I am rarely one to go about accusing anyone of ageism, although some of the other –isms that we use do come regularly to mind when I talk or write to certain types of people, but more inclined to break such things down to a level of experience. I do not doubt for one moment that many people of my age have managed not to learn what twerking is, or have only come across it briefly without gaining any insight to its history and several meanings. Ageism, for me, is something completely different, where younger people believe that the older versions of themselves cannot perform a specific task, or do not have a certain level of knowledge. As an example: our local senior citizens over the age of fifty, are invited to attend evening classes to learn how to use computers. Along with many people of my age, I grew up with computers, and was using them before many people who wish to teach us their rudiments were born. I was working with live systems, real-time systems, in the early Eighties, with a network of about one hundred computers, spread across several thousand square miles, under my joint control. Admittedly, not everyone can claim this level of experience, but the first computers – from Sinclair and others – were being offered at open computer and technical conferences when I was a teenager, and my first single-finger typing was on one of these machines, long before Windows and Linux and all the other simplifications came into business. We had to learn to write our own code, not how to move a mouse and click on someone else’s coding to open a program which did everything for us.

What I especially find amusing about the computer courses here at the moment, is what they have on offer. Quite aside from the basic computers for over fifties, there is another one for Windows 7, and this is the most up-to-date Microsoft system they have on offer. I add, they do not have anything else to choose from, it is either Windows 7 or nothing. Now, this version of Windows was removed from the Microsoft support list in January of this year as obsolete, and not worth updating any further. For anyone using the system program, as I do, without internet connections, this is hardly a problem, but it isn’t safe for anything where an online connection is required. Sometimes I think that ageism is being forced upon us: that feeling that people expect us to walk slowly, slightly bent over, with a small dog, a stick, and a flat cap outdoors, a cardigan and pipe in front of the fire at home. Many of us are not like that at all, although I do have a walking stick, it is a ceremonial one which I only ever use in September of each year.

In fact, I had some very amusing times with a group of three youths – pre-teens – on the last bicycle rally we were able to hold in the county, which was two years ago. Each year we organise a rally to introduce the people who live in our area to the businesses and sights of their own area – something which is necessary, sadly, as so many people hardly know what there is at the end of the own street, let alone in the next community. This annual bicycle rally attracts people from outside the county too, and generally manages to get about two thousand people out for a trip through the countryside at a time when the weather is still relatively good. The last one we did was thirty-two kilometres, roughly twenty miles, and covered a few town roads as well as country lanes and paths. The small group was upset, and surprised, because they had to overtake me two or three times, and then arrived at the finish about two minutes before I did. Upset because they were fast on their bicycles, or so they thought, and I was walking. But, of course, the idea was not to get around the course as quickly as possible, more to see the sights and have some fun, with exhibitions, refreshments and events along the route.

I’m not so sure about cultural ignorance, which is a very wide-ranging thing which, undoubtedly, does exist but cannot be levelled at all and sundry. There are so many things going on in the world, it is impossible to know all the cultural aspects of every single society, each group within that society; and these cultural attributes change with time too, which makes it difficult to keep up. Twerking has been misappropriated by those who do not understand its original tribal significance, and I am not going to suggest that those dancing in this small bar in Belize necessarily understood it either, but the very fact that it is being used in our form of society is a misappropriation. Our various societies do not live in the same tribal form where twerking was used as an enticement, as a come-on in some ritual dance form. Nowadays it has been associated – sadly – with a certain type of woman, but also with those who allow their nether regions to grow, often unnaturally, to extreme proportions, believing this to be highly attractive. Which, I might add, it is for some men, but not necessarily the type a woman can look forward to spending the rest of her life with. Assuming, of course, that this is what she aims for!

My realisation that the French were just like us was a small moment in my life, but definitely one with massive consequences. You must remember that, at that age, many people are still caught in the belief what they are being taught, their family and peers, must be right. Why would anyone want to teach falsehoods? Why would a teacher, politician or anyone else in a position of respect, wish to lie to you? And it is really at this age that the final truth comes and smacks you across the back of the head. It begins, of course, much earlier, when a child first goes to kindergarten, and begins to see that other people know things too, and that other people know different things, or things which are at odds with what you’ve learned at home. It’s not until a much later age, though, that the few realisation hits you, and this trip to France, which threw my history teacher under the bus, was that moment for me. After that I became the awkward scholar, the one with the questions. I began to have people checking to see what I was reading, and the pleasures of having free access to the hidden books in the school library vanished.

On the other side of things, I stopped travelling back home for the vacations, spending my time out on the road, as a life member of the Youth Hostelling Association. I moved out of the family house and into my own place, had my first employment two days after getting back to London, started my first personal library.

Is fourteen a good age to discover that the world is not what is being presented to you? I believe so, as the mind has not yet formed, and youth has a chance to really discover their own place, their own niche. This is also, I have to admit, one of the reasons why I believe many people, if they let themselves be honest with themselves, discover their own feelings about religion, about society, about sex and their own inclinations. They may not yet officially be adults, but the mind works far faster, for some, than the laws of a land allow or accept. Go back one hundred and fifty years or so, and this was the age when most boys were in their final year at university, when women had their first children. The latter, I believe, is not such a good point; I would much rather than women had had the chance to decide for themselves and not been forced into marriage and childbirth by a patriarchal society. On the other side, I also wish that women had been given the same chances in education as men, back then. But a man was considered different, sent to school or schooled at home from a far earlier age in the seven foundation subjects, then sent off to university at about eleven, and the Grand Tour of Europe, if the family could afford it, when they were seventeen. Life expectancy was shorter, but not by that much. Those who made it across the waters to Europe came back with a far greater understanding of the world, even if they did then get high-ranking, high-paid Empire positions, or bought their way into the army as an officer. Today education is based on what society believes is needed in business, purely in commercial interests, as we see when universities begin to close down or defund their Humanities departments, as has happened of late.

You mention the way meals were served as being an eye-opener for you in Canada. Imagine being brought up in a civilised family, where meals are eaten at table with a knife and fork. Fine, we had takeaway meals too, but rarely in my family – and for me rarely later too. In Belize I met a family from Taiwan who were suddenly consternated to discover they did not have knives and forks in their house at all, and did not know how to serve a meal to me, their guest. Chopsticks were, and are, well known to me, though, thanks to my travels. Also knowing which hand to use when eating – as in India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – so that the clean hand is used, and not the soiled one. I still do this when eating in an Indian restaurant, take a chapatti, break and fold it with the one hand, then scoop up the food you wish to eat. In a Chinese restaurant eating with chopsticks is different to eating in a Japanese restaurant, where the pointed chopsticks – Chinese ones are broader at the tips – are not supposed to touch the mouth. Or taking a chance, on a dark street crossing in Belize, and buying your evening meal of chicken and beans – in rice – from a old couple with a small kitchen table, a large cauldron and a few paper plates.

I was lucky with the eating habits of Saudi Arabia, having read T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom behind the counter at school, and the descriptions of him eating with various Arab families during the First World War. Lucky also because I wouldn’t have been able to read this book if I hadn’t been school librarian at twelve, since it was a banned book for us, believed to have the wrong tale in it – meaning there might be homosexual overtones in play. We don’t want our children to be influenced by real life!

Globalisation has been around, in one form or another, for many years. On a much smaller scale there was globalisation around the Mediterranean in the eleventh century, where nations learned to trade with one another, learned to decide which goods should have tariffs to protect their own production, and which were needed and could be free trade. There was trade and intellectual exchange between Japan and China for many centuries, as well as increasing trade from Cairo to Constantinople, through the Islamic world right across to Muslim Spain, before the Roman Catholics captured it for Christianity and began murdering the population for their religious beliefs. It has changed now as the entire globe could be linked up, one country to another, with many free trade or reduced tariff trade agreements being formed according to need. But the job losses, the movement of work possibilities, that has been there since heaven knows when. Every change of technology has brought changes in the work environment, but not necessarily through globalisation.

You can look at the industrial revolution, which wiped out the cottage waving and pottery industries and helped to increase slavery. The British Empire, which caused massive movements of people and changes on industry through the East India Company, is also a good example for change which brought loss and gain. Loss, mainly, for freedoms and the chance of a decent living in peace for many nations, and profit for the few back in the green fields of Old England. Nations constantly need to adapt, and England is a prime example, as is Germany. After the Second World War when both countries were rebuilding, aided by massive financial incentives from the United States – which means money promised on the condition it should be used to buy American products – where the finances were employed in completely different ways, creating employment in Germany, and unemployment in England, is a good example. One started afresh having learned their lesson, and the other tried to go back to the empirical ways of the previous century with disastrous results. There are constant changes in the world which cause unemployment or displacement – war being one major factor in the latter – to which nations must quickly adapt, businesses must adapt, and the civilian population most definitely. But this is not just globalisation, many local changes can be the cause too: a mine closes because there is no more coal, or it isn’t worthwhile mining it; a department store chain goes out of business; a new chain of fast food restaurants or a bookstore chain opens in a small town. Local occurrences which can have devastating effects on the local population which, gradually, work their way in ever increasing circles, out to the wider world.

Certainly such things can help the rise of a dictatorial movement such as the current Republican party. All they need is the right person to make claims which appeal to the masses, and they’re on their way. And it’s easier to say that foreigners are the problem, rather than blaming local conditions, or even the policies of their own government. The British have problems, as one example, with leaving the European Union at the moment, and the Prime Minister is trying to blame the whole thing on disagreements over fishing rights. To do this he is pointing an accusing finger at the French, rather than reminding people that fishing quotas were introduced in the Seventies, and the government sold many quotas off to the Dutch, the Spanish and to Iceland. Scotland, on the other hand, retained most of its rights. Leave the facts out of the argument, and it is easy to convince people with a predisposition against another specific group people – the French in this case – that they are to blame. The facts, when someone else brings them out, are them ignored, or don’t reach the right audience: it’s harder to disprove something which has already been promulgated through the press, as the press doesn’t like to be corrected either.

Certainly, personal experience has a far better learning potential than anything which can be taught in a school classroom. Those who experienced the hardship after the war, those who experienced the great depression in the Twenties and Thirties, those who have been in floods, earthquakes and disaster zones know far more than those who read about them and glance at a few photographs. I am still amazed at how many people from my generation see photographs of extreme poverty in Glasgow, for example, and cannot believe that this was in the Eighties, in their life time. They lived in their own safe cocoon and never broke out of the shell. Indeed, for many years I was much the same, living a comfortable life in the centre of London, and unaware of the level of poverty just a few streets away.

This level of belief in self, the exceptionalism, is much the same as we have seen in empires down the centuries, right before they begin to collapse in on themselves. The British Empire was no different, this belief – which still holds out today – that everyone should be grateful to them for what they did, and that they could do no wrong. Tonight, in Washington DC, there are extreme right-wing demonstrations to Save the Election where the speakers are riling up the crowds to destroy the GOP, because the GOP, they claim, has done nothing to undermine the democratic will of a minority of people, and turn the election over to Trump. At the same time, one hundred and twenty-six elected representatives – eight of them women, and all of them White – have taken legal action to try and force States other than their own to overturn the election results, to disenfranchise their voters. The move has been thrown out by the Supreme Court, but these people have attempted to place a dictator in the White House, and some will continue to do so. It remains to be seen whether anyone is brave enough to enforce Amendment 12, and refuse to seat them in Congress. This, though, is the way the exceptionalism forces the end of the democratic State, and brings the whole edifice tumbling down. There are enough other States out there who are more than happy to see this happen, and ready to spring into the coveted place the United States could be leaving open. And yet the system, until now – and aside from my personal disinclination to believe in the democratic nature of the Electoral College – has worked so well until now, until one narcissistic man gets the power, lets it go to his head, and turns everyone else this way and that with his own, personal, exceptionalism.

People have also got to the stage now where public shaming doesn’t bother them too much either, until the consequences of their actions are brought out in ringing tones. Watching so many films of people being abusive, racist insults, threats – even to co-workers when the person making the threats knows the camera is on – and then trying to blame everyone but themselves when the hard truth comes home, and they are out of a job. It’s just so sad to watch, and to realise that the education system, the system of ethics and morals has disappeared for some, or is only applied to a small, select group within their immediate social or work environment, and specifically excludes many others. But everyone is told, right from a very young age, how exceptional they are, how much better than everyone else they are, and no one should ever take that away from them. Now, I have no problem with praise and earned attention, but there has to be a limit surrounded by truth and reality, otherwise whole worlds simply collapse.

I have no problems with German property laws and with the legal aspect of what I could have done against my neighbour, had I wanted to go that way or, eventually, had I needed to. A simple phone call to one of my colleagues would have been enough for them to get a reprimanding letter and deadline to clear from one department, or a fine from another. I, though, would have had to go on living next to them. The problem, however, has now been cleared up, as has all the rubble, and the collapsed building is no more. My neighbours managed to get a bank loan for the costs, and a professional company came in last week and demolished the rest of the building, and removed all that remained. There is a massive gap now between our properties, where the building was, so that I can wander right over to their back door, or look into their kitchen, but that is a minor and easily remedied problem. Sometimes patience is the best policy, even if it could feel a touch awkward waiting.

English is considered a high priority language because so many businesses use it, and because most technical manuals come in English first. Although German is the first language in Europe, as a mother tongue no one speaks any other language more , English has more of a world-wide scope than any other language. But the higher levels of German education, the Gymnasium and Abitur, require another foreign language too, and then the students have the freedom – within reason – to choose whatever they wish. Within reason because a teacher has to be found, but we have had people studying Korean, Chinese and Japanese at my local Gymnasium, as well as the more usual French, Spanish and Russian. We also have several very highly rated English language universities near us which concentrate on international business, politics, communication and similar subjects, and many set their sights on gaining a coveted place there early on in their school careers. And a good knowledge of one or two foreign languages gains a higher pay rate, a better position within a company, and a far better selection of potential employers.

I’ve not yet had any confirmation that my book purchases will be limited by the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, and I suspect if anything there will just be delays in delivery. At least, that is what I am hoping for. I do know that a large number of hauliers – someone suggested 85% of European transport companies – do not wish to deliver to the island anymore, because of the potential delays and the additional customs checks and costs. I doubt that this will affect the postal service too much, as they have had paperwork for countless years and are more used to working with countries which do not have trade agreements. The question is more over whether the English wholesaler will be able to supply, and how long delivery will take. Up until now an ordered book has needed about a fortnight to get over to Germany, and then three days maximum to get to me – the delivery delays here are more due to the pandemic than anything else – but that could change drastically. Having made so many promises about how the whole thing will run efficiently and be no problem for businesses, the government is now warning all those who trade overseas to begin preparing – even though the software for customs checks hasn’t reached beta stage yet, and they don’t have enough trained customs officials –and has bought up and begun preparing massive parking lots for lorries awaiting customs inspection in Kent. None of this bodes well for the future, but that hasn’t stopped me from sending off a new book order today, to compliment the one I sent in last weekend.

My thinking here is that we will probably go into lockdown immediately after Christmas, through to at least 10 January, and it is good to be prepared. My freezer is full of the bare essentials, and the only things which I’d need to buy during the strict lockdown will be fresh milk and bread. Since all the museums and galleries, concert halls and cinemas have been closed for the last few weeks anyway, that means there will be no real change to my present way of life any way. And the lockdown will come, it is effectively agreed already, since the number of infections and the number of deaths has spiked in this second wave, and experience shows this is probably the only way to stop the whole thing dead. We do have, naturally, our broad selection of those who disagree, who exercise their right to protest against the restrictions, but many of these have caught the virus now, by ignoring the rules, and are out of the picture; that is, in enforced quarantine or hospital. None of them, so far, have paid the ultimate price, although I suspect it will not be much longer until a few of them do. People who play with the wrong kind of fire tend to get burned eventually.

Right now I am enjoying another excellent novel by a Scottish writer, James Robertson, partially written in Scots which makes me read – inside my head – with a completely different accent. After that I have a couple of George Orwell books, an autobiography of the historian Eric Hobsbawn, and then a Richard Dawkins work, and that will see me though this coming week at least. And, of course, there is always the pleasure of being able to write a few letters.