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.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Goodbye, dating

One great relief now I'm older is that I no longer face the fraught business of dating and starting a relation-ship. Thankfully all that's behind me and I'm well settled with my partner of 35 years. Unless disaster strikes and I find myself back in the dating game at the age of 80.

I can remember well all the embarrassments and uncertainties of going out with someone new and fretting over the necessary stages - chatting up, dating, kissing, mutual checking-out, then possibly the bedroom (or car or settee) and sex.

Am I doing this right? Am I going too fast? Am I putting her off? Am I frightening her? Am I looking hopelessly inept? What exactly is she up for? How do I tell?

Nobody ever gave me guidance on the dating thing. The boys at my single-sex school seemed to have little contact with girls and had nothing to say about it. My parents were also saying nothing, expecting me to work it all out for myself.

I was grateful when the woman took the initiative and suggested the next step. Some women virtually dragged me into bed, which made it very easy but rather intimidated me - with a predictable let-down under the sheets.

How thankful I was at the grand old age of 34 when I got it together with Jenny and the trials and traumas of dating were finally over.

Dating seems even more fraught these days. Expectations of possible partners are now so high you wonder how people ever fall for each other and can tick all the boxes. The wrong hairstyle or cut of jeans could be fatal.

But goodness, how exciting it was when a date was going well, and that deliriously smart and attractive woman actually seemed to like me. A lot.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Try being human

The artist Grayson Perry has written a book about the destructive nature of "mascul-inity". Like other men who have explored the same subject, he doesn't think we should junk the concept altogether. He says it just needs a bit of tweaking, a bit of adjustment, to make it more positive.

He thinks there's a more tender, sensitive version of masculinity, typified by men like Barack Obama and David Beckham, that should replace the cold, brutal stereotype many men still aspire to.

I think that's a cop-out. To my mind, however you define masculinity, however you try to soften it and purge its unsavoury reality, it'll never totally lose the underlying nastiness. It's so strongly linked with sexual aggression, emotional stunting, domestic violence, competitiveness, arrogance, egotism and dominance, it's hard to see how it could ever be positive.

I think the whole idea of masculinity is obsolete. It's of no benefit to anybody, either women or men. It should be consigned to the history books. It should be given a decent burial.

The answer to the problem of toxic masculinity is so simple. Instead of searching for some less tainted version of "masculinity", men should simply act like human beings. They should be kind, considerate, generous, supportive, emotional and loving. They should treat other people as equals to be valued and cherished. They shouldn't see weakness, vulnerability and fear as things to be exploited.

Could any version of "masculinity" ever embrace that sort of behaviour? However advanced your definition, wouldn't it still be a bit dubious? Wouldn't it smack of sissies, softies, slop-bags, wimps? Wouldn't it be something for you and your mates to sneer at? Wouldn't it be laughably "effeminate"?

Men can redefine masculinity till the cows come home. It will still be a millstone around our necks. It will still reek of entitlement and belligerence. But human beings are always welcome.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Of all the luck

I react in two different ways to the horrors and miseries of the world. Sometimes I feel sad that so many people are struggling and floundering and unable to better themselves. At other times I feel happy that I'm lucky enough to have a comfortable, peaceful life while others don't.

The sadness tends to win out, but why should it? Why shouldn't the happiness win out? Why shouldn't I fully appreciate my good fortune, even if I'm very aware it's not shared by everyone? Why be sunk in gloom just because others are?

I think I have a problem with the idea of luck. I can't accept its randomness, its capriciousness. I can't accept that if you're lucky you should just be happy and celebrate it.

I find that hard. I dwell on the fact that others are less lucky, others are stumbling around while I'm not. I feel uncomfortable about it. I feel I've had it too easy. I feel I don't deserve it. I feel a sort of survivor's guilt.

But all I'm doing is taking the edge off my happiness. Spoiling it with pointless doubts and misgivings that make me feel bad instead of just enjoying my luck. I won't simply accept luck for what it is, a sort of burst of sunlight that happened to fall my way and brighten my life.

Why look a gift horse in the mouth? I've been lucky. My life has worked out exceptionally well. Why question it? Why pick it to pieces?

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The wrong voice

Apparently business is booming for voice coaches (aka speech therapists). Lots of people are sufficiently unhappy with their accent or way of speaking to ask a voice coach to help them change it.

They think their voice is too posh and want it to be more ordinary. Or they have a regional accent and want a London one.  Or they're foreigners who still speak English with a foreign accent and want to lose it. Or they feel they don't speak clearly or forcefully enough.

Whatever the motive, they're ready to spend £400 upwards to have their voice altered so they feel more confident and less of an oddity.

Well, I won't be joining them any time soon. I'm quite happy with my accent, even though it's very noticeably posh English and makes many people assume I'm a rich bastard with a country mansion full of priceless antiques. If they only knew....

I'm not keen on the daft assumptions, but I don't mind that little extra respect my accent encourages. Service does sometimes seem a little brisker and friendlier as soon as I start speaking. Or maybe I'm imagining it.

But I don't know why someone would want to shed a regional accent. Most of them are very attractive and a refreshing change from bog-standard BBC English. In fact I gather some employers prefer regional accents because they sound more friendly and reassuring than cool, clipped London posh.

I can understand those foreigners who want to lose the foreign accent, though. Unfortunately racism and xenophobia are a fact of life and people are very likely to treat you badly if you don't speak "proper" English. Naturally foreigners want to blend in and be taken for "one of us".

But I doubt anyone would actually hanker after the genuine "Queen's English". Who on earth would aspire to that bizarre nasal, strangled tone the Queen uses? I would want to die if I spoke like that.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Mountains or molehills?

People's real-life identities are very different from the ridiculous gender roles that follow us all around, but if there's one way men fit the stereotype, it's their urge to be rugged, self-sufficient individuals.

The evidence is that men are less likely to ask other people for support and tend to keep their problems to themselves, even if they're being torn apart by grief, sadness, hatred, or other extreme emotions.

It's a step forward that so many male celebs have admitted recently to their battles with depression, anxiety and other psychological issues, things that in the past they may have kept strictly under wraps, but there's still a long way to go.

It seems to me most women tend to spill out their troubles to anyone who'll listen, and their close friends for sure. They're less likely to bottle up agonising emotions and pretend everything's fine.

Certainly when I was young I conformed to the male stereotype and kept my miseries to myself. When I was bullied at school, as far as I remember I never confided in the housemaster or the head prefect or anyone who might have helped me. I guess I would have seen such an admission of weakness and helplessness as too humiliating. Men are meant to be strong and resilient and all the rest of it.

Now I have Jenny to confide in, of course I share my negative feelings with her all the time, and I'm lucky to be able to. But I still hesitate to show them to anyone else, even people I know very well. I ask myself, why would they want to listen? This is simply the emotional buffeting and turbulence of dealing with life. They'll think I'm making a big fuss over nothing.

It's not that I'm trying to be rugged and self-sufficient, just that I think I'm making mountains out of molehills. Desperate sadness? Overwhelming grief? Crushing helplessness? Who am I kidding? People out there know real distress, real trauma, not the petty emotions I'm peddling.

How am I feeling? Absolutely fine, thanks. On top of the world.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

False impressions

I seem to have given you lot the impression that I'm a perma-nently miserable old sod, awash with neuroses and hang-ups of every possible kind, and that feelings of happiness and enjoyment are quite beyond me.

This is a total travesty of the truth - as Jenny could easily tell you - and needs to be rapidly corrected. The fact is that I'm often happy and relaxed and probably no more neurotic than anyone else. I just happen to have written about my neuroses so often they've unfairly taken centre stage and the rest of my emotional life is left hovering in the wings waiting desperately to speak its lines.

I think the problem is that fears and anxieties and phobias and all the rest are a lot easier to write about than happiness and enjoyment. What can I say about happiness except that I'm happy or not? Euphoric or not? Delighted or not? There's nothing more to say, is there?

I suppose in some cases I could be specific and say, ah yes, I'm happy because I landed that job or booked that holiday or caught up with that long-lost friend. But mostly I feel happy for no obvious reason (as one does). Suddenly I'm over the moon, and I really couldn't tell you why. There could be chaos all around me,there could be a dozen crises on the horizon, but I'm unaccountably and bizarrely happy. How do I explain that? I can't.

So you'll just have to take my word for it that I'm happy as often as I'm neurotic, even if I don't mention it. I may be whooping with joy or leaping with excitement, but how would you know? Only if I install a webcam. But that might reveal a few ugly truths along with the bursts of happiness, so I think I'll pass on that one.

Neurotic or happy? Tell you what, I'm a multi-tasker. I can do both.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Reports of happiness

So the invest-igation continues into the possibility Nick is sometimes happy and relaxed, despite all his kinks and hang-ups. A top-flight team of investigators has been tracking the famous blogger's movements day and night in the hope of verifying the reported glimpses of happiness.

Natalie H (Head of the investigation team): So how's it going? Any results yet?

Miranda G (Chief investigator): Sod all. We thought there were signs of happiness on Thursday around 3.17 pm, but it was a false alarm. He seemed to be smiling but it was just a meaningless grimace.

NH: Disappointing. How about when he was watching his favourite TV drama on Monday evening?

MG: Not a flicker. Totally deadpan throughout. Even when he was eating his special cookies. Even after several glasses of wine. No sign of visible enjoyment. It could have been a toothpaste commercial.

NH: Bizarre. What happened to this guy? Some catastrophic childhood trauma? Was he rendered incapable of happiness at an early age? Did he work for some ball-busting multinational on a zero-hours contract? Has he got some misery gene?

MG: I'm as baffled as you are. I've tracked hundreds of these supposed terminal neurotics and believe me, sooner or later we've got them on tape laughing hysterically. They all crack in the end. Except this guy. He's got me beat.

NH: Are you sure he hasn't spotted us? Are you sure he doesn't suspect anything? If he's on to us, he'll be making damn sure there's no sign he's happy. No smiles, no guffaws, no thigh-slapping, nothing. Just a flawless mask of anguish.

MG: No, he can't have rumbled us. We've totally kept out of sight. Maybe it's some religious thing. He can only be happy at certain times. Like when there's a full moon. Or the spring and autumn equinox.

NH: I don't buy that. We know he's not religious. Are you sure you're watching him all the time? You haven't dozed off or checked your Facebook page?

MH: Course not, I'm a professional, I never sleep on the job. Believe me, if he so much as scratched his ear, I'd know about it. He's just a joyless old fart.

NH: I hope not. Okay, carry on. He can't keep this up for ever.

Pic: Visible signs of happiness

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Feel the fear

You know what they say. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Well, I've done that often enough.  My whole life has been a story of overcoming my natural timidity and saying, fuck it, I really want to do this and I'm going to do it.

I fear all sorts of silly things. Other people's reactions. Simple tasks that turn into never-ending nightmares. Any kind of DIY. Looking like an idiot. Setting off some appalling catastrophe. Getting in too deep. Saying the wrong thing. Letting people down.

But over the years I've learnt to put all these absurd fears to one side, take a deep breath and plunge in anyway. I know from experience that most of the fears will turn out to be unfounded and everything will work out fine. So I brace myself, leap off the cliff-edge, and guess what. Nothing dreadful happens.

I don't look like an idiot. Nobody laughs at me. There's no appalling catastrophe. The world doesn't end. Life goes on.

To look at me, you probably wouldn't suspect I'm awash with secret fears. I've had lots of practice at seeming confident and on top of things. My face doesn't give much away. I'm adept at feigning world-weary nonchalance. As most of us are after years of having to deal with things that frighten the life out of us.

But it's not the done thing to reveal your private fears. Maybe to your closest friends after a drink or two. But not in public, not to just anyone. And certainly not in the workplace. There you're expected to be poised and ready for anything. So we keep our fears and our faked bravado to ourselves.

But hey, what's all the fuss about? Haven't you heard? You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Problem solved!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Embarrassing and stuff

That clich├ęd put-down that someone should "act their age" is one of the silliest remarks ever. Why should someone act their age? What on earth does it mean anyway?

What behaviour exactly is suitable for someone of sixty? Or seventy? Or eighty? Are they meant to wear something that hides every inch of flesh? Or lurk in a corner not saying anything controversial? Or avoid all mention of sex, drugs or gangsta rap?

I suspect all it really means is "Don't do anything a twenty something might do because it's, like, totally embarrassing and stuff, and we'll have to ignore you and pretend we don't know you."

Which in turn really means "We reserve the right to control your behaviour because we're young and cool and you're a fuddy-duddy old person who's only allowed to be fuddy-duddy."

Well, bollocks to that. We oldies have spent most of our life being told what to do by employers, spouses, children and parents, and in our twilight years we claim the right to dress and behave any way we want for a change and take no notice of any strait-laced objections.

Madonna in particular gets regular taunts that she should "act her age" and not come on so sexy and flamboyant. She tells her critics to get lost, that she's going to act any way she wants "because it's MY age and it's MY life."

Good for her. I shall follow her example. I don't feel the need to be sexy and flamboyant, but anything else I fancy doing - I shall just go right ahead and bugger how old I am. I shall dance and cavort and swear and contradict and shock and too bad if it ruffles some feathers.

Because it's my age and it's my life.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

A torrent of abuse

I make no apologies for returning to the subject of political abuse, which has reached horrifying levels and deeply worries me as it's a deliberate attempt to censor and silence people you disagree with.

It's now completely normal for public figures with controversial views to be deluged with literally thousands of abusive and threatening messages, both online and offline, and little is being done to stop it.

Women with strong feminist opinions (or any opinions) are targeted. Critics of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, are targeted. Black people are targeted. Sportspeople are targeted. Even school pupils who don't "fit in" are targeted by other pupils. And not just with mild, half-hearted abuse but with vicious, brutal abuse, including death threats and the hope that they're in line for a terminal illness.

Baroness Wheatcroft, who opposes Brexit, says the level of hostility against her during the referendum campaign was appalling. Even now the post and emails she's receiving are unbelievable and "all inhibitions have gone".

It's encouraging that public figures facing this torrent of abuse day in and day out are carrying on and not quitting under the pressure. But many of them wonder if it's worth the relentless hatred, especially if it's affecting their friends and families and not just themselves.

What's really worrying is the fascist overtone of it all. If it gets to the point where people are hiding their views and staying silent to avoid an online lynching, if they're keeping their heads down and playing safe or their lives will be hell, then democracy is in serious danger.

I've already said I don't feel at all British. If I was prone to shame, which luckily I'm not, I think I'd be utterly ashamed to live in a country where such savage, ruthless abuse of anyone you dislike is increasingly seen as normal.