Stop Global Whining!

We’ve always been a nation of moaners – nothing wrong with that – it’s good to ring up a friend and have a good moan, but whining is something else.   Moaning is cathartic, whining isn’t.   It doesn’t even sound nice.   People in romantic novels sometimes moan with pleasure (at least they did a hundred years ago when I still read them and didn’t flick through the pages of passion until they settled down to a vivid description of a greedy lunch), but nobody whines with pleasure (unless they do so in S & M literature – not a genre I’m familiar with.)

If I ring a friend and ask if she’s got five minutes because I want a moan it is usually something trivial like some old bat driving along in the middle of the road at 20 mph – not very serious but irritating.   But a whiner is different, it would turn the minor annoyance of the slow driver into a diatribe about how it had ruined her day and I’m writing usually ‘she’ here because most of the people I moan to (and let’s face it occasionally whine – nobody’s perfect) are women. We all know people who, when you ask them how they are, will say ‘I’ve broken my leg which is a real bore, but I’m really getting the hang of my crutches and I’m getting all of my shopping on line.’   As compared to those who say ‘I’ve got the most terrible cold – the heating in the cinema wasn’t working and I can’t stay in bed because I’ve got a delivery arriving, I’ll have to drag myself out of bed…..’   Whiners are very draining but you can often end a good moan by laughing at yourself.   A sense of perspective helps – you wouldn’t moan about an aching hip to someone who had just had a leg amputated, but that wouldn’t deflect the professional whiner.   We all know those Debbie Downers – those people who can always find something to complain about and can scarcely be bothered to ask you how things are going in your life.  

Complaining is something else again and can be quite an art form.   Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne must be doing really well in these litigious days where there is no such thing as an accident and something is always some else’s fault. I write quite a lot of brilliant letters of complaint, in my mind in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.   Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) those flowery, literary phrases that seemed like pure inspiration at 3.30 in the morning turn out to be banal, trite and cliché ridden in the cold light of day.   Of course, the French have the best phrase – L’esprit de l’escalier.   It is so annoying as you drive away from a situation where someone has stolen your parking space, and the perfect riposte comes into your mind, but you can’t turn round and go back to announce ‘the smaller the dick, the bigger the car’ – or something equally pithy!!!  However, I do sometimes manage a good verbal complaint when in the heat of the moment.   My husband used to cringe with embarrassment as I let someone have it with both barrels!   I remember once when we had waited over an hour for our first course in a restaurant and a girl at the next table who was supposed to be having a birthday lunch with her parents was in tears because she had to go back to work without having eaten anything.   I finally managed to get hold of the manager who came up with the most ridiculous excuse saying they were very busy and I pointed out that if a restaurant wasn’t busy at lunchtime it wasn’t going to last very long.    I managed to get the birthday girl and her family a free lunch before we walked out and went somewhere else as I pointed out to the manager that would free up a table and they would be less busy!

We are so spoilt nowadays when we don’t have very much to complain about.   Heating bills are going up but most of us can turn down the thermostat and put on another jumper.   Shops sometimes run out of items we want but in this we never see rows or empty shelves.   We might have to wait for our new hip but at least we can probably get one eventually unlike our grandparents.   It’s great to have a good moan but there’s no need to whine and I’m not complaining!

The Good Old Days?

It’s a phrase you hear so often, particularly in my age group – The Good Old Days – things were so much better in the Old Days! But were they? Rose tinted hindsight can make us believe that everything about our youth was golden. Life was so much simpler then – in some ways it was, but not necessarily better. Not many children today would put up with school food as we knew it! My grandchildren get a choice! We ate what we were given or presumably we would have starved. I don’t remember a single child who was allergic to any food – certainly no one would have been allowed to be a vegetarian or Heaven forfend, a vegan. We wouldn’t have known what that was – the nearest we came to it was learning about herbivores in biology. Home food wasn’t much better – but at least the Brussel Sprouts weren’t actually put on before church although they were certainly on the mushy side and an avocado pear (as they were called) was unbelievably exotic. If you had asked for one in the local town you would have been eyed with deep suspicion. I remember when our farm manager’s daughter went to France on a school trip and her mother told me that she had a terrible time as she obviously couldn’t eat anything because there was garlic in everything!

If you were at boarding school, as I was, there would have been no point in complaining about anything. In the Good Old Days we didn’t have mobile phones to contact our parents and moan about how much we hated school. We were made to write home once a week and we believed, although I’m not sure this was ever substantiated, that our letters were read and censored. If children today tell their parents they’re unhappy the parents bend over backwards to rectify matters – when I was young we were just told to buck up. No one cared if children, particularly boys, were beaten at school. I remember my brother showing me, with pride, scars that he had acquired from a thrashing he has received for some small misdemeanour.
Medicine certainly wasn’t better when we were young. Penicillin only became available in 1945 and I remember when I got pneumonia I was treated with the sulphonamide M&B. It was given in an enormous pill the texture of chalk and it had to be ground up and mixed with jam before I could swallow it!!! You frequently saw children with their legs in callipers as the result of polio. The vaccination against measles was only invented in 1963 and before that we all got it and happily everyone I knew survived, but many didn’t. As for dentistry – it was very expensive and I do remember that the local blacksmith (who I was told had taken a correspondence course in dentistry) would pull a tooth for the price of a pint – I have a feeling that not many women availed themselves of this service. However, my dentist told me that in the 1920s fathers would take their daughters to have all their teeth pulled (presumably not by the local blacksmith) and have her fitted for some dentures as a present for her 21st birthday to make it easier for her to find a husband as she would never have toothache or the need to see a dentist!
Communication is a million times better today – we can be in touch with our family and friends. Parents can anxiously track their gap year children – although I’m sure there are many times when they’d prefer not to know that they are inside a club in Thailand at 4.00 am! A far cry from the stilted, expensive, three minute conversations we had every Christmas with my grandparents in Scotland.
And as for snobbery – Nanny, who was mainly responsible for bringing us up, was the most terrific snob and there was a long list of things that were beyond the pale! Being car sick was frightfully common! I’m not sure if I was horrible little snob or that I just have a naturally strong constitution, but I have never been car sick. Complaining about one’s feet was common! This could have been because we, as highly privileged children, used to be taken to the children’s shoe department of some large store where when we tried on shoes we stood on a platform with our feet under an x-ray and there were three viewing holes, one for the wearer, one for the salesman and one for the parent. We all looked earnestly at the picture of our toes wiggling about showing how much room for growth there was in the shoe. As far as I know none of my generation got cancer of the foot as a result of this, presumably highly dangerous, practice. However, it did mean that we always had well- fitting shoes.
Many prejudices have disappeared, after all homosexuality was illegal and as far as any black people – they simply didn’t come into my life in the English countryside. As for anyone being transgender or a transvestite – if they existed they suffered in silence. Although sometimes I wish that everyone was not so ‘out and proud’ today. All I require from my Member of Parliament is that he look after the interest of his constituents and I have no desire to know the details of his sex life. Who he does what to and with whom should, in my opinion, be his own affair.
So, of course there are things that were better when we were young but every generation thinks theirs was the best. My father felt so sorry for me being young in the Swinging Sixties as he compared it to his youth. As he put it, when he was young singers wanted to look like a prince and but in the Sixties young princes wanted to look like a pop star. Long haired oiks filled the society pages of the glossy magazines and he was appalled. His parents felt the same about their generation and were horrified to think that their children might have to grow up without any servants!!!
There is no point in bemoaning the past – the present is all we’ve got so we might as well enjoy it!

Age isn’t a number it’s an attitude

Getting older is a bit like climbing a staircase.   We all start at the bottom and as we climb towards the top people gradually fall off.   Some people fall tragically early but others keep on climbing.   Once you get to 70 the ranks have thinned out a bit and some of your number will be puffing and panting and stopping to rest.   And there are others up ahead who are in their nineties and still forging on upwards.  
One of the ways to make it up the stairway of life has to be either accepting new things or deciding that they are so mad they have to be ignored.   New technology is great and I feel a huge sense of satisfaction when I manage to show a younger friend how to use a spreadsheet or use an app on their mobile but that smug feeling soon disintegrates when I open a newspaper.   Let’s start with the ‘minor’ things.   A teacher has written a book that has been withdrawn by the publishers because she described one pupil as having ‘almond’ shaped eyes and another child as having skin the colour of chocolate.  What am I missing?  Almond shaped eyes sound lovely – it’s a description – would it be all right to say she had ‘piggy’ little eyes – or would that be offensive to pigs.   As for chocolate coloured skin – so nice.   My black friends have lovely skin – different shades of brown but as they say ‘Black don’t crack’ and much to my annoyance they don’t have any lines.   So called ‘white’ skin is in fact usually pink and blotchy!   But this is as nothing compared to two things I have read today.   The first is people identifying as ‘catgender’ – yes, really!   Their preferred pronoun is nya/nyan.   Apparently, nyan is Japanese for ‘meow’.   However I suppose that this is fairly harmless, if very irritating and stupid always presuming it is not a joke – but as I think I have mentioned before it is a prerequisite of ‘wokedom’ to have absolutely no sense of humour.   The other thing that astonished, shocked and appalled me in equal measure was an article about ‘Nullification Surgery’.   Google it if you want the more gory details, but in essence it is the desire of some men (who, in my view, have serious mental issues) to have their genitalia removed so that they can look like Barbie’s friend Ken!   I kid you not – this is not just one unfortunate bonkers person but there is a movement behind it.   This is so wrong on so many levels – I’m not sure I know where to start but certainly social media must have a role to play in it.   Maybe I’ve been in a coma and it is actually 1st of April!
And just this morning I have read that stiles are going to be forbidden because they are not wheelchair accessible.   To hell with the farmers desperately trying to keep their livestock contained against ramblers who were not brought up to abide by the country code and will leave gates open.   Although presumably when vegans finally take over and the whole countryside is one giant rewilded theme park the remaining livestock who will die of old age will be too old and infirm to leave the safety of their fields.
 
Happily, while climbing the staircase there are some natural dropping off points.   For example, it is about a hundred years since I went to a nightclub and almost the same amount of time since I had any desire to do so.   At the risk of being condemned as sexist I like to think that women are not as shallow as men in their choice of a partner.   Many men, particularly it would appear, old, rich, men are looking for arm candy and not intellectual stimulation.   They do go to nightclubs and the whilst the staff may snigger behind their hands, they will be obsequious with the lure of a big tip in front of them.   And could it be that some of the staff are quite envious of a seventy year old man with a beautiful 25 year old woman hanging in his every word.   The reverse is far less likely – I can’t think of any seventy year old woman who would want to spend all her time with a twenty-five year old man.   Apart from anything else their choice of music and television would be incomprehensible and incredibly irritating in the long term.   I don’t want to spend all my time sitting with my feet up but the appeal of an all night party is becoming less as I approach 80 at alarming speed.   As a wise widowed friend of mine said when you are of advanced years any available man is only interested in ‘Nurse or Purse’.
 
There are quite a few elements to our journey up the staircase.   Genetics obviously play a huge part, luck plays its part too and an enthusiasm for life.   Keep looking forward, make plans and above all avoid the ‘I’m too old for that’ mindset.   Carry on moving at all costs.   And make sure you fill your days with more than watching television.   I remember my mother complaining about one of her friends who refused an invitation to lunch because she had to go to the post office that day.   And now it is happening to me – just the other day a friend cancelled a date because she was waiting for the postman!    

After a certain age, if you don’t wake up aching in every joint, you’re probably dead!

When my son and grandchildren were little there was a breakthrough moment when they could dress themselves.   In the dark recesses of my memory I seem to recall a film about a man whose life goes backwards and he ends up as a baby.   Judging by the difficulty I have putting my socks on in the morning I think that this might be happening to me!   In residential homes all over the country the elderly are encouraged to make decorative objects from old yoghurt pots and loo rolls – and that does fill me with dread – I was hopeless at doing things like that when I was a child.   And I find the world very confusing – small children aren’t expected to understand what’s going on, but my grandchildren can certainly make more sense of things today than I can.   Take sex for example – certainly you can take it – I don’t want it!   Small children aren’t interested in sex – although they are interested in the workings of their own bodies.   Then they reach the age of enquiry when they are fascinated by pictures of semi-naked celebrities or even porn stars as seen in magazines that used to adorn the top shelves of newsagents (probably still do!).   After that comes a stage where their own sex lives are their major interest.   That is followed by a period when they or we are still quite interested in what other people are getting up to and with whom.   That phase passes and we exchange gossip about hot love affairs for whispered nuggets about our latest doctor’s appointment.   And finally, it comes full circle – we lose interest in sex altogether and fill our time with trying to keep our creaking bodies from falling apart entirely.   You reach an age when if people talk about sexual relations you worry that you haven’t sent them a Christmas card this year. 

Words that change their meaning overnight complicate things – M & S are changing the name of their biscuits ‘Midget Gems’ to ‘Mini Gems’.   Is midget a pejorative term – surely it just means small?   We used to talk about Dwarves – and I believe that the medical term is dwarfism.   Midget likewise was commonly used but now apparently you have to refer to them as ‘little people’.   When I was young children in the playground used to tell people not to be so spastic when they were making a hash of something – never a nice thing to say and certainly quite rightly would never be used today.   There was always a certain amount of confusion in my mind as I had never heard the term cerebral palsy and the collecting boxes for the Spastic Society were figurines of children with their legs in callipers which I always thought was connected to polio.   You have to be so careful today not to unintentionally offend.   Take the word ‘Queer’ – that was a terrific insult when I was young but now it has come full circle, but I am still not sure if it is used ironically or not.   And ‘Gay’ was person’s name not something people were glad to be, unless someone they told you they’d had a gay old time – but if they were straight they might be wary of saying that today.   Our local dry cleaners was called ‘Go Gay’ – probably wouldn’t call it that today.   Pride was something you took in your appearance not a colourful event.   As for ‘Eloquent’ – I’d be delighted if someone said that about me.   I read recently that several films couldn’t be made today because they aren’t ‘woke’ enough.  Blazing Saddles was one, which seems ridiculous as it was the antithesis of racist with the most attractive and intelligent character being the black sheriff!   And apparently the Wizard of Oz was unfair to ‘little people’ although the Munchkins by all accounts had a pretty good time – they were paid quite well and were, according to reports at the time, the wildest bunch – drinking and carousing every night.  

If you don’t do anything stupid when you’re young you won’t have anything to laugh about when you’re old.   Luckily that is never going to be my problem and as usual I have meandered from my original subject – I like to think that this is because I have a busy and enquiring mind although my son claims it is because I have the attention span of a gold fish!

BAH HUMBUG!!!

Sometimes it feels as though life just has it in for you.   We have all been through it for the last couple of years and just when you are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel the Grinch in the form of Omicron jumps up to bite you.   The news is nothing but depressing whether it is the latest Covid figures or yet another horrible murder.   I used to listen to the radio all day long but no longer – it fills me with gloom.   I have just heard that the latest symptoms for Omicron are that of the common cold – surely somewhere along the line we have to start to treat it like the common cold.   Most people are fairly sensible when they have a cold and don’t try to infect their friends and family.   Isn’t it time to apply some common sense to this disease?   There are, of course, quite a few idiots who won’t be vaccinated – these range from the terrified who believe that the vaccine is untried to the loonies who think that it is inserting a slow acting poison into us and that we are all going to die within the next two years or, even odder, that the injection is just a way for Bill Gates to implant a microchip into us!   Quite apart from the fact that a microchip hasn’t yet been invented that could go down a needle that fine, why on earth would Bill Gates want to do this?  

Is it a legal requirement this brave new ‘woke’ world to have one’s sense of humour surgically removed?    So many of things that we used to laugh at have now become unthinkable and conversely there are endless things that people take seriously but I have to supress a snort of laughter.   Take, for example, the item I heard on Radio 4 – home of the woke, humour free zone – about Mich Fest – this turns out to be The Michegan Womyn’s Music Festival.   The reporter described, in tones of wonder, arriving there to discover all these women sitting round bare-breasted and she immediately stripped off and joined them as they frolicked in the woods – unfortunately I couldn’t get an image of Benny Hill out of my mind – completely with the frenetic music.   To add to the fun a couple of transgender ‘womyn’ turned up and were thrown out – I don’t know if they were actually six foot three bearded ‘self-identifying’ women or not but obviously something gave them away.   Not be defeated they turned up the following year to make a camp across the road where everyone was included – except presumably actual men.

The other story that appealed to my base sense of humour was that of the barrister who has taken his company to court for some form of discrimination because he was on medication for his heart that meant he was unable to stop breaking wind.   He was sharing a very small office with a colleague who at one point said,  not unreasonably, ‘Do you have to do that all the time?’   The company were reprimanded for this and told that they should have made arrangements for the farter to work from home.   The alternative would have been to try and find a larger office or even,  to kill two birds with one stone and comply with Covid guidelines, to keep the windows open even in winter for maximum ventilation. I have to say I am very sympathetic to the person afflicted with constantly breaking wind – something that happens naturally as you age and can cause great embarrassment – however did it really have to be brought before a tribunal?

However. we must strive to find things to laugh at during the festive season and beyond into 2022 – if we just listen to the doom mongers and the scientists we will all be gibbering wrecks before too long – if we aren’t already.  So Happy Christmas to all those kind people who have bothered to read this nonsense and even been kind enough to post a comment.  

Non, je ne regrette rien – well not much anyway!

I’m willing to bet that nobody ever went to their death bed wishing that they’d spent more time watching day time television.   My mind has been quite sharply focused during the past day or two because of a near death experience.   The amazing wind recently brought down an enormous lime tree in front of my house and it came down across the path that I had taken half an hour earlier when I walked past it to pick up the Sunday papers.   Having lived well beyond my three score years and ten I am presumably on borrowed time, but something like that makes one realise that it is important to try and make the most of what time we have left.  John Betjeman famously said that his one regret was that he hadn’t had more sex!   My regrets are much more mundane.   I really regret that I didn’t learn to ski when I was younger. When I see my grandchildren gliding gracefully down the slopes I am full of envy.   I regret not going to University which seemed fairly out of reach for my generation where we were mainly educated to be a good wife and mother!      Regrets are for the things you haven’t done and rarely for the things you’ve done.   Do I regret not having finished Marcel Proust’s ‘A La Recherce du Temps Perdu’ – of course, but I optimistically imagine that there will be time for that when I am whiling away the hours in my twilight years.   I certainly don’t regret my (mildly) misspent youth.   London in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ was a blast and when I read and hear about the youth of today I wonder if they are having as much fun.   I’m sure they imagine that they are – I do hope so, it would be very sad if they yearned to live in another age.   Maybe I watch too much reality TV, but it seems that the dating scene among the young is completely different.   A lot of them seem to ‘meet’ on-line and also fall in love with people they have never actually met IRL (in real life).   Then it also seems that if you have been out with someone more than a couple of times they are not allowed any contact with anyone of the opposite sex – including texting!    We were a bit more happy go lucky and many of us regularly ran two or three boys at the same time!   However, in those more innocent days – although at the time we felt very ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ – we probably weren’t having sex with any of them.   It may have been the ‘swinging’ sixties, but nice girls were still supposed to be semi-virgins.   As I remember it the acceptable number of people you could have slept with was three.   Any more made you a slut and any less made you seem like a bit of a prude.   There was also the ‘three hot dinners’ rule – this meant that one night stands were frowned on – we were supposed to have at least three dates before we slept together – although that expression has always confused me because, if memory serves, in those days sleep was the last thing we did!

I also regret not writing more – something I love to do, but like most things in life, in order to do it well requires application and hard work and as a naturally lazy person with a butterfly mind I have only dabbled my toe in the water.  However, there is always time (at least my glass half full attitude helps me believe that) so maybe I could be first centenarian author of a best seller.   Perhaps if I start now I might have finished by the time I reach treble figures.  

What regrets do I have – sometimes the things I have said – maybe unkind but got a laugh.   But it is pointless to keep going over the past and dwelling on things that have happened.   Nobody has a perfect childhood and if you do it is probably rather dangerous! If I had really believed that my schooldays were going to be the best days of my life I would probably have topped myself there and then.  One of the joys of growing up is having the ability to make your own decisions and the worst problem about getting old is that people start to make decisions for you as they did when you were a child!    Her Majesty the Queen has been ‘forbidden’ by her doctors from carrying out any official duties for two weeks.   I was delighted to see her driving herself in Windsor Park.   People keep telling me I should get one of those alarm things that you wear round your neck – and whilst it might be sensible it is hardly something to make one feel young and vibrant! 

Looking back can be fun – most of us have many happy memories, but spending too much time in the past is to the detriment of the future.   I realise I’m unlikely to climb Everest or win a gold medal in the Olympics, but I still have goals.   And I’m almost certain I would have regretted any tattoo that I’d had – the uplifting quotes or the tasteful dolphin on your shoulder may be fine when you are in your twenties.   ‘Your only limit is your mind’ makes more sense when you are on your gap year and bungee jumping over Victoria Falls, perhaps not so much when you are sitting on an incontinence pad watching daytime television in a residential home.   I had a distant (and ancient) cousin who continued to hunt well into his eighties.   His legs were a bit doddery so he was strapped onto his horse and when the family remonstrated with him that it was dangerous he said that at his age getting out of bed was dangerous.   He died in his sleep!   As we get older our motto should be ‘Go For It’.  

Life is not a fairy tale. If you lose your shoe at midnight, you’re drunk!

Nothing keeps you on your toes like grandchildren.   They have a directness about them that one’s contemporaries don’t have.   None of my friends have ever asked when I’m going to die of if they can have something of mine after I’m dead.  They also have a fairly hazy concept of time – I was asked the other day if women had the vote when I was young and I didn’t think I was looking that old.   Most children are fond of their grandparents and mine certainly have a much more relaxed relationship with me that I ever had with any of mine.  They chat about anything and everything with me and as a result they, I hope, think of me as more of a human being than I ever did about my distant grandparents.    I saw a photograph of my paternal grandmother the other day and judging by my age in the photograph she must have been about the age I am now.  There she was, walking with a stick and leaning heavily on my father’s arm.  She was dressed top to toe in black including a hideous black hat.   We certainly had to mind our Ps and Qs in front of her.  

Children want to know about everything but as we get older we seem to lose that curiosity.   Perhaps it is time to start questioning things a bit more.   How things change with every generation.   I don’t think my grandfather would have contemplated life without a chauffeur, my father claimed never to have cleaned his own shoes, and my husband had never used a washing machine (and I very much doubt that he had ever washed his own clothes by hand!)   My son came through school without there being any ‘trans’ children there – although it may be that some have transitioned by now.   My grandchildren talk about people being ‘non-binary’ and ‘gender fluid’ and I only have the vaguest idea of what they are talking about.   As for people using the pronoun ‘they’ – that seems to me to add even more confusion to the issue – although I do appreciate that ‘it’ wouldn’t be a good alternative. 

Every day is a mystery to me nowadays – perhaps that is what is meant by second childhood.   Today there was an article in the newspaper saying that we should no longer have wisteria in our gardens as it is a symbol of colonial oppression.   FFS – Don’t even ask me what that is short for!   Children look at life with awe and wonder and joy – who doesn’t smile when they see a small child splashing in a puddle.  In my second childhood I look at the world in confusion, despair and anger most of the time.   There are things that I love about the modern age – Google is splendid.   I have an entire set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (not unfortunately the rare and valuable 11th edition) and it is rather wonderful.   It takes up an entire shelf on the bookcase and was out of date the moment it was printed.   Google is on my mobile and therefore the size of a cigarette packet (if anyone can remember what those were!) and has (mostly) up-to-date information on absolutely everything.  And then there are the things that I hate – where to begin?   Scammers – the feeling they give you that you simply can’t trust anyone on the telephone – time was when the telephone rang you could expect a friend on the other end.  Bad news came in the form of brown envelopes and were usually bills – genuine bills and not from people purporting to be from the Inland Revenue or HMRS as they are now or demanding £1.65 to deliver a parcel – it doesn’t seem like much but they get such a lot of information from that tiny transaction.   Sloppy language is an irritant as well – ‘Like’ ‘Whatever’ ‘Me and John’ ‘Very unique’ a particular bugbear of mine.   Mumbling – this could of course be due to my hearing but the sooner someone invents and app to deaden background noise the happier I will be.   Celebrities – time was when a designer showed his clothes people looked at them and took notice now it is the ‘super model’ they are looking at as the parade on the catwalk wearing an eye-wateringly expensive and often hideous outfit that only someone size zero and under twenty five could get away with wearing but of course someone like that is very unlikely to either be able to afford it or even want to wear it.   I was looking at the photos from Paris Fashion Week recently and one can only assume that the designers are either on hallucinogenic drugs or desperate for a laugh.   Speaking of which I took my fifteen year old granddaughter shopping in Zara and other shops of that ilk and we searched amongst approximately 200 identical tops to find the exact one in a size six – the assistants were incredibly helpful and ran round finding these tiny scraps of material – I was awfully tempted to ask if they had one in a size twenty – but I thought that it might induce mass panic in the store.

Another of my pet peeves about modern life is the unwillingness of people to accept responsibility for things – of course everyone should be able to go freely wherever they want and at whatever time of the day or night, but is it wise?   Very few men are rapists and monsters but some of them exist and they do live amongst us where their relationships probably comprise of looking at porn and exposing themselves and worse!   Until they invent an app so that we can recognise them we have to be careful without being too fearful.   And it’s not just men, there was a woman in the paper today who turned up at court with a ‘support dog’ and she was convicted of hacking into Alexa so that when her ex brought a girl back to his flat a disembodied voice shouted ‘Get the whore out’.      Sometimes it does feel as though the lunatics have taken over the asylum!

The Ascent of Man

The summer isn’t the best time to write – at least not while coming out of a pandemic. Or maybe that’s just me – the joy of seeing friends, of going to restaurants, shopping, travelling (at least within this country – I’m not sure I’m ready for abroad yet because I find the rules far too confusing.) However, I am now trying to pull myself together and write something as I feel more and more admiration for journalists who have to write a weekly column.


I’m an intrinsically lazy person so perhaps in my next life I could be a research scientist. Before I get any hate mail, I know that this is far from the truth. On the other hand it often seems to me that most of the ground-breaking research they come up with is stuff we already know. It must be quite nice to sit with your feet up reading books and making a few notes and then after a few years announcing to the world that your research has shown that eating a lot makes you fat or that elephants live longer than mice. But, one bit of research I saw recently did interest me – apparently the ascent of man is not as we have always believed – it is far more complicated than that. Take Homo Neanderthalensis (or Neanderthal man) for example. It appears that he is not our distant cousin but our direct ancestor and that people today have one or two percent Neanderthal in their make-up. Frankly I have known men who have been at least twenty-five percent Neanderthal. You must have met them too as they walk amongst us – or more often drive cars – ready for a punch up at all times. Our other ancestor, Homo Longi (or Dragon Man) seems to have rather disappointingly, been distinguished only by a very large head. It would be nice to think that Dragon man had invented fire. Three others are now extinct – Homo Erectus who died out 100,000 years ago – may not quite Erectus enough! However, Homo Habilis (or Handy Man) who used stone tools and is supposed to have become extinct two million years ago is surely still with us in the form of DIY man, recently resurrected during the pandemic and to be found in B & Q any Sunday. And then there is Homo Floresiensis (or Hobbit Man) who was five foot tall with very large feet and became extinct 50,000 years ago. I’m not sure that I believe that as I’m pretty sure that in my youth, when I was already 5’9” at thirteen it was their descendants who always asked me to dance at the agonisingly formal children’s parties we went to in those dark and distant days and my toes frequently had the bruises to prove it. In any case in the interest of science I have done some research of my own and I believe there are several other homininds. Of course, I use the word Homo to represent mankind meaning humans as a whole and not man per se. The following definitions are a mixture of Google translate and cod Latin.
I give you:
Homo Kardashian – a branch of humans who were addicted to self-improvement, body modification and decoration. Skeletal remains can be found clutching a rudimentary comb made from the teeth of a sabre toothed tiger, a polished stone which scientists believe was used as a mirror and several hollowed out stones containing remnants of woad and other vegetable dyes.
Homo Obesis – the chubster – these ancestors spent their time in their caves waiting for their partner (see Homo Venandi below) to bring home the goods. This was before the written language but I think we can safely assume that they were capable of expressing the sentiment ‘What do you mean, you only brought back one mammoth? What are you going to eat then?’ even if it was only in grunts.
Homo Herbivore – these very pale skeletons have been found next to the remains of some roots with bits of grass between the teeth and an unnervingly smug expression and can be confused with Homo Perfectus whose remains have been found in spotless caves with a pile of bones neatly stacked outside the back door together with a twig broom doubtless made by Homo Habilis (see above).
Homo Venandi – these skeletons found beside primitive spears mostly show bones that have suffered breaks in the past presumably from encounters with Woolly Mammoths and Sabre Toothed Tigers and piles of bones from a large variety of species many of whom are now extinct – possibly as the result of Homo Obsesis munching their way through plenty of substantial meals.
Homo Martyris – Skeleton often slightly singed from the metaphorically burning flesh, inside a cave that appears to have been dug out by hand with traces of broken fingernails and prehistoric blood embedded in the walls.
Homo Maleficis – The bad boy who was the one all the cave women loved (or sometimes the bad girl that all the boys loved) judging by the number of notches carved into the stone bed.

Homo Testimonium and Homo Nostis Omnia – The bore and the know it all distinguished by the fact that all the caves nearby have been deserted indicating that their neighbours gradually moved further and further away.

I’m sure there are many more and when I get time I’m going to research it more thoroughly and who knows I might publish a paper and end up getting a Nobel prize for original research or am I just descended from Homo Fantasist!

Paradoxically Speaking.

According to the dictionary the definition of a paradox is: a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.
And: A two word paradox is an oxymoron. Got to love an Oxymoron for the name alone!

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A classic contemporary paradox is the situation with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who apparently left the UK in order to get some privacy from the press only to appear on one of the most widely watched television programmes in the world.
Closer to home the pandemic has encouraged many others to imagine that if they leave their busy lives in the city they will have a quieter and more enjoyable life in the country. A vision of the countryside as seen from a perfectly appointed holiday let is somewhat different from the noisy, muddy and often violent life they will find when then become full time residents. Farm machinery is loud and farmers start early in the morning. Soil produces vast quantities of mud and nature survives on kill and be killed. Quite apart from the gory road kill that decorates most country lanes there are the remains of sparrow hawk or fox kills to found on almost any country walk. And of course newcomers immediately want to change the many things they don’t like. The poverty stricken farmer down the road wants to convert his dilapidated barn into a house but the incomer wants to enjoy the view of this tumbledown building. Of course, if the objection is upheld the farmer may well sell to a rich entrepreneur who will use his clout and money to obtain planning permission for a hundred houses and in no time at all the beautiful, secluded idyll will be in the centre of a housing estate. A paradox indeed.

Another paradox a bit closer to home is the curious fact that I can sleep like a log on an uncomfortable sofa for hours with all the lights on and the television blaring but once I wake up and take myself off to my extremely comfortable bed I can lie in the dark tossing and turning for hours completely unable to fall asleep.


But all this pales against the madness of ‘woke’. As a society we prize free speech but now with the caveat that it has to follow what I refer to as ‘Islington’ guidelines. JK Rowling expresses an opinion – she is immediately pilloried on Twitter and in the media because she doesn’t conform to current ‘woke’ thought. Julie Burchill makes a joke but because it refers obliquely to George Floyd she is sacked by the Telegraph. GB News is a new television programme and I don’t know a great deal about it but apparently it claims to be right of centre – hardly in league with the BNP – however windy advertisers are pulling their ads. This could backfire as, although I have personally never been to Ikea, most of the people I know who go there have probably never even heard of Twitter and would be very unlikely to notice that GB news is being boycotted. Added to this is the modern custom of filling the media with the names and photographs of people who have been accused (however spuriously) of some historic sex crime. The cases are frequently dismissed as being the figment of a disturbed mind but not before they have irreparably damaged the lives of those they have accused. The paradox being that the so called ‘victims’ are permitted to remain anonymous but not so the ‘suspects’ who appear to be guilty until proved innocent.


And finally for the paradox that follows hot on the heels of Me Too and women demanding equality and respect – there are websites springing up all over the place where women can post ‘adult’ content for money. For example, OnlyFans is a subscription-based social media platform where users can sell and/or purchase original content—typically of the pornographic variety. When utilized as an adult site, users will post NSFW* videos and photos to their accounts, which are protected by a paywall. (*In case you are as innocent as I am NSFW means ‘Not Safe For Work’ – in other words DO NOT download on to your work computer!) I read in the newspapers this week that Kate Moss’s younger sister has signed up for one of these websites and as one of the ‘extras’ she is selling her knickers. I won’t go into any details (mainly because I neither know, nor do I want to know) but I think we can safely assume that she is not buying a multipack of sensible cotton briefs from M & S and selling these on! Poor Emily Davison throwing herself into the path of the King’s horse for this!
And before I go let me touch briefly on the paradox’s close friend the oxymoron. Surely, I’m not the only one who knows the sound of the deafening silence after dropping a terrible social brick. The first time this happened I was on the swing at school and I announced that I hated Miss Rogers for reasons now lost in the mists of time. Unbeknownst to me she was standing right behind me and I will never forget how the girlish chatter stopped abruptly and in the deafening silence that followed I knew that she was there. I continued to swing desperately as if the very act of swinging could make it all go away. Needless to say I had to stop eventually and apologise and the punishment can’t have been too bad as I remember nothing about it – only the deed itself.

Why do they call it beauty sleep when you wake up looking terrible?

I hate beauty products – they are expensive and they lie.   Apparently, beauty is only skin deep but what do people want – a pretty pancreas, an attractive appendix, a stunning spleen, a lovely liver?   I’m a very shallow person,  so skin deep will do for me.   Unfortunately (for my bank balance!) I’m one of those people who tries to walk surreptitiously and unnoticed through the cosmetic department of a department store but I’m always spotted.   ‘Let me through’ they cry ‘I’m a beautician and this is an emergency!’    In the blink of an eye I am sitting in a chair with some make-up plastered harpie lecturing me on skin care.   ‘What is your regime?’ they ask.   My intention has always been to have a regime but somehow life gets in the way and by the time I have watched yet another episode of Catfish it is really late and I just about manage to brush my hair and teeth before falling into bed.   However, after a stern lecture from the harpie and the promise of fresh, dewy skin I part with an exorbitant sum of money in order to buy a miniscule pot of wonder cream.   I will apply this religiously for a couple of days, but when the fresh dewy skin fails to materialise – I am all about instant gratification – the tiny pot gets thrown into the drawer of broken dreams.   Of courses during lockdown we haven’t been able to enter department stores so unless we want to browse skin care on-line where, without the pressure from the beautician I am able to resist temptation, there is not much we can do about it.   I once wrote an ad campaign for a skin care company – this was in the dark and distant days of press advertising.   The amount I knew about skin care could be written on a postage stamp but nevertheless by judicious use of the library (remember them?) I was able to write an apparently successful series of advertisements – I don’t believe that this had anything to do with the company’s sad demise a short time later.   As far as I know nobody sued because the miracle cream, that I promised (on behalf of the client) would transform their appearance,  failed to do just that.   Anyway, this experience has made me much better able to resist the written word.  It is when I am being held captive by a real person that I am putty in their hands.   Also during lockdown we have had far too much time for introspection coupled with a renewed desire for youthful dewy skin!   As a result I have been having a trawl through the drawer of broken dreams and resurrected many potions and lotions of yesteryear.   I applied one the other night and in the morning I discovered that it was called ‘First Defence’!   ‘Last Resort’ more like.   Why do these advertisements say that they can improve the appearance of wrinkles – what’s the point of improving their appearance – just make them go away!

We are constantly exhorted to buy these expensive unguents that claim to be recommended by dermatologist, although they usually fail to say what they are recommended for – greasing the front axle of your car perhaps?   Clinically proven, but proven to do what – to be an effective grouting for your bathroom tiles.   All these claims out of context are  meaningless!  However,  I think that I might have cracked it – my skin may not be youthful and dewy but it is plumped up and with fewer lines – and I have achieved this at minimal cost and with a great deal of pleasure.   Eating an enormous amount of comfort food during lockdown has made it more like a fully inflated balloon as opposed to the sagging half inflated pre Covid one!  

Make up gets increasingly difficult as one gets older.  I think drag queens are rather splendid but not sure that emulating one in a quiet country village is quite the look that I am after and trowelling on the make-up to cover the lines and blemishes can give one a rather startling appearance.  When I was going through the menopause I suffered terribly from hot flushes and my make up frequently just slid off my face.   I hunted the internet and found a product that promised to stop my face from sweating.   It was a clear lotion that you applied with some cotton wool and allowed it to dry.   I made for quite a good, if temporary, face lift as the skin became sealed and taut – but I was somewhat surprised on reading the instructions to see that it said ‘Apply to face, allow to dry and then apply false nose as usual’.   It was then that I discovered that it was a product meant for actors who were working under hot, strong lights!  

Why do we even bother?   It’s not as if I want to attract a man – at my age most of the available men want you for one thing – Nurse or Purse.   I think I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to be anyone’s nurse and if there’s anything left over in the purse, I’ve got plenty of grandchildren!   In any case there are no creams,  products or surgical procedures that would transform me into a young Venus – I have a terrible feeling that if I took my clothes off any man who wasn’t actually registered blind would stagger off as fast as his Zimmer frame would let him!