NEWS, RAMBLINGS AND AWARDS
THE LITTLE DEARS
There is a rather alarming emphasis on young people nowadays. It seems
you can't go anywhere without bumping into hoards of them. It wasn't
like this in my day. In my day young people were either pushed quietly
around in prams or fed to Highland cattle. (Since the ban on the latter
there has definitely been an increase in young people.)
I went to an art gallery recently, thinking to see something arty, make
a thoughtful comment in their visitors' book, and have a coffee. But
there was a problem. A baby and toddlers group had descended on the
cafe. I don't want babies around me when I'm trying to relax. I don't
want to wonder if one of them's being breast-fed and how long I could
reasonably get away with admiring the dispensing equipment without being
arrested. Neither do I wish to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary
is happening when one of them does a poo and a ghastly green smelly
cloud descends. And neither do I wish to be continually looking over my
shoulder to see if little Bertie's back-rubbing class is causing him to
be sick down the back of my jacket.
If I wanted all of this I would have had a baby of my own. But I don't!
I can't even go to my local library to indulge in its traditional
silence. Because you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point
during my spell on a public computer I will turn my head to find a small
child standing watching me, Omen-like. And no sooner are they
shooed away than they are replaced by another three. Then five. Then the
screaming and bawling starts and I realise with a depressed resignation
that my visit has coincided yet again with another toddlers' group. In a
It smacks a little of desperation to me. The borrowing of books might
not be as popular as it once was, so councils reckon they could put the
space to good use by turning our libraries into playgrounds for those
who have not yet succeeded in mastering one of life greatest hurdles:
control of the bowels. Sigh.
It's probably only a matter of time before you have to fight your way
through babbling babies to get to the counter in your favourite pub, or
supermarkets add to their already lengthy list of checkout questions
with, 'Are you collecting vouchers for Pampers?' at which point I shall
take myself off to the nearest cave and set up residence.
BEST SOUP IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to Brian's Cafe in
BEST ALE BREWED IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to 'Seven
Giraffes', a superb ale brewed by the Williams Brothers in Alloa.
BEST PUB AWARD goes to
Greyfriars Bar in Perth. Go there now to find out why.
BEST THING TO SEE AWARD goes
to the panoramic view from Edinburgh's Calton Hill.
BEST LITTLE WALK AWARD goes to the forest track through
Mugdock Wood in Milngavie.
I've spent a good part of today untangling myself from Velcro. The
little strips of it that are fixed to my jacket seem to be magnetically
drawn to every woollen item I wear, whether gloves or scarf or hat or
The strength of attachment is so surprisingly severe that I have visions
of arriving home one day to find an assortment of pedestrians stuck to
my back, pensioners lacking the strength to prise themselves free.
However did we manage before we had it? Buttons, I suppose. But buttons
are probably labour intensive. They are forever popping off and losing
themselves for a while before gathering in small groups and making a
beeline for my mother's sowing-box where, as we all know, every spare
button on the planet resides.
So some bright spark reckoned Velcro was the way forward. No sowing
involved. But I am inclined to think that perhaps Velcro was initially
designed with a heavy industrial use in mind. It wouldn't be the first
time I have spied some poor soul in the street with one arm round the
back of their head, another fixed to their jacket-hood, occasionally giving tearful whimpering cries of, 'Help... the Velcro's
Ah well, I suppose it's progress.
Only 1 week to go before the first free ten-chapter instalment of
'Beneath The Ground'. A ten further chapters will be added each
week, and by the start of May the full work will be available for
free online right here. This work of fiction focusses on secret
tunnels linking Glasgow Cathedral with Provand's Lordship.
ORIGAMI USES PAPER
Next Month -
The truth about
I saw the snowdrops popping up,
I saw the lambs on springs,
I saw the twigs being carefully picked
By birds on slender wings,
I saw the sun get higher
with each and every day,
And I saw the summer getting close,
Soon we would make hay.
The Sorry State of Modern Medicine
I have recently come to realise that a whole load of human
ailments cannot be cured by today's doctors. This list of untreatables,
where one is merely sent away with a big bag of pills, is surely of some
embarrassment to the medical profession. Have we advanced at all in the
last three hundred years, and did the last great leap forward come when
we discovered that placing a spider's web on a wound could have
a beneficial effect?
Okay, you might argue that there has been great leaping and bounding;
antibiotics, for example. But there is so much out there that is
mysterious to us, that we can only look upon, poke and prod, and
ultimately do what we can to lessen the severity of an ailment that we
simply do not know how to fix.
I suffered a 'rib injury' a few months ago. It was a non-specific
diagnosis that left me feeling somewhat short-changed. Are the ribs one
of the last uncharted and baffling parts of the human frame? Do they
just hold stuff in and prevent your internal organs from falling out
onto the pavement? I was sent on my way with the advice to take
I also have a frozen shoulder. Treatment: zilch. We don't know what
causes it, and can only prescribe exercises that will keep us occupied
until the ailment decides it has had enough and goes away of its own
There are, of course, many more serious ailments out there that we
either know very little about, or know lots but still do not have a
cure. Diabetes, is but one.
And so, what can we conclude from all of this? Well, I think my gut
feeling is that more funding has to go to university departments and
brainy folk with high foreheads, so that they may be allowed to work and
find cures for all these things that we should really have found cures
for long long ago.
THIS BAMBOOZLING WORLD
I often wonder and worry about the future. I wonder how I'm
going to manage when crisp-bags become the size of garden sheds and my
frail arms will struggle to drag them home. Everything in this modern
world bamboozles me (I worry, too, about the proper spelling of words
like 'bamboozle'). Take, for example, toothpaste, not an area, you might
ordinarily think, where one could go far wrong. Well, the other morning
I took a new tube out of its box, flicked up the hinged lid, and
squeezed. Then I squeezed some more. As nothing appeared to be coming
out, I gave a good hard squeeze. There was a pop, and out of the corner
of my eye I spied most of the tube's contents escaping and finding
refuge on my bare feet. After much head scratching I discovered that the
tube had a seal which you were meant to remove before doing any
squeezing. I mean, why? Okay, I can maybe understand a bit of security
on foodstuff containers, but are we really anticipating an attack on
toothpaste by rogue elements of some terrorist group? Or is it a ploy
thought up by the tube designer so that every day he can get up from his
bed and laugh his head off? Meanwhile, I'm still wrestling with cartons
of tomato juice, because no matter how hard I try, there are always a
few drops of juice that stubbornly refuse to be forced into the glass
and prefer, instead, the kitchen table-top. Another designer, somewhere,
will have a fit of giggles.
BUILDING/STRUCTURE OF THE MONTH
This month we feature neither a building nor a structure, but more an
object. Many of you - the young folk, I suspect - will not recognise it.
It is a drinking fountain, in this case sited in the churchyard of
Tarbolton Parish Church, and probably no longer dispensing water for
drinking. They used to be found all over the place, in parks and in the
streets, and had a small metal cup attached by a stout chain. This, of
course, was in the days when you got free water, and didn't have to buy
plastic bottles of the stuff. Changed days indeed.
A DUTY OF CARE: A STAIRWAY TO... EM... HEAVEN?
I once worked for a company whose duty of care towards its
employees was taken to surreal extremes. My first inkling that all was
not well was when leaving via the stairs one evening and finding two
elderly ladies strategically positioned to make sure everyone was
holding on to the banister. I wasn't, and was given a reprimand. I knew
from that moment on that I wouldn't be with the company for long. I
haven't got through life thus far without mastering that complicated act
that is stair traversal.
There are, it seems, some companies out there who go just a bit too far
when looking after those within their care. You can see this on the
stairs at Queen Street railway station in Glasgow, Scotland, where
constant loudspeaker announcements advise those using the stairs to hold
on to the banister. How far will they go, I often wonder. It's probably
only a matter of time before we are bombarded with constant reminders to
keep breathing... 'IN... OUT... IN... OUT ...'
Of course, the thing about stairs is that they are generally designed
with available stairwell space in mind, and not the human beings who
actually have to use them. They are squeezed into areas that are too
small (space is of a premium), and it is this architectural squeezing
that causes the problem, with individual stairs that are too shallow in
breadth and height, thus making it far easier to catch your heel and
plummet down them.
But hey, I'm not an architect. If you're an architect, then spill the
beans. Or, if you are an employee with an over-protective employer, then
let us know. We can be emailed at
. Tell us your story.
HOTEL OR GUEST HOUSE - THAT IS THE QUESTION
I think we are all familiar with guest house curtains that don't quite
close in the middle, or the cold robotic service found in many hotels,
and as such it is often quite hard to categorically say whether we
prefer guest houses or hotels. There are good and bad in each group. One
of the most pleasant evenings I ever spent away from home was spent
sitting in a soft armchair watching television with the owners of a
sumptuous - and not expensive - Scottish castle with their friendly
black Labrador snoozing peacefully on top of my feet. It was the dog's
way of saying, 'Hey - we think you're okay.'
One of my pet hates concerning guest houses is the elderly landlady
who thinks the more flushing devices she straps to the toilet bowl the
better, to the extent that it is difficult to fit all your bits in when
sat on the throne, because all these colourful cleaning thingies get in
the way. That said, I can also be a little peeved to find that cupboard
beside my bed is actually the boiler for the hot water and switches
itself off and on with a roar throughout the night.
As far as hotels go, my worst experience was without question in one
near Hadrian's Wall many years ago. My room was directly above the
kitchen, and as I gently woke the next day I was treated to the sounds
of the cook wrestling wildly with pots and pans and burping and farting
extravagantly in the way that you do when you reckon no one's around.
Never has a runny fried egg looked so unappealing.
In hotels there can be a great pretence at high customer care levels,
with many a 'Yes, sir' or 'No, sir' but precious little else to show
that they really care whether you have a good stay or not. Real customer
care comes from the heart. It is not learned in a course.
But what do visitors to Scotland think? Whether you stay in Scotland or
have been a tourist, please tell us your experiences. If we start to see
a trend we'll wave our little electronic arms around in tantrum-style
and try our level best to change the world.
Because, let's face it, there's nothing worse than thinking you've got a
pristine hotel room only to find one lone pubic hair that is not yours
staring at you from the bath with what can only be described as a big
smile on its face!
Let us know.
DOWNING STREET SCANDAL
An insider at Number 10 has revealed that on Tuesday 9th
February 2010, at precisely 15.00 hours, Gordon Brown was seen to pick his nose.
At the time of going to press we understand that a full public enquiry
is to be held, with questions being asked about the frequency of such
conduct and, more importantly, what happened to the resultant bogey.
Police are expected to carry out a fingertip search. We
also understand that a close friend of the Prime Minister is planning to
publish a book in April, this very scandal being one of many dealt with
in its pages. It is to be called, 'Downing Street - Probing the Inner
Eddy Burns, by the way -
free downloadable tracks
FURTHER TOYOTA RECALLS
Toyota are adding to their growing list of car recalls by asking
everyone who bought any of their models between 2000 and 2008 to return
them to their nearest dealer. 'We have discovered,' said a spokesperson,
'that some cars were sent out without wheels. It might just present
itself as excessive vibration, but if you look closely, you may find
wheels have not been fitted.'