Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Circus, a poem


The Big Top is like a hot air balloon
that has landed in the snow.

Inside, we’re flooded with red light
in the bloody glow of carnival.

There are no animals here –
no scent of horses or elephants
no cruel incongruities of
syncronised species –

But I still see them, as I wait –
Straight off the pages
of “Mr Galliano’s Circus”
Into my ring:

…Lotta rides the horses,
Sure footed on their backs.
Jimmy trains Lucky the dog
To spell her own name
By rubbing meat on the letters,
And the monkey lies inert
In the tiger’s cage…

But here, it’s a human show:
gymnastic slapstick
builds fun towards spectacle.

Wonder at skill and elegance
in a moment is
fear
at what one slip would mean:

A young girl suspends herself
from the heights of the tent,
by an ankle.

They spin, turn and jump:
neatly for awe or
badly for comedy or
at height for drama and
in numbers and costume for spectacle.

We eat our own contraband Jelly Babies
And ration our smuggled water,
And wonder what their lives are like
When we all go home –

To where all this is what is on the TV
Rather than real life, three times a day

For crowds of people who
give a sudden laugh
a gasp of wonder
or wince with sudden horror

at the thought of a broken body
that at any time
is just an inch away.

Starting from Scratch; perspectives on progress #ezra

Many years ago – before the time of Christ – the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken into exile in Babylon.

Years later, with a change in the Persian monarchy to a sympathetic king, the people were instructed to go back home and rebuild their way of life from the ruins.

They got back to Jerusalem and lay the foundation of their temple once more:

“And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”

Then Ezra noted this reaction that I find interesting:

“But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”

I think the contrast in perspectives is interesting. People of the same community working towards the same goals – but the generation gap and the passage of time mean that their reactions to current events are very different.

The older people could remember how things were before. By starting from scratch they were perhaps reminded of how much more work would have to be done to get things back to their former glory. Maybe they were distressed by memories of the destruction of the temple and their removal to Babylon. Perhaps they were simply weary. Alternatively their grief from years before may have been reawakened when faced with this fresh start.

The younger people are shouting for joy and the progress that has been made. From their perspective, things are on the up. From living in exile, they have been set free. They have been given the right to set up the temple according to their beliefs. They are being encouraged to express themselves as they wish. They have been given a chance to start over, in the place they call home – and at this moment they have reached another milestone – the foundations are laid. It all seems positive to them.

This is the verse I like; this is my favourite verse from the book of Ezra:

“No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”

It makes me think of a concert with the crowd being whipped up by some DJ or lead singer saying “Come on people, let’s make some noise!”

For those nearby with no emotional or political connection to the events going on, it is simply noise when the people are shouting for joy or weeping aloud – it is neither here nor there to them.

For those involved, the stage they are at as a community is hugely significant for them, but there is a clash of optimism and pessimism with excitement at new beginnings in contrast to grief and hindsight.

When faced with a fresh start, or a return to square 1, how should one react? Do we think back and grieve past injustices and look wearily into the near future, or do we look at the fresh foundations and get excited about what happens next?

I am not sure that the two groups in the story could have reacted any differently – they either had the experience of the destruction and exile or they didn’t.

But they both shared the experience of starting from scratch and beginning again.

I just liked the verse:

“No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.”

Maybe this is my ‘new year’ post. (a little late)

Whether we are feeling jaded and weary or excited and optimistic about whatever’s coming next…

Come on people, let’s make some NOISE!…

Never in a Month of Run Days…   #fitbit #marcothon #boring

… did I think I would become a fitness bore, but it has happened. I even irritate myself. *yawns*

I may not have got any faster, I certainly haven’t got any lighter, but I am definitely the fittest I have ever been in my 42 and three quarter years. (Except for my right calf.)

(Not that you are interested. I sure wouldn’t be, if I were you, most likely.)

As a friend once said, “You weren’t always ‘this’ person…”

So, I did a month of run days for the Marcothon, just for fun. It was fun and I did it: perfect daily justification for posting a selfie, a weather comment, and, after Santa had been, some stats.

But who wants to know?

Sad thing is, I am interested in everyone else’s weather comments, selfies and stats.

I want to know.

I want to know who burned how many calories, ran in the rain, found a new route, suffered a chafe, got a pb, felt great, struggled, found a new running window, ran in the light, ran in the dark, ran before, during or after work, on a road, canal path or up a hill…

I got a fitbit gadget for Christmas. It tells me everything. Fire me forwards a hundred years and I am in a dystopia with a dictatorial microchip… but for now, I can take it off. I can.

So far, it works. One evening I found myself running on the spot as I was a couple of hundred steps short of the 10,000 target. Today I did a 30 minute work out in the house so as to keep to my five-active-days-a-week plan. I’m even going to ‘go dark’ techwise a little earlier so that I can have a chance of meeting my sleep aims…

So, that’s been a week… maybe my Pharisee Phitness will wear off…

Would you rather go for a night out or go running in the rain every day for a month?

It’s that time of year when there are things on to go to. Months in advance, nights out seem like a good idea. As they loom into immediacy, sometimes you wish you hadn’t signed up.

I’ve learned my lesson though.

When the Christmas Night Out is advertised at work, I’ve been there enough times to realise that what you don’t want is to eat an overpriced meal at an overcrowded table, rotating your plate to get to the food because your elbow to elbow with the next person and then there’s dancing. Eek. And then the low point of the night – standing about in Glasgow in the rain at midnight with the rest of Glasgow waiting for a taxi while you just wish you’d driven. Or not gone.

One only has to do this a few times before you think: let’s have a meal out in November instead.

I went out this November. To a posh thing. 

  
For someone like me, this takes a couple of months’ worth of preparation. I had to source a dress I could fit into, shoes that were dressy and functional for walking – and for once – I even had to go there with the hair and make up. It reminded me very much of the preparation for the Deerstalker last March – when I had to get the head torch and good gloves and kit that wouldn’t chafe.

With both events – you only have to get yourself to the start line in the right kit. Anything that happens after that is fine – part of the rich tapestry. I figured that if I got out at the hotel looking like I was going to the function I was going to, I had won the race, so to speak. (But did I get a goody bag with a protein bar and a new and highly useful piece of seamless headgear? No.) (Actually, they gave me a champagne glass in a gift box… ho hum…).

People generally like socialising. But for me, normal socialising is ironically the worst way for me to get to know people. I need a working/active context. I can’t function in a context of entertainment and enjoyment. I am too short to speak to anyone if there’s music on. I don’t dance. I have nothing to say. In my niche of obscurity I have plenty to say, but in a general melee I have no idea. None. Zip. I don’t know anything that has happened in popular culture in the last twenty years and the bit before that is getting a bit hazy. Common ground is hard to find unless you are doing sit ups on it, I find.

So, when faced with a night out, I think to myself, can we not just meet at the bottom of a mountain in a storm and go up it?

Anyway, as we head off into the rich tapestry of December, I hope you enjoy the events you signed up for. I’ve signed up for Marcothon (running three miles every day for the whole of December for no reason) which I am enjoying so far.

  

Have a happy Advent!

 

Mosque Trip

I went to visit a mosque as a parent helper on a school trip. I was quite excited.

I was surprised to see how twitchy I was about getting the physical-appearance etiquette right. Some, in fact all of the hijab tutorials online were totally too tricky, so I went with the scarf over head with the ends flipped back. Seemed to go okay. I also got agitated about the leg thing – as I don’t have any trousers that aren’t jeans and I don’t have any skirts or dresses that are below the knee. And then it turned out that shoulders are to be covered too. So I managed to cobble together a dodgy dress and leggings combo and felt okay about it.

Thing was, the guy at the mosque didn’t seem fussed about the appearance thing. It was us that were twitching to get taking our shoes off and keen to get our scarves on and worrying about who was allowed on what carpet.

In the foyer to the mosque you could see the foundations of the minaret and the kids, being kids, were intent on playing sardines in it. Fortunately the mosque guy swiftly took us away into the first room of the tour before the sardines got stuck.

The main feature of the room was a display screen with all the prayer times for the day listed. He went through all of the prayer times and when people would be expected to turn up.

The next room was the wash room for the men. He said that with no washing there could be no prayer. He said that the water had to be pure and had to be checked during the ritual for its colour, taste and smell.

The next room was an absolutely enormous room with a carpet with stripes to indicate the lines people would pray on. He explained one part of the wall was an alcove to show the direction of Mecca and all the people could face that way. He showed us the inside of the dome and explained its original function as mediaeval air conditioning. He explained about the Koran and that how so many people had memorized it that even if there were some huge calamity the Koran cannot be lost. There were about five clocks on a board – again, I think they were the different prayer times.

Above the prayer room was a large balcony space for women to come and pray, should they wish. He explained that women were not under the obligation to come and pray, but that they had the option, whereas the men were expected to come.

The atmosphere was very open and accessible.

One contrast with Christianity that struck me came through the words of Paul: “you are not under the law, but under grace”. I think I am right in saying that Islam means “submission” – and that would fit with the expectations and rituals that were explained. There is an expectation that the adherents will submit to the laws and the rituals – the ways of doing things.

In Christianity there is the idea of grace which releases the believer from the law – but the question is then raised: “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” – there is the temptation in Christianity to abuse the freedom that grace brings to excuse sinful behaviour. The idea is supposed to be that instead of keeping God’s laws to try to win favour with God, one keeps God’s laws as a voluntary response of love – with no expectation that this makes a blind bit of difference. I think.

For all the mosque was the centre of a different culture and religion than mine, the whole place was still intensely Scottish and Glaswegian. The Central Mosque is a familiar part of the city skyline, and the feeling of the building was not unlike that of many other public and community spaces. It was very open and has a clear ethos of trying to support the local Muslim community in their efforts to maintain strong families and to continue the faith into the next generation.

And as we drove away my head was buzzing with ideas about the value of family, the roles of women, the place of ritual and the value of traditions.

All very interesting. I am glad I went.

Feeling Conflicted at Dunrobin Castle and a little like Maria Von Trapp in the Highlands

For some reason – the jet stream splitting, apparently – the Scottish summer has shifted this year to the middle of October. It has been absolutely great: bright sun, blue sky, clear views…

We headed sufficiently north so that the SatNav choked on Drumnadrochit and gave up entirely on Tomnahurich Street.

In its last week before it shuts for the winter, we went to Dunrobin Castle. It is my favourite Scottish castle, architecturally. Amazing turrets. Disney should weep.

While I love the physical castle, other aspects of it don’t sit so well with me.

When the Countess of Sutherland cleared her lands of crofters and replaced them with sheep, it was Dornoch Castle that was the centre of power in those days. Maybe if I hadn’t read “The Desperate Journey” in Primary 6, I wouldn’t have felt icky going through the castle – stuffed full of spectacular antiques, many of which were stuffed animal heads.

Worse than the imposing stag in the hallway were several African animal rugs – leopard, tiger and lion, with the heads still attached, staring glassily up from the floor.

Worse still is the “Museum” in the grounds of the castle where the Dukes of Sutherland displayed the spoils of their trophy hunting expeditions to Africa. Most appalling/striking is the giraffe’s neck and head that greet you in the first room, rearing up from the floor, as if the rest of the giraffe was standing in the basement with its head through a hole in the basement ceiling. Alas no.

After months of the world thrashing out what it thinks about trophy hunting, such a place is a house of horrors. Perhaps the hunters of the past two centuries had little idea of their impact – and no way to show people what they had seen without bringing home the heads…. but still… I struggle to see why a landowner from the north of Scotland saw fit to go abroad and bring back heads of gazelles, an elephant, a bit of a porcupine – and countless other pieces.

But then, here am I, a tourist a hundred years later paying an entry fee and seeing these things and writing about it. A spectacular collection – but grotesque and sad.

After the visit to the castle we took the chance to run/walk up Ben Bhraggie from Golspie. At the top of the track there is a huge statue of the first duke of Sutherland looking out over his lands.

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Beautiful views from the top.IMG_0564

We went on a good few walks on this holiday. The site “walkhighlands” is a great way to find semi-beaten tracks. The views were so clear with the weather. And the children run and skip up the hills like fit wee goats, and I side-step into the Sound of Music as we climb a few hills/mountains and consider fording streams and deciding against it.

And I spent a bit of time half-heartedly looking for Nessie because I had such a good view for it.

Jigsaw Peace: The Picture on the Box (World Peace and How to Achieve it)

In Miss Congeniality, the Beauty Queens are asked what important thing society needs – they know that the answer is “World Peace”. Our protagonist has a different suggestion, but she remembers to toe the line and mention world peace in the end.

But are there other priorities that get in the way of World Peace? If there is a Picture on the Box of My Peace Jigsaw, what does it look like?

If we take the “absence of war” definition, then the picture has no weapons, no conflicting ideologies, no invasions of others’ lands or territories.

If we take the “state of calm/lack of stress” definition the world suddenly looks like a very lazy place. I wonder if work precludes peace? I hope not.

In Isaiah 11 there is a description of a peaceful kingdom of which this is just a short extract (be relieved – I was sorely tempted to analyse the whole chapter!):

The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

It’s a vision that clashes so much with the way things are. With a bear and a cow we would fully expect the cow to be attacked, but in the peaceful kingdom, natural enemies allow their young to mix, to relax, to “lie down together”. To do that is surely a sign of unquestioning trust, that the other party has no ill will.

The natural predator, the lion has also given up that part of his nature that wounds and kills. In the peaceful kingdom, those in power don’t use their natural might to oppress others – there’s a picture of voluntary equality. The lion’s supremacy is put to the side for peace.

A third pairing – the child and the snake are described. There are immediate echoes of Genesis when the child and the snake were pitted against each other; when the snake was cursed, God said:

“You will crawl on your belly

and you will eat dust

all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

and you will strike his heel.

In the peaceful kingdom this curse is lifted. Where we would see the incident and give an intake of breath waiting for the inevitable bite and cry, in the peaceful kingdom there is only harmony.

So, what would world peace look like? For us it would look like a powder keg ready to go up – enemies sitting side by side. We would hold our breath and expect the worst. In our world, when this happens, we expect trouble – we would probably try to keep enemies apart to avoid a scuffle.

The animals and the child in the vision of the peaceful kingdom seem to have forgotten the animosity of generations.

Maybe that’s a strategy to try.

Partial Warrior (Ironic deviation from Peace theme…)

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I “completed” Total Warrior Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago with a great team.

There were some really good mud obstacles, but far too many daft walls that were way too high to get over unless one was lobbed over in ungainly fashion by a burly bloke. So I walked round a few. Which would be considered cheating if I wasn’t convinced I could actually get over them. I just had had enough of climbing over them.

The other “fails” for me were the three opportunities to end up landing in water. I still can’t do that. So I missed the long jump, the jumping over fire and the monkey bars over water – although I swam the monkey bar obstacle just to give myself a wee rinse as I was a bit caked.

I was very happy in “the plunge” obstacle, as I thought, on approach, that it would be filled with ice like the “arctic enema” from Tough Mudder – but no, it was just water – and most welcome.

Total Warrior was cold, it was wet, it was muddy  –  and the two McChicken sandwiches I had for lunch afterwards were most welcome.

Second Peace Jigsaw Piece: Pictures of Peace

For millenia, we have had the concept of peace – despite the fact that for the same length of time we have managed to wage countless wars and generate countless conflicts.

But the concept remains.

Out of the ancient world comes our first symbol of peace – the olive branch. When we “hold out the olive branch” we want to end a disagreement.

The olive branch then gets picked up by the dove in the story of Noah:

“He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.”

When the dove comes back with the olive leaf in its mouth, it became a symbol for the coming of peace – the tumult is over and peace is on its way.

The story of Noah also contains another symbol that has evolved through the centuries. At the end of the flood, God puts the rainbow in the sky:

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.

Centuries later the rainbow is still a symbol for peace. The Italian “Pace” flag has a rainbow background and the word “Pace” in white on the front. The idea with the colours, apart from the residual connotations from Noah, is unity in diversity – that all the colours of the spectrum together can be one.

A few decades on, and the rainbow flag is modified again and it became a Gay Pride flag, capitalising on the previous versions with their symbolism of hope for the future and unity in diversity. Each colour on the inclusion flag represents a different aspect of human life.

Poppies too have evolved. The original red poppy was to remember the dead. The white poppy looks forward with the hope for no more war. The same thing happened to the “V” sign. Originally it was “V” for Victory, but as time went by it began to be a plea for continued peace.

Once clear symbol of Peace is the CND logo. I was interested to learn that it gets its shape from the semaphore representations of the letters N and D.

It is interesting to see these depictions of Peace change and develop as the centuries and millenia pass. Olive leaves, poppies, rainbows all echoing through history with different connotations for different ages.

And as time passes, mankind dreams up many new ways to destroy each other. Sorry for the pessimistic end to this peace post. I can’t find the quote I was looking for and I don’t know who said it, unless it was me, which I doubt:

“Who can say mankind has not progressed? In each war we kill each other in a new way.”

I’ll unfurl my CND bunting, release the doves and fly the PACE flag and see if I can whip up some solutions for World Peace tomorrow.

The first piece of my Jigsaw: Peace.


I had cause to explore the concept of “Peace” recently and run an event on that theme. I ordered a peace-dove stamper, some CND bunting, a UN flag and I set off into the internet to find out all about Peace. I also looked into what the Bible had to say about Peace.

What do you think peace is?

There are two main types of peace, I think.

Firstly there is a kind of peace of omission – there is peace when there is an absence of war and conflict – be that at international or local or family level.

Secondly, there is a kind of sense or mood or feeling –that someone is at peace when they feel relaxed and unhurried – when nothing is pressing on them and they can be quiet and happy.

How can peace be achieved?

John Lennon:

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”

I like this quote. It suggests that humanity has the capacity to achieve peace, but our individual and collective selfishness and warped priorities preclude peace.

In this scenario, for there to be peace, peace needs to be willed on all sides; by putting ones own agenda/gripe/priorities to one side, peace can/could be achieved.

But should there be peace, if it requires putting one’s own agenda to the side?

Seventy years ago, Nazi Germany made an attempt to break into British airspace. If the fighter pilots of the Spitfires had just let the invasion happen, would there have been peace in Britain? No. The ideology of Nazism is/was such that for people to stand by and allow their own agendas to be hijacked would perhaps result in political peace – when peace is simply an absence of war – but there would have been no peace for individuals.

Still thinking about Lennon’s quote, the will to make peace has to involve everyone on all sides simultaneously – for the result to be peace for all. I think he was saying that if everyone wanted it, we could have it.

Looking at the world today, we can clearly see that plenty of people don’t want peace, and soldier on with their agendas, be they laudable or toxic. Plenty of people are willing to risk everything to find peace.

So we need a better basis for thinking about Peace that John Lennon and his television idea, much as I liked it.

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