Category Archives: society


We have a local supermarket that we only visit in a food emergency. Do you have one like this? You don’t shop there regularly, as you get both better deals and better service elsewhere.


This particular shop is a disgrace. It’s many years since I worked in the retail industry, but even what I learned then if put into practice now would radically alter the shopping experience of customers. When you walk in the door, you can’t help but notice that the windows have been cleaned, but the aluminium surrounds have possibly never been touched with a cleaning product. The curled up welcome mat should be binned. The basket holders are invariably empty, prompting to you collect one from the nearest overflowing stack at a closed till. They once had a competition to win a TV, which was perched on the only available table they could get their hands on – the one with the wonky leg from the staff canteen no doubt – you daren’t get too close incase it fell on you. The floor is manky, and I mean proper filthy. I remember an Assistant Manager in another chain in the 1990’s having us nightfill boys on our hands and knees with scrapers ensuring the floor was free of random debris, dirt, stickers and chewing gum – this local shop almost seems to wear this detritus as a badge of honour.

I could go on…

Why has this shop let itself go so much? When it opened it was beautifully presented. Does the store manager not walk their floor? Do they think customers don’t notice? I think the answer to the problem is simple: complacency.

They are the only reasonably large supermarket for 8 miles. They rely on the fact that a lot of locals either can’t or won’t travel the distance to their nearest competitor.

Well, I’ve bad news for them. They’ve started building work this week on their newest competitor, and it’s in the same town. Time to up your game, I think. Anyone who is that complacent deserves to go out of business.

Ask yourself this: are you constantly trying to ensure you meet the needs of your customers? Are you providing the best service you can? If not, your competitors are getting closer – in some cases, quite literally.

Image credit: Mary Hutchison.


First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer


We see injustice all the time – it surrounds us each day, in the lives of those we pass by or those we walk alongside. What do we do when we injustice? Do we speak out? In a society obsessed with the individual and material gain, it’s easy to overlook the plight of others.

image credit: Jeremy Brooks.


Socially acceptable drug addiction

…one bottle of Valium, which I’ve already procured from my mother, who is, in her own domestic and socially acceptable way also a drug addict – Renton, Trainspotting


Four months lost from work last year didn’t just give me issues with anxiety or crush my confidence – it also gave me a drug addiction which I’m delighted to say I’ve now managed to overcome – unlike a huge number of people that each day struggle with an addiction that they would give anything to leave behind them. It’s funny when you are looking to help resolve a problem you are facing at the time, how little we look to the future problems the ‘cure’ might bring with it!

I read a report in September 2012 claiming that one in seven Scots is prescribed anti-depressants, I could’t quite believe the number – 1 in 7! Is this down to our willingness to over-prescribe, or our ‘fix it now’ culture? Are we more depressed as a nation than others? Can it be attributed to our climate? The more I thought about it though, the more I am convinced that a significant number of them are probably trying their best to get off them. For most, it takes a huge amount of time to release themselves from the grip of craving the drug – halving the dose, putting longer and longer between doses until you can finally claim to be ‘clean’. For others, they simply can’t give them up, so addicted are they.

I loved Renton’s quote from Trainspotting when I saw it at the time, but never considered that at some point I would find myself in the ‘socially acceptable’ camp!

I’m now free of the addiction, so goodbye Citalopram – goodbye random nausia, insomnia, wild nightmares, whooshes, dizziness and hearing loss. Hello clarity of mind, self-determination and 2013.

Image credit: takgoti.

They’re with us

On a regular basis I now pass underneath the Erskine Bridge, and it reminds me of a laugh we used to have at the toll booths whenever we drove over it years ago.

It’s a really simple thing to do, but when you drive through a toll booth, simply pay double the fare and say that you’re paying for the car behind you – “They’re with us” – even though they are a complete stranger. It was always really funny and heart warming to watch the look of incredulity on the face of the driver in your rear view mirror as they drew up to the booth intending to pay, only to be met with the toll booth operator telling them that their friend infront had paid for them.

We may not pass through many toll booths now in our lives, but why not consider doing something similar? Paying for the coffee of the person behind you in the queue at the coffee shop, or staff canteen? Buy two tickets at the vending machine and hand one to the person behind you in the queue? Simple things to make your day a bit brighter, and to give a complete stranger a lift or a laugh.

Image Credit: irrefutableundeniable.

Don’t be a ferryman…

Part of my route to work goes along the cycle path next to the Forth and Clyde canal between Bowling and Dalmuir. Along the way I pass some beautifully sculpted wrought iron barriers commemorating the age of the Erskine Ferry – 1868 – 1971. Not far away from them lie the locked gates to a slipway that no longer serves it’s original purpose.

How sad it makes me feel! To think that a once proud occupation is succeeded by a change in technology. When the bridge came along, I suspect the ferry very quickly went out of business, as the bridge could operate in virtually all weathers, and was a much quicker way across the Clyde. Every time I drive over the Erskine bridge now, I think about the people that used to operate the toll booths, as a change in charging policy saw them out of work too, just like the ferrymen before them.

How do we cope with technological change? When we see it coming, are we quick enough to adjust and get the best out of the new situation? Often, it’s very hard to step back from our every day lives to imagine how the new technology will affect what we do.

In 2004 I was privileged to me present when Alan November spoke to the collected group of Head Teachers of Argyll and Bute council. He posed a simple timeless question – “What are we doing today that will outlast the change in pace of technology?”  With the rise of web based technologies and portable connected devices, you probably now have the sum of human knowledge in your hand, pocket or bag. Does this change what you do? How do you use this in your everyday lives? How do you encourage or help others make use if it?

Don’t be a ferryman.

Image credit: gumdropgas.

Volunteer 2014

The thing that impressed me most about the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was the Gamesmakers. People from all over the place giving up their time to be a friendly face and help visitors to the capital get the best out of the games, and to ensure the games ran smoothly.

You now have the opportunity to note your interest in volunteering to help out at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games. A new site has opened where you can register your interest. All that you’d need would be 8 days for the games themselves, 3-4 days for training, and one day to pick up your uniform and offical pass. Perhaps most importantly, as the site says –

If you can still smile when the 76th person asks you the way to “Saucy Hall” street, we want to hear from you.

Register your interest at

The best shoe shop sales person in the world!

When I was around 15, I met a girl called Karen from Stewarton. She and I were taking part in a Summer Mission organised by the Church of Scotland.

At one point in the week, she was asked up in front of a large group of people to say a bit about herself. She was a student with a part time job, but when asked what she did when not on summer mission, she replied “I’m a shoe shop sales person”. Her interviewer, (who knew her well, incidentally) said “Is that what you do? I thought you did something else. What’s your ambition in life?”. She replied dead-pan “To be the best shoe shop sales person in the world!”

I don’t think that was Karen’s ambition, but it got me thinking – what a great sentiment! Perhaps our society would be a much better place if we could have such ambitions – not to pursue some fanciful goal, but to truly transcend and work hard at what we do, whatever that may be.

Image Credit: Yukon White Light.

Are you ok?

How many times each day do you either ask or respond to that question? We’re very good at asking it of those that we are close to, and being genuinely concerned about their response and their welfare. But what of complete strangers?

I’ve recently returned to cycle commuting. It’s wonderfully liberating to start and end each working day with a cycle, and as my commute is a significant distance, it gives me plenty of time to both unwind from work, and ponder things that I’ve either read, heard or seen. My journey to and from work is taken by a number of other cyclists, and there is a lovely sense of camaraderie or joie de vivre (can it really be ‘camaraderie’ when encounters are so fleeting? Perhaps joie de vivre’s ‘exultation of spirit’ captures it better…) when cyclists pass each other and briefly raise a gloved hand from the handlebars, or nod of a cycle helmet in acknowledgement or greeting. Occasionally there is enough breath to say “Hello”, or a sarcastically sanguine “Turned out nice again” owing to the joy that is the west coast of Scotland’s rain.

Occasionally, you meet someone who has had to stop at the side of the road, more often than not to repair a puncture. It’s lovely to see other travellers offering assistance, starting with the phrase we hear so often – “Are you ok?” How life affirming it is to hear complete strangers offering assistance, and being concerned about the welfare of others.

You might not cycle to work, or meet people fixing punctures often, but each day you come across complete strangers who would benefit from you asking such a simple question – “Are you ok?” What’s the worst that could happen? You end up talking to someone you’d rather not talk to. What’s the best that could happen? Two people enjoy a lift of spirit over a simple interaction.

Perhaps ‘joie de vivre’ is a better phrase after all…

Image Credit: Mark-Hobbs.

The price of happiness…

Hatfield Galleria Shopping Centre - courtesy of Barry Lawson

I read with interest a few weeks ago of the UNICEF report into materialism amongst British children. If you haven’t read the report, then I would urge you to have a look at it. It presents a view that seems brimming over with common sense – spend more time together as families, and less attention on wanting ‘things’ that don’t actually improve our sense of wellbeing.

Simple enough to say, but how do you get a culture obsessed with materialism and a pursuit of fame/eternal youth to mend its ways? I think a simple way to set out to achieve this would be to start small. Have a look at your own actions – do you spend enough time with those that you love? Do you put time with them above other pursuits? Do you as a family eat together? Perhaps this would be a simple place to start. We try to eat together as a family as often as we can (this is dependant on me getting out the office early enough! – more on this to follow), and we make sure it’s technology free. No TV, no laptops, no mobiles. Just us, enjoying each others company. A simple first step.

I have loads more to say about materialism, but I think I’ll save that for other posts. Besides, I’m breaking myself in gently to sharing my thoughts online again, after a long break.

Image credit – Barry Lawson, under a Creative Commons Licence.

Tuesday is a day for random acts…

adrig72 - pay it forward

I say Tuesday, but in all honesty, any day ought to be a day for random acts! I’m just going to use Tuesday to talk about them.

Over the coming weeks, Tuesday will be a day that I talk about my random acts, but to kick things off, I thought it best to talk about one in particular that’s much more than I could ever achieve.

Pay it forward.

What is ‘Pay it forward?’ – well, simply put, don’t repay a good deed with a returned favour – instead repay it with a good deed for someone else.

Traditionally, this may have been seen as a greek concept, but was best described by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody. – Compensation, 1841

This concept has grown so huge, it’s started a foundation, and even had a Holywood movie about it. What a lovely simple concept though – don’t just help one person in return, help others.