Wrist Candy – An Introduction To The Pleasure of Watch Wearing

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The subject of watches can be quite divisive these days for various reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, does any man actually need to wear a watch? Everyone carries a phone in their pocket which updates the time directly from the internet ether. A smart phone is as accurate as an atomic clock so why strap something to your wrist in the first place?

Secondly, does anyone really care what sort of watch you are wearing? Why bother spending possibly several thousand pounds/dollars/whatever on a watch?

Well, possibly surprisingly, watches seem to be immune to the march of cyber technology, especially with men. It is not uncommon to see young women with a bare wrist but by the time a young man pulls on his first suit for his first commute to the office, he is, more often than not, wearing a wrist watch.

Why is this? Watches are men’s jewellery. Simple as that really. Yes, there are some men who like to cover themselves in gold chains and such but for the majority, apart from a signet ring perhaps or a discrete wristlet, a watch is a guy’s chief accessory. It certainly is for me. Some women would not dream of going out without a pair of ear-rings or studs in their ears. I am the same with watches; I feel undressed without one.

But are they necessary? Well, no. Not in the sense that a pair of shoes are but do you really want to be caught checking the time on your phone when you are in an important meeting? A watch allows you to check the time with a quick and discrete twist of the wrist.

Also, a stylish (note: not necessarily expensive) wrist watch shows that you take care over details and that you care about creating the right impression. I am fortunate to own a couple of Omegas, one a 1960s vintage and the other a modern dive watch. I can vouch that wearing a high-quality watch does have a positive effect on how you feel. When you see that classy time-piece peeking out from your cuff it does feel good. It brings a little bit of class into the everyday hum-drum.

For me, there is more to it than that, especially with mechanical watches.

Back in the late 60s the watch industry faced a bit of a crisis.

Quartz watches. That is, battery powered.

Until then watches were either manually wound (my first watch when I was 5 years old, a Timex, was manually wound) or automatic, meaning that they wound themselves by means of an internal weighted rotor which rotated and wound the watch by the natural movements of the owner while the watch was being worn.

Quartz changed the landscape completely. Suddenly watches were much cheaper to manufacture, were less susceptible to going out of adjustment and only needed attention when the battery needed replacing. Many of the grand old watch manufacturing companies found themselves facing a kind of horological Armageddon.

You might expect that mechanical watches ceased to be manufactured overnight but they weren’t. Some might say that this is because there is a snobbery in watch ownership and it is that snobbery which has caused a preference for mechanical watches to endure the advent of quartz which is not only cheaper but superior in pretty much every objective way (time-keeping wise at least).

Yes, there are plenty of watch snobs around who only care about the logo on the watch face and not about what is going on behind the dial. Many others, myself included, remain fascinated at the workings of a mechanical watch. For me this started as that small boy with his first watch.

Hold a quartz watch to your ear. You will hear a dull ‘thud’ every second as the mechanism clunks around. Now hold a mechanical watch up. You will hear an intricate tick-a tick-a-tick. No electricity, just an incredibly minute, precision collection of cogs and springs turning the hands. Mechanical watches are one of the great wonders of human engineering. To fit such an intricate machine together, in such a small space which, properly regulated, keeps time to within a few seconds or so a day is a magnificent feat. That coupled with a beautifully finished case and elegant strap or metal bracelet is an endless fascination for me.

This is not to write off quartz completely. Most of the fine watch manufacturers offer quartz watches as well and, if you are not bothered about the miracle of micro engineering inside a mechanical watch, or just want to save money, quartz is a valid option. Having said that, entry to the world of automatic watches is not as expensive as you might think. Check out my recommendations below, many of which grant entry to the mechanical watch club for only a few hundred pounds.

It has got to be classy though. Just for the record, classy does not mean something the size of a dinner plate or covered in cheap bling. In fact, as a rule of thumb, if a watch has been made by a fashion house, steer clear of it (I’m looking at you, Michael Kors). Hopefully I don’t need to explain why something cheap(ish) and tacky would not mark you out as a man of taste and discernment. Not to mention the fact that you are hardly buying a quality timepiece.

I know that there is a fashion for enormous men’s watches. Watch sizes for men have increased substantially in the last decade or so. Even the luxury brands have been tweaking their design to add a bit more ‘presence’ (size) to many of their models, especially sports watches. Some at the other end of the spectrum have nothing to offer really except size. If you are going to make a statement with a watch it had better be a good one, otherwise why are you drawing attention to it?

I plan to make this a two-parter and to have a look at some of the more exotic brands in part two. For now, here is a selection of wrist-candy which will firstly fulfil the brief of keeping it classy and secondly, will not require you to go heavily into the red. I have set an arbitrary cost limit of £500. Whilst that still represents a significant outlay for many people, a quality watch will last you many years and look good in the process. It is an investment and worth saving for (or, god forbid, whipping out the plastic).

In my view you should aim, over a period of time, to develop a small but carefully chosen collection which will give you options for every dress-code. To start, I’d suggest going for a classically styled watch if you spend a lot of time in tailoring or something  a little sportier if casual is your usual attire. Nothing too flashy for a first watch – you want something that will blend seamlessly with whatever you are wearing not fight it.

If you do a manual job don’t wear your nice watch – get a ‘beater’ (if you don’t already have one) – a Casio G-Shock is the one – cheap, tough as nails and ideal for DIY days, beach days and digging the garden over.  Keep the smart timepiece for your leisure time.

So why do you need more than one watch? Well, not every watch goes with every outfit or occasion. In part 2 I’ll cover the styles which I think you should aim to have in your collection.

James Bond has done a lot to popularise the idea of the ‘Desk Diver’ – a chunky sports watch worn with everything, including tailoring – but if you are going to go down this route, the sports watch does have to be really high quality to pull it off. I’m talking Omega/Tag Heuer/Longines/Rolex here. But since we are talking more affordable options, I suggest a good, all-round option which would go just as well with jeans as your 3 piece suit. Choose well and you can get a great daily wearer which you will still be using even after you have added more exclusive brands to your collection.

Just two brands to suggest, firstly as they are both in that sweet-spot of being good quality and stylish and secondly because they offer models in that, completely arbitrary, sub £500 catagory. I’m not getting any kickbacks for recommending these; I just happen to think that they are the best your money can buy in this price range. Other makes which tick both of those boxes are available, of course but you really can’t go wrong with one of these:

Tissot  

This is a Swiss horological house with a fine and lengthy pedigree. Tissot make really quite beautiful watches at a price which leave you wondering how they manage to pull it off.  Here are a few models to consider:

Visodate Heritage

Tissot Visodate Automatic

A beautiful, classy automatic from a Swiss manufacturer for £400? Are you kidding? Not at all. This is, as you can see, an exceptionally stylish watch with a very cool 60s retro vibe. Right on the 40mm diameter sweet spot too.

Couturier Chronograph

Tissot Couturier Chrono

If you are looking for something with more modern lines and added wrist presence how about this beauty? It’s a quartz but none the worse for that. As with a lot of Tissot’s there is choice of either leather strap or metal bracelet and black or silver face. This is the nicest combo in my opinion. This is currently £340. If you can stretch to a little more the automatic version is a mere £600. Now that is one hell of a lot of watch for your money.

PRC200 Chrono

Tissot PRC200 Chrono.png Just staying on the right side of smart but retaining chunky sports credentials. This is the Quartz version. If your budget will stretch the automatic comes in at around £750 which is, quite frankly, astounding given that similar quality chrono automatics from other makers start at around double that price. This, the quartz version, is a shade under £350. Value for money? I think so. What a looker too, with various bracelet/strap/face options.

Seiko

Japanese precision and timeless style. If you are going to look outside of Switzerland, you can’t do much better (without spending several thousand quid) than this manufacturer. Like Tissot they make really high-quality watches for amazingly good prices. As well as making beautiful dress watches, Seiko are the undisputed heavyweight champions of high-quality affordable sports watches. See the last example in my list for proof.

Seiko Premier

Seiko Premier

Seriously, is this a great looking watch or what? Most of the watches in this collection come in at a little over our self-imposed £500 cut off but this just manages to stay in budget. I think we can agree that it looks much pricier than it actually is.

Seiko Pressage

Seiko Presage

A quality automatic for £340? Unbelievable. At 39mm a good choice if you have a smaller wrist or just fancy having something slightly more discrete. This is not a shouty watch but one that just oozes refinement.

Seiko Prospex

Seiko Propex Ltd Ed. 

Ok, I know that I said I wouldn’t include any big, chunky sports watches in this list but, come on, is this not a stunning watch?? £400 will get you this limited edition, automatic dive watch which, frankly, looks as good if not better than many costing several thousand. It is just shy of 44mm diameter making it a really big watch which may look better with jeans and a polo shirt than crammed under your suit sleeve but seriously, how have they made a watch this good for that money?  It’s limited edition though so hurry. If you find that they are all gone by the time that you read this check out the rest of the extensive Seiko diver range,

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The Pitfalls of Internet Dating

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I’ve had in mind to write about internet dating for a little while now. It has completely changed the way that many people approach dating in a relatively short space of time and as with many new innovations there are pitfalls to be aware of.
It seemed to me that it would be especially interesting to get the woman’s eye view of internet dating as well so I asked Jaimie to give us her thoughts and you can read her article here.
I won’t deny that internet dating is a fantastically convenient way to browse prospective partners from the comfort of your own home without the anxiety inducing experience of having to approach real live women in real life with the risk (often more imagined than real) that it will all end in shame and humiliation.
I dabbled in internet dating for a period of time a few years ago. I have to say that it was a pretty frustrating experience a lot of the time (maybe it would have been different if I’d had Jaimie’s advice back then!). I went out on a few dates, met some pleasant people but didn’t find love. Having said that, I can’t say that I stuck at it for long. I think I had three goes in all, each for about 3 months or so at a time but got frustrated each time and suspended my profile.
Anyone reading this will probably recognise some if not all of these frustrations from their own experience. My motive in writing this isn’t to put men off internet dating but to highlight some of the downfalls of the experience so that newcomers to the wonderful world of online dating can manage their expectations. There are also some dangers to internet dating, even for men, which it is worth being aware of.

Catfishing
Starting with possibly the most serious issue with internet dating. If you are not familiar with the term, this is where someone deliberately creates a fake profile. There are various reasons for doing this. Sometimes there is a criminal behind it who is trying to obtain personal information or even money. There have been plenty of stories in the media of this sort of thing. Vulnerable (or gullible) people sending money to someone whom they believed they were having a relationship with, possibly so that person could travel to join them or for some other seemingly legitimate purpose, only for them to disappear with the money, never to be heard from again.
Other motivations for catfishing seem a bit more difficult to fathom. Some people are just plain nasty and want to make other people unhappy.
Red flags for this would include, various reasons for not being able to meet in person, too much detail in a profile, especially presenting an idealised view of themselves, ‘love-bombing’ i.e. being very intense very quickly and asking you for lots of information (feigning a genuine interest) whilst being slow to give out anything about themselves.
If you start getting suspicious about an interaction which you are having, you might find this site a useful resource.

Kitten fishing
This is much more common and not usually motivated by malice. It is, in a sense, ‘catfishing lite’ and is where someone is not pretending to be someone else but is presenting an image of themselves which is so ‘positively managed’ that it bears little resemblance to reality.
I have ranted more than once about the tendency for a lot of people to present an overly air-brushed image of themselves and their life on social media. This is the internet dating expression of that tendency. If these people were selling cars rather than dating they would get into serious hot water with trading standards authorities.
The sort of thing that constitutes kitten-fishing is using very old pictures, pictures of their head only – nothing full length, lies about interests, careers, and so on.
Unlike cat-fishing, no real harm is likely to come from this but it is bloody annoying. The best policy is probably to arrange to have a conversation with someone on the phone before arranging to meet. Even then, you are not guaranteed to spot the fake.
I had some experience of this. I was messaging a woman who seemed pleasant enough and arranged to meet her for coffee one lunch time (a very good strategy for a first meet – see below). I should have been suspicious about the only photo on her profile – it was a very close cropped picture of her face, not even her whole head. Anyway, about 30 minutes before we were due to meet I received a text from her saying “just to say, I am a size 16 and don’t want to waste your time if you would prefer not to meet”. I don’t normally go for large girls but, I thought, size 16 (UK) isn’t really huge and I have known some very sexy women over the years who would fit into that size bracket. No problem, I responded, lets just go for coffee and see how we get on.
I arrived at the coffee shop first and as I was waiting in the queue I texted her to ask what she would like. She responded saying that she was just walking up to the door. Anyway, a woman came in and I didn’t recognise her at first from the photo. It took a few seconds for it to sink in that this was, indeed, my date.
Size 16? Not by any measure known to me. The woman was at least a size 22 (and I am being kind here). She was wearing one of those elasticated waist skirts which is about all you can wear when you are morbidly obese. She had lank shoulder length hair which looked like it had not been washed in a couple of days and not a scrap of makeup. Notwithstanding the subterfuge about her size I was mildly offended that she had apparently made no effort over her appearance to come out on a date (even if it was just coffee). Just for the record, I had made an effort. No makeup though, you understand.
I could have turned on my heel and just walked out but I decided to have coffee and leave it at that. I was, however, pretty pissed off. Fortunately, the experience only cost me a few pounds and a wasted lunch break. It did make me more cautious about fixing up dates though.
The corollary of this is that you too should avoid dishonesty in your own profile. Yes, you might get a date or two with women that you otherwise wouldn’t but it will not go well for you.

Paying for the date v going ‘Dutch’
This is an issue uniquely for heterosexual men I think. We all know, I think, that tradition dictates that, on a first date, the man should pick up the bill. In general terms I have no problem with this principle. I know that I am regarded by those who know me as being fairly generous with my money, first to the bar to buy a round and all that sort of thing.
The problem with internet dating, like every other aspect of modern life where technology is involved, is that it speeds everything up. If you were dating, old school, by going out in the evenings and meeting people and getting a phone number and then arranging a date later on, even if you were a prolific dater you would struggle to line up as many dates as you can with internet dating.
During my first go with a dating site I got three or four dates a month for two or three months. Now, if you take each one of those dates out for ‘a bite to eat and a drink’, even if you are keeping it reasonable, you know, pizza’s and a bottle of wine with a drink at the bar afterwards you are still looking at quite an outlay if you are going on a first date once a week and you are paying for it.
Now this is not a problem if you are reasonably affluent. I wasn’t at the time and I wrestled with my wish to be a gentleman and pay the bill and my dwindling bank balance. In fairness, most women offered to go halves or at least get drinks after food. There was one though, spent the whole evening with me and never offered to pay for a damn thing. Needless to say, there was no second date.
When I had my second go at internet dating I hit upon the idea of dispensing with evening dates altogether initially. I recommend that you do the same thing too. I would invite the prospective partner to meet me at a coffee shop at lunch time.
This approach has several benefits.
Firstly, it is time limited. If you are just not feeling it you can politely bail out when the coffees have been drunk. Secondly, it is only going to cost the price of a coffee and a sandwich or piece of cake. Thirdly, it is less intense than an evening out so it takes the pressure off for both of you. If you are meeting at a weekend you can introduce a fake time-limit to get you out of there if you need to. Tell her that you are sorry but you need to be away by 2pm for something you have been dumped with (use your imagination). Then, if you are really getting on well you can go off to make a ‘phone call’ to get out of your other commitment. She will feel pleased that you have broken your other commitment to spend time with her. Smooth huh?

Sex dating
Some people don’t want to date for romantic reasons but still want to have sex. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you are honest about your motivations (as well as your marital status). Fortunately, there are a number of sites which cater for this, *ahem* ‘specific’ requirement. If you are after a friend with benefits without the emotional entanglements, a quick search on Google (other search engines are available) will reveal that you are well served. Some of these sites are more, shall we say, salubrious than others.
Sex dating brings with it it’s own risks and considerations. Look, I won’t drone on about safe sex – you are grown ups and you can take responsibility for your own sexual health. Other considerations are:
• There are far more men than women on these sites. That means that the girls can have their pick of the litter and there are quite a few frustrated men. Women who have used these sites tell me that they can get more messages a day than they can possibly keep up with. As a guy, unless, you are ridiculously hot, you’ll be lucky to get any. Expect to have to make all of the running with a low message to response conversion rate.
• Most sites allow you to join for free but you have to pay the membership fee to read or send messages. If you go free to start with you will get messages from very hot women which you can’t open until you pay the subs. When you have joined you will find that these are not real women (usually). The sites would, of course, strongly deny that they were behind this and that this is just a cynical way of getting men to pay up a subscription fee.
• You are much more likely to get laid if you are in shape. Sorry to be blunt, but if you are fat and/or over 45 your chances of getting a hook-up diminish dramatically.

Paid vs free sites
I’m quite a fan of not paying for something if you can get it for free. Who isn’t? So why would you pay to join an internet dating site when you could join a free one?
Well, in the case of internet dating, my view is that it is money well spent. Why? Well, and this is going to sound snobbish, but the mere fact that you have to pay to join a site immediately filters out a high proportion of low-rent daters.

If you need convincing, have a little browse on Plenty of Fish (free) and then Match.com (paid). You will see what I mean. If, on the other hand, Burberry-check baseball caps, huge hoop ear-rings and pet pit-bull terriers called ‘Tyson’ are your thing, why pay more?

Having Children – What they Don’t Tell You

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Anyone who uses Facebook will surely have noticed how many deliriously happy parents there are.

As a lot of parents will attest, this photoshopped dream of parenthood seems strangely to be something which happens to other people and not them. This is not to say that having children is continual, unremitting misery and hardship, just that there is hardly ever any balance in the reporting. The hard stuff is seldom mentioned and if it is it is quickly swept away with a breezy comment: “but he looks so angelic when he does, eventually, go to sleep!”

People generally do not post pictures on Facebook of their red-faced child screaming at 3am in the morning

If you have a close enough relationship to friends with kids where you can be real with each other you will often get a different viewpoint. Whilst many would not change their decision to have children, that rose-tinted ideal has often given way to a rather more hard-edged reality.

Part of the problem is that it is still something of a taboo to admit that you are struggling with parenthood, that you are finding it unrewarding or that you are questioning the decision in the first place. You would probably get a more favourable response if you expressed the view that drink driving should be legalised.

For some people, maybe the majority, this really is the most fulfilling thing that they have done with their lives. For others, who may be feeling guilty and inadequate for feeling that this is not the 24-hour joy-ride which they were sold on, there is nothing for it but to grit their teeth, get through it and drink wine in the evenings.

What drives the guilt and feelings of inadequacy is this sugar-coated fantasy of perfect family lives which is rammed down our throats every day. It is supposed to be wonderful so what is wrong with me if I am not loving every minute?

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If there was a bit of reality about parenting parents wouldn’t feel that they are unable to talk about their own experience with honesty.

The first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that not everyone is cut out for parenthood and that fact does not make them somehow inferior. A childless, mature couple are often viewed either with pity or suspicion and find themselves having to explain why they are childless. Why is this?

Here are some other facts which ought to be acknowledged as well:

• Children are not a ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate) when they are born, whatever Plato thought. The DNA ‘lucky dip’ has a significant impact on a child’s personality and behaviour. Yes, parenting can modify the outcome to some extent, but the raw materials will stay the same, exerting their pull. If you doubt this speak to any parent who has parented consistently but ended up with one child who was an angel from the get go and another who is an evil little sod. I know plenty of them, personally and professionally.
• It is relentless, EXHAUSTING, hard work. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. The best way to imagine the impact on your lifestyle is to envisage being a carer for a severely disabled adult who needs you to do everything for them. Then imagine doing that and trying to fit it around the rest of the stuff that you normally do: work, chores, hobbies, socialising. Apart from the size differential, this is what it is like. If you have willing parents yourself, you might get the odd weekend off or evening out but it starts up again right after that. If you have a demanding child this can sap you like nothing else.
• Children don’t do lie-ins.
• Holidays. These have to become child-friendly straight away. No boozy evenings on the town or spending the whole day tanning and drinking cocktails. No adventure holidays. When the kid gets to school age you will have to book during school holiday time. Be prepared for the massive hike in cost. Again, if your child is demanding, a holiday often doesn’t seem much like a holiday. It’s more of a case of same shit, different location.
• Schools. You are going to love the attitude that schools have. Sorry if you happen to be a teacher but I have found that schools generally take absolutely no account of a parent’s other commitments, personal or professional. They say ‘jump’ and you are expected to ask “how high?”
• Your friendship group tends to change and you spend more time with other parents. You will then find that virtually the sole topic of conversation with a lot of these people is their children. It’s like they have nothing else in their life.
• The expense. Don’t even get me started.. Oh, all right then, do. Every item of equipment costs a bloody fortune and you cannot buy a cheaper alternative you cheapskate because it is for your own child. Even if the kid will only be in the push-chair for a year it has to cost as much as a new flat-screen TV for some reason. Shoes for a toddler that cost as much as a new pair of top-brand trainers (sneakers) for yourself. You’ll be needing a family-wagon car too. It is astounding how much stuff you have to take with you when you go out for half a day with a 2 month old baby. It’s more than you used to take for both of you for a long weekend away.
• If you are a clean freak, you’d better start learning some coping strategies for when the child becomes mobile. ‘Pre-ambulant’ children (i.e. the ones that have not yet learned to crawl) make enough mess but at least it is confined to the area where they are. Once they learn to crawl and then walk you will, despite yourself, be impressed at just how much destruction it is possible to wreak in a short period of time. Shit – sometimes the real stuff – over everything (and before you tell me that I am exaggerating can I just mention that one of my children had a habit of taking off his nappy as soon as he had soiled it and then smearing the contents over everything. Carpets had to be thrown out etc. This went on for about a year.)
• Having a child in the house can cause havoc with your sex life. Apart from the exhaustion, the mess and those baby-smells, carrying a baby for 9 months and pushing something that big out of a small opening causes physical changes. Sometimes permanent ones.
• Temper tantrums. These generally begin somewhere between 18 months and 2 years and can go on for a good couple of years. Just when you have begun to forget how awful these can be the kid starts puberty and they start up again – with bells on.
• Here is the kicker – you may go through all of this willingly in the expectation that once the child has grown up they will become a wonderful, well-adjusted individual who will become a life-long best friend. I am very sorry to tell you that your sacrifice and unconditional love does not guarantee that you will be loved and respected in return. Trust me on this. Some kids are selfish, entitled little sods who grow up into selfish, entitled adults who you will rarely, if ever, hear from unless they want a handout.

As I said earlier, I am putting my head on the block by stating this stuff. Some people would no doubt say that I am a monster for writing these things and that I have completely ignored the lovely bits of being a parent.

There are lovely bits for sure although the frequency of these will vary from child to child, but that wasn’t the purpose of writing this. You can find eulogies to the delights of raising a child all over the place. That’s part of the problem. Hardly anybody is giving the other side so that informed decisions can be made. Now I have.

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Accepted Wisdom

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The problem with accepted wisdom is, well, that it’s just accepted.

Some accepted wisdom is, of course, worthy of acceptance. Jumping out of an aircraft without a functioning parachute is likely to have a dramatic effect on your life expectancy. Likewise, getting completely plastered at your works Christmas party and then deciding to discuss your pay and conditions with your boss is likely to have a dramatic effect on your career prospects.

Other pearls of wisdom get passed down the generations with hardly a thought. Most, if not all accepted wisdoms have been around for a long time and probably used to be good advice. Not that long ago, living with someone of the opposite sex was regarded as ‘living in sin’. That might have had an impact on your social and professional life. Being openly gay a few decades ago would see you being persecuted by the state and, of course, there are plenty of places in the world still where your sexuality can end up getting you killed.

Work hard at school, get good grades, get a steady job, get married, buy a house, have children, work until you are 60+, retire, die. Inspiring stuff, no? Yet all of these ‘life choices’ are accepted wisdoms. If you divert from any of these (admittedly, there is no option about the last one..) you can expect at least raised eyebrows, if not lectures, rows, ridicule and accusations of being ‘selfish’ (as if it’s not your life to lead).

A lot of people may tick off every one of those lifestyle choices as they go through their life and feel completely satisfied. For a lot of people though, that ‘off the shelf’ life plan just doesn’t cut it anymore. The problem is that this sort of wisdom often goes unchallenged. People don’t think about it because it is obviously the right way to live. Of course you want to get married. Of course you want to have children, of course you want to be a wage slave giving away the best years of your life doing a job that you hate to buy stuff that you don’t need because some ad-man tells you want it.

Actually, a lot of people do think about that sort of thing. They just do it too late. Lots of people who find themselves hating their job but feeling trapped because they have got themselves mortgaged to the hilt to buy the dream home that they have been told that they should have and the debt that they have accrued to get the stuff that they feel they must have. Mostly to make themselves feel better about having to spend 5 days a week doing a job they hate. A lot of those people then get depressed, have a midlife crisis and/or have an affair. None of which is likely to make the situation any better.

The accepted wisdom sees us creating our own little cage for ourselves. It might be quite a nice cage on the outside, with a Beemer parked outside but it’s a cage nevertheless. People get stuck in jobs they hate and in relationships which don’t make them happy because they can’t afford to leave.

What do parents say to their children when the child says “Daddy, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”. Nobody says “get a shit job that pays well, because it doesn’t matter if you are unhappy as long as you’ve got good steady money coming in”. No. Every parent (well, the majority) say “it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you want to do it and it makes you happy”. A lot of parents are hypocrites though because that is exactly what they are not doing themselves.

So, what to do?

Well, the options now are far greater than they were when I was in my late teens. The internet has proved to be the ultimate game changer for an awful lot of people. It is possible to run certain businesses entirely remotely. The ability to have meetings via skype or similar negates the need, in many cases for you to be actually physically present somewhere.

Many are also waking up to the idea that you don’t have to earn a living doing one job. Some people have fingers in a few different pies. This is known as a ‘portfolio career’. One of the benefits of this approach is that you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket. You are not relying on one source of income. If you have several smaller interests it doesn’t matter if each one only makes a few hundred pounds/dollars/whatever, as long as the aggregate income from all of those interests pays the bills.

That’s quite an appealing idea isn’t it? The other benefit of having a number of smaller interests rather than one job that sucks up all of your time is that you can be more responsive. If one of the interests is doing well at any given point you can devote more time to it and scale back the others. If one business idea fails it’s not the end of the world; you have others that you can develop. That’s ultimate job security isn’t it? When you have one job, however safe you think it is, you are always at risk of the unexpected.

When I started out practising family law I thought (and everyone told me) that it was a safe area or law to get into because everyone would always need a family lawyer. 20 plus years later sweeping changes to the way this area of law is funded as well as changes to the court rules mean that there are lots of people who thought that they were in a ‘safe’ career who are now looking to re-train.

The idea of not working for someone else, setting your own hours, your own working conditions, being able to take a holiday when you want without having to ask for permission or even working from anywhere in the world that takes your fancy will be an alien concept to some. I am not an expert in this. In fact it is something that I am working on myself now. If the concept strikes you as appealing (why wouldn’t it?) can I direct you here for more information (I’m not connected to Marianne’s business in any way or getting a ‘kick-back’ for referrals. I just happen to like her approach. You might too.)

Woking for yourself may not appeal to everyone. Some may just feel more comfortable having a traditional job but there are an increasing number who are not. Me included. If you take a regular job, about the best that you can hope for is that it continues with a few pay rises along the line. Going it alone is scarier and less predictable but you might just end up with something better than ‘predictable’.

The Power Of Fuck Off

Sir-Winnie-685x499My partner went through a bad patch a number of years ago. She arranged some therapy sessions with a counsellor called Fahrad. After a few sessions Fahrad’s advice seemed to settle into a fairly predictable pattern. My partner would discuss the things that were dragging her down and, possibly unsurprisingly, they were generally the behaviours of other people. There were a whole bunch of people in her life who brought little of value and, instead, brought stress and unhappiness.

My partner, it should be pointed out, is a successful professional woman well used to putting people in their place in her professional life. In fact, she is known for it.

So why was her personal life so full of people dragging her down?

The answer, of course, is very simple. She allowed these people to cause her misery. Now, nobody actually says “hey – why don’t you treat me like a piece of shit?” or, “you’d like to behave appallingly to me and for me to just suck it up? Certainly – go right ahead!” What she was doing was not challenging these people and so they just carried on.

Think about how a small child learns discipline. They behave badly and they get pulled up about it. If they don’t they carry on behaving badly because, well, there is no reason to behave well, especially if behaving badly is more fun or you get what you want.

Now some children, of course, are not appropriately disciplined and grow up to be insufferable spoiled little shits. Why should they be considerate and polite if they get what they want by behaving badly. And they do know they are behaving badly you know. How often do you hear of children who are absolutely evil to their parents but are little angels at school or with other adults? All the time. Which only goes to prove that they know how they are supposed to behave. Which makes it worse when they are being vile to their parents.

There are quite a lot of adults who behave like this too. People who treat others like shit because nobody ever challenges them on it. Unfortunately, this seems to most often happen within families. The overbearing, controlling parent/parent in law; the ungrateful, rude grown-up child; the sibling who always wants to rub your nose in how much better they are doing than you. Sound familiar? And that’s before we get on to the other relationships at work and so on.

What do all of these arseholes have in common? They treat you like crap because they can. Because they are confident that there will never be any blow-back because you wouldn’t dare or you’ve always taken it in the past.

And you know what? When you really think about it I bet you’ll find that most of the stress and unhappiness in your life comes from tolerating these people.

So, what was Fahrad’s sage advice about this most pervasive of problems?

Tell them to Fuck Off.

We used to laugh about it, my partner and I, because it seemed so simplistic. The more we dwelled upon it though, the more sense it made. It really is that simple a lot of the time. When you say it isn’t it is because you are making excuses to avoid grappling with the issue.

There are good reasons not to do it with, say your boss or other superior at work, but again, what is worse; being miserable or doing something about it. Maybe best to get that other job lined up first though.

With family/so-called-friends it can seem harder, yet it is in fact easier. You don’t have to actually drop the F-bomb. It can be as simple as you telling this person what it is about their behaviour that upsets and stresses you and give them a chance to change it. With the clear ultimatum that if they don’t you will be cutting them off from your life until they are able to behave. Really, it is like dealing with a naughty toddler. And if they don’t change you must follow through. If they do change then great, but with most of these individuals imagine how much better your life would be if you didn’t have to deal with them..

Remember, it is not you who is being unreasonable. If you ask them to stop treating you like shit and they don’t, bin them. End of. If you fail to take action you can’t complain if they keep shitting on you.

I have had to do just this to a couple of people recently. People who have been using me as a punch-bag for too many years. It’s sad to have to do it but a huge relief also. And yes, I did use the F-word with one of them. Should have done it years ago.

Don’t get to the end of your life and find that your greatest regret is that you didn’t tell more arseholes to fuck right off. If you keep taking shit it probably will be.

Real Sex Versus Porn

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I’m not entirely sure who my target audience is for this post.. but here goes anyway.

An older, experienced man should not need to be told this stuff so I guess this is aimed at the younger male reader who has had his primary experience of sex to date through porn. That hypothetical reader is, however, more likely to be beating himself off to some free online porn than reading this. Unfortunately though, this stuff does need to be said. A whole generation is growing up thinking that porn is real life. Girls seem to think that they have to parade themselves around like a piece of meat so that boys will like them and boys (and wealthy movie moguls) think that casual sexual harassment and worse is acceptable. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about here where the hell have you been recently??!

Parents are pretty much powerless to stop their kids from seeing all kinds of shit online which older generations would barely have been aware of as teenagers.

This is worrying stuff folks. My kids are grown up (sort of) now but I knew a few years ago that there was nothing I could do to stop them seeing stuff online. It doesnt matter what parental controls you put in place at home – as soon as they get to school some other kid has got pictures and videos on their phone. Children are sending pictures of themselves to other children which then get shared god knows where.

When I was in my teens and my hormones were running riot there was no internet. A few dog eared copies of ‘Men Only’ magazine was as far as my porn collection went. All extremely tame by todays standards. The upshot of this is that we didn’t grow up with huge exposure to porn before actually getting to grips with a real woman. Contrast that to today. If you are in your mid-teens, say, and have a healthy interest in sex there is a good chance that you will have watched hundreds of hours of porn before you actually manage to get your trembling fingers inside a real girl’s undergarments.

The key thing I want to share here, for that hypothetical teenage boy reading this, is that real sex is hardly ever like porn. Not consistently, anyway.

Let me, therefore, share a few realities with you which may conflict with what you might have come to believe if you are an enthusiastic consumer of porn. Now, I’m certainly no Warren Beatty but I have a little real life experience and this is what I have learned and now am happy to share. As the Americans say “your mileage may vary” but, to be honest, I’m not sure I’d believe you if you were to say that your mileage varied considerably from these points (unless you are, in fact, a porn star yourself):
• Most women will not spend the whole sexual experience sucking their breath through their teeth whilst alternately shouting “yeah – fuck dat ass”.
• The most ridiculously miss-represented sexual act in porn is fellatio. Women will not spit on your penis before jamming it down their throat like a deranged sword-swallower until they retch and their mascara runs down their cheeks.
• Women (and men for that matter) don’t all like the same thing. Don’t assume. Ask.
• Things you see all the time in porn which women will almost never want to do include: sticking your cock in their mouth after it has been in their bottom; you pulling out at the crucial moment to shuffle around and come on their waiting tongue; and slapping their breasts/face etc. You can probably work out others to add to this list without my help. Bear in mind that porn movies and pictures are staged and scripted. There is a lot of stuff which is there for effect. A good example of this is the positions which the ‘actors’ adopt. They are chosen so that the viewer can see all of the key bits in action. These are not usually the most fulfilling positions in real life. Take the ‘reverse cowgirl’ for example. You’ll see it in most porn scenes but nobody ever claimed it was their favourite position in real life.
• One thing which porn has got partly right is that women are generally more open to the idea of a same sex encounter than men are, even if they would describe themselves as straight, but unless she raises the topic herself, it’s none of your bloody business.
• A high proportion of women are not body confident. This is not the place to debate whether it is the unrealistic expectations which modern media representations of the ideal female form to blame for this, I simply present it as a fact. And it is a terrible shame. Even women with bodies like a swimwear model will immediately be able to identify some part of themselves that they would like to change.

In porn, womens orgasms are not generally treated as being very important. You get the all important ‘cum shot’ when the man finishes but what about the woman? In reality, women vary widely in their response. Some will orgasm over and over with very little stimulus.  For every women like this, there are others who will make you work hard to get them to a single orgasm (and woe betide you if you come before she has..). Many more seem to fall somewhere between the two extremes.

What you might have deduced from this is that women are individuals. Porn is not wrong in itself but where it is a problem is that it does depersonalise the sex act and sets up expectations which, if you don’t know any better, are not reasonable.

Look – if you are a man who is expecting to treat women the way that you routinely see portrayed in porn films you are going to be disappointed. You are also, my friend, a complete arsehole. Don’t be that guy.

What Would Daniel Craig Do?

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Way back in the early 1980s there was an annoyingly catchy song in the charts called ‘Kissing With Confidence’. It was by an artist calling themselves ‘Will Powers’ (actually a singer called Lynn Goldsmith, who used some studio trickery to make her voice sound like a man.) It was basically a self-help recording set to music and offered sage advice to those shy and inexperienced would-be kissers about trouble free snogging to include checking that you don’t have spinach on your teeth. Advice to live by, to be sure.

Anyway, as this was back in the day when a ‘single’ was a black shiny disk, it had a ‘B’ side. If this is all a mystery to you, ask your parents. In essence, a single would be released on a 7” (again, ask your parents) disk. Because it had two sides, the record company would put an extra tune on the flip side, usually a fairly poor offering that wasn’t good enough to make it onto the artist’s latest album.

The ‘B’ side of this particular single was called ‘All Thru History’. It was more self-help set to music. The premise was an interesting one though and an idea which has been proposed in various different formats elsewhere. Basically, the idea was that there have been many admirable figures throughout history who, if confronted with your own particular circumstances would make a good job of getting the best outcome. To put it another way, they would probably make a better job of your life than you. So what? Who wants someone else drumming home the point that someone famous, someone less of a loser than you, could make your life into something great and overcome your problems with style and panache. Come up smelling of roses and all that.

Well, here’s the point. The song encouraged the listener to select an admired famous person from history to be a sort of virtual mentor. When confronted with a difficult situation or decision, the listener is to ask themselves how that famous person would have responded and then do likewise.

As I’ve said, this is not a novel idea. Ever heard the expression “fake it until you make it”? Same principle. If you want to be a certain sort of person, if you want success in your life or just to make better decisions, instead of focussing on your shortcomings, imagine yourself as that sort of person or, if you prefer to imagine a great historical figure standing at your side, advising you, and then act on that advice.

A lot of people with a faith do a similar thing. Some Christians specifically try to act in the way that they think Jesus would and remind themselves to do so by wearing one of those little bracelets with “WWJD?” on it. Others may test their proposed plans by asking whether it will displease their god. For those without a faith, sometimes it is easy to feel a bit rudderless. We may rely on the advice of our friends or parents but who is to say that they are any better judge than you?

Look, I’m not suggesting that you should be consulting your imaginary Winston Churchill every morning about what cereal to have for your breakfast. But what if you are called upon to give a presentation at work or perhaps make a speech at a social gathering? What if you are shaking in your boots at the thought of getting up in front of all of those people? Would it be easier if you take the time to get yourself ‘into the zone’ by imagining that you already are a great orator – confident and calm. Might it help to channel Winston, or Barak Obama or any other great speaker?

Maybe you have a difficult personal dilemma? Would you feel better equipped to make a good judgement if you ask yourself how someone that you admire, someone of impeccable moral authority would respond?

Would you feel more confident going into a business meeting or interview if you imagined how confident and relaxed you might feel if you were, say, Richard Branson?

I’m sure you are getting the point.

So, what does Daniel Craig have to do with any of this? Well, I’m a lover of James Bond and I happen to think that DC is the ultimate incarnation of the famous secret agent. I am aware that I can struggle a little in unfamiliar social settings. When I’m being a lawyer I can breeze through meetings because that is a role that I feel confident playing. I am much less confident when I am having to be ‘me’ and am meeting new people. When Craig’s Bond walks into any setting he projects masculine authority. He is impeccably well mannered but assertive and confident. Things that I seldom feel in a new social context. I try to avoid fights to the death with murderous henchmen but find that channelling my inner Bond makes me appear more confident and, consequently, feel more confident as well.

As a side benefit, I find that I make better choices when I’m clothes shopping too.

Although, admittedly, he does look better in those little blue bathing shorts than I would..

The Tender Trap – Marriage.

Ball and Chain

If you come from a family where being married is the ‘norm’ you may have grown up without questioning that your destiny will, one day, be to become a married man. There is still, bizarrely, an unwillingness to talk about the cons as well as the pros. People (like me) who point out the potential pitfalls are decried as being ‘bitter’ or ‘women haters’. Yadda yadda yadda.  I’d rather pass on the real life stuff for you to ponder alongside the rose tinted spectacled view. Most people don’t find out the things I’m about to share with you until their marriage has gone belly up, by which time, of course, it’s too late.

There are plenty of places where you can find lists of all the great things about marriage. You can probably rattle a list off yourself.  There is a good chance that you know at least one couple who have been married for decades and are still blissfully happy. They may be your parents. They are not in the majority.

What if I told you that there was less than a 50% chance that your marriage will be happy and enduring?

If you went to a track day for a bit of opposite lock driving fun and you were told that there was a roughly 50% chance that you were going to crash you would possibly rethink your plans for your day off, or, at the very least, make sure that you had made thorough provision to minimise the risk of serious injury if you did spin off

The figure of 50% isn’t one I’ve just plucked from the air.  In the UK the rate of marriage breakdown is roughly 50%.

The Woman’s Perspective

The first thing to understand is how women view all of this. Most women, like most men, would like to have a long term, mutually fulfilling relationship. Most women see the gold standard framework for this as marriage whereas, I suggest, far less men are bothered about the formalities.  A big factor in this is the importance which women tend to put on the day itself. Remember the scene from ‘Shrek 2’ when our eponymous hero finds the childhood diary of Princess Fiona? It’s filled childhood drawings of herself and her future husband, Pictures of wedding dresses and trying out her married name “Mrs Fiona Charming”. It is, as Shrek observes, a “scary book”.

Your intended may not have obsessed about her future groom to this extent but you can bet she’s been thinking about her wedding a lot more than you have. Want to know something else? In your girls fevered imagination, the identity of her Prince Charming has been largely unimportant. During her formative years she has not been dreaming of the desirable attributes of her groom, his calm, loving and kind character. His keen wit and intelligence etc. He has been just some figure in a morning suit hovering attentively by her side. Handsome, yes, of course. Chiselled chin. Bit of designer stubble maybe.

The real imaginative effort has been put into thinking about how she wants everything else and, in particular, how she wants to look. The dress, her shoes, what the bridesmaids will wear, what the colour scheme will be, the flowers, and how she will be, for this one day, a real live princess.

I’m not saying that women just get married in order to have their wedding day. For most, they want to wed for the usual, romantic reasons. For a woman, though, the day itself is far more important than it usually is to a man. This leads to two things: firstly, spiralling costs for the wedding itself, which must, of course, be absolutely perfect and, secondly, a proportion of women who might otherwise be content with ‘living in sin’ feeling that they must get married to a) have their big day and, b) make a grand gesture about their relationship.

Let’s boil all of that down into a single proposition:

For the bride, the day itself is a MASSIVE deal

What happens after the wedding, you know, ‘long term’, has probably occupied far less attention than the obsessing about the day itself. I regret to advise that this has only gotten worse in recent times with the rise of the narcissism epidemic, driven by social media. Make no mistake about it, whatever most women may say, they care A LOT about what other women think. It is often said that women don’t dress for men, they dress for other women. The wedding day is the ultimate expression of that. Nothing will make them happier than a multitude of female friends and family gushing to them about how PERFECT their wedding was and how AMAZING they looked.  Think this is bullshit? Consider then the ‘my perfect life’ blogs that the interweb is littered with (and Youtube for that matter). Women love other women to adore and envy them and, in return, love to adore and envy other women.

To not get married, for a woman, means that she will be deprived of her big day when all of the attention will be focussed on her, all day long and she will be perfect and beautiful.

Admittedly it is not just about the day. I don’t have any hard evidence for this but I bet if you took a poll of single men and women between the ages of, say 18 and 40 and asked them if they would be quite happy if they never got married, I bet you’d find that far more women than men would be unhappy at the prospect of never getting married. Women (on the whole) like marriage. It is, in a funny sort of way, acknowledgement of their desirability (albeit subconsciously); a man is willing to forsake all others for the rest of his life. In theory.

Just to recap, I’m not saying that men don’t necessarily want to settle down with a nice girl. Many, if not most, do. It’s just that men, on the whole, are happy to just get on and do it and do not see the need to formalise it in a grand and expensive gesture. Got it? Good. Let’s move on.

And it usually is expensive. At the time of writing (2015) the average cost of a wedding in the UK is £21,000. Seriously. 21K for a SINGLE day.  Expectations are not reasonable anymore. I used to do a bit of wedding photography on the side. I stopped because expectations are almost always completely unrealistic (always the bride’s expectations) and almost impossible to meet. Everybody wants the same results that they see in a celebrity magazine where the top professional photographer is attended by a team of assistants and shot at some plush stately home or on a beach in Goa. The same results are usually required by every other bride for a budget of about 1/10th of what the afore-mentioned top pro would charge. Incidentally, if you want really good wedding photos, which is the only thing you’ll be left with when the day is over, expect to budget around £2000 up.

The soaring expectations of brides has even given rise to a new term.  Ever heard of ‘bridezilla’? Yes? Ever heard of ‘groomzilla’? No, I didn’t think so.

The old tradition that the wedding is paid for by the bride’s parents can no longer be relied upon either. That was fine back in the day when everybody had more realistic expectations. Now, when every girl wants her wedding to look like a feature in ‘OK!’ magazine, expect to be picking up at least some, if not all of the tab yourselves. At the least, if you have traditional (and well heeled) prospective in-laws, it is tradition that you will pay for the honeymoon (which, at least, is one part of the wedding where you get to have a say) and the engagement ring which, again by tradition, should cost a month’s (or two, depending on who you talk to) salary. Add in the cost of the stag do etc. etc. and it’s an expensive proposition whichever way you slice it.

There seems to be a sense these days that the day MUST be perfect regardless of cost. Bear in mind though that a pound (dollar, whatever) spent on a wedding is the same as a pound spent anywhere else. Personally, if I had that sort of money to burn and someone lovely to burn it with I would be inclined to spend it on the holiday of a lifetime. A few months travelling together perhaps. The Caribbean, the spice markets of Zanzibar, snorkelling off the Great Barrier Reef, an epic road trip across the USA. All of those things? You pays your money, you takes your choice.

Marriage is for life, not just for the Wedding Day (Unless you are Katie Price)

And here’s the rub. Marriage is not just about a lovely dress and shoes (and maxed out credit cards). It is intended to be for life. That is the way that the law is geared up as well. The ‘modern’ approach, much favoured by vacuous ‘celebrities’ is to get a divorce at the drop of a hat. At least they get to have more than one special day where they can be a princess again. Albeit a princess with several children by different fathers in tow. Fine for them. A celebrity mag will pay them a fortune to cover the wedding and they have tons of cash from ‘writing’ trashy novels and appearing in reality TV shows.

That’s probably unfair to Katie. I’m sure she has married for the best of reasons. Every time.

Fortune does not smile so warmly on the rest of us. Marriage gives rise to legal responsibilities. I urge you to read my last post about that very topic, because marriage is a legal contract. You wouldn’t buy a house or even sign up for cable TV without having a look at the contract would you? Yet, bizarrely, almost nobody takes the trouble to find out what the consequences might be for them on divorce, because it’s just not the done thing is it? Completely bonkers. What I want to encourage you to do here though is to examine your own motivations for wanting to get married. We’ve already had a look at some of the motivations that a woman might have to get married. What about you?

No, really. Why do you want to get married? There are many people, men and women who want to get married for the noble reason that they are in love and want to commit themselves to the other person for the rest of their life. That is the only reason isn’t it? Well no. In fact, it’s not even a particularly good reason. It is pretty much accepted that the first hot flush of love only lasts for around 4 years. That’s not to say that the love dies. Sometimes it does. Sometimes when the pink mist has dissipated all of the irritating little habits become easier to perceive. Still others find that the passionate love morphs into something more gentle, something deeper and longer lasting (maybe even until death do you part). What is pretty much guaranteed is that you won’t feel the same a few years down the road. It is going to change, not necessarily for the better. And the same is true of your partner. People change as they get older. You will too, and I’m not just talking about your waist size.

Sometimes a man might marry because he wants to ‘make the girl mine’. It’s like closing the deal. You want to put down a marker that she is yours. Great, except, as we’ve already seen, it’s not just men who get bored, have affairs, decide to leave. Women do too. Marriage certificate or not. Marrying a woman is no guarantee that her head will not be turned at some point down the road, however unlikely that may seem when you are standing at the altar.

Then again, a man might get married because his partner has issued an ultimatum and he doesn’t want to lose her. You know, “if you don’t marry me I will leave you because you clearly don’t love me enough”.  If your partner is inclined to make that kind of threat, I’d advise you to call her bluff. If that’s the reason you marry someone (and she knows that you are not keen) you have established a precedent that you will cave in every time she makes some threat if you don’t do what she wants. Do you want to live with someone like that?

Maybe you decide to get married because of the tax advantages. No really. An old boss of mine got married to her partner of 20 years simply because they had decided that it was financially more prudent. Well, you may get a few modest perks from the government for getting married but, as we’ve already seen, by the time you add up the cost of the wedding and what you stand to lose if it goes tits up, any little governmental incentives pale into insignificance.

But half of marriages are successful, right??

That depends on how you define ‘success’. If you mean ‘not ending in divorce’, then yes. You need to realise, though, that the divorce rates only tell part of the story.

A marriage may be successful in the sense that it doesn’t end in divorce, but does that mean it’s a happy marriage? People stay in unhappy or ‘ho-hum’ marriages all the time and for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they stay together for the kids, or because they can’t afford to divorce, or because they have religious convictions or they just feel that to stay together is the right thing to do. I know people (personally) who stay in marriages which they are unhappy and unfulfilled in. Husbands and wives whose partner never makes love to them, constantly nags them, controls their behaviour or money or maybe they just grow apart.  If a proportion of the ‘successful 50%’ are not happy and satisfied in their marriage that means that, in fact, less than 50% of marriages are truly successful. That’s a sobering thought isn’t it?

If, having read this, you still find that you have the urge to get married then fine. Good luck to you. Do yourself a favour though and take the time to really look into what it will mean for you and what the implications are if things go wrong. You are a fool if you don’t, my friend.

What’s the Damage? Divorce and your Wallet

OK, Let’s get a few things straight before I get started. I am just setting out some general principals of what you should expect if you have been daft enough to get married and then find that it is all going belly-up. If you are not currently married this may give you further food for thought before doing so. If you are married and are just curious about what might happen then this is also for you. If you are married and it looks like you may not be much longer you need to take some professional advice specific to your own situation. For various professional reasons, I cannot give advice here on specific cases so please don’t ask. Please also bear in mind that the law changes. It is not static. The current situation is as at the date when this is posted. If you stumble across it several years later it may not necessarily still be so.

I would also say that, however bad your divorce is, firstly it is unlikely to be as bad as mine was. Secondly, as bad as my divorce was, I got through it and, in the words of Sir Elton, “I’m still standing”. Expect a bumpy ride but have faith that you will get through it. Life goes on and you will have an opportunity to remake yours, hopefully better than it ever was before.  Also, you will see some hair-raising financial figures below. My view is that if you are in a marriage that you both want to save then you should make every reasonable effort to do so. If the reason for trying to save it is financial though, then ask yourself what is more important? Remaining in an unhappy marriage for the rest of your life because of the cost of getting a divorce or being skint for a bit but having a fresh start and chance of happiness?

So, first things first. As you are probably aware, marriage creates a legal union between the two parties. As soon as you ‘tie the knot’ (interesting expression, doncha think?) you each have legal responsibilities to each other. If you want to get out of a marriage, it has to be dealt with formally, and legally. A lot of what you might have seen or heard in the media about divorce is not necessarily true. In fact, a lot of it is usually wrong.

For example, there is no such thing (in the UK) as a ‘quickie divorce’. You have to have been married for at least one year before you can start proceedings to get divorced. When you start divorce proceedings there is one procedure only, there is no ‘quickie’ option.  You should expect the procedure of actually getting a divorce, from the time that you submit the documents to the Court until you actually get your ‘decree absolute’ which finally dissolves the marriage to be around 4 to 6 months. That is assuming that everything goes smoothly, both parties are cooperating and there are no complications caused by sorting out the finances. If things are not plain sailing then you can expect things to take a lot longer. My own divorce, which was anything but plain sailing, took about 18 months.

There is one ground for divorce; that the marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’. In order for the Court to be satisfied that this is the case one of 5 factors set out by the law must be shown to apply. These are (and I’m paraphrasing): Adultery, unreasonable behaviour, separation from each other for 2 years or more (and you both agree to the divorce), desertion (also 2 years but different circumstances) or 5 years separation (consent of the other person not required). Evidence is required, although that is not usually a problem if the other person agrees to the divorce.

The Court fee for commencing a divorce is currently £410. It seems to be increased more frequently than any other fee. To apply for a decree absolute, the fee is £50 currently. The person who starts the divorce has to pay the fees initially, however, the court has the power to order that the other party (the ‘respondent’) should pay the costs if they are felt to have been primarily at fault. If your ex has a solicitor you’d be expecting to pay their fees as well (if the court thinks you were to blame). Budget upwards of £750 plus VAT on top of the court fees. If you’ve got your own solicitor as well, you’ll need to add their fees in. The hourly rate of divorce practitioners is usually in the region of between £120 and £300 per hour, plus VAT depending on where you are, the ‘prestige’ of the firm concerned and the seniority of the individual lawyer. If you are the respondent they will spend probably between 2 – 4 hours dealing with the divorce only (i.e. nothing else in connection with finances or children). You do the maths.

So, that’s the cheap bit out of the way. What about the marital finances? Glad you asked friend. If you thought the cost of getting a divorce was a bit steep, wait until you get a load of this.

I won’t dwell too much on the court fees or legal costs. That is likely to be the least of your worries. So you have some idea though, resolving finances by agreement, and with no court hearings, is not likely to cost less than about £1500 plus VAT if your case is really simple. If Court proceedings are issued then factor around £5000 plus VAT if things settle without too much hassle. If things remain contested up to or close to a final hearing double that (at least). Your own solicitor will advise you on likely costs though. You shouldn’t necessarily rely on these figures. Worst case, costs could be very much more in excess of these figures. Cases costing several tens of thousands to each party are not that unusual in London, especially if there are lots of assets to squabble over. Costs can vary widely though, depending on the solicitor, law firm and area of the country you live in. Some divorce lawyers will suggest that these figures are a bit high, some will maintain that they are laughably low. It depends who you talk to. In my experience these are at the lower end of the spectrum.

So how do lawyers work out how to divide up cash and assets on divorce. Well, if you were expecting a simple formula you’ll be disappointed. Marital finances, known in the trade as ‘ancillary relief’ or ‘AR’ for short, is a dark art on a par with anything going on at Hogwarts. Because each case is, in theory, different, it isn’t possible to have one clearly defined formula. This means that in any one case there are lots of possible outcomes.

The law sets out a number of factors which the Court should take into consideration. The list is not exhaustive. If you want to have a look at it you can find it at section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. It still won’t tell you what you are likely to get (or lose). Because the whole business of divvying up the goods is so flexible (read: vague) lawyers are always looking to apply little formulas which they can use as a benchmark. There are lots of semantics involved but, as a general proposition, the starting point is a 50/50 split. Of EVERYTHING. Yes, I did mean everything. The lawyers/court would then look at the Section 25 factors (and anything else that seems to be relevant) to see whether the balance should be adjusted. In a very short marriage, where there are no kids the Court may just look to return the parties to the positions they were in before they married. Then again it may not.

Back to the point of dividing up everything. You will need to disclose every asset you have, whether you think it has nothing to do with her or not. If you don’t and your subterfuge is later discovered, any order made can be overturned and everything looked at afresh. You will also get hit with a big costs bill. Being completely honest is crucial or it will come back to bite you on the arse.

Just to drive the last point home, everything is in the pot for division. Your pension, your personal possessions (nice watch collection for example) any legacy which you may have been left by a deceased relative. The lot. You can try to argue that something shouldn’t be added to the pot, perhaps because you acquired it before the marriage, but you’ll need to make a really good case. Best to assume you won’t be successful then you won’t be disappointed (which is not to say you shouldn’t try).

Then there is ‘spousal’ maintenance. I am going to deal with child maintenance in a future post. You may be liable to pay money to your ex on top of any money for the kids as well. This is likely if there is a disparity between your earnings and she requires some time to be able to become financially independent. The most likely scenario where ‘spousal maintenance’ (known as periodical payments in the trade or PPs for short) is ordered is where there are children. In that circumstance expect PPs to be ordered and to be payable, in some way or another until the youngest child has reached 18 or finished full time education, whichever is the later.  Oh, yeah, better also factor in that if there are any marital debts and you have the better income, you are likely to be expected to be responsible for those as well, even if your ex ends up keeping the sofas that you got the interest free credit on in the first place.

How much are you likely to have to pay by way of spousal maintenance? Again, this is pretty vague but, as a principle, the Court will be looking to make sure that your ex, with the children, can afford to maintain a reasonable lifestyle. Your maintenance will therefore plug any perceived gap in her finances.  In cases where you are significantly wealthier than she there is likely to be an element of maintaining a certain lifestyle which she enjoyed during the marriage.

Unfortunately this can, and does, lead to situations where an ex-husband is reduced to living in a shared house or grotty bed-sit, because the wife is often the ‘primary carer’ for the children and her ‘reasonable needs’ will then top-trump his.

Is all of that not sounding very appealing?? No? You have a realistic grasp of the situation then.

The foregoing is, of course, the briefest overview of what might happen. You may come out of a divorce feeling happy that justice has been done and that you have been fairly treated. Pigs may also sprout wings. My view, for what it is worth, is that divorce punishes men disproportionately, whether they were responsible for the marriage breakdown or not. You may not find it so. Who knows, you may be ‘lucky’.

If you find yourself in this situation, the best advice I can give you is as follows:

  • Don’t get married. Ooops.. Too late.
  • Get professional advice and quick. Notwithstanding the toe-curling figures I’ve floated for dealing with divorce work, this is not something you should skimp on. It can cost a lot more if you try to cut corners. You can always go for one interview with a solicitor for a fixed sum (most don’t do freebies any more) and decide what to do after that. Get him to quote you for the work. He should do that anyway and confirm it in writing if you decide to proceed.
  • Find the marriage certificate. You’ll need it if you are going to petition her for divorce.
  • Start getting full details of your finances together. A year’s worth of statements, Last year’s P60, written confirmation of the value of any capital assets that you have and any outstanding debts. DO NOT try to hide anything or, even worse, try to get rid of assets. You are highly likely to be found out and it will not go well for you.
  • Make an inventory of the contents of the marital home. Room by room.
  • Make a pact with yourself that you will try to remain dignified and respectful even if your other half becomes a vile, screaming banshee.
  • NEVER involve children in the dispute. Do not, ever, denigrate your ex to or in front of the children. She is still their mother and however much you may come to resent/hate her, it is your responsibility to shield them from it. Divorce is tough enough on children without them being expected to take sides.
  • Don’t get remarried. Unless it is to a fabulously wealthy heiress, or Jennifer Lawrence. In which case, definitely get remarried.

Who’s the Daddy?? Parental Responsibility: What Is It? Do I have it? How Can I Get It?

This one is for readers in the UK only.

Most men will become a father at some point. You might have children now. If not, there is a reasonable chance that you may have them in the future. That being the case, this post tells you some stuff you really ought to know.

Long ago (in a galaxy far away) a group of clever lawyers sat down to have a fundamental re-think about the law as it applies to children and their parents.  One of the ideas was to try to get people thinking in terms of their responsibilities and duties towards children.  There was at the time (as now) a growing concern that a lot of people were just not taking their responsibilities seriously.  Feckless fathers dipping into their children’s lives when it suited them, failing to pay any money to the child’s mother and generally setting a jolly poor example to the hapless child.  A lot of these children came from unmarried parents! Shock, horror.  Cue ‘Daily Mail’ headlines. Well, back in those days there were no Polish migrants for that particular ‘news’paper to get hysterical about..

Joking aside, these were serious issues that the legislators wanted to try to address.  Until this point (the late 1980s) the law in relation to children was couched in very much rights based language.  You had ‘custody, care and control’ of a child and the other parent might get (if he was lucky) ‘Access’.  All of this sort of implied that the child was a possession over which the parents had rights.  Interestingly, although over two decades have gone by since the Act came into force in October 1991 it is still common to hear people talking about ‘custody’ and ‘access’, both of which are now obsolete terms which have no meaning in law.

The result of these discussions, wide consultations and careful drafting was The Children Act 1989.  This was a comprehensive re-framing of the law concerning children in the UK.  ‘Custody’ was replaced with ‘Residence’ – a subtle but significant difference.  ‘Access’ was replaced with ‘Contact’ – again a subtle shift of emphasis. Incidentally, the terminology has changed yet again and the Courts now make ‘Child Arrangement Orders’ which cover what was previously contact and residence

Central to the idea of a shift towards responsibility towards the child was Parental Responsibility.  Section 3 of the Act defines Parental Responsibility (‘PR’ for shorthand) as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.  And that’s about it.  The Act doesn’t go any further in explaining exactly what those rights and responsibilities are.  The courts have had a go at defining it over the years and there is now a lot of judicial guidance about the extent of PR but it isn’t exhaustive by any means.

So What Actually Is It Then?

Well, it’s probably what you expect.  If you have parental responsibility for a child you are entitled to make decisions for them when they are young and unable to make those decisions for themselves.  You have a duty to keep them safe, to make sure that their physical and emotional needs are being met.  You have a duty to ensure that they attend school, receive any necessary medical treatment and so on.  You do have rights to help you meet your responsibilities and this includes the right to choose where they go to school, to make decisions on their behalf until they can do so themselves and so on and on.

What Isn’t It?

Crucially, PR is not the right to throw your weight around and dictate to the other parent.  Yes, it does give the authority to make decisions for a child but the ideal is that there should be a partnership between those who have PR.  Having parental responsibility for a child should be regarded as a privilege to help you be an effective and child-focussed parent.  Please don’t be like one of those parents I mentioned earlier.

Does It Work?

So has this worked?  Are people thinking more in terms of their responsibilities to their child than their rights?  Well, I really can’t see it myself.  Of course, a family lawyer doesn’t see the successful families, the ones who realise that they must pull together to jointly parent their child.  The ones that the lawyers see are still, depressingly, often treating the child like a dolly or a football that they might let the other parent see/go on holiday with/have for Christmas if they toe the line and do what they want.  There are still feckless fathers who couldn’t care less and mothers who cannot or will not understand that their child would benefit from the fathers involvement in their life.  People still, commonly, talk about ‘custody’ and ‘access’ so the language, in nothing else, stubbornly refuses to change.

I think that this is not just an example of clinging to certain terms through common usage.  I think it shows a genuine mindset, among many, that what is at stake is their ‘Rights’.

Have I got PR??

The child’s mother always has Parental Responsibility.

If you are the father you will have PR if you are married to the child’s mother, or were married at the time of the child’s birth you have PR.  You also have PR if you were registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate (after 1 December 2003).  If you don’t have PR (as a father) you can get it by entering into a formal agreement with the mother.  There is a prescribed form for this which you can get from your local combined court centre or, better yet, downloading from here:

www.hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/GetForm.do?court_forms_id=48

If agreement isn’t possible you’ll need to apply for a Parental Responsibility Order from the court.  If you need to apply for an order, taking professional legal advice is certainly the ‘gold standard’. You don’t need a solicitor though; it is possible to do it yourself, although many feel anxious about making an application to Court without a solicitor.

Unfortunately, there is no legal aid for the majority of family cases these days except in exceptional cases so, if you can’t afford it, you may have no choice but to go it alone. Fear not! I will be posting a basic guide to getting an application started very soon.