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Chip shops and kama sutra: poetry with a difference, Glasgow-style!

It has been some time since I last wrote about a wonderful local initiative bringing children, parents,  our wider community and the Great Outdoors together in North Kelvin, Glasgow, U.K - The Children’s Wood, which very happily has recently gained charitable status. Everyone around here is delighted with this achievement.

One of the things we can now do is extend our fundraising activities.To this end, The Children’s Wood is teaming up on Tuesday 24th March, 7.15 pm,  with our excellent Oxfam Book Shop, 330 Byres Road, Glasgow G12, which is always willing to support appropriate local initiatives. That diverse and talented group of published poets from the Greater Glasgow area, the Byres Road Poets, are presenting an evening of poetry reading in the above shop to raise funds for The Children’s Wood. 

Byres Road Poets

Byres Road Poets

Local friends, supporters and poetry fans, do come along to hear a rich and diverse mix of versification from Carole Bone – don’t miss her infamous Chip Shop poem; Sophie Agrell – repeating her rendition of that risqué Kama Sutra poem; and Alistair Christie Johnston, man of mystery by choice who simply will not say what he’s reading – till he reads it…

There will be wine, nibbles, and a chance to contribute a suggested  £5 – or more, don’t hold back! - to The Children’s Wood‘s coffers. To continue with these imaginative existing initiatives livening up and enriching the lives of young and old alike in the North Kelvin area, we need funds. Do be generous – it’s a terrific, life enhancing cause.

I know that my many loyal readers and Followers live in different areas of the UK and all over the world, but especially in the USA. Our local initiative here in one area of one Scottish city is an important microcosm of a world-wide movement to get young people, parents, and whole communities together, to get us OUTSIDE, to get us more active, less gadget-bound and therefore more healthy.

So: those of you who are too far away to come and listen to those excellent local poets, why not give a donation – anything you can afford would be welcome – to help us on our way? Click HERE to donate. Many thanks!

We are all part of the ONE: one family, one community, one nation, one world. Let us never forget this, and let us support one another in any small initiatives for positive change.

‘…Mighty oaks from little acorns grow…’

logopond gallery

logopond gallery

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

How do YOU define success?

I just love this quote. What makes it special is the hope and encouragement it offers that the ‘ordinary’ lives of most of us, in their own way, hold a good measure of success, which should not be defined in terms of professional or public achievement alone…….

“To laugh often and love much, to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson(1803-1882) American essayist and poet

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

http://www.online-literature.com/emerson/

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Note: I’ve just discovered whilst checking its provenance via Google that this quotation may NOT be from Emerson after all!

If you are interested in researching its origins, check out speculation at www.transcendentalists.com

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker/R.W. Emerson 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Is “ordinary” kindness becoming a casualty of our technological age?

I arrived at the bus stop, cold and in a hurry, as usual – just as the bus I wanted was leaving. “So typical!”  I muttered crossly to myself, settling down to wait for the next one with an ill grace. A tall, lean, youngish woman with long, rather straggly hair, wearing a dark coloured jacket, jeans and a pair of Wellington boots arrived at the stop. I thought she looked rather strained and tired.

To help pass the time, I outlined my theory of bus catching to her. If you couldn’t care less about catching a bus, two will pass you going in your direction, any of which would do, I said. If you’d quite like a bus because you are feeling lazy, one will pass you just as you are arriving at the stop. If you are desperate to catch a bus and very much behind schedule, a posse of three will speed by, pretending not to see you.

The woman laughed and laughed. I noticed she had large, soulful eyes. “Ain’t that so close to the truth you could bite its bum,” she spluttered. And on we chatted, until at last the bus arrived. As we were getting on, she said thanks for our chat. “No problem,” I said. “I always talk to people!” She looked at me before taking her seat. Her eyes filled with tears. ” Today,” she said, “it was more important than you will ever know.”

Our brief encounter was important to me, too. It got me thinking about “ordinary” human connection, and exchanges of “ordinary” warmth from one person to another.

Recently, I was in a big city centre store, returning a faulty amplifier. It was very straightforward, and although I was rather tired and in need of some lunch, I suddenly decided to investigate the in-store availability of a small digital overhead projector which I’d been thinking of purchasing to run off my laptop, my twenty year old OHP now being very out of date.

What a mistake that was! I was pitched into one of those protracted gothic techno-nightmares which we all have from time to time in which everything possible goes wrong. Note to self: I really MUST learn that there is a time to give up, ie before I am lying in a frazzled, tearful heap on one of the sofas of the said department store, bellowing into my mobile phone to my husband who simply can’t hear me at the other end.

Throughout the whole of this protracted saga, I was ably and calmly helped (she didn’t get anywhere, either,  in wading through the techno-snake pit into which we had stumbled) by a very professional and unflappable shop assistant who went to endless trouble to try and unravel the knotty series of problems we encountered at every stage of my attempted purchase.She was just great: calm, efficient, and most important of all – kind.

Some weeks later, I have recovered from that saga – no, since you ask, I still do not have a digital projector!– but I have not forgotten that young woman’s much appreciated kindness.

By a bizarre twist of fate, my husband and myself are both having to undergo eye surgery in March, within twelve days of each other. Last month, we both went to his pre-op assessment and met the surgeon who is to do his procedure which should be pretty routine. We immediately took to this man, who spoke to us both with warmth, humour, wisdom and great humanity. Afterwards, we both felt much better for that encounter. ” I’ll feel quite safe in his hands,” my husband remarked.

I have been fortunate to have been able to build up a relationship of trust and confidence in the consultant who will be doing my surgery –  over several years. Because of the humanity and kindness of my surgeon, as well as his skill and experience, I will feel as safe as one can, given the nerve wracking circumstances of  basically having a drainage channel cut in my left eye under a local anaesthetic. Having a black sense of humour and good supportive friends helps greatly too. Valium – here I come!

We all need to give and to receive kindness and care in both fleeting and  significant interactions with our fellow human beings. But we would need to be literally and metaphorically blind not to notice that the further we move collectively into techno- sophistication, the more compromised those day to day human interactions have become. We seem to be evolving socially into an increasingly neurotic population becoming better able to relate to our gadgets than our fellow citizens.

Whilst not in any way decrying those wonderful improvements and advantages which ever- advancing technological progress have brought our way, we need to be more aware of what is happening to our “ordinary” humanity in the process.

That great 20th century explorer of the human condition, psychologist and mystic Carl Gustav Jung, had wise words to say which are relevant here. If there is something wrong with society, there is also something wrong with me; therefore I need to start with myself in beginning to effect positive change, was the gist of his message.

So there we have it. Whilst being sensibly self-protective, let us all take opportunities wherever we can to reach out, even in small ways, to our fellow citizens. Talk to people at the bus stop. Thank people and show appreciation to those who are kind to us (I have Jaqui, the shop lady’s email address and will be sending her a copy of this post).

If people in the caring professions treat us with a lack of humanity and kindness, let’s try and make someone aware of this, preferably them, or their superiors. We may be doing some good in making it less likely that someone else will be treated this way. A couple of years ago I pointed out to an orthopaedic surgeon that his registrar had the inter- personal skills of a gnat. I hope and trust that this might have had some positive benefit for subsequent patients… 

I am indeed fortunate in living in that great grubby lively metropolis, the city of Glasgow in Scotland. Like any urban environment, there are plenty things wrong with it. But its reputation is of a warm-hearted place where its citizens are friendly and always up for a chat. I have certainly found this to be true. It has rubbed off on me. So – get out there, and get chatting, wherever you are. You never know when a few friendly words at a bus stop may make a big difference to someone else’s day. or even their life…

What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d like to hear them!

1110 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Are you a Betsy Bug? Aunt Elner will cheer you up!

Today I feel weary…weary of our unstable climate with – in the West of Scotland – its apparently increasing emphasis on cold and wet. A couple of weeks ago, it was bright and Springlike around here. The snowdrops looked perky and cheery, you got the feeling the crocuses would be poking through at any moment. Well, they have poked through, but they are probably regretting it already…

Don’t know about you, but when I catch myself heading for self-pity, I deliver  a few quick slaps around the head, count a few blessings – then look for a philosophical quote which will put me in my place and cheer me up at the same time. Here is one of my perennial favourites, from that well-known ( -ish) sage, Aunt Elner…it always works for me!  And – enjoy my Aunt Elner-type pics…

Aunt Elner 1

Aunt Elner 1

Betsy Bugs, that’s us….

“ Poor little old human beings – they’re jerked into this world without having any idea where they came from or what it is they are supposed to do, or how long they have to do it in. Or where they are gonna wind up after that. But bless their hearts, most of them wake up every morning and keep on trying to make some sense out of it. Why, you can’t help but love them, can you? I just wonder why more of them aren’t as crazy as betsy bugs. ”

Aunt Elner, 1978

Aunt Elner 2

Aunt Elner 2

(quote from “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!” by Fannie Flagg)

250 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Fencing with fundamentalism: does anyone have THE ANSWER?

I have always asked questions. However, I have equally had an innate dislike of anyone providing me with THE ANSWER, having always sensed – and the unfolding of life, experience and much reading has affirmed this – that there are many answers. Mere humans are in no position to determine which, if any, are correct.

This persistent orientation has probably assisted me in having a complex and colourful life; it has also had its serious downside. Life is much easier and simpler if you believe THE ANSWER is out there somewhere, and feel gratitude when someone convincing provides it.

I was certainly offered THE ANSWER at a young age, by my religious fundamentalist relatives, Aunt Maria and Uncle Patrick. Its offering, its context, and how I reacted,  makes quite an interesting story…now read on…

The Big Why ?

The Big Why ?

Fortunately, it was a peat bank we hit. That cushioned the impact, saving the car from much damage. Uncle Patrick had stopped singing “Abide with me”: for once, he was completely silent. Perhaps he was wondering how to get the car out of the ditch. Aunt Maria, white faced, was leaning over into the back of the car where I had been jolted onto the floor behind the driver’s seat. No one had heard of seatbelts  in the 1960s. “Are you all right, dear?” she said anxiously. “I think so,” I said. “Maybe I’ve bruised my knee, that’s all.” ….

At last Patrick spoke. “I think perhaps you shouldn’t mention this to your father,” he said. He knew my father’s opinion of his driving, gained from the local grapevine. He also found my father rather intimidating, perhaps because Dad was not the least in awe of his clerical collar. I liked Patrick, despite the increasingly intense arguments we were having about religion as I moved into the truculence and awkwardness of adolescence.

“No, of course not,” I said. I understood very well that his mind was always more on God than the mere driving of a motor vehicle. Also being the owner of a wandering mind, inclined to “higher things”, I had a secret sympathy for his predicament. Life on Earth was too mundane for our liking, my aunt included. Not that we ever discussed this, of course. My family was not strong on personal disclosure of any kind. But I was very good at knowing how people thought and felt without them saying anything.

“If she doesn’t marry a minister, she’ll make a minister out of the man she marries!” prophesied my father about my maiden aunt Maria. It was known that she was ‘disappointed in love’ – her first great love had been for a presbyterian minister. I never did discover what had happened. She seemed to be wedded to God, until Patrick appeared in her life. Ten years younger than she, he had had a colourful life as a whaler, then a docker, until, in his early thirties, he “got the curam”.

This is a distinctive syndrome particular to the Hebrides, whereby a man (usually) having lead a dissolute life – “He would have sucked whisky through a dirty doormat on the steps of the Stag Hotel!” as my father once memorably put it of a local drinker who had “got the curam” – suddenly discovers God and goes away to Aberdeen University divinity faculty to train to be a Free Church minister. He then, usually, takes up a charge in a country parish in the Highlands and Islands and rails from his pulpit about, amongst other things, the evils of his former lifestyle.

(nb I am not suggesting for a moment that this is the case with all men who train for the ministry at Aberdeen Uni divinity faculty. Just some of them !!)

And thus it was with Patrick, ably assisted by his new wife my aunt Maria, a natural academic and scholar who had never had the opportunity to go to university herself. Having left school at fourteen, barely literate, Patrick mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew with her help, and duly became a minister. Although our disagreements became more entrenched as I grew older, I admired them both hugely for this effort and eventual success.

The Big Why ?

Uncle Patrick, and with equal conviction but less rhetoric Aunt Maria, had THE ANSWER and did their best to provide me with it. However, I simply could not accept that every word in the Bible was literally true, that Darwin’s brilliant theory of evolution was the work of the Devil, or that the Pope was the Antichrist and that all who were not Saved (ie a few thousand believers in Predestination on a small, wet, windswept, obscure island) were Damned to Hell everlasting.

So I spent a lot of time in my mid-teens, as the time grew closer for me to make my longed-for escape from home to University, arguing philosophy and theology with Patrick. He had the edge over me in the theological department. for obvious reasons. But my study of ancient Greek, a few years after Patrick had completed his, drew me much more at that stage in my life to the classical splendours of Homer’s ‘Oddysey’ than to the religion taught to me during my childhood.

By the time I left for Uni, Patrick feared I was a lost cause. For the first two years, Aunt Maria wrote to me regularly – long religious homilies wrapped around large bars of Cadbury’s fruit and nut chocolate. How I hated those letters! Eventually the searing anger and resentment I had carried with me from my difficult and painful family life boiled over and scalded her: I recognise now that she was unwittingly providing me with a scapegoat on which I could dump my anger.

I wrote to her telling her that I objected to her trying to ram her beliefs down my throat, and never to communicate with me again. Our relationship thus broke down, and was not to be healed for nearly thirty years.

However, Patrick and Maria taught me one valuable lesson during our long and increasingly bitter wrangle over religion. It is a futile waste of time to bother arguing with fundamentalism. As my life went on, I discovered that this early truth applied whether the context was religion, science, politics, education, feminism or whatever. There is no way of engaging in dialogue with fundamentalism. Any attempt is doomed to failure. So I learned, at quite a young age, not to bother trying.

As a much older and I hope slightly wiser person, my approach now is to try to be tolerant and good humoured in the face of  those who have THE ANSWER. But that is hard to maintain – especially given the marked lack of tolerance usually offered in return….

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1150 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Spring!!…and divine discontent…

It’s NEARLY spring where we are!

I stepped out of our front door this Thursday morning to a brilliantly clear, slightly frosty day, and had a vivid image of Mole from the children’s classic by Kenneth Grahame, doing his spring cleaning…”Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing…”

I am expecting divine discontent and longing to set in any minute now. In the meantime, here are some cityscapes captured whilst walking home via Kelvingrove Park around 5 pm last evening. It was still light!!

Evening - Kelvin Hall Glasgow

Evening – Kelvin Hall Glasgow

A view from the bridge

A view from the bridge

150 words (and Glasgow images) copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Holy Dharma with Heron…

I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace.

We live in Glasgow, Scotland – UK city with the most green space. Our flat overlooks the river Kelvin which flows through the West End’s Botanic Gardens. On the riverbank, throughout the Gardens, all kinds of wildlife abound: amongst the over-fed pigeons and importunate grey squirrels the occasional kingfisher, an otter once seen on Boxing Day, sometimes a cormorant or two – and several herons taking up favourite positions along the river bank. The fish ladder by the weir is a choice spot of theirs. Another pitch is partly concealed by vegetation, right below the Humpbacked Bridge leading to steep steps rising to the upper, more cultivated part of the Botanic Gardens.

Most days, I take a well-travelled route down from our house – crossing the Humpbacked Bridge, up the steps, through the Botanics past the Kibble Palace. This splendid circular, domed Victorian glass house hosts fine sculptures, elegant glass panels, a well-stocked pond – with some very old fishy friends adept at dodging the coins and wishes raining down on them on a regular basis – and a wonderfully displayed selection of plants and flowers from many parts of the world. It is a local jewel.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Strolling around those familiar, well-loved landmarks, I always enjoy occasional sightings of the heron. We can never decide how many herons there are of the same age and appearance. Maybe we are seeing the same one, over and over? Conversations like this weave together a very disparate, loose group of park regulars of all ages with a variety of views and opinions about the Botanic Gardens’ wild creatures. But the heron is a favourite; we always report sightings to one another.

We are inured to plentiful rain and bad weather as the default position for our local climate; stepping out into a pleasant, crisp, sunny morning  is therefore an immediate delight, especially with the Botanics in full autumn colours, carpets of leaves everywhere – if you get out early enough, before the park attendants with their noisy leaf-blowing machines get going!

Whilst appreciating this beautiful autumnal morning, my head was also full of the usual thought traffic as I contemplated the day ahead. The Buddhists speak the truth: we are only ever partly here. In each waking moment of our short, precious lives, we are usually distracted by something or other from being fully present. Thus we rarely savour fully the Holy Dharma of this very moment which will never come again.

Suddenly, my attention was totally focused on a sight I had never seen before. The heron was perched in full view, half way along the left-hand side of the Humpbacked Bridge!

I  stopped dead. Most unusually at half past nine on a weekday morning, there was no-one in sight.  “Should I stay watching right here, or try to creep closer?” I wondered, full of excitement and apprehension. Deciding on the latter option, I tiptoed very very slowly onto the eight-foot wide bridge, veering to the right in order to edge along the opposite side of the bridge to the heron.

The wild creature seemed absorbed in his own surveillance operation, long elegant neck moving slowly from side to side, eyes glinting in the morning light reflected off the quietly flowing river. Whether he had spotted me or not, he was paying me no attention. Barely able to believe my luck, I inched along  extremely quietly until – to my great amazement – I was level. We were only a bridge width apart. Never in my life before had I been so close to such a large wild bird.

The morning was still. The heron, briefly, was still. I was still. The Holy Dharma moved with the air currents across the bridge, the heron and me. All was One.

Japanese Heron Painting

Japanese Heron Painting

Hours might have passed. It was probably less than a minute. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my left eye. A slender young man dressed all in black, carrying a rucksack, i-pods in his ears, was rapidly approaching the bridge. Stealthily, I crept forward a couple of feet, heading off the bridge toward the steps, still hugging the side opposite the heron. He still didn’t budge. For a fleeting moment I thought “Anne, that wild creature is tuned to you. He can feel your goodwill….” Then the rationalist dismissed such a thought. Still….

The young man was about to step through the gate onto the bridge. I held my finger to my lips, indicating silence; with my other hand palm up,  I signalled to stop, waving him over to my side of the bridge – hoping this unknown young man might share a rare experience. But he ignored me. As he marched past us the heron took off, winging his lazy languid way downriver. Waving goodbye, I stood for a moment – partly watching the heron, partly watching the young man’s back as he tramped up the stairs.

In that moment I truly felt the force of life’s duality: on the one hand, such gratitude and joy that the heron and I had shared a pure, holy moment of Oneness. On the other, deep sadness that the young man, shut in with his technology, had missed it. Carl Jung’s comment, which comes to me often, came to me then: “Our task in this life is to reconcile the opposites”…..

….and a ps to this story….a couple of weeks later, I was strolling home through the Botanics by the river Kelvin on my way home, having spent the afternoon at my office writing the first draft of this article which was in my bag.There on the riverbank, in  places where I had never seen them before, were – to my amazement and delight – two herons….

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page