Monthly Archives: July 2011

London Calling

I sit here bleary eyed after my trip to the big city, but what a trip it was.  The highlight was always going to be the concert and so it proved.  Messrs Jarrett, Peacock and deJohnette exceeded all expectations, and they were very high to begin with, as witnessed by endless standing ovations and I think four encores.  It was a truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and as these guys have a combined age of 210, one that I may never get the chance to repeat on these shores.  That said a continental jazz festival is even more appealing.

I was touched, nay astonished, by the humility of the trio, bowing deeply, almost prostrating themselves before the audience each time they arrived on stage or departed proceedings, always followed by very sincere namastes to the auditorium.  Sorry boys, but it is our respect to you for a performance like that which is truly humbling, having been permitted to witness genius at work.

The travel though was less euphoric.  Travelling south with all the treatment of first class started well, but after a hot lunch, and settling in to enjoy the opening chapters of Tahir Shah’s Sorceror’s Apprentice, I began to experience the type of nausea not experienced since the days of the smoke filled Number 57 corporation bus out of Glasgow city centre for the short trip home from the office, or even on a channel ferry fighting a nasty swell.  I had to give up on the joys of Shah’s writing and window gaze, for three long hours, as the Pendolino coaches hurtled through the countryside.  On the bends the cottages and even canal barges had the appearance of being crooked, resting at impossible angles, such was the effect of the tilting train.  It’s not for me, at any price.  The return leg made up for the nausea, being a slow train aimed to arrive back in Glasgow for breakfast after a midnight departure.  The first class sleeping berth was fortuitous, especially at Bargain Berth prices, but sleep was largely elusive and I returned to Shah’s Sorceror around the breaking of day, some three hours before arrival.  By then I had begun to notice a growing number of bites to my legs, though I don’t remember seeing tiny travelling companions as one of the optional extras in first class.

Before leaving the big city my emotions post concert, much of which was spent lost with eyes closed and moist, runneth over with a phone call, whilst among the late night throngs at Waterloo Station, from my chums over at the TV studio just minutes walk away.  More on that one at a later date, but how I wished I had the time to wander over for one of those group-huggy things.  Tears flowed and will do so for some time to come, from many sources.  More humility, and a tale to be told.

As for London, well it never was my favourite place, but late afternoon as I wandered from Euston to Waterloo, the streets just teemed with life, too much of it for me.  I did manage to break that walk at Stanfords in Covent Garden, spending time I could afford and money I couldn’t.  It’s a bit like letting the proverbial wean loose in a sweetie shop.  I did manage to look at, without making a purchase, the range of maps available for the possible camping and cycling jaunt in The Netherlands, at the back of my mind for next summer.  For me London is simply bursting with too much of all the things I prefer to avoid – people, noise, smells.  I could go on, but will prefer to let the good memories, and how special they are, linger for much longer.  I’ll be back in London again in two months time, for another positive and personal experience.  Dare I broach the subject of a trip further afield, Jerusalem in October, or Istanbul in November?  Need to pick my moment for that one, bank manager first.

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Politicians and Pressmen

I understand that the phone hacking furore is now at the doors of the Daily Mirror, and in particular former editor-turned-meeja celeb, one Piers Morgan.  The share price of Trinity Mirror is plummeting on the strength of rumours, denials and the usual litany of double-speak.  More to follow.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world Teflon Tony has been tracked down for comment, the Middle east Peace envoy no doubt travelling the speaking circuit whilst maintaining his non-resident status and escaping UK tax charges on his ill-gotten gains.  “I can’t honestly remember”, quoth he on being quizzed about informal meetings with the dastardly Murdoch.  Surprise, surprise, quoth me.

But Balir has said that relationships between press and politics needs to differentiate between news and comment.  It needs to go much further than that.  These publicly paid servants and the peddlars of tittle-tattle need to be able to separate personal and professional lives entirely, if there is to be any hope of restoring credibility.  By all means have briefings and meetings, but these must be minuted and the records made public; with no ‘off-the-rcord’ chats referred to obliquely in emails; no attendances at family weddings, baptisms or other junkets; and no denials.

Money should not even come into it, but that just brings us round to the police, who seem to have received most of the cash and who employ most of the former media-men, at least those not taking the public shilling in the corridors of power.

Ultimately Blair will slime his way through in the same manner as the various Iraq enquiries, mysterious deaths, money-making transactions, and so forth.  It’s just not good enough.  Scotland must get out of this union and hold her head up high before being tarnished further, but that’s another story for another day.

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What Makes the World Go Round?

Over a weekend after which the ‘Cor, Wotta Scorcha’ headlines will no doubt have returned to the red-tops, except the News of the World of course, we have more examples of the extremes which blight our society.

On Friday news broke of utter catastrophe in Norway, with bomb blasts in Oslo preceding the slaughter of the innocents on an island retreat for political youths.  The bomber/gunmen is on trial as I type and the word coming out so far is that the waste of 93 lives was all done in the name of god; an attempt by a neo-christian, whatever that is, to stem the rising tide of Islam.  So he bombs government offices and machine guns his way around a holiday camp.  God’s will, no doubt.  Did he add to society; live a good life?

Meanwhile we hear that the tragedy that is, or was Amy Winehouse, has finally succumbed to the self-destruct button that has been firmly under her finger for some years.  What a waste, of talent or otherwise, at only 27 years of age.  But that it was self-destruction if all the tales of drink, drugs, debauchery and worse are even remotely true, simply serves to leave me devoid of any sympathy.  So the wannabe-a-celeb society has created another victim; convincing someone she was brimmed full with talent, then lambasting her when she fell off the rails, again, and again, and again.  No doubt there will now be remorse, and shrines on the railings outside, pending the outcome of the autopsy.  Did she add to society; live a good life?

And the scandalous behaviour of journalists, politicians and police continues to unfold, with not a day passing before another meeting between two parties, usually at public expense, is discovered to have been missed off the previous disclosure list.  Both Labour and Conservative parties are guilty on that count.  A judge is appointed to oversee an enquiry, and, surprise, surprise, turns out to have been socialising with the Murdoch empire.  Is there any hope of an independent view, untainted with cronyism, backhanders or other personal gains at the expense of probity?  I hae ma doobts.

But the weekend did see an improvement in the weather, and I was able to take advantage with some serious time on board The Grasshopper.  We found a new route, a longer one, and repeated it the next day.  The aching knees will rest again, for The Urchins are still on holiday from school.  The first steps have been taken on the uniform trail for the next term, shoes will follow when the bank manager allows.

Another task was to separate the bunk beds, to have Urchin the Elder set up in a room of her own, with some responsibility for tidying the guddle she has inherited, whilst Urchin the Younger gets to see new light, away from the gloom of having a top bunk over his head.  With some serious garden work then done we relaxed at Auntie’s Barbie, feeding well on freshly caught rainbow trout, amongs other delicacies, followed up by ice cream in triplicate, jelly for urchins, large and small.

But it is back to reality with another batch of Engerland Expects, from the frenzy of the commentary box at Lords, and to news bulletins of murder in the name of god, and lives cruelly shortened, by own hand or by others.  Having read the latest Humanitie, the quarterly magazine of the Humanist Society of Scotland, I think the next addition to the library will have to be A C Grayling’s The Good Book, a secular bible, based on millenia of goodness, but without any religous input.  I’ll add to that with some of the works of Richard Holloway, former Episcopalian Bishop of Edinburgh, who finally after years of study, saw the light, resigned and leads a Humanist life.  I owe it to The Urchins, to be able to counter their involuntary brainwashing, as society struggles to come to terms with wars and deaths in the name of gods, from the peoples of the book, from those brainwashed with creationism, or intent on intelligent design.  I should probably just get onto Amazon, rather than add to my birthday list, but then again……….

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And so the wheels turn

With The Urchins being released from the classroom for seven long weeks cycling time has been at a premium of late.  Yesterday, after one of those even rarer still days, one that gets slowly warmer as the clock turns, I had a notion of giving The Grasshopper an airing early evening, post dinner, leaving The Genealogist in charge.  It is not a time of day when I usually take to the roads, being one when the stomach usually rests uneasily, and the eyes start to close.  However, needs must, and of course the law of sod then came into play.  Just as the second contact lens settled so I heard the unmistakeable sound of raindrops, large ones, drumming on the skylight.  Passing shower, nothing will come of it, so off I went.

A drenching it was, having gone out with one layer less, and a shorter length, than all year so far, I had to break out the waterproofs before reaching the road end.  By the end of the first real climb the rain was firing needles into my upturned face, one of the disadvantages of a recumbent, incessantly, and the ride continued in pain.  Plans for the second loop were quickly abandoned and an unsatisfactory run was cut short in less than ten miles.  Today my face has that sunburnt feel, but that it cannot be for my time outdoors yesterday with Urchins, football and bikes, had the protection of the usual hat.  It must be the tattooing of the rain.

Strength diminishing I set aside volume 1 of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, which had been gracing the bedside table of late.  It is a mighty tome, and a real heavyweight to prop up in bed at night with no danger of falling asleep with finger between pages and a thump to the chest.  Released last year, on the centenary of death in accordance with the wishes of the great scribe, it proves a huge background into a life lived well.  I shall return in due course, and will add subsequent volumes on release.  Temporarily it has been replaced by Robyn Davidson’s Desert Places, another camel voyage after her epic Tracks, this one with the nomads of Rajastan.  I realised that recent purchases have been largely sand related, with Buckley and Sandham to follow.

The recent announcement of the prizewinners from the annual Bradt scribble fail to give me a credit, and although disappointing after a commendation last year, not entirely surprising in the quest to dredge up material to meet the chosen theme.

The week ahead sees the big trip to London, for the concert at the Southbank Centre by the Keith Jarret Trio – one of those gzillion things to do before you die events for me, so looking forward greatly to that.  Unfortunately I have to miss the filming of the TV show which should benefit East Renfrewshire Good Causes Fundraising Charity, which takes place just across the way from the concert at the same time.  I would liked to have been part of the occasion with my colleagues and our founder, at last getting some recognition.  No word yet on the olympic torch proposal.  The charity could well benefit by tens of thousands of pounds, as well as national publicity, and every penny will be put to the benefit of the local community in return for the organ donation which made it all possible.

And the football season gets under way, with an opportunity to see a few of the new faces to grace the black & white stripes with a pre-season friendly tomorrow.  C’mon the Lok, now.

The disasters of the holiday are beginning to recede.  A new car rests on the drive, clearly meant to be given the circumstances of finding it, the scarcity of the model and, more importantly, the disposal of the unreliable one which ruined the annual break.  After the London trip we may just get a short weekend away, in the wee tent.  Mull & Iona are drawing us, but it is a lengthy journey; an alternative is Alnwick, postponed from last year, though the attraction of a good bookshop may be too tempting for current funding availability.  Ahead lies a further tented weekend, in the company of The Jeweller, before the book fair in York early September.

But looming large amongst all that is the return to school for The Urchins, to peace and cycling time for me, preceded though by a round of the shops for new uniforms, shoes etc., and a depletion in the scraps left for the bookshops.

And as all this goes on so the conspiracies and corruption between the press, the police, and the politicians continues to get an airing.  I expect a whitewash, denials and teflon coatings, but I may yet get a surprise, fingers crossed.

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The Press, The Police, and The Politicians

Over the last week or two we have witnessed seismic events in the world of publishing, and are now beginning to see the depths to which corruption has become endemic in our society over decades.  The fall out is likely to, or certainly should, continue for some time.

We started with some good news, and that was the immediate closure of the News of the World, which seemed to me to serve no useful purpose whatsoever, yet remained the biggest selling Sunday paper in the country – the lowest common denominator.  It is gone now, and the remainder of the written press are scrabbling after the shreds of the readership, with extra print runs, and if they are serious at all in picking up new sales in these days of continuing declines in both circulation and advertising revenues, an inevitable lowering of standards to plumb those well trodden depths will be required; not too much lower for some.  There will always be sympathy with those now out of work, but there has to some principles left and I will not mourn the demise of that particular rag.

Arrests have been made, starting with Andy Coulson, former editor of The Sun, and oft times denier of any knowledge of the existance of phone hacking; prime witness to that effect in the Sheridan trial; and latterly head of communications for Cameron’s tory party in government.  Now the chief executive has resigned, and been arrested, one Rebekah Brooks, darling of the media and of the politicians who courted her favours to extreme ends.  Murdoch’s no 2 has also gone, and the company itself has withdrawn its attempt at global media control with the bid for BskyB.  Finally the head of the Metropolitan Police has also now fallen on his sword.  I say finally but clearly this is just the beginning.

That the gutter press invaded privacy by hacking into telephone accounts is beyond doubt.  We are still supposed to believe that this practice was carried out without the knowledge of either editors, executives, or owners, just the work of the odd rogue reporter.  I think not.

Tales emerge of the scandalous intrusion into private grief, with hacking into the accounts of the bereaved, the abducted, and more.  It was not just salacious celebrity gossip these pond life versions of journalists were after in their attempts to have the word ‘exclusive’ emblazoned above their name, to raise circulations, and to earn bonuses.  And to compound that the newspapers, and I use that term advisedly, admit to having paid the police for information.

What we now need to see is each and every one of those employed by the police, of whatever rank, who deemed it appropriate and within the duties of their employment, to accept that money, to release that information, to be brought to book.

We know that the politicians are in it deeply too.  Coulson got a highly paid job and, even after he saw fit to end that position, was still being wined and dined by the Prime Minister at Chequers, at our expense.  The cosy relationship between senior politicians and those controlling the headlines needs detailed investigation.  It is all very well ensuring that you do not make an enemy, but to court favours, to have that very suspect relationship evolve into a personal one for girlie nights, family weddings or whatever, is treading on very dangerous ground indeed.  There must surely be clear ground between pressmen and politicians, the waters must be unmuddied, standards must be set.  A press release should be just that, issued to all at the same time, with no extras for those in that special relationship, no inside information, no money changing hands.

One would have thought that the politicians may have taken sufficent fright at the unravelling of their own parliamentary expenses frauds; perhaps this is part of them getting back at the press, or some sections of it.  Endemic corruption, right across the board, must be rooted out of our society right now.  The politicians, pressmen and police all using each other has been going on so long it seems to have become part of the job, must like parliamentary expenses was part of the package.  The review should go back in time, though no doubt little will stick to the smiling face of Blair who will continue to make his multi-millionaire way around the world as our Peace Envoy, enjoying non-resident status, and thumbing his nose at us all.

That the press influence the voting public is quite clear, as is the knowledge that the press has suitors and will return favours.  However in Scotland we have seen how a party in government can succeed despite attempts throughout the written and broadcast media to derail them, to give good governance, and then go on to convince the electorate of such, gaining a seemingly impossible majority.  There is distance between the press and the Scottish Government.  When the sleazebound London parties follow in the SNP’s wake?

What next will emerge from the droppings of the crumbling Murdoch empire?  And will the politicians survive the fall out?  Interesting times ahead.

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Holiday Stress

It is now a week since we limped home from our trip to Wales and slowly my stress levels are returning to where they were before we left.  Nothing to do with that ‘cooped up full time with all the family’ thing, that leads to arguments and disagreements all round.  No, it’s all to do with cars and weather.

Our departure south was delayed by car troubles and in the end we had only nine nights on holiday as against the 17 or 18 of recent years.  So there was never really much chance of winding down fully.  The start of the break was graced with good weather and the shorts, sandals and sunscreens of continental campsites got some use.  Then the weather changed.  The tent stood up bravely to a couple of really stormy nights and some torrents of rain.  One broken guy rope, from chafing tightly against a peg, and a little water ingress through the additional ventilation designed for warm weather camping, was all the damage suffered. We did have a couple of largely sleepless nights though, with tent poles arching scarily low to the ground, ropes creaking, and a cliff to the pounding waves below just yards away.  The Urchins slept through it all.

Stressful though that was it was nothing compared to the levels created by a certain unreliable motor car.  Having wasted days and hundreds of pounds before departure, I felt some trouble under the brake pedal on the busiest stretch of the motorway before our overnight stop.  We limped on down across the scenic hills and valleys of Wales the next morning and arrived at our site to pitch camp in warm and still weather.

Finally managing to get a garage to look at the car on the Monday I learned that the problem was not the wheel bearings I had feared but track rod ends and a socket thing.  Being a Chrysler American built car, suitable parts are not to be found, with Chrysler being the only source, the factory taking 3 to 4 days to supply, and whole sections being needed, rather than just individual parts.  So it was the Friday afternoon before we were back on the road, the credit card taking a large hit.

In between times we had to restrict our Welsh discoveries to the very local area, but still managed a delightful steam train to Devil’s Bridge, the joys of watching the red kites being fed, a trip to an animal sanctuary where The Urchins had the delights of a ten foot boa constrictor across their shoulders – at that stage I had opted to valiantly head through the rain to recover jackets from the car.  The sands at Ynyslas provided a delightful walk in very warm but windy weather, after a session painting ceramics, where the lovely Zana had put us on to Jamie, the mechanic in Bow Street – ‘big scary man with a big scary dog’.  Zana too was not without her technical problems, the kiln breaking down and it being the end of the week before she too was up and running and able to let us have the fired goods.

And so there was plenty reading time, especially during those long sleepless nights, though concentration was an issue.  I had some delightful books as it turned out and hugely enjoyed Magsie Hamilton Little’s Dancing with Darkness.  The by-line had it neatly summarised – Life, Death and Hope in Afghanistan – utterly captivating.  From the middle east to darkest Africa and a cleverly engrossing tale from Warwick Cairns, mingling his meetings with Wilfred Thesiger with the great man’s travels in the lands of the Danakil, and Cairns’ own wanderings to Thesiger’s home in Africa.  In Praise of  Savagery is well worth a read, and not just for Thesiger fans.  I followed that up with Ox Travels, a compilation of chapters from all your favourite travel writers including Thubron, Wheeler, Stewart and many more, and several who will become favourites in the years ahead.

Having had the car repaired we had one last day to see a bit of the countryside before the journey home.  We headed for Hay-on-Wye, booktown, via Brecon where we should have been based for our first week.  Brecon was a delightful place to picnic, the ducks in the canal getting the final scraps, but Hay deserved at least half a day of my time, having finally got close to the town.  I was not to be disappointed, and managed to pick up a few good quality first editions for the shelves, from Robyn Davidson, Martin Buckley, Fran Sandham, Toby Green and a couple of others.  More from them as and when they get to the bedside table.

And so to home.  Thankfully we awoke to a dry and still day, and thus were spared the trauma of packing a wet tent in the wind.  Having packed much of the gear the previous evening, we had camp broken and were on our way within an hour or two of breaking fast.  Amazingly the tent and all its accoutrements fitted back in the bag.  And so we headed east and north.

Our trip to Hay had given the car a good run the previous day, some 150 miles or so, and I knew that all was still not well.  The wheel bearings were still coming under suspicion.  Worse was to follow on the motoroway though, with the car fully warmed up.  We began to lose power, especially on uphill stretches, when revs could not be tempted to rise much above 2,000, and speed fell down to 60, and on one steeper hill to a mere 45, which is when artics begin to look a bit threatening in the rear view mirror.  On home territory at last we stopped for essentials, not just bread and milk, but What Car? magazine.  The Jeep had to go.

Keen to begin some online research into motor cars, the stress levels boiled over on finding out that our wifi facilities had disappeared during our absence.  That took a couple of days, and no little help from The Eldest to resolve.  Now,  a full week later, we are further down the road, having identified suitable cars, driven fruitlessly around showrooms to find that demand exceeds supply, there is no prospect of discount, and months of waiting.  The Kuga was eliminated on space grounds, the Sportage on availability which problem seemed to be afflciting the ix35, a product of the same factory.  But there was some good fortune around the corner and a telephone call today should secure an immediately available Hyundai ix35, and more importantly allow us to pass on the worries of the Jeep Patriot.

Hyundai was the last decent car we ran, before those dark days of Fiat Multiplas which preceeded the Jeep.  Chrysler of course are now part of the Fiat empire and their doors will never be darkened by me again.  Hyundai should bring some reliability, backed by a five year warranty, even if we are having to change much sooner than planned, thus keeping real pressure on finances.

As to camping I think we need to look again at holidaying on these isles, and commit to the costs of a trip to the continent.  But if we can do it with our own wheels, and take our own accommodation, then it could all work out.  The Netherlands is looking attractive, with some of those continental campsite facilities we have come to enjoy, and a network of cycling paths on the level an added attraction, now that The Urchins are beginning to enjoy the bikes without the accompaniment of stabilisers.  So how do we add four bikes, one a recumbent, to the luggage load which already fills the boot and the roofbox?  With internet facilities back up, time to look into Dutch camping, cycle carriers, and even trailers.

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