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24 March, 2017
Human progress has always been driven but utopian visionaries – 'partly mad’ individuals who dared to think the earth could be round or humans could fly to the moon – crazy stuff.  Scientific progress has its own accumulating dynamic – becoming uncomfortably fast; I’ve always felt more drawn to the artists or social reformers who, of necessity, start from scratch; in particular, I’ve a lifelong fascination with the legend we know as Francis of Assisi.  There are two insights which this extraordinary individual shared 800 years ago – which remain as important today: he had a ‘Buddhist’ conviction of the unity of all natural life – a lyric love of all creatures; and he believed that the issue of wealth and poverty divides humankind: the instruction to his followers was to ‘be with’ the poor.             Although I avoided it for months – knew I had a responsibility to see I Daniel Blake; watched half of DVD but got upset – saw remainder next day.  The film’s enduring message for me is however, a hopeful one – captured in the triumphant solidarity between Daniel and Katie with her two kids: ‘if you want generosity – look to the person who has nothing’.  I was reminded of linesfrom Ursula le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’: “I’m trying to say what I think brotherhood really is.  It begins – it begins in shared pain”.  If we’re prepared to look at the reality of poverty around us (and it’s not easy) there are people out there who tell it the way it is; Ken Loach is a true prophet of our times. - Read full bulletin

17 March, 2017
The social media attacks on Scotland’s leading women politicians shocked me – what kind of people write that stuff; sometimes the ferocity of public life gets me down – feel the need to shut it out.  When alcohol was part of my life – a few days ‘on the pish’ was my respite; people use all sorts of strategies to keep themselves sane – hobbies, religious practice, frequent travel etc.  I’m fortunate that I can easily ‘lose myself’ in some physical project – in the garden or around the house – which I did last week.             A letter from my landlord six months ago, cautions me to stop using my wood burning stove until I can provide certification that my chimney is swept and safe – I accede.  Now, trying to embrace more physical activity, I decide to restore wood burning; spend the week erecting and varnishing storage racks on each side of my front stoop (IKEA) – then shifting barrow loads of logs from shed.  Front door now framed by a pleasing tunnel of 200 neatly stacked logs – dead chuffed.             Contact chimney sweep – make appointment at £60 plus VAT.  After a quick inspection (head up lum) he says he can’t sweep or certify my chimney – as its illegal; it needs to be ‘lined’ and a steel plate fitted – to prevent falling, smouldering soot.  I ask how much; about a grand he replies; no thanks – he leaves.  So, sadly, wood burning has not yet been restored – but the primary purpose of last week’s project (a pleasant distraction) worked fine.  Come April, my Estepona bolthole will offer a warmer distraction. - Read full bulletin

10 March, 2017
At a recent 80th birthday party – one of my former golf mates is remembering my ‘hole in one’ on the short first at Kilspindie – 20 years ago. His dramatization bears little resemblance to what happened – but the listeners are enjoying his version – so I just smile. I reflect again, that the fragments of our personal history which might survive, will be the bits which make the best stories – drama, humour, tragedy etc – and why not? Some try to pre-empt this by publishing their 'official' biography – but I can’t see the point in pretending - that any life is a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Remembered incidents are all subjective – which ones do we record – my clearest memories, sadly, are regrets.             An arrogant attitude to money and possessions caused me early problems; a gradual respect – the acceptance that I must take care to have some; problems with alcohol led to the realisation that I must never have any. Not coinciding with a ‘life companion’ is a regret; telling myself that I ‘chose’ independence is not convincing. Work has been the most consistent approximation of joy in my life – the opportunity to find and follow our ‘bliss’ is a great privilege. But these are just practical observations along the way; the overall meaning and purpose of humankind’s earthly journey is, I believe, beyond the comprehension of even the wisest. The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, had a great line: “The deepest words of the wise man teach us the same as the whistle of the wind". - Read full bulletin

03 March, 2017
Became surprisingly absorbed in the recent TV programme ‘Life on the Edge’ – about Fair Isle; halfway between Shetland and Orkney, it’s the UK’s most remote inhabited island; getting there is by scary 12 passenger ferry (2 ½ hrs) or scary 8 seater plane (25 mins). We learn about Fair Isle’s reknowned hand-crafted knitwear – about the rare migratory birds which stop off there to ‘refuel’ (visiting ‘twitchers’ help the local economy) – but it was getting to know the islanders and their life together which hooked my interest. I’m fascinated by the behaviour of this tiny community of fifty five souls – on a remote island often cut off by weather; the multiple jobs they each undertake; individual survival totally dependent on the group; can such communities survive; do they matter?             Of course there’s a tendency for us ‘townies’ to romanticise the ‘rural idyll’ – but I found myself really ‘rooting’ for the islanders – particularly their commitment to shared living; and I can see hopeful signs going forward for remote communities. In the first place, satellite technology will make the whole world of the internet available everywhere to everyone. Secondly, I believe a future automated economy will provide a basic income for every citizen; belonging to a community where your several contributions are needed and valued, will become a coveted lifestyle. Perhaps healthcare is a downside; a nurse/paramedic for routine ailments – air-ambulance to the mainland for serious stuff; but we all know the NHS is shrinking anyway – you’re going to live better/longer on a working croft, than in our cities. It’s the attraction of sharing, not solitude, that will repopulate Scottish islands - Read full bulletin

24 February, 2017
It has always been important to me to have ‘favourite’ restaurants – where I become a ‘kent face’ – usually eating alone, but part of the social world – like ‘neighbourhoods’.  The food has to be taken seriously; the rooms clean and warm – good light; the morale of the staff is important – professionally courteous but also cheerful because they’re respected; finally, the interaction of customers with all this, imparts a unique ‘ambience’ (or not).  Saturday lunchtime finds me in a current ‘howf’ – a child friendly ‘farm deli and café’ outside Edinburgh – looking over the Forth estuary.             Someone I know called Clare arrives with her two, nursery age, wee boys – I used to work with her partner Andy; tables are scarce – invite them to mine – she looks unwell.  The corner is set-up with toys – kids straight over.  Then Clare is eating her soup – telling me she is receiving chemotherapy for a tumour – very matter of fact – how the scans and stats indicate excellent chance of remission.  She acknowledges her fear and I feel admiration for her courage/stoicism.  From the ephemera of my weekend Guardian to the reality of life and death.             Then Clare goes to the loo to take some medication – could I keep an eye on the kids.  They’ve discovered a sand tray – peacefully occupied - not going anywhere – arrived already.  Clouds clear – sunlight on the windows – on our table – in my face.  In his book ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’ Haruki Murakami says “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.  I reflect on the truth of this. - Read full bulletin

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