Monday 27 August 2018

Believe it or not

I'm intrigued to read that religious faith is on the rise around the world and 84 per cent of the world's population identifies with a religion. I'd had the impression that religion was declining and non-believers were increasing.

That may be so in some countries - the number of people in the Irish Republic who disclaim any religion has risen by 200,000 - but elsewhere the number of believers has leapt.

As my regulars will know, I was put off religion at an early age, firstly as the idea of a supreme being or cosmic plan made no sense to me, and secondly because the everyday behaviour of believers belied their professed religious principles. They would exude moral superiority but treat others with disdain.

My fellow boarding-school pupils would profess religious devotion while bullying me at every opportunity. The boys I was closest to, who were always kind and respectful, had no interest in religion - they just believed in common decency.

I hasten to add that despite the off-putting phoneys, of course there are many believers who not only live up to their principles but do a huge amount of charitable work, without making any song-and-dance about it. I know several of my blogmates are deeply religious and I respect their personal beliefs even if I don't share them.

We all need help and encouragement to get through the ups and downs of life, and if religion is your chosen guide, then good luck to you. I'm not proposing a ban on religion any time soon.

I know religious charities do wonderful work, and when we get doorstep visits from the Salvation Army or St John Ambulance, we always happily give them a donation. I thoroughly applaud those religious charities helping refugees all over the world, like Christian Aid, Sisters of Charity and the Knights of Columbus, as refugees face the most dreadful situations.

Whatever floats your boat, as they say.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Just trust me

It surprises me to realise there's no official system for monitoring the carrying-out of wills, for ensuring the right amount of money goes to the various recipients and there's no funny business going on, nobody siphoning off large sums they're not entitled to.

As the executor of my mum's will, it's entirely up to me to make sure the money is passed on to the three beneficiaries as it should be, and I'm not stealthily whisking the odd £10,000 into my own bank account. As far as I know nobody in authority is going to check I'm doing things properly.

My mum left a lot of money to her half-brother. None of the family have met him and nobody, including him, knew he had been left any money. We could in theory have ignored the legacy and divided it between the rest of us. Or we could have told him he'd only been left £100. Who would know? How would the long arm of the law ever find out? But of course we're all honest and he'll get what he's meant to get.

As far as I can see, an irregularity only comes to light if someone challenges the will and claims some sort of fraud. And they can only do that if they've seen the will. If they haven't seen it, they would have to contact the probate registry, which has custody of every original will.

It's also entirely up to me to declare the right value of my mum's estate to the tax authorities. I haven't been asked for documentary proof, so I could in theory have undervalued her estate by thousands of pounds, paid a lot less tax, and passed on more money to the beneficiaries. But again I'm honest so I told the truth. Perhaps the tax people make secret checks with the banks to confirm what I've told them?

All I can say is that a lot of people are simply trusting me to do things properly. Which is remarkable in a society where constant suspicion is widespread.

Friday 17 August 2018

Masculine traits

Leftie men like to give the impression that the way they treat women is thoroughly sensitive and liberated, unlike those awful right-wingers who're misogynists through and through. Leftie men are proud of their feminist credentials. They've shed all those primitive masculine traits. Or so they like to think.

The truth is that the powerful tentacles of masculine conditioning aren't shed that easily - if at all. They've been embedded in the male mind from a very early age - from birth in fact - and by the time adulthood is reached they're well dug-in and pretty hard to shift.

I know my own mind is warped by my masculine upbringing, and it would be stupid to pretend otherwise. I was taught that women should be seen in a certain way - that they should be objectified, fetishised, sexualised, pornified, commodified, trivialised, ignored, ridiculed, controlled and dominated. That's a hefty rejection of decent, healthy behaviour towards half the population, and not something that can just be shed overnight like torn jeans or a faulty kettle.

At the age of 71, I'm very aware that those disgusting misogynistic attitudes still hover at the back of my mind, however much I might pretend they've been thoroughly purged and forgotten. But unlike the men who still see those attitudes as normal and mindlessly act on them, I can at least clearly recognise the hatred of women that runs through them and consciously adopt different and more civilised behaviour.

When women angrily point out my residual anti-women habits, as they sometimes do, it's a timely reminder of that stubbornly entrenched conditioning that I might otherwise think the passing years have obliterated. If only. Unfortunately society did a bloody good job of indoctrinating me at a tender age when I was too ignorant to realise what was being fed into me.

PS: I think trying to shed masculine conditioning is like trying to shed a Catholic upbringing - virtually impossible.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Tying the knot

I'm surprised marriage is still so popular, when cohabiting is now seen as perfectly normal - unlike in my younger days when it was still frowned upon. In fact my own father so disapproved of me and Jenny cohabiting in the 1980s that he left me nothing whatever in his will.

In 2015 the number of marriages in England and Wales had fallen by 40 per cent from 1947, the year I was born. But there were still 239,000 marriages, many of them elaborate affairs with exotic locations, lavish catering and all the trimmings.

Clearly marriage is still very meaningful to a lot of people. For me it's just some solemn promises in a suitably solemn venue, but for others it's a lot more. It marks a major turning point in their life, a huge transition and a huge commitment to another person.

Jenny and I cohabited for 14 years, and intended to carry on that way. We knew we loved each other and we didn't need a piece of paper to confirm it. But as I've explained before, we faced a minor crisis when Jenny's employer said that if she died her occupational pension could only go to a spouse and not to a cohabiting partner or significant other. So we bit the bullet and got married. What you might call a bit of creative accounting.

I think many people still believe that cohabiting amounts to something called common-law marriage, which gives you the same legal rights as those who are married. In fact cohabiting couples have no legal protections whatever, which may be one reason marriage is still popular.

I suspect it's also the celebrity effect. People see celebrities having extravagant weddings and want to do the same. Quiet devotion isn't enough. They want their day of glitter and glamour to prove they're serious. And can still look stunning in a wedding dress*.

*and that's just the men....

Sunday 5 August 2018

A slippery slope

I'm not good at self-indulgence, at enjoying myself freely and spontaneously. I always hold back, as if too much personal fun might be a bit decadent and immature.

I see other people letting themselves go so eagerly - boozing, bingeing, joking, raiding the shops, cheering football teams - I'm taken aback. I'm seldom that enthusiastic or uninhibited about even my biggest passions. A sort of quiet pleasure is all I can manage.

I guess I come from that social background where too much obvious enjoyment was seen as "showing off" or "drawing attention to yourself". All horribly undignified and childish. Enjoyment was fine up to a point, but not if it meant "making a spectacle of yourself". That would never do. I'm trapped by the stiff upper-lip tradition of the English middle classes.

A part of me thinks too much enjoyment is the slippery slope to total debauchery and public humiliation. One drink too many and I'll end up an alcoholic. Too much cheesecake and ice cream and I'll be a 20-stone fatty in days. Just go too far and in a trice I'll be like a runaway car.

Maybe I'm influenced by occasions when enjoyment turned sour. I once drove a girlfriend home when I was roaring drink and could have killed us both. Another time, on a heavy dose of LSD, I was oblivious to traffic and almost killed myself again. I've played practical jokes and seriously upset the victims. Such memories make me wary of too much abandon.

But I do my best. When others around me are getting wilder and wilder, I tell myself to loosen up and get in the swing of it all. Come on, Nick, throw away the rule book, forget all those childhood vetoes and indulge your natural impulses. And the result? A bit like a lifelong virgin sampling a brothel. It's hard to change the habits of a lifetime.