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Measure for Measure

Archive for the category “Reflections”

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

At last. Rowling is now into her stride. The clunky, awkward reminders of previous important setting points were largely banished; instead of starting off with some self-esteem crushing incident at Privet Drive, we are dropped into a derelict building in Little Hangleton and the mystery of the Riddles. We have the short-lived character of Frank Bryce who overhears all sorts of teasers and promptly gets killed. Fortunately for the reader, we had been listening along with him. 

Bizarrely, Harry too had been eavesdropping, despite the fact he was miles away, asleep and therefore not paying attention. So, despite the fact that we ended up in Privet Drive, it was only briefly. 

The geography of the Wizarding World really opens up in this book. In The first few novels, it is largely Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, with the occasional visit to Hogsmeade. In this novel, Rowling managed to broaden the idea to this kind of complimentary world that was entire of itself and was global. There were two things that made this happen: the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizarding Tournament. 

The Quidditch World Cup was allowed to take its time and its place in the first section of the novel. All kinds of travel and accommodation moments, celebrities, supporters and rivals. There were all kind of hijinks and, of course, the sport to watch. What the reader may not have known is that Rowling was desperately weaving the basis of the climax of the whole novel into the seemingly extraneous World cup; what seemed to be incidental, turned out to be crucial. 

The Triwizarding Tournament was also an international competition. Hogwarts was up against two other European schools: Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. Durmstrang seemed to be kind of North Eastern Europe and Beauxbatons seemed to be in France or thereabouts. The Tournament took place over the academic year at Hogwarts, and the visitor stayed in and around Hogwarts for the duration. 

The novel therefore had its structure determined by the Tournament. There were three challenges throughout and each one had its build up and mini climax and resolution. Rowling was therefore able to plot the rest of the novel around these three key events, adding the actual climax of the novel to the end of the Triwizarding Tournament. 

The first time I read this novel, twenty years ago or so, I thought that Rowling had just lost the will to edit, in the face of pressure to write more novels. I was delighted to have forgotton most of what had happened and I enjoyed reading this more than the others. It felt less famous, less iconic and more like reading a book rather than taking an open top bus tour of one’s home town.

I enjoyed Dobby and Winky and their contribution; Hagrid’s lesson involving Nifflers, one of whom will appear years later (or years before in fact…) in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. I enjoyed Harry’s bubble bath, and Dumbledore’s “pensieve” where he stores his memories.

So, what of the message of the novel, this time? What of Rowling’s worldview? 

Hermione was unsettled by the status of the house elves that she saw as in slavery, so that was an issue that was touched on, although she did not get much traction with her campaign to right the wrongs there. 

There were also issues of prejudice noted in people’s attitudes to giants with expectations about their behaviour. 

One interesting character was Rita Skeeter, a reporter who would interview people and then add some manipulation and spin to her articles that then prompted public backlash – this seemed very relevant, given Rowling’s experiences. 

The top trait or value in this novel was bravery. In a few places, Harry was commended for his bravery and his moral fibre. The other thing is trust. Harry often is privy to things in these novels – and almost all of the time he fires back to the Gryffindor common room and tells Ron and Hermione everything. He trusts them completely. He does keep some secrets though; he doesn’t tend to share particularly dark moments, thoughts or secrets that aren’t his to share. 

Throughout this novel, there was also a theme of truth – the truth about who you are. Whether a wizard, a muggle, a giant, a human, an animagus, an imposter… the moral high ground was with those who were who they were. We found out a lot about who were on the dark side, in terms of allegiance to Voldemort and those who were against him. And there was more about Harry’s core nature in relation to Voldemort – and this of course is played out in final few books. 

So next, I believe, is “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and I am pleased to find myself with a total memory blank as to who is in it and what happens. I know that it is long, though. But I am looking forward to it. 

Talking Tabitha

I remember that we learned about Tabitha at Crusaders when I was a child. Except she was called Dorcas. 

What I remember about Dorcas, or Tabitha, was that she died and was raised to life. I also remember that we had to draw pictures of the story. A friend of mine had drawn Dorcas next to a yellow sewing machine and a bunch of clothes, and I had thought at the time that that was probably anachronistic. 

But that was it. 

So, what’s the story? As I tried to remember it, I kind of visualised it with the bunch of clothes and the sewing machine from 1980 – and I also visualised Jesus being there. That’s where I was wrong, in physical terms at least. But the story totally has echoes of Jesus. And I am now thinking that that is the point. 

Here’s the story:

“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, translated, is Dorcas).”

 Interestingly, or not, when you translate Tabitha or Dorcas into English, it is the word “gazelle”. In the story in the book of Acts, she is referred to as both Tabitha and as Dorcas, as if she was referred to as either, interchangeably. Some people think that this is because she was involved in the community to such an extent that she mixed with people on both sides of a language barrier: she would be Dorcas to some and Tabitha to others (and deer to all…). 

“…who was always doing good and helping the poor…”

Luke gives us a wee summary reputation for her here. He does this. For example, just a few verses later, he introduces Cornelius and sums him up thus: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”

Putting the two initial Tabitha quotes together we get a disciple who has put her faith into action. Interestingly, apparently Tabitha is the only female disciple to be called a disciple in the Bible. If you look for female disciples, there were women there with the disciples, but she was the only one who is designated a disciple directly. 

“About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, ‘Please come at once.’”

The first sentence makes sense. They did what you do, I suppose, in first century Joppa, when someone dies. But why send for Peter? I wondered initially whether they were primarily informing him of the death of this woman – but the way it is phrased implies some kind of urgent hope. They want him to get there. And here again is the point – why do they want Peter?

Peter had been linked with healings; just before this incident with Tabitha, he had been there with Aeneas: “Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat.’” this clearly echoes Jesus healing the man at the pool, to whom he said “Take up your mat and walk.” Similarly, this healing of Tabitha echoes another healing that Jesus carried out, when he was called for after the death of Jairus’s daughter. 

The story of Tabitha continues:

“Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”

So, he is led to see the body and the room is busy with people grieving the loss of Dorcas. It is interesting that the writer has lapsed into calling her Dorcas here – the two expressions of her name were clearly interchangeable, even within the one person telling the story. They want to show Peter what she has made – the contribution that she had made to their lives. 

“Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed.”

Why did he send them out? I presume it was so busy and noisy that he couldn’t hear himself think. He is left then, with the calm of an empty room and the body of Dorcas. We don’t know what he prayed. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, he also “put them all out”; they were “making fun of him” when he said that she was “not dead – she is only sleeping.” In that case, Jesus had a few people with him – the parents of the child and his three accompanying disciples. There is no mention of Jesus praying – he just takes the child by the hand and instructs her to wake up; I think the suggestion is that Peter was alone and “he got down on his knees and prayed.” He needed to pray – he could not reach out and raise the dead by his own hand. 

“Turning towards the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up’”

This echoes Jesus, saying to Jairus’ daughter “Little girl, I tell you to get up.” Clearly, the power that Jesus had to raise the dead – or the ‘only sleeping’ was now available through Peter. 

“She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.”

It is all very physical. Eyes, seeing, her hand, her feet: she is alive, physically. 

Similarly, with Jairus’ daughter “He took her by the hand…” “…She got up at once and started walking around.”

With Dorcas raised, “Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa and many people believed in the Lord.”Here there is a contrast with the other story: Jesus “gave them strict orders not to tell anyone.”

In terms of structure, we have the good, kind character of Dorcas, who dies. The goal of her beneficiaries is to have her back. The turning point is when they convince Peter to come and see them. The climax is the moment when Peter is alone in the room: Will she be raised? Yes! God can bring life through the faith of a believer in response to prayer. The resolution is lots of people believe in Jesus. 

There’s a problem with this story for us, though. When good people die and we want them not to be dead – sending for people isn’t going to make the person alive. Even if they pray, a  dead person stays dead. There may, possibly, be exceptions somehow, somewhere (visions of defibrillators dance in my head…) – but in my lived experience, the way things were for Dorcas are not the way things are for us. The Acts of the Apostles were spectacular, the growth of the church exponential; the power of the Holy Spirit apparent at every turn. 

I am reminded of this passage from John’s gospel:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

There are a few possible take-home points from the story of Tabitha – in terms of Peter and Tabitha as examples of disciples. I think, though, that my take home point today is that – although this was after the Ascension, it reminded me of Jesus – so much so that I had mistakenly thought it was Jesus that raised Tabitha – but it was Peter…. NO! It was Jesus who raised Tabitha THROUGH Peter – and that, I think is the point of the story. 

This was Peter fulfilling Jesus’ words from John. Peter prayed in faith and Dorcas was raised, just as Jairus’ daughter was raised, as the widow of Nain’s son was raised, as Lazarus was raised… “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing…”

As for Tabitha, I can imagine the kind of person she was as I have known people like her. She had resources and talent and she used them relentlessly for good, for the least in her community. She clothed people. She would have been missed by her community; her contribution was appreciated. 

Like Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son – Tabitha would die physically again, in time. This story of the healing of Tabitha is a demonstration of life over death that I take as a sign of Jesus’ power over life and death eternally and a sign of the power of prayers of faith. 

The story of Dorcas now reminds me of those WWJD bracelets: “What Would Jesus Do?” In Peter’s position, I think it is fair to argue that Jesus would have done the same. In Tabitha’s original circumstances, I think it is fair to argue that Jesus would have given to the poor. Both disciples lived lives and carried out actions that would remind people of Jesus. 

Peter himself wrote:

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Having been surprised to notice the echoes of Jesus in the life of Peter in the story of Tabitha, I will pay more attention to the echoes of Jesus in the lives of those around me. 

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is the best of the three so far, by far. It still starts off wading through the treacle of various irritating contextualisation reminders, but the Knight Bus soon turns up and we are off on our adventures. 

The start may be slow, but the end is action packed and concise – as is Rowling’s pattern so far – and yet again, the novel is filled with things that are now ‘things’. The Marauders’ Map, for one. And Hermione’s time turner. (It is weird that now every kid has a version of the Marauders’ Map on their phone in the form of Snap Maps and suchlike, but it was still a cool thing for Harry to get his hands on.)

We have the Knight Bus, the Leaky Cauldron, the promise of a visit to Hogsmeade for some Butterbeer. We have a very tense Quidditch season, magical creatures to care for, Hermione reaching breaking point with too much study and, for once, a decent Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. We liked Lupin. Malfoy continues to be a poisonous brat. The Dementors were an interesting feature – and certainly there are times in life when people can act like dementors, sapping all the joy, warmth and positivity from a room.

I enjoyed the Boggart in the Wardrobe, although it was unquestionably Alan Rickman that stumbled out in my mind, rather than Snape as such. It was like the opposite of the Mirror of Erised in Book 1. Lupin managed the class very well, allowing all to participate as far as was appropriate while Getting It Right For Every Child. 

Trelawney was rubbish though – and it was good that her subject was universally mocked. Trelawney had her one Oda Mae Brown moment when she actually did make a genuine prediction while the rest of it was bunk. Very good. 

It was not just “Ghost” that came to mind – the whole thing had a very “Back to the Future” conclusion ( – although Marty really does see his father punch out Biff… and not himself saving the day, at that point at least… )There was that tension about running into your other self in case you set off some kind of chain reaction that destroys the universe…

Rowling did well to leave the Patronus thing until late on in the novel. And it was very clever how it worked out, although I am sure there is a plot hole somewhere in the middle of it all – but my mind is skirting happily around it, for the time being at least. I was wondering if Harry had a growth mindset, thinking he could learn and improve with his conjuring of his Patronus, but it was only when faced with the fact of his own success is he able to be successful. Which is very circular. But so was the plot. 

I am more and more impressed with Rowling’s plotting. From Black’s motorbike to Ron’s scabby old pet rat, to Hermione’s timetabling issues – everything was there and then everything was necessary. It was all very tidy. 

Aside from all that, I am trying to read Rowling with a reflective head on, trying to see the worldview that underpins the world she created. 

Most interesting was the character of Lupin, who “should” be an outcast. He is medicated and supervised so that he can be a functioning member of society – but he has to keep his secret a secret or he would be outcast. Indeed – he leaves at the end as he thinks there will be too many parental queries about his fitness to teach. People have reservations about him, perhaps justifiably – but his condition was managed and he should not have been cast out. In the past, the school had done everything possible to meet his needs as a pupil with unusual requirements. I doubt any muggle school would go to the lengths of providing a tunnel to a safehouse for a kid who needed some time out. 

Hermione too was given an individualised support package – although it was perhaps not wise to let this child lead her own learning quite so rigorously. 

Speaking of learning – I have this idea that Hagrid was pretty illiterate in the first book? In this one he wrote a couple of pretty articulate notes – even using “you’re” correctly. Perhaps it was in the movie he spelt “Happy Birthday” wrong on the cake. I’ll have to go back and look. 

There was quite a lot of “people not being listened to” in this book and that being quite frustrating for those not being able to get their story out. So, if there was a moral of the story, it was perhaps something along the lines of – take time to understand people and what they need and what they have to say.

If that is Rowling’s message about life here, what is her message about death?

This was less clear. There is a good quote in book 1. Dumbledore says: “To the well organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” In this book, he is less clear, giving Harry some Lion Kingesque twaddle to explain what had happened: “Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus. Prongs rode again last night.” I enjoyed the fact that Dumbledore left, “leaving Harry to his very confused thoughts.” 

I will look with interest to see if Dumbledore clarifies and develops his philosophy of the afterlife as things go on – I remember that we do see Dumbledore after he is dead, I think? But other people end up as ghosts and other people are in paintings – but not all of them are dead… I guess I will see. 

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

This one was all about the memories. 

Like the first one, this one was really front heavy. It was written so that someone who hadn’t read the first one could leap right into the second one. Realistically, very few people would have done that, and the background details were clunky and tedious. I think, I hope, she eases up on this in book three. I will find out very soon.

However, apart from that, there were plenty of fresh ideas in this book. I very much enjoyed Colin Creevy – perhaps the first ever Harry Potter fan. I presume that Rowling modelled him on her fans in the early days; Harry seems absolutely baffled by Colin and his obsessive interest. Even more sycophantic was the glorious character of Gilderoy Lockhart that I couldn’t help but visualise as Kenneth Branagh throughout. 

Again, Rowling managed to conjour what has since become iconic – the flying car and its altercation with the Whomping Willow – great stuff.

But on to the memories. 

The star of this novel is Tom Riddle’s diary – stashed by Lucius Malfoy during the back to school shop in Diagon Alley – and stumbled upon by Ginny and Harry. Like an unhealthy internet addiction, the diary drew its victims into a toxic online relationship, as it were, with a version of Voldemort from fifty years previously. But they don’t know that. 

I very much enjoyed Harry getting sooked into the diary (just like Bunty Bailey getting into Take On Me back in the day!) and witnessing a whole lot of historical shenanigans. So he was, unbeknownst to him, wandering around in Voldemort’s memories, having a look at Dumbledore and Hagrid in their youth. Very Back to the Future. Fortunately for Harry, he makes it out of the diary alright. 

The other memories that entertained me were the ones that Lockhart had stolen from various wizards that he had interviewed about their exploits. He listened to their experiences then blanked their memories so that he could claim the glory for their achievements. Then he gets a very fitting comeuppance when he loses his memory. 

So, what of Rowling’s “message” in this novel? The Dursley section was again a picture of authoritarian and exclusionary culture getting its just desserts. This line stood out – not just because of the capitals:


It is perhaps little wonder that so many teenagers, for so many different reasons, identified with Harry’s predicament, living with people who wanted to deny the existence of parts of his very being. He gets to go off and be respected and celebrated (– even hero-worshipped – which he doesn’t want. )

I wonder if this plays into the weird attitude to rules that persists in the Hogwarts world. There are school rules and points, prizes and punishments – but there is a very strong pattern of Dumbledore overlooking shocking infractions – if it was ultimately for the greater good. Harry manages to get a broom against the rules, his father’s invisibility cloak and a blind eye turned every time he is creeping around the castle after hours. Teachers seem to give him special treatment in public when he doesn’t respect them and in secret when he does respect them. 

So, for a fairly short Harry Potter book – there was plenty in this one. At the heart of it is Harry’s fear of himself and his nature. Dumbledore reassures him:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry is alarmed by his capacities and worried about how he will turn out – again, this perhaps explains his appeal to the young people of the nineties and noughties with all of their potential for both good and evil. This quote is reminding me of the one from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves: “Nobility is not a birth right; it is defined by one’s actions.”

Choices and actions are therefore how character is created and therefore retrospectively defined. Flip, here comes M-People into my subconscious: “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

Here’s hoping you gave your house elf a sock. At the very least. 

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Re-reading this novel this century rather than last, is a very different experience. When I first read it and didn’t “get” it – twenty five years elapse and now the first novel is full of  – and I use the word despite not usually liking to use the word – “iconic” moments.

From Privet Drive to Diagon Alley; from the staircases of Hogwarts to the Quidditch pitch – all of these places are so FAMOUS now – that when I walk down a faceless suburban street, I think – This is like Privet Drive; When I walk through the Old Town in Edinburgh, it is all very, very Diagon Alley. The real world can be seen through a Potter lens. Things that are not real are somehow very THERE.

I was reading it thinking – this is when he gets the letter – this is when he gets his wand – this is when he meets Malfoy – this is when he goes through the barrier. I am planning to go to London soon – and I am planning to go there – to the place where he passed through…

 The other thing that is apparent on a second reading is that JK Rowling was not writing speculatively. She was not randomly writing, waiting to see how it would all pan out for Harry. (I suppose, even for me, the ultimate end was clear from the beginning in terms of his relationship with Voldemort and how that had to come to a conclusion). The first thing that I notice was that the motorbike Hagrid was riding when Harry was a baby belonged to Sirius Black, who does not appear in person for a good few years after that point (I think). Also, Harry has to buy a book written by Newt Scamander, who ends up getting his own spin off movie in the fullness of time in the shape of “Fabulous Beasts and Where to Find Them.” So, Rowling must have had a very full vision of her Wizarding World and its future history…

After we eventually got through the very, very detailed exposition and set up of the whole Wizarding World, the plot gets underway. I found that I was reading the book through the eyes of the people who would become obsessive Potterheads, who would, for a time, base their worldview on all things Potter. I found I was looking for the “moral of the story” – or more like the morals of the story. Rowling, in “The Witch Trials of JK Rowling”, conveys the idea that the Dursley family stand for everything she is against – cruelty, intolerance and authoritarianism. On the other hand, various other characters embody the values that people came to love: such things as bravery, friendship and loyalty.

In terms of a ‘read’ though – this book was too familiar and therefore necessarily lacking in any kind of suspense or thrill – through no fault of the book itself, of course. I have seen the movie adaptation several times, so occasionally things were different or new or underwhelming, in comparison with the film.

The oddest thing about the book, structurally, is how it TAKES FOREVER to get to the climax of the plot – and the resolution is swift. This is in contrast with the almost painfully detailed build up of events and details that allowed the Indiana-jones style series of challenges at the end to take place. We needed the friendship to be cemented through the incident with the troll; Hermione to be a herbology nerd; Hagrid to let slip certain details to Voldemort; Harry to be a seeker so as to catch the key; and for the early trip to Gringotts to take place, goblins and all.

Overall, the book is therefore extremely front-heavy – but, I will forgive JK Rowling this, as, granted, not only was she setting up plot twists, she was setting up a WHOLE OTHER WORLD that – even although she could not possibly know how far this thing would go – required this level of introduction, arguably.

Revisiting Harry Potter

Can you imagine a world without Harry Potter? What would it be like if JK Rowling had never had her idea on a train about a boy with magic powers?

A few years ago, I went to the Harry Potter Studio tour as a birthday treat for my daughter. I wondered how JK Rowling would feel if she were to visit – how weird it would be to see your own imaginings in physical form, embraced by a generation – a necessary and now seemingly permanent part of our culture. 

I remember when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone came out – or, more accurately, I remember a kid at the back of my class reading Harry Potter. Then other kids reading Harry Potter. Then the school librarian telling me about Harry Potter. Then a fifth year kid wanting  to submit an essay on Harry Potter for their Higher “Personal Study”. They said it was “funny”.  I had a read of the opening, and didn’t find it funny. So, I didn’t really get it.

However, as a dutiful and interested educationalist, I read the Harry Potter books almost one after the other. (I made a horrible mistake and read the book after Azkaban before Azkaban which included Azkaban spoilers – so that was a bit of a fail…. Never mind.)

I read all the way, over the years, to the end of the last one. I remember being irritated with the end of the last one and I wrote an alternative ending. I posted it here on the 3rd of May 2011, so that was the end of Harry Potter and me at that point. 

By that point, I had children. The eldest would have been eight or nine at that point and would have been reading Harry Potter or having Harry Potter read to him. It was my elder daughter who turned out to be the bigger Harry Potter fan, as it turned out – with lego and bedding etc and the trip to the Studios.

Despite my English teaching career entirely being concurrent with the Potter phenomenon, I feel that it passed me by somewhat. I read them out of duty; I was pleased that reluctant readers were engaged with reading; I considered them to be part of the children’s canon along with Morpurgo and Dahl et al. I did not “get” the novels. I was pleased that, when the movies came out, that they looked right. I went to see a few of the movies when they came out, but still, I was not sure that I really “got” the Wizarding World in the way that Potterheads do. 

During the pandemic, JK Rowling came under fire, not for the first time. I am listening now, to “The Witch Trials of JK Rowling”. It has put me in a really reflective place, hearing how the fans of Harry Potter found the stories so influential in building their worldviews and how distressing it has been to have the art and the artist come into apparent conflict.

I turned 50 this month, and decided to re-read the Harry Potter books over again. I can’t help feeling I missed something in reading them as they came out – as a duty rather than a pleasure. Maybe there are no hidden depths! Maybe I was right enough about the fact that there was so much repetitive exposition in the first few novels and a shocking lack of editing in the last few.

 I hope I am wrong – and suspect I am (or would not give them the time of day!). I want to be able to embrace the novels into the canon of classic children’s/teen/Scottish/fantasy fiction. I want to pay more attention to the elements of the novels that gave a generation that reverence for bravery and love. 

Today I finished “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. Review to follow. I am about to crack into “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.


A Guy with a Guitar #ianwhite @theinspirationorchestra #inspirationorchestra

I was at a gig on Friday night (uncharacteristically) and ended up in a bizarrely moving headspace. Middle age allows a level of hindsight that, while making one feel old, is multi-layered and full of echoes. (I look forward to the scope of hindsight of old age!)

The artist playing was Ian White – an influential Christian musician in the 80s. The event was in support of his current project: “The Inspiration Orchestra” – primarily providing musical enrichment activities for disabled people. 

It is a long time since I first listened to “Psalms Volume 1”. I don’t think I was an Ian White fan as such, but the music and lyrics of his reworking of the Psalms was part of my teenage backdrop. We had a few Ian White cassettes and listened to them a lot, and sang along with them a lot. More than I realised at the time, apparently. 

I remember enjoying “Jonah” from the “Philippi” album – where he managed to squeeze the whole of the story of Jonah into one song – with the music and words depicting the dramatic story in dramatic form. 

“Word of God to Jonah, son of Amittai

Go and tell the Ninevites, change your ways or die…”

It’s a very energetic song, with a lot of guitar skills in evidence. Similarly percussive and engaging was “Philippi” where he put Silas and Paul’s prison experience to music, complete with earthquake. I spent many happy hours trying to learn to play Philippi on my guitar with my Ian White book of sheet music. I think I had to retune the guitar so that pretty much every string was a D to start with. I don’t know if that was cheating. 

Neither “Jonah” nor “Philippi” got a rendition on Friday night – but I still went back in time to hear them anyway. Who knows, I might even dust off my acoustic guitar and see how I get on. 

Most of the songs for which Ian White is known are the Psalms reworked. Granted, he had excellent source material. The resultant songs, because of their reworking, allowed the Psalms themselves into my mind and heart. I wonder how many people there are – across the world – who, like me, when they are reading the Psalms, come across a phrase or lyric and suddenly it comes alive with the melody and we remember that the Psalms were songs to be sung. Likewise, when circumstances give rise to a feeling echoed in the Psalms, it is very often brought to mind with Ian White’s expression of the words.

What if, in the early 80s, he hadn’t picked up his guitar and had a go at basing a song on a Psalm? 

In the pandemic, when we were first allowed back into the church building – it was an Ian White melody that my brain landed on for this Psalm: “Let us go… to the house…. Of the Lord… Let us go… to the house…. Of the Lord… I rejoiced with those who said to me Let us go to the house of the Lord…” So, on Friday, it was great to hear this song played live in a post pandemic busy venue “where the people of God go up and praise the Name of the Lord.”

What I thought was interesting was that, while all these thoughts were going through my head about the songs written 40 years ago by this guy with a guitar, there were perhaps a hundred other people there who may well be having a similar long-range, life echoey moment. And then, there’s the fact that for decades, he toured the world, singing all these songs he wrote and people, like me, the world over, listened to their cassettes on repeat and all of these fragments of the Scriptures made their way into our lives and long term memories. And they are still there. 

And the cross is still there…

…is another of his songs. This one was odd, as even although it is an Ian White song, I don’t have it filed in my subconscious under “Ian White”. I was in the Billy Graham choir at Parkhead in 1991 (I think that’s when it was). I was in 6th year at school and went to choir rehearsals somewhere in Shawlands (I think) and learned the alto parts to some completely brilliant hymns and songs. (These alto lines have proved very useful in the years since!) At the Billy Graham events, all the choirs from across the city got together in our self-coloured shirts and blouses and, in our multitude, gave it laldy over Glasgow. On the album that came out after the events – “Life Has Meaning” – there were a lot of our choir pieces and a lot of other solos from the event including “The Cross is Still There”. It was interesting to hear, 40 years later, Ian talk about writing the song. And again, I thought about the memories it brought back for me and then multiplying the memories sparked by that song for others. 

While I was sitting at the event seeing the songs and associations and memories start to weave together in my memory, Ian White spoke about his new project. 

He works with adults with disabilities and provides them opportunities to be creative and to contribute musically individually and in groups. The creativity has also moved into art work and photography and he has found ways to allow the creativity of this group to be seen, heard and celebrated. He shared clips of individuals playing, ensembles performing and art work being created. He has a vision of how to grow the work and how to further value these individuals and their work. And he presented this project with a lot of passion and a lot of energy. 

The last song was a new one about the importance of the small things in life. There were many small examples given of things that might not seem important but in fact are more profoundly important to people than we might ever know. 

The whole thing made me think about people’s creativity and creative work. Much as I don’t think I particularly follow film or music or fashion or art… there are pieces of work that have been important in my make-up, that I have been caught up with for a time, and that have stayed with me. I might have thought the list would be “Fawlty Towers”, “Back to the Future”, “A-ha” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” – but, it turns out that the songs of Ian White are in there somewhere. 

And, if the songs of Ian White, containing massive swathes of the Scriptures are rolling around my subconscious, how many other minds and memories are similarly blessed? Before influencers were even a thing, Ian White was an influencer of hundreds and thousands of people, getting the Word of God on to cassettes and into the airwaves and settling in minds and enriching lives, meaning that those words are there when life requires them. 

I was wanting to round off this post with a quote from the Psalms. But there are literally too many great quotes in the Psalms; I can’t choose. 

If you have got this far, please open a Bible halfway and see what Psalm is in front of you and see how the human experiences we know today are depicted there and how God is faithful and unchanging. And maybe you want to rework one into a song…

Poems of Hope #hoperestored23 @restoreglasgow @foolproofcreative #poemsofhope #humantrafficking

I took part in a poetry writing challenge this last week – and despite the fact that my resultant poems are already in various locations on the internet, I wanted to repost them all here in the one place for handiness. So – apologies to my subscribers of this blog who have already had to wade through my efforts on fb and instagram.

The challenge was launched at an event in St George’s Tron, Glasgow. The purpose was to highlight the issue of human trafficking, particularly in Glasgow. The charities Restore Glasgow and SOHTIS (Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland) were in attendance. The aim was to raise awareness of the signs of human trafficking in the hope that more can be rescued. In Scotland last year, 419 people were released from modern slavery in Scotland. This is the tip of the iceberg.

By writing poems, drawing pictures, talking about the issues, the idea was to raise awareness and bring hope to a difficult subject – to shine a light in the dark places. So, for a week, there was a daily prompt.

Annoyingly, I cannae work the formatting on the wordpress, so it keeps messing with my stanzas. I will put an asterix for a stanza break… bear with…


The word “capture” for me is a direct trigger for a childhood memory of a boy we overheard in 1981 in holiday in France. It always struck as as odd, the manner in which he used the word. I had to draw a wee picture too, which I enjoyed. While the link to human trafficking is clearly very very very tenuous on this occasion – my idea was to reflect on the mentality of someone who wants to “capture”.




“I’m going to capture a fish today!”


Jeremy announced

this wish for a fish

out of sight,

and we laughed.


He wasn’t for catch and release,

Oh no!

But to keep and store it,

Keep and store with pride –



in an airtight Tupperware,

or maybe he had a bowl

of water

with fake stones

and fake river weed

– a glassy grassy prison.


Swim little fishies,

Swim, swim, swim!

Don’t be contained by Jeremy

and his uncontained, unconstrained

enthusiasm for storing you,


Storing you until he has need of you,

Or just until he wants to take a peek at you

Limp, at the bottom of his bucket.


Avoid the net and hook

In the baited brook

And go with the flow where you will!


So, Jeremy, did you capture a fish?

Did you get your wish?


I hope, as his small hand gripped the cane,

his net outstretched,

His feet wet

and his bucket at the ready,

that he was dazzled

by the summer sun,

the glittery river

and the freedom

of the passing

silver scales.



In this poem I tried to depict a driver becoming aware that they were being served by someone who had been trafficked.


This was a very tricky prompt and I struggled so much I had to go down the haiku route.



This was a prompt that was a little easier to feel hopeful about. I always enjoy the challenge of a sonnet. I went for iambic pentameter and I am pretty happy with how this one worked out. For this one I illustrated it with a pic I took of a mural in Glasgow that I think is meant to be a Glaswegian take on St Francis – with that sense of care and nurture that one would hope the city would seek to emulate.




The rescue is waiting; prays for the day,

Ready for action in whatever way,

Rescue is sudden, a truth is revealed,

A climactic end, then time to be healed.


A moment of terror ends years of fear,

The rescue arrives, your saviour is here,

It’s over and yet that’s not how it seems

Reality falls short of captive dreams.


Know that the rescue we offer is real.

Trauma may well take a long time to heal.

The moment of rescue is only the start;

The city surrounds you with every heart.


Glasgow, in which you have suffered unseen

We pray, for you, will become both dear and green.


Day 5: Lament

Another difficult prompt for a “poem of hope” but again, a good challenge.




Long bows, low notes:

Discordant cellos sing from our souls.

Beauty and sorrow twist and bind,

Fuse and form our lament.


Lives, twisted and bound,




How long, O Lord?


And in the day and the night

All is activity.

Busyness, business.

Services, actions

Faceless transactions.


How long, O Lord?


Our throats ache

Mourning the unknown,


The secret stories

Whispered in dark places.


How long, O Lord?


Suddenly hope slices the silence:

A whistle blown,

A dawn raid,

The right call made.


How long, O Lord,

Until we see

Lives, lifted and found?


Day 6: RENEW

I think this was my favourite prompt – as it is necessarily hopeful. I enjoyed thinking about creation and restoration – and how we only renew things that we have had before and want again – like we renew subscriptions or memberships or things that have been valuable in the past. And if you think about that show “The Repair Shop” – people bring in things they want renewed – the absolutely don’t want a new one – they want the one they love and value made new. Thinking about this made me reflect on the care that must be available to those escaping modern slavery and the trauma that requires healing. This leads to echoes of Revelation when God says “Behold I am making all things new”. So, I enjoyed the thought process behind this one.




New things become old things;

Time does that. 


They are damaged and break:

splits, chips and missing bits.

They show wear from use:

stretched, creased and misshapen

They are faded, bleached by the sun

with grubbiness ground in. 

They twist and unravel

The stitches come loose.


A life can be shattered, 

Beauty can be defaced, 

Freedom can be denied;

Cruelty does that.


Lives controlled and taken:

No choices, no voices.

Lives used and exploited:

Sapped, drained, contained.

Lives unwillingly redirected:

Frustrated, oppressed.

Lives unravelling,

Losing the thread

Of their own story. 


Can old be made new?

Can damage be mended?


I place you into the hands of the potter;

I place you into the hands of the carpenter;

I place you into the hands of the skilled craftsman;

I place you into the hands of the Creator.


I pray a prayer of echoes:

“Behold, I am making all things new!”

“A new creation: the old has gone the new has come!”

“Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven!”


We renew things of value;

We restore precious things;

We renew what we had

and we lost 

and we missed.


We missed you.

Then we found you.


It’s worth it; you’re worth it:


Hurt intercepted,

Injuries tended,

Future expected,

Relationships mended.


The careful restoration:

Keeps the character;

Celebrates the form;

Respects the past – 

Now, made to last. 


A thread, visible and invisible,

Holds all things together.



I was initially out of ideas as I had gone for a “restore” angle on “renew” the day before. However the prompt made me think about the phrase “Restorer of Broken Walls” and so I found in in Isaiah and set about reworking that passage into rhyming stanzas with one eye on the theme of hope and human trafficking. The picture is one I took recently in Inverness, of a building that has been recently restored.


A reworking of (Isaiah 58 9b-12)


Lift up the weight that crushes down

And makes the worker weary.

Don’t blame them, don’t shame them.

Learn to see things clearly.


Spend yourself, now give your all.

Supply for others’ delight.

The light will break the darkness;

It will be noon instead of night.


The Lord will guide you always.

You will be satisfied.

You will be strong despite 

The fact the sun your land has dried.


Restored, you are a garden

Where the water always flows,

And like a spring you refresh,

Around you things can grow.


It’s time. The people know it.

The ruins will be mended.

They raise up old foundations.

The broken walls are tended.


And you will be renamed:

Of the broken, the Repairer:

A title showing that you have

turned round and made things fairer.


You’ll be known as the Restorer

Of the places where we stay.

And now we claim this as our hope

It is for this we pray.


So, that was my week of poems. Friends on facebook and instagram were very encouraging and I found the week challenging in terms of writing but also in terms of thinking about the issue of human trafficking in my city. The whole thing is really based on awareness – people need to be aware in order to spot the signs, to alert the authorities and allow hope to be restored.

How long do you think we should wait? #leadership

It was busy at the gym. The third of January. Everyone’s best intentions still intact. 

I had done an hour’s workout as is my usual for a Tuesday. Admittedly, I had regressed my set a little. Wouldn’t want to break myself. Need to wake up the muscles gently for 2023 after two days of rest. Two days of seizing up in shock at the fact I had taken a rest, more like. I needed a good stretch out. 

Instead of a traditional post-workout cooldown, I went to Yoga. There’s nothing like a five-breath downward dog sometimes. I got my mat and found a wee space in the back row. Everyone was lining up ready for the off. Someone commented that it was weird that the instructor wasn’t there. 

From the Child’s Pose, I stretched out my fingers as far in front of me as I could get them. Forehead on the floor. Still no instructor. I gave my vertebrae a chance to come up and down off the mat one at a time. And still no sign.

Someone went to see where he was. He wasn’t anywhere. 

“How long do you think we should wait?” someone asked. 

I was desperate for there to be a class. Desperate. But as the burliest, least flexible and most rubbish at yoga person in the room, I was in no position to step into leadership. 

In this leadership vacuum, what would happen? 

Someone said, “Shall we start with some breathing?”

As the haun-knittit nature of the session became apparent, the three male members of the class left. And a couple of women took up their mats and walked. 

But the breathing thing was as close to a plan as we had. And as the breathing turned to gentle sun salutations, it turned out that this girl probably was the best at yoga in the room. So we went with it. 

Some downward dogs, some planks, some legs up and down and even a few chaturangas and a couple of cobras. Then some balancing. Then some floor stuff. There was a questionable decision by some: to give headstands a go. I opted for a kind of weird knees on elbows stretch and balance which seemed less likely to generate any paperwork or insurance difficulties for anyone. Then some more breathing to finish.  

Fabulous. And such a relief not to have the crushing disappointment of no yoga when I had so much wanted to have a proper stretch after my recent month of rundays. 

We were given coffees in lieu of an instructor, so that was nice. 

But all the while I was thinking about leadership and how the election of our leader came about. 

I don’t think she was particularly power crazy and keen to take charge – but she wanted to do some yoga like the rest of us. There was a lot of looking around the room hopefully at each other, waiting for someone to crack and take up the mantle. 

Then there were the few who left before they had the chance to try out the new leader, or to hear about the compensatory coffee: it was too much of a risk, too much of a potential waste of time; might as well go into the gym and do your own thing. 

Then there were considerations about the wisdom of it all. What if a headstand had resulted in a broken femur? Where would the responsibility lie? If you follow a leader who breaks you – but you followed them – is it their fault or yours? Lemmings and all that. 

I think that this is probably how leaders should be chosen. A group of people have the same goal. The person best placed to lead, in terms of ability and experience, looks around and thinks that honestly, they are in fact the best person to lead the group. So, they start to lead the group. The group are happy – and if they are not, they can leave. At the end, everyone is happy and gives the leader a genuine round of applause and personal thanks, as their sacrifice for the benefit of the group is appreciated. 

“How long do you think we should wait?” 

It’s a good question. Hopefully someone competent and willing is at hand. Maybe it is you. 

Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart on Unsplash

Leader Ship Sea Shanty

Happy New Year for 2023! 

I wrote this poem (below) in November 2021, during a COP 26 poetry challenge #poemsofhope. 

(This was just before I had the COVID that meant that I failed to finish the poetry challenge. The fact that it was part of a challenge is the reason the poem includes reference to getting the poem written in time… I would have edited that out, but it turns out that that would take too much effort…) 


Weirdly, this poem stayed with me in my subconscious for 2022 because Leadership, as a theme, seemed to fall into universal crisis for the duration. I stand by the ideas expressed in the poem. (Sorry the rationale is first and the poem second. Feel free to scroll down. The poem is funner than the rationale.)

“Leadership has gone astray”: I am sure things weren’t always this bad. I mean I know that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but why the apparent obsession with leaders proving it true at every turn? Why not… not? 

Inspirational Leaders do not lead by force: I would like a leader to come up with a great idea, identify a change that needs to be made. I would like to be convinced that this is the moral high ground; this is the only just course of action. Then, actually inspired, I would march the march, protest in protest, be the change I would like to see in the world and so on. In contrast, those in leadership seem to throw money at random priorities. Maybe I am wrong; maybe they are not random – but it’s the lack of leadership in the leadership that makes me feel they are random. Come on, inspire me!

“A leader is only leading when they are followed by you and me”: Okay this is to do with the cult of leadership. The logical cul-de-sac of everyone can be a leader. Philosophically that is utter mince. Followers are led by leaders; leaders have followers. Okay so each leader might have mentors, inspirations and influencers – and each follower might lead someone or somethings – but in any one context at any one time – not everyone is a leader. You are particularly not a leader if you have just read a book on leadership and decide to behave like a random automaton. Please – come up with a good idea or a strategy and try to inspire people to follow your lead. 

Politically, I am very frustrated. There is so much polarisation and so little debate. There’s the unionist/nationalist thing, the leaver/remainer thing, the left/right thing, the gender ideology thing, the cancelling thing. It has never been so Orwellian. Or maybe it has always been thus and I just wasn’t paying attention. 

So as we enter 2023 I hope our leaders on the global stage (trying to deal with East/West thing, the Russia/Ukraine thing, the Global North/Global South thing) may they not lead by force. May they inspire right change. I hope our national leaders at Holyrood and Westminster will get their priorities right. I hate the fact that I doubt they will. I hope that I, when I read about leadership or organise a thing, will inspire rather than depress those I hope to lead. 

On that note, sorry that this may have been depressing – the poem is fun. Please enjoy it. 

Leader Ship Shanty

In the Good Ship Leader, I swear it’s so

A yo ho ho! and off we go!

And a yo ho ho! We’ll find a way

If we follow the leader, on course we’ll stay!

(But in my mind, I have to say

That “Leadership” has gone astray.

The problem seems to be that when

A leader leads, it is often then

They begin to crave more power and sway

And thirst for control gets in the way –

And before you know it, the leader falls:

“Walk the plank!” …You’ll hear the calls.)

A yo ho ho! So, let’s be led –

And who should be there, at the head?

A yo ho ho! I have a plan.

Let’s have an inspirational man.

(Okay, or woman, it’s just for rhyme –

And I have to get this wrut in time!)

There was Gandhi and there was Martin King

And both led peacefully and both did win

They took their protests on the march

And shamed oppressors who’d been harsh.

Peacefully, they made it known

That injustice can be overthrown.

A yo ho ho! Can we set sail?

Our mission’s clear, we must not fail?

A yo ho ho! Who’s at the helm?

We have to put our faith in them!

There’s a type of leader we really need

If we hope to give and share and feed,

And show compassion to our neighbour,

And guarantee fair pay for labour,

And have a broad consideration,

For those in need in every nation.

Corruption scuppers everything!

The irony of self – 

If only those in power could leave

Their egos on the shelf.

But here’s the hope I’ll leave you – 

As we sail along the sea:

A leader is only leading 

When they are followed by you and me.

Let’s abandon ships that waver

From a course we want to go

And support those at the forefront

Of the causes that we know

Will make a difference in the world

And lead to better things.

(This can be done by servants 

And this can be done by kings.)

And as for me? And as for you?

In our own Leader Ships?

I think you know the way to go

On your many leader trips.

Take the people with you 

On a route that leads to good.

Ensure the dangers of corruption

Are those you’ve understood.

And now, set sail across the world

And love the ones that come.

And serve and tend your followers

(no, not with a tot of rum…).

With a yo ho ho, for justice we hanker!

With a yo ho ho, together: Weigh Anchor!

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