Book Review – American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Capture

I read this novel with utmost surprise on two counts. I had expected a sharp political satire and instead found an almost forensic examination of a woman’s psyche and a patient and earnest character study. Secondly as a solicitor I wondered how on earth in this litigious age the author managed to get what is a barely disguised portrait of Laura Bush past her publisher’s legal department. Embellished with lost love, abortion, blackmail and a lesbian grandmother, the novel is daring, unashamedly commercial and potentially a legal minefield.

The first lady is cast as Alice Lindgren Blackwell who is a gentle, only child, born in the 1940s to impassive parents in a small Wisconsin town. The story describes Alice’s unlikely journey from small town ingénue to marrying rich alcoholic wastrel Charlie Blackwell who astounds everyone by becoming President of the United States.

The crux of the narrative comes before Alice’s country club marriage. She is haunted by the memory of Andrew Imhof a handsome boy she loved at the age of 17 but accidentally killed in a head on collision. An unhealthy relationship with the dead boy’s brother leads to pregnancy and an illegal abortion. Dr Wycombe, an eminent female surgeon with whom Alice’s Granny is having an affair performed the abortion-skeletons the wife of a Republican President cannot afford to have in her closet. Some 40 years later this feminist surgeon attempts to blackmail Alice.

More than a decade after Andrew’s death Alice dutiful, serious and thoughtful, now a school librarian and registered Democrat startlingly falls for and marries boisterous, charismatic Charlie Blackwell, the wealthy son of a bastion family of the Republican Party.

As Alice navigates her way through the strange rituals of the Blackwell’s country club and summer estate she remains uneasy with her newfound good fortune and when Charlie eventually becomes President  she is thrust into a position she did not seek-one of power  and advantage, duty and leadership.

Alice must now face contradictions. How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona? How can she be a free thinker and yet an obedient wife and first lady? Indeed how did Charlie a middle aged frat-boy end up as president ?  But Alice supports her husband throughout his calamitous policies, with her face lift and Ferragamo shoes she becomes the embodiment of benign tolerance, burying her moral scruples with justifications of her conflicted state. As she says “I lead a life in opposition to itself.”

The novel is wonderfully written and succeeds in allowing the reader to continue to have affection for Alice even when her martyrish tendencies become frustrating and despite Alice being able to deceive herself about Charlie and being painfully aware that she often does so to maintain the status quo.

Above all Sittenfeld’s characters bring home the importance of accepting personal responsibility. While Charlie absolves himself as “an instrument of God’s will”, Alice reminds us that it is not so simple. “All I did was marry him….You are the ones who gave him power.”

Scottish Property Prices are Predicted to Rise

In a recent survey carried out by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) it was predicted that property prices will continue to rise over the next few months.

Supply is still falling behind demand with a decline in the number of houses coming on to the market. Rics Scotland director Sarah Speir said “With supply restrictions continuing to impact the market in Scotland , it is imperative that the Scottish Government and industry look at viable solutions to the lack of housing and increase new-start targets in order to meet needs.”

Meanwhile a report by Bank of Scotland has suggested that Scotland’s largest cities need thousands of new family homes, partly because the number of “downsizers” is dwindling.

The Bank found that only 8% of over 50s had any plans to move to a smaller home which in turn means it is harder for “second-steppers” to move up the property ladder.

Alasdair Gardner the managing director of Bank of Scotland commercial banking said “This study identifies the major pressures facing Scotland’s housing market with demand for new rental and privately owned homes going to increase in the coming years.” He added “All parts of the housing industry-government, local authorities, investors and house builders must work together to ensure we build the homes Scotland needs.”

I specialise in property law and if I can help you with any property transaction please get in touch and I will be delighted to help you. My contact details are 0141 552 3422 or ajg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

Dressing Down for Nepal

At Mitchells Roberton we have a dress down day once a month for a good cause. This month a colleague suggested an additional special dress down day for the Disaster in Nepal.

I was particularly drawn to this cause because I was lucky enough to visit Nepal during my trip around the world in 2010. It remains one of my favourite places . I visited both Kathmandu and Pokhara, where much of the destruction occurred. Kathmandu and its surrounding areas were full of beautiful temples, abundant with colour. Pokhara was enclosed by stunning  lakes and mountains. However, the primary reason that I loved the country so much was its friendly and warm people.

One example is when we were on a trek across the mountains and stayed in a small bed and breakfast. We were the only guests and in the evening the owners gave an impromptu demonstration of their traditional song and dance, even managing to persuade our trekking guide to join in the fun. We were then encouraged to show our own traditional dancing which involved us trying to give a very poor rendition of the Gay Gordons – much to the amusement of our hosts! As we carried on our trek each person we met gave a traditional greeting of ‘Namaste’, with the palms of their hands held together, their head bowed, smiling.

I was very pleased that our firm raised a total of £250 which will go to the DEC Nepal Appeal. A couple of my friends were in Pokhara at the time of the earthquake.  Thankfully they were in a hotel designed to withstand a large earthquake. Again my view of the people of Nepal was reinforced. The owners of the hotel’s first priority was their guests’ safety and then they took in others who had lost their home in the disaster. Hopefully the funds raised here and elsewhere will help the people of Nepal get back on their feet.

For more information and to donate to the Nepal Earthquake Appeal, please visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/nepalhero

Parking Costs: Chaos in Glasgow’s West End

A protected expenses order has been granted at the Court of Session in favour of a community council limiting its liability for the costs of an appeal against a decision by Glasgow City Council.

Hillhead Community Council (HCC) brought an appeal against the proposed Glasgow City Council (Hillhead) (Traffic Management and Parking Control) Order 2014.  If granted, that Order would see the introduction by Glasgow City Council of parking bays for use by both residents and visitors.  The cost of a permit would be reduced for residents and visitors would park on a pay and display basis.

HCC brought a challenge in the Court of Session against the local authority’s decision to allow others to use resident-only parking spaces.  HCC maintain that the city council failed to consider all objections to the making of the order and to have regard to national air quality strategy.

The HCC secretary fears such changes would lead to “traffic chaos”.  One current permit holder, a single mother of three with a disabled child uses her car for runs to two different schools and trips to hospital, says the “system will benefit people from outside the area and meet the demands of businesses.  Residents do not want it.”

In early April 2015, Lord Bannatyne ruled that it would be “fair and just” to limit the community council’s liability for legal expenses to £1,000 as they would not otherwise be able to afford to proceed with the action.  He also determined that the local authority’s liability should be limited to £15,000.

A protective costs order can be made at any stage of proceedings on such conditions as the court thinks fit, provided that the court is satisfied that:

  • The issues raised are of general public importance
  • The public interest requires that those issues should be resolved
  • The applicant has no private interest in the outcome of the case
  • Having regard to the financial resources of the applicant and the respondent and to the amount of costs there are likely to be involved, it is fair and just to make the order
  • And if the order is not made the applicant will probably discontinue the proceedings and will be acting reasonably in doing so

Lord Bannatyne in a written opinion said “I conclude that having regard to the first appellants’ financial circumstances including the sum raised to date for this action and their own legal expenses together with the general financial position of the respondents it would be fair and just to limit their liability and the expenses to the respondents to the figure of £1000.” This decision was greatly welcomed by the Community Council.

We await developments with interest.

Jeremy Clarkson- Double Standards or what?

As a lawyer I dislike double standards. They violate a basic maxim of modern jurisprudence that all parties should stand equal before the law.

A double standard according to Wikipedia is “the application of different sets of principles for similar situations.”  A double standard may take the form of an instance in which certain concepts (often , for example, a word, phrase, social norm or rule) are perceived as acceptable  when used by one group of people, but are considered unacceptable –taboo-when used by another group.

Another reason for my animosity towards double standards is that they violate the principle of justice- impartiality- which assumes that the same standards should be applied to all people without regard to subjective bias or favouritism based on social class, rank, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age or other distinctions.

Over the years Jeremy Clarkson, the hugely popular presenter of Top Gear has notched up a long list of misdemeanours. In 2013 when in Australia Clarkson yelled at the Paparazzi after they snapped him coming off a boat with Philippa Sage “You can take them out of England but you can’t take the convict out of them.” In France talking about the Renault Clio V6 he said “In typical French fashion it just gives up! A bit like the French did with the Germans.” There were warnings about his behaviour and demands for apologises but only with his latest fracas when he apparently hit a producer for not having dinner ready on time after a long day’s filming has Clarkson finally been suspended.

If a Glasgow youth had whacked someone in the chippie for taking too long to fry his sausage supper criminal sanctions would certainly apply and if a casual sectarian remark is made at a football match and legal action has subsequently been taken, the accused fan might as well be told to remember to bring his pyjamas to court.

The double standard employed by the BBC angers me.  Until now they have applied the “principle” of popular laddish culture to Jeremy Clarkson- he is not really a racist and diplomatic disaster but just a laugh and a bit of a character but now with the imposition of old style moral rectitude on Clarkson’s most recent antics  hundreds of thousands of petitioners  are requesting in outrage his re-instatement.

The optimism I had in the clarity of legal fairness is losing its shine. I want the double standards to stop. I know,I am an idealist.

Lost someone close to you? We can help

You don’t need to enlist professional help when someone dies but an experienced solicitor can greatly assist in dealing with the deceased’s affairs promptly, properly and with the minimum of fuss.

Obviously when someone close to you passes away you will be upset and you may find it hard to know what to do. Here are a few points to guide you.

Firstly you will need to ascertain whether there is a Will. You should check through the deceased’s papers or contact their solicitor to see if they hold a Will. If there is a Will then the person named as executor in the Will can give instructions about the estate.  If there is no Will a Petition will often require to be lodged in court to have someone, usually the closest relative, appointed as executor. A solicitor will be able to advise you.

Once you have clarified the position regarding the Will you should arrange to meet with your solicitor. You should take to that meeting  the Death Certificate, the original Will if available, title deeds to the deceased’s property, again if available, together with any paperwork that confirms or gives a clue to what assets and debts the deceased may have had.

Thereafter, in most cases you will need to apply to court for what is called Confirmation. This is necessary if there is heritable property in the estate or if there are bank accounts and investments of around more than £10,000-£15,000 held with a single asset holder. To get Confirmation your solicitor has to prepare a detailed list of everything the deceased owned with values as at date of death. This list of assets is then signed by the executor together with the deceased’s Will (if there is one) and HMRC papers. These documents will then be lodged at Court in order to obtain Confirmation.

If there is no Will then a solicitor can apply to court to have an executor appointed.  This is usually a spouse or child but anyone entitled to the estate can be named. If you need Confirmation and there is no Will then it is necessary to get a Bond of Caution (except if the spouse is inheriting the whole estate) which is a type of insurance policy to protect the estate from any wrong doings by the executor.  You may find it difficult to get a Bond of Caution unless a solicitor is dealing with that for you.

Once Confirmation has been granted by Court this can be used to sell or transfer title to any heritable property owned by the deceased and it will enable banks, building societies, insurance companies etc to release monies.

I can provide practical, sympathetic legal advice and support. If I can help please contact Lauren Hill on 0141 552 3422 or by email lauren@mitchells-roberton.co.uk