The minutiae of parenting

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The last elastics I shall ever sew on

 

Everyone says that nothing prepares you for having a child and it’s true. Read all the books you like about the practicalities of parenting, from birth through nappy changing; terrible twos’ tantrums; separation anxiety; early years education; learning new skills; acquiring social behaviour; deferred gratification; acne; mood swings; teenage rebellion and out the other side. Even those who haven’t had the care of children must have come across articles of advice and handy hints on all of these and more in their travels.

A lot of this advice is common sense; most is contradictory and at least some is enlightening. Journalists and parents and psychologists and non-parents and all sorts of people proffer advice and bon mots ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

Most of this is helpful to varying degrees, yes, but when it comes down to it your child is an individual person and you are an individual person and your situation is an individual situation so no piece of advice is going to suit anyone to the letter. And this is why nothing prepares you for parenting except actually doing it. And by the time you’re doing it you can’t stop and rewind the things you’ve done wrong or the things you could have done better. This is why unsolicited parenting advice is never helpful.

What the books and all those people don’t tell you is about all the little things you end up doing for your children that force you into activities you would normally never touch. The little things known only by a specialist who lives and works in the back of beyond and is reachable on in person on Tuesday mornings from 10-30 to 11.30.

My daughter, MsDD, has played the clarinet for several years now. Until she started playing woodwind, I had no idea about how the clarinet must be put together exactly just so and kept in a pristine condition with regular servicing or it will squeak or refuse to work at exactly the wrong time. I didn’t know about clarinet reeds: how different varieties within different brands – and there are dozens of them – are too hard or too soft and become harder or softer over time. How, in a box of 12 reeds that costs in the region of £25, only three will ever be exactly right at that exact time and how the rest must be consigned to the bin with a woodwind tantrum.

I now also know that the reed that is perfect five minutes before a performance of a concerto will, in the anticipatory steps from side of podium to centre stage, become chipped and unusable, because a fellow young musician, not a woodwind player, is allowed to handle and scuff the reed. I know these things now, yes.

I know about HB pencils and cartridge paper and about double and triple checking that the PE bag with the trainers that was in the hall just before we left home has actually made its way to the car and thence safely out with the child.

I know that letters to school will never actually be handed into the tutor unless I send them through the post with a stamp.

I know about the different varieties of Lynx and NEVER, EVER to buy Lynx Africa.

I know that I must NEVER be casually late for school pick up or concerts or plays. EVER

I know always to say that is was the behaviour that was appalling or horrifying or nasty, and never the person.

I know that an audition or exam will need a proper accompanist and that the best are booked up weeks in advance.

I know how to make a pirate waistcoat by using a well-fitting T shirt to cut out a template in felt, sew it together and add gold braid.

I know that the only way to persuade a cautious child onto a zip wire tree walk is by taking my courage in my own hands and doing it myself, with a gleeful grin.

I know that confiscating a mobile phone every night is no good unless one makes sure one has also confiscated the SIM card so that it cannot be inserted into another phone “borrowed” from a schoolmate.

I know that one child likes baked beans on their toast while the other prefers spaghetti hoops.

These, among others, are all things that can only be learned by doing and today, for the final time, I sewed elastics onto MsDD’s pristine, new satin ballet shoes for her Grade 6 exam, something I originally learned when she was about five years old and did her pre-primary test. I’ve always been appalling at sewing but I’ve had to learn.

Although cack-handed in the extreme with my own hair, I’ve had to learn how to do hers into a tight ballerina bun, to wield all those pins and tuck in all those ends. Being a parent forces one to learn all sorts of skills, you see.

Including Periscoping. Today, I ate the wrong sort of Magnum. MsDD was quite vocal about this and I Periscoped her rant which, enjoyed by several over the last hours, I have endeavoured to post here. Unfortunately, I learned all too late that the “Save to Photos” switch has to be switched before the recording is made, so we’ve had to use a bit of trickery to present it to you on this blog for your delectation this evening. Again, I’ve learnt something new today. If this video can’t be posted right now, I’ll keep trying for you. You’ll just have to patient, another skill of parenting.

MsDD goes ballistic:

 

The minutiae of parenting

What employing a nanny says about you, apparently.

I woke up yesterday morning to a Twitter commentary on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme item about people who employ nannies now having to make sure they have a pension fund. It seems fair enough to me: they are entrusted with the care of our most precious asset and it’s a professional and gruelling career. Why should they not have proper pay and benefits?

I didn’t hear the actual item – listening to the Today programme on any normal day is enough to put me in a stabby mood, let alone on a Bank Holiday – but I did a double take at some of the Twitter commentary on it.

It seemed that the word “nanny” is contentious enough to stir up the hornets’ nest of class warfare. I can only assume that the class warriors on my timeline think of a nanny only in these terms:

Or maybe like this:

Apparently nannies can only be employed by very rich people who can’t possibly be hard-pressed at having to make another investment into the career of the people who look after their children. I wondered on Twitter whether using the term “In-home childcare worker,” would be more acceptable.

And then this happened:

 

There are two points to make here. Firstly, the assumption that has been made about the function and form of nannies, presumably that they are all like the Norland nannies in the first picture, staffing the households of millionaires. Two other people of my timeline had already accused the BBC Today programme of Middle Class bias  (hello? It’s Radio 4!) and, therefore presumably,  being out of touch with “real people,” implying that only “working class” people are real people. I was so annoyed about this that I sent out a tweet about people on my timeline demonising those who employed nannies as part of their promulgation of class warfare.

I then had it, and I hesitate to use the term but it is appropriate here, MANSPLAINED to me that only the very rich could possibly ever afford to employ a nanny because they earn more than my interlocutor. Well, I silently pitied the tweeter whilst thinking his point completely irrelevant but, out of good manners, I let that pass.

I explained patiently that plenty of ordinary people employ nannies and it’s just another form of childcare but my interlocutor was having none of it and implied I was a snob and that I was prejudiced. Against whom or what, we shall never know, ladies and gentlemen,  I really have no idea where he got that from. I was challenged on this and replied that, yes, I have known nannies who themselves have had a nanny.

But look more closely at that tweet. “You decided to subcontract the care of your kids to facilitate your career!” I very beg your pardon? How does this not apply to anyone who has to arrange care for their children so that they themselves can go out to work?

I asked my correspondent  (a man) about who had arranged his childcare but he declined to answer. I hesitate to make assumptions but presumably if, as a “working class” person, his wife had worked whilst having small children, someone would have had to look after them? Perhaps it was a family member but I made the point that not all of us have family members around to look after our children. Let us not make any further assumptions but I’m sure you can take from this conversation what you will.

Essentially it would seem that anyone who arranges childcare, and pays for it at exorbitant rates out of their taxed salary is middle-class and cannot, therefore be “hard-pressed.”

When my children were small we did not have the proliferation of nurseries we see now and childminders usually did not do the hours demanded by a London job with an added normal commute of over an hour each way added on.

My initial very good nanny share arrangement, whereby my nanny worked an eleven hour day for me to be in the office from eight thirty to five thirty (and still face discrimination and denied career progression because I had to get on a train home to relieve her at 7) broke down when she moved to California with three weeks’ notice and I could not find a suitable replacement. And that was that.

Our second nanny – the italics denote the term being used in the loosest possible way – worked mornings only while I tried to do some work but in the end I found I was paying out hundreds of pounds a week for her to sit MsDD in front of Richard and Judy. She was usually late, and irresponsible and unqualified. When she left there was no-one around to replace her. In the end I decided I would work freelance and do my own childcare at the same time and I struggled on until we moved to Paris and effectively my career was over.

My husband’s job, just so that we’re clear, involves very long hours and travel at short notice, in an industry that takes no account of people with families. Financial services jobs are, in the main, for people with wives. And so I felt that there was no option but to give up my career. Generally we all do what we have to at the time.

I know countless other well educated, well-qualified mums who, like me, have not been able to subcontract the care of our kids, despite not wanting to waste our education, skills and experience. In the end, it becomes just too much hassle to juggle work in London with the demands of children, and our skills are lost to the workforce. Some do manage to struggle on if their nannies are flexible or live-in but usually most of what they bring in goes on childcare.

Now, we’ve all heard of the Nicola Horlicks of the world and, just last week, the OH was telling me about a female colleague of his, with SIX children, who demands that her staff stay at work until 10pm or else they are not taken seriously as committed employees. Such people are facilitated by good, expensive childcare. It’s her choice but I’d wonder why anyone would make the choice to have children if they were never going to see them, though there are plenty of people who muddle through and don’t see their children just to make ends meet and have to choose between time spent with their children and putting food on the table so it’s not really a choice is it?

I know I moan and feel unfulfilled and that I have wasted my education but I also know my children have benefitted from having me with them at home. No matter how skilled the nanny, I very much doubt that s/he would have been able to do their music practice with them, for example.

I digress. I was rattled by the discussion above. A lot of prejudices and pigeonholing against “middle class” people came to the fore yesterday morning from people who had no idea what they were talking about and refused to listen to someone who actually had employed a nanny. There’s none so blind etc. etc.

 

What employing a nanny says about you, apparently.

Motivation

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Well, today’s post is not going to be the one I originally thought of as that requires a little more thought than I am able to give it tonight for reasons.

Instead, I’ll leave you with a photo taken yesterday at Keston Ponds, a local beauty spot, where we took our dogs and ourselves for a spot of fresh air yesterday. It’s an illustration of true motivation, I think.

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The think/say filter

 

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

 

I was four years old when my dad told me, “Before you say something, you have to think of how it will make people feel when you say it.” It was good advice and I call it the Think/Say filter. Essentially, there are things we think and things we say and that it’s not always a good idea to say out loud the things we’re thinking.

We can’t help what we think about people or things, but the decision to share our thoughts with others in a conscious choice. Now, we might employ the Think/Say filter to avoid hurting others either with a comment about their beauty (or lack thereof) or their intelligence (or lack thereof) or their taste. Or it might be that we have an opinion that could be considered unpopular or just plain wrong. We might not be absolutely sure of our facts, for example. The quote up there sums this up quite neatly I think.

There are people who don’t seem to understand the concept of the Think/Say filter. It might be because they genuinely don’t understand there import of their words or it could be that they come from a more direct culture. You know how the Dutch don’t ever close their curtains? I know Germans and Swedes for whom saying exactly what one means, honestly, is paramount and some of the things they say don’t go down well in a culture accustomed to hyper-politesse and tact.

Some people, however, seem to revel in “telling it like it is.” They can be as rude or inconsiderate or hurtful as they like under the pretext of straightforwardness or, even, integrity. Such people can wreak havoc on people around them, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes glorying in their no filter straight talk. They’re not banged to rights when they’re surrounded by those who value diplomacy, so they seem to get away with all sorts of things while the people around them shrug their shoulders and say “Oh, that’s just them.”

Generallly, I have a pretty strong Think/Say filter. I wouldn’t ever go out of my way to offend someone, of course, and it’s a good habit to practise. But sometimes, just sometimes, I long to be rid of it. Especially with those people who don’t have a filter.

What do you think would happen if we stopped using our filters?

“That’s a really uninformed thing to say and it’s made you look stupid.”

“Yes, your bum does look big in that but it’s not the skirt. It’s because your bum is big.”

“I wish you’d stop going on about your blessed child prodigy. We’ve all been there and done that already. Do you really think that you’re that special?”

“This soup is lumpy and cold. Your food is never nice. Have you ever tried actually reading that recipe?

“Your idealism wouldn’t work for anyone outside that bubble of yours but you’re too removed from reality to understand that.”

“I’m fed up with your rude behaviour towards me and I’m only here for the sake of appearances.”

“Your breath stinks and you’re dreadfully dull.”

“You’re an awful driver and I’m both embarrassed and afraid to get in the car with you.”

“Your inability to dance betrays completely your lack of prowess between the sheets”

Well, perhaps not. I could go on, but I shan’t. I wonder what life would be like if everyone dropped their Think/Say filter. Would a completely honest world be a better one?

Personally I prefer a little finesse, a little charm, in people’s dealings with me but too much oleaginousness and my Think/Say filter detects disingenuousness and I stop believing people.

Should we all just say what we think? If we don’t does that make us hypocrites or liars? Are courtesy and manners modesty screens for a personality that’s too cowardly to tell the truth?

I don’t know. What do you think?

 

 

 

The think/say filter

Some fresh air

It was good to go off and get some fresh air into our lungs today. Hoping to find some slate tile samples for our kitchen and patio, we first took the dogs down to Toys Hill which is, I think, National Trust woodland. It’s quite close and easily doable as a normal dog walk but, if I’m honest, I hesitate to go there on my own in case I get lost.

It seems that spring is a little delayed this year and there are bluebells still out at the end of May but most prominent were the drifts of wild garlic. Everything is still cool and green and we got a little wet in the fine drizzle.

We went for lunch and the OH demonstrated how he can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation, whilst sitting at a table. It’s not good for my confidence in my conversational abilities.

This evening I went off to the monthly Bromley Musicmakers’ concert: a melange of Mozart, Handel, Scriabin, Bizet and, to finish, a piano duet of Tea for Two which was both quirky and perky and sent us all home with a smile.

 

 

Some fresh air

Oscar writes

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I am Oscar.

I am a dog. With four big paws and a tail that wags. And ears and a great big nosey.

I have a mum and a dad and two puppies. They are humans. There is another dog. He is little and lives here with me too. I love my dad best and my mum and the puppies too. I don’t really love the other dog.

My humans call me Wudgie or LuLu sometimes and sometimes they call me Raffles. They call me other names too but I don’t understand them.

The other one was not always here. I have to share my mum and dad and puppies with him and he goes in my bed so I can’t go in there. Sometimes I go in there, though. I don’t like sharing all my things with him but he won’t go away. He isn’t too bad, though, and I’m never alone now because he is always here.

The other one tries to play with me sometimes and he shows me who’s boss a lot and I don’t like that really but sometimes I play with him too. I don’t like him much, especially when people try to cuddle him. They are my cuddles.

I am a Goodboy and I am Lovely. I kiss people with my tongue to show them how lovely I am and how lovely they are. Some people like it when I kiss them. Some people don’t like it and growl or bark at me. They don’t think I am lovely but I still like them. Some people like it sometimes and at other times they don’t like it. It is confusing.

When my people come home I wag a lot and dance about, especially if it’s dad because he goes away for a long time. Sometimes he’s away at bedtime and when I wake up he’s still away and that makes me sad.

The sofa is not for me. I climb up there and sometimes the humans let me stay but sometimes they push me away and I lie down on the floor near their feet. I am a Goodboy. They never push the other one away. The sofa is for him but not for me. That makes me sad. We are not allowed upstairs but sometimes I go upstairs. I have never been OnTheBed but Raffles, the other one, has. I think that is naughty.

I like my food, especially chicken. I like the humans’  food too, especially chips and toast. Sometimes my mum makes me toast with butter on it and I wag my tail a lot. I love chips. Sometimes my mum leaves nice stuff to eat out in the kitchen but I am a Goodboy and I don’t take it. I did take some lovely meat once and my mum told me off a lot. Did I say that I love chips?

I like going for walkies with my people and I like meeting my friends at school but I think school is a bit boring but I can be on my own with my mum. My mum takes biscuits for me at school sometimes so that makes it better. I don’t like being in the car much but I know that there are walkies when I get out of the car. I always stay with my mum on walkies especially when the other one goes off because I am a Goodboy. Sometimes I run away from the car after walkies because I don’t want to go home and my mum gets cross. I like paddling but I don’t like swimming. I am a bit scared of swimming but I did it once when the Big Puppy swam with me in the river and held my lead so I felt safe.

I do Goback at school but when I’m on walkies I don’t like bringing things back to my people. I like to chew the things my people give me and then they aren’t there anymore. I am not allowed to have toys. Other dogs are allowed to have toys, ducks and teddies and things, but I’m not. Except my teddy and my antler and I chew them sometimes. And my blanket.

I like going in my garden too. In and out. In and out. But I’m usually in now because there are people in my house and I can’t go through the kitchen door anymore. I can’t see the garden and the people in my house are making a lot of noise and there are lots of nasty smells. I wish they would go away.

We go out into my garden after breakfast and before bedtime and sometimes in the middle of the day. The people doing stuff in my garden are nice to me but I don’t get to see them much. I only hear them and I woof to say hello to them when they come to my house. I hope they can hear me.

I can only be in this room here and sometimes I go into the room that wasn’t the kitchen but is now. I stand on the platform thing and the human there gives me a cuddle and talks to me. I love cuddles and talking but I don’t have them when my humans aren’t here. I am sad when they aren’t here.

When my humans are sad sometimes they cry I lick their tears and put my paw on them because I am a Goodboy and I don’t want them to be sad. I always want to be with my humans and look after them but a lot of the time they are staring into little metal boxes. I kiss them a lot and remind them that I’m still here and sometimes I put my paw on the boxes but then they yell at me to go away and that makes me sad.

My family does singing with blowy things or sometimes just singing and I sing along too. I  like that music the Puppy plays on her stick thing, they call it Mozart, and I like my mum singing those screechy notes like birds and cats. If I don’t like the music, I don’t sing. I don’t like cats or those big birds called pigeons. They should get out of my garden and I tell them that.

I love puppies but sometimes they are afraid of me and I am confused. Why would a puppy be afraid of me? I will not run away with their ice cream or their biscuit. I am a Goodboy.

I want to go in my garden again but I’m stuck here in this room with the other one and he’s in my bed again. Why can’t he go into his own bed? It looks comfy in there. I wonder if we will have chips tonight.

That’s all about me. If you want to ask me a question, I will try and answer it but I only understand English and hand signals, OK?

 

 

 

Oscar writes

Perfomance night

This evening was sent in the theatre at the offspring’s school – I still call it that even though the Boywonder left last year – watching the Lower School play. As Assistant Director – Music, MsDD has spent almost all of her free time since she broke up for the Christmas holidays writing songs and incidental music for this production of Oliver Twist. She’s coached the cast of Year 7s and 8s – 11 and 12 year olds – in singing and acting and choreography, and sat in at every rehearsal, changing the music according to requirements.

She’s put all of this experience towards the “Voluntary” section of her Duke of Edinburgh award and, whilst appreciating her diligence and the huge amount of responsibility she’s taken on for the  performances, I’ve fretted and stressed at the homework deadlines missed; the less than sparkling school reports; the dip in her grade. Still, as a Year 10, her GCSEs aren’t until next year and there are no controlled assessments anymore, so at least this was the year to do it,.

The play was beautifully staged and there were a few very fine performances. I always find it fascinating to watch the little ones, who gabble and fidget in RP Dulwich voices (think Made in Chelsea) at this stage of their school careers then follow them up to Year 12 and 13, by which stage they have mastered real acting and chorus line choreography and singing the songs of Cole Porter with a range of authentic American accents in Anything Goies!

Standout performances came from the Artful Dodger, played incredibly by a girl, and Nancy. MsDD was in the tech box overseeing her charges on stage and she was incredibly proud of them. As proud as we were of her.

Perfomance night

The wrong end of the table

Apologies. This is just a quick post tonight as I have run out of time and, frankly, I need to go to bed. I had a post in my head but that will have to wait until tomorrow when I can do it justice.

I’m feeling a little lonely and down at the moment and whinging isn’t the done thing. Choir, where we’re practising opera choruses and Brahms waltz lieder, is guaranteed to cheer me up and lighten my mood and it’s just as well as I am feeling isolated and beleaguered. It’s a long story but I think everyone’s frustrations are backfiring directly or indirectly on me.

I quite like to go to the pub with other choir members but I’m quite introverted and shy – yes really – never believing that anyone really wants me around. Now of course, I know that this is massive overthinking on my part but there it is. So I’m reluctant to go to off to the pub – remember it’s getting into my car and actually going out of my way to be sociable – unless someone has directly said “Gita, are you coming to the pub?” Maybe I need things spelled out for me, just to be sure.

Of course, I’m always one of the first there and there’s never any social awkwardness on my part as I settle into conversation. It’s fine when it’s one of the women but I invariably sit next to a man and, generally, he talks AT me. I am polite, of course, and can come over as completely transfixed by his sparking conversation even when it lacks even the tiniest smidgen of lustre. What is it with these men that they feel entitled to have someone listen to them without having to do any real work? And where are all the charming men, the shimmering anecdotes, the tinkling of light hearted joshing?

It is in this way that I have passed several hours now, listening and nodding, listening and nodding and looking delighted at some of the dullest men on earth. Tonight was no exception: the brother of a choir member whom I barely know plonked himself down next to me, complete with Nordic walking sticks that he’d brought to choir, and told me all about his 150kg weight loss; his gastric sleeve operation; the after-effects of his gastric sleeve operation (in graphic detail); his psychiatrists; the Nordic languages he knows; modern music and 5 hour long Phillip Glass operas. Thank goodness that after a while his sister got up to go, taking him and his Nordic sticks with her. I seem to attract socially awkward men.

In the meantime, every week without fail, I look down to the other end of the table, to the cool guys who’ve arrived 25 minutes after me and they’re all having the most riveting conversation and throwing their heads back with laughter that doesn’t look fake. They’re all taking turns to talk and they all look like they’re enjoying the conversation. Every week I long to be down at that end of the table. Do you ever find yourself tuning in to the other end of the table, and longing to be there? That is me.

The wrong end of the table

Unseasonal weather

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Isn’t May supposed to be about flowers? If you went over to RosieWrites2 today, that’s exactly what you’d see.

Well, we have those and blossom aplenty but our breeze is still cold and from the east and the workman doing some external painting today was assailed by heavy rain and hail. Granted, the hailstones weren’t the size of tennis balls or anything ridiculous like that, but they were enough to make me worry about my car windscreen and they brought the temperature down to 6 degrees in as many minutes. I’m sure it’s not meant to be as cold as this at the end of May. The warmer weather had better hurry up or it will miss the summer.

I liked the light through my landing window early this evening. The ominous slate grey of the clouds is a wonderful foil for the luminous green of the leaves, and makes them ping into your eyes. But on picking up my camera, what did I see? A rainbow! Or a fragment of one, at least.

Does that mean the freezing showers are almost at an end?

In other news, here is the builders’ progress on our house as taken this evening:

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Taken from the comfort of our spare room window you can see out to the sloping roof work with its attendant portion of flat roof which is set to bear the weight of the awning and the malevolent windy forces acting on it. The big gaps in the middle are for large roof light windows. I’m hoping that we’ll have some slates on there by the end of the week.

 

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A pain

tbn_54831a465c2166d2The Boywonder was visited by an Insurance Assessor today.

In October, as he was driving along in a particularly built-up local road, a car came out of a side road, reversed and advanced again, straight into his path. The Boywonder braked but it was too late and there was a low speed collision.

As there was a lot of on-street parking and he couldn’t stop safely, the Boywonder motioned to the other driver that he would pull over a little way up the road, whereupon the other driver followed him, overtook him and blocked the road in front of him. The driver got out of his car and walked over to the Boywonder’s forcing the door open and shouting at the cowering 18 year old in the driving seat.

The Boywonder, taken aback and shaking,  then got out to inspect the damage. His car, a little Citroën, was not damaged at all but there was a minor dent on the other driver’s car. He gave his insurance details and the other driver scribbled a telephone number on a scrap of paper, said he was in a hurry and drove off.

Since then he has been pursuing us for an insurance claim, saying that the Boywonder swerved into his car and damaged it. We heard for the first time today that he is pursuing a personal injury claim for whiplash.

It goes without saying that these claims are spurious. The man is clearly a chancer out for what he can get. The Boywonder is a very careful, cautious driver, certainly not a boy racer. He doesn’t smoke or do drugs and hardly ever drinks alcohol.

On this particular stretch of this road, parked cars on either side, approaching a dramatic bend in the road he was going at less than 30mph. It would have been foolish to go any faster and, given on coming traffic and buses weaving in and out of the stationary vehicles, it’s likely he was going much more slowly.

And yet the insurance assessor told us that she sees personal injury claims such as this daily The way she put it, claimants go along to their doctor claiming a pain in the neck and describing the incident and the doctor can’t prove it definitively. In fact a colleague of the OH’s was himself hit by a claim from a woman claiming whiplash.

As it happens, it looks like the insurance company will be reluctant to admit this spurious insurance claim. Apparently they will comb social media to see if they can find photos of this man on his Facebook profile out partying when he says he has a whiplash injury.

What is wrong with people? Why would you say that someone had caused you an injury when they hadn’t? Why would you lie and have to keep up the pretence and make sure your facts were right each time you were questioned?  Why do the insurance companies shrug their shoulders and pay out these claims?

Because one way or another they’ll always get their money. We’ll pay because they’ll take away our no claims bonus or increase our premium. And that’s why insurance costs so much.

A pain