Monday, June 29, 2009

Wallowing in nostalgia

I had a lovely wallow in nostalgia today, courtesy of Bill, who sent me this link to a film of the last day of the Glasgow trams. This was in the early 1960s, but my memories of trams are set in the 50s, when I caught the Number 10 (blue) tram from the terminus at Hyndland Road, along Great Western Road to Hillhead Primary School. I had occasion sometimes to travel on the No. 5 (pictured) though I have a feeling it was less convenient - did it come from Byres Road?

I've been looking at some of the other films flagged up on that site, and was amazed to see how fast some of these old trams were - they fairly rattled along Great Western Road west of Anniesland Cross, where they had the central reservation all to themselves with the lines running in the middle of the grassy area. I can't for the life of me recall how people boarded them there - were the stops in the middle of the road too?

And how quaintly narrow they were - especially the older ones like the one pictured. The seats were so narrow that two adults must have been very squashed; as a skinny child I was always pushed into a corner by anyone sitting on the outside seat. The best place to be, however, was upstairs at the front, where you could shut the door on the small compartment there and - as I did when small - stand at the front window looking out and down at the street, the view completely free of obstruction, and pretend to be driving the tram. The real driver was immediately below you in this position, and could be seen if you peered down the spiral metal staircase which came up into the compartment next to the double, side-facing seat. The rest of the seating was a continuous bench round the curved front of the tram, but if I sat there I would tend to feel sick as the view was intermittent and the angle odd.

And now Edinburgh is grinding to a halt in the effort to reintroduce trams. If I live long enough (that is, I hope, sarcastic) I shall have to ride one, though I doubt if they will be quite as excitingly bereft of any health-and-safety features. I doubt if the fare will be a pink ticket for tuppence, and the Edinburgh clippies probably never said "Come oan, get aff."

And I'd better not try to stand at the front and pretend to drive it. Sadly, I think I'm a bit old.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gone is that music...

How strange to realise that in the past couple of hours I've heard more Michael Jackson songs than at any other time in my life. I recognise the strange figure of the recent court case against him, and the cheerful child with the prodigious talent and the absurd costumes - so where did the other appearances go? And now, of course, I realise that the cheerfulness on stage was the product of a deprived childhood - deprived of childhood itself.

And in between? All the other stuff that filled my life, I suppose - other music, performing, bringing up a family, teaching, demonstrating, public speaking - and very little room for anything that wasn't my kind of music. But I can remember the effect the star had on the kids I taught - and their amusement at my not knowing why anyone would wear only one glove.

And I suppose what I think of is Elvis, whom I loved from the first movie I was allowed to go to on my own, with friends, without an adult. The movie was King Creole, and I was eleven. I moved on when Elvis changed into the fat freak of the rhinestone suits, but when he died, also too early, I remembered the young singer in denims who first showed my generation what sexy meant. I can still sing all the words of some Elvis numbers, but tonight I realised I couldn't have identified a single song of Michael Jackson's.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blast from the past

DGS Wind Band 1989
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This has to be a record for me - I put this photo on flickr this morning and already it's had 93 hits: a tribute to the power of tagging?* It's a bit extraordinary how time passes; this feels like a foray into another era on the one hand, aided by the terrible quality of photo reproduction in the local paper at the time ( I'm happy to say this is hugely improved), while on the other I can recall it so well that it could have been only last year.

Life is, in fact, incredibly short - a brief candle indeed.

Note: The band members look incredibly well-dressed; they were in fact more uniform-conscious than many of their contemporaries outwith the band.
*No. It's the power of Twitter, actually.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Simple pleasures?

This morning over breakfast I was catching up on an essay in the Sunday Herald on the subject of consumerism. The writer, whose name eludes me at this late hour, was calling for a return to a less demanding lifestyle, where we rediscover the pleasures of the open air, the countryside and so on. He made the point that the pursuit of possessions rules the lives of far too many people today, and repeated the idea that if everyone on earth made the same demands as us in the West, we'd need three planets to sustain us.

I've just had an idyllic day. The weather helped, of course, and we used a car to transport us to the wonderful seaside meadow in the photo - though we could fine have gone on the bus. But the pleasure came from walking in the sunshine among wild flowers, between clumps of sea buckthorn, to the white sand of Ardentinny, and drifting back again after a paddle and a blether (of course). We ignored the nuclear submarine facility on the far shore and concentrated on the heron walking like an aged dominie through the shallows of the outgoing tide, while a blackbird in the tree behind us urged us to go and leave him alone. And it was all free. There wasn't a shop in sight and we didn't have a penny with us - just a bottle of (tap) water.

So the next time I spend money on new walking boots or a new cagoule, I'll remind myself that by so doing I'm saving myself from the further excesses of consumerism. And it would be even cheaper if the sun shone more often as it did today - wouldn't it?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Taking precautions

Sometimes there is an incongruity about the things we do in public. Take worship, in these times of pestilence. An edict was spread abroad some weeks ago about how to conduct public worship if a pandemic should be declared (I'm aware of writing in a cod-mediaeval style here: must be the subject-matter which has affected me) and we noted the contents, smiled and let the files languish on our hard-drives. (Nothing mediaeval about our communications, I assure you)

But of course we now have a pandemic, and Dunoon was, until very recently, a hotspot. And so it came to pass that we unearthed the prescribed precautions and applied them. Communion in one kind only, or by intinction. No physical contact during the Peace. And antibacterial handwash everywhere you turn. This morning we bowed, smiled sweetly at one another, fended off the ignorant, and obediently dipped our wafers in the proffered cup. (Incidentally, this leaves a great deal of unconsumed wine in the chalice - just as well the visiting cleric didn't have to drive afterwards)

And what made me smile was the sight of this congregation, almost all of whom are old enough to fall into the category of those who seem not to be at risk. Young people may be falling like flies, but we don't see enough of them to know. We'll go on doing as we're told, however. Peace, peace.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Grim occupation

What a powerful drama Occupation (BBC1, this week) has been - and what good actors we have in this country. I don't know which aspect of the three-parter struck me most forcibly - the edgy, hand-held camera work, the bleak realism of the scenes set in the UK, the evocation of emotion kept under control until that control snapped under the tension - but the overall result had me gripped, tearful and shocked at what we do to people.

I thought for the umpteenth time how impossible it is for soldiers to return to what the rest of us call normality, how unreal civilian life must seem, how difficult it is for their families - in fact, how impossible it is that soldiers should have families at all, given the lives they have to lead. And it makes no difference where or when that soldiering takes place - after reading Conn Iggulden's excellent "Emperor" series I felt that the soldiers who served with Caesar in Gaul must have felt lost among the back streets of Rome.

Much of my recent thinking has been about the volunteers in the trenches of World War 1, but I can't help wondering if all soldiers see and experience things which make them different for the rest of their lives - if they survive. I always knew there were things my father never told me about his war in the Western Desert, and by the time I was sufficiently mature to ask the questions he was no longer there to answer them. But I feel the questions returning after this week. Can I find a soldier who will anwer them?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Learning by experience

I’ve decided on a new approach to life, that of viewing everything potentially unpleasant as A New Experience. And they don’t come much more unpleasant, do they, than root canal treatment? For that, O Best Beloved, was the experience which dominated this wet and windy morning – or at least one hour, twenty minutes of it. And the couple of hours beforehand spent in dismal contemplation, and the couple of hours after till my jaw thawed out, by which time it was afternoon and the sun had come out.

But to the treatment. I’ve had this before, of course, over the years. But today was the first time I’ve had it done with what felt like a latex hanky draping my mouth. It was, apparently, tucked into a metal clamp round the tooth to be treated and arranged in such a fashion as to prevent any gubbins from the procedure going down my throat, while – and this was the important bit – preventing any of my bacteria-laden saliva from contaminating the growing canal in my tooth.

At first I thought, in a tragic sort of way, that I might suffocate. The smell of rubber was not reassuring, and as it sealed off my mouth I forgot that I had a nose which would still function. But I have to admit that in the end it was easier, once I had learned the spasmodic but miniscule movements which would enable swallowing while still breathing. I didn’t have to worry about what was going down with the spit, and my tongue was tucked away from the horrors of the “hot instrument” which was going to “burn away” the surplus rubber filling protruding above the nerve-canal when he’d filled it. (“He” is my 16-year-old dentist)

Ok, maybe it was my fault for asking to be kept informed of what was going on. As I said, it was my tooth. But the hot thing and the smoke and the smell did worry me somewhat, and I did have a brief over-imaginative moment wondering what happened if his hand slipped. Too much hot rubber in the mouth – the mind, dear reader, boggled. And now I've found this video which shows me just what it all looked like - except that my rubber dam was, I think, fawn.

However, all is, so far, well. My jaw is returned to me, and I am as yet drug-free. Next appointment will involve the green gunk, the impression-taking stuff – but it’s not for over a month. Much can happen in a month. And here’s to the child-dentist of Dunoon…

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Rampant hypochondria?

It’s strange what a mix of hypochondria, selfishness and what might pass for common sense under the circumstances does to one’s life. Living in swine-flu mecca Dunoon and with trips to London and Tuscany in the next few weeks, I would prefer not to be ill – not till the holidays have been taken and enjoyed. So I find myself shopping anywhere but the worthy Dunoon Co-op – because it is currently the only supermarket until you get to Greenock (east) or Lochgilphead (north, and then down a bit) because Somerfield is undergoing a lengthy gestation as Morrison’s and won’t be open for over a month. As the Co-op is somewhat small, it tends to be hideously crowded, bringing about an unsought intimacy between customers – so I avoid it like the plague with which I imagine it overflowing.

And it’s as well it’s been fine weather, for we have been able to disport ourselves in the great outdoors where the bugs, presumably, are dissipated in the ether. Today, f’rinstance, we walked along Loch Striven for a couple of hours without meeting a soul – and only one car, miraculously. We continue to hope, of course, in the purity and standoffishness of Episcopalians, whom we expect to be bug-free because of not mixing with football supporters and their rellies, though in these egalitarian days you can never tell. Choir practice for tonight was cancelled, because we reckoned that if one of our choristers had newly had the flu and others were connected with schools that had been closed because of the bug, it was silly to meet when we didn’t have to.

In fact, it’s all been a bit anti-social. However, if I can get off to London for a visit in the next coupla days, and if we can all go on our Italian holiday in July, it will have been worth it. Then, maybe, a party. With the afflicted and their loved ones. A cough-in, in fact. Cheers!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Bows and cheesy grins

Yesterday the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles had a ball. Not the kilts-and-ballgowns type of ball, but the exuberance of a Diocesan Festival which had all the hallmarks of this diocese at its best. With Bishop Martin as MC, Richard Holloway as the preacher at the Eucharist, and some imaginative planning that gave ownership of all the action to everyone present, it was far and away the best festival I’ve ever attended (and I’ve seen a few, believe me).

The culmination of the event was undoubtedly the Eucharist, but the Singing Workshop which occupied everyone between eating and worshipping was a highpoint for many who had not previously experienced Mr B’s take on singing. With their rib-cages high, two imaginary shopping bags in their hands and their face muscles hooked over their ears, the congregation learned John’s Kilbride Mass and sang it with enthusiasm and accuracy – a congregational choir in the best sense. The Cathedral choirs – from St Johns, and the St Maura singers from Cumbrae - sang their own small offerings, but this was a communal effort and all the better for it.

Bishop Richard preached a powerfully relevant sermon on the flawed, broken people of God, reaching the figure of Columba by way of Graham Greene and Paul Tillich. I don’t know how many of us were as struck as the people around me by the image of those who had broken their own hearts and who were yet afforded grace when they least seemed to expect it, but it would have been worth making the journey just for that moment. And there was a hair-raising prayer in Gaelic, and a beautiful Gaelic sung meditation which touched us all, even if we had to read the translation.

But the abiding impression of the day was of joyous interaction and friendship, as Bishop, Dean and preacher cracked jokes at/about one another, as the Dean instructed us how best to exchange the Peace when there was the threat of The Plague (you can give a Buddhist bow – Bishop, demonstrate – or a cheesy grin), as we all greeted one another with added enthusiasm as if to make up for the lack of handshaking or were hugged in complete disregard for the possible contamination from Dunoon people. (If you have been on another planet: Dunoon is currently the swine flu capital of Scotland, if the meedja are to be believed).

This was the diocese at its crazy Argyll best. People had travelled absurd distances to be there, including Tim, temporarily relocated to Argyll and at the festival because I tweeted it, and there were bizarre conversations – Your jacket is from Skye Batiks (mine, and it was) – how do you prepare a sermon? (have a meeting. It makes you feel better) – Is your accent from Hyndland? (mine again. Yes) – have you seen their kitchen-in-a-cupboard? (fabby idea: must copy). We were totally knackered by the time we left, and we still had two hours’ driving before home and dinner. But, for all my misgivings when it was first mooted, I had enjoyed a day in which every moment was filled with what felt right. And for all the problems of this tiny diocese, it was a day when I would have belonged no-where else. Slainte!

Note: you can see more photos from the day here

Thursday, June 04, 2009


It certainly is a distant land, this Eastern realm. We left Dunoon yesterday in 21º of warmth, and two hours later the car said 13º in the shade. (OK, Mal's sheltered garden was really warm, and after a glass of bubbly I wasn't caring - happy birthday, Mal!) And today it's greyish and still cool, so that coffee and croissants in Ocean Terminal seemed a safer bet than sitting outside. (I learned the French for greyish quite early in my career - there was an old horse called Grisatre in a book we had to read in S2, Jean Bonnard, Petit Ecolier)

And talking of French, it's fascinating to watch the development of a bilingual child. At 21 months, she counts un, deux or one, two, apparently depending on who's listening. She knows all her features in French, and nose in English (it's running just now). She was trying to say mouillé about her damp face, but I'm afraid I corrupted this by saying mingin' (her mouth was rimmed with jam at the time) and now she's saying mingin' with glee. And she says mine firmly in a passable Edinburgh voice and clutches the desired object equally firmly, just in case there's any doubt. And I expect her to break into the Marseillaise when we set off on a walk, though so far she shouts marcher rather than marchons.

All great fun, and totally knackering. She's just fallen asleep and I feel a little peckish again. A spot of lunch, I think, before la petite wakens again...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Loud twittering

Is Twitter the big thing these days, then? Yesterday a media job was advertised through Twitter and the applicant twittering about his success later on in the afternoon; the BBC website advocates using Twitter to keep up to date with Swine Flu news and advice.

In education, of course, we have the fear factor – the recent furore over the twittering teacher is proof enough of the success of the medium – and it remains for twitterers in educational circles to make the breakthrough that everyone else in the know has made already.

Over a year ago I suggested that Twitter would be a great way to keep us up to date with the peregrinations of our bishop, only to be told that there was no time for such stuff. (Sadly, many teachers still think this. And cooncillors.) It’ll be interesting to see how persuasive the communications people (pity they’re using a Twitter virgin as their advocate) at the SEC Synod will be this year. But I shall be in the Big Smoke - I shall have to rely on Twitter to find out.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sweltering and swine flu

Well, well. Or, if you like: ill, ill. Swine flu has arrived in Dunoon, not in single spies but in battalions. Ok. I exaggerate. 18 Dunoonites do not a battalion make. But it's a fact that Dunoon hit the ten o'clock news tonight in a way it hasn't since the American navy left. It looked lovely, actually - nice shot of Kirn under a Mediterranean sky, the Western Ferry ploughing bravely across bringing reinforcements for the Royal Bank so that it could open again. I was interested to realise the subconscious calculations going on - that queue outside the surgery when I passed this morning: were they ill, or frightened - and did I pass too close to any of them? Shall I do my shopping in Edinburgh this week instead of the over-crowded Co-op in Dunoon? (our other supermarket is closed for renovation)... and so on. And of course there's the hypochondria: is my throat sore? or is it simply hayfever? (the Met Office man with the whimsical manner said the pollen count was affecting him ...)

But actually the weather is too good to worry for long. It's hard to feel threatened when you can spend the afternoon sitting on one of the world's most wonderful beaches, paddling in warm sea as it slides over the hot sand, then exploring a hitherto unknown track and finding the beautiful bay in the photo. The car thermometer - sitting in the sun - read 31º at 6.20pm, and even in the shade it was 23º by the time we were home again. The promised cold air is going to feel arctic on the sunburn, but the S3 pupils who were sent home for a week to prevent the spread of infection have certainly chosen a good time for it.

Except that now they're spreading themselves over Dunoon ......