Monday, 31 January 2011

Sweet Bird of Youth......

Dreams elude me but thoughts twist and turn, whirling like birds on the wing through my head. It's cold outside but here, under the duvet, I'm snug.  Warm even. I stretch my legs and touch the warm body next to me momentarily. I feel the steady glow of their body-heat which reassures me. I know that if I get cold, if I have to get out of bed for instance, that I can slip back under the duvet and press myself against their heat and wait for it to pour back into my body. At the moment I have no plans to do that so I just relax, chill and enjoy the comfort as I slowly drift off, carried away on this delicious warmth.

Thoughts, like birds, migrate.

I drift away unsure if I'm dreaming or just thinking of my youth, running with the gang or playing rough and tumble in the garden with my brother and sister, my youthful nose sharp and full of smells that come back to me here in the night. I particularly remember the flowers but other things too, like how I used to play sneaking up on the garden birds, trying to be still, slow and quiet so I could get as close as possible before they saw me. I would burst out and watch them scatter with the unforgettable sound of their wings. It was so..... EXCITING. There were lots of birds in my childhood garden. I'll always remember the sound of wings, I'll probably even remember till I die. It's one of those thrilling sounds of childhood isn't it? I always loved that sound. I have great hearing, even now. I learned to tell what kind of bird it was just from the sound of their wings. Years later I can tell the different sound of a sparrow, or a pigeon or a starling by the sounds made as they fly by. I don't even have to look.  I was never much into music when I was young though. It was always around in the house of course but I never paid much attention. I was always listening though.  I could always tell who was coming into the room by the sound of their footsteps. I knew before they arrived. Sometimes my mother would pick me up and I would sit on her lap. Sometimes I would rest back against her and bathe in the smell of her perfume. It was intoxicating to a youngster and I would lie back and rest my head on her chest, listening to her voice rumbling, almost purring through her chest as she spoke to my father or someone else.


I realise that I've still not fallen asleep but have just been reminiscing. Maybe I should get up and have something to drink. And a biscuit. That would be nice. I quite fancy something with a bit of crunch to it actually and I know there are biscuits in the kitchen.  As I squirm over to reach for the side of the bed a toenail catches soft flesh. There's a wince and an immediate sharp intake of breath from across the bed before his voice comes back towards me.


Jings, you need your claws cut!

Ow......that hurt.

Too late.

I'm already halfway down the stairs.

Keep the bed warm buster. I'll be baaaack.

see you later.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The 'Sunday Post'

Hullo ma wee blog,

This weeks poem is a favourite from Leonard Cohen.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

And end this night
If it be your will.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


Hullo ma wee blog,

We have been without heating, hot water and power for our gas hob for 5 days now since we completely ran out of gas in the house tank at the bottom of the drive. We use LPG as we are not on mains gas and have since found out that our bi-monthly gas delivery didn't happen during the snow around Christmas time and our supplier didn't prioritise us for an emergency delivery after comparing annual usage for the same time last year. Apparently we should have just made it through to our next scheduled delivery date next month. Shame they didn't factor in that due to the weather and since we had been up to our backsides in snow for three weeks, there was a chance we might have had the heating on a little more than normal. Now having called their emergency line on Sunday - to find it operates Mon - Fri and 9-5 only -which is of course when all emergencies happen - we have been waiting more than the three days they advised would be the longest wait for delivery. Having called yesterday we have been told that a delivery is not scheduled for today but they would try and arrange an engineer to make an emergency call to top up the tank via bottles. Late last night their web site delivery checker suddenly updated to say we are now getting a delivery today.

It's incredible how much normal life depends on things taken for granted. Having no central heating,, no gas fire. no hot water and having to rely on the electric oven for all our cooking needs over the last few days has shown up the dependant nature of modern life. We have been boiling kettles for washing ourselves and I have spent the last three days wearing several more layers of clothing than normal indoors including a fleece. Yesterday although the weather online said it should have been otherwise, I spent most of the day chilled and freezing under a duvet on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. The combined effect of several days without heat had drained me - who has shall we say a protective layer of  'padding'  - so much that even when I had heated up, if I had to move and come out of my little indoor igloo I felt chilled immediately. Having just recovered from the mother of all chest infections I was worried too that I would succumb once again. It certainly put into perspective the effect of winter cold on the elderly and infirm, especially those who struggle with heating bills on low incomes and worry about their ability to pay or the effect of getting into debt. I was glad too that we didn't suffer some of the electricity power cuts that this area is prone to during winter time - another debilitating oddity of living in this rural area even though we are just a few miles from a nuclear power station. Strangely this winter has been free of this idiosyncrasy which most winters plunges into occasional darkness, often for days at a time.

But now the lovely G has called to say that she has passed the gas lorry as she left the end of the drive on her journey to Dunbar station and that I'll have supply soon from our lovely gas supplier.

I can almost forgive them for putting up our gas price - which as it's not mains gas is not covered by the gas and oil industry central price monitor - by a stunning 49% in the last year.

Er - no. Actually I can't forgive them for doing that. They are a bunch of lying, cheating, money-grabbing racketeers and I'm glad there was an investigation into the pricing of 'off-grid' gas announced yesterday by the office of fair trading.

I wonder if I could make a bet on anyone getting a refund - or an apology!

That'll be a 'NO' then.......

See you later.

Listening to.......

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

'Slainte' For Burns Night..........

Hullo ma wee blog,

More poetry I'm afraid.........

It's Burns night tonight and the Lovely G and I will celebrate it with the traditional meal of Haggis, neeps and tatties in memory of Scotlands national poet, Robert Burns who like me is an Ayrshire lad. It's rare that tradition tastes so good. {and lets you have a dram at the same time.}

Thanks Rabbie!

Here's a couple of versions of one of Burns greatest works, 'A Man's A Man'. It's a song that highlights Burns' strong political and moral sensibilities as it seems the song was written in support for the revolution then taking place in France. What seems probable is that Burns was influenced by Thomas Paine's 'The Rights of Man' as both works deal with ideas of liberty, equality and universal human rights.

This was the song chosen to be sung at the opening of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999. I think Rabbie would have approved not only that it was chosen for such an occasion but that works like this are still revered and updated for inclusion in concerts such as above. He did love a party did Rabbie!

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings* his head, an' a' that;        {hangs}
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd* for a' that.       {gold}

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin* grey, an' a that;         {coarse material}
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie*, ca'd a lord,     {fellow/man}
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof * for a' that:           {fool}
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree*, an' a' that.   {take priority}
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Robert Burns 1795.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Return of The Mad Cyclist.........

Hullo ma wee blog,

Last year I posted a video of Danny MacCaskill, professional cyclist, doing some incredible bike tricks on the streets - amongst other places - of Edinburgh. I'm not a cyclist but I enjoy the skill, bravado and creativity that goes into doing some of the tricks he does and the videos have good production values and a cracking soundtrack. Now he's back. In his latest video he is on a journey from Edinburgh where he now lives back home to the Isle of Skye where he was brought up, stopping off along the way to showcase more of the incredible and sometimes plain daft, ability he has to use the buildings and landscape for exuberantly doing his thing.

I hope you enjoy it .

There are 10 kinds of people.........


Those that understand binary and those that don't.........


{I don't}

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Sunday Post

I sit with my back  to the engine, watching
the landscape pouring away out of my eyes.
I think I know where I am going and have
some choice in the matter.

I think too, that this was a country
of bog-trotters, moss troopers,
fired ricks and roof-trees in the black night, glinting
on tossed horns and red blades.
I think of lives
bubbling into the harsh grass.

What difference now?
I sit with my back to the future, watching
time pouring away into the past. I sit, helplessly
lugged backwards
through the Debatable Lands of history, listening
to the execrations, the scattered cries, the
falling of roof-trees
in the lamentable dark.

'Crossing The Border'
By Norman MacCaig.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Four Thousand Years ago........

Hullo ma wee blog,

In ancient Egypt four thousand years ago cats were worshipped as Gods.

Jess thinks this should never have changed.

Get out of my way you bloomin cat!

I'm BUSY.......

{I'm going to get a dog. I really am.}

Monday, 17 January 2011

A belated 'Sunday Post' .......

Hullo ma wee blog,

Yesterday on our shopping trip {which itself came after a visit to the cinema to see 'The Way Back' and which I would highly recommend} I picked up a couple of books with some of the book tokens I had been given at Christmas. People know I'm an avid reader and after a few years of buying books for me, even cookery books as I'm an avid cook { or more accurately eater} too, have now resorted to giving me book gift cards which is great. Sure there's a bit of regret that instead of finding a gem that I might not have chosen myself among the Christmas loot I have to go and root them out myself, but in general I'm more than happy to be able to avoid some of the less accurate choices that have been made for me in the past. If that sounds ungrateful, it's not meant to be. Rather I'm glad that folk haven't spent effort and money on finding that something that I know I will probably never read.

Yesterday I picked up a book on the WWII airfields of East Lothian and another one which I have been looking forward to getting for some time. It's a book of poetry by Norman MacCaig, one of my favourite poets. I'd never been much into poetry when I was younger even though I was introduced to MacCaig in 2nd year of high school. It was something that I felt we were forced to read as part of the course and it didn't do an awful lot for me at the time.

Or so I thought.

I did remember very clearly two of his poems; one on St. Francis of Assisi and the other about being on a train and feeling the landscape pouring out of his eyes as he was dragged backwards into the future. It was this second poem, called 'Crossing the Border' that years later pushed me to find and read some more of his work and that was a revelation.

Norman MacCaig OBE {1910-1996} was born and lived in Edinburgh but had close family ties to the highlands. His work is, to me, very Scottish and very simple, yet he is so good with words that he paints some marvellous pictures and Jings - does he make you think and make you feel too. I thought that I might post the odd poem or two that I most appreciate now and again, perhaps on a Sunday. This links in to the blog and my 'Oor Wullie' avatar as his cartoon column was carried - and still is - in a Sunday newspaper called 'The Sunday Post'.

Here's the first poem in the book.

Ineducable Me

I don't learn much. I'm a man
of no improvements. My nose still snuffs the air
in an amateurish way. My profoundest ideas
were once toys on the floor. I love them. I've licked
most of the paint off. A whisky glass
is a rattle I don't shake. When I love
a person, a place, an object, I don't see
what there is to argue about.

I learned words, I learned words but half of them
died for lack of exercise. And the ones I use
often look at me
with a look that whispers Liar.

How I admire the eider duck that dives
with a neat loop and no splash and the gannet that suddenly
harpoons the sea. - I'm a guillemot
that still dives
in the first way you thought of: poke your head under
and fly down.

See you later.

Listening to John Denver, 'Sunshine on my Shoulders'

Sunday, 16 January 2011

When Shopping Can Be Fun............

Hullo ma wee blog,

Walking along a line of shops at Edinburgh Fort shopping center, we're heading to Waterstones where I'm about to spend some Christmas book tokens.  From behind a noise approaches and I hear a voice call out,

"That's far enough ahead Helen!"

At the same time a child rushes past in a whirl of hair and skinny legs. She's exuberantly pushing a small pram with a doll in it, so fast the front wheels are off the ground. She's wearing a brown suede coat with a fur trimmed hood but the hood is down and the coat is unbuttoned. She has blonde hair trailing from beneath one of those Peruvian style knitted hats, the ones with ear flaps and woolen pig tails that hang down - or would if she wasn't moving so fast. By the time I register these details and how small she is she's about 15 feet ahead of us.

From behind her mother calls her name again, a bit louder and elongated by exasperation to an upwardly sliding note.

Helen pulls up short and with a twirl turns to face her Mum and us. Beneath her coat she has a pastel pink jumper and a green skirt above blue tights that end in tan suede boots trimmed at the top with fur.  There she stands, momentarily frozen, beaming a smile back that says "I hear you" as she doffs her Peruvian cap with all the style of a Shakespearean actor on the stage. She plops her hat perfectly back on her head and giggles as she waits for her Mum to catch up.

She's a yard of nonsense, three feet of mischief. I may never have seen her before and may never see her again but my world today is a better place because she's been in it.

Thanks Helen......

Listening to Keane, 'Everybody's Changing


Thursday, 13 January 2011

A Lesson Never Properly Learned.........

Hullo ma wee blog,

I don't know what triggered the query but I remember it clearly. One of those moments where a child's question comes completely without warning out of left field to an adult who is unfailingly expected to know the answer. My father sat opposite in his armchair quietly reading, I was reading but not reading, mulling around something from a school-day or from an overheard adult conversation. I gained his attention in that childlike way, a two toned notification that something deep and meaningful is about to come.


"Aye son."

"What's the difference between knowledge and wisdom?"

Not a flicker of surprise. No question in return about what had made a boy of six or seven ask such a thing. He put the book, open pages down, on the thigh of his crossed legs and looked at the hearth of the fire for a second.

"Well, knowledge comes from learning. It's understanding things, knowing what things mean, how they work or maybe what should be done."

My eyebrows crooked together in concentration as I took it in.

"So what's wisdom then?" A serious voice.

He leaned back in the comfort of his chair and rested his head on palms linked behind his neck. He now looked up at the ceiling momentarily and exhaled softly through pursed lips before running one hand back through his hair.

"Well, if knowledge is knowing what should be done, then wisdom would actually be doing it."

"Ah. Right."

Roll forward forty-odd years and it's simple and not so simple at the same time. Sometimes I'm knowledgeable, sometimes I'm wise.

Sometimes, I'm just a prat!

{Sorry Love}


See you later.

Listening to The Jam,  'That's Entertainment'

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Animal Diplomacy.........

Tian Tian
Hullo ma wee blog,

Hullaballo and cute photo opportunities abound with the announcement that two breeding age giant pandas are being given by China to Edinburgh Zoo.

 The bears Tian Tian and Yangguang, a breeding pair born in 2003, will be under the custodianship of the zoo society.  The project represents the culmination of five years of political and diplomatic negotiation at the highest level and it is anticipated the giant pandas will arrive in their new home in Edinburgh as soon as a date is agreed. The gifting of these animals is a diplomatic gesture symbolising hoped for closer ties between China and the UK.

But wait a minute.

Is this for real?

Is this an offer made in black and white?

Do we have to Panda to the Chinese from now on?

Frankly I'm bamboo-zled....

Still on a cheerier note - at least they weren't gifted to Glasgow or they could have ended up like this alleged pair of Rangers supporters !

Animal diplomacy has been around for centuries. Numerous governments have been brought down by a coo!

OK. OK. I'm sorry!!!

See you later

Monday, 10 January 2011

While Scanning Family photos

The Robertson Clan 1915

Hullo ma wee blog,

I have been uploading some photos using the new scanner that my Lovely G got for her Christmas. I've been unwell through Christmas and the New Year and only now feel like I may be shaking off the chest infection that has laid me low and denied me any inspiration or inclination to post anything. The first few photos that I uploaded were just a bundle lying in the library, a few old family snaps that I'd had returned from a relative who had asked to borrow them to make duplicates.

Me being me I spent some time looking at the images I'd scanned into the laptop thinking about the people known and unknown who look back at me. Relatives and ancestors who lived and died long ago, I was caught I think looking for signs of familiar features passed down through the generations. A weel kent nose or hairline or a familiar glance. The first photo was of my Great Grandpa Robertson and family taken in late 1914 or early 1915. This formal portrait shows them together before the family split up as my Grandpa Sam Robertson left to go to war. He has just turned 19 as he stands there by his father, leaning informally towards him with his arm resting on his Dads chair, long fingers like a pianist trailing down. He's tall and healthy, used to the outdoors, son of an estate gamekeeper, working as a postman and used to tramping the countryside. He has my fathers hairline and ears and that way of looking right at you with a straight lipped mouth that I remember so well. His father, also called Sam, has that proud stern Victorian look. Huge calloused hands rest on his thighs and he looks straight at the camera. He is a devout Christian and he looks to me like he has the kind of conviction that comes from regular staunch and extended supplication. I'm reminded of stories from a father and Uncle of Sundays with their Grandparents spent in silent reading of bibles, long walks where a young boys distracted whistling would be met by a clip on the ear and a reminder that 'it was Gods day and not for wheepling'. Does his look in this photograph say that he hopes it will be over before too long or simply that he believes that when God is on your side that all will be well.

My Grandpa's brothers are at his side; James is 15 or 16, tall and lean like his older brother with similar features and steady gaze. Davy, who I remember as Uncle Davy is 14 and already working down the local pit. Like their father, they are all wearing fob watches on their Sunday best suits. Oddly it's Uncle Davy who is most familiar. That photograph, that look, is uncannily me at the same age with a few adjustments for updated clothes and hair, but the look is me and also my nephew Adam at the same age. Adam and I were so similar in our development - even thirty years apart - that most of the Robertson clan used our names interchangeably which was confusing for both of us for many years. Even today my older brother will often call Adam or I by the others name.  Back in the photo, the girls and their mother are also in Sunday best, the youngest in hand-made smock dresses. Margaret, the oldest, sits close beside by her father and like her older brother, has an arm on her fathers chair. She has a caring face and seems to be ready to support her Dad if needed. Her hands show signs of manual work. As the two youngest look directly at the camera one seems inquisitive perhaps, shy but pleased to be seen in her Sunday best, while the other seems to resent this strange contraption in front of her and its unblinking contemplation.

It is my Great Grandmother who is the most telling for me however. Of all of them she is not looking at the camera and has been caught with what seems an incredibly sad and poignant look on her face. Perhaps she knows too well that this may be the last time they are together, the reality of lists being printed in local newspapers of dead and injured on far away fields where mothers cannot reach foremost in her mind.

Gran and Grandad's Wedding 1920

This photo was taken when Gran and Grandad were married in early 1920. It's a very different man that kneels behind his new wife. He no longer looks at the camera and holds her -she was named Helen but always called Nell - by a protective arm passed across her chest where her fingers clasp his. He has the remains of a cigarette in his mouth and eyes that are hooded and shielded. His hair is newly cut but still still wild and unruly. He looks fierce and untrusting, ready to butt heads. I looked at this photo at length trying to fathom his expression. There has been a huge change in the few years between the two photos. I have posted before about his wartime experiences here. Granny Robertson was a twin and would go on to have twins of her own, the middle set of four children being two boys, Sam and Bill born in 1925.

Gran and Grandad 1940

By the time the final photo here was taken Grandpa Robertson had been all but crippled bythe ongoing effect of what was then called 'shell shock' but now is called 'post traumatic stress disorder'.

See you later.

Listening to Fyfe Dangerfield, 'Live wire'.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

1/1/11 - In the Midnight Hour.........

Hullo ma wee blog,

Happy New Year!

I carefully carried two cups brimming with hot tea and a plate with a couple of mince pies through to the lounge. I'd been blogging for an hour or so, making up the last post of the year and scooting through a few entries from the blogs I follow. It was just the two of us here for Ne'erday as we had cancelled plans to go through to my brother on the west coast. I have a chest infection {again} which has left me with a racking cough which almost folds me double when it hits and the Lovely G is displaying some painful bruising from having fallen  from halfway down the stairs during a power cut the other morning as she tried to get ready for work in the dark. {She's perfectly OK though, nothing seriously damaged, but now she creaks and groans almost as much as I do trying to get out of her chair. Yes, I know. I should never be in her chair in the first place!}  So - at the moment we share two sets of seriously aching ribs. This led me to cancel the trip across country and that has left us here with only each other for company across 'The Bells'.

As I carefully put down the cups on the small table between our favourite seats she is just closing down her own laptop and smiles sweetly at me. This in itself can be both off-putting and suspicious. Don't ask me how, it just is, and at this precise moment my man-radar has just gone into inter-continental-ballistic-overdrive. You're fooling no-one with that ' all sweetness and light' routine no matter how big and shiny those baby blues are.
"What?" I ask, suspiciously, but gently and hopefully not so suspiciously that she goes all defensive on me.
She smiles again.
"Oh no, there's something going on. What is it?"
 No point trying to be subtle now, that's clearly not going to work. I may have to apply pressure so I prepare to go into full grumpy old man mode.
"No, nothing. I was just reading your blog."
A nice warm feeling engulfs me, part relief, part pride, part pleasure and a tiny frisson of guilt for being so suspicious. She has always been highly complimentary as far as 'Crivens, Jings' goes, - except for the post about the French Lingerie advert, but let's not go into that right now- so I prepare to glow in the light of my one and only's warm approval.
I smile back.
"Oh, what were you reading?"
"I was just catching up with the last one."
"And what did you think?"
"I was thinking that it's about right. You never do any of your New Year resolutions."
"Oh...... And?"
"No, nothing...... just seemed about right, that's all."

I sit down and reach for the tea and lift a mince pie in my other hand. I don't know what it is but the radar is still pinging away back here. There's definitely something else going on. I take a sip, then a bite as I try to work out what's happening without giving off signs that I'm on to her. It's important not to give the game away in situations like this. Never let on that you're on to them, that's the trick.
But she's still smiling. There's definitely something going on. She's not really looking at me. That's a sure sign, a dead giveaway. I'm onto you doll. I know there's something else here. What are you up to?......

"I've made my New Years resolutions."
She emphasises the 'my' part in the last sentence. I'm deep in thought. I still don't get it so I'm not really paying attention as I respond.
{According to my Lovely G this is a normal part of my behaviour. I never listen, I never pay attention and I never 'get it'.}
"Oh yes. I've made my New Year resolutions. Unlike you I always do them don't I?"
I'm still not paying attention. What is she up to? What can it be? Could it be? No, probably not. What about?......

Still not listening.

In my mind my radar is doing that roving around like in the heads up display of a fighter cockpit as it searches relentlessly for it's target. That takes a lot of attention if your going to avoid an attack or less likely, get a diversionary attack of your own in first.

"D'you want to hear them?"
The radar locks on with high pitched warning tone.
Oops. Missed that one.
"Um.....Aye....of course."

"Your going to lose weight. You're going to take more exercise, get the garden sorted out, complete that list of DIY and be much less of a Grumpy Old Man in every sense of the word.............."

"And phone your Aunts and Uncles......"

Ah Bugger!!!!

Help ma Boab!

See you later.

Listening heart sink.

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 ...