Wednesday, December 06, 2006
The picture shows a family group with friends in1951. My father is holding me in the back row and Alan is wearing the bib trousers center front. Yvette is sitting in the chair with Roida and my eldest sister Flora is to their right in the center.
When my mother became very ill with malaria in our first year in the Kenya colony, and my father was away, my brother Alan and I celebrated Christmas with the Langs, two older sisters who lived across the road. They kept a traditional holiday.
It was Christmas Eve and for two little boys
All was not well, for they’d left their toys
And their baby sister and mother at home
And with local neighbors were lodged alone,
To share with them the holiday season
And though they did not know it this was the reason.
Their mother who was the best house keeper
Who washed and cleaned, there was none neater,
Who sprayed pyrethrum every night
And made sure the screens were all shut tight,
And who knelt by the beds, head under their nets,
And said prayers and kissed her darling pets,
Had herself by the Anaphalis been bitten
And with waves of fever her body would sicken.
And so it was they were lodging away
From home and family that holiday.
Now the neighbors, the Langs, lived just over the street
Where the old tree branches in the center would meet
And doves could be heard in the afternoon
Cooing their soft almost sorrowful tune.
These two older dames now lived there alone
Their family and husbands had long since gone.
Their house was filled with things small boys admired
Nicknacks and treasures in a life time acquired.
On a carved wooden side table set by the wall
By the front door as you enter the hall
Was a little brass ash tray from the Arab bazaar
And horse brasses, mementoes from England afar
Enamel pill boxes perhaps from Limoges
A framed photo of a soldier with ribbon in rows.
Now when those boys arrived they were welcomed and fed
Briefly shown round the home, washed, and then put to bed.
How they missed their mama to kiss them good night,
To kneel and say prayers and to tuck them in tight.
And when at last good night had been said,
And they were both snuggled safe in a bed,
They each mumbled softly their own quiet prayer
And asked God to guard them and protect them there
While they were sleeping until the dawn
And bless them with presents on Christmas morn.
And in the room with door shut tight
And the crack at the bottom was the only light
And by it they could see in the gloom
The dressing gowns on the hooks in the room,
To the sound of the crickets comforting song
They drifted to sleep before very long.
When first light came on Christmas morning,
Before the sun was up with the dawning,
There never was a boy more frightened,
Who round his head his blanket tightened,
For he saw he thought at the foot of his bed
By the door with a bulging head,
Some creature unbeknownst to him
Hard to discern in the light so thin,
Standing silently lurking there
With a glint in its eye with the soundless stare.
Then he called to his sleepy brother and said,
“What is that there at the end of the bed?”
But he could not get his brother to rise
He could not get him to open his eyes,
But he peered again just a little bit longer
And it seemed as the light was just getting stronger
That what ever it was that was there by the door
Looked just a bit different than it did before,
Now he wasn’t quite sure and he’d had such a shock
But could that thing hanging there just be a sock?
A few minutes more and the sky was brighter
A rooster was crowing and the room was lighter,
And he saw with relief and surprise on the door
Two stuffed stockings that were not there before.
At once he saw the mistake he had made,
That the socks were the gifts for which they had prayed.
And soon both were up and were trying to choose
From each of the stockings just who’s was who’s.
They each had a trumpet with a shiny horn
That had glinted like eyes in the early morn,
There were oranges, sweeties, pencils and nuts
And a pen knife that looked like it actually cuts.
Leaving their bedroom and shouting with glee
They ran to the parlor and there saw the tree.
So this was the first Christmas they would recall
And the stockings are what they’d recall most of all.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
An answer to Dr. Clement Moore - for my American family
The first year was over, they'd settled the land.
Now Plymouth was home to a small Pilgrim band
The good ship "Mayflower" had long since sailed away,
As each one prepared for the Thanksgiving Day.
Governor Bradford had made his decree.
"All must make ready a festivity.
The Lord, in his mercy has smiled on our plight
Our harvest is good, and our cause it is right.
Through winter and sickness, for all these months past,
We've toiled and we've labored, 'til now at long last
There are crops in the pantry, and beer in the keg,
So each as we're able, make ready I beg."
Some men to the woods with musket and snare
For duck, goose and turkey, wild deer and hare.
Some to the long boats with hook, line and reel
For sea bass and cod or even an eel.
Some to the thickets, to bring extra wood
For each stove and fireplace in their neighborhood.
And some to fetch trimmings like corn cob and leaf
So each table is set with a cheery motif.
The womenfolk pounding make ready the grain
From the indian corn which they found when they came.
No butter was churning, no milk in the pail,
But there was soup in the kettle and flagons of ale.
There was peeling and slicing and kneading and baking,
There was mincing and roasting with chopping and grating.
And sifting and searing, and spreading and smearing,
And wonderful dishes to eat kept appearing.
Then barrels upturned with planks on the tops
Made tables they covered with fine linen cloths.
All is made ready, the guests then appear,
Chief Massasoit with braves to the rear.
These were the natives whose help they derived.
And without their assistance none may have survived.
They gave them the corn which grew better than wheat.
And taught them that fish made crops tall and sweet.
After their chief, came a proud delegation
It seemed there advanced, the whole Wampanoag nation.
The Pilgrims, astonished, just welcomed them stay
And join in the feast they were sharing that day.
When all were seated at table and board,
Governor Bradford said, "Let's praise the Lord."
Doffing his hat and with eyes raised to heaven
He gave thanks to God for the blessings He'd given.
And barely had echoed the solemn "Amen",
When the village of Plymouth resounded again.
There was sniffing and smiling and clanging and clinking
And shouting and passing and eating and drinking
'Til everyone feasting was filled till replete,
And gave groans of approval for good things to eat.
Then after their meal there was smoking and toasting.
And singing and chanting and laughing and boasting.
And piping and drumming and dancing and reeling
And jigging and clapping, a wealth of good feeling.
In soothe, for three days there was nothing but cheer
As Christian and heathen* gave thanks for the year. *Indian
They crossed the Atlantic, they braved the wild seas,
Faced winter so harsh it brought them to their knees.
During this time half their number had perished,
But they never lost sight of the quest they all cherished.
Their harvest was taken, their laboring done,
In sixteen hundred and twenty one.
Since then every year, though the decades roll by,
As November days shorten with cloudy grey sky,
When Warblers and Martins have flown t’ward the ring,
And the fields lying fallow are waiting for spring.
It is then that we gather on Thanksgiving Day,
Surrounded by loved ones we bow heads and pray.
Remembering the Pilgrims whose struggle and toil
Won them Freedom and Justice on this foreign soil.
Our tables are laden with turkey and hams
Sweet corn and turnips, potatoes and yams.
Cranberry jelly and stuffing nearby
Freshly baked bread and of course pumpkin pie.
From ocean to ocean across this great land
From the shores of New England to the tall Redwood stand,
We pause to forgather with family and friend
And thank God for the goodness, may it never end?
Dr Neil S. McLeod - November 21, 1991
* Indian may be sustituted for the word “heathen”, which is not supposed to imply barbarian just a non-Christian
Saturday, November 11, 2006
A story from Ian MacLeod of Western Australia - He was approached while wearing his father’s battle medals by an old soldier at a parade for Veterans.
You look like a man who will listen
The old veteran stammered to me,
There’s something I really must tell you
For it has been bothering me.
It has been bothering me, mister,
Since that day on the Kokoda Trail
When we stumbled into this encampment
Where this Jappo was dying and pale.
I minded the booby traps round him,
With deft fear a crept in to find
The slice from the calf of his oppo,
He’d eaten, goin’ out of his mind.
It was tragic, that bastard was dying,
Yet I could not leave him alone,
For he’d tell that my troupe had been through there,
Then the whole Jappo Army’d have known.
So I put my gun up to his temple
I paused ’fore I let the shot go,
And that Jappo he smiled as if grateful,
And that’s what’s been botherin’ me so.
I see by the salad you’re wearing
Your heritage leads you to know
There are things that a man can not answer
That just go on botherin’ him so.
So I told him, “You did him a favour.”
“You spared him a death of regret.”
“For instead of dying a coward
You made him an honorable vet.”
Then the old soldier’s brow seemed less furrowed
His distant eye fixed firm on mine,
And he thanked me for lifting the worry
That had bothered him, such a long time.
Friday, November 10, 2006
When my shoes need mending
I take them round to John
The cobbler in the market
For he can mend what’s wrong.
The shelves around his little stall
Are lined with paper bags
All waiting for their owners
And marked with paper tags.
I shake his hard-worn leathern grip
As he hands my shoes to me,
I know they are perfect - I don’t doubt,
As I ask him for his fee.
Then taking out each shoe,
I admire all that I inspect,
It’s not for need I pass the time
It’s done out of respect.
His eyes seem grey and sorrowful
They thinly veil his woe,
And when I ask he tells me
It all happened long ago.
It’s been eleven already
He’s getting out next year
My son, he got into a fight
And I’m left working here.
It was at a birthday party
When he was seventeen
But a boy lay bleeding, dying,
Before he quit the scene.
They had an altercation
My son put in his boot,
Then his friend drew a knife out
And stuck it in, the brute.
He wrote me saying the other day,
The chance to change he’d take
He said that he was sorry
That he’d made a big mistake.
So perhaps he’s learned his lesson
Perhaps it’s for the good,
I saw the tear so close to flood
And then I understood.
I understood the roughness
Of the stubble on his face,
And the disappointed sadness
When a father feels disgrace.
His teeth they all need mending
Like shoes all worn and torn.
His self esteem all cut away
His heart’s wrent and forlorn.
So when my shoes need mending
I take them round to John
The cobbler in the market
For he can mend what’s wrong.
I won’t take them elsewhere
His work is neat and good
For a bond has grown between us
And that is understood.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
For City National Bank, and any one else who flies our nation’s flag and forgets to take care of it.
Sing this to the old tune and see how you feel:
It’s a sad old flag, a tattered old rag,
Forgotten neglected and torn,
A symbol of the land we loved
Once pride of the place I was born.
I really hate to see Old Glory faded
Greyed and tattered fluttering at the mast
Denied the respect and stature of the past
In our country where the values are all jaded.
That it would now seem fit to pass a law
Forbidding us from burning that prized symbol
Speaks volumes to the force that makes me tremble,
Detracting from the praise it had before.
Where are the boys and girls who gave their lives,
The men and women who stood proudly to salute,
With patriotism undaunted, hearts resolute.
Tell me in this land the pulse still thrives.
Along the boulevards that crease our city
Hanging there neglected and torn
Forgotten, ignored and forlorn
You’ll see our nation’s flag and it is a pity.
At dawn no veteran’s chest to swell with pride
At sunset, no guard to draw it down,
Just lip-service lighting from the ground,
Something in our spirit seems to have died.
Sing it to the old tune and see how you feel:
It’s a sad old flag, a tattered old rag,
Forgotten neglected and torn,
A symbol of the land we loved
Once pride of the place I was born.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Saturday November 4th 2006
Photo courtesy of Karen Johnson
Why do we do this?
Why did a small group of Saint Andrew Society of Southern California members get together in the sanctuary of St. Barnabas the Apostle Anglican Church to have Fr. Scott Kingsbury officiate over and bless our tartans. Well let me give you a few reasons as I explained to the congregation when I was acting as Tartan Master.
For sixty five years American Scots have been taking their tartans to church to be blessed. It is an American tradition to hold this ceremony, and it has now spread around the world. It was established in 1941 by the then President of the Saint Andrew Society of Washington D.C., the Reverend Peter Marshall, Pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and later Chaplain of the Senate; The Kirkin’ O’ The Tartan was held at several different churches until 1952, then was settled at the National Cathedral. By now it is a tradition. Certainly since I started going to these services in 1976 I cannot remember a year when there was not a Kirkin’ somewhere in the southland. This is the first reason why we kirk the tartan, it is a tradition.
Scottish folk have looked back longingly at the gems that fill out the sweet memories of the ancestral homeland. The little treasures like the piece of tartan hidden away in a family bible, or wrapped around a bairn to keep it warm against the ‘cauld blast’, or setting of the wedding dress. With it come the stories, the tales of home and the well remembered songs. Our fondness for and our pride in our heritage is another reason to celebrate the tartan.
Deep down in the heart of every Scot there is a resentment at being told that you must do or must not do something. It gets up our noses. Particularly if the command comes from someone we don’t respect. We have been told that we were forbidden to play the pipes, forbidden to ware the tartan, and forbidden speak our native tongue. We were even forbidden to bear arms. It therefore gives us particular delight to be able to parade our tartans in true style, especially when accompanied by the pipes and drums. It appeals to the contrary nature which I believe lies just beneath the surface within us all. If only for our Contrariness we Kirk the Tartan.
Celebrating our Scottish heritage is really a form of American Patriotism. Consider the contributions made by our countrymen to this American nation. Half the signers of the Declaration of Independence, more than half the Treasurers, and at least half of our presidents have been Scots or of Scottish decent; and that is just scratching the surface. We already know the Englishman’s nightmare is the constant confrontation with Scotland’s contribution to practically everything that is familiar that he uses in his day to day life. Much the same could be said of the multiplicity of the influence we as a group have had in America.
Since the early Colonial times, Scots, hard working and hard suffering, migrated to the Appalachians, invested in New Jersey, fought in the seven year French-Indian War, opened up the heartland, and felled the trees. They were doctors and teachers, trusted managers and accountants. They were governors, and cabinet members, lawyers and judges, prominent military leaders like Crockett and Grant, and inventors and scientists like Robert Fulton and John Muir and Alexander Graham Bell. They are the writers like Washinton Irving and Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville, they are the newspaper magnets who started The Boston News letter and the Chicago Tribune. They are the businessmen who invented meat packing, and the industrialists like the steel manufacturer Andrew Carnegie. They are the singers and the artists, designers of the cable cars. There are the Scottish Societies like the Burns Clubs and Clan Associations, and there are the ministers like Witherspoon who provided the framework for our constitution, and John Lloyd Ogilvey, Chaplain to the Senate who guided our nation’s leaders in prayer. It is out of patriotism that we gather today to sport our family colors.
Oh! and one more reason. It is fun to gather together, and bring these symbols of our heritage and present them to the maker of the Universe, and ask Him to bless us who wear these colors, and to keep His hand on our shoulders and guide us, and to provide for us as He sees fit
Jabez - 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.
A Toast to the Tartan
Here’s to the Tartan
The blue the green of it
The fighting sheen of it;
The yellow and red of it,
And every thread of it.
The fair have sighed for it,
The brave have died for it,
Foemen sought for it,
Heroes fought for it,
Honor the name of it,
Drink the fame of it.
After Murdoch MacLean
Thursday, October 19, 2006
1.21.1917. - 29. 8.2006.
I’d really like to say something about our old friend, Bill,
Who latterly had answered to the sobriquet of “Will”.1
I’ve known him nearly half my life, twenty years at least,
Since the days when he was spry and wore his suite well creased.
I would pass him smiling, grey haired and eminent, in the hall
A man loved by his students and his patients and by all.
And he would crack a beam at me and with a wave say fawning,
“Why don’t you take an aspirin and then call me in the morning.”
One lunch time he regaled me, his face a brace of smiles,
Of the morn when newly qualified and attached to the Argyles,2
His batman drawing a smart one, whose boots shone like molten tar,
Said “Sir! The C.O.’s compliments, he wants to see you in the bar.”
“The Bar?” said Bill, astonished “the clock has not turned ten”,
“Do you mean to say he’s there already drinking with his men.”
“Aye Sir!” he said quickly, “That’s the message that was sent.
You’ll find him ’cross the p’rade ground, inside that greet big tent.”
Bill pulled himself together and straightening up his tie,
Said “Thank you Corporal. That will be all. I’ll see you by and by.”
Then our Navy Lieutenant3 stepped out to choose his course,
The parade ground was enormous it took five minutes to cross.
By the time he got to t’uther side he was puffed and red of face
But he braced himself for action as he approached the place.
And then between the guy ropes he saw as he raised the flap
The bar ...with every drink you’d want, even beer on tap.
“Ah Doctor! Good to see you. You will have a drink?”
Said his new commanding officer, at which Bill paused to think.
He glanced, and all about him, this salad chested throng
Were clinking slantés4, before noon, at a bar ‘a mile long’.
The entire mess was getting legless in that vast tented hall,
“It’s hard to fathom how the Army got things done at all.”
His comprehension floundered as this scene he surveyed
“I don’t know how they do it,” he said, “with two drinks I’d be flayed.”
Now many years have come and gone since that time we recall,
Bill was married, had a family, ran a practice, did it all.
And in his setting years he did not let it fade away,
He kept himself together, fit and active every day.
’Till one day on the tennis court his ticker gave a jolt,
It couldn’t take the strain, it wasn’t anybody’s fault.
They put him on some pills and then he fell and broke his leg
The trouble was he had to spend a lot of time in bed.
The last time that I saw Bill, I’d come round to clean his teeth
As he lay thinned and failing on the med-bed neath the sheet.
His front room had been converted to be his private ward,
And a nurse was there attending the man we all adored.
And when the brushing and rinsing was over, which he hated
To find respite for him now that this torment had abated,
I recounted my memory of this story for a while
And was rewarded for my effort by the breaking of a smile.
In that moment all the trauma and the hardship seemed to fade
For an instant he was there once more standing on parade.
For a moment it felt as if a burden had been lifted
With that smile the feeling in the room for all of us had shifted
It was his last, for I am sure that he didn’t smile again
Never cracked those well worn teeth the way we knew back-when
It was his last! But I shall keep it in my treasure box at home,
A memory of one of the finest men I’ve ever known.
1. Will as in “Will” Shakespeare whose Globe Theater was rebuild by Sam Wanamaker, Bill’s brother
2. The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders - A Scottish Regiment
3. Recently qualified and newly commissioned in the Navy
4. slantés, - plural, slanté vah good health - Gaelic
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Every now and then, the fervor of the ‘born again’ gets up my nose. I believe I am actually jealous of the acuity with which they can trot out the exact time and date when they were saved, the moment they met Jesus. They have had a spiritually transforming experience which has changed the course and the meaning of their lives. I can not say that!
It is not that I am non-believer, I have always been a believer, some times not a very good one. I just do not know when exactly, in the years between three and six, the effect of a Catholic upbringing took seed. Whether it was it the teaching of the Lutheran missionaries in Koru or the nuns in Nairobi I can not recall. It just all made sense by the time I made my first confession and received my first Holy Communion at the age of seven.
In 2004 we participated in the Billy Graham Crusade here in California. It was held at the Rose Bowl, that huge stadium in Pasadena. When the time came to make the altar call, thousands, I mean thousands, went down to receive the Lord and accept Christ. The whole field was covered with new Christians and those greeting them. Each one of the recipients will remember the time and date. I had already received Christ years ago, I was confirmed at fourteen, I stayed in the bleachers with my Christian buddies and watched enviously as hoards of others made that new commitment.
Yet upon reflection my walk was strengthened that day, just as it was this weekend in Forest Home when with my family I returned to the San Bernardino mountain retreat where Billy Graham preached so many years ago. This time we heard the Reverend Mark D. Roberts who led us in an intensive on the Psalms.
So what is the point now that you have got this far? Wherever you are in your spiritual walk, I feel confident that like me you will be strengthened by reading and trying to get the feel for the Psalms. Even the longest ones can be read in a few minutes and there is such a lot of inspirational truth in them. Mark D. Roberts has a new web presence called The Daily Psalm and I recommend it. You’re already sitting in front of the computer; this a great way to start each day with time-tested spiritual inspiration. It can really stop the “born again” from getting up your nose!
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
This slide show has been going the rounds, and I like it a lot. It reminded me of a Culmination Ceremony I attended when my daughter was singled out as the recipient of a special award. It was at Village Christian School, and the children had been asked to participate in a letter-of-encouragement writing campaign to the soldiers fighting to defend freedom in Iraq. We did not know at the time that our little girl had participated in the program, and when the announcement was made that a letter from a child at our school had been chosen as the most empathetic and grateful and well expressed, and that by acclaim from the soldiers overseas it had been selected, they had our attention. Then we were told that the author was now to come forward and read their letter.
Well when my daughter’s name was called out, I was overcome with emotion. I could hardly see my way to the stage to try to take a photograph, everything was a blur. When I finally got back to my seat the fellows in the row were holding out tissues to me so that I could dry my eyes.
Maran was presented with the Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal and an embroidered flag flown over Camp Spearhead in Kuwait. Here then is what she wrote:
Psalm 27:1-3 reads: "The Lord is my light and salvation-whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life-of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear, though war break out against me, even then I will be confident."
Kind soldiers, whoever you are, I thank you for your loyalty and bravery. I know I am just a kid, but I care and I thank you for your sacrifices and hurts, your respect for the freedom of our country, and I would like you to know that through all your toils and pains I will be praying for you.
Soldiers like you go through so many sadnesses and griefs. I know you don't have to do it, you don't have to see your friends die next to you, or drill in dangerously hot or cold weather from dawn till dusk. You soldiers are the ones who hold this country up, keep it strong, and make it brave. That position doesn't just deserve an "Oh thanks for being a soldier." No matter what rank you are, you deserve the utmost respect and encouragement. Dear soldiers, if you weren't where you are now, serving America, there might not be an America. Because of all the dangers you go through for this country without complaint and the respect you show towards all Americans, I give you my respect for every day you live and love America.
You give up holidays, joyous family reunions, tucking your children in at night, spending time with your spouse, and greatest of all, sometimes you give up your lives. Though you may go through troubled times, God will always be watching out for you, so no matter what the situation is, you don't need to worry. Dear soldiers in Kuwait, I want to give my personal thanks to you for your loyalty to our wonderful United States of America.
Friday, August 11, 2006
I have had chai in Oxford
In London and L.A.
And now I make for myself
I like it most that way.
“Kitu gani wewe na funya,1
Bwana kidogo?” he said to me,
When I slide back the guards van door
“Na taka ungalia tu!”2
Was my hasty reply,
And jiggling his turbaned head
He asked “Na taka chai?”3
“Indio.” was my answer4
The this is what I saw,
He primed and lit the primus stove
Right on the guards van floor.
When the milk and water
Boiled in his tin,
He took a hand of fragrant tea
And deftly threw it in.
The bubbles died then rose again
Then this is what he did,
He whisked it off and stirred the pot
And poured it through a sieve.
We each had an enamel cup
He filled them from his tin,
Then taking up a little spoon,
He put the sugar in.
Then handing me a cup of chai
He said don’t gulp the lot,
“Poli poli, moto sana.”5
Be careful -very hot!.
The train went cuffing onwards
Down Mombasa way
And still I try to find the taste
Of chai like that today
I have had chai in Oxford
In London and L.A.
And now I make for myself
As good as in Bombay!
1. What are you doing Little Sir?
2. I want to have a look that's all!
3. Do you want some tea?
4. Yes was my answer
5. Slowly Slowly, very hot.
Some of the spices fennel, tea, cardamon, nutmeg, pepper and ginger. also cloves are added
Thursday, August 03, 2006
For years I have been correcting people who say that George Washington’s teeth were made of wood. They were not. They were carved in bone by John Greenwood his Philadelphia dentist. Cleaning them during the campaign was difficult so he soaked them in port wine which stopped them from smelling and made them taste better. The port wine stained the natural grain of the elephant dentine making them look wooden. Michelangelo Buonarroti, the extraordinary Italian sculptor and painter, contrary to the widely pervasive myth, did not fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel lying on his back. It is a mistranslation of Paolo Giovio, the Bishop of Nocera’s “Michaelis Angeli Vita” where he used “resupinus” which means “bent backwards”and not as it has been erroneously translated “on his back”. Then of course there is Newton’s Apple. The Universal Laws of Gravitation did not occur to Newton after an apple had fallen on his head as he was gazing up at the moon. But there may be a grain of truth in the notion that seeing an apple fall started him asking why. In “Pricipia”he discusses the effect of objects falling under gravity.
Misconceptions so often prevail,
They rob us of honest detail,
They clutter the mind,
With notions that bind,
Of the cleverest female or male.
We really should root them all out,
Removing the reason to doubt,
That the tales we are told
By the young and the old
Are really worth bandying about.
To tell you the truth I despair
At the apple that fell through the air,
And struck Isaac’s head
Releasing the thread
Of the theory of gravity there.
When Washington’s dentures you view
It’s simply not right to construe
That they’re made out of wood
For wood is no good
That popular myth is not true.
Michelangelo, its widely known,
Lay on his back’neath the dome
Of the Sistine to paint
Well that’s something that ain’t,
So the next time you hear it please moan!
Monday, July 31, 2006
Don Richardson’s little book “The Secrets of the Koran” is a quick read, but once finished it has left me mulling over the implications of what he revealed. He shows that the Koran is no great literary work, that it is in fact boring and repetitive and filled with errors. More frightening is the clear instruction that this text commands of its readers to kill and maim any who decry its content or fail to adopt it as their guide to spiritual life.
Since consuming its content I have watched horrified as the daily reports come in of what is happening in the Middle East and around the world in the name of Allah and his Messenger. Don shows how the selected verses from the Koran are used to infuse hatred into the minds of young men, boys, in the Madrassas, the Moslem schools. At the peak of their sexual drive they are taught that while they are abstaineous now they will be rewarded with excesses of pleasure if they fight and die for the cause. And what is the cause? To attack and repress all infidels, to eradicate them from the face of the earth. Hence, in countries where they have sway churches and temples are burned, bombs are exploded and innocent people are slaughtered.
The biggest secret is the fact that hardly any Moslem has ever read the Koran. In fact just ask any devout Moslem if he knows or has read the Koran. The answer is likely to be “No, but I know what is in it". Ask for an explanation of why the story of Exodus is told twenty seven times, each time differently, and all of them wrong. They do not mention the most important aspect of the miraculous history, the Passover. Even though Mohamed was a Jew, he was illiterate to his dying day, and his ravings were written down by scribes. The retelling of Jewish history wrong takes up much of the Koran, and in what is left one in fifty two verses is a war verse inciting believers to attack and harm and abuse Infidels. By infidels I mean thinking people who dare to question the concoction of confused lines, and have not blindly accepted them as their “bible”.
There have been no Luthers, no Calvins, no Knoxes to reform Mohammedan thinking. The major thrust of all Moslem societies has been to enforce Sharia Law and marginalize any who offer alternative beliefs. The aggressive application of this principle has cowed all development and evolution of thought, and results in a repressive primitive philosophy which keeps its adherents in the a mind set fit for the Middle Ages.
In looking for explanations for what we are witnessing, I have seen nothing which crystalized the problem better, than an interview with Wafa Sultan on Al-Jazeerah Television on Februaray,12, 2006. Here is a link to the stream, which I request you visit soon. I have loaded it up on youtube.com . This Syrian psychiatrist has managed to explain the problem in the Middle East conflict, and we all must re-think why we have to support our President and Israel. If we don’t our very culture is at stake.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
This morning on my way to drop my boys off at school, I stopped to buy gas for my Honda Odyssey minivan. It was an Arco station, nothing unusual except that they charge too much like everywhere else, except perhaps Costco. I spied something that struck home to me as a significant mark of change in our way of life, and we have only just begun to realize the half of it.
What did I see? Well take a look! It is a disused gas price sign, tucked away behind the fence with the barrels of oil to be dumped, and never to be seen again. Why I ask is it there? Examine it carefully and see if you can spot why this change had to be made. If you want help look at the new sign which replaced it.
Now after you finish gulping at this astronomical increase in the price of our daily essential, reflect on how the sign-makers never expected the price of gas to exceed a dollar something. There isn’t enough room for more that a one.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.
Bob Dylan 1963
Saturday, June 17, 2006
The bird house, in the shape of a western-town dental office
Has hung vacant for the last two seasons,
Just as countless others,
Which were chosen and positioned with care and hope.
Its shutters and signs are now off kilter
For the rains and intense summer sun
Have bleached and warped the thin wood,
So now looking derelict and abandoned
This year for the first time
It is fit for occupation.
It was the gentle swaying motion on a still Spring-morning
That alerted me to this premier.
From the verandah the unending forays for food
Could be watched as each parent
Peered out, flew to the trellis, where the white rose bramble
Has started to clutter the canopy,
And then on and up to the fragrant pittesporum
Before rocketing away to the hillside trees.
Each return is accompanied by announcing chirps
Which are especially forced if the cat is in sight.
From full beaks the tireless mouths gobble,
Somewhere in the concealment,
And dross laden, each adult departs for another round.
Never before had my offered home been chosen,
Never had I witnessed the laden beaks day after day
Feeding God’s unseen miracle.
Then, on a June afternoon my backstroke was interrupted
By relentless squawked chattering.
One of the adult birds was darting here and there
From the strings of the hanging geranium pots,
And from the pool-side I watched as four coerced fledglings
Tottered and fluttered, first to the Badminton net and
Then across to the orange tree before jerking upward
Away to the shaded branches on a maiden flight.
Just one hovered down to the ground
In disoriented surprise.
To its place with watchful eyes I ran,
Scouting the lawn for our tom.
Nervous and confused it too soared off to safety
And the twittering chorus in the dark broad leaves.
Friday, May 26, 2006
This week-end we all pause to take a breath and peer backwards in astonishment at how fast this year is evaporating. We are also particularly holding in our minds the memory of those who gave so much that we might enjoy the liberty and freedom this nation offers in such unparalleled portion.
On Saturday at 7.30 a.m. the Memorial Day Flag Placement occured at the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood. Hundreds of POW MIA’s, Scouts, Brownies Girl Scouts and Young Marines decorated the graves of the fallen with our national flag. The whole affair would bring a tear to your eye, especially when a breeze ripples through and sets the sea of red white and blue fluttering as if by one spirit.
Let us thank God and them for the benefits we enjoy.
The picture is of my son Oliver saluting at the grave of one of the fallen.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
I was standing in a salon on the upper deck of the Queen Mary one day talking to Samuel Twining. He was here to launch his family’s latest product, Blackcurrant Tea. There were all sorts of people there to shake hands and take the chance to say they had met such a celebrity. There were members of the Consular Corps and the local British community, all making small talk, and one of the Consular emissaries was trying to rush Mr. Twining through the crowd so that he would be able to make whatever the next commitment was on their schedule. Then there was me, Dr. McLeod, who asked “at what temperature are the aromatic hydrocarbons best released from the steeping tea.” Well Mr. Twining and I had a good long chat much to the chagrin of the organizers of the event, and I want to share with you now what we discussed and how to make a proper cup of tea.
The aromatic hydrocarbons, the fragrant oils in the leaf of the tea plant, are only liberated at high temperature. Now, because we make tea with water the highest temperature possible in 212̊F, or 100̊C. That is not actually very hot in the scheme of things, but it does get the job done, and although it is on the low end it is enough to give tea that magic taste. Much below this temperature and the oils are only minimally released , and down at 85̊C the tannic acid is released much more liberally than the oils. So what’s the point? You can’t make a decent cuppa without using boiling water, not boiled - boiling. While we are on this point it should be fresh water at a new rolling boil, and from thence straight into the hot pot and onto the leaves. Fresh water is still oxygenated and the presence of oxygen enhances the aroma and taste of tea.
Cover the pot with a cosy to keep it really hot and let the tea steep for about three minutes, then pour into china cups or mugs through a strainer. If you like milk, and I do, then contrary to George Orwell’s 1946 opinion in the Evening Standard I think it should go into the cup first, and not without very good reason. I like my tea hot, it’s more fragrant that way. By Newton’s Law of Cooling a body loses heat at a rate that is directly proportional to its temperature above the ambient surroundings. By the Method of Mixtures Law we learn that the resulting temperature of two volumes of liquid which have different temperatures being mixed is a new mixture with a lower temperature from which heat is lost more slowly. What that means is that when you pour tea into a cup it loses heat very quickly at first, and if you then add milk the resultant mixture will have a lower temperature than doing it the other way, milk first. By the way never use cream or half and half, it ruins the tea.
There is another reason to put the milk in first, and that is because milk is a natural buffer. It neutralizes the acid in tea and stops the cup being etched and stained. Teeth too! The argument that you can better judge the color of the tea by putting the milk inafterwards is just specious. Heaven knows if you make tea enough times you instinctively know how much milk to put in. I think the lily-livered writer was spoiled by having others take care of it all for him.
There are a lot of other little refinements and niceties that I would love to add which would turn this spot into a tome. But click away if you are curious and you too will be a tea afficionado.
(try this to the mocking bird hill tune)
When the light in the morning
Falls gently on me,
I go to the kitchen
Where I make the tea.
There are cups for my wife
And my dear little boy,
And my golden haired daughter
They fill me with joy.
And my son is a sleeping
Still sound in his bed,
The light it is a’playing
In the curls on his head.
Oh! Its early in the morning
I’m thrilled as can be.
To wake up with the dawning
With a nice cup of tea.
When the evening time falls
And I’m coming back home,
With thought of my darlings
I never would roam.
Sure the cat and the children
They run to greet me,
Then we all settle down with
A nice cup of tea.
Then at night time when I’m telling
A story or lilt
Their heads are gently nodding
On the pillow or quilt.
And it softly that we leave them,
My darling and me,
And make a benediction
With a nice cup of tea.
September 5, 1998
Thursday, May 18, 2006
When the broad leaves start to turn gold
And the fruit bright orange and sometimes even red
We get the ladder out, and the long picker basket
And scorning the birds, we take what is left of our crop.
The trick is get the basket claws around the stem
Then twisting slowly, pull until the piece drops in.
Too much recoil launches the remaining fruit on the branch
To a side splitting crash landing on the drive way.
The birds laugh every time fruit falls,
I know the hedge rats hear, and soon the possums
And those brazen raccoons know the tale,
Not to mention the squirrels.
For six months the ultrasonic varmint deterrent
Has failed to do its job again,
But our tree is too tall now
To net its branches.
Some small hours have seen battle,
Hose pipe and prod, Red Ryder and Airsoft
Flash light to the eyes and bingo, a heavy thud
As the prattling predator accepts temporary defeat.
Thanksgiving again! and the tree is bare,
Standing alone until the new shoots of spring
And its flowers welcome back the birds
The ants and the bees, and my protective glances.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
There are many perfectly acceptable ways of coming to America, and let’s face it people have been emigrating to this country for centuries, eons, dare I say millennia. The problem now is that we have allowed ourselves to be maneuvered into a situation where we expect the government to exercise just laws, while at the same time dishing out what they extract from our wallets, in the name of fair taxation, to pay for all sorts of socially and politically correct agendae. I am not happy.
Never mind March, what about May Day Madness! We really need our heads examined, because the very things we love most about America, the things I came here to enjoy, are slowly and surely being taken way. We have just watched hoards of our nation’s residents, notice I did not say citizens, parading about as if they were proud of their support of our country’s failure to enforce its laws, and acting as if they rightly deserved a hand-out derived from the taxpayers pockets.
I fought hard to come to America. I competed with other well-qualified applicants, and after going through the process I am proud to be able to call myself an American. There are many applicants in the pipeline who have simply been hung out to dry. Green-Card holders who dearly want to complete the transfer legally, and they are virtually ignored. They do not have access to the fair application of the law. They have petitioned and are not getting a timely execution of justice. The waiting line is well over seven years long. My brother gave up after five.
Still I believe in America. As I look back now at the time when I took my first aeroplane flight and made that first bold step to carve out a new life here. I recall the poem I wrote then in flight. Here it is.
I'm excited 'cause I'm leaving,
I'm going away
To a new land over the sea.
To where the people may be different
And the culture too,
Well that's what I'm going to see.
The silver lady waits to do her duty
Soon she'll surge into the sky
To a new world across the ocean
And so to England goodbye.
I won't forget you England, in the half sun
With the droplets of rain for the flowers
I won't forget the Lady who I know thinks of me
Who will sit in a dream for hours.
I'm excited 'cause I'm leaving,
I'm going away
To a new land over the sea
Where the places and the people and the culture are different,
And that's what's exciting me.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The Royal Albert Hall holds a particular significance for me, for it was there that the presentation of Graduates to Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Chancellor of London University took place in1972. Of particular note was not the fact that I got my degree, but that the whole recessional line was held up when the Queen Mum decided to stop and talk briefly to one of the proud parents. It was my dad.
How well I remember in Albert Hall
Where the Queen Mum gave me my degree
We were racked with our peers in the upper God’s
What a jolly good company.
Down on the floor were the special seats
For the dignitaries, dons and deans,
Professors and graduate fellows,
Some parents, and people of means.
At the end of one row, by the aisle
I could spy to my great surprise,
My father dressed up in his dufflecoat
And a twinkle in his eyes.
My years as a student were suddenly gone,
The lectures and tutoring through.
We were all of us off on another road,
Ready to try something new.
The anti-climax of being done
With no one out waiving a flag,
No one to slap you on your back
A hollowness made the days drag
And then there came this antidote,
The graduate presentation.
We were decked with our gowns and caps
And filled with expectation.
Each had a colored satin hood
And a tasseled mortar board,
And those who had earned distinctions
Had stripes on their gown-sleeves broad.
The orchestra started playing
Elgar’s march made our pulses rage
When the Queen Mum and her entourage
Processed up to the stage.
How thrilled we were as she gave her speech,
We listened, spellbound, enthralled.
She told us all how proud she was,
“Britain’s best” is what she extolled.
We each in our turn filed down in a line,
To cross the stage, bow and receive,
From the University Chancellor
A smile and a paper decree.
Having returned to the balcony,
The ceremony all but complete
Watching the formal recessional,
I nearly fell off my seat.
The whole parade was arrested
The Queen Mother had stopped in the aisle
And the person whom she was talking to
Was my father beaming a smile.
He was nodding his head in agreement
He put his hand up to his chest,
I imagined that he was saying,
“You pinned it right here on my vest.”
How well we remember the Albert Hall
Where I went to receive my degree,
My veteran father saw it all,
And he got to speak to the queen.
Monday, April 10, 2006
I did a bad thing yesterday, and I got into trouble for doing it. I took a photograph inside the new Walt Disney Concert Hall. The usher came and told me off. I was sitting beside my children’s brilliant Ukranian piano teacher, Mrs. Galina Berezovsky. I made a joke to her about it afterwards, saying they are probably worrying about the Ruskies get the pictures, after all we don’t want them getting hold of the technology. She laughed.
We were there in this amazing hall for the first time. It was particularly pleasing to me because our daughter Maran was performing as one of the choristers in the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. Their rendition of Bach’s “Bist du bie mir” was later followed by the Gibson “Dona nobis pacem” It was lovely. I suppose my Jewish friends would call that nachus. . (Well it is Easter you know!)
The concert was rounded out by having the American Youth Symphony accompany them, and they also played a couple of dramatic pieces with broad dynamics, “Night on Bald Mountain” and “The Firebird Suite” which demonstrated the exceptional acoustics of the hall itself. If you were lulled into dreaminess during the softer portions of the latter you were in for a rude awakening, for, as is done in Hyden’s “Surprise”, the timpanist let lose a volley of bashes on the base drum that fairly rocketed round the auditorium baring the sclera.
I found a better picture of the Toyota French Fries (The new Organ)
I was reminded of another first time, way back in 1969, when I attended a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, in London. For years musicians used to joke about the echo in the hall, saying that if you played there you at least heard your performance twice. This problem was not successfully tackled until a series of large fiberglass acoustic diffusing discs were installed in the roof . The program then for the first concert after the discs were installed included the Bruckner 6th Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with bells and real cannon. The brass in the first and the bangs in the last fairly blew us out of our seats....
I guess want I wanted to say is that although we were cramped, and I can’t figure out why Frank O. Gehry would let his fine work be so abused by pecuniary meanness, the hall is exquisite, and the sound is marvelous. It is quite a Los Angeles achievement, unlike the Getty, which looks like a cheap condo lot on the top of the hill.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Well you better know it could save your life! Automated External Defibrillators are the next best thing to the paramedics getting there the moment your heart stops beating.
If you want the low down, a lot of people have a cardiac arrest episode at the end of their lives, and young or old, the national average life expectancy from such an episode is only 5%. Please don’t believe what you see on television I am giving you the facts. Before the defibrillator was invented, when the heart stopped so did you. But chances of survival went up following the introduction of CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary-Resuscitation), and leveled off in the 1980's and have only just recently got any better. The best place to have a heart attack right now is in an airport, or oddly enough in a Casino in Las Vegas. The pervasive availability of AED’s in these locations have upped the chance of survival (that means walking out of hospital) to about 70-80%.
So why the dramatic difference?
Cardiac arrest means your heart stops beating normally. It doesn’t mean your heart is dead or that your brain is dead, but it does mean that there is no pumping of blood round your body any more. Usually the heart muscle is contracting erratically in a fluttering manner. The blood carrying oxygen is what keeps us alive, and without blood, well actually without oxygen, your brain cells start to die in about three minutes. In about five to eight minutes without oxygen the heart muscle itself starts to die. After that even if the paramedics do get the heart started you will never know it!
So the critical factor is how efficiently you can massage the heart to keep some blood carrying oxygen flowing to the brain and to the heart muscle itself, and do you know how long you’ve got? About five to eight minutes! If you had ever tried to do CPR you’d know that in about three minutes you are plum tuckered out and even changing off with a partner just delays the inevitable arrival of the point where the heart muscle will not contract any more even if you stimulate it to do so. Rarely does CPR cause the heart to start beating normally again. It takes a shock.
That is where AED’s come in and why they are a life saver. While continuing CPR, you open the box you turn it on and you follow the clear directions which are spoken to you. You cannot shock someone who doesn’t need a heart start, because the devises have a computer inside that analyses the status of the subject. Only when necessary they allow a complete novice to administer a live saving jolt of electricity to the chest of a person who is already clinically dead, and if given soon enough can bring them back to life, and keep them alive until the telephone operators who are receiving your 911 call, and the paramedics who are fighting the traffic to get to your home or the park or the shopping center, can get you the help that is needed. They make a huge difference and there should be an AED in every home, office and work place, and possibly every car.
Click on the picture above to see the range of AED's available. They are all good!
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Monday, March 13, 2006
The fame of France and Italy is said to come in threes
For "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres"
And Rome of course is well renowned beneath the Corinthian frieze
For the Pope within the Vatican, the pickpockets and cheese.
Now Roderick, at fifteen, had gone off with his chums,
To see the Pope and taste the cheese and watch out for the bums.
They hoped to see the Bersaglieri running round a square
In a piazza with a fountain and the ancient buildings there.
On a Sunday morning after visiting the caves
In the catacombs where long have lain the early Christian graves
They braved a local public bus to reach Saint Peter’s Square
And hear the Holy Father say Mass and Sunday prayer.
Oh they weren’t riding on their own the bus was just jammed tight
There were tourists and pilgrims coming to see the sight,
And others riding with them who have traveled that way before
Who’d polished the nack of stealing while the tourist gape in awe.
Well that morning while in transit when a pouch he tried to pick
Roddy spied a pickpocket as he made his dip.
He didn’t get distracted, he watched the hand go in
And take his teacher’s camera out. He thought it was a sin!
"No." said Roddy "Stop that now." He wrestled with the man,
And tore the camera back again from right out of his hand.
The culprit made excuses, his looks were sour and dark,
He would wait till he was in the square to find an easier mark.
On reaching the Basilica the bus just emptied out
Like a stream of water from a horizontal water spout,
Folk fanned out on the cobbles to join the throng who hope
To receive the blessed sacrament from Benedict the Pope.
From the papal balcony he said Mass and then dispensed
A blessing on the pilgrims, and the thieves and all, and thence
Roddy and his school chums went south to see Pompeii,
And the pickpocket was left to try his luck another day.
Friday, March 10, 2006
The Folded Palm
John 12 ,“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
For Nan MacNamara on Palm Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
I keep a palm leaf in my bible
It’s folded and plaited and dry,
It reminds me of when the palm fronds waved
In profusion as Jesus rode by.
It reminds me of that fateful day
When the fickle crowd faltered and failed
Turning from frantic welcomes
To denials, in the court where they railed.
“Hosanna”, they called as He rode in
“Hosanna” they cried out with zeal,
“Blessed is He that comes in the name
Of the Lord, King of Israel”.
How quickly their attitude altered,
As the Pharisees looked on with scorn.
How deep and complete their denials
When the trials were done with the dawn.
The Pharisees saw as He rode in
On a donkey, the scripture fulfilled,
And they plotted within their jealous hearts
How the Son of Man would be killed.
How sad Jesus was when He saw them,
For He knew every thought, every plan.
He could see how the crowd would reject Him,
And desert Him to a man.
I ask myself if I’d deny Him
Had I been in the crowd long ago.
For even Peter who loved Him,
Denied Him, three times in a row.
He rode through the crowds on a donkey,
Anointed, the Pascal Lamb
He gave His life so that I might live
- Sinner that I am.
So I keep a palm leaf in my bible.
It’s folded and plaited and dry.
It reminds me of when the palm fronds waved
In profusion as Jesus rode by.
It reminds me that He died for me
That He came to atone for our sin,
So that my poor soul might be saved
And on the last day welcomed in.
Neil Stewart McLeod - March 2003
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The MacLeod Dance Books, the definitive collection of Scottish Country Dances relating to the Clan MacLeod, are available in archival museum quality editions which are hard bound gilt embossed and printed on acid free paper that will last for centuries.
Among the seventy nine dances in the collection, two, “MacLeod of Harris” and “MacLeod of Dunvegan” are taken from Mary Isdale MacNabs’s collection, and they are found in Volume Two “If The Ghillie Fits”. The dances range from simple beginners dances (level one) to level four for advances dancers, and cover the whole spectrum of reels, hornpipes, jigs and medleys. A few of the dances are very old, indeed one dates back 1590. Many of the finest contemporary choreographers have written dances especially to be included in this collection.
These books took thirteen years of dedicated work to produce, and I do not know that they will ever be reprinted. The cost of the books was arrived at my merely dividing the cost of printing by the number of volumes. We will never recoup or cost. They are beautiful books however.
Available in a two volume Limited Edition set
“Dances of An Island Clan” and “If The Ghillie Fits...” Each book is illustrated and contains the story of MacLeod related dances, each with its choreographic description, original musical score, and diagrams of the significant dance movements. The books are packed with the legends and tales of MacLeod lore, and for dancers and non-dancers alike who love the clan history the books are a delight.
Wonderful presents for enthusiasts, and a must in any clan library, the books are available for $25 each and $45 for the set, plus postage and packing.
Please contact: Neil McLeod by email only: firstname.lastname@example.org for mailing instructions
Postage and packing: USA - $ 8.00, Canada - $ 11.00, Britain - and elsewhere $18.00 per book
(Note: cost of postage may vary, we reserve the right to ask for additional postage if necessary, if a less costly alternative can be found we will gladly use it and make refunds accordingly.)