Tuesday, 30 December 2008


Why is it that this time of year makes even such an unsentimental mutt (as I like to think) like me go all nostalgic? I ask, because it has been simply years since I've been to the panto and suddenly this year I was overcome by a desire to go to one. But not just to any old panto, but to the one at the King's Theatre Glasgow. Why? I'm an East Coaster born, bred and educated. Why the Weegie panto and not Edinburgh?

Well, childhood trips were divided between the King's Glasgow and the King's Edinburgh. And honestly, the crowd response was always far better in Glasgow. But maybe because it was an hour or more in the car, more of an adventure and a visit to a strange gallus city where they spoke funny but were very friendly, the Glasgow trips are more part of my memory. That and the fact that the Dames were the incomparable Stanley Baxter and Angus Lennie (Shooie the cook in Crossroads and the Scotch airman who did a runner with Steve McQueen in The Great Escape - how Christmas is that?).

So it's off to Glasgow on the 2nd. Oh No It's Not! Oh Yes It Is!

A surprising article.

I finally caught up with Saturday's copy of the Times and an article by Matthew Parris. Although he is an avowed and convinced atheist, he was arguing that Africa needed God. He noted that his experience of Africa where he grew up in part was that many of those working in Aid agencies (including secular ones) were Christians and seemed to make a greater difference than the non-believers. Similarly the role of missionaries in medical and educational efforts were incredibly valuable. Why? Because the Christian stress on a personal relationship with God, personal responsibility for actions and the dignity of the individual assumed and assured by redemption was a vital counteractive agent to a fatalism and resignation that seems to him to be endemic in African culture. A strong sense of personal responsibility and rights is needed to counter the assumption that the rights of the individual as less important that the right of the dominant group or tribe in power.

I was intrigued and can see the point of the argument but I am slightly worried that it pre-supposes that Western democratic culture, derived as it is from the Christian and particularly from the Protestant tradition, is inherently and automatically superior to native African values. Just a touch of the Victorian Imperialist mindset in there I think. perhaps the best hope for Africa is a Christian ethic that blends the best of traditions. The Protestant Work Ethic and the respect for individual rights and dignity which to my mind are inherent in the Christian tradition (all made in God's image and of equal and infinite value and worth as vouchsafed by the Incarnation and the Cross) are certainly vital to the development and deliverance of Africa from Maoist maniacs like Mugabe, but the African stress on the importance of social units such as the tribe, village and family have their great strengths too.T o cite a simple example: in Uganda many families take in the children of relatives who have died from HIV or Malaria. That responsible reaction comes as much and as validly from the tribal tradition as from the Christian one. To my mind, a creative synthesis is the solution, not the imposition of an alien cultural tradition. That much we have learnt from the mistakes of 19th century European missions.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

We wish you a smelly Christmas!

No, I am not complaining about the aftershave Ma bought me (Issy Myake, BTW!), nor remembering the alternative version of Jingle Bells we sang in the school playground ("Jingle Bells, Santa smells, Rudolph thinks he's gay!"), but reflecting on the odd way in which smells evoke memories of Childhood. For me it wasn't the turkey or incense at Midnight Mass (I only discovered Anglo-Catholic worship at University) - it was the smell that hit my nose on Christmas Night when I was walking the dog in Cowdenbeath. The smell of a coal fire burning on the crisp night air.

Growing up in the 70's and early 80's in the heart of the West Fife mining district, coal was often used for heating. Not in our house (we had gas fired central heating) but it is a smell I associate with my grandparents house and Christmas morning there. Up the hill to Kirkford with the pressies to show them, the smell of the coal fire and breakfast was an integral part of my childhood. I really hadn't thought of it for years until I smelled the coal in the air the other night and it transported me right back. Learning how to light one properly was a skill I haven't practised in 20-30 years. Paper 1st (Daily Record, tightly wrapped into 'sticks'), then kindling. Zipp firelighters if the wood was wet then the ashes from the day before (recycling?) and finally 'sma' coal to ignite it. Big stuff only after it had caught.

What smells take you back to childhood? it would be interesting to know.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

It's Chriistmass!!

Well, well. The Christingle service at Grahamston United (church not a football team!) wasn't just as bad as I feared, though very Church of Scotland in the way that an elder of the Kirk once described it to me - flat church rather than High or Low! Midnight Masswas excellent with much candles and incense. And the Family Eucharist this morning went OK. So now oft to the family estate for turkey and stuff with the family. Merry Saturnalia y'all!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

It's Christmas Eve .. Don't Panic!

Even when yer flower convener appears at 10am to tell you she can smell gas in the Church! Visions of the gas being cut off, the Midnight in Baltic temps or even in the hall raced through my mind. So the Gas Man was called and cameth! Deo Gratias, there isn't a leak - but I'm darned if we can say what the funny smell is! Luckily it's incense tonight, so nobody will be able to smell anything other than Rosa Mystica! I'm just narked that some folks smelled something funny on Saturday and nobody told me! We didn't have to do this panic. Also, who gave the spare boiler house key to the gardener without putting a replacement one in the Vestry? We had to use a hammer and two jemmy's to access the boiler. The People's Warden reckons he could have a post retirement career as a burglar after this morning!! I reckoned that might muck up his work on the Children's Panel somewhat!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A full day.

Indeed: did the order of service, met mum, went to watch the Blue Brazil cuff East Stirling 4-1!! Met an old Uni chum in the stands, who kindly offered me a free ticket next time I go to Central Park (well, he is Club Secretary and his brother an RC priest). Walked dog, took mum to Benny T's for fish and chips and then drove her home! Watched Celebrity Mr & Mrs and then back to barracks! Never a dull moment!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Them things you see..

Like the mag that arrived with pikkies of the ABC Rowan the beard giving Benediction at Lourdes! And his Archiepiscopal flag flying over the Domaine to says "We're here!" And the bottle of Coke I bought that announced proudly that it was made in Britain (!) not in the Untied States of America (aka the Land of the Free and Home of the Crazed: Prop Geo. W Shrub Esq). Life is full of funny sights! Maybe it's signs of the Last Days!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

My gum was numb!

The Ministry team Crimbo lunch was pretty good and would have been even better if I hadn't had a filling less than an hour earlier and was suffering from a numb mush! I hate dribbling in public! The mixed bread for 4 was a joy (garlic bread, cheesy garlic bread, bruschetta and pizza style garlic bread) unless you didn't like garlic! And the very tasty veal, ham and mushroom risotto was tres yummy! It was a tad pricey but was good grub, so...

Confirmation class tonight and more choc pud. Life is good!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The day thou gavest, Lord is ended. Phew!

A slightly panicky day today. Yesterday I could not find the Carol service for the MU on the computer. Luckily today it appeared on the Office Manager's Infernal Machine, so much new labour (this is not a political comment)was avoided. Then we discovered that nobody had actually booked a table for the FCT Ministry team Crimbo nosh up - and it's the 16th of December and the lunch is tomorrow!!! Luckily the local Tally restaurant was free - which means either the credit crunch is biting or the foods gone down the pan. We shall see.

The actual MU carolific bash went OK. But the afternoon (well, what was left of it) was spent harassing the Bishop's Office over a Canon 31 application which is running late. Now this is not the fault of the Diocesan Admin. The paperwork which should have arrived from the lawyers by August, due to legal sloth and sickness didn't appear until the 14th of November. And things have been knocked back by delay after delay caused by finding out dates of baptism etc and me being dizzy over jury service. so now I am pushing it as we need to get the papers into the Registrar PDQ. What a day! Chocolate is needed!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Dougal's TV Burp

Well, that's a downer - Nora Batty is no more and it looks as if it might finish off Last of the Summer Wine. A pity, as it's gentle humour beats Russell Brand any day in my book.

I think I very slightly startled some of the congregation by quoting from the Qi Book of Advanced Banter in the sermon this morning. Normally, I don't reveal the source of my quotations, but I thought it might lighten up the morning. Roughly, Life is a river that often has blood in the water and other bits of debris that historians record. But on the riverbank, people are getting on with their lives, building homes, having babies and even sculpting things. Civilisation is what happens on the river bank, not in the River. Kinda makes sense to me. I then entertained the Pastoral Care Group after the meeting with some quotes on marriage: "Love is blind - and marriage is an institution for the blind" Also, "I won't bother marrying again. I'll just find a woman I loathe and give her a house". Methinks the author of those two gems had had a rather iffy divorce!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

"Trial by Jury" is over. But one final thought.

That's it all done and dusted: I am no longer a juror and cannot be recalled for 5 years. My experience of the system was that it was quite fair (well, as near as is humanly possible and within the constraints of the Scottish legal system). It was a bit different from watching "Crown Court" in days of yore: 15 jurors, not 12 (no chance of a hung jury); no opening speeches a la Perry Mason - straight into the evidence (rather more business like really). But I have one question and that's to do with the choice of verdicts available.

Unlike England and the USA, Scottish juries are not faced with the simple choice of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty". They have the 3rd option of "Not Proven". It's effect is exactly the same as "Not Guilty" - the accused is acquitted and cannot be re-tried for this offence. But what does it mean? We can't make up our mind? We think you did it but the Crown hasn't proved its case? We think something happened but we don't think it's what the Prosecuting Fiscal (as they are known in Glasgow) put in the charge? Or we're not impressed by the Crown case and we don't think you're telling the whole story either!

I'm open to comments and information on this. For what it's worth, I think of it as the "Aye, but" verdict. The jury doesn't think the Crown has proved it's case beyond reasonable doubt but is unsure of the accused's total innocence. They cannot convict, but register almost a passing comment. Perhaps it's very existence reflects that part of the Scottish character which is willing to play fair but also likes to have it's say. I really wonder. I'm not sure I think there is a place for this in the legal system myself: judge the facts and the evidence it is not a court of morals but a court of law.

But it was a fascinating experience.

Friday, 5 December 2008

The duty of a Christian citizen.

I suppose jury service makes you think about this. But I also found a wee booklet whilst tidying up in the house (!) which I read and it made me think. Entitled "Hensley Henson and the Durham Miners", it was the 1983 Durham Cathedral Lecture by Professor Owen Chadwick. Henson was the often controversial Bishop of Durham in the 1920's and 30's. There was a terrible fuss over his consecration as he was alleged to be a Modernist. Brought up an Evangelical, turned Anglo-Catholic at Oxford, where he was influenced by the Anglo-Catholic Socialist theologian, bishop and founder of the Community of the Resurrection Charles Gore, he nearly became an Anglican Franciscan monk and worked as a slum priest in East London. After a change of theological viewpoint, he became famous as one of the best preachers of his day and had been Dean of Durham Cathedral. In politics he was a rather radical Tory. His time at Durham covered the prayer Book controversies within the C of E in 1927-28, the Miner's Strike and General Strike of 1926, the Great Depression and the run up to WW2. He was one of the early critics of Hitler and Mussolini over their treatment of the Jews and Abyssinia respectively and was one of the great episcopal mavericks the Cove from time to time produces.

Chadwick quotes a 1929 sermon in which Henson, who was very outspoken against the Miner's Strike, laid outy 10 axioms of Christian citizenship which struck me as still relevant in a time of economic crisis when the Church has been recently self-obsessed with internal debates. I'll quote him as writen (so apologies for the non -PC lingo) His 10 points are:

1. Man is not to be regarded merely as an economic force. He is always and indestructably a Person.

2. Whosoever pictures a man as essentially dependent on his circumstances or as incapable of the highest manhood in the worst situations, offends against the mind of Jesus.

3. Whosoever represents honest work as degrading or undesirable is in conflict with the example and teaching of Jesus.

4. Gifts and opportunities must surely be accounted for to God who gave them.

5. Wealth becomes respectable just so far as it can be stated in terms of social service. It is either an instrument or a chain. It may enable public work or it may endanger personal liberty.

6. The power to reform society is finally dependent on the moral quality of the reformer. Bad men may promote sound policies; and no personal goodness in a politician can avert disater if his policy be unsound. But the personal badness of reforms lowers the social temperature and in the long term brings worse mischiefs than those which their reforms corrected.

7. Popular approval is no security for moral rightness.

8. Liberty works from within outwards: the freee man makes the free state, not the free state the free man.

9. The value of service is determined by the amount of self-sacrifice it involves.

10. No external authority, be it Church, State, political party, employers federation, trade union, public opinion, can have the last word with the Christian citizen. The final court is within the man himself. "The Spirit of man is the candle of the Lord".

I think 1 is absolutely fundemental to any Christian concept of citizenship and responsiblity, as is 4. Point 5 reminds us that it is very much what we do with the means and gifts at our disposal that matters. 7 reminds us that the mob isn't always right - listening to a Radio Scotland phone in on the Peter Tobin case meant I heard plenty of people in favour of "getting rid" of Tobin. It would be popular, but scarcely moral. And point 10 I think is essential for understanding the role of Christian conscience with regard to public action. I might not personally agree with those who chain themselves to the fence at Faslane but I understand and respect the moral sense that makes them see it as both valid and necessary. Any thoughts on this one folks?

The world moves on.

By which I mean there was a rather interesting court report in this weeks Falkirk Herald. It described a domestic violence case and the Sheriff delaying sentencing for reports. Far from unusual. The interesting bit was that the couple were both male. What I found particularly interesting (and in an odd way encouraging) was that the report was perfectly factual and didn't get into hysterics over gayness. It reported the case simply as a domestic and saw nothing unusual in the gender or orientation of the individuals concerned. That says a lot about how far we as a society have travelled with regard to LGBT people even in my lifetime. I was born in 1967 - a few months after the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts for the over 21's. I have never drawn breath in a society where same sex relationship were totally discriminated against (well, except in Scotland where it took until 1980 to bring the law into line with England and Wales - one of the few good things the Thatcher Govt did in my personal opinion. And Northern Ireland but I can't remember when they fell into line). Normal, treated just like the straight majority even when the news isn't good. Surely that's the sort of equality we've been working for all along?

Thursday, 4 December 2008

"You know how Adam and Eve were English.."

That isn't a joke - it's what one of my S1's at the school said this afternoon! The question followed "How did Chinese people happen?"!!! Some very slightly startled gibbers were swiftly suppressed and I tried to explain that it was a story telling truths, not a fact. Oh yes, if Adam and Eve did exist then the Garden of Eden was in Iraq and Adam looked like Saddam Hussein! (Maybe that didn't help!) Also what was the meaning of life? (42 of course)! Great fun, if slightly surreal! I do enjoy school!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The daily waffle!

Went off last night with a group from church to support a local amateur dramatic group by attending their performance. It was enjoyable enough, although the play was a classic pot-boiler from the 1920's called T"he Ghost Train". You knew it was the 1920's when the baddies were revealed as Juan from Barcelona (Manuel's dad I think!) and Herr Otto Sitz and were decried by the juvenile lead as "Bolshies"!! Also, the paper being read was"The British Gazette", which was only produced during the General Strike of 1926 and was edited by Winston Churchill! (Nice one, props department!) Monocles, hip flasks, stiff upper lips, strong men and dependent women. They don't write 'em like that any more! Thank Gawd! It was an enjoyable hoot! But for me the fun bit was discovering who the playwright was. Arnold Ridley. Name means nothing - unless you are a fan of "Dad's Army", in which case you will recognise him as Private Godfrey! Fascinating, eh?

Back to court this am, but it was called off after 45 mins due to a missing bit of paper! Try again on Friday. However, when i went to the shop for my baccy and paper, I mused on why there is such a lousy selection of pipe tobaccos these days. When I were a lad, you could get St Bruno (as smoked by Dom Gregory Dix who wrote "The Shape of the Liturgy"), Gold Block, Clan and Condor (be very careful when purchasing this - when a curate I went into our local wee Asian shop in my dog collar and asked for a packet of this and the wee wifie put a packet of "Mates" on the counter. It was pointed out later by my Rector that when burnt, they smelled much the same as what I usually smoked!). But you also got some great other blends: 3 Nun's Ready Rubbed (ooh-er, missus!), Parson's Pleasure, Presbyterian Mixture. Whatever happened to those? Nostalgia!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The thoughts of Chairman Dougal.

Perhaps it was tempting fate to think that an Area Council AGM might be the highlight of the day. It wasn't. The content was fine, but the chairing diabolical. So here are some wee thoughts on how to lead meetings.

1. Before you start, know when you aim to finish.

2. 10-15 mins before your intended finishing time, remind people that the hour of intended release from this travail is nigh!

3. Keep them to the point in hand: fascinating as reminiscences of St Bigot's in the days of Canon Flannel are, remember Dougal's Ecclesiastical Relevance Mantra - "And what has that got to do with the price of Spam in Govan?"

4. Do not be afraid to cut people off, wind 'em in or bring them to heel. It's not rude or not nice - it's your job as chair.

5. Age may not wither them but neither does it give the oldest gasbag in the group a divine right to drivel. Respect your elders but move them swiftly on when they meander pointlessly.

There you go! And now for the Mother's Union! Banzai!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Due process and the mills of God.

I am gently underwhelmed with my 1st experience of the legal system. I arrived at 12 noon and within 30 minutes we were sent for an early lunch, due to lawyers needing time to sort things out. Back at 2pm, only to be released again within 30 mins as the legal beagles needed more time. So 3 hours in a room, of which 50% was lunch break! Still, at least they are meticulous (which is rather reassuring) and the panel of jurors was a real mix. The diversity of an "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo" approach to jury selection was obvious and of the pile, only 15 will be selected and them by drawing names out of a glass bowl. Blind justice indeed! The upshot is we need not be there tomorrow, but should phone the Juror helpline after 5pm to see wassup on Wednesday!

It makes tonight's Area Council AGM positively thrilling in anticipation (there's a 1st for you!). If only we can keep the mitred one concise and the parish rep bods from droning on about how good their last fete was, I'll be happy! Sadly, I'm not in the chair, so neither is guaranteed!

The reasonable news today was that the Ministry Team Christmas lunch is booked - sadly, in my least favourite local Italian restaurant! That'll teach me to miss team meetings!