Thursday, 31 December 2015

That Was The Year That Was


So farewell then, 2015. It’s been a momentous year for The Ranter with, as in any other year, some ups and downs. Here are my highlights – and some lowlights…
The Good Times:
Without question, the highlight of my year was getting married to the lovely and beautiful Marion on Valentine’s Day. She is everything to me and I love her with all my sometimes fragile heart. She is the most kind-hearted, generous, beautiful and wise person I have ever met and I feel truly humble that she agreed to marry me last February. Where would I be without her? I have an inkling it wouldn’t be a very good place.

The last song at our wedding was Sunshine on Leith by The Proclaimers. Those who managed to stay until the end of the night witnessed me shed a tear or three as I fell into Marion’s arms as we danced that final dance. My heart was broken. She saw it, she claimed it, she touched it, she saved it….for this I shall always be truly grateful.

In April, I took the decision to leave what had been the place of my employment for the last eight years. It wasn’t an easy decision, particularly as I didn’t have another job to go to immediately. My plan was to continue my studies as a hypnotherapist and perhaps take a temporary job along the way to help pay the bills. I completed my hypnotherapy case studies in November and await news if I’ve passed. Fingers are crossed. If I have passed, 2016 will see me set up my new hypnotherapy practice, something I’m tremendously excited about and can’t wait to do.

In the meantime, I have a job with Edinburgh Napier University until July. They’re a great bunch there and they have given me back my self-esteem. When the time comes, I will be genuinely sorry to go.

Watching my grandchildren Jack (10), Hannah (8), Ava (5) and Max (1 ¾) develop into such wonderful, loving children. No matter what goes on in my life they always give me such a great welcome and their unconditional love is something I treasure. They are a credit to my daughters Laura and Michaela who have done such a fantastic job in bringing them up. I’m immensely proud of them although I don’t tell them this as much as I should.

In October, Jack was the mascot at the Hearts v Kilmarnock game. It was an immensely proud day and there was a lump in the Ranter's throat as the wee man led the Hearts team out on to the Tynecastle pitch. A day we will never forget.

Away from family – and on to football. Hearts duly gained promotion to the top flight of Scottish football in April and are presently vying for third place in the Ladbrokes SPFL Premiership. The football hasn’t been as good in the second half of 2015 as it was in the first but methinks this is down to playing against better organised teams. The standard of Scottish football in general, though, is woeful. At least Jack is now accompanying his Papa to Tynecastle as a proud season ticket holder. I love having him with me and his passion for the boys in maroon is great to see. Just prepare yourself for a lifetime of disappointment, son…!
I also took Jack to the Scotland-Qatar game at, whisper it, Easter Road in June which the wee man thoroughly enjoyed.
My book Hearts 50Greatest Games continues to sell. It’s still available in all good bookshops and at Amazon…

The Not So Good Times:
Ah. Our wonderful wedding was followed by a not quite so wonderful honeymoon, not helped by the hotel chain Ibis putting us in a different hotel to what I thought I had booked online (tip – always check the small print)
London in February wasn’t exactly welcoming. Greedy taxi drivers, ticket touts kidding on they’re selling you a bargain and people seemingly too busy to show courtesy. We weren’t unhappy to get back to Scotland.
Health-wise, I had a wee problem towards the end of the year for which I require a minor op early in 2016. Tests so far have indicated there’s nothing serious but I won’t know for sure until after the op. But if this blog grinds to a halt at some point in 2016 you’ll know the reason why…
Grandson Jack had a wee operation at the beginning of November. He seems to have recovered well - but it’s never an easy time when your children and/or grandchildren have to go into hospital.
Elder daughter Laura also had a difficult time in the summer but she’s a tough old cookie and her courage is something I’ve always admired. I feel we’ve grown closer in 2015 although she would probably tell you in her usual forthright manner that her father is talking ‘p**h’…
Michaela continues to plan for her wedding to Sean next May. Grandson Max is growing at an incredible rate and has now joined his cousins in shouting ‘Papa’ in that demanding way…
My dear old mother continues to have health problems and a hospital visit or two beckons next year. The perils of getting older.
Best Gig:
It’s been a fairly quiet year for gigs for The Ranter. Paul Weller at the Edinburgh Playhouse in March was superb as I had expected. I last saw him in July 2014 at Edinburgh Castle and there was always one eye on the weather. No such worries at the Playhouse as the great man played a blinder.

The Selector at Edinburgh’s claustrophobic Liquid Rooms in March was good - apart from the loutish behaviour of some of the audience.

Shows of 2015:

First one was the stage show of Saturday Night Fever at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre in February which exceeded my expectations. On honeymoon in London, Marion and I went to see Cats at the Palladium. Ripped off for tickets and a poor view at the back of the theatre (and less than helpful Palladium staff) – not an enjoyable experience.

Much more enjoyable was the Allan Stewart Variety Show at Edinburgh’s King Theatre in April – good old-fashioned entertainment!

We went to see the truly remarkable illusionist Colin Cloud in Edinburgh at the end of June – if you get a chance to see this astonishing act I urge you to do so. He will blow your mind away!
I’ve been a fan of the BBC radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue for more years than I care to remember so when the show came to the Edinburgh Playhouse in August then I simply had to go! Not sure what Marion made of it but it was great entertainment for this old man!

Marion and I ended the year by going to the Andy Williams Christmas Show at Edinburgh’s Queens Hall four days before Christmas. Now I know the great man has been dead for some time but the show was hosted by his protégés The Osmond Brothers and they belted out some old Christmas classics. An enjoyable evening even though an over-officious Queens Hall staff member tried her best to spoil it…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe:

As usual Marion and I saw a few shows, some of which I reviewed for The Edinburgh Reporter. Veteran comedy actor Rodney Bewes was a delight and the Soweto Pop Afro show was superb; on the minus side was ‘comedian’ Hardeep Singh Kohli who, like so many of his ilk, is so far up his own backside he can’t see anyone else but himself.

The highlights of the Festival Fringe for me were Craig Hill – a quite brilliant comedian – and Barry Cryer’s 80th Birthday Bash which was superb.

Roll on next August!

Old Friends:
Outwith the wedding, it was great to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen for some time. In the case of my Aunt Ann in Aberdeen, it had been nearly 20 years so it was good to see her again – she and Marion seemed to hit it off (but then Marion has such a friendly nature she hits it off with most people) We also caught up with my former work colleagues Charles and his lovely wife Sarah; Claire, who kindly arranged for me to work (briefly) at Capability Scotland and Marion’s cousin Doreen.
One of the highlights of the year was meeting the lovely June from Seattle – at last! June and I have been friends for many years but we had never met – until she came to visit Scotland in September. Marion and I met her for a couple of hours at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station while she waited for a train to London. It was an absolute pleasure to meet her – it was just a pity we had to leave early. Hopefully, June will be back in Scotland before long and we can meet up again.
I wasn’t the only person to take my leave from my old employers so it’s still good to catch up with Lindsay occasionally for a pint or three (and not fall asleep on the bus home…) He took a courageous decision to do what he did and I know 2016 will be a better year for him.
I still have regular sessions with Gary, who was best man at our wedding, to put the world to right. He’s a fellow of the Hibernian persuasion so this has been another difficult year for him – aren’t they all…?
The most unexpected ‘reunion’ however, was an old school friend from Aberdeen who made contact early in the year. Ian and I were the only Hearts supporters at Linksfield Academy in the Granite City and it was good to hear from him again after nearly 40 years. Indeed, we met up in mid-December when I went up to Aberdeen for the Hearts game and we enjoyed a drink in the Scotia Bar in the city’s Summerfield Terrace – which was my local when I got married first time around in 1982. While in Aberdeen that weekend I also caught up my old mucker Graeme who has had a tough time this year.
General Election
A great day for the Scottish National Party who won all but three of the Westminster Parliament seats in Scotland. Sadly, England voted for another Conservative government and as Scots didn’t have the courage to vote for independence in the independence referendum last year, we’re stuck with the government England voted for. Better together? Aye, so we are…
The Year Ahead:
So another eventful year draws to a close. It’s been a remarkable one and something of a rollercoaster rode. Despite what promises to be an inauspicious beginning, I am looking forward to 2016.
Health issues need to be resolved in the first few weeks but I’m hopeful they will be and I can move on. The last day of 2015 saw me at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital for a CT scan and, hopefully, a date for my wee op will be in the next month or so.
I can’t wait until I start my own business and I’m looking forward to another wonderful year with Marion, seeing my wonderful grandchildren continue to develop into remarkable young people and to a year when, hopefully, health matters take a back seat for a change.
Michaela gets married in May so that will be one of the big events of the year. It’s also Scottish Cup Final day. Thirty years ago, her sister Laura was due to be born on cup final day and I endured an anxious time as Hearts duly made it all the way to the final. If Hearts get past Aberdeen on Saturday week, I sense another anxious few months. Imagine arranging your wedding for cup final day?!!
Happy New Year, folks. Thank you to those of you who regularly follow my rants  - special mention to the wonderful PeggyCameron, Adullamite and Joanna Jenkins who are never slow to show their support for which I am grateful.
Here’s to health and happiness and a fantastic 2016 to each and every one of you.


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Sprint Into 2016 With A Thrilling Day At Musselburgh Racecourse


I always enjoy a trip to Musselburgh races. Despite my penchant for selecting horses who have an aversion to going past the finishing post ahead of the others, it’s a grand day out with an atmosphere you simply don’t get by watching the races on the television at home or in the bookies.

For the last two years I have attended Musselburgh’s New Year’s Day meeting and had a thoroughly enjoyable time (as did the bookies at my expense) I’ll be going along again this New Year’s Day and fun lovers can continue their festive party this Friday by joining the New Year’s Day event at the East Lothian racecourse.

The annual fixture is one of the highlights of the Scottish racing calendar and is constantly growing in popularity, thanks to the reputation of the 5 star attraction just six miles from the capital city (and there is plenty public transport available)

Now organisers have promised to kick start 2016 in style and the forecast is that the January 1 event will be the best to date – not least because it marks the start of the racecourse’s landmark 200th anniversary year.

Sarah Montgomery, Senior Operations and Commercial Manager at Musselburgh Racecourse, said: “For us there is even more than usual to celebrate because New Year’s Day also marks the start of our Bicentenary year.

“We’re immensely proud to have reached such an amazing milestone so we are hoping people from Musselburgh, Edinburgh and the surrounding area will turn out in numbers to help us celebrate.

“It is a fantastic day out for families, groups of friends, sports lovers and anyone looking for a great way to bring in 2016. It’s already one of the most popular dates in our busy racing calendar and on January 1 there will be plenty for our visitors to see and do.”

Visitors to the Totepool New Year’s Day Race Meeting will enjoy the warmest of welcomes, with the first 200 guests getting a special First Foot surprise. All visitors will have the chance to purchase mulled cider and a traditional haggis roll to enjoy in the New Year’s Day heated marquee.

The raceday is one of the Feature Fixtures at Musselburgh and guaranteed to provide thrills. Indeed, the feature races – the Totepool Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle and Totepool Scottish Premier Steeple Chase - are broadcast live on Channel 4 Racing.

A seasonal twist to the afternoon is the chance to soak in the atmosphere of one of the most historic amateur athletic events in the world, the 147th New Year Sprint, which attracts athletes from across the country to compete for the £4000 prize money. The 110m race is the most enduring open athletics event in the UK and has been staged in Scotland annually since 1870.

Added to the wealth of attractions on the day, a number of lucky racegoers won’t even have to worry about transport on New Year's Day – as the racecourse has laid on special First Foot double decker buses from Edinburgh city centre and from Galashiels.

There is limited availability and bookings are strictly first come, first served. Places can be booked online for £5 return (Edinburgh) and £10 return (Galashiels) with the purchase of admission tickets. The shuttle services will deliver racegoers to the venue ahead of the first race at 12.25pm and will depart the racecourse for the return journey following the final race which takes place at 3.20pm.

Sarah Montgomery added: “The New Year’s Day fixture is always a fantastic way to usher in the New Year and this promises to be the best yet.

“For those wanting to continue the party, it is the place to be. Yet for anyone who is feeling a bit jaded by the festive excess, or for those who have made New Year resolutions, then it is also the ideal day out, offering a bracing event to blow away the cobwebs, with plenty of fresh air and inspiring sporting achievement.”

Musselburgh is firmly established as one of the UK’s most stylish racecourses, hosting 28 Flat and Jump meetings each year, including the hugely popular Stobo Castle Ladies Day. 

The 5 star VisitScotland venue is popular with racing enthusiasts and is also firmly established with both families and corporate clients.

Events like the Totepool New Year’s Day Race Meeting and the Scottish Cheltenham Trials in February are helping it attract a more diverse audience.

Now, if only I could pick a winner or two this Friday. Any tips gratefully received…

For further information and to book tickets visit www.musselburgh-racecourse.co.uk.
       
Musselburgh Racecourse’s Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/MusselburghRacecourse

Twitter: @musselburghrace


Friday, 25 December 2015

River Life Restaurant



It’s that time of the year when dining out becomes a necessity as workers across the country take time out to celebrate Christmas and New Year. However, if you’re like me and are becoming weary of the relentless festive fayre and yearn for something a little different then I can heartily recommend River Life, a French Caribbean restaurant in Edinburgh’s Dalry Road.

My office colleagues and I went there last Wednesday evening for our Christmas dinner and while admittedly some of us had reservations about opting for a non-traditional Christmas meal – we could have chosen the restaurant’s Christmas menu but decided to do something different - it was a decision which proved to be an excellent choice.
The feeling of satisfaction began even before we started to dine. We were greeted warmly by staff who thanked us for dining there and hoped we would enjoy the food.
The menu was a wide range of exciting and evocative French Caribbean dishes from the Island of Guadeloupe. I had the pork liver parfait, slow-cooked and browned pork fusion with rice then finished off with the sumptuous brandy crème brulee.
The other options on the menu looked equally tempting and all of my colleagues related they thoroughly enjoyed their meals.
All in all it was a very enjoyable experience. The food was sublime, the service excellent and the result was a group of very satisfied customers. If you visit River Life I’m pretty sure you’ll be satisfied too.

Friday, 18 December 2015

It's That Time of the Year...

...when little people like to pose....


...some more than others.....


while some are too busy growing up fast....


But from the Auld Reekie Ranter and his clan...

...young and, er....

 ...that wee bit older....


All the best for the festive season. And one final thought...

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Christmas Carols - A Health & Safety Guide

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir; 
We will lend a coat of fur, 
We will rock you, rock you, rock you, 
We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative. Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.

Jingle Bells - Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O ' er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

The union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via CCTV cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts. Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his/her glory all around he/she must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVAUVBand the overwhelming effects of Glory.

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him, you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load 

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled ' little ' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star 

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as ' cash for gold ' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher.We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of RACroutefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption. Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Face masks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Away in a Manger No Crib for a bed -
This is definitely one for Social services

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Not In My Name, Mr Cameron


97% of Scottish MPs voted against air strikes on Syria. But thanks to those who voted 'No' in last year's Scottish Independence Referendum, we're now 'bombing together'.

Not in my name, David Cameron - and, I suspect, thousands of others...