Thursday, April 30, 2015


I woke up this morning at about half past two.  Waking up is not unusual for me.  Sleeping through the night is. It’s probably an age thing and a post-menopausal thing.  I probably need less hours sleep than I used to but still try to insist my body has its seven or eight hours.

It surprised me to hear a bird singing at that time in the morning.  The bird had no right to be singing at such an ungodly hour.  Dawn was three hours away.

The creative mind switched on as it does at times.  I admit I am not fluent in bird but a couple of bird conversations came to mind.  Maybe it wasn’t just the one bird:-

 Scenario 1

The scene takes place in a nest in tree beside bedroom window.  Robin flutters down to the nest quite unsteadily.

Jackie: (Jackie Bird, Scottish news presenter, get the connection?) And what time do you call this? It's half past two in the morning! I was worried sick. Anything could have happened to you! You should have tweeted!

Robin:  Not right now, love.  Can we save this for the morning?

Jackie:  And just where were you?  I have been sitting on these eggs all day.  Your shift began hours ago.  I’m starving and I need to go to the bathroom.  It’s not as if I could leave the eggs, could I? Blooming cuckoos have been seen in the area. 

Robin: The lads over at The Oak were talking about immigration.  They’re letting too many birds into this country.  There's aready enough competition for worms and insects. They better not be jumping the housing queue!

Scenario 2

The scene takes place in a nest in tree beside bedroom window.  Jackie is sitting on the eggs fast asleep.  Suddenly…

Jackie:  OO! OO! Robin! Quick – come here!

Robin: Huh?

Jackie: It’s the eggs!  I think they’re hatching!  I can feel them wobble!

Robin: The eggs hatching?  That doesn’t sound right!  It’s far too early for hatching.  I’ve not finished decorating the nursery yet.

Jackie: OOO!  OOO! Something is definitely moving under my bottom.

Robin: Shift over and let me have a look.

Jackie: Oh Robin.  What if they’re born premature?  They’ll never survive!

Robin: Move over, Jackie! Let me have a look!

Jackie moves.  Robin inspects the eggs. Only one, a large one, is wobbling.

Robin: It’s just the one egg – the big one.

Jackie: What big egg?  We don’t have a big egg!  They are all neat little things. 

The big egg splits and a cuckoo emerges.

Jackie: He’s a big fella! I think he takes after your Great Uncle Eric.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Circle Poem

This is not a circle poem.  It is a poem in the form of a circle.  By this time next week I will know what a circle poem is.  The Bike Shed on Grant Street, Inverness is hosting a poetry writing day - circle poems. The plan is to use some of the poems to decorate the wall near Merkinch that forms a part of the river defence system. The selected poems will be engraved on to the wall. If you are local to Inverness and want to get involved it's not to late to sign up at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery for the workshop.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Padlocks on the Bridge

The voice of reason in my head told me that there would probably be no poetry meeting at the Sunset Café on Saturday.  A fire earlier on in the week has seen many of the city centre roads closed off.  I had done too many three point turns at various “Road Closed” signs during the week but I was hopeful that the smoking embers had been made safe.

A different voice, the whip wielding one, the one that reminds me of my obligations, persuaded me to go “just in case.” I spent an hour or two in the afternoon hunting down poems – some of my own, and others that had been steered in my direction by other poem lovers.

The road closures forced me to park in a supermarket car park on the other side of the river.  The city’s river defence system is being updated.  The council has started building a wall along the river so that when the water rises from tides, the spring thaw or a downpour of rain that lasts for weeks, the houses along the river will not be flooded.  My husband used to live beside the river and was issued with sandbags every year. 

I walked across the footbridge – a suspension bridge my mum called The Wobbly Bridge.  I don’t know whether it is wise to cross the bridge when one is inebriated.  Staying upright when one is sober is a challenge enough.  It’s not so bad if one has the bridge to oneself but when there are others and the younger generation insist on bouncing at every step.  For those of us plagued with travel sickness it adds another difficult dimension.

I should have listened to the voice of reason.  There was a notice on the door of the Sunset Café announcing it was closed till the end of the month.

Making my way across the bridge I noticed the padlocks.  There weren’t a lot of them, a dozen or two perhaps.  Names were scrawled on them in black marker.

My first thought was that perhaps someone had jumped off the Greig Street Bridge committing suicide.  It wasn’t unheard of, although the water isn’t really that deep and the drop isn’t that steep.  There are better bridges around if death is your intention.  Just like people put flowers by the roadside when someone dies in an accident I thought the padlocks might have been something similar. 

My second thought was about bikes – a bizarre idea that someone, or lots of people had padlocked their bikes to the bridge and someone else had come along with a steel cutter and stolen the bikes. I told you it was bizarre. 

One of the padlocks was different.  All the others were padlocks that any hardware store would sell.  Names were written in black marker.  The different one was not plain steel with black marker, but white with hearts stamped on black and red all over.  I was back to my first idea and thought that it must have been a close friend.  I didn’t remember an article in the local paper about anyone launching themselves from the bridge.

I googled padlocks and bridges and all became clear.

Apparently, lovers leave behind a “calling card” in places that they visit – padlocks on bridges with their names written on them. The Greig Street Bridge is not the best example though it may be early days yet.  There are other places in Paris or in Venice where the padlocks are in their hundreds and thousands and elbowing other padlocks for space. Every so often some city man comes along with his steel cutter and removes them all much like someone at the Western Wall in Jerusalem cleans the crevices of all the prayers and petitions written on scraps of paper and a new wave occurs.

What happens when the couple fall out of love? Do they return to the bridge with their steel cutter and remove the padlock solemnly tossing it into the river below? Or do they just leave it there perpetuating a lie? And just how many padlocks does it take to affect the safety of the bridge?

In Paris the city’s culture secretary Bruno Julliard, is hoping to find “artistic, unifying and ecological alternatives” to the love locks and has called for artists from around the world to suggest “a place or a piece of art that would welcome all these love locks.”

In New York the love locks have attracted the attention of the Open Organisation of Lockpickers who have lock picking events and practise their craft. The locks are carefully removed and put somewhere safe so that at a later date they can be used in a permanent display. 

Some people support the romance behind the love locks.  I am not “some people”. Some people might suggest I am sour because I don’t have a padlock declaring my love for my husband.  To those people I say they must look at the life my husband and I live together.  We demonstrate our love in a myriad of ways.  We cook each other meals, we iron each other’s clothes, I nudge him when he falls asleep in church and is about to start snoring, he tells me I have toothpaste on my lip…

A padlock on a bridge is no indicator of tried and tested love.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How God Knows Me

He knows me
not by the green flecks in
my hazel eyes or the
strands of silver in my hair

He knows me
not by the soft angles of
my smiling face or the
warm glow of my complexion

He knows me
Not by my size or shape
or by the framework of my friends or
the lifestyle choices I’ve made

He knows me
By the weight of my heart
Light as I lift up my hands in worship
Heavy as I lift up my neighbour in prayer

1 Samuel 16:7

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

God's Broken Ones

Poll results published yesterday show the UK to be one of the least religious countries in the world. Only 30% of the people polled claimed a religious faith.  Other countries that scored poorly include China, Hong Kong and Japan.  It came as a surprise to see Israel in with the bottom five, along with Sweden.

It would be interesting to see a poll that reveals the happiest countries in the world and to see whether the religious belief and happiness correlate. My own view for what it’s worth is they probably do.  I don’t think for a moment that the most religious countries are the most miserable.  I have my theories that the UK is a very unhappy nation, not merely because of the current political or financial state it finds itself in but also because of an abandonment of faith in God.

Faith lived properly is about outward-looking service to others – loving your neighbour as yourself.  I am not saying you need a faith to do that.  Faith isn’t always lived properly.  Not-yet Christians are sometimes kinder and more self-sacrificing than those who claim a faith.  Sometimes a faith community can be the most destructive force going.

Faith lived properly is a challenge. Belief in God isn’t some kind of vaccination against the things that torment and trip us up. Happiness isn’t the absence of conflict but having a secure path, God’s path, leading through that conflict.

Last night at the Women Aglow meeting I listened to the testimony of a woman. 

Pat shared her life.  She talked about her adopted children.  She confessed that perhaps if she had known about the struggles ahead with them she might not have adopted them at all.  She wouldn’t have seen herself as being equipped, but discovered the equipping came with as the journey progressed.

She talked about her elder son’s trouble with drink and drugs.  I thought it would have a happy ending.  When Christians talk about these addictions they talk about God’s miraculous deliverance and how everyone lives happily ever after. I don’t know when I realised that there wasn’t a happy ending.  She talked about the struggles of his being at home and the final realisation that they had to tell him to leave. She talked about treatment of alternative drugs the medical men prescribed, and the flashes of sunlight that deceived them into thinking he was on a road to recovery. Then the narrative slowed down.  Her eyes were fixed on her notes.  She stopped.  Tears started to fall. The words “He was dead,” were almost whispered. 

Almost immediately Pat addressed the words we were all thinking – “Where was God?  Where was the miracle?  Why did God not step in?” God didn’t take away her son, the drugs and the drink did that.  Where was God? With them, giving them strength and courage to take the next step forward. God respects our freewill even when it leads us to hurl ourselves off a cliff. 

Being a Christian is not about God putting us on a yellow brick road that leads to an Emerald City where someone tells us to click our ruby slippers and we go home to somewhere nicer. 

It is about learning to live in a hostile world and always, always holding out peace to people that have none.

Pat spoke about the difficult months that followed. There was no breathing space as life lurched from one crisis to another.  Through it all God was the Rock they clung to.  People looked on amazed at how they lived under such tremendous pressure.  Yes, they broke.  They are people, not Kryptonite-enhanced super-heroes. God restores what has been broken.  People are being broken by life’s storms every day. There is little they can learn from Christians who have never been broken. They need to know there is a path to repair and restoration for them. Telling them there is such a path is good but it has its limitations. Watching a Christian who has been broken walking that path with God is a powerful testimony. 

I reflected on my own life and testimony. I thought how pale and insipid it was in comparison.  I had spoken at meetings myself but suddenly felt that I didn’t have the right to speak because I had nothing that really mattered to offer people. 

God laughed gently.

“Oh, Mel,” He said, “how quickly you have forgotten…”

Memories of my own broken days flooded through my mind.  They were not merely days, or months, but often years - one after the other - when I had walked through such dark days grimly holding on to God’s hand, letting go sometimes and falling.  I sometimes think my pain, visible like some weeping wound, embarrassed people. I felt alienated a lot of the time. People looked for the happy ending then, but the narrative of those events slowed down, and then I stopped and the tears started to fall. 

I had forgotten that I was one of those broken ones too – one of those God-repaired and restored ones.  God reminded me that my life has been anything but pale and insipid.

The key to learning to live in a hostile world and always, always holding out peace to people that have none is to hold out my own hand first to God and to not let go.

Friday, April 03, 2015

"Walk With Me"

It was Monday afternoon.  I had spent half an hour or so watching as the Rev at the For The Right Reasons printed off a sizable pile of home-made poetry books for my KYFO Easter challenge.  While I folded them into A5 sized booklets and he stapled them in the middle, he held a conversation over my head with a lady who had popped in for a chat.

I dropped off the poetry books at the Inverness Cathedral.  A friend was curating an Easter art exhibition “Walk with Me” in the lady chapel at the top left hand corner of the cathedral.  It was due to open the next day.

“Do you want the guided tour?” she asked me as she waved me forward.

I am sure she could see it all in her head.  She knew exactly what piece of artwork was going where.  It just wasn’t there yet.  I found myself gazing at big pieces of white board – just the boards but no pictures.

“Remember the archway picture? Well that’s going to go here…and there’s a sculpture that’s going to go in this corner…” I nodded vaguely.

Throughout the week she has been posting photos of the exhibition and writing commentaries on who has been to visit and the conversations she has had with people about the artwork.  There was an audio guide and some of my Easter poems have been included. 

This morning I went to see the exhibition.  I was down to man the help desk later on in the day but wanted time to look at the pictures, listen to the commentary and sit quietly.  I had managed to download the soundtrack onto an MP3 player but it had helpfully rearranged the tracks alphabetically.  It wasn’t the chronology of the gospels.  Things were just a little out of sync and I found myself retracing my steps once or twice.  I had permission to take photos, but not full head on.  Actually, my curious angles and close-ups made for an interesting result!

I’d seen some of the pictures in last year’s “Art of Easter” exhibition.  The much smaller selection of pictures and the more intimate space gave more time to really look at the details.  I think last year I wasn’t impressed that Jesus in the picture "Gethsemane" was naked.  So, I’m a bit of a prude!  This time though, what occurred to me was – isn’t that how we all approach God? Naked? There’s really nothing we can hide behind, no amount of designer clothing that covers us up before God. To consciously remove the camouflage – isn’t that our challenge as we come before God and present our petitions? I think we do far too little of our praying on our knees and face down. Posture says everything.

There was a small sculpture of clay and wood on the same subject matter – Jesus in Gethsemane.  There should have been a notice propped up against it saying “Please touch!” The colour and the texture appealed to my tactile gene.  Clay can sometimes look fragile – and it seemed an apt medium – Jesus praying in Gethsemane had to be his most fragile moment in that fully human body of his.

Sieger Koder is a favourite artist of mine.  A really well placed pew to be still, a powerpoint display of pictures taken from his stations of the cross and some excellent poetry on the audio tape combined to make it a highlight for me. OK, I admit I was listening to my poetry! When my friend asked me to record the poems, she seemed concerned that I would get choked up and emotional and it would take us ages to do.  Reading them was not a problem.  Listening to them being read – listening to me reading the poems – I got seriously choked up.   I suppose when you are reading there’s the next word to think about and the inflection of the voice.  Listening - there’s nothing to do but listen and lose yourself in the moment.  It was an emotional moment. I knew the familiar words I’d written and yet I almost didn’t.
Another picture “Three Days Later” depicted the upper room days after the Passover Meal. I had worked out the bit about the table cloth being a prayer shawl long before the artist told me on the audio guide.  The water in the bowl Jesus had used to wash the disciples feet seemed a little too clean to me and I had small issues about the shadows made by light hitting the various cups on the table.  Fundamentally, even though housework and I are not close companions, it irked me that no one had cleared the table in three days.  Were they not in that same upper room hiding before Jesus appeared?  It is precisely when I am upset that I bang about in the kitchen doing the washing up.

I liked the exhibition a lot.  I liked the intimacy of it.  There were enough pictures to focus the mind and the spirit, but not too many that you felt you were drowning. 

Did I like the Cathedral setting?  Sitting at the help desk, fairly immobile, I felt the cold creeping slowly into my bones.  It was a grey day outside so the stained glass windows didn’t light up with colour splashes on the walls or the floor. 

I liked being in the city centre and the visitors that accidentally found the exhibition really loved the time and space to think about Easter.  I know it’s never about numbers but for much of the time I felt the emptiness of the building was an indicator of how far removed the church has become from many people.  Even at Easter, a time of reflection, of sober thought about the crucifixion, of celebration of the resurrection – for most people, it doesn’t really touch them.

But then, one of those “most people” walk through the door…and they are touched, most unexpectedly…and God draws near.