By Joan Spencer,2014-05-29 12:56
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    The roots of this book run back well over twenty years. I was an agricultural journalist, and my wife Irene was a full-time housewife and the mother of two primary-school girls, when she began to feel a pressing call to be a minister in the Church of Scotland.

    It seemed impossible at that time; but in 1992, an ordained minister, she accepted the invitation to be pastor of the linked parishes of Laggan and Newtonmore in Invernessshire, and I took early retirement from the editorial staff of „The Scottish Farmer‟ to accompany her.

    We moved into the house in Newtonmore provided for the minister, so I became the man in the manse.

    It was as the “Man in the Manse” that I was to write a weekly column for the local paper, the

    “Strathspey and Badenoch Herald”, for nearly fourteen years, giving up only when Irene retired

    from the ministry and I no longer could write as a man in a manse.

    The column originated like this.

    Rev Peter Millar wrote a weekly religious piece in the “Strathy”. When he said he would be

    giving that up, there was some word of a weekly piece being contributed in turn by each of the ministers in the area.

     I told Ken Smith, (Gavin Musgrove‟s predecessor as editor) “As an ex-editor, my advice to you

    is - don‟t touch the idea with a tarry stick You‟ll be heart-roasted chasing missing columns,

    cutting grossly over-written pieces, and dealing with complaints that someone‟s precious copy had been shortened by a paragraph. What you need from a weekly column is that it should be written reliably and to length so that when you start on a new paper and you reach out your

    hand for it on a Thursday it should always be there. If it‟s interesting, or controversial, or whatever, that‟s a happy extra!”

    He said “Why don‟t you write us a weekly piece?”

     “I‟m a professional – I don‟t write for nothing”.

     He suggested a figure.

     “I didn‟t think I would write for so nearly nothing1” I said, but actually I thought it was fair considering the circulation of the “Strathy”..

     The pay has stayed the same for all the years I have written the column and in a succession of

    something like 660 weeks I am professionally proud to boast that I never missed a week,

     “Man in the Manse” pieces have ended all over the world, but you will not find the furthest

    travelled example here.

    My friend,Britta Schlyter, of Newtonmore, often referred to what she called my wise article on happiness, and said she had had comments from friends she had sent it to.

    I made appreciative noises, but I was not at all sure what article she had in mind. So, at last, I made up my mind to be honest, and ask her what article she meant.

    The article had the headline “The time to be happy is now..” and it was printed in the “Strathy” two days from the end of 1994. She told me she sent many copies to friends in Sweden, Norway, France, Switzerland, Spain, Cyprus and Canada,

     So unless someone knows better that is probably the furthest-travelled Man in the Manse


    I have not selected it for the eventual anthology. Why not? Because it was what is known in the journalistic trade as a filler!

    Because of the way New Years Day fell that year, it would be particularly handy for the Editor to get all the copy for that week well in advance. For years, I had been gathering up material for a book on “how to be happier” and I simply lifted material from that file to provide a filler in good time for New Year.

    Anyone who wants to read the “wise words” in the missing article will find them (and much

    more) in my book “How to be Happier NOW”

    This book is published by a firm which takes its name from the Duke of Wellington‟s spirited

    reply to a blackmailing letter from a former lover „Publish and be Damned”. The firm, by


    making use of modern technology, restores a facility which was common in Queen Victorias‟s

    time. Then, someone who had a book they wished to produce say a local history would take it

    along to the print-shop and order a couple of hundred copies. Because printers were poorly paid, the books could be set up in type and printed cheaply, and bought by a small but keen local readership.

     Now, writers who have prepared their manuscript on a word processor can have it printed by Pabd‟s specialized computer facility, and produced as a finished book a little more expensive than a similar-sized volume from a conventional publisher.

    The conventional publisher is looking for books which will sell in thousands, like “The Da Vinci Code”., hence each volume costs less than books like this, which are electronically set, and printed on demand.

     “Man in the Manse” will never reach Dan Brown‟s sales figures for “The Da Vinci Code” – I

    wish! but modern technology has made it available to the readers who have read my column in the “Strathspey and Badenoch Herald” over the last fourteen years and to others world-wide who

    have come across it serendipidously..

    My blessings on them all and may I urge them to buy “How to be Happier NOW” also prepared by Pabd. DG



    This brief glossary includes most of the Scots words occurring in the text which are likely to be

    unfamiliar to non-Scots readers..

    a fowk,a complete person ach weel, Oh well ain,own

    bairns,children bawbee,halfpenny beeling,festering bing,a pit-heap blether,to chatter braeside,hillside bree,juice, gravy breenged,plunged forward cairt, cart checking,squeezing clarty,dirty coorying,crouching cowps,tumbles dee, die dirling,vibrating doited,confused drouth,drought dyker,a drystone waller e’en,evening

    far ben,in high favour, intimate fettle,state, temper, condition flitting, moving house gey,rather gied, gave gless e’e,a glass eye graip,fork greet, to weep grue,shudder guddling,muddling guising,dressing up at Hallowe‟en hame,home hirpling,limping hogmanay,last day of the year hoose,house howking,digging

    kens noo,knows now kirk,church

    laddie,boy, young man lassie,girl l ooe,love

    may, hawthorn blossom midden,a refuse heap

    ne’erday,New Year‟s Day neep,turnip nicket in,closely connected parrich,porridge plook,pimple post-mell,a heavy hammer for driving posts raivelled, rambled on ram-stam,headlong

    sair trauchled,sorely wearied scunner;, disgust shaws,foliage sheuch,a ditch or furrow

    shilpet craitur, a sickly creature skelpit erse, a spanked backside snedding, trimming sonsie,buxom,stout. stoun,a throb strath,broad river valley stushie,a fuss swede, Swedish (hard) turnip sweeties,sweets

    thole,endure thraw, to oppose or thwart

    wee, small wee sma’ oors,early hours of the morning wheech, to remove quickly whinging,whining




    Published 5.7.06

    When back in March four years ago, I started to write an article about “visitors” I did not realise its personal significance. Indeed, its importance did not make its full impact on me until I was selecting articles to form an anthology of the best “Man in the Manse” pieces.

    The “visitors” were the people who, when someone was dying, came over from the other side to escort their dying friend home.

    I had written a full account of how this was taken for granted by nurses in hospitals and hospices, and how they would say “Mrs Brown at the end of the ward has had her „visitor‟, so she‟ll be away before long,” and they would make preparations for an early empty bed.

    I learned about the phenomenon at a Lent Study group run by the Rev [my nickname for

    my wife] As I recall, the subject was not raised in the context of the course, but just popped up in conversation while we were having a cup of tea midway through the evening.

    It was after I had written most of the original article that its personal significance came to my mind. That‟s why, in the article in March 02, this vital personal story seems almost tacked on at the end of the piece.

    Normally, if I was setting out to write on a subject say, treacle-mining in Strathspey I

    would start by thinking about what I already knew about the theme, There would be a retired treacle-miner living locally I could tap for his memories; there would be statistics to obtain from the Health and Safety people treacle-mining being notoriously dangerous;

    there would be the demand for skilled treacle-miners in Texas and Patagonia, which had led people from Kingussie to seek their fortunes beyond the seas. And so forth. Usually I know where to start an article.( Sometimes it may stop somewhere unexpected, having taken an unexpected late change of direction, so much so that I‟ve been known to exclaim “So that‟s what this was really all about!),

    Yet, when I sat down to write about the „visitors‟, I didn‟t recall that my father had been a

    visitor, nor did it strike me that Bill, who worked at the desk across from me in “The Scottish Farmer” editorial office, had told me of an experience which exactly matched my subject.

    I told the story involving my father in some detail at the end of the original article. In brief, he and his cousin had been friends, until at the end of the First World War his cousin had started a new life in Canada. The day after the Canadian relatives had got a telegram to say that my father had died, his cousin, who was gravely ill with cancer, had told them he had had vivid dream that my father was coming to take him for a long walk! He died in his sleep that night.

    My mother commented at the time that it had been a very strange feeling to think of Dad as a “spook”, but, as she said “It was just like him, having got through something himself, to see who he could help through the same experience.”

    That is almost a definition of what the nurses‟ „visitors‟ did!


    My knowledge of my friend‟s experience came when he told me what had happened at

    his Uncle Bill‟s funeral. His cousin did not seem to want to speak to him, and indeed seemed to be avoiding him. That was not at all his usual style, and Bill (my friend across the desk) determined not to let that pass unremarked.

    He bluntly asked his cousin what had gone wrong between them.

    It turned out that the cause of his reticence was something that had happened when his father was dying. His son had been sitting by the bed when he was aware of two voices, both seeming to come from his father.. One was his father‟s voice, but the other was the voice of his dead brother (the son‟s uncle, and my friend‟s father).

    The dead man had said at the start of the dialogue that he had promised to come for his brother when the time was right.

    They had spoken for a while, then the “visitor” indicated that it was time they were away., and the watcher by the bed realised that his father had just died.

    It‟s easy to see why Bill‟s cousin, with that conversation fresh in his mind, had been quiet at the funeral when in Bill‟s company.

    One of the things that makes this story particularly convincing to me is the nature of Bill, the man who told me about it. I worked alongside him for thirteen years, and he was markedly down-to-earth!

    I tend to dismiss some of the stranger happenings in life by saying that this is a much less tidy world than we expect.

    But I feel that the matter of the “visitors‟ is much more important than just another “untidy world” story.

    That people like nurses, to whom death is a fact of professional life, can take the arrival of the „visitors‟ so very much for granted is an indication that they really exist. .And if two people at random - Bill ( with his story of his dead father and his dying uncle) and I, (with my story of my dead father and his dying cousin) -are such close acquaintances, yet share a bizarre type of story, surely is an indication that such happenings are by no means unusual, if only they were to come to light.

     Eventually, when a selection of these articles appear as a book, we can perhaps hope that the people who read “The Man in the Manse” anthology will write to me at the “Herald”,

    44 High Street Grantown on Spey or email me (Duncangillespie@bt with stories of visitors to the dead..

    Why is it important?

    It is important because if there is clear evidence that friends and dear ones do regularly come from the other side of death to see the dying safely “home”, it is proof positive that when we die we do not slide into oblivion and the dark, but continue to exist as recognisable individuals



     Published 26.03.92.The original article in which the subject was raised.

I have read scores maybe hundreds of books about the subject of death and what happens


    But it was the run-up to Easter, in a series of Lent Study group meetings that I heard about a phenomenon that I have never encountered before. It came out in conversation, not as one of the subjects set by the Rev for study.

    Though death is a subject I‟m interested in, I am not unduly worried about it.

    I tend to feel that if we‟re snuffed out when we die it will not really be much worse than falling into a deep dreamless sleep and night after night we look forward to that.

    On balance, I think we do survive death, and all those who have gone through a near-death experience have been reluctant to come back.

    Indeed, a minister who has had to deal with several people who have “passed beyond the veil” and have been sent back, has had to comfort and counsel them to deal with the deep depression they felt.

    But until the other night I did not know about the visitors. It began when one of the ladies in the group spoke about having been sitting by the bedside of her dying sister. Suddenly she realise that her sister, who was a small lean woman, had completely changed her appearance to look big and sonsie ..

    It was not her sister who was lying in the bed. It was their mother.

    A very short time later, she looked her familiar herself again. And a short time after that, she died.

    “She had had her visitor,” said another nurse in the group.

    From the conversation after that, it was perfectly plain that people who habitually nursed the dying expected this to happen.

    It was only rarely that the nurse could identify who it was that had come for the patient, but they recognised the change and would say: “She‟s had her visitor; she‟ll be away very shortly.”

    It doesn‟t surprise me that something like this might be commonplace in a vocation. We all are in

    the hands of nurses from time to time and mighty glad we are of them when we need them but

    there‟s no way we can enter in to their craft, and know as much as they do about every-day living

    and dying.

    As an example of knowledge that goes with a craft I know from my experience as a drainer that

    (while learned men may argue whether dowsing exists, and if it does, what causes it) drainers who live day in and day out with running water and choked drains take dowsing for granted and call on the lad who has the knack of it and the two bent wires to come and sort out whatever practical problem they need solved.

    Stories about someone coming to take a dying relative home are commonplace. What was new to me was the fact that nurses, particularly looking after patients on a one-to-one basis in hospices, take it for granted that they will know when the person is going to die, because he or she “will have had their visitor” in the same practical way that drainer takes dowsing for granted as part of his trade.

    The night after that conversation, I went out for a pint with a pal, and told him about the belief. He was interested and indeed he gave me an example.

    He had called to see an old neighbour in hospital, and was told he could look in and see her but that she was in a deep coma and would not see or hear him nor would she speak. He went in. The old lady was not in a coma.

    She was looking at someone her eyes were moving as if she were aware of them and she was

    lying speaking in a rather child-like voice.


    Rather than interrupt the conversation he let himself out of the private ward. His old neighbour was dead before he reached home. It was, he thought, as if his neighbour‟s mother had come for her.

    A week later, speaking to the same man about the same subject while enjoying once again a pint I remembered another example of this phenomenon. It couldn‟t be much closer to me.

    My father had been ill for some time, but held on until he had been visited by the family, then slipped his cable and went.

    He had a cousin, and they had been close as youngsters, but he had chosen to be demobbed in Canada at the end of World War I. He had terminal cancer.

    His family did not tell him that they had had a telegram to say that my father had died, but he came down that morning to tell them that he had had a lovely dream.

    “Davies‟s coming to take me for a walk.” He spoke about it from time to time during that day, went off to his bed and never woke.

    My mother said to me: “It was kind of eerie, thinking of your father as a spook, but then I thought:

    „Isn‟t it just like him , having got through something himself to immediately look out for someone he could help through?‟”

    And that was the kind of man he was. When your visitor comes and you start on the journey through the tunnel into the landscape which, according to those who have some reluctantly back, has brighter colours, sweeter scents, and lovelier birdsong than on earth, is everything so vivid because at last the world is not perceived through the veil of flesh?

    The colours of the flowers are not muted by short sight, the scents are not muted by asthma, the birdsong is not muted by tinnitus, the attention is not diverted by arthritis. If that is what our new life is like for us, what must it have been like for the risen Jesus? The garden outside the tomb must have been ablaze with the glory of God, and after his years as a man, tortured to death at the end, he was at last free of that human flesh and free to be part of that glory.

    Maybe worth a thought on Sunday morning.



     Published 01.02.01

    If you, dear reader, are a human being (as so many of my readers are) your perception of time may be completely different from that of a midge or a whale.

    Come to think of it, it‟s just as well that most of my readers are human.

    How would a single midge turn the pages of the “Strathy” to find the “Man in the Manse” column, and would a whale not find that the pages got pretty soggy with sea-water?

    Just before the Rev‟s computer succumbed to virus MTX we got an e-mail from the United States

    showing how long or short the same period of time could be.That set of comparisons vanished in the crash, but we all recognise the syndrome.

    An hour with toothache is much longer than an hour snogging the person you love and isn‟t the

    modern expression “snogging” an unattractive word for what is a very pleasant activity, if my memory hasn‟t completely failed me?

    Sometimes, of course, perceived time can be at odds with clock time in both directions, as those of us who are sometimes “caught short” can testify.

    What you might call our internal clock is racing, but the time we spend getting to our refuge seems to drag.

    By the way, I know that some readers enjoy it when I mention unusual facts. It‟s 149 years today

    since the first public lavatory in London (for men) was opened, and 105 years since a pioneer motorist was fined for driving his car over the speed limit.

    The legal limit at that time was two miles an hour.

    People needing that first facility must often beat that old speed limit, two or even three times over, as they hurry on foot to the welcome door.

    Unsuitable jokes come crowding into my mind, but instead of rehearsing any of them I‟ll get back to what I started writing about our perception of time, and how it expands or contracts

    according to what we are doing, though the clock on the mantelpiece, or glowing on the face on the video-recorder, tells the same number of minutes every hour, the same tally of hours in the same day, a uniform seven days in a week, and so forth.

    But it seems likely that our idea of time may really depend on what species of animal we are. I‟ve referred before to that remarkable American biologist and essayist Stephen Jay Gould.

    Speaking of the speed of animals‟ heartbeats, he says that small animals tick through life far more

    rapidly than large animals. Their hearts work more quickly, they breathe more frequently, their pulse beats much faster.

    Most importantly, metabolic rate, the so-called fire of life, increases only three-quarters as fast as body weight in mammals.

    To keep themselves going, large mammals do not need to generate as much heat per unit of body weight as small animals.

    Tiny shrews move frenetically, eating nearly all their waking lives to keep their metabolic fire burning. At the maximal rate among mammals, blue whales, 25 million times bigger than a shrew, glide majestically, their hearts beating the slowest rhythm found among active warm-blooded creatures.

    And here‟s a fact that will amuse the “imagine that!” brigade: other research has shown the same

    ratio applies to the heartbeat of spiders, from the tiny crab spider to the tarantula which is a thousand times larger.

    How do you measure a spider‟s heartbeat? With a cool laser beam.

    Gould backs up the claim that all mammals, on average, live for the same amount of biological time,by mathematics (which I am obliged to take on trust). He finds that all mammals, regardless of their size, tend to breathe about 200 million times during their lives, and their hearts beat about


    800 million times. So a mayfly, which lives only for a day as an adult, may experience that day as a whole lifetime.

    (I know perfectly well that mayfly isn‟t a mammal, but the spider experiments seem to me to entitle me to extend the idea downwards to insects. We don‟t often feel sorry for midges, but

    maybe we are wasting our pity if we regret the short adult life of the “Strathy”-reading midge

    when in her brief span she has lived a full lifetime).

    At the other end of the scale, as Gould points out, is the magnificent song of the humpback whale. You may have heard them singing on television (on nature programmes, not on “Top of the Pops”).

    Each whale has its own high complex song, lasting for half an hour or more, then repeated note perfectly.

    But, says Gould, when you remember the whale‟s metabolic rate and its enormously slow pace of life compared to ours, its half-hour song may be our minute waltz.

    The perception of time, by a midge, a shrew or a whale, is interesting enough, but what about our own species, Homo sapiens?

    It seems that we are markedly an exception, not just because of our braininess. We live about three times as long as mammals of our own body-size should, though our hearts beat and we breathe at the “right” rate for our size.

    Gould attributes this excess of living as a happy consequence of neoteny. I‟ve known the word for years but now I‟ve used it for the first time and second time in print in successive weeks.

    “We are born as helpless embryos after a long gestation; we mature late after an extended

    childhood; we die, if fortune be kind, at ages otherwise reached by warm-blooded animals only at the very largest sizes.”

    A psalm tune began nagging in the back of my mind, then the words formed: “A thousand ages in thy sight. Are like an evening gone.”

    If a whale‟s time-scale is so vast compared to our own, God‟s time-scale must be infinitely more


    Maybe “the word was flesh and dwelt among us” partly so that he could see time from our point of view.

    But surely God, who made the midge, the shrew and the whale, as well as Homo sapiens (kirk-going or not), knows how all our minds work.



    Published 30.09.04

    When I woke in the night, I looked at the bedside clock. It told me it was just after half past three. Well, it didn‟t, actually. Being a digital clock it told me it was 3.32.

    I waited a bare minute until 3.33 showed, then snuggled down in the glow of the significant figure.

    Significant? Well, don‟t you feel that the number is significant? Three is the number of the Holy

    Trinity. So 333 is the three-dimensional form of that number.

    I often think about the clock‟s figures. Mostly, they have no significance. Occasionally, the significance is universal and religious 3.33 is a perfect example sometimes it is secular and

    personal, like the number of the company I served with in Italy. Its successor, the company I served with in Egypt, never comes up, due to the fact that there is no such time as nine sixty-two, either am or pm.

    In the morning, I remembered the “lucky” number, and decided to find if I was the only nutcase who thought it was somehow significant. I discovered a rich seam of religious nutcases. Numerology, the “science” of numbers, contains whole churches based on what we can be

    interpreted from numbers, particularly numbers from the Bible.

    It‟s not enough to work out the meaning of Biblical passages in words. You have to turn letters into numbers every letter of every word in Greek or Hebrew has a numerical value and the

    passage yields new meaning, from the significance of the letters.

    At the founding of the New Covenant Church of God Arvika, the mysterious appearance of the number 333 on a wall in Little Kadesh was apparently very important. To another set of religious people, the number cropping up in your everyday life shows that the Ascended Ones approve of your thoughts and feelings, whether negative or positive. The Ascended Ones include Jesus and Mary, Quan Yin and Yogananada.

    Mary, given her fuller title of the Blessed Virgin Mary, gave a specific numerological message to the Father Don Stefano Gobbi on June 17, 1989, in Milan, in which she reaffirmed that 333 was the number representing the divinity and the mystery and the unity of God.

    Maybe learning the Virgin Mary‟s opinion should have confirmed me in my belief that waking at just that time on the clock had been a special blessing but having survived an hour or two of the

    crankier examples of numerology, I felt that I was going to live another lifetime it would be agnostic next time round.

    I tried to think of any belief of mine that was obviously as open to ridicule as numerology was for me and realised I had a perfect example. No, not the Creed, which Christians recite at appropriate times as a summary of their beliefs, and which to an unbeliever must sound like a farrago of religious mumbo-jumbo.

    The belief is a secular one dowsing.

    Not only do I believe in dowsing on the ground I have worked on draining with a squad who

    took Gerald‟s dowsing skills with two bent wire rods as completely for granted as they did his skill in finding and emptying whisky-glasses but I believe that a skilled dowser can dowse on a


    When our two dogs, known as the Newtonmore Haggishounds went missing in the vast

    Tentsmuir Forest in Fife, a dowser was eventually called in. He thought the delay made success unlikely, but, dowsing off the Ordnance Survey map, he marked a cross in the forest‟s 3,700 acres. It was in the public parking area, where the dogs certainly no longer were, but where they had often got in and out of the car and where there were still posters displayed regarding the missing dogs.

    Before you say scornfully “What kind of proof is that of dowsing from a map?” let me tell you that the dowser had worked in Africa with George Adamson, husband of the late Joy Adamson.

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