Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

The Advent Calendar, a poem

The Advent Calendar

Little doors;
Little fingers;
Little eyes;
Little pictures;
Little numbers;
Little hinges:
Prise to a prize.

Open the door,
Day twenty four.
A manger, a star,
Wise men from afar,
The shepherds and Mary
With Joseph and baby,
An angel in glory:
Nativity story.

Little fingers,
Little eyes:
A bundle of joy
Abundance of hope.

Wicked Thoughts

Like an inept swarm of self-herding cats, various branches of the family managed successfully to descend on the pre-agreed restaurant for the beginning of the Family Birthday Night Out.

There were ten of us, spanning three generations: all with a genetic trait of “bumbling” – when “bumbling” is defined as the ability to get lost, be late, not realize the obvious, turn up in the wrong place etc…

It is because of this trait that the three of us (my sisters and I) – well, apart from “true love”, “destiny” and all that – married three rational-as-you-like accountants, all of whom have an enviable talent for getting from A to B without a stuff-up of some sort AND finding a parking space right outside.

But none of them were there.

It was just us.

Giddy with success/relief, we enjoyed our meal regaling one another with anecdotes of how wrong the day had almost, or indeed had, gone – between the leafy suburbs and semi-rural hamlets of Glasgow and the big, festively lit city of Edinburgh. But we had made it (busy towns, poorly thought-through travel plans, untimely fevers, blisters and impenetrable ticket machines notwithstanding)!

Because we usually need it, we had factored in a good length of time to get from the restaurant to the theatre to see “Wicked” at the Edinburgh Playhouse. So we set off through the melee, counting each other and hoping to arrive at the number ten whilst remembering to count oneself.

We had plenty of time for a group photo and a round of selfies before packing into the playhouse, over-estimating the amount of over-priced-captive-audience snacks we would need. We were pretty high up in the balcony with a floor angle that certainly wouldn’t pass health and safety in a new build with seats that certainly wouldn’t do for anyone with a BMI of 30 or worse, pretty much. We got our wee legs wedged in behind the seat in front and waited for the show.

As for the show, it was good.

It had everything: singing, dancing, little bit of romance, little bit of politics, a little bit of philosophy, …

In one sense it was a showcase of equality issues, with a dig at Nazism.

There were plenty of minority groups represented. Elphaba, the main character is born green and finds herself judged for the colour of her skin. Her sister Nessa was confined to a wheelchair and treated unfairly in social circles. The lecturer at their uni was a goat who was part of an oppressed minority – it was like a side step into Animal Farm with “two legs good four legs bad” being rephrased as “Animals should be seen and not heard”. The speaking animals were being marginalized though gradual changes in the law in Oz as the government was finding the majority of the population a common scapegoat for their ills. All very early-1930s.

In another way the show was about good and evil. It seemed to conclude that judgement of situations should be reserved, to allow for a different perspective to emerge – to look at things a different way. It was all about subjectivity and the dangers of that and the complexity of truth. This was the clever part of the show – how it functioned as part-prequel/part-parallel to “The Wizard of Oz”, as the audience got to see some of the events of the original book/movie from a different perspective which allowed for a different ‘reading’ of the original. All of the intertextual stuff was clever and I liked it.

The third angle I could take on the show is to use it to explore the theme of loyalty. In the beginning Alphaba is loyal to her disabled sister. When someone else is kind to her sister, she is then loyal to that person – so loyal that she gives up her ‘true love’ for her (at that bit!). Her loyalties are then shaken by events and she decides to be Wicked – but for her being wicked seems to equate with acting morally. She defends the oppressed minorities and challenges the equation of power with being ‘right’. She shuns popularity and good reputation for justice. So, her wickedness is only wickedness in the context of a speciesist regime like Oz. (Is this her being true-to-herself?)

So, the ten of us sat in a row and watched, either moved, sighing, utterly bamboozled with the plot, coughing every five seconds, lapsing in and out of sleep, whispering too loudly, passing along opera glasses, eating ice cream and generally enjoying a good show, apart from the unnecessarily loud bits.

Then 3000 people headed for the train.

We all lost each other then found each other at the station, crowding around an empty carriage that wasn’t even going to Glasgow. Then the actual train appeared, so we had to leg it back a bit to be sadly the last few on to a jammy packed carriage, full of amiable drunks giving us lively renditions of “show me the way to go home” and “sunshine on leith” while threatening to crush us to a pulp in their merry oblivion.

Eventually, the carriage thinned out enough for us to get a seat and we got back to Glasgow after midnight where our numerate counterparts picked us up.

We had made it.

Are you green with envy?

Strictly Come Budgeting

I swish down the staircase in my full length, fish tailed, silver sequined dress.

Music: Dan da na na, dan da na; Dan da na na nah…

The room is a swirling kaleidoscope of coloured lights, spinning fragments of mirrors, projected graphics. The overall effect is disorienting and dazzling. All eyes fall on me. The music fades as I do my piece to camera.

Me: It’s Saturday night and time to party! Welcome to the council offices in the main street. It’s good to have you with us. We are halfway through the series – and hasn’t the standard been high this year? I can hardly believe it! But which of our couples will tonight be asked to leave the floor? My heart breaks when I think about any of them leaving, but somebody has to! (sobs) Without further ado, let’s give it up for couple number 1: Class-sizes-of-20 and their partner GIRFEC!

Rapturous applause

Me: Tonight, they are giving us a Waltz.

Class-sizes-of-20 and GIRFEC dance to “Tennessee Waltz”, a heady mix of jazz and blues – a lament for a lost love. This pair know their days are numbered. Class-sizes-of-20 is wearing a muted brown vintage velvet dress. GIRFEC is wearing a suit made from an infinite number of varied threads and fabric, woven together into a seamless garment that looks different to everyone watching, both in the studio and at home. The audience are moved by the sensitive interpretation of the music.

Rapturous applause. Standing ovation.

Me: (To camera) It’s a standing ovation. They are on their feet. (To the couple) We loved it. (To the judges) So, what did you think?

Judge 1: I think that was the last waltz.

Judge 2: Yeah, you can’t just waltz in here. I mean, like you really can’t waltz.

Judge 3: Waltz up with the pair of you?

Me: We loved it.

Judge 4: Yes, we know you loved it, but you would. (To GIRFEC) I loved the choreography but you can’t keep her in hold all the time now can you?

Me: The scores are in.

Judge 1: 4!

Judge 2: 4!

Judge 3: 4!

Judge 4: 4!

Class-sizes-of-20 and GIRFEC leave the floor looking sad, suspecting they may well end up in the bottom two, with a twinkle of hope that the public consulation could save them.

Me: What a great start to the show! I wonder if they have done enough to secure their future in the Education system. With those scores, it’ll be down to the public to go online and keep them in. Next up, Behaviour Support and their partner, Inclusion. They will be entertaining us with their take on The Charleston.

Having chosen a Gatsby theme for their Charleston, Behaviour Support comes in wearing enormous comedy glasses, as a reference to that wild wag of an oculist, Dr T J Eckleberg. Inclusion is also wearing glasses, but his are a nod to Owl Eyes. They dance to “I wanna be loved by you.”
The dance is cute and cheeky. The audience are delighted by the swiveling and the cartwheeling and the near-misses with the jumps and swings.

Rapturous applause. Standing ovation.

Me: (To camera) It’s a standing ovation. They are on their feet. (To the couple) We loved it. (To the judges) So, what did you think?

Judge 1: I think you would be better on your own, Inclusion.

Judge 2: How would that work?

Judge 3: (thoughtfully) Just think, if we get Class-sizes-of-20 out of the way, and get rid of a fifth of Behaviour support…

Judge 4: (having a eureka moment)… it’ll be absolutely no different to the dance we have just seen!

Me: (doubtfully) Eh, like, what, like, you want a Charleston solo?

Judge 1: Yes. We’ll just have the inclusion. We’ll get Class-sizes-of-30 in instead, if you like. The more the merrier, I think. The Charleston is a party dance. Whoop!

Me: The scores are in.

Judge 1: 5!

Judge 2: 5!

Judge 3: 5!

Judge 4: 5!

Dr TJ Eckleberg and Owl Eyes give the judges a hard stare and leave the floor. Withering looks all round. A lot of shortsightedness in the room.

Me: And last up tonight, we have… School Librarians and their partner Independent Learning and General Literacy!

Rapturous Applause

School Librarian and Independent Learning and Literacy come in and give every member of the audience a priceless gift, tailored to the needs and interest of every individual there. School Librarians is wearing a white ra-ra dress with jewels like drops of dew at points all over it. Independent Learning and Literacy is wearing red, because he wants to. They dance a quickstep to “Nice work if you can get it”. It is utterly charming.

Rapturous applause. Standing ovation.

Me: (To camera) It’s a standing ovation. They are on their feet. (To the couple) We loved it. (To the judges) So, what did you think?

Judge 1: Okay. Very good. You didn’t put a foot wrong.

Judge 2: Yes, very entertaining. It’s like you have been practising.

Independent Learning and Literacy: Practising? This is my career. I am a professional dancer. I am qualified. That’s why I didn’t put a foot wrong. I know what I am doing on the dance floor.

Judge 3: But what about Librarians? Doesn’t they just issue and shelve?

Audience: (sharp intakes of breath) Boooo!

Librarians: Issue and shelve? There’s more to it than that, you know. I embody the very principles of curriculum design!

Judge 4: Right. I see. Excellent. I mean, Excellence.

Me: The scores are in.

Judge 1: 3!

Judge 2: 3!

Judge 3: 3!

Judge 4:10!

Me: (Wide eyed, faintly hysterical) It’s our first ten! What do you think of that?

Audience: (Cheers and whoops from most, but others are gainfully absorbed in engaging with the gifts they were given at the start of the dance.)

Me: So, looking at the leader board, it’s all pretty close. Nobody wants any of these couples to leave the competition, but those are the rules. We can’t keep them all. The consultation lines are open online. Make sure you have your say – don’t leave it up to the judges alone. And on tomorrow night’s show we’ll see who’s in the dance off! And in the meantime, keep dancing!

Music: Dan da na na, dan da na; Dan da na na nah…

I shuffle inelegantly around the floor as the credits roll, wishing my heels were higher, my hair straighter and the public all the best with their deliberations.

Paracetamol and Deep Fried Haggis

NOT that I am moaning…

Okay I am, and I have nothing to moan about in the grand scheme of things, or even the limited scheme of things. But I might as well irritate my dear readers, dear reader, as much as myself and long-suffering husband.

I have an annoying cough. It’s one in a long line of dull and insignificant symptoms in a half-hearted virus type vague sort of under-the-weatherness I have been having this week.

Not that you’re interested (or you shouldn’t be. This does not count as a valid complaint) , but I have had a sore throat, no voice, random temperature and nausea. But, in no way did it count as an actual illness. In no way did it anything like warrant a day off work.

Naw.

Just a trio of days in work feeling rubbish, but not rubbish enough to mention. (I did, though.)

So, forgive me.

The interesting thing was… that one of the lowest points of the week was when I was working late (which involved a lot of talking and a lot of black tea) and then had a band rehearsal (which was lovely and didn’t require me to say much – which, I can tell you – would be a relief to my poor band-mates, despite the fact that I did manage to squeeze out a few verbalisations for the greater good…)

BUT

The point is, I felt rubbish. So, before band, I thought to myself: HAGGIS SUPPER.

But then, at the chippy I thought, no, steady on, FISH SUPPER. So I got a fish supper, downed a couple of paracetamol and went to band.

Thing was, the very next day on my “Time Hop” app, my Facebook status on that day some year/years ago was “Haggis and Paracetamol”.

It must be a late-November thing…

Ho hum…

Do you have a Wee Scoops card?

Before my brain melts, I step back from the brink of profundity and have a think about loyalty cards in the hope that this will tell me something about loyalty.

I am rubbish at loyalty cards.

Tesco… “Do you have a clubcard?”
Eh, yes, like, I do have one, but, like, not right now.
“Oh, that’s OK if you keep your receipt you can get the points added at customer service next time you’re in…”
Like that will happen…

Sainsbury’s … “Do you have a Nectar Card?”
Eh, yes, like, somewhere and it has probably a MILLION points on it but have I a scooby as to how, the time or the inclination to go and trade them in for flights/laundry powder? Eh, no.

Morrisons… “Do you have a …. whatisitcalled? Match and Mix? Spend and Save? Food and Free stuff?”
They’ve just introduced a card and I do have it, and it is in my wallet – but will it amount to anything? Will I ever understand what I am to do with it once my points have reached whatever point? Morrisons have enough random wee slips of paper promising all kinds of voucher-based joy spilling out of the till at the end of a shop and wee paper wallets to keep them in, but I am never there enough times on the relevant days for my weeks 1-6 vouchery things…

It all takes too much thought.

And planning.

ASDA. I don’t think they have a loyalty card. I don’t have a loyalty card for them. I hate going there, but I go there. I buy groceries. They sell groceries. It’s a functional relationship. I have no beef with ASDA. As it were.

So loyalty cards play absolutely no effective part in my shopping. I go to ASDA when I need groceries and am passing ASDA. I go to Morrisons when I am near Morrisons. I go to Tesco when I wind up near Tesco accidentally and against my will. I would go to Sainsbury’s more often but I think £100 of groceries there costs £120, so I don’t go there much. (Of course, if I used the loyalty card strategically, maybe that would knock off the extra £20…)

Why would one be loyal to a supermarket? If ever loyalties could be misplaced one could surely misplace them satisfactorily there.

I find myself imagining how life would be if I was the kind of person that could possibly go out for ten coffees to the same place and get a free one. Imagine having that amount of time AND the ability not to lose the stamper card! I have so many dodgy wee cards I keep having to clear out my wallet and so I NEVER have the relevant card.

What has this taught me about loyalty?

I am not a loyal shopper to any of the large chains.

I am happy with that. Would I be a better person if I were loyal in this respect? No. And I would have further to drive to get to the right shop, so that would be annoying.

I find myself ending up with Huckleberry Finn’s moral code when faced with supermarkets and loyalty cards:

“So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.”

A Streetcar Named Loyalty

It seems that loyalty is a virtue. It’s a good thing. But I wonder…

In “A Streetcar named Desire”, Stella has trouble with loyalty. She is the character trapped between two characters who both should have her loyalty.

There is her sister Blanche, with whom she was raised, who has had a traumatic life of loss and grief. On the other hand she is supported and kept by her husband Stanley. She therefore has good reason to be loyal to both of these characters. But the events of the play means that she has to choose.

At the height of the play, while Stella is in hospital in labour with Stanley’s baby, Stanley rapes Blanche.

The audience does not get to ‘see’ how Stella reacts when she arrives home to discover Blanche traumatised – accusing Stanley and Stanley denying it; all we get is what I think is the most important quote of the play, as Stella confides in a neighbour: “I couldn’t believe her story and go on living with Stanley.”

The subtext leads the audience to believe that she does, on one level, accept Blanche’s story. But Stella has just had a baby and she needs Stanley, despite his violence. She is still attracted to him, despite his abuse. She therefore takes the practical route and puts pragmatism over morality.

One could see Stella as being loyal to her husband over her sister – but should she be? Clearly, morally, she should take Blanche’s side, even although it would mean shattering her own home and marriage. She would be left with a baby, a husband perhaps in prison and a mentally unstable sister to care for.

Stella is disloyal to her sister and loyal to her husband – but both of these are one step away from the core of the moral issue. She is loyal to herself: she is selfish.

So what of loyalty? Is loyalty ‘a good thing’?

It depends what you are loyal to. Loyalty to the self is selfish. Loyalty to those that is manifest in covering for wrongs is wrong. Loyalty is only good when the loyalty is apparent in doing what is right in any situation. And one does not need the loyalty to be there before one can act rightly in a situation.

I think perhaps loyalty puts people off the scent of right action by having questionable bias in play before decisions are made.

Wondering if I have loyalty to loyalty

There was a woman on Radio 4 tonight that was annoying me. I wasn’t listening carefully enough though; I was too busy realizing I had driven away from training still wearing their bib, then I was too busy almost killing a badger while thinking it was a funny looking fox. It survived. It did a shimmy of panic and darted off into a field looking a bit like a hovercraft, in some respects.

The woman on the radio was annoying me because she was genuinely hitting out with a life-theory that drives me nuts. Her basic premise was actually “Be True To Yourself”. The discussion was about loyalty and the group on the radio were running through various scenarios and discussing how big a part loyalty should play in each one. She kept bringing it back to loyalty to the self.

Isn’t that actually what is wrong with the world?

As I say, she may not have been as delusional as I wasn’t taking it all in.

Loyalty.

The dictionary gives synonyms: allegiance, faithfulness, fidelity, obedience, fealty, adherence, homage, devotion, bond…

In all of these words there is the sense of the other – the fact that we are not necessarily the only person or will in play. To be loyal, there has to be someone or something else that has some kind of a bearing on one’s own will and actions.

Should we be loyal? How thick and thin do things have to be before we abandon loyalty?

How many seasons does your team have to be rubbish before you change teams?

How long should partners be faithful to one another – or do we think “till death us do part” is the way to go?

In what circumstances do we think – eh… NO! and move on to new allegiances.

This is likely to be the first in a short series on loyalty. I haven’t worked out my thoughts yet.

I think loyalty is quite close to duty and I have a problem with duty as ‘a good thing’ – so we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway. If you are thinking “but of course we should be true to ourselves” please have another look at Hamlet and figure out what (was it) Polonius (?) actually meant…

Not a heron on a bus

Yesterday’s reminiscences about falling asleep in lectures brought to mind a little parable. I was in an Old English lecture, and the lecturer read a passage in OE and asked us to identify it. For once, my extensive Bible trivia came to the fore and I, for the one and only time in an English lecture, offered the right answer.

When I hear this story read, I remember the Old English which was all very onomatopoeic. The wise man who built his house on the rock was something like “ his hus ofer stan getimbrode”. When the weather hit there was a “micel flod” and “bleowon windas”. My favourite word has “hruron” which Google was wondering if I was Googling for “heron on that bus” when I was Googling for “ahruron on that hus”. I think “hruron” can be good onomatopoeia for weather encircling and threatening a home. When the foolish man had his house on the sand and the “flod” and the “windas” came his “hus feoll” and “his hryre (or something approximating to that ) waes micel”. Indeed.

I can’t believe I would ever regret trading in my “Sweet’s Anglo Saxon Primer” – but there you go.

But what of the parable?

It is about wisdom being less about knowledge and more about action. It is all very well knowing that Jesus said such things as “Love your neighbour” and at an intellectual level figuring out that that would indeed be a good course of action. It is about taking a step and holding one’s neighbours’ needs as priorities.

So much in modern life is choked with inaction and apathy. People know what would be good for their health – mental, spiritual and physical. We know we should eat right; we know we should exercise. We know what we should learn to forgive, to “let it go”. But the effort of making a change, of digging down to the right foundation on which to build is too much of a challenge, and we go on, camping out on sand, knowing that it’s not sustainable. It’s not wise.

Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” is full of wisdom and full of challenge. He said:

‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Maybe it is a middle-age thing, but, statistically, there are going to be metaphorical storms ahruron on our metaphorical houses.

Best not camp out on the sand, then.

Tea Sonnet

Tea Sonnet

I quantify success in terms of tea:
When I can drink a cup when it is hot
From my first sip until the last I see –
You’d think this was the case more oft than not.
But sadly taking tea means taking time.
A proper cup needs three minutes to brew.
An interruption – tantamount to crime! -
When such neglect can leave a bag to stew.
The water must be boiling when it’s poured.
If cooler, tea will not be well infused.
Outwith this land this detail is ignored -
I state it now – you must not be confused!
Select your blend and put the kettle on.
I’ll do the same. I think I’ll have Ceylon.

Top Eight Worst Sleep Venues I have chosen

1. On the floor in Abu Dhabi airport. I was warm when I went to sleep. When I woke up I was acutely aware that it was a stone floor. Very chilly.

2. Bivouacking in Glen Gairn. The ground seemed flat when we pitched the tent. During the night it seemed to tilt alarmingly and, though sleeping, I was clinging on for dear life.

3. Mather Campground, Grand Canyon. It was minus 6 degrees and my sleeping bag was rubbish, so at one point I was convulsing with the cold. Spent some time crouched in the public toilet for a heat against the pipes.

4. Maternity hospital – at the stage where sleep wasn’t really going to happen anyway. I used to just get into bed and wait until morning. On the antenatal ward there was one woman vomiting all the time. All the time. And then there was another one about to have the baby then and there and in total denial and refusing to go to the labour ward with amniotic fluid splashing everywhere – just LEAVE woman!

5. The YWCA in Calcutta – although I am glad it wasn’t me that got a bat stuck in their mosquito net.

6. Many and varied libraries and lecture theatres in St Andrews. Repeatedly waking up dehydrated with Jean Paul Sartre stuck to my face.

7. Oh my goodness – the Calcutta to Bombay overnight train! The sheets I was given for my middle bunk in the triple bunk bed had a big wet patch when the porter gave me them. Eek. I just remember stashing all my valuables under myself for security. Wasn’t the most comfy!

8. Ah… once I fell asleep on a couch in a room – and then woke up to hear a conversation I knew I shouldn’t be listening to – so was trapped there, pretending to be asleep for what seemed like a very long time, until the people went away and I could convincingly ‘wake up’ in natural good time…

Of course, this was going to be a Top Ten list – but, I only have a top eight.

I sleep pretty well, thankfully.

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