Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Clematis and the Rose

From my Journal, Sunday, May 31st, 1998, Totnes.

"Today we drove out to Fermoy's Garden Centre on the road to Newton Abbot and bought two small plants, one a rose, and the other a clematis, for our garden.  On my return home I proceeded to plant both the rose and the clematis.  In an abstract way I saw this as an act of love, in that I like sitting in our garden looking at the flora, but in reality it became an act of impatience. I am not confident in my gardening skills and this leads first to anxiety, then to irritability and finally, as it did today, to intolerable frustration which can create an atmosphere for others which is filled with trepidation and the fear that I am about to blow my top to the extent that what should have been a pleasant creative experience can be tinged with tension and some measure of uncertainty.  One way or another I got through my panic and completed what I hope will become an act of love."

The Clematis and the Rose May 31st, 2018

Twenty years later despite my anxiety and fears on the day of their planting the Clematis and the Rose are now mature, healthy, beautiful and much admired and loved.
A few days ago a neighbour of ours, 6 years old FW, who loves flowers, came into our garden and saw our flowers and gave them  his approval. He also told us a great deal that we did not know about our fruit trees, particularly our apple trees. I am sure he will become a renowned botanist and horticulturist. Remember you first read this on this page. He particularly liked the Clematis. Here it is, once more in all its glory. 

Sunday, 1 April 2018

We won't be fooled again ?



 Last night I watched a play This House at the Edinburgh Festival  Theatre. It was about events in the Houses of Parliament in the 1970s when the Labour Party struggled on running a minority government for four and a half years until the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979. This House was a poor play full of baseless, hackneyed clichés (if that's not tautologous), about the poorly educated but well meaning  - as the author of the play, James Graham, seems to imagine them -  Labour Members of Parliament of that time and their Conservative contemporaries who are represented as patrician, powerful, and sophisticated. Of course, the latter figure little in the play for they are understood to know the score while their Labour opponents are seen as people who are somewhat naive. The play had been performed at the National Theatre in London before coming to Scotland and was given a five star rating by some national newspapers. This confirmed much of what I have thought about the culture of the Westminster political/media bubble. 

Our current government proudly proclaims the United Kingdom to be the 5th or 6th wealthiest economy in the world. For some reason this has made an impression on me and after watching the play and after leaving the theatre last night I began to think of what might have befallen our community in the United Kingdom  if  such a high level of wealth had not been achieved. In my reverie, I conjured up the following:-
          We would no longer be members of a wider supportive     human community like the EU.

        We would have been persuaded that immigrants have caused all our economic problems.

          There would be a need for a state of  austerity and our public services would have been cut to the extent  that :-

          The losers, (as the competitive capitalist philosophy demands there must be), including the weak, the agèd, the poor, the homeless, children and young people in care, people with mental health difficulties, the disabled and other vulnerable folk in our community would have had their support - personal, practical and financial - withdrawn.

         Our National Health Service, the greatest achievement of any community anywhere in the world would have had its services decimated and most of what was left would be provided by private companies who wished to make profits from people's ill- health.

          We wouldn't have enough homes for families and they'd become homeless and often forced to leave their own communities because they couldn't afford to live in them.

        Our national education system that provides equal education opportunities for all would have been broken up and most schools would be run by private companies making profit from our children.

       Many of our universities would be struggling to survive and their students would have the prospect of lifelong debt for tuition fees.

        Our  fire, police and ambulance services would no longer have the resources to serve their communities.

         The prisoners in our prison system would  no longer be provided with help to be rehabilitated  and would spend most of their time in their cells in solitary confinement.

         Community libraries would be closed and those remaining would have resources and services curtailed.

There were many other images that I can't recollect now but I when the bustle of reality roused me from my dwam I was relieved to find nothing of what I remembered from it  had come to pass.

April 1st, 2018, Milton Street Edinburgh

Postscript : The Who at  at




Monday, 26 March 2018

Weaned too fast off the National Dried Milk

          Today, Monday, March 26th, is my youngest sister, M’s birthday and this blog is my gift to her. It is about a time she won’t remember because she hadn’t yet been born but I hope it will inform her or better still amuse her about what went on before her coming.   If I’m spared I will in the near future write a further blog about the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the time of  M’s birth in 1955 at Clement Park in Dundee, but I need to discuss these matters with my sister before I write about it.

              A couple of days ago I received an email from my nephew, AR, an Aston Villa fan who currently lives in the Howe o’ the Mearns. He told me he was writing a book about Forfar Athletic Football Club. He has written other books about football and he was also the founding editor of Missing Sid an Aston Villa Fanzine. His decision to write the history of the Loons inevitably minded me of my young days in Forfar, where my first memory stems. 

On October 1st, 1945, I was born in the Dundee Royal Infirmary and in 1946, after spending six months as a baby in Fleming Gardens, Dundee (which, unbeknownst  me at such a tender age, was within pie throwing range of the  hallowed turf of Dens Park), I was moved by my parents to 9 Green Street, Forfar because my father had been appointed as an engineer to the Coventry Gauge and Tool Company which had a factory in nearby Brechin. 

          Six months later my younger sister, J, was born in Forfar. She is the mother of AR, and it is mete and right that he should be the author of a book about his mother's home town fitba club.

          Where was I? Yes, minding my first memory. I think I was about 2 years old at the time. In the years around the time I was born mothers of new born babes were often encouraged to start bottle feeding their infants on powdered milk, which had been stirred into warm water,  as soon as they could. 

I am sure as a baby I was weaned too rapidly off the big tins of National Dried Milk otherwise it would never  have occurred to me - a wee two years old laddie -  to snatch the milk bottle out of the hands of a baby lying in one of those posh high Rolls Royce-like carriages that were the prams pushed by aspirant parents in those days. With that baby’s bottle in my hand I guzzled happily at the milk until, (a), the bereft baby began to cry and scream loudly and  (b), I was discovered by the baby’s mother  who vehemently informed me  that I was a wicked, greedy and selfish boy. My own mother arrived on the scene quite promptly and apologised profusely for her errant son’s behaviour.  If such a state is possible, my mother seemed both ashamed and amused at what had happened. Despite the ectasy of  ingesting a great deal of that comforting warm milk it dawned upon me that the tone of the grown ups’ voices signalled that I had done something dreadful. My sense of my mother’s ambivalence - ashamed, yet amused - was a seminal moment for me. How could something so viscerally satisfying be so wrong? 

An elixir from the giving bosom of the state

This is not to say that things have gone downhill ever since but more to say that things have remained the same. I’ve imagined ever since that those who are close to me have not necessarily been ashamed of me but more disappointed in me. Equally it may be they have been less amused by me and more bemused by me. 
          I may reflect more on those Forfar years.

          As a footnote I would add that at the time about which I am writing, the late 1940s  our newly established National Health Service provided this free milk to all infants and toddlers and so it was a boon to their mothers. It was also a great help to those mothers who found it difficult to provide milk naturally. 
         At the same Attlee's Labour government provided free cow's milk to all children at primary schools and to supplement our children's diet it also provided all children with cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice. What a caring, concerned approach this was towards the nurture of all our children, especially at a time when our country, bankrupted by war, was poor. Our current government boasts that we are the fifth or sixth wealthiest economy in the world and yet look at our state. Increasing poverty, financial cuts to welfare, to education, to libraries and so on, not to mention the deliberate, considered deconstruction and destruction of this country's greatest achievement, the National Health Service.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Where's its mark? Clement Park

Blow me up in old Al Ghouta
In Parkland, Florida shoot me doon 
Or put me on the eternal roller coaster
So Eh'll dodge the mortar bomb 

And maybe the gunman winnae catch me 
As I stare straight intae his eyes 
And see a lad wha's completely lost here
Cursin' a'body other's road sign. 

Tie me tae a one way bungee 
Let me mak meh final plunge
Seat me on a rocket that can post me
Far awa’ fae Mr Trump.

Eh'll be taught by Dotty Chalmers
And Eh'll get fou wi' Muggie Sha'
Find me Barak and call for Bernie, 
Jeremy and Nelson an’ a’.

Tak me tae a place called kindness
Free me fae a cage in the rich fowk's zoo
Land me near tae where Eh come fae
Where the Law looks o'er Tay and toon

Though the jute mills are now apartments
And the Dens Road merkit's claised doon
Eh’ve tae get back some day some way
Eh've got tae get there very soon. 

Where’s its mark? Clement Park

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

This ode is, I think, my favourite Burns poem written in the Scots language.  Burns wrote the ode in 1785 yet I recognise in it many issues that are significant for me today.  It reveals Rabbie's acute observation of nature and it deals with the right of all creatures to be respected by other creatures. The poem makes it clear Burns thought all living creatures have a right to live freely on our planet. The description of the mouse's struggle with the elements, speaks to me of the noble struggle of the weak and defenceless of all species - including our own - in the face of mightier and destructive powers.

The poem also considers the human predicament: our capacity not only to live, like the mouse,  in the present but additionally our capacity to reflect on the past and to guess at the future. Most of all it reminds us that human beings may organise for happiness but the vicissitudes of life inevitably place fearful obstacles in our way.

When I recite this poem people often express surprise that Burns wrote the line "The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley." A common response is "Didn't John Steinbeck write that?"

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

By Robert Burns

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be faith to run an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou man live!
A daimen kicker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to  a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To tholethe winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!


Sunday, 21 January 2018

Parent College: Module 1 - a child observes and remembers

We have been up in Stoke Newington being grandparents to our two years old granddaughter and to visit our granddaughter's Mummy, our daughter, and her Daddy, our daughter's partner.

On Friday evening we walked back to their home in Stoke Newington Church Street after enjoying an early dinner at Wolf, an excellent Italian  restaurant in Stoke Newington High Street. It was our first visit to this restaurant. Previously we have always dined at Il Bacio in Church Street but sadly it closed down just before Christmas.

As we passed the Rose and Crown, just across from the town hall, our granddaughter eagerly pointed into the pub and cried out, "I go in there with Daddy!" Even at her tender age our granddaughter's remark was subtle enough to imply she was referring to more than one occasion.

"What's all this about Daddy?" asked Mummy.

Daddy, looking at his wee daughter, complained "I thought we were on the same team! Why are you grassing me up like this?"

Laughter broke out among the adults and a little girl smiled happily that she had said something funny, yet somewhere in that smile there was a sense of a new found potency.

ps  For Nanna on her birthday.


Sunday, 31 December 2017

And I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more: wild Hogmanay rant.

In this last year, 2017, I walked 1000 miles. I completed it today by walking along the seafront at Paignton in Devon.  Most of you, who energetically move to and fro in your homes, who regularly walk  - unless you're on a zero hours contract  - to work and back and who partake in active hobbies will have achieved this feat easily in this year, but I'm getting old, slow and inactive so I am happy with my hike.

I was lucky that I could do it for many disabled people suffer so much that it would be impossible for them. Their struggle to survive and keep living is courageous and humbles me. Yet our government denies them the practical and financial resources they need. 

In other places there are defenceless children who are attacked by cruel foes armed with deadly weapons made in the UK. Their family homes and lives are destroyed and surely, at the very least, if this means they have no other place to live we must welcome them to our shores. It may also be a time to stop making deadly weapons and to design and manufacture products which will sustain our planet.

As I suggested this cruelty is not exercised solely upon people from other lands. There are those who are homeless and poor in our country, who have a government that does not wish to welcome our poor and our homeless to their own comfortable shores yet will shore up the wealthy. Oh! dearie, dearie me, I just despair.

It's difficult to believe sometimes that we are each members of a human community with a desire to belong to each other. It has been and is, for the time being, so good to feel that one belongs to Europe and to be in a wider community of human beings. Yet in the campaign to 'remain' or "leave' the EU referendum,  "politicians" lied to us about the benefits of leaving the European community with the consequence that soon each one of us is to be denied a place in a great community of human beings. 

We can still stop Brexit if we let it be known that most of us don't want exile and have a desire to belong to the whole world and not "Little England." If we can't stop this now then how can we call the United Kingdom a democracy?  I've been telling you things you already know. It's been a trite read for you but if in principle you agree, I humbly urge you to become active in anyway you can.  Walk an extra mile or kilometre for it and then walk another one.


Thursday, 30 November 2017

Saint Andrew's Day weather and its sense of timing.

Today is St. Andrew’s Day and I was due to be on grandfather duty in Edinburgh this evening. I boarded the 5.45am Auld Reekie bound train at Totnes, Devon. The weather as we passed through the West Country, the Midlands and South Yorkshire was clement. The sun shone brightly in the sky until we passed by Thirsk Station in North Yorkshire where we encountered fierce, almost white out blizzards that continued through County Durham, and Northumberland though on approaching the Scottish border we returned to sunny weather without a hint of snow.

A young man from Bahrain sat in one of the seats across the aisle from me. I know he was a Bahraini because he had been drawn into  conversation by two Scottish military veterans, who were sitting behind me.  I gathered from what they said that the two old warhorses, one RAF, and the other, Black Watch, had been down south attending a convention for old warriors who had served in the Middle East. Among the topics of the  conversation between the two Scots and the Bahraini - a conversation which for much of the time was one-sided - were, firstly, the rôle of British forces in Aden during the 1960s and 1970s and, secondly, the veterans’ advice to the young Bahraini on which tourist attractions he should visit during his stay in Edinburgh. Over time the conversation wained until the snows came and one of the veterans asked the young man if he had seen snow before. He replied that he had not known it to snow in Bahrain. The old airman observed that we were still in England,  "Wait 'til you get to Scotland you'll see real snow there".
As we crossed the Scottish border in magnificent sunshine the veterans became increasingly dismayed. There was no snow here and in a not quite spoken way they gave out an impression that the Scottish weather  - by holding back on the snowfall -  had let them and Scotland down. Comical, ridiculous and pathetic was what I thought, knowing that, whether I liked it or not, I had the same thought and feeling as my battle worn compatriots.  I remembered the line from the Proclaimers' song Letter from America. "You know our sense of timing we always wait too long."  Even our weather does. 

I wasnae that fashed tae ha'e a day named efter me


Friday, 17 November 2017

The Tartan Army Saves Old Scotia's Dignity

Here, what's all this about the BBC giving us long reports o' how earth shattering it is that Italy didnae qualify for the World Cup? The BBC never does that when Scotland doesnae  make it. OK, I know that last sentence opens up all sorts of possibilities for a keen riposte but haud ye're horses for wee while.

I was walking doon the street here in Totnes the other day when I met Joe, the barber, the toon's main Celtic supporter,who was walking along wi' his collie dog. He has his shop in the Rotherfold for those of you wha ken Totnes. He stopped me and said he was fair scunnered that there wiz a' this news coverage about the demise of the Azzurri. I reminded him that Scotland was cheated out of a place at the finals of the  2008 European Nations Football Championship when a spurious decision by the referee to award Italy a free kick in the final minute of the match from which Italy scored denied Scotland its rightful place in competition with fitba's elite.

The dreadful moment: the Italian in white about to take a dive.

Despite the horrendous injustice done to our nation that night,  our Scottish fans, The Tartan Army, assuaged their disappointment, and left the whole of Scotland with some dignity when they serenaded Italian fans at Hampden on the night  -  to the tune of Guantanamera  -  with their own impromptu operatic aria which had the following libretto,

 "We're gonna deep fry your pizza! We're gonna deep fry your pizza, deep fry your pizza, deep fry your pizza. "  


Keith Coleman writes, "We would also taunt alien invaders with a similar chant about deep fried, battered Mars Bars."

Monday, 9 October 2017

Whaur are the peacemakers ?

Eh’m no’ English, French, Russian or American
Eh dinnae want tae end up wi’ meh body irradiatin'.
Eh’m no' that feared o' Koreans or Iranians - 
It’s a’ oor warmongers wha are the scary anes.
Ye ken, those guys shoutin' their mouths aff and murderin' a chance

O’ turnin' the human tragedy intae romance.

Postscript : I was going to illustrate my doggerel with an image of the suffering of the survivors of the atomic bomb which fell on Hiroshima in 1945 but I found it too horrific and upsetting. It is difficult to believe that OUR elected leaders could want us to be in the possession of weapons so monstrously destructive. It is more upsetting to know that some of our own electorate are content for the UK to possess these weapons too. Are you such a one?

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Broken Hearts and Sleepy Jean at Dens Park

My birthday is tomorrow so I was allowed out of Devon and on getting out of the train at the Tay Brig station just by the good ship Discovery and the amazing new V & A building I walked up with Johnnie Scobie to the Overgate, along the High Street to the Murraygate, up the escalators in the Wellgate shopping mall up the steps below the Hull Toon to reach the Victoria Road.  I walked along it, and continued uphill to Dens Road, past the much lamented market, eventually arriving at Dens Park for the battle between the Titans of Dundee FC and of Heart of Midlothian.

Just a moment or two before half-time, in front of a sizeable crowd and after a closely fought first half, Dundee took the lead at a corner from which our young defender Kerr Waddell headed his first goal for Dundee past the Hearts goalie.

Although under a great deal of pressure in the second half Dundee held out until our centre forward, who shall remain nameless, sent a long but too short back pass towards our goalie which was  intercepted by the Hearts centre forward, Kyle Lafferty - a man who has been courageously dealing with some difficult and sensitive issues of his own recently - who swept the ball into the net past the unfortunate Scott Bain, who had previously made, and later made, a number of heroic saves.

The confidence of Hearts burgeoned and I thought they looked as if they might vanquish the famous eleven but, against the odds, in the five minutes of added injury time, Dundee won another corner and and once again our young hero, Kerr Waddell, leapt high like a salmon and, like a gifted professional footballer, headed the ball past the hapless, unprotected Hearts goalie, Jon McLaughlin and into the net.

The supporting Dundee thousands jumped up in ecstasy and impulsively broke out singing the lines from a Monkees' song, "Cheer up Sleepy Jean, Oh what can it mean? to a daydream believer and a great football team." I don't know why we were singing it but it seemed so appropriate. I suppose that's football and life.