Monthly Archives: August 2011

Lockerbie

So Megrahi lies close to death, and that wonderful reporter Glenn Campbell leads the discussion on Radio Scotland.  This is the same Glenn Campbell who, just a couple of short weeks ago, described said dying man as ‘appearing in robust health’.  This is the same BBC who declared that Megrahi had gone missing in the aftermath of uprising and overthrow in Libya, missing his regular report to East Renfrewshire Council, despite never having missed his monthly contact.  Perhaps the BBC will again trot out Professor Kirkby who, a couple of weeks ago, was telling us that Megrahi could live for years on the strength of drugs that he would not have been able to get whilst in prison in Greenock, and who continued to peddle the doubt over the medical evidence apperently used by the Scottish Government.  Perhaps too we will have permission to release the remaining papers which the UK and US governments have continued to hold in secret.

Now we know that Megrahi had not disappeared, being found in his family home, precisely where he may have been expected to be.  Contact with anyone was not possible, there being no telephone line after the uprising, and the man himself being in a comatose state.

We learn also that the calls from the UK and US to have Megrahi extradited to answer for his crimes, was utterly impossible, there being no extradition treaty with Libya which would allow his release to the west.  We learn that the deal done by Blair, to set up the Prisoner Transfer Agreement, was a one way route only, allowing us to hand him back to Gaddafi.  The calls for extradition are yet more hollow political posturing, casting yet more doubt on Blair’s tenure in office.

And of course leading the charge has been Blair’s puppet in Scotland, Iain Gray, the man they cannot replace, seemingly unknowing of the extent of the treaty agreed, or alternatively perhaps just issuing yet more soundbites to be repeated by the State funded broadcaster.  We learn too that Gray’s partner in crime, Jim Murphy, then Secretary of State for Scotland and the man leading the review to rescue Labour in Scotland, to find Gray’s successor, knew all the time and was included in the correspondence.  It is quite possible that Gray remained ignorant, he being so far out the loop, yet another sign of Westminster’s contempt for the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, even or that should perhaps be especially, when it was under the same Labour control as Westminster.  And they wonder why the voting of 2007 and 2011 went they way it did, for it is our duty to continue to elect monkeys in red rosettes, to keep our people exactly where Labour want them to be, and to keep Labour in power in Westminster.  Times have changed, and will continue so to do.

It is unlikely that Megrahi will be allowed to die in peace, and the only resentment that any of us should have in this whole sorry episode is that a condition of our compassion was the dropping of the appeal.  So the road through the courts is closed and we cannot examine the evidence once again, we cannot review the payment of millions of US dollars going to the witnesses whose words were used to convict Megrahi.  Going further of course we have the roles of the US and Iran, the repercussions for the American destruction of an Iranian passenger plane and the death of hundreds of citizens that preceded the Lockerbie disaster.

We have outrage from unionist politicians that the Scottish government went down the road of compassionate release on the grounds of the medical evidence available to them.  Clearly we should just have handed him back on the basis of Blair’s PTA.  Then they need not have spent two years in anguish that the man still lived, stirring the pot continuosly,and would not now be clamouring for his return.  We continued to gain drilling rights from the Libyan dictator, to sell arms to him, and then to turn our forces against him.  Standards, double ones, hypocrisy and double-speak.  These are all the hallmarks of Blair’s time in office.  Now we are left with the BBC and their version of those same standards etc.

As I finish these notes I hear Glenn Campbell talking to Jim Swire.  Swire is, without any doubt, the only figure involved who has retained dignity and principle right through the entire episode.  Swire is convinced of Megrahi’s innocence and dodgy conviction, and now heads up a ‘Justice for Megrahi’ campaign.  Jim Swire had to deal with the death of his daughter Flora on the plane above Lockerbie.  Blair, Gray, Murphy, Hague, and their broadcast arm at the BBC have a lot to learn.  Jim Swire, you have my admiration.  Haven’t heard Professor Kirkby having his say yet, just the effrontery of Campbell suggesting we should let the man die in peace now.  Steam, ears, outrage.

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When Saturday Comes

Many things happen on a Saturday.  Like most days it usually starts with a little bit of work, before the mail arrives, if only to keep on top of outgoing mail and check the e-traffic.  It is of course footballday, for those of us whose teams still play traditionally, without the whims and dictats of television schedules.  But footballday is also the only day of the week I resolve to purchase a newspaper, my own tiny bit of support for the death of the newspaper industry.  Actually I support its death regularly, suicide it seems, but on Saturday I do buy newsprint.  Of late I had been in the habit of splashing out, with two separate titles, that is now down to one, and could fall further.

For decades my daily read of choice had been The Herald, longstanding quality paper out of Glasgow.  But now it is heraldnomore.  The daily edition was dropped by me a couple of years ago but I kept up with the Saturday pressing.  In the past year I’ve also taken The Scotsman, never a daily favourite, on footballday.  But my weekend read has been nothing to do with the sports pages, indeed the sport supplement generally finds itself directly, and unopened, on the recycling pile.  Bored to death with endless radio debates about all that happens in the world of the Old Firm, anathema to those of us steeped in the blood and snotters of the Junior game, I’ve given up reading views of journalists, pundits, ex-pros and so on, the papers being full of the same subject.  Occasionally I scan through articles on rugby, golf or cricket but not often.  It’s all the fault of that t’internet thing you know.

There are two prime reasons for keeping with the papers on a Saturday – book reviews and travel articles.  The weekly TV schedules were also useful, but in these days of comprehensive guides at the touch of a remote, increasingly unecessary, except for reading ahead in the dodgy world that is soapland.  Both papers of my choosing have become utterly detestable in their political output, especially on Scottish affairs, and have remained impervious to the changing whims of the nation and the drive forward from the 2007 elections, to 2011, and to our future.  Both peddle unionist briefings, particularly the press releases of the red tories.  Both have seen circulations plummet, now having breached the 50,000 and 40,000 breakpoints respectively.  The publishers of the Edinburgh rag have just released dire financial figures, with circulation stats exacerbated by advertising revenue slumps.  Now the Glasgow rag seems to have ditched it’s weekly travel slot in the magazine, and with book reviews curtailed to a mere four pages, it follows the path of the midweek editions in remaining of the shelf when I visit the post office of a Saturday morning.  Heraldnomore.  I’ll continue with the Edinburgh rag for a while yet, purely for the books and travel you understand.  But hootsmonomore is not far away.

In my humble opinion the decline is not, by a long shot, all to do with advertising in recessionary times.  That is certainly a factor, and one likely to spiral, as audiences plummet and advertisers look to the outlets that are being accessed by a wider audience.  But the readership doesn’t much care about the adverts, indeed probably welcomes less content of that type.  The sales figures are all down to editorial content and direction, in addition of course to the availablity of news and information elsewhere.  Yes it is great that we can now get impartial, open and frank, output, and the option for feedback and comment, uncensored for those that chose not to tow the party line.  Dip in to the web editions of our two rags, check out the comments politically.  Then have a go over at Newsnet Scotland.  Long may sales plummet.

But this footballday promises to be a busy one.  It was a relatively early start with the Grasshopper, and a knee straining run.  There was almost a festive mood in the air.  Above me the wires were tinselled with decoration as the swallows and martins gathered in advance of the big migration south.  Yes the seasons are turning again.  On the horizon balloons baubled beneath the clouds, as the Phileas Fogg aspirants gather for the annual festival.  On the homeward stretch I spy the marquee for tonight’s festivities, still standing, waiting; and then pass a very bustling horse show, the air crackling with faults and orfs.  The cross country course was well under way, jumping and dressage to follow.

And in my quest for the weekly book reviews I had to travel far and wide, being later at the post office post cycle, to finally get my rag.  Perhaps the small shops have reduced their ordering, for shelves were bereft of The Hootsman until the fifth attempt, though it never was very popular in the west, even before current political editorial direction.  But at that fifth attempt, in a local supermarket, the orange one from dann saff, the festive season burst upon me again, all cards, wrapping paper and tinsel.  Heavens we must have passed the point of being four months short of xmas.  If only Woolworths were still with us, the easter eggs would be here soon.

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Routines and Chores

The seed-heads are rustling in the growing breeze, warmed by an autumnal sun, for there is a chill in the air, or at least it was very much in evidence when The Grasshopper set out before the sun glazed the clouds above Dungavel.  The exercise was needed after a couple of days of torpor, and a fine meal the night before.  It was indeed a rare pleasure to exercise the muscles in a morning bereft of a head wind; to enjoy the sounds of the countryside as well as the sights.  Aloft a buzzard squeled, from the far side of the hedge came the rhythmic chewing of the cud and the occasional splat, and in the hedges themselves tits and finches busied themselves with their morning chores.  Tis a fine day to be abroad.

We celebrated a birthday, but managed to age Alison way beyond her looks after Archie had inadvertently confirmed a birth in 1951.  He may pay more heavily than I for that one, but she will forgive him, either in Madrid next week, Vancouver & The Rockies next month, or even the Caribbean and Chile mid winter.  These are tough trips for the best of us, more so confined to a chair.  Wish it was me, on the trip that is.  Archie no doubt would love to have the pain of an early morning cycle.  Enjoy my friend enjoy, we’ll help you work it all off in the gym in between times.

My exercise was much needed, the bike being confined to the garage as I juggled time and duties for a couple of days.  The lawnmower got a much needed walk, and has a new toy to join it in the shed.  This weekend work may begin on the trees that died over two successive winters seemingly of Arctic proportions.  So there is a chainsaw in a box, and a safety visor awaited.  The plan is to have a wood pile protected from the weather, perhaps with the roof of an old chicken coop.  One day there may be a wood-burning stove to eat up said preserved timber.  I can only imagine that dead and dried eucalyptus may burn with a pleasant waft of balm, keeping midges at bay and sinuses clear.

Chicken coops have been much in vogue this week, with the arrival of a new batch, some mixed speckledys, still a few weeks short of coming on to lay.  They had never seen the great outdoors before, reared inside, and took some time to find their way from perch to grass and then to food supply.  But they seem to have settled well, and have sparked some intrigue in the tiny brain of our one remaining Isa Brown from a few years ago, clucking all mother-like, around the run in which the new brood will remain for some time yet, before being released to roam freely in the garden, and no doubt beyond, earning their produce that sought after badge, as free-range.

But before we get to weekend garden chores there’s another one tonight.  A marquee has to be erected.  It is to go in the field beside the Rural Hall, the occasion being the barn dance for the school, the parent council’s main fundraiser for the year ahead.  If the wind continues to grow as it has done since The Grasshopper returned, then we could have fun, with tent poles and canvas at the mercy of the elements and in the hands of incompetent fools, strangers all to the wiles of erection.

The event will be fun for all, and The Urchins will join with their school pals in creating noise and mayhem, with live music and a disco, fizzy drinks and e-numbers until way beyond bed time.  The raffle will be graced with tat collected since the last time, and we will all go home with other peoples unwanted gifts.  But we will put some funds together, to provide transport for school trips, and equipment for our offspring.  The Grasshopper may have a thumping head to take round the lanes on Sunday morning, only to fill it later with the sounds of the chainsaw, which may be preferable to some of the pap at the disco.  Oh happy days.  Or not as the case may be, the runmbling of thunder, as the wind dies, seeming ominous.

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Floggings in the Capital

We have a long line of ineptitude and incompetence in the managing of major projects by public sector bodies.  Edinburgh is no stranger to this phemonena, as witnessed not too many years ago with the parliament building ending up with an extra zero on the end of the building price.  So we had been warned and should have had extra care, particularly in the capital, you would have thought.

Now it is a couple of years since I have wandered that fine city centre, my last visit, if I recall correctly, being for a book fair, the final part of the journey utilising the park & ride facilities from Gogar, enduring a bus into town in preference for immovable traffic and impossible parking.  On that occasion there was chaos all around, as roads were being turned up in preparation for the recently approved tram project that was going to answer all the city’s ills, or so we were told.

The tram decision was taken back in 2007, around the time that Alex Salmond became First Minister in a minority administration, a time when the unionist parties collectively promised the downfall of said government within its first 100 days.  The Scottish Government was then hijacked by a vote by the majority, the unionists, into providing funding to Edinburgh City Council, then run by said unionists, for the Edinburgh Tram project.  The proposal was to run a line from Leith to the Airport, to remove traffic from the main routes through the heart of the city, including the jewel in the crown, Princes Street.

The project has been a disaster from the word go, work has been at a standstill, budgets have been torn up re-written, torn up again, and blown beyond imagination.  Project directors have come and gone, several times, each with a severance package after a couple of years of handsome salary.  The contract has been signed in blood and the penalties will be painful.

Now we hear that a combination of red and blue tory councillors have finally voted to curtail the project, halting the trams at Haymarket, meaning that Princes Street and Leith will not benefit from the years of upheaval that have seen shops go out of business without traffic access, filth and noise, congestion and controversy, ruling supreme in the country’s top toursist destination.  The decision is of course taken in the middle of the Festival, when the city is in the eyes of the entire world, visitors thronging every street, pub and club.

Edinburgh becomes a laughing stock of its own making.  The citizens will pay for decades the financial costs of a disastrous project, having put up with the inconvenience, on the promise of utopia.  It is not going to happen.  Traffic will congest and those tram lines that have been installed may have to be covered as a safety issue to other road users.  The contractor will make a strong claim for damages, and the citizens will pay.

The only favourable aspect, and it still leaves a nasty taste for those of us furth of the city, is that the government, from the outset, ring-fenced a fixed amount of funding, capping the public funding from the rest of Scotland, at £500,000, and not a penny more.  The excess after all these years of bumbling will have to be met from Edinburgh’s own coffers.  In fact with the scheme being reduced to running a quarter of the planned route, perhaps there is a case to curtail the government commitment, given that the half billion was to help with trams from Airport through the city centre to Leith.  Can we have our money back, please?  Can Edinburgh’s citizens take that oen on the chin as well?

But that is not to gloat.  Our government could have spent half a billion pounds much better.  Hospitals and schools could have been built.  The A9 could have been made into a dual carriageway for it’s entire length.  The whole of Scotland could have benefitted.

In the aftermath it will no doubt become a political football, blame laid, responsibilities denied.  But is not political, it is simply the inability of a public sector being able to properly manage budgets, of earning money before it is spent rather than standing with the begging bowl held out, putting it away before 31 March each year only to bring it out agin on 1 April.  When will we ever learn?  I wonder how much our various accountants and lawyers have earned in fees from this doomed project.  Will heads roll?  Not immediately, though the councillors do face the voting public in less than nine months time.  And of course our councillors now receive salaries, and council owned arm’s length operations pay additional sums to their boards of directors, the appointments to same being largely political.

It all brings to mind the financial shenanigans through in Glasgow, where there is certianly no scope for gloating between rival cities.  Remember Purcell and all the other tales of corruption and deception?  Well Glasgow’s citizens will also get a vote next year.  Interesting times lie ahead.  Let’s hope we collectively take the opportunity to clean up the management of our local authorities, and to professionalise the running of our finances.

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Cogitations

Plenty to chew over as The Grasshopper had an early outing today, at a time when there was a distinct nip in the air, the gloves could have done with fingers, but the trees remained unruffled as the grey skies lightened above.

The journalists are getting it in the neck once again, as dirt is dug in the hope that mud sticks.  Coulson, recently arrested in the News International phone hacking rumpus, is now the focus of more allegations, with the BBC’s Robert Peston, he of the delivery tone and of questionable sources, leads the charge.  Peston tells us that Coulson remained financially linked to his former employer long after David Cameron had him signed as media guru to the blue tories and thence into the corridors of power.  Apparently the severance terms, in similar hundreds of thousands to the new salary, extended well into the tory years.

And Piers Morgan, once of the Mirror, is brought to book once again, amid suggestions of lying and falsifications.  Morgan of course is safely stateside and has yet to be dragged in to the parliamentary committee.  Yet we know, by his own admissions, that he knew that information about the types of celebrity that sell red top rags, such as Sven & Erica, McCartney & Mills, was obtained directly from mobile mail boxes.  Now we find that extracts from his own diary are littered with make believe, such as having tea with Tony at No 10 in March 1997, well before Blair was elevated to that fine abode.  There is little credibility in Morgan these days, as he builds himself up as a media celeb across the pond, and that arch tory blogger, Guido Fawkes, is on his case.  It seems though that he may only get the attention he deserves in this country in the event that the American view of right and wrong finally takes action over there.

Meanwhile rudderless Labour drift around Scotland.  Elmer’s time is almost up after he promised to go in September, which month begins next week, with there being no sign of any strategy or contenders for a contest.  Murphy and Boyack are reviewing, and thoughts of a Westminster based leader for Scotland still continue to be dripped out.  Now one of the London men, Tom Harris, another well known in the blogosphere, has chucked his hat into the ring.  It’ll be interesting to see if any others join him, MSPs not wanting to be led from the south despite their true leader being Miliband Minor, other MPs, or even newly elected MPs promising to give up the London gravy train in return for a Holyrood seat in 2015, which must be a risky strategy if the 2011 results are anything to go by.  However one Tom Greatrex, he of the Balmoral paths leak, has been mentioned here, and of course he is no stranger to Murphy, his route into politics being on the staff of the former Scottish Secretary, a position he held when the Balmoral fiasco erupted.  Interesting one to watch.  Can’t wait for parliament to reconvene, and battle to commence at FMQs.

And all this week the question of tuition fees north of the border is getting laldy across the BBC and the unionist press.  Now we have some publicity seeking lawyers promising a test case on equality laws.  We can’t have free education in Scotland when English universities are charging through the nose.  To make it worse those damned jocks are going to charge the English for attending too.  Well that’s not quite true is it.  Any English resident here for the relevant period will get free education here too, but the media overlook that aspect.  We have to give facilities to the EU but can charge, under EU law, those from other parts of this country, as they do in Germany amongst others.  What they don’t like is that the government we voted in, with devolved powers on education, doesn’t want to follow the Westminster policy, standing by Scotland’s principle of free education for all her citizens.  We have to do so with reduced funding as Westminster spends less on education, meaning a knock on effect to Scotland’s grant under the Barnett formula.  So a plan to keep education free, to charge others that we can, and to save funds eleswhere in our devolved remit, doesn’t go down well with those that still see Scotland as England’s subsidy junkies.

Yes there’s lots of comment out there on Scots voting on English education and no reciprocal input from south of the border on our education policy.  Forgetting of course that nationalist MPs do not vote on English only issues save where there are Barnett consequentials affecting Scotland’s overall funding.  The unionist parties do of course whip their northern representatives into towing the party line, even where it has no direct bearing on their own constituents.

With each passing day my trust in our majority government in Edinburgh grows stronger.  I support the education policy.  I support Megrahi’s release, another topic being aired again as Libya crumbles, and I hugely enjoy the squirming of the red tories as they enter their wilderness years, looking to appoint a captain for their sinking ship.  The great pity is that our wonderful media, written and broadcasting, simply carry on flying the flag as if nothing has changed, in the same denial as affected labour from 2007, and all the time circulations plummet, readers give up, and advertisers find new outlets.  The BBC’s political editor, Brian Taylor, seems to have given up on his blog, the last posting being on 1 July.  Perhaps he’s finally realising that change has come and can’t continue with the line of his employer.  One day the circle will be squared.

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The Annual Cycle

Having managed to avoid most of the cyclists on the annual 50 mile fundraiser yesterday, whilst enjoying my longer, and mere 25 mile route, at the usual pace of the snail, I managed to ease the muscles with my double-loop circuit this morning, perhaps 15 miles or so, on a day without the intereference of wind.  I walked the last mile, having  caught up with a couple of friends out dog-walking, and enjoying each other’s company with both children safely delivered to school.  One may have thought that they would have been hand-in-hand in this rare moment of unencumbered togetherness, but no, as with me advancing years brings cycnicism.  Mr Dod-Walker was more intent in breaking in a new pair of wellies and do they had a muddy route ahead with a ford over the river.  New wellies straight from the box are just plain wrong.  But there is no excuse for Mrs Dog-Walker, just into her fourth decade and far too young for that cynical thing, surely romance is not all gone, especially at that age?  The younger pup is only a few days into his education and for another few weeks will be released after only three hours.  So pup-less time is still a novelty and each minute is precious.  No point therefore in wasting it with slush, even when you can walk together.  Still not be long until their time together is doubled,  but presumably the need to muck out stables will take priority.

After returning from my jaunt I picked up a couple of messages this morning, both assuming that I had ventured north alone, sans gamelawallah, over the weekend.  I did think about and a better weather forecast may have encouraged me along the way but by the time I had given up completely on The Jeweller melancholoy had set in, and it was an afternoon at the footie, for a rare Saturday league victory, and one away from home by the sea in Ayrshire, rueing the lack of dark glasses and sun hat.  Perhaps lonesome thoughts come with the persona, but I decided to save the limited funds earmarked for the venture, perhaps for better use later, perhaps alone.  Time methinks to refresh my queries on the writing weekends in Jerusalem or Istanbul.

Noticeable this morning though, was the start of the annual cycle.  The roads were busy, not with middle aged men in lycra, but with the the bluster of youth, down turning to feather, and the call of the sun.  Yes the swallows and the house martins were active, swooping from overhead wires to scrape inches above the tarmac, hurtling from hedgerows as wings and strength are prepared for the journey that lies ahead.  Suddenly the end of August closes in on us, and the house martins will depart for sun in the south.

In the garden the birds are very busy, though the usual crop of tits and finches seems to have been displaced by sparrows aplenty.  Fledglings are taking to the wing and each passing day sees more feather than fluff on the feeders.  On the ground the solitary chicken waits for dropped seeds, terrorising the cat that longs for a juvenile within pouncing range.  Like an old man on a bike, his elasticity is lone gone, and his range much reduced, evidenced by rabbits and moles aplenty, where once they hid.  It has long been time to replenish the chickens, and a new hutch awaits stock arriving, but the cat, now that’s a sore one, and he may not take kindly to being usurped by a youngster.

In these parts many are taking to breeding their cats, for there is money in kittens these days.  Gone are the days of giving a kitten a good home and relieving someone of the burden.  There are moggies aplenty, and litters of pups too, all commanding prices akin to a tank of petrol.  For the annual cycle seems to more of a bandwagon.  I think I’ll stick to my daily cycle, and to the wildlife all around.  Now, how do I get to Istanbul?

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Escapism

With my planned escape to Applecross thwarted by the ghamelawalla’s infamous reliability I managed bit of an escape, on my own, in solitary.  As always it took the form of a journey between the covers of a book, but this one was escapism of a different sort with a rare, but thoroughly enjoyable, dip into the world of historic fiction.  It took me to a familiar place, set in a time long gone.

Marina Fiorato’s Daughter of Siena may even make it onto the list of my favoured books of 2011.  It is not long since I delved into Robert Rodi’s insight into the working of the Brucco contrada, and the sights and smells of The Palio remain fresh in my mind.  Fiorato was writing her piece as I was attending the race in 2009.  There is no doubt that she has some familiarity with the city and the event, though I suspect she may not have attended herself.  A couple of times she mentions a crowd of a thousand thronging the scallops shelled piazza.  These days it is more than 100,000 and though the local population back in 1723 may have been a bit less than today; though the input from tourism now outnumbers significantly the Sienese and the Tuscans from the sourrounding area; I think a mere thousand would not even have been noticed in that magnificent setting.  Another rankle is that the picture on the book’s cover has the race being run in the wrong direction – perhaps a negative from an old photograph printed in reverse, or perhaps it did change over the generations.

Anyway it was a marvellous read and the author managed superbly to create the atmosphere of the intrigue and politics between the c0ntrade.  Central to the plot was the Medici dynasty, that old Florence:Siena thing, interwoven with papal corruption, and a tale of intrigue and suspense.  We have the whole boy meets girl; girl meets horse thing and that may be sufficient to carry the tale for readers unfamiliar with the city or its historic days at the races.  For this reader it was all about smell of the horseflesh, the dust from the tufa, and the internecine rivalaries that are bent and bought in the need for victory.

In her acknowledgements Fiorato refers to a film from 2004, The Last Victory, about her  heroine’s Owl contrada, winning in 2003.  I’ve managed to find a copy, available at just 1p plus delivery and look forward to the arrival.  Back in 2009 it was The Owl that took the August race whilst Fiorato was completing her work.  My own race though was the July event that year, Tartuca triumphant.  I can hear it all yet.  So thank you Marina for helping me put the disappointment of Applecross behind me.  It is a book I’d heartily to recommend to many, including those who are strangers to the world of The Palio.

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