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The ‘No Offence, But…’ Pandemic

‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.Annabella Weir, playing the "no offense" lady on The Fast Show

This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?

As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack in the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and tortuously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.

So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.

Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). What I have found works particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).

So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.

Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.

Very Moving…

Buying a house is weird isn’t it? The whole system is unlike any other purchase you’ll make.

You get to see probably the biggest purchase of your life, aboSign  outside a house, reading "house for sale" in a shabby chic styleut twice, for about half an hour, before committing hundreds of thousands of pounds to it. Half an hour?  You spend a longer period of time deliberating over buying a puppy or trying on sunglasses (trying to hide that bloody tag behind one of the lenses so you don’t look mental). But 30 minutes for a house? Personally I’ve spent longer choosing pick’n’mix.

But if that’s weird then selling your house is a whole lot stranger. We really do just disengage our reason for that part of the process. Take, for example, the phenomenon of “dressing” your house for viewings. This normally involves two parts.

The first part is mainly just hiding all the shit. All the clutter of everyday life will be scooped up and concealed in cupboards or hidden guiltily in the car boot like a dead body. You’ll binbag the billions of shoes you’ve somehow accumulated in the porch. The post at the bottom of the stairs will be freed from the hump of coats that usually shroud it. The fridge will be stripped of magnets and kiddie art. Toys will be stacked into neat towers of plastic or dumped at your parent’s house. But you won’t bother trying to tidy the garage because let’s face it – life’s too short.

The second part is where you add things that aren’t normally there. You’ll set the dining table just in case potential buyers hadn’t figured out that this is where you eat food. Beds will overflow with carefully arranged scatter cushions. The coffee table will try it’s best to look natural with carefully fanned out magazines. You’ll buy flowers. Oh yes fresh cut flowers will spring up in your kitchen as if it’s perfectly normal. You might wait until the last moment before puncturing a few satsumas and let their aroma whisper “buy my zesty house you citrus-loving bastards!!”

But dressing is painfully transparent isn’t it? It’s a bit pointless unless you think that potential buyers have the following conversation after seeing your home.

“Darling, that house we viewed today was perfect wasn’t it”

“Yes, yes it was. A nice aspect in a beautiful area. I loved the kitchen/diner and those French windows onto the garden”

“And great schools nearby… ”

“and that third bedroom would make an adorable nursery”

“Oh yes such a lovely family home”

“…”

“What is it Darling?”

“It’s just a small thing really but …”Orange Gerbera on a green background

“Tell me Darling”

“Well it’s just the downstairs bathroom…”

“The downstairs bathroom?”

“Yes. It was fine and everything but it’s just that the vase on the window sill…”

“Go on”

“Well it didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in it. I just don’t think I could bring myself to buy a house that didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet”

“You’re right dear, now that I think about it. It just didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet.”

“Oh well we have some more houses to view, we’ll just have to keep looking.”

“I quite agree. It’s better to be safe than sorry dear”

Clearly YOU don’t do that with houses you look at do you? YOU can see past the empty vases? Of course YOU can. And so can THEY. Because that’s not the house, that’s just the crap IN the house.

Then there are the awkward questions. The ones you happily lie about. Lets play multiple choice.

“Why are you moving?”

  1. “We want somewhere better than this shithole and we can afford it because we’re clearly richer than you”
  2. This place is haunted by the ghost of a dead peadophile and we hate the neighbours – their cats shit all over our garden.
  3. My husband’s work.

“Does the garden get the sun?”

  1. No it get’s the fucking Telegraph you bum diseased yokel.
  2. On midsummers day for about 10 minutes. Other than that it’s like an outside cave. Only darker.
  3. All the time. Oh yes we’re very lucky.

“Are the local schools good?”

  1. They’re good if you want to score drugs.
  2. Their metal detectors are good –  they have to be what with all the flick-knives…
  3. Very good. Certainly well up there in all the league tables.

If you answered mostly Cs you are a liar (and a perfectly normal person trying to sell their house).

Music and My Life So Far

Record player - close up of needle above a moving record.  Photo: Great BeyondIt’s a cliché really, remembering parts of your life by the songs you were listening to, but in these days of instant access to online music it is easier than ever to reflect on music and days gone by.

I have been a music fan for as long as I can remember – I have seen the transition from 8-track (ask your parents) cartridges in the car, through getting my first record player, tapes, CDs and, most recently, the MP3.  Yes I am actually that old (although if you believe this article turning 40 is nothing to be afraid of any more!) and I find myself appreciating the music of my youth even more nowadays, even listening to things I would not ever have admitted to enjoying “back in the day”.

The soundtrack to my life is an eclectic mix, ranging from the classical, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on CD when I had my first sports car – a Toyota Supra when I was 25 – to Sinead O’Connor’ s Nothing Compares 2 U (although not a patch on the Prince original) when I was going through my military basic training at the tender age of 17 (the video seemed to be on constant repeat on MTV!).  I can tell you what I was listening to when my daughter Emilia was born (Coldplay, a compilation I had made and my wife wanted on repeat for the 5 hours of labour!), the song I asked the DJ to play on my 18th birthday (New Order – True Faith) and the first dance at my wedding (Robbie Williams’ Angels)

Certain songs remind me of places; You Oughta Know by Alanis Morrisette reminds me of being stationed in North East Scotland, Propaganda’s Duel/Jewel of driving back to Peterhead from the North East of England to see my then girlfriend.  Runrig and Caperceille will always remind me of my 2 years in the Shetland Islands and The Brand New Heavies version of Midnight at the Oasis will always conjure up images of dancing round a pool table with a lit candle strapped to my head in the Falkland Islands in 1994 (a long story that needs lots of beer to understand!).

Some songs remind me of people, Ace of Bass – All That She Wants of a neighbour who only seemed to own one CD (although after a good night out with friends in Gothenburg last week this association may change).  But the associations are always there, provoking my memories and often raising a smile (Arctic Monkeys version of Love Machine)

The digital music age has become my diary, my memory device to remind me of times good and bad in my life so far.  Maybe it is because I am approaching 40 that I am taking time to pause and reflect on how important music has been in my life, maybe I knew it all the time and actually take great pleasure in being a music geek – able to chart my life through the medium of song.  I get depressed without being able to listen to music; I cannot pass the radio in the morning without switching it on and often fall asleep listening to my MP3 player (Guillemots’ Redwings being my tune of choice this week!).  My wife despairs – if I am cooking the first thing to be put in place is my iPad for some tunes (Arcade Fire – Rebellion/Lies is particularly good for chopping carrots).  If I go away anywhere with work the first thing to be packed is my laptop and hard drive full of music.  What the digital age has saved me from is storage issues – my 2 Ikea racks full of CDs have been faithfully converted to digital then stored in the loft (just in case…) but my obsession is real.  I will take hours making a compilation CD for a car journey (don’t have MP3 player connection in the car yet!), sometimes taking longer to sort the soundtrack than the journey takes (Manic Street Preachers – Small Black Flowers for my first trip away with my now wife).

Some songs will inevitably remind me of sadder times (plenty of imploding relationship stories here) like Steps – 5, 6, 7, 8 when I came around from a coma in 1997 (my nurse was obsessed and sang it all the time – she also used to sit on my bed and watch Top of the Pops but that’s a story for another day!).

So I urge you, whatever your age, take the time to sit down and work out what songs mean what to you – you may find some pleasant surprises lurking in your CD rack.

You Are Not Alone

According to research published by the University of Maryland, students in over 10 countries had a problem.Facebook login screen shot

An addiction, in fact, with hardly any social stigma attached. Except if the number of friends you have is below say, 70 or the number of followers is less than 12. Then there must be an issue with the person, rather than the social networking site that is akin, apparently, to a crack cocaine habit – as one internet surfing teen put it.

Where does this need for constant interaction come from – and, more importantly, where does it stop? Flitting from tab to tab at the top of a computer in the hopes that the number of comments, likes, status updates or tags have a certain relevance to the Universe of Me is not only really easy to do, looks relatively innocuous but is reassuring too. Dietrich was wrong when she said ‘I vant to be alone’. No one really wants that, it’s solitary confinement of the intellectual kind. Why are dating websites, or personal ads so popular? They have that ability to express yourself without any actual physical involvement in the exchange.

Technology is changing the way we communicate. There used to be a television advertisement – rather clever stop motion – where a guy never left his flat but managed to live using his phone and internet. It was advertising the Yellow Pages. Yet this isn’t an impossible ‘dream’ (or nightmare). Tesco delivers. Argos delivers. Both are online. Facebook offers a rather voyeuristic way of keeping in touch with those that we like (and some that we’ve only really met once). Not only are there TV beds with wifi, if they had a built in catheter and elimination system we need never move again.

But imagination, that precious thing which allows us to have ambition and dreams, often fails us as soon as we log in. Our days are never as exciting as our best friends seem to be. Our comments never as witty. We lack the ability to entertain ourselves and suddenly, consumed by insecurity we open Google as another tab to hide the screen of Shame for at least ten minutes until we check again.

All forums have this. It’s like the first day of school but forever virtual. More people who we could have a connection with. More people to ego trip us out of the obscure. Is this really a good thing? Cravings, anxiety and depression…surely enough in the physical day to day existence for some, yet clearly not for others. I made the rather exciting discovery that I could live without a mobile phone. Liberating. Exhilarating. Yet at the same time it caused slight concern: what if the car broke down and I was attacked by Zombie penguins on the beach – how could I contact civilisation? What if I had a really important thought which meant cancer could be cured in half an hour – how could I write this down and send it to someone of note? Firstly, red telephone boxes still appear at the roadside, and secondly, Post Offices provide a means of sending communication via paper without the need to top up by £10 or sign an 18 month contract.

Seriously though, think about the amount of time we spend online. Everyday. For some, it is a whole way of life, it is how they pay the bills and live at night. Yet is it really what we need to do? Should the apocalypse occur this year – which is very doubtful, as personally I believe the Mayans probably just got fed up counting rather than had a secret hidden knowledge – then the world may very well lose the internet for more than a day. Should that happen, I would hope we wouldn’t be doomed to an Escape from LA situation. Life is so much more than programmed software and Times New Roman.

There is something to be said for self reliance. Diversion from reality, whatever we deem it to be, is awfully enjoyable. And necessary, but not the be all and end all of Humanity. Legacies are not left in words alone (Unless, of course that is your career) but in how we make others feel, not how others make Us feel. Preachy, maybe, but it would make a good Facebook soundbite all the same.

Turning Forty …

A recurring topic of conversation among a number of friends recently has been around turning 40.  Is the age just about the number, or does it mean more than that?

For me personally, the number itself isn’t that important.  I’m 38 now; one day later this month I’ll wake up and I’ll be 39 … but nothing will have changed.  My friends who turn 40 this year will be 39 until the clock turns to midnight on their birthday and in a split second, they’ll be 40 … but nothing will have changed.  Their bodies won’t suddenly morph into something else, their lives won’t change, there is no concrete template for what a 40 year old person should be … everything will still be the same.

Or will it … ?Turning Forty

I think that for some people, their beliefs around what it means to be a particular age really do cause them to change once they approach that particular birthday.  If someone believes that turning 40 labels them as middle-aged, and for them, ‘middle-aged’ has certain behaviours or ways of being attached to it, then they’ll no doubt rapidly change.  For those people who still believe that ‘life begins at 40,’ then they’re more likely to enjoy entering their fifth decade and make the most of the life they’re living; it might even give them permission to begin enjoying life.

Forty, as an age, does carry some significance however.  It’s near enough the mid-point of average age expectancy.  People tend to have established their careers or have some career experience behind them along with families, marriages, divorces and significant deaths.  By 40, people do have a lot of life experience behind them and it can be a time to reflect on the years that have been lived and to evaluate life up until that point.  It’s a time by which childhood ambitions have maybe been fulfilled or recognised as childish dreams.  Or it can be a time to take stock of life and to make plans for the ambitions yet to be fulfilled.  And this is where the so-called ‘mid-life crisis’ (which it is said can take place anytime between 35 and 55) steps in.

In Jungian terms, the mid-life transition is simply part of the maturation and individuation process that we all experience as we become more true to our inner selves.  And for me, this is an exciting, sometimes scary, and  important part of our life’s journey.  It’s not necessarily a comfortable process, but it can be hugely rewarding as the ego is left behind and one’s Self or Soul comes to the fore.

For me 40 is an exciting age and people are at such different life stages.  Some people have 1, 2 or more marriages behind them whilst some still remain single. Some people have grown up children, whilst others are still raising theirs, and even others, have yet to have their children.  Some people have made their name in their career; others are still climbing their particular ladder, changing careers, or simply happy where they are.

It’s an age at which we’ve experienced a lot, have learned a lot, and have made many mistakes.  But there’s still potentially a lot of life yet to be lived.  And as we take the lessons and learnings from our first forty years in this life forward into the future, we have the potential to create our own unique greatness and individuality.

Everyone is unique.  Everyone’s life experience is unique.  And so, everyone’s experience of turning 40 is unique.  I’ve enjoyed being in my thirties, and I intend to make the most of this decade’s final year, but I’m also looking forward to turning 40.  For me, it’s the year I hope to complete my PhD and that will hopefully be an opening to a whole new world for me.  And at 40, I hopefully, have lots of years ahead of me to continue developing my skills and knowledge and sharing that information in many forms for the benefit of others.

For myself, my age is just a numeric symbol of how many years I’ve been alive.  It’s a number that has no other meaning …

 Wishing you all a happy 40th birthday, whenever it happens, and whatever it means …

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