Tuesday, December 27, 2005
The idea of a complete stranger coming into our houses would have most of us dialling the police or reaching for our firearms (depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on).
Even worse is the idea of an old man giving presents to our children, especially when he is not known to us. If one of our children came home and said this old geezer tried to give him or her a present, most of us would, once again, be dialling the police or reaching for our firearms (depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on), while asking our child if they had screamed loudly, kicked the old bastard hard in the nuts, bent back his little finger until it snapped and poked him in the eye before running away, just as we’d taught them to do if they were approached by strangers.
When I was little, there was an old man in the village called Harold who kept a pile of boiled sweets in his jacket pocket. Whenever he saw a small child he would reach into his pocket and find a sweetie for them. I guess he was harmless enough, and just enjoyed making little kids smile. Certainly my parents never seemed worried about him. These days, however, he’d be reported to the police as a suspected paedophile.
In our separate lives, where we don’t live as part of the tribe, clan, or extended family, where “a sense of community” is something our parents talk about as something they used to experience, we live out independent lives where we can rely on no one but ourselves.
We house ourselves, feed ourselves, protect ourselves, provide our own entertainment, sort out our own security arrangements, raise our children on our own: in other words, everything humans would originally have shared with their tribe we now have to provide ourselves. We have to go out and work long hours to gain the money to live completely independently.
Previously, the threat from a stranger came from outside the clan, and the rest of the clan were there to help protect you. These days that clan only extends as far as the 4 walls and front door of your house, so everyone is a stranger and therefore a potential threat.
The more independent we become, the more we don’t need to rely on anyone else, the more insular and paranoid we turn out to be. The fear of everyone else is becoming more and more exaggerated. Strangers are potential muggers, paedophiles or suicide bombers.
These days, the guy dressed as Santa at the shopping mall has to follow very strict guidelines about not holding or touching the children that visit his grotto. “Come and sit on my knee little girl/boy” is a phrase riddled with sexual paranoia and fear.
In our culture of independence and self-reliance, there is little room for the acceptance of the stranger. How much longer will the Father Christmas myth last in today’s society?
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Is it possible for a 10 year old not to know that Santa doesn’t exist? The problem is that I don’t know if my son knows or not. If he still believes then I’d like him to enjoy at least one more year of the fantasy, for once we have eaten of the fruit of knowledge we can never go back. But at the same time, I’d hate for him to suddenly find out at school and suffer that awful, gut churning embarrassment by being teased mercilessly.
What is the parental role here? At what age am I supposed to sit down and have a heart to heart talk with my son and explain the reality of Father Christmas? And how am I supposed to break the news without it shattering not only the enjoyment of the fantasy, but his confidence in the honesty of his parents? If your parents can lie to you about Santa, then how can you trust them about anything important ever again?
I’ve tried dropping hints to see if he suspects anything, but he has utterly failed to respond. On Saturday I went for my biggest shot yet, when the two of us went into Dumfries to get a bit of Xmas shopping. After fighting our way through heaving crowds and getting completely disorientated in only a handful of shops, we felt we deserved a break. We headed off to a café for a hot chocolate and to create a more viable plan of action.
We discussed what he wanted to buy and then I said he could help me look out for wee presents for his mum, as I liked to create a Christmas stocking for her. Did he flinch? No. Did his eyebrows knot ever so slightly? No. Did his eyes narrow? No. “OK then” he said without the slightest flicker of concern.
So I’m still left wondering whether he’s known for years and long since come to terms with it, or whether he thinks that because he’s a kid it doesn’t apply to him – Santa only delivers to children after all.
I mean, he’s an intelligent lad. Haven’t all the logical inconsistencies of the Santa story occurred to him yet? But at the same time, when we let slip about the tooth fairy last year, he was devastated.
We have friends who completely refused to indulge their children in the Santa fantasy: they were not going to lie to their kids and were very principled about it.
I don’t know. The fantasy seemed like a great idea at the time. And my 7-year-old daughter absolutely loves it. She got as excited as could be when she saw Santa in the supermarket the other day and got her photo taken with him.
Being caught up in the fantasy is great. Having known the truth for a while is fine. But it’s that transition between that’s the killer, and I’ve not found the bit in the parenting manual that explains how I guide my son through.
Still, as it’s only 5 days to go, I guess I can put off the decision until next year...
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
People were drawn to it for a variety of reasons. For some, the act of creating and wearing authentic costumes and weaponry gave you a far better insight into the history and culture of the time. For others it was a break from the daily grind of office and work, and they could briefly imagine themselves to be warriors. Some, undoubtedly, were there because it was a good excuse for a piss up, and for a few it was an alternative to dressing up as a Klingon.
When I moved to Scotland it became trickier to carry on going, as these weekends were invariably held in the South of England, some 400+ miles away. I continued to go for a couple of years, but eventually I drifted away and the last time I attended one was over 12 years ago.
A couple of years ago, I re-established contact with an old friend from the society and I was invited down to the Yule Banquet which was held this weekend. I’d been looking for an excuse to head down to that corner of the country for a while in order to catch up with my brother and sister, who I’ve not seen since my mother’s funeral nearly 3 years ago, so agreed to go.
Needless to say the people who make up the group have varied over the years and there were only 3 or 4 people who knew me from before. However, I was quite shocked when they unanimously declared that I’d barely changed a bit. My hair was shorter (with a few grey strands) and one or two lines on my face were more deeply etched, but that was about it.
The reason I was so surprised is that this year I have been through the most dramatic physical change of my life for such a short period of time, having lost over five stone (70 pounds) in the last 10 months. So for me the idea that I haven’t changed is inconceivable. It took me a few minutes to realise that I’m now actually down to the same kind of weight I was about 14 years ago, consequently, for them, any changes are negligible!
Thursday, December 08, 2005
As I was lying there in the tub, belly sticking up out of the water, it suddenly occurred to me that local community groups would really benefit from using this new technology known as the World Wide Web. They would be able to link up with other groups, share ideas, publicise events, and recruit volunteers; it didn’t just have to be a few university geeks and businesses that could profit from the Internet.
We could recruit volunteers who wanted to learn web design, or people who already knew how to do it but wanted to create a portfolio, and team them up with local groups and organisations who wanted to embrace the technology.
Ideas were racing around my head and I couldn’t write them down fast enough. Back at the beginning of 1999 no one was doing anything like this. I knew I could teach people how to build basic-but-functional websites, but I didn’t understand enough about community group structures, so I got in contact with a guy called Des Gallagher from Clackmannanshire Council who was excited by the idea and had all the contacts.
Over the next few months Des assembled a small team of key players in the community and we gave shape to the idea of ClacksNet.
We faced many problems over the coming years, which were mostly based around resources – time and money. Although we had a few very dedicated and committed volunteers, such and Brian Young and Tricia Stevenson, there was a limit to how much time anyone was able to give to the project. And as for money, well despite countless requests and submissions to all sorts of funders, we never got anything like the amount we needed to really move it forward at the rate it should have developed.
It didn’t help either that we’d clearly spooked someone high up in the local council, who decided that when they launched their new Council Website, they would call it ClacksWeb and throw countless thousands at it in a big marketing splash. It nearly squashed us completely, but we were a hardy bunch and kept on going.
At the end of last year we were nominated for the Calor Scottish Community Award. A few of us went along to the award ceremony, and although we didn’t win, we did get a first rate lunch out of it.
As I was moving away from the area, I stepped down as Chairman and handed over to George MacLeod who, with a great deal more technical ability than me, has since made considerable improvements to the website and ClacksNet has once again been nominated. I was asked if I would like to attend, and never one to refuse a free lunch (even if it is costing the petrol and train fair, plus a full day away) I decided to go.
The Awards are being held in Edinburgh today, so I'm off in 15 minutes. When I get home I'll post whether we won anything.
Well, we didn't win. But we were shortlisted, and we were given a commendation. And lunch wasn't too bad either.
Mind you, lunch was a close call as the train to Edinburgh was 45 minutes late. However, I just made it in time for the first course!
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Cineworld in Falkirk is a multiplex that I used to go to before we moved, so as we were going up that way for the day on Friday, and as the new Harry Potter film was out, which my 10 year old son was desperate to see, it seemed like a good tie-in. I checked the Cineworld website and we timed the rest of the day around the fact that there was a 12.50pm showing every day this week except Thursday. However, when we arrived at 12.45pm, the cinema was closed. We eventually found a wee sign that said that it didn’t open until 2pm from Monday to Friday, so the first showing we could attend wouldn’t be until 3pm.
I could have coped with waiting another hour, but two hours would have thrown the whole day’s timetable out, so I phoned the Dunfermline Odeon cinema (a little over half an hour away) and got put onto their automated telephone enquiry line.
Now my mobile phone service plan gives me 500 free minutes per month, but this does not include non-geographic numbers (beginning with 0845, 0870 etc), which are charged as extra. The Odeon Enquiry Line is one of these.
As well as making money from the actual phone call, Odeon also save money by having an automated service instead of a call operator. So instead of a 20 second call through to someone who can tell me what time the next Harry Potter showing was, I had to go through several minutes of unnecessary, time-wasting preamble, options and confirmations.
First I had to put up with their welcome message where they spent 30 seconds telling me why they are fanatical about film and customer service, then I was asked to say the name of the cinema I wish to enquire about.
“Dunfermline” I sighed. I really hate these systems.
“Did you say…” pause for a couple of seconds, “…Dumfries?”
“Please state the name of the cinema you wish to enquire about”
“Dunfermline” I said as clearly as possible.
“Did you say…” pause for a couple of seconds, “…Dunfermline?”
“Please wait while we connect you to …Dunfermline.”
It then proceeded to tell me all about the fact that I could buy gift vouchers for friends and family as an ideal Xmas present. When it finished there was a long pause, and just when I was beginning to think that the system was about to crash, or that I’d been disconnected and would have to start again, it said “Would you like to hear more?”
“Yes!” I said, thinking that if I’d answered no the call would come to an abrupt end. However, it turned out that I’d just said yes to hearing more about the gift vouchers! For the next 2 minutes I was yelling, “Stop! No! Cease! Finish! No! Stop! I don’t want to hear about your bloody voucher scheme! Stop!” while it blathered on, oblivious to my protestations, all the time running up my phone bill.
Eventually it completed its advert-at-my-expense before moving on to all the options of whether I was wanting to enquire about corporate offers, competitions, particular films, employment opportunities or showing times. Once I’d selected the right option it then proceeded to tell me a bit about the film “Doom” before asking if I was interested in seeing it.
“NO!” I yelled into the handset.
“Please speak the name of the film you wish to see…”
“HARRY POTTER!” I screech.
“Did you say…” pause for a couple of seconds, “…In Her Shoes?”
“NO!” I shouted, going red in the face.
“Please speak the name of the film you wish to see…”
“Harry Potter!” I was trying to un-constrict my throat so that my voice would be understood, but by now my son had tears rolling down his cheeks – not because he feared he wouldn’t see the film, but because he thought this was hysterically funny.
“Did you say…” pause for a couple of seconds, “…Harry Potter?”
“Yes,” I sobbed with relief, hoping that I was finally getting somewhere.
I was then subjected to another 45-second ramble about the fact that it was a 12A certificate where some scenes may be unsuitable for younger children, before I was asked if I would like more details on the nature of the film.
A quick “No!” and I was into the final stretch. I was informed that there were a further eleven showings of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and that I could book tickets over the phone if I wished – as if I was going to waste another half an hour of frustration doing that!
Finally it started listing all the show times and I discovered there was one at 2pm, so I disconnected and we set off.
Total time taken for what should have been a 20 second call: 7 minutes.
However, I blame Cineworld (which from experience I know has just as an annoying enquiry line) for subjecting me to all this by not being open when it should have been. So this morning I sent them a very snotty e-mail about setting up their customers with false promises. If I get a reply I’ll post it here.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
“They’re a bit hardcore up there,” said the mandolin player supping his Guinness next to me. I have noticed that there seem to be an excessive amount of mandolin players at these sessions – by excessive, I mean more than one and/or when they outnumber the guitarists. Time was I would get an extra level of respect turning up with a mandolin, and it allowed me to avoid the heavy competitiveness that goes along with playing a guitar - mandolins were rare but guitarists were always three-a-penny.
“Hardcore?” I raised an enquiring eyebrow.
“Real musicians” he replied, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “play a lot of Irish music. No singers…”
I let out a long slow breath; not quite a whistle. “Intimidating?” I asked, although it was a statement more than a question. He nodded.
Meanwhile the fiddle player had struck up another tune so we returned to the music and nothing more was said.
At the folk sessions I’ve been attending, while there are some traditional fast-fiddle type pieces, there are also a fair amount of songs, both traditional and some composed by people who attend. The advantage of song-focused folk music is that the mandolin is then an accompanying instrument. You can either join the guitarists in playing the chords (rarely more than 3 or 4 in any song), which is easy stuff, of you can follow the tune of the singer, which is unlikely to be anything too complicated.
But with instrumental folk music, the fiddle is usually playing complicated fast twiddly stuff and the mandolin is expected to keep up!
It is here that I start to feel like a bit of a fake. I came to the mandolin from the guitar, and always listened to rock, heavy metal, punk and the odd bit of blues; I have no folk history. When I first got my mandolin I used to listen to some of my wife’s folk tapes and played along, but I never bothered to learn the names.
Think of it this way: some games, like chess for example, are far more fun to play than to watch unless you are a real aficionado. For me, folk music has always been very similar in that respect. It’s great sitting in amongst a group of folk musicians playing live, joining in where possible, but I don’t have CDs full of the stuff to listen to when I’m driving.
So I knew I was letting myself in for it by heading up to Corsock last night, and as I walked into the bar with the mandolin over my shoulder, there was a voice screaming in my head, “Turn around now! Get back in the car! Don’t be so stupid, you’re just going to make a complete fool of yourself. Leave now before you embarrass yourself and everyone here.” However, the reality is that any folk session can only survive if new blood comes in, and as long as I wasn’t so crap that I actually interfered with the ability of the other players to concentrate, then it was unlikely I’d be snubbed.
As it turned out they were warm and welcoming, although they were all vastly superior players. Several of them actually have a Ceilidh band together, so had a huge repertoire of tunes that they all knew, and I didn’t.
Once or twice across the evening I led with one of the half a dozen tunes or so that I can play without making a fool of myself and everyone else joined in. When asked afterwards what the tune was called, I had to confess that I had no idea, but had just picked it up somewhere. They were kind enough not to snigger.
While I was relieved that there were no other mandolin players, one guy did turn up with an Octave Mandola, which is like a larger mandolin, but tuned an octave lower. He let me have a go: it was a beautifully crafted instrument, with a fantastic resonate sound that vibrated in my chest as I played.
When I praised it he proceeded to tell me that is was built by Spinoza or Spiro-Agnew, or some such name, and then looked at me with an expectation that I should be really impressed. My lack of credentials meant that I had never heard of the name before (and as you can see, the name didn’t stick in my head either), but to get the point across he continued that it had cost “two-two” when he bought it three years ago. I guess at this point he meant £2,200 (about $4,000), so I made sure that I had the appropriate respectful and impressed expression on my face.
As I went up to the bar to buy myself drink, another fiddle player walked in. At this point the landlord leaned forward and said, with reverence in his voice, “That’s Nigel…” and at this point I cannot recall the surname but, once again, I was evidently supposed to be impressed. I contorted my face into what I hope was a expression of deferential surprise. When Nigel Whatisname played, I wasn’t aware that he was necessarily better than the other fiddle players there, but he had an air of self-assurance that suggested he didn’t feel like a fake.
Did I feel out of my depth? Yes. Did I feel like a fake? Yes. Would I go back? Yes.
Ultimately, if I keep going, I will learn the tunes and my playing will improve, and several of them did seem like genuinely friendly people. When Maggie and I decided to change our lives and move here, one of the things we wanted to do was meet more creative people, and this seems like a good way of going about it.
Eventually I hope I'll stop feeling a fake.
Monday, November 28, 2005
So I said to my son, “Tell you what, would you like a bit of a gamble? – If you win, you get to stay up half an hour later, but if you lose, you go to bed in 10 minutes.”
Now Rogan is a smart lad, and he knew, or really should have known, that I wouldn’t say something like that unless I had a damn good hand. To be honest I just expected him to roll his eyes and ignore me, but stupidly he said, “Ok then!”
Of course, he lost, but then got really upset about it. I’m now feeling like a bit of a bastard, but I can’t back down now. This is nothing to do with testosterone driven posturing, but everything to do with the fact that he has to learn that you never enter a bet unless you’re prepared to lose.
“But you knew I’d lose!” he wailed, “It’s not fair!”
“But you knew I wouldn’t have done this unless I was pretty sure I’d win. You should never have agreed to it,” I tell him, but it doesn’t help matters.
I make a mental decision that if he accepts his lot, and gets his pyjamas on, then I’ll say that because he’s clearly learned his lesson then he can stay up until his usual bedtime after all. Unfortunately he gets even more upset and I end up having to threaten him with an earlier bedtime tomorrow night unless he gets ready for bed right now, as he agreed to when he entered the terms of the gamble.
I begin to worry that the emotional arms race is accelerating towards Mutually Assured Destruction, but he backs down at this point and stomps up the stairs.
I hope he’s learned that gambling is for fools, unless you’re prepared to accept the consequences. However, I fear the lesson he’s learned this evening is that Dad is a bastard who’ll con his own son and is not to be trusted.
Friday, November 25, 2005
When my stepdaughter, Layla, and her wee ones came to visit us back in the summer, this statement almost had me spraying my breakfast over the table as though I’d been whacked across the back of the skull with the blunt end of Death's scythe.
I picked a few loose oat flakes out of my beard and cardigan, wriggled my toes inside my slippers and reflected on how old I suddenly felt.
While most of the time it’s taken in my stride, occasionally it strikes me as all a bit odd. Maggie is 9 years older than me and had three children already with her when we first met. They are now aged 19, 22 and 24, and my 22-year-old stepdaughter has 2 children of her own. I clearly remember the day, nearly two years ago, when Layla asked me if I wanted to be called “Grandad or Grandpa” and all I could think was that both sounded too bloody old to me.
Added to that, Maggie was the baby of her family, with her brothers being a decade or so older than her. This meant that back in the summer, at my in-law’s Diamond Wedding Anniversary, one of the prime topics of conversation was about early retirement.
So despite the fact that I am in fact only 39, it’s not uncommon to feel like I’m at least a generation older.
And there are days, usually when I’m feeling a bit low and flat, and wondering if I’m ever actually going to do anything decent with my life, that I hear the phrase “No Poppy! Leave Grandad’s muesli alone!” echoing around my skull, and I feel terribly old indeed.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
When you really should be doing a bit more with your life, but are looking for a bit of distraction instead, this is the kind of thing that will waste the best part of half an hour.
You can create your own text to put on Einstein's chalkboard, and this is what I came up with.
If you click on the image it will take you to a site where you can create your own.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Click on the images for larger versions:
*For those who don't know, a loch is the Scottish word for a lake
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Until this week.
Meg has a friend, K, who she went to for tea last week. This was quite a big thing in some ways, because this was the first time that Meg had been invited round to one of her classmate’s houses for the afternoon. There’s always a slight concern for us – we know that Meg’s perfectly capable of behaving well, but we’re never entirely sure how the parents will react to her Down’s Syndrome. However, it all seemed to go fine, and Maggie and I breathed a sigh of relief when Meg was brought home with tales of having made their own pizza for dinner, along with lots of playing and dancing.
When I was walking with Meg out of the school gates earlier this week, K’s mum was there, in her car with her daughters, apparently waiting for us to appear. She leapt out of the car when she saw us, and with a beaming smile produced a Barbie doll. “Hi Meg,” she said, “you were having such a great time the other day, and we have a lot of Barbie’s, so I thought you might like this one!” K’s mum was holding out the doll, resplendent in a glittery dress, to Meg.
Well at this point you don’t really like to say “and what kind of role model do you think I’m going to let my daughter have? Don’t you understand that we are trying to create a society in which people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colours should be allowed to be seen as normal? Don’t you realise that society created all sorts of problems when it decided that the only acceptable form of beauty was that of a tall blonde with disproportionately large breasts and a waist the size of a skinny 9-year-old? Well do you? Do you?” Not if you ever want your daughter to go to a friend’s house for tea again you don’t.
The easy option at that point would have been to take the doll with thanks and tried to lose the thing later, but I also realised that if we accepted it then it would be almost impossible to explain to Meg later on why we didn’t think that having a Barbie was a good idea.
K’s mum turned to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind. Meg was telling us how much she loved Barbie and was going to get lots of Barbie stuff for Xmas.” Utterly untrue of course, but sometimes Meg will just come out with these things.
“I’m sorry”, I said, desperately wishing that Maggie had picked up Meg today and been the one to deal with this, “but I’d rather not take it.”
At this point K’s mum hadn’t a clue what was going on in my head and said, “Oh, she’s already got hundreds has she?” Her smile was still very warm and friendly.
“No,” I replied, trying to keep my smile as relaxed and friendly as possible, “we just don’t do Barbie.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. Her smile was still there, but I was aware that none of her facial muscles had moved .
She was back in the car so fast, that I barely had time to say “I appreciate the thought…” before the tyres were screeching and the car was disappearing into the distance.
Sometimes it isn't easy being a Dad.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
I could imagine my body changing, I could even imagine my body not existing, but I could not imagine that core bit that I call “me” as not existing. The knock on effect of this was that I became intensely interested in what happened after death: if my body could cease to exist, but not my self or soul, for want of a better word, then it must go somewhere. Did it linger indefinitely with the body? Was it freed to roam as a ghost? Did it go on to another realm like heaven (or hell)? Was it reincarnated into another body? Was I God, limited by human existence until I died and returned to my true state? How could I possibly know?
There were plenty of religions out there, most telling me that theirs was the one true path. And when I asked how I was to know that theirs was right and the others were wrong, it usually ended in either “because our holy book/ prophet says so” or “you must have faith”. Never one for trusting authority, neither of these answers appealed.
So I read widely, questioned frequently and debated incessantly with anyone willing to engage. I returned to education and spent 4 years gaining a philosophy degree, at the end of which I wouldn’t necessarily say I was closer to any conclusions, but I did have a far better idea of how to argue for or against absolutely anything.
When my daughter, Meg, was born with Downs Syndrome nearly 8 years ago, I would bite my tongue when people would say things like “God gives special children to special parents”. I’d know that they were trying to put a positive spin on things, and so would just nod and smile. These days I’m a lot less tolerant and would be far more tempted to say “well if that’s so, then why does He give them to so many people who abort them before they have a chance to live?” (It’s estimated that somewhere between 80% and 90% of pregnancies of children with DS are terminated in our so-called “civilised” Western world).
Now Meg was born with a hole in her heart. The first few months of her life were a struggle as we fought hard to feed her (she would frequently take over one and a half hours to feed, and would need to be fed every three hours, and would throw up about every third bottle) and give her the strength to live. At 5 months old she had to have open-heart surgery and we had to face the very real possibility that our little girl could die.
At this point, more than any other in my life, I called out for some kind of meaning, some kind of support, some kind of sign or feeling that we were not on our own with this. But what I got back was nothing, nothing at all. There was no sense that there was a larger plan, that there was someone, or something looking out for us, that the universe cared in any way shape or form. All I felt was an overpowering sense of empty randomness. Meg might live; she might not. If she did then we’d be lucky, and if she didn’t then we’d be unlucky. It was as simple and straightforward as that. There was no God; there was no Universal Force at work. This was the point that I stopped searching; this was the point I lost all interest in religion.
Now as it turned out, Meg survived and thrived, and she fills our lives with joy. But we were lucky, that’s all. I cannot find it in my heart to believe anyone who would tell me otherwise. Maybe your god speaks to you, and I’m truly pleased for you if that is so, but there is nothing out there speaking to me.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
A couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that I have no heroes. Oh there are plenty of people who I like, I respect, or who have talents or skills that I’d like to possess myself, but there is no one who I would say is my hero; no one I wish I could be instead of me. This struck me as odd, because I thought everyone had heroes.
Certainly when I was a lad, I loved reading books about the lone hero, specifically Conan the Barbarian and Batman, and I loved the James Bond movies too. It was something about having the ability to be completely self-reliant: drop any of these guys into any situation and they would cope. But these were all fictional characters. Where were the real life heroes?
When I started to reflect on this, I realised that my first real hero was my brother, who is 4 years and 2 days older than me (I was a late birthday present for him, apparently) - he was the one who I would become. To the mind of a 3-year-old, it seemed perfectly obvious that when I turned 7 I would be doing exactly the same as my older brother had done before me. I also knew, at that age, that when I grew up I would be my Dad. But Dad was an adult and occupied a different place in my head; my older brother, however, was closer, more tangible. I wanted his affection, I wanted to follow him: I wanted to be him.
When I was 7, however, my brother, now aged 11, disappeared off to boarding school, and for the next 5 years we saw him only every 3rd weekend during term time, and at the holidays. My parents believed that by sending him away to a private school they were doing the best for his education. Whether they were right or not has been a matter of family debate since, but it had a profound impact on my life at the time.
We’d moved to South Wales when I was five years old, and being English I was an ideal target for bullies. However, having an older brother in the same primary school meant I was afforded a certain level of protection that I might otherwise not have had. But when my brother not only changed school, but moved out of the area, that protection was gone. The bullies turned their attention to me and the next few years were pretty miserable.
Eventually I found strategies to deal with them, and by the time my brother had left school and returned to live with us I no longer needed his protection. I would still have followed him anywhere, but what 17-year-old wants a 13-year-old hanging about, cramping his style? As testosterone levels rose I began to see my brother in terms of competition, and when we moved away from Wales to South West England a couple of years later, he was no longer someone I looked up to.
So what has this to do with my lack of heroes today? Well, the fact is that I never had another hero after my brother; it’s like the disillusionment I experienced meant that I could never really believe in anyone else again. At the point where I needed my hero to come and protect me, and he wasn’t there, the mind and emotions of the child weren’t able to separate out the distinction between “couldn’t” and “wouldn’t” protect me.
In one of those rare moments of self discovery, this idea about my lack of heroes made me realise that I have spent almost my entire life expecting someone to be looking out for me; and have been in a state of almost constant disappointment that no one has been. For years I have wondered why the world isn’t a fairer place, why people don’t help each other more, why those in power are so happy to abuse those who are not. Despite the fact that intellectually I have known that the world is not a fair place, emotionally it has felt so wrong. I have continually expected someone to come along and sort it out, and then been crushingly disappointed that no one has.
Those in positions of power and authority who could make a real difference, but don’t (and that is just about all of them), have nothing but my contempt and disdain. And as for the long line of hideously overpaid pop stars, supermodels, film stars and sports stars that are paraded before us as heroes and role models, well don’t make me laugh. I guess what I would call heroic are the people who, against adversity, retake control of their lives.
The conclusion I had to come to was that I couldn’t rely on anyone else to sort out my life; I would have to do it myself. But whereas I have resented this up until now, this flash of insight means that I can now accept it. I am not 7-years-old any more, and I don’t have an older brother or anyone else who is going to bail me out of trouble.
And finally, I’m ok with that.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
They ranged from around £80 to £140, but sounded a bit tinny for my liking. The shop did, however, have one for £300 (approx $550), which was certainly a cut above the rest. As it was the only one, I was reluctant to buy it: it was more expensive than the others and I wondered what other £300 mandolins might sound like. So we headed out to a large music shop I know about 10 miles from Carlisle.
This music shop had more mandolins, but they were all priced between £50 and £150, and none of them took my fancy. I asked if they had any out the back and was told that they had a Fylde Touchstone Mandolin in their Newcastle branch, which they could get sent over. Fylde are hand made instruments and are considerably more expensive (about £600). The thought of trying one out, to see whether the extra price really could be justified, appealed so I said bring it over. However, they couldn’t get it across for a few days, they would let me know when it was in.
Having run my own business, I’m always amazed when salesmen don’t seem to recognise that I’m giving all the buying signs and ought to be able to close the deal with me on the spot. Worse than that, the guy I spoke to then went on holiday and nobody bothered asking for the mandolin to be shipped across. By the end of last week, when I phoned up, no one knew anything about it. I was to be called back again, but wasn’t, and so it went on.
So I took things into my own hands and tracked down Fylde Guitars, discovering that they were based in Penrith, only about 20 miles down the road from Carlisle.
Anyway, to cut to the point, I was out there yesterday and have bought myself a Fylde Single Malt Touchstone Mandolin. The Single Malt version is actually made:
“…from timbers reclaimed from the Scotch Whisky trade. The top is built up from sections of Oregon pine from a washback vessel from the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. This vessel held hot spirit continually for around forty years before the timber came to Fylde. The back and sides are quartered oak from salvaged single malt Whisky casks, which have been soaked in maturing alcohol first in America or Spain, then in Scotland, for perhaps ten years before reaching our workshop. The neck and fingerboard are made from sections of both timbers. These timbers seem to suit mandolins remarkably well, adding a deep and mature nature to the sound.”
It is the most beautiful mandolin I have ever seen and it sounds divine. It is another couple of hundred pounds more than the normal Touchstone mandolin, but it is worth it. I know I’ve spent far more money than I intended, but it feels like I went out to buy a Ford Escort and have ended up with an Aston Martin DB9.
My fingertips are getting sore again as I can’t put the thing down. In fact, I think I'll just have another wee go...
Saturday, November 05, 2005
There was still enough wind to create a few waves and I was reminded of being a child when to go to the beach was to go for a swim. Although I was in no way tempted to go leaping in there and then, it was easy to recall the sensation of diving into the waves, just as they were about to break, or wading out until I was neck-deep and when the waves came along they would lift me up, so that for a moment or two my feet weren’t touching the sand underneath.
When I mentioned to Maggie that whenever I was by the sea part of me just wanted to strip off and leap in, the look she gave me was one of disbelief tinged with horror. It was another of those moments of cultural difference.
You would think with us both speaking the same language, using the same currency and living with the same fallout of the inept decisions of successive UK governments, that the Scots and the Southern English would be more or less the same people, but you would be mistaken. It is not just a difference between Celtic and Anglo-Saxon bloodlines, the sense of whether you are the oppressor or the oppressed, nor whether you have a fondness for tartan; the geography plays a huge part too.
Not only does it tend to be wetter and colder, for a longer proportion of the year in Scotland, but the sea is considerably cooler too. Inhabitants of this half of the British Isles just do not have swimming in the sea as a part of their collective childhood experience. Paddling, maybe, in the height of a heat wave, but no self respecting Scot would dream of going any further than knee deep.
I may have lived in Scotland for over 17 years, but there are times when it’s not just my accent that gives me away as a foreigner.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
I have serious doubts that I would have made it up the road, without having to stop several times on the way, if I’d tried carrying 30kg of coal, yet I used to carry that amount extra with me every where I went. And, if I am ever to approach that mystical realm of the ‘ideal weight’, I still need to shed another 20kg.
So why then, when I am 30kg lighter than I used to be, do I sometimes feel like I’ve never been so fat?
For a while I thought it was just because I’m so much more focused on my weight these days: being more careful about my eating habits and weighing myself once a week. But I’m beginning to suspect there might be another factor in this equation, which is I’ve shifted into a different category of person.
These days I can look in the mirror, or catch sight of myself in a shop window and I look like an overweight, middle-aged guy who’s let himself go and could seriously do with losing some weight. But when I was 30kg heavier, I was so outside the realms of “normality” that the idea that I could actually do something didn’t really come into it.
When you look at someone like Johnny Vegas (British comedian – star of “Sex Lives of the Potato Men” and Channel 4’s “18 stone of Idiot”), part of his act, and who he is, is defined in the sheer size of him. It does not occur to you that he could ever be slim, or have a well-sculpted body.
The fat man and the bearded lady of the circus freak show were firmly in the realm of “other”. They were curiosities to be stared at, ridiculed, or even pitied, but they were not anything we might become. As such, we could dismiss them and move on to the next novelty item.
But when someone is like us, but a bit fatter, or a woman’s moustache starts to get slightly darker and she finds a hair or two growing on her chin, then we freak out about it a great deal more. Suddenly we will be full of well-meaning, and probably very patronising, advice. We will whisper to our friends about how they are not making an effort. We will bitch and snipe out of fear, because that person could be us, if we aren’t vigilant enough. This attitude that, if you could be normal but don’t try to be, then you deserve every bit of harsh criticism you get, is extremely common.
So it seems I have now moved into these realms of judgement. When I was buying clothes with a number of ‘X’s on the label, then I was in ‘outsize’ clothing, i.e., outside the sizes of normality. As such, I was more easily dismissed. Now that my clothing sizes are ‘Large’, I’m into that range that says I could be normal if I just tried a bit harder.
Clearly I am not fatter than I have ever been, but the irony of it is that by losing enough weight to move out of the realm of “other”, I am now in a position where I can be judged more harshly by a greater number of people.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
I have vivid snapshot in my head of the moment I decided I was too old to kiss my dad. I guess I must have been around 10 years old - the surrounding details are hazy - but I can remember quite clearly standing in the doorway about to leave the room when my mum said “are you not going to kiss your father goodnight?” and I said no.
I cannot tell you why, other than I was aware that it had been feeling less and less comfortable to do so each night. My heart was beating fast as on some semi-subconscious level I realised that this was some kind of turning point, and I had no idea how my parents were going to react.
In the end they didn’t do much. My mother said “ok then” and I have the impression that my father rolled his eyes, but I didn’t hang around in case it got even more embarrassing. As a child, you never really think of your parents as vulnerable people with feelings and it certainly never occurred to me that my father might be hurt or upset by my actions.
Well the other night came full circle as my own son refused to give me a goodnight kiss before heading for bed. He’s clearly become more uncomfortable displaying affection over the past several months and there was a sense of inevitability that this moment would come. I can still force a hug out of him, but it is stilted. The testosterone is starting to increase with the onset of early puberty and my little boy is on his path to manhood. From this point on, for the next few years, other males will be seen in terms of rivalry, rather than warm affection.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties, and I was heading off to Dundee to study philosophy at university that I started giving my father a hug again. Initially he was awkward and stilted about it, but now it’s natural enough when we meet up.
My only hope is that it doesn’t take as long as another 15 years before my son is prepared to display a relaxed affection for his father again.
Monday, October 31, 2005
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I discovered that so long as I played in the right key, and kept the appropriate rhythm, almost anything I did seemed to compliment the tune I was playing along with. It wasn’t long before I also realised that while there are always loads of guitar players about, mandolin players are a rarity; as such I was often given an extra level of respect and kudos before I’d even played a note.
Over the next few years the fact that I played the mandolin became one of my defining characteristics: fat beardy bloke with a girls name; wears a leather coat, a rainbow coloured scarf and plays the mandolin.
When I went to Canada for a year on a student exchange programme (where “and an accent like someone from Monty Python” was added to the above descriptive list), I took my mandolin with me. Very quickly I got into playing with a guy called Mike Charlton (or ‘Morg’, as he was known as back then), who had the most incredible voice and knew hundreds of folk songs, which he would blast out while playing the guitar while I accompanied him on the mandolin. I also got involved with a couple of Peruvians and a Canadian to form a wee group playing Andean folk music. And at the Chinese New Year Festival, I even dueted with a girl from Hong Kong who played the Yang Chin (like a hammer dulcimer).
For the couple of years after my return from Canada, I would go down to the weekly folk night at the Caledonian pub in Dundee, where if you turned up with an instrument you got a free pint. As an impoverished student, I became adept at making that pint last all evening.
I continued playing on my own after I moved away from Dundee, but it took a downturn once I became self-employed. Anyone who has ever run their own business knows that your interests and hobbies get pushed to one side as you focus all your energies on trying to make a success of your business. I was no different, and the mandolin began to gather dust. Sure, I would pull it out every now and then, but it was rare, and steadily I lost much of the proficiency I’d gained.
Along with the leather coat that I’d grown out of, and the rainbow coloured scarf that I’d lost, the mandolin ceased being a defining part of my make up. In fact, nearly everyone I’ve got to know over the past 7 years or so has no idea that I ever played the instrument.
A couple of weeks ago, when we decided that it was getting cold enough to light a fire for the first time since we moved here, we called out a chimney sweep to make sure we didn’t inadvertently burn the place down. It turned out that he was something of a folk musician himself, and noticed the mandolin sitting in the corner of the room, whereupon he told me that the Blue Bell Inn in Castle Douglas had a folk night once a month and I should go along. I mumbled some kind of reply that I would give it serious thought while inwardly I felt embarrassed about the fact that I play so rarely that the tips of the fingers on my left hand have lost their calluses and become soft again.
Maggie has been on at me for some time now that I really should start up the music again, as it always was such an integral part of who I am. But the fears of turning up to a pub where I knew no one, when I am new to the area, and am hopelessly out of practice, made me want to run in the opposite direction as fast as I could.
However, folk nights generally tend to be friendly and welcoming- they don’t last long if they’re not - so last night, I tried to keep my fears from overwhelming me and went along.
There were around 8 or 9 musicians and singers when I arrived, who were already in full swing. I found a chair on the outer edge of the circle, and spent 10 minutes trying to re-tune my mandolin through all the playing, singing and background pub noise. Once I was in tune, however, I discovered that my mandolin was too quiet to be heard. This is largely due to the fact that it is an electric/acoustic instrument, which means that I can plug it in to an amp if I want, but the sound quality is compromised a bit.
To begin with, this wasn’t a problem; in fact I was rather glad that all my bum notes weren’t audible. As the evening went on though, my confidence started to grow. Certainly I’m not the player I used to be, but I was surprised just how much started to come back once I began to relax and just let my fingers remember what to do.
While the first half of the evening was primarily instrumental, the second was dominated by singing, where most of the drunken occupants of the pub were pouring their hearts out loudly and passionately along with the musicians. The advantage to me was that most of these songs tend to be based around 3 chords that I can play on the mandolin. So rather than try and pick out a tune, I could just strum along (which is louder as well as easier).
In the end I had a grand old time and am looking forward to the next folk evening. Last night I was playing for over 2 hours, when for the last few years I’ve rarely played more than 15 minutes at a time. Consequently I have rather large and sore blisters on the tips of the fingers of my left hand.
However, as these blisters settle down they will start to form the calluses I need, as I am now determined to bring the music back into my life.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
-- Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials
I have been attacked in the past for my negative attitude to “patriotism”, but this confirms my belief that it is one of the emotions that is most easily manipulated and abused by politicians.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
How do I feel about turning 39? Not too bad at all actually. In addition to getting some wonderful cards from my family this morning, I discovered that I’ve lost a further 2 pounds since last week, and that I can now fit into size 36-inch-waist jeans.
Beyond that, my life is good – I’m living in a place I want to be, with a wife and children I adore, on the road to a career I really want. I am not wealthy, but I have no immediate financial problems, my health is good and, as I type this, the rain has just stopped.
And I’m still in my 30s.
Life doesn’t get much better than this.
I remember a point, 7 years ago, when so much of my life was falling apart - my new business was failing, my daughter had to have open heart surgery (she was only 5 months old), and we were being dragged through hell by one of the family - that I actually said to my wife, “I know that there are people in this world that are far worse off than us, but their number is rapidly diminishing.” The depths of the despair were quite horrific.
But these days I would say the opposite. There may be people in this world who have a better and happier life than me, but at the moment they are fewer than ever.
Of course next year I’ll be 40, at which point I will probably contradict everything I’ve just said.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
The fun part is when they have come in by search engine, because then I can see what terms were being used, and see where I rank for those terms.
So, for example, if you type in “Plum Chutney” to MSN, this blog actually comes up 7th out of over 100,000 entries. With “Gay Hitcher” these ramblings come up 3rd. I can only think it must be a disappointment for the searcher. And type in “Lada Owner’s Club” and I am actually listed above the official Lada Owner’s Club!
My favourite, however, is that “example of virile manhood” brings me in 2nd only to an article about Clint Eastwood in ‘Unforgiven’
Thursday, October 20, 2005
We once won £10, but that was the limit of our success. With a 14-million-to-one chance of winning the jackpot, the balance of probability was never really on our side. Statistically, if you were to buy your lottery ticket on Monday, then there was more chance that you would be dead by Saturday than you would be a jackpot winner.
After I left University I struggled to get a job. 6 months of unemployment was followed by 18 months on a government “Training For Work Scheme”. During this time I went through periods of chronic self-doubt and despair, and each week when the lottery draw came round I found myself increasingly desperate to win.
Without doubt, several million pounds would have helped us no end, but one day I was struck by the fact that the lottery was actually nothing but a sedative and a decoy.
So long as I was waiting for fate to intervene, it was an excuse for me to not sort out my own life. I couldn’t see a way out at that time, but I realised that it was pointless waiting for a miracle. So there and then we made the decision to stop doing the lottery. If I knew that I couldn’t wait on some kind of divine intervention, then I would have to find a way out for us off my own back.
6 months later I got the idea of becoming self-employed. When my first business went under I set up the second. And when I got sick of that I sold it and we created the life we now have.
If we were to win the lottery today our lives wouldn’t actually change that much. We might own a house instead of renting; I might drive a bigger car; we might have bigger holidays; but the general day-to-day life wouldn’t change. We would still be eating 3 meals a day, the kids would still be going to school, I would still be writing and Maggie would still be pursuing her textile art.
So by refusing to do the lottery anymore, it was the first step in getting to a place that isn’t too far removed from if we had won. It may have taken 10 years, but by doing the lottery the odds were that my numbers would only come up once every 250,000 years.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
My 10 year old son, Rogan, overheard Dave playing it to me and insisted on having a copy for himself. Now as they sing in German, I have no idea of the content of their lyrics (Dave didn't know either - he just liked the music). However, I figured that if even their language was foul, we wouldn’t be offended as no one speaks German in this house.
Earlier today, though, I heard Rogan singing along to one of the tracks as he was playing the CD in his bedroom. He loves the album and it appears he’s learned many of the songs phonetically.
My only hope now is that Rammstein is not full of offensive lyrics, and that if they are, Rogan never repeats his singing in front of any Deutschlanders.
For a long time I’ve enjoyed his photographs of people, places and temples and he has now created a blog exhibiting some of them. I have placed a link to his site over on the right (or you can click here: http://el-brandenexhibition.blogspot.com/) and recommend you take a look when you have time.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that there is a God, in the traditional, Western understanding of Him. If there really is a being, so powerful that He was capable of creating the entire universe and all life within it, and that on His say, at the end of this life you will spend the rest of forever (which, let’s face it, is a bloody long time), in eternal bliss or eternal damnation, then figuring it out ‘when I get there’ has to be one of the most idiotic forms of procrastination possible.
If you were going to take an exam where if you passed you would have untold riches, but if you failed your life would be doomed to misery, you would make damn sure that you did a bit of revision before you went in. With that much weighing on the outcome, you wouldn’t want to just leave it to chance and just hope for the best, would you?
And yet, this is what the vast majority of us do. It seems that most people I know don’t go to church and don’t let religion worry them too much, but will go there for weddings and funerals. They may even get their child christened, ‘just in case’. Their feeling is that as long as they dip their toe in the water and don’t actually murder anyone then they’ll probably be ok. Most have not read enough of their bible to realise that getting into Heaven is a lot less about “being good” as it is about “being committed to God”. For example, in Christianity, you could be the nicest, kindest, warmest, most helpful person in the whole world, but unless you accept Jesus Christ as your saviour, you ain’t getting in.
Personally, I don’t believe in God. I am an atheist, which means if I am wrong I will burn in hell forever. But if I do end up facing God at the pearly gates, I have my arguments ready for why I think He’s done a lousy job and is nothing more than a con-artist. Does it worry me? Of course not, I don’t believe in it.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t condemn anyone for believing. In fact, I have the greatest respect for anyone who has taken the time to investigate his or her beliefs and come to a conclusion (either way), or is continuing to search for answers. But what I find I have precious little time for is blind faith or procrastinators.
Feel free to open up a debate in the comments section.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
But today the sun is out and my mood has lifted dramatically. It’s almost like my emotions are solar powered. Without a good dose of pure sunlight I start getting grumpy and miserable.
Go for a couple of weeks without bright sunshine and I will be prepared to commit acts of extreme violence if someone puts sugar in my tea, or leaves it out of my coffee. However, on a day like today they could wrap my car around a lamp-post and I’d just brush it aside with good humour.
Probably just as well I don’t live in Iceland, where the sun doesn’t rise at all for 3 months of the year…
Monday, October 10, 2005
- I have a degree in Philosophy
- I play the mandolin
- I have 2 children, 3 step-children and
23 step-grandchildren, although after nearly 1521years of knowing them the “step” part of the step-children feels superfluous
- I used to run my own web design business
- I am now a
- I used to belong to a Dark Ages Re-enactment Society, where we would dress up as a Celts, Saxons and Vikings, hit each other with swords and spears and get blind drunk at banquets
- I get hangovers very easily, so these days rarely drink more than a single glass of wine or a single bottle of beer in a day
- I love my wife deeply, powerfully, passionately and with an intensity that would probably be considered unhealthy if it wasn’t for the fact that…
- My wife loves me the same way
- I used to smoke over 30 roll-ups a day. I quit smoking over 15 years ago, went through hell, and swore that I would never give up again
- If I hadn’t given up smoking, my relationship with Maggie would never have developed because she’s always been a non-smoker
- When I was 17 years old, on a Youth Training Scheme, I worked with a landscape gardening firm who did the gardens of John Paul Jones – Bass player of Led Zeppelin. JPJ spoke to me once – he said “You can put those grass clippings over there…”
- I lost my virginity at 15 years old to a girl who was in the year above me at school.
- I play the guitar
- I’d love to be a
comic book writerhighly paid, internationally renowned, sought-after portrait photographer
- When I was a kid I wanted to be an Astronaut when I grew up. I still do.
- I love being a Dad
- I am 5’ 7” tall first thing in the morning
- When I was 20 I split up with my girlfriend 5 weeks before we were due to get married
- I find the idea of a benevolent God watching over us as laughable
- My highest recorded weight was 275 pounds
- I used to indulge in a variety of illegal drugs. I haven’t touched any since I was 22 years old
- I hate not being in control
- When my mother was in the last days of her life, dying painfully of cancer, I made it perfectly clear to the doctor that there was no point in prolonging her life and that hastening her demise would be the more humane act. To try and shorten my mother’s life when all I wanted, with every fibre in my being, was for her to live, was one of the worst experiences of my life.
- My daughter has Downs Syndrome, which isn’t as scary as I’d feared it would be
- While I respect a woman’s right to chose, and would never agree to making abortion illegal, I desperately wish that more would chose life. I find it devastating that the vast majority of Downs Syndrome pregnancies are terminated
- When I was a kid I hated having what was widely perceived as “a girl’s name”. As an adult I enjoy the fact that it means I am more easily remembered
- I was once sent an appointment card from the medical centre for a cervical smear
- I joined Mensa when I was 25, but never renewed my membership because I came to feel that belonging to a group, purely because you are good at doing IQ puzzles, was arrogant and elitist.
- When I was a teenager, I once went out with a guy for about a week. We never went further than kissing, but it confirmed me in my heterosexuality. After that I was never had any doubts about my sexual orientation.
- I love meeting people from different cultural backgrounds – diversity is one of the greatest things about the human race
- Since I turned 18 I have voted for Labour, the Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats and the Monster Raving Loony Party; I have never been able to face the idea of voting Conservative.
- I left school at 16 and returned to education 7 years later
- I got my degree at Dundee University.
- I spent a year at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, on a Student Exchange Programme
- When I returned from Canada I helped set up the Dundee University International Club
- I have spent my entire adult life unemployed, in education, on government training schemes and self-employed. The only ‘proper’ job I had where I was employed was working in a bar when I was 18. It only lasted a month
- I’m allergic to cats
- I have an older brother and a younger sister, and I always felt like the odd one out.
- Blackberry Crumble is the greatest desert in the world
- When the kids leave home I want to have a 2 seater sports car
- When the kids leave home we would like to go and spend 3 months every winter living in a different city in different countries.
- When my daughter was 5 months old she had to have open-heart surgery and I had to face the very real possibility that she could die. Any lingering faith in a supreme being was lost at that point.
- I played the trombone for over two years when I was at school. When we moved away I had to leave it behind because it belonged to the school. I haven’t played one since
- I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Wales where there was a fair amount of hostility to the English
- I was bullied at school until I was 11 years old, when I refused to back down any more
- I founded ClacksNet - a voluntary organisation that helps local community groups build websites
- My father is an artist
- Because your status in the playground at school is determined by how well you can kick, throw and catch a ball, and I was quite an uncoordinated child, I grew to hate soccer, rugby and cricket with a passion
- I have a bouzouki which
I really should play more oftenis now my main instrument - I play it more than any other
- I used to have a business selling limited-edition prints of my father’s artwork. There were many reasons why it failed, but the biggest was that I hated being a salesman
- I used to teach philosophy at adult education evening classes.
I’m seeing if I can set up something similar in this part of ScotlandI taught them here for 2 years, then the local council stopped funding and supporting adult education evening classes
- When I told my father I was going to study philosophy at university he told me that I should “do something useful instead”, like accountancy or business studies, which I felt was a bit rich coming from an artist
- Some of my fondest memories are of when I played the mandolin and guitar in a Peruvian band, Fiesta Andina, when I was in Canada. I can still easily recall sitting in a warm house, drinking Andres’ home made brown ale, while a snowstorm was raging outside.
- I once played my mandolin in a duet with a woman from Hong Kong who played the Yang Chin (like a hammer dulcimer)
- When I was 21 I caught scabies, the cure for which was eye-wateringly painful
- I was once involved in a threesome and it was far less fun than I’d imagined
- I practice Tai Chi most days
- I grew a beard because I hate shaving. My wife has never seen my chin
- I have the tiniest of scars on my chin from when I slipped on the stairs and split it open, when I was three years old. My son, who has also only ever seen me with a beard, is convinced it must be something hideous and disfiguring
- I’ve always felt slightly ashamed that I can only speak one language
- Before I became self-employed, I used to enjoy carving Celtic knotwork designs into pieces of sandstone. Then I didn’t have the time to do it anymore.
- At various points in my life I have suffered from depression. I once spent 18 months on anti-depressants, and another time spent over 2 years in group therapy.
- I used to believe in the immortality of the soul. Now I don’t.
- In primary school, my educational rival was a wee girl called Lisa. I always thought I was smarter than her. Most of my life has been directionless; she is now a brain surgeon.
- When I was 16, I got a job as a burger fryer in a place called “Filthy McNasty’s”. I was the sacked within 3 days for being useless.
- I’m a Scorpio and Year of the Horse, and I don’t really believe in astrology…
- My birthday is the 25th of October, which was also the date of The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854), The Gunfight at the OK Corral (1881), and The Battle of Agincourt (1415).
- Maggie and I have been together for
nearly 15over 21 years and married for 1016
- For a few months, on a Training for Work Scheme, I was the regular, weekly radio presenter of “The Central Action Show” on Central FM
- I have lost over
6590 pounds in the past 8 months6 years
- I organised 2 conferences for the Scottish Drugs Training Project in 1997
- I can talk endlessly, which is a trait I inherited from my mother
- I have a Southern English accent, despite the fact that I have spent far more of my life in other parts of the UK. I picked it up from my parents
- When I smoked I would often paint tobacco tins for friends in exchange for ½ ounce of baccy
- I drive a Mazda 3
- When I ran my web design business I belonged to an organisation called BNI (Business Network International). I was the longest serving Chapter Director at the Stirling branch
- I once went out with a lesbian, who only dated me so that her boss would think she was straight
- I am very non-judgemental, unless I perceive you to be a threat to my family in which case I am extremely judgemental
- The first “job” I had when I left school was working for an Estate Agent on a government training scheme. I sat around 8 hours a day waiting for something to happen. The highlight of the day was making the coffee.
- I only learned to iron shirts
this year6 years ago
- I was 36 when my stepdaughter made me a grandfather. “Do you want to be Grandad or Grandpa?” she asked. “Both sound too bloody old to me” was my reply. I eventually settled on Grandad
- My mother was an incredible pianist, although I never appreciated it at the time
- Despite the fact that he is four years older than me, my brother is sometimes mistaken as my younger brother
- I enjoy logic problems
- My eyes are grey, although depending on what I am wearing or the lighting, they can appear blue or green
- The older I get, the less patience I seem to have for people who just moan about their lives without actually trying to do anything about it
- I can happily stand up in front of hundreds of people and deliver a presentation without my heart raising a beat, but ask me to cold call a complete stranger on the phone and my heart will be pounding and I will break into a sweat.
- I love the idea of the old story teller who travelled from village to village, telling tales around the fire in the chieftain’s hut
- I have a habit of giving 30 minute answers to questions when a 30 second one would do
- In my early 20s I worked out how to get rid of hiccups by focusing on them instead of trying to hold my breath or drink out of the wrong side of the cup. If you’re desperate to know how it’s done, just ask
- The games I enjoy most are those that you sit at a table for and require a bit of strategy and thought, like backgammon, chess, draughts (that’s checkers in Americanese), hnefatafl (a kind of Viking chess), othello and card games
- I was born in 1966. In the UK the only thing anyone remembers about that year is that England won the world cup against Germany playing football (soccer). And every single Euro or World cup they bring it up again and again and again and again and again…
- My favourite comedians are Eddie Izzard, Jack Dee, Paul Merton and Dara O’ Briain
- Often I create birthday cards on the computer (using Photoshop) for family members which involves putting them into an image with their favourite pop/film star
- I helped my stepson to raise £2,000 for a cancer charity when he did a 100km hike in the Sahara Desert
- If I had the money I’d buy an Aston Martin DB9. If I had unlimited money, I would buy a reconditioned Jaguar XK140
- My hair used to be so long it went most of the way down my back. I cut it short about 7 years ago and don’t regret it. It is so much easier to look after now.
- When I was young, I wondered what my limits were, whether I could ever be broken. After I broke it took a long time to put the pieces back together. They weren’t all there so over time I had to create new bits to fill the gaps. Whether I am stronger or not is debateable, but I am considerably wiser.
- I don’t have a middle name. My parents spent 3 weeks to come up with Kim as a first name. I don’t think they had the will left to find another.
- I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle
Saturday, October 08, 2005
What I do love though, is when I come across one of these “101 things about me” type entries, because in one posting you often get a real sense of the person who’s writing that blog, in a way that their blogger profile can’t match.
So I started toying with the notion of creating my own 101 things, and without too much difficulty got up to about 24. But by the time I’d reached 37 items I was really faltering: the idea of finding a further 64 seemed an almost impossible task, because there’s a limit to defining yourself by your height and your favourite colour. There comes a point where you have to think about other aspects of your life, experiences and dreams to find a combination that really defines you in a way that you can say “yup, that’s me!” And this is where the very act of trying to put together such a list became a fascinating activity in itself.
How do we define ourselves? Very often it is relation to other people – I am my father’s son, my son’s father, my wife’s husband, my boss’s employee etc. But we are also a unique combination of our experiences, hopes, dreams, fears and desires. What started out as a light hearted, almost flippant, endeavour has now become quite a personal insight into what aspects I believe contribute to defining who I am. I would recommend doing it even if you never publish it on your blog.
It has actually taken me several weeks to get this far, and I’m now up to 99. When I’ve discovered another two I think I will post it.
Friday, October 07, 2005
I would refer directly to some of the stuff in it, but my copy seems to be on permanent loan to 30 and 40 something guys I know. As soon as it comes back to me it ends up being lent to someone else.
However, seeing my father in shop window reflections since I got the hat (see last post), and reading BStrong’s moving post last week has had me mulling over one aspect of Biddulph’s book in particular.
A son’s relationship to his father is a very powerful influence on how he turns out. Many men spend their entire lives trying to live up to their father’s expectations and others spend their entire lives kicking against the old bastard.
According to Biddulph’s experiences through many workshops, about 30% of men have such a dire relationship with their father that they have absolutely nothing to do with him and haven’t spoken to him in years. Another 30% are in contact with their father but every time they speak it breaks down into a blazing argument. 30% more are in relatively frequent contact with their father but conversation never gets deep or significant. It never really progresses much beyond talking about the weather, the match or everyday stuff.
Apparently only 10% of men actually talk of their father as a friend, someone for whom they have the greatest respect and a great relationship.
I would love my relationship with my father to be in that 10%, but truth be told it isn’t. We don’t fight or argue, but he has always been distant. Many times I have tried to bridge that gap, and we have had the occasional deep and emotional talk, but it has always come from me, and he has always been guarded about revealing himself. That’s part of who he is, how he has responded to his upbringing and the events in his life. His relationship with his own father was caustic and hostile, so at least he made progress with us.
But what does this 10% figure say about our chances, as fathers, of having the kind of bond with our sons that we intend? How does it all go so wrong?
When Rogan was born, my sense of fatherly pride was overwhelming. I knew that I was going to show him how to live life to the full, how to make the most of his talents, how to be a good person, how to be successful in any endeavour, how to be an inspiration to others. In other words, how to be the kind of guy I wish I could be.
But what happens as they grow up? Where are we as fathers? We are working all the hours available to try and provide for our children. We are tired when we get home and just want to watch the TV, eat and unwind. By the time we are feeling human again, the kids are usually in bed. So instead of being this guiding light, teacher, inspiration and mentor, we end up being a distant figure that moans about the bills and is frequently grumpy. Not the role model we ever intended to be.
By the time our son is a teenager and turning into a man, right at the point when we feel we have so much knowledge that we could impart to make his life so much easier, we find that we don’t have the direct influence we expected. He will be making his own, often completely stupid, decisions and will refuse to take our advice. The relationship breaks down further, all our great intentions have vanished into the ether, and the time for being the kind of father we always meant to be has gone forever.
My son is now 10 and is one of the contributing reasons to why I sold my business and we changed our lifestyle so completely. I remember last year when he turned 9 and all I could think was “Nine? How the bloody hell did he get to be nine? He wasn’t yet three when I started up my business!”
So now I’m trying to be more a part of his life, but already I can feel my influence slipping. Puberty is in the air and he’s not so keen to give me a hug, be tickled, or say hello to me in the playground when I go to collect Meg from school.
I remember my mother once saying to me that you don’t really get to know whether you’ve brought your kids up right until they’re about 35. Then you can see how well adjusted they are. Of course it’s a bit late by then to make any corrections.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
But the other day, in the shop where I bought my coat-without-an-X-in-the-size, Maggie saw some hats and I tried a couple on, just for a laugh really. However, Maggie, it turns out, actually has a bit of a thing about the right hat and thought that this was the one for me. Well, when your wife thinks you look sexier in something you’d be a fool not to buy it, so I did. I’m not saying that I think I look sexier by any means - it is her perception that counts.
For me though, apart from the feel of a hat on my head, the strange thing has been when I pass a mirror or shop window, because I keep catching glimpses of my father and my grandfather (and that’s my grandfather on my mother’s side, which is even weirder) staring back at me.
But then, as I get older it seems that more and more I’m turning into my father. I once realised that the way I’d climbed out of the chair, grunted and adjusted my trousers was pure Dad. There are times when, if it wasn’t for the fact that he is actually alive and well and living in Chesterfield, I’d swear he was haunting me. Of course there are many ways that we are different, but I sometimes find the amount of similarities quite disturbing.
When I was a teenager my father once said (never one for political correctness), that if I wanted to know what a girl would be like in 20 years, then to look at her mother. But I’m beginning to think that men turning into their fathers are probably more widespread. Almost every guy over the age of 35 that I’ve talked to about this has worried about how much he is becoming like his dad at some point.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
One reason that occured re family and friends not leaving comments is fear of letting something slip about you...or saying ring me on 0845478904...oops...or the textual equivalent of pointing to you in a photgraph (naked, aged 24 months) amongst a roomful of your co-workers.
The anonymity in weblogs is a natural reaction to other things apart from losing your job, friends, etc. Fear of who is out there in iWorld ought to be roughly the same fear of that at the funny looking bloke lurking at the bottom of the tube station platform. Often this is set aside because typing in a warm room of one's own chosing seems safe.
Everyone who has blogged has experienced comments spam...
This is an invasion of your space because you did not set up the blog for this reason. It was to air your views, say something funny, and get a response to them from time to time from people roughly like you. But hidden in there is an idea (false) that only people who are like you or understand you will be commenting, when in reality it can be anyone. You are after all doing the equivalent of writing it on a piece of paper and dropping millions of copies from a light aircraft over London, Cairo, Baghdad, or Penge - with your name and address and telephone number on it (for those who understand computery things).
The flaming commenter is a lesser species of the comments spammer which can be the result of being insufficiently technically knowledgeable. Real techies are instantly (it seems) aware of such potential nuisances or traps as the automated comments into weblogs which are actually something quite other : someone trying to get your email address, or advertising or with links which can lead not to to weblogs like your own but to ones consisting of some wierd repetitive code or multiple copies of one post (it can seem).
A lot in weblogs ( can't use the term blogging anymore: just read somewhere non-British people are confused between blogging and 'dogging'), can be about things like new software, hatred of Bill Gates,etc, which are in their turn often actually self-promotion vehicles, acting like a kind of demented accumulative CV [mostly American].
In the arly days when i went on line i came across peculiar academic or sub-academic websites where suggestions were made about the value of the internet for developing multi-personalities. We, here, in the UK sent these people to loony bins, when we still had them (pychiatric hospitals not people with multiple personalities...)
Hello Mr/Ms Anonymous commentator! You sound like an interesting, informed and lucid person. I would invite you to comment with a name (invented or not, so long as it's consistent) so that I can separate you from other anonymous commentators (although in truth, this has only consisted of spammers to date).
I understand the fear of being noticed, or specifically the fear of being noticed by some nutter who may wish to do you harm, but I believe it to be largely a fallacy.
Our fear of the dangerous stranger has reached ludicrous proportions in our society. We fear that if our children walk to school they might be kidnapped; we fear that if someone is videoing them at the school concert then they might be jacking off to their image; we fear that if someone looks "a bit foreign" then they could be a suicide bomber.
Xenophobia and paranoia are tools manipulated by those in the media and in authority who prefer us to live in a state of constant mild anxiety. In this state we will consume more – whether that is more media, or more food/gadgets/lifestyle items for comfort and so keep the economy going.
The perception of the dangerous stranger is a far cry from the reality. Drugs are mostly sold to our teenagers by their friends, not strangers; the vast majority of children who are abused, are done so by people who know them, not weirdos we don't know; suicide bombers affect a tiny, minute percentage of the population – we are far more likely to be killed by a car, or even win the lottery for that matter.
We can live our lives in constant fear and paranoia, or we can enjoy the company and diversity of people, cultures and beliefs, which can enrich our lives beyond telling.
Maybe I am naïve, and maybe this will come back to haunt me, but I feel that the really dangerous people are few and far between, and more likely to have their sights set on winning the next election than worrying about personally attacking me. Yes there are psychos and offensive people out there, but they are not as commonplace as we are led to believe.
If there does come a time that I feel worried or intimidated by blogging (web-logging if you prefer) then I will stop doing it. At the moment I feel there is far more to gain and the risks are minimal.
I would welcome comments from others on this topic - are we right to be wary, or is most of it overblown hype?
Saturday, October 01, 2005
I bought a new coat today as autumn is here and winter is just around the corner. But the amazing thing is the size. It is not a XXXL like the shirts I was buying back at the turn of the year; nor is it a XXL, like my previous coat; it is not even a XL. The size of this coat doesn’t have a single X in it. It is a “Large” and that’s it.
Some people might be disturbed at having to buy Large clothing, but to me it is an amazing achievement, and it’s difficult to try and get across just how bloody amazed I am at this.
In the shop they had this coat in four sizes – Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. Out of force of habit my wife found herself saying, as I picked one off the rack to take a closer look, “They don’t go up to…” and then caught herself and apologised.
I tried on the XL with a bit of trepidation: I’m aware that my XXL shirts are very baggy these days, but it’s a long time since I attempted to try on a XL item. So I was rather shocked to find that it seemed too big.
Giggling, almost like a nervous schoolboy, I reached out for the Large, took it off the coat hanger and tried it on. It fitted perfectly.
So I bought it before my body could change its mind.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Most of the time it contains entries that reflect the seriously sad and empty lives of those appearing in it. For example, this week there is mention of Charles Rogerson, a 32 year old man who was charged at Dumfries Sheriff Court for stealing 2 bottles of Vodka.
Every now and then a wee gem of attempted creativity threatens to break through. I loved this one:
A 22 year-old motorist was reminded in custody by the Sheriff [local magistrate] at Dumfries on Friday accused of driving while unfit through use of drink or drugs, driving carelessly and colliding with a fence, a car and then a cycle.
Thomas McClure of Summerville Crescent, Dumfries, pleaded not guilty to committing the offence on Thursday at Margaret Walk in the town.
He also denied driving while disqualified, failing to provide a breath test, using a car without insurance and attempting to pervert the course of justice by leaving the site, changing the top he was wearing and telling the police he had been in bed.
I can only guess that as he was in court to answer these charges, that his cunning plan of changing his shirt wasn't enough to fool our local constabulary