Home Archives 2011 August 9

Daily Archives: Aug 9, 2011

<em>Picture: Eric Ward</em>

Picture: Eric Ward

By Alex Wood

The family is changing rapidly and enormously. One recent press article introduced three adults and a child whose relationship would have been unimaginable in the 1960s, or even in the 1990s.

The mother was without a partner but was anxious to have a child. She met a gay man on an online fertility forum. They liked each other but there was no sexual attraction. He was in a long-term relationship. She was not.

The man thought that because of his sexual orientation he was unlikely to have children, despite “adoring” them. They agreed to seek to have a child. It took six years before conception was successfully achieved through IVF. In the meantime, the woman had entered a relationship with another woman. The father, however, has a continuing, active role in the raising of the child.

They are what Helen Croydon described, in the Telegraph article, as “one of the growing number of couples in so-called ‘co-parenting’ relationships – biological parents who have a close but platonic relationship and both contribute to child-rearing. Co-parenting isn’t just for the gay community. Straight men and women are choosing to put romance aside in the name of reproduction.”

This child may be one of the lucky ones. It may grow to maturity with three loving, caring parents when countless contemporary children have just one – or, even worse – one mother plus a series of constantly changing “fathers”. Nor is the issue the parents’ sexuality. It is that last statement – choosing to put romance aside in the name of reproduction – which should stimulate serious ethical debate.

The urge to procreate is one of the most basic biological instincts, yet human history has constantly and continually sought to restrain that urge. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has placed particular, often unhealthy, taboos on sex. Almost always these have reinforced patriarchy and male hegemony. Occasionally they have also protected women.

Cutty stool confessions in Scottish kirks may have titillated the prurient and justified “the unco guid”, but were also a partially effective means of bringing errant, irresponsible fathers to justice and responsibility. These taboos created a context where, in many cases at least, adults raised children in relationships of commitment and warmth. At its best, the family obviated the brutality of the natural reproductive and survival cycles. At its worst, of course, it provided a cover for brutality and exploitation, whether of wives or of children.

The issue which might usefully be addressed is whether there is (or should be) a relationship between love and parenting. This child will, we trust, be reared in a loving, affectionate household where its mother and her partner (supported on his weekly visit by the father) offer a model of emotional warmth and stability. That, however, is coincidence. The mother’s initial desperation was that she was single, had no child, wanted one and was content to have one with a man who would have but a fleeting relationship with her. It was an odd form of hedonism.

On the same day, another headline revealed how the world has changed, with the story of a 29-year-old grandfather. His 14-year-old daughter had newly given birth. Before rushing to judgement, it is worth noting, firstly, that as best can be judged from a brief article, these are caring young parents and caring young grandparents.

It is also worth remembering that, until 1929, the minimum age for marriage in Scotland was 14 for boys and 12 for girls. This tale simply illustrates that as well as a separation of the assumed normal connection between genetic parenthood and practical parenthood, another cultural link has been severed, that between economic autonomy and starting a family.

There is a certain irony in the coincidence of two seemingly opposite, but likely complementary, trends: the lengthening period during which young people remain dependent on their parents and the earlier age at which many young people start the reproductive cycle. Having witnessed the historical withering of the extended family, it seems that its re-emergence may be essential to support young people whose unrestrained reproductive instincts are given increasingly free rein.

The traditional model of the family has been shattered by scientific and social revolutions. If we wish to create a generation of secure, loving adults we require to offer them, as children, security and loving role models. If we abjure that ideal we are in danger of evolutionary regression. Somehow the modern world has to establish a new, kinder, but stable model of child-rearing where, by precept and example, children can see and aspire to friendship, love and security and to a proper sense of self-worth and the worth of others.

Child-bearing brings responsibility, a grave one. The prioritisation of reproduction and the deprioritisation of relationships is a perilous option. The tragedy is not that the old model of the family is increasingly problematic, but that, so far, nothing better has evolved.

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A couple of weans <em>Picture: William Miller, 1796–1882</em>

A couple of weans Picture: William Miller, 1796–1882

By Betty Kirkpatrick

The Edinburgh Fringe is underway and people are flocking from all over the world to see the multifarious events. They even come from Glasgow and some of them bring their weans.

Wean is a Scots word for child. It now tends to be associated mainly with the west of Scotland, although it was formerly more widespread. From the look of the word you might assume that it has something to do with the English verb to wean, as this has obvious connections with children. Not so.

The Scots word does not share a pronunciation with the English verb (ween). Instead, it is pronounced to rhyme with gain (or pain, if you don’t like children). Wean is a result of the running together of two other Scots words – wee and ane.

Ane, also pronounced to rhyme with gain, is the equivalent of the pronoun one, and wee needs no explanation. It is one of our most successful words in that it has spread its influence throughout the English-speaking world. Wee, meaning small or tiny (yes I know I said it needed no explanation), is rather a charming, cosy word. What a pity the word has become a verb with such a close connection with urination, and it is no longer just the weans who use it in that way either.

Wee first came into Scots in the late-14th century as a noun in the phrase a lytil wee meaning “a small distance”. Derived from the Old English waeg, a weight, wee did not make an appearance as an adjective until the middle of the 15th century.

Wee ane is not always shortened to wean. In some parts of Scotland it retains its status as two words and is pronounced accordingly. Sometimes wee ane becomes wee yin, yin being also used as a Scots equivalent of the pronoun one.

Like child, wean can be used to refer to a small young person, aged somewhere in the halcyon time between babyhood and adolescence. It can also refer to a relationship to a parent and be used to mean offspring.

Formerly weans were sometimes referred to as laddie (boy) weans and lassie (girl) weans, but this practice seems to have died out. Perhaps too many mistakes were being made by well-meaning adults and certainly, at a quick glance, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the sexes in the first couple of years of life. Sometimes the difficulty last longer. Fortunately, grandweans or granweans seem to be alive and kicking.

So if weans are now mostly restricted to the west, what are they called in the east and other parts of Scotland? They are called bairns. Well, they are by some people. Mostly they go under the universal designation, kids.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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Beinn a'Chlaidheimh – a Munro? <em>Picture: David Brown</em>

Beinn a'Chlaidheimh – a Munro? Picture: David Brown

The results of the July hill-height surveys by the Munro Society (TMS) have now been published. Three hills were surveyed on 4, 6 and 8 July – all in the remote Fisherfield area and all either just above or just below the 3,000-foot / 914.4-metre line that defines qualification for the list of Munros.

The surveys were conducted by John Barnard, Graham Jackson and Myrddyn Phillips of G & J Surveys, along with a supporting team of fellow TMS members, with sponsorship provided by Lord Haworth of Fisherfield. The new heights were then processed by the Ordnance Survey (OS).

Ruadh Stac Mor had an existing OS height of 918m, with its summit marked by a trig point. The precise height of the flush bracket was given by the OS as 918.65m and TMS surveyors measured it at 918.67m. So in terms of both its mapped height and hill-list status, there is no change: it remains a 918m Munro.

Beinn Dearg Mor, previously regarded as a 910m Corbett, was surveyed as 906.28m. So again its status remains the same – it’s still a Corbett. Exactly when the OS changes the mapped height from 910m to 906m remains to be seen.

Beinn a’Chlaidheimh was mapped as 916m and listed as a Munro. The surveyors came up with a figure of 913.96m, which would – if accepted by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) – see its status change from Munro to Corbett, making it one of three 914m Corbetts along with Foinaven in Sutherland and Beinn Dearg in Torridon.

However, the SMC – which publishes the list of Munros and ultimately decides what is and isn’t in – asked TMS to include the following statement in its press release: “The Scottish Mountaineering Club has been notified of these survey results and has undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey update its map of the area.”

What now happens with regard to Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is unclear. There is evidence that it is below 3,000ft (913.96m converts to about 2,998 feet 6 inches), but in an unusual move the SMC has decided not to immediately accept the change – whereas they did immediately remove Munro status from Sgurr nan Ceannaichean when it was reduced from 915m to 913m in a similar survey in 2009.

How long this consideration period might be and what form it will take remains to be seen. For now, though, Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is still a Munro, albeit one with a curious status.

As regards the other two hills, there was never much chance of Ruadh Stac Mor losing the 3m or 4m that would bring it close to the critical line, given that its summit is marked by a ground-survey trig point. The new figure, just 2cm higher, is effectively identical to the old one as it is within the 10cm margin for error.

The Beinn Dearg Mor height-loss of around 4m is interesting, as it – along with the figure for Beinn a’Chlaidheimh – continues a trend of height-loss that began with TMS’s survey of Foinaven in 2007 (down from 914m to 911m) and was also evident in the 2009 surveys. Could there now be enough of a trend to suggest that a considerable number of OS aerial-survey heights are on the high side by this kind of margin? Probably not, but – assuming the methodology used by G & J Surveys to be valid – it does seem to reinforce the idea that resurveys generally reduce heights rather than adding to them.

As for the technical side of things, the press release from TMS says that “Summit positions were identified using a Leica NA730 Professional Automatic level tripod system and a 1m extendable E-staff. Absolute heights were measured using a Leica Geosystems 530 GPS receiver which locks on to 12 satellites and receives two signals from each satellite, thus reducing inaccuracies from atmospheric conditions.”

A spokesperson from TMS said: “In measuring the heights of mountains just below and just above 3,000ft (914.4m), we believe we are following in the tradition of accurate measurement established by Sir Hugh Munro who first produced the Munro’s Tables in 1891. Munro and his friends relied on aneroid barometers, the technology of the time; in 2011 we use satellite technology to achieve yet greater accuracy, but we seek the same objective. Munro never set down complete criteria for Munro status before his death in 1919, but it has always been accepted that 3,000ft (914.4m) was the primary requirement.”

More background can be found in yesterday’s preview piece.

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