Friday, 23 June 2017

Fish out of water

I'm passionate about politics. I want to see a fairer, more humane, more liberating society. I want an end to poverty, squalor, deprivation. I'm not content to shrug my shoulders and say, that's how things are, you just have to adjust and make the most of what you're given. I want changes. Big changes.

But I don't belong to a political party. I was a Labour Party member in the 1980s but since then I've kept out of organised politics. Why? Because whenever I go to a party-political gathering, I never feel comfortable. I feel like a fish out of water.

There's something about being in a political party that makes many people insufferably smug, self-righteous, pretentious, condescending and cliquey. They think their set of beliefs is the only correct one and that people with different beliefs are clearly muddle-headed and ignorant.

I feel I'm expected to be on-message at all times, and if I voice any opinion contrary to the official line, I'll have my head bitten off. Free speech might seem to be welcome, but in practice there are all sorts of unwritten taboos.

So I avoid such gatherings and give my support to specific protests, campaigns and lobbies where the focus is on a single injustice rather than party politicking. Things like marriage equality, a woman's right to choose, preserving the NHS, preserving the welfare state, ending austerity economics. I go to rallies, I sign petitions, I refuse private healthcare.

I can just be one of the crowd, one of the petition signers, or whatever, without having to subscribe to a particular ideology or doctrine, or watch what I'm saying in case I cross some invisible line and ruffle everyone's feathers.

As an ingrained introvert, I'm happy to plough my own furrow.

Pic: woman on an anti-Trump protest in the USA

Monday, 19 June 2017

Scruffy but cosy

I was reading about a woman who slowly ditched the idea that her house had to be pristine when she had visitors. Once she would have spent days deep-cleaning the house in preparation, but nowadays she doesn't care how scruffy the place is, because she knows it's the company and conversation that's important and not the state of her house.

If her visitors are put off by the scruffiness, then they're not the sort of friends she wants anyway, and they're welcome to stay away.

She refers to it as "scruffy hospitality" and says such untidiness is quite normal in other countries and other cultures. It's quite normal of course in households full of children, where keeping the house clean and tidy is virtually impossible.

I think domestic scruffiness is becoming much more routine, for several reasons. Because people are leading busier lives. Because thorough cleaning is exhausting. Because the idea of a pristine house seems increasingly artificial. And because scruffiness simply seems cosier and less inhibiting.

When Jenny and I first moved in together, we devised elaborate cleaning rotas for the flat. As the years went by, the rotas got looser and looser, and nowadays we clean on a very ad-hoc basis, either the bare minimum for visitors (a quick sweep and hoover) or a more concerted effort when the dust bunnies are multiplying.

The pristine-house habit is still common among the generation above me. I remember an aunt whose house was always immaculate, with a place for everything and everything in its place. She must have been secretly horrified when she set foot in our rather ill-kempt residence.

People used to apologise profusely for the state of their house, muttering all sorts of inventive excuses for the slightest hint of disorder. They don't bother any more. That's what their house is like, and if you object to it, that's your problem.

Do come round and look at my dust bunnies some time.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

So much loss

The massive fire at Grenfell Tower in West London is shocking and distressing in so many ways. If proper fire control measures had been added to the building, the fire would have remained localised and wouldn't have raged through the 24 storey block.

It's hard to envision what it's like to have escaped the fire but be left utterly devastated. To have lost several members of your family, probably dead in the wreckage. To have lost all your possessions apart from what you're standing up in. To have lost your home. To have lost the sense of safety and security you used to take for granted. To have lost trust in those public bodies responsible for the tragedy.

Above all, I can't imagine what it's like to lose several family members, especially if they were children and especially if you doted on them. The grief and bewilderment and sense of loss must be overwhelming.

I can't imagine losing all my possessions.  My favourite china, rugs, paintings, books, CDs, clothes. All those things I cherish and enjoy every day. All those things that are part of my personality, part of me. All those things that remind me of different stages of my life. All those things that have moved with me from home to home, some of them for 50 years.

How dreadful to lose your home, the place where you can relax and let go, where you can be yourself, where you can hide your bad habits, where you can feel insulated against the horrors and cruelties of the outside world.

And how wary you might become of those public figures who were meant to protect you against disaster. Those people safely nestled in their comfortable suburban houses while your dangerous tower-block went up in flames.

How do they deal with it? How do they cope with such trauma?

Pic: Ines Alves, who fled the inferno and then calmly took a chemistry exam

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Six of the best

Does punishment ever work? Does it teach someone a lesson, does it make them behave better, or does it just breed rage and resentment and a sense of unfairness and victimisation?

I suppose in some cases punishment does prompt someone to reconsider their actions and change their behaviour, but in many other cases it must be counter-productive, aggravating a situation rather than improving it.

When I think of the various punishments I've had imposed on me, none of them had the desired effect.

At prep school, I was twice given six of the best for forgetting the dates of English kings and queens. But I still forgot them, simply because they didn't seem important.

At my boarding school I was given extra homework after skipping an obligatory religious service. It didn't make me any keener on religion. I just felt increasingly resentful at the compulsion.

At a bookshop I worked for, I was dragged through a disciplinary hearing for being an hour late to work for no good reason. It was pointless as I was usually punctual and that one slip-up was totally untypical.

I was once fined a hefty sum for speeding in a 30 mph zone. It didn't stop me speeding, as I simply drive at a speed I think suitable for the road and traffic conditions.

If someone has done something offensive, surely the best response is to encourage them to behave more sensibly, not to impose some arbitrary, unrelated punishment.

A lot of punishments are obviously futile. Like fines imposed on prostitutes, who then turn a few extra tricks to pay the fine. Or fines given to shoplifters who're forced to steal things they can't afford, and will probably carry on doing so.

A society based on punishment isn't a happy one.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A tragic decline

I'm fascinated by those celebrities who seem set for a glittering career and then fall into a steady decline, eaten away by addictions, self-doubt, destructive friends and spouses, and the relentless pressures of fame.

I was reading about the new documentary on Whitney Houston, and the recollections of her bodyguard, David Roberts, who thinks she could have survived if those around her had been less intent on exploiting her fame and more concerned with her personal health and well-being.

As soon as he met her new boyfriend, the rapper Bobby Brown, on her 26th birthday, he suspected Brown would be a bad influence on her. He soon discovered he was verbally and physically abusive, jealous of her success, an attention-seeker, a trouble-maker, a heavy drug-user, and a womaniser.

He couldn't understand why she always indulged him and overlooked his immature behaviour, why she crushed her own personality to make him feel comfortable, why she was besotted with someone who was obviously no good for her.

In particular, he's disgusted with all the people in her entourage who were more interested in her profitability than protecting her health and keeping her from self-destruction.

"She became a commodity, a possession, a tool for making money" he says. When he wrote to her lawyers outlining his concerns, he was sacked, and never spoke to her again.

Her story has many similarities with the life of Amy Winehouse, whose promising career was also undermined by an equally unsuitable boyfriend, Blake Fielder-Civil, a growing drugs habit, the stresses of fame, and a money-obsessed entourage.

On February 11, 2012, at the age of 48, Whitney Houston was found dead, the result of drowning, heart disease and cocaine use. "So many people could have done so much to avoid that" says David Roberts. "They didn't. They abdicated responsibility in favour of greed."

Pic: David Roberts

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Safety first

The mass-murder in Manchester has revived the old debate about security checks and procedures - whether you can stop someone who is bent on carnage, or whether a determined person will dodge every security check going.

A friend of mine (let's call him Dennis) is totally against security checks of any kind. He thinks they seldom catch a would-be terrorist, and mostly all they do is cause long queues and huge annoyance to thousands of people. And if security checks become routine in one area of life, a terrorist will simply adopt a new method.

A former friend of mine (let's call her Esther) thought the opposite. She believed the more security checks the better, that even if they didn't often catch anyone she was happy to face any number of them if they reassured people and made them feel safer. Especially on planes which many people are scared of anyway.

I guess I lean towards Esther's view. Not having any security checks is just an invitation to a terrorist to do whatever he wants because nobody will stop him (and it's usually him). Security checks will never be foolproof because they're always one step behind a terrorist's ever-changing methods, but they do act as a deterrent and they do sometimes catch someone and prevent a horrible massacre.

Security checks are irritating but they're hardly a huge burden. Airport security is tiresome and finickety but it's all over in five minutes. I don't mind having to show photo ID at airports and polling stations. I don't mind having my shoulder bag examined. I don't mind being frisked.

Surely the tedium of security checks is trivial beside much more pressing concerns like political incompetence, greedy landlords, rubbish jobs and wages, extortionate house prices, and a hundred other things. Unfortunately, in today's terrorism-prone world, they're necessary and they're here to stay.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Cool, calm and terrified

It's odd how my inner perception of myself can be so different from the outer reality and how other people see me.

People tell me I'm well-organised, always on top of things, reliable, efficient etc. And I know this is true - I get the car serviced, mow the lawns, pay the bills, keep the food cupboards well-stocked, and so on.

But I feel like I'm totally scatterbrained, barely in control of anything, scrabbling to keep my life in order, and that if I don't keep a very close eye on things, total chaos will break out at any moment.

I think I'm working on the basis that it's only good luck that keeps everything so well organised, and that a streak of bad luck could send everything haywire. The implausibility of a run of good luck lasting some five decades fails to register.

Likewise, people see me as cool, calm and collected, able to deal with any minor crisis without panicking and losing my head. But inside I'm probably doing exactly that and wondering how the hell I'm going to sort things out. I may look calm, when actually I'm just sitting tight and hoping the crisis will magically pass by.

Then again, I'm seen as polite, courteous, never flying off the handle, never pouring abuse at anyone. In private however I can be shamelessly rude and vicious about that gormless receptionist I just spoke to, or that grumpy old bigot down the road.

I don't see myself as especially polite or courteous. I often think it's touch and go whether I let rip at someone or hold my tongue and move on.

I'm good at holding my tongue. It hides my scattiness.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

It wasn't me

No, we baby boomers aren't to blame for every problem on the planet.
No, we aren't all greedy, selfish, irrespon-sible, heartless monsters.
No, we aren't deliberately kicking away the ladders we once climbed.
No, we aren't personally answerable for tuition fees, unaffordable houses, unaffordable rents, unpaid internships, static wages, awful working conditions, and all those other things the young are struggling with.

I've always wanted every new generation to be better off than the previous one.
That used to be the case right through the last century.
It greatly distresses me that things are getting worse for the young and not better.
It greatly distresses me that the young are being treated so badly.
But I'm not running the country and I'm not responsible.
Put the blame where it belongs - with politicians, estate agents, big business, landlords, and all the people who actually drove through those destructive changes and turned the clock back sixty years.
A lot of those changes weren't in manifestoes and didn't have public approval.

Personally I'd like to see an end to tuition fees, more council housing, rent controls, decent wages for all, an end to zero hours contracts, and stronger trade unions.
But there's little I can do to bring all that about.
I put crosses on ballot papers, sign petitions, attend rallies, write to my MP.
Is anyone listening? Is anyone taking any notice? Will anything change?
It doesn't seem very likely.
The politicians don't care much about the young and their problems.
The politicians are far removed from such difficulties.
Most are comfortably off, with nice houses, nice salaries, staff to look after them.
They don't know what it means to be struggling and debt-ridden.
So blame them and not the baby boomers.
Blame those who have the power to improve people's lives but prefer to make them worse.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Amorous outrage

Goodness, people do over-react to public displays of affection. You'd think they'd never seen a couple publicly kissing before. Or holding each other's hands. Or fondling each other enthus-iastically. Why all the prudish tut-tutting?

The Daily Mail reported that "Emmanuel Macron was seen kissing his glamorous wife after being inaugurated as France's youngest ever president".

This is news? The French President kissing his wife in public? (Never mind the irrelevant opinion that she's "glamorous") Is such kissing a revolutionary act? Do we need to know they're capable of kissing each other? Might we otherwise suspect they hate each other and avoid kissing at all costs? Why is the act of kissing so significant?

The media were equally obsessed when President Trump held hands with Theresa May. And when Victoria Beckham kissed her daughter Harper. And when Artem Lukyanenko was all over Ksienija Žuk at the Eurovision Song Contest.

But it's not just the media of course. Ordinary folk can get amazingly steamed up about "inappropriate intimacy" in a public place.

Unless they're so over-excited "get a room" seems the only possible response, who cares if people are showing their affection for each other? Is that such a sin? Considering the gloom and worry on so many faces nowadays, isn't it rather sweet that two people are so fond of each other and obviously enjoying life?

There are many things more disturbing than a visibly amorous couple. Like people who leave litter everywhere, or scream racist abuse, or vandalise public property, or pester passing women.

The more public affection the better. It brightens my day.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Literary gaffes

I love books. I love reading. I've always got a book on the go and a pile of unread books I'm looking forward to. If I'm not reading a book, I feel intellect-ually and emotionally under-nourished.

But there are certain literary failings that crop up over and over again (in novels, that is) and regularly annoy the hell out of me. For instance:
  • Endings that leave half a dozen plot strands unresolved. I mean, whatever happened to Wendy? Did she finally leave Tom or did they kiss and make up? And whatever happened to Sophie? Did she ever kick her heroin habit?
  • A constant parade of uninteresting minor characters who're instantly forgettable and add nothing to the plot. Why not leave them all out?
  • A plot so complicated and full of twists and turns that it's impossible to keep track if you have a poor memory and an IQ less than 250.
  • A pretentious writing style that equates obscure words and references with literary merit and equates simplicity with lack of imagination.
  • Numerous flash-forwards and flash-backs that leave me thoroughly confused and wondering which day or year or century we're currently in.
  • Stories told by several different narrators which never quite come together and leave gaping holes in the plot that nobody ever explains.
  • A book that would have been perfect at 300 pages, but the author thought it needed another 200 pages to do justice to their literary brilliance.
  • Astonishing coincidences and lucky breaks that miraculously save a character from a sticky end. The unexpected £50,000 inheritance from a long-forgotten aunt or the sudden discovery of an identical twin sister living in Sidcup.
Still, these habitual flaws are all part of the package. Something as complex as a novel is bound to go astray somewhere. A novel perfectly written, perfectly plotted, and easy to follow, has probably never existed, and never will.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Flaws and failings

Maybe it's just another media obsession, but it seems to me self-loathing is on the increase. People hating the way they look, or thinking they're worthless, or always feeling inadequate when they're with other people.

How come so many people aren't happy with themselves, aren't content just to be whatever they are but are constantly picking themselves to bits in such a masochistic way? What went wrong with their upbringing or their experience of adult life that has made them so self-critical?

After my very negative childhood, which I'm sure you're all tired of hearing about, I should have developed some serious self-loathing myself, but strangely enough I didn't. I've always been happy with myself and I've never sat around listing all my defects. I never took much notice of other people's put-downs but nonchalantly sailed on regardless.

I remember a woman I worked with once, who was steeped in self-loathing. She had an endless list of personal flaws and failings, and nobody could convince her they either didn't exist or were totally trivial. Her mother was a well-known poet so wrapped up in her work she had little time or affection for her daughter, but that can't have been the only cause of her self-loathing.

There was a woman I had a brief fling with who was also full of self-loathing. Although she had a lovely flat, plenty of money and a young son she doted on, she had a very low opinion of herself and had tried to kill herself several times. Nothing I did or said made any difference, and in the end I had to part company with her because her gloomy self-dissections just wore me down.

Once you're in the habit of self-loathing, it's very hard to shift. It seeps into every area of your life and other people's compliments and reassurances are like water off a duck's back. But what's gone wrong with our society that this trait is so widespread?

Monday, 1 May 2017

In hospital

Well, having been in the Ulster Hospital for 4½ days, I must say I was totally impressed with everything. It was the exact reverse of all those media stories about English hospitals, with their long trolley waits, staff shortages, bed shortages, cancelled operations, lack of cleanliness etc.

I was admitted at 7 am on Thursday and operated on at midday. I was then transferred to the brand-new inpatient block that opened a few weeks ago, and they kept me in for several days to ensure there were no problems. I was seen as "high risk" as I'm over 60!

The new block is absolutely state of the art. Instead of the old communal wards, there are private rooms with en-suite bathrooms throughout, giving patients as much quiet and privacy as they want, and no long queues for communal bathrooms.

Everything in sight was pristine, with cleaning staff hoovering and mopping and wiping, and bed linen changed, every morning.

The food was fine - hardly cordon bleu standard but tasty enough not to be left on the plate. There were plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options.

The TV was free so I regularly watched the news and also the final episode of Line of Duty. There was a zapper to control the light, the blinds, the TV and call for a nurse.

All the medical staff were wonderful - friendly, helpful, conscientious, well-trained. They kept a close eye on my vital signs like blood pressure, pulse and temperature, ensured I wasn't dehydrated, and kept checking if I needed any pain relief (strangely enough, despite all the nerve endings in the prostate, I had no pain whatever). They explained anything I wanted to know and kept me updated on when I might be discharged.

Before I was admitted, I was nervous that my stay might be such an unpleasant ordeal I'd be desperate to leave. As it  happened, it was so comfortable and relaxing I was almost sorry to go.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A hospital visit

Tomorrow (after being on the waiting list for 18 months) I'm having an operation to remove some of my prostate, as it's got too large, it's squashing my urethra and peeing is getting slower and slower.

It's my first ever hospital admission. Both exciting and scary.

I'll be back in a few days to tell you how it went.

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....