In the light of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent resignation, I’ve been pondering the tribulations of the Roman Catholic church.

I should perhaps declare my position up front.   I’m a daughter of John Knox and a protestant rebel in every fibre of my being, and therefore  I’m not in the camp with the church of Rome.   But though I personally could not contemplate an authoritarian, patriarchal religion where women are not regarded as equals and where the clergy have authority over the laity, I have many friends who are Roman catholic.   I respect their beliefs and appreciate their charitable and god-fearing view of the world and have no desire to be either disrespectful or cause offence.   Nor do I approve of Ian Paisley calling the Pope the anti-christ.  Quite apart from his impoliteness to an invited guest , it is said that God’s house has many mansions.   There are fine, and there are not so fine,  people in every institution and walk of life.

It has long appeared to me that essentially Christendom comprises two opposing parties.   There is the Catholic church, and there are protestors against it;  and you are either of the one group or the other.   I always resent how the catholic clergy refer to their flocks as ‘the faithful’ but from the Church’s point of view the institution has remained faithful to the doctrines which it considers were handed to the first Pope from God as his one and only true church on earth.   It’s adherents have  also remained faithful to those doctrines (nominally anyway).

So far as I am aware, no significant tenet of faith has ever been abandoned by the church.   They believe that the Pope is Christ’s representative on earth;  that they are the one true church;  that the priesthood must be of unmarried men;  that marriage is a sacred and indissoluble union between man and woman;   that intercourse should be primarily for procreation;   and that a woman’s salvation lies in childbearing and that any attempt to pervert this natural outcome is sinful.   As far as I understand it, any non catholic is an heretic, but that God is merciful and the church forgiving and will gather to its bosom any repentant sinner and rejoice in their salvation.   For them, there is no salvation except through the medium of the catholic church.   These articles they have always believed and they have been faithful to that belief.   They see themselves as obedient to God’s commandments.

(I’ve been writing about obedience recently too.   Frankly I don’t think it’s the virtue it’s made out to be.)

But the point I’m labouring to make here is that it is that dogged perseverance and loyalty to its original doctrines (what they themselves call faithfulness):  that it is the strength of the Roman Catholic church which has never moved from its position.   It stands where it has always stood, and in its view, it is the only gateway to heaven.   If the catholic church were to give way on any major point, it would undermine its whole position.    Let us imagine  that the church were to agree that women could become priests, or priests could marry.   To do so would be to admit that it had previously been wrong.  If it were wrong about these matters, over what else might it be wrong?   Then it could no longer stand in its holy place as God’s true and only church on earth.   It would just be another religious sect with changing views.

However, the catholic church is under attack on all sides.   It is interesting to note how very, very few of the children who have been reared in the Roman Catholic church in the UK, choose, when they come to marry, to do so in the faith.   Secularism and the Body Scientific undermines all religion.    The church cannot truly make restitution for the damage that has been done to its own people by paedophile priests.   And there is pressure from within for it to give way and agree that priests may marry; women can become priests;  homosexual couples may marry;  contraception is not sinful etc.   Giving in to any one of these demands will only increase the expectation that all these changes are inevitable.   By this zealous, reforming body, each successive Pope  is judged and found wanting.   Yet (I as an outsider looking at this) can understand that were the church to give way on any of these issues, it would no longer BE the Roman Catholic Church.

Could it be that the Pope actually is making an enormous sacrifice?   Although elderly and frail, he does not appear to me to be a man whose vital strength has departed.   I think Pope Benedict has enjoyed being the Pontiff (in an entirely appropriate and proper way.)   I see no evidence that, with the help which would be available to him, he is incapable of carrying out his duties.   The suggestion that he had become despondent about Vatican insider politics and decided to abandon the struggle is in my view risible.   One does not get to be Pope without a thorough understanding of Vatican politics.

So I’m left wondering if Pope Benedict has, contrary to all his instincts and desires, decided to stand aside in order that he and like minded brethren may influence the selection of a pope who will stand firm against these attacks on the Church?   If this were true, it would represent a truly great sacrifice on the part of the pope, worthy of the great christian tradition.   If this were true, perhaps it might also maximise the chances of some young, charismatic, say African pope, one with a few decades left in him to fight the good fight;  and who could be described as a modern, progressive choice, while actually being deeply conservative.

It will be interesting to observe the process of election of a new pope.   Will this be the dawning of a bright new day?   Or will the whole thing just go up in smoke?

Unlikely Subject for a Blog from me



As I’ve remarked often before and at the risk of being boring, it would be difficult to find anyone less sporty than I am.    In my day I enjoyed some exercise – I liked walking, cycling, sailing.    I fancied learning to ride but not enough to do anything about it.   But basically what I like about all these things is that they are moving you about, and you get to see and observe different things.   When it comes to doing any of these things in competition with other people, my interest comes to an abrupt end.   Why bother?  What’s the point?   I couldn’t care less if someone can do all these things faster/better than I can.   Good luck to them.

You will understand then that gymn teachers in schools never viewed me with a favourable eye.    I don’t think the subject could even have been marked as an academic subject because I had no interest in it whatsoever.   When it came to being forced to participate in a game of hockey – a vicious, dangerous and pointless procedure I thought – I spent my energy in keeping as much distance between myself and the ball – or perhaps more accurately, other people’s sticks – as possible.   The gymn mistress – one of those energetic but plump persons, thought herself the mistress of withering sarcasm, so she demanded to know why I was always scuttling away from the ball like a frightened rabbit.   I replied that I didn’t want to play in the first place.    She said if I played no sport I would get very unfit.   I said I didn’t think so, I walked several miles a day, and besides I wasn’t fat.   The gymn mistress was a sensible, pragmatic woman, and she obviously had some ability in training teams for that school’s hockey and netball teams often won the coveted cup, and there were plenty of girls who shared her interest.     After that she wasted no more time on me, but she  didn’t meddle with me either, so I sat on the grassy banks while they played whatever it was and read my book.   I applauded when they won.   She had given me the opportunity to participate even though she must have seen that I would always be useless, so I had no further quarrel with her.

But when it came to dealing with men, I soon realised one at least had to be able to talk the sport, if not actually participate in it.   (A more accurate description is perhaps to know enough about it to be able to listen with intelligent interest.)        I have sat through cricket games at Lords where nothing happens at interminable length and what does happen is largely incomprehensible, and where applause occurs for no reason that you can see and then your companion explains that the batsman has just scored his thousandth run (but not in that game) and the only redeeming feature about the entire day is strawberries.

Fortunately John has little interest in cricket.   But he plays golf  with enthusiasm, and I have enjoyed walking some beautiful courses with him, or in more recent years, driving round in a buggy while he and Rory golfed.        I have watched many football and rugby games.

Rugby deserves its own assessment,  but today I’m thinking about football.     I can see why football is ‘the beautiful game’.  It operates on so many levels.   In a good game, a drama as fine as any battle unfolds before you.    I don’t pretend to understand the offside rule but the object of the game is to score most goals.    The team of 11 men functions like a battle troup.      There’s the captain, generally a defender and placed to the rear of the field so he can observe the whole of  the game.     It’s difficult to see what he actually does, but a good captain makes a difference.    (Arsenal had one fellow who used to sit in the field and weep if the game had not ended as he thought it should.)      Beside him will be ranged the other defenders, often big men of strength and aggression.   They are there to block the opposition from reaching the goal, and to pass the ball forward, but the best of them are in their own person formidable barriers of intimidating disposition.    The players in the midfield bring the ball forward and occasionally score, and then there are the stars up front, who may be slight and swift   and who score goals.   The goalkeeper in the rear is often a giant of a fellow who fills the goal area, of irritable disposition and loud and complaining bellow, but he also needs to be speedy and possess a sixth sense of being able to anticipate in advance where the ball is going to go.   All of these players can display breathtaking athleticism, speed and skill.   Apart from strength and  stamina, footballers also need considerable personal courage.   It is no game for wimps.

(No doubt this is a woefully inadequate description.)

Occasionally a player comes along who is truly outstanding in his generation.   These men are sometimes good looking as well – George Best, or Christiano Renaldo are two who come to mind.   Such a player is like a wizard with the ball as his familiar.   He can apparently do whatever he likes with the ball – it drifts towards him as if he were a force of gravity.   He can turn up as if by magic wherever the ball is going to be.   He can score with a  heel flick and his back to the goal.    He can effortlessly pull away from his pursuers in a race.    He can soar in the air as if he had wings and apparently hover there like a hawk until the ball connects with his head.   He is beautiful in motion and wonderful to watch.

But the most interesting ‘players’ of the game of football are, I think, the managers.   The great Daddy O of football at the moment is I think the long  serving Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.   I have made no comprehensive study of this matter, of course, but other prominent managers would include perhaps David Moyes, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho.      These men have often themselves been minor players, so that early in their careers they had to recognise this and begin the long training to become managers.

I have heard fans of other teams describe Ferguson as a horrible, nasty man.   I see no evidence of this.   These men operate in a very tough business.   They are only as good as their team’s last win.    If they win, their fame as a team and therefore their fortune will grow.    They will have more fans to shout them on and lift their spirits.    When Liverpool are in Europe at a final and they have lost the cup, and they are called up to receive the runner’s up medal which nobody wants, and you watch the captain square his shoulders and lead his men up, and suddenly even there abroad the crowd that has travelled with them swells into, You’ll never walk alone, you can see each man stand taller and feel comforted, and you know why Gerard says, Liverpool fans are the best in the world.      More fans mean more money, and more money means you can buy better players and have more chance of winning.   Winning is everything.   So if the manager can put off the other side;  intimidate the referee;  annoy the opposing manager and thus give their team an advantage, they will do that.   They would expect all that to be done against them, and they have to be able to deal with it.    If the team goes on winning, they will keep their jobs.

But those are the black arts of the football manager.   There are also golden ones.    They must have superb man management skills.   One primadonna scorer and ten disgruntled others will never win any cup.    They have to be a team, play together for the team, put team interests before their own personal glory.

Whenever you hear Ferguson speak on anything, he talks sense.   He never reveals the whole of his thinking, and he dissembles, but what else should he do?    He’s cunning and far-sighted, but also fair and sound in judgement and generous (if well treated.)   True, he’s a bad enemy, but then he’s a Scot, and who would be stupid enough to make an enemy of him?   As for Mourinho, he has all these qualities as well, and what is more, he is the Anthony Eden of football managers – stands out in every photograph  on account of his good looks.     I love Wenger’s French sophistication and his Gallic shrugs.   But it’s Moyes I’d put money on if you were betting on a replacement for Ferguson.

But then, as I said, there’s no-one less sporty than I am.   In this case I wouldn’t disagree  with the famous quote, ‘The wimmins, they know nothing.’   Certainly this ‘wimmin’ barely understands the rules.

But at least I can see why football is called ‘the beautiful game.’



My husband has always been generous to me, and I am not necessarily the easiest person in the world as far as receiving gifts is concerned.   Of course I will give polite thanks for anything I receive, and appreciate the thought and effort involved.    However, in spite of my protestations about how easy I am in this regard, I am in fact picky and exacting with decided ideas of what I like and don’t like.    At birthdays and Christmas, when asked for suggestions, I genuinely haven’t the faintest idea.   If I want something, I get it;  and if I can’t afford it, I think no more about it.   It says alot for the patience of my friends and their knowledge of me that I so often receive gifts which truly delight me.   I have many treasured things, gifts from husband, mother, children, relatives, girlfriends which not only give pleasure because of the recipient, but because they knew what I would like.

So when my husband presented me recently with a tiny stamp sized object – called, I now understand an I Pod Shuffle (a little joke there, for I too, when my pill goes down, am rather prone to shuffling!) – I wasn’t initially as appreciative as I should have been.    I hadn’t asked for it;  he hadn’t consulted me;  and I had no idea what it was.    I also have what amounts to a phobia about any new technology.  It was very small and I was doubtful I could handle it.   And I don’t like putting things in my ears.   But I remembered my manners, thanked him, and listened to the instructions.   It seems my husband understands me better than I thought he did.   I’ve come to love my little shuffler.

He asked me to write out a list of songs that I liked, and toiled away in his office for some time working some wizardry  and then presented me with the entire collection.  (How this was done I have no idea.)    Eventually I figured out how to insert the earpiece in my ear, and I only have to push one button.   I quickly eliminated her with the voice over telling you what the song is.   And I put it on random selection, because otherwise I will very quickly learn the order no matter how many songs there are and I like the element of surprise.   I find it interesting to see how quickly (often in just the two opening notes) you can tell which song it is.

One of my difficulties, as the Chinese practitioner of medicine put it so succinctly, is “Probrem is rady think too much.”     I have difficulty switching my brain off.   Now listening to music does not cut off thought processes entirely, but it causes the power of your thinking to slip down a  gear or two, so your mind ambles along, hands in pockets as it were, just noting what it’s hearing;  like an engine idling.   There is always the capacity of music – for which ability I am mistrustful of it – to bypass your thinking process entirely and hi-jack your emotional reactions so before you know it some seemingly harmless song has unreleased a great tsunami of grief – but then that doesn’t happen very often.

I enjoy my motley collection.   I don’t know what it says about me.  (Uneducated musical moron of eclectic tastes, probably.)   As you might expect, a high proportion of the songs I’ve chosen have beautiful lyrics.    There’s a lot of Irish and Scottish folk songs.     Some classical items.   Some are just ridiculous.  There’s No-one as Irish as Barack Obama;  Sinatra (When Joanna Loved me);  Susan Boyle, Wild Horses;  Dory Previn, the Lemon Haired Ladies;  Bob Dylan’s Forever Young (not sung by him);  Peter Sarsted’s Where Do You Go To My Lovely;  Joan Baez;  Queen;  The Beatles;  O Flower of  Scotland;  The Black Velvet Band;  On Raglan Road,   Hallelujah sung by Jeff Buckley;  Paul Simon;  Nessun Dorma;  O My Beloved Father;  some Willie Nelson (I’ve heard plenty of it over the years), some Kriss Kristoffersen (very clever lyrics); The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba;  How Great Thou Art; Handel;  Bach;  The Pride of the Irish Navy; Vivaldi.

In the early morning,  when I waken I can lie and listen to this random selection without disturbing the husband, (not always at his sunniest best in the early hours) so in giving me this gift, he has also given himself one!   Turns out John is a clever fellow, with a talent for gifts.

I listen to the music,   I enjoy it,  and I count my blessings.   When you think of the alternative, the quote ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’, applies to every single day.   Shuffling the cards that Fate dealt you, you realise it wasn’t a bad hand.

Who’d have thought there was so much to be said for shuffling?



So, Scotland is to be asked the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”   I find it extremely interesting that the powers that be have chosen to ask the question in this form, and that the existing government, which desires a No vote, has agreed to these words.

I realise of course that I am pedantic about words and may look at the wording of the question in an untypical way, but personally I don’t see how the question could be put in a way more slanted towards the Nationalists.

Should Scotland be an independent country?   Of course it should.   Should England be an independent country?   Yes.   Should Norway be an independent country?  Yes.   Should you, gentle reader, be an independent person?  Of course you should. There is also the brevity of the question.   Six words, and the destiny of a nation – several nations – in it.

Should.   There are implications there of duty and honour and obligation.    Something to which it  might be proper to aspire.    One should do one’s duty;  stand up for right;  pay one’s debts;  act with integrity.

Scotland.   Well, thank God that’s a clearly defined entity.   Everyone knows what and where that is.   When you say, anywhere in the world, Scotland, you don’t draw a blank response of ignorance.   People smile.    The picture that they form – heather clad mountains, shining rivers, handsome men in kilts, pipe bands, tossing the caber, Robert Burns and the haggis, whisky, the thistle, Gin ye dor (translation: come on if you’re hard enough)  may not be entirely accurate – it is not wrong, Scotland is all that, but it is alot more besides – but to put it in marketing parlance, as a brand, we’ve got recognition.   We’re not the kind of country where you might be forgiven for thinking, ‘Mali?’

Be.   We can certainly BE, and perhaps it is a weakness in the question, for we undoubtedly ARE.

Independent.   Stand on your own.    Think for yourself.   Understand your separate aloneness.   Make your own mind up.    Be self reliant.   These are all characteristics of the majority of  Scots.

We all absolutely understand, more so perhaps than we do with Wales – and no disrespect to the sons of the dragon – that Scotland IS a country.   When I say to my friends, why are places referred to as ‘the North’ when they’re south of Scotland, they answer, ‘But that’s another country.’   Or in talking of the UK’s legal or educational system, people will pause in their analysis and shrug  their shoulders and say, ‘Oh as for Scotland – it’s another country!’

It’s interesting that the word ‘country’ was used and not ‘nation’.   In ‘Flower of Scotland’, the Scots democratically selected national anthem, chosen by the simple expedient of it being sung forcefully whenever any other anthem was played, there is a verse which says (referring to the time when Scotland saw off the marauding English king ):

Those days  are gone now

And in the past they must  remain.

But we can still rise now

And be The Nation again…

I find this rising to be The Nation the most moving line in the whole song.   I love the use of the  word word ‘rise’.   We don’t have to fight.    We just have to rise up and BE the nation, like we rose up and sang the song.

As I have repeatedly said, I have no idea how the vote will turn out.   I won’t have a vote, and as I no longer live there, I am content with this situation.   But I’m by no means certain that this is the question Cameron should have asked.   I thought the Tories, and especially Osborne the Sneerer were supposed to be ace at strategy?    Am I missing the subtlety of some especial cleverness here?     We could have asked Should Scotland leave the UK?    Should Scotland separate from England?   Should the union be broken up?   Should we increase the powers of devolution within the union?    Any number of questions could have been asked.   And then again, it’s surprisingly vague.   Should Scotland be an independent country?  When?  How?  On what basis?   Does the government in the south think that this opacity is a defence for its position?   Do the Nationalists believe that the theoretical nature of the question mean voters will decide without considering the consequences?

I’ve made my position clear already.   I think we should attempt to save the union, but it would have to operate on a different basis.

But of one thing I’m absolutely certain.   Were I a Scottish voter, and  the question were put to me in the form proposed, Should Scotland be an independent nation?   I’d have absolutely no option but to answer, Yes.   To answer No would be to deny our whole birthright.