Monday 27 November 2023

Allergic to Christmas

Most of us find preparing for Christmas pretty straightforward. But spare a thought for people who're allergic to Christmas - or rather allergic to the common ingredients of Christmas food.

Anne Murray, from Lanark, Scotland, is allergic to things like citrus and cinnamon. As she has severe asthma any exposure to these ingredients could kill her without immediate medical treatment.

She almost died in November 2016 when she smelt "pine cones impregnated with citrus" in a garden centre. Fighting to breathe, she grabbed her inhaler and ran out of the garden centre. Two days later she was still struggling to breathe and needed hospital treatment.

"I can't be anywhere near things that smell of Christmas, or eat anything Christmassy like mince pies or stollen cake" she says. "Just smelling a mince pie could kill me."

I assume I can eat whatever I like without falling violently ill. At Christmas especially I want to tuck into anything that's going without having to steer clear. It's tragic that some people can't be so free-and-easy.

Allergies generally seem to be increasing, both in childhood and in adulthood. Many adults are developing allergies they never had in childhood and despite a lot of research the cause is still unknown. There's a wide range of allergens, including soya beans, sesame, and tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans.

Buying any food products must always be risky. You have to assume food labels are 100 per cent accurate about what is or isn't in the product and there are no inadvertent mistakes. Two women died after eating mislabelled food from Pret a Manger, which led to tighter food labelling laws.

It's easy for those of us without allergies* to take for granted our less complicated lives.

*I tell a lie. I have a slight allergy to wheat. If I eat anything containing wheat my nose starts running.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Lonely or what?

There's still a lot of talk about the "epidemic of loneliness" and what can be done about it. The general conclusion is that lonely people need to get out more and spend more time with other people. But I don't think it's nearly that simple.

My own view of loneliness is quite complex. For me, I would say boredom is more of a problem than loneliness. If I'm totally absorbed in something then I don't feel lonely because I'm just not thinking about other people.

A feeling of loneliness is said to arise if you can't find people who're on the same wavelength as you, but I don't expect people to be on my wavelength. Society is now so fragmented into umpteen tiny groups of like-minded people that the chance of my happening to meet someone I see eye to eye with is pretty slim.

If I'm not on the same wavelength as other people, that makes me feel isolated or unusual but not lonely. But then I was brought up in a family who had very different views to myself, so I'm used to being out on a limb.

What I really need isn't people on the same wavelength but people who can give me useful advice about how to deal with life's problems. That's where I feel a lack. Like someone who can diagnose a faulty washing machine or fill in a complicated application form or just give me a more optimistic view of the horrifying world we now live in.

There's more to loneliness than meets the eye.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Could I pass?

Fifty six years on, I sometimes wonder if I could still pass the driving test, given all the changes there have been to the Highway Code and given there is now a theory test I never had to contend with.

I just tried a sample theory test and answered 38 out of 50 questions correctly - or 76 per cent. The pass mark is actually 86 per cent, so if I were taking it again I'd need to do some serious swotting. But I suppose for a first try, having never done a theory test before, that's not too embarrassing.

Some of the questions seem to have little to do with driving ability though. Like "How can you avoid wasting fuel?" or "How can you stop your car radio being stolen?" or "Where should you not park?" But you still have to know the answers.

You also have to be familiar with the Highway Code, which runs to 162 pages. I know it's been updated numerous times, to cover things like giving way to pedestrians and allowing for cyclists, so there'd be more swotting required.

As for the practical side, my ability to drive a car might not be what it used to be. I passed my driving test first time but no doubt my standards have slipped a bit since then. There must be a natural tendency to become a bit careless over the years and not drive quite as safely. Dodging traffic lights, speeding, driving too close to another vehicle, risky overtaking. I have to say I'm guilty of all those. So whether I could still satisfy a driving examiner is debatable.

Still, as yet I've never had a serious accident, so I must be doing something right.

PS: I've just discovered there are two parts to the theory test - multiple choice and hazard perception. If you fail one part that's a total fail and you have retake the whole theory test.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

So much misery

Misery memoirs (recalling the writer's terrible childhood with all its cruelty and abuse) seem to be as popular as ever.

Britney Spears is the latest person to have recalled not only her childhood misery but her adult misery as well. How she was harassed, taunted and belittled by her husband, how her heavy-drinking father had legal control of her life for over 13 years, and so on.

I suppose some people would argue that there's no need to recount all this negativity at such length, that lots of people have been exposed to childhood misery of one type or another, who needs to be told about it yet again?

I disagree. The more we know about the appalling way some people have been treated as a child, the more incentive there is to ensure children grow up with caring and supportive parents who encourage them to make the most of their lives.

Mind you, that's assuming all those misery memoirs are truthful in the first place, and haven't been somewhat embellished and exaggerated to attract more readers.

The English barrister Constance Briscoe successfully defended herself against her mother Carmen's accusations that her "true story of a loveless childhood" was "a piece of fiction".

But Kathy O' Beirne's story of abuse in a Catholic institution, Don't Ever Tell, was denounced as unreliable by her family, while James Frey was discredited for his fictionalised autobiography A Million Little Pieces.

I'm surprised people feel the need to exaggerate their experiences, which are probably horrifyingly awful in the first place. I would say the more misery memoirs we read, the more we know the truth about the dreadful childhoods some people have endured.

Pic: Constance Briscoe

Friday 10 November 2023

A swamp of pomp

Americans (and others) must be quite bemused by the absurd pomp and ceremony of the British State Opening of Parliament, which took place on Tuesday. But the archaic rituals and traditions are faithfully clung to and nobody suggests it's about time for something much simpler and cheaper.

The essence of what happens is very basic. The King and Queen arrive at Parliament and the King gives a speech announcing what the government intends to do in the next year.

If that's all he did, easy peasy. But along with that goes all the overblown grandiosity that hardly anybody dares to question.

  • The King and Queen travel to Parliament in a horse-drawn golden coach
  • When they arrive, the national anthem is played and a gun salute is sounded in Green Park
  • Sarah Clarke, the Black Rod, has to summon MPs to hear the speech
  • The Serjeant at Arms leads the procession of MPs with a ceremonial mace
  • The King and Queen wear ceremonial crowns and outfits
  • Various other items of royal regalia like the Great Sword of State are used in the state opening
Nobody has the nerve to say, hold on a minute, why all this palaver, why can't the King just rock up at Parliament, give his speech and then nip back to Buck House for a snifter? Job done.

I can't imagine the King himself enjoys all this unnecessary baloney. Probably he gets back to the Palace and says to Camilla "Thank God that's over. All that theatrical rigmarole. Pass the gin, darling."

I long for some amusing glitch in the proceedings. Like the crown falling off the King's head or him having a coughing fit in mid-speech. But no such luck.

Pic: King Charles looks forward to his G and T

Monday 6 November 2023

Gas guzzlers

When parents drop off their kids at the two nearby schools, more and more of their cars are those massive, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Usually there's only two people in them - parent and child - and I wonder why such huge cars are necessary.

SUVs are increasingly popular in the UK, despite being so bad for the environment. By early 2023 more than half of all new car sales in Europe were SUVs or the like. Why oh why?

Jenny and I still have our humble nine-year-old Renault Clio. It gets us from A to B and that's all we need. If we had had children we might have acquired something bigger, but what would be the point?

When I was young, most people drove bog-standard saloon cars, as they were then called, and strangely enough children still got to school and parents got to the supermarket. Nobody hankered after vehicles more suitable to pot-holed rural farm tracks.

My parents didn't even own a car, so I walked to school and back every day. Cheaper and healthier than being driven there.

Clearly the SUV drivers don't care about the enormous carbon emissions, hefty fuel consumption and danger to children (I read that children are eight times more likely to die when struck by an SUV compared with an average passenger car).

What is it with these fashionable monsters?

PS: I realise some of you may actually own an SUV. Do tell me why, I'm always open to debate!

Thursday 2 November 2023

After death

A lot of people make requests about what should happen after their death. Sometimes their requests are followed to the letter, sometimes they're totally ignored.

Would I follow Jenny's requests after her death? Would she follow mine? I suppose it depends partly on the nature of the requests. Routine ones like scattering ashes in the local park are easy enough to comply with. But I imagine crazy ones like erecting a tombstone in the Outer Hebrides* would be ignored by most relatives.

My mum never made any after-death requests as far as I know. We opted for a simple cremation and that was that. I've never drawn up any after-death requests and neither has Jenny. If I die first (which is likely because I'm ten years older) Jenny can do whatever she wants with my mortal remains. I won't be capable of either approving or disapproving.

Mind you, I do carry an organ donor card that allows the harvesting of any useful organs after I die, so I guess that counts as one after-death request.

If I had a second after-death request, it might be that people think well of me and forgive all my failings. Or even declare me a national treasure. That would be much better than a Scottish tombstone.

It annoys me when people try to read the dead person's mind and say that Aunt Emma would have wanted this or wanted that. Obviously they can't possibly know what she would have wanted so they're probably talking nonsense.

So when Nick dies, how about throwing the wildest party ever? It's what he would have wanted.

* Outer Hebrides - a series of islands off the west coast of Scotland