East Van – This is not Edinburgh

This was our first full day in Vancouver. It’s nice to be back again. This afternoon we had a walk to the coffee shop on East Hastings, the Laughing Bean. It’s a busy street but pedestrians are well catered for with a crossing system that makes it easy even for old folks to cross.

I was reminded of the Canadian approach to saving the planet. Diesel buses are replaced by electric buses; trolley buses as we knew them.
No need to dig up then street. Only string the cables and we are off. This is a much simpler and cheaper solution. Edinburgh, are you listening?

Arrived in Canada

Well, we had a great flight to Canada. We had a short stop in Calgary. Most of the passengers got off there. There was a slight problem when the crew counted more passengers than were on the manifest. Who the extra person was might never be revealed but we flew on anyway.

Sean and Lisa picked us up at the airport with Fionn. We were soon sitting in the new flat. Brilliant!
More later

Vancouver Here We Come

I’m off to Vancouver to visit my son Sean and Lisa and their wee boy Fionn Joseph John. We were there in November 2012 just after he was born and we are really looking forward to catching up with him. Facetime is fine but nothing beats getting a hold of a grandson. This will be an eventful visit so expect a chain of posts here.

The Blockade Runner and the Independence Vote



I was recently watching this BBC Scotland program hosted by David Hayman. The episode I had recorded was ‘The Robert E Lee’. This episode centres on the Clyde built paddle steamer Giraffe which was sold to the Confederacy and renamed the Robert E Lee and became one of the fastest blockade runners of the war.



The Clydebuilt Blockade Runner

I found this particularly interesting because I had just completed a course on the American Civil War at Strathclyde University, delivered by Robert Lynch. In the course I had learned about the importance of cotton to the Confederate states. Cotton provided the link with Scotland and soon some of my fellow students unearthed links between Glasgow and the Confederacy. These included evidence of Jefferson Davis having visited Glasgow to stay with some industrialists and collaborators after his release from prison. This is expanded on in the programme which also shows evidence of a Confederate spy network working from Bridge of Allan.

This program highlighted the role of Glasgow’s Shipbuilders and the blockade runners. It filled in lots of interesting details of the activities of the blockade runners and the Scots who made fortunes from the war.

It gives us a fresh look at the role Scotland played in supporting the slave owning Confederacy and is particularly interesting at this time. Scotland is about to go to the polls to vote on independence. The Yes camp has made much of the UK’s imperial past and their desire to dissociate Scotland from it. Is this moral stance justified?

Taking this closer look at Scotland’s history of support for a slave system and the fortunes made in extending the slaughter of the Civil War should encourage us to examine the myth of our historical innocence.

I believe it is important for the future of Scotland to expose the truth about ourselves and our past. We are not a people who lived under the yoke of imperialism but we were instrumental in promoting it and made fortunes out of our fellow man.

When we walk into the polling booth this autumn let’s make our decision based on facts and not myth.

Housing Crisis?


Wow! That’s what I call a housing crisis

There has been much said about the current housing crisis in the UK. We are not building enough houses for the people who need a place to live. I know it is difficult to find a decent house and even more difficult to find one at an affordable price. I was amazed to read about the flat in London that sold for £140,000,000 last week. Ah, London, how absurd I thought.

Today as I was returning to the car park in Glasgow I spotted a property for rent. As you can see from the picture it is a little down. It is, in fact, underground. It is a disused gentleman’s urinal and toilet. I had noticed that this public convenience was closed some time ago. I wondered why. Is there a glut of public conveniences in Glasgow? Have they been crowding the betting shops out of the main thoroughfares? Now the place is up to let (although it is down in the ground).

Who is going to rent an old toilet? It is convenient (pardon the pun) for all amenities, shops, stations, churches and pubs.Do we really expect someone to go down and live there? I’ve heard of people living in the gutter but this is lower even than that. No doubt the estate agents will point out the amenities like running water, plumbing and no long stairway to climb up at the end of a long, tiring day. You could literally fall into it.

Perhaps it could be converted into a Bijoux betting shop or theme pub? Where more appropriate for P###ing away your hard earned cash?

The Camino One Year on

Welcome to Roncesvalles

The church at the crest loomed out of the mist

It’s exactly one year ago that I started out from St. Jean pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to walk to Santiago de Compostella. As regular readers of this blog will know, I never made it. This was, however, a day of triumph for me. I set out at seven o’clock in the morning into a rainy, dull morning and headed for the hills. I was unsure about this stretch, I was trying to get over the mountains to Roncesvalles in Spain. I felt this was my last chance to do so. Certainly it was my last chance before reaching the age of 65 and becoming officially ‘OLD’.

It is, at the time of writing, exactly one year ago that I walked across the Spanish border. By this time I had decided that taking the diversions suggested in the guidebook meant that I would be climbing up hills only to come back down again and that was a waste of the little stamina that I posessed. I decided to stick to the road. The Route Napoleon over the top had been closed the day before because of snow. The top was still enveloped in cloud and there was no chance of capturing the magnificent views from there, so I opted out of that route. I later found that I had made the right decision as the route was not fully open and several Pelegrinos had come a cropper on icy slopes.

After a short stop to eat some bread and drink some water I set off on the increasingly steep road. I was beginning to struggle under the weight of my haversack and was met with disappointment at each bend in the road to find, not the summit but another winding stretch. I don’t have the literary skills to describe the elation when the church at the top loomed out of the mist and I realised that the top was within my reach. I reached the hostel, exhausted, but with a real feeling of achievement.

I had successfully completed the first and most difficult stretch of my journey and I felt that I would easily finish the pilgrimage and reach Santiago de Compostella in triumph. Of course that was not to be. On the third day, the easiest walk in beautiful weather I had to drop out with pains in my chest.

One year on, how do I feel about my walk? Well my chest pains amounted to nothing at all. I still get them but they seem to be a muscular problem. When I set out I was concerned about my right hip as it had been causing me some pain. It never bothered me at all on the Camino. Today I am popping pain killers to counter the the pain in my worn hip. I’m not so bad that I need a replacement – yet but I certainly could not attempt the walk from St Jean today. My feelings were correct. That was my last chance to have a go at the Camino. I didn’t complete it but I learned so much about myself and the nature of salvation that it was worth every heavy step. If you have thought of walking the Camino I would encourage you to have a go.

If you would like to find out more about my short walk you can find a fuller account in my book “My Journey of Faith” availabe on Kindle. See my books page. I’ll continue to walk but on less adventurous routes.

My April Column – Full Text

Jesus Meets His Mother

The fourth station on the Way of the Cross is where Jesus meets his mother. There is no mention of this in any of the gospels. I wonder why. Then it seems obvious, we know his mother was at the foot of the cross. She must have followed him all the way there.

Jesus has recovered from his fall. He is continuing his final journey, weakened but goaded on by the shouts and blow of his executioners. Then, struggling on, he lifts his head and sees his mother in the crowd. Their eyes meet. What are they thinking?

Mary is there, not by chance, but because she has followed her son. Less than a week ago he was welcomed to Jerusalem by cheering crowds waving palm fronds. Now, a few days later, things have changed completely. Did Mary understand what was happening or was she bewildered by the sudden change? How did she feel, seeing her only son, weak and bleeding, being led to a criminal’s death?

Mothers always seem to feel the pain their children experience. Anybody who has seen a toddler bump his head on a table and cry out in pain will remember the mother scooping him up, wishing to take the pain herself, and soothing the child. That never ends. Mothers continue to watch their children grow and experience the pains of growing. The mother feels their pains. When the child is too old to scoop up and comfort the mother is still there, comforting as best she can. Once a mother always a mother.

Mary must have been confused but I imagine she must have been remembering the prophesy of Simeon when Jesus was taken to the Temple.

You see this child: he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.

Luke 2: 34, 35

Mary must have been feeling that sword as she stood in the crowd. Here, before her, is Jesus being rejected. The crowds that had welcomed him only days before were now baying for his blood. Mary knew that Jesus was here for a purpose. She must have realised that this was all part of his destiny. There is no mention of Mary screaming or making a fuss. She did not try to intervene. I wonder how I would react if my child was in that situation? Could I stand passively by and watch the torture and humiliation unfold?

I also wondered how Jesus felt when he saw his mother. He would see the pain in her face and he would know that, even though she was powerless to do anything, she was there for him. That’s what parents have to do. We have to be there, often powerless to help, just there as moral support. I suppose we all cause our parents worry and pain as we grow up. I’m sure I caused my mother a great deal of worry as I moved from one job to another and never applied for the job in the Post Office that she thought would bring me security. Through it all she was supportive in everything I did. That’s what I owe my children, my support and my acceptance of their decisions, even when I don’t understand the reasons.

Of course, when I think of this station I never consider the crowd. Who were these people who howled for his execution? Where were the supporters and the people he had helped? To put it bluntly, where would I have been if I had been in Jerusalem on that day? I like to think that I would have tried to help Jesus. If I look at my behaviour today I have to question that.

As a practicing Christian am I really following Jesus’ example? Do I behave like Jesus in my dealings with other people? How do I react when others attack the Church? Do I stand back and watch or do I speak up? Am I there for the stranger who is lost or in difficulty? How do I treat the people I don’t agree with? Am I happy to see them in difficulty or do I step forward and offer my help?

I recently viewed a Youtube video of a member of the Orange Lodge arguing for a NO vote in the Independence referendum. The comments from other viewers accused him of being a bigot who was not worth listening to. Nobody was considering the points he made. He was condemned for who he was rather than what he was saying. I was ashamed of the treatment he got. Would Jesus have reacted in that way? It is easier to be part of the mob than to speak out for justice.

The school I taught in before I retired had just that as its motto. Speak out for justice. What better advice could a catholic school give to its pupils? How many of us follow that advice? Do I speak out for justice or am I happy to see someone get their comeuppance? I suppose I need to remind myself that I meet Jesus in everyone I encounter. Do I see Jesus in the eyes of a beggar on the street? Do I see Jesus in the face of the convict being led off to start a long sentence?

Am I able to see Jesus in the illegal immigrant being flown home in handcuffs? Can I imagine that Jesus is to be found behind the balaclava on the pro-Russian protestor in Ukraine? You might argue that these are hard questions. You would be right. How could I imagine that you could find Jesus in someone you oppose? Well, that’s what Jesus could do. Think of the times he was seen in the company of the lowest of the low, the people most despised in society. Jesus could see worth in the worst of people. I must learn to do the same.

I must face up to the possibility that on current performance I could be one of the crowd. Perhaps I would have joined in the shouting, afraid to speak out for the innocent man and too ready to seek approval from the powerful elite. Would I be willing to suffer the disapproval of my friends and neighbours by saying they were wrong?

This is very hard but Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. Mary followed him and was there for him even at the worst of times. I think we are called on to do the same. We must be there for Jesus in his suffering. Where will we find Jesus in his suffering? Look around. Wherever we see the rejected people we see Jesus rejected. Wherever we see the criminal, jailed for his crimes, we see Jesus suffering with him. The sick, the homeless and the lonely are all opportunities for me to step out of the crowd, stop howling for Jesus’ execution and become a follower, helping the Jesus I find in unexpected places.

Joseph McGrath