Magnetic North Blog

This is some blog description about this site

On Fathers

How can I try to explain,
Cause when I do he turns away again
It's always been the same, same old story
(Father and Son, Cat Stevens, 1970)

Every father I know or have worked with, has, to a greater or lesser extent, but usually the greater, wanted to do the best for his children. What is hard to come to terms with is the sheer weight of the opposite. That is, fathers depicted as unlistening, uncommunicative, distant, tyrannical, I could go on (‘feckless’, ‘deadbeat’).

You would think that seventy years after Edmund Gosse’s description of "the hush" around the stern father and lonely son "in which you could hear a sea anemone sigh", that things would have changed for the better. The World Wars of the first half of the 20th century may have made men more taciturn about their feelings but, surely, the loosening of role-divisions over child care and the lessening of demands on men to be the sole breadwinner that came after, ought to have made a difference in how fathers and children got along with each other. Not so for Cat Stevens.

As a Scottish father, I am pained by accounts of unloving fathers that turn away. More so when they are Scottish. There is no end of memoirs about abusive Scottish fathers from, for example, comedian Billy Connolly, author Alan Burnside and actor Alan Cumming. Clearly there are troubling (and troubled) Scottish fathers but the sheer volume of their depiction, seems to have led to the creation of a widely held view of all Scottish fathers. Cruel fathers of the type played by Peter Mullan in the film Neds (2010) and described by Andrew O’Hagan:

Those Scottish fathers. Not for nothing their wives cried, not for nothing their kids. Cities of night above those five o’clock shadows. Men gone way too sick for the talking. And how they lived in the dark for us now. Or lived in our faces, long denied. And where were our fathers? We had run from them (Our Fathers, 1999).

Such characterisations of men stretch back many years and continue to be repeated. So, I have not only been pained by such accounts but I have also been spurred to find out as much as I can and to write about the day-to-day micro-challenges that men can face when trying to be good fathers. If you dig deep you can find contra-accounts, stories, for example of the Dundee house fathers of the 1920s. But these accounts are in a minority.

What’s the answer? Every time children (of all ages) are asked about their fathers, the one consistent thing they say they wish they could have (or have had) more of, is his time. Fathers don’t have to do anything or buy stuff they just need to be with their children. And when they are far away or absent for whatever reason, children need to know he has kept them in mind. Not much of an answer but it costs nothing and can move mountains.

Our Fathers
On tour October-November 2017.
Continue reading
906 Hits
0 Comments

Did I live in a religious household?

Did I live in a religious household? I guess I did, but it never really felt that way. We said our prayers at night and grace before dinner (and because I knew no other way, those events did not feel odd or extreme at all) but apart from that my parents were very hands off by way of religious instruction. That was for Church. My upbringing was far from severe and I have no doubt that my character contains many positive attributes gleaned from the version of Christianity I was brought up in. I try to be kind and think of others. I am not overly preoccupied with gathering wealth or possessions. I believe in turning the other cheek as much as possible. And this is not to say that a secular upbringing cannot produce identical traits, nor that these traits are true of every religion or indeed always positive in every situation. Growing up in a religious household has not severely damaged me, but I’d like to talk about two ways in which it seems to have left a little bit of a mark.

Firstly, there is the sin of pride. It’s a sin, you see, because if you are proud of an achievement it is to dismiss or diminish the role that God had in that achievement. Instead of feeling proud of yourself you should rejoice in the God who made it all possible. This is designed to have the effect of making one feel humble, but in reality, what it did to me was to make me incapable of feeling joy in my achievements. I didn’t win the rugby tournament. God did. To this day I still hold some shadow of that idea within me making it difficult for me to enjoy my successes. It’s now ingrained within me, only I’ve exchanged God with determinism. Don’t be proud. You didn’t do it. It’s just something that had to happen.

And secondly, infinity. When I was young I did not have a crippling fear of death. No, I had a fear of never dying. Or being alive on an ethereal plane … forever. With no hope of it ever ending. No option but to continue. For ever. FOR. EVER. It’s not an exaggeration to state that this crippled me to the extent that I used to cry the bitterest, most fearful tears one can imagine into the mirror in the bathroom thinking about it. Yes, I was dramatic about it, but the fear was very real. I can still call upon it if it’s useful when performing. Now, of course, I’m thankful to say, it’s death that makes me feel that way, and the idea of infinity is thankfully no longer a concern.

I am thankful that these two afflictions of character are the only two that immediately spring to mind, suggestive of the fact that my religious upbringing has been of little hindrance to my life at all. However, it’s important to remember that this is not everyone’s experience and, as is all too evident today, faith and religion can lead to altogether more hideous outcomes.
 

Our Fathers
On tour October-November 2017.
Tags:
Continue reading
858 Hits
0 Comments

Edmund Gosse - a major figure

Father and son Philip and Edmund Gosse in 1857.

Edmund Gosse – the author of Father and Son – was, in his time, a major figure in the British literary scene. Born in London in 1849, by the time he died in 1928 he had been knighted and made a Commander of the Bath: very much a man of the establishment, he was literary editor of the famous 1911 edition of the Encylopedia Britannica and his lecture on Thomas Hardy was recorded for the British Library.

During his career as a literary critic, author and poet, he befriended a huge number of famous litererary figures, though he was treated as something of a figure of fun behind his back: Virginia Woolf noted rather waspishly that he was a little too fond of people with titles and that he behaved like someone who had “not always been accustomed to getting his suits made in Saville Row.” When he died, T.S.Eliot observed that no-one could replace him because no-one quite knew what it was that he did.

Despite this, Gosse deserves credit for, among other things, introducing Ibsen’s work to British theatre – his translations (with William Archer) of Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder were mainstays of English-language productions for many years; he also arranged financial support for both W.B.Yeats and James Joyce when they were struggling at crucial points in their careers. Of the many books published in his lifetime – which included quite a lot of not-very-good poetry and hastily-written criticism – only Father and Son survives, but it casts a long shadow. Peter Carey’s

Nicholas Bone and Rob Drummond in rehearsal working on voice with Ros Steen.

1988 Booker Prize-winning novel Oscar and Lucinda was strongly influenced by Gosse’s memoir: the relationship between Oscar and his father mirrors that of Edmund and his father, Philip. A number of passages are reproduced almost exactly, including the famous scene in which Philip Gosse throws a Christmas pudding the cook has secretly made into the fire, denouncing it as ‘popish’. Dennis Potter’s 1976 BBC television play Where Adam Stood, is based on the section of Father and Son that recounts Philip’s crisis of faith following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the book, Edmund touchingly notes that “every instinct in his intelligence went out at first to greet the new light. It had hardly done so, when a recollection of the opening chapter of 'Genesis' checked it at the outset.” The film is a beautifully touching distillation of the book, but is sadly unavailable commercially. It occasionally pops up on YouTube for a while before being taken down again. Rob and I were able to watch it during a brief window of availability and, although we have taken a different route with the material, we admired it greatly. It captures both the tragedy of Philip’s steadfast belief in creationism and the charm of the father and son relationship.

Our Fathers
On tour October-November 2017.
Continue reading
1312 Hits
0 Comments

The Mother of All Festivals

The Edinburgh Festivals are about to begin. We've made our way through the endless listings and recommend the below from Magnetic North alumni:

Arab Arts Focus, from 2 Aug

Eaten, from 4 Aug

Chill Habibi, from 4 Aug

Fairich: Live, 14, 21, 22-28 Aug

Home is Not the Place, 18-27 Aug

Wired. 23-26 Aug

Continue reading
1326 Hits
0 Comments

Celebrating fatherhood

For Father's Day, we thought it would be a nice idea to ask recent father Rob Drummond to reflect on his experience so far:

I’ve been a father for 139 days. So far I’d liken it to voluntarily signing up for a forced labour camp run by a tiny mute dictator. I’m not finding it complicated, I’m finding it mentally and physically gruelling. Like moving twelve heavy cement bags from one van to another. And knowing that you have to do the same thing again tomorrow. What? Not cheery enough for you. Well that’s something we need to change. Of course it’s wonderful to see him smile at me in the morning. It goes without saying that I love him with a fierce instinctive love which is different to any I’ve experienced before. I’m definitely glad we did it. It’s just that people don’t talk enough about how gruelling it can be. How taxing on your relationship. It feels like I’m expected to talk with unqualified positivity when someone asks me if I’m ‘enjoying being a dad’. I’m enjoying parts of it. I’m enjoying watching him grow and learn. I’m enjoying getting more and more feedback from him. And I’m looking forward to the time where we can hold a conversation. My life is better for having him in it. But it’s also less my life.

And that’s the thing about it. In a few months I’ll turn my attention to Our Fathers, a new play I’m working on with Nick Bone and Magnetic North, which is about communication between fathers and sons. When you have a child you are willingly giving up part of your life - or at least agreeing to live for someone else rather than for yourself. And it’s more intense than the commitment you make to a partner because a partner neglected might leave you but they certainly wouldn’t starve to death. This little boy relies on me and his mother one hundred percent of the time for one hundred percent of the things he needs. His physical and mental self will develop according to the things we feed him and the things we tell him. So what do you do with such responsibility? How do you make sure that your child grows into a balanced adult? How do you communicate effectively with him? Do you tell him what to think or teach him how to think, at the risk that he will end up coming to the ‘wrong’ conclusion? My father and Nick’s were both clergymen and we are both now unbelievers. What if my son, when he’s older, has a fundamentally different worldview than I do? Will we still get on? Will he respect me? Will I respect him? At this stage as you can tell, it’s far more questions than answers.

For the time being I guess I’ll just try my best to enjoy the bits I enjoy, take pleasure in his company and remember something that we seem programmed to forget; IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. If I do that for long enough maybe he’ll grow up happy. Which is all I really want.

Continue reading
1150 Hits
0 Comments

Newsletter Signup

Add yourself to our mailing list to receive the latest news and information from Magnetic North

Sign up now

Latest Comment

J. Sharp Taking A Walk
07 September 2014
Very much enjoyed your show at the Brunton Theatre last night and the silent walk to start was an excellent addition, creating the perfect atmosphere....