Category Archives: joy

Happy New Ephphany!

When I lived in England I did not understand the New Year at all. As a ex-pat Scot who was reared in England and now lives in Scotland I am still not sure I wholly get it. Maybe the version I have is all my own, but as it is precious to me, I cling to it.

It falls in what is the (liturgical) Christmas season, yet it has a very different atmosphere. Christmas (to me) is pure magic. Not the kind which works against the world, but the kind which works with it. The magic deep down the fibres of life. The kind which makes you draw a breath of wonder at each tiny baby, and stare with astonishment at the beauty of a new born gripping a finger. Not because it cannot be explained, but because the explanation takes you to deep quiet places. Its best services are full of silence and and quiet embraces.

Christmas is arrived at after frantic hard work, and in a state of tiredness, an an increasing sense that there is no tie at all, and yet comes to a moment of utter stillness. A moment to enfold your beloved ones.

The New Year is about another kind of silence. The time to reflect on what is lost and why some of it is well lost. A time to look to plans and hopes with a heart which suddenly thinks that there is a whole year to get there, and time to rejoice and dawdle on the way.

We do rejoice and dawdle. We catch up with old friends. We even make new ones. Our plans are extravagant, all-embracing. New Year spills out past Christmas and into Epiphany, when we are able at last to party for the new born and show him off to everybody. The Scots are still wishing people a happy new year well into January, and the church by then is remembering just how that baby set aobut transforming the world.

And we need the hope and the resolutions, even if we only half believe in either, for they hurl us forward into our own new efforts at transformations. Happy New Year, everybody. Believe you can change your own lives and the lives around you. You need all the faith you can muster for the New Year.


Joy, real simply joy

The small boy, the tiny boy, set off across the grass towards the duckpond, and I lumbered after him, retrieving him before he hurtled into the icy water. Scotland was not warm this Easter Monday. ‘Small children have such joy,’ I remarked to my companion. ‘Before life knocks it out of them’ she rejoined a little gloomily.

And suddenly I knew the answer – not to the Universe, which I already knew to be 42. Rather to the question posed earlier. The question of why I gave up good sleep on Easter Sunday, and appeared somewhat dozy at lunch when I could just have had a leisurely breakfast and really enjoyed the day.

There is not one simple answer to be given, but try this for size. I went to that place, a place some 22 miles from where I live, at that time, seven am,  and after feeding my livestock, and walking the dog, and on the morning the clocks changed, I went there because I knew that there I would find adults showing every sign of just that same joy in being. That is a very precious thing.

Writer’s block

I am not very sympathetic to the idea of emotions playing a part in writing.  I never had a muse, I never waited for inspiration. In writing, my hero was Anthony Trollope who rose early and wrote every morning before work whether he wanted to or not.  Then he went off and put in a full day at the Post Office and invented the postbox and whatnot.  He was somewhat helped by the fact that the Post Office started at ten am and he was often late for work, but there you go.

But this summer, everything I wrote turned to led in my hands.  Even stories.  Oh I could re-tell stories I had written earlier, but nothing creative would come, and a blessed nuisance it was, and made all the worse, because I had many requests to write small articles to publicise my recently-published book.  Each and every one of these turned to sawdust on my keyboard.  I knew it and could not change it. Oh I could do the work to the deadline all  right,  but I just could not make the article readable.

It was the same last weekend.  I was working on a talk on Bute’s later buildings,  and there was as much life in it as in a cardboard stew.  Then, yesterday, I began revising it and while it did not suddenly become delicious, I started to get the glimmerings of flavour.  Yesterday evening I wrote in a short time frame, the first piece which had any  life in it that I have written in months.  The relief was overwhelming. I am hopeful I am once again able to face writing in the evenings when tired and in the mornings when short of time
Gentle reader, this blog is back.

Because he died

Gentle reader, you are due a non-religious post. Not a hope.

This is Good Friday, and the Christian world is racked with pain. Read it here and here.

Anything I can add will be very poor, but I still feel impelled to try. I have been trying to explain to incredulous customers why I (as one of them put it) ‘bounce up and down the motorway’ and increasingly unseasonal times – last night home at 1am and on Sunday, starting at 6.30 am having previously fed lambs and walked dogs. Why do this to sit in church often hungry and thirsty, sometimes in tears, usually tired, when I could be having a jolly holiday?

Because life is deeper than that. More mysterious. Because some day I will sit and know I will be leaving my family and leaving it to go alone to death. Because I have sat with myself enough to know the terrible depths which lurk in the nice old lady. Because I live in a world where children die from lack of food. Because I have more than some people I know, and far less than others. Because pretending I never damage the environment, or hurt others, is a hollow lie. Because I believe God is everywhere, and suffers with every single sufferer and rejoices in every act of love. Because to find a faith which can encompass the depths of sorrow and the heights of joy, I have to make time to sit and think, to experience, to kneel, to ache, to struggle with sleep, to have the tiredness headache, to kiss inanimate objects because of what lies behind them, to read blog posts and cry in a cafe, to lose jolliness.

Because it is only after that lot I can actually get out there and function a good nearer the me I can be at best. Or cope with the ordinary miseries of life. It is not because Jesus rose on Easter Day that I can face death, especially the deaths of those I love. It is because he died on Good Friday.


Last night I had at least one barn owl back. Joy so great I dare not really believe I have a pair or that they will be there tonight – but I think I do, and I really hope they will be.

I went outside as usual about 8pm and I heard it. A long rhythmic wheeze. It is a version the typical food-begging cry of a young bird. It is the cry a female barn owl gives so that her mate will come and feed her: a pair-bonding thing which also improves her bodily condition so she can breed successfully. it was coming from the barn-owl breeding box. it stopped when the beam of my head-light hit the box, and started as I tactfully looked away.

I was overcome with joy, and rushed straight into the house, where I walked straight into the newly painted cupboard. I then got the paint off myself and back onto the cupboard, and went to feed the ponies – still with my mind wholly on the barn owl, so the little mare took full advantage and went into the yard (forbidden territory) and took some persuading to come back in. Sometime later I realised that I had also left the pony feed for today to soak with the tap running full, and by that time I had a sizeable flood and feed flotsam and jetsam.

But who cares?It looks as,it looks very much as if, the barn owls have arrived.

The first night of spring

And how, you ask, do I know? Is it beautifully sunny weather? Or are the skies full of butterflies? Do I now return from a ride dry and with warm toes? No.

Nor, except by logical extension, am I at all sure I have had the first day of spring. But the first night – yes.

Last night, as soon as I set foot out of doors I heard them. A low sound like a rubber engine, if you can imagine such a thing. Or a chain-saw made wholly of silicone, running on stand-by. It had not been there the night before, or the night before that. I am always about at night, and up to now there has been dead silence.

The pond was full of it -both water troughs were full of it. It echoed out of the bog, quite literally left, right and centre. The frogs are back. They have woken up, and they want company – they want sex.

And so the spring kicks off – and I rejoice.

Fit for a King

So as I drove home, the clouds were casting rose-petals in front of the setting sun, a red-gold monstrance in the sky. It had been an evening of grace in all – the Provost’s exceptionally well-chosen, and heartfelt words, the music (glorious even to one with cloth ears like mine) and the procession. Watching the flower petals fall, I was astonished that we had mustered so many, and that any flower remained unsnatched in Glasgow. And the Vice-Provost’s ever-refilled bowl, and the beauty of the petals falling, and the joy of shared worship, and the sense of Jesus’s presence. As so often, it comes to me as much it knowing the Sacrament is THERE as it does in taking and eating. And this evening above all others is a chance to glory just in His very presence. And the wave of bowing and kneeling as He passed – and even the hoovering up afterwards, and the laughter of those who share the joke the very essence of which is the mixture of the mundane and the sacred. Oh yes, it was a holy glorious evening. And when I got home, there was no anti-climax.

For the male barn owl was taking a short break form the hunting, hunting for the hoarse, demanding babies, and he posed for me. (He is much the bolder of the two) And here he is, with and without flash. But I fear in just the same pose. Even evenings belonging wholly to the one King have their limitations on this earth.

The 4pm headache

It was 4pm and I did not have a headache. And it was because I had finally realised that it was not a good idea to always have a headache by 4pm that this particular 4pm I was walking over the most glorious open moorland, with Max struggling to keep his excited bounding to my heel (but perhaps my knee would do, or my advancing foot, or perhaps it was OK to be a dog’s length ahead. Oh, no, OK back to heel again!) and Bridget was bounding along tail up and nose swivelling to investigate various small things which were easily intimidated, and tracks left by larger things, which might not have been.

I took Saturday and most of Sunday off (I had to go and retrieve the railway sleepers for the bottom of my second hand greenhouse, which is not a restful activity). Not ‘off’ in my usual sense. Not ‘doing things which need to be done with one eye on the clock, but picking nicer things than usual to pack hurriedly into a day’ but off as in ‘not doing anything that I had any disinclination to do, and feeling totally free to do nothing useful at all.’

I’ve not done much of that this summer – just the odd day with friends or family. It used to be a regular thing, and when it ceased to be, it was often replaced by writing, which is something so nice that I did not miss real leisure so much. And now writing has stopped, I think I will need to schedule some Sabbath back into my life, so that some days, anyhow, do not have a headache by 4pm.

… they will mount up with eagles’ wings

It strikes me that competent people, skilful, able people, have certain things in common. In private life they may be a mass of insecurities. They may get rattled, and call the cat a furry pest, and shriek at the sight of a large spider, and agonise over the tops of their thighs, but get them into their own sphere, and that falls away. They become calm, confident. They have a certain authority which rubs off on others and gives them a genuine liberty. In that sphere, and often there alone, they rise up like soaring eagles, and others are drawn along in the slip-stream to explore their own individuality.

And it can be any sphere. The surgeon, the artist, the priest at the altar. One sees it at once, or rather, those who know anything about the area in question see it. There will, of course, be those who are blinded to art, and do not recognise excellence, because it comes from a potter and not a performance artist, or those totally deaf to the rhythms of liturgy, or…

But if one cultivates a certain sensitivity, it appears. And the encouragement of excellence in others – not sloppy anything-goes-ness, which true excellence can rarely tolerate, but high-achieving individuality -is a very good prognostication of its presence. Hence, it was with rising hope that today I realised that the hairdressers in the salon all sported very different hair styles, and dress styles. That I realised my stylist, after an initial consultation, and then an exasperated: ‘There are about four different hair styles in here fighting to get out!’ was working in silence and concentration.

At last, I have something at least resembling a hair style, though apparently the cutting into my fringe will simple have to grow out and will take time. I even paid the absurd bill with a grateful smile.


About two thirds of the way during the massive cleanathon that is Thursday, I realised I was Not Wholly Well. I hate this. I hate being under the weather. However I was, and any kind of Ascension Day service was not going to happen. I pondered the best way to get safely home and in the end went for setting off at once, instead of a cuppa with a friend. I got back for a perfect Thursday evening. I inspected the sheep, for Polly too has been Not Wholly Well, though she seems well again now, and the ponies, who are in the now-regrown winter paddock, giving the spring section of the Big Field a rest (and a chance for IT to re-group). Then I walked the dogs, put the poultry behind bars for the night, and collapsed in my chair to watch a comedy movie, and eat my favourite roast veggies.

I have an ideal of Thursday evening – a complete rest from all activity, the kind of Sabbath that the Sabbath (and its adjacent Sunday) never give me. When I arrive at this ideal, when there really is neither anything much needing done urgently, not yet anything I can do, it is a kind of bliss. Mere physical unwellness of the minor kind (lassitude, slight dizziness, malaise) does not touch my joy in these occasions. Strange that being ill actually helps certain kinds of intense pleasure.