Sunday, 26 February 2012

Reaching the Half Century

          His sullenness disappeared when daughter Laura brought in a bottle of cognac...

Today is a landmark day in the life of the Auld Reekie Ranter - it's my 50th birthday.

As has been noted on this blog recently, the last few weeks have been difficult and there have been some major changes in my life. I have caused a lot of hurt and heartache in doing so and I am truly sorry for the angst I've caused.

Today, and even before today, I have been showered with so much kindness it has damn near brought a tear to my eye. Family, friends and even people I haven't met before  - I'm talking friends of this blog and friends on Facebook - have been so very kind. I genuinely feel I don't deserve such kindness and good wishes and I sit here tonight, alone, feeling very humble.

I really appreciate all of the kind words. I was touched initially by those who thought it hard to believe I have reached the half century - however, this was tempered by further comments that they thought I was 50 several years ago....

I am having a brandy or three tonight to toast those who have made me feel so good today. Thank you.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Off wi' the Bunnets...

The Ranter has had the pleasure of being away from the stresses and strains of work this week and had reason to be in Dundee for a couple of days. Now, I've nothing personally against Dundonians who, I'm sure, are proud of their city. It's just the city of jute, jam and journalism isn't exactly a hot spot for tourists visiting Scotland.

The main attraction  - some might say the only attraction - is the good ship Discovery, built in the city and was the ship used by Captain Robert Scott at the beginning of last century in his trip to the Antarctic. The ship is now berthed permanently on the banks of the River Tay. Alongside it is the Dundee Tourist Office - and a challenging role for the two ladies who were there the other day to convince visitors there was much else to see in Dundee.

Buying goods in some of the city's stores didn't convince me it was a city that welcomed tourists in any case. I bought a couple of books from WH Smith in the city centre.

'Dae ye want a bag?' asked the burly, surly sales assistant, clearly irritated that I had the temerity to interrupt her morning.

'If it's not too much trouble' I replied.

'It's naw' she sighed. There was no thank you or even an abbreviated 'thanks' or 'ta' emanating from her lips.

Later, I heard a man in one of the numerous Greggs the Bakers in the city centre ask for 'two pehs, a bridie and, oh, another peh - to take away'.

'Anything else?' asked another surly but not quite so burly sales assistant, who may well have been related to the person serving reluctantly along the road in WH Smith.

'Naw' replied the fella who seemed to be contemplating if another peh  - pie to you, dear reader - was in order. Courtesy and good manners, it seemed, were some distance away.

It occurred to me that the niceties of customer service skills perhaps had still reach the city of Discovery. Then, whilst in a restaurant, I heard the shrill tone of a waitress who had certainly been on a customer service training course but was clearly trying way too hard - or had read just one page of her tutorial. Every time she opened her young mouth the words 'that's no problem at all' came out.

'Can I just sit here?' Yes, that's no problem at all.

'Can I just order a cup of tea?' Yes, that's no problem at all.

'Can I pay by Visa Card?' Yes, that's no problem at all.

'Can you say any other words of English?' Yes, that's no problem at all.

'Can I take my machete out and hack your tongue off? Yes, that's no problem at all.

All said with an annoyingly cheery disposition and a smile that threatened to turn the milk sour. She was at the opposite end of the customer service scale but I found her more irritating than the other two sour pusses  - at least I knew where I  stood with them. Until, as the restaurant became busier, she directed a customer towards a seat by the window. 'Just over there, sir, next to the bald gentleman...'

That was my cue to take my leave. From the restaurant and from Dundee itself. Now, I realise I'm being a bit unfair to Dundonians and, on a personal basis, I have nothing but unhappy memories of some previous visits to the city. I was attacked there after a football game in 1983 and in 1986 Hearts lost the league in the final eight minutes of the season at Dens Park - home of Dundee FC. So, perhaps I have a tainted view.

But it's safe to say - I'll need to have a bloody good reason to go back...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

When the Rock Slips

Use your imagination for just a moment. Imagine that your best friend walks up to you in your garden one Saturday and asks you to do him a favour. You have some free time, and so you agree to do it. He walks over to his car, opens the trunk, and produces a thirty-pound rock.

Now here’s where you’re really going to have to use your imagination. At this point he hands you the rock and says, “I really need you to stand here with this rock until I return.” He explains why it’s important that you stand in that one spot with the rock and promises to return shortly to retrieve it. It’s a strange request, and his explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this is someone you trust, so you agree. At this point he thanks you with extreme gratitude and then gets into his car and drives away.

An hour goes by. And what started out as a reasonable favour is beginning to get a little hard. But after all, this is your best friend, so you resign yourself to continue on and stand there. Another hour goes by and your arms are starting to ache. Everything in you wants to sit down, but you made a promise. Then suddenly, to your relief, your friend pulls in the driveway, jumps out of the car, and runs in your direction. You’re so relieved. If you weren’t holding the rock, you’d hug him.

But your joy is quickly crushed. Instead of relieving you of your burden he says, “I told you I was coming right back. But I need to run one more quick errand. If you’ll keep holding the rock, I’ll make it up to you when I return.” Once again, you trust that what you’re told is true. If your friend needs to run one more errand before relieving you that is just the way it is. So you agree. As he turns to go you can’t help but yell out, “Please hurry.” Off your friend goes and there you stand.

Another hour goes by. The sun begins to set. Your muscles are aching to be able to drop the rock. But you refuse to give in. You’re committed to holding up your part of what you promised. Besides, your friend said he’d make it up to you. You aren’t sure what that means, but it must be something good. Thirty minutes later a car pulls up in the driveway. Someone you don’t know is driving. This person walks over and informs you that your friend has been delayed. “Would you mind holding the rock for just a little while longer?” he asks.

You experience a mixture of pain and anger. You manage to mutter, “Just tell him to hurry.”

Away the person goes and there you stand. It’s dark now. The streets are empty. The neighbours are at their windows watching you stand there, wondering why you’d put up with being treated like that by a “friend.”

Another hour goes by. You begin to lose your grip. Your arms begin to fall. You tell yourself to hold on, but your body just won’t respond. Down goes the rock. And just as it hits the pavement and breaks into a hundred pieces, your friend pulls up in the driveway. He jumps out of the car, runs over with a look of panic on his face, and says, “What happened? Did it slip? Did somebody knock it out of your hands? Did you change your mind?” And as he looks for an explanation as to why you suddenly dropped the rock, you know that it was a long time coming.

Your mental willingness was overcome by your physical exhaustion. You wanted to do what you were asked to do, but after awhile you just couldn’t do it anymore. Add to that the frustration of not knowing how long you’d have to stand there. But even if the aggravation is put aside, at some point you just weren’t going to be able to keep holding on. No amount of love, dedication, commitment, or selflessness was going to be able to make up for the fact that your arms were worn out.

There’s a point at which that mental willingness isn’t enough to hang on. With a literal rock, mental willingness is eventually overcome by physical exhaustion. With an imaginary rock, mental willingness is eventually overtaken by emotional exhaustion. And when that happens, the rocks come tumbling down.

There’s always a final straw: a comment, a phone call, a tired explanation, a no-show, a forgotten birthday, or a missed game. Some little thing that pushes those we love past their ability to hold on. And to the uniformed, unsuspecting spouse —to the husband or wife who has lived with the fantasy that everything is just fine-it seems like a huge overreaction. They think: ”All I said was.” ”All I did was.”

But it wasn’t the moment. It wasn’t the phone call. It wasn’t the fact that the big hand on the clock was on the six instead of the twelve. It was weeks, months, or possibly years of waiting for things to change. The rock finally slipped out of their calloused hands.

The rock slipped out of my hands a couple of weeks ago and I have caused a lot of pain and hurt. Clouds of guilt hang over my head. Sometimes, however, carrying the rock becomes too hard to bear.


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Sunday, 5 February 2012

News & Sport - From Scotland