Tuesday, 28 April 2009

When Tragedy Strikes

My youngest daughter Michaela received some devastating news at the weekend. We all lose someone close to us at some point in our lives but at just 19 years of age she really shouldn't have to go through what's happening in her life right now. I hope these words may bring some comfort, not only to my darling daughter whose heart is broken right now, but for other people who have lost a loved one.

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy which you always used
Put no difference in your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity on sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together
Pray, smile, think of me, pray for me

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of a shadow on it
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was; there is unbroken continuity
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well.

Friday, 24 April 2009

'A Feeble Little Country'

MPs are demanding an apology over remarks made by the outspoken historian Dr David Starkey. Dr Starkey described Scotland as a "feeble little country" and said Robert Burns was a "deeply boring provincial poet." He made the comments on the BBC's Question Time programme after he was asked if he supported a public holiday for St George's Day.
Dr Starkey has refused to apologise and says he stands by his comments.

To boos from the audience, Dr Starkey said: "If we decide to go down this route of having an English national day, that means we become a feeble little country, just like the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish. "Once upon a time England was a great country. Remember we're distinguished by the fact that we don't have national dress.

"We don't make a great fuss about Shakespeare like the Scots do about that deeply boring provincial poet Burns."

He said England did not have national music "like the awful bagpipes"

From the BBC News Website

Now Dr Starkey is not an unintelligent man. But he's not very smart. Clearly sales of his numerous books and tickets for his after-dinner speeches are plummeting, possibly because people are beginning to forget who he is. So, Dr Starkey thinks to himself, how to remedy this? Aha! I'll wangle an invitation on to BBC Radio Five Live and criticise the Scots (as he did last Sunday) and do likewise on national television via BBC Question Time. I'll think of something outrageous to say - yes, call Scotland a feeble little country and slag off Robert Burns. That should do the trick. This will cause so much controversy people will rush out in their thousands to buy my books and flock to my after-dinner speeches.

Sadly for Dr Starkey the finger of ridicule he pointed at Scotland and Wales has now turned on himself. Had he made these comments about Pakistan, Iran or Israel there would have been widespread condemnation of the BBC for allowing such extremist views to be broadcast on national television. But most Scots, I suspect, will view Dr Starkey in the same way as something we've trodden on.

Which is equivalent to the prose in his books...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Voice of an...?

There's been a lot of media coverage given recently to Susan Boyle from Blackburn, West Lothian who apparently wowed the judges on something called Britain's Got Talent. People tell me she has the voice of an angel and although I haven't heard her sing I've no reason to doubt them (or reason to care to be frank...)

However there is a story doing the rounds which may or may not be true that two well dressed fellas were seen wandering around Blackburn before going in to a local pub (what do you call a man in a suit in Blackburn? The accused...) Looking around, they asked the barmaid why the pub was so empty.

When she asked where they were from, they said American television company CBS, wanting to do a piece on Susan.

"CBS?!" the barmaid shrieked, "We thought you were DSS - which is why everyone scarpered when they saw you coming....."

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Being There

Times are tough for a lot of people these days. The economic downturn - this appears to be the new phrase for recession - is having an impact in many ways and, working as I do in the field of Human Resources, never a day passes without at least one person on the phone pleading for work, desperate to earn some money. Of course, there are people who were struggling with life before the bottom fell out of the financial world and this merely adds to their woes. But there is something to cling on to when you think you have been cast afloat from life and are drowning in the sea of despair. And it costs nothing. I'm talking about friendship.

I was out on Friday evening for a few drinks and something to eat - and another few drinks - and spent the evening in the company of someone who has gone through a particularly difficult time recently, both professionally and personally. Her mother passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly last October and, naturally, this left her devastated. I know from personal experience the effect the sudden death of someone you love can have and the aftermath of trying to cope. My friend appears to have received little support from her place of work and at one time I know she was seriously considering the ultimate means of ending her misery. Thankfully, she decided against this option. We met a few weeks ago and simply by being with her I hoped she would realise there are people who really care about her. She cut a forlorn figure back then and I tried to give her as much support as I could although it was difficult to know what to do or say to help. But just being there is often enough.

On Friday we met again. Now the Scots psyche can be a curious one. The phrase 'Taking the Michael' could well have originated in Scotland given our penchant for sarcasm, putting people down and what we term 'friendly banter'. It helps if you don't have a thick skin and aren't offended easily. Thus, on Friday, it was very near normal service resumed as my friend and I traded mock insults and put each other down at nearly every opportunity. But we loved it. It has been a long time since I have seen her laugh as much. Indeed, it has been a long time since I laughed as much myself, what with dark clouds seeming to hover over me of late. In reality my problems pale into insignificance compare to those of some other people I know. For a few hours we almost forgot about our worries. Admittedly one or two 'nippy sweeties' helped in this respect but we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves - Friday night simply flew by.

It was great to see her getting back to her old self. Of course she still hurts like hell and she will never fully get over such devastation. But, in time, she will learn to cope. With the help of her friends I'm hopeful she will. If Friday night is anything to go by she's already on the path to realising life is precious and she is loved very much.

Sometimes you just need someone to tell you that.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

So I Went into Town...

So I went to the baker where a sullen looking well-balanced woman - she appeared to have a chip on each shoulder - greeted me with a frown.


'Now is the time to get things right' I replied.


'Now is the time we should unite. We don't need revolutions, we just need to open our eyes. Revolution is no solution - we ought to realise.

'Listen, son, 'ah've no got time to mess aboot - if ye dinnae want onything get oot ma shoap'

'Sorry - is that a donut or a meringue? Or was I right the first time?

At that, she 'escorted' me from the shop. The bruising should clear in a day or two. So I went to the butchers next door where he was standing against the radiator looking none too pleased to be there.

'Is that your Ayrshire bacon?' I asked.

'No' he replied, 'I'm just warming up my hands'

I said 'I'll bet you that piece of meat on the top shelf you've cracked that gag a hundred times before.'

He said 'I'm not taking the bet'

'Why not?'

'The steaks are too high...'

I first used these gags in 1979. They weren't particularly funny then but, as the years have rolled by....they're still not funny....

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Pieces Don't Fit Any More

I've been twisting and turning in a space that's too small
I've been drawing the line and watching it fall
You've been closing me in , closing the space in my heart
Watching us fading and watching us fall apart

Well I can't explain why it's not enough
Coz I gave it all to you
And if you leave me now
Oh just leave me now
It's the better thing to do
It's time to surrender
It's been too long pretending
There's no use in trying
When the pieces don't fit anymore

Oh, don't misunderstand how I feel
Coz I've tried, yes I've tried
Still I don't know why
No I don't know why
Why I can't explain why it's not enough
Coz I gave it all to you
And if you leave me now
Oh just leave me now
It's the better thing to do
It's time to surrender
It's been too long pretending
There's no use in trying
When the pieces don't fit anymore
The pieces don't fit anymore

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

An Italian Love Story

Maria had just got married, and being a traditional Italian she was still a virgin.

On her wedding night, staying at her mother's house, she was very nervous. Her mother reassured her 'Don't worry, Maria, Tony's a good man. Go upstairs and he'll take care of you. In the meantime, I'll be cooking pasta.' So, up she went.

When she got upstairs, Tony took off his shirt and exposed his hairy chest. Maria ran downstairs to her mother and said, 'Mama, Mama, Tony's got a big hairy chest.'

'Don't worry, Maria,' replied the mother, 'all good men have hairy chests. Go upstairs. He'll take good care of you.'

So, up she went again.. When she got up in the bedroom, Tony took off his pants exposing his hairy legs. Again, Maria ran downstairs to her mother.

'Mama, Mama, Tony took off his pants and he's got hairy legs!'

'Don't worry! All good men have hairy legs. I've told you, Tony's a good man. Go upstairs and he'll take good care of you.'

So, up she went again. When she got there, Tony took off his socks and on his left foot he was missing three toes. When Maria saw this, she ran downstairs again.

'Mama, Mama, Tony's got a foot and a half!'

Her Mama said, 'Stay here Maria and stir the pasta.....'

Monday, 13 April 2009

Two Pints and Some Service Please

Pubs in one town in north-west England could introduce organised queuing. It's a drastic solution to what can seem to be a mysterious art - getting served at a busy bar. Britain may be a nation of queuers, but the thought of lining up in an orderly fashion at a bar is enough to turn many a drinker's beer flat. But that's what patrons of busy town centre pubs in Oldham may find themselves doing if plans for post office-style queues go ahead to deter trouble. For the rest of us, getting served at a heaving bar remains a challenge born out of frustration.

From the BBC News Website

Getting served in some pubs in Edinburgh is indeed a mysterious art. It's particularly frustrating when it's your round and you have an order the size of the Treaty of Versailles. Fighting your way past people to the bar can be traumatic enough - the numpties who have already been served but see fit to stay at the bar in any case, those who think they simply must answer their mobile phone while ten million people queue behind them and those who simply don't think. 'Hey, Shug, dae ye want ice in yer Jack Daniels?' shouts Tam to his mate half a mile away at the other side of the pub.

But what I find particularly irritating is, on eventually reaching the bar, I suddenly become the invisible man despite me wafting a twenty pound note in the air which, by the time I do get served, has a value of around £15 (that's inflation for you) Some Edinburgh pubs can be quite awful in this regard although there are pubs in Dalkeith which are streets ahead when it comes to ignoring those punters who aren't regulars but have the temerity to come in and ask for a drink.
Drinking in Scotland's pubs has at least improved in the last few years what with the ban on smoking (although as well as fighting your way to the bar you now have to fight your way to get into the pub through the smoking fraternity lighting up right outside the entrance to the licenced premises) But getting served, particularly at the weekends, remains a frustration.

I'm trying to envisage an Argos type queuing system working in darkest Dalkeith. 'Order Number 25 - four pints of lager, two vodka and cokes, a white wine and a Bacardi breezer to your collection point please.'

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Real Mackay

The latest edition of the excellent FourFourTwo magazine contains an interview with a man who epitomises a great Scottish football institution - Dave Mackay. Years ago, before Scottish football was in the rather shambolic state it finds itself now, there were some great Scots who would grace any side in the world. Celtic's Jimmy Johnstone, Rangers Jim Baxter, Manchester United's Denis Law. There was no one better, however, than the man who drove the glorious Heart of Midlothian team of the 1950s.

Now 74 years of age, Mackay demonstrated in the interview that he has lost none of the sheer grit, determination and will to win that were his trademark. Here are some of his quotes from the interview:

At 14 years old, just to get near Tynecastle was a dream - I used to walk three miles to get early so I could sneak under the turnstile because I couldn't afford to get in.

I used to enjoy Christmas and New Year - because we beat Hibs.

When I did my National Service I made sure I behaved myself. That way I would get the weekend off to go and play for my beloved Hearts.

On that photograph of him and Billy Bremner - I didn't like it as it portrayed me as a bully. Bremner was a brilliant little player - but a dirty bastard!

When I was manager of Derby County we won the league with one game to go. Ipswich lost a midweek game while we were having our Player of the Year dinner. The celebrations started right away and I told the players 'help yourselves' I couldn't care less because we'd won the league but the players were still drunk when we played the following Saturday!

I'll always be a Hearts fan, my family are all Hearts fans - although my wife supports Hibs! And she's been my priciest purchase! Just kidding - she'll batter me...

All I can say is Mrs Mackay must be a formidable woman. The FourFourTwo feature was one of the best I've read for some time. Although I never saw the great man play for Hearts - he was sold to Tottenham Hotspur three years before I was born - the legend that is Dave Mackay still burns brightly in Gorgie. When I wrote an article about him for the Hearts programme a few years ago, the programme editor at the time told me Mackay had taken the time to contact the club to say thanks for the tribute. Small wonder greatness is bestowed upon him.

We'll never see his like again.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Dear God...

A little boy from Glasgow wanted £100.00 very badly and prayed for weeks, but nothing happened .

So he decided to write a letter to God requesting the money.

The Royal Mail received the letter addressed simply to God, so they decided to forward it to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, hoping to deter the PM from carrying out his plans to part-privatise the mail service.

Gordon Brown was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy £5 with a wee letter saying 'From God'. The Prime Minister thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.

Indeed, the wee boy was delighted with money and sat down to write a thank-you note to God, which read:

'Dear God,

Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you sent it through the Prime Minister of Britain and that arsehole took £95.00 in taxes....'

Friday, 3 April 2009

When Fate Intervenes

I've not had a particularly good week. Both Laura and Michaela fell out with their respective partners while I locked horns with their mother. It's been a tense week at work too with our parent company in England specialising in 'moving the goalposts'. Even my dear old mum has had to battle with the Tax Man who also told me my tax return was outstanding. Very generous of him to say so, I thought, particularly as I can't remember filling one in...

But all of the above pales into insignificance when you consider the heartache now being endured by the grieving families of the sixteen men lost when a Super Puma helicopter crashed in the North Sea on Wednesday. My heart goes out to all the bereaved - one can only imagine what they're going through. But my thoughts are also with the fella who was meant to be on that helicopter - but wasn't.

Oil worker Ian Morrison was supposed to be on the flight from the Miller field to Aberdeen but his plans changed just 15 minutes before take-off. His company KCA Deutag telephoned asking him to stay on the platform to work an extra shift. Presumably irritated at the time at the thought of having his long-awaited journey home delayed by twenty-four hours, one wonders just what the hell is going through Mr Morrison's mind right now. He may be experiencing feelings of guilt - although, of course, he has no need to be - although I suspect he's thinking about those workmates and friends he has lost forever. How does one recover from that sort of experience?

He may never recover but may, in time, learn to cope. Fate intervened in his life on Wednesday. I hope he finds the strength to carry on with his life without any burden.