Friday, February 29, 2008


Where the longing to be, collides with the work to be done.
Where the joy and the mess, mingle shamelessly together.
Where wounds are both most sorely made, and most deeply healed.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Slap the architect

I spotted this yesterday, and thought I had come accross a scandalous cutting-of-corners by a builder who couldn't be bothered putting ends on the rhones and running two down-pipes; but instead thought that no-one would notice if he just ran it right accross in front of a window!

Until I noticed the following, and saw lots of windows in the same condition.

It's not a mess, or shoddy workmanship, it's a feature, oooooh! I had what might be called a "slap that architect" moment.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

An image for today: Forgiveness

That which is divided can yet grow as one

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hoaking through the kitsch

The In-laws are having a clear out, which means we have been the happy recipients of several boxes of suspect material from the bedroom my wife occuppied before she left home. Some of what emerged from the foostie smelling banana boxes was delightful. For instance we found loads of my wife's school work from when she was quite young, through to A-level physics and the like. Some of what we found was quite twee, happy debris left over from the array of trinketry that marked the course of one little girl's childhood. Hugely enjoyable to rake through all this, and try and imagine what my wife must have been like at various stages of her life - so many years before we met.

Other things which emerged from the innards of the boxes however, was far more sinister - like the giant Charles and Di wedding album pictured. Before I get all smug and superior and say that when the 'dreadful duo' got married I was somewhat disinterested and went outside and played in a huge sandpit on the farm in Cornwall where we were on holiday at the time - it would be fair to point out that when it happened my future-wife was a very young girl, and that the princess fantasy seemes to be peculiarly de rigeour for small females! Also, she had the privilege of growing up in the loyalist half of Northern Ireland - which has the reputation for being the last bastion of Royalist paraphenalia left in the UK (although this too is fading fast and is technically known as the peace-dividend). On the other hand, I was young enough to think that the Royal wedding was tedious in the extreme - and that was before it got worse and he kissed her - YUK!

Nevertheless, whilst at the time such an album would have disinterested me - in retrospect to hold such a priceless example of kitsch is a remarkable thing! To read all the puke-rendering text about marriages made in heaven and the like, is very black comedy indeed. Who would have thought that only a few years later the re-run of the Trial of Queen Caroline would have been conducted in the courts of the tabloids! What is equally remarkable is that it is ten years since Diana's death, well as Mohammaed Al Fayed would presumably say, Tempus Fuggit!

We're only a little way into the boxes - I can't wait to see what horrors or delights this family time-capsule will reveal next!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Note: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, The Summer Book by Tove Jansson and The Penguin Book of first World War Poetry

I was somewhat surprised to find myself reading this one, as it is distinctly not the sort of thing I usually read! The circumstances themselves were unusual, we were away from home for a couple of days, and I didn't take enough reading material with me, finished what I had brought and my wife handed me this, which she had bought and suggested that it might fill the gap.

The story is set in the 1960s and concerns a young couple of newlyweds, Edward and Florence, as they embark on their honeymoon.

Simply and straightforwardly written, McEwan tells the story of one night at a hotel on Chesil beach, their wedding night, in which all the naive pair's sexual hopes, fears, scars and expectations, all collide in the absence of communication - with consequences which shape their lives. The book ranges accross their past histories and what has brought each of them to this scene, and pans forward through time to explore its consequences.

Tragic, painful, erotic, troubling and revealing, the story is gently explored with facts emerging, and hidden secrets being alluded to - so that the whole picture only slowly appears. The tragic and the hopeful are nicely intertwined throughout the book, as it provides the reader both with the narrative and the thoughts of both participants - as they fail to understand each other. Far from leaving the reader in despair at the fate of the imaginaries however, I thought that it provoked a longing for communication and knowing - with a compelling relevance in the real world. An oddly hopeful gloom!

Now here's a strange one! Tove Jansson's "Summer Book" is the recipient of rave reviews, which proclaim it as a short story, which is a great work of insight and philosophy, humour and brilliant characterisation.

Well - it was enjoyable, atmospheric in spades, quirky in almost every way and an overdose of whimsy in creating the mood and sense of place on the remote Finnish island communities in which it is set (all of which are comendable).

Why is it that every Scandanavian book I have every read is concerned with death? Very long dark winters may have somthing to do with it!

Beyond these amusing atributes the book didn't do a huge amount for me. I found it hard to connect with in many ways, and although it kept my attention to the end, and has left a mark in my mind with some of the memorable scenes described, by the end I was a little dissapointed. Perhaps though this wasn't the fault of the book. If I had stumbled accross it in an ordinary jacket and opened it, I might have been intrugued and drawn in. The fact that the reviews I had read were so adulatory perhaps raised my expectations to an unrealistic level which could only lead to dissapointment!

And so back here again to a book which has been read and re-read over the years. The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry is something which never fails to engage my mind, move me deeply and make me profoundly depressed all day! I found last week when my wife and I were selcting our favourite poems from various sources, I was quite unable to read some of these out loud.

The horror of the trenches was not captured best in early films, photos or by war correspondants, but by the diaries and poems of the volunteers whose lives were the ammunition that the rival European empires threw at each other between 1914-18. This little compemdium captures a good cross section from a whole range of authors including famous works by writers such as Wilfred Owen. For some reason, I think it is Seigfried Sasoon's poems which I find most revealing, and which bring their experiences home to me with the most peculiar force. I think it is the combination of his heartfelt and expressive turn-of-phrase, and the way in which he picks out specific details of the individual dead, capturing the sense of loss more acutely than some of the grander poems which seek to capture the senselessness of the whole. He picks out odd details of their lives, or clothes, pictures wives and mothers waiting and home, or the strange rituals written out in final letters from the front. Sassoons' diaries and post-war reflections are also well worth a read.

Reading selections from this book actually makes me look at the country differently. Young men from farms, villages, and from this town all crowded into trains which left Perth for army training camps and the front. Every town and village has its war memorials, like the charming one overlooking the river at Tayport. The railway station has a sombre brass plaque, which lists the men of Perth General Station who were killed in France and never came back to this town, while old pictures of Perth often feature the "Patriotic Barrow"; a mobile recruiting station, which drummed up support for the war effort and persuaded men to sign up. I read these poems and am drawn into their world, then look at my house built in 1910 and wonder who lived here; if they went to France, if they returned, or if they still lie in Flanders, Ypres, Paschendale or The Somme.

Basra? Helmand? How many more poems are there to be written now?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ultimately it's an act of worship...

We are once again in the middle of hosting "The Marriage Course", this time with a completely different group of people - and once again its been really enjoyable, meeting them, feeding them, and organising the course.

In this context I was asked to read "Married for God" by Christopher Ash because it is written partly as a crticism of The Marriage Course from a very theologically conservative position. Essentially the criticism is that 'The Marriage Course' is far too geared towards empowering couples to successfully steer their lives together; rather than being prescriptive about how they should live. As such Ash charges The Marriage Course with being less-than-Christian in its failure to critique consumerism, but using the Christian tradition as a facilitator for making happy marriages another lifestyle asset to consume.

Ash is both right and wrong in what he writes. Aside from the fact that he writes in a sometimes awkward and grating style, and with more than a hint of patronising his reader, and some decidedly minority interpretations of some key Biblical texts, Ash does make one especially telling point. The Marriage Course, with its practical treatment of matters such as 'communication', or 'conflict resolution' assumes that these are good things to achieve without exploring the motivation for doing so. This is in part because The Marriage Course is also designed to be accessible to people who are not committed Christians, but want to explore the practical benefits of the course and are willing to listen to this being done from a broadly Christian persective. Ash's insight then is that for the Christian, working at the practicalites of successful marriage are ultimately a matter of worship.

If Ash had thought that by reading his book I would have become less enthusiastic about The Marriage Course - he would be quite wrong however. If one shares his underlying perspective about life's motivation being worship; and that this is something not contained within church services, but which saturates all of life; then persuing the practicalities of "forgiveness" etc as seen on The Marriage Course, become not disposable lifestyle options - but urgent matters of discipleship! Some of what Ash writes may be questionable, but this key insight, makes me all the more eager to host The Marriage Course this evening, and not merely as a pleasant, enjoyable or even worthwhile thing to do. Ultimately, it's an act of worship.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gentle Spirit

Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me..... and to celebrate it I have just been presented with this, a bottle of Jura malt whisky, by the Hon Mr and Mrs Percy Cowpat (no less). This 'gift of the spirit' is not one I've tried before, and it's always a pleasure to open a new bottle, pour just a smidgeon into a quaich and then inhale deeply through the nose over it, to get a delicious foretaste into what lies ahead.

In this case I was surprised by what I smelt. The other island whiskies I have tasted contain a hefty snort of peat and smoke to the nose, whether it's the clean, flavoursome Bowmore, the perfectly balanced caramel complexity of Bruichladdich, full-on assault of Lagavulin or the spices of Talisker that is evapourating towards the nostrils! Jura, though smelled light, delicate, more like honey than caramel, and almost entirely devoid of the dragon-qualities of some of its nearby Islay neighbours. I was intrigued.

On the palate Jura turned out to be exactly as its odour had indicated, light, delicate, almost heathery more than peaty, and tasting quite similar I thought to Dalwhinnie, that other gentle Highland spirit. The other notable absence from the taste was the sea. Other west-coasters, like the Islays or Oban are given an edge to their taste-profile with a whiff of sea salt which has been absorbed by the barrels. In its place in the Jura I tasted a softness from the (presumably sherry?) casks akin to the standard-finish Glenmorangies.

What do I make of it? Well to my very amateur taste buds, this is a rather pleasant whisky which makes a delightfully quaffable pre-dinner drink, as it sparkles and delights the drinker with its clean, delicate, sweetness; rather than beguiling the taste-buds with challenges and complexities. A mouthfull of Bruichladdich I can play with for ages, feeling and finding different ranges of tastes and textures within it the longer I do so, Jura by contrast I am tempted to drink too fast, as it slips down all too easily.

The other thing to note is that despite the overall look being damaged by a ghastly customs and exise sticker, the thick bottle (shaped like a Victorian ceramic hot-water-bottle) is gorgeous! In recent months I have been the happy recpient of a bottle of Talisker (Skye), Aberlour (Speyside) and now this Jura. These three brilliantly contrasting malts will happily perptuate my Sunday-night-dram tradition for most of 2008 I think!

One from the archives...

The "Horns of Alligin" from the summit of Beinn Alligin. I was sorting out old photos taken from before I had this blog and stumbled accross this, one of my favourites. It's unusual to see the Horns so well defined, and I was grateful that the sun was on it, and the mountain behind it was in the shade (to see it properly, click to enlarge). It is also a reminder of a wonderful day in wonderful hills in wonderful weather, with the legendary Percy Cowpat - whose presence in Scotland has been sadly lacking over recent years, and whose walking boots I would love to see coming out of their semi-retirement.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Psalm 42 Re-Hashed

As the heat of the coarse desert sand
Burns the soles of my feet
I cannot stand still for long.
As the burning arid desert air
Cracks my parched lips,
the throbbing of my head
and the stinging in my eyes
drives me forward.
I will not stop until I am
renewed by moisture.
Until clean, fresh, beautiful water
Fills my mouth, splashes on my chin
And runs between my fingers again.

And Lord, I long to long for you
with the longing that strives,
and aches and perseveres.
With the longing that cannot
be satisfied in desert wastes,
but searches night and day
for the breath of life.
That longs for the intrusion
Of the divine
Into the mundane.

So let me long for you O God,
And let my longing not be
Shallow, or passing,
But a longing that is genuine
-and long.....

Overcome my reluctant feet who
seek comfort and not you.
Soften my unresponsive heart
enable it to delight in greater things.

I cannot long - so to be filled
until I taste your presence.
Yet I cannot taste,
Until I have learned to long for you
before, above and beyond all things.

In your mercy, grant to this dry soul,
just one drop of the moisture
of your nearness.
Enough to make me long
for nothing else but this;
Communion with the
Three-in-One and One-in-Three

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Natural Beauty

The visit of the family (Northern Ireland branch) was a good excuse to go exploring and enjoy some of the countryside we have the privilege to live so close to. Both families managed to prise their young boys away from assorted electronic gadgets and get them in the car for the drive to Aberfeldy, which was wonderful in itself, alongside the Tay, tumbling and glistening in the bright, crisp winter sunshine. Then we had a walk around the Birks of Aberfeldy - which is stunning, enchanting and delightful. The girls managed to walk most of the way without pleading for piggy-backs, and we occasionally managed to persuade the boys that stopping to appreciate this natural beauty is as important as rushing home to finish the game of Fifa '08 on the playstation!

Then on from there to inspect the Fortingall Yew billed as "Europe, and possibly the world's oldest living thing" - as a brief stop-off before standing in awe at graceful symmetry and sweeping curves of Schiehallion, first from Schiehallion Road, then Kinloch Rannoch and then finally from the celebrated Queen's View by Loch Tummel. Enthusiasm from some members of the group waned with each stop, and numbers getting out of the car had dropped from 8 at Aberfeldy to a mere 5 by our last stop.

Above, for those who missed it then, is the Queen's View, a mere 150m from where you sat!

Other pix from the day are lurking here:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Forgiveness Seminar

I'm looking forward to this event coming up in Perth soon, and hoping that I'll be able to get (or at least get a copy of the recording if not). It promises to be stirring, troubling, uplifting and challenging -on a number of levels.

The Christian teaching on forgiveness is stretching enough when applied to the petty disputes and irritations of my life, and there have been times when frankly I have just not wanted to be reconciled to the other, nor wanted to offer forgiveness. Yet - being able to do so is life-giving, right, God-honouring and unburdening. What intrigues me is what this seminar will reveal about living-out Christ's challenging ethics, when the pain inflicted is not on the level of domestic dissapointment, but of hatred, barbarity and mass murder.

There are those of course who reject out of hand any such Christ-inspired attempts to love enemies and be reconciled to the pepetrators of crime. Last week the IRA bomber Patrick Magee and Harvey Thomas (whose body was pulled, barely alive from the Brighton rubble from Magee's bomb) shared the platform at my parents church and talked openly about their dialogue and how they have pursued forgiveness, reconcilliation and even friendship. This however did not happen without a written protest from Norman Tebbit, another of Maggee's victims, who categorically believes that notions of reconcilliation are nothing more than a naive violation of the basic principles of justice, which would (possibly) not offer Maggee the lectern but the lethal injection.

Whilst I am instinctively against Tebbit (and not just 'cos it was him!), this is obviously not a conviction which, thank God, I have ever had tested in the crucible of personal bereavement. Perhaps if I had suffered like him - I too would see Christian-reconcilliationism has foolish and dangerous. What I am interested in hearing is how in exactly this testing experience Lesley Bilinda was able to follow Christ, and how it has affected her subsequently. It promises to be a significant morning.

Friday, February 08, 2008


The Onion News Network produces news coverage of this quality every day! Their high-quality investigative reporting is now available on podcast too, so I look forward to their insights being delivered to my computer regularly.

I have also discovered thay there a number of other good podcasts around, which I use to top-up my iPod for long journeys, here'a a few I have enjoyed recently:

"Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy": The 6:30pm slot on radio 4 is bundled as a single podcast, and the current series it downloads is "The Newsquiz". Many laughs this week including this from Jeremy Hardy: "I was told I should live every day as if it were my last....... so I have spent most of today lying in bed, gently drifting in and out of consciousness!"

A number of Radio4's documentary and factual programmea are now downloadable as well, including Thinking Allowed, and In Our Time - both of which are time well spent. Sadly R4 have decided not to podcast Michael Rosen's charming Word of Mouth series nor the scurrillous Down the Line.

A good new-music podcast that I subscribe to is "Three from Leith". Every week, from his home in Leith, Grant Mason previews the work of new or unsigned bands, and strings it together with his personal ramblings.

Off they go!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


A flight from Glasgow to the "Norwich: Alan Partridge International Airport", carried us high above the snowdrifts that were trapping drivers between Edinburgh and Newcastle on Friday night - and to a family wedding for the weekend. Happily free from the entanglements of children for a couple of days, thanks to their Grandmother (London) we were able to enjoy such rare pleasures as the long-forgotten "lie-in" and the indulgence of reading a whole book without interruption! The real reason for the trip however was to join in the celebrations like this:

Attempts to implicate us in being in any way directly involved in causing, being present during, or even encouraging any er... 'adjustments' made to the happy couple's house for their return from honeymoon are purely speculative in nature and we accept no responsibility for any losses to property or persons - if indeed anything has been done to their house, which it probably hasn't, but obviously we don't know because we weren't there.