For the first seven years of our life together, my wife and I shared a one room studio apartment with a tiny kitchen and a bathroom.
There was a magnificent white cherry tree outside the window and a view over pasture that has now, unfortunately, been heavily built upon.
We didn’t have a great deal of money.
Fast forward to now.
We have more money.
We have a house with different floors and a number of rooms.
There is a small hedged garden which requires quite enough work, but not too much.
We are fortunate enough to live in the countryside with more cows than human beings.
Now here’s the thing:
In which abode do you think it was easier to communicate?
Answer: the studio.
If you only have one room, your interlocutor is obviously in the same room.
But the more rooms you have, the greater the chance that the person you want to talk to is in another room, on another floor, in the garden.
Communication becomes more complicated.
There is interference of all kinds: kitchen noise, bathroom noise, music, computers, mobile phones and so on.
There is more clutter in every sense of the word.
You have to repeat yourself a lot.
We actually enjoy staying at hotels and studios or taking cabins on ferries whilst travelling because it takes us back to those days when communication was simple and there was not a lot else in the room besides ourselves.
So my question to you is this:
What percentage of your conversations with your loved ones takes place in the same room?
If you feel frustrated because there is less than perfect communication with your partner or family, then this might be a place to start.
And with Christmas fast approaching, we will all have another opportunity very soon to taste the unfortunate truth of this.
Some people – a small minority, I think – have supportive families, but for many of us, this is not the case.
So here’s a small suggestion.
Before you go back to see your parents or your parents-in-law, or your sisters and brothers or your cousins or whoever, take a moment to decide what you are willing to discuss and what you are not willing to discuss.
Maybe, but you’ll thank me for it.
It’s a question of survival, of self-care.
You don’t have to tell Mummy everything.
I’ll say it again.
You don’t have to tell Mummy everything.
This might come as a shock to some of you.
Perhaps you’ve always communicated everything with your parents, siblings etc.
This is perfectly ok if said parents are supportive and do not judge you.
If, however, you are secretly dreading another bout of sarcastic and belittling remarks, not to mention more arguments, then you owe yourself protection.
And the best way to do this is to decide what and what not to talk about.
If you are in a couple, then you must spend time with your other half making sure that you are on the same wavelength about this.
It’s no good not talking about that wonderful but expensive holiday you had in October that you haven’t told your parents about because they always complain that you go on holiday too much and anyway where do you get the money? – if your girlfriend blurts out what a wonderful time you both had in Botswana.
Get your stories straight and stick to them.
Believe me, this is a vital step towards self-preservation and if you’ve never tried it, then I urge you to do so.
It’s not a question of lying to people.
It’s a question of setting limits.
Are there things that you’d rather keep to yourself?
Then do so.
For example, perhaps you’ve recently become unemployed and need some time to get things sorted out without having confusing and unwanted careers advice from the whole family.
You don’t need to talk about it if you don’t want to.
Just be very clear about what you are going to say if Daddy asks you about work.
In my experience, many people and unfortunately many parents, take information given to them and use it to hurt you either instantly or later on.
Don’t ask me why.
I don’t have children.
And I can’t understand the point of having them if all you are going to do is judge and belittle them. It doesn’t make sense to me.
Shouldn’t you all be playing on the same team?
Instead, some parents are toxic.
So change the parameters.
Learn to say to yourself,’I don’t want to talk about that and I’m not going to.’
If you just talk about the things you feel reasonably comfortable with, then this Christmas might actually turn out to be the simplest and least fraught with friction for a long long time.
I was talking to my mother on the phone this morning.
She’s just returned from a two night stay in hospital after collapsing in town.
Fortunately, after undergoing a barrage of tests, there doesn’t seem to be any serious fundamental problem.
But she was talking about the hospital staff and how she couldn’t fault them and what long shifts they have and this has prompted me to write this post.
Because there’s something I can never understand about healthcare.
I think we can all agree that healthcare is one of the most important services available, if not the most important.
If you can think of a more important service, let me know.
So explain to me why, when it’s vital for workers in this field to be at their sharpest, as they are often making life or death decisions, and at their physical best in order to guarantee precision in surgery for example, do doctors and nurses often work ten hour shifts?
Your garagist doesn’t work a ten hour shift, so does that mean that repairing cars is more taxing than repairing humans?
In no other profession are there such long shifts, and yet in none of these professions is it so important not to make a mistake.
This is something I’ve never understood.
It’s an indication of the absurdity and mixed-up values of our modern world.
It seems to me that doctors’ and nurses’ hours ought to be shorter than other people’s in order to ensure that they can provide the best service possible, not longer than for anyone else.
After all, if you have to go to hospital, wouldn’t you like to know that the people overseeing your health are properly rested and in a fit mental and physical state to look after you properly?
I know I would.
But then, as Bob Dylan put it, “People are crazy and times are strange.”
Have you ever felt under-dressed next to someone in a suit, particularly if it’s a good one?
Well, there are a couple of ways of dealing with this.
You can quote Eleanor Roosevelt to yourself:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Good point, but not always easy to apply.
The other way is a little more subtle but I find it helpful.
After all, how many people choose to wear a suit?
So at the end of the day, it’s just another UNIFORM that people have to wear.
It’s really no different from wearing a uniform for serving in a café, or dungarees for a garagist.
It may be made of cashmere, and hand-tailored at the fanciest shop in London, but ultimately it’s just a uniform.
So if you are wearing what you want, you’re actually much more fortunate than the guy wearing the suit.
You have the enormous power of freedom of choice.
He doesn’t. He has to keep up appearances.
So the next time you’re queuing up for coffee or standing in line at the bank and you feel someone looking down at you because he’s wearing a suit and you’re not, tell yourself that he’s just wearing a uniform.
If you are not a man and left-handed, then this post may have only limited interest for you.
But by all means, read on….
* * * * *
It sometimes takes a very long time for the penny to drop.
Do you know the sci-fi film ‘Gattaca?’
Well, you may remember the scene at the end where it transpires that the doctor Lamar has known all along that Vincent is not what he pretends to be.
And the reason:
“For future reference, right-handed men don’t hold it with their left. Just one of those things.”
Conversely, left-handed men don’t hold it with their right.
And I didn’t.
Until a couple of weeks ago.
* * * * *
If you are right-handed then you have no idea of the contortions we Southpaws make to fit into your regimented world.
Statistically, we are about 10% of the population.
It’s a bit like being a Mac in a world of PCs (just kidding!)
When my mother was a child, the teachers tried to force her to write with her right hand. She couldn’t.
Only when my grand-mother went down to the school and told them to stop messing with her daughter was the situation resolved.
But then we’ve always had a bad name.
The word ‘sinister’ comes from the Latin ‘sinistra’ meaning left.
An accident in French is called a “sinistre.”
I dare say many of us were burn as witches and warlocks in league with the devil during the middle ages.
And there are situations where a left-hander could be a bit of a liability.
Going back to the Romans, the success of the legion phalanx was dependent upon each man’s sword arm protecting the left of the soldier next to him. Imagine the chaos if you had left-handed soldiers in there as well.
* * * * *
Some adaptations are obvious, of course.
Like when you sit down at a computer and the mouse is on the right.
Or pick up a pair of scissors and the handle cuts into your fingers because it isn’t made for you.
Or a measuring beaker where you can’t see the measuring guide.
Or a guitar, piano, drumset and all those other things that simply aren’t made for US.
As a leftie, you get really good at lateralization, that’s for sure.
But the weirdest thing is that you get so used to adapting that if you buy something made specifically for a left-hander, you often can’t get it to work.
When I bought a fountain pen recently, I tried both right- and left-handed pens, but in the end I was happier and wrote better with the pen for righties.
Sometimes you can’t get a pair of left-handed scissors to cut because you’ve got so used to putting the pressure of the blades in the other direction with right-handed ones.
And controlling a computer mouse on the left takes an enormous amount of concentration to get anything done, the hand is so untrained for that sort of movement.
So we get very good at pretending to be right-handed.
So much so that we sometimes miss the obvious.
Which brings me back to the pants.
For some reason, the penny never dropped that pants are made for right-handed people too.
For me, they were just pants.
It took me 60 years to wake up to the fact that even pants make our lives more complicated.
Obviously, since the opening is on the right, it’s much easier to grab it with your right hand.
As a left-hander, you have to reach over the opening, back inside to the left, grab it and then push it out to the right.
It’s a movement like the mark of Zorro, but less swash-buckling.
Then as you pee, the pants are continually trying to close on you to the left and underside which has a tendency to compress the urethra and inhibit the flow.
So a couple of weeks ago, I started holding it with my right hand.
And what do you know?
Oh, joy! Oh, bliss!
It really is much simpler.
I suppose you can’t really have left-handed pants because the trouser zip is made for right-handers as well.
I did discover a site on the web where they sell pants for left-handers with a horizontal opening, but how successful these are, I don’t know.
But it does underline the degree to which we’ve unconsciously adapted to the right hand world.
Some adaptations I’ve taken on spontaneously.
Our hands are a bit like our eyes in that one tends to take care of precision work while the other is for general use.
I try to swap things around.
Bilateral movement is good for you. And it gets your brain to develop new pathways.
For example, turning a key in the lock is something that I would normally do with my left hand, but I’ve also trained myself to do it with my right, because locks too can end up in positions where only a rightie can open them.
Same with pouring a bottle of wine.
And there are events that push you to make an extra effort too.
I broke a bone in my left hand once and I was so appalled at how difficult it was for me to wipe my ass with my right hand after going to the toilet that I swore I’d never go through that again. So I practised until I reached a reasonable degree of dexterity with the right too.
These days the politically correct talk about discrimination against minorities all the time.
But I wonder how many people stop to consider the great minority of left-handed people and the extent to which we are discriminated against in our totalitarian right-handed society?