The Plight of the British High Street

A walk through my local High Street tells an all too familiar tale. Nationwide there are hoards of empty units, boarded up shops and ‘To Let’ signs throughout areas that not too long ago were bustling retail parades, bursting with shoppers all too willing to part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for items they didn’t need and a feeling of satisfaction with having ‘made something’ of their lives. This has now gone. High Streets are now the domain of businesses with nowhere else to go. Post-Offices, Banks, Estate Agents, Chemists and Newsagents are still there but there are some new kids on the block. Poundshops, Gold Exchangers, Second-Hand buyers and sellers are nestled in between the ever-expanding franchised fast-food outlets and the odd independently owned, overpriced boutique, selling worthless tat to people with more money than sense (or taste).

It’s very easy to put this down to the current financial hardship being felt by almost everyone not a professional footballer or hedge-fund manager but I think this is a much deeper shift in attitudes toward shopping and town centres. It is true that the global economic downturn has put extra pressure on small High Street shops but the emigration of major retailers to ‘out-of-town’ aircraft hangers in retail parks on motorway junctions is not new, I remember them starting in the eighties. Equally, the influx of service providers and discount stores to fill the void left by the large retailer’s exit is a change that has been progressing slowly for decades, the recent recessions have merely accelerated the process.

Blame for the decline in High Street popularity is also put on local governmental decisions to allow these lager superstores to operate far enough outside town centres to benefit from cheaper land and rates while still being near enough to them to be in active competition. This could be a valid criticism given that it is local authorities who set both the business rates paid by the units in the town centres and the parking rates for their customers but while I accept that much local governmental policy is misguided, I cannot understand why any council would be driving business out of the town centres while facing cuts to their own budgets. Also, dropping rates to keep some shops in business would amount to a subsidy, propping-up an otherwise unprofitable enterprise, something I do not believe any local authority should be doing with private sector businesses.

Another factor needing to be taken in to account when assessing the situations discussed above is the rise of online shopping. Online retailers have seen well above inflation growth year on year regardless of recession. People are becoming ever more comfortable buying things online and retailers ever more sophisticated in their marketing and delivery strategies. Gone are the days of worrying about being stuck with an item you don’t want because the picture online made the product look nothing like the reality and not being able to return it. Delivery times can often be set at the time of order to fit in with one’s lifestyle and the rise in online competition has forced most retailers into abiding by an easy returns policy. Christmas shopping in December used to be an absolute nightmare but I wouldn’t know now as I haven’t done any gift shopping in actual shops for years.

Changes in the local business landscape should not be seen as all negative, the decline in daytime activity in town centres has been counteracted by a rise in nightlife as pubs, bars and restaurants flourish, offering people a temporary escape from the depressing news headlines and the even more melancholic soap-operas or reality TV epidemics currently offered up as weekend night-time entertainment. It’s not just in the darkness that these changes in activity are evident, the empty units are nearly always near offices, colleges and schools, making them attractive to the glut of deep-fried poultry providers with near identical names (normally based on an American State), offering their fare to any who are unaware or uncaring of the resulting arterial damage its consumption entails.

At root, all these changes are not the result of policy change or government ideology, they are the result of a basic economic model. Give people choices and they will make them, if you are able, as a retailer to offer a more popular option than your competitors you will be more successful. High Street shops are there not as an aesthetic distraction as you drive through on your way to the cheaper and more convenient superstore down the road, they are there as businesses to make money. One cannot have the convenience of local shops while being disinclined to use the regularly, if you think that the superstore is causing the decline in your local high street, you are wrong. It is you, the users of your local shops who have the collective power over their success or failure. As the saying goes: if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Even more so than with politicians, we don’t just get the High Streets we deserve, we actually get the High Streets we want, even if we don’t know it yet.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

P.S. – Wow, when I had the original thought for this post it was supposed to show my positive feelings towards the changes in our town centres and how I wholly embraced them but having read it back it’s incredibly negative. I don’t actually feel the way I come across, I quite like the idea of service based High Streets and shops being conveniently out-of-town but I suppose I’m too grumpy to get my positivity communicated in a comprehensible way without appearing sarcastic!

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God Does Not Own Marriage

Today marks the beginning of a 12-week consultation on the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Since 2005, same-sex couple have had the option of a ‘civil partnership’ with some of the same but not all the legal rights given to married couples. The proposed legislation would make no distinction between any married couple of whatever gender mix. It would also allow currently married people to legally change their gender but would not allow same-sex marriage in any religious ceremony.

As expected, all the usual church spokespeople have been screaming their bigoted bile about this ‘grotesque’ plan which, they say will ‘shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world’ and ‘undermine the traditional idea of the family’. Given that none of these ceremonies will be held in churches, I’m not really sure what it has to do with them.

When I married my wife in 2007, we were forbidden from using any religious text as a reading during the ceremony,. Despite the passage we wanted having no reference to any ‘god’, we were not allowed to use it because it was from the bible. This is due to an archaic law introduced when civil marriage ceremonies first started, separating entirely civil marriage from religious while keeping them equal in law. This separation was to allow people who were not Anglican to marry legally in the UK, recognising that many of the citizens of the time were not of that denomination and that people should have the legal freedom to be equal in the law while maintaining their freedom of religion. I think most people would agree that this is right, I’m not really sure how many people could have too many objections. If you follow that principle through, one cannot allow same-sex couples to exist without giving them the right to marry.

I personally have 2 issues with the proposed legislation

  1. Not allowing same-sex couples to participate in religious marriage ceremonies is, in my opinion, hostile to both religious freedom and freedom of sexual orientation. If a religious body wishes to conduct a ceremony for a same-sex couple that it is allowed to conduct for a couple of differing sexes, I can see no reason for not allowing them to if that ceremony is recognised by law when conducted in a registry office.
  2. If same-sex marriage becomes legal, I can see no purpose for keeping the civil partnership scheme currently available to same-sex couples, especially if the option is not available for couples of differing sexes.

Both the Catholic and Anglican churches seem to have a massive problem with the idea that same-sex couples should be allowed the same legal rights as those of differing sexes, their reasoning seems to be based on the idea that marriage is in itself some sort of ‘gift from god’. It’s not as if nobody got married before Jesus, plenty of pagans had the idea of 1 woman, 1 man – together for life etc, well before anyone outside the Levant had ever heard of Moses and his laws. Despite the monopoly granted to state approved churches during the dark ages, the concept of a lifelong joining of a couple in love really has little to do with any religion. The idea that the Roman Catholic church, which banned its priests from marrying to avoid having to make payments to widows, should have a say in who may and who may not make a public and legally binding declaration of their love for each other, is frankly laughable.

I’m not sure how allowing more people to marry will ‘change its meaning in law…will have a knock-on effect in everyday life’. What knock-on effect would that be then? More people feeling a part of mainstream society rather than excluded outcasts? More stable long-term relationships between equal partners? What exactly are they scared of? Are they worried about their congregations ‘turning’ gay and eloping to the registry office? Do they really think that allowing same-sex couples to marry will make more people ‘turn’ gay? As for its meaning changing in law, it is now rightly illegal to discriminate between the sexes on almost any grounds, why should marriage be any different? Either we’re all equal or we’re not, I think we should be.

Of course what the religious figures we hear on this matter are really scared of is losing the ever fading power over their flock. The idea that people are thinking for themselves and coming to different conclusions than those set down in a set of rules imagined by bronze age shepherds before being rewritten and reinterpreted to strengthen the grip of the current incumbent power of the day is, to those in positions of religious power, abhorrent. Any change in the law that allows people who are not religious to live a lifestyle without the need for approval by religious authority will always be (and has always been) opposed by the members of that religion.

After stripping back all the hatred and homophobia, what the issue rarely comes down to is equality. Do you think that people who have a different lifestyle to the majority should be granted the same rights as the majority? Or do you think that being in love with a person many people disapprove of should prevent you from access to the legal benefits that are accorded to those who happen to be lucky enough to love a person many people approve of?

The concept of a lifelong union between humans has probably been around longer than any organised religious belief and is certainly far older than any monotheistic system. They may have embraced marriage and incorporated it into their own dogma but it gives them no right to issue diktats over who it applies to, certainly no power over democratically elected governments, the voters who elected them or a peaceful minority who want nothing other than to be treated equally.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

All Morality Is Relative

I think the starting point in a piece like this should include a definition of what is meant by ‘relative morality’. To me the term encompasses a belief that what one person believes to be morally right cannot be proven to be morally wrong by another because it would involve nullifying the first persons belief system. This allows the acceptance of judicially sanctioned torture and mutilation in foreign cultures without condemnation on the basis that we cannot know any fundamental ‘truths’ about morality, that every person or state’s individual morality is equally valid.

I do not think this is a sustainable point of view in the modern world where, due to worldwide media and globalisation, we all occupy the same global space and time. This is not the same as a refusal to condemn the murderous and barbaric acts of much of the European nobility during the middle ages, the rulers of those times had no access to the moral education available in more modern times. We all know now that religious persecution is wrong but there is a huge difference between the execution of Socrates for impiety (among other things) in classical Athens and the execution (often public) of an apostate in a modern Arabic country (or indeed the media character assassinations of ‘unbelievers’ by irrational sensationalist journalists who know better but choose to forsake their ‘Christian’ morality to get better copy).

The opposing view to moral relativism is known as ‘absolute morality’, which, to me, is defined by the belief that actions and beliefs are always either wrong or right independent of the contexts of culture, time or emotion. We all, from whatever cultural background, believe murder to be wrong; this is often used as evidence for ‘god-given’ morality, how could so many nations and cultures share the same moral notions without a divine cause?

As it turns out, quite easily. My dog is quite large and powerful, he would easily be capable of killing other, smaller dogs if he so wished, I have never trained him not to and he is not (as far as I know) religious, yet he is yet to so much as bare his teeth at another dog. Even dogs that are naturally aggressive will not kill other dogs without provocation and/or training, did god give them that morality? He must also then have given my cat the moral compass that allows him to catch a mouse and play with it until it eventually dies of fright, maybe god allows torture for fun but not murder.

Despite the bestial tangent, there are a number of holes in the argument for the kind of god-given absolute morality preached by so many modern Christians seeking to combat the inevitable social liberalism that comes with scientific advancement (independent documentary evidence backing up bigoted beliefs is hard to come by). Firstly, if this morality is truly absolute, unchanging with time or context and given by god, why are there so many biblical tales of apparently ‘righteous’ men doing terrible things that we would today find abhorrent? Lot seems to have been quite willing to offer up his two daughters for gang rape as long as his guests (who he did not at the time know to be angels) were spared the same ordeal. Despite Jesus’ calls later for us to honour our mother and father, it is not hard to see why a child of Lot could become a sexual deviant as shown by their later incest. Joshua commits a string of heinous war crimes that amount to genocide and the ethnic cleansing of an entire nation on the basis or religion and race, which were (at the time) interchangeable due to the prohibition of intermarriage. Many of the laws and punishments given in the early chapters of the bible would be considered horrendous by modern standards, yet they were apparently gifted by god to his ‘chosen people’. How fair, true or ‘moral’ could these laws have been if we are told by a controversial later Jewish prophet, Jesus of Nazareth that the greatest commandment was the love of god and the so-called ‘golden rule’ or treating others as you would wish they treat you (I’m guessing god forgot to tell Joshua that last bit, or maybe he changed his mind later). Jesus also tells us that enforcers of the law must themselves be ‘without sin’, which seems to have gone unheeded throughout history; that charging interest on loans or money exchange is wrong, a belief understandable without a modern knowledge of economic inflation; forgiveness, asceticism and humility feature in all four of the Gospels although they seem to be much less popular with the organised church at large yet he seems to have been peculiarly quiet on homosexuality, despite the modern Christian obsession with the topic.

It seems to me, an outsider from Christianity (although formerly a church-going, confirmed Anglican, believer) that despite the name ‘Christian’, the belief system of most of the followers of Christ since the establishment of the orthodox early church in the 4th century C.E. have owed more to the teachings of St Paul and the Torah rather than the Gospels which seem instead to have been used both as proof of the miraculous power and the historical authenticity of a man for whom we have very little other evidence.

Despite the clear problems with a belief in an absolute morality prescribed by god, the arguments between absolute and relative morality are not confined to the religious sphere. Many atheists are not, as some would have you believe, true moral relativists. Many modern humanists do believe that there are absolute moral boundaries, they just tend to have differing opinions to religious groups as to where these boundaries are.

I do not think this is the end of the story however. I believe that these ‘absolutes’ are not truly absolute. They can and do move with time, they are in a constant state of flux, affected and moulded by us just as we are moulded by them. Until fairly recently in Europe and still in most of the rest of the world, homosexuality was and is socially unacceptable and/or illegal. What has changed our value system to permit this behaviour in modern Britain? With the gradual relaxation of religious orthodoxy in previous centuries the level of tolerance in the general population progressively increased and a sense of ‘live and let live’ came to pass. Eventually it became clear that allowing those previously known as sexual deviants to fully participate in society was of detriment to nobody and most of us now wonder what all the fuss was about. This has made Britain a better place to live, constant hatred and persecution on the basis that god may have said it to someone thousands of miles away and thousands of years ago cannot be of any benefit to anyone.

Our morality is exactly that, ours. Not ours to choose, not consciously anyway, its is ours because it is both unique to us and uniquely made by us. All our societal knowledge and experience, our successes and failures, our fears and hopes all pooled together and shared through the new media. Just as a person entering middle-age often mellows with their accretion of wisdom, so too should humanity as a whole. Despite the ‘mid life crisis’ being experienced by religious zealots worldwide, there can be no going-back on this. Pandora’s box is indeed open and no amount of pious screeching will make me disbelieve what I know to be right.

All morality is absolutely relative.

This is a follow-up to a previous piece – “The True Origins Of Morality” – http://wp.me/p1TXXQ-2N

Thanks for reading.

Rowan

Capping Benefits Will Not Cause Child Poverty

One of the main stories in the news this week is the government proposal to cap the total amount payable in state benefits to a family with children at a maximum of £26,000 per annum (or £500 per week) and the House of Lords attempts to block this cap. This amount has not been plucked out of the air, it has been chosen because it is the amount of money (after tax) that an average wage earning family would have available to spend. Families receiving out of work benefits to do with disability or illness will be exempt from the cap. Currently, the amount of benefit received by a family is not limited in any way, more children means more money, as do higher housing benefit costs.

The idea of a cap set at a fixed, arbitrary level seems to have strong public support, especially among those working but earning low salaries, who appear to be working to support their families yet find themselves unable to provide their families with a lifestyle that may be available to them if they were not working. However there are sections of society who are resisting having a limit to the amount payable to some families, with their main objections to the bill being that all cases should be assessed separately and that families with high housing costs or large numbers of children in the household should not be punished by the state for being out of work.

Many people (me included) believe that having an income equivalent to that earned in an average working household is quite enough for any family to live on, regardless of size. If a family’s housing benefit costs are so high as to be eating up a huge proportion of their total benefits cap, they are free to move to a cheaper area, that is after all what all working families have to do. I cannot see this being the huge, nationwide problem reported in some parts of the press. London has much higher housing costs than all other parts of the UK and also happens to have the most comprehensive transport infrastructure (meaning the move would be less disruptive) and the most buoyant jobs market (meaning less excuses for being out of work long-term), those claimants living in London may experience most of the problems associated with these changes but also have the most chance of being able to deal with them easily.

I have heard it said that these changes may push many children into poverty. I think this is entirely the wrong attitude to have, the parents of these children need to look at themselves if they are unable to provide what they believe their children need. The government is not preventing them from working and it is not the government’s responsibility to pick up the tab for ever-increasing family size. Most people do not choose to have families they know they will be unable to support, this is called ‘being responsible’. The idea that it is a ‘right’ to have as many children as you like, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer (you & me) will foot the ever-increasing bill, while the majority struggle to provide our families with what they need with little or no outside help is clearly not ‘right’ or ‘fair’ (incidentally these are the very terms used by those who disagree with me) .

What exactly is the definition of ‘Child Poverty’? The existing social infrastructure prevents all forms of absolute poverty in all but the most extreme of cases. We do not have children starving to death or dying of easily treated illnesses (cases of child neglect excepted) as happens in some countries in other parts of the world. The poverty we are speaking about here is known as relative poverty, measured against other members of the society in which they live. While a family can be judged as being in poverty based on numbers and statistics, when it comes to individual members within a family unit it is not so simple. Not owning a smartphone, iPod or trainers with air bubbles and flashing lights may be a sign of not having much money but does it really mean you are so poor as to be deprived of what is necessary for your general well-being? If judging poverty from a child’s point of view, do the societal norms of the childs immediate surroundings get taken into account? I was lucky enough to be sent to a private school, yet among my peers I was considered relatively poor, clearly not poor when placed in the setting of society at large but given the socio-economic background of the English public school system my family were near the lower end of the income scale. Even in families with a bare minimum of expendable income, children need not go without things they need, as long as all the family do not spend what little money they have on things they merely want. Relative poverty is supposed to indicate when a person has to go without things that most members of society take for granted. I may take for granted being able to turn the heating on or being able to afford to eat meat every day but I certainly wouldn’t put foreign holidays or subscription TV into this bracket.

The fundamentals of this argument over who is to blame for a child’s poverty boil down to whose responsibility you believe it is to ensure a child’s well-being. In the first instance this should surely be the parent’s, I would not imagine many people thinking it a good idea for the state to install surveillance cameras in a home after a child’s birth to monitor the parenting skills on show but most would see it as the state’s responsibility to step in if the care given was seen to be inadequate, abusive or neglectful. It is also the case that it must be first the parent’s responsibility to ensure the well-being of their children. Given that the vast majority of parents manage to provide for their children perfectly adequately, even with many having much lower incomes than the cap under current proposal, any form of poverty or deprivation evident in the child’s upbringing cannot and should not be seen as being caused solely by a change in government policy.

If you have a child who you are unable to raise, stop looking around for others to blame. You are not the only one in your circumstances, others are managing. If you can’t, don’t blame them, or the government, or me. Blame yourself.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

All comments are welcome, I’ll try to answer as many as I can.

You’re only fat because you want to be

The first thing some of you will have done when you see the title of this piece is have a quick look at the photo, you will see that I am clearly carrying a few extra kilos and may well think that I’m not really in a position to discuss obesity. I would have to counter that despite having lost several kilos since that photo was taken I know exactly what has caused my weight gain, me.

That is the point of this piece, however much you hear people say how unfair it is that some people can eat what they want but never gain yet they only have to ‘look’ at a sausage for it to go straight to their hips, you know that by ‘look’ they mean eat and eat and eat. Nobody gains weight by eating less that their body uses and nobody can lose weight without eating less than their body uses. One cannot escape from these simple facts. Whilst it may be true that not all our resting metabolic rates are the same and there are a minority of people for whom medical problems may make weight control more difficult, I still feel no sympathy. If you’re gaining weight you need to eat less or do more, there’s no getting away from that simple formula, no ‘magic bullet’.

It seems to have become very fashionable in the modern world to blame a person’s weight, not on his or her love of pies but on the manufacturer or server of the pies. This has led to more and more information on food packaging and now on many chain restaurant menus. This can help to an extent, one may want to know whether to have the triple quarter ponder or the double-decker mega-burger but if you’ve already decided on a burger before you get to the restaurant, you can’t be that bothered about the calories to start with and does anyone really go to a burger restaurant and have a salad?

The people to whom this information is intended however, will pay no notice whatsoever to any labelling. Here we arrive back at the title of the piece, you’re only fat because you want to be. Of course I don’t think that many people actually think ‘I want to be fat’ but when given the choice of being fat and stuffing your face full of pies & chocolate every day or controlling your weight by a combination of self-control, unwanted exercise and a diet consisting mostly of vegetables that my even my dog turns his nose up to, it’s not surprising that many of us find the fat choice more appealing.

Most of us seem to know, however, what the right choice is and stop ourselves from making the wrong choices too often, either by filling our fridges with fruit & veg or joining a sports team to pressurize ourselves into regular exercise. Many people seem to have decided that they don’t want to be fat, that they will do their best to take the tough choices, that they want to be healthy later in their lives. It isn’t difficult though, to find those who’ve decided not to do this, they’ve decided to go for the easy, short-term option. To eat now, pay with your health later. It would appear that these people have never had so much help to make the right choices, from ‘traffic lights’ on pizza boxes & cake wrappers to slimming clubs or celebrity diets. Yet still they’re all around us, mega-fatties everywhere, blocking the entrances to kebab shops, overflowing their seats on buses & trains and most importantly clogging up the NHS which we all pay for.

I know some of you will now be thinking that I should leave these poor people alone, that I wouldn’t want to be in their position so I shouldn’t judge them. Despite not wanting to be fully in their shoes, most people would want to be able to eat whatever they want whenever they want with no feeling of guilt or remorse, with no thought to the future whatsoever. Maybe this is what makes these sort of people so detestable. We live a responsible lifestyle, working hard and paying our taxes toward a health system that treats those who have been irresponsible their whole lives without a care for the future until they develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease in their 30s. The biggest problem I have is this lack of foresight is that many of these people seem to show contempt for the very concept of looking after their bodies, deciding that it’s just too hard. We all treated our bodies poorly when we were younger but giving up or cutting down on things you love is not as hard as is commonly perceived, it’s all about how much you want it. Will power is just about desire, if you really want it, you will be able to do it. I managed to give up smoking without too much difficulty, my wife managed to lose about 40 kilos (about 90lbs) over the course of about 2 years by joining a slimming club. There’s nothing special about us, we just wanted to do it and did it.

It may not be much consolation but evolution has fine-tuned your body to be fat in the modern world. Imagine, if you will two tribes in Africa many thousands of years ago. One tribe loves salad, the other loves meat. The human brain needs huge amounts of calories to keep us alert and to get these calories, the salad eating tribe essentially have to become grazers, eating nearly all of their waking time. The meat-eating tribe will be able to get their calories much quicker and have more free time to do other things like procreate. More of the meat loving tribe’s genes and culture will be passed on to the next generation etc. All animals are genetically programmed to choose the higher calorie option of any food choice given to them, storing any excess as fat to help cope with leaner times. Here’s the problem, modern farming and food transport techniques have ensured there are no longer any lean times for us in the developed world, we have to find a way to beat our nature in order to insure our health. Choosing against your preferred food option and doing unnecessary exercise are obvious ways to do this.

But in the end it all comes down to how much you want it.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

Any comments welcome, I’ll try to answer as many as possible

Families, who needs em?

Every so often, the subject of my relationship (or rather non-relationship) with my father comes up in conversation. Most of you won’t know so I’ll briefly fill you in. I left home at 20 and in the last 12 years have only seen him for a couple of hours at my mum’s wake and we didn’t have much to say to each other then.

An awful lot of people seem to think this is really sad, that we’re both missing out on so much family joy by not seeing each other regularly. Are we? Really? I think people seem to find it difficult to understand how we could just not speak to each other for so long. We haven’t fallen out, there’s no underlying feud, rivalry or any other reason to not speak, I just don’t have anything to say to him. I think that’s where it lies. I don’t really care what he’s been doing, he doesn’t really care what I’ve been doing, we’re both aware of this so why bother?

Now we get into the part that has little to do with me but more to do with you. Why is everyone so obsessed with families? In what way is blood thicker than water? What exactly am I missing out on by restricting my family ties to my wife & step-daughter? A choice of venues for Christmas day? An extra card on my birthday? Or am I missing the point entirely? Maybe the point of families for many people is an innate sense of belonging, of being a fundamental piece in an enormous interlocking jigsaw linking man, woman & child across the land. Feeling at the heart of something special and exclusive, among those who need you and you them, knowing that their love is unconditional, no strings, forever. An extension of the time when you were a babe in arms, relying absolutely on these parents before you, knowing that you needed them for everything and they would do anything in their power to aid your survival in this harsh, unsafe world.

I think that probably is the point, it can’t be nice to feel that the comfort blanket you’ve had for so long may no longer be necessary, as though you’ve suddenly realised that the man holding the back of your stabiliser free bicycle is about to let go. But he won’t will he? Not unless you make it clear that’s what you want , even then he’ll be following behind you to help you up if and when you fall. What most of you will not have felt, however, unless you’re in a situation like me, is the elation of knowing there’s nobody behind me and even if I do fall I can get up by myself.

Ok, I think the metaphor has run its course now, most of you can cycle and I’d hope that if you haven’t already, most of you have left home and can foresee a time when parental intervention is neither necessary nor desirable for either child or parent. Is that when we come back to the belonging part? We are after all social animals, we need social contact, the success of social media and the reason for me writing this is all fulfilling a basic instinct inherent in us all to communicate. The need to have people you are close to and can spend time with to moan & groan about your boss or express admiration for the friendly, hardworking local shopkeeper is something we all have.

Is this really all family is? An evening gossip club for working adults? No, of course not it’s a combination of all the aspects I’ve mentioned above and so much more. Am I coming round to the idea of feeling I’m missing out? No. I never said I didn’t want a family, I said I didn’t want or need the family thrust upon me as a child. Now I’m a married adult I’ve rejected the dysfunctional, semi-parasitic notion that because you share a fraction of your genetic material with a person you must be permanently adhered to each other for the rest of both your lives. I’ve chosen instead to put my time and effort into the family of my choice not only that but also the choice of my wife. This is probably more important, knowing that as complete as it is now, there was a time when our bond was anything but unconditional. It has been earned, indeed it continues to be and is much stronger as a result.

Of course many people are not as lucky as us in these matters. Children have no such choices and many young adults are in a similar position. For the young and inexperienced, financial and emotional support has to come from somewhere and the younger the person is the more often it is likely to be needed. This, for me, is what the old-fashioned notion of ‘family’ is all about. When one is in those younger stages of life, without the support network available to older adults, a family is needed. As you get older, a family becomes wanted.

Many of you may be thinking I had a bad childhood. This is far from the case, as poor as my parents were at parenting, I have mostly pleasant memories from that time. I was not neglected or beaten (no more than was usual for the 80s anyway!) and as a young adult I used the support provided by my mother as much as any of my peers. The point of this piece is not that we don’t need families or that people should reject their parents at the first point of independence. It’s not that couples in their 30s & 40s should stop talking to or visiting their parents. It’s that if you get nothing positive from your family relationships but feel that you have to keep them because ‘its what you do’, take a step back. What would you miss if they weren’t there?

Thanks for reading.

Rowan

All comments welcome, I’ll try to respond to as many as possible.

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