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.

 

Dear Dunoon Observer…

jimcrow03

 

Following on from yesterdays post, I sent a letter to our local paper. This is not something I make a habit of- in fact this will only be the second such letter I have sent. The previous one was not published- and was triggered by the same issue.

At that point I took exception to a rather poorly researched story in the paper after the rock’s Golliwog face has been painted over by a protester. (NO- it was not me, although some of me wishes it was.) It made no reference whatsoever to the Blackface tradition, nor to the objections raised to the decoration on the rock by others, not least the Racial Equality Unit.

Today I sent this to the editor. I am expecting a backlash- lots of people will be very angry. However, I walk past this stone several times a day, and each time it makes slightly ashamed.

Letter for Dunoon Observer

6.12.13

 

Dear Editor

The death of Nelson Mandela seems like a very good time to take another look at some of our own racist history. In doing so we very soon have to concede that the prosperity of this area owes much to international trade; shipping, sugar, tobacco and slavery. It is to the credit of Britain that as well as participating in slave trading we did much to end this practice at the beginning of the 19th Century. However, many would argue that we replaced slavery with Colonialism.

Alongside this, our attitudes towards the non-white people of the world has often been to view them as less-than. We supported this with entrenched prejudice and even with the so called ‘science’ of eugenics. These ideas found expression in our politics (segregation, apartheid) and also in our popular culture.

One of the most pervasive cultural carriers of this prejudice were the ‘Blackface’ caricatures that developed the world over- the Golliwogs, the Minstrel shows, Zvarte Piet and Jim Crow. Understanding how these have been a channel for racism is not easy, but they are commonly understood to allow culture to reduce the feared outsider to a figure of derision. A feckless, chicken loving, sexualised layabout who steals washing from the line, but is good at singing and dancing.

Which brings us to our own Jim Crow Rock, Only in Argyll does anyone seriously suggest that this has no racist origins. The Jim Crow museum in the USA expressed horror, the Racial Equality Unit is clear about its ‘Blackface’ beginnings, outsiders stand and look puzzled. When confronted with these outside perspectives, our response has often been to become angry and defensive, refusing to engage in any real discussion about the origins of the rock.

So, here is a suggestion; as a memorial to the late great Nelson Mandela, why do we not invest in an information board on the foreshore next to the rock? It could say some of these things;

It could acknowledge the local controversy, and disagreements about the origins of the decoration. It could deal with the role of the Clyde in the slave trade. It could talk about Blackface caricatures and the minstrel shows that were performed here in Dunoon’s heyday. It could talk about the Jim Crow Laws in America, and how they enforced segregation, prejudice and apartheid.

Above all, it could transform a local curiosity from something that is at best controversial (if not downright offensive) into something that we can all feel pride in the ownership of once more.

Yours sincerely

 

Chris Goan

Hunters Quay

jim crow prejudice

Highland short break- special offers!

sgath an tighe, bluebells

Sorry to go all commercial, but regular readers of this blog will know that this year we opened some of our house as a bed and breakfast. We are half a season in, and have really enjoyed sharing our house with guests from all over the world.

In these difficult times, we are well aware that many folk are looking to make their hard earned cash stretch as far as they can, and so have decided to offer a couple of special offers- one of which is an exclusive one to readers of this blog!

Through the Visit Scotland ‘Surprise yourself’ , people who book two nights in our B and B are entitled to a free pottery taster session in our pottery;

netta potting

 

However, if you mention ‘this fragile tent’ when you book a couple of nights, then you will get a 10% discount of the cost of your stay too!

The weather has been beautiful up here over the past week or so- temperature in the 20’s, blue sky above the mountains and lochs, space, quietness and peace yours for the making.

We are closer than you think, on the edge of the National Park, near Dunoon;

sgath an tighe

Freemasonry- benign oddity or the seed of corruption?

freemasonry

A few years ago, some friends and I put together a festival of art and worship in and around our home town. We brought together all sorts of music, visual art, prayer rooms, poetry. The final event was a worship concert led by a worship leader/song writer from England, who shall remain nameless- suffice it to say that he is of a prophetic bent.

The final concert drew a lot of people- the festival had been rather successful in gathering together our rather disparate and sectarian denominational groups. Sadly, not many people stayed to the end. The worship leader was used to lashing up a Holy Ghost storm, and when the response was more -shall we say – West of Scotland Presbyterian, he switched into Spiritual Warfare mode. It became a train wreck, and I am still wincing as I write this.

The rights and wrongs I will not debate fully here, but one of the issues that the worship leader thundered about was Freemasonry. His declaration was that it was the work of the devil, and the reason for all the spiritual oppression that held us all back from worship, and prevented God from working in our area. I always thought this to be wrong in both theory and application, and even years and years later, there are people in my town who regard Aoradh with great suspicion because of this event.

But what of Freemasonry? I was reminded again of the weirdness of it all whilst reading this article. It is an adventure into Co-Masonry, an order that welcomes men and women alike, but points out that all forms of Freemasonry in the UK are in decline, and have an aging membership.

At its postwar peak, membership of a fraternity that began as a sort of union for medieval stonemasons was boosted by returning armed service personnel as well as some of the most powerful men in the land. George VI, who died in 1952, is the last British king to be listed on the official UGLE website, which also includes Winston Churchill, an Archbishop of Canterbury and a surprisingly long list of celebrities from Nat King Cole to Peter Sellers. The royal connection continues today with the Duke of Kent, who is the current grand master of the UGLE.

Freemasons have long denied suggestions that it is a pernicious old boys’ network, arguing that it is a sort of gentleman’s club, concerned with moral and spiritual growth. Although in the UK the sense that freemasons are no longer the force they once were has given rise to jokes about suburban middle managers prone to rolling up their trouser legs and doing funny handshakes, there are signs elsewhere that membership confers preferment. The collapse of Propaganda Due or P2, an order that linked Silvio Berlusconi to the Italian central bank and the heads of all three secret services until it was closed down in the 1980s, did little to end suspicions.

Given this double whammy of conspiracy and mockery, it is no surprise that all parts of the fraternity are looking for a rebrand. Or the fact that Co-Freemasons want to disassociate themselves from the main branch, employ a PR company and launch a “recruitment drive” specifically aimed at attracting younger women.

A quasi-religion in decline? No surprise there- after all most Christian denominations have shrunk considerably over the past few decades in the UK- we have moved into a phase of individualised fluidity, when anchoring ourselves to clubs with Victorian rituals has really gone out of fashion for all but a few weirdos (like me.)

That is without making any mention of the scandals and controversies around Freemasonry. They are at the centre of more conspiracy theories than just about any other group, and quite frankly I am not interested. Neither am I that keen on categorising a whole group of people as ‘evil’ or corrupt just because of the clubs they belong to.

I simply do not know enough about it all to label people like this. I can attest to the fact that two of the nicest blokes I know- people active in their community, people who live and work with integrity and humanity – are also masons.

I do confess however to some prejudice. This from the same article;

There has been a long and often bitter history of mistrust between organised religion and freemasonry. At its most benign it led to a spat between freemasons and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when he suggested their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity. He then got into trouble for appointing a freemason to be bishop, thereby proving many avenues are open to freemasons but still closed to women.

Touche.

The worship leader earlier mentioned was right in one sense- Argyll has long been a stronghold of Freemasonry. Each of our small towns has its own Lodge.

There is also, from local gossip, a strong link between our Council and the local lodges. Argyll has had one of the few ‘independent’ led councils- although the SNP currently lead the coalition.  There was a time when some of the senior council officers and the political leadership supposedly shared a common, yet secret brotherhood.

But of course, this is speculation- how can I know for sure? It is after all a secret organisation. If it is true, then no matter how good, how honest the people involved, then this kind of alliance has no part in a democracy. There is quite enough secret use of power even without a quasi religious overlay. We need greater openness, not a shared secret ritual for the chosen few.

So- the question- benign oddity or corruption? I suppose the answer is that Freemasonry can be both, even at the same time. Charity can go hand in hand with the promotion of mutual interest. This can happen equally in churches, cricket clubs or mosques. The difference is the secrecy – can Freemasonry survive without all the ceremonial mystique?

The spiritual side of all this, unlike the worship leader, I am happy to leave to God.

How do you put out a mountain thats on fire?

IMGP4355

I suppose the answer to this is- you do not.

Here are some photos taken from Taynuilt today on my way round to Oban. As far as I could gather from the locals the fire has been burning for two days and looked spectacular last night as the flames lit up the hill. Someone told me she thought that the fire started over the other side of the mountain, and had spread- fortunately only slowly towards the houses this side as the wind was pushing the flames away.

Despite heavy snow falls in parts of Argyll (Campbeltown was cut off for three days over the weekend with no power) the hills are incredibly dry at the moment. What little moisture there is has been held in the form of ice.