At the very start of the year I was in hospital, being treated for throat cancer; at its very end I was in a rehab, sober but emotionally rather burnt out. The in-between wasn’t all that magnificent either, what with the long recovery after the chemoradiotherapy, the flat I was staying at before the rehab, the (no doubt related) alcoholic relapse within, the deaths of Ray Collier, Tormod MacGill-Eain and Tom Petty (and others), the way the Brexit talks were developing, and so on and so forth.

All the same, I shouldn’t complain. For one thing, the cancer was apparently cured. Otherwise I possibly might not be here to write this any longer. Also, during the relapse the idea of leaving the town I had learned to hate for good occurred to me, and the rehab stay helped me contrive that. I even fell in love yet again after years . . .

And of course there were all the interesting books I read and iPlayer programmes I watched, meetings with my friends from the college, not to mention minor affairs like making porridge a staple of my diet, or beginning a circle beard.

Ay, as Skipinnish have it, I’m alive, and the stars are on my side. (Notwithstanding, as Jake Bugg has it, I hold two fingers out to yesterday.)



Leo Varadkar

Feumaidh mi aideachadh nach urrainn dhomh tuigsinn ciamar a thionndaidh Èirinn bho dhùthaich anns an robh feisen gèidhe toirmisgte gus 1993 gu tè far an do thachair ann an 2015 reifreann soirbheachail às leth phòsaidhean ghèidh, agus a-nis eadhon tè le prìomh mhinisteir gèidh. Ach chan eil sin gu diofar. ’S e an rud cudromach gun do dh’atharraich i ann. Agus an rud nas fheàrr gu bheil coltach nach robh ùidh mhòr aig daoine gun robh e gèidh no gun robh athair air tighinn bho na h-Innseachan, ach dè a dhèanas e le eaconomaidh na dùthcha. Sin mar am bu chòir cùisean a bhith.


Neil and Alfred

I quite like watching Neil Oliver’s documentaries: occasionally he seems to exaggerate to make them more interesting, but always manages to stay safely on the ‘documentary’ side. Nevertheless, when the other day I watched him enunciate in his unmistakeable Scottish accent, “if it hadn’t been for Alfred, we would probably have a different national identity, we might even speak a different language. Alfred the Great was a hugely significant leader in our history”, I couldn’t help it: a broad grin appeared on my face and stayed there for a couple of minutes.


The disappearance of Mike Perham

I’ve had an occasion to mention him several times in my blogs. After all, he was one of the people who gave me – however unwittingly – the biggest push to try and go to live in Scotland.

Later I stopped following his blog; the car and aeroplane circumnavigation attemps looked more like a desire to be ‘the first’ again than ‘living a dream’ to me. And his posts were often sooo optimistic it made me wince.

But his book still gives me strength now and then when I’m down, so before his March birthday it occurred to me to look up what he’d been up to in the past few years.

To my great surprise – and uneasiness – I couldn’t find nothing. Not only is his last blogpost dated 11/4/15 (with Google warning that “This site may be hacked.”) and his Twitter account ‘protected’; I couldn’t even find anything about him by anybody else.

I just hope he’s decided – for whatever reason – to break with the past and make a completely new start. I just pray he didn’t have a flying accident or something. I just pray that whatever’s happened he’s alive.



Il y a environ deux ans et demi, j’allais au magasin quand un homme, qui paraît avoir à peu près 17 ans, m’a demandé dans la Panmure Street une sèche. J’ai refusé, bien qu’il était plutôt mignon, puisque j’ai eu le dernier clope sur moi. Mais quand j’ai vu le mois dernier la photo de Steven Russell, semblable à lui, de 20 ans d’âge et assassiné dans la Bardowie Street, près de la Rue Panmure … bien sûr, je ne suis pas du tout certain: ça aurait pu être un homme complètement différent. Néanmoins, c’était très perturbant.


December ’16 news

December news in February, hmm . . . anyway, here goes:

There were some minor surprises in politics. The Icelandic Pirate Party was asked to try and form a new government (but would later fail to become part of it). Donald Trump sort of broke decades lasting pretence that the US doesn’t recognise Taiwan (more publicity stunts would follow). The European Court of Justice ruled against the Snooper’s Charter (giving the UK government another bad reason respect the referendum result and leave the EU). And the SNP disclosed that despite the comtinuing devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh, the Scotland Office’s budget rose over the last five years by 20% (although a much more interesting question was how much would Derek Mackay have to compromise to have his first budget voted through Holyrood).

A sadder surprise was the death of George Michael at the age of 53 (making me look up what was it he sang at all, the biggest surprise being Freedom! 90). On the other hand, air an làimh eile, bha deagh naidheachd ann gun do chomharraich Tormod MacGilleathain an t-ochdadamh cho-là-breith aige (’s dòcha gum bu chòir dhomh The Leper’s Bell a cheannach mar faidhle Khindle is a leughadh a-rithist).

More good news were the opening of a new Edinburgh railway station and the reopening of Kelvingrove Museum’s Life Gallery (pity I may never see it again).

The sporting surprise, for me at least, was how close to each other the teams at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership were: Partick Thistle, last (ie 12th) three matches before the end of the month, got by just two wins to the 6th place and after a Hogmanay draw ended the year as 7th. Another sports-related news was Andy Murray’s knighthood; but to be honest, I admired more Lynn Faulds for rejecting her MBE – or rather, for her reasons to do so.


Kris Kristofferson at 79

I had on this iPlayer programme from The Chieftains’ Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall thinking “no bad” when . . .

You see, for me Kris Kristofferson was always the independent, sensitive-yet-tough 30- or 40-something who’s written Help Me Make It Through the Night, For the Good Times, Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, Stallion, Rocket to Stardom and so on, the hero of Convoy and Flashpoint, the guy who claimed he’d like the first three lines of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on the Wire put on his tombstone . . .

Now I saw him come and . . . first there was a close-up on the gentle wizened face and then he began singing that particular song in such a mild, kindly way . . . I later found out in he’s actually older than my father, but for a while there I almost felt like it was me who was approaching 80, and – presumably unlike him – just sitting in some care home, patiently waiting for the end . . .

I did manage to supress the tears coming in my eyes, but only just.



Learn something new every day, as they say . . . If I remember correctly, the first time I’ve read about Thomas Telford the source said his main works had not been done in Scotland, only considering as notable the Caledonian Canal, which it said had been a flop. Since then I’ve taken little interest in him.

A recent iPlayer programme disabused me of these notions. I knew the Canal may have been an economic failure in its time, but later became a major tourist attraction, only I have somehow forgotten to associate it with Telford. However, the programme also disclosed to me that a large number of Scotland’s roads and bridges (including one of my favourites, the Dunkeld Bridge) were his legacy; the phenomenon of the ‘Telford’ or ‘Parliamentary’ church; and the positive impact all this had on Highland economy of those days. (Not to mention the out-of-Scotland Menai Bridge and Göta Canal.)


Mike Perham timcheall na cruinne

(Thèid mi am feabhas. Bha an video Black Angel fichead mionaid a thìde; tha còrr is leth-cheud aig an fhear seo.)

Chan eil mi cinnteach dè cho math a bhiodh am prògram dha cuideigin nach biodh eòlach air an sgeulachd ro làimh; chòrd e riumsa gu math. Mì-choltach ris an leabhar, chithear Mike cuideachd aig amannan anns a bha e glè ghruamach, seach dìreach mar fear a bhios an-còmhnaidh an ìre mhath misneachail. Ann an dòigh, tha co-fhaireachdainn fiù ’s nas làidire agaibh dhasan mar sin …

(Agus mar as àbhaist, thug e dòchas, eadhon misneachd, mu dheidhinn tilleadh dha mo dhùthaich, dhomhsa a-rithist, ged nach b’ ann – gu nàdarrach – fada a mhair sin.)


The Queen longest on a British throne

Two weeks ago, the current Queen surpassed Victoria as the monarch to reign for the longest period of time in Britain’s history.
BBC: Queen Elizabeth II becomes longest-reigning UK monarch
Despite the BBC headline this does include English, Welsh and Scottish monarchs before the creation of the UK. Anyway, it’s nice her having spent the day in Scotland, even though as far as I can tell it was a mere coincidence. Let’s succumb to wishful thinking and perceive it as an atonement for the old ‘Elizabeth I of Scotland’ controversy.


Jonathan Jones

I first noticed this Guardian columnist thanks to his article about the Union Jack. I didn’t mind his calling it “really quite ugly” and the US one “beautiful”. Many of us say something or other is “beautiful” or “ugly” when what we really mean is that we do or do not like it. But I was bemused by the rationale: The former is criticised for “its cluttered burst of both right-angled and diagonal radiating lines”, while the stars and bars of the latter “are soothing and reassuring to look at”. If those stars are not cluttered I don’t know what is. Not to mention the factual inaccuracies, like claiming “no ghosts of the past or compromised histories influenced the design of [the US flag which] needed to be totally new, to symbolise new constitutions, new beginnings”. Except that the very first flag with the stripes featured the Union Jack instead of the stars.

Then I came across his article about Wikipedia. He smirks that Wikipedia “merely borrows information, recycles it and plays with it”. Yes, that’s why it is, for all its shortcomings, so good. It doesn’t claim to know the Truth. Science, according to Mr Jones, does. Let’s hope, for his peace of mind, that he hasn’t read his own newspaper’s report that an “international team of experts repeated 100 experiments published in top psychology journals and found that they could reproduce only 36% of original findings”. Not to mention the claim that “if I want to know something worth knowing about black holes, I will try to read a book by a leading physicist, not absorb some third-hand factoids from Wikipedia”. I’ve read similar claims before. They make me wonder whether the people making them would actually be able to understand the kind of books these top specialists publish.

But the last straw was an article about Terry Pratchett. In the first paragraph the author utters “I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short”, later expanding that “life really is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers”, revealing he has really never read one. Because one may or may not like the Discworld series, but if one read at least a couple of the books, one knows that, fantasy or not, they are more relevant to real-life humanity and society than those of a “true titan of the novel” Gabriel García Márquez. In fact, the article tells us nothing about Pratchett, but something about Mr Jones: despite the outward appearance of somebody controversial for controversy’s sake, deep inside is just an ordinary snob.

So I’ll probably read nothing more by him. To use his own words, “everyone reads trash sometimes”, but “life’s too short” and I’ve read enough of his. And unlike Mr Jones with Pratchett, I know what I’m talking about.


New Lib Dem leader elected

UK Liberal Democrats announced Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and until this year the party’s President, as the successor of Nick Clegg, who had resigned after May’s election.
BBC: Tim Farron is new Lib Dem leader
BBC: Profile: New Lib Dem leader Tim Farron
(One wonders why does a party need a leader and a president, but that’s beside the point now.) Unlike some members of the party, I see no problem with somebody being a Christian and a liberal, or a Christian believing in [GLBT] equality. Trouble is, Mr Farron himself seems to be suspecting some incongruity between these things and unable to resolve the dilemma, which inevitably makes him equivocate with the support of meaningless clichés.


Mhairi Black

I first became aware of the youngest MP since at least the first half of the 19th century noticing the news that she had got her Glasgow University honours degree. (My surprise wasn’t her first becoming an MP and then graduating, it was her age: where I come from you only become eligible for the parliament at 21.) Two and a half weeks later there was her maiden speech.
BBC: Mhairi Black’s first speech: Five things we learned
Well, what I learned was what a maiden speech is about. Having read Jeffrey Archer’s First Among Equals I knew the technical meaning of the phrase, without an idea about the contents such deliverancies tend to have. Apparently, it’s a sort of “let me introduce myself” address to the rest of the House. Funnily, except for her fellow SNP members only a handful of other MPs were interested in hearing it, as can be seen in the recording – which then reportedly topped 10 million online views in less than a week.


Annabel Goldie to step down

The former Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Rt Hon. Annabel MacNicoll Goldie, Baroness Goldie DL, MSP for West of Scotland since the devolved parliament’s creation, will not stand as a candidate in next year’s Holyrood election, intending to “focus on her duties in the House of Lords” instead.
BBC: Ex-Scots Tory leader Annabel Goldie to step down as MSP
I daresay that she will really be missed, even by her opponents. From what I could see of her at FMQs and elsewhere, she was usually reasonable (if occasionally a bit absurd), often witty – and always polite. None of that Labour bile when she was attacking Alex Salmond . . .


Andrew Mitchell

The Andrew Mitchell soap opera drags on, showing two things: How accustomed this age is to the hypocrisy of the so-called political correctness, so that nobody much cares about top politicians telling mere rank-and-file police they’re scum, provided they later apologize, but a real battle can be fought about whether or not a particular deprecated word was used. And how little human mentality changes, for almost a century has already passed since G.K. Chesterton wrote in The Flying Inn about a certain secretary: “The same modern spirit that taught him to loathe such rags, also taught him to lie about his loathing.”

ETA 2/12/14: Still, there is a bit of satisfaction in the news that the judge finally trusted an common working man rather than a professional liar top politician, probably effectually ending the stuck-up git’s career.


Donald Trump

In March I mentioned that I had never noticed this person complaining about the effect on Scottish countryside the Denny – Beauly pylon line, the Whitelee or any other wind farm, or indeed any other such project might have, yet that suddenly it was hardly possible not to notice his ravings against the wind farm proposed to be built near his golf course.

I said he had every right to try and protect his business interests, but called it a “fuckin cheek” that he thought we didn’t see that was what he was after. I called his words sanctimonious (“I am doing this to save Scotland”[1]), revolting (“You [Alex Salmond] will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history”[2] – I wondered whether this metaphorical spit in the eye of people affected by the Clydebank Blitz, the Piper Alpha disaster and divers such tragedies was what Trump’s speaker, a Mr Sorial, had in mind when he said “we are putting the facts out”[3]), expressed in a manner of an apparatchik’s spoiled son (“I can’t let a thing like this happen”[4]).

Recently he attacked the RSPB. They naturally can’t use such language as I can, but they drily summed the situation up in those two sentences:

“Trump International is a very successful business organisation dedicated to maximising its financial returns.
“The RSPB is a nature conservation organisation dedicated to saving our threatened wildlife and working towards creating a world richer in nature.”


Àir. 6 a’ fàgail

Thuirt am fear às a’ Chaisteal Nuadh à seòmar 6 dhomh gum fàgadh e dha Lunnainn an làrna-mhàireach oir fhuair e obair ann. Cha robh e dona agus bha mi a’ tuigsinn na bha e ag ràdh gu tric. Fìrinn innse, ‘s mathaid gun robh mi a’ còmhradh ris na bu thrice na ri filentach Bheurla eile sam bith an seo. Ge-tà, on a bhiodh e a’ dol dhan chidsin mu thimcheall gach còig mionaidean (uill bha e reamhar dha rèir), chan urrainn dhom a ràdh gum bi mi ga ionndrainn. Chì sinn cò a thig as a dhèidh.


First BBC independence debate

On 25 January (to coincide with Burns’ Night) Alex Salmond launched the SNP’s independence referendum consultation paper, and at night you could watch on TV for an hour the BBC’s first “Big Debate” related to the issue. I couldn’t. I mean, not on TV. Not the full hour anyway.

Hey guys – I sat in the audience.

How come? Some two weeks earlier the station published an “audience plea” on its Scotland news website; several days later it reappeared there, from which I judged not enough people had shown interest. So I applied myself, just for the fun of it. Rather surprisingly, in the end I was among those selected (there were no unoccupied chairs so presumably there was a selection, unless they filled some places with BBC staff).

It was the first time I took part in anything of this sort, so I have several memories which will probably stay in my memory for quite some time, but I will only bother you with three.

1) When the BBC says “live”, it doesn’t necessarily mean “live” as you and I understand the word. The debate began more than an hour before the hour-long broadcast, and I got home before the broadcast ended.  I later saw it on iPlayer and I don’t think they actually made any cuts except perhaps shortening the applause now and then to make it fit precisely into the time-frame; maybe this is just their way to ensure that they can cut out somebody beginning to use taboo words if that happens. But the moment when the debate ended and the presenter began then telling the TV-viewers he hoped they would join us for a debate just about to begin was unforgettably schizophrenic.

2) Politicians don’t have such easy lives after all. I was sitting together with the rest of the audience in the foyer, when a woman approached the reception desk. She seemed vaguely familiar to me, but she met my eyes and mouthed a “Hello” before I identified her as Nicola Sturgeon. Shortly later, passing me on her way to the studio, she added (without slowing down of course) a “How are you?”, accompanied by a pat on my shoulder*. As she had never seen me before, and given my moustache and large eyes could hardly have mistaken me for somebody else, it shows that kissing strange babies probably isn’t the only thing politicians have to endure in their attempts to gain as much popularity as possible.

They also sometimes have to defend the indefensible, like I did when I was still a white-collar worker. Johann Lamont and Jim Wallace had a hard time trying to explain why “we support extending the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds, but not for this referendum, which has nothing to do with the fact that the polls show this would lessen the chances of our preferred outcome”. (Don’t get me wrong – I believe that the SNP is so keen on extending the franchise for this very reason as well.) Which gets me to the last memory:

3) I’m not the only cynic here. I mean, after some time I couldn’t help noticing which of my closest neighbours were more likely to applaud which of the speakers. After some more time I couldn’t help noticing that many were quite ready to applaud a good argument even if it was an argument “against their allegiances”. Arguably the biggest applause happened when a young woman argued with Wallace about the franchise extension, the presenter after some time cut her short pointing out that being 20 she’d have the right to vote anyway, called another member of the audience, and this guy felled Wallace with (verbatim quote) “I’m 15 years old, so in 2014 I’ll be 17, tell me what gives you the ability to deny my right to therefore shape the future of the country I’m going to live in…”

* Incidentally: was I excited by the fact that the Deputy First Minister of Scotland spoke to me and patted me on the shoulder? In a sense, I was. In the sense of Wow, what a yarn this’ll be for my friends to laugh about!


Naidheachdan na Samhna ’11

Ged nach urrainn dhomh àm cho fada ’s a b’ àbhaist dhomh a chur seachad air an Eadar-lìon, bidh mi a’ tadhal air na h-àiteachan naidheachd fàbharach agam gach latha airson greis. Mar sin, mhothaich mi:

– gun deach an duais “Dalm-bheachdaiche na bliadhna” aig Stonewall UK gu Melanie Phillips (chì sibh, ma leughas sibh an “leisgeul” airson na h-aiste aice, nach tuig i dè tha “double standards” a’ ciallachadh. ’S dòcha ge-tà gum bu chòir an duais a dhol ri Alan “Gaystapo” Craig, duine eile a tha ag ràdh gum bu chòir dha Crìostaidhean a bhith os cionn laghannan airson nan saoranaich eile)

– gun tug an Àrd-Chùirt breith gu bheil buinteanas eadar an Eaglais Caitligeach agus a sagartan coltach ris an fhear eadar fastaiche is cosnaiche (tha gun teagamh – nach eil an Eaglais gam pàigheadh airson na h-òrduighean aice a choileanadh?)

– gun canar do dh’oileanaich ghèidh ann an Sheffield Hallam University gum bu chòir dhaibh aodaich atharrachadh ro leasanan foghlam corporra ann an àiteachan eadar-dhealaichte ri oileanaich dhìreach (carson nach canar? fhad ‘s nach eil aca sin a dhèanamh còmhla ri ban-oileanaich…)

– gun robh am Pàpa anabarrach feargach nuair a dh’fhoillseachadh Benetton sanas-reic le dealbh air a tha esan agus imam air choireigin a’ pògadh a chèile (chan e iongnadh a tha ann – nach eil pòg samhla gràidh agus an duine sin samhla gràine?)

– deagh aiste le Michael Lucas mu dheidhinn buaidh rèabhlaidean Arabach agus an “Earraich Arabaich” am bliadhna air gèidhean (a rèir coltais, tha an aon eagal airsan a tha agamsa; gu neònach, tha daoine ann dha nach urrainn faicinn gun robh saighdearan an Iar a’ sabaid ann an Libya a’ cuideachadh an aon feallsanachd an aghaidh a bha iad a’ sabaid ann an Afghanistan)

– aiste a rèir coltais fàbharach dha òigrigh. A rèir coltais, oir dhìochuimhnich an t-ùghdar gum biodh toradh air cuid dhe na tha e a’ tairgsinn bàrrachd dhaoine nas sine na còigead bliadhna gun obair. Rud a thig leis a’ ghaoith, falbhaidh e leis an uisge – no bheil, aig aois ceathrad ‘s a trì, claon-bhreith agam?

– gun do cheannaich Comhairle Shruighlea fichead crann-sneachda airson tuathanaich gus cuideachadh le glanadh rathaidean a gheamhradh (eisimpleir glè mhath cho-obrachaidh eadar ùghdarras ionadail agus daoine an àite nam bheachd-sa)

– gu bheil companaidhean ann a bhios a’ pàigheadh dhaoine airson tòrr luaidhean math a dhèanamh mun deidhinn aig fòraman an Eadar-lìn (agus “a’ bleith earbsa an Lìn” – uill, chan eil mi cinnteach, ‘s ann cho follaiseach gur e spama a tha anns na h-eisimpleirean a thog an aiste…)

– gun do bhuannaich am Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta Shealainn Nuadh taghadh a-rithist (“gu ìre oir bhuannaich na h-All Blacks Cuach na Cruinne Rugbaidh” – cò a tha craicte, taghadairean Shealainn Nuadh no ùghdar na h-aiste?)

– gu bheil an Riaghaltas ag iarraidh gum biodh an A9 dùbailte eadar Inbhir Nis is Peart ro 2025 (ged a tha M8 nas chudromaiche dhomhsa an-diugh, bha A9 a’ chiad rathad na h-Alba a b’ urrainn dhomh ainmeachadh)

Ach cha b’ fheum agam air naidheachdan airson mothachadh gun robh tuiltean ann aig deireadh a’ mhìosa – chaidh am bus dhan obair agam ceithir uairean na b’ anmoiche Dimàirt. Seo a’ chiad àm a b’ urrainn dhomh a’ cheist aig a’ BhBC “Have you been affected by …?” fhreagairt le “Tha gu dearbh”…