Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dragons on Social Media

Now here's a thing. I have an ambivalent attitude to Facebook. It shows in the fact that I very rarely
post directly to it; I will share something that I find interesting or provocative but apart from that anything that appears from me comes through other social media outlets, primarily Twitter. But I use Facebook because it's useful - useful for contacting people, for posting group updates, for finding people.

That said, there are some implications in using such a medium. I came up against one yesterday, when I discovered quite by accident that someone I know in real life (RL) had "unfriended" me. (Vile phrase, but that's what it says). I only found out when I wanted to tag this person, to draw his attention to a piece of local news that could have had an effect on him. What could I have done to offend him? Had I snubbed him hideously? Maligned him in public?

Not being the reticent type, I asked him. His reply indicated that he'd found my posts too limited in range (i.e. not interesting to him personally). I'll not say anything about the things he posts about, nor about the online "friendships" he has struck up with people who are actually my friends. (I know - I've just said it. No details, though ...) 

And I realised - or at least I think I did - that actually it was ignorance that had caused him to cut me off in this unseemly fashion. For it is perfectly possible to hide the posts of someone you find tedious without actually consigning them to virtual outer darkness. Either he didn't care (so not ignorant) or he hadn't realised.

The fact is that I don't actually care either. But it brought home to me the added dimension of having an online connection with someone you see on a regular basis. It made me want to shun Facebook, as a goodly number of people do - but that's just silly. When I suggested it to another friend (RL as well as virtual) she protested that she enjoys my posts and links. So I'll just carry on for now.

But I realise that my attitude to this chap whose grasp of the niceties of relationships is so inadequate has changed. Perhaps I've learned something about him that it's good to have found out before it impinged on my everyday life. And I am reflecting on the fact that I originally signed up for F/b (long after I was an early adopter of Twitter) because it allowed for a more varied collection of people to stay in touch - former pupils, former colleagues, my family - and that is as important as it ever was.

But I shall think twice before automatically accepting the "friendship" of people I consider acquaintances - for there be dragons.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Remembering on All Souls

Holy Trinity Dunoon: All Souls

This evening we remembered. We lit candles in front of the altar for family and friends lost. We considered our mortality, and our human response to it. We were reminded how faith and raw emotion can make difficult bedfellows. And I remembered a poem I wrote over a decade ago.


Today I would have phoned -
wished to share the small
details of my life, the
safe return, the laughing
at the rain which fell
as if the Flood would come.
But had I rung the number
as familiar as my name
you would not be there.
A stranger’s voice would say
your words, and the strangeness
would be too much to bear.
And contemplating this
a glacial shifting in my soul
gave promise that in weeks not lived
the frozen tears would find the way
and spill into a distant sea like
drops into the ocean of my love.

C.M.M. 4/05

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Mass of Questions

Was it wise to get me started again? Today I have a question. A question that returns to trouble me when I stray beyond my accustomed paths of worship for whatever reason - or sometimes when I'm in my familiar environment and find myself profoundly grateful for what I find there.

So: the question. Why do Roman Catholics sound so perfunctory in the celebration of the Mass? The rapid delivery - so rapid that anyone unfamiliar with it can't make it out, microphones notwithstanding (yes, I know - the rapid mutter of the Mass is a cliché, but it's one that would be well abandoned), the perfunctory prayers, the almost apologetic readings ... I'm not even going to mention the music; I suppose that's something that rather depends on what you've got. But why make the holy mysteries sound so very matter-of-fact?

You can tell from this that I've had a recent experience. And I noticed one difference from the last time. They said "Amen" in the way I'm accustomed to, rather than with the stress on the second syllable with the "Ah" said as "Ae". Who brought this about? Was it part of the upheaval that took the liturgy back to the language of the Prayer Book?

So come on, good people. I want to know.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Planning or living?

This blog post is an act of conscience, brought on by Kelvin's reminder of how much I've been neglecting my blog. So here's a wee blether for today ...

A couple of hours ago I was phoned by a pleasant-sounding woman - youngish, I'd say, West of Scotland accent - offering to help me plan for my old age. Just a few questions would do it. And I'm afraid I laughed. No, no, she said - it's for anyone over 35; 35 to 80 year-olds can do this thing, whatever it was.

She was clearly not happy with me. I told her I was probably past planning for my old age, and that rather than think about it I really needed to get out to the shops as my bare larder might result in our not needing to plan further. And she let me go.

Thing is, I can't accept that I'm old. And if I think about planning for when I'm utterly ancient I become depressed. Which makes me wonder if in fact that only people who should be planning for their old age are my children's generation, because then it still seems unlikely that it's ever going to happen to you, this old age malarkey.

But take heed. It does happen - but people like me, we stick our heads in the sand and sing "la la, I can't hear you". We continue to wear jeans and turn our hair improbable colours. We walk and we sing and we go on holidays. We play on social media and we watch rubbish on the telly when our absurd lifestyle wears us out and we need a wee sit down.

We often laugh a lot. Sometimes we weep. People fall off their perches around us, and we become sober for a while. We talk about what the future might hold, and agree not to think about it. So don't ask me to plan for my old age. I'm too busy living. Right now.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Washed up - a poem for today

Washed up

The children on the beach
have no cares.
Their garments lap upon the waves
that brought them here.
They are not playing -
they are dead.
Hair like seaweed in the foam,
their small bodies come to
rest where other children play.
So small, so dead. The hot tears
flow but cannot warm
those tiny souls that drift
and sigh into my heart as I
turn away, their image
floating useless in my mind.

©C.M.M. 09/15

When people take their children into leaking rubber dinghies in the dark to cross rough seas, knowing how many die every night, there is nothing “bogus” about their desperation. - Polly Toynbee, writing in the guardian, 3 September 2015

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Education debate - a builder's take

I was chatting to our builder yesterday about schools. It seemed to me that this successful tradesman, running the building firm that he inherited from his father, had the secret of attainment in school well sussed. He attended the same school as my children, at the same time, and he told us a story.

He was in a science class - about S3/4 level - who were being taught by a supply teacher. She was pleasant, but deadly boring. He and his pals began to amuse themselves; the lesson was doomed. So, it seemed, was the supply teacher - for all knew well that she'd never regain the control necessary for learning to take place. Ah well.

A week later his father called him over for a quiet word. The essence of it was this: You were in a class being taught by Mrs. Bloggs? And you misbehaved and upset her? Right. Mrs Bloggs is a good customer of ours - in fact, I'm working on her house right now. If I ever hear that you've stepped out of line in her class again, I'll f******g well do you. Right?

Crude but effective. But it contains the seeds of success in many a small town school, where no-one is unknown and where the strangest connections emerge with remarkable rapidity. Pupils, teachers, Head Teacher and parents are linked in a symbiotic relationship in which all have to play their part or be found out. It makes for a relatively enjoyable existence for all - and that is where I taught for over 20 years without any of the negative fall-out which newcomers to a small town tend to fear.

But what else can we learn from this story? Nothing new, actually. The seeds of underachievement are to be found on both sides of the garden: boring teachers who wouldn't inspire the most docile of students, and uninterested or incapable parents. And then there's the growing sub-group of hostile and resentful parents as well, the ones who encourage their children not to let the teacher "get away" with any attempt to prevent their precious weans from walking all over everyone. Any one of these on its own will spoil the business of learning; more than one and we might as well all go home.

So what do you do to ensure that none of these weeds enter the Eden of education? No amount of pupil testing is going to help Mr Tedious to become a glowing enthusiast; no closing of the attainment gap is going to happen without somehow involving the parents in the enterprise. And no political manifesto is going to make a scrap of difference unless a whole generation of teachers and parents are somehow unified in one glowing, aspirational whole where the excitement of maths and the joy of literature and the joy of finding out become more important than a tidy record of work or where the next meal is coming from, or the next boyfriend, or the next fix.

I wouldn't have Nicola Sturgeon's job for anything. But those who advise her, who tell her that National Testing is the way to ensure that every child can have the same chances that she did, these advisors should perhaps begin by pointing at the Sturgeon family. They were the bedrock of the First Minister's success.

And she maybe managed to avoid the boring teachers ...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Women and men and trains - and Jeremy.

I clocked Jeremy Corbyn's thought about women-only compartments on trains but didn't dwell on it until I read Kelvin's post and tried to leave a comment (it was eaten by gremlins so I'm doing it here instead). So - would this be A Good Thing? Or is it too reminiscent of purdah and all that western women associate with such seclusion: veils, burkahs, kinder, küche, kirche ...? And I considered my immediate reaction, and tried to reconcile it with the person people think I am, and this is what came bubbling to the surface.

I don't travel solo much on public transport these days, but one of the pensioner-like things I do is use the bus from Dunoon - Glasgow. It's free, it takes you on the ferry without your needing to get wet on the pier, it drops you in the centre of town, you can doze off on it and not be taken past your stop. But nowadays I either sit on the outer seat of a pair, or sit beside another woman, because of an incident a year or so ago. Dear, sensitive reader, picture the scene:

I am sitting on the bus which I boarded in Dunoon with about seven people. I am in a window seat, looking out in a dwam at the wet road when we stop to let people on in Gourock. A tall man - not fat, just tall - of about 70 sways up the aisle and crashes down in the seat next to me. He lands half on top of me, to be accurate, squashing my arm and pressing his own arm into my right tit. I wait for him to apologise and move. I go on waiting. I stare at him. He smiles, complacently. I point out that he is too close for comfort, but he makes no move. I tell him he's invading my space and I want him to get out of it. He scoffs, and moves very slightly. He then begins to complain in a loud voice about unreasonable women, until I tell him I'm going to make a scene if he doesn't desist.

I take refuge in Twitter, in which medium my niece saves the day by making me laugh aloud. (Annoying man finds this discomfiting and I am glad). She has coined a phrase to describe her pet hate on public transport, for it is younger men with  lava crotches that give her the most trouble. And happily annoying man isn't going all the way to Glasgow and I am freed from his clammy presence.

Kelvin in his post talks about the need to deal with violence against women, and I agree with him. But neither my Annoying Man nor my niece's spread-legged travelling companions are being overtly violent - they're just behaving in a way that none of the men in my own circles would ever behave. They wouldn't be in my circles for long if they did. But they represent two distinct classes of public transport-users: throwbacks to a past age and present-day strutters (you know the walk?) who still think they are the dominant species. The former are likely to think it's all right to address women as "dearie" if they complain, and the latter to use Anglo-saxon monosyllables every second word in conversation as well as hogging all the available space.

None of which is actually threatening - or is it? And yes, in a way it's less threatening as one becomes frankly old. But if I had to take an evening train alone, as I used to when I caught the 11pm from Edinburgh to Glasgow in my student days after a concert, I'd love to have the choice of a women-only carriage. And if there were to be such a thing, I'd use it. Every time. Even though I feel ashamed of writing that, even though it seems a betrayal of the equality I have worked for all my life, I know it's true.

And maybe it's because Jeremy Corbyn is my generation that he knows it too ...