Tag Archives: Scotland

For love of wild landscapes – returning to the North…

Rolling stones do eventually run out of restlessness, if they are lucky. I came to rest in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, by an accident of fate – by putting a wrong number on a university application form. ( long story – some other time…) it was a fortuitous twist of fate, since I have been happy here, and have no desire to move again, ever.

Standing Stones in Winter

Standing Stones in Winter

But every so often, I need a ‘fix’ of the land where I was born and raised. The land, sea and skyscapes of the North-West of Scotland inspired me from my earliest days. I can still recall lying tucked up in bed listening to wild January gales tearing the world apart outside, wondering what Power drove all that mighty energy. The Northern Lights transfixed me with their beauty. The unpolluted  night skies revealed magical star patterns to my youthful imagination, inspiring my writing from a very young age. I still need scenic wildness, scenic beauty regardless of weather or season.

So – here we are, for a few days’ vacation. I thought I’d share a few of my photos. The bottom one is me, spaced out on horizons and fresh air…What is the landscape which calls you Readers to return? I’d love to hear!

IMG_2007IMG_2048IMG_2061 IMG_2073

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

The Scottish Independence Referendum: a Scottish astrologer’s view

Just posted on Astrology: Questions and Answers: To read my thoughts on the Scottish Independence Referendum, viewed through the lens of the larger, and extremely turbulent, contemporary world picture, click HERE 

Scotland's Horoscope

Scotland’s Horoscope

Tragedy, shock….and heartwarming courage. Glasgow today.

As I write, thirty two people are in emergency hospital beds across our city. We do not know how many people have died as sniffer dogs, fire and police service personnel carefully comb the rubble of the Clutha Vaults pub, searching for signs of life – or death. Shocked families wait to hear news of their loved ones.

Clutha Vaults helicopter crash

Clutha Vaults helicopter crash

This is a devastating incident which has touched many lives and will continue to do so as the days and weeks unfold.  With profound irony, this is St Andrews Day: a day when we celebrate the richness of what it means to be Scottish.

And yet….

We lay in bed this morning, shocked, having woken up on a lazy Saturday to awful news. And yet….through the jagged tempo of tragedy, we began to hear the strong heartbeat of Glasgow. A heartbeat we have heard before through other tragedies. The strong pulse of ordinary citizens caring for one another, some risking their lives to do so, not knowing whether the pub shattered by a helicopter’s plummet from the night sky was going to explode into fire and flames.

People called the emergency services immediately. Others formed a human chain to escort their fellows blinded by dust, blood and shock to safety. Passers by did not run away: they ran to see what could be done to help. Other folk sat on the street with the injured, tucked their emergency blankets round them, waited till the ambulances came. The rescue operation, well planned, swung fast into action. Gordon Matheson, the City Council leader, was eloquent in his praise of rescue services – and of ordinary citizens.

There is another Glasgow, a generous spirited Glasgow, the one that films sensationalising Glasgow’s at times violent history do not show. I am a Glaswegian by adoption, having lived here for over thirty years, my husband even longer. I too have been on the receiving end of the small and large kindnesses, laughs and warmth which are characteristic of living here. I hope I have returned these too.

Today, in the midst of disruption, pain and tragedy, I feel proud to call myself a citizen.

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400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Even sceptics see ghosts !

Samhain Blessings!

Samhain Blessings!

Have you ever seen a ghost? Even when you did not believe in them? I would be interested to hear your stories as we enter the time when the ‘veil between the worlds’ is supposedly thin….here is my story….do leave yours as a comment on this post. 

An imaginative child, I found going upstairs to bed scary most nights, having probably heard too many ghost stories as I grew up in the storm-tossed Outer Hebrides – home to many a Celtic tale of the otherworld of the supernatural. 

There was the woman wrapped in plaid who jostled my maternal grandfather in the winter dark as he traversed the remote, eerie Uig Glen. There was my maternal great-grandmother’s hearing the wheels of lorries rumbling through her remote village toward a deserted headland – many years before they actually came, bearing the materials to build an RAF station there. There was at least one ghost car. There were the shades of the dead appearing to those few in possession of the Sight – sure harbingers of imminent family death. There were ghostly lights luring sailors to their deaths in stormy seas. More has been forgotten than I could ever now recall.

Fortunately for me, vivid imagination has always sat in tandem with a strongly empirical streak. So I was a true sceptic –– until the day I  saw a ghost for myself….

Perthshire, Scotland, Autumn 1977

It was the autumn of 1977. My twenties had been turbulent. Restless wandering – from one career to another, one city to another, one set of friendships to another, and one dwelling place to another – characterised the whole decade. Now, I was in a mood to settle. Time to face my dissatisfactions, rather than running away when novelty wore off and disillusion set in.

Resolution thus colouring my mood, I left Dundee in September 1977 to do my social work training at Glasgow University. Having been such a hippie in my twenties, all I owned could be fitted into several boxes and stowed in the back of my old blue Morris Traveller.

I set off to spend a night or two, en route to my new abode in Glasgow, with my boyfriend at the time who lived in the scenic market town of Perth, half way between Dundee and Glasgow. The Dundee to Perth road was mostly dual carriageway, and a distance of about twenty five miles. I drove happily through the area known as the Carse of Gowrie, which grew the best raspberries in Britain. “Pity I’m in a hurry”, I thought. “A few raspberries for supper would be nice.” It was a clear evening, around seven pm, growing dusk. There was very little traffic on the road. A few miles outside Perth, my headlights picked out a male cyclist on a racing bike, a little way ahead of me. I pulled into the overtaking lane to pass him – and he vanished.

I arrived at Peter’s flat very shaken by this experience. “I can’t believe I imagined it. What I saw was definitely a cyclist. He was as substantial on that road as you are, standing right now in your kitchen !”

Peter was quiet for a few moments. He looked thoughtful, as if trying to decide whether to say something or not. At last he told me that a young male cyclist had been killed on that stretch of road a year or so previously. This was something of which I had no knowledge. Why should his ghost appear to me?

“Firstly, because you’re so sensitive anyway. Cast your mind back to some other odd happenings which have occurred  since we’ve been together. Secondly, your life is in transition. I think at those times, normal consciousness is more porous, as it were. Impressions from other layers of ‘reality’ find it easier to seep through….”

I remember feeling quite relieved that I wouldn’t be travelling on that stretch of road for the foreseeable future….

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NOTE: this story is an extract from “Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness – a sceptic’s take on paranormal experience “ which will be available as a downloadable pdf from this site shortly. If you’d like to be informed of the publication date, do send your email address to me at: info@anne-whitaker.com, titling the email “Dazzling Darkness book”.

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700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Season of autumn, autumn of life….

I’m feeling philosophical as the autumn leaves start to fall….I feel wealthy in experience, in loving connections, in my talents, in such wisdom as I’ve managed to distil from life’s inevitable pains. My taste is to savour and treasure life’s small gifts: kicking through the first dry drifts of rich autumnal auburn, savouring my little granddaughter’s occasional impulsive loving hugs and kisses. My taste is also for taking time: to be quiet, be alone, to read, to walk in Nature, to reflect on what my life thus far has meant – and what may be to come.

You won’t find me in the gym, sweating it out with my peers whose main motivation is to keep age at bay. I’m not saving up for my first facelift. I don’t look enviously at fresh faces and taut bodies. Whilst celebrating their youth, I am glad to be no longer young.

Anne Whitaker

Anne Whitaker

In ancient times, when a woman reached menopause and began to feel the pull of death and rebirth into a new life phase, her tribe let her go free of duties for a year or so. She could wander, go deep into the forest, across the far hills, seeking solitude, time for reflection. She might gather roots and herbs only found in hidden places, to be used later. She had time to forge a deeper connection with Spirit than her busy life had previously allowed.

She would look at her lined face and grey hair in still river pools, sleep under the stars, slowly facing the fact that she was in the last phase of her life. By the time she returned she had deeply accepted the Great Round of birth, growth, maturation, decline, death and renewal. Having completed the mid life rite of passage, she was refreshed and ready to serve her tribe again.

Her experience, knowledge and wisdom was valued and recognised : healer, midwife, mentor to the young, spiritual counsellor, she had her place in her community till the day she died.

“ But this is the twenty-first century!” I hear you say. “Things are very different now.”

I wonder. Are they? It is certainly true that humans have never lived such comfortable, materially sophisticated lives as they do now, if they live in the affluent societies of the West. Within this current cultural phase, there is a powerful preoccupation with one stage of life. Youth.

It is possible because of huge advances in science, medicine and technology to delay the process of ageing. Death has come to be seen as a defeat, rather than a normal part of the whole life cycle.

From gnats to galaxies, everything is woven into the Great Round. Why should humans think themselves exempt ?

Everything passes, and we pass with it. Denial of this robs us of the opportunity to face and accept the flow of life as it is. Acceptance, which takes experience, courage, reflection, and time, can lead to happiness and spiritual peace. Denial of any kind usually trails misery in its wake.The  mid life rite of passage is presented to us all, the choice being denial or acceptance.

The latter road is slower and harder, but infinitely more rewarding in the end.

autumn

autumn

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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The sacred Isle of Iona: magical by full moon light

Last week we had a wonderfully restorative trip to the magical, mystical Isle of Iona, off the West Coast of Scotland, a place of pilgrimage for seekers from all over the world.

On the night of the full moon, I went out for a twilight stroll by the sea, from which rose an evening haar, creating a hazy filter through which the full moon glowed. I took some very atmospheric photos.Here is a moonlit image one of the spectacular High Crosses to be found on the island:

Iona Cross, Full Moon, August 21 2013

Iona Cross, Full Moon, August 21 2013

photo: Anne Whitaker

Today this ‘thin place’ offers the rare chance of escaping from nearly all of the unwelcome trappings of the twenty first century. To a great many people it is the desert island of dreams come true. Whether or not one is religious there is a spiritual peace to be found here, perhaps best reflected in the words of the composer Mendelssohn, after his visit to Iona in 1829:

“…when in some future time I shall sit in a madly crowded assembly with music and dancing round me, and the wish arises to retire into the loneliest loneliness, I shall think of Iona…”

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200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Excitement in Glasgow’s Children’s Wood at the end of June….

“Wild spaces are invaluable to children, especially those growing up in
towns. They stimulate the imagination and nurture the spirit. Places
like the Children’s Wood within North Kelvin Meadow (Glasgow) are hard to come
by in urban settings and so should be preserved at all costs.”

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo and recent U.K Children’s Laureate

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This is not just a local issue. This issue is one of the major challenges of our time right across the world.

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Our local campaign has gained great momentum and attracted world-wide attention in the last year: come down to the The Children’ Wood and support the latest event!

Scotland’s greatest living artist and writer Alasdair Gray will read, for the first time ever, to an audience of children on the 30th June, 2013. He has chosen to read from the well loved Just So Stories and some Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.

There will be many activities for all ages to enjoy during the afternoon: food, crafts, lucky dips, second hand children’s items, window boxes, home baking, face painting, plus lots more….

Alasdair Gray at The Children's Wood

Alasdair Gray at The Children’s Wood

Do come along and support the campaign. If you can’t do that, then how about Liking the Children’s Wood Facebook page?

 

The Children’s Wood West-End Festival Gala programme

Our local Glasgow, Scotland UK campaign continues with some summer fun for young and old. Do come along and support us!

The Children's Wood and North Kelvin Meadow

The Children's Wood West-End Festival Gala programme

We’ve got a fantastic line up of activities and stalls for our Gala this SUnday (2nd June). There will be something for everyone. We hope to see you there. Join the conversation on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/TheChildrensWood

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Help save our Children’s Wood: support the protest any way you can, wherever you are….

“Wild spaces are invaluable to children, especially those growing up in
towns. They stimulate the imagination and nurture the spirit. Places
like the Children’s Wood within North Kelvin Meadow (Glasgow) are hard to come
by in urban settings and so should be preserved at all costs.”

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo and U.K Children’s Laureate

Children's Wood Protest 1

Children’s Wood Protest 1

(photo: Anne Whitaker)

This is not just a local issue. This issue is one of the major challenges of our time right across the world.

As Dr Carol Craig, CEO of The Centre for Confidence and Well-being, has recently said:

“For decades we have restricted children’s freedom to play outdoors and there’s growing evidence  that this trend is damaging their physical health and emotional well-being. We now have to take positive steps to ensure that children have easy access to wild spaces like the Children’s Wood in the North Kelvin Meadow. It would be a travesty if this special place for children disappeared under concrete.”

Our local North Kelvin Meadow campaign takes an important step forward on Thursday 4th April 2013 from 11.45 am until 12.30 pm with a second protest demonstration outside the City Chambers, George Square, Glasgow, Scotland, UK. Do come along and join us – if you can’t make it, do send this link to ANYONE you think can contribute to saving our meadow in any way: friends, community activists, bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers, journos……it all helps!

BACKGROUND STORY:

May 2012 saw the start of The Children’ Wood – an offshoot of the sterling efforts of the North Kelvin Meadow Campaign, for the last few years the latest in several local initiatives, whose objective over a long period of time now has been to save a patch of local waste ground for community green space use, as opposed to its hosting yet another set of newbuild flats  – in an already built up area –  if Glasgow City Council’s plan for the space goes ahead.

To give you a wonderful ‘flavour’ of what this land means to our community, DO watch this brilliant short film Dear Green Place made recently by film maker James Urquhart.

AND – to sign our on-line petition, go HERE. Thanks!!

Meadow in the CityThe Children’s Wood

(photo: Anne Whitaker)

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NOTE: Blog/Twitter followers, Facebook friends, community activists and enthusiasts, please do what you can to pass this information around your networks. Thanks!

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400 words copyright /Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Guest blogger Emily Cutts: Constructive criticism is a gift

I am happy to publish this thoughtful post by my friend and colleague Emily Cutts,  an independent thinker whose studies and experience in the teaching, research and practice of Positive Psychology creatively and deeply inform her writing. Emily is also very much involved, along with her husband Quintin and many other community activists, with our campaign here in North Kelvin, Glasgow, Scotland, UK, to save our local Children’s Wood for community use. 

Emily says: I was surprised recently when a close friend of mine told me her reason for leaving a secondary school teaching position in a prestigious private school in Scotland.  One of the parents didn’t like the critical feedback she was giving their daughter, saying that it was damaging and un-motivating. In reality it was constructive feedback: factual, and given with the intention of improving performance.

Criticism is a gift: Carol Dweck pictures

Criticism is a gift: Carol Dweck pictures

http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/pp/tools.php?p=c2lkPTEz

The parent was blaming my friend for their daughter’s poor performance in this particular science subject. Another parent, a psychiatrist, was complaining for similar reasons, but also demanding to know why their son wasn’t doing well at science – blaming the teacher for their son not ‘getting it’.  My friend was disciplined by the head of department. From then on, she was required to put less‘negative’ feedback comments on work and to be more positive.

I have heard that this type of behaviour from parents has been increasing in schools across Scotland – parents blaming teachers for their child not doing well or not getting what they want.

Why would parents put pressure on schools not to give a child accurate feedback during the learning process, instead wanting them to paper over the cracks in understanding with positive praise? Why would schools take them seriously?

The answer could have something to do with feelings:

(an argument most clearly put forward by Dr Carol Craig at The Centre for Confidence and Well-being(1))

We don’t want to hurt a child’s feelings because we falsely believe that doing so will undermine their confidence and consequently their learning.  This causes teachers/parents to modify their behaviour in various ways to make sure that feelings are not damaged: restricting critical ‘negative’ feedback; reducing standards to make things easier; avoiding certain tasks for fear of hurting a child’s feelings should they fail – and unwarranted praise for tasks which the child can already do and for meaningless activities.

The problem with these behaviours is that they undermine the learning process, sending an important message to the child that they cannot cope with failure: failure is to be avoided. Another message is that they can’t handle challenging tasks.  If we thought they could cope, then we would allow them to hear the constructive feedback.

How could anyone learn if they lived by this philosophy?

Think about learning something difficult, and receiving feedback after you didn’t do very well on the task. Would you rather someone told you what you wanted to hear eg  ‘Well done you did really well, you are going to be the next Nobel Laureate’.  In this case you would gain no useful information – only a good temporary feeling…and could you ever trust that person’s opinion again? Or, would you rather find out about where you went wrong and how you could rectify it?  You might not like it at the time, but the feedback would help you to learn and do better in the future.

The first type of praise (currently widely applied) has been criticised by some psychologists because of its capacity to undermine learning (2,3).  It is thought that people praise in this way when they want to boost a child’s self-esteem, and protect young people’s feelings (1).

However, if you praise a child for activities that they can already do well, this sets up behaviours which undermine learning and paradoxically decrease self-esteem. The other aspect of this is to praise young people for being clever or smart (85% of American parents think that it is good to do so).

Praising for talent in this way sends a message to the child that you, the adult, value intelligence – since children are very sensitive to the messages they receive – they then want to demonstrate their intelligence to prove they have the talent.  The highly negative consequence of this is the avoidance of anything challenging which might show up weaknesses, or hiding/avoiding failures and sticking to things they do well.

In addition to this, people become more likely to blame others for failure, rather than taking ownership of their own setbacks and learning. This is salient in the example at the beginning of parents complaining about my friend’s teaching i.e If they believed their child to be smart, but yet they were not understanding science – then it must be the teaching at fault and not the child.

Our culture has an obsession with natural talent. However, there is a problem with this fascination:we cannot predict who will succeed and who won’t. Someone could start out seemingly talented at science, for example.This does not necessarily mean that they will always be successful – research demonstrates that people need to work at growing their talent or else they do not reach their full potential.

Other studies show the converse. Those who start off seemingly talentless can flourish later on– the late bloomers – exceeding all expectations and predictions about how well they will do in life.  Some famous examples are: Einstein, Beethoven, Robin Williams, Magic Johnson,(4) – but I am sure you can think of examples of people who you went to school with (or other walks of life) who exceeded your or other peoples expectations?

Overwhelmingly, the research shows (e.g. 6)  that talent is something which requires practice, perseverance and a lot of effort. For example,  Malcolm Gladwell (5) says that to become an expert at something takes around 10,000 hours of practice.  It takes thousands of failures and setbacks along the way and all of this activity changes the structure of the brain (e.g.6).

The brain is like a muscle: Carol Dweck pictures

The brain is like a muscle: Carol Dweck pictures

http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/pp/tools.php?p=c2lkPTEz

Young people can develop all of these abilities, as well as resilience, through accurate, useful feedback, and praise for their hard work and effort. Not only will this increase motivation for learning, but by default, performance too. (6)

Going back to the example of my friend being told to restrict critical feedback and increase praise,this does not seem like a good long term learning strategy.  A better method would be to encourage teachers to give students negative feedback, harnessed with the encouragement to take this feedback as a learning opportunity and not as a personal attack.

Learning takes time, it’s frustrating, hard work and effortful – these messages might be more important for the child to hear than more praise and little critical feedback (7). This may also provide hope for the future, to students such as those mentioned earlier who may not initially do very well at some subjects.

Parents need to stop blaming teachers for their children’s learning – it is not all their fault  – and help their children to take responsibility for their own learning. One way to begin this is by cultivating a love of learning, valuing critical feedback, and treating failures and frustrations about learning as anormal and natural process in education and nothing to take personally.

Constructive criticism is a gift, we just need to view it that way more often.

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Links:

1. http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/projects.php?p=cGlkPTUz
2. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/AmericanFamily/story?id=2877896&page=1
3. http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/
4. http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/OnFailingG.html
5. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0316017922?ie=UTF8&tag=stormysblog-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0316017922
6. http://mindsetonline.com/ and http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/projects.php?p=cGlkPTU4
7. http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/projects.php?p=cGlkPTU3JmlkPTQ3OA==

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(First appearing on another of my blogs MoreBitsFallOff.com, this has proved to be its most frequently read post!Check it out to read more of Emily’s well-researched and thoughtful articles)

1200 words copyright Emily Cutts/Anne Whitaker 2010/2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page