The myth of equality…

Just had an interesting discussion with my daughter. Emily is 16, lovely, intelligent, part of a middle class nuclear family, surrounded by good friends and enjoys a situation of safety and security. She lives in a quiet, relatively crime free part of the UK, one of the richest countries in the world.

In many ways, you could say that she has won the life lottery.

This would be unfair of course-life has this way of challenging all of us in some ways- she is having to learn to cope with dyslexia, and to develop her own individual self confidence, which is difficult enough for any of us.

But what this highlights to me is the issue of equality. Equality of opportunity is the watch word for our current political elite. Borrowed perhaps from the American dream, we cling to the idea that in a vibrant market driven capitalist economy, our measure of success is determined by our ability, more or less.

I suppose in many ways I stand as some kind of evidence of this- the child of a single parent, brought up by the welfare state, educated to degree level, now more or less middle class. However…

There is a devastating critique of this idea by Deborah Orr in today’s Guardian. Here are a few extracts-

The idea is that as long as there is “equality of opportunity”, then a highly competitive economic system that naturally sorts people into “winners and losers” – let’s call it a meritocracy – is perfectly reasonable. But the rhetoric is laughably fallacious. In a system that divides people into winners and losers, you can’t have “equality of opportunity”. The children of the winners will, broadly, always have the advantage. The children of the losers will, broadly, always have the disadvantage, theinability, if you will.

Welfare dependency is not a cause of society’s problems, but a consequence of them. Sadly, it is in the febrile interest of all mainstream politicians to continue pretending that it’s the other way round. The belief that you can transform society by prodding at welfare is similar to the belief that you can untangle knots by pushing at the ends of string.

What might this mean for those of us who are about to hand over our responsibilities to Emily’s generation? Will we saddle them with the same addictions to capitalist excesses? Or will we (and in turn they) find a different way untie the knots?

It is difficult to know where to begin on the macro scale- back to earlier discussions about the Grand Correction. But it is perfectly possible (if extremely challenging) to begin on the individual scale…

Some of this might be about an attitudinal shift, away from blaming the victims of our system-

Humans are not born equal, and individual vulnerabilities are not always easy to identify or to repair. Those who are stronger need to look after those who are weaker. It is precisely because humans are not good at doing this – it’s not in our aggressive, predatory natures – that so many people shrug at their inability to clothe, feed and house themselves. At the very least, this failure of the able should be recognised, rather than dressed up as a failure of the unable. Until it is, it’s hard to see how a better future can be imagined, let alone planned for.

But my greater hope is in Emily, and the desire for us to yet live together in a way that is less concerned with protecting what we have as we seek to gain more, and more concerned with sharing and supporting others, and living our lives in connection.

If anyone can do it, she can.

Sheltering from the storm…

The power is back on!

I remember as a child in the 1970’s we had a series of power cuts during times of industrial action. Those hours spent by candlelight, eating sausages and beans cooked on a camping stove are lovely memories- and I still remember the disappointment I felt when the lights came back on. The time of dancing shadows was over, and the florescent uniformity was back again.

I felt a little flicker of this disappointment today. But these days, the lack of power is no benign thing- particularly in Argyll.

The storms today cut off Cowal entirely- the Rest and Be Thankful pass was blocked, and the ferries all stopped running. Trees are down everywhere and caravans and high sided vehicles tipped over.

In fact, I called in to the Police Station earlier and was told that an articulated lorry had been blown on its side, only later to be blown back onto it’s wheels! I confess to feeling skeptical, but the story was told to me in all seriousness.

More seriously there have been a spate of accidents- a policeman is said to be amongst those injured.

And when the power is out, the frailer members of our society are very vulnerable.

We have not escaped damage to property either- William’s shed took a battering, a fence is wobbling and water is coming in to our house through the skylight.

But for a while, we sat in the lounge before a raging fire and played games by the light of candles. Everyone was happy, somehow buoyed by the drama and comraderie of it all.

And then the lights came on again.

And we went our separate ways- to our individual screens and electronic cocoons.

A small band of survivors no longer.

Serious shopping…

Today Emily and I had to go into Glasgow to pick up her new glasses. She has been given these to help her with reading- remarkably, the particular colour of blue they are tinted with seem to increase her reading speed by around 50%. Previously she had somehow coped with words swimming around in her vision- particularly at the ends of lines, making it almost impossible to find her way through dense blocks of text without huge effort. How she managed so well up till now is a mystery to all of us.

Anyway, this also meant that my pointedly deferred shopping expedition sort of came back to haunt me. Emily needed a new dress for her birthday meal with friends at the weekend so we went out into the crowds of Buchannan street- in the middle of all the Christmas madness.

I survived.

But I am not less appalled by it all.

If anything could sum it all up for me it is this-

I read this poster in the toilets in St Enochs Square shopping centre. (OK- Emily noticed the same thing and this poster was in the ladies loo. She took this photograph. Obviously.)

Whilst I was reading the poster, two young lads came in. They hovered a little- it was crowded, and they were encumbered by sleeping bags and rucksacks. It was obvious by that they were rough sleepers, in for a clean up and a bit of warmth.

The contrast with this poster seemed great at first- then less so. The edges of this credit driven culture we have created can be seen in both the poster and these rough sleeping young men. It suddenly seemed to me all about disconnection.

Disconnection from one another- from community and place. Disconnection from the means of production, and from the land that sustains us. Disconnection from the spirit of man, and from the Spirit of the Living God.

What madness is it that makes us still think that we can keep making money from plastic cards and using it to buy ever more stuff? What crazyness drives us to feed our addiction for more credit even by desperate measures like this-  trying to screw more money out of banks who have already brought us all to the edge of the abyss by lending too much of the stuff?

As if the best we can now hope for was this last loophole through which we might get a little more free money.

Last week in Dunoon, one of the ‘hole in the wall’ cash machines went wrong, and started paying out double the money that people requested. Pretty soon, the word got out and a queue formed down the street. The bank, in panic, asked the police to come, just to turn people away.

Not a good advert for the people of our town, even if we might regard the banks as fair game given their impact on the economy. But perhaps none of us are that different- who could ever turn down some free money?

Fiddle flash mob, Kelvingrove…

Emily spent a day doing some fiddle workshops in Glasgow yesterday- and they decided to invade Kelvingrove gallery/museum in a kind of flashmob event.

Michaela had just enough power on the battery of her camera to record this- but we managed to miss getting Emily in frame at all!

I love simple creative flashmobs- the pleasure that they give to people. I suppose there has to be a limit to them or it will all go a bit mad. The staff in Kelvingrove certainly thought so- they only managed a couple of tunes inside.

Back to school…

Up here in Scotland, the school holidays are over.

Emily starts her ‘highers’, and William is now in his last year of primary school. Emily is a prefect this year- complete with blazer of office-

I often hear parents longing for the end of school holidays- not me. I love the gentle pace of the long summer days- which like our children’s childhood, still pass by so quickly.

Summer is now on its last legs- staggering onwards to autumn. It has been lovely though…

Holiday photos…

We are back after a lovely few days in St Andrews- the sun shone and it was great to spend time together and to visit somewhere new.


Beach cricket (ours and watching a beach fixture played on Elie Beach.)

All those lovely little villages.

Sailing with Em and Will.

Slow days of sunshine and easy laughter.

Too much good food.

Fiddling with sheds…

What a lovely weekend.

Yesterday I spent a long day in the garden with my boy William installing a shed in the garden. It was kind of his birthday present- he was desperate for a tree house, but none of our trees are ideal, and I was rather fearful that one of his friends would end up in hospital as a result. So the compromise was a small shed, installed in a corner of garden all his own…

Of course, this involved a load of work- ripping out enough ivy for a hundred Christmases, building a level platform (our garden is rather like the north face of the Eiger, minus the snow) and then the usual hammering and screwing and cursing that accompany any shed erection. (And if you read any rudeness into that last sentence- then it is YOUR mind, not mine!)

Here he is, with freshly installed (purple!) wall to wall carpet. If you should call round you are sure to be invited in- please remember to leave shoes outside…

Today, by way of contrast, I took my lovely daughter Emily to a wedding over the water, where she had been booked to play fiddle (with me as accompanist on guitar.) I was so proud of her, and we had a lovely day out together. The wedding was the daughter of Simon and Helen, our friends from Dunoon, so it was great too to see them all so happy.

Now, back home, well fed, watching the light fade over the Clyde, I am a man blessed. And for a melancholic, it does not get much better than that.

I blinked…

I blinked

And the weekend

Went by

These days-

Like feathered things