The hens arrive (along with one egg)

I know, I know, it is sooo middle class.

Kind of like the new stone cladding.

Or the new companion to every IKEA kitchen.

If you do not believe me, check out the Eglu. The coop for people with far more money than sense…

But today we collected three chickens. They were from the British Hen Welfare Trust, and are all ex battery hens, so have had a pretty crap life up till now. Battery hens are all disposed of (in the sense of ‘killed’) after one year of production, as egg productivity drops. In the first year, each hen will lay around 300 eggs, but these 18 month old hens will probably manage around 4 a week now.

Two dozen eggs a week- more than enough for us, although William will eat as many eggs as you will put in front of him.

If it is not obvious why we wanted to keep hens (apart from just being pretentious!) then perhaps you can call round and have breakfast with us some time- fresh egg with chunky toast anyone?

They are all a bit scraggly and the expectation is that they will take a few weeks to settle in to their new coop before we will see any eggs, but when we opened up the box that the chickens had travelled home in, one of them had rewarded us already with a nice brown egg!

Back from hols…

We are back in Scotland after a lovely break on the Yorkshire coast after what we can only call a traditional English holiday…

We stayed in Michaela’s uncle Barry and Aunt Sue’s caravan up on the cliffs next to Whitby abbey, and hardly used the car at all for the first week- cycling and walking everywhere. The distances were increased as the swing bridge over the harbour broke down, meaning a long detour from one side of Whitby to the other.

The sun shone, and when it rained, it was dramatic and beautiful…

I confess that I always find blog posts on other people’s holidays a bit naff, so this time we decided that each of us would just list our highlights- so here we go…


Listening to Norma Waterson along with some of her singing family in an old church. Singing as easily as breathing.

Going first class on the North Yorkshire Railway- the first time ever (and perhaps the last!)

Relaxing, reading writing letters, lying in bed in the morning…


Watching England under 19 cricket team play Sri Lanka at Scarborough Cricket Ground. Catching a ball on the boundary, and getting autographs of both teams. Chatting to the Sri Lankan team in their room, and being on first name terms with their coach!

Riding a real steam train.

Cycling into town.


Relaxing. Somewhere were we had never been before- doing touristy things, and seeing old Whitby.

Eating very good chips!

Horse riding.

As for me…

All of the above (minus the horses!)

I really needed a break- and it was certainly that- spending time with those I love the most, walking and riding and building sand castles, it was simply lovely.

I loved visiting Whitby Abbey, and walking on the moors.

And the cricket match- watching William lit up by a game that I love- that was special too…

It was also really great to meet up with Graham Peacock, whose blog I follow (Digging a lot.) Graham is a Methodist minister who lives near to Whitby, so we hitched a plan to meet up and share a pint. We share a lot of interests- faith, cricket, music, so we had lots to talk about.  And yes- he blogged about it first!

However what was amazing was that we discovered that I used to work with his wife Victoria when I was a social worker in Bolton!

Small small world…

Anyone got a spare bucket and spade?

The Goans are off on a traditional British summer holiday.

Cue for a song- take it away Cliff…

(Nice little misogynist twist at the end there!)

This year we are heading to Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast- a familiar old place for us, as we had our Honeymoon at Robin Hood’s Bay almost 20 years ago. We have fond memories of parking our Citroen 2cv with it’s bumper against a lamp post as neither the hand brake nor leaving it in gear would hold it on the steep cobbled street.

The blog will be quiet for a couple of weeks

For those of you who are staying at home, or travelling- may you find rest. May there be some mid summer Jubilee.

May the noise of children mingle with the sound of sea gulls to conjure up best memories of your own childhood.

May the days rest soft and the nights be kind.

And may God hold you in the palm of his hand…

There is a time for all things under heaven

A time for marram grass to move
In gentle air
And for the dying sun
To turn all green things gold
To alchemise the evening
Into a luminal place
On the twilit edge
Between here
And there

A time when the last call of the curlew
Will echo away over the dimming mountains
And the stillness is itself


A time for this day

To silence

The soul

From ‘Listing‘.

Jim Crow repainted- again…

So- another twist in the local debate about a painted rock on the Dunoon shoreline.

Photo c.1900

The rock has now been defaced twice by someone who decided that direct action was required to highlight the murky history that may be behind this local land mark. Local politicians have expressed their outrage-

Councillor Bruce Marshall, chair of the Bute and Cowal Area Committee, told the Standard on Tuesday: “I was unaware that Jim Crow had again been defaced and find it hard to believe that anyone can be so petty.
“Jim Crow has been a landmark on the foreshore at Hunter’s Quay all of my life and I would not like to see it permanently lost.”

From Dunoon Observer.

Two people were seen yesterday redecorating the rock with its golliwog face.

The local paper has dealt with the issue in a rather lazy and partisan fashion. It reads like the reporter was looking for a way to dismiss any concerns about the rock, and seeking to interpret history in this light. A quote from the article

In an age where international news was not widely spread, it is unlikely that Dunoon people knew about these laws when the rock was originally painted, possibly around 1900.

It seems more likely that the rock was originally named after a Thomas Ingoldsby rhyming story The Jackdaw of Rheims. which was popular in Victorian times, The poem, about a particularly pious jackdaw made ito a saint, ends with the stanza:

And on newly-made Saints and Popes, as you know,

It’s the custom, at Rome, new names to bestow,

So they canonized him by the name of Jim Crow!

The research the local reporter has done seems to ignore the pervasive influence of ‘coon songs‘ and ‘black face songs’ in the Victorian and Edwardian music halls (right through to the dreadful black and white minstrel shows that were on TV in the 1970’s.)

People in Dunoon, and holiday makers from the big city who flocked here around the turn of the 20th Century, probably did not know much about the Jim Crow laws, but they would have known that ‘Jim Crow’ was a derogatory caricature of a black man.

As for the Jackdaw of Rheims– written by Rev Richard H Barham (under the pen name Thomas Ingoldsby,) it makes one reference to Jim Crow- as part of a long poem about a Jackdaw. Here is the question- why did Barham use this name? The song ‘Jump Jim Crow‘ was a huge international hit, with sheet music sold over all the world- carrying the caricature everywhere it went. The song was written about 5-10 years before the Jackdaw of Rheims was published.

The Observer reporter appears to assume that before the internet, before radio and TV, communication of ideas like this between continents was unlikely- that there could be no real exchange of ideas between sleepy Dunoon and America. This is to totally misunderstand our history-

Looking back from a totally different culture and time, there is no blame that can be attached to whoever first crudely decorated this rock and wrote ‘Jim Crow’ on its side. It was probably a bit of holiday fun. Using terms and prejudices that were so pervasive that they were hardly noticed.

The issue remains how we come to understand the symbolism contained within this image now– how we engage honestly with our past.

And this rock gives us an opportunity to do just that.

I notice that the local paper did not quote this-

“… there can be no doubt that the painting of the ‘face’, with its exaggerated red mouth, is a typically caricatured image of a black person, as popularised by the American entertainer T.D. Rice in the nineteenth century. […] I feel certain that black visitorsfrom outside would see this as somewhat insulting […] as a derogatory reference to their skin colour and origins.”

Institute of Race Relations.

So –  are we sure that this is just a little bit of harmless local colour? And even if it is just that- are we really comfortable with the associations that are being made, and the offence that this might carry to the descendants of slaves who had to fight on for generations against the oppression of the Jim Crow laws?

If the rock is to stay, then we need to tell these stories.

If we are to keep the face on the rock- then let us also put a big sign on the foreshore dealing with the darker side of our past…

Social work and stress…

Social work is a job for young people. Mostly.

A few survive into their 40’s- possibly by specialising, or (oh dear- like me) becoming a manager, but on the whole, the nature of the job, and the political/economic/social environment we work in simply burns people out.

It is a slow process- and is poorly recognised even within the profession- as it is usually manifested in a loss of effectiveness and responsiveness- and in these days where performance targets dominate every area of practice, this kind of thing wins you no friends in busy teams.

It is a process that must be difficult to understand when you have never been involved in this kind of work. Some of my friends have a go at me as being in an easy lazy public sector job, often in comparison to their ‘real’ jobs. I smile, but inside I want to have a bit of a go back- and ask them to try doing what I do for a while…

I want to ask them who they think will do the jobs we do if we do not?

Who will visit a family living in squalor because of an alcoholic parent?

Who will look after an old cantankerous man who has become to infirm and confused to get out of the house, and has been unable to manage to get himself to the toilet for the last few weeks?

Who will try to build relationships of trust with the people on the margins of society who have lost all social connections?

…etc etc.

Because in devaluing the people that do these things, we potentially devalue the people who need the help.

I read this today-

“Modern social work is in a state of crisis. It has always been a profession towards which society has displayed ambivalence and it is now grossly underfunded and understaffed. Tragedies and subsequent vilification of social workers and their managers are reported with increasing frequency. The profession attempts to function in an environment of obstructive administrative ‘systems’, … severe financial restrictions and conflicting demands …” –Davies, p. 9, Stress in Social Work (1998, Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

“Because they deal in actual and emotional injustice, and actual and psychic injury, the reality for social workers much of the time is that while they may bring about some relief or improvement, the most that they may hope for is some damage limitation, particularly in areas such as child abuse and criminality.” —Davies, p. 19, Stress in Social Work (1998, Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

This is a familiar picture to me. Add to this the fact that the cut backs in public spending are making things worse. I am about to lose my job for the second time in 2 years through ‘reorganisation’. Quite what I will be doing in 2 years I have no clue.

My colleague recently had a health check and was told her blood pressure was very high. A retest suggested that this might just have been temporary as a result of a particularly bad day.

‘I think I am going to take the blood pressure test with a pinch of salt’ she suggested, and then realised what she had said.

We laughed.

Thank the Lord for companionship and good colleagues. As long as we can hold on…

Eliza Cathy and her mum (Norma Waterson and her lass.)

I am off work today, and supposed to be cutting the grass, but this has been rather defeated by the fact that the mower is broken, and there is a storm raging outside.

But today a new album arrived through the post- this one

First listening- love it. Sumptuous folk vocals relax into one another, whilst the backing (Dad Martin Simpson, Danny Thompson on double bass, Oliver Knight on cello- what could go wrong there?) is lovely.

It is English folk at it’s best- traditional, unpretentious, emotional and beautiful.

This kind of music is sometimes difficult to hear for those of us who have been schooled on soft pop and American ubiquitous R and B. It certainly divides my friends.

But it plugs me into something deep and important.

Here is a flavour (not of the album but of some of the family)-

Bishops, Centurions and sexuality…

So the Church of England is in the middle of another storm caused by the nomination of Jeffrey John as one of the candidates to take over as Bishop of Southwark. He is openly gay, although celebate, and has already had to stand down as suffragan bishop of Reading because of his sexuality after protests from traditionalists.

It makes more likely the prospect of a split in the Anglican Communion, a prospect which makes me sad, as the real strength of the C of E is it’s diversity- and generosity to a wide range of theological positions.

Tonight, our housegroup had a discussion around chapter 8 of Matthew’s gospel- including this familiar passage-

5When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”7Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

8The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.


Audrey and Paul discussed the fact that they had hear it suggested that the relationship between the centurion and his servant may have been sexual. Apparently it would not have been unusual for Romans to take ‘servants’ as homosexual lovers.

The speculation then is whether the centurion did not want Jesus to come to his house because he was trying to hide the true nature of their relationship.

But if this is true- then Jesus would have known. He was Jesus after all.

And if he knew, it was not relevant to him was it? He did not mention it, focussing on the faith of the centurion, and the fact that those outside the religious institution of his day- or even outside the ‘kingdom’- might yet be welcome at the table.

I am sure you get my point.

My position has moved a long way on this issue. The dominance of individual sexuality as a measure of a person, and as an exclusion criteria for their service in the church- I am increasingly frustrated by it.

And I remain convinced that in 20 years, the dominant view within a broader cross section of the church will move in this direction also. I just hope that the C of E will make it that far.

Ettrick bay, Bute…

I was on Bute yesterday- and the combination of sunshine and dramatic sky was stunning. Even for a person of my limited photographic skills.

I took a turn out to Ettrick Bay at lunch time…

To be near such places is a blessing- but one that easily comes to be taken for granted.

My relationship to places like these has changed. They are no longer the end of a precious pilgrimage, but rather encountered in the corner of a glance in the middle of a busy working day.

So it becomes all the more important to me to see deeply and to be grateful.

Some days it is easier than others.

The reformulation of ’emerging’ Church?

I have been watching another little internet spat rumbling on over the past few weeks about this thing called ’emerging church.’ I resisted posting anything myself because I was not entirely sure what my own thoughts were- and to be honest the arguments about EC are wearing very thin.

Not that I do not still think the term is useful- for me it is still something that has meaning. But more as a description of process, not of destination.

It was always inevitable that this rather formless, leaderless movement, gathered together through blogs and podcasts more than in books and buildings, would ebb and flow, splinter and reform. This is what seems to be happening. The early adopters of the label have mostly moved on- radicals tend to have short attention spans, and perhaps to0 easily offend or take offence.

The latest discussion/disruption began with this post by Kester Brewin– who was reflecting on his impression of the return of a lot of early pioneer leaders seemed to be returning to the institutions that they left.

TSK kind of agreed.

‘Romantic tosh’ said Jonny Baker. He pointed out that it had never been an either-or situation, but a both-and. A lot of the new forms of Church had been actively fostered and supported by traditional church forms- particularly by the C of E in England. Here is Jonny talking about this very thing back in 2008 (perhaps it is a sign of how much things have changed recently that this seems a long time ago?)-

So- for my two penny worth, here is the view from up north.

U here the influence of the ’emerging conversation’ has been strong, if a few years behind the English experience. However despite the use of the term within some of our big religious institutions (the Church of Scotland here for example) there has been little physical development, or signs of significant innovation around new forms of Church- unless I am missing something.

Perhaps this is in part because the sectarian entrenchment, both between Catholic and Protestant, and between embattled protestant groups (who still tend to be more interested in fighting dogmatic truth wars) has been so pervasive up here. The influence of American style fundamentalism via satellite TV  is also a constant irritation to me.

My small group often feels isolated. We have sought to make friendships and partnerships wherever we can, and to network ourselves to others with whom we can share activities and stories. Up here, the issue is not whether emerging church is retreating back to institutions, but rather a question of where those of us who are seeking to find new ways of doing church will find any kind of mutual support and mentoring.

All movements need leadership. Those of us that have been inoculated against ‘modern’ leadership (by our experience of Church) tend to eschew the forms of church that are led like large industrial-military organisations.  For this reason, the leadership required by us is of a very particular kind- I have written about this before- here.

But I simply do not care whether these leaders are part of a large institution or not.

Although my impression is that the generosity and tolerance seen in the old C of E perhaps makes it well suited to the task…

I wonder where we will be in 5 years? We live in interesting times.

The battle against racism returns to Dunoon’s foreshore…

There is a rock about a hundred yards from where I live that has been decorated for about 100 years like this-

I have previously described some of the controversy that surrounds this rock (here and here.)

I recently came across another website run by someone I know in Dunoon, which was set up as a result of his concern about what the history and symbolism of the rock might mean…

He quotes someone called Dr Waters from the Institute of Race Relations as saying this-

“… there can be no doubt that the painting of the ‘face’, with its exaggerated red mouth, is a typically caricatured image of a black person, as popularised by the American entertainer T.D. Rice in the nineteenth century. […] I feel certain that black visitorsfrom outside would see this as somewhat insulting […] as a derogatory reference to their skin colour and origins.”

Last year someone took matters in their own hands and painted out the rock with some brown paint. They did a rather good job, and it was hard to tell that it had ever been decorated.

And as the local furore raged, someone else simply redecorated it as above.

Well, last night someone revisited the rock- this is what it looks like today-

Is Dunoon a racist town?

No more than any other I would say- although the largest ethnic minority here are the English, and we have a measure of anti-English sentiment like most places in Scotland. But narrow mindedness and prejudice are a feature of all our human communities and perhaps in small isolated towns like mine they can be long lasting.

There are not many black faces here. However, there used to be an American Naval base here until around 15 years ago, and there were lots of black American servicemen here then. Stories of race riots and segregated drinking are part of the local folklore. As are fond memories of the life and vitality brought to our community by people from African American origin.

Quite what these servicemen thought about the rock, I would love to know. Where they so used to such images that it was unremarkable? Were they told not to protest by their command structure? Or did it carry no racist meaning for them?

I hope that this latest act of direct action might yet highlight the meaning of ‘Jim Crow’ for Black Americans to people in Dunoon.

Because I think that we have should challenge prejudice wherever we find it- whether or not it is unintentional, or inherited from a previous generation with a different world view.