Sunday, 6 July 2014

CHASING SHADOWS

I woke thinking of friends of mine caught up in one of life's storms.



From a close family, what pain for all when a much loved parent develops something such as Alzheimers. At first, looking the same externally as they always did. But inside, that process of slipping silently away has begun, even before we know that something is wrong they are leaving us. 'Good days' and 'bad days' shift balance until the person left is but a shell of the one we knew so well.  So familiar, so loved by all around them. And in the beginning, they themselves can be very aggravated by forgetting things, snapping at people they care for and experiencing a myriad of feelings of confusion and upset by changes within them that they can not control. However, in time, their consciousness can fade yet further until, the ones around them, they are left grieving for the person they once knew. A shell of their loved one still in front of them but treasured memories once shared now gone. To watch a loved one lose their unique character, their personality, their humour and all the love they once gave to others fade away. Only those left caring for them remain to remember how things used to be (and what a mental burden that is to be carried by the carer)...

'Eventually' it will become obvious that a balance needs to be found between being 'carer' and 'caring for oneself'. A painful step back is needed to find some space from the capacity of this illness to draw in the carer's love, patience and understanding - draining emotional well-being and all the carer's energy without respite. The carer has a duty to themselves as much as to the one they care for. Yet, that step back that is required, that move can only be made when the time is right and each of us can only make that decision for ourselves. Around the person who is the carer, their family and friends also find this period to be a very difficult time - they can support the carer (and yes, they must try to give all the support to the carer that they can) but also, they must not lose sight of the need for balance in their own lives. Such a difficult stage to balance, there are so many challenges to be met by everyone. Nevertheless, as mere human beings, we can so often look back and then be amazed to realise just what we were capable of, so much more than we thought we could be. We CAN manage to navigate our way through life's storms. But each challenge must be faced one day at a time - we can move forward and eventually find our way back out the dark days, back in to the light. Having been a carer to parents, to family and friends myself, in life's difficult times I have found the Serenity Prayer to be a great support. 


A tide's lowest ebb is when it turns and with us too, it is so often when we think we can't hang in there a moment longer. Then we find, from our own remarkable efforts - we find that we finally do turn a corner and a way forward becomes clear. We are capable of so much more than we could ever imagine. Some would wish to protect us, so no tear was ever shed but tears are part of life and learning and  through these times, sad and happy tears - we learn and we grow as people.

Sharing personal experiences, of life's most challenging times, that process can be of use to others currently caught up in the same sort of 'storms' that we have navigated. Myself, generally at ease in expressing myself, at the time I was a carer I found there were many months I had nothing I wanted to say. I didn't want to feel any feelings, let alone express them - but still, I remember that time well.  Therefore, thinking of my friend and what I went through, I wrote this poem today. 

I know how hard it is to watch a loved one fade away and my poem reflects that. But also, now many years later, having passed through that storm (and being so very happy in my life today) I hope that there may be something in what I have shared, no matter how small - just something which makes a difference to anyone who reads this. We can all say to a loved one "you NEED to step back" but, it IS so hard and ultimately, only they can do what they can do. We sail the seas of life together but only each of us can navigate our own way through. Until then, the love of family, of friends  - we can only offer our help to those who are struggling. We can't take away another's pain (much as we would wish to, we can't protect them from all the tears that need to fall) but we can offer out our hand to steady and to guide them. We can offer to them a heart that is full of love. And when words aren't enough for that moment - we can use hugs to convey the love that we feel. 


CHASING SHADOWS 

You were my anchor, my safe port in any storm,
The one who gave me life, kept me safe when I was born.
My sun, my moon, my stars, you built the world I knew.
For all the tears I cry, I know I still “love you”.

Now left to chase your shadow, your sunshine once so bright,
Tho' you can look the same, Alzhemiers hides your light.
A quiet empty stare, at times my sole reward,
And anger you never had - “oh why dear Lord?”

“Why did this have to happen?” How could this ever be?
Child-parent carrying this burden, from which I can’t break free.
Chasing shadows, chasing shadows, like clouds across the sea.
Anchored by our life of love, as you once carried me…

In these times that life's a blur, when love's put to the test,
Safe harbours are ahead, and there I'll take my rest.
Lessons learnt in life, these will serve me well,
But when this chapter closes, only time will tell, 



The strength we require is in each of us




Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Flower of Scotland, R.I.P. Margo MacDonald

Across my life are memories of Margo MacDonald. As a very young child with my family, grouped around to watch our black and white TV, I remember the excitement when this amazing woman won her seat in the most strongly contested area of Govan. On the other side of Scotland, Govan was well away from our comfortable house in the Edinburgh suburbs. Yet, from a family who had worked in fishing and mining - we could well relate to the changes happening in Govan ship building. Back then was a time where it did seem that 'IF ONLY' Scotland's people would come together then they could work to change their world for the better. Yes, this was the time before the devastation that Thatcher's years of rule would subject Scotland to. And back then, my family had a very strong interest in politics. However, we did NOT follow a political party blindly, (because family before us had followed the same party). No! Debate was very strong in our household. Indeed,  how often I heard the remark that it didn't matter if all opinions were in agreement so much as it mattered that people actually had an opinion. It was important that people cared, cared enough to be aware of the facts so that they could try their best to do what they could to make a difference. Opinions needed to be formed through decisions made in light of the available evidence. Being widely read was a fundamental starting point and in a disagreement - it was no good to just say "that's rubbish" you had to explain why you thought another's position was wrong and solutions to problems needed to be put forward. Perhaps then, it was no wonder that I got in to student politics. Wanting to hear 'all sides' -  I went to meetings with different political parties and listened to the arguments, for and against. And it was in that period of learning that I first heard Margo MacDonald speak in person, Margo and the equally brilliant speaker, her husband Jim Sillars.

Yesterday, talking of his wife's passing, Jim Sillar's said "the brightest light in the Scottish political firmament has gone out" and indeed, it feels like this today. As shock of grief subdues in to that weary feeling of loss, it seems so personally cruel that Margo has gone just a few short months before Scotland holds its Referendum. I feel that my country could so benefit now from having her voice to speak out in debate as she has done over so many years. But note in my writing here, I am not coming down on one side or the other. I am simply expressing my thoughts that Margo has indeed been such a powerful and enduring light in Scottish politics that we greatly miss her contribution now.

Such an inspirational speaker, I heard Margo (and Jim) talk in various political and business situations. Both so powerfully articulate. But no, I did not agree with Margo on every matter. Yet, I was always interested to hear her position for I had the upmost respect for her. A person I heard on the radio, saw on TV, read in the newspapers - so many, many years passed with no thought that I might ever meet her in person but one day our paths did cross. A meeting with her which would have a lasting influence - and on a personal note I can say - Margo you are sorely missed...

One very ordinary morning I was walking to work when I saw someone struggling with a load of bags as they tried to get out of a taxi. The driver had got out on to the pavement to offer his assistance but this woman was proudly waving him away that she could manage (but there were a lot of files in bags and she seemed to be having some difficulties with her mobility). Passing by so near, I stepped forward and gave my biggest smile. In a disarming voice I commented along the lines of "Ach, another woman like my mum! One who can manage just fine - but maybe you'd take the arm of a stranger?". My friendly greeting made her look up and she laughed (I think it was a laugh at herself as much as what I had said). But then I did a double take and it was me laughing as I exclaimed "Wow! It's Margo MacDonald."

I recall she said something about me having the advantage over her because she didn't know who I was and I'd just smiled. "Ah, I'm someone of no importance" (offering again my arm to lean on she'd stepped on to the pavement). But "No" she insisted "EVERYONE is of importance to me." I had shook my head again smiling, I didn't think it was worth trying to recall my name but I certainly had great respect for what she was doing. And suddenly, right there in the street I was talking about her campaign. Her debate on Assisted Suicide so that those with terminal illness could have the right to die with dignity.

I went on to say that, having seen terminal illness first hand (as a carer) - what she was doing was of great personal importance to me. I talked about how strongly I felt that the law needed to be changed to be clear on this matter. I passionately believed, from all I had seen, that people should have the right, A FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOM TO DIE IN THE MANNER THAT THEY CHOOSE TO AND SO RETAIN THEIR DIGNITY RIGHT UP TO THE END OF THEIR LIFE. I had been deeply touched by Margo's situation and by what she was doing! Yes, I explained it had upset me to learn she was battling Parkinsons, I had a heartfelt wish that she could be in good health for many years to come. However, I saw something to be taken from all this and, for me, it seemed to be the same lesson I had observed when my mum had battled cancer. After, I had looked back on that time I realised, in that period between diagnosis and death - my mum had been given and taken her opportunity to say a very loving and powerful, long and lasting goodbye. My mum had chosen to avoid drugs which could have confused her (although they would have dulled the pain) because she had seen her remaining time as so precious, such an important opportunity to take that she had wanted to do all that she could to get things 'tidied up and sorted out before she left'. I had commented to Margo that, when I had reflected on the news of her battle with Parkinsons - yes, it was so very sad. Yet, I could flip round that terrible situation to make good come from it through a change in the law and a legacy which could benefit all who followed. Already I knew Margo was taking this opportunity, taking the time she had left to facilitate debate and realise change.  So widely known in Scotland and 'loved by many' - wasn't Margo just the right person, at the right time and in the right place to bring the end of life debate right out there in to public view? Suddenly aware that, through the surprise of our impromptu meeting - I might not be expressing myself as well as I could, I knew that everything I wanted to say really all boiled down in to two words. I just wanted to say THANK YOU!  I so greatly appreciated her courage, her bravery in tackling the debate and her staying power in not turning away from all this for an easier route.

There on the pavement, on what had been a very ordinary day, suddenly this extraordinary woman was reaching out and warmly hugging me. And in that moment there was a bond forged through the pain and inevitable pathway of terminal illness. Standing back to give me a big smile she had asked would I come in and talk over coffee. But then, realising the time I had to make my apologies to go. I had explained if I didn't leave right there and then that I would be late for work. Margo had asked where I worked and I'd named the organisation before going on my way. Nevertheless, some hours later, it was still a surprise when I was contacted at work. Margo wanted to know "when would be a suitable time for me to pop in to the parliament for a blether" - she wanted to talk some more...

I met Margo a few times after that first meeting and then the last time we met it was at a work event. I had no advance knowledge before our last meeting that I was going to see her (we had both been invited to the same function). But as ever when I arrived, there was Margo - robustly leading a debate. With a huddle of interested folk around her, she was like a Queen Bee holding court, as ever, what she was saying was being listened to with rapt attention. That day as on others I saw Margo doing great work and at this particular function she was promoting the importance of sport and exercise in building up positive habits for a healthy lifestyle and she was strongly making the case that there was a need for society to work towards improved health for all (she could make an economic case for this - that preventative treatment was better than cure but she also of the opinion - it was just the right thing to do!). Margo looked great, smiling away, chatting to everyone, arguing her case for more money to be put in to sport so that there was access to sport for all, no matter what their income. Everything appeared good with Margo yet I noticed a subtle gesture as her hand moved involuntarily to place pressure on her hip. There was no fuss, certainly no complaint from her but it was obvious to me that she was experiencing a great deal of pain. Hers was the sort of discreet gesture that I had seen my mother do the same when battling cancer. Always a smile to be shared, a friendly supportive word to be given - yet the challenges of ailing health were causing difficulty. Quietly and very discreetly, I spoke to Margo (and by this time she knew a lot about me and what I had experienced). Margo listened to my delicately put concern that she was maybe a bit tired could take a break. She gave me an intense look for a moment and then her face lit up with the biggest SMILE. A twinkle in her eye, Margo gave me a huge and knowing wink "it's a long game and I'm not done yet".   With that, Margo moved on again, taking the opportunity to get her photo taken so she might raise the profile of the campaign to benefit others. The photos taken in these next few minutes, they followed on with this last picture of us both below. A snap which turned out to be the last photo I have of one of the most remarkable women I have ever met.


Party politics colours debate - and latterly in her lengthy career, Margo stood as an independent. She stood for what she believed in and what she believed was that she could give a voice to the poor. Margo spoke up for the ones often forgotten by society, the people most in need of someone in a public position to campaign and work away on their behalf. Margo cared enough to try her best to level out the discrepancies that exist in society between the haves and have nots. Margo was a champion of the common people and in the public eye, she seemed (to me) to always be just the same totally down to earth Margo. In public or tirelessly behind the scenes, Margo worked so hard to make a difference. Perhaps, 'IF' anything was slightly different outwith the public eye it would only be that her private sense of FUN, her infectious sense of mischief  and her wickedly good humour was slightly (only slightly) toned down in public. For, even in public, how many a debate benefited from her sharp wit, brilliant word play and disarmingly quick one liners.

An independent, Margo was like a one woman army! Whatever campaign she backed it went on to benefit greatly from her support for Margo so warmly engaged with the public and shaped opinion. In Scottish life, Margo was a tremendously influential character, in and outside of the parliament. Surely, who in my country is not aware of the charismatic politician "Margo" who has worked so hard over so many years for Scotland and our people. For me, Margo's passing marks the end of an era - although she, no doubt, would be the first to say that "the game's not done yet". Life in Scotland goes on, yes of course. But Margo's legacy remains with us all and I like so many will miss her greatly. At national gatherings we so often sing "Flower of Scotland" and the words strike a chord with me in the line "oh Flower of Scotland, when will we see, your likes again?" The light that shone through Margo has gone out but her legacy lives on.

 MARGO WAS A STATESWOMAN FOR SCOTLAND, a political leader who worked tirelessly with everyone and anyone to transcend party politics and act as a promoter of good for all.


When I  think back on Margo I see a woman who you could call a 'Flower of Scotland' in that she was strong and proud and stood up ready to fight for what she believed in. She was a beautiful lady, inside and out with the greatest compassion for others. Thank you Margo for what I saw you do for the people of Scotland. Such a warm person, you retained a great sense of FUN and personal strength, able to share a ready smile with others, even in declining health. You were and always will remain to be such a great inspiration to so very many. 

R.I.P. Margo MacDonald  (19.04.43 - 4.04.14)
My thoughts go out to Margo's family and friends.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

BEES - here today, gone tomorrow?

"SORRY" - well, that makes a difference (NOT). So here is a story: I plant my garden for NATURE. No it is not the tidiest garden & sometimes I get irritated when snails eat my bedding plants. But, hedgehogs visit my garden & eat the snails. Indeed, some years ago there was even a badger (once).

Through my garden, foxes will pass every night and squirrels are often seen in the day. And the birds, at dawn and dusk, I hear them sing so beautifully and during the day they will skip through honeysuckle and clematis as they eat the aphids they find. On the path too, I often see small trails of tiny ants - busily going about their business. Indeed, when I sit and just watch and listen - I can see a whole eco system supported in my small garden.


I have such a very small garden that at first, when I pulled up the gravel and the plastic sheeting underneath, some people passing by commented I was crazy to be 'ruining' such a tidy and low maintenance garden. Yes, it was going to be a little bit more work for me and yes, I was always busy with a variety of projects. BUT one day I saw a butterfly - so delighted I watched it flutter along but then it was gone as - there was no reason for it to stop. There was no food for this tiny critter in my garden. Having just bought the house the garden had been made 'presentable' for sale and it was virtually devoid of nature. I wanted to restore the balance.


My dad would gather and scatter poppy seeds
(these orange ones scattered by him).
I felt strongly about providing a habitat for nature but I could hardly get all my neighbours and everyone I knew to do the same. BUT I could do something in my own small patch of ground. The garden had actually been built on a piece of waste ground where rocks had been dumped and once through a thin layer of top soil - it was a mess. It took me a week and the back breaking removal of 3 wheelie bin fulls of big stones to get it ready for the richer soil I brought in. At the end, yes, it looked amazing - so neat and tidy and full of potential. BUT so many years later, it's not so tidy now but has been more loved by nature than ever. But I just used past tense because things have changed.


In this time of economic cut backs I got a very 'costly' visit from the Council (a fatal visit for the eco system of my garden). Having lived in my house for over 15 years for the first time someone was sent out to maintain the pavement from any weeds. In all the years I have lived here this was never done before. If any weeds did show then I would tidy them away.

Was it a problem for me, to have nature visit my garden? If it was it certainly never registered that it was unacceptable (I did not find it a problem to take 5 mins, one or twice a year to tidy the border of my garden where it met the pavement). However, in 2013 - someone in their wisdom decided there was a problem and sent a person with weed killer to "tidy up nature". Was the person tired? Were they not being careful? Did it not even enter their head that they should be careful? Whatever happened exactly is that weedkiller was not just sprayed on the pavement but WEEDKILLER WAS PUT ALL ALONG THE FRONT OF MY GARDEN (and everything was killed).

I arrived home to find a pile of dying snails by my gate and all along the border. And over the days the beautiful display of flowers bent their heads, their leaves shrivelled up and they died. On the other side of the 2 cm thick fence, I wait to see if the honeysuckle and clematis will survive. But, at the front of the garden where bees buzzed around the flowers - now there is silence. The squirrels which were also making a come back, they too have been missing for days (perhaps avoiding the smell of the pesticide? I don't know). Yet, is this all a story of gloom? Well, the Council has sent down an inspection team and they have contacted me to confirm that YES all the plants they have accidently sprayed are now dead (I did think that was obvious) so what is the end result? Well - "they are very sorry" Ah good, well then - that makes all the difference - does it?

As my dad would say "what is a weed but a flower by another name"

Lastly, I finish today with this story from America where bee owners are experiencing the complete collapse of many bee hive populations. Indeed, bees from Australia (where certain now banned pesticides were not used) - bees not subjected to these pesticides are being exported to try and restock the world population. And I point out that this is obviously not a sustainable solution as almost as fast as new arriving bees are being sent out to pollinate crops, the bees are dying in their millions (towns and cities almost becoming a safer environment for bees). I passionately believe that we all need to do what we can to help save bees...

To see what you can do to help - do a Google search and find groups you can join and work with in your area (every little helps). By all means, you can also repost and share this blog with your friends online. Many thanks, Shona.

Monday, 31 December 2012

When Dreams Come True


A New Year is just about to begin and at the start of a new year I always find myself looking back and forward.
A new year seems so full of opportunity, the potential to shape our lives as we would want them to be be but in truth, the possibility for change is always there. Our lives are built from an ongoing collection of events which are shaped by the choices that we make every moment of our days - what we do and what we do not do, over time, these decisions all blend together to build up the overall picture of that which is our life (a collection of individual days).


As so many things contribute to build up our lives, to substantialy change our direction takes a number of factors and the first one is surely 'space' for clarity of thought. In 2012, I was given a wonderful opportunity to go to Canada and spend several months there working on a photography project. Yet, removed from my life's daily events in Scotland I also had the opportunity to look at my life and decide in what ways I wanted to shape it for my future. Of course tho', not everything we plan to do does happen as we envisage - but through our set backs, we also have the opportunity to learn what and who are most important to us. And for me, that's what 2012 has been - a year of reflection, planning and preparation for the future, the future I want for the next chapter/s in my life.

Who knows exactly how 2013 will turn out, who knows who will be in my life (our lives) as 2014 begins. But in 2012, I know I spent my time with some really great people and looking back I know that one more than any other installed in me the need to remember that it really does take time to make our dreams come true. Yes, sometimes something can happen suddenly but it seems to me that what benefits us the most are those changes which actually take a lot of time and hard work to achieve. When dreams come true we need to be standing in the right place, at the right time and to have first got to that place we need to have done a lot of work in advance.


Life like the weather is always changing, sunshine and showers, sunrises/sunsets.  In and out of our lives people move, some friends stay forever, others for a short while. But each person we meet has the opportunity to teach us some important lesson from which we can benefit and take with us, a lesson carried in our hearts and in our minds to help us shape our journey.  So in 2013, what I hope for the most is patience and perseverence to stay true to my own plan to make more 'dreams come true'. Time is so very precious, I think it is worth the effort of the work it takes within each of us to make our dreams come true. And in that process - my thanks to these really inspirationational people along the way who enter our lives and share their wisdom which helps us to stay true to our forward journey. Success comes ultimately from an ever onwards, ever upwards movement, pushing on through the clouds that will shadow a journey, always pushing onwards, upwards to the light.

The most encouraging words in 2012 said to me from a friend -
"Remember - eventually, the cream rises to the top"

Words applied to 2013, which by 2014, will have helped me
to have made yet more new dreams  come true.


Looking back from 10 April 2014 I can see
- in 2013 - my birthday 'dream' came true :-)


And everyone who ever achieved their goal
- in the beginning it was 'just' a dream...

Michael Buble and his mum on Oprah Winfrey's show


Sunday, 27 May 2012

FLY SCOTLAND'S SALTIRE: NO OLYMPIC BAN

The Saltire flag - as with any country's national flag, the Saltire is one of Scotland's most iconic of symbols. The home of the flag originates at Athelstaneford in East Lothian where legend has it that the sign of the flag first appeared as white clouds on a blue sky before a winning battle. And, what Scot is not inspired by the Saltire proudly flying.

Yet today, thankfully, the flag is not seen in fights to the death but displayed in celebration around many cultural and sporting places in Scotland. And surely, there are none so dear and iconic as our national football stadium at Hampden. However, recently, connected to the Queen's Jubilee celebrations and the 2012 Olympics - Scotland has been awash, not with Saltires but with union jacks (much to do with marketing initatives used by national stores keen that 'we' join in Jubilee parties and BUY BRITISH). Nevertheless, where intense union jack 'activity' can be troublesome on the eye of a nationalist supporter - it is quite something else to stomach an unacceptable announcement that the Saltire flag is to be banned from flying at Hampden during the 2012 Olympics, the Olympics which Scotland is also involved in hosting.

Despite all the PR spin that Scotland was to play a big part in the Olympics, although happy to take Scottish money supporting the Games, the fact that we might want to fly our flag over our national stadium - no that does not appear to be ok. Such an absurd ruling, when I heard this myself I at first thought that I must be mistaken. But no, there are numerous news stories confirming what is surely a step too far for any Scot to accept without protest against this ban. For more details see: BBC NEWS STORY



Online, protest action has now begun to raise the profile of this insensitive ruling by the Olympics governing body. To get more details and to support that campaign please visit this page and help to spread the word against this unacceptable Olympic ruling through your own social media sites. Facebook protest group.



In 2012, in the quiet village of Athelstaneford (the home of the Saltire flag) across the fields where battle raged, now all is quiet with bird song and the breeze, the only sounds to be heard. From Athelstaneford, out across Scotland and beyond - now there appears to be a growing resurgence in Scottish people finding their voice. It seems to me in 2012, this is not the time to stay silent about a Saltire ban but to make some noise and speak out!  Speak out and lets see the Saltire flying in Hampden and in other places across this country. No country should be told by others where they can and can not fly their flag at home - let's fly the Saltire in Scotland and especially at Hampden!


Friday, 20 April 2012

STREETS OF LONDON

I've had to be in London a few times this year, dashing down from Edinburgh and back again for the shortest of stays - so rushed I didn't even take my camera! However, this last trip has been longer - still very busy (with little time for photos) I had my camera with me and was struck by what I observed as I waited to cross a road.

I had stopped on a traffic island in the centre of the Mall (that huge avenue - presented so well on the TV during the coverage of the Royal wedding). Waiting for a break in traffic to continue on my way I suddenly saw a person walking along on the far side of the road with two ferrets! An unusal sight to see in any city - I quickly got my camera out and took a photo. Very well behaved little critters, the way they appeared so happily to bound along beside the man, they made me smile. But as I watched this same stretch of road the man walked out of my gaze as a huge limo pulled up (turning heads as it did, people no doubt wondering what wealthy person, perhaps which celebrity was inside). I would not normally have photographed such a thing but as the car slowed to stop - a man on a bicycle passed by (but no one seemed to notice this man).


A man on a bike with what appeared to be his worldy goods all tied up in carrier bags. Brightly red, white and blue carrier bags but in London's streets - he seemed to pass by as if invisible. After he passed I took this photo and here have cropped out the other people - those so near to him who didn't appear to even give a first glance, let alone a second. No one seemed to care and yet the arrival of the grand limo had turned heads. People seemed to see wealth and power yet poverty had passed by unseen. I recalled Norman Tebbit's comments that the unemployed should "get on their bikes and go and find work" - as I watched him cycle away, he blended into the London traffic until I could see him no more but as I stood looking - along came another limo, this time, one that was bright pink... (to turn as many heads as possible?).


It was a bright sunny day but I recalled Ralph McTell's song which had been written oh so many years ago now and yet, I shivered - in 'the streets of London' it seemed that there was as much as ever which was still so badly in need of change. Yet, how can a situation ever change if so many choose instead not to see, to be blind to the problems of others? From a limo to a home in carrier bags (the expression "there but for the grace of God go I" - people relate to what effects them but society needs to relate to what effects us all. In our world, there are many 'invisible people' in need of help.



THE STREETS OF LONDON by Ralph McTell

Have you seen the old man,
in the closed down market
Kicking up the papers
with his worn out shoes
In his eyes you'll see no pride
and held loosley by his side
Yesterday's paper
Telling yesterday's news 

So how can you tell me
You're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine
Let me take you by the hand
And lead you through
the streets of London
And I'll show you something
Which will make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair
And her clothes in rags
She's no time for talking
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home
In two carrier bags

In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven
Same old man
Sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
O'er the brim of his tea cup
Each cup lasts an hour
And then he wanders home alone

Have you seen the old man
Outside the Seaman's Mission
Memory fading
With the medal ribbons
That he wears
In our wintry city
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Thank you Barney McKenna (RIP)

I lost a dear friend today, as did many others around the world, for Barney McKenna made friends wherever he went. I first met him in January 1991, I would never have known the exact date (many years on) but it was then because I had gone to do a short interview with the Dubliners on a Friday evening. Finally, I left them to return back to work on the Monday...

Few people have made such a sudden and lasting impact on my life but you couldn't have found a more down to earth group of people and Barney was at the heart of it all. Playing the fiddle I naturally gravitated to learn from fiddler John Sheahan's playing BUT what an enormous amount I also learnt from Barney. In 2011 they did tours in Scotland and England and I joined them there. After, I went on a search for the old interview tapes from 1991 and was amazed by what I heard. And I wondered, did I have ANY idea then of what I was part of. The recorder was left to run on. The banter and craic was/is as mighty as the tunes which were played. But I also hear Barney, chatting away to me. So many things from these first conversations were absorbed without me consciously remembering it all but what a positive influence. Barney talks to me of the need to play, as often and as much as possible. To play at home and to play in sessions - to enjoy and always have fun with the music. And I know that Barney could never have done anything else with his life - a man you don't meet every day, one born to play, perform and have an ever lasting love affair with music.

Barney, the first time I met him
- in a session which went from Inverness to Aberdeen 

Listening to the tapes 20 years on - I couldn't believe how relaxed I am amongst such talented, highly gifted musicians and Barney's playing then - it was amazing. Over the years he'd say "my fingers, my fingers are tired" and indeed his playing did slow but he remained as quick witted, wickedly funny and as entertaining as ever. But perhaps what I liked the most is that he had an amazing memory for all the small details. He met my folks a few times and after they passed on, still he would always talk about them and remember little stories which made me smile. Also, I liked how he would speak his mind (tho' I might not have always liked what he said). The last time we talked he was giving me his unsolicited thoughts on what I should do with my life. I had a notion to move to Ireland but he was saying "no, not just now when there are so many economic problems". But isn't that the mark of a true friend, when they say "no, I think you're wrong on that one". Dear Barney, I will miss so many things about you. So often late to arrive, your wandering off so folks would be sent to look for you and almost, a capacity to be irritating at times because you would so just 'go do your own thing'. Yet already, even in my many tears, I have found myself at times laughing today at some of the many daft and hilarious memories you've left me with from so many meetings, over so many years. YOU WERE SUCH A GREAT CHARACTER (the real deal) and who could ever know you and not absolutely love you? So many tunes, so many laughs, you have left a hole in my world which will never be filled because, without doubt - Barney McKenna you really were a man that people would NOT meet every day, you were such a unique, entertaining and kindly character that anyone would be glad to meet you even just once in their lifetime.

Barney McKenna - Thanks with all my heart
for the music, stories and time you shared with us all

When a person has left us, it is very traditional to say RIP. But this kind of seems inappropriate in the case of Barney - instead, I'd say I hope for Barney that he is sat in the middle of some great almighty session, that his pals who have gone ahead of him are now all reunited around him at last. That Barney is striking up the banjo or playing the box, that the pace of the tunes in his heart are now free to run and dance again at the speed that they once did before his fingers grew tired with old age. And, when the music stops, I wish for some time for Barney to go out fishing, fishing on the sea as he loved to do with his boat. But Barney, you were a fisherman on land as well as at sea - with your tunes and craic, you caught people, gathered them in and brought them to you. You were a friend who I will never, ever forget - a man who left the world a far richer place than it was when you came in to it. Around the world your music and banter has meant so much to so many and your legacy lives on - Thank you Barney McKenna.