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?