Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Dry Morning

I missed the best of it, the start to the day that is.  By the time The Grasshopper had warmed up it was nigh on seven of the clock, and the sun had moved on to brighten someone else’s path.  Nonetheless it was fine, it was dry, and the wind was but a murmur.

Had I gone out on first rising I would have enjoyed sun on my back, beech leaves unmoved on the hedgerows, and the laburnum threatening to smile, those saffron pendulums eager to mark the changing season.  Instead I enjoyed an hour or so in the company of Sara Wheeler.  Access All Areas was published recently, to mark her 50th birthday, a colelction of her writing over the previous twenty years.  Primarily this is her shorter works, those artciles for newspapers and magazines that were needed to put food on the table between advances as she worked on her various books.  For some reason that escapes me, and which ought to be put right, I have yet to read her epic work on one of my favourite parts of this diverse planet.  Terra Incognita is her take on all things Antartica, a work that preceded her biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, author of one of my favourite books, and survivor of the glaciers and barriers that so mesmerised Scott and Shackleton.  That too should be added to my list.

But out on the road my first downhill stretch had its momentum slowed, giving way as I must to a stray coo being shepherded back to pasture on the prompting of a quad bike.  The silence soon returned and after crossing the main road and the early traffic I breathed deeply as the hawthorn retained just enough dampness to perfume the air.  Working the stiffness from the legs after the figure of eight run of yesterday I headed for the steep (to my aged legs) climb up to Stobieside, and the long downhill stretch that followed.

It was a fine start to the day, despite missing the early sun, for Sara had lifted the spirits as she took me from the frozen south to the frozen north, via places as diverse as Albania and Chile.  I’m going to enjoy this one, which will probably feature on my list by the end of the year.  I’ve a couple of volumes set aside, in paperback, for the holiday reading.  Ox Travels tempts me every time as I pass the bookshelf, but I’ll leave it for the ten in Wales which is suddenly only four weeks ago.  An extra ten degress on the thermometer would not go amiss, or even just a couple for this weekend.

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The Winds of Change

They change for no man, or so we are told, or was that The Sands of Time?.  Well the winds have certainly blown across this little acre or three these past few days.  But I did finally manage to give The Grasshopper an airing this lunchtime, with gusts reduced to a mere breeze, and temperatures seeming to have risen above the 7 or 8 degrees marking this final week of May as June looms large, with the summer solstice just around the corner.  It fair makes thoughts of taking the ferry across the Firth and pitching a tent this weekend, seem silly.

On the road today however I took a very satisfying change from the usual run.  Starting with my short run, Meadowfoot, in fear that the wind on the Stobieside route might be unpleasant, I took a left turn at our wee cross instead of the usual right for the short homeward leg.  The mid road took me round past the school and back up to the church, thereby to end with a second haul down that long straight home which today was spared from the usual headwind.  It was an interesting variation and one I shall use more often, though there was little to see today and nothing of note until chasing sheep from the garden upon my return home.

The new Parliament of this new Scotland is now firmly up and running, but to look at the output of our wonderful media chums, and in particular those at the BBC, you’d be spared for thinking that there was any change at all, or even that there was a political process in Scotland.  I had intended to link to an excellent article on Newsnet Scotland on the perceived failings of our publicly funded broadcaster, but the technicalities seem to have blown away on the wind.  A search on Pacific Quay-Stone Cops Need to Change, may find it, for it is well worth a read.

But the only change blown in at the BBC seems to be a new format for the blogs, a real dumming down and a discincentive to any structured debate.  Now we are restricted to a mere 400 characters in responding to the political editor’s musings at Blether With Brian.  It’s soundbite stuff, and will turn away many valued contributors.  That said the early responses have seen direct mentions of Newsnet getting through moderation  – a major change for what has been unmentionable down PQ way.  My guess is that once the moderators get the feel of the new set up, anyreference to Newsnet will revert back to the way the winds previously blew.

And so the Parliament starts off intent on dealing with sectarianism and with the booze.  Minimum pricing should get a clear run this time, and if we can get powers devolved from Westminster allowing us to charge extra duties and keep those duties in Scotland, then even better.  Another target ought to be a Scottish Digital Broadcaster, as we try and escape the clutches of the BBC.  It is a concept that had cross party support in the previous administration.

On the domestic front we’ve had loft insulation done here today, in less than an hour and at minimal expense.  Hopefully we can start reducing our oil usage as prices continue to rocket.  Next up is a survey on solar management though I fear that the return on investment may be a deterrent, even if I did have any confidence in the state-owned and funded banks being able to provide borrowings.  Wind turbines remain a dream, but in the new Scotland with a real focus on renewables, we may get to the stage where such facilities can become domestically affordable.

For the wind blows yet, and time passes.

Meantime I rattled off a few words to form a competition entry this week.  My effort probably did not justify the prize, for if you can turn 250 words into a three week jaunt for two in the railroads of Canada then it is certainly worth entering.  We shall see what happens.  Much more important is the Bradt competition, entries for which should now have closed, with judging under way.  The awards ceremony will be in London in July; and perhaps my wee jaunt south for the jazz concert will have me in the right place at the right time, or not.

But it is good to get the thought process moving once again, and news on various courses are tempting, whether it is Dubrovnik with Jon and Dan, or Istanbul with Dea and Rory.  Either way there will be the usual issues about time, cost and, more importantly, brownie points.  October though is a good time for any plans.  There is always a third alternative, and an independent break in the company of The Jeweller, at budget prices and with budget airlines, may also be reviewed.  Dreams, they blow in the wind and linger in dark corners.

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Filed under Broadcast & Written Press, Scotland's Future


I know that summer must be just around the corner, as the weather is now truly wild.  Torrential rain over the weekend has left The Grasshopper firmly garaged, and it will remain there today for the wind is blowing; and it will blow harder as this day progresses, with forecasts of gusting to 80mph.  You can be sure that we will get more than our fair share in this exposed spot.

It comes just as we turn our thoughts to activities best undertaken under warm skies.  The school sports due this week have already been put back due to wet conditions in the playing field.  This coming weekend we are scheduled to be camping on the nearest island, the hills of which I can see from this window when the weather is clear, but are absent today.  The ferry has been paid so we are going.  The crossing could be interesting if this wind keeps up.  Then the tent has to be pitched, for one night only.

The little tent will be having its first airing of the year, mainly for The Urchins, as a precursor to two weeks under canvas (more likely nylon in this day and age).  I say the wee tent as we now have a choice, having acquired a larger three bed-roomed model for the summer trip.  The new one is a tent in which we can actually live, whilst the wee tent is really for sleeping and little else.

Plans for the summer are taking shape and extra equipment being purchased, in the form of stove, cooler, camp beds etc.  The roof bars for the car have arrived, and a table with stools selected.  So we can sit down for breakfast, card games, drawing and bed-time stories.  But if the wind blows on Arran this weekend will it put us all off the idea, or will we relish the adventure?  There may be some differing opinions.

Another lover of Arran is my old pal, The Psychic.  We met up on Friday for the first time in a while.  I may moan about my lot from time to time, but The Psychic is going through yet another really tough time, with a catalogue of ongoing health problems, a lot of it stress related, and more than her share of ill luck.  There are people around us, often close , who do leave you humbled, and it is many of those people that the local charity in East Renfrewshire is trying to help.  One of the aims for the charity is to have the idea replicated in other areas and we are now at the stage of exploring any help that the politicians may be able to bring to the table.  There is the prospect of some excellent publicity with national TV exposure, and an exploratory session next week with a crew being sent up from London to chat with some of us.  Wonder if I can remember how to tie a tie.

If every community had a blind man, double organ transplant, able to give his time to helping others for no financial reward, and to persuade others to part with their loot or give up some time, then little differences just might be possible.  But there ain’t too many of them out there, and I am deeply privileged to count this one as a friend and to be able to help out in my own small way.

I digress, the topic today was summer, and I am brought back on topic by the sound of the wind threatening to lift the roof from this little shed.  Camping here we come.

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Is it the start of a new Scotland, or just more of the same?

Yesterday Alex Salmond began his second term as First Minister.  His appointment was unopposed.  No other candidates, from any party, were nominated.  And yet only 68 MSPs approved his appointment; no fewer than 57 abstaining.  Speeches were made, congratulations offered, goodwill passed around and accepted graciously.

I am left wondering why the appointment was not universally approved; what purpose did abstention serve; were the promises of constructive governance simply weasel words or had the lessons of our judgement on the tactics of the last four years been learned on the opposition benches? 

Amidst this sudden  move towards positivity, away from negagtivity, the evidence was there for all to see.  The reduced representation from Labour was muted in applause for speeches well given, cursory and brief, all too brief.  And in the suppine persona of MasterBaker there lay clearly continued disdain, radiating negativity and ill will.  I guess he may be more concerned with his party’s leadership election, and the part that his London superiors may impose on that, but it was not a good sign.

Today the media focuses once again on the impact of independence, the impact on England that is.  Broadcasting is the latest area for scaremongering, after the announcement ysterday that this parliamentary term will see a review of broadcasting in these parts, following the previous commission the results of which were simply shelved as the unionists in the parliament would simply vote down any proposals.  It is back on the agenda, and I hope urgently.  The role of the BBC in Scotland, publicly funded, needs to be critically reviewed.  Our public funds can be better spent.

Already former Labour ministers are pontificating about ‘control of broadcasting’, which is not what it is about.  This coming from the party that pledged to give one of their supporting newspapers to every 18 year old in the country, thereby ensuring more press coverage skewed in their favour as the written media struggles against falling circulations whilst at the same time feeding the party line to impressionable teenagers.  Sorry boys, it is impartiality that we need, a level playing field.

So long as we have the BBC leading the debate, selecting the interviews and soundbites that are fed into our homes, we will always have our backs to the wall.  The new Scotland started on 5 May 2011.  We go forward with drive and energy, but it seems that the negativity may remain, for a while at least.  Today Cabinet portfolios are announced, and the media will give their reactions.  Ho hum.

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Unseasonal Seasons

Over the past week May has turned into April.  Blustery winds, showers, short but heavy downpours, and cooling temperatures.  Was it really only a couple of weeks ago that the summer cycling gear was getting an airing, and the winter weight put away?

The Grasshopper had a brief outing this morning, slowly into the west wind, returning in a ten minute torrent.  The winter gear got a soaking, and the early temperatures are still very cool indeed.

But the highlight was slowing down, on the fastest downhill stretch, so as not to terrify a young roe deer lolloping down the road ahead of me.  She managed to find a suitable point to loup over the fence and was last seen, pale dock weaving through the trees to safety.  That’s the third deer I’ve seen in the last week.  Usually they’re too shy to approach the roadside, even in the early hours.

The house martins are now here in numbers, busy gathering moss and mud, and reinstating the nests around the eaves.  Like last year they are a couple of weeks later than expected, but it’s good to see them.

The dairy cows are now out of the sheds; the lambs are growing by the day; and the birds are nesting.  Yet the weather has taken a turn backwards, cool, wet and windy, just as we are longing for a bit of warmth, some sunshine, and preferably a sky more blue than grey.  Midsummer day is but a few short weeks away, and it is only six weeks until The Urchins break from school for the long summer holidays; the days when cycling can only be done at six in the morning and in short runs only.  Will the season change again?  I hear islands calling, but fear the weather and make no commitment.

We are of a mind to use the next holiday weekend, in a fortnight’s time, to take a short break.  The tent has been suggested, but as it is one night only due to other party commitments on the Saturday, we will not travel far.  Time is too short to make an attempt at Mull and Iona, but island needs could be held in abeyance with a wee trip over to Arran, unless the ferry fare is prohibitive.  A night at Lochranza and a couple of days of peaceful exploration could be what we all need.

It could also set us up well for the annual summer break, the bones of which are beginning to set.  Having decided to pass on the merits of continental sunshine and the costs of enjoying it, we are looking to head south, and perhaps a twin centred break in Wales.  Brecon is handy for the bookshops at Hay-on-Wye; with a second coastal week either in the west or heading north to Anglesey and another island.  All of this proposed under canvas, in a much larger family sized tent, with standing room.  So we have some equipment to purchase, but it’s looking good at the moment.

To sweeten the way I’m listening to The Genealgist’s thoughts of taking in a family history fair at York, thereby splitting our journey south into a couple of days, increasing the total journey by a hundred miles or so, with an overnight family room and one less under canvas in the valleys.  It’s always good to have something to look forward to, a date in the diary drawing closer.  We just need signs of a bit more warmth.

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Over at Better Nation a discussion developed yesterday on the reasons for the significant rise in support for the SNP, covering also the disparity in the funds available to spend on the elction campaign, which saw Salmond covering the country by helicopter, whilst Elmer drove.  Amusing it was to hear supporters of the party backed by compulsory funding from members of trades union complaining of the odds being stacked financially against them.  Whilst the financial side relates significantly to the amounts spent by each side through the 2010 general election, finances are not unrelated to the rise in support for the nationalists.

My own experience in recent years is perhaps not untypical.  Content for years to add my support to the party of choosing with an X in the appropriate ballot slip box from time to time, I have of late been spurred into doing more.  Responsible for that are the joint actions of firstly the Labour Party,  secondly  the media, and in particular the BBC.

I became an avid listener to FMQs whilst collecting The Urchins from nursery on Thursday lunchtimes.  Later I noticed that news bulletins and then the next day’s written press seemed to be commenting on a different session to the one that I had witnessed in the car.  I began to take more notice, and ultimately to take more action.

In time I formed the opinion that the combined actions of Iain Gray as party leader, and the BBC as lead commentator, was damaging the political process, and skewing the efforts being made by our minority government to improve this fine nation.  Clearly it was deliberate policy.  I gave up my daily newspaper habit, joined the party to add a few pounds to my vote, and took more notice.  The money saved from newspaper purchases could be better directed, to party membership and campaigns, to better news facilities, and in particular the growth of Newsnet Scotland.

During nursery holidays, and now that The Urchins are at school, I was able to witness FMQ broadcasts visually rather than on radio.  Then I could witness the baying hordes behind Iain Gray, wondering just who was yanking who’s chains.  In school holidays I would cede TV rights to the little ones and instantly the efforts of Jake, Bella, Fiz and co outshone those of Baker, Baillie, Kerr etc and that ‘intellectual chasm’ mentioned by Tom Devine was highlighted by The Tweenies on Cbeebies.

So the Labour Party have been architects of their own downfall, aided and abetted by their broadcasting arm.  The BBC are still at it though, evidenced last night by Paxman’s quizzing of Nicola Sturgeon.  Continually interrupting her attempts to explain the need for the people of Scotland to have the right to decide their own destiny, Paxman was intent only on finding out what the plan was, or in his gleeful eyes perhaps wasn’t, post independence, in terms of numbers in the forces, seats at the NATO table, the EU and the euro etc.  It is apparent that the BBC still don’t ‘get it’.  But the settled will of the Scottish people will prevail in time, even if that means keeping the status quo.  For so long as the opposition and the media continue their passage of the last four years and fail to change tack however, the prospects of an independent Scotland looms ever larger.

And whilst Paxman heads a new impetus on Scottish affairs from London, feart of losing the funding from Scotland, the BBC north of the border continue on their merry way, sneering and condescending about the process of electing a Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick giving up her SNP seat and membership to take in the role, in preference to Labour’s offering of Hugh Henry, a man with some form.  In the 12 years of the parliament Labour have yet to give up a voting seat for the role; whilst there is precedent of the PO coming from the government benches in the form of David Steel.  George Reid having held the role for some years, Marwick is the second PO from the SNP ranks.  Yet the BBC gripe and snipe, and bias continues.

Thank you Iain Gray, the Labour Party, the BBC and the written press.  You have all combined into galvanising a nation, not only to vote for a cause, but to add funding to a cause.  Yet still you wonder why.  There are plans at Holyrood to address broadcasting rights from the parliament, and that is perhaps the first stage in trying to reduce the imbalance which the BBC are intent on creating.  In time I’d like to see a Scottish Digital Braodcasting Service, and an ending of the compulsion for us all to fund the BBC who provide a disservice to Scotland as the fight to retain the union and their licence fees.  Undoubtedly there will be an element of the population needing assurance on the availability of Eastenders, Dr Who and Strictly etc, but in this digital age anything is possible, especially with public subsidy.  next target, the BBC, please.

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On the Bedside Table

At the moment I’m coming to the end of Martin Edmond’s Luca Antara.  This book appealed to me, the work of a lover of words, of books and melding of history, exploration and travel.  Martin takes us to the odd, sometimes very odd, second- hand bookshop and then on a quest to find the tale of the original Portugese discovery of the new land that we know today as Australia and that is home to Martin.  At times an entertaining trip through life with Martin we finally get out to the small islands in the region of Indonesia, Timor and Java, and a trawl through the historic movements of the Dutch and the Portugese in the Age of Discovery.  However I could do without a few tales of dabbling in soft, and at times not-so-soft, drugs.  It is not a part of culture that I wish to read about in anyone’s book, and does not add to the pleasure of the read, no matter what part it plays in the journey through life.

Portugese exploration will take me next to a book that arrived last week, having seen a review in Scottish Islands Explorer.  It is a narrative of the Portugese Robinson Crusoe, stranded on an island in the South Atlantic.  Looking forward to that one and will update shortly.

Also hugely looking forward to the arrival in July of a work on Siena and in particular on The Palio, that marvellous event I was able to witness a couple of years ago.  When we arrived in the city a few days before the race we latched on to one of the contradas, Bruco, more in honour of Urchin the Younger, who still answers to that name.  Our fireplace carries a magnet of the Bruco caterpillar, and our festive tree wears a Bruco bauble.  The palio, in my view, is one of those events that must be witnessed, the world’s oldest horse race, and so much more than that.  I have a few words on the event in the Writings section.  The forthcoming book, Seven Seasons in Siena, is all about an attempt to live and learn the traditions and workings of that race in that city, and in particular through the people and the eys of my favourite contrada.  Can’t wait.

July will see my trip south to finally hear the Keith Jarrett Trio in concert.  Yesterday I battled for hours with attempts to book train tickets.  Really in this day and age the confusion we create with timetable, fares and booking facilities, is quite unacceptable.  I got there eventually, reserving a discounted sleeper berth but failing miserably to find a way to link that into a return trip; discovered that the outgoing fare for a return trip is not available as a single fare on the same train even if you have already booked the return sleeper; and finally settled on a first class seat south at a cheaper price than the single fare second class and not much more than booking a return trip with a seat north when i already had a bed.  Just to add to the booking experience it is impossible to speak to a human, but you can get an ‘online conversation’ which just added to the frustration and provided neither answer nor assistance. 

No wonder we use the plane.  I could have had a fare each way for less than £10, but would have needed overnight accommodation and an extra day’s arrangements for The Urchins.  And you can book a flight more than three months in advance, which remains impossible on the trains.  It all takes me back to my efforts last year to get to York by train, on a Sunday, for a book fair.  I ended up driving, which was faster, cheaper and less hassle, albeit more tiring and less kind to our roads and pollution.  I used to be able to get a direct train at a reasonable price.  Not now; it needs at least one if not two changes each way, takes longer; and comes with a doubled fare.  Not for me.  Get the railways sorted!

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