Monday, October 31, 2005

Pumpkins


Rogan doing his pumpkin impression!

Happy Halloween!


Meg went to the school Halloween disco the other night and insisted on being made up as a witch.

Sometimes a proud dad just can't resist showing off his wee lass!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Blistering Fingertips

I started playing the mandolin about 15 years ago. I’d had a guitar since I was 10, but one or two people I knew had mandolins, and I must admit I thought they were pretty cool. I’d never particularly been into folk music, and even today it’s not usually my first choice to listen to, but it is fun to play.

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

Patriotism

I was over at Asher Hunter’s blog when I noticed in his sidebar a quote, which I thought was probably from some current anti-Bush/Blair activist, but got a shock when I saw who the quote was actually from. I then went to the Urban Legends Reference Pages, which I’ve always found is a good source for separating fact from rumour, and they confirmed it to be true.

"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

Happy Birthday to Me…

39 Today!

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

Found through the search engines

I’ve been checking the visitor stats for the site recently, and one of the most fascinating aspects is, not how many visitors I’ve had, but the last page they were on before turning up here.

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

Why we stopped doing the lottery

When the National Lottery came out in the UK, around 12 or 13 years ago, like many people in the country we started regularly buying a weekly ticket. In those days a million pounds would give you a millionaire lifestyle (not now, apparently - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4351880.stm) and the National Lottery was often paying out over £8 million on a weekly basis.

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

Rammstein

When my friend Dave came to stay with us recently, he brought with him a few CDs of music, one of which was by Rammstein, a German Heavy/Industrial Metal band.

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.

El-Branden Brazil's Cyber Exhibition

Branden is one of the few people I’ve known for over 30 years that is actually younger than me. There is much that is interesting about this man, but just now I would like to plug his photography.

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

What is an Agnostic?

There are those who believe in God and those who don’t. And there are many people who sit on the fence and call themselves agnostic. However, most of these people are not really agnostic, they are procrastinators. They are hoping they can wing it when the time comes.

And yet…

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

Life is good

I know the British have a tendency to talk endlessly about the weather, and I have tried to avoid it in this blog. However, today the sun is out and it is a very pleasant Autumn day. This is in complete contrast to the past several days, which have been dreich (find a Scots dictionary and look it up) to say the least. Most of last week was just dull, grey and overcast, and the past few days have been full of torrential rain and howling gales too.

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

101 things about me...

Here it is. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions (red updates put in 31st December 2011)

  1. I have a degree in Philosophy
  2. I play the mandolin
  3. I have 2 children, 3 step-children and 2 3 step-grandchildren, although after nearly 15 21years of knowing them the “step” part of the step-children feels superfluous
  4. I used to run my own web design business
  5. I am now a writer portrait photographer.
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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…
  9. My wife loves me the same way
  10. 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
  11. If I hadn’t given up smoking, my relationship with Maggie would never have developed because she’s always been a non-smoker
  12. 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…”
  13. I lost my virginity at 15 years old to a girl who was in the year above me at school.
  14. I play the guitar
  15. I’d love to be a comic book writer highly paid, internationally renowned, sought-after portrait photographer
  16. When I was a kid I wanted to be an Astronaut when I grew up. I still do.
  17. I love being a Dad
  18. I am 5’ 7” tall first thing in the morning
  19. When I was 20 I split up with my girlfriend 5 weeks before we were due to get married
  20. I find the idea of a benevolent God watching over us as laughable
  21. My highest recorded weight was 275 pounds
  22. I used to indulge in a variety of illegal drugs. I haven’t touched any since I was 22 years old
  23. I hate not being in control
  24. 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.
  25. My daughter has Downs Syndrome, which isn’t as scary as I’d feared it would be
  26. 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
  27. 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
  28. I was once sent an appointment card from the medical centre for a cervical smear
  29. 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.
  30. 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.
  31. I love meeting people from different cultural backgrounds – diversity is one of the greatest things about the human race
  32. 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.
  33. I left school at 16 and returned to education 7 years later
  34. I got my degree at Dundee University.
  35. I spent a year at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, on a Student Exchange Programme
  36. When I returned from Canada I helped set up the Dundee University International Club
  37. 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
  38. I’m allergic to cats
  39. I have an older brother and a younger sister, and I always felt like the odd one out.
  40. Blackberry Crumble is the greatest desert in the world
  41. When the kids leave home I want to have a 2 seater sports car
  42. When the kids leave home we would like to go and spend 3 months every winter living in a different city in different countries.
  43. 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.
  44. 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
  45. I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Wales where there was a fair amount of hostility to the English
  46. I was bullied at school until I was 11 years old, when I refused to back down any more
  47. I founded ClacksNet - a voluntary organisation that helps local community groups build websites
  48. My father is an artist
  49. 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
  50. I have a bouzouki which I really should play more often is now my main instrument - I play it more than any other
  51. 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
  52. I used to teach philosophy at adult education evening classes. I’m seeing if I can set up something similar in this part of Scotland I taught them here for 2 years, then the local council stopped funding and supporting adult education evening classes
  53. 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
  54. 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.
  55. I once played my mandolin in a duet with a woman from Hong Kong who played the Yang Chin (like a hammer dulcimer)
  56. When I was 21 I caught scabies, the cure for which was eye-wateringly painful
  57. I was once involved in a threesome and it was far less fun than I’d imagined
  58. I practice Tai Chi most days
  59. I grew a beard because I hate shaving. My wife has never seen my chin
  60. 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
  61. I’ve always felt slightly ashamed that I can only speak one language
  62. 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.
  63. 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.
  64. I used to believe in the immortality of the soul. Now I don’t.
  65. 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.
  66. 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.
  67. I’m a Scorpio and Year of the Horse, and I don’t really believe in astrology…
  68. 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).
  69. Maggie and I have been together for nearly 15 over 21 years and married for 10 16
  70. 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
  71. I have lost over 65 90 pounds in the past 8 months 6 years
  72. I organised 2 conferences for the Scottish Drugs Training Project in 1997
  73. I can talk endlessly, which is a trait I inherited from my mother
  74. 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
  75. When I smoked I would often paint tobacco tins for friends in exchange for ½ ounce of baccy
  76. I drive a Mazda 3
  77. 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
  78. I once went out with a lesbian, who only dated me so that her boss would think she was straight
  79. I am very non-judgemental, unless I perceive you to be a threat to my family in which case I am extremely judgemental
  80. 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.
  81. I only learned to iron shirts this year 6 years ago
  82. 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
  83. My mother was an incredible pianist, although I never appreciated it at the time
  84. Despite the fact that he is four years older than me, my brother is sometimes mistaken as my younger brother
  85. I enjoy logic problems
  86. My eyes are grey, although depending on what I am wearing or the lighting, they can appear blue or green
  87. 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
  88. 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.
  89. 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
  90. I have a habit of giving 30 minute answers to questions when a 30 second one would do
  91. 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
  92. 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
  93. 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…
  94. My favourite comedians are Eddie Izzard, Jack Dee, Paul Merton and Dara O’ Briain
  95. 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
  96. I helped my stepson to raise £2,000 for a cancer charity when he did a 100km hike in the Sahara Desert
  97. If I had the money I’d buy an Aston Martin DB9. If I had unlimited money, I would buy a reconditioned Jaguar XK140
  98. 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.
  99. 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.
  100. 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.
  101. I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Not yet 101 things...

When I go visiting other blogs for the first time, I’ll read a couple of the latest entries, then I often flick back to their first couple of postings to try and get an idea of who they are and where they are coming from. Of course, most of the time I’m still none the wiser.

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

Father and Son

Last year I read a book called “Manhood” by Steve Biddulph and I would heartily recommend it to any guy who has wondered about what his role as father, husband and worker is all about, and why he feels his life just doesn’t match up to how he thought it would turn out. As middle-aged-midlife-crisis-man, it felt like it had been written especially for me.

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.

Only 10%

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

Get ahead, get a hat…

I’ve never been one for wearing hats. The exception was when I was in Canada on a student exchange programme 13 years ago. Baseball caps seemed to be de rigueur across the North American continent, and I needed something to keep the leaves/snow/rain/sun out of my eyes. But once back here in the UK, well, it just looked silly to be honest: baseball caps were things worn by teenagers, and were usually worn facing backwards for that matter.

Kim with a hatBut 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

The dangers of not being anonymous...

I received a comment today on my post about the Anonymous Blog. As I started to reply I realised that I had more to say than just a couple of lines, so I've put it as a posting. Immediately below is the comment I got from an Anonymous Blogger, and below that is my reply.


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...)

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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

Clothes sizes without an X in them

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.

Bloody Hell!

So I bought it before my body could change its mind.