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.