Wednesday, December 04, 2019

the inn in Bethlehem is
pleased to welcome you
due to the nature of your late booking
we’ve placed you in the stable
with the abundance of hay
and other flammable items
please observe our non-smoking policy

we are, of course, family friendly
cots are normally available
at a small surcharge
but not available to
guests in the stable
permission is granted to use the manger
for babies

parking is available onsite
for donkeys, camels and carts
we accept no responsibility for
damage to vehicles

wi-fi is not available as yet

entertaining visitors is permitted
but please keep the noise to a minimum
a quiet time operates from sunset to sunrise

most rooms, except for the stable, have  
tea or coffee making facilities
should you need extra milk
the goat is tied up by the back door

room service operates only
during the daylight hours
in an emergency
contact the concierge
a list of doctors, priests and midwives
is available on request

early morning wake up calls can be arranged
but not on the Sabbath

please pay for your room on arrival
check out time is eleven o’clock

Monday, December 02, 2019

Am I Racist?

I think most of us are swift to answer this one with a resounding “No!”.

In a recent creative writing class, we were asked to describe the days of week as people – the clothes they wore, their hobbies and the temperament that they displayed. Reading over my descriptions it occurred to me that much of what I had written was stereotypical. My Monday was a business man and he wore a bowler hat. My Friday was an unemployed youth, trousers half mast, spray painting walls. My Wednesday housewife was decked in leggings and baggy jumper and had “let herself go.” All stereotypes. As I writer I felt ashamed. I should be able to come up with something more creative.

I remember one Christmas season way back when I had a holiday job in Boots Pharmacy. I was on checkout, beeping my way through the day. For the most part the customers were polite. If things were moving slowly, they took it in their stride. There was one woman packing her carrier. Money had changed hands. Handing back the change, another lady in the queue piped up, “You’d better check your change. These checkout girls – they can’t count, you know?”She had fallen into the pit of stereotyping people. She couldn't know just by looking at me that I had a degree and seven years teaching experience. After a year of gospel outreach, I was waitng for another door to open.

At the Bike Shed cafe last night Lynda Stirratt was sharing her experiences as a black woman living in Inverness. Being a single black face in a white community in the early days of moving here was a real challenge. She talked about the racial slurs she endured, of children on a bus scraping the back of her hand with a fingernail wondering if the “blackness” came off and of feeling unsafe walking along a street. I have always known her as a confident and lively woman, so it came as a surprise to me. I thought that if some people were unpleasant to others of a different nationality, it didn’t include her because she was a generous and loving person.

She had us filling out a sheet that identified the ten most important people in our lives, their gender, and their religion. The sheet went on to ask about nationality, about their education and their sexual preferences. It was a tool to simply say that like gravitates to like. We are attracted to people who are like us.

But how do we treat the people who are not like us? We watched a short clip. It featured a man in a park stealing a bike. He didn’t try to hide the fact that the bike wasn’t his and he was using a chain saw because he didn’t have the key. He was challenged by some, ignored by many and one person phoned the police. The actor was replaced by a woman. Blonde hair. Pretty. She made it clear she was stealing the bike and men did the hard work for her with the chain saw. She rode off into the sunset. No one challenged her – they helped!

When the actor was replaced with a young black lad – the bystanders didn’t ask what he was doing. They presumed he was stealing the bike. There was no walking by and looking the other way. They gathered around the bike, around the boy and a mob was born. They didn’t listen to what he had to say, they took out mobile phones, took pictures and phoned the police. The atmosphere was aggressive.

How do we treat people who are not like us? It depends on whether we are in the majority or in the minority. Living in a multi-ethnic city like Leeds is different from living in the Highlands of Scotland. Inverness is more diverse than it used to be, but in Leeds there is a whole community to fall back on. You can be part of a majority in some areas of come cities. Here is Inverness that doesn’t happen. It was important for Lynda to make sure her sons visited family in Leeds, to feel what it meant to be a member of a black community.

Much of what we say or do is acting on a subconscious level. What we say and how we are heard can be very different. We don’t have the history that the black community has, or their mind set. We might say that we don’t notice colour. We are all human beings. We are all the same. But we are not all the same at all. Not to acknowledge colour is to not acknowledge the differences that are there and to be able to respect people regardless.

The young twenty-something Lynda was when she first moved to Inverness is very different from the woman she is now some thirty years later. The strength and confidence that is seen on the outside does not cover up insecurities on the inside. She is proud of who she is and what she has achieved. She walks tall.

The battle has not ended, by any means. Lynda called on us all to take a stand. Silence is taken as approval. If there is injustice and it’s not being challenged, not only does it continue to happen but if it is unchallenged, it’s like saying it’s normal when it is anything but. And it is not just about the other person and what they have said or done that treats someone as “less than”. We need to take a close look at our words and actions. What have we assumed about a person from what they look like or where they live?

Good societies, like good people, are not born that way. They are made.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

This Is Just To Say

I was trawling some of the books on creative writing the other day, looking to find a task to set for the Breathe Writers meeting today. The original poem the book used for the task was “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams - 1883-1963. I wrote my own short similar kind of poem:-

This is Just To Say

I have just noticed
the scribbles
on the pages of
your passport

you are probably
going to need to
travel to Peru next week

Alfie would apologise
but he hasn’t yet learned to speak
He loves
the colour red

The Task - Imagine you are the owner of the passport. Write a reply. You can write in the same form with the same number of syllables, the same number of lines and line breaks if you wish. Or you can write your reply as a paragraph of 50 words.

My husband has been coming along to the group. He doesn’t claim to be creative but says he comes to support me. He read his reply as a rap:-

I am the bear found on Paddington Station
On Tuesday I return to my Peruvian nation
Alas and alack my young friend Alfred
Decided to colour my passport dark red
It won’t rub off and it won’t erase
But I know Alfie is just going through a phase
I am sure the custom’s officer will be firm but fair
For the photo in the passport is clearly Paddington Bear

My own reply was is a little more predictable:-

My dearest Alfie
the scribbles
on the pages of
my passport

I cannot go
to darkest Peru
next week or anytime soon

I expect an apology
this time next year without fail
For now
please use a pencil

I don't have a copy of Cliff's reply. He decided that Alfie was a dog.

A great time was had by all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Telling Ourselves Our Own Story

I confess to being suspicious of ladies’ meetings. It harks back to when I first became a member of a charismatic church. I wasn’t married. I didn’t have children. There were few ladies in the church at the time who were working. Stay-at-home-mums was the order of the day. If they had bible studies, they were in an afternoon while the children were at school or nursery. Working full-time I felt I was a different species. I also felt mildly that I was somehow letting the side down.

I moved to another town and to another church. Another ladies meeting and, again, this steering of women towards husbands, children and home making. Much was said about roles and functions of men and women. I still wasn’t married. I still didn’t have children. I seem to vaguely remember the study “Excelling as a Woman”. I think I chose to opt out.

When I had the invitation to join a group of ladies from the church to meet regularly and to share life and learning with them, I hesitated. I am a happy loner, girl with strong hermit genes, but I know that I have a reservoir of knowledge and experience that is not mine to hold on to.

The Diamond's Box is organised by Destiny Church. There’s a book to read, daily studies to do and other bits and pieces. There’s tea to be drunk, biscuits to eat and lots of chatting. The tea I can do, the biscuits I’m trying to leave alone, And the chat? I take a while to warm up.

We had just been given the books, so no one was expecting us to dive into them. We spent the time chatting about all sorts of things. It was all about bridge building. We were committing to building friendships and speaking truth to one another. You have to start somewhere.

Different ages, different personalities, different life experiences – we were a mixed bunch of ladies, who in all likelihood, in natural, might not strike up friendships.

We talked about miracles giving our own examples of the provision of God. I need more ammunition if that topic comes up again. There was provision for a family’s first Christmas in the UK, a house buying miracle, a daily provision for a lady who has nothing, an apparent step backwards that wasn’t really, an afternoon spent speaking in tongues leading to a deeper sense of God’s presence and so on.

What was so important about telling each other our stories was not actually about telling each other at all – it was about telling ourselves our own story. Stories that don’t get told get forgotten all together. As I shared how I was able to go to my sister’s wedding ad all the details of booking a flight when I had no money, trusting God would supply – I remembered. Something in me said, “Oh, yes. I remember now.” Faith was stirred.

We must speak our own story first to ourselves before we begin to speak to others. We need to remember and remind ourselves of how good God has been to us. Then we can tell others.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Legend of the Dragon

We were in Krakow last week staying in a hotel just a fifteen minute walk from Wawil Hill. There's a dragon sculpture at the bottom of the hill that breathes fire every so often. A while ago I wrote a poem based on the legend of the dragon of Wawil Hill:-

They used to say there was a dragon
That slept beneath a hill

Best not to wake it, the people said

So they tip-toed up and down

And they talked in low whispers

It was no way for anyone to live

A crown, a sceptre and the hand of a maid

Drew in brave knights and foolish knaves

Arrows shattered, shields melted

But the dragon prevailed

It’s always the humble that find the answer

Lambskin, sulphur, mustard seed

And a cobbler sews late into the night

A bomb laced snack for a greedy dragon


The town dances with joy

But there’s another dragon

Not beneath a hill

Not sleeping

But dormant in the hearts of men

Best not to wake it

But no one tip-toes by or

Talks in low whispers

Instead they whip up a jealous fury

Fingers pointed

Injustice perceived

Blame assigned to others for their own troubles

Covetous men who will not share

A bomb laced jacket

A white van

Yellow tape around a crime scene

And piles of flowers

And funerals

Where is the humble man and his answer?

(Inspired by The Legend of the Wawel Dragon}