The Sandal in the Door


At the long table next to ours sat a group of a dozen or so  insurance salesmen, sober-suited youngsters who looked a little like these mild-mannered Mormons you see going around  in pairs, and a senior salesman, American-looking, going grey, lean, doing all the talking.
You know whyou’ve been so successful? ” he asked and without waiting for an answer “I’ll tell you why, ” he told them ( I gathered later they were the regional winners in  some national salesperson competition). “Because you’re like me. Yes, because you’re so like me. When I started in this business he leant back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head),  yes, way back when I started as a poor door-to-door salesman, a bit like Willy Loman,  what I earned was linked to what I sold yet when I walked into a house and saw a couple barely coping, with a couple of hungry kids, apologising for the mess the place was in, offering me a cup of tea, the last thing on my mind was my commission.”  He unclasped his hands and leant forward. ” You know what was on my mind? ” He waited until he had everyone’s attention before he told them what had been on his mind. “I’ll tell you what was on my mind. There’s a car crash, the husband is killed, it turns out he has no insurance and the next thing I see is that poor woman and her poor kids without a home, out on the streets, without help, without a future.”  He tapped his chest.  ” That’s what I felt. In my heart that’s what I felt. The need to save these people. It was a moral thing, not a money thing at all, purely a spiritual thing. How could I best help these people whom I hardly knew but somehow felt responsible for? ” He swirled the ice in his glass and gave it his serious consideration before looking up. ” I’ll tell you how. By making them take out insurance, that’s how. Yes, it was a spiritual thing. In fact ( he put his glass down on the table) in fact…. in fact if Jesus was to come back today, you know what he’d come back as?” He looked from one face to the other, waiting. ” I’ll tell you what he’d come back as.”  Once again he leant back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head before he told them. “An insurance salesman,” he told them. ” An insurance salesman.”


The University of St. Andrews



We used to walk along the pier then go back along the pier

wall on Sundays in our red gowns after church, usually in

twos, talking and non-talking, a pleasant monk-like ritual.

Out of term time, tourists do the same trek but without the

prequel chapel experience and lacking the mediaeval charm

of the red gown



This was a serious cloistered place where we came to see our

examination results pinned to the  notice boards  for all the

world to see.  Here is all the world studying our results.



Outside the chapel on the cobble stones are printed and

interlinked the letters P H to mark the killing of Patrick

Hamilton. I think he was burned as a heretic. Ah religion,

what cruelties are (still) committed in thy name!




Half-way up the wall is the window out of which the hanged

body of Cardinal Beaton was displayed. He was a Catholic

plenipotentiary who eventually paid the full price of his

unpopularity. Ah, religion etc.




The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton attracted

fame and focus to the University where the couple met and

fell in love and spent important young years of their lives as

students. Gather ye rosebuds, carpe diem, you’re a long time

dead.  Gaudeamus igitur iuvenes dum sumus….. Still a

powerful message.

Exotic Love

Gthes 6

Since my wife’s return from India, my life has been changed utterly. Even our conversations are totally different. When I say ” How are you this morning? ” Lydia laughs and says,” WHY are you this morning?”

Then there is the chanting and dancing bit. She brought a CD  back with her and seated in what she tells me is the lotus position she chants along with it. The same notes/words over and over – Ka – Ri – Na – Ka – Ri – Na – Ka – Ri – Na – Ka – Ri – Na – Ka Ri – Na – Ka – Ri …..  I occasionally chant along with her so that she doesn’t feel I am being a negative presence although, unlike her, I feel pretty self-conscious about it all. What if one of my clients happens to peek in the window?

Then there is her dance routine. She starts by shaking herself all over and snuffling through her nose then her chanting becomes louder, she leaps about from foot to foot then throwing her arms into the air jumps and lands with a jarring thud on her heels. The heels, she tells me, are the font of sexuality. Then she whirls around and screams and shouts. This, she says, releases and drives out all her false selves, her bad spirits.

The one time I tried to join in, two policemen alerted by neighbours came to the door and refused to go till they saw for themselves that she was alive and unharmed and heard her rather too full explanation of what had been happening. I have a feeling they could hardly wait till they got back to the station to share the joke with the lads.

Miracle on Sauchiehall Street

100_3017 abcdLast Tuesday,  with time to kill  before going to  the GFT to see  ‘A Life of Pi ‘  (the 3D version),  I was idly watching the world go by through the window of  Toshie’s Coffee House (I suppose I may  have looked a bit like a Vermeer to the Indian (?) woman who was taking  my photograph) when something amazing happened, something that took my breath away….. I saw a miracle, I saw a man in combat gear stop between me and the Indian lady who had just photographed me,  saw him stop bang in the middle of the busy street and,  without any visible effort, slowly, ever so slowly,  rise off the ground, rise several feet off the ground and…. stay there….. hanging  there…….. effortlessly suspended in….in space.

gw 1nnOnly  I  seemed to notice him, everybody else hurrying  past with more important places to visit, more urgent business to attend to, or perhaps they had seen this miracle before and no longer gave it a second thought. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to witness it.
I paid for my coffee and hurried outside but I was too late, too slow, the man in combat gear, the man who had defied and defeated the frightful forces of gravity, was gone.
All through the film (which was excellent, stunningly  beautiful at times, always thought-provoking*) my mind kept drifting away  to the levitating man.  What did it mean? Why had only I seen him? Had I really seen him? Was it, like in the Neil Young song, only a dream? But even dreams have to have some meaning so what did it mean this picture I had in my mind of a man hanging in space and only me noticing? What did it mean?

* I think the film’s conclusion gave you a choice to make between two  beliefs: a) the hope-bringing ‘story’ of religion as an explanation of the purpose underlying human existence, as opposed to b) Darwin’s amoral, evolutionary theory that only the fittest survive.

Independence Day

 embra witches 2

Down from the castle
down past St Giles
towering over the masses
ever mindful of their mission
led by their strutting Italian drummer
tatatarat tatatarat tatatarat  tatat
the 3 wild witches
rattling their rattles
Make way! Make way!
stride over the cobbles
down the Royal Mile
glide down to  the Palace
bringing  the great news
first to  brave  Edwin
the proud nation’s defender
then to his mother
then to all the good people
of Edwin’s fair city.

manatwindow q

Understanding Stones

This is the Craw Stane standing on its own above Rhynie in Aberdeenshire. The carving below the salmon  is called the Pictish Beastie. What it means nobody knows. The stone is either a boundary  marker or a memorial plinth.

These are what’s left of a stone circle near Kirriemuir in Angus. It marks a burial site

These are gneiss stones  which  form an avenue leading to some central significant location.


These are the Callanish Stones in Lewis which form a circle round a central pillar and are part of a lunar clock.
Local tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stone as a punishment. Another local belief says that at sunrise on midsummer morning, the “shining one” walked along the stone avenue, “his arrival heralded by the cuckoo‘s call.” This legend could be a folk memory recalling the astronomical significance of the stones.

And full circle – back to Rhynie’s Craw Stane…..The cows in the field  find the Craw Stane an ideal rubbing post and it is in grave danger from theme