Friday, 31 December 2010

Another Year Over

Hogmanay. The time when most of us look back on the last twelve months - and in my case sigh. Although 2010 wasn't all bad news:

Event of the year: The birth of my third grandchild Ava on 11 May. It's amazing how much a baby develops in just seven months. She is now at the crawling stage and isn't too far away from taking her first steps. She will soon be helping Jack and Hannah in their cunning plan to walk all over their Papa and get their own way. I'll be popping over to see the little brats darlings later today - that reminds me, I'll need to go to the sweet shop on the way....

Gig of the year:  2010 wasn't quite the vintage year for The Ranter as 2009 was. Pick of the gigs I attended were The Beat back in the spring and the legendary Skatalites at the end of November, both at The Picture House in Edinburgh. Ska music as its best. Special mention, though, for local band The Skababs. For a cheap and cheerful night out with some stomping ska cover versions, they can't be beat!

Tip for the Top for 2011: Aaron Wright and the Aprils - an Edinburgh band who will be huge in the months and years ahead. You read it here first!

Best comedian: The Edinburgh Festival is always a great event for comics. Tim Vine returned to the Festival in August and he was brilliant as ever. Reginald D Hunter, again at the Festival, was superb too.

Unexpected Good Time: I have to admit going to see The Ladyboys of Bangkok at the Festival in August with some trepidation. However, it was a bloody good show, entertainment for the alcohol fuelled masses!

Best Football Match: Jim Jefferies (the manager not the Aussie comedian) returned to Tynecastle at the start of the year and has turned Hearts from a negative, low scoring team with a couldn't be arsed attitude to one that now plays free-flowing football, scores goals and is a joy to watch again. Highlight for me in 2010 was Hearts 5-0 thrashing of Aberdeen in December (sorry, mother!) The maroons were immense that day and in young David Templeton they have that rarity in Scottish football these days - a skillful winger, a throwback to the old days of Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Henderson etc. Temps will be on his way for big money in a couple of years but we'll enjoy him for now.

Book of the Year: Derek Wilson's Scotland On This Day. A wonderful read, one of those books you have difficulty putting down.

Best Television: It's been an awful year for television in this country. The best series of plays was the BBC's Accused which ended just before Christmas. Individual stories were all written by the sublime Jimmy McGovern, a master craftsman when it comes to scriptwriting.

Best Radio Show: I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Since 1972 it's streets ahead of anything else. In my totally unbiased opinion the BBC Radio Scotland documentary series So Who's Got the Children? was also essential listening...

Quote of the Year: As I struggled with a severe attack of the potentially deadly ManFlu - and receiving no sympathy whatsoever from the rest of my family - my three year old grand-daughter Hannah put her arms around me and said 'Aw, Papa - I'll look after you' Brought a tear to my glass eye to know that a least one person in this world cares!

Most devious behaviour of the year: Grandson Jack started school earlier this year and is now proficient at writing his name. So when the name 'Jack' appeared scribbled on the wallpaper on the grandchildren's bedroom his plea of 'It wasn't me, it was Hannah' was never going to fool anyone - not even me..

Pain in the Arse Award: Not the Laurel and Hardy of local government, Midlothian Council whose complex system of emptying the rubbish would leave even Einstein baffled; not the infamous Worst Group who are likely to replace their bus timetables in Midlothian with calendars in 2011; not satellite sports broadcaster ESPN whose continual changing of their signal output led me to throw my hands up in surrender in September and cancel my subscription.

No, the Auld Reekie Ranter's PITAA goes to FLM Loans who harassed me in the summer for my daughter's slightly delayed payment on her personal loan. Someone from the company left a message on my answerphone at the beginning of November - and I suspect someone from the company also visited this blog and left a message under 'Anonymous' - but nothing further has happened. It seems customer service takes various forms..

Here's to 2011 and whatever the new year will bring. I suspect there will be a few changes in my life in the months ahead and, no doubt, this time next year I will be reflecting on those. To those who follow my ramblings may I offer my very best wishes to you for 2011 - may the year be everything you want it to be.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

School Days


People who know me will tell you I'm always often very occasionally complaining about work. I work in a high pressure environment so it's fair to assume I might enjoy the time off we get between Christmas and New Year. And I do - it's just it's too long. I finished work last Thursday evening. It's less than a week and, being a creature of habit, my routine has been disrupted. It's another week until I return and while it's nice to be able to relax there's something unnatural about having all this time off. I would rather have the time off when it suits me but then as regular visitors to these pages already know, I'm not one to complain...

During these idle moments I came across a photo of my old primary school in Aberdeen. It’s fair to say my time at Ashley Road Primary School in Aberdeen was not entirely happy. In fact, it was downright miserable. After my parents separated at the end of 1969 I moved from Cumbernauld outside Glasgow to Aberdeen where my mother's family resided. As 1970 began, I was the new kid in class. And not at the beginning of term. In the middle of winter. Moreover, being from Cumbernauld I was out of sync with the rest of my new classmates. Although I had visited Aberdeen to see my grandparents when I was in Cumbernauld and understood some of the local dialect, I struggled at times to understand what my new classmates were saying to me. And this, at the age of seven and three quarters, was already marking me out to be different.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t without friends at Ashley Road Primary School. One of whom grew up to become one of Scotland’s finest artists while another was particularly good at football and would become a professional player for Airdrieonians and Montrose. Indeed, it was as a Montrose player that Innes McDonald laid on a goal that helped Montrose knock Hearts out of the League Cup at Tynecastle in 1986. However, I digress. My best pal was a lad called Ian. We seemed to hit it off right away but we seemed to drift apart in the final year of primary school in 1974.

Ashley Road was one of those older primary schools. When I first went there in the winter of 1969, the toilet was outside. Well, I say toilet - it consisted of a wall and a drain. And it smelled. As you may have gathered, I was not particularly happy there. Initially I kept thinking about my old pals at Seafar Primary in Cumbernauld and the gradual realisation I would never see them again. When I came to accept that, I resented some of my classmates at Ashley Road, particularly those whose trust and friendship I never stood a chance of gaining. This was reflected in the games of football we played in the playground during lunchtime. I was invariably placed in the so-called weaker team and inevitably in defence. Not for me the glory of scoring the winning goal and taking off my school jersey and running aimlessly around the playground. I did get to take the odd penalty kick and on one occasion, the accuracy of my well-placed right foot shot smashed a window of the school art hut. Such things stick in the memory.

The one thing that sticks like no other in the memory - and still haunts me and, I suspect, many other pupils of Ashley Road in the early 1970s - was the quite horrid school dinners. I have no idea what went into those meals - and I don’t really want to know - but they were quite disgusting. So bad, they made many of us physically sick. One of the teachers - an old battle axe called Mrs Cumming - was on school meals duty. She didn’t so much rule with a rod of iron as metaphorically beat us around the head with it. She would not allow any pupil to leave without finishing their meal - no matter how disgusting it was. Quite what the council’s catering department did nearly forty years ago is up for debate but the explanation that they ‘steamed’ the food wasn’t acceptable then and still isn’t years later. It got to the ridiculous stage where some of us were smuggling food out of the dining hut in handkerchiefs - especially the potatoes that were particularly disgusting. Even those that didn’t have bits of what seemed to me like dead flies in them. After weeks of hell, I was pleading with my mother not to send me back to the dreaded school dinner hut. The fact I was throwing up one night told its own story. My mother took time off work the following day and marched to the school to lock horns with the Head Teacher. Whatever mother said it worked. Mrs Cumming was removed from her dining hut duties and the school meals gradually began to improve. My mum became a heroine to those kids who had suffered. However, I suspect I'm not the only one for whom the mental scars remain - to this day I can't abide even the sight of rhubarb...

Forty years later I'm glad to report my grandson Jack, in his first year at primary school in Dalkeith in the heart of Midlothian, enjoys wholesome nutritional school meals - and he loves it. Changed days indeed as John Lennon once said.

Now, do you see the perils of having too much time on your hands? This time next week, I'll be back at the coalface, cursing the incessant ringing of the telephone and the huge pile of work that sadly remained on my desk over the Christmas and New Year period and will need urgent attention.

Like I said, I'm not one to complain...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas in Scotland - Part 4

    Scotrail services disrupted - Jack on the line                                      


   Hannah won't be drawn on what she enjoyed most...                       



      C'mon Papa - I'm not too young for some chocolate...

 I harbour suspicions Laura and Michaela didn't take Great Granny Smith's suggestion of standing for the Queen too seriously....
   Okay, Papa - that's enough! Gie us ma chocolate!


    Getting more like The Waltons with each passing year

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Ranter's Seasonal Greet




May I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a Guid New Year - particularly those who are regular visitors to my occasionally inane ramblings. I very much appreciate you taking the time to visit these pages and for your lovely encouraging words and kindness - thank you. I wish you and your families all the very best.

Here's to you!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Christmas in Scotland

A Scottish Christmas Fairy

I am a little fairy
On tap o' the Christmas Tree
It's no' a job I fancy
Well how would you like tae be me?

A'm tarted up wi' tinsel
It's enough to mak ye boak
An a couple o' jaggy branches
Rammed up the back o' your froack.

An' wi'a' these lights a'roon me
I canna get my sleep
An' there's the yearly visit
Fae Santa - Big fat creep!

On Christmas Day I'm stuck up here
While you're a a'wirin' in
An' naebody says "Hey you up there,-
Could you go a slug o' gin?

It's nae joke bein' a fairy
The job's beyond belief
Ye go 'roon and 'roon the bairnies beds
An' lift their rotten teeth.

But o' a' the joabs a fairy gets
An' I've mentioned only some,
The very worst is up a tree
Wi' pine needles up yir bum.

When a' the fairies meet again
By the light of' the silvery moon,
Ye can tell the Christmas fairies -
They're the wans that canna sit doon.

The Christmas tree's a bonny sight
As the firelight softly flickers
But think o' me,- A'm stuck up here
Wi' needles in my knickers !

So soon as Christmas time's right by
An' I stop bein' sae full o' cheer
I'll get awa back tae Fairyland
An' Ah'll see yous a' next year.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

It's Not All Bad News...

It seems, at times recently, as if The Ranter has been overwhelmed with bad news. Increased workload and incessant pressure at work following the departure of my colleague Claire (it's not the same without you, dear!); my dear old mother not enjoying the best of health; my own health not the Mae West either; daughter Michaela also being swamped at work and finding this time of the year difficult emotionally; my good friend Marion going through similar emotions; tonnes of snow and sub-zero temperatures making getting to and from work difficult and lengthy. And - Christmas is nine days away. Have I mentioned my dislike of this time of the year?

However, it's not all bad news.

A week tomorrow I'll finish work for the Christmas break and not return to the pressure cooker that is the office until 5 January. Michaela no longer has to appear in court next Tuesday (as a witness in an assault case, not for driving at 150mph on the Edinburgh by-pass in case you wondered); grandson Jack did a star turn at his school's nativity play; Hearts are playing great football, have won six games in a row and are now just three points behind second placed Celtic; and a football website has declared the Hearts Match Day programme the best in Scotland with someone called Mike Smith the best features writer (that did my ego a power of good when I read this on Twitter last night!)

Above all though, I am proud to know so many good, kind-hearted and generous people in my life. Through this blog I have got to know some wonderful people such as Peggy, Lilly, A Daft Scots Lass, Groanin' Jock, Kenfitlike and the always wonderful Adullamite. They have all enhanced my life. May their God bless them all.

Edinburgh, always a fantastic, vibrant city, is awash with colour and excitement at Christmas. Princes Street really is spectacular - in my humble opinion there's no better place in the world to be at this time of the year.

Okay, that's way too much optimism. The weather forecast for Edinburgh for the weekend is heavy snow and freezing temperatures. I have to complete the January payroll at the office before I finish for Christmas. My back is killing me. And the bottle of brandy in the kitchen is damn near empty.

Ho ho ho....

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Pregnant Pause


What with the recession, health problems and an ever increasing workload at the office, there hasn't been much in the way of good news for The Ranter recently. Although Hearts did hammer Aberdeen 5-0 yesterday to lift the gloom considerably. So I was delighted to read that one of Scotland's top bloggers, Groanin' Jock will become a father for the first time in 2011. My very best wishes go to him and the famous 'Mrs Wife' (Jock's blog is an excellent read) for the weeks ahead. It will, of course, be a life changing event for them both and his news set me thinking back to the early summer of 1986 when my elder daughter Laura was born. If you like, a pregnant pause to reflect (okay, give me a break!)

Being a new Dad felt brilliant. Apart from when I had to change dirty nappies. And getting up several times during the night because Laura felt the urge to be fed. And when she would throw up all over me on all too frequent occasions. But, apart from that,…I loved Laura with all my heart (whisper it, but I still do…) When I took her out in her pram, I felt twelve feet tall. I wore that smug look which shouted LOOK AT ME, I’M A DAD, and THIS IS MY BABY…as if no one else were parents. I had a week off work when Laura was born and my wife Pat and our newborn were kept in hospital for four days. Laura had jaundice and my initial horror at this revelation was tempered somewhat when a nurse reassured me this was quite normal in newborn babies. I was in dreamland in the immediate days following the birth before reality kicked in and Pat brought Laura home. Fragile, frightened, screaming….it is fair to say Pat was taking time to adjust to being a mother. But baby Laura was grand. After only six weeks, she was sleeping for most of the night, which came as a huge relief to Pat and me, and, no doubt, to the neighbours.


In the days that followed it seemed half of Aberdeen, where we lived at the time, visited our house to see Laura. Many of Pat’s family appeared have devised a rota system - if it wasn’t her mother it was one of her sisters or brother or some other damn in-law. My family consisted of my mother and she was a regular visitor to see her first grandchild. Pat’s mother had several others but, being an only child, I was the sole provider of grandchildren to my mother. It was such a big event that my father even made the trip north from Cumbernauld. I could see the pride and joy in his eyes when he held baby Laura for the first time and, I don’t mind admitting, it brought a lump to my throat. My father and I became closer when Laura arrived and he and I kept in contact more often than we had done previously. He knew he had missed out on so much of my growing up and he seemed to realise that he didn’t want to miss out on his grand-daughter. In the years that followed, however, events would tragically transpire against him.

More than twenty four years on the events of the summer of 1986 are still very fresh in my mind. Every parent will feel the same. The world may be a troubled place but for Groanin' Jock and his good lady 2011 promises to be the most wonderful of their lives. If I may give Jock one piece of advice - Ibrox isn't the most child friendly of places - but Tynecastle is....


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

I Read The News Today - Oh, Boy


Thirty years ago today John Lennon was murdered outside his New York apartment. I was eighteen years old at the time, engaged to be married and saving hard for a deposit on a flat with my wife to be. I was never a huge fan of The Beatles but the shock of Lennon's death was, perhaps, my generation's 'JFK moment' - I remember hearing the news vividly. My mother came through with tea and toast early in the morning and told me Lennon had died. I switched on the radio - no breakfast television in Scotland in those days - and heard the awful details about what had happened.

I always thought some of The Beatles early stuff was a bit naff. 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and songs of that ilk weren't really up to much but millions of screaming girls all around the world snapped up the records. I preferred The Beatles later work. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club was a good album although I always thought The White Album was better. Some of Lennon's solo work was sublime. Instant Karma, Number 9 Dream, Imagine - quite superb. Give Peace a Chance was just a continuous chant but its sentiments were sincere. And, of course, at this time of the year Happy Christmas (War is Over) is being played throughout the land.

It doesn't seem like thirty years since the great man's passing. Rather ironically he sang Imagine There's No Heaven - I can't imagine Heaven without him.

God rest John Lennon.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Me and My Girls (and boy)

Papa - I've been good, can I have my sweets now?

Papa - I've also been good, can I have my sweets now?

Papa - what do you mean I'm too young for sweets? Waaaaahh!

Aye, go on then - just don't tell your mother...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Weather Update

There's now two feet of snow in Dalkeith...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

T'was the Month Before Christmas

T’was the month before Christmas

When all through our land

Not a Christian was praying

Nor taking a stand.

See the PC Police had taken away,

The reason for Christmas - no one could say.

The children were told by their schools not to sing

About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things

It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say

December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.

Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit

Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it.

CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod

Something was changing, something quite odd!

Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa

In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda..

As some were hanging their trees upside down

In some places the word Christmas was no where to be found.

This country has changed so much through the years

In some places you won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.

Inclusive, sensitive, di-ver-is-ty

Are words that were used to intimidate me.

At the PC Brigade, there arose such a clatter

To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.

And Christians spoke not a word, as they took away their faith

Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace

The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded

The reason for the season, stopped before it started.

So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'

Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.

Choose your words carefully, choose what you say

Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS ,

Not Happy Holiday !