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!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

I just can't look

I've never been a prude, unlike the rest of my family. I'm not squeamish about weird sexual fetishes, colourful cursing, scantily-clad females or TV dramas full of gory surgical scenes and violent stabbings. I object to a surfeit of such stuff but not the things themselves.

My attitude is, it's all part of life's rich tapestry and I want to know everything there is to know. I don't want to miss anything, no matter how strange or gruesome, and I'm not going to behave like some delicate flower that's about to wilt.

I'm not a prude about my body either. I'm happy to display myself in the nude if the occasion requires. Why be coy about it? At boarding school, I swam naked with other boys every day and thought nothing of it. I was never embarrassed stripping off for a new girlfriend either.

There's nothing offensive or unsightly about my body, so why hide it? I couldn't care less how it shapes up compared to other bodies. It is what it is, and if people are sniffy about it, that's their problem.

I don't believe people are really as sensitive and finicky as they make out. Are they truly so fragile that a splash of blood or a juicy expletive gives them an attack of the vapours and has to be instantly banished?

I can understand it if someone who's been personally involved in some especially grisly and horrific event can't bear seeing something that triggers off memories and painful emotions. That's rather different from twitchy squeamishness.

But I'm surprised how many people flinch at the sight (or even thought) of blood. It's just a red liquid, right? I suppose for some it's the association with accidents and tragedies. Or it's the idea of yourself bleeding. Or it's just a defensive reaction.

Show me everything, warts and all. I can handle it.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

More undesirables

Way back in 2011, I listed a few things I thought the world could do without, things that are pointless, annoying or ridiculous. Well, I realised there are plenty more of those. So I thought I'd spring a few more on you. How about:

High heels. An absurd invention. They prevent women from walking or running properly. They're painful and they damage your body. And if they're so sexy, who aren't men wearing them?

Breast implants. What's wrong with natural breasts? Why do they have to be surgically altered? Why the self-hatred? They're just a nice little earner for plastic surgeons.

Aphrodisiacs. Either you're feeling sexy or you're not. I can't believe all those weird aphrodisiacs with rhino horn or cobra blood or baboon urine actually work. Love, laughter and wine usually do the trick.

Nibbles. What's with all the little bowls of nuts, olives and crisps? They just spoil your appetite for the actual meal. And leave crumbs all over the carpet and down the back of the sofa.

Stag nights. Just an excuse for binge-drinking, sexist jokes and general debauchery. And most of those present are squirming and wishing they were a hundred miles away.

Wedding cakes. Supposedly the multi-tiered cake started as a status symbol. The more tiers and the higher the cake, the more prosperous you were. A handy cash-cow for the local bakery.

Twitter. Now synonymous with hate-filled trolls who persecute anyone with unorthodox opinions. People usually too cowardly to reveal their real identities. An anti-social menace.

Miniature dogs. What's the attraction of grotesquely tiny dogs? I gather they're mostly artificial breeds prone to unpleasant ailments due to their small size. Normal-size dogs, please.

Celebrity gossip. I'm sick of the endless obsession with the minutiae of celebrity lives. I enjoy their art or music or films, but I'm indifferent to their marital spats or their diet tips.

Boxer shorts. Totally impractical garments. Not remotely sexy or enticing. Completely unsuited to the male anatomy, which requires something tighter and snugger.

Do add your own bêtes noires if you so wish.

See also the original list

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