Chaochail Ray Collier

An rud mu dheireadh a thachair sa Mhàirt mu nach do sgrìobh mi ri linn na daoraich: shiubhail Ray Collier, fear dhe na h-ùghdaran Country Diary a’ Ghuardian. Nise, is toil leam cha mhòr a h-uile sgrìobhadair a’ chuilbh, ach tha fios gum b’ e Mgr Collier fear dhiubh a tha as fhaisge air mo chridhe, oir bha e stèidhichte ann an Alba. (Agus ’s ann tric a luaidheadh e ainm Gàidhlig an ainmhidh no an eòin mu dheidhinn a sgrìobh e.) Cuideachd, b’ e dìreach Christine Smith a lorg mi na bu thràithe agus a bha mi a leughadh ùine nas fhaide. Bidh mi ag ionndrainn na cuilbh leis-san gu mòr.




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.


January ’17 news

The eyes of the world were unsurprisingly mostly directed at the new US president’s first days in office. He began by attacking his predecessor’s health care and climate change achievements. This failed to bring as much publicity as hoped for, so he banned entry to people from certain countries. (That would occupy journalists enough to have little time left to ponder about his following near-U-turns on the issues of NATO, Taiwan and Putin.)

Closer to home, Martin McGuinness resigned as NI deputy first minister to necessitate snap Stormont election; Theresa May realistically admitted UK would leave the common market; and the Supreme Court decided that the referendum result wasn’t binding. Not that it made much difference except perhaps to some lawyers’ wallets.

Sadly but naturally, there were some deaths: Peter Sarstedt, Gorden Kaye and Tam Dalyell.

And the number of pollution zones in Scotland has risen to 38, with Hope Street, despite its name, still topping the list. It was cold comfort to remind oneself that Edinburgh and Glasgow had more green space than any of the other 10 most populated UK cities.


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.


November ’16 news

Quite a lot happened during the 30 days. The bad news first.

The High Court decided triggering Article 50 must be first approved by the Parliament, and different lawyers later figured they could make some dough out of challenging whether leaving the EU means automatically leaving the EEA as well.

Even so, Brexit still has a chance; across the Pond, Trump has become US president, while Republicans still dominate the Congress. Surprisingly, he began by claiming the US would quit the TPP trade deal, which may mean the axe for the TTIP too; let’s hope the presidency won’t likewise mean the axe for the Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm.

One side effect was that the de facto final approval of the Snooper’s Charter went by almost unnoticed by the media.

Also, eight military bases in Scotland, including Fort George, were chosen for closure; CLÌ Gàidhlig did fold at last; T in the Park is to skip 2017; but the saddest day was probably the one on which we learned that Leonard Cohen had died. (This even made me post specifically about that, while the article about Fidel Castro’s death I didn’t even read.)

And of course, the first storm of the winter and the consequent floods came to the South; nevertheless, the North experienced the sunniest November on record. Which brings us to the good news.

Holyrood voted to finally put an end to the tax freeze, at least for the top four bands. Andy Murray became world number one. Kelvin Hall reopened after the first phase of its refurbishment. All three Quensferry Crossing towers are now connected. Beavers were allowed to stay in Scotland.

Across the Pond, marihuana for recreational use was legalised in the 5th and 6th US states (California and Massachusetts); and globally, the Paris climate deal came into force.

Given that Trump may yet do his best to sabotage the Paris deal, several big bad news, a few wee heartwarming ones. Seeing where the world’s heading makes one wonder whether there’s really any reason to envy the younger ones …


Leonard Cohen died

It may seem strange that an almost-lifelong-celibate gay like me should relate so much to songs of a singer-songwriter whom even obituaries call a ladies’ man. But then Cohen’s love songs are not of the “she loves you, yeah yeah yeah” kind. There is more love than sadness in them – but only just.

I have never considered him my favourite singer. But ever since I heard him for the first time – it was the I’m Your Man album, which luckily had the lyrics printed on the sleeve – there were a few of his songs I definitely did count among my favourites. In my early twenties these were Everybody Knows and I’m Your Man, joined in my mid-twenties by Bird on the Wire; in my mid-thirties they were Sisters of Mercy (only I twisted ‘sisters’ to ‘brother’) and Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye; now in my exile and my late forties they are Tower of Song and Closing Time.

Maybe there will be another when I find and read the lyrics of his latest – and last – album.


March ’16 news

Several things ended in March: For the first time, a professional 9-dan go player was defeated by software. Shortly after the Budget (whose main point, according to media, was the sugar tax), Iain Duncan Smith resigned as the DWP secretary: apparently even he had finally got fed up with the way Mr Osborne mishandles the revenue. The Holyrood Parliament was dissolved before the election: it was the last session for some MSPs, including Alex Salmond, who gave his (possibly) last speech there. On the same day the Longannet Power Station, the last coal-fired one in Scotland, was switched off for good.

And then there were the deaths: George Martin, without whom the Beatles in all probability wouldn’t have been as trailblazing as they were, and Ray Tomlinson, generally seen as the inventor of one of the most important features the internet’s ever had: the email.

But Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba can be seen both as an end and a beginning, and the closure of the Glasgow Queen Street railway station’s upper level for a renovation of the adjacent tunnel is definitely more about the future than about the past. As were the approving of the Scotland Bill (which would later in Westminster become the Scotland Act ) and the Land Reform Bill by the Scottish Parliament before its dissolution.

But I’ve no idea where belongs the news that Ben Nevis is somewhat higher than we used to think.


February ’16 news

It began with another storm and when it ended we were told this had been the wettest winter on record. At least the Lamington Viaduct was repaired and the West Coast Mainline trains resumed running normally ahead of schedule.

Scottish politics was unashamedly about money: in the end, Moray Council and consequently all local authorities accepted another year of council tax freeze. And after almost a year of negotiations, the fiscal framework enabling further devolution was agreed between Westminster and Holyrood and later published. (No, I didn’t read the full text, and neither did you.)

Looking farther afield, David Cameron agreed a deal with other EU leaders on UK’s ‘special status’ within the Union and announced the date for the country’s membership referendum for 23 June. Brace yourself for the topic being from now on even more suffocatingly pervasive than the 2014 Scottish referendum was. (Personally I haven’t yet decided whether I’d prefer the UK’s leaving, for the country’s benefit, or its staying, potentially for my own.)

Looking across the ocean, all those stereotypical portrayals of stupid Yanks are being reinforced by Donald Trump’s so far astonishingly successful campaign to become the Republican candidate for US president. On the other hand, Trump is just a wealthy spoiled brat; Europe has seen psychopaths being democratically elected in the 1930s.

The saddest news was about the death of Umberto Ecco; I still remember how I enjoyed watching and later even more reading The Name of the Rose (on account of exactly those passages which for obvious reasons were omitted from the film). The death of Antonin Scalia, contrarily, kept me unemotional: the guy was an obvious bigot.

Also on the theme of endings, it was reported that The Independent would cease print editions and sell the i newspaper to Johnstone Press. Agus bhruidhinn mi mu dheidhinn an staid a chuireadh air CLÌ is Cothrom an àite eile.


January ’16 news

Weather: After the wettest month on record, both in the UK and in Scotland, there was more and more bad weather, to begin with mostly affecting the North-east and Tayside. At least they later opened a temporary road replacing the washed-away part of the A93; later still Glenridding, Cumbria was flooded for the fourth time this winter and Scotland saw yet more high winds.

World: Sweden began treating the immigrant influx more realistically, presently followed by Denmark and Germany. Unrelatedly, international sanctions on Iran were lifted; whether for good or for bad, time alone can tell.

Politics & business: IrnBru no longer pay for returned glass bottles. The Tory Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, came out as gay, only he knows why now. More interestingly, employment rate in Scotland for September to November was reported as having reached 74.9%, finally higher than the pre-recession 74.6%, with unemployment down to 5.4% (5.1% for the whole of UK).

Deaths: David Bowie (can’t exactly say I know any song of his) and Terry Wogan (apparently a household name for mainstream public).


Terry Pratchett died

After years of fighting Alzheimer’s disease while still writing amazing books, one of the best English authors ever died on Thursday.
BBC: Sir Terry Pratchett, renowned fantasy author, dies aged 66
In my book, he was one of the best because he had the gift which few have. Like Kurt Vonnegut, he could use a genre which is by definition fantastic to create books mirroring real life in being a blend of funny and serious moments. And because his viewpoints were very much in tune with mine. But mostly because those books are simply damn well-written.


RIP, Pete Seeger

On 27 January, one of the best-known American folk singer-songwriters, Pete Seeger, died aged 94.

Having grown up in the then Soviet bloc, I wasn’t all that impressed by his politics. (I wonder whether he knew that We Shall Overcome was one of the “anthems” of the ’89 anti-communist demonstrations.)

But I’ll never forget that it was his Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season) which brought my attention to Ecclesiastes 3, arguably the best passage in the Bible. (Not that there is much competition, but that is a different story).

That it was in his renditions that I heard for the first time Barbara Allen, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall and Hobo’s Lullaby.

And that it was he who wrote My Rainbow Race with the sage words “Don’t you know you can’t kill all the unbelievers? There’s no shortcut to freedom.”

Come to think of it, he was a stronger influence in my life than I realised.


Iain Banks died

The news came on 10 June, only a couple of months after the news of his cancer. What more is there to say, another fortnight later? After all, I’ve seen more articles related to his death than those related to Edwin Morgan’s demise three yers ago. I’m still reading The Crow Road, still enjoying it even more than the first time round, still wondering whether my spheksophobia would allow me to enjoy The Wasp Factory as well, or whether I should try some of his sci-fis instead. I doubt I would go into The Quarry, not now anyway, but I hope I will find the time to try something else by him soon.

(Added next day.) And yet there is one more thing to mention: I marvelled at the way he bore it. I can’t imagine myself being an atheist and still full of life and accepting such prospect. But maybe… “Maybe it is true that the people who really live do not care about dying; maybe fear of dying is what you get when deep down you know you never really lived,” as James Hawes’ Pete Thompson put it. The latest was obviously never Iain Banks’ problem.


Chaochail Josef Škvorecký

Leugh mi mòran leabhraichean anns mo bheatha. Am measg a seachd as fheàrr dhiubh (air mo shon-sa), chaidh a ceithir air a sgrìobhadh le Sasannaich, a dhà le Ameireaganaich, agus a h-aon, Am Mìorbhail, le Teiceach. Josef Škvorecký.

Tha fhios gun do rinn sin mi brònach. Tha cho mòran sgrìobhadairean fàbharach agamsa marbh mu thràth: Kingsley Amis, G. K. Chesterton, David Gemmell, Joseph Heller, James Herriot, Compton Mackenzie, J. D. Salinger, Jack Schaefer, Josef Škvorecký, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, H. G. Wells, …

Bha agam ri dhol dhan chunntas LibraryThing agam. Fhuair mi a-mach gu bheil grunn eile beò: Patrick Gale, James Hawes, David Lodge, Richard Morgan, Terry Pratchett, Salman Rushdie, Irvine Welsh, …

Seadh, tha sgrìobhadairean mìorbhaileach beò fhathast. Ach chan eil ùghdar den Mhìorbhail nam measg tuilleadh…


Trì bàsan

Chaochail trì fir ainmeil taobh a-staigh grunnan latha o chionn ghoirid: Christopher Hitchens, Václav Havel agus 김정일.

‘S e bàs Christopheir Hitcheins a bha na bu bhrònaiche dhomhsa. Feumaidh mi aideachadh nach do leugh mi càil a sgrìobh e. Ach chunnaic mi an deasbad telebhisein anns a bha e, còmhla ri Stephen Fry agus an aghaidh Ann Widdecombe is John Onaiyekan, a’ beachdachadh ma tha an Eaglais Chaitligeach “a force for good in the world”. Nam bheachd-sa, rinn an dithis a’ chùis le argamaidean làidir air agitprop de dhà Chaitligeach.

Bu toil leam Havel na bu mhotha mar dhràmaire na mar neach-poilitigs. Rinn e mòran airson deamocrasaidh ann am meadhan na h-Eòrpa ann an 1989, ach an dèidh sin ‘s na dhèidh, ‘s ann barrachd air fichead bliadhna bho na làithean sin. Seadh, bha e na cheann-shuidhe airson bhliadhnaichean as dèidh sin, ach chan eil ceann-suidhe na Teice fada nas cumhachdaiche na banrigh na Breatainne. ‘S e am prìomh-ministear an ceannard anns na dùthchannan le chèile.

Cha robh mi san Theic aig an àm sin, ach cò air bith a chuir post-dealain thugam mu dheidhinn, bha iad ag ràdh gun robh iad seachd searbh de mar a bha na meadhanan is na luchd-poilitigs “hysterical” air sgàth a’ bhàis is an tòrraidh. A dh’aindheoin sin, bha rudan fada na b’ os-fhìreaiche a’ tachairt ann an Àisia…

Tha fios gum bi e glè chudromach cò a bhios na cheannard Coirea a Tuath, leis na h-airm niuclasach aca, ach chan urrainn dhuinn càil a dhèanamh ach feitheamh. Air an làimh eile, bu mhath leam gum biodh fios agam dè cho fìor ‘s a bha na seallaidhean tuiridh air beulaibh nan camarathan. Bha mi fhìn a’ fuireach ann an stàit co-mhaoineach cuideachd…


PájaČ is deid

I saw him for the first time a few years ago. A waiter in the Cobra, then already my haunt, showed me this sixtyish guy who astonished him by boozing big style within three days after his return from a rehab. Pretty soon Cobra became his haunt too.

A true alcoholic, he was never mean, and when he did have money enough he was never reluctant to lend or share it. We drank many a dram together, [ˈʃtaʊfɛrka] as he called them, and before my own first rehab stay he gave me some valuable information, so up to a point I knew what to expect.

However, it didn’t take long before he drank away even his flat. Since then he just fought for survival. There were alternating periods of abstaining and earning money while living in shelters for homeless people who still haven’t given in entirely; periods of sitting in the Cobra (a 24/7 bar) for days and even weeks until the staff could bear his presence no longer; and periods of faking a mental disease or determination to quit booze forever in this or that mental hospital or rehab.

He had no illusions about this circle ever ending, but we all expected him to go on like this for many years. At the eleventh hour, his sense of self-preservation always reappeared. The last time he got a job in a different town, with a firm providing accomodation for those of its employees that didn’t live locally, and which paid him, considering, very good wages.

This Tuesday, walking from work, I met Marjána, a Cobra waitress, who told me that for two weeks or so he had been dead. Apparently, he had got into another boozing session, lost the job, and when after some three weeks all the money he had earned was gone again, he hanged himself.

For the rest of the day, I felt more old than I actually am.

He wasn’t one of my bosom cronies, but he belonged to the Cobra gang at the same time that I did and I certainly had a soft spot for him. I can’t exactly say I miss him; I do miss the knowledge he’s out there somewhere. The possibility of incidentally meeting him again.

Rest in peace, Pája. Bha mi ag òl an dràm mu dheireadh againne air do shon nuair a bha mi a’ sgrìobhadh seo.


Edwin Morgan died

Edwin Morgan, Scottish poet and translator, who was in 2004 named the first Scots Makar (in effect the poet laureate), died on Tuesday, 17 August, and was buried on Thursday, 26 August 2010. He had come out in 1990.
Cal Merc: Scotland’s ‘poet laureate’ Edwin Morgan dies, aged 90
BBC: Leading figures remember national poet Edwin Morgan
To be honest, not being a poetry man, I hadn’t known the name. (Except for songs’ lyrics, I doubt I read as many as ten poets outside school textbooks. Villon. Пушкин. Солоухин. Jeffers. Burns. Chaucer. Gellner. Can’t think of more at the moment.) But as the death happened during my time in Scotland, I noticed the newspaper obituaries (and read the Scotsman one), so that reading this quotation on the Parliament outer wall later on I already knew who to associate it with.

ETA 27/2/11: To my great surprise I learned yesterday that he had written and even recited the second part of Idlewild’s In Remote Part / Scottish Fiction, a song I probably knew as early as ’08. (See here).


One of the cash machine inventors died

One of the two men claiming to have invented the ATM, John Adrian Shepherd-Barron, OBE, died at the age of 84 at Inverness’s Raigmore Hospital on Saturday. (The other claimant is another Scot, James Goodfellow, OBE.)
BBC: Inventor of cash machine, John Shepherd-Barron, dies
Cal Merc: Obituary: One of the Scots who invented the ATM
It seems that for once, even though the authorship of the invention is (as so often) debatable, it’s at least undisputedly Scottish.


J. D. Salinger died

On Wednesday, 27 January 2010, Jerome David Salinger, one of the least prolific, yet one of the best writers of the 20th century, world-famous especially for The Catcher in the Rye, died aged 91.
BBC: JD Salinger, author of Catcher In The Rye, dies at 91 / BBC obituary
The Independent: Catcher in the Rye author J D Salinger dies aged 91 / The Independent obituary
It’s somewhat eldritch, too, because just these days I’m reading, once again after several years, but for the first time in the original, the text (it absolutely defies pigeonholing) I love the best of all his writings, one of the most amazing pieces of literature I’ve ever read – Seymour: An Introduction

[In next day’s blog added:]
I realised that most of my favourite authors are already deceased. I have even read the news when Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, and now J. D. Salinger, died. But some are still living and writing, and I’m still discovering new ones (most recently Richard Morgan)…


Chase Korte

I don’t know when I found out about his existence, but it must have been pretty early in my online existence. Certainly not later than September 2008, when I downloaded both the Why Walk 1000 Miles versions (having had previously downloaded the new one).

Today I learned he had already been dead by then.

It feels like another old friend has gone.