Dad worked in the police force when I was born, and continued to do so for the following twenty years. In the 60s, 70s and 80s in particular, the police service in the UK was not remarkable for its liberal ideology. 'Lefties' needed not apply - and so, I suspect, it remains to this day. Dad fitted in very well. Generally speaking, if you were a male police officer, you voted Conservative and conservatively. This was odd, because an underlying distrust of the political class as a whole was all-pervasive among the service, even when I too became a human part of that machine. The people who pulled the strings were generally regarded as useless tossers who wouldn't know one end of a Greenpeace protester from the other end of a half-naked horse molester (oh yes: they were out there) - yet still, almost to a man, we voted for them time after time. We sewed the whirlwind.
In the years since I began to finally think my own thoughts rather than regurgitating those of other people, I have often pondered why I was picked up and carried along by a far more right-wing ideology than I can comfortably entertain today. Apart from the obvious reason (that being stupidity), I have tried to examine the line of thinking that led me to accept and heartily agree with my dear old dad's perspective - especially since at least one of my siblings did not concur. I have little excuse - it's not as if access to other viewpoints was restricted; the television was hardly ever turned off in our home, and opposing views from left-wing or centrist politicians frequently blurted out of that little speaker and into our living room, much to my father's disgust. I shared his contempt as soon as I was able to do so. My reward was to not be glared at (unlike my brother) with an expression of shock mixed with outrage which spoke of (as it turned out: prophetically) being written out of the will.
I've always nurtured a delusion that I am 'different' in a way that is positive. Deep down, I know that it's bollocks and that I'm about as ordinary a man as it's possible to be, but I retain a tiny, child-like hope that I am special or at the very least, untypical. It's a little disappointing therefore, to realize that at least part of the reason that I held the political views that I did was from a desire to fit in and be part of a group. Whether it was a group of two or three in my own house (and siding with the group leader is always a good strategy for a small ape) or a much larger group in the industry within which I worked, fitting in with political views gave me a feeling of security, safety and some degree of confidence that I was right. How sad.
Breaking out of that kind of thinking has been a wonderful by-product of my decision to leave the police force and to leave the country of my birth and upbringing. Fourteen years ago yesterday, I left that part of my life behind in England and came with my then wife and our two small kids to British Columbia. Five thousand-and-some miles seemed like a long way to travel, but the distance between the man I was and the man I have become is much, much greater. Sometimes I forget about it, but it does me good to remember that in 2002 I was a very different person to the (admittedly ragged, worn, pot-bellied and balding) fellow you perceive dropping words haphazardly onto these pages. It does me good because I had a secret hope back then. I hoped to change - a quiet, suppressed part of the person inside wanted to be someone a little unlike whom I had become by the age of 37. Having very recently celebrated my 51st birthday (by the way, I hope you notice when the numbers change on the title photo?), I said - as I often do - to somebody that I still feel as if I'm thirty. Only some of that is true.
Mentally, I have (I think/hope) the same energy as I always had. I think I'm as sharp as I ever was (picture the blunt end of a blunt thing), even though the body is showing signs of wear and tear and is seemingly getting its revenge for the things that I have put it through from time to time. But I'm not the man I was - and that's a good thing. As I have mentioned before, I have lost much of the bigotry that used to infest my thoughts (I have no doubt that I'm not completely cleansed of all of them - but if I were, you might well find me with flowers tied to my few remaining hairs, strumming a lute, singing 'hey nonny-nonny', and surrounded by otters and swans - what a terrifying picture!), and despite my frequent outbursts of frustration with anyone who is not me, I am a much happier person than I ever used to be. I have the room and the time in my life to more completely enjoy the love of others, and to express more fully my love for those closest to me. At times, I'm almost nice...
The most strident evidence of the difference in my thinking and my perspective on life has been the paradigm shift in my politics. These days (as you may have noticed once or twice on these very pages) I am incredulous that so many people hold such right wing views. Having been there, having lived outside of that bubble without the safety net and now having run around the circle and settled at a spot pretty much opposite that which I used to occupy, I can hardly believe what I used to believe (if you get my meaning). In order to feel safe, I had joined the gang of the frightened people. In order to 'belong', I'd become one of so many who fear difference of almost every kind, and who despise those who are unlike 'us'. I'd accepted the unspoken mantra of 'Be like us or fuck off!'
More than that: I had lived it. I needed to leave that behind, and through making the biggest change in my life that I felt was possible, I believe I've managed it.
How very stupid I had been. It's a good job that there is life after being stupid...
My advice is that if you find yourself in the brink of making a major change, watch that first step off the diving board: it's a doozie alright, but the water can be so very refreshing.