Monday, 15 September 2014

To perceptive and accepting parents

'Son I just want to sit here and toast to the rest of your life'. Gareth Thomas’ dad.
Great man, gay man
The quote above is from a BBC news story about Gareth Thomas, but I read a snippet of the story from People section of The Week magazine on my way to London in the weekend.
What caught me about this remarkable man’s story was not so much the struggles with his sexuality but the perceptiveness and acceptance of his parents.
Having earned 100 caps for Welsh rugby, a man’s man, build like a brick house and supposedly the epitome of raging heterosexuality, he was in fact not once that.
As many do, he attempted aversion therapy, got married, lived on the down-low, fought depression and other despairing issues on account of his homosexuality, it almost broke him until he was courageous enough to tell his wife and then his Welsh rugby team mates.
The toast
However, it was when he visited his parents having told them three weeks earlier that he was gay that he got home to them and he saw three champagne flutes on the table. His mother said, ‘Fetch the champagne from the fridge.’
He did not know what the celebration was about, but the champagne was poured and it was then that his father, a man of not many words said, “Son I just want to sit here and toast to the rest of your life.
The Week piece writes it with more emotion, when he was divorced from his wife, he returned to his parents’ home where one day as he laid weeping in his childhood bed, his parents called him downstairs and proposed this toast.
Apparently, they knew he was gay without his having to tell them.
The challenge of parenthood
So many things are heart-warming about this story that should also be a learning moment for parents. Parenthood goes a long way beyond meeting the material needs of a child, food, shelter, clothing, protection and education are not substitutes for getting engaged with the emotional needs of a child.
Most parents have known their children all their lives, yet, many do not understand their children in the first place and others try to mould their children into the lives they failed to attain or achieve.
In the process they destroy the individuality and the personality of the child, undermine the child’s self-esteem by being over-bearing and consequently destroy the creativity of the child, having made a robot of a free moral agent. Some parents might even excuse this as discipline, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It means the world
I commend Gareth Thomas’s parents for helping him on the way to self-realisation and acceptance by first being perceptive, then understanding, then accepting and then celebratory.
It means the world to a child regardless of the age they have reached or the status they have attained when a parent stops trying to impose will and desire on the child, but offers guidance, advice, room to explore, encouragement and acceptance to the child.
Acceptance, especially when it pertains to deep personal and difficult issues as sexuality, but this can extend to career choices, partner choices and any issue that brings the child to crossroads and decision.
The way parents influence the lives of their children is, I dare say, down to what parents decide to do in terms of interacting with their children, being ready to listen and available to communicate.
Then me
In some ways, some of what I write about here is indicative of some areas that were open to discussion with my parents and other areas where we never had the rapport for me to approach them with my problems when I most needed help.
There were no open doors much as my parents might have imagined I had free access to them, the questions linger as I have never told them of child sexual abuse that started in our home from the age of 7, the times when I had palpitations as I saw my home from a distance, when failure was a consequence of my not attending class, it was because I was in classes and completely clueless of what was going on in the class.
Where we are
I took religion because I was looking for solutions, yet it brought me into searing conflict with my parents, it became war that led my mother to act abominably in one instance. Though we appear to now maintain a modicum of communication, I do not believe a good deal of me is understood by my parents, we still strive in my dreams.
The damage has been done, as perceptiveness was replaced with the demand for my respect and obedience, they were all-knowing and all-seeing and rarely ever listening.
Yet, again, I still had an enchanted childhood, provision was there, comfort abounded, things and gifts given, no interference with my career choices, an education of class and quality, I can only be thankful for the parents I have. Parenting does not come with a manual. Alas! But love goes a long way, know it, show it and act it out.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Holiday Snaps: Location still serves vocation

Tribes in the sun
Location, they say, is everything. This could not have been more evident than in my recent visit to Playa del Inglés on the island of Gran Canaria.
Much as this part of the island offers hotels, sun, sand, mostly in dunes and the sea, there are sections around the place that are tribal, clannish or native.
We are left in no doubt that the Germans frequent this island more than other nationals considering the number of signs in German compared to English, Dutch or Scandinavian signs.
Whilst, many other nationals do visit for the sun and surprisingly we met up with Americans who had somehow found this out-of-the-way European sunshine paradise, it is was something of a surprise to me.
Traces of places
When it comes to night life, there are places to go where a lot is going on. I could not however fail to notice that beyond these central places that the tourists throng, some enterprising and entrepreneurial spirits had thought to attract custom to other places in town.
These new places I found were considerably better in standard, facility and variety compared to the crowded places that proprietors could not care to maintain or update. However, they have so much footfall that they cannot be bothered to differentiate themselves from competition to attract more clientele. Complacency had set in.
Whereas, these new places strive to convince us that they are close to the centre and in the process miss out on providing the critical detail that might persuade people to visit their premises.
Failing to listen
I took it upon myself at one such venue to state that the instructions given for their location were not clear and sometimes confusing. The indications use referred to a building that had a name spelt top-down rather than from the left to the right as most of us read words.
My friend, new to the island had more recognition for the building name that had the word spelt horizontally from left to right rather than for the building name spelt vertically, prominent as it appeared to be, but I could not get that point across to the owners, rather, I was pushed back as being probably stupid.
Missing the essential
You then wonder if their market research despite the quality of the product took cognisance of that minor detail of getting people to come or whether it had any strategies for persuading people to leave the beaten paths to the less well-travelled places.
Yet, with owners who appear to know too much that they cannot appreciate a simple observation from a customer concerned enough to make a point about the directions to venue, there is no wondering why despite how good and fantastic the new places are, not many are venturing beyond the central hubs of activity.
They’ve created paradise in a desert and expect people to leave the comforts of tried and tested venues for an unknown. Unknown, they would remain until they rethink the whole scheme because they present no competition as at yet to force the popular places to improve, upgrade or make attractive offers to customers.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Thought Picnic: Facebook bearing news of deaths

Face tough news
The way Facebook has invaded our space is quite alarming to some extent and it led to a conversation I was not too willing to have.
In pretence and denial, I dodged the premise and the direction the conversation was going in as I chatted to my dad the other day. I had called to express my condolences at the passing of my aunt, his second younger sister.
I learnt of her passing on Facebook as I have learnt of the passing of at least 3 other relations. Going through time-lines of the friends, you happen upon a status that in some cases is as clear as plain English and in others it is cryptic but indicative that something serious has happened.
Face finality
Though, this time, the information came to me as a message, at other times, one is never prepared for the suddenness of the impact of just a phrase that suggest an end with such finality and resignation that we all comfort ourselves with promises of religion many of which are leaps of faith than experiences of reality.
The wonder of that thing called life, terminated in the seizure of breath and the stopping of the heart suggests that is more to flesh and bones than we sometimes give the simpleness of humanity credit for.
Everything ceases and decay begins to set in, every essence of existence gives way to what we all have to do eventually, commit and excuse, we are left with only one enduring thing, memories in recollections, dreams and voices, the concentration in our thoughts of the experience that was the person when they were then with us.
Face truth
So, as my father suggested that the way things are, I might just read of his passing on Facebook, he was probably closer to the truth than I was ready to admit. It makes you want a different medium to be informed of the death of a close relation than to read of it in crudely crafted words of sadness and grief. Your heart stopping for a moment as you really hope that what you’ve read is not true.
Facebook is not a dream, it is reality that slaps us in the face daily from the trivial to the serious and I do not think we have made adequate provision for the consequences of what gets revealed therein.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Holiday Snaps: Nowhere near a post-racial Europe

Mythical curiosity
Maybe to my mind that is the case, but there are possibilities that I have been in places where I am probably the only ethnic minority for miles.
Now, it does not bother me, though there seems to be an exotic and sometimes erotic quality to my presence as curiosity and myth collude in a bizarre setting of becoming the cynosure and object of interest.
This can be comfortable as in where over 40 Turkish school children gathered round me for a photograph in the amphitheatre of antiquity amongst the ruins of Ephesus to where some young men with other interests appeared to sit with me for a picture but had their hands in all my empty pockets.
Keep your valuables in your hotel
I am the wiser to know that when going out at night never to take anything of value with me, the list of those things includes passport, wallet, lots of money and most particularly my mobile phone.
The mobile phone which can be replaced is a lot more valuable than we realise, it contains address books of contact details and information that cannot be easily retrieved as pictures and certain utilities or application settings too important to be without as banking apps, navigation tools and so on.
This became evident last night when a lady, I used that word loosely, got herself so inebriated that she became a victim of opportunistic crime. She lost both her money and her mobile phone to one of the many who look for the vulnerable to exploit. Spurting out expletive after expletive would not have changed the situation and the more she railed, the less it made it to help her, I was saddened for her sake.
No one should be a victim of crime, whether vulnerable or not, yet, one cannot absolve the victim totally from blame if a few precautions were taken as leaving valuables in the hotel and drinking sensibly. The phone had much treasure pictures of her daughter, but thieves are not people who place any value on anything we hold dear. The phone would be pawned off for a pittance just because, I’ll leave it at that.
Impressions about black people
Back to what I began with and I have not written about this before, the fact that regardless of how open and free Europe appears to be, we are nowhere near a post-racial society where stereotypes, prejudices and ascribed attitudes define how people are viewed.
I cannot count the number of times I have been approached by people who assume I have hard drugs to peddle. The idea being that mainly what black people do, they do not have conventional careers or professions but live on the edges of society fully involved in some sort of criminality.
Where you wonder do you begin to tackle this rotten misconception and image of people of my race, many of us, honest, decent, upright and hopefully respectable members of society and the communities with which we work and live?
Fuck Off!
So, this Swedish couple approached me, the man sat beside me and then asked if I had smokes to sell. When I responded in the negative, not only was he displeased, he intoned, “Not good.” Basically, he genuinely expected me to be peddling drugs and never expected me to be doing anything otherwise, it was obvious he approached me because of my race rather than any other factor.
Somewhere in his preconceptions, that is what we did. The slight and gravity of disrespect seething with insidious racism was compounded by the fact not an apology was offered for this effrontery of atrocious stereotyping.
I was half-angered and I am minded to blurt out an uncharacteristic – Fuck Off! – When next I am approached for drugs. Not my kind of expression, but it would be more than effective in helping such idiots realise than we should be approached with great caution, if the intention is to belittle us with association with criminality rather than quality of character and better assumptions of status and achievement.
We are nowhere near a post-racial Europe, even for those of us with a very high self-esteem and well-developed sense of self.

Holiday Snaps: Loro Parque, Tenerife

Tripping to another island
The day trip to Tenerife is now a constant feature of my holidays to Gran Canaria where I have the choice of visiting Loro Parque or just doing a tour of the island.
The port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is just a 70 minute boat ride from Puerto de las Nieves on the north-eastern coast of Gran Canaria, but this all takes a lot out of you.
I felt going to Loro Parque was essential especially for my friend who was having his first package holiday at a seaside resort. At least to prove the point that there was more besides sun, sea, sand and sometimes sex.
We had already visited Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital city of the island of Gran Canaria and between fable, legend and truth, gone to the Christopher Columbus house purportedly resided in, which is now a museum. The view is that most trips to the New World as it then known passed through the Canary Islands.
Off to Tenerife
For Tenerife, we got a wake-up call at 5:15AM having been out most of the night, we were somnambulists for the hours that followed. Though we had planned for an early breakfast at 5:30AM, we had no stomach for such.
The shuttle bus to take us to the port arrived around 6:20AM and the sooner that I got in my seat, I attempted a half slumber and for the journey between Playa del Inglés and the Las Palmas, the chaperone allowed us some peace to catch some shut-eye.
I noticed a few changes to the scheduling, the trip was better planned, we were given hints to what shows to see and the best order to maximise the usage of our time at Loro Parque. The ferry was an hour earlier and it also meant we returned in enough time to make dinner back at the hotel.
Our chaperone was a chatterbox extraordinaire, he switched between 4 languages with ease and repeated his advice in as many ways possible that the stupid would be highly enlightened, yet there were times I wished I had travelled with my ear plugs, for I was on the verge of telling him shut up for a nanosecond and give our eardrums a rest from the din.
The shows
The sea was calm, the journey easy and we were at Loro Parque just before 11:00AM, and we made for Orca World where we were to see killer whales in performance. Though the show as to start at 11:30, the arena was quite full some 15 minutes to the start.
The orca whale is really not a whale, it is a dolphin and yet apex predators. These creatures are huge and could measure up to 6 metres long.
The handlers do not get in the water with the orcas as they do with the dolphins that are much smaller or even the lion seals.
Though Loro Parque was created for parrots, parakeets, cockatoos and birds of that family group, it is essentially a zoo, but one of significance for the rarity of the animals, their conservation efforts and the documentation that accompanies their exhibits.
And then
We attended the orca and dolphin shows, but decidedly missed the sea lion show, at the dolphin show, I learnt something new, how to determine the sex of dolphins and what to do if I encounter a beached or stranded dolphin.
The service at the publicised restaurant for which we had vouchers for a discounted price for a set meal was perfunctory to the point of almost appalling.
The waiters at Patio del Loro looked like if they smiled they might have a terminal cardiac arrest, even I could not wish a smile for them, lest it became an emergency. I left a tip, well the tip was, please find ways to smile. As for the bill, it was not a penny more and not a penny less than what the bill said.
Much as literally every venue in Spain displays the WiFi free logo, nothing is as annoying as to find that the service is poor to the point that you could not connect. My view was that Loro Parque did not add enough capacity to handle the crowds that throng the place. I would rather they did not have the service than have signs everywhere and yet not deliver.