Sunday, 30 January 2011

Thankful for Small Mercies

It's been a bit of an up and down weekend for the Auld Reekie Ranter. Friday night was meant to be a quite meal out at the splendid Illegal Jack's in Edinburgh's Lothian Road. The food was great - I can highly recommend their Haggis Burrito - and very affordable. The plan was to have a quick drink afterwards then head home. That was until I received a text from my brother-in-law from Aberdeen, a fella I haven't seen for a few years. He was in Princes Street, having come down from the Granite City en route to Aberdeen's cup semi-final in Glasgow the following day. Did I fancy a pint he asked? Well, he twisted my arm...

On Saturday I had to forego my customary trip to watch the mighty Heart of Midlothian FC at Tynecastle as a result of having a hospital appointment  - something I've been waiting for since early November. I could have postponed the visit to the ENT but given the present state of the NHS I thought it best to head to the hospital for my 2.00pm appointment. It wasn't a pleasant experience - having a camera stuck up one's nose is most uncomfortable. Worse still, further tests are now required although when this will be is anyone's guess.

However, my Saturday evening was brightened by having my darling grand-daughter Hannah stay with me overnight. She may be just three and a half years old but she already has considerable experience of melting hearts and this she did with customary expertise this weekend. I may have been bleary-eyed when I got up to make her breakfast at 7.15 on Sunday morning but her show of love and affection made it worthwhile. I hope she never loses her ability to bring such happiness into my life, particularly when times are difficult in more ways than one.

And so another working week beckons. It's the end of the worst month of the year tomorrow. The days are beginning to get slightly longer - it didn't get dark in Auld Reekie until just before 5.00pm today. On Friday I stop work for a week's holiday. I may not be a well man but I'm not one to complain. Things could be worse....

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Don't Know They're Born...

                            He must have been a beautiful baby....

When I was a child in the 1960s/70s adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were. When they were growing up tales of walking twenty-five miles to school every morning....uphill... barefoot... in three feet of snow BOTH ways...yadda, yadda, yadda. I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it...

But now that I'm hurtling towards fifty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today. Youngsters today might disagree - but they've got it easy. Compared to my childhood, they live in a damn Utopia! And I hate to say it, but you kids today, you don't know how good you've got it...

When I was a lad we didn't have the Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves in things called books...

There was no Facebook. If you wanted to stalk someone you secretly fancied you would have to wait until it got dark and hide in their garden...erm, so someone once told me...

There was no email. We had to actually write a letter on a sheet of notepaper - with a pen. Then you had to walk all the way down the street and put it in the postbox, and it would take a week to get there (two weeks if you lived in Dalkeith) Stamps cost just pennies...

Child Protective Services didn't care if our parents beat us. As a matter of fact, the parents of all my friends also had permission to kick our backsides, as the did the local bobby on the beat. And teachers at school would take a large leather strap to belt us with. Nowhere was safe...

There were no MP3's or Napsters or ITunes. If you wanted to steal music, you had to take a bus to the record shop and nick a record. That's a r-e-c-o-r-d - a big round black vinyl thing....

Alternatively you could wait around all day to tape it off the radio, and the likes of Tony Blackburn or Noel fecking Edmonds would usually talk over the beginning and feck it all up. There were no CD players. We had cassette players. We'd play our favourite tape and "eject" it when finished, and then the tape would come out chewed up rendering it useless.

We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting on the phone. If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal - that's all.

We didn't have fancy Caller ID either. When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was. It could be your school, your parents, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, the collection agent... you just didn't know. You had to pick it up and take your chances...

There weren't any mobile phones either. If you left the house, you just didn't make a damn call or receive one. You actually had to be out of touch with your "friends". Think of the horror... not being in touch with someone tweny four hours a day. And then there's texting - no, don't get me started...

We didn't have any fancy PlayStation or Xbox video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics. We had the Atari 2600. With games like 'Space Invaders' and 'Asteroids'. Our screen guy was a little square. We actually had to use our imagination. And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen..

We had to use a magazine to found out what was on the television - in fact two magazines, Radio Times for BBC1 and BBC2 and TV Times for ITV. Yep, just the three channels...So we were screwed when it came to channel surfing. We had to get off our backsides and walk over to the TV to change the channel. No remote control devices. I'll repeat that, children - NO REMOTE CONTROL. An alien concept I know...

There was no Cartoon Network either. You could only get cartoons on a Saturday morning. Do you hear what I'm saying? We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled little brats...

We didn't have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use an oven. An o-v-e-n.

Our parents told us to stay outside and play... all day long. No electronics to soothe and comfort. And if you came back inside... you were doing chores.

So, in summary. Children today have got it too easy. They are spoiled rotten. As I pointed out to grandson Jack the other day when I was playing with his Nintendo....

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Quarter of a Century On...

In January 1986, my grandmother on my mother’s side was taken ill at the time of her 76th birthday. She was taken into hospital and, initially, we thought she would pull through. However, it was clear she was deteriorating and I will never forget going to see her in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary one Friday evening on the way to the pub. There were tubes coming out of almost every orifice and she looked dreadful. She did not know who I was, or my mother who was naturally distraught at seeing her own mother in such a way. I was too upset to go to the pub that evening and my thoughts were that my grandmother wouldn’t see out the weekend. However, she was tougher than I had given her credit for. She survived that weekend and it seemed to my innocent eyes that she would recover sufficiently to get home within a few weeks. When I visited her again with my mother a few days later I was pleasantly surprised. Gone were the tubes and she was lying in bed sedated but looking quite peaceful. She smiled when she saw my mother and I and we held her hand. She spoke very quietly but managed to ask me how Pat was - Mrs Smith was six months pregnant with our first child at the time. My mother and I left the hospital quite uplifted. Granny looked as if she had won the battle and was on the way to recovery. I went home, told Pat the news, and was somewhat disappointed that she didn’t appear to share my optimism. When the telephone rang at 7.00am the following morning the reason for Pat’s reticence became clear. My grandmother had died during the night. The reason they had taken away all the tubes and medical paraphernalia was there was nothing else they could do for her. As is the way in these situations, they wanted her to die with some dignity. She passed away in the early hours of 4 February 1986.

I had never been to a funeral before, being just seven years old when my grandfather died in 1969 and therefore deemed too young to attend such occasions. My father’s parents had died years before. I wasn’t even born when his father died and was just a babe in arms when his mother passed away. So going to Aberdeen Crematorium was a new experience for me. By now, Pat was beginning to show a large bump, which was hardly surprising, but she came to the service to support my mother and I. It was one of those rare events where my mother’s family gathered and, consequently, there were people there I had not seen for years. In fact, not since the wake at my grandfather’s funeral more than sixteen years before.

Like anyone who experiences the loss of a loved one, it was a tough day, particularly for my mother. She would have liked her mother to have seen her first great-grandchild but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Today would have been my grandmother’s 101st birthday. A quarter of a century has passed since her passing but her memory lives on. A lost has happened in those twenty-five years and now I am a grandparent and my mother is a great grandmother. My grandmother can look down with some satisfaction knowing her legacy lives on through my grandchildren Jack and Hannah. I hope they are like the great great grandmother they never knew - and never lose the kindness and love that shone throughout her life.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Blue Monday

Those who like to research these things have said that today - the third Monday in January - is statistically the worst day of the year. It's cold and miserable, the bills for Christmas have just landed on the doormat, there are weeks to go until the next holiday - and most people are skint.

Going by the above photograph, it would appear even those in heavenly places would agree....

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Twitter Ye.....?

The Internet has changed our lives  - some say for the better, some not. The Internet and email undoubtedly makes communication far easier and more instantaneous than it was in days of old. As a boy growing up in Cumbernauld and then Aberdeen forty years ago, if I wanted to communicate with anyone I would have to go round and see them in person, send them a letter or speak to them by telephone. And as we didn't have a telephone until the mid 1970s that was a tad problematic...

Today it's a different ball game. I discovered on Wednesday evening that my eight month old grand-daughter Ava has chicken pox. I didn't get a phone call or a visit from my daughter Laura - I found out by logging on to Facebook. My other daughter Michaela posted a comment wishing her niece a speedy recovery but didn't think to mention anything to me when I saw her earlier that evening. I duly phoned Laura who whose defence was she had no credit on her mobile phone and there was nothing I could do in any case. Fair points, I concede but I still felt uncomfortable that the world wide web knew about my grand-daughter's illness before I did.

Facebook has become something of a phenomenon  - and a highly addictive one at that. I have a Facebook account and look on the site fairly regularly - although I'm making a conscious effort to do this less and less. Some of my 'friends' seem to record everything they do on there. As well as Facebook there is Twitter. I also have a Twitter account -  and of the two social network sites, this is my preferred option. Twitter limits comments to 140 characters so messages are brief and to the point. What I've found fascinating about Twitter is it has become an outlet for famous people to get their views across without them being twisted into something entirely different by the media. I have a few followers on Twitter and I am quite proud to list the likes of Nicola Sturgeon the Scottish National Party Deputy Leader and Scottish Health Secretary, the broadcaster Nicky Campbell and STV's John Mackay and Raman Bhardwaj among them. I've also had the odd 'tweet' from the radio legend that is Tony Blackburn but I won't go into that...

I've embraced Twitter on the basis that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So if anyone fancies joining me you're more than welcome to do so at

I'm logging off now in order that I can go and do something really old fashioned - I'm going to visit baby Ava and Jack and Hannah in person. Now if I find Jack has a Facebook page I really will despair....

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Sex Insurance

SEX with your wife -Legal & General

SEX with your future wife-Mutual Trust

SEX with your secretary - Employers Liability

SEX with a prostitute - Commercial Union

SEX on the telephone- Direct Line

SEX with your biographer - Quote Me Happy

SEX in a hurry- Insure & Go

SEX with your steady partner -Standard Life

SEX with a transvestite-

SEX with some one different -

SEX with an animal -

SEX on the back seat - Sheila's Wheels

SEX with someone over 65- Saga

SEX with a posh bird -

And one for my Aberdonian friends - SEX with a sheep - Farmers Union

Saturday, 8 January 2011

That's a Bonus...

The government is resigned to UK banks paying out billions of pounds in bonuses this year, despite its calls to curb the payments, the BBC has learnt. The best the coalition can hope for is a declaration from the banks that they will pay out less than they would have without government intervention, said BBC business editor Robert Peston. The government is also looking for banks to lend more to small businesses.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has been vocal in his opposition to big bonuses. He told the BBC last month that the coalition government was "fully signed up" to "robust action" in curbing bonuses.

From the BBC News Website

Last August I went to see the wonderful comedian Reginald D Hunter at the Edinburgh Festival. He said that all we ever get these days 'is shit news, man. If news came towards you in the street you would cross over to avoid it'. He's not wrong.

People in the UK, like many other countries across the globe, are facing financial hardship in 2011. Many will lose their jobs, their homes and family life as they know it. The global financial recession is the root cause of this - triggered by the threatened collapse of many financial institutions. The UK government has bailed out several banks, most notably the Royal Bank of Scotland - at the taxpayers expense. A week into 2011 comes the news that those same banks are preparing to pay out huge bonuses to their senior managers. The question on everyone's lips - apart from, I suspect, those who work in the banks - is why?

The ordinary working man and woman on the street are at the stage where they don't know how they are going to afford to live. They live week to week, possibly day to day in some cases. The money that has been taken from their pockets via increased VAT, national insurance contributions and taxes was redirected to banks to bail out their mismanagement. Mismanagement which is now resulting in more bonuses being paid.

Vince Cable says the government is fully signed up to robust action in curbing bonuses. Really? I don't trust politicians, particularly those who have sold their soul in order to gain a little bit of power.

As the cost of Christmas and the increased cost of living begins to hit people hard, we can at least take some comfort from the news that our bankers are resting that bit more easily. That's nice isn't it?

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing

2010 wasn't the best of years for the Auld Reekie Ranter and it was with considerable anticipation that I looked forward to the break at Christmas and New Year. Twelve days away from the pressure cooker environment that is work, a chance to forget about all the problems at the workplace and to recharge the batteries that had been drained of energy. When I stopped work shortly after five o'clock on the evening of Thursday 23 December, I headed to a pub for a swift half (which turned into twelve halves admittedly) and as my lips touched the first soothing taste of foaming ale I thought that suddenly the world had become a better place. That seems a long time ago now.

Today is the final day of a festive break that, I now have to say, seems to have gone on for ever. Scotland generally takes two days off at New Year and with New Year's Day falling on a Saturday this year, many people are taking Monday and Tuesday off work. Even Lothian Buses and Worst Group are putting on a Saturday service today while the rest of the UK arouses from its slumber and returns to the coalface.

Much as I have enjoyed the time away from work, I have to say this festive break has gone on too long. I'm a creature of habit - well, a creature certainly - and my normal routine has been cast aside for the best part of a fortnight. No alarm screeching out at 6.05am forcing me to get out of bed to face the world; no battling loud schoolkids and senseless students on the bus on the way to work; not having to answer incessant phone calls and dealing with one crisis after another in the office. It's been bliss but something has gnawed away telling me that an absence of the daily grind that is life and the art of trying to survive in a stressful world means there is something missing. I type this on Tuesday morning knowing that less than 24 hours from now I'll be stooping around the office, hunched shoulders, face tripping me, counting the hours until the working day comes to an end and counting the days until I'm next on holiday.

You might think there is no pleasing me - not happy at work but less than enthralled at being away from the workplace for so long. And you would be right. By the end of the week normality will have returned, Christmas and New Year will be but a distant memory, snow will have come back with a vengeance and the prospect of the worst month of the year - dark, cold, miserable, financially challenged January - will lie ahead like an unending road to hell. There are only two things which could be considered in my favour. Firstly, the return of a semblance of routine to my life.

And secondly, wishing a Happy New Year to those acquaintances of have the misfortune to follow Hibernian FC. Now to return briefly to the events of New Years Day and the game at Tynecastle...

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year

The Auld Reekie Ranter wishes everyone a Happy New Year, particularly those who visit these pages. I hope 2011 is everything you wish it to be. The year has started well - a win for Hearts in the Edinburgh derby (

The photo above shows a young, slim very attractive, gifted and charming member of the Smith family celebrating at the bells on Hogmanay – alongside his elder daughter Laura....