After the frenetic activity of the last few weeks and months comes the inevitable energy dip. I am in my second day of unemployment, with a contradictory long list of things that need to be done (and which I am not doing.) Partly I suppose this is OK as I kind of need a rest, but equally I know myself well enough to be careful of such uncertainty- inactivity can become a trough which takes some climbing out of.

It all feels a bit surreal- as if I can’t decide whether nothing has changed, or that everything has changed when I was looking the other way. I say this as some kind of record of what happens when you decide to re invent yourself by jumping out of the rat race into the unknown.

The one thing that will bring you up sharp against the new reality is this word- money. Michaela and I sat wondering how best to husband our resources in this time of transition last night, and I felt the old childhood anxieties rise.

And today I went to the Job Centre to sign on as unemployed, and to claim my Jobseekers Allowance. Despite years of advising and supporting others who claimed benefit, I have never claimed as an adult. However, I am a child of a single mother surviving on state benefits so this forced an examination of role and status which was understandably challenging!

I was told that my first ‘signing on’ date (where I report to describe my activities in relation to seeking employment) is next Tuesday- when we are away on holiday for a week. Cue kerfuffel as a form was produced for me to describe how I was going to continue to seek work, and to be available for work on my holiday. Is that not an oxymoron?

The staff in the job centre, it has to be said, were polite and friendly- perhaps even a little intimidated by my qualifications and background. However, the atmosphere of the place, shiny and clean as it is, was quite energy sapping. I think it is the general feeling of state censure and disapproval. The security guard who greets you at the door, and the clear cross-desk dividing line of us/them.

It has been clear to me in the past from my previous working life that people are changed by encounter with this kind of bureaucracy. It is not just that they are beaten down by the sense of loss of role and identity- it is also something more subtle- we are in danger of losing our sense of freedom, choice and adventure.

This, my friends, we can not allow to happen…

East coasting…

We have just spent a couple of days over on the East Coast with my brother and his wife (and wee Jamie.) They live in Haddington, and took us for a day out in North Berwick, a lovely seaside town with a proper beach, a tiny harbour and even though it is quite a posh place it still had that evocative seaside smell- a combination of fried food, seaweed, and salt.

We walked the beach and encountered a faire set up to make money for the lifeboat society, so we joined in. I won the welly wanging contest (and Will won the junior one too!) I am thinking that this really should be an Olympic sport. Our prizes were two £5 ice cream vouchers.

Just off shore from North Berwick is Bass Rock- a small island famous for it’s Stevenson lighthouse, and its vast colony of Gannets. When you first look out at the island, it looks like it is covered in snow.


Then when you look a bit closer, you realise that what you are seeing are thousands and thousands of nesting Gannets. It is simply stunning.



It happened, eventually. Today I left work to step into a period of great uncertainty.

I have taken redundancy, with no safety net, and it feels absolutely the right decision.

We are planning to spend some time converting some space in our house to be used a public space- a guest house, a retreat venue and a place where people can come to learn crafts and art. We have hopes and dreams but there is no certainty that this will work out.

Sorry to bleat on about this, it is not as if thousands of others are not having to try to reinvent life in the wake of redundancy or worse. But it does feel like a big deal- the turning of a life-page. And we only have a limited number of those.

As ever I was playing with words, as a means of processing some of what is going on in my head;


In the end it came quietly

No clatter of broken chains

No fanfare for the passing

Just another moment slipping by

But most unusually this one

Was not missed

But squarely met


And in the years to come

Who can say what now will look like from then?

Whether today will be the pivot on which this

Life turned

Or whether it is yet to turn again.

Unfolding paper clips…

They are important, these markings of transitions.

They are the spirituality of the mundane. And no less the lovely for that.

Today I met with some of my friends and colleagues from a 10 year career with Argyll and Bute council for my leaving do. People said some lovely things, and I think they meant them. Tears were shed, speeches spoken and extravagant gifts given/received.

A while ago, whilst we were reflecting on the chaos that the social work department is currently experiencing at the moment (losing over half of the experienced managers with no immediate replacements) I wondered aloud how on earth  the council could get away with it all. A wise friend of mine said something like this; It will be like a hand in a bucket of water, the hand thinks that the bucket will be lost without it, but as soon as you pull the hand, the water close like it has never been there.

I was sad when I heard it, because I knew it to be true. Large public departments are never dependent on individuals. They have a life of their own and there are always more people ready to be fed into the machine.

However, today might suggest that something lives on in the legacy you leave behind. The shape of you, even in the large bucket of water, in turn affects the shape of others- for good and ill, although I hope mostly for good.

Lest I start to get too elevated in my ego, one of the gifts given to me today was a ‘newspaper’, with the headline story something like this;


Chris Goan leaves Ellis Lodge Today… remaining workforce celebrate!

A Local Authority was in uproar today when one of its employees Chris Goan was finally ejected from the building. “He’s been a right skiver since the day he started here” said one employee who did not wish to be named (but known in the building as the Haggis Rustler) “I can’t wait to see the back of the bugger.”

One of Chris’s best friends (who will be paid later) said “I’m supposed to be on holiday today but I came in to see him leave for myself” He added “There was a rumour going around about him leaving, but it seemed to good to be true.” He added “When I saw we were doing a collection for him, I thought we were paying him to resign, so I put fifty quid in.”

Amongst Goan’s leaving presents was a half empty box of elastic bands, the account managers slippers and a card signed by two people (in the same handwriting.)

One of Goan’s work colleagues told our reporters “Nobody untwisted a paper clip quite like him, he won’t be easy to replace.” These statements were later echoed by Goan’s immediate boss who was found in a local pub drinking champagne straight from the bottle. “It will be hard filling Chris’s role, the idle sod took the heat off me. He’s certainly more popular than I thought he was though, someone chipped in £50 for his leaving present, so here I am.”

While the crowd outside Ellis Lodge enjoyed the subsequent celebratory barbecue and firework display, Goan’s boss continued to drink to his departure. When pushed for a more upbeat statement, he grudgingly added; “We wish Chris every happiness, no he has finally left us.”

A final statement issued collectively by the entire Cowal/Bute, Helensburgh/Lomond workforce and all MHO’s late last night read “Chris Goan, you are a… really nice guy! You are loved and will be missed, Damn you you lucky lucky thing!

(I think I have my lovely admin worker Issy to thank for this!)

As career epitaphs go, I will settle for that one.

Thanks friends…

Creativity and internal conflict…

There was an article on Bruce Springsteen in the Guardian today. I am not a huge fan- but there is one of his albums, Nebraska, that I have played a lot. It is a spare, bleak collection of songs recorded on a basement 4 track cassette recorder. Some of it makes the hairs on your kneck stand out.

It was both shocking, and yet not a surprise to read this;

While he was working on his 1982 album Nebraska, he felt “suicidal”, according to friend and biographer Dave Marsh. “The depression wasn’t shocking, per se,” Marsh explained to Remnick. “He was on a rocket ride, from nothing to something, and now you are getting your ass kissed day and night. You might start to have some inner conflicts about your real self-worth.”…

The Boss was driven, he admitted, “by pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred”.

“I’m 30 years in analysis!” Springsteen said. “You think, I don’t like anything I’m seeing, I don’t like anything I’m doing, but I need to change myself, I need to transform myself.

“I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel,”

I was reminded on an old post I wrote, reflecting on some words by David Bailey– he said that he had never known a good artist who did not have absolute confidence in their work. This seemed nonsense to me, as those I had met seemed full of doubts and fears about everything they created, and quite a lot about themselves too.

This may reflect my own skewed perspective of course. Success perhaps belongs to the bombastic.

But then again, creativity does appear to relate to introspection, and no one instrospects like those of us who carry damage. We have been hiding deep inside ourselves, and built all sorts of defences to keep it quiet down there. One of the ways of communication left to us is through art. There is no better example than Peter Howson.

Or Bruce of course.

Clatter of rails…

Image taken on Yorkshire Moors Railway, 2010.

Thanks to today’s minimergent;

This side of Paradise, people are with God in such a remote and spotty way that their experience of Eternal Life is at best like the experience you get of approaching a place at night in a fast train. Even the saints see only an occasional light go whipping by, hear only a sound or two over the clatter of the rails.

Frederick Buechner

On the Aoradh workbench…

We are doing some work for installations to be used at Greenbelt festival– a combination of sculptural pieces and soundscapes/poetry. It is so lovely to be actually producing something- much of our work of late has been of the mental/community building kind.

There is an interesting old discussion which has at times been quite heated in Aoradh– what comes first, the task or the community? One of my friends actually left because he found the community bit too ambling and directionless- he wanted to get busy and use time efficiently. The business of community is rarely efficient. However, community for the sake of our selves, with no reaching out, no service, no connection- this would be a pointless thing, and certainly not  a Jesus-like thing.

This years GB theme is ‘Saving Paradise’ and our part of contribution involves three pieces, representing sea, forest and river. We will use this in conjunction with soundscapes made in wilderness locations, along with poetry. These will be projected using ultrasonic speakers, which is a bit of tech that I am looking forward to playing with.

The sculptures are a bit trial and error, but here is the work so far- firstly the ‘Sea’ piece, which will have ‘sails’ attached;


Then there is the work that Pauline has done in designing some ‘flowers’ that will be attached to another piece of wood to represent ‘forest’. They look great- better than I had imagined they could be. Here is the prototype along with William for scale;

The silence of God…

The silence of God


Here I am God

Speaking again into your vast unknown

Straining for resonance in space you left wide open



They say you speak through sunsets

That you voice the throat of sparrows

That I should look for you in the least of these

And that you also speak in silence

They say you are a jealous God

Who calls us from beyond the periphery of our understanding


But I am weary of mixing portents from selective mundanity

I hope for so much more than God-in-abstract

Who is unmoved by weeping


Perhaps the problem is all mine

Some deficiency of listening making holes in my audial spectrum

Perhaps I am too used to snowing my head with white noise

Or maybe my ears are all plugged up with sin-wax


But then again, can this really be a matter of technique?

An accident of genetics gifting some with God-ears?

Do you require some holy smoke-filled sanctuary?

Or a flagellated enlightenment?

Can a loving God be so capricious?


So I decided to stop sending all those wish lists

All the pleadings for success and significance

I will even intercede reluctantly

More out of habitual hope

And a desire to carry the shape of you to others


I mean in this no lack of respect Lord

What rights have I to command your attention?

Neither is this related to my lack of faith

Even when I forget where I planted my mustard seed


It is just honesty

In the face

Of silence


But still I am listening


Capitalism; a conspiracy against the common good?

Interesting interview with the current Bish of Durham in the Guardian.

Justin Welby, who is apparently one of the favourites to become the next Archbishop, has an interesting background at the centre of UK establishment- Eton school, Cambridge University, The City of London as an oil executive, along with stints working in the oil fields of Nigeria.

All of which would suggest that his perspective on economic ethics would be rather right of centre. Not so however- this on the Occupy Movement;

“Occupy reflects a deep-seated sense that there is something wrong, and we need to think very hard about what’s wrong.” I press him on this, just to make sure I am hearing him right: “Were Occupy right that something is wrong?” He doesn’t hesitate in any careful, diplomatic Anglican way. “Of course they were right. Absolutely. And everything we are hearing now says that.”

His time as an oil executive in the centre of the City must give him a particular perspective on Capitalism, red in tooth and claw. The interviewer asked him if it all was not just one great, big conspiracy against the common good; profits privatised, losses socialised, to which he had this to say;

“When one group corners a source of human flourishing, it is deeply wicked. It applies to the City, to commodities traders, and to churches who say only this way is right.” This is pretty strong stuff. He continues: “The City is unspeakably powerful. The longer I go on, the more I am aware of the power of finance.”

Talk of the common good is exactly where Bishop Welby is at, ethically. He cites Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 letter Rerum Novarum as the greatest influence over his moral thinking. In this letter, a response to the exploitation of workers in industrial societies, the Pope sets out that the job of the state is to provide for the benefit of all, not least the most dispossessed. Though it rejects socialism, the theology it advocates lays out what later came to be called a preferential option for the poor: “The interests of all, whether high or low, are equal. The members of the working classes are citizens by nature and by the same right as the rich; they are real parts, living the life which makes up, through the family, the body of the commonwealth … therefore the public administration must duly and solicitously provide for the welfare and the comfort of the working classes; otherwise, that law of justice will be violated which ordains that each man shall have his due.”

There is also an interesting discussion about how Christianity is intertwined with capitalism- how the cultural inheritance of Christianity made us who we are, including our greed and excess;

(He quotes a) letter from the economist John Maynard Keynes to Virginia Woolf. The Bishop tries to recite the quote from memory: “We are the lucky generation, we have inherited the benefits of our father’s faith but don’t have the moral obligations. The next generation will be lost in their lust like dogs. We have destroyed Christianity, they will reap the cost of that.” In other words, Welby suggests we are living off and running down the cultural capital of Christianity. I point out to him that Stephen Green (Rev’d Stephen Green, now Lord Green, trade minister and author of Good Value, a book about ethics and finance) ran HSBC when it was laundering Mexican drug money, and Roman Catholic John Varley was CEO of Barclays. Christianity may offer little mitigation against City wrongdoing or morally significant mistakes.

Can Christianity, through the voice of people like Justin Welby, really start to become the faithful, engaged critics of our generation? Can we propose or model a real live alternative? This is my hope, although what this alternative may be is still so hard to visualise, so entwined are we with the culture we have both spawned and feed from.

How to change the world…

Young people ought to want to change the world, so that they can remind the rest of us that we used to want to as well.

So rise up, generation coming- tear down walls and stand in front of tanks.

Saw this today from the minimergent;

The first step – especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money – the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.

Chuck Palahniuk