On ignoring social conventions

My name is Regan, and I’m a writer. It sounds like I’m introducing myself to some form of group therapy. Maybe. Anyway, I was born in New Zealand in the 1970s. This means that I was raised to believe that footwear was optional, and that when it was worn, it shouldn’t conceal much more than the sole of your foot. For those of you that have never been fortunate enough to meet a “Kiwi” (native New Zealander) in the wild, we like to navigate the world in a set of unconventional national footwear known as “jandals”. Outside of our country they’re known as flip-flops. Whether we’re trying to impress the impressionable young ladies at a party, scale icy mountain peaks in the alps, or kick start a trail bike, we’d rather be doing it with the breeze sifting between our toes.

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I had no idea when I began travelling, that the desire for foot freedom wasn’t universal. My first serious case of footwear-based culture clash came soon after I leapt off the “Green Bridge” in Budapest. I didn’t plummet the full 100 feet into the mighty Danube, but rather crashed to earth after an ungainly intoxicated free fall, and injured my heal. The next morning I decided to limp around the old town in bare feet. As I began that slow waltz across crowded cobblestone avenues, I started to understand cultural differentiation. I could have worn nothing but a bacon loincloth and attracted less attention. Barefoot back home was glorious toe freedom. In European cities it was social suicide. Mothers didn’t shield their children’s eyes, but only because the kids themselves pulled their hats lower and collars higher. The Czechs were little better. Paul (my travel companion and fellow cultural ambassador) and I had to flee Budapest in a hurry (us + Hungarian Mafia = sudden loss of cash and threats to make us part of an all male review…), and ended up in Prague. The denizens of the old square were as dismayed at my flagrant toe exposure as the Hungarians.

So now “Inappropriate Footwear” is an analogy for the way I live my life. I repel even gentle social conditioning where it contradicts my own ideas and opinions, and I aim to walk my own path. Where possible bare footed. Many of my choices and actions generate the same gentle head shakes and tutting sounds I experienced wandering the flagstoned pathways of Central Europe. These rebukes would have triggered a case of blushing cringe when I was an uncertain, gangly, ginger teenager. But as the passing years have faded my ruddy mane, they’ve also provided enough life experience for me to understand that a homogenised society is a dreary and hollow idea. It is supremely important to promote new ideas and controversial opinions. It is entirely valid to live a lifestyle that is not the one promoted by society, or its biggest behavioural inhibitor, the media. So I’ve learnt to live as much as possible in a way that makes me happy, and to understand that being like everyone else, blending with the masses, doesn’t necessarily contribute to that happiness.

But just doing this, it isn’t enough. Not for me. I love to express my opinions on those ideas that I see as important and under-represented, sometimes with a Tourettes-like degree of enthusiasm. Unfortunately this occasionally offends, my last sentence for example might not sit well with the siblings of the grunting, cussing and sparking sufferers of that socially crippling neuropsychiatric disorder. But there are serious considerations behind the idea of freedom of speech, and we should all beware of attempts to neutralise language to the point that it can no longer elicit emotion. Offence is rarely my goal, but triggering thoughtful reflection is, and emotions are the frequently the offspring of considered thoughts.

So this blog is the new forum for my ideas, and my storys. It will help me test concepts for my articles and books, keep people informed of what devilish things I’ve been up to, and be a record of my upcoming journeys. At times it will be embarrassingly honest, which I hope will help people to empathise with some of my experiences. Or at least elicit a few belly laughs (for those under 25, these are lol’s that come out of your face and cause your guts to tremble). At best I hope that occasionally I’ll challenge beliefs just enough to inspire further thinking. At worst I’ll end up with a list of embarrassing things I’ve done, being recorded forever in the public domain, and sabotage any chance of a political career. Probably a good thing…

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