Thursday, 28 November 2013

The agony of divorce

If you think staying married can be tricky, try getting divorced. It often leads to the most horrendous and tangled proceedings you could imagine. Bitter squabbles over every aspect of the break-up, from children to property to money to how much each spouse contributed to the marriage.

A High Court judge said recently he was filled with "nothing but despair" over a wealthy couple who had already spent some £700,000 on divorce proceedings which had barely started, such were the labyrinthine arguments about aspects of the relationship. He decried the "unedifying" sight of a family "tearing itself apart."

It seems virtually impossible for a couple to divorce amicably and sensibly, with the bare minimum of fuss. The long-standing anger and resentment that led to the split in the first place seem to boil over in the courtroom and create one impasse after another. Each partner is afraid of giving too much away, losing out, appearing to be weak, and they keep upping the ante.

I know of several couples whose divorce was a horrific experience, with one or the other digging their heels in, refusing to compromise, and making life as difficult as possible for the soon-to-be ex-spouse. Very profitable for the lawyers but a nightmare for the warring couple.

There have been many attempts to replace ugly court cases with informal mediation arrangements, but quite often they lead to much the same stubborn wrangling.

My parents were sometimes bruised enough to talk about getting divorced. But they never did. In the end they stuck together as that's what most couples did in those days. "For the sake of the children" as they usually explained it. Maybe they should have divorced, but I'm glad they didn't. I can only imagine the tearful and rancorous scenes it would have involved and the misery for each parent as they tried to move on.

A shame there isn't some kind of foolproof psychological test couples can take before they marry, to determine if they're truly compatible or in the throes of some grand romantic illusion. It could save an awful lot of agony later on if things turn nasty.

Friday, 22 November 2013

It could be worse

I have to laugh at all those reassuring clichés that people trot out when someone's in a tight spot or feeling a bit pissed off. They make you feel better for about ten seconds until you start thinking about them and realise they're total bollocks.

"You should be grateful for small mercies." Why? I want big mercies. The bigger the better.

"It could be worse." So if my house has fallen down, my wife's died and the car's been stolen, that's okay because it could be worse.

"The meek will inherit the earth." No they won't, they'll be shat on by every ruthless bastard who sees them coming.

"Your day will come." Probably not. The odds are it's already come and gone without you noticing.

"Always look on the bright side." Suppose there isn't one? Suppose it's a total calamity and all you can do is climb from the wreckage? (Another version of "It could be worse")

"You'll feel better in the morning." More likely you'll feel worse as you start blaming yourself for the disaster that was caused entirely by your own stupidity.

"It's all good experience." No it's not, it's a crap-fest that teaches you nothing except not to jump into things feet first.

"It'll all work out in the end." Or alternatively it'll turn into a bigger and bigger mess until you just want to top yourself.

"Every cloud has a silver lining." Not necessarily. It might be a budget version with a cheap and nasty polyester lining.

"We've all been there." Have you? Do you have the slightest inkling how shattering and demoralising this was? (Another version of "I feel your pain.")

Of course nobody truly believes all this nonsense. The real point is that it expresses the other person's sympathy and concern and kindness, and that's what counts when you're feeling knocked for six.

So the next time I'm down in the dumps, by all means tell me it could be worse. I'll know what you're really saying. I'll know all those silly words are really just a big hug and a loving kiss.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Going backwards

If you thought today's young men were more pro-women and less misogynistic, then think again. A lot of them thoroughly enjoy abusing women and laugh at any woman who objects. Feminism seems to have passed them by.

Apparently British universities are becoming notorious for male students who take every opportunity to harass and intimidate women and still think rape is a hilarious joke. One especially shocking video of University of Stirling students enjoying misogynistic chants on a bus has been viewed tens of thousands of times.

In the video the male students are making jokes about miscarriages, feeling up women and screwing them, while women passengers sit silently, hoping not to be picked on. A student union officer walks away without trying to stop the abuse.

This is just an extreme example of what's going on routinely every day on uni campuses. The Everyday Sexism Project has received more than 100 reports of similar incidents from different universities, suggesting it's now typical male behaviour.

Jokes about rape and sexual violence, rude comments about women's bodies and clothes, unwanted physical contact - you name it. The now sickeningly familiar "It's not rape because...." jokes are trotted out.

One 16 year old says she's scared of going to university, not because of exam stress but because of the horror stories she's heard about male attitudes to women. "I'm scared. I'm actually scared of being a female."

How is it possible that rampant, unapologetic sexism has become so rife on uni campuses? Why aren't those in authority doing more to stop it? What are the student unions doing? What are the university staff doing? What are those men who object to it doing? Why aren't the woman-hating arseholes being thrown out of university?

I can only assume that those sitting on their hands instead of taking action secretly agree with the misogynist line that those women who complain are just frigid, uptight bitches who can't take a joke. "Where's your sense of humour, love? Boys will be boys, eh?"

Friday, 15 November 2013

Talking yourself up

Wow, I can see I explained myself really badly in my last post. That's why so many of you claim you never try to impress anybody, which I very much doubt!

My mistake was to focus on the crudest and most blatant  ways of trying to impress - name dropping, place dropping, clever references and all that. But of course there are much subtler ways of "putting on the style", ways we usually take for granted.

By trying to impress, all I mean is that instead of simply being ourselves, we emphasise things, we flag things up, we steer people towards aspects of our personality we think they'll appreciate, in the hope they'll warm to us and like us more.

We don't have to name drop. All we need do is make a point of how sensitive, sympathetic and generous we are. Or how open-minded, tolerant and non-judgmental we are. Or how practical, efficient and well-organised we are. And of course we're hoping those listening will think "Oh, just my sort of person. I must get to know her better. I might have a great new friend here."

How many people choose to chatter pointlessly about the weather or their faulty vacuum cleaner, when they could be angling the conversation towards something that makes them look good, something that flatters them, something that paints them as a desirable human being? Not many, I would say.

Certainly not me, and I don't mind admitting it. I like people to like me, and I make a conscious attempt to bring that about. Apart from anything else, pointless small talk is an insult to the other person's intelligence. It says "Why waste any effort on this person? They'll listen to anything, however banal."

So I hope that makes my point of view a bit clearer. Obviously I made a real dog's dinner of it the first time round. As George Bernard Shaw once said. Or was it Gertrude Stein?

PS: Of course women "dress to impress" all the time. Is that so wrong?

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Pretentious, moi?

Funny how many of us are never quite happy with ourselves as we are. We feel it's not enough just to be us, we need a little extra something to make an impression, to stand out from the crowd.

It's hard to resist those familiar gambits that supposedly give us a little extra je-ne-sais-quoi but in practice make us look like pretentious, insecure gits. You think you're going down a treat when in reality everyone's wincing at your desperate attention-seeking. But it's so tempting, isn't it?

How about a bit of name-dropping? That famous actor you met last week. That bestselling author who sent you a letter. That prominent politician you had a go at.

Or maybe some place-dropping? You're just back from San Francisco. Which wasn't as cool as Chicago. And not nearly as glamorous as Sydney. And did I tell you about Los Angeles?

Or some obscure literary references? A pithy quote from Jane Austen. Or J D Salinger. Or Mary Wollstonecraft. Or The Diary Of A Nobody.

Or your visit to the trendiest restaurant in town? How you managed to get a table at Chez Rousseau when all your friends were told there was a six-month waiting list? And the champagne was on the house?

Well, no, actually I don't do any of that, though I'm probably pretentious in less obvious ways. I want to have the driest witticisms, the most original arguments, the slickest turn of phrase, the sharpest put-downs. Just saying what I think isn't enough, there has to be something more, something unexpected. I'm not just Mr Ordinary, Mr Average, I'm Mr How-about-that?

Come on, admit it, we're all trying to make an impression, aren't we? None of us wants to be bland and unforgettable, none of us wants to be an also-ran. We all want to make a mark of some kind, we all have ways of putting icing on the cake.

Saturday, 9 November 2013


People sometimes suggest (because I like my own company I guess) that I hate other people.

That's very cheeky. And totally untrue.

Firstly, I don't hate anybody. Secondly, my attitude to other people depends entirely on the person. If they're intelligent and interesting and considerate to others, I warm to them. If they're dumb and boring and selfish, I give them a wide berth - but I don't hate them, I just wonder what made them like that.

I don't go out of my way to meet other people, I tend to keep to myself, but that's not because I hate people. It's because the chances of their being dumb, boring and selfish are alarmingly high.

And no, that doesn't mean I'm an elitist snob, it just means I don't want to spend my precious time humouring someone who's intent on airing their ignorant views about immigrants, homosexuals, lefties and welfare claimants. Or how long they had to wait for the bus, or the supermarket checkout, or the plumber.

Far from hating people, I'm hugely compassionate towards them. I want to understand other people's personal circumstances, I want to know why they're the way they are, I want to grasp the often traumatic and daunting situations they've been through that have influenced their personalities and their outlook on life.

We've all faced overwhelming and terrifying events at one time or another, and I can't hate people who've done their level best to overcome those obstacles and keep their lives on track. I can't hate people who're simply frail, vulnerable human beings trying to cope with the messy unpredictability of their daily existence.

I don't even hate rapists or murderers. They shock and sicken and bewilder me, but I don't hate them. I just want to know why on earth they did what they did, why they lacked the normal scruples and inhibitions that stop others doing the same. And I want them to be treated or rehabilitated rather than punished or ostracised.

I've seen enough vicious hatred in my life to know that hate achieves nothing except yet more hatred. I'm not that way inclined and never will be.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Brand awareness

Don't vote, create a revolution instead. The British comedian Russell Brand is still getting huge coverage for his cry of disillusion, even though his views are less than original.

Reactions are sharply divided. Some agree entirely with his message that all the major parties are in hock to big business and the wealthy and do nothing for those at the bottom of the heap who're struggling to pay the bills and keep food on the table. Why vote for these corrupt politicians, he says, all you're doing is maintaining the whole addled system. We should create a totally different society where everyone is treated fairly - in other words, a revolution.

But others say, yes, of course the political class is rotten to the core, rapidly increasing inequality and elitism rather than ending them. However, not voting doesn't solve the problem, it only makes it worse. The same useless politicians will be elected by an even smaller percentage of the voters, and nothing much will change. We need to make the system work rather than opting out of it. And where is this wonderful revolution going to come from? Who's going to bring it about? And how?

I guess I'm one of the doubters. I wholly agree the current political set-up is corrupt through and through, but I don't share his rather nebulous faith in some spontaneous revolutionary uprising. It's much more likely that people will continue to curse the present system but do nothing about it except to make sure their own family and friends are doing okay. I still think the answer is for more people to engage with the current political machine and force it to work properly.

One thing I do like about Russell Brand though* is his openness, his honesty, his willingness to admit his own faults and mistakes, his lack of airs and graces. And I like it that he's opened up a really passionate debate about the future of our putrid, worm-eaten democracy.

* Apart from his drop-dead gorgeousness, of course