Tuesday 23 July 2024

Moaning and groaning

As yet I haven't morphed into the typical grumpy old man. I still look on the bright side and take problems in my stride rather than moaning about them.

I haven't yet become "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells", firing off angry letters to the media and haranguing everyone with my complaints about the bus service, litter louts, too much sex and violence on TV or the price of marmalade.

All that would do is turn me into a sour, bitter individual who takes no pleasure in life and just spoils other people's enjoyment.

I make a point of focusing on the positive things and working around the negatives rather than dwelling on them. There's little I can do about the price of marmalade or erratic buses so why bang on about such things?

I've worked with people who habitually moaned about everything in sight, and it's very tedious. Even if you suggest a more positive way of looking at life, they don't want to know. They're locked into a nothing's-good-enough mindset.

If I encounter something that makes no sense to me, my first reaction isn't complaint but curiosity. I want to know what underlies this oddity, what it's all about.

It's easy to get caught up in all the knee-jerk vilification that pours out of the media and not take a step back and look at things more thoughtfully.

Apart from anything else, incessant grumbling is exhausting. All that rage and condemnation takes it out of you. I'm all for an easy life.

Thursday 18 July 2024

Not sentimental

I'm not very sentimental, if that means I get highly emotional over things that have played a significant part in my life, things that have meant a lot to me.

Other people are much more sentimental, hanging on to things that have long since held any value except their emotional meaning.

My father was highly sentimental. He had scrapbooks of all his Italian holidays, crammed with every conceivable souvenir of the trip - postcards, train tickets, boarding passes, restaurant menus. Nothing was too trivial to be discarded.

But my attitude has always been that once something's past it's past and there's no point in developing big emotional attachments and reminiscences. I have no photos of my childhood, no scrapbooks, no shelves of souvenirs and mementos, no carefully-preserved old school uniform. I'm totally focused on the present and future rather than the past.

I suppose that makes me sound rather cold and detached, but that's the way I am. I prefer to be having new experiences rather than reliving old ones.

I do have photos of my brother in law, my sister and my niece, but that's mainly to make up for my not actually seeing them very often, since they live in southern England.

In any case all the significant events in my past - like my schooldays, my workplaces, my holidays, my various homes - are lodged vividly in my memory and easily retrievable. I don't need a scrapbook to remind me of my walks round the Venetian alleyways or the train ride through the Rocky Mountains. And if I did need a reminder, Google would soon fill in the gaps.

Sunday 14 July 2024

Jerry built

I can't imagine what it's like to move into what seems a perfect new home, only to find it's been jerry-built, it's full of serious defects, and the builder is trying to dodge any responsibility for putting them right.

Which is what happened to Dayle Dixon and Mark Lee in Ivybridge, Devon. If their house was in good order it would be worth about £350,000, but with all the faults it's worth no more than a token sum of £1. How distressing is that?

There's an ongoing scandal in the UK of new homes that haven't been properly built because they haven't been properly inspected by local planners and the builders can get away with shoddy workmanship.

This racket has been going on for many years without any serious attempt to put an end to it, which is why Jenny and I have deliberately steered clear of newly-built homes.

Our present home was built in 1949 so any major defects would have been discovered long ago. Buying a newly-built home is always risky because even if it looks fine on first viewing, major defects may only become apparent some time after moving in.

Did this couple ask a surveyor to check out the house? We have usually employed a surveyor to inspect whatever home we're thinking of buying. The second flat we took a chance on because it was a mansion block built in 1900 and looked rock solid from the outside. And so it turned out.

The builder must have known that some of their homes were badly-built and full of faults - maybe even potentially lethal ones like exposed electrical wiring. How can a builder leave a home in that state and just walk away?

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Eccentric, moi?

When I was a boy, people were commonly seen as "eccentric" and such individuals stuck out a mile for their eccentricity - meaning their strange and unconventional conduct.

Nowadays the term has virtually lost all meaning, since eccentricity is commonplace. So many people - youngsters in particular - are now conspicuous by their strange clothes, strange behaviour, strange beliefs and strange aspirations that they just aren't remarkable any more.

It's routine for people to have elaborate tattoos, multiple piercings, flamboyant clothes and extreme political views. We think nothing of it, we see them as quite normal.

Oldies are more conventional and some will still stick out as eccentrics, like the moany old codger who hates the neighbours, and they're very noticeable oddballs. Oldies in general still go for a fairly orthodox appearance - no tattoos or piercings or tee shirts with controversial slogans.

It was unusual when I was young to see any kind of "eccentric". We might see the odd person talking to themself or cursing everyone in sight or collecting garden gnomes, but that was about it.

The only obvious eccentric I can think of in this immediate neighbourhood is the guy who walks down the street trailing a suitcase. Clearly he isn't heading for the airport because he appears with his suitcase every day. Which naturally sets us wondering what's in the suitcase. The proceeds of a bank robbery? His worldly possessions? The manuscript of a book?

Of course we can't possibly ask him, that would be most intrusive and impertinent. Maybe one day the suitcase will fall open and all will be revealed.

Saturday 6 July 2024

Give me fame

I always say that I wouldn't like to be famous, that I would hate the constant attention, I would hate being judged and found wanting, I would hate the lack of privacy - among other things.

So I was intrigued that actor Kevin Bacon tried going out in disguise - fake teeth, a fake nose and a pair of glasses - and rapidly discovered that he hated anonymity and much preferred being famous.

For a while he enjoyed the new freedom, but it didn't last long. "People were kind of pushing past me, not being nice. Nobody said, I love you. I had to wait in line to buy a fucking coffee or whatever. I was like, this sucks. I want to go back to being famous."

Presumably he loves all the attention and the resulting benefits. He's been famous for over 40 years so I guess suddenly being ordinary was quite a shock to the system.

I think the thing I would really hate about being famous is my shortcomings being so familiar to so many people. It's okay if my small circle of friends and relatives know my failings, but if potentially millions of people are aware of them, and constantly harping on them, that would be hard to cope with.

I would also hate all the fictitious tales being spun about me, all the derogatory and critical stories that were totally untrue but still went on circulating indefinitely. Reports that my marriage was in trouble or I'd had cosmetic surgery or I was a useless parent. Even if you deny these stories, they have a life of their own and usually just get repeated over and over.

Kevin Bacon is welcome to his fame. But I'm sure I would find it an awful burden.

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Before smartphones

I was astonished to read that 91 per cent of 11 year olds have a smart phone, and 20 per cent of children own them by the age of four. A lot of parents try to prevent their children from owning a smart phone, because of all the obvious dangers, but that's hard when most of their school mates already have one.

It's hard to imagine what my schooldays would have been like if I had a smart phone. I didn't even have a landline never mind a smart phone. It meant that I very much lived in a boarding-house bubble, completely removed from the outside world. There was no TV or radio or newspapers so world events passed me by. We were discouraged from wandering around the adjacent town so there was little chance of making outside friends.

If I was at school now and I had a smart phone, above all that would connect me to the outside world. I could keep up with world events, check out websites that interested me, keep in touch with my family, get advice on personal problems. But at the same time I would have access to all sorts of undesirable websites promoting porn or anorexia or racism or dangerous drugs or simply plausible misinformation.

On balance I think that despite the deprivations I experienced I probably had a healthier childhood without a smart phone and without all the hazards it would have presented me with. I could enjoy simple pleasures like reading and walking without being glued to that beguiling little screen.

And there was something to be said for not being constantly in touch with my family and all their oddities.

Thursday 27 June 2024

City says no

Jenny and I are trying to rewild one of our small lawns, without much success. Instead of lots of pretty wild flowers, we're just getting the usual grass, dandelions, daisies and clover. Clearly we're doing something wrong.

But at least we can experiment with our lawns. Residents of Ontario aren't so lucky. In Canada and the USA (but not in the UK) local bylaws regulate private gardens and the authorities will jump on anything too unorthodox.

Wolf Ruck started rewilding his Mississauga garden with native plants three years ago, but didn't reckon on complaints from the neighbours and his lawn being forcibly mown - and being landed with the city's legal bills. Apparently there's a bylaw that forbids nuisance weeds and tall grasses, and his garden was deemed to have broken the bylaw.

"My property is not abandoned. It's not a blight on the community. It simply seems to offend some neighbours who don't like the look of it" he says. He is appealing against the city's judgment.

Here in the UK we can do more or less what we like with our gardens. We can allow lawns and hedges to grow to crazy lengths, we can fill the garden with rubbish, we can have a bright orange garden shed, and nobody will object, unless some rampant plant is invading our neighbour's property.

If you're on a street with a bus route and you have a tree that's overhanging the street and hitting the buses, you'll be asked to lop off the offending branches. But that's about it.

Luckily we have a tall fence around our garden, so most of the neighbours have no idea what we're up to anyway. We could have a garden full of wild animals and nobody would know.

Keep pushing back against this idiocy, Mr Ruck.

Pic: Not Mr Ruck's garden. I couldn't find a pinchable photo of him or his garden. But there's a photo of him on the link.

Saturday 22 June 2024

Too many friends

There are plenty of people who feel lonely and short of close friends. But spare a thought for those people who're so addicted to collecting friends that they have too many of them and would like to lose a few.

Anya Meyerowitz thought that having lots of friends would make her feel better about herself. She seized every opportunity to make new friends but all that happened was that her friendships became more and more superficial and unsatisfying.

"Where I got to instead was a place where I found many of these hurriedly acquired friendships to be draining, tiresome and anxiety-inducing. The more I weaved my way into other people's lives, the less I felt a sense of community. I was juggling a full social calendar that left me feeling empty."

Not a problem I have to deal with. My opportunities for making new friends are strictly limited as I've been retired for 6 years and my only regular socialising is with my monthly book group and a few residual friends.

It seems a bit naive to think that the more friends you have, the happier you'll be. Obviously you'll have less time to spend with each one and inevitably the friendships are likely to get shallower. More is less, you might say.

It's interesting that she managed to keep so many friends for so long. I think for most of us friends come and go quite quickly. You discover something off-putting about them, they move somewhere many miles away, they turn out to be hopelessly needy, or you simply don't have the time to keep in touch.

Anya doesn't tell us what she did after her sudden disillusion. Did she have the nerve to discard half her friends? I'd love to know.

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Beyond the pale

One thing that's totally beyond my comprehension is how people can go on supporting a public figure or a workmate or a spouse even if they've been guilty of the most dreadful behaviour, or a serious crime, or habitual acts of violence. Why do they not say, this isn't acceptable, I can't condone this behaviour, it's totally beyond the pale?

The person I'm thinking of obviously is Donald Trump, but there are plenty of people equally guilty of appalling behaviour but enjoying widespread support from all and sundry.

Nigel Farage, who is standing in the upcoming British general election, is known principally as one of the architects of Brexit, which according to numerous economists has been an economic disaster (sorry, Infidel). Yet still millions of people support him regardless.

But it's not just public figures who benefit in this way. Spouses are fond of saying they'll stand by their man (or woman), even if they're guilty of murder, repeated sexual harassment, massive frauds, medical negligence or whatever.

I don't understand what inspires this blind loyalty. Do they think the person has done nothing wrong? Do they believe they should support their spouse "for better or for worse"? Do they believe they should "love the sinner"? Are they defending the person against what they see as unfair persecution?

I can only assume that the person's actions are being justified in some way. They had been taught that sexual harassment was normal masculine behaviour. They committed fraud to get back at a stingy, domineering boss. And so on.

If I was guilty of some atrocious crime, I wouldn't expect Jenny to stand by me. She would be quite right to pack her bags.

Friday 14 June 2024

Judging and misjudging

I had a sudden thought - what's the most important lesson I've learnt in life? Something that completely changed my outlook from then on?

I think the answer has to be - don't judge by appearances.

And that means not just people, but what I read, what I see around me, what others tell me. Whatever the outward appearance, there's always a lot more going on than meets the eye. There are hidden agendas, personal secrets, crippling traumas, grand ambitions. All sorts of things that lurk behind what's immediately visible.

I try not to judge by appearances, but it's so easy to do, especially when all around me people are doing just that, as if it's perfectly normal behaviour.

We judge people by their colour, their accent, their clothing, their sex, where they live, what job they do, what paper they read - a dozen things that can give us a completely false impression of who they are.

Someone can look blissfully happy and fulfilled when underneath they find their life totally frustrating and soul-destroying. Someone can look desperately poor in their shabby, worn-out clothes, when in reality they're worth millions.

I'm constantly surprised by something a person happens to reveal, something quite at odds with what I thought I knew about them, and I realise I've completely misjudged them all along.

I'm often misjudged myself, given all sorts of traits I've never had, like smugness, aloofness, condescension and stubbornness. but we like to pin people down, don't we? Oh yes, she's this and she's that, you only have to look at her....

There are plenty of people who look like saints and turn out to be mass murderers. And vice versa.

Monday 10 June 2024

Woe is me

"Beware self-pity", my father used to tell me, "It runs in the family". His warning struck home and I've been on my guard against self-pity ever since.

Self-pity is defined as a feeling of excessive unhappiness about one's problems. I never sat around thinking "Woe is me. This is dreadful. Why have I been picked on? Why is life so unfair?" I tend to take most problems in my stride, solving them as best I can and moving on.

So my bed-sit landlords never did any repairs, never installed central heating and never got rid of the pervading damp in the building. I cursed the company freely and then just got on with my life. So one of my bookshop managers micromanaged everyone and expected us all to work feverishly and not waste time nattering. We just called him an authoritarian arsehole and downed tools the moment he went out for a fag break.

In fact my father was much more prone to self-pity than I am. He would be fuming for hours over a boss who constantly messed him around and jumped on the smallest error. He couldn't accept that some bosses can be pernickety sods and you just have to deal with it. If he expected to have a perfect boss who never upset him, he wasn't living in the real world.

Of course if my life had been one awful disaster after another, I daresay I would have struggled to avoid self-pity and I would seriously have asked, why have I had it so bad? It would be hard to simply carry on and tell myself "C'est la vie"'.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Burnt out and disillusioned

I've never been the slightest bit ambitious. I never wanted to "get to the top". I just wanted to have enjoyable jobs that came with an adequate salary. Luckily that worked out for me and I didn't have to take the soul-destroying jobs that others end up in.

Writer Jennifer Romolini's latest book "Ambition Monster" is a cautionary tale about how ambition can take over your life and leave you burnt-out and disillusioned. She spent years being relentlessly ambitious, until she was unexpectedly fired one day and realised her ambition was destroying her. "The illusion was broken for me. I knew that the big jobs were bullshit. That they were like a stress prison."

I spent many years as a bookseller, and I was very happy doing the hands-on stuff like serving customers, stocking shelves and recommending books. I had no desire to be a manager, stuck in some office poring over sales figures or CVs, and dealing with feuding employees. That would just be unrewarding drudgery.

I've done all sorts of jobs over the years, but management never appealed to me. When I was doing admin work for a social services department it was obvious that the office manager was severely overworked and severely stressed and I had no desire to go the same way. She may have enjoyed a huge salary but at a heavy cost.

If I was starting work today, I would probably have to take pressurised high-salary jobs just to keep up with the rising cost of living. I was lucky to be working at a time when a modest salary was enough to keep me solvent and pay the bills. But that's no longer the case.

Friday 31 May 2024

The portal

Two days ago Jenny and I were in Dublin to see the Royal Hibernian Academy's annual art exhibition - and the controversial Dublin-New York portal.

The portal, just off O'Connell Street, is a large screen that shows New Yorkers what's happening on a street in Dublin, and Dubliners what's happening on a street in Manhattan.

Unfortunately when the portal was first activated, it immediately attracted a lot of anti-social behaviour - people swearing, people flashing body parts, and even someone showing a video of 9/11.

So now, instead of the portal being open 24/7 it's open only from 11 am to 9 pm in Dublin and from 6 am to 4 pm (EDT) in New York.

Jenny and I lingered for a while watching New Yorkers do their thing - mainly whooping and holding up slogans - and marvelling at this bit of high-tech.

Hopefully the shorter opening hours will reduce the misbehaviour. But with Dublin being known for its rowdiness, there are no guarantees.

The owners of the portal said they would install software updates "to limit such behaviour appearing on the live stream". Not sure how that would work but it sounds good.

But who needs the portal anyway? Who needs to see a random bunch of New Yorkers for five minutes? Or a random bunch of Dubliners? Isn't it just a rather pointless gimmick?

Monday 27 May 2024

Lots of kids

As someone who has never had any desire for children, I'm intrigued by the American Pronatalist Movement, which wants people to have as many children as possible to reverse the global trend for falling birth rates and the resulting problems.

The most prominent pronatalists are Simone and Malcolm Collins of Pennsylvania, who currently have four children and aim to have another three. And they aren't put off by Simone needing a caesarian every time she gives birth.

They claim that child-rearing is actually pretty easy and not as expensive as is made out. They mostly seem to leave the kids to themselves while they get on with their own pursuits, like revitalising flagging businesses.

Without rising populations "there are going to be countries of old people starving to death" says Malcolm.

Well, I must say I never felt obliged to have lots of kids to maintain global numbers. Surely people should have kids simply because they like them and think they would be good parents.

And unless our gender-based culture changes drastically, presumably it's mainly women who would be lumbered with bringing up the children, having also endured numerous pregnancies.

Yes, falling populations may mean there won't be enough young and middle-aged people to look after the rising number of old people, but I don't think making child-rearing into some kind of duty, or making people feel guilty if they don't have enough, is the way to go. Better to provide a life-enhancing culture that children will thrive in, and a cheap childcare system that gives parents more support.

Pic: Simone Collins

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Silence or chatter?

A surprising number of people hate chatting to their hairdresser. They find it so tedious and unnecessary they would rather not talk at all and just let the hairdresser get on with the job.

Because so many people feel this way, Finnish hairdresser Kati Hakomeri has introduced a "silent service" that lets you opt in advance for no talking. Apparently there are quite a few hairdressers offering the silent option.

Well, I'm an introvert but I don't mind chatting to my hairdresser. In fact I'd rather chat than sit in silence, which actually seems more awkward and uncomfortable than chatting.

It's not exactly difficult. My hairdresser asks me some mundane questions about my life and in return I ask her some equally mundane questions. I'm actually very interested in how other people are getting on - whether they have children, whether their parents are still alive, whether they have money problems, whether there are any serious illnesses in the family.

Is it in fact rude not to chat to your hairdresser? Several surveys have found that most people don't see it as rude, they agree it's a matter of personal choice whether you stay silent or not.

I wonder if hairdressers themselves enjoy chatting or whether they themselves would prefer us to shut up. Are they all natural extroverts or do they look forward to the end of the day when repetitive chit chat can be turned off?

As far as I'm concerned, whether I get a decent haircut is more important than whether I make conversation or not.

Saturday 18 May 2024

What is love?

It occurs to me that love means different things depending on what age you are. In particular what it means to a youngster is not what it means to an oldie.

A youngster may never have been in love, and may not even know what it feels like. They may confuse love with all sorts of other feelings. Have they fallen in love or is it something more prosaic? Is it just a crush, an obsession, fondness, friendship, or simply lust? Asking other people may not help because it's such a personal experience and impossible to explain.

There are plenty of examples of youngsters who thought they were in love, rushed into marriage, and then a short time later realised it wasn't love at all and had to divorce.

An oldie like me however knows exactly what love is because I've been in love with Jenny for 43 years and the feeling is well established. I have no problem telling love from other similar feelings. When I fell for Jenny it was the first time I had been in love so it only gradually dawned on me that that's what it was (I didn't really love my parents, I appreciated everything they did for me but that was it).

Is it love if the feeling isn't reciprocated? That's something I'm not sure of even at my advanced age. I thought I was in love with a bookshop workmate but she never reciprocated so was that love or just a one-sided crush? And what about all those people who say they "love" a public figure - a show-biz celebrity or one of the Royals - even if they've never even met the person? How can that be any more than devotion or admiration?

What is love? It's complicated....

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Reckless males

Once again it's revealed that male drivers are far more likely to have serious accidents than female drivers. It seems they're more aggressive, more impatient and more reckless. Which no doubt all women drivers are well aware of.

Way back in 2022 a Guardian survey discovered that male drivers in the UK are almost three times as likely as women to be involved in accidents that kill or seriously injure pedestrians. French and American surveys confirm this huge difference.

I'm glad to say that although I've been driving on and off for almost sixty years I've never had a serious accident and I certainly haven't injured anyone. I'm probably not quite as cautious or focused as Jenny but I don't take unnecessary risks like dangerous overtaking, going through red lights or using a phone while driving.

A lot of men seem to regard reckless driving as a masculine imperative, while concern for safety and survival take a back seat. Over and over again I encounter other male drivers swerving into my lane without warning, tailgating me or hurtling past me at a crazy speed.

Women seem to be much more safety conscious and more aware of how easily a single hazardous manoeuvre could have disastrous consequences, especially if they're more likely to have children or a baby in the car than a man.

As a French road safety campaign tells men "Conduisez comme une femme". Drive like a woman. But will men take any notice?

Friday 10 May 2024


So all is revealed! Jenny and I paid a six-day visit to Brighton, a seaside resort neither of us had been to for decades. Despite the usual pre-holiday worries about unexpected glitches and cock-ups, everything went smoothly and we had a great time. Amazing weather too - dry and sunny throughout except for some torrential downpours last Monday.

The first thing we noticed was the general physical shabbiness. Many buildings were in urgent need of renovation or redecoration, though the residents and other tourists didn't seem bothered. There were also the usual rough sleepers and graffiti.

But people were very friendly if we seemed lost or needed some help - bus drivers especially.

We were there at the start of the annual Brighton Festival, so enjoyed some great events - a concert by the London Symphony Orchestra, a concert by the Herbie Flowers jazz band, and a talk by Caroline Lucas, the solitary Green MP. We also checked out the Royal Pavilion (unbelievably lavish), Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Hove Museum and the Castle and Museum at Lewes, a few miles north of Brighton.

Everybody seemed to be having a splendid time, with hardly a miserable face to be seen. Brighton is known for its gay and "alternative" vibe and we saw plenty of piercings and tattoos and even two men wearing skirts.

The enormous breakfasts at our guest house kept us fuelled for most of the day. In the evening, as well as our usual visits to Pizza Express, we tried two nearby restaurants, one Indian and the other Italian.

So how would I sum up Brighton? Let's say scruffy, funky, exuberant and easy-going.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

A short intermission

I'll be back soon. Meanwhile here's a selfie.


Sunday 28 April 2024

No such longing

I'm not nostalgic. Meaning I don't long to be back in some earlier time that I see as much better than the present.

The fact is that the past is always a mixture of good and bad, and it's easy to glamorise the positive aspects while overlooking the bad.

Such as the 1960s. Yes, it was a time of amazing creativity and cultural delights, but it wasn't much fun for victimised gays, or women who were expected to be in favour of free love - which in practice meant sexual availability.

But you could say I'm nostalgic not for a particular time period but for everyday things that seem preferable to their present equivalent.

Like making purchases. They used to be a simple matter of handing over cash or a cheque. But nowadays you need all sorts of technology like QR codes and apps, not to mention passwords and pin numbers.

Like train travel. I used to buy a ticket at a booking office and it would take me from A to B. But today prices vary depending on what time of day you travel, which train company you use and whether you book at the station or online.

I could imagine being nostalgic for some earlier time if my present life was utterly miserable and disastrous, but thankfully it isn't anything of the sort. Even when my life seemed a bit bleak and empty in my late twenties I never wished I could go back to an earlier period. I just assumed things would get better.

But it would be quite fun to pay a flying visit to the days of Beatlemania and bell bottoms and Black Forest Gateaux.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Goodbye dating

It seems an absolute age now between the settled seventies me today and the twenties me when I was still starting out in life and pondering what the future held.

In particular it seems like an eternity from the years when I was still dating and wondering if I would find a long-term partner or if I would become a lonely old codger.

Am I glad I'm not dating any more. I read about people's disappointing dating experiences - dates who aren't what they expected, dates with embarrassing mannerisms, dates who turn out to be married etc etc - and I'm thankful I don't have to go through all that again.

I don't have to ask myself all those awkward pre-dating questions. What will she think of me? Will she find me boring? Will she think I'm weird? Will she like the way I'm dressed? Will she be put off by my height or my voice or my taste in books/films/music?

The whole dating scenario is now so long ago that I can barely remember it, but I must have been a bundle of nerves every time I went out with someone new and hoped they might be "the one".

What a relief it is to have a long-term partner who is as devoted to me as I am to her, and I'm no longer looking for "a likely prospect". We can just enjoy each other's company and let the years go by.

I can hear about people's dating horror stories without having to add a dozen horror stories of my own.

Saturday 20 April 2024

Smoking dilemma

As a life-long non-smoker, I'm intrigued by the British government's latest attempts to reduce cigarette-smoking and reduce tobacco-related hospital admissions.

They're hoping to pass a new law that would ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone under 15, with the age limit rising each year.

A similar law proposed in New Zealand was heavily opposed and it has now been scrapped by the incoming New Zealand government.

I must say I'm of two minds whether the proposed English law is a good idea. Yes, I'm all in favour of anything that makes people healthier but would people observe the new law or would they try to find ways around it?

You could get an older friend to buy the cigarettes for you, or you could lie about your age, or there would no doubt be a black market in fags you could resort to.

And how would shopkeepers know if you were over 15 or not? If they asked for ID, they could be insulted or threatened.

On the other hand, the sale of alcohol is subject to a similar ban, which says you can't sell alcohol to anyone under 18. It seems to work quite well and nobody is lobbying for the age limit to be scrapped. And young people are consuming much less alcohol anyway, largely because they're more aware of the long-term health risks.

I think on balance I support the new law, if nothing else because it would emphasise the dangers of smoking.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

No prayers please

I have no problem with people who're religious, if that helps them through life's difficulties. But I think religious belief is essentially a private matter and shouldn't be imposed on people who have no interest in religion.

A Muslim pupil has lost a legal case against a London school that has a ban on prayers after an earlier controversy over religious observance.

The pupil argued that the prayer ban was an act of discrimination against ethnic minorities and made her feel "alienated from society".

But the prayer ban only applies within the school. There's nothing to stop her praying or following her religious beliefs anywhere else.

When I was at boarding school I was expected to attend two religious services every Sunday, although they meant nothing to me but a waste of 1½ hours.

We occasionally get religious leaflets through our letterbox, and we occasionally get approaches from religious charities, but in general believers (who are numerous in Northern Ireland) keep a low profile and don't try to get us interested.

In fact I have no idea whether any of our immediate neighbours are religious or not, with one exception. The subject just never comes up.

As the school head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh says "A school should be free to do what is right for the pupils it serves. Schools should not be forced by one child and her mother to change its approach simply because they have decided they don't like something."

Friday 12 April 2024

Going private

Given that the waiting time for NHS surgery can now be several years, Jenny and I have decided that if either of us needed urgent surgery, we would have to do the unthinkable and opt to use a private hospital.

But one thing that bothers us about private surgery is that if anything goes horribly wrong, the hospital won't be able to deal with it (as most of them don't have intensive care units) and we'd have to be transferred to an NHS hospital. Which was easy enough a few years ago before the ambulance crisis, but now you may have to wait several hours for an ambulance, by which time you could be dead or much more seriously ill.

As we're both in fairly good physical health and have no problematic medical conditions, we assume that the chances of an unexpected medical emergency are pretty small, but even supposedly routine operations can lead to unforeseen mistakes and catastrophes.

Literally tens of thousands of people are dying because they're not getting prompt medical attention from the NHS. Ambulances are overwhelmed, A&E departments are overwhelmed, hospital wards are overwhelmed. We don't want to end up as another delayed-treatment statistic.

If either of us need urgent surgery, goodness knows what decision we'll make. All I know is that more and more people are going private because of the huge NHS waiting lists. They're willing to take risks in order to end chronic pain and get a normal life back.

Monday 8 April 2024

Pets and vets

 A lot of people are complaining about veterinary clinics, saying that they charge too much, don't always give a high-quality service, and are too keen to offer unnecessary scans and tests and procedures.

We don't have any pets, so we have no comment to make, but clearly a lot of pet-owners are far from happy.

A large number of previously independent veterinary clinics have been taken over by big corporations and hedge funds, whose only object it seems is to make as much money as possible out of pet-owners' distress and anxiety.

Ruth Armstrong's Labrador Blackmore had a seizure and she suspected it was time to put him to sleep. The vet advised further investigation - an MRI scan, blood tests and a metabolic check. The bill would be over £7000. Blackmore had more seizures and she and her husband opted simply to put him to sleep.

Ruth believes many owners would rather see pets relieved of their suffering than have vets throw everything at them to extend their lives a bit longer.

There's a veterinary clinic very near to us, the Earlswood Veterinary Clinic. It's owned by one of the big companies, IVC Evidensia, which owns 1074 veterinary practices in the UK. Predictably there's no price list on their website, which suggests they charge whatever they can.

I know some of my blogmates have pets, and I would be interested to hear what you think of your veterinary clinic. Are you happy or unhappy?

Thursday 4 April 2024

Warts and all

I'm quite happy with my appearance and I don't care what other people think about it. I don't care if they think I'm ugly or wrinkled or doddery or ancient-looking. They're not going to tell me how they see me anyway so why should it bother me?

As I see it I just look like a typical 77 year old bloke and I've no wish to look anything different. I certainly don't wish I looked 50 years younger, or looked like George Clooney, or looked like a body-builder.

Neither have I ever considered any kind of cosmetic surgery. Once you go down that road you can easily get hooked on it and end up trying one procedure after another - until you look totally artificial. And in any case I have a horror of operations.

But some elderly people hate the way they look and wish they looked young again, or wish they were wrinkle-free. They just can't accept the way they look as perfectly natural and normal and not worth obsessing about.

The way I look is less important to me than whether I'm physically and mentally healthy and able to enjoy life to the full - which I am.

I was never especially eye-catching even when I was young. I had very ordinary looks. I was never going to be pursued by bedazzled women or for that matter bedazzled men. That was something I missed out on, but I don't think I would have enjoyed that level of attention anyway.

I am what I am, warts and wrinkles and all.

Sunday 31 March 2024

Stuck in the mud

A friend said the other day that I was a bit of a stick in the mud, which rather bothered me until I realised there's nothing wrong with being a stick in the mud in itself. It all depends what you're a stick in the mud about.

I'm happy to be a stick in the mud if it means believing in things like politeness, friendliness, altruism*, democracy, the welfare state, and women's liberation. If you're a stick in the mud about banning immigration or keeping women in their place, that's a different matter.

We could do with a lot more of the high-minded stick-in-the-mud types, given how easily people now abandon any worthwhile principles in favour of bending the rules, breaking the law, lying their heads off and denigrating other people.

If the opposite of being stuck in the mud is being totally suggestible and going along with anything that's trendy and superficially appealing, then I'm very content to be a stick in the mud and true to my beliefs.

It's intriguing that now the phrase implies a personal failing - someone who deliberately resists change. That's not how it was used in the past. It implied someone who was unable to progress through no fault of their own - someone whose feet were stuck in soft clay.

*Now there's a word you don't hear often today - altruism. Meaning a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Endless pressure

When I compare working conditions today with the working conditions I had in my own work life, I'm shocked at what so many people have to put up with nowadays.

I didn't realise how lucky I was and how drastically things were about to change. I took for granted how well I was treated.

When I worked for the Harrow Observer, a local newspaper in North West London, in the late sixties, it was clearly overstaffed and we spent most of the day chattering and fooling around. We would take a good hour for a liquid lunch. We might spend an hour or two of the day writing the odd story. And for that we got a generous salary and equally generous expenses.

From what I can gather, newspapers nowadays are chronically understaffed and journalists have to work their arses off writing one story after another. And salaries and expenses are as low as the owners can get away with.

When I worked for the Economists Bookshop, part of the London School of Economics, in the seventies my workload was so light I had plenty of time to read the Guardian from cover to cover and do more chattering and messing around. We got a rude awakening when Dillons and then Waterstones took over the bookshop in the eighties.

I hear so much now from disgruntled employees who're under constant pressure, who're micromanaged and set unreachable work targets, who're bullied and abused and expected to work when they're ill, who get home exhausted and demoralised, that I'm glad I no longer have to work for a living. I'd simply be unable to cope.

The sooner employees are treated decently again, the sooner we stop reliving the Victorian age, the better.

Saturday 23 March 2024

A bit of a fetish

There are still people who believe that mental disorders have become a bit of a fetish and that people are "self-diagnosing" their reaction to the normal ups and downs of life as mental problems that prevent them simply getting on with things.

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Minister, has got into hot water by saying just that, claiming that the diagnosis of mental problems "may have gone too far" and wanting to push 150,000 people with "mild conditions" back into work.

Of course there's no evidence that thousands of people are effectively "faking it" and developing non-existent mental problems, but that didn't stop Mel Stride making such wild statements. Just because he's mentally healthy (or so one assumes), he imagines that everyone else would be mentally healthy if they just got a grip.

Anyway, why would anyone claim to have a mental illness at the present time when it's never been harder to get therapy or treatment, when the NHS is currently overwhelmed with demand? They'd just be making life difficult for themselves.

Has Mel Stride ever talked to anyone with a severe mental disorder and grasped exactly how debilitating and crushing it can be? It doesn't sound like it. He just delivers a casual slap in the face and adds insult to injury.

He would be well advised not to parade his ignorance.

Pic: Mel Stride

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Language deficit

I've suggested before that all schools should be bilingual, meaning that while you're in school you have to speak another language so that by the time you leave school you're fluent in that other language.

But the English are mostly very arrogant about not wanting to learn another language, insisting that English is spoken in so many countries that there's no point in us speaking anything else.

Well, apart from the established fact that learning a second language stimulates the brain in various ways, it just seems like a friendly gesture to, say, someone French or German or Spanish that you can talk to them in their own language rather than expecting them to speak your own.

If you got seriously fluent you could work as a translator or interpreter, skills that are always in demand. Plus you could read books in their original language.

I had French lessons at school, but as I never spoke French to anyone I never acquired more than the basics and failed a French exam. If I had had to speak French all the time, I would surely have been fluent by the time I left school.

I know quite a lot of Italian but I'm nowhere near being fluent. Molto embarazzante!

It's pitiful that so many Europeans in particular can speak several languages and think nothing of it. They're often quite bemused that we only speak English and have no wish to speak another language thank you very much.

French or German would certainly be more useful to me than the Latin I did at school - most of which I've totally forgotten anyway. Cela n'a aucun sens!*

*It makes no sense

Friday 15 March 2024

Going to the dogs

How often do you read that people's conduct has declined, the country's going to the dogs, nobody knows how to behave any more etc etc?

Supposedly people are more angry, abusive, lawless, corrupt, neurotic, selfish and lazy than they used to be - and what's more it's getting worse.

But is this really true? Is people's behaviour actually slipping or is this a false impression? How on earth do you measure such things when there's no way of directly comparing behaviour now with behaviour, say, twenty years ago?

Today's bad behaviour is much more visible when it's constantly flagged up by the media and made out to be more common than it is. And yesterday's bad behaviour is not so noticeable because we've forgotten a lot of it. So of course it seems like people's behaviour has got worse.

The fact is that there's a large number of people who are badly behaved and always have been. There are plenty of people who get drunk on planes, insult shop assistants, jump queues, feign sickies and so on. Such wrongdoers didn't simply jump out of the woodwork last week.

And I admit to making these false comparisons myself. Just recently I was saying that people seem to be angrier than they used to be, but of course if you ask me for evidence or statistics, I don't have any. It's simply my personal hunch, based on nothing whatever.

I need to take the media's sensationalism with a large pinch of salt.

Monday 11 March 2024

Extremism redefined

The British government is planning a new law on extremism, saying that the existing definitions don't go far enough and democracy is threatened. What a pointless exercise.

Needless to say they're tying themselves in knots trying to find a suitable redefinition* of something that seems perfectly obvious. To my mind, and probably most people's minds, extremism is simply violence or the threat of violence.

Anything else is just free speech or public protest - possibly abusive and ignorant free speech but that's not the same as extremism. If free speech and public protest becomes "extremism", we're on a very slippery slope indeed.

But the government wants to include anything that "undermines UK democracy", an absurdly vague concept that could include just about anything.

Would rallies in support of Gaza be caught in the net? Or attacks on the government? Or trade union activities? All sorts of routine grassroots protest could be outlawed.

Civil liberties groups and lawyers have already pointed out how dangerous the new law could be, but the government is notorious for ignoring expert advice and going its own sweet way.

*The proposed redefinition of extremism runs as follows (new redefinition on March 13): "the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance" that aims to "negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others" or "undermine, overturn or replace the UK's system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights."

Thursday 7 March 2024

Silence that alarm!

Noise is a big factor in our everyday lives but it isn't discussed very much. We all react to noise in different ways, depending what the noise is and depending on our personal likings and aversions. Some things I can easily screen out while other things totally get on my nerves. The things that annoy me:

  • Background music in restaurants and shops, especially music I dislike. I prefer silence so I can focus on conversation.
  • Music blasting out of people's cars
  • Souped-up cars with roaring engines
  • Car alarms and security alarms
  • Motorbikes
  • People having loud phone conversations on public transport
  • Leaf blowers. Why can't the leaves just stay where they are?
  • People rustling food wrappers in a cinema or theatre
The things I'm okay with:

  • Mild background noise when I'm falling asleep
  • Jenny's occasional snoring
  • The sound of pigeons
  • The sirens on emergency vehicles
  • Planes taking off from the nearby airport
  • Chewing noises
  • People tapping their feet
  • The noise from washing machines
  • Chainsaws
I'm glad I've still got good hearing, despite the deafening rock concerts I went to when I was younger, which left my ears ringing for hours. I'm also glad I don't have tinnitus, which is very common, incredibly annoying and unfortunately not curable. Thankfully also I don't have hyperacusis or extreme sensitivity to noise, so sounds always seem louder than they should.

Now excuse me while I go and sabotage a few leaf blowers.

Sunday 3 March 2024

Get a grip

It's good that mental health is now so widely discussed and there's a lot more help available* for those who have mental problems. It's now perfectly okay to admit to chronic depression, anxiety, panic attacks or even suicidal feelings, and to ask for help in dealing with them.

It's suggested that one reason for the change is that young people are now enduring so many overwhelming pressures in their lives that they can't bottle up their feelings anymore and are bringing them into the open and looking for professional guidance to help them out.

Whatever the reason, this big change can only be for the good. When I was young, people were a lot less sympathetic about mental problems and tended to shrug them off as some minor quirk. If you expressed your inability to cope, you would probably be told to "get a grip", "pull yourself together" or "be more positive". Such knee-jerk advice may have helped some people, but many others felt their problems weren't being taken seriously.

There's still some reluctance to use medications to deal with mental problems, and some reluctance to reveal they're being used, but they can be very effective in many cases.

Unfortunately they weren't much help to Jenny's old school friend who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was taking medicines for a number of years before killing herself at the second attempt. Her problems were very deep-rooted and not responsive to any kind of treatment.

Of course there are still people who're unsympathetic to mental problems, partly because they're lucky enough not to have any themselves, partly because they're still stuck in the "get a grip" approach, and partly because mental problems are by their nature invisible. But that sort of ignorance is fast declining.

*but not nearly enough

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Troublesome wills

I've always been fascinated by long-drawn-out disputes over wills and inheritance. Some of the disputes might be justified, like if one sibling has inherited nothing but other siblings have inherited vast amounts, but a lot of disputes seem to be easily resolvable and not worth the time and effort. Not to mention huge legal fees.

I read that there has been a big increase in disputes over wills, partly because more people are severely hard-up and could do with a sizeable inheritance to bail them out. Partly also because the older generation are often very well-off as a result of rocketing house prices and are more likely to leave substantial sums to their descendants.

I was lucky that my mother's will was very simple and was dealt with quite easily, with neither myself, my sister, my brother in law or my niece disputing it in any way. She hadn't decided to leave £10,000 to the local cats' home or her favourite hairdresser.

Jenny and I have both made wills and hopefully they're equally straightforward and won't prompt nasty legal wrangles. We certainly haven't left money to any unlikely recipients like the local cats' home (if there is one). Nor have we left anything to any political party.

We did use a solicitor to write our wills, to ensure they were fully legal and wouldn't be challenged because of faulty wording or an invalid witness or some other beginner's error. DIY wills are tempting but open to subtle pitfalls.

But once a will is contested, the dispute can go on for years, with a large chunk of the inheritance vanishing in solicitors' fees. It's not unusual for legal fees in a long-running dispute to clock up hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Better not to give lawyers a field day.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Just be yourself

"Just be yourself". Sounds like good advice, doesn't it? What could be more natural, more authentic, more straightforward? Except that this seemingly simple bit of advice is actually quite complicated.

Do I even know what is myself? I'm such a mixture of different characteristics and attitudes and tendencies, which ones are my real self? Is it the anxious bit, the happy bit, the grumpy bit, the bewildered bit (etc etc)?

Does being myself mean stomping about in a violent rage? Or hurling plates across the kitchen? Or telling people they're nauseating arseholes? Or throwing a custard pie at the King? I don't think any of those things would be helpful.

And how can I be sure I'm being myself rather than what someone else has suggested, or what's fashionable, or what's convenient? How exactly do I distinguish the genuine article from the bogus and performative?

Personally I'd replace "just be yourself" with "just do what seems to be the best thing in the circumstances". Not so pithy or succinct but a bit more practical.

Then again, if you're drawn to violence, bullying, cruelty and other undesirable traits, the last thing you need to be told is "just be yourself". "Just be anything other than yourself" would be more appropriate.

I certainly couldn't have "been myself" when I was working. I'd have been shown the door pretty quickly if I told my colleagues precisely what I thought of them, or told a stroppy customer to get lost, or turned up tipsy to an important meeting.

Just be yourself? Easier said than done.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

But I've earnt it

I love being retired. I love being able to do what I want when I want and not have to do whatever my boss tells me to do. If I want to spend all day watching rubbishy TV, sleeping or having a sudoku binge, there's nobody to stop me.

But it's odd, there's still a small part of me that thinks that such shameless self-indulgence is somehow wrong, that I should be doing something more productive, or worthwhile, or useful, or generally for the good of society.

Why do I think that? There are millions of people out there doing productive or worthwhile things, and there's no need for me to join them.

After all, I did paid work for the best part of 53 years, not retiring till I was 71, so surely I've done quite enough to qualify as an upstanding, respectable citizen, and in no way a workshy layabout or couch potato. Haven't I earnt my retirement?

But clearly there's a part of me that still isn't comfortable with pottering about the house following one trivial pursuit after another. Somewhere in my mind there's a residual hankering for an authority figure to help me on my way and organise my life.

Where does this strange impulse come from? Have I been too embedded in the Protestant Work Ethic to dismiss it all of a sudden and go my own way? Do I feel that if other people are doing productive things then it's not fair that I'm swanning around doing exactly what I please?

I'll get back to you on that one - once I've finished this sudoku.

Friday 16 February 2024

Squeaky clean

I'm always surprised by the number of people who're so germ-conscious that they spend a huge amount of time cleaning every nook and cranny in the house.

I've known a lot of people who're so convinced some lethal germ is about to jump out at them that their cleaning regime is painstaking. Every day worktops are wiped, floors are swept, carpets are hoovered, anti-bacterial agents are sprayed in all directions. If something hasn't been cleaned recently enough, they can't rest until it's done.

But as far as I'm concerned a lot of germs are either totally harmless or actually beneficial, so trying to purge them all is pointless. Especially since you can't even see them and can only imagine where they might be lurking.

But TV programmes these days are full of ads for anti-bacterial products, scaring you rigid with the warning that your kitchen or toilet is colonised by literally millions of bacteria. Clearly there's a big market for such stuff.

Jenny and I take the usual minimal steps to keep the place fairly clean and presentable, but beyond that we're not going to bust a gut trying to eradicate every last lingering microbe.

I knew a woman who would get up at 4 am to start cleaning, and who would be constantly washing clothes, cushions, curtains and other items around the house in case they were hiding some nasty bug.

Mind you, I'm not sure which is worse, cleaning fanatically or not cleaning at all. A few years before she died, my mother gave up cleaning altogether and let her flat get grubbier and grubbier. She claimed she had a cleaner though I never saw any sign of one.

But funnily enough all those festering germs never did her any harm.

Monday 12 February 2024

A work in progress

It's become a cliché that people are getting angrier and less patient, blowing their top at the smallest thing that annoys them.

What I also notice is that people are getting more self-righteous, convinced that their opinions are utterly valid and that other people's opinions are not worth even listening to.

Like all those Americans who still believe the last presidential election was fraudulent and that Trump did in fact win. No matter how many times their belief is discredited, they repeat the claim of fraud.

Like the belief that vaccinations are highly dangerous and should be avoided. The overall health benefits of vaccines are steadfastly denied.

Like the belief that you can change sex and a man can become a woman, even though this is a biological and medical impossibility.

Not to mention all the trolls firing off their trumped-up accusations and condemnations of public figures, many of them libellous.

Of course we all have a streak of self-righteousness (myself included) and we all have firmly held beliefs that defy any amount of contrary evidence. But I do regard all my opinions as a work in progress, as temporary opinions until such time as they're proved to be mistaken.

The longer I live though, the more I realise that everyday reality is so complicated that any opinion I hold is quite likely to be incorrect and based on a very partial understanding of the facts.

I'm not so insecure that I find any refuting of my opinions so threatening and alarming that I have to maintain and uphold them at any cost. In fact I like to be challenged about my fondly held but maybe totally irrational opinions. A good thing too, as Jenny takes my opinions to pieces on a regular basis!

Thursday 8 February 2024

Just suck it up

How would you feel if all of a sudden a giant warehouse was being built behind your home and you knew nothing about it because the local council had consulted the residents of the wrong road?

That's what's happening to householders in Hooke Close, Corby, Northamptonshire, after the council mistakenly consulted residents of Hubble Road. The council didn't think it fishy that nobody had raised any objections, and the planning application was duly approved.

What adds insult to injury is that the council refuses to accept any blame and presumably won't give the aggrieved residents any compensation.

They maintain that as there was a planning notice on the site, and as there was a notice in the local press, they've done their legal duty and nothing more needs to be done. But it seems none of the residents saw either notice.

Council leader Jason Smithers' reaction was pathetic. He said he understood the residents' frustration, he apologised for the error, and he pledged that he council would do all it could to ensure a similar issue didn't happen again.

That's okay then. The residents just have to suck it up because the council washes its hands of any responsibility. In other words, fuck you.

Never mind that the price of houses in Hooke Close will plummet because nobody wants a stonking great warehouse behind their back garden. Never mind that there will be heavy lorries rumbling in and out all day. Never mind that the building work is shaking people's houses.

As long as Mr Smithers has "apologised for the error", everything's just fine.

Sunday 4 February 2024

Teeming hordes

Over-tourism is in the news again as Japan grapples with a huge influx of tourists, many of whom are behaving badly and upsetting local residents. Many of the tourists just want eye-catching backdrops for their social media posts, and don't care two hoots about the locals.

Not a problem here in Northern Ireland, where tourism is gradually increasing but hasn't yet reached the tipping point of overwhelming those of us who live here. The number of visits by cruise ships is escalating, but so far the hordes of tourists descending on Belfast and its tourist attractions are easily absorbed.

Personally I don't understand why people want to visit places that are already jam-packed with so many tourists that you can only move around at a snail's pace, trying to get through thick crowds of visitors. What pleasure is there in that?

I still remember when Jenny and I were in Venice many years ago, taking about 20 minutes to get across Piazza San Marco, such was the dense thicket of tourists. Venice is about to introduce a tourist fee of five euros a day to enter the island, but I doubt if such a puny charge will put anyone off.

People can be surprisingly sheep-like. They flock in droves to the Piazza San Marco, while the very quiet and pretty district of Cannaregio in the north of the island is forgotten about and pleasantly free of the camera-waving multitudes.

Tourism can all too easily become a victim of its own success.

Pic: Cannaregio

Wednesday 31 January 2024

Letting rip

If you're desperate for a pee but you're in the middle of nowhere, is it okay to find some hidden spot and let rip? Or should you try to hold it in until you find a public toilet?

Dacorum Borough Council in Hertfordshire clearly think you should hold it in. They fined two men £88 each for peeing in a layby. The men objected, the council stood firm, but eventually the council relented and their fines were rescinded.

A layby is a bit public and not a sensible place to pee, but what if they were in the midst of a wood and totally invisible? Is it really a good use of council funds to track them down and penalise them?

I've often had a pee when I'm walking in the Mourne Mountains. As long as there's nobody else around, what's the harm? It's either that or have an embarrassing accident.

Peeing in a public street is a different matter. It's vulgar and selfish. Usually the culprits are men who've had far too much to drink and suddenly need to pee on the way home. They're oblivious to the mess they make and other people's reactions.

Theoretically you can be fined £40 for peeing in a public street, which counts as indecent behaviour. But how often do you hear of someone being fined?

Of course there should be more public toilets, but they can't be everywhere, and your chances of being near one when you need to pee are pretty low.

Just be careful what you do in a layby.

Saturday 27 January 2024

Watch your language!

There's heated controversy in Northern Ireland over bilingual signs, especially road signs. Quite a lot of signs are bilingual already (English and Irish, that is), but any proposal to add to them is always contentious.

People can apply for signs to be made bilingual, and in 2023 there were over 600 such requests. In the past road signs could only be changed if two thirds of the road's residents asked for it, but the threshold in Belfast has now been cut to 15 per cent.

There are two opposing views on bilingual signs. One says that because most people here speak English, adding Irish is unnecessary and costly, and is just a pointless political gesture by Irish language campaigners.

The other viewpoint is that the Irish language needs to be supported and promoted and used more widely as it's an important part of Irish culture, and those opposing bilingual signs are just being narrow-minded and obstinate.

I must say I tend to support the unnecessary-and-costly argument. If people want to learn and promote Irish, fine, it's a wonderful language, but why bilingual road signs? If most people speak English I don't see the need for them.

If we can find our way around quite adequately with an English road sign, why add Irish?

The bilingual road sign issue came to mind because a Welsh language campaigner is currently embroiled in a three year legal battle after refusing to pay a £70 car park penalty notice written only in English. Toni Schiavone will only pay the penalty notice if it's translated into Welsh, and he says he's being unfairly harassed.

I'm keeping well out of the language controversy. Or as an Irish speaker would say "Tá mé ag éirí go maith as".