Monday, August 31, 2009

The Road to Slaggan

The abandoned ruins of the village of Slaggan, lie by the sea at the end of this track. Once a busy crofting community, it was decimated by clearances, but lingered on as an inhabited place, into the twentieth century only to be finally killed by world wars. Last week I posted a YouTube link to a song about the Highland Clearances by John Lees (here), - it was a song I couldn't get out of my head as we walked back towards Ullapool with a setting sun behind us - trying to imagine what the last residents must have felt as they walked this road for the last time. The quiet beauty of that landscape, is still overlain with a heavy blanket of mourning, which rests its melancholy weight on all who walk that road today.

At Ropley

A long time ago...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Remembering Sandwood Bay

St Johnstone 2 : 2 Hearts

If Saints fans were worried that promotion to the premiership would leave them floundering, unable to compete and quite literally out of their league; then this afternoon's 2-2 draw with Hearts will have put all such fears to rest. For the first 45, Saints dominated, and deserved to take a 1-0 lead into the interval. Hearts two goals in the second half followed a significant improvement in their performance, coupled with their ability to seize the chances they generated, while goal-scoring opportunities were not taken, or taken and disallowed at the other end. The large crowd erupted, when Saints equalised in injury time, thanks to a curling Martin Hardie free-kick from 25 yards; a fitting conclusion to a thoroughly entertaining match.

Ticket prices may have been raised at McDiarmid Park, as St Johnstone enter the big league, but there's no doubt that the entertainment level has been raised far more. The relentlessly fast, more skillful play of the premiership is in stark contrast to some of the plodding Division one games of last season, and the ability of top-flight teams like Hearts, to hold possession and build from the back, is worlds-away from some of the dreary long-ball punting we were subjected to from the likes of Stirling Albion last year. It was also good to see that the premiership has lead to bigger-crowds of away-fans coming to Perth than some of the lower-league minnows could muster; this coupled with a big turn-out of locals in the home stands, meant that there was a real atmosphere too. With entertainment this good on offer, they deserve to do well.

Loch Glencoul

Loch Glencoul

Better Days

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Changeling is a true story, of a woman called Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) whose son was abducted in LA, in 1928. The plot involves the LAPD's misguided attempt to arrange a publicity coup by re-uniting Collins to a substitute child, and confining her to a psychopathic ward of a mental hospital when she refused to co-operate. He case was taken up by The Rev. Gustav Briegleb, (John Malkovitch) a campaigning Presbyterian minister, fighting city corruption in his radio broadcasts. The film charts Collins' two struggles, one to find her missing son, and two for justice from the oppressive city authorities. It also follows the arrest and trial of child-murderer Gordon Stewart Northcott, who may know the fate of young Walter Collins.

Changeling is an overwhelmingly, dark film, with few breathing spaces to relieve the sinister atmosphere which broods over the whole. The story of child-abduction is unspeakably dreadful, the fact that the authorities who should uphold justice and defend the rights of the oppressed, end up as further oppressors, is deeply troubling. Christine Collins is both a real historic character, and also an example of powerlessness. Deserted by her husband, bereft of her stolen child, and declared insane by the state, she is portrayed as an example of female disempowerment. Yet, aided by Rev. Briegleb, she is able to rise to challenge of defending her cause, and seeking justice.

In stark contrast to the oppressive subject matter, the film is beautifully shot. Visually it is quite compelling, and this is something that director Clint Eastwood was obviously striving to achieve. The fact that such evil occurs within a world of great beauty, is a juxtaposition which adds much to a growing sense of despair. But the coupling of beauty with Eastwood's delicately mournful soundtrack, overlaying such bleakness, makes the film a most beautiful lament, for life lost, hopes gone, and powerlessness.

A side note is that the film also forwards an intriguing set of questions in the debate (still very relevant in the USA) about use of the death penalty. Nortcutt was as eligible for such a sentence as it is perhaps possible to be; yet what information do such people take to their graves that might benefit the living, should they be coaxed to speak?

Angelina Jolie is a much criticised actress, but her portrayal of Christine Collins, is excellent. She was chosen (apparently) for the role because she looks so much the archetypal 1920s beauty, and the period costume certainly suits her - but here she compellingly portrays this lone woman under immense strain, with some power. John Malkovitch is good as the campaigning minister too, although there's something about his cold dispassionate eyes that even when he is playing a deeply sympathetic character, makes you just wonder for moment, if he's actually a serial killer!

This is a memorable film, worth watching, troubling, dark and disturbing; yet strangely delicate, compelling and thought provoking. It's no barrel of laughs, and not one for anyone with young children who suffers from nightmares - but yet as a lament for the powerless and a call to stand for justice, is absolutely gripping.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Welcoming Home The Ashes

What a fabulous climax yesterday to the Ashes Summer, when on Day 4 of the Oval Test, Australia's hopes of clinging on to the famous urn were finally dashed. It would be entirely unfair to say, in traditional style, "that the better team won" - because in terms of both raw talent, and performance statistics, the better team were unable to salvage the draw they needed to retain the coveted trophy which they so overwhelmingly won two years ago at home in Australia. Somehow England were able, with Strauss and Trott's accumulation of runs, and Broad's devastating first-innings bowling, to win the final test by a stunning 197-run margin.

The series itself has been something of a roller-coaster, both teams suffering from wild fits of erratic inconsistency, with both bat and ball. This is probably the key difference that will be noted in the inevitable comparisons with the summer of 2005 series, when both teams performed consistently well and the Ashes were "won". In 2009, while there were moments of heroic performance that turned the tide for one side or the other - there is a greater sense that this year the Ashes were "lost" - by heroic failures. Neither side played consistently at the top of their game for the series, and Australia was almost as poor at Lord's as England were lamentable at Headingly, only a few weeks later. Some statistician somewhere will work out how many of the woeful batting collapses we have seen from both sides this summer have been caused by batsmen being unable to leave balls wide of the off-stump, a problem no-doubt exacerbated by the prevalence of the 20-20 form of the game.

But despite that, there were some notable performances. Anderson and Panesar's battling defiance of the Australian attack on the last day at Cardiff, restored English hopes - after the Aussies had so comprehensively demolished their bowling attack in the opening match. Flintoff's spell of brutal fast-bowling at Lord's was as compelling as it was destructive, and as memorable as Strauss' big hundred. Headingly was a complete disaster for England who lost by a innings and oh....... hundreds and hundreds of runs - and was entirely devoid of hope except for the curious rejuvenation of Stuart Broad. Broad had begun the series as the new ball bowler (perhaps somewhat surprisingly), but by mid-series he was near the bottom of the pecking-order, Strauss not handing him the ball until Anderson, Flintoff, Onions and sometimes even Swann had all had a go. Yet, his series turned around in Leeds, with 6-91 with the ball, and a fine-looking 61 with the bat. Although Australia levelled the series here, setting up this week's thrilling finale, it also appears to have been the match preparation that England's man-of-the-match at The Oval required to bring his obvious potential to fruition. He ends up leading the bowling stats for the series, and with a batting average higher that Cook, Bopara, Bell, Prior and Collingwood - and mid-series suggestions of his exclusion from the team put to one side.

Flintoff's occasional bursts of headline-grabbing brilliance have masked a fairly ordinary series for the big-man, and an equally ordinary test finale, save for the spectacular, timely and brilliant run out of Ricky Ponting, whose partnership with the equally brilliant Mike Hussey threatened at one stage to wreck England's party. England will not miss Flintoff's frequent ludicrous dismissals at the crease, the constant worries over his fitness, and his career statistics do show plenty of bad games alongside the good ones. But they will miss some of the extraordinary moments of inspiration he has provided for his team, sometimes at critical moments. His second innings bowling at Lords was for a few short, match-changing overs, brilliant, and his final moment of glory, in hurling Ponting's stumps down from mid-on was such a typical Flintoff moment of sporting brilliance and showbiz, that it brought the whole ground (and countless people around the country) to its feet.

What a shame then, that the ECB have sold all the broadcasting rights to Murdoch's media empire. The reason that the 2005 Ashes was a national event, wasn't just the better play that year, but the widespread accessibility when home tests were kept on the reserved list of sporting events to be kept on terrestrial television. Murdoch's millions might filter down to club level with the odd sightscreen here, and the odd new net there, or even a coach trained to teach youngsters the game somewhere in Merthr Tidfyll; but the fact is that unless kids can readily see their heroes in action, demand for these facilities will be gone within a generation.

The second shame is that this great sporting spectacle has brought out the lunatic-fringe of the SNP, demanding that what media coverage there has been be axed in Scotland, because cricket is not a Scottish sport! This is ill-conceived knee-jerk populism of the silliest kind. For a start, cricket in Scotland is alive and well, played by thousands every week, and with significantly higher participation than Rugby that er... "Scottish" sport. That's why during the 2005 Ashes series, the live coverage gained higher viewing percentages in Scotland than in England! That the team is called "England" (but has regularly featured Scots and Welshmen) is of course a problem, but one which allows Scots to play at the very highest level under an England banner, or enter a separate Scottish team in the world cup - so one which Scottish cricketers are hardly motivated to campaign to change.

The next job for the England selectors is to assess the series and work out who will be in a position to take the team forward from here. Vaughan's team of 2005 did little after their great series, and there are some series selection issues to work through from here on.

If we to classify the players in terms of their likely inclusion in the next squad as 'certain', 'query' and 'drop', the following would be my assessment.

Strauss: the linchpin of the batting line up
Trott: a very impressive debut
Pietersen: brilliant but erratic
Broad: has proved himself in the last 2 games
Anderson: can he do enough when the ball doesn't swing?
Prior: hugely improved keeper, adds useful runs
Swann: England's best spinning option, useful batsman

Onions: 10 wickets in three tests, wasn't enough to keep his place
Cook: consistently out cheaply fishing outside off-stump
Bell: Unreliable, never looks really 'in'
Collingwood: Has had a disastrous summer, averages lower than the bowlers
Harmison: Three quick wickets, might not be enough

Bopara: His centuries again the Windies don't look like being repeated
Panesar: He can't elevate his bowling to match his enthusiasm.

All that however, can wait for another day. Today, there is plenty to celebrate. Despite the best efforts of the likes of Ponting, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Hussey, North and Johnson - we have the Ashes back. And that's fantastic!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

East Lomond with old friends and new

West Lomond from East Lomond
Across the 'cleavage of Fife', perhaps?

Once upon a time Doonhamergeordie had the misfortune to be one of my flatmates when we were students in Dundee. We shared a hovel on Cleghorn Street, which had no heating, frayed carpets and windows which would sometimes fall completely out of their frames into the rooms. In our first winter there, I remember it being so cold that the water in the toilet and sink froze solid. One morning I also recall Doonhamergeordie announcing that we had gained double-glazing during the night. The secondary glazing was of course a layer of ice on the glass. Happily the landlord, despite his various aliases, tax-dodging scams, and his abhorrence of maintenance, charged very little for our slum, where we spent several amusing years.

After Uni, and our respective marriages to fellow students, he settled in NE England - adding the 'geordie' bit of his nom de plume. Following that he became a blogger (you can read his adventures here), although his literary output has been somewhat curtailed by the growth of their family, all of whom descended on us the other day. With six kids in tow we went out for the day - after some lengthy discussion about where to go and what to do. The suggestion was raised that we could 'do one of the Lomonds', which as the forecast was reasonable seemed like a good way of ensuring that childrens' energy would be constructively (and non-violently) expended. The thought of 'doing a Lomond' filled me with a childhood horror however- not that I grew up within sight of a Lomond, either East or West let alone a Ben Lomond! Rather, when I was in my third year at Clarendon School a teacher called Mrs Rutledge had a huge stack of books filled with tedious and ever-more-tricky arithmetic exercises. These books had a photo of a Scottish peak on the front cover and were called "Lomond Maths". I can still hear Mrs Rutledge admonishing me: "get on and do your Lomond'.

Happily the childhood personality scars associated with Lomond weren't so deep that I needed psychoanalysis in order to drive to Falkland, and take the little road from the back of the village up to the car-park on the ridge - nestling between the respective Paps of Fife. Its an easy road to miss in the village, and the Doonhamergeordie's and ourselves had a bit of a hunt around the place looking for the correct turning. Once on the road the car-park is unmissable, in that it is host to Scotlands most malodorous public cludgie, evidence that attracting tourists is a low priority for Fife Council.

After successfully meeting up with the Doonhmergeordie clan, and introducing our respective children to each other, we took to the path along the ridge towards East Lomond. Countless drivers on the M90 between Edinburgh and Perth are treated to a fine view of the Lomond Hills (and the smaller Bishop's Hill) as they pass Kinross, few of them probably realise that these hills provide easily accessible, pleasant walking on gentle hills with wonderful views. The ridge to East Lomond from the car-park is broad and gentle, and only becomes steep when the summit cairn is reached, and little hands demand to be held - and the smallest people demand to be carried. The pull to the top is quickly rewarded however with views across the Forth to the Pentlands, Bass Rock and Berwick Law, to the West across the Ochil ridge, North to the lower hills around Perth and into the vast tangle of peaks in highland Perthshire, and Eastwards to the Sidlaws and their distinctive radio-masts marking the skyline by Dundee. In the immediate foreground the the land slumps steeply and ominously away to the pretty and ancient village of Falkland on one side and towards ghastly Glenrothes, that 1960s new-town and full-frontal assault on aesthetics, on the other. But as is often noted from the top of the hills, with such a glorious backdrop, 'even Glenrothes looks nice from up here'. High praise indeed.

With the noise, chatter, silliness, and occasional tears which mark a hilwalk with six-young children we enjoyed the view, some snacks and took photos before clambering back down the hill. Then the rain came, soaked us, chilled us and made the little ones a bit grumpy. Once at the car it was decided to halt the proceedings (the playpark at Loch Leven can wait) and adjourn to our house for hot chocolate and a serious assault on the chocolate cake which Mrs Hideous had taken the precaution of baking the previous evening. Time was short and they were too soon forced to head back to Falkirk, where food and grand-parents awaited. But it was great to catch up with old (and not-seen-for -years) friends and to finally meet their entertaining kids!

Book Notes: Medicine Balls by Phil Hammond

Phil Hammond's book, "Medicine Balls" is something of a schizophrenic effort in that it is unsure whether it is a serious medico-political commentary or a satirical series of medical anecdotes, with the traditional black humour beloved of medics and undertakers alike. Its curious mixture of investigative style journalism and scurrilous satire is somewhat akin to Private Eye magazine - of which (under the pseudonym "M.D.") he is the medical correspondent. Its easy and enjoyable reading, featuring some disturbing reflections on the state of contemporary medicine, and some transcripts of ludicrous consultations in which he invites us to mock the foibles of the great British public, and to be fair to him, to have a few laughs at his expense too.

The following quote is a piece of his examination of contemporary medicine.

I was taken aback to read that drug trials funded by the drug-companies yield results four-times as favourable to the company as independently funded trials. That is shocking - and his suggestion that covering -up unfavourable results should be made illegal, is sensible, if doctors really are to be able to practice medicine with a credible 'evidence base'.

The other side of this book can be seen in the following quote. It is a transcript from one of his ludicrous consultations - which does contain some strong language.

If you like a surreal mixture of politics, science, medicine, research, humour, expletives, and gross-out medical nightmare stories, this may be a book for you. On the other hand, I'd quite understand if you didn't!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Loch Leven

However much you know that beauty can be found in unexpected places, you still don't expect to find it in Fife, well not outside its famous East Neuk, anyhow. Yet here is Fife's Loch Leven from the Vane Wildlife Park viewpoint, where we had a great afternoon (in spite of the drizzle) with some of our neighbours.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I think we have an inbuilt tendency to ignore treasures on our doorstep. This was certainly the case when I lived on the edge of London - although the city was packed full of world-class places of interest, museums, entertainments and historical sites, we only ever visited them when showing other folks around. I'm sure if we lived miles from Huntingtower castle we would have had had several day trips to it - because it is a charming place. They have everything there, gloomy cellars, high battlements, rumours of ghosts, a bloodthirsty history, entertaining historical anecdotes to go along with the historical information, and dressing-up costumes for younger children. Norris and Doris toured the castle as a medieval knight and princess respectively (Boris considers himself above such things, and was more interested in bloody history!). The staff are really friendly and great with the kids too, historic Scotland do a great job getting the best out of these old places!

Our Wigwam

Walking in the woods with their 'mad' aunt; Boris, Norris and Doris helped her to build a wigwam. Cool, huh?


The Birks of Aberfeldy is always a winner for good, but short, afternoon's walking. A beautiful wooded glen, leads to a gorge into which several lovely waterfalls pour, and through which a circular walk winds. Just below a den into which three or four falls tumble, there is a rocky overhang and a seat. According to the sign this was where Burns in 1787 was inspired to write (amongst other things):

Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes,
And o'er the crystal streamlets plays;
Come let us spend the lightsome days,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy!

The braes ascend like lofty wa's,
The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's,
O'erhung wi' fragrant spreading shaws-
The birks of Aberfeldy.

Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy!

The hoary cliffs are crown'd wi' flowers,
White o'er the linns the burnie pours,
And rising, weets wi' misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldy.

The scenery is fabulous - and the walk, although steep in places, is well within the capabilities of little Doris (aged 4). Her brother Norris (7) was the one who needed watching carefully through. He broke his collar-bone a week or so before the walk, and was one-armed in a sling, scampering up and down hills, trying to climb trees, sliding over wet rocks and generally alarming his parents! We weren't inspired by all of this to write poetry, but we were inspired to search for coffee and cake at the end of the walk -a search that was duly rewarded.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Hawk Conservancy

I had a few days with my kids and my parents in London and one of the places they took us to was the Hawk Conservancy Trust outside Andover. The venue was chosen as a good mid-way point to meet up with my Dad's 'big' brother and sister who travelled there from the west, while we drove upwind of the big smoke to meet them.

This is a really good day-out, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. While kids were not that interested in the bored looking birds in aviaries part of the place, the place had added some kid-friendly activities to engage them which made the kids actually look at the birds and explore all sections of the park. The best bit of the day however (which more than made up for the limited cafe) were the flying displays, in which their large collection of impressive birds of prey are let loose to fly around the valley, through the grounds, over the crowds. This was absolutely stunning. The staff who commentate these displays are not only well-informed, but hugely entertaining as well, explaining the various maneuvers the different birds make with knowledge and humour. The kids were mesmerised by the vultures swooping so low over our heads that you could touch them, by the speed of the diving peregrine falcon, by the African Fish Eagle plucking a fish from the pool in front of us, and by the elegance of the Kite's soaring on the breeze. They will also not forget donning the big leather glove to allow the beautiful owl pictured above to perch on their arm.

It was a really good day out - but if we go there again we'll try and make sure it is not during the last week of the English school holidays, as the place was somewhat over-stocked with school parties!

The Castle of Gloom

At the head of Dollar Glen, between the Burn of Sorrow and the Burn of Care, lies Castle Campbell, "the Castle of Glume", which is a beautiful 15th Century castle nestling on an outcrop beneath the Ochil ridge. Despite the misery of the names of the building and the surrounding streams, we had a lovely day walking up through the dank woody glen, and enjoying the stunning southward views from the tower.

This made me laugh (maybe revealing just how sad I really am)

The first three minutes of this clip just made me laugh out loud. ...... enjoy!

Windsor view

For as long as I can remember, I have loved open space. Growing up in London's suburbs meant that I was always aware of its absence, an awareness which was re-enforced by our family's search for it at any given opportunity. Free-time together invariably meant escaping from the Thames-valley's pressure and smog, to places such as Shaftesbury in Dorset, or the wild North Cornish Coast, to National Trust houses set in large grounds like Polesden Lacy - but if time was short, a quick trip to Windsor Great Park. I loved these places, and saved hard as a teenager to buy a bike that would bring many of them within my reach. Yesterday I found the receipt for the "F.W. Evans Tourer De Luxe (black)" on which I pedalled through as many of these landscapes as I could manage.

Windsor Great Park was the nearest place to our house that I could find that feeling of open space, that escape from the traffic and architectural overload with which the south-east had been blighted in the course of a generation. My Grandma described moving out to Ashford, Middx after WWII as moving out to a quiet village - but by the end of her life, London had caught up with her again, growing out to surround the village, deny it a shape or identity, lasoo it with the M25 and drag it into the uniformity of Londonness. But from here - I could cycle to Windsor Great Park, which had acres of grass, mature trees, deer and no cars; and I did whenever I could. There are paths and trackways through the park on which you very rarely see a soul - even today. There are remote corners of the park where even the rumbling of Heathrow can be forgotten.

As a child, Windsor Great Park used to give me that sense of remoteness that now only comes if I am out wandering through the Cairngorms or up some wild Torridonian ridge whilst looking out to Skye. Much as I love 'The Copper Horse' and 'The Long Walk' (above), it doesn't feel as wild as it used to! Nevertheless it is a place which overwhelms me with memories - of events and days, of life-formingly special people, some of whom are gone, some of whom I have lost touch with, some of whom walked through there again with me this summer.

As I sat at the foot of the "Copper Horse" and mulled over these things; my Dad played 'Hide and Seek' with my young children, around the vast trunks of ancient trees that will outlast us all.

Dunkeld etc

Early summer, a hazy day for a walk up Birnam Hill with 'Boris' and 'Norris'

Private Eye Cartoon

One of the great things about Private Eye, is that they laugh at everyone.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Charles Marsh's 'Wayward Christian Soldiers'

When does faithful contextualisation of the gospel become merely the loss of the gospel's distinctiveness, subsuming it beneath the dominant values of the culture? It is exactly that question that Charles Marsh explores in his book, "Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity", with reference to the church in the USA. This is an old discussion, but Marsh explores it in some unique and fascinating ways. Firstly his target for the critique that contextualisation has lead to sublimation has an unusual target. Usually such a critique is offered by the evangelical wing of the church -and directed straight at theological liberals, who have historically sought to minimise any differences between the church and the world, both by the demythologising core Christian belief and in adopting the ethical standards of surrounding culture as the norm. Marsh however, has white, American evangelicalism in his sights in this book, as he charges them (he is one, incidentally) with failing to critique the American national project, Imperial Economics, and expansionist foreign policy with the teachings of Christ. With many references to Bonhoeffer and the Christian resistance in Germany in the 1930s-40s, Marsh sees the American church as having failed in its primary task of loyalty to Christ, and has allowed itself to become the flag-waving and morale-boosting department of the American national project. A grave charge indeed.

Marsh argues that there have been key issues on which American Evangelicals have faced a choice between Faith and Flag, between the claims of Christ and the needs of their nation -and that on successive occasions they have chosen the flag. A particular case-study he makes is of the propaganda battle in the six months running up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, in which US Evangelicalism was a lone cheerleader for the war-effort, in the face of the near universal condemnation of the plan from the world-church. The book begins with the author discovering his local 'christian' bookshop in those days, removing Holy-Spirit, Dove of Peace badges from display, and replacing it with the Stars and Stripes!

To read Marsh's discussion of Franklin Graham's flag-waving click on the image below:

"the masses who cannot tell the difference between the cross and the flag. The Jesus who storms into Baghdad behind the wheel of a Humvee is not the Jesus of the gospels." This is stirring and provocative stuff - which needs to be said.

To read his discussion of Charles Stanley's pro-war propaganda click on the image below:

Marsh here accuses Stanley of the worst kind of theological liberalism; of reducing the gospel to the cheerleading department of a deeply non-Christian regime; of standing in the ignoble tradition of the court-prophets of the Old Testament. They were the ones who refused to deliver the ringing denunciations of Yahweh that fell to minority voices like Jeremiah - but sought the favour of Kings and Princes by the delivery of favourable 'prophecies' and declaring that their various schemes and machinations were the recipients of divine approval.

Marsh pleads with his fellow-believers to recover the integrity of the gospel message by de-coupling it from the religious-right movement (which has in fact merely 'used' gospel language and people for its own ends). He calls for the US church to listen more widely to the world church, to renounce its lust for power and seek again a commitment to quiet service - as a way of helping people see the Christ of the gospel, shorn of the unhelpful baggage of the GOP and its war-mongering foreign policies.

Reading this book as an 'outsider' was fascinating. I am convinced that his general thesis is exactly right, and that he is extremely perceptive and penetrating in his analysis. Obviously though, it is easier for me to (in the words of the old maxim) see the speck in my brother's eye more clearly than the plank in my own. If the use of the 'Prince of Peace' as a tool for war-mongering, stands out a mile as a being as bizarre as it is wicked to me; I wonder which aspects of my own attempts at being a disciple of Christ are equally hopelessly culturally compromised in ways of which I am blissfully ignorant? This book may have been 'just' a cheapo from the Oxford Uni Press summer sale - but it has got me thinking!

Todi (2)

The little Italian town of Todi, perched on the hillside, with statues, piazza, and of course, impressive church.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rain, rain, rain

Today is the last 'proper' day of the summer holidays - and the kids are in the house watching the rain falling outside. I have been outside getting soaked unblocking choked gutters merrily spewing water down the side of the house. However, the grey skies, and gentle but persistent drizzle we get in Scotland, is nothing compared to what we got in Italy earlier in the summer - it looked like this:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm Hiding

The attic conversion is now finished, the book shelving hung on the walls and we've finished decorating (well all but a few fiddly tidying up bits). The kids have helped me lug one or two boxes of books up the ladder, and stacked them on the shelves, theology to the left, history to the right, politics under the window, fiction over the stairs, maps on the top shelf, humour next to medical texts, below biographies etc etc. Just a little bit of organising to do here now... If things go a bit quiet and you haven't seen me for a while, I am most likely to be found up here, with a book. It is the most convivial of places for the reading of books, do join me next time you are round at ours.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I took the kids down to Edinburgh today to experience something of the famous Edinburgh Festival. The first great part of the day was the train ride into the city, over the Forth Bridge past the airport and into Waverley station. As usual at festival time the streets were packed with tourists, people advertising their various shows, and a bewildering array of street entertainers, artists, and people selling all manner of the weird and wonderful. We ignored all of these and marched to the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile, to watch a children's play called Twine, the cast of which included our old friend Ross, who is part of the Tortoise in a Nutshell theatre group.

Norris (aged 7) said, "I liked Twine because it was funny and interesting. The best character was George because he kept on coming in to the stage every so often with a box of people on top - that's what made it funny. Uncle Claude pretending to be French made me laugh. I liked Uncle Claude's music and people were saying that he was pretending to be French but do not tell him because it will make him angry. I liked the chocolate cakes that they gave out at the end too!"

All three of the kids seemed to really enjoy the show - and were utterly absorbed by it from beginning to end, the hour flew by and they were disappointed that it had to end. There were no problems with restlessness or naughtiness, because they couldn't take their eyes off the characters. I looked accross to my kids at various points during the show - and they were utterly absorbed. The 'story within a story' idea as very well done, and alongside the flights of imagination of the storyline, the musical accompaniment was especially effective. The bizarre family of storytellers who have surreal and improbable adventures after an elaborate Tea-drinking ceremony, reminded me of The Rutles, but where that comic band were transported by 'tea' into Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds territory, this family are joined by a boy made of string, whose inability to speak draws them within the stories they are trying to tell! The age recommendation for the play is 6yrs+, but my 4 year old was highly entertained by it - because even when the dialogue was 'over her head', there was enough happening visually to hold her interest. Well worth a trip!

Monday, August 10, 2009


The Field

I think my favourite week of the year is the church youth camp, when about twenty adults, four children and thirty-five teenagers leave Perth and set up a canvas village in the countryside and live there for five eventful days. Every year the camp has a theme (usually topical) which is a focal point for all the games, competitions, awarding of both chores and rewards for behaviour - and the spiritual input too. Last year the camp took place in the middle of the Olympics, and so we explored a lot of the Bible's sporting illustrations and were busy 'running the race' and 'fighting the fight' etc. This year, as we plunge into recession the theme was 'money, money, money' - which had the added benefit of having a readily available cheesy theme tune too! The money theme worked in all the games, sports, craft competitions etc because teams could win or lose amounts of the camp currency 'The Dollop'. In the meetings, money also played a significant role because Jesus' parables use money a lot (i) as an illustration of our sin as being like a debt needing to be paid (Matt 18:21ff) and (ii)because he had lots to say about what we do with our resources in parables like that of the 'talents' or 'the rich man and Lazarus'.

The camp is a physically very wearying, but spiritually uplifting time. Sleeping in a tent in the rain is not exactly a refreshing way to spend the night, and playing football with sixteen year olds is potent reminder of my advancing age, by day. However, the adults and young people, all living there, working together, playing together, worshipping together, thinking together and laughing together at evening entertainment was just.. brilliant! It would be inaccurate to only say that all the teamwork and effort in putting up tents, cooking meals, planning, budgeting, risk-assessing, band practices, writing talks, planning sports competitions, organising crafts, praying, disclosure Scotland forms, parental consent forms, plumbing, wiring, hiring toilets, fiddling with laptops, preparing presentations, etc etc had been worthwhile for the effect that it had had. In fact it was much more than this, in that the teamwork in doing these things was in itself part of the reward. The fact that some of the younger people are having more and more input on both the practical and spiritual aspects of the camp and edging out some of us dinosaurs is also fabulous! I hope we can do it again in 2010!

Early Morning on The Field

Friday, August 07, 2009

In Cairngorm Sun on Bynack More

Cairngorms slopes from Bynack More

Mrs Hideous has on occasion been heard to comment that if the sunshine could be relied upon, then she would never want to holiday away from Scotland. As I drove up the grim North road yesterday, through badly organised roadworks, behind slow trucks and caravans, with the mountains of Drumochter looking menacing and foreboding through torrents of rain - I reflected on the wisdom of her words. Sitting in traffic on the A9, in driving rain under a darkening grey sky - hardly inspires. The thought of putting on waterproofs and walking up a hill straight into the teeth of such weather was as sickening as the thought of the warmth of the bed I dragged my reluctant limbs out of that morning, was attractive. Had I not had an arrangement to meet Dr K at Glenmore Lodge, the observable weather and the gloomy forecast of rain and high winds to come would certainly have beaten me back.

Much to my surprise however, as I dropped down from Drumochter the rain began to ease. Accelerating past Dalwhinnie (the mobile roadblock of caravan coupled to underpowered car plus inept driver, turned off towards Fort William, the west coast and countless more drivers to unnecessarily delay), I noticed a patch of blue sky to the North and thought that maybe a walk was on. By the time I had got to Newtonmore the patch of blue was dominating the sky, and by Aviemore the scene, dominated by the looming Cairngorm bulk, was lit by bright sunshine. When I met Dr K. at Glenmore Lodge, he was doing serious work with the sun-cream.

Leaving sparkling Lock Morlich and its hundreds of watersports enthusiasts behind us, we took the track that runs from Glenmore Lodge alongside the Alt na Feith Duibhe to the clear green waters of the An Lochan Uaine. As is common all over the Cairngorm National Park, progress along the long miles to the hills is accelerated by the provision of excellent tracks and maintained paths. At the car, the planned waterproof layers had been dispatched to the rucksack, and within a mile or two of striding through the warm fragrant pine woodland, fleecy jumpers were similarly discarded. The track cuts through a delightful notch in the hills as it curves round to Ryvoan Bothy on the Braemar path. We forked off, away from the bothy and round into beautiful Strath Nethy, and a useful little footbridge across its broad, powerful outflow (below).

Once over the river, we took the obvious (and eroded) path which ascends the shoulder of Bynack More's long northern ridge. The path forks on the ridge, the historic right of way descending to the east of the mountain towards the Fords of Avon and the Lairig an Laiogh, and a newer Munro-baggers track towards the summit. Somewhat predictably, and in the company of several other walking parties, we struck southwards and upwards, over several rocky false-summits to the splendid viewpoint of Bynack More. In blazing sunshine, with views accross the Cairngorm massif to Cairngorm itself and distant Ben Macdui, as well as Northwards out across the vast lowlands of Speyside we eventually (revealing a startling lack of fitness) made the summit. Returning by the same route - and with no hint of the promised high winds and rain, we made Glenmore Lodge and fresh supplies of drinks, in good time, despite aching feet and the tingle of freshly tinged skin.

If the weather in Scotland was like this all the time - who'd ever go anywhere else?

Distant Bynack More and Bynack Beg down Strath Nethy