Saturday, 31 May 2008

Life Without Caffeine Crumbles A Bit

You can get caffeine molecule earrings apparently. What next? Don't answer that. Day two of Life Without Caffeine was yesterday and I felt really lousy all day. I had no energy for work and no concentration either. I also had a vaguely sore back on Thursday night, which by Friday night was an extremely sore back. This morning it was really sore, and my legs were sore too. In fact I thought I must have something else wrong with me. However I took a couple of Ibuprofen at lunch time and two cups of coffee (!) and I've been fine since (it's now early evening). I couldn't believe caffeine withdrawal could have been so intense.

Fortunately last night was fun in spite of this as we had four overnight visitors. We're so used to the kids having friends round for sleepovers at the weekend it was funny to be welcoming adult visitors. Cheese and wine and chat instead of popcorn and DVD/Wii! (Him Indoors and the four kids were assigned the tent in the garden which was still up from last weekend - we don't have any guest bedrooms). They were in town for a conference and needing a place to crash overnight. One of them was a minister who was in the year below me at secondary school many moons ago and in my year at university. He and his wife were married a matter of days after we were (we were at each others' weddings). They had their first child eight days before we had our first child and they had their second (of two) within a day of our third being born. The parallel lives thing has taken a sad but inevitable course. Our friend's father-in-law has recently died and my mother-in-law is terminally ill just now. Both cancer.

Today we introduced the puppy to our favourite venue for family walks. Her first walk and her first swim were accomplished in the one day (the latter unintentionally on her part). She had a lovely time. Here is the photographic evidence. She met lots of other dogs and got plenty of admiring attention. She got to carry a stick, briefly - she was a bit ambitious with the one she chose. It was a wee bit far for her at this stage so she also got carried for some of it. And now she's totally exhausted, fast asleep on top of a pile of laundry whilst her human "siblings" watch Doctor Who.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Life Without Caffeine

Today drugs were in the news here in Scotland. The Scottish Government was announcing its thoughts on the subject.

I'm on day one of Life Without Caffeine, a little experiment I'm performing on myself, so it was interesting to hear all this talk of addiction on the radio all day.

Yesterday, I found this on the internet. It's a cheery wee test to find out how much caffeine would kill you! (It takes a lot, by the way).

And today, I read a cheery list of the possible symptoms of caffeine withdrawal:
"Headache – (often described as being gradual in development and diffuse, and sometimes throbbing and severe)
Fatigue -- (e.g., fatigue, tiredness, lethargy, sluggishness)
Sleepiness/drowsiness -- (e.g., sleepy, drowsy, yawning)
Difficulty concentrating -- (e.g., muzzy)
Work difficulty -- (e.g., decreased motivation for tasks/work)
Irritability -- (e.g., irritable, cross, miserable, decreased well-being/contentedness)
Depression -- (e.g., depressed mood)
Anxiety -- (e.g., anxious, nervous)
Flu-like symptoms -- (e.g., nausea/vomiting, muscle aches/stiffness, hot and cold spells, heavy feelings in arms or legs)
Impairment in psychomotor, vigilance and cognitive performances"

And, yes, I've had a fair number of these symptoms today and so I am sending myself to bed early.

Incidentally this is well worth a visit - it's bizarre but yet I believe it could be addictive itself. Lift the mice into the armchair and see what happens. It's educational, honestly.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Home Not-Sweet Home

Do you remember the theme song of "Cheers"?Probably the best remembered line from that song is "You wanna go where everybody knows your name".

It's nice to belong somewhere. When I was a kid my dad was the local minister. On a Saturday morning I would be sent up the main street with a shopping trolley (why was I not embarrassed?) for what we in the west of Scotland call the "messages" (not messages, actually, but groceries). The last shop I went to was the bakers, where there would be ready waiting for me a brown cardboard box tied with string containing forty small rolls (they were called TV rolls for some reason) and I would sit it on top of my trolley. There were four of us in our house and we all got two each for our packed lunch Monday to Friday (4x2x5=40). Anyway, up and down the street as I did the shopping for my mum, I would be greeted by several people who knew me as the minister's daughter. I didn't realise how nice that was at the time. When, as a teenager, we moved to a different town I found I didn't much care for being unrecognised, overlooked and generally ignored when I went shopping! Poor me with my whatever-you-call-it complex.

Nowadays we are a much more mobile society. We don't work where we grew up, we don't spend all our lives in the same place any more. We travel to socialise. Many of us don't have that community thing so much now. Actually as a parish minister's wife I've now got it again, but lots of folk don't.

However, for those who have had the experience of living in a community "where everybody knows your name" as the song said, it can be difficult when you lose that. They say that's one of the reasons lottery winners aren't always as happy in their new life as they anticipated - they've moved away from their old neighbourhood.

Anyway, recently I've been thinking about this whole thing in relation not to myself but to prisoners.

A big issue for many ex-offenders who are genuinely keen to mend their ways and live honestly and legally and stay out of jail, is what to do about their old haunting ground and old associates. Prison has removed them from the situation but as they look forward to liberation they have to think about the implications of going back home.

Imagine many of your family are drinkers/drug users. Imagine many of your friends are drinkers/drug users. Imagine many of them are in regular trouble with the police. Imagine you have been in trouble yourself since you were a young teenager but now you are 25, 35, 45, whatever, and are really determined to go straight and behave yourself. You never want to go back to jail. You are due for release soon. Should you go home? You've missed your family and they're excited that you're coming home. Where else could you go anyway? But how to manage living back there whilst staying sober/clean and out of trouble...?

And then, deep down, there's this community thing tugging at you. In the Bad Old Days, you were known in your area. Everybody certainly knew your name, and your pals' names. "Respect", well fear anyway. No one would mess with you because of your reputation, so you felt safe. Going to a new area you wouldn't have that. No one would know your name. You'd be a nobody. And you wouldn't be used to the vulnerable feeling that would arise in you.

These are real issues. I've been having conversations with prisoners on that very topic recently. The authorities sometimes don't want a guy going back to an area because of the "old associates" temptation problem, and yet sometimes they don't want a guy going to a new area because of "lack of support". "I can't win", a prisoner told me. But most of the guys themselves struggle to know the right thing to do or else, more often, know that they have no choice because there are no options for a roof over their head anywhere else.

If you've read this far, and you're not asleep yet, there is a fascinating verbatim account of a discussion among prisoners in an English jail recorded here. The bit I'm referring to starts about two thirds of the way down the page, focusses on a guy called Rick, and you need to do the "click here" thing at the foot of the page to get the rest of it. It's all to do with whether he should go back to his old "manor" or not. It was maybe a stage-managed performance for the benefit of the journalist but I've certainly heard this kind of thing said.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Would-be Evil Overlords Should Read This.

No, I expect you to die, Mr Bond...

I've just finished reading a serious, and seriously interesting, book about evil people, which I'll blog about one of these days once I get my head round it a bit more. But meantime here's something much less serious, that made me laugh a lot.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Fields of Vision

I took these two photos today en route between prisons. The oilseed rape fields are at their best at the moment. It's not a universally popular crop. Some people argue it causes allergies and many people also feel that the bright blocks of colour spoil the landscape. I have plenty of sympathy with the former objection if it's true but I'm not so offended by these fields' bright appearance as the second group of objectors. But then since daffodils are my favourite flowers, perhaps I just like big yellow flowers (except triffids, if they were yellow - I can't recall).

The first time I ever saw a rapeseed field must have been twenty something years ago, from the window of a bus taking a Sunday School class from Lanarkshire to St Andrews' Craigtoun Park. I had at that time a delightful class of seven year old boys. Amidst all the cries from children all over the bus of, "Haw, miss, err's a yella field", I heard from a little boy called Alan, in my class, a whispered, "Oooohhhh... there's a magic garden!" I have never once passed a field of oilseed rape since without thinking, "Oooohhhh, a magic garden!" I hope I haven't just similarly afflicted you by telling you that story.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Tired Wee Puppy.

Carry On Camping.

We're safely home from an overnight camping trip. The journey wasn't too arduous as it was only from the back garden. I was inspired by Lynn (Help I Work With Children) and pitched the tent in the back garden yesterday. Lynn actually went somewhere though. Blue Eyed Boy is away for the weekend at Scripture Union camp, and Him Indoors lived up to his name and slept indoors. (To be fair he has two services to conduct this morning and anyway that meant there was room for me to have the Z-bed in my end of the tent!) But Firstborn, Penultimate and Youngest Children and I retired to the garden after Eurovision (Russia won. I was supporting (a) Terry Wogan and (b)Finland, not just because they, the Finns rather than El Tel, were good looking guys with their shirts off, but because their music was the nearest to my taste).

Holidays in the garden are definitely the way to go. No packing. No unpacking. The washing machine, cooker and dishwasher still to hand. A visit for a cuddle from the puppy in the morning. And much better for the carbon footprint thing. I think we'll do this again.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

God's Panopticon

Reflecting on the panopticon thing (see yesterday's post) as I was going to sleep last night, and on the public's mixed reactions to CCTV as well, I think I realise why the thought of being watched doesn't worry me greatly. It's because I've been brought up in the Christian faith, and whilst sometimes I've doubted, of course, I've never really abandoned it even temporarily. So, basically, all my life, I've believed I'm being watched anyway - by God!

When I was a wee girl we used to sing a hymn (kind of old fashioned now - I've not heard it for years) that began "God is Always Near Me":

God is always near me,
Hearing what I say;
Knowing all my thoughts and deeds,
All my work and play.

God is always near me,
In the darkest night,
He can see me just the same
As by midday light.

God is always near me,
Though so young and small;
Not a look, or word, or thought,
But God knows it all.

To be perfectly honest, when I was a kid, I felt very uncomfortable whenever we sang that line, "Not a look, or word, or thought, but God knows it all". Yikes! (I thought). Oh dear! (I thought).

However once I got to grips with the fact that my faith teaches that God loves us IN SPITE of those looks, words, thoughts, or indeed actions that are bad, I came to find the idea of a heavenly CCTV, or panopticon, as I will now think of it, as very comforting. My favourite bit of the Bible is Psalm 139, which, oddly enough, is on exactly this theme.

Psalm 139 (The Message translation) A David Psalm

1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I'm an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I'm never out of your sight.
You know everything I'm going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you're there,
then up ahead and you're there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can't take it all in!

7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute—
you're already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I'd even lived one day.

17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I'll never comprehend them!
I couldn't even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!—
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, God,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I'm about;
See for yourself whether I've done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life

Friday, 23 May 2008

I Spy With My Little Eye

Did you ever learn a new word and think, "I must see if I can fit that into a conversation this week?" I learnt a new word today but thanks to blogging I can create my own post about it. My new word is "panopticon". Perhaps I'm the last to know it, but if not, you can now know it too!

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a Utilitarian philosopher and theorist interested in British legal reform. He proposed the PANOPTICON as a model prison. The word means "all-seeing" and the idea was to create an architectural design for prisons and "mad-houses" that would work in terms of twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance.

Cells would all be visible all the time from a central tower but the inmates of the cells would be unable to see whether the guards were looking in their direction or not. This uncertainty, Bentham reasoned, would encourage prisoners to behave themselves.

A French philosopher called Michel Foucault wrote about "panopticism" (another new word!) in 1975: "Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers".

Panopticon jails haven't really taken off worldwide. However, doesn't what Foucault wrote just make you think of all the furore about CCTV cameras, and speed cameras? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. It'll soon be Big Brother season on television again, too.

I know it upsets lots of people but I don't mind big brother watching me, within reason (I mean I don't want CCTV spying on me at the loo or anything and one of these days the speed cameras will get me I suppose). But in fact, mum and dad, I always wanted a big brother. In general I tend to the view that if you're law-abiding you have nothing to fear but I know that's not a trendy viewpoint. Recently Him Indoors and I were victims of crime when our bank account was emptied. I am quite glad that some "nosey" surveillance person at the bank noticed an odd expenditure and phoned us up to ask us about it. I'm also glad that the bank refunded us the money.

Incidentally "panopticon" - I dare you to try to use the word in conversation over the weekend - was a word I came across while doing some training today about "intel" (intelligence) at work.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

When Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This is an old story. But I like it and it's my blog.

Once upon a time, a member of a certain church, who had been a very regular attender, stopped going. After a few weeks, the minister decided to visit him. It was cold outside and the minister found the man sitting at home in front of a roaring fire. No doubt the man knew exactly why the minister was there, but he invited him in and showed him to the big chair next to the fireplace, and waited for the questioning or the lecture, whichever it would be.

The minister made himself comfy but said nothing. In solemn silence, he stared at the flickering flames. A few minutes later, he took the tongs and picked up a small red-hot coal and laid it on the stone hearth. Then, he sat back in his chair, still saying nothing.

The host watched the whole thing with interest. As the lone coal's flame diminished, its colour changed from red to grey and soon it was cold and dead.

Still not a word had been spoken between the two men apart from the initial greeting. A wee while later, the minister took the tongs again, picked up the cold coal and held it back in the middle of the flames. At once it began to glow again, with light and warmth.

As the minister reached the door and was putting his coat on to leave, the man shook his hand and said, "Thank you for coming, and thanks especially for your fiery sermon. I'll be in church on Sunday".

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Mark Twain

Some of the wise and/or funny sayings of Mark Twain:

Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity -- another man's I mean.

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.

I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.

I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.

I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.

I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won't.

I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said I don't know.

If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.

In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.

It is easier to stay out than get out.

It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it.

Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.

The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession.

The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.

Time cools, time clarifies; no mood can be maintained quite unaltered through the course of hours.

Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.

Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody.

We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don't know anything and can't read.

When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.

When in doubt, tell the truth.

When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet deep down in his private heart no man much respects himself.

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

When you cannot get a compliment any other way pay yourself one.

Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to.

The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Missing Jail.

I'm missing jail now. I've been attending the CofS's annual bottom-numbing-business-meeting, the General Assembly, since Thursday last week and it finishes tomorrow.

Although it's been bottom-numbing, it's not been mind-numbing. The Church worldwide gets such a bad press so it's been an encouragement to me to hear of our Church's passion for marginalised and vulnerable people, such as, for example: the homeless; those in war-torn countries; the elderly; children and youth; the poor; and to hear all the various calls on Her Majesty's Government (and other governments) to... x,y and z, as well as all the social work that we do. All good stuff. But I'm missing "my" prisons now and I'm looking forward to getting back on Thursday. How weird is that?

Next week will see the end of my first year in the job, the job that (*whispers*) I didn't really want but (*shouts*) now really enjoy. Being at the General Assembly has meant I've been with several hundred other ministers. One advantage of this is seeing some folk I've not seen since I left university thirteen years ago - interesting to see who's aged most and least (!) - and catching up with their news. It's also nice not to be in a minority of one for a change. I work in a multidisciplinary situation with social workers, prison officers, addictions support services, education and health staff, and management, but in that lot I am the ONLY minister across the two jails. There is a part-time Roman Catholic priest, though, so I don't get lonely really.

It's fun (yes, really) to get together at the Assembly and talk our churchy jargon for a wee while, like a foreigner going home for a week and getting to talk their own language for a change! But I enjoy the "cross-cultural" challenge that chaplaincy brings and I'm looking forward to getting back to it. Clergy normally work for the church. Chaplains, though, have a secular employer - in our case the prison service. Clergy normally worry about whether they and their congregation are too inward looking. Chaplains don't have that worry. We're out there in the thick of it, and that's very fulfilling indeed.

I may be mad but I'm not alone. A fellow chaplain has also experienced "missing jail" recently.

(I just wish prisoners never missed it, and would all stay out once out!)

Monday, 19 May 2008


In 1921 the Church of Scotland passed some "Articles Declaratory", laying out our structure, how we govern ourselves and so on.

Article I, for example, says: "The Church of Scotland is part of the Holy Catholic or Universal Church; worshipping one God, Almighty, all-wise, and all-loving, in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; adoring the Father, infinite in Majesty, of whom are all things; confessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son, made very man for our salvation; glorying in His Cross and Resurrection, and owning obedience to Him as the Head over all things to His Church; trusting in the promised renewal and guidance of the Holy Spirit; proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God through faith in Christ, and the gift of Eternal Life; and labouring for the advancement of the Kingdom of God throughout the world. The Church of Scotland adheres to the Scottish Reformation; receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life; and avows the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith founded thereupon".

Today at the General Assembly it was decided that we could revisit one of our Articles Declaratory. How radical! The sentence, and it's really only a sentence, in question is this, from Article III: "As a national Church, representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people, it (the CofS) acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry".

The view the CofS has taken until today is that we should get a map of Scotland, divide it into little manageable bits and put a church in each bit (or parish). This is what has been done. For example, routinely if someone dies who has no church connection, it is the local "parish" CofS minister who will get the phone call. The undertakers often have a map of the parish boundaries in their office so they know whom to phone. Although there are plenty of other Christians in our country, in other denominations, there has been a "territorial" coverage of the country with CofS churches. The question is now going to be asked whether this is still our vision or not. If it IS our vision, we'll need to cough up the money and human resources needed to plug some gaps and fill some vacancies. If it's NOT our vision, we'll need to change our mindset and realise that God is well able to work through a variety of denominations and we can relax and not feel it's all down to us!

I've always thought the territorial ministry as per Article III was a wonderful vision to have, motivated by a desire to serve our beloved nation: urban, rural, highland, island, all of it. But I am now asking (with others) whether it's really wonderful after all, or is it perhaps pretty arrogant to think we should have the country sewn up like this? I'm interested to see what the result of this questioning will be, but I'm certainly all in favour of soul-searching and I'm willing to sign up to search my own - I don't want to be arrogant.

Him Indoors was one of the Special Commission which brought this proposal to the Assembly today. It was a very interesting debate, but I was amazed that there was hardly any real oppositon to us at least taking a look at Article III and asking questions about it.

Perhaps it's like one of these mementos you hoard in your house for years and dust down every year but then one day you look at it again but you realise that actually you've moved on and you don't want it any more, and out it goes... We'll see.

Sunday, 18 May 2008


Hahahaha. Things that can go, and have gone, wrong in working with kids in church. I've submitted a true story of ours too.

How Deep Is Your Love...

Apparently, our Prime Minister Gordon Brown listens to the Bee Gees every day.

I wonder whether this is (a) true, (b) part of a deal struck between Robin Gibbs and GB - "I'll give the Labour Party money but you must listen to us for five minutes every day for the rest of your life", (c) accompanied by GB singing along in a falsetto voice, (d) accompanied by GB and the Cabinet executing a beautifully choreographed dance routine and/or (e) associated with that funny thing he does with his mouth when he speaks, possibly the result of too much "jive talkin'".

I don't know what sort of music I'd have imagined our country's prudent leader listening to, but the Bee Gees wouldn't have been in my top fifty suggestions. He did famously once claim his favourite band were the Arctic Monkeys but then couldn't name any of their songs. Maybe Robin Gibbs needs to put him on the spot with a wee quiz.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Oh Me of Little Faith.

"The poeple we call Spiritual Giants aren't any different (from) we are. They're midgets too. BUT they are midgets who try to be completely dependent on God. They accepted their midgetness long ago and have grown so close to the Lord that their lives make them seem like Giants. The big difference between the Giants and us stubborn midgets is this: the Giants decide every day of their lives - sometimes every hour - to trust God, to be dependednt on Him, to obey Him". Karen Lewis, "Harvest of Truth"

Friday, 16 May 2008

Home and Away.

PART ONE. Plenty to stimulate my old brain at the General Assembly today, but it was very much my emotions that were stimulated by a police representative from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre who showed a very powerful DVD that is used with young people to warn them of the dangers of being groomed in chat rooms on the internet. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to well up as the film progressed and my heart went out to all victims of paedophiles.

The CofS's Safeguarding Committee reported today and it was interesting to listen. They are continually striving to improve the already thoroughgoing commitment to protecting the vulnerable and disclosure-checking all our many many volunteers, as well as developing good systems of practice for those working with kids or other vulnerable people. I have met a few perpetrators in prison and I appreciate how calculating and scheming they can be.

The churches, tragically, used to be a fertile ground for paedophiles to operate in at times. Even more tragically there were sometimes cover-ups. I am not aware of such in my own denomination but it may have been so. I hope not. However much more often, I think, churches were just too naive and too trusting, and, like the rest of society in general, were less switched on to the subject.

I often tell prisoners at their induction session that the chaplain is someone to whom they can talk "reasonably confidentially" and I elaborate by telling them that obviously if they tell me they are going to blow up the jail I will shop them but also that I am legally bound to pass on matters to do with child protection (and have done so). The general prisoner population are no friends of "beasts" as they call them and are happy to agree to that.

PART TWO. On a happier note my heart was warmed by the speech given by a visitor to the General Assembly, the Special Commissioner to the UK for Malawi. Many countries were discussed this afternoon including Zimbabwe, Israel, Kenya and of course the recent disasters in Burma and China. But it was lovely to have this erudite Malawian (who in his day job is a linguist) speak of the very close friendship there has historically been between Scotland and Malawi.

When I was a wee girl I was a late developer when it came to pop music. My parents didn't have a record player and it was a while (probably secondary school) before I got my first transistor radio to listen to Radio Clyde and Tiger Tim (who once played a request for my friends and me. Woohoo!) At a younger age I knew all the words of Marie Osmond's "Paper Roses" but only because I'd heard them in the playground, and when my friends were all obsessing over which of the Bay City Rollers was the best, I had a different hero - David Livingstone.

I grew up within cycling distance of the David Livingstone Memorial at Blantyre in Lanarkshire and we visited it often. I had a book (one of these gigantic non-fiction books you get as children) called "The Great Explorers". I knew about them all but it was David Livingstone and his story (and, okay, Henry Morton Stanley too) that I loved the best. In that book there was a picture depicting the scene where David Livingstone was found dead, kneeling by his bed, having died at prayer.
I nearly became a missionary in the late eighties (a Bible translator with Wycliffe Bible Translators) but much as I still HUGELY respect missionaries today, even they would agree things aren't quite as tough as they used to be pre-aeroplane and pre-antibiotic etc.. So likely was it that malaria or other tropical diseases would kill them, the early missionaries took their coffins with them on the boat. And Mary Livingstone, the wife left at home, is at least as much a hero too. Wave upon wave went to Malawi and the Church of Scotland still contributes support to work going on there today and maintains many friendly links, as do our two countries generally. Judging by the length of the applause given to the Malawian commissioner, I wasn't the only one to have my heart warmed by this warm hearted African from the so-called "warm heart of Africa".

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Numb-Bottomness Ahead.

The Church of Scotland, the denomination I happen to be a member of, holds a week long annual business meeting in Edinburgh. The clergy take turns to go, normally once every four years. There are an equivalent number of elders at the meeting too. It's called the General Assembly, it starts today, and this year I am one of the "chosen ones". I will be commuting by train to Edinburgh for a week (four kids and a puppy and the laundry call me home each day). The downside of the Assembly is that it's often desperately boring - interesting subjects get made boring by the style of the thing - all deliverances and amendments and addenda and counter-motions. But it's a necessary service to the church, and is a feature of the presbyterian style of church government that the CofS adopts. But on the upside you get to see pals you haven't seen for years and go for coffee with them. Yippee!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

You're not here to enjoy yourself. However...

"Penny Poker" by Max Mannix

Recreation is defined by Wikipaedia as follows: "Recreation or fun is the expenditure of time in a manner designed for therapeutic refreshment of one's body or mind". I quite like that definition.

In prison, it's called "rec" and time for rec is built into the regime. The amount of rec is limited by a number of factors. Cost is one (the prison service is not rich). Security considerations are involved too, limiting the amount of association between groups of prisoners, and the size of the groups. Prisoners are notoriously their own worst enemies, and snooker themselves (excuse the pun) by, for example, tearing the baize on the billiards table. The gym is usually well used, though I sometimes worry that future victims of violent offences won't be very grateful to the prison service for aiding and abetting their assailant's muscle development. However, I can see that the gym has lots of advantages and is a Good Thing, on balance (that's not meant to be another pun).

In the jails in which I work, I realise now that I have the option, as chaplain, of creating the occasional "rec" activity. Anyone care to suggest serious or not-serious ideas for things I could do? My main limiting factors are: (1) my budget - I don't have any money to spend on it; (2) will guys who have to wear a mask of being "hard" and "cool" be willing to be seen dead at the event? and (3) the Big Paradox that we are faced with all the time - for some prisoners jail is awful and they never want to come back but for others jail is much better than their lives outside. For the latter group, we really don't want to make rec too wonderful!

However, notwithstanding that last sentence, rec is still important. All human beings need recreation. The clue is in the name - it re-creates us. I'm all in favour of prisoners not being allowed to lie in bed all day. I'm all in favour of work parties around the jail and, for those assessed as suitable, work placements in the community. I'm all in favour of education in prison too. Anything that will help them to change their ways and make plans for living legally and decently in the future. But they need rec too. Not because they deserve fun. But rather, for one thing, it takes their mind off taking drugs and occupies their time. And for another it gives them opportunities to practise social and other skills. If left to devise their own rec, gambling and other less desirable activities are likely to feature strongly. Idle hands and all that. Lastly, "training" prisoners to watch television in their cells for all their free time isn't really equipping them for life on the outside.

I'm thinking of a "Pub Quiz Without The Pub"! I may also be able to find church football teams willing to come in and play five-a-sides. Beyond that, silly suggestions (to amuse me) or serious suggestions (which I might use) would be welcome...

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Send in the Clown

Sometimes I feel like I'm a bit of a clown. I don't even like clowns so I don't like the feeling. Being a Christian is pretty fab. I get to enjoy the real hope that this world isn't it, I get to enjoy the belief that I am forgiven for my sins, I get to enjoy a bond stronger than a family bond with total strangers just through knowing that they share my faith. I begin to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.. However, the slight downside is that I get to feel like I'm a clown, sometimes. Sometimes, for example, as I read the venom of some atheists on their blogs, the thing that comes through is that they think we are really STUPID. Of course this sort of stuff certainly encourages that viewpoint, and makes me cringe.

And yet, that's my lot as a Christian. Sometimes I will be viewed as a clown. God's wisdom is different from man's wisdom. Sometimes I spout my own "wisdom" and it deserves to be seen as foolish, as per the cringe-making comments in the link at the end of the last paragraph. But I believe that when I do occasionally hit the mark and utter not my own "wisdom" but God's, it will also attract derision and scorn. I believe that is the case because of my own experience, because of the kind of vitriol I see on some atheistic blogs directed against brave Christians who put their head above the parapet to comment (disagreement's fine but there's no need to be rude, as I tell my kids) and because I know lots of us experience it.

I do accept it's my lot, and I accept it cheerfully knowing that clowns do bring amusement to others! They laughed at Jesus and mocked him too. So it's okay. "If anyone among you thinks that he is wise by this world's standards, he should become a fool, in order to be really wise. For what this world considers to be wisdom is nonsense in God's sight" (1 Corinthians 3:18,19)

Monday, 12 May 2008

Too Sad.

The earthquake in China and the cyclone in Burma are truly awful. There was a point I came on here to make in relation to them but it seems completely wrong to "use" these human tragedies to make any kind of point. So all I want to say is that these catastrophes are truly awful. And I know you know it already. Let's just grieve with those who're grieving and put our hands in our pocket too.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Kindred Spirits

My cyber-friend, Ruth tagged me with this meme on Wednesday and I've thought about it off and on since:

Books are scarce in the world. They are illegal in some provinces. They are not easily replaced, if not impossible to replace if lost in many if not most circumstances. If you can replace a book or buy one, it is usually through the black market at astronomical costs that you cannot afford. Yet you have been able to maintain one of the best collections in the world. If your entire library was about to burn up (think of the firefighters in Fahrenheit 451 invading your home) and you could only have one* book to take with you other than the Bible, what would that be and why?

Simple Rules: Answer the question. Offer one quote that resonates with you. Tag five people whose response is of genuine interest to you and inform him or her that they have been tagged. Cheers!

*And it cannot be an entire series of something, that’s cheating.

In my thinking about this, I have tried to come up with something that would be really impressive (and failed). So I've decided to go for honesty instead - honesty being the best policy and all that.

Probably my all time favourite book other than the Bible is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen but I would have no need to take that as I probably have most of it off by heart now. Although various books have obviously influenced me or moved me or entertained me as an adult, I think it's the ones you love as a kid which end up the most precious. So, leaving aside The Famous Five by Enid Blyton and Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, and remembering with shame that so many of the books aimed at girls then were about orphans that I wished I was an orphan (I don't now, mum and dad), the winner hands down is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Mongomery. (Most of you will now have run for cover!)

Maybe it was just because she was another Anne (a manager in a place I worked in the eighties, in the days of Adam Ant style frilly shirts, used to call me Anne of Greengairs - Greengairs was a village near where I lived at the time). But I think I just identified with things about her - she's a total dreamer and so am I. Actually I think I'm more like her now than I was then, which is either worrying or just reflects that after all it was an adult who created the character. Anne also wants a world where everything is lovely. So do I. Well we all do, but I don't even watch gory films. I'm a wee bit of a romantic but I disguise it well.

Here's some good Anne quotes:

"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?" Maybe Anne would have loved blogging - so many different kinds of lives to read about...

"Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?" I call that "hope".

"There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting." I don't like routine. My handwriting changes a lot. Kind of fits with this I think.

"It's all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it's not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?" Too true.

"Look at that sea, girls--all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds." I LOVE scenery, certainly better than money, though money's useful if you want to buy something.

Anne always remembered the silvery, peaceful beauty and fragrant calm of that night. It was the last night before sorrow touched her life; and no life is ever quite the same again when once that cold, sanctifying touch has been laid upon it. *SHIVERS*

"What a splendid day! ...I pity people who aren't born yet for missing it. They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one". Sweet!

There is no blood and guts in the Anne books. No car chases. Not even any real baddies. The closest is Mrs Lynde, a crabbit old neighbour. The next two quotes involve her:

"Mrs. Lynde says that sound doctrine in the man and good housekeeping in the woman make an ideal combination for a minister's family." Yikes! I'm letting the side down in this family.

"It seems so funny and horrible to think of Diana's being married," sighed Anne...
"I don't see what's so horrible about it, when she's doing so well," said Mrs. Lynde emphatically. "Fred Wright has a fine farm and he is a model young man."
"He certainly isn't the wild, dashing, wicked young man Diana once wanted to marry," smiled Anne. "Fred is extremely good."
"That's just what he ought to be. Would you want Diana to marry a wicked man? Or marry one yourself?"
"Oh, no. I wouldn't want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I'd like it if he could be wicked and wouldn't. Now, Fred is hopelessly good."
"You'll have more sense some day, I hope," said Marilla. Hee hee. Me too, Anne.

Oh, now I've to tag some others. Feel free to ignore this you folk but I'm tagging you, Holy Famoley, Shannon, Noddy, and Tom.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

2 x 1 = a party!

World's Best and Cutest Nephews had their first birthday party today. Woo hoo! It was lovely. Clearly they hadn't a clue what all the fuss was about but the rest of us who were gathered know they're well worth celebrating. Happy birthday you two, from your Droid cousins, auntie and uncle.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Grief Plus

It is a normal part of being a human that we face grief. Grief is the price we pay for loving. Of course we grieve when a loved one dies but we also grieve other losses, such as the loss of a relationship through divorce or personality-changing illness, or the loss of a job, or through a move to another area, or the "empty nest syndrome" when the kids leave home, or... well the list is potentially endless.

Grief is work that we have to do. We all know that avoiding doing the work of grief isn't good for us. We need to feel the numbness, the sadness, the hopelessness, the guilt, the whatever. We need to talk it to death with our family and friends. Gradually the feelings calm down a bit and we are able to face the future without whoever or whatever we've lost.

Disenfranchised grief screws up the normal processes, though. Disenfranchised grief has been defined as grief that isn't openly acknowledged, isn't socially accepted, or isn't publicly mourned. The relationship, the loss, the griever are unrecognised. The mourners are cut off from social supports and don't get the chance they need to do that grief work, to express their grief, and reach a resolution stage.

Disenfranchised grief comes into play in all kinds of situations. For example, if one participant in an illicit affair dies suddenly, the other party can't grieve publicly and his or her grief is therefore "disenfranchised". Similarly if an unborn child is lost through miscarriage or abortion, people may not know and so support will not be offered, though I think things are improving a bit in this area. A loss that is not seen as a "proper" bereavement comes under this heading too. For example, an old person whose much loved pet dies may not really be regarded as being bereaved, though they are feeling all the pain of the loss of a human relationship. People have also experienced disenfranchised grief at the loss of an idolised celebrity.

One of the common problems that prison chaplains get involved in, in the life of a prisoner, is bereavement. This is true for clergy and others on the "outside" too. But for us in Jailworld, there is an added complication, which is the disenfranchised nature of their grief.

Even when the loved one of the prisoner has died of natural causes, and their relationship prior to that had been a good one, prison is a very difficult place to do the work of grieving. Prisoners have to try so hard to maintain a hard shell to avoid appearing vulnerable and ending up as victims in some way or another. They don't have space to grieve. The regime carries on as normal regardless of their feelings. They may have a cell mate and nowhere to have a private cry.

But it gets worse for many. Lots of prisoners have hitherto dealt with all problems by getting drunk or taking drugs. Even those who've been clean for a while can find that their bereavement makes resisting the temptation to look for a "fix" (fixes nothing, so I don't know why it's called that) to help get through.

For many, their relationship with the person who was died was complicated and flawed, perhaps as a result of the index offence, or offending behaviour in general over many years, which tried the patience of the mother or partner or whoever and stretched the relationship to breaking point. Now it is too late to put all that right.

The distance from the death is also a big feature of disenfranchised grief. When my uncle died in Canada it took me years to take it in properly as it happened so far away. I rarely saw him anyway. I wasn't at the funeral. And so on. This is true, of course, in jail too. Even if the prisoner gets out to the funeral (most probably in handcuffs) he'll only be there for an hour or so. He won't be there for all the endless reliving of events and chat that goes on amongst bereaved family and friends and which is such an essential feature of grieving. Even if he does have folk in the prison to talk to, they won't have known the person who has died.

Another serious complication is when the prisoner himself is responsible for the death, such as when he is in jail for driving recklessly and causing a road accident in which his own loved one died. This is clearly terribly difficult. And if the person who died was a child, he'll probably need to be put on protection too, which isolates him further.

Incidentally, it should also be mentioned that the bereavement which the prisoner is affected by could have happened many many years before. If you are bereaved at age 13, say, and start blotting out your grief with drugs and alcohol, and then don't get clean until age 30, say, well you still need to do your grieving. You haven't done it, just postponed it.

I know that many people have little or no sympathy for prisoners, and actually I understand that. Many of their crimes are horrible, and they can be a selfish and ungrateful bunch to work with at times! However, and this is important, EVEN if you feel like that (and generally I am able to love them, which to me is clear proof that God must be at work) then you should still want to help prisoners deal with their disenfranchised grief. Why? Well, if they DON'T deal with it, there is far less potential for staying out of trouble in the future. Hurt people hurt people.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


Krish Kandiah over here has blogged on 4 May about his experience of conducting a Sunday School class. I heard him recently speaking at a conference run by Evangelical Alliance in my home church (see his post of 25 April) and he is a powerful communicator, well worth listening to. I (completely wrongly - I'm so ashamed) was hugely encouraged that this really gifted leader found working with the kids a challenge. Moi aussi, moi aussi.

My mum's a retired teacher and I have teacher friends (two of whom have been teaching Penultimate Child this session - how embarrassing).

Me? Well, I've "helped", after a fashion, and when I felt I had to, with Sunday School (the longest half hour of my week at the time - how do teachers do that full time?), play group, Parent and Toddlers, Creche, Boys' Brigade, Church Holiday Clubs and school Scripture Union over the years. And (whispers) I really don't like it (well Parent and Toddlers was good - the clue is in the name).
It's not that I don't like children. I've got four of the ankle-biting rug rats at home after all. The thing I don't like is the whole issue of discipline. Church clubs don't have the sanctions that school has (and we know that discipline's not an easy business nowadays even at school). We are in the business of being loving and welcoming to the children as much as we can. And yet we obviously don't want to let one or two wild ones (who're usually lovable when they're in their right mind) spoil it for the rest.

Anyway, Krish is asking for inspiration in his comments page, so go ahead and share yours.

Meanwhile, give me Bad Men in prison any day. Much better behaved and more respectful!

But a big THANK YOU and metaphorical bouquet for my children's teachers, Sunday School teachers, Scripture Union camp leaders and so on. Penultimate and Youngest's Girls Brigade Display on Tuesday was very sweet indeed, and I do appreciate the leaders' hard work and dedication.

Today I was at a buffet lunch in the centre of the city next to one of the jails. It was organised by a group of Christian leaders in the city (who have kindly included me in their group). The Lord Provost (kind of like a mayor really) and a Councillor and another of the city's executives were invited along to give them an idea of the amazing work the churches and other ministries across the city were doing. When you see it collated together in a powerpoint slide show, it's a lot. And of course (music to the ears of the councillor of course) the most wonderful thing is that it's all done for free. Lots of it includes work with kids, many of whom are from difficult backgrounds, and some of whom will be exhausting to work with for the leadership.

Sometimes I get a wee bit fed up with the abuse from many atheists, although I can see that we deserve an awful lot of it. But our churches are full of unsung heroes (many of whom have full time jobs but turn up week in and week out to love the kids for free) and, although it's sad to see the numbers of kids roaming the streets causing trouble, I'm pretty sure the numbers doing so would be a whole lot higher if these heroes weren't doing what I've, at least for the moment, given up as totally beyond me.

PS For those not from the UK, "STOP CHILDREN" is nothing to do with birth control. It's what our school crossing patrollers traditionally had on the lollipop-shaped sign used for ushering school kids across the roads. (I believe it's now been replaced with STOP and a picture of people crossing the road, "children" being clearly too big a word for us nowadays).

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Shed any light?

The artist Cornelia Parker created this installation, with the help of the army, whom she called in, as you do, to blow up a garden shed, the pieces of which she then gathered together and suspended around a light bulb, as you do.

Could an intention to be artistic be the motivation behind the following crime which I read about in Tuesday’s local paper: “Police are keen to hear more about a bizarre crime in B---------- at the weekend.
At 10.30am on Saturday a man was seen dismantling a shed at D------ Hotel on B----------‘s P---- Road. The shed was then left, in bits, in the hotel grounds.
The man seen was 25 years old. He was wearing camouflage clothing and possibly a fluorescent jacket”.

This makes me laugh a lot and it’s not the bizarre crime but the last bit... The witnesses are sure about his exact age and that he was wearing camouflage clothing. However they are not sure if he was wearing a fluorescent jacket. Seems back to front. I don’t mean the maybe-or-maybe-not jacket is back to front. I mean that the clothing just wasn’t doing its job was it? The camouflage wasn’t doing its job if it was so clear and memorable, and the fluorescent jacket wasn’t doing its job if it was so unnoticeable that it can’t be certain if it was even there at all.

Meet Flora.

Meet the newest member of the Droid family. Flora joined us this morning. She was welcomed to the neighbourhood by some neighbours (obviously - who else has the authority?).

She had a bit of a play. Perhaps the Droids will at last learn (we've failed to so far) not to leave stuff lying around.

She had a good look round and then fell asleep in her new Command Central base from which she will quite clearly wind our whole family round her little paw in no time.

She's incontinent. She's not very bright. She's a lot of trouble. But she's SOOOOOOO cute!

Monday, 5 May 2008

Not The Good Shepherd.

Heroin is my shepherd
I shall always want
It maketh me to lie down in gutters
It leadeth me beside troubled waters
It destroyeth my soul
It leadeth me in the paths of Hell for its name's sake
Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I will fear no evil
For heroin art with me
My syringe and foil shall comfort me
Thou strippest the table of groceries in the presence of mine family
Thou anointest my head with madness
My cup runneth over with sorrow
Surely hate and evil shall follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of misery and disgrace for ever.

There are various versions of this on the go and more than one story about who wrote it but they make the same point and make it well, although thankfully the last line isn't necessarily always the case and I've spent today in the company of a number of men who've moved house from that particular house of misery and disgrace, even though they're still in "The Big House" (jail).

For those unfamiliar with it, here's the original Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd;
I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in fields of green grass
and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths,
as he has promised.
Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
I will not be afraid, LORD,
for you are with me.
Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me.
You prepare a banquet for me,
where all my enemies can see me:
you welcome me as an honoured guest
and fill my cup to the brim.
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
and your house will be my home as long as I live.