Time and Change

Panta rhei, Heraclitus (may have) said: all things change. Literally it means ‘all flows’ and this is one of our most common images of time, a river. We also think of time as the passing of grains of sand in an hourglass, the progress along a timeline, the ticking of a clock. It is self-evident that Heraclitus is right, all things do flow, some – like mountains – more slowly in comparison to others – such as seas – yet all things flow.

All except for time. The concept of time, this construction, convention and convenience, is so ingrained in our brains that we risk the accusation of insanity if we stop and think about it. Time does not flow because it does not exist.

Water, and all the other constituents of rivers, grains of sand, sand dunes, deserts, objects moving along a line, eyes moving along sightlines, lines of perspective, the cogs and gears and hands of a clock, like all things, change. Not time.

Things change in relation to other things. While I am asleep, at night, while the terrestrial hemisphere of shade that borders the hemisphere of light passes over the surface of the Earth, the hands on my little alarm clock go round, my dog’s chest rises and falls in the rhythm of his breath, the cells in the sprawling green plant atop my wardrobe elongate and divide, the fridge hums on, voices on the street come and go, my dreams confabulate and confuse my memories, processes of change, renewal and decay, go on in my sleeping body. All things, including the blood in my body, flow. Time does not.

As a metaphysician this interests me. As a life coach it informs my practice radically. Closely allied to this treasured concept of time being some kind of entity, rather than a complex cultural metaphor of comparison, is our concept of treasured tales. Here I am not concerned with the great meta-narratives of science and religion, there are so many variations of both that in valuing a particular one it should be quite obvious that we are doing just that. No, as a life coach I am more concerned with our life stories. The stories we tell ourselves, and others, about our lives. The ones that start as ‘the way I tell it’ and end up as ‘the way it was’.

Some months ago (it’s impossible even to form a sentence without using this cultural construct) a friend spoke to me about her suspicion of stories. It wasn’t till this weekend, with family and Ben the dog on lovely Lindisfarne, that I began to understand her disquiet. When another friend lent me Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is, I felt in her fourfold interrogation of the truth of stories a confirmation of this understanding.

The Persian Sufi poet, Rumi, gave us the inspired maxim “fihi ma fihi”: it is what it is. It struck me this weekend that on islands there is less danger of ignoring limitation. In cities everything, including relationships, can feel provisional. In my work with people and in my own life, my temptation is to reject the reality of what is in order to replace it with what I consider to be a more lovely or harmonious version. Most people call this lying. Other people call it advertising. Some even call it therapy. It’s dangerous.

I don’t believe in time. I do believe in change. In order for change to happen there must be a resignation to reality. This is why I believe nurses would make great politicians, they know that more important than the history is the presenting condition and that patients often are extremely creative when it comes to their biological autobiography. The friend that lent me Katie’s book spoke of this resignation to reality as ‘surrender’. I like that. A laying down of arms. It takes so much effort to keep up pretences about our physical surroundings, about our bodies in general and our health in particular, about our social relationships, about our heartfelt emotions, about mindfulness and soulforce.

One exercise I recommend is to take a story that has an emotive and gumption-destroying conclusion such as, “look at the mess you got me into!” and tell it differently. Maybe from another person’s point of view. Consciously move the position of the camera, the box inside our head that records the action and the dialogue. It can be written or acted out. Stories, I now realise, have as much power to trap as they do to uplift. When we realise that our treasured tales from our autobiography ain’t necessarily so, this can give us the freedom to accept present circumstances by allowing them to simply be what they are. That acceptance may already cause a shift.

We can’t go back in time because there is nothing to go back into. Changes happens, as Dr Robert M. Pirisg states in Lila (Ch.8, under Causation), because certain processes are valued. Instead of ignoring our present circumstances, wishing them away, blaming them on others or on a fictitious past time, we can value them. Choosing not blame but responsibility (the ability to respond) we release others and release the past and accept the gift of this present configuration of people and things, however difficult. Only here, only now is there potential to change. Value reality. Watch it change. All things do. Panta rhei.


Colonial Sundial photo by Ken Kistler on Public Domain


Lily and Steve

A light-hearted look back at the hierarchical hysteria over equal marriage in Scotland while we wait for the result of Celtic cousins over the water making up their minds.

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” is a late 70s ‘Moral Majority’ gloss on Genesis 2–4 popularised by US evangelist Jerry Falwell (Sr). It’s funny, in the campy way that just about everything from the US popular media in the late 70s is (just think of cardigans and Starksy and Hutch) and is much better known than feminist thealogian Mary Daly’s queer midrash on Lilith and Eve. It’s also, if one pauses for thought, not true.

If (in line with more recent RC Magisterial biblical exegesis) we accept the compatibility of creation and evolution, and are informed about the ubiquity of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, then the fact of homosexual behaviour among early homo sapiens sapiens is incontrovertible. God made Adam. God made Eve. And God also made Steve. We’ll come back to Lily. As the gloss both includes and excludes, leaving Steve to haunt the text as ‘the other man’, Adam becomes bi, Steve gay and Eve either bi or betrayed or abandoned or (as is the lot of many lesbians in patriarchal literature) invisible. Except in feminist midrash, where she and her helpmeet leap over the wall and have other ideas.

All this marriage of fact and fancy about pre-lapsarian, pre-fraticidal, pre-civic, ante-diluvian (or even just prehistoric) partnering may seem a far cry from the hysteria going on in Scotland just now where Catholic bishops have been trumpeting the virtues of supporting exclusively heterosexual marriage (as both a civic duty and a human right) in the national press and on 100,000 pre-printed campy parish postcards. The Scottish hierarchy ignores both the repeated assurances of the Scottish Government in the Civil Partnership and Same-Sex Marriage Consultation Document that this change in civil law will not interfere with the regulations of religious bodies (‘weasel words’ says Archbishop Conti in The Herald) and the fact that even the Rev. Falwell (Sr) supported LGBT civil rights, including marriage.

The creation story that supposedly promotes exclusively heterosexual marriage doesn’t only leave out Steve (and Lily) but also the wife of Cain (Mabel?). In order for the inventor of homicide (and politics, as he founded a polis) not to marry his mum, even an American televangelist would write her into the script. And the wives of Enoch (Enid?), Irad (Iris?), Mehujael (Jael?), Methushael (Martha?) and also Seth (Beth?). With Lamech, wives finally get a mention: Adah and Zillah. The Voices Off are silent, cut out of the script. With all the glosses and biblical exegesis written since whatever committee comprising Moses (all of them unknown) first set reed to papyrus, one would expect a bit more about the unfeasibly small cast of Genesis 2–4 than the wee gloss: “…not Adam and Steve”. One would feel that Mabel and Beth (daughters-in-law to the ‘mother of all who live’) deserve more mention. And then there’s Lilith, who does get into patriarchal midrash (Daly wasn’t her creator) but only to get bad press: objecting to the missionary position she is demonised. So let’s rename her Lily.

The hierarchical hysteria in The Herald ignores the awareness of the people of Scotland that church pressure on matters of civil law is highly selective and self-interested. The Scottish RC hierarchy actively promoted ‘Section 28’ and said nothing about the recent UN decision to include homosexuality in their exceptions to a blanket ban of death penalty legislation of member states. Change on sexuality involves change on sex and that terrifies a celibate male hierarchy by threatening the status quo. Their entrenched opposition to homosexuality, despite the years of compassionate and liberating biblical and ethical investigation to the contrary, must be seen in the light of their entrenched opposition to the possibility of generalised clergy marriage and inclusive ordination.

Genesis 2–4 can only be read in the context of Genesis 1, where the Word of God repeatedly states that the original creation is good. And that means Adam and Eve and Lily and Steve.

Only Say The Word CA

All things to all – women priests and closeted clergy

Watching a certain very reverend Episcopal priest focus and transfer attention adroitly from parishioner to parishioner at the cathedral door, I recalled the corporate American studies on time: while people in top manager mode spend on average less than 9 minutes on each task, those in front line mode spend less than 2. This kind of wisdom also brings us the warning that good customer service is now reported to an average of 15 friends whereas bad reports reach 24.

As a proofreader and as a life coach, in quite different ways, I am often confronted by mess. Clients often have the painful but empowering realisation that their chaos is self-caused and part of my work is to invent or inspire strategies to clear up the mess. However I am sometimes confronted by my own low threshold for disorder. The other day I was berating someone about the ergonomic nightmare of his office (I could hardly move the mouse for coffee cups) only to be later struck by the thought that the thesis produced in that disorder was one of the best I’d seen in years.

At that particular cathedral service, all sorts of irruptions of humanity were occurring. There was the little cherub determined to sit up on the ledge of the front pew and lean over backwards during the first hymn; the crash, the wail and the voices off during the sermon; the two friends absorbed in chat about a pair of (rather lovely) crimson shalwar trousers one was holding up during the final blessing; the stampede for the pail of rhubarb on the fair trade stall; the sight of someone currently experiencing a surfeit of boyfriends chatting to one of them; little hands wanting to help give out hot coffee, while clutching biscuits; a doggie or two – just to add to the fun.

I was just attending the service and wandering around chatting afterwards, I wasn’t working or rather fulfilling my vocation. I don’t know the topics that filled those barely 2 minute windows at the cathedral door but I can bet on an average Sunday they include birth, death, illness, humour, planning, gossip, tact, patience, hope.

I’ve recently acted the part of a hostage in a play inspired by the experiences of the 1980’s hostages in Beirut. My new novel, which has just reached 40,000 words, features a WW1 heritage tour of Flanders and Picardy. It struck me on Sunday that another name for all this jolly disorder is ‘life’ and that it is exactly this kind of life, in all its fullness, that those in danger of losing it long for so much. It also struck me that the person at the door is required not only to be a good manager but also to be ‘all things to all’ (‘men’ is a sexist interpolation; it’s not in the Greek).

I find the demise in Scotland of my mother church quite poignant. Closeted clergy and bishops determined to foist their frumpy Catholicism on an increasingly disloyal and an increasingly elderly flock who may not feel it seemly to challenge ‘Father’ but are quite capable of thinking for themselves – despite their portrayal as fawning laity in the RC press. The insult, Sunday after Sunday, service after service, of lamenting the lack of vocations and praying for more while good talented women sit in the pews and are expected to stay there.

I get annoyed by the smug essentialism of the praise of women’s diffuse awareness in multi-tasking and criticism of men’s ‘further-along-the-spectrum’ focus of attention. I find the very frequent juxtaposition of ‘women’ vs ‘male’ (human vs bestial) insulting. I have little patience with the malevolent stupidity of those who insist that the men’s movement is, was and ever shall be intrinsically evil in its every aspect and is only ever in reaction to feminism and never inspired to undertake a similar journey – not the same, we do not start from the same place, and if all our journeying is to be policed by those who insist that we do then we will never get anywhere.

However, after a period of theological study and soul-searching in the 1908s, what finally changed my very conservative RC mentality about women’s vocation to the priesthood was the experience of a woman presiding at the altar. The natural grace, the natural place of a woman presiding at table was just so obvious that all the objections were revealed to be the sham of sexism. Thank God, the Scottish Episcopal Church has many good women, having the patience, the tact, the sense of humour, the compassion and the good cheer to be all things to all at the church door. I hope and pray and work for the day when the RC church will open its eyes to the underused potential in the pews. Of course, if those eyes open, so might the doors of all those clerical closets. That might be very messy indeed. Life often is.

Creative Commons Door

Breakthrough on Bikes in HMOs

I didn’t expect a reply (to the letter which I append below) and more than a month later there has been none; but I did include my address as it was there that these two official personages clarified most emphatically the following points:

  • There is NO Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Service or Glasgow City Council regulation which stipulates that bikes cannot be kept in the flat hallways (or the close stairwells) of Houses in Multiple Occupation (student flats etc.)
  • The renewal of HMO licences does NOT depend on removal of bikes from these locations.
  • Both these bodies, and many landlords, prefer to ensure commonsense access (and to protect their paintwork) by requesting such removal but they have no authority to do so.
  • Access (including emergency access) is a matter of commonsense.

In other words, as long as HMO tenants don’t stupidly and dangerously block stairwells/ hallways with any kind of clutter, there is no legal reason why bikes need to be rusting in the rain outside so many flats. As the law is the same from Local Authority to Local Authority (at least in Scotland) it follows that this freedom is valid for all HMO flats in Scotland. Indeed it is most probably valid for all flats of any kind but I witness only to what I was told. It seems to me to make more sense, in terms of access, to keep bikes within flat hallways rather than chaining them to the close banisters and people who have mobility issues may agree with me. However, the freedom to keep bikes in both locations cannot be challenged.

Please spread the word. Please also, mindful as we are in Scotland of the present plight of our friends and family in other nations and regions of the UK, obtain similar clarification under Common Law (Scotland has Civil ‘Roman’ Law) and let’s get those bikes in before they rust or get nicked; or cyclists give up, start driving death machines, and become polluters.

Letter follows:

Legal Manager

HMO Licensing Section

Glasgow City Council

City Chambers

G2 1DU

cc. West HQ

Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Service

99 Bothwell Road

Hamilton ML3 OEA

8 April 2015

Dear Madam or Sir,

I was pleased to meet the lady who I understand to be the GCC HMO Officer yesterday, accompanied by a gentleman who is an Officer of the Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Service, while they were conducting a home visit to another flat in my tenament close. I apologise if I have not given their exact titles. They concurred in correcting my strong impression, one shared by not only all the cyclists in this close but all those I know in HMO flats in Glasgow and indeed one vociferously debated on cycling forums across Scotland, that GCC/ COSLA have threatened landlords with non-renewal of their HMO licenses unless they force their tenants to clear all cycles from flat hallways (I do not mean close stairwells).

These Officers were in agreement that the point is not about an imposition of new law but simply about maintaining common sense access, which is in everyone’s best interest. Misunderstanding has obviously arisen and in view of the material deterioration to personal property this widely disseminated misunderstanding has caused, with so many bikes now to be seen rusting in the rain, I would be grateful if this common sense view were immediately and widely clarified. With obesity rates rising among the young, and coronary health failing among the middle aged, I am sure that GCC/ COSLA would wish to publically support the good health and decrease in traffic volume and in air pollution which cycling affords.

I am also concerned about a similar misunderstanding regarding a ban on snibs on Yale locks. A ban which I am sure that company would be shocked to be informed of. This was diseminated, at least in Glasgow, at an earlier date than the ban on bikes and has resulted in tenants in flats and besdits propping open fire doors as their landlords (reportedly under pressure of the same threat from GCC) have physically removed the means of keeping said doors closed but not locked. This is clearly a fire hazard and in previous email corespondence with the Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Service I was assured that there is no such legal requirement. I feel sure that the GCC HMO Office would not wish to be understood to have overstepped its remit in this instance and in doing so to have put lives at risk! Please, therefore also clarify this most urgently, with the widest possible dissemination. Better to admit misunderstanding, none of us is perfect, than to be held responsible for damage to property, to health and for loss of life.

Yours sincerely,

…………………………………. …………………DR ALAN MCMANUS

Letter ends.


‘Green Bike’ by Piotr Siedlecki on Public Domain

From Alba to Albion, with Love

My mother often reminds me that the word ‘wake’ is misapplied to the reception after the funeral. The time and place for eulogy, for stories and songs and for the affirmation of kinship in the face of loss. The ‘wake’ itself is more properly the vigil, anxious or resigned, the mourning for, or rage against, the dying of the light. A ‘wake’ is also the divided churn of waters following the passage of a ship. All these meanings may be applied to the wake of the UK General Election of 2015.

Like a drifting spar from broken rigging for drowning souls to cling to, a hashtag has sprung up on Twitter: #takeuswithyouscotland

It’s a situation that no Scot should take pleasure in and though that great ship of state has sailed, there may be other forms of first aid: do we not have lifeboats? So many of our kith and kin, friends and acquaintances, south of Hadrian’s Wall and east of Offa’s Dyke, have lamented being unable to vote SNP, led so ably by our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (excepting the huge error that is the Named Person policy – see @no2NPcampaign for details).

Given that this canny lady has emphasised not independence but ‘Devo Max’ over the course of this electoral campaign, it seems obvious that people want more say in local, regional and national affairs, when offered the chance. Although I wish for future self-determination for my country, I do not accept the view that this present result gives a clear mandate for ‘independence nothing less’. There is a great deal more, in terms of options.

Instead of attempting to shift the border south, I put forward an easier conceptual adjustment. What if the SNP fields candidates, for local council and by-elections, in England? In a town like Corby, where kids grow up with Scottish accents from the legacy of their steelworker parents who emigrated en masse, this would cause no great alarm. London is already (apparently) run by Scots and many other places may welcome a clear anti-austerity stance articulated in accents of workers’ solidarity.

What this move must not be is any form of (even reverse) colonialism. SNP Councillors and MPs for seats furth of Scotland would only make sense for two reasons: their clear allegiance to their party’s economic policy; and their commitment to valuing the concerns and the culture of their constituents. Though my father’s folk were all Scots and Irish, and my maternal grandmother Highland, my roots from my Cockney grandfather’s mother are East Anglian, that line is as deep as England. His father was German and probably Jewish, we have a great cultural richness to celebrate in this proud land.

England, as a dear and departed Jamaican English friend would tell me, is not only a place for City gents in bowler hats. It is the land of the Diggers and the Levellers, the Todpuddle Martyrs, Merrie England and Blake’s Albion. It is also the land of the aspirations of the Windrush generation, of all the South Asian medics and merchants, of the Chinese who fled communism but retained their deep commitment to community, of students from Palestine to Pittsburgh, of teachers from Buenos Aires to the Bering Straits, of the various nationalities who were captured during WW2 and decided to stay.

People in England voting Tory have said that their reasons were:

1) the moral bankruptcy of the other options [I know but at least a Tory is what it says on the tin!]

2) the candidate’s acquaintance with and concern for local people

So, when not campaigning against cuts and against military aggression, an SNP candidate in England might not find himself or herself organising Highland Games and Burn’s Nights but rather appreciating the jingle of Morris bells and the soft thud of leather on willow, spending time aboard canal boats, steam trains, at festivals and small markets and affirming these lively and lovely forms of rural life that are a gift, a valuable legacy also to the kind of inner-city kids I’ve witnessed unable to tell a sheep from a cow and wondering vociferously why someone hasn’t picked up the cow pats from ‘the floor’.

Besides Mebyon Kernow, there are already various political parties in England who agitate for self-determination for their county or region. The SNP in England would provide the know-how of an already established form of devolution and would be the party leading the way in pushing for a devolved English parliament, perhaps in historic York. Coventry is apparently nearer the geographical centre of England but Cornwall has a Celtic not Anglo-Saxon identity and if England starts east of the Tamar then the centre may be north of the Wash. So Sheffield is another possibility, Royal Leicester being probably too far south and in danger of gravitational attraction from the metropolis.

More astute political minds may decide that the time is ripe for a party to put the words ‘English’ and ‘national’ together. If this combination can really evoke a progressive, multicultural party respectful of all good faiths and philosophies, then let it be so. However other, less inclusive, images may come to mind.

Counter-intuitive though it may be, SNP candidates in England may make sense in these interesting political times. People who have claims on us, claims of blood and long-standing affection, are drowning in these troubled waters, in the wake of the UK General Election of 2015.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?


‘England Flag Against Blue Sky’ by Kelly Martin, in Public Domain: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=85401&picture=england-flag-against-blue-sky