Friday, 30 May 2008

Park and Grind

Now, I've ranted on here about Midlothian Council before. And, doubtless I'll do it again. But the Park and Ride facility at Sheriffhall - which genius in the Big Pink Hoose in Dalkeith thought of that?

To be fair, the concept is a good one. The daily grind that is commuting to the centre of Edinburgh would test the patience of a saint. So having a facility where you can park your car on the outskirts of the city and use regular public transport to complete your journey seems sound. Less traffic in the city centre, no need to worry about parking fines - the Park and Ride site is free - and less traffic congestion. Excellent. Except for the bit where the Council planners get involved...

Now, one of Edinburgh's main traffic bottlenecks is the infamous Sheriffhall roundabout. During the rush hour you can sit in queues of traffic there for up to half an hour. Doesn't sound too horrific in this day and age but when you sit for that length of time there and back that's an hour of your day. Almost every day. A Park and Ride site would surely ease this congestion. It probably would. But Midlothian Council, in their wisdom, have built the facility someway past the Sheriffhall roundabout - meaning commuters from Midlothian to Edinburgh still have to sit in seemingly endless queues of traffic.

The most logical idea would surely be to have had the park and ride on the Midlothian side of the by-pass - before you head for the notorious roundabout. Less cars, smaller queues, and you get an hour of your life back every day. But then again, logic doesn't sit easily alongside the words Midlothian Council - take a look at the latest location for yet another set of traffic lights in Dalkeith.

I really hope the new Park and Ride facility works. But, unless it's moved, I fear it won't be the huge success the council bigwigs think it will be. Particularly as it seems no one has explained the concept to First Bus - the 7.40 number 86 service to Edinburgh didn't show up this morning. Again...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Til Death Us Do Part

The story about a woman who laced a cake with rat poison and gave it to her husband reminded me of a story from a few years ago when I was in Tenerife with my wife.

For the first three nights we walked along the beach front, passing the endless row of restaurants where men of dubious honour would prowl outside trying to seduce passers by to try their food. There was one particular restaurant where the 'prowler' was quite insistent, to the point he was becoming a pain in the rear. On the fourth night, however, Mrs Smith clung, like grim death, to a fruit machine in an amusement arcade and I opted for a stroll on my own. Sure enough the Spanish prowler approached me.

'Ola, my Scottish friend! Where is your wife? Have you killed her?!'

I looked at him with glazed eyes and, chewing my lip, fought back the tears. He could see I was upset.

'What ees wrong my friend?'

'You have offended me with that comment' I replied.

'How so?'

'That woman is my third wife - my first two wives died in tragic circumstances'

'Oh, my friend' said a now concerned Spaniard, 'I am so sorry. What happened?'

'Well,' I began, 'my first wife died of food poisoning. She ate some poisoned mushrooms. There was no hope - she was dead within hours' I shook my head.

'Oh my friend - I am really sorry. And what about your second wife?'

I gave him a pitiful look. 'She died after receiving a severe blow to the head'

His jaw dropped as he tried to find the words 'Oh no! How did that happen?'

I went over and put my hand on his shoulder. 'She wouldn't eat the mushrooms...'

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Happy Birthday The Modfather

Some of my rants have had a theme of growing older (dis)gracefully and how the older I get the grumpier and more irritable I seem to be (my two daughters will testify to that!) And today is one of these days when, yet again, I feel my age with the news that Paul Weller is 50 years old today.

The original angry young man of the punk era of the late 1970s is no longer young and quite possibly no longer angry (unlike some of us from that era) Weller first came to national attention in 1977 with The Jam, which he had formed four years earlier in Woking with his friends Steve Brookes (lead guitar), Rick Buckler (drums) and Bruce Foxton (rhythm guitar). Weller himself took lead vocal duties and bass guitar. When Brookes left the band, Weller and Foxton swapped guitar roles.

The Jam's single "In the City" took them into the UK Top 40 for the first time in May 1977. Although every subsequent single had a placing within the Top 40, it would not be until the band released "The Eton Rifles" that they broke into the Top 10, hitting the No. 3 spot in November 1979.

From then on their blend of pop melodies and politically conscious lyrics made them hugely popular, and in 1980 they hit number one for the first time with "Going Underground". Legend has it that hitting the charts at all was in fact an accident for "Going Underground": it was supposed to be a double A side with "Dreams of Children", but a mistake at a French pressing plant meant "Going Underground" was given 'A' status on the label. Whether this is true or apocryphal is not known, but whatever the case, after "Going Underground", The Jam - and Weller in particular - were UK superstars.

Weller was strongly influenced by 1960s bands such as The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Who. However, that did not mean that he was averse to finding inspiration in the works of many other artists. For example, The Jam's second number one single, "Start!" lifts the bass line from The Beatles' "Taxman", while the chord progression of "It's Too Bad" from All Mod Cons is heavily based on "She Loves You". The group's third chart topper, "Town Called Malice", which has a bass line taken straight from one of Martha Reeves & the Vandellas' less-remembered hits, "I'm Ready for Love."

By the early 1980s, The Jam had become one of the biggest bands in Britain. They became the only band other than The Beatles to perform two songs ("Town Called Malice" and "Precious") on one edition of Top of the Pops (the feat would later also be equalled by Oasis and Manic Street Preachers). The Jam even had one single, "That's Entertainment", reach No. 21 in the UK singles chart despite not even being released in that country - it got there purely on the strength of the huge number of people buying import sales of the German single release. Weller, however, was eager to explore other musical avenues he felt he could not follow with The Jam. Later Jam songs such as "The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had to Swallow)" - often described by critics as "a Style Council song pretending to be a Jam song" - were written in a more melodic, soulful style.

In 1982, Weller announced that The Jam would disband at the end of the year. Their final single, "Beat Surrender", became their fourth UK chart topper, going straight to No. 1 in its first week, which was still a rare achievement at the time. Their farewell concerts at Wembley Arena were multiple sell-outs. Their final concert took place at the Brighton Centre on the December 11, 1982.

Like thousands of others, my early adult life was influenced by the music of Weller. I was never particularly keen on The Style Council, Weller's successor to The Jam and it wasn't until Weller went solo some years later that I began listen to his new compositions again.

Happy 50th Birthday Paul Weller - it isn't the bitterest pill you've had to swallow!


The organisation I work for is part of a group that has its head office in England. I recently received an e-mailed memo about diversity and the pitfalls of talking to groups of employees. An excerpt of this memo is below:

It is also important to be aware of your body language. Some cultures are very formal and do not appreciate animated gestures and smiles. Gestures that are acceptable in one culture may be considered rude in another, for example a ‘thumbs up’ sign means ‘I’m OK’ or ‘everything is great’ in the UK but is an extreme insult in Iraq. Similarly, some cultures regard strong eye contact as a sign of honesty and credibility, while others find it arrogant. Audience participation is something to bear in mind as well – some audiences are willing to engage with the speaker, while others prefer the opposite. A British audience may nod their heads to show understanding, while a Japanese audience may listen with their eyes closed until the end. Doing a little background research will help to ensure that these reactions do not faze you.

This is part of the political correctness that has enforced itself on this country. I remember six months ago a school in Edinburgh deciding not to hold a Nativity play for fear of offending non Christians. I've read other stories such as the office where staff are banned from displaying Happy 40th/50th/60th birthday banners for colleagues as this is ageist; a coffee shop telling customers they could have coffee with milk or coffee without milk as saying black or white coffee could be deemed racist; and an organisation banning the term 'brainstorm' as this may upset people who are epileptic.

I do think, at times, I'm getting too old to work in the HR profession.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Old Money

At the office the other day I was checking over an invoice from our advertising agency and noted the usual one per cent production charge. This particular job advert was not placed in the usual national newspapers but in the local 'rag' and therefore was a fraction of the usual cost, at just £33. The production charge was, therefore, £0.03. Displaying my grandfather status I remarked that once upon a time you could go to the corner shop and buy three penny chews for 'thruppence'

This drew looks of bemusement from my younger colleagues.

'Old money' I went on, 'pre-decimalisation'

'You what, Granddad?'

Most of my colleagues had never heard of 'old money' and the situation was compounded when a senior manager came in shortly afterwards and said 'Ah, yes, I remember LSD' The young 'uns immediately inferred I had been talking or perhaps had been dabbling during my lunch break in drugs before I struggled to put them straight. 'No, no, shillings, sixpences, ha'pennies - they were British currency before February 1971' The looks of bemusement changed to looks of pity and a shake of the head or two.

I was only nine years old in 1971 but I well remember the confusion and indeed trepidation among my mother and her ilk at the thought of the change in monetary system in this country. Shopkeepers - we had them in the early 1970s before the likes of Tesco began their world domination plan - had to change their tills, banks were on hand to explain the new system to the confused public and a quite unsettling period ensued. But, being British - well, Scottish - we soon got used to the idea although the demise of the ten bob note - fifty pence - was quite sad.

As is the increasing amount of pity being shown to me by my so called colleagues.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Call Centre Conversations

I've been told these are genuine - and I've no reason to doubt it...

Customer: 'I've been ringing 0800 2100 for two days and can't get through to
enquiries, can you help?'.
Operator: 'Where did you get that number from, sir?'.
Customer: 'It was on the door to the Travel Centre'.
Operator: 'Sir, they are our opening hours'.

Samsung Electronics
Caller: 'Can you give me the telephone number for Jack?'
Operator: 'I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand who you are talking about'.
Caller: 'On page 1, section 5, of the user guide it clearly states that I need
to unplug the fax machine from the AC wall socket and telephone Jack
before cleaning. Now, can you give me the number for Jack?'
Operator: 'I think you mean the telephone point on the wall'.

RAC Motoring Services
Caller: 'Does your European Breakdown Policy cover me when I am travelling
in Australia ?'
Operator: 'Doesn't the product name give you a clue?'

Caller (enquiring about legal requirements while travelling in France ):
'If I register my car in France , do I have to change the steering wheel to the other side of the car?'

Then there was the caller who asked for a knitwear company in Woven.
Operator: 'Woven? Are you sure?'
Caller: 'Yes. That's what it says on the label; Woven in Scotland '.

Tech Support: 'I need you to right-click on the Open Desktop'.
Customer: 'OK'.
Tech Support: 'Did you get a pop-up menu?'.
Customer: 'No'.
Tech Support: 'OK. Right-Click again. Do you see a pop-up menu?'
Customer: 'No'.
Tech Support: 'OK, sir. Can you tell me what you have done up until this
Customer: 'Sure. You told me to write 'click' and I wrote 'click''.

This is a true story from the Word Perfect Helpline, which was transcribed from a recording monitoring the customer care department. Needless to say the Help Desk employee was fired; however, he/she is currently suing the Word Perfect organisation for 'Termination without Cause'.

Actual dialogue of a former WordPerfect Customer Support employee (I can see why these conversations are recorded...)

Operator: 'Ridge Hall, computer assistance; may I help you?'

Caller: 'Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect.'

Operator: 'What sort of trouble??'

Caller: 'Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went

Operator: 'Went away?'

Caller: 'They disappeared.'

Operator: 'Hmm So what does your screen look like now?'

Caller: 'Nothing.'

Operator: 'Nothing?'
Caller: 'It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type.'

Operator: 'Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out??'
Caller: 'How do I tell?'

Operator: 'Can you see the C: prompt on the screen??'

Caller: 'What's a sea-prompt?'

Operator: 'Never mind, can you move your cursor around the screen?'

Caller: 'There isn't any cursor: I told you, it won't accept anything I

Operator: 'Does your monitor have a power indicator??'

Caller: 'What's a monitor?'

Operator: 'It's the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does
it have a little light that tells you when it's on??'

Caller: 'I don't know.'

Operator: 'Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the
power cord goes into it. Can you see that??'

Caller: 'Yes, I think so.'

Operator: 'Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it's plugged
into the wall.

Caller: 'Yes, it is.'

Operator: 'When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were
two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?'

Caller: 'No.'

Operator: 'Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the
other cable.'

Caller: 'Okay, here it is.'

Operator: 'Follow it for me, and tell me if it's plugged securely into the
back of your computer.'

Caller: 'I can't reach.'

Operator: 'Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is??'

Caller: 'No.'

Operator: 'Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over??'

Caller: 'Oh, it's not because I don't have the right angle - it's because
it's dark.'

Operator: 'Dark?'

Caller: 'Yes - the office light is off, and the only light I have is
coming in from the window.'

Operator: 'Well, turn on the office light then.'

Caller: 'I can't.'

Operator: 'No? Why not??'

Caller: 'Because there's a power failure.'

Operator: 'A power......... A power failure? Aha, Okay, we've got it
licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing
stuff your computer came in??'

Caller: 'Well, yes, I keep them in the closet.'

Operator: 'Good. Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just
like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you
bought it from.'

Caller: 'Really? Is it that bad?'

Operator: 'Yes, I'm afraid it is.'

Caller: 'Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them??'

Operator: 'Tell them you're too f --- ing stupid to own a computer!!!!!'

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Face Like Thunder

Enforced smiling in the workplace puts health at risk

Smiling too much at work can seriously damage your health, German scientists have claimed. Researchers at a university in Germany - where the right to be surly is almost a national pastime - now claim enforced jolliness on the job is much more likely to make people fall ill.

Researchers said 'professional smilers', such as flight attendants, sales personnel, call centre operators, waiters, and others in contact with the public for extended periods of time, were at risk of seriously harming their health.

Speaking at the end of the two-year study, Professor Dieter Zapf, a researcher into human emotions who led psychologists at Frankfurt University, said that fake friendliness led to depression, stress, and a lowering of the immune system.

This in turn can trigger more serious ailments, such as high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, he claimed.

"Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings, there are negative consequences for his health," Zapf added.

Taken from Personnel Today

Now I have a perfect excuse for going into work tomorrow with a face like thunder...

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Happy Birthday Laura Smith

I'm feeling my age this week. Today is my daughter Laura's 22nd birthday. She has grown up so quickly into a lively young woman, herself a mother to two wonderful children, Jack and Hannah. I remember the day Laura was born like it were yesterday. She was born at 3.30pm on Saturday 17 May 1986. Her mother was fifteen hours in labour but when Laura finally arrived it was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Up alongside seeing Hearts win the Scottish Cup...

It was ten years ago yesterday that Hearts ended thirty six years of hurt by winning the trophy. Again, it feels like yesterday. I well remember coming home from the final in Glasgow via the party in Gorgie at just after midnight to find twelve year old Laura still up and hyperactive. A few of her pals were having a 'sleep-over' but I was in a state of such delirium she could have invited the whole of Edinburgh and I wouldn't have minded. But thinking back it seems incredible that so much has happened to my 'wee girl' in just ten years. At that time she was still at primary school, preparing for the move to secondary in the summer. Now, a decade on, she has her own home, two jobs, two kids and the financial worries that the majority of us have. I sometimes wonder if, at 22, she should be carefree with not a worry in the world - but then we wouldn't have the joy that Jack and Hannah bring.

I was already feeling my age as a result of hearing the tragic news of the passing of Celtic legend Tommy Burns. Just 51, Tommy was one of football's good guys and I remember him putting Hearts to the sword on many an occasion.

Ironically, I was only saying to a colleague a few days ago how I much prefer going to a funeral than a wedding. At least at a funeral you can look miserable and get away with it. At a wedding it's all smiles and having to look happy.

Which reminds me of the fella who tells his pal he'll be wearing the kilt at his wedding

'And what's the tartan?' asks his mate.

'Oh, she'll be wearing white'"

Happy Birthday Laura.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

On Its Last Legs...

My laptop is nearly three years old. And in computer terms that's equivalent to it making the trek to the PC Post Office to draw its old age pension. What was a sleek, new machine in the early summer of 2005 has now become a slow, creaking, grumbling former shadow of itself. Much like its owner some might say...

The battery life is such that I get not much more than an hour from it before having to recharge it. When I first got it, I could enjoy more than three hours literally wireless. Of course, part of the problem may be the fact I've installed so many additional programmes on it that it's beginning to slow down. It's memory isn't as sharp as it was as a result - again, much like its owner...

The laptop still works but takes much longer to do even the simplest of tasks. Even switching it on is arduous - I could discuss the human rights issue in China with the woman next door and still the machine would be chuntering into life. And she's 82 and deaf...

So the obvious solution is to buy another one. And laptops are relatively cheap nowadays compared to when they first came out. Around £300 should get me a half decent one but, to be frank, I haven't a Scooby Doo when it comes to these things. If anyone does read this rubbi, er, this blog - and that's debatable - and they can recommend a money for value laptop then I'd be very grateful. Being an aspiring writer (and the book is still available in all good bookshops etc. etc.) I use the laptop mainly for churning out prose for the programme for the once mighty Heart of Midlothian FC. That and surfing the net, watching the odd dvd (some very odd dvds) and trying to work out my rapidly diminishing finances on a spreadsheet.

So I'm not after anything fancy. Just something that does what it can without any fuss, is reasonably reliable, won't let me down and gets through the minimum of work. All together now - much like its owner...

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Talking Americans

In the Monty Python film, The Meaning of Life, 'Death' interrupts a dinner party.

Grim Reaper: Silence! I… have… come… for… you.

Angela: You mean… to…?

Grim Reaper: Take you… away. That is my purpose. I… am… Death.

Geoffrey: Well, that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?

Howard Katzenberg: I don't see it that way, Geoff. Let me tell you what we're dealing with here. A potentially positive learning experience that can—

Grim Reaper: SHUT UP! Shut up, you American! You always talk, you Americans. You talk, and you talk, and say "let me tell you something" and "I just wanna say this". Well, you're dead now, so shut up!

Howard Katzenberg: Dead?

Grim Reaper: Dead

One of the funniest scenes from, ironically, one of the Python's less amusing offerings. And I still refer my two daughters to it as they gaze at the television in awe of the latest US comedy import which has as much impact on me as a visit to the dentist (incidentally, if my dentist should stumble across this, I will pay that bill on my next visit. Honest, guv. I like to keep him sweet for obvious reasons but he's an ex trade union official and I'm always wary that when he checks my teeth it's a case of one out all out...But I digress)

Take the US 'sitcom' Friends for instance. I wish someone would. They stopped making this programme years ago but in the UK, Channel Four still broadcast endless repeats with the studio audience hooting and hollaring at nearly every utterance. My two girls watch agog while I stand and try to figure out what is amusing. There's a spin-off from Friends called Joey - I watched this for ten minutes recently and, honestly, I've had more laughs at a funeral.

The countless digital and satellite channels have hour after hour of American sitcoms. Few, if any, are even mildly amusing. The exception being The Simpsons. I'll give you that one. But it seems to me Britain is fast becoming another state of the USA - if Americans think something is funny then it must be. It's another example of the Americanisation of this country.

When I was a lad we spoke about going to see a film. Now, it's 'checking out a movie'. McDonalds, as in every other country around the world, are everywhere - 'do you want regular fries or would you like to go large?' No, just give me some fecking chips. Even sports coverage in this country extends to American football, baseball and basketball. The seemingly endless commercials on television and radio quite often have an American accent urging you to buy this product now. And the extraordinary media coverage in the UK given to the elections across the pond drives me to despair. I don't honestly give a monkey's who replaces George W. Bush as President - just as long as someone does.

Now, I have a very good friend from USA who is one of the loveliest people I know (although Seattle is more or less Canadian which makes June very nearly a citizen of the British Commonwealth...) and I have nothing against our cousins across the water. But Scotland is slowly turning into an American annexe and I, for one, want things left the way they are. That's not being anti-American. Just pro-Scots. And as if to underline this point the Grim Reaper in The Meaning of Life carries on...

Geoffrey: Now, look here! You barge in here, quite uninvited, break glasses, and then announce, quite casually, that we're all dead. Well, I would remind you that you are a guest in this house, and— [With a bony finger, the Grim Repear pokes Geoffrey in the eye.]

Geoffrey: Ah! Oh.

Grim Reaper: Be quiet! Englishmen, you're all so f*cking pompous. None of you have got any balls at all....

Now don't get me started on the English...

Friday, 9 May 2008

Better Than Walking the Streets

A slump in the number of stamped letters being sent in the UK has seen Royal Mail's losses widen to £279m in the year to the end of March. The company said it faced a time of "difficult challenges" after the opening up of the postal service. The results included its first loss from its stamped letters business - which is handling about three million fewer letters each day than a year ago.
BBC business editor Robert Peston said that the results were "pretty grim".
The Mail made a loss of £10m in the 12 months running to the end of March 2007.

From the BBC News website.

Well, strike me down with a recorded delivery. Apparently, three of the worst postal service areas are Dundee, Falkirk and Edinburgh. Now to the good people of Dalkeith this isn't a major surprise. We can get our mail delivered anytime between 10.00am and 2.00pm. No second delivery, of course - it's just the one. But if you expect your mail delivered before you head off to work in the morning then you may wish to nominate yourself for a Comedy Award at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

It's not the first time that I've had mail go missing. Both sending and receiving. I posted a birthday card to my mother the year before last and foolishly enclosed a £20 gift voucher for Marks and Spencer with the card. She never received it.

I've lost count of the number of times people have asked me if I've received mail they've sent me, only for me to give them a quizical look. On one occasion, the postie shoved a recorded mail letter addressed to me through the letter box. Without knocking for a signature. Problem was, he pushed it through my neighbour's letter box. And she was on holiday...

The postal service in this part of the world is, to put it mildly, shoddy. I've complained to Royal Mail in the past but have got nowhere. Apparently my complaint got lost in the post...

I e-mail friends and colleagues now rather than use snail mail. I pay much of my bills on-line, thus avoiding the need for a lethargic postie to think about whether he/she can be bothered to deliver my cheque. A decision helped, incidentally, by Royal Mail's decision to remove the post box from the end of my street meaning it's even more of an effort for me to post mail.
So the news that Royal Mail is losing millions of pounds is hardly startling. But I can already hear the rumblings of discontent among the trade unions who'll doubtless be discussing ballot papers very soon.

And if posties consider strike action through a postal ballot then who knows what may happen....

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Wendy...Nats Go Marching In

Wendy Alexander. There's a woman who could start a fight in an empty hoose...

The leader - although I use the term loosely - of the Labour Party in Scotland has changed stance yet again on her party's stance on a referendum for independence for Scotland. Just a matter of weeks ago, Alexander said she was totally opposed to a referendum. Now she wants to bring forward a parliamentary bill for a public vote on independence and has called on the Scottish Government to speed up its plans for a 2010 referendum. 'Bring it on' one source has quoted her.

Now it's difficult to know what the Labour Party - sorry, 'New Labour' - stands for these days, if anything at all. In the wake of the party's abysmal showing in the English local elections last week and the humiliation of seeing Ken Livingstone defeated by Boris Cripes Johnson in the fight to be Mayor of London, surely the last thing Prime Minister Gordon Brown would wish is for his Scottish loose cannon to go off on one again.

After just a year in power, the Scottish people are demonstrably better off than they ever were under 'New Labour' (same old broken promises) I suspect that's what is behind Alexander's latest outburst, a statement which must make her brother Douglas, a senior Westminster official, cringe with embarrassment.
Playing roulette with the future of the Scottish nation may be a gimmick for Ms Alexander. Two years from now, when the referendum will take the spotlight for real, I suspect the laugh will be on her.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Escape To...A Monday Holiday

Now, I'm not one to complain......but today is a local holiday - in fact it's a holiday for much of the country - and, for once, the weather is half decent. The sun is out, the temperature is in double figures and Edinburgh resonates to the sound of grass cutters, hapless attempts at d-i-y and screaming kids. But, I'm still suffering from the effects of that near fatal disease known as Man Flu. I'll spare you the gory details but suffice to say I wouldn't be at all surprised if shares in Kleenex tissues and Lemsip have quadrupled over the weekend...

Feeling sorry for myself, I tuned in to a bit of telly this lunchtime and stumbled upon yet another showing of Escape to Victory on Channel Four. It's one of the corniest films ever made but it's one of those where, despite having seen it several times before, you sit down and continue to watch the antics of Michael Caine and co. build a football team from prisoners of war in Nazi Germany with the intention of making good their escape from the camp.

I switched on at the point where the likes of 1980s Scotland star John Wark - in his cameo role in the film - runs about like a headless chicken but still impresses coach Michael Caine. The ball then trundles off the pitch to a bunch of soldiers sitting watching when one of them collects the ball and demonstrates a hugely impressive display of keepie-uppy.

In awe, Caine asks 'Where did you learn to do that?'

'Oh, on the streets of Trinidad' replies the legendary Pele, temporarily forgetting the fact he's Brazilian and the most famous player the world has ever produced. Of course, as the film is set in the Second World War, Pele would, in reality, have been but a baby but it all adds to the daftness of it all. Least not the role of Sylvester Stallone as the heroic goalkeeper, despite his assertion that 'soccer is not a proper sport and is for fairies'. I could mention Hearts present day 'striker' Christian Nade but that would be vindictive...

But, alas, I had to leave Caine and his boys and attend to my small but rapidly over-growing garden which has taken on the appearance of a Burmudan jungle. Well, I will as soon as I've finished this glass of 'toddy' and stuffed another half box of Kleenex up my over-sized beak.

Have I mentioned I have Man Flu...?

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Prison and Work

IN get three meals a day.
AT get a break for one meal and you have to pay for it.

IN get time off for good behaviour.
AT get more work for good behaviour.

IN PRISON..........the guard locks and unlocks all the doors for you.
AT must often carry a security card and open all the doors for yourself.

IN can watch TV and play games.
AT could get fired for watching TV and playing games.

IN PRISON..........they allow your family and friends to visit.
AT aren't even supposed to speak to your family.

IN PRISON.........all expenses are paid by the taxpayers with no work required.
AT get to pay all your expenses to go to work, and they deduct taxes from your salary to pay for prisoners.

IN spend most of your life inside bars wanting to get out.
AT WORK spend most of your time wanting to get out and go inside bars.

IN PRISON must deal with sadistic wardens.
AT WORK...........they are called managers

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Happy Birthday Jack the Lad

It's my grandson Jack's 3rd birthday. So it's a very Happy Birthday to the wee scamp.

I thought about putting a photo of the wee fella on this post but thought better of it. It's a sad reflection of the world we live in today that there are unscrupulous people out there who wouldn't think twice about using photographs of children - even those as young as Jack - for immoral purposes. Sickening but, sadly, a reality. So, instead, there's a photo of Zippy from the children's television programme Rainbow from the 1970s/80s.

Rainbow was a favourite of Jack's mum, Laura, twenty years ago. I was having a rummage in the loft a few weeks back and came across an old VHS tape of the show. I dusted it down and now Jack's hooked, just like his mum two decades ago. His granny has even baked him a birthday cake which is meant to look like Zippy but actually looks more like Al Jolson...

Jack has brought so much happiness into our lives and is the apple of his Papa's eye. I may be toiling with Man Flu (see previous post) but I'll struggle out of my sick bed to go round and see the little tike later.

And, no doubt, infect the rest of the family.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Man Flu

Now I'm not one to complain.

But it's Friday night, the start of a long weekend with no work on Monday due to a public holiday. Whoopee. But instead of propping the bar of one of Edinburgh's finest hostelries celebrating the prospect of three days away from the perpetual struggle that is work, I'm lying in bed - fighting what will be a losing battle against the onset of that most serious of illnesses.

Man Flu.

My throat became dry around lunchtime, painful late afternoon and now, early evening, it's absolute agony. I feel like I've swallowed a broken bottle. My head aches, my nose is beginning to stream akin to a current on the River Forth and my body is aching, like it's been twelve rounds with Joe Calzaghe.

So, I'm propped up in bed, all on my ownsome, with a mansize box of Kleenex tissues for a mansize illness. As any man will tell you, women just don't know how lucky they are. When the fairer sex get a sniffle it's as if the world is ending. But we males get the much more serous Man Flu and get little sympathy.

I only hope I am able to struggle out of bed on Saturday for my grandson Jack's third birthday party. Daughter Laura will have a houseful of screaming little brats as Jack's friends head for platefuls of crisps, chocolate, sausage rolls and juice.

I can't wait to join the little blighters and wouldn't want to have any excuse not to go.

Now, where's the Lemsip....?

Thursday, 1 May 2008


It's now over a month since the elections took place in Zimbawbe.In the aftermath of the March 29, 2008 elections, Zimbabwe's future seems uncertain. Although opposition parties captured a majority in the lower house of Parliament, the ruling ZANU-PF party has demanded a recount in two dozen races that could tip the balance back in its favour.
The results of the presidential race have not been released; the opposition has claimed victory with enough of a majority to avoid a runoff, but ZANU-PF has denied the claim. The election itself was relatively peaceful, though there was not a level playing field due to allegations of voter roll manipulation, the placing of polling stations to depress the opposition vote, and the use of food assistance to persuade citizens to vote for ZANU-PF.

Since March 29, the youth militias have committed numerous beatings against people suspected of votong for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Over one hundred people have required hospitalization and several thousand have been displaced from their homes. The government maintains a monopoly on the television and radio media, and its denial of accreditation to independent domestic and foreign journalists means that Zimbabweans lack access to information from alternative views.

Amnesty International's priority human rights concerns in Zimbabwe are the lack of an independent judiciary, a concern for the protection of human rights defenders, and to ensure that all Zimbabweans have security of tenure for land on which they live.

Taken from Amnesty International's Website