Thought for the Weekend

This week it’s my turn to produce a column for one of the local newspapers in these parts.  The brief tells me that the choice of subject is mine, but to please, (very polietly written, of course), make it topical or tie it in with the week’s news.  So, with that in mind my piece, on spies and spying appears below.

People Watching

Many years ago – way back in the 80s, there was a TV show called, “Watching.”  It was a sweet, romantic comedy about a young couple, making their way in life.  The show’s title came from their shared interest in people watching; in shops or cafes they would speculate on occupations, personalties and life-histories of the people around them.  Since then, I’ve met many folk who do the same thing, indeed, in some respects we all do it. Everyone we meet is filtered through the lens of our own assumptions and ideas, and we often get it very wrong!

This type of people watching is, though, relatively harmless. Our opinions and assumptions are just that, our own! So they don’t usually have life-changing ramifications for others.  There’s another type of watching however, that’s hit the headlines – spying.  Of course, those involved, don’t call it spying, it’s called, “intelligence gathering,” and is undertaken by the security services of the various countries who have the technology and expertise to do it.  The rationale behind such watching is keep us safe; to sniff out terrorists and protect us from enemy states. Most of us, I suppose, are quite happy with that, aren’t we?  It’s more difficult to understand why the US ‘spooks’ are listening to the German Chancellor’s ‘phone calls.

More and more of our lives are accessible to the world these days through social networks; the http://www.  our smart phones, even CCTV.  And even if you can escape all this, you’re not likely to be annonymous.  Tesco and co know a great deal about you from your clubcard.  More and more of our very personal information is readily available to all and sundry.  Does this matter?  There are arguments for and against, but whatever you think, we live in a world where survellience is a part of life.

When I was small, I used to have a recurring nightmare about a disembodied eye that continually watched me, and when I first went to Sunday School, I was dismayed to learn that God watched my every move. This was scary stuff.  I most definitely didn’t want a God who was able to see past the shiny facade I presented to the world, into the dark, murky places of my inmost being that even I was afraid of.  Over the years though, I have learnt to live with, and even delight in the all-seeing God with whom I now have a grown-up relationship.  Finding someone who knows me inside and out and is loving and accepting is something, I believe, we all want.  Spied on by strangers whose motives are unclear – no way!  Looked after in love – yes please!

Government’s Not Working/Fit For Purpose etc.

Today the news in the U.K is full of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech from the Conservative Party Conference.  All day long there’s been comment and questions about his scheme to get people back to work.

Now, I am all for prudent use of the country’s resources, but this tinkering around the Benefit’s System is only good for headline grabbing.  There is a much bigger problem lurking underneath that no one, so far, has even mentioned.  O.K, if people have been unemployed and on Benefits for a long time, they probably do need help getting back into work, so voluntary placements with Charities could be a good idea; extra support from the Job Centres could work well too.  So what’s the problem?  Where, I want to know, are the jobs for the long-term unemployed?  Our job market is not booming.  Every vacancy for a job seems to attract many more applicants than can ever be placed.  Number one task then; create more sustainable, long-term jobs.

Secondly – stop griping about scroungers and Food Banks.  At our local Food Bank, the majority of adults are in full-time work, but 60% of users are children under 16.  No sending eight year olds down the coal mines to solve this one – that’d be illegal and in any case the mines have closed now haven’t they?  Big problem, Chancellor – people in work are not earning enough to feed themselves and their families.  The minimum wage is NOT a living wage.  Getting people into work is not enough – work must pay!

Then, this evening there was an appeal from Save the Children Fund about its work in the U.K.  Here it is:

We live in the 6th richest country in the world, yet many go hungry and are oppressed by poverty.  The Chancellor, of course, has no time for ‘scroungers’ but then, he’s a millionaire.  Politicians are indeed out of touch with ordinary folk.  If I had a Fairy Godmother, I’d wish that every Cabinet member  would have to live for a year on the minimum wage.  I wonder how many we’d see at the Food Banks?

Spirals: the Koru and the Wonders of Nature

Kuru1Many, many moons ago I was introduced to the Maori symbol of the koru.  A koru, (Maori for loop),  is, according to Wikipedia,” a spiral shape based on the shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace.”  Such principals are part and parcel of my belief system, so having something so beautiful to symbolize them suits me very well.

Spirals occur frequently in the natural world – David Attenborough recently presented a TV program about that.

Yesterday, I saw this lovely piece in a neighbourhood shop which sells the work of local craftspeople.  I ummed and ahhed about buying it, but decided to sleep on it and left the shop.  I’d not been back home long before I received a telephone call from my lovely sister asking if I had any idea what I’d like for my birthday…. well, numerically challenged as I am, even I can add up one and one and make two – so hey presto, this beautiful necklace is now my new ‘koru.’  You can’t really see from the photo, but there are sparkly highlights on some of the lines.  When I went in to the shop this morning I discovered that the person who was ‘on duty’ in the shop was actually the craftsperson who made it and she was pleased that I was so delighted with it.


September Already???

I don’t know what it is about getting older, but it does seem that the more birthdays one has, the speedier time passes.  Billy Conelly reckons you can sum it up as, “Should auld aquaintance be forgot.. Happy Birthday to you… We wish you a Merry Christmas…” and I agree!  So, autumn’s already making itself felt around here as the temperature has dropped and the Football season’s started. Whilst it seems to me that the summer was way too short, I do love autumn and I’m looking forward to the changing colours – our neck of the woods is very beautiful at this time of year.

One of my neighbours seems to have discovered the Green Man, want to see?

Isn’t he amazing?  He gave me quite a turn the first time I saw him.  He waits across the road from steps that lead up from my main place of work and he appeared just a short while ago.  He seems friendly enough though.

The Angel’s Share

Last evening I went along to a (fairly) local cinema to see Ken Loach‘s latest film, The Angel’s Share. It’s WONDERFUL! If you get the chance go and see it.  I promise you’re in for an intelligent, life-affirming, warm, funny, hope-filled, movie experience.  The screen play is written by Paul Laverty, who has collaborated with Ken Loach on several films.  This film, likened by some to a modern, more gritty, ‘Whiskey Galore,’ tells the story of Robbie, Rhino, Albert and Mo; four young people thrown together by their respective court- sentenced Community Pay-Back.  Robbie, described  as a ‘wee thug’ is a young man whose life has been marked by poverty and deprivation.  We learn from his court advocate that Robbie has already served time for committing a violent assault, but that in the ten months since his release he has endeavoured to change his behaviour and that he now has a long-term partner, Leonie who is about to give birth to their first child.  His recent relapse, which has brought him back to court is part of  a life-time’s feud with a neighbouring family.  The judge decides to give Robbie another chance and so, instead of the five years’ incarceration he may have expected, Robbie gets 300 hours Community Payback.  Robbie vows to be the best Dad and partner he can be – but it seems that circumstances  decree that once a ‘wee thug’ all you can ever be is a’wee thug.’  The film then charts Robbie, (and his companions’), as he sets out to seek the Holy Grail of a real job and a new life, in which he can become the man he seeks to be.  The trailer to the film tells us, ‘to make a change, you need a chance,’ and through the film we see the changes and chances offered on the way.  There is Harry, an angel in human form who offers Robbie friendship and the chance to believe that things can be different.  It is Harry too, who introduces Robbie to whiskey and the craft involved in making it, that provides him with the catalyst to a new life.  Later on we, briefly, meet Grace who offers Robbie and Leonie her home for six months, (while she’s away in London), a chance to move from their own neighbourhood – described by Leonie’s Dad as, “no place to bring up a ******* wain.”  (Yup, the language is very, very earthy).  When they ask her why she’s being so generous Grace replies, “Someone once gave me a chance, and it changed my life.”  In the event, Robbie doesn’t get to take up her offer because the rival gang he’s had so much trouble with have followed him there.  It seems that even when offered a chance, he won’t be allowed to take it.

Robbie, despite everything still hopes.  He has seen in some of the people around him that there may still be another way.  Harry’s interest whiskey tasting has awakened Robbie’s senses of smell and taste and he finds that he is a ‘natural’ when it comes to discerning whiskey.  This newly found talent becomes the way to make the biggest change of all.  I’m not going to give any more of the plot away – because really you need to go and see for yourself – it’ll be worth it.  I will tell you though, that the ‘Angel’s Share’ is the term used in whiskey making, that is used to describe the 2% of whiskey that evaporates each year in the cask, as the whiskey ages.

In many ways this film could have turned out to be acutely depressing.  It is a mark of the Laverty/Loach collaboration that is actually life-affirming and funny. Much of it seems more like documentary than fiction – something Ken Loach is known for.  Set in Glasgow, it doesn’t try to hide the fact that there are few jobs; violence is a way of life for many and youngsters left with little or no hope turn readily to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.  However, the stereotypes are brushed aside and Paul Laverty’s young people are given much more rounded and complicated treatment.  For one thing, they’re often funny.  Albert, in particular, is hilarious.  His drunken antics at the edge of a railway platform in the opening scene had the cinema laughing out loud! Added to that the characters show vulnerability, compassion and love and together, a great camaraderie. For me, the major theme in this film is redemption, the chance of a new life, like a slave whose freedom has been purchased.  Last Sunday I was talking to a group of people about this theme, which is one of the central tenets of Christianity.  Jesus Christ, acting as our kinsman, pays the price and allows us to be taken out of the market place to be free men and women – no longer enslaved to the powers of this world which would have us believe that we can never be more than a ‘wee thug.’  I don’t know if Laverty or Loach are people of faith, (if not, I’m genuinely surprised),   but another strong theme is the one of love that plays all the way through.  It’s Robbie’s love for Leonie and his little son, Luke that spur him on to become more than he thought he would be; and it’s the love he finds in Harry and the gang that support him as he continues to strive for his goal.

The hard truth is though, even as I relish in this delight of a film, today there will be young men and women living Robbie’s life in Glasgow and all over the world, who will never have the chance to make the changes Robbie does.  Robbie is played by Paul Brannigan, a young man whose own life shares many similarities with Robbie’s.  He, too, decided to seek a better life for himself when he became father to his son, Leon. He is, though, every bit as exceptional as the character he plays on screen.  I think of some of the young people I know who live on a housing estate with few services and fewer resources.  Why do we allow this separation amongst people?  Why do some have more than enough, whilst others have so little?  Why do some young people enjoy loving homes, a good education, nutritious food whilst others are faced with violence, poor standards of schooling and a diet of cheap take away food?  Why do we accept that this is the way it has to be?

This film is a challenge to all who believe that EVERY human life is important and that EVERYONE deserves a chance.  ‘Nuff said – Amen!