Saturday, 30 January 2010

That's What Friends Are For

Friday night, last orders at the pub, get in the car and head for the club....Jeez, I'm delving into another Lilly Allen track...

I was out sampling the delights of Friday night in the centre of Scotland's magnificent capital city. Good company, good food and several shots of Jack Daniels made for a hugely enjoyable evening.

I saw someone who I hadn't seen for about a year. She has had a difficult year, having to deal with a close family bereavement, work issues and other problems. The last time I saw her she seemed to be struggling with the burden of it all and, I have to say, few could blame her. Last night she looked so much better; we're old work colleagues although we went our separate ways about four years ago. Rather shamefully, I haven't been in contact with her for nearly a year and I apologised profusely for my lack of sensitivity. But within minutes we had resumed normal service; the banter, the mickey-taking, trading mock insults - more importantly, the laughter had returned.

It was good to see her looking so well. I know it's a difficult journey for her and there remain significant obstacles ahead for her to overcome. But with the help of her friends and the people who care about her, I have no doubts she will get there. After all, that's what real friends are for.

Moreover, in what has been a somewhat perplexing week for me, she reminded me what true friendship is all about. For that, I'm truly grateful.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Friend of Mine

I don't want us to have a fight,
But in the background I can hear you chatting sh!te,
I hear it every night.

And you think you're being really cool,
You've been doing it since we were both at school,
Now who looks like a fool.

You're no friend of mine girl
And I've known it for a while girl,
You're just a waste of time girl
Why don't you have another line girl.

Tell me what did you expect?
Have you got no self respect?
Reputation to protect?
Soon you'll be a nervous wreck.

What happened to the good old days?
I was kinda hoping this was all a stupid phase
Who are you anyway?
I know you've heard this all before
I know some people who are calling you a whore
Don't know you anymore
You're no friend of mine girl
And I've known it for a while girl,
You're just a waste of time girl
Why don't you have another line girl.
Tell me what did you expect?
Have you got no self respect?
Reputation to protect?
Soon you'll be a nervous wreck.

One of my favourite Lily Allen tracks.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Erogenous Zone - Somewhere Near the Equator?

The elusive erogenous zone said to exist in some women may be a myth, say researchers who have hunted for it. Their study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine is the biggest yet, involving 1,800 women, and it found no proof. The King's College London team believe the G-spot may be a figment of women's imagination, encouraged by magazines and sex therapists.
But sexologist Beverley Whipple, who helped popularise the G-spot idea, said the work was "flawed".
From the BBC News Website (link to to the full story on the title of the post)
What I want to know is - who are the researchers who have hunted for it? Any vacancies...?

So Who's Got the Children?

A couple of months ago I wrote on these pages about The Pain of Divorce. Some people responded to my ramblings with some kind comments which I'm grateful for. My post also attracted the attention of the BBC who asked if I would talk about my experience as a child whose parents go through divorce.

The series - So Who's Got the Children - is presented by that fine broadcaster Kaye Adams and begins on BBC Radio Scotland tomorrow at 11.30am. The link is below - it will be on the worldwide web thingy soon after on the listen again facility.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Winter, Spring, Summer and...

Tonight, while ordering my groceries on-line from Sainsbury's, among the twenty five million special offers on display was one cross buns. Ten days away from the end of January and already hot cross buns are on sale. I wonder what the sell-by date is...

Earlier this evening, I received an email from Travelodge advising me, nay, urging me to book a room 'while the summer sale is still on. Book now to avoid disappointment'
Flicking through the mediocrity that is the Freeview television channels I saw, briefly, the Ideal World Home Shopping Channel. It occurred to me, given the above, that in less than a fortnight we'll be five months away from their infamous Countdown to Christmas 'specials' which start in July.

It's not just me is it? Tell me it isn't so...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bill McLaren - Last Bastion of Decency

The BBC attracts a fair amount of criticism these days with accusations that standards aren't what they once were with the likes of Jonathan Ross, Jeremy Clarkson and Graeme Norton paid huge sums for 'entertaining' the masses - while irritating those of us who hark back to the days when there were some top notch broadcasters at the Corporation. Sadly, some of the best of those broadcasting icons are no longer with us having passed away in recent years. I felt deeply saddened when I heard about the death of Radio One's John Peel in 2004; similarly in 2008 when the legendary Humphrey Lyttlelton left us to entertain those who would truly feel in heaven with the great man's presence. Today, we learnt of the passing of another broadcasting icon - Bill McLaren, rugby union commentator supreme.

I have never been a huge fan of rugby union but when Bill was commentating with such splendour for the BBC, I watched the game and listened to his commentary. To say Bill knew his stuff is like saying the New Zealand All Blacks are a half decent side. Bill was the authority on the sport. His commentaries were always full of passion, yet he was never biased to his native Scotland - he treated every game and every team with the same respect. Some of his descriptions were just pure genius and even if you didn't care much for the sport you listened to Bill's every word.

Bill was 86 and had been ill for some time - but his passing is no easier to take. He was the master, the top man, someone who commanded respect even though he felt he was just a humble PE teacher from Hawick in the Scottish borders. He was, of course, much more than that - a dedicated family man who suffered personal loss when his daughter died from cancer at a tragically young age.

Among the many tributes paid to Bill it's been said he was The Voice of Rugby. To me and I suspect many other Scots he was the voice of compassion, decency, respect - traits that are sadly fast disappearing these days.

Quite simply, it's an end of an era. There will never be another Bill McLaren

Friday, 15 January 2010

Oh, Belt Up...

TV character Peppa Pig will be seen wearing a seatbelt in future episodes, after parents raised concerns over children following her example. British animation company Astley Baker Davies said it would also re-animate scenes from the first and second series to reflect the change.

"We were very naive when we started making Peppa," co-founder Mark Baker told Broadcast magazine. "If we could turn the clock back, we would," he said.

Aimed at children aged two and above, Peppa Pig won a children's Bafta in 2005 for best pre-school animation. Shown on Five and children's channel Nick Jr, it follows a five-year-old pig named Peppa, her family and friends. Astley Baker Davies had initially considered including seatbelts and child seats in the show but felt it might limit the characters' range of expressions.

But it reversed its stance after a parent complained that her daughter had refused to wear a seatbelt because Peppa did not.

From the BBC News Website

My two year old grand-daughter Hannah adores Peppa Pig - when she's not running circles round her beleaguered Papa. You can guess what Santa brought Hannah at Christmas. But the politically correct brigade just can't let things lie. Perhaps someone may wish to point out that Peppa is a cartoon character.
As for the final paragraph in the story some people just aren't meant to be parents...

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

An Englishman Abroad (well, the north of Scotland)

"Our First Winter"

DEC 20th: It's starting to snow.. The first of the season and the first we've seen for years. The wife and I took out our hot toddies and sat on the porch watching the fluffy soft flakes drift gently down clinging to the trees and covering the ground. It's so beautiful and peaceful.

DEC 24th: We awoke to a lovely blanket of crystal white glistening snow covering as far as the eye could see. What a fantastic sight, every tree and bush covered with a beautiful white mantle. I shovelled snow for the first time ever and loved it. I did both our driveway and the pavement. Later that day a snowplough came along and accidentally covered up our driveway with compacted snow from the street. The driver smiled and waved. I waved back and shovelled it away again. The children next door built a snowman with coal for eyes and a carrot for a nose, and had a snowball fight, a couple just missed me and hit the car so I threw a couple back and joined in their fun.

DEC 26th: It snowed an additional 5 inches last night and the temperature dropped to around minus 8 degrees. Several branches on our trees and bushes snapped due to the weight of the snow. I shovelled the driveway again. Shortly afterwards the snowplough came by and did his trick again. Much of the snow is now a brownish grey.

JAN 1st: Warmed up enough during the day to create some slush which soon became ice when the temperature dropped again.. Bought snow tyres for both our cars. Fell on my arse in the driveway. Went to a physio but nothing was broken.

JAN 5th: Still cold. Sold the wife's car and bought her a 4x4 to get her to work. She slid into a wall and did considerable damage to the right wing. Had another 8 inches of white sh**e last night. Both vehicles are covered in salt and iced up slush That b*st*rd snowplough came by twice today............ Where's that bloody shovel.

JAN 9th: More f**king snow. Not a tree or bush on our property that hasn't been damaged. Power was off most of the night. Tried to keep from freezing to death with candles and a paraffin heater which tipped over and nearly torched the house. I managed to put the flames out but suffered 2nd degree burns on my hands. Lost all my eyebrows and eyelashes. Car hit a f**king deer on the way to casualty and car was written off.

JAN 13th: F**king b*st*rd white sh**e just keeps on coming down. Have to put on every article of clothing just to go to the post box. The little sh*ts next door ambushed me with snowballs on the way back - I'll shove that carrot so far up the little b**t*rd's arse it'll take a good surgeon hours to find it. If I ever catch the sh*t that drives the snowplough I'll chew open his chest and rip out his heart with my teeth. I think the b**t*ard hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shovelling and then he accelerates down the street like Michael Schuf**kingmacher and buries the f**king driveway again.

JAN 17th: Sixteen more f**king inches of fucking snow and f**king ice and f**king sleet and God knows what other white sh*te fell last night. I am in court in 3 months time for assaulting the snowplough driver with an ice-pick. Can' t move my f**king toes. Haven't seen the sun for 5 weeks. Minus 20 and more f**king snow forecast


Monday, 11 January 2010

You Wear it Well

I've been using the term 'feeling my age' far more frequently than is good for me recently. Perhaps being a grandfather emphasises that my fondly remembered youth has long gone although things aren't helped when my daughters buy me Christmas gifts such as socks emblazoned with the words 'Drunken Old Fart' and 'Grumpy Old Git'. Whatever can they mean?

I was talking with my esteemed office colleague the other day (Claire, that's you...) about the joys of listening to music on vinyl. The pleasure of buying an album from the record shop with its cover a work of art, the excitement of getting home, carefully removing the record and putting it on the record player, the anticipation as the stylus (that's the needle, Adullamite) scratched its way on to the vinyl and the music began... It occurred to me that perhaps Claire hadn't experienced such pleasure and she confirmed as much when she advised her Dad had told her about records...

Now I'm being somewhat cautious when I admit this but when I was fourteen years of age, one of the many albums I bought was, erm, Rod Stewart's Greatest Hits. Yes, I know, I was young, it was 1976 the year of the scorching summer and my young brain may have been affected by the heat. Of course I should have bought The Faces album instead as Stewart's early stuff - which was quite good - was performed with the band, such as You Wear it Well and Maggie May.

My feeling of ageing wasn't helped when I read that Rod Stewart turned 65 years old yesterday. Officially, he's now an old age pensioner. I wonder if Rod, like me, gets Grumpy Old Git goods as a token of affection from loved ones? Probably not. Then again, he wears it well...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Friday, 8 January 2010

Twenty Years Ago Today...

8 January 1990 was the first day of the rest of my life. After two decades living in Aberdeen I had reached the stage of my life where, as The Stranglers once memorably sang, Something Better Change. Work was a living hell, life was miserable in the Granite City and I was in a depressive state. My life had to change - and it did.

In September 1989, three things happened. Firstly, my second daughter Michaela was born. In a year of despair and negativity, Michaela’s arrival was a shining light. I had not felt so good since Laura’s arrival three years earlier. Secondly, we put our house on the market. The For Sale sign in the garden certainly provoked a reaction from our more than curious neighbours. Why were we selling? Why now with a newborn baby? Where were we going to? I merely smiled and told them they would find out soon enough. Thirdly, I resigned from my job at the bus depot. Officially. In writing. My manager thought he would call my bluff by saying if I were serious about leaving he would quite like to know when so he could arrange a replacement. I suspect he thought I would say I didn’t really wish to resign and would stay. But I turned the tables and told him I would be gone by Christmas.

One of my neighbours who also worked in the same office as me didn’t hesitate to tell the manager as soon as the For Sale sign went up in our garden. If my manager hadn’t taken me entirely seriously up to this point, he was now left with no alternative. He tried to talk me out of leaving, tried to point out the stupidity of my actions - as many other people in Aberdeen tried to do - and wanted me to change my mind. To be fair to him and others, I could see their argument. I was about to resign from a decent paid job without having another one to go to. I was about to sell our house. My wife had just given birth to our second child. And I was about to head one hundred and forty miles south - leaving my family behind.

I could see why people thought I was mad, selfish, and incredibly stupid. But I was determined. We sold our house for not much more than we had paid for it but after paying off the mortgage, we still had the proceeds from the profit of selling our first flat. So we weren’t entirely destitute. We had some money in the bank that I hoped would tide me over until I got another job. I reckoned there would be enough to last six months if need be.

Just after Christmas 1989, I walked out of what would evolve into First Bus for the last time. Never to return. When I woke up the following morning, I felt such a feeling of relief, as if a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. This was it - there was no going back. I had broken free. My desperately unhappy job was no more. The house was sold and we would be leaving in a few days. I felt a surge of happiness, despite heading into the unknown, despite knowing I was about to leave my family. My father arrived in Aberdeen in the first week of 1990. He came to pick me up and drive me south to Paisley. A new year, a new decade. A new life.

The following few months would be tough. Very tough. Nevertheless, I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was doing the right thing. I tell my now grown up daughters that, whatever you do in life, whatever mistakes you make - and we all make them - don’t have any regrets. As I got into my father’s car on Sunday 7 January, I had just two regrets. That I was leaving my wife and the girls behind (something I still feel guilty about more than twenty years on) But the most overpowering feeling was that I hadn’t done this earlier.

It was goodbye to Aberdeen and hello to a new, exciting - and most importantly - happy life. Within three months I had a job and a house in a place I loved and had wanted to move to nearly a decade before. A place that was always in my heart. A place where I felt invigorated, at ease and at peace. That place was Edinburgh. The gamble had paid off. As a family we were back together again. Happier than ever.

It doesn't seem like twenty years since that life-changing move. Today I'm heading back to Aberdeen - for twenty-four hours only. Hearts are due to play a Scottish Cup tie in the Granite City tomorrow (Artic conditions permitting) and I'm meeting an old pal for a couple of half pint shandies this evening before sampling the delights of an overnight stay at Travelodge. In my own wee way I'll toast the events of twenty years ago - and ponder how time has flown by since...

Monday, 4 January 2010

Snow Laughing Matter...

Well, I never. Heavy snow and plummeting temperatures. In January? Who would have believed it? Not, it would appear, those champions of local government, Midlothian Council.

Having not been out since Saturday - when my bus got stuck in the snow about a mile from home meaning I had to get off and walk the rest of the way - today I ventured out into the Siberian conditions that Dalkeith has become recently. We've had snow here for more than a fortnight now but, thus far, people have carried on relatively unscathed. Today was a different story. Buses are only going part of the way in Dalkeith. For people like me who live at the top of a hill this presents difficulties. After standing for around twenty minutes at lunch time today it became clear to me and the half dozen other hardy souls that no buses were heading our way. So a fifteen minute walk beckoned towards where the buses were terminating some distance away. It seems this will be the way of things for the rest of the week and for who knows how long as the forecast is for the worst winter to hit Scotland for thirty years to continue in its present state for at least another fortnight. However, I don't blame the bus companies for the lack of public transport. Not on this occasion. The state of the roads in Dalkeith are quite frankly shocking. And for this I blame Midlothian 'it's no 'oor fault' Council.

I eventually made it into the centre of Edinburgh this afternoon. The centre of the capital city is fine. There are some patches of snow and ice but for the most part the roads are clear and traffic is moving. It's a different story in Dalkeith. I did see a gritter/snowplough on my way home - that was the only time I saw such a vehicle all day. Yet the traffic in the town is slithering and sliding and crawling to get anywhere. Pedestrians are having to walk on snow covered roads because the pavements are more suitable to Torvill and Dean. There are accidents waiting to happen - and are probably happening as I type this.

The story from local authorities across Scotland is they are concentrating on the major roads and will tend to minor routes when the snow relents. Fair enough. But it seems Midlothian Council aren't even managing that as anyone heading into the town on the A68 today would testify. Of course, today is a public holiday in Midlothian. Perhaps the Council bosses are mindful of this and are counting the pennies. Or it could be they didn't expect snow and ice in the first few days of January (this is Midlothian Council after all...)

Either way, I'm not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. I reckon I'll need to set aside at least an hour and a half to get into the office. I may just lob a snowball at the Council's Big Pink Headquarters on the way...

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Can I Have a Large One?

The NHS has some new advice for people struggling to schedule a fitness routine into their daily lives - a workout between the sheets. According to the NHS Direct website, "sexercise" can lower the risk of heart attacks and helps people live longer. Endorphins released during orgasm stimulate immune system cells, which also helps target illnesses like cancer, as well as wrinkles, it states.

From the BBC News Website

It's unusual for me to start the New Year on a positive note (rest assured, it won't last) Not only is Christmas over for another year but the above report on the BBC News website quotes the good old National Health Service advising that sex is good for you. However, without wishing to rain on any parade, I feel I must take issue with some of its findings.

'Sexercise' can lower the risk of heart attacks and help people live longer. My father, God rest his soul, was married three times and had countless affairs. He died of a heart attack at just 58 years - it may well have been that his extra-marital activities helped contribute to his early demise. I don't know if he died with a smile on his face but he was on his own at the time...

What also intrigues me is how the NHS discover these nuggets of information. Presumably by conducting surveys or getting organisations to do this on their behalf. But how accurate are the findings? I have to say I've never been asked to help with a survey about my sex life. If I were I would almost certainly give misleading answers.

How old are you, Mr Smith?

47 (that bit's true)

And how many times a week do you have sex?

Oh, twice, sometimes three times a night...

I see.

Occasionally there's someone with me....

Quite. Do you talk to your wife when you make love?

Only if she's on the phone...

You're not taking this seriously, are you Mr Smith?

Well, you started it...

I do occasionally receive 'spam' emails from less than reputable online pharmaceutical companies offering me 'Viagra' at a reduced rate. I once asked my local chemist - on behalf of a friend, you understand - about Viagra and if I could get it over the counter. 'Only if you take the whole packet at once' replied the chemist.
The Christmas period saw a plethora of Carry On films on television. Actor Sid James was not averse to the odd affair or five - yet this didn't seem to improve his rugged features. As his one time lover Barbara Windsor would ask as she went into his pub 'Have you got a large one?' Sid's reply of 'I've had no complaints so far. Har, har,har!' is one of the classic lines of British cinema...

However, perhaps I'm doing the NHS boffins a disservice. Above is a photo of me early on New Years Day. Draw your own conclusions, dear reader...