Men & Women of Edinburgh Rock Choir We Salute You!

Wee Bobby’s nose twitches ever so slightly, his squidgy eyes gradually open to take in the churchyard. His delightfully scruffy face is focused, a picture of curiosity, amplified by a slight tilt, a little to the left. The secret is revealed as he detects sounds from the Kirk, his Kirk, After all he is Greyfirars Bobby. He listens with the cute attentiveness you see only in Terriers.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to introduce to you to the Men of Edinburgh Rock Choir’. Elaine’s introduction is compelling and the applause warms chilled bones. Ten willing men proudly walk up the spine of the church and take their place in front of the ninety fold Edinburgh Rock Choir members. For the first time in Edinburgh, their home town, among their ain folk, they poise to perform.

Marks delightful treatment on the piano nurtures ‘Hold Back the River’, a soulful song by James Bay. The boys deliver accordingly. It went down a treat at the Glasgow Concert Hall last Saturday with three sold out shows and here they are singing from their souls in this iconic church, packed for the event. As one of the choristers commented, ‘It was a lovely rich sound.’ Aye it was that.

Wee Bobby agreed, listening carefully and getting ready to put on some moves in the next set. You see Rock Choir is more than just singing. There are moves and routines that are generally quite challenging to the male members and off course Wee Bobby himself.

Still, like us he wants to step up to the mark. The Men of Edinburgh Rock Choir threaded their way back into the whole choir to strong applause, There were two songs remaining for this evenings performance before the finale., ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ and ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, were exuberantly performed, with intensity and zing.

Before the male performance, Dylan, wheelchair bound, used his electronic device to communicate with the audience, not unlike Steven Hawking. He explained just how much a positive impact this choir had to his life and how supportive everyone was of him, seeing beyond his disability. I was singing next to Dylan in the final performance, a real privilege .

The inclusion of this young man and the simple acceptance of all people to participate in the choir, sing laugh and enjoy is particularly gratifying. Here is an organisation genuinely committed to embodying core human values.

It is not unusual to see CEO and founder, Caroline Redman appearing on UK television with choir members. She speaks enthusiastically about choir events, a recent one being the opening performance at the BBC Proms in the Park in Hyde Park in London. Choir leaders onstage led close to 10,000 Rock Choir members offstage, performing a flash mob to ‘Dancing in the Streets.’

Back to Greyfriars and Elaine proudly indicates that there were 28,000. members of Rock Choirs UK wide. Quite amazing, an offer that resonates and is enjoyed by so many.

Additionally, the help offered by professional choir leaders and teachers such as Jennifer in Glasgow and Elaine in Edinburgh indicates the spirit of care these folks have on the ground for their choirs and their profession. The result of all of this strategy, skill and effort is reflected of course in the quality of rehearsals and ultimately, performances of the choirs.

‘It was excellent, thoroughly enjoyable!’ a dear friend commented There were smiles, there was joy and some folks were moved to tears. It dusnae get any better than that!

The final song of the evening, ‘Hallelujah’, was hauntingly beautiful. Incorporating the merged talents of sopranos, altos, and basses, this intoxicating song left a respectful imprint on the Kirk. I do believe it would have ‘pleased the lord’.

Wee Bobby was awfy pleased, happy to be woken from his earlier dwams, he tilted his cute, scruffy head to the right, shed a wee tear and went straight back to sleep.

Men & Women of Edinburgh Rock Choir, your leaders and supporters, we salute you!

Well Being!

Alan

December 2018

Kairos the God of Happy Moments - Smiling in Croatia.

Here's a country that for thousands of years has been invaded by some of the worlds heavyweights.  The Venetians, the Ottomans, the Romans, the Greeks, the Austro Hungarians,  Napoleon and of course the Nazi's all took turns in bringing Croatia to it's knees

In more recent times, Croatia has continued to receive a battering. In the early 90's in what they call the Homeland War, Dubrovnik for example, the town you now associate with Game of Thrones, was torn apart with shelling.  Only a quarter of buildings in the old town remained.  So....Game of Thrones!

You would think that after all of this occupation and devastation Croations would be a bitter and twisted lot.  Not so, quite the opposite actually. The God of Happy Moments smiles on contemporary Croatia, allowing this people to forgive, forget and continue smiling into what promises to be a prosperous and certainly peaceful future.

It is a different sort of invasion that we witness today in tourism.  Cruise ships queue in the harbours of Split and Dubrovnik, set to disgorge their cargo.  Thousands of folks sporting stickers and detailed briefings of the limited time they will have on their shore leave.  Perhaps I am a little too critical as it is these folks who pave the bright future for Croatians.  

The increasing interest in Croatia as a tourist destination coalesces with its increasing ascendancy in the current football world cup .  This happy combination produces a cocktail,  fit for Kairos himself.

And on the subject of football, we are only in the cab a couple of minutes, fresh from Scotland before we are speculating on Croatia's chances in the game later that night.  Sure enough, football was to be a core theme of this trip as later in the evening we joined billion dollar yachts and excited locals in the harbor of Togir.   The yachts were reduced to silhouettes by the incendiary red flares, celebrating the fact that Croatia had won the penalty kick off and were through to the quarter final with England.

Perhaps a blatant metaphor, the billion dollar yachts are small change when up against fervent supporters passionate about their countries introduction to the holy grail of football..  There is no room for hate here tonight, only pride, only love and only the exuberance of people who can appreciate once again what celebration means.

The Grey Army, I call them.  A group of senior men proudly wearing smart slate grey T shirts and warm smiles, all singing from their souls. The Croatian flag is held high, as close to Kairos as they can manage.  As all of these men embody such fervour, such passion, I can't imagine them having any room for hate in their hearts.  I can only imagine that they, like us, are happy to share in their camaraderie, embracing their enthusiasm and love.

More exuberance, more goodwill is shared in the crowd sitting outside a charming hotel on the striking island of Korcula.  Several beers accompany a nail biting game with England getting an early lead.  The crowd is roused with a clever equalizer but moved to tears by a ten year old boy, of course in a Modric Football jersey, whipping them into a frenzy of support.  It just feels like it was this little boy filled with the spirit of Croatia that kicked that final Croatian goal to put them in the final.

Still, a visit over the border to Montenegro delivers a stark reminder.  I ask a Serbian waiter, if he can find a way to support Croatia in the final.  "No" he says urgently, "I stay with my brothers." This cold declaration sits as a reminder to me that not all wounds can be healed and hurt people can still hurt people.  I put this in the background and enjoy the hospitality of Montenegro, mostly populated by people who want you to come to their country and want you to enjoy your stay. With 75% of their land dominated by mountain ranges, they like Croatia highly depend on tourism to survive.

Our young guide in Montenegro has a sharp wit.  He maintained that whilst Montenegran's were hospitable they were also very lazy.  You need to have a chair next to your bed in Montenegro he joked, so you can have a rest when you wake up.

We returned from a truly glorious day, travelling peacefully by a small fishing boat to the Elephite islands, eating , drinking and swimming with the permission of the Gods.  The clear warm waters of the Adriatic blessed our presence and provided a lovely background for what was to come.  The World Cup Final, France V Croatia, live from Moscow.

We all know that the French won that game, the 2018 World Cup and surely deserved their victory.

But really, did we truly believe Croatia would win the final?  It was a statement from a local person here in Dubrovnik that absolutely nailed the spirit for me.  A comment I will leave you with and one that I think would appeal to Kairos and ring true to all Croatians.  It may even sit well with you.

 'The French might have won the game, but the Croatians, they won our hearts.'

Alan Silcock July 2018

 

 

 

 

On Broadway Almost!

Like surfing on one of those kiddies boogie boards, we are sucked into the wave of patrons spilling out of the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway, New York City.  propelled by the final  chords of Andrew Lloyd Webber's, 'The School of Rock'. We are washed up on the iconic sidewalk that is Broadway.

With more news to be spread that evening in New York before indeed we do leave, the show lights of Ellen's Stardust Diner entices us.  We have heard of this joint, the fifties feel, the diner atmosphere and, of course the exuberant singing.  You see, Ellen's Stardust Diner is a showcase for it's waiters and waitresses, all of whom can sing and all of whom either have been or want to be a star on Broadway.

Thinking we will have a long wait ahead to get in we find ourselves propped at the front of the queue, kept outside for a few minutes just to give the impression that it is a rare and special opportunity to be granted access to this establishment.

1650 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.  Times Square, with its intense neon pulse exerts its presence outside. Why would you need to be out on the square when the welcoming allure of grilled burgers, laminated tables and catchy Broadway tunes stir your soul?  We are seated in the middle of the action, in what appears to be a boxing ring without the ropes.  An extra level of diners sit above us squeezed tightly and angled carefully to ogle on the action below.

The experience intensifies as we discover that Elliot and Katie are only a few tables away.  Their surprise in seeing us in the joint is matched by our surprise of the quality of the acts on the bill.  We join with them, of course and totally engage in the experience.  

Fresh from serving our burgers and waffle fries, Christie takes to the stage, a thin strip of elevated glass that dissects the audience.  Christie is compelling in her delivery of Will Pharrel's 'Happy', you know that you know it.  Download and sing along.   

Within moments of the roaring applause,  Christie is clearing our plates and picking up stray fries of our table.  This is America folks and the American dream is alive and well in this room.  Staff deliver solid tunes from Hamilton and Cinderella and my favorite, a stirring rendition of Donna Summer's 'I will survive'.  

Diners are keen to contribute, either in the chorus or when presented individually with the microphone.  I guess that if you have to work in hospitality in New York, then this would be the preferred employer.  Would you like aspiration with your burger Maam.

The DJ indicates that some of their serving staff have already been in signing roles on Broadway shows and have had to come back to the Stardust when the show run out and the opportunities were limited once more.

Regardless, The Stardust showcases exuberant entertainment in an arena sometimes drenched in a rain of confetti colour paper.  Pure fun,

It is almost midnight and the show has been going on since 3.00 pm.  It is every bit as entertaining as the performance we paid big bucks to see next door, 'The School of Rock'.

As for the food, well it is a classic American diner, big burger meals, big hot dogs and even bigger serves of brownie cake or cheese cake.  Bring the grand kids, they will love it and you can all sing along,

We leave, full of junk food yes, but more importantly repleat with the magic of music, 

Earlier in the day, I discover on an ABC newscast a new job description, 'Influencer'.  Typically Influencer's are bloggers or folks prominent in social media who influence the development of trends,. For example, what clothes you should be wearing, what eateries you should be dining at, essentially what brands or simply, stuff you should be consuming.    One of the Influencer's interviewed, a smart young woman, beamed as she gushed about how she had influenced a shift in buyer awareness to a certain handbag.  This is just the start, she glowered with confidence, "I intend to build an empire".

Whether it's tunes or handbags, there is still room as Alexander Hamilton said when he first arrived in New York in 1773, to be  "A new man".  Well, you might as well do it with a song in your heart.

 

Well Being!

Alan

 

 

 

 

Hamilton

 

 

Rain

After weeks of baltic temperatures, stinging snow and cutting wind, the rain by comparison is most welcome across the UK, especially here in London. 

It falls with commitment, barely allowing the commuters time to complete their travel, keen to make up time for lost time.

There is something quietly spiritual about it, and how it transforms us humans, at the very least requiring that we erect the inevitable umbrella, even in a city of almost ten million people.  You can just imagine what would happen if everyone put up their umbrellas at the same time in London town.

The concierge at the Nobu Hotel asks me if I am an inhouse guest and when I reply in the affirmative offers me a branded umbrella. No thanks I declare, and I don the fluero jacket that has accompanied me on years of bike rides, happy to actually experience the rain but still avoid getting absolutely soaked.

Walking in the rain is something else.  It takes the edge of Shoreditch and it’s East End groove, washing away the violence and grit of the past and revealing a new cutting edge coffee fuelled culture.  A myriad of food vans compete for the olfactory games, each stocked with teams of eager personnel, chopping, sorting, sizzling and delivering to savouring, or is that slavering customers.  This is street food and this is as popular as chip butties were decades ago.

Last night we visited the local version of Dishoom, we have a close relationship with the Edinburgh cousin, so this experience was bound to be interesting at the very least. Wow, Dishoom in Shoreditch was perhaps more exquisitely delicious as its Scottish relative.  We left satisfied, spilling out on to streets of nondescript three-story buildings, many of which would have replaced the bombsites that razed east London in the early nineteen forties.

In present times, with the exception of dramatic refurbishments and spectacular new buildings, the existing architecture is at best, dour.  Dour architecture perhaps, but vibrant tenants including designers, artists and artisans, many of which creating and delivering inspired food.

I walk to the Barbican, Finsbury Parks puddles develop into large bodies of water and rain song associations start to form a playlist in my head.

Currently I am humming The Police, Walking in the Rain but it is not long until Bob Dylan and Prince kick in.  Imagine if we lived more of our lives embodying themed song playlists, what would you choose?

But back to the defining rain or indeed, defining rain itself.  A trip to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square reveals an articulate art enthusiast unpacking Turner’s Rain Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway 1844.  Turner’s simple treatment of steady rain is mesmerising and when we consider that rain has a speed, a pace relative to other things like a locomotive or indeed a ferret, already we are way beyond our everyday notions of rain. Wet, hard, unrelenting, perhaps at times a pain in the arse. 

Back in Edinburgh, it only takes 24 hours for the rain to re-appear.   Ricky Ross, songwriter of Deakin Blue could well have been writing about either Glasgow or Edinburgh when he penned ‘Raintown’, the rain forming an urban personality in ‘all those tired eyes and tears and frowns’

Scotland takes the baton from England in the rain stakes, no flimsy anorak is going to protect me here on the Meadows, Edinburgh’s green carpet.  Here the rain clarifies, it bites and leaves an impression.

The Beast from the East delivered a surfeit of snow a couple of weeks ago and it caused all sorts of problems.

The wee beast is a wee bit cheeky, delivering a smorgasbord of rain this time, between the serious flurries of snow. Everything from scotch mist with that unmistakable cold steam that soaks you to the bone, to waves of drizzle, like swarms of midgies, leaving tiny marks as they land to solid penetrating, unrelenting rain.

Missing from the travel brochures perhaps, yet imbedded in our culture, your visit to the UK is likely to include a few versions of precipitation, perhaps, if you are lucky, all of them. 

When you do experience them, remember, there is a there is a description, a core part of Scotland’s vocabulary that helps you define and describe the experience. Dreich.

In Shoreditch the rain has gone for now.  In Edinburgh the rain has gone for now.  The puddles remain reminding us of its inevitable return.

 

Alan Silcock 12th March 2018

 

 

Pain & Suffering in Melbourne - The Work of Adam Cullen.

His Portrait of David Wenham 2000 won him the prestigious Archibald Prize, yet it is his piece, Working Dog (Growler) that arrests me.

Adam Cullen’s striking, perturbative painted images have intrigued me for some time.  Living for one night in the Art Hotel in Prahran dedicated to him has helped me know him a squidgeon more.

Not like I feel like I am a guest of Cullen’s, no this hotel is a commercial venture after all, but I do feel a little more of a connection to his art and his intent by being a guest.  I wonder if I really was his guest what drinks he might serve, what breakfast might look like and what other guests he might invite?

I understand that he embraced the notion of living fear lessly and declared, ‘Happiness is simply the absence of pain’.  That would explain some his gross images of humans and animals and humans /animals leaking profusely from pained punches of paint, carefully if at times, quickly applied.

I am mesmerised by his use of unforgettable colour and thick black outlines especially in his portraits.  This is art that resonates with me, yes I recognise the reflections and mimicry of pain and suffering, yet also the playfulness of this fellow, often described as a larrikin.  I like that description, larrikin, for me it cements the Australian maverick.

Art aside, the Cullen is a good joint.  See Trip Advisor – ‘Good Joint’

I really like the idea of bedding down next to art that has something to say, it is inspiring to me and a wee bit transforming.

OK developers and investors, here is your challenge, how about in every city in the world we create hotels celebrating the work and times of our important artists.

Back to the man who trained to be an undertakers assistant and ended up one of Australia’s most regarded artists.  “Good art shows how it is.”

 Thank you for Adam Cullen for representing, often in the most boisterous of ways, just how it is.

 

Alan Silcock

Feb 2018 Melbourne Australia

Beyond Nativity - Embrace Creativity in 2018

Last year I wrote about hope at Christmas time.

In 2018, my message is a distillation of hope, a practical way we can harness our humanity and be prepared for whatever challenges occur in the year ahead. As sure as you will be required to sing the chorus to 500 miles at some event during the year, there will be profound challenges, globally and individually in our future. Challenges that could, if we allow them to, permanently grasp our attention and pin us in a vice like wrestling grip, attempting to break our back and our spirit. 

On this side of the planet, we are already experiencing the downstream consequences of a Brexit vote.  The pound has devalued, peoples pension funds are worth less and British folks simply have less funds to fund their everyday activities.  Facing into this, not even the Great British Bake Off can improve our mood, it is indeed dreich.

I read today that my own town, Melbourne Australia has again suffered an attack, with a vehicle ramming at high speed into pedestrians in the city. Whether it be mindless violence or forced austerity, we know such challenges will continue to plague us in 2018.

My antidote to avoid being choked on the canvass this year is simple, embrace creativity.  Creativity will be my core strategy for wellbeing, for life in 2018.  Creativity allows us to capitalise on the many tenants of positive psychology, strengthening us for the year ahead.  Think of it as a fun flu shot without the needle.

For a start, the more creative you choose, the more your brain will love you.  The brain is easily pleased, especially when you bring both hemispheres together.  This   immediately sets the brain up for more playfulness, more humour more joy, more resilience.

Creativity creates resilience.

Take a leap of faith; sing that song, dance that dance, play that tune, direct that movie, write that poem, make that speech, entertain yourself or join me and with a group of musicians, perform a slam poem on the internet.

I was reminded just yesterday how easy it is to allow the assessments of others to bring us down.  Creativity achieves the opposite, it encourages us, sets us up, nurtures our soul.

So, back to the suggestions, although, you already know how to do it.

Tell that joke and notice how one joke leads to another and another.

Share that story and find out again how easy it is to involve people in story.

Make that mug, embroider that pillow, paint that watercolour, start that blog, join a choir, Don’t start a novel, cos then you will be competing with me for publication mid-way through the year.  So leave it till later if you must.

You know what to do, you can do it, just go ahead.

And notice how creativity in 2018 can assist in your salvation.

Happy Christmas and a Fundamentally Creative New Year

Alan

ExZeptional Zurich

In Zurich the taboo topic is not sex, nor is it politics, it is the absolute sin of revealing how much money you make.

The same as it is an unwritten rule in Edinburgh to dutiably complain about the lack of summer, the paradox of money is ever present in Zurich.

It is a pristine place, a place of consistency, replicability and ultimately wealth, buckets of it.

Framed with a stadium of Alps and an ice clean lake, it was certainly of strategic interest to the Romans all those years ago.  You can still experience evidence of Roman settlement.  Beyond strategy it was the access to trading routes and spoils of trade that took centre place in the development of Turicum as it was then known.

Fast forward to now and try and make it through the Google compound without realising when it starts and when it finishes.  Then wonder, are we back in Zurich yet?  The metaphor of Google's spread is not merely reflected by it's influence in our world, but more here, in the land it has amassed.  Google earth indeed.  Of course this correlates with wealth.

Early morning crystals of frost give way to the sun.  The sun a bit taken aback by the forests of Christmas trees being trawled into town and erected with a surfeit of festive lights.

Our free tour guide is very good, providing a nice snapshot of history and a couple of Swiss chocolate treats. It is more his vigorous support of Swiss chocolate being so much better that Belgian that attracts my interest.  Apparently, it is the contentedness of the cows.

So passionate was he on this subject that he conducted a detailed experiment at three price points to prove, at least amongst the 300 plus respondents, that Swiss chocolate is indeed more palatable.  I can furnish the published results if you are interested.

That is rigour for you and that is just so very Swiss.  

I only saw one piece of graffiti today and not one person sleeping rough.  Is there not an underbelly to this place?

It is not quite cold enough today, yet I have chosen to wear my recently purchased Columbo style trench coat as I go about my tourist duties.  Not only is the coat comfortable and of course stylish, it also gives me permission to take on  the bumbling characteristics of Columbo, the detective we all used to love.  This allows me to get into places I either would not of thought to visit, or simply really should not be in.

One such place is the Zurich Law Library, one of the boldest and most beautiful libraries I have ever escaped to write.  I feel like I am looking up at a bespoke backbone of a whale, exposed to the sky, curving for at over fifty metres and disappearing to its tail, sunk in the depths of the ocean.

From a writing perspective, the B2 Hotel has a cleverly unique room, the wine library.  Thousands of German language books tower above you, bringing your gaze to the carefully displayed chandeliers of vintage wine bottles.  Again it is definitively Swiss, precise, new and shiny. 

It is the old in the hotel that appeals more to me, and my next choice for a writing space.  Machinery is restored from an old brewery and restored to its original state.  Grand pumps and presses sit where they ceased functioning 160 years ago and now form attractions for an exhibition space, meeting rooms and a gymnasium.  Again, Swiss ingenuity.

Minus the coat, simply embodying the spirit of Colombo, I was instrumental in enriching my spa experience, gaining access to the Irish Roman spa ritual in addition to the thermal pools, way beyond my admission entitlements. This is as close as you will get to genuine Roman spa baths, as authentic as Biggith Dicketh.  A truly exquisite experience. 

As you leave the soothing waters in the depths of Roman Zurich and catch the lift to the top floor of the B2 Hotel, you discover the whole floor is an outdoor thermal pool providing an intoxicating 360 degree view of Zurich.  All this and many options to be pampered by Swiss water treatments as you gaze over the magnificent alps.  Pure bliss!

Suitably refreshed by the spa, we go in search of the Singing Christmas Tree, following the glittering Christmas lights, grabbing some Gluwine along the way.  There it is, terraces of young children actually embedded in a Christmas tree singing, "Every Breath you Take." So uplifting and so, so Christmas, Sting would be happy..

As a final thought, I ask an American lady who has lived here for almost a decade, how can a city be created where there are no homeless people?

She says thoughtfully,

"One because everyone is tracked, the authorities know where everyone is, and two social security ensures no one is homeless."  

It is most certainly a lovely town, yet I can’t help but humming the Nick Cave song, God is in the house as I take my final stroll in Enge.

We have a pretty little square

We have a woman as a mayor

Our policies are firm and fair,

Now that God is in the house.

The fiscal God, the Bespoke and clever God and perhaps also the spiritual God share good company here.  Bless you Zurich.

 

Alan November 2017

My Men's Shed Journey - Australia to Scotland in 3 Key Learnings

Before leaving Australia to return to Scotland over two years ago, rarely was I clocking up confused reactions when I mentioned Men’s Sheds.  More and more Australians were understanding what a Men’s Shed was and many were either associated with one themselves or knew someone who was.  Explaining why Men’s Sheds existed was becoming a hell of a lot easier.

Not so in Scotland though. It was like I had entered a time zone and gone back two decades as far as knowledge of Men’s Sheds was concerned.  People would repeat the name back to me, as if it was some strange Australian cult.

In two years, I have founded and now help to manage a very successful charity, The Men of Leith Men's Shed. This was not an easy gig, there were many challenges and negative experiences across the two years.  Both the positives and the negatives, the understandings and the misunderstandings have contributed to my knowledge and perseverance in ultimately developing The Men of Leith Men's Shed, a vital support for men in the Port of Leith and beyond. 

Here are three key leanings from my journey, shared in the spirit of encouraging individuals and organisations to continue to supprt Men's Sheds worldwide, helping men move from isolation to empowerment.

Learning One - Empowerment

The first Men’s Shed I was invited to be a part of here in Scotland was to be situated in a wealthy area of Edinburgh.  I was tasked to create a ‘senior men’s group’, and this was to be developed into a Men’s Shed once established.  Assisted by a small passionate team, I was successful in recruiting over forty men for the group, not bad when many in the community said it would not happen.  "Och no!"

Issues started to occur when the Board of Management for the Charity supporting the group would not support the members being empowered to make their own decisions, lead and manage their own group.  I had seen men flourish in Australia when given the opportunity to create their own destiny again, to work with other men and determine what their shed would do. It’s hard enough to get men to join a group in Scotland, but then to tell them what to do and how to do it, simply reinforces what Martin Seliman refers to as learned helplessness."

Not surprisingly like most men's groups in Scotland who are disempowered, the group disintegrated.  

I had no choice but to move on from that venture, like the men themselves, I too had been taken advantage of.  I was livid, yet all the more passionate about setting up a genuine Men's Shed.

So, from this experience I realised how important it is, if we are to authentically rebuild confidence in men who may well have been disenfranchised, that we genuinely allow them the dignity and the authority to take control of their Men's Shed, of their destiny.

I also realised that rather than align with an existing charity who may well water down our authenticity and purpose again, it was conceivable and possible that we simply set up our own charity.

This, with the help of the Scottish Men's Shed Association we did.

Learning Two – Core Purpose

I have visited a number of groups in Scotland that refer to themselves as sheds.  In founding The Men of Leith Men’s Shed, Charlie Traylor and I spoke with as many community groups, leaders, politicians, Councillors and stakeholders as we could. 

In every conversation we outlined the same core message, Men’s Sheds exist for men by men and are a health initiative for men.  Occasionally this sparked some conversation, yet it is very clear and almost all community leaders recognise and agree upon the importance of creating initiatives that men will choose to be a part of.  Historically, this was the core reason for the existence of men’s sheds back to their early development in Australia.

The emphasis in our shed is clearly not devoutly focused on health.  We don't stop the men to lecture them on prostrate cancer every five minutes.  What we recocgnise, like their brothers in Australia, it is health by stealth.  Simply having a place to go on  a regular basis that you enjoy, where you are validated and making a difference, adds to your own wellbeing.  The conversations that occurs, whether it is just a wee blether or full on banter, helps to improve your health and the health of all Shedder's.

Learning Three – What a Men’s Shed is Not

Given the growth in the idea of Men’s Sheds in Scotland, it is not surprising that service organisations or certain community groups could see Men’s Sheds as a convenient source of labour for their projects.  Already, recruiting has occurred to attract men in order that they might be able to help clean, grow, plant, paint, build etc on certain community projects under the guise of a shed. 

These are not sheds, some sheds and Shedder’s will choose to do that sort of work, yet it is their choice as a shed as to how they use their time, as to how they invest their resources.  To be clear, Men’s Sheds are not a source of labour, yet can be generous with their time.

In summary, when you have Men’s Sheds that empower and celebrate men, that are authentic to the core purpose of the shed movement and aim to encourage men to join together on the projects or activities they choose, you have a unique community. 

You have a Men’s Shed!

Och Aye!

Alan

Grit

Surely, not another roundabout!  I have traveled about an hour and a half and am almost 20 miles away from Arbroath, my destination, and here we go again, more bloody roundabouts. Equally spaced pools of quicksand tarmac set to usurp my progress past Perth.

The metaphor bothers me, I am on my way to my first writers retreat, all set to embrace the wonders of reading, writing and publishing and before I get there, the natural world is slowing me down.  

 I do slow down and my curiosity kicks in as I arrive at Rosely Country House, a rambling Scottish Baronic mansion created in 1855.  Immediately I think of the Adam's Family as I enter, eclipsed by the deer and boar trophies, the grand carved staircase back lit by an impressive stained glass window. 

We commence the workshop in the bar, greeted by a roasting fire and dominated by an intricately painted ceiling.  That was painted by my Father, says our host, just before he died.

The workshop itself is inspiring.  All three of the facilitators have had books published and many more literary works.  The three have just returned from a trip to Haworth to walk in the footsteps of the Bronte sisters.  I feel a bit intimidated by their accomplishments albeit sharing their active passion for literature.  I further learn that other participants are well entrenched in writing novels, blogging and other creative works.

As one by one the participants and leaders read their work, the spirit of celebration pervades.  Sure there is encouraging feedback verging on critique, yet this community is affirming in it's capacity to welcome improvement and encourage practise.  

I am overwhelmed by the number of groups involved in writing or supporting writing in Scotland alone.  Writers Forum, Writers Room, The Writer, Scottish Association of Writers Circle, Angus Writers Circle and many more.  And this does not include the myriad of editors, publishers and other stakeholders involved in the industry.  I set a declaration to identify and get to know the key stakeholders.

Until sitting down with Sandra, I had never experience one on one feedback on my work from a published author.  It was like technical therapy for for me and I discovered many distinctions around the utility of place, how to use dialogue, drip feeding back stories and much more. Elizabeth helped also with coaching, resulting in me making another declaration to become a part of a network of like minded writers and create regular opportunities to learn with and from each other.

Walks in the property and ramped up imaginations revealed moving, rich stories, written carefully, yet in very little time.  The rag doll in the broom cupboard, children's cot on the landing and coarsely carved eagle table all generated spontaneous stories.  This and other activities indicated to me how possible it was to transcend genre and how such simple thoughts or images can become such intricate, beautiful stories.

 Final I am left to reflect on a comment that Dawn made when exploring ways that we can include writing as a prominent part of our time and our lives.  'Only put in what's good for you.'

I have now paired back my life to the things that are fundamentally 'good' for me and important to me.  My family and friends, my charity, my travel, my role as a host to guests and writing now show up as good and important aspects of my life.

As a result, it is now realistic that, with dedicated time identified for writing learning and collaborating, with a passion to achieve publication and with a tenacity based on grit (thank you Barbara) I will move quickly from a writer to a published author.

You know I didn't really notice the roundabouts on the way home from the retreat.

 

Many thanks to Dawn, Elizabeth and Sandra, the team at Chasing Time.

Thanks also to all that attended.

Well Being!

Alan

"Let's come back when it's summertime."

The Piper was playing in the drizzle. soft rain accompanied the magnificent pass that was Glencoe.  It wasn't cold, yet any time out of the car meant being drenched by the highland charms of Scotland.

Earlier, Darren had declared, "How about we come back to Scotland when it is summertime.". Well, unsurprisingly it is summertime and this is Scotland, Scotland in summertime.  Just a few hours later and we are drenched in sunshine on the Island that is Skye.  Skye is remarkable, unblemished, majestic beauty.  

We leave Tighnabrauich, excited about the journey ahead.  Already rehearsed in single car roads and gravestones that exhibit the ghosts of Margaret's past, we cross the bridge into Skye all set to experience the jewels of Scotland. Beneath us is the village of Carbost, in the same location as the Talisker distillery.  It lies quietly, unperturbed by the occasional yacht that travels loquaciously up Loch Harport.

Meanwhile, we detect a farmer herding his sheep up the steep slopes of the valley with the assistance of a mere whistle and a dog. The whistle echoes in the still summer air and the sheep simply obey.

Whether it is Callum's exquisite cooking, the reminder of living in crofting housing over a millennium ago, or the sheer beauty of the view over to Raasay, Skye shines.

Later, in Glencoe, the mood changes, like a telephone call that carries bad news, the Glencoe visitor centre delivers a sobering view of a turning point in Scottish history.  The point when Bonnie Prince Charlie was forced to leave Scotland with many of his men exposed, dead and wounded.

The waters of The River Spey go a long way to revive our mood and remind us that whisky, especially when showcased at the Aberlour Distillery or the charming Mash Tun pub, does salve all spirits. The display of several hundred whiskies respectfully clad behind glass in the board room at our hotel provides final proof of just how celebrated the Scottish spirit is.

We indulge in the simple pleasures of relationship and good friends who continue friendship regardless of distance and circumstance.  We all deserve friendships like that.

With a brief visit to Saint Andrews's, the purported home of golf in Scotland, we return to Edinburgh and compare photo's of the trip.  

Several times, Margaret has suggested  a return trip to explore ancestry further. "T 4", we joked.

Perhaps in summertime next time.

 

Well Being!

Alan

 

Following Frisco

It's past midnight in Edinburgh when we arrive at Loewe's Regency Hotel in Sansome Street San Francisco and we have not eaten yet.  We reach the 40th Floor and encounter the Maintenance Man.  He inquires if we would like to walk out on the balcony with him and check out the view.  A spectacular panorama opens up, Alcatraz nestled in the Bay and one spire of the Golden Gate Bridge clearly catching the evening sun.

San Francisco yawns, rubs it's eyes and gradually wakes to an orange mist. Already, at 6.00 am it's arteries are being clogged by automobiles fom as far out of town as 30 miles.

Refreshed from food and sleep, I meet a retired Geologist, now SF City Guide. He is the ideal guide, equipped to share his extensive knowledge of earthquakes, together with a passion for the history of San Francisco.  He is cool as he discusses future seismic activity and subtly indicates that one of the recent editions to the Frisco skyline is lilting by 17%.  Not a problem though, he shows us some of the drilling machines responsible for tying such monoliths into the core rock bed of the city.

A fairly energetic ride up to the Golden Gate Bridge, from the Fisherman's Wharf  gives me access to the magnificent, distinctly coloured structure.  Much like riding across the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC, it is such a reward.  The path up, and eventually down into Sausalito is equally as rewarding.

I avoid parking the bike at the $3.00 valet facility and continue riding along the shore until I find the Bocce Bar.  A fairly innocuous shed like structure from the front, the gate opens to reveal a very slick bar, complete with bocce court proudly positioned between the bar and the shore.  All this is adjacent, of course to the marina. With a rich selection of cocktails, designer beers and bright young things with ample time for indulgence, I felt like I could have equaly been in the Hampton's, Port Douglas or Sorrento.

It is tempting to have another beer, but I leave the crisp white yachts and crisp white people for now, heading back to Frisco on the ferry.  The return journey reminds me of Bike Victoria's Around the Bay in a Day, resting on the deck, the bikes stored underneath, a welcome break to a great ride.  

Fighting off homesickness, I focus on the present.  Time to return the bike, hop on the iconic trams and get back to downtown.  Showered and presentable, I walk down to Pier 3 to meet the dinner crew.  One thing that San Francisco does especially well is food.  It is equal to Melbourne Australia in creativity, flavour and diversity, and something we are currently missing in Scotland.  Not surprisingly, we indulged in several sensational meals including dining on the Pier at La Mar, exquisite Peruvian seafood and the to die for dumplings at Mama Ji's in the Castro.

Runners gather in seven waves, each sent off on the San Francisco Marathon fifteen minutes apart from 5.30 am.  Literally thousands of runners enjoy the glorious golden ball of sun as it blesses their delightful run along the waterfront on the Embarcadero towards the Golden Gate Bridge. 26 beautiful miles.

Just metres from the pounding Nike's, a sharp hit of urine can be sensed and wafts over the course. Literally thousands of homeless people lay in varied states of consciousness.  Their presence here on the waterfront and across this wealthy city has been so constant for so many years, they go largely unnoticed these days.  The boiled frog phenomenon, alive and paradoxically present in this city.

Linda and I walk up to the Castro on Sunday morning.  It is only around 9.00 am in the morning and as we turn from Market street up towards San Francisco City Hall, we cross the edges of the park leading to the  Hall and the Supreme Court of California.  Confronted by what we saw, Linda captured the essence by saying, "It feels like we are in an episode of The Walking Dead." 

I am both inspired and upset by San Francisco.  However, as I reflect on the stand San Francisco took in the seventies and eighties and the experience that brought the Castro to life, there is hope. The legacy of people like Harvey Milk who took the lead in fighting for a world that is free of oppression and discrimination, still remains.

I am heartened that folks like Harvey will appear again in this country, in this state, in this city and again they will take the lead on social changes required now and in our futures.

 

Well Being!

 

Alan

 

 

 

 

Poetry in Tuscany

Dig that rhyme!  And rhyme is necessary if you are to write a collective poem that captures and celebrates time traveled together by strangers who become friends.  It does something that photography just can't.  It delights, includes and leaves a legacy.

Our community poetry may not be the most literary of verse, and it is not designed to be.  More so, it is crafted to capture the spirit of the community travelling together, to, as the best pop songs do, exaggerate the rhythm and rhyme and simply declare joy.

So it was that ten Australians (for the purpose of this exercise, Linda and I come from the land down under) and three Italians board the Backroads bus and set off from Florence on the Tastes of Tuscany tour.

As this piece is celebrating the creation of the poem rather than the holiday itself, I will skip  to later in the trip where, poolside in Chianti county the first verse emerges.  We have a choice of two pools, preferring of course the upper more rustic pool.  Eight out of ten poets would agree with us.

Tony is exuberant in her willingness to participate, watched on by Terry and Helen and Linda from a distance.  A few wines and beers later and we agree on the first stanza.  Simple, but a good start, providing a solid rhythm and simple enough skeleton.

From Tuscan Treats to Tuscan skies,

We join the Backroads bus.

Ten Aussies primed for lots'a fun,

Plus three, the sum of us.

Then the real fun begins.  Helen has wisely recorded stand out quotes during the trip and we move to include them.  Her Royal Majesty reels out the many one liners that have occurred leaving us all broken in laughter.  We choose two for the second verse, one from Linda, the other our Italian guide Flavio,

With wine 100 Ks in depth,

We played it all by ears.

Salami and Italian bread,

Released from our careers.

One more stanza is created before we retire for a well earned siesta.  It aptly captures our first night together in a restaurant where the wine flowed as sumptuously as our song.  And yes I was one of the bro's together with Francesco, a delightful young man in training to be a tour guide.

Bromance was in the air tonight,

We sing together as one.

Luciano's black thin tie,

Impresses everyone.

Somewhat later, the combination of making fresh pasta and eating together in an original Tuscan house was all we needed to reveal our creative skills.

With an aim of including all participants in some way in the finished product, the next two verses spilled out.

Diverse backgrounds we talked about,

The brothels ghosts appeared.

Seduced us by their wiley charms,

And raised poor Lindy's fears.

She has just finished talking with,

A brother overseas.

The whole hotel could hear her voice,

Provoking them to tease.

OK the rhyme may be a bit forced at this stage, forgive us, it is Tuscany and the Chianti has appeared yet again. Following deliberation, we decide that, yes we have been a little cheeky on that occasion but not disrespectful.  We continue with our task, as the next three versus indicate, we have not pushed the boundaries too far, not yet.

When patting dogs did Flavio,

Take to his pick up lines.

The girls were wooed and,

Soon pursued his number for future times.

Not to be out done by F,

Francesco hit the stage,

A shadow yes, but not for long,

He's sure to be a rage

That yellow dress that Kristy wore,

More sanguine than alluring.

She'll make a brilliant catch that girl,

Could Flavio be pursuing.

Well perhaps we pushed a little far there, sorry Kristy, yet we managed to get back on track. The grand medieval table in our Tuscan villa coaxing us to lift our game for the last quarter.

Helen's set, she's poised to strike,

Her wit as sharp as blades.

She sips her wine and showers us,

With love, her Queenly ways.

We struggled with the next one, Roger and Nina were such a delight and definitely not the couple that you would upset in idle banter. so...

Roger's brogue is catchy, yes,

He caught the delightful Nina.

They share their joy and love of life,

Prima Prima Prima.

With only four folks left to enshrine in verse, we are on a roll.  Peroni's are ditched for two bottles of Reserva Cianti and we shoulder on.  Without actually  naming our next traveller, everyone knows who it is, given her earlier declarations.  Of course, it is generic, feel free to use it in your own poem.

With ample doses of wine and food,

And regular gestation.

The clothes she brought onto the trip,

No longer fit her station.

To be an authentic poem and extend a little beyond it's limerick style, it was necessary to include a rich reference, not too oblique, but still a little clever.  Thanks to John Donne for this line.

Toni's wild - irreverent. Yes,

She comotosed on the bus.

She's partied hard and gives us all,

The world's contracted thus.

And then Helen's iPad is consulted to capture Terry's confrontation with a German tourist, resulting in.

Pisa shines, all types of life,

The Germans livid - live.

Terry stops, gesticulates,

"It' will still be there in five."

Finally, I pass the quill over to the eager poets to capture me in a final verse. They move me with with.

Our wordsmith created this,

For our music joy.

His humour brings us all undone,

What an alluring boy.

The legacy now created now lives.  A postscript reads

With love and gratitude to all.

Alan

....the pipes the pipes are calling....

Whether it is walls collapsing in Scotland, high rise buildings engulfed by conflagration in London and terror attacks continuing to provoke a state of high alert across the UK, there remains the splendour and sheer beauty of the Pipe Band Competition in Princess Gardens in Edinburgh.

Not wanting it to be anything other than inviting, the warm sun greeted visitors to the Ross Bandstand, cajoling us to shed a few layers, breath without fear and enjoy the simple pleasure of the many pipe bands in the competition.

With tartan per square meter at a premium, bagpipes played in joyful unison and a stirring rat a tat tat of a myriad drums ensured the event was a huge success.

Ice creams melted, beers warmed and people smiled.  Many people of many faiths applauded with enthusiasm, admiring the hours of practice, the attention to detail and sheer enjoyment of participating in an activity folks love.

I am seduced by the pipes and drums.  Reminded of my ancestry, as I find myself unconsciously tapping my foot with increasing vigour during the performances.  Goosebumps gradually appear as the band from  Bathgate, just up the road from my birth town of Falkirk steal the show.

Perhaps there exists a little nervousness in the hearts of the performers, yet anxiety and fear are not present here, not  today.  They don't exist because they don't need to.

So, the next time you find your version of the world in turmoil, remember there is a pipe band contest just around the corner.

 

Aw Ra Best!

Alan

 

 

 

Happy Days

Alex's exclamation is authentic.  "Happy days", he smiles as he produces two excellent coffees and the best baklava in Edinburgh.  Alex is right, Edinburgh is a great place to live.  Now  that we approach our second anniversary here it is timely to supplant Trip Advisor and deliver the ten top reasons for living in Ediburgh

But there can’t just be 10, as all Spinal Tap fans know, so, "Are you ready folks? This one's over the top."  The official Following Forsyth top 11 reasons for choosing to live in Edinburgh.

1.       The People / Characters

Most people you meet, whether it be walking the dog on the Meadows, having a drink at a pub or even standing in line at the bus stop will literally give you the time of day.  Most Scots are up fae a wee blether and I do love a wee blether.

I have met so many good people here, Scottish people and people from across the world.  I have only rarely witnessed aggressive behavior, generally I feel safe and regularly I learn from my serendipitous chats with folks.

2.       Community

I wrote a blog piece on this recently entitled 'Mharie From the Block', suggesting that there is no need in Scotland to look beyond your local neighbourhood, in my case, tenement, to experience connection and the positive side of community.

The Great Aussie Barbie I promoted and ran in our community tenement garden last weekend was a huge success with over a dozen neighbours enjoying each other’s company and the tastes and sounds of Australia.  Not sure I could create this so readily in Australia.

3.       Friendship

Having left such close friends in Australia, I was not sure how successful I would be in generating new friends.  Being here has assisted friendship twofold.  Existing friends who visit us here and who we visit on return become closer friends.  New friendships that we have made, may be fewer in number, yet more special.

4.       Travel

Living in the Superbox of Europe does have its advantages.  Already we have managed three visits to Europe, two visits to the U.S.A, at least half a dozen trips to London, three trips to Australia, a trip to Dublin and many trips North to the highlands and south to the Lake District. In the next wee while we visit Tuscany, San Francisco, the Highlands and islands of Scotland and of course Australia later in the year.  I am sure there will be more beyond this.

5.       Edinburgh Itself

Is simply magnificent, it is a pleasure to live here with the castle a mere five wood striking distance away and summit of Arthur's Seat in view.  With regular visitors, my acumen as a tour guide has sharpened acutely allowing me to dive vigorously into tales of ghosts and executions whilst revealing and often taking the piss out of Scottish culture and habits.

6.       The Festivals

Edinburgh shines during the many festivals offered, almost one every month.  Of course it is the summer Arts and Fringe Festivals that attract the significant numbers and provide such a myriad of choice of entertainment.  Again this year we will select a few acts to see and literally, even though we will see at least one act a day, will scratch the surface of what is available.

7.       Opportunity

Perhaps it is the arts and cultural kaleidoscope, perhaps the political landscape, or the many conversations I am invited into with a diversity of international students, yet what I am noticing is a sense of potential about the future of Scotland.  Occasionally this is hampered by a malaise from earlier times, but generally, I too am ambitious and hopeful about Scotland’s future.

8.       The Georgian House

Whilst it is not technically a Georgian Flat, constructed in 1869, living in this slice of Edinburgh history is inspiring.  So too is finding furniture, artworks and artifacts to showcase the Neo Georgian design.

The highlight of this place is the view on the world, two huge original windows in the lounge room that provide visual access to one of the most beautiful expanses of green in Edinburgh, the Bruntsfield Links and the Meadows.  The windows frame the squirrels, they frame the lycra clad runners and bum crack students sitting on their picnic rugs.  They are a source of excellent entertainment and an exceptional source of dog watching.

9.       The Improving Food Scene

Even in the last two years we are noticing a shift away from the stodgy Indian, fried fast food and bland international restaurants to embracing hotter, healthier, fresher alternatives.  Sure there have always been very fine and very expensive eateries in Edinburgh, featuring their share of celebrity chefs, but now the emerging trend is less cost more flavour.

Hey, even the coffee is getting better and of course the drinks have always been good.

10.    The Home of Writing

Having  just declared my ongoing vocation as a writer, I have left this one till the end. Edinburgh, as you may be aware is recognised as a UNESCO city of Literature.  It boasts many of the author’s whose books will be on your shelves, yes even if you only have a few books.  It is a literary city, it has the air of a literary city.

I have been here for two years and are now ready to embody this, to learn from this and learn with this.  I am just about to submit an application to gain entry to the Master’s Program of Creative Writing and intend to fully optimise this opportunity if accepted.

11.   The Seasons

Yes, Edinburgh can have four seasons in one day, just like Melbourne and yes it can be awfy cold at times, yet there is something defining and important to live in a place that has four distinct seasons, each inherently beautiful and challenging in its own way.

Aye ah ken!

Alan

Thanks to Lawson McCulloch for allowing me to use his stunning image of Waverley Station.

Mhairi From The Block

Hangi'n in the hood on the steps overlooking Brunsfield Links may not leave you soaked with the jets of fire hydrants, nor may it feature intimidating rapper types out to score turf by spinning on bits of cardboard.

It is hardly the place of Jenny from the block, but more suited to Mhairi from the block, reclining generously on the grass just north of the now deceased daffodils, enjoying a can or two of Sommersby Cider with her student buddies.  They are perilously close to the chip and put course, but the golf balls seem to ignore them and they continue with their upbeat student dialogue.

I observe from the safety of the flight of steps across the narrow Glengyle Terrace, the doorway to my flat safely behind me. Yet this is the Bronx, Edinburgh style.  Neighbors pass and have a wee blether, after all this hood, this tenement mimics the opportunities to embrace community that are present in the US, in Australia, or in the slums in New Delhi or Bangkok.

This slice of life is in everyday reach, and generally occurs when the sun comes out in Scotland.  It is affirming.  It allows a diversity of people to brush past each other at least in conversation and leave a slight mark. To touch each other simply by observing that we each exist.  It allows for a lovely connection even if at a simple level.

Katie is up for a chat.  She asks if she can pat the dog in the basement flat below and spends at least half an hour chatting with the dogs owner.  She returns to the box seats on our stair, just in time to meet our new neighbours from Russia, another delightful chat.  

Before the sun ceases to encourage our presence, I reckon we (Katie and I) have met at least six new people.  Six new people in our hood.

And there is the beauty and proximity of simply by being out on the street and up for a chat that permeates us and encourages us to have delightful conversations with people we may never have seen before.  It also allows us also to re-engage with those who we are developing fruitful relationships. with.

So, Mhairi may clearly be from our Edinburgh block. She is present and as a  popular Scottish band once said, she is indeed 'Alive and Kicki'n'.

I am Marie from the block and I welcome your acquaintance.

Aw Ra Best!

Alan

 

Alan

Coming Alive on the Meadows & The Links

Jimmy the green keeper for the Links is correct.  Those flimsy portable barbecues could well pose a hazard to health.

You see them, thousands of them, exuding pales of grey sour smelling smoke surrounded by exuberant students and generally sitting upon a myriad of picnic rugs.  They take prominence,  they are the item for the season.  A close second to cases of Magners, Stella and the obligatory bottles of cheap white wine.  Yes, second, and you know how much students and Scottish people put out when it comes to alcohol.

They comprise a simple aluminium tray about the size of a fold down flight tray on a low cost airline.  In the tray is a bed of coals covered by a flimsy grilling unit.  That's it!  They sell for two pounds and fifty p and if the pall of smoke sitting above the Meadows on any particular weekend is any indication, they sell like Tomagochi's used to.

Travel among the revelers, attempting to prevent your dog from hitting upon the many items of food on the picnic rugs, and you experience a spirit of Spring only available here in Edinburgh, here on the Meadows and the Links.

Hang around for a while and you will be invited in to the conversations.  Perhaps Sebastian will teach you a few juggling tricks or Brad will give you a tour of his tattoos.  Find out what the students are studying, their passions and the dissertations that are due in just a few days.

Allow yourself to be guided by the beauty and serendipity of Spring and you may just discover that this pubic space provides access to a community that is dynamic, fascinating and generally community spirited.

Wander over to the Coop to buy your portable barbecue and say hello to Jamie.  Jamie will be there with his blue sleeping bag and a tattered Costa cup, a request for help for his homeless predicament.  Though criticised occasionally, I wouldn't trust anyone else to take care of Tess when I shop at the Coop.  Jamie laughs when I remind him that it is not just people that respect him being there, it is also their pets.

And pets do abound, well dogs.  They too provide access to conversations, usually pleasant, and sometimes confronting.  The wee Kelpie circled Tess and I  this morning, occasionally stopping to be sniffed or accept a pat.  It's owner wanted to talk.  It was my partners dog he said, she passed away last Thursday.  Did you say your partner passed away, I said awkwardly.  Yes, she was only fifty two, it was awful.  Now this is what I have to remind me of her, he said as he turned to the Kelpie, a broken man.

I did my best to stay in a conversation with this man, to support him in some way realising how fragile he was.  This was one of the most paradoxically beautiful conversations I have had in Scotland.

 Beyond the barbecues, beyond the crowds, beyond the obvious rites of spring, real life both hard and soft reside here awaiting your RSVP.

I have already replied in the affirmative!

Alan

 

 

 

 

Father & Son - Two Wee Boys Enamored by Glencoe.

It took three days before we saw the magnificent creatures, three majestic stags minding their own business, grazing with purpose by the shores of Loch Leven.

These creatures sweat the wild spirit of Glencoe,  enjoying as we do the spectacular valley, its snug hills coated judiciously with snow.

Duncan and I walk, scramble and climb along a hewn path between the Three Sisters. Our efforts are rewarded as we arrive in the Lost Valley.  I like to believe the legend that the MacDonalds stole cattle from other clans, perhaps even the Sasanachs, and hid them in here in this special place.  I am reminded for a moment of New Zealand as we absorb the stadium of ancient hills, resplendent in snow, delivering an excess of fresh, cold streams.

How they managed to transport the big beasties across this unforgiving terrain is inexplicable.  The valley itself though provides perfect grazing conditions and protection from the nasty winds.  An enchanting place.

Duncan is smitten by snow.  We catch the chairlift to the summit of Glencoe. As we arrive on the ski slopes our unpreparedness for alpine conditions is apparent.  Still, Duncan gets his wish and we shiver with delight before escaping the cold on the chair back down the mountain.  The white stuff is all around, snow flakes sting our faces and we remember what is was like to be wee boys again. Father and Son, discovering again, exploring together, pure simple joy.

An inspiring drive through the valley returns us to the village of Glencoe and the Glencoe Inn.  Such comfortable and welcoming accommodation, the succulent scallops compete admirably with the rich risotto for our choice of Scottish fare.

Lochinleven captures our imagination with its incredible ice wall.  Literally a wall of ice in an old mill designed to assist climbers training for natural walls of ice further afield.

We run into a group of men from the Fort William Men's Shed on our 11.5 km walk to Blackwater Reservoir, yes it is a small world.  The snow seems to last forever as we follow the aquaduct which after a while transforms into a myriad of pipes carrying Scottish water to the towns of Lochinlever, Balquidder and more.

Initially built to service the British Aluminium Company, it is a chilling experience to visit the small graveside for those men who perished during construction in the early 1900's.  Their gravestones, now eroded by almost a century of wild weather are set on a hill looking back to the dramatic dam wall, a chilling reminder of the cost of industry.

The warning on the side of the aquadact does not deter us.  We take the risk and revel in the return journey on this incredible structure., at times sheer drops either side.

The emblem of the thistle guides us along the way, the symbol for The Western Way, a 151 km walk in the highlands. We feel privileged to tramp a small stretch of it.

Leaving Glencoe, still feeling that satisfying exhaustion in our legs, we drive home via the Trossachs. More deer are discovered just short of the gateway to the Highlands.

We, Father and Son, add this to our rich memories of untarnished life here in ancient Scotland.

 

Will ye no come bak again?

Alan

 

 

 

 

London SE1 9QU

The Bailiwick in Windsor delighted us with its exquisite fish pie and seared scallops the evening before.  This indulgent dining experience, we imagined was going to be awfy hard to beat when we traveled south to London town.

Bermondsey Street, SE1 put up two impressive looking eateries, both carrying the name of a particularly colourful dude, Jose.  Choose between the simple tapas bar or more refined Jose Pizarro.  Pizarro won our business and our palettes.  Exceptional Spanish flavours delivered with care and accompanied by earthy Spanish wines.

Satisfied, we wrapped our scarfs snugly, wandering back to London Bridge, fascinated by SE1, a neighborhood populated by artisan bars and cafes, smart offices and quirky design studious. Swathes of light and purpose in a historically grim location.

Beyond the grime, there is a lost horizon waiting to be found.  Especially if you are prepared to chip through the sheer ice like exterior of the Shard.  A trip to the 35th Floor, elevator doors askance and voila, the Shangrilah greets you with its majestic perch over The Thames, over the heart of London.

Beyond the grandeur in the clouds,  the Shard continues to impress, from the heated toilet seats, luxury accommodation and of course, as you float in the pool on the 52nd floor, commanding views that embrace the marmite spread of this amazing city.

In 1666 London was burning.  Now, on London Bridge it is freezing.  I can't help but wonder what Sir Christopher Wren would think of London and the Shard in Brexit elect times.  We marvel at his work on St Paul's Cathedral and indeed in Greenwich, still commanding the lines of sight he imagined across the city, extending as far as Greenwich.  Both sites were symbolic of the skill set of London in the day, the capacity of Great Britain to rise above adversity and together with Royal approval, claim authority and permanence.

Wren's prominence as preferred architect to the crown prevailed until last century when London was burning yet again.  The blitz set seige to the city and St Pauls threatening again the very survival of this incredible city.  On this occasion, it was a very confident and self assured leader, Winston Churchill who delivered the leadership that London required.  Not always in sync with Royal approval, Churchill generally embodied the British spirit, Queen & country. 

His perseverance and leadership contributed to preserving the capital and the country.  It is perhaps at his funeral in the 60's that you recognise the depth of feeling for Churchill.  Beyond the outpouring of grief by the people, on the Thames you witness a sequila of cranes each orchestrated to bow simultaneously.  

The memory of Churchill and Wren are present in the London of now.  It remains a vibrant and stoic city still ready to delight contemporary visitors like our good selves.

Expect to be overwhelmed and expect to be impressed by this current and important London.

 

HOPE

As the full moon smears white across the early Edinburgh sky, I watch Tess devouring her denta bone on the Links.  Turning from the moon , the distinctive Barclay Viewforth church and surrounding Georgian tenements adopt a film noir feel.  Perfect conditions to reflect on the state of the world and our last eighteen months in Scotland.

Many years ago, Steven Covey, during a presentation at Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne invited me to, "Be an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity." This mantra stuck with me, empowering me over the last couple of decades to make some substantial achievements happen.  Now I am wondering if the Rev. Covey would mind if we changed mediocrity to uncertainty.

Whether it be Brexit here, the new Presidency in the States, turmoil in Allepo or the growth of the new right across Europe, these are indeed times of significant uncertainty.  Throw in more local questions around the future alliances or indeed independence of Scotland and it is reasonable to suggest that we could well be overwhelmed, gripped even by a mood of uncertainty this Christmas.

As with any mood, uncertainty can creep up on us and before long we are caught, often unaware in its swell.  Uncertainty can disempower, lay us prey to feelings of anger or disenchantment, even encouraging us to throw in the towel and simply give up. 

An antidote for uncertainty, I propose a paradoxically simple interpretation, hope.

Hope encourages us to lift our gaze from the here and now to the future, it allows us to take control where there appears to be none and invent scenarios that are engaging and empowering.

Hope is equally as powerful as uncertainty and all it takes is a choice to embrace it's power.  A choice that takes us beyond the toxicity of uncertainty to the possibilities inherent in all of our futures.  As the Rev Covey invites, what if we simply choose hope as our island in the current sea of uncertainty.

This Christmas I will toast the spirit hope as I continue to reflect on our achievements in Scotland.

In just over twelve months we have moved three times.  David Bowie, who sadly passed away this year encouraged us in 'Changes', to "turn and face the strange". We certainly did that, moving from Melbourne to Hollyrood, Hollyrood to Greenbank and finally Greenbank to Edinburgh.  Each move produced challenges, breakdowns and significant learnings.

We just recently won a dispute with our landlord in Greenbank, our very own "Castle" victory, and a great closure to the itinerant stage of our life here in Edinburgh.  Again the spirit of hope and perseverance paid off and we now embrace our fabulous new slice of Edinburgh on the Links.

Beyond moving, Linda has well and truly established her new professional identity with Blackrock, elevated to a new broader role within her first 12 months.  She has been invited to be part of an internal Board of Directors occurring next year. This will provide more opportunities to travel on this side of the planet.

Encased in it's own special package, Elliot's Presidencial medal for Edinburgh Rotaract is as impressive as it is heavy.  Like some sort of Mayoral charm.  From Rotaract to the Edinburgh University Swing Dance Club, Elliot has embraced his life and time in Edinburgh and continues to evolve as a leader.  His exams now complete for this year, he enters the final semester of his International Relations degree and is contemplating Honours next year.  More examples of hope in action.

I have been criticised a couple of times over this year of being too ambitious or visionary.

This time last year I was being misled by the  Board of Directors of a not for profit organisation into establishing a men's group, only to be told that my vision for a men's shed was not supported by the chairman or the board. Twelve months later, I am the Chairman of The Men of Leith Men's Shed, a new not for profit organisation recently credited with charitable status and embraced by the City of Edinburgh.

This combined with my new role as Trustee on the Board of the Scottish Men's shed Association, clearly highlights my capacity to learn, to persist and despite criticism or setbacks, to embrace ambition and continue to engage others in the future.  Hope, what's not to like.

My recent trip back to Australia confirmed the importance of creating our own futures as Duncan, Simon and I successfully completed the challenging Great Victorian Bike Ride.  A most satisfying anchor in the sea of uncertainty and the shape of many more adventure to come.

As the moons light dissipates in the even yellow of the sun, I Invite you, as you reflect on your year to allow some hope into your world this Christmas and beyond.

Merry Christmas from the Scottish Silcock's