Thursday, August 31, 2006

Courage in Colombia

I read in today's Guardian that the Vatican insists that the Catholic church "will excommunicate a medical team who performed Colombia's first legal abortion on an 11-year-old girl, who was eight weeks pregnant after being raped by her stepfather." Great. This child wanted to have her childhood back, but the church thinks it better that she go through the life-altering business of birth to a baby she never wanted after the torment of her stepfather's predatory actions.

Where is Christ's teaching in this? Such Pharisaical adherence to the letter of the law seems to have little to do with the one who welcomed children in their innocence and rebuked those who would dismiss them - let alone cause them to "stumble". I know there are arguments about the right to life of the unborn child - but what about the living and already traumatised child at the centre of the story?

I salute these doctors and nurses for their courage and their compassion and their willingness to sacrifice themselves in the face of an autocratic religious hierarchy. Sound like Christians, don't they?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

GLOW - again

I'm now regretting my restraint a few days ago - on Thursday's post, to be precise. I think my resisting the urge to enlarge on precisely why GLOW: the Movie is "patronising claptrap" may have lead the hapless Anonymous into his/her unfortunate leap into the comments page, so I shall now make myself even clearer.

GLOW, by using such a foolish film as its publicity vehicle for the profession, has chosen to ignore the work that I and countless others have done over the years to teach all our pupils about equality, about typecasting, about gender stereotyping .... and to allow this movie to star (if you can call it starring) a pretty young woman in a fetching red dress as the hapless ignoramus, and a masterful man in a glowing white suit as the saviour who can do technology. There. At bottom, it's as simple as that. Never mind what the film is trying to tell us; what it does tell us, right away, is that women are useless at this stuff, will never be at the cutting edge with technology, and that they will always be rescued by - wait for it - a knight in shining armour.

I'm sorry - but I don't buy into that. So if I were in a meeting watching this, it wouldn't be just the rotten acting that would have a negative effect: I could at least have a good laugh. But I couldn't be bothered with an organisation that appeared to relegate women to such a pathetic role. And that would be a pity.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wolves in the blogosphere - and the odd lynx

The loch, Bishop's Glen
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I was reading yesterday of how a recently-deceased landowner in the north of Scotland proposed the reintroduction of wolves and lynx to Scotland to keep down the red deer population. A more natural and efficient means than shooting, he thought. Tending as we do here at The Blethers to wander the countryside at all times of the year, on- and off-road, we were discussing with interest the added thrill a chance meeting with a wolf or several would add to a hike, and how walking poles would fare as a defence weapon.

But this discussion led me to thinking about the internet (of course). Long ago, when fearsome beasts did indeed roam the countryside, parents must have worried about their offspring. Was it safe to send wee Fergus (aged 4) for water at the burn? What was little Catriona doing staying out after dark? Had she been eaten? Presumably they coped with this threatening world - and taught their children how to cope with it too. Less long ago, I grew up in a tenement in Glasgow - a top flat. My mother had a choice: let me out to play, out of sight, among the air-raid shelters left over from the war, and hope that they didn't collapse on me, and reiterate the admonition to "be sensible" - or keep me cooped up all day until she was ready to take me and the baby out for messages.

Now the world has a new hazard: lurking paedophiles waiting to see photos of our kids if we publish them, or to lure them into assignations. So what do we do? Set up barriers, school intranets (because there are never any nasty parents of teachers, are there?), stop kids blogging in school ....?

Or do we prepare them for life as it is now, to defend themselves against cyber-wolves, to learn from an early age how to "be sensible"? Yes. Because if we don't, they'll still stray out of the compound, away from the firelight - you can't hold them back as if they were perpetual babes. We wouldn't want to, would we? Leave them without this early experience of the world at our peril.

They'll be eaten, and it'll be our fault.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

All over ....

Cowal Games Fireworks
Originally uploaded by Mac44.
...for another year. Cowal Games day has just ended, as usual, with a fireworks display on the coal pier. We have a grandstand view from The Blethers, from where this amazing photo was taken. You can see it, and others, here. Personally, I think the fireworks are the best bit of the day, but this could be because I have lived for the past 32 years within earshot of the stadium and/or the march past of the thousands of pipers who compete here. I used to dash down with the kids to see them all parade down Argyll Street at the end of the day; there is something very wild about the noise of all these different tunes being played simultaneously.

However, I have learned that to do that is to give yourself an earworm - you hear pipes for days even when there are none to hear. Nowadays I tend to leave Dunoon for the day and avoid even a whiff of bagpipe. Now all I have to anticipate is the noise from the town until after the pubs close, and perhaps some lone drummer beating his wavering way along the dark road home after a skinful. Tomorrow the street cleaners will be out early, and in the next few weeks the bunting will come down for another year.

Meanwhile, if you feel like a look, you'll find more from the games here

Friday, August 25, 2006

Festival treats

This beautiful painting – the Virgin and Child by Botticelli – is what I really wanted to blog about last night, had I not been sidetracked by less artistic offerings. I went to see it while in Edinburgh – not a special Festival exhibit, but part of the permanent collection at the Scottish National Gallery. The painting was familiar to me from books and reproductions, but I’d never seen it “live”.

It’s a wonderful painting. There are other Virgins in other paintings on the walls around the gallery, but this one stands out for me because of the truth of the young woman's face. It is a face you could see today, above low-cut jeans and a crop-top, at once serene and wondering about this great mystery of which she is a part. The painting is almost transparent in places – the Virgin is just there, fleetingly, permanently alive.

I saw other great pieces too – The Three Graces, The Old Woman Cooking Eggs by Velasquez – another favourite. And I heard some wonderful music the night before – The Budapest Festival Orchestra playing Stravinsky’s Rite as well as Bartok’s 3rd Piano Concerto. The Usher Hall was packed and the atmosphere electric. I wouldn't have missed it.

But I’m really glad I saw the Botticelli.

Anonymous comment

Well, well. My last wee rant attracted my first anonymous comment in ages, and in normal circs I'd delete it. In blogging circles, leaving comment like this is the equivalent of graffiti - and we simply don't do it. I wonder how this novice came to be up so late (midnight) - maybe over-stimulated by the Glow epic? But I've left his/her comment in place simply as an example of much that I deplore in education: the tendency to confuse excellence with class warfare, the inability/unwillingness to read what is actually written, the willingness to leap into publication with warts intact.

I wonder what manner of person was the "obvious prig" at whom the writer scoffed - because he/she doesn't make it at all clear whether this discerning person thought the movie to be an affront, or was more seriously luddite in not wanting to move beyond chalk and talk. Maybe the OP was an avatar of me in Anonymous' mind ...

And now I'm away to practise relf-reflection, whatever that might be.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I wonder if my former colleagues will be going to the movies at their INSET day tomorrow. I'm watching "Glow: the Movie" right now - at least, it's running behind my blogging screen, as I can't bear it any longer. In case you're not an educator who's been subjected to this yet, I should explain that GLOW is the new name for the Scottish Schools Digital Network. I know - the connection is not immediately obvious, and if you don't know the URL you might find yourself looking at Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling or Gays and Lesbians of Waterloo, because they're on the first Google page for Glow. Never mind - it might well be more fun than watching Glow:the Movie. In this, a pretty but trauchled young teacher is visited by a sinister character with a ready-brek glow who bears a disturbing resemblance to Tommy Sheridan crossed with the late (and nasty) Trevor from East Enders.

I could go on - but I won't. The movie is exactly the kind of patronising claptrap that gives in-service training a bad name. There are indeed good things to discover as you glow along - but this feeble film is not the way to encourage progress. And who on earth thought of a name like GLOW?

Perhaps someone on relocation from Consignia....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Despatches from the East

The Shore, Leith
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
A long day looks as if it might end in food chez edublogger in Leith. I've been up since 5.15am to get to a meeting of the SEC Lay Learning Group; you build in time for traffic jams which are never as bad as you feared - but at least I had time to grab a coffee before we started. An interesting meeting, in which I began to feel less isolated as a visitor from the sticks: in previous meetings I've been terribly aware of how easy it is for people in the city-based dioceses to participate in joined-up ventures for things like Lay education, while we struggle to get together with people in Rothesay, for example. However, I now realise that people in, say, the Glasgow diocese are not particularly keen to travel outwith their own immediate area to meet up, but instead want to have facilitators and so on come to their own individual churches. Just like us, in fact.

However, I am also aware of the danger that the provision of education for all in the church may lead to a position where the clergy are - or feel - marginalised as the laity acquire "accredited" (the big buzz-word) qualifications to do this and that part of the job formerly reserved for full-time, well-educated, stipendiary clergy. Now I'm all for continuing learning and for the benefits of study in spiritual growth and understanding - but I'm also aware of how much we need the experts, the people who were sufficiently bright in the first place to undertake the theological education in sufficient depth to have reserves in place for all occasions. If we dumb down the process which produces teachers and prophets to lead the people, we'll end up with the equivalent of the sheep who charge purposefully about and end up back where they started.

No. The flock still needs decently trained shepherds out there. And the odd sheepdog .....

Monday, August 21, 2006

Eyes on the NHS

After a busy (and non-blogging) weekend of church clear-ups, a wedding, more church and a good walk, I found myself this morning sampling the NHS at its speedy best. Having developed what I considered to be alarming symptoms in one eye on Sunday evening (why is it that everything happens on Sunday evenings, or on Easter Monday ..?) I felt an urgent need for medical reassurance this morning. A phonecall to the surgery had me with the GP before 9am; an hour later I was on the ferry to the other side and by 11am I had been subjected to a thorough examination involving three lots of eye drops (one yellow!) and several bright lights and - final horror - a lens put up against my eye all the better to see it with.

For the hypochondriac and the merely curious: not a detached retina, but rather the gloop inside the eyeball becoming detached from the retina. Means that if I move my head quickly I can see the edge of it as it catches up - and several gigantic (or so they seem) floaters which at the moment are driving me bonkers but to which I will, apparently, become accustomed. We'll see.

But I thought that was jolly good for a much-maligned service. Everyone was charming and reassuring, and I was out in time for a wonderful espresso in a cafe in Gourock before coming home. Now I just need to get rid of the headache .....

And I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow. A meeting about Lay Learning in the SEC, followed by some Festival: a concert in the Usher Hall on Wednesday evening. If Edublogger lets me use his computer, I may get a blog in edgeways. If not, I'll be back ........

Friday, August 18, 2006

Education for life?

It was one of these afternoons when I hoped not to meet a soul - or at least not one who knew me. Could have been because I was wearing shorts, a cagoule and a black baseball cap - oh, and walking boots. It had been raining in the forest and I was wet. Mrs Heathbank looked similarly juvenile. The dogs lolloped wetly around, occasionally excoriating my bare legs with the sticks they insist on carrying.

And then we met a young woman, walking home up the hill with a supermarket bag. We smiled, as you do in these parts whether you know the person or not. And she beamed. "I know you - I knew you at school!" Turned out I had taught her, long ago when all the world was young and Edublogger was five. Now, at 39, she was a grandmother. She seemed to remember me fondly - "You had short dark hair" she kept repeating. I showed her that the hair, though pink at the edges, is still short and fairly dark. This pleased her. She seemed not to notice the absurdity of my appearance, though she herself was dressed in a seemly fashion suited to adult life.

She had left school at 16, married a guy whose name I could recall as having bad connotations, and been beaten by him for 20 years. Now this gentle soul has found a new life with a new partner. She has lived through all this stuff and she's still only 39. She told me she'd been "rubbish at school". What did we ever do to prepare her for the life she faced? I felt somehow young by comparison. We parted affectionately. She had brightened my afternoon.

I hope life treats her better now.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

To the hills, again.

Summit of Ben More ..
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I had hoped that today I'd be able to record that after years of saying "Must climb Beinn Mhor" we'd finally made it to the summit, but after a lovely climb through the forest in hot sunshine and a tussocky scramble onto the ridge we saw the promised bad weather approaching and decided to call it a day. The path up the west side of Beinn Mhor (one of many in Scotland - all these communities in isolated glens naming their very own "Big Mountain") rises from Glen Massan, entailing a good half-hour's walk before you begin to climb. It's a wonderfully lonely place - apart from the man in the enormous diggy-pushy machine making up the road in the glen for timber operations we saw no-one all day. We did, however, see multitudes of little dark butterflies, some hairy black caterpillars, several tiny yellow frogs, a wee furry creature which darted from under my boot, wheatears and other small birds and a kestrel hovering on twitchy wings before diving down at something in the grass.

Given that this is an isolated and - certainly above the treeline - featureless area, with the track virtually disappearing after you leave the forest, a bit more in the way of trail marking would be welcome. There are indeed marker posts and green and white roundels saying "Walkers Welcome" all the way from the car park to ... the top of the path. Then you're on your own. There is nothing to show the best way to the ridge or to the summit, and just this one solitary pole to indicate where the correct opening in the forest will get you safely down. Now, I can't believe that it would ruin this hillside to have some kind of path across it - because if enough people walk in the same bit that's what happens. In fact, walking in this tussocky terrain without a path is pretty tiring and not much fun - real ankle/knee twisting stuff.

If you walk abroad - the Austrian Tyrol, the Dolomites, Switzerland, the Sierra Nevada, New Zealand - there are waymarkers all over the place. There are also walkers. The terrain is still wonderful - even though it is, by our standards, busy. I don't think our climate is going to allow our hills to be crowded, though Glencoe is mobbed by comparison to the Cowal hills. Considerable effort has been put into creating new paths in local walking areas, building them up with gravel and so on. It would cost considerably less simply to indicate the best way onto a hill and leave walkers to wear a path over it.

Rant over. We came down the glen under a spectacular purple sky, with the noise of the thunder reverberating as if a giant were shaking it out among the hills. The colours - purple heather and rose bay willow herb, yellow flowers in the fields, pale dried-out grass, the dark green of the forest - seemed especially intense against the livid clouds. We reached the car as the rain moved from big solo drops to deluge, and drove home through new floods which had magically appeared along the way. The lightning was all around us as we plunged under the tall trees at the edge of Benmore Gardens, hurrying back to rescue our modem (it's ok, BTW) from the storm.

And finally: I've geotagged this photo, and you can see where it was taken on Google Earth. Is this why it's had over 40 views in the five hours since I uploaded it to Flickr?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Love, death and Muriel Gray

I have mixed feelings about what Muriel Gray writes in The Sunday Herald. Often I cheer, decorously, as she swipes at a shared bee-in-the-bonnet. And I loved watching her climbing programmes some years ago. But when she gets on the religion trail I'm less happy. And this Sunday was one of these outings.

She does a version of Mark Antony's "and Brutus is an honourable man" speech (Shakespeare's Julius Caesar) to make us see the absurdity of pretending that it is not religion which motivates the potential suicide bombers. And she ends her argument by saying she doesn't feel she has to kill and maim the innocent because she doesn't believe in a god who tells her to. And we who regularly read her column know that she doesn't believe in any god, but rather reserves her most vitriolic stuff for Christians. At least, that's how I see it - because I'm personally involved.

I am a Christian. And I don't believe in a god who tells me to kill and maim. The god in whom I believe tells me to love. I've to love not only my friends - the easy bit - but also my enemies. That's hard. And the harder thing still is to love my neighbour as myself. And I ask the question that they asked Jesus : "who is my neighbour?" Jesus answered that question with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I don't recognise Muriel Gray's vengeful gods. I wish she'd - just once - acknowledge that she's being selective. Not that it'll make any difference - because what I believe isn't dependent on her approval, or on anyone else's.

A reminder

Trident on the Clyde
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I caught sight of this monster slipping down the grey river the other morning as I was preparing to leave for my weekend's singing on Cumbrae. It reminded me of a poem by Hilary Corke called "Pompeii", in which the poet asks why the people of Pompeii didn't run away from the volcano which swallowed their town. He answers his own question: the volcano was "always there, making particular rumblings the less cogent". What could the people do, he asks, "but till our vineyards, paint our atria, pay formal visits to the homes of friends ..."? He finishes in the present day, "when all the world is one volcano grown; and though we would fly, there is nowhere to fly to."

In a way, I feel we're doing that right now. We're threatened by terrorism in the air - and I listen to people on a vox-pop moaning that they can't take their handbag on a plane. There is daily carnage in the Middle East - and I'm off to sing about a mouse facing up to a cat. And it's not a matter of putting a brave face on things - we just get on with our own lives because there is indeed nothing else we can do.

When I was a small child, growing up in Glasgow where there were gaps in the tenements - "that's where the landmine fell" - and old air-raid shelters to play in or on, I used to wonder at the stories of my parents, about how they had gone out for a walk on a warm evening and had to run like mad when the shrapnel began to fall around them; how they sat doing the crosswords in old copies of The Glasgow Herald in their lobby press during air-raids - how could they do such everyday things? Was their whole consciousness not occupied with death and fear?

Apparently not. We seem to have the capacity to live with the horrors we create - or even, in the case of people in the shadow of a volcano, the potential for natural disaster. We only get caught up when we are directly affected - see my reaction the other night when I worried about my travelling Americans. I even manage to forget about nuclear submarines until I see this from my window - though it was much harder to forget when Dunoon was a base for American Nuclear subs. We seem to have the capacity to be entirely self-absorbed until catastrophe strikes.

And maybe it's just as well. Or is it?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Please, teacher ....

I don't get it. A quick look at today's BBC weather page for Dunoon shows that today is fine and sunny - and it has been: wall-to-wall sunshine. Great. It also says that the sun index is "low". The next three days will, apparently, consist of black clouds with single raindrops and a bit of sun peeping out - but the sun index will still be "low". On Friday, however, there will be no peeping sun - just a black, one-raindrop cloud - "light rain". But the sun index? "Moderate".

Now, I did want to post a picture of this instead of a link, as I don't know if it'll make sense after today. However, I lack the (probably dead simple) skill to accomplish this. So there are two pleas for enlightenment here. First, I want to know why there is this apparent lack of correclation between bright, uninterrupted sunshine and the sun index. And next, I want to know how to put a screen shot on my blog.

I await edification .....

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Rejoice in the Lamb

Celtic cross
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Back to my favourite church today - The Cathedral of The Isles on Cumbrae - to rehearse for a concert tomorrow. Most of the hard work was on that extraordinary piece by Britten, "Rejoice in the Lamb" with wonderful, mad words by Christopher Smart. The choir for this concert is terrific, and by the end of the day it was sounding pretty amazing. I have a solo to sing, in which a mouse faces up to a cat, and I'm indebted to organist Jonathan Cohen for accommodating my tempi (and the odd missed beat) with such aplomb.

Actually the bit I love best in the piece is the moment when we sing "man and beast bow down before him": the organ comes in quietly under the voices with slowly pacing chords as if some great beast - maybe an elephant - were indeed walking with great dignity to worship and "maginify his name". Real spine-tingling stuff!

We're also singing John Tavener's Funeral Ikos, a sombre reflection on what happens at death, wondering if the dead miss us as much as we them, inter alia. The ultimate message is a simple statement of the reward in Paradise for the Righteous Ones. Much of it is in unison, like plainsong, but when it divides into harmony the effect is deeply moving. I'm looking forward to the performance.

And I'm happy to be able to report that my friends made it home to Alabama after a trying journey, albeit minus some luggage. Deo gratias.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blobs across the globe

I'm indebted to Ewan for his post on Geotagging today - at least, I think I'm indebted: I wasted an unconscionable time today geotagging some of my own flickr photos (example here. I must say I enjoyed returning, courtesy of Googlemaps, to New Zealand and whizzing along the road from Cromwell to Wanaka to place my red blob appropriately. (You'll understand this nonsense when you try it for yourself)

On a more serious note, I'm anxiously waiting for news that my friends Ruth and Ed have arrived back in the States; they were due to fly out from Glasgow this morning. As with all the other disasters - and thank God this so far is a disaster averted - I find I personalise: do I know anyone caught up in this? Is anyone I know affected? I need to remind myself that for every one of my sighs of relief there are many more cries of anguish, and the anguish of the people of Lebanon goes on while we are inconvenienced.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


I'm pleased to be able to report that the other half of the Teens blogging at Progress Report has also scored a Credit grade in her English with an overall 2. There are some interesting reactions over at Edu.blogs - not only in the post but in the comments, where one commentator (so far) is obviously wanting "more work" to be done to prove that blogging is a powerful tool in education. No-one is suggesting that this success means every blogger in education will now reach the heights of academe - but with this stultifying caution the technology will be obsolete before its use is widespread. Now, why does that sound a familiar note?

I was also delighted by the rapidity with which one of The Teens dealt with their first assault from comment spam and enabled the word verification to make it less likely that it would occur again. We patronise our students if we imagine that they are any less able to deal with the downside of technology than we are; it's our job, surely, to educate them to deal with life, not try to prevent them experiencing it. Or is it simply that we're terrified that they encounter the problems of the big world when we're in charge of them?

Away from education, I watched "The Constant Gardener", starring Ralph Fiennes, this evening. What an absorbing film - and what an actor. Those who know me will appreciate what a tribute it is that I didn't fall asleep once.

I may, however, fall asleep at the keyboard .....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Eyes fixed on progress

Eye'll be watching you ...
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I just had to use this pic - taken in the aftermath of a scarily efficient eye examination. Made me feel like a corpse - "eyes fixed and dilated"! Even the dreich afternoon felt bright and glaring, if blurred enough to render crossing the road a hazardous pursuit. I'm happy to report that I'm back to normal now.

But I'm even happier to report that at least one of the teens from the Creative Writing blogging experiment has been resoundingly successful in her Standard Grade exams, including her English. You can read what she has to say here. It has long been my mantra that "writers write", and blogging is such a live medium for doing just that. Well done to her, and to my other student who phoned with his good news.

But I must stop thinking like a teacher - don't want to find myself inadvertently trailing up the hill to school next week!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Feast of the Transfiguration

Today is celebrated in the church as the Feast of the Transfiguration, recalling the occasion when Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain and was transfigured into a shining figure before them.

It is also the day on which the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

God of the mountain - top,
God of the shining clouds
May the wind of your spirit
Blow afresh in our lives
Renew our love
Strengthen our witness
And send us from the heights of your presence
Transfigured by the radiance of our meeting
with Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Blaeberries in the mist

What a good day! To the uninitiated, the thought of climbing a 3,000' mountain (actually Beinn an Lochain seems to have slipped from being a Munro these days - has it shrunk?) in thick cloud is little short of madness, but it was so good today. The mist, thick and grey on the lower slopes, became bright and cheerful on the summit, with tantalising glimpses of sun above us. Beinn an Lochain, by the way, rises above the road from Inveraray to the Rest and be Thankful, on the right hand side above the loch.

On the climb, there were two sources of temptation. The first was the presence of blaeberries, purple blobs appearing under my muddy hands as I hauled myself up steps too high for my aging carcass to negotiate elegantly. Always, it seems to me, blaeberries eaten in precarious situations taste the best. I learned that at the age of twelve or so, in Arran.

The second temptation came in the form of this little outcrop of rock, quite near the summit, which sits there crying out to be climbed. I've done it before, on a wonderful sunny, dry day, when I was about 5 years younger and - sadly - several pounds lighter. But it called to me, and we stopped. My nails were full of earth and my toe joints were screaming by the time we continued up the path - but I can still do it: cheers.

What is so special about being up there in the mist, fun and games on rocks apart? I suppose it's the feeling of otherness, of being somewhere hard to reach, whose features are unchanged by human intrusion (ok - path erosion apart), where the bog cotton (pictured) waves in the wind, where a sudden parting of the cloud reveals the huge crags looming above you, or the drop to the distant road, where the scents of heather and wet grass rise all around, where the rocks still held the heat of yesterday's sun - or was it today's? And I supppose there's always the knowledge of danger, of the consequences of a slip in the wrong place, and the awareness that you will only get down again by your own efforts.

And when you do get down, there's the curry - and the gin and tonic ........

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Speaking gig

Many, many years ago my No 1 son recruited me to run the school magazine, The Pupils' View. Now, in my declining years, No 2 son has invited me to speak at TeachMeet06 (you'll see the badge on my sidebar) about using blogging to develop pupils' creative writing skills. This is something I'm pretty passionate about, though I'm even more convinced about the potential for assembling and writing Critical Essays, but I'm aware I'm going to feel ...well, not to put too fine a point on it, old. Ancient. Elderly. Maybe that will reassure some waverers. I hope so. I'm looking forward to it anyway, and to meeting some of the folk who post comments here.

Should I wear a twinset and pearls?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Memento Mori

I've used this rather scary pic of a memento mori, taken in Patricio church (see below), to intoduce a brief maunder round the uses of blogging like this. My American friend Walter commented a couple of posts back to thank me for pointing him to the Guardian photo I linked to - and went on to publicise the photo, with its accompanying story, on a chat group to which I also belong.

Now, I realise that on the whole I chicken out of political statements on the chat group, where most of the participants are American. I shy away from the intricacies of debate which might ensue, partly because it will be conducted from a standpoint which I cannot share or involve the politics of the USA, about which I may have strong feelings but feel unable to express them too trenchantly in that forum. I suppose I feel it's like being rude at a party. I've been in that situtation in my younger days, when I would be invited to parties by American naval families and find myself in earnest conversation with the entire wardroom of a nuclear submarine - hard to stay lighthearted and inoffensive there! Sometimes I would allow myself to "come out" as a member of CND in a one-to-one with an admiral (Yes, they were there too) but it was a tightrope - you're at a party and you're a well brought up person .....

Anyway, the gist of all this is that I feel free on my own blog to say what I want to. In public - if anyone wants to read it. Even if I don't have much to say. And here I'm going to reproduce what my friend had to say, because it gave me hope. He wrote this:
" We who sit so comfortably far away from the carnage, we can watch the television yappers talk so bloodlessly about strategies and provocations. But, somehow, we must find a way to demand, first, that our own military no longer be used as the enforcers of the pax Americana which is no peace at all. Then, we can demand that those whose militaries we support be accountable or go their own way."

Amen to that.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A critical study of the rural road network in Wales ...

Living as I do in the wilds of Argyll, I'm fairly used to single-track roads. In fact, because I actually learned to drive here, I'm more at home on a tiny ribbon of road over a moor than I am on a motorway, where I find the rest of the population aggressive and unpleasant. (This may well be a subjective reaction. Nothing personal, then.)

Wales does scary single track roads. The photo gives some idea of the scale of the roads I mean, but I was in no position to leap out of the car to take photos of the really exciting ones where the high hedges crowd in on the tarmac and you can't see more than a few yards ahead. There is a network of these roads all over the border region - I never got much further; for all I know they're all over Wales - and we were driven around on them by our hosts as we visited the tiny churches of my other pix.

It was at the end of a long hot day when we had Our Big Adventure on a Small Road. We had embarked cautiously along a dark green tunnel under the trees, nettles brushing both sides of the car, when a car approached, firmly, from the opposite direction. Consternation: there was nothing remotely resembling a passing-place. They don't actually mark passing places anyway - you have to guess. So we reversed, squeezing past a group of walkers with a dog and sidling into the entrance to a field. The other car passed. The occupants waved, but grudgingly. We set off again.

We had progressed slightly further when it happened again. This time we tried negotiating with the other driver, but no: there was, she averred, absolutely nowhere behind her where two cars could pass - not for oh, a mile and a half. Like fools we believed her and did it all again, this time nearly squashing the dog. While we sat in our gateway not one but four cars passed, their drivers looking neither to left not to right - let alone acknowledging their good fortune.

We set off again. This time we tried a bit of speed. We passed the walkers, who cheered ironically. The trees thinned, the light grew, we passed at least two perfectly adequate passing places (so driver No. 2 simply couldn't reverse) - we were free! Greatly cheered we sped towards Hay on Wye. Thoughts of tea and buns formed unbidden. And then we caught up with the Tesco delivery van, and thought perhaps we could follow it all the way ....

Until it stopped. The reversing lights came on. I can't actually bear to tell this bit - in fact, I am unable to recollect it with any clarity at all because by this time I was giggling helplessly in the back seat and had infected both the driver and her husband. I don't think Mr Blethers was quite so affected - but then he's used to me. All I do remember is that we ended up in the only gateway for miles, our nose halfway into a bush, giggling like ninnies while the Tesco man reversed past us into the clutter of Range Rover and green car which were already behind us. His face was grim. The idiot pensioners (for that's how we must have appeared) sniggered all the way into Hay.

So spare a thought for people who have to drive as they work in the Black Mountains of Wales. And don't even think about going there on a hot summer Sunday. Stick to Argyll - there's no-one there.