Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Finding balance while hanging out in an echo chamber with the Psalmist

Since I posted on self-selected-echo-chambers, my mind has been pushing Psalm 1 to the surface.

Psalm 1 is part of the Word of God and so when I read it, believing it to be such, you might expect it to act as an echo. You might expect it to reaffirm what I already think.

I don’t find this to be the case; as I noted yesterday, the bible can be read in full or in part. Once can self edit out the bits that make one struggle. I could pick a verse I happen to like, and put it at the bottom of my well of self selection and it could echo reassuringly when I call it out.

Psalm 1 is one such passage. The first half of the Psalm is “nice” and, handily for me, addresses the question (unlikely as that may seem) about whether or not one should self-select one’s echo chamber. If you google Psalm 1, there are plenty of lovely pictures available of the first half, for people to post and share – for encouragement, I suppose. There are far fewer of the second half. As a bible believer, I have to take the less palatable with the lovely and keep my echo chamber on an even kilter. The psalm begins:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,

The psalmist hits out straight away with the advice I am looking for. If I want to be “blessed” I have not to “walk in step with the wicked”. I have not to go around with them, follow the same direction with them, go at the same pace as them. Similarly, I must not “stand in the way that sinners take”. I have not to put myself in their path, perhaps I shouldn’t get in their way. The third image, I like. To “sit in the company of mockers”, I imagine a thoroughly unwholesome atmosphere with people pouring scorn on other people’s beliefs and ideas.

What would this look like in practice? I think the Psalmist is calling for the believer to be discerning about the company they keep and who they “follow” – be that literally or on social media. It can’t be bad advice to say one should avoid wickedness. I wonder about the second part – the standing in the way. Does it mean one shouldn’t be troublesome and argumentative- obstructive to the “sinners” as they go about their business? The part that resonates most with me is the part about the mockers – and this is where I think the “I don’t want to see this on my timeline” might be justifiable. If you feel “mocked”, if there are “haters” and foul mouthed or racist bigots – I think it is time to disengage. This is entirely different to healthy debate and exchanges of ideas, where people are genuinely trying to explain their view or understand others’ views. When a context gives way and becomes a “seat of mockers” it is time to leave. It makes me wonder whether Twitter is a place to be, really.

The Psalmist then goes on to explain the blessing that comes from using discernment about where one walks, stands and sits in life. “Blessed is the one”:

… whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

Here we have the advice to the believer who hopes to be blessed. He is not oppressed by the law, or hemmed in by its rules. He finds delight there. What I find encouraging here is that there doesn’t seem to be blind submission to the “law of the Lord”, there is meditation. I imagine the believer thinking carefully through the scripture, considering it line by line and, after this consideration through the day and the night – he finds that he can delight in it. It is not simple for him. He needs to think – and it his thoughts are rich and consumed by the “law of the Lord”.

By thinking carefully, by meditating on the “law of the Lord”, finds himself to be blessed:

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water”. Instead of being corrupted by the poor counsel of the “wicked”, he is planted by a stream of water. He has been positioned in the best possible place to flourish and grow. The “law of the Lord” is the water; the person is the tree. By immersing himself in the “law of the Lord” the person can flourish and grow. The leaves on this tree do not wither – I suppose this means that the person’s spiritual health should be evident to others. I imagine a canopy of healthy green leaves.

I balk at the next line as it mentions prosperity – I don’t think this refers to financial prosperity. I think this points to well-being and doing well.

It is at this point, that the images on google stop. There are many lovely pictures of trees next to streams of living water – but, as I have been thinking – what about the wicked? the sinners? the mockers?

As humans, is this not us? Are we not all sinful, wicked mockers – so some degree or other?

The psalmist continues:

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

The “wicked” miss out on the blessing. They were walking out of step with God. Instead of being like a healthy tree, their simile is to be “like chaff”. Instead of having the life and stability of a well-grounded tree, they are presented as worthless – to be cast aside. They are not rooted in anything lasting – the wind can blow them way. Their advice and beliefs and observations will prove to be empty, in the fullness of time.

As the Psalm draws to its conclusion, the reader is left with a bleak picture, far removed from the tree by the river:

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

The Psalmist states that the “wicked” are ultimately doomed. Their own pronouncements and beliefs will prove to be vacuous in the fullness of time. The “sinners” will find that they are excluded, because they fall short. The Psalm ends:

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

This echoes the beginning of the Psalm – where the reader was warned not to “walk in step with the wicked”, here he is told why – “the way of the wicked leads to destruction”. And where the reader was warned to stay out of “way that sinners take”, he is now reassured that “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous”. Finally, where the reader was advised not to “sit in the company of mockers”, likewise the “sinners” are excluded from the “assembly of the righteous”.

We end with what appears to be unfairness. The Lord has some people in his sights and under his protection, planted near the river, near the “law of the Lord” and the “wicked” are doomed to destruction.

You can see why the image makers don’t put the last few verses onto nice backgrounds to “like” and “share”.

So… what to conclude?

I think the Psalmist is encouraging the reader to make their choice. He seems to imply that one can live the Lord’s way, or the way of man. He makes it clear that to immerse oneself in human wisdom and advice is short-sighted and ultimately futile.

While I select this little passage to analyse (or should I say, on which to meditate) I remember that I have taken this out of context. I am reading this thousands of years later. It predates Christianity by quite some way. It functions as an introduction to the whole book of Psalms, so perhaps should not be read in isolation. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to do this to the other 145 of them!…)

Back to my echo chamber…

If I take the advice of the psalmist, I reckon I get my tent, my bible and some snacks and become hermitic and fall into a reverie of meditation for the rest of time, but I’ll do well.

But I think the psalmist doesn’t really mean that. I imagine the psalmist thinking of people going about their daily business, rubbing shoulders with all sort of people with all sorts of practices, codes and beliefs – because this is real life – not a pastoral idyll.

I think the psalmist advises conscious reflection on one’s choices of company, and the weight one gives to the advice and beliefs of others. I think the Psalmist believes that searching for God’s guidance is the wisest course of action. I think the psalmist advises that one’s own beliefs should be carefully considered and should be judged on their practical outworking – do they give life – and life in all its fullness?

So, maybe this reading of Psalm 1 has been no more than an echo of what I already think about wisdom and how to find it. I think, despite the fact that this was written almost inconceivably long ago, it is fascinating to think of the Psalmist having the same Facebook/Twitter issues as I have – he considers what to follow and what to distance himself from in order to get by in the world without being dragged into unedifying mud-slinging.

To walk, to stand, to sit? Or to be rooted and grounded near a life giving stream? Or both…

Personal Hell-icon: What our ears are itching to hear?

In Heaney’s poem, “Personal Helicon” he reflects on his childhood fascination for wells. He used to shout down them and hear his own sounds come back to him enriched.

As a poet, he threw the words out and listened to them, and, through the poetry, he could “see himself” – gain a better understanding of himself – through his interactions with the world. He describes various wells, stating:

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it… /

and concluding:
/ …I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

I love this idea of “clean new music” – when one shouts into a void, and hears an echo, and learns something.

But echoes aren’t necessarily all good. Or all clean.

Sometimes we edit the echoes.

If I make a statement on facebook, some people will hit “like”. I feel reassured about my statement and emboldened to make another one. If I “like” a post, a link, a group or a cause, more posts will be added to my newsfeed. Facebook will figure out my foibles, quirks and preferences and then fire me a whole lot of information I’ll probably like. I “like” it, and more follows. If I post within these spheres, the people there will likely “like” it. I am further emboldened and convinced of my own opinion.

Between facebook, twitter and myself, I have created an echo chamber where all I might hear is my own opinion, coming back reinforced and repeated – perhaps with what I take to be “clean new music in it”.

I might, however be lulled into a false sense of security.

Back at the hypothetical first post – I perhaps got several likes. Then there were the silent 250 other facebook friends who didn’t hit “like”. They thought “dislike” but didn’t have a button; they thought “meh” and carried on with their day; they thought “lunatic” but didn’t want to say so for fear of hurting my feelings; they thought “delusional”, rolled their eyes and had a coffee. They might even go as far as to find the “I don’t want to see this on my timeline” button, which one does end up at, on occasion

They edit their newsfeed and cut out my delusional observations.

They correct their own echo chamber with things that don’t fire back their own view at them. And I do the same.

After time, do we all end up sitting in our echo chambers of self selection, thinking that the world and ourselves are in harmony – because everyone is saying what we are saying and everyone is posting what we are posting and we feel the affirmation that comes from having that online accord? And we end up deluding ourselves?

I find myself thinking that it is important to listen to things we disagree with. But at the same time I can’t imagine selecting to listen to views I find abhorrent. The last thing I chose to ban from my timeline was “Britain First” who post thinly veiled racist propaganda. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to see any of my friends “like” any of their posts. I don’t want Facebook thinking that its worth sending any other racist propaganda my way.

Do I end up then thinking that none of my friends “like” racist propaganda? Am I saving myself an awkward moment socially, by becoming more entrenched in my echo chamber, of my views, as they ping back to me in other forms.

Admittedly I am a proponent of selection, when it comes to what you put in your mind. I am big on literature, the Bible and [H]ouse.

By reading the bible and agreeing with the bible and only reading the bible, do I end up in an echo chamber loop where that is all I can see so it is all I can think? Arguably. Certainly that is the way it is with [House] – when I watch too much, the world around me morphs into episode after episode. (At the moment, Sally from BBC Breakfast has morphed into Stacy Warner).

Within the Bible echo chamber though, it is possible to read the bible in a balanced and an unbalanced way. I was reading a book about the Cross at Eastertime, as one might, and there were lots of great, uplifting verses. There were a lot of gruesome and challenging verses also. It was interesting to discover that when I was googling for images to put on my facebook feed – all of the “nice” verses had a range of beautiful backgrounds and fancy fonts brought together in a sharable picture – but the challenging verses of hard home truths had been edited out of the image makers’ selection.

Another bible verse comes to my mind:

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

2 Timothy 4 vs 3 and 4

I think this is the first century equivalent of an echo chamber – where people listen to what they want to hear, and only that.

Back to Heaney, looking down his well, giving a shout – rhyming – into the darkness to set it echoing, to see himself…

I wonder how my self selected echo chamber is set – how much I have meddled with the balance of life, opinion and truth – how much I have gathered around me the opinions that my itching ears want to hear.

Heaney’s poem, “Personal Helicon” is named after Helicon, a mountain of the Greek myths, where Narcissus saw his own reflection and was inspired by his own beauty. It was a mountain associated with muses, with inspiration. Heaney’s wells were his inspiration – and he noted that:

To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity.

and so reverted to poetry to see himself.
Perhaps it is also “beneath all adult dignity” to live in an echo chamber and only hear your own opinion repackaged and delivered back to you.

I am failing to come to a conclusion.

*jumps into a well of her own making*




Falling between Flags aka Understanding Standards

Flags are odd things. So symbolic – solely so.

You look at a flag and you might know what it represents geographically. You might know what it represents politically. It might, for some cultural, or inexplicable reason, have other connotations – that you might sense in your mind and your heart. You might love a flag, hate a flag, want to burn a flag, or want to fly it high from the castle of your heart.

I’ve never had an easy relationship with the Union Jack. It doesn’t feel naturally mine. I had a cool paper toy when I was young that had all the Home Nations’ flags separate and you could fold them together to make the Union Jack. That was kind of cool. But when would I fly the flag?

The Union Jack for me only fits for anything royal – births, weddings, jubilees – the Olymipcs or full military honours. It always felt odd having the Union Jack being waved for Andy Murray. I wondered whether the British relief at having a Wimbledon Champion would turn to despair in the case of independence – would the Wimbledon 77 year curse that gloriously broke suddenly turn into a 79 year curse?

The saltire, I love. Scotland the Brave. The St Andrew’s Cross. The blue of the sky – look up, into the blue.

In the last few weeks before the referendum I was in ASDA and saw Saltire deelyboppers for £3. Bargain. I bought a pair, and envisaged wearing them watching referendum debates. I imagined hanging my saltire in the window as a sign of my patriotism to my own country of Scotland.

But, over a few days, the connotations shifted, and I couldn’t fly my flag. When I looked at the saltire, it began to symbolize things I didn’t want to mean when I would wave my flag.

I felt as if I was sharing a bed with someone who had rolled over, and, in their sleep, had wrapped themselves up in the blanket – and they were all cosy, and I was lying there all cold. I tug and tug at the blanket – but it’s theirs now. I haven’t got a blanket.

I didn’t have a flag.

It was a weird kind of detachment to see the sea of Saltires in Buchanan Street and George Square – it should have been a glorious sight – I should have loved it – but the scenes made me feel alarmed and lost and distant. The Saltire hadn’t changed, but when I looked at it, it seemed to mean things I couldn’t feel.

So my saltire stayed folded, and my deelyboppers remained unworn. I’m not likely to start festooning the place with the Union Jacks.

I hope that I can have my flag back now – that I can fly the flag, even metaphorically, without people either making assumptions about what I voted, or judging me for flying a Saltire hypocritically.

When I was wee, we sang a song:

“There is a flag flying high from the castle of my heart,
from the castle of my heart,
from the castle of my heart,
There is a flag flying high from the castle of my heart,
For the King is in residence there”

The idea would be that if a king was home, his flag would be raised above the property he was staying in. By flying the Union Jack it is like saying that the UK is home and the UK government is in charge. That doesn’t reflect how life is for me. I’d rather fly the Saltire. We are one Scotland. We are also within Britain. So it’s complicated.

The song is about Jesus, though. The idea was, that if Jesus was home, in the castle of one’s heart, there should be a flag – it should be clear to passers by that Jesus is home. And is ruling.

How does this work with secular, political flags? The parliaments of Holyrood and Westminster might be in charge of various bits of my life, and have their flags waving above those elements – but, fundamentally, Jesus is home and Jesus is King. I had a referendum with myself on that issue and, hey, it was a 100% Yes vote.

Jesus hasn’t got a flag. He had a cross – a cross, that is all over both the Union Jack and the Saltire.

I’ll try to look at both the political flags that will continue to fly over the places where I live, and remember that “there is a flag flying high from the castle of my heart, for the King is in residence there.”

Hoping for a peaceful transition to whatever the next stage turns out to be.

Just Gaunae (vote) No #indyref #scotdecides #scotland2014

The referendum question is wrong.

Mr Salmond has started using and reusing a phrase that is giving me philosophical angst. It is “the sovereign will of the people of Scotland”. He said:

“The reason we are keeping the pound in a currency union, and the reason we are so unambiguous about it, is because we are appealing to the greatest authority of all, that is the sovereign will of the people of Scotland”

The greatest authority of all? Hmmm….

I’ll try to keep my theism out of it – for me the greatest authority of all, eh, isn’t the sovereign will of the Scottish people – but I will allow the First Minister a bye on that one, given the context.

But even in the context of a post-yes-vote negotiation, why would the Scottish voice in that discussion be the greatest authority of all? What about the Welsh? The Northern Irish? The English?

But that isn’t really my main problem with Mr Salmond’s use of the phrase.

I suspect (I may be wrong) that the “sovereign will of the Scottish people” will be no clearer after the referendum  – as the actual will of the Scottish people doesn’t appear on the ballot paper.

I suspect that the Scottish people really want DevoMax.

I suspect that, because of the respectful dialogue phase, that the English too, perhaps less strongly, want their own DevoMax.

I suspect that Alex Salmond really wants DevoMax. I think he thinks he wants independence. I think he really wants DevoMax.

If not, why the currency union as Plan A? – He wants independence, except for the currency. Which isn’t actual independence; it is as Max as a DevoMax could be. What’s best for Scotland is a fiscal union. Apparently.

It seems nuts to jeopardise the fiscal union we already have.

If we really actually want DevoMax, rather than being cast adrift in a sea of transition, I hope people will vote no in the referendum, and then start work towards it.

I can feel the Nationalists bristle and begin to form phrases in their minds about the evils of the untrustworthy Westminster – and yes – Westminster is a problem – not just for Scotland – but moreso for England.

I long for the day when I can watch the news without having to hear about Health and Education in “EnglandandWales”. These matters should be devolved.
But the things that relate to the islands – why not stay banded together for the stuff that is to do with these islands as islands – the stuff that is global?

I think the quality of real debate (not the televised unedifying and embarrassing political squabbling) in the country has been great. I think the “sovereign will” has become clearer on both sides – people have a vision for Scotland –  of enterprise and hard work, of equality and care for the most vulnerable –  and I think it is healthy that we have had a long time to reflect as a nation about the values we share and the potential that this country has.

I hope people vote no, so we can avoid uncertainty and upheaval, but take what we have learnt and start shaping the future –  one policy at a time.

I am thankful that every vote will count in this particular referendum – I am just frustrated that the third option, that I suspect is closest to the “will” of the people of Scotland, is missing.

Kubla Can’t and the Search for Plan B

I don’t jump in.

I stand and look at the water and imagine my feet leaving the land and entering. I can imagine it as far as my head reaching the water and then it’s a blank.

When people jump in and go under – fully disappear – what happens down there before they resurface? Do they have their eyes open – seeing swirling chaos in an airless blur? Do they try to resurface, or does the bob just happen, bobbity bob?

I should have practised on holiday when I had a nice pool to practise in – but in that kind of context it’s my feet that worry me. What’s the chances of jarring your legs with a misjudged depth? To hold ones nose or not? Caustic cholrine up your sinuses. Not very appealing.

In order to cure me, what I thought might work was peer pressure and necessity. What if I had a context in which to jump into water was the path of least resistance – a preferable option – an only option – and with a buoyancy aid on – surely that would help…

I had the opportunity to go canyoning today. If you like you can watch the youtube of the same excursion by another group- this is what it was meant to be like:

Back to my life.

So we got out the van and got to the top of a moderately high precipice. Against my will my hands started shaking, as did my body – and even my speech went against my will, saying, “I don’t think I can do this,” like what some lame hysteric would say… *moment of self realization *

*urge to insert unnecessary quote from Kubla Khan *

“But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place…”

So like gung-ho lemings the rest of the party jumped off the cliff and I began to slip into a metaphor for the Scottish Referendum. What was plan B?

At this particular cliff there was another ledge a bit lower. Nope. And another step a bit lower. Nope. And a waterfall to shimmy onto…. best of a bad job – no opportunity to dreep doon backwards into it. Whoosh, I launched myself from about a foot and a half above the water into the water and glub glub disappeared and reappeared and spluttered and bobbed and caught up with the rest of the party. Worried about my ability to drain my nasal passages adequately while swimming ungainlyly along…

The next bit was a wee fun flume and bob.

“…meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran
Then reached the caverns measureless to man…”

So we climbed to the top of another precipice. For interest’s sake I had a wee look over the top. In my mind though, I was scanning the terrain on either side, thinking, “What are my options?” and unbidden again came the voice of Alex Salmond saying “we have a range of options” and I am thinking and thinking “What is Plan B?”

I felt a little sympathy for Salmond, as I had an instructor who knew in advance what Plan B was. It wasn’t “It’s Scotland’s pound and we’re keeping it”, is was a wee rock descent into a wee flume, leading to an ineffectual swim against the current and a chivalrous rescue before I:

“sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean”.

There were more bobby bits and more flumy bits and more one-of-these-kids-is-doing-her-own-thing before we got to the final jump with was a thirty foot drop. A couple of others wavered before taking the plunge. I didn’t even look over the edge for research. There was No Way.

“So, Mr Salmond, what is PLAN B?”

“Well, there are a range of options…”

“And from this chasm, with ceaseless tunmoil seething

As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing”

… I suppose the wetsuit might count as thick pants… so I had to scale the canyon wall, thankful for all my muddy-running bear crawl experience, up and vertically out of the canyon to wait for everyone else who were finishing off with a coccyx bashing flume.

So, even with a buoyancy aid, kind instructors, encouraging peer group, lovely weather, beautiful surroundings and an intent to succeed – I failed to jump in.

I did manage to jump out of the minibus when we got back to base though…

“One small step for man…”

Always good to reach the point of failure. My point of failure is entering water from a standing position. Happy to dreep; happy to shuffle. Not happy to jump.

I find it interesting that my body can have a separate opinion/will to my own. But maybe it had a point.

So, now I need to decide whether or not to admit defeat and write off jumping in for life, or do I resolve to triumph over this particular phobia. And there again I find myself edging towards a referendum metaphor, so to jump or not to jump – I should perhaps echo my political leaning and think “No Thanks”, in which case there’s no need for Plan B. Or a range of options, even…


A thistle-stop tour of Glasgow on a wild Clyde chase #ClydesTrail #Glasgow2014 #BringItOn

With a three week break from training, then tapas on Thursday and Katsu curry on Friday, I was a little wary of taking my sister up on the invite to run into and around Glasgow this morning, but it sounded like fun.

I had to borrow a day-glo orange top to join in the inaugural and probably only ever run of the Tango Trotters and felt a bit fraudulent sporting an Alloa Half Marathon top, having never entered.


Our first hurdle was a jobsworth security girl who wouldn’t let us ten feet beyond her to see the Clyde at Pacific Quay – but maybe that was a bonus, as the detour brought us around via the Squinty Bridge and Clyde near the end of that, then the riverside studios and we chalked up some pretty good celebrity spotting.

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First was Lynsey Sharp (Silver 800m) who gave us a wave, then on the way back from the BBC Clyde we ran into Louis Smith and Claudia Fragapane! Close behind was BBC Breakfast’s Naga Munchetty.

Happy with that, even though Glasgow was allowing us to literally soak up the atmosphere as the city made sure that the international visitors would have the chance to experience the full range of Scottish rain varieties…

From Clyde at the BBC…

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to Clyde at the Broomielaw…

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then Clyde at Central Station….

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… to Clyde in Buchanan Street.

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We then broke with the Clyde trail and stopped off at the Duke of Wellington for a cone shot, but the gold cone on the Duke of Wellington’s head was out of shot, but we had plenty of cones to make up for that.

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Then off to Clyde at Queens Street.

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We posed for the big G (as opposed to the weegie) in George Square…

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and toned in nicely with the irn-bru shop in the Merchant City…

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before reverting to wur true characters – going for a coffee in Café Gandolfi, before running back out of the city.

I am glad to have been invited to join in and glad I went. Pretty pleased my legs lasted the eight-ish miles of running about in the rain. Grateful to the many willing photographers along the way.

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Yes, I have seen a white whale… #mobydick

Exhausting and exhaustive, “Moby Dick” is everything you ever and everything you never needed to know about whales, whale hunting and whalers. Woven in amongst the encyclopaedic trivia, there is a plot, that I managed to catch in my trawler net.

The narrator, Ishmael, kicks off the novel with an entertaining story about winding up as a bedfellow of Queequeg, an ex-cannibal (he hopes). The pair of them then EVENTUALLY set sail on what is meant to be a whaling trip but turns out to be a personal revenge mission of the “monomanic” Captain Ahab, whose leg was eaten by the white whale, Moby Dick.

As Ahab sails past any other ship, he yells, “Have you seen the white whale?”

I am reading this novel in the searing heat of Gran Canaria, lying on the sunbed for so many hours that my coccyx has gone numb. I lift my eyes to the pool, brilliant and turquoise, full of sharks and whales (and crocodiles) of the inflatable kind and I think, “Yes, I can see plenty of whales.”

I look around at the sunbeds and their occupants. Since we had been there last year, there were two marked differences in our fellow holiday makers. Firstly was the proliferation in tattoos, some reminiscent, perhaps, of Queequeg’s.

I think it would be accurate to say that most men there had given over one arm to shoulder-to-elbow tattoos. Usually these were based on the kind of intricate doodles one might fill a page with during a dull meeting. Some of them were pretty cool, done by skilled artists. I felt a bit bad for some of the others. Pretty much every adult had a tattoo of some kind – from cartoon characters (nice to see Korky the cat) to calligraphy in various languages to large ornate letters that one might find at the start of a chapter of a Lindisfarne gospel. One that kept catching my eye was this mother and daughter combo – the daughter had a tattoo of her mother’s face on her arm and they sat side by side and I looked from the arm to the face from the arm to the face from the arm to the face…

The oddest thing about this tattoo thing is that… one day there was a change over and one flight went home and other arrived – and all those men with half an arm of dense tattoos disappeared and were replaced by largely tattoo-free guys. So, I wonder if it was a geographical quirk and that the population using one airport followed that fashion that hadn’t reached the other regional airport…

ANYWAY (the tattoos are a by the by)

The second difference with our fellow holiday makers was the increase in general obesity. Last year I remember thinking that there was every shape, size and colour of person. This year there was a striking amount of people who seemed to be physically struggling as they moved around, with excess flesh getting in their way as they got on with their daily lives.

Ahab shouts, “Have you seen the white whale?”

And I think, eh, yes – but isn’t that a bit rude to think that way?

Meanwhile on the news the UK are thinking about increasing the amount of gastric band operations to save the NHS money in the long term. Which would help, I am sure.

But these people who end up obese have been living in a country where food producers pack all the food full of sugar – even in “savoury” foods.

There was sugar in my meatballs the other week. There is sugar in my fajita spice mix. Sugar in tomato ketchup. Sugar in pesto sauce – is it just me? – no wonder people are struggling with obesity when our diet – even our bread – is riddled with sugar.

I want a tax on sugar and better labeling.

I tried to give up refined sugar for the month of June. It is pretty much impossible. It is in EVERYTHING when you read the labels. I suppose that’s why everyone interested in healthy eating these days winds up with the “whole foods” approach.

Ahab shouts, “Have you seen the white whale?”

So I look down from the poolside and get back to this white whale that, by now, has become a metaphor for the food industry. Ahab is sure he is getting closer – “There she blows” he cries.

My metaphor doesn’t end well. Not that I want to spoil the plot of Moby Dick for you – but – I have put myself through reading it – there’s no reason you should. (Watch the movie and google the key quotes, I suggest!)


So, Moby Dick (the food industry) manages to destroy everyone and everything, leaving only Ishmael to tell the tale, floating home in Queequeg’s coffin-turned-life-raft, thinking to himself that the moral of the story is – eh, Ahab, it was daft for you to go after Moby Dick. He never came for you and your leg. You were trying to kill him, so why wouldn’t he have bitten your leg off? It was daft to go after him when he had that form and reputation. Which leaves me thinking that the food industry, intent on selling more and more food on the grounds that it is delicious are not worth chasing and stabbing with the harpoons of taxation and regulation – they will just continue to destroy us with their donuts, pastries and hidden sugars. I will set my sail as I was before – avoiding refined sugars and eating “whole foods”, generally.

Let sleeping whales lie, as it were…

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Reflections on a visit to Anne Frank House

Anne Frank was always someone I knew about. Her father, Otto Frank, was on Blue Peter when I was wee, on more than one occasion as I remember – YouYube has a Blue Peter such interview with him.

Then, of course, in my teens I read the diary, and, at one point I went to see a play version of the events. In my twenties I bought “Tales of the Secret Annexe” which contained other writing Anne did while in hiding.

When we went to Amsterdam last month, a visit to Anne Frank House was high on the priority list. We booked our tickets online in advance as we had been advised to do – and this was good advice. A queue that looked hours long snaked away from the house, where the people with internet tickets could press a buzzer and go straight in.

The building has an odd atmosphere. Everyone was very quiet. There were rooms with quotations on the walls from the diary and a few objects to look at as the path led through the building. It took quite some time to get through the business premises and office space up to the famous book case that concealed the entrance to the secret annexe. A big step up into the hiding place.

The emptiness of the airless rooms was again very odd. While it was interesting to be there, you couldn’t help but feel cooped up and longing for daylight – and that was us just passing through for a few minutes – and the people who hid there were there for more than two years.

There are too many half thoughts that were sparked off by the visit, and I haven’t thought them all out properly – so here are a few:

The last quote of the exhibition was from Otto Frank and it was him reflecting on how much he did not know his daughter until he read her diary after her death. I found it interesting to think about how much we can spend time with people and be unaware of the core nature of their character or their thoughts.

It all seemed so recent and so near – that Hitler could convince so many to take part in the oppression of the Jews. Even before the days of the removal of the Jewish people from Amsterdam, there were restrictions in place as if to weaken the resolve of the people and to make them feel less equal than others. Anne stated:

“Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use trams; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own; Jews were required to do their shopping between 3:00 and 5:00 P.M.; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish-owned barbershops and beauty parlors; Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M.; Jews were forbidden to attend theaters, movies or any other forms of entertainment; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields or any other athletic fields; Jews were forbidden to go rowing; Jews were forbidden to take part in any athletic activity in public; Jews were forbidden to sit in their gardens or those of their friends after 8:00 P.M.; Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools, etc.”

This quote struck me as being sickeningly relevant to the world today where various minorities have their choices limited by the will of others. These restrictions placed on the Jewish community really were the beginning of the slippery slope that ended in mass murder. We should really watch out when people are forced to wear certain things; discouraged or banned from going about their daily business. The ban on cultural mixing and mixed education presumably was enforced in order to make people feel different, and with the differences highlighted, fear and suspicion was allowed to breed.

More encouraging was the exhibition about the helpers who managed to keep the people hidden for all that time, fully aware of the risks they were taking in defying the Nazi regime.

And then we drifted through the shop and into the street and went for a cup of tea – into free and democratic Amsterdam, wondering whether there were many others whose time in hiding went undocumented, thankful that the Nazis were defeated, aware that intolerance and hatred are a part of human nature and that we need to always be ready to identify and oppose oppression wherever it may surface next.


Sailing close to the wind

A couple of my recent posts surprised me by their relevance.

I wrote a post giving five reasons I am voting “No” in the referendum. I then got a stat spike and discovered the post had been picked up by a national newspaper as part of their referendum debate. I felt a bit sick. Then it disappeared from their site, and I was disappointed. Then it reappeared, and I was happy to see it back and stopped feeling sick.


I felt that the fact that my post was picked up does prove a little bit of a point about Scotland and its tiny population.

The second post that jumped out to surprise me was “The English Channel?” where I linked to a YouTube of James “Gideon Mack” Robertson. Then the very next week I went to a conference – and at questions, I thought, “My, that voice sounds familiar”! Here’s me listening to him on repeat for a few days and – ta-da – there he is! So I went to say hi. Managed to avoid the line “Love your work” but it came close. Luckily I wasn’t 100% sold on Gideon Mack, or I might have said it…

So, after a phase of teetering on a precipice of relevance, I fell into a contemplative lull.

Hoping to shake myself back to regular posting without ending up back in the national press…


The English Channel?

The BBC News team are doing their wee best to remain impartial in the World Cup news coverage, speaking of their team in the third person – although it was mentioned on Samira Ahmed’s show that some reporters have started saying “Eng-er-land” and sounding like fans, even if they are meant to be just reporting.

I like to watch Samira’s Newswatch show at 7.45 on a Saturday morning, when I have my pre-bootcamp cereal. It wasn’t on today- they were showing a feature about the world cup – but I got it on the iPlayer. Ironically, some of the views expressed were pertaining to the over-coverage of the World Cup. The fact that Newswatch was bumped in favour of someone standing around in Brazil looking excited kind of proved that point.

This week a gem of a YouTube came my way: “The News Where You Are”. The persona adopted is that of a News anchor based, in all likelihood, in London. The piece explores the subtext of the phrase “The News Where You Are” that the anchor says at the end of the news, before the channel cuts to the regions for the news there. I suppose James Robertson is perhaps making the point that Scotland is a nation, and if we were independent, it would be “The News”, as opposed to “The News Where You Are”? Here’s the clip:

It reminded me very much of Tom Leonard’s poem, “This is the six o’clock news” aka Unrelated Incidents No 3.  Here, Leonard’s persona speaks with a Scottish accent, but is saying perhaps what an English news reader would be saying or thinking. The news anchor is explaining that he speaks with a BBC accent (an English accent) so as to give the news the gravitas and credulity that comes along with the accent. This is undermined by the voice of the poem being phonetic Scots. Great poem.

So, Eng-er-land have their first match tonight. If I can stay awake I’ll watch it.

I’ll be interested to see how the impartial news reporters convey any success or failure during the following morning’s news.

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