Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Road and the Miles to Dundee

So, there I was, walking past the bus station in St Andrews on my way to the bank, when a young lady tourist asked me if I knew where the bus to Dundee went from. I did, and I showed her, and she thanked me with a dazzling smile. Improved my outlook on life no end.

Cold winter was howlin' o'er moorland and mountain
And wild was the surge of the dark rolling sea
When I met about daybreak a bonnie young lassie
Who asked me the road and the miles to Dundee.

Says I, "My young lassie, I canna weel tell ye,
The road and the distance I canna weel gie,
But if you'll permit me to gang a wee bittie,
I'll show you the road and the miles to Dundee."

The lassie consented and gie me her airm
Not a word did I speir wha the lassie micht be
She appeared like an angel in feature and form
As she walked by my side on the road to Dundee.

At length wi' the howe o' Strathmartine behind us
The spires o' the toon in full view we could see,
She said, "Gentle sir, I can never forget ye
For showin' me so far on the road to Dundee.

This ring and this purse please accept as a token
And surely there's somethin' that ye can gi'e me,
That in years to come I'll the laddie remember
Who showed me the road and the miles to Dundee?"

I took the gold pin frae the scarf on my bosom,
And said, "Tak' ye this, in remembrance o' me",
And bravely I kissed the sweet lips o' the lassie
And I pairted frae her on the road to Dundee.

So here's tae the lassie; I canna forget her,
And ilka young laddie wha's listenin' to me,
O never be sweir to convey a young lassie,
Though it's only to show her the road to Dundee.

Mony A Mickle Maks A Muckle

Ever since I posted about the joys of Spring, the weather's been a swine - cold, windy, rain, snow.

The phone company has had a mix up and disconnected the phone here a month before they should have done. I've spent a long frustrating time on the phone trying to get them to take ownership of their mistake and sort it. Meanwhile, I'm still unable to make or receive calls.

I lost my broadband connection for a day as well, although that has now mysteriously re-appeared.

I've got some stupid stomach bug that's making me grumpy.

My head aches.

Thank goodness the news is all still good on the new house front - I've had enough.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Both Sides the Tweed

Here's Mary Black with her gorgeous version of Dick Gaughan's setting of "Both Sides the Tweed". It's a lovely song with a superb sentiment. Beneath, I've put the words and Dick Gaughan's notes about the song, because a bit of context helps.

What's the spring-breathing jasmine and rose ?
What's the summer with all its gay train
Or the splendour of autumn to those
Who've bartered their freedom for gain?

Let the love of our land's sacred rights
To the love of our people succeed
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

No sweetness the senses can cheer
Which corruption and bribery bind
No brightness that gloom can e'er clear
For honour's the sum of the mind

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free

Song Notes - by Dick Gaughan

This was put into this form in 1979 shortly after the Scots returned a majority in favour of a separate Scottish Parliament but the vote was vetoed in the UK Parliament due to the inclusion of the notorious "40% of all eligible votes" clause which had the effect of counting votes not cast as being votes against. There is now good evidence to suggest that the architect of this piece of electoral sleight-of-hand may have been Robin Cook.

The verses call for the recognition of Scotland's right to sovereignty and the choruses argue against prejudice between our peoples. The Tweed is the river which forms part of the Scots-English border and is used here as a symbol of both the need for independence and the need for friendship and co-existance.

The original text was an attack upon the Treaty of Union of 1707 which abolished the independent Scots and English Parliaments and set up the United Kingdom. I made some minor amendments to give it contemporary relevance.

The tune has been the subject of some speculation and argument. So far as I am aware, I actually composed it and am highly flattered by the presumption that it is traditional, with people claiming to have known it for several decades, if not centuries.

There are also people who claim that they heard their grandparents sing Ewan MacColl's, "Shoals of Herring" in the 30s. My mother had never heard of MacColl but used to sing his "Manchester Rambler" which she'd learned from a Lancashire woman in the army during WW2 and always assumed it was an old song from that area. Hamish Henderson once collected a variant of his own "Gillie Mor" from the Borders singer Willie Scott who was quite surprised to learn it was not an old song. And there are those who swear that Eric Bogle's "No Man's Land" is a traditional Irish song called "The Green Fields of France".

For one writing songs in a "traditional" genre, this is the highest compliment imaginable. Like all tunes composed within any aesthetic, it is inevitable that it has similarities to and contains phrases and quotes from earlier tunes. However, if someone can provide a printed or recorded source to prove the existence of this tune prior to 1979 then I'd be delighted to acknowledge that I unconsciously used a traditional tune.

More Transatlantic Sessions - Roseanne Cash

The honourary Fifer playing in Scotland:

In a spin

My head's going like a cement mixer today. I'm just back from the new house, and I'm planning this that and the next thing. Where are the hens going, how do I best use my veg plot, can I get a polytunnel, and what size. I need to build a beehive. I need to get a chainsaw and a trestle for firewood cutting. All great fun - there will be much drawing of plans, scrounging of wooden pallets to recycle into beehives and raised vegetable bed edging, cadging of bulk bags and chipped wood for path making, studying of seed catalogues, setting up of incubator for chick hatching, and all sorts of other fun stuff, all that can be done at a leisurely pace. Low cost, low impact, low input are the guiding principles, though I'll need to make a few investments early on when I get my pension lump sum.

One of these to tow one of those is on the list, for wood-collecting and daily transport for me. I've one of these in mind as well. I'm going to need this and that as well

My veg patch has 13 metres of South facing wall - I could probably grow figs, peaches and apricots against that, even this far North!

I'm enjoying this!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Spring in the North

We are past the Spring Equinox, and last night the clocks went forward an hour. This is a big deal this far North. I'm at 56 deg 17 mins North here, so to US readers, whose country borders Canada at 48 deg North, it's clear I'm a lot further North than any of you.

So, suddenly it's still daylight at 8 PM, and the days are lengthening noticeably now. In June, it will still be light until nearly 11 PM. We pay back for this in the winter, when it is dark late into the mornings and early in the afternoon. The cabin fever can hit hard, and it's not a good time to have ME. But now everything is great and getting better. I love this time of year, as the sun climbs higher in the sky every day. The effect is even better tonight, with a big bright full moon lighting up proceedings.

The hens like it too, suddenly I'm being deluged with eggs!

New abode

Lot of pics here.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

I just had this sent to me! Love it!

Did I mention it's my birthday tomorrow? Honestly, I don't want any fuss.

On dealing with problems.

"If your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the threat to it, let it concern only the house. If there's a flood, don't let it flood your mind. If there's a fire, don't let it burn your heart. Let it be merely the house, that which is outside of you, that is flooded or burned. Now is the time to allow the mind to let go of attachments." Venerable Ajahn Chah.

Friday, 26 March 2010

There must be some kinda way outta here...

I have always loved Jimi Hendrix's music. I was 15 when he first exploded into the world of blues and rock. I've been listening to him for 40 years, and everything he ever recorded is still a delight to listen to. His sheer artistry still takes my breath away.

This song sums up exactly how I felt as we waited to sell our house and move, and the exultant guitar licks sum exactly how I feel now the end is in sight. Dylan wrote it - Hendrix gave it super powers. Thanks, Jimi.

Synonym bypass

I don't have great pretensions as a writer. At work, I wrote "Social Enquiry Reports" on offenders and their situations to the Courts. It was usually serious stuff, and attention to detail was important. It was good to write with a certain style, simply to put a point across well and memorably. Judges are deluged with paperwork, so it's important to write with some flair, just to make sure your points are noted.

Nowadays, I find it's all gone to hell in a handbasket. I find myself repeating words and phrases as I write, and I'm always going back to edit out too many uses of the same word or phrase. I really admire those of you who have produced saleable written work whilst afflicted by this bloody illness. I'm sure you all have as many dry-ups and mental blocks as I do, along with moments of profound stupidity when nothing on the screen actually makes sense for a while. Go ME writers, I salute you. Now, where was I?

The Transatlantic Sessions

The BBC in Scotland made an amazing series of programmes in the 1990s, in which musicians from both sides of the Atlantic collaborated to make some memorable music. From the US came such iconic names as Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffiths and Kathy Mattea. The McGarrigal clan from Canada features, and great Scottish singers such as Karen Matheson of Capercaillie. The series produced some wonderful music, and I'm going to put up bits of it as I find it.

Leonard Cohen

Over at Chris's blog, he's been asking for song titles that are appropriate for PWMEs. This "song" sprang to mind, although of course it's originally a poem by Byron. So here it is in a category of its own:

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Election Time

For the benefit of non-UK readers, I'll start by explaining that the UK Parliament does not have fixed election dates. The date is chosen by the Prime Minister of the day, who will of course always choose a date that favours his or her party. You might think that this is profoundly undemocratic, but I couldn't possibly comment on that.

There can be up to a five year interval between elections, and one is due before 3 June 2010. There appears to be a consensus that 6 May 2010 is the favourite date. I am aware that this makes no sense, but it's one of those British things that happens because "its tradition"

Anyway, we are soon to be granted the opportunity to choose a new Government.Whilst that feels a little like being offered the choice between being robbed or burgled, we do get a say for once.

Any road up, as we say in Yorkshire, I found a couple of web-sites for Parliamentary ME groups, and I pass them along for what they are worth.

The Holyrood lot are here

The Westminster version for those beyond the Tweed is here

Some handy info, and a steer on who to write furious letters to! I hope someone finds it useful.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Happiness Award

Chris Mooney, that fine Scottish gentleman, has nominated me for a Happiness award, and I thank him for it! There are duties attached to the award, as follows:

The rules:
- When you have received this award you must thank the person that awarded you this in the new post.

- Name 10 things that make you happy.

- Pass this award onto other bloggers
and inform the winners.

So, thanks again Chris.

My ten happy things:

1. Family. I'm lucky to be part of a family that all get on, all live with 20 miles of each other, and who keep in touch. I gain a lot of strength and happiness from them all.

2. Friends. Again, I've a good circle of close friends. My regular Wednesday night chat in the pub with friends and neighbours is a highlight of my week.

3. Country life. I'm out in the boondocks and wouldn't have it any other way. I live in a lovely part of the world, and I appreciate that every day.

4. I'm at that funny age when all my children are grown but I'm not a grand-dad yet. I tend to find myself practicing grand-dad stuff on other people's young children. So, I will nominate Robyn, my next-door neighbour who is five, and who keeps me right in looking after my chickens.

5. Being from Yorkshire, living in Scotland. Best of both worlds really.

6. The peace I've found since studying Buddhism.

7. Music - all of it. Couldn't live without it.

8. The happy recent feeling of getting my life back after a pretty horrendous couple of years. I'm starting to feel like a proper retired person at last, and I'm going to enjoy it.

9. Looking after my birds. When I get it right they look good and reward me with eggs. I like the symbiosis between keeper and kept. The responsibilities and obligations are good for me.

10. This ME cyber-community. I'm very glad I found it, and I take a lot of strength from it.

My nominee for a Happiness Award is (drum roll - cymbal crash):

Nasim Marie Jafry of the velo-gubbed legs. Nasim's wonderful book was one of the first things I read after my diagnosis, and I found it a great help in realising that all sorts of people living all sorts of lives were going through the same thing as I was. I was charmed and entertained by the book. Thank you, Nasim!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Employment and Support Allowance

I found this article online today. It's good to see that the Citizen's Advice Bureau has identified the problems that I, and I imagine several others here, have encountered with the process of Work Capability Assessments.

The Government need to acknowledge that they got this one wrong. A lot of public money was wasted in my case, when I was initially denied ESA by the Benefits Agency, and then had the decision reversed by a tribunal. I had nine months of unnecessary anxiety, and the public paid for the tribunal that finally corrected the injustice.

Incidentally, whilst the UK government continues to display its characteristic ineptitude over ESA, I can report a more positive attitude from the Scottish Government. I recently replied a lengthy, thoughtful and encouraging reply to a series of questions I posed to the Scottish Health Secretary - Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and I will put up a transcript when time, energy and inclination permit.

On our way!

Daughter's boyfriend has just dropped off a heap of large cardboard boxes the Royal Air Force no longer require, so we can start to pack the countless millions of small items in our house. Where did all this stuff come from? A de-clutter is called for.

Meanwhile, I've started to pot up bit of things from the garden that are coming with us.

Suddenly, the move is upon us - I wonder how I'll pace my way through this lot?

Monday, 22 March 2010

Ain't it funny how time slips away?

So, it's 20 past midnight, and I've been trying to get to sleep for the last three hours, 'cos I'm knackered. But, sleep won't come. So, it seems I'll have to be busy for a while to see if that does the trick. I already know tomorrow will be horrible as a result of a mucked up sleep pattern - I'll probably never really wake up all day. Ain't life grand?


Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Black Watch

Fife's local regiment of the British Army is The Black Watch. It's a famous name, and the regiment has a list of battle honours second to none. It was the last unit to leave Hong Kong when it became part of China, and has served extensively since. They have recently returned from Afghanistan, and several of its members have been honoured, as reported here.

Fife could have no better ambassadors than these brave men and women, and we grieve for their losses.

Susanneke and I have an old friend currently serving as a QARANC nurse in the Territorial Unit currently staffing the busy military hospital at Camp Bastion. Her letters describe a situation almost unimaginable to those of us secure in Scotland. God speed, Sue, come home safe.

Britain's National Health Service

I've been reading quite a lot of US - based blogs recently, and the debate about the US plans for what seems to be a very watered down version of NHS is a very lively topic at present.

As a Briton, I am of course utterly dumbfounded by this. Some US commentators seem to think that the NHS is some sort of awful warning to Americans.

(Re-reading this, I realise that I might be coming across as trying to prescribe to Americans what they should be doing. That's not my wish - I just wanted to make the point that the NHS actually made proper health care available to Britons of low to average incomes for the first time, and has become a central part of the UK cultural landscape. I just rather objected to the system being misrepresented as a bad thing in someone else's argument - as here and here. My life expectancy as a UK citizen is rather greater than that of a US citizen. Much of this is due to the UK's much lower infant mortality rate - 4.8 per 1000 births, compared to the US 6.3 per 1000 births)

The NHS is the sole reason I am here to post today. 16 years ago, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and within 24 hours had been admitted to hospital, given 9 pints of blood to replace all that I had lost through the perforation in my gut caused by the cancer, to get me fit to operate on, and then had my hemi-colectomy performed. I developed a pulmonary embolism as i recovered, and that was also quickly and efficiently dealt with. So, the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy saved my life twice in a week and I remain eternally grateful to them.

Now, as a diabetic, I receive all my prescription drugs free of charge, along with regular checks both of my diabetes, and for any re-occurrence of the cancer. As I am unfit for work, the government pays my National Insurance contributions so I remain eligible for this help.

We are about to have an election in the UK, but it is a given that all political parties will declare total support for the NHS, which is probably the most popular government institution in Britain.

It's a shame that nowadays we don't have politicians of the zeal and character of the people who created the NHS out of the post-war wreckage of the late 1940s. Something to hope for when we all make our choice, presumably in May.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A New Chapter

Well, unbelievably, it seems that the wait is over - we've sold our house! It's for a lot less than its pre-credit crunch value, but it's great to have the liability of a mortgage I don't have the income to service gone. It feels like a tonne weight off my back.

Happily, we are all signed up for our new home , a rented cottage on a small sporting estate only 6 miles away. There is plenty of space for vegetable growing, chicken keeping and lots of other little plans that have been on hold for a while - everything from making mosaics through keeping bees to soap making.

I'm looking forward to a summer of pottering about and making a start at:

building a top bar bee hive

starting a "no dig" vegetable and fruit garden

putting up a polytunnel

trying to build in as many Permaculture practices as possible into my life

Breeding my favourite Croad Langshan poultry

Maybe even keep a few Abacot Ranger ducks

being able to do all this in a settled and meditative way, no pressure, no deadlines, but just pride in doing it all as well as possible.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Fisherman's Blues

OK, one of my favourites to bring this musical interlude to an end:

May You Never

The other favourite from the funeral. John Martyn himself was a recent tragic loss. A song full of wonderful sentiments from a larger than life Scottish musician.

May you never lay your head down without a hand to hold.
May you never make your bed out in the cold.
May you never lose your temper if you get hit in a barroom fight.
May you never lose your woman overnight.

Well, you're just like a great, strong sister to me,
And I know that your love is true,
And you hold no blade for to stab me in my back;
I know that there's some that do.

So please, won't you please, won't you bear it in mind:
Love is a lesson to learn in our time.
Please, won't you please, bear it in mind for me.

Well, you're just like a great, strong brother to me,
And I know that your love is true,
And you never talk dirty behind my back;
I know that there's some that do.

May you never lose your woman overnight.
May you never lose your woman overnight.

Boulder to Birmingham

A favourite of my late colleague, played at her funeral

I don't want to hear a love song
I got on this airplane just to fly
And I know there's life below
But all that it can show me
Is the prairie and the sky

And I don't want to hear a sad story
Full of heartbreak and desire
The last time I felt like this
It was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire
And I stood on the mountain in the night and I watched it burn
I watched it burn, I watched it burn.

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

Well you really got me this time
And the hardest part is knowing I'll survive.
I have come to listen for the sound
Of the trucks as they move down
Out on ninety five
And pretend that it's the ocean
coming down to wash me clean, to wash me clean
Baby do you know what I mean

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

Musings after a Funeral

I went to the funeral of my friend and colleague on Wednesday. She was a well-thought-of person with a huge circle of friends, colleagues and neighbours, and the hall where the humanist service was held was packed.

As ever at funerals, mood and emotions leap about. Sorrow at the occasion is replaced for a moment with pleasure as someone you haven't seen in ages appears. Reminiscences mingle with talk of future plans. Overall, there is a sense of disbelief that someone so vital, and younger than yourself has passed away. A life well lived, but too soon ended.

We were exhorted by the celebrant to use the example and use the life left to us all to the best effect we could. That was a good message to take away from a bright afternoon by the sea, where the sun was warm on our backs, and where the new Spring was gathering pace all around us as we stood around the grave.

The last funerals I attended were in the Netherlands. There, it is the way to offer hopes of "strength" to to the bereaved. I think that is a wonderfully practical hope to offer, it acknowledges the hurt of loss, and offers hope of recovery in a neat package. That was the sentiment I expressed to the family. Then I stepped back into the bustle of life continuing in the little port of Anstruther, walking back to my car under a blue sky full of wheeling gulls.

Friday, 12 March 2010

You Never Know...

I had a phone call from an ex-colleague, now retired. He had some sad news - a colleague, younger than us both, has suddenly died.

Whilst I was plodding along as a Social Worker, she was ascending the promotion and responsibility ladder, and reached some dizzy heights. She was, however, an out and out workaholic, with a very tight focus. Goes to show, with ME and all, maybe I'm the lucky one. There are points to ponder, wherever you look. She had her vision, I have mine. Mr Yeats states my position better than I could:


By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Life in Fife

The biggest part of ME self-help, in my humble opinion, is mood maintenance. You have to look after your head. Depression, apathy, cynicism and a load of other nasties are out there to trap the unwary. A good environment is part of the process. When I'm counting my blessings, the fact that I live in rural Fife is well up the list. I'm surrounded by beauty, peace and quiet. The idea of enduring ME in an urban setting appals me. The bustle, the vehicle fumes, the noise, the absence of sky and the grey, closed-in look of a city would destroy any inner balance I might have found.

I live in an area with that special ight you find in proximity to the sea. I have green nearby hills, and distant snow covered mountains in view. At night, I can see The Milky Way, and sometimes the Northern Lights in the absence of light pollution. Each season brings its own special features. Just now, it's snowdrops wild in the woods, chevrons of geese overhead, soaring buzzards. My hens are coming back into lay after a cold snap, and I've been able to go out without my jacket zipped up for the last two days on the trot now.

Fife's good. This was a view famously held by one of my heroes, Johnny Cash. Many years ago, he found himself on a long flight sitting next to the hereditary Keeper of Falkland Palace in Fife. He learnt that "Cash" was a Fife name, still evident in the names of farms and roads in and around Falkland. He further learnt that the Cash family was descended from King Malcolm of Scotland. As a result, members of the Cash family are regular visitors to Falkland. I think that's a nice story, it always reminds me of this song, a great reflection on family life and loss.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

ME - A Sabbatarian Approach?

I read this article today, and it made me think. Although not aimed at people with ME, it describes an approach to life that would help us all. Read it and see what you think.

Coping Strategies

I've been reading a blog by someone with a brand-new diagnosis of ME. His struggle to understand what is happening to him, and the strategies he is adopting to cope with it all got me thinking about my attitude to my illness.

I don't have the energy to waste on unproductive emotion, so rage and anger are not options.I have a history of depression, though, so it is important that I keep myself motivated and optimistic. I am only patchily successful in this, maintaining a good attitude remains a work in progress. My study of Buddhist thought is a great help in this goal.

Like alcoholism, ME is a big problem best dealt with a day at a time, and Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer, as adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, is a highly apposite one for people with ME:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I don't dream of mountains climbed or mile cycled any more, much as I mourn my cycling. My hope now lies in the little patch of land behind the cottage we are moving to next month. Vegetables will be grown, a polytunnel erected. Poultry will be bred. I'll try bee-keeping. I hope to make myself generally self sufficient, living in peace and quiet in the country. I'll adopt as many Permaculture principals as I can and look at low input methods to make my personal energy go as far as possible.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010