Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

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.


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…)




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.


#Lanark @citizenstheatre – a lot of theatre for your money.


I went to see “Lanark”, a play that is an adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s epic Scottish dystopian novel; “Lanark: A life in four books” was presented as “Lanark: a life in three acts”.

I was so pleased that this adaptation was on a scale to match that of the novel. It was lovely to have scenes, lines and images awaken the memories of reading the book that had lain dormant for years.

The opening scene was just right – the written words, Lanark in the rain, looking for light. I was delighted that all of the characters were there in the bar, and the whole thing set off with things just as they should be.

I could have done without the clumsy sex/nudity – but I guess that was the point – Rima echoed that thought herself…

I was pleased with the hospital/institute scenes – with Lanark’s speedy promotion to Doctor and the unethical food. I did miss the echoes that reverberated through the Institute from the novel, in particular the “Man is the pie that bakes and eats itself” line, but the dragon going salamander made up for that.

If there was a disappointment it was when Lanark and Rima went through the intercalendrical zone. I remember that reading that, back in the day, blew my mind. The presentation of that section was fully appropriate, but I didn’t get the sense of interminable frustration that Lanark and Rima experienced in the novel. (Which is – on reflection, given the four-hour length of the play, all in – perhaps a good thing!)

The ‘real’ sections in Glasgow were in some respects hugely reduced and simplified. The cast were elements of Lanark/Duncan himself, or played roles in his life. They were all dressed in matching clothes and the set was pared back. The simplification was very effective and the storytelling was extremely clever. Given the complexity of the scenes in Unthank, Provan and the Institute, the contrast with the scenes in Glasgow was appropriately striking, and the presentation of the narrative through the oracle was successful in presenting fragments of the past as memories/ little vignettes.

The climax of the play, where Lanark becomes aware of himself as a fictional character was really well done, and the final scenes were suitably poignant.

All in all, it was a lot of theatre for the money. The whole production was careful, thoughtful and appropriately aware that this was a novel to contend with. I’m glad I went, and I’m glad I saw it in Glasgow.

Top ten things about “Prison Break” #prisonbreak

It’s tricky to review “Prison Break” without ruining it. Here’s a spoiler-free list of what I liked about it:

1. The Prison. Very Shawshank.
2. Echoes of “[H]ouse” – Tancredi was 13 and Mahone was [H]ouse.
3. Depth of characterisation.
4. How people got killed off that you’d have thought couldn’t be killed off while having the plot still work out but they were and it managed.
5. Theodore Bagwell. His lines were brilliant. His character was complex. I enjoyed feeling conflicted about having such an ‘evil’ character as one of my favourites.
6. Parent-child relationships being utterly core to almost every character’s ultimate motivation in a kind of clunky and deliberate way.
7. So many deus ex machinas I came to expect them, and enjoyed expecting them.
8. How Sucre called Michael “Papi”.
9. Long-term characterisation of Bellick and Mahone.
10. The consistent level of tension from beginning to end.

Summer Reading Reviews

I lay and read books for a fortnight. Here’s what I read and what I thought. There will only be spoilers for things I don’t recommend:

1. “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton
Set in New Zealand, dealing with gold.
A very long book with good sentence structure. The plot was fairly straightforward but was conveyed through multiple perspectives which resulted in the book’s length. The many characters were mostly male and pretty flat. The two female characters had a bit more colour, but I occasionally forgot which was which as well. I enjoyed reading it, although it took me three times to get going with it. It was so long that, by the end of it, I found myself unclear on a couple of important details but so weary I couldn’t be bothered to skim back to clarify.

2. “The Pleasure Seekers” by Tishani Doshi

A straightforward summer read following a couple of lives. Not quite sure why it was entitled “The Pleasure Seekers”. Boy meets girl…. and so on. Some quite nice thoughts about love and identity and “home”. Linear timescale against a backdrop of real events in history. Uncomplicated.

3. “We are all completely beside ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler

I enjoyed this book the most – so will say little. Once the book was underway I found myself rooting for the narrator. Interesting and thought provoking.

4. “The Quarry” by Iain Banks
Narrated from the point of view of an autistic young man whose father is dying of cancer. A reunion of the father’s university friends takes place at their house and lives are reflected upon. Sounds bleak, but there was a lot of wit and realism in there. Characters ranted about various topics – political and personal. The quarry itself was a tidy metaphor. A well constructed novel – but if you were wanting to read Iain Banks, I preferred “Whit”. I want to read more by this writer.

5. “The Other” by David Guterson and
6. “Brewster” by Mark Slouka

These two books I read because they were recommended for “runners” in an article in The Guardian
Both were narrated by men who described a friendship – the main focus of the novel being the other man. I was surprised by how little running there was in both novels – although both books were well written. “The Other” is ultimately about principles and compromise. In the opening chapter (this is not a spoiler) is the narrative hook that drives the plot:

“That’s how I met the priviledged boy who would later become ‘the hermit of the Hoh’ – that loner who lived in the woods for seven years and who bequeathed me four hundred and forty million dollars.”

“Brewster” is the setting of the second novel – a tough American town. The narrator runs to prove himself to himself – because running feels like it matters.
Both of these books were well written – Guterson’s moreso – but the amount of running in them wouldn’t have made be put them on a list of five books every runner should read. Which makes me think there is a gap in the market for a running novel.

7. “The Girl who wasn’t there” by Ferdinand Von Schirach

This was the most disappointing book of the summer. The cover was striking, even the paper quality was lovely – even the font had me fooled! It began well with interesting settings and relationships and the development of the main character. SPOILER WARNING BUT THE BOOK ISN’T ONE I RECOMMEND. But then it included some completely tasteless and vile descriptions of things that didn’t need to be in the book and the whole denoument/twist was given away by the title of the book – you can’t/shouldn’t be convicted of murder when there hasn’t been a murder – and the fact that the defendant had staged the crime as a piece of interactive installation art was a very lame way to end. Producing a half-sister out of thin air was also poor.

8. “Curtain Call” by Anthony Quinn
A tidy, straightforward summer read. Interesting historical context – glamorous and seedy in equal measure. Danger and threat and twists. Fine.

9. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

A book I felt I “should” have read by now, so I did. My kind of book, really – despairing over the loss of value of the written word, but not utterly pessimistic.


Back to Prison Break.

Bikini Bodies and Flamingos

I packed my flamingo bikini and got on the plane. Imagine my delight, when leafing through the in-flight magazine, as I discovered that flamingos are all the rage this season. Whoop.

This was second only to the delight of finding the flamingo bikini in the first place – and that it actually fitted. (One has to blank out the unfortunate “overhang” issue of course, but hey, no one cares. As long as I didn’t ever sit up, people would still be able to see I was wearing both bits…)

Zoning out in the heat alongside me were many others who had also decided to believe the meme “How to get a bikini body: put a bikini on your body”.
Perhaps surprisingly the count of people who looked good in bikinis had gone up since last year. But most people looked like a disaster of one sort or another, as did I – but were were all happy and on holiday. And I lay there smugly knowing that were all secretly jealous of my fab flamingo bikini…

My body, if it were art, is a sculptural oxymoron, I reflected, as I assessed the affect of the rays from that first day. My arms are reaonably toned and muscular, as are my legs – sculpted by two and a half years of fitness training. My abs, were they nearer the surface, would be, hypothetically speaking, beautifully delinieated – but in reality, no amount of ab work can make up for what the children did to my skin when they were in there.

In my own defence, I do know that this is true – I have actually done the ab work. I have done as much as is possible without resorting to surgery. I can plank to my heart’s content. And my heart is content.

We went to “Palmitos Park” which was a beautiful botanical/zoological garden/park and I was particularly delighted to see some flamingos there. They were absolutely beautiful. In the pink, as it were.

IMG_0060-0I wonder if they knew that they were de rigeuer.

Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 428 other followers