It was a very cold Spring here in Scotland, but in early May the weather started warming up at last. Here is an update on the garden and greenhouse –
Daffodils were a bit of a disappointment this year as a spell of frost and snow arrived just as the flowers were about to open, but amazingly some did survive, and the tulips coming on a bit later more than compensated as they seemed to go and on!
It’s nice to see the rhododendrons and clematis in flower again, without too much effort from me, and also the shrubs and bushes bursting into life, not to mention the apple tree and lilac, which shout out to you ‘summer has come’! I’m afraid I haven’t done too much this year in the way of planting ‘annuals’, but I have however planted from seed some french marigolds, sunflowers, tom thumbs, coleus and cornflower, and some begonia corms.
The greenhouse is doing fairly well, and this year I’m trying to grow quite a few different fruits and vegetables. Cucumber ‘F1 Socrates’ is proving to be fantastic, the cucumbers are smaller in size but delicious in taste and are cropping very well. Tomatoes are Tigerella, Shirley F1 and Ferline F1. The latter is one I’m trying for the first time, it seems to be struggling a bit, but it may come away yet. There is a variety of peppers, three bags of potatoes, one bucket of carrots (Autumn King 2) and two bags of strawberries, and lots of ‘tom-thumb’ lettuce. So between cutting the grass and keeping everything in trim its enough to keep me busy. Here are some photographs of progress so far.
With the wonders of camera, computer and the www, I have been able to show you the best of my garden and greenhouse. What I haven’t shown you are the plants some slugs have eaten, the parts of paths that need weeding, or my Spring plant pots that have yet to be emptied and cleaned. In a small garden it is difficult to find a spot to hide them away 🙂 I guess if you are a gardiner you are in much the same boat!
Got me thinking, ‘social media’ is a bit like that, we (including me) tend to emphasise the positives and try and bypass the negatives. The ‘about me’ section on Facebook usually paints a glowing picture of the person we would like others to believe that we are, and seldom do you find folks telling you how they have messed up! But of course we all do at times.
I’m reading a book this month entitled ‘Gentle and Lowly‘ by Dane Ortlund, concerning Jesus Christ he says, ‘in the four gospels accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John there are 89 chapters of text, but there is only one place where Jesus describes his heart. (The heart in biblical terms is the centre of who we are, what defines and directs us) So what will this man Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God say? He says, ‘I am gentle and lowly in heart’. Ortlund goes on to say ‘The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger, but open arms’!
You can read the full words of Jesus in Matthew 11 v 28-30. Jesus said – “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Now there is an open invitation, but folks are so loathe to come.
So I’m thinking, what two words would you or I use to truly define ourselves on social media? Mmmm, let me get back to you on that …..
We have continued our ‘holiday’ day trips around the West of Scotland, and are thankful that so many beautiful places are within easy driving distance from Glasgow. The weather has also heated up now, with plenty of sunny summer days.
The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has a number of ‘outposts’ around Scotland, the nearest to us being in Dunoon, so we made a trip there to visit the Benmore Botanic Garden, which is a magnificent mountainside garden just a few miles out of town. It has a spectacular avenue of Redwood trees, and a rhododendron collection said to be one of the finest in the world.
There were fifty ‘Redwoods’ in this avenue but one was blown down in a fierce storm in recent years. In contrast it was lovely for us to walk here in the quietness on a warm sunny day and to take in the majestic beauty of the place.
Here are some more photos of parts of the garden which takes in fifty hectares.
There is a section of the garden set aside for rest and contemplation, and it too was situated in the middle of some magnificent trees including redwoods.
We next made our way to the ‘Dolphin fountain’ and pond, and admired the wide range of plants and flowers.
The afternoon passed all too quickly, and soon it was time to head back to the entrance, over the little wooden bridge. Then, on our drive back towards the ferry, we drove through Ardentinny and found a few beautiful spots along the way for our proverbial picnic!
Reflections – A visit to a garden is so good for our souls, and for peace of mind. It’s amazing how many words have been written about the beauties of God’s creation. Here are a few selected verses from Psalm 104 speaking about the ‘garden of life’.
Praise the LORD, my soul. LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the junipers. I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. Praise the LORD, my soul. Praise the LORD!
I hope you enjoyed our trip as much as we did, and that you too are able to get out to explore the beauties of God’s creation wherever you are.
Millions have had their double dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and here in Scotland we were all looking forward to another easing of restrictions, which would allow the meeting of family and friends indoors, and permit staying overnight in accommodation throughout Scotland. However after months of waiting it was announced last week that Glasgow and Morayshire would remain at level three on the Covid restrictions ladder due to a rise in Covid cases in these areas. So hugs and visits from family and friends are again on ‘hold’!
BUT, we are still allowed to travel around Scotland, and for that we are very grateful. This week we checked the forecast and then headed for a favourite haunt – the Isle of Cumbrae on the southern end of the Firth of Clyde. First a 50 minute drive to the town of Largs before boarding the ferry for Cumbrae. (£20.50 for two passengers and a car – return) Visit at the weekends and the ferries are very busy as the island is popular for hikers and cyclists, but mid-week, and all is peace and tranquility.
The Island is about 2.5 miles long and 1.25 miles wide, and a walk or drive around the perimeter taking account of bays and promontories is appoximately 11 miles. We were able to drive at walking pace viewing the abundance of animals, birds and flowers. The most famous beach is on the west side of the island at Fintry Bay where there is a cafe and restaurant.
The only town on the island is Millport, which was once a famous stopping off point for the Clyde ferries in the middle of the last century when the Clyde Coast was a popular holiday destination for people living in Glasgow and the Central belt of Scotland. It is a lovely litle town nestling around Kames Bay. As you approach it you have some spectacular views of other islands in the firth, Little Cumbrae,, Bute and Arran, and on a clear day you can see Ailsa Craig and even the Coast of Ireland.
On the return journey we like to take the narrow road that runs down the middle of the island, and stop at the viewpoint, this is the island’s highest point at 417 ft above sea level, where a large boulder called “The Glaid Stone”is situated. No time today to visit one of Scotland’s smallest Cathedrals – The Cathedral of the Isles’ but we did pass one of the entrances.
Then it was back to the ferry and a sail to Largs on the mainland, before a drive home in time for supper. A perfect day out!
We had a beautiful day out, enjoying the wonders of God’s creation and as I reflected on Psalm 145 in my last blog, sometimes the whole ambience of a place, speaks of the glory and majesty of God and causes you to quietly praise him in your heart.
The day brought memories of days gone by when 50 years ago at the ‘Glasgow Fair’ Millport was full of families gathered for their summer holidays. Deck chairs on the beach, paddling and swimming – no matter the weather, volley ball, and donkey rides, ice cream cones and picnics. Also folks from the ‘Children’s Seaside Mission’ organising games and singing, and Bible stories by means of puppets and a ‘flannel graph board’. Many of my family and friends were there helping with crowds of children and parents gathering around. These were happy days. I’m now trying to remember why we all spend a fortune heading for the beaches of continental Europe and beyond 🙂 How life moves on!
In contrast to this picture of peace and quiet, this week our church has been fundraising for the poor and marginalised in India during the horrors of the Covid-19 crisis. We have been thinking of the sadness, madness and terror of the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Middle East and praying for a cessation of hostilities. The plight of the estimated ten million + children in Yemen, the ongoing slaughter in Afghanistan, Burkino Faso, Nigeria, Sudan, and on and on, and on and on!
China this week joins the USA in successfully landing and controlling a Mars rover on the surface of planet Mars, how amazing is that? WOW! Unfortunately we have not yet learned how to eliminate hunger, or give clean water to the thirsty, and provide shelter and healthcare to countless millions! But we applaud all those who are trying from all around the world.
Here is some poetry to finish:
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.
So where should we go after months of restrictions, which saw everyone in Scotland being compelled to stay at home, and if you did need to travel, it was restricted to your own home area? That was the pleasant decision we had to make in the last ten days, as permission was granted to travel freely again around Scotland.
We decided, let’s head for the hills and sea, in the Bute and Argyll region, just a comfortable afternoon’s drive from Glasgow. The Rosneath Peninsula, which is just south of Garelochead, was our chosen destination on a beautiful sunny day. The Rosneath peninsula separates the Gareloch from Loch Long, two sea lochs on the Firth of Clyde. Our journey took us over the Erskine bridge and on to Loch Lomond, before we turned off, onto the ‘new’ road to Garelochead. I am always amazed at how beautiful, and invariably quiet this road is.
Arriving at the village of Cove we enjoyed a scene of peace and tranquility on the edge of the loch, and soon we were enjoying our picnic lunch.
We next moved a few miles south to Kilcreggan, and like Cove, it is another village dating back to the Victorian era. In fact the pier at Kilcreggan is said to be the last original ‘Victorian’ pier on the Firth of Clyde.
Later we drove home via Glen Fruin.
A week later, on another sunny day we had an afternoon drive to the Ayrshire coast on the southside of the Firth of Clyde.
On route we stopped for lunch at Dunure and found a parking place by the harbour, before viewing the castle. Later we stopped at the ‘Electric Brae’, and yes, the car did run up the hill when we stopped and put the gear into neutral!
Croy Bay is beautiful, and was a favourite haunt for us when the children were small. In those days the beach was busy, but how many people do you see there today?
Then we had a short visit to Maidens, frequented in earlier days by two famous Roberts. King Robert the Bruce, and the Scottish bard Rabbie (Robert) Burns! Time then for a drive along the coast and back to Glasgow!
Free to Worship! It is so good to be back in Church again! Our house groups however are still meeting on Zoom.
Our Church house group is using this study guide to look at six of King David’s psalms written some 3000 years ago (recorded in the Bible). The Psalms comprise five books of poetry, and were read and sung by ancient Hebrew worshippers. They are still read and sung today, and have been throughout the ages. The title of the study guide certainly got me thinking, “WORSHIPPING THE GOD OF ALL, IN ALL OF LIFE“! We started off by reading psalm 145, and when we were out and about picnicking these last two weeks we found that worshipping the ‘God of All’ was an almost spontaneous reaction to the beauty of his creation, seen all around us.
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
At the start of the Psalm, David is praising God personally ‘for the power of his awesome works‘, which he says speak of ‘his glorious splendour‘, something that even the youngest child can appreciate and understand. By the end of the psalm he is calling every creature to praise his holy name for ever and ever. But is this great and powerful God good you may ask? David, who himself lived an imperfect life, and suffered through many sorrows, trials and dangers goes on to describe this God whom he has come to trust.
He describes him as having ‘abundant goodness’, ‘righteous’, ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love’, ‘good to all’, ”faithful’, ‘trustworthy’ ‘upholds all who fall’, ‘lifts up all who are bowed down’, ‘is near to all who call on him’ and ‘watches over all who love him’. This is the Jesus that I seek to follow! He also reminds his readers, that the God we worship is a God of justice and judgement and that ‘all the wicked he will destroy’.
Throughout the psalm the word ‘all’ is used over and over again. Yes, God wants to be part of all our everyday lives, not just on a Sunday, if we will just let him. Like David, I am so glad that he has walked beside me every day of my life, since that day I learned to trust him, even picking me up when I have fallen down, and have been bowed down!
Isaac Watts hymn of 1719 beautifully summarises psalm 145. Take a read!
Wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances may you find strength to lift your heart to God, perhaps for solace, perhaps in great need, or perhaps with a heart full of praise!
Well, there are certainly lots of things we can smile about, now that we are well into Springtime. Lovely to see the lambs in the fields, the flourish on the trees, and the flowers in the garden and the beauitiful countryside, not to mention the singing and tweeting of the birds as they busily build their nests.
Some recently taken photos in the sunshine.
I often smile to myself too in the greenhouse, as I plant seeds and seedlings, wondering how they manage to survive and produce for us such amazing fruit, vegetables and flowers. This year I’m trying something new, following the instructions of a professional gardener on You Tube. I’m trying to grow carrots in a bucket. To give the seeds a flying start I have sown them (as instructed) on a piece of kitchen roll in a sealed dish, before planting them in the bucket. Sounds crazy, but take a look and I’ll let you know whether it works, or not.
I think my wife thought I’d lost the plot on this project, especially when she caught me drilling drainage holes in the new bucket! 🙂
Talking about waking up laughing, yes I did the other morning this week. But when I was wakened it didn’t seem really a laughing matter! As gardeners know the weather is so important at this time of year when you have the greenhouse full of plants. Yesterday’s weather was an example. In the morning the temperature in the greenhouse was 83 deg. In the afternoon we decided to go a walk and just got home before the hail and snow storm. Last night in Glasgow the temperature was 3 deg below freezing.
How quickly the weather changes!
So earlier this week I was in the greenhouse at 10pm checking the heater etc. it took a bit of time, so when I came in my wife asked, ‘what were you doing?’ To which I replied ‘I was puting up draught screens to protect the plants not in propagators. ‘Draught screens‘ she says? ‘It’s a long time since I’ve heard of that!‘
So during the night, guess what I dreamed? You got it, – draught screens! When I was a child living in the early 40’s, we lived in a new 3 bedroom flat in Glasgow. The only means of heating was a coal fire in the ‘living room’ so at night in the winter when the fire had gone out, the temperature would at times plummet below zero, so it was not unusual to wake up with a sheet of ice on the inside of the windows. No double glazing in these days, so there was always a cold draught through the window fittings. To protect us as children from the cold, my dad would come into our bedroom and put up ‘draught screens’ (usually extra sheets or blankets) strung on various contraptions around our bed. 😦 This was not something we welcomed!
So in my dream there were the draught screens, and reminders of having your chest rubbed with ‘Vick’ and a hot salt sock strung around your neck if you had a cold or a sore throat! Ha!Ha!Ha! (these were the days before the NHS) I awoke with my body shaking laughing! Then I thought, hold on, I hope these draught screens in the greenhouse worked!
Everything thankfully seems ok at present.
Everything under control?
Reflections: As I look back now I am so grateful for good, loving and caring parents who did everything to look after us as kids, especially during the war years. Mum was up at 6am to prepare dad’s ‘piece’ (sandwiches) as he left for work at 6.30 am. She would then light the fire, and come through to get us up for school, and if it was a frosty morning, she would carry us to the fire saying ‘Jack Frost’s been out’. Then in our short trousers and ‘tackity boots’ we would head out with coat and jacket, scarves and gloves. Then in the 50’s when TB infections were running at around 50,000 cases per year in the UK, my teenage sister contracted the disease at a badly ventilated comptometer operator’s office. At that time there was no known cure except fresh air and good food so most young people were sent to sanitoriums in the country. My sister looked set for a move there, but Dad said ‘we can provide fresh air and good food here’, so one room was allocated to my sister, whose bed was propped up to allow her to see out of the window. No draught screens now! Every window in the house was opened summer and winter, and within a year my sister had made a full recovery. We were all so thankful to so many friends in the Church who prayed, and to those who brought eggs and dairy produce from their own rations to help suplement her diet and recovery, and to the gracious hand of God.
But most of all Mum and Dad introduced us to our heavenly Father, and His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. That I think, is the best gift any parent can pass on. Now I look back with grateful thanks to God my Father who has kept and sustained us for more than 80 years through all life’s joys and sorrows, trials and triumphs.
Jesus speaks of God seeing the sparrow when it falls, and that ‘the hairs of our head are numbered’, so He sees you and me too. That can be a comforting or scary thought depending on, if we know Him as Saviour and friend, or are just known by Him. Not sure? let me know if I can help.
Do you think He sees these wee carrot seedlings too?
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.“
Walking on ‘Whistler‘
It has been a great pleasure throughout life to walk in the mountains at home and abroad. The above pictures were taken on our 50th wedding anniversary when we had a special visit to Canada and Alaska. And yes, we used the chair lifts, which took us onto the 7200 feet summit. The notice which said ‘Matthew’s Traverse’ could be a description of my life as I look back. Sometimes on the flat, sometimes a rocky climb and at other times an easier downhill walk.
Climbing in Scotland and the Lake District of England
When it comes to hill walking and climbing in Scotland, then you are spoiled for choice, and the English Lake District is just across the border if you want a change of scenery. Above are some pictures taken over the years.
What is it about hill walking and climbing that attracts so many thousands of enthusiasts around the world every year, every month, week and day? Certainly the joy of being in the fresh air, the challenge of the climb, and of the weather!, with the wind, sun and the rain in your face! The sound of a mountain burn or waterfall, the smell of the heather, flowers and moss, and the sense of achievement. For me it also provides a sense of perspective, as I consider the vastness and beauty of God’s amazing creation displayed here on planet earth. I so relate to the song quoted above (Psalm 121) sang by pilgrims three thousand years ago as they made their way up to the mountain of the Lord, to worship and honour their creator and redeemer. The very next psalm says ‘Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up—the tribes of the LORD—to praise the name of the LORD’.
Well, if climbing hills has been part of my life since boyhood, so has this psalm. My father would gather us six children around him with my mother, and read this psalm to us and pray during the ‘air raids’ of the last world war, and also in times of family crisis. You might say it has become part of my ‘DNA”! So if you are fearful, in trouble or in despair I recommend a read of this psalm before you go to bed.
I’ve also had the priviledge of walking on top of the mountains the pilgrims are singing about. You might not think of Jerusalem as being on top of a mountain, but in fact it sits at over 2500 feet above sea level! The first time we were there the sleet and snow were blowing down across the hills.
And as we approach Easter I’m reminded that Jesus the Lord, not only walked here, but died here, and arose from the dead on this mountain. A close friend of mine died just a few weeks ago, he was a lovely solo singer. I always remember him singing this hymn with such pathos about these historic events. It goes like this:
Up Calvary’s mountain one dreadful morn Walked Christ my Saviour, weary and worn Facing for sinners, death on the cross That He might save them from endless loss
Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading Blind and unheeding, dying for me.
How good to know this Saviour and friend. Jesus is still inviting all of us to come to Him.
Finally, writing this wants me to look out my boots in anticipation of the end of lockdown, after that all I need is a little more puff’ 🙂
Well they are not quite ready yet! The ‘bare rooted Karona’ strawberry plants only arrived this weekend! So thoughts of strawberries and ice cream, strawberries with morning cereal and evening salad, and strawberry jam, will just need to wait a wee while, so stop licking your lips! 🙂
I’ve grown strawberries a few times in the past either from seed, or from plants bought at the garden centre. This year looking on line I came across a nursery selling ‘bare rooted’ plants so thought ‘that sounds interesting’ but what like are they and how do you plant them?
The plants arrive by post – two bundles with elastic bands!
Not quite ‘love at first sight’! Is this the right time of year with snow around and temperatures below freezing? and what’s the procedure? Thankfully with the wonders of the internet I found the answers to these questions, time will tell if they are the right answers!
Separate the plants and soak overnight in water.
I had already ordered a couple of strawberry bags as strawberries featured in this year’s ‘garden plan’ so it was good I had these ready in stock. Here are some pics of the planting.
Watering and fertilising tubes, the felt keeps the tube from clogging while planting!The top of a lemonade bottle makes the perfect filter funnel for watering tube!
So working from the bottom of the bag and filling with compost as you go the plants were put in place making sure the crowns of each plant were above the compost. So now its time to call in the ‘boss’ 🙂
Greenhouse is currently unheated, apart from a 80 watt tube heater.
I only scored 9.5 out of 10 for missing one of the planting holes 🙂 So will these strawberry dreams become a reality? Watch this space, but I have every confidence in the Creator.
Other signs of life in the garden
So time to look out the gardening gloves and the spade and trowel, Spring is on its way!
PS: After one month the strawberries are all showing signs of life!
The cold wintry weather continued throughout January with many frosty and snowy days, and some occasional blue skies! Days ideal for a local walk! Here’s a wee slideshow.
In January we normally take delivery of the previous years photo book, but this year we instead bought a ‘Decade of our photos’ book from Facebook, and it was interesting to see just how much of our normal life acivities were curtailed by lockdown in 2020.
We also try to keep some sense of normality during this continued lockdown by dressing differently for Church on a Sunday, even although it is just a zoom service on line. And even on 25 January when we celebrated ‘Burns Night’ my wife put on her kilt and served ‘Haggis, neeps and tatties’. 🙂
And something to go with all these cups of tea!
Ofcourse the big event in January this year was the roll out of the Covid 19 vaccine across the UK. We were pleased to be invited to go to our local medical centre to receive ours towards the end of the month. Appointments were 10 minutes apart, and you were told to appear exactly on time! The service was very impressive, as after answering various questions and receiving the first dose of the vaccine, we were given an appointment card giving us the date and time for the booster injection.
We both reacted to the vaccine by having ‘flu’ like symptoms the following day, but were fine within the next 24 hrs with help from some paracetemol. The vaccine we received was the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, and we were warned that 1 in 10 have a reaction to it. Since then the German government has announced they are not giving it to the over 65’s! In the UK two doses are said by the MHRA to be 62% efficient, which is quite a drop from the 90% efficiency initially reported by the Oxford team. However we are still in lockdown at present and there is unlikely to be any change to that for at least the next few weeks.
We are very grateful to everyone involved in fighting this pandemic by working around the clock to produce vaccines and treatments, and those in our National Health Service in particular who have given 110% to help save countless lives.
Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard finishes one of his most popular poems with these famous words, they speak about a mouse whose little nest is disturbed by the ploughman:
“But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me! The present only toucheth thee: But Och! I backward cast my e’e, On prospects drear! An’ forward tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!“
It seems no time ago that our politicians here in the UK were boasting confidently of all the happiness and prosperity that was coming our way when we left the European Union. Now we are in a pandemic, over 100,000 deaths due to Covid, grief and sorrow around the nation, unemployment soaring, the country trillions of £’s in debt, and a strained relationship with our former European partners! Mmmm! How apt, the words of Burns ‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.” And many many are saying again with Burns, An’ forward tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!“
Solomon, the wise man of old, warned us about boasting, he said, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” It’s good then to keep our horizontal relationships with family, friends and colleagues on a loving and even keel! How awful to be separated by death when we are in ‘conflict mode’.
More importantly however is our vertical relationship with God! If you or I are suddenly called into His presence will we meet him as Saviour and friend, or as our judge? That is a big question! Here’s a prayer similar to one I prayed many years ago, it changed my status and my life!
“Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for all the wrong things in my life. Thankyou for dying on the cross to pay for my forgiveness. I’m putting my trust in you as my Saviour. I surrender my life to you as my Lord and ask you to help me live a life that pleases you. Amen“
When I was a wee boy of five years, I spent the best part of a year in an infectious diseases hospital in Glasgow, having contracted diphtheria, followed by scarlet fever and a mastoid. No visitors were allowed so I was separated from my siblings and parents even at Christmas and New Year. This year, for the first time since, my wife and I were on our own at Christmas and New Year due to Covid-19 restrictions. But we did have a nice time, and spoke with family and friends by phone, and on ‘what’s app’ or ‘Zoom’. One of our grandsons with his wife and family even came and sung carols to us outside our front door with the gift of a freshly baked cake! And of course we did manage a few photographs at home and in the garden and when driving to a quiet spot in our local area!
Oh, and we watched a few films, which is a bit unusual for us, as we are not really much into that. Perhaps it was because we have had to buy a TV licence again! 🙂 Yes, we did watch, (feel free to laugh) ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘The Bridge on the river Kwai‘! The latter inspired the heading of this months blog ‘Bondage, Bond and a Bridge’.
Bondage. When I arrived in Thailand to work on an engineering contract back in the 80’s, I found myself within 10 days walking on the Burma (Death) Railroad. We had gone to Church on the Sunday I arrived, and I was told the following weekend there would be a church trip to the bridge on the river Kwai, and that we were invited. Walking on the railroad and visiting a commonwealth war memorial was a sobering experience, as anyone who has read anything of the history of that infamous railroad can imagine. Thousands upon thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers and Asian civilians lost their lives, due to starvation, disease and cruel bondage. There was a subdued atmosphere amongst our group as later that day we rode downstream in a number of motorboats to catch a view of the bridge and it’s surroundings.
Bridge on the River Kwai and Commonwealth War Graves
Some months later we visited the refugee camps along the Cambodian border, where we witnessed the devastation in human lives caused by Pol Pot and his regime. They murdered at least 2 million of their own people and sent countless thousands more scattering for refuge to Thailand and elsewhere. Children in bondage, what a blot on the human race! Stories here too gruesome to tell or contemplate!
Cambodian refugees on the Thailand border – consider the disturbed look on some of those children’s faces.
BOND: Fortunately we were also able to visit other beautiful places in Thailand during that year’s contract, which brought some relief from the busyness of our hectic lives at that time. So look no further than the island and area immortalised by a certain Mr Bond, James Bond! in his legendary film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. Sailing among the mangroves and the amazing rock formations was certainly a fascinating experience, and visiting the village where they cultivated pearls, was financially perilous! Ever think that if only in real life we could find someone to save humanity from its madness and folly?
In and around ‘James Bond’ island
BRIDGE: The strange thing about the bridge on the River Kwai episode was that soldiers, on the same side in this deadly conflict, were working against each other. Some working to build a bridge and others working to destroy a bridge. There was good reason for that in this instance, but I’ll leave you to read the story for yourself. That fact however has been true in other international conflicts and disagreements, where selfish national interests take precedence over what might have been a better and more sensible outcome. And if we are honest we see that happening in almost every level of human society. Having your cake and eating it too, is now heralded as a great outcome in any negotiation!
Makeshift Church in Refugee Camp
We noticed that in the camp we visited on the Thai / Cambodia border there was a large church, open at the sides and back, which we were told was packed to capacity whenever a service was held, with people standing around outside. The message they were hearing was new to their ears and truly revolutionary. It’s the story of another bridge, one prepared by God Himself, that allows weary and worn sinners in a self destructive world to find peace and rest.
As I write, this new strain of Covid-19 is running rampant in Scotland and throughout the UK, with more than 1000 daily deaths and gloomy forecasts for the coming months, in spite of vaccination hopes. We are daily reminded of this virus’ impact around the world, and are being told we will defeat this virus together, so life can return to normal. But defeating Covid-19 will do nothing to help the reported 12 million children in danger from war, disease and famine in Yemen, or solve the countless wars, acts of terrorism and troubles and injustices perpetuated around the globe, which only get a brief mention at present. Today the USA, recognised as the world’s chief promoter of democracy was demonstrating how it should not be done, by a mob invading the White House! The Bible diagnoses humankind’s most serious problem and calls it sin. If we are honest we know we have all been infected.
So there is no Mr Bond who is going to save us, but Christmas is about a greater Saviour, who brings help from outside our world, coming to save us by becoming one of us. ‘Emmanuel’ God with us, Jesus the Saviour of the world. He provides the bridge for all who are seeking forgiveness, peace and rest. For our present and eternal safety and wellbeing we really need to step across. The last photo of a bridge spells it out so well. Take a look!
Jesus THE bridge!
Wishing you all a very happy new year, and God’s peace, care and protection throughout 2021.
It’s easy to look back on 2020 and think of all the restrictions that we lived under, but my photographic record seems to tell a different story. We did in fact enjoy some beautiful weather, and made many escapes to the great outdoors – either in the garden, the local vicinity or further afield. I’ve picked a photograph for each month as a review of the year, that tries to sum up our outdoor activities.
Arrochar is the ‘half way’ point in a popular drive from Glasgow, known as the ‘The Three Lochs’. Loch Lomond, Loch Long and the Gareloch. It’s a great place for a picnic, and we often stop here before travelling on to other destinations such as, Invergarry or Dunoon.
Irvine is our nearest point to the sea, so hardly a month goes by without us being here, either for a walk on the beach or for a read in the car if the weather is inclement! In my ‘boyish imagination’I think looking at this photo, that I’m standing on the deck of a submarine as it heads out to sea from the clyde 🙂
In March, just before lockdown we visited Balquidder on a stormy sleety March day. This is the Churchyard where another popular Scottish folk hero is buried, Rob Roy MacGregor, known as the ‘Robin Hood’ of Scotland.
The weather in April was amazing for this time of year, so almost every day we walked around enjoying the budding trees and hedgerows. We now know more of our local area than ever before!
The garden and greenhouse played a major part in our outdoor activities this year, and it was a real blessing to have them.
In June daytime in Scotland extends to 11pm and beyond, so it was nice to drive around the area close to home one summer evening. There I spotted this unusual cross on top of a Presbyterian Church, which seemed to me to still have the ‘crown of thorns’ hanging on the cross. With the moon in the background it was for me a very emotive scene, hence the photo and the text.
In July restrictions were eased, so having already cancelled our holidays, we made most of the opportunity to make day trips here, there and everywhere!
With lots of sunshine and much care and attention the greenhouse produced a bumper harvest this year, and we are still enjoying the benefits of it yet, from the freezer!
September saw us having a short autumn break in the Scottish Highlands at Inverness. We have many memories of beaches, castles, battlefields and memorials. One of our finest memories was walking on the beach at Dornoch on a glorious sunny day.
October we were back at church with social distancing, no singing and a maximum of fifty persons. It was great to be there again, for although zoom has been an alternative and a blessing, nothing beats meeting together with fellow Christians to worship and praise God, in the quietness the church building provides.
November we visited the famous Glasgow Necropolis for the first time, to view the grandoise tombstones of the past, and to enjoy amazing views over old Glasgow, and also Glasgow’s ancient Cathedral
Yes, winter is here, lockdown is back to level four, and on a few mornings this last week we have been scraping the ice from the car windows. But the central heating is on, and we have every comfort, and the good news is that a vaccine has been developed for Covid 19. So we are thankful for everything we have enjoyed in 2020 and look forward with faith and hope to 2021.
One of the most fascinating places we have ever visited was the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago. Sitting almost halfway beween the north of Norway and the North Pole, it’s a land of the midnight sun and the polar night. Svalbard they say, is home to more polar bears than people! There are countless glaciers and dramatic mountains and fjords to be wondered at, and even in mid summer the remains of winter’s icebergs can still be seen. It’s also home to the white fox and reindeer and the rock ptarmigan, the only landbound bird that stays for winter.
When we put our clocks back on the last weekend of October, I thought of the shortening days and dark nights ahead, and then remembered Svalbard and its residents. That same weekend for them was the start of the polar night! This means that they will not see the sun again until 8 March 2021.
When we visited there a few years ago our first port of call in Svalbard was Ny-Alesund on the island of Spitsbergen, which is home to a number of international arctic research stations. Most are active throughout the summer months, but some 30+ researchers remain throughout the year. It was a rainy day when we arrived, but somehow that just added to the feeling of wilderness, isolation and the sheer ruggedness of the place, and indeed caused us to consider the tenacity of the people who live and work there, summer and winter! Here are a few photographs .
We then sailed further north to the Magdalena Fjord, where once there was a British whaling station, but now it is completely abandoned, just the graves of some seamen are there, who died in this cold unforgiving place.
After Magdalena we moved south to Longyearbyen, a small mining town and the largest populated settlement in Svalbard with over 2000 residents. It is also the administrative centre for the Norwegian Government. Here you will find hotels and tourist organisations offering a variety of adventure holidays, and also a very interesting museum. Fortunately the weather had inproved when we arrived, and again the scenery was spectacular. This however, was the wrong time of year for seeing the ‘northern lights’ for which this place is famous!
What is it like to live through a polar night winter in this cold dark place? Christiane Ritter’s book entitled ‘A Woman in the Polar Night’ would make a great read during ‘lockdown’, you’ll be caused to consider how well off we are! Here’s Muriel reading an excerpt!
REFLECTIONS: Winter for us has always invoked memories of cosy nights around the fireside with family and friends, laughter, games and story telling, and the sharing of good food and drink. We also associate it with streets lined with ‘fairy lights’, brightly decorated shops and town squares, not to mention Christmas markets, Christmas trees and shopping! At Church we think of choir practices for the coming carol services and youth events, and of children’s Christmas parties. The women folk are always busy with sewing, knitting, and craft making activities for the ‘sales of work’ in support of missionaries and charities. The Church community cafe is in full swing bringing in local friends including the walking and photography clubs. And quietly and consistently the Bible is being taught at Sunday services, and in house groups, strengthening Christians in their faith, and also sharing the good news about Jesus with those who are searching for answers to life’s big questions.
However this year, many in Europe are fearful as we approach winter, because of the increasing threat of Covid-19. Some of us have family and friends who have been infected with this disease, and indeed others are still grieving the loss of loved ones. We are all doing our best to cope with another partial or full scale lockdown, with the restrictions and mental anguish and economic hardship that they entail.
I have wondered, how I would cope living for months in a land of permanent gloom and darkness with not a chink of sunlight to cheer the day. I guess that people will sometimes ask in their hearts ‘will the sun ever rise again?’ It’s the same with this pandemic, people are asking ‘will things ever get back to normal again?’ Well, people do persevere and live through the polar night, and celebrate the day when above the horizon the sun dares to raise its head and shine again. We too need to look foward with hope to a day when we will celebrate together as this pandemic is at least neutralised. But the fact is we can be joyful and at peace in our current circumstances, perhaps that’s the hard lesson we need to learn from this pandemic. Life can be enjoyed at a less frenetic and different level. Jesus offered to the people of His day ‘Life in all its fullness‘and that offer is still open. How about reading a good book, telling the kids a story, going for a run or walk, gardening indoors or out, starting a hobby, baking or cooking etc. etc. Jesus brings daily hope and joy into our lives if we come to Him and seek His forgiveness and help. I find singing or listening to some of my favourite Christian songs in the morning, and then reading the Bible sets me off for the day, for as the Psalmist says ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path‘. Of course speaking to God in prayer is also a must! That is truly an anchor for the soul!
For those feeling uncertain and concerned about dark days ahead, I like the poem quoted by King George VI on Christmas Day 1939 at the start of the last world war. It reads, “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.'” How true! When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:32
If you are reading this, and feel that you are living through a period of gloom and darkness, then please seek professional help now, (SAMARITANS Telephone 116 123, or The National Christian Lifeline telephone 0300 111 0101) there is light and life and hope to be found.
Let’s all keep looking up, like those in Svalbard, we may not see the sun yet, but it is still there, and Jesus the Light of the World is still there, inviting us to come to Him.
For those who follow this blog, you will know of our regular travels around Scotland’s many beauty spots. When we leave our home here our preference would normally be to travel North, or West or sometimes East. Recently we took the notion to try a new direction and go South, and we were so impressed by our first trip that we followed it up with a second, just a few weeks later.
We started by heading for the small town of Strathaven and then took the B743 signposted for Muirkirk. We had been out this road once or twice before, but just as far as the Dungavel Holding Centre for Refugees, people who have been refused permission to remain, and were awaiting repatriation.
It’s a beautiful winding country road and we pulled over for a coffee and stretch of legs at a parking spot overlooking the forest and river. There Muriel spotted a ‘Wayside Pulpit’ with the words ‘Be Strong in the Lord‘, these ‘pulpits’ were very common in Scotland at one time, but rarely seen now-a-days. We continued on to the lovely little town of Muirkirk set amongts the rolling hills of the Borders. There we turned left onto the A70 and headed for the heritage village of Glenbuck, a place we had never visited before. It was once famous for its Iron Ore Mill and Coal Mine, but is now remembered especially as the birth place of a certain ‘Mr Bill Shankly’, dear to the hearts of all Liverpool football supporters!
The Village dates back to the Bronze age, and between 1786 – 1813 was a source of iron, coal and limestone. It reached its peak in 1900 with the opening of new mines, and then the population reached 1700 persons and the village thrived and bustled with all kinds of sports activities. It also had a Co-operative store, a school, village hall and church.
THE SHANKLY’S – The story of the ‘Glenbuck Cherry Pickers’ football team, and the Shankly family and their huge impact on the world of football is now legendary. That such a small village should be home to men of this fame is in itself quite extraordinary. I’ll let you enlarge the above photos so that you can read the story for yourself. It was good to meet a few Liverpool supporters during our visit.
We then enjoyed a beautiful evening drive along the A70 until we joined the M74 for our return to Glasgow.
There is another memorial stone at Glenbuck commemorating another hero of an earlier time. You probably have never heard of him but here is the memorial plaque to John Brown Richard Cameron
This man from Glenbuck was among countless others, both men and women, who in the late 1600’s were part of ‘the Covenanters’ who fought for freedom of religion in Scotland, rejecting all interference from the King and Government in relation to belief, proclamation and practice. A freedom still enjoyed today, but one many consider to be under threat, in our growing secular society.
SECOND TRIP TO MUIRKIRK – On our next visit to Muirkirk we visited the cemetery and the ‘Heritage Lay-by’ for some more interesting facts about this Scottish village and its history. You can read the boards below by enlarging the photos.
We made our way home driving west on the A70 in glorious sunshine passing through the village of Sorn and the town of Galston, on almost empty country roads. It’s amazing what you learn when you get out and about! 🙂
ON REFLECTION I was thinking not so much about our change of direction, but of the dramatic change of direction enforced on all the refugees and asylum seekers who have passed through ‘Dungavel Holding Centre’ that we saw from the road, of their shattered hopes and dreams of happiness and prosperity. But who knows what that dramatic change would teach them or where it will take them. Who would have thought that the Shankly boys from the wee village of Glenbuck would find that their change of direction into football, would bring them fame and fortune? Lots of people have found that the Covid 19 pandemic has brought a dramatic change of direction into their lives. The question so many troubled and anxious people are asking today is ‘where do I/we go from here‘?
I personally have found that life has many challenges and disappointments, that have forced me to change direction. But I love the story Jesus told which rings true down through the generations. It’s about the man who leaves his Father’s home with his inheritance and big ideas of fun, fame and fortune. After sometime he hits the skids, his friends desert him, and he finds himself ‘in a field feeding the pigs’. When he comes to his senses, he decides to go back home, apolgise to his dad and ask if he could employ him just as a servant. So what does he find? A Father pointing a finger and yelling? No, a Father running to meet him with arms outstretched – and while the son splutters out his confession, the father is planning a celebration! So if you gave up on God thinking ‘I’ll manage fine on my own thankyou’ Just remember that your Heavenly Father is waiting for you to come to your senses and come home! You can read the full story in the Bible – Luke 15:11-32
It is possible to know God personally, I can testify to that. He offers forgiveness for sin, because of what His Son, Jesus, has done for us on the cross, He brings peace in life’s storms and promises never to leave us, and to take us safely to our heavenly home! That is such good news, that’s why it’s called the Gospel! All we have to do is come to our senses and make up our mind to come home. It is possible as the wayside pulpit said ‘To be strong in the Lord’.
Summer was ending and we had decided not to bother with a holiday away this year, but when we spotted a break in the weather coming up, we changed our minds. After trying a few places we managed to find accommodation at Inverness, so headed there for a short 5 night break.
It’s a 3 .5 hours drive from Glasgow on the A9, but since we were in no hurry we enjoyed a days drive, visiting and stopping at a number of places along the way.
We had not been in this area for a number of years so visited again the ‘Black Isle’ where we once acted as leaders at a Christian Youth Centre camp for a 100+ teenagers at Fortrose / Rosemarkie. Here you can visit the remains of an ancient Cathedral dating back to the 1200s. We enjoyed a walk around the ground. This area was, and perhaps still is, a stronghold for the MacKenzie clan.
We then drove to Cromarty and Nigg bay, home to many redundant North Sea oil rigs, before joining the A9 and crossing the Cromarty Firth for a drive to the beautiful village of Dornoch. and a walk and picnic on one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches.
Our hotel was very near to the Culloden battlefield so on another morning we visited there. Here the Jacobite uprising of 1745 was finally crushed on the 16 April 1746. It is a very emotive place to visit. Many of my ancestors from the clans Cameron, McLachlan and McKinnon fought and died in this bloody and ferocious battle, which brought to an end not only the Jacobite cause, but also saw the beginning of the end of the clan system. Retribution was fierce, even the wearing of the kilt was banned, and it seems inevitable that the Highland clearances were to follow. Thankfully this was the last battle to take place on the UK mainland.
We also managed a forage along the Moray Coast visiting many places where we had spent holidays in the past. Here is a selection of some of them.
We travelled home on the single track road from Daviot to Whitebridge and then on to Fort Agustus, before reaching Fort William. The last leg took us through Glen Coe, down past Loch Lomond and then to Glasgow. There were many photo opportunities along the way.
There were certainly more people around at the main tourist attractions, especially for this time of year, due to folks having a ‘staycation’ this year , but you could not say the place was busy!
REFLECTION: It was great to be away even just for a few days, and switch off (literally) from the continual bombardment of bad news, and the potential bad news diet, fed to us daily by the media. It’s true however, that there is lots of bad news around! Covid-19 pandemic, economic crisis, education crisis, health service crisis, business crisis, refugee crisis, racism incidents, wars and rumours of wars, ‘super powers’ vying for supremacy, arms build up, environment crisis ……….. Do you ever feel like saying, ‘stop the bus, I want to get off‘? Sadly even our trip around the beauties of Scotland, with its memories of Culloden, and its many war memorials and broken down cottages from ‘the clearances’ etc. reminds us that the ‘falleness of humankind’ is an ongoing problem. Even although most people would relate to the Psalmist who said ‘Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.’ Psalm 120:6-7.
But isn’t it true that within our hearts we long for the day when the world and it’s people will at last be at peace and their will be justice and equity.
As a Christian I believe that day is coming. The prophet Isaiah envisages such a day after the return of Jesus Christ. He says:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD. Isaiah 2:1-5
‘Let us walk in the Light of the Lord‘, now if only we could all learn to do that!
Summer is almost over for another year and the garden is starting to show the signs. The heather is out and the apples are ripening on the apple trees, just in time for the apple and bramble jelly, and the flowers are just past their best.
This year we spent more time in the garden due to the virus pandemic, and as always we derived much pleasure in watching everything grow and flourish. The weather was mostly dry and sunny from mid March to mid June, but then reverted to a typical Scottish mix of rain, followed by sunshine and showers, and at times blustery winds.
Here are some of the flowers and plants that we grew this summer.
This seemed to be ‘the year of the Gerainiums’ as they have been flowereing profusely in pots throughout the summer. My ‘Cosmos’ were rightly called ‘Sensation’ as they grew over five feet tall and were like bushes. Still the bees loved them. A new plant for me was Gaillardia, and they seemed to take forever to flower! Some are very beautiful, some quite dramatic and others seemed a bit odd! Ive got mixed feelings about them, so they are on the ‘maybe ‘ list for next year!
The greenhouse was also in full production as floweres were mostly grown from seed, along with three types of tomato (Shirley F1, Tigerella and Sweet Success) and four or five types of peppers. (Golden Bell, Antohi Romanian, Frigitello, Red Cherry and Hungarian Hot Wax)
All the plants produced well, and we have been eating the fruit from the beginning of June, now the small cherry tomato plant is the last one which is still cropping, well named – ‘Sweet Success’.
It was good to have some visits from our grand-children and great grand-children as the lockdown was eased, they are always keen to help ‘GG’ in his garden 🙂
I hope my fellow gardeners have been encouraged in their gardens, its been good to see photographs from other friends and bloggers.
This year our visits to National Trust gardens and properties have been curtailed, but we may manage to squeeze in a vist even yet!
PS: Talking about ‘brambles’ we got these today from ‘God’s Wild Garden’ free of charge, and just across the fence!
Since as long as I can remember I have gone somewhere on holiday every year during summer. As a child I was brought up in a working class family living in Glasgow, but my mother and father always managed to save enough money to take the children to the ‘seaside’ every year. And what happy memories I have of these holidays. Even after I got married it was always the talk around the table at the turn of each New Year ‘where will we go on holiday’?
This year we planned a holiday in Oban and Tiree, made all the arrangements, booked hotels and ferry, only for it all to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic. So like countless thousands of others we were disappointed. The Isle of Tiree on the West Coast of Scotland was our ancestral home, so we were particularly keen to revisit the island after many years. I’ve been reading T C Smout’s book ‘A Century of the Scottish People – 1830 – 1950′ in which he describes the potato famine of 1846 which devastated and decimated the people of the Western Isles and Ireland, and which brought our branch of the McKinnon clan over to Glasgow in search of work. Potato was the staple diet of the people, and Smout records the story of the little boy being asked, what he had to eat for his three meals each day? to which he replied ‘mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes’, when pressed further by the enquirer, and with what else? He replied with great artlessness and surprise – ‘a spoon’. We were hoping to get something more with the potatoes when we revisited, but it looks like we will have to forego this destination in 2020, and will just need to hope for another opportunity to arise!
One other destination in life that I missed, which I always look back on with some disappointment was a visit to Machu Picchu in Peru. I was a Sugar Engineer, and back in 1980 I was asked by my company to spend some months in Peru assessing the equipment needs of the nationalised sugar factories in Peru. Since I was going to be there for sometime I had set my heart on visiting this famous world heritage site.
Machu Picchu is the remains of an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains above the Urubamba river valley at a height of 2430 metres. At the last minute my trip was cancelled, and I was sent to another destination in the opposite side of the world. But last year my great nephew Joe Mackinnon set off from Scotland on a tour of Central and South America, and, yes you guessed it, he got to visit Machu Picchu! He arrived by train from Ollantaytambo, and then followed part of a traditional trade walking route between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, before visiting the village of Zurite near Ancascocha. He got some really interesting angles of the site and surrounding area. With his permission you can see some of them below. Well I guess this is a destination that I will now need to write out of my ‘bucket list,’ but how good to see it tho’, through the eyes of a family member – Thanks Joe, great pics!
There are many routes to the worlds destinations, and its great if we have time and opportunity to explore them. When it comes to our final destination it’s a different story. We are told there are over 2300 religions in the world and 2500 gods to go with them, not to mention the faith of the new atheists and humanists, so humanity is treading many different roads, some like to think they all reach the same destination.
One Destination NOT to be missed: As a Christian I am ultimately looking forward to a heavenly destination. Jesus said to His followers ‘I go to prepare a place for you‘ and He also said that He alone is the Way to heaven! Now that reduces the options! But why else would God send His Son to die for our sins if there were many other ways?
So to finish, may all your dreams of travel and visits around this amazing world come true, and be sure not to miss the way to the final heavenly destination, as alternative routes Jesus warns will lead to eternal disaster! (The Gospel of John – Chapter 14 verses 1-6)
If you know this Jesus, we surely will get the opportunity one day to review the way He led us to our heavenly home – it’s going to be an ‘out of this world’ destination, with the ultimate host!
In Glasgow the last two weeks in July have been traditionally known as ‘the Glasgow Fair fortnight.’ In the past shipyards, engineering works, factories and businesses all over the city closed for the annual holiday, with only a few ‘skeleton staff’ being kept on to deal with any urgent phone calls or business. It was ‘lockdown time’ while the populace at large went off on holiday, mostly to venues along the Firth of Clyde coast. That tradition has changed over the last thirty years with the introduction of the ‘package holiday.’ Holidays at Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, have given way to venues in Spain and around Europe, where people fly off in search of sun and adventure. And so holiday times now have become much more flexible.
But for most of us, holidays overseas have been put ‘on hold’ this year, so many are returning to nearer home destinations. For us, the ‘Glasgow fair’ holds many memories of happy holidays all around Scotland, and in fact my wife and I met at a Christian Youth Camp (CYC) during ‘the Fair’, and we got engaged to be married on ‘Fair Monday’!
So this past weekend we celebrated with a couple of special day trips, to some of our old haunts on the Clyde Coast. Our first trip was on Saturday, when we visited Cove, a little village on the edge of Loch Long, just where it reaches the Clyde estuary. We drove from Glasgow, crossed the river Clyde at the Erskine bridge, and down through Dumbarton and Helensburgh to Gareloch (home to the UK’s nuclear submarine base). Then we turned along the southside of Gareloch and over the hill to Cove. About and hour and fifteen minutes from Glasgow depending on road conditions. It was a warm day with a fresh breeze and intermittent showers. You never tire of the beauty of the Scottish scenery and when we reached Cove the place was, …. quiet! We came home via Glen Fruin and Loch Lomond.
‘Fair Monday’ was another showery day, but armed with the proverbial picnic lunch we headed in the other direction, keeping on the southside of the Clyde Estuary and headed for the small village of Dunure. The council there had recently upgraded the toilet block and park entrance, but had not bargained for the onset of the Corona virus! Park entrance fee and entrance to the toilets called for cash, with no facility for paying by card. Since few people had cash we were graciously allowed entrance without paying, enough to warm a Scotsman’s heart! 🙂 Dunure is beautifully situated with a pretty harbour and spectacular castle, home to the Kennedy clan.
From there we drove on to Maidens, passing the ‘electric brae’ and Culzean Castle on the way. The weather was continuing to improve as we moved along the coast, and at Maidens we had a lovely stroll to the end of the long pier.
Lastly, we continued south west to the town of Girvan, passing on the way Turnberry lighthouse and Mr Trump’s famous golf course and hotel. The sun was now shining bright and the place was displayed in all it’s splendour, just as I remembered it as a child. Girvan has an amazing beach against the backdrop of the Byne Hill. Here the beach was again, …. very quiet!
After finishing the remains of our picnic, we had a lovely walk on the beach, then drove the 60 miles home, hugging the coastline for the first 21 miles, with spectacular views across the firth. It was a great way to finish the day as we celebrated 63 years since our engagement, and praised God for his faithfulness throughout the years!
I trust you are all keeping safe, and can find a quiet place to enjoy the beauties of God’s amazing creation. Matthew
Well for the people who live there that is certainly true, and our home patch is usually the centre of our world also! But Derbisaka is somewhat special, because if someone was asked to stick a pin in the fulcrum point of a map of the African continent, the chances are that they would stick it on the map on or very near to Derbisaka! ‘So?’ I hear you ask!
Well for someone who has always been used to travelling I have found this ‘lockdown’ in Scotland getting to me recently. But then my mind turned to some of the lonely and isolated places I have been in the world in the course of life and work, and I thought – Derbisaka! Most people there have never been more that a few miles from their village!
*On 9th June 1992 my wife and I travelled there for a week long visit to a Christian nurse who had gone to help set up a Community Health Programme at a place called Rafai, in a remote region of Central African Republic. She had been there 3.5 years, but for the previous nine months had been working without any expatriate support. With little communication with the outside world, we went to encourage and support her, and to assess the local situation. You’ll catch the picture when I say that the plane we were flying in was bringing her some mail from the previous December / February period!
Getting to Rafai is no easy business even from Nairobi in Kenya from where we were travelling. We left Wilson Airport in Nairobi early in the morning flying in a small Africa Inland Mission 5 seater Cessna aircraft to Bunia in what was then Zaire, where we stopped for toilets and refuelling. This was a 780 Km long stretch in a cramped noisy aircraft, flying over the northern tip of Lake Victoria and then over Lake Albert to Bunia. Then we were off again flying over the jungles of Zaire hour after hour looking down on the occasional hamlet and jungle river, and skirting around a tropical storm, we eventually reached Zemio in C.A.R. just before dark. The following morning we were off early again on the 100 mile stretch to Rafai, where our friend warmly welcomed us to her home in this Afica Inland Mission Station.
It was then that we had the surprise announcement, that we were leaving immediately on a vacination safari to Derbisaka some 220 Km from Rafai. ‘Don’t worry, all the camp beds, sleeping bags and mosquito nets and drinks have already been packed so we are all set to go’. So off we went in the Toyota Hilux, three in the front and two local helpers in the back, down to the river, across on the ferry and on with the vacination safari. The main road was like a ‘Forestry Commission’ road for the first 60+ kilometres, then near Dembia we turned left onto a track which was almost indecernable, with grass taller than the vehicle and branches blocking our way at times. These were quickly dispensed with by our panga yielding helpers who travelled with us. All day we stopped at various villages to weigh and vacinate children and before dark we reached the village of Kossa where we were to spend the night.
The villagers were amazing, extremely friendly and kind. We were allocated an empty round African hut, and were given assistance to put up our camp beds and mosquito nets. A large fire was burning in the village square where we sat and chatted with those who were gathered around. The women of the village then asked Muriel if she would like a shower, as they had built a shower cubicle with some poles and banana leaves at the edge of the forest. Muriel was about to turn down the kind offer, but when they said you can take your husband with you, she readily agreed. At the edge of the forest, there was the three sided cubicle, banana leaves also on the floor, and two basins of hot water. How long does it take a woman to shower? This one was over and done in no time at all, and mine was just as short! We didn’t need any rocking to sleep, but when we woke in the morning we discovered we were sharing the hut with a hen and a brood of newborn chicks!
We spent the next day on the bumpy track to Derbisaka continuing with clinics along the way. We were blessed and encouraged to see the love and concern shown to so many women and children, and to meet some of the village health workers and church leaders. We marvelled at the courage and tenacity of our nursing friend, who worked in this isolated and remote place, and praised God for the grace that sustained her. We then returned to Kossa for the night.
Before bed some of the villagers gave us a lesson on how to catch termites, as we were told they were ready to leave their large hill nest! A large basin sized hole was dug near to the termite hill, and we all gathered round. Then they lit a kerosene soaked rag on a stick, and held it over the hole. The termites (about 1 inch long with a wingspan of 2.5 inches) then came in their droves, some flying and others walking straight into the hole, where one of the mamas stirred them with her hand to knock the wings off, until the hole was filled. A ‘termite pate’ we were told would be prepared in the morning, which was considered to be a local delicacy.
It was humbling that night just lying there in the silence and darkness of an African hut, praying and recalling the experiences of the last few days. Thinking of the lifestyle of the villagers, some who were our brothers and sisters in Christ, and of our friend who served them all in the name of Jesus. I knew that in the morning we would be up and off again, on the journey back to Rafai. But for them, this was their life, so dramatically different to ours in almost every aspect. But in the morning as we prepared to depart we were greeted by a line of happy, singing, grateful mamas thanking us for our visit and presenting us with gifts of mangos, a live chicken and other local produce, but fortunately no ‘termite pate’!
On Sunday we were at Church in Rafai and the place was packed with about 500 worshippers, evenly split between men and women. During the service there was a medical emergency and our friend was called away. The surgeon was a local pastor who had no formal training but had worked for years with the missionary doctor and took over from him when he retired. He evidently had a good reputation among the people. The following week we were off on another vacination safari to Banima some 75Km in the other direction. By mid week we flew home via Nyankunde hospital in Zaire where we had a water engineer working, but that’s another story.
It’s good to recall such experiences when life is not going the way you want it. I do know the war in Sudan was to lead to thousands crossing the border to refugee camps in C.A.R., and then of course there was the civil war there recently, so I don’t think life will have become any more stable for the folks there.
In comparison we are blessed beyond measure, which should make us truly grateful, and mindful of those in far flung places who need our help financially and prayerfully, and the pilots of these small planes who continually take their lives in their hands to serve others. So I’ve been singing an old children’s song this week ‘Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done‘. I trust you too feel encouraged this week.
*Compiled from a report sent to Tearfund HQ on 22 June 1992
Note: The film ‘Mama Luka comes Home’ is freely available on Amazon Prime, and illustrates the flying and logistic conditions prevailing in the region at that time. The amazing story of Dr Helen Rosevear and her work in the Congo near to the C.A.R border, and her earlier capture and brutalisation by the Simba rebels, is another story of faith and endurance well worth watching.
It’s been the sunniest May on record here in Scotland, which has been a blessing during lockdown. It’s also been encouraging in the last few days to hear the announcements regarding a gradual release from lockdown, as slowly the number of casualties and infections from the corona virus decrease.
One thing this unprecedented period has taught me, is to open my eyes and ears to the beauties of God’s creation, to be seen and heard all around us. We have blackbirds in our hedge that seem to be singing non stop, and we have blue tits and coal tits, sparrows, ring necked doves, crows and the ‘not so loved magpies’ all coming to our garden’s bird bath. I have not photographed them or recorded them, but here are some photographs I did take of the land and hedgerows within a few hundred yards from our home
Then of course we have the garden, which is always a delight at this time of year, even although it does now and then remind you of your age! 🙂 Having breakfast outside is unusual for this time of year.
Now that we can travel 5 miles from home, we have also enjoyed driving again on the network of small single track roads not too far from our house, in the southside of Glasgow. We even took the flask and some biscuits for a picnic one afternoon!
Turn on the Moon!
With all these cloudless skies in the past months I couldn’t resist pointing my camera upwards as well, it’s always good to look up! So here are some pictures of God’s creation looking heavenward!
It’s easy to become despondent in times like these, especially when heartache and sorrow touch us, or those that we love. We so often ask the ‘Why’ question, why me? But Jesus invites us in our despair to turn to him, he knew what it was to suffer, it was said of him ‘he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief‘ but still he pressed on to Jerusalem and Calvary to die on a cross to purchase our freedom! Freedom from sin and despair and to give us new life and a hope of heaven, where there will be no more suffering and tears and sorrow. If we come to Him as he invites us, we can then slowly start to move on to ask not the ‘why me?’ but the ‘what now?’ question. Here is the last photograph for today. If you are weary may you find your rest in Jesus. Matthew
As always, I am happy to hear from you, or to try and answer any questions you may have. email@example.com
Well, we are still on lockdown, and like others I have been looking back on some of life’s adventures.
Many years ago my wife and I and young daughter were returning home from a one year engineering contract that I had been working on in Thailand, and we decided to stop off in Israel for a holiday. It was a visit we had often talked about, and since we were ‘passing by their door’ as it were, it seemed the right time to do it.
We stayed at ‘St Andrew’s Guest House’ near to the Jaffa Gate of the old city. It was early March and we expected warm weather, but in Jerusalem the sleet was blowing across the Judaean hills and it was freezing cold. We had ten days to tour Jerusalem and Israel, and thankfully the weather warmed up. Below are some of our photos of places we visited on this trip.
Prior to arriving I had read an article about ‘Hezekiah’s Tunnel’ and so was determined to see it. Hezekiah was an ancient King of Judah who reigned approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ. In the Bible, 2 Kings 20:20 we read of his reign – ‘’As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?’. (see also 2 Chronicles 32.30)
So we walked down to the ancient city of Jerusalem, outside the old city walls, and were directed to the location and entrance to the tunnel by a guide. Down a steep set of stairs and soon we could hear the water running, still coming from the Gihon spring, mentioned so may times in the Bible. The water was running about 10 inches deep at the narrowest parts of the tunnel. UNFORTUNATELY THERE WAS ONLY ONE TORCH! It was impossible for the ones at the back to see properly and the rock beneath your feet was uneven so my wife and daughter thought it safer to go back. The entrance to the tunnel was low and narrow at places, and I just followed the guide through this chiselled rock, hewn by Hezekiah’s men 2700 years ago! The height and width of the tunnel vary as you walk through, and the water is running quite fast. The tunnel was dug through the rock from both ends, one starting at the Pool of Siloam and the other from the Gihon spring. Towards the southern end where the two teams met there is now a replicate plaque on the wall, copied from the original that is in a museum in Istanbul. It reads:
“When there were still 3 cubits to be excavated, there were the sounds of a man calling to his companion. On the day of the (completed) excavation, the stone-hewers struck out, each toward his opposite number, pick toward pick.”
The tunnel is about 600 metres long and takes 20 minutes or so to navigate. As you approach the pool of Siloam it was good to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. And there waiting for me was my wife and daughter. Wow, that was for me a great adventure – the Bible text certainly is seen in living reality with a visit to Israel.
Hezekiah had ordered the tunnel to be built because Jerusalem’s water supply was outside the city wall and the people would be in grave danger in the event of an enemy attack or siege. In actual fact the city was later besieged by the Assyrian Army and the water tunnel was hugely significant in their survival. They were on lockdown, but lives were saved by Hezekiah’s foresight.
Sometimes we like to blame our politicians for their lack of foresight, perhaps justifiably at times, but this Corona virus lockdown shows that we too need to think ahead. So many of the things that we took for granted are now on hold and life seems somewhat frightening, uncertain and confusing. Figuratively, the pools that we drank from, for our security, pleasure and satisfaction have dried up! It reminds me of Jesus’ words to a woman at a well one day – “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) Eternal life? That sounds like an offer worth serious consideration, as we cope with lockdown and read of the growing fatalities of the Corona virus!
On another occasion Jesus standing in the temple court on a Jewish Feast Day, cried in a loud voice ‘If any one is thirsty let him come to me and drink.’ He wasn’t speaking of physical thirst, but of a thirst for meaning and purpose in life, indeed for God Himself! I came to Jesus many years ago, I can’t imagine life now without Him – He said, ‘I have come that ye might have life in all its fulness’ and I have proved that to be true -‘a well of water springing up to everlasting life’ is a great description.
He invites us all to come – so will you come? You could use the words of this hymn, which came to mind this morning as your prayer
Sadly we had to cancel our planned visit to Oban and the isle of Tiree, which we were very much looking forward to during the next month or so. Caledonian MacBrayne have promised to refund our ferry charges, and also the cost of a day trip we had booked with them to Mull and Fingal’s Cave, but we may need to wait sometime for that to happen. Hopefully we can re-arrange the trip later.
Here in Scotland we have been experiencing an unusual spell of dry sunny weather for almost the whole month of April, so for those of us with gardens it has been a great blessing during this time of lockdown. The greenhouse is always busy in Springtime and there is never enough room for all the plants that are growing. Soon it will be time to replace the daffodils and tulips with other summer flowers, and of course there are a variety of tomatoes, lettuce and different types of peppers growing as well. Today my grandson Lewis arrived and helped by finishing off the power washing of our drive and patio he started last week, for which we were very grateful. Here are a few pictures.
Recent Travel: Some of you will be aware of the fact that my wife and I try and get away regularly for a day trip to some of Scotland’s beauty spots, but that has not been possible since mid March, so much more time has been in the garden. One trip that we did make just prior to the lockdown was to Killin in Perthshire, and Balquidder in Stirlingshire, on a rather cold and at times wet / snowy day, but none the less we did see something of Scotland’s beauties in spite of the weather.
In spite of the lovely weather and garden however, our thoughts are never far away from those on the NHS front line, doctors, nurses and carers, ambulance drivers and so many others, who are battling this virus. Perhaps especially our prayers are with those who grieve the loss of one they loved. Some of our friends are in these categories and perhaps your friends are too. At this time of trouble, I love the verse of an old hymn that says,
‘Have we trials and temptations? is there trouble anywhere we should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorry share Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.’
My wife and I are self isolating like so many others during the Corona Virus pandemic. We are grateful to God for a home, and garden in which to rest and exercise and for family and friends who look after us. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who today are struggling with the virus, those who mourn for friends and loved ones, our NHS staff, for carers, for police and all on the front line. Also the poor and needy around the world with no medical help.
It’s also a good time to read and reflect. The book of psalms is one of my favourites and I invariably turn to it in times of crisis for quietness and reflection. It was written over a period of approximately 1000 years and was compiled around 530 BC. Psalm 90, is said to be the oldest psalm, and was written by Moses almost 3500 years ago! I find that I so often relate to the writers as they express their wonder at God’s creation, rejoice in the good things of life, and mourn and complain to God about the seeming injustices of life, and the sorrow and anguish that besets them.
Psalm 23 has been read and memorised by people down through the generations, and there are few adults who have not attended a special event or funeral where it was not read or sung. It is said to be ‘Scotland’s most loved psalm’, sung by small groups and large.
It’s obvious as we read it, that the main person in the Psalm is God, the Shepherd, and that we as humans are likened to the sheep. David, who wrote it was himself a shepherd, and speaks elsewhere about having saved his sheep from the lion and the bear, although they were probably unaware of it! I wonder, if God has done the same for me when I was in danger?
David realises his need for a shepherd in his own life. One who will give guidance, safety, protection, provision and hope, which he so beautifully expresses in this poem. In fact he describes all our deepest hopes and longings, not just for ourselves and those we love, but for the world at large. Which of us would not like to see a world where people lacked nothing, and lay down in peace?
All the things that our politicians and political systems of all persuasions have consistently failed to adequately provide. Today in the midst of the ‘Corona Virus’ pandemic, when people are scared and petrified, and our health services are struggling to cope with the numbers, and where stock markets and world economies are collapsing, we tend to forget the chaos in so many other departments of our world!
Just think of this for a moment:
Tonight 850 million people will go to bed hungry
2.1 billion people in the world have no access to clean water
According to WHO 400 million people have no access to adequate health care
Around 56 million babies are aborted worldwide every year
53,000 people died in armed conflicts in 2018
Then consider this:
Total world military expenditure rose to $1,822 billion in 2018