Wednesday 28 February 2024

Troublesome wills

I've always been fascinated by long-drawn-out disputes over wills and inheritance. Some of the disputes might be justified, like if one sibling has inherited nothing but other siblings have inherited vast amounts, but a lot of disputes seem to be easily resolvable and not worth the time and effort. Not to mention huge legal fees.

I read that there has been a big increase in disputes over wills, partly because more people are severely hard-up and could do with a sizeable inheritance to bail them out. Partly also because the older generation are often very well-off as a result of rocketing house prices and are more likely to leave substantial sums to their descendants.

I was lucky that my mother's will was very simple and was dealt with quite easily, with neither myself, my sister, my brother in law or my niece disputing it in any way. She hadn't decided to leave £10,000 to the local cats' home or her favourite hairdresser.

Jenny and I have both made wills and hopefully they're equally straightforward and won't prompt nasty legal wrangles. We certainly haven't left money to any unlikely recipients like the local cats' home (if there is one). Nor have we left anything to any political party.

We did use a solicitor to write our wills, to ensure they were fully legal and wouldn't be challenged because of faulty wording or an invalid witness or some other beginner's error. DIY wills are tempting but open to subtle pitfalls.

But once a will is contested, the dispute can go on for years, with a large chunk of the inheritance vanishing in solicitors' fees. It's not unusual for legal fees in a long-running dispute to clock up hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Better not to give lawyers a field day.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Just be yourself

"Just be yourself". Sounds like good advice, doesn't it? What could be more natural, more authentic, more straightforward? Except that this seemingly simple bit of advice is actually quite complicated.

Do I even know what is myself? I'm such a mixture of different characteristics and attitudes and tendencies, which ones are my real self? Is it the anxious bit, the happy bit, the grumpy bit, the bewildered bit (etc etc)?

Does being myself mean stomping about in a violent rage? Or hurling plates across the kitchen? Or telling people they're nauseating arseholes? Or throwing a custard pie at the King? I don't think any of those things would be helpful.

And how can I be sure I'm being myself rather than what someone else has suggested, or what's fashionable, or what's convenient? How exactly do I distinguish the genuine article from the bogus and performative?

Personally I'd replace "just be yourself" with "just do what seems to be the best thing in the circumstances". Not so pithy or succinct but a bit more practical.

Then again, if you're drawn to violence, bullying, cruelty and other undesirable traits, the last thing you need to be told is "just be yourself". "Just be anything other than yourself" would be more appropriate.

I certainly couldn't have "been myself" when I was working. I'd have been shown the door pretty quickly if I told my colleagues precisely what I thought of them, or told a stroppy customer to get lost, or turned up tipsy to an important meeting.

Just be yourself? Easier said than done.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

But I've earnt it

I love being retired. I love being able to do what I want when I want and not have to do whatever my boss tells me to do. If I want to spend all day watching rubbishy TV, sleeping or having a sudoku binge, there's nobody to stop me.

But it's odd, there's still a small part of me that thinks that such shameless self-indulgence is somehow wrong, that I should be doing something more productive, or worthwhile, or useful, or generally for the good of society.

Why do I think that? There are millions of people out there doing productive or worthwhile things, and there's no need for me to join them.

After all, I did paid work for the best part of 53 years, not retiring till I was 71, so surely I've done quite enough to qualify as an upstanding, respectable citizen, and in no way a workshy layabout or couch potato. Haven't I earnt my retirement?

But clearly there's a part of me that still isn't comfortable with pottering about the house following one trivial pursuit after another. Somewhere in my mind there's a residual hankering for an authority figure to help me on my way and organise my life.

Where does this strange impulse come from? Have I been too embedded in the Protestant Work Ethic to dismiss it all of a sudden and go my own way? Do I feel that if other people are doing productive things then it's not fair that I'm swanning around doing exactly what I please?

I'll get back to you on that one - once I've finished this sudoku.

Friday 16 February 2024

Squeaky clean

I'm always surprised by the number of people who're so germ-conscious that they spend a huge amount of time cleaning every nook and cranny in the house.

I've known a lot of people who're so convinced some lethal germ is about to jump out at them that their cleaning regime is painstaking. Every day worktops are wiped, floors are swept, carpets are hoovered, anti-bacterial agents are sprayed in all directions. If something hasn't been cleaned recently enough, they can't rest until it's done.

But as far as I'm concerned a lot of germs are either totally harmless or actually beneficial, so trying to purge them all is pointless. Especially since you can't even see them and can only imagine where they might be lurking.

But TV programmes these days are full of ads for anti-bacterial products, scaring you rigid with the warning that your kitchen or toilet is colonised by literally millions of bacteria. Clearly there's a big market for such stuff.

Jenny and I take the usual minimal steps to keep the place fairly clean and presentable, but beyond that we're not going to bust a gut trying to eradicate every last lingering microbe.

I knew a woman who would get up at 4 am to start cleaning, and who would be constantly washing clothes, cushions, curtains and other items around the house in case they were hiding some nasty bug.

Mind you, I'm not sure which is worse, cleaning fanatically or not cleaning at all. A few years before she died, my mother gave up cleaning altogether and let her flat get grubbier and grubbier. She claimed she had a cleaner though I never saw any sign of one.

But funnily enough all those festering germs never did her any harm.

Monday 12 February 2024

A work in progress

It's become a cliché that people are getting angrier and less patient, blowing their top at the smallest thing that annoys them.

What I also notice is that people are getting more self-righteous, convinced that their opinions are utterly valid and that other people's opinions are not worth even listening to.

Like all those Americans who still believe the last presidential election was fraudulent and that Trump did in fact win. No matter how many times their belief is discredited, they repeat the claim of fraud.

Like the belief that vaccinations are highly dangerous and should be avoided. The overall health benefits of vaccines are steadfastly denied.

Like the belief that you can change sex and a man can become a woman, even though this is a biological and medical impossibility.

Not to mention all the trolls firing off their trumped-up accusations and condemnations of public figures, many of them libellous.

Of course we all have a streak of self-righteousness (myself included) and we all have firmly held beliefs that defy any amount of contrary evidence. But I do regard all my opinions as a work in progress, as temporary opinions until such time as they're proved to be mistaken.

The longer I live though, the more I realise that everyday reality is so complicated that any opinion I hold is quite likely to be incorrect and based on a very partial understanding of the facts.

I'm not so insecure that I find any refuting of my opinions so threatening and alarming that I have to maintain and uphold them at any cost. In fact I like to be challenged about my fondly held but maybe totally irrational opinions. A good thing too, as Jenny takes my opinions to pieces on a regular basis!

Thursday 8 February 2024

Just suck it up

How would you feel if all of a sudden a giant warehouse was being built behind your home and you knew nothing about it because the local council had consulted the residents of the wrong road?

That's what's happening to householders in Hooke Close, Corby, Northamptonshire, after the council mistakenly consulted residents of Hubble Road. The council didn't think it fishy that nobody had raised any objections, and the planning application was duly approved.

What adds insult to injury is that the council refuses to accept any blame and presumably won't give the aggrieved residents any compensation.

They maintain that as there was a planning notice on the site, and as there was a notice in the local press, they've done their legal duty and nothing more needs to be done. But it seems none of the residents saw either notice.

Council leader Jason Smithers' reaction was pathetic. He said he understood the residents' frustration, he apologised for the error, and he pledged that he council would do all it could to ensure a similar issue didn't happen again.

That's okay then. The residents just have to suck it up because the council washes its hands of any responsibility. In other words, fuck you.

Never mind that the price of houses in Hooke Close will plummet because nobody wants a stonking great warehouse behind their back garden. Never mind that there will be heavy lorries rumbling in and out all day. Never mind that the building work is shaking people's houses.

As long as Mr Smithers has "apologised for the error", everything's just fine.

Sunday 4 February 2024

Teeming hordes

Over-tourism is in the news again as Japan grapples with a huge influx of tourists, many of whom are behaving badly and upsetting local residents. Many of the tourists just want eye-catching backdrops for their social media posts, and don't care two hoots about the locals.

Not a problem here in Northern Ireland, where tourism is gradually increasing but hasn't yet reached the tipping point of overwhelming those of us who live here. The number of visits by cruise ships is escalating, but so far the hordes of tourists descending on Belfast and its tourist attractions are easily absorbed.

Personally I don't understand why people want to visit places that are already jam-packed with so many tourists that you can only move around at a snail's pace, trying to get through thick crowds of visitors. What pleasure is there in that?

I still remember when Jenny and I were in Venice many years ago, taking about 20 minutes to get across Piazza San Marco, such was the dense thicket of tourists. Venice is about to introduce a tourist fee of five euros a day to enter the island, but I doubt if such a puny charge will put anyone off.

People can be surprisingly sheep-like. They flock in droves to the Piazza San Marco, while the very quiet and pretty district of Cannaregio in the north of the island is forgotten about and pleasantly free of the camera-waving multitudes.

Tourism can all too easily become a victim of its own success.

Pic: Cannaregio