Let the heart create for us…

Michaela bought me a present- a book I had loved in a former life and then lost/loaned.

It is this tiny book by Michael Leunig, written back in 1991;

the prayer tree, leunig

It contains one of the few poems that I can recite by heart- “When the heart is cut or cracked or broken, don’t clutch it, let the wound lie open….” I have quoted this previously here.

Today, with thanks to Mr Leunig, (and my lovely wife) I offer you this;

God help us to live slowly

To move simply

To look softly

To allow emptiness

To let the heart create for us


And for those whose heart is not quite ready to create, perhaps this will help you realise that you are not alone;


The forgotten histories…

Kilmore Chapel, Strathlachlan

Michaela spent a few days out at Castle Lachlan, the other side of the Cowal peninsula. They are doing a lot of work to reveal the history of their castles, including the romantic ruined one, and as part of this they had a festival, full of Lachlans from the world over, all back to soak themselves in the ancient bloodlines of their ancestors. And hopefully to buy a few local arts and crafts…

craft tent

Castle Lachlan was apparently wrecked by a ship sent to cannonade it after the Battle of Culloden- the Lachlan clan having picked the wrong side. We know little about what actually happened, because history is told by the victors, and then mostly only about the rich and powerful.

I was reminded about this again as today I was playing cricket this side of Cowal- at the site of another pair of castles- again an old ruined one and a replacement Victorian one. This was Castle Toward. Here we are in front of the new Castle;


We all know about one Highland Massacre- the one in Glencoe in which 38 people were killed after offering hospitality to their murderers. Most have heard nothing of the one that was perpetrated on the men women and children of Toward in the brutal years around the 1745 rebellion;

Sir John Lamont, 14th chief, who had been knighted by King Charles; was pressured into joining Argyll, the Campbell chief and his Covenanting army in opposition against the King during the 17th century wars of Montrose. After the defeat of Campbell forces at Inverlochy, Sir John was taken prisoner and later switched sides opting to support Montrose and his general, Alastair MacDonald (MacColla), a bitter enemy of the Campbells. MacDonald along with Highlanders and Irish mercenaries, crossed Loch Long in boats provided by the Lamonts and landed at the Point of Strone. After defeating a Campbell force, Macolla’s army mustered at Toward and then decended on the Campbell lands. The Lamonts had their share in killing and plundering particularly in Strachur and Kilmun before returning home to Toward. 

In England the King surrendered and ordered his supporters to lay down their arms and cease hostilities. The Campbells took this opportunity to surround the Lamont castles of Toward and Ascog. Unable to withstand a long seige and with no hope of reprieve, Sir James surrendered the castles, having apparently reached honourable terms. The Campbells later ignored the terms of capitulation accusing the lamonts of being traitors, unworthy of terms.
The Lamonts where bound and kept within the castle, during this time several women were murdered. The survivors were taken by boats to Dunoon and in the church were sentenced to death. A large number of Lamont men, women and children, were shot or stabbed to death and they did ‘cause hang upon ane tree near the number of thirty six persons most of them being special gentlemen of the name of Lamont and vassals to Sir James’. the half-hanged men, both dead and dying were buried in pits. Sir James and his brothers were kept prisoner for five years and it would be 16 years before the ringleaders of the massacre were brought to justice and Sir Colin Campbell beheaded. 

The exact number of people who died is not known, but it is thought to be well over 200.

It strikes you- the uses we put our history to. It is a matter of how we employ it, who controls how we see it.

There is a lot of history being conjured up at the moment, because of the independence debate. The grubby awfulness of these fracture lines that are just below the surface of the Highland/Lowland relatively recent history are not relevant to these debates because they can not be easily applied to a binary Scotland/England simplistic version of history.

I fear these simplistic histories. They tend to ignore the small people, and the mess that power mongers make of it all. We are diminished by them.

So the next time we stand in the romantic ruins of a castle, perhaps it is worth remembering that we are still building them, and others are planning to knock them down. Small people will probably get hurt, but no one will remember their names.

The seduction of acquisition…

Emily, new car

My daughter Emily has bought herself a car.

Aside from the scary implications of having a daughter let loose on the open road, it has raised some interesting questions about how we relate to our possessions. Emily had decided not to put any pictures on FB as she had seen too many other ‘look what I have got, look at my lovely stuff’ kind of pictures.

We rehearsed the arguments; it is 13 years old, and you saved up to buy it and are working to run it. Living between Dunoon and Stirling, it makes economic sense. etc., but Emily still felt uncomfortable enough to want to shrink from public celebration of acquisition- she often makes me proud and hopeful like that…

Our intimate relationship with the stuff we own is rarely more intense than with our first car. Not just the fact that it is OURS, but what it represents- freedom, adulthood, the wide horizon of life. Forget the practicalities of insurance, running costs, repairs. Some of this feels good, wholesome, worthy even. It is symbolic of watching our children spreading their wings, making the world for themselves, setting off on their own adventure.


Like most of human endevour, good is shadowed by not-so-good.

There is the environmental impact of car ownership, and the fact that it is a normalised expectancy of all of us that our modes of travel should be individualised motor boxes.

There is also the seduction (soon to become an addiction) of acquisition. It is the means by which we make ourselves feel good, or to feel acceptable, or even to be a valuable member of our societies.

Our children have learned these things from us. And they start young. Check out some of the research here.

It is my hope, and my experience, that my kids have learned other things from us too however- including how we see ownership as responsibility. So if you have a car and others do not, there is a responsibility on you to use it not just for your benefit, but also for the benefit of others. I have not a shadow of a doubt that Emily will do this, and this makes me happy…




I have been doing some work on a new poetry project recently- a collaboration for Advent. Here is one that I do not think will make it into the final mix, as I am not sure about it. It is still in sketch form, and I am a bit worried about it being a bit too sentimentally ‘mystical’ rather than carrying some real honesty…



To you whose hope

Seems stolen

Know this tender thing;

The bruised old sky above you

(Which seems to yawn indifference)

Is, in fact, leaking light.


Particles tumble down

Like this promise;

I am here

Where you are


For I know what you know

I see what you see

The fences you built are no protection

From starlight


My stars leave no shadow

Only the gentle light

Of becoming.








Where your treasure is, there are your values also…

IMG_2895 I have been thinking about another one of George Monbiot’s brilliant articles over the past few days, in which he suggested that the left of centre political parties, both here and across the Atlantic, have failed to portray any sense of what they (and hopefully we) might regard as high values.

If, for example, your country has a public health system that ensures that everyone who needs treatment receives it, without payment, it helps instil the belief that it is normal to care for strangers, and abnormal and wrong to neglect them. If you live in a country where people are left to die, this embeds the idea that you have no responsibility towards the poor and weak. The existence of these traits is supported by a vast body of experimental and observational research, of which Labour and the US Democrats appear determined to know nothing.

Monbiot goes further than this however, to quote research into the way that extrinsic values (looking towards external signifiers such as fame, success, possessions, attractiveness) and intrinsic values (focused more on the self acceptance, and the desire to help others) affect our values and our politics;

Research across 70 countries suggests that intrinsic values are strongly associated with an understanding of others, tolerance, appreciation, cooperation and empathy. Those with strong extrinsic values tend to have lower empathy, a stronger attraction towards power, hierarchy and inequality, greater prejudice towards outsiders, and less concern for global justice and the natural world. These clusters exist in opposition to each other: as one set of values strengthens, the other weakens. They tend to report higher levels of stress, anxiety, anger, envy, dissatisfaction and depression than those at the intrinsic end. Societies in which extrinsic goals are widely adopted are more unequal and uncooperative than those with deep intrinsic values. In one experiment, people with strong extrinsic values who were given a resource to share soon exhausted it (unlike a group with strong intrinsic values), as they all sought to take more than their due.

Monbiot then considers how these extrinsic values are being promoted at present within our increasingly unequal and self-focused societies;

As extrinsic values are strongly associated with conservative politics, it’s in the interests of conservative parties and conservative media to cultivate these values. There are three basic methods. The first is to generate a sense of threat. Experiments reported in the journal Motivation and Emotion suggest that when people feel threatened or insecure, they gravitate towards extrinsic goals. Perceived dangers – such as the threat of crime, terrorism, deficits, inflation or immigration – trigger a short-term survival response, in which you protect your own interests and forget other people’s.

Here is the heart of the matter as far as I am concerned. The agenda that we live by, wittingly or not, has been set up by an extrinsic value system. We have been sold a lie that we are all under attack; from crime, economic disaster, immigrants, benefits scroungers, unaffordable health care. Our response to this seems to be to dig in, to get more for ourselves, to be less tolerant, less open, less forgiving, less motivated by altruism- all of which is totally incompatible with the Christian faith espoused by many of our politicians. Politicians- change the agenda. Change the value base- give us something to live for, not just a narrow me-first politics, but a politics of hope.