The Shoogly Peg

The Little Cathcart Shop of Dreams

What would it look like, a shop that sold dreams?

In my mind it is a curious mixture of fictional creations.  In appearance it resembles Ollivander’s wand shop from Harry Potter, with cracked wooden shelves and dusty dark corners. But its dimensions are more like the Tardis, with endless walls stretching beyond the height of any reasonable ceiling.  And of course, the BFG stalks behind the counter, carefully labelling jars of iridescent clouds, each one the start of a child’s sweet dream.

That’s how I imagine it. But on Saturday morning I visited just such a shop, and I found that I was wrong. It was a plain old three-dimensional room, with an ordinary ceiling and walls covered in posters rather than lined with smoky jars. The mugs were dirty, the toilet didn’t flush and the safety of the milk was under intense discussion. The BFG was nowhere to be seen:  just a man called Gavin with a smiling face and a firm handshake.

The Yes Cathcart shop is an ordinary place, but dreams are most definitely its business. I went there on a mission to clamber down from the comfortable Fence of Neutrality, declare my position and start making a contribution. There I met four other people who had also given up their morning to help out. Two were seasoned campaigners, three newbies like me, but all of us dreamed of a different Scotland. We spent the morning tramping through Cathcart and Battlefield in the mid-morning sun, delivering leaflets and marvelling at the astonishing variety of letterboxes in the world. It wasn’t glamorous. But it felt good. It felt like ordinary people, just getting together and deciding to dream our own dreams, and try to make them come true.

The next day, just up the road, I thought some more about dreams and ordinariness. In our national stadium, I watched athletes from all over the world run and throw and jump and scream with joy and excitement and relief, and achieve their iridescent dreams in a stubborn wee country at the top of Europe. I watched, and I saw many things I did not know were possible.

I watched a blind Scottish girl win the hundred metres. I watched a Nigerian man with one leg balance a discus on his head, throw aside his crutches and spin impossibly on his one leg, hurling that discus time and time again. I listened to Hampden roar with delight at the successes of incredible English athletes, and I heard my fellow Scots sing along to Jerusalem with genuine enjoyment.

I saw Scots and English and Irish and Welsh athletes competing in their national colours, proud of our nations, secure in our identities, firm in our friendship, and do you know what? It felt good. It felt ordinary. It felt normal. It felt like this is how it could be.

There are just fifty days to go. I hope, I hope with all my heart that the little shop of daydreams can make my wish come true.

UKIP and the art of the protest vote

Giving without expectation is the purest form of generosity. To gift something that you own, perhaps something very precious, without any stipulation about what you want in return is a morally admirable act.

Except when it’s your vote.

Because people fought to get you that vote. People died to get you that vote. People fought wars, gave up livelihoods, camped out in the cold and the rain and the snow so that you could have a say in who governs this country.

And how do we honour those people? Apparently, quite a lot of us do it by gaily tossing our vote towards a bunch of right-wing, xenophobic, ill-informed, corporate-focused tosspots who happen to be good at getting on the telly, and trilling as we do so, “Oh, I’m very disillusioned! It’s a protest vote, you see!”

Well, here is some shocking news. Protest votes have exactly the same effect as any other type of vote. They do not somehow get filed in a special box marked “Votes that people only cast because they’re cross”. If you vote for someone whose party believes women shouldn’t get any maternity pay, gay people shouldn’t have equal rights or that climate change doesn’t exist, then those people get into office and start implementing their policies. And it’s a bit late then to bleat that you were so terribly busy, you never had time to check what they actually wanted to do, and anyway, didn’t they understand, it was only a protest vote.

Tough. Too late. Democracy is a serious business.  If you vote for bigoted buffoons, you get a country run by bigoted buffoons – and what’s worse, you drive all the other parties in the same direction. Bigoted buffoonery becomes the accepted order of things, because that’s what people voted for.

An awful lot of folk seem to believe that voting doesn’t change anything. I regularly hear people – often people I respect – trot out that old line, “If voting changed anything, they’d ban it” and it makes me furious.

Voting does change things. If you vote for a party that thinks poor people don’t deserve any benefits, then families will become homeless and children will go hungry. That is how politics works. And I don’t think those desperate children will care whether or not you’re looking on in horror, shamefacedly whispering, “It was only a protest vote…”

The Days I Want More Often

There are three toothbrushes in the mug. The cup is chipped, and the bristles on my partner’s toothbrush are discoloured, splayed and loose. And some days, that’s what I see. Those are the days when life overwhelms me with the volume of tasks that I need to complete, when every thought I might have about something pleasant or inspiring is instantly drowned out by the clatter of an imaginary ticker-tape list, spewing out items that ought to have been dealt with by now.

Those are the days when the carpet is covered in cat hairs, the bathroom sink is dirty, the kitchen floor is scattered with crumbs and the windows are smeared with fingerprints and streaks from feline noses. Those are the days when my inbox is stuffed with demands, expectations and problems that I don’t know how to resolve. Those are the days when my stomach is cramped with anxiety. Those are the days when I look at you and I see only needs: a new nappy, entertainment, cuddles, dinner, milk, bed, then up again the next day and the next and the next. Those are the days when nothing feels real, when I can’t focus, when I feel like I might as well be blind, for all that I take in as I storm through the world, trying to get to the next task before I’m halfway through the last, taking pride in nothing, taking notice of nothing, just thinking of everything that remains undone.

Those are the days when I can’t sit still, when the idea of doing nothing or reading a book or holding a conversation for the sheer joy of it seems impossible, both frivolous and without merit. Those are the days when even the things that would help, like yoga or going for a walk, just seem like one more job to complete on a constantly renewing list, when all I want to do is get through to bedtime, pull up the duvet and cease to exist for a few peaceful, rejuvenating hours. Those are the days when a fog hangs about my eyes, creeping into my brain until I can’t think straight, when I feel as if I’m peering at the world through frosted glass, when someone seems to have taken a spoon and dripped porridge into all the gaps in my brain until thoughts of anything other than menial tasks seem like a dream.

Thankfully, there are other days.

There are three toothbrushes in the mug, and I see that for the miracle it is. Because once, there were only two. You didn’t exist, and I didn’t know if I’d ever get to meet you. And now you have a toothbrush and shoes and toothpaste and toys and socks and bags and books and all the other accessories that babies seem to come with. Those are the days when I remember that you might never have existed. Those are the days when I think of our tiny family and I watch you crawl and stagger around the flat and I smile. These are the days when I notice my yoga mat with anticipation, when I make time to go for a run or meditate, or if I don’t I accept it and try harder the next day. These are the days I try to be mindful. These are the days that I notice hot water and abundant food and sanitation and the lack of disease and poverty and hatred in our home. These are the days that I count my legs and arms and I am grateful. Those are the days that I put one foot in front of the other and I think about the thousands of infinitely complicated calculations taking place in my brain just to make that happen, and I wonder who is in charge of my balance and my liver and my kidneys and I realise how incredible it is that they are all working just as they should.

Those are the days that I see the wonder in everything, when I remember that walking and thinking and talking and dancing and cuddling and smiling and crying are all hideously complicated operations that I couldn’t begin to explain the mechanics of, and I see you doing all of those things and I know that we are the luckiest little family in the world. On those days, I know about luck and good fortune and appreciation and the finiteness of time and I go from one moment to the next, knowing that nobody gives two hoots whether or not I clean the bathroom floor. These are the days that I smile at the smears on the windows, because the fingerprints and the nose prints are made by you and our beautiful little cats who snooze and scamper around the house, and I would be lost and alone without you. These are the days that I leave the house, forget the washing and the scrubbing and the tidying and go for a walk, pushing your pram in front of me, high-fiving as we go, watching your soft rosy cheeks bunch up as you grin at the wind ruffling your hair or the smiles of our neighbours.

On those days, I see the battered toothbrushes in their damaged mug and I remember that one day you will leave me, and I will wave you off with a smile and keep my tears for after I’ve closed the door and so I take your little hand and I ignore all the mess and the chaos and I fetch yet more toys, tip them out over the carpet, lie down amidst the cat fur and the breadcrumbs and I say, let’s play, little Eilidh. Time is precious. Life is amazing. You are wonderful, and there are good people in terrible places who have nothing. So let’s play.

Play, and count the toothbrushes.