Tuesday, 7 January 2020

30 Years On - The Best Move I Ever Made

30 years ago today I made a life changing decision.

When my parents split towards the end of 1969 my mother took me from Cumbernauld to Aberdeen. After 20 mostly miserable years in the Granite City I decided to leave and headed for Edinburgh - the place I love - via three months with my father in Paisley.

It was my father who drove me south that Sunday evening. We were never particularly close but we grew closer in the early months of 1990 and he was hugely supportive of me. I had temporarily left my wife and two young children (Laura was three and a half years old and Michaela just three months), given up my job - without another one to go to - and sold my house. People - mostly narrow-minded Aberdonians - told me I was mad and didn't know what I was doing. Oh, I did all right - and my father was one of the very few who gave me the encouragement to follow my dreams.

Much has changed since 7th January 1990. My father is no longer with us, having died very suddenly in 1997. I got divorced. And married again. Laura and Michaela are now in their 30s with children of their own.

I tell my grandchildren, especially the older two, to follow their dreams. Never let anyone tell you 'you can't do that' or 'you'll never make anything of yourself'. Moving to Edinburgh was the best thing I ever did. If I had listened to family and friends I would never have moved. But, boy, am I glad I did.

Even if three decades have taken their toll on my boyish good looks...

The Ranter in the 1980s                The Ranter today...

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Imagine What 2020 Could Be Like...

As a fully qualified hypnotherapist I help many people to change their lives. It is, of course, a serious subject but there can be some lighter moments.

One client told me she was due to get married later this year and was quite nervous about the prospect.

"I think I know what your issue is" I told her. "You have a phobia about marriage. Do you recognise the symptoms?

"Can't say I do" she replied.

"That's one of them" I said...

But joking aside this is the time of the year when many people make resolutions to make their life happier. If you are looking to lose weight, stop smoking, need help with self-esteem or confidence issues or want to rid yourself of a phobia or unwanted habit - and you need a helping hand - contact me on 07521 353 787 or email mike.smith@mgs-hypnotherapy-services.co.uk to arrange an initial discussion.

Evening appointments available. Home visits by arrangement. Visit my website here

Monday, 30 December 2019

That Was The Year That Was - 2019

So farewell then 2019. It’s been another eventful year for the Auld Reekie Ranter so at the risk of boring my dear reader to death I’ll try and highlight the salient points.

Family Fortunes

The year began with a visit to Marion’s brother and sister-in-law in Morecambe in Lancashire. Despite being with Marion for eight years I had never met Rab and Izzie and Marion had lost contact with them - it had been more than a decade since she last saw them. There had been the occasional text – mainly at birthdays – but when they couldn’t make our wedding in 2015 Marion felt it was the final curtain being drawn on her relationship with her sibling.

However, when an invite came – via Facebook as is the way these days – to come to Rab’s grandson’s 18th birthday bash in January I suggested we accept and head across the border. Marion reluctantly agreed – she still felt snubbed by their non-attendance at our wedding – and we travelled for an overnight stay.

It turned out to be a brilliant occasion. I was made extremely welcome by Rab and Izzie and to see Rab and Marion embrace after so many years was joyous. The real lump in the throat came at the end of the evening on the dance floor. When Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis was played as the final tune of the night, Rab, Izzie, Marion and I linked arms and gave each other huge hugs. It was a night to build bridges and not only had the bridge been built it had been extended. We met Rab and Izzie again the following month when they visited Edinburgh and we returned to Lancashire in August, meeting up for a meal and a couple of half pint shandies in August.

For those with family feuds, it shows what can be done. Life is too short.

Marion and her brother Rab - clearly in need of a pint after seeing her again
Moving Experience

If January was a moving experience emotionally April was to be a moving experience physically. Marion and I moved to a new house and there was a bit of emotion for the missus given she had lived in her house for 17 years and it was the home she shared with her mother who passed away in 2008. But move we did and we’re now in the Abbeyhill area of Edinburgh in a brand new flat. It was the first time in my adult life I had moved into a house no one else had lived in before. Despite a few teething problems things seem to be settling down and the fact we’re just a 20-minute walk away from Waverley Station and Princes Street and a 15-minute walk away from the Edinburgh Playhouse – where I continue to review various performances for The Edinburgh Reporter – is a bonus. 

Family Matters

Meeting Marion’s brother and sister-in-law was a real thrill and my own family continue to be a real source of pride. Grandson Jack is growing into a fine young man – it’s hard to believe he’ll be 15 in May - and he continues to excel at school. Gold Merit Awards are commonplace for the lad now and he has a clear vision of what he wants to do. But more importantly, he is an exceptionally well-behaved and courteous young man. He and I continue to go to Hearts games together at Tynecastle and it’s a real pleasure to be in his company. I try and encourage him in everything he does but, being a Scot of course, there’s the odd occasion when he has to be reminded that no one likes a smart arse! But I am really proud of how he is turning out and what he has already achieved at such a young age.

Numbers 1 and 5 - Jack and Daniel (it has a certain ring to it)
His sisters, Hannah and Ava also do their old Papa proud. Hannah is fast approaching those dreaded teenage years, and this can occasionally be reflected in attempts to engage with her in conversation! She is now in her first year at secondary school and there are already signs she is following in her big brother’s footsteps. But Hannah being Hannah, I get the feeling she’s going to sail through life. When she got a silver award for a school project recently I asked her what the project was. She replied she couldn’t remember!

Ava is also doing well at primary school and she at least still asks her Papa if she can stay for a sleepover – this appears now to be distinctly uncool for her older brother and sister. One thing that hasn’t changed this year is her mischievousness. I call her Google now as she has an answer for everything…

And then there’s the baby of the family – (not so) little Daniel who is now nearly 15 months old and has started to take his first steps. When he sits on his Papa’s knee while being regaled by old Hearts songs I can tell he laps it up (no, honestly…) However, the chant of ‘Can You Hear the Hibees Sing? No, No’ has resulted in Daniel shaking his head. I was quite proud of this until his mother Laura pointed out that when she shouts NO! at him when he touches something he shouldn’t he just shakes his head…An unfortunate behavioural trait I’m getting blamed for…

Sadly, I don’t see as much of Laura’s sister Michaela and her wee boy Max. This has been a sticking point this year – as it was last. Did I say life is too short earlier? Hmm…

My mother turned 83 years old three weeks back and her health, sadly, is beginning to fail. Mentally she is as sharp as a tack but physically she struggles. This time last year she was on the waiting list for a hip replacement operation. She’s still waiting…

Jack, Hannah and Ava showing their Papa the respect he deserves...


As well as seeing Marion’s brother and sister-in-law and moving to a new house other highlights included seeing various shows through my Edinburgh Reporter role. This has, on occasion,  seen Marion and I hob-knobbing it with various ‘celebs’ including newsreader Catriona Shearer (we shared a table with her and her husband at the Faulty Towers Dining Experience press night at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August) Sanjeev Kohli (of Still Game fame), comedians Ricky Tomlinson and Craig Hill and Hearts stars Clevid Dikamona, Sean Clare and Oliver Bozanic when I received my ‘plot’ presentation at Tynecastle back in January. 

We’ve enjoyed a veritable plethora of shows and performances throughout 2019. Concerts have included Michael Bublé in Leeds, Paul Weller at Edinburgh Castle (where the forecasted thunder and lightning thankfully materialised) and the always brilliant Madness at Princes Street Gardens.

Shows have included American Idiot, Jersey Boy, Joseph, Matilda, Club Tropicana, The Bodyguard, Faulty Towers – The Dining Experience, Colin Cloud, Craig Hill, Around the World in the 80s, Mamma Mia!, Priscilla – Queen of the Desert, 9 to 5 and Disney’s The Lion King.

Sporting Events

It’s been a year to forget for the once mighty Heart of Midlothian FC although we did get to the Scottish Cup Final in May. Inevitably, we lost to Celtic 2-1, but it was Jack’s first cup final and when the Maroons unexpectedly took the lead early in the second half the laddo was smelling glory. But an old Hearts hand like me knew what was coming – Celtic scored twice, and it was another afternoon of disappointment for the Gorgie Boys.

Business News

My hypnotherapy business continues to do well although staff shortages at my other job in human resources at the University of Edinburgh have had an impact. But bookings for hypnotherapy consultations for 2020 are being taken now: email mike.smith@mgs-hypnotherapy-services.co.uk

Those Who Have Left Us

The deaths of Ranking Roger, lead singer of The Beat, comedian Jeremy Hardy, football legend Billy McNeill, and one of my Hearts heroes from the 1970s, Bobby Prentice all left a mark on me. As I type this post, news has also broken of the sudden death of Neil Innes, comic genius behind The Rutles.

My Raison d'être

Throughout all of this has been the most important person in my life, my wife Marion. This hasn’t been the easiest of years for her. Last month she was admitted to hospital following chest pains and has been diagnosed with a heart condition (I think people are getting weary of me asking who knew she had a heart?) It’s something she and I now have to live with but it’s obviously a real concern. My father died very suddenly in 1997 of a heart ailment. He was only 58 years old. Marion is at that same age now and the possibility of lightning striking twice is at the forefront of my mind. Without Marion, my life would cease to have any real meaning. Yes, I have two daughters and five fabulous grandchildren whom I love dearly but they have their own lives to lead. I’m optimistic Marion will continue to live a full and active life but the impact of my father’s passing nearly 23 years ago has left an indelible mental scar and a propensity to think the worst. 

The lovely Marion (it says here)

Who knows what 2020 will bring. Life for everyone is one big challenge and there are many people with far bigger challenges than I. All I can hope for is health and happiness. Oh, and for Hearts to avoid relegation in the spring…

All the very best for the New Year, dear reader. May 2020 be everything you want it to be.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

The Who - I Can't Explain

One of the best songs ever.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

November - A Dark Month In More Ways Than One

November 1969. A dark, dreich and grey afternoon. I stood at a bus stop in Cumbernauld, on the outskirts of Glasgow, next to my mother. My father had just dropped us off and I watched as his Ford Cortina sped off, the sight of his car diminishing quickly as he headed home. To a house that was no longer home to my mother and me.

We waited for a bus that would take us to Glasgow and Queen Street station for a train to Aberdeen. I was only seven years old, but I still remember that day. In particular how dark and dismal the day was, meteorologically and metaphorically. The train journey north seemed endless. As darkness quickly fell there was little to see out of the carriage window. My mother didn’t say much. Her heart had been broken for she and my father had decided to end their ten-year marriage. She believed it was best if she returned to Aberdeen where her family lived taking me with her. 

I was too young to fully appreciate what was going on. I thought it was some kind of mini break, that we would be going back Cumbernauld before long. We didn’t. When we arrived in Aberdeen that evening, we headed to a dingy basement flat in the city’s west end that looked as if it still had the same furniture as it had in the second world war. It was cold. We had no television, no heating nothing to call our own. My mother borrowed an old paraffin heater from the woman upstairs and we walked through the cold Aberdeen night air to a nearby garage to buy some paraffin. 

That night, as we huddled round the heater, my mother broke down in tears. She still recalls me putting my arm around her and telling her everything would be all right. If I did, my optimism was temporarily misplaced. Three days later her father – my granddad - collapsed at work with a brain haemorrhage. He was rushed to hospital but died a week later. Double trauma just before Christmas.

I was to spend the next 20 years in Aberdeen. They weren’t particularly happy. I grew up and met and married my first wife there. My children were born there. But at the end of 1989 I decided I had had enough and left. I moved to the city I have called home for nearly 30 years – Edinburgh.
Ten years ago, on the 40th anniversary of my parents parting, I wrote a wee piece for this blog. It was noticed by BBC Radio Scotland who invited me on to a documentary about the impact of divorce on children – What About The Children? It brought back some painful memories which lie mainly dormant but, on anniversaries like this, come to the forefront once more.

My mother followed me to Edinburgh ten years ago. My father died in 1997. He was just 58. Nowadays thousands of couples all over Scotland get divorced. It’s a process that is now infinitely easier than it was half a century ago. I got divorced myself six years ago although my daughters were by then adults with one of them having children of her own. The pain of divorce may numb over the years, but its impact can last a lifetime, particularly the effect it can have on children.

I can’t forget that dark day 50 years ago and, in a way, I don’t want to. It shaped my life and while it made my childhood a largely unhappy one, it meant I was determined my children and my children’s children wouldn’t endure the pain and heartache I had.

But I still find November a dark month in more ways than one.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 - Colin Cloud

I’ve been going to see Colin Cloud at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the last five years now. And every year he never fails to entertain, amaze and astound.

The illusionist extraordinaire has appeared on the Royal Variety Performance and recently appeared on America’s Got Talent. His shows at the Fringe are one of the highlights of the three-week arts and entertainment extravaganza and this year has proved to be no different.

This year’s show is called Sinful and for the first time he has a special guest – his fiancée Chloe Crawford.

The great man begs the question – are you an honest person? And, having answered – did you just lie to yourself? Believe me Colin Cloud will know – he knows everything about you.

He listens to your whispers and gleans those innermost secrets.

Without giving too much away, I can say that Colin Cloud is at his most brilliant this year. I always leave his shows asking myself ‘how the heck did he do that?’ I don’t know – and, if truth be told given what he knew of some of his unsuspecting audience the other night, I don’t want to know.

His shows are utterly compelling – he is simply a genius. His show is well worth the rather lengthy wait in a queue outside the Grand at the Pleasance, even allowing the stewards rather messing up the queuing system for Tuesday evening’s performance.

Colin Cloud – Sinful is at The Pleasance until 25th August 2019.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 - Something About Simon

Fans of Paul Simon will want to ensure they catch Something About Simon, the story of the American singer songwriter, which is on at the Assembly George Square Studios as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In this brand-new show, fellow singer songwriter Gary Edward Jones recites the music of one of his idols and, between songs, tells the story of the great man from his early days in England to his partnership with Art Garfunkel and his ground-breaking album Graceland.
A natural storyteller, Liverpudlian Edward Jones weaves together songs and stories that cross the Atlantic from New Jersey to the North West of England. He traces the sometimes-poignant moments in Paul Simon’s life and career that occasionally mirror his own.
There are no fancy gimmicks or expensive sets on the show. Just one talented musician with an array of guitars in the intimate setting of Studio One at the Assembly George Square studios. Edward Jones is an accomplished singer and musician and he effortlessly glides through classic Simon ballads such as The Sound of Silence, America, Homeward Bound, Wristband and the classic Bridge Over Troubled Water.
It’s a hugely enjoyable performance and one perfect for a late afternoon when thoughts perhaps turn to a glass of wine or two to relax. Something About Simon is not a tribute show but simply a recognition of one the greatest singer songwriters of the last century. If you enjoy the music of Paul Simon you’ll love Something About Simon.
Something About Simon – The Paul Simon Story is in at the Assembly Rooms George Square Studios (Venue 17) from Aug 3-11, 13-18, 20-26.