Year: <span>2020</span>

I know you’ll all excuse these more introspective posts, and hopefully you’ll forgive me as I repeat knowledge that is mostly already known but sometimes, when such things fall newly into your world they take on a new light, and are all the more vivid and vital for it.

I don’t remember my Dad’s parents. His father passed away before I was born, and I was maybe four years old when Nana passed so she lives in fuzzy memories that are mostly about her box of costume jewellery and a particularly colourful necklace. I have few real memories of the woman herself. I don’t remember if I was sad or upset when she passed away.

The next time I was faced with grief was ten years later when my Mum’s father passed. He’d spent most of the time that I knew him declining after a number of strokes so my interactions with him were always from a bit of a distance. As an early teenager I wasn’t really sure how to process what I was feeling when he died, and all I really remember about his funeral was seeing my Aunt Anne there and suddenly sobbing on her shoulder.

Another ten or so years down the line my Grandma was next after a long slow slide into her latter years. It was time for her to go, the grieving was hard but inevitable and that softened the blow. I loved my Grandma dearly, I spent many weekends staying with her and Grandpa, and as the first grandchild I was spoiled rotten. But towards the end she deteriotated to the point where a final peaceful slipping away was a mercy.

My mother-in-law was the next one to leave us. It was sudden and painful. She was a wonderful, cheeky, caring woman who made me feel so welcomed into her family. I really did get on well with my in-laws. They had moved to a small town on the coast of Spain when they had retired a couple of years beforehand, and I’ll always have fond memories of visiting them there. When Grace passed, we all flew out to be there and I busied myself looking after my wife, my nieces and nephews, and generally trying to hold things together so her direct family could grieve.

But I can still remember realising that I needed a little time to process things too and so I took a longer walk back from the shop one evening, wandered down to the beach, left the shopping bag on the shore and waded a little way into the rolling surf. The sun was setting and I stood there and marvelled at the view, the cold water ebbing and flowing round my feet as the day ended. I sobbed, my salt water tears falling to the sea.

I read an article a while back about the stages of grief, it suggested there isn’t really any defined stages that you move to and from, rather it’s a constant flux of emotions that catch you off-guard. You’ll go from denial to acceptance to bargaining and back again in minutes.

Which sounds about right; I’ve gone from laughing at a daft video on Facebook to an ugly crying mess a few seconds later; the other day I just sat on the bed and tears started rolling down my face. Recently I’ve caught myself living a ‘normal’ life and had odd misgivings because I was out in the world, enjoying a good coffee, and laughing and joking, shouldn’t I be home in a dark room somewhere?

It’s weird, is what I’m saying.

I’m coping though, quite simply by letting the emotions happen, accepting that my moods will be what they are and, whenever I feel like crying I’m doing just that.

OK, I’ll confess, this is all apropos of nothing whatsoever except to say that I’ve been crying more than usual.

And that’s ok. Mind you, even if I wasn’t processing my grief it would still be ok because, as I’ve said before, I’m a bit of a cryer at the best of times.

Then so was Dad so I know where I get it from, this tendency to tear up at the slightest, daftest little thing.

I’m a big one for a good greet at the best of times. As friends will attest I’m prone to crying at gigs, and not always because I’m sad. When I saw LCD Soundsystem at the Barrowlands a few years back, I can remember feeling such an elated high that I stood in the middle of the crowd, arms raised to the sky like a preacher, joyful tears streaming down my face, I was elated and happy, it was glorious.

It wasn’t always this way though. For a long time I denied this part of me as I was tried to fit in, to be the model type of man that society suggested I should be; I struggled for a long time with how to make my peace with the simple fact that I am not that type of person. I don’t choke back my tears, I have no stiff upper lip, and yes I’ve told all my friends I love them because I do (luckily they’ve all said it back to me too, phew!).

Back then I did what every young person does and pushed away any thoughts of the traits I’d inherited from my parents, denying them space in my life. I think I was so hell bent on NOT being my parents I forgot I was supposed to be figuring out who I was. It’s so easy to get caught up in defining a negative that, when someone points this out, it’s a little startling.

But now I see the wisdom and benefits of accepting those aspects of my parents personalities that I tried to shy away from and over the past few years I’ve embraced them and enjoyed realising just how much of who I am I owe to them. I am a good man. I am my father’s son.

So yes, I will cry during THOSE episodes of The West Wing, I will cry when we watch THAT scene in E.T., and I will cry when Elbow sing THAT song about my sister buzzing through the room leaving perfume in the air, and when I’m done crying I’ll wipe my tears away and find solace and happiness on the other side.

I will cry whenever I need to, wherever I am, because it’s just another emotion that needs to come out.

As ever part of me is writing all of this for myself as a way to process how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks, but equally there is a part of me is writing for anyone who reads it that is struggling with this too. It’s the same part of me that wants to reach out and shake the toxic masculinity out of some people (well, ALL people) as it serves no good purpose. No man is better because they push their emotions away. Believe me, I’ve tried it, it’s not good for you.

I’m lucky though, I acknowledge that. I have the love of my family, the willing strong arms of my amazing partner who holds me whenever I need it with no question of why, and the support and love of my friends who know the best way to put me at ease is to try and match my sarcasm (I should point out that my use of the word ‘try’ is, well, let’s just say charitable… at best).

My Dad was not one to dwell on things. He was a planner, for sure, but his laidback approach can roughly be translated into more modern terms of ‘living in the moment’ and so I find myself taking each day as it comes and doing my own planning for the future.

Which, given all the uncertainty in the world at the moment, seems as equally pointless as it is desirable; Remember Brexit, well we’ve still got that shitshow to get through, you know, whilst we continue to try and get a grip on the global pandemic, dismantle the current power systems in place, protest (again) about violence and prejudice against the BAME community (this is a white people issue that we need to fix!), and that’s just the currently newsworthy items. The MeToo movement still rolls rightly onwards and any notion of equality across genders remains frustratingly elusive.

Regardless, we are doing our best to cope, paddling hard against the current and, no matter which way we choose to go none of us have any idea what the future will truly hold. It sounds trite but it’s true.

Yet the joyous thing about being human is that as well as our struggles and trials, we also have hopes and dreams and so we act on those as best we can and take whatever life throws at us next. How else should we live?

You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.

Albert Camus, Intuitions (1932)

As I recently posted, I find myself in a good place on the whole, despite all of the weirdness of the world and the sadness of recent personal events. Putting all that behind me where it belongs helps, and in a strange way it feels good to be moving forward again, to be headed in a definite direction, regardless of how we get there. I’ve no doubt there will be more tears in the future, although I hope there will be more happy ones than sad.

All of this is not to say that the past is forgotten, naturally it still bubbles up on occasion to meet me, and more and more it happens at the oddest of times.

It’s 10pm. I’ve got Dave (the dog) out for a final pee, he’s snuffling about the grass at my feet and I’m standing staring at the night sky. The clouds are scrolling casually, as the last embers of daylight glow out, tiny spots of light are appearing in fluffy gaps and the crescent of a moon is hazily rendered from afar.

I find myself staring up this way more and more often. It’s not a recent thing at all, but it feels more poignant to stare at the universe and contemplate my place in it. A small speck, a fleeting moment of time. I am nothing at all against the mind boggling scale of what’s out there. With that thought it’s easy to put all of this uncertainty, all of this pain, all of this happiness and joy into perspective. It feels almost to much of a cliche at times but it is what it is, we are here for the briefest of moments.

I don’t regret not spending more time with Dad before he passed. I am confident I was a good son, that he loved me as I loved him. But he is gone now, that won’t change and so we look forward at what life will bring us next, whilst standing and staring up into the outer reaches of space.

I feel a solitary tear roll down my face and tilt my head to let it fall to the grass below me. With a smile I turn and haul Dave back inside for the night for tomorrow is a new day and I need to live it.


P.S. For those who recognise the quote, no I’m not a big reader of philosophy, I am reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and to say it’s a timely read would be an understatement (it’s very good too!)

Personal Musings

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A long post which could be subtitled – the ever evolving state of Gordon McLean and how he’s finally found his identity – and definitely one that was as cathartic and mind opening to write as it is scary to share. But this is my journey, my blog, and my happiness. Read on if you dare!

If you’ve been paying attention over the last ten years or so of this blog, you’ll have spotted a recurring theme. No, it’s not (only) my obsession with Apple products but rather it’s something reflected in the title of this site, something that people have gently taken me to task over in the past, whenever I mentioned that I was looking to try and improve myself in one way or another; Why can’t you just be happy with who you are? Why are you always striving for more?

When I finally landed on Happily Imperfect as a name for this site, it was a knowing hat-tip to those people who lovingly challenged me to step back from the continual push for perfection and try and find a way to accept who I am. A previous HR manager of mine was among the first to realise the deeper seated tendencies of mine; to constantly look for ways to do things better when they were already good enough, to immediately push away praise and not give myself any credit for the work I’d done, to take all the blame of anything bad that happens on myself whether it’s my fault or not.

I now know these behaviours are ways that my perfectionism is brought to the fore, and I’m even more aware of just how damaging some of those traits can be to my well being (and that of others around me). Part of these realisations came a few years ago during a counselling session when, talking about ways to make new ways of thinking ‘stick’, my counsellor suggested that sometimes saying things out loud, with confidence, would help. ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ I replied with a smile, thinking back to David, the HR manager who first spotted these traits in me.

I once had a conversation with him about that exact thing, it was part of a follow up from some leadership training we’d had, and we were discussing how sometimes, as a manager, you had to fake it until you make it. He confessed that, whilst he always gave the same stock reply to the passing “How are you doing?” question from colleagues, sometimes he didn’t mean it. Anyone who knew him already knows that his response was always “I’m great thanks, how are you?”, and it was always delivered with a warm smile.

I’ll happily admit I’ve stolen this approach, particularly at work when I’m not having a great day. A quick pause is all it takes to realise that I have a chance to adapt my mindset with one simple phrase, and it works, honestly, give it a try.

Except, I guess it’s not as easy as that anymore – what is? – given how many of us are no longer working in an office every day. It’s not quite the same to type the words in response to an instant message (I’ve tried) but I guess on the flipside, if there’s no-one else around why not say it out loud anyway?

Ahh the joys of working at home; comfy clothes (I’ve not worn trousers for months and only the weather will force me to finally abandon my shorts in … a month or so?), your own music, your own coffee, your own space, and no more of those overly loud annoying co-workers, or that guy who walks about on his mobile phone like he owns the place!

I’ve found adapting to working from home pretty straightforward. I’m very thankful that it’s an option at all as I know not everyone is as lucky, I can do the bulk of my job from home and the challenges have been minimal and mostly down to communication issues, that said, it did take some a few weeks to adjust properly and get into a sustainable routine.

The first few weeks of working from home were full-on, 9 to 5, with few breaks to let my mind and body relax. I was finding myself exhausted at the end of each working day and I was baffled; why was this so much harder than my normal working day?

It’s obvious really, without interruptions from colleagues, whether work related or not, my days didn’t have any breaks. I’d sit down at 9am, log in, work until lunch, then work until 5pm. That ‘always on’ aspect was very easy to fall into and without the natural cadence of office life, where an invitation to go for a coffee is always a welcome distraction from whatever task is at hand, so I found myself slavishly attending each and every incoming request immediately.

This is not a new problem, with the ability to access emails and instant messages on your phone it’s far too easy to get into this mindset, and I think everyone in my team probably did the same. As it’s so easy to send an email or ping an instant message, and as everyone else is working from home, the expectation starts to form around swift replies. Also, as there are no meetings to attend in person, it’s even easier to pick up the phone and find yourself annoyed that no-one answers, what on earth are they doing if they aren’t working and answering my call!

Add in the fact that we were in the midst of global pandemic – News Flash: WE STILL ARE! – and it’s no wonder that this new mode of work, plus the stress of lockdown and all the uncertainty we all faced lead to complete exhaustion.

A few weeks in though, and as I headed for yet another Monday (was it even a Monday, the days were all blur) I realised I was dreading having to sit at the same desk, and have another day where I felt trapped in a routine that I didn’t not choose. So, realising that this new set of working habits that had snuck their way into my day was not something I could sustain, I took a step back and started making some changes.

First I looked at my day and started to schedule it to give me some sense of control and also to force me AWAY from my desk more often for both a physical and mental break. I set up recurring appointments in my calendar prompting me to grab a coffee mid-morning, stop for an hour for lunch, take a break mid-afternoon, and a hard stop at 5pm. My wonderful partner also suggested I add a commute, so whilst I was going to and from the same place, I would go for a 10-15 min walk each morning, by myself (no dogs, the novelty!) to adjust my head space.

Fast forward and with that routine well established I deleted most of the calendar entries as I’m much more aware of how I spend my day now, well that and the massive life event that happened last month also forced me to re-evaluate that too.

So now, if possible, I pause for 15 mins at 10:30am for Popmaster (I’ve got a rolling weekly average of 19 don’t ya know and yes I have asked for a meeting to be rescheduled more than once to I can listen live), I log off at lunchtime and if I can I’ll get outside, even just getting the dogs out for a few minutes. More importantly I’ve silenced notifications for emails and only check them at specific times of the day, which has had huge benefits to me and, well I’m pretty sure no-one I work with has even noticed. All in all, I’m much more considered with how I spend my working day.

I’ve even gone so far as to find an app that will force me to take regular screen breaks and I’ve got it set to lock my screen for the last 10 mins of every hour; Apple Watch users will recognise this behaviour as ‘Time to Stand’. For those interested in similar, the app is called Time Out and you can configure it in many different ways, this is just the one that works for me.

My working days are now much more balanced, I have time to meditate each day, I listen to Popmaster, and I feel less pressure to respond the instant an email or instant message arrives. Ohh and thankfully we haven’t really gone in for video calls all that much, we tried at the start, but I think no-one was really enjoying them, so they’ve stopped.

The physical differences of working at home are interesting to observe too.

I bought three things very early into lockdown to improve my physical working space. I already had a desk and office chair at home, but I quickly added a posture cushion to the chair, a second monitor for my laptop, and by far the best purchase was a new stand/sit electric desk base. As an investment I was wary but for a couple of hundred pounds I figured my body would thank me for it and I’ll admit it’s been an absolute revelation.

I now spend most of my mornings standing at my desk and depending on how I feel after lunch I might not sit down until the last couple of working hours of my day.

As a result, I feel much more in-tune with my body as I spend more time standing at my desk than I do passively slumped in my chair these days. I feel more productive and focused when I’m standing, able to context switch, and I’m much less easily distracted (no YOU procrastinate!)

Early on I also started doing some basic stretches to help my body cope with this change and, on the whole, they’ve helped me stay reasonably mobile (supple is not a word that features in my vocabulary) and a recent visit to the wonderful Mz. Bandeen for a massage confirmed that, bar a slightly tight shoulder, I was in pretty good nick.

So far so good, and a few weeks into lockdown I felt reasonably good, I’d made adjustments to both my mental and physical spaces that were working and whilst it was still very strange not to be in the office every day, I felt a level of balance returning to my life.

For the first few weeks of lockdown I also looked on at the ways other people were handling it; the planners and goal makers, the suffering acceptance, the drinkers, the eaters, the home bakers et al. Like many I flitted between grand plans of new regimes and habits, and accepting that if you plonk a big bag of chocolate buttons down in front of me, I’m gonna eat the entire thing. I am not going to say any of these are bad things, they aren’t, they are all just ways to cope with the massive uncertainty COVID-19 brought with it and I have my own coping mechanisms that, with confirmation that I won’t be back in the office this year at all, I find I’m keen to hold on to.

But it’s not just about adapting to working from home, more and more I’m realising that my own mindset has shifted, and the person I self-identify with now is finally feeling settled, strong, content, and happy. Am I finally the me I want to be?

Perhaps I am, and without realising it I’ve been following through on those aims I set out to establish at the start of the year. I’ll happily admit this has been more by happenstance than any specific planning, although I guess there is something about having these things kicking about in your brain for a while before trying to fix them into place, planting the seeds and all that.

Largely though it’s been a change in my attitude towards these things that has made the difference, a casting off of any notion of what others may think of me, and accepting that these are things that make me happy and are now part and parcel of who I am, regardless of how well, or often, I do them.

Ultimately it means I am building a new id (for the Freudians among you), a new identity for myself, structured around a new set of desires which are now just part of who I am. At my core I am the same me, but now I am much happier to identify as someone who meditates regularly, someone who keeps a journal, I am a vegetarian, I cycle, I go to the gym. This is who I am now.

None of this is revelatory, yet there has definitely been a subtle change to my approach to these things. In the past I would shy away from even mentioning that I meditate, and exercise was largely something I forced myself to do because I had to do something to balance out what I was eating. Yet now I look forward to my daily meditation, deliberately carving time out for it, I enjoyed my cycle last weekend so much I actually considered going back out later on that day. Who is this guy?!

It’s me.

It’s taken me a while to figure out how these changes have landed without me fulling noticing. At some point these activities switched from being things in my calendar that I’d sometimes do because, hey it’s in my calendar, to things that I actively want to do, things that I’m trying to figure out how I’ll fit in in the coming days and which I’ll feel bad about NOT doing. I don’t like cycling in the rain but if this weekend is to be a complete washout then I know I’ll still be going out, even just for 30 mins, because I want to do it.

For someone who has lived, unknowingly for a long time, with a set of behaviours that are almost entirely driven by my desire to make other people like me and not have a single reason to think anything negative about me, this is eye opening. For example, I now find myself deciding to go out on my bike when best suits me (within reason, I’m not an asshole) rather than putting it off if I can’t quite make it work around the schedules of other people. I’ve turned up slightly later than planned at a friend’s house a couple of times, and I’ve stopped presuming that causing the smallest annoyance is a big deal when it’s just that, a small annoyance.

It would be trite to say that I’ve gotten to this point purely because of adopting that fake it ’til you make it approach, but perhaps I have. Perhaps I’ve brought that simple phrase to the fore and used it to power a positive mental attitude which, in turn, has fostered an acceptance of these things and the part they now play in my life. Perhaps I’ve been unwilling to vocalise this, to publically offer this new me because, well, I’ve never really been all that proud of who I am. It’s not quite imposter syndrome, but is definitely an odd sensation to step back and consider the person I am today, the things I’m prioritising in my life, and realise that, yes, this is me, and I have every right to shout it from the rooftops (and I don’t care if no-one else hears or responds either).

Fake it ’til you make it doesn’t always work of course, but that’s ok too. Even the experts, the greats, have off-days, and it’s important to recognise those days too, the days when I don’t meditate, or write in my journal, or when going to the gym is a real effort. There is only so many times you can utter “Let’s do this” with forced vigour and have yourself believe it. Yet these moments can be used as a way to check in on whether this new thing, this new me, is still valid and correct. Maybe there is something else I can tweak, a small change of direction that will get me back on course. And that’s all part of it, part of growing and adapting and finding your way to happiness.

So here I am. Shiny in my imperfection, happy in the moment as best I can be, adapting to life as it is forced upon me, and in adapting myself to all of this I, oddly, wonderfully, find myself exactly where I want to be.

These last few months I’ve slowly realised just how happy I am, how easy my life is, and how lucky it is that I have found myself here. It’s a place I’ve been striving to get to all of my life, even if I didn’t realise it, and whilst I’ve come close in the past there are enough indicators, small changes of my daily thoughts and habits, that confirm that I am where I should be.

I’ve also spent the last few months questioning all of this, all of these new ideas, new ways of thinking that seem to have fallen into place in my brain. Switches have been flipped and part of me likes to figure out how that happened. I’ve wondered if I’m simply clutching on to these things to counteract all of the swirling chaos that Coronavirus has wrought on the world, but even if that’s the case, so what? It just happens to have been part of this journey since this year and so I’ll accept things as they stand today.

There have been other tumultuous changes in my life these past few months, not least the death of my Father, and it feels odd to be writing about the benefits of self-care, of meditation and happiness in the wake of his passing. Just over a month ago I was delivering his eulogy, but perhaps that in itself has been the catalyst, the final push on this journey of self-discovering and awakening that I didn’t know I needed. Or perhaps this is all just a natural reaction to the death of a parent, a realisation that time moves ever onwards and, to steal a line, we’ve all only really got one choice in life; Get busy living or get busy dying.

I choose living, I choose a life that is mine, a life that I’m proud of, a life that makes me happy. It is well balanced, considerate of others, but places me in the centre with my own needs catered to, listened to and acted upon. I’m putting aside the thoughts in my head that are saying I don’t deserve this, and that I certainly should not be publishing it to the world, and I do all of this not to seek validation but to confirm to myself that, yes, this is me, this is my identity, this is who I am.

At last.

Personal Musings

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The last two weeks have been a whirlwind.

The day of my parents 50th Anniversary – 30th of July – was when Dad fell ill and was taken to hospital with stomach pains.

I visited him, the sole visitor that was allowed due to COVID restrictions, on the Friday, he was taken into the ICU that night. He had acute pancreatitis which rapidly gave him sepsis and he sadly deteriorated from there.

Mum says he’d been a little off earlier in the week but my Dad was never one to make a fuss. I’m not sure that if he had it would’ve made any difference though as, in one short week, he reached the point the ICU staff couldn’t do anything else for him. He was on a ventilator, dialysis, and the sepsis was shutting down his major organs.

A few years ago Dad was diagnosed with an untreatable muscle wasting condition called Inclusion Body Myositis – it falls into the wider category of Muscular Dystrophy – which left him weaker and weaker, so much so that my sister (thankfully) brought her wedding forward a year to ensure he could walk her down the aisle (almost exactly a year ago). He did, although it was a fair effort to get him up into the carriage that he and my sister arrived in!

He never let it bother him, never complained, just adjusted his life accordingly, and continued to provide care for my Mum (herself a stroke victim without use of her right side). That was his way, just get on with things, don’t dwell, just look to the next thing that needs done.

As I said in my eulogy, he was always busy, always planning what was next but it was clear he was slowing down. Over the past few months he was starting to struggle to stand unaided, walking was getting harder, it was clear the IBM was starting to kick in and that made the future for Dad pretty clear. Once he got too weak to walk he’d be in a wheelchair, and eventually IBM impacts the swallow muscles, meaning he’d move from solid foods, to liquids and ultimately to a feeding tube.

I can’t imagine my Dad in a wheelchair, dependent on others for basic tasks, but then who can picture their parents that way? Yet that’s the way his life was heading.

I say all of this is a prelude to the small measure of relief that sits alongside the sadness and grief that still washes over me unexpectedly. When we first spoke to the Doctors in the ICU, they were very clear that Dad was gravely ill, and that if he did manage to pull through he would likely spend months in the hospital and, given his advancing IBM and the damage being wrought on his body, he would be lucky to be get home at all, with a care home a more likely outcome.

Mum was adamant that Dad would hate that. Given their advancing years, the conditions they both live(d) with, and the fact that they are both very practical about such things, they had discussed all of this. Dad did not want to be resuscitated, preferring I guess to have a few moments of dignity, of ownership of the last moments of his life and, whilst that decision ultimately falls to the Doctors, my Mum made it clear, on more than one occasion, that this is how Dad would’ve wanted it. Just let him go.

We talked about it every day as we drove up and down to the hospital, and waited to get in to see him. I guess we started accepting things that week, seeing him hooked up to all those machines, all that ‘fuss’ over him. I guess we knew he was going and that while it was far far sooner than any of us wanted, it was for the best for him.

My Grandpa, my Mum’s father, spent many years in care homes before he passed. Robbed of his ability to walk and speak by numerous strokes he was reduced to a shell of the man I vaguely remember. I was 15 when he passed, but I struggle to remember his voice, and can barely remember him walking without at least the help of a zimmer. From all accounts he was a life and soul kinda guy, a salesman. I can remember him smiling and laughing, the love in his eyes when Jennie arrived to show him her latest toy or drawing, just as I can remember the frustration and rage that built as he tried to communicate yet could only bang his fist on the table whilst moaning loudly when all he wanted was someone to pass the salt.

It was upsetting to see my Grandfather like that, and I’ve no idea if Dad would’ve gone the same way; he was a very patient man, but I fear he would’ve retreated from life so as not to be a ‘bother’ to anyone.

What a daftie, eh. I miss him so much.

I think it’s natural to contemplate your own mortality at times like these, to look ahead to your future years and ponder and consider what might happen. Like my Dad I’d rather not be in a situation for people to have to make a ‘fuss’.

My Dad lasted a week in ICU before we said our goodbyes, after which he was removed from the ventilator, the dialysis was stopped, and he was given morphine to make him comfortable. We didn’t wait at the hospital, instead we took Mum home, and sat and waited. As the nominated contact it was my phone that rang, my sister and mother looked over at me as the voice at the other end of the line confirmed that Dad had passed away. A little over an hour had passed since we’d said our goodbyes.

We all cried.

We consoled each other, wordless hugs, a cascade of silent tears, as we sobbed.

It was my Mum that broke the silence that followed. ‘Aye’ she said, ‘he was ready to go’.

I think there’s a fine line between hiding from and denying your grief, and accepting the sad moments but not letting them dominate. I know that type of thinking comes from Dad, I spent enough time with him on various gardening projects and home improvements to know that if you get a bit stuck, or a setback occurs, you pause and then figure out what’s next and move on. I appear to be treating my grief the same way, my sister is doing the same.

Every now and then it hits me that he’s gone. It’s not really been triggered by anything, I just suddenly realise that I won’t speak to him again, or have him show me his latest project (more on that later). The tears come, I let them fall, then wipe my face dry and figure out what’s next.

Of course, with life doing what it always does, there have been some other things going on; One of our dogs took unwell last week, thankfully he’s on the mend now but we will need to source two new rugs as … well, I’ll spare you the details.

In nicer news, my sister is pregnant again! It’s not, as my niece hopes, with twins, but Lucy should be a big sister round about the time she turns 5.

The timing of this news is good for my Mum, as it’s something to look forward to, but a little sad nevertheless. Dad was already in ICU when Jennie broke the news to him, she had planned to tell the family that weekend whilst we gathered for their Golden Anniversary celebrations, but we are all sure Dad heard her, responding with a flickering of his eyes and a faint smile.

Yes indeed, one life ends and another will begin, t’were ever thus.

As for my own life, well, I already know what’s next. Just gotta get on and live it.


Image courtesy of The West Wing Weekly (featured on this t-shirt).

Life

It was my Dad’s funeral this afternoon.

It was a short service at a local crematorium, with only 18 attendees allowed, all of us sitting in socially distanced seats with our masks on. Surreal.

That aside it was, as my Uncle Nigel said, a dignified service. The Rev Ian Miller led the way, and I said a few words myself, words which were easier to write and deliver, than I thought.

My Dad was well liked and we were all very moved to see old neighbours waiting to say goodbye as we left the funeral parlour, members of the Rotary and Burns clubs flanking the road into the Crematorium, and so many people waiting outside as he was piped in ‘up the hill’ by a well kent local figure (thanks again Colin).

It was a sad day, but a wonderful celebration of the amazing life my Dad lived. He touched the lives of so many, and was proof that being a good guy is something to aspire to.

Here’s what I said (and no, I don’t know how I made it through it without crying):

My father was 5’4, on a good day. Being slightly taller than him I occasionally used to tease him about this, yet he always gave the same good natured reply; Good things come in small packages.

Good is a word I’ve seen used to describe my Dad frequently over the last few days as the messages of condolence and support have flooded in. As well as family and friends, we were all heartened to read the hundreds of responses from ex-pupils as well, all of which used a variety of wonderful adjectives; good, thoughtful, kind, considerate, lovely, generous, best, he even got a ‘legend’, a word I know my Dad would’ve baulked at.

I have many more words I could add to that list but, if I had to pick only one it would be “busy”.

Dad always had something on the go; between the numerous home improvements and landscaping of the garden in Barloan Crescent (under Mums close supervision of course), the races to train for, the choirs to sing in, performances to rehearse, poems to write and learn, any number of helpful projects on the computer and, of course, that was all on top of the usual duties involved with being a devoted husband, and a caring and supportive father. He was always busy, but never too busy for us.

When I think of Dad I guess I’ll always come back to that phrase of his, good things come in small packages.

Those thoughts were running through my head as I drove to Dumbarton last week; on the radio they started discussing the Robert Burns poem, Tae a Moose. In it, Burns looks on with envy at the mouse as it only lives in the present, it’s us humans that are cursed with the ability to dwell on the past and fear the future:

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!


I don’t fear a future without Dad but it makes me sad to think ahead to the life events he will miss; the beginning of my own family and the continuing bloom of my sisters, not to mention all the missed coffee, cake and ice cream trips with Mum.

Instead I’ll look to the past, not to dwell but to remember the happy times, for there are many to choose from.

Dad was always laidback about life – so laidback he was horizontal – and he was always ready with a silly comment or a smile, always there to support the family however best he could.

Our family home was one full of love, joy, laughter, and a never ending stash of biscuits and sweets. Those, and many more, are the memories I will look back on, the past that I’ll carry with me fondly, as should we all.

My Dad was no mouse and, whilst he may only have been 5’4 (on a good day), I know I’ll always look up to him, and aspire to be, like he was, a good man.

A sad day, but I know Dad wouldn’t want us to dwell. He helped his family find happiness and we will strive to continue to live our lives in that same kind-hearted way he exemplified.

R.I.P. Dad. x

Life Personal Musings

I can’t recall where I saw it, or heard it. It might have been on the radio, it might have been on Twitter, or it might have been a line an article I read somewhere. Annoyingly I can’t recall the exact phrasing but given I can’t even find it to quote it I don’t think I’m doing anyone a disservice by paraphrasing this in my own way.

I am done with the wilfully inconsiderate.

I do know it concerned right wing factions in the US and their protests against wearing masks – this in a country that is currently leading the way (go America!) in COVID-19 deaths – and how it wasn’t the people who lack an education who we should be dealing with here, no no, instead we should be looking at those people who are WILFULLY IGNORING advice from scientists.

I am done with the wilfully inconsiderate.

At this point I should admit that I have a pet peeve, I identified it a long time ago and it’s one I know I’ll never shake; It’s the person who doesn’t glance behind as they open a door and who just lets it swing back into… well whatever is behind them, they don’t know. It’s the person who litters. It’s the person who looks at an already full and overflowing recycling bin and things they’ll just dump a bin bag next to it anyway.

I’m not sure if it’s a growing trend, this air of ‘but it’s not my job’/seeming self importance, but it is most certainly an annoying one.

Is it a lack of education? I’m not sure, and it’s hard to get into this without rolling out class based reasoning and accusations. So let’s not go there, especially as I’ve heard and seen all the counter-arguments to these types of minor misdemeanours; someone else will do it… I was only gone for… and so on.

Oh yes, there is always a ready excuse, just as there is usually a quick escalation to anger. Is that because they know, deep down, that what they’ve not done isn’t right? That it goes against the idea of a community, a society in which everyone has the same rights and expectations? And when called out on it the reaction is usual a spicy ‘Mind your own business’ (and that’s the polite version).

For a while I thought it was my age, or a change in my demeanour that was making these little transgressions fit into a large pattern, but no, when a traveling writer (himself a renowned anti-litter grump) visited Glasgow a couple of years ago he commented on the same thing, how shameful it was that such a lovely city was covered in litter. Disgusting, he said, and we sat in our shame and agreed.

I miss lockdown. Walking the dogs through the early weeks and the change in our local environment was telling, the streets were cleaner than I remember them for a long long time.

Lockdown lifts and it’s already heading back to where it was, with the added bonus of discarded masks lying in the street alongside the McDonalds containers and coffee cups. It’s all so enraging and I can feel my patience wearing thinner and thinner.

Yet the ones that pique my rage the most are those who actively go out of their way, who wilfully choose to go against the grain. No more so than the current trend (is that what it is?) of choosing not to wear a mask.

It’s all subsumed into a world of fake virus claims, 5G hysteria, and largely driven by bogus information that is easily fact checked and flagged as such. I’ve even seen one Facebook page linking to articles that Facebook itself is flagging as false information (but of course that’s all part of the conspiracy too, right?).

What is the reasoning here? Is it a weird unthinking reflex that flies in thousands of years of self-preservation, or just an obstinate choice to be contrary for the sake of it?

This virus kills people. It damages survivors in ways we don’t yet fully understand. Those are the facts, I’ve a friend who tested positive, had self-isolated and still doesn’t have much of a sense of smell or taste.

But that’s ok, that doesn’t impact you so go ahead, don’t bother with a face mask, don’t look where you are walking, and feel free to drop that plastic bag of rubbish in the street.

Of course there is part of me that realises I’m speaking from a place of privilege (of which I have many), and that allows me to look at people who demonstrate these traits and determine the actions that I want to ensure I avoid (however subtle) and if nothing else they are a shining example of the type of person I do NOT want to be.

Yet I find myself casting around for ways to get a handle on these things, a way to process my initial reaction (anger) and find a way to better approach these things, whether that’s directly with the person – a polite request might be all some need – or through community action perhaps?

It’s the one thing that I hope is carried over from lockdown, a sense of community, a sense of doing good, or at least doing better, for your local area. Perhaps it’s overly optimistic but these days I’m not sure how else to be, and I’m not sure how else to combat these things.

Is it just me? Is the world slowly slipping away from the basic tenet of ‘be nice’? It certainly feels that way.


Image source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CDCHDymJ9jz/

Life

It helps that we live part way down a hill, so the minute I get on my bike I can pump the pedals a few times and head down it to get that instant burst of speed and feel the wind in my ha.. well, you get the picture.

It had been a week or so since I’d last out on my bike but in those first few seconds I realised how much I missed it and, being me, I tried to figure out why I was getting such a buzz of excitement so quickly.

I’ve been a runner for a long time, if I count those teenage years out with my Dad then I’ve spent 30 odd years in a fractuous relationship with something that falls into the classic love/hate Venn diagram.

Becca isn’t a runner, she was brought up on bikes and hill walking (I’m convinced she’s half mountain goat at times), and trying to explain to her why running can be fun is hard.

Maybe that’s because running is hard and, for a lot of the time, when you are starting out or getting your fitness back (or dealing with a myriad of injuries like someone you know, dear reader) it really isn’t all that much fun. It’s a slog. A sweaty, thumping, panting, plodding, slog.

In your head you are lithe, bounding along on springy limbs, the pavements a blur beneath your feet as the sun shines down. You are an athlete, part Mo Farah, part Jessica Ennis, supple, slim, and moving with grace.

In reality you have a weird shuffle because you keep forgetting to keep your head up, and as you religiously follow the voice in your headphones, you silently, cursingly, count down the seconds until you can “Walk for 30 secs”.

That’s partly because of the way we approach learning to run; presuming you aren’t one of those people who is just naturally fit and slim, and slips on their shoes for a quick 5K round the park, running is hard work.

Don’t get me wrong, those Couch to 5K programmes are great for many people but are typically structured to be a constant nag, especially with the myriad of apps with notifications and whizzing graphics that are a constant reminder:

Do your run today!

Run, walk, run, Walk Now, RUN NOW!

I’ve tried a few of them in the past and (Zombies aside) they just aren’t all that much fun and tend to transport me back to my youth, to our P.E. teachers, and the prospect of being the unfit/overweight kid who was only good at two sports; basketball and badminton.

Don’t get me wrong, I have found memories of those gym halls, and it was those somewhat joyless winter ‘cross country’ sessions, circling a muddy, sleet covered field/football pitches, that made me realise that whilst I couldn’t run fast, I could just run and run.

Other memories come flooding back. With a father who was also a P.E. teacher (thankfully he was at a different school by the time I got to Dumbarton Academy!) and who had, for a while, taught alongside one of my P.E. teachers I was quickly singled out for some extra comments, given and taken in good spirit.

These include the legendary, withering put down from Mr. Mackie (sp?) (who I’d later befriend as a fellow fisherman on the banks of the River Leven); we’d been practicing the shot putt, and I’d heaved it as far as humanly possible and I thought it wasn’t too shoddy an effort, yet it was met with an incredulous smirk and the comment “For gods sake McLean, yer granny could throw it further than that!”.

Ahhhh those were the days.

I’ve written before about my cycling history but it’s only the last few months, being out and about more and more on two wheels that I’m realising why I enjoy it so much.

I have no competition.

As a child my bike was used for escape and freedom. I could be alone and travelling, I could cycle over to Levengrove Park and sit by myself. I never raced, never competed, so cycling was always just a thing to do because I enjoyed it.

It was fun.

It still is.

Growing up I realise that most of my youth was spent trying to compete, trying to fit in, with boys who were strong/faster/better at most things than I was. In a way this was a good thing, competition can be, and it drove me trying harder in areas where I knew I had a chance of winning and I found ways of doing just that, mostly through the latter years of Boys Brigade and leading my squad to a clean sweep of all the trophies in my last year there.

Yet, as always, these childhood experiences were helping form behaviours that would stick with me for a long, long, time. They were subtle, hidden at times, and entirely in my own head and of my own construct. Without realising it I was on track to being a perfectionist in all it’s self-defeating and self-limiting ways.

Oddly I don’t think I’d change anything other than the timing of this realisation (a few years ago); but c’est la vie, and with my self-awareness continuing to heighten it’s allowing me little moments like I had on my bike.

It also explains my last run. I’m committed to my long standing goal of running 5KM this year and have been taking myself out for run/walk sessions every now and then, mostly to see where I am fitness/injury wise.

In the past I’d have gone with an app, picked a program that I thought would match my current capabilities and followed it. This time I didn’t, I just pulled on my shoes, popped on a playlist and ran, and walked, and ran, and walked. I ended up covering about 2.5km and felt like I could’ve gone on a little further.

It felt good, it felt freeing. I wasn’t in competition with a voice telling me what to do, there was no-one to let down (yes my brain will feel bad if I’m letting down a digitised voice that I chose to listen to). It was just me, running (with a little walking), ignoring everything around me.

It meant I could focus on my posture (part of the physio I got early this year highlighted this) and for some moments I realised I was just lost in the run, a feeling I’ve not had for a long long time.

It was fun.

Life

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It was a fairly standard evening. We’d had our dinner and were watching a little TV together, it’s part of our routine to unwind and destress from our working days, we chat over dinner and then spend a few quiet moments sitting together, distracting ourselves with (currently) episodes of Modern Family.

As soon as she is allowed Sasha hops up on the sofa and straight up onto my lap. She likes to sit with her back to me, front paws on my knees, so I can give her a hug and a tummy rub/claim me as hers. We think it might be related to abandonment issues (she’s a wee rescue) and she only really does it with me because I’m a boy. Regardless it’s wonderfully sweet if slightly weird to have this little dog just sitting ON you.

Then as she moves around to make sure she’s the only one getting my attention her front claws start digging in and it’s time to heave her off before she draws blood (again!) don’t worry though, I know it all comes from a place of love…

So, that’s where you’ll find us most evenings, with Sasha happily ensconced between us on the sofa – important to note that she is BETWEEN US to make sure I’m not giving Becca any attention! – and Dave roaming around, chewing a toy here, boofing at the window on occasion at a passing… leaf? we are never sure…

Dave isn’t really one for being patted, but start scritching is lower back and that’ll get his tail wagging. Alas – in Sasha world – that means she isn’t getting all the attention which means she’ll then attempt to plonk herself back on my knee or, worse, jump down and instigate yet another snarling play fight over a toy that neither of them have bothered about all night.

For the record, it’s only worse because they make a bloody racket, it’s all (snarling) play but suffice to say I’ve now just accepted that all TV is watched with subtitles.

Aside: Did you know that when they are playing together, dogs will sneeze every now and then to confirm it’s ‘just play’ and not an attack? Funny wee things these fur babies!

At 8pm the dogs get their dinner and some (most) nights Becca will head up for a bath. With only one ‘grown up’ left in the living room both dogs settle down pretty quickly; Sasha will get nicely sprawled on the sofa, snoring away, Dave lying next to her having spent the last 30 minutes grooming his best pal, vigorously, with his tongue (for the record, that’s Sasha, although he’s not adverse to helping me ‘clean’ my hands at times).

I sit there too, deciding what to watch, or what to read, or whether to fire up the PlayStation.

These small moments in the day are peaceful and quiet (snoring aside), and I feel calm and happy.

Through the early days of lock down, with the outside world more distance and muted, I started to take a little time to just sit and do nothing and revel in the silence. For those that know me, I’m usually busy doing something (I am the son of my father for sure!) so it’s odd to catch myself, more and more often, happily doing nothing.

I didn’t fully realise I needed these moments until they arrived. It’s one thing planning to meditate for 10 mins or so but that in and of itself still requires me to do something – it’s a practice so you need to work at it – whereas these quiet contented evenings have sort of snuck up on me. I guess it’s partly a mix of better understanding my own needs, a further quieting of that nagging voice in my head that, for so so long, was always saying ‘you should do something’, and feeling supported, seen, heard and loved.

Sure I am happy, but more than that, I am content.

It’s a word I’ve found myself using more and more to describe how I feel these days. Even in the midst of a global pandemic there has been a sense of calm, of care, of love in our home; a sense of balance which has been there since we first got together and which I’m much more attuned to these days.

It’s odd to realise such a simple thing, to recognise that your life is in a great place, that your future is exciting and full of possibilities.

Becca and I chat about our future often, we know where we would like it go, and we know that no matter how it pans out we will both be in a place where we are happy as long as we are together.

Oddly it feels like we have MORE opportunities ahead of us, rather than a narrowing of options of our shared circumstance. It’s a bewildering thing to contemplate, given the current state of the world, but with an eye to the future I’m already wondering if there are better things I can be doing with my time.

Part of that, and this is no coincidence, has been the last few months of enforced working from home. I know I’m lucky that that is an option at all but the more I think about working back in an office environment, the more I wonder why I’d put myself through that. I am far more productive, and whilst some of the challenges remain, I am fundamentally happier working this way.

Mind you I’m not sure what else I could do (I still need to earn money after all) but part of me doesn’t really mind not knowing. I feel secure enough that I trust that we will figure things out when we need to and, until then, I’m just enjoying what I’m (officially now) considering the second phase of my life.

I’m 46 years old. That number still baffles me but I can still remember a younger me that had plans built around financial success, that focused on material possessions, and like many people my age I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I know that I have learned from those and in one of those universally truthful cliches it really does feel like all of THAT was simply steps I had to go through to get to where I am now.

Like I said, we have some plans that are already shaping up, and until they come to fruition I’m just going to keep on being grateful for everything I have; the happy home I live in, the wonderful, smart, compassionate, kind and caring (and also beautiful and hot) woman who lets me share her life, for the joy our two little mischievous dogs bring to our life every single day, and for this oddly new state of always feeling happy from the minute I wake up to the moment I fall asleep.

And I know all this to be true as I’ve been keeping a Gratefulness Journal going for the past couple of months and, when you boil it all down, I find myself being happy for the right things and for the right reasons.

Life can seem complicated at times but it’s truly not, it’s very simple if you can learn to focus on the best bits and let all the other noise slide away.

It’s take me a long time to get to this place and the best bit is that there is still so very much left to enjoy, so much more happiness and joy to explore.

Life Personal Musings

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to be more mindful and considerate of where I spend my time. As such I’m not on Facebook all that much, I find Twitter holds less and less appeal, and only Instagram remains as my main ‘idle scrolling’ habit these days.

I guess it’s easy to fathom why, with so much going on in the world and each new ‘moment’ compounding the last, I’ve found these places less and less appealing to visit not because of the content I’m seeing there (although for sure it doesn’t always help) but because the level of my interaction has gotten so fleeting and sparse and light that it feels out of balance.

That’s entirely because the value I place on my time/interactions on Facebook and Twitter has dropped significantly, so I’m just less and less inclined to spend time on those platforms right now. It’s a little bit self-fulfilling I’ll admit but the more I consider it the less bothered I am by this.

I’m not leaving either platform but my usage of them is shifting from casual fun places to something with a little more weight.

Facebook remains a good place to keep in loose touch with friends and family, and is also where I look for local businesses and groups. I’m slowly leaving various interest based groups and unfollowing pages that are mostly about getting hits.

My Twitter usage is much more focussed on news and current events now, and whilst I push things there I don’t tend to follow up on them, popping in now and then to skim, retweet, then leave.

And I have to admit I’m not missing either platforms at all.

So what am I doing with all this extra free time I have? Well a whole lot of nothing in particular and that’s kinda been the point.

Actually that’s not true; I’m reading more books and articles. I’m exercising more often, meditating more often, journaling more often. In short I’m focusing on me more than I ever have.

Of course it’s all about balance, but I’m lucky to have an amazing partner who supports and encourages me, and it finally feels like the myriad of little things I both wanted and needed in my life are falling in to place.

Ultimately it feels like I’ve got a new focus, or at least I’ve regained the ability to focus clearly again. I feel healthy, I’m eating well, sleeping well, losing weight steadily, and every day I find myself more and more grateful to the home I live in, the partner I share it with, and can see our future unfolding in front of us.

Whilst all of this is not COVID related – as you know, dear reader, it’s been a long slow aim of mine to find a way to spend less time on social media – it does seem to have given me the kick I needed.

The world will always be in some level of chaos and the more I free up space in my life, in my brain, the easier I’m finding it to cope with. I’m not sure where this new focus will take me but I’m excited about the possibilities.

Stepping back it feels natural that this is happening now, with or without a global pandemic as a back drop, I wonder if really this is all just a result of the steps I started taking a few years ago, deliberate choices designed to give myself more physical and mental space, choices which were not always easy but which are now coming to fruition.

I need to revisit some of these steps – the gradual creep of consumerism is a hard one to fight – but that’s all part of the journey. I feel much more able to focus on things that matter to me, and much more connected to the wider world around me.

This hasn’t been an epiphany, far from it, but for the first time in a very long time I find myself considering the things I’m grateful for and being happy and content are regularly at the top of the list. It’s taken a lot of work to get here.

Life

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