• A dad in the playground

    Empty playground equipment
    Play by the rules (Photo by Ward Mercer)

    I spent the recent Father’s Day in a pub garden playing with my kid. A girl came up to me and enthusiastically tried to get me to join in her game. She grabbed hold of my hand and tried to lead me off round the playground. 

    Paedo paranoia alert

    I flinched. I pulled my hand away. I tried to stand at a nonchalant distance from her. Why? Fear that the parent might look up from their smartphone and see a strange man ‘interfering with my child’. 

    Two depressing realisations:

    • The reason this child was so eager for my attention was that I was the only adult showing any interest in playing with a kid. Whoever was their parent was too busy with their smartphone. 
    • Though I would have been quite happy to play with the child, my fear of engaging with someone else’s child sent the clear message to this kid that I didn’t want to play, just like every other adult. 

    Saudi-style isolationism

    It’s a strange social phenomenon when we can’t be bothered to play with our kids (we’d rather look at anything, anything on our phones), but at the same time don’t want anyone else outside their age bracket to play with them. 

    The result is bizarre playgrounds like the one I found myself in, where children play with each other. Then occasionally a dad (it’s usually a dad, making up for his absence throughout the week) appears in the ring and they all want to engage him. But he will be careful to only play with his own child, and no one else’s. 

    Children have entered a realm akin to women in Saudi Arabia, able to interact only with members of their own family. For their own protection, you understand. Ironic, since I’m sure the experts are always telling us most abusers are family members. 

    What I should have done

    Hindsight is bliss. Afterwards, someone suggested what I should have done. That is, ask the child who their parent was, introduce myself, and ask them if perhaps they’d like to pop the smartphone away and come play, too! 

    While we’re on the subject of what males should do, apparently Boys Don’t Like Flowers

  • Brexit and morality

    ‘Democracy’ and ‘the right thing to do’: we’ve heard a lot about both from British Prime Minister Theresa May over the past few years. Everyone claims the moral high ground on the issue of Brexit

    But this was never about democracy. It was always a power struggle: one that began inside the British Conservative Party and was allowed the spill out of pubs and sitting rooms into the political mainstream. 

    “You don’t want a referendum and neither do I”

    When Mrs May spoke these words in her live address to the nation on 20 March, it was yet another example of the echo chamber politics of Brexit. She has only ever spoken for Leave voters. 

    Mrs May is as instinctively Brexiteer as her opposite number, Jeremy Corbyn. Both have insular notions of a strong, centralised state and are uncomfortable with globalised fluidity. 

    Carry on until you vote the right way

    Before the 2016 referendum, Nigel Farage speculated that if the Leave campaign lost narrowly, it would not be the end of the issue. Yet it was remarkable how quickly Mrs May decided that the wafer-thin result had been the final, definitive will of the entire nation. 

    She persistently repeats the idea that democracy will be fatally undermined by another poll. Yet this isn’t principle, otherwise why does she keep asking MPs to vote again on her Brexit deal?

    Mrs May doesn’t want another referendum because she is happy with the result achieved the first time out. Mr Corbyn is of the same mind, with the subtle difference that he wants to be in Number 10 instead of Mrs May.

    But don’t mind me. It turns out I’m so old the only politician I understand anymore is the Right Honourable Ken Clarke

  • Who’s to blame for my troubles?

    Man with his head in his hands
    Why me? (Photo by Sholto Ramsay)

    Responsibility in an indifferent universe: it’s been a cause of anguish ever since we became conscious beings. I get that. It’s virtually the reason religion exists.

    But that recurring image of the wailing mother in a war zone – the one newsreels show on repeat – is one we all feel sorrow for. Oh course we do. Why? Because she is the victim of random tragedy.

    If I shape my world…then what?

    But flip things for a second. Don’t we all grow up being told – believing – that the better person I am, the better the world will treat me? Isn’t that hardwired into us? That’s the moral baseline.

    If I act in a certain way – positively, assertively, without anger, compassionately, altruistically – that will come back to me in a more content, more fulfilled life, right?

    (I suppose one answer is that such actions simply improve your quality of life, barring random tragedy or an act of God, depending on your belief.)

    If that is our hardwired positive, what does our subconscious make of tragedy? Does it need meaning too? If it does, what answers are there in the dark recesses of the mind?

    It’s your fault

    If something bad happens, is it just the tipping point of too many bad thoughts or deeds? And even if there’s no God doing the scolding, do trivial bad or negative actions lead to a situation where more bad can happen to you?

    Obviously, these dark recesses are sometimes not so hidden. Remember Glenn Hoddle and his weird hypothesis on people with disabilities? How many of the devoutly religious harbour similar instincts?

    For those without the comfort of religion, fully confronting the reality of an indifferent, random universe is still an uneasy place to be. But it’s useful. It might even deepen our compassion.

    That’s my thought for the day. What got me started? Charles Foster’s weird and wonderful Being A Beast: An intimate and radical look at nature