Investigate Ethical Investment

I went to Barclays bank today and asked them what their ethical policy was. The lady looked blank. Then a light dawned and she asked did I mean stocks and shares? Her brighter colleague came to her rescue saying that not only was no one in the branch qualified to answer that question but it was unlikely that I would even be any the wiser for looking on the internet. If I could wait for five minutes she would come out of the booth and I could write a letter to the manager in head office to see what they had to say about it and by the way No One had Ever asked about this before. 

I found this hard to believe. It seemed like a fairly simple question. I have had an account with you for 20 years. I put my money in and then the bank presumably invests it. Would it be possible to know what they invest it in? Or failing that at least what their policy is regarding investment from an ethical perspective? How about if I was not into my money being invested in arms for example? What reassurance could the bank give me? 

When I had written my letter dear sir madam etc. the lady, who as far as I could understand had in the meantime, ignoring her own advice, been on an as yet fruitless search for ethical policy on a chat room on the internet, asked for my phone number in case someone got back to her. I explained that my address was at the top of the letter and that if it was all the same to her I might prefer to wait for a written reply. How much money was I looking to deposit? She might be able to get me an audience with a premier account banker. I explained that likely as not my offerings would not be above their threshold for such a service. What was my account number? Did that effect the ethical policy of the bank I wondered? No no no of course not. Well. Thanks. Big smile. Not at all. Goodbye. Thanks. 

Down the road at the Coop bank I asked the same question and received a quite different response. Apparently customers ask about this all the time here. Twenty sheets of ethical policy detailing five key areas; Human Rights, International Development, Ecological Impact, Animal Welfare and Social Enterprise were printed for me ‘using vegetable oil-based inks on paper which is Forest Stewardship Council certified and made in an elemental chlorine-free process.’ This is what happens when you have a customer-led ethical policy. Not great for arms dealers. Really good for vegetable oil-based inks manufacturers. How about that guy who was finance director of the Coop bank – the so called ‘crystal Methodist’ drug addict, sex pest and vicar who on close questioning knew alarmingly little about finance? Oh he’s gone. And the ethical policy is now enshrined in the constitution of the bank so it can’t happen again.

I found this reassuring. Mostly because I was getting on a whole lot better with this lady who had a kind sparkle and a slight antipodean accent and remembered that I had been in the branch with a twoyearold off school with a suspected case of chicken pox last week. And hey – even if the management of her company trying to appear ethical occasionally backfires on a catastrophic scale – at the very least she is aware of ethical policy as an idea, which is more than I can say for the George street branch of Barclays at this point. Can I open a savings account please? 

I went to see the barber. She’s a canny lass. She remembered me from six months ago just by feeling my hair. I told her about my experiences at the bank and she said had I not heard about the protests last week? Apparently activists objecting to Barclays investing with Jaffa of the oranges who allegedly supply arms as well as citrus fruit had gathered outside that very branch to object. So it turned out, contrary to what I had been told, that someone had asked Barclays quite recently about their ethical policy. Well, well. 

I popped across the road to get some cash to pay for my haircut. The machine swallowed my card. It expired yesterday and the bank, the Coop bank, too busy being ethical, have not got round to sending me a replacement yet. Sigh. I take 20 pounds out of my Barclays account using my other card. Does this mean that the Jaffa-mafia don’t get their hands on it? Should I feel good about myself?


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The Rabbit

A few weekends ago, O and I went to visit Tom and Amanda and the girls in Dundee. Sen who is 6 and the eldest of the three gave O a toy rabbit and explained that it was his and that she had been borrowing it. This turned out to be true. I had forgotten it but this rabbit had lived at our house for the earliest half year of O’s life until Sen, who apparently had something of a fixation on him, to the point of remarking when told they were coming to see us ‘does that mean that we can see the rabbit?’, borrowed him. Dr. P subsequently elucidated the more distant history of said rabbit. He had been with her since childhood and she had loved him very much.

Is it possible that her love changed the rabbit in some way? Did her love, like the velveteen rabbit in the story, bring him to life? Was it this life which made such an impression on Sen so that she remembered and desired this rabbit over all the other fluffy toys in our house?

When she returned him to O the effect on him was an extraordinary surprise. He took the rabbit in both hands gently, held him to his forehead and wept. And this was no chance fit of tears. After some time he stopped crying and forgot bunny under the table but when it was time to go home I pointed out to him that we had almost left sans lapidary companion and he again took the rabbit in both hands and wept.

Is it possible that he remembered and loved rabbit from his earliest days and was overcome by the emotion of being reunited with him? In my recollection he had showed no particular preference previously – he never even held the rabbit, it just lived on the edge of his cot. Was it simply Sen’s unprompted and thoughtful generosity that opened the taproot into the Bean’s primal sadness? This seems unlikely given that both times he was given the rabbit the floodgates were opened.

Whatever the cause of the tears, this unprecedented episode has been the herald of a new phase in the Bean’s life in which a fluffy toy fixation has plumbed a hitherto unfathomable depth of emotion in the ocean of his soul.

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More

O has a first word. He can say ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ nicely, referring to the relevant fish in Lucy Cousins book Hooray for Fish on the page with a lovely, sleek, orange, smiling fish bearing the legend; ‘happy fish’ and facing it a brown, spotted flat fish with a scowl called ‘grumpy fish’, but he has been making MaDa noises for some time already. Given that this seems more an accident of his developing vocal chords than a deliberate attempt to speak I am not of the opinion that these can be defined as words in the strictest sense.

His first real word is ‘More’. How appropriate. Everything about him is more. He is more hilarious and cute than before and moreover he knows it, taking full advantage of any leverage this gives him in every situation. He eats more and more and more banana porridge, sweet potato, pesto pasta, cheese, yoghurt and pears and of course milk. At first, before it expanded to include all things and experiences – more story, more granny, more iphone etc.- I wondered if the word ‘more’ for O was in fact synonymous with the word ‘milk’. Now I tend to think it is closer in definition to ‘maw’ – a gaping place of unconquerable hunger for the meat of life. ‘Maw! Maw! Maw!’

A little pot-belly has formed which he proudly sports about the house over his favourite red tights. Just try keeping him out of the fridge. He watched me put a rotating catch on the door with a screwdriver with which he immediately set about trying to undo my handy work. It took all of five minutes for him to discover the trick of that catch. Verbal catches are equally ineffective. I spoke sternly with him for a good minute illustrating my desire for him to stay out of the fridge with a variety of gestures and facial expressions at which he looked at me with benign comprehension while turning unflinching to open the fridge. It seems that his benign comprehension, rather than acquiescence, expressed acceptance, forgiveness and finally a total disregard for my desires. For Dr. P and Mr. Dhim this is all delightful and charming but it is also more complicated. It means more work which means we are more tired and more ill. Given that O is not yet two I guess we can look forward to a lot more of this.

 

 

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The Stereo

It is with great regret and limited success that I have recently begun to attempted to introduce the concept of ‘no’ to the life of The Bean. The stereo is a fragile and potentially hazardous piece of equipment. Surely, at the age of one-and-a-half, he is ready to engage with this fact? My gentle explanation gives way to gentle dissuasion and thence to physical restraint and an emphatic tone of voice: “No Bean. Don’t touch that.” Now that he is mobile, physically removing him to the other side of the room where there is such a kaleidoscopic menagerie of fascinating toys is nearly pointless. One purpose only predominates in his mind and he pursues it, repeatedly crossing the floor, intent on the mass of wiry buttony joy and tearable vinyl sleeves.

This is trying for Mr. Dhim. His quasi-liberal ideas of parenting are crumbling in the face of this onslaught upon his property. One more bodily removal, one more “Oliver. No!” and the tone of sensible parental censure begins to crack revealing the ugly beast of irritation beneath. The Bean gets the point. He places his head between his legs on the carpet in front of him and commences wailing without inhibition.

What am I supposed to do? I find myself laughing but this is terrible. I try to comfort him but I am responsible for his pain. Perhaps I should unplug the stereo and let him destroy it? At least then I wouldn’t have to protect it any longer. But what happens when we go to visit another house with another precious stereo? Will he have the idea that trashing stereos is OK? Am I, as my father predicted, ‘sailing onto the rocks’? At least after you have the cleaned porridge off the walls you can make another bowl. This is all a bit more complicated than I thought it would be. One thing is certain however. Where the desires of The Bean and of his parents conflict, trouble ensues and furthermore, much further more, how his parents deal with it May Affect Him For The Rest Of His Life.

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Beginners

Reading from the prologue of Shunryu Suzuki’s ‘Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind’ during my ablutions this morning I came across the following phrase:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

The reason I keep this and other such profound ruminative matter – Joyce’s unreadable Finnegan’s Wake, unspoiled back copies of The Lancet medical Journal, Wittgenstein’s Blue and Brown notebooks – by the toilet is twofold. Firstly I find my mind is unusually receptive to new ideas at this time in the morning, before it has had time to dress up in the opinions and prejudices that guide me through most of the rest of the day. Secondly, when else would I read Finnegan’s Wake? It might take years but in this special case, sitting every day does not require discipline.

Since Dr. P returned to the hospital library and university laboratory in early spring to pursue her research, Mr. Dhim has been looking after The Bean in the days during the week. By and large we have had a wonderful time but lately I have begun to wonder if I will ever be the same again. I have started to look for a strategy to keep alive a conception of myself that I used to be fond of as someone who makes things and explores ideas – an artist of sorts. There seems to be precious little time for such luxuries after washing, feeding, nappy changing etc. In fact ‘The Baby Whisperer’s claim that it is E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You) notwithstanding, this to me seems the hardest thing about bringing up a first child, namely: how not to loose yourself completely.

Beginner’s Mind. What an elegant solution to this test of parenthood. The Bean is so much a beginner that he teaches me every day that there are things to learn that I never thought it would be necessary to learn: like gravity. If you stand up holding on to the side of the bed with both hands you can let go with one hand. Nonchalant expression, jaunty angle, legs crossed at the ankles. However, if you let go with the other hand as well, gravity takes over. Face plummet, confusion, tears. This is not self-evident to one who has never previously tried standing up. How very zen. Perhaps I ought to try to be more like The Bean?

Breakfast and The Bean is refusing his porridge. Closed mouth, shaking head and an emphatic, negative ‘mmMM!’. Mr. Dhim, expert porridge administrator has few possibilities to explore here short of force-feeding. How about letting the beginner’s mind decide the porridge question? What happens if I let The Bean decide how to eat breakfast?

Chaos. Slight surprise at the bowl being within range quickly gives way to delight as he sinks his hand into warm bananary goo. Spoon? What for if not to bash the tray with, flicking random splats of milky oats over a wide area across the table and up the walls? Some of it went into his mouth, but in truth not much. I confess I am a terrible parent. My laughter only encouraged him as he dripped it into the fruit bowl and smeared it into his hair. Taking the now nearly empty bowl to his face seemed more a gesture towards eating than a serious engagement with the task at hand, an afterthought dictated by worthless habitual conditioning, an idea which he quickly discarded, dropping the bowl to the floor with a satisfying plop.

‘Well. That was fun. What shall we do now?’ he seems to say in smiles and gurgles. Clean up the mess like an expert parent? Or have a shower and then play the piano naked. Today we are beginners together.

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What does it mean?

Email from Adrian:

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In the meantime, I am still contemplating deeply the episode of Oliver pooing while on my lap. What does it mean? As I see it, there are two possible interpretations:

 

  1. It is an expression of comfort, happiness, ease etc. Oliver felt fine with me and free to poo. The world is saying, “Life rolls along. Let it out and let it in. Take it easy.”

 

  1. It is a statement of gleeful mockery and derision. Oliver was moved to poo in an expressive capacity. The world is saying, “I shit on you.”

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As far as I can understand Oliver poos for one reason only and that is: he feels like pooing. For me, any subsequent interpretation of this urge comes after the fact and while such interpretations might be entertaining for the contemplating mind they have little common ground with the motivation of the pooing child. A pooing child is, in my somewhat romantic imagination, in a pre-dualistic state where pooing is neither good nor bad, neither indicative of comfort or derision but rather of a zen essence of ‘being the pooing’.

 

As foods of the earth, fruits and vegetables boiled and blended and spooned in by his adoring mother make him longer in limb and rounder all over, so his contact with reality seems to make his understanding more rooted. His complexion no longer has the ethereal transparency of the all-milk-eater and his erstwhile floating womb-world of synesthesia is crystallising into separate senses perceiving discrete objects, which his hands can grasp and his tongue can taste. Perhaps his thoughts too are following this process of coalescence. It is wonderful to watch, as any parent will tell you as long as you care to listen. When he was in the womb I wished for him to find joy in light and sound. But there is a sadness too in this process of the construction of understanding.    

 

Much of Oliver’s early life seems to have passed in a state of non-meaning. I confess that I envy it. No amount of theory or meditation could bring me from my meaning-full brain-state into Oliver’s freer floating state of mind. It is sometimes enough though just to be near him. Lacking sleep and struggling with the morning I look to Oliver’s gleaming smile. How does he do it? He slept at least as little as I. What does he know which I do not that can make him smile at this moment? What secret meaning does he understand in the morning that makes him smile and that makes him make me smile? Will he learn that the world is full of meaning and that to smile only because you are smiling is not enough? Or will he be always smiling?

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When you take him away from me like that I understand that you don’t trust me to look after him.
Oh! I’m really sorry, here take him back.
It’s done.
I’m really sorry I didn’t mean…
it’s okay.
I just thought I’d try and…
yes. Carry on.
I wanted to stop him crying.
Me too.
He was just really crying…
and still is.

Could be that he needs a poo. 60 hours and counting since his last nappy. I try the sling instead. Sitting on the big ball and bouncing makes it hard to write straight. And the screaming also makes it hard to concentrate.

Finger in mouth.
Mmmargh!
Migghghaah!
Ermigha  gha ghe eweeeeer Ahh.
Ahaaagh!
Erhuh ahuh ahuh ahuh er.
waa oooooaaaah! ooaahh! oooahh! oooahh!
Wah! Oooooo
wwah
eaah aaah oo
uh
uhhuh
(suck suck suck)
Ahhhh!
ewjhvkckh huh ah oh huh oooeeeeeeee ohoh uh uh uh.

Pat pat pat pat
Bounce bounce bounce

eh?
er….eh?
eh?

mmm?
eh? eh.

suck suck

sigh

Sigh

His eyes are still open
His eyes are closing
His eyes are closed

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