Saturday, 22 April 2017

The sky's the limit

When does paying a lot of attention to your personal appearance just mean healthy self-respect and when does it turn into obsessive vanity? Or is the label "vanity" simply a gratuitous insult?

Men and women are judged differently of course. What might be dismissed as sheer vanity in a man (getting a manipedi or a leg wax, say) would be seen as normal behaviour in a woman. Forever looking in a mirror might seem odd for a man, but not for a woman.

American journalist Tom Shone confesses he devotes a lot of time to his appearance. He makes sure photos get his "good side", he trims his hair every morning, he has a pile of creams and lotions, he exfoliates. He thinks he's horribly vain.

Actually he doesn't sound very vain at all. I've read of men who're far more body-conscious than he is - going to the gym every day, getting plastic surgery, removing every trace of body hair, getting hair transplants. Tom is a mere beginner in the vanity stakes.

But women have to go much farther to be accused of vanity. When I was young, women were seen as "vain" if they did anything more than be moderately attractive. Nowadays the sky's the limit and women go to such extraordinary lengths to enhance their appearance that the word "vanity" becomes meaningless. Their endless body-awareness isn't narcissism, it's merely an attempt to meet an ideal of female beauty that gets more rarified, more impossible by the day.

The typical dolled-up news presenter, in a tight-fitting dress, thick layer of make-up, three inch heels and bottle-blonde hair, isn't seen as vain but simply dressing the way she's expected to.

Personally I have barely a shred of vanity. I try to be presentable, but beyond that my body is of little interest to me. I'd hate to be bald or over-run with body hair, but that's about it.

So is the word "vanity" obsolete or does it still mean something?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Just testing

A man whose wife was knocked down and killed by an 82 year old motorist is demanding compulsory retesting of all drivers over 70 to avoid such tragedies. Having just renewed my licence at the age of 70, I'm of two minds about that.

On the one hand, there may be many older drivers who are unfit to drive and should have stopped. They falsify their medical and eyesight declarations (no supporting GP statement is needed), they ignore any signs that they might be a danger, and if others suggest they stop driving, they take no notice.

On the other hand, most older drivers are probably fit to drive, are habitually cautious and extra-careful because of their age, fill in the renewal forms honestly, and willingly stop driving if they feel they're becoming a menace.

To retest everyone over 70 at three year intervals (the standard renewal period for over 70s) would create a huge new administrative burden, plus a heavy expense for drivers having to take refresher driving lessons.

You could argue that the death of Desreen Brooks-Dutton was largely a freak accident not caused by older-driver incompetence but a combination of speeding (he was going at 54 mph in a 20 mph zone) and momentary pedal-confusion (he pressed the accelerator and not the brake).

You could also argue that younger drivers cause far more serious accidents than older drivers, through being reckless, over-confident, inexperienced, drunk, drugged or showing off, yet they aren't retested either.

I suppose on balance I would say, yes, drivers over 70 should be retested regularly, as they may be falsifying their applications, or simply not aware of their declining driving skills. According to one informal survey, nearly 70% of older drivers failed the eyesight requirements.

But it's only fair that younger drivers, who are potentially more dangerous and generally use their cars a lot more, should also be retested.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Faux pas

Heated controversy at the University of East Anglia in Norwich over an Antony Gormley sculpture on the roof of a building that looks like someone about to commit suicide.

Apparently the sculpture has been mistaken for a real person by some students. One student asked "Is this some kind of sick joke?" and another said "It's a bit tactless to put a statue on top of a building filled with people on edge during exam season."

The University defended the sculpture, declaring that placing it at roof level is "thought provoking and offers both spectacle and surprise. All staff and students have been made aware of the new art installation on campus, and where the sculptures will be located."

But since sculptures are normally at ground level and not on rooftops, surely what seems to be a human figure on the edge of a roof can only suggest imminent suicide? There's nothing to indicate that it's only a sculpture.

Maybe I'm missing something, but surely whoever decided to put the sculpture on the roof must have realised the suicide possibility and the effect it would have on unsuspecting passers-by? Or were they so dim it simply didn't occur to them?

And surely a sculpture can only be properly appreciated if it's somewhere you can inspect it closely and examine the detail and texture and artistry? You can hardly do that if it's on a roof and barely visible.

It would be interesting to know what Sir Antony Gormley himself thinks of the sculpture's location. Did he approve, or did he think it would be elsewhere? None of the reports so far have asked for his comments.

You just can't say it often enough - location, location, location.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Being tall

I got used to the problems of being tall (I'm six foot) many years ago, so I don't think twice about all the adjustments I make for a world of much shorter people. There are advantages of being tall, but plenty of disadvantages.

All sorts of things are too low for comfort - kitchen worktops, sinks, wash basins, cashpoints, mirrors. I have to bend over to use them. Hotel beds are often too short, so my legs stick over the end (provided there's no footboard, that is). Baths are too short to stretch my legs out. Train, bus, car, plane and cinema seats seldom have enough leg room. Some doorways are so low I have to stoop (I can't tell you how many times I've bashed my head). Shirts never fit properly - my chest is an average size but my arms are very long.

Being tall can be helpful to the less tall. Jenny often asks me to get something from a shelf she can't reach. Other customers in shops do the same. It's easier for me to hang curtains and change light bulbs.

Other advantages? I can see over high walls or crowds of people. I can run faster and jump over puddles because of my long legs. People are more responsive if they find my height a bit intimidating (not that I want to intimidate, mind you).

But it's easier to be a tall man than a tall woman, I guess. Since many men are tall, it's not too hard finding clothes that fit. But if you're a six-foot woman, it's trickier. Shoes, tights, pants - they're all made for smaller women. Not to mention the dating problem - short men who feel uncomfortable with a tall woman. Or the possibility of intimidating your shorter male workmates.

I wonder what it's like to be five foot six?

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Die-hard oldies?

Another cliché about oldies is that we're all opposed to innovation, to progress, to any movement forward. We distrust all innovation as new-fangled nonsense and fiercely defend the status quo - or better still, some golden age of fifty years ago.

Well, in reality this is just another tired stereotype and actually we fall anywhere on the spectrum between "golden past" and "golden future".

Some oldies want to go hurtling back to the sixties and beyond, clamouring for a return to the death penalty, beating in schools, imperial weights and measures, pounds shillings and pence, a ban on abortion, homosexuality as a crime, and all the nostalgic features of their youth.

They rail against political correctness, the European Union, uncontrolled immigration, the internet, gender fluidity, sex-changes, feminazis, and anything they don't understand or are scared of. The world has gone mad, they insist, and they're not going to join the madness.

At the other end of the spectrum are oldies like me, dyed in the wool socialists, feminists and egalitarians who embrace any change that's going if it means less inequality, less exploitation, less unchallenged privilege, less indifference to the poor, the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill.

Oldies like us welcome the benefits of the internet, the loosening of gender restrictions, respect for marginalised groups (aka political correctness), foreigners staffing the NHS, better working conditions, and the stimulating exposure to other cultures. We've no desire to lurch backwards into a more insular and strait-laced era.

Apart from anything else, we're thinking of the young and future generations. We want change of all kinds so they have more opportunities and more exciting lives and not lives that are once again stifled and shackled by die-hards and traditionalists.

I want broader horizons, not narrower ones.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Sticks and stones

The old saying goes "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Quite untrue of course, as unkind words can pierce like daggers for months or even years afterwards.

Sticks and stones are unlikely to do any serious injury, but telling someone they're stupid or ugly or useless can be highly disturbing, especially to someone who has little self-confidence in the first place.

I can still remember my father calling me half-witted, or naive, or self-centred, and that was over 50 years ago. Even if I tell myself I'm none of those things, the words still stick in my mind like a splinter in my finger.

A blogger once called me anti-semitic, although I've never been anything of the kind. Needless to say, I stopped looking at his blog, but the insult lingers on.

I've been called smug and self-righteous, which also stings because I'm always open to differing opinions and I know very well I might be misinformed or biased.

Cruel and nasty words can do immense damage. There are regular reports of school pupils who have killed themselves after persistent name-calling by other pupils.

People who were previously happy and bubbly can become mental wrecks in a matter of months when verbal abuse is flung at them day after day.

To realise how destructive words can be, you only have to think of the way they were used in Nazi Germany to dehumanise whole groups of people.

Newspaper columnists are well aware of how much words can hurt, and often seem to take a vicious delight in using the most offensive language they can think of against someone who probably won't be allowed to answer back.

Words can hurt. They can be brutal. They can be deadly.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Temperamentally subdued

Some people are naturally sociable. They make friends easily, they're gregarious, they enjoy being with others and mope when they aren't, they love throwing dinner parties, they're born chatterboxes, and they can get on with just about anyone from any background.

I'm not like that at all, quite the reverse. I like the occasional chat with other people, I like the occasional party, but in general I love being on my own and relishing my own company. I don't make friends easily, I'm not a chatterbox, dinner parties make me nervous as hell, and there are many people I simply can't get on with.

I envy those who are naturally sociable. It makes social occasions so much easier, it means you're comfortable in a crowd of people, there's less fear and anxiety, you're not stuck for words, and you've got plenty of friends to talk to when you're in trouble.

It's hard to say why I'm more of an introvert. It may be genetic or the way I was brought up (my parents weren't that sociable and seldom invited people round), it may be my confidence-sapping years at boarding school (which was totally the wrong choice for my personality), it may be too much exposure to egotistical loudmouths at one social event after another. But whatever the cause, I'm just not a people person.

It doesn't help that the "less sociable" are still often seen as inadequate rather than different, snooty and standoffish rather than temperamentally subdued, wet blankets and party poopers rather than fans of quiet enjoyment.

But one thing I always wonder - how do the socialisers keep up the pace? Where do they find the energy? Rushing from one social event to another, chattering nineteen to the dozen, organising ten things at once, keeping all the balls in the air. If I lived that way, I'd be chronically exhausted.

Excuse me while I unplug the phone and curl up on the sofa with a big fat book....

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Demanding oldies

I get annoyed at the constant refrain that the mounting pressures on the NHS stem mainly from the soaring number of oldies and their complex medical needs.

There's a definite implication there that we oldies are just a burden, a millstone, an endless drain on the NHS, that we should feel guilty and irresponsible for living so long and needing so much care and attention. Shouldn't we just hurry up and die and stop being such a bloody nuisance?

Okay, so the growing number of oldies puts a strain on the NHS. So there's a rising demand from a particular segment of the population. So just deal with it. Provide the necessary funding and staff and other resources to meet the demand. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, there's more than enough money available.

Just don't keep harping on about oldies and their medical needs as if we're spoilt children asking mummy for a new smartphone. Are young people with housing needs made to feel they're a burden? No. Are women who get pregnant treated as a burden? No. So why this judgmental emphasis on unhealthy oldies and their failing bodies? Can someone change the record?

The irony is that it's very much the NHS itself that's enabling people to live so long nowadays. All sorts of new drugs have helped people to stay alive by preventing heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, diabetic comas and many other medical emergencies. And new surgical procedures are rejuvenating people's hearts and arteries.

But of course that means we're all living much longer and needing more medical attention farther down the line. Well, you can't keep us all alive on the one hand and then complain we're overwhelming the NHS on the other, The NHS is there to provide a vital public service. So stop whinging and provide it.

I'm not a burden, I'm a human being.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Suicide watch

There's a long-running argument about whether disturbing behaviour shown on TV dramas and films leads to copycat responses and whether in the public interest it should be avoided or at any rate limited. Or should scriptwriters be free to depict anything they want, however cruel or gruesome or destructive?

MPs have just urged tighter restrictions on the portrayal of suicide, saying too much detail about suicide methods can prompt people to kill themselves - especially if the method shown is quick, easy and painless. They say a scene can still be dramatic without such "unnecessary" detail.

The Samaritans agree, saying that being less explicit would mean fewer people at risk from "irresponsible content".

It's a tricky argument. How much can certain scenes and details be reined back in the name of susceptible people, without curbing artistic and creative freedom? Should anything be officially reined back, or should we just accept that some vulnerable people will always be influenced?

If we agree with reining things back, is that the thin end of a dangerous wedge? Would more and more things be restricted "in the public interest" until scriptwriters feel they're being bound hand and foot?

Then again, is it right to actively prevent people from suicide, if they're set on it? If they think their life is so hopeless or so painful they simply want to end it, who are we to force them to carry on living?

And again, if such measures are adopted, in the internet age there must be many other sources for anyone wanting practical details. So how effective would these limited precautions actually be?

I don't have any easy answers. I want vulnerable people to be protected, but I would also fiercely defend artistic freedom. I need to think some more about this.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Silent mum

What do you do with a 94 year old mother who's immensely secretive, won't discuss her problems and mishaps, doesn't want anyone to know about them, doesn't want anyone to interfere or make decisions on her behalf, and is almost impossible to contact anyway because she won't answer her landline, doesn't have a mobile phone and doesn't have email?

It's a maddening and frustrating situation. I know from third parties (usually days later) that my mum is regularly having falls and being taken to hospital for check-ups, but she won't discuss her falls or why she might be having them so it's highly likely she'll be having more.

Her memory's not too good, she may be forgetting to pay bills, walking is getting more difficult, and she has a flat full of junk and clutter that needs to be cleared out (and which she may be tripping on). But she refuses to discuss any of these things, insists she's on top of everything and says there's no need to worry.

Most of my information comes from other people - my brother in law (who lives nearby), social workers, carers, paramedics, her GP, the managers of her sheltered housing block. Trying to get anything out of my mum is like getting blood out of a stone. She's happy to tell me about her favourite TV programmes or last week's musical evening. But her personal problems - forget it.

Without knowing the cause of her falls, it seems that all we can do (my brother in law, my sister and I) is accept she's going to have more of them, and just hope they aren't serious enough to cause broken bones or some major injury.

Probably she doesn't want to worry us, but then we just worry about all the things she's not telling us.

Pic: not my mum!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Real women

The broadcaster Jenni Murray has lashed out at transgender women, saying they're not real women, they're just acting out gender stereotypes, and surgery doesn't make them female.

Not surpri-singly, she's come in for a lot of stick for totally misunderstanding what transgender is all about and adding to the widespread prejudice that transgender women already have to cope with.

What the hell is a "real woman" in any case? It's one of the very gender stereotypes she claims to object to. The requirements are so restrictive and so old-fashioned, I doubt there's a single woman on earth who could measure up.

This is what a "real woman" would have to sign up to:
  • Doesn't go out to work
  • Belongs in the kitchen
  • Enjoys shopping
  • Enjoys housework
  • Enjoys making a home
  • Looks after her man
  • Is loyal to her man
  • Doesn't argue with her man
  • Lets her man be the boss
  • Is heterosexual
  • Is married
  • Has children
  • Looks after the children
  • Is sexy and attractive at all times
  • Doesn't let herself go
  • Is ready for sex whenever her man wants it
  • Enjoys being flirted with
  • Enjoys being coerced
  • Is the power behind the throne
  • Gets her way with feminine wiles
Now name me one woman of your acquaintance who gets anywhere near falling in with that lot. Or would even want to. Does Jenni Murray fit the bill? I doubt it somehow.

Never mind transgender women. Why should any woman have to conform to such a constricting definition of womanhood? Why can't a woman simply be what she wants to be?

Women don't need to be told whether they're real or not. They're real just as they are.

PS: After what several of you have said about the growing-up-female experience being such a crucial part of female identity, I accept that a transgender woman can never be a true or complete woman in that respect. Likewise when it comes to the things only a born woman can experience - menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, post-natal depression, endometriosis etc. Never let it be said that I don't change my mind....

PPS: The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said something very similar to Jenni Murray, that growing up female is very different from growing up male with the benefit of male privilege, and that a trans woman is therefore not the same as a born woman. I think maybe trans women have to be a bit humble, and have respect for the opinions of born women, and accept that they simply aren't the same.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Dyed in the wool

One way I've wised up as I get older is my growing awareness of the enormity of prejudice and discrimi-nation. I've realised it's much deeper and much more permanent than I thought.

When I was young, and typically optimistic the world could be rapidly changed for the better if people just pushed hard enough, I fondly imagined prejudice against gays, or transgender people, or blacks, or foreigners, was a very temporary thing and would soon die away.

I was completely ignorant of how engrained these prejudices were, how reluctant people were to drop them, how much they passed from one generation to another, and how eagerly they were nurtured by politicians and the media.

I assumed other people were basically tolerant and open-minded and couldn't hold such prejudices for long without realising how damaging and inhumane they were. I assumed they were as fleeting as snow-storms or flash-floods.

Gradually it dawned on me that these prejudices were often rock-solid. You could argue against them till you were hoarse, but people still held them, utterly convinced of their soundness. The very idea of dropping them would seem like an act of madness.

I realised that although prejudice against certain groups had lessened, it had happened incredibly slowly and was still far from over. There's still strong opposition to gay marriage, to giving transgender people jobs, to promoting blacks, to treating foreigners fairly. In fact many people would like to turn the clock back and remove all the rights these groups have painfully and laboriously gained.

So nowadays, a great deal older and wiser, I assume that rather than demolishing prejudice, which seems near to impossible, the only realistic attitude is to work around it and try to chip away little bits here and there.

My optimistic younger self would be shocked at my new-found pragmatism.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Posh gits

I may have a posh accent, but I'm not remotely posh in any other respect. I may seem "posh" to those who have very little, but my lifestyle is quite unremarkable beside the real thing.

I may own my house and my car, have some savings, and live in a sedate residential area, but that doesn't make me in any way posh. There are thousands of people just like that.

I think the essence of poshness is rarity value (or luxury). The truly posh have things the vast majority of us don't have. A country mansion, a yacht, a chauffeur-driven limo, a private jet. Things the average person can only dream of (that is, if we really want a draughty old mansion or a condescending chauffeur).

The other ingredient of poshness is a "fancy" way of doing things. Soup spoons, fish forks, napkins. Bow ties, cuff links, top hats. Ornate invitations and letters. Always something more than the bog-standard routine. Something that sets you apart from the common crowd.

Not necessarily sophisticated though. You can be as posh as you like in terms of lifestyle, but dumb as they come when any hard thinking is required. The term "upper-class twit" comes to mind.

Poshness often goes hand in hand with pretentiousness. People think that because they're posh they're somehow a cut above the non-posh, somehow in some rarified category of their own.

That absolutely doesn't wash in Northern Ireland. It's very refreshing that people here despise any kind of pretentiousness. Anyone who acts superior is very quickly cut down to size. As we say here, they're "losing the run of themselves".

You can talk to a chief executive as casually as the refuse collector. You could be with someone who's filthy rich but they'd show no sign of it. People aren't as obsessed with social status as they are elsewhere.

"Pomposhity" will get you nowhere.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Judge ye not

I'm shocked at how hard it still is for someone to divorce a partner they can't bear living with any longer. A judge can still refuse a divorce, saying that the grievances aren't convincing enough, or that the other person's behaviour doesn't seem unreasonable.

If a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour (which applies in the vast majority of cases) is refused, the only alternative is living separately from the other person for five years before getting a consent-less divorce.

Some of the comments made by judges are outrageous. One woman who said her husband's unreasonable behaviour made her feel unloved, isolated and alone, was told he was simply "old school".

Another woman was told that the examples of her husband's unreasonable behaviour - like his workaholic tendencies and regular grumpiness - just weren't good enough.

Several of my blogmates and Facebook friends have had incredibly acrimonious and long-drawn-out divorces, and surely it should be easier to get a no-fault divorce without having to "prove" the marriage has broken down?

When someone is already seriously distressed by a failing marriage, to have to convince a sceptical judge you're at your wits' end just adds insult to injury.

As divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag puts it, "The very idea that someone who desperately wants or needs to exit a marriage can be prevented at the discretion of a judge is absolutely terrifying. Forcing couples to stay married has no part in a civilised society."

The irony is that getting married is extremely easy. You sign a few bits of paper and that's it. Nobody asks you to "prove" that you're serious about marriage and want to make it work. Yet if everything goes pear-shaped, endless obstacles are put in your path.

Judge not, that ye be not judged....


PS: Today is my 10th blogiversary. How about that?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

A horrified shudder

People have very opposite reactions when they're told they're "just like their father" or "just like their mother". If they adore their father or mother, they're flattered and pleased to be told they take after them. If they don't get on with their parents, they're horrified at the very thought there might be a resemblance.

Personally I'm in the horrified category. I'm all too aware of my parents' vices and struggle to think of their virtues. The idea that I'm like them in any way makes me shudder. I prefer to think they're totally different from me and I don't resemble them in the slightest. What a suggestion!

I'd love to be able to say I take after my father and that gives me huge satisfaction, but I absolutely can't say that. I can think of many other fathers I would be happy to resemble, but my own father isn't in the running. In fact I try my hardest to be as unlike him as I possibly can. If I catch myself displaying any of his familiar habits, I cut them short.

Of course he always wanted me to take after him, and he was very put out that I aspired to be someone quite dissimilar. He took it as a big insult that I didn't look up to him and hang on his every word. He could never understand that I was an independent person who saw the world in my own unique way.

My role models were always people outside my family - friends, teachers, rock stars, impressive public figures. Those were the people I admired and copied, the people whose qualities I hoped I could absorb. I never saw my parents as role models, only as rather harassed guardians.

Boy, did I have a crush on Marc Bolan....

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The final straw

I'm always interested in what destroys a relation-ship, what drives people apart. Especially if couples have been together for decades and then suddenly, apparently right out of the blue, they're getting divorced and it's all over.

Usually they don't reveal the exact cause of the meltdown. Or only to their closest friends. They tell people vaguely that "it simply wasn't working any more" or "he just wasn't the same person". Strange habits and personal failings are hinted at but not spelt out. You can only guess at the straw that broke the camel's back.

I'm forever astonished at how long Jenny and I have been together. In some ways we're very different, and I'm amazed there's never been some fundamental clash that proved impossible to resolve. The usual clichés about "loads of give and take" and "giving your partner plenty of space" don't go very far. The winning formula, whatever it is, is too complex to be summed up so neatly.

I think one reason we've stuck together is that somehow we've dodged all the big issues that tend to ambush other couples.

Like money. We're both sensible about spending and neither of us have expensive habits that soak up cash. We don't gamble, binge drink, buy flashy cars or go for £1,000 suits. Like affairs. We've never been tempted. Like children. We both agreed very early on that we didn't want them. Like sex. There's no nagging incompatibility. Like insecurity and jealousy. We're not threatened by the other's friendships or activities. Like bad communication. We're good at opening up and talking things through. And like mutual respect. Many couples break up because the man turns out to be an engrained misogynist, or the woman is nagging and controlling.

But that isn't the whole story either. Plenty of other things could have capsized us, could have driven a wedge between us. Somehow we've sidestepped them all. How lucky is that?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

One thousand!

Yes, it really is post one thousand! And as the ground-breaking occasion is reached, Nick gives a rare interview to Denise Drizzle of the Guardian.

Denise: So, Nick, post number one thousand. How do you feel about this fantastic milestone?

Nick: It's okay. All in the day's work, really.

Denise: Oh come on, enough of the stuffed-shirt masculinity. Admit it, you're incredibly excited.

Nick: Not at all. It's just one foot in front of the other really. It's just an arbitrary number. I mean, who gives a fuck if it's 1000 or 973 or ten zillion?

Denise: Still the same old Nick, eh? Pretending to be laid-back, deadpan, blasé, nonchalant, while underneath you're a boiling cauldron of red-hot emotions. I bet in private you're leaping up and down, whooping for joy, punching the air.

Nick: Your imagination's overheating, Denise. Really, it's just another post. Just another bit of scribble on the back of an envelope.

Denise: Okay, I get the idea. You're not giving anything away. Just one thing though. Isn't it time you told us your last name? Is it something embarrassing?

Nick: It's Zeigler.

Denise: Really? What, like Toby Zeigler in The West Wing? That's a great name.

Nick: No, I'm fibbing. It's not Zeigler.

Denise: So what is it then? Widebottom? Smellie? Bracegirdle? Hooker?

Nick: It's Rogers. A name so nondescript it's not worth mentioning.

Denise: I won't lie. It's an incredibly boring name. My commiserations. One other thing. You're not really a fucked-up neurotic mess, are you? It's just a big pretence to lure people in, right? In reality you're 100% sane and healthy and totally relaxed about life. Correct?

Nick: I wish. I'm hang-up central, like half the population. Which isn't surprising as we live in an unhealthy, uptight, authoritarian society. And now, if you'll excuse me, I feel a panic attack coming on.

Denise: Is there anything I can do?

Nick: Yes, leave me alone in my introvert hell (sobs quietly)

Denise: What an icon! What a national treasure! What would we do without him?

Pic: Denise Drizzle

Saturday, 4 February 2017

A touch of glamour

Call me old-fashioned, but I do like a bit of glamour. That magical quality that attaches itself to certain people and places and things. I know some people scoff at the whole notion of glamour as something entirely artificial and bogus, but I enjoy it anyway. It adds a little sparkle to a sometimes depressing existence.

It's hard to define but I think we all recognise it when we see it. That exciting frisson that hangs over Sydney or Vancouver or Venice. That special something that embraces Lucky Blue Smith or Scarlett Johansson (or whoever does it for you). The dizzy thrill of a favourite scarf or painting or necklace. A quality that transcends ordinary predictable charm or prettiness.

Feminists would argue that glamour, as applied to people, is essentially a sexist concept. Women are expected to be glamorous and dazzling while men can get away with being vaguely presentable. Well, my answer to that is, rather than doing away with female glamour, why don't the men make more of an effort and glam themselves up a bit?

Of course at my grand old age, a lot of things that seemed glamorous when I was young now seem utterly ordinary - like Awards ceremonies and celebrity weddings and fashion parades. Once you're aware of the drudgery and panic and ill-temper that goes on behind the scenes, the illusion of glamour quickly vanishes.

But you can't keep a good idea down, and there's still plenty of glamour to be found. When you least expect it, you stumble on a beautiful old church or someone with effortless style or an exquisite piece of pottery. Suddenly life has been enriched and deepened and the humdrum daily routine forgotten for a while.

A life without glamour would be like a face without a smile.

Pic: Lucky Blue Smith - an American model known for his platinum blond hair

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Kids online

Opinions are sharply divided on whether parents should post pictures of their kids online, especially those depicting embarr-assing, outrageous or unruly behaviour. Are they just innocent records of childhood or are they unethical invasions of privacy that might horrify their children at some later date?

An intriguing question for those of my generation, since there was no internet when we were young, and often very few photos. My parents weren't much interested in taking photos, and there are virtually none of the childhood me.

Since my childhood was so long ago, and since my memory is crap, I would love it if there was a vast collection of photos I could trawl through to fill the gaps in my memory and see all the crazy or clever things I got up to.

Journalist Kashmira Gander is firmly against parents sharing photos of their kids online. What will those kids think years later when they see themselves smashing their face into a birthday cake, throwing a massive tantrum or being sick on the carpet? Surely they'll cringe and ask what possessed their parents not just to take the photos but to post them all online?

Personally I wouldn't be too bothered. We all know kids behave badly so why should photos of the bad behaviour be a problem? Obviously I'm now grown-up and I behave normally so why should it worry me? It would just be an amusing trip down memory lane.

In any case, if grown-up kids look at their childhood photos and they're horrified, all they have to do is ask their parents to delete them all. Or at least the especially mortifying ones.

I just wonder why parents are so intent on capturing every moment of their child's life for posterity - no matter how trivial or obvious or boring. Isn't it enough to have watched them growing up and got pleasure from it?

Not any more.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Laid-back oldies

Author Lynne Reid Banks has concluded there are many advantages to being older. She has listed a whole lot of them:
  • You don't care what people think of your opinions
  • You can get away with eccentricities the young can't
  • You can sleep in most days
  • People will happily drive you around
  • People don't expect so much of you
  • You've no qualms about complaining vigorously
  • You can get away with being lazy, self-indulgent or offensive
  • You lose your sense of shame
  • You no longer strive for self-improvement
  • You no longer worry about the state of the world
  • Your appearance doesn't matter any more
Well, I have to say I don't go along with any of them. I think she's being remarkably self-centred and arrogant. But she is 87, which is 17 years older than me, so maybe by that age she's entitled to be as self-centred as she likes.

I don't see myself the same way, though. I don't feel indifferent to other people's opinions. I don't feel I can do whatever I like because of my age. I don't feel it's okay to complain about everything. I don't feel like parading my eccentricities. I don't think people should expect less of me. And I don't see why I should give up trying to improve myself.

I don't see myself as some useless old dodderer who expects everyone else to bend over backwards to accommodate me. I have more self-respect than that. People should demand the same of me as they demand of younger people, and I should meet those expectations as far as I can. I find it acutely embarrassing when other oldies are berating some hapless shop assistant or insisting on some special treatment others wouldn't get.

It would be different if I was frail and infirm and incapable of looking after myself properly. But as I'm still fit and healthy that doesn't apply. So I don't see any reason to dump my social obligations and act like a helpless child.

I may be old but I'm not a basket case.

Pic: not Lynne Reid Banks!