Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Sorry Tale

I came across this little tale.  It saddened me.  My views on books and e-publishing remain.


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By George

It’s been quite a week or two for the politicians, time I think for a wee round up.

The Budget, by Mr Osborne was well trailed, leaked, publicised even; apart that is from the bits that were left out.  So we’ve had a furore on the ‘granny tax’, and on the ‘pastie tax’, and with that tax word involved I’m not even going to go there, for it is my day off, I believe.  But the other matter that arose is worth a mention, and tax is involved again, the top rate, the 50p that we can only dream about.

In essence this Budget was a move back to true tory blue, and a step away from the austerity measures drummed into us since the red tories wrecked the entire country, for we’re all in it together you know.  It seems that there may be more votes in cutting that band in half than tax collected by charging it, so out it goes.  Now the interesting thing is what happened in the parliamentary debates that followed, for the red tories didn’t vote against the top rate reduction, despite the Shadow Chancellor declaring their opposition to the Budget proposal.  When they realised they’d missed the vote an attempt was made to spin it as a deliberate tactic.  Bit we know differently.

Firstly the email chain appeared.  Then Willie Bain MP got onto his twitter account, confirming what many of us know.  It is Labour policy never to vote in favour of an SNP amendment.  And the vote against the rate reduction came from SNP/PC.  You might think they would have learned from the thrashing they took at the Holyrood polls less than 12 months ago.  Clearly not; it is ingrained in their DNA, and they’ll suffer again because of that.  Oh, you haven’t heard that from the BBC, quelle surpris.

After that came the petrol fiasco, the jerrycans, and that tragic accident.  Now it seems to me that Mr Cameron may just be spoiling for a fight, desperate to be seen to be tough with the unions, to rid himself of Maggie’s Shadow.  Instead of stock-piling coal, of which we have none left, he’s left with petrol, the commodity he chooses to tax to unhealthy levels, and to attack it as the pumps creep ever closer to £1.50.  First we heard the army would deliver it, the ones that weren’t still laying down their lives in Afghanistan that is.  Then the stupid advice to horde it, to fill tanks, form queues.  Don’t Panic!  Stupid Boy, as someone might once have said.

Now I reckon a fair chunk of the country don’t have the garages and outbuildings, so the kitchen might be the only option……..perhaps the Bullingdon boys can’t consider life in flats and slums and schemes.

There’s now twice as much fuel circulating as normal; we all have full tanks and the forecourts will do little business in the next week or two.  But the talks that might eventually lead to strike action haven’t even commenced yet.  What a shambles.

Then there’s the other George.  Last May Mr Galloway lost his deposit trying to win a Holyrood seat.  Last week he caused a storm.  Bradford West had been a Labour stronghold for decades.  Mr Miliband was pencilled in for a walk round the city centre yesterday morning.  He didn’t appear.  It was quite a night it seems.

By elections are often a chance to give the sitting government ‘a doing’, as Ian Davidson MP might have put it.  So it was no real surprise to see the blue tory vote falling; but by 80%?  Less than two years previously they took almost 13,000 votes; they lost over 10,000 of them.  That is pretty disastrous by any standards.

Then there’s the red tories, with their majority of 5,000; holders of the seat for nigh on 40 years.  Mr Galloway polled a majority of 10,000, the first win by an independent in any by election for 40 years.  So a total disaster for Labour as well, and one that they had not seen coming, even on polling day itself, when their strategists were all busy doing other things, sitting waiting on the news that their public had done their duty once again.  The BBC have him down as ‘one-off’, bracketed with Boris and Salmond.  But the BBC would say that.

Now if London opts for BoJo, as apparently we should know him now, rejecting the man that was once Red Ken, the man that now has dodgy views on tax obligations, and the local council elections go the way I think they will, then the daggers will be out for the Wrong Miliband.  The writing is on the wall, already, and the danger is they might just opt for the Balls-Cooper family.  Balls it was, you may recall, who yanked the Treasury chains back when Gordon was controlling the banks and all that.

Clearly the voters in England need an alternative, a third option.  I’m ignoring the LibDems here, as did the electorate, losing their deposit and on the end of a kicking, one that will be repeated across the country for some time to come.  And that in essence is where Scotland is different, that extra choice, somewhere to go when the big guns are found wanting, especially in the climate of recent years.

I expect Wales to become more active, for in Leanne Woods, Plaid Cymru have got themselves a fresh impetus, vitality, and hope.  Wales remember is the only part of these isles where Labour yet hold sway, for the moment.

So against this background the local council elections are becoming quite important.  The authorities are now in their purdah period.  Last meetings have been held, leave has been taken.  I hear that many do not expect to return, not only as a result of Labour party selection policies, refusing those who have served for years another ticket, dictated by a  distant HQ with no local knowledge, but as a backlash.  And in these parts the Conservatives are not an option.  I expect strongholds to be broken, the tide to turn, and ultimately the nationalists to get the chair of Cosla as holders of most local authorities.  Change is happening.

But at FMQs the other day there was no change at all, with all three opposition leaders swatted aside in their ineptitude.  We had Rosa Kleb getting her lines wrong again, insisting that the FM had failed to deliver primary school PE at two hours per day, failed to have nursery care on a one to one level.  Action Krankie jumped on the education bandwagon too, and regretted it.  Then there’s wee Willie Rennie, and his car-load of acolytes, berating the FM over the Scotland Bill, berating him it seems for delivering on LibDem policy.  Think it through Willie, please.

I’ll leave the Scotland Bill for another day, for words may be wasted on something that will be superseded by events, and because I haven’t touched on cash for access yet.  Mr Cameron’s dinner guests came under scrutiny.  Within three hours of telling us there would be no names we had a full list.  This was after the new treasurer fell on his sword for promising policy influence in return for a cheque.  So the Daily Telegraph got on the bandwagon, urging Scottish Labour, I kid you not, to dredge up the FM’s tea with the lottery winners, long time nationalists, a former candidate even back in the 70s.  Salmond gave them a squeeze from one of his own tea bags and a caramel wafer, and they donated a million.  But policy influence?  What could they, with £160m in the bank possibly want, that was in the present limited powers available?  Why independence, that’s a new one that wasn’t on Salmond’s radar.  But Labour chewed it off and the standards committee will review.  Ho hum.

Now, the sun is still shining, there’s a relegation dogfight, and a barbie for auntie’s birthday.  Have a good one.


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So there I was, pootling slowly along thinking of nothing much at all, nothing much that is other than the pain in my legs and the promised snow.  The former came from a few days out on the bike, and a modest run on the previous day.  There was a little residual stiffness and it showed no sign of easing off, expecially on the hills.  The latter seems to be promised for the weekend ahead, after unseasonal sun and temperatures that would bring joy to mid summer.

Paddy Leigh Fermor it was, in The Traveller’s Tree, who likened Scotland to the Caribbean.  Admittedly he was in the midst of fog and miserable dripping foliage at the time, and it was Scotland in December that came to mind.  That of course was more than 60 years ago; now that climate change is with us Glasgow in June may have been more accurate.  But the climate this week is no bad at all.

And the reading’s pretty good too, for after PLF I did indeed head back to Treasure Island, with Andrew Motion’s Silver.  Oh it all came flooding back, the same map, shipwrecks and more, but with new characters and new twists and nary a bottle of rum nor a yo ho ho.  I’ll spare you the details but Stevenson fans will enjoy this one.  Motion passed.  Now it’s Holloway’s turn, and he’s keeping the standard up, with a fine piece of memoir writing, of which there may be more later.

But it was displays that started this off as I was minding my own business as the pedals slowly turned.  I heard it first, that squealing.  Checking firstly my brakes, then my knees, I realised it came from further afield; then I saw it.  The buzzard was on the wing, circling ever higher, as the thermals lifted from that craggy lump of rock along the way.  And it wasn’t me he was talking to, for a shadow lifted from a telegraph pole and swooped.  Down low, almost to the height of the rushes down by the burn, then up and up and up again.  I left them behind, squealing and circling, feeling like an intruder, and I thought of displays.

Earlier in the week there had been a marvellous one, down at that little school.  It was the turn of the P1-3s.  End of term approaches, and there was a project to showcase, a term’s work to display.  Dinosaurs.  Not the audience of parents and grannies; the topic for the term.  We had songs and dances, poems and jokes, terrible ones.  Every day this week the school bag has disgorged dinosaur eggs and fossilised footprints, some of the papier mache dry even.  They’ve been to the museum, a day out for a workshop, and they’ve drawn and identified their favourites, the tallest, the fastest and so forth.  They’ve learned names I cannot even pronounce, and they can spell them too.  I wish there was evolution when I was a lad; just think where we may have been now.

I’m always amazed by our offspring, and the confidence that is instilled in them these days.  Powerpoint presentations, recordings, talks learned, faces clean and smiling; ties knotted, some of them even under the chin.  Pride was bursting round the wee hall, from granny, in fact from all.  And the children love doing it.  They’re at home for the next couple of weeks and I fear boredom may set in, for some of us may lack the skills and patience they are used to each day.  Sometimes we take for granted the work that some teachers do with our little urchins, but an end of term display says it all really, for pupils and staff alike.

So holidays come round again, and they’ve been promised a trip to the bookshop, for that’s where they get their easter treats in this household.  And if the weather holds fair there might even be more than just me out on the trails.  I’ll be the one puffing and wheezing at the back, listening out for squealing up above.

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Smiling Faces

All it takes is a little bit of sunshine; even this grizzled one can respond, mildly.  Over the past week we’ve seen proper weather; none of that wind and rain and all the usual stuff.  Another five years or so of this and we may even get to droughts and hosepipe bans.  The winter layers are being cast aside with every bike ride, and, whisper it, the shorts may even get an outing today.  Yesterday we not only removed the outer layer, but were down to a mid-weight, and still overheated.  The Urchins too have been getting into the cycling lark, with a wee run yesterday to see the Queen’s little tartlets and assorted guests.  They not only survived but they enjoyed it, and want more.  We just might get that camping and cycling trip in the summer yet.

There were rumblings down by, references to the words sheep and dip, by those who may even be lambing shortly, or adding midwifery or nursing skills, full medical attention even.  Some might think they were old enough to know better, to realise that a head hitting the pillow shortly before dawn would inevitably be roused by little ruffians minutes later.  It was a good night, but the sheep dip, oh dear.

But the sun brings much more than an increase in cyclists and runners.  The daffodils are emerging by the day, and more than half of them have responded to the urgings of the sun and the rare spring temperatures of late.  One or two of them may appear, to brighten up these dull words.

My route yesterday took me back to familiar territory, with the re-opening of one stretch, with a fresh and smooth surface, after weeks of closure.  I had missed that route; missed the hawthorn hedge busy with bullfinches; missed the excuse to jump off and have a drink; then realised that I missed the drink for the water bottle remained on the steps back at Grasshopper Towers.

But I need to be brief, for time is pressing.  The Networker needs a gym session and I’d like to get a quick short run out on the bike beforehand.  I may even have to do some work, or phone the garage to try and have fixed fault fixed again; forty miles it lasted.

So just enjoy the sunshine and the smiles it brings.  Many look forward to a bit more flesh on view as well; except if they’re around here and there’s a Grasshopper coming down the hill.

The clocks have moved, you may have noticed.  Well after 8.00 it was last night before I could shuffle back out to lock up the chicken huts in case the fox was on the prowl.  I did so by the light of the moon, and a beautiful light it was too.  I haven’t had the time to play with the photo on screen, but you might be able to, one sliver of moon, one star, one planet, I think, in a clear and bright sky.

The sky remained clear and as I made that some shuffle back to said chooks earlier this morning, the frost lay thick on the cars.  But the sun is well up now, the air is still, and the muscles yearning.  Now where’s the phone number for that garage, for there’s nothing like a wee discussion to get the energy moving.  Enjoy the sun.



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Words fail me

Yes I know, you may have noticed that many times, but a couple matters cropped up this morning that really cannot pass without comment.

Many times have I winced at the attitude of the BBC to Scotland’s constitutional settlement, both the present and the possible versions, the manner of the reporting that we get from the broadcaster with the duty of impartiality in spending our funding.  Finally we have an admission of fault.  Now in reality I don’t expect anything to change, despite being found out, despite Patten’s undertaking, but it seems as though they can no longer turn their deaf ear and blind eye to the increasing barrage of complaints.  For those not familiar with the particular point at issue the article is well worth a read.

But that pales into insignificance beside the next one, which comes into the utterly horrifying category.  The Catholic Church command about as much as the respect as the BBC, at least in my book.  For too long we have heard tales of the abuse doled out by the clergy and their disciples.  Astonishingly we hear even now of tales of the hierarchy continuing to protect its own purveyors of the abuse of the innocents in their care from the forces of natural law.  It seems that the church has been going much further than any of us might have thought possible, if you can manage to work through this account.  To think that they could abuse innocent young boys, then ‘cure’ the lads’ sexual preferences by physical castration is simply abhorrent – mediaeval practices in a modern world.

I’ll gloss over the ongoing debate about gay clergy, same-sex marriage etc, celibacy by clerics even.  If you do not fancy the idea of same-sex marriage then the answer, quite simply, is not to marry someone of the same gender.  But I don’t think the Catholic Church has any right to expect me, or anyone else, to respect any opinion they may wish to force upon me.

There are times when I wonder if there is any role for organised religion, of any form, in our society.  If it’s not ending up in war then it’s abuse on our doorsteps.

It will be no surprise to find that I could not bring myself to watch the latest offering from the BBC therefore, the one about how it was that god had managed to make England so damn good.  Words failed me, just on reading the sentence or two in the TV schedules.

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The bedside table is getting to the overflowing stage again.  You may recall that, a week or two ago, I had two books on the go.  Well Byron has followed his illustrious ancestor to Athens; and Leigh Fermor has made it through the Leewards and the Windwards to Haiti, with only Jamaica lying ahead of us.  And I will stay in the islands just a bit longer.

By the time Robert Byron and his chums had left Berlin the dinner jackets had already been on, and Athens lay a distance and a few adventures away.  They travelled in a Sunbeam, by the name of Diana, in the days before cars and roll-on, roll-off ferries.  There are some scary moments involving derricks and ropes and sweat, on quaysides in Brindisi and beyond.  It was a time when, on reaching Salzburg, the lads had a ‘conventional Sunday’ – writing letters to Mother, followed by a Sabbath walk.  They gave up the idea of a mountain for the stroll, settling instead for a primitive beer garden, as one does.  The plus four had caught on, worn even by bank clerks.  Coffee shops provided buttonholes as standard.  Perhaps Starbucks could look at red carnations with the tall, skinny lattes, rather than first names.  Then I might just be tempted.

It was  a time when the towers and the cobbles of San Gimignano were deserted – they would be horrified today; and when Siena was as Siena always will be; dominated by the majesty of The Palio, and I dream.

It was Byron’s first book and the route to finding his writer’s voice.  Even then he had a keen eye for architecture and a look back at history.  In her introducion Jan Morris sees his influence in the later work of Leigh Fermor, and in Eric Newby and Rory Maclean.  Fine company indeed.

Whilst Byron was stopped in his prime, Leigh Fermor lived a long and masterful life.  We are in debut books territory here too, with The Traveller’s Tree, though by then he had travelled his most famous journeys that would find their way into print decades later.  His authorial voice needed no practicing though, for he was truly an artist.

I will spare you the detail of the Haitian cock-fighting pit from which he withdrew after only three of the fifty schedule bouts.  But I loved the ‘feet so calloused with walking that they were virtually equipped, like espadrilles, with soles of fibre or rope,’ of the watching throngs.  When I next have a dram I may just think of  him having ‘lowered comforting stalactites of whisky down our throats’.

PLF takes us on a historic tour of the Caribbean.  We meet the diminishing numbers of Caribs, and the Creoles, and learn of the ancestry from slavery and empire.  Papiamento is not a language that I have heard, but he recognised it in that melting pot, the fusion of Spanish and Portuguese, Dutch, French African and English.  We learn of the days of convict deportation and the battles between Men o’ War bearing tricolours or union flags.  Somehow I can’t imagine that the cruise-ship brigade will recognise it from their travels, but I’ll give it to the old man and let you know.

And I’ll stay in the islands, for that is where the sequels thing comes in.  Some years ago I learned that William Horwood had been commissioned to write a sequel to The Wind in the Willows.  He had mesmerised us with his tales of moles and eagles, and was judged well equipped to update Kenneth Grahame’s magical world.  So it was that 85 years after the original, we delved back in, and The Willows in Winter was followed by another three volumes.  It might be time to introduce The Urchins to the wiles of Toad and co.  After all they are word perfect in the tales of that other Toad, the one captured by Hissing Sid, evidence of an eclectic iPod.

Another recent addition to the tunes of bygone days is by Guy Marks, remember him?  If I were to, say, ‘I asked the waiter for iodine, but I dined all alone’, would you be with me?  I couldn’t possibly suggest that it might be The Queen of Hearts whose eyes may have been matched by her red scarf, but it’s a grand wee tune all the same.  I digress, again.

Sequels it was, and that’s why I’m staying in the Caribbean.  Now Urchin the Younger thinks that #Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest, is something from a Disney franchise most often played out by lego men on his wii, but I know differently.  My years must have been in single figures, or thereabouts, when I first read Treasure Island, and in their sixth decade when I last turned those pages.  It was the book that gave Stevenson his break, in 1883.  He could stop tugging his forelock to his father and put down the begging bowl as he toted his syphilitic skeleton across the globe from one scandal to another, before another untimely death and a writer’s skills stopped in their prime.

And almost 130 years later we have another established author trying to do what Horwood did, and that is to enter another’s world and emerge triumphant.  It’s a long time to wait for the next instalement.  Hopes are high.  So once again I will soon be back with Ben Gunn, and Jim Hawkins, terrorised, for Silver, Long John of that Ilk is back, and on the bedside table.  Just published is Silver:  Return to Treasure Island.  It is the work of Andrew Motion, and I can’t wait to dive in Perhaps a graphic version of the original would be appreciated by an Urchin or two.  #Yo ho ho, and a Bottle of Rum.

And so we meld, initially, from PLF to RLS and I reverse my journey through literature.  I probably became a bit more serious about the books I keep when I purchased a set of the Edinburgh Edition of RLS’ collected works, a limited number, why 1,051 I know not, being published in 1894-98, just after the great man died.  Aficiondos may be interested to note that a New Edinburgh Edition is in the offing.  Could I, should I?



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It’s Spring Again

But it’s a different spring I want to talk about this time; one in the step perhaps, but, more importantly, the fresh green shoots that mark change – a truly Scottish Spring.

The Spring Conferences are over, though you may have missed the main event if you were relying solely on our state-funded broadcaster.  I caught parts of some of the speeches, and read some of the others.  And on Friday night I even attended a meeting.  This it was that left the greatest impression on me.  It seems to have left an impression too on our political commentators, for did I not hear, but half an hour ago, both Brian Taylor of BBC Scotland and Campbell Gunn of The Sunday Post, ulogising on a similar presentation made during the SNP conference.  Neither are in the employ of outlets sympathetic to the cause.  Both are undeniably unionist, and partisan with it.

Angus Robertson MP, it was who took centre stage, backed up by Derek McKay MSP and supported by the our local MSPs from South Lanarkshire, the results, as unexpected as they were joyous, that kicked off that remarkable night last May.  Robertson has been tasked with leading the campaign towards 2014, a campaign that formally begins at the end of May once the dust has settled on the local council elections.  But it is those elections that will set the marker, and my expectation is that the groundswell of those first few days in May last year leading up to polling, will prove to be firmly in place, gathering pace, and in danger of becoming almost evangelical.

Robertson is most impressive as a strategist.  He it was who put together the tactics for 2007 and masterminded 2011.  The plans he has in place already for 2014 are quite staggering.  He knows precisley what his team need to do, and he knows how they will go about doing it.  I see that Brian Taylor’s blog this morning talks of a similar presentation given to Conference, the presentation on which he waxed lyrical on the wireless.  I will spare you a link because, as always, there is no facility to comment on a BBC Scottish blog.  Damned Cybernats, they don’t write what the BBC wants you to read, so they won’t let you write at all.

Usually local council elections are met with un upsurge of total indifference, voting levels settling at less than 30%.  The outcome of this year’s could be very significant indeed, a watershed, I expect, and a platform for 2014.  For the seasons are changing; the tide is turning.

Robertson knows precisely what the polls are presently showing.  The target, one of them anyway for there are a number of routes in his strategy, is the sector who favour devo-something, whenever they all get round to telling us what that might be.  He knows that Scotland will not be lured into jam tomorrow.  The devo-something brigade want more than they have.  Status quo is not an option here.  But the step from devo-something to independence is but a small one.  The head of state will be the same, as will the currency, as will be Easteneders on a Tuesday night though it might be best to keep quiet about that one.  But that small step can see WMDs removed from the Clyde and soldiers not being blown up in someone else’s illegal wars.  The Nordic countries have done it well, and we can join them.

As the BBC gave us extensive coverage from Labour’s gathering in Dundee’s Caird Hall, we waited for the stewards, shop or otherwise, to cajole the delegates into changing seats, to gather in the centre to make the place look busier, even if they could not create an atmosphere.  Down at the SECC in Glasgow we saw for ourselves a packed auditorium and heard of four more packed overflow halls each one electrified, crackling even.  But of course party conferecnes are merely preaching to the already converted, and may mean little to outsiders.  Consider then that Johann Lamont, she who led proceedings in Dundee, saw fit to mention the First Minister by name no fewer than twenty times to her throng; whilst the masses in Glasgow were spared any mention of Labour’s leader in Scotland.  It was simply unnecessary.

Angus Robertson, on Friday, told me that his eventual target was to have all decisions affecting Scotland being made in Scotland and for Scotland.  It matters not what party holds power, just that they have that power in Edinburgh.  His view is that any party governing Scotland from Edinburgh is better for our nation than a government of whatever hue dictating to us from Westminster.  It is not about the SNP delivering independence and being in power forervermore.  The unionists might be best advised to think about their strategy post 2014.  An independent country governed by Labour is a better option for the SNP than any government in Westminster.  I’ll buy into that one, but Labour don’t seem to want to.  They seem to prefer the Tory welfare reforms, and that I cannot understand.

The strategy to achieving Robertson’s goal is firmly in place.  I doubt there was an alternative gathering of 200 unionists on Friday night listening to the plans of their master tactician.  And remember we are where we are today despite the best efforts of the media.  But there are signs that the media may slowly be catching on.  I read Iain McWhirter in the Sunday Herald yesterday, yes I know I shouldn’t but he does have interesting things to say.  Rather than provide a link that may get blocked by The Herald’s version of the paywall, dip into McWhirter’s blog, where some of his articles get an airing, and you get a chance to comment.  On Sunday he posited whether or not Salmond could survive a ‘no’ vote in 2014, starting from the point of having expected the bubble to have burst long before now.  Salmond’s satisfaction rating stands at +58%, Cameron’s at -28%.  Don’t even ask about figures for the other Scottish leaders.  ‘Commentators like me,’ he says, ‘have had to eat their words so often we’re starting to enjoy the taste.’

So having read that, then heard Taylor and Gunn on the radio, I began my morning read.  It’s the same old, same old, I’m afraid, the BBC at it again.  And so in the face of adversity we need a little bit of humour.  There is change afoot, and Angus Robertson is conducting a very powerful orchestra.  And as every one of the thousand or so days till voting time passes, so a very powerful team round the cabinet table in Edinburgh does even more to make Scotland a better place.  Even the tories have changed tack on minimum pricing, leaving just the very negative labourites isolated and alone.  The audience in the hall is convinced; and you will be too.

For underlying it all is rampant positivity.  Every word at our little junket on Friday night and throughout the weekend conference was a positive one; and every word at Dundee was fervently negative, for that is all Labour have shown since 2007 and all that they show yet.  The council elections will reflect on that.  Spring has sprung.

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