I don’t get it

When I was young, I often damaged my clothes. Climbing over walls and fences, trying to get across gaps that were too wide, or playing rough games and sports. If I returned home with scuffed shoes, I would be told that I should be more careful. If I tore my trousers or shorts, my Mum would wash them, then repair or patch the tear. I would also be told that clothes were expensive, and had to be taken better care of. Wearing those heavily-sewn or patched items soon became embarrassing, and I slowly began to learn my lesson.

When I got into my teens, I took pride in my appearance. My shoes were polished, clothes clean and pressed, and I wouldn’t have been seen dead in something stained, or torn. I took this to be part of the growing-up process, and welcomed the change in my attitude.

Just recently, I have seen many examples of women (and some men) wearing clothes that are deliberately damaged before they even buy them. Ripped jeans, torn leggings, and some items that look like they have more rips and holes than material. This is not the niche fashion of the Punk era, nor something reserved for some inner-city ‘smart set’. It is ubiquitous, even in places as small and rural as our local town of Dereham, and the nearby village of Beetley. Out and about earlier today, it seemed to me that every female between the ages of 14 and 40 was wearing some version of a garment like the one shown in the above photo.

Someone was clever enough to persuade a huge chunk of the population to part with good money for something that others might well have thrown into a bin. I salute that person, for their business acumen, and sharp thinking.

But why they buy them is a mystery to me.

Thinking Aloud On A Sunday

Space: The Final Frontier.

I woke up thinking about Space today. Probably because there has been a lot of fuss this week about the photo of a black hole in space. Scientists don’t really know what happens inside a black hole, but they have theories of course. They may lead to another dimension entirely, or back to one that is parallel to our own. Time might stand still inside a black hole, creating a Star-Trek style time warp, changing the concept of time as we understand it.

That sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

But then I heard that this monster black hole is actually 55,000,000 light years away from Earth. I don’t know a lot about light years, but driving 130 miles to London seems like a mission to me, so I am guessing that 55,000,000 light years is a considerable distance, to say the least.

I looked up how many miles are in just one light year. I don’t really understand the answer, but here it is. 5.8786254 x 1012 miles. Sounds like a lot of miles to me. I multiplied that by 55,000,000, and got this answer. 327 204 289 764 miles. I’m guessing the 327 is ‘trillion’, and the 204 is ‘billion’. If so, it’s a lot further than my imagination can reach, in terms of comprehending distance. Much further away than anything else that is a long way away, I’m guessing.

Is it just me, or does this all seem rather pointless to anyone else? The cost of producing these current photos alone is estimated to be around $16,000,000 dollars. And it’s not actually a photo of the black hole at all. It is the result of pointing a number of radio telescopes into the region, and then getting a computerised prediction of what it would look like, based on the ‘findings’. If you gave a group of nursery children enough marker pens and asked them to draw a black hole in space, they would probably have come up with something remarkably similar. A big red circle, with a black hole in the middle of it.

I am old enough to remember when the first spaceships were launched, and I have always wondered about the point of it all, and how much better the money could have been spent on problems we face on Earth. Since then, we have had Moon Landings, (or did they?) Space Walks, Space Stations, Space Weapons, and Satellites. Then there were ‘ robot landers’, small vehicles creeping around on planets that looked a lot like Death Valley in America, sending back hazy images of ‘other worlds’.

Now there is talk of an American ‘Space Force’, armies based in space, presumably on very large space stations. In the decades following Yuri Gagarin’s trip into space in 1961, we have had some very nice photos of planet Earth from above, the idea of teflon-coating saucepans, (apparently) and satellites to make using mobile phones and TV channels easier. The military can watch their drones and bombs kill people across continents, in real time, and terrorist suspects can be observed as they enjoy a mint tea in Damascus.

But was it all worth it? Do we still need to keep spending money on something so far away, we cannot even imagine the distance in our educated minds?

I suggest not.

Not on a planet where we face untold issues around climate change, plastic pollution, water shortages, disease, and a list of other problems too big to add here.

Fear of heights?

James Kingston is a young man who climbs very tall structures, then risks his life by hanging off of them by his fingers. This You Tube clip is not suitable for anyone who has a real fear of being up high, but it is amazing to watch. No safety line, great strength in his hands and arms, and obviously little or no fear.

Depending on your point of view, he is either crazy, or inspiring.

Either way, he is certainly reckless.

Do you ever wonder?

Do you ever wonder how people who have no arms are able to get dressed?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why so many drivers find it almost impossible to park their cars in a space?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why so many people are obsessed with the lives of so-called celebrities?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why some insects only live for a few hours, mate, and then die?
I do.

Do you ever wonder what the world would be like, if ants were as big as Spaniels?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why some people are geniuses, but most of us can just about count our change?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why we don’t all speak the same language?
I do.

Do you ever wonder why animals like crocodiles have never evolved since the time of the dinosaurs?
I do.

Do you ever wonder about a world with no Internet?
I do.

Do you ever wonder how early man decided to combine ingredients to create bread?
I do.

Those are just ten of the things that I often wonder about.

What do you wonder about?

The Right Thing

For all of my adult life, I have tried to ‘do the right thing’. To treat people as I would like to be treated, and care for my family as best as I can. To look out for them as they get older, and need more help. To encourage the younger ones in their studies, and be good friends with them as they grow.

At work, I tried to always do the job I had signed up for, and keep any absences or irregular working methods to a minimum. Although I was never religious, I sought to always respect the beliefs of others, and to try to understand their culture, if it was different to my own. And in marriages and relationships, I stood up for my partner, and did my best to contribute at all times, both financially, and emotionally.

Dealing with strangers, neighbours, even a bus driver or someone selling newspapers, I showed respect. and politeness. And I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they would be good people, unless they showed me otherwise. Even when it came to pets, I cared for my dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and rabbits as if they were really part of the family. I made sure they got the best food, fresh water, and regular trips to the vet. No animal I was ever responsible for ever wanted for anything.

When I became involved with politics and trades unions, it was in an effort to do the right thing. To fight for others; to battle for decent working conditions, and respectable salaries. And now that I am retired, I continue to show people respect, no matter how young or old they are. I like to think that people think of me as a decent person. Someone who does the right thing. That still matters to me a great deal.

But so many people never try to do the right thing. They treat women and men badly, disrespect their friends, lie, cheat, steal, and betray. We all know them, and see them all around us. When I was younger, it was the ‘bad boys’. They were the ones the popular girls always wanted to be seen with, no matter how shabbily they were treated by them. At work, it was the shirkers, the excuse-makers, the people who seemed to be getting away with doing less than half as much as everyone else, but still remaining popular.

In politics, it is the liars and most corrupt who seem to get the most respect. They are virtually fireproof it appears, and they continue with their lucrative careers and dodgy sidelines, oblivious to exposure from the press, or the complaints of those around them. They are those ‘bad boys’ from school, now grown up.

Many people mistreat and abuse animals. They buy dogs just so they can hit them, or make them fight for profit. They tie them up in all weathers, in filthy conditions, and fail to give them adequate food and water. Society is outraged, and they even make TV shows about this ongoing problem. But little happens to the perpetrators. They get tiny fines, that they usually fail to pay, and short bans from owning pets, which they ignore. They carry on regardless, getting more animals to abuse. And the cycle continues.

Others (male and female) mistreat their partners, even their children. They have affairs, leave babies unfed and unchanged, and rage against any criticism of their behaviour. Punishment for such actions is also puny, and dependent on terrified witnesses, or children too young and helpless to speak up for themselves. Some show violence to both partners and children too, occasionally with horrific consequences. But someone speaks up for them, with stories about their own past neglect, and how society isn’t supporting them adequately. We are blackmailed into feeling sorry for such people, and trying to overlook the severity of their actions. Even when they are jailed, light sentences rarely provide sufficient deterrent.

So after more than fifty years of doing that right thing, there are times when I wonder what it was all for. It seems that those who have never done so much as one thing right are the ones enjoying life much more. And is it any wonder that year on year, it just continues to get worse? No examples are being set by those who should be setting them. And when all around you you can see the worst people in society flourishing, then what is the incentive to do good?

But don’t worry. I will continue to do the right thing. I am too old to change now. But never think it is easy.

A Common Name

My surname is the tenth most common name in Britain, according to available information. Johnson is a simple enough name, but I have spent my life having to spell it to people. Because there are other spellings, such as Jonson, or Johnston and Johnstone, both very popular in Scotland, I always have to say “No ‘T’, no ‘E’ “. But my first name, Peter, is now actually quite rare. It is very much of its time, and to anyone who knows about such things, gives a good indication of when I was born. You would be hard-pressed to find many boys called Peter these days. I suspect most of us with that name are at least fifty, or much older. Times have changed, and now the most popular names for boys are Oliver, Jacob, Freddie, Henry, Leo, and Muhammad.
So at least my dog has the number one name.

When I was at school, one of my best friends was also called Peter. Many of the teachers, all around ten years older than us then, also had that name. Years later, I started working at a small ambulance station that had only fourteen staff. Five of us were called Peter. But despite eventually meeting a huge number of colleagues over the years, I only met one other Johnson. A long time after that, I received a letter in the post. It was on headed notepaper, from The Peter Johnson Gallery, with an address in fashionable Sloane Street, London. It was an invitation to attend a ‘Peter Johnson Party’, arranged to promote the launch of this new art gallery and sale room. I was in the phone book at the time, so easily found. My first reaction was that it was a joke. Perhaps a carefully-contrived prank by some friends, to lure me into something that would embarrass me.

I decided to phone the number anyway, and play along. A serious young lady assured me that it was genuine. They had come up with the promotional idea to launch both the gallery, and the new collection it was featuring. Newspapers and local TV stations had been informed, and the guest list only contained men named Peter Johnson, (plus one partner) which was also the genuine name of the gallery owner. There would be some light food served, and drinks, all free. We could peruse the art on display, without any need to feel pressured into buying anything. She was adamant that this was all for the benefit of publicity, and added that it might be very interesting for me to meet many other men with the same name. It was quirky enough to attract me, so we went on the evening shown on the invitation. On arrival, a young lady asked our occupations, then drew a design on a large white sticker we had to wear. As I was an EMT, she drew a big red cross, and stuck it to my jacket. With everyone having exactly the same name, we would have no need of introductions. It was a pleasant enough couple of hours, but we all learned that just having the same name doesn’t mean you have anything else in common. And it didn’t make the TV news.

When I was diagnosed with Glaucoma, I had to attend the eye clinic at the huge University College Hospital, in London. As this was only a short walk from where I lived in Camden Town, I was on time for the afternoon appointment. The waiting room was huge, and full to the brim, with no free seats. When an elderly lady was called in, I slipped in to her vacant seat, and waited. After a wait of almost thirty minutes, a nurse appeared in a doorway, holding a file. In a loud voice, she called out, “Peter Johnson please. Peter Johnson”. I stood up, and was surprised to see that three other men had stood up too. We looked at each other. All around the same age, and all white men. The nurse checked the file again. “OK, born in 1952 please”. We all remained standing. By now, a couple of us were smiling too. She looked again, her expression one of exasperation. “March 1952 please”. Only one man sat down. Shaking her head, she looked at us as if we were teasing her. “Just the one born on the 16th of March then”. She turned back into the room as she said that. But only one other man had sat down. Moments later, she came back out, her arms folded. “Do either of you have any middle names?” We both shook our heads. She pointed at the taller man to my left, and said, “OK then, you first”.

In that one clinic, on one afternoon, I encountered four men with the same name. They were the same age exactly, having been born in the same year. And one of them was born on the same day.

Ever since, I have been very careful to make sure they are talking to the right person.

In Vino Veritas

Regular readers will be well-aware of my love of red wine. For more than thirty years now, it has been the only alcohol that I drink on a regular basis. I don’t hold with the traditional idea that certain wines have to be drunk to accompany different foods. I always have red, even with fish and seafood. My fondness for the grape even led me to be given a nickname, when I was still living in London. ‘Merlot Pete’. Now I am older, I try to limit myself to two bottles a week. But I don’t spread that out, instead I drink one whole bottle, on two different days, and abstain on the other five.

A regular size bottle of wine holds three-quarters of a litre, or 75 centilitres, if you prefer. The provides me with three large glasses, each containing close to 250 millilitres. So, one glass whilst cooking diner, then usually two more glasses after eating. If I open a bottle just after 6 pm, it will be empty by 8. One aspect of advancing years is that wine-drinking has a tendency to make me sleepy, so I am often in bed by 11, on the nights I decide to enjoy a drink. Modern wine production has seen the introduction of artificial corks, followed by the ubiquitous screw top. You almost never need to have to taste wine anymore, as there is so little chance of it being spoilt by corrupted corks.

I thought I would share a few of my favourites with you. Perhaps you would like to try some, or maybe you have never liked red wine. Either way, it might be of some passing interest.

This plummy-tasting wine is often reviled by serious wine buffs. I like it, though I prefer this less-sweet Chilean variety, to the more common Californian products on sale.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
This lighter Italian wine has a real ‘zest’ on the tongue. It is a wine that goes with anything, and can also be drunk without food.

Rioja Gran Reserva.
This rather dense and heavy Spanish wine is one of the few that still comes complete with a traditional cork. Best consumed with food, for the ideal flavour.

A grape from South Africa that became popular more recently. It has a distinctive flavour, and I soon acquired a taste for it. My second favourite wine.

Gevrey Chambertin.
For me, this is the King of Red Wine. The French Burgundy is dark, and full of flavour. Unfortunately, the high price these days means that it has to be reserved for special occasions.

A short introduction to red wine. If you like the look of them, most can be bought for between £6-£8 a bottle, in any supermarket. Except for the Gevry-Chambertin, which might set you back around £30.