Monthly Archives: November 2014

The man who played the game of life so well

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There was a man

There was a man who played the game of life so well yet his real thoughts and feelings he could never tell; his real intentions he could never do; his real plans he could never fulfil; his real dreams he could never pursue; his real goals he could only see; his real aims he could only touch; his real ambitions he could only contemplate; his real aspirations he could only hope for; real love he could only imagine; real peace he could only allude to; real contentment he could only suppose; approval he could only wish for; self-confidence and esteem he could only crave – he played the game of life that well. Authenticity was the name of the game; he simply wanted to be himself: to be authentic both to himself and others; to be true to himself and others, to be real to himself and others but each time the man threw the dice in the hope of achieving this it landed guilt side up obliging him to throw yet again. He was determined to throw a truth and finally succeeded. The game was over; he was declared authentic. Now he is who he should be; should always have been and now always will be. It’s up to the other players in the game to concede that; to recognise that he was now no longer playing the game of life their way but at last not playing but living it his way. What side of the dice are you waiting to land?

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Bang, bang, Maxwell’s silver hammer came down…

abbeyrd‘Ah, at last, someone who listens to decent music.’

These were the words Mandy exclaimed as we sped off in the car to the sound of The Beatles’ Come Together, the first track on their Abbey Road album.

It was one late Saturday afternoon in 1972. I’d met Mandy at a dance the previous Saturday and were now on our way for our first date: a meal in Edinburgh. I parked the car at the back of the castle from where we then proceeded to stroll hand in hand down the Royal Mile in search of a restaurant. This was a new experience for me. I’d never been to a restaurant before never mind taken a girl to one. There weren’t any on the Mile so we turned into South Bridge. Same thing. It wasn’t until we reached Nicholson Street that we came upon some restaurants. It was then that my eyes were opened to the reality of the experience. By the time of the third or fourth restaurant window I had already become acquainted with scrutinising the prices rather than the dishes on offer, leaving that part to Mandy. She read out the names of those that tempted her palate while I silently read the cost that threatened my wallet. You see, like many teenagers who had still to learn the value of money I had already spent the bulk of my finances that Saturday morning on yet another batch of pop records. I had not realised that eating out would be so expensive. I still thought in terms of milk bar or fish and chip shop prices. The only thing I was gulping down as we browsed those menus was the shock of the prices. I started making excuses: ‘Er, I’ve heard that this restaurant charges you for water.’ ‘Ugh, I don’t like Indian food; you never can tell what you’re eating.’ ‘Huh, stag’s breath? What’s that all about?’ By the time we reached the end of the long street we had exhausted all the restaurants. Mandy was hungry; I was panicking; I needed to think fast. Suddenly I was struck with a great idea that gave me the opportunity to sound cultured. ‘I know, let’s go to the Commonwealth swimming pool. They serve meals next to the diving pool. We can sit and watch people dive in while we’re eating.’ Hardly a romantic setting but it was worth a shot. Mandy, by this time weary, simply shrugged. Phew!

The eating area resembled a large works’ canteen divefurnished with plastic chairs and tables. The place was mobbed mostly with people who had just come out of the pool thus there was wet hair and rolled up towels everywhere. There was a distinct scent of chlorine in the air too. It was also noisy, a mixture of echoing screaming from the pool and chatter all round. We managed to find a table next to the large window that gave us a good view of the diving boards. Mandy, looking somewhat bewildered, left it to me to choose the meals. I joined the lengthy queue, noticing that the glass cabinets were fast emptying of food as the queue moved slowly along. Eventually, I returned to the table where Mandy was leaning on her elbows her chin resting on one palm as she watched the high divers.. ‘Here we are,’ I announced. She turned to view the anticipated feast. ‘One strawberry yogurt for you; a cherry one for me. One coke for you; a Pepsi for me,’ I continued as I placed each item before us then dumped the tray to one side. ‘Tuck in.’

We left a short time later but no longer holding hands. We headed back to the car then drove, largely in silence, the thirty odd miles back to her home in Stirling. Following mutually muttered half-hearted cheerios – which I instinctively knew were farewells – I pressed the button on the cassette player and sped off home to the mocking chorus of ‘Bang, bang, Maxwell’s silver hammer came down on his head…’ A mallet would have been more appropriate.

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Truancy log: date May 1968

From the start of my first year at the academy in 1966 -67 my art teacher singled me out as a candidate for progressing to art college. She was the only person who ever set me a goal to aim for that was appropriate for my artistic talent. I endeavoured to honour her confidence and investment in me. However, as something of a wayward boy I was also a candidate for the oldest schoolboy profession.

I started playing truant in 1968. My partner in crime was my neighbourhood pal and fellow truant, Mike.

truant (2)It was a fine bright sunny morning, not the kind of weather to be cooped up in class. Our preferred destination on days like this was by the river that flowed from the west and skirted along the south side of the village. First things first though. We went to the shop and stole our day’s menu of chocolate bars and biscuits, headed for our riverside spot beneath the shady hawthorn bushes, dumped our school bags and were about to luxuriate on the gentle grassy incline when I spotted something floating down river towards us. I went to the edge of the river to investigate. ‘Heh, Mike, look, a log!’ ‘So what,’ Mike replied. ‘I’m going to grab it and pull it out.’ ‘What for?’ ‘I don’t know; make a raft, maybe.’ ‘With one lousy log?’ ‘It’s a start.’ ‘You’re daft.’  A branch protruded from a tree trunk embedded in the riverbank and stretched across the surface of the water. Gripping an overarching branch I stepped down onto this branch and slowly crouched down reaching out my other arm as I did so to grab the underside of the partially sunken log. As I crouched down lower and reached further I suddenly slipped and plunged into the water up to my neck. Mike laughed aloud. ‘It’s not funny,’ I protested as I clambered out of the water onto the riverbank. Not only was my school uniform totally drenched it was also stinking thanks to the surrounding coal mines that used the river as a repository for discharging waste. ‘What are we going to do now?’ I cried. ‘What do you mean we?’ Mike replied, ‘You got yourself into this mess,’ he added. ‘Come on, I can’t go home like this; dad will kill me; he’ll know I’ve not been to school.’ On the other side of the river was a farmstead where Mike worked after school hours. He suggested that we go there in order for me to get cleaned up. ‘Will he not tell on us?’ I asked. ‘No. Leave it to me; I’ll make up some excuse before we get there.’ John, the farmer, was walking across the yard towards the milk parlour when we arrived. He stopped when he saw us and waited until we drew nearer. He was a friendly looking man, slim but sinewy, smiley eyes, sported a neat moustache and wore a well weathered light brown cap. He was dressed in a thin denim work jacket and dungarees bottomed off by steel toe cap boots that were ringed around the soles with cow dung.’Hello, Mike, what are you farmyrddoing here? Should you not be at school?’ he said. ‘We’re on holiday,’ Mike replied. John smiled and simply said ‘Oh, and what happened to your pal?’ Mike explained everything and asked if we could spend the day working on the farm. John paused for a moment: ‘Aye, I suppose you could.’ He then instructed me to take off my uniform and give it to his wife Jane – who had come out from the house to see what was going on – for cleaning and who would give each of us a pair of overalls. After we changed John gave us some tasks to perform but before we started he made one condition: that if Hamish the policeman called for his eggs that as far as John was concerned we were on holiday. No wonder he had smiled at Mike’s excuse. Mike and I relished feeding the calves and the hens, collecting eggs and other jobs. I even learned to drive the tractor and reverse with a trailer. We were also well fed at dinner time and in between. Thankfully Hamish never arrived and my uniform was clean in time to go home as if from school. Before leaving I asked John if I could also work on the farm after school. ‘Aye, I could always do with an extra pair of hands,’ he replied with a smile.

Date June 1969. Place: school corridor. My first year art teacher Miss Richie approached me, her arms folded as usual being one her distinct features: ‘Is it correct what I have heard, David, that you are not going to art college?’ ‘Yes, Miss,’ I replied with barely the courage to look at her. ‘And why not?’ ‘I’m going to work on a farm, Miss.’ I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was disappointed in me. No wonder; my future in the end had been decided by that abandoned, worthless log floating downriver. I often wonder where I’d be now if I had just left the thing.

The moral of this story: it’s the seemingly insignificant things that could determine the major turning points in our lives

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The book

Newstmnt
The original 1978 copy

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of life and its origins?

I began the quest for the these from around the age of nineteen through reading books by Erich Von Daniken. I obtained his Chariots of the Gods, the first in a series of books where he theorised that we came from a supreme celestial astronaut. I eagerly absorbed this information as any young, impressionable mind would. This subject occupied my reading habits for about four years until it became too familiar to continue with. One day while browsing through books in a newsagent I came across a thin, small navy blue, hardback book that looked more like an accountant’s ledger than a reading book. It bore the title of New Testament, which in a momentary lapse of memory I thought had something to do with a will. When I opened it up I soon recognised by the layout that it was of course the second section of the bible. Possessed with a creative mind-set I was drawn to the rich illustrations rather than the textual content and therefore purchased the book for this reason. This was not to say that I ignored the text altogether. As a bus driver at the time I browsed through the testament at terminuses not really understanding the theology behind what I was reading. In effect I was just like the Ethiopian Eunuch reading an Old Testament scripture as he rode his chariot not understanding what he was reading either (Acts 8:26 – 40). The only difference between us was that there was no one running alongside my ‘chariot’ to ask if I understood. This fleeting bolt of lightning experience with the thin book gave way to magazines and books that fed my next pre-occupation – fitness – before Marxism took hold in 1982. For then and the next four years I immersed myself in reading anything to do with Marx: writings by Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and their acolytes. I added appended theories and -isms such as feminism, humanism, post-modernism and  also Irish Republicanism in the form of An Phoblacht. My book shelves, bedside cabinet, workplace locker and even the glove compartment as well as every recess in my mind were dominated by this material in book, magazine, tract and thought. I duly joined a revolutionary faction that aimed to bring about the transformation of society that this material propagated and which I had come to believe in. I lent myself to demonstrations, marches and picket lines even risking arrest and the sacrifice of my marriage for the cause: ‘Socialism doesn’t come cheap,’ was my motivating principle. I also sold the group’s weekly paper,did door to door, shop-floor and street canvassing. I went at it hammer and sickle. This lasted until the collapse of the 1984 – 85 Coal Strike that ended in defeat for the miners. My revolutionary zeal irresistibly collapsed along with it. All that Marxist hype about capitalism being in crisis, that the conditions were ripe for a transformation of society; that a new epoch dawned for man and so on came crashing down too leaving me standing n the midst of the ruins in total naked disillusionment. I clothed myself in pragmatism and retreated to the valley of introspection. While there I cleared out all Marxist influence and thought. Tellingly, after completing this process and subsequently cleared the bookshelves there was only one book left standing. Now back out of the valley all I needed was someone to come alongside and help me understand the book and consequently the meaning of life and its origins.

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Where sweet memories lie

When I return home from time to time I’m often compelled to visit one place and one spot in particular. Here, for a few undisturbed moments, the boy inside of me can slip out, clamber over the wall some fifty odd years high and once again happily drain fond memories dry. 

Beyond the gate of no tomorrow

Souls lie sown in rows abreast

A weathered name bids me to come

I know the voice and where it rests

She knows I’m here again to stare

Through childlike eager coloured eyes

Not at the stone nor at the grave

But where their own sweet memories lie.

 

David McAdam 2014

 

 

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Danger: No enjoyment beyond this point

diveDo you recall those carefree days when as a youngster you were free to take risks and enjoy yourself doing so? Some years ago my brother and me took a nostalgic trip down the coast to visit one of our childhood holiday landmarks. The first place we used to run to after we dropped our luggage off at the cottage was to the pier. In those days we could sit with our legs dangling over the pier’s edge and drop a fishing line into the water or if the weather permitted dive or jump in off the edge in between ferry arrivals. Great fun. On our trip we looked forward to having our memories jogged by watching kids still engaging in these carefree and healthy activities. Huh! We forgot that we lived in different times and in a different world. Imagine our disappointment when instead we discovered that the pier’s edge was now strictly off limits; blocked by high intimidating looking concrete blocks, ringed by spear headed steel fencing and security gates. ‘DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT’ the warning sign snarled. Huh, as if the barrier made it easy for us to do so. We peered over the blocks towards the concrete pier edge and could not see any reason for this warning at least from where we stood. Further inspection from the beach confirmed this: the pier was solid all round.  Why the restriction then? As if we needed to ask. We learned, unsurprisingly, that it was put in place by health and safety officials who feared that someone ‘could’ get hurt. Note the soft modal verb ‘could’. In other words the officials were not compelled to erect this barrier based on what had happened but rather what might happen. Youngsters enjoying themselves and taking healthy risks was now considered dangerous. As we drove along the coast we noticed that each pier we passed was also off limits for the same reason.  Such is the interfering hand of health and safety witch-hunter generals. Be this as it may, as the accompanying photo I took while on holiday elsewhere demonstrates, there are youngsters who are prepared to disregard this overzealous interference in their enjoyment. Good for them. Have you come across any examples of unnecessary health and safety interference?

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“Hymn number one”

Do your remember singing your first hymn? I do and not only because of the hymn itself. It was at a school assembly held in our village church.  The entire primary school attended. I was ten at the time. As we filed through the double doors we were shown to our pews by a member of the teaching staff. Me and my pals were seated at a front pew. The organist played seemingly nondescript music in the background until everyone was seated then it suddenly stopped. The hushed silence that ensued was threatened by one of our group who, with a mischievous grin, leaned to one side but was second guessed by a teacher’s glare. “All rise!” a voice suddenly boomed. Out from the vestry on the left entered a figure dressed in a flowing Geneva gown and wearing a white-collar. Me and my pals looked in awe, elbowing each other and pointing to him as he strode across the floor. It was not the usual minister but a stand in and no ordinary one. He was from Kenya; the first black man I’d seen outside a geography book. He mounted the pulpit then motioned us to sit with both a commanding voice and with his hands. After welcoming us he then announced: “We begin our service by singing hymn number one: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” That was fifty years ago. Today, whenever this hymn is announced at church I am fondly reminded not only that this was the first adult hymn I sang (mumbled) but was also the first time I saw a man from the African continent. I’d be interested to know if you recall the first hymn you ever sang and the origin from whence it sprang.

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