Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Dainty nibbles

We don't like to call other people greedy, do we? Firstly, it's obviously insulting. Who wants to be thought of as greedy? And secondly, it's a matter of opinion. What one person sees as greed, another sees as a natural and understandable desire for something they don't have.

I guess we'd all agree the fabulously wealthy are greedy. I mean, who needs to accumulate millions or billions of pounds? You can only spend so much on having a comfortable lifestyle, and beyond that it's just money in the bank, money the less fortunate could desperately do with.

But when it comes to ordinary folk, what makes them greedy? Are they greedy for wanting a bigger car or a bigger house or more holidays or more clothes? Or are they just after the good things in life, the things seen as part of a normal, run-of-the-mill lifestyle?

I wouldn't call myself greedy. As I see it, I have just enough of everything I need and enough to make me happy. I have a spacious house and garden, sufficient money, plenty of good food and wine, some beautiful paintings, hundreds of books, regular holidays. What more could I want?

Of course greed also encompasses those little everyday things, like asking for an extra slice of cake, or another cup of tea, or more potatoes. If everyone else has finished eating, will they think I'm greedy asking for more or will they just think I have a healthy appetite?

When it comes to alcohol though, you can drink like a fish and nobody accuses you of greed. If you stop at a glass or two, you're seen as a hair-shirted killjoy. Suddenly greed is just fine.

And greed is always more acceptable in a man. A man can happily stuff his face, while a woman should stick at dainty nibbles. Nothing too un-ladylike....

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The blockade

When he heard Donald Trump had become US President, Erik Hagerman was so shocked and dismayed he decided he'd had enough of the news and from then on was going to ignore it. He would live his life news-free and be a lot happier for it.

Well, so far he seems to have kept his promise and not one news item has spoilt his day. He's fully occupied breeding pigs and making sculptures. Or so he says. It's hard to believe he's indifferent to the President's latest crazy decision or the latest mass shooting, but apparently it all passes him by.

I couldn't cut myself off from the world to that extent. I know so much of the news nowadays is depressing and horrifying, I know it's probably not good for my blood pressure or my emotional well-being, but I couldn't just shut it all out.

Apart from feeling I should be fully informed about what goes on in the world and how people live their lives - including those lives that are violent, nasty and depraved - there are also news items that are encouraging and instructive and I would be missing out on them.

In any case such a boycott (what he calls the blockade) would be almost impossible to maintain without an iron will and all sorts of rigid restrictions. I doubt if I would keep it up for more than a week or two without cracking. I would see a group of people having a heated debate about something and I would be itching to know what they were discussing.

And I have to admit I'm also hooked on those quirky little stories that provide a bit of light relief. Like the controversy among National Trust members as to what you should spread on your scones first - the jam or the cream. I love how people can get so frenzied over such utter trivia.

Pic: Erik Hagerman

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Frightfully vulgar

It's rare these days to hear someone being called "vulgar". But it was a frequent comment when I was young, and I remember my parents finding any number of odd things "vulgar". Glaring vulgarity had to be avoided at all costs.

Nowadays nobody seems to care very much if their behaviour could be labelled "vulgar". They carry on doing their own thing regardless, and if anyone disapproves, too bad. Seeing something as vulgar has itself become vulgar.

But my parents had a long list of things they deemed vulgar - not wearing smart enough clothes, not mowing the lawn often enough, not using a tablecloth, not washing up straight after a meal, to name a few - and they policed this code of vulgarity strictly.

Of course what "vulgar" really meant was lower-class or under-educated. It meant what they did on council estates or in factories. It meant the behaviour of people with no sense of decorum or etiquette. It meant those too dim to have any sophistication or good taste.

But that's all changed. Now the very suggestion that someone is being vulgar is seen as pretentious, snobbish, superior. It's seen as a mean attempt to spoil someone else's pleasure. It's seen as blinkered, old-fashioned prejudice.

I suppose my parents' strictures had some positive effect, however absurd some of them were. I may have lived my whole adult life without using a tablecloth, but nevertheless I've picked up a sense of "doing things properly" rather than doing them any-old-how, which is probably an advantage.

I guess the idea of vulgarity still lives on in other guises. Today, instead of saying something is vulgar, you say it's embarrassing or cringey. Or you say the person is attention-seeking. Or you complain that everything is being dumbed down.

And dumbing things down is surely the height of vulgarity.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Teenage cliché

It's an old cliché that teenagers are wild and reckless and thoroughly irrespons-ible, endlessly getting paralytically drunk, popping dangerous drugs, driving like lunatics and addicted to sex.

Well, I'm sure that was never true for more than a small number of teenagers, while the rest are no more reckless than anyone else, or actually quite restrained and responsible.

I have to admit the popular cliché never applied to me, as I was never particularly unruly or impetuous. I first got drunk when I was 22, I've always avoided dangerous drugs, I'm a habitually cautious driver and I've never been sex-mad.

This wasn't entirely a matter of personal inclination. For five years I was at boarding school, where there wasn't much choice about being well-behaved. We had no access to drink, drugs or cars and any unruly behaviour would have been jumped on pretty quickly. We were expected to be models of propriety at all times, nothing like all those stroppy teenage tearaways we heard about.

While other teenagers were rebelling left right and centre, I was quietly studying for exams, reading set books, playing cricket and learning French. The only drink I ever saw was orange juice and the only drug I ever took was aspirin.

To some extent I caught up after I left school and got immersed in the alternative culture of the sixties. For a few years I could even have been described as mildly rebellious. But it didn't take me long to settle down and become, if not a model of propriety, something close to it.

I don't regret missing out on teenage wildness, though. It might have been fun, but it might have ended in tragedy. One drink too many, one drug too many, and I might have come to a sticky end.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Don't tell mum

I guess it's normal for kids to realise at some point that it's a mistake to tell their parents every detail of their lives. The innocent habit of blurting everything out regardless gives way to a more reserved approach in which you keep certain things to yourself.

You realise that some of the things you do and say are likely to get a hostile or at least chilly response from your uncomprehending parents, and you learn to keep them to yourself or save them for more understanding friends.

I have a long list of things that I've never mentioned to my mother or father (mainly my mother as my father died many years ago) - in some cases things from decades ago that my mother knows nothing about. For example:
  • The times I tried cannabis and LSD
  • The odd instance of petty theft
  • My not-very-orthodox sex life
  • Most of my political views (my mother is very right-wing, as was my father)
  • My presence at gay pride and pro-choice rallies
  • My taste in books, music and films
  • The crummy bedsits I used to live in
  • One or two girlfriends she wouldn't have approved of
I also haven't told her about the trace of prostate cancer. Well, I know she would only worry about it, even though it's pretty insignificant at this point.

The fact that I keep so much to myself is I suppose one reason why we've never been especially close. Closeness is dependent on a fairly open and honest relationship in which you can talk freely to each other. If I have to think twice about everything I'm about to say, that creates a huge barrier between us.

I imagine other people censor themselves with their parents in much the same way, though maybe to a lesser extent that doesn't preclude closeness. I envy those who can talk to their parents without such crushing inhibition.

Monday, 26 February 2018

A splurge to remember

I'm constantly amazed at how much some people spend on weddings, and what they could have done with all that money instead of splurging it on a single day of celebration.

I see the average cost of a wedding is now £27,000, which includes £4,354 for venue hire, £3,630 for the honeymoon, and £3,353 for the food. I guess it also includes a special car to arrive in, a photographer, the wedding dress, wedding favours and umpteen tips for the service providers. That's a staggering amount to mark the fact that you love someone.

I'm not criticising those who choose to splash out so much on their "big day". It's their choice and nothing to do with me. If they want a super-ceremony they'll always enjoy looking back on, why not?

But personally I can think of much better uses for £27,000. Like building up a deposit to buy a home. Or several luxury holidays. Or updating the kitchen. Or buying a new car. Or regular visits to a favourite restaurant.

When Jenny and I finally married, after cohabiting for many years - because her occupational pension would only go to her spouse if she died - we didn't want an elaborate ceremony. We had a hefty mortgage at the time, and money was short. And anyway, we knew we loved each other and wanted to stay together, and we didn't see the need for a lot of fancy razzamatazz to prove it.

So we had a very simple ceremony, with two old friends as witnesses, and then took them for a slap-up meal at - yes - our favourite local restaurant. Total cost of the wedding was the marriage fee, whatever that was, plus the restaurant bill of around £80 at today's prices. Not exactly ruinous!

A good job we didn't have confetti. That would have been another fiver....

Monday, 19 February 2018

Filling the gaps

Am I a voyeur? Of course not. Perish the thought. How disgusting would that be? But hang on, what do we mean by voyeur? There are several different meanings.

It can mean taking a sexual interest in naked women (or men). You can rule that out. It can mean enjoying someone's pain or distress. You can rule that out too.

But being a voyeur can also mean taking an unhealthy interest in other people's lives. In which case don't we all do that from time to time? Aren't we all prone to be rather too curious about people, even when it's something that's strictly none of our business?

I want to know why someone's marriage broke up. Or what caused their death. Or whether they've had plastic surgery. I'm curious about all those little details that are glossed over. I'm just curious period, and inevitably that curiosity may verge on the intrusive.

I can't see what's wrong with that. Curiosity is a natural human trait. It's better to be curious than indifferent. After all, I'm not saying the person has to satisfy my curiosity. I'm not forcing them to reveal something they'd rather hide. If they want to keep quiet, fine, they're entitled to their privacy. I'm just saying that I'm curious and want to fill in the gaps.

The most obvious example of voyeurism is of course the insatiable pursuit of celebrities, the desire to know every tiny detail of their lives. Why do we need to know all this? Isn't it enough to enjoy their acting or music or whatever their talent is?

If a celeb is involved in some sort of scandal or dubious behaviour, then my curiosity is aroused. But otherwise I ignore them. Their private lives don't interest me.

So I'm a sort of voyeur. So sue me.

Thanks to Kylie for the inspiration

Monday, 12 February 2018

One or two?

The endless argument about which is the best lifestyle, living alone or living with someone else, polarises a lot of people. Some reel off all the benefits of being on your own while others say no, no, it's much better to cohabit.

Having spent long periods both on my own and living with someone else, I see the perks and drawbacks of both. But the abstract argument about which is best misses the point, because in reality it's a question of what suits your particular personality. Gregarious types like company, retiring types want solitude.

Personally I much prefer living with someone else. I like the company, the emotional support, the private jokes, the shared experiences, the joint decision-making, the reliance on the other's expertise, the hugs and cuddles. And the bed's a lot warmer!

When I lived alone (for about eight years), I liked the independence, the simplicity of only considering myself, the ability to freely indulge my own tastes, the lack of distractions.

That doesn't amount to much though compared to cohabiting. Being on my own may have been great in some ways, but I was aware there was so much missing. Especially the emotional support, shared experiences and hugs and cuddles.

Living alone is probably okay if you have a big social network - plenty of friends and family to give you the benefits of company - or if you spend a lot of time travelling and you're not at home very much, but if you only have one or two friends, as I had, and you're always inside the same four walls, then it's not such fun.

But I know people living on their own who are perfectly happy and would hate to share their space with anyone else.

Whatever floats your boat....

Friday, 9 February 2018

Thoroughly endearing

Okay, that's enough of the introspective burblings. Yes, I'm full of neuroses but I have plenty of normal, healthy traits as well. In fact I have some highly laudable ones. I uncovered an old blog post in which I listed all my charming and endearing qualities. I think it's about time I dusted them off and gave them another airing:

1) I don't harbour malicious thoughts about friends, loved ones or workmates.
2) I don't hurl anonymous abuse on Twitter.
3) I'm not interested in porn.
4) I'm not misogynistic or homophobic.
5) I'm deeply disturbed by all the poverty, violence, misery and oppression in the world.
6) I've never had an extra-marital affair.
7) I like fluffy kittens and cupcakes.
8) I mind my own business and try not to judge other people's lives.
9) I don't gossip, and I'm good at keeping secrets.
10) I don't annoy the neighbours with loud music or all-night parties.
11) I deplore machismo, male posturing and the rape culture.
12) I've never been to a prostitute.
13) I do my share of the housework.
14) I'm a good listener.
15) I don't hide my emotions.
16) I'm not easily offended.
17) I'm not the jealous type.
18) I like teddy bears and ice cream.
19) I'm not an angry or bad-tempered person.
20) I do all my own laundry.
21) I take off my high heels on delicate parquet flooring.

The first person to accuse me of being smug and boastful will get a clip round the ear.

Monday, 5 February 2018

In the shadows

Unlike so many other people, I'm not an attention-seeker. Or at least, not as an adult. Of course as a child, like most children, I sought attention non-stop. I wanted everyone to look at my new toy or laugh at my hilarious joke or adore my brilliant drawing. But somewhere along the line I began to find the attention annoying rather than enjoyable.

Nowadays I habitually shy away from attention. I don't want people hanging on my every word. I don't want people scrutinising me and judging me. I would rather keep out of the limelight and not be noticed. I find too much attention embarrassing and awkward.

I'm always astonished at those people who have such a craving for attention that they don't care how awful or childish they look, how stupid or rude or insensitive. As long as they're the centre of attention, they're happy.

So why do I avoid attention? What made me want to hide in the shadows? Well, for the reasons given above, for a start. Because sooner or later I'll say something stupid or rude or insensitive and wish I'd never opened my mouth. Because I'm much more likely to say something clueless than something smart. Because someone out there will be forming a negative opinion of me. Because attention-seeking is a competitive sport and I'm not a competitive person.

I suppose it's partly a family thing. Most of my family are and were unassuming attention-avoiders, keeping themselves to themselves, and I must have picked up the habit. The only blatant attention-seeker was my father, who expected an audience at all times and got furious if we ignored him.

Which is one of the drawbacks of attention-seeking of course. If you're not getting enough attention, you're liable to sulk and throw tantrums until you do. Or do something totally crazy just to get everyone's eyes on you.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to run away and hide.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Sleepy suburbs

Some people always nurse a fond affection for wherever they grew up. Even after moving to other towns and cities - and countries - to better their lives in some way, they end up returning to their childhood locality and going back to their roots.

But probably most people are glad to have escaped their old patch, which they found stultifying and restricting and thwarting their full potential in life.

Personally I have no nostalgia for the sleepy suburb I was brought up in. I was only too happy to spread my wings and move somewhere more exciting.

I spent my first 13 years in a typically boring London suburb called Harrow. For nine years after that I lived in Pinner, just north of Harrow.

Nothing of any interest happened in either place, unless you count the annual Pinner Fair, which took over the main street for a day, or the odd drug-taking scandal at Harrow School.

When I was offered a journalistic job in London at 22, I seized it and moved to the big bad city, which proved a huge shock after my previously sheltered existence. Rough sleepers, squats, druggies, flamboyant homosexuals, militant feminists, sexual orgies, outrageous art, wild rock concerts. It was quite an eye-opener for this naive suburbanite.

I stayed in London for another 31 years, by which time I was thoroughly steeped in its general craziness and creativity, and going back to the suburbs would have meant being a dolphin trapped in a fish tank.

Then I moved to Belfast, even farther from my original home, and discovered the different blend of craziness and creativity that prevails in Northern Ireland. And after 18 years in this extraordinary city, I have even less desire to return to a soporific English suburb. I shall be very happy if I never see Pinner again, ever. Or its dull, sedate streets.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Hopeless fumblings

For the benefit of Ursula, who maintains that I flag up all my strengths and gloss over all my weaknesses (she can't have been reading my blog posts very carefully), here's a list of some of the things I'm crap at:

1) Parallel parking
2) Cooking
3) Small talk
4) DIY
5) Remembering
6) Painting and decorating
7) Child minding
8) Sport
9) Yoga
10) Going to the gym
11) Car repairs
12) Meditation
13) Science
14) Love letters
15) Growing vegetables
16) Ice skating
17) Taking exams
18) Suffering fools gladly
19) Getting a good night's sleep
20) Card games

And I'm sure that's just a small sample of the 101 things I screw up or fumble with on a regular basis. Any impression you might have that I'm a perfect human being who sails effortlessly through life's daily challenges is wholly mistaken and should be scrapped right now. Agreed?

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Imperfect flesh

I'm surprised that so many people - mainly women but also men - find it so hard to expose their body to doctors and nurses. People have so much inhibition, shame and self-loathing about what they look like and how they might be judged.

I've never had any problem showing my body to health professionals. I'm sure they couldn't care less what I look like - whether I'm fat or old or ugly or bald or whatever. They're just doing a job and what the patient looks like is neither here nor there. I'm sure they've seen every possible variety of human oddities and one more won't faze them. They don't expect anyone to be "normal" as they know we come in all shapes and sizes.

But there are many people who're completely thrown by the idea of exposing their imperfect flesh for examination. They would rather ignore worrying symptoms than face a doctor's scrutiny.

I read that many women avoid smear tests because they're embarrassed by the look and smell of their pubic areas. Or they worry that they're wearing the wrong sort of underwear or clothing. Or they feel awkward about their body shape. So they invent all sorts of excuses for not getting tested.

I guess some men are equally embarrassed about showing their bodies, though we don't hear much about them. The guys who're mortified by their beer bellies, general flabbiness, or rampant hairiness. I'm sure they're out there.

I'd like to confirm my human frailty and vulnerability by telling you how I squirm and cringe as the doctor examines me, but it wouldn't be true. I honestly don't give a toss what she thinks of my spreading bum or misshapen toenails or weedy chest. I just want to know if there's anything unhealthy going on and get it treated. That's my only concern.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Little luxuries

I guess we all have a different idea of what's a luxury and what's just a routine part of daily life. It all depends on your personal circumstances of course and how much spare cash you can afford to throw around.

A survey of people's little luxuries revealed some surprising "luxuries", like someone making you a cup of tea, or a lunch date with a friend, or quilted toilet paper. I wouldn't have thought any of those were very special.

For me, a luxury is something much grander, more unusual, and more pampering. Something that lifts me out of my everyday existence and makes me feel on top of the world, however briefly.

Some of my personal luxuries are:

1) Eating out. Hugely extravagant but a lovely occasional treat.
2) Foreign holidays, especially in places I've never been to before.
3) Extra-delicious food. In particular bread, cake, desserts, chocolate.
4) Wine, prosecco, champagne.
5) A trip to the theatre. Only rarely given such crazy prices!
6) My weekly chat with Jenny in the local coffee shop.
7) Books. I love being totally engrossed in a really good book.
8) A beautiful piece of furniture that cost a lot but I can enjoy it for years.
9) Ditto a beautiful painting.
10) Lazing in the garden on a hot, sunny day. Not that frequent in Belfast!

It's all very relative though. To someone desperately poor, getting a takeaway, having a manicure or buying new bed linen might be the height of luxury, while to someone fabulously rich, to feel any sense of luxury they'd have to buy yet another Rolls-Royce or a £10,000 coat.

It's interesting how yesterday's luxuries often become today's standard items - like washing machines, mobile phones and air travel. And how quickly we take them for granted, as if they were always easily affordable.

"Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury" - Coco Chanel

Monday, 15 January 2018

The very first

Bijoux had a wonderful list of "firsts", so I thought I'd pinch the idea.

First vacation:  As a child, to Southend, Essex, and Perranporth Cornwall, to visit relatives. As an adult, to Dublin, and then to Venice, Florence and Rome. I was worried that, not speaking Italian, it would be highly problematic. Of course it wasn't.

First car:  A secondhand Austin A60 in the late nineteen sixties. Forever breaking down and needing repairs. But usually it got me to my girlfriend's house.

First job:  A cub reporter on the Harrow Observer (a London suburb). Journalists were paid very well in those days - a generous salary plus expenses.

First crush:  A trainee solicitor called Sue W. We never actually dated. Probably a good thing as she proved to be almost as neurotic as me.

First kiss:  Another neurotic woman called Maggie H. We were enthusiastic kissers and long, lingering French kisses were the norm.

First flight:  As a child, in a friend's mother's private plane. I felt decidedly queasy, but it was an amazing trip. As an adult, to Dublin.

First fancy dinner:  I don't go in for fancy dinners, but I guess you could count the lavish marriage reception for our friends Joy and Kevin.

First apartment:  Actually a couple of rooms in a shared house. Very cosy because the owner (a friend of a friend) had recently renovated the house. Also where I lost my virginity (at the ripe old age of 22).

First record:  Not sure. Possibly the single "How Do You Do It?" by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Or something by Billy J Kramer.

First pet:  As a child, two Scottish terriers called Mac and Remus. Lots of mice and the odd hamster. As an adult, none. I'm happy to admire other people's.

First concert:  I made regular visits to the Marquee Club in Soho. I don't remember which was the first band I saw - probably someone long-forgotten.

Compiling that lot stirred up a few poignant memories. I sometimes forget what an eventful life I've led.

PS: I see that I did a slightly similar post a couple of years ago

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A touch of romance

I have a romantic streak. I like those little things that make a relationship soft at the edges, that add a magical tingle to the everyday routine. I like it when an unexpected gesture of tenderness or fondness leaves me feeling slightly gooey inside.

Jenny's not quite so romantic. Too much lovey-dovey affection and she declares me a big slop-bucket and waits for me to come down to earth again.

A survey of attitudes to romance found that it isn't by any means dead. Some 76 per cent of us would like more romance in our lives, though 57 per cent avoided romantic gestures for fear of being "cheesy". Excuse me? What's cheesy about being romantic? It's a welcome impulse in a world that can be harsh and brusque and unforgiving.

So what do people find romantic? Holding hands, cuddling, a surprise gift, a walk together, a bunch of flowers, breakfast in bed, a surprise trip, a candlelit dinner, a home-cooked meal and a love letter were the most popular choices.

And what was decidedly unromantic? Too much mobile phone use, being rude to waiters, poor personal hygiene and so-called "chivalry" (usually something that implies women are inferior in some way and need help - like ordering for them at a restaurant). Though predictably, 93 per cent of over 45s still thought chivalry was a great idea.

Personally, I love holding hands and cuddling, but I'm not so good at surprise gifts. I do make us breakfast in bed on Sundays, but candlelit dinners aren't my thing. And I've never written a love letter in my life. I just don't have the right turn of phrase. But all sorts of things are romantic. Like a fond kiss at a famous landmark. I've kissed on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, kissed by the Grand Canal in Venice, kissed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

If romance ever died, it would be a sad day for the human race.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Gallery habitués

Having visited several London art galleries during the week, I recognise certain types of visitor who can be found at galleries anywhere in the world.

There's the rake-thin, ultra-cool woman or man who studies the art quietly, thoughtfully, unobtrusively, absorbing every little detail, a shrewd connoisseur of artistic techniques.

There's the loud-mouthed man (usually a man) who holds forth to his companion (usually a woman) about whatever they're looking at, explaining what the artist was trying to achieve (according to him) and how hampered they were by brutal depressions, imminent penury and chronic ill-health. They're confident they're the world's authority on Rothko, Hockney or Lowry, but are generally oblivious to women artists, who are clearly only exhibited in the name of gender equality.

There are the artistically challenged tourists who're only in the gallery to satisfy their daily sight-seeing quota, and aren't sure what they're looking at. They scurry through the gallery in great haste, glancing briefly at the odd work of art to show willing.

There's the pretentious poser who's only in the gallery so he can tell his dinner-party guests he's been to this week's most talked-about exhibition. He secretly thinks the artist is an over-hyped second-rater but pretends to be a big fan.

At the entrance to the exhibition, there are always the slightly anxious types who're not sure about trusting their precious bags to the cloakroom staff, convinced their valuables will vanish in seconds the moment their back is turned.

Which type am I, you might ask? Well, obviously the ultra-cool guy who's a shrewd connoisseur of artistic techniques. Jenny laughs at the way I scrutinise the art so thoroughly, peering intensely at every last daub of paint and unusual brush-stroke.

I'm no expert on art and I'd never be foolish enough to pontificate on an artist's credentials. As long as they make me feel something, or think something, or gasp with amazement, that's good enough for me. I don't need to know that Rothko topped himself or Warhol was afraid of hospitals and doctors. So what?

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Privilege noted

Check your privilege, they say. Oh, I do, I do. Every day. I'm well aware of all those lucky personal advantages that have given me a leg up in life where others have been side-lined and ignored and under-valued.

I'm white, male, able-bodied, well-educated, well-spoken, physically attractive, I own a house and I live in a peaceful country. Compared to millions of people around the world, I'm absurdly privileged and have a pampered, affluent lifestyle.

I've never been in debt (apart from a mortgage), never starved, never been unable to afford clothes, never been driven from my home, never been on the minimum wage, never been caught in a war, never been pimped or tortured or imprisoned.

I may drone on from time to time about my dysfunctional childhood, my tyrannical father, the boarding-school bullies, the grasping landlords, and the psychological damage I've had to overcome, but if that's all I have to complain about, I'm still living the life of Riley compared to all those people who're grappling with problems ten times as nasty and soul-destroying.

Which is why I hesitate to criticise those in less fortunate situations who unknown to me may be labouring under huge domestic or personal burdens. I'm reluctant to complain about shop assistants or delivery drivers or call-centre staff who may be struggling through their working day worrying about eviction or loan sharks or a brutal husband.

It's fashionable for wealthy, adulated celebs to take the edge off their privilege by revealing a poverty-stricken childhood or years of domestic violence or paralysing depressions, but at the end of the day they're still vastly privileged and protected from life's worst miseries.

Oh, I check my privilege all right. I just wish all the other inhabitants of planet earth were equally privileged, and that those responsible for their welfare actually helped them instead of feathering their own nests.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

A prank too far

How would you react to finding out that your surgeon had carved their initials on your liver while they were operating? Would you be horrified or would you just shrug it off as a childish prank?

I pondered my own possible reaction when I read about Simon Bramhall, who autographed the livers of two liver transplant patients. Nobody reported it at the time, and he might have got away with it, except that another surgeon doing a follow-up procedure noticed the initials and duly reported it.

He has just been found guilty of "assault by beating" and will shortly be sentenced.

My first reaction was to dismiss it as a rather trivial incident that did no harm to the patients. In fact one former patient, Tracy Scriven, said "Is it really that bad? I wouldn't have cared if he did it to me. The man saved my life."

But then I thought, no, if my surgeon had done that to my liver, I wouldn't have the same trust and confidence in them. I would feel they hadn't taken my operation seriously but were fooling around. And it wouldn't just damage their reputation but the reputation of other surgeons.

And yes, he saved a patient's life, and of course the patient is grateful, but that still doesn't justify what he did.

It's one thing to carve your initials and a romantic message on a tree trunk. It's quite another to carve your initials on someone else's liver while they're under general anaesthetic and oblivious to whatever you're doing inside their body. It's not just taking advantage of an unconscious person, it's a total lack of respect for them.

Hopefully there aren't any initials on what's left of my prostate....

NB: Assault by beating doesn't literally mean beating. It refers to the use of unlawful force on another person

Friday, 15 December 2017

Waxing lyrical

Ursula gets the impression I carp about everything and enjoy nothing. Do I ever wax lyrical over a robin in my back garden, she asks. Or a cat that left her paw prints in the snow? Well of course I do. I wax lyrical over dozens of things. Clearly, not for the first time, I'm giving false impressions galore. I shall now do my best to put the record straight.

There are many things I find beautiful. Sometimes quite dizzyingly so. For instance:
  • Weeping willows
  • Stained glass
  • Jewellery
  • Afros
  • Mosaics
  • Patchwork quilts
  • Tapestry
  • Lace
  • Marbles
  • Roses
  • Rainbows
  • Peacocks
There are also plenty of things I enjoy. Too many to name in fact, but here are some of them:
  • Murmurations
  • Squirrels
  • Cats
  • Butterflies
  • Swans
  • Sunsets and sunrises
  • Beautiful men and women
  • Oddballs and misfits
  • Acrobats and gymnasts
  • Stilt-walkers
  • Dresses (on other people, that is)
  • Modern art
  • Music/books/films/TV dramas
  • Chess
  • White wine
  • Vegetarian and vegan food
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Spectacular buildings
  • The sea
  • Mountains
  • Thunderstorms
  • Fountains
  • Waterfalls
Are we all on the same page now? I hope so.