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.