Wednesday 28 December 2022

The cost of Christmas

A Cardiff woman, Caroline Duddridge, who regularly hosts Christmas dinner for her 11-strong family, was finding the cost quite a financial strain. So she hit on a novel solution - charging them for the meal.

They were asked to pay between £2.50 and £15 according to their ability to pay, which raised about £180. That didn't cover the whole cost but covered quite a lot of it.

She explained that after the death of her husband in 2015, her income was halved and Christmas dinner wasn't so easily afforded. Also, why should the host bear the full financial burden of a slap-up meal?

She says some people have accused her of being a Scrooge, but her friends thought it was a good idea.

I'm a bit divided about this. Yes, she shouldn't have to bear the entire cost of Christmas dinner, especially when there are additional costs for Christmas decorations, Christmas presents, and no doubt plenty of alcohol.

A lot of people get themselves into heavy debt to pay for Christmas, so maybe asking for some help towards the cost is simply sensible.

On the other hand, isn't there a more informal way of covering the cost? Couldn't she just have a quiet word with the attendees and say a contribution to the expense would be much appreciated?

And why is she always the host? Couldn't some other family members host the Christmas dinner?

Apparently quite a few families already make a charge for Christmas dinner. With more and more people facing the rocketing cost of living and finding the price of even everyday meals quite challenging, never mind Christmas, this may be an idea whose time has come.

How else to make ends meet?

Pic: Caroline Duddridge

Saturday 24 December 2022

Things you might not know

I love doing lists, but I haven't done one for a while. So here are some things you might not know (or remember) about me:

  • I don't get jet lag
  • I only have 26 teeth
  • I had a small trace of prostate cancer, which disappeared
  • I don't like red wine
  • I've been a vegetarian for 47 years
  • I often talk to myself
  • I hate long haul flights
  • I can do a perfect Aussie or cockney accent
  • I hate the dark
  • My piano teacher quit, saying I was unteachable
  • I did jury service twice
  • I was a trade union rep for five years
  • I had 12 sessions of psychotherapy
  • I took LSD twice
  • I've given blood 33 times
  • My favourite animal is the squirrel
  • Cats usually run away from me
  • I've lived at 13 different addresses
  • Football leaves me cold
  • I've never worn boxer shorts
Some of these things require explanations, but that could get very long-winded. However, feel free to ask me questions, express disbelief, or have a good laugh.

One comment on the above: It's a shame I didn't apply myself more seriously to learning the piano, as I'm sure if I'd learnt to play properly it would have given me a lot of pleasure. And I could join Jenny, who not only plays piano but has a degree in music. But I don't regret my half-heartedness. I regret nothing.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Bookworm reawakened

Journalist Nancy Jo Sales decided she was too addicted to phones and screens when she realised she had read only five books in 2021, and only eight in 2020. She used to be a compulsive bookworm, devouring books at every opportunity.

She determined to look at screens a lot less and get back to reading books. And she succeeded. She has read 46 books in 2022, and plans to read at least 60 next year. She feels happier, she's sleeping better, and above all it's fun.

Luckily I haven't succumbed to a screen obsession. Not having a smartphone helps. Not having a craving for attention also helps. So I've continued to be a persistent reader, getting through around 60 books a year.

But I'm always astonished when I get on a bus or train nowadays and most of the passengers are on their phones. Not a book in sight. There's so much wonderful stuff to read but they don't want to know. Or am I just a book snob?

I read a lot first thing in the morning, as I often wake up at 4 or 5 am. I also read when I'm waiting to see the doctor or the practice nurse.

I can't read for hours at end, and I don't find anything "un-put-down-able". I read 10 or 20 pages of something and then need to have a break before I continue.

Even if I read a book and conclude that it's a clunker - badly written, hardly any plot, one-dimensional characters and too many loose ends - there's usually something to take away from it, if only a few memorable crooks and eccentrics.

Who could ever forget Ebenezer Scrooge or Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood (or Hermione Granger if you're a Harry Potter fan)?

Friday 16 December 2022

Battered paragons

People from other countries must be fascinated by the way the Sussexes (aka Harry and Meghan) are puncturing the Royal Family's carefully crafted glossy public image by trotting out one unpleasant jibe after another.

For years the Royal Family's operating principle has been to keep quiet about anything unsavoury and only talk about what preserves their innocuous and inoffensive public front.

Now Meghan and Harry are dishing the dirt big-time and making all sorts of scurrilous claims about other members of the Royal Family, and it's not a pretty sight.

I'm not saying anything about their accusations, as I have no idea whether all the stuff they're coming out with is true, exaggerated, embellished or simply made-up. All I know is that they accuse the Royals of racism, bullying, lying, gaslighting, planting negative stories, and treating Meghan like a usurper. And no doubt there are more claims to come.

Certainly the whole saga casts a very unedifying light on the Royals and how they operate behind the scenes. They may seem to be paragons of decency and civilised values but that's now up for debate.

The many admirers of the Royals must be pretty gobsmacked by the ongoing public furore. It seems that in the main they're either defending the Royals against what they see as an unjustified and narcissistic attack on them by a slightly unhinged couple, or they're defending Meghan and Harry against what looks like the Royal Family's undeclared mission to ostracise and discredit them as embarrassing mavericks.

The shine has definitely gone off the Royal Family's reputation, and even the benign charisma of the late Queen is looking a bit questionable.

Pic: Her Majesty is not amused

Monday 12 December 2022

Safer streets?

I'm glad to see that the British government is to outlaw sexual harassment in the street in England and Wales. A long-overdue law is about to be passed, after years of lobbying by cam-paigners.

The law aims to criminalise behaviour such as following someone walking home at night, making obscene or aggressive comments to them, obstructing their path or driving slowly near them in public spaces.

It's certainly about time such widespread harassment (directed at women day in and day out) was stopped so women can walk the streets without being subject to such unwanted behaviour.

I wonder though whether the new law will actually achieve its objective of preventing harassment. It's possible many men will simply ignore the law, assuming either that women won't take any action, or that they can deny any wrongdoing, or that it will be difficult to prove specific acts of harassment. It would be one person's word against another's, as is often the case with rape.

If the woman is harassed by a complete stranger, he can make himself scarce and the woman can do nothing as she can't identify the man in question.

That said, the new law may work like the anti-smoking laws, and there will be a gradual cultural shift in which street harassment becomes as unacceptable and unthinkable as having a fag in a no-smoking area.

I shall be watching the operation of the new law with great interest. But I don't have much confidence that it will stop male pestering.

Thursday 8 December 2022

All too much

Suicide is a very strange business, isn't it? How come people feel so desperate, so helpless, so beleaguered that they resort to such an extreme solution? How come they just want to leave everything behind and end their life?

Sometimes it's understandable that someone has taken that drastic step. Their life is so terrible that more of the same for years to come is simply too much to contemplate. Other times it's a complete mystery. Someone seems to have a great life, with everything going their way, and out of the blue they're found dead.

Why do some people struggle on, however dismal their circumstances, while other just give up and decide it's all too much?

It was very understandable when one of Jenny's old school friends killed herself. She was a diagnosed schizophrenic and had had severe mental health problems for many years. Her quality of life was drastically limited and there was no sign of that ever changing.

But other people are found dead and there were no warning signs whatever. Why they did what they did leaves everyone baffled. Even people who were close to them and knew them really well (or thought they did) can't begin to explain it.

What's truly shocking though is when someone doesn't just take their own life but takes other people with them. This seems to be getting more common. Like the man who killed six people before turning the gun on himself at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia. And the man who killed his wife and three children in a domestic dispute in Phoenix, Arizona, before taking his own life.

They might have been able to explain their own suicide, but how do they justify ending other people's lives as well as their own?

Sunday 4 December 2022

Still shy

I've been shy ever since I can remember. At the age of five I hardly said a word when my mum and I met the headmaster of my first ever school. She had to convince the head that I wasn't normally so quiet and I would open up once I attended the school (which I did, once I was used to the teachers and the other pupils).

There's a difference of opinion about shyness. Some people say it's just selfish, leaving the conversational effort to other people and not offering anything yourself. But you could equally say that chatterboxes are selfish because they hog all the conversation and deter others from speaking.

Is shyness selfish or is it an inherent personality trait that you can't overcome however hard you try? You may really want to gabble away, but you just can't manage to?

Perhaps it's partly that the outgoing types hold opinions and beliefs so passionately that they just have to explain them to other people, while my own opinions are more flimsy and provisional and I'm not confident about airing them?

Perhaps also I'm much more interested in other people's lives, which are full of surprises and fascinating revelations, while my own life seems far too humdrum and routine to appeal to anyone else? Listening to others comes more naturally than talking about myself.

Then again, I'm often rendered shy by anyone who's intimidating or overbearing and doesn't seem to respect me.

Being shy isn't the same as being introverted of course. Shyness means not having the confidence or the ingenuity to chatter away easily, while introversion means enjoying your own company more than the company of others.

So if I enjoy both, what does that make me?