she was attached to all this stuff. I can only assume it comforted or reassured her in some way.

Just recently I encountered another hoarder, whose flat was equally full of junk - a lot of it brand-new items that had never been used. She did at least accept that the hoarding was out of control and she needed to have a serious clear-out.

Jenny and I are the opposite. We like neat and tidy surroundings and we discard or recycle as much stuff as we possibly can. We can't imagine the house being so cluttered we'd find it difficult simply to move around or do everyday tasks.

Psychologists struggle to explain the hoarding urge - why people get so emotionally attached to things that they have to keep them, and get so angry when anyone suggests parting with some of them.

Just how does it start? Were their parents hoarders? Did their parents throw away things they treasured? Did their parents encourage spending sprees? Were their parents afraid of discarding something vital by mistake? Whatever the cause, psychologists are still very much in the dark.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Waning wanderlust

I'm of two minds about travel. On the one hand, it can broaden your mind, undermine prejudices, give you novel experiences, show you how other people live. On the other hand, planes and cruise ships are massively polluting and many popular cities are plagued by over-tourism.

I've got the point where, for now at any rate, having travelled all over the world, I've had my fill of travelling and I'm quite happy to stay at home and enjoy my own city and my own country. People who're perpetually travelling find this sudden lack of wanderlust strange and try to persuade us to keep on the move.

It doesn't help that air travel is becoming such a complicated business, fraught with unexpected difficulties like computer failures, strikes, staff shortages, lost baggage, cancelled flights and unforeseen extra charges. I could do without all the hassle and stress and uncertainty.

And then there's the hefty charge for travel insurance. Once you're over 75 and you have one or two medical conditions, the cost of insurance goes through the roof. Is it worth paying such huge sums?

As for travel broadening the mind, I didn't see much evidence of that in my parents, even though they visited Italy many times. My mum professed to love Italy, but she also disliked Italian food. Pizza, pasta, tiramisu, whatever, she wasn't a fan. She still preferred traditional English food.

So for the time being I'm staying at home and marvelling at all those hardened travellers who'll put up with anything the airline throws at them to get their two weeks in some exotic location. Rather them than me.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

The F word

Most people nowadays take a very laid-back attitude to swearing. So what if someone swears? It's a good way of letting off steam and much healthier than bottling up your feelings and letting them fester.

I've never been a natural swearer. I'll get annoyed or frustrated about something but I don't swear, mainly because the usual swearword these days is "fucking" and I would rather be more inventive than saying fuck this or fuck that every five minutes.

Also I'm aware there are still plenty of people who avoid using swearwords as being a lazy way of talking, so I tend not to use swearwords myself in case someone starts bristling.

When I was young "fucking" was never used as a swearword. It was merely a colloquial word for sex that was frowned upon by the grown-ups as being in very bad taste and NOT TO BE USED.

But we had plenty of swearwords and disparaging remarks, far more than we have today, some of them quite original and colourful - like "jump off a cliff" or "get stuffed" or "you're a waste of space".

I keep expecting the word "fucking" to lose its allure and gradually fall out of use, but on the contrary it's as popular as ever. It looks like it's fucking well with us for years to come.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Rival attraction

Journalist Christa Ackroyd aims to raise £600,000 to restore the house near Bradford where the Brontë sisters were born and turn it into a major tourist attraction. She sees it as a rival to the house in Haworth six miles away where Charlotte, Anne and Emily lived with their father, which gets a million visitors a year.

She thinks the house would inspire other would-be writers as well as encouraging people to follow their dreams.

Personally I don't understand why the places where famous people were born or used to live have such fascination. Surely what's compelling is what they've produced - books, music, art, plays or whatever.

Wandering round a house gawping at the fixtures and fittings is hardly likely to inspire someone to write a brilliant novel. Either you have literary talent or you don't and I don't see how looking at someone's choice of curtains and wallpaper is going to inspire anything except a fleeting desire to update your own interior furnishings.

I'm sure the Brontë sisters themselves would be baffled as to why millions of people would think it worthwhile to traipse round the houses they used to inhabit, exclaiming at this or that domestic item.

I'm sure some of it is just naked one up manship. How impressive to say you spent the day treading the same floorboards as the Brontë sisters rather than moaning about the bus service in Caffè Nero.

I'd much rather spend an hour or two browsing in Waterstones than check out Charlotte Brontë's ironing board.

Pic: Charlotte Brontë

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Over and done with

People sometimes ask me if I have any regrets in my life, and my answer is always the same - no, no regrets, I simply do my best in any situation, and if things don't work out, I just move on.

Regrets seldom achieve anything positive. They only make you feel bad and stupid and thoughtless. And usually the thing you regret is over and done with and you can't rewrite the past.

I don't have any regrets, but there are many things I'd like to have done but didn't, which is rather different. And I don't wish I had done those things, I'm simply aware that I could have done them but for one reason or another I didn't. I don't see those things as a big failure in my life.

I'd like to have lived closer to my mum when she was going downhill mentally and physically. I'd like to have been able to drop in every day or two to see how she was doing. But I was 350 miles away in Belfast so that was impossible.

I'd like to have learnt to play a musical instrument, but I wasn't encouraged to do so and my first attempt at piano lessons went badly; my piano teacher declared me unteachable. But maybe if I'd tried again later in my childhood, it would have worked out.

I'd like to have been a successful novelist, but I simply didn't have the intellect or imagination or self-discipline to complete a novel. I did give it a try but after about 100 pages I hit total writer's block and couldn't get any further.

So I don't regret any of those lapses. I'm very philosophical about them. I could have done all sorts of things but for lack of talent or inclination or because of circumstances they never happened. So be it. Che sera sera.

Friday 6 October 2023

Mean and self-righteous

My father was a mean and self-righteous man. He always thought he knew better than me and knew what was good for me. If I tried to put him right he got very annoyed.

When I'd been seeing Jenny for a while, I gathered he didn't approve of the relationship and thought I was "exploiting" Jenny.

He never explained what he meant by that. If he meant financially, that was nonsense because Jenny had a hefty credit card debt and I had some savings. If he meant I was leaning on her in some way, that was also nonsense because we were leaning on each other.

In any case he never met her and knew nothing about her so he just had a load of preconceptions about her and about our relationship. Jenny never had a chance to straighten him out.

If I was really exploiting Jenny, as a strong feminist she would have got shot of me at top speed. But we've been together now for 42 years so I must be doing something right.

Jenny would love to have had the chance to confront my father and tell him exactly what she thought of his disparaging attitude, but it wasn't to be. He died seven years after Jenny and I met, still refusing to talk to me because of the numerous grudges he held against me.

To accuse his own son of exploiting someone and not giving me the opportunity to defend myself is pretty low. But it wasn't the first time he had just jumped to conclusions and run with them.

Pic: Not my father, I have no online photos of him.

Monday 2 October 2023

Happy to wait

This increasing trend not just to buy fashionable clothes or go to fashionable restaurants but to go on massive waiting lists for them is absurd.

The Mary Jane Harrietta shoe is currently almost impossible to get hold of, with a waiting list of 800 people. Or you can wait four years for a table at the Bank Tavern restaurant in Bristol.

You or me would surely say, I'm not going on a huge waiting list, that's ridiculous, I'll try another type of shoe/ another restaurant that's more easily available.

What if when you finally get your table at the restaurant, it turns out the chef is having an off day and the meal simply isn't up to much? Then you'll kick yourself for enduring the long wait.

Is it sheer snobbery that people are prepared to go on a waiting list for months or years rather than walking into the local Pizza Express and getting a table straightaway?

Do people get a bit miffed if they're number 754 on the waiting list and they discover their friend is at number 23? Might a few banknotes be exchanged so as to jump the queue?

And how miffed would you be if the famous restaurant burnt down just as you got to the top of the queue?

Pic: the hard-to-obtain Harrietta pumps