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Monday, 5 December 2011

We'll just have to grin and bear it.

Oh joy! Tian Tian and Yuang Guang are  here! Of course, they are Edinburgh Zoo's pair of giant pandas, just arrived on 'loan' from China. Why the punctuation, you wonder? Well, 'loan' isn't exactly the word that seems appropriate to me, unless it makes you think of the phrase 'loan shark'. When you lend something to your friend, do you charge for the privilege? I thought not. Edinburgh is paying £636,000 per year for ten years for the 'loan' of the pandas. I'd suggest 'rent' is a better word.

Meanwhile, Big Eck is in China, thanking them for the 'gift' of the pandas. With Christmas fast approaching, that's given me an idea. "There you go son, Happy Xmas. Now, that'll be £50 please." Can't hang around. I'm off to the late night store for lots of Xmas 'gifts'. This time next year, Rodney, we'll be millionaires.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Liberally distributed

“As people do better, they start voting like Republicans - unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing”

This a well-known quote from Karl Rove.  Why, you might ask, would I of all people be quoting someone I detest so much? Well, it's simply that to some extent I agree with him. I believe that with education, and just as importantly with maturity come, for most of us, a kind of mellowing, a realisation that acquisitiveness is not all there is to life. We begin to realise that the question "What should I give some of my hard-earned money to others less fortunate?" should immediately prompt the answer "Because you can." That ought to be enough. However, you'll often find that the right in politics ask the question slightly differently. They ask, "Why should I give more of my heard-earned money to those too lazy to make their own fortunes?"  This is based on the American Dream, more properly known as the American Myth. In this scenario, anyone willing to work hard is practically guaranteed wealth. I like this idea. It seems to me that if this is correct, I can work like stink for a few years and then retire to Florida and soak up the rays.

Wait a minute though. If this is right, how come so many Americans are working at three jobs and still unable to hold body and soul together? Conversely, how come a lot of the wealthiest can sit on their fat cans in the country club, soaking up the gin and getting richer by the minute? Allow me to enlighten you. The American Dream propagated by the right is based on the notion that wealth is infinite. It isn't. We all get a share and some of us, for whatever reason (let's go along with them for a minute and call it hard work), get a bigger share. This means that some of us get a smaller share. It's an inescapable consequence of most economic systems. Nowhere is there the smallest shred of evidence that everyone can get wealthy. Nowhere, unless that is you know differently. I won't hold my breath.

Meanwhile, I'll stick with the idea that being mature means among other things letting social injustice bother me, sparing a thought for those less fortunate and helping when I can. It doesn't make me a saint, it just makes me human. Try it Karl. What am I saying?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Me? Disruptive? Oh, I hope so.

This blog has been prompted by an article I've just read, written by Naomi Wolf in the Huffington Post, in response to Mayor Bloomberg of NYC's stated intention to legislate against the Occupy Wall Street campaigners. Apparently, Bloomberg is upset that the lives of residents are being disrupted. It's a very good article which states plainly and concisely why the First Amendment to the US Constitution forbids him from doing that. Good for her.

Now, while we over here in God's country might think we would never see the kind of abuses of power that being governed by corporations brings, but the truth is we see them every day. The very idea that just because a group of citizens decide to occupy a public space, which they part own, the police might feel the urge to give them a little prod now and then, questioning their right to be there, tells us that. We employ government, they don't employ us. It's their job in a nominal democracy to represent each of us to the best of their ability and equally. It seems, sadly, that not too many politicians see democracy that way, so now and then they need to be reminded  in no uncertain terms of their obligations to their employers. I'm one of the 99%. Are you?

The First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (My italics)

Naomi's excellent article can be found here.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Encore, nous allons

Once more, the lawmakers and the officials they appoint have conspired to spoil the game. I refer, of course, to the disgraceful decision by Irish/French referee (whose idea was it to think we'd all buy into his non-partisanship?) Alain Rolland. Welsh captain Sam Warburton, guilty of, at worst, over-enthusiasm, went low into a tackle, drove upwards as we're all trained to do and misjudged by inches how far to go. In steps the overly dramatic (aren't they all?) Rolland and issues a red card. This changed the entire course of the game. Wales lost their talisman, a man who will easily get into most people's RWC 2011 Dream Team. He has been Wales' player of the tournament and I would have thought would at least be considered for the major prize. The end for him, when it came, must be tragic. I can't begin to imagine how he feels.

Despite this massive setback, Wales played out of their skins, outplaying the French for a large part of the game. They came very close to winning this game, a victory which would have been talked about for years. I for one am sad they didn't, although I'll now gladly throw my not inconsiderable weight behind their campaign to bring the cup north of the equator.

I strongly believe that this RWC must be the turning point for lawmakers, officials, unions and players alike. It's time we started to take our game back. It seems to me that we as the bedrock of the game have to let these people know that they don't work for the media or the sponsors. They work for us. It's our game and we're pissed. So, start to agitate, complain, let your regional officials know what you think. If they don't listen, boycott international and professional rugby until they do.

I'm not a luddite. I'm for change where it obviously improves the game. However, having 35 year old forwards below a certain league level play Under-19 rules is hard to fathom. Persisting with scrummaging laws which actually cause collapses is moronic and does nothing to allay the fears of conspiracy theorists like me who believe the powers-that-be are trying to depower the scrum to the level of negating it as a contest, thus turning Rugby Union into Rugby League, seen as a more commercially viable sport. When that happens, prop forwards can all pack up and find another sport. Tinkering with the laws to the extent of making defence harder and harder does nothing to improve the game. If you want to watch the Jessicas sprinting up the wing and diving over the line for 80 minutes, Rugby League awaits you. If you truly love this game of ours, wake up and smell the Kenyan Fair Trade coffee.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Chalk and cheese

South African rugby lost a great player today, and a coach who I for one will not miss. Peter de Villiers has been a loose cannon and an embarrassment to his country's reputation for far too long. His disgraceful remarks following Schalk Burger's gouging of Luke Fitzgerald in 2009 marked him, for me, as the kind of person who should never be allowed near the sport I love. Anyone who saw the footage of Burger quite deliberately wrapping his hand over Fitzgerald's forehead and digging fingers into both eyes can be left in no doubt as to the intent of the man. Good riddance de Villiers.

Victor Matfield, a giant in every sense of the word, is another matter. I have been involved with rugby in one way or the other for 42 years. I've been fortunate enough to live through some of the greatest times rugby union worldwide has had, and to witness some fabulous players. I watched the great Welsh teams of the 70s, including the Pontypool front row, Merve the Swerve, Barry John, Gerald Davies, Benny and JPR. I witnessed the sheer beauty and brutal forward play of the French, with perhaps Jean-Pierre Rives the first to spring to mind. I saw Beaumont and Co. sweep all before them. More recently, there has been the appearance of that magnificent 'freak', Jonah Lomu.  I reserve the highest respect, though, for those players who showed that rare commodity to their opponents. Willie-John McBride was one such, Francois Pienaar another. John Eales is yet another. What separated these great players from the others was their perspective. I'm pretty sure that they would all acknowledge, and I say this with confidence because I've seen the way they acted toward their opponents, that rugby is the greatest game in the world, but it's just that, a game. From what I can see, Victor Matfield deserves to be included in this list of great sportsmen. Of course, he is much more than that. With John Smit (another player who is, it seems about to announce his retirement) throwing in, he has dominated the lofty regions of the lineout for years.  He, they, will be missed.

On the same subject, I'd like to thank Victor, John, Shane Williams and all the others who will slip from the international stage for all the entertainment they've given us over the years. Here's hoping they do a better job of guest summarising than Raging Heifer, Jonathan Davies, Eddie Butler and the rest of the dire pundits we've had to get used to over the last few years.

Monday, 26 September 2011

It's all gone egg shaped

Having calmed down somewhat from the disappointment and anger of the defeat to Argentina yesterday, I'm ready to pass a slightly more considered opinion. I was right the first time. In essence, the referee gave Argentina three points while denying Scotland three. First off he penalised Geoff Cross twice for slipping, for Christ's sake. Slipping! On one of the wettest days of the year no less. Now, I can understand penalising someone who's attempting to pull the scrum down, like, oh I don't know, the Argentinian tighthead, who was face down on the ground with Chunk Jacobsen on top of him before Cross even started to slide. There is a crisis in rugby when it comes to refereeing scrums. The IRB has boxed itself into a corner and won't admit it has got it wrong. They're convinced they can legislate to prevent scrum collapses. They started by approaching the problem by enforcing several pauses when the scrum comes together, even rather cleverly calling one of them a pause. More scrums collapsed, so they increased the length of the pause, thus ensuring more collapses. It's OK though, because there is an answer. You guessed it, make the pause longer. You see my point, I'm sure. Twenty years ago refs made a mark and stood back to allow those who knew what they were doing to get on with it. The ball went in, cheating went on and the ball emerged seconds later to be moved away. It wasn't broke, so they tried to fix it.

Now on to the final ignominy. Anyone who saw the game is fully aware of just how far offside Felipe Contepomi was. Dan Parks appealed to deaf ears. Barnes didn't even ask the touch judge, not that he should have to. Officials are now full time professionals, and as such ought to be held to professional standards. That isn't happening because the old fart way is to simply accept that 'refs make mistakes'. It's not good enough. Those who purport to have the best interests of the game at heart need to put their money where their mouths are, and not just stuff them with caviar.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but we can fix it. I'll be in front of my TV on Saturday morning, bacon sandwich in hand, watching England getting the gubbing of their lives. I might even get up early the next morning to see Georgia pull of the shock of the tournament.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I miss Jock Lewis

I read a blog today which started me reminiscing about my dad and now I feel compelled to share my feelings with you. It's all a bit emotional so feel free to switch blogs to something more cheerful. I really don't mind.

In 1998 my father, still working at the age of 74, was at a meeting when he felt unwell. He was carted off to hospital with a suspected stroke, later downgraded to a TIA. Some time later, he had a scan and they found what turned out to be a Glioblastoma Multiforme Grade 4, a vicious predator wrapping itself in and out of the folds of his brain. Within a week or two, I was sitting in the waiting room at the Southern Genera l with my brother John and stepmother Linda, waiting to find out how my Dad had come through the inevitable major brain operation. John and I talked to the surgeon, and his prognosis was that Dad would be killed by this monster, most likely, given his age, in less than six months. I can remember feeling that it wasn't real, because it couldn't be. John 'Jock' Lewis never took a backward step in his life and this of all things wasn't about to beat him. To be honest John, the eldest of four siblings (my younger sister Carol and elder brother Tom weren't able to be there), was the one who took in all the detail, which was just as well, because I was bugger all use at that point.

So there it was. John and I spent countless hours on the internet, desperately trying to find some cure with no luck at all. This particular tumor kills just about everybody it afflicts. We did, however, come across a support group and quickly started to learn the etiquette of being around sufferers. One of the first things we learned was that they don't call themselves sufferers, but survivors. I became particularly attracted to a story being written by a survivor during the period of remission many enjoy before the inevitable return of the beast. This guy actually said he felt better and fitter at that time than he had ever felt. That led me to tell my Dad something I still beat myself up for.

One day, while my wife kept my stepmother occupied, I sneaked my Dad a flies' cemetery (a fruit slice for the uninitiated). Bathing in the afterglow, he suddenly looked me right in the eye and said, "This is going to kill me, isn't it?" Jeez, talk about being forthright. I gathered my thoughts and replied, "Yes Dad, it is, but there will be a period when you'll feel better, much better, for a while. You might even be able to do a lot of things you can't now. That'll last a while, and then the tumour will come back and this time it won't go away." Trust me when I say I genuinely believed that. Everything I'd read made me believe it. It wasn't true. I should have stopped at, "Yes."

Fast forward a couple of months and Dad had gone downhill pretty steadily. He was now completely dependent on others for everything. Once in a while, Linda would allow me to push him down the hill to the Eglinton Arms, the pub he loved. It was there, sitting over a Guinness, the one thing he could drink without his hands shaking uncontrollably, that he said with a smile, "I'm still waiting for the good bit." I know he was trying to make light of it, but it broke my heart. Here I was, healthy and reasonably fit, and I'd promised this man some relief from this dread affliction, relief which never came. It was one of the worst moments of my life.

In the autumn, things began to come to a head. He eventually lost the power of speech, had to have a team of nurses looking after him during the day, and either I or one of my brothers came and stayed overnight with him to give Linda some relief. I'd sleep in the bed next to him, or at least try to. Don't think it was hard for me, by the way. I lived seven miles away. Tom and John both lived in the south east of England, but they uncomplainingly did their best to fit their lives around working and travelling to help out. They were amazing during the whole thing. In a way, I feel I was lucky that I got to spend so much time with him.

At the end of September 1999, Dad left us. As it happened, I was in his kitchen while Linda sat with him. I heard her call my name and I knew. I just knew. He'd gone. I went through, looked at her and sat down. We just sat there for God knows how long. Eventually, I decided I had to call Tom and John. As I started to tell John about it, the floodgates opened. I couldn't control the sobbing. If I'm being honest, I'm crying now, but time does actually help.

The next few days, believe it or not, flew by. We had a send off to prepare, and it was going to be a good one. John and I prepared and printed an Order of Service featuring a picture on the front of Dad on a boat in Florida, smiling, and on the back a picture of him from behind flashing two fingers. I know it's daft, but I imagined the salute was for the surgeon who only gave him six months, when he managed a year. That would be fitting. His coffin came down the aisle to Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood', and later we sang 'You Are My Sunshine'. It was a belter of a funeral. The one thing I would have done differently if I'd thought of it at the time would have been to read out the Dylan Thomas poem which I'm going to use now, because it seems so fitting.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I still sometimes pass dad's house and I stop and stare at it, as if he's going to step out of the front door. Maybe I should think about quitting that. Maybe it's good for me. Who knows? What I do know is this; Jock Lewis never went gentle. He raged until he couldn't rage any more. I loved him dearly and I miss him every day. This isn't much of a story but it's all I have. If you stuck around this long, thanks. If you didn't, I don't blame you. I even thought about baling out half way through.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Highway (A82) to Heaven Pt. 2

Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny, if a little cool and breezy. We set of through Portree to take a trip up the Trotternish peninsula. Almost straight away the Old Man of Storr came into view, a strange pinnacle of rock Brenda describes as looking like a fir tree. See for yourself.

Further up the coast road, we came to Kilt Rock, a cliff named for the pleats in the rock reminiscent of Fingal's Cave or the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Shortly after leaving here, we stumbled across the small privately run Fossil Museum at Ellishadder,  housed in an old cottage without even an electrical supply. The young girl who worked there explained the whole thing started many years ago with her uncle stumbling across a fossil while walking along the beach and led to a lifetime (so far) of collecting). They have, among other things, what appears at first to be a large slab of rock with a raptor footprint. On closer examination, you can see the Guinness Book of Records' entry for the smallest fossilised dinosaur footprint ever found. It appears that the raptor was walking along the beach with a youngster running in and out around its feet, leaving a tiny print inside the huge one. This little gem is well worth a visit.

By now, we had a bit of a drouth on, so it was a bit of luck that led to us stumbling across the Small & Cosy Teahouse. This is housed on the bottom floor of an attractive stone-built cottage with excellent views across to Barra and South Uist. It's run by a young Czech lady and has a list of teas from all over the world which would put a Twinings shop to shame. I had Oolong and Brenda had Gawd knows what, but along with a couple of very tasty cakes, it all went down a treat.

Finally, we visited the Museum of Island Life at Kilmuir in the north of the peninsula. There's a collection of seven thatched cottages and an old smithy illustrating island life around 100 years ago. It's fascinating and well worth the small admission charge. Before you leave there, you might want to take a walk up to the nearby cemetery, where Flora McDonald is buried.

From then on, it was just a gentle drive around the rest of the peninsula, through Uig and back to Quay Street in Portree for a nice meal before sloping off back to Galarapin to get out feet up and get a good night's sleep to prepapre for our trip to Neist point the next day. I'll leav you for the moment with a not untypical Skye roadside (sometimes in the middle of the road) scene.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Highway (A82) to Heaven.

Friday 22nd July was my birthday. It was also the day I picked up Brenda from dialysis and we set out on the road to Skye. We were only there for 3 nights in total, but what a place to spend the weekend. There and back is a total of around 11 hours driving, but it was worth every minute. With Glencoe (mentioned in another blog)  behind us, it wasn't long before Fort William hove into view. It's another of my favourite places to visit, but we had no time to waste. Pressing on, we were soon turning off the A82 onto the Glengarry road. This was a first for me and didn't disappoint. At the top of the road, there's a viewpoint looking down the glen. The views are just stunning. You don't get any idea of scale from the picture below, but it gives some indication of just how spectacular it is.

After Glengarry, things just got better and better. Travelling through Kintail, with its gorgeous Five Sisters, then on to Eilean Donan Castle at the juncture of Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long, I knew the Kyle of Lochalsh,and the Skye Bridge were close. Eilean Donan is an iconic castle, probably one of Scotland's best known sights. It's even better 'in the flesh' than in the photographs.

A short time later, we found ourselves at the Sky Bridge and suddenly we were on Skye. Just to be there was a thrill. I'd wanted to do this trip for years and now it was happening. One of the first things I noticed was the quality of the roads, other than the last couple of miles up to Neist Point, a private road, I don't remember any potholes at all.

As we came up to Sligachan, we were treated to out first proper view of the Cuillins. Again, they were every bit as spectacular as I'd imagined. See for yourself, although oncve more the pictures don't really do it justice.

And so we pressed on to Portree, the only town on the island, and its capital. On of its more striking features is Quay Street, leading down to the harbour, with multicolured  houses. 

It was at this point we hit just about our only problem of the weekend. We tried every eatery on Quay Street with no success. There were just no tables to be found anywhere. Luckily, the next place we tried, The Cafe on Wentworth Street, had a couple of tables to spare, although we didn't get there a moment too soon, as the place began to get busy very fast. Anyway, after a dinner of calamari and steak, and feeling much better, we headed off to The Rowans B&B at Garalapin, a couple of miles outside Portree.

What a treat the Rowans turned out to be. It's run by Anne Long with help from husband Graham. Anne is a natural at running a B&B, with a not inconsiderable talent for breakfast, I might add. Honestly, if you ever consider going to Skye, you should think about giving them a call, or visit . 

This started out as a quick description of a weekend in Skye, but it just didn't feel right to try to get it all into a few paragraphs, so I'm going to split it up a bit. In the next episode, we trot around the edge of the Trotternish peninsula. with fantastic sights, the best tearoom in the world and a couple of museums.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The EDL are not racist. Honest.

I just listened to a YouTube video with a guy from Northern Ireland, on an ENGLISH Defence League march in Bradford, waffling about his wife's freedom not to wear a burkah. Oh, it was riveting stuff. "In America, they put these people in Guantanamo Bay and they interrogate them. What do we do in England?"  He's Irish, for God's sake! Obviously he does have something in common with the EDL. He's a bigoted thug. To cries of "Fookin' Pakis!" the animals do their best to intimidate both the counter protesters and the police, hurling missiles. One of them even rather comically adopts what he thinks is the classical boxer's stance, hoping to frighten off one of the other side. He fails, so his big brave mates come to his aid, all no doubt hoping to get a boot or two in once the other guy's on the ground.

Meanwhile, Tommy Robinson, leader of the august organisation so dedicated to preserving our freedoms by the Bush-esque tactic of removing them, denies any connection whatsoever between the EDL and Anders Breivik, that erstwhile Knight Templar so dedicated to democracy. Nice try Tommy, but you really need to do better. We're not buying it. Take your brand of filth and shove where the Nordic sun don't shine.

So obsessed are we with the perceived threat of Islamic terrorism, we are prepared to believe anything. White supremacists might not be carrying out attacks in similar numbers to others, but I for one was not surprised at the Norwegian attacks. A quick troll through the internet will show you that some of Europe and America's right wing extremists have been preparing just such atrocities. Just have a scan through some of the groups on Facebook and you'll see what I mean. Timothy McVeigh should have taught all of us that lesson. Be honest. When the news of the car bombing and subsequent shootings in Norway started to filter down on the news, what was your first thought? Who did you want to blame? Well, for most of us, we were probably wrong. That includes me.

If you want a glance at who's claiming to protect your freedoms, have a look for yourself.

I'll give you a couple of quotes from Breivik's 'manifesto'.

"It is highly advisable to structure any
street protest organisation after the English Defence League (EDL) model as it is the only
way to avoid paralyzing scrutiny and persecution."

"I may or may not have had contact
with at least 2 of these co-founders since the founding. Obviously, I can’t reveal any
sensitive information so the above characteristic might be what I want you to believe and
not the actual truth:-)."

To add balance, he does go on to describe the EDL in the way Robinson states, but it telling that he lists 600 members of that organisation as friends.

Here's another quote from Breivik. 

"Feb 28th: The Norwegian Intelligence Agency (PST) just released its annual report on terror
estimates in Norway. I have been waiting for this report for several weeks now. Apparently,
it’s the same expectations as usual when it comes to Islamic terror; imminent danger.
However, they then specify that the largest right wing threat in Norway is that a subsidiary
of English Defense League (EDL); Norwegian Defense League (NDL) is in the process of
gaining strength. They also state, between the lines, that both EDL and the NDL are
dangerous and violent right wing extremists that adhere to racism, fascism and Nazism."

This, in my view, is the tip of the nationalist, right wing iceberg. They're everywhere, and are every bit as nasty as the other fundamentalist groups our leaders would have us believe are the only threat to our peace and security. reader, beware.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Buachaille, Beauty and Betty

The title might at first glance seem strange, but those three 'Bs' sum up Glencoe for me. Approaching the glen from its eastern end, the huge massif of Buachaille Etive Mor, the Great Herdsman of Etive, is the first sign for me that I'm about to enter the brooding Glen of Sorrows. It's my favourite mountain, almost perfectly shaped from the right angle.

The Glen itself is darkly beautiful. If you know something of its history, it's hard not to let that colour your perception of it. For this reason, it can seem a melancholy place, especially when the weather is less than favourable. However, it is so much more. The Three Sisters, Aonach Dubh, Gearr Aonach and Beinn Fhada, each seem to use their huge buttresses to guard the southern flank of the Glen. On the northern side, the Aonach Eagach ridge runs 6km from Sron Garbh to Sgurr nam Fiannaidh, providing one of the country's premier ridge walks. All in all, the Glen really is beautiful and well worth a visit.

Then there's Betty. Betty Keyes, to be precise. She has worked at the new visitor centre since its inception in 2002, and appears to have loved every minute of it. Yesterday, one of the staff there told us she's often referred to as 'Mrs Glencoe' and that isn't really surprising, given her boundless enthusiasm. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I don't give money away lightly, and Betty has managed to sell us membership of the NTS twice now. I hope the NTS know what a diamond they have in Betty Keyes.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


Cameron says he wouldn't have done it if he'd known then what he knows now. Milliband says he did know then what he knows now, but that he (Milliband) didn't know then what Cameron knows now. Clegg stares into the distance. Dennis Skinner (yes he really is still alive and kicking Tories) has a bash, but Dangerous Dave is too slick for him. Still, it's good to see the old war donkey braying, just to let us know he's not quite done yet.

Meanwhile, Rupe says those he trusted let him down. "Who did you trust? " "Her", he says pointing at Sarah Brown's slumber party playmate. "So she let you down?" "Oh no, I still trust her." Clegg stares into the distance.

By the way, is your sleep disturbed by images of Rupert, Gordon, Rebekah, Elizabeth and Sarah all sprauncing around Chequers in jammies? Doesn't it just make you shudder?

As the sun sets, Rupe wisely disappears into the western sky, leaving behind promises to 'look into it'. Clegg uncrosses his legs. He swivels around. He stares into the distance. Wise? Monkey? You decide.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Palais de Justice or Hammersmith Palais?

I hope you'll forgive the somewhat contrived title, but sometimes it really does seem that courts of law have become places of entertainment, trials appearing more like soap operas than proceedings designed to divine guilt or innocence. Today, Casey Anthony is free from prison. She is the American mother who was indicted for the murder of her young daughter Caylee. The whole of America, it seems, has a strong opinion on the fact that she was acquitted. It doesn't seem to matter that there was no strong forensic evidence to suggest that her daughter was murdered, much less than that Casey murdered her. The whole trial was about defining what kind of character she is. I have no compunction in saying that she is a pathological liar and was by all accounts an appalling mother. I think, although this is my opinion and not evidence of guilt, that she either played a part in or knows what caused the death of her daughter. She is clearly guilty of concealing the child's body. She led police in circles with one lie after another. How awful a human being she is is a given.

That's where I stop though. I cannot in all conscience decide whether the child died accidentally (unlikely, since the remains had duct tape over the mouth) and the mother and/or accomplices hid the body to avoid awkward questions, whether someone else she knew killed the child and she lied about it to protect them out of obsession or fear, whether she did the dirty deed herself or whether some other scenario yet to be invented by my warped imagination is nearer the truth. I just don't know, and no matter what you think you know, unless you're one of a very small number of people, perhaps as small as one, you don't either.  What I am fairly certain of is that the jurors in the case did the best they could with the evidence presented. The failings of the prosecution case lie squarely with the prosecution. Having read as much as I can find about the case, I really can't see how they could reasonably come up with another verdict.

The media, on the other hand, think otherwise. They apparently have a monopoly on truth. This woman's trial took place as so often happens in the media long before the trial started, and not totally without help from the prosecution team.

Looking back to the OJ Simpson murder trial, I found myself in a small minority when I described his acquittal as just. No matter whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, it can never be described as justice when the accuser is allowed to break the law in order to uphold the law. In the case of Simpson, the prosecution team perpetrated a vast conspiracy of untruth and invention. They got the only verdict their presentation of their case merited. I'm reasonably confident that a conviction based on such blatant lies would have been reversed at the appeal stage, as I also am with the Anthony case.

Just in case we on this side of the Atlantic get too comfortable, thinking it couldn't happen here, it does every day. The Megrahi case, with all the lies and suppression of evidence leading to the conviction of a man who is probably innocent, is evidence of that. People often ask of me, "So, you would be happy to see a guilty person walk free?". The answer is yes, absolutely and without reservation, given that the alternative the one asking that kind of idiotic question is that an innocent person might go to prison now and then. You know the saying; You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Another question is often posed; "If it was someone you loved who was murdered, wouldn't you want someone punished for it?" Well yes, of course, but not just anyone. I'd want to know with a great degree of certainty that the person convicted was the guilty party. Ask Dr. Jim Swire what it's like living every day knowing that, not only will you never see your beloved daughter again, but that a man you believe innocent of her murder still stands convicted, while the man or men who really did it are walking free. I don't envy him that, but I admire the way he continues to fight for that elusive Holy Grail, justice. I hope he lives to see it. I hope we all do.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Just for a change, how about one less for the sodding Gipper?

Is it me or is a dead President who couldn't remember his own name getting just a little too much credit for the fall of the Soviet Union? Is it all becoming just a bit vomit-inducing?  I'd strongly suggest a statue of Mikhail Gorbachev would be more appropriate. At least he had something to do with the whole affair, unlike the Gipper, a man who struggled to recall which hole his food went in. The old Spitting Image puppet of Reagan with the top of his head hinged up to reveal an empty space turned out to be so prophetic.

Under Ronnie, US debt spiralled almost out of control, with ridiculous projects like SDI (or Star Wars as the old fart liked to call it), a gigantic waste of taxpayers' money based on nothing more than boffins bullshitting politicians, who so badly wanted to believe what they were being told that they just ignored all the warning voices from those who could see what a laughing stock the US government would become. Nicaraguans died in their thousands thanks to the filthy deals done between the USA, Iran and the Contras in Nicaragua. Funds from arms sales to Iran were channeled to the Contras, specifically forbidden by Congress under the Boland Agreement. Remember all that? No? Neither could Ronnie. Then there was the invasion of Grenada, whereby Reagan's mob engineered for the Organisation of Eastern Carribean States to appeal for US intervention, an action which they'd already decide to take. It was a sham in that it once more reflected the USA's policy of simply ignoring international law and its own treaties when it saw self interest looming.

Who could have failed to feel the bile rising in the throat at the regular sight of Ron kissing Thatcher on the cheek (sorry if you're eating dinner and had tried to shake that image out of your head forever)? He was a slimy, despicable, domineering bully who deserved to be tried and imprisoned for crimes against humanity, not feted as being on of the great Presidents. They'll be making room for him on Mount Rushmore next.

Perestroika! Glasnost! These are phrases redolent of the real changes being made in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. "One more for the Gipper" isn't.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Lost in Translation.

"Disability Living Allowance (DLA) has not been fundamentally changed or updated since it 
was introduced, and no longer provides the framework for supporting disabled people that 
is needed in the 21st Century." - It's not broken, so we're going to fix it.

"Over the last 18 years, DLA has failed to keep pace with the 
changing approach to disability in society, as successive governments have not seized the 
opportunity to review how this benefit works to support the aspirations of disabled people 
today." - The idiots missed the chance to save a shed load of money by cutting back on benefits to some of society's most vulnerable people. Not me.

"As it stands, DLA is complex to apply for and to administer, lacks consistency in 
the way it supports disabled people with similar needs, and has no systematic process 
for checking the ongoing accuracy of awards. " - We can make it even harder and more discouraging to apply for.

"Now is the time to reform DLA and replace it with a new benefit for working-age disabled people. 
A benefit that better reflects the desire from disabled people to live independent lives, not to be 
labelled by a condition, but to be judged for what an individual can do not what they can’t. " - Now is the time to force disabled people back to work or out on the streets.

"I would like to thank the impressive number of individuals and organisations who took the time 
to respond to our public consultation on DLA reform. " - Of course, I'm not going to pay any attention to their needs. I mean, I'm not disabled.

"Currently 3.2 million people receive DLA, an increase of around 30 per cent in 
the past 8 years. The announced reduction in projected working-age spend by 2015/16 will 
bring working-age expenditure back to 2009/10 levels." - The disabled are going to get less money next year. I, on the other hand, will get a pay rise, on the level of which I will have a vote

Maria Miller, Minister for the Disabled

What did you think was going to happen? Did you think the Tories and their whores were going to have a change of heart and suddenly start caring about society's most vulnerable people? Before they're finished, they're going to find a way to shaft every one of us, concentrating on the disabled, elderly and impoverished. We (and I mean we, you and I) are going to keep paying bonuses to the industries which drove us, with the complicity of their political pals, into near bankruptcy. Tell them. Tell those thieving bastards Cameron and Clegg that we're onto them. We know what they're doing, and we're pissed off. Write to your MP, especially if he or she's a Tory or a Libwhore. Tell him or her that the birthright is ours, not his or hers. Tell him or her that he or she might want to ponder on the fragility of a delicately poised coalition government and the fickleness of the electorate. If Cameron thinks he's Thatcher, he's got another think coming. He's going to be looking for a new job a lot quicker than she was. Let's not make it any longer than necessary, shall we? Oh, and Maria, there's always voluntary euthanasia. Kerching.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

It gets better

I just responded to a TV advert. It was for an online project called 'It gets better', which is aimed mainly at LGBT teens who may be feeling suicidal. Many young gay teens don't think life will get any better. They may be bullied or may just not know how to act in the absence of mentors who can help them see that life will improve for them.

I'm asking you to visit the site, add your support, share the message. Your views on sexuality are yours and I respect that, but teenagers committing suicide because of bullying or simple inability to face life has to prick all our consciences. Please, take a look at . I'd take it as a personal favour. Thank you.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Salmond Leap

I'm getting splinters on my arse. I've spent so long sitting on the fence as far as Scottish independence is concerned, it's even embarrassing me. In an effort make it clear where I stand on the issue, here it is. I'm not sure. Economically, I'm not convinced it's the best thing for us. On the other hand (yes, I do realise I'm starting to sound like Rep Tevye), I'm not absolutely sure it wouldn't be a good move.

One half of me feels there's strength in numbers in extremely difficult economic circumstances. However, I could also argue that at the moment we're tied to our neighbours, who are managing to mismanage the economy in a very major way. Perhaps cutting the bonds would free us up to pursue innovative economic policies. It's certainly possible to turn a small nation into a place where the population is happy and the standard of living is high. It would be a laudable ambition to aim for standards such as are found in Scandinavia. I could even argue that the high levels of taxation and cost of living found in these nations might be a worthwhile price to pay for having a decent country to live in. How much I'm actually paid is not nearly as important to me as I get older as how well I can live. I mean by that, for want of a better word, how happy I can be.

Take the phrase 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. How much true meaning can that have in an ever more aggressive capitalist, free market economy, which sees those less able to take care of themselves sink ever further down the ladder? How good can I feel about myself if the plight of others means nothing to me? Does hard cash and acquisitiveness really make one feel good?

I realise I've digressed a little, but if you know me you'll know I'm an intellectual butterfly. What does matter is this. I'll be 54 years old in a month's time and I've never lived in a country governed by any party other than  the two who seem ever more identical. I've never seen any economy other than one essentially controlled not by elected officials, but by appalling little men in coloured coats screaming at each other on the Stock Exchange floor. I've heard some inventive ideas on improving our lot, but they're always stifled by vested interests. Why do we allow the wealthy to fool us into thinking they have our best interests at heart? Do we really believe they care whether we succeed, or are happy? As long as we let them convince us that we need to leave the 'professionals' in charge, I don't believe anything constructive will change.

So back to Alex and his intrepid crew. Seriously, it's not that I think he's the Messiah. I don't think I'd enjoy having a pint with him, although if he were buying it would help. It's just that you never know whether something will work until you try it. He at least has something of a track record in trying to keep some promises, unlike all the others we've tried, who uniformly backtrack on manifestos time and again. This is far from being a SNP political rant. I'm very far from joining any party, much less the SNP, but I do think there are practicalities to electing leaders. The greens are not going to get elected and the Monster Raving Loony Party dream died with Lord Sutch, so it seems Alex is the best alternative. I'm ready to give him a crack.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Blue Tie Thinking

So Philip Davies, MP thinks disabled people should work below minimum wage to encourage employers to take them on, arguing that an employer won't take on a disabled person when they can get an equally qualified able-bodied one. How this for a quote? "People with a learning disability can't be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn't got a disability" Now that's an interesting statement from someone with a degree in History and Politics. I'd be interested to know where he got this gem of information from. His arse may be a good place to look, since this guy's head appears to be firmly lodged between his nether cheeks.

His early career was meteoric. He rose from cashier to Customer Relations Project Manager (he handed out those big round badges) in only 6 years, so you could already see that he was destined for great things. He didn't have long to wait. In 2001, he contested the Colne Valley constituency, where he bombed. Undeterred, and with contributions from Lord Ashcroft's dodgy front company BCS, he managed to unseat Chris Leslie in Shipley and he never looked back. He couldn't you see, because of where his head is stuck.

Anyhoo, since the Great Victory, Our Phil has managed to keep his name in the papers with a series of well-timed and obviously well-thought-out outpourings of wisdom. 

Foe example, when a Muslim group was wrongly accused of an act of vandalism, Davies was quoted in the Sun (yes, the Sun, honest) thus, "If there's anybody who should fuck off, it's the Muslims who do this sort of thing." The Sun later apologised for yet another monumental cock-up, but Big Phil stood his ground.

He's also urged all Muslims in the country to fly the Union Flag on mosques to show their unity and commitment to Britain.

Last year he tried to stop the UK Youth Parliament staging a debate in the House of Commons on the basis that it would set a precedent, allowing organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain to use the House. I've got news from him there, The precedent's already been set. Fanatical kooks are already using it. See what I did there, Phil?

Look, I could go on all day about Davies, but suffice it to say that John Bercow, Conservative MP and present House Speaker called him a troglodyte. He's made an arse of himself on about every issue of equality you can think of. Now he wants to make the disabled into second-class citizens. I don't think he's going to get his way, but it should be noted that moronic cavemen like this are being elected to Parliament. People of Shipley, at the next election, please return this MP to where he really belongs. Standing at the door of ASDA, having to smile at people of all colours and say, "How may I help you?" That's gotta hurt.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Posh Scousers

Here I am in the Grove House Hotel, Wallasey, just a stone's throw from the tunnel to Paradise. Well, Liverpol anyway. Actually, when most of us think of Merseyside, Liverpool comes to mind, but there is a hidden secret to the area. It's the Wirral peninsula. It's a proper little holiday area. We have a training school in Hoylake, about 6 or 7 miles from where I am now. The fifteen minute journey from the hotel to work is quite pleasant, and Hoylake itself is a very nice wee town. You're never far from water on the Wirral, be it the Irish Sea, the Mersey or the Dee estuaries.

The thing of it is, the Wirral is just bursting with surprises. Thornton Haugh, where I stay sometimes, is the most stunning conservation village. It's beautiful, and this on a peninsula where beauty isn't altogether uncommon. Hoylake has the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, sometimes used to host the British Open. New Brighton, once  a fashionable and bustling seaside resort, has faded a bit now, but it still has some very nice views and even nicer walks. Birkenhead has a fascinating U-Boat museum, comsisting of a real U-Boat which has been cut into sections. Wallasey isn't altogether ugly either. I could go on all night, but frankly I'm hungry and the grub at the Grove is award winning fare. Oh, and I was introduced last night to Nick, the owner and, nice man that he is, he furnished me with a wee glass of Macallan to aid restful sleep. Just for medicinal purposes, you understand.

Now, all of this is OK, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy my occasional trips down here, but I'll be honest. I'm missing my wife. She took a small tumble on Sunday and ended up with some nasty bruising which our cat is using to extort extra food from her. I never sleep well away from home and this trip is no different, although so far this is probably the best place I've stayed on the Wirral (and of course, last night's sleep was boosted by the medicine I mentioned earlier). I can't wait for Friday though, and the trek back to Scotland. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like Linwood.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Say Buddy, wanna buy a guitar?

Normally artistic integrity would prevent me from selling my soul for filthy lucre. However, in mitigation, the commercial interests at stake are not mine, but Number One Son's. He's just completed his pièce de résistance, a beautifully built acoustic guitar with lovely banding around the sound hole and at the base. There's a Brazilian rosewood (apparently as rare as hen's teeth) inlay at the end of the neck. I'm no expert in musical instruments, but I do know how much love and have a reasonable idea of how many hours were poured into this artwork. I also think I have a fair eye for good workmanship and can tell you there aren't any flaws I can spot. Oh, and he's trying to make it his first sale.

Iain could have taken the easy option after university and gone into teaching. He didn't. He chose instead to pursue something that captured his imagination, something that, with some application and a large slice of luck will ensure him a decent living, something that will give him that elusive ideal so many of us seek, real job satisfaction. I'm proud of him and I desperately hope he can make a go of this.

So, here's the hook. Are any of you in the market for a hand built guitar and are willing and able to pay a fair price? If you're reading this via Facebook, have a look at my friends list and pick out Iain Lewis. You will find a number of photos of his work in his photo albums.  If you know someone who would be interested in such an instrument, please think about pointing them in Iain's direction. Thanks for reading this blatant plug.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Remember, it's not about the money.

So, the Bahrain Grand Prix has been reinstated.  With a grasping toad like Bernie Ecclestone in charge, it's not exactly a surprise. What is somewhat surprising is that this august body thinks that any of us buy the line of horseshit they peddle to back up the announcement.

The FIA says the decision "reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain.". Really? Fully one quarter of the staff of the Bahrain International Circuit have been detained, some of them giving accounts of beatings and torture. 28 of them have been suspended or sacked and five are still imprisoned. Some have even left their own country because of the fear of arrest and torture.

The FIA cannot pretend that it does not know about the situation in Bahrain. Since the original race was postponed, it has worsened considerably, with, according to Human Rights Watch in New York, "large-scale arbitrary arrests, protracted incommunicado detention, and credible allegations of torture". This warning was delivered directly to FIA. They say that they detect a spirit of reconciliation. They're lying through their grasping teeth. If I know what's going on, they do too.

There were protests in Shia villages yesterday following the funeral of Zainab Ali Altajer. This unfortunate woman appears to have died from the effects of a blast bomb. When the protesters attempted to reach the main road, they were beaten back by use of rubber bullets and tear gas. The majority Shia population of Bahrain are brutally oppressed by the Sunni minority. FIA knows this.

Mark Webber said on his Twitter account, "When people in a country are being hurt, the issues are bigger than sport.". I agree. Mark, if you really believe that, and you have a conscience,  then you and your fellow drivers and team members know what to do. Defy FIA and simply refuse to race. It's really that simple. Damon Hill claims that F1 will now forever "have the blight of association with repressive methods to achieve order." I think he's right. With that in mind, what legacy do you want to leave? You and your contemporaries have the power to rescue the reputation of F1.

Mr Ecclestone and the committee which unanimously made this decision, it's too late to rescue your reputation. You are a greedy tyrant and will forever be seen as such. Don't bother doing the decent thing. Let decent people do it for you.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

All Hail Terry, the Dear Leader!

Four or five years back, I found myself drawn tom the Dark Side. For all of us this means different things. For some, it's just sneaking chocolate when nobody's watching, but for me it's Terry baiting. I'm not proud of that, but when you're at a loose end, it can be a lot of fun. "Who's Terry," I hear you ask. Well, he is none other than that stalwart councillor representing Ferguslie Park up at Renfrewshire Politburo. He runs a blog and what a blog it is too! It's nothing short of hilarious, although I'm not sure Terry's aware of that. He holds forth on many subjects. No, that's not really true. He holds forth on Alex Salmond (The Spiv (his words, not mine)), The Royal Family, Cuban democracy and the Great George Galloway Protestant Conspiracy Theory.

Cuba is the most fun. Terry's claim is that Cuba is far more democratic than the USA of the UK, for example. This is on the basis that they get very high turnouts (his latest claim is 99%) at 'elections'. Now, it's irrelevant to his argument that all of Cuba's representatives are returned unopposed, or that it's a one party state, nor is it appropriate to mention the fear of not voting (you know, We Know Where You Live). No, Terry says it's a democracy and every other observer is wrong, so that's that. He steadfastly refuses to acknowledge any of these facts or to engage in any kind of debate. Instead, any dissent is branded with one of his frequent catchphrases, the current favourite being 'ad hominem'.

Trust me, El Tel is the best free entertainment you'll get when at a loose end. His megalomaniacal pronouncements are legendary among the faithful. Sadly, though, he too has a Dark Side. It is that he is a mean, and I mean mean advesary. He orchestrated a vicious campaign a few short years ago against a friend of mine, culminating in a scurrilous story in the Herald. Don't get on the wrong side of Terry. D'oh!

Anyhoo, if you want to participate or even just observe the freak show that is Terry's blog, you can find it at


Saturday, 21 May 2011

I'll have the salmon

Well, that was the annual Paisley Rugby Football Club dinner, and another belter it was too. With Peter Wright, introduced by Malcolm Dodd, our esteemed President, as Ex-Scotland and Bristol Lions prop forward (he meant to say British Lion, dear), the night was set to be entertaining, and so it proved. Mr Wright, denizen of Slater's outsize department, proved to be a hoot. After a few jokes at the expense of various PRFC members, starting for some strange reason with me, he got into what we all wanted to hear, the real stories. He was hilarious after that, confirming, by and large, what we already suspected, that some  ex-Scotland players were, shall we say, total dicks. Some of the front row antics he described were frankly bladder wrenching.

On to John Cowan, lawyer, raconteur, snappy dresser and all round good egg. He kept us entertained with his descriptions of times past at PRFC. It would appear that John was something of a lad in his younger days, the life and soul of the Tour.

Then came the legend that is, and forever shall be, GTW Newlands. Gav's speech was up to its usual standard. Bloody awful. This was essentially Gav's swan song, since he has announced his retirement and appears to mean it this time. I have already placed an order for a Paisley Legends T shirt, Gav Newlands being the first of the series. I want to remember this evening, if only to serve as a warning never to attend a dinner where Gav is on the list of speakers. Missing you already, Gavin.

With Grant Murney having delivered the Vote of Thanks (we'll gloss over that), it was on to the Player Awards. Young Player of the Year went to Ryan McCready, who had already picked up the Murray Brown Trophy and the title of Club Captain. It's been a great year for Paisley's very own primadonna, he of the sweet temper. He deserves all these awards for his tireless efforts during the season. Next up, Players' Player of the Year was Kevin Browne, explosive back row player who is, unfortunately for us, trotting off to Australia in the autumn. Kevin said of his award, "I came looking for a club and found a family. Playing for PRFC hasn't been a privilege, it's been an honour." He was, of course, very very drunk Most Improved Player went to Scott 'Ted' Glover along with the Captain's Trophy for all his behind the scenes work organising matches and referees, getting strips washed etc. It's to Ted's credit that he immediately acknowledged the role that the old war-horse (he'll love that phrase), Grant Murney has played in his rise to prominence, although Ted himself has proved a willing pupil, with amazing results. Good for you, son. Gav Newlands was presented with the Golden Boot award for being top points scorer, and we were on to the award which gave me the most personal pleasure.

Anyone who attends games regularly will recognise the high-pitched screams which emanate from Al Brodie, in my opinion the heart and soul of the Paisley team. He always leads from the front, both vocally and physically. At training, when lineout drills start to get a bit slack, that voice snaps them back into line. Al has just had the best season I can remember him having, and fully deserves this award. Thanks for the memories Al.

So that was that, all bar the shouting. Drunken players, clutching awards and crying, or crying because they didn't get awards, or crying because they were drunk and it just didn't take much to get them started. Fat ginger guys trying to tuck their raffle prizes under their arms and get clear without breaking any bottles. Pretty much nobody with their dignity intact. And that, my friends, is tradition, just as it should be.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dan's the Man

On the back of some good news for our rugby club, to wit we have agreed sponsorship from the Piazza shopping centre in Paisley, enabling us to purchase new strips for the two senior teams, our ingenious prop (bet you never thought you'd hear those two words in the same sentence) Dan Witchell has had a banging idea. He suggested that, as part of our commitment to the community, we should consider wearing the badge of a local charity on our sleeves, perhaps forming a relationship with said charity and helping to raise funds for them. It's a great idea, but I forecast we'll have long discussions as to which charity we select. Now then, that's where you might be able to help. I'd like to hear from you with your suggestions,and to encourage you, if you should nominate the chosen charity, I will award you with a big mention on this very popular blog. What? Cheap? Me? You know this is Paisley, right? People here put double glazing in so the kids can't hear the ice-cream van.
By the way, our Mr. Witchell, as well as being a genius, is also something of an artist. You might want to get yourself down to the Paisley Centre and visit the Sunshine Gallery, where you'll find some of Dan's work. On the other hand, try clicking on to see some of his work.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A salute to Gorgeous George

In all the excitement, and I use the word loosely, surrounding the recent Scottish Parliamentary elections, I forgot to check the results to see if Gorgeous George Galloway had managed to once again wangle his way past a gullible electorate who completely missed the point. That is, he is a pompous, verbose, although sometimes given to misuse of two dollar words, a liar and an honorary life president of the Saddam Hussein Fan Club. Don't get me wrong. George, at least in small doses, can be quite amusing. Come to think of it, some footage of Idi Amin and Adolf Hitler have been known to raise a titter in the Lewis household. I did, however, quickly change channels when I was unfortunate enough to observe him on all fours, rubbing imaginary whiskers with imaginary paws and mewing, all in an apparent effort to get his leg over Rula Lenska, unsuccessfully I might add. 

If you'll forgive my profanity, I almost peed my pants when I heard him say to his good drinking buddy Saddam, "Sir, we salute your indefatigabiliy.". The only previous experience I have of the word 'indefatigable' is that was the name of a ship in C.S. Forester's 'Hornblower' series. I suppose we should thank George for keeping archaic language alive. 

There is, you may be surprised to learn, a dark side to Gorgeous. His friendship with that well known, sadly late, Iraqi property magnate (anybody's property he fancied, if you catch my drift) for a start. I'm not suggesting that George had any ulterior motives, other than his intense admiration for one of the world's great statesmen, I'm just throwing it out there, so to speak. Closer to home, can I be the only one who chuckled when George announced his candidacy for Parliamentary elections, standing for the, wait for it, Respect Party? Is my sense of irony just too sensitive? I have never once known George to show the slightest respect for anyone, with the exception of the aforementioned Iraqi playboy. If you have been unlucky enough to get through to his radio show and forgotten to pay homage to Gorgeous, well, you'll know what that red button on his console is for. He certainly does, and practises its use with monotonous regularity.

Since this piece risks giving George more publicity than his fake accent deserves, I'll close by saying this: don't  make the mistake that George's absence from the political scene will make it less exciting. It'll just be quieter. My deepest apologies go to Countess Roza-Marie Leopoldyna Lubienska (Rula Lenska, honestly, it's her real name and title) for dragging up a part of her past she probably wishes she could forget.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Half full

With the news full of fine example's of Man's inhumanity to Man, one could be forgiven for being fairly cynical about the basic decency of people in general. I'm here to tell you that, if you indulged that cynicism, you might just be barking up the wrong tree. Yes, the world does appear to be full of idiots asking us to believe that their particular version of faith demands that they commit despicable acts. People claiming to be Protestants, with no idea whatsoever of what that word actually means, send letter bombs to and attack personally an Irishman whose only real crime appears to be that he's a bit mouthy and doesn't like being asked stupid questions by journalists who ought to know better. 'Islamic' fundamentalists, ignoring the basic tenets of their scriptures, carry out appalling acts against other Muslims and those they deem to be the enemies of Islam. Despicable tyrants from Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, Zimbabwe, Russia, China, the UK and all points East,West, North and South oppress and murder their own citizens on the pretext of maintaining 'law and order' (ignoring the basic illegality of their own actions). Neocons and their slavish disciples in the USA sneer at and ignore the poor and needy in their own nation, and demonise and urge attacks on other nations, apparently on the basis that that's What Christ Would Do. I could go on painting this bleak picture, but you get the point, I'm sure.

However, while this doesn't serve to make the Earth and its most intellectually advanced residents (although that's debatable) seem so terribly attractive, there are days when little incidents occur which serve to redress the decency balance somewhat. Today was such a day. To set the scene, Houston & Kilellan Church were holding their annual fair. As usual, Jack McKechnie, an elder at said church and a good friend of ours, asked my wife Brenda if she would do her stint at the fair's bouncy castle between two pm and close of play. Jack does this because he's a nice guy and he knows how much Brenda loves this little once-a-year afternoon of fun. She's been doing it now for about eight years and never misses it. That's an act of kindness on Jack's part, but it's not the one I'm talking about. While we were looking after the castle, two kids from the same family were happily playing on the castle while their mother chatted to Brenda and me. Brenda happened to mention that she hadn't seen the stall selling strawberries and cream this year and that she loved this little treat. The lady in question pointed to a stall at the back of the area where we were and told us that was where the strawberries were being sold. Brenda was delighted, and we were making plans to send the errand boy (me) to get some when the kids reappeared carrying two tubs of strawberries and cream. Their mother, without a word to us, had kindly bought us them and sent the boys to deliver them. If you're reading this, by the way, nice lady, they were delicious and we deeply appreciated that random act of kindness.

Now, that might not seem to you to make up for all the awful qualities of humankind, but I beg to differ. For me, it's just another example of something I've seen over and over. On the basis that my personal experience has been to be the recipient of far more kindness than cruelty, then I must be driven to the scientific conclusion that there are many more nice people than nasty ones on this beautiful blue sphere. It's fact.

By the way, I had another little thrill when leaving the fair. I had my photograph taken holding a European Eagle Owl, the world's largest owl. It's a heavy bugger, I can tell you, but it is gorgeous, with amber ringed eyes and talons which can deliver a crushing strength of 600 pounds per square inch through those toenails. It can kill a deer. Up close, the power of its talons and beak are all too obvious. However, there is something of the divine about this creature. It has very soft feathers and lovely markings. It was a privilege to be allowed to spend a few minutes in the presence of its awesome beauty.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Selective thinking.

Following on from a conversation that got a little heated, I was set to thinking about our 'enemies' and our 'allies'. Going back some way, the Arab world and beyond was a playground for the West. Iraq and Iran in particular rose to power and fell from grace with monotonous regularity. At one point, the CIA backed the coup which saw the Shah, a wholly owned subsidiary of USA Inc., come to power. With movement of oil jeopardised, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi reached agreement with Iraq, giving his nation, and consequently his American paymasters, control of the Shatt-al-Arab, thus avoiding the good ol' USA from having to pay reasonable prices for their oil. Then of course, when Iranians had had enough of the Shah's cruelty, they had the temerity to overthrow him and install an Islamist government. Well, we can't have that, can we? Who do they think they are, exercising democracy before we can give it to them? 

Enter our hero, Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, dashing, good looking and, get this, obedient. At the West's request, he starts a war against those pesky Iranians, who now believe they can nationalise their own oil industry. So for a while that kept Iran busy and things started to go our way. Meanwhile, those bloody commies invaded Afghanistan, making us so angry. I mean, most of us don't know where Afghanistan is, and they're only towel heads after all, but it's the PRINCIPLE of the thing, isn't it? OK, no problem, we’ll just arm and fund those dashing Mujahideen chappies. They’ll take care of those nasty, baby-eating communists and then they’ll be our friends, let us build a gas pipeline through the middle of their country and we’ll all live happily ever after. How did that work out? The ungrateful little rogues bit the hand that fed them. Imagine that.

I hear you say that we have to learn from history, but I mean, it’s the principle of the thing. We can’t have them telling us what we can do in our country. I mean their country. No, that can’t be right. Oh, now I’m all confused. Whose country is it? Anyway, even if it is theirs, we know what’s best for them, don’t we? We’ve been travelling the world selflessly sorting other countries’ problems out for centuries.

Now, I know this might seem to you to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, and you might think it’s too serious an issue to treat so glibly, but come on, can we seriously believe that we’ve done a favour for the Middle East by constantly interfering, to the extent that we actually believed we could ‘install’ democracy in a country which doesn’t want it, and whose majority is the last grouping we would want in power? Why would we want the Shia majority, closely associated with Iran, to control Iraq’s oil? My facetiousness is well founded. If you actually believe we can get out of Iraq with any degree of dignity at all, I have to say you started it.

Bye the bye, when I refer to 'us', I'm thinking loosely of the UK and the USA, although some of our friends, probably bored with throwing shrimps on the barbie or hunting bears, occasionally like to join in the fun.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Drinking on duty

Well, with seven minutes to go in the Strathclyde's Finest v McLaren game, things were looking good for Paisley. Then, with a seeming inevitability, McLaren pulled it off. They got the fourth try and thus the bonus point, securing the league title in the process. After that, the McLaren support, who had had to listen to the Paisley Polis (we were all adorned in plastic police helmets and carrying squeaky truncheons to show solidarity with the Boys in Blue) chanting, "We're top of the league.", were able to turn the tables and sing said anthem right back at us. Fair dinkum. They earned the right and we can't complain. Of course, it's disappointing to be pipped at the post, but two things have to be said. Firstly, it was in Paisley's hands to win the league and we let it slide from our grasp. Secondly, it has still been a great season both for Paisley and for the neutral supporter, if such a thing exists. Every team in this league has conspired to produce some real festivals of rugby, from the bottom team to the top. I'd personally like to thank every one of them.

As a footnote, it was announced yesterday that Kevin Browne, our fiery wee flanker, has been shortlisted for the West League Player of the Year Award. Apparently nominations come from referees throughout the season, and it's quite unusual for Division Two players to be nominated. However, nobody who's seen Krazy Kev performing  this year will be very surprised. Fingers are crossed at Paisley that Kev can pick up a well deserved award before he heads for Australia in the autumn.

So that's it then. With only the AGM, club dinner and President's game to come, that's the season.  Time to start all over again...

For photographic evidence, or for the purposes of blackmail, click on:

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Hiding behind the law

Well, not any more. The Ian Tomlinson inquest has returned a verdict of unlawful killing. Good. The actions of the police officer concerned were entirely unacceptable. He is a bully and a coward, hiding behind a uniform. How does a police service claim to protect the public when at times it is that public which needs protection from them?

Let me make something clear. This is not an attack on a service which for the most part does its job and does it well, too often without thanks from those who should know better. My own brother was a Metropolitan Police officer for 32 years and I am intensely proud of the service he gave. The force he served in was not the parody the Met has become today. It was probably during the time of Sir Ian Blair (who in cahoots with his criminal namesake made a mockery of the concept of justice) that I began to realise that this force had got out of public control. When a member of the public, legally going about his business, can be executed by policemen acting under the orders of the Commissioner, there is no control left. Within hours both the Commissioner and the Prime Minister had openly declared that nothing illegal had happened, without recourse to even the pretence of a properly constituted and open enquiry. I refuse to live in a country where there is no ultimate accountability for public servants, in my employ. I will not accept that.

It's just a pity that the coroner in the Jean Charles de Menenez inquest didn't have the balls to stand up to political interference from the Blair twins. You might recall that, when the jury retired, they did so having been told by Sir Michael Wright that a verdict of unlawful killing was not an option. I thought that was the jury's job. perhaps it did not occur to Sir Michael that the inference of that interference is that we are asked to accept that shooting the wrong man is an entirely lawful activity as long as it's the police doing the shooting. That is probably that. It's pretty unlikely that de Menenez's relatives will ever see justice for his death. That must change. It must. It's worth reading . For a piece written a year after the event, its conclusions truned out to be prophetic.I quote:

"If such protocols [referring to the shoot-to-kill policy] truly exist in this form, they are a crime. They are a crime for which those who established the shoot-to-kill orders, rather than their subordinates, bear responsibility. And for which, in a just world, they would be charged.

They won't be, of course. The shoot-to-kill policy is protected - as was Guantanamo over here - by the woolly bromides of the "war on terror." And those, of course, cannot be questioned."

Who can argue with that?

Meanwhile, today's verdict might pave the way for a prosecution of the man who seriously assaulted Ian Tomlinson, in all likelihood causing the internal bleeding which led to his death. Maybe today is the day when we start to take our country back.

Monday, 2 May 2011

On the bandwagon

Oh well, everyone's talking about it, so I might as well jump in. Osama's dead and buried, after a fashion. The manner of his passing isn't really a cause for jubilation, in my opinion, but it was almost inevitable that he would die violently. It also has to be said that he chose and accepted that path. I personally wish it hadn't happened. I wish none of the nightmare that is the West's relationship with the Middle East and the wider world of Islam had happened, but it did. When the planes hit those towers, the die was cast, especially given the moronic stance taken by the Neocons who ran the President at the time. These dangerous fools still believe that might is the only thing  and no matter how often large powerful nations get their arses handed to them by simple tribesmen or South East Asian villagers, they will never believe otherwise. All that being said, the Al Qaeda faction weren't exactly peacemakers, and they certainly didn't shy away from interference in any nation they considered a target.

Al Qaeda's main function was originally to train fighters to foment rebellion in their own nations, to enable the formation of more and more Islamic republics. Of course, the idea of the peoples of those countries having any say in whether that happened was anathema to bin Laden and his minions. So, don't get fired with the idea that bin Laden was a 'good Muslim'. He was an appalling Muslim who simply ignored the basic tenets of the Qu'uran, brushing aside any of Allah's commandments which contradicted his world view. In this respect, he wasn't so different to Bush and his puppet masters.

On the whole, from where I'm standing, the alternative to killing bin Laden was terrifying. Capture would have led to many years of court appearances, constant TV footage giving the man a platform to continue to preach his hateful message and the prospect of Americans being taken hostage in an attempt to have him freed. There will probably be repercussions, but how much more frightening can they be than the idea that they were probably planning their next big coup anyway? Happy isn't the right word, but I didn't lose any sleep over the death of a mass murderer who hijacked his own faith to justify his political aspirations. Sounds kind of like Cheney and Bush eh?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

A hammering, another hammering and getting hammered.

Wow, what a day yesterday was. The weather was stunning, the rugby more so. First of all, the Under 18s gave my Development XV what is colloquially known in these parts as a pumpin'. They ran us ragged, with even their loosehead prop outgunning our backs from about 35 yards out.It was an awesome display by a side which obviously had no trouble motivating itself. The future's bright, the future's Paisley.

On to the main event. On the back of a very hard season, it's impressive to watch a team lift itself to new heights the way Paisley did yesterday. I don't think it's any exaggeration to say Moffat were blown away.It's been a ,long time since Paisley scored eight tries in one game. It was a joy to watch Big Stef Lach scoring two tries (unfortunately he picked up a yellow card for 'vigorous rucking' with 9 minutes 50 seconds to go, so the hat trick was not to be), Ryan McCready scoring three, and heartwarming to see the old fart GTW Newlands top his swan song with a try too.

Of course, the post-match shenanigans were of the usual standard. I think. I'm reliably informed that Gav Newlands' retirement celebration were moved to a local hostelry, where matters came to an interesting conclusion. Read next week's News of the World.

So, where does that leave us in terms of the league? Well, as Grant Murney, veteran scrum half and Zen Master said so eloquently after the game, "We've finished our games at the top of the league, and that's all we can do." The permutations are a little (I stress the word 'little') clearer. If McLaren beat the polis with a bonus point, they lift the title. If they win while scoring less than four tries, but win by a margin of sixteen or more points, they still win the league. If they win by fifteen points exactly, both teams are even on points and on points difference. In that case, the aggregate of both scores between the teams comes into play, and I'm delighted to announce Paisley have that one by 35-21. If they win by less than fifteen, again Paisley get it. McLaren have to work to win it. This week, please, make a point of hugging your local bobby. Tell him you're backing him. Make him feel good about himself. Just make sure the bugger shows up on Saturday with some adrenalin.

Whatever way it works out, I still think the world of a bunch of guys who've stuck together through thick and downright skinny. Pre-season starts soon. Be part of it. Play, lend your organisational skills or just prop up the bar, but be there. You really will be missing something if you don't. Message me and I'll give you any details you want, or visit here. See you there next season.