Thursday, April 23, 2009

Advice Part Two — is this TOO cynical, or can we find common ground?

I must tread carefully here for fear of hurting feelings (and you know who you are), but it might well be worthwhile, sooner rather than later, to clarify my initial observations on advice and, more specifically, on what advice I might offer my son (the subtext being that if I ever felt inclined to bullshit anyone, my son, or sons if I had more than one, which I don't, would be the last to suffer that fate. Put another way, I am more inclined to tell him the truth than not.
I wrote that once I had heard the advice that it is best not to spend too much on a woman until you know her a little better and feel that, perhaps, she might be the one on whom it is worthwhile lavishing your pitiful riches. Saying so aroused howls of anguish from certain quarters who felt that if a man, presumably however much of a stranger he is, did not choose to lavish on them all the riches known to man and then some, he was merely some unfortunate cheapskate on whom wasting a glance was far too handsome a thing to do.
Well, forgive me for taking the opposite point of view and for stating, I hope clearly and categorically, that the advice I quoted is not only good and true, but essential if a man of a certain kind of character is to be spared — as much as these things are possible from the admittedly very restricted perspective of ht altar — from a life of misery.
Advice: if what first arouses a woman is the size of your wallet and, in the first instance, the initial proof you can give thereof, run for the hills. And if she still shows interest, keep running until she runs out of puff and casts around for another victim.
Call me a romantic old cunt, but these things are important.
I am now, a man approaching the cynical age of 60, prepared to admit two things:
1) that 'love' is, quite possibly, not the most reliable guide to the possible longetivity of a heterosexual relationship. To illuminate that, let me quote — or possibly misquote — John Barrymore: love, he said is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering that she looks like a haddock.
2) when the game of love essentially boils down to preserving the financial viability of a moneyed dynasty for whom the essential task is to preserve and possibly bolster that viability when it encounters another moneyed dynasty, love must, of course, take a back seat. There can be no question. However, most of us will, for better or worse, never face such a dilemma.
So finally it comes down to the ordinary Joes such as myself meeting the ordinary Josephines and deciding whether they want to pay for sex or whether they are prepared to play a longer game.
Call me cynical or, if you are too tender for real life, don't, but that is how the cookie crumbles, whether or not you grew up in the civilised West or not.
Note to all men: If the girl of your dreams is somewhat disappointed that on the first date you are not fully prepared to flirt with Chapter 11 in order to make sure she has a reasonably good time, find another girl of your dreams. And thus spoke the Lord.

Advice — embrace or avoid?

Reaching the grand age of 25 next November (the 21st, and all birthday cards will be welcomed), I have had a number of snippets of advice passed my way over the years and have heard snippets of advice passed to others. So I felt that, given the body of advice upon which I can now call, it might be appropriate if I passed on some of it.
None will be original, and the chances are that some of what you read here will be so familiar to you that you will ask yourselves just what exactly I must be thinking in passing it on. There might, alternatively, be pearls of wisdom here you have never come across. If so, all the better. All I can do is offer what I am about to record in the best faith and trust I shan't bore you to death.
The idea for this entry came just 45 minutes ago when, as often I do, I was day-dreaming and imagining seeing my son off on his first date (and, as though you hadn't guessed, I am not 24, but a good deal older, though were you to conspire in the fantasy with me that I am far younger than I am, I would be very grateful).
In my day dream, I take my son aside and ask him whether he has enough cash for the night to treat his date, and assuming that he might not or that he might well do with a little more, I slip him another tenner. And when I do so, I repeat the advice I heard and older man give a younger man in a radio play years ago: 'Don't spend a lot of money on a woman you don't know. Only start spending more money on her when and if you know her better and feel she is worth the expense. And if she doesn't like not having money lavished on her, tough and at least that will let you have more the measure of her.'
I heard it just the once, although at an age when I had already probably made the mistake against which the advice counseled. But i do remember telling myself to remember it and pass it on to a so, if and when I had one.
Anyway, walking down the street (in Paddington, West London, if you are interested, after eating a pleasant pizza with a tomato and onion salad and putting away a half-litre carafe of wine) I decided to dredge my memory for whatever other pieces of adice I had come across over the years.
There is, of course, the obvious one — and one I disagree with profoundly: never listen to advice. That of course is nonsense, although the implications behind that particular piece of nonsense are worth following up. But put as bluntly as that it is out and out nonsense. There will always be those who have more experience than us, in whatever field. If you have, for example, never visited North Cornwall and want to make your way from the village near which I live to, say, St Minver, it would be worth listening to the experience of anyone who has done that journey before, whether or not you would otherwise take their advice on any other matter.
They might tell you, as a stranger, not to bother using any of the back lanes as you are most certainly bound to get yourself lost; that the route taking the main road is longer and that your journey will take you longer, but by doing so you will at least most certainly reach your destination.
So I would never counsel anyone to ignore all advice which come their way. But nor would I counsel anyone always to listen to advice. For one thing most of it is contradictory. Here's an example, building on the scenario outlined about of a young man, my son in the above daydream, taking his first tentative steps in getting to know the opposite sex. An old cynic, a bitter man, aged well beyond his years who, for reasons that are partly his fault, has had little luck with women and faces an austere old age in which the comforting company of a woman will be absent, might advise: never trust a woman, son, ever. Love 'em and leave 'em.
On the other hand let me introduce you to another man, a man who is something of a sentimentalist and one who has had the good fortune to find the true love of a good woman and who, largely because of a lack of imagination, has never been tempted to stray. Now well into is sixtieth decade and as blissfully happy with his wife as he was the moment she decided he was hers, he might well advise a young man such as my son: treat them with respect and courtesy. No doubt that is an admirable sentiment, but wholly unworldly and typical of a man who has intimately know very few women.
So as far as advice is concerned, my advice is this: listen to it, evaluate it, evaluate the chap who is giving you that advice, neither accept nor reject it out of hand, and, most importantly, take your time acting on it if you do decide to do so.
Britain is now into its second recession of the past 20 years. And an intricate part of the lead-up to both recessions was a house-price bubble. During the first, I had just arrived in London to try my hand at working casual shifts for the nationals and was in touch with a friend I had made while working for an evening paper in Cardiff, South Wales. The year was 1990 and house prices were into their second or third year of more or less trebling every few months or so. I owned a house in Birmingham on which I was still paying the mortgage and his advice was: sell, get as large a mortgage as you can and buy in London. You can't lose. Well, I ignored his advice because not many months later the house price bubble burst and a great many people who had done exactly as he had counselled me were left out of pocket and what the pundits call 'negative equity', which means their house has a market value lower, and ofen considerably lower, than the amount of money they borrowed in order to buy it.
This entry is now getting rather long, so my advice to myself here is to conclude this, the first part, and return to the thought in a day or two, by which time I shall have marshalled my thoughts, dredged my memory and come up with other examples of pieces of advice which were either totally useless or rather sage.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Depression — a short, layman's account

I've been rapped over the knuckles for neglecting this blog, so if I explain why that has happened, as a blog entry, I can kill two birds with one stone. The fact is that for the past few weeks, about four or five, I have been afflicted by something which has plagued me on and off throughout my life. It is called depression and is a rather widespread malaise, but curiously despite that, it is not very well understood.
Furthermore, there is still - still, despite any number of newspaper and magazine articles and media broadcasts about it - a certain stigma attached to depression, as though one is somehow less of a person for suffering from it.
An added irony is that we now understand far better what the affliction is and what causes it and that despite the label of 'mental illness', it is, in fact, a physical condition in which chemicals in the brain which work with neural receptors transmitting electrical impulses don't function as they ought to. I'm not too sure whether or not we know exactly why the chemicals stopped working as they are intended to, but it is that which is at the root of 'depression'.
Historically, we have associated 'feeling very low' and 'feeling unhappy' with the condition, but in fact those states are the result of depression rather than being depression itself. It is a debilitating condition and when sufferers are severely afflicted, it is very, very debilitating. The good news is that it is said to be self-limiting, although it has to be added that it doesn't 'self-limit' quite as speedily as sufferers would like.
I know that symptoms can vary, but in my case they include a constant, though not pronounced headache 24 hours a day - rather like the kind of thumping head you can get with a hangover, but not as bad, thought the persistence is irritating —, my neck area and the tops of my shoulders get stiff and they ache, I feel tired and sleepy, lack enthusiasm for doing anything, which can often become a marked reluctance to do anything at all and I just fanny about trying to kill time (which irritates the hell out of me), I find it very difficult to concentrate on anything, I want to be alone as much as possible and don't like being in company, I get impatient - and, as a rule, I am usually quite patient - my mind goes in circles thinking about the state I am in, and all day long I simply look forward to going to bed and to sleep again. And ironically, once I do get to sleep, I sleep like a log.
I should add that this particular bout is relatively mild, and I have had far nastier episodes. Unfortunately, each episode can go on for quite some time. On the positive side, I now recognise the symptoms and know what is going on, which, oddly, I find rather comforting.
Despite the progress made in understanding depression, there are still areas which we don't understand, for example how life stresses can apparently bring it on. In fact, I suspect they don't 'bring it on at all', that when we are healthy we find it far easier to deal with problems and difficulties than when we are not, and when we are depressed, even minor issues and problems can loom far larger than they warrant. Counter-intuitively, many mothers suffer from post-natal depression, often for quite some time, despite the convention that the birth of a child is something joyous and that they should be feeling happy. The theory is that their bodies find it very difficult adjusting to different homone levels when they first fall pregnant and re-adjusting later when those levels need no longer be sustained.
I now realise that in the past, I have, though no consciously masked the symptoms by drinking, so when I now feel the first squalls of an episode, one of the first things I do is to knock alcohol on the head. I have also in the past (this first happened about 15 years ago) taken to swallowing paracetamol and codeine headache tablets to get rid of the headache and neck tension, which, initially they did rather well. However, in the process I got myself addicted to codeine. And when I realised it last June (2008) - I was taking up to four doses a day, low by some standards, but not at all good for you - I stopped immediately and went cold turkey.
The period of withdrawal lasted for several months and I found that I was instead, as a substitute, I should think, craving more alcohol and, initially, also drinking more. In fact, about five weeks ago, when I decided I wanted to lose about one stone in weight (14lb in the imperial measure), the first thing I did was to drastically cut my consumption, and I suspect that it what triggered this latest bout.
So there you have it. It is generally thought that the vast majority of people will experience some kind of depressive illness at some point in their lives, and that a substantial majority does do intermittently throughout their lives. Homesickness in children is now thought to be a manifestation of depression, but conversely simply feeling low and fed up for a few days or a week or two is not the same as suffering depression. All to often such feelings, normal in themselves, are 'treated' with one of many kinds of anti-depressants, but that will have more to do with the pharmaceuatical industry being rather keen to turn a fast buck or ten than acceptable medical practice.