Friday, 31 July 2009

Seeds of Happiness? Aye, Right...

BRITAIN could be a happier place next week, thanks to a unique psychological experiment aimed at spreading smiles around the country. For five days, starting on Monday, thousands of people will be invited to go online and try one of four proven mood-boosting techniques.The idea is to plant seeds of happiness, which then "infect" others, sending waves of cheerfulness across recession-hit Britain. Polls conducted before and after the experiment will assess whether it has worked.Professor Richard Wiseman, who is leading the study, has high hopes that it will, if enough people participate.

From The Scotsman

Waves of cheerfulness? As I write this, it's the last day in July. It's raining, far too dark for our supposed summer and the weather forecast is for more rain. Having spent far too much money in Dublin a couple of weeks ago I'm financially embarrassed. True, the football season is just around the corner but the European results of Scots clubs this week gives fans in this country sweet FA to look forward to. In any case, Hearts are being threatened by the Tax Man. To be fair to the man from the Inland Revenue he does have a soft side. He sent me a letter a few weeks ago telling me my tax return was outstanding. Which I thought was particularly nice given I couldn't remember sending one in the first place. But I digress...

Waves of cheerfulness? Try being in Edinburgh when the bloody Festival is about to start. And the city has even more bloody tourists than usual. Try going to work in the morning and fighting through dozens of non-English speaking visitors to the capital who are trying to work out the best way to get to Princes Street. Not on my bloody bus, mate.

Waves of cheerfulness? Try being in Edinburgh while striking binmen refuse (see what I did there?) to clear debris from the streets and the rubbish piles even higher and the seagulls swoop incessantly. And the city centre resembles the biggest building site in the world all in the name of bloody trams.

Waves of cheerfulness? Try working in the Human Resources profession when it appears about every second person in the company you work for claims to have bloody swine flu. Try working your backside off when you may have something ten times worse than swine flu - Man Flu. That's even more difficult to diagnose as men generally don't complain when they fall victim to this - we just get on with things as I'm sure the female readers of this blog will concur.

Waves of cheerfulness? Try being treated as a human assault course by four year old and soon to be two year old brats - sorry, loveable grandchildren.

So, Professor Wiseman, I suggest you take your seeds of happiness and stick them where the sun don't shine. Which, this summer, could be anywhere in Scotland...

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Where Mountains Meet the Sea

My good friend Lizzy celebrates her birthday on Wednesday. She is one of the finest writers I know as well as being a good friend. I highly recommend her excellent blog

She is a Celtic supporter but, hey, we all have our cross to bear. Happy Birthday, Lizzy!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The 12th Man

Hitting the streets the week after next will be The 12th Man, a brand new magazine covering all that's good in Scottish football - and Hibs (sorry, fellas!) Well, I say the streets; it will be available in Glasgow newsagents - the rest of the country will hopefully follow suit.

The magazine has been around in pdf format for the last few months but will now be in good, old-fashioned printed format. If you can't see it in the shops, the magazine is available to buy via the following link:

http://scotzine.com/fanzines/

It costs just £2.50 which includes postage and packing.

There are numerous English football magazines such as FourFourTwo and When Saturday Comes which are excellent. But The 12th Man is specifically about Scottish football and hopefully will appeal to the thinking football fan.

Even if you're not into football, if you know someone who might be interested, please let them know about it. Interested parties outside Scotland can still obtain a copy using the link above - if they have a PayPal account.

All support gratefully received!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Apt Words

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider motorways but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years.

We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.

We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less.We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.These are days of quick trips, disposable nappies, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Remember, spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember to give a warm hug to the one next to you because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a penny.

Remember,to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for some day that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak and give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Africa

The link below is a YouTube video featuring a 1980s pop classic. The rock band Toto scored their biggest hit with Africa in 1982. The song is instantly recognisable. But it has been reinvented.

Perpetuum Jazzile is an a Capella jazz choir from Slovenia. It’s hard to think of something further from an ‘80s rock band. But their version of Africa is arguably better than the original.

The beginning of this video is really striking. Group members simulate an African thunderstorm with their hands.It’s really something to see and hear. (Don't turn up your sound - the sound of raindrops begins really soft.)

http://baricko.us/africa.htm

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Good and the Bad of Dublin



I'm just back from a long weekend in Dublin. A fine weekend was had and plenty of pints of the black stuff were consumed - even though the state of the pound means the Euro, the currency now used in Ireland's fair city, is almost on parity with Sterling. Which means a pint of Guinness is five Euros upwards...

They say you get what you pay for in life. Cheap flights from Edinburgh to Dublin - £53 return - was decent enough value even though the flight takes little more than an hour. It's also true to say when I booked cheap accommodation in the heart of Dublin I wasn't expecting The Ritz. And it's something of an understatement to say I certainly didn't get it.

The Clifton Court Hotel is situated on the banks of the River Liffey. And that's about all it has going for it. The rooms are tiny, the walls paper thin - we could hear the couple in the next room's very lively sexual activities - and the stairs leading to the fourth floor are narrow and not for the claustrophobic. The bathroom we had was about the size of a small linen cupboard - and had the constant smell of dampness. All this we could just about put up with - we were only there for a boozy weekend in any case - but what wasn't acceptable was the potential of people's lives being put at risk as happened in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The fire alarm went off at 12.15am for a few seconds before stopping. A false alarm, we thought - until it went off again two minutes later. This time for considerably longer. We threw our clothes on, grabbed our passports and wallets and headed down to reception in a state of fear although not quite panic. The reception was on the first floor and those guests who thought it prudent to make their way down the perilously steep stairway were greeted by a nonchalant young fella behind the desk asking what we were doing. As the fire alarm was still blaring away we rather assumed the building was alight. 'No, no' the fella on duty told us, 'it's only the alarm. It'll be someone smoking in their room - there is no fire'

'How do you know that?' I asked incredulously.
'I don't know for sure but my colleague is away to check the room concerned'
Meanwhile about two dozen startled and frightened guests were looking down from the stairway not sure what to make of it all. 'Is there a fire?' someone asked. 'Apparently they're not sure' I replied somewhat sarcastically.
It transpired there was no fire and it had been a guest allegedly smoking hash in his room - and had compounded the offence by using an air freshener to try and alleviate the smell. But there was no apology from the staff, no organisation and, frighteningly, no proper fire drill procedure that I could see. One couple felt so alarmed they immediately checked out although they also cited the fact their room was so damp it was like sleeping in a fish tank. It could have been a scene straight out Fawlty Towers, the famous BBC sitcom of the 1970s.
The other side of the Dublin coin was the excellent Gallagher's Boxty House in the city's Temple Bar area. The Boxty House serves the best Full Irish Breakfast in Dublin by far! The food was sublime, the service excellent, the staff friendly and efficient. Next time I'm in Dublin it'll be the first place I head for.

If you haven't been to Dublin, I can highly recommend it. I've been there three times now and the city is quite magnificent. Gallagher's Boxty House is a maginifcent traditional Irish pub and serves high quality traditional Irish fare. Sadly, the same can't be said of the Clifton Court Hotel.

I hope I'm not proved right but that establishment could well be a tragedy waiting to happen...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Big John Hartson's Biggest Battle



Former Wales, Arsenal and Celtic striker John Hartson is in a critical condition after emergency surgery on his brain following a cancer diagnosis. At the weekend, 34-year-old Hartson was told he had testicular cancer. The disease spread to his brain and on Wednesday, doctors confirmed it was also present in his lungs. A hospital statement read: "He is currently being cared for by the critical care team at Morriston and is receiving round-the-clock care aiming to stabilise his condition. He will resume radiotherapy and chemotherapy as soon as possible."

From the BBC News Website

It's the news everyone dreads. Cancer that is so widespread the chances of survival are slim. John Hartson scored a fair few goals for Celtic and for Wales over recent years. His big frame made him the ideal target man and he put my team Hearts to the sword on many an occasion. Last season he was a pundit on the now defunct Setanta Sports channel and his very presence in the studio or commentary box commanded respect. That the news that his cancer is so advanced will be a terrible shock not only to John but his family.

It doesn't seem that long ago that we were giving Big John pelters from the Tynecastle stands. It was all part of the banter of football and the Welshman accepted it with good grace. Unlike some of his Celtic team mates, I never heard Hartson say a bad word about Hearts. Even in his Setanta duties he praised Hearts for their efforts last season.

He is just 34 years old and is a father of three. He and his family will be devastated by this shocking news. I hope they find the strength to cope with it.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Childbirth? Child's Play...

The pain of childbirth may have benefits on which women who opt for painkilling epidurals miss out, a senior male midwife has said. Dr Denis Walsh, associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University, said pain was a "rite of passage" which often helped regulate childbirth. He said it helped strengthen a mother's bond with her baby, and prepared her for the responsibility of motherhood.

From the BBC News Website

An interesting view from a male doctor. I'm sure I read somewhere that scientific research has shown that women have a much lower pain threshold than men. Which is possibly one of the reasons pregnancy takes nine months. I often wonder what it would be like if we men were the child bearers. Given our natural ability to do things efficiently, quietly and effectively, I very much doubt we would need nine months to give birth for a start. Probably have the deed done and dusted in a week, tops.

And what about this year off work nonsense? Pah! I envisage some men having the baby at lunchtime on Friday, heading to the football on Saturday, a few pints on Sunday then back to work on the Monday.Compulsory two weeks off after giving birth? To do what? Lounge around watching Loose Women on the telly chattering about how difficult it is to have babies?

Men would treat giving birth like going to the dentist. A wee twinge but nothing we couldn't handle. We do tend to handle pain better. In fact we tend to handle illness better, too. Women have a wee sniffle and it's severe flu - or a virus. Men fall victim to the near deadly ManFlu although this is difficult to detect as we don't complain. In fact, when we do have ManFlu it's sometimes difficult to believe there's anything wrong.

But, as with most other things in life, women do tend to make a fuss about pregnancy. So until the miracle happens and men can become child bearers, the epidural will be around for some time yet...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Art of Punnery Continued...

Go on - you know you want to read these...

The pirate captain was standing in his treasure pile. He didn't have very much - his booty was only shin-deep.

The Smith's were proud of their family tradition. Their ancestors had come to America on the Mayflower. Their line had included Senators, Pastors, and Wall Street wizards. Now they decided to compile a family history, a legacy for the children. They hired a fine author. Only one problem arose: how to handle that great-uncle who was executed in the electric chair. But the author said not to worry, he could handle that section of history tactfully. When the book appeared, the family turned to the section on Uncle George. There, they read "George Smith occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution, was attached to his position by the strongest of ties. His death came as a real shock "

I took my rubbish out to give it to the refuse collectors, but I found I'd missed them - they'd already bin and gone.

Anne the harpist and Sam the trombonist went out to a discotheque. Sam's car wouldn't lock, but he was a good friend of the owner, so they locked their instruments in his office, and went into the disco for some fun. By the end of the night, and having had way too much to drink, they went back to rehearsal, completely forgetting to take back their instruments. Anne told the conductor, "I left my harp in Sam's friend's disco."

I had a nightmare that I was in Panama during a snowstorm. I was dreaming of a white isthmus.

A sailor was caught AWOL as he tried to sneak on board his ship at about 3 am. The chief petty officer spied him and ordered the sailor to stop.Upon hearing the sailor's lame explanation for his tardiness, the officer ordered the sailor, "Take this broom and sweep every link on this anchor chain by morning or it's the brig for you!"The sailor began to pick up the broom and commence performing his charge. As he began to sweep, a tern landed on the broom handle. The sailor yelled at the bird to leave, but it didn't. The lad picked the tern off the broom handle, and tossed it out of his way. The bird left, only to return and light once again on the broom handle, and was once again tossed overboard.The sailor went through the same routine all over again, with the same result. He couldn't get any cleaning done because he can only sweep at the chain once or twice before the blasted bird returns.When morning came, so did the chief petty officer, to check up on his wayward sailor."What in the heck have you been doing all night? This chain is no cleaner than when you started! What have you to say for yourself, sailor?" barked the chief."Honest, chief," came the reply, "I tossed a tern all night and couldn't sweep a link!"

Q: How can you tell when a bucket gets sick? A: It becomes a little pale.

People who live beyond their means should act their wage.

He made money sending thousands of junk emails to people, but one day he made a mistake and sent a whole load of them to a famous Hollywood actress. She was so angry that she had him beaten up, and that's how he came to be known as The Star Mangled Spammer.
A subservient fish is one that knows his plaice

He ate wheat even though he was allergic to it, because he was a gluten for punishment.

During a drought, things just go from one ex-stream to another.....

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Bland FM


In this multi-media age of instant communication, satellite broadcasting and micro technology, it's small wonder my two daughters stare at me in disbelief - a trait they do with alarming frequency I might add - when I mutter rumblings about listening to the radio when I was a child. Growing up in Aberdeen in the early 1970s there was only BBC radio - none of the commercial mass media of today. And, it pains me to say, there was only BBC Radio One that played 'the hit parade' (the top 20 as it was then, dear reader) Being the BBC there were no commercials but the downside was you had to put up with the gibberish spouted by the likes of Tony Blackburn, Noel Edmonds and Dave Lee Travis. Yes, mine was a troubled childhood...

Nearly forty years on, I still listen to the radio and, at first glance, one would believe there is more choice than ever before. There's even radio on the television thanks to the Freeview digital broadcasting system. Many of the numerous radio stations now broadcasting are much of a muchness. I still listen to the BBC as my preferred choice - Radio Five Live is quite superb and my usual routine is listening to the excellent Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty on the Five Live Breakfast show. This week, however, I fancied a wee change and tuned into Forth Two, one of Edinburgh's 'local' radio stations. It was as if I had been transported back to the 1970s...

Now Forth Two is okay if you like music from decades gone by and indeed its strap line, as it never fails to inform you after every song, is Music from the 70s, 80s and beyond. But it's far too cosy for my liking. The DJs, most of whom have been there for years, never so much as utter anything controversial and you are constantly reminded of which station it is you're listening to - just in case you're too old to remember - what time of day it is, what the weather's like and what it's going to be like, what the traffic's like and, for all I know, the pollen count when wee Jeannie McGlumpher at number forty-two cuts her grass. Oh, and there's a queue at the Newington Post Office, so there may be a wee delay in getting your pension...

I suspect Forth Two is like many other radio stations in Scotland. Bland. I thought with the digital age there would be a good chance that such a change would at least begin to make Scottish radio more lively, interesting and diverse. More stations, after all, mean more voices. I thought there would be room for different styles of music, for different political perspectives, for stations to be less afraid to experiment.

There are some commercial radio stations in Scotland that cater for mainly the under 25s. And Real Radio does try to be different but seems to me to play commercials after every second record. And it has Robin Galloway...

Tomorrow morning I'll skip on being patronised by Bland FM and return to BBC Radio Five Live. And the traffic report for central London...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Proud Edward's Army...

Edward Longshanks comes to Scotland to conquer the Scots. He brings 4,000 men with him.
As he nears the battlefield there suddenly appears a solitary figure on the crest of the hill. A short, ginger-haired guy in a kilt.

'Hammer O the Scots?' yells the wee Scottish guy on the hill. 'Come up here, ye English b*st*rds, and I'll give ye a hammerin'!'

Edward turns to his commander. 'Send 20 men to deal with that little Scottish upstart,' he says.

The commander sends 20 of his best men over the hill to kill the Scotsman. Ten minutes later, at the crest of the hill, the wee Scot appears again.

'Ye English diddies!' he yells. 'Come on the rest of ye!! Come on, I'll have ye all!'

Edward is getting somewhat annoyed. He turns to his commander. 'Send 100 men to kill that little guttersnipe!'

The commander sends 100 men over the hill to do the job. Ten minutes later, the wee Scot appears at the top of the hill once more, his hair all sticking up, his shirt a wee bit torn.

'Ye English SCUM!' he yells.. 'I'm just warming up!! Come and get me, ye English sh*te!!'

Edward losses patience. 'Commander, take 400 men and personally WIPE HIM OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH!' he yells. The commander gulps, but leads 400 men on horseback over the crest of the hill.

Ten minutes later, the wee Scotsman is back. His clothing is all torn, his face is covered in blood and snot.

'Is that the best ye can do??? Ye'r bloody WUMMIN!!! Come on!! Come and have a go, ye bunch of English sh*te!!!' he yells.

Edward turns to his second in command. 'Take 1,000 men over that hill and don't come back till you've killed him!' he commands. The second in command gathers the men and they ride off over the hill to their fate. Ten minutes later, one of the English troops appears back at the top of the hill. He's covered in blood and his clothes are all torn.

'Your Majesty!' he yells. 'It's a trap.................There's TWO of them!!!'

Saturday, 4 July 2009

God's Own Country

A young man decided to write a book about famous churches around the world. For his first chapter he decided to write about British churches so he bought a train ticket and took a trip to London,thinking that he would work his way up the country from South to North.

On his first day he was inside a church taking photographs, when he noticed a golden telephone mounted on the wall with a sign that read "£20,000 per call!"

The man, being intrigued, asked a priest who was strolling by what the telephone was used for. The priest replied that it was a direct line to heaven and for £20,000 you could talk to God.

The man thanked the priest and went on his way. His next stop was in Northampton. There, at a very large church, he saw the same golden telephone with the same sign under it.
He wondered if this was the same kind of telephone he had seen in London so he asked a nearby nun what its purpose was. She told him that it was a direct line to heaven and that for £20,000 he could talk to God.

"Thank you," said the man. He then travelled to Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester,Blackpool, Fleetwood, Lancaster and Carlisle.

In every church he saw the same golden telephone with the same "£20,000 per call" sign under it. The man, upon realising how close he was to the Scottish border, decided to see if the Scots had the same phone. He crossed the border and came to a small town called Gretna, and again, there was the same golden telephone, but this time the sign under it read "20 pence per call".

The man was surprised so he asked the church minister about the sign.

"Father, I have travelled all over England and I have seen this same golden telephone in many churches. I'm told it is a direct line to heaven, but in every one the price was £20,000 per call. Why is it so cheap here?"

The minister smiled. "Well laddie, you're in Scotland now.......it's a local call."

Time Marches On

It is, perhaps, a small consolation in the daily grind that is life but going to work next week should be a wee bit less stressful than normal. Going to the office that is - once I get there it will be as manic as ever. But the daily commute through Edinburgh's ever increasing network of roadworks, diversions and general mayhem should be a wee bit easier for one particular reason - the school holidays have started.

Travelling, as I do, on public transport it will be a considerable relief not having to put up with snotty-nosed, screaming, hugely irritating kids whose meaning for existence appears to be to make as much noise and cause as much annoyance to the rest of us as possible. Friday was already much quieter, probably because as well as the brats - sorry, loveable children - starting their six weeks away from school it marked the beginning of the Edinburgh Trades Fortnight. This is a tradition, as with other Scottish cities, where trades people - and, indeed non-trades workers - take a fortnight off from work to enjoy the summer. So my journey to work next week should be quicker than it usually is as long as the normally reliable Lothian Buses keep to their timetables and not decide to leave five minutes early...

But we live in an age where no one appears to want to stand still and enjoy the moment. As I passed through the Cameron Toll Shopping Centre on the way to work last week, BHS clothes shop had a giant poster on its display window which screamed BACK TO SCHOOL!

Back to school? The blighters hadn't even began their holidays yet! Where did the summer go? On the first day of July, I received my copy of the excellent FourFourTwo football magazine - the August edition. What happened to July? Ah, I remember - I got that edition in June. A quick flick through the latest issue tells me the September edition will be on sale on 1 August.

September? Three months before Christmas...Where the hell did 2009 go???

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Real Political Spin...


Judy Wallman, a professional genealogy researcher in southern California , was doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that Congressman Harry Reid's great-great uncle, Remus Reid, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. Both Judy and Harry Reid share this common ancestor.

The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows in Montana territory: On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is this inscription: 'Remus Reid, horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.'

So Judy recently e-mailed Congressman Harry Reid for information about their great-great uncle. Reid's staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

"Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory . His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."

That's how it's done, folks! That's real political spin....