What Drives Social Behaviour

Friday 28th February

I sometimes wonder if we are all sheep, following meekly one after the other, with no real direction, just keeping the tail of the sheep in front as our sole objective.  And I expect that despite my protestations I too am blindly following some sheep or other in front.

And, possibly because I am a man, I seem to notice that women are far more sheep-like than men.  They seem to be far more subject to fashions than men, though that may be down more to men’s intrinsic laziness.  Most men couldn’t give a fuck what they look like, especially when they get to a certain age; they have a wife or partner or are maybe a confirmed bachelor so attracting the opposite sex is no longer on the agenda.  They still think about sex, maybe far too often, but are either realistic enough to realise that these young women they fancy wouldn’t look twice at them or are too lazy to bother.  But it seems that women are concerned about their appearance far more than men are, and age doesn’t really come into it.  And strangely enough I don’t think they are really looking to attract men, well not exactly for sex anyway.  If a man smiles or acknowledges their good looks it gives them a secret wave of pleasure, they are still attractive, they feel good about themselves.  Because women are so conditioned (or is it in their genes) to always be attractive to men, they are far more concerned about their appearance than men are.  I never really worry if people like the way I look, but women seem obsessed by their appearance and will go to ridiculous lengths to “improve” it.  I have even begun to notice the emergence of yet another stupid make-up addition, the painting on of false eyebrows – thick dark perfect eyebrows, and I suspect that the originals are being shaved off too.  To me they just look even more clown-like than before, but they must think it looks sexy I suppose.

So who is laying down the fashions; who is directing social behaviour; who is the lead sheep?  It used to be blamed on men, who stereotyped the perfect good looks, but I am more and more convinced that it is other women.  Not exactly peer pressure though I am sure they would make a woman who refuses to make-up feel unaccepted, but I think women see what they think is sexy and try to copy it.  Look at any add for perfume or skin cream and the women are incredibly sexy.  But it isn’t the men who are buying the over-priced wonder potions and lotions, it is women who want to look as sexy as the models in the ads.   And like sheep they follow.

There are signs that boys, younger men are likewise following these fashions, though to a lesser extent I would think.  In general men have some sort of inner confidence that they look at the least acceptable, though this acceptability is possibly the key.   Men have lower expectations of both themselves and other men, so as long as you sort of fit in it is okay.  Women have far higher expectations of both themselves and of other women and so are far more self and (of others) critical.  We each in our way conform to social behaviour, though the boundaries for men are far less rigid.



Thursday 27th February

It used to be one of the funniest comedies on TV.  Outnumbered.  And the clever thing was it seemed just so natural, the normal madness and irritations of life we have all encountered.  Especially the kids, who appeared to be not acting at all.  Apparently the show was largely unscripted, the cast were just given ideas and themes.  Anyway however it was done it worked and it became an instant favourite of mine.

And now it is back.  Everyone is that bit older.  Jake is seventeen, Ben is thirteen and Karen eleven.  The show has returned and it is just as good.  The kids have moved on and are totally in charge now.  And Mum and Dad are just as hapless.  Last night’s episode was a classic.  It was about communication or the lack of it.  Everyone was on mobile phones and yet couldn’t communicate with each other.

The children are even more annoying and yet lovable at the same time.  And you can’t help feeling sympathy with all the characters.  A sign of a true comedy.

And She Didn’t Even Know it Was Illegal

Wednesday 26th February

The lamest defence in the world; I didn’t even know it was illegal.  Rebekah Brooks, who some might say was an educated woman, used this in her phone hacking trial.  She did admit that she thought it was distasteful and at the lower end of the moral spectrum (whatever that means), but she didn’t know it was actually illegal.   After all it was so commonly used by the Sun and News of the World reporters that it had become completely acceptable, as was paying the Police for information and a whole host of dirty tricks to get stories.  But the real crime, whether or not Rebekah knew what she was presiding over, was the destroying of peoples lives.

You could argue that Celebrities who court and use the press to enrich themselves are asking for it, and I personally find this Celebrity culture we are immersed in pathetic and self-serving, however nobody deserves their love-life to be revealed in all its gory detail, or the fact that they may be Gay, or another level that they may in the past have committed a minor crime which is now dredged up for our delectation.

Then there is the question of responsibility.  Rebekah was the editor of the News of the World, she was supposed to be the final decision-maker about what went into print, and as such she had a responsibility to ensure that the stories wee true (very rarely) and that they had been obtained legally and fairly (even rarer).  Her second defence that she knew nothing specifically about phone hacking is simply silly.  She should have known that phone hacking was going on, just as she should have known that it was illegal.


Carla Cowers

Tuesday 25th February

I am the human equivalent of predictive text; I finish people’s sentences long before they have formed the words in their own minds let alone spoken them.   And I am often right and sometimes wrong.  Also I play with words in my own mind, quick to find puns and sound-alikes.  And yet I also find it difficult to hone in on words spoken completely out of context.  If I am thinking of something else, not really concentrating, not in the least expecting someone to say something – I mishear completely what they are saying.  To give myself time I usually ask them to repeat the words, and then I usually get it.

We were on the drive back and neither of us had spoken for a while.  I was poring over the map perched on my knees, quite pointless as the Satnav knew exactly where we were and which roads to take.   Suddenly my partner said quite loudly “Carla Cowers”.

What?  What was that she just said?  I glanced over and she was pointing ahead through the rain-splattered windscreen.  At what, I couldn’t begin to imagine.  What was that she just said?  “Carla Cowers? Was it?  Yes, it was definitely Carla Cowers.”

“What are you saying?” I said, hoping for some clarification as my mind tried to unscramble Carla and where and why she might be cowering.

“Carla Cowers” she replied. A bit louder and with an insinuation that I must be mad if I hadn’t understood her.   Yes, I must be mad I thought.

“I don’t know what you mean.” I said

“Carla Cowers” she again said and pointed at the vehicle in front.  “A Galaxy just like this one.”

Slowly it dawned on me that she meant “A car like ours”

But if she had used the word A in front of Carla I might have guessed that she was describing a noun rather than a person.  Also the Welsh pronunciation of ours, which tortures a single syllable ours into ow-ers a definite two syllable aberration had thrown me.  Also the lazy intonation and running of words together had fooled me.

When I first came to London from Suffolk I saw straightaway that no-one could understand my accent, so I changed it in a week and have spoken Standard English, maybe with a slight Thames Valley tinge, ever since.  Yet I have noticed that our Celtic neighbours refuse to alter or amend their regional accents in the slightest, even though they must be misheard so often.  It is as they are saying it is your fault if you cannot understand me, I am not changing just to please you.  Anyway Carla was not really cowering, and the Galaxy was similar to our car, though why this should even merit a comment let alone an excited but mispronounced sentence I have no idea.  I returned to my map and tot-tutted silently, but also smiled at my own predictive text mishearing.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Monday 24th February

Unpacking the car and putting the washing on, feeding and walking the dogs just about summed up the necessary tasks.  Food shopping at Waitrose, Canary Wharf; home and a bit of catching up on paperwork to make next week a bit easier.  Then the phone call – Fancy lunch?

Yes, why not?  Elephant Royal Thai at three.  All you can eat buffet for £15.00

Two starter plates, two main course (well – you have to try everything, it would be rude not to) three desserts (indulgence in everything, thank-you).

Stuffed and back to ours for coffee.  A nice chat, a long walk with the dogs and nothing else all day.

Got no time to worry – Lazy Sunday Afternoon.

The Trouble With the Ukraine

Sunday 23rd February

The trouble with the Ukraine is that it isn’t a proper country.  Of course, most of Europe wasn’t always proper countries either, but at least most of them have had some sort of a history as a unified political unit.  At least for a while.  The Ukraine is a bit different.  It is big for a start, slightly larger than France, and it isn’t really homogenous.  The people in the West are quite different from those in the East.  Until recently the country had only been actually independent for a few years after the First World War when the Austrian and Russian Empires crumbled.  The West had been largely occupied by the Austrians and the East by the Russians.  It was completely subsumed into the Soviet Empire when Stalin’s tanks rolled through at the end of World War 2.  And although technically independent for twenty years or so, it has almost been at Russia’s discretion; Russia is by far its largest trading partner; Russia supplies almost all of its energy and a large proportion of Ukraine’s population speak Russian and see Russia as their friend.

It is unfortunately a victim of the old colonization of the last few centuries, and though it may call itself a country it may well have to become two separate entities.  The EU are keen to have it as a part of Europe, but Russia are just as keen to keep it in their sphere of influence.  Worst case scenario it could end in another civil war, but more hopefully a looser federation; once the euphoria has died down a lot of hard talking needs to take place.

We see this all over Europe; the twin pulls of regional separation and the need to hang together for strength and economic power.   We are still in the History of Europe, a continent which has never remained peaceful or stable for long, but one which has created a large part of the culture of the modern world.   Interesting, to say the least.

The Long Drive Back

Saturday 22nd February

Today (Friday) is our last day here.  We are driving back tomorrow, and I will not have a chance to put this blog up on Facebook and Twitter tomorrow morning.  We have a much later crossing but will still start out early, before daylight anyway I expect.  I used to hate the drive, but am now settling in to the routine.  It is a question of pacing yourself, knocking down the miles, especially on the long drive from Brives to Paris which is almost half the journey.  We stop for my partner to sleep occasionally and for the dogs to pee and for us too.  And for me for coffee, which tends to sustain me.

We have had a good little break.  And rather then consider the holiday to be over – it is just six weeks until we will return.  Life here, the daily routine is so different from London or indeed from Walton.  We feel that we come alive here, that this is the life we should be living.

Of course things would be different if we were here all the time.  We will hope to spend more time here if and when we ever retire, but not too long.  There is a tendency to lotus-eat out here, to just wile away the days, the settle into an existence with no aims or ambition, just to sit in the sun and drink wine.  Nice enough in its own way, but not really a lifestyle choice I want to pursue.  I would like to think I can paint and write more, especially when the work (which does at times seem never-ending) is more or less complete.  Who knows – for the time being we love it here.  And even the days which sometimes start wet more often than not end up sunny.

We Can’t Stop Buying Meubles

Friday 21st February

We have been in this house for 18 months now.  At first we rushed out and bought a couple of beds and a wardrobe, a sofa and two armchairs.   Then we developed the garden room into an en-suite, so another bed a chest of drawers were bought.  And each time we come down we seem to find more furniture to buy.  Every trip we end up in BUT or Maisons du Monde and come away with another cupboard, a bedside table or something to go by the front door.  I wonder when we will stop.  But at least now we have a new Golden Rule, one in one out.  If we are buying something new then we lose something.  So far these have been either some pretty naff dining chairs we were left by previous tenants or a table we brought with us from London.

We have also started painting walls.  Egyptian Cotton this holiday, breaking up the clean but stark white we inherited.   It is all beginning to look like a real home. Hard work, but when has a holiday been all relaxing, we spend at least half our days painting or sanding down a door frame or putting up curtain poles.  I didn’t mind so much today as the weather was pretty grotty all day.  Come the summer and I will want to be swimming or lazing in the sun.

Curling – Now that’s what I call a Sport

Thursday 20th February

We so very rarely see curling on TV that it is a real treat at the moment.  The Winter Olympics are wonderful.  And the coverage is very much designed for the young; Snow boarding, SlopeTyle and Half Pipe Skiing, Cross-country and Biathlon, Downhill and Slalom, Speed Skating, Ice Dancing and Ice Skating not to mention Luge, Skeleton and Bobsleigh.  Just Brilliant.  And for me the best is Curling.

Invented in Scotland but what the game has evolved into is a million miles from how it started.  It sounds simple doesn’t it; sliding granite stones along the ice to get nearest to a mark.  A bit like bowls except that the stones have no bias and so turning in is achieved by putting on a spin which when the stone slows to a certain speed the spin kicks in and draws it in.   The skill is laying down blockers and outlayers and then smashing through or colliding or bouncing stones onto one another to end up with at least one nearest the centre bullseye.   The thrower slides his stone with the gentlest of touches to add spin, as the stone glides slowly towards its target the sweepers brush the ice to lessen friction and make the stone travel further.

Then the collision and as in snooker the angles are all important, the last stone or the hammer is all important, as it is a huge advantage.  And team GB have done really well; the women are in the bronze final and the man in the actual final.  They are guaranteed at least a silver medal.  I can hardly wait.  Curling is one of those sports that is just so exciting.  You never know how and end will end up.

Scottish Independence – my take

Wednesday 19th February

Firstly it is completely up to the Scots, in many ways it is none of our business, but then again it does and will affect us, so it is our business too.  The whole way the debate is being formed and even the term Scottish Independence says almost everything about the Scottish position.  They see the Union of England and Scotland as a one-sided affair, all the power, all the decisions, the majority of the MPs, the institutions, the Bank of England itself are all English, and London is a long way from Edinburgh.  But actually London is also a long way from Cardiff, and even further from Belfast or Newcastle or Exeter.  How do solve the problem?  London is where all the money is, where Parliament is, where the Queen lives, where the Bank of England is and of course where about a sixth of the population lives.  Actually if you count the whole of the South-East about a third of the UK lives here.  But the other two thirds obviously feel a bit left out. The Scots are pretty thin on the ground, when you compare them to London where more people live than in the whole of Scotland.

However, as I see it however the population or wealth splits the United Kingdom, created by the Act of Union of 1701 I believe, is a Union between two kingdoms; England and Scotland.  Legally Wales is simply a Principality of England, and Northern Ireland, well – it has always been a contentious issue.  In many ways the United Kingdom is the last remnant of the British (read that as English) Empire.  But in my understanding although the wording of the referendum will be about Scottish Independence, it is actually about the dissolution of the Union.  And if the Scots vote ‘Yes’, where will that leave the rump?  It can hardly be called the United Kingdom anymore, and even Great Britain will have a hollow ring to it.  So all this talk about Scotland not being allowed the pound or maybe not entitled to be in the EU is nonsense; if the vote is ‘Yes’, it will be a constitutional crisis for England and Wales and Northern Ireland too.   Will we be allowed to change all the treaties to allow this rump Britain to be a member of the EU anyway?  Who owns the pound?  If it was the currency of a Union of two Kingdoms does England have any more right to the currency than Scotland does?

Anyway, we will see.  I suspect that the polls will narrow but that there will be a ‘No’ vote in the end.  That of course will not be the end of the affair but simply the beginning and a much looser federation may evolve.  Devo-max is still a real probability.  And I think the Scots will be happiern with that than a complete break.