Temperate rainforest…

water falling, pucks glen

It stopped raining so we went off into the forest, getting some air before the arrival of guests who will be with us for New Year.

It is only a slight exageration to suggest that the forests of Argyll are part of the fragments of temperate rainforest left in northern Europe. Huge old trees in a sponge of moss and leaf mulch, well watered by the western Scottish climate.

As ever, my camera came along. I think I have a million photos of some of these places- searching for the play of light and the movement of water. I never quite manage it but some come close.


3 again…

toy train


3 again


Christmas came, then went

Leaving me overstuffed with sweet things


My son has ridden out

On his new bicycle

Tweeted it on last years tablet

Gangled his long limbs into new jumpers

Rolled his old-fashioned eyes at jokes

Smiled his easy way through slow days

Stretched on the sofa

Unlike me, oblivious to the time

Swiftly passing


Today he found a box of old toys

Spent two hours slotting wooden rails into pleasing curves

Marshalling brightly painted carriages

Careless of the dead battery in Thomas the Tank’s engine


Between Christmas and the turning year

There should always be a window

Where we can be three again



Brett Lee V. Piers Morgan…

A wee late Christmas present to myself this…

There is a cricket series going on down in Australia at the moment between England and Australia. These two sides have history, and encounters between them are always to be savoured. In my case this means ridiculously late nights, although at present England are being hammered into the ground.

William and I (who both play as much cricket as weather and family allow) often discuss what it must be like to face up to one of the fast bowlers, tearing in and trying (literally) to knock your head off. Anyone who thinks of cricket as a sedate gentlemanly sport should think again- even at club cricket level there are many bowlers far too fast for me and I have the bruises to prove it.

Fast bowling is about intimidation. Facing up to someone who has the ability to put the ball either at your feet or bouncing into your ribs at real pace is a test for anyone. Good batsmen always seem to have much more time- no idea where they get it from of course, as the ball will take about half a second to get to you from leaving the bowlers hand.

Abrasive motor-gob Piers Morgan, fresh from his spell as a news anchor on CNN (taking on the American gun lobby) fancies himself as something of a batsman. In fact, he has been slanging off the ‘pathetic’ England team for their apparent cowardice in the face of the Aussie quicks, suggesting that they should just ‘grow a pair’. He reckoned that he could manage just fine, so challenged the very quick former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee to send down a few at him.

Here he was on twitter beforehand;

I’ve only got a few teeth to lose, you’ve got a whole reputation that’s going to be shattered.

It did not go well;

He tweeted: “Full injury list post @BrettLee_58 showdown – cracked wrist, bruised rib, and massive egg on back of head from…the throw-down guy.”

He added: “For the record, I didn’t actually see a single one of @BrettLee_58 ‘s deliveries. But I felt 4 of them crashing into my flesh.”

Lee replied: “@piersmorgan that’s what happens when you talk it up.”

On reflection, perhaps I will leave facing fast bowling to my son.

Potting on boxing day…


We have had a lovely Christmas day. Just the 4 of us and a slow day listening to music, laughing a lot, eating too much and watching cheesy films. I had some lovely gifts (thanks everyone!) and enjoyed helping Will put together his new bike. Emily has been in great form too, making us all laugh like drains- mostly with her, occasionally at her.

There is only one potter in our family- and this is Michaela. However, she lets me play around with clay from time to time. Usually she gets a bit fidgety whilst looking over my shoulder but that is fine with me.

I enjoy mixing up ceramics with metal and wood to make things that speak of the sea. The glazes we use are mostly sea colours- you never quite know what magic will happen in the kiln though. I have also been using some shapes to impress into the wet clay to make celtic crosses and the like. What better way to spend Boxing day?

Here are a few of the things I have been making;

A Christmas sermon that cost a man his job as a minister…

frank schaefer

And what a sermon. Here it is in full.

It was given by Frank Schaefer (no, not that one– different spelling) who was defrocked by the United Methodist Church last week for officiating at his son’s marriage to another man.

Whatever your theological stance on this issue (it will not surprise you that I am with Frank) you have to admire this man’s courage.

Frank said this;

Being a United Methodist minister is the only way I know how to minister. All of my children have been baptised in the United Methodist Church. It was our church. This is our church.

I knew that I had to confess what in my heart I knew to be true, and I had to stand against the church – not the entire church – but the institution of the United Methodist organisation to say “I believe that this rule is discriminatory and wrong”, and I knew I had to tell my lawyers that.

And so when I sat in the stand, and it came to that moment to share about my true faith, and to stand against the church. I was sick to my stomach. And I was thinking, “can I actually get those words out”? And as I was in that moment, I looked out into the room, and I saw my family. Behind my family there were people sitting. Some of the people were from this church, wearing rainbow stoles. And all of a sudden it was like I could feel their prayers, and I heard myself say to the jury: “I will put on this stole, this rainbow colored stole, as a sign that I will from now on stand in advocacy of the LGBT community of our church”.

And I heard myself say, “I want you to know, that if I am going to be a United Methodist minister tomorrow, I will not refuse ministry to anyone based on their sexual orientation.”

And I heard myself say:

I can no longer be a silent supporter. I will always be an advocate and I will tell the church that these laws are discriminatory. And that we treat our LGBT brothers and sisters as second-class Christians, and that the hate, the hate speech of the church has to stop.

What’s in a name? Jim Crow Rock again…

Western ferries passing jim crow

Regular readers will be aware of this stone on Dunoon’s foreshore, close to my house. You will also be aware that I have tried to engage in debate locally about it’s origins, given that it carries two markers that have clear racist associations- it is decorated with familiar ‘Blackface‘ markings, and is labelled ‘Jim Crow Stone’.

This debate continues to be a rather difficult one as the rock divides people fiercely. Those who tend to object to the rock are more typically ‘incomers’ who are not thought by locals to have a right to comment. For their part, they grew up with the stone, as an innocent backdrop to playing on the shore. For them it was a crow, not a racist statement.

I wrote a letter to the local paper a couple of weeks ago, in the wake of the death of Nelson Mandela, suggesting a information board, where we might discuss the different opinions about the rock, and talk about the slave connection through Clyde trade, as well as the Blackface minstrel shows that happened in this area. To be honest, I did this with some trepidation as I expected to get a bit of a kicking from outraged locals.

However, this has not happened. Most conversations I have had with people have been broadly supportive of the idea. There was only one letter in the paper in opposition- and this one concerned itself with the history of the rock. The correspondent insisted that the rock could NOT be racist as it’s name pre-dated the ‘Jim Crow Laws’ in the USA.

There does appear to be some evidence of the name ‘Jim Crow Stane’ on early charts- as if it was used as a navigational marker, as early as the 1700’s.

However to suggest that this closes the argument, that the markings on the rock then become innocent, is clearly (in my view) nonsense. Folklore gets changed and adopted according to the mores of the times. The name of the rock, and the use of the term ‘Jim Crow’ as a pejorative label may (or may not) come from an era before the decoration, but the association with racist images and ideas does not. T

I wrote a reply for the local paper- again I do not know if they will publish it. Here it is though;

Dear Editor

Thanks very much to John A Stirling for his thoughtful reply to my previous letter suggesting an information board next to Jim Crow rock. John appears to believe that the historical points he makes close the argument about the origins of the decorations on the rock. I am afraid they simply do not. History is rarely value free and in this instance, far more complex than what John would have us believe.

John suggests that the rock cannot have racist connotations as its name pre-exists the Jim Crow laws in America. However this ignores the fact that these laws were grouped under the name ‘Jim Crow’ precisely because this was a pre-existing pejorative name that had been in common usage for Black people since at least the beginning of the 19th C. The song ‘Jump Jim Crow’ (written in 1828) perhaps popularised this stereotype but it is more likely to predate the song considerably.

The words ‘Jim Crow’ fell out of common usage possibly because they became increasingly associated with racist laws adopted by most States, and which were gradually removed from American statute over a period of 50 years of protest by brave people, some of whom lost their lives in the process. Previously ‘Jim Crow’ would have been used in the same way as the word ‘nigger’. Are we really happy to give unexamined space on our shores to such words?

Even if John is right, and the name of the rock pre-dates racist associations, the ‘blackface’ image that is painted on it now remains one that Black people recognise immediately as a racist stereotype. Again- do not take my word for it, ask the Jim Crow Museum (who have expressed horror at our rock) or the Racial Equality Unit.

Whatever the debate around this rock, at present it stands as a potentially offensive historical oddity. It will continue to divide us into people who are troubled by what it represents and others who fiercely defend it as an innocent local folklore.

Once again however, if we were to put up a display making clear the nature of this debate, perhaps we might yet transform the rock into something that both John and I can take mutual pride in. We can keep the rock in place, celebrate it even- whilst also owning the darker parts of our history.

TFT Christmas Card 2013…

Every blessing to you all!

woamn, child birth, national geographicImage from here.


If Jesus had been born in Nazareth


If Jesus had been born in Nazareth

They’d prepare the way of the Lord

The in-laws would gather, take over the manor

Joseph would just be ignored


If Jesus had been born in Nazareth

The paths would have all been made straight

The midwife would chide, send the kids all outside

A whole village would stand by and wait


If Jesus had been born in Nazareth

He’d have a fine bed for his head

But while men smoked cigars in the small local bars

He was born in a stable instead


Jesus was not born in Nazareth

This king never needed a throne

The first thing he saw was dirty old straw

Our God was a long way from home

Growing up as a scrounger; confessions of a child of the welfare state…


Here I am, aged about 8 or 9, on the back row of my class picture from Croft Primary school. Someone posted this picture on Facebook and it all came flooding back. I am the one in the strange yellow t-shirt and the odd pudding bowl haircut.

My sister and I were part of a one parent family, existing entirely on welfare benefits. We lived in a reasonably comfortable house- a suburban semi detached that my mother had bought before she married my father. It was a difficult short marriage and she was left holding the babies, bitter and isolated.

Growing up a child of the welfare state in the 1970’s was possibly the best time to do so. Family credit, child benefit, free school meals, clothing vouchers, even help to pay for some school trips that otherwise we could never have been part of. Don’t get me wrong- we had very little, but my mother was very good at scraping together every last penny. But the chronic shortage of money dominated every waking hour- leaving lights on or wasting food was a sin punishable by violence. I lost a coat once and did not dare go home- hiding in the fields for hours.

There was food in the house- in the early days my mother fed the babies rather than herself, but as time went on, she began to stockpile dented tins and dried lentils. She is in her 70s now and still does- her kitchen cupboards are full of foodstuffs well past their sell by date but she can not begin to throw out. When you have been hungry and have had nothing, the fear of this returning cuts deep.

I mention all this because when I was a child, benefits were worth considerably more in real terms than they are now, even before the axe that our current government has taken to the welfare benefits system.

If I had been born 35 years later, it seems almost certain that I would have been one of the 500,000 people that would have needed to visit a food bank in order to eat.

Today the Christian charity who run many food banks spoke out in condemnation of the Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith. They have been trying to meet with him to discuss how they might work together to help families better. IDS refused. In fact, he did not even stay till the end of a commons debate on the issue this week.

The government agenda is clear. The problem is not poverty, as anyone who is poor should either get themselves a job or manage the benefits they get better. Neither is the problem benefits cuts- these are proportionate with the need manage national debt, and everyone has to do their part. IDS suggested that charities like the Trussell Trust are just scaremongering, following a lefty political agenda. The problem is that some people are scroungers, wasters, layabouts- addicted to hand-outs from the state. Wanting to sponge off the taxes of hard working people.

This agenda has been so well peddled by the government and the right wing media that even people on benefits (perhaps particularly them) come to believe it of themselves. Escaping from this kind of sense of failure is incredibly difficult. It also plugs into a certain kind of base me-first middle class mentality. Do you remember the study that I quoted here?

Another paper, published in Psychological Science, found that people in a controlled experiment who were repeatedly exposed to images of luxury goods, to messages that cast them as consumers rather than citizens and to words associated with materialism (such as buy, status, asset and expensive), experienced immediate but temporary increases in material aspirations, anxiety and depression. They also became more competitive and more selfish, had a reduced sense of social responsibility and were less inclined to join in demanding social activities. The researchers point out that, as we are repeatedly bombarded with such images through advertisements, and constantly described by the media as consumers, these temporary effects could be triggered more or less continuously.

Any discussion about welfare is always ideologically loaded. The facts, such as they are, tell a rather different, more complex story. Check out this article that seeks to tackle some of the myths.

When confronted by an ideology/political view/power statement that scapegoats marginalised and dis-empowered people it is time to sit up and take note. It is time to ask searching questions of those in power. Above all it is time to listen to the voices of those who are being scapegoated. Everything within me says that this is what followers of Jesus should be doing right now- listening, challenging, engaging.


Anyone who has ever spent time with people whom life has broken and pushed to the ragged edge will know that survival is the goal- forget recovery, forget healthy environments for children to thrive within. The margins, slim though they were, that I grew up within are now simply gone. 

A radio interview with some people visiting a food bank today heard how people were not able to take food that needed to be cooked, as they simply could not afford the energy to cook with.

Most of us instinctively think of people who use food banks as ‘other’; ‘not one of us’. Despite my rather different circumstances in 2013 from 1973, I can not say that. The people at the food banks- they are just like me.