Family name…

I have just spent a few days down in Nottinghamshire visiting family. My mother has been diagnosed with cancer, so had to go into hospital for a lumpectomy- and we wait the news as to what further treatment she requires. All very scary.

Because I went down on my own this time, I stayed with my mother- the first time I have slept in the house that I was born in since the say before we married 22 years ago. This has some disadvantages, as she has no hot water, and no central heating (beyond a few ineffectual storage heaters.) She suffers from a fresh air fetish and even with a hard frost, each room had open windows. I had taken the precaution of making sure I had my down sleeping bag, which I slept in under the duvet!

However, it also gave me time to sit and talk about family. The murky details of my family background are complex, and full of things that most upright folk would rather had been swept under the carpet. Some of it I knew, but some I did not.

So, it goes something like this;

My great grandfather was born some time around 1850 in Lincolnshire, the illegitimate son of a local landowner. His father took some responsibility for his offspring, but not much- he set his son up as a farm labourer. It does not seem to have been a happy arrangement- he was a bitter and angry man, who treated his own sons poorly. My Grandfather was born around 1883, and as soon as he was old enough, left home to go and work in the Nottinghamshire coal mines.

In case you are wondering how I could have a Victorian Grandfather, read on…

He married and settled in Kirkby in Ashfield, in the shadow of the Summit Pit. He had two children, both boys. Unfortunately, his wife was sick most of her adult life, and a large portion of his earnings went on medical bills- this was long before the advent of the Welfare State.

The boys grew- one was wayward, and rebelled against my Grandfather liberal use of the leather strap. He left home, but was killed riding a motorcycle. By then, his mother was long dead.

The other boy had children of his own- one of whom survives.

In the meantime, in the housing shortage during the second world war,  my Grandfather moved into a former railway carriage. Quite why he needed a housekeeper in such a situation I have no idea- but such arrangements seemed to be common. So it was that my 43 year old Grandmother escaped her work in a munitions factory and moved into the Railway carriage with my Grandfather- then aged 60.

My mother was born shortly afterwards- into every kind of poverty. Her parents seemed to have little idea as to the needs of a child- particularly in terms of emotional needs. She had no birthday presents, no Christmas presents. The shame of being the illegitimate child of this situation was so powerful that when my Grandfather died in the 1970’s, at the ripe old age of 93, she was terrified at the prospect of the vicar officiating at the funeral discovering that his family name was not the same as her maiden name. So much so that she began hyperventilating as she tried to explain. Such is the power of childhood shame.

The story became more difficult for her- a bad marriage, lots of bitterness, and no small amounts of damage done to my sister and me.

However- what this conversation enabled me to see, perhaps for the first time ever, was a chain of ungrace stretching back 160 odd years. All those damaged people trying to find ways to live better.

And I was reminded of some hard old words from Exodus 20;

…for I, theLord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…

And feel little comfort for how the words go on;

…but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The sins of the fathers are very human ones. I am not sure about all the judgement stuff in Exodus, but I am sure about the fact that damaged people can easily do damage, and that bitterness infects other people in ways that are hard to understand even in hindsight, even when right in front of our eyes.

May the scars we carry soften. May we not nurture any new hate.


History of here…

Our house, circa 2003

We have just had a lovely couple of days with my brother Steve, his wife Kate and little Jamie. Lots of sillyness and laughter, too much food and not a lot of sleep. I only wish my sister could have been there too- but life has thrown us all into a complication of geography and distance.

This morning we intended to take a walk through Dunoon, but it was lashing down with rain, so we went to Castle House museum. I have only been once before- years ago- and we were wondering whether they would have any information about our house- who lived here previously, what it was used for etc.

Because here is where we are, and being fully here seems to me to involve an appreciation of connection- with family and friends now, but also with who has been here before us.

I discovered today that behind where we live there was an Episcopalian church- made of corrugated iron, which eventually burnt down. And a little further back into the woods is a mound that was thought to be a Roman Fort.

What we discovered about our house turned out to be a little more than we expected. Maps of the plot of land before the house was built, old land records listing the details of the person who built it, a Robert Donaldson, who seems to have been an instrument maker from Glasgow. We need to go back to dig a little deeper into the copper plate records, but another thing we discovered is that our house used to be a ‘nursing home’- not in the sense of elderly care, but rather a place where people went to give birth to babies, or to recover from illness. It was called ‘St Margaret’s nursing home’ and there are people alive today in Dunoon (and elsewhere) who were born here.

Scratch the surface, scrape back the paint and peeling paper, and there are whole lives laid out before us. The hopes, aspirations, triumphs, disappointments and tragedies of those who used to be here, but now are elsewhere.

It is humbling, but also makes me grateful.

(Not least as this week, Michaela and I have been married 21 years!)

Father, son, brother…

Today I had dinner with my father and brother.

It still seems a strange sentence, as it was not able to be said a short time ago. Here we are-

I never knew my father until three years ago, when aged 40, I decided it was time to try to track him down. I discovered in the process a whole new family, including a half brother who lives in Scotland.

There is a long story about how all this fits together, but for now, I will say this- I am grateful.

Family road trip…

We are home after a rather exhausting trip round the country, visiting family.

First my brother and his wife, and little Jaimie at their new home in Haddington, below Edinburgh. Then down to Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire to see our wider family. It was lovely to see them all-

Michaela’s mum and my Mum.

My sister and her family. (Including a lovely night sat round a fire singing songs in their garden.)

Michaela’s brother and sister.

And her dad and his wife.

Then a trip down to Towcester to deliver Emily, who is off on a sailing trip on the Norfolk broads.

Then home via a wee party in Lancashire with some old friends.

Throw in some decorating, DIY, shopping trips and a lovely service in Derby Cathedral with some other old friends, and no wonder we are tired.

Tonight we will sleep soundly in our own beds…

Yesterday was Michaela’s birthday. We went on a trip to a public hall in South Normanton, where there was a display of local historical photographs- including this one, of Michaela’s paternal grandmother and great aunt, pushing two of her aunts in prams back in 1938.


We took this photograph- of three generations of Michaela’s family- her father (and wife Janet,) along with his sister Mavis (one of the babies in the prams above) then Michaela and her brother Chris, finally William.

Family is important. The threads that hold us all are stretched over long distances now, but it was a good journey…

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Sabbath beach…

I have a confession.

For most of my life, I have spent most of Sundays in Church- all those high pressure mornings in some leadership role or other, often followed by reluctant evenings (even if they did turn out to be a real blessing.) But that is not my confession.

Rather it is this- for the past few weeks, I have spend Sunday mornings playing cricket.

It still makes me feel guilty though. Despite the fact that we do ‘church’ differently- we meet in the week, as well as other times.

But this is a chance to do something I enjoy along with my cricket mad son. It is a chance to connect with some other blokes, and to get some good exercise.

And Sunday, I remind myself, is about rest. And all those years of busyness- they were certainly not restful.

After the training session this morning, we went for a picnic- to a local beach out beyond Tighnabruach on the other side of the Cowal peninsular. The sun shone, it was almost warm, and the scenery was stunning.

Lambs in the fields, snow on the Arran mountains, still waters beyond perfect sand. Catkins on the trees and frogs spawning in the ditches.

This will be a day to remember.

A real sabbath to remind us to stop- and to be grateful.


Watching them grow…

One of the principle sources of deep joy in this life of ours comes from watching our children develop and grow.

Kids get a bad press. All those raised eyebrows and exasperated sighs. The broken ornaments and filthy clothes. The noise on a Sunday afternoon when all should be quiet. The lurking spectre of the teenage years with all those erupting emotions. The cost of shoes and designer clothing.

But they give so much more than they they take.

I speak as a father of a 10 year old and a 14 year old.

Kids, they are great…

Michaela’s poem…

I love my wife.

Sorry to get all soppy, but I do.

She still sometimes sends me cards for no particular reason and yesterday, she sent me one with a poem inside, which I am going to reproduce here.

Words are such wonderful things- they flex like muscles and can hold you in their tender embrace.

We have our list of dreams

Of sunsets and adventures

And our bags are packed

One with troubles

One with hopes

And tea bags

And good music

Medicine for the soul

Some friends will expect news

Pack the address book too

Are we ready?

Do not forget the map

And the itinerary-

Some adventure

And some stillness

We climb into the week

And head off

Let me carry your bag of troubles

I’ll meet you at the weekend

In a cafe with yellow walls

That feels like home

We’ll dream again

Share memories of the week

And smile in the family album

MG March 2010

Christmas at our house…

So, another Christmas season comes and goes. We have had a lovely time, I hope you have too. Those moments of delight on the kids faces…

We have had Michaela’s Mum and Step-Father here this Christmas, which has been great as Robert has not been well. They had an epic journey up from Derbyshire- a 5 hour train journey became a 10 hour one, with cancelled trains and all sorts of problems because of the snow.

What makes us what we are?

The other Scottish Goans

The other Scottish Goans

We have been very busy over the last few weeks- doing a lot of traveling. It has been really good to catch up with family.

Michaela’s mum and step dad are staying with us this week.

A couple of weeks ago we were in the midlands of England, spending time with my mother, and my sister Katherine and her family. Katherine lives in a house that is always full of young people. She has four of her own- Josh the medical student, Elizabeth the ballet dancer, Ben the musician, and Nathaniel the youngest and apple of the eye. I don’t see enough of them all- but despite the distance, I love them dearly.

Then last week, we stayed for a night with my brother Steve, his wife Kate and little Jamie. There is a bigger story here, as we have only recently met.

My father and mother divorced when I was small, and I never knew him. We made contact again 2 years ago (my dad now lives in Northern Ireland,) and I was amazed to discover that I had a half brother who lives in Scotland, only a short drive from us.

You can imagine that the process of getting to know another branch of family that were strangers to us until recently has been wonderful, but deeply challenging.

Conversations with my father- and finding understanding of a sort.

Trying to explain to my mother the reasons why I would want such contact.

Taking my sister with me on the journey.

Last week, Steve and I had another of those ‘what if?’ discussions- wondering how our shared genetics interacted with out very different upbringings, and turned us into the people that we have become.

And I wonder. What might I have been with a different compost to grow in? Would the sensitivity that dogs me (and also inspires me) be mediated? Would I be more like me on my best days, or more like me on my worst?

These are impossible questions to resolve. All that we can do is note some of the ingredients, but the rest of it just IS.

And in this- like in all things- all will be well.

All manner of things shall be well…

Road trip…


We are back home after a great few days.

It started out with a long drive down to Coalbrookdale, Telford, where we met up with some great folk who are part of the Tautoko network.

We met some great people, and had a chance to share hopes and dreams with others who are experimenting with new forms of church, mission and worship. It was strange to meet people from so many groups who I had heard of, visited on line, and perhaps even used ideas/material from.

I always find the process of being thrown into a sea of new people like this difficult at first. Michaela was in her element, swimming strongly, whereas I paddled in the shadows for a while. But by the end of the weekend, I hope we began to make some real connections- with people with whom we will get to know more in the future. Certainly it will make attendance at Greenbelt Festival very different, as there will be so many more familiar faces involved in planning and running parallel events.

I hesitate to mention any names, as we met so many folk, and had such great conversations- and typically I will get the names wrong! But I will risk mentioning a few…

Great to meet Laura Drane (thanks for the invite!) and chums from Sanctus 1 in Manchester. Also Jonny Baker, Mark Berry, Jenny from Spirited Exchanges, and Julie Wilson from Big stuff up here in Scotland. I also enjoyed meeting Martin and hearing about Beyond, down in Brighton- and loved the beach hut advent calender thing they did last year.

After all this, we had a great day out at the Blists Hill living museum– a step into Victorian industrial life.

We then visited family up in Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire. I spent a day and a half renovating my mothers garden pond (not a recommended pastime) and the kids visited Matlock Bath, and took the cable cars up the Heights of Abraham.

Here are a few assorted photo’s. Click to enlarge…