Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Of all the luck

I react in two different ways to the horrors and miseries of the world. Sometimes I feel sad that so many people are struggling and floundering and unable to better themselves. At other times I feel happy that I'm lucky enough to have a comfortable, peaceful life while others don't.

The sadness tends to win out, but why should it? Why shouldn't the happiness win out? Why shouldn't I fully appreciate my good fortune, even if I'm very aware it's not shared by everyone? Why be sunk in gloom just because others are?

I think I have a problem with the idea of luck. I can't accept its randomness, its capriciousness. I can't accept that if you're lucky you should just be happy and celebrate it.

I find that hard. I dwell on the fact that others are less lucky, others are stumbling around while I'm not. I feel uncomfortable about it. I feel I've had it too easy. I feel I don't deserve it. I feel a sort of survivor's guilt.

But all I'm doing is taking the edge off my happiness. Spoiling it with pointless doubts and misgivings that make me feel bad instead of just enjoying my luck. I won't simply accept luck for what it is, a sort of burst of sunlight that happened to fall my way and brighten my life.

Why look a gift horse in the mouth? I've been lucky. My life has worked out exceptionally well. Why question it? Why pick it to pieces?

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The wrong voice

Apparently business is booming for voice coaches (aka speech therapists). Lots of people are sufficiently unhappy with their accent or way of speaking to ask a voice coach to help them change it.

They think their voice is too posh and want it to be more ordinary. Or they have a regional accent and want a London one.  Or they're foreigners who still speak English with a foreign accent and want to lose it. Or they feel they don't speak clearly or forcefully enough.

Whatever the motive, they're ready to spend £400 upwards to have their voice altered so they feel more confident and less of an oddity.

Well, I won't be joining them any time soon. I'm quite happy with my accent, even though it's very noticeably posh English and makes many people assume I'm a rich bastard with a country mansion full of priceless antiques. If they only knew....

I'm not keen on the daft assumptions, but I don't mind that little extra respect my accent encourages. Service does sometimes seem a little brisker and friendlier as soon as I start speaking. Or maybe I'm imagining it.

But I don't know why someone would want to shed a regional accent. Most of them are very attractive and a refreshing change from bog-standard BBC English. In fact I gather some employers prefer regional accents because they sound more friendly and reassuring than cool, clipped London posh.

I can understand those foreigners who want to lose the foreign accent, though. Unfortunately racism and xenophobia are a fact of life and people are very likely to treat you badly if you don't speak "proper" English. Naturally foreigners want to blend in and be taken for "one of us".

But I doubt anyone would actually hanker after the genuine "Queen's English". Who on earth would aspire to that bizarre nasal, strangled tone the Queen uses? I would want to die if I spoke like that.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Mountains or molehills?

People's real-life identities are very different from the ridiculous gender roles that follow us all around, but if there's one way men fit the stereotype, it's their urge to be rugged, self-sufficient individuals.

The evidence is that men are less likely to ask other people for support and tend to keep their problems to themselves, even if they're being torn apart by grief, sadness, hatred, or other extreme emotions.

It's a step forward that so many male celebs have admitted recently to their battles with depression, anxiety and other psychological issues, things that in the past they may have kept strictly under wraps, but there's still a long way to go.

It seems to me most women tend to spill out their troubles to anyone who'll listen, and their close friends for sure. They're less likely to bottle up agonising emotions and pretend everything's fine.

Certainly when I was young I conformed to the male stereotype and kept my miseries to myself. When I was bullied at school, as far as I remember I never confided in the housemaster or the head prefect or anyone who might have helped me. I guess I would have seen such an admission of weakness and helplessness as too humiliating. Men are meant to be strong and resilient and all the rest of it.

Now I have Jenny to confide in, of course I share my negative feelings with her all the time, and I'm lucky to be able to. But I still hesitate to show them to anyone else, even people I know very well. I ask myself, why would they want to listen? This is simply the emotional buffeting and turbulence of dealing with life. They'll think I'm making a big fuss over nothing.

It's not that I'm trying to be rugged and self-sufficient, just that I think I'm making mountains out of molehills. Desperate sadness? Overwhelming grief? Crushing helplessness? Who am I kidding? People out there know real distress, real trauma, not the petty emotions I'm peddling.

How am I feeling? Absolutely fine, thanks. On top of the world.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

False impressions

I seem to have given you lot the impression that I'm a perma-nently miserable old sod, awash with neuroses and hang-ups of every possible kind, and that feelings of happiness and enjoyment are quite beyond me.

This is a total travesty of the truth - as Jenny could easily tell you - and needs to be rapidly corrected. The fact is that I'm often happy and relaxed and probably no more neurotic than anyone else. I just happen to have written about my neuroses so often they've unfairly taken centre stage and the rest of my emotional life is left hovering in the wings waiting desperately to speak its lines.

I think the problem is that fears and anxieties and phobias and all the rest are a lot easier to write about than happiness and enjoyment. What can I say about happiness except that I'm happy or not? Euphoric or not? Delighted or not? There's nothing more to say, is there?

I suppose in some cases I could be specific and say, ah yes, I'm happy because I landed that job or booked that holiday or caught up with that long-lost friend. But mostly I feel happy for no obvious reason (as one does). Suddenly I'm over the moon, and I really couldn't tell you why. There could be chaos all around me,there could be a dozen crises on the horizon, but I'm unaccountably and bizarrely happy. How do I explain that? I can't.

So you'll just have to take my word for it that I'm happy as often as I'm neurotic, even if I don't mention it. I may be whooping with joy or leaping with excitement, but how would you know? Only if I install a webcam. But that might reveal a few ugly truths along with the bursts of happiness, so I think I'll pass on that one.

Neurotic or happy? Tell you what, I'm a multi-tasker. I can do both.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Reports of happiness

So the invest-igation continues into the possibility Nick is sometimes happy and relaxed, despite all his kinks and hang-ups. A top-flight team of investigators has been tracking the famous blogger's movements day and night in the hope of verifying the reported glimpses of happiness.

Natalie H (Head of the investigation team): So how's it going? Any results yet?

Miranda G (Chief investigator): Sod all. We thought there were signs of happiness on Thursday around 3.17 pm, but it was a false alarm. He seemed to be smiling but it was just a meaningless grimace.

NH: Disappointing. How about when he was watching his favourite TV drama on Monday evening?

MG: Not a flicker. Totally deadpan throughout. Even when he was eating his special cookies. Even after several glasses of wine. No sign of visible enjoyment. It could have been a toothpaste commercial.

NH: Bizarre. What happened to this guy? Some catastrophic childhood trauma? Was he rendered incapable of happiness at an early age? Did he work for some ball-busting multinational on a zero-hours contract? Has he got some misery gene?

MG: I'm as baffled as you are. I've tracked hundreds of these supposed terminal neurotics and believe me, sooner or later we've got them on tape laughing hysterically. They all crack in the end. Except this guy. He's got me beat.

NH: Are you sure he hasn't spotted us? Are you sure he doesn't suspect anything? If he's on to us, he'll be making damn sure there's no sign he's happy. No smiles, no guffaws, no thigh-slapping, nothing. Just a flawless mask of anguish.

MG: No, he can't have rumbled us. We've totally kept out of sight. Maybe it's some religious thing. He can only be happy at certain times. Like when there's a full moon. Or the spring and autumn equinox.

NH: I don't buy that. We know he's not religious. Are you sure you're watching him all the time? You haven't dozed off or checked your Facebook page?

MH: Course not, I'm a professional, I never sleep on the job. Believe me, if he so much as scratched his ear, I'd know about it. He's just a joyless old fart.

NH: I hope not. Okay, carry on. He can't keep this up for ever.

Pic: Visible signs of happiness

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Feel the fear

You know what they say. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Well, I've done that often enough.  My whole life has been a story of overcoming my natural timidity and saying, fuck it, I really want to do this and I'm going to do it.

I fear all sorts of silly things. Other people's reactions. Simple tasks that turn into never-ending nightmares. Any kind of DIY. Looking like an idiot. Setting off some appalling catastrophe. Getting in too deep. Saying the wrong thing. Letting people down.

But over the years I've learnt to put all these absurd fears to one side, take a deep breath and plunge in anyway. I know from experience that most of the fears will turn out to be unfounded and everything will work out fine. So I brace myself, leap off the cliff-edge, and guess what. Nothing dreadful happens.

I don't look like an idiot. Nobody laughs at me. There's no appalling catastrophe. The world doesn't end. Life goes on.

To look at me, you probably wouldn't suspect I'm awash with secret fears. I've had lots of practice at seeming confident and on top of things. My face doesn't give much away. I'm adept at feigning world-weary nonchalance. As most of us are after years of having to deal with things that frighten the life out of us.

But it's not the done thing to reveal your private fears. Maybe to your closest friends after a drink or two. But not in public, not to just anyone. And certainly not in the workplace. There you're expected to be poised and ready for anything. So we keep our fears and our faked bravado to ourselves.

But hey, what's all the fuss about? Haven't you heard? You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Problem solved!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Embarrassing and stuff

That clichéd put-down that someone should "act their age" is one of the silliest remarks ever. Why should someone act their age? What on earth does it mean anyway?

What behaviour exactly is suitable for someone of sixty? Or seventy? Or eighty? Are they meant to wear something that hides every inch of flesh? Or lurk in a corner not saying anything controversial? Or avoid all mention of sex, drugs or gangsta rap?

I suspect all it really means is "Don't do anything a twenty something might do because it's, like, totally embarrassing and stuff, and we'll have to ignore you and pretend we don't know you."

Which in turn really means "We reserve the right to control your behaviour because we're young and cool and you're a fuddy-duddy old person who's only allowed to be fuddy-duddy."

Well, bollocks to that. We oldies have spent most of our life being told what to do by employers, spouses, children and parents, and in our twilight years we claim the right to dress and behave any way we want for a change and take no notice of any strait-laced objections.

Madonna in particular gets regular taunts that she should "act her age" and not come on so sexy and flamboyant. She tells her critics to get lost, that she's going to act any way she wants "because it's MY age and it's MY life."

Good for her. I shall follow her example. I don't feel the need to be sexy and flamboyant, but anything else I fancy doing - I shall just go right ahead and bugger how old I am. I shall dance and cavort and swear and contradict and shock and too bad if it ruffles some feathers.

Because it's my age and it's my life.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

A torrent of abuse

I make no apologies for returning to the subject of political abuse, which has reached horrifying levels and deeply worries me as it's a deliberate attempt to censor and silence people you disagree with.

It's now completely normal for public figures with controversial views to be deluged with literally thousands of abusive and threatening messages, both online and offline, and little is being done to stop it.

Women with strong feminist opinions (or any opinions) are targeted. Critics of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, are targeted. Black people are targeted. Sportspeople are targeted. Even school pupils who don't "fit in" are targeted by other pupils. And not just with mild, half-hearted abuse but with vicious, brutal abuse, including death threats and the hope that they're in line for a terminal illness.

Baroness Wheatcroft, who opposes Brexit, says the level of hostility against her during the referendum campaign was appalling. Even now the post and emails she's receiving are unbelievable and "all inhibitions have gone".

It's encouraging that public figures facing this torrent of abuse day in and day out are carrying on and not quitting under the pressure. But many of them wonder if it's worth the relentless hatred, especially if it's affecting their friends and families and not just themselves.

What's really worrying is the fascist overtone of it all. If it gets to the point where people are hiding their views and staying silent to avoid an online lynching, if they're keeping their heads down and playing safe or their lives will be hell, then democracy is in serious danger.

I've already said I don't feel at all British. If I was prone to shame, which luckily I'm not, I think I'd be utterly ashamed to live in a country where such savage, ruthless abuse of anyone you dislike is increasingly seen as normal.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Old and crabby

Here's an odd thing. People are meant to get ruder and grumpier as they age (men especially). They're meant to stomp about, casually insulting shop assistants and shunning friendly greetings. But that's not me at all. If anything I think the older I get the more polite I get.

While the media and the internet are awash with bad-tempered oldies pouring abuse on all and sundry, I just look on with dismay, wondering why they have to be so nasty. What happened to turn them so sour and bitter?

Personally I become more and more convinced that abuse and insults achieve nothing and simply alienate the person being abused. It merely creates bad feeling and makes life more difficult. If it's a question of "getting something off their chest", why can't they just rant and rave in the privacy of their own home rather than taking it out on someone else?

I find politeness often brings results where rudeness doesn't. People treated with respect are more likely to respond positively. Also, I believe in the old principle "do as you would be done by". I don't like other people being churlish and snappy to me, so why should I be churlish and snappy to them?

There's something dignified and decorous about being polite, while constant grumpiness seems only selfish and insensitive. It's also depressing, which is why I give the wilfully grumpy a wide berth.

The grumps have all sorts of excuses for their behaviour. They're just reacting to the awfulness of life. They're fed up with declining standards. They're depressed because of their health problems. Well, we're all fed up with one thing or another, but we don't all think that entitles us to have a go at someone.

So if you're looking for a crabby old codger - you won't find one here.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Bag of nerves

When I lived in a bed-sit in Paddington, London, in the early 1970s, when I was twenty something, I encount-ered the most nervous woman I've ever met. I never did find out what was bugging her.

I can't remember how I met Tanya, but one evening she came round to my bed-sit, and from the moment she arrived she was physically trembling. I said she seemed nervous and did she want to tell me why?

She said it was too painful to talk about and she'd rather not say. I tried hard to get her to relax. I thought if she relaxed a bit, she would open up. We had a few cups of coffee, and we chatted, and she told me she was a nurse. She was still trembling, still unwilling to say why, but it was clear she wanted to go to bed with me.

I said I wouldn't feel right having sex when she was plainly very agitated about something. Maybe she thought sex would be somehow reassuring or soothing, but I wasn't happy about it. I felt I would be taking advantage of someone in a state of desperation.

I thought she might try to seduce me by kissing me or taking her clothes off, but she didn't. She accepted my reluctance and eventually said goodnight and left.

I was none the wiser about her extreme nervousness, and still am as I never saw her again. She vanished as mysteriously as we had met.

Sometimes I try to fill in the blanks. Had she been attacked? Raped? Bullied? Humiliated in some way? Deeply shocked by something? Had she witnessed a horrific car crash or a violent death? I'll never know. But something had had a very dramatic, very disturbing effect on her.

Forty years on I'm still puzzled by that lingering question mark of an evening.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The silent type

I've been shy since I was a small boy. It's something that's not easy to change. So many things are involved, it's hard to disentangle them and overcome them. What would be the result anyway? Morphing from a shrinking violet to a bumptious loud-mouth?

Attitudes to shyness keep altering. Once it was just seen as an endearing though awkward personality trait. Then it became a dysfunctional, embarrassing failing to be treated and cured. Now the endearing but awkward view is back in vogue.

The shy but famous have gone to extreme lengths to avoid agonising social contact. It's said that Emily Dickinson would only speak to visitors through a half-closed bedroom door. I'm not that bad, but I find it hard to talk to anyone I don't know, or who looks unfriendly, looks bored, or seems smarter or more knowledgeable. I become painfully self-conscious, my mind goes blank, my confidence plummets, and I stand there in helpless silence like the village idiot.

Blogging has been a godsend, as I find it easier to spill my thoughts when I'm not actually face to face with someone, and when I can safely assume my regular visitors will be interested in what I'm saying. And of course I have all the time in the world to rehearse my thoughts, without the need for an instant comment or an instant reply.

Shyness is sometimes seen as a virtue - speaking only when there's something worth saying and not blabbering on pointlessly simply for the sake of it. But without the compulsive chatterers, social life could grind to a halt amid a sea of taciturn faces.

Nobody suggests manic chatterers should be treated and cured. It's accepted they have their function, however tiresome it is if you're buttonholed by one of them. But it's very tempting to sit back and listen rather than try to interrupt the relentless flow of words.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Do not disturb

We should all be exposed to the widest possible range of ideas and opinions, so our knowledge of the world and other people is as complete as it can be. So I'm not in favour of the arbitrary censorship of supposedly "undesirable" and "dangerous" ideas.

Which is why I strongly support the University of Chicago's statement that it won't go along with such censorship, whether it's trigger warnings on books with "disturbing" content, no-platforming of "offensive" speakers, or the existence of "safe spaces" free of upsetting opinions.

All these things are contrary to their commitment to academic freedom, says the university.

Unfortunately the statement has been leapt on by those whose life is dedicated to mocking what they call "political correctness". Or what the rest of us call treating people decently and not crapping on them. So there's a reluctance to say that in this case the anti-PC brigade may have a point.

In general I find the whole concept of "political correctness" odious and mischievous, an ongoing attempt to resist greater equality and maintain elitism and privilege. Same-sex marriages? Transgender folk in the "wrong" bathroom? All-women short lists? Whatever next? It's political correctness gone mad!

However it seems to me that what the University of Chicago and other universities are resisting isn't "political correctness" but something much more familiar - over protectiveness.

They're not opposing tiresome bans and restrictions so much as the over protective indulgence of students too squeamish to deal with ideas and opinions very contrary to their own. Instead of hearing out those ideas and evaluating them, they want to shut them out and pretend they don't exist. Sorry, but that just ain't possible.

There's nothing radical or progressive about trying to silence people you don't agree with. It's much smarter to check out those opposing ideas and then comprehensively demolish them. Listen politely, then whip the rug from under their feet.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Marmite and sponge cake

As I've probably said before, I don't feel at all "British" and I don't understand those who do. The word means such totally different things to different people, I'm not even sure what I'd be identifying with.

One journalist suggests it means Wimbledon, the Shipping Forecast, Marmite, Shakespeare, Royal Weddings and Mary Berry's Victoria sponge. Goodness knows why he picked that particular combination. In any case, I have no interest in any of those things except Marmite. So does that mean I'm disgracefully un-British?

None of the things I'm actually interested in - like fiction, coffee, music, art, foreign food, ceramics - are exclusively British but come from all over the world. Which surely makes me Global or International rather than British.

Neither do I feel British in the sense that Britain is better than any other nation. That's an absurd idea. Every nation has its virtues and vices, Britain included. How can the country of rampant porn, horrendous online abuse, widespread poverty and soaring personal debt be better than any other country?

If feeling British means defending all those wonderful traditions foreigners are undermining with their weird primitive beliefs, then obviously I don't subscribe to that idea either.

Or we're expected to feel fervently British if someone British has excelled at something. When Team GB did so brilliantly at the Olympics, we were told we should be "proud of ourselves", as if I was personally responsible for such prowess. Er no, it had nothing whatever to do with me. They just happen to have similar passports.

The fact is I have a British passport only because I was born in Britain. Beyond that arbitrary accident of birth, "British" means nothing but a confusing bundle of quaint and irrelevant stereotypes.

British? Thanks, but no thanks.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Big fib

As you grow older you're supposed to leave behind all those excruc-iating anxieties and uncertain-ties and naiveties of childhood and become sophisticated, confident and fearless. Well, I'm still waiting for that magical transformation - so far there's precious little sign of it.

Judging by what I hear, I suspect that's the case with most people. They may look to have morphed into emotional and mental maturity, but only because they've learnt to hide all the helpless fumbling and put on a public front of seamless self-assurance.

It seems to me that instead of vanishing, those crippling anxieties and certainties simply revolve around something different. Instead of anxieties about sexual inexperience or exam questions, you uncover anxieties about losing your job or defaulting on the mortgage. Or if you're getting on a bit, anxieties about declining health or all your friends dying.

The idea that adulthood brings poised cool-headedness is no doubt a soothing belief when you're in the midst of teenage angst and desperately wanting it to end, but the reality is rather different. In any case, you only have to look at your own flustered, confused parents to realise there's no such enviable maturity to look forward to.

But it's somewhat reassuring to learn that since most people you meet are secretly haunted by nagging anxieties and doubts of their own, you can feel entirely equal to them and not be fooled by their phoney aplomb.

I don't think I ever seriously believed I would miraculously blossom into a perfectly composed adult sailing through every tricky situation. It was pretty obviously a big fib, along with the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and the man in the moon.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Gender bender

I don't share the view that drag queens are sexist and offensive and mock women. A few of them maybe, but surely the great majority have nothing against women and are simply playing with the idea of femininity.

Most of them are obviously just having a laugh by sending up the whole female stereotype of tight dresses, dizzy heels, big hair and massive tits. Or they're simply enjoying wearing clothes they can't normally wear. Or they're seeing what it's like not being masculine for a while.

Okay, some drag queen performers make a point of insulting and belittling women, but then so do a lot of straight comedians. It's not drag that's sexist, it's women-hating individuals who happen to be in drag. Big difference.

The great thing about drag (or cross dressing) is the way it subverts the usual gender norms. You expect to see a bloke in the standard male outfit of suit and tie - or shirt and jeans - and suddenly there's a guy in a sequinned frock, blonde hair down to his waist and bright red lipstick.

That can only be good in a society where gender stereotypes are still so rigid that anyone who wears clothes of the "wrong gender" gets a rough ride.

I guess the most famous drag queen is RuPaul, and I don't recall anyone accusing him of being anti-women.

The other thing drag queens are accused of is making straight men "uncomfortable". Well, if that means they're disconcerted by men who don't wear what they're supposed to wear and flaunt their unorthodox clothing, that's fine by me. We all need to question these suffocating dress codes that stop us being what we want to be.

"Drag is a sarcastic spoof on culture, which allows us to laugh at ourselves" - RuPaul

Pic: Ireland's very own Panti Bliss

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Raging epidemic

It's the elephant in the room. It goes on all the time - in homes, on the street, in workplaces, at public events. It's a raging epidemic nobody is able to control. Yet ordinary folk like you and me seldom discuss it.

Physical, verbal and emotional harassment of women. Going on everywhere you look, sometimes stealthily, sometimes quite blatantly. Every day of the week.

Men don't want to discuss it because they'd rather pretend it doesn't exist. Or they don't want to admit they're guilty of it. Or they keep silent out of male solidarity.

Women don't want to discuss it because they've already discussed it to death. Or because so many men trivialise it and excuse it that complaining is pointless. Or because it's too degrading and humiliating to talk about.

It's not going to stop until society as a whole takes it seriously. Until there's a zero tolerance attitude. Until all the men in positions of responsibility veto such behaviour from their employees instead of turning a blind eye or condoning it. Or doing it themselves.

It's not going to stop until it's treated as the disgusting, perverted, dehumanising activity that it is. Until it's seen as a sickness, an addiction, a mental disorder. Until those concerned are ostracised and condemned.

It's not going to stop as long as men see it as harmless banter, as a joke, as normal male behaviour, as something that impresses other men, as something women are gagging for really, or as something women have invited.

I hate misogyny of any kind. Men who indulge in it sicken me. I don't want anything to do with them. They need to wake up, smell the coffee, and treat women with the respect and courtesy all human beings have a right to.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Feet of clay

Hero worship is a funny thing. Generally rational, sensible people pledge their allegiance to someone, and henceforth that person is so perfect they can do no wrong. If you voice the mildest criticism of their idol, they go bananas.

Can they not see that everyone has feet of clay, everyone has personal failings and hang-ups, that absolutely nobody is perfect? Apparently not.

The cult-like worship of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a case in point. His thousands of supporters, aka Corbynistas, are quite sure he can walk on water, that he is a political genius, and any setbacks are always the fault of someone else.

Anyone who suggests Jeremy is falling down on the job, that he's not an effective leader, that he's not doing enough to woo the voters, is treated to a hail of abuse and venom as if they had insulted the Queen.

There are plenty of similar "heroes" whose fans jump on critics like a ton of bricks. Like Caitlyn Jenner or Lady Gaga or Margaret Thatcher. They're put on an artificial pedestal they simply don't deserve.

As a teenager, I was a bit of a hero-worshipper myself. First it was rock stars like the Beatles and the Stones, then it was fashionable rebels like the psychiatrist Ronnie Laing, the black activist Angela Davis and militant feminists like Germaine Greer.

But you would expect adulthood to bring a more realistic view of the world and the realisation that there are no heroes, only fallible mortals who get drunk and swear and make colossal blunders the same as the rest of us. Nobody but nobody is a pure and saintly human being, and treating them as if they are is just idiotic.

I can safely say I haven't hero-worshipped anyone for decades, and I'm astonished at the number of people who do. I threw away the rose-tinted spectacles some time ago.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Tangled and dark

However well you think you know someone, however long you've lived with them or been friends with them, you never know them completely. You never know the deepest, darkest parts of their mind - the bits they don't want to show you, the bits they're ashamed of, the bits that are hard to deal with, the bits they're disturbed by.

Over and over again I read of people who've suddenly done something quite out of character, something utterly shocking or extraordinary, something their nearest and dearest could never have predicted or thought possible.

Like builder's merchant Lance Hart, 57, from Lincolnshire, who eleven days ago murdered Claire, his wife of 26 years, and his daughter Charlotte, before turning the gun on himself. Friends and neighbours were stunned by his actions, describing him as a happy, friendly man. One neighbour thought he was "the nicest guy you could ever meet", who "would do anything for anyone".

Yet out of the blue he goes on this rampage of destruction nobody can explain and you wonder what was simmering away under the surface. He was upset by the breakdown of his marriage, but that hardly justifies such carnage.

But you read about these aberrations all the time - husbands who run off with the au pair or reveal weird sexual kinks, women who have endless plastic surgery or wreck their ex's brand-new car. Or just those sudden streaks of greed or meanness or prejudice or cruelty. Or of course terrorism.

After thirty plus years together, Jenny and I know each other pretty well. But I'm sure there are parts of us we've never fully revealed to the other, parts that are still shadowy or mysterious. Hopefully nothing as sinister as homicidal tendencies, only those things that for one reason or another we can't quite own up to.

You think you know someone inside out? Think again.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Console me

I need consolation
It's a horrible world out there
a world of brutality and violence
I need to be soothed
I need to be told
that it isn't as bad as all that
that there are good things
positive things
that there is joy and happiness
that the ugliness
is wildly exaggerated
I need to be treated
with gentleness and affection
with tender loving care
that calms my heart
and my churning emotions
I need a friendly port in a storm
a holy sanctuary
a quiet refuge
a place of safety
where I can leave the horror behind
and rediscover
my purest self
I need consolation
I need a cauterising balm
I need a healing hand

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

True or false?

Anxiety comes in different shapes and forms. I have plenty of anxieties but I guess the biggest is whether I'm being true to myself or not. What you might call honesty anxiety.

When I'm talking to other people, I'm forever thinking, am I being honest? Am I telling the truth or am I faking it? Am I simply saying something because it's polite, or it's what they're expecting, or it avoids an argument, or it's an easy-to-understand cliché? Am I dodging any remark that might make the conversation too difficult, too emotional, too startling?

A lot of people seem immune to such agonising.  They gabble away, apparently unconcerned whether they're telling it like it is or making it all up. Maybe they don't even see the difference. Whatever they say is grist to the mill, is oiling the social wheels, and who cares if it's total bollocks or if it's deep-down, straight-from-the-heart, innermost-self sincerity?

I'm amazed at the number of people who spout blatant, outrageous lies and don't seem remotely bothered about what they're saying. It must be some sort of private game to tell the biggest whoppers and get away with it.

But then again, what is truth and what is falsity anyway? If I say something out of politeness, is that false because I'd rather say something a bit rude, or is it genuine because I believe politeness helps you get on with people?

If I fob someone off with a glib cliché, is that false because it misrepresents a more complex reality, or is it genuine because I don't want to embarrass them with some detailed and baffling explanation they really don't need?

Maybe I just have an exaggerated dislike of lies and dishonesty. Where others merely shrug them off, I feel truly sickened and polluted. I feel tricked and insulted. I feel like I've trodden in something nasty.