Friday, 31 December 2010

New Years Resolutions and Other Things of Great Magnitude.

Hullo ma wee blog,

Sitting at the kitchen table wondering what I was going to post as the final entry for 2010, I just showed this to the lovely G who shrugged and said "Yeah right! You think?" before walking off shaking her head and laughing quietly to herself, carefully cradling the cup of hot tea I had just made her.

Whatever can she mean?

DON'T all rush at once!

Normally I don't do New Years resolutions. More accurately, I don't do New Years resolutions. Like many people I've made enough of them in the past then singularly failed to deliver. You know - the usual kind of thing; Lose weight; take more exercise; really sort out the garden; do those outstanding bits of DIY I've been promising since Methusela was a boy; phone or visit my elderly relatives more often; Be less grumpy. The usual kind of stuff. Hardly earth shattering. And maybe that's the problem! Maybe because I can dismiss them as just a daft New Years resolution I can demean them, make them less worthy and make it less important if one or two or all of them fall by the wayside. After all, it's just a stupid New Years resolution isn't it?

So this year I'm going to use reverse psychology on myself. This year I'm not making a single New Years resolution. Not one. Therefore I remove from the situation my ability to dismiss them. I deny myself the need to review my progress. I refuse to list my failings at the end of the year. I will not feel guilty about them. I will be free to do or not do as I choose. I will release myself from the pressure of conforming.

No. Wait a minute. Isn't that a New Years resolution?


As the last few hours of today turn one year towards the next I don't have anything deep and meaningful to say, nothing clever or insightful has come my way over the last couple of hours. So, I'll just end by wishing you all a very happy and peaceful New Year.

And to you Scudder, my new old friend, I raise my glass.


Your very good health.

see you later.......

Listening to

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics.......

Hullo ma wee blog,

Here are the all time top ten visited posts on the blog according to the stats on my blogger dashboard page.

Black Agnes - Dunbar, 1338           - 185 Pageviews

Icons of the Air............                   - 155 Pageviews

153 Sqn. 4th April 1945
- Gardening/Lutzkendorf.                -143 Pageviews

153 Sqn. Nov/Dec 1944                 - 142 Pageviews

153 Sqn. 9th/ 10th April 1945
 - Keil/Plauen                                 -120 Pageviews

Virus........                                       - 91 Pageviews

153 Sqn. 29th April 1945
 - 'Operation Manna'                      - 88 Pageviews

153 Sqn. Feb 23rd 1945
- Pforzheim                                    - 77 Pageviews

Hermitage Castle                           - 75 page views

153 Squadron 8th May 1945
- VE day to the end of 153 Sqdn... - 64 Pageviews

The top five posts in the last month have been;

Black Agnes - Dunbar, 1338  - 82 Pageviews
Of Mince and Men..........       - 54 Pageviews
1752 - James Of The Glen...  - 50 Pageviews
Today I took some photo's...  - 38 Pageviews
Hermitage Castle                   - 32 Pageviews

What this all means is anyone's guess. It would have plagued my old maths teacher who provided me with the post header more than I. He seemed very determined to drum into us that it was important not to take figures at face value, especially when presented by someone else, but to analyse, check and double check their findings to confirm that what they postulated was proven. He went to great pains to ensure we understood that context and perspective could skew figures to prove an incorrect argument. I remember wondering at the time if he had lost his one and only teenaged girlfriend to a statistician who was more persuasive than he. 'Bubbles', as I called him because he had a habit of forming tiny spit bubbles when he got excited explaining some equation or other, was not a particularly good maths teacher, or more likely that I wasn't a particularly good maths student. It depends on ones perspective really.

And why, for goodness sake, am I prattling on about all this anyway? I dunno really. I was thinking about the list of posts from a few days back that I had decided was most representative of the blog and wondered idly if my list of 'best posts of 2010' would be born out by evidence.

It wasn't, which just goes to show what I know........

Made me think though.

I can understand some of it. The RAF posts were all done in the early part of the year and since then the blog seems to have found its way onto some specialist sites as a point of reference about 153 Sqdn. I was getting quite a number of hits about them at one point and even now they can be very popular on a daily basis - and it reflects on where people who view the blog come from too. It's interesting why a post about someone relatively obscure like 'Black Agnes' would be so popular that it's the No1 post of last year. {well since blogger stats started recording in June anyway} It just goes to show what a diverse lot are out there in the blogosphere.

The top ten visitor countries since June;

United Kingdom 4,756

United States 1,974
Germany 725
Canada 444
Australia 364
Netherlands 221
New Zealand 170
Russia 151
Ukraine 114
Denmark 86

I don't actively advertise the blog anywhere. I'm not on twitter or face-pest. I just scribble down what comes to mind and punt it out there. Usually I have between 25 and 30 visitors a day {although the highest daily figure is 275!}. This year has seen the number of followers rise to 48 fabby, amazing, wonderful and possibly deluded folks, there have been almost 750 comments and replies to 199 posts {including this one} and I've enjoyed every moment of it.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. In fact I've had so much fun I think I'll do the same thing again next year.

See you later {hopefully}

Listening to Leonard Cohen, 'Dance me to the end of love'

Sunday, 26 December 2010

1752 - James Of The Glen......

Loch leven and The Pap of Glencoe.
Looking towards Ballachulish.

Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know that I do love my history, particularly Scots history. You'll also know that I have an eye for injustice and, as my Lovely G and I have returned from our walk, having been foolish enough to brave the sub-zero temperatures, the house is warm and snug and I'm sitting here at the kitchen table with a small bottle of ale and with some nice music pouring from my headphones { Cu Cuillan's Lament } perhaps it's not that unusual that my mind has turned to a favourite place and a story that's stayed with me since I first came across it years ago,  particularly since the story turns on injustice.  It's a famous tale, well known to many I would imagine, but no worse for yet another telling on a day like this.  It's most popular incarnation was to be part of the story of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Kidnapped',  another tale, surprise, surprise, of betrayal and the age old quest for justice and retribution as the hero David Balfour and the dashing and noble Jacobite Allan Breck escape across the wilds of this area pursued by Redcoats.

Pass through Fort William in the Western Highlands and head South towards Glencoe and you will pass through some wonderful scenery.  I love it here; Ballachulish; the dark waters of Lochs Linne and Leven and the high mountains of Mamore; the beauty of Glencoe and Glen Etive and the ancient districts of Appin, Morven and Lochaber. It's an area brimming with stories;  Robert The Bruce and the battle of Inverlochy; the infamous 1692 massacre of the MacDonalds in Glencoe;  the red-coated Government troops manning the garrison at Fort William slowly dying from institutional neglect and the harsh environment of - to their mind - a foreign and hostile land of unintelligible savages, high mountains and deep gloomy glens so far from civilisation; the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure and almost countless tales of clan warfare, Jacobites, evictions and transportation's to America.

 In these modern days of  motor travel you might momentarily appreciate the view from your window as you speed  over the utilitarian, almost military, bridge that stitches the land together across the narrow head of Loch Leven at Ballachulish.  Ballachulish,  ( Gaelic - Baile a' Chaolais}  means 'town of the narrows' or 'straits' and the narrows in question are Caolas Mhic Phàdraig - Peter or Patrick's son's narrows. Until a road was built around the head of loch Leven in 1929 the only way across the narrow, deep, flowing waters was via a ferry established in 1733, although earlier there had been other ferries and this was merely the establishment of a controlled crossing given the political instability of the times. You can still see the now redundant ferry slipway almost directly below the bridge as you pass over. As the bridge reaches land with its southern tip it lands on a high promontory, less noticeable as such now because the height of the bridge removes its lofty impact. Passengers in cars hurrying by barely see the white monument to Seumas a Ghlinne,  James of the Glen or James Stewart of Acharn to be most correct, other than as a white flash above them. Stand below by the waters lip on the slipway and imagine the bridge gone and you waiting for the ferry to arrive, you'll realise that this promontory is a very prominent point here and can be seen for many miles in almost every direction, an unusual thing in a landscape such as this.

 It was because of that visibility that James of the Glen was brought here to stand for his few final moments and recite the XXXV psalm, that heartfelt plea for rescue and retribution, before he was executed for the murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure - a murder he simply did not commit.

Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them. For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul. Let destruction come upon him unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall. And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation. All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him

As Campbell of Glenure disembarked from the ferry at Ballachulish that day in May 1752 he turned to one of his companions and said that he was glad to have come out of his mother's country across the river as he did not feel safe there. This strange remark shows the complicated situation that highland families found themselves in in those days. Loyalties to the 'Jacobite' cause of exiled King James, the 'king over the water', in France, or to the 'establishment' of protestant King 'German' George and the house of Hanover, divided families and made bitter enemies of close relatives. Glenure's mother was a Cameron and her clan fervently Jacobite, but he was a Campbell's son and a Hanovarian who had fought against the Jacobites in the recent rebellion, so he was considered a traitor by his mothers people. He worked as agent on behalf of the Duke of Argyll and was responsible for managing tenancies on the estates. As part of these duties he had been evicting 'unsafe' tenants across the estates beyond the narrows in Lochaber, balancing the numbers of loyal tenants against fractious Jacobites.  Although he may have felt safer as he mounted his horse at the side of the ferry, little did he know that he would be dead in less than an hour.

Campbell and Stewart were no strangers, in fact as Glenure had taken over Stewarts duties as factor or agent for the estates, there was a significant amount of contact between them and they believed themselves distantly related, but the relationship between them is complicated and would certainly at face value seem to warrant antagonism if not outright enmity. Despite this it's recorded as being one of mutual respect for it could be said that their fortunes and their circumstances had been dictated by their loyalty to the opposing royal families and the control of others. Stewart was a fervent and unrepentant Jacobite, an industrious farmer, and a thorn in the flesh of the ruling Campbell landowners, resisting in every legal way, mistreatment of tenants who had not been loyal to the Hanovarians. He was a small man in his late forties or early fifties, well educated by the standards of the day, with a good grasp of business and the law and he could speak and write fluently in English, which was rare in almost exclusively Gaelic speaking highlands.  This made him very useful to non English speakers when dealing with the authorities and made him well known far and wide throughout Appin and Lochaber. Like many, he more than enjoyed a wee dram or two and had a private still on his property. He was somewhat of an entrepreneur and had mixed business interests, including his farm. He was successful and prosperous by the standards of the day, employing several local people in various roles. Despite living on a small property himself, he and his wife had fostered - in the age old highland way of developing kinship - several children from related families, including the Allan {Breck} Stewart of 'Kidnapped' fame. During the rebellion of '45 he had been in charge of the small local Jacobite militia force and is thought to have been 'out' for the Jacobites in the rebellion of  '19. Despite the harsh and unsympathetic nature of some of Glenures role, he appears to have acted with less spite, haste and brutality than many of his counterparts and this may be the basis for the more respectful and cordial relations between the two men at the heart of the story. Perhaps because of this apparent tardiness in dispensing his duties, or because of instances in his past where his judgement or even loyalty to the Hanovarian cause had been questioned, Glenures position was itself less than secure with his employers and was currently under scrutiny. Therefore at this point in time he was under a significant amount of pressure to retain his position and ability to provide for his pregnant wife and young family.

The final hopeless Jacobite attempt to reinstate a Stewart to the throne of Britain ended strewn across the field of Culloden Moor and in bloody tatters in front of redcoat lines on a cold April morning just six years before. It signalled the beginning of the end for the traditional clan based way of life and change began with a 'pacification' that begat an exodus from the highlands, either through necessity or outright force and would continue to bleed its people across the world for generations.  The rebellious clans, and they were the minority, were torn from loyal disloyalty by musket, bayonet and rope, by transportation and execution, imprisonment and exile of their chiefs, the robbing of homes, burning of glens, the carrying off of cattle and by the merciless harrying of their homeless men, women and children.  After Culloden, many of the surviving Jacobite clan chiefs at the heart of the rebellion fled to France and relied thereafter on being maintained by loyal tenants paying their dues through intermediaries. Those unfortunate enough to remain were at the mercy of a Government determined to finally break the power of the clans and destroy any potential for further rebellion. This pacification was done in the most brutal way, starting with the execution of any injured on the battlefield at Culloden and continued across the highlands with such a year of murder, atrocity, looting and burning that it would be called ethnic cleansing in modern times. They proscribed the wearing of tartan or the kilt and the right of the people to hold and bear weapons unless as a member of the Government army, a tactic which harnessed the martial prowess and potentially troublesome manpower of its former enemies in an effective blueprint for centuries of imperial expansion to come. It took steps against the Episcopal Church, which had been instrumental in building clan support for the rebellion, promoting the Protestant Kirk of Scotland and introduced into each parish schools where only approved classes were taught in English only and by teachers appointed by the crown. These measures were all intended to break once and for all the culture of the clans by removing from them their attachment to their church, their language and the clan structure they had relied upon for centuries.

Those who disregarded these prohibitions faced severe consequences.  Landowners could find themselves 'attainted' - dispossessed of lands, position and influence - and Jacobite tennants could find themselves summarily evicted with property given to more loyal subjects, imprisonment and, in repeat offenders, transportation for life. James Stewart held his property from and acted as tacksman {agent} for his relative, the attainted and exiled Ardshiel, representing his interests back home and collecting rents, settling disputes and maintaining the estate. This had placed him in a position of influence and authority locally and because of this when the estate was placed under the control of the Campbell Duke of Argyll in 1749, he was removed from his farm and position and replaced in both by Campbell of Glenure. Glenure was widely hated, for not only was he a traitor as far as the Jacobite population was concerned, he was the everyday representative and manifestation of an oppressive, occupying force responsible for the implementation of evictions, destitution of those who deserved protection  and for increasing rents across a large local area. Due to his trusted position within the Jacobite community, James of the Glen came into contact with Glenure regularly, advising, mediating, representing and defending the rights of the population against the impositions of the new regime, forcing expensive delays and due legal process on the Hanovarians wherever he could. This did not enamour him to the establishment.

Glenure and his three companions mounted their horses and rode quietly off in single file on the path heading onto the hills and the forest of Lettermore, a heavily wooded hillside, then of birch and scots pine, nowadays of those conifers common all over Scotland. The narrow track climbed slowly up the side of the hill and took them towards their destination for the night at the Kentallen Inn where they had business to evict several smallholders the following day in nearby Duror. The steepness of the trail through the trees and moss covered boulders of the hillside quickly caused the four horses to be strung out on the path, some yards separating each from the others. Half an hour after leaving the ferry, about five o'clock in the afternoon a single shot rang out from the trees, startling the travellers and causing Glenure to cry out in pain and slump forward on his horse, although he did not fall. Some distance away up the hill, a man in tan jacket and trews, carrying what looked like a rifle, broke cover and ran off up the hillside. He was too far away to see clearly and was never identified. The three men with Glenure had dismounted and taken cover as soon as they recovered from the initial shock, fearing there were more attackers and called back to Glenure to do likewise but he was unable. Glenure called back weakly for help and to say  "I have been killed". His companions went to help him from his horse and found him drenched in blood from two bullet holes about two inches apart, in his back . {to load two bullets into a musket was a common thing for hunters of the day to do}  They laid him out on the ground at the side of the path and after only a moment or two Glenure died. After a short discussion two men went for help, one back down the path to the landowner, Stewart of Ballachulish House, one to the farm of James of the Glen. The third man nervously stayed with Glenure's body on the hill.

When news of the murder reached James of the Glen that day he said " Whoever will be the culprit, I will be the victim." It was a prophetic statement. Despite it being acknowledged that he did not pull the trigger, he was implicated because of the depth of his knowledge of the local community and the fact that one of those thought to be the most likely culprit was James' foster son Allan Breck Stewart, who would be made famous by his part in Stevensons' tale. That on the day of the murder, Allan Breck had absconded never to be seen again - at least by those who sought him - was considered further proof, if any were needed, that the plot had been hatched under the roof of James of the Glen. James was seized and tried in the old kirk at Inverary in the heart of Campbell country. The chief judge was the Duke of Argyll, himself a Campbell and no less than fourteen of the jurors were Campbell gentlemen. Also charged in absentia with the murder was Allan Breck although there was no evidence that he had carried out the deed. He was a much darker character than his literary being, an aggressive, violent and malevolent young man often in conflict with authority and would today be labelled as deeply troubled. There were other candidates; Camerons and MacOllonies, but none were to be found. The whole area was tense at the time and rife with rumours of yet another Jacobite uprising, and it is perhaps this which sealed the fate of James of the Glen and allowed his trial to proceed without proper defence as none would speak effectively on his behalf, perhaps for fear of being tainted with rebellion and identified as Jacobite.

He was found guilty of murder as charged after a perfunctory trial and sentenced to death.

It was decreed that James should be hung on the promontory at Ballachulish and that his body should remain on the gibbet as a warning to any who might oppose the established rule of law. His sentence was duly carried out and his body left - in sight of his mother's house on the other side of the loch - and under guard to prevent anyone foolish enough to think of removing it. It remained there for eighteen months until the gibbet was torn down by a gale and sent into the dark waters of the loch.

It's not known who fired the fatal shot that killed Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure that day. It was a barely remembered fireside tale until it was made famous by Stevenson all those years later. There are many theories and possibilities but it remains a mystery. Perhaps one telling point is the tale of a young man and distant relative of James of the Glen who had to be held down by relatives on the day of the execution as he wanted to go and admit to the killing. It's said that it was this same man who gathered James' bones after the gibbet was cast into the loch and carefully washed them and prepared them for a christian burial.

The gnarled memorial to James of the Glen on the promontory at Ballachulish is made from the white stone of his farm at Acharn and is a poignant spot from which to reflect on the past and how a decent man was sacrificed in naked retaliation and  for political expediency. Despite it's dressing in civil legality his public execution and exhibition was perhaps also the final grotesque act of suppression of the Jacobite cause in Scotland. Three miles to the west, on the quiet hillside of Lettermore,  is a slate cairn in memory of Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure which also marks the spot of the death of someone caught up in circumstance and guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In one of those oddities of the modern times we live in there is a movement afoot to gain a free pardon for James of the Glen. In 2008 it went before the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission but was denied due to the case being so old it was not in the interest of justice. Now, in 2010, the application is with The Scottish Ministers.

see you later.

Listening to Mike Oldfield,  Crises'

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Importance of Good Communication...........

Hullo ma wee blog,

As it's almost Christmas {and I'm supposed to be wrapping presents for my Lovely G at the moment!} I am listening to a couple or three of favourite funnies which just happen to share the theme of communication. Victor Borge was a great favourite in our house when I was growing up and I remember these two pieces vividly. I loved this great Dane for his clever wit and his comic timing as well as his incredible musical virtuosity.

And finally one of the greatest comedy talents of my generation who had just an immense love of the potential  for the playfullness inherent in the spoken word. One of my all time favourite clips....

Merry Christmas Everybody!!!!

See you later.

For Jono - Baby's first photo....

This is definitely one for full screen.........

Hullo ma wee blog,

I found this trawling the web. Its a lovely wee bit of natural film-making as it's predominately done by - well watch it and see.

I found myself laughing at the geeky inventiveness of the cameras, especially blizzard cam, which made me think of my bloggy pal Jono who I feel could well invent some idea like this.

So this ones dedicated to you Jono.


The Awww Factor - A Christmas Dog Story.......

Claus: The lost dog refused to leave bus.

Hullo ma wee blog,

{This story is from the Scottish Television website}

A little lost dog boarded a bus by himself and refused to leave as temperatures plunged to minus 11C.

The frozen Cairn terrier, named Claus by fellow passengers, was found cowering on the bus in the west end of Glasgow with icicles hanging from his fur.

Passengers were astounded when the dog, aged about eight years old, boarded the First bus when it stopped on Dumbarton Road on Wednesday. He was so cold he found a warm spot in the corner and curled up. The bus driver took the freezing dog along to the local police station and he was then taken to the Scottish SPCA's Glasgow Animal Rescue and Rehoming Centre.

Now the charity is desperate to find his owner.

Anna O'Donnell, assistant manager at the centre, said: 

"Claus is a cheeky wee lad who we think is around eight years old. He isn't microchipped so we don't know who his owner is. The passengers on the bus must have had a real surprise when he jumped on and refused to get off. He was so cold he had icicles attached to his coat so maybe he made a dash for somewhere warmer."

She added: "Even when he arrived here he went straight to a warm spot, curled up and didn't want to move. He's still to have a full vet check though he does seem to be walking gingerly, so he may have arthritis. Hopefully his owner will be missing him and will come forward."

Anyone with information is asked to call the Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999.

At least the wee fella will be warm for Christmas.

see you later

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Challenge - Anyone For Ten-ish?

Hullo ma wee blog,

I've been trying to write a post this afternoon and failing. I've been goofing off, watching snow fall and worrying how The Lovely G would get home from Edinburgh. With delays and cancellations, her twenty minute journey home from work last night took almost three and a half hours! {Tonight was perfect time wise though. Odd that.... No snow yesterday and three and a half hours. Blizzards today and just half an hour!}

While doing this, as a bit of a diversion I've been dipping into the back catalogue of some of the blogs I follow and found myself wondering about my back catalogue of postings. So I thought I might send you all a challenge. There may be times in the next weeks when we have a few minutes to spare to read more perhaps than usual on a blog and this may be a way of finding out what bloggers think of their own blogs as well as giving new readers a taste of what we think our blog is about.

What are your favourite posts over the last year? What have you written that you're most happy with, proud of, satisfied by? Or what have you posted that gives you great memories or that you feel defines what your blog is all about? There might only be one or two or there may be loads of things that you've found satisfying. Why not post links to them - lets say a maximum of ten - and they must have been published this year

Here's mine... Oldest first.

1. Fear, reflected.........
2. Beautiful She sleeps.........
3. Gregory's Girl shaped my life..........
4. 153 Sqn. 29th April 1945 - 'Operation Manna'
5. Yesterday I heard a poem......
6. Whiskers at Dawn........
7. Go West Young Man
8. Black Agnes - Dunbar, 1338
9. The Fox And The Car In The Night..........
10. Of Mince and Men..........

See you later.

Listening to Runrig, 'Proterra'

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Of Mince and Men..........

Hullo ma wee blog,

I had a dream last night. It was one of those oddities where, while not being a nightmare, you're not sure if you're exactly comfortable. Oh, I know exactly what triggered it alright. That's right Mornings Minion, it's all your fault!

The other day she posted a story from her 'family history' I suppose you'd have to call it. An innocuous wee tale of a young lad illicitly dipping into some of his Mums home-made mincemeat which had been stored away for Christmas and, having taken too much not to be noticed, he then had to stand and own up to it rather than watch it all thrown away as having been 'got at' by mice and therefore possibly be unfit for eating. Rather than lose that delicious stuff, he 'fessed' up like a man and ultimately all was well.

As I read that story yesterday I remembered clearly the impact of being a young lad with - shall we say - 'intimate knowledge' of some nefarious deed and standing in line with my brother and cousins in front of a Granny who was trying to puzzle out what had happened and who should be held responsible........

Don't get the wrong impression of me by the way. I wasn't a bad kid - just....... well....... unfortunate!  {That means I usually got caught.}

Never a particularly good liar - even now I almost cave in at the merest security question at an airline check in; Did you pack this yourself?  'Yes' I say looking at the ground. { in reality my lovely G does the packing and I generally just throw in a book or two. What can I say - she's a control freak! - or if you're reading this sweetheart - an amazingly talented and organised suitcase packer.} Could anyone have tampered with your luggage? - No! {Actually almost anyone in the queue could have tampered with it because I've been bored out of my face for the last half hour standing in your bloomin queue, but probably not as many people as could tamper with it after YOU'VE got your mitts on it Mrs bloomin airline!} I know I know! I'm the only one in class who would have failed my  'Ordinary grade' basic terrorism exam caving in at questions like that!!!

My childhood tactic of trying to look cool and collected and as innocent as a baby in those rare {ha} situations would be given away by an over reactive blushing mechanism when under pressure and the unfortunate tell-tale sign of a perspiring forehead and upper lip even before I had the chance to let the story excuse explanation lie trip pure and sweet from my childish mouth. In any case I usually had forgotten to get rid of any offending article, wash my hands clean or empty my pockets/hands/mouth of all incriminating evidence or even to make the most basic preparation such as get the story straight in my head before the grilling began.  Granny Robertson had undoubtedly one of the most penetrating looks I had ever come across in situations like that. Her eyebrows would gather together and her nose would wrinkle, she would lower her head and stare at you over the top of her glasses with eyes that could look into the soul of an angel and find dark secrets there, or make that angel feel there was darkness to be found. She would match her inquisitorial look with folded arms and a soft and beguiling tone of voice that almost hypnotised you into believing that if you only told the truth all would be well. {and that was a lie if ever there was one}  I'm sure at one time or other she trained the secret service in interrogation techniques, and she probably taught old Obi-Wan Kenobi that "This is not the droid you're looking for" trick.  Sometimes I would find myself standing there sweating, face on fire, ready to blurt out an admission to stuff I hadn't done, just to get it over with.  The effect was increased when there were multiple potential miscreants as she would line us up and scrutinise each one in turn until the criminal broke down and gave himself up. Grown men would have thrown themselves howling at her slippered feet and begged for mercy rather than endure more than a minute or two of Granny Robertson's patented torture treatment for misbehaving young persons.

 Mere children had no chance.

But no matter how bad it was, it was never so bad that after a certain length of time, you didn't think that next time you would do much better and after all it wasn't really that bad anyway. Yes, next time you would be able to stand there and fool the lie detector on legs that was my dear old Granny. No question about it at all!!!

But believe it or not, that's not what this story is all about. I merely pass on this wee glimmer of the woman that was my Granny by way of hinting at the kind of impact she had on my formative years.

And my backside.

This could be my early life -
right down to the poem beneath....
It's not a mile off my Granny that's for sure

Granny Robertson was one of those women who would rightly be called a Matriarch. She was, for my entire childhood, the glue which held my family and indeed my universe firmly together. She was babysitter, confidante, refuge, hospital, historian, maker of sense for all things perplexing, storyteller, fount of all knowledge, knitter of multitudes of embarrassing jumpers,socks and, most cringe-worthy of all, 'Balaclava's, as well as being the family's chief-cook-and-bottle-washer and as described above, 'Witchfinder General'. She would also sometimes be consulted by village folk outside the family on local or more delicate private issues - always accompanied by a pot of tea and - infuriatingly for inquisitive wee boys - behind closed doors. She was the scourge of any authority figure or family member she felt was performing beneath reasonable expectation. As a result she was well known, probably with some of the same trepidation I felt, by our local councillors. I remember standing beside my Father at her funeral and the local councillor saying to him " Nell would be pleased. This is the biggest turnout for any woman's funeral that I've ever seen." {He was probably there mostly to check that she had actually gone!}  Sure, she could be intimidating for a small boy or a local politician, but to think of her as just that would be selling her way, way short. Although her decisions were like edicts pronounced from on high and the merest hint that Granny was looking for you meant that you better run as fast as you could either towards the house or away, depending on your recent activities, most of the time she was a benign power, a happy, beaming and forgiving, Buddha like figure.

 As my Grandfather was bedridden due to injuries from WWI  and she needed help with some aspects of his physical care, we spent a lot of time as a family or as individuals, at her house.  Hers was the place where any far flung family would come to visit and hers was the place where we would all congregate for special - or even ordinary - occasions. She had the main care of my brother and I during school holidays as both my parents worked - something I remember as being somewhat of a minor bone of contention between her and my equally strong willed mother - and we would all eat at her house once, twice or more often each week through the summer and at least once a week during the rest of the year.

She was the most fantastic, and I mean  just fantastic, cook and baker. This could become the longest post in history if I began to wax lyrical about all the incredible stuff that could be produced en masse from her wee kitchen and primitive stove, but I still yearn - really yearn - for her sublime potato and leek soup, her roast chicken or her Irish stew, or those amazing potatoes boiled then rolled in oats and fried until nutty and crispy and her supreme gift to a hungry child - her clootie dumpling. Just writing this, more than 40 years later, I can almost physically smell the soft yet dense aroma of fruit and spice that rose as steam as it lay on the hearth by the fire still wrapped in the cloth that gave it its name and held it together as it cooked. I can feel the cloth in my hand as I would turn it every few minutes, supervised by a satisfied Granny, to help dry the cloth and form its skin. What an exquisite torture for a hungry wee boy that was!  I can still feel the wonder of trying to imagine where the hidden thruppeny pieces, or that one shiny silver sixpence that she always included in the mix, would be.

But the clue to this post is in the header. Granny Robertson's mince was - to use a Scots parlance - MINCE. It was a dish that now, as an adult, I can see was formed in her own upbringing in rural poverty and perhaps honed in the times of the great depression after the first war, when food had to be eked out to go as far as possible,  waste was unforgivable and every morsel had to be used to provide sustenance. None of that occurred or mattered to me in the sixties and early seventies when faced with a steaming mound of Grannies indigestible mince. I was always a fussy eater in my childhood. My parents and grandparents all worried that my physical development would be affected by my lack of appetite and limited range of foods that were acceptable. {By the way SNB, I can hear you say " That must have changed!" and I will get you for that. lol} It was, as I'm sure you will understand from all I've written about Granny Robertson above, a major cause of antagonism between us and an ongoing battle that we were both equally determined to win. But, dear reader, I digress.

Grannies mince was appalling. It had a secret ingredient - added no doubt for all the right reasons and as I said above - for all the deep seated traditions and conditioning of my Grandmother's upbringing. It had beaten egg stirred through it. Now maybe it's just my imagination, but I can hear you go "Is that all?" but please, this was disgusting. It came to the table in huge quantities and to me it looked yellow, a horrible greeny yellow flecked with mince and studded with diced onion, carrot and turnip. It was without question the foulest concoction known to man and the worst thing anyone has ever EVER put in front of me. The mere sight of it would be enough to reduce me to a quivering tearful wreck in acknowledgement that this would be yet another interminable battle of wills between me and Granny. I would cry, I would winge, I would howl and I would beg my brother and sometimes my cousins quietly to take some off my plate to no avail as they all felt the same. I would try and attract our dog across to my feet where I would try and get her to scoff some, but even that gluttonous canine, faithful friend and defender balked at Grannies mince, leaving me with soggy dog-sniffed handfuls of the stuff. It was very much a case of "You're on your own pal".

But I tried. Really I tried.......

For each closely scrutinised scrap that I put in my mouth I would need a huge gulp of lemonade or milk and then I would manfully gag it down before sobbing my way to the next tiny, tiny smear on my spoon. I quickly would run out of lemonade and would ask for more which sometimes I would get, sometimes not. I would mix it with the veg on the plate or with the mashed potatoes in the hope of masking the flavour, but all I succeeded in doing was making the mash and veg taste like the mince and the plate appear more full of the noxious stuff than when I had started. Granny was a great believer in no one leaving the table until every scrap had been polished off and plates were gleaming clean; for which purpose bread and butter were generously provided. It was hell on earth and for many years cancelled out all the good memories of the amazing things that she could produce. One particularly bad day I found that every time when Granny wasn't looking or had gone to the kitchen or through to Grandpa as she often did, and I bent down to try and force the dog to eat some, my brother and my cousin who was with us that day, would each spoon some of theirs onto my plate while I wasn't looking. For ages I couldn't understand what was going on. I was eating the stuff, even the dog seemed to be more obliging than usual and yet the pile on my plate wasn't getting any smaller. {Gordon had a different strategy to cope with this meal than I did. He would scoff the dreadful stuff as fast as possible and then wash it all down at the end with a whole glass of lemonade. It worked for him but the only time I tried it I threw up!}  As I screamed my dismay at finding out what was really going on that day long ago I attracted an annoyed Granny back into the room and made sure her determination to see me finish the plate was burning brightly. No amount of accusation or explanation could make her see that I was the victim of an enormous injustice. Who would have believed that two such innocent souls such as my conniving brother and swine of a cousin could do such a thing. No, it was terrible that I was prepared to accuse them of such things when they at least had finished their plates like the good boys they were. Absolutely smug, grinning little B's more like. { Even now my teeth are clenched at the memory. GRRRRR}

And so manfully I struggled on, weighed down as much as by the injustice of it all as the heavy weight of at least a pound of Grannies incredible inedible mince in my stomach. The plate was eventually finished without the assistance of any more lemonade and tearfully I was allowed to leave the table but only after having to face the further indignity of seeing my brother and cousin get my dessert which was forbidden me as further punishment for my bad behaviour. What a pair of absolute gits! They even managed to get out of the washing up and escaped my retribution by zooming off on their bikes before I managed to get away from the house to barf up my lunch and go hunt them down.

Even all these years later I hate mince unless its done as bolognese or chili. I am still occasionally haunted by memories of Grannies mince and egg hence the dream that wasn't quite a nightmare at the top of the page. A couple of years ago I had my cousin Elspeth and her husband come to stay with us here for a holiday and as we hadn't seen each other for many years, spent time reminiscing as you do about past times and things fondly remembered. Despite all the great memories of Granny and the fabulous times we had growing up there was one over-riding negative memory we shared.

Guess what that was boys and girls?.............

see you later.

Listening to The Waterboys, 'All the things she gave me'

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

You Know What Rejection Feels Like When..........

Hullo ma wee blog,

My lovely G has been away on a course for her work over the last couple of days leaving me and Jess alone in the house. While it's not unusual for us to be alone during the day, it's highly unusual for us to be alone overnight too. Jess' reaction has been very amusing. After G failed to come home on the first night Jess clearly believed the fault to be mine and has studiously completely ignored me since then.

You know what rejection feels like when you're being ignored by a cat!


See you later.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Today I took some photo's............

Across the snowy garden hedge

Hullo ma wee blog,

Today, after yet another snowfall of {for this part of the world} almost biblical proportions, I took the camera out to try and get a photo of Traprain Law in the snow. Traprain is one of the key landmarks of East Lothian and when I see it on the road back from Edinburgh or further afield I always feel like I'm almost home. At least I'll be home in twenty minutes I should say. Before I left I took some photos of the birds feeding and stuff by the house {again}.

Frozen pasta.......yum!

One of the apples left on the tree for winter food for the birds

Traprain Law in the distance

A local road after a weeks snow.
And a week of the local authority getting to grips with it.

Plough ridges in the snow look like wave patterns.

I had to go down the hill to the farm to turn the car.
The outside temp plummeted from a balmy -5C to -12C in the shade.
The car just made it back up the hill.
Scary stuff for a moment or two.

A snow-plough does its stuff on the main road.

A skein of geese over Traprain.

Time for home I think.

Monday, 6 December 2010

MP's, MSP's and Criminal Acts...........

 "What d'ya mean I wont sell any?
 Everyone I know needs one!"

Hullo ma wee blog,

This week sees the start of the prosecution of three sorry two - one's already owned up to a guilty plea - ex-Honourable Members Of Parliament for expenses fraud. {I commented on this earlier in the year here and here if you want more info} They tried to use the defence of 'Parliamentary Privilege' to prevent prosecution. {The statute of Parliamentary Privilege dates back to around 1650 and was designed to allow freedom of speech within parliament and to protect members from coercion, particularly by the king - until they subtly resolved that little problem by decapitating him. In this modern instance the MP's in question stated that any issue relating to work within parliament could only be investigated and dealt with by parliament itself in the hope of avoiding criminal charges. They were wrong} Hopefully they will get both justice and fairness and meet the same end as King Charles - not the 'King' King Charles, I mean the dog King Charles - and have their nuts either removed completely or at least certainly given a severe judicial squeezing.

Last week also saw oor ain Scottish MP's decide overwhelmingly not to pass Margo MacDonald's end of life assistance bill for further consideration, {more reflections on that issue here} which leaves anyone assisting anyone terminally ill to deliberately end their life able to be charged with homicide under Scots law. As I said in my last post regarding this, no matter how you feel about suicide it's not against the law in Scotland, so how can it be an offence to help someone not to commit an offence themselves.


See you later....

Listening to Rodrigo Y Gabriella 'Tamacun'

Thursday, 2 December 2010

A Silence Of Snow

The piece that first got me into Vangelis' music.
One for a dark room, headphones and high volume.

Hullo ma wee blog,

The window of the bedroom is closed for the first time in as long as I can remember. Normally the only time it's shut is when we are away from home and the last time I can think it was possibly closed was almost a year ago, during the worst of last Winter's nightmare weather. Tonight as I lie in bed I'm grateful that it's not open. The temperature in the room is freezing in these few hours of the night before the central heating system kicks in to heat the house for the start of the day.  {our heating system is LPG as we live in a small village not connected to mains gas which is a lot cheaper. This year our gas has gone up by crippling 55p a litre and - with only one supplier - they have us over a barrel.} The overnight temperature is forecast to get down to -6C but even that has failed to stop snow falling, except now it comes down as hail and it's this that has wakened me.

I lie for a while and listen to the sound of the hail shattering itself against the window in the howling wind. I would get up and have a look but I'm not brave enough to face it this morning, so I lie in bed and relish the warmth seeping across from my Lovely G close beside me. I run a hand across her hip and waist and slowly on up the slope of her ribcage to her shoulder, a soft but deliberate movement which elicits an intake of breath and a slow stretch from somewhere deep in her slumber. I smile and continue the movement, now gently using my fingernails to further mess with her dreams as my hand follows the dip of her spine back down to rest eventually at her hip again. A few moments later, as I drop off back to sleep, my fingers are nudged by a restless Jess who is lying nestled in the curl of the other side of G's body. I ignore her in the hope that she'll also drop back off to sleep but she has other plans and her nose, warm and wet, again nudges my fingers, followed a moment later by the tap of her paw. It too is warm and soft but insistent as it taps me once, twice and then a third time. I push my arm across G and search Jess' furry body with a gentle hand until I can orientate her in my mind and, having found responsive ears and neck, I begin to knead her shoulders and neck as purrs begin to pour from a satisfied cat. We remain connected by the lazy movements of my hand until we both fall asleep, the three of us together now under the duvet, safe from the wind and the brittle sound of hail on glass.

Some time later I wake again. The house is silent, not even the occasional tick from a radiator beginning to heat, so I know it's early. I lie for a while listening and then, as I often do, I get up to avoid waking the  Lovely G with my restlessness and, stopping to pull on trousers, tee-shirt and jumper, I head downstairs to kitchen, coffee and computer. The clock on the oven says its 4.15am as I head to the table, cup in hand and press the power button on the laptop. As I've come down the heating has just come on and the hum of the boiler tells me the house will soon be warming up for the day.  Waiting for the sign-in screen coming to life I press the light-switch on the wall to the left of my seat. The light outside over the patio comes on and I pull the vertical blinds slightly to the side to see what's been happening during the night. Outside snow - and proper snow this time - is coming down thick and fast in huge flakes, tumbling and whirling in eddies by the nearby walls. It looks like another three or four inches have come down and this will add to the four or five inches already there. The laptop screen turns blue and I sign in and head for my blog's dashboard to check if anyone has posted on the blogs I follow and to check if any comments have been left on 'Crivens Jings...'

After a while I again take a peek out at the patio and see snow still falling as thick as before. Impetuously I reach for a fleece and pull on my boots that are lying at the kitchen door. "What on earth am I doing?" crosses my mind as I step out into the snow and walk round the side of the house and head down the drive to where the streetlights are showing the end of the drive lies. The snow underfoot is soft and fresh and even in the darkness the snow gives off a kind of light despite the stuff coming down all around. I hear the gentle crump of snow compressing with each step and feel that I'm not actually walking on the drive but somewhere vaguely above it, not quite in control of my balance as I slip into holes left by previous and now invisible footsteps. I make a mental note to keep an eye out for the depressions ahead, those puddles normally that are a trap waiting for me hidden as they are under the snowdrift in front of me. I give the area a careful and wide berth and head on down the slight slope to the road. I step out of the drive and again find myself taking extra care at hidden ruts of frozen snow at the side of the road as I step out into the middle of the completely empty street. The silence is........ Well, it's complete, absolute, perfect. It's stunning! The sound of silence is....... stunning!

I stand alone in the middle of the street and no matter which way I turn I hear nothing. I resist a childlike giggle and the urge to shout something into the snow falling round me. It is only about 5.00 after all. I can't hear a thing. Even the sound that is a quiet but almost constant here - the A1 main East coast London to Edinburgh road noise - is absent. Usually you can hear lorries on the hill past the village at any time, day or night.


I'm in a silence of snow.

I look back toward the house but I can't see it. I can probably see about 30 or 40 feet but not much more. I look at my fleece in the light from the streetlamp. It's covered in snow and my arms are completely white. If I stay out too long I'll be the best snowman for miles around. But the feeling is utterly beguiling. Soon though I begin to feel the cold seeping through the fleece and jumper and I know it's time to head back inside. I've not been out long but it's been enough and I turn to retrace my steps up the drive and around the house to the patio door at the side of the kitchen. I step inside having kicked the snow off my boots and I shake the snow off the fleece back out through the open door before closing it on the snowflakes that seem keen to follow me inside.

Time for coffee I think. But, as I sit down a few minutes later with the warm cup in my hand I can't stop the silly grin on my face.

That was braw!!!

Now I can wait for day to slip in through the night and the careful but exciting journey through the snow to Dunbar and my Lovely G's morning train.

see you later.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

I Hope This Gets To You........

Hullo ma wee blog,

Blogging and the internet is about making us connected, right?

This video is aimed at reaching someone that someone else loves just using the power of the connections the internet makes. It could be subtle yet shameless self promotion, or so the cynical side of me feels, but part of me, the romantic or the bit that just wants to believe that life always wins through, wants it to be true for purer reasons. Whatever the ultimate truth is, I want to pass it on in the hope that all or some of you will too.

The creator of the video, Walter May says;

"After my girlfriend moved away for graduate school, I wanted to create something different to express my feelings for her. I secretly created a song and video with my friends the Daylights in hopes that it would be passed around and get to her organically. WITH YOUR HELP, we can meet this goal and it can stand as a symbol of what we can do as an digital social community. This is dedicated to anyone who is separated from people they love."

Whoever you are sweetheart and however long it takes, I hope this gets to you.

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...