Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Determination and change. (Part 2)

Recipes, like any stories, are subject to variation in and of the telling. I record these efforts at substitution so as not to forget the basic principles. It would be useful to think that this is the setting of an intention in amber. Hence my choice of a 60's style for the picture elements. Umbers, ochres and caramels are comfort colours. Suited to the need for the assurance of end of austerity when first employed, This palette a reminder of softer times. Packed with oils and greases and sugars, my mother's recipe books were as warming as the Raeburn stove they curled upon. Here's to the spirits of Marguerita Patten, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson.

So, intent on removing as many lipids as possible, I set about exploring covered frying. During the process of change, My utensil drawer has rearranged itself. Ironically, I no longer avoid the frying pans and wok. I fry more but 'Fry' less as it were.
Similarly, my initial attempts at releasing flavour were helped along by my continued dependence on oil. Gradually, I have relinquished my grip on 1-Cal Spray. It still remains a useful adjunct but I use far less now. I am confident that, if tested by Sainsburys, many of my dishes would be marketed as 'Fat Free'.
It is, for example, easy to arrive at 'Fried Onions' (I tend to use Shallots as they are some of the more successful survivors of the dreadful summer) using only tiny additions of water as the vegetables sweat.

The absence of the almost immediate caramelisation that arises from frying in oil allows for the slower, more deliberate tempering of flavours through careful use of the liquids and sugars already locked into vegetables themselves. Here, I have used the onions with peppers and herbs as a base for Paprika Chicken.

Skinning the Shallots is best done warm. I pour boiling water onto them and allow to cool to benign temperature before cutting off the root end and slipping the flesh out of the skins. This is a very satisfactory exercise. Each onion pops out with a small leaf end intact. No cutting required. No tears.

The onions then go into a warm saute pan or frying pan with lid and given an occasional shake over moderate heat. At the first hint of hissing and whiff of onion, I add a small quantity of water. Only a tablespoon or so. This will disappear quickly but, as it does so, it starts the process of self steaming/ sauteing that will continue to caramelisation in time.

As the onions take on a little colour, I add more liquid in the form of any additional veg you may want to incorporate. Here, Red Peppers cut into strips. The lid goes back on and confidence increases. Still no spray required.

Soon, the dish is complete. This, with the addition of fresh herbs, salt and pepper is an excellent accompaniment to whatever.

I went on to reduce it further in this instance. Continue cooking until the onions are soft. The peppers will long since have given up the ghost. Add dried herbs towards the end of this process and slosh in a tin of tomatoes. Tomato puree will thicken even more but it also lends acidity so, unless this is tempered by a fruit I am careful with it. Stir over low heat until roughly smooth.

Chicken breasts, skin removed are placed in a bag with a tablespoon or so of Paprika, a teaspoon of Chilli and a pinch of salt. Shake well and leave to absorb for a few minutes. Here, a choice. Either a quick spray of oil onto a grill pan or the use of the mighty Mushroom (more of his later). Here, I used oil but again, keeping the heat down, the chicken browns and cooks without fuss. You are left with no oil to drain and all flavour intact.

I serve this with plain boiled rice.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Donald McKechnie

Donald belonged in tar.
Black brown wellington top boots
with boot socks, grimed round and
welded to his once dress trousers
tied with twine. Brown baler twine.
He rolled from boot to boot, a shovel
shouldered as a boy's carved rifle good
for nothing more than propping as he cut twist.
I swear his right the thicker wrist
a knife with a curved blade blunt from all the
pigtail shag. He turned his hand
Plugging a gap in pegged teeth.
Donald walked. A roll and twist and halt in left or right
He mended holes in roads with grit left by the lorry boys.
One good eye and that eye not good enough
he turned his look to look at me,
A look from straight beneath the hill. A look that curdled sunlight.
'Now, it is yourself' he'd spit.
'Here, try this now, it's just like liquorice'.

Determination and change (Part 1)

As years advance, I have found a gradual increase in the frequency of monitoring offered by my local Gp services.

Once content to sit and wait for my occasional panicky visits or pleas for compassionate sick notes, they now reach out to me. They have me on alerts for BP monitoring, Peak Flow checks and wellness MOTs for men. There is no escape from my external conscience. I should know. I used to be part of that myself. Issuing offers of health checks to the unwilling. following up with reminders that felt as paternalistic as they did patronising. All the while I was pretty pleased to be contributing to the smooth running of a few people, even as they resisted our attempts to help.

So, I determined to reduce the level of contact. Active health care provision works. I look after myself better in order to minimise contact with my health care team. If this is arse forwards, so be it. I well remember selling sessions on good eating habits to the homeless by suggesting that they may benefit from my future absence as they replace me with a few vegetables. A pitiful 'Five a Day' as I recall.

Being prone to 'Falling to flesh' is a curse for a Bon Viveur. I am a classic Yo-yo dieter, small successes rewarded by 'Holidays' or 'Rewards' leading to further lapses, as resolve takes a nosedive. This time round, I have made some more logical, selfish decisions. No longer willing to engage myself in a familiar conflict between hunger and seemingly unattainable goals there should be no hunger and there should be no discernible goals (plural). Weight loss should be a constant pleasure rather than a chore. Meals must be shareable with those unconcerned by calorie control. There should be no immediate evidence that food is being manipulated into being inoffensive. Taste and substance should be all.

It helps that one of my principle pleasures is in the cooking and serving of food. It would be terrible to embark on this exercise if I had to learn to love the kitchen. Thankfully, experimentation and good teaching have left a rich legacy of cheerful enthusiasm. Musing on this, I found myself recalling early influences. My mother's utter abandon where butter was concerned as well as her unconventionally forward thinking health conscious approach. She was hopeless with chips but understood dairy as if it were hard wired into her arteries. 'Never cook vegetables in more water than you wash them in' and 'Don't worry, I'll sling some Lurpack into it' were her mantras. Conversely, her easy attitude to children's likes and dislikes encouraged my pocket money purchase of frozen peas or mixed vegetables instead of sweets and I was weaned on adult leftovers. Broccoli and Broad Beans were family members. Nothing was out of bounds, singly or in combination. I could bake bread by the time I was tall enough to knead and was happiest with a recipe book propped up as I ate breakfast.

There were few around to comment or criticise, (this came sharply to the fore later, when at senior school and suddenly talking an alien language to other hungry boarders in the small hours, of which more in a separate entry) our meals would certainly have been considered 'exotic' or 'different'. My father too, ventured worldwide for inspiration. Fried eggs came laced with garlic and vinegar, finished with nut brown butter and flipped happily onto tomato sauce puddles as Huevos en Salsa Negra. Curries offered just this side of tolerably hot to the juvenile tongue. Soups served with a substantial handful of porridge oats. Lentils and herbs as a main course. This was home cooking. All the while, 1960's school dinners and friends teatime invites were pretty mundane stuff. Some a blessed, bland relief but most, an unfinished work in progress, halted at 'Boil' or 'Fry' and served with duty not with pleasure.

This was all very well as a foundation for culinary adventure but not great for this boy as he approaches late middle age with a drawer full of trousers that fail to meet themselves around the way. This joyful exuberance must be replaced with a bit of science but no less risk. Ways round must be found. I had to reinvent my systems and forget the fats.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Simply saying..

In an interview on Revelation TV, Professor Dawkins is invited to comment on the presenting pastor's own moment of revelation.

He describes a variety of somatic phenomena including, hypersensitivity to colours and sounds, an impression of invulnerability in combination with insignificance and euphoria. These are apparently his principle reasons for belief in God.
Whilst always having been a Christian, he chose his professional pathway at this point.
In countering Dawkins' gentle suggestion that there may be more than one explanation for these issues, none of which need be paranormal, the pastor responds;

'I am just a simple man Richard.. Not an Intellectual like yourself'.

More in the spirit of a rant than a blog entry I must address this pastor and all others I have heard make such ill considered statements. Claiming 'Simplicity' has no virtue. We are all 'Simple men', the more for taking a reasoned approach when discussing such matters.

A step by step, evidenced based enquiry is a much simpler process than fitting a God into the gaps in your knowledge. I have no need of a god since the gaps I have in my understanding are simply filled by learning.

 How refreshing it is to sometimes stumble upon believers who are willing to consider alternatives to magical thinking and assumption. They exist in numbers. Their variety as great as any philosophically minded people.

We share the potential for intellectual inquiry, please try not to substitute assumption for understanding.  Education is not scary when you open your mind and religion is no substitute for intellect and cultural experience. No need to fear. Celebrate your cerebral self!

Saturday, 5 May 2012


Those who follow my Twitter feed will by now be fed up to the molars with posts about my conversions. Apologies to you all..
In a similar vein to the Woodstore from a Packing Crate post, I include Pallet to Table. Our house is now surrounded and perfused by the reclaimed. I make no apology for this.

I was enthused about this conversion, to the extent that I didn't stop to think about a 'step by step' Photo Story. Rest assured, the beat up character of the table ably reflects the beat up nature of the source materials. I hardly had to make any mistakes at all!

Friday, 6 April 2012


Turn out the light and close the curtains Mabel.
Take off the candle from the kitchen table.
Inform the dog and cat we want no fuss
best lock them in the scullery 'till it's just us.
We want no visitors, we need no help
and still that dog lest he lets out a yelp.
The cat may scratch, so best we pull her claws
and tie the socks on him, on all his paws.
Best tack some carpet to the doors
no, wait, that's leaving none for on the floors.
We're best sat here and not go out again
and don't you breathe until I count to ten.
No wait, you breathed, I need to count to ten again.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

An older document reprinted without apology.. Musings on a dream with some footnotes..

A very proper dream.
Here is a new place.  I am sitting in a large auditorium.  I am in the gods, looking down a steeply raked group of seats towards a small bright screen below.  It is showing a film but I am unable to make out which one.  The seats are covered in red velour or velvet and there are shining brass safety rails separating the seating blocks.  Just in front of the screen two larger seat groups are turned to face the audience.  There are couples in these seats , smiling at our view of the screen and obviously enjoying their experience of our enjoyment.
I am aware of a number of important facts about my presence.  I am to be given a present or award.  I am careful not to betray my knowledge of this, as one may be, given info about a surprise birthday party.
I have a briefcase on my lap.  It has a loose cover of leather and no amount of effort can replace it properly once opened.
The film has become live action.  The cast are now live and approaching audience members.  Everyone is having a good time.  I am happier than I have been for a long, long time.
A very tall, well built, good looking woman, appearing to be of Mediterranean origin with dark thick hair and tanned complexion, climbs up the rake towards me.  She is wearing an upper face mask and headdress.  It appears to be of Mayan or Egyptian design, bird like, dark, painted.
She speaks,  “Come on, Me-mon. Follow me now.”  I pause, simply to ask myself where she had got my name but understanding completely who she means and who I am.  We walk down the steps to a blood red curtain covering an exit.
Outside, in the pre dawn light.  I see a smooth grass area.  Just too small to be a field and too large for a lawn.  There is the hint of sunlight coming purely from the low horizon and, for the present, it is blocked by the bulk of a titanic mountain.  This is remarkable in its placement and material.  This is no more or less than a vast boulder, pale stone but rising sharply to a peak straight out of the grass and without plant life upon its sides.   I am forced to turn a full ninety degrees in either direction before I lose sight of this monument.
I turn to face the inhabitant of this place.  I know who I am to see.  Walking towards me, another woman.  Older than my guide and yet equally beautiful.  She has long, thick grey or light blonde hair ornately plaited and twisted about her head and an oval symmetry to her face.  Her frame is draped in (and wears) a ground kissing dress made from raw silk or cotton.  Unbleached and thick, it is decorated with barely discernible designs quilted and smocked into the breast and hip panels.  A wide loose rope of the same material somehow informs the dress which way to fall whilst also supporting the woman’s right hand.  Her left hand keeps time with her walk and loosely grips the knotted end of her belt.
The sun breaks cover, a shaft of light hits the ground just in front of me.  A sound like no sound ever heard happens from all around and from within me.  My local companion looks straight at me and tears begin to fall.  Rain from her lower eyelids.  Her tear ducts are almost visible.  There is no reddening of her skin or eyes.  The sound becomes  (not louder) clearer.  More important, my companion is recognisable now as my mother.  She has no name, but I have.  It is not Richard.  I put my arm around her.  I am aware of the height  difference as my shoulder measures the extra space that the angle of my arm demands.  I begin to cry too.  This is a mutual outpouring of grief but no grief is felt.  We are vessels for emotions, courier passengers on an aqueduct of sorrow.  The music rises and moves with us as we walk away from the mountain.  As we depart, it seems more understandable and recognisable as a kind of ensemble, mostly brass, Gamelan perhaps.  I feel very much at peace.
An older man appears.  He has the calm and reason of a Buddha whilst also seeming mischievous.  He wears robes of a similar cloth to my female companion but in a darker colour.  I am impressed by how similar to the colour of heather or lichen they are.  It is on the tip of my tongue to suggest that he has used roots or moss to dye his cloth but feel unwilling to talk, for fear of breaking the very tangible peace of this place.  The man indicates that I lie on a curved wooden couch.  It is upholstered in the same red cloth as the seats in the auditorium.  There is a soft filling to it, more accommodating than feathers but definitely organic.  Moss perhaps.
The older man speaks, I hear his voice internally.  He has a statement about my reason for being in this place.  I was right.  By this time I had forgotten the surprise that I had anticipated earlier and I was gifted with a powerful regeneration of this impression as he talks.
“Here’,  he holds out a sheaf of papers, ‘I believe you will grow to love this place..” I examine the gift.  It is a brochure or prospectus of sorts.  “Go here.  It is easily found”.  He turns away from his new task of covering me up with the same rough cloth and addresses my newly arrived son Nathan. He is delighted by a book of tear-off vouchers for amusement rides.
Nathan shows me how to use the vouchers he has been given.  Each one corresponds to an area on the prospectus.  An area delineated by faint, sepia ink.  The legend on the front cover describes the opportunities available within the place.  We are offered access to other times and other places, a kind of temporal and cultural theme park, like a museum but infinite in its scope and possibilities.  And driven by dreams.  As the place begins to fade and become unstable, we are deciding where we should go….
Here are a few thoughts about this one.  I am often struck by the clarity and apparent meaning in my dreams but this seemed somehow different.  It lacked that definable, manipulable quality that other lucid dreams I have experienced have had.  I was in the presence of other people to a far greater extent.  I was a welcome guest in the place.  In my exploration of the symbolics or meaning of this experience, I started with Brewers Dictionary Of Phrase And Fable, looking for my Dream Name.
Me-Mon or Meh-Moon. The Mediterranean woman who became my guide was unequivocal.  This was my name.  I felt no surprise at her usage and would have looked around to see who she meant if she had used Richard.
From Brewer:
Memnon Prince of the Ethiopians, who went to the assistance of his uncle Priam, and was slain by Achilles. His mother Eos was inconsolable for his death, and wept for him every morning.  The Greeks used to call the statue of Amenophis III., in Thebes, that of Memnon. This image, when first struck by the rays of the rising sun, is said to have produced a sound like the snapping asunder of a chord. Poetically, when Eos (morning) kisses her son at daybreak, the hero acknowledges the salutation with a musical murmur. The word is the Egyptian mei-amun, beloved of Ammon.  I think that the key words and phrases here are:
·         Inconsolable
·         Wept for him every morning
·         struck by the rays of the rising sun
·         sound like the snapping asunder of a chord
·         Egyptian
·         mei-amun
·         musical murmur
Over the last few days, I have been considering a couple of items in the news.  In particular, the discovery of a ring of stones in Egypt, two thousand years older than the Great Pyramid of Cheops and of significant astrological importance.  Also, the sunken lake in Antarctica, a possible time capsule.  Remarkable in this era of intrusion and desecration because the scientists who have found it are unwilling to explore it.  They are worried that their examination will become contamination.  I am very much encouraged by this and it has forced many thoughts about our rights as temporal explorers. As a child, in my first school, I was often left alone by my teacher.  She was confident that, so long as I was reading, I was learning.  The material she had to offer me was mostly Victorian and Edwardian text of an “improving” nature.  I feasted on the Greek and Roman Myths.  My favourites included Achilles and Oedipus.  Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.  The Laocoon, Prometheus, Pandora. I believe that I have been privileged to meet Eos and inhabit the same space as Memnon.  I have no idea why this should happen.  I am very glad that it has.  I would prefer not to look too closely.  I think that this is somehow important.  That is enough . More understanding will come in time, I am sure.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Sat watching a Thunder Beetle.. How so tiny a head contains sufficient neurones to effect decision making consistently amazes me. Then I remember the proportionate size of our brains and shake my enormous head.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


I knew a woman once whose talent lay
in splitting apples in a special way.
Inserting thumbs between the stalk and flesh,
she’d twist her hands and, making fun of physics and the mesh of atoms that composed the whole, 
the apple would perform a joke and with a crack, would lose control.
And split. 
From front to back.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Latterly, physics.

A Boy. Mull.

When an object moves sideways, horizontal or parallel to the source of gravity, at a constant velocity, the effect of gravity on the object is independent of the object's lateral movement.

So, whilst engaged in a pre decided battle of maths with my nemesis in the main body of the school, cold winter afternoons were spent in far more enjoyable and understandable ways.

Physics was taught in post war Prefab buildings known as the 'Huts'. Concrete and steel bunkers set in wasted playground space, just low enough to be scaled in rubber soled shoes. Just narrow enough to prevent the concealment of a prone schoolboy hiding on the asbestos roof, from the police.

In retrospect, it is tempting to think that the Art, Physics and Music that were taught in the huts were more liberal and humorous sessions due to their physical distance from the great toad squat bulk of the main school. Less likely than internal classrooms to receive visits from the rector or prefects bearing bad news and/or summonses. More close knit and comfortable due to our sense of isolated camaraderie.

On initial inspection these were cold and forbidding places, The Huts. For years, I assumed that the enthusiasm of the teachers who inhabited them was due to their adventurous spirit. I now realise, it was due to the meanness of spirit demonstrated by senior staff that demanded young, newly qualified and enthusiastic teachers start their careers in isolation. Away from central heating and out of earshot as their classes fell into chaos. They seldom did. 
I like to think that the imposition of discomfort backfired on the seniors. As many of them languished in tedium in over heated, musty oak panelled classrooms, we and our near contemporaries in teaching robes were kept sharp and playing together outside. Altogether healthier learning environments.

My weekly boarding home. Kilbowie Hostel.

Keen eyed readers may have already discerned the foundation of my physics lessons was couched in the fascination afforded by Lily Cowan's bust, its movement and the lack of it. It was the sideways movement that fascinated me.

In primary school, my voracious reading had revealed basic facts about the physical universe. Lily's provision of Victorian and Edwardian reading books gave a fabulously diverse view of the world and our influence on our small lunar system. Distances were expressed in Rods Chains and Perches. Weights in Pecks, Bushels and Grains. Friction was demonstrated by the burning wooden axles of Greek slave driven carts tumbling downhill from battles purposely lost and Gravity by Newton sitting waiting under an apple tree. The significance of mass and attraction interested me. I had read of the Galileo falling weight experiment and was not impressed by Newton really. Galileo had gone to the trouble of climbing the Tower of Pisa and dropping weighted spheres. Newton merely sat and waited for the truth to appear from nature. Or so I was told by the editors of these Readers.

Dropping the balls. Pisa.

A Buoy. Mull
For me, Gravity was already something wonderful and mysterious. (enhanced by the bending of a rubber sheet by cricket balls as shown on Open University programmes by doctor this or that, looking for all the world like a member of ZZ Top). I had a sense of it's purveying all our space and spaces. Bending time and light. I understood the nature of Red Shift and the Doppler effect, absorbing these from stories by Clarke and and Asimov, watching the sky and sea become one peach glow as the sun set over our loch, emptying the world of its horizon and unifying all my simple theories.

The day our teacher showed that gravity exerted more effect on dropped mass than lateral travel I realised the germ of my lifelong affection for the little things that make a difference. In Lily's sweep across the classroom floor, no movement north to south could be discerned but expansive sways to left and right bore simple witness to these forces and their effect on momentum. The appearance and disappearance of her pearl and heather brooch beneath her cardigan, a measure of the speed and moment of her carriage.Lily was a walking accellerometer. A Pilotless coastal freighter. Plying the same course, day in day out and teaching all the time. Whether she knew it or not.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The silence of the hens..

After many helpful suggestions from all over the world (Twitter) we called These Lovely People and arranged to collect two near ready Pullets.
We opted for heavy, dimwitted birds and were offered Bovans Goldlines. Assured of plentiful egg production and the runway takeoff qualities of an overladen and under fuelled Sopwith Camel piloted by an inexperienced drunk, we felt confident that this was the breed for us.

Bundling them into a Cat Transit box proved hilarious, feathers and beaks all over the place at first but they soon settled in to the kind of comfort one could expect from a Japanese Pod Hotel. But without the accompanying anxiety about the language barriers and privacy.

We provided the very bare essentials and, reassured by the supplier's advice that they would benefit from a fortnight's confinement we left them to get on with sorting their accommodation out between them.

Hen a and Hen b


The added benefit to having such similar birds, is that the temptation to name them is reduced.  So much harder to eat your friends...  let alone take what falls out of their bottoms and boil for six minutes..

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Away from the metaphysical and esoteric for a while. This is by way of an illustrated construction manual for the Hen House we bought recently.

The kit comes with a double sided instruction sheet that has patently been printed with the aid of a John Bull Printing set and a potato.

I surveyed the twin box delivery with dread and finding only this tiny plan, my heart sank. I am hoping that future purchasers may find this Diary of the Building of the Wentworth Chicken Coop a useful reassurance as they figure out which way is up.

As stated, the coop comes in two boxes. The larger of these contains the roof section. It is useful to know this as careless opening results in the gravel loosened from the felt roof in transit pouring from the pack and embedding itself in your new carpet.

Hoover. You goon.

The original instructions. Not for you, if you've lost your glasses..

The nest box roof. Also covered in tiny stones. and an aluminium mirror. Or Manure tray. Whichever..

Whoops. Vacuum.

That looks about as substantial as my resolve..

 Having removed all the pieces and spent time deciding that the printed picture is actually back to front, take the lot outside.

The back panel is mostly mesh and has a ventilation section (obscured in this picture). It is easily screwed to the side panel using the screws and helpfully pre-drilled holes provided. Yes. They do locate properly. No, it won't fall apart if you leave it like this and fetch the next panels.

Screw the Nesting box door section to the back frame. It will have to be supported while you collect the front panel. It is easily identified. There are two brackets that serve as a guide for the box door opening key. That's it there. Looking like a sardine can opener.

The front panel comprises a pre fitted door for the collection of eggs as well as a large access door in the centre. Again, the whole fits well together. I had to drill holes in some timber sections. They had been missed by the robots obviously.

The nesting box is built separately and screwed to the main body. There were one or two anxious moments as I realised that the curved separator was designed to slot precisely into place. All continues to locate as it should however.

Nesting box in place.

Note the aluminium chicken poop tray. It sits over a wooden section and slides out easily.

This is the first of a trio of testing fiddly bits. Not designed for people with large hands who have misplaced their glasses.
I experimented with the placement of the roof support and settled on left mounting. Only because I am right handed. It's up to you. The holes will need to be drilled for the micro screws they supply...
Try to remember to put a newspaper underneath while you do this. Or don't do it in long grass. Like me.

Roof on. This is the topping out ceremony.

Et Voila

A similar trial by bracket awaits you as the roof section goes on. I found that balancing the heavy plywood and roofing felt section on my head as I worked to be the best way.

Or, you could ask someone to help. I however, am a man and therefore keen to avoid that sort of thing. 

All in all, a success. The hen house sits straight and level. It is a decent enough weight and feels more substantial than at first sight. It is an easy lift for two when re-siting is needed.

Now to the purchase or theft of Chickens. More to come....

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Primarily Ethics

The school comprised the left, older part only. Where the old meets the new, there was an outside toilet. The windows were purposedly high. To limit distraction.  I have always loved clouds.

My primary school teacher, Lily Cowan had the biggest bosom it was possible to have in the 1960's. Her bust would announce her approaching self before she entered a room. The whole magnificent globular cluster was a source of great mystery and wonder to me. She held her twin armfuls in check by employing an intriguing combination of the barely visible and the patently obvious. Her undergirdering, whilst effective and magnificently engineered was a part of the mystery. These great boudin blancs would move only slightly in response to her occasional sneeze or laugh or launched attack with duster or ruler. The effort caused just sufficient strain on her immaculate cream nylon blouse to only just betray the potential for a Hindenburg like disaster. Her decorum never nudged, she plowed through her small world with determination and the certainty of Scottish Presbyterianism. Breasts to the fore. Badged with heather and a pearl and seemingly only ever signaling her tight wound femininity by weight. Lily and lust were long ago estranged I assumed. Who knew?

Her carriage must have caused her some concern. Never less than straight and set fair, the pull on her dorsal muscles and on her lumbar spine would nowadays be offered help by friendly plastic surgeons over coffee. Lily had only herself to pop and twist into support garments both above and below the skirt line. The whole was representative of unwavering authority, tempered by regular and necessary inspection in covertly placed looking glasses hidden behind doors. She was the very essence of decorum in the scary red and black world of threatened communism and Martin Luther King. This altogether concentrated teaching machine held us all safe whilst the fear of Bay of Pigs and reckless rock and rollers roiled about us far away.

And all the time, she taught me physics, maths, classics and ethics without ever knowing it at all.

Our little school held fourteen pupils all the time I attended with my younger brothers. There being two years between us all, it was never likely that we would share a class so, as the new family, arrived from England with our flat vowels and our apparent and assumed confidence, Lily's task was probably just a little daunting. I was aware by the age of six, just how much easier the world became to manage if adults were regarded as dangerous but generally benign beings who enjoyed the lack of effort needed to maintain my interest. Reflecting back words and phrases offered to me was a skill I adopted early. Avoiding precociousness became my life's work. Lily allowed me some respite from this effort. She recognised in me an eagerness to learn and, while short on time she made every attempt to foster this by offering bok after book after book. Eventually, I was given the job of Library monitor, enabling the first choice of the bi monthly delivery. I spent the majority of my school day reading, fingers in ears or lying in the playground staring at the clouds and dreaming. Either way, it suited Lily.

Realising that intonation and correct vocabulary were more important than context more often than not, I must have been at times unbearable. I generally got away with it however. There was a quick understanding sealed between Lily and me. I was a competent reader with no comprehension problems. The level of numeracy I was expected to achieve in comparison to my peers was already in place. There was time to nurture a mutual support system. It was hard to remember not to overdo it sometimes but the system worked. She left me mostly to my own devices whilst I occasionally dropped back into 'helpless' in order that we neither of us forgot just who was holding things in check.

Mornings at Dervaig Primary began with exactly the same ritual each day. We had slim green, hard backed hymn books from which Lily would choose one of four that she could competently play along to on the piano. She favored 'Jesus Loves Me' over others. I imagine this choice was due to the refrain being relatively short and requiring little prompting to keep to rhythm. Following the successful rendition of this assurance of divine adoration, we were required to recite 'The Lord Is My Shepherd' before finally topping this mini service off with The Lords Prayer.
I was impressed by the words of the 23rd psalm. It felt more poetic than the other stuff we intoned. Lily smiled over my careful phrasing. We were as one in the recitation. We understood the cadences as having import and it felt as good as any of the many compulsive rituals that bind a class together. But then, one Tuesday, she caught me out in a tiny moment of deceit. An act seeming so trivial today as to be laughable but on that day, an act of such personal portent as had not been witnessed since Martin Luther's nailing of his theses to the church doors in Wittenberg.

Dervaig Village Church

Our mother had made it her business to ensure that any good that was to be squeezed from the drying fruit of her Catholicism should be regularly reapplied as varnish to her eldest's soul. I accompanied her to mass from very early on. My life thus far and the tall, spicy, draughty caverns of the church were intertwined. Beginnings and ends of the week punctuated by observance of this or that.
Prayers said, penance shared. Magic witnessed and revered. My father did not share this stuff. He proclaimed a mysterious claim what he called agnosticism. A term that was to come to mean more than faith or atheism together later on. A get out of mass free card which I assumed was bought at a cost to his future destiny. Being certain of my fate, I wondered what prizes awaited the agnostic. My assumption was, as far as I could see at that time, that he and other such uncertain men would be granted visiting rights or holidays in paradise where we would keep their beds and houses clean and warm for their return. Young boys and their mothers meanwhile resided in the blessing of full tenure.
What became of the uncertain soul between these celestial holidays remained a hazy conjecture. How long they were expected to remain outside the gates.. who knew? Our future glory as full communicants was assured, if only due to the tedious adherence to a powerful ritual that my father and his ilk were blessedly permitted to ignore. He was a regular at a table where Pascal's was the best wager on offer. My mother and me were not allowed to play.

The Lord's Prayer as recited by our church differed from the Protestant version in a number of ways. Where they had Debts and Debtors we suffered Trespasses and Trespassers. Our verses felt a little longer as a result and we added an extra 'Ever' into the mix, finally emphasising the nature of infinity as understandable only by us catholics and no others. Our Ad Infinitum was a better class of the Unbounded altogether.

I managed the recitation of this difference as covertly as I could. I would mouth the requisite Protestant version whilst thinking the longer one alongside. This gymnastics was frequently too much for my brain to manage and I would come to a grinding halt, allowing only the faintest expressions of fading adoration to expire between my lips. On this Tuesday, I opened my eyes in an unconcious attempt to pull both halves of my cortex into play. And met Lily's own, first astonished, then with a furious light rising behind them as she gathered herself for the recrimination.

'You are a wicked little boy'. she moaned, 'Wicked and sinful for taking the Lord's Prayer and turning it into a NURSERY RHYME'. Her voice rose in a measured cadence like the bellows of pre partum cattle by the loch.

Suddenly I understood two things simultaneously. I understood why some writers liked to use the phrase 'She Thundered' and, in the very real blink of an eye, I understood the true nature of oraganised ritual. All this intonation. All this singing and recitation was for Lily. For the fabric of the school and her position as conduit of all things right. My previous understanding of a forgiving, lenient god flew from my world to be replaced with plain and simple compassion for Lily in her insecurity. I understood that any sense of right and wrong was, from this point on,mine to negotiate with others and it had never been in the gift of an inexplicable myth.

This was the day I turned to the gaming tables and wondered what the wager would benefit me. It was a little while later that my purse was snatched from me as I laid my bets, by an itinerant priest with little good in him at all.

(an audio version, recorded under the stairs with lapel mics is available here)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Award..

Liebster is a German word that means beloved or favorite. This is an award from fellow bloggers given to blogs that have less than 200 followers.
These are requirements that you need to fulfill should you accept this award:
  • Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  • Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  • Give your top 5 picks for the award
  • Inform your top 5 by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Post the award on your blog.

I'd like to thank..

How brilliant! The lovely Rosalie (@tearose68)
has nominated my project for a Liebster Blog Award. I was previously unaware of this delightful gong and will be sure to think long and hard about how to pass on the good word..

Rosalie's own blog Tilting at Windmills offers beautiful posts musing on the blights and blossoms of life..



Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Good people do good things..

In musing about what might become of a vicar if he or she found faith and belief dwindling.. It suddenly struck me that a paradox may have been played out somewhere, at some time. and it may well have happened without the knowledge of the congregation..

I guess a young man (I did have fleeting thoughts about seminaries as a boy), brought up in belief and with the necessary means, might embark upon a journey that he hoped would end well. He would be expecting to complete his journey to paradise having done the best he could along the way; for others (as well as for himself, if he is honest). In the name of God.

The detours and blind alleys he would encounter during this journey would sometimes challenge his faith but, being well trained in scriptural argument, he would rely on the words of the testaments of other men to help him through these times. Each stumble would be an opportunity to refresh his relationship with his creator. As it is written. By other men. In the name of God.

In time, his bishop and his stipend would allow for longer tenure in a chosen parish. Relationships with his congregation would develop and become rich in their variety. The opportunities for being a good man more frequent, more recognised by him and others as a part of what he is. A good man, in the name of God. A good man who reflects what others are. Sometimes weak but with resources. Sometimes selfish but with humility. Sometimes careless but with compassion.

His congregation join with him in recognising an example in their midst. A benchmark that has the corrections and re draughts of a lifetime's use. A benchmark by which they might all enjoy the comfort of human social companionship, rubbing along together. Reminding themselves of the important measures along the mark. Making the necessary adjustments as they go.

All is well. In the name of God.

Over a period of time, and in response to the creative, imaginative enquiry that brought our vicar to the philosophy of the supernatural in the first place, he begins to prefer a more pragmatic view. As parts of what he had considered unassailable begin to crumble and resolve themselves into more mysterious and wonderful ways of seeing, his steps become more sure. Over this time, he absorbs and embraces the gradual capacity for understanding that the modern world is now enjoying. Over time, he feels the dogma of a brief historical document slipping from under his feet. Fundamental literalist explanations for the existence of our world are replaced by rational understandings of the universe. The confluence of science and art becomes a torrent and he no longer needs to conclude his thoughts in the name of a god. The process of contemplation brings him to a larger congregation, of thinkers and dreamers. He finally sees that whichever way it comes or goes, creation belongs in the hands and minds of man as well as any of the incalculable numbers of other forms of sentience out there in our universes.

Then comes a very difficult Sunday morning. This good man must, in all honesty take the last steps up to the pulpit on his journey to being a good man. Whether he chooses to join his congregation and discuss his altered view or alternatively, write a brief and humble letter to his bishop matters little. He still has a responsibility to those he cares about and, if honest, loves. He remains their vicar and remains a good man.

The choice in paradox is this. To say nothing. To remain a good man in the name of a god and to harbour his new conviction for his own continued journey, embarking when he wishes to, alone. Or, conversely to openly discuss his philosophy and accept the dissolution of the congregation as it is.

Here is where my musings have led to. I suspect that a number of very good men and women have abandoned the necessity for a supernatural force either by action or default. They continue to perform the often irksome job that they are paid little to perform because they are at heart Good People. Because the alternative is considered socially abhorrent. The alternative would be to be completely open and declare an interest in remaining as a benchmark for the rest without the sanction of medieval text. To become what may be termed a community leader, whose only qualification for the job is a proven capacity for Good. And without that text, his capacity for good would be gradually replaced by acknowledgement of human frailty, then suspicion of motive and finally rejection as just an ordinary man.

I have known a number of vicars and priests. Some wonderful people. Some though whose moral standing would embarrass us all if demonstrated outside the tenets of the cloth. I have great admiration for those who think seriously about their position and offer a balance between the recorded stories of a frightened power base in the ancient middle east and modern rationalism. I can feel it all becoming very hot again though. I worry for the truly good as arguments bounce back and forth without much good resulting. The position of good clergy seems in danger once more as the far right and aggressive atheists go to war.

How sad it is that all the reinterpretaion of an ancient tract remains as powerful as ever now. It's capacity for harm is undiminished.

'Good people do good things and bad people do bad things but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion'.