Saturday 27 August 2016

Unhelpful Advice 6

Happiness is all in the mind? It's not a new idea - it goes back to Mary Baker Eddy (pictured), founder of the Christian Scientists, and her mentor Phineas Quimby. And it's rot.

What a Young Girl Ought to Know (Mary Wood-Allen 1905)

You can change your feelings by changing the expression of your face.

The habit of standing on one leg will not only cause the body to grow out of shape, but it causes the face to become one-sided.

It doesn't look well to see girls and women kissing each other in public places.

To be interested in home duties and in nature is the safest pleasure for the young girl. It diverts her mind from herself, and so she forgets the new emotions that come as a part of her development.

(Wood-Allen also says that young girls ought to interest themselves in nature rather than reading novels, or thinking they ought to have “beaux”. Which seems odd at a time when marriage was many women’s only choice.)

I read a poem once that said "Thoughts are things," and it would really seem as if it were true, wouldn't it. Our thoughts, Dr. Gates says, create actual substances in our blood, and it seems as if they go out from us and surround us with an atmosphere that is felt by others. We clothe ourselves in a garment of thought, and people recognize this and know us by our thought-clothing.

(Elmer Gates was an inventor whose ideas about psychology were taken up and probably misinterpreted by Napoleon Hill who wrote Think and Grow Rich in 1937 – the subconscious, autosuggestion, creative imagination. Now “visualisation” – there’s nothing new under the sun.)

Positive affirmations said out aloud manifest. (@MedeaHecate)

The Girl's Own magazine was equally repressive:

You must neither trouble others, nor be troubled in yourself, about anything… 

Never allow yourself to dwell on fancied grievances, slights, unkind words or looks. (How do you know they’re “fancied” slights etc? Perhaps I’ll dish out some unkind words and looks of my own – thanks for the tip.)

The mind is everything. What you think you become. (“Buddha”)

We are the product of our thoughts. (Scottie Waves Actually we are the product of the society we live in, the school we go to, the propaganda our parents and teachers stuff our head with, the newspapers we read, the opinions of our friends, the prevailing religion, fashion, economic situation...)

What consumes your mind, controls your life. (Your life may be controlled by a coercive partner, a punitive boarding school, a totalitarian government, an entitled overclass, a war, a puritanical religion...)

More here, and links to the rest.

Unhelpful Advice 5

I believe in fairytales

More unhelpful platitudes. Fortunately not everybody is fooled:

“A few years ago, I was listening to a talk by a coach and motivational speaker who was extolling the virtues of positive thinking and the new empowered, non-hierarchical, collaborative workplace. I said that, while I loved his wonderful image of the future of work, I didn’t see much evidence of a trend in that direction. We had been talking about these things for 20  years, yet command and control was still the norm in many industries and technology was making some workplaces more regimented than ever. Not to mention the people on various forms of precarious contract at the whim of their managers. His response was that, by choosing to focus on such things, I was displaying my negative mind-set. I was filtering information according to my preconceived ideas and refusing to allow in the positive and hopeful future. See what he did there? He turned his complete lack of supporting evidence for what he was saying into my problem. It was me being negative, not him ignoring the data. Alas, the cod-psychology of self-help and motivational mumbo-jumbo has seeped into the Brexit debate. Leave campaigners are telling anyone who raises concerns about Brexit to 'be positive', 'just get on with it' and, my personal favourite, 'move on'. It’s the sort of language adopted by managers who want to railroad a project through and don’t want to hear the staff tell them it might go wrong.” (

In a way, wasn't the real referendum all the friends we made along the way? (@celestialweasel And others on this model: “You didn’t get what you wanted, but you got something else which is just as good or better.”)

Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered. (Wes Angelozzi But I thought “You are responsible for everything that happens to you”? Surely that would mean we can no more influence another person that we can fall upwards? So why are you handing out all these platitudes?)

The best way to be kind to someone is to #loveYourself and then be who you are. (@newunity Cliché bingo.)

More twisted logic and victim blaming: You’re not married because a) you’re afraid of change b) you deliberately choose people who are unavailable c) you deliberately choose people who will treat you badly d) you don’t really want to be.

This "money doesn't make you happy" nonsense always annoys me. Of course, it cannot guarantee happiness and cannot guarantee love, but you have a better chance of being happy if you are sitting on the beach front of some pleasant and sunny resort sipping a cocktail than if you are getting up at 3am to go out into the cold and wet to ride for hours on some sh*tty bus to some tedious zero-hours minimum-wage job. You have a better chance of looking good and being healthy if you can afford some pampering, time looking after your body and a good doctor you can see without too much waiting. And while relationships with gold-diggers may not be the best they are better than no relationship at all. (JP)

Nothing holds you back more than your own insecurities. (TL)
And enemies, rivals, capitalism, patriarchy, oppressive regimes, oppressive religions er er... (LF)
…Being tied to the central heating system doesn’t help much, either. *Fiddles with knot* (TL)

My Dad used to say 'always fight fire with fire', which is probably why he got thrown out of the fire brigade. (Peter Kay)

Live every day as if it was your last? You couldn’t function in society if you really did that. (Steven Poole, Guardian)

Amtrak California: Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Brand One/@porkbelt: With all due respect, this is terrible advice for trains.

Moronic platitudes that collapse under the most casual scrutiny. "It's a good day to have a good day"? (@LordSteerforth)

Found a fortune cookie at the back on my cupboard. "Never regret, never explain, never apologise" - that's TERRIBLE advice! sociopath 101 (Cal Flyn)

Whoever said "getting there is half the fun" was a liar. (@DavidWalker1201)

Person on #r4today: 'The one thing that despots fear is laughter.' Well, sort of. They also fear Soviet shock armies and strategic bombing. (Dan Snow)

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. (Albert Einstein) It's not, though, is it? It's the evil people's fault, isn't it? Obviously. Einstein, you idiot. (@Nick_Pettigrew)

Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality. (Bruce Lee @BDSixsmith adds: Which is why Adolf Hitler stormed out his bunker in 1945 and single-handedly won the Second World War.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Unhelpful Advice 4

Every proverb has an equal and opposite counter-proverb.

Silence is golden, but nothing comes to the dumb, and those that ask don’t get. Or is it “I want doesn’t get”?

Example is better than precept./We live by laws, not by examples. (This Great Debate has been going on for centuries.)

You learn from your mistakes, but credit lost is like a broken glass. (One mistake may louse up your whole life. You knew that.)

Tell truth and shame the devil./Honesty is the best policy./Speak fair and think what you will./Who knows not how to dissemble, knows not how to live.

Grasp life with both hands, but gang warily.

There’s no such word as can’t, but it’s hard to cross the sea in an eggshell.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, but will is no skill.

Everything's possible, but you should be happy with what you’ve got.

People will love you for your vulnerability.
People will love you for your flaws.
People will love you for yourself.
Everything happens for a reason.

Every downside has an upside.
You’ll be stronger on your own.
Desire is the root of all suffering.
Stop wanting what you can’t have.
More here.

Unhelpful Advice 3

Judge people – everybody else does.

Here’s some unhelpful advice that is very easily disproved by a little thought. It’s what used to be called “pi-jaw”, a pious lecture. When shown disconfirming evidence, purveyors of this gloop tend to say "It's a general principle", like that Flaubert character who was always saying "Yes, but my point holds!".

Do people say all these things, not because they believe they’re true, but just to encourage us to do something? Or to make us shut up and go away? Or to neutralize us, stop us rocking the boat? Or do they have to mouth the platitude before qualifying it until it means whatever they want it to mean? And they catastrophise (Looks don’t matter!) just to get through to us. They hope we’ll accept the dictum about 5%. Looks really, really matter, but remember to consider someone’s character as well?

They dish these platitudes out to children of 14-15, when the kids are just about to escape from their control, discover other points of view and start thinking for themselves. This is their last chance to bombard the young people with propaganda – all this drivel is from age to youth. Adults are terrified of young people, and are convinced they will become “feral” at the drop of a hat. This may explain a lot.

Look around you – do you see a lot of people following this advice? Is it a successful strategy? Why do they tell us to turn the other cheek, that a soft answer turneth away wrath, when all around us we can see bossy, domineering, loud, frightening, shouty people getting what they want and pushing others around? Truly, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – but it's the way to bet.

Everything contains its opposite – they are telling us what people actually do. If they tell us not to do something, that means some are doing it. So why is it just me who has to live in the moment, not compare myself to anyone, never think about what others are thinking about me?

They never tell us to climb a hierarchy and gain power, they just tell us to be nice, and not to complain. And laugh at ourselves. You have to ask yourself why. (“Being nice will get you everything you want!”) Meanwhile the queen bitch has a much better time.

“The only way you can accept new joy and happiness into your life is to make space for it... Things don’t disappear on their own. You need to make the commitment to let it go.” Plus: “Make space in your life and someone will come along to fill it.” Oh, I see, they don’t mean “clear a space in your wardrobe”, they mean “throw out your old clothes”. Not so much “let it go” as step away from toxic relationships, move to another job, another city... You can’t turn the bad things into good things, or stick around hoping it will get better. And they don’t mean “accept” they mean “acquire”.

Appearance doesn’t matter: this means “YOU mustn’t judge people by appearance because it is WRONG, but YOU must dress smartly because EVERYBODY ELSE will judge you by appearance.” Furthermore, pretty people get the jobs, the boyfriends and the presenting slots on TV. And probably higher salaries.

When Jesus said “Judge not, lest you yourself be judged”, he meant: “If you judge others, they must be judging you. But if you all as individuals think 'Ooops, then I’d better stop judging people', then you’ll all stop doing it. Or that’s the idea.” Or is he saying “Go on, judge people – everybody does it”?

Live in the moment! If we all did that, there would be no historians, newspapers, news channels, employment agencies, dating sites. Driving and tennis would be impossible, because you need to predict where the oncoming car/ball will be in a few seconds. You couldn’t even think, talk or go shopping. It must mean: “Plan for the future, but enjoy the present occasionally.”

“You don't need to be a married homeowner with a 10-year career plan by the time you're 30. Be patient and stay focused on the present... avoid driving yourself crazy with five-year plans and focus on immediate goals.” ( Translation: You sure as hell better be a married home-owner by the time you’re 30.

Or does it mean “forget the recent past, rewrite your history”? Last year’s flaps, fads and fashions are quickly forgotten, and every innovation is greeted with shock and surprise.

Confidence comes from within: Perhaps this means “Don’t let others destroy your confidence, because they will try”. Or maybe: “Don’t blame others, because then we’d have to do something about them. And they’re probably scary.” Or even “Don’t expect others to give you confidence because then we'd have to be nice to you and it would be a bore.”

So remember:
Say you want to be different, while being exactly like everyone else.
Looks don’t matter, but there’s a beauty industry.
Don’t think about what other people are thinking about you, but first impressions count.
Live the dream, but manage your expectations.
Don’t compare yourself to others, but try and be top of the class.
Be extraordinary, while conforming.
Appearance doesn’t matter, but wear a suit to the interview.Live in the moment, but charge your mobile.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.  (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
Hate never wins. (See the history of the 20th century.)

You can only succeed by failing a lot. (People usually succeed by improving.)

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. (But you may never live it down.)

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. (Buddha) Right, I won’t bother calling Mountain Rescue when lost in a blizzard on Ben Nevis.

You are responsible for everything that happens in your life. (Why do the police pursue thieves, rapists, attackers, and not their victims, if the attack was the victims’ entire responsibility?)

There’s no such word as can’t. (Let me give you a lift! You’ll soon find out what “can’t” means!)

Every great story on the planet happened when someone decided not to give up, but kept going no matter what. (Spryte Loriano See those people who mortgaged their house to put on a self-penned musical in the West End.)

Live the dream! (A lot of little girls dream of becoming ballerinas.)

Wounds, scars, and past indiscretions do not define who you are now. (But you may have to move towns.)

My past has not defined me, destroyed me, deterred me, or defeated me; it has only strengthened me. (Steve Maraboli This is whistling in the dark – what if you can't live it down?)

There’s no point emigrating – you’ll take your problems with you. (If your problem is other people, you can leave them far, far behind. And they probably don’t like that.)

Be original. (Everything you did or said would have to be something nobody had ever done or said before.)

Violence never solved anything. (On BBC News, a former young offender says that in prison you have to immediately show you’re tough, “with extreme violence”, or you’ll be terrorised.)

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Be a tall poppy. (You try it.)

If people make fun of you it means they like you! (It quite clearly means you are low down in the pecking order and they DISlike you. Even more clearly, everybody knows this.)

Always be strong enough to let go, and be smart enough to wait for what you deserve. (Like waiting for a 73 bus in the old days.)

If you can’t change something, you can always change your attitude. (This means “Shut up, forget it, and do stop droning on about it.”)

You don’t always get what you want, but you may get what you need. (Popular in the 70s before the Human Rights Act and the consumer movement.)

Don’t think about what others are thinking about you. (Translation: In an ideal world it would be nice if people thought about public opinion a little bit less. )

Love comes to those who still hope after disappointment, who still believe after betrayal, and who still love after they’ve been hurt. (Is this evidence-based?)

Believe you can and you’re halfway there. (Theodore Roosevelt)

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. (Aristotle. Allegedly.)

It's not the load that breaks you, it's the way you carry it. (Lena Horne. 16 tons?)

Goodness is better than beauty. (But if you want a footballer husband and a mansion in Cheshire, better go for beauty.)

Looking happy makes you beautiful. (It doesn’t, but it might help.)

Decide where you want to be, and work backwards from there. (A great “how not to do it” from the 80s.)

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. (Martin Luther King, Jr. At least it’s better advice than – and completely contradicts – the previous adage.)

If you sit all day at the Café Rotonde, sooner or later everybody you know will pass by. (But it’s quicker to use email or Facebook to stay in touch.)

Revenge only hurts the avenger, and if you sit long enough by a river you’ll see the body of your enemy float by. (So who pushed him in? Somebody who decided not to wait?)

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth. (Marcus Aurelius – perhaps.)

Looks don’t matter, but:  restaurants seat attractive people at the front, where they can be seen from the street. Unattractive people are seated at the back behind pillars. And night-clubs have always ensured a supply of pretty, willing girls. Nightclub promoters lure women in with free drinks, allot them to tables of men according to looks, charge them (or not) to get in according to appearance. In the olden days the nightclubs employed the girls who encouraged men to drink and buy them expensive presents, or else men paid them for a dance, or to sit with them. And the promoters and Mama-Sans always say “Whether the girl goes home with the man is entirely up to her, whether she asks for money is entirely up to her.” In the old days, women asked for cab fare and powder room tips – they just happened to be long, expensive cab rides.

X is tired of being stereotyped by her height and weight. (BBC Breakfast)

Just Be Yourself: Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magical person than you are. (Mandy Hale)

It means don't put up a front or try to be someone you aren't – People will like you for YOU. (@NataliePalombi She adds that it means “Don’t be a sheep”, and if people don’t like you for yourself, get new friends!)

Mystery writer Ngaio Marsh talks about young people having “group mannerisms”, and perhaps this is what they’re warning us against. (But it may be how you get accepted into the group.)

“It is never too late to be what you might have been,” said George Eliot (I bet she didn’t.)

Nobody’s life can be ruined except by themselves.  (Agatha Christie character Parker Pyne)

Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner. (Let’s see how understanding the police are.)

More here.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Neologisms 15

Marni Nixon, voice ghostess

vegetarian wolves
(Tory wets)
(French for nauseating)
the hot sheet trade
(rooms by the hour)
connerie intergalactique (Valery Levacher)
Midwinter Murders (succinct review of Trapped)
grant-application language
(Blair Worden)

There’s no-one else in the same post-code.
(Mo Farah is ahead of the field. BBC Breakfast’s Christian)

I’m within a fish scale of getting my diploma. (The Avengers)

deputy-headmaster-unpleasant (@johnb78)

Ingenious "Well SOME of our sandwiches DON'T have wasps in" customer service strategy. (@webofevil)

Marni Nixon, Hollywood voice “ghostess”. (Daily Telegraph obituary)

Found: evidence that cat-sized "rat-kangaroos" once hopped the Earth. (@atlasobscura)

I Can't Believe It's Not Politics! #MoreUnited (Douglas Murphy ‏@entschwindet More United is a middle-of-the-road grouping for “people who don’t want to join a political party”. Like the people who want to leave the EU while staying in the EU, and get a civil partnership but not get married.)

seasick key change (writer John Grindrod on Wagner)

This is the kind of cabinet that makes a loss on Bargain Hunt. (John Grindrod ‏on politics)

Fisher-Price social comment (Hugo Rifkind TV review)

A man who has the vivacity of a cupboard. (@TalkingDogGenre)

Was this filmed on a banana? (Comment on a shaky, blurred video of hippos rescuing a zebra from alligators)

heritagisation (Buildings 20, 30, 40 years old may get bulldozed as old-fashioned, but make it to 50 and suddenly you’re “heritage”. Do they never think “This 40-year-old building will be 50 years old one day”?)

increasingly formulaic Stock-zak (RI on Tangerine Dream)

The seeds were sown around 1500AD, when the population started going up. It wasn't until 1800AD when it really took off, and by 1850AD things were getting worrying. Then through the 20th century the graph pulls back on the stick, lights the afterburners, and goes near vertical. (GC)

utterly despicable nutrib*ll*cks
Earnest egos storming down side streets getting nowhere. (amazon review)

Uri Caine’s Wagner is “the mince of the Valkyries”. (writer-in to Radio 3)

I enjoyed those, despite the breathless doting of the narrator. (Michael Sims on Baroness Orczy’s Lady Molly of Scotland Yard stories)

Back to rain/socks/blandness. (@lucyfishwife, home from holiday)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 19 August 2016

How to Read Character

Leach’s Character Reading, part of the Leach’s Sixpenny Series

Most of Leach’s leaflets contained crochet patterns for blouses, dressing table sets, lingerie edgings etc. This one (bought on ebay) is from the drab, penurious years just after World War I, before the Jazz Age got started. It promises Palmistry, Graphology, What the Face Tells. (One day I’ll be lucky enough to find the fortune-telling issue.)

In the detective novels of Josephine Tey, policemen classify suspects by the blueness of their eyes. Lesser writers talk of determined chins, square jaws, weak mouths, noble brows, coarse features. Did they get all this watered-down Cesare Lombroso out of pamphlets like these? The character descriptions could easily furnish the cast of a mystery – and I’m sure there was a brisk trade in pamphlets offering plots for short stories and novels.

The writer’s preconceptions are clear. There are dated, now unacceptable, references to “primitive” types, who with their low, sloping foreheads have less room for a brain. “With this kind of person you must not attempt to reason, for they will have fixed ideas and like old things; rebelling against new ones and hating progress."

But apart from this, the author shows us which “character types” we should admire and what kind of behaviour we should avoid, and her attitudes are more liberal, enlightened and kind than many that were sloshing around when I was a small child. In fact she uses her light-hearted guide to character reading to denigrate cruelty to children and backward ideas generally.

The “intellectual type” is go-ahead, but a narrow skull means a narrow mind. The owners of pointy chins are likely to be “weak-willed, vain, shallow and silly”. A bulging cerebellum (back of the head) indicates a “mastermind”. Watch out for the “fussy and energetic... always buzzing around and inclined to interfere with others” – you can tell them by their long thin faces and high foreheads. Arched brows mean someone is “easily led”, but Mephistophelean eyebrows warn of sarcasm.

Here’s Inspector Grant’s blue-eyed theory: “light blue eyes do not show much feeling”, the dark blue eyed are fickle, the brown-eyed affectionate. Beware also the sleepy eyed, like Mycroft Holmes, and narrow eyes that look at you sideways.

A long, thin nose is the sign of a self-righteous hypocrite. “A mother with this nose will make her children eat things they dislike ‘because it is good for them’... She likes checking all joy and spirit, as it is not ‘nice’, not ‘proper’.”

Your hands may reveal that you are the type of woman who will “wear her best clothes when cooking or dusting”. She has another go at “stoppers of progress” (they have short, stubby fingers). Tapering digits show a love of art, but the owner may “paint pot-boilers which sell”. (Thanks for the tip!)

“A sensitive child, too timid to tell its own feelings” will show its nature by its slender hands. “That child should be most tenderly treated and kindly used, never frightened or spoken harshly to, threatened or punished.” (I wish more people had read this advice.)

Fingernails may reveal “a liking for comfort and material luxuries and having one’s own way”. Sounds more attractive than life as a self-sacrificing doormat, doesn’t it? She also recommends sticking to your own ideas despite well-meant interference, probably due to “carping and critical dislike of anything out of the ordinary”.

She fudges the question of free will and predestination with misty concepts like fate and will: Your left hand shows “what fate and nature intended for you”, while your right hand shows “what you have obtained yourself, by will or force of purpose”.

Her gallop through astrology concerns only birth planets. Moony people are dreamy, also “highly strung and nervy”. Those born under Neptune are prone to idealism, “which is very unbeneficial if carried to extremes”.

Those born under Venus love warmth, good food and nice clothes. “If in their childhood their parents try to ‘harden’ them, and let them out without plenty of warm things”, they may have serious illnesses later in life. “Never try to harden a child.”

Delicate children may also be found under Saturn: “You will sometimes see a child, reserved, timid and quiet, dragged out to play and become ‘sociable’... These children should never be brought out roughly.”

There’s even a section on body language (“mannerisms”). Don’t keep your arms pressed to your sides or clutch your umbrella to your bosom, but on the other hand don’t slouch and sprawl, or fidget. Keep a firm handshake, and put your head on one side to be ingratiating. (We’d call it “presentation” today.)

As with popular astrology, the character descriptions are much more down-to-earth and useful than those you’d find in scientific psychology, then or now.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 8


They hated us to have likes and dislikes, but loved to force us to do things we hated and stop us doing things we liked.

You had to be completely original, while being utterly conventional.

You couldn’t talk about sex or bodily functions, but there was a subculture of “dirty” jokes, rhymes, limericks and cartoon books.

Adults were angry with children all the time, but children could not be angry.

We were supposed to be mini adults and miss out childhood (or at least become adults at 10), but we couldn’t use adult words or have adult interests – that was “precocious”.

You couldn’t think about yourself, but you had to “be yourself”.

You had to do a lot of things to "build character", but you just "had" a personality. The “character building” crushed your confidence. You were then derided for having no confidence due to your defective personality.

You had no chance to learn social skills, and then were denigrated for having no social skills.

Children had no autonomy, no control over their lives, but at boarding school aged 7 or 10 we had to “become autonomous far too soon”. (TF)

They were constantly raining on our parades, but we couldn’t be a “spoilsport”. (We had to be “good sports”.)

No wonder Kingsley Amis concluded “nice things are nicer than nasty things”. He grew up in the repressive 30s. Yes, it wasn’t just the 50s. Many of the above attitudes continued into the 70s and 80s – with a different rationale and vocabulary.

It was all gas-lighting: you weren’t ill but neurotic, cruelty was really kindness, unhappiness was just a state of mind, your schooldays are the best days of your life... Did they want Stepford Children – smiling automata who always did what they were told and had no thoughts or feelings? Did they think that’s what children were like?

They must have had some aim, some overarching plan, which we only glimpsed in fragments. They saw us as the adults we would be one day, not as the children we actually were.

If you were a big, strong, extrovert child perhaps it wasn’t so bad. Being a bit older than your peers was an advantage. I was a small, feeble child and for most of my school career I was educated with children a year or two older than me. But no allowances were made, and I had to play sport and spend my time with the big, strong, extrovert, more mature children. And I was being treated as a 12-year-old when I was 10...

Did the treatment work? After this upbringing I should be pretty tough. But no, I’m shy and avoidant. I turn central heating on “full blast”, wear thick, warm clothes and eat soft, sweet food. I sleep under three quilts with a hot water bottle and leave the heating on all night. I have been told so many lies I take nothing on trust.


More 50s food here.
You couldn’t like sweet things. You had to say how delicious sour (sorry, “tart”) apples and gooseberries were. And Cheshire cheese. And strawberries with lemon juice and pepper instead of cream and sugar. (Really.)

Instead of caster or soft brown sugar, we ate granulated or Demerara (no cheaper, but less sweet). We were encouraged to prefer butterscotch (not very sweet) to chocolate. The strings weren’t cut off runner beans, and they were cooked when they were huge, woody and bitter. Butter was doled out begrudgingly in tiny amounts.

Food was hard, dry and tasteless, but we had to use a knife and fork even when tiny. Adult strength was required, and adult jaw muscles and teeth. You couldn’t even eat items separately – you were supposed to assemble meat, potato, carrot on the BACK of your fork and transfer it to your mouth with your left hand. This is almost impossible for an adult with excellent motor skills. We had to chew tough meat and dry crusts because “otherwise your teeth will fall out”.  Some authorities said you couldn’t drink at all while you ate; most said you couldn’t “wash down” a mouthful (the only way to cope).

Food we liked wasn’t more expensive or more trouble – it was just deliberately withheld. Hang on, food we liked was a lot less trouble to prepare, and less expensive. We'd have been happy with macaroni cheese or fish and chips.

It was “greedy” not to eat food you didn’t like, and “greedy” to eat food you did like. We could never choose what to eat, we had to “eat what you are given”. We always had to take the drab, dull, tasteless or bitter option (brown bread, endive, unflavoured yoghourt). There was something joyless and punitive even about brown eggs. And then we had to "acquire" the taste of sophisticated adult food – when we'd been trained not to notice how things tasted. It was so mean-minded! And so pointless!

Are these mean-spirited attitudes just part of being bourgeois? Many can be found in Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas published in 1911, some years after his death.

CHILBLAINS Come from warming yourself when you are cold.
TEA Cools you down on a hot day quicker than a cold drink.
PATIENT To cheer up the sick, make fun of their illnesses and deny their pains.

More here, and links to the rest.

And now for the 80s...

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 7


Illness is generally one’s own fault. (Early 20th century exercise manual)

Disabled children “had to be put away”. Parents were told to forget about them. If a woman had a miscarriage she was told to get pregnant again quickly. And schools for the disabled were intentionally harsh, to “toughen children up to face real life” (according to Ian Dury).

All eye problems were due to lazy eye muscles. You were encouraged not to wear spectacles because your eyes would become dependent on them. Or else short sight was self-inflicted (reading in a bad light). Amblyopia was called “lazy eye”.

There was a lingering belief that pain was either self-inflicted or good for you. Everything could be “controlled” by “willpower”. Pain could be willed away. You could take paracetamol to “fight off” a cold (it doesn’t affect the cold, but makes you feel better), but not to soothe a headache.

When in the 50s Woman’s Hour discussed the menopause, most people approved, but a few wrote in to say that “it is better not to discuss things like the change of life for fear of making people think too much about themselves”. If you “thought about yourself” you might “fancy you were ill”. (Disbelieving anybody who said they felt ill carried on into the 70s and 80s.)

People were said to have “ailments” – because we couldn’t say the words “illness” or “disease”. The ill were just “making a silly fuss” or “neurotic”. It was self-indulgent to be ill. Some people (the wrong kind) enjoyed it. You were supposed to rise above it, or be so strong-minded that you never got ill or suffered pain in the first place. If you were seldom ill, this was due to your superior strength of character. (One of the nuns told us that coughing was an affectation.)

Anyone who thought about their health at all was a “hypochondriac”, who took “patent medicines” or thought there was a “pill for every ill”. They were deciding for themselves that they were ill, instead of waiting for authority – a doctor – to pronounce. (Some people needed permission to think they were ill when they had a temperature of 103.) And they were deciding for themselves to buy something to take the headache away. Surely this couldn’t be allowed? Aspirin was a drug that you could get addicted to. You could never take an aspirin for a headache, in case you got used to it and it wouldn’t work when you really needed it (which time never came).

You couldn’t take anything for diarrhoea because the toxins should be removed naturally from the system. If you put iodine on a boil it would reappear somewhere else on your body. You shouldn’t take antibiotics because doctors overprescribed them (perhaps that came later).

They couldn’t bear to think that you had the means of stopping your headache in your own hand, and could use it whenever you wanted to. They hated to give you your own medication to apply or take yourself. You might have used too much, or taken it in public, revealing your weakness. And there was always some reason why you had to suffer, and some reason why you couldn’t go “Pain? Gone!” “Diarrhoea? Stopped!” “Problem? Sorted!”

Withholding again – yes, there are these effective remedies but there’s always some reason why you can't use them.

Were they too used to a lack of effective drugs? It all made more sense in the days before the NHS, when over-the-counter medicines might be poisonous and addictive.

More here, and links to the rest.

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 6

One of the boys


Even though the aim of a girl's life was marriage, we weren't allowed to be feminine.

For birthdays girls were given briefcases, alarm clocks, packs of cards and pen sets. I wanted a miniature plastic umbrella, a tutu and glittery plastic high-heeled mules, like my friend Adele had.

50s kids’ literature was full of children acting like adults. The girl heroines were the kind the nuns liked: outdoorsy, tidy, clean, “mature”. They had adventures on their own and were responsible and helpful and prematurely middle-aged.

Books and magazines held up wholesome, outgoing youths who didn’t “follow the crowd” but instead adored Dickens, grooved to Beethoven, and collected seashells. They didn't have special friends, they were “chums” with lots of “pals”. They played a sport, walked tall and were always cheerful, cheerful, cheerful. Be like this and all the other teenagers will hate you.

Translation: Don’t grow up too soon. Don’t be girly and interested in pop stars and boys, but at the same time don’t be a tomboy. Be clean and neat and well-groomed: clean hands, neatly filed nails, polished shoes, pressed clothes, glossy, well-brushed hair and a face that knows only soap and water.

Vanity was frowned on (perms, hair dye).

We were told:
Makeup is bad for your skin.
Plucked eyebrows grow back thicker.
Washing your hair makes it dirtier.

In the 30s, girls were meant to look lumpy in a gymslip, remain sexually ignorant for as long as possible, then go to Switzerland for a makeover, do the London season (lots of parties) and get married. So why all the propaganda about not looking pretty?

Girls’ literature never referred to life after boarding school (or outside it). The authors never mentioned the fact that girls grow up and get married. One minute you were being valued for your skills on the lacrosse field and your ability to keep the juniors in order, the next moment you were being judged on your looks, your clothes and your ability to flirt – and your sporting talents, frank friendliness and high marks in French were utterly irrelevant. Appearance (that “doesn’t matter”) was paramount, and you never thought about lacrosse again.

This advice for young ladies was barely updated since the 19th century – surely it was 1850s girls who collected seashells instead of admirers? And brushed their (long) hair a lot?


They were always trying to turn us into adults too soon – except for the sex part.

We were exhorted to form clubs and design our own badge. But they never told us what the point was. I suppose we could have had a club house in imitation of adults’ golf clubs and social clubs.

We were given "sets" for: Chinese Checkers, Chinese puzzles, halma, jacks, jokari, ludo, origami, quoits, diabolo, rounders, tiddlywinks. They were all competitive games that required a talent for maths or advanced motor skills, and lacked any element of fantasy – and were pretty unfeminine.

We were forced to be rather boyish, and our parents cringed when we liked girly things – but that may have been typical middle-class behaviour. Children weren’t supposed to be genderless, but they were supposed to be sexless. Boys had to be very masculine – and so did girls until they suddenly had to perform femininity. But at the same time you couldn't be a "tomboy".

Relatives loved to give children ugly, lurid Pelham puppets – you can put on your own puppet show! They frequently turn up, mint and boxed, on Flog It!

We were urged to collect things, because you were supposed to have a hobby: cheese labels, beer mats, bus tickets, postcards, car numbers, silver paper, stamps. Nobody ever suggested that collecting something, anything, might be a route to a social life, even if it was only with other beermat collectors. And why were girls urged to collect birds’ eggs (illegal by 1954), cheese labels and stamps, when they might have actually enjoyed collecting dolls in national costume, or seashells. They might even have made the shells into jewellery boxes (or jewellery). It may have been a gender-blind policy, but it was so dreary.

And we weren't allowed to have a genuine interest in anything. My parents cringed when I criticised or admired buildings. What are we going to do with her? A teenager who's interested in architecture!

Funny how they never told us that reading might be fun...


Emotions had to be “controlled” with “self-control”. Emotion was “sentimentality”. Expressing emotions – or even having them – was being "nervy, hysterical and worked up". If you went on like that you’d have a “nervous breakdown”. You must “calm down” and shut up as quickly as possible. And stop thinking about it.

The only way you could talk about your feelings was to “crack” – yell home truths and burst into tears. But next day everyone would pretend that nothing had happened.

You just had to put up with things. Unhappy? “Snap out of it” and “pull yourself together”.

Adults treated their feelings (with alcohol) instead of making structural changes (divorce). They were supposed to carry on, pretend it wasn’t happening, think about something else, never talk about it.

If tiny babies seemed to smile we were told it was “just wind”. Likewise thinking animals had human feelings was “sentimental” or “anthropomorphism”.

Sympathy (“mollycoddling”) was bad for people. You told them to buck their ideas up, or that they were better off as they were. God forbid they should try to change themselves, their appearance, their circumstances – it might inconvenience others, who might have to offer some actual help.

If you wrote to an agony aunt saying you were lonely, they replied that you were “stuck in a rut of self-pity”.

Unhappiness was “feeling sorry for yourself”, which was forbidden. And if you were unhappy, you didn’t look around for a cause in circumstances or other people.

You might be lucky enough to be officially “sensitive”, but this required a caring family and a lot of friends. Otherwise you were just “oversensitive”, or “insensitive”.

More here, and links to the rest.

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 5

Forced to go through the motions

Why on earth would anyone want to go back to the 50s? Is there no end to what I don't miss about that era?

Negative experiences such as annoyance and disappointment are distorted with an "it was all for the best" attitude... People tend to redeem bad memories (such as "we were poor") with a positive narrative ("but we had love"). (Psychology Today)

[The headmaster] was telling us that life is serious, we were going to become responsible, respectable, citizens, stiff upper lip, no joy, no laughter, no love, no displays of emotion, nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, pull our socks up, don't rock the boat, chin up, head back, straight spine, clean hands... (RK)

In the 50s, many things “had to” be done. Or were done because it was “done”. Or not done because it was “not done”. Not everybody was going to be happy, but they didn’t mind losing a few. There was no suggestion of improving anyone’s circumstances, or giving practical help. You didn’t have your teeth straightened, or your ears pinned back.

Timid children were “wet”. Shyness, dyslexia and short sight were all due to selfishness and laziness. If your child wasn’t academic, you called him “intellectually lazy”. You had to be strong, and it was weak to be ill, afraid or tired – or kind; feel pain, hunger, cold or thirst; have problems or feelings.

Domestic violence, boarding schools and children’s homes were just accepted or explained away. And “tramps choose their way of life”.

“Raking up the past” was frowned on. Everybody probably had “family secrets” they didn’t want talked about: divorce, cohabitation, alcoholism.

The 50s must have been fun for sadists, who had many opportunities to hurt other people “for their own good”. Fortunately some of the cruelty that was routine in the 50s is now illegal.

Adults were fond of saying “life’s not fair”, as they did something unfair. The parade-raining, fun-spoiling, wet-blanketing, squashing, defeatism and quietism was constant.

Anything pleasant was just out of reach, anything you liked was bad for you or forbidden or common, and you could never be quite comfortable. Horrible things were good for you. You didn’t “eat” chocolate cake, you “indulged” in it. Children and ill people should not be “pampered and cosseted”.

The derided “over-stuffed” furniture might have been comfortable. You could have three blankets on your bed, but not the fourth that would have made you really warm. You couldn’t have more than one pillow, or a soft mattress. You could never sleep as much as you wanted to. You left the bedroom window open even in winter. And of course bedrooms were unheated. The point of heating was to “take the chill off”, not to warm the room.

Bathwater should be just a bit less hot than you’d like, and the bath not quite as full, and you shouldn’t stay in it as long as you wanted. You rinsed hair and face with cold water. And of course the frigid English sea was preferable to the tepid Mediterranean or a heated swimming pool.

You couldn’t protect yourself from the cold, or warm yourself if you were frozen, or cool yourself down on a hot day. You couldn’t warm your hands/feet in case you got chilblains. (When central heating arrived, chilblains disappeared, along with chapped lips and hands.) Wearing a hat and sunglasses, or fanning yourself, or even batting away a wasp, were frowned on – you might “draw attention to yourself”, and “people might stare”. If condensation appeared on the inside of windows (because it was warmer inside than out), you opened a window, because it was a sign of bad air, or depleted oxygen, or something.

It was years before I realised I could buy my own electric fan, or a second-hand telly, or a heater for the bedroom.

You weren’t supposed to “give in” to hunger, tiredness, heat, cold, illness, pain – even the need to go to the loo. Churches didn’t have toilets. You had to “hold it in” or “go before you came”. People prided themselves on their skill in this area. To be fair, there were more public loos. But we were told that the more often we went to the loo, the more often we would want to go, and we should train ourselves by putting it off for an hour (just the way to get cystitis).

Outings were exhausting because you couldn’t sit down anywhere (cold stone walls would give you piles). You couldn’t get a drink of water, or a cup of tea (because all the cafés might be common and besides think of the cost). There was no bottled water, and soft drinks were common (and do you think I’m made of money?). And one does not eat in the street. We went on a lot of picnics, far from people and shops. Toilet arrangements were “find a bush”.

And of course “the pictures are better on radio”. Television was just too much fun. Many parents banned comics. (Ours allowed them, hurrah! But we didn’t have a TV for ages.)

At school, we weren’t allowed to have an opinion about history, or to feel sympathy for peasants whose land was enclosed, or children who worked down mines. We couldn’t take sides, or judge the past, or decide any part of it was good or bad. (We might have started judging the present, and that would never do.)

Humour consisted of a knee-jerk sarcasm, or laughing at others’ embarrassment. There was a constant background grumpiness, while children were never allowed to be "sulky" or complain (“make a fuss”, sound "aggrieved"). Some adults got away with being perfect miseries – never cracking a smile and putting a negative spin on everything. No wonder we were told to smile, smile, smile!

We were told that a soft answer turneth away wrath and we should just ignore bullies, while adults and teachers shouted at us. Successful people were loud, bossy and domineering, and their families and staff enabled this.

Society’s rigid hierarchy mapped onto families. Parents bullied children because it was “good for them”. They were doing their children a favour by toughening them up and “preparing them for life”.

You didn’t interfere because “it would only make things worse”. Adults didn’t intervene when children bullied each other. So nobody would protect us – instead they gaslighted: “They only tease you because they like you”. (We are slowly waking up to the idea that we should stop SIBLINGS bullying each other.)

We were always being forced to do things which frightened us, or which we hated. Result: we were unhappy and frightened a lot of the time. We became passive, because nothing we did made a difference. We tried not to think about the horrid, frightening things when they weren’t happening, so we never learned how to look for a solution. Also we didn’t know how, because we were never given responsibility for any aspect of our lives. And then when we left home we were supposed to take responsibility for it ALL, without any previous discussion or instructions. Were we supposed to learn responsibility at boarding school? You went there to “get the corners knocked off you” – and become as much like other people as possible. Or was that “hopeless and resigned”?

We had to stay where we were put and take what we were given, and if you don’t like it you MAKE yourself like it. You just didn’t do not liking things. It was never a cue for anybody to act, it was always up to you to change your attitude. Learn to like it! There’s no such word as can’t! But somehow it was OK for adults to know what they liked, and get it, and have it, and do it.

We were often told “You mustn’t mind X”. “But I do!” “Well, you must learn not to mind.” You particularly mustn’t mind when adults ridicule and bully you. You must “rise above it” and not “take it to heart”, because adults can’t possibly tell off other adults, or stop tormenting children.

Children couldn’t even have an inner life! They weren’t even allowed to have a self! Instead, we had to be cheerful, outgoing, unthinking, occupied. We couldn’t think about who we were or what we were like. That was self-indulgence or “morbid introspection”. We weren’t allowed to consider whether we were happy or unhappy. If we reflected on what was happening we might have asked awkward questions: “Why do we have to be sent away to school? Why can’t I be happy now?”

We couldn’t even have the thought: “Where am I? What’s happening? Do I like this? Could I be somewhere else doing something else? How do other people live?” Children had no autonomy, and being happy just wasn’t on the table. And we had no opportunity of seeing how other people lived.

If you can’t think about your problems you can’t solve them. But nobody talked in terms of problems and solutions. You had to pretend not to have any problems, and everybody else joined in the pretence, while keeping quiet about their own problems. You just had to not think about it – or was that “shut up and go away”? Information was withheld, and alternatives were never spoken of.

So how did you plan your life? You didn’t. Somebody else planned it for you.

And don’t think about what other people are thinking about you. They aren’t thinking about you. What was the idea? If you believed that you wouldn’t be able to function in society. Or you might decide you were invisible and be totally outrageous.

Nobody listened to children (“I don’t want to hear excuses!” “That’s just tale-bearing!”) But if adults were rude to us excuses were made (“bark worse than bite”). People were routinely rude and unpleasant in public, in shops, to “inferiors”, to subordinates, to the young. Give them their due, shop staff were pretty unsmiling, rude and unpleasant, too – to children and young people.

Fathers rarely looked after their young children (bathing, putting to bed). Parents didn’t do activities WITH children, who struggled with tasks beyond their capability, without help. Score along dotted line, insert Tab A in Slot B. “One emerges feeling humiliated and deeply disappointed.” (SL)

We couldn’t swim for an hour after eating. The nuns forbade us to roll up our sleeves or put our hands on our hips. When we drew, we weren’t allowed to rub out. There was always something! Adults got the same treatment from The Powers That Be: “You WILL like the New English Bible, the new county names, atonal music. It’s what you’re getting! You’ll just have to like it or lump it!” (Funny how all those things vanished.) And there was always some jobsworth saying you couldn’t have what you wanted because “there’s no call for it”.

The treatment bred a generation who enjoyed putting others down while nobody was allowed to notice. We were fed “the greatest of these is charity”, but were not shown how to be kind to each other. It was an unkind world. (I get bullied online if I suggest to those of my vintage that we should be kind to children – which they wilfully interpret as “giving in to their every whim”.)

Allegedly, children were tough, and forgot. They weren’t really people. Childhood was just a holding pen.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Reasons to Be Cheerful 16

Don't let's go back to the 50s. It's getting better all the time:

Boozy stag dos are becoming a thing of the past as men opt for cookery and life drawing. Streets are safer and better-lit. Railway stations are staffed and well-lit. From 1980 to 2010, the world literacy rate increased from 56% to over 83%. The guerrilla gardening movement has inspired planting on odd patches of land. Fagging in public schools faded, we don’t force children to say prayers or grace before meals, we don’t give them replica guns or candy cigarettes. We don’t wear fur coats. We don’t make yashmak jokes. Bullying by the PC Brigade or did we just move on and grow up?

The elimination of cruelty and humiliation as entertainment, stronger democratic institutions, freer access to public life. (Writer Will Wiles)

The UK's 1998 Human Rights Act isn't EU legislation but Westminster legislation to make it easier to try violations of the European Convention on Human Rights in our own courts instead of the European Court. Neither the European Convention nor the Court are EU things, but something we signed up to in 1950, more than two decades before we joined the EEC. (ND)

1140 Benedictine monk Gratian’s canon law textbook, Decretum Gratiani, required couples to give their verbal consent and consummate the marriage

1836 Marriage Act constitutes marriage as primarily a civil matter

1859 "Armies led by emperors clashed for the last time. Solferino. The awful suffering led to the Geneva Convention & Red Cross" (Dan Snow)

1905 Tennis-player May Sutton Bundy caused uproar by rolling back her cuffs because her sleeves were "too long and too hot".

1930 Mixed bathing allowed in Hyde Park

1986 Canaries phased out of British mines

2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act

2009 A court judgement prevented the Jewish Free School from excluding children who weren’t halachically Jewish (patrilineal)

2016 NHS Liverpool CCG ends funding for homeopathy 2016 Vets sign petition to get vets banned from using homeopathy

2016 Senior clerics in Pakistan issue a fatwa against honour killings. Mufti Saeed Rizvi said that women should be free to marry (the man of their choice).

2016 US military to lift transgender ban

2016 United Reformed Church votes to allow same-sex marriages in UK churches
2016 The Anglican Church of Canada votes in favour of gay marriage in the Church.

2016 Tanzania and Gambia ban child marriage

2016 The number of single-sex Independent Schools in the UK has almost halved in the last 20 years.

2016 Like some other supermarkets, Tesco has stopped selling eggs from caged hens

2016 Royal Troon Golf Club votes to accept women members 

2008 Under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 and the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 men can be both perpetrators and victims of rape.

2016 Dublin City Council bans wild animals in circuses

‏The Night Tube comes to the Victoria & Central line from 19 August, benefitting thousands of Londoners (@SadiqKhan)

Originally, the government only funded Jewish and Christian faith schools, but this was expanded to other faiths in 1997.

2016 In Pakistan, "religious groups continue to oppose legislation that would give greater rights to women, and clerics turn a blind eye when families or tribes take the law into their own hands. Hundreds of Pakistani women are killed each year."

2016 Muirfield Golf Club has lost the right to host the Open Championship after it upheld its ban on female members. (BBC)

More here, and links to the rest.

Twitter Haiku 16

Just caught myself thinking,

"When the summer comes..."

Squirrels in the loft,
bees in the woodburner,
spiders petitioning the door with webs.

What bombs did
to Rotterdam,

parking lots did
to Houston.


Took my inhaler outside
to ponder the night,
and a monster moth
flew up my nightie.
Just as well I don’t
scare easily.
(Kate Long ‏@volewriter)

Waiting in the chemist's,
I hear a clip-clopping
in the street outside

and turn to see a woman
dressed as a fairy,
riding a zebra.
"Best hurry up
with my prescription,"

I want to say
to the pharmacist.

(Kate Long ‏@volewriter)

Approaching Heathrow I flew over parents' house.
It was just light enough to make it out,
Just dark enough to see the kitchen lights.
(Dan Snow ‏@thehistoryguy)

So what have I been up to,
I hear you cry.
Lurking about old stones
Checking out ghost railways
Looking at otters
Farting around.
(Some Bloke in a Hat ‏@toolegs)

An island within a lake
within an island
within a lake
within an island
within an ocean.
That’s calderas for you!

Night falls, foxes bark.
High heels approach, echo, fade,
Return, die away.

Behold Pluto
where pitted nitrogen plains
confront rugged, organic
encrusted ice mountains!
(David Grinspoon)

Distracted by this concrete carcass.
At the top was planned a revolving restaurant
with fish swimming beneath the floor.

Tired man buys £1 sandwich from Tesco Metro.
Wednesday night.
Staff dulled by Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Too Loud.

Why is there always lightning
when I want to run around outside,
waving a golf club in the air?

Wallander subtitles
Tyres hiss on asphalt.
Dog bark in the distance.
Many voices talk at once.
(Roy Kelly ‏@stanyanfan49)

On a train
I see something going on in Upminster.
Lots of stalls and young people.
Probably guitar music too somewhere.

When you exit the train
please remember
to take all your longings with you.

I am all alone in Pizza Express,
with the exception of the staff.
There's light music playing.
I just ordered a cheese cake.
That's life.
(Leslie Costar ‏@madetea)

Incredibly old
gingerbread man smiling
at the back of the cupboard.
(Matilda Tristram)

In the distance, an ice cream van
playing a music box version
of the Match of the Day theme tune.
(Daniel Trilling ‏@trillingual)

More here, and links to the rest.