Famous for Five Minutes

‘In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes’ – Andy Warhol

I don’t think I’d like to be famous, not even for five minutes let alone fifteen. I already worry too much as it is about what people think of me – family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, customers. I can’t imagine anything worse than having the whole world being critical of me en masse, I think I’d either go stark staring mad or become a total recluse.

It seems to me there’s a refreshing freedom in actively encouraging a quiet, private sort of non-famous lifestyle where you just get on with your own everyday stuff in your own unique way and no-one pays you a blind bit of notice 🙂

Daily Prompt: Famous 

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Genetic Inheritance

There’s something familiar about family looks – a browline, a jawline, or even a hairline – that can sometimes make you instantly recognisable, even to strangers.

Several years ago I attended a funeral with my dad, of a dear friend who lived and died in the area I spent my early childhood – the same area my dad grew up in. When we arrived at the cemetery, dad nipped off to the loo and I stood alone at the gate, waiting for him to return. An elderly woman approached me with a shy smile. ‘I don’t know who you are, my dear,’ she said ‘but you have a look of someone I knew years ago, and I wondered if you were related?’ – and she mentioned my dad’s name. Amazingly, she and dad had attended the same primary school a good 60 years earlier, and hadn’t seen each other since.

On another occasion, my youngest daughter came home from school saying she had a temporary teacher that day, and the new teacher had asked her if her mum was called Ruth. Apparently the new teacher and I had been at school together, and she clearly recognised my daughter as being… well… my daughter!

I know it’s not exactly the same as having a doppelganger to have such familial similiarity in our looks but it feels nice to know my genetic inheritance is strong enough to keep my family ties undeniable 🙂

Daily Prompt: Doppelganger

 

Citizenship Based Tax

Did you know that only a limited few countries in the world have citizenship based tax laws, and currently the United States of America seems to be the most punitive as it continues to tax all its citizens equally on all worldwide income regardless of where they live on the planet. I would query the claim of treating all citizens equally though, as to an outsider like me it certainly seems to be a system that is inherently unfair.

The USA’s citizenship based tax system is apparently an archaic remnant of the American Civil War, and for it to remain in place today instead of moving to a more equitable residency based tax system creates huge problems for those US citizens who choose to permamantly live and work abroad. In fact it has all become so problematic in recent years that some US citizens living abroad feel they have no option but to relinquish their US citizenship, however upsetting that may be to them.

And before anyone gets up in arms about these perceived ‘traitors’ being unpatriotic and not paying their dues, please be aware this is not at all about lack of patriotism or devious tax evasion, but it is about unfairness and a general lack of understanding of what is involved and exactly what is being asked of them. Americans abroad already pay taxes where they live, according to the laws in their country of residence. So to have the onerous financial obligations and burdens of dealing with the tax requirements of two countries with very different tax laws is simply too much for many longterm. Many of these ex-US citizens feel that it is not they who have given up on their country, but their country that has effectively given up on them.

I am a Brit married to an American who has lived in the UK since childhood. He went through school here, has always worked here and only here, owns a property here, has married here, has made a family here. He has been a dual US/UK citizen for decades. And it really upsets me that we have to spend so much time and money preparing multiple US tax forms to be filed every year by law just to show he does not have to pay any US tax. It must cost the American Government way more in administration costs dealing with the reams of paperwork than can ever be gained in limited taxes owed.

We’re not talking about one or two basic tax forms here, either, and no, it can’t be done online from outside the US. We have to pay someone here in the UK who understands the system and is accredited to complete the bewildering array of paperwork that makes up our annual US tax return, and it is not at all cheap to find such expertise outside of the US. To add insult to injury, in order for my husband to claim any legitimate allowances for being married rather than single, as a ‘Non-Resident Alien Spouse’ I would have to be included in my husband’s tax return.

So no – just no, on point of principle that’s never happening. I mean, I’m British, I don’t live in America, have never lived in America and have absolutely no desire ever to do so – and so my personal financial affairs here in the UK are none of the American Government’s damned business. Additionally, as every single bank account my husband has is based here in the UK where we live, he also has to e-file details of all these ‘foreign’ accounts to the financial crimes enforcement agency annually to prove he is not ‘offshore’ money-laundering: To prove he is not a criminal, as if it is an offence to be American yet live permanantly outside of America.

And to top it all, the current US President proudly boasts of how little tax he pays, or his company pays, and his smugness encourages others in the USA to think it is clever to be like minded and screw the system from the inside, pay as little as possible, sneakily skim off a few extra bucks here and there, or whatever it takes. But for thousands of everyday Americans strugging abroad to meet obsessively obtuse tax requirements, chance would be a fine thing with so much extra suspicion and intrusive scrutiny falling on their own personal financial accounting to a level that would be completely alien and unacceptable to any US resident.

There’s a lot about America as a country I just don’t understand. Keep your gun laws with your second amendment rights if you must, although personally I feel that where a slow-loading musket may once have been a reasonably legitimate arm to bear in your own personal defence way-back-when, to my mind a modern semi-automatic assault rifle is a thoroughly unsuitable weapon for everyday use. Keep your multiple mass shootings, I don’t care if you want to continue to kill each other en masse, it is your constitutional right, after all.

But please, PLEASE sort out your archaic citizen based tax laws, change them to residency based like every other country in the free world and help your fellow countrymen abroad who are all potentially positive ambassadors of their country of birth feel proud to be, and stay, patriotic American citizens til the day they die…

Daily Prompt: Archaic   

Archaic and Anachronistic

English Property Law seems to me to be both archaic and anachronistic – not only old fashioned, belonging firmly to another era, but also thoroughly impractical and increasingly out of touch with today’s growing home-owning population. The modern-day concept of leasehold ownership of bits of buildings in multiple occupancy (owning one flat within a block of flats, for example) is a mind-boggling medieval minefield effectively carried forward through the centuries from feudal times.

In the old days, after William the Conqueror claimed the throne of England, peasants were given a plot of land to work in return for services to the landowner – maybe giving him the best of what you grew, or fighting in wars and laying down your life for him. The idea was for the aristocracy to maintain the ownership of the land in one piece, but to make others work it for them. It wasn’t quite as fair a deal to the peasants as it sounds in principle, and there was never any doubt who held all the power in that relationship. The odds were, and still are, always stacked in the landlord’s favour: They could both have their cake, and eat it too.

Roll forward several centuries, and today’s flat owners in England basically have to purchase a very long and expensive lease on a property from the landowner – the freeholder – in exchange for being allowed to live there for the duration of the agreed lease term (usually around a minimum of 100 years)  while still paying annual ‘ground rent’ and other charges. This lease ticks down year on year, and when it runs down too far can always be extended (at a price) in negotiation with the freeholder (although often this is easier said than done). The lease (with however many years remaining) can also be inherited or sold on to someone else, and the process continues with the next owner.

Multiple occupants in the same building can always club together to buy the freehold of their own building, effectively becoming their own landlord as a group, but even if all (or at least enough) leasholders in any given building were in agreement to go this far, this branch of the system too can create frustrations and difficulties of its own – a kind of too-many-cooks-spoil-the-broth type of situation. Nothing in English Property Law, it seems, is simple and straightforward and easy to understand.

And sometimes the most difficult thing about owning a leasehold property – or to be more accurate, owning the longterm lease to the property – is trying to discuss the intricacies of it with anyone outwith the English Property Law system. They all scoff and sneer at the sheer ridiculousness of it, and sound so self-righteous in stating they would NEVER find themselves in such a situation, they would either buy a property outright or not at all.

However, the point they are all missing is that buying into this convoluted system is NOT optional – if you want to buy a flat in England, you will either have to buy it leasehold or with a share of the freehold. So unless you can afford to buy a whole house standing entirely on its own piece of land – which here in London requires an absolute fortune, and the closer towards central London the more expensive properties become – you will either have to buy a leasehold or share-of-freehold property, or stick to renting.

And I’ve not even started on the whole nightmare of theconveyancing process… what feels like a confusing free-for-all with gazumping and gazundering and all sorts of potential pitfalls and problems that can occur before your contract is signed… but maybe that’s a whole other story for another time… 🙂

Daily Prompt: Archaic

Guilty as Charged

Even the merest thought of how I might respond to today’s Daily Prompt word has me all tied up in knots. Sometimes I feel baffled by the prompt word, or uninspired, or just too damned lazy to bother, but occasionally a prompt word jumps off the page and whacks me on the head – bam! ‘Guilty’ is one of those words that leaves me stunned and reeling at the sheer enormity of how to answer. Do I make light of it, or delve deep into my psyche, or write a never-ending list of things that make me feel guilty?

It took me years to try to understand the difference between guilt and shame. Apparently, guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done to some else, whereas shame is something you feel bad about for yourself, and we often conflate the two. Hmmm… to be honest I’m still not sure exactly where to draw the line with some things.

For example, I feel guilty about not being the kind of daughter my mum wanted. Actually, even before that I feel guilty about being born a girl in the first place – my mum wanted six boys, and I came along first and spoiled it, or so she’s spent a lifetime joking about to all and sundry. Funnily enough, I’ve never quite enjoyed being the disappointing punchline, and the joke certainly wears thinner with every year that goes by.

So to me, I feel guilty because me being born a girl, and so not good enough straight out of the box – well, the womb – definitely feels like something I’ve done to someone else. Although according to several therapists I’ve seen over my lifetime, not meeting somone else’s expectations for me is not actually my problem, but the someone else’s. Even if that someone else is my parent. But in my mind I don’t feel ashamed of being female, so to me what I feel, feels like guilt.

See where my rambling confusion comes from? I even feel guilty about not properly understanding what it is I feel guilty about, and even of being sure if it’s guilt I feel at all. Aaarrrggghhh…! Maybe I can just offer a defence of suffering a metaphorical concussion from the bang on the head from today’s hitting-all-my-buttons-with-bells-on prompt word, and plead guilty as charged… 🙂

Daily Prompt: Guilty

Accents and Assumptions

Sometime last year my husband and I were walking along a perfectly ordinary street in Marylebone (here in London) when we saw a perfectly ordinary bloke sitting on a bench outside a pub. I glanced his way, and thought he looked a bit familiar but immediately dismissed the thought and carried on walking. But when my husband said ‘Hello Shaun’ I figured it was someone he knew and so I stopped too.

And to my surprise, it was none other than British actor Shaun Evans, who is probably best known for playing the young detective Endeavour Morse in ‘Endeavour’. In fact, he was even sitting reading a script for the next series being filmed, and said he had just been at a rehearsal. He was very polite and friendly, considering we basically interrupted him in his own private time, and happily chatted with us for a couple of minutes.

The strangest thing was, in all the times I’ve seen him on TV I’ve never once questioned his decidedly non-regional English accent, never picked up any hint of anything in his acting voice to show it was an acting voice. And so my assumption and expectation was that he probably sounded like that all the time. But here he was in front of me, same eyes, same smile, yet when he spoke he was very clearly a proud Liverpool lad with an easily recognisable scouse accent!

I have to say in person he was absolutely delightful to meet, very down-to-earth and not at all show-bizzy. If he was irritated by our intrusion he gave absolutely no indication of it, and as we left he stood up and shook our hands and we wished him good luck with the next series of Endeavour. I’ve been watching an old recording of Endeavour tonight, which is what prompted this particular post, and however hard I try to hear it, I have to report I can find no trace of his own accent anywhere! 🙂

Daily Prompt: Assumption