Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stumbling Upon the Vinyl Archive. 1. Kids

Yesterday I had to clear out part of our attic to make space for an inspection of the timbers in our roof, which appear to be moving... While raking through its dusty corners I came across a long-forgotten collection of vinyl albums - which I have spent the last couple of evenings looking through and playing. I wasn't surprised to find some of the things I had bought as a teenager (this CD thing will never catch on, I'll buy another LP), but I hadn't remembered that some things from my childhood were in there too!
For me Ringo Starr was never the real voice of Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends, in fact Thomas wasn't even the band's front-man when I was a kid, they were just "The Railway Stories" - and they were read by Johnny Morris. Johnny Morris is probably best remembered for his BBC kids TV series, Animal Magic in which he voiced spoken parts for the animals, with his gentle unique voice, and whimsical wit.

His readings of the Railway Stories were lovely and he brought the characters alive - pompous officials, Imperious Express Engines, wicked trucks - all part of these wonderful stories. When Morris was the story-teller the pictures were better than the subsequent TV series. One of my friends told me recently that he had met Johnny Morris - and that he was as charming and friendly off-camera as he appeared on it. The Railway Stories are things which will always remind me of my two Grandfathers though. Both called "Grandpa", we distinguished between them as "Grandpa-shed" and "Grandpa-piano". Both were very creative; one, making useful things in his shed, the other at his piano, with his Mozart and Scarlatti. Amongst my earliest memories are Grandpa-piano reading Railway Stories to me at his house in Sunbury; and I can remember listening to this Johnny Morris album with Grandpa-shed - who liked copying the character voices too.
Next out of the archive were two albums of songs from Play-School, which was the BBC's flagship Under-5s programme during the 1970s. Brian Cant, Johnny Ball, Toni Archer, Derek Griffiths, Lionel Morton, Chloe Ashcroft, Don Spencer and all the others sang songs which were in turn educational and hilarious, told nursery rhymes, and produced this album which when I was about five I could sing along with word-perfectly. Pulling these albums out of their sleeves yesterday was a bizarre experience!
Of course, I was delighted that I could still remember a few of the songs, with the words! Better still my five-year old daughter was in the room - and it was fun watching her responding to the songs with the pure enjoyment that I had got from them back in the middle-ages. I had wondered if they would 'work' today, or whether in the world of ipods and Nintendo's, they would seem hopelessly quaint. Happily she danced and laughed and was thoroughly absorbed by my little nostalgia-fest. Now of course, I can't get the songs out of head... This isn't too bad when the song in question is a uniformly wonderful as Derek Griffiths' Spider Song. However if you catch me singing, "wouldn't it be funny if the moon were made of cheese - and everybody had to wear balloons around their knees?", be kind!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You crack me up..

If I lie on our bed and look up I can see the cracks that are working their way steadily around the ceiling and into the wall behind the headboard. The initial assessment is that there is a problem with the lintel above the bay window - which may need some bolstering, probably at appalling expense.

"Did the earth move for you, dear?" .... Well, the ceiling appears to have shifted a little.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Farewell, old car..

I have just said farewell to my old car, as it was ignominiously tipped up and dragged away by its hind-wheels. This dreadful old heap was but I youngster when we picked it up over a decade ago. Ah, (sigh) the places it has been, the things it has seen! We have brought babies home from hospital in it, gone on holiday, driven to work, driven round Scotland to speak in various churches in it, filled it with people, logs, rucksacks, bikes, sacks of coal, shopping, furniture, boots, sports equipment ... In recent years, the old heap was reserved for lesser duties especially hillwalking trips. The number of times I have peered down from a hill towards the road, and been able to spot this little car waiting for me, I cannot count!

The final insult however wasn't that the thing was dragged away to the knackers-yard, but that it was valued at a mere £150- Surely it was worth more than that!!!?!

A Sign of the times...?

The above has appeared on my study door..... I do so love my family...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Across Perth

Perth - all sandstone, yellow and morning sun - as the first rays have cut through the cloud which hung low over the river all night.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Platform 4

"The rubble lying strewn around on platform four looks
likely to remain there for several more months...."

Book Notes: The Orange Order, A Contemporary Northern Irish History by Eric P. Kaufmann

For external observers of the Northern Irish scene, there are few things which meet with such bemused incredulity as the parades of the Orange Order. While the quaint nature of their archaic costumes and incessant rhythms of the accompany bands might initially prompt a rather patronising amusement - all such thoughts are banished when it becomes apparent that these are the symbols of a deep-seated culture war. The men who wear the orange sash are grimly determined to maintain these traditions even when they are part of civil disobedience, while rogue elements on the fringes of Orangeism are willing even to kill to enforce them.

Kaufman's book is a fascinating insight into this organisation. Writing as an outsider, he has been given unparalleled access to the archives of the Grand Lodge of Ireland in order to explore this unique institution. The results of his work, are for the outsider, absolutely fascinating, and deeply revealing. It is always challenging to read in detail, the history of a people with whom you have no natural or cultural affinity. If the symbols and image of unthinking belligerent Loyalism, completely alienate so many people in Britain - the history of the struggles of these people at least enables the reader to understand their actions.

The picture Kaufmann paints is of a highly ritualised ethnic-defence organisation, whose numbers, power, and influence over Northern Irish life and politics has been steadily on the wane for over a generation. Significantly (and with a barrage of statistics) he analyses the rifts and divisions within the movement - which are far more significant than the media coverage would ever suggest. Rural-urban divides, class divisions, geographical-splits, and a strong secular-vs-Christian battle for the soul of the movement all emerge in competing traditions.

In practical terms the two strongest impulses, in response to the steady erosion of Loyal/Orange dominance of the province, have been to either work with traditional structures of church, UUP, and seek to restrict reform; or to pursue the 'rebel' Unionist cause, typified by the DUP, the 'Spirit of Drumcree' group or even for a small minority, the paramilitaries. The Christian-influence emerges as a significant brake on extremism, and the secularisation of the order a powerful radicaliser. This is an interesting observation, especially for those who (like me) have always been shocked that Christians, never mind clergy, could join such a narrow, sectarian body.

The book begins with a detailed analyses of the Order, and the sub-divisions and groups within it. Then it charts the breakdown of the Orange/UUP/Stormont control of Northern Ireland. Noteworthy is the role the order played in ending the leadership of politicians prepared to compromise Loyalist hegemony, under pressure from London. Charting the course the Order played during the troubles and proposed power-sharing deals of the 70s, the book comes to a finale around the events surrounding the peace-process, and Good Friday Agreement.

Significantly the book explores in great depth the contentious issue of parade-routes, and the Order's tense relationship with the much-resented Parades Commission. It explores the symbolic and political importance of marching to the Orangemen (going some way to making this comprehensible to the outsider, even if not always justifiable), and why Sinn Fein/IRA targeted these marches as part of their strategy through residents-groups. It explores the way in which the Order were cornered into losing the propaganda war so comprehensively around Drumcree, but why government strategy made it rational for both sides to ramp up the tension at every turn.

Finally the book examines the major threat to mainstream Orangeism, which turns out not to be Nationalism, or government indifference to their traditions (although those are undoubtedly present), but loss of members. The Order accounts for a smaller percentage of the male Loyal/Protestant population than it has for generations, its membership is ageing and many are leaving.

At the 'rebel-Unionism' end of the spectrum, the Order is seen as not radical enough, being too religious, and having made too many compromises. The former link to the UUP, which is no longer seen as the party of Molyneaux, Smyth and "No Unionism"; but of Trimble-ism, compromise, parades-commission and prisoner-releases, makes the order seem ineffective in defending the Loyalist heritage. In a sense, the book suggests that these rebels are right in their analysis. The steady erosion of the protestant majority, and its political and cultural control, has meant that each compromise offered by moderate leaders has not made London and Dublin appreciate their flexibility, but has in fact paved the way for the next series of concessions. Belligerence, intransigence, and even violence have achieved greater gains for both Loyalist and Nationalist communities, when they have been prepared to use it.

At the traditionalist and Christian end of the spectrum (frequently also the more educated and middle-class element), the loss of membership has been associated with an abhorrence at the violence and intransigence with which the Order has been associated. The involvement of the likes of Johnny 'mad-dog' Adair, the LVF, or the UFF at parade-stand-offs in Drumcree or on the Lower Ormeau road, has lead to many drifting away from the Order or actually resigning from it. The Twelfth might have been a 'family day out' many years ago, but the presence of the heavy-drinking, potentially violent, 'kick-the Pope' bands and radical-youths on the fringe of Orangeism, have lead many to abandon it altogether.

The Order emerges from Kaufmann's work as a frequently misunderstood, and beleaguered organisation, struggling to find its role and identity, in the new realities of Northern Ireland. It looked slow to learn the lessons of PR and news-management, and so was easy for its opponents to outmaneuver - which happened time and time again. Riven by internal divisions over both tactics and identity, the exploitation of such fissures was all too easy for deeply-hostile politicians such Mo Mowlem and especially Peter Hain.

This is a really helpful read for anyone, like me, who has ever looked at an Orange march in astonishment or even bewilderment - wondering who these people are, and what they are so angry about. It explains why some of their tactics, which from the outside look so incomprehensible and self-defeating, are coherent when viewed from within.

The book probably contains too much detail, of stats and quotations from Grand Lodge meetings, much of which could have happily been footnoted so that the argument and analysis could flow more happily. However, the one thing the book lacks is a brief sketch of the history running-up to the 1960s when its narrative begins. Other than that - great, incisive, informative stuff, and another bargain from this years Oxford Uni Press sale!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Perth Bridge

The morning sun on Perth Bridge.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Is it just me, or do some of our educationalists need to do a few more spelling and grammar tests and a little less making dressing up costumes and having circle-time? If the image is too small to read the type, click to enlarge. I realise that I am sounding like a Daily Mail reading Victor Meldrew; 'dear points of view'; 'angry from Manchester', etc. Rant over. Lynn Truss has eaten, shot and left the building...

Friday, March 11, 2011


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'Boris', belaying for 'Norris' as he edges towards the top of the Alien-Rock climbing wall in Edinburgh, in the 'blindfold-challenge' which the instructors set for the kids on Saturday.

We hope that giving our two sons a hard physical challenge which they have to complete with each other's assistance, will be a good so-called 'teambuilding-exercise'. In short - the idea is that if the boys have great fun, but their lives depend on each other during the activity, they will be less inclined to kill, dismember, loathe and wish to execute each other - during the rigours of everyday life.

I'll keep you posted...

Monday, March 07, 2011

When you're young - and in love...

Publishing the above is more proof that as far as these youngsters are concerned, I am indeed their 'embarrassing relative'....

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Perth: New Marriage Course!

The Marriage Course is a series of seven enjoyable evenings for couples to spend together investing in their relationship. It's suitable for couples at every stage of marriage, and can be used for getting the very best from a good marriage, as well as helping strengthen marriages going through a bad patch. The course comes from a broadly Christian perspective - but has been enjoyed by many couples who are not church-goers, who have benefited from it. In previous years when we have run The Marriage Course, couples have enthused about the difference it has made to their lives. The next course is planned to run on Thursday evenings beginning on April 21st. The course is really practical, down-to-earth, and as fun as it is challenging. Privacy is highly prized on The Marriage Course, so that while there are other couples in the room for the DVD part of the evening - the discussion times are solely between husbands and wives. There are no group discussions, and absolutely no suggestion or even invitation to share anything about your own marriage with anyone else! Likewise when we host the course - we have no idea what each couple are discussing, or how relevant the DVD was to them. We don't pry - just facilitate the evening!

If you are interested in finding out about the course, get in contact (e-mail address on my blogger profile). There are some places still available on the next course, although these will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis! Incidentally, we do ask for a £30 ('or what you can afford') donation towards the cost of the course, including meals and the accompanying book. If you're interested, please get in touch. If you are interested but too far from Perth to join this course, click here to find a course near you. Likewise any questions about the course - just ask.