Whimsy

Rental Listings

Being a gentlemen of ripening years, and having spent a lot of time travelling around recently – mainly in Spain – I have had occasion to make extensive use of apartment rental websites. It can be a frustrating but also an amusing experience. Unlike in the UK where estate agents and owners normally go to some effort to ‘big up’ the properties they are promoting, in Spain very often no such niceties are engaged, and the prospective tenant is expected to want to rent a property in spite of, not because of, the listing.

Firstly, the photographs. Now call me old-fashioned, but when searching through a list of possible places to live, two dark blurry photos of a brown sofa with closed blinds behind it and a mop next to it are not going to have me reaching for my wallet. Open the blinds, put the mop somewhere else, stand back and get the whole room in. Maybe show some other rooms too. Surely that isn’t too hard?

Also if you are going to the trouble of taking more than two photographs, please, do not make them all ‘artful’ close-ups of a red rose in a vase, or a couple of sparkling glasses nestled against a bottle of red wine. Worse still, a tap, or a curtain, or a teddy bear, or a saucepan. All of these things are of absolutely NO interest to me. I am looking to rent somewhere to live, not draw still lifes. All that an expensively photographed study of a jug of orange juice glistening in the sun on a table tells me is ‘pretentious or bandwagon-jumping owner, deflecting attention away from the flat itself.’ And if you are showing 20 photos, don’t make 14 of them the local streets and sights. Given that I am looking at your listing, and am doing so on the basis that I have worked out where it is and want to stay there, it is highly likely that I will already know what the location offers and will also have seen most those photos before, seeing as you just pasted most of them off the internet.

 Even though it is said that a picture speaks a thousand words, I still regularly come across a description waxing lyrical about the terrace with wonderful views only to find there are no photos of it. Why would you do that? As a result, I move on and look for something that does have a photo. Then I find that the owner has not discovered the joys of a wide-angle lens, so ‘the bedroom’ is just a picture of a large wardrobe with the edge of a bed in front of it. I know most Spaniards try to keep out the heat of the sun, but keeping the shutters down when you take the photos just makes it look dark, foreboding and miserable. Get some sunlight in! You can always close the blinds straight afterwards. So that’s photos.

Now I turn my attention to the descriptions which have accompanied them.

I will say right up front that some of these are just translation errors where the owner has made a valiant attempt at English, and for that I salute them. It is just that the results are often amusing, particularly where it is really hard to understand what they were even translating from, as in “the apartment is located in a building, two floors, accessible by elevator, without stairs to reach the elevator.” You don’t really know where you stand with that one. Or they could just be a subtlety of language, for example “The apartment consists of an entry; on the right a kitchen equipped delicately” which brings to mind the owner placing the cutlery in the drawer with little finger extended. I also liked the flat which proudly pointed out ‘no car needed’ but the next bullet point highlight was ‘underground parking’. On a similar theme: ‘Perfect for holidays, not need the car for nothing.’  And I dread to think what was meant by ‘if a special disposal is desired in the beds, it must be indicated at the time of booking.’

Typos can of course be amusing, as in this one I saw: ‘The complex has a communal poo which is heated in the winter.’ It’s bad enough to admit to having one but to heat it as well?

How about the enigmatic ‘you can also enjoy the night, where we find different places both in the center and on the beach’ – I won’t even begin to unpick that one. Although I was not taken by one listing that described itself as ‘fine apartment located in a puddle’, I was more intrigued by the one that introduced itself as ‘flirty apartment for rent’ and another that offered a ‘lovly housse with lovly lovers’. As this last one also stated that it had 10 beds but only 1 bedroom, perhaps they were just being upfront and honest. Talking of honesty, another one stated “You have the ceiling half-fallen”, but at least the floor was solid, whereas you can’t be too sure with this one: “Kitchen furnished with appliances and soil of parquet.” Some will even boast about features you would think would come as standard: “Upstairs HAVE ROOF, laundry ROOF, AND A ROOM.” Yaaay! Always wanted one of those.

I’ll wrap up with a few other selected favourites: “Historic house filled with wonderful corners, with many possibilities. It would be perfect for a rural settlement.” “The views overlook the typical street, through which we can delve into the city center.” “Direct access to the terrace, but separated by a great closure of glass.” So I may end up sifting through far more property details than I need to, but at least it is good entertainment!

Mental Health

I wasn’t sure whether or not I should write this. I will be treading on some sizeable eggshells in order to try to make an argument that many people will not want to hear. Oh well, here goes.

I think we are in danger of letting the phrase ‘mental health’ become devalued. There, I’ve said it. I know that every politician is cheered to the rafters when they mention mental health, and as a result most of them now regularly do, whether they previously had any interest in it or not. Interview any person on the street and ask them what the biggest issues facing the country might be and they will feel obliged to include mental health, because that is what they have heard everyone else say. Not a day goes by without learning that a celebrity had a ‘mental health issue’ and as a result you hear of every man and his dog now excusing bad things they have done by explaining that they had mental health issues, knowing that this will turn annoyance into  immediate sympathy or a reduced jail sentence.

I think we are in danger of losing the focus on the importance of genuine mental health concerns by throwing the net over basic emotions. For example, say I did really badly in my exams (it is not hard to imagine). In the old days I would get very depressed, annoyed, and maybe angry. Then I would pick myself up and maybe try to retake them. People would put their arm round my shoulder, give me words of encouragement, and help me over the bad times. Nowadays, I would be able to wallow in the fact that my bad exam results had given me a ‘mental health issue’. If you think that sounds far-fetched, I heard a young girl on the radio recounting that exact scenario. By using a medical term like this, it trivialises people who are genuinely suffering from mental health problems and cannot live without medication. We have to draw a line between an illness, and an emotion. They are two different things. I appreciate this is not always easy to do. If you are feeling a bit depressed, and are prescribed anti-depressants which help, have you suffered a mental health issue, or was that just a over-stimulated emotion caused by a bad thing, or combination of bad things, happening to you?

I do think there is a lot of bandwagon-jumping going on at the moment, not helped by having so many famous people ‘coming out’ and thereby encouraging the general public to think that admitting they have a mental health issue is a great thing to do, whether they have one or not.

I know I am no expert, but then nor are most people who self-diagnose and then publicise their condition. Let’s just remember that we all have emotions that make us happy and sad, and having a genuine mental health issue is a level above that. Aaahh, shoot, I’ve got egg yolk all over my soles…..

Attention To Detail

I bought a wi-fi printer recently. Setting it up, with all the network connectivity required, was quite complex, yet the process worked flawlessly and the instructions were clear and well written. At the end of the exercise, with my printer fully operational, I found myself being really surprised that nothing had gone wrong and I had not been required at any stage to utter an expletive. But why was I surprised?

Business has always been a dichotomy between creating a ‘thing’ that will be wanted by lots of people and will get a return (and hopefully profit) on your investment as quickly as possible, and making sure that you take enough time in its creation and testing to ensure that it works and will not result in customers complaining or returning the ‘thing’. Speed to market vs robust design and manufacture, with the sword of cost hanging over the whole equation.  All pretty obvious and probably didn’t need me to write it down.

But what can get missed is that this applies not just to the original product, but subsequent tweaks and ‘improvements’ after it has been launched. How many times do you see a well-loved phone app ruined by an upgrade with thousands of dismayed customer reviews asking ‘why did you do this? It was perfect before and now you have made it unusable!’ (actual quote). Often the company feels it knows better than its customers and whatever functionality changes they now come up with will be received with rapturous delight because they are on a roll. Big mistake! Or maybe they had a too-small budget for testing and a misplaced confidence in the expertise of their developers because nothing major went wrong last time, or perhaps a ‘set in stone’ delivery date to meet a manager’s bonus target which took no account of the work involved. All these things are not unusual.

So what little mantra could remind everyone of how to be successful in business? As we all love (ok, hate) acronyms how about ATD – Attention To Detail. It’s obvious, yes, but so often sacrificed on the altar of ‘agility’ and delivery. I have lost count of the number of times I have logged on to a website or used a piece of software that has such basic errors – telling you to proceed to a page that doesn’t exist, or presenting you with a confirmation button that doesn’t work, for example – that you have to wonder if they even did so much as one testing run-through before rushing to market with dollar signs in their eyes.

ATD requires three things: good routines and processes, people who are good at it and want to do it, and time. I suspect that some companies think that if their processes are good, they are covered. But  no – they need to attend to all three. So if all companies focused on ATD, everything in the world, like my printer, would work first time! Now there’s a target to aim for…..

Long Hours

You can do anything with statistics but surveys have shown that the UK and Spain end up being fairly similar when it comes to the average number of hours worked per week:  36.55 and 36.52 respectively. But hidden in those figures are people who work much longer hours than that.

In a large office environment – where I spent most of my working life – it was always the same people who clung resolutely to their desks as everyone else went home, and were often still there many hours later. I know this because I was one of them. Why did we do it? We certainly didn’t get paid for it. No, the reward was satisfying ourselves that we were doing a good job and going the extra mile, even when not under any particular pressure to do so. Yet despite this apparent dedication to the company, senior management tended to view us very negatively. Why was this?

It was because they deduced that if someone is still in the office at 9:00pm every night when they should have gone home at 5:30pm, then they are clearly unable to manage their time and workload efficiently and therefore by definition are inefficient. They must be struggling to get through their work during the day so need the evening hours to catch up, and must be unable to delegate.  Often a poor annual review was the result, and you can imagine what this did for loyalty and morale.

The key consideration most often ignored is that perhaps, just perhaps, the long-hours worker is just an extremely loyal, conscientious and hard-working employee who just wants to get every detail right and without whose efforts significantly more projects and initiatives would fail. This isn’t noticed because it is only when failures occur that the spotlight is shone on the reasons, and if no failures occur and everything just works fine senior managers can assume that it is because what goes on underneath them is easy as opposed to someone working incredibly hard to keep it all on track.

E-mail management is a good example. Many colleagues would leave hundreds of mails unread and expect people to chase them if it is urgent, but the long-hours worker is often spending those quieter late hours wading through the pages of new e-mails and clearing their inbasket.  Ironically the very managers castigating their underlings for their inefficiencies are usually themselves working through the evening catching up on their e-mails, but doing it from the train and then at home. They would argue that they have no choice because of their large remit and workload, yet if the underling proffers the same excuse they are told to delegate or work more efficiently. The only difference is that the office-dweller probably prefers to keep work and home life separate.

Maybe the only way for hard working long hours workers to get their life back and be recognised rather than castigated for their efforts is to find a dull job and start clock-watching instead.

Urinals

If a man walks into a gents public convenience, and there are three urinals, and all are free, urinal etiquette dictates that he will generally choose the one on the left or the one on the right. This allows the next man who enters to go to the opposite end of the row because if he went to the one in the middle this would cause the first chap to become slightly concerned and silently angry at this blatant disregard for the sanctity of his personal space. However, the next man in is faced with a dilemma. Yes, there is a urinal free in the middle. But there are men either side of it, possibly both with larger appendages than him. What to do?

In many countries, including most Spanish shopping centres, airports etc, this is not a problem, as almost all urinals are designed with curved edges, or have privacy dividers, that will allow you to feel secure as you perform your necessities.

However, for some reason in the UK it is usually different. Almost all men’s urinals in public and workplace toilets do not have dividers and are designed to offer no privacy whatsoever. This means that when the 3rd chap enters and sees only the middle urinal free, my observations are that at least 80% of the time, he will chicken out and head for a sit-down cubicle.

So how big a problem is this? Well, it is an environmental scandal and I’m surprised Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion aren’t all over it. Every time a cubicle is used instead of a urinal, 3 to 5 litres of water is used for the flush. Urinals tend to flush half a litre at intervals. A calculated estimate would of course be guesswork but I would still suggest millions of litres of water are being unnecessarily wasted every year in the UK by men using cubicles in order to avoid that middle urinal. There is also the destabilising effect this has on the general well-being of the male population, many of whom always feel nervous when embarking on a trip to the loo in case they are faced with the middle-urinal dilemma.

Why do urinal manufacturers and installers in the UK not understand any of this? Do none of them stop to think about how their product is used or do any customer surveys? (although to be fair British men are unlikely to admit to any of the behaviours I have outlined above). Or is it, as is often the case in the UK, all down to budgets and cost-cutting (the answer is ‘probably’).  But it wouldn’t cost a huge amount more and just on water usage alone it would surely pay for itself in the end. There needs to be a set of rules or industry guidelines that must be followed for all urinal installations so that either dividers or more sensitively designed urinals become mandatory.

I’ve even thought of a slogan: “Wee demand urinal privacy”.  Lobby your MP!

Man At Bar

A man walks into a bar. He’s a travelling salesman. He looks like George Clooney, which is no coincidence because that is who he is. It’s a film, you see.  He sits at the bar and orders a scotch and soda. He notices an attractive single lady sitting on her own further along the bar. She is pretending not to notice him whilst deliberately ignoring all of the other far less handsome men in the bar who have certainly noticed her. He waits a moment, then calls over the bartender. “A drink for the lady” he says, nodding his head in her direction. The bartender glances over. “Shall I say who it’s from?” “Sure”, he replies suavely. Another glass of white wine is quietly placed in front of the attractive lady. She flicks her hair and looks over at the salesman. She smiles and raises her glass a little. He raises his in reply, a silent but knowing toast. Before he knows it she has sashayed across and is sitting next to him. “Hi” she says. An hour later they are in his hotel bedroom and she doesn’t leave until the next morning.

If the above scenario seems familiar, it is probably because you have seen it, or variants of it, numerous times in films, and not always (although probably quite often) with George Clooney. Any Hollywood leading man will do. Yet films are supposed to reflect reality (except when they deliberately don’t), so allow me to re-write my little screenplay excerpt to reflect what really happens in real life.

A man walks into a bar. He looks like a travelling salesman, which is no coincidence because that is who he is. It’s not a film, you see.  He sits at the bar and orders a beer. He scans the room and is not surprised to see that there are no attractive single ladies sitting on their own further along the bar, or anywhere else for that matter.  Just groups of people chatting and a few other single men like him. He does spot a couple of plain middle-aged ladies in a corner but immediately pretends not to have noticed them. He downs his pint. He waits a moment, then calls over the bartender. “Another beer please” he says, nodding his head at the empty glass in front of him. Another pint of beer is quietly placed in front of him. He looks around again. Alcohol seems to have made the middle-aged ladies seem more attractive now, but they are ignoring him anyway, which is no surprise. An hour later he is in his hotel room on his own watching TV. He doesn’t leave the room until the next morning.

I will concede that the real life version wouldn’t make a great film. In the first scenario, I have also skipped past the hour of sparkling and witty conversation where amusing verbal jousting from both sides is unrelentingly smart. The protagonists can do this because scriptwriters have laboured for weeks over every word. But for many of us, real life being like that is about as likely as finding an attractive single woman at a bar who thinks you look like George Clooney.

Stupid

The world is full of stupid people doing stupid things. All around me, all the time, a level of ineptitude that can only be explained by the fact that a large percentage of the population must surely be clinically daft. And stupidity comes in many guises: politics, religion, administration and business are always a gold mine of nincompoopery, but there are examples everywhere, as evidenced by this completely random top-of-my-head selection:

Town planners who signpost your selected destination for the first three roundabouts, but not the last two.  People who still text or phone while driving, which even they must know is statistically as dangerous as drunk driving. Footballers who regularly commit pointless and unnecessary fouls in dangerous positions that frequently lead directly to the opponents scoring. People who create instructions for putting flat-pack furniture together that don’t make sense because there is no hole G into which you are supposed to insert dowel B. A group of siblings who spend £1m on lawyer’s fees in the courts arguing over what was a £1m inheritance. Creationists who deny the existence of dinosaurs despite overwhelming evidence because they would rather take literally what is in a two thousand year old book. Experienced athletes who ease up at the line at an Olympics semi-final to ‘save energy’ and get pipped at the post. People renting their apartments online who think they will entice prospective tenants with just two dingy blurred photos, both of a sofa. The Flat Earth Society. Reckless tombstoning (google it). The list is endless.

But how do we define stupidity? Often it is un-arguable, but it can also be subjective. Most people would agree that you should judge it against a benchmark of common sense. But who defines common sense? We all think we have it, and presumably we all consider that the judgements we make are founded on it. But one man’s common sense can be another man’s nonsense.

Of course I myself could in no way be considered stupid; it is the buffoons around me who are the problem.  But wait…. who was it who spent time and money fixing a brass sign saying ‘please shut the gate’ to the inside of my gate, so it was not visible when the gate was open and could only be seen when the gate was already shut? Who spent 50 minutes on the phone waiting for a call centre to answer, then as soon as it did, managed to press the ‘terminate call’ button instead of the speakerphone button? Who walked 4 miles to a cheap supermarket yesterday to get some bread, bought some other things while I was there, and got home to find the one thing I had forgotten to buy was the bread? Yes, alright, alright, it was me.

We all do stupid things occasionally, yet funnily enough we judge other people’s stupidity much more harshly than our own. They are prize idiots, we just made an uncharacteristic mistake. Well at least that’s one thing we can all agree on.

Bank Life

Within a three hundred yard radius of where I live here in Spain there are 12 bank branches. If anyone living in the UK today was to claim this they would be told to go and lie down and come back when they feel better. From over 20,000 branches in 1988, the UK is now rapidly approaching 7,000 with more closures being announced every year. But although Spanish banks are also implementing branch closures now, Spain still has four times as many branches per head of the population as the UK. In my town we used to have two Santander branches within 50 yards of each other but rather than close one they just moved it further up the road!

The other day I was in the rare situation of needing to pay some money into my bank account rather than taking it out.  Blowing the dust off my bank details, I undertook the challenging 2 minute walk to my local branch and walked straight into the back of a long queue. There were four staff in the cashier office, but three of them were joking with the one attendant manning a window while the queuing customers stared impatiently in the vain hope that fierce looks would encourage them to speed up a bit or perhaps even open another window.  As I stood there watching the slow, leisurely pace of life within that bank, I was reminded of how banking felt in England back in the old days –  those golden, olden times when we used to have branches in every town and online banking wasn’t even a gleam in anybody’s eye. Yet back then a visit to your bank to withdraw £10 did mean standing in a queue behind someone applying for a mortgage, everything required bits of paper and the staff always looked very busy attending to business but rarely attended to customers. Although banking in Spain is not exactly like this today, it still feels a little bit as though it is, and they do certainly like their bits of paper. If there is a word for nostalgia that doesn’t evoke lovely memories – and I propose ‘nastalgia’ – then I felt a slight whiff of it standing there.

Obviously banks here have online banking too, and this is my first choice unless I have no option, as I really don’t like standing aimlessly in a stuffy bank for 25 minutes. Those in the know predict that as online usage grows, then much like Britain, bank closures in Spain will accelerate. As banks try to stem losses, mergers are also on the cards so again that could contribute to local branch decline. I expect then, that in 10 years’ time when I look back at the opening sentence of this article having just driven 5 miles to get to the nearest bank, I will feel much like many people in the UK do now as they see the last bank in town close its doors – nostalgia rather than nastalgia.

Down Below

I used to live on the 8th floor of a Spanish apartment block, overlooking the main avenue in the town. I would quite often take a quick glance down to the street below and find myself still there 10 minutes later, gawping thoughtlessly at all the people and vehicles below as they went about their daily business, unaware that they were being watched.

And people watching from above works very well as it is extremely unlikely that anyone will look up and see you, so you can stare away without having to avert your gaze in a way that would probably earn you a smack in the face if conducted at street level.

The disadvantage of having such a view is that, much like everyone turning to look at what is causing the siren noise even though it is almost always just yet another police car or ambulance,  you hear things that cause you to rush to the window on the basis that it could be something worth seeing.

Car horns generally are a bit of a dilemma as human nature dictates that when you hear a loud ‘parp!’, you are intrigued to see what might be going on, so more often than not I expectantly rushed to the window only to be rewarded by the sight of a driver who has spotted someone they know on the pavement, or the gas bottle lorry arriving at the petrol station opposite and announcing his arrival with a series of unnecessarily lengthy toots. Neither event sets the heart racing with excitement.

 I heard a short toot and a bang once, but the bangs are usually someone closing a communal bin lid right underneath so I usually ignored them. It was only when some shouting was heard a bit later that I glanced down and saw a long queue of cars stuck behind an Audi sporting a smashed-in bonnet and a detached bumper. In front of it, the owner of a little work van with a crumpled backside (the car, not the owner) was gesturing unhappily at the Audi owner, who was shrugging his shoulders as though it was nothing to do with him. The entertainment then came in watching all the cars behind trying to reverse back up the road and re-route via the side lane. Further hilarity ensued when the crumpled van owner (punch line not required this time) and the Audi owner decided to push their cars across a pedestrian crossing onto the side road, thereby blocking the last few re-routed cars who had just spent ages reversing up the main road, requiring them to then re-reverse back onto the main road again. I’ll bet they weren’t laughing as much as I was.

So sea views and mountain views are old hat, what you want is a street view! However, should anyone selling an upper floor apartment over a busy road attempt to use that line in the hope that it will clinch a sale, please keep your expectations low.  

Sirens

I was driving along through town the other day, and as I approached some traffic lights, the lady in the car in front of me appeared to look down at her handbrake area and pick something up, then she suddenly braked and stopped. I assumed she was pulling over to answer her phone. Seeing that it would not be easy to get past her, I sat there waiting for her to move on again, but when she didn’t I checked my side mirror, gave her a beep and managed to manoeuvre past, raising my hand at her to indicate my displeasure at her failure to indicate. To my surprise her face was contorted with anger and she gestured back with equal force. What was her problem?

It was only when again checking my rear view mirror after getting past her that I noticed an ambulance – blue lights only, no sirens – gradually bearing down on us from some distance behind. So before it reached me I pulled to the side and let it past. Meanwhile, the lady I had squeezed past, fury still etched on her face, raced to catch up and started giving me V signs and mouthing obscenities at me from behind. I held up my hand to apologise but that did not placate her. She tailgated me then when I finally turned left she roared past in a red mist as though trying to catch Lewis Hamilton.

Let’s rewind: the over-angry lady had clearly glanced in her rear view mirror and noticed the distant flicker of blue lights about half a mile behind her. Rather than carrying on until the ambulance was a bit closer, she had suddenly pulled up way before she needed to, even though the road was wider a few hundred yards further on. Presumably her simultaneous rummage around as though looking for a phone was just coincidental. What was I supposed to do? I had heard no siren to alert me and so my attention was focused on her behaviour in front of me as I had been forced to brake suddenly. She did not seem to comprehend that I may not at that instant have also noticed the distant ambulance behind me.

It led me to wonder what the correct etiquette is in these circumstances. How soon do you pull over when you notice an emergency vehicle coming up behind you? Does the lack of any audible warning when approaching traffic mean that the ambulance is not in quite such a hurry? You do see a lot of drivers who develop ‘rabbit in headlights’ syndrome when an emergency services vehicle is bearing down on them and manage to get in the way rather than out of it.  For most drivers, though, common sense comes into play and you pull over in the most appropriate place, at the appropriate time. It is just a shame that you can’t always teach common sense.

MisSpoken

I have a relative (anonymity requested) who regularly creates sentences that sound fine in her head but when they emerge from her mouth contain unintended or mixed-up words that can either render the sentence meaningless or amusing, or both.

Here are some examples. She once finished an argument with what she triumphantly thought was the decisive question “How would you like it if the foot was on the other shoe?” which had the unintended consequence of causing the object of her anger (me) to collapse in fits of laughter. After complaining of a pain in her wrist, she announced “I think I’ve got repetitive arm syndrome.” She wanted to listen to her radio so asked “Do you mind if I put my headstones on?” We were watching some football. Bored, she asked “is it half-term yet?” Yes, she meant half-time.  Recounting a debt collection documentary she had watched, she announced “In the end they had to send the bayleaves round.”  She once saw an expensive house and commented “ooh look at that house, it has a lovely conservative at the back.”

TV programmes do not escape her verbal mangling. Keen to catch a comedy TV show, she said “I need to get home so I can watch Have I Been Framed For You.”  Then there was the time I was trying to end a phone call to her so I could watch World’s Strongest Man. She guessed this and said “I suppose you want to watch The World’s Biggest Man now?”, which would be a very short programme as all you would need are some scales and a tape measure. Driving past an army range on the moors once, she asked ‘”isn’t this land owned by the Mystery of Defence?” Another time there was noise on the line as I phoned her and she explained this by saying “yes, there are some workman out there digging up the road with their dramatic drills.” Her latest mis-speak was to bemoan an ache in her arm by declaring “I think I’ve got that Tennyson Elbow.”

Of course the most famous exponent of word-mangling was the Rev Spooner, who lent his name to the practice of swapping the first syllables of two adjacent words. When toasting Queen Victoria he was rumoured to have come up with “three cheers for our queer old dean!”  and, upon dropping his hat, once upped his mangling factor by asking “will nobody pat my hiccup?”. He once ended a wedding he was conducting by advising “it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.” Another good example, from the late 1940s, was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, was introduced by a radio announcer as ‘Sir Stifford Crapps’.

Why is it that some people’s brains work like this and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes? Indeed my relative feels that the more mistakes she makes, the worse she gets, as she starts getting flustered before she speaks. As she herself says “It’s a vicious circus.”

Getting Older

For many young energetic people across the world the tribulations of the older generation are of little interest until time reels them in and they suddenly realise they are approaching the decrepitude they thought would never come.  It’s happening to me. I find myself rapidly heading towards 60, which is kind of old, but not to someone who is 80.

Age is a strange thing, isn’t it? It is nice to grow older and wiser, but not so good to grow slower and creakier. You can weigh up the benefits and disadvantages, but then you realise they all pale into insignificance beside the fact that at any age from 45 onwards, chances are you are closer to death than to your birth. What a happy thought.

In some countries like Spain the family unit tends to be more appreciative of older relatives and less likely to leave them lonely and uncared for when they most need support. The climate also helps elderly people get out more so that they can stay active. In cooler months the old men in Spain all seem venture out in brown trousers and a dark red pullover, topped off by a cloth cap. On formal occasions the same trousers can be teamed with a light beige jacket and a pork pie hat. Older Spanish ladies, meanwhile, wear what they want but reach a certain age at which it becomes mandatory to have their hair cut short, permed, and turned copper red. I saw a group of five elderly ladies chewing the fat on the promenade and they looked like unlikely sisters because they all had this same hairstyle. I wonder if when the time comes they go into the hairdresser and ask for ‘old lady hair, please’.

Having said that, I just passed a slow moving man in the street who cannot have been less than 85, and he was sporting a wavy reddish brunette hairpiece that appeared to be made of nylon. It would have looked better on a lady but ‘better’ is a relative term here. I have never seen a more obvious syrup in my life. And for any confused readers, syrup is slang for a wig. To check this just approach any rough Londoner sporting what looks like a hairpiece and ask him ‘is that a syrup, my good man?’ He will be delighted to tell you.

In Spain I have had old ladies sit down next to me on a park bench and persist in telling me their life story even though it was clear that my language skills weren’t up to the job of letting me understand a word they were saying. For them it was just good to have someone to talk to (or ‘at’), which was nice yet sad at the same time.

Most of us try to avoid getting older then wake up one day to find an old person looking back at them in the mirror.  Now, time for a walk – where’s my beige jacket ?

Faith In Faith

The societies and ways of living that humans have created in different countries all over the world would not function without some form of reasoned thought and logic to underpin them. That statement doesn’t seem too controversial, does it?

Yet many aspects of those societies are influenced, and in some cases driven, by a religious faith or belief. And as soon as you start making decisions based on faith, by definition you are not using reasoned logic. As someone once said “if you could reason with religious people then there would be no religious people.”  So mixing religion and politics is something that many countries have striven to avoid, yet others make religion a fundamental tenet of their constitution. Some countries have leaders who eschew formal religion in order to provide themselves as a substitute god, to be worshipped unquestioningly as you would a deity. North Korea is probably the most notorious example at the moment.

The key word in the paragraph above is ‘unquestioningly’, much in the way that books written thousands of years ago by people we don’t know, about things we have no other knowledge of, are unquestioningly believed. Most religions have ancient scrolls or books that they are based on, all written by men like you or I, yet if we as a society automatically believed everything written in any old book we came across we’d be in an awful mess.

Religions provide comfort and a moral code for millions of people, and that is a good thing, assuming the moral code is benign. The danger is when people then start ‘believing’ the supporting stories that the holy books contain, because there is no way that anyone can prove that they are true. No-one knows whether there is a benevolent god in heaven and any assertion that there is must be weighed against the fact that numerous other people believe in something completely different, so who is right? When someone asks ‘why don’t you believe in my god?’ the answer is ‘for the same reason that you don’t believe in other people’s gods.’ There is no logical argument to counter that, so in a religious world the response would be hidden behind the blanket justification of ‘faith’. By definition, faith is believing in something when there is no evidence, and society would not work if decisions (on justice, for example) were based on a complete lack of evidence.

It can be hard to understand why so many people unquestioningly believe in something because someone told them to rather than because they have been presented with proof, but that is how religion, and indeed cults, are founded. All you need is a charismatic leader and people will follow. It all leaves us in a quagmire of disagreement, frustration and eggshells (to avoid treading on). Life would be so much simpler if the whole human race could retire all their theories about gods, agree on one set of moral guidelines, and live happily ever after. But unfortunately it is too late for that now.