Monday, January 30, 2006

7 Things Meme

I’ve been tagged by Dr Maroon with a 7x7 meme, where you answer 7 lots of 7 questions about yourself, including listing 7 other people you’d like to see their answers. It may well just be a poor excuse to fill another blog entry, but it can be a bit of fun too. So, here’s mine…

Seven things to do before I die
Climb up to Machu Picchu
Create a best selling album
Write a best selling novel
Go in to space
Learn another language
Own an Aston Martin
Write a best selling graphic novel

Seven movies I love
Road to Perdition
Blues Brothers
Fifth Element
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Super Size Me
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Life of Brian
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Pulp Fiction
(OK, more than seven, but I couldn’t whittle it down any lower)

Seven books I love
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series
Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series
Neil Gaimen’s Sandman series
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy
Asterix the Gaul series
Steven Biddulph’s Manhood
Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh

Seven things I say
You know
Do you want the 30 minute or the 30 second answer?
I love being a Dad
Rogan, stop hassling me!
Meg, if you do that again you’ll get no story at bedtime!

Seven things that attract me to… (insert your choice) people
Lateral thinking
Inner Peace
Skills I don’t possess
Independent thought

Seven things I can't do
Speak another language
Cold calling
Believe in God
Watch football (soccer), rugby or cricket
Vote conservative

Seven people to tag
Of course the problem here is that most bloggers I know have already been tagged with this one, so my apologies if you’ve been done before:
Asher Hunter
Tara Marie
Beloved Life

Friday, January 27, 2006

Dark Humour

As we were leaving the supermarket this afternoon, a guy was collecting for charity with a tin which he rattled in front of everyone at the door.

"Disabled Children?" he said as he thrust the tin forwards.

"No thanks, we've already got one" was the reply that almost came bursting from my lips. Quite where I got that one from I have no idea, but as I was pushing the trolly back towards the car, wondering what kind of twisted humour I possess, I glanced round to see Maggie smirking.

"You were thinking the same thing, weren't you?" I levelled at her.

"Yes" she replied a bit guiltily.

I didn't feel so bad after that.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Boy Named Kim

Growing up with the name Kim hasn't always been easy. In my life I have met countless females who have shared my name, but never a man. Oh I’ve heard of them, and occasionally been told that someone has a friend, cousin or work colleague who is both male and called Kim, but I’ve never met one in the flesh.

I know that there is a Labour Politician called Kim Howells, that Rudyard Kipling wrote a book called Kim, that there might be an Australian cricketer or two called Kim and there was once quite a famous British spy/double agent called Kim Philby, but I never met any of them.

As a child, when meeting kids (and occasionally adults) for the first time, the most common response was “Kim? But that’s a girl’s name!”, or “My sister’s called Kim and she’s a girl!”, or they would start calling me Tim, Jim or Ken, assuming that they had misheard what I’d actually said. It was so rare for someone not to make comment on my name that I found I was always waiting for the reaction as soon as I told someone. Consequently there has never been a time in my life when I don’t inwardly prepare myself for a negative response, a fraction of a second before any introduction.

As a teenager, I would have given anything to be called Steve.

Steve, was a guy’s name. There was no mistaking a Steve for a girl. Steve was the name of the Bionic Man – a guy so manly and tough that half his body was a machine. He was stronger, faster and had better eyesight than any ordinary Joe. He was beyond a man. Huge tough guys were like 7 stone weaklings compared to Steve Austin. Then there was Steve McQueen; a real man’s man. Cool. Strong. Didn’t say much because he didn’t need to. He didn’t have to be in touch with his feminine side because he could ride motorbikes across enemy lines, and drive cars really fast around the streets of San Francisco.

At school, Steve was the good looking one who pulled the birds. Shoulder length, wavy hair and all the girls fancied him. If I could have just hung around with him, I could have got off with the girls who wanted him, but because he was with their mate would settle for me until he became free again, and in the meantime get closer to this testosterone ridden demi-god. However, Paul had already got that role, so I just had to put up with watching, with bitter envy, as all the girls crowded around him and ignored me.

When you’re given a girl’s name you have to rebel against it. You have to become more masculine, more manly. You have to sleep with more women and drink more beer to prove your manhood – not just once, but again and again and again. Then, by your 8th birthday, you start on the whisky…

Ever since I was 5 I wanted to grow a beard. At 13, Steve was shaving twice a day, but my chin was still as smooth as the day I was born until I was 15, and then it was just the faintest bit of fluff. By the time I was 18 I had a moustache that was beginning to look like a moustache rather than a dirty mark I hadn’t washed off after dinner. Unfortunately, around this time Freddy Mercury was sporting a hairy upper lip and having a moustache now meant that you were gay. I wasn't actually able to properly grow a beard until I was in my early 20s, but you can be sure that I've never had a bare chin since.

As a grown up, the reactions haven’t usually been so bad, as most adults understand that laughing out loud and pointing a finger at me isn’t the most mature of responses. Over the years the reactions have moved from openly verbal to not-very-well-suppressed body language and facial expressions of disbelief. However, this is an improvement of sorts, as at least it doesn’t tend to draw the attention of everyone in a 10-yard radius. But I have still had to endure more than 20 years of letters that are titled “Ms”, people phoning for me yet asking for my wife when I answer, and still, some people just come out and say “But that’s a girl’s name,” as if they are revealing some secret that might never have occurred to me.

However, there have been a couple of benefits.

When I was 15 and was going out with a girl called Rebecca, who’s father would have happily castrated any young man caught in the vicinity of his daughter, she was able to phone me while her parents were in the same room, knowing that if they overheard her saying “Is Kim there?” and making arrangements to meet up with me, that they would never suspect I was anything other than one of her female friends.

The other advantage has been that people do remember me much more easily and this definitely had benefits in business. During the course of your average business networking meeting, you will meet countless Johns, Davids and Steves, and after a while they all blur into each other. However, everyone will remember the fat bearded guy with the girl’s name.

Would I change it? No, I’m used to it now. A lifetime of dealing with people’s reactions means that it’s no longer a big deal. Did it have an affect on the naming of my own son? Too bloody right it did. There was no way I was going to burden my son with a name that was in any way feminine.

And yet, Rogan is not your everyday, common, young man’s name. I have never met another person called Rogan, but I knew that I didn’t want to call my son John, David or Steve. I did want him to experience something of being a bit different as, in the end, I feel my name has helped to shape the person I have become. A bit more individual, capable of standing on his own two feet and having an innate distrust of the herd mentality – these are qualities I would like my son to share.

But don’t expect any Johnny Cash songs to be rewritten for either of us in the near future.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Capital Punishment

In the comments of my last post, I was asked to comment on a subject that has cropped up on another blog, about my attitude towards capital punishment.

I started to write in the comments box and realised that there was an entire blog posting's worth by the time I'd finished. As it's been a few days since I last posted anything here I thought I may as well put it here instead...

The question about capital punishment is always one about the state. It is about what kind of country do we want to live in, by what laws, and what fears.

The arguments in favour of capital punishment are generally three-fold: deterrent, punishment and revenge. And it fails in all three of these things.

As a deterrent it makes no difference at all. Anyone who is going to commit a crime such as murder is either doing it in the heat of the moment, in which case they are not thinking of the consequences, or is convinced that they will not be caught, or is prepared to be martyred for their cause. Let's face it, if 20 or 30 years in jail is not going to make you think twice, then being hung/gassed/electrocuted/injected isn’t either.

As a punishment, it can be argued that death is the easy way out. When a criminal is executed they are no longer experiencing any punishment, physically, mentally or emotionally. And certainly they cannot then learn from the experience.

As revenge, it is the most dangerous of things if carried out by the state. Revenge is an emotion that drives an individual to extreme acts. It cannot and should not be driven by a state system - a detached judge and a set of well-paid lawyers.

This is all quite apart from the prospect of a miscarriage of justice. In the UK, for example, during the ‘70s several Irish terrorists were locked away after causing horrible deaths and maiming to ordinary people in series of pub bombings. The crimes were horrific, and if the death penalty had been available as an option to the judges, then it would have been instigated.

But, it turned out, 20 years later, that they didn't actually do the crimes and had in fact been fitted up by the police who were under pressure from an outraged public to do something about it.

The crime may be horrific, but that doesn't justify killing people who "might" have done it.

Every time our government strips away more of our liberties and freedoms, by saying the innocent have nothing to fear, we are in greater danger of miscarriages of justice.

For these reasons I am against capital punishment.

But what, the question goes, if the hideous crime was perpetrated against someone you love and hold dear? Then you would want the bastard dead!

The answer is yes, I would, and I would try and find a way to make it happen. But I would then have to take the consequences of that.

If someone had beaten, raped and killed my daughter, at that point I would no longer care about my life. Ending the perpetrator's would be my only thought. My life would, in effect, be over, as I cannot imagine recovering from such a trauma, so I may as well sacrifice it going after the bastard myself.

But if I killed the assailant, then I will have murdered someone's son/brother/father, and I would have to pay the price for that.

It might sound warped, but I think that revenge is for the individual, not the state, but then they have to pay the price for going down that route. They cannot say I killed him, but I was justified therefore I should go free. The decision about what happens to the person who commits a bloody act of revenge has to be made by the justice system.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Baking a cake

Stress is something that affects us all in different ways, and we all have a variety of coping mechanisms (or not-coping mechanisms would probably be a more accurate description). For married men, or those in a long-term relationship, sooner or later you learn the tell tale signs of a partner under pressure.

Some men have to cope with wives who suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction. Others are trying to support their spouses through postnatal depression, or dealing with financially crippling retail addiction. A few even have to cope with violent or aggressive behaviour.

For me, it’s baking. Given everything we’ve been going through lately I shouldn’t have been too surprised to smell flour, sugar and butter being mixed together in various alchemical ratios.

Maggie has been away for a few days, helping my stepdaughter settle back into her flat and talk to various official people, and yesterday we drove up to Central Scotland to bring her back home to a family with an emotional Maggie shaped hole in it. There is much to happen over the next few months as my stepdaughter rebuilds her and her children’s lives, but for the moment there is a brief lull.

As I wandered into the kitchen I found Maggie using the scone cutters to make scones out of the mix on the worktop, which were ready for eating when I got home from collecting Meg from school.

No one makes warm, squidgy combinations of sugar, salt and fat like Maggie and they are absolutely impossible to resist. But given that we are trying to restore our healthy eating regime after the gluttonous season, it does deal something of a body-blow.

However, I don’t have to deal with physical or financial violence, depression, drug or alcohol addiction from her, so if eating a bit of cake and a few warm, buttery scones is all I need to put up with, then I’m not going to complain.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rights of the Father

On my posting Father and Son, I received this comment:

Anonymous said...
what of the fathers who want to parent but are denied. does the child suffer from the absence of this bond and hopefully positive experience. who does have the right to deny the child of his father especially when the father wants this role

Now I only allow anonymous comments so that my less technically literate friends might be encouraged to comment here occasionally, although I do ask for them to leave a name so that I know who it’s from. This one had no name so I have no idea if it's from a friend, a regular reader or just someone passing through who will never be back.

However, given a particular set of circumstances we are in, it got me thinking.

You see, normally I would think about how devastated I would feel if I was denied access to my children, and how this gives me a great deal of sympathy for organisations such as Fathers 4 Justice, but recent developments in our family have forced me to reflect on this from another angle.

My stepdaughter and her two children have been staying with us for the past week, since she became a victim of domestic violence. In other words, her partner beat her up and she has some shocking bruises all over her body. It transpires that this is not the first time, although it is certainly the worst to date, and it is clear that he has also been mentally, emotionally and verbally abusing her for a long time.

When she was 16, my stepdaughter had a stroke, leaving her with little use of her right arm and she still has limited use of her right leg. So when he shoves her over, it’s a harder struggle to get back up again. This alcohol and drug-abusing Wee-Glasgow-Hardman clearly needs to show what a man he is by doing her down.

I don’t intend to write about the processes of going to the police, of the vileness of domestic abuse, or of trying to find ways to re-empower a woman who has experienced much to make her feel disempowered. This posting is about whether I think a child needs to have their biological father in their life.

The rights of the father need to be offset and counterbalanced with the responsibilities of the father. As well as being a provider, a parent is a teacher and role model. How we learn what it is to be a part of the human race comes not only from what we are told, but what we see and what we experience.

When my wife and I discussed the idea of changing our lives, of me selling the business and the both of us pursuing careers and a lifestyle that we really wanted, despite all the financial and emotional risks, one of the arguments in favour was the example it set to the children. We could have carried on with a financially more secure life, but what lesson would that have taught them? That you give up your dreams for the sake of security? No. Ultimately, what we wanted to do was show them, in a way that words alone would never be able to demonstrate, that life is what you make it.

With this philosophy at our core, we can’t help but feel that our grandchildren will learn from the example of their mother, that you don’t have to put up with abuse, that you can take control of your life, and that no one has the right to inflict that abuse on anyone.

Children do need a positive male role model in their lives and ideally that role model should be their father (and preferably there should be more than one, in the shape of relatives, teachers, community leaders etc). But if the father is an abuser, then I would say that the children are better off without him on the scene. For if he is about, then what kind of example is being set? What cycles of abuse are going to be continued for another generation?

Bringing up children is a stressful activity, and under stress, unless we work hard to change it, we are most likely to react in the way that we learned as children - at the time when the pathways were burned into our brains – the way our parents reacted. And so our children learn from how we react.

Yes, ideally, the father should be about for his children, but only if the example he sets is a positive one. Otherwise, the lesser of evils is that he stays away.

Monday, January 09, 2006

From Order to Chaos

How quickly our ordered, peaceful lives can turn to complete chaos.

My stepdaughter is staying with us with her two children, aged eight months and two years. Nappies (diapers), bottles, high pitched screams, random bed times, a house not designed and laid out for toddlers into everything (shelves at low levels, lots of stairs and no stair-gates) are beginning to take their toll.

One of the fundamental differences between youth and middle age is that when you’re young you’re adaptable and put up with things, and as you get older, you become engrained in your habits and funny-little-ways, so lay out your house in a way that suits you, rather than visitors. So when the number of occupants are virtually doubled with a completely different set of age ranges and needs, it takes very little time before running off to join the Foreign Legion begins to take on a romantic allure.

As I write, my 8 month old grandson is screaming for his bottle, my 10 year old son is showing his 2 year old niece how to play a variety of intensely irritating electronic noises on a toy turtle she got for Christmas, and my wife is yelling at my 7 year old daughter who is shut in the bathroom and can’t seem to get the lock undone.

There was a time when this was just everyday. When the three older stepchildren were all living at home and our two were little, we had everything from smelly nappies through teenage angst and university drop out in the house at the same time.

But the older ones have all left home, and the younger ones are old enough to see to their own toilet habits, while young enough not to want to be borrowing the car or get pregnant. And frankly, I’ve been enjoying the peace of only having 2 children to worry about.

It’s quite scary just how quickly the sense of security and peace can be replaced by chaos and panic.

Now, do I look under “F” for French, or “L” for Légion étrangère…

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Answer to Life

There was once a time when, in order to find the answer to life, you would have to trek many hundreds of miles and endure terrible trials and hardship, before finding a guru on a remote mountain who might reveal the secret to what it was all really about. These days of course, all you need to do is look it up on the Internet.

Oh, if it were only that straightforward!

If you use a search engine, then once you get past Douglas Adam’s “42” as the ultimate answer to Life, The Universe and Everything, you find that there is a vast array of competing theories, some of which will cost you as little as $29.95 to find enlightenment. The problem is that there is too much information out there; how are we to know what to believe and what to ignore? I just don’t have time to read, digest and debate every crackpot theory of the universe that exists on the web alone.

In a world where our food, entertainment and politics is neatly pre-packaged and handed to us in easily digestible chunks, we want our spirituality presented to us in the same way. But at the same time we have become increasingly media savvy. We know that every time someone tells us something, they have an agenda. Truth is not something that is universal and handed out for free; truth is something relative, contextual and comes with a price tag.

In a previous age the only religion available to most people was the one they were brought up in. If you had a crisis of faith, then either your priest would guide you through it, or you would be burned at the stake as a heretic. Simple days, simple choices. But these days, we now know that there is not just one religion out there, but hundreds, possibly thousands, many of which are telling us that we are doomed to hell if we don’t chose theirs. But then aren’t we sold that idea every time we buy something?

Buy ours, because if you buy anyone else’s then you can’t be assured of the quality”; or “Buy ours, because if you buy anyone else’s then you will have paid too much for what is essentially the same thing after all”; or “Buy ours, because if you buy anyone else’s then you just won’t look as cool and other people will snigger at you.” In other words, we are constantly being told that if we don’t make the right decision then we will suffer.

Sometimes we get suckered in, but increasingly we get wise to the tricks. We want value for our time and money. We want to know that we haven’t wasted out hard earned dollars on something that is second rate, or won’t live up to its promise, and this is where most religions fall down. What guarantees can they offer me that theirs is the right one? Lets face it, I could waste a vast amount of my time and resources obeying the scriptures and worshipping in what I have been told is the right way, only to discover that it was a complete waste of time; either because it was the wrong religion, or because the whole God and afterlife thing might be nothing but a myth anyway.

After all, many people only go to church as a form of insurance: like when you buy a washing machine, you don’t expect it to break, but then the salesperson fills you with enough doubts so you end up paying the extra for the peace of mind. Likewise most people aren’t really worried about God and the afterlife, but feel that if they go to church when there’s a wedding or funeral, and occasionally pray, then if it turns out that there is a God after all then they should be covered.

But we are consummate consumers and used to looking for a bargain. Why say 6 Hail Mary’s to gain forgiveness from God for a transgression if we can find a competing religion that will allow us to get it for only 5?

Is Sony really better than Goodmans? Will the Goodmans DVD Recorder not do the job just as well as the Sony but for a fraction of the price, or will my quality of life be significantly improved if I go for the better branded product? Is Buddhism likely to advance my soul better than Shinto? Is Catholicism better than Methodist because there are more followers, or is Mormonism better because it’s newer?

Many religions just haven’t understood the sophistication of the modern consumer. If I was to ask an executive at Hewlett Packard how I was to know that their printer was the right one for me, I wouldn’t be very impressed if he was to say, “well you must have faith!” Likewise it would take more than a “because it says so in our corporate manual” to convince me that I should heed the advice of the Haagen-Dazs salesman telling me that Häagen-Dazs is better ice cream than Ben & Jerry's.

But we’re back to the problem of the sheer number of voices competing for our attention. The truth might be out there but how are you ever going to know where it is if everyone tells you that theirs in the right one? How can we find anyone who will help us make sense of it all?

These days, even if we trekked many hundreds of miles and endured terrible trials and hardship, before finding a guru on a remote mountain, would we necessarily believe what he had to say?

But then, the trek to find the guru was never really about finding him. It was never the destination, but the journey that was the all-important part of the quest. It is on the journey that we discover who we are, what we are capable of, and how we can create our own destiny by taking control of our lives.

The answer to life is as individual as the person seeking it.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


2005 was a year of great change, again. The difference for us this time is that it was changes of our own making. We moved house, changed our lifestyle, changed our careers and started eating healthily, as we set out to improve the quality and direction of out lives.

There is no doubt that our lives are considerably better than they have ever been, but it does not stop here. In many ways we have just been clambering to the starting point. As well as the changes and upheavals, 2005 was largely about healing, about recovering from some of the traumas of the past few years, about feeling that our lives could be worthwhile.

Now we have the opportunity to build on that. This year I will develop the writing and really make a go of it, and Maggie will grow and develop her textile art.

It’s New Year’s Day; at this moment in time it is sunny outside; and the future is bright, because we are creating the future we want.

If you don’t like the life you have, then make the decision to start on the path that will change it for the better.

I wish you the best and brightest of years to come!