The end of NaBloPoMo

I made it! 30 posts in 30 days. I’ve got frustrated, bored and stressed, but this has been very rewarding. I think I’ve become a better writer, I know I have become a braver one, and I hope that will continue. I think I’ve got over some of my neuroses about blogging. Working at this pace it’s not possible to proof everything to quite the standard I’d like, and so I have definitely become more comfortable with the absence of perfection.

The thing I was the most concerned by was the idea of putting my ideas ‘out there.’ But that turned out ok too. Someone even mildly disagreed with something I said, and too my slight surprise the world didn’t end!

I’ve also been very pleasantly surprised by the support of some of my friends, whose opinions I value greatly. Their writing is prolific, accomplished and respected, and their encouragement has meant a huge amount.

I’m currently exhausted, and for that matter coming down with a cold, but this experience has definitely encouraged me to blog more. I had wondered if, by the end, I would shut down my laptop and not post anything again for 6 months. But this morning a headline caught my eye and almost without realising it I started writing about it. I didn’t ‘have’ to, as I knew that my last post of NaBloPoMo would be this easily written meta-post, and I realised then that I really want to keep this up, though probably not at the one-a-day rate.

So, to everyone who has supported and encouraged me, and everyone who has contributed to the 1,451 views I have got since I started this blog back in April, thank you! (Although based on some of the spam comments I think some of you may be bots running out of the Czech Republic.) And special thanks to my wonderful husband Terry without whom I would never have got started in the first place.

I’m really, really not going to have kids!

Earlier this month I wrote about how I sometimes consider the parallel universe in which Terry and I had children. A couple of weeks later Terry came across this article featuring the number of ‘unwanted’ pregnancies in the US.

According to this, half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended.

Since deciding I didn’t want children I have felt like a bit of an edge-case; a deviation from the norm. But if this statistic is true then maybe I’m not out on such a limb after all. Perhaps the only difference is that I have spent many hours full researching all available birth control options to absolutely minimise the chance of conceiving by accident.

Luckily I have never felt any real pressure to have children, like some women do. I certainly don’t have parents demanding to know when they are going to get Grandkids. I don’t live in an under-populated community. Quite the contrary in fact. As Terry pointed out at the end of NaBloPoMo last year “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” The most ‘pressure’ I have ever really experienced comes from the idle comments of nosy individuals who think it is acceptable to comment on my child-free status.

Sometimes it’s good natured, sometimes it might be less so. Perhaps some people might feel they know a couple so well that they can tease them about when they’re going to start popping sprogs. But as a friend of mine once pointed out you don’t always know what’s going on in someone’s life. A well-meant “So when are we going to hear the patter of tiny feet?” can make someone who is either struggling with their own ambivalence towards parenthood, or maybe having fertility problems, feel terrible.

However the comment that really makes me seethe is when I’ve told someone of Terry’s and my intention to remain child-free and they have responded “Oh, you’ll change your mind!”

Really? Will I? And what would that say about my motivations? I’ve got an extremely long list of very well-thought put reasons why I am never going to have children. If I woke up one day in a fog of hormones and felt that broodiness outweighed logic, wouldn’t that be a terrible reason for starting a family?

I started thinking that I didn’t want children when I was about 11 or 12. I was watching Gone With The Wind (which I grant you contains very little in the way of sage relationship advice) and Melly reassures Rhett that ‘every woman wants a baby’ when he feels Scarlett is starting to pull away from him. Aside from all the general connotations about the role of a woman, I felt a pang of indignation. At that point I hadn’t made up my mind that I didn’t ever want kids, but I strongly objected to the notion that just because I was a woman it was a given that I would want one. By the time I was 18 and going to university I was certain I would never choose to become a mother.

Far from changing my mind, I add to my reasons for not wanting kids all the time. My list includes physical, economic, moral and aesthetic considerations, all of which have led to the absolute conviction that I never, ever, want to have a baby.

I am extremely fortunate that Terry doesn’t want kids either, because, as strong as our relationship is, I don’t think we could survive as a couple if we weren’t on the same page on this issue. I am grateful for a healthcare system which provides free, safe and reliable methods of contraception. I feel lucky that I live in a country where, in the extremely unlikely case that I did fall pregnant, I could get an abortion legally and safely. And I am thankful for an education which has allowed me to inform myself properly, and draw my own conclusions as to what is right for me. If any of these things were different I might be one of the reluctant mothers in that article. I can’t imagine anything worse than having children if I didn’t want them.

It’s barrel scraping time!

I’m into the final few days of NaBloPoMo, and I’m pretty fed up of it now. I’ve spent most of my free time in the past month trying to think of something interesting or clever to say. I’m bored of trying to be interesting or clever. I want to go back to playing computer games.

My brain-to-post ratio has actually been gratifyingly high, meaning that the majority of ideas have actually made it into fully developed (or at least partially developed) pieces. But some concepts I came up with sat in the draft folder in state that was not so much half-baked as basically still raw dough.

So with apologies to Messrs Mitchell and Webb here is my list of:

Blog posts I couldn’t be bothered to write:

On not being nocturnal
I’m a morning person, not an evening person. After about 22.30 at night I get sleepy and want to go to bed. If I am forced to stay awake then I regress to a semi-embryonic state of hugging my knees and whimpering. This can be rather limiting to my social life. It does not however mean I am diabetic which was the bizarre conclusion someone once came to when I made my excuses and left a party before everyone else. “Is Liz ok?” She anxiously asked Terry. “She always seems so tired!” I’m fine thanks – I just don’t like staying up late. Let’s see how functional you are at 4 in the morning, because that’s what midnight feels like to me!

False Jeopardy Productions With further apologies to Mitchell and Webb (in the vastly unlikely scenario that they somehow read this : take it as a compliment guys – I think you’re ace!) The essence of drama is conflict.” Thus spake my GCSE Drama teacher. Wise words indeed for understanding the nature of fiction, narrative and how to engage your audience. Reality is not like fiction – it doesn’t generally follow the neat parabola of a story. So the fashion for shoehorning real life into a story template to create drama drives me up the wall. I had ‘Amazing Wedding Cakes’ on the TV earlier, and a cake they were working on got a little bit squished on one corner. All the clichés were there: the thumpy music, the constant replaying of the ‘moment of doom’ in that annoyingly de-coloured effect, and the look of consternation and/or solitary tear running down a cheek. I got close to screaming “It’s a cake – have some bloody perspective” at the TV, but then I thought I’d write a post instead. Except I didn’t.

How to win the Great British Bake Off.
I really enjoyed watching the 3rd series of GBBO, despite its flaws particularly the above False Jeopardy problem. I’m no baker . I love cooking but I like the freedom to play with flavours and textures and quantities. Having to stick rigidly to a recipe is a bit of a turn off for me. That said, by the end of the series I was quite convinced I had a formula which would get you to the semi-finals if not guaranteeing a win. The simple combination of theory and practice. Step one: be a scientist. Baking is essentially chemistry. So if you understand the principles at play you will have greater success. What got me thinking about this was an episode where a contestant agonised over whether to cook something in a bain-marie, and another where someone couldn’t decide if a particular custard should be made with whole eggs or just egg yolks. If you understood enough about the science behind the technique you’d know exactly what to do in a given situation and why. Step two: practice. One of the contestants admitted he’d never made a rough puff pastry before, and avoided using it until he had no choice, at which point the competition was fierce and any screw up could spell disaster. “What? But that’s so basic!” I thought. “How can you go on something like this without having practised the simple stuff first?” So, cook everything you have ever heard of!

First world Problems
My gym is closing. This sucks because I really like my gym and it was really convenient. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I might go to the local leisure centre but it’s slightly further away and more expensive. But as problems a person in this world might face go, this one is relatively minor. See above re. having some bloody perspective.

If I ever do NaBloPoMo again I may regret having put these 4 unfinished posts up now. Or perhaps I’ll be a more jaded person overall, and I’ll be perfectly happy cannibalising older posts!

My attitude to money

A while ago a friend of mine posted this article about personal finance. This is a particular area of interest for me as I have discussed previously. The piece de-constructs 5 money ‘habits’ the author adopted from an early age, growing up with limited means.

I have difficulty characterising how I spent my formative years in terms of where my family were on the fiscal ladder. I didn’t feel we were ‘rich.’ Not by a long shot. Clothes were from charity shops or hand-me-downs from my cousins. My Mum cut my hair and my Dad cut my Mum’s hair and my Dad went to a cheap barber about 6 times a year, or so goes my recollection. We grew our own vegetables in the garden, and I remember my Mum telling me that Dad did the shopping because he would stick to the shopping list and not spend extra money on impulse buys.

On the other hand my parents sent me to a private school for 7 years. They scrimped and saved and somehow got together the school fees, and I simply have no way to adequately thank them for the sacrifices the made to give that start in life.

I was pretty poor compared to some of the kids at school for whose families the fees were pocket change. But I learned a lot about how money works, and the ways in which I was susceptible to losing it. Throughout school and an embarrassingly large part of university I was spending money as a child does; on fripperies and frivolities. But by the time I graduated I was in a committed adult relationship and Terry and I were starting to think seriously about the future. And as the future costs money I realised my attitude to money had to mature.

So here is my take on the 5 habits in the piece:

You get used to shitty food.
I can totally see how this happens, as the author makes a very convincing case. But I think this one is avoidable. Now as I’m in the UK I don’t have the automatic problem of high-fructose corn syrup being in almost every prepared food. But I really think that basic home economics comes in here. Fresh food might ‘take ages to prepare’ but it can be frozen as well as the calorific ready-meal filth he refers to. You just need to know what you are doing. Furthermore given that the author is in the US there are 2 other important factors to consider. 1) Being severally overweight can cause lots of health problems so if you can avoid getting overweight in the first place that’s preferable 2) the US health care ‘system’ is all kinds of crazy. If you’re not eating right because you can’t afford to, chances are you haven’t got insurance either. So spending a little bit more to avoid taking on more calories than an Olympian could get through in a day could save a lot more money later on.

Extra Money Has to Be Spent Right Goddamn Now! & You Want to Go Overboard on Gift-Giving
Again I can see how these 2 can happen, but this really is bad financial management, and needs discipline and education to beat. I wrote earlier this month about how I tend to rhapsodise about teaching logic in schools when under the influence of port. In more sober moments I am rather more concerned with the teaching of personal finance . How do credit ratings work? What do APR and AER mean and why does that matter? Why might payday loans and weekly payment rental shops be a really bad idea. Why should you bother with a pension? How do tax and government credits work? How do you design and stick to a sensible, realistic budget? All of these are complicated but important, and learning how to navigate the scary world of finance is to my mind the kind of essential information that no child should leave school without. And once you understand just how important getting it right will be, I think it’s easier to motivate yourself into making sound decisions in the first place.

You Become an Obsessive Bean-Counter
This was the one which really pricked my interest. Because this is what I do. Around the point that we were thinking about getting our first mortgage I actually got pretty neurotic about checking our balance every day. These days it’s a bit more under control, but my behaviour would probably still come across as obsessive to most people. I have a spreadsheet with every regular monthly payment, which gets marked off as it goes out of our account. To the penny, if at all possible.

You Only Spend with the Short Term in Mind
Related to the above I have spreadsheets relating to short, medium and long term planning. When Terry came into an unexpected windfall a couple of years ago in the guise of his redundancy payment the bulk went straight into a pension. These days we’re focussed on the medium term paying off of our mortgage. I worked out a while ago that while I am extremely mercenary, I’m really not very materialistic. I don’t enjoy shopping, because I don’t enjoy spending money. I like money to be sat in my bank account, not exhausted on stuff. Interestingly the author talks about how this mindset led him to make bad decisions concerning potential savings, like the buy 2 deodorants for $5 instead of 1 for $3. Now if you have space to store stuff and you are sure you will use it eventually, the deal makes sense. But it’s worth bearing in mind that actually a lot of those types of deals are designed to separate you from your money quicker than if you just bought what you actually need. If you use them well they can save you money in the long term, but capitalists tend not to design pricing systems that put their consumers’ interests above their own.

Caring about money is, like everything else, a balancing act. As I was growing up the ‘Greed is Good’ faction were laying the groundwork to bring the world to its economic knees yet again. I was taught that caring about money too much was evil; a sentiment echoed by vast swathes of popular culture from The Muppets to Francis McDormand’s cop in Fargo. But not caring enough about money is terribly irresponsible, and I don’t think that was emphasised nearly enough in books and TV. Sure – you don’t want to breed a generation of Gordon Geckos, but given how common is the plight described in the 5 stupid habits article, I think we do need to imbue everyone with a stronger sense of financial planning and discipline.

Will having a tablet make me stupid?

Yonks ago during lunch I came across Charlie Brooker being quite funny in the Guardian about tablets.

I felt this quite accurately reflected my position on tablets. I just didn’t get the appeal. I had a smart phone upon which I was quite happy checking Facebook and Twitter, looking at the news headlines, playing the occasional game of Angry Birds (until I got frustrated and rage quit, which I do a lot.) Oh yeah, and making phone calls and texting which can be pretty handy. And I have my laptop, which is good for online banking, shopping & work stuff. Between the two of them most of my connectivity issues are covered.

Then there’s my Kindle which means I get to carry around an entire library with me wherever I go. I’m an avid reader and I enjoy all sorts of books, from re-reading classic literature, discovering new novels, and educating myself with a range of non-fiction books. I was bought up believing reading was a mark of intellect. It shows a desire to improve yourself. Even if the double-edged sword of an e-reader is that no-one knows what you are reading. So sometimes I’m reading Liars and Outliers and thinking deep thoughts about how social defection maps onto looking after Terry when he was sick. Other times I’m reading the spin-off books from Castle. (So much fun, but not winning any prizes in the deep-and-meaningful stakes.) But I was told reading is good for you. It expands the brain, and exposes you to new ideas.

As opposed to watching TV, which seems more focussed on entertainment than education. Kids who watch a lot of TV get told they will grow up to be slobs, whereas reading lots as a kid is a sign you’ll end up as a doctor or an economist or something. Reading makes you smart, watching TV makes you stupid.

So I’m slightly concerned that in finally getting a tablet my IQ is going to drop 15 points. Because I have only got it for one reason: I want to watch TV on the train into work each day. My attitude to tablets hasn’t really changed, but the one thing I can really see myself enjoying is working my way though all the TV I’ve never made time for. Is this going to make me stupid?

Now obviously this is all nonsense. TV is just another medium, and watching good quality TV can be just as enriching as a good book, and surely there’s nothing as diminishing to a person as reading the Twilight books. (I read them to make sure they are as appalling as I thought they would be. They are. Now you don’t have to read them. You’re welcome.)

So I’m going see how I get on with my tablet. I’m going to watch the remainder of Dexter Season 4 which I abandoned part way though. And if afterwards I have become too thick to be able to read properly I can always go back to Angry Birds.

It’s not F**king phone hacking!

Terry, being the self-respecting geek that he is, has a slew of black t-shirts with amusing and/or controversial slogans on them. One of my favourites is one which reads “It’s not F**king phone hacking!” Speedily produced after the ‘phone hacking’ scandal really hit the consciousness of the general public, this t-shirt seeks to highlight an important point in a humorous way. When most people think of the term ‘phone hacking’ what they are generally remembering is the scandal relating to the hacking of voicemails, belonging to celebrities, crime victims and their relatives, and a few notable others. From a technical point of view this was not phone hacking. Phone hacking would refer to hacking the hardware or software of the actual phone, not hacking into the network which provided the voicemail service.

From the perspective of someone directly affected this may seem like a trivial distinction, and I can understand someone finding this slogan quite offensive. After all, upon discovering that your privacy has been systematically violated, not going into the myriad other consequences of this most repugnant of journalism practices, seeing someone latch onto such a technical detail may well feel like a slap in the face. You have been victimised, but some smart-arse thinks that pedantically harping on about whether the terminology is correct is more important. If this is the case then you truly have my sympathies.

So someone suffering from the direct effects of the hacking may justifiably be unconcerned about what they see as trivialities, at least in the short term. And getting the general population to understand the intricacies of anything can be an exercise in frustration. So what’s the harm if the majority of people are labouring under such a misconception? As I see it the problem is that misconceptions can be rather pernicious. Your Average Joanne might not understand the distinction between hacking hardware and hacking networks, and if you were to explain her mistake she may well not care. But what Average Joanne thinks seems to inform what a lot of politicians think, and then you can get real problems.

In their desperation not to be seen as ‘out of touch’, politicians will frequently refer to popular opinion & public understanding. (Any power-hungry politico worth their salt knows that telling the populous that they are stupid, ill-informed and wrong tends not to win you any friends, or votes.) But what if the politician in question doesn’t have the time, ability or inclination to inform themselves properly on a particular subject? Then those half-formed, over-simplified & under-researched opinions swilling about public conversations (and in the media; promulgated by journalists equally incapable of proper fact-checking – see Churnalism) can easily transfer themselves to the lips of the people who are empowered to do something about it. It becomes sheer luck as to whether the MP standing up in the House of Commons, or in front of the Select Committee or Inquiry, actually understands what she or he is actually saying, and whether that bears any resemblance to reality.

A couple of weeks ago Terry posted about the MP Helen Goodman whose woeful inability to understand really quite basic stuff about the internet should really make everyone quake with fear. Some of the comments he received suggested this was unduly harsh. I disagree. I appreciate not everyone can be an expert about everything, and yes in an ideal world a team of policy wonks with all the relevant information (and good communication skills) would be there to stop hapless MPs destroying the internet due to a technical misunderstanding. But none the less I felt Ms Goodman’s response indicated a fundamental lack of respect for her position, the power she holds, and the duty she has to ensure she is appropriately informed.

People are stupid parts 3 & 4

The following 2 gripes with humanity actually stem from things I’ve seen on Terry’s blog.

The first is the phenomenon of the following reasoning: If I can’t see it, it doesn’t happen.

There are people who, despite appearing to acknowledge the depth and breadth of human experience, are nonetheless happy to declare that a certain phenomenon doesn’t exist unless they’ve encountered it first-hand. I think Terry can relate to this as he spends a lot of internet hours battling with people who insists that no-one scans QR codes. As a matter of fact, lots of people do scan QR codes, and Terry has got a load of statistics on it, but he still gets boorish types insisting that because they, nor any of their friends have ever scanned QR codes, then no one does.

I have my own example. A while ago I went on a truly awful Women’s Career Progression course, which included a woman who was a very active feminist in the 70s speaking about how younger women weren’t politically minded any more. “We used to go on marches and sit in cafés and talk about women’s rights” she said. “No one does that now.” I was already feeling pretty pugnacious at this stage, and so I stuck up my hand and asked “Excuse me, have you not heard of the internet?” She conceded the point with more grace than I’d made it, so credit to her for that, but I was still rather baffled as to how an intelligent educated woman had managed to make the mental leap from ‘I can’t see this happening with my own eyes’ to ‘This doesn’t happen.’

The other thing I have seen recently is that if a group of people fight for a range of issues the easiest to understand and/or most controversial element will be the only thing some people will acknowledge.

Again this is a gripe borrowed from reading Terry’s blog and ensuing comments. Terry is a member of the Open Rights Group, and an outspoken advocate of digital freedom. He writes about the issues surrounding digital control quite a lot. Issues. Plural. As in more than one. Yet someone always seems to make a comment reducing everything ORG does to fighting for the right to illegally download content off the internet.

I don’t know if this is because piracy is somehow easier to grasp, or because it seems like a more contentious topic, but there are plenty of people who hear ‘Digital Rights’ and immediately think this is just about teenagers sharing music over the web.

It must be nice to live in such a simple world. Perhaps everything looks like it is drawn in crayon.

Being a wuss

I’m scared of rollercoasters. I hate the idea of deliberately simulating the sensation of falling/speeding/going upside down. In real life any of these sensations would likely be a sign that something really quite bad was happening, and I have no wish to engender this feeling for fun. Theme parks always look so rickety. And without wishing to cast aspersions on his character, Terry used to work for Thorpe Park and he’s pretty irresponsible at times (I’m sure he wasn’t while he was working, but still.) Plus I saw Final Destination 3.

I’m scared of canteens. They are a veritable minefield of potential social embarrassment. Standing in the wrong queue, not having enough money when you get to the till, and then the high-school nightmare of dropping your tray while the jocks and cheerleaders crowd round you in a circle jeering. I don’t think that has ever happened to me (it may not have ever actually happened to anyone outside American teen movies circa 1992) but the thought that it might brings me out in a cold sweat.

Spiders are a tricky one. I swear I used to be ok with them but after a decade living with Terry I appear to have caught arachnophobia. Although I’m still markedly braver than him, on the occasions when we get uninvited house guests with 8 legs there will be much shrieking and probably a stiff drink afterwards.

But the fear that I think has affected me the most in life is the fear of being told off. I was such a good kid that I was rarely in any real trouble. In fact I was rarely in any kind of trouble. As a child I had praise lavished on me by adults, for being polite, for being dutiful, for being clever or helpful or punctual. It became the norm, so much so that even a mild rebuke was so infrequent that it felt like the worst thing in world. Perhaps if I’d been naughty more often I would have got more used to getting a good old-fashioned bollocking and it wouldn’t feel like my world was ending when it happened. But a large part of me still craves approval and freaks out slightly at any suggestion that I am being censured.

And it is this fear which drives the cowardice to which I have previously alluded. But at least I recognise it now. And with every NaBloPoMo post I’m getting a little bit braver.

Women Bishops

The Church of England has recently voted against allowing females to become bishops, falling just short of the 2/3rd majority needed to overturn the status quo.

As an atheist I’m not overly concerned by this. While I agree with the point made by a friend of mine – that as long as Bishops are invited to sit in the House of Lords and moralise on issues of the day this vote means that voice will be exclusively male – my general inclination is to ignore the internal politicking of an organisation for which I have zero respect anyway. (The issue of this internal politicking affecting the wider society is a separate one.)

But I wasn’t always an atheist. I was bought up CofE, I went to a CofE primary school and continued to attend Sunday Mass when I went to my very non-religious secondary school. This was up until I was about 16 when the church voted against the ordination of gay priests. At least I think that’s what is was. It may have been about one of the other homophobic policies of the Anglican church. I can’t remember and I’m actually very grateful that it’s all fading into the distant past. Anyway, I remember clearly that whatever decision had been made it disgusted me. I had been a very pious child, and had taken religion seriously, but I had also been raised not to be prejudiced against someone because of their sexuality.

I recognised this as a crunch point. I could either abandon the principles of tolerance and fairness, or I could turn my back on the church. I chose the latter with no difficulty whatsoever.

What followed was a 2 year period of transition where I still identified as a Christian but separated from the Church, through a stage of saying I believed in a deity but without the confines of theism, and then rejecting the concept in its entirety. By the time I went to University I was calling myself an atheist. It took a while to sort my ideas out, but once I stopped attending church services it was suddenly a lot easier to think for myself. All the critical faculties which I had deliberately kept away from my faith were free to engage and eventually I concluded that this was all nonsense.

Had things not turned out this way I may have remained a Christian, and would be more qualified to speak to the current issue of the ordination of female bishops. As it is I only have what scraps of church dogma remain in my memory with which to try to fathom this decision. It’s not much to go on, but there is one pertinent piece of scripture I can recall: If your hand or eye or any other part of you causes you to sin, cut it off.

Now the bible has unarguably got some messed-up shit in it. Gang rape, genital mutilation, murder – fun for the whole family. So the above words are perhaps to be taken literally. Perhaps we really are supposed to slice off parts of our bodies if they cause us to sin. Of course this doesn’t pay a whole heap of respect to the idea that the brain is pretty much in control of everything, and human limbs are not usually given to acting of their own accord. But then the bible isn’t known for its compatibility with modern science.

So perhaps this is better understood figuratively for groups of people. If you have an organisation, and an element within that organisation goes off-message and starts doing stuff which is antithetical to the aims of the whole, you should expel that element.

But if that’s the case, how the hell can the cause of ‘Unity’ be cited as a justification for this result? If the church has modernised, as it so often professes to have done, but there are factions within it which want to hang on to the misogynistic values of old – get rid of them. If you truly find what they are saying and doing to be abhorrent, cut them loose and good riddance.

When I was a kid, sometimes I had friends who wanted me to do Bad Things. The advice given from all the grown-ups I knew, quite specifically the religious leaders, was “You don’t need friends like that! If they really are your friends they wouldn’t ask you to do something wrong.”

So to the people who claim to personally be in favour of female bishops but have voted no because the consensus isn’t yet there: who exactly are you friends? You would go against what you believe to retain their approval? Or are you using this as a cover for your own prejudices?

People are stupid part 2

On the occasions I take the bus into work rather than walking, which as the weather gets colder becomes more frequent, I am frustrated by the number of people who will not sit in a vacant seat when the bus is crowded. I assume this stems from the terror that if you take a seat you will be judged if there is anyone who might have had more need of that seat than you. Fair enough, the polite thing to do is to look around and see if there is anyone currently standing who might want the seat more. But if no one claims it, and/or any ‘worthier’ candidates refuse the offer then the sensible and altruistic thing to do is to sit in it yourself. You take up less space sitting in a seat which is empty than standing by it and contributing to the crush of bodies. This includes going upstairs to sit down. On several occasions I have been forced to stand at the front of a bus, unable to move back as far as the stairs for a couple of stops, until I finally squeeze past the stairwell to find the top deck was empty.

Actually this also reminds me of a psychological test done on monkeys. 4 monkeys are out in a cage with a button which delivers food when pressed. They get used to pushing the button and food comes out. After a while the food button is disconnected from the feeder, and connected to a jet of water. The monkeys push the button and get squirted. So they stop pressing the button. Then one monkey gets replaced by a monkey from a different cage, who has learned to associate the button with food. New Monkey goes to push the button, and gets jumped on by the 3 Old Monkeys, preventing him from pressing it. Another monkey gets substituted, the 2nd New Monkey tries the same thing. The 2 Old Monkeys and the 1st New monkey jump on the 2nd New Monkey to stop him from pressing the button. After 2 more substitutions there are no original monkeys left. Then another substitution is made, and another new hungry monkey tries to get food. In the test the other 3 monkeys in the cage, none of whom at this point have experienced the jet of water for themselves, will still prevent the newest monkey from pressing the button. They have no idea what will happen if the button is pressed, they have just learned the behaviour that anyone attempting to press the button is to be stopped.

So each time I manage to get past a crowd of irate Londoners to find that the top deck of the bus has seats I think of the monkeys. I suppose I should be grateful that the typical commuter hasn’t yet resorted to flinging around their own faeces.