A Design For Life

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

The ‘Epicurean Epitaph’, a quote attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, often now used at humanist funerals.epicurus-3

I found myself thinking about this yesterday, prompted by a Facebook meme.

It doesn’t just apply to a way of looking at death. It can also be a way of looking at life.

The basis of Epicurus’ philosophy after all, his lifestyle and that of his friends and followers, was looking for the things that make us happy and then as much as possible having those things in our lives.

Not in Hedonism: self-indulgent and unrestrained behaviour – a common misunderstanding of his ideas – but more in a satisfaction with life: involving moderation, respect for others and friendship.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

This could just as much be about happiness as it is a way of coping with the concept of our mortality. We all have peaks and troughs in our lives. There are times when things seem to be going well, when we’re making progress, when we’ve achieved some of our goals and are looking to continue onwards.

There are other times when life seems bleak, when nothing seems to work, where everything is going wrong – even to the extent that we give up hope.

Basic needs like food & water, shelter, safety, health, relationships. Simply said – not so simply achieved! Certainly not all at once. Sometimes we seem to have them all; other times none of it!

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

‘A while back’ – I’m shocked sometimes when I think about just how long ago it was! – I was living and working in and around London, working in Finance.  I was “doing OK”, not great, but “OK”.

I met a girl, we moved in together. She was also “doing OK”. We went to restaurants, pubs and gigs: together and with friends. We travelled a lot. We moved to Brighton, then to Sutton Coldfield. We got married, then had children. Twins: Jake and Ellie. Great kids! Having been made redundant earlier I became their full time stay-at-home Dad: for 3 years, until they started pre-school in preparation for school proper. By this time we were here in Wales.

Now, 5 years later, we’re separated. I live alone, in a small house: fine just for me but nothing like our old family home. The children who were my life I see now just 2 days a week: most of 1 day on the weekend and 1 evening after school.  And to be honest I’ve struggled to pick up with my career where I left off. The industry is very tech-driven and seems to have moved on, irrespective of all my experience. My age counts against me too I think; having to start again as it were a lot of the jobs I am qualified for I think are taken by young people.

We had a big house, and a good lifestyle: travel, good food, fun. Now I sometimes struggle even with the basics. Then I spent nearly all my time with my beloved Jake & Ellie; now I often feel like I hardly know them, like they’re growing up without me.

It’s very easy to look back and think things were perfect though isn’t it? I know they weren’t, even then.

Further back –  in New Zealand, for instance, before I found my feet career-wise here – I sometimes struggled, financially and socially. Even after I moved to the U.K. there were difficult times: I got caught up in the mortgage interest rate crisis of the ‘90s, and leaving the somewhat extreme religious group I got mixed up in was necessary, but still difficult, not least as it meant cutting myself off from all my ‘friends’ & having to start again socially.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

I had tough times before, some good times, and now difficult times again. Life has its ups and downs. It’s just a question of perspective isn’t it? I’m trying to be grateful for what I do have. Great children who love me, food & shelter, safety, reasonably good health, friendships.

That’s more than millions of people all over the world can say. In many ways I’m lucky, despite what the reality of my life seems to be a lot of the time.

“I had not; I did have; I do not have; I do not mind”

I’m trying very hard to improve the things I can, while learning to accept and make the most of life as it is.

Thank you Epicurus: those are indeed wise words.

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From the Mouths of Babes and Infants, again

So we have what’s become a Thursday tradition now. After school Jake & Ellie go to their gym class, while the Mummy & I sit around chatting with each other & with other parents there.

Then we troop off to MacDonald’s for Happy Meals, toys & a nice family outing.

We were talking about my good friend the Pope. I think it led on from a large family we’d seen & wondering if maybe they were committed Catholics & didn’t use birth control.

I had thought that he was turning out to be a good guy, or at least one of the better Pontiffs. He’d said sorry for a lot of the very nasty things many members of his organisation had done & that his predecessors had glossed over. He was saying lots of nice things about how we should all be nice to each other. He seemed sincere, & he probably is. Continue reading “From the Mouths of Babes and Infants, again”

What Christmas Means to Me

I really like Christmas. It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it.

I am hardly religious: I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest.

And yes, I have all of the usual objections to consumerism, the commercialisation of an ancient religion; to the westernisation of a dead Palestinian press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer.

But I still really like it.

I’m looking forward to Christmas, ‘though I’m not expecting a visit from Jesus. I’ll be seeing my dad, my brother and sisters, my gran and my mum. They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.

I don’t go in for ancient wisdom. I don’t believe just because ideas are tenacious it means that they’re worthy. I get freaked out by churches: some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords but the lyrics are dodgy.

And yes, I have all of the usual objections to the mis-education of children who, in tax-exempt institutions, are taught to externalise blame, and to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right and wrong.

But I quite like the songs.

I’m not expecting big presents. The old combination of socks, jocks and chocolate is just fine by me, ‘cos I’ll be seeing my dad, my brother and sisters, my gran and my mum. They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.

And you, my baby boy & girl, my jet-lagged infant son & daughter: you’ll be handed around the room like puppies at a primary school. And you won’t understand, but you will learn someday that wherever you are and whatever you face these are the people who’ll make you feel safe in this world, my sweet wide-eyed twins.

And if, my sweet babies, when you’re 21 or 31, and Christmas comes around and you find yourself 9000 miles from home you’ll know whatever comes your brother and sister and me and your mum will be waiting for you in the sun. Whenever you come your brother and sister, your aunts and your uncles, your grandparents, cousins and me and your mum, we’ll be waiting for you in the sun.

Drinking white wine in the sun, darlings, when Christmas comes we’ll be waiting for you in the sun, drinking white wine in the sun, waiting for you in the sun, waiting for you…

Waiting…

I really like Christmas. It’s sentimental, I know…

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Not my words – I wish! – they’re by the brilliant Australian comedian / musician / all-round good-guy Tim Minchin from his song ‘White Wine in the Sun’. I’ve only editted them for repetition & a little personalisation, but I really couldn’t have expressed what Christmas means to me much better!

It’s being released as a single on December 1st, proceeds going to the National Autistic Society.

Here it is in full, performed live during Children in Need:

Beautiful, profound, brilliant, right? So let’s make it Christmas number 1!

It’s sentimental, I know, but I just really like it 🙂

#TimMinchinXmasNo1

 

From Whiskey to Whisking

Last Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the voluntary privations of Lent. In Latin America they let rip: they let it all hang out in a mad orgy of exotic costumes, dancing-girls, music, dancing in the streets; the ‘Mardi Gras’, or ‘Fat Tuesday‘. Eat, drink & be merry: for tomorrow we diet!

Here, we make pancakes.  And, with huge imagination, we call it ‘Pancake Day’. Rock’n’roll!

Actually I love pancakes. And as a Dad of increasingly active twin toddlers I’m pretty sure I don’t have the energy to jump around in the streets with beautiful, scantily clad Brazilian girls, and…

Oh, never mind: I’m not even convincing myself here! But I do like pancakes.

So at their church playgroup on Tuesday we made pancakes. The children put them together & the organisers cooked them, then we all ate them.

I was given the job of breaking an egg into the saucepan & amazingly I even managed it with reasonable competence. Then Ellie was given the responsibility of being Chief Egg-Whisker in Residence. I’m not sure why, as she’d never done anything like this before. The only things she’d stirred or whisked before were things which mostly do not belong in a pancake, & that for only as long as it took us to make her stop. The organisers, seasoned campaigners in the subtle arts of The Pancake Day Playgroup, must have seen in Ellie the secret sign of The Whisker of the Egg.

Either that or they noticed that her top already had yellow spots on it which act as a convenient mask for any spare bits of egg that may land there. Or that, being male, I was unlikely to notice any egg-stains anyway, or be too bothered if I did. And they would probably be right on all counts.

Well their eggy ESP seems to have been spot-on, as Ellie took to egg-whisking as if she’d been doing it all her young life! All we did was stick the whisk in her hand & away she went. She needed no help nor encouragement from anyone & whipped up an eggy pancake mix in no time.

I was astonished, as I often am with both her & her brother these days.

And she, along with Jake, continued her journey to Masterchef in a different playgroup the next day, which was my Silent Sunday post yesterday.

My little girl is growing up!

And the pancakes were delicious.

To hit or not to hit, is that the question?

There was a debate on Radio 4 this morning about whether or not it’s acceptable, & whether or not it should be a criminal offence, for a parent to hit their children.

A generation or two ago it was similarly considered socially acceptable for a man to bring his wife into line by hitting her, a bit (witness Sean Connery’s attitude, for instance). I see this issue as the same, the debate has just moved on as our society has grown & matured; we don’t even ask that question anymore. Surely hitting children is no different &, on this reasoning, may  – & I think should – be criminalised.

I was hit in the name of ‘discipline’ as a child – at school with straps & rulers, at home with wooden spoons & curtain rails.  I used to support it but, although I don’t blame those who hit me (apart from a few of the more sadistic teachers) as they were mostly just doing what they thought was right, I now see that it’s caused me problems in my adult life, particularly in anger management.

I never have, & I never will, hit my children: the very thought to me is horrifying, an anathema.

“Spare the rod & spoil the child” is the (Old Testament) bible text often used to justify hitting children. The same book that tells us that we should tie adulterers (only women, of course), & unmarried non-virgins (again, women only: you lucky lucky people!) to a post & throw rocks at them until they’re dead. I don’t hear those texts being quoted so much – funny, that!

Hitting people in our somewhat less ignorant & backward society, whether with hands, fists, rocks or wooden spoons – regardless of age, size, gender, race, sexual orientation  –  is now regarded as assault, a criminal offence. Whether the person being hit is a complete stranger, a man, a woman, a child, your spouse, or your child – it makes no difference: it’s hitting, it’s violence, it’s wrong.  Hopefully this loophole will now soon be closed & all violence against children will be brought into line with the rest of our criminal justice system.

Apologies if this post offends anyone. I have friends & family who I greatly respect, & even admire,  who have religious beliefs: please don’t take it personally x

What Happened When the Humanist Went to Church

I took the kids to Church today!

Seeing as I’m not at all religious – if pressed for a label I’d call myself a Humanist – this is quite unusual.

Don’t worry though; I’m not about to go banging on doors telling you that you’ll burn to death in Hell forever if you don’t give yourself to Jaysus.

We’ve started taking Jallie to a playgroup run by a local church, & they love it! There are some fantastic toys there – a mini kitchen, a sandbox, lots of cars / bikes they can zoom around in -&  lots of other parents with children of varying sizes & abilities. There’s even free toast & tea & coffee!

About halfway through all the kids sit down around a little table for drinks & biccies: it’s so strange seeing Jake & Ellie sitting there so quietly, eating like little adults, as if it’s the most ordinary thing in the world! They seem really chuffed about it too.

There’s usually an activity, mainly for the older children: picking out leaves from different trees outside, learning how to plant seeds, etc.

It seems to be run on a voluntary basis by church people, & they only ask for a minimal donation each time.

I tend to be pretty negative about religion; when you look at the deep corruption, viciousness & intolerance that seems to be inherent in the larger, more dogmatic versions – paedophile priests being protected  in the name of God,  holy wars, etc. etc. ad nauseum – it’s easy to be that way.

But these people are just nice, generous, giving something back to their community. It’s reminded me  – not that I should need it, as I walk past a Sally Army charity shop nearly every day – that much good can come out of religion along with the great evil. It’s been suggested to me that religion is more of a catalyst than a cause, & that may well be true.

Not that they care: they just like getting to run around & have fun! And the biccies, of course…

If only all of life were that simple, eh?