Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Last Post 2009.........


Hullo ma wee blog,

My lovely G has today off and doesn't need to go back to work for 5 whole days. Having had a fairly busy Christmas we have elected to raise the drawbridge here in Robertson Towers and told the guards to set phasers to 'malky'* for the duration, set the mantraps in the grounds and I have deliberately not fed the crocs since September - just after I put the Christmas sprouts on - as apart from a few choice and probably unfortunate souls, we have decided to cut off from reality and self indulgently have the time to ourselves in secret, selfish, self indulgent self indulgence. Not tradition and not the way I was brought up {in a small village it was open doors for everyone all the way through to 3rd or 4th Jan} but 'Jings' I'm looking forward to it.

Nibbles will be nibbled, drinks will be drunk and thinks will be thunk. Baths and naps will be taken and walks may very well be walked. Cats will be stroked and fires will be poked. I may even be adventurous and blog a blog - who knows?

In many ways its been a bugger of a year and I'll be glad to see it scarper off over the horizon never to be seen again. Its been a testing time not just for me but for my lovely G and I want to try and show her how much I appreciate it by a bit of pampering, a bit of emphasis and a lot of sucking up.

The weather has put on its white coat once again and some of the snow has returned to garden and drive and with skies dark enough to show its intentions for the next day or so. Its the ideal cover to advertise a no travel policy to far away folks who always expect us to visit but rarely return the favour {maybe I should read something into that} and certainly never if there is a whiff of bad weather in prospect.

So we're going to coorie doon {snuggle down} for a day or two together. Supplies are in and the fire is lit. Falling snowflakes are counting down the last few hours to the turn of the year.

Let it snow Big Man, let it snow..........


Happy New year everybody, all the best for 2010. I wish you everything you would wish for yourselves.

see you later.........

Listening to the year ticking off........

*malky - An act or instrument of extreme violence.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Grrrr.........


Hullo ma wee blog,


Isn't it strange how I used to get really annoyed with those people who would stop you on a busy street and thrust unwanted leaflets for trendy clubs, bars and restaurants into your hands.

Shopping in Edinburgh today, we passed three of these touts and they looked at me and clearly decided that I wasn't trendy enough to meet their customer profile and would no doubt lower the tone of their establishments and so deliberately turned away looking for more attractive or affluent targets, handing their leaflets to anorexic looking guys and young girls fashionably bearing their midriff in todays -4C wind.

I should be relieved.

So why did I feel grumpy..........


See you later.

Listening to Snow Patrol 'Run'

Thursday, 24 December 2009

And if you have a spare moment.....



hullo ma wee blog,

From a favourite blog. 10 minutes of the train journey between Oslo and Bergen. Apparently you can download the whole 7 hours for free if you want to.....

I found it strangely mesmerising. Hope you enjoy it too.


Courtesy of Tom Mortons Beatcroft.
{Thanks Tom.}

I'm Dramming of a White Christmas..........


Hullo ma wee blog,

Well, its Christmas eve and the snow is all around for the first time in years. The cupboards are groaning with food and drink of all descriptions. Friends and family are locked and loaded for the next week or so and there is time for carousing and conversation, for fun and laughter, giving thanks and for quiet reverie, time for hugging and kissing and being cosy warm, for opening presents and bottles, for bubbly and the water of life, for good books and favourite films, for snowy walks and holding hands. Times to savour in the coming weeks.

And there will hopefully be some time for you too ma wee blog. In my very first post I said that I was going to treat you like my imaginary friend and I have. Its been interesting, its been fun and its been helpful. You've led me to others with very different lives, to comments to and from places I have never been and you have also reflected back to me my sense of humour and my stupidity. You have helped me look through sunny days and sleepless nights and to put myself in context of a bigger world and reminded me so much, despite what has been jamming my brain cell, of people and places loved now and in past times. Thanks for that, I hope there will be much more to come.

And to those of you who have taken time to come and visit, just to read, or to comment and to suffer comments in return, who have shared through your blogs of your heritage and history, your loves and fears, your hopes, interests, your families and your passions, and of life the universe and everything, often in such interesting and inspiring ways, I also say thanks and I hope there too will be much, much more to come.

But for now, mince pie in hand and a raised glass, MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, one and all.

Cheers!!!!!

Listening to carols on Classic FM radio...

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Terminal Grumpiness.....with Coffee.


Hullo ma wee blog,

My lovely G was away for the weekend. Off back to Switzerland to see the extended family before Christmas. This time she took a friend instead of me going along so I also had the chance to go and catch up with my brother across on the west coast for a night out. To kick off her long weekend I took her to the airport and being what nowadays appears to be a perpetually grumpy old man, there are few places guaranteed more to bring my alter ego to the fore. The closer I get to places like that the more my Jeckle turns to Hyde and by the time I come off the main road onto the airport approach my grumpy radar is in full operational mode.

I am, or at least I think I am, a generally responsible and sensible member of the human race, but if anything gets me frustrated its being confined by rules, rules, rules and regulations. The nanny state in full flow; Dont do this, dont park here, dont leave that down, dont pass this point, dont wait, stop, go, wait and on and on and on: Dont pass 'GO', Dont collect £200. DONT, DONT, DONT! Forbidding lots of stuff I'm never NEVER going to do, and neither is 99.9% of the human population. The sensible, the sane, the ordinary! And I hate all those advisory signs warning you to be careful, mind the step, coffee is hot, may contain nuts { almost everything these days may contain nuts as a means of avoiding being sued} mind the gap as you step on the train, Caution water is deep, smoking may damage your health...

{Caution - stupid signs may raise your blood pressure}

Why oh WHY do we have to constantly cater for the lowest common denominator of intelligence and personal responsibility?

Aaaargh!!!!

So, at least you know the frame of mind I'm in when I get to places like that. Too much time in a past life spent waiting, waiting, waiting for what is supposed, what is advised, what is meant to happen. A flight leaving at the right time. An understaffed check in not stuffed to bursting with similarly frustrated people, a conveyor belt that works, a computer that isn't crashed, a person who appreciates that it really spoils your day when simple things just dont work and no apology or worse, no effort is being made to resolve the issue. Not only things that don't work but things that conspire to make you dig your heels in. Obdurate. Obstinate. Argumentative.

GRUMPY........

The short stay {expensive} car park, has now been reduced by more than half for a 'fast track' car park which costs £21 to enter for even a minute which makes the 2 hr max for £6 seem reasonable by comparison. It does however mean that I have to park at the far end of the short stay car park and lug the cases to the terminal as there is no sign of a trolley bay except in the barriered off 'fast track' section.

Next we queue to check in at the automated self check in machines. Except the first one has a 'hardware' problem and advises us to try another machine. { funny how when these are all working fine there are usually two staff on hand to help but when one is down they are suddenly absent}

The next machine works and goes through the pre programmed questions:

'Did you pack this yourself?'

'YES'

'Did anyone ask you to carry anything for them?'

'NO'

'Are you carrying any of these {photo's} proscribed items?'

'NO'

'Thank you - proceed to 'fast bag drop'

{This is a queue of equal size to anywhere in the airport on the last weekend before Christmas, but hey, I can understand that.}

20 mins later we step up to the counter.

'Hello, can I have your passports? {Already checked!}
'Where are you travelling to?' {Already checked!}
'How many bags are you checking?' {Already checked!}
'did you pack them yourselves?' {Already checked!}
'Are you carrying any of these {indicates poster} items?' {Already checked}

At this points Mr Grumpy steps up to the mark and says,

'Excuse me, but what is the point of you asking all these questions that we have already been asked and answered at your superb and probably very expensive self check in machines?'

'I'm sorry sir, but the company requires me to ask these security questions. Has anyone asked you to carry anything?'

'I understand that, but what I don't understand is why we have had to answer all these questions back there at those machines {pause while I thumb over the shoulder} when you are asking them again here, {looks back} twenty feet away. Can you please tell me why we are being asked the same thing twice? It doesn't feel very fast, or customer friendly or even "any" faster than all the other queueing systems. And no, no one has asked us to carry anything'

'Sir, do you mind. We are very busy and you're holding up the queue {raised eyebrows} asking these questions.'

'Actually, Yes I do mind. What is it that makes this a 'fast' bag drop when you are taking exactly the same time to check in just our bags that everyone else fully checking in is, when we have already allegedly 'checked in' into your system - as your company requires - back there' {frown and maintain eye contact}

'Sir, please be reasonable.......'

'Excuse me?'

'Excuse me? Please be reasonable? PLEASE BE....

A hand, small, beloved, and very insistent pulls at my sleeve.

'Its not you who is checking in.......it's me. Give it a rest.'

{an exchange of raised female eyebrows takes place}

'What?

But!!!!'

But I am being ignored and can't do anything but fume, impotent, on the sidelines. But I know I'm right. Ok, timing may not be the best, but I'm still bloomin' right.
The women conclude the business at hand and the lovely G turns to leave but I manage to say

'And if I cracked under those questions missus, I must have failed my basic terrorist exams!'

Two middle aged guys in the queue snort approvingly and we have supportive eye contact as I am led off.

'Honestly, you're a right embarrassment sometimes......'

{Wonder if I should be disappointed its just sometimes?}



We head to the internationally known coffee house in the lower part of the terminal.

I love good coffee but hate these global coffee houses. I was brought up in a time and a country where you asked for coffee and the only question was "black or white?"
Now dont get me wrong, I know the staff are generally very hard working, and I dont think that choice is a bad thing, but it isn't necessarily always a good thing either and these days some companies seem to think that they are offering a better service by offering more and more choice - like more choice proves better service - think of almost any companies automated telephone services - badly handled or understood or just plain bewildering in its complexity, frustrating in its multi layers of numbered options menus when all you want to do is speak to a human being. So although I dont think choice is bad per se, and I dont begrudge anyone their right to a half caff mochachino with skim milk and a twist or whatever they bloomin want, I also resent being made to conform to all this describing everything to the last detail when a request is actually just simplicity itself.

In the mood I'm in going to a Costa is probably not the best thing right now.......

After queueing my lovely G orders an expresso and an Italian biscuit.

My turn.

'I'd like a small black filter coffee with hot milk on the side please'

A blank look slowly turns to consternation.

'We have cappuchino, latte, expresso and Americano......'

I give my best Paddington stare.

'Aye, well I'll have a small black filter coffee with hot milk on the side. Please!'

I know. I shouldn't. I fold my arms and give him the stare. Again.

There's a wee bit of panic in the eyes.

'We've got regular, tall and grande.'

As I repeat my request again for the third time, maintaining eye contact and just a bit more slowly for emphasis, I notice his head begins to nod with each word. It seems to be getting through.

'Would you like skimmed, semi skimmed or........'

He doesn't have time to finish and I am still seeing the imaginary red dot of a laser sight on his apron when the lovely G again appears by my side and snaps me back to reality with a 'you go and sit down. I'll see to this.'

As I go the lad almost whimpers thanks to my lovely G.

I know I'm going to get it in the neck in a minute though.


probably just as well I'll be mainly on my own this weekend.

sometimes I'm just so grumpy......... I could grump for Scotland!



see you later.


listening to Ed Alleyne Johnson 'Oxford Suite'

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Wee Bit O Sheer Nostalgia..........



Hullo ma wee blog,


I know its a bit lazy posting video when I normally do more writing but can I suggest you listen to this. I know its not something that most folks have in their musical tastes but it is, it really is, worth listening to.

Please.....

Indulge me.

I spent about 20 years playing in brass bands, starting at school and continuing on well into my working life so this is a sound I understand. It calls to my soul. I was brought up in a mining area where there was a strong tradition of bands even though by the time I started they were well out of fashion. Learning to play an instrument gave me a great start into learning about self discipline, about consistency and about teamwork. I recognise all these things now of course when I hadn't a clue about it back then. Then, well then it was just.... fun!

I played in the school band - we were Scottish champions for 5 out of the 6 years I was at high school, and afterwards I joined the senior band that the school band master was conductor of. The Dalmellington Band was also Scottish Champions when I was part of the band. Not that I put it down to me by the way, but I remember the work that went into delivering excellence whether with the school band or with Dalmellington. This performance, individually and collectively is excellence.

I remember the weeks and months of hard slog that went into preparing for a competition. The repetition, the detail that was gone into was astounding and the criticism for poor performance was constructive but very real. There were several competitions to prepare for across the year and the pressure to get it right was palpable. The competitive nature of the brass band world was incredible. To play your part - literally - not to let yourself or the others down was something that was drilled into you through the constant preparation.

When things went well - well look at the clip and you will understand some of the elation and comradeship that was a highlight as well as the understanding and sheer joy of doing something brilliantly well. To know that and to hear that from inside the guts of the performance is an incredible high.

The musicianship and the emotion are well portrayed here.

I hope you enjoy it.

see you later

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Monday, 14 December 2009

Dunbar, Sept 3rd, 1650.


Flag captured at battle of Dunbar.


The modern road.

'Forasmuch as I understand there are soldiers of the enemies army yet abiding in the field, who by reason of their injuries could not march from thence, this is therefore to give notice to the inhabitants that they may and have free liberty to repair to the field aforesaid and with their carts or in any other peaceable way may carry away the said soldiers to such places as they shall think fit provided they do not meddle with or take away any armour there. All officers and soldiers [of the English forces] are to take notice the same is permitted'


Oliver Cromwell, Proclamation to the people of Dunbar. Sept 3rd 1650.

Hullo ma wee blog,

Anyone who reads much of this blog will know that on a daily basis I take my wife, the lovely G, to her morning train from Dunbar to her work in Edinburgh city center. The short journey there and back takes me twice across the ground of the battle of 1650, which was fought between the Scots and the English. Again, anyone who has read much of the blog will also know that I am fascinated by history, especially Scots history and the lesser known tales missed by many mainstream history books but which resonate loud and clear and deserve {in my opinion} to be much better known. The aftermath of the battle of Dunbar is one of those tales.

As we near the junction to leave the A1 and head into Dunbar we cross the main battlefield. Sweeping away left from the coast the ground rises up gently at first then increasingly steeply to the top of the escarpment of Doon Hill where the Scots army camped, having out maneuvered and trapped the English Parliamentarian Army of Oliver Cromwell against the sea as they tried to retreat back to England. They had attempted to subdue Scotland but had failed largely due to the achievement of David Leslies leadership and were now badly affected by sickness and lack of supplies caused by the 'scorched earth' tactics of the Scots. It was a dire predicament, with no possibility of passing the Scots without a fight against superior forces in a stronger position. They were trapped and being besieged at Dunbar could also only end in defeat for Cromwell and victory for the Scots.

It was one of those pivotal moments in time when destinies and reputations on both sides can only be won or lost.

There have been two Battles of Dunbar, one in 1297 against Edward 1st, Robert the Bruces long shanked adversary, the other in 1650. The second battle is the most important, in fact its probably the most important battle fought in Britain since the Battle of Hastings in 1066, for the impact it had on the political shaping, not just of Scotland, but of the whole of Great Britain with a direct lineage right through to todays political landscape in the UK.


Battle positions 3rd Sept 1650.

As General David Leslie looked out over Dunbar on that cold wet and windy Monday of 2nd September 1650 he must have felt in his aching bones that victory was in his grasp. He was a strong, wily and highly experienced military leader, who had returned from the service of king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, {where he had been a key part of one of the most professional, innovative and effective fighting forces of the 30 years war} to fight in the Covenanting Scottish Army beside the English Parliamentarians against the Royalists. In modern terms, he was a legend and not just a Scots or national legend. He was a legend of international status.

 He had led the Scots and fought outstandingly beside Oliver Cromwell at Marston Moor yet now found himself facing that old comrade and his desperate force, outnumbered, outmaneuvered, weakened by sickness and backs to the sea and Dunbar below Leslies position on Doon Hill. Below him a steep escarpment and the deep ravine of the Brox Burn protected his position while on his right the slope to the sea provided the ideal ground for a devastating attack on any force attempting to pass by on the road South.

The Scots had switched allegiance from Roundhead to Royalist as they believed that the King should be head of the country although strictly subject to agreement with and promise of protection to the Scottish Kirk as described in the terms of the solemn league and covenant. Their previous uneasy cooperation with the Parliamentarian Roundheads was an attempt to force Charles 1st to come to terms with this very point. Failure to do this had seen the Scots miscalculate and hand the King over to his opponents and, much to their horror, for him to lose his head and for Scotland to lose its king. They proclaimed his son as King of Scotland and provoked invasion by their former allies. Cromwells campaign had followed, as he brought his experienced and bloodied troops flushed from gory success in Ireland. Charles, his fathers son, considered the two to be different sides of the same coin.

The Scots Army of the Covenant was controlled not just by Leslie but also by the Ministers of the Covenanted Kirk, a puritanical force bent on purifying society to conform with the protestant fundamentalist strictures of the covenant, and even as Leslie was pursuing the retreating Cromwell, they were "purging" the Army of any elements which did not conform to their fervent beliefs. These 'malignants' were removed from the army despite being the highly experienced officers whom Leslie had relied on to date. This would load control in the Kirks favour and critically force Leslies hand in the coming hours. Military tactics and logic dictated siege but fanaticism dictated attack. Leslie would be persuaded to make the costliest mistake of his life and precipitate catastrophe for thousands. Against a weakened but highly organised foe in a desperate situation he would pit his inexperienced but devout Army of the Covenant.



Battle of Dunbar from the sea.

Seeing the Scots begin to come off the hill in preparation for giving battle the next day Cromwell gave the order for attack before dawn the following morning. This surprise,  the greater weight of heavy cavalry and Scots lack of preparedness allowed him to turn the flank of the Scots cavalry back upon themselves and cause chaos, rolling the Scots army back on itself.  Horses and men collided together in a frantic scramble for room to move. Soon there was a dreadful slaughter as the Scots horse escaped leaving the stunned foot soldiers at the mercy of a horde of cavalry swords. Cromwells victory was unequivocal: 3000 Scots dead and 10,000 men and boys captured:  netted it was said, like a shoal of herring. Cromwells losses were negligible, less than 50 men. Leslie escaped with remnants of his force to Stirling and lived to fight another day.

Those captives dying or seriously injured were left for the people of Dunbar and the local area to look after. The proclamation above was issued at the end of the day of battle in the town of Dunbar. The impact of this battle and its immediate aftermath lived on in the folk memory of the town for generations and even a hundred years later Cromwells name was spoken in tones of horror.

To prevent perhaps an attempt to escape or continue the fight, half of those those captured 'uninjured', some 5,000 prisoners, were immediately marched south to England. This removal of prisoners to a foreign soil was in contravention of the practice of the day. Normal process would have compelled Cromwell to have all combatants swear an oath not to bear arms again and simply to release them under this oath. The 5,000 injured and  who were released in this way would soon come to consider themselves fortunate in the extreme.


                                                                   The Dunbar Medal.


The 5,000 prisoners were sent by authority of Cromwell, under control of Colonel Hacker and four companies of horse, to Durham. The first leg of this 120 mile journey started before the end of the day with a 28 mile forced march without halt through the night along the great north road to Berwick on Tweed.  Even before this was reached men began to die at the roadside, initially from untreated wounds or those most exhausted by the fight and unable to survive the ordeal of a forced march. Every mile would be littered with dead, abandoned at the roadside or in hedgerows until the final destination was reached. Guards fed only themselves, ironically on food mainly pillaged from the Scots baggage train. Reports tell of guards cruelly mocking the prisoners for grubbing in the gardens of Morpeth for cabbages and roots to eat due to this deliberate policy of starvation and, on one day, 30 desperate men and boys being shot to force the remainder to march on. By the time that Durham was reached and the prisoners climbed the hill to containment in the Cathedral there were 3,900 men left. 1100 died in the course of 8 dreadful days journey.


In the time they were confined those survivors, who thought that surely the worst was behind them, would be denied adequate food, fuel and medical treatment through the depths of winter and would continue to die of wounds, starvation and cold,  stripping the cathedral bare it's said, of everything made of wood except the famous clock which had a Scots thistle decoration on its head. A sentimental sign of home in the most desperate of circumstances it still stands in Durham Cathedral. The deliberate mistreatment of these men is a largely unknown stain on the reputation of Cromwell, who had generally proven merciful in similar situations.

Those who died were taken and buried without ceremony in a running trench to the north of the cathedral. Here they lay forgotten until they were discovered and covered over again by workmen in the 1940's. They still lie there without any marker to recognise the spot or having had a Christian blessing said over them. It's a shameful slight to their memory.  Mentioned in the pamphlet covering the Cathedral history, their experience and fate is quickly skipped over in a few scant, sanitised words.


'I dare confidently say there was never the like care taken for any such numbers of prisoners that were ever in England' - Sir Arthur Heselrigge - responsible for the care of prisoners in Durham Cathedral.

When orders came to Sir Arthur Heselrigge in Newcastle to dispose of the prisoners by sending them in batches counting up to the recorded 3,900 to be transported to the Americas he found he was short of the required manpower by almost 2,000 souls. He started a flurry of correspondence aimed at deflecting responsibility, explaining he could not understand how so many had died when so much coal, wood, beef, mutton, pork, bread, ale and milk had been supplied on such a regular basis and describing what beasts the Scots were, stealing from and murdering one another for the smallest scrap of food or clothing.

Those prisoners who remained alive were transported to the Americas, some to where is now called Berwick in Maine, or forced into service in the army of the commonwealth.Heselrigge would later be found guilty of making free with confiscated church lands and spend the rest of his life in the Tower of London.

The disastrous defeat of the Scots laid the foundation for the ultimate union of the crowns.


For Cromwell and Leslie, they would be haunted by the ghosts of the 3rd of September.
Leslie would be taken captive exactly a year later, September 3rd 1651 at the battle of Worcester. Protector Cromwell would die on the 3rd September 1658.  He did what Edward I could not do. He effectively subdued a Scottish nation which had failed the last chance to secure independence. More even than long shanked Edward I perhaps, Cromwell could truly be described as the  'Hammer of the Scots.'

Charles 2nd rejoiced that one potential foe had been weakened so badly, although the Covenanters would still support his cause while exerting pressure for him to conform to Presbyterianism. Cromwell proved on that patch of land at Dunbar that he was not only able to lead an army but capable of leading a nation. He became king in all but name, even being addressed as 'Your Highness'.

The Covenanting fervour of the Scots kirk would continue for many years before it calmed to a more reasonable vision of Christianity,  but before came the persecution of the 'killing times', the hasty departure of the Catholic house of Stuart to France and the rise of the house of Hanover. It's interesting to think what might have been had Leslie defeated or killed Cromwell at Dunbar. How different history could have been but for the fanatics of the covenant forcing a mistake of such scale. History has never held Cromwell to account for his responsibility in the shameful treatment of so many men. Hated yet in much of Ireland, his reputation is generally intact on the mainland. Hardly anyone knows of those murdered Dunbar prisoners lying in unmarked graves in the grounds of Durham Cathedral. Perhaps one day there will be a service and an appropriate memorial installed for them and their story will be recognised more fully.

Even the battle stane memorial at the edge of Dunbar ignores them and states only

'Near this spot took place the brunt or essential agony of the battle of Dunbar'

see you later.........

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A Taste Of My Life


Hullo ma wee blog,

I think its interesting how often when you meet people it centers around food or drink. A party, a dinner, a visit to friends or relations, a working lunch or what ever. I often find that conversation too will turn at some time to food and favourite dishes, restaurants and the like. Food and memories of food also can trigger some powerful memories and emotions, especially when it comes to special times, Christmas, New Year or Easter when family will traditionally draw together for a celebration and a meal made and shared with love. Its a powerful draw and the glue that holds families together or re-establishes, reaffirms the strength of kinship and family. Its one of the most important things we can share together.

So it was natural to experience this when my lovely G and I recently visited with Uncle Bill, Dads younger twin, and his wife. They live several hundred miles away in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire and due to distance we have not kept in touch with the frequency that we should. Dads passing earlier this year brought this sharply into view and as is often the case in situations like that, promises of closer contact were made. So far this has been held with regular phone calls and a visit to us by their daughter Elspeth and her husband Dave to stay with us for a great weekend which let us show them the sights of auld Edinburgh. So it was nice to go and spend a few days with Bill and Margaret at their house in Melton, to meet the family down there once again and to spend time reminiscing, as elderly folk are wont to do about things past.

We talked about shared memories, of Grandpa Robertson and his incapacity from WW1, and the care given him by Gran Robertson, and Dad, over many, many years, the involvement of family and the way we all would gather at that house for key dates and share those special times and meals, sometimes in what were very austere times.
Aunt Margaret revived memories of Clootie Dumpling {Cloth Dumpling} a steamed pudding made in vast quantities and cooked in a 'cloot' - a cloth or more often a cotton towel. Steamed for what seemed like ages, sending its spicy aroma through the house as it dried sat carefully unwrapped, watched and turned occasionally on the hearth in front of the coal fire. A dish for mass catering and exciting to wee boys for the thruppence and sixpennies that Grannie would hide inside it wrapped in small parcels of greaseproof paper. During this Aunt Margaret went to the kitchen and came back with a page of loose leaf paper.

'This is your Mums recipe. I don't know if you have it or not'

Have it? I had almost forgotten the whole thing.

'She actually made a much better dumpling than your Grannie'

Such things are jewels drawn from the memory of others, lost from or more likely never in the knowing of wee boys. Inconsequential and treasured in equal measure.

MUMS CLOOTIE DUMPLING.

1lb self raising flour.
4oz currants
6oz raisins
6oz sultanas
3/4 cup shredded suet
1/2 cup sugar
1 dessert spoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon treacle
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

MIX ALL TOGETHER WITH MILK TO MAKE A SOFT CONSISTENCY.
PUT INTO A DAMP FLOURED CLOTH
TIE WITH STRING LEAVING ROOM FOR EXPANSION
PLACE IN POT ON TRIVET IN BOILING WATER FOR 1 AND 3/4 HOURS
KEEP PAN TOPPED UP WITH BOILING WATER
REMOVE FROM WATER AND CAREFULLY PEEL CLOTH AWAY FROM PUDDING.
ALLOW TO DRY TO FORM PUDDING SKIN IN OVEN OR FRONT OF FIRE


SERVE WITH CUSTARD, CREAM OR ICE CREAM.

slices of leftover pudding would often be reheated and served the next day, even fried as a breakfast accompaniment.


enjoy......


see you later

Porcupine Tree


Hullo ma wee blog,

Another weekend, another trip to Glasgow and another concert. Seems like the lovely G and I have spent a lot of time travelling through here - a 90 minute journey from home - coming to concerts. Glasgow has more and better venues, and a better reputation as venue than Edinburgh. Friday saw us come through for the much awaited 'Porcupine Tree' concert. An English band who cover the 'prog rock' to almost {to me anyway} the 'metal' edge of rock. G and I came through early to be sure of finding the venue,decent parking and to have a quick bite before the concert as I had picked her up from an early finish from work. We had a cheap meal in a small cafe near the famous Glasgow Kings Theatre, sat at the next table to Gerard Kelly, a well known Scots TV and theatre actor.

Later we met up with the lovely G's two younger brothers who are both good musicians {drums and base guitar} and huge fans of the group, with Karen, the youngest brothers girlfriend and another couple of their friends to see the gig at the 02 ABC in Sauchiehall St. where G and I had come to see David Gray a few months ago. G is a bigger fan of the band, influenced by her brothers from an early age, although I had seen them once before and enjoyed, not raved about it. Some stuff is just too heavy and impenetrable for me and I'm at the age now where sheer volume does little for me. I need to be able to understand the style and the ability of the performance, but I have learned from G and her brothers to be open to stuff that I know I wouldn't be if it wasn't for their love of the heavier side of music. I have listened to, and enjoyed, much that would never have found its way onto my list of choice otherwise with Rush, Joe Satriani and occasional ventures into Saga down to their influence.

Tonight was different; loud, energetic and fantastic. A great set, covering most of their albums back to beginnings in the late 80's. I got a different perspective on the band as the set was more musical and showed the great technical skills of the band better than I had remembered from a couple of years ago. Very tight, very musical and very accomplished, and as I am finding is usual through here in Glasgow, in front of a knowledgeable and very appreciative audience. The show was the last night of a 3 month long tour of America, Europe and the UK.

And I found one of the band members, keyboard player Richard Barbieri, used to be a member of one of my favourite bands from a very short flirtation with glam rock back in the faraway days of the 80's, 'Japan'.

A fine night, you have a new fan to add to the collection boys.

See you again sometime......


see you later,

Listening to Porcupine Tree, 'Lazarus'

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Cautionary Tale.......


Hullo ma wee blog,



I'm sure everyone can think of a time where something has gone wrong, a mistake made and instinctively, instantly as soon as you find it, you 'fess up', stick your hand up and say 'OOPS! look what I've done, silly me, hahahaha'. I know I have, {yes darling,more than once} and have suffered the consequences, or more usually just the embarrassment, the red face of shame and stupidity. These events are part of being human, we don't get it right all the time but generally we don't either do things maliciously or even, heaven forbid, with criminal intent. Some things of course can be ignored but when there is a real impact then it's generally better to face the music and move on.

So I was surprised today to be attending an interview concerning my 'fraudulent' application for unemployment 'benefit' of £64.50 per week. I had been advised that I had been subject of a 'report' of claiming benefit while I was in paid work.

Now this 'report' I knew about. And I knew all about the suspected 'incident' too. After all it had been me who had turned informant and did the sticking up of grubby paw with a red face and an apologetic smile.

What was it all about? Well when I was being made redundant I was given a letter stating what my official leaving date would be. As my employer had not taken into consideration my highly inconsiderate taking of due, notified and planned holidays during the {ahem} consultation period, they had to extend that by one week and I was issued with another letter with a date a week later. Then, me being the awkward little customer that I am, I found out that I was entitled to move funds from redundancy to pension {blissfully tax free} and asked my employer for details. Cue sharp intake of breath, numerous humming and hawings and a further delay of a week while they punched calculators and computers and checked legislation to make sure I wasn't trying to have them on. This inconvenience of course resulted in letter number three being sent with yet another date stating I would definitely, categorically and absolutely be being waved bye bye and the big door locked behind me on this stated final, final date. It was almost, but not quite, a tablet of stone.
Of course, what they said would take a week took 5 {see, they should never have got rid of me - my job was to find ways around blocks and do in a week what should have taken them five anyway.} and after exhausting themselves they never sent any more letters to me, but resorted in telling me by phone on a weekly or fortnightly basis what actual leaving date they could see in their crystal ball at the time.

Foolishly, in a moment of weakness I must have believed them at one point and I had started my claim for unemployment benefit. By the time that I realised that they hadn't yet actually made me redundant I was in my second week of receiving benefit. Here, I hold my hands up again. I SHOULD have realised it hadn't actually happened. My fault and I accept that. 100%. That I was trying desperately to come to terms with reality/trying not to be stuffed yet again by my employers/starting numerous insurance claims and an unfair dismissal fight genuinely doesn't let me off the hook. What can I say? I am only human and mistakes happen. There was no malicious or criminal intent, so I did the right thing as I saw it and went to see my friendly government dept and told them what had happened and that I wanted to fix the problem. The nice lady was very helpful, made all the changes to the computer system and also let me know that it was technically an incorrect claim on 2 weeks benefit and that she would have to report it through the normal channels. I said I didn't have a problem with that, and I was sent on my merry way after being told that they would be in touch if any repayment was needed etc. After all, the benefit I receive is only for 6 months and its best if its the right 6 months. Of course at that point I didn't know I was still going to be sat here nearly 6 months later.

A couple of months pass and a letter drops through the door between postal strikes saying that they have received a 'report' that I have been a very naughty boy and have been caught claiming benefit while actually being in paid employment. Well, I couldn't really argue the toss on that, could I? The letter also stated that I was overpaid to the tune of £89.00 which may or may not be claimed back and would I please contact them to explain myself or any extenuating circumstances, or if I was denying the claim and so forth. In reply I sent them a nice letter and copies of my redundancy notices saying I was a complete prat and had made a mistake, gave them the circumstances and advised them that it had been me who had reported the error etc etc etc.

Another couple of months passed and I received a letter saying they wanted the 89 quid back and were going to take it back by reducing my benefit on certain dates. I thought that was fair enough but my lovely G said I should just contact them and make a payment. Good advice and I should have taken it at the time, but I was in a procrastinating phase and didn't. Me being me too I completely forgot until a second letter came in about 6 weeks later reminding me of the dates and that triggered me to call them and to make payment. Job done, you would think. Initial mistake identified and owned up to, information passed and full repayment made.

End of story!

Well no actually. Last week I got a letter asking me to attend a meeting to discuss my 'fraudulent' claim, which I did today. I took all my letters from my employer etc. At this meeting I was given a formal caution that what I said was being recorded and would be used in court as evidence should the case progress to a criminal case. I found that my case had been allocated TWO workers and they had over the last several weeks been in contact with my previous employer getting wage information. {remember this is for £89 which is no longer outstanding} I was then questioned and made to sign a copy of the recording for their files! I was nonplussed. All the more so as the senior investigator openly said that she had no idea why this low value case was being investigated in this way - although they had no record of either my initial reporting, which they had logged as an anonymous tip off, or my letter of explanation - but as the case was in process they were legally bound to complete it. They listened to my short explanation, looked at the letters from my employer and ended the recording and interview. Once the tape was off they apologised for wasting my time and made various references to a new manager, crossed wires and red tape.

I couldn't make up my mind whether I should be furious at the personal affront, furious as a taxpayer {temp excluded due to circumstances beyond my control} or pee myself laughing at the absurdity of it all. During the interview I was all three by turns as well as annoyed and embarrassed that my simple mistake had escalated to this state of affairs. What a waste of time, money and resource. If they gave me a job I could probably fix that for them.

Strange thing is they would never have been any the wiser if I hadn't been honest and upfront about the situation, become 'an anonymous source' and grassed myself up. What is it they say about honesty being the best policy..........

I came home tense, in need of a strong coffee, a massage to get rid of the tension knots that had built up and thinking the whole situation was nuts - in case anyone is wondering about the connection to the picture heading up the post!

Isn't life strange?

See you later.

Listening to Queen 'Its a Kind Of Magic'

Friday, 4 December 2009

The End of the Affair.........



Hullo ma wee blog,

Well, its finally over. Its been going on since May 22nd and at last I feel like I can put it behind me and get on with the rest of my life. I settled for an out of court figure. Not completely satisfactory perhaps but reality bites in many ways. I was offered a sum way in excess of what the tribunal could award and my solicitor felt that he could not recommend further insurance company expense with that on the table. One of those 'I'm gonna make you an offer you cant refuse' moments. And so the deal is done and we both walk away.

In some ways not what I wanted but I can accept it as it gives us some further financial security.

Time to move on methinks.........



See you later.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Made in Scotland - from Irishmen


Clydeside Auditorium {The Armadillo}

Hullo ma wee blog,

1am and just in from a sojourn back across country to Glasgow Clydeside Auditorium for a concert of Snow Patrol, who formed as another band called 'Reindeer Section'while students here some 15 years ago. They spent the first 10 years of their careers gigging predominantly in Scotland so have a huge fan base here.



Thanks to the lads for a wonderful nights entertainment. A retrospective of the whole 15 years and also including some pre snow patrol tracks. Great music, stage show and craic, especially in a venue for just 3000 people.

Two and a half hours of sheer bliss.

My lovely G who bought me the tickets despite not being a fan of the group has been converted, as can often be the case when faced with a live performance. They worked hard with no support but clearly absolutely love being on stage and performing. They were eager, responsive and refreshingly, for such a big band, completely without ego. Everything they said to the crowd came across as absolutely genuine and its clear that they recognise the years of support from their Scottish fan base as being crucial to them staying the course until eventually reaching a wider audience. They love it up here and consider it home ground, and the sentiment was returned with equal sincerity. I've seldom seen an audience respond with such complete respect for success hard won.

If you get the chance to see them, take it. You won't regret a minute of it.


And they also covered this track from 'Elbow' another of their heroes, and another great band from Manchester. Winner of the Mercury prize in 2007 { when the Unthanks were nominated too}

Friday, 27 November 2009

Thank/Unthank


Hullo ma wee blog,

Tonight my lovely G and I took a short 20 minute trip across the border into England - well, Berwick upon Tweed, which was stolen by a long legged English king centuries ago and has been trying to get back ever since.

Anyway the purpose of going across to 'the dark side' was to go and see 'The Unthanks',a folk band from the north of England. They were nominated for a Mercury music award a couple of years ago and are seen to carry a heritage of traditional north east folk music into modern music and culture in a very special way. Rachael and Becky Unthank have a unique way of delivering what can be very bleak themes with sparse orchestrations and yet are very captivating to listen to - for a while at least.

We went to see them early this year in Glasgow and enjoyed it - well, the lovely G did more than me - I struggled with 2 hours of mainly morose songs. But I was keen to go again and see how I reacted a second time, so when a friend dropped out and there was a spare ticket I was taken out tonight to see them. I am more of a folk music fan than the lovely G and for most of the evening I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were times though when I couldn't help thinking that Geordie's are a dour bunch who like to wallow in sadness and wishing that the two Unthank sisters would just crack a smile and give a couple of lighter stories to lift the mood, and of course they did eventually but again I struggled a bit to get there with them.
They are very good at what they do but I cant class them as being casual entertainment. Fascinating, thought provoking, deep, dark and sobering perhaps and the grils themselves keep up quite a cheery banter with the crowd but after a while I do find it uncomfortable and a bit relentless both in theme, arrangement and mood.

Maybe I'm shallow.

The video at the top is the title track of the new album and one of the happier songs we heard tonight.

I think I'll stick mainly with 'The Corries'


see you later.

listening to REM 'Shiny Happy People'

Tribunal - interesting times.....



Hullo ma wee blog,

Well the time for the unfair dismissal tribunal to hear my case is fast approaching, scheduled for 3rd and 4th Dec, and my colleagues who agreed to give statements and evidence have all stepped up to the mark and confirmed attendance at the hearing which makes me feel both very supported and grateful to them for having the courage to do that when they may need to reapply to the company for employment at some stage. To cover them as much as I can I have asked the tribunal to summons them in effect, which demands compulsory attendance and gives them some scope for stating that they were not 100% willing to come but had no option.

I had a lengthy meeting last Thursday with the very expensive solicitors which my insurance company has provided for me and they have again agreed that my case is valid and are totally confident that any tribunal will decide in my favour. But the decision is only the first part. The next thorny issue for them to decide would be any financial award in compensation of my claim.

My specialist employment law solicitor has advised that this could in effect be a complete lottery, and very hard to forecast due to the high level of redundancy and length of service money in my redundancy payment, which already puts me within sight of the maximum that can be awarded, but he has advised what he thinks would be the likely figure based on his experience.

My former employers representatives have already made an initial offer in an attempt to settle out of court which I have rejected strongly. My solicitor said he was surprised at the level of offer which was high for a first attempt and he said he felt that this reflected their concern at the strength of my case. I turned the screws a bit more on checking who would be attending from my employer to find that it would only be my head of dept by asking my solicitor to instruct a summons to 4 directors to come up from London for two days as, in my opinion, they have accountability for and questions to answer on the fairness of the process used and the lack of high level review and sign off as per the corporate process.

Today I have received a substantially increased offer for settlement out of court and I am going to take some time to consider this over the weekend. I am very much minded to have my day in tribunal and to have my fight fully vindicated. I feel in many ways that my self esteem almost demands it. I am very bitter with my employer for treating me this way after 32 years and so I would also dearly love to see if a few newspapers would be interested in a story of how a high profile company, and one which is regarded as an icon of British industry is using such negligent and underhand means to reduce the workforce in these difficult times. I think they would. I know our local paper would be only too keen as they are not fans of my previous employer and have written several articles about its impact and high handed attitude locally.

Part of me is surprised I feel this way but it has grown in me having gone through the redundancy process and the laughable procedure of two levels of farcical appeal which is now, having experienced it, only really designed to further protect the companies interests and has no value whatsoever as an unbiased protector of your rights as an employee. I have already proved the company incorrect when they failed to advise me of my right to move redundancy payment to pension untaxed, and they have admitted that the process is going to be amended to avoid this in future, but how many thousands, and it is thousands, have been made redundant this year without that information.

I will ponder my options over the next few days.


see you later.

Listening to Satie...... various recordings

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Brothers and Sisters - I Have A Dram......


Or more properly 'I have a Dream' and perhaps a wee bit of dyslexia too

What a night! I'm exhausted and not this time from insomnia. No, this time I'm exhausted because of a dream.........

I'm in a group of several women and a man. We are in a bar high up in some kind of tower restaurant above a seaside town that I don't recognise and the group have been drinking. A lot it would seem. They all look familiar but I cant put a name to any of them. I seem to be in charge of them as I am the most sober, but not by much. We are having a great time but the man seems determined to get closer to one or all of the Ladies and I don't seem to think that would be a good idea and let me feelings be known, but its all in a good natured banter kind of way.

As we are leaving the bar I have to go to the loo. As I do this I pass a mirrored section and see my reflection, its not me - well it is but I look like a really young Ewan MacGregor {?} from the pre 'Trainspotting' days.

{ I know why as I have seen him on TV looking like that as I channel hopped earlier and passed by Dennis Potters play ' lipstick on your collar', but that's all by the by.}

By the time we get outside I see the man is wearing a kilt outfit and a green jacket. Him and the girls are piling on to an old 1950's style single decker bus and as they do this he throws me some keys and says

" You'll need to bring the car. I'm too drunk to drive!"

I'm a bit annoyed, concerned and worried by this and he winks at me as he gets onto the bus by helping one of the younger girls on by clutching her bum and pushing theatrically to help her up. She giggles in a tipsy way as do the other girls and they are gone onto the bus. I head for the car, which is an old style mini - think 'Italian Job' - but on the way there I see an old colleague who worked for me years ago sitting on a bench looking very forlorn. I go over and we talk for a bit. She tells me her woes and that she doesn't have any money and wont get paid for a couple of weeks and how will she live. I tell her that I, along with almost everyone we worked with new about her lesbianism and that it didn't matter to any of us, she is liked for who she is and she shouldn't try and hide it any more. I give her all the money I have. She seems to take the news quite well and is very grateful for the money. I'm happy that I cheered her up but explain that I have to go as the bus is already beginning to pull out onto the road.



I get in the car and start to follow and, in a very blokey way, am really enjoying driving a classic car, checking out what all the switches do {and there are a lot of them}. I'm keeping up with the old bus no problem as it putters on along highland roads at the side of a wooded loch. Every now and then I can hear the bus gears grinding as the driver changes gear. I can see the gang in the back seat at least. They seem to be doing a lot of drinking and singing. I don't feel any less worried about them for some reason. The car radio is complete rubbish, and the only thing I can find playing is Andy Stewart singing ' Campbeltown Loch'. I realise the guy on the bus is Andy Stewart. I'm a bit surprised I didn't recognise him to be honest as he played a large part in my growing up years in a musically very damaging way. I realise I'm in a dream and think its all a bit weird but enjoyable and decide to go with the flow.



The bus passes a road sign which says in capital letters 'CAMPBELTOWN LOCH' which I stare at as I pass it too. Shortly after this the bus pulls into a lay by and the gang get out along with the rest of the passengers who head for loos and a cafe. At this point I realise the bus is being driven by Norman Wisdom. My gang seem to have several bottles of wine which they have been drinking and they head down to the water where a small burn feeds into the loch. The five girls are now wearing long red tartan skirts, white blouses and red tartan sashes across their chests. Its not what they were wearing before but I don't seem fazed by it at all. Actually I find it funny as I recognise them as the famous - and non existent - singing group 'The Alexander Sisters'. As they pass I am given a bottle of wine and sit down to have a drink and watch them join Andy Stewart in the middle of the burn splashing about with water lapping at their ankles as they all sing Campbeltown bloody Loch again. I find this hilarious and so do they and they have a bit of a water fight trying to splash me with burn water. No chance, as I'm just out of reach, which I find to be unreasonably funny too.

We all get back on the bus as its ready to go. I have explained to Andy that I'm too drunk to drive but secretly am determined to try and make sure he behaves himself with the ladies. I wont have him making fast and loose with the 'Alexander Sisters' I tell him. He winks at me again.

Slowly.

God I hate that!

Apart from us the bus is almost full of folk, mainly elderly women in coats and nice hats, but they don't seem to mind too much about the noise we are making in the back of the bus. Andy Stewart is telling filthy and very funny jokes which we all find hilarious, and they all sing 'Campbeltown Loch'. Again. Even the auld dears in the front of the bus join in. Well, everybody except me. I hate that song as I was made to sing it at every new years party I went to between the ages of 6 and eleven or twelve. Back in the bus we are all still drinking but I realise I have no idea where all this booze is coming from. One of the sisters decides that her feet are wet and uncomfortable with her wet socks {?} on and she takes them off. I am standing in the passage between the seats of the bus facing backwards at the edge of the group so I guess I must be trying to protect the other passengers from our excesses, or of course I could be trying to protect the group from complaining passengers too. The girl who has removed her sopping wet socks tells me she bets she can knock the hat off the head of one of the ladies several rows down and launches her sock at the lovely headgear perched on that blue rinsed dames head. Thankfully I manage to catch it just as it passes me and again we all find it hilarious. Soon though all five of the girls have removed wet socks and are all trying to throw them past me at the hats at the front of the bus, and I am doing my damnedest to make sure that none of them get past me but of course some do. I can hardly catch them for laughing anyway.

We get thrown off the bus - luckily we have just got back to town and I ask everyone to come back to my hotel to dry off and sober up, but only on the condition that we all behave or I will get thrown out of my room by the landlady who is a complete tyrant. The girls agree and Andy just winks at me. I realise that I haven't heard him speak or, thankfully, sing Campbeltown Loch for quite a while.

As we approach my hotel we all get a fit of the giggles and I spend a lot of time in between fits of laughter telling them all to " wheesht! or I'll get thrown out." On entering and trying to get up the stairs, the landlady comes out, catches us and tells us to go away. We decide, reasonably enough in our condition, the best place to go to sober up is to a bar. I know the very place and we head off laughing.

At this point, and in reality, I am laughing so hard that I wake myself up and after a moment to get my breath back and to get used to real world again I quietly head off to the toilet. Just as I put my hand on the door the lovely G asks me if I'm awake and when I say yes she asks what on earth I have been laughing about for the last twenty minutes as she hasn't had the heart to wake me even though its nearly 4am, but has been lying beside me trying to work out what on earth has been going on in my head. {there's little chance of that sweetheart} When I come back I tell her about the bus and Andy and the Alexander Sisters who I now recognise as the Nolan Sisters, an Irish, family singing group from the 80's. At 4am it doesn't feel quite so funny trying to explain, but my lovely G seems to still enjoy the story with me and there are a couple of times we both have a wee giggle to ourselves before we both fall quiet and drift back off to sleep.

Soon I am back in my dream with Andy Stewart and those bloomin Nolan Sisters. Thankfully they have stopped singing Campbeltown Loch and sensibly I don't mention it. This time we are on the Eurostar train on our way to Paris. Andy and the girls are on the seats at a table on one side of the train and I am on my own for the moment at a table on the opposite side to them. They're still having a party. I always suspected those Nolans weren't as clean cut as they made out but I'm not going to get involved.

Soon I am joined at my table by two ladies and a man. Now ok, I know its a dream, but this time I recognise them straight off. Its Dawn French, her husband Lenny Henry and the ditsy blond girl from 'The Vicar of Dibly' and the film 'Notting Hill'

Dawn is beside me and we are all having a great time chattering away like old friends and I have completely forgotten about that lot across the passage. Dawn French is lovely, actually extremely beautiful if the truth be told, and is really charming and witty. Worryingly she does have her hand on my thigh though. Still, Lenny doesn't seem to mind, and in fact has made a raised eyebrow gesture at me and her hand a couple of times and just smiled. I am quite comfortable about it all and conversation is just going along nicely. The other lady sitting beside Lenny, I have never been able to remember her name in real life, so have no chance in a dream, I have always found fascinating too and in real {dream} life is very witty and great company.



Lenny has been talking about his upbringing and how he met Dawn and how he fell for her the first time he saw her when he looks at her and says

"For goodness sake, do you have to do that? That's not funny you know."

I turn to her and find she has taken her top off.

CRIVENS JINGS AND HELP MA BOAB!!!

I wake up.

I can't take any more of this tonight. I need a coffee. Aye, and possibly a psychoanalyst...

I slip out of bed and quietly, gently open the door and leave my lovely G sleeping peacfully behind me.

I fret about my mental health while I descend the stairs, but still manage a smile too.

Where's the kettle..........

Listening to 'Campbeltown Loch' going round and round and round in my head.


Aaaaargh!!!!!!!!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Where day and night split



Hullo ma wee blog,

My lovely G is just behind me as I step from the house out into the drive and unlock the car for the short 10 minute trip to Dunbar and her morning train to Edinburgh and work.

Just a normal day.

The wind had been loud and loutish during the night with some periods threatening to reach so far into my consciousness as to wake me thoroughly but thankfully stopping at just being a reminder it was there. But by 4.30 I was awake for the day and, as there is no point in me staying to harrumph and wake the lovely G with my tossing and turning, I followed my habit and got up to head for the kitchen and my chair at the table in the corner by the patio doors. The wind, decreased in volume, was still hard to ignore through the double glazing of the doors and windows. Early reports on the radio were full of dire stories of heavy rainstorms and flooding further south and west and a sad report of a policeman missing when a bridge collapsed while evacuating folks from some of the rural areas worst affected. Cockermouth on the Cumbrian coast, a town we know quite well from previous visits, appears to be at the center of the worst weather and has had 12 inches of rain in 24hrs, the worst since records began.

The first thing I notice on opening the car for us is that the morning is warmer than over the last few weeks and the sky has an incredible feel to it this morning. Its deep with colour and still night to all intents, an inky dark brooding mass of seething cloud.

As we head off down the driveway and on to the road out of the village and turn towards Dunbar we change direction and at the top of the hill the first hint of real dawn is threatening to follow the slim slit of grey and pale gold showing on the horizon way off out into the North Sea. A few minutes later and clouds appear in the increasing light away on my right, out across the water beyond Torness power station. A long line of low cloud almost the visible length of the estuary, it looks like something a child would paint on a picture of seascape, not quite real somehow,with a clear but dark sky above, but its there none the less. As we move on I am thinking about those clouds, how unusual they look and it occurs to me that they look like they are parched and hungrily sucking up sustenance from the sea close below, perhaps to replace what they unloaded on the land during the night, but urgently, before they are noticed and chased away by the wind coming in off the water.

The radio leads us through the inane chatterings of a changeover of DJ's and by the time that's over we are reaching the outskirts of Dunbar with its dark grey roads glistening iron hard and slick with last nights rain. The light now is perhaps my favourite time to drive; neither dark or light and the headlights having no apparent visible effect on the road ahead, but a marker to see and be seen by. Its a time that lasts only for a few precious miles in the morning or evening. A time to be savoured, at least by me. This is the time for the deer, the fox and the morning birds, the hare and the heron, with the last of the predators gone or going and the stragglers of nights life anxious to be away out of sight.

Each morning, the station gives me the opportunity for a curmudgeonly tut at some hopeless driver, holding up the rest of us with his inability to find an out of the way location to disgorge his passengers or for a thoughtless pedestrian stepping into harms way. And of course lets not forget that sleepy cyclist with the death wish and no lights. Perhaps its the horn blowing that is his real alarm call. One of these days one of us is not going to stop in time, I guarantee it.

Soon G is is gone from my side leaving the memory of a kiss lingering on my lips and a breathless "see you later" to prepare me properly for the day ahead. I turn about to retrace the road back to the A1 and home, past Cromwells camp site and the battle stane memorial to that sair fecht in 1650. I think its incredible that the battles of 1296 and 1650 took place on pretty much the same piece of land and with the same auld enemy. It seems to me they sit like quotation marks either side of the start and end of Scotlands forlorn fight for Independence.

As I drive past the stone, sitting hump-backed and largely ignored by the side of the road, the night colours are still solidly there on my right out the window and on my left the steel grey of day has charged up with the wind. Somewhere above me is where day and night split. Night still clings on by the fingertips but soon it will be gone, chased beyond the horizon by the cloudy battalions of dawn to regroup, re-arm, and reappear.

See you later.........

Listening to Mike Oldfield ' Five Miles Out'

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A Philosophy of French Toast


Hullo ma wee blog,

3am. Kitchen, coffee and computer. Banshee winds.....

It truly is the wee small hours and my sole companion is my faithful friend insomnia. Even our pair of cats, Jess and Bailey, blink scornfully at me and shoulder cosily closer together in an unspoken 'Aw jings! Not again!' when I have the audacity to put on the light in the utility room in my search for the fridge. Jess watches me with one disdainful open eye to make sure I put the light off as I skulk out with my prize of a pint of cold milk. Its pathetic when a cat can make a grown man feel guilty and uncivilised.

I smile ruefully as I put on the kettle and plan revenge via worming tablets or maybe even a bath. I can be so petty at this time of the morning.

I had driven in to Edinburgh to meet my lovely G from work and take her for a simple dinner out before chauffeuring her home as she has been struggling with a cold this week. One of those deceitful colds that robs you of your voice and some energy but somehow leaves you still feeling well enough to go to work, although she did spend the day with me yesterday in silent, voice repairing companionship as she was due to be at another of those pointless meetings that employers often hold just to prove that they actually do have communication sessions. You know the ones. They hold you prisoner all day in a place that's difficult to get to and talk to you the whole day without saying anything meaningful before pushing you out again at evening rush hour to take twice your normal travel time to get home. Sure, they pay travel expenses but don't pay for your time involved to get there and back. { I know, I'm bitter and twisted, especially at this time of the morning.}

It was good to spend the day with her. A nice break from my solitary days and mostly
spent sat together at my usual work station in the kitchen with me scoping the job sites and her doing email and various other bits and pieces on her laptop. She is one of these strange beings who gets 50 or 60 emails a day from various sources. Mainly friends but somehow she also seems to get offered lots of cheap viagra via various Internet sites who also seem to be extremely concerned about the size of her [ahem} manhood.

So, you now know who wears the trousers in this relationship, don't you!


During part of the afternoon yesterday we were discussing French Toast for some very strange but now unremembered reason. Its was probably about our completely different upbringings. I was brought up by very conventional working class Scots parents and the lovely G was raised by a, to be frank, pair of quite eccentric, but beautiful and amazing, parents. Her Mum was Swiss German and her Dad was the product of some pretty expensive private education. You know - one of those ones where the kid is packed off at 5 to be returned, university loaded, at 16 or 17 as a tightly packed bundle of neurosis with a deep understanding of ancient Greek and Latin and a Victorian attitude to women and sex. Thankfully her Dad was both a bit of a rebel and a sickly child so managed to return only slightly malformed having cleverly avoided many of the most damaging hazards and having totally escaped the clutches of private school by the age of 14 to start work in engineering at Rosyth Naval Dockyard. { bet his headmaster cringed at that one.} He then had the luck some years later to meet and fall head over heels for a young Swiss girl working in Edinburgh as a nurse and the rest as they say is history.

But anyway. Meanwhile back at the ranch as we used to say.

One of the first times my lovely G and I noticed our different 'cultural' upbringing was when we had just started living together and I had offered to make her one of my childhood favourite dishes which was French toast. I described to her how I made it and it all went well - as you would expect with such a simple thing - until I started to lay out the table for serving it. I put out salt, pepper, tomato and brown sauce when she started to get quite agitated and ask about the sugar and cinammon mix and the fruit.

"Eh? What ARE you talking about?"

"French toast should be served with a sprinking of cinammon sugar and with pears or peaches or apricots to go with it. Certainly NOT with tomato sauce! Not ever, in any circumstances. Good grief!!!"

And so we had a long and frequently 'entertaining' discussion about how this delicacy should be treated and at the end, while I of course, being a gentleman, even if a complete and unreconstructed plebian gentleman - shouldn't those two be mutually exclusive? - made sure that she got hers then and to this day with cinammon sugar and the required fruit on the side, - well, at the end we agreed to disagree. But we have still to this day, twenty odd years later, long and heated dabate and completely opposing views about what goes best with French toast.

She likes it sweet and I like mine savoury. {salt and pepper and with a hint of tomato, brown, worcester or even soy sauce} I know from years of research that I'm in the minority. I could be unique even. I don't think I have ever met anyone outside of my family who enjoys it served the way I do.

BUT......

I'm not saying she's wrong. She's just not as right as I am..........

see you later.

Listening to........ the wind howling past the gable end.
Time for a cuddle I think........

p.s. don't even THINK about trying to convince me on this. I know I may be in the minority, but you are just wrong. And I couldn't find a picture of French Toast with tomato sauce on it anywhere on the web. Bah!!!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Can anyone see the drummer........


Hullo ma wee blog,

Another concert and another trip to Glasgow. This time to the 02 academy to see The Flaming Lips in concert. From Oklahoma, they're described as a space/Neo-psychedelia/Indie rock/Alternative rock band.
They're also acclaimed for their elaborate live shows, which feature costumes, balloons, puppets, video projections, complex stage light configurations, giant hands, large amounts of confetti, and frontman Wayne Coyne's signature man-sized plastic bubble, in which he traverses the audience. In 2002, Q magazine named The Flaming Lips one of the "50 Bands to See Before You Die".

I can understand why.

It was one of the most fascinating spectacles I have ever encountered at a concert. At one point, with hundreds of orange and yellow balloons of various sizes from small to extraordinary bouncing around inside a fairly small venue, being stunned by long strobe effects and masses of confetti explosions, it was like an out of body experience of music inside one of those lava lantern lights you used to get.

It was just surreal......and hugely enjoyable.

And the music just throbbed through you, lifting your very being to the beat and being held there by a combination of Waynes eclectic personality, strange lyrics and Neil Young on acid singing style. It was just, well....fascinating. And very...Orange; from the stage crew to the speakers and kit it was like Christmas at the Easy Jet fantasy land store.

Not a gig I'm going to forget in a hurry.

Support was 'start of the white dwarfs' I think....... they didn't do an awfy good job of lodging the band name in the conscience, but they were interesting and competent for a group of 4 young lads who hadn't really got too far beyond just letting rip when they could. Unfortunately they may have been given some of the less experienced stage hands to help their performance cos whoever was managing the smoke machine was a wee bit heavy handed and often you couldn't see the band at all. The drummer did a fabulous solo on one track but he was nowhere to be seen which was a shame for all the effort he must have been putting in somewhere in all the fug. I thought the lead singer also sounded like Neil Young and during the gig Wayne mentioned that the lead singer was his nephew. That'll explain it then.....

It all gave us plenty to talk about as we drove back home in the early hours of Monday morning. And on a school night too......

Well.....for the lovely G anyway.

see you later.

Listening to The flaming lips 'Yoshimi battles the Pink Robots'

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A Night in the Enchanted Forest.



Hullo ma wee blog,

A couple of weeks ago Saturday saw the lovely G and I head off for a night out at the invitation of her brother and his girlfriend to join them, her sister and partner and a couple of other friends. A leisurely drive of just over a couple of hours north across the Forth Bridge and on up the A9 past Loch Leven to Perth and onwards towards whisky country until we reached our final destination of Pitlochry.

The weather on the way was bright and blowy to start with but by the time we crossed the Forth Bridge an hour or so later had begun to close in and the first eager drops of rain started to show on the newly washed and polished car just as we reached the Fife coast. Its always the way of it isn't it. Life is like a far side cartoon some times.

At Pitlochry mid afternoon we found a bustling wee town jumping with what were obviously visitors who had probably come, like us, for the Halloween festival and particularly to see the 'Enchanted Forest'. Pitlochry has become well known over the last few years for this event which turns a nice enough woodland walk into a spectacularly lit Halloween trail with the forest path picked out by small lamps lighting the way and with the forest and Loch Faskally lit in multiple layers of light and with scenes from history and folklore laid out in specially created little grottoes.

The lovely G's brother and girlfriend were already at the hotel so the first thing we had to do was find a place to park as the hotels own car park was full. We managed to find a space a few hundred yards away on the High St and lugged our overnight stuff down to the hotel to be checked in by the by now all too familiar, for visitors to British hotels bars and restaurants, eastern European member of staff.

{Don't get me wrong here, I don't have the slightest problem with immigrant workers coming to the UK, as long as they are legal, law abiding and tax paying, and also that they are doing a job that is paid at the right rate and is also open to British people if they want to apply, although I do have some concern that the numbers of particularly Polish coming in to these jobs does in itself keep wage rates low and will do until there is parity across the whole EU which is decades away if it ever happens at all. On holiday in Poland this year we were told that the average monthly pay in Poland is about 20% of UK average earnings so no wonder that Poles now account for almost 10% of Edinburgh population.}



It was to be an evening of good food, easy conversation and happy companionship. Times to be reflected on and enjoyed again and again that make life worth living.



To prepare us for the cold walk through the forest we headed off to a fantastic local restaurant where all the staff were dressed for Halloween as ghouls, witches and warlocks, and very atmospheric it was too. The meal was fabulous and I had probably the best steak I have had in a couple of years. It was absolutely beautiful and the pepper sauce which I had asked for on the side was also perfectly ticketty boo; warm, spicy yet still creamy soft. Just fantastic. I was left the choice of wine and luckily hit on a super wee red. So much so that we had another bottle and could easily have had a couple more, but of course the night was young and we needed to pace ourselves...



After dinner we took a special bus from the hotel up to the forest.



and spent a leisurely hour walking and enjoying the light show. Its the first time the lovely G and I had been, but we all agreed we had such a good time together that we are doing it all again next year.



I'm looking forward to it already!



See you later......

Please note the fantastic photos on this post were taken by Dave Wardle, a professional photographer, who was part of the group and are copyright. Please don't reproduce them. Thanks...


listening to Glinka Overture to 'Russlan and Ludmilla'

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Porage Diaries


Hullo ma wee blog,

The weather has dropped a few degrees now and the morning run to the station is now in 2 or 3 degrees rather than the 7 or 8 of a week or two ago. Not that cold really but you have to factor in a bit of chill coming in with the sea wind.

Porage has become a mainstay of breakfast now winter is here. I make mine with water not milk and a good turn of salt to the mix when its being made, not on top once its served. Then again, I am only making it for me. 45 - 50g of oats to 350- 400ml water and five minutes later its pretty much good to go. As good a fast food as you can get. Strangely I used to love it as a child, loaded with sugar on top of course, and then went through about 30 years of hating the thought of it so much I was never tempted to try until one day I had some in a hotel while away working somewhere and it was so good that it kind of reopened my mind to it.

Reality has come home to roost with a rejection letter after my parole board interview. I shouldn't be that surprised, it was always a big leap for me, but one that I felt I could justify. Guess I invested too much emotion in it which isn't a good thing when your unemployed I suppose but I'm gutted none the less. I put a huge amount of effort into that particular venture and to have it miss the point is hard to take. But I have asked for feedback to help me understand where I fell short. So its back to the grindstone of looking for jobs which often aren't there even if you actually want to do them. I'm quite hacked off today as its all rubbish that's on offer. I have talked it through with my lovely G and I am definitely going to give the Parole Board another crack when the next raft of recruitment comes along regardless of what work I may be doing by then. It won't be for a year as appointments run for fixed terms but hopefully now that I know what the interviews are like.....

Insurance money is beginning to kick in fully which keeps those worries mostly at bay but even that is a double edged sword as it doesn't really make me HAVE to go and get a job, and while its good not to be in that position, the lack of impetus is something that any potential employer could read any way they choose. Actually as far as insurance is concerned I have found yet another policy which will pay us even more so that is in place now too. How unreal to have more money coming in than when I was actually working!

The divisiveness of unemployment is also to be seen in frustrated wee moments and criticism given to and from each of us based around thoughts of 'its been a while now/what are you doing around the house all day' to 'do you have any idea how stressful it is doing nothing/do you know how lucky you are not to be in this situation/have something to get out of bed for in the morning'. Luckily these are few and far between but they are there, an unspoken resentment which is in reality about the situation but in vulnerable moments could be read as personal and aggressive in either direction. We know about it and have spoken it through and are on the watch out for it. Our relationship is the most important thing for both of us and its a strong one. But its a debilitating experience for drive, enthusiasm and confidence this malarky and hard not to wallow in self pity. I'll be glad when it can be over. Like millions of others I suppose. I see a table in the paper which says unemployment in the county is just nudging 8%, one of the lower ones in the national average. Not very comforting though, nor is the fact that the rate of unemployment is slowing. {Yeah, and your point IS Mr. Politician?}

So I am forcing myself to spend a couple of hours daily doing the rounds of the web sites and keeping in touch in the forlorn hope of a contact coming good, making lists of jobs around the house I want to get done and trying to get them ticked off, mostly unsuccessfully for the last couple of weeks for sure. But its a temporary thing I'm not going to lie down to. Things will get better, truly better for us in time. At least we have the finance to let us tough it out.

Meanwhile its back tae auld claes 'n' purritch

see you later.

Listening to Sting 'dream of the blue turtles'

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