Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Rollercoasters - A fun I wish I'd done more of.

We surely all have regrets at not having done more of things we know we'd have liked. One of my major ones is not having visited more funfairs and riding on rollercoasters.
I've always been fascinated by fairground rides of all types, including roundabouts, waltzers, ghost trains etc., yet haven't had the opportunity, or the nerve, to try them out - usually because I've nearly always been alone and don't want to look conspicuous by being a solitary rider. But rollercoasters are the ultimate.
There's only been one occasion in my life when I had the chance to throw caution to the winds and go on all the rides I wanted. It was at the annual Munich Beer Festival of 1985 which I attended with a German friend, with whom I still have contact, though he's long since been married to his boyfriend. At that time the Oktoberfest funfair was the largest non-permanently-sited fair in the world, and may well still be so, and by now it's certain to be even bigger! But it was simply huge even then, with so many different rides that I wanted to try them all, with the exception of those that turned one upside-down. (I'd still be a bit nervous about that.) I suppose the rides would be considered tame by today's standards but I vividly recall how exhilarating I felt after each one. It was quite addictive, and we went on several more than once in one evening. As neither of us were great beer drinkers, rather than 'wasting' valuable time in a beer tent, we spent all our time being spun and whizzed around, shaken up, twisted, rattled and jerked this way and that - really great fun. That was my only time. Even as a boy with my brothers I never ventured onto anything but the very safest rides and recall seeing them on their first time on a big dipper (as we called them then) and I was too frightened to join them, remaining on solid ground but watching them enviously. But that time in Munich - at the age of nearly 40! - was my first ever time on one, and I loved it. And I've never been on any fairground ride since.
We've seen TV programmes here about people who travel the world just to ride on the most extreme rides, and I really do wish I could be one of them. I'm not sure that, even if I could, it would be advisable to try out the very most extreme as, although having no heart problems (or so I'm told), I do suffer from high blood pressure, so it might not be the wisest thing. But there are sure to be many other safer ones to enjoy.
I'm not giving up hope that some time in the not-too-distant future I might be able to catch up on something of what I've missed. In fact I have a fantasy; when I win our National Lottery (note the 'when'!) and I can afford to visit my transatlantic blog-pals, I'm hoping that there might be an amusement park within accessible distance of where they live so that they can take me there and ride with me - and in return I'd promise to try not to embarrass them during any rapid descents by emitting an ear-piercing, nelly-type scream. Well I'll try!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

When I'm Gone - decisions, decisions!

I've not yet made arrangements for disposal of my remains when the time comes. It's high time it was done. One of my brothers died just over two years ago (at an age younger than I am now) and he'd left no indications at all about what his wishes were, leaving my sister (9 years older than me, and living closest to him) to sort out his funeral as well as having to wind up his business affairs (he was a freelance wedding photographer with a diary full of future committed assignments). A massive prolonged headache it was for her too. I don't want any of my remaining surviving siblings to have the same trouble, though one thing I won't be leaving is any debts. My credit cards were taken off me 15 years ago following my inability to pay them off. I've lived daily hand-to-mouth ever since with no loans and no regrets about that. When I don't have the cash I simply can't buy it.
I won't be the only one who has had departed friends who've made clear that they do NOT want a religious funeral, only to have their parents stubbornly over-rule them after death. The last such friend for me got the full works of an incense-fumed Requiem Mass even though he'd been sacked by the Church who'd employed him as social counsellor when he came out as being gay. I don't know if he would have been deeply hurt or would have laughed!
I've already told my sister that any form of religious service is definitely out for me. Ideally I want to be buried (rather than cremated) in a cardboard eco-coffin (rapidly bio-degradable) in some woodlands, though the price for this type of disposal is quite significantly higher. (Around £5,000 or more, 0r $8,000). On the other hand I don't expect one single person to attend my funeral so there wouldn't be the costs of a cortege or a religious minister's expenses. I've told my family that it's too far for them to travel - and what's the point, anyway?. I certainly don't see why anyone should bear the expense of my body being transported up to the area where my two brothers and sister live and where I was brought up, only to have it buried there. As for wreaths or flowers, I don't want them. (Any donations in lieu of flowers to 'Animal Rescue' please!)
Andrew, on his 'the widow's world' blog, has, with perfect timing, talked about donating his organs or entire body for research - and I should throw this into the mix of possibilities although we both share a squeamishness about the idea. But I must give it serious thought. It's not something which can be postponed for long. (I suppose one can always change one's mind later.)
So, a morbid subject but it's got to be faced by all of us. Better take a deep breath and get on with it.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Let's be controversial: Legalise polygamy and incest!

Nearly all my blogs to date have been on cosily uncontentious matters; so it's high time I entered the lion's den and gave my opinion on a few subjects which many would consider taboo.

I read of opponents of gay marriage saying things like "Well, if we allow people of the same sex to marry what will be next? - marriage to children? marriage to animals? " The answer to that argument is obvious, and I just cannot understand why it's not so to everyone. These latter two must remain illegal because they're not between consenting adults mutually wishing to marry. And if it's (quite rightly) considered that human beings under the age of consent are unable to signify their understanding and agreement to all the ramifications of a legally binding contract, why should anyone even think that animals are placed to do so? Utterly absurd, of course, and anyway, I've yet to detect a significant demand for child-sex and bestiality to be legally sanctioned. The fact that child-marriage is still accepted, and even required, in some countries' cultures - often promoted, of course, on a religious pretext (now there's a surprise!) - does not make it any less undesirable, oppressive and cruel. But that's a subject for another day.

What I would propose is that there are two particular types of relationships between consenting adults which ought to be seriously considered for de-criminalisation.
Firstly, polygamy. I don't see why we are all bound to adhere to the traditional Christian concept of monogamy, when so many of us are not Christian, or even theist. If two or more adult women wish to marry one man, or two or more men wish to marry one woman, or two or more men wish to marry each other, or several women equally wish to marry - why on earth not? Some would doubtlessly argue that such marriages would constitute a 'legal minefield'. That may or may not be so, but it's hardly a reason for criminalising them. Since when did legal expediency determine one's emotions? Besides, I would imagine that there are more than a few lawyers around who would relish the prospect of caring for their legally-recognised polygamous clients. If several adults of sound mind wish to enter such a relationship I think it's arrogant for anyone else to tell them that they mustn't. If churches refuse to recognise such marriages that's their prerogative, only please don't think that a religious viewpoint is the only acceptable position. It only makes the secularisation of marriage more urgent. Let's get churches out of the equation for good! Why don't more countries see religious wedding ceremonies as an optional 'add-on', as is done in France? That seems more sensible by far.

As for incest, I accept that there is an additional factor to be considered here, namely the higher chance of any offspring of such a union being physically and/or mentally 'enfeebled' through close inbreeding, though that need not always be the case - and certainly isn't always the case in the animal world. Anyway, should such pregnancies occur, there is always the ultimate, though intensely grave, option of abortion - as there is to any prospective mother with evidence that the foetus is irretrievably damaged. ("Oh horror!" say those who maintain that conception is always God's will and must be allowed to take its course - and thus shoot themselves in the foot by saying such.) But if the m/f adult couple of brother/sister, father/daughter, mother/son, really do not wish to have a child, then there are all the options open to them as there is to any other couple not wishing to reproduce.
As for relationships between closely related adult males or between closely related adult females, I see no counter-arguments at all. Not a single one! Furthermore, in any such adult relationships, I do not see why they should be barred from marrying, should they wish.

It's a shame that words like 'incest' and 'adultery' can carry such a baggage of disapproval and prejudice, accrued over centuries of (religious) intolerance and bigotry, which are plainly unfair in contemporary enlightened times. Indeed, in both cases, it could be that acts within those particular definitions may be more honest and loving than any act within a legally recognised marriage to which either or both parties may belong. If only they could be called by different names.

I would admit that, unlike in the case of gay marriage, there is no groundswell of significant opinion calling for polygamy and incest to be legalised. I think the numbers who would wish for either to be pretty small, though I do particularly feel for those mature persons who are unable to declare publicly their sexual love for a close relative. I think the number may actually be greater than many would like to think, though as it's so (understandably) hidden because of the opprobium directed at this type of relationship, I doubt if there's been any reliable data collected on the subject.

Anyway, so there's a few thoughts from outside my comfort-zone. I fully expect others to want to shoot them down, but that's fine with me.

Next time - Making religious-only marriages invalid, and recognising civil partnerships as being the compulsory minimum for validity in law! Well, maybe not.... However, hmmmmm...........

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

My little 'guilty' TV pleasure

I'm not an avid TV watcher - can't be bothered with any soaps, 'talent' shows or cookery/ gardening/fashion programmes. 'Big Bro' is out, as are comedy series (the latter with one or two British exceptions - okay, in recent times Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan). Animal programmes too are to be avoided as I can't bear to see them suffering, even in a natural environment, or being used as entertainment. I tend to gravitate towards arty-farty factual programmes, some science (partic. Astronomy), and political issues and discussions.
However there is one type of show which doesn't fit into any of the above categories which I do enjoy, and which seems a bit at odds with the rest of my tastes. These are real-life cop shows, where we follow them chasing speeders and drunken drivers, arresting burglars, breaking into drug-suspects' houses, breaking up drunken brawls, nabbing the occasional flasher etc. I experience quite a dose of schadenfreude on seeing miscreants caught, arrested and being told of their subsequent fines/imprisonment. Don't know why this should be as I'm not an especial fan of the police, with my deeply ingrained memories of how so many of them used to be prejudiced and corrupt, though that seems to be nowhere near as bad now as it was in the past. I really do applaud their apprehension of genuine wrong-doers. (And, as a bonus, some of them look so attractively macho in their uniforms!) My watching of these programmes is not quite an addiction but it does round off my evening with a glow of satisfaction knowing that at least some unsociable acts are being stamped on. Maybe it helps me feel safer and, consequently, think that I may sleep better.

Monday, 17 January 2011

My 1,500th book

It's been said that a keen reader will get through around 2,000 books in an average lifetime. Well, I lost a bit of time in being 24 before the reading bug really bit me. Now, as I'm about to reach a landmark number (excluding around 250 re-reads) I'm wondering if I will ever reach the 2K figure, but no matter. (By the way, I reckon that only about 100 of the total to date have been non-fiction).
So what's this particular next one going to be? Well, a book which not that many will have heard of - Elizabeth Gaskell's 'Wives and Daughters' dating from the 1860s. It's her last and unfinished novel, but still runs to 600+ pages. I hadn't read any Mrs Gaskell until a few years ago when I started with 'North and South' and followed it with 'Mary Barton', both very readable, and, like her contemporary, Dickens, very much creations concerning the social mores of their time.
The book I only finished just this morning was Garrison Keillor's quite entertaining 'Lake Wobegone Days'. (We can hear back-editions of 'Prairie Home Companion' on one of our digital radio channels, which I do occasionally listen to.)
After I've read the Gaskell, next on the list will be my (at least) 6th reading of Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' - in a different translation from my previous encounters with this masterpiece, so maybe it ought to be counted as a 'first read'! ' Expert' opnion is that 'Karenina' is superior to 'War and Peace'. That may well be so but it's actually the latter which for me is unparalleled in Western literature for sheer awesome range of imagination. Microcosm and macrocosm as never before or since in a single novel. But 'Karenina' (and 'Resurrection', especially) would be extraordinary works anyway in the canon of anyone who hadn't also written 'W & P'.

Right, enough chatting - let's get started on 'Wives and Daughters'.


Oh, as an add-on to this blog, and on a completely different subject, must say I'm totally flummoxed by 'The Social Network' winning the Golden Globe for 'Best Picture'. Did those voting for it really hear the dialogue, because, as I've said before, for 3/4 of the film I couldn't make out a single mumbled word! The award is a total mystery to me - and I fear that my perplexity will probably return at Oscar time. (I'm certainly not complaining about Colin Firth and Annette Bening winning their categories.)