Mr Cuddly hugs equal opportunities

21st September 2007 at 01:00
While I consider being described as a "cuddly physicist" as one of the greatest compliments ever paid to me professionally, I do not consider myself a cuddly person. This has nothing to do with my wiry OK then, skinny frame. New Year parties can be particularly unpleasant. Close contact, unless with family or very select friends, can push me so far out of my comfort zone it's a wonder I don't turn to drink more often. Perhaps most Scots are like that. It would explain a great deal.

I make exceptions, and one is my recently retired pal Anne who worked in equal opportunities with the council that seconded me a couple of years ago. She was part of a band of people with whom I shared an office until she had to be confined to a lower floor, following a reportedly spectacular tumble down the stairs. Some weeks ago, a crowd of us went out to dinner to mark her retirement. I arrived late, having had a meeting in Perth about virtual advisers, and unhesitatingly embraced her before sitting down at the table.

I have known a number of equal opps people in my time. All have a sense of justice. Some seem to be driven by a hatred of the oppressor or bully.

Others, like Anne, are motivated by a love for all humanity. I am reminded of John Buchan's novel Mr Standfast. In it, Wake, the courageous conscientious objector, recognises that he is compelled to act the way he does by a hatred of war. Though he does not agree with soldier Richard Hannay, he recognises that the man he has come to respect is more at peace with himself because he fights out of a love of country.

It is ironic to stereotype in this way when talking about people involved in anti-racism, anti-sectarianism and so forth, and yet I think there is an element of accuracy in a perhaps over-simplistic distinction. Positive people are easier to get along with than negative people. How profound is that? What I can say with certainty is that after every conversation I had with Anne, I felt better afterwards, whether it was about her work or her friendship with aspiring Sixties pop stars. Big hugs and a happy retirement all round.

Gregor Steele may reveal why he was considered to be a cuddly physicist at a later date

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