Thursday, 31 July 2008

It's That Time of Year Again

Excuse me, sonny, what time does the One o'Clock gun go off?

Can I buy whisky fresh rather than this matured stuff?

Is that your Edinborogh Castle?

What time is the midnight train out of Edinburgh?

Gee, that's swell. Let's get the five o'clock bus back to our hotel, it should be quiet at that time...

Yes, for the next three weeks it's the Edinburgh Festival. I think I'll head for the hills once I find out what time the midnight express leaves....

Bloody Windows Vista

I treated myself to a new laptop a few weeks ago as the previous one was over three years old - and in computing terms that's almost as old as I am. I sold the old one to my daughter Michaela but I'm now beginning to wish I hadn't. This new shiny laptop has several new features - most of them damn annoying. Take bloody Windows Vista for instance...

My old laptop had all my old documents - dozens of football articles, the draft of my last book Hearts - The Diary of an Incredible Season (still available from all good bookshops etc. etc.) bits of correspondence and other stuff all neatly filed in an easy, accessible format. I quite liked Windows XP, it was easy to use - and I knew where everything was. But those smart people at Microsoft clearly think Windows Vista is far advanced. It may well be but for my ageing brain, it isn't! And it's bloody slow! (Windows Vista, not my brain. Well, okay, I take your point...) Perhaps I'm doing something incredibly stupid (and I don't need any snide remarks here) but Windows XP just seemed so much quicker. Perhaps the fact my new laptop has a dyslexic keyboard doesn't help - I type the letters in the correct order but on the screen they come out all gobbledygook.

On Monday I e-mailed my article for the programme for Hearts first league game of the season on Saturday week. Only, the good people at Tynecastle can't open the bloody thing! Can you re-send it as a Word document they asked. Sure - only I was certain I had sent it as a Word document in the first place. So I've re-sent it tonight as a Word 97-2003 document and also as a text file in case all else fails. I now have three versions of the same document in my folder and it's the first game of the season.

My laptop also has McAfee as a virus checker. My old machine had AVG which worked perfectly. McAfee works too well - it thinks many of the e-mails sent to me are 'spam' when they're not. McAfee now tell me my month's free trial is over and I should sign up for at least a year at the cost of forty odd pounds. Except I don't want to - I'd rather have AVG. Someone told me I should uninstall McAfee from my machine and install AVG - this should fix the problem. But I'm loathe to do this as I fear AVG may not work with Bloody Windows Vista and I'll be at the mercy of the thousands of viruses which may destroy my machine.

That is, if I don't do it first by sticking my right foot through it. A inadvisable way of 're-booting' my machine....

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

UK scientists have developed a drug which may halt the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Trials of the drug, known as rember, in 321 patients showed an 81% difference in rate of mental decline compared with those not taking the treatment. The Aberdeen University researchers said the drug targeted the build-up of a specific protein in the brain.

Alzheimer's experts were optimistic about the results, but said larger trials were now needed.
Presenting the results at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, Professor Claude Wischik said the drug may be on the market by 2012.

From the BBC News Website (for full story click on the blog title)

Alzheimer's is a soul destroying - as well as mind destroying - illness. I had close hand experience of it a few years ago when two elderly relatives took it. The couple had been married for over sixty years but age took its toll and the old man died after a long illness. His wife had been struggling with the onset of Alzheimer's for some time but the traumatic effect of losing her beloved seemed to intensify her illness. She stood motionless at his funeral and asked me the heartbreaking question - 'who has died, son?'

A couple of years ago there was a television documentary about former Scotland football manager Ally McLeod, famous - perhaps some might say infamous - for leading Scotland to the ill-fated World Cup Finals in 1978. In his twilight years, Ally was affected by Alzheimers and the documentary showed an ailing Ally sitting at home with his wife watching old videos of Scotland losing to Peru. Strikingly, Ally could not recall what had happened. He has now since passed away.

A very dear friend of mine in Seattle is anxious about her mother who has recently been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's. I hope this news item will give June and millions of other people in her situation some hope.

Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel...

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Farewell to The King of Scottish Broadcasters

I was saddened to hear that one of Scotland's best writers and broadcasters, Bob Crampsey, has died after a long illness. He was 78.

Over many years, he contributed to sports programmes on BBC Scotland, Scottish Television and Radio Clyde. Football commentators and pundits are often ridiculed for their perceived bias towards the Old Firm in particular and, in some cases, just being nothing more than a comic figure (you know who I'm talking about here...)

But Bob Crampsey was a hugely respected figure. His dulcet tones were an integral part of BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound programme for years and, unlike many of his colleagues, when Bob spoke you listened. His knowledge of Scottish football was second to none but his knowledge in general was impressive - he won the BBC's Brain of Britain in 1965.

Those of use who fondly remember Scottish Television's Scotsport from three decades ago - when the show was ran on a professional basis - recall the gentle tones of two gentlemen in sports jackets. The legendary Arthur Montford and Bob Crampsey, whose monologue at the end of each programme was often interesting and always heartfelt.
Crampsey joined BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound in 1987 and retired in 2001. It's fair to say the show lost a certain kudos after his retirement.
Farewell to a broadcasting legend. There'll never be another Bob Crampsey.

The Story of the Blues

"...well that's my story and I'm sticking to that. So let's have another drink and let's talk about the blues.

Blues is about dignity, it's about self-respect, and no matter what they take away from you - that's yours for keeps.

I remember how it was, how every medium - T.V. and papers and radio and all those people were saying: 'you're on the scrap-heap, you're useless', and I remember how easy it was to start believing that. I remember how you'd hear people take it for granted that it was true - just 'cause someone with an ounce of power said so.

And that's a problem now, too many oddballs, too many pocketbook psychologists and would-be philosophers with an axe to grind. But there's a solution, it's not easy, but it's a matter of coming to terms in your heart with situation you're in, a matter of choosing how things go for you and not having things forced upon you.

There are plenty of forces against you, forcing you against your will, your ideals - you've got to hope for the best, and that's the best you can hope for - you've got to hope against hope...

I remember something Sal Paradise said, he said: 'the city intellectuals of the world are debauched from the full body blood-of-the-land and are just rootless fools'.

So listen, when the smile, the condescending pat-on-the-back comes and says: 'we're sorry, but you're nothing, you've got nothing for us and we've got nothing for you', you say: 'No', and say it loud: "NO!", and remember, people who talk about revolution and a class-struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love, and what is positive in the refusal and constraint......"

One of the best songs ever written. The sublime Pete Wylie.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Countdown to....

It seemed a tad ironical that I had trouble sleeping last night. Having been affected by Man Flu, I have been struggling for much of this week to keep my eyes open. Not that I expect sympathy, mind. Although I'm grateful for the hundreds of comments from people on this blog who have been wishing me well....

But last night I just couldn't get to sleep. Perhaps it had something to do with the fits of hysterics that afflicted me as Edinburgh's Talk 107 radio station gave regular updates of Hibernian's attempts to provide some sort of opposition to Barcelona at Murrayfield. Congratulations to the wee team who managed to keep the score down to 6-0.

So, at 1.30am I headed downstairs and switched on the telly. BBC2 was trying manfully to fill the gap that resulted from a recount from the Glasgow East Parliamentary by-election. A superb win for the Scottish National Party - I've never felt independence so close for my country as I do now. But flicking through the plethora of brainless television channels provided courtesy of Freeview, I was gobsmacked to discover what was happening on QVC - The Shopping Channel. The early hours of 25th July it may have been but QVC were a full five months ahead - it was Countdown to Christmas.

I kid you not, dear reader, QVC's studio was decorated with Christmas trees, tinsel, holly, the lot. I thought they were bad last year when I caught glimpse of a similar show in August. But with temperatures yesterday in Edinburgh in the seventies and scarcely a breath of air to be had in the stifling heat of the night, QVC were digging out the Santa Claus outfits.

Many of us are already convinced Christmas is increasingly a commercial festival instead of a religious one. But there's a time. And July just isn't it.

Someone, please, stop the world. I want to get off....

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Not a Well Man

Now, I'm not one to complain. But despite my youngest daughter Michaela's assertion that I have a 'bit of a sniffle', I'm more inclined to think I've succumbed once again to Man flu. So as I'm not a well man, I thought rather than waste important energy on another rant, I would offer this story...

This fella, having split from his latest girlfriend, decided to take a holiday. He booked himself on a cruise and proceeded to have the time of his life, that is, until the ship sank.He found himself on an island with no other people, no supplies,nothing, only bananas and coconuts.

After about four months, he is lying on the beach one day when the most gorgeous woman he has ever seen rows up to the shore. In disbelief, he asks, 'Where did you come from? How did you get here?'

She replies, 'I rowed from the other side of the island. I landed here when my cruise ship sank.''

'Amazing,' he notes. 'You were really lucky to have a row boat wash up with you.'

'Oh, this thing?' explains the woman. 'I made the boat out of raw material I found on the island. The oars were whittled from gum tree branches. I wove the bottom from palm branches, and the sides and stern came from a Eucalyptus tree.

'But, where did you get the tools?'

'Oh, that was no problem,' replied the woman. 'On the south side of the island, a very unusual stratum of alluvial rock is exposed. I found if I fired it to a certain temperature in my kiln, it melted into ductile iron. I used that for tools and used the tools to make the hardware.'

The guy is stunned.

'Let's row over to my place,' she says. After a few minutes of rowing, she docks the boat at a small wharf. As the man looks to shore, he nearly falls off the boat. Before him is stone walk leading to an exquisite bungalow painted in blue and white.While the woman ties up the rowboat with an expertly woven hemp rope,the man can only stare ahead, dumb struck.

As they walk into the house, she says casually, 'It's not much but I call it home. Sit down, please. Would you like a drink?''

'No! No thank you,' he blurts out, still dazed.'I can't take another drop of coconut juice.'

'It's not coconut juice,' winks the woman. 'I have a still. How would you like a Pina Colada?'

Trying to hide his continued amazement, the man accepts, and they sit down on her couch to talk. After they have exchanged their stories, the woman announces, 'I'm going to slip into something more comfortable. Would you like to take a shower and shave? There is a razor upstairs in the bathroom cabinet.'

No longer questioning anything, the man goes into the bathroom. There, in the cabinet, a razor made from a piece of tortoise bone. Two shells honed to a hollow ground edge are fastened on to its end inside a swivel mechanism.

'This woman is amazing,' he muses. 'What next?'When he returns, she greets him wearing nothing but vines, strategically positioned, and smelling faintly of gardenias. She beckons for him to sit down next to her.

'Tell me,' she begins suggestively, slithering closer to him, 'You've been out here for many months. You've been lonely. There's something I'm sure you really feel like doing right now, something you've been longing for?' She stares into his eyes .

He swallows excitedly and tears start to form in his eyes.....

'Bloody hell, don't tell me you've got Sky Sports?'

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Sunday, 20 July 2008

A True Champion

I spent an enjoyable afternoon today watching the final round of the Open Golf Championship, this year being held at Royal Birkdale. Well, I tried to watch as grandchildren Jack and Hannah came over and they demanded Papa's attention...

Padraig Harrington, the defending champion, played some outstanding golf to retain his title. His second shot at the 17th was quite phenomenal. But what particularly impressed me was the quite superb sportsmanship from everyone concerned. In his winner's speech, Harrington thanked just about everyone in the Emerald Isle but his tribute to the runner up Ian Poulter, the amateur champion Chris Wood and the legendary Greg Norman - who came close to an astonishing and historic triumph - showed that modern day sportsmen - and women - can behave with dignity and courtesy.

Footballers are probably the worst example of poor behaviour with constant winding up of the opposition and the shameful trait of cheating to gain an advantage a feature of almost every game these days. I know it's too much to expect the Corinthian spirit in sport these days but golf is as close to retaining that as any. Although disappointment was etched across his face at the end, Greg Norman still took time to pay tribute to the champion, saying it was a very impressive victory by the Irishman.

The BBC coverage was excellent - unlike SKY, ITV et al there was no cutting for advertisements at crucial points in the day's play, thus losing the 'moment' - although the comment as the engraver was marking out the name of the winner on the claret jug - perhaps he's trying to find out how to spell Harrington - was a bit crass as the Dubliner's name was on the trophy from last year.

If I had a small gripe it was the constant bellowing of 'in the hole' from some of the crowd as soon as a shot was played - even the tee shots. That got a bit tiring at times.

But, overall, watching the Open was hugely enjoyable. And with his compassionate speech, Padraig Harrington proved it's not only on the golf course that he's a true champion.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Language Of...???

As a fortysomething who sometimes feels his best years are setting like the sun on the horizon with the darkness of old age about to take their place, I occasionally feel my grandad status more acutely.

A younger colleague of mine in the office was chatting excitedly yesterday about going on holiday with her young family. 'So,' I casually remarked, 'You'll be feeling demob happy?' She looked at me with vacant eyes. 'What's that then?' she asked with an expression which suggested the old man's off on one again.

I tried to explain the term demob harks back to the second world war and the decade immediately after when young men and women served their country during conflict and in the post-war years did their national service in the armed forces. Having done their duty, they were demobbed back into 'civvy street', hence were demob happy.

Of course even I am too young to have been subjected to this - my fellow blogger and Jambo Adullamite will probably be able to tell you more, having served his country in both world wars - but the term was still widely used when I first began working thirty years ago. Many of my colleagues 'on the buses' in the late 1970s - pre First Bus when the company actually ran services to published timetables - were approaching retirement age and had served their time in the army. They often referred to going on holiday as being demob happy.

I really ought to make more of an effort to modernise my use of language but I find it increasingly difficult in this age of internet and mobile phone technology and the cursed 'text' speak. Daughter Michaela sent me a text message the other night saying she would give me a lift home - 'Al be over in fifteen minutes'. Quite who Al is I'm not sure but I can confirm my younger daughter has not acquired the services of chauffeur and indeed turned up on her Jack Jones (sorry, younger readers - on her own)

A minor source of irritation in a life I find increasingly irritating is the use of 'lol' not only in text speak but on internet messageboards. I know it stands for 'laugh out loud' but I always liken it to a stand up comic who is about as funny as a trip to the dentist and laughs at his own gags. I struggle with the whole concept. Another fellow Jambo sent me a text recently which seemed to allude to the fact he would see me on the motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. But what he actually meant by 'c u ltr M8' was that he would renew his acquaintance with me at a future date.

My elder daughter, the shy and retiring Laura, communicates with her father not so much by phone but through the pages of 'Bebo', the social - or you might say anti-social web site. She occasionally 'sends the love' although this is spelt 'luv' presumably because the energy she saves by typing three letters instead of four can be put to much better use...

I manfully try and accept all this on the premise of if you can't beat them, join them - lol. So until the next incoherent rant, I'll say TTFN.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Big Brother?

A central database holding details of everyone's phone calls and emails could be a "step too far for the British way of life", ministers have been warned.

Plans for such a database are rumoured to be in the Communications Data Bill.
But Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said "lines must be drawn" to defend "fundamental liberties".

The government says the growth of the internet means changes must be made to the way communications are intercepted in order to combat terrorism and crime.

In his annual report, Mr Thomas addressed speculation about plans for a government-run database holding details of telephone and internet communications of the entire British population.

From the BBC News website, 15 July 2008

This story worries me. I don't particularly have a problem with my telephone calls and internet usage being logged - this happens by the telephone companies and internet service providers anyway - but my concern is this 'central database' which the government will freely be able to get its hands on. Or not.

There's been a spate of stories recently about personal data going missing. Health records, tax records, bank details records - all have 'gone astray' from private companies such as courier firms or in some cases the government itself. Of course, when the Whitehall suits cock things up, Gordon Brown and his cronies rush out hastily prepared statements saying there's no risk and measures have been put in place to maintain confidentiality. They daren't say anything else - a statement urging everyone to check their bank accounts, credit card statements etc. would cause widespread panic. And this government is incompetent enough without having to deal with mass hysteria.

What would the government do with details of every phone call made in this country? Or with details of every website visited? Blogs such as these would immediately be targeted. If I were to post that Osama Bin Laden was residing in my shed in the garden would armed police be camped outside my door?

As Richard Thomas says in the above report lines must be drawn to defend fundamental liberties. A communications database with details of every phone call and website visited? What next? CCTV cameras on the front door of every house in the UK linked up to millions of tv screens in London?

Perhaps George Orwell's prose wasn't so far-fetched...

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Ready Steady Slow...

Next weekend sees the World Snail Racing Championship (see link in post heading)

The last winner was a snail called Sidney. He covered the 13 inch course in 3 minutes 28 seconds.

I'm not sure whether to believe a story that this year's hot favourite is Christian from Gorgie. Personally I would find it difficult to accept he could cover 13 inches in under five minutes...

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Latest in a Long Line...

On my way to work this morning, I walked through Cameron Toll Shopping Centre as I have started doing recently. Usually I'm wandering through there about 8.00am and it's quite eerie to see the majority of shops still closed (Sainsbury's excepted) and the footsteps of a handful of people passing through echoing around the hall. But as I passed through today the Centre was busier than usual. There was a large queue of people outside the O2 shop. The reason became apparant as I read the BBC News website at lunch time - today saw the launch of the latest IPhone.

Apparently this latest update which is cheaper, faster and has something called 3G is only available on the O2 network. Whatever its attraction it was enough to have people queuing all over the country to be among the first to have it. Now, this is perhaps a symbol of me being middle-aged but I find myself asking - why? Not why buy the new IPhone which I don't doubt is a wonderful gadget. But why queue overnight as some people did? Why did one fella in London feel the need to buy his place at the front of the queue at the O2 shop in London's Regent Street off ebay?

Is today the only day the new IPhone is on sale? Is that it? If you didn't get one today was that your one and only chance? Or are the new phones, as I suspect, on sale again tomorrow? I've always found the idea of people queuing outside shops waiting for the sales to begin mildly amusing. But there's a logic behind this. Once the sale stock has gone, that's it - shops can revert to ripping people off again. And the big sales are usually the day after Christmas when many of us would do anything to get out the house. But I'm a bit baffled by the urge of some people to be among the first to get a new gadget that will probably be commonplace in a a few months (January sales anyone?)

Despite what my two daughters think, I'm not totally out of touch with technology. I have a laptop, a mobile and even an IPod Touch which I was given as a present last Christmas (I've even downloaded tracks on to it - hark at me) But I was totally unaware of this new IPhone which apparently is a phone, web broswer, music player, instant messenger, makes you a cup of tea in the morning, irons your shirts, drives you to work and does your work for you once you're in the office.

Okay, I may have made much of that last bit up. Or if it's true I'm away to look out my sleeping bag and make a midnight trip to Cameron Toll...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A Plea For Help

There was a story in the news the other week about a young mum in Fife who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is terminally ill but there is a drug which can help ease her suffering - but which isn't yet available on the NHS. It's believed it will take another year for this to happen.

Diane Wishart doesn't have a year. She can get the treatment in Germany but not only does this mean great expense for her family but also - incredibly - the treatment she presently receives from the NHS in Scotland will cease. All Diane and her family want is for her final few months to be as peaceful as possible.

Diane's story and her family's website is below. If anyone wants to help please click the link to her website.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Ah, The Germans...

I know it's become something of a cliche. But whenever and wherever you go on holiday there are a certain type of people who tend to irritate just that wee bit more than others. I refer, of course, to the Germans.

German efficiency has become a cliche itself but it is an inescapable fact of life. I remember a couple of years ago while holidaying in Gran Canaria. A fantastic time as you would expect, weather brilliant as you would expect - and the queue to the restaurant for dinner headed by the Germans as you would expect. Dinner was served between 5.30pm and 8.00pm but that didn't stop our friends from the Fatherland claiming their place to be served first from around 5.00pm. The rest of us were still lying on the beach when the Germans were forming a naturally orderly queue. Then again, they had been out on the beach from 7.00am having placed their beach towels in strategically advantageous positions some two hours earlier...

My weekend in Krakow had a familiar feeling when my attempt to secure the tastiest looking croissant was thwarted when Hans and his pals read my intentions and headed me off at the tea and coffee table. And as for getting a table by the window? Already taken. I half expected Basil Fawlty to enter the restaurant doing his funny walk. Even if he was suffering from concussion during the funniest of the Fawlty Towers episodes, Meester Fawlty may have had a point.

Without wishing to attach the same label to all Germans, there's an arrogance to some natives of that nation which is a tad disconcerting. During the moving guided tour of Auschwitz, the thought crossed my mind on what our charming young Polish guide thought of the German tourists to the site. Equality and diversity are important things these days and the European Union as its name implies is united as one (well, apart from the French...)

As Basil Fawlty said 'We're all friends together now...'

Monday, 7 July 2008

Magnificent Krakow

I had a fabulous weekend in Poland. Krakow is a wonderful city, a beautiful inspiring place. I arrived there early Friday afternoon and headed for the Salt Mines just outside the city. Saturday I went on a walking tour of the city centre which was wonderful and lasted nearly three hours. And on Sunday the most moving part of the weekend was the trip to Auschwitz Birkenau. That was truly a humbling experience. The guided tour there lasted the best part of four hours and I felt a lump in my throat on more than one occasion. That people can commit such awful atrocities to their fellow human beings is beyond comprehension.

Krakow is only two and a half hours flight away from Edinburgh and I'll likely return there at some point. Particularly as the local beer is only five Zloties - less than £2 - a pint! Although there was some rain on Saturday night, the weather on Sunday was sunny and hot - must have been close to 80 degrees.

One thing about the weekend though - and this perhaps shows my advancing years - is that I'm absolutely knackered! I don't think I've walked so much in three days in my entire life!

I can highly recommend Krakow with its magnificent historical buildings, great food and drink and friendly citizens. It's been a hidden gem for so long.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Silence is Golden

As you'll have gathered from my post below, there'll be no rants for a few days while I head to Poland for a long weekend. But I'll be back next week and probably in a particularly foul mood as I contemplate work again on Wednesday.

Now, about that bloody Sheriffhall roundabout....

Lest We Forget

My fellow Hearts supporter and esteemed blogger Adullamite wrote a wonderful piece on 1st July commemorating a battle during the Great War.

In 1916 there were sixty thousand casualties and twenty thousand dead in one horrific day of a conflict that must never be forgotten. Heart of Midlothian Football Club's connection to that battle - McCrae's Battalion - is honoured every Remembrance Sunday, along with others who gave the ultimate sacrifice to their country in a moving service at Edinburgh's Haymarket War Memorial.

In this increasingly frenetic and consumer driven, power crazy and greedy life, it's all too easy to forget those of a different generation who gave their lives so that we could have the country we have today. Similarly, the stories of those who were the victims of atrocities during both world wars must continue to be told so that a civilised society can ensure it never happens again.

I'm heading off to Poland on Friday for a long weekend to sample the delights of Krakow. Not so long ago, Poland was behind the so-called Iron Curtain that, during the Cold War and the days of Soviet Union power and communist suspicion, gave the impression of a cold, oppressed people living in poverty and at the mercy of their communist rulers. Times have changed, of course, and now Poland is part of the European Union.

Part of my trip will be a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau where hundreds of thousands of Jews died at the hands of the Nazis in concentration camps during the Second World War. It promises to be a moving experience.

There are only a handful of old soldiers still alive who fought in the First World War and the numbers of those who served in the Second World War and of those who suffered unbearably at the hands of the Nazis are diminishing also. But as the years go by, we must always remember those who gave their lives in order that we can enjoy the freedom we have today.

Their sacrifice should never be forgotten.