Tea coloured

It struck me this morning that brown is a very good colour for a carpet if you’re anything like me.

I drink quite a bit of tea every day, usually black tea with a splash of milk, and I frequently spill a drop or two on the carpet as I’m moving from room to room.

Luckily for me, many of the carpets in this house are a shade of brown/beige, and are ideal for spilling tea onto.

I’m not suggesting I don’t mop up the spills, I do usually have a dab at them to absorb the liquid, but quite often I can’t even see exactly where the tea has been spilt because it’s the same colour as the floor.

If I lived in a house with differently coloured carpets I might have to get into the habit of not filling my cup so full but, since I like the tea to be swashing about the brim, the situation I find myself in is close to perfection.

The intrusion of the mobile phone

I read an article recently about the way mobile phones are harming relationships.

One of the points made was that a phone doesn’t even need to be used to come between people, it can simply be placed on a table in a cafe, for example, and its very presence causes distancing.

If you’re lunching with a chum and they pick up their phone and start checking it, or texting someone while you’re chatting, it’s quite obvious that you don’t have their undivided attention.

But what researchers have discovered is that even if your friend doesn’t appear to be paying attention to their phone, if it’s visible and able to distract them at a moment’s notice, that’s enough to change the way you conduct your conversation with them.

The article went on to suggest that if you happen to be with a friend and are waiting for an important call or text, it’s advisable to explain this so that there’s a good reason for keeping your phone on view. If you’re not waiting for an important communication, it’s best to put your phone away.

I can think of a couple of occasions when I’ve been in the middle of a conversation with someone and they’ve gone from being fully engaged in our conversation, to being completely distracted by the screen of their phone.

I suppose the answer lies in compromise. Mobile phones do serve a useful purpose, but perhaps we don’t need to feel so attached to them. We should feel free to leave them behind when we want a bit of peace.

I wonder how the next generation will feel about them. Young children today are brought into a world where they will never have known life without portable electronic devices, so perhaps it won’t occur to them not to carry one at all times.

Perhaps all I’m doing is showing my age, demonstrating the discomfort people often have when they feel things are changing too fast for them. Maybe people felt like this when cars and telephones were invented;  their old, comfortable, way of life was threatened by the advances of technology.

I sometimes wish I’d been born a bit earlier than I was, in a less complicated era, but then I wouldn’t be writing this, there would be no blogging, internet, email, TV or any of the other technology I enjoy and take for granted.

You can’t pick and choose with these things, unfortunately. Much as I’d like to go back to a time when good manners were more important in society and there was less of a focus on wealth and celebrity, I wouldn’t want to give up the convenience of washing machines, central heating and the wide variety of foodstuffs available in modern supermarkets.

Maybe every generation feels like this to some extent, hankering after bygone days but not wanting to compromise on comfort and convenience.

In any case, there’s nothing I can do about it, I have to make the best of what I’ve got and there are certainly many good things about being alive in 2013.

Labelling

Yesterday, in a social context, a lady asked me what I do, and it took me a second or two to think of the answer.

The answer I gave was “I’m a writer….. well, trying to be a writer….”

She gave me a sympathetic look, while a gentleman who was also involved in the conversation said to me, in a demanding manner, “Do you write?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then you’re a writer!” he exclaimed. “You write, so you’re a writer.”

I couldn’t argue with that, I do write and so I am a writer, but I suppose the fact that nobody pays me to do it is what makes me feel reluctant to label myself with the title.

I filled in a form recently that included a personal profiling section. I was asked to give myself a number of different labels – ethnic background, age range, nationality and religion, to mention a few.

I applied as many labels to myself as I felt comfortable with, but there was a point at which I became uncomfortable with the process.

One of the labels I don’t like having to give myself is the nationality one. My passport says I’m British but my accent might tell you that I’m Scottish. I think of myself as both British and Scottish, and I don’t want to have to choose between the two.

It worries me why anyone would think that I want to be definitely and always one thing and not another. I might change my mind or not feel strongly enough about something to accept one specific label.

I spoke to my mum about all this and she said she thought that people like fitting into categories because it makes them feel a part of something bigger.

I can understand that, it’s nice to feel you belong, but the trouble with these broad labels is that they can be interpreted in different ways by different people.

How you view anyone or anything depends on where you’re standing yourself, and perhaps by electing to belong to a certain group you feel more sure about your own position in life.

Despite the possible boons to the individual, I still wonder if labels are more of a help or a hindrance in wider society.

Perhaps there are good evolutionary reasons for organising ourselves into groups, could that be why labelling is such an obsessive habit with us?

I hope I’m not the only one struggling with the sticky label menace, but I don’t want anyone feeling pressurised to pin their colours to my mast, that would be a fine kettle of fish.

Peace and quiet

I seem to have inherited something unfortunate from my maternal parent.

She has a very low tolerance for noise, and although I’m not quite as sensitive as she is to low flying jets and road traffic, I do get irritated by certain noises in certain places.

One of my gripes with noise occurs in bookshops. Bookshops are places that, to my mind, should be havens of peace and tranquility, where I can stroll alongside the shelves, quietly picking up the odd book and having a silent read.

This is impossible in many bookshops, and in the UK bookshop chain, Waterstone’s, in particular.

Without the piped music, Waterstones’s would be an ideal bookshop, in my opinion. There are nice dark shelves and soft carpets into which your feet sink quietly. The whole shop is set up to encourage silent perusal of its tomes, and yet for some unknown reason they feel the need to assault the reader with a selection of music that jumps around between classical, pop, folk and rock.

I find this distressing, and I wonder if it troubles anyone else in the same way.

Luckily for me, very close to my local Waterstone’s there’s a branch of WH Smith, which I think of as more of a stationery shop than a bookshop, but my local branch has a good selection of books taking up the whole of the upstairs floor of the store.

To my knowledge, WH Smith has never had piped music playing. As a result, I enjoy browsing there, and the peaceful atmosphere has led to me making spontaneous purchases of the sort that I rarely make in Waterstone’s.

There have been many other occasions when I’ve wished that piped music wasn’t playing, notably in tearooms, cafes and other eateries.

If I’m going on my own to such a place, I usually take something to read, or I do a bit of writing. If I’m going with a chum, I want to chat. Either way, my experience would be much better if there was no piped music.

Having worked in retail myself, I understand the importance of music to the staff. In the past, when I’ve been behind a counter, especially on a slow day, music has made the hours sail past more pleasurably. However, now that I’m not in that position I see it in quite a different light.

If, as a customer, you’re bothered by noise in a shop or an eatery, you can leave quite quickly. It’s a different matter when you can’t get away from it.

When I worked offshore, on some boats it was virtually obligatory to have music playing in the work area. Indoor work areas tended to be open-plan, so if a colleague had music playing it would fill my workspace, too. Not only did this make my job very difficult in that I found it hard to concentrate, but I often had to endure music that wasn’t to my taste.

I’ve lived in various flats and apartments, and often had trouble with noise from neighbours, usually in the form of loud music, drunken parties or DIY.

Nowadays, quietly ensconced in a little eyrie in my parents’ house, I have the pleasure of being able to work and read in peace, and it has made a big difference to my stress levels.

Over the summer I have occasionally been irritated by strimmers, other garden machinery and buzzards, but things have quietened down now that there’s less grass cutting going on and the buzzard chicks have fledged.

I should add that I do like music, and I often listen to CDs or the radio, particularly when I’m driving, but that’s a) at a time that suits me (and doesn’t intrude on anyone else’s silence), and b) the music of my choice.

Having worked with a range of different people, who all seem to be capable of concentrating on other things with music playing and presumably quite like it, I accept that I may be in a minority.

I wonder though, do most people browsing in bookshops enjoy the experience more if there’s music? Do they prefer to go into eateries that have the radio on? Am I being unreasonable in my request for quietude?

Useful life cut short – striking tributes

I spent this morning searching for a man from the past.

On 5 February 1915 a Scottish solicitor called John Starkey Saunders died of a gun shot wound to the head.

For a gentleman employed in a respectable profession in the early part of the 20th Century, this was an unusual demise.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and helpfulness of a librarian in the local history section of Perth’s A K Bell library, I managed to view several Perth newspapers dating back to February 1915.

After a fruitless search in one particular paper, I was rewarded when looking at another, with the front page headline news –

“MR JOHN S SAUNDERS DEAD

Lawyer – Politician – Writer – Gentleman

Useful Life Cut Short – Striking Tributes”

This was more like it.

The obituary was extensive, taking up four columns and including a photograph of said Mr Saunders.

The gun shot death was described as an ‘unfortunate accident’, in which Mr Saunders had unexpectedly shot himself.

He was a member of a shooting club and the previous evening he had attended a shooting match with his chums. The match took place in the Perth club but they were using miniature rifles borrowed from the Scone (pronounced Skoon, a wee town outside Perth) club.

The match went off nicely, they all had a jolly time, and Mr Saunders took his miniature rifle back to his office where he secured it under lock and key, ready to return it to Scone the next evening.

The next day he went about his business as usual, indugling in various legal toings and froings, and then as everyone in the office was preparing to leave for the day the noise of a shot came from his room.

According to the Perthshire Courier, this was what happened:

“He put on his coat and hat, and recalled his journey to Scone. Accordingly, with business-bag in hand, he lifted the rifle from its resting place and turned out the light. In the process of this action the rifle, in all probability, swung in his hand, and, coming in contact with the chandelier, discharged the shot which penetrated the side of his head.”

The paper also stated that the gun contained one bullet that Mr Saunders hadn’t realised was still in the gun.

But Mr Saunders, being a member of the shooting club, was presumably a regular user of firearms. He would therefore, surely, know if all of the bullets had been discharged, he would also be very careful to make sure the gun was safe to handle. Would he really have allowed it to ‘swing in his hand’ in such a way that it came into contact with a light fitting causing the leftover bullet to enter the side of his head?

I find it hard to believe, and I said as much to the librarian.

She explained to me that in those days, as is often still the case today, it was considered blasphemous to overrule the will of God by taking your own life. For that reason suicides were not reported in the newspaper. There was also the question of insurance, which would not be paid out after suicide.

Why am I writing about this?

Well, the first reason is that a friend of mine is researching the Saunders family and asked me if I could find any newspaper reference to this death. With it having happened in Perth, which is my neck of the woods, it was easier for me to research this than for him.

Secondly, and this is what has delighted and surprised me today, I am intrigued to find out more about this chap.

This, I think, is what’s interesting about genealogy. John Starkey Saunders isn’t related to me, he’s not even related to the friend I’m doing the research for, but he has an interesting story to tell and life is all about stories. Children understand the importance of stories, but as adults we often forget.

As someone attempting to become a writer of stories, I’m now wondering about a story revolving around John Starkey Saunders. The more I find out about him the more interesting a fellow he seems. He died aged only 39 but with a wealth of experience and achievements behind him. He was a successful lawyer, policitian, public speaker, sportsman, churchman and writer. He even wrote a column for his local paper entitled “Random Notes”, which is something I’m keen to get a look at. I could easily have given this blog the same title.

Stories survive long after the people who wrote or contributed to them have gone and there’s something very reassuring about that, whether you’re the star turn yourself, or just a writer recording the details.

Dog school

At the risk of this blog turning into a place where all I do is rant about things, I would like to have a bit of a moan about training. In particular, the training of dogs.

Yesterday I took my small mother out to a quiet road where a few days ago I had noticed a profusion of wild raspberries. Knowing how much my mum loves to harvest wild fruits, I made the return visit with her so that we could gather some berries.

Off we set with our collecting boxes and began pulling bright red berries off sprawling bushes. We were happy in our work, minding our own business, when along came a woman with a young girl and two dogs. The woman had a white dog and the girl had a black one.

The dog the girl was in charge of was a highly energetic beast, quite young I would say, and constantly straining at its leash, pulling the girl along the road. I saw them in the distance approaching us and decided that I would carry on with my work and simply bid them a good day as they passed.

I was aware they were getting close, but all of a sudden I felt a thud on my right thigh. I looked down to find the black dog snapping at me and padding its damp feet on my jeans. I reached down to pat it, in the hope that it would put all fours back on the ground, but it seemed very keen to remain on its hind legs.

The girl who was holding the lead was far more interested in the berries we were collecting than in taking control of her dog, and the woman with the white dog smiled and muttered apologies, but neglected to do anything practical to prevent my leg from being used as a leaning post for dog paws.

Eventually they cleared off and I looked down to find that my previously clean trousers and jacket were covered in expansive muddy pawprints.

The thing that really gets my goat about this is the frequency with which it happens.

I live in an area full of dog lovers and every time I consider going for a walk from where I live, I have to think about the route I’m going to take and how I’m dressed.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had clean gear on and then had it messed up by dirty dog paws. I’m almost resigned to it happening now, but it still makes me cross.

Having said that, although I meet a lot of dogs who are apparently keen to make my acquaintance, there are some that ignore me and walk on by without jumping up at me. These are the dogs I like, and their owners are those upon whom I bestow a grateful smile.

I have had genuine apologies from a few dog owners when their dogs have jumped up, but these owners are in the minority. Most dog owners seem to think that I will be utterly delighted to have my clean clothes dirtied by their pet’s paws, and will smile lovingly at the grub they leave behind.

I have never owned a dog myself, although I could imagine having one for companionship. If I did ever become a dog owner I would want to be the responsible type that takes the time and trouble to train their pet.

By law, children have to go to school, so why not dogs?

It they did, I would enjoy my walks more and not have to wash my trousers so often.

Cold callers

When I was a child cold callers at the door were reasonably common.

Gypsies appeared selling pegs and there was a chap who sold onions on a string. I expect there were also double glazing salesmen and perhaps men touting encyclopaedia sets, although I don’t remember them.

In my adulthood I’ve had very few encounters with cold callers, until the last few years.

I don’t know if it’s the same in other parts of the country or if it’s like this in other parts of the world, but in the past year or two I’ve noticed a surprising increase in strangers coming to the door, sometimes with ID cards, more often without them.

The most recent one I had was from a telephone company who wanted me to switch my broadband. The girl who called at the door promised me amazing connection speeds, free this, that and the other, and all without me having to do a thing.

I listened to her for a while (far too long really but her chatter was mesmerising) and it was only when she produced a form that I had to fill in that alarm bells went off in my head.

I stopped her and told her I didn’t want to go ahead, and she was apparently very surprised. She repeated the deal over and over again, trying to convince me that she understood my viewpoint and that I wasn’t committing myself to anything.

In my younger years that would have been enough to persuade me but now that I’m getting older and more bolshie I stuck to my guns. She only got the message when I thrust her form and leaflet at her and told her I didn’t want them, and we parted amicably.

It left me feeling quite exhausted, and also a bit cross.

Maybe in the past when people interacted with each other more on a daily basis and there was more of a community spirit this sort of thing wouldn’t have seemed such an intrusion, but I can’t help thinking of it as an invasion of my privacy.

Quite a few doors in my neighbourhood have stickers on their front doors that say ‘No cold calling , we do not buy or sell anything at this door’ and I think they may be provided by the Council.

I felt sorry for the girl from the phone company when I turned her away and I wished her better luck elsewhere, because I realise that she was probably on commission and had just wasted time talking to me and gaining nothing.

On the other hand. as I told her, when I want to change my broadband supplier, or buy any other goods or services, I want the freedom to do it when I feel like it. I don’t want to have to make quick decisions on the spot about that sort of thing.

I occasionally get phone calls of this sort, which are also annoying, but it’s much easier to put the phone down on someone than it is to close the door on them. There is a terrible feeling of having been rude, even when you know that the stranger was unwanted and uninvited.

There was a peculiar woman who came to the door last year, a very dark individual, dark in hair, clothing and eyes, and rather shifty of countenance. She was possibly a traveller or gypsy. She had a large bag slung over her shoulder that appeared to be full of things. She asked me if I wanted to buy ‘anything’ (items unspecified) and I said that I didn’t have any change. I was curious, however, and tried to find out what it was she was selling. She wasn’t going to let me in on her secrets though, the bag didn’t come off the shoulder, she made no attempt to entice me with something she thought might interest me, and I’ve been left to wonder what could have been in that bag ever since. That’s the one and only occasion I’ve wished I’d held a cold caller at the door for longer, because my curiosity has never been satisfied.

In general, however, I feel that a person’s home is somewhere they should feel safe and unperturbed by strangers wanting to take money off them. I feel the same about the phone, I don’t want people selling me things over the phone. I know how to get to shops, I can buy things online if I don’t want to leave the house, but the key point is that I do my shopping at a time that suits me.

It makes me wonder if anyone has ever successfully brought a legal case against someone who sold them something at the door, purely because it was sold at the door rather than by any other means. You could so easily be persuaded to buy something you didn’t want from the pressure of a good salesperson more or less forcing you into a deal when you were unprepared. Lots of people must have signed up to things or parted with their cash and then regretted it, but is selling at doors a legitimate buiness practice?

I almost feel that it should be illegal to ring someone’s doorbell and try to sell them something. What do you think?