Love and Complication

Succession has got me started with thinking about Dads again.

Don’t worry, I won’t be doing any spoilers of that super TV series. I’ll keep it tidy.

I had wanted to see Succession for a long time. You know the one. HBO. Brian Cox as the leader of a multi-billion dollar media and entertainment conglomerate. A bit of a bastard. 

My friends, Marie and Katie, not only confirmed for me that it was indeed great fun but that it was also available for download from my basic Sky package. So, I got on it and we started watching regularly. I recommend it. It’s naughty and edgy and very well done. I’ll be sorry when we finish the two series’ that currently exist. We’re into the second as I type, one per night, lock down style.

Cox’s character, Logan Roy, is a pretty interesting one… for me at least. Apart from being a bastard and being colossally powerful while simultaneously being personally vulnerable, he also presents a heightened portrayal of the many different things that Dads are and can be.

Like a lot of other men, I get two shots at thinking about what it means to be a Dad. That’s because I am one and because I also had one. It’s a cloud I’ve looked at from both sides now.

So, what have I seen? 

Jees… I don’t know.

I know there’s a wide divergence between how I remember my own Dad and how I view myself as a Dad and I suppose that’s the reason why I’m sitting here, trying to type around this matter this morning. That’s also the reason why Succession comes into the thought process.

It’s about power. Well, it’s about a lot of things but it’s at least partly about power. I saw my Dad as a powerful person. To me he was a big man, able to take care of himself, nobody’s fool, kind and funny but not to be messed with. Though he never lifted a hand in anger against anyone, there was a not unpleasant feeling that there were lines that could not be casually crossed with him. I tried to think of a movie character who might evoke how I saw my Dad and the best I could come up with was the Burt Reynolds character in ‘Deliverance’ who was also the Lewis Medlock character in the James Dickey novel. Much more the person in the earlier part though, before that character’s failings and vulnerabilities began to show. Dad was an outdoors man, like Lewis. If he were stuck up a gorge without a paddle, he would fend for himself and the bad guys wouldn’t stand a goddamn chance.

There’s that gap in perception, right there. I could never imagine anyone perceiving me as someone of power, someone to be respectful of but also a touch wary of. For better of worse, these have grown to be traits that sort of define fatherhood for me. Don’t get me wrong, I reckon I’m a darned-good Dad, I certainly try my best at it and that hopefully counts for something.

But, even typing this as I am, without much of a plan or a road map, it strikes me that there are clearly two types of Dads in the world and they are poles apart. The Dads we had and the Dads we are.

Perhaps that’s part of the fascination with Logan Roy. As a character, he seems to stand astride both types of Dads (though mostly on the side of the one we had). Perhaps that’s what got me thinking.

And then the Dad/Child relationship changes so markedly as the years go on. Power and capability are unavoidably transferred. Something I saw in my own Dad's eyes years ago is now firmly settled in my head. A growing bafflement with the world. A dull surprise that an existence that for so long seemed incapable of change has finally begun to change irrevocably after all. The young generations have all the knowledge and stamina to exist effortlessly in the strange new world which has sprung up, while we, the Dads, seem increasingly out of place and out of depth with each passing year.

I look at Logan Roy on that telly programme and I dislike him. He is self-serving and cruel and merciless. But I love seeing him win too. He is a Dad’s Dad, he would survive up that canyon without a paddle. Man, he would bring that canyon down on everybody’s head and walk away smiling.

But he is fading too. A fading man. He doesn’t know when to stop pouring the coffee and then he piddles it out in the corner of his room. For all his high-power, the world is sailing past him as well.

Typing on, as I am, I am aware of people who will read this who never even got to meet their Dad. Also people who lost their Dad so recently that it is still so very raw (it is always a little raw). The Dad so recently passed, lives on in warm memory and stories and loving smiles. The Dad never known, gone so very long, still creates ripples of memory within the family. Those who knew him, evoke him meaningfully and we listen in quiet awe and wish we could have known him too.

For my part, I miss my own Dad, Eddie, gone now over eight years. Though the world whizzed on past him, as it does to us all, he never lost touch with it. He was never not funny or smart, never not someone to be respected and approached with care, never not the Father Figure.

It’s a messy post this week. It’s a messy subject. I think I’ll just go back to the next episode of Succession and see if that clears things up.

And, of course, it all makes a rough sort of sense when I think about it. I don’t feel about myself in the same way that I felt about my Dad and that is only right and proper. After all, I am not my Dad. I’m a Dad to two other people of the world and, in all likelihood, they will see me with all the love and complication that I did for my own Dad.

I can never see myself that way. How could I ever expect to?

It seems to make sense.

Blank Page Day

It only happens about once every year. And, here we are, it’s happening today.

I’m sitting here, all set to write my blog post for the week. Window open, sunshine streaming in, neighbour’s strimmer buzzing down the way. I’m raring to go. It’s just, well, you know… ‘bit embarrassing…

I don’t know what to write about.

Generally, the subject of the weekly post just presents itself at my feet. Sometimes I have to squeeze a bit.

What happened this week? What annoyed me? What made me smile? What do I reckon I’ve learned?

The main advantage I have is that I’m never really trying to impress anyone. That’s why it’s usually so easy to do. I don’t really care if you, the reader, are overly amused, outraged or educated. Any given post is just a tile in a mosaic that pretty-much fills a wall at this stage. I have nothing to gain and not much to lose from my weekly scribblings. That all serves to make it easier to do.

Except on weeks like this.

It’s not that nothing has happened this week. Lots of stuff happened. Just not the kind of stuff that congeals readily into a blog post.

Oh, oh, I got my haircut. My long-time haircutters and friends in Staunton’s have organised a very tight ship where nothing is too much trouble for them and where all the fun and banter still slips through the masks and the shields. My curly hair had caused a bit of a stir 'cos I stuck a photo up on Facebook and some people thought my ungainly locks had something to contribute. It was all quite flattering, but they had to go. I’m back to the shorter hair me now and I feel the better for it.

On days like these, where I can’t think of very much to say, there is always a nagging little fear. The fear that I might say too much. It’s fine when there is firm ground to stand on when you’re scribbling a post. But, on days like these, when you venture off in search of something to write, you can quickly find yourself down in the swamp dredging up something dubious and ever so slightly manky.

Sometimes all of this rambling stuff gets cut out. The very writing of rubbish like this sometimes prompts an idea. You run with that and then this first part becomes completely redundant, a mere prelude to the actual coherent post that evolved from it. Snip it off and leave it on the cutting room floor where it belongs and… and…

Nah. ‘Ain’t happening.

I could just post nothing this week. That might be the wise thing to do. I’m away tomorrow anyway so it’ll have to go up late tonight if it’s going to go up at all. Just give it a miss. Take one of your ‘weeks off'. I think I average about 45 posts a year so there are always quite a few ‘weeks off'. Let this be one of them. Nobody minds. I know, I know.

But, somehow, in the collective scheme of things, in the weeks where I’m busy saying absolutely nothing I’m still saying something in a strange sort of way.  A blank space contributes to the overall mosaic where no space at all gives nothing.

So here we are…

The weather’s been shit. I don’t mind so much. I still remember how extraordinary April and May were and I know we can’t have sunshine all the time or we’ll just be the Kalahari Desert and who the hell wants that anyway? Today is a little better than it has been.

There are a thousand things I would be better off doing than sitting here typing this pointless shit. But I like it. I know it’s part of the process of trying to create. You have to stay in the chair, you have to work the medium. It won’t happen if you don’t.

I’ll do better next week. At least, I hope I will. Something will happen. Something will occur. A post will issue. It won’t be much good, but, sure as fuck, it’ll be better than this.

Sorry for wasting your time today.

Thanks for reading.

Why are you still here?

Still Raining in the Woods

I got home from work the other evening and sat down to watch a bit of telly before dinner. On BBC2 there was this programme about a woman taking a series of walks through her home county of Yorkshire. I looked her up just now. Her name is Shanaz Gulzar and she’s a well-known artist.

The idea of the four-part series of programmes seemed to be that she would go on these walks, just her and her clever camera (more on that anon), but that she would approach the walks in a frame of mind that was completely open to all of the sensory possibilities around her. The one I saw was a fabulous stroll over beaches and cliffs into Whitby. Shanaz noted things like the patterns of the tides in the sand, the interspersing of wheat and barley in the fields, the butterflies along the path.

I must confess, I got quite hooked into it all.

But I have one other small confession to make.

The thing that initially hooked me into the programme was not the walk itself, nor was it the lovely sensory revelations along the way.

Alas, no.

It was her clever camera.

As I started to watch the show, the deal with her clever camera seemed straightforward. She had it mounted on the end of a stick, a bit like a selfie-stick, and she held the stick in her hand as she walked along, talking up to the camera on the end of it. No intrigue there.

But (and I can’t emphasise how much this this exercised me) when we saw the camera’s view, we could see Shanaz and we could see her glorious surroundings, but we couldn’t see the stick. We could see her hand, and it was clearly holding some kind of handle, but the stick itself was invisible.

I was baffled by this. I started to watch really carefully to see what it all meant. There were a number of drone shots, which accentuated the walk and the stick holding the camera could be seen in those shots. Also, when Shanaz’s shadow was visible, you could see the shadow of the stick quite plainly. But the camera simply vanished it. It rocked my Wednesday evening world a little.

I was so engaged that I called my sons into the room. Look, what witchcraft is this? They were mildly engaged but not nearly as excited as I was. They seemed to accept that this ‘stick vanishing’ is the kind of thing technology should be expected to do these days. But for me, it was other-worldly, it was Pierce Brosnan’s car.

I was like this for 3D printers at first too, until I got used to them.

So, anyway, after the show was over, I looked it up. It’s all there on YouTube, easily explained. You arrange the 3D camera so that it points directly away from the selfie stick. There’s a little ‘blind spot’ right at the back which the camera doesn’t pick it up. It fills in the scenery instead. It’s a great effect when you see it for the first time though, as I did this week. A little like that first sight of the Vertigo ‘Beach Dolly-Zoom’ in Jaws. (That’s on YouTube too, if you’re bothered).

So that was it. The camera issue was resolved.

But the programme kind of stayed.

Shanaz had a got a lot from her walk. She studied stuff, she chatted to the fellow-walkers she encountered along her way, she sat by a cliff edge and recited a poem.

I resolved that I would apply some of the things she did, the next time I walked in a beautiful place, though maybe not the poetry.
Later that evening, I had an errand to do. I’d left the car on the forecourt of the garage and I needed to walk down there and drive it home. At around ten o’clock, the rain finally stopped and so I set off. I’d just crossed over the main road when a thought occurred. I didn’t have to wait for some exceptional, beautiful walk to practice what Shanaz had been practicing. Any walk would do. So, as I walked along, I kind of opened myself up to everything that was going on around me. As soon as I started doing it, I knew that it was something that I really don’t do very often. I tend to wander around with my mind full of stuff and I don’t often pay too much heed to what’s going on outside of my own head.

So, this little exercise was an eye-opening experience.

Everything seemed to very alive and vibrant after the heavy rain of the day. All the weeds and wildflowers along the roadside were giving off deep, earthy scents, their leaves weighed down with raindrops. And, most remarkably, although the rain had stopped half an hour before, the leaves of the trees in the woodland around the hospital boundary were releasing their droplets slowly.

It was still raining in the woods.

As I traversed the shortcut path along the side of the hospital and made my way down through the town, my mind wandered, and I once more forgot about sensing what was around me. I was firmly back in my head again. The whole exercise probably lasted no more than four or five minutes.

But I must try it again sometime. Perhaps this post will serve as a statement of intent. Pay more attention, Ken, look around you a bit more.

I might do that.

I might get one of those cameras too…

PS If you have access to iPlayer (I don't) you can enjoy Shanaz's walks here and also marvel at the camera. :)

To Leave the World A Little Better Than How You Found It

I turned fifty-seven yesterday. There was pizza and cake, and everybody was very kind, social media being no exception. 

Thank you all.

I could say this birthday stuff is a time for reflection but this whole year has been pretty much a time for reflection, as well as for everything else. Worry, fear trepidation, uncertainty. You know the score as well as I do. I won’t harp on.

On my birthday morning, I went out and returned some overdue books via the library letterbox. I also delivered a single bag of nice quality clothes to the charity shop. (“It’s good stuff, I promise.” “I believe you.”) On the way home, past the police station, there was a superficially-roguish-looking man whose car wouldn’t start. I offered to give him a push. In my blue zip up thing, I might have looked like a policeman, albeit the scruffiest one is history, so I mimed a car-push upon my approach so as to assure him that I wasn't coming to re-arrest him or anything. Another guy, who also offered to help, started complaining about his back as soon as the socially distanced pushing began so it was mostly down to me. The car lurched, puttered, and shuddered into life before driving off with a roguish wave out of the passenger window. Job well done.

My ambitions have tempered quite a lot as the years have passed. At nine I may have wanted to play James Bond and at many other ages I might have envisaged the Oscar-winning screenplay. Now, upon birthday and lock-down reflection, I find that I only really want one thing: to leave the world a little better than the way I found it.

Not in any lofty way. If there’s a solitary piece of litter on the town green, I may pick it up and bin it. If you need a hand with your bag because you bought too much stuff in the shop, I may give you a carry. I’m not pressuring myself to find the Covid Antidote or bring home Shergar. Some littler things will do. Just enough so that an account which might be totted up at the end of the day might end up in the black rather than in the red.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m nobody’s saint, nobody’s hero. I make just as many messes as anyone else and quite a few more than most. I’m curmudgeonly and miserable at times. I don’t project any angelic beams by which mortals might find their way.

I’m a bit of a git, to be honest.

But I don’t really understand people who don’t think like this. The person who dropped the scrap of litter that I picked up. By that action, the world is now just a little bit worse. Why bother? Stick it in a bin, move on. It ain’t hard. These tiny things might not redeem us. They might not save our world. It will take altogether bigger things to help to achieve that and my fifty-seven-year-old ambitions no longer stretch toward those things.

But, if I can’t make the world very much better, at least I can make it a little less worse for my having been here. 

It’s not the worst ambition to have, is it?

This small post is dedicated to Penelope O’Reilly, who left the world a far better place on account of her having been in it, here, with us.