Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to search blogger comments as well as post contents

Sorry, this no longer works since Google changed their CSE from API 1.0 to API 2.0. I have tried various search options but the comments are simply not in a static form that is searchable. It might be possible to search google cache (maybe).

Although the blogger bar at the top of the page lets visitors search for content on a blogger blog, there are times when it would be useful to be able to search the comments too. This is now possible by using Google Custom Search.

To set one up go here:

Follow the process through and select the default settings.

When asked to enter the URL of the site to search enter your blog address like this with /* after it:*

(Where is your blogger blog address.)

Note: Setting up the custom search may not be possible from behind some company firewalls and show an error.

Follow the process through and when it is complete you can then either link to the custom search page or embed the supplied code in a page in your blog. Click here to see the one I made for this blog.

Considering giving up playing the trumpet and cornet.

I am considering giving up brass playing and this article is a bit of "thinking aloud". I play the trumpet, cornet and a bit of french horn. The issue has been brought to the fore by the end of my commitment to my brass band. I had agreed to play with the band till March this year so with March coming round I have a free hand to decide what I am going to do. This may be a shock for some of my friends, but I did come close to giving up a few years ago and the reasons have not gone away:

  • My playing is inconsistent and I don't have enough time to practice to improve this. I do 15 to 30 minutes per day, but being in a flat I am restricted with what and when I can play. I find the state of my playing frustrating.
  • A lot of the playing I do is helping people out who are short of a trumpet. I don't get much out of doing these gigs other than feeling that I have helped someone. I get very little musical satisfaction from it. I have two of these gigs in the next month.
  • I am interested in producing a good sound and nice tone. This means I tend to play on equipment that is less easy to play accurately on. I have considered switching to smaller mouthpieces, but its not really me and I think my strength as a player is my sound.
  • None of the trumpet or cornet playing I do has any artistic flexibility. In my other musical activities I write arrangements, have a small audience for my work and have some influence in encouraging other people to try new things.
  • I will give up playing eventually. Everyone does. Going out while I am still playing reasonably well makes some sense.

The problem with all of this is that I have been playing since I was ten years old. If I stop playing there is no going back  (its like an athlete giving up running, I would never get back to the same level). I also went through a complete embouchure reset a few years ago which was incredibly hard work and I would not want to feel that I had wasted all that work. My music is also part of my social life.

Don't get me wrong. My trumpet playing is actually still pretty good. Given a couple of weeks notice I could bang out a decent performance of any of the baroque concertos or a cornet air varie. I am just not enjoying playing as much as I used to and any enjoyment is being outweighed by the work involved.

There is also the opportunity cost. I am getting frustrated that my other musical activities never get done because of the systematic daily practice I need to do on cornet.

I do need to think about this carefully before I make a decision, but in the mean time I need to think about what I am going to do with two band and two orchestral concerts in the next month or so.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Creationists - coming to a town near you soon - in Scotland

Nothing to do with CMI
Its not often we get creationist events in Scotland these days, but I notice that Creation Ministries International have organised a speaking tour by Philip Bell, a former school science teacher. You can see the details here.

None of them are anywhere near where I live and I am working several evenings that week or I would have gone along for a listen (ok, ok, more likely a silent protest with a placard along the lines of "people are dying and you are talking about people riding on dinosaurs").

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Edinburgh, Leith and Forth Marine Radio Frequencies

This is a list of the commonly used marine VHF frequencies in the Forth eastuary around Edinburgh and Leith.

ChFreq (MHz)Specified PurposeLocal Useage
search and rescue
only - ship to ship
Harbour Tugs
only - ship to ship
Harbour Tugs
only - ship to ship
only - ship to shore
Harbour Tugs / Rosyth Docks / Anstruther harbour
only - ship to shore
navigation - secondary working / Leith harbour radio / Leith Harbour Tugs
only - ship to shore
Harbour Tugs / Grangemouth Harbour
only - ship to ship calling and distress
navigation / Leith harbour / Grangemouth harbour
or duplex with 161.600
navigation - primary working
- port operations
navigation - reporting / Tay navigation / Rosyth Docks / Methil Docks
- ship to shore and ship to ship
Ports pilots
- port operations
or duplex with 161.625
Edgar Marina
search and rescue

A full list of the marine radio VHF channels can be found here:


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Can life have meaning without God?

Peter Anderson raised this issue earlier today on Twitter:

Without God life is ultimately meaningless "...for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment." (Ecc. 2:25)

I have written about this previously as part of my criticism of the Alpha Course.

I think that life does have meaning without God.

I know many people who do not believe in God, for a variety of reasons, yet all of them find meaning in their lives. Here is a summary of some of the ways they do this:

  • We all contribute to the development of the world through our children, but also through the work we do and the way we interact with and help other people. These might seem insignificant when viewed up close, but in the context of all human development they are very important because what comes after needs the foundation that we have built.
  • People seem to find meaning in being part of the whole of creation. By understanding our part in the ecosystem we don’t feel disconnected from the natural world. The feeling of disconnection that many people feel is the result of urbanisation and is quite recent in human history.
  • Some of my friends find meaning through art and music.

Painting unbelievers lives as meaningless is wrong in three ways:

  1. It aims the churches message at those who are dissatisfied and therefore vulnerable, whilst ignoring those who are essentially quite contented and for whom the case for God would have to be clearer.
  2. It contains an implicit reverse argument that if someone cannot find meaning in their own life then they do not have God. This is not going to encourage people who are struggling in their faith.
  3. It limits the activity of God to calling people to repentance and otherwise only acting for believers. Yet, the new testament is full of stories of Jesus doing things for non Jews.

Of course this position also contains another reverse argument that if your life has meaning then you already have God. In fact many Christians do believe that life can have meaning for someone who does not acknowledge God.

Christians believe that God created everyone in his image. By recognising this image in all people many Christians are able to celebrate the meaning, purpose and value in the lives of people who do not believe. If God is omnipresent then he is in unbelievers too and doing more than trying to make them repent.

The main problem with trying to claim that life without God is meaningless is the plain fact that it isn't. Most people lead contented and meaningful lives. People of other faiths do too.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

USB Microphone levels too high in Windows 7 - Problems with distortion in Audacity

Distortion and overdriving is being reported by users of MXL and Samson USB microphones who have switched to Windows 7 from XP. The problem exists in the 32 bit and 64 bit versions. It also affects USB turntables and other USB audio devices. Typically the microphone volume has to be reduced in the windows audio mixer to practically zero to prevent overdriving and distortion. Even at these levels there can be occasional buzzing or other distortion. If the microphone (like the MXL ones) has a built in attenuator then setting this to low output helps a bit, but the audio quality is compromised because the full dynamic range of the microphone is affected. The same problem may also affect USB audio interfaces and mixers.

See my update at the end of this article for a possible solution.

I have used an MXL USB.006 large diaphragm USB microphone for several years on both WIndows XP and Ubuntu Linux, recording into Audacity with no problems, but it won’t work properly with Windows 7.

The bad news is that there is no proper fix for this. It is not caused by Audacity or the operating system itself. The problem is the generic USB audio driver for Windows 7 seeing all inputs as low level microphone inputs rather than high level line inputs (which is how these devices were designed and how they worked under Windows XP). This happened because Windows 7 is optimised for teleconferencing, VOIP and using a headset. Until someone designs a USB audio driver for Windows 7 which corrects this, then there is no real solution.

Some users are reporting fixes related to bit rate settings or using the speech recognition microphone set up wizard in Windows. I have tried these and they sometimes seem to work, but that seems to just be coincidence as the intermittent buzzing comes back. I have tried Windows direct sound and MME and both have the same problem. Its all drive level related.

The only options I can see to resolve this are:

  1. Keep the gain turned down, keep the attenuator padding turned on, accept the poorer audio quality, and hope there is no distortion midway through your recording.
  2. Get a separate PC running Windows XP or Linux for audio recording purposes.
  3. Buy a standard XLR dynamic microphone and a seperate mixer which can provide ghost power and plug into the soundcard line input, NOT a USB socket.

All of these are an extra expense and quite disappointing, but I may just have to bite the bullet and replace my microphone and add a mixer.

Update 10th October 2011
Well, I have found a solution to the distorted buzzing sound on recordings. I increased the "audio to buffer" setting in the Recording Preferences in Audacity from 200ms to 300ms. This has stopped the distortion. Recording levels are still too high, but with the attenuator turned on and the mic gain set at 0.1 it does work.

Is the Pope a Catholic?

It's one of those rhetorical questions that's used as a statement of something being totally obvious. But is it as clear as it first appears? In fact, the chance of any pope selected at random being a Roman Catholic is only one in three as there are currently three holders of the title "pope". They are:

So the next time someone asks you "is the pope a catholic?" please take it with a pinch of salt. The answer is more than likely "no".

Naughty Morrisons

Not only do they think they are immune from the normal grammatical rule about apostrophes, but they are now short changing me on tuna. This photograph is two identical sized cans, top one from Tesco, bottom one from Morrisons. Both cans are an identical physical size and both from their budget ranges (dolphin friendly). Compare the weights of the contents (click on the image for larger version):

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Christianity as Mystical Fact by Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner
I am currently reading Christianity as Mystical Fact by Rudolf Steiner. I have a book copy but you can read an online version here. Like all of Steiner's transcribed lectures it can be heavy going due to the translation, but his inital argument stands good. This is that no amount of historical investigation into the biblical account can ever prove the spiritual claims of Christianity (even something as simple as "God is love" is not proveable by historical investigation or critical analysis of the biblical texts). He then looks at the scientific method and tries to apply it in terms of what he calls "spiritual science" before looking at the mystery religions and initiation. In other words he is establishing imparted "gnosis" (knowledge) as the way of knowing truth rather than "pistis" (faith in a creed or in the bible).

I don't think any of this is a surprise, but he does slightly downplay the scientific method of spiritual investigation which goes a little against the grain of some of his other writings. The main emphasis seems to be on initiation into secret teaching which is something hinted at in the gospels and more so in "secret Mark" and the Hebrew version of Mark (which includes the story of the raising of Lazarus normally only present in John and which has a chapter of its own later in the book).

Its an interesting discussion given that creationism's main aim is to prove the spiritual truth of the gospel by proving the bible's historic truth. Its a rather futile effort. On the other side, attempts to prove the resurrection by using its spiritual results as evidence (e.g. James Martin's article in this month's Life and Work magazine) seems equally unlikely. In both cases any truth in the message is subserviant to the evidencial basis of how it was first delivered. Until we can get beyond that we will not be able to get to grips with the teachings of Jesus.

I continue to read.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2012 and False Christs.

In yesterday's article I mentioned the belief common to fundamentalist Christians and conspiracy theorists alike that the world is likely to end very soon. For conspiracy people the ending of the Mayan calendar in 2012 is the key date, whilst many Christians see activities in the middle east as pointing to a return of Christ in  the next few years.

In a strange synchronicity I had a comment on one of my youtube videos this morning from someone claiming to be Christ. It was from a Youtube user called godtomanonly who, as well as having an interest in all things eschatalogical, seems to have a deep interest in the works of Englebert Humperdink (the English singer, not the German composer)

Second coming of my son 21st century style to lift all up & out of it. Heaven moves with the times. All in darkness worldwide religious political dilemma proof earth Godless is evil. Even the birds know of my existence when they fly on my breeze. Words are very important when they hit my air. All say what you say when you say it & do what you do when you do it, makes no odds up here. You can not let heaven down only yourselves. @Number10gov OFFICIAL JC2011RTN UK EARTH”

@Number10gov is, of course, the official Twitter address used by the Prime Minister's office. After a bit of digging around I found that this all traces back to a twitter account @3in1of2 which is full of apocalyptic pronouncements in the first person.

What we can draw from this is that the prospect of reaching the year 2012 is bringing out the eccentrics in the same way as the year 2000 did. However, its not the first time someone has claimed to be the return of Christ.

In another synchronicity I happened to be reading "The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric" by Rudolf  Steiner last night. I won't go into the gory details (If you would like to know about Steiner's theology I wrote an article here) except to say that Steiner was adamant there would be no physical second coming of Christ. This caused him to berate the Theosophists for putting forward the Indian boy Krishnamurti as a supposed second coming. In the book Steiner mentions another pretender to the throne of heaven a man by the name of Sabattai Tzevi who declared himself as the Jewish Messiah in 1648, bringing worshippers from all over Europe to visit him in at his home in Smyrna, in modern Turkey. There are still some muslim followers of Zevi in modern Turkey called the Donmeh (which means convert) because Zevi himself eventually converted to Islam.

This brings us to the fascinating list of people who have either claimed to be Jesus returned or a completely new messiah. This includes the leader of the Branch Davidian’s - Davod Koresh and Luis de Jesus Miranda. You can find a list of people claiming to be the second coming of Jesus Christ here:

And a  list of claimants to being a different messiah here:

The list is surprisingly long and shows that this is not a recent phenomenon, but what can we conclude from it? It would be easy to attempt to put it down to mental illness, but to sustain a following as these historical figures have would require a higher level of functionality than that normally associated with the mentally ill. It could be the personality disorder known as messiah complex most eloquently described in Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock where a man is so caught up in his messianic fantasy he travels back in time and replaces Jesus on the cross.

Or perhaps people just feel that the world should have an end?

"time, that takes survey of all the world, Must have a stop", William Shakespeare, (V.iv) Henry V

One thing is certain. As 2012 approaches the number of apocalyptic prophets is only going to increase as people try to find significance in these sometimes difficult and confusing times.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Similarity of Christian Fundamentalists to Conspiracy Theorists

Over the past few years I have noticed a close similarity between Christian fundamentalists and people who believe in conspiracy theories, especially those who consider themselves part of the “truth movement”. The truth movement in the UK is a loose grouping of (often one man) “organisations” promoting the idea that British society is controlled by some malevolent organisation who work in the background to control events and ultimately hand over sovereignty to some outside body as part of a one world government. The usual suspects for these accusations are Common Purpose, the Fabian Society, the Freemasons or all three. The current trend of “truth seeking” is similar to the “millennium bug” hysteria of the late 90’s which saw people storing food and building shelters for the coming catastrophe. The main catalyst for the recent growth in conspiracy thinking has been the 9/11 Truth movement in the USA which grew after the bombing of the World Trade Center in an attempt to find other explanations for that hard to believe catastrophe. However, many of the same ideas have been continually promoted by David Icke and others over the past 12 years.

This US connection may be why evangelical fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists have so much in common. Here is a list:

  • Belief that Britain is being sold out as part of a New World Order.
  • Dislike of the European Union.
  • Interest in the traditional family and denial of validity of homosexual relationships.
  • Distrust of organisations promoting progressive ideas.
  • Dislike of freemasonry.
  • Dislike of Islam (elthough with some envy of their value of the family unit).
  • Belief that all change is regressive.
  • Inability to recognise the zeitgeist (the majority consensus position on current issues).
  • Disbelief in climate change.
  • Belief in impending apocalypse (either the end of the Mayan callendar in 2012 or the imminent second coming of Christ and Armageddon).
  • Belief that debit and credit cards will be replaced by an electronic implant (the mark of the beast to Christians) as a means of controlling trade.
  • Support for alternative theories of science (e.g. free energy, anti gravity or creationism).
  • Putting greater trust in people if they have academic titles even if they are false or honorary.
  • Playing to specific enclosed audiences of fellow believers and not being open to external criticism, brushing it off as either the “unsaved” or “government agents”.
  • Fielding parliamentary candidates who often poll very few votes.

Both sides rely on their own gurus promoting very similar ideas. As an example, for Christians the late Barry Smith and for secular conspiracy theorists Brian Gerrish.

Both the christians and the truthers claim to have life changing information, but decide to sell it to a select group of followers rather than giving it away to the general population free of charge. Digital distribution can be achieved at virtually no cost, but they still choose to distribute by DVD, book, magazine or paid ticketed events.

My thoughts
Its quite surprising how close the two groups are in beliefs and ways of operating. Whilst I agree that there are actually some things about modern life which are heading in the wrong direction, I do see some good too. The recent deposing of Mubarak in Egypt was possible because of the greater freedom of communication possible with the Internet. The increasing freedom of communication means that if their ideas were true more real evidence would have emerged.

If I had the secret of free energy or how to change peoples lives I would give it away free in the knowledge that not only would I be helping people but I would also be securing my financial future through the fame his would bring me. I suspect that what we are witnessing with Christian fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists is a case of “the emperors new clothes” with very few small boys pointing the finger at their state of undress.

I can't help concluding that a lot of this is about earning an income for the people involved rather than revealing anything that is really true about the world. They certainly don't do anything publicly to help other people. It is all very self validating and self congratulatory in an "I told you so" kind of way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The story of Whistling Billy

The tin whistle was invented in 1843 by Robert Clark, an English farm labourer. He sold his instruments by touring round local markets making his instruments at his stall and playing tunes himself as a demonstration. The tin whistle (or penny whistle) became very popular with the poor because it was an instrument they could afford (costing much less than a penny - the first ones were a quarter of a penny). Some people found that they could earn some money from busking. One of the finest exponents was "Whistling Billy" of London who was interviewed by Henry Moore for his 1861 book London Labour and the Poor:

When I goes into the public-houses, part of my performance is to play the whistle up my nose. I don't do it in the streets, because if I did there'd be thousands looking at me, and then the police would make a row. Last night I did it. I only pitched at one place, and did my night's work right off. I took 4s 3 1/2d and lots of beer in an hour, from the cabbies and the people and all. At last the police told me to move on. When I plays the whistle up my nose, I puts the end of it in my nostril, and blows down it. I can do that just as easy as with my mouth, only not as loud. I do it as a variety, first in my mouth, then in my nose, and then back again in my mouth. It makes the people laugh. I've got a cold now, so I can't do it so well as at times, but I'll let you see what it is like.

You can read the full story here in Google Books.

How to log into an Open ID site using a Google account

Open ID is a system of online authentication which allows the same username and password to be used across many different web sites. The simplest way to get an Open ID is to sign up with one of the services which use the system. You can click here to see a list of them. Alternatively, if you are technically minded, you can set up your own Open ID linked to your own web address. For a tutorial on how to do this click here.

Using your Google Account as Open ID
Google Accounts (used for Gmail and other Google services) are now enabled for use as an Open ID. WHen you visit a web site that uses Open ID you will be asked to enter your Open ID "Identity URL". For a Google account this will be replacing "googleusername" with your actual Google username.

You will then be taken to the Google log in page to enter your google username and password and decide if you want to authorise it to connect either once or permanently.

To test this go to the OpenID test login page:

Note: If this doesn't work, it may be that you don't have a public Google profile. This is required for OpenID to work. To check your public profile go to and if there isn't one you can create it here:

Using a Blogger Account as OpenID
If you have a Blogger account with a custom domain (your own domain name) you can use that address (http://www.customdomain.tld) as your identity URL and log into Open ID with your blogger username and password (which will normally be the same as your Google username and password).

Controlling Authorised Sites
You can control which sites you have allowed to use your OpenID by logging into your Google account page here: and click on "Authorizing applications & sites"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Professor John Searl - or is it?

Truthseekers666 from YouTube has made a fantastic series of videos explaining his research into the claims of "Professor" John Searl and the Searl Effect Generator which I have embedded below this post. One issue raised in the YouTube discussion has been Searl's claim to have served in the RAF and having kept his uniform. Initially I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as my own dad did national service in the RAF and was told to keep his uniform while he was on the reserve list (which I think ran for six years). However, having come across these photographs I find something odd. The sleeve insignia (the rings around his cuffs) indicate an Air Chief Marshall, one of the highest ranks in the Royal Air Force, and not something anyone could achieve in two years (the time he claims to have served in the air force). Then on closer inspection I noticed something odd. Those do not appear to be RAF insignia on the hat or shoulder. Its hard to say without higher resolution photographs, but I think these are the insignia of his "Swallow Command" organisation. Here are the two images and my enlargement.


I now have some higher resolution images of Searl’s uniform badges:

These are definitely not RAF insignia.
The letters on the badges are:
SISRC (presumably standing for “Searl International Space Research Consortium”, the name of his company)
IGV (presumably standing for “Inverse Gravity Vehicle”)

More like a child's play suit than a uniform.

Further discussion about John Searl
His title of professor is also unsubstantiated and appears to be self styled like alien contactee George Adamski in the 1950's who had a not dissimilar band of followers.

There is quite a lot to this story, and Matthew tells it better than me, so over to him:

Probably not the last we have heard about this story.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kelvingrove, Iona and the dark side of the Scottish folk song

This is the story of the sanitisation of a Scottish folk song from gritty narrative to victorian parlour song and then to a modern hymn.

As a schoolboy I was indoctrinated with the Oxford Scottish Song Book which contained a selection of Edwardian versions of Scottish songs. None of them were very inspiring and Burns was surprisingly absent from the selection along with anything that was even vaguely political. One of the songs featured was Kelvingrove, and I made an instrumental recording of it a while ago:

The lyrics are:
Let us haste to Kelvin Grove, bonnie lassie, O
Thro' its mazes let us rove, bonnie lassie, O
Where the roses in their pride
Deck the bonnie dingle side
Where the midnight fairies glide, bonnie lassie, O.

Let us wander by the mill, bonnie lassie, O
To the cove beside the rill, bonnie lassie, O
Where the glens rebound the call
Of the roaring waters' fall
Thro' the mountains rocky hall, bonnie lassie, O.

Oh, Kelvin banks are fair, bonnie lassie, O
When the summer we are there, bonnie lassie, O
There the Maypink's crimson plume
Throws a soft but sweet perfume
Round the yellow banks o' broom, bonnie lassie, O.

Tho' I dare not call thee mine, bonnie lassie, O
As the smile of fortune's thine, bonnie lassie, O
Yet with fortune on my side
I could stay thy father's pride
And win thee for my bride, bonnie lassie, O.

But the frowns of fortune lour, bonnie lassie, O
On thy lover at this hour, bonnie lassie, O
Ere you golden orb of day
Wake the warblers on the spray
From this land I must away, bonnie lassie, O.

Then farewell to Kelvin Grove, bonnie lassie, O
And adieu to all I love, bonnie lassie, O
To the river winding clear
To the fragrant scented brier
Even to thee of all most dear, bonnie lassie, O.

When upon a foreign shore, bonnie lassie, O
Should I fall midst battle's roar, bonnie lassie, O
Then, Helen, should'st thou hear
Of thy lover on his bier
To his memory shed a tear, bonnie lassie, O.

In recent years the tune has been used as a hymn with new words written by John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean
and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’II go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’II move and live and grow.

But the melody has a much darker past. It exists with various lyrics under the title "Oh the Shearin's No' for You" with various stages of sanitisation.

The earliest version is about the rape of a woman who then has to marry her assailant as she has been made pregnant by the attack:
Oh the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you, for your back it willnae boo
And your bellies rowan fu' my bonnie lassie o

Dae you mind on yonder hill my bonnie laddie o
Dae you mind on yonder hill my bonnie laddie o
Dae you mind on yonder hill, where you said you wid me kill
If you didnae hae your will my bonnie laddie o

Well I'll no kill you deid my bonnie lassie o
No I'll no kill you deid my bonnie lassie o
No I'll no kill you deid, nor will I harm your pretty heid
I will marry you with speed my bonnie lassie o

It was in the month o' May my bonnie laddie o
It was in the month o' May my bonnie laddie o
It was in the month o' May, when the flooers they are gay
And the lambs all sport and play my bonnie laddie o

Oh the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin's no for you, for your back it willnae boo
And your bellies rowan fu' my bonnie lassie o

It then went through a sanitisation to become the tale of a woman who is now too old for dancing:
Oh the shearin's no for you, my bonnie lassie o
Oh the shearin's no for you, my bonnie lassie o
Oh the shearin's no for you, for your back it winna bow
And your belly's o'erfu', my bonnie lassie o

Tak' the buckles frae yer shoon, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the buckles frae yer shoon, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the buckles frae yer shoon, for you've married sic a loon
An' yer dancin' days are done, my bonnie lassie o

Tak' the bloomsies frae yer knee, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the bloomsies frae yer knee, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the bloomsies frae yer knee, for it's better far for ye
Tae look o'er yer bairnies three, my bonnie lassie o

Tak' the ribbons frae yer hair, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the ribbons frae yer hair, my bonnie lassie o
Tak' the ribbons frae yer hair and cut off yer ringlets fair
For you've naught but want an' care, my bonnie lassie o

And dae ye mind the banks of Ayr, my bonnie lassie o
And dae ye mind the banks of Ayr, my bonnie lassie o
Dae ye mind the banks of Ayr when you caught him in your snare
Now he's left you in despair, my bonnie lassie o

This was still too impolite for the Victorians so around 1819 John Sim (probably also Thomas Lyle) wrote the words about Kelvingrove which we know today.

Its an interesting evolution from profane to sacred, although in many ways the final use of the tune could address the first.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Christian churches, depression and mental illness - my own story.

The church has a poor record of handling mental health issues and my own experience bears this out in a number of ways which I will outline in this article.

I have probably had some level of depression from about the age of ten when  I was referred to a child psychologist because I was a bit withdrawn. Yes, she was a Freudian, and no it had nothing to do with sex. She was not very helpful and the experience probably put me off seeking help later on.

My condition has varied over the years from perfectly functional to totally suicidal with elements of self harm. In spite of this I have been very successful in life by adopting a strategy where I choose work and social activities that suit my abilities at the time.  For example, I was at my most successful in business when my condition was at its worst because I did not care about my own well-being and working hard became a substitute for physical self harm. At other times I have chosen to pursue my music through recording rather than performing because I could not face an audience.

I can go several years without any depression at all and often it is not that severe. The severe episodes seem to be about ten years apart. I am very conscious of signs that I might be losing interest in things or taking less care of myself, as these are the early indicators of my depression.

Mental health problems and the church
I was first diagnosed properly with depression while living in Edinburgh. It was only after reading a book by Dorothy Rowe called Depression The way out of your Prison that I realised that I had a real, treatable condition that I could recover from. So I went to see my doctor, who actually uttered that classically unhelpful  line “pull yourself together”. I got no help at all, but I persisted and after moving house and changing doctor I did start to get some help in the way of medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

As a very keen Christian, attending an independent evangelical church, I felt very guilty about being depressed as it appeared to me as a great spiritual failure. The reason I thought like this about my brain chemistry when I wouldn’t have about an injured leg  is probably down to the bible itself where people with symptoms of mental health problems are quite literally demonised, but I digress. As a Christian I thought that the church might be part of my recovery so I went to see my minister, told him that I was being treated for depression and that I really needing to feel involved with other people as part of my recovery. I had become quite distant from things and a bit unwilling to mix with people so I hoped he might be able to help me get more involved again. Instead of this, he told me that I must have no contact with anyone else in the church in case they caught the depression from me. I was permitted to come into the church service and sit at the back, but that was as far as it was to go. I was not to mix with anyone else socially until I was well again.

As it turned out, this sort of attitude is not unique amongst ministers, and undoubtedly this type of treatment has led to me being iller for longer during my lifetime.

After moving house and changing church to a Baptist church the new minister’s preaching was very  much of the “you must try harder” variety which made me feel really guilty as I was already running at full capacity just trying to function as a human being. He only had one sermon regardless of the text which was “look at what God has done for you, so how much are you going to do in return”. For a long time I thought I might have misinterpreted what he was saying due to the poor reasoning caused by my depression, but I met someone recently who had attended the same church shortly after I stopped going. He mentioned the same thing with no prompting from me so it seems that my understanding of what the minister was saying was correct.

Sad to say, if I had stayed away from that church I would have got better quicker.

After withdrawing from church my condition did improve a lot and I made a good recovery followed by a few years of very good health when I was not attending any church. Then another bout of depression set in with quite serious self harm. By this stage I had started going back to church and had chosen the nearest church to my house. This was a pentecostal church. Goodness knows why I was going there. I suppose I went because they were very welcoming, but they had a very clear expectation that the normal Christian life was one of very fast transformation within six months or so of attending. Anything else was a sign of something being wrong with your spiritual life or the result of hidden sin. It was a guaranteed recipe for disaster with regards to my mental health. I didn’t spot the signs of depression this time till it was too far advanced, having spent time in prayer rather than seeing a doctor, but finally I forced myself to go to the doctor (and felt a failure in doing so). He was able to get me very good help, including psychological treatment and this has given me the tools to move forward and prevent future recurrences of my condition. I know that I have already prevented one major recurrence since then and my life is much more stable.

If I had not attended that church would I have had a recurrence of depression? Probably, but I doubt it would have been as severe as I definitely would have sought professional help sooner.

Suggestions for ministers
Isolation is not the answer. People with depression are isolated enough and usually feel lonely  and vulnerable. When I was depressed I wanted to feel wanted. You should assign someone to check regularly on people with this condition in your congregation and work at maintaining a relationship with them. Don’t consider people to be “backsliders” if they can’t regularly attend services. They may be uneasy being in large groups, which always made me feel very lonely and vulnerable. When I have been depressed I have been very nervous about travelling to be with strangers so home groups were not really an answer either unless someone had picked me up and taken me there. Even then I might not have been that keen. The key is probably one to one contact with someone and encouragement to seek and maintain medical and psychological treatment.

Are people with mental health problems likely to be more religious?
One of the regular suggestions made is that religious belief is a form of mental disorder and it has even been classified as such by some psychiatrists. I think there are correlations, but more like this: people of an artistic or intuitive temperament are more likely to suffer from mental illness. They are also more likely to explore spiritual issues so are more likely to be religious. As a result, I would expect the percentage of mental patients with an interest in religion to be higher than the population average. Its not a significant statistic and not directly elated.

Some thoughts on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
I won’t go into the details of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) here as you can find information in this article, but I found that CBT did not work for me. Principally because it challenged my creative intuition which is one of my most useful senses. My intuition is generally quite good and I have made a large part of my living from being able to discern the best path to achieving something without any supporting analytical evidence for my decision. CBT turned that on its head and made me less functional in business and as a musician because it said that everything has to be reasoned out and based on evidence. This was actually quite damaging and I began to question if the sky was really blue or the grass really green. I found interpersonal therapy with a psychologist to be the answer for me and its been surprisingly long lasting. Probably because it provided me with tools and dealt with underlying issues, rather than being solely a treatment for symptoms.

Useful Books
I found these books very helpful in my own recovery:

Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? (Not Hurting Those With Emotional Difficulties) By Dwight Carlson - explained to me why I was treated the way I was by people in the church and helped me to depersonalise the hurt.

Depression The Way out of your Prison by Dorothy Rowe - helped me to recognise that I needed help.

There are a number of books about depression written specifically for Christians. I would advise against these because their authors' underlying position seems to be that mental illness is not like physical illness and requires spiritual cures rather than medical help. This, in my opinion, is wrong and is likely to deter people from seeking the professional help they need and which will help them to recover more quickly.

Update July 2012
I recently took part in a BBC Radio 4 programme on this issue called Beyond Belief. You can hear it here:

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