Neo-Cons and the opportunity gifted by austerity…

trickle down economics

What do you do when faced with a broken economy?

Let us examine a couple of options;

Firstly, we might decide that something has been going wrong with the way we run our lives. We might realise that our lifestyles have become skewed towards debt-driven consumerism, buoyed by a false sense of prosperity caused by rising house prices for those already comfortably situated on the property ladder. We have become a country who have stopped producing things but are addicted to imported gadgets whose pending obsolescence is measured in months even before we get them out of the box.

Over the last 20 years there has been a revolution in the banking and financial sectors. A thousand new ‘products’ offering new ways to borrow. Billions have been generated on paper, and a few rich people have benefited hugely. However, much of the activity is like some kind of confidence trick. It is not related to any real life events, it is just a shuffling of decimal points, the blink blink of binary code. It means nothing to ordinary people. Until it all goes wrong that is.

What can we learn from all this?

  • Can we break the debt cycle, move to more simple ways of living?
  • Can we consume less, share more, recycle, make products that last?
  • Can we protect the weakest from the consequences of failed capitalist experiments?
  • Can we develop a housing market not based on me-first insular ownership battles? Is renting or shared ownership a bad thing?
  • Can we tax more where appropriate, and make sure that the taxes are actually paid?
  • Can we start to make decisions based on sustainability, not just talk about doing so?
  • Can we stop talking about ‘market forces’ as the only human motivation possible to generate mass action. As if money was the only human capital of any value.

Perhaps in the mess of all this, there is a way to mend not just or economy, but for our culture to flourish anew…

The trouble is, there seems to be no real sign that this kind of agenda suits those in power. They seem to be more interested in option B;

The problem with the economy is not one of over consumption, it is caused by excessive public spending. It is caused by welfare systems that breed inefficiency and dependency. It is caused by a lack of fluidity in certain flows of capital around the markets. The proper response should be as follows;

  • Cut public spending.
  • Slash welfare budgets, slash health care spending.
  • Support these unpopular moves with a blame game- stories of benefit scroungers and immigrants coming here to fill our social housing and claim our benefits.
  • Cut taxes to business to encourage productivity.
  • Attack power of unions.
  • Slash at any external power that has a human rights agenda. It will be a threat to the freedom of the market.

Option B, for most of the last 50 years, has not been a politically acceptable option, not even in the height of the Thatcher years. However, the current economic ‘crisis’ seems to have turned all this on its head. Neo Conservatives have an opportunity to move forward an agenda that they have never had before- mostly because organised collective opposition has been so weak.

If you want to see any kind of evidence of this, check out the news. The Tory party conference is in full swing, and a rather nasty, negative set of policies are being touted;

Repeal the Human Rights Act.

Make people on Benefits do ‘voluntary’ work.

Stop immigrants receiving health care and benefits in this country.

No sign whatsoever of option A. There is no money in it for those who are already rich on the benefits of the system that got us into this mess.

Mad ain’t it?


Sam Hill Jr, new album…

sam hill

I am just sitting listening to Sams new Album, Cowboys and Moonbeams which arrived in the post today. Thanks Sam!

It it is sublime.

The musicianship is lovely, with all the ingredients that I love- fine guitar with understated piano and touches of dobro and steel. Much more however, the songs are saturated with a kind of broken beautiful humanity- the kind that breaks you open a little.

Sam Hill is one of the most talented musicians and songwriters I have ever heard. His back catalogue however is mostly many years old. In the interim he has been living a life blown around by tough things- and this is what these tender honest songs are about.

But when the last track is sung, life is enhanced for the listening.

The album will be available soon via Sam’s new website (online in the next few days.) Get yourself a copy, You will not regret it.

We hope that Sam (who was born in Scotland, but lives in Cornwall now, although with a Lancashire accent) will be coming up to Dunoon to do a living room gig. Watch this space…

Here is the only example of Sams work I could find on the net;

Cowal open studios…


Over the next few days we will be hosting an ‘open studios’ event as part of ‘Cowal Open Studios’. (This is our page.)

This involves showing people the spaces in which we create things- the pottery, my shed- and also displaying and selling stuff we have made.

Currently our dining room is full of all sorts of lovely things.


It made me think again about how we create spaces for particular uses. Our old house has changed hugely over the last ten years, not just in the sense that we have spent a lot of time money and energy in restoring and mending, but also because we have given space purpose. The main purposes have been either to provide hospitality, or to create. The Open Studios event combines both, and so it is a great thing to be part of.

If you are in the area, please come along. You can have a play with some clay and share a cup of tea.

I will be round the back in a cloud of dust, shaping wood and listening to music. Probably best avoided, but I am happy to show you my space…

Workshop bench

Outrageous response…

violence, violins

I have been thinking about the response we make to violence, partly in the wake of the attack on the shopping mall in Kenya, but also because of this on going so-called ‘war’ on terror. We try to fight a handful of extremists using technology- be it spying on a billion peoples banal internet messages, or the use of Raptor pilot-less planes armed with rockets. In the process of this we loose out own humanity and breed a climate of fear and insecurity.

Our response to outrage can not be to cause yet more of the same.

We in the church are complicit in much of this, we tend towards the same language of crisis. We hear people describe how we are ‘under attack’ from the rising forces of evil secularism, and how we have to step forward, using our own Raptors, to ‘defend the faith’.

I am increasingly impressed by the things Pope Francis is saying. The other day, he said this;

“The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is – these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defence. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today. If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.”

Eileach an Naoimh wilderness retreat pics…

Just looking at some photos of our trip to Eileach an Naoimh. It was great, and there is much more to reflect on, but for now, a few pics as I should be busy setting up our house for an ‘open studios’ event;


The other sporting stories…

There are usually two kind of sports stories that we remember- the first one is a story of triumph- the glory of success. The team who become more than the sum of their parts and turn in the perfect fighting performance inspiring millions.

The second kind of sport story is one of the plucky underdog who becomes an icon of the human spirit, but just falls short. All those pre-Murray British tennis players, the first division football club that goes on an FA cup run that ends second best at Wembley to some fancy dan premier outfit. If anything we like these stories better than the first.

There is another kind of story that I am drawn to however- and that is the story of sporting failure, humiliation even. For every hero there has to be a villain. For every team who rise to glory others have to fall. I am interested in what happens to people who live out these stories. People who have lived for ‘the game’ (whatever this game may be) and no matter how hard they try, it all ends in failure.

How do you cope when your whole life passion and effort is trampled on by failure? Perhaps you just get up and try again, aware than even to have achieved a certain level of sport is a triumph. Then again, this may depend on the KIND of failure.

There was a story in The Guardian today about Scott Boswell, bowling for Leicester again Somerset in a cricket cup final. Here is how it went;

This is his description of what happened;

When he came back for his second, Trescothick was on strike. Boswell’s head started to swim. He had been struggling to bowl to left-handers. Suddenly Trescothick “looked as though he was 50 yards away. He was like a tiny dot. I just couldn’t see him. Then I bowled a wide and I heard the noise of the crowd. I bowled a second wide, and the noise got louder and louder and louder.” His muscles grew tight. His fingers grew tense. He began to sweat. “I just couldn’t let go of the ball. I wanted to get on with it, so I began to rush. The more I panicked, the more I rushed.” He lost his run-up. The pitch, already on a slope, seemed to tilt sharper beneath his feet. He makes it sound like vertigo.

No one spoke to him. He didn’t want to talk anyway. He just wanted to get it over with. The umpire, George Sharp, finally said, out of the side of his mouth, “keep bowling”. Boswell thought: “Jesus Christ. I am going to be bowling here all bloody day.” He was terrified that the over would never end. “‘I was thinking: ‘I just want to get this over, I just want to get this over’ but it kept going and going and going, wide after wide after wide.” Some flew to slip, others flew towards fine leg. The video is harrowing.

Boswell, up till then a promising talent, was dropped by Leicester a fortnight later, aged 28. He was destroyed by the experience;

Two weeks later, Leicestershire sacked him. Then they asked if he would play one last match, against Nottinghamshire in the Sunday league. They needed to win to secure the title. He wasn’t thinking straight. So he said yes. Just before the game began he was hiding, crying, in a shop near the ground. “I was absolutely terrified.” He came on first change and bowled a wide. “I heard a couple of people cheer and that was it.” The over cost 18 runs. So he feigned cramp and ran off the field. He spent five hours sitting in the changing room, stunned. There had barely been a day in the past 10 years when he hadn’t bowled a cricket ball, up and down, one end to the other, and now he just couldn’t do it. “And that was it. I disappeared.”

A week later Boswell started life in what he calls “the real world”, as a salesman for a cricket company. On his first day he spent five hours in a traffic jam on the M6 thinking: “Oh my God.” He wanted to carry on playing. A couple of clubs offered him deals, decent money. He went up to Preston and bowled fine in the nets. But in a match “I couldn’t let go of it. It was going from my hand to the keeper, to third slip, I had no idea. I felt sick. I would actually be sick. I was throwing up all over the place. I couldn’t do what I had been doing for so long.

What does the ‘real world’ feel like after such an experience? What sort of courage do you need to find who you are in it? Boswell says it took him 10 years to recover. He is now coaches children, and is always honest about that over, and how it destroyed him. He can now say this, and deserves our deep respect;

“Sometimes,” Boswell says, “I wonder if I hadn’t played that match, would I still be playing cricket professionally? But then I tell myself that this happened for a reason.” This year, for the first time in a long time, he didn’t play a game of cricket. “I had put it to bed. I could bowl. I could bat. I had never been happier.”

The best stories are nothing to do with success- they are about redemption. The sheep that was lost is now found.

Isle of St Brendan’s monastery…

Eileach an Naoimh in the distance- the island we did not manage to land on

I am doing some work to plan elements of an up and coming wilderness retreat next weekend. I am really looking forward to spending some time with David, meeting his mates from Aberdeen, and also returning (weather permitting!) to Eileach an Naoimh.

I have written before about this place- a wild place of high cliffs on one side and folding grass lands to the other. It is the site of a 5th C monastery thought to have been founded by St Brendan, and one of the places thought to be the island that St Columba knew as Hinba.

The monastery is still visible, scratched out in the thin soil. Some of the ancient bee-hive cells are almost intact. There is a medieval chapel, that stands roofless and I hope we can use it with the stars as a ceiling.

monastery, eileach an naoimh

I am reminded too that the last time I was there I wrote a poem or two based on the experience. This one was my favourite;

St Brendan

Lord stain me with salt

Brine me with the badge of the deep sea sailor

I have spent too long

On concrete ground.

If hope raises up these tattered sails

Will you send for me

A fair and steady wind?

view from eileach an naoimh towards ross of mull

Patience rewarded… but…

Following on from yesterdays post, here is Michaela’s pebble bowl.



I love it.

But she hates it.

This is the other lesson from potting- what you see in your mind when you are creating something is not necessarily what you end up with. Your input – the skillful hands and the carefully nurtured imagination – has to be tested in the heat of the kiln. And this always has to involve the possibility of disappointment; failure even.

Although I wish my failures were as lovely…

The patience of the potter…


It is a wild wet day here- the first storm of the autumn. Emily is home from university for some TLC (tonsillitis no doubt brought about by loss of sleep and excessive parties) and will is stretched out on a floor cushion in his onesy nursing a cold.

Michaela is potting. She has been making some large bowls based around pebble designs.

No matter how much you might like to rush the process of making pots, it is simply not possible. One of the most important skills employed seems to be a process of learning patience.

First you take a lump of raw clay. You then work the clay to ensure it is smooth and free of air bubbles (which would result in the pot exploding in the Kiln) then you use your hands and imagination to shape a pot. It takes Michaela several hours to get to this point;


Next you have to wait for the pot to air dry- getting as much moisture out as possible. If you do this too fast, the pot with crack, if you do not do it enough it will be destroyed in the kiln. This can take around 4-5 days, depending on the thickness of the clay and the weather conditions.

Next you carefully stack your pots in the kiln, using ‘kiln furniture’ (carefully covered in bat wash so nothing sticks.) The kiln then as to warm up over several stages, taking around 11 hours to get up to around 1000 degrees centigrade.

Michaela and the kiln

It will then take another 10 hours to cool down sufficiently so that you can open the kiln. Some pots will have survived the firing, some may not. Even then, you do not have a completed pot- you have something that has been biscuit fired- it is hard and porous. Next you need to glaze the pot.

This involves brushing one or more glazes in liquid form on to the pot, carefully layering and sponging. This too can take an hour on some of the big pots. Many potters hate this stage as it is the least creative.


Then the pot goes back in the kiln. Carefully stacked on bat-washed kiln furniture. Glaze sets like glass so if two pots touch they are like Siamese twins, only separated by risky surgery. Another 11 hours getting up to temperature, and the same to cool, and you open the kiln with excitement and trepidation.

The colours of the glazes are fickle- they often depend on subtle differences in temperature in different parts of the kiln. Sometimes Michaela has fired pots three times to get the right colour.

All of this is one of the reasons why I am no potter…

But I love watching the things work, helping out when I can, and I am so proud of Michaela’s pots.

I should add that for those of you who want to try your hand at pottery- Michaela and Pauline run courses– which are very busy-  I think the next few 4 session introductory courses are almost full. However, we will also be hopefully running to residential weekends over the winter- watch this space!