Sunday, 31 May 2015

Keeping 'em Quiet

It was an absolute delight to have the pleasure of two of my grandchildren's company - Hannah and Ava - who stayed with me overnight on Friday. Eventually, though, we had to find a way of shutting Ava up...

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Super Saturdays? Get Me Out of Here

                  Hughie Green - presented Opportunity Knocks when Moses was a lad

Perhaps it’s something to do with my age. And the fact I’m a grandfather of four. Or a Hearts supporter. But lately my tolerance levels seem to be akin to a Fifa delegate’s expense form claim – disappearing fast…
Regular readers of my rants – and I thank you both – will know I’m a reasonable sort of chap, not one who complains. As my wife will only too willingly tell you (isn’t that right, dear?)
However, I have become rather more irritable than usual of late and it is partly down to the aforementioned Mrs Smith – or more specifically, her television viewing.
Marion is a fan of ITV. It’s the channel she immediately goes to when she turns on the television. Or, to be more precise, STV. I’m old enough to remember STV when it was called Scottish Television. When I lived in Aberdeen in the 1970s and 80s the commercial television station was Grampian Television and you could watch the continuity announcer nattily dressed in his evening suit telling you what was coming on next. It was calm, collected and dignified.
It’s all so much different now…
Part of my cunning Saturday night plan is to devolve ways of avoiding the sometimes inane drivel on STV (or as the announcer with an exceedingly annoying voice talking at a hundred miles an hour says ‘STVEEEEEEE’) With Hearts enjoying such a successful season this has, on occasion, meant enjoying a half pint lager shandy at a hostelry in Gorgie although this pastime can be fraught with danger (and what time do you call this to be getting home? It’s 9.00, dearest – what time do you make it?)
However, in recent weeks, I have been subjected to STV’s self-proclaimed ‘Super Saturdays’. This includes the delights of Ninja Warrior UK, Britain’s Got Talent and Play to the Whistle. From around 7:00pm every Saturday evening millions of people will take leave of their senses, jettison their critical faculties and tune into three hours of what is mind-numbing awfulness on a scale not seen since Noel Edmond's House Party was forced on the nation by the BBC more than two decades ago.
This week, my feelings are akin to that of a condemned man as Britain’s Got Talent is on STV for an hour and a half every night as the final beckons this Sunday. There seems no escape. The acts and the sometimes patronising comments of some of the judges, I can take. But the behaviour of the audience is something I find hugely irritating and makes me want to throw things at the telly. In each of the ‘Super Saturday’ programmes but particularly on Britain’s Got Talent, is a relatively recent phenomenon and one that, like so many others, has derived from our American cousins – namely, noisy, screeching and wildly excitable audiences.
‘Who are you and where are you from’ asks the perennially smug Simon Cowell, ‘I’m Jimmy from Birmingham’ replies a hapless contestant which invokes a huge ‘Whooo-hoooo!’ from an audience who, I strongly suspect, have been given some kind of legally high substance in order they can react the way they do. That Jimmy gets a standing ovation merely for saying his name and where he comes from perhaps is a strong indication that Britain hasn’t got much talent in the first place…

Mercifully, I have only caught fleeting glimpses of Britain’s Got Talent but it seems to me to be a repetitive format that plays on the aspirations of susceptible no-hopers with limited talent and even less personality, acting out their fantasies on stage with as much visual appeal as a sixteen-year-old greasy haired youth with severe acne. Like witnessing a car crash, many people appear drawn to this 'show' watching egotistic no-hopers 'living the dream' to use a modern day cliché.

Talent shows on television are nothing new. In decades gone by there was Opportunity Knocks and New Faces. They could also be cringe-inducing but what marks Britain’s Got Talent and its close relative The X Factor is this appears to be something of a freak show, a cynical marketing exercise masquerading as prime time television in order to manufacture publicity and generate income through gullible people phoning premium phone lines in order to make Simon Cowell and his half-naked torso bucketfuls of money.
The other programmes on STV on Saturday evening are little better. Ninja Warrior UK – the UK bit is apparently important – seems to me to be people leaping about for no apparent reason while hosts Ben Shephard and former footballer Chris ‘Kammy’ Kamara make inane comments. Meantime, another screaming audience hollers its ‘encouragement’.
It’s difficult to ascertain the point of Play to the Whistle. It’s a quiz show, of sorts, but seems to be nothing more than a vehicle for ITV’s current flavour of the month, comedian Bradley Walsh and footballer Frank Lampard to act foolishly for about half an hour. As well as screaming hoots of encouragement, the audience applauds anything that is said by Messrs Walsh and Lampard. The presence of Seann Walsh – apparently another comedian although I use the term loosely – and another footballer Jimmy Bullard rather lends itself to the question of the programme itself. Namely – what is the point?

What little I watched of the shows this week seemed all so predictable and artificial - even the emotions are contrived. Yet throughout this week – and we’re only at Wednesday - there were ceaseless comments about BGT from far too many people - some of whom should really know better - on social websites such as Facebook and Twitter. 

That said, I'm not sure what saddens me more. That fact I watched Britain’s Got Talent for all of five minutes before burying my head under a cushion - or the fact millions of people will be watching what passes for entertainment every night for the rest of the week.

Now I accept everyone has different tastes and I’m sure there will be many people who enjoy these programmes. They’re not my cup of tea but each to one’s own. But, for me, screeching, whooping audiences, immature former footballers and the limited ability of talent show contestants are not so much Super Saturday – more like Woeful Weekends…

Fly Cadbury Air Promotion - Crunchie Video


Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Grand Kiddies

                     Jack the Lad fast turning into a young man.

                      Ava  - unusually for her - being camera shy

         It's hard to believe that Hannah is still 7 years old...

And the youngest grandchild, Max, a happy wee boy. Until his father begins taking him to Easter Road...

Friday, 22 May 2015

Gretna's Rail Disaster

Photo: Electric Edwardians

One hundred years ago the worst accident in British railway history occurred at Quintinshill, near Gretna Green in the Scottish borders. At 3.45am on 22 May 1915, a troop train carrying 498 officers and men of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scots – many of whom were from Leith - left Larbert in Stirlingshire en route to Liverpool. They were due to head for the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey where casualties in the Great War had been tragically high.
About 6.49am, this train, travelling at high speed, collided with a local passenger train which had been shunted on to the main line at Quintinshill. Seconds later, an express train travelling from Glasgow to London ploughed into the wreckage.
The troop train, with its antiquated gas lighting system and wooden carriages, quickly became a blazing inferno. With the huge demands on the railway network as a result of the Great War, old rolling stock had to be pressed into service, hence the age of the train. The raging fire engulfed all three trains and another two goods trains nearby.
216 men of the 7th Battalion the Royal Scots perished in the disaster along with 11 others including the driver and the fireman of the troop train. A further 246 people were injured. At a roll call taken later that day, only 65 men were present. Initially, these men were sent onwards to Liverpool but, following a medical examination, were sent back home for two weeks leave.
Of those who died, some bodies were unrecognisable and the bodies of 50 men were never recovered. Four of the bodies at the crash site were children. The remains of those men who could be identified were returned to the Battalion’s drill hall in Dalmeny Street in Leith and burials took place in Rosebank Cemetery, Pilrig Street on 24 May 1915. The funeral cortege was lined with thousands of people from Dalmeny Street to the cemetery. Coffins were laid three deep, each row covered by a Union Flag, in a ceremony which took three hours and ended with the Last Post. A memorial stands in the cemetery today with the names of those who died.
The cause of the disaster was a result of poor working practices on the part of the two signalmen at Quintinshill. George Meakin, who had shunted a local passenger train on to the main line for operational reasons, should have been off-duty, but due to an informal arrangement between himself and the relieving man, James Tinsley, continued to work until his arrival. Meakin also omitted to place a locking collar on the levers of the southbound signal. Tinsley, preoccupied writing his log from the notes left by his colleague, overlooked the passenger train standing in full sight of the box and accepted the troop train from the north, clearing the signals for the approaching train.
The troop train ploughed into the stationary passenger train, creating a scene of devastation and carnage. Within about a minute, a northbound express ran into the wreckage causing further destruction and killing and injuring many who had survived the first impact. To add to the horror, hot coals from the locomotives then set fire to escaping gas from the troop trains lighting equipment and the debris of the timber carriages quickly became an inferno.
After legal proceedings in both Scotland and England, both signalmen were put on trial afterwards, as well as the fireman of the local passenger train who, it was alleged, failed to protect his train.
The trial ended after just a day and a half.  Meakin was sentenced to imprisonment for 18 months for culpable homicide while Tinsley was sentenced to three years hard labour. The fireman of the local passenger train was acquitted.
A tragic day for the families of the husbands, fathers, brothers and friends who were lost in what is the saddest entry to the history of Leith in modern times. It has been said by some historians that no family in Leith was unaffected by the tragedy. It was also Edinburgh’s tragedy with casualties from Portobello and Musselburgh.
Leith, Edinburgh and the nation will never forget them.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Happy Birthday, Laura

Happy birthday to a fabulous daughter and wonderful mother.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Politicians Cry Fowl...

The fallout from the UK General Election continues to make the news headlines. Austerity, poverty, Europe, independence for Scotland – these are issues which will be at the heart of the new Westminster Parliamentary session. However, there is another question which the people of the UK want answered – just why did the chicken cross the road?
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister for Scotland & Leader of the Scottish National Party: I think the chicken crossed the road because it wanted change. It just wasn’t going to accept austerity and the cutbacks which this Tory government will impose. Our job is to ensure the chicken’s voice is heard at Westminster and that now it has crossed the road it will be better off there and not subject to savage cuts imposed by this Tory government which the chicken clearly didn’t vote for. In fact, I believe the chicken would have rather voted for Christmas than another Tory government that ignores Scotland.
Alex Salmond, MP, Scottish National Party: It is abundantly clear that chicken flew across the road because it heard the roar of the Scottish lion – a roar that will frighten the life out of David Cameron and this Tory government, a government, let’s not forget, that Scotland didn’t vote for and if they think they can… (contd. page 94)
Ed Miliband, former Leader of the Labour Party: I want to be absolutely clear on this. What’s your name? Well, Mr Auld Reekie Ranter, I won’t lie to you. We in the Labour Party got it wrong. And we let the chicken down badly. We pledged to stand up for the working class chickens but I accept we should not have ignored the more affluent chickens, those who will still be around after Christmas. And I feel an enormous amount of empathy for chickens everywhere – like most of them at Christmas, my career has just been absolutely stuffed…
David Cameron, Prime MinisterWell, clearly the chicken made a statement last Thursday. It trusted the Conservative Party with its future, the economy and its standard of living. Not that I can guarantee it will be living for much longer as when it crossed the road it obviously was unaware of the great big austerity oven which has been turned up to gas mark 7. There’ll be no benefit for the chicken in crossing the road, particularly as Chancellor George Osbourne will be slashing all benefits in his next budget. I’m disappointed that the Scottish chicken has flown the coop completely and is wanting to go its own way. But it should remember it was asked the question about separation last year and it said no. So the Scottish chicken should now realise it is no different to the rest of the chickens in the UK – it’s going to be completely stuffed in a few months…
Nigel Farage, Leader of United Kingdom Independence Party: Clearly, the chicken demonstrated how fed up it is with the way things are going in this country. It’s time to put a stop to foreign chickens flying into this country, doing nothing but strutting around farmyards all day while the good old British chickens are slaving away laying egg after egg just so those foreign chickens can lie around. I say we should ban immigration of chickens forthwith and you all know I’m a man of my word. Now I’m off for a quick pint before heading home to the wife. She’s German, you know, so don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.
Jim Murphy, Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland: Well….it’s been….a bad result for chickens not just in Scotland…..but across the United Kingdom. But I just want to say….it wisnae ma fault and I’m no’ resigning. What we’ve got to do is to engage with the chickens again….to offer them…….something different. I’ll be fighting for the Scottish chickens in the Scottish elections next year…..there is an alternative…..oatmeal stuffing or sage and onion? (that’s three references to chickens being stuffed but bear with me)
Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland: Well, clearly the chicken had no option. It was frightened of staying put and the prospect of Ed Miliband being Prime Minister dancing to the tune of Alex Salmond meant it flew the coop. In fact, it wasn’t just one chicken that crossed the road – all the Scottish chickens crossed. But, frankly, we don’t care as we’re now a majority government and in the best tradition of Conservatism we’ll be ignoring the interests of the Scottish chickens and all things Scottish for the next five years.
George Galloway, Leader of the Respect Party: It has come to my notice there has been widespread malpractice which lead to the chicken crossing the road against its will. I am in the process of compiling information which will form a petition to have the chicken cross back over to the other side of the road again. And I can confirm my intention to sue all those people who didn’t vote for me last week. I know who you are – you will pay for your shameful betrayal to someone who has shown strength, courage and indefatigability and I want you to know I am coming to get you…
Tony Blair, Former New Labour Prime Minister: Listen, I’m a modest kind of guy but speaking as a former leader of New Labour and a man who single-handedly won three general elections, toppled Saddam Hussain and his weapons of mass-destruction (he did have them, you know) and brought world peace and prosperity to all mankind, I just want to say this: Labour needs to target the centre ground for all of the chickens in this country, not just the working class ones. If this means getting halfway across the road before being splattered to smithereens by a passing juggernaut then, hey, that’s life. Or death in the case of the chicken....That will be £1,500 please – just make the cheque out to T. Blair.
Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party: What’s that? Why did the chicken cross the road? Well….I don’t think….well….I don’t know. Did it cross the road? Why shouldn’t it cross the road? Perhaps it…, sorry, my mind’s gone completely blank.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Five Years On

Happy 5th birthday to my darling grand-daughter Ava, You may think from this photograph taken yesterday that butter wouldn't melt -  but....

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Woman of Substance Can Deliver for Scotland

Last September, the people of Scotland made their collective choice in the independence referendum. Although 45% of those eligible voted Yes for Scotland to be an independent nation, 55% voted No. That, it seemed to me at the time, was that. Scotland had a chance to become independent but the majority of its people didn’t want it.
Last Thursday, the UK General Election produced an astonishing result in Scotland. At the last UK General Election in 2010, the Scottish National Party (SNP) took 6 seats as the Labour Party was kicked out of office, effectively bringing to an end the New Labour years of firstly Tony Blair then Gordon Brown. It seemed to me that Brown, then Prime Minister, suspected his party wouldn’t be elected with a majority and gambled on Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats joining him to form a coalition government. Clegg did form a coalition government – but with David Cameron’s Conservative Party – a party despised in Scotland, a legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s regime and its intention on destroying a working class nation.
Two days ago, the SNP took 56 seats in Scotland in the UK General Election. As there are only 59 UK Parliament seats in Scotland, this was a phenomena not witnessed before. The Labour Party were routed north of the border. For decades, Scotland has been a Labour stronghold, particularly the central belt where it was widely believed that the way to rid the UK of a Conservative government was to vote Labour. Now, this view has changed – and in dramatic circumstances.
It has always been the case that, no matter who the people of Scotland voted for, they would end up with a government the people of England chose. During the Thatcher regime most of Scotland voted for Labour, hoping leaders Michael Foot then Neil Kinnock would save them from Thatcher’s anti-Scotland policies. It didn’t happen. The Labour Party in Scotland were powerless to prevent the affluent south east of England electing Conservative governments with their policies aimed at the free-market and ignoring the poor.
Gradually, the people of Scotland have realised this. Scotland is a different country to England. Socialism still means something here. Thatcherism stoked the feelings of fury felt by Scots and a determination they would no longer be treated like second class citizens. As New Labour moved from a left wing, socialist movement into a pale imitation of the Conservative Party, Scots realised the SNP could be their saviour. The idea of Scotland going it alone and becoming independent has been touted as romantic idealism but, gradually, this idea has gained credibility. The prospect of Scotland ridding itself of a Conservative government for ever is very much an appealing one.
In 1999, Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair recognised Scotland was different and a Scottish Parliament was set up with some – although far from all – powers devolved to Scotland. If New Labour thought this would appease the Scots they were to be proved wrong in the decade and a half that followed. While the Scottish Parliament has proven to be a success, it’s the SNP government north of the border that has driven real change – and for the betterment of the Scottish people.
Scots now realise that their country should be governed by its people. However, it’s reasonable to say that while many admired the SNP, some were unsure about independence - and some disliked the first SNP First Minister Alex Salmond.
Salmond is a gifted orator but there was a Marmite effect about him – people either loved him or hated him. Salmond drove the independence referendum and no sooner had the SNP formed a majority government in 2011 than the referendum was in its plans for governance. Some thought the referendum was pushed too soon. Perhaps it might have been better to let the nation see what a SNP government could do for them first before deciding on whether our country should become independent.  Nonetheless, the independence referendum went ahead in September 2014 – and while it was a close run thing the result was a ‘No’ vote. That, then, was surely that for independence for Scotland? Not quite.
Salmond stood down as First Minister and Leader of the SNP. His place was taken by his deputy Nicola Sturgeon. And what an impact she has had on not only Scotland but the rest of the UK.
Sturgeon is as equally gifted a politician and orator as her predecessor. And she is tough, a no-nonsense leader who will do things her way and for the good of her country. She has been mighty impressive since she took over last September and outshone and out-manoeuvred the likes of Labour’s Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy in the build-up to the general election. She spoke from the heart and Scotland knew she understood the needs of the nation. The Labour Party was hopelessly out of touch with the people of Scotland; Sturgeon recognised this and appealed to Labour’s core supporters to support a party that understood them and fought for their rights – the SNP.
While Alex Salmond spoke passionately, he could, as we say in Scotland, start a fight in an empty room. Nicola Sturgeon respects others while getting her forthright views across. As well as knowing what to say, she knows what not to say – and her views, passion and determination to fight for the working class people have resonated with the people of Scotland – and beyond.
Scotland is now a changed country. Last September, its people stepped back from choosing independence, some influenced by the scare tactics of the unionist parties with Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown making the now infamous ‘vow’, promising there would be more powers for Scotland if the people rejected independence. The day after the result of the referendum, Cameron stood outside Number Ten Downing Street and spoke about more powers for England. Scotland had been metaphorically booted in the balls by a Tory Prime Minister – not for the first time.
This week, Scots have at last seen through the unionist claptrap. They want the SNP to make decisions that will affect their lives. However, as is usual, they are stuck with a government that England has voted for. David Cameron, though, will ignore the views of Scotland at his peril. He spent last summer telling Scots how they would be ‘better together’, how better they would be as part of the UK. If he does as Margaret Thatcher did before him and ignores the Scots, it could be calamitous for him and his party. The thorny issue of membership of the European Union will soon be the next issue he has to deal with. And the decision Cameron has to make is whether to appease the views of many Conservative backbench MPs. If the UK leaves the European Union it will be because middle England wants us to. And the wishes of the Scottish people will be ignored. More powers for Scotland? The Scots language famously has two positive words coming together to form a negative phrase – ‘aye, right’.
The European Union referendum could have far-reaching implications for Scotland and the rest of the UK. Scotland’s First Minister has already shown she is a formidable opponent and will fight for what is best for Scotland. The Scottish people have backed Sturgeon and have elected an army of 56 MPs to make sure the fight is won.
As this week has proved, no one would back against Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP. A woman of substance, a party of substance. Independence for Scotland is back on the agenda. The message to Prime Minister Cameron and his Conservative government is – you’d better believe it.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

UK General Election


Today is the General Election in the United Kingdom. Regular readers of my rants – and I thank you both – may realise my dream is for an independent Scotland. Whatever your political leanings, if you are able to vote today I urge you to do so.
We live in a democracy - we have the right to vote for whoever we want to in free and fair elections, many other countries do not allow its citizens this right.
Voting gives the Government legitimacy - meaning they have the people's support to make decisions. So if you’re unhappy with the government’s decisions which may affect you, if you haven’t bothered to vote you really shouldn’t complain.
The more young people vote the more likely politicians are to make policies that benefit us - every vote is important so many politicians are inclined to try and do as much as they can to help and win your votes.
Your local MPs can help fight important issues for you such as planning - voting for them can help them keep their jobs and continue their positive work in your community.
Even if you live in a safe seat voting is important - living in a safe seat constituency doesn't mean your vote won't make a difference. Remember Tory MP and cabinet member Michael Portillo losing his seat in 1997? If one just 'gives up' change will never happen. 
In the 1950s, much of Scotland voted Conservative. Margaret Thatcher’s period in power in the 1980s changed that as she and her policies tried to destroy Scotland. For much of the 1970s, 80s, 90s and noughties, the Labour Party dominated Scotland. However, Scots have now realised that even if the whole country votes for Labour, they will get the government England votes for. All Scotland can do is have its voice heard at Westminster – and the latest opinion polls suggest the Scottish National Party may take as many as 50 of the 59 seats north of the border.

I shall be voting today and will stay up most of the night to watch the results unfold. It may be a historic election today. Don’t miss your opportunity to make history for Scotland. 

Monday, 4 May 2015

10 Years

Was it not just five minutes ago that I became a grandfather for the first time? Grandson Jack has just turned 10 years old, a significant landmark in anyone's life.

He is turning into a wonderful, young man. Rather like his Papa...