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  -  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. "  

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 Jeans 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.  We 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.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Traffic Watch : Dundee

Conscientious students of this blog will know that my local pub is the Bull Inn at the Rotherfold in Totnes, Devon. 

Not much traffic at the Bull Inn, Totnes

My friends at the Bull, that is the "5.30pm to 7pm" imbibing shift, tolerate yet tire of me talking about my home city, Dundee, particularly since I only talk about the merits of its greatest football team "the famous eleven" more publicly known as Dundee FC. I've thought sometimes that my friends at the Bull have wished that I had other things to talk about. Do I always have to talk about the Dark Blues? Aren't there other topics, even if they are related to Dundee, apart from "The Dee" about which I could engage others in conversation? Surely Dundee isn't so boring a place that there is only football to talk about. 

One of my early evening shift friends, RT, who has a proprietorial interest in the tavern came up with an idea that he hoped might broaden and enrich my conversational horizons. He decided that he would start our daily exchange by providing me with the current traffic report for the City of Discovery which he would glean from a website dedicated to traffic news. RT's proposal may tell you as much about him as it does about me but I anticipated this added dimension to my life with some excitement. So much so that I decided to keep a record of the data for posterity's sake.

Here is the bulletin for June 2017.

Dundee Area Traffic Report

1st     No traffic reported in this area.

2nd    No traffic reported in this area.

3rd     No traffic reported in this area.

4th     No traffic reported in this area.

5th     No traffic reported in this area.

6th     No traffic reported in this area.

7th     No traffic reported in this area.

8th      No traffic reported in this area.

9th      No traffic reported in this area.

10th    No traffic reported in this area.

11th    No traffic reported in this area.

No traffic on Reform Street

12th    No traffic reported in this area.

13th    No traffic reported in this area.

14th    No traffic reported in this area.

15th    No traffic reported in this area.

16th    No traffic reported in this area.

17th    No traffic reported in this area.

18th    No traffic reported in this area.

Desperate Dan solves the traffic problem by walking everywhere

19th    No traffic reported in this area.

20th    Delays on the Forfar Road, southbound in Claverhouse Industrial Park.

21st    No traffic reported in this area.

22nd    No traffic reported in this area.

23rd    A92 Tay Bridge, roundabout both ways between A991, Thomson Avenue, and B946 closed to double-decker buses due to high winds.

24th    No traffic reported in this area.

25th    No traffic reported in this area.

26th    No traffic reported in this area.

27th    No traffic reported in this area.

28th    No traffic reported in this area.

29th    Slow traffic both ways between A991 Thomson Avenue and South Crichton Street due to a  Little Mix Concert at Slessor Gardens starting at 17.00

South Crichton Street in quieter times

30th     No traffic reported in this area.

The daily traffic bulletin for the City of Dundee area for June 2017 ends here.

I believe RT and I may have tired of traffic in the Dundee area and I think I'm reconciled to being less ambitious about the breadth and depth of my discourse with others. Talking about Dundee FC isn't so bad. I hope posterity, if it cares at all, forgives me.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Last night I dreamt...

....I was a spectator at the Olympic swimming pool stadium watching the Olympic swimming finals which were being held in Nicaragua. Though it was a sweltering hot day in Central America I was wearing my red, white and blue Dundee Football Club scarf.

In an interval between races a TV commentator carrying a microphone approached me speaking in English which seemed to have a slightly German undertone, "People from all over the world have been in touch with us about your scarf and want to know what it represents." 

With little hesitation I grabbed his microphone and loudly, proudly declaimed "This is the scarf of Dundee Football Club - the greatest football team of all time!"

The scarf of my dreams

Taking back his microphone he returned to his station to commentate on the next race. At the end of the race he approached me again saying, "Someone has contacted us to say that your Dundee team has just been beaten 5-0 by Arbroath. So your club is not the greatest!"  I was struck dumb by this revelation, no words would come from my mouth and the spectators at the pool began to jeer me.

My memory of the dream ends here though on waking I felt humiliated as if I had been exposed as a fraud. 

All this morning I have tried with little success to interpret my dream. I know for a fact that Dundee FC is the greatest football team of all time and I am certain the person who contacted the commentator about us losing to Arbroath must have been an Arab, i.e. a Dundee United supporter.

Whatever it was about I hope the dream was not prescient for Dundee FC are playing Arbroath in a pre-season friendly match in two weeks time.


Monday, 19 June 2017

After the Fire : Thursday to Sunday last week

June 15th to 19th, 2017

Morrisons Petrol Station, Totnes
Chicklade Service Station A303
Highbury Best Western Hotel
Number 29 Bus
Palm Court Bistro, Covent Garden
Mamma Mia, Novello Theatre
Number 4 Bus
Highbury Best Western Hotel
Clissold Park Stoke Newington
Sam's Cabs
Austerity Fight Rich Mix Arts Centre Bethnal Green Road
Black Cab
Highbury Best Western Hotel
Clissold Park Stoke Newington
Capital Cab
Denis Skinner: Nature of the Beast, Castle Cinema Homerton
Addison Lee Cab
Highbury Best Western Hotel, Seven Sisters Road Finsbury Park
Wayne's Bistro  A303 Somerset

Friday, 2 June 2017

Definitely my last campaign

In 2014, though I was someone not entitled to vote in the Scottish referendum, I was a keen supporter of the YES for independence movement. Given what I'm about to write, I'd better make my position clear. In Scotland I would vote SNP until Scotland established its independence and thereafter  I would vote for a Scottish Labour Party which accepted Scotland's independent status. 

Such was the tense nature of the referendum campaign and the disappointment of the YES supporters' relatively narrow defeat, I was so emotionally exhausted that I declared it would be my last campaign. I hadn't bargained for what was developing in the Labour Party. My political juices started to run again. I just couldn't seem to stop them.

In 2015, during the campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party following Ed Milliband's resignation after the defeat for the Labour Party in the general election I became interested in the political ideas Jeremy Corbyn was putting forward. They were moderate ideas for the benefit all the people, in stark contrast to the extremity of the Conservative Party's support for a relatively small group of the overly rich. It was becoming clear that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters were trying to re-establish  the Labour Party as the party  'for the many, not the few'. I decided to re-join the party.

Since then, like hundreds of thousands of people, many young people and many of my age, I have been giving support to the Labour Party campaign by trying to persuade people to vote Labour. As well as this, many not so well off individual people have been putting what money they can spare to keep the campaign nourished. It is a campaign energised by the people and not a few wealthy media moguls with narrow vested interests.

I draw further encouragement comparing the Labour Party's manifesto, a clear, concise, costed and common sensical document with the Conservative's vague, vapid and vacillating set of scribbled notes presented as its manifesto entitled - no doubt with unintended irony -  Forward Together.

Little as I have done to toward all that Corbyn and his team have achieved so far, I do think with all the sincere efforts of so many people -  particularly young people  -  the Labour Party can win this election and if it does I can - without fear of misleading anyone again -  promise this will definitely be my last campaign.

I am writing this on June 2nd and remembering it was on this day 64 years ago in 1953 we all got a day off school because the queen was being crowned. As an almost 8 years old boy I didn't know much about government and democracy. I suppose I thought the queen ruled us and Winston Churchill helped her. I've learned so much and so little about democracy and government since. Perhaps June 8th will be that start of a long leap forward.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

You left your scarf here

You left your scarf here -
the one that’s soft, woollen and blue
will you be back to pick it up?
ah it’s one you didn’t care for
never kept you warm
it smells of you
I’d cherish it more
if you were coming back
but you’re not, are you?
You shouldn’t have left me here.
I’m not competent to deal with it 

but you couldn’t help that.

Written after reading William Trevor's Love and Summer

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

I will be the new man at Dens Park

Following what I believe to have been the premature dismissal of a man who was only trying his best I am putting myself forward as the person who will be the next manager of Dundee Football Club. My playing achievements at the club some seasons ago when - ably assisted by my grandsons - I was largely responsible for  Dundee winning the Scottish Premier League make me the most apposite candidate for this post. 

Let’s make it clear my contract will stipulate that I am in sole charge of the entire club even though I may still allow the Yanks and the other members of the board to sit on their comfy seats in the grandstand. 

To be further sure I will be in charge of all financial matters. There will be no more season tickets. Spectators will gain admission to the stadium on a match by match basis by cash payment at the gate. This dosh will be collected after each home match and given to me to dole out as I wish.

Forwards will be on zero goal contracts. If they don’t score they won’t get paid. Similarly defenders will receive nothing if they don’t keep a clean sheet and midfielders will go home penniless if they don’t both score and keep a clean sheet. This is the way forward. It is a man management method to introduce fear in order pour encourager les autres. Reserves and youth players be warned. 

I guarantee these methods will assure us of our place in the Scottish Premiership and will ensure not only a place in the top three of next season's Premiership but also the capture of the League Cup and/or the Scottish Cup.

Dundee FC's  future manager as a young man

I await the phone call from the board of directors with certitude.

Post Script
Unbelievably the call never came. They have offered an interim post as manager to Neil McCann. No doubt they have me in mind for a longer term more permanent situation. Naturally I wish Neil all the best in making sure Dundee FC is in the Premiership next season.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Polo mints and garaged cars

My back’s been bad. I am in pain.
Don’t want to go through bad things again.
Polo mints and garaged cars;
how random objects tag my scars.
Not that you would know or want to find out
things that tell what I’ve been about.
The generous gestures, the cruel and the quiet pains -

huh! back to my back and what remains.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

My wrist watch and holding out too much hope on superstition

Yesterday morning I went to Wellington's the jewellers in Totnes to arrange for a new battery to be put in my ten years old Timex Expedition wrist watch. I told the jeweller that I always wore Timex watches because my father had been an engineer for Timex from the time it opened a factory in Dundee in the late 1940s. His job took him on working visits to  - what were for me exotic sounding places -  Waterbury, Connecticut,USA, and Bescançon in the Jura, France where Timex also had factories. 

In those days Timex made  children's watches with Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Hopalong Cassidy on their faces.  For some uncanny reason these are important memories for me. Timex watches are inexpensive and certainly not in the Rolex league but I’ve found they do the job asked of them and seem to last forever, though the Timex factory in Dundee didn't. It closed in 1993.

Hopalong Cassidy, who he ? A big deal for kids in the early 1950s

The charcoal shade of the canvas strap on my watch had faded away as a consequence of all the time it had spent with me swimming in pools and in the sea so I asked the jeweller if I might  purchase a new strap. He showed me a selection from which I decided upon a dark blue one which replicated the colours of Dundee Football Club whose team I support. The team were playing an important match last night against Ross County and I hoped that my purchase might bring the team luck following its 7-0 trouncing at the hands of Aberdeen last Friday evening. 
Sad to say my dark blue strap had no magical properties and Dundee lost 2-1 to a second goal scored in the very last minute of the match. Unless my team improves dramatically it will be in danger of losing its place in the elite league of Scottish football.

The watch with the dark blue strap has brought no luck yet

Still, I like my watch and its new strap, but perhaps from now on I will eschew superstitious purchases. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

This long time boy

The other night a song came into my mind. Its haunting melody captured the sad longing for times past that I was feeling. Its first lines are "This long time boy I never see you, come let me hold your hand boy, come let me hold your hand."

I remembered hearing the song on the radio as a teenager. I was curious about it. What was a “long time boy?”   At first I didn't cotton on, until the sadness of the melody eventually gave me the clue, that a "long time boy" was a boy, a man, a lover that the singer had not seen for a very long time.

I sought the song out on YouTube and learned that the name of the singer who had recorded it in 1961 was Nadia Cattouse . She had been born in Belize City in 1924 and in 1943 she was one of a group of forestry workers from Belize, then called British Honduras, who, risking a perilous voyage across the Atlantic, had volunteered to support the Empire in its war effort by working for the Forestry Commission at Kinlochewe in Scotland.These workers were treated cruelly by the British government which for a long time denied any responsibility for its heartlessness toward the Belizeans.

Nadia Cattouse

By strange coincidence  -  but perhaps not so strange as I may think -  from 1989 when I first came to live in Totnes in Devon I’d often meet a man over a pint of beer in the Bull Inn. His name was  Amos Ford. Amos had also sailed across to Scotland from Belize in the 1940s to work for the Forestry Commission.  When the war ended, Amos worked for a time at a brewery in Newcastle upon Tyne before moving to London where he became a civil servant at the Ministry for National Insurance until he ultimately settled in Devon.  

Amos was a kind man, a sagacious polymath and an excellent musician.  When I met him first he taught Spanish guitar at Dartington College of Arts and had just published a book, Telling The Truth: The Life And Times Of The British Honduran Forestry Unit In Scotland (1941-44) about the treatment of the Honduran forestry workers during the war. 

Amos Ford, 1916-2015

When the song came to my mind on that recent evening and on discovering that both Nadia and Amos were from Belize and had shared a similar wartime experience I felt sure Nadia and Amos would have known each other. On researching further I was excited to find that Nadia and Amos had been colleagues during their forestry days in Scotland and knew each other. Like Amos, Nadia married and still lives in England but sadly in 2015 Amos died in Devon. This long time boy I never see you. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

My first visit to the doctor's, Lochee, Dundee, 1950

The NHS was only 2 years old in 1950 when I -  a boy of five years - was first taken to see a doctor in Lochee by my Mummy. We walked to what looked to me like a big stone-built mansion and after stepping through its entrance my Mummy led me by the hand into a large room around which many people were sitting on benches. They were waiting, my Mummy told me, to see the doctor.

Every now and then from one or other of two doors in the room the word, "Next!" would be called out and one of the waiting persons sometimes accompanied by another would get up and walk towards the open door, cross the threshold into a smaller room and close the door behind them. They had gone in to see the doctor. 

It seemed as if everyone knew whose turn it was to go through the doors though there wasn't an obvious queue like the ones at the Pictures or at the Lochee Tram Terminus at the back of Liff Road School. 

After what seemed ages another "Next!" was called out from one of the doors that had been left open by a person who had just departed one of the smaller rooms. It must have been my "Next!" for my Mummy led me by the hand and drew me to the room and we entered. We closed the door and a voice invited us to sit on the chairs situated in front of a large wooden desk. "And what can I do today for this little chap?" said the voice. The voice was owned by a man who sat facing us behind the big desk. He had reddish brown wavy hair which had a hair oil sheen to it. His face was adorned by a moustache, the same colour as his hair,  but twisted to a point at each end.  He wore a green tweed jacket and matching plus fours with beige woollen socks and on his feet were chestnut brown leather brogues but his dress was not the aspect of him that has bemused me over the years. No, it was that in his left hand he held a cigarette holder into which was inserted a lit cigarette while in his right hand he had a thick glass tumbler with an amber liquid in it which I now understand to have been whisky. This was the doctor.

After my Mummy talked about me to the doctor,  he wrote a note and passed it to her. We now walked out of the room leaving the door open for the next cry of "Next!" I was told later that the note was a prescription for medicine that would make me better. We would get the medicine from the chemist's and it was free!  And, unlike sweeties, it was "aff the coupon."

I suppose at that time we were moving from the culture of a private medicine system towards that of a National Health Service which was being provided free for everyone in the United Kingdom. The doctor I met that day may not have been representative of what went on in health care prior to the establishment of the NHS and I imagine doctors have changed a great deal and no doubt are now generally better informed since medical science has, we are told, advanced. What was different in 1950 was that I did get an appointment with the doctor on the same day. Now you're lucky if you see a doctor at all. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Grandad Sharpe shaving and Independence.

Thinking back to my childhood I can only remember one occasion when Scottish independence was talked about in my family.

In the early to mid-1950s  every other Saturday we would drive over from Dundee to Forfar to my Grannie and Grandad Sharpe’s house, a stone built bungalow on the Dundee Loan. We would spend the rest of the weekend there and return to Dundee after tea time on Sunday.

My Grandad Sharpe was a diesel engineer of some repute and whenever a local transport contractor’s lorry broke down some out of breath youth would knock at the front door with a message sent out for Geordie Sharpe to repair a broken down lorry . This often happened on a Sunday and the memory I am about to recall was of one such time when we were staying at Grannie and Grandad Sharpe’s over the weekend.

My Daddy and I are sitting in the room behind the big room of the bungalow. My recollection is that this room acted as a kitchen and a washroom. My Grandad is standing, preparing to go out to work following a plea from a road haulage company asking him to fix a lorry which has broken down on the lang stracht near Edzell. Grandad stands in front of a mirror which he is using to guide his shaving. He is wearing only his vest and trousers. While shaving he doesn’t have his galluses over his shoulders. They are hanging down the sides of each of his trouser legs and somehow during the whole shaving ritual his trousers never fall down but remain, albeit precariously, in a respectable position.

In order to shave Grandad heats water in the kettle.  He pours the boiling water into an enamel mug. He unfolds his lethal looking cutthroat shaving razor and dips it into the water. He takes hold of the bottom end of a leather strop  which is suspended on a metal hook on the wall. With quick up and down strokes of the blade he sharpens it against the leather.  He puts his razor down on a wooden shelf fixed to the wall by the mirror where he has also placed the mug, his brush and shaving soap. He picks up his shaving brush and his mug dips his brush into the hot water, and he vigorously rubs the brush on a cylindrical stick of shaving soap and by doing this he  builds up a lather which he applies to his face using his shaving brush. He repeats this operation about three or four times before he is satisfied that he has sufficiently covered his face with the soapy lather. He puts the mug, soap and brush on the shelf, picks up his frightening razor and deftly applies the blade at a fine angle to his face with an elegant sweep. Each sweep of the blade removes a section of the lather along with Grandad’s whiskery stubble which the lather has softened. This done the blade is stirred clean in the hot water in the enamel mug and he removes any remaining lather by wiping the blade on a towel hanging on a peg by the mirror. This ritual is repeated about 5 or six times until all his whiskers are shaved off. 

Grandad shaving: from a contemporary illustration

The blade looks intimidating and dangerous but I am so fascinated by this ritual that I am always able to watch the whole process though I am anxious when Grandad shaves his throat. It seems to me I have watched Grandad’s ablutions many times and yet I have never  seen him draw blood but on this particular morning I sense he is trying to draw blood, but not his. Between each sweep of the blade to his face, he is also addressing my Daddy, his son. He is making short remarks about “home rule” for Scotland. “Of course we can rin oor ain country”. He says it in a plaintiff way as if he is imputing that Daddy doesn’t agree. There is silence as he shaves more foam off his face, rinses the blade in the water and wipes the blade dry. “Why should we believe everything they tell us?” Silence again. More foam is removed from Grandad’s face. The blade is cleaned again, “If the Irish can dae it, if Norwegians can dae it,” more beard is removed, “then there’s nae reason why we cannae . Naebody can tell me that Scotland is no’ a viable country.” The last of the beard has been removed and the last rinse, shake and wipe of the blade takes place. All his utensils are cleared away.

Daddy says nothing in response. I sense too  – though of course I am only 7 or 8 years   - that Daddy is not sympathetic towards Grandad’s views. For some reason, I am.

Grandad puts his galluses back over his shoulders, dons his dark blue boiler suit and says, “I should be back by denner.” He leaves the house.

Daddy remains silent.  Is choosing not to argue with his father  a seemly message for me?