Monday, 30 December 2013

That Was the Year That Was


So farewell then, 2013. Two years ago I wrote on this here blog that 2012 would be a year of change for the Auld Reekie Ranter. And so it proved. 2013 has been another significant year. Here are my highlights – and some lowlights…

The Good Times:

Getting engaged to the lovely Marion at Loch Lomond in July. I know the ink on my divorce papers was barely dry when I proposed but she has given me so much support and made me a happy chappy (but don’t tell her I said so…)

Daughter Michaela announcing she is expecting her first child in April. Of course, I’m thrilled and it’s something we’re all looking forward to. Number one child for Michaela; grandchild number four for the Auld Reekie Ranter. My family is fast turning into the bloody Waltons…

Meeting the Hearts legend that is Rudi Skacel and his girlfriend in Edinburgh in August. Eva is hoping to write Rudi’s life story and I was humbled she asked me for some advice. Star struck was the phrase that sprang to mind – but Rudi got over it…

Selling the former family home in Dalkeith in March. We didn’t quite get the asking price but a quick sale was necessary. This was soon followed by my divorce in May. The end of an era.

Marion meeting daughters Laura and Michaela and grandchildren Jack, Hannah and Ava. Apprehension was understandably in the air but all the occasions went well. Marion and I spent Christmas Day at Laura’s and a great day marked a fine end to the year.

My mother moving to Leith in August. It’s good to know she’s now just a few minutes away. With my mother and I both living in Leith and Michaela’s partner Sean being of the Hibernian persuasion – meaning if the baby is a boy he’ll be dragged to Easter Road for the football – there is a school of thought which suggests I’m crossing the great divide. Fear not – I’m a Jambo for life.

My book Hearts 50 Greatest Games continuing to sell. Sadly, it might be some time until the next 50 is written about…

The Not So Good Times:

Both my mother and Ava breaking their arms in separate incidents in the second half of the year. Because she is so young, Ava recovered in no time at all. However, my mother’s break is taking some time to heal and it’s an on-going process.

Hearts losing the League Cup final to St. Mirren at Hampden in March. A driech, miserable afternoon and a long train journey back was scarcely much fun for Marion and I. Hearts went into administration in the summer meaning a 15 point deduction for this season – and almost certain relegation. A 7-0 tanking from Celtic in the Scottish Cup didn’t help either.

My Uncle Jack died in Aberdeen at the beginning of the year. Although I had not seen him in years, I still remember him with some fondness. Marion’s elderly aunt also died a month before Christmas.

Best Gig:

Eclectic is probably the best way to describe the gigs/concerts Marion and I attended this year. From Donny & Marie Osmond in Glasgow in February to The Osmond Brothers, The Selector, Billy Bragg, Colm Wilkinson and Caro Emerald, they were all pretty good. And I fulfilled a life-long wish by seeing Paul Weller perform live at Edinburgh Castle in July (I never thought I would ever see the great man sing That’s Entertainment in the flesh) However, my vote for gig of the year goes to Bad Manners in Edinburgh a few days before Christmas. Ska music as its best!

Edinburgh Fringe:

This year we saw comedians Craig Hill and Reginald D Hunter as well as the magician Paul Zerdin. They were all excellent.

Musical (not so) Youth:

Oliver, Dirty Dancing and White Christmas were enjoyable in varying degrees. I’ve never been a huge fan of musicals but Marion is slowly converting me…

The Year Ahead:

So another eventful year draws to a close. 2014 promises to be a landmark year for Scotland. The Independence Referendum; the Commonwealth Games; the Ryder Cup. The spotlight of the world will shine on our country frequently next year. For the Auld Reekie Ranter, 2014 also promises much in the way of change – mostly positive as I intend to take charge of my life. Some things simply can’t continue as they are but with the love and support of the lovely Marion, I’m confident I shall be able to make the changes which will make a real difference.

Happy New Year, folks. Here’s to a truly momentous 2014.

 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Seasonal Greet

 Gie us a cuddle, Jack - it's Christmas. No, Papa - I'm too old for this now...
 
  
 Gie us a cuddle, Hannah - it's Christmas. Here I am, Papa!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Sky Blue Thinking?

I posted a wee while back about my disillusionment with Virgin Media and how they didn't seem perturbed when the lovely Marion (thereafter referred on this blog as The Guv'nr) decided to change our cable television, Internet and telephone provider. After a wee bit of research, the Sky TV deals seemed particularly attractive and we changed provider about a month ago.

So far, so good as far as Sky are concerned. We opted initially for the basic tv package but found that despite the dozens of channels available, it would be beneficial to pay £5 extra each month for a much greater choice. Thus, we decided during the week to go for Sky Entertainment.

Now, The Guv'nr and I have not been blessed with much luck recently when it comes to new technology. Our new 'smart' tv wasn't smart enough to pick up our Wi-Fi connection when we purchased it last summer and the smart mobile phone I purchased towards the end of last year - admittedly at the lower end of the scale - wasn't so much smart as clueless (it confirmed to me the old adage of you get what you pay for as being absolutely true)

It was with this in mind that The Guv'nr and I decided, with some trepidation, to upgrade our Sky TV package. We opted for the sadly all too common form of communication to enable this action - we did it on line (remember the days when people actually spoke to each other?) However, our fears were completely unfounded. Seconds after clicking the mouse to confirm we accepted the terms and conditions, Sky Entertainment was on our not so smart television screen. As easy as clicking the mouse.

Which, as Virgin Media may wish to note, is how it should be

Monday, 18 November 2013

Storing up Trouble

When I moved away from Dalkeith last year, most of my worldly goods were packed into black backs and transported to my new abode on a gradual basis. So many things accumulate over the years and it's quite staggering to come across old forgotten items which were bought on a whim with the idea being 'that will come in handy some day'. It seldom does, of course, and it was small wonder the loft of my old house was creaking with the weight of such junk over the years.

Even today, having moved all my stuff out and having sold the house, there are things of mine now ensconced in my daughter's loft. What would be ideal, of course, would be somewhere to store such things - somewhere easily accessible, safe and secure.

I'm sure my beloved elder daughter will be talking to me about my rubbish valuables now taking up space in her loft. The trouble is, I've already forgotten much of what is there - and in my new abode in Leith, I don't have a loft.

What's that? Why don't I just throw these things out? Well, that's a consideration. However, when I do eventually get round to looking at them again, I have a strong suspicion I'll be keeping such and such for sentimental reasons; and, I can't really throw this out because it reminds me of; oh, and I simply can't chuck this....

Which begs the obvious question - if they aren't going to be thrown out, what are they doing in my daughter's loft in the first place?

Answers on a postcard, please. Which I'll store in my daughter's loft...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Botswana Connection


 
A colleague of mine at work was telling me the other day about her plans to return to her homeland of South Africa to spend Christmas and New Year. Although she loves living and working in Scotland, she is obviously excited about going home to see family and friends – at the time of the year when people tend to focus more on their families.

Now my feelings about Christmas and what it has turned into are well-documented throughout this blog. When my colleague enquired if I was going away for Christmas I gave the standard reply of no, it will be the usual routine. She suggested I should consider getting away from the festive hullabaloo one year and, although naturally biased, she recommended South Africa. But she also ventured a neighbouring country for the true taste of Africa – Botswana.

With Scotland voting next year on whether it should become an independent nation or not, I was interested to read that Botswana became independent from Britain in 1966. It has a population of two million people and what I found particularly interesting was the fact that when it gained its independence 47 years ago, it was one of the poorest countries in Africa. Today, nearly half a century later, it has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Tourism plays it part. Although much of the country is desert, virtually all Botswana’s famous wildlife areas are located in the north of the country. Safaris in Botswana are a must when visiting the country and there are classic viewing areas home to phenomenal concentrations of Big Game, as well as some of Africa’s finest camps.
 
A country, many of whose citizens were affected by poverty but strove for independence from the British government. A country that relies on its wonderful scenery and thriving tourist trade. And a country whose economy continues to grow as a result of independence.  


Geographically, Scotland and Botswana are thousands of miles apart. But as two countries with untapped potential they may be closer than we think…


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Portrait of a Dad

 
You won't be surprised to learn I received this from elder daughter. Thank you, Laura....

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Queue? Aye!!



Perhaps it’s an age thing. Perhaps it’s my status as a grandfather of three. Perhaps both these factors have combined to festoon grumpy old man status upon me. But I suspect I’m not the only person to mourn the passing of etiquette on the streets of our wonderful capital city. Rudeness, ignorance and a self-centred approach seems all too common in an age where people simply must rush to get to their destination.  

Preferring to sit in the passenger seat of life, I use public transport to make my way to the drudgery of work during the week, the joy of family commitments at the weekend and the not always joyful commitment of watching Heart of Midlothian FC attempt to claw their way back from a negative points total. Lothian Buses, it has to be said, do a splendid job in providing a comprehensive bus service in Edinburgh. Not everyone may share my view, of course, but in my experience their buses are reliable and efficient. My problem is waiting for a bus and an art that seems to have died on the streets of Edinburgh (and very likely the streets of every other city and town in the land) – queuing.

My daily routine is to leave the house bleary-eyed at 8.00am every morning and head for a bus in Leith to take me reluctantly to the office. It’s very much Reginald Perrinesque - same routine, same time, same place. At the bus shelter there are the familiar faces who also go through the same routine as yours truly and there is the occasional flicker of a smile or nod of the head to acknowledge ‘yep, here we go again’. We wait patiently glancing at the bus tracker which indicates the number 14 bus is ‘due’. The bus tracker is a fairly recent invention which can have sinister tendencies. It lulls you into a false sense of anticipation when it flashes on its green screen that your bus is ‘due’; more seasoned bus travellers now assume that ‘due’ can mean the bus will arrive as much as three, four or five minutes later, depending on traffic.

Inevitably, just as the much-yearned for bus approaches the bus stop, there will be someone rushing along the pavement who shows a total disregard for those of us who have waited for what seems an eternity and plonks themself in front of the bus stop at the street kerb. When said bus duly arrives, this ignoramus is first on the bus which can be quite infuriating if he/she takes the last remaining seat.

This is something that seems to be happening more and more. I’ve sadly accepted that me offering my seat to someone on a bus may invoke an outburst of ‘do you think I’m too weak to stand?’ in much the same way as holding a door open for a member of the opposite sex can be unfairly labelled as sexist. However, the etiquette of recognising people who have stood at a bus stop far longer than you and have the right to get on the bus before you seems to have disappeared.

I used to think it was mainly tourists who didn’t bother queuing and simply jostled their way past long-suffering city dwellers who have just spent ten minutes or so willing the numbers to come down on a large metal pole adjacent to the bus stop.  However, it isn’t just visitors to our city who behave this way. My Monday morning blues deepen when a callow youth will appear from nowhere blissfully unaware of the half dozen or so folk standing in frustration at a bus stop and simply stride on a bus whilst checking their Facebook newsfeeds on their mobile phone.

Princes Street, as you might expect, is quite bad for this as are the Bridges but I’ve also experienced this outside St. James Centre and at various points in Leith - particularly Great Junction Street and the foot of Leith Walk.

Now this may seem like the rant of a grumpy old man but I suspect it’s not just people of my age group (early 50s if you must know) who are sick to the back teeth of such ignorant behaviour.

 It happens all too frequently and a restrained reaction from those of us standing open-mouthed at the arrogance of it all more often than not doesn’t make a blind bit of difference – nor, in my experience, does ‘Jist hud oan there, fella – there’s a bloody queue’ All you get is a vacant look accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders with a ‘so what?’ attitude.

I haven’t yet been refused entry on a bus because some lout dived on before me and the rest of the queue and took the last available space. But I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

To paraphrase a well-known BBC television programme hosted by Stephen Fry, the next time someone pushes in front of me to get on a bus, I will likely respond by dragging back the offender with the words ‘Queue? Aye!! Now get to the back of it!’

 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

If You're Thinking of Using BT...

...you may wish to consider my email to BT below. My mother has recently moved house  - and has been without her BT landline and broadband services for a few weeks. Below is my attempt to get BT to do something about it.


Sirs,
 
I am emailing to complain in the strongest possible terms about the order below and your customer service.
 
I am the son of Isabella Smith, the customer in the email below. She is 76 years old and recently moved home to sheltered housing accommodation. I have helped her with the transfer of her BT telephone and broadband service from her previous home to her new one. Here is a summary of events so far.
 
20 July - completed on-line transfer of service. My mother received a confirmation email to advise an engineer would visit her at her new home on 20 August - three days after she moved in.
 
20 August - despite being advised an engineer would call between 1.00pm and 6.00pm no one called. I tried to phone the BT number 0800 800 150 but, after an hour of 'queueing' could not get to speak to anyone.
 
21 August - spent another hour after work trying to get through on 0800 800 150 - still didn't get through. I sent a strongly worded email.
 
22 August - 8.00am - finally got through (after making myself late for work) and was told an engineer would reschedule a visit for 9 September between 1.00pm and 6.00pm. When I advised that an elderly woman not having a land line for another 3 weeks wasn't acceptable I was told this was the first available date.
 
7 September - my mother receives two emails from BT confirming an engineer will visit her between 1.00pm and 6.00pm on 9 September.
 
9 September - I took a half day off work to be at my mother's home for the engineer calling. No one called. There was no text message or call to my mother's mobile to advise. I phoned BT at 7.30 and after having to wait 20 minutes to speak to an advisor, was told the engineer's report stated my mother's telephone line would be activated at 12 midnight - this despite no one calling or contacting her to advise this.
 
10 September - my mother still has no phone line. It had not been activated as promised. I called BT yet again at 5.00pm after my work and was told by another advisor that a BT engineer had called at my mother's home at 7.00pm on 9 September. This a blatant lie - I was with her at that time and I can assure you no one from BT visited or made any contact.
 
I was told by a BT advisor that an engineer would call round to my mother's on 30 September - nearly 3 weeks later! I replied this was completely unacceptable and that an urgent appointment had to be made. The advisor told me she would speak to her supervisor and phone my mother in half an hour (I had to go out and was already late for a meeting) No one phoned - but my mother received a text message advising that an engineer would visit her on 30 September.
 
Quite frankly, my mother has been treated appallingly by BT. She has been a loyal BT customer for several decades now and has her phone line and broadband services from you. She has paid a full year's line rental in advance in June and has not had a telephone line for nearly 3 weeks - with another 3 weeks delay this will be 6 weeks in total. Obviously, she has had no broadband service for this period either.
 
My mother is nearly 77 years old. She has various health problems including angina and high blood pressure. She lives alone and a land-line telephone is essential. None of this is her fault yet she is being treated like a second class citizen rather than a loyal BT customer.
 
I am extremely angry and demand this is resolved as a matter of urgency. BT have treated my mother with contempt and have blatantly lied to me, her next of kin.
 
PLEASE ENSURE HER TELEPHONE AND BROADBAND SERVICE IS ACTIVATED AS A MATTER OF URGENCY. The order details are below.
 
If not, I shall be seeking legal advice over this matter.
 
Mike Smith (son)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Turning Your Front Room Into Your Office


I had the pleasure of meeting former Hearts star Rudi Skacel in Edinburgh last week. The man who has played in and scored for two Hearts Scottish Cup winning sides was spending a long weekend in Scotland's capital city and he was accompanied by his partner Eva.

Eva is keen to write a book about the great man and, knowing I had written a couple of books (still available in all good bookshops etc) she sought my advice on such matters. Years ago, before the internet, getting such a venture off the ground would have been fraught with problems. However, communication is now better than ever and with things such as Skype and webcams the world has become a much smaller place.

She spoke about self-publishing and there is no doubt this is far easier now than in days of yore. You can even turn your front room into an office and publish your work from there. And if you class it as a business there are no shortage of communication companies lining up to offer you special deals. Companies such as talktalk business broadband offer special rates for businesses  - even for small would be self-publishers such as Eva.

I can imagine a book about Rudi would sell thousands in Edinburgh. He will always be a hero to the thousands of Hearts fans who continue to worship him even though it's been over a year since he left Tynecastle.

I wish Eva and Rudi the best of success with their venture.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Happy Birthday Hannah





'I've had a lovely day today, Marion. My Papa gave me a lovely twenty pence piece for my sixth birthday.

'Did he, Hannah? That's ten pence more than he gave you last year...'

'My Papa asked me to bring all my birthday money with me tonight'

'Did he? Why?'

'Because he is going to use it to pay for this meal in the restaurant'


Okay, okay - it's Hannah's birthday today. I'll pay half the bill....

Happy birthday, darling. The fact she has spent all day with her Papa and is sleeping-over tonight has made it extra special for me.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Special Delivery

I received an item through the post today. Now, I've ranted on these pages before about the sometimes abysmal postal service in Edinburgh (although it's not as bad as when I lived in Dalkeith) However, credit where credit is due. The item was incorrectly addressed and just had my name and street. This proved no obstacle to the intrepid postie who pushed it through my letterbox this morning. So well played that fella! (or lass)

Sadly, though, this has proved to be the exception rather than the rule. At my place of work we tend to rely on couriers when trying to send something urgent by transport to Edinburgh.

Royal Mail usually does the trick - but you can't rely one hundred per cent the item will get there. Sending items by recorded delivery not only costs more but, as happened on numerous occasions when I lived in Dalkeith, some posties don't get a signature on delivery as they're meant to - they simply push it through the letter box.

Small wonder then that the UK government is looking to privatise Royal Mail. In an age when technology means email and social media is an instant way of communicating, it seems to me that Royal Mail have struggled to adapt to change.

I'm grateful for the delivery of my item today. Sadly though, the days of Royal Mail delivering to their customers are  - unlike the item sent to me today - numbered...

Monday, 22 July 2013

This Girl Needs Help




You may not think she needs help. She's attractive, kind, generous, talented and has a heart the size of Edinburgh. So why does the lovely Marion need help?




She's just agreed to marry me.......



I'm a very lucky fella!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Are They, Per Chance, Related?




 8 year old grandson Jack, on the left, meets Hearts manager Gary Locke
 
 
 
Jack's Papa about the time he was 8 years old (yes, it is in colour!)
 
It would appear Jack the Lad will be acquiring his Papa's stunning good looks. Lucky boy!

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes


It's a tragic scenario that is sadly often repeated in Scotland - a classic case of 'if only'.

Fella goes out for a few beers at night and eventually staggers back home in the early hours, more than slightly the worse for wear. Having consumed several pints of ale, he feels decidedly peckish so decides to cook something to counter the hunger. A wee drop of oil in the frying pan, cooker at gas mark 3 and sit back for the oil to heat. Of course, the effects of the alcohol make this fella quite sleepy so while he's waiting he closes his eyes. Minutes later, his house is ablaze...

This is a familiar tale and what marks this as having tragic consequences is there is no smoke detector fitted in the house. The fire won't kill the inebriated occupant but the smoke surely will.

I read some startling statistics the other day. Every year the Fire and Rescue Service is called to over 800,000 fires which result in over 800 deaths and over 17,000 injuries.

About 50,000 (140 a day) of these are in the home and kill nearly 500 and injure over 11,000, many of which could have been prevented if people had an early warning and were able to get out in time. The startling statistic is that you are twice as likely to die in a house fire that has no smoke alarm than a house that does.

Buying a smoke detector could help save your home and the lives of you and your family. You can get a decent one for around the £15 mark  - you can try this provider - but you can't put a price on life.

Something to think about next time you come back from the pub and put on some chips...

Saturday, 29 June 2013

As Easy as Clicking the Mouse

I posted a wee while back about my disillusionment with Virgin Media and how they didn't seem perturbed when the lovely Marion (thereafter referred on this blog as The Guv'nr) decided to change our cable television, Internet and telephone provider. After a wee bit of research, the Sky TV deals seemed particularly attractive and we changed provider about a month ago.

So far, so good as far as Sky are concerned. We opted initially for the basic tv package but found that despite the dozens of channels available, it would be beneficial to pay £5 extra each month for a much greater choice. Thus, we decided during the week to go for Sky Entertainment.

Now, The Guv'nr and I have not been blessed with much luck recently when it comes to new technology. Our new 'smart' tv wasn't smart enough to pick up our Wi-Fi connection when we purchased it last summer and the smart mobile phone I purchased towards the end of last year - admittedly at the lower end of the scale - wasn't so much smart as clueless (it confirmed to me the old adage of you get what you pay for as being absolutely true)

It was with this in mind that The Guv'nr and I decided, with some trepidation, to upgrade our Sky TV package. We opted for the sadly all too common form of communication to enable this action - we did it on line (remember the days when people actually spoke to each other?) However, our fears were completely unfounded. Seconds after clicking the mouse to confirm we accepted the terms and conditions, Sky Entertainment was on our not so smart television screen. As easy as clicking the mouse.

Which, as Virgin Media may wish to note, is how it should be....

Monday, 10 June 2013

Iain Banks 1954-2013



So they're back. The last time the Tories were in power I used to think of them as the hyena party, because they tended to pick on the most vulnerable members of the herd: the young, the weak, the old. Now, after flat-out lying about the inescapability of cuts and the reason we're in this mess, this bunch of upper-class landed louts, this cabinet of share-portfolioed millionaires, this gang of Greedists – along with their willing chums, the hopelessly deluded, now credibility-free Lib Dems – have returned to cut and butcher their way through our society again, picking on the young through picking on their parents, picking on the poor and the vulnerable, the disabled and disadvantaged, running down precisely those least able to help themselves, the very people any decent society ought to be doing most to help, while the bankers and the City boys sip their Cristal and drool over their upcoming bonuses.

A little has changed; the grey vote has held off direct attacks on today's pensioners, but even that is temporary; the old too will miss the buses withdrawn from service and the police removed from the streets, feel ignored and cut off when their local library closes and the remaining post offices turn into charity shops; and the old will suffer most as a hyper-stressed NHS tries to cope with the trauma of yet another needless privatisation-inspired reorganisation. The hyenas that lope and crunch their way across the plains are blameless; just animals behaving as evolution has shaped them, quite free of morality, ethics or guilt. We might have expected better from our own species, but no; the snarling horrors have returned, and we'll rue the wasted years that let all three major parties swing so decisively to the right and present us with so little real choice at the last election.

Iain Banks one of Scotland's greatest writers died on Sunday aged 59. Above is his letter to The Guardian in 2010. His is a sad loss to Scottish literature.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Terrors on the Beach


Be afraid....

Sticking it to the Hard Drive



It's remarkable to think it's nearly 15 years since I first got a computer that had that miracle of communication  - internet access. In the late 1990s technology, although advancing, was some way from the rapid, mobile machine it is today. Back in 1998 I got a desktop computer - laptops were still way too expensive for my meagre income and mobiles were something that hung from a baby's cot - and it took pride and joy in my lounge (okay, I lived in Dalkeith at the time and for lounge read living room)

15 years ago, broadband was light years away from Midlothian and my first proper home computer had 'dial-up access'. As now, of course, it was connected to the telephone line but not only was dial-up notoriously slow it meant that when anyone was trying what is now considered to be an old-fashioned method of communicating i.e. talking to someone by telephone, all they got was the engaged tone. Which was quite infuriating when there was something worth surfing the net for e.g. reading webpage after webpage on Hearts glorious Scottish Cup win in 1998 and no one could get through on the telephone.

Dial-up was also temperamental and wholly unreliable. My daughters will tell you I frequently kicked my hard drive which sat under the table when I heard the dreaded 'click' sound when surfing the web - this meant I was being disconnected. It didn't do my computer much good but it made me feel a whole lot better. Naturally, treating my poor downtrodden computer like a technological punch bag didn't do it any good and I was soon looking at another expensive replacement. It would be another five years before broadband arrived in my area and computers could breath easy.

It's all so different today, of course. The nation now relies on broadband connection  - not only relies but expects and demands it. Companies such as BT, Sky and Virgin fall over themselves to offer you their products. It seems the UK, nay the world, can no longer function properly without broadband. With the rapid development of Wi-Fi the world is becoming a much smaller place particularly with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and products such as Skype where you can converse face to face with someone on the other side of the world - without leaving your living room.

Something almost unthinkable a decade and a half ago when RAM in the Smith household meant me sticking my right boot on the hard-pressed hard drive....
 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Better Reception

Customer service is preached by almost every company these days. And rightly so. Some companies will fall over themselves in their collective efforts to attract new customers. Nothing wrong with that. However, there are those who treat their long-standing, loyal customers with less deference.

The lovely Marion has been a customer of Virgin Media for more than eight years now. She has never missed a payment and never thought of going elsewhere for television, broadband and telephone services. Until now.

Virgin have used the services of Jamaican Olympic star Usain Bolt to promote their services recently and, it has to be said, with some success. When Marion contacted Virgin Media recently to enquire if, as a loyal customer of the best part of a decade, they might be willing to offer her an improved package the answer was an unequivocal no - unless she was willing to pay about £5 more per month. New customers can get a pretty decent package for about half the price Marion pays. But if she wants this she has to pay even more.

When she spoke to Virgin Media by telephone they came out with some spiel about how they are always keen to attract new customers. But nothing about rewarding loyalty. Although polite enough, the Virgin Media people were steadfast in their approach. Loyal customer? Ha! You'll still need to pay more, dearie....

Marion has now turned to Sky for an alternative. Of course, as a new customer, she has been offered a very good deal. A deal that has more than Virgin Media currently offers - a larger choice of television channels, faster broadband and free telephone calls at any time (as opposed to evenings and weekends with Virgin) More for less - the monthly price is just short of £5 less than Richard Branson's outfit. And for the first six months this is half price.

It made me wonder how many other people have felt their loyalty has been misplaced and have jumped ship. Richard Branson might want to consider this before the good ship Virgin Media sinks altogether...

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Storing Up Trouble

When I moved away from Dalkeith last year, most of my worldly goods were packed into black backs and transported to my new abode on a gradual basis. So many things accumulate over the years and it's quite staggering to come across old forgotten items which were bought on a whim with the idea being 'that will come in handy some day'. It seldom does, of course, and it was small wonder the loft of my old house was creaking with the weight of such junk over the years.

Even today, having moved all my stuff out and having sold the house, there are things of mine now ensconced in my daughter's loft. What would be ideal, of course, would be somewhere to store such things - somewhere easily accessible, safe and secure.

I'm sure my beloved elder daughter will be talking to me about my rubbish valuables now taking up space in her loft. The trouble is, I've already forgotten much of what is there - and in my new abode in Leith, I don't have a loft.

What's that? Why don't I just throw these things out? Well, that's a consideration. However, when I do eventually get round to looking at them again, I have a strong suspicion I'll be keeping such and such for sentimental reasons; and, I can't really throw this out because it reminds me of; oh, and I simply can't chuck this....

Which begs the obvious question - if they aren't going to be thrown out, what are they doing in my daughter's loft in the first place?

Answers on a postcard, please. Which I'll store in my daughter's loft...

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Cup That Cheers. Or Doesn't...

         Hibernian fan reminisces about the last time his team lifted the Scottish Cup

I enjoy living in Leith, particularly on cup final day. For weeks, nay months, I've listened to many of the locals tell me how their team, Hibernian FC, will end 111 years of pain by winning the Scottish Cup. Although the Hibees have not won this trophy since 1902, the locals have reckoned this would finally be their year, particularly as they knocked out the holders - Heart of Midlothian - in the first round. In fact some of the Hibees discussion has centred on where to store the famous old trophy.

Sadly, after a 3-0 tanking in the final by that other Irish team, Celtic, this will no longer be an issue...


Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Joys of May


The merry month of May is often seen as the best time of the year. Slightly warmer temperatures - even in Scotland - lighter nights and the anticipation of summer just around the corner (not that we've had any decent summers in recent years)

For the Auld Reekie Ranter, May has brought several notable occasions in my life. For example:

17 May 1986 - my first daughter Laura was born (and a very happy birthday for yesterday, dear!)

16 May 1998 - Hearts win the Scottish Cup, their first piece of major silverware in 36 long years.

3 May 2005 - my first grandchild Jack was born

13 May 2006 - Hearts win the Scottish Cup again

11 May 2010 - my grand-daughter Ava was born

19 May 2012  - Hearts win the Scottish Cup again - hammering city neighbours Hibernian 5-1 in the never-to-be-forgotten final

17 May 2013 - On the day of Laura's 27th birthday, I received my Decree of Divorce from Edinburgh Sheriff Court, bringing to an end nearly 31 years of marriage. I am now a free man and my life has taken on a new meaning.

Yes, May is often seen as the best time of the year...

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Nags Head




Arguably the funniest situation comedy ever aired on British television was the BBC's Only Fools and Horses. Starring David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, this was the story of two brothers in the Peckham area of London. The self-proclaimed 'Del Boy' was the classic wheeler-dealer type who would sell anything for money but kept one eye on the long arm of the law reaching out to stop him. The series ran for nearly 30 years and is still repeated on cable television to this day.

The pub in the programme was called The Nags Head. Fancying a weekend away with my beloved, I thought a wee trip to London might be a cunning plan. I was mildly surprised to discover there is a pub in the Covent Garden area called The Nags Head.

I'm curious as to how it would look. I envisage a stout fellow, with short grey hair being the genial 'mine host' behind the bar  - as Mike was in Only Fools and Horses. Supping a pint of foaming ale, I would expect to see a small chap in a sheepskin coat and flat cap wander in and being told to snub out his cigar by the aforementioned owner.

I don't doubt the owner of the real Nags Head has heard it all before and may well play on the name of the pub with the hope it attracts visitors other pubs in Covent Garden don't.

So, now the football season is over, I may treat the lovely Marion and head down to the Old Smoke. And if we go into a bar and there's an old man with a white beard answering to the name of Uncle Albert playing the piano then I'll know where we are!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Happy Birthday, Ava



My youngest grandchild is 3 years old today. She's replacing the tantrum throwing terrible twos and replacing them with.....the tantrum throwing terrible threes.

As you may detect from this photo, butter wouldn't melt. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Songs in the Key of Life


Desert Island Discs is a long-standing programme on BBC Radio 4 that I’ve hugely enjoyed for a number of years now. With the advent of the podcast, I can delve through the BBC’s huge library of broadcasts over the years and they make for avid listening.

It got me thinking about my favourite songs and the ones I would like to take with me should I ever be cast to a desert island. The trouble is I would need more than the 8 the BBC programme restricts you to.

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, below are some of the songs that I would take with me to a desert island...

Set Fire to the Rain – Adele
This song was never off my IPod at the time just before and during the period I left my wife. I first came across Adele after I wrote on my blog about the American singer Carole King. She was in a concert which was shown on BBC4 and I found it hugely enjoyable. Someone posted on my blog that Adele was the new Carole King. So I downloaded her album ‘21’ and was bowled over. Adele has such a powerful voice it strikes the heart. The lyrics of Set Fire to the Rain brought it home to me how unhappy I was with my wife and how something had to change. It did on 26 January 2012 when I walked out of nearly 30 years of marriage – with Adele providing the soundtrack to a momentous move.

Town Called Malice – The Jam 
I loved The Jam – strangely, more so after they split in 1982. A Town Called Malice was out at the time I was living in Aberdeen and, to me, the song could have been written about the Granite City. When my parents separated in 1969, my mother took me there from Cumbernauld, just outside Glasgow. It was 140 miles away but it could have been the other side of the world. Twenty years later, I left Aberdeen for Edinburgh. Aberdeen is a beautiful, clean city but many – although not all -  of its citizens have a very narrow-minded view of life. I felt I had to fit into one of the boxes Aberdonians put you in – and I sat uncomfortably in it.

 

Street Fighting Man – Rolling Stones 
                                                
The argument has raged for almost half a century – who were the best, The Stones or The Beatles. I feel some of The Beatles’ early songs were naff, for want of a better word, although some of their later work as they headed towards an acrimonious split was quite good. However, for me, The Rolling Stones were consistently good and I have always preferred The Stones more aggressive style. Street Fighting Man epitomises the band – it’s one of the best rock songs ever. It’s astonishing to think Mick Jagger and co are still going strong all these years later.
 
 
Nothing Compares to You – Sinead O’Connor
 
When I left Aberdeen I went to live with my father in Paisley as 1990 began. I was with him for three months. I had never been particularly close to my father, due to him discarding his wife and only child into wilderness just before Christmas 1969, but when I reached adulthood, got married and had children of my own, we became closer. He was an enormous help to me when I left Aberdeen and for that I will be eternally grateful. Nothing Compares to You was number one in the charts at the time I was living with him in 1990 and it reminds me of the time we spent together and the support he gave me. My father died very suddenly seven years later, aged just 58, and never a day goes by when I don’t think about him. When I hear this song, he immediately comes into the forefront of my mind.

It’s Too Late – Carole King

I’ve always enjoyed Carole King’s music and the aforementioned concert I watched on BBC4 in 2011 brought it home to me how much my life needed changing. I didn’t love the woman I married in 1982 the way a husband should love his wife – she was more like a sister to me – and spiralling debt and other problems meant something had to change. ‘Something inside has died and I can’t hide but I just can’t fake it’ – King’s lyrics resonated in my head. I know I hurt people when I walked out of my marriage in 2012 but I risked hurting people even more by staying.

 
 
 

We Found Love in a Hopeless Place – Rihanna
Now I know what little credibility I have may well have disappeared with this choice but bear with me. 2012 saw one relationship end for me – and another blossom. The lovely Marion has rekindled the passion I used to have for life and I have now found love once more. My daughters may snigger but I quite like Rihanna’s music and this song always   reminds me of the love I have now found with Marion. After a difficult time, I have indeed   found love in what was a hopeless place.


Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners
 
This song was in the charts when I got married in 1982 and reminds me of happier days with my wife. We were just 20 years old at the time and I thought we could do anything we wanted. Children arrived and we brought Laura and Michaela up to be fine young adults of whom I’m extremely proud. Sadly, my love for my wife faded over the years – but this song is a reminder of when it was at its strongest.

 


Sunshine on Leith – Proclaimers

Now, as a Hearts supporter, you might find my fondness for The Proclaimers – one of Scotland’s leading musical acts – somewhat strange given the Reid brothers penchant for all things Hibernian. However, I’ve always enjoyed their music and I remember being blown away when I first saw them live in Aberdeen in the late 1980s – just before I left the Granite City for Edinburgh. In 2012, one chapter in my life closed whilst another opened and I moved to Leith. Sunshine on Leith is an apt description of how Marion rescued me – ‘My heart was broken, sorrow, sorrow, you saw it, you touched it, you claimed it, you saved it’. When I first heard the song more than two and a half decades ago, little did I think that one day I would be living in Leith. But while I’m worth my room on this Earth, I will be with you…


 It Must Be Love – Madness
                      
 As a lover of ska music, there had to be a ska song here. I love Madness and I would dearly love to see the Nutty Boys live in concert. I’ve already seen The Skatalites, The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter and Bad Manners live, so Suggs and the boys would almost make things complete. The lyrics to It Must Be Love – an old Labi Siffre song – could have been written for Marion and I. I saw Suggs at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012 when he spoke about his life and did a few songs. He finished off with this one and it brought the house down.
 
 

 
The Story of the Blues – The Mighty Wah!

First they take your pride,
then turn it all inside,
and then you realise you got nothing left to lose.
So you try to stop, try to get back up,
and then you realise you're telling the Story of the Blues.
Felling browbeaten day after day,
I think It's over but I just can't get away.
You said forget it, well don't go jump to the gun,
you're laughing this time next time you might be the one

Pete Wylie’s powerful voice and vibrant music has always meant a lot to me. The Mighty Wah! – one of several creations of Wylie’s in the 1980s – hit the charts with this song and it struck a chord with me. At the time, Thatcherism was at its height and there were major changes at my then place of work in Aberdeen. Bus deregulation, introduced by then PM Margaret Thatcher, meant many staff being shown the door at what was to become First Group. The Story of the Blues depicted the uncertain mood at the time – a mood that was shared by the working classes of the mining, steel and shipbuilding industries in Scotland. Industries Thatcher set out to destroy.

 My Perfect Cousin – The Undertones

My mother brought me up almost single-handedly in the early 1970s and when the school holidays took place I would go to my grandmother’s house where she looked after me and my cousin George. This happened every year between 1970 and early 1974 and George and I had a few things in common. We were both only children, being brought up by a single parent  - and we both had a love of football. Games of Subbuteo, the table football game which was hugely popular in the 1970s, were frequent – but George always seemed to bloody win! A few years later, Irish band The Undertones sang about My Perfect Cousin. I loved The Undertones and while Teenage Kicks ran this this track very close, this was my favourite song as it contained lyrics such as ‘My perfect cousin – what I like to do he doesn’t’ and, with reference to the aforementioned football game, ‘He always beat me at Subbuteo, ‘cos he flicked to kick and I didn’t know’. This song always reminds me of summer days in Aberdeen’s west end.


These are just some of my favourite songs - you'll be thrilled, I know, to learn I may post some more at some point. Where's the valium...?
  

Friday, 3 May 2013

Jack the Lad...



...is 8 years old today. And a fine lad my grandson is turning into. The fact he is halfway to adulthood is somewhat scary and makes me feel even older than I already feel.

I'd like to think that ten years from now, I'll be buying Jack his first pint of foaming ale in the pub. Sadly, as he lives in Dalkeith, I suspect he'll be doing this before too long...

Happy birthday, young fella.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Living in Leith...

...is great. I really do enjoy it. Especially some of the local landmarks...

Leith Walk
 

Easter Road Stadium
 
 
 Ant and Dec
 
*photographs shamelessly stolen from Leith Jambos

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Thatcher



She tried to destroy many communities and the dreams of many people in Scotland. Industries such as coal mining, steel making and shipbuilding all but disappeared under her leadership. Few people north of the border voted Conservative so it didn't matter to her or her government how much pain and heartache she inflicted.

Although it could be argued she pushed Scots closer to the notion of independence, I doubt there will be many people in Scotland mourning her passing.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Trident and the Tories - Scotland Says No Thanks



The British Prime Minister has said the UK would be "foolish" to abandon Trident in the face of the potential threat of nuclear attack from North Korea and Iran. David Cameron said the country still needed the "ultimate weapon of defence".

Mr Cameron is committed to maintaining a round-the-clock submarine-based nuclear missile system of the kind Britain has had since the late 1960s and also stressed his commitment to Trident, which is based on the Clyde, during a visit to the west of Scotland.

"The world we live in is very uncertain, very dangerous: there are nuclear states and one cannot be sure of how they will develop," he told workers at a defence contractor in Glasgow.

"We cannot be sure on issues of nuclear proliferation, and to me having that nuclear deterrent is quite simply the best insurance policy that you can have, that you will never be subject to nuclear blackmail."

From the BBC News website.

Nuclear weapons have no legitimate purpose. Civilian casualties would be unavoidable. They are genocidal and completely immoral. When confronted with any of today's real security threats nuclear weapons are irrelevant: they cannot address the actual threats the government has identified – terrorism, cyber warfare and climate change.

Not only do nuclear weapons kill indiscriminately but the radioactive fallout from their detonation means that their effects know no geographical boundaries. Immediate survivors in the vicinity of any nuclear exchange face devastating long-term ill effects or death. Recent research shows that even a so-called ‘small exchange’ of 50 nuclear weapons could cause the largest climate change in recorded human history and potentially could kill more people than were killed in the whole of the Second World War.

The annual cost of Trident is estimated at over £1 billion per year to the British taxpayer. In a country that lurches ever more towards poverty and social depravation, how many new schools and hospitals could that money build? The British Government - led by the Tories and LibDems - are more intent on cutting benefits to those living on the poverty line than saving real money by banishing these weapons of mass destruction.

David Cameron says Trident is a deterrent to any country wishing to launch a nuclear attack on Britain. This hasn't stopped North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un threatening to strike the west coast of America - and the USA has more of a 'nuclear deterrent' than anyone. Cameron says having Trident at Faslane in the west of Scotland makes Scotland a safer place. Oh aye, so it does. North Korea or Iran will look at the UK and think 'well, we won't bother striking Scotland - there's no point in targeting where they keep their nuclear arsenal...'

In my view, having nuclear weapons is just wrong. It didn't act as much of a deterrent to Al Qaeda when they bombed the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in 2001. If, as Cameron says, it's vital to have Trident missiles why doesn't he move them south of the border - to England? The answer that screams back at me is, as with the hated Poll Tax more than two decades ago and the destroying of the coal, shipbuilding and steel industries in Scotland by the despised Tory PM of the time, Margaret Thatcher, Scotland does not matter to the Conservatives. Very few people in Scotland vote for them - there are more pandas at Edinburgh Zoo than Tory MPs north of the border.

September 2014 will soon be with us. It will soon be time to banish the Tories from Scotland for good. Foolish to abandon Trident? The Tories abandoned Scotland years ago.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Return of The Ranter


Sunshine on, erm, Leith...
 
It is often said that marriage is an institution. It is often said I should be in one but that’s another story. Last year was a difficult one for me as my marriage of 30 years came to an end. Of course, I’m not the only person to go through a painful separation after a long marriage so I won’t dwell on the gory details except to say my family and friends were shocked by the news. The consensus seemed to be that of all the people they knew who were married, my marriage was the one they didn’t expect to fall apart. C’est la vie and all that. However, their shock at the demise of my marriage was replicated shortly afterwards when they discovered I was heading to Leith…

Since 1990, I had lived in Dalkeith, the heart of Midlothian. Now I realise that’s not a description likely to go down too well with readers of this esteemed publication. And, yes, I must tell you, dear reader, I am a lifelong Hearts supporter as the numerous lines on my face and greying, if rapidly diminishing, hairline will tell you. So having digested the news that my marriage was over, those close to me thought it was a ‘double whammy’ when news broke that I was going to live in ‘enemy territory’.

Hearts supporters of my acquaintance thought the break up of my marriage had had an adverse affect on my mental health. ‘You’re moving to where?’ they asked, with consistently high degrees of incredulity. ‘Don’t you know that’s the dark side of town? You’ll be perilously close to Hibernian FC, who hate Jam Tarts and hate Dundee (I don’t think many Hibees do hate Dundee, it’s just that it conveniently rhymes with FC) Can’t you move to Gorgie?

The truth is that, initially, I did move to Gorgie for six months. A stones throw away from that well-known drinking establishment popular with people of the maroon persuasion, The Athletic Arms, known locally as The Diggers. However, in July last year I moved to a place just off Great Junction Street. And, I have to say to my family, friends and fellow Hearts supporters - I love living in Leith. As a ‘Leith Jambos’ banner at last year’s William Hill Scottish Cup Final declared, I suspect I’m not the only Hearts fan declaring those sentiments.

It’s only when you move to the city from the suburbs that you appreciate the advantages of living in town. I actually lived in Mayfield, a suburb of Dalkeith and a sad example of suburban decay. There is little of any interest in Mayfield aside from a couple of pubs and bookmakers. It’s a 15-minute bus journey from Dalkeith which itself has little to offer aside from more pubs and bookmakers - and cafes. You have another 30-45 minutes bus journey from Dalkeith before you sample the cultural delights of Auld Reekie (clearly, I’m excluding Gilmerton from this…)

Leith, however, is different. It’s an exciting, vibrant community rightly proud of its history and still hankering after the days when it was an independent borough and Edinburgh only began at Pilrig Street. There’s a character about Leith that shouts out from the pavements of Leith Walk as you head down from the city. Famous names adorn the streetlamps proclaiming (do you see what I did there?) their love for the place.

The Kirkgate Shopping Arcade may have been a consequence of an ill-thought 1960s architectural dream but there is a character about it that marks it out from other similar shopping arcades. Something, which the people of Leith might say, perhaps has its faults - but it’s theirs.

Constitution Street, The Shore and Commercial Street are laden with history and tales of a bygone age when Leith was a major port. A history should never be forgotten and will never be forgotten.  Fine organisations such as the Leith Historical Society - to which I have attended several events - will ensure this is the case.

The numerous Polish, Chinese and Mediterranean supermarkets along Leith Walk illustrate the diverse nature of the area. On my way to work every morning, I cross Great Junction Bridge and take inspiration from the Water of Leith below; the tranquillity of the cycle path and walkway running alongside is a haven from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I close my eyes and imagine the great steam trains of yesteryear trundling under the bridge and the steam wafting to the street above.

I haven’t forgotten Mayfield in Dalkeith as my daughter and my three wonderful grandchildren live there and I see them every weekend. And being a season ticket holder at Tynecastle, my trips to Gorgie are still as frequent (despite some of the performances of the boys in maroon this season) However, despite being here for less than a year, I now look forward to coming home to Leith. I never thought someone who has been a Hearts fan for 45 years would say that - but, believe me I mean it.  My heart is now firmly resident here.
 
Even if this means I will still have to go to Gorgie to see a victorious football team in an open-top bus….

 
Mike Smith

Twitter @Mike1874
 
 
ps as if to prove my love affair with Leith has been consummated, this article has just been published in The Leither Magazine.