Here you go Timmy – an Iguana !

Here you go Timmy – an Iguana !

Words change their meaning over time and there is nothing we can do about it. We can’t stop it and we shouldn’t try. The original meaning of prevent was simply to come (vene) before (pre) something,  a synonym for precede,  as in “I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried.” (Psalm 119:147). The word no longer has this meaning except in that it carried the idea of something preceding a potential event and stopping it. To use the archaic meaning today  could cause problems, what would the police make of the statement “I prevented the burglar entering the house” ? I doubt it would help communication. Words change their meanings and we adapt and use them appropriately.

However, it is important to know that these changes are taking place as sometimes they also signify a significant change in society as well as vocabulary. I though of this while watching television adverts for potato products. Adverts about families are very keen to stress that “families come in all shapes and sizes” and that the old idea of mother-father-children is archaic and redundant. I wondered if this was true. It is true that dogs come in all shapes and sizes (from chiwawas to great danes) as do cats and other types of animal.  But what is it that makes a dog a dog and and  a cat a cat ? Are they all just animals and it is unimportant ? Will Timmy, with his heart set on a puppy for Christmas, be over the moon with his Iguana – animals come in all shapes and sizes ?

What is it in a family, whatever form it takes, that makes it a family ? Why are a group of workmates not a family ? Why is my estranged brother still family even  though I don’t see him ? Why is my best friend, who I see daily and has supported me through thick and thin, not my family ? I think there are two factors.

Firstly there is the biological relationship.  We are genetically linked to our family. My brother and cousins share a genetic closeness with me that others do not. The same applies to family trees in animals. Two dogs, no matter how different, are more alike that a dog and a cat no matter how superficially similar. This relationship by blood is very important. I watch on the farm as animals maintain their family groups for life despite the hurdles that are put in their way. Humans are no different, and the maternal and paternal bonds are the most obvious sign of this blood relationship. The feelings of parents for children are very special and lead to very special behaviours which nurture and protect children as they grow. It is one of the core values of the family both to the individual child and to our society. This blood relationship is half of the answer, but only half.

Parents are not blood related, this would be a very bad idea. Their linkage is purely personal and social. It is a choice commonly described as based on ‘love’. But what makes this bond any different to any other ? I think there are clues in two common sayings. Firstly we believe “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family” and secondly we often hear crime syndicates, such as the mafia, described as the family because “nobody leaves the family”. I think the second bond that makes families different is that the bonds are binding and life-long. Once you enter into this relationship it is difficult, or impossible, to leave. I have my suspicions that this enduring closeness, this living together through good times and bad, is actually what creates love. Attraction brings people together, love develops when we travel through life with a companion, when we share our life with another person.

This combination of blood relationships and life-long commitments have been a boon to humans, and other animals, in creating stable social structures in which to grow offspring. It is true that today we feel we have evolved beyond the need for these traditional structures  but the evidence would not tend to support this belief. Our statements that families ‘come in all shapes and sizes’ is more a statement of hope that the way we live now is as effective as the old family based on consanguinity and permanent relationships. Time will tell.

Family now has a new meaning as a ‘collection of people who elect, for the time being, to live together in some arrangement’. We should be aware of this when we use the term today, as we can no longer make the presumptions we formerly did. Family no longer means we can presume constancy, the presence of parental love, the likelihood of altruistic behaviour, and so on. It is a word so diminished of meaning as to have little value (though it does help sell chips on television adverts), it might mean mum, dad and the kids or it might mean two dads and no kids or a kid with two mums and one dad. It starts to be able to include a dog, or a cat, a budgie or an iguana. Not only is it not helpful it might also impair communication as people think it still has its archaic meaning. They may make unwarranted assumptions based on their past associations of the word ‘family’.

Let’s leave family to its new meaning and try and find a new term for the families animals, and increasingly fewer humans, live within. A word to describe a unit formed for the duration of the life of the members, usually in order to  bear and nurture children. Perhaps another archaic word could be brought out of retirement and pressed into service, what about either of ‘kith and kin’ ?

 

Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

I have mentioned before that years of indolence and gluttony led me to develop Type II Diabetes a few years ago. It should really have been no surprise as my usual diet read like a nutritionists warning sheet – “Don’t eat these things!” – pies, sandwiches, cakes, sweets. The only vegetable I enjoyed was the potato and preferable after this had been deep-fried. Added to this I had a serious aversion to exercise. I tended to see my body as just the apparatus for moving my head from place to place, and anything that made me sweat or short of breath was clearly something to be avoided.

For the best part of a decade I had coasted thinking that because I had given up smoking (three packs a day) I had done all that was necessary for my health routine. It was while basking in the glory of my smoke-free life that I received the news of my diabetes and the reminder that I was going to die, and possibly my demise would not be a long time from now. After serious revision of my diet and serious weight loss (over three stones) my sugars were brought under control and I managed to get a bit fitter. I noticed for me, as the scientific research had said, a lower carbohydrate diet and regular exercise through walking brought my sugars close to the normal range.

I started walking every day, the dogs were delighted and they too became fitter. I started jogging and running. I saw my daily turns round the block as my “running away from death” exercises. Then I thought; if walking is good, and running is better, then surely getting a pair wheels will be able to put even more distance between me and the grim reaper with his scythe.  I thus decided to buy a bike. Well, before this. I resurrected an old bike that I had kept in the garden for a decade under a tarpaulin with some holes in it. I freed the bike with two cans of WD40 and banged the chain into some form of flexibility with a mallet. The rear brakes worked, if you had plenty of notice to apply them, while the front brakes thankfully didn’t work ,as when they rarely did grip they did it with a grip sufficient to toss you over the handlebars. After a few weeks on old rusty I noted my sugars were better (probably the exercise of trying to combat the resistance of years of rust) and thus I decided to buy a new bike.

Now I am aware that I am prone to fads. I run at things with headlong enthusiasm  for a month or so then loose interest so I was a little wary in buying a bike. I had quite a shock when I read reviews of bikes which suggest that this was an excellent buy at only £1000. There were also many warning in the magazines about buying BSO’s (bike shaped objects) as they suggested that these mass produced cheap and cheerful bikes were more trouble than they were worth and would not save you money in the long run. Fortunately my Scottish heritage came to the fore, my reluctance to spend money got the better of me, and I decided to buy at the lower and of the market.

After research I found out about B’Twin a French company with a long and established history of bicycle manufacture who now operate in the UK under the Decathlon name. They manufacture the high end bikes but also much more basic, and affordably priced, models. I plumped for the Riverside 120 hybrid bike and the affordable price included free delivery.

B'Twin Riverside 120
During its inaugural run

The bike came within 48 hours and was very easy to set up. Screwing on the handlebars and attaching the pedals were all that was necessary to be up and on the road. It also came with a basic set of lamps. There was a booklet which usefully described how to set the bike dependant on your size which was clearly written and  helpful. The bike only has 8 gears rather than the 18 or 21 which are often offered. This had actually appealed to me as I found that the complicated gearing systems were too much for me, I would jump gear to gear trying to find a comfortable ratio to work in and there was far to much choice. I would either be standing on the pedals trying to use my weight to slowly turn them or my legs would be a blur, like an egg beater, as they whirled against little resistance and I made little, and wobbly,slow , headway. Eight gears are fine – gears 1 to 3 are for going up hills, 4 is pottering or into string winds, 5 to 8 are for going fast – it really is quite simple.

The simple gearing, correct position and absence of years of accumulated rust and resistance have made the bike a joy to ride. I have only had it week or so (so we are still in the possible ‘fad’ territory) but I have used it many times each day. By the end of the week I am faster and fitter that I was at the start and I have enjoyed my time on the bike. Hopefully, I am putting a little bit more distance between me and my funeral but in any event I am having fun. If you are in the market for a cheaper bike, something simple to use day-to-day then I’d recommend this. Even is this is a fad I haven’t bankrupted us and will still have a way to get to the village if the car breaks down.