Sunday 30 October 2022

Falling chimney

Two of you asked me for more details of the falling chimney that almost finished me off.

I was a child at the time (not sure what age). I came home from school one afternoon and as I usually did I walked down the narrow alley between my parents' house and the house beside it and went in through the back door.

A few minutes later there was an almighty crash and I discovered that the chimney had collapsed and fallen into the alley. If I had got home a few minutes later I would have been badly injured or even dead.

An experience like that tends to linger in the back of your mind. When we moved into this house it had a slightly leaning chimney and I was always a bit nervous that it would collapse, despite several roof specialists saying it was structurally sound. We finally had the chimney removed to cure a persistent roof leak and I was relieved that it had gone.

But things like the falling chimney remind me of how we assume safety and security and pretend disasters will never happen. Or we're sure they'll happen to other people and not us. Or we say they're statistically unlikely.

Well, you have to think like that, don't you? If I constantly conjured up all the disasters that might befall me (burglaries, car crashes, internet fraud, muggings) life would become impossible, I'd be a nervous wreck.

In fact the nearest I've ever come to a serious disaster is some hair-raising near misses when I was driving a bit carelessly. If it hadn't been for some quick evasive action by other drivers it could have been nasty.

But hey, I lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Question time

It's a long time since I did a Question and Answer, so I thought I'd do another one. Respectable questions only of course, nothing too outrageous. So there's no need to brace yourself.

  • What is your greatest fear? Creepy-crawlies. They move so fast.
  • When were you happiest? Now. Retirement is very liberating.
  • What personal trait do you deplore? Non-existent cooking skills.
  • And in others? Arrogance, narcissism, self-righteousness.
  • Your biggest embarrassment? Drinking too much and being violently sick.
  • Describe yourself in three words. Quiet, anxious, friendly.
  • What do you dislike about your appearance? Nothing.
  • What would your superpower be? Knowing the future.
  • Apart from property, what's your dearest purchase? Cars and holidays.
  • Your most unappealing habit? Being shy and tongue-tied.
  • What scares you about ageing? Possibly getting a disabling illness.
  • Your celebrity crush? I don't have one. I don't put celebs on a pedestal.
  • Would you choose fame or anonymity? Anonymity. Fame is a nightmare.
  • Who should you say sorry to? An old girlfriend I abruptly jilted.
  • Who would you most like to be? No one. I'm quite happy with myself.
  • When did you last cry? At my mum's funeral.
  • Any brushes with death? I was almost crushed by a falling chimney.
  • Would you prefer sex, money or fame? Money, in case I live to 100.
  • An important life lesson? Don't judge by appearances.
  • Tell us a secret. But then it wouldn't still be a secret.
(Questions pinched from the Guardian)

Friday 21 October 2022

Casual fling

One thing that's changed for the better during my lifetime is clothing etiquette. Clothing was much more formal when I was young, but over the years has become increasingly casual and relaxed.

Where once men were expected to wear suits and ties for all sorts of professional and white collar jobs, now they're often in open-neck shirts and loose-fitting pants. Women might be wearing something similar rather than tight skirts and high heels.

There's no longer a strict ban on fancy hairdos, excessive jewellery, unusual nail polish (i.e. not red), unusual tights (i.e. not flesh coloured), flashy earrings, tattoos and piercings (though a tattoo reading "I'm overworked and underpaid" might raise a few eyebrows).

Anyway the change is fine by me. I'm not bothered by people's clothing so much as whether they can do their job efficiently. Obviously I would draw the line at pyjamas or dungarees or bikinis but comfortable, easy to wear clothing seems better than formal clothing that's restrictive and annoying.

I know some people aren't happy with the changing expectations, and insist formal clothing makes them more confident in the wearer's abilities, but I think that's more a lingering opinion than a serious argument.

Even on special occasions like funerals and weddings, where dark suits and formal clothing used to be obligatory, many attendees now dress quite casually or even flamboyantly. I once felt embarrassed that all I had to wear for a funeral was a bright green jacket, but today nobody would bat an eyelid.

What's more, suits can be very pricey and tough on your budget, so making them optional is a positive step forward.

Luckily I've mostly had jobs where casual clothing is the norm, so I haven't actually owned a suit since my early twenties. I was glad to get rid of it.

Monday 17 October 2022

Retired and annoyed

I tend to get annoyed when someone asks how my retirement is going, and I'm trying to work out why. I think it's because either they're expecting me to say it's fantastic and everything's a bed of roses, or alternatively that it's dreadful and I wish I was back at work. But the reality isn't so black and white.

There does seem to be a common assumption that retirement is great and there's no downside, that you're rolling in money and always off on the next cruise or the next luxury city break.

Of course this wonderful image is half-true at best, as the minuses of retirement are usually glossed over or spun as if they're benefits. To name a few:

  • You might have medical problems that limit what you can do
  • You might be expected to look after boisterous and exhausting grandchildren
  • You might be very short of money
  • You might miss your old workmates
  • You might feel isolated or lonely or bored
  • You might have to care for frail elderly relatives
At the moment I'm genuinely enjoying retirement, though I do sometimes feel isolated and a bit lonely. It's hard to make new friends and acquaintances to replace the friends you worked with. Many people are so consumed with the day-to-day demands of their family they simply have no time for new friends.

The other thing that annoys me is someone asking what I do now I'm retired, as if, stripped of employment, I have no other interests and don't know what to do with myself. Why should I have to justify my retirement with a list of worthy activities? Why shouldn't I just watch rubbish TV all day if I feel like it?

How's my retirement going? Is that a trick question?

Thursday 13 October 2022

Will trickster

Wills are normally dealt with behind closed doors and out of the public eye. It's generally assumed that the will was properly dealt with and the named beneficiaries got whatever was due to them.

But I've commented before that there's little official monitoring of how wills are handled, and there's plenty of scope for skullduggery and fraud if someone is so minded.

As the sole executor of my mum's will, I could easily have siphoned off a large sum by making out she had less money than she actually had. Nobody would have been the wiser as I was the only one with access to all her bank accounts and the true amount in them.

My sister, brother in law and niece all trusted me to deal with the will honestly. I gave them full details of all financial transactions and they never asked me any awkward questions.

It's rare for someone to be taken to court for mishandling a will, but the High Court has just jailed Mark Totton after he failed to pass on £237,500 to his mother's grandson and granddaughter. He has also refused to explain what happened to the money and has given no indication it will be forthcoming.

He was jailed for contempt of court for not providing information about the estate and constantly flouting court orders to do so. He was also ordered to pay the legal bills for his niece and nephew, some £18,000.

He claimed he had suffered depression because of the row over his mother's will - a row caused by his own trickery!

I wonder what happened to the missing money. Is it just salted away in some secret account or has he spent it on wine, women and song?

Pic: Mark Totton

Sunday 9 October 2022

Doodle house

Would you be happy to live in a house that's covered with doodles from top to bottom? With not a single square inch left uncovered - doodles on absolutely everything from walls and ceilings to beds and kitchen utensils.

Twenty eight year old Kent artist Sam Cox became so fascinated with doodles that he decided to cover his entire house with them. Luckily his wife Alena seems to be as keen on the doodles as he is.

He says the couple who sold him the house begged him not to doodle on the walls but he ignored them. "They told me, whatever you do, please don't doodle. I didn't listen."

There's no way I could live in a house festooned with doodles. They would just be too overwhelming, too disturbing. And surely with doodles everywhere you look, you'd be dreaming of the wretched things?

The artist claims he hasn't had any complaints from his neighbours yet - so he has no plans to tone down the property's appearance or move house any time soon.

If he ever wanted to sell the house, I imagine not many people would like the idea of living with wall-to-wall doodles rather than more conventional decor. I doubt if suburban Kent is ready for such avant-garde eccentricity.

What do you think? Could you live with thousands of doodles or would you run a mile?

PS: Lots more pictures in the link above

Wednesday 5 October 2022

Petty peeves

There are the major annoyances that drive you crazy. Then there are the petty irritations that niggle at you but are more or less endurable.

I stumbled on an old post about a journalist with twenty five of his petty irritations. I didn't actually list my own, so here are some of them now.

  • Loud music in restaurants and coffee shops. I have to almost shout to be heard. If I ask for the music to be turned down, they adjust it very marginally.
  • Doorstep chuggers*. A Red Cross person appeared yesterday, and I told him we already donated to the Red Cross. He laughed as if this was a joke.
  • Loud phone conversations on trains and buses. Can't they wait until they get off? Can't they text instead?
  • Changing layouts in supermarkets. I knew where the tofu was but now it's been relocated goodness knows where. Why oh why?
  • Cashpoints declining my card. So I insert the card again and it's fine. Presumably some random security measure.
  • TV adverts. None of which interest me. I don't need pant-liners or perfumes or hair conditioners. Just get on with the programme.
  • Incorrect weather forecasts. It's pouring with rain but the forecast said dry all day. The best bet is still to look out of the window.
  • Cyclists riding on pavements. I understand why - they don't want to ride on busy main roads. But it takes pedestrians by surprise.
  • Misdelivered mail. Both our own and our neighbours'. Luckily people are kind enough to redeliver the mail.
  • Untrained dogs the owners can't control. They leap on me and sniff me, while the owner mutters some feeble apology. Just keep Fido to yourself!
The only one on the original list was loud phone talkers on public transport. If you're curious, the list is here.

*Chuggers: charity muggers

Saturday 1 October 2022

Trigger puzzle

I don't understand how the TV companies decide on trigger warnings. They give frequent warnings about things that seem trivial, but ignore things that seem much more important.

Most TV dramas start with a warning that the programme contains strong language and violence. But how likely are these things to trigger a seriously distressing or traumatic reaction?

Surely most people are well used to strong language and aren't going to collapse if they hear the words "fuck" or "arsehole" or "bastard". Likewise they're well used to scenes of violence and won't have a meltdown if they see a punch-up.

On the other hand there are no warnings about, say, rape or torture or self-harming, which I would have thought could be genuinely distressing if you've had personal experience of any of those things.

I've seen some quite horrific scenes in TV dramas that deserved serious trigger warnings, but there weren't any and such scenes come as a total surprise. So as I say, why are some things flagged up while others are ignored?

Furthermore, why are trigger warnings only given on TV dramas? News bulletins and newspapers are probably far more likely to include disturbing scenes and reports, yet there are no trigger warnings.

Do they assume news watchers are immune from emotional distress and need no warnings? Or else there are so many things likely to upset them it would be impractical to list every single possibility?

Or is there a tendency to avoid trigger warnings in case too many people stop watching?

Trigger warning: this blog may contain dodgy opinions and inebriated nonsense. You are advised not to show it to gullible children or snooty aunts.