Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Wild Goose Chase to a Dead End

We went on a daft hike to the middle of nowhere today as we parked at the wrong car park.

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So much so, that after a couple of hours of hiking to the middle of nowhere and back, we retreated to base and took some time off for some lunch. In the afternoon I ventured forth again with the one (not all that ) willing child and tried the other car park and hey – it was the right one. Phew.

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We found what I had been looking for  - the chambered Cairn of Corrimony. It is a huge cairn with a tunnel into a chamber in the centre. Around the outside are twelve smallish standing stones. The cairn was built 4000 years ago as a burial mound for someone. I was interested that the information thing about it mentioned “cup marks” in relation to markings on what would have been the roof.

20140417-082539 pm.jpgCup-marks get a mention in Seamus Heaney’s poem “Funeral Rites”. He is writing about the Troubles and the funerals that take place after each “neighbourly murder” and he says that he would turn back time so far that the funeral rituals would predate the conflict: – here’s a quote:

I would restore

the great chambers of Boyne,
prepare a sepulchre
under the cupmarked stones.

In the poem he makes a quiet suggestion of unity through perhaps breaking the cycle of the feuds:

imagining those under the hill

disposed like Gunnar
who lay beautiful
inside his burial mound,
though dead by violence

and unavenged.

 

Interesting that the burial mound he was referring to in in Ireland, and this one is in the Highlands of Scotland, but the cup-marks and the basic structure of the mound was similar – although the one at Newgrange is much bigger.

As interesting as the cairn was, I was more interested in putting the standing stones to a 21st century use. I am doing a 15-burpees-every-day-challenge for the next fortnight, so I did a burpee at every standing stone in a circle (and a few extra) as my fifteen burpees for the day.
today’s burpees
I was glad to have found the cairn.

I like cairns.

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard from Drumnadrochit

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We were doing a spot of Nessie hunting, looking out from the prime Nessie-spotting spot at Urquhart Castle (known to the children as “Blake Castle” because it appeared in “Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster” as the ancestral home of Daphne. )

Haven’t seen her so far, but there is plenty of loch so Nessie could well be hiding in one of her secret caves. We went to the two Nessie tourist places today – the well funded ‘scientific’ skeptic one and the home-grown, less scientific one (that smells REALLY odd)  and left none the wiser ;-) but with a faint resolve to re-watch Ted Danson’s “Loch Ness” at some point in the future.

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Urquhart Castle was looking good. Unbelievably good weather.

Wish you were here, as it were.

 

#Noah terribly biblical movie, it turns out.

Just in from seeing Noah at the movies, with my son. He declared it “Amazing”, but conceded that it wasn’t terribly biblical – especially the rock monsters, the crazy people trying to get on the boat, the bad guy getting on the boat and the lack of wives, generally.

It’s yet another of those movies that, if I had directed it, it would have been different. But I didn’t. I’d have had a lot more carry on on board with the animals, whereas this Noah managed to put them into drug-induced-hibernation-comas for the duration of the flood, which meant that a whole lot of questions were skipped over – the feeding, the breeding, the inevitable clashes between the herbivores and the carnivores. I’d have had a lot more animal action. Might have affected the certificate, right enough.

And Shem, Ham and Japheth would all have had wives from the outset, to save that – “eh, Noah, won’t we be needing more wives?” – question recurring – flying in the face of my extensive bible trivia that there were eight people on the ark – not the seven people in this version – one of whom being an injured stowaway who manages to keep shtum and survive on what would now be extinct species…

But the good bits? The flood – although it was way too short. We didn’t get the 40 days and 40 nights feeling that I think we should have had. The preamble with the rock monsters and the general angst took away what I figure should have been a study in cabin fever.

Anthony Hopkins was an absolute joy as Methuselah. It was worth seeing for his input alone.

There was a great creation section in the middle, also, that I imagine people will be using in other contexts from now on.

However – and here is the spoiler if you haven’t seen it and want to, so look away now – the whole thing rested on an interesting idea.

In the movie – not the bible – Noah believes that his job is to save the animals to populate the world after the flood – not the human race. He sees his youngest, Japheth, as “the last man”. Hence the lack of wives, and lack of perceived necessity of wives, hence the lack of the eight people on the ark. He thinks it is God’s plan to wipe out sinful mankind and leave only the animals – the innocents – to enjoy the world. His love for his own people overcomes him and he allows humanity to continue. And he feels bad about it.

Then it ended as I would have it: the naked drunkenness scene, which they perhaps surprisingly did bother to include – and an acknowledgement that Noah’s family and descendents were and would be living because of the Creator’s mercy, not because of their own righteousness.

And a rainbow.

I really like the story of Noah. It is so environmentally conscious. The preciousness of each animal all the more clear because of the limited nature of Noah’s microcosm. I love the rainbow at the end which symbolizes the grace that humans live under – we don’t deserve any of this creation, this life – these creatures, landscapes, relationships – but yet here we are – living our lives in a time of grace.

As a presentation of a biblical epic – it was epic, but not terribly biblical.

 

Book Review: The #Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Central to this novel is the painting, “The Goldfinch” by  Carel Fibritus. Following Tracy Chevalier in her “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and Susannah Kaysen with “Girl Interrupted” (at her music), Donna Tartt has taken a work of art and woven a novel around it. In “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, the actual painting of the painting takes place in the novel. In “Girl Interrupted”, the writer sees the painting in a museum and sees it as a metaphor for part of her life.  Fabritus’s painting is of a small bird with a fine chain keeping it near its perch. In “The Goldfinch” the painting is physically involved in the plot, but is also a metaphor for the life of the narrator Theodore Decker as he finds himself living a paradox of life and constraint.

I liked the opening of the novel, not least because it was set in a hotel room in Amsterdam – and I have plans to go there soon, so I was kind of hoping that our character would go to some nice cafes and sample some tasty cheeses, like a personal travel pioneer. Instead, the narrator took us back to his childhood and to the incident that shattered his life and set him on the road that led him to the hotel room in Amsterdam.

 

!Maybe this bit is a spoiler!

I don’t think this is a spoiler. It happens very near the start. It is the inciting moment for the whole book. The narrator is caught up in a terrorist attack on a museum. It is very well crafted and very surreal. In the chaos of the aftermath, he leaves the scene with instructions from a dying man and a priceless painting. The plot of the novel therefore follows the fate of the boy and the painting, with the reader aware that this will ultimately lead him to Amsterdam.

 

!This isn’t a spoiler!

The good thing about the novel was that I didn’t see the twist coming, so that was good.

 

!This might be!

!Unlikely though!

The novel starts in NYC and then the boy moves to Las Vegas, Nevada. This section seems to go on and on and on, in a spiral of boredom, neglect, drug and alcohol abuse and social isolation. The narrator’s family is beyond dysfunction – mirroring the failed development he lives on, with empty homes and a general bankruptcy, both literal and metaphorical. While reading this, the reader does doubt the necessity of all of this bleakness and profound emptiness, but, with hindsight, all of this wasted time in the middle of the novel allowed for Tartt to set up the twist I didn’t see coming.

I am surprised, though, that the publisher didn’t take a shredder to a considerable percentage of the novel; a touch of the JK Rowling in the inclusion of inoffensive but extraneous pages. I suppose one could argue that the many many pages devoted to the emptiness of the narrator’s life were a structural metaphor for that emptiness. But I think the reader got the point.

(Speaking of JK Rowling, there was a total intertextual echo of the mirror of Erised.)

 

However, my favourite bit about the book was probably the narrator’s questioning of the ‘be true to yourself’ thing that the world likes:

 

“How do we know what’s right for us? Every shrink, every career counselor, every Disney Princess knows the answer: “Be yourself.” “Follow your heart.”

Only here’s what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What happens if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted -?”

 

Exactly.

 

 

 

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Borrowed, and Lent

I am borrowing this post from another website, but then, I lent them it…

 

… in which I take a last turn on the Helter Skelter at the Roukie… #roukenglen

Rouken Glen are getting new play equipment. This is, of course, “a good thing”. Apart from the fact that the YouTube animation thing has a SPELLING MISTAKE in it, it looks okay. It’ll be an ‘Adenture Playscape’ apparently. Bring your own dentures?

ANYWAY

People on the fb are positive about the changes – despite the loss of the play area while it is redone – but the nostalgic fuddy-duddy within me would like, for a moment, to selfishly lament the imminent loss of the Helter Skelter.

It is a piece of history. While the park launched today a focus on Archaeology for the next year, this ancient monument to childhood will be taken away, never to be dug up by future generations.

The helter skelter is a rite of passage. It is the site of the making of many a young mother/parent/carer in East Renfrewshire.

Your baby, now toddler, decides they want to have a go. They make their snotty way to the bottom step. If you are me, they fall, split their chin and give you the opportunity to go check out the first aid facilities in the Pavilion. (It was a blue paper towel… but this was in the olden days, before the Pavilion was the spruced up venue it is today…)

TAKE TWO…

So, your baby, now toddler, decides they want to have a go and they make their way up the triangular steps, alone, in a line of bigger, stronger, more hardy, insensitive, socially inept children…. How will they cope?

The mother stands at the bottom, shielding her eyes from the… sun? (Hardly likely… ) rain?… and watches the ascent of her precious, precious child.

Of course, they reach the top and…. decide they don’t want to come down after all. They stand there, coming to terms with all they survey, and all they survey is a great height, a slippery slope, gravity, and a tiny mum far, far down and down, round the bend and, increasingly, round the bend.

They are frozen.

The queue of children behind them begin to puff and blow. The mum begins to instruct the child, in pretence of light-hearted encouragement: “Sit down, on you go,” while looking nervously at the other mums, dads, grannies, childminders all awaiting the great moment when your child bites the bullet and goes.

And they don’t.

Then another child in the queue will threaten to ‘help’.

Then an adult will look at you with an evil glare and say something like, ‘What are you going to do?’

And you look back, thinking, eh… wait until they crack and come down?

And for me, at this moment, on more than one occasion I was seven months pregnant or so with the next one.

Oh the shame of having to go up after them when you can’t fit!

And once you have been through this pantomime a good few times per child, away they go. Up and round and round and down. Repeat to fade.

And you become one of the mums with the evil glare and places to be and things to do, with no patience for snotty grotty toddlers whose carers should realize that it is a totally high chute and they are too wee for it.

So, just in case it was my last opportunity before it gets carted off to the scrapyard, I had a go. In a happy role reversal, I had a go while my son took pics of me coming down.

We are past the helter skelter stage now. And the mothers of babes in arms just now will never have that Rouken-Glen-parental-fail moment that we had, back in the day.

Will there be an equivalent, I wonder, when the Adenture playscape opens in July?

I suspect that it will be great, for the next generation – but it will lack that opportunity to petrify in terror, higher up than you ever thought you’d get.

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“Church was great today.”

This was my facebook status, and a friend asked, in the comments: “What was so good today? What was your favorite worship song?”

I couldn’t think of a pithy encapsulating response, so here’s a longwinded one. (You did ask!) ( I’m skipping the worship song question. That’s a whole other potential post.)

(But before that, a qualifying quibble. When people say they were at a service and ‘the worship was excellent’ I immediately turn into a theological cul-de-sac where I think, eh, God’ll be the judge of that, surely.)

I love the church that I attend. I love the fact that it is a real community with real people who physically turn up and see each other on a weekly basis, in person, for weeks, months and years on end. Like, years. Decades, even.

And as life goes on the people have, between them, every type of life experience that it is possible to have in Scotland: employment, unemployment, redundancy, bereavement, joy, illnesses of all kinds, recovery, births, engagements, marriages, deaths, separation, divorce, worries about family, worries about relationships, worries about friends, worries about society, fun, parties, meals, loneliness, learning difficulties, traumatic events, perfectly mundane moments, low self esteem, hospitalization, disability, education, catastrophic health events, wrangles with self, life, death, the universe, everything…

And, having attended the same church for many years, I have seen the people there repeatedly form into a safety net, catching each other when they fall.

Of course, it isn’t flawless. The church is made up of humans. And we are thoughtless, careless and have a tendency to occasionally say, do or think the wrong thing to one another. Sometimes the forgiveness mechanisms get a bit clogged up and personalities struggle to get along. But turning up builds community; working together aids understanding and having the same ultimate goal means that the community can work.

So, why was church ‘great today’?

We were looking at 2 Corinthians – the end of chapter 4 and the start of chapter 5.

This passage speaks into the very heart of the human condition and provides hope. Which is great.

There are great things about being alive, but death is a certainty. Sooner or later, we die. For many people death is seen as a big full stop, after which the book is closed. For the Christian, for me, for the church: it’s a semi-colon.

Today, looking at the passage in 2 Corinthians shows that Christian faith does not shy away from life’s realities, but provides the way through. Human frailty is countered by God’s power. A perspective is offered that makes the experience of human life make sense – even if just for a wee moment of clarity – when we learn to live by faith and not by sight.

In a time when people think it is utterly mental to have faith, it is so encouraging to hear again God’s message, and for it to tally so closely with one’s reality, one’s experience of life personally and as a community, and as a world.

So, that was great.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians ch 4 vs 16-18

Maybe to some this will read like mystical tripe, but I like it, and I think it’s true. I hope the hope in there…. gives you hope.

… in which Alex Salmond morphs into Leonardo Di Caprio at every turn… #indyref

I think that perhaps the independence thing is dead in the water. A little like Jay Gatsby at the end of the story, floating lifeless in the pool.

Maybe the SNP tumbled short of their own dream. You see, I thought the idea was for an independent country to be, like, independent. But the SNP decided that the best thing currency-wise post-independence would be to keep the pound and have a formal currency union with the rest of the UK. Fiscal Union. So, not all that independent, then.

I thought it would have been kind of cool to maybe go with the dollar, and become a wee state… rather than a pure state, as it were …

And then, all – ALL the posh boys at Westminster said that Scotland couldn’t have its pound cake and eat it. They weren’t for sharing. We cannot have a fiscal union. So, that idea is dead in the water.

And in response to the “you can’t share our currency” jibe from the South, Salmond hits back with “yes we can” – which gives me, on the one hand Bob the Builder and on the other hand gives me chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby, when Tom Buchanan says that he is not going to share his wife with, or lose his wife to Gatsby. And Gatsby says the Jazz age equivalent of “yes we can” – but it all goes all tumbleweed and awkward and, our narrator tells us “the dead dream fought on”…

And that’s what it feels like now. Every day it seems that another nail is put in the independence coffin; every day another rat puts in a formal notice of intention to leave the sinking ship in the event of it hitting the iceberg of a Yes majority – and Di Caprio hangs on for dear life to the – whatever it is he uses as a float until he sacrifices himself for Rose (is it a door or a deck chair?… anyway)…

Now, of course, there are Salmond’s confident rebuttals of all these portents of doom. Most of them seem to boil down to him being right and everyone else is lying.

And I can’t help but think of all of the great characters in literature that stumbled over their inability to face reality.

There was the other clanger that was dropped on the Yes campaign – one main hope for an independent Scotland is that it would be a voice for itself in Europe. And then someone high up in Europe said  – eh, you won’t be able to join.

Salmond’s response was along the lines of: yes we will.

So, while it is good to see people standing up for what they believe in, it is depressing to see people begin to ‘beat on, boats against the current’ when… at the moment… we have the pound, and we are in Europe, which are  - I understand – what the Yes campaign want, in some respects. And if there’s a Yes vote – those are the two things that are looking a bit wobbly.

I don’t think the Yes campaign will find it easy to sway any undecideds with the flow of anti-independence declarations being made by various companies as time goes on.

As I suspected I might, I find the whole debate dull and compelling in equal measure. Can’t wait until it’s over.

 

Book Review: “Whit” by Iain Banks

This was a very entertaining novel.

The story is narrated by Isis Whit, a leader in a Scottish cult, started by her grandfather, that reveres those born on 29th February. She is sent on a mission to retrieve her cousin Morag from London because she has lost her faith, and is refusing to come to the cult’s Festival Of Love (that takes place every fourth May in order to maximize the chances of a birth on 29th February).

We follow Isis to London and watch her attempts to cope with ‘normal’ society. Isis is a very appealing character with a strange mix of skill and incompetence when it comes to dealing with life. She managed to get herself into a few ridiculous scrapes on her wild goose chase, before her grandmother (who has left the cult) comes to her aid.

What I liked about this novel was Banks’s use of differing registers for different characters. Everyone seemed to speak like a caricature. Isis’s language stands out against those who are not in the cult. In conversations she sounded extremely formal, archaic and as if she were entrenched in religious jargon. Here, for example, her language is in contrast to Roadkill – her cousin’s girlfriend:

“As an officer of the Luskentyrian Sect I’m empowered to officiate at all religious ceremonies including marriages, and there is a precedent for the officiating cleric himself – or herself – being one of the parties to the marriage.”

“Freaky,” Roadkill said.

Isis’s cousin, Zeb, only speaks in minor sentences. His monosyllabic conversation again contrasts with Isis’s long-windedness. The Luskentyrians do not eat animals that walk on two legs, such as chicken. Zeb wonders whether or not Kangaroos are fair game:

“My pal,” Zeb said. “Ozzie. Had Some. Said. Like. Great. Best meat. Ever tasted. Lean. Delicious. Totally. Brutal. Brilliant. Really.”

“Hmm, I said. “In that case I’d probably err on the side of generosity; I have always been of the opinion that God does not normaly make things appetizing for no good reason.”

Isis has cause, to resolve the novel, to undertake some urgent academic research. She calls on another relative who Banks characterizes as a stereotype of a Glaswegian student for assistance. I thought this speech was great (if a little unfair to Glaswegian students…) as a stereotype:

“You wanna do this now? Aw, rats, man! This is Saturday, Is! We have to go out and get steamin’ and listen to jazz and stuff and do a pub crawl or come back here and drink cans and bet on football scores and go out and get paralytic and get black pudding suppers and chips and go to the QMU and dance like maniacs and try and get off with nurses and end up back here having an impromptu soiree, like as not and throw up in the garden and throw things out of the window and call for a pizza and play bowls in the hall with empty cans!”

Isis was a great character, a flawed narrator and a truly decent person. The book poked fun at religious legalism and championed common decency which is no bad thing.

I have focused on the lighter side of this book, but it dealt with all kinds of darker moments – sexual exploitation, moral bankruptcy, deception and power/control.

If the novel had a weakness it was that it depended a little too heavily on coincidence. On two occasions what ‘happened’ to be on the TV were game changers. But hey. I’ll forgive those… as they were part of the point, I suspect.

:-)

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Racing ambitiously through Philippians, hoping to hone hope…

So far in my exploration of ambition, I have concluded that it is important to be content with what you have. It is also ‘a good thing’; to have ambitions that help other people; selfish ambitions are ultimately destructive.

All along I have been hoping to get to the Apostle Paul and in particular in his letter to the Christians in Philippi. What has he got to say to them about ambition?

The first hope mentioned is this:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…”

This is a hope for others – and a hope for their good. I like the setting the bar high in the “abound more and more” in terms of knowledge and insight for them. He wants them to be able to figure out good ambitions and plans with perfection as a goal – “pure and blameless”. There’s a high bar to aim for!

Here is a perfect balance of the egotistical and the egalitarian fighting within Paul:

“… I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith…”

Here he talks about what he wants personally, perhaps selfishly – that he has had enough and wants to die and enjoy heaven – but he can see that his role is to be egalitarian.

He then goes on to instruct the recipients of the letter to do the same:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Which is what he has just done himself – but he is not saying they should follow his example:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…”

Again we have this idea of a tension between one’s own ambition and the service of others. Paul holds up Jesus as the ideal model to follow, encouraging the recipients to take on “the nature of a servant” of others.

Another example that Paul holds up is his protégé Timothy:

“I have no one else like him who takes an interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”

I think the implication here is that the interests of Jesus Christ that Paul refers to are concerned with the “welfare” of the Philippians. Paul seems to find that this “nature of a servant” is hard to come by in people. People generally are selfish.

Paul then comes to a great crescendo in his letter when he writes about his great ambition. The passage begins:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

Here Paul has clearly had his world and value system turned upside down. He has given up everything material and found it to be worth it, in exchange for “the surpassing worth knowing Christ Jesus”. He continues with a clear statement of his ambition:

“I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

His ambition is clear in “I want to know Christ” – but then he separates out the strands of that ambition and what it would mean for him – and as ambitions go, it is certainly mixed! On the plus side, he hopes for power and life. On the down side he also hopes to suffer and approach death like Christ.

Is this a selfish ambition? He wants power and resurrection. It cannot be selfish, surely, to suffer and die? And anyway, he had already concluded that although he would rather die and experience a resurrection – he is sacrificing this, for the time being, for the welfare of the Philippians.

I really like the next section. It has imagery of reaching sporting/athletic goals:

…forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

He sounds very focused, with his hopes set high. He sounds like a runner who can see the finish line a way out in front – and he wants to win – he is ambitious – straining and pressing on.

There is an interesting contrast that he makes with the ambitions that clash with this idealistic and extreme worldview. I think he is still talking about people who technically are followers of his faith, but who set a poor example:

“… Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”

Paul then rounds off his letter with his claim to have:

 “…learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

What do I learn from Paul, in terms of ambition?

He did not look to himself for inner strength – he looked to God for strength to  reach the goals set by God. He had the bar set extremely high – beyond his human strength.

He encouraged his readers to look beyond earthly, physical, materialistic life to greater ideas:

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

He followed the example of Christ’s selflessness and was encouraged by Timothy’s attitude of service.

So, to answer my original question a few posts ago: Ambition – nice or horrible?

Selfish ambition is horrible.

Ambitions that drive us on to lives of service and virtue are nice.

Discontentedness is horrible.

Contentment and altruism are nice.

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