Friday, 31 August 2012

Now I'm Not One to Complain, But....

I wandered calmly around the town this afternoon, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sun before the rain returned to refresh us once more.  The doleful experience of having the pathway blocked by inconsiderate people wandering with no thought for others, women barging their prams into anyone foolish enough to be consider they have a right to be alive, children, accompanied by doting parents, learning how to demand the right of way, was not one that I enjoyed thoroughly.  Not one person amongst the throng had the decency to realise that it was I passing through and move aside!  I found myself getting irked I can tell you.  

It brought to mind the programme about 'Juvenal' I heard on the BBC earlier this week. He was a Roman 'satirist,' who took to rants to express his opinion, and make his money!  His opinion of life in Rome touches the heart for anyone living in a town or city anywhere on earth.

232. "When the rich man has a call of social duty, the mob makes way for him as he is borne swiftly over their heads in a huge Liburnian car. He writes or reads or sleeps inside as he goes along, for the closed window of the litter induces slumber. Yet he will arrive before us; hurry as we may, we are blocked by a surging crowd in front, and by a dense mass of people pressing in on us from behind: one man digs an elbow into me, another a hard sedan-pole; one bangs a beam, another a wine-cask, against my head. My legs are beplastered with mud; soon huge feet trample on me from every side, and a soldier plants his hobnails firmly on my toe."

Satire 3

Juvenal has pages of rants in his book.  He appears to complain freely about everyone and everything.  A right miserable little git, or a comedian who knew his audience I wonder?  Either way I feel I could like him, I known where he comes from.  Having been young when brought up in Scotia's capital city I could cope with such crowds.  Twenty one years of London tended to give me a differing opinion.  People walk straight through you and wonder why you pick up bricks and throw them at them.  The 'elbowing' Juvenal suffered, the noise, and the noise in Rome caused much criticism, surging crowds and trampling feet all reflect life at it has been since man entered communal living around nine thousand years ago.  No wonder I enjoy the open air, the sky, and the green things that abound around here.  Why can't people just be as nice as me when out and about, that's what I want to know?  

This is irrelevant to the previous post, but funny.

So is this.....

Thursday, 30 August 2012


'Give us this day our daily bread,' was a line from the prayer given by Jesus to his disciples, and one often misused today.  For his hearers however it was vital, many subsisted on Barley Bread alone during hard times, and those were common enough for many.  Since the middle of the nineteenth century the west has seen a rise in living standards, particularly after the second world war.  There was a determination to ensure the years of hardship would not return and forge a better life for everyone.  Hopes were high and for many years justified.   

Reality is hitting home today.  While the west still lives of the fat off the land, and becoming fat in return (I refuse to use the term 'obese') the signs are that those days have come to an end.  As always some will live in vast wealth, that is the world's way, but today many it appears are struggling to feed themselves and their families, even in the UK.  How can this be?  Clearly the Sub Prime Mortgage scandal brought the good days to an end and exposed the corruption and self interest in the financial world.  While bankers collected their massive bonuses, and politicians 'tut-tutted,' and dodged their own taxes, massive unemployment spread throughout the west.  The far east appears to be shaking somewhat also with less of a market to supply, and this leaves many unable to pay for the foodstuffs they require and the energy they need, especially in winter.

The weather pattern has changed.  The airflow that crosses the Atlantic and heads north has drifted south this year.  This has meant that rain has been a constant companion this year, and it has just finished lashing against my window to prove this, and the rain has ruined the crops for many.  Wheat and Veg have suffered badly here and elsewhere.  The supermarkets are being urged to sell 'misshapen veg,' rather than demand perfect veg this year, otherwise some will not be able to afford the scandalous prices they charge.  There is no doubt they will import more, at raised prices, from Africa, and good for them, but who can afford this?  (We are constantly being told food is too cheap, that is why so much is wasted.  Indeed much is wasted, but others truly are struggling to survive!)  The wheat crops in the US & Russia have suffered from drought, flooding in the far east has hit the rice harvest, and the world is heading for a food shortage once again.  This will lead to 20 or 30 pence being added to the price of bread in the west, while starvation in some places, with accompanying riots and destruction will occur in others.  Remember also many will sell their crop to provide oil for 'green car fuel,' or use the corn for fattening up cattle to be wasted on MacDonalds!  

A conference is to be held somewhere soon to work out the best way forward for the world food needs in coming days.  I fear this will be too late for many.  In the end each nation will put their needs first and aid others only when they have enough to spare, and at a price. Combine also the shortage in many places of water, particularly in the volatile middle east, and war may yet ensue between present day allies.  

The basics of life, bread and water, should be available for all.  For too long we have squandered our harvests on ourselves.  Instead of encouraging better farming we have ignored the world's needs and fattened ourselves.  Now when we have lack we despair.  The west has become used to always having what it demands, in coming days this may not be possible and many will find life tough indeed.  I'm off to stock up on flour and learn to make simple loaves, even Barley ones if they are cheaper.  


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A Walk Into the Past

I dragged my emaciated body around to the Museum this afternoon having been summoned to attend by the lovely lass on the door.  You see on Saturday, when I ought to have been busy with the afternoons football, I was dragged out to help the lass cover for her absent helpers.  She had been let down by other volunteers rudely taking the long weekend off.  Tsk!  Being the kind, thoughtfull, (trapped) kind of man I found myself with her until closing time.  This was in fact no hardship, but indeed a pleasure, however I made the kind, helpful, offer to attend if she was ever desperate for cover.  Silly boy!  The girl was hardly in the building this morning, I suppose had not even finished the mornings gossip, and she was on the phone asking when I could be there. So that's three more dates fixed in the diary, what have I let myself in for?

I wandered around the museum, mentioning to another captured volunteer that later I may be able to help with some painting, he kept his doubts well hidden, and I strolled around looking into the past.  Much better than watching television I thought and I was right.  A few coins, rings and objects, possibly idols, from the dim and distant past were on show.  Fragments of live lived here during the Bronze Age, among heavy wooded land with some animals possibly, maybe a pig or a cow.  Urns and large pottery vessels indicate how life, while changing, remains at heart the same.  Water once collected from a stream and carried to the top of a hill was later pumped nearer to the homes.  Vessels to store goods, others to cook, trinkets to decorate the ladies, all reveal changing tastes and quality of life, but at heart the people remain the same.  Bronze Age or Roman, Medieval or Victorian, people never change. 

The weaving machine from the mill that once earned a lass five shillings a week for her ten hour day stands ready.  Here dark black cloth, 'crape,' was manufactured during Victoria's day to supply the need for funeral wear.  Courtauld's employed hundreds of people in their mills and made themselves very rich with the cloth developed here.  The fashionable Victorian's would not be seen dead in anything else.  The other mill, Warner's, produced high quality silk weaving cloth.  These weavers were men for the most part and the quality was such that the Royal Family made use of their services.  The Warner's Archive contains the array of designs highly skilled weavers gave to the world.   Metal windows were a radical development at the turn of the century and Crittall's manufactured them here in the town until recently.  Buildings designed during the twenties often contained these windows and a great many are now 'listed' as important for our heritage.  The 'Titanic' also had windows designed and erected by Crittall's, these failed to keep the ship afloat however.  

This is the Victorian classroom.  Schools bring groups of kids, dressed in mock Victorian garb, to learn how education was taught in times past.  It is a bit worrying that those desks were awfully like the ones we had at school!  One 'teacher' taking such a 'class' would indicate the pupils feet and ask "Shoes? You have shoes?"  This would make them realise that in the past kids their age did not possess shoes unless very wealthy!   Many indeed worked very  long hours until education of sorts became compulsory.  

I enjoyed my wander (you will note I have not mentioned the excellent new Great War exhibit as I am not one to bore you with going on about that) especially as I have not got out much in recent days, the bug causing me to avoid eating for a day or two.  So it was good to refresh the mind with thoughts of the hard lives lived in the past, the benefits we have, and while we fear a price increase of 20 or 30 pence on bread because of weather affecting the harvests we know we can afford basic foods for the most part, in 1900 many could not!  I fear some are indeed in that situation again.  Visit your nearest museum, and find a life!   

Monday, 27 August 2012


The Blogosphere has been choc-a-block with comments on the late Neil Armstrong.  No point in repeating what has gone before but it was indeed a moment to remember that first step onto the Moon!  In fact while ruminating on this I drifted off into many memories of the time, including the trip before Armstrong's.  On that occasion the capsule went close to the moon, and watching on our B & W TV It appeared to me that they were just skipping the surface of Earth's satellite.  It was a fascinating close up of the surface of the moon, almost like being there, we were so close.  The memory stays with me and by the time the actual Moon landing was to begin I, like the rest of the world, was agog!  

In many ways it is difficult to comprehend the emotions of the time.  Here was man, American or Soviet it mattered not, about to leap into space and stand on the Moon!  This was indeed as important as those famous explorers of times past, and on this occasion almost the whole world would be able to see it happen.  To place a man on that globe hanging above us, sometimes a thin crescent, sometimes huge and bright, all to often hidden behind cloud, was an amazing experience.  Having been brought up during the 50's, fed on a diet of 'Dan Dare,' and guesswork regarding space exploration, reading about rockets that would soon speed through space taking us to the far corners of the galaxy was eye opening, and here we were actually doing it! Fantastic!

The night before they launched the BBC broadcast a special programme from the launch site.  This ended with the camera slowly passing in front off the waiting rocket, this was lit by searchlights in the dark night, as the theme from '2001 Space Odyssey' (Zarathustra) played.  It was an emotional moment.  I was, as they say, 'thrilled,' indeed excited.  Later my mother and I sat up late into the night watching the actual landing.  Here was a historic moment indeed.  One of the few real historic events in mankind's existence, and I (along with billions elsewhere) was there.   

I had just turned 18, that year my father had died from cancer, and Jesus decided to inform me of his existence.  Altogether a funny old year looking back.  My dad was born in 1908, five years after man had conquered flight.  In his time he saw the development of wireless, television, a depression and a major war.  He also saw the new world in 1945, better housing and an NHS without which his illness would have been unbearable.  He died when we stood on the Moon, how far had we come?   Human nature has never changed and 
while we conquer space we still cannot conquer famine, crime, ourselves.

By 1972 when the last man (who was he?) walked on the moon it had become old hat.  Space travel rarely excited any more.  The Voyager craft and their kind sailing to the edge of the Galaxy excite some interest but rarely does space mean much to us today.  The recent Mars landing and the pictures returned have been worth while but far short of the adventure of reaching the moon.

A local scare has seen the police, sharpshooters and all, Zoo keepers, and helicopters aplenty scouring parts of Essex for a Lion!  There are thought to be several large black cats, possibly Puma's that have once been kept illegally as pets and now released into the wild, roaming in various places.  How true these stories are is debatable.  However a large 'yellow' creature was seen, captured on film, and one man heard a 'roar,' and so a police chase was set off.
Nothing was found, and the chase called off as it was 'just a large domestic animal.' says the coppers.  Hmmm I hope they are right, or a few dogs will get one big fright the next time they chase a cat.


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Saturday, 25 August 2012

August Bank Holiday


More Rain

And MORE to come!
Summer?  Bah!


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Cowdenbeath and the Black Diamonds

Around about 1967 time I passed through a small town in Fife by bus, while visiting relatives there. Through the smeared bus window I saw a group of retired men waiting at the bus stop opposite. Sunday best suits, three piece and with watch chain hanging from the waistcoat pocket, best flat caps, shoes polished, and under female orders to "Behave yourself!"  Most notable however was the fact that none of them were standing up, they were all crouched down, as if dodging a sniper in the houses behind them.  These were retired miners.   Men who had worked down the pit since boyhood, probably beginning as 13 year old boys during the Great War,  and progressing to the pit face, digging for coal with pick and shovel in tunnels so low that they could not stand upright.  This meant that stopping for their 'piece,'  they had to crouch.   Now here they were, all well passed retirement age, more comfortable crouching than standing for any period of time.

All my uncles in the Kingdom of Fife worked down the pit, they had to, there was nothing else!  Like those men at the bus stop, probably they would have known some of them, from the time of the first world war they joined their dads and uncles, being 'Knocked up' at five in the morning to walk down to the mine for a shift.  When they got to the coal face the pick and shovel method was used to cut the coal,  often lying on their side in a seam two feet high,  then piling the hewn coal into the 'Hutch,' a small, wheeled truck, that was tagged with their name and sent by human means or pit pony, to the top.  Those two or feet high shafts would contain a straining miner in a badly lit, dust filled, dangerous workplace.  Before lamps there would be candles, and possibly a canary or two as a warning for gas.  Some miners preferred rats for this as they were quicker to warn of any build up of gas down the pit.  

These coal seams would be 70 - 100 fathoms or more deep into the ground. (approx. 6 feet to a fathom).  To get there a slow ride on a lift, and then a walk, possibly of some miles to the pit face.    As a miner entered the cage for the rickety journey down he handed over his token.   This token identified him by his number and the pit number also, and indicated he had gone down the mine. This was used in case of accidents to keep track of missing men.  Even when mines operated in recent days accidents were possible and occasionally a small fall of rock may trap one miner or more.  It was also imperative to keep down coal dust by spraying it constantly as any explosion, usually caused by methane gas, would cause this dust to ignite. Smoking also was banned and only a fool would attempt this. In the late 50's several were killed in one mine and the reason, disowned by the union, but clearly identified, was a miner who had been found with cigarettes and matches on his body after an explosion.  Several were killed that day.   Smoking was never allowed underground and ought to have been handed over for safe keeping as he entered the cage.  There had been a collapse at one mine not from from where my mother was born killing several men as the earth caved in upon them, and there was always the danger caused by a runaway 'hutch,' one of which killed a man at the 'Moss-side' pit the day of my mothers birth in 1915.  In 1974 when working in the infirmary we had three miners brought in and different times that year with injuries caused by small accidents.  A wagon toppled over on one, the roof collapsed on another, small individual situations, and this in a modern mine in operation until Thatcher closed it down.  Imagine the conditions in the 20's?  Death or injury was a part of life to the miner. 

The Kingdom of Fife has many attractive little fishing villages adorning the coast.  Towards the North East we find the ancient University town of St Andrews and alongside we find the world famous golf course that is indeed the home of golf.  Falkland Palace was once home to the great of the land, and Culross (pronounced Kooross) on the Firth of Forth is considered one of the most attractive ancient wee towns in the nation. Under the town, and indeed the central region of Fife lay 'black diamonds,' coal!  During the nineteenth century the mainly agricultural rural scene was to become transformed, and not much beautified, by the rush to dig for those 'black diamonds.'

It was under Culross much earlier than the nineteenth century that mining for coal began. People had been using the black stones found on the south coast of Fife for some time but when there was a shortage of wood in the sixteen hundreds that other sources of fuel were required.  Then a man of brilliance, a Scot naturally, began to mine coal in an industrial fashion. The trees were required for ships, both military and merchant, house building and other uses requiring wood, and it was this that caused  Sir George Bruce  to take action.  Having been born nearby the Forth he well knew of the availability of coal and late in the 16th century he began to tunnel down beneath the Firth of Forth in an effort to obtain his prize.  The shaft extended well under the Firth and over two hundred feet offshore he then built a shaft down through the water and into the coal seam.  This allowed air into the mine and by an ingenious use of a horse powered lift he raised the coal above the sea and loaded it straight onto ships. When King James the VI visited in 1617 he was astonished as he looked up the vent taking coal up to top, that the water was above him!  He began to believe he had been brought down there to be killed (Kings are always somewhat paranoid about this) and it was Sir George who calmed him by pointing out the boat and indicating he could return that way or by walking back up the tunnel shaft.  James wisely took the boat!
Sir George's Big Hoose

However successful this operation it was the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century when coal mining arrived in Fife big time.  In their search for iron ore the 'Oakley Iron Company' came to the vicinity of Cowdenbeath and discovered more coal than iron ore.  Almost overnight it appears pits (the mine is always called a 'Pit,' in Scotland) were sunk. The sleepy farms of the area which had for many years been slowly evolving into a single village, began to turn into a bustling coal town!  Instead of drudgery for little pay as a farm labourer many turned to the drudgery underground for higher pay, with much more danger.  The population, probably less than two hundred in 1800, reached around eight thousand by the end of the century!   By nineteen fifteen, when my mother entered the world there, the population was nearer twenty five thousand!  With a growing population arriving to seek work in the thirty or so pits in the area, plus the subsidiary work which follows, the town became known as the 'Chicago of Fife!'  Indeed it can be quite windy in Fife also.

Home life was not without problems also for the miner at the turn of the century. Families were often large and childbirth was an unhealthy experience for many women.  My Grandfather moved to Cowdenbeath because work was available 'down the pit.'  He had three wives in his life.  His first gave birth to two girls who lived well into their eighties, and two boys both of whom died within a year.  She died in childbirth herself.  The second died a month after the birth of her third child and the last, my grandmother, lasted four months after the birth of her fourth.  Three wives and nine children!  Typical of Scots working class life at the turn of the century.  To be honest large families were found in all classes,  Queen Victoria herself had nine!  The death of wives in labour and children, the child usually before five years of age, was a regular occurrence in the UK well into the twentieth century.  Cemeteries give an indication of the number of the 'better off' who died young, how many of the 'Lower orders' suffered this way?  Indeed only the introduction of the NHS ended the insufficiency of medical aid at childbirth, and as one of my nieces could tell you even today that can be a hazardous event.

My Grandfather and all his sons went 'down the pit.' There was no other choice! At one time or another they all worked at Pit No 7 which stood at the bottom of the slope from Chapel Street where their two roomed miners cottage lay.  Just imagine ten people living in two rooms!  There was no showers at the mines in those days and when the men came home from work they washed in a bath in front of the fire, slowly heated, or more usually, at the sink where someone, usually their sisters, would rub their backs clean for them.   I think I am right in saying the bath was only added after the war!

The working and living conditions increased peoples desire for a better environment to live and work in. Cowdenbeath soon became a centre of both the Independent Labour Party  and the Communist Party, indeed the town chose Willie Gallagher, a Communist, as their MP and sent him off to the House of Commons!  Later Jennie Lee of the ILP made it to Edinburgh University and became a member of Harold Wilson's Labour government in 1964. She also managed to marry Aneurin Bevan, the man responsible for the introduction of the NHS, and  she herself was influential in the creation of the 'Open University.'

The General Strike of 1926 hit Cowdenbeath badly. For six months the town remained on strike for better pay. Just imagine the suffering for an entire town, a suffering repeated in all mining districts throughout the UK that year.  For over a week all other unions offered support but soon this petered out the miners were alone.  This was not a strike based on greed, it was for a decent, indeed 'living wage!'  The mine owners were incredibly greedy, selfish men.  When some claimed the miners were 'revolutionaries' King George V himself suggested people try living on the miners wage before saying such things.  Winston Churchill, hated to this day by miners who felt he broke the strike, in fact wanted to give them satisfaction!  He quickly came to hate and despise the mine owners for their selfish attitude and went so far as to suggest nationalising the mines!  This however was not possible for a Conservative government, Churchill did not forget the mine owners attitude and in 1950 when he returned to power he made no effort to scrap the now nationalised mines.  Protests at the treatment of the miners by the owners, their conditions and dangers, ran on for many years.  This often caused riots in Cowdenbeath's High Street.  Many's a head was broken by a police force sent in by a right wing government to end the dangers of 'socialism.'  The conditions were never mentioned.
The shared sufferings among miners produced a shared care.  Down a mine if an incident arises, possibly a fall of coal, or an accident, the nearest man will be the first into action to help you.  It does not matter if he is your greatest enemy, if there is a problem he will reach out to you, and you will reach out to him. That is just how it is.  Agape in action, although they probably would not know this.  As a child I always enjoyed the miners company, although the last pit closed in 1960 before I ever got the chance to go down and look around.  I think I would have been terrified to work down there, even when the conditions were much safer in the fifties.  It is noticeable that men of the day made it clear to their sons that they had to get a trade of some kind to avoid working down below. None of my cousins went down the pit, all learned a trade and 'bettered themselves.'  One who did likewise was Sir James Whyte Black.  Though born in Lanarkshire to a mining engineer he was reared at  Cowdenbeath and attended 'Beath High School.'  From there this promising young man went on to St Andrews University Medical School, then to Dundee, and his studies later enabled him to produce what is now known as the 'Beta Blocker.'

Dennis Canavan and Harry Ewing both became members of parliament, and Jim Baxter was to become one of the most gifted footballers Scotland has ever produced. Baxter earned fame for his passing ability, his ability to drink himself unconscious on a Friday before a match and still outplay everyone, and playing 'Keepie uppie' with the ball while making a fool of an England side that claimed (wrongly) the title 'World Champions' in 1967. It is clear that he was talented, it was also clear he was not the brightest!  The school itself had to be replaced as by the time these pupils attended the ground floor had sunk deep into the ground!  Subsidence caused by mine working beneath gave the school a basement!  Houses in the town were seen to lean to one side, and trains moved at a snails place while the mines operated.  In spite of all this a long list of pupils left that school in a mining backwater and rose to the highest office worldwide both in politics and business.  

By 1960 Pit No 7 had closed. The coal rush was at an end.  No more would the 'pug' pull the coal wagons across the Main Street to the marshalling yards, an event I can remember watching at least once, no more will the miners get knocked up at five in the morning to waken them for a day's work, and no more (we hope) will the mine workings produce subsidence in all the wrong places!   Many talk romantically of the miners of past days.  There were many good people there.  No person should ever go through the difficulties the miners endured in the first half of the twentieth century again.  Be romantic about the men and women who lived there indeed, just don't let it happen again.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Calton Jail

This grand building was once the governors house belonging to Edinburgh's notorious Calton Jail.  Built in 1817 on windy Calton Hill. This replaced the old Tollbooth, called the 'Heart of Midlothian,' a building that had been used in several guises, including Guildhall as well as prison, over the years. Walter Scott's famous book 'The Heart of Midlothian,' describes something of that building and its place in Edinburgh society. The governors house of Calton Jail was designed by Archibald Elliot and may well have been warmer than the rest of the building, designed by Robert Adam, which became renown for being very cold, having a poor diet, and the strict discipline demanded from the inmates. 

The name Calton some reckon comes from 'Cold Town,' which is understandable in Edinburgh, but it is precedes such a phrase and most likely arises from the Gaelic "cauldh-dun," which means 'Black Hill,' as the hill comprises black basalt. Edinburgh's position allows the citizens, once crushed together in the crowded old town, to escape to the hills right on their doorstep. King James the second allowed tournaments there in the 1400's and theatrical productions soon followed. Later use of the hill included a hospital, a monastery and a small village of shoemakers, called 'Boot Hill' perhaps?  The small area of land they inhabited later becoming the famous Old Calton Cemetery.  David Hume being one of the more renown people buried therein.  Edinburgh as you will know being famous for being the 'Athens of the North,' still produces many leading men of the day.  Interestingly, I, and our good friend Mike Smith, hail from that city.  Next to the Calton jail stood the debtors prison, the Brideswell, also designed by Robert Adam. Debt today leads to much hardship, in times past it led to prison and in some cases hanging!  How banks would hate that today!  

Talking of hanging, Jessie King was the last woman to be hanged there in 1889.  She spent her time looking after unwanted children, and murdering a few of them.  Another hanged, in 1913, was Patrick Higgins.  He murdered his two sons and dumped them into a quarry. Both lie, alongside several others, underneath the West car park of St Andrews House.   

Egalitarian Edinburgh, with the famous Georgian 'New Town' buildings, possessed a powerful 'high society,' sophisticated legal structures, Calvinist ministers, and enterprising commercial businessmen yet contained many slum dwellings. This increased with Irish immigration during the 1800's which brought some 25,000 to dwell in the run down centres such as the Cowgate, mixing with those already overcrowded there. Criminal elements were found even in Scotland's capital and criminals of all types mixed with desperate people, drunks, lunatics, brought there by their desperation, poverty or sheer criminal nature.  Poor diet and bad health caused many diseases for those who survived beyond the early years often leading to criminal or abnormal behaviour.  The well-to-do who had suffered this way still managed to prove the depth to which human nature is possible by finding a place within Calton Jails walls. Wealth often increasing greed rather than ending it.  

During the Great War several leading socialists in Glasgow loudly opposed the war, as they did the increases in rent women left behind were asked to pay.  This led to them being jailed, and to make it worse they were sent to an Edinburgh jail at that!  It was felt they would spread dissension more in a Glasgow prison. Willie Gallacher was one such detained there. He was one who complained of the cold, the total silence, only whispered conversations during the one hours exercise available, and the poor diet. Thick porridge and sour milk was the breakfast, soup and dry bread comprised dinner and supper was similar to breakfast.  Arthur Woodburn was also jailed with Gallcher, he later became Labour's Secretary of State for Scotland in 1947, by which time the jail had been demolished.  He used some of the stones to make a garden path for his home!  What satisfaction that must have brought!

The jail was replaced in the 1930's by Saughton prison and St Andrews House now stands in its place.  Home to Scotland's most senior civil servants.  One day soon this will be part of the Independent Scotland's government machine.  I suspect, whatever the situation, that the diet available there today does not involve porridge and sour milk! 

Incidentally the tall needle next to the house, which is now used as offices, is the Martyrs Monument. This is a Political Monument commemorating those who campaigned for political freedoms in the 18th and 19th centuries. Five men who were transported to Australia for fifteen years for their desire for equality!  The dominant force, whether just or unjust, always gets its way.  At least the sun shone there!   


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Monday, 20 August 2012


I got angry today.  Not irked by small things that annoy, but I was beginning to feel real anger, and not for something done to me.  I was at the 'Work Programme' up town this morning, a frankly laughable attempt by government to get folks into jobs that do not exist.  Not only are the private companies that were daft enough to take this role on losing money one at least has closed down adding their employees to the dole queue!  The lot I visit have already been 'threatened' with similar themselves.  There are just NO JOBS available and what angered me was the sight of some of those at the place today.

It is well known that a crude method has been used to examine those claiming Invalidity Benefit,' a benefit designed for those too sick to work.  The private company responsible checking claims has ruled, on a 'tick box' scheme that many claimants are 'fit to work!'  Some 60 percent, at least, have appealed this decision and been returned, after much grief, to the benefit under its new name.  Many are still appealing and only a few have refused to appeal.  Those deemed fit have included men unable to stand, people with serious diseases and sometimes limbs missing. The papers, not so much the 'Daily Mail' mind, contain many such stories of totally unfit people thrown of the benefit and told to 'find a job.'  Ian Duncan Smith, the millionaire who has never had a real job, is the man who encourages these people 'back to work' because it is good for them to work.  Indeed it is, but Ian forgets there are well over two and a half million unemployed at the moment and only around four hundred thousand vacancies.  The loss of benefit is merely to save a few pounds, whatever the cost in human life!  Indeed some have committed suicide after losing benefit.

What angered me was the sight of an old man at the programme.   I never spoke to him, I know nothing about him, but I got angry looking at him.  Gray hair, over 60 at least, walked with a stick, and a bit unsure of himself in that place.  He clearly appeared to be one on Invalidity Benefit who had been forced onto the dole.  I could be wrong about that, but either way who would employ him?  A enfeebled old man with a stick and dodgy walking.  What job Ian?  Warehouse work?  Driving, although he doesn't appear to see that well?  No doubt you have some idea of work he could do you selfish bastard!  Anything that stops you paying a halfpenny on tax would do, not that you pay tax like the rest of us do you?  

The 'Work Programme' is filled with the long time unemployed, some through injury, lack of skills or mental problems.  Some ex-prisoners, some desperate for work and others not interested.  They all know who is looking and who is not. Few get work, even when good advice and help is given.  Fifty applicants and most of the slow, dodgy, physically unstable, or just old folks on offer don't appeal to the employers, many of whom are struggling to survive themselves.  I get angry at Smith and his tax dodging government friends decrying the unemployed and assaulting (for there is no other term) the disabled!  Many do wish to work, many struggle desperately and are treated with contempt by an uncaring government containing around nineteen millionaires. 

I passed the old boy having a snack of Diet Pepsi in the park as I left.  It was a sad, indeed pathetic sight I thought.  He might have a family, he might be happy enough, but that was not the image that stuck.  Just another dumped on the scrapheap with little care from any government.  These people should be made to read the Book of the Prophet Amos and see how God cares for the poor while the rich lie back and enjoy themselves.  Believers or not judgement falls on them one day. 

 Vote Conservative - and be considered of no account! 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Ouch! Creak! Ooooyah etc

It may come as a surprise to some when I say that my once svelte like body is not what it once was.  Once it contained energy, possessed a certain degree of muscle, and happily took me on long walks, carried me through a busy day, and enabled me to throw the TV out the window whenever a soap opera appeared on the screen.  Sadly today all this is becoming a memory.  The strange lethargy the recent bug brought me led me into sitting around and walking only when that was required.  The lying scales even told me I was over 15.5 stone, it ought to read 9.  The knees wobbled if I went far and the body willingly followed suit indicating I had gone far enough.  However in the past few days I have attempted to refine the Adonis like shell and have begun to swing a few weights, as opposed to swinging lead, and attempted to walk further and eat better.

I ache everywhere now!

Resting from my arduous training schedule, and ten minutes is long enough I can assure you, I sit for merely a moment and find all the muscles have seized.  Now I know the trick is to stretch after exercise as this really does help, but so far it doesn't help me.  My knees fell of twice this afternoon while watching the far from Dreich Dundee Derby Day, and while I cogitate on buying a Thai bride to massage my aching back I find that my fingertips are also suffering from hammering away on this laptop!  It's a good job I am not one to complain I can tell you.  Now I find I have to go into town tomorrow, struggling with the trains, and it will be baking hot again.  Tsk!


Friday, 17 August 2012

The Friday Evening Cud Chew

As I ambled slowly along to post another one of my begging letters I could not help but notice the sky above.  Sadly I didn't notice the edge of the pavements, but several motorists kindly informed me of my position, and what to do about it.  The blue of the sky itself, quite unusual in recent days, was filled with small puffy white clouds and interspersed with masses of vapour trails.  Stansted Airport has been busy this morning and the vapour trails were taking a long time to disperse.  However it was an enjoyable sight, all that pollution sitting up there, blocking the sun, enabling climate change, poisoning those down below.  Sitting in the hot sun (gosh it still got through!) and watching over the recreation ground the huge sky was enthralling.  The wind hurried the clouds along and they scudded off bringing even more interesting sights from the south.  Maybe it's all those years in London, maybe it's being indoors too much recently, maybe it's the bang on the head, I know not but I do know I like looking at interesting skies, nature views, and wide open spaces.  All I need is a seaside and I would be (almost) content.   

The other day you will recall I posted This, regarding the changes that have occurred between 1915 and today.  Well that great man BigRab, he of the great Ben Lomond Free Press a blog worthy of your company, made a remark that struck me, and that made a change from bricks.  He said there was less time between 1915 and the year of his birth, than between the year of his birth and today.  This struck me also.  You see I was born 36 years after the 1915 picture, but now I am a further 61 years from it.  I found this intriguing, and still do.  

My thinking, my attitudes, and much within me may indeed be nearer 1915 than 2012.  Are you still with me?  Because all my readers are young things, one or two more thing than young (all the Ladies being sweet young things under 25 years of age I note) the age gap may not strike you as it did me, but it is worth a ponder.  For some reason this sticks in my head and will not leave me.  Time passes by and we remain the same.  For instance I woke up one day when I was merely 56 years old and suddenly realised I am a granddad, well not actually a granddad, but I was indeed an old man!  In my head I knew what old men were, I had seen plenty,  but suddenly I realised I was that age!  I look much younger, I still have hair and teeth!  I still saw myself as late 20's....?  I remain the same as always but much of the body disintegrates beneath me.  

Further ponder.  I was born in 1951, my dad in 1908, and his dad in 1845!  This being 2012 mean the three of us cover three centuries.  The world is a different place since 1845, but at heart remains the same.  Whereas granddad left the farm, as thousands did at that time, and joined the railway and climbed on the new world around him, we can see pictures taken from Mars!  As people we are no different but the complexity of life has changed.  Is it better?  Actually it is no better or worse, depending on your circumstances.  Humanity remains the same, the culture changes a wee bit.  Horse don't wander the streets, bad drivers do!  But in spite of the changes, many very much for the better, our hearts are still the same, human nature does not change, the surroundings do.  My world view is influenced by 1915, the year my mother was born, probably more than by 2012.  Family influences, the fifties influence,  Baby Boomer influences are possibly still affecting me, they certainly affect me more than the pap that is 'cutting edge' today.  Sadly age wearies the heart from such as we can see the emptiness it hides.  

There is something in Rabs comment I cannot quite place, but it intrigues me that I was born nearer 1915  and that world than I am to my own (much heralded) arrival.  


Thursday, 16 August 2012


I've been so agitated and irritable today, again.  This tiredness never leaves me and my insides are not happy, and in the end I am irked by most things.  This, as you know, is so unlike me.  My normal quiet, passive, loving kind of manner has been replaced by a somewhat less thoughtful one.  I had to attend the Ljubljana today, which was fine, but it meant I had to walk the streets to get there.  The result was meeting people, and this was not good, or passing places containing people, and this was not good.  Wherever I skulked I found myself growling at windows or day dreaming of entering possessed with nothing more than a running chainsaw and putting it to good use.  Then I got irked by the problem of disposing of all the decapitated heads that would be rolling around the place.  Bah!  

So I stayed locked inside, adding info to the Great War website, and grumbling that I could not read the words in this light, that mistakes had been made, and that this laptop hates me.  I rummaged through the higher class blogs and found they were indeed a higher class, and that made me jealous!  So I turned to the papers, and that made me reach for the chainsaw again!  The rubbish that fills the pages! Bah!   I watched the latest 'Eggheads' programme, and answered almost NO questions, once again.  That cheered me up no end.  Now the mince & chips I had for tea is growling at me.  Bah! Humbug, Pah! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr! etc.   


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Nothing to Say

Another day, another dull mind.  Nothing crosses my mind worth mentioning.  In fact nothing crosses my mind at all.  I only got out once, this afternoon, to buy reduced price bread and be shouted at by the Morrison's serve yourself machine.  The bread was not reduced and she didn't shout at me, which caused the lass attending to them to laugh.  First time that machine has done that for a while it appears.  

Nothing else happened.

The news is still dominated by the leftovers of the Olympics, occasional references to Syria and price increases on the trains.  Our Prime Minister and his deputy have both gone on holiday at the same time, implying the deputy is less important than he thinks, and giving the right wing media something to grumble about.  So who is running the country?  William Hague the Foreign Minister.  Oh goody, now is the time to invade folks.  The media will soon be filled with the daft stories now the Olympics have finished.  August being holiday time means serious news lessens and the 'silly season' comes upon us.  This means all sorts of silly stories appear in the media, anything to fill the pages, any excitement, anything that grabs the attention and on occasion something that really matters.  Nothing has mattered today.  

I found nothing that interests you, so I'm off to bed.........


Monday, 13 August 2012

Butchers, Bakers & Candlestick Makers.

I like this picture, though I can't trace where it came from. Wounded men, around 1915, heading back to hospital.  Walking wounded from many regiments.  Note the shorts on one, the kilt on another, the bandages, the tickets authenticating their wounds.  I like this because it shows them together, all for one, probably in pain, being held up for a photograph for the folks back home.  

I was given a list of dead Great War soldiers details recently and have been adding them to the website I raised for them, Braintree & Bocking War Memorial,  and am intrigued by the types of work in which they or their relatives were employed.  Quite a few appeared to be 'sons of a horseman on a farm,' which makes sense in this country area.  However when did you last see horses in daily employment?  At the time of the Great War farms were dominated by horse drawn equipment and a large number of men were employed in their care, a ploughman being a very skilled operator. Agricultural labourers also abounded and one or two who served had that delightful (ha!) work as the war began.  Dunfermline Co-op did use horse drawn vehicles even in the early 60's, and the 'St Cuthbert's Co-op in Edinburgh had them in the early 70's if memory serves me right, although few were still in daily use.  Occasional Brewers Drays are seen in various places throughout the country. Horse grooms and ploughmen just don't exist as such today.  

I am also intrigued by the change in the shopping patterns.  Several men were sons of Grocers, others were Butchers and no such shops appear today.  Actually I am wrong, a butcher still exists here but the only Fruit & Veg left are stalls on market day.  These shops, along with almost all Bakers, have now been replaced with large supermarkets containing pretend Bakers, Butchers and the like instead.  While many women enjoyed the flirting that resulted in the shopkeepers desperation to obtain their cash it also meant a trek between several shops, sometimes a distance apart, although it did make them fitter than today's lass who has to spend time at the gym to keep her figure.

Foremen in the Boot Factory or employees of a Mat Factory also appear,  and it is many years since we stopped making boots in the UK.  I'm sure someone still does somewhere by even the great factories in East Anglia have long gone, probably to China.  Who makes Mats?  India I wonder?  Even those employed by the big iron foundry, who employed large numbers of females to make munitions, or Crittall's and their famous steel window frames, are a distant memory today.  Crittall's existed a few years ago, I almost had a day's employment there myself, but moved away and I am not sure it still operates today.  The iron foundry, like the rest are now housing estates that leave people  struggling to pay the mortgage.   So many businesses that men fought four long years for no longer exist, and those that do, like agriculture, have changed immeasurably in the century that has passed by.  Once thirty or more men worked on a  farm, now there is only two, with a third to power the machinery during harvest time.  House painters and Publicans have not changed that much, neither I suspect have solicitors!  The street layout is similar but the buildings that survived two wars, and not all did, are much changed.  Hopefully we can discover how many men obtained their jobs again once they returned, in many places they did not!  

A hundred years is not a long time when looked at from a historical viewpoint.  Much similarity remains, but the world is a very different place.  Cars now growl where horses plodded, long working hours are replaced by shorter hours and long paid holidays, heavy labour is much reduced by machinery, and women do all the shopping in one day, making him carry it to the car and drive her home.  Washing machines and Microwaves, electricity for all, and the wonder of radio & TV would frighten the ploughman more than they would the horses.  While rail travel enabled long distance travel most folks did not venture far, today they holiday in Spain, or even Hawaii.  The NHS heals most of the sickness soldiers took for granted and dole money and pensions are a godsend to one and all.   The men pictured above may well have survived the war, although that looks very much like a 1915 picture, and they would have benefited from the advances.  What would those who did not survive think if told today I wonder?  


Sunday, 12 August 2012


The sun shone brightly at 6:30 this morning as I cycled around town attempting to pretend I was fit.  There was however more blue in the sky when I took this picture than there is shown here, the sun kind of blotted it out a bit.  How lovely to move around when the streets are quiet, the sun shines, the day begins to warm and the birdies sit high above letting the sun warm them after breakfast.  I did wonder why two men were chatting in the park as I passed by.  They had been there for some time and usually only left over kids and drunks are found there at that time.  Who are they, why were they chatting and exchanging phone numbers?  When in London such events were commonplace, not so out here.  Maybe I am just becoming nosey?  Before seven on a Sunday morning I noticed several cars containing men, quite large men at that, pass by.  Was there some event for fat blokes occurring?  Again I have no answer.  Not that I am shoving my nose in, I am just curious....

For the rest of Sunday I merely sat here attempting to get my legs to work again.  Oh and I watched the Heart of Midlothian defeat Hibernian by one goal to one.  We were not to bothered today I noticed.  This means I avoided being burnt by the suns rays, which were very strong this morning.  Possibly you can see them on this snap.


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Heroic failures

Everyone surely knows the story of 'The Not Terribly Good Club.'  Stephen Pile began this long ago in 1979 with his book 'The Book of Heroic Failures,' in which he told the stories of inept burglars, handymen, navies and so on, people from every walk of life.  Folks like you and me.  This book was so successful, worldwide, that he was forced to write a follow up and resign from the club!  His success was not the stuff of which the members were made.    I recently dusted off my copy of the second volume and have read with interest the story of a man who in his attempt to obtain a peaceful life moved to the peaceful and lightly inhabited Falkland Islands.  Five days later the Argentinians invaded!  The woman who threw herself off the 86th floor of the Empire State Building only to be blown in an open window on the 85th floor intrigued me, as did Canadian Mr Kelly.  He attempted to tranquilize a donkey with Rompun, allowed the syringe to slip, it stuck in his finger, and he then enjoyed the sleep of his life.  The donkey just laughed.  The book is full of such tales, I would say both books are full but someone borrowed mine and it has note yet returned.  that was in 1986!

One chapter deals with getting opinions wrong.  "Sentimental me one page that contains an idea." Odessa Courier on Anna Kareninna, by Leo Tolstoy.  1877.  

"I'm sorry Mr Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language." The San Francisco Examiner's rejection letter to Rudyard Kipling in 1889.

"Had he submitted this music to a teacher, the latter, it is to be hoped, would have torn it up and thrown it at his feet.," L.Rellstab, reviewing Chopin's Mazurkas,1833. 

"I scarcely think it will be able to keep the stage for any length of time." E.A.Kelly reviewing Wagner's Lohengrin. 1854.

"And for the tourist who really wants to get away from it all, safari's in Vietnam." Newsweek, predicting popular holidays for the late 60's.

"Very interesting Whittle my boy, but it will never work."  The Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at Cambridge University when shown Frank Whittles plan for the jet engine.

I am not sure after reading through all the mistakes that I gain confidence in my own abilities, or whether it's just not worthwhile attempting to go on!  Still, read it if you can, laughter is good for you.


Friday, 10 August 2012

Almost Homesick

Periodically I get a bit homesick for Edinburgh.  Unlike when I lived there and was sick of home, but I was a wee bit younger then.  As I approach my decrepitude I sometimes long for things I once knew, the family, the attitudes, the football, the rain.  After all these years falling flat on my face in this dead end I am beginning to wish for other things.  Being closer to the family up north is one thing, being nearer to friends down on the south coast near the sea is another.  So I indulge myself in an occasional fantasy of life in one of these places, or indeed in a place where the sun shines each day rather than once in a blue moon - or whatever the phrase is.  

However these remain fantasies.  Money prevents any move, unless someone rich pays.  More importantly life is not a fantasy, reality moves in and slaps you across the face, rather like that lass on the No 19 bus that time...   Edinburgh has changed a great deal since 1975.  A vibrant, diverse (a word usually meaning gayboys!), multi-cultural place today whereas in the just hold on a minute!  Edinburgh has always been 'vibrant!  It is Scotland's capital city, with a financial centre second only to London, and constant contact between both, Fred Goodwin anyone?  'Diverse?'  There has always been 'diverse 'folks up Calton Hill I can tell you.  I was followed by one when I was about eleven years old and that was diverse enough for me!  We all knew about the 'Abercrombie' in those days, although I never went near the place.  Whether it still exists I know not but they say that in the past the Police would round such folks up (probably during the Festival) and dump them on the London train to haste them 'back where ye belong!'  'Multi-cultural?'  The University,  the Medical school, a wide variety of embassy consulates and business interests (Heart of Midlothian played a black player a few times in the late 19th century.  His dad ran a business in Leith.  He wasn't that good mind, belonged at Hibs!)  At primary school several kids form such places attended, one black lad playing football in the playground in bare feet!  He was brilliant!  

However while it has always been such a city it has changed.  Better in many ways, worse in others.  Would I fit in there today if I could afford it?  Do I really want to live in a city?  Somewhere nearby may be better, a place a bit like this one, but without the neds in the park opposite!  The south coast would be similar to Edinburgh, with a warmer sea than the Forth!.  Nearer to good friends but not my 'home,' as it were.  Expensive but by the sea, which means tourists, which is not good.   Of course you will  note I have not mentioned whether the family or my friends would wish me to be any nearer than a few hundred miles away.  I will not ask, and people tend to prefer me at a distance I find, so possibly better not to disrupt that!  Ah well, back to reality.  Changes in some circumstances are afoot, at least I don't mean my foot is changing, what I mea... never mind.   Maybe in a months time something new will have changed my mind again.  I may have a better fantasy to work on by then, a cheaper one hopefully.


Thursday, 9 August 2012


That bright young lass RDG made her best ever post the other day.  You can find it here - RDG  A short post maybe, but to the point!  Writing!  Writing is such a fantastic tool we take it for granted.  The written word takes you into the heart of the author, no matter where or when the author penned the words you find yourself captivated by the situation referred to. 

Take this man, Yapahu, the ruler of Gaza, asking his overlord Pharaoh Akhentaten for help from his enemies about 3400 years ago.

To the king, my lord, my god, my sun, the sun in the sky. Thus says Yapahu, the amelu  of Gazru , your servant, the dust of your two feet, the stable-man of your horse: At the two feet of the king, my lord, the sun in the sky, seven times and seven times I prostrate myself both upon the belly and back. And to all that the king, my lord, has told me I have paid close attention. I am the king's servant and the dust of your two feet.

He goes on to ask for help, and you can see similar situations around the world today, although the terminology may be rather different.

He wrote on a  clay tablet, discovered deep in the dust of his lord's city long after it too had become dust using the Akkadian script that was common for the day.  The script or the language does not matter, what matters is the writing, his words.  They take us right into his life, and hopefully archaeology can fill in other details for us.  Using similar script we can go back into the beginning of writing via baked clay tablets.  One such is the 'Epic of Gilgamesh,' the story of the King of Uruk who goes looking for eternal life.  Written down around 2200 BC but relying on tales that go back deep into Mesopotamian history we find the lives of those who have gone before.  We also discover that the one thing History teaches is that human Nature never changes.  The culture may appear different but humanity remains the same. From the prologue:-

He who saw everything in the broad-boned earth, and knew what was to be known
Who had experienced what there was, and had become familiar with all things
He, to whom wisdom clung like cloak, and who dwelt together with Existence in Harmony
He knew the secret of things and laid them bare. And told of those times before the Flood
In his city, Uruk, he made the walls, which formed a rampart stretching on
And the temple called Eanna, which was the house of An, the Sky God
And also of Inanna, Goddes of Love and Battle

Who first thought those lines?  Who first wrote them down? How long have they been uttered on the earth?   Interestingly the discovery of items, dated to 2600 BC, belonging to Enmebaragesi of Kish, mentioned in the story as father of one of Gilgamesh's enemies gives some historical value to the tale. Their versions, there are several,  of the Biblical Flood also indicates such an event took place and left a deep mark on the society of the day.

Writing grew from the need to keep a count of produce and tally sticks of bone or wood were used around 8000 BC. As men gathered together in ever larger towns and cities such accounts became more important and by 3000 BC various forms of shorthand tallies were known, early writing followed soon after.  From record keeping to communication between Kings and their servants, from legends and spiritual instruction we move on to more advance writing styles and in today's world the internet and worldwide communication by the written word.  Sometimes this is less important to us than it would have been at the time of writing.  The Roman asking for socks while stationed on Hadrian's Wall may well have been desperate at the time, just as the woman enquiring about the her friends back home considered their situation important.  She would have written on a double piece of wood that would be folded and tied and posted to wherever.  I have no idea what she used for stamps. 

It fascinates me to read such letters.  These take us right into another's life.  They may well be in China or South America, what is now called Iraq or may even have lived not far from home in the distant past, but we are with them as we read.  Their trials become ours, their joys are shared.  The good, the bad and the ugly are found there, just like today.  Human nature never changes, whatever the culture may be, the heart remains the same.

Dictators know the written word is dangerous.  The printing of pamphlets allowed the Reformation to succeed, the banning or controlling of newspapers allows governments to dictate what information the people receive.  Today the web and phone technology make that so much harder to control, ask the Iranians, the Libyans and the Syrians.  As we know words can build up or bring down, they can heal or they can hurt, and the tongue is difficult to control, although we can of course erase the written word before we post, sometimes.    Stand in any library and look around you at the world exposed there (No I do not refer to 'Fifty shades of cheap novels').  The world and all therein can be found in a decent library.  Imagine what can be found at the British Library if you had the time to browse every day?  The written word is one of man's greatest inventions, when put to good use.   

What am I trying to say here?  It just struck me forcibly when reading RDG's post how words down the centuries bring us together with the authors from long ago, both good and bad, and that is a thought I find incredible!  Cogitate thereon and you, being educated, might be able to understand this amazing thought better than I ever can!