Mid-life crisis

I am now 42 years old.  At this stage in my life I should be in the throes of a “mid-life crisis” like so many men my age.  I’m already in the early stages of baldness; more than half of my threescore and ten years has passed; I’ve already lost one parent and I’m wondering how long it will be before the other one goes; I’m not getting any younger, only older… How long have I got left of this life?  These are all the things that should be haunting me…

 

But they’re not.  I wonder now and then why I’m not burdened with so many of the worries that male quadragenarians (that is, men in their forties) have.  Well this afternoon I put in a search for “mid-life crisis” on Google and came across a list that has been published in nearly all the UK national papers.  The list published in July this year lists forty signs of “mid-life” crisis in men.

 

“1. Desiring a simpler life” For someone living in a developed country in the early twenty-first century my life is very simple.  No mortgage, few worries about money, no children, no car…

“2. Still going to music festivals like Glastonbury.”  I’ve never been to anything resembling a “music festival” in my life and I’ve no desire to go to one now.

“3. Start looking up old boyfriends or girlfriends on Facebook.” I’m not on Facebook and I’ve no old girlfriends.

“4 Realise you will never be able to pay off your mortgage.” I don’t have a mortgage either.

“5. Joining Twitter so your bosses think you ‘get’ digital.” I’m not on “Twitter”—too many twits.  Besides, I work in retail.  Nobody I know would be at all impressed at my joining “Twitter”.  (Although my joining the Legion of Mary did surprise some of my relatives.)

“6. Excessively reminisce about your childhood.” My childhood in Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s was nothing to get excited about.

“7. Take no pleasure in your friends’ successes” Actually, that’s true; I don’t. CHECK!

“8. Splashing out on an expensive bicycle.” I did that right after Woolworths went bust and I became unemployed.  But the money I saved on bus and train fares was probably cancelled out by the money I spent keeping my bicycle roadworthy. CHECK!

“9. Sudden desire to play an instrument.”  I’ve already got a musical instrument, my voice, one that was given to me by God.

“10. Fret over thinning hair.” Yes, that is something I do now and again. CHECK!

 “11. Take up a new hobby.”  Does surfing the internet on your mobile phone count as a new hobby?

“12. Want to make the world a better place.” I’m only concerned with what beauty there is in the world now.

“13. Longingly look at old pictures of yourself.”  Looking at my baby photos from the 1970s I can see I was cute, quiet and happy.  Thirty-five years on, well, maybe I’m not so cute now, but two out of three isn’t so bad.

“14. Dread calls at unexpected times from your parents (fearing the worst).”  That’s something else I don’t worry about.  My mother is still in reasonably good health.

“15. Go to reunion tours of your favourite bands from the 70s and 80s.”  See reason no.2.

“16. Switch from Radio 2 to indie stations like 6 Music.”  I was listening to Radio 2 when I was a teenager and it was aimed at people more than three times my age.  I now listen to Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4 Extra, Radio Ulster, Radio 6 Music, RTE Radio 1, RTE 2fm, RTE Lyric FM and occasionally Europe-1 and France-Inter…

“17. Revisit holiday destinations you went to as a child.”  My travelling was quite limited when I was a child and I’ve been to so many new places since I came back to Ireland.

“18. Cannot envisage a time when you will be able to afford to retire.”  Retire before the age of 65, you mean?  Retire at 55, or even 50?  And what would I do with my life then?

“19. Read obituaries in the newspapers with far greater interest — and always check how people die.”  False.  I have no such streak of morbidity in me.

“20. Obsessively compare your appearance with others the same age.”  I’m going grey and I’m going bald, but most of the time I couldn’t care less.

“21. Start dyeing your hair when it goes grey.”  Nope.

“22. Stop telling people your age.”  J’ai quarante-deux ans et je m’en fous!

“23. Dream about being able to quit work but know that you’ll just never be able to afford to.”  I’ve spent something like half of my working life on the dole.  I’ve no intention of quitting work.

“24. Start taking vitamin pills.”  I’ve never been one to pop pills.  I have a deep-rooted mistrust of pharmaceuticals.

“25. Worry about being worse off in your retirement than your parents.”  There is a possibility that will happen to me and I’m not entirely sure if my state pension will be enough.  Well, I’ll worry about that when I’m fifty…

“26. Want to change your friends but don’t meet anyone new that you like.”  I’m happy with the friends I’ve got now, thank you.

“27. Think about quitting your job and buying a bed & breakfast or a pub.”  I wouldn’t have the gumption to run a bed and breakfast and I’ve never heard of a teetotal pub landlord.

“28. Flirt embarrassingly with people 20 years your junior.”  What twenty-year-old girl would flirt with me?

“29. Look up your medical symptoms on the internet.”  I’ve been very lucky with my health and I hope I will be for many years to come.

“30. Start thinking about going to church but never act on it.”  I’ve been going to church regularly for nearly four years now.

“31. Always note when politicians or business leaders are younger than you.”  That’s quite rare, mainly because I’ve no interest in politics or business to speak of.

“32. Contemplate having a hair transplant or plastic surgery.”  No, I can’t afford it, and even if I could I almost certainly wouldn’t”

“33. Take out a direct debit for a charity.”  Yes, I had a direct debit for the British Red Cross for a year, but I cancelled it.  I was talked into setting it up by two pretty young women who called at my house one morning and…

“34. Can’t sleep because of work worries.”  False.  I’ve no problems falling asleep at night.

“35. Hangovers get worse and last more than a day on occasions.”  I’ve never had a hangover in my life.

“36. Constantly compare your career success with your friends.”  Hmm, no, can’t say I ever do that.

“37. Worry about a younger person taking your job.”  The place where I work is full of people younger than me.  My job is safe enough and I expect to move on over the next twelve months or so.

“38. Take up triathlons or another extreme sport.”  Oh, no, extreme sports have never been for me.

“39. Find that you are very easily distracted.”  If that was true this blog entry would have taken me several days to write.

“40. Realise that the only time you read books is when you are on holiday.”  False.  I read all the time, and not just books.

 

So, of the forty signs that I’m going through a mid-life crisis only three apply to me and a fourth only half applies.  If this finding is anything to go by, I’m not even close to experiencing middle age, let alone a crisis.

Digital One is here at last

Digital One is a clutch of radio stations on DAB, or multiplex, that has been broadcasting to Britain for more than ten years. It includes Classic FM, TalkSport and Planet Rock. But because of “frequency scarcity” and “regulatory issues”, two arcane and abstruse reasons which I can’t be bothered to investigate, Digital One was not available in Northern Ireland until last month.

Of the fourteen stations in this multiplex, BFBS is the one I tune into most often. That’s not to say I can’t pick it up on FM;  I can, but the signal from Ballykinlar is very weak in Downpatrick. It takes very careful positioning of the radio and the extended aerial for the signal to come through and even then there’s still a lot of hissing. With DAB I have no such hassle. I don’t have to be close to an army base to get decent reception.

The Longest (Barefoot) Day concluded

I’m back home again in Downpatrick. I would have written this update in Newcastle but for some reason the internet connection on my phone just wouldn’t work.

So what did I do on the beach and for how long was I barefoot? Well, to answer the second question, by my estimate it was ten hours.

To answer the first question, I arrived on Murlough Nature Reserve at 8.20am where I too off my shoes. I walked along the wooden walkway to the beach and turned left. I headed up towards Dundrum, turned back and walked down towards Newcastle. On the way I took a detour off the beach up to the caravan park and into the little cafe where I had a pot of tea and a lemon flavoured muffin.

By this time it was high tide and the lure of the sea (combined with the glorious summer weather) was getting stronger. I started off by having a paddle in the surf, gradually going in deeper; and even though my jeans are rolled up they still end up getting soaked. And then the water comes up to my hips and I think, oh well, I may as well let them get totally soaked.

After a few minutes larking in the surf I continued my journey to Newcastle. Now although it was unusually hot, especially by Irish standards, my jeans were still wet so I couldn’t very well take a seat in Maud’s ice cream parlour, so I got a baguette and a tea from Subway instead and had them on the grass beside the promenade.

I played on the sand dunes after that before I took the bus back to Downpatrick. So, from 8.20am when I arrived at the murlough nature reserve to 6.50pm when I left the beach at Newcastle to catch the 7.00 bus I was barefoot the whole time (except for the twenty minutes when I was buying my lunch from Subway) – more than ten hours!

A whole day on the beach in the sun! This has been my best Twelfth Day of July ever!

The Longest (Barefoot) Day

image

The anniversary of D-Day was last week and the  summer solstice was three weeks ago. And today, the twelfth day of July, will be a special day for me. Why? Am I going out on the march to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne? Nope.

Today I’m planning to spend no less than eight hours in the sunshine by the beach barefoot. I arrived at Murlough Nature Reserve at 8.20am where I slipped my shoes off and stuck them in a plastic bag and padded down to the beach.

It was low tide so I turned left and walked along the sea front until I was almost in reach of Dundrum. In fact if I’d been wearing swimming trunks instead of jeans I would have been able to ford the little river and walk to the town.

At present I’m in the little cafe in the Murlough Nature Reserve near the caravan site. I’ll give you a further update when I get to Newcastle.

image

I’ve said this many times before and I’m saying it again: Sunshine, I love you!

Summer has started at last

After many months of wondering if we’ll ever get a spring this year, let alone a summer, I am pleased to report that we have had several days of warm, sunny weather. And I’ve been taking maximum advantage of it.

On Saturday I took my usual barefoot trip to Murlough Beach and Newcastle. On Sunday I went to Tyrella Beach where I played on the sand dunes and in the surf. And today I went back to Murlough Beach and explored the sand dunes and the caravan park.

I also discovered that although I’m on the wrong side of forty I can still sprint.

Yes, I’ve discovered something here that I could never have discovered in Belfast or London: barefoot running. I never had much interest in running when I was growing up in Belfast and the only sport I actually attended in London was the Marathon. Not only that, I never liked wearing gutties (that’s the Belfast word for sneakers or trainers). They made my feet sweat and they’re not my style anyway. And London and Belfast are no places for a barefooter. London is swarming with cars, and in many of Belfast’s streets there’s broken glass and dog dirt everywhere.

And that’s why I’m so glad I live within walking distance of not one but two beaches where all I have to worry about is the weather and the tides and I’m not encumbered by such a petty and distasteful thing as footwear.

So now I’ve discovered the advantages of barefoot running, I’ve decided to put in a short burst of running whenever I visit a beach. Nothing too strenuous, you know, not more than a minute or so.

This is my favourite time of year and this year in particular I’m really coming alive!

Heaven on Earth

I’ve written many times about the weather before and I’m writing about the weather now. This is the first wonderfully warm day we’ve had all year, a beautiful sunny day and not a cloud in sight.

At this moment I’m basking in the late spring sunshine, with my shoes off, on a grassy area between Down Cathedral and the churchyard and I’m enjoying every minute of it. When you consider what a dismal spring we’ve had so far and the vile winter that came before it then you’ll understand why I love to lie in the grass under the sun. And you’ll also understand why the words most prominently on my lips are, “sunshine, I love you!”

Margaret Thatcher: Shed no tears, send no flowers

Margaret Thatcher 13-10-1925 – 8-4-2013

Margaret Thatcher, the woman who in her position as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 changed Britain’s society and economy irrevocably, has died.

There will be many tributes from many people who have been affected in one way or another by her eleven-year rule, tributes both heartfelt and shallow, from both in the UK and abroad. But there will be no tribute from me.

From her earliest political years as MP for Finchley to her latest years as Baroness Thatcher, her life was fraught with controversy and her bull-headedness and arrogance made her enemies in numerous quarters. I could begin with her spell as Secretary of State for Education and Science in Edward Heath’s government in the early 1970s. In her move to cut costs she did away with free milk in schools, which led to her being harangued as “Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher”. Few realised it at the time but this was an unpleasant warning of things to come.

The dark days of Thatcherism began when she was elected Prime Minister in 1979. Over the next few years she and her all-male cabinet presided over a period when unemployment doubled and reached heights not seen since the 1930s. She dismissed all the industries that had closed down as “lame ducks” but had not a thought for what would replace them.

She tore into the workers’ unions one after the other. The National Union of Mineworkers went on strike in 1984 and coal production slowed down to a trickle, but Thatcher was already in the process of making Britain less dependent on coal and she got round the temporary coal shortages by importing coal from Poland. With her now legendary intransigence she broke the will of the miners and in the process left numerous towns and villages in Scotland, Wales and the North of England with nothing.

By 1985, with the miners defeated and all the unions that she thought held down the country in the past under her heel, she could freely proceed to turn Britain into the country she wanted, one where free enterprise and a free, deregulated market could rule. This gave rise to a most odious group of people, Young Urban Professionals, or Yuppies.

As the south and east of England grew more prosperous more people were buying houses and other property. This boom in property was helped in no small way by allowing local councils to sell off their own property. By 1990 property prices were growing exponentially and most people on low incomes were being priced out. This ultimately led to numerous people, young and old, being made homeless with no job, no home, no future. And what few properties the councils had left became traps for the poorest and most badly educated. It was in this setting that the poorest of the working class became an underclass, with no jobs, no money and no hope.

In fact only London and the Home Counties were really any better off during Thatcher’s years. The rest of the UK, Wales, Scotland, the North of England and Northern Ireland saw little if anything of the boom of the late 1980s. Like the US President Ronald Reagan, Thatcher believed in the “trickle down” theory which states that wealth accumulated by the richest will trickle down to the poorest. We now recognise this theory for the fallacy it always was.

British Rail, which was not being too efficiently run when Thatcher came to power was now being bled white through repeated rounds of cuts. Road transport was now being seen as the way forward with car ownership increasing. Public transport could have dealt with the increase in traffic in the 1980s with increased subsidies but instead the whole structure was deregulated in 1985. Services were cut away to the barest minimum if not abolished outright in rural areas and towns fared little better.

In fact most public utilities, such as gas, electricity and water, were privatised. This left most of Britain’s infrastructure publicly funded but privately run and accountable to nobody but their directors and their shareholders.

Northern Ireland escaped the worst excesses of Thatcherism — its public utilities are mostly still in the public sector. But Thatcher will be remembered here for the heartless and ham-fisted way she dealt with the troubles. Northern Ireland was already a political and financial disaster area with Unionists against Republicans, Catholics against Protestants, the IRA and the INLA against the UDA, the UVF, the LVF, the UFF and the RUC and the British Army against Catholics and Republicans, neighbour against neighbour and sectarian politicians and other assorted morons on both sides and on every level keeping that fire burning. Margaret Thatcher with her various Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland did nothing to calm down the trouble, let alone end it. The hunger strikes by Republican prisoners in the Maze Prison in 1980 did not move her. The second wave of hunger strikes the following year did eventually achieve something but only after ten men died – among them Bobby Sands. And even then the demands of the hunger strikers were only met sub rosa and over a long period of time so that the government would not lose face to people they repeatedly dismissed as “terrorists”.

And there were all the problems of the “Anglo-Irish Agreement”, the RUC’s shoot-to-kill policy and, most seriously, the broadcasting ban where the media were forbidden by Thatcher and her counterpart in Dublin to broadcast any speech made by Republican politicians and Republican paramilitary groups. By gagging people like this Thatcher was emulating the political oppression of the Soviet Union as much as she could.

Her foreign policy was equally reprehensible. She would not support sanctions against South Africa at a time when the country with its Apartheid rule was going through a particularly vicious period. The White minority government was denying the rights of Blacks and Asians to have any say in the way the country was run and they were doing everything they could to make sure South Africa remained exclusively controlled by Whites up to and including murder.

She always saw the Soviet Union as the arch-enemy of the free world and this view barely changed after she had met Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa. Gorbachev and his foreign minister Edvard Shevardnadze were doing well with the US president Ronald Regan in ending the Cold War and dismantling nuclear missiles on both sides that would never be used anyway. Thatcher, in contrast, made it clear in the most perfectly diplomatic way that, as far as she was concerned, as long as the UK and the USSR both existed there would always be a cold war.

And finally, and fatally, there was the monstrous matter of the Poll Tax. This was also called the Community Charge where every household, big or small, would pay a fixed amount to their respective councils, no matter whether they could afford it or not. She did away with the old system of Rates which had served Britain perfectly well and forced the Poll Tax through Parliament with all her might. She chose to ignore the fact that King Richard II had tried a similar stunt in 1381 and had failed abysmally with a major rebellion by England’s peasants. Thatcher’s Poll Tax also failed with protests and riots breaking out all over Britain during 1990. With this on top of everything else that was going wrong with the UK and leadership challenges from John Redwood, Douglas Hurd and Michael Heseltine, Thatcher was forced to resign.

So this concludes my assessment of the political career of Margaret Thatcher. Considering that I grew up in Northern Ireland during her years as Prime Minister, perhaps readers of this blog will understand why I shall not shed a tear for this woman, her vitriolic politics or her odious eleven-year rule. Every citizen of the UK has been affected in one way or another by Thatcher, even ones who were not born before 1991. Her policies on Northern Ireland were the reason I migrated to London in 1991. The after-effects of her policies on employment were the reason I was unemployed from when I left full-time education in 1990 until 1999. Her policies on housing were the reason I could not afford to live in anything better than a one-room flat in London.

And… Well, well, well, I actually have something good to say about Margaret Thatcher.

She has inspired me to write my longest blog entry to date.