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.

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.