Sunday, 29 May 2016

May the Force

The month of May draws to a close in a couple of days. And it's been one heck of a month for the Auld Reekie Ranter.

Three birthdays - little Ava (6), Jack (11) rapidly developing into a young adult and Old Mother Hubbard Laura, now having reached the ripe old age of 30 (I still can't believe this)

One wedding - Michaela finally marrying Sean the Hibby.

And, for the second time in three months, a hospital appointment for the Ranter. After the bladder cancer scare in February which proved nothing untoward, I was back into Edinburgh's Western General Hospital last week for a colonoscopy (you don't want to know the details, believe me) Thankfully, although a medical condition has been identified, it's nothing too serious. So my old body has, just about, passed its MOT and it's Mike 2 The Big C 0 -  although I suspect the lovely Marion is looking to trade me in for a new model as the present one is a bit clapped out...

The football season ended with Hibernian winning the Scottish Cup - I'll just leave that one there...

However, it's good to end the month on a positive note. My hypnotherapy business is making good progress. A productive weekend just passed saw one definite client and another almost certain to sign up. If you're in the Edinburgh area and want to make positive changes to your life, take a look at my website - there's a free consultation and a special introductory offer.

In August, I'll be moving to office premises in central Edinburgh, between Castle Street and Frederick Street. I can't wait and am really excited at the prospect. If you know of anyone who wants to lose weight, stop smoking or has low self-esteem or low self-confidence, please spread the word.

Who knows what the month of June will bring. But the Auld Reekie Ranter is, would you believe, optimistic and full of anticipation.

Yes, I know. Nurse! The screens!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Scotland's Beauty

This is what makes Scotland like no other country. The iconic Forth Bridge at sunset. Photo courtesy of 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Wedding Day

Daughter Michaela got married on Saturday. Stunningly attractive, intelligent, gifted....but enough about me. She scrubbed up well enough....

With one daughter turning 30 years old and the other getting married in the same week, it's little wonder I'm feeling my age...

A Jambo From Leith Writes...

There can be no disguising the fact that, for many Hearts fans, this has been a difficult weekend. The metaphorical stick we have used for decades to whack our city neighbours has been well and truly broken with Hibernian’s Scottish Cup triumph over Rangers at Hampden Park on Saturday.
As is its want, social media websites have been awash with what appears to be divided opinion among the Maroon Army. Some have said they are genuinely pleased Hibs have lifted the famous old trophy for the first time in over a century; others have said they are gutted as they never wanted to see this record broken and point out that some Hibs fans actively encouraged the demise of Heart of Midlothian FC when they entered administration two years ago.
As a Hearts supporter of nearly 40 years, I thought long and hard over the events of the weekend. As it happened, my youngest daughter got married on the afternoon of the cup final – to an avid Hibby. A man who gave me a Christmas present in 2013 which was a road map with the towns of Falkirk, Alloa, and Dumbarton amongst others circled with black ink – he saw this as being useful to me for season 2014/15 as Hearts would be visiting these towns in the Championship. Season 2013/14 was the season the Maroons finished bottom of the Premiership thanks to a 15 point deduction imposed as a result of going into administration. I took the ‘gift’ in the spirit it was intended  - but the smirking Hibby wasn’t laughing so much less than five months later when Hibs joined Hearts in the relegation places.
He wasn’t laughing either on Saturday when, as the speeches were about to be made, his team fell 2-1 behind to Rangers. But, of course, he was thumping the top table with delight when news reached him (via his mobile phone) that Hibs had come back and scored a late winner to realise his life-long dream. And, somewhat ironically, this was when my feelings on the matter began to change.
I have to admit I didn’t want Hibs to win the Scottish Cup. Like the vast majority of the Maroon Army, I had taken much delight over the years in goading our city rivals over their, frankly, embarrassing inability to lift the old trophy. Spectacular failure appeared annually, like a ritual, with Hibs quite often snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The all-Edinburgh final of 2012 arguably offered the Leith club their best chance of smashing the hoodoo but, typically, a rampant Hearts side put them to the sword and romped to a 5-1 win to lift the trophy for the eighth time – the mother of all Edinburgh derbies and totally eclipsing Hibs 7-0 win in a meaningless league fixture on New Years Day 1973.
‘You’ve Not Won The Big Cup Since 1902’ Hearts fans would taunt their rivals from across the capital and we held a feeling of superiority we felt would last forever. To many it will - regardless of Saturday’s result. But we wanted Hibs abysmal Scottish Cup record to continue so we could ridicule ad infinitum.
However, the flip side of that particular coin was the many Hibernian fans who I am friends with and the increasing number of Hibbies members of my family have become acquainted with. My other daughter’s partner is also an avid Hibby. He didn’t go to the wedding on Saturday and duly took his place at Hampden. I opined to said daughter that with Hibs finally winning the cup, not to expect him at the evening reception as he had promised. However, he surprised everyone by appearing at 9.00pm – and perfectly sober. He told me he thought so much of my daughter that he felt guilty about missing the wedding and didn’t want to let her down by skipping the reception as well.
The bride’s new husband was also aghast at missing something he had dreamt of since being a young boy. But when I suggested to him that Saturday must be the happiest day of his life – him getting married and Hibs winning the Scottish Cup at the same time – he replied it wasn’t. He told me, without hesitation, that the happiest day of his life was seeing his young son being born two years earlier.
When I remarried last year, my best man was also of the Hibernian persuasion. We regularly put the world to rights over a half pint lager shandy and he regales me incessantly with tales of the ‘brilliant’ Hibs team of the early 1970s who ‘destroyed’ Leeds United and Juventus in European competition – but still lost…
I thought about all three of those dyed-in-the-wool Hibbies on Saturday evening and other Hibs fans of my acquaintance and of my generation who have yearned for a Scottish Cup triumph. The fella who arrived at the reception late told me he had accompanied his father and young son to the final – a generation thing that supporters of both clubs can readily identify with. His father has failing health and it isn’t clear how much longer he has on this Earth. His wish to see his beloved Hibs win the Scottish Cup finally came true on Saturday and it was a story which brought a lump to my throat on an admittedly already emotional day for me.
I could see how much it meant to both lads at the wedding. And I thought about what my best man from last year was doing on Saturday night. We have tormented each other for decades and the 2012 final was, naturally, almost too much for him to take.
So, I eventually came to the conclusion it wasn’t a bad thing for Hibernian to win the Scottish Cup at long last. More than a century of pain and anguish for those who choose to follow the Hibees had finally ended. And, rightly or wrongly, I was pleased for those Hibbies I know personally.
Of course, Hearts supporters have seen this weekend’s scenes of celebrations before. Three times in recent years for many of us. Thrashing your city rivals 5-1 is the Holy Grail of Scottish Cup Finals and, unless the Leith team beat Hearts 6-1 in a cup final – a tad unlikely I would suggest – will never be beaten.
We will continue to tease those in green and white about recalling Saturday’s memories next season as they head to the likes of Dumbarton, Ayr and Kirkcaldy on miserable midweek evenings in the depths of winter, desperately hoping their side can return to the top flight of Scottish football at the third time of asking.
It’s the nature of the banter between Hearts and Hibs fans. Unlike the ‘rivalry’ between Celtic and Rangers, we don’t hate each other.
For this weekend, though, it’s about saying ‘well done’ to Hibernian and congratulate their supporters on seeing their life-long dream being realised. I realise there will be some Hearts supporters who wholly disagree with that statement but football is all about personal opinions. That’s what makes it the game it is.

Now, I’m heading back to my darkened room….

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Happy Birthday, Laura

As if I don't feel my age enough, daughter number one reached the ripe old age of 30 today. Who would have thought the cute wee 4 year old on the left would transform into the middle-aged young lady on the right...?

Happy birthday, kid!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Not Giving In

Grand-daughter Hannah isn't very happy. Life is tough as an 8 year old....

But it's important that parents and grandparents stand firm and don't let the children get their own way. Discipline, that's the key word here...

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Happy Birthday, Ava

This little scamp is 6 years old today. Doesn't seem like five minutes since little Ava came into the world and brought so much chaos so much joy into my life....

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Independence for Scotland - The Dream is Still Alive

60 Unionist MSPs

Number of votes cast in the Scottish Election last Thursday for Labour and the Conservatives - the Unionist parties: 1,016,105

Number of votes cast for the parties wishing independence for Scotland: 1,059,897

And yet - the Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie have both called on Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to rule out a second referendum on independence for the five-year duration of the next parliament.

Independence for Scotland isn't dead - far from it. The dream is still very much alive.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Growing Into a Fine Young Man

Grandson Jack turned 11 years old today. Among the many gifts he received was a mobile phone. He is turning into a fine young man - in many ways, no longer a child. After I saw him today he showed his appreciation, being the courteous young fella he his. Or, as his text to me said 'Thanks, bro'

Bro? Listen, son, I can't get 'down with the kids'  - for fear I won't get up again...

Monday, 2 May 2016

30 Years On, The Pain Still Hurts

Three years after emerging from the wilderness of First Division football, of enduring the inept tactics of manager Tony Ford, of losing to Queens Park and East Stirlingshire and of being threatened with part-time football, Hearts were on the verge of a climax of an astonishing recovery. Former Rangers player Alex MacDonald had replaced Ford as player manager in 1981 and sought the help of his good friend and former Rangers colleague Sandy Jardine to rebuild Edinburgh’s finest football club. MacDonald brought experienced players such as Willie Johnston and Jimmy Bone to the club and they were instrumental in the development of some promising Hearts kids such as John Robertson, Gary Mackay and Davie Bowman. By the time season 1985/86 commenced, ‘Bud’ Johnston and Bone had departed Tynecastle but they left a younger Hearts team that was now established in the cutthroat Premier Division.
MacDonald was still in charge and with money tight, his eye at spotting a bargain that would nonetheless improve the team was crucial to Hearts continued development throughout the 1980s. In the summer of 1985, MacDonald paid Celtic £60,000 for winger John Colquhoun and the Stirling born player would provide the service to strikers John Robertson and Sandy Clark. Midfielder Iain Jardine arrived a few weeks into the season and with Craig Levein a commanding presence in defence alongside the evergreen Sandy Jardine and the industrious Kenny Black in midfield, the Hearts team was slowly transforming from one that was looking to survive in the Premier Division to one that might actually think about challenging the dominance of the top two in Scotland. And younger readers may be surprised to learn that in the early 1980s Scotland’s top two clubs were not Celtic and Rangers - they were Aberdeen and Dundee United. The Dons, in particular, were one of the finest teams in Europe and under manager Alex Ferguson had won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983 as well as several Scottish League championships and Scottish Cups that decade. Indeed, they were reigning league champions when season 1985/86 kicked off.
Hearts began the season with a 1-1 draw against Celtic at Tynecastle. New signing John Colquhoun scored the opening goal against the team he had just left and it took a last minute equaliser from Paul McStay to rob Hearts of a brilliant start to the league campaign. That goal from the Celtic midfielder would prove hugely significant on the very last game of the season…
Hearts were then affected by injuries and suspensions - Sandy Clark and full back Walter Kidd were sent off in a 3-1 defeat to Rangers dubbed ‘the battle of Ibrox’ and when the Maroons lost to Aberdeen, Motherwell and Clydebank they were sinking towards the bottom of the league - only pointless Hibernian sparing Hearts the indignity….
Slowly Hearts began to get their absent players back but when Iain Jardine scored his first goal for the club in a 1-1 draw against Dundee at Tynecastle in October few of us envisaged this would be the beginning of one of the most astonishing sequence of games in Scottish football history. Seven days later Hearts travelled to Celtic Park and produced the shock result of the day, a rare 1-0 victory in the east end of Glasgow. They followed this up with a 3-0 victory over St. Mirren and a result that instilled bucketfuls of self-belief - a 1-0 win over champions Aberdeen on a rain-lashed Wednesday evening at Tynecastle thanks to a goal from Craig Levein. When Rangers were comprehensively beaten 3-0 in Gorgie a fortnight later heads began to turn Tynecastle way.
After an injury hit start to the season Hearts players were now fit and raring to go. Alex MacDonald had also instilled a discipline into his players so yellow and red cards were kept to a minimum. MacDonald was able to keep the same starting eleven for several weeks and the players had a system where they all knew what each other was doing. In November, Scotland were involved in a two-legged play-off to reach the World Cup finals in Mexico the following year. Difficult enough but their opponents were Australia - meaning those top flight league fixtures involving Scotland’s ‘top four’ were postponed to allow the national side to prepare. Hearts, however, carried on and continued to produce good football and rack up the results. Four days before Christmas, Hearts defeated St. Mirren in Paisley - and proudly sat top of the league. Yes, other teams had games in hand thanks to the Scotland situation but when Hearts defeated Rangers 2-0 at Ibrox three days after Christmas they had well and truly posted their intentions. Hearts had joined the big players at the table and were blowing their cigar smoke in the faces of the big four.
The question was could Hearts maintain their challenge? The acid test came in the last week in January when they travelled to Aberdeen. 5,000 Hearts fans headed to the Granite City to see their team, unbeaten since the end of September, take on the league champions in their own patch. MacDonald organised his troops accordingly and The Dons struggled to break through the silver-shirted Hearts defence. When MacDonald replaced John Robertson with the old warhorse that was Colin McAdam with just eight minutes left, Hearts appeared to have settled for a priceless away point. Then Walter Kidd played a long ball towards John Colquhoun. JC skipped his way past the trailing Aberdeen defenders Willie Miller and Alex McLeish and stroked the ball past a bemused Dons keeper Jim Leighton to secure a famous and crucial Hearts victory. The travelling support in the Beach End were ecstatic. Their chants of ‘We’re Gonna Win the League’ were now a serious prospect rather than a fanciful whim.
Hearts continued their unbeaten run as the end of the season hovered into view. Their nearest challengers for the title appeared to be Dundee United and when Hearts won 3-0 at Tannadice following an unforgettable April afternoon on Tayside it seemed the fantasy of Hearts becoming champions was about to become incredible reality. A week later though came the first signs of nerves. Aberdeen came to Tynecastle and the game was switched to a Sunday to accommodate live television coverage - the first league fixture to be covered live on television in Scotland. Hearts looked out of sorts and had to thank John Colquhoun for a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Celtic had now emerged as the main threat to Hearts title aspirations and Dundee would prove key players in the dramatic end to the season.
When Hearts entertained Clydebank on the last Saturday in April, they had just two games left - and were four points clear of Celtic. Back in the 1980s there were just two points awarded for a win and although Davie Hay’s side had a game in hand, Hearts fans knew if their team defeated Clydebank and Celtic lost at home to Dundee the league flag would be on its way to Tynecastle for the first time in 26 years. A nervous Hearts team won 1-0 thanks to a Gary Mackay goal - but, as they would do seven days later, Dundee proved party-poopers by losing in Glasgow. Inevitably, Celtic won their game in hand and so were just two points behind Hearts when the curtain came down on the league season on 3 May 1986.
Hearts needed just a single point for glory. In fact, they had a superior goal difference so they might even lose their first game in eight months and still become champions - providing Celtic didn’t score a barrow load of goals against St. Mirren in Paisley…
15,000 Hearts fans headed for Dundee ready to party like there wouldn’t be a 4th of May. Hearts only needed a draw and were unbeaten in 31 league and cup games. Celtic needed to thrash St. Mirren. Surely, nothing could go wrong…?
The events of that day are ingrained on the memory of every Hearts fan who was there. My wife was expecting our first child just a week later so I was in ecstatic mood anyway. Then I read a copy of the Daily Record on the way to Dundee and read about the events of 1965 when Hearts needed to avoid a 2-0 defeat to Kilmarnock on the last game of the season to clinch the league championship - and duly lost 2-0 to hand the title to the Rugby Park side. In all the excitement, I hadn’t thought about that. Now the first seeds of doubt were planted in my head. I wondered if the same was happening to the Hearts players. Then rumours circulated about a sickness virus affecting the Hearts team. We watched the players warm up on the Dens Park pitch - they looked fine to us. Hang on, though - there was no sign of Craig Levein. Roddy MacDonald was drafted in. It later transpired that the bug had affected five Hearts players. As the game kicked off it certainly looked like it.
Hearts looked a pale shadow of the team that had swept all before them since October. Sandy Clark was bundled off the ball in the penalty box in the first half and 15,000 Hearts fans screamed for a penalty kick. Nothing doing said referee Bill Crombie - ironically from Edinburgh. My anecdotal tale about Mr Crombie is I interviewed him for a job several years later - he didn’t get it…
Hearts struggled all afternoon while Dundee believed if they won and Motherwell won at Ibrox they would be in the following season’s UEFA Cup - so the incentive for the Dark Blues was certainly there. As we stood nervously on the open terracing behind the goal, we wondered if St. Mirren might come to Hearts aid and take a point off Celtic or at least keep things tight. The fella in front of me had a radio to his ear and was nearly embroiled in a fight when he relayed the news to irritated Hearts fans that Celtic were four goals ahead at half time. The Hoops added a fifth in the second half and now had the better goal difference. However, we tried to calm our nerves with the belief that it didn’t matter if Celtic scored ten goals, as long as Hearts secured the single point needed for glory. Although the silver-shirted Hearts players were collectively having a poor game, we still believed they would get this point. I checked my watch for the hundredth time that afternoon. There were just eight minutes to go when Dundee won a corner at the end where the Hearts masses had congregated. As the ball came in it fell at the feet of substitute Albert Kidd. His effort on goal flew into the roof of the net and the Dundee fans leapt for joy. The massed ranks of Hearts fans stood motionless, as if time had stopped. Our world certainly had. As the disconsolate Hearts players made their way to the centre circle to re-start the game, I shouted ‘C’mon Hearts - we can still do this!’ I was a lone voice - in our heart of hearts, we knew the dream was over, a suspicion confirmed when the blasted Kidd added a second goal a minute from the end. It was all over. Hearts lost 2-0, their first defeat in 31 games and eight months. Celtic won 5-0 and therefore clinched the league championship on goal difference.
I lived in Aberdeen at the time and a relatively short journey home turned into the longest trip in the world. My mate and I sat on the bus back to the Granite City and said nothing to each other. On arrival in Aberdeen, we went for a quick pint but our sombre mood didn’t call for alcohol, particularly as more than one smart Alec in the pub noticed our crumpled Hearts scarves sticking out our pockets and made a less than sympathetic comment.
I made my way home and my wife at the time greeted me with the news she thought she felt our first baby might be on its way. Selfishly and to my eternal shame, I ignored her and headed for bed. It was 7.30pm on a Saturday night and I just wanted the world to end. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, only surpassed by the sudden death of my father in 1997.
Thankfully, my wife didn’t go into labour that evening. Along with 40,000 other Hearts fans I tried recover some kind of composure and headed to the Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen at Hampden a week later. However, deep down Hearts fans knew the events at Dens Park had ripped the soul out of the Hearts players and Aberdeen won 3-0 to end any dreams of silverware.
A week later and my first child, Laura was born. Three successive Saturdays in May 1986 saw the three most emotional experiences of my life and, thankfully, ended with the joy and gift of a new life.

Of course, seeing Hearts lift the Scottish Cup in 1998, 2006 and 2012 exorcised some of the ghosts of 1986. But, try as I might, I can never forget that day at Dens Park…