Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Truth About Chocolate

I confess
I have done it once
Only
Standing in the checkout queue
Sugar level dropping through the floor
Queue moving snail speed
Yes, I confess
I ate the chocolate bar
And handed over an empty wrapper
To be scanned

Lent
Forty days of sacrifice
A wilderness journey
I want to do more than just
Go through the motions
Chocolate is off the menu
But I fret about
Withdrawal symptoms
After all
I am an addict

A memory surfaces
A documentary not so long ago
An experiment exposing
The truth about chocolate
A volunteer
An MRA scan
Exposed to pictures
Then fed melted chocolate
Through a tube
I wish it was me

Brightly coloured spots
Vivid red and orange
In some part of the brain
Registers
The delights of
Seeing and tasting
Brain scans show
There is no greater delight
In the tasting
Than in the seeing

Nothing in the ingredients
The cocoa beans
The sugar or milk
Lecithin or vanilla
Is addictive
A picture is sufficient
To stimulate the
The pleasure centres of the brain
Taste is irrelevant
Says science

The truth about chocolate says
Seeing is enough
Tasting is unnecessary
A picture is as powerful
As the personal encounter
The truth about God
Seeing is never enough
Tasting is essential
The personal encounter
Far outweighs any picture

Popping the Question

Today is the last day of February and whoever it is who hosts Radio 2 was encouraging women in general to pop the question if they were at that stage in their relationships.

It reminds me that 1992 was also a leap year. I wasn’t married to my husband at the time but we had been courting for quite a while. We were of an age when all the wild oats had been sown and we had done our own stuff and were ready to settle down. We were also more mature age-wise than many people who get married. The biological clock might have been ticking, but I wasn’t desperate.

It was a leap year. I adored Joe. He was everything I wanted, everything I needed. I was, and still am, convinced that he was God’s gift to me.

The church was travelling down one weekend to Aviemore. Our sister church in Glasgow was coming up to join us for fun and fellowship. Rather than everyone taking cars or catching a train, we had hired a bus. It wasn’t a big church. We could all fit quite comfortably on one bus. The journey wasn’t a long one either, not much more than half an hour, but we indulged in non-musical chairs, enjoying fellowship with each other.

It was a leap year. I was in love. I was settled on Joe. I was waiting for a proposal. It was coming close to the end of February and I was giving serious thought to proposing myself. I wasn’t sure whether it was scriptural or not.

I sat next to the pastor of our church, Charlie. I shared with him my plans to propose to Joe and asked him if it was OK.

He didn’t raise any specific objections. There was nothing in the Bible that said I couldn’t propose. I don’t think he was entirely happy with the idea. Charlie was quite a traditionalist when it came to the roles of men and women, but he also recognised that Joe and I were not teenagers with out of control hormones. That we would marry he had no doubts.

Apparently Charlie had made it his business to go and visit Joe as soon as possible. February was into its last week and “the day” was fast approaching. Joe knew exactly why Charlie was there. I don’t think I had shared my plans with Joe about proposing – but he knew me well enough to guess what I was intending to do.

It was an awkward conversation. Charile was quite adapt at talking to young people who didn’t always know their mind. Clear infringements of the rules were easy to deal with – but leap year proposals didn’t fit into that category. Joe wasn’t about to make Charlie’s job any easier!

There was a lot of beating about the bush before Charlie took the plunge.

“Charlie,” said Joe, “The champagne is in the fridge. I’m on to it.”

As it was, over the next couple of days, Joe was poorly and off work. “The day” was drawing nearer still. He couldn’t see how he could get to me before I got to him.

I turned up on his doorstep, like Florence Nightingale, with a tin of soup. We sat down in front of the TV with bowls of soup in hand. I think it was one of the Star Trek spinoffs that he detested but knew I liked. He switched off the TV, much to my annoyance, left the room to go into the kitchen and returned with the champagne and two glasses.

Question asked, answer given, moment marked with a sip of champagne and the TV was switched back on…but neither of us were really watching it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Bear Said, "No!"

There had been an office shuffle at Joe’s work. Maybe, like turning a mattress to even out wear and tear, it was all about the carpet that was being worn thin on the route to Joe’s desk. He’s a man who knows, and those who know he knows, travel the well-worn path to his desk. People who perhaps should be pursuing questions through a line manager take it to Joe instead because even if he doesn’t know, he will find out.

His new desk makes him more accessible than he used to be. There are more visitors than before and more questions that people need to ask. This means that the normal routine gets interrupted. He has his own tasks to complete and sometimes, once he has been dealing with someone’s questions, he tries to get back to what he was doing and can’t remember what it was he was doing. There was some moment of genius that he just can’t recapture.

Who came up with the bear? I don’t know.

Someone placed a bear on his desk.

If Joe was busy and needed not to be interrupted, the bear was turned around so its back was to the rest of the office. The bear and Joe were in conference and not to be disturbed.

If Joe was not so busy, the bear was turned back around, facing outwards, its face to the rest of the office. The bear and Joe were open for business.

The system was working well. There were clear signals about good times to approach the desk and not so good times. Joe could pursue his moments of genius, bag the good ideas and move on. The bear did a good job of fending off visitors.

All was going well. Joe was in a meeting with another colleague and the bear was facing away from the rest of the office.

The meeting ended. The bear should have turned around, but it didn’t. It remained facing Joe. Everyone respected the bear and left Joe alone.

Joe had another meeting planned. The man was hopping about, waiting for the bear to turn around so he could approach the desk and have his meeting.

The bear sat still.

Joe worked on.

The man kept hopping about.

The bear sat still.

Joe kept working.

The man approached the desk hesitantly, clearly agitated. Joe looked up from what he was doing and suddenly remembered the meeting.

“You should have said something.”

The man pointed to the bear, its back firmly turned away from the rest of the office.

“The bear said, ‘No!’”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Road to Elsewhere

The snow that has been falling elsewhere in Britain finally hit Inverness today. We are located on a fairly sheltered part of the Moray Firth and tend to miss out on a lot of the extreme weather that happens elsewhere.

It was “elsewhere” that worried me last weekend. It was a long weekend, so we had booked into a hotel somewhere along the River Dee. It was a quiet village not that far from Balmoral Castle. Getting there was a concern. I had printed off a map from the AA Route planner. I was informed that it would take me about two and a half hours to get there and the red line on the map wasn’t exactly a straight line. What the instructions failed to tell me was about the steep hills and hair-pin bends. Going down seemed to be steeper than going up, so I wasn’t looking forward to the journey back.

A friend of mine had been out that way, maybe not so far out that way, a while ago when it was snowing. These roads are not the kind of roads that snowploughs tend to clear. The road with all its snow had proved impossible to drive up the way – so he turned the car around and reversed up the hill.

So…here I was, in a hotel in a small village, with a couple of very steep hills between me and home. I wouldn’t say that I am a confident driver. I was praying fervently for a snow free weekend because the idea of perhaps reversing up a steep hill if it was very snowy was beyond my capabilities. I envisioned us leaving the car parked in front of the hotel until spring and taking a taxi to the nearest train station!

As it turned out, there was no snow. We drove past the Lecht ski centre and caught glimpses of very determined skiers coming down the slopes on slush.

We had a different kind of hazard to negotiate – pheasants. It was the end of the hunting season and they were flaunting their stuff. One little fellow stood in the middle of the road and struck up a pose. Had he been able to talk I am sure he would have said, “Dig out the camera, lassie. Take a picture. You won’t find a better specimen than me.” I wasn’t about to pander to his aim to be the February sweetheart of the game bird calendar. Did he not know that this was a single track road with passing places and hair-pin bends and a 20% uphill gradient? He was certainly a game bird. I tried to drive around him – an impossible feat on a single track road.

There was a lorry coming down the hill, the pheasant was still posing in the middle of the road and there was no passing place in sight. The pheasant sauntered off the road and the lorry and I danced close to the camber to pass each other.

Arriving at the top of the hill, we pulled into a passing place to take a photo. It was very windy. The passenger door was impossible to open. I was buffeted about as I tried to take a photo. It’s good job I never joined the Weightwatcher class in the New Year!

Once over the top, the road snaked down the way – single track with hair-pin bends and passing places with a 20% downhill gradient. There was one pheasant corpse on the road home. Obviously he had struck up a similar pose to the previous pheasant and the vehicle hadn’t stopped.

If you ever watch something like golf, sometimes before the man hits his tee shot, there is an overview of the next hole. The camera, in a helicopter I presume, flies over the fairway and up to the green pointing out where the bunkers are. You know what is coming.

Had there been something similar – a camera in a helicopter flying over the hills and pointing out the single track road, the hair-pin bends, the passing places and the posing pheasants I am not sure if I would have not found another, easier way home. I would have counted myself as not really competent to tackle to road. Throw in some snow and ask me to reverse up the road – no way would I have attempted it.

Even without the pheasants, I thought I couldn’t do it.

It is amazing what you think you can’t do – but you can really if you just get on with it.

A Goldilocks Moment

I have been very busy of late – not busyness that has achieved nothing, but necessary busyness. One item ticked of a very long To-do list was to phone the cleansing department of the council to make arrangements for them to uplift on old mattress. It’s currently living in the spare room.

In the January sales we decided to replace the mattress. For more than a year or two the springs were finding their way to the surface. Turning the mattress over or around just gave you a different set of spring to deal with rather than solving the problem, and I had taken to covering the worst offenders with a spare duvet but it made for an uncomfortable night.

One Saturday we toured the bed shops. It was like a re-enactment of the story of Goldilocks without the bears, or the chairs or the porridge. We skipped straight to the beds. One shop operated a scale from one to five. One was rock hard – you might as well be sleeping on the floor. Five was very soft – the sinking sand equivalent of a mattress.

There was an invitation, almost an order given by the sales person that you lie down on the bed. The bottom part was covered in plastic so no one expected you to remove your shoes. Children were gleefully jumping one some mattresses given such freedom and encouragement.

We did the tour and like Godlilocks pointed out the ones too soft and the ones too hard. We swithered over a memory mattress but the price was higher than we had budgeted. It was down to a couple of “just right” ones.

We made our choice, filled in the right forms for delivery and surrendered the debit card.

Swapping the mattresses over should have been an easy affair. It is not rocket science to take the old one off and put the new one on. We didn’t factor in the dust bunnies lurking under the bed. They were clearly visible.

Joe left me to hoover the carpet.

I am not sure whether these dust bunnies were a fiercer breed than most bunnies – they hadn’t been tackled in a while and had perhaps had the chance to evolve into another life form or whether there was something up with the hoover. I had dismantled it to clean it a while ago. Putting all the bits back together in the right order could have been a MENSA entry examination. Whatever the problem, the hoover whined on an unhealthy note, overheated and the emergency cut-off safety thing kicked in.

The dust bunnies laughed. I think one or two mooned in celebration.

For the next half hour or more there was hand to hand – or rather bunny to brush skirmishes - under the bed. The dust bunnies were not laughing anymore.

Finally the new mattress took its place.

What was “just right” in the shop was transformed into “more than alright” on the bed. After the battle with the bunnies and then with the duvet cover, the urge to crawl into bed was strong.

We have entered a new phase of sleeping. This mattress should have come with a government warning – once in bed, it is soooooo comfortable that, like Goldilocks, one can’t help but fall asleep. Even the arrival of bears would have little bearing on whether Goldilocks would have left the bed and jumped out the window.

Joe and I are more than amazed that we put up with the past mattress for so long. We just applied the spare duvet to the worst of the springs and moulded our bodies to the dips and fell asleep.

I am just thinking about the things in life we put up with – the uncomfortable springs of trials and tribulations that poke through our faith. Maybe we find a word from the Bible to cover them over, to make things a little more comfortable. Maybe we just mould our Jesus walk around these things.

If that is the case…it’s time for something new.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Panda Mania

The narration was done by David Tennant and the subject matter of the documentary was about pandas – a dream combination if ever there was one.

My experience of zoos is limited. I can notch up a couple of safari parks and a wild life park with a small selection of not very exotic animals (apart from Kangaroos) but zoos are a bit of a mystery. I have never really lived anywhere that has had a zoo. I lived in Cyprus for a few years and there was a zoo but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Not much had been done to create habitats for the animals that mimicked their natural environment. The animals didn’t look happy and contented, but rather distressed.

That was not the case for the two pandas that took up residence at Edinburgh Zoo. I never appreciated the amount of preparation involved. I knew that they had to build something special for the pandas, but it never occurred to me to wonder where they would get all the bamboo shoots from.

There’s a joke doing the rounds, that absolutely delights my husband, that there are more pandas in Scotland now than there are Conservative Members of Parliament.

Somewhere between the weeks spent being trained to look after pandas in China and the specially chartered Fex-Ex plane touching down on the runway in Edinburgh (and all the panda merchandise in the zoo shop)a thought occurred to me. I know it is good to look after the planet, and do something to stop pandas from becoming extinct – but if only the same care was given to looking after people!

I know that pandas can’t really look after themselves and they are really cute and cuddly looking and they are an endangered species with only a thousand or so in the wild, and people can look after themselves and very few of them are cute and cuddly and they are far from being extinct but it does seem out of balance.

The government hasn’t been given the pandas, or even bought them. We are just renting them for a few years. Lots of money has been spent on bringing them here and training people to look after them and feed them.

It seems a bit unfair to spend so much on a couple of animals, cute as they are, while at the same time clawing back money from the welfare system and pushing a huge percentage of people into poverty and debt.

To think that I rate lower than a panda in the scheme of things doesn’t bring me much comfort.

I’d like to be a panda
With fur that’s black and white
So when I lose my habitat
You’ll step in, make things right
You’ll scour the towns and hamlets
And bring me things to eat
And build a lovely home for me
A tranquil, calm retreat
My every need provided
My comfort guaranteed
So petted and so pampered
A favoured life indeed
But I am not a panda
I’m just a quiet soul
Lacking those essential things
That make a person whole
My job pays peanut wages
My home a soulless box
I cannot pay the fuel bills so
I’m wearing thermal socks
The fridge is all but empty
The cupboards almost bare
I look upon the panda and
And I think it isn’t fair!