Emily hits adulthood!

Michaela with Emily, some time in the late nineties, Keswick.

Today Emily is 18! I am heading off to collect her (along with an assortment of friends) from Stirling University.

Cue whirlwind weekend with a house full of old friends, and the odd room full of students sleeping in Mondian shapes.

Tomorrow night we Ceilidh the Scottish way, with a piper and everything.

I know we fathers are all proud of our daughters, but I think I have more reasons than most because of whom she is,what she is becoming, and the life she brings to every space she graces…

Emily and William in motion

Religious people have lower IQ scores- shock!


It is official. If you are religious, you are also likely to be stupider than those who have no faith.

On a day when the Mayor of London has made the dodgy science of intelligence testing newsworthy in what even the  Deputy Prime Minister called ‘unpleasant, careless elitism’ I thought it was time to come out of the closet and tell you what you knew all along; I am a thickie.

I would say ‘I am Sparticus’ but I am not sure how to spell it, and anyway you probably would not get the reference (if you are religious too.)

And here is the evidence.

A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity. The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior.

What might this be caused by?

Are we thick BECAUSE we are religious, or do we believe because we are too stupid not to? Does God disengage our brains somehow, or are smart people too smart for God?

The study does make some guesses at what this might be about;

Three possible interpretations were discussed. First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.

So, they think that smart people out think the need for God, and can find the resources offered to them by religion through other means.

Interesting that the effect is most noticeable in the avowed belief rather than actual religious practice…

I have not read the whole study, as I am too thick to need access to academic  downloads in the press of my unintelligent life, but the first thing I think we should point out is that the usefulness or otherwise of intelligence tests is a battleground within psychological study,  albeit one that I will not even try to bother your pretty little heads with.

Pope Francis on Capitalism…

My sister challenged me to right something lighthearted here, and leave behind all the heavy economic/theology etc for a while, at least in part because some of it was making her cry (which in my book is no bad thing!)

I tried sis, I tried, but then I come across this;

I am trying not to get too excited by this old man. He is after all human, and like all of us, will be shown to have clay feet. But in the meantime he makes my heart dance.

At last someone is using a traditional seat of global power to speak the words of Jesus into the madness of our age. Those in power are rattled. The small people are engaged.

People get crucified for this kind of thing you know.

Contrast the words of Pope Francis with the latest morally bankrupt drivel from the Mayor of London.

Uncle Tom…



Uncle Tom


When I was born I was blue from cold

The midwife borrowed coal


I had two mothers; one flesh

The other sent us giros

Fed me vitamin-enriched orange juice

With my free school meals

That generation did not reverse disadvantage

But they held it at arm’s length for a while

Whilst I was educated above my station


But I could never forget that borrowed coal

It was a debt of compound interest

A life of social service could be the only

Appropriate gratitude


25 years later I am darkened by doubt

Did I became a kind of Uncle Tom

A white bureaucratic house-negro

Keeping my kind compliant

At the shrinking fringe of the welfare state?


Did I offer cheap ointment for chain-chafe

When I should have swung a hammer?


Unlike Tom I will not go quietly




Dunblane Cathedral


On the 13th of March 1996 a man marched into Dunblane Primary School and started shooting kids. 16 children died and one adult.

On Sunday, Michaela and I visited Dunblane. It is a sleepy town, famous only as the town in which tennis player Andy Murray grew up. In fact, he was a pupil in the school during the shooting. It is a small town steeped in gentile prosperous tradition. How on earth do people make sense of such horror? Even all these years later?

What is the place of faith in understanding and finding peace?

I have no answers to these questions really- my children did not die, I was not part of the wider community. I can not begin to presume to understand what the journey might have been like for these people. I do know however that the degree to which experience is collectivised, shared, held in common, can become an essential part of this journey for many.

And for this, I am grateful for the Church. Not because it has answers- easy explanations are an insult. Not because it has skilled pastors, after all there are many more highly trained in counselling the bereaved. Not because the Church can expect to be the point where people gather any more at times of crisis.

But having said all this, where else would people go? Who else can listen to the cries at funerals? Where else can people be to share their grief, their anger, their survivor guilt, their hopelessness?

Standing in the ancient Cathedral building in Dunblane, amongst all those medieval carved stones and brass memorials to men and women long gone, stands a new memorial;

Anyone want to buy my camera?

rainbow through trees, benmore gardens

Most of the photos on this blog (including this one) were taken with my camera- a Pentax K2000 (also known as the KM.) This has been my constant (and careful) companion for the last couple of years. I have loved the quality of images I have been able to collect with it, but I have now upgraded to another Pentax- a second hand K5, and so the old one needs a new owner.

There is a very honest review of the camera here.

It would make a brilliant first camera for anyone wanting to make a step up from point-and-shoot photography into the rarefied world of the SLR– so if you are looking for a camera yourself, or a Christmas present for someone you love, then you might be interested.

The camera will come with two Pentax lens- a 18-55 mm and a 50-200 mm. Both are great lens, modern, lightweight and very usable. Check out my flickr pics down in the right hand margin to see what they can do.

I will also throw in some extras- a camera bag, a circular polarising filter (essential for landscapes) and a couple of extra lens extensions. The camera comes in its original box, and is in really good condition.

I am asking £150, which is about what you will pay for this camera on ebay without both lens.

I would love to see it go to someone who can get some real creative use out of what has been a gadget that was actually worth owning…

Another year…


I have been trying to write a novel for a while- I say trying as it is a stop-start thing, with an emphasis on the stop. I have little cameos, pictures, characters waiting for their journeys to unfold. Most of all, I have this feeling for what it is all about- the love I have for people, trying to make sense of life and one another and in the midst of all the mess this thing called kindness, lying like bullion in compost.

I found myself looking through a window into the book I have not written tonight- watching Ken Loach‘s Another Year. Loach always saturates you in a kind of beautiful discomfort. Brilliant acting, improvised scripts, woven together to make the closest thing to political art that British cinema has ever achieved.

The couple at the heart of the film are happily married, heading towards gentle retirement, but their calm centre seems to become an anchorage for all sorts of people for whom life has been anything but happy. At first, your sympathy is all for the couple as their lives are invaded by drinking, sobbing, lonely men and women. Slowly however, you start to wonder whether one lot of happiness must always form a counter point to the brokenness of others- almost as if the couple are some kind of monsters, whose well being depends on their sense of superiority over the lesser beings they are surrounded by…

Watch the film. If the book is ever finished, I only hope that the life in it is half as vivid, half as true.

Happy pills…


The use of antidepressants has surged across the rich world over the past decade, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, raising concerns among doctors that pills are being overprescribed.

Figures show that doctors in some countries are writing prescriptions for more than one in 10 adults, with Iceland, Australia, Canada and the other European Nordic countries leading the way.

Separate data from the US shows that more than 10% of American adults use the medication. In China, the antidepressant market has grown by about 20% for each of the past three years, albeit from a lower base.

From here.

I feel considerable conflict in relation to this issue.

Happy pills, hand in hand with consumer capitalism. For every crisis created, there will be a market opportunity.

I spent years talking to people about their medication, whether it was working or not, whether the dose was right, whether they were taking it, when they were taking it. I then spent more time talking to doctors and nurses about this medication.

Along the way I also sat through quite a few drug reps talks, sweetened as they were with a ‘free’ lunch and lots of goodies emblazoned with the name of the next so-called wonder drug, each one more effective, with less side effects, and targeted at some sub grouping pulled from DSM 5.

I know many people who swear that these tablets have saved their lives. I know many other people who just swear as the only real help they feel they have been offered came in a small plastic bottle. I know creative people who say their creativity was robbed, others who suddenly found themselves able to focus again.

Some say that the medication drove them right towards suicide. Others say the ‘rebound effect’ that led them to feel so terrible when they tried to wean themselves off the drug has meant that they think they will need to take them for the rest of their lives.

This film sums up this experience brilliantly;

Do the drugs work? As someone said in the clip above, it depends on how you try to measure success. They can indeed reframe the emotional glasses through which we see the world, to a lesser or greater degree, for good and for ill. They do this in subtle ways, but use a blunderbus to achieve it.

I have no doubt whatsoever that they are vastly overused, medically over rated and sold to us in a way that would shame the shadiest used car salesman. I also have considerable conviction that they are not the answer to most of the psychological/emotional turmoils that life will surely bring us- and that history will not look on our use of them kindly.

But tell that to your friend whom life has broken, and all she has is the motivation to get out of bed in the morning gifted by a pill that makes the duvet ten per cent lighter. There are still the kids to feed and the washing to be done and without her wage there will be no Christmas this year.

We do what we can, with what we are given and often life is hard. If not a pill, then what else will help us survive?

But I hope for me and you far more than survival. May your depths be overshadowed by hills kissed by sunlight.

I hope to see you somewhere on the road between the two…

Proost poetry collection, editing, editing, editing…


A few people have asked how this project is getting on. The answer is that it is progressing nicely, but is a whole load of hard work! This is why the blog has been quiet of late- and I expect it to remain quiet for a while.

Hard work like this is no bad thing however as I find myself immersed in lovely words. I hope that we will start to release some sample poems in the run up to releasing the book, but in the first instance, I wanted to share with you another one written by a friend of mine, Susan.

I have two reasons for doing this- firstly because Susan is a wonderful poet who is far too modest, and also because of the subject matter.

Winter is upon us.

But this too shall pass…


Out of two dead aired weeks

Ice and snow crusted over

All things living, when only

The birds hardy enough

To fly from there to here

In the hope I had remembered

To fill the feeders  made

Themselves visible and sadness

Scabbed over my heart:

Sudden joy

A mild Late February dusk

Song from every hidden branch,

The world filled with urges,

The drive to survive

Faith returns -the garlic shoots

In strong green lines

The kale still stiff

The rituals of soil call me:

Tomorrow I begin again.