Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Good enough

Thankfully I'm not a perfect-ionist. Wanting everything to be brilliant, unique, or just better than it is, must be an exhausting and impossible task. Personally I'm happy for things to be "good enough" and I'll stop right there, thanks.

And by "good enough" I don't mean skimping or accepting something a bit shoddy. I just mean I aim for a certain standard, one most people would be comfortable with, and striving for some rarified excellence doesn't interest me.

I don't want a kitchen that's 100% hygienic and germ-free. I don't want bed linen that matches the wallpaper. I'm not going to mow the lawn every three days. I'm not going to replace all my nondescript shirt buttons. Life's too short for such nonsense.

But I've known people who were obsessive about housework, who couldn't bear a speck of dust or splodge of grease anywhere. Or obsessive about work, always scanning their emails, rewriting memos and double-checking every little detail. Or gardening fanatics who couldn't stop weeding and pruning and power-jetting the patio.

It must be hard to live with a relentless perfectionist. No matter how often you say everything's fine as it is, they'll insist they just have to tweak this or adjust that, and nothing will deter them. They won't be able to sleep at night if the soup spoons don't match or the plates are wrongly stacked.

Perfectionists have their place though. A world without them would be an inferior one. Without the frenzied perfectionists who invented the washing machine and the internet and the CD player, and who fought for improved legal rights and housing standards and working conditions, our lives would be much depleted.

I'm just not that driven. I want an easy life. So sue me.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Easily fooled

It's shocking that schools are so poor at teaching basic principles of analysis, research and critical thinking that many young people can't tell fake news from real news and easily mistake unsubstantiated nonsense for the truth.

I don't know about British schools, but in California a senator and assemblyman have both proposed bills to fight fake news by teaching children how to detect misleading, fabricated or inaccurate media and social media reports.

Senator Bill Dodd wants to see a "media literacy" curriculum, while Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez seeks lessons on "civic online reasoning".

It's astonishing to an oldie like me, well used to sceptical sifting through media reports and subjecting them to several tests of authenticity - Is this confirmed elsewhere? Is it credible? Is this a news source renowned for making things up? Are there obvious discrepancies and omissions? - that young people aren't taught this basic skill and happily absorb fabricated rubbish without a thought.

When even long-established reputable newspapers give space to dubious unverified stories, it only encourages the spread of fake news. I'm amazed at the constant airing of wild claims about Donald Trump's private life (I know all the details but I'm not giving them even more publicity). They may be 100 per cent true, they may be 100 per cent false, who knows? But why are they reported at all, when right now, there's no evidence whatever to support them?

People are all too willing to believe stories that fit with their particular view of the world, and reluctant to consider they might be a pack of lies.

Last year I complained to the BBC that their story about Vegemite being turned into homemade alcohol was totally untrue, and eventually they admitted it. But not before the story had spread all over the media with no attempt to check it.

The sooner young people can tell the wheat from the chaff, the better.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Awaiting wisdom

The popular cliché says that as you age you get wiser, you're more self-aware and you've left all your youthful delusions behind. You're no longer taken in by charming rogues, slick sales patter or unlikely news stories. But is it true? Am I really older and wiser?

Up to a point, yes. But I'm sure I still have all sorts of entrenched ideas and opinions that wouldn't stand serious scrutiny. They may make sense to me, while to others they're obvious nonsense. Like my belief in people's innate goodness or the power of positive thinking.

I doubt if I'm much more self-aware either. Okay, I'm familiar with all my neurotic hang-ups and quirks, I know my strengths and weaknesses, but there must be lots of subtle character traits that are plainly visible to others but less visible to myself. I just happily overlook them.

I've dumped a few youthful illusions for sure - that I would come up with a literary masterpiece, or dazzle people with casual wit, or be a reassuring shoulder to cry on, or be present at the imminent socialist revolution. Some cherished beliefs simply can't survive stark reality.

But have I just replaced the old illusions with a bunch of brand-new ones? Like the belief that everything's being dumbed down and we no longer think anything through properly? Or the idea that sensation is now more sought-after than fact?

I certainly don't feel any wiser than my twenty something self. I don't feel that I'm on top of things or better at handling a crisis or brimming with expert advice. I still feel I'm muddling through a complex life as best I can, about to collapse in helpless dismay at any moment.

The pearls of wisdom have passed me by.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Lonely hearts

There's constant talk of an epidemic of loneliness, of hordes of people feeling so lonely and isolated it's affecting their mental health and even causing premature death.

This seems to me a wild exaggeration, falsely depicting a routine emotion as something catastrophic and overwhelming. Okay, so you feel lonely, You may feel lonely quite often. But is that such a problem? If you're a resourceful person, you simply acknowledge that feeling and then find ways of enjoying your own company and not pining fruitlessly after social contact.

That probably sounds glib and self-satisfied to some. They'll say I don't understand how painful and miserable feelings of loneliness can sometimes be. I don't understand how important company is to some people and how empty they feel without it.

But if people are pining that much for company, of course they're going to end up miserable because 24/7 company simply isn't possible. Even if you have a partner and children, they won't always be around. If you've never developed enough self-reliance and self-enjoyment to disperse feelings of loneliness, you're in for a lifetime of emotional gloom.

In the end loneliness is just another feeling like sadness or helplessness or embarrassment. You find ways of dealing with it so it doesn't become a millstone, a liability. Expecting other people to come along and solve it for you is unrealistic. You have to draw on your own resources instead of thinking the answer is somewhere else.

I'm lucky in having a partner who provides me with constant company. But even before that, when I lived alone in a dismal bedsit, I don't remember feeling lonely that much. I had many ways of amusing myself and I didn't yearn for someone else to be present. I liked my own company.

"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness" - Maya Angelou

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Fire on the Titanic

I'm fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic and what caused it - numerous human errors and cock-ups that led to the collision with the iceberg and then led to the ship sinking so fast it was impossible to save everyone.

What I didn't know was how a huge fire below decks probably speeded up the sinking, and was hushed up by the ship's owners and by the crew.

A TV documentary on Sunday* explained how the fire had raged for weeks in the coal store before the maiden voyage, the temperature so high it buckled one of the watertight bulkheads and made it brittle.

When the ship collided with the iceberg and water started pouring in, the bulkhead cracked, water poured through it and the ship sank more rapidly.

If the Titanic had stayed afloat another hour or two, all the passengers could have been saved by RMS Carpathia, which came to the rescue after getting distress signals. But because the ship sank so fast, over 1500 people died.

There were other human errors that led to the massive loss of life, like the shortage of lifeboats, life jackets not being given out, and general confusion among the passengers and crew, but the fire was a major factor.

It's no surprise to discover White Star Line instructed the crew to keep the fire secret so as not to damage the company's reputation. Even the official inquiry thought the fire was irrelevant and declared the sinking an Act of God. On the contrary, it was the result of human carelessness and misjudgments on a huge scale.

The steel used in the bulkheads, for example, was not of the highest, fire-resistant quality. The ship's owners cut costs by using lower-grade steel. The bulkheads were reduced by several feet to allow for a grander central staircase. They also used low-quality rivets.

Act of God, my arse!

* "Titanic: The New Evidence", Channel Four, January 1 2017

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Dignity or disgrace

Funny how some people are really hot on dignity and won't do anything remotely embarrassing or controversial, while others happily disgrace themselves and find the whole idea of dignity laughable.

The dignified faction would never be seen drinking too much, making a fuss in a restaurant, or complaining about ticket prices, while the other lot drink themselves senseless, throw up and pass out on a regular basis. And complain about everything under the sun.

Of course dignity means different things to different people. If it means feeling respected and taken seriously, fine, I'm sure we all want that. Too many people don't get the respect they deserve. But if being "dignified" is just an excuse to be haughty and condescending and sneer at other people's excesses and indulgences, that's "dignity" we could do without.

If dignity only means respectability, or looking good in the eyes of other people, then you can keep that too. I'd rather do what I think is right, and what I'm comfortable with, than look good. Many a monstrous attitude lurks behind respectability.

Likewise, if dignity only means pomp and ceremony, like lawyers' wigs, graduates' gowns, fancy honours and awards, and rows of medals, I think we could live without all that. Respect for others shouldn't depend on what they're wearing or what grand title they've acquired.

And if dignity just means bottling up your thoughts and feelings to appear "in control", that's a big mistake. Why do people praise mourners at a funeral for being "dignified" and not showing their grief and shock? What's wrong with letting it all out?

Like most people, I guess, I want my thoughts and feelings to be taken seriously, and that kind of dignity is welcome. At other times I couldn't care less about dignity and just want to do my own thing, however silly or weird or truculent. I'll hug the nearest tree, recite bad limericks, talk to the neighbour's cat and do my dying seal impression.

I don't drink myself senseless though. Indignity has its limits.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Shrub shortage

My thoughts have returned to neighbours, after Kylie told me about an Australian couple who got an anonymous letter saying their front garden was "in a disgraceful state" and they should "shape up or ship out".

Other less judgmental neighbours have rallied round to defend the Ackroyds, who can't understand what all the fuss is about.

The letter, directed at Ebony Ackroyd, objected to the kids' playground, the old tyres, the weeds and the lack of shrubs, and complained that her idle husband never did any work in the garden.

"Just take a walk up White Avenue and observe every house, there's none in the deplorable, lazy state as yours" says the letter. "If you and your husband can afford fancy haircuts, you can damn well afford six shrubs for your front."

If you look at White Avenue, Hamilton, on Street View, it's a sedate, suburban street with large houses and no doubt plenty of snooty, censorious neighbours who bristle at any garden without manicured lawns and well-tended flowerbeds.

So some households don't apply arbitrary aesthetic standards to their front gardens but just use them as they see fit. If they prefer kids' toys to shrubs, that's their business. It's not as if they're drilling for oil or selling fish and chips. Why does someone get so hot under the collar as to leave a stroppy anonymous letter in the mailbox?

I could think of a few front gardens in my own neighbourhood that are full of junk, builders' rubble and old bikes, but a snotty note isn't the answer. All that does is spread bad feeling and defensiveness. Especially if it's anonymous and you're looking suspiciously at all your neighbours, wondering who can't live and let live.

Just be careful where you put those old tyres.

Pics: the Ackroyds' front garden and Ebony Ackroyd

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Just remind me

I've always had a terrible memory. My past is but a sketchy outline, shorn of all the specifics and minutiae. I struggle to recall convers-ations I had a week ago, or who I had them with. The plots of films and books evaporate within days. Faces and names vanish rapidly, unless they're very distinctive.

This failing has obvious disadvantages. Someone will insist they met me on a previous occasion (or several), though I don't remember them at all. Someone will ask me what a book was about, and I frantically rack my brains. Someone will remind me of a decision we made last week, and I'll ask them what it was.

I'm well used to all the embarrassment, confusion, panic and vagueness this brings about, and the crafty attempts to feign memories and knowledge I don't actually possess. Sometimes if it's just too much to admit a total memory-blank, I'll find a way of skimming over it with some ambiguous remark.

But a bad memory also has its benefits.

Nasty experiences are soon forgotten, and I don't waste time dwelling on them and nurturing grievances. My head isn't clogged up with irrelevant detail so it's easier to get to the heart of something. If the plot of a book I've read escapes me, I can read it again with just as much pleasure.

I've forgotten all the absurd, pretentious and ill-informed rubbish I've written in the past and can confidently carry on writing as if my opinions are brilliantly astute. All the mindless tripe has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

But my inability to recall past events in any depth makes me wonder if they happened at all, or if the scrappy, threadbare images are entirely imaginary. No, that way madness lies....

Saturday, 17 December 2016

New neighbours

My new neighbours - will they be okay or will they be the neighbours from hell? Will they be friendly and welcoming or will they be sullen, snobbish and standoffish?

It's the question I always ask myself when I'm moving house, and since I've lived in thirteen different homes, I've asked it a lot.

If I knew my neighbours would be a pain in the butt, I might very well have cancelled the move, but usually there's no way of knowing what they're like until you actually move in and find out. Short of grilling all the other neighbours, or spying on them for a week or two, you're in the dark.

We've seen the whole range of neighbours, from the charming couple who took in our parcels when we were out and trimmed our hedge for us, to the anti-social arseholes who had all-night parties twice a week and ignored every complaint.

Most neighbours were neither one or the other, just inoffensive, unassuming types who kept to themselves and wanted no contact other than "hello there" or "have you seen my missing car keys?" Their lives were a complete mystery until the day we moved out. For all I knew, they were kidnappers, drug dealers, internet trolls, bondage enthusiasts, you name it.

When I lived in a bedsit in Abbey Road, London (yes, that Abbey Road) the elderly woman upstairs proved to be an alcoholic who would reel in at any time of the day or night, stinking of whisky and sometimes throwing up on the stairs. She was well beyond help, even if I'd known what help to offer.

In another bedsit at the Angel, Islington, the landlord lived upstairs and was also an alcoholic. My requests for repairs or properly-functioning appliances or removal of the putrid rubbish dump outside my kitchen window would be brushed aside in his hurry to get to the pub and down a few more pints.

Our best neighbours were probably a lovely couple called Ricky and Sheila who became good friends and helped us out of all sorts of difficulties. It was one of our saddest days when we heard Ricky had died in a head-on collision with another car. By some miracle, his daughter Katy, who was in the passenger seat, survived with nothing but a few bruises.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Ageist tripe

I do get annoyed by the ageist nonsense that people throw around so thoughtlessly. From what you read, you'd think everyone over 60 was hopeless, helpless, gormless and generally past it.

You'd also think that we oldies caused all the setbacks and difficulties younger people are having to cope with, deliberately and selfishly sabotaging everyone else's lives while we swan off on our umpteenth cruise to some exotic location.

Just some of the more persistent myths:

1) We're all chronically ill and taking 20 pills daily. Actually, some of us are quite fit and healthy, believe it or not.
2) Our memories have gone and we can barely recall our own names. Lots of oldies still have photographic memories.
3) We're stealing jobs from young people. Employers often find oldies more reliable and more efficient than youngsters.
4) We're personally to blame for sky-high house prices, sky-high tuition fees, the lack of decent, well-paid jobs, and the cash-strapped NHS. No, they're largely the fault of politicians not planning properly for the future.
5) We're all about to fall over and break our hips. Only if we try to hop, skip and jump down the high street.
6) We sit around all day watching soaps and nature programmes. We're just as likely to be jogging or hill-walking.
7) We've all got huge pensions or private incomes. Plenty of hard-up oldies have to decide whether to eat or heat.
8) We all go on luxury cruises at least twice a year. See number 7.
9) We're all intolerant fuddy-duddies. Some are, while others are red-hot radicals itching for a socialist utopia.
10) We're no longer interested in sex. There's no shortage of randy septuagenarians, especially in the age of Viagra.
11) We loathe the internet. No we don't, we use it all the time. We like funny cartoons and fluffy kittens just like everyone else. Oh, and why not Skype our friends in Australia and Alaska?

Saturday, 10 December 2016

No cleavage, girls

Queen's University, Belfast, has attracted angry protests after telling graduating students to avoid short skirts and cleavage and dressing like Kim Kardashian. "Graduation is a formal event and the dress code should match this."

Politics student Sarah Wright criticised the "outrageous" advice to women graduates. "The focus should be on their achievements, not on moralising regarding what they choose as adults to wear to celebrate the occasion."

Well, yes, surely the point of the day is that students have graduated. What has their choice of clothing to do with graduating? Why should they dress like management consultants? Why shouldn't they wear what they feel comfortable in? If some people are bothered by short skirts and cleavage, that's their problem.

Presumably the university is worried about its reputation and thinks over-casual clothing creates the wrong "image". It seems to me that telling students how to dress and how not to dress doesn't do much for their image either.

And if the university is really concerned about its reputation, perhaps they should do something about the students living nearby who subject local residents to drunken rampages and abuse every day of the week. The constant complaints about student behaviour are met with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders from the university.

When I walk past the university on graduation day, I don't give a monkeys what the graduates are wearing. If they have afros and three-inch heels, so what? They can turn up in bikinis for all I care. I'm just glad people can study for degrees in subjects that interest them and improve their future prospects.

I have to confess I had no clothing dilemmas when I graduated. I never got that far. I dropped out of my incredibly uninspiring degree course after a year and became a bookseller instead.

Pic: Chloe Lamont, an English and Film graduate at Queen's

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Playing safe

I used to think I had a strong instinct for self-preservation, which is why I've resisted all those things that spoil other people's lives - like eating too much, drinking too much, abusing drugs, slipping into a couch potato lifestyle.

But when I look a bit more closely, I have to admit it wasn't self-preservation that steered me away from all these habits but other quite random personal characteristics that aren't so impressive.

Eating too much makes me feel queasy and unwell. Drinking too much totally numbs my brain. Drugs might have claimed me if it wasn't for not knowing where to get them. And I could have been a couch potato if it wasn't for the physical restlessness that stops me sitting for very long.

Although we humans are supposed to have a strong self-preservation instinct, actually I think it's pretty feeble and often overwhelmed by our tendency to act on impulse regardless of the consequences. Especially when we just want to enjoy ourselves.

All the time I see people doing amazingly risky things, blatantly dicing with death and injury, oblivious to self-preservation. Motorists overtaking on blind bends, jaywalking pedestrians, drunks about to totter off station platforms, householders on wobbly ladders. They defy all the dangers, convinced they won't come to any harm. Or not even caring if they come to harm or not.

The honest truth is that often I'm as impulsive and reckless as the next person, and self-preservation is the last thing on my mind. If I've never come to any serious harm in my life, it's really more luck than judgment. I can stop feeling self-righteous because I'm not as canny as I think.

Another smug self-appraisal bites the dust.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Malicious rumours

Santa Claus has once again had to quash the constant rumours that he doesn't exist. In a statement today, he insists that he is very much alive and the claims of his non-existence are malicious and upsetting.

"Of course I exist" he said, as he poured me a generous glass of prosecco at his luxurious home, Santa Towers in Reindeer City, Lapland. "Here I am, as large as life, as you can see, working hard on the production of this year's Christmas presents. These mischief-makers should shut up and stop distressing all those children who're looking forward to Santa's annual visit.

"Every year I have to deny these absurd rumours that I'm just a fantasy figure who doesn't exist in real life. I may be extremely old, I may have had one too many on occasion, and I may be a little too plump for the smaller chimneys (I leave those to the elves). But I haven't yet kicked the bucket.

"My lawyers are dealing with the most persistent offenders, and they can expect to pay substantial damages to the Exhausted Elves Benevolent Fund."

Children everywhere have been devastated by the claims that he doesn't really exist. Five-year-old Lucy Gristle of Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, cried non-stop for a week after hearing the rumours. "She was inconsolable" said her mother, Melanie. "I tried everything to stop the tears but nothing worked. I don't know how people can bring themselves to start such pernicious tittle-tattle, knowing full well it will break so many children's hearts. They should be ashamed of themselves."

After watching Santa's TV interview, little Lucy is now over the moon and eagerly awaiting his visit. "He's so clever, he always knows exactly what I want" she said. "I only show my present list to mummy, but he finds out somehow and there they all are under the Christmas tree. I love Santa so much."

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Drained and skint

Another mother has taken the bold step of declaring that bringing up children is hard work and she can't wait for her youngest child to be an independ-ent adult.

"Raising a child is 1% happiness and 99% worry. Raising children not only left me exhausted but it left me bankrupt" says French author Corinne Maier. But she feels obliged to say she loves being a parent, even if it isn't true. "It's time to stop marketing the babies-mean-happiness idea,"

She thinks improving this rotten world "with its exhausted assets and polluted natural resources" is a higher priority than raising children. As child-rearing takes so much energy, it's hard to do both.

Naturally other mothers will disagree. If there are fewer children, who will look after the elderly or keep the economy going, or for that matter who will fight to improve the rotten world?

But certainly while there's no shortage of would-be parents to maintain the population, there's a drastic shortage of would-be environmental campaigners to tackle the worrying state of the planet. If things go on as they are, there'll no longer be a functional world for our children to inherit. So maybe Corinne has a valid point.

I do think many parents rush into child-rearing without properly considering if they're up to the job. The number of children one way or another psychologically damaged by inadequate parents is alarming. But every parent thinks they'll get on just fine, or at any rate they'll muddle through and their kids won't come to any serious harm. If only that were true.

As you know I have no children. For all sorts of reasons, but mainly because having children meant nothing to me. I agree with Corinne - saving the planet is a hundred times more important.

Pic: is not Corinne Maier!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Playing the field

I can't imagine what it's like to live with a man who's a compulsive flirt and womaniser. Whenever he's out of your sight, you must be wondering what he's up to and fearing the worst.

Your suspicions of womanising must intensify if he's a prominent public figure mixing with glamorous women who admire powerful men. Can he resist the endless temptation?

I guess you have several choices. Either you watch him like a hawk and try to prevent any shenanigans, or you accept that's the way he is and adapt to it, or you kiss him goodbye and get him out of your life.

I have no such worries about Jenny, and vice versa. Neither of us have ever been promiscuous and we know there are no shameful confessions in the offing. Old-fashioned maybe but that's how we like it.

It must be almost as bad to live with a man who's insanely jealous and convinced you're having affairs when you're not. My father was always sure my mother was up to something behind his back - not only with men but with women. He simply couldn't believe she was 100 per cent loyal to him and was never enticed by anyone else. He thought she was so attractive that other men must be making advances all the time. She would be hurt and offended by his outrageous accusations, but her angry denials never entirely persuaded him.

It doesn't help that affairs are now considered normal by many people. If you've lived with someone for many years, isn't it natural that you get bored with each other sexually and need a fresh partner to stir up that sluggish libido?

Well, it depends on the couple and their relationship, I guess. To some, looking elsewhere might seem the obvious thing to do. To others, it's a sign the relationship is failing and needs to be reassessed.

Fortunately, not a dilemma I've had to face.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Who me, smart?

It's said that men tend to over-estimate their intelligence while women under-estimate it. Well, personally I'm one of the under-estimators. However often I'm told how intelligent I am, I never really believe it. I'm quite sure it's just a bit of flattery far removed from reality.

I suppose the reason for my self-doubt is that I fasten on every mistake or misunderstanding or moment of confusion as obvious evidence of my limited intelligence. Surely if I was that intelligent these things wouldn't happen?

On the other hand, when I instantly grasp something complicated or have some brilliant insight, instead of seeing it as a sign of intelligence, I see it as a peculiar fluke or stroke of luck that only emphasises how gormless I usually am.

I also assume intelligence means being quick on the uptake. If I'm in a new job or situation, and I'm not picking things up fast enough, I conclude I'm a prize dimwit. Surely other people grasp things much quicker? I forget that maybe the problem is the complexity and unfamiliarity of what I'm being told, not my brain.

I'm fooled too by people who pretend to understand something that's gone way over their heads. They listen to someone yattering away and nod frequently as if they're totally up to speed, while I'm mentally floundering. Obviously they're much brainier! It never occurs to me that they just don't want to admit their ignorance.

If anyone raves over a book or film or artwork I didn't like, again I assume they must be more intelligent, they've caught all sort of nuances and subtleties that mysteriously passed me by. Their attention must be way sharper than mine. But is it? Perhaps those clever nuances they've spotted are more imaginary than real.

So go on, reassure me that I'm highly intelligent. I still won't believe it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Questions, questions

All those questions you've been dying to ask, answered at last. More glaring gaps in your nick-knowledge finally filled in. It's your lucky day!

What's your greatest fear?
Being burnt or crushed to death

Which living person do you most admire?
Gareth Peirce, the human rights lawyer

What trait do you most deplore in yourself?
Worrying too much, timidity, brusqueness

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Too many to name - saying something inappropriate, being lost for words, letting someone down

What's the dearest thing you've bought (other than a house)?
Various cars

What's your most treasured possession?
An abstract by an artist I knew in the sixties

What's your favourite smell?
Newly mown grass, coffee, freshly laundered bed linen

What's your favourite word?
Inebriated, impecunious, soporific

Which book changed your life?
Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Fritz Perls

What in your life would you have done differently?
I would have moved to Australia

What or who is your greatest love?
Jenny, obviously

What do you owe your parents?
Self-discipline, persistence, a crazy sense of humour

What did you want to be when grown-up?
A journalist - which I was for a few years

To whom would you like to say sorry, and why?
Jenny, for careless hurtful remarks

Who would come to your dream dinner party?
Patti Smith, Paris Lees*, Tina Fey

Which word or phrase do you overuse?
Who knows? Why bother? Does it matter?

What's the worst job you've done?
Admin work for a chaotic London council

What was your biggest disappointment?
I'd rather not say

What would improve your quality of life?
More close friends, a better memory

What is your greatest achievement?
Several trips to Australia, going vegetarian

*transgender activist

(questions shamelessly pinched from the Guardian magazine)

Saturday, 12 November 2016

A time of trepidation

The media is still wall-to-wall President Pussy-Grabber. Other news has been squeezed out of the headlines. Every available columnist has been told to pen a few words, however trite, on the new Bum-Fancier-in-Chief.

I feel I should do my bit and lob in my ten-cents worth. But what to say that hasn't been said a hundred times already? What to say that isn't apoplectic, hysterical, doom-laden, abusive or childish?

Above all, I feel for all those millions of Americans who are now very scared about the future, and how they might fare under the Trump regime. All those who till recently felt at home in America, and (on the whole) were treated decently by their fellow-citizens. All those who now feel things are changing rapidly and changing for the worse.
  • Homosexuals
  • Transgender men and women
  • The disabled
  • Black people
  • Foreign nationals
  • Migrants
  • Women
They've seen how things declined in the UK after the EU referendum, with a huge upsurge in hate crimes, abuse, death threats, physical attacks, ostracism and ultimatums to leave the country. Some were so nervous about their personal safety, and their families' safety, they have indeed left the country. Many others are thinking of leaving.

Of course those lucky Americans who aren't in one of the threatened groups, those who're well off and doing nicely and largely unaffected by who happens to be President, mostly aren't interested in those less fortunate citizens.

They shrug their shoulders, insist everyone's over-reacting, joke about moving to Canada, say the campaign rhetoric was just hot air, say Trump will be put in his place, and so on.

Such complacent dismissals won't reassure those who know how hard it is to stem the flow of hatred and intolerance once it's become normal and once it's been sanctioned at the highest levels.

I fear Trump's America could turn very ugly.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Not much fun

A study of men who go on stag dos concluded that most of them don't enjoy it and would rather not have taken part. At various times they felt embarr-assed, humiliated, shamed and scared, and only joined in because they felt it was expected it of them.

A groom-to-be was pressured into going to a lap-dancing club and hated every minute of it. One man was subjected to sustained ritual humiliation, given so much to drink he passed out and wet himself, and then tied up with cling-film. And so on.

Thankfully I've never been on a stag do in my life. I've been to very few weddings, but in each case the groom-to-be loathed stag nights and I was never invited to one. The whole idea of relentless debauchery and drunkenness fills me with horror. I can't see the attraction, and I can't see how a hung-over and shattered groom could possibly enjoy his wedding.

People in other countries are reportedly baffled by the frantic over-indulgence of British stag dos, and the mayhem they cause in local communities. They just wish those involved would go back home on the earliest flight.

Perhaps those men who know they won't enjoy themselves should be honest enough to say so and opt out. If that means they're seen as wimps and milksops, so be it.  Better than being ritually humiliated by so-called "friends".

This lingering male tradition of ritual humiliation is pretty sick. Why do some men feel the need to torment other men by getting them to drink too much or harass women or do something disgusting or dangerous? What's wrong with a simple supportive friendship? What's wrong with being nice to each other?

The sooner stag nights go out of fashion, the better.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Happy as I am

I seldom imagine someone else's life to be better than my own. I'm happy with my life, with all its ups and downs, and I know the seemingly fabulous lives I read about often hide miseries and tragedies I wouldn't want to be burdened with.

In fact it's now routine for celebs to reel off the horrible experiences they've had to deal with, as if to say, don't bother to envy me, I'm no better off than you are - except that I have fame and money. Which is a bit of a cushion, granted, but it's no protection against grief, depression, domestic violence or those everyday problems we all run into.

In fact fame and money often make life harder. Divorces are horrendous, as each spouse tries to claim the maximum share of the marital assets. You can never be quite sure if someone is a genuine friend or a gold-digger. You're forever in the spotlight and being mercilessly criticised and picked to bits.

But even people with more ordinary lives don't make me want to swop. However happy and fulfilled they might seem on the outside, who knows what emotional and mental baggage they're carrying around? Who knows what they're carefully concealing? Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

The truth is I'm thoroughly familiar with all my personal quirks and oddities and I've learnt how to deal with them. I know how to exploit my strengths and minimise my weaknesses. If I suddenly fell into someone else's life, I'd have to get acquainted with a brand new personality. I'd be floundering around like a dog on an ice rink.

It would be fun to swop with someone for a week, say. Just to see if their life really is better than mine. I suspect I'd soon be tearing my hair out.