Monday, 15 January 2018

The very first

Bijoux had a wonderful list of "firsts", so I thought I'd pinch the idea.

First vacation:  As a child, to Southend, Essex, and Perranporth Cornwall, to visit relatives. As an adult, to Dublin, and then to Venice, Florence and Rome. I was worried that, not speaking Italian, it would be highly problematic. Of course it wasn't.

First car:  A secondhand Austin A60 in the late nineteen sixties. Forever breaking down and needing repairs. But usually it got me to my girlfriend's house.

First job:  A cub reporter on the Harrow Observer (a London suburb). Journalists were paid very well in those days - a generous salary plus expenses.

First crush:  A trainee solicitor called Sue W. We never actually dated. Probably a good thing as she proved to be almost as neurotic as me.

First kiss:  Another neurotic woman called Maggie H. We were enthusiastic kissers and long, lingering French kisses were the norm.

First flight:  As a child, in a friend's mother's private plane. I felt decidedly queasy, but it was an amazing trip. As an adult, to Dublin.

First fancy dinner:  I don't go in for fancy dinners, but I guess you could count the lavish marriage reception for our friends Joy and Kevin.

First apartment:  Actually a couple of rooms in a shared house. Very cosy because the owner (a friend of a friend) had recently renovated the house. Also where I lost my virginity (at the ripe old age of 22).

First record:  Not sure. Possibly the single "How Do You Do It?" by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Or something by Billy J Kramer.

First pet:  As a child, two Scottish terriers called Mac and Remus. Lots of mice and the odd hamster. As an adult, none. I'm happy to admire other people's.

First concert:  I made regular visits to the Marquee Club in Soho. I don't remember which was the first band I saw - probably someone long-forgotten.

Compiling that lot stirred up a few poignant memories. I sometimes forget what an eventful life I've led.

PS: I see that I did a slightly similar post a couple of years ago

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A touch of romance

I have a romantic streak. I like those little things that make a relationship soft at the edges, that add a magical tingle to the everyday routine. I like it when an unexpected gesture of tenderness or fondness leaves me feeling slightly gooey inside.

Jenny's not quite so romantic. Too much lovey-dovey affection and she declares me a big slop-bucket and waits for me to come down to earth again.

A survey of attitudes to romance found that it isn't by any means dead. Some 76 per cent of us would like more romance in our lives, though 57 per cent avoided romantic gestures for fear of being "cheesy". Excuse me? What's cheesy about being romantic? It's a welcome impulse in a world that can be harsh and brusque and unforgiving.

So what do people find romantic? Holding hands, cuddling, a surprise gift, a walk together, a bunch of flowers, breakfast in bed, a surprise trip, a candlelit dinner, a home-cooked meal and a love letter were the most popular choices.

And what was decidedly unromantic? Too much mobile phone use, being rude to waiters, poor personal hygiene and so-called "chivalry" (usually something that implies women are inferior in some way and need help - like ordering for them at a restaurant). Though predictably, 93 per cent of over 45s still thought chivalry was a great idea.

Personally, I love holding hands and cuddling, but I'm not so good at surprise gifts. I do make us breakfast in bed on Sundays, but candlelit dinners aren't my thing. And I've never written a love letter in my life. I just don't have the right turn of phrase. But all sorts of things are romantic. Like a fond kiss at a famous landmark. I've kissed on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, kissed by the Grand Canal in Venice, kissed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

If romance ever died, it would be a sad day for the human race.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Gallery habitués

Having visited several London art galleries during the week, I recognise certain types of visitor who can be found at galleries anywhere in the world.

There's the rake-thin, ultra-cool woman or man who studies the art quietly, thoughtfully, unobtrusively, absorbing every little detail, a shrewd connoisseur of artistic techniques.

There's the loud-mouthed man (usually a man) who holds forth to his companion (usually a woman) about whatever they're looking at, explaining what the artist was trying to achieve (according to him) and how hampered they were by brutal depressions, imminent penury and chronic ill-health. They're confident they're the world's authority on Rothko, Hockney or Lowry, but are generally oblivious to women artists, who are clearly only exhibited in the name of gender equality.

There are the artistically challenged tourists who're only in the gallery to satisfy their daily sight-seeing quota, and aren't sure what they're looking at. They scurry through the gallery in great haste, glancing briefly at the odd work of art to show willing.

There's the pretentious poser who's only in the gallery so he can tell his dinner-party guests he's been to this week's most talked-about exhibition. He secretly thinks the artist is an over-hyped second-rater but pretends to be a big fan.

At the entrance to the exhibition, there are always the slightly anxious types who're not sure about trusting their precious bags to the cloakroom staff, convinced their valuables will vanish in seconds the moment their back is turned.

Which type am I, you might ask? Well, obviously the ultra-cool guy who's a shrewd connoisseur of artistic techniques. Jenny laughs at the way I scrutinise the art so thoroughly, peering intensely at every last daub of paint and unusual brush-stroke.

I'm no expert on art and I'd never be foolish enough to pontificate on an artist's credentials. As long as they make me feel something, or think something, or gasp with amazement, that's good enough for me. I don't need to know that Rothko topped himself or Warhol was afraid of hospitals and doctors. So what?

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Privilege noted

Check your privilege, they say. Oh, I do, I do. Every day. I'm well aware of all those lucky personal advantages that have given me a leg up in life where others have been side-lined and ignored and under-valued.

I'm white, male, able-bodied, well-educated, well-spoken, physically attractive, I own a house and I live in a peaceful country. Compared to millions of people around the world, I'm absurdly privileged and have a pampered, affluent lifestyle.

I've never been in debt (apart from a mortgage), never starved, never been unable to afford clothes, never been driven from my home, never been on the minimum wage, never been caught in a war, never been pimped or tortured or imprisoned.

I may drone on from time to time about my dysfunctional childhood, my tyrannical father, the boarding-school bullies, the grasping landlords, and the psychological damage I've had to overcome, but if that's all I have to complain about, I'm still living the life of Riley compared to all those people who're grappling with problems ten times as nasty and soul-destroying.

Which is why I hesitate to criticise those in less fortunate situations who unknown to me may be labouring under huge domestic or personal burdens. I'm reluctant to complain about shop assistants or delivery drivers or call-centre staff who may be struggling through their working day worrying about eviction or loan sharks or a brutal husband.

It's fashionable for wealthy, adulated celebs to take the edge off their privilege by revealing a poverty-stricken childhood or years of domestic violence or paralysing depressions, but at the end of the day they're still vastly privileged and protected from life's worst miseries.

Oh, I check my privilege all right. I just wish all the other inhabitants of planet earth were equally privileged, and that those responsible for their welfare actually helped them instead of feathering their own nests.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

A prank too far

How would you react to finding out that your surgeon had carved their initials on your liver while they were operating? Would you be horrified or would you just shrug it off as a childish prank?

I pondered my own possible reaction when I read about Simon Bramhall, who autographed the livers of two liver transplant patients. Nobody reported it at the time, and he might have got away with it, except that another surgeon doing a follow-up procedure noticed the initials and duly reported it.

He has just been found guilty of "assault by beating" and will shortly be sentenced.

My first reaction was to dismiss it as a rather trivial incident that did no harm to the patients. In fact one former patient, Tracy Scriven, said "Is it really that bad? I wouldn't have cared if he did it to me. The man saved my life."

But then I thought, no, if my surgeon had done that to my liver, I wouldn't have the same trust and confidence in them. I would feel they hadn't taken my operation seriously but were fooling around. And it wouldn't just damage their reputation but the reputation of other surgeons.

And yes, he saved a patient's life, and of course the patient is grateful, but that still doesn't justify what he did.

It's one thing to carve your initials and a romantic message on a tree trunk. It's quite another to carve your initials on someone else's liver while they're under general anaesthetic and oblivious to whatever you're doing inside their body. It's not just taking advantage of an unconscious person, it's a total lack of respect for them.

Hopefully there aren't any initials on what's left of my prostate....

NB: Assault by beating doesn't literally mean beating. It refers to the use of unlawful force on another person

Friday, 15 December 2017

Waxing lyrical

Ursula gets the impression I carp about everything and enjoy nothing. Do I ever wax lyrical over a robin in my back garden, she asks. Or a cat that left her paw prints in the snow? Well of course I do. I wax lyrical over dozens of things. Clearly, not for the first time, I'm giving false impressions galore. I shall now do my best to put the record straight.

There are many things I find beautiful. Sometimes quite dizzyingly so. For instance:
  • Weeping willows
  • Stained glass
  • Jewellery
  • Afros
  • Mosaics
  • Patchwork quilts
  • Tapestry
  • Lace
  • Marbles
  • Roses
  • Rainbows
  • Peacocks
There are also plenty of things I enjoy. Too many to name in fact, but here are some of them:
  • Murmurations
  • Squirrels
  • Cats
  • Butterflies
  • Swans
  • Sunsets and sunrises
  • Beautiful men and women
  • Oddballs and misfits
  • Acrobats and gymnasts
  • Stilt-walkers
  • Dresses (on other people, that is)
  • Modern art
  • Music/books/films/TV dramas
  • Chess
  • White wine
  • Vegetarian and vegan food
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Spectacular buildings
  • The sea
  • Mountains
  • Thunderstorms
  • Fountains
  • Waterfalls
Are we all on the same page now? I hope so.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Shop till you drop

Apparently compulsive shopping is getting to be a big problem for a lot of people. They just can't stop buying things, whether or not they need them. Especially as the internet makes it easy to shop from your armchair.

That's one problem I'll avoid, for sure. I've always loathed shopping, and do it as little as I can. I never buy things on impulse and I never buy things online - except books. I buy only what I need and that's that.

I'm probably the opposite of the compulsive shopper - I'm a compulsive non-shopper. Any excuse not to go shopping and I'll seize it. That shirt will last a bit longer. I don't really need any more books. And I've quite enough stuff in the freezer.

My idea of hell would be spending an entire day at a shopping mall. But lots of people do that. Have they nothing better to do? Surely there's something more exciting than traipsing round shops looking for clothes?

I hate shopping for all sorts of reasons. It's hard to find what I want, in the size I want. Shop assistants are either surly and off-hand or over-attentive. I'm forced to listen to mindless musak. Or my favourite shop has closed and is now a Caffè Nero.

I've always been immune to adverts. I'm not tempted by rugged male models in Calvin Klein jackets or cut-price strawberry cheesecake from Sainsbury's. If I don't want them I'm not going to buy them. I tune out adverts like I tune out the football results.

So my wardrobe isn't full of unworn clothes I bought on impulse, and hated the moment I got home. There aren't dozens of unused kitchen gadgets gathering dust. And my credit card isn't permanently maxed out with reckless spending.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Quite a stickler

I do have a thing about reliability. I pride myself on being reliable and I expect others to be reliable in return. People who're consistently unreliable drive me nuts. Why can't they just be better organised?

If I say I''ll be at the Dog and Duck at 6 pm, then I'll be there and I'll be on time. If I tell my boss I'll have a report ready on Tuesday, it'll be ready. I'd be mortified if people were saying, oh that Nick he's so unreliable, he's all over the place.

I just think constant unreliability is rude and inconsiderate and self-centred. How hard can it be to organise yourself properly, do what you say you'll do, and not keep messing other people about?

I hate it when someone turns up half an hour late, or pleads for more time to finish something (for no good reason), or says they'll ring me back but never do. I hate it even more when I complain and they don't know what all the fuss is about.

Some people do act as if reliability is just some pedantic, strait-laced notion that serves no purpose and should be treated with derision. They make a point of turning up at any old time, ignoring deadlines, and always doing something different from what they said they'd do.

It's especially annoying when those of us who're reliable end up carrying those who aren't. We're in the office answering calls and dealing with customers, while the habitual straggler is still casually trundling in from their suburban semi.

I guess a lot of people would see me as some sort of tight-arsed martinet, unable to relax, go with the flow and make allowances for human frailty. Well, I'm happy to make allowances for an emotional weakness - grief, anxiety, loneliness, despair, whatever - but unreliability isn't an emotional weakness. It's simply self-indulgence at other people's expense.

So I'll see you at the Dog and Duck. At 6 pm sharp. No excuses.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Win or loos

So let's talk about public toilets. Why? Because they're getting a lot of attention these days from dissatisfied members of the public who find them lacking in one way or another. They're the hot topic du jour.

The gender non conforming population (you know, non-binary, transgender etc) want more gender-neutral toilets so they needn't use a male or female toilet they're not comfortable in.

Women on the other hand don't want gender-neutral toilets but female toilets where they feel safe from predatory males - and where men aren't peeing on the toilet seat. They also want a lot more toilets so they aren't queuing for ten minutes while the men waltz happily in and out of the gents.

People with disabilities want more disabled toilets, and ones better suited to their needs. And they don't want the able-bodied using disabled toilets because it's urgent or they're nearer.

Needless to say, those responsible for toilets seldom listen to the complaints of the users, so the failings are endlessly repeated. It's remarkable then that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said toilet provision should be reviewed so as not to drive away visitors to the capital. He's especially keen on gender-neutral toilets it seems.

Personally, I don't have many complaints about public toilets. I seldom come across a queue, I've no worries about personal safety, and I don't mind other men peeing a few inches away. My only grouse is that there aren't enough of them, and when I do find one it's often filthy.

Like a lot of women, I wouldn't want to use gender-neutral toilets. Not because I'm afraid of predatory males but so as not to alarm or embarrass any women who might be using them. There should always be male and female toilets, with or without a gender-neutral option.

Okay, that's enough of that. You must be dying for a pee by now.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The cold shoulder

I'm not good at dealing with rejection. Even quite trivial rejection. Even totally justified rejection. Even perhaps unintended rejection. I can't just shrug it off as one of those things. It always hurts. It always bugs me. It always saps my confidence a little.

I know it's supposed to be a sign of maturity, of being grown up, to be less bothered by rejection and not see it as a huge slap in the face, but I do. And I bet plenty of other people do, though they don't like to talk about it.

A big rejection really hurts. If I've known someone for a while and we've been on friendly terms and shared confidences and so forth, it's hard to take it on the chin when abruptly they push you away and don't want to be friends any more.

Even when I tell myself it's their choice who they want as friends and who they don't, and it's their right to edge me away if I'm becoming a turn-off, it still cuts me to the quick.

I dwell on it incessantly. Why did they suddenly push me away? What did I do wrong? What did I say? Why overnight the big frost? Have I turned into some sort of obnoxious weirdo without realising? It takes me quite a while to stop obsessing and finally be more sanguine about it.

But even minor rejections can often sting. Just someone ignoring me, or being curt with me, or looking at me distastefully, makes me feel a bit worthless and belittled. Again, I wonder what I did to cause it. Why the visible snub?

Do other people feel as hurt when I reject them - or appear to reject them? Do they obsess about it in the same way? I hope not, but doubtless some do. This over-sensitivity is a drag, but that's how some of us are made. Like a small child who's lost her teddy bear. Pathetic really.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Tell me everything

I'm always intrigued by the way some people attract intimate personal confessions from everyone they come across, while others attract nothing but the usual small talk and polite trivia. What is it that encourages people to bare their soul to a complete stranger?

It's somewhat frustrating in my case, because although I'm very curious about other people's joys and problems and peculiarities, and how their lives differ from mine, I seldom invite such frank disclosures. Whatever agonising dilemmas people might be struggling with, they keep it all firmly to themselves.

It suddenly struck me that what puts people off might be my slightly sceptical look. I don't look as if I'm ready to believe whatever someone tells me. I always look a little wary, as if I'm not sure they're telling me the truth. They might be embellishing things, or hiding the unsavoury bits, or misremembering something, or simply making it all up. At my age I've met plenty of people who really were peddling me half-truths and outright lies, so I've become more suspicious and less gullible.

It might also be that I'm a habitually quiet person, and some people interpret quietness as a lack of interest in them. It doesn't help that I'm cautious about asking personal questions that might seem intrusive or embarrassing. Or afraid of triggering a torrent of information, half of which I'll promptly forget because of my terrible memory.

But whatever the cause, people tend to assume I'm not remotely interested in them and barely notice their existence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I'm always burning with questions I'd like to ask, but for one reason or another they stay unanswered. I just don't have a "you can tell me everything" face. It's more like a "do you really want to tell me?" sort of face. Which is hard to readjust.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

A bit on the side

I have mixed feelings about affairs. Are they always to be condemned, whatever the circum-stances? Or are they the result of natural human impulses, something that's understandable and excusable?

They're often described as "cheating", but is it more a matter of irresistible longings or personal fulfillment than cheating? Is it cheating to want more than you already have? Is it cheating to be drawn to someone and to act on it?

The real question of course is how the partner who is "cheated on" is likely to react if the truth comes out. They might simply turn a blind eye and let it go on - or fizzle out. Or they might be totally devastated and give their partner the boot. Or anything in between. If you start an affair knowing full well that your partner is likely to be shattered if they find out, then you're an idiot.

Neither Jenny or I have had affairs, but I was once sorely tempted. There was one woman (let's call her Yvonne) who had an absolutely electrifying effect on me. She aroused me so strongly that I seriously thought of trying to take it further. But I knew which side my bread was buttered, I knew the consequences could be catastrophic, and I had enough will-power to resist. But I'm still amazed at the quite inexplicable effect she had on me.

Mind you, if thought of the consequences hadn't stopped me, then I would have shrunk from the degree of secrecy and lying it would involve. I dislike secrecy, I prefer things to be out in the open,  and having to be scrupulously secretive for months on end would have really screwed me up. I would probably have blurted out the truth in a matter of days.

I won't be getting a reputation as a philanderer any time soon.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

A lucky escape

Having read the flood of reports about sexual misconduct in Parliament, in the film industry, at the BBC, and in workplaces generally, I thank my lucky stars I've never been immersed in any group of men who are devoted to the masculine sex culture and all it involves. If I had been, I would probably have picked up some of the disgusting attitudes they display.

I've never seen women as sex objects, as toys for male pleasure, as a nice pair of tits, as a nice bit of skirt, as attractive bodies to be groped and fondled, as tempting pussy and all the rest of it. I find all that deeply repulsive.

My life has been strangely devoid of all that masculine depravity. I guess most men have been thrown into that sort of misogynistic culture at some time or another, but I've managed to escape it.

My public school was remarkably sex-free. There was no discussion whatever of sex, never mind sexual attitudes to women. There was no homosexuality and no furtively circulated porn magazines. My fellow pupils were far more interested in rock music than levels of libido.

In my workplaces likewise there has always been a noticeable absence of the sex-object culture. Men like that were pretty rare in the bookshops, charities and local newspapers I've worked for. And the women I worked with were always tough characters who wouldn't tolerate a lascivious male for long.

I've never been keen on pubs or heavy drinking, so I've never encountered those pub-frequenting men who enjoy sizing up the female customers and speculating on what they'd be like in bed.

So I've managed to dodge the whole phallocentric sickness. I'm miraculously uncorrupted.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Un-bucket list

A lot of people have bucket lists - all the things they still want to do before they die. I don't have much of a bucket list, but there are plenty of things I DON'T want to do before I die. For instance:
  • Have a guided tour. I want to explore things on my own, without someone bombarding me with (probably incorrect) information.
  • Take a cruise. I've no wish to mingle with thousands of other people in the middle of the Mediterranean.
  • Go camping. I went to a Scout camp when I was 18. It was dreadful - wet and muddy and utterly primitive.
  • Try bungee-jumping. I'd doubtless be the one person in 10,000 who plummeted to my doom.
  • Play bingo. How can anyone enjoy such a mindless activity - even if you're a witless octagenarian?
  • Become a landlord. I've no desire to profit from other people's desperate need for a home.
  • Keep a pet. It would need too much care and attention. I love cats - as long as they're not mine.
  • Own a motorbike. Far too dangerous. I can see myself colliding with a lorry all too easily.
  • Dye my hair. I like my natural colour. And anyway, hair-dyeing is horrendously expensive.
  • Go bald. I don't find bare scalps in any way attractive. I'd have to get myself a wig.
  • Get a tattoo. I like my skin just as it is, without artificial add-ons. Especially ones I might later regret.
  • Run a marathon. No way would I put myself through 26 miles of physical torture and exhaustion.
  • Have plastic surgery. My body is just fine, wrinkles and all. And it could all go horribly wrong.
  • Go to prison. Imprisonment sounds like hell. I would never survive the degradation and humiliation.
  • Wear stiletto heels. Luckily I'm not expected to.
Pic: Hattie demanded a selfie, so she could see for herself how hideously ugly or drop-dead gorgeous I really am

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Optimists wanted

It strikes me that you have to be very optimistic to be a parent. If you weren't optimistic you'd never take the plunge. You'd be too terrified of the dire twists of fate that might overtake your children. So you have to believe:
  • That they'll grow up to be be healthy, happy and secure
  • That they won't be caught up in World War Three
  • That they'll always love you and won't turn against you
  • That they won't become alcoholics, drug addicts or rapists
  • That they won't fall off a cliff while taking a selfie
  • That they'll find rewarding and satisfying jobs
  • That they won't end up in prison
  • That they'll be kind and generous to other people
  • That they won't be as thick as two planks
  • That they won't want to climb the North Face of the Eiger
  • That they won't be right-wing extremists
  • That they won't drive like maniacs
You also need to be a low-anxiety person. If you're the anxious type, you'll be worrying about your kids every minute of the day, wondering if they're safe, or behaving sensibly, or eating properly, or resisting that strange blue tablet their friend's just offered them. You'll be a permanent nervous wreck waiting for tragedy to strike.

Both my parents were pessimistic and anxiety-prone, which not only meant stressful parenting, but turned me into an equally anxious child. I'm sure they expected parenting to be a painful ordeal. And so inevitably that's what it was. While my sister was well-behaved, my constant teenage rebelliousness tested them to the limits. But I survived to tell the tale. And so does my mum - at 95 and counting.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

My body and I

I'm happy with my physical appearance and always have been. I'm fine with how I look dressed, and fine with how I look naked. I've no desire to change anything or get rid of anything. I am what I am.

Of course that lack of embarrassment or shame or self-criticism is almost entirely because I'm male. Men just don't face the ruthless physical appraisal that women endure endlessly.

We aren't expected to be two stone lighter, or free of body hair, or have flat stomachs and firm buttocks. We aren't expected to have thick glossy hair and no bald patches. We aren't expected to have a perfect nose, perfect lips or perfect skin. As long as we aren't totally unkempt, nobody cares much what we look like.

Or as Elif Shafak puts it* in her latest novel: "Women stared. They scanned, scrutinised and searched, hunting for the flaws in the other women, both manifest and camouflaged. Overdue manicures, newly gained pounds, sagging bellies, botoxed lips, varicose veins, cellulite still visible after liposuction, hair roots in need of dyeing, a pimple or a wrinkle hidden under layers of powder....there was nothing that their penetrating gazes could not detect and decipher."

Luckily men aren't so brutal with each other, being more concerned with making money or talking football than dissecting another man's appearance. Even massive pot bellies and the shaggiest of beards are more quietly admired than criticised.

When I was at boarding school, we boys used to swim naked every morning in the swimming pool, and nobody ever belittled another boy's body. The result being that I have no problem showing my body to anyone.

Even in my twenties, when I was pretty scruffy and probably not too hygienic, I never got comments on my appearance. If I were a woman, I would doubtless have been seen as "letting myself go" or "looking like a tramp".

 No, I just throw on a few clothes and walk out the front door. I don't have to spend an hour agonising over the way I look. How lucky is that?

*Three Daughters of Eve, by Elif Shafak

Friday, 13 October 2017

Accounts galore

I now officially have power of attorney over my mum's finances, which means I can start to sort out the rather chaotic state of her bank accounts. It became clear some time ago that she was leaving bills unpaid and losing track of her financial transactions.

I assumed she only had two or three bank accounts, but it turns out she has around forty - and maybe more that I'm not aware of. She had no proper filing system for her various accounts, and left bank statements all around her flat in a haphazard fashion.

My brother in law and I have been trying to collate all the statements, find out how much is currently in each account, and consolidate them into a handful of accounts we can keep up with easily.

For me to get access to the accounts, each bank requires proof of my power of attorney and proof of my identity, so I'm busy sending or taking copies of all the relevant documents to each bank - a very time-consuming task.

Today one bank verified my power of attorney - just another eleven banks left! I can only keep going by telling myself that once this plethora of accounts has been whittled down to a manageable few, my life will be a lot simpler.

Frankly, I think it's very thoughtless of my mum not to have simplified her finances some time ago to avoid just this situation - the rest of the family trying to make sense of her elaborate financial dealings. Thank goodness she didn't still have a pile of stocks and shares - she decided they were too high-risk and got rid of them all.

So here's my advice - "the more the merrier" isn't the best approach to banking.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Trust me

I'm good at keeping secrets. I'm good at being tight-lipped. You can trust me with your most private thoughts, your worst fears, your most emb-arrassing moments, and they'll be safe with me. Far from talking too much, I'm more likely to be saying nothing at all.

Over the years I've been privy to all sorts of odd secrets, and I've never divulged any of them. I'm not a gossip, not an attention-seeker, not a rumour-monger. I appreciate that people have trusted me with something very personal and I'm not going to betray their trust.

I've heard about all manner of things - devastating panic attacks, social anxiety, agoraphobia, strange sexual habits, over-large breasts, breast reduction surgery, illegal drugs, gun ownership, excessive body hair, heavy periods. Only once have I heard about an affair, even though affairs are commonplace. And nobody has confessed to a violent husband. Perhaps I just move in very ethical circles where such things simply don't happen. Yeah, right.

Likewise I've revealed my own deepest secrets to other people, trusting they won't go any further. On the whole my trust has been justified and very seldom have I been betrayed. Which is just as well if I've moved on and I now think of whatever it was I blurted out ten years ago as mortifying idiocy.

I'm amazed at those people who merrily spill out absolutely everything to absolutely everybody. People who seem to be embarrassed by nothing and happy for the entire world to peer into their soul. It's all very entertaining and eye-opening but how can they do it? Are they pioneering a new form of total openness, or are they just unremitting narcissists?

Of course there's not much you can keep secret from your partner. Sooner or later they'll uncover all the weird and tawdry aspects of your character. And then you'll find out if they really love you warts and all. Or whether they run for the hills.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Never felt the need

It's funny but I've never for a moment regretted not having children. I'm happily sailing on without them and have never felt there's some kind of void in my life that needed to be filled with scampering offspring.

I've never had a yen for descendants who can carry on the family name, or for someone to love and admire their daddy, or for the delight of childish innocence or misunderstandings or precocity.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not in any way criticising those who have had children and (in most cases) got huge pleasure from them. It's an individual choice, after all. Some are raring to have kids from an early age, and know they'll love it, while others wonder what all the fuss is about and have never felt the need.

All those daft arguments about selfishness don't help, because of course they work both ways. Are you selfish to not want children and not help to replace the older generation? Or are you selfish to have children and expect others to contribute to the public services they'll need? You can go round and round in circles and just get everyone's backs up.

But I must say, from what I see of parents and children every day (and I see a lot of them because there are two schools close by), there's nothing that makes me feel I missed out, that I'm lacking a vital experience.

When I see parents angrily reprimanding their wayward children, when I see children running round restaurants screaming their heads off, when I hear about children with serious mental and emotional problems, when I hear about children in thrall to drugs, when I hear about relentless bullying, I just think that bringing up kids must be equal parts joy and anguish.

So - no charming son who loves and admires his daddy. But suppose he turned out to actively loathe his daddy. What then?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Risk averse

I'm a decidedly risk-averse person. I seldom take really major risks, and when I do it's often on Jenny's prompting, as she's much more of a risk-taker than me. As it is, even ordinary everyday errands can make me nervous.

Men are supposed to be good at taking risks, but that doesn't apply to me. I guess I'm too afraid of failure, too afraid of everything going pear-shaped and me feeling like a total idiot.

But I've taken big risks in my life from time to time. Especially with property. I've taken a chance with biggish mortgages and managed to keep paying them. Jenny and I bought an expensive flat without getting a surveyor's report and luckily it turned out to be structurally sound.

I guess the biggest risk I took was moving from London to Northern Ireland with Jenny. We both gave up our existing jobs, confident we'd soon find new ones. It took us longer than we thought (and Jenny decided to do a PhD in the meantime), but we both eventually found excellent jobs.

Of course relationships and friendships can involve risk-taking, something we tend to overlook. I gambled on a future with Jenny and the gamble paid off. I've gambled a few times on what seemed like solid friendships, only to see them inexplicably melt away.

When I do take major risks, it's for a good reason. To better myself, to enrich my life, to get out of a rut, to have some long-term security. I'd never take risks just for the hell of it - things like rock-climbing, bungee-jumping, slot machines, or betting on election results. I guess some people like the sheer adrenalin rush of extreme risk.

I think the biggest risk I could take would be a life-or-death operation - one that could either save my life or kill me. I think I'd take my chance and hope for the best.