The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 The only way to explain the weather today is shitty, I don’t think the bike will be going anywhere today.

The hopes of many around the world fall on these slim shoulders, but I believe they will carry that weight, history in the making.

The inauguration, all the pomp and ceremony are over, not so much about welcoming a new president, but telling Trump “You lost”. Biden is much more of a diplomat than Trump so he will choose words more carefully, but behind the scenes it will be business as usual, nothing really changes,

“When we play our charades, we are like children playing”.

And as Trump leaves office, we hear of more pardons for crooks, however Julian Assange, remains in Belmarsh Prison, so what’s new?

We can only hope for quieter times ahead, and of course see if Boris gets that big (oven ready) trade deal with America, Pitel is trying to make all the right noises and they have handed over $10 billion for aircraft, that always helps grease the wheels of commerce and focus minds on the Hill, anyway, it is a distraction from the coronavirus and Brexit fiasco, (no it has not gone away ask the Scottish fishermen) still as Lord Snooty told them in the Commons,

“The fish are happier now that they are English” (Sorry that should have been British, but since Rees Mogg, does not distinguish one from the other it matters not).

Sorry I should not start writing before I have my first cup of tea, Aaaaahhhhh, that’s better.

I was up too late to catch the early edition of the Alex Salmond Show, but it is good new for today we go to the Court of Session for the first day of a two-day hearing, the People’s Action on Section 30.

It would take a brave person to predict the outcome, but that is of little consequence, this is all about the people of Scotland telling the Westminster establishment, that this action is all about, all countries have a right to self-determination without exception.

Martin Keatings, who brought the action on behalf of the Scottish people, paid for through crowdfunding, from 10,000 supporters giving a total of £230.000 to the coffers. Crowdfunding is still open, by the way, for more maybe needed if we have to go to the UK Supreme Court.

Keatings is already the darling of the independent moment, a win will see him carried shoulder high into the Scottish Parliament as an MSP in May. I also think it will send a strong message to Oor Nicola that we need a commitment in the SNP manifesto to holding a second independent referendum (regardless) of Boris Johnson, refusal to give his consent. I understand her wishing to secure an agreement that can not be challenged either here at home or internationally, but the time has passed for expecting a velvet divorce. Make the wrong choice Nicola and all those independent-minded people that keep you in power will march on to independence without you.

The Greens I’m sure will not have missed an open goal, they will pick up many voters from people now disillusioned with Nicola’s stance, and the Greens unwavering commitment for independence.

Labours new leader would be wise to at least agree to hold a referendum, even if they would support, “No” to Scotland becoming independent. If they do not, then they will see their party wiped out in the Holyrood parliament as we have seen them wiped out at Westminster if they think the list vote will keep them in Holyrood after May, that could be a big mistake. With ISP in the frame, Labour die-hard voters (that will never vote SNP) may just be prepared to give their second vote to the ISP.

The New ISP (hoping to Hover up the List votes, if they can get their message out in time) this could change the dynamics in the new Scottish parliament, a staunch pro-independence party holding the balance of power.

Sadly coronavirus has stopped supporters coming out onto the streets. Stopped door knocking stopped the street stalls, so getting any kind of message out will be difficult, more so with something as complicated as the List voting system and how voting for the SNP on both papers hands votes to the Tory Party in Scotland, as it was set up to do.

May is just around the corner, and Scotland is in flux, the excitement is already building, we even see the BBC excepting they have to say something on the subject since 19 polls in a row have shown support for a referendum on independence.

As for the Tories, Osborne tells Boris, “Just keep saying No!” if you want to save the Union. Aye right.

Oh! for all those that can travel by bus (under the coronavirus restrictions) there are plenty of empty buses on the roads today.

They’re only words – and words are what we use – when we have sod all to say.  

Keep well.  

 It was a dreich drizzly morning so it was a ‘caped up’ ride out. I chose my tricycle since I would not be going far, over to Leuchars and back, very little traffic, the odd builder’s van, and I never saw one bus, maybe they have finally got the message. Home shower breakfast then Aldi for shopping, that was my morning.

Yesterday, I finished the book Crimes and Arnold, in the past I have read books about their cycling feats, and much about their End to End marathon, but it is quite a record and I really did enjoy re-reading about the end to end.

I loved many or the humorous stories and cuttings from the pages of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! This was an American franchise, founded by Robert Ripley. It would tell stories of strange and wonderful claims, that were had to believe. Like the Dalmatian, owned by the South Portland (Mane) Fire Department, that travelled alone to market each day and selected his own dog food. Or the Mangue tribe that lived in the Belgian Congo that did not build their own homes but hollowed out huge ant hills. Then we had John F Arnold rode 457.33 miles in 24 hours on a tricycle in 1953, and Albert Crimes rod from Lands End, (England) to John O’ Groats, (Scotland) a distance of 872 miles in 2 days, 12 hours, and 37 minutes on a tricycle. Na’ a don’t believe that.

Between its pages, names would pop up of cyclist that I had rod alongside when out on my Wednesday (my day off) runs in the Dales of Yorkshire. One name, in particular, triggered some great memories from that time, Brian Robinson.

Brian was eight years old when the Second World War broke out, they had moved to Mirfield from Ravensthorpe in 1943. Both his parents now worked for the war effort making parts for Halifax bombers, his mother Milly by day his father Henry on nights. Like most families at that time, they grew what they could in their gardens to supplement the wartime rationing, some like the Robinson’s had a small allotment.

Bikes were the everyday transport for many at that time cycling too and from work, young Brian at the age of 13 joined the Huddersfield Road Club and a year later (the minimum age) became a member. He was following in the wheel tracks of his father and older brother Des, who were already members.

Although a keen cyclist and showed talent for cycling from an early age, his father would not allow Brian to race until he reached the age of 18 years. Brian trained early morning, before the start of the working day, and in the evening after work. Sutton Park in Birmingham was a frequent venue for races, however they had to end by 9.30 allowing the public to use the park.

In 1948 Brian went to Windsor Great Park to watch the Olympic Games road race that was held in the part that year, such was his talent as a rider he himself would ride in the Olympic Games in Helsinki four years later.

His talents had not gone unnoticed back home either, 5th in the National Cyclists’ Union massed-start. 3rd in the Road Time Trials Council hill- climb championships in 1950. equal 7th in the Isle of Man International, 10th in the NCU massed-start Championship and second in the RTC Hill-climb. By 1952 he was fourth in the NCU race, won the hill-climb championship, and was 5th in the Isle of Man International.

1952 National Service (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry)

Brian rode the Route de France, an amateur version of the Tour de Frances, in a joint NCU/Army team. He rode well and was lying 5th with three days to go, a poor showing in the Pyrenees saw him slip to 40th. In the August of that year, he represented GB in the Helsinki Olympic Games road race and finished 27th to Andre’ Noyelle of Belgium and a future Tour winner Jacques Anquetil. Brian would race against Jacques Anquetil again in the World Cycling Championship in Italy in September 1952 where they tied for eighth place. He was now riding in lustres company and gaining international experience and notoriety.

On leaving the forces in 1952, he joined Ellis Briggs (a cycle shop in Shipley Yorkshire, and the same shop that Ken Russell was a salesman with and winner of the 1952 Tour of Britain, you can read my blow by blow account elsewhere on my site). Brian finished 4th that year, and the following year 1954 finished in 2nd place.

Most of this I already knew before meeting Brian formally, from the extensive library, in the Otley cycle club, of which I was a member.

However it was on those Wednesday runs in the Dales when we would meet up at cafes or on the road and ride together that I really got to know the man, and his tales about the Tour de France.

Their small team raced in Franc, the Netherlands and Belgium in preparation for the big event. Brian was 8th in Paris Nice, 4th in La Fleche, Wallonne and led the tour of the Six Provinces to the Sixth state. The final team was a mixed bag of Hercules riders and those from other sponsors. The Tour de France proved to be a tough race and only Robinson and Tony Hoar finished, Robinson 29th Hoar Lantern Rouge. However they were the first Britons to finish the Tour, 18 years after Charles Holland and Bill Burl were the first Britons in the race in 1938.

it was 1958 before Brian make history again by winning stage seven of the Tour de France, to Brest. It was Arigo Padovan who crossed the line first, but was relegated to second for his tactics in the hot sprint. Brian recalled that race and told me, when he rod the Tour in 1958 he was determined to win a stage outright without any dispute over the result. As soon as the days racing was over he was straight into massage room, fed and watered then rested for the following days race, no hanging around chatting, he was taking this very seriously indeed. Brian won the 20th stage of the Tour de France from Annecy to Chalon-sur-Saone by a full 20 minute, no dispute this time.

He had given his all to win the coveted prize and paid the price the following day. He and his Irish teammate Seamus Elliott, found themselves trailing far behind the field, outside the time limit. It looked as if both men would be sent home but the team manager, Sauveur Ducazeaux, insisted the judges apply a rule that no rider in the first ten could be eliminated, Brian had started the day in 9th it was Seamus Elliott only who was sent home. Brian finished the 1958 Tour de France in 19th place having at one time been in 9th place. Still a great achievement.

Louise (Brian’s daughter) became a cyclo-cross rider, taking a silver medal at the 2000 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. Two of Brian’s grandchildren are also competitive racing cyclists: Jake Womersley competing in cyclo-cross and road racing, Becky Womersley in road racing.

I heard in 2014 (long after I had left Yorkshire and returned home to Scotland) that Brian was knocked off his bike in a collision with a car in Thornhill Lees, it was a pretty serious accident. And in the 2017 New Years Honours he was awarded a British Empire Medal for his services to cycling and his charity work.

The circles I have moved in, you wouldn’t believe.

Stay safe.

Seems I sometimes open my mouth and let my belly rumble, fact-checking it would seem is not one of my strong points, (laziness is no good unless it is encouraged). I said in one of my blogs that Doris Day looked wooden in the dance routines in the film ‘Love Me or Leave Me’, for which I was taken to task. It was pointed out to me that Doris Day would have done the background on Ruth Etting, and would have known that she was, as she had admitted to her piano player, not a dancer but a singer, therefore if she had danced across the stage like Ginger Rodgers it would not have been a true representation of the singer (not a dancer) Ruth Etting, point taken.

They also pointed out that in the movie Calamity Jane, Doris did the number ‘Just come in from the windy city’ and she did a good job dancing around in the bar, point taken.

So I thought I would check, and what would you know? Doris developed an early interest in dance, and in the mid-1930s formed a dance duo with Jerry Doherty that performed locally in Cincinnati. A car accident on October 13, 1937 injured her right leg and curtailed her prospects as a professional dancer.

So in a sense, we were both right. I think this is what I miss most during a lockdown, we don’t have these communications face to face.

 But if you want any more you must read it yourself.

The post arrived this morning and presented me with a heavy package, I opened it to find a copy of ‘Crimes and Arnold’ the story of two great racing cyclists, friends and rivals. As soon as I opened the pages and started to read, the world stopped for me.

Now hours later with my eyes coming together and my stomach making all sorts of growling noises, I have put it down, at least for a little while. I will print the first chapter of the book, (I’m sure the TA (Tricycle Association) will not mind me breaching their copywriting to do so), for each and everyone who ever straddled a bicycle will wish to be told this remarkable story.

Chapter One

A sunny and warm morning around 10.30 am on Sunday 20th June was a moment in time and space witnessed by those gathered at Ollerton roundabout on the A614 in Nottinghamshire, when unbeknown to them, the path of one’s future and two current great champions were about to cross. After winning the World Race Championship in 1965, Tom Simpson recalled that morning in June 1954 as one of the formative moments of his early years. Tom said that he was sixteen at the time and out cycling with some club-mates from the Harworty District Wheelers.

“We came across a dozen or so club chaps standing around an island near Ollerton. Thinking it might be a road race we stopped and asked what event it was. They said they were marshalling a record attempt by Crimes and Arnold on a tandem tricycle and that they were due any minute now. We waited in expectation to see a pair of old codgers ambling along about 15 mph. Instead, we saw two real athletes approaching at 25s on three wheels, taking the wide island on only two and leaning out like sidecar passengers, flattening out and tearing off down the road. That is one of my most thrilling memories of British cycling sport.”

Then at the peak of their powers, Albert Crimes and John Arnold were in the process of breaking by a handsome margin, the Road Records Association and Northern Road Records Association 50 and 100 miles record covering the 50 miles in 1h. 49m. 50S then continued on to complete the 100 miles in 3h. 46m. 30s. At an average speed of 27miles per hour. This was just one of an amazing sequence of record times and some like Land’s End to John O’ Groats tandem tricycle record broken in 1954, still stand today despite numerous attempts to better them.

These record rides were on an immense scale; achieved despite the challenges of racing tricycles as speed day and night Racing for 10 miles, racing on for 10 and 12 hours, 20 and 24 hours, 30 and 40 hours and 50 hours, when the riders had nearly realised their ambition. Oh yes and then they continued for a further 10 hours to complete 1000 miles in the fastest time ever on any form of pedal cycle. Albert endured debilitating bouts of severe stomach cramp and sickness. It was so bad at one point that termination of the attempt was seriously considered.

Crew Wheelers club-mates Chris Thorley, who worked in the same office as Albert remembered that after the ‘End to End’ Albert, told his fellow workers how his toenails had dropped off; they all sat with their mouths wide open in astonishment. Another colleague, Gordon Tatton, recounted the times when Albert came into work “having competed an endurance event and he would struggle to straighten his fingers as he had been gripping the handlebars for hours on end’

John suffered from a very painful condition in his feet and ankles, later diagnosed as a form of gout that made even walking difficult!

The mental and physical strength of these men!

In an era of continuing petrol and food shortages following WW11, and long before mobile phones, computers, digital navigation aids, and camper vans, club men and women willingly played a considerable part in John and Albert’s successes. Communication was through letters and eventually, telephones. This is the story of those two great athletes and their exploits; the high point and the low points. Self-belief and strength of character enabled them to overcome often seemingly insuperable difficulties. Humility and their almost unbelievable capacity for speed and endurance endeared them to club cyclists all over the country.

Did that wet your whistle

this is not a book for everyone, if you are not into cycle racing or have an interest in racing and record-breaking, then you may find it boring to extraction.

In every walk of life, you will find men and women that will suffer unbelievable pain and suffering for their sport or to achieve their goal, and you may wonder why they would do that. I listened to Shirley MacLaine in an interview on the Parkinson Show. She was telling us how ballet dancing was her life, from a young girl it was all she cared about at the detriment of everything else in her life. She said that one day she was warming up in the wings before going on stage, she fell, got up and danced the part all the way through with a broken ankle, only discovering it was broken when she came off and the pain hit her. She was off for three months and in plaster while it mended. She said she did not feel the pain, so immersed was she in her dancing, and added that she could now understand how soldiers that were wounded could simply ignore their wounds and carry on.

Although I never did anything close to the achievements of Crimes and Arnold, I did suffer sickness when I first started long Audax rides, spewing like a fountain and could not hold anything down. You simply had to keep going for it was further to go back then forward to your car, where you could put your head down for a while and recover enough, for what was normally, a long drive home.     

 I was out on Sunday for a short run over to Cupar, I could not believe how quiet the roads were, then again we are all supposed to be staying at home. I don’t know how kids are coping with that, I know I would go crazy if I were to stay indoors all day. So no matter the weather I try to get out for at least a couple of hours.

The afternoon was spent watching old movies, today it was ‘Love Me or Leave Me’, a film made way back in 1955, starring Doris Day and James Cagney.

It has always amazed me how songs and incidents that happened when I was just a boy, and I’m sure, were given little credence at that time, are so vivid now. I feel I have had such songs running around in my head all this time. Maybe they were just that good.

The film, a biographical musical drama telling the life story of Ruth Etting, a singer who rose to fame in the 1920s to become America’s sweetheart. The film is pretty much a true reflection of her real life.

Ruth Etting was born on the 23rd November 1896, in David City, Nebraska, USA. She died at the age of 81 on the 24th September 1978. in Colorado Springs, Colorado USA.

As a young girl growing up in Nebraska she wanted to become an artist, always sketching and drawing and at the age of 16, her grandparents sent her off to art school in Chicago. Etting found a part-time job in the Marigold Gardens nightclub, and while there she gave up on art classes in favour of a career in show business. Etting, quickly became a featured vocalist at the club, although she had no formal training she had loved to sing in school and church. Her manager at that time was Moe Snyder, whom she later married in 1922, and as her manager, he was successful in arranged radio appearances, recording and film contracts, she even appeared at the Flo Ziegfeld’s Follies in 1927. Etting retired from performing in 1935.

Her marriage to Snyder was a torrid affair, he was overpowering and dominant, the marriage ended in divorce in 1937. Etting later began a relationship with Harry Myrl Alderman, her pianist, but not until after he had separated from his wife.

Snyder hated the idea of his former wife in the company of other men, to the point of making threatening telephone calls to her. It all came to a head in October 1938, when Snyder travelled to Los Angeles and detained Alderman at gunpoint as he left a local radio station, forcing him to take him to the home of his Ex-wife. Snyder, told Alderman he intended to kill him, Etting and his own daughter, Edith, who worked for Etting at that time. Snyder did shot Alderman and three days after the shooting, Alderman’s wife filed a suit against Etting for alienation of affections. (there is always an ambulance-chasing lawyer to be found in America).

Alderman and Etting were married in Mexico, during the time of Moe Snyder’s trial, in December 1938 for attempted murder. Desperate to escape the limelight the couple relocated to a farm outside Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Originally Spencer Tracy was pencilled in to play Snyder, Tracy turned it down, and Ava Gardner or Jane Russell, in the Etting role.

Spencer Tracy was right to turn this down, and Cagney was the better choice, he plays the gangster to perfection, and a well deserved Oscar. I can not see Ava Gardner of Jane Russell (at that stage in their careers) in the role of Etting either, they could never come over as the put upon wife of the Gimp. I have always liked Doris Day as a singer, but she looks a bit wooden in the dance department, she does not have the flow like a trained dancer would on stage, I am not saying that Doris can’t dance but watch someone like, the great Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews, and you will see what I mean, dancers have a lightness, balance of movement that sets them apart. (although later when she starred alongside Howard Keel in Calamity Jane, she had learned a thing or two) As Denzel Washington (playing the CIA operative John Creasy) in the film Man on Fire, asks

“There’s trained and untrained, which one are you?”

Second thoughts,

 Seems I sometimes open my mouth and let my belly rumble, fact checking it would seem is not one of my strong points. I said in one of my blogs that Doris Day looked wooden in the dance routines in the film ‘Love Me or Leave Me’, (purely on observation) for which I was taken to task. It was pointed out to me that Doris Day would have done the background on Ruth Etting, and would have known that she was, as she had admitted to her piano player, not a dancer but a singer, therefore if she had danced across the stage like Ginger Rodgers it would not have been a true representation of the singer Ruth Etting, point taken.

They also pointed out that in the movie Calamity Jane, Doris did the number ‘Just come in from the windy city’ and she did not such bad a job dancing around the bar, point taken.

So I thought I would check, and what would you know? Doris developed an early interest in dance, and in the mid-1930s formed a dance duo with Jerry Doherty that performed locally in Cincinnati. A car accident on October 13, 1937 injured her right leg and curtailed her prospects as a professional dancer.

So in a sense, we were both right. I think this is what I miss most during a lockdown, we don’t have that face to face communication.

I do have a double CD of the real Ruth Etting, performing some of those great songs she sang way back in the swinging 20s, when she was at the top of her game, many of them later used on the soundtrack of the 1955 film “Love me or leave me”. But their voices were totally different, Ruth Etting has a much richer smokey voice. If I had to choose one song from the movie would be “Ten cents a dance” but there were so many great songs in the movie it would be a hard choice. 

 Pleasant enough out for the time of year, although the wind is picking up a bit. Had some shopping to do, so I chose my tric, just because it is fun to ride.

We have a flat screen information board in the library.

Today it was reminding us, what we are allowed to do during coronavirus restrictions and what we must not do. Included in the ‘must not do’ list was travel on public transport, ‘unless for legitimate reasons’ such as going to work.

What I found amusing, if it were not for the seriousness of it all, the split screen had a running list of the bus and train time table.

Why, oh why, are we still, running a full bus and train time table during a virtual lockdown? They are burning up fuel (and polluting the atmosphere at the same time) wearing out buses, trains, rolling stock, tracks, roads and costing Mr, and Mrs, taxpayer a fortune, all to run empty buses and trains, up and down, around, and around the country. Surely we can do better than this.

Surely by now, we know how many key workers require public transport to get them to their work, and at what times. Begging the question would it not be cheaper to send a taxi. How many people depend on the bus to get them to the supermarket? Would a minibus not be sufficient. and why a term minute shuttle service to Dundee?

The pandemic has been going on for months now and restrictions are likely to last into late summer-early-autumn, dependent on supply, eighteen months of running empty trains and buses around the country, that makes a lot of sense. And now it has been leaked (and the Tories are incandescent about it, being leaked) We, here in Scotland, are being short-changed on what was promised. It would appear that the company supplying the vaccine are private companies and if other countries are offering better prices, (the rule of supply and demand apply), why not supply them first, that’s the Thatcher way, free enterprise, what’s not to like?         

 I awoke at around 7 O’clock in the morning, it was not quite light, the bed was warm and cosy, I thought what’s the point in getting up, there is nothing to get up for?

“Oh no, you don’t, my lad, you are not getting away with that kind of attitude, get yourself up and out of that bed and be thankful for this day that you have been gifted”.

I have days like that when I have to give myself a good talking too.

So it was up and under the shower dressed and an hour later I was out on my bike and onto the quiet roads and then the cycle path for Guardbridge. Contractors were cutting down some saplings near to the cycle path, possibly to stop the roots from growing under the path and breaking up the surface. So I had to stop while the cutting was going on and of course a wee blether.

I only saw one other lad out on a bike, I have seen him around the area a lot so we nodded as we passed each other in opposite directions. As I neared Guardbridge I saw the riding school and stables, maybe they would give us some manure for our garden? I could get a couple of bags in my trailer.

I was greeted by a rather loud barking dog as I propped my bike against the fence, put on my mask and did the hand gel bit, but once inside and he was offered the back of my hand to sniff, he turned into a big softy.

The riding school was very busy, then is that not always the way with animals, mucking out feeding and exercise, down on the farm you don’t work 9 till 5.

I went over to the lad that looked most likely to be in charge, he looked like a farmer John, never out of work clothes. Now the secret of good buying, selling, or scrounging for that matter, is not to broach the subject right away, you do the dance. So I started by asking about the stables and how many horses they had around the place? People are always willing to talk about themselves and their work. Then I did the old soldier act, (I’m Walter and live in sheltered housing). Not surprisingly he knew City Park and he had a friend who also lived in sheltered housing in St. Andrews, this was going well. So by the time I did get around to asking for some manure for our garden, he was relaxed about my presence on his property, no problem. In fact, I was given all sorts of advice about how I should make an area where a trailer load of manure could be dumped and allowed to rot, this would produce really good manure. He then went on to tell me how his friend had used such material when planting his potatoes and he had never seen potatoes so big, (I think the type of seed may have had something to do with that), but I said, “really!”

Somehow the conversation went around and around form apprenticeship days, £3.00 a week then, to playing in a band. I found out, that for 22 years he had been a drummer in a band. I told him that when I lived in Edinburgh a lad Derrick Miller, you may have heard of him? was a drummer, he lived over the landing from me. I reminisced about Derricks and how when they started up their first ban, his dad had stood guarantee for the HP on their van and equipment, and how if the band had failed his dad would have been in the debtors’ prison for life.

We laugh at that for he had known how true it was, and how many dads did likewise for their children at that time. Now it may have only been around 5 miles out to the stables from my home here in St Andrews, but it had taken me the best part of the morning, there and back. Now was that not worth getting out of bed for?     

 

If you believe nothing that anyone says, then ironically you believe everything that anyone says.

Now I know that many will be horrified when I say this,

“Whatever else you do today, set your television to watch the Alex Salmond Show on RT sometime today.”

I know, Alex is a bit like Marmite, and RT has had such a bad press in the UK (well it’s Russian), but to ignore is simply to not understanding.

So why am I singing the praises of the Alex Salmond Show this morning, for the simply reason that in 30 minutes of this programme you will have all the answers to all the questions you yourself wished answers too on this coronavirus pandemic.

His two guests today were Dr Chris Smith (Cambridge University), the questions asked of him were the questions we have all wished answers too for almost a year now, but have only heard waffle from politicians and tame Civil Servants on the mainstream media.

The Answers today came from a man with no axe to grid or loyalty to Westminster to uphold. His answers came over as unambiguous, in layman language (so easy to understand) and covered everything from, the virus, its mutations, and immunisation, and how like the flu jab, may have to be given annually, for the same people that are in the “At-Risk” castigatory will remain, in the at-risk castigatory, next year, for he believes that we could still see outbreaks from time to time.

Then we had Dr Ballarat Pankihania (spelling, not sure) a specialist in healthcare, he told us, again in plain language, what the UK had done right and what they had done wrong and why some of the restriction put in place, did not work, and why test and trace failed.

The insight from this half-hour programme was so reviled, that you wonder why there is so much prejudice surrounding, both the presenter and the media (RT) itself.

Of course it still left many questions unanswered,

Why were small countries, with compatible populations, like NZ and Vietnam, or some of the small Scandinavian countries able to suppress the virus and keep it under control from the beginning, yet here in Scotland (tied into the UK) it was allowed to run riot?

Why is Israel, able to vaccinate all of its population, (not including the West Bank) by spring 2021 yet here in the UK we will not achieve that until the autumn?

Miss it Miss Out.        

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 This has been a most unusual year and no mistake, I doubt if we will ever see another like it.

Yesterday was history,

Tomorrow is the future,

Today is a ‘Gift’,

And why we call it ‘The Present’.

That was a favourite saying by the wife of the late President Roosevelt, and I think she was right, today is a gift that we should all rejoice in.

However, the older you get the more time we seem to spend in the past, reminiscing, for our memories are just our unwritten biography. Couple this with time on our hands (lockdown), it is so easy to daydream your time away.

I have been doing a lot of daydreaming of late, thinking back on all the things I have done in my life, all the people I have met, and my dreams for the future, many now having to be tempered, for I can no longer leap mighty building in a single bound.

Of course, there will always be things we regret, choices made that you wish you had not made, opportunists that came our way and allowed to pass by. People that we let down, or unintentionally hurt in some way, how we which we could have now the opportunity to say, Sorry, or had chosen different words, and avoided the hurt we caused, as mum would have said: “Bitten you’re tong”. Then again, if we did have the ability to rewrite history, would it really changed anything, in the grand scheme of things? I don’t believe so, therefore I do not dwell on such thoughts for long.

As for the future, it is difficult to ‘forward cast an eye’, to make any kind of firm plans, in such uncertain times as these, although the little garden group here at City Park, (that I am a very small part off), are making plans for spring planting. We are to have Chrysanthemums, Wallflower, Sweetwilliam, Poppies and mighty Lupins, should be quite a show. The girls will spend, a lot of time, in their little group, discussing, taking notes and make diagrams, and yes drinking lots and lots of tea, and in general having a good blether, before coming up with such a grand plan. Me I prefer just to get stuck into the digging and planting.

Sometimes the future comes to us. There are many empty shops in St Andrews, some will have come to the end of their leas, with the owner deciding that the market is so volatile at the moment, best to not renew, others, alas, will have gone under because of the bad trading conditions. However when things start to return, to some resemblance of normality, although I’m sure this will be a different kind of normality, the shopfitters will move in and the skips will fill up, and Hamilton (the skip vulture) will be there with his tricycle and trailer.

One of the studies I loved at college, and later university, was marketing, it was one of those subjects that just grabbed me, I seem to understand it from the first words my lecturer uttered. Sometimes in life situations overtake us and can overwhelm, we have seen this with coronavirus and of course Brexit is not over, Brexit will be that flash flood that comes just when you think you are over the worst of the storm. But a lot of people make a lot of money out of a disaster, such as wars, and I’m sure many will have increased their empires during this coronavirus pandemic.

My (estranged) daughter chose to go to the ‘woolie college’ just before Maggie Thatcher sold off all the manufacturing jobs in this country to the Chinese, it was called ‘outsourcing’. By the time she qualified the mills had gone and with it the weaving industry in Scotland. My daughter set up her own loom in a shed in her garden but has struggled to make the business pay, like all art and craft goods, there is no economy of scale, so you pay for the artisans time and materials. She needed a marking adviser and super-duper salesman by her side but alas as I said she was my estranged daughter.

Looking around St Andrews today there is an opportunity for such small artisans to leas a small shop on the main thoroughfare, that would not have been there a few years ago, when the tourist trade was at an all-time high, (sadly the Scottish government put far too much store in tourism). I suggested that she should rent a small shop and install her loom in the window and work from there, (for many years big shops such as M&S did not advertise, then again having a shop in every major high street in the UK was an advert in itself) a loom being worked at in a shop window likewise. This would, not only attract people into the shop but also show potential customers the amount of work and skill that went into making that scarf that they so admired, so, was not so expensive after all.

The shop could also display goods by other artisans in the area, sold on commission, or they might give a day of their time to man the shop in lieu of payment. 

We have seen since lockdown that many people have shown and interested in learning new skills and craft skills are right up there. Why not run evening classes in weaving, and reap a crop (spin-off) selling wool and materials to your students. However, my dreams are not her dreams, and that is what we must always remember.

I was talking with a friend and he was telling me about a lad, and as he put it “Had not made much out of life” (in comparison with what? I wondered). We all have a life to lead and we lead it in our own way, we can only advise when we see people making (what we consider wrong choices) but it is up to them whether they wish to take this advice, we make our own bed and it is we who must then lie in it.

Sorry, it is a bit dreich here today in St Andrews.

Stay safe.

 The weather today was pretty good for the time of year, clear skies, little wind and sunshine, but, and there is always a but, it was cold in the relative wind.

I felt like a little exercise, the e-bike is making me lazy, so I pumped up the tyres on the tricycle, High-Speed tyres need constant maintenance, then headed out around town.

Back in the storeroom

My tricycle started off life as a bicycle, then a rear axle was added, (new tricycles were and still are very expensive the cheaper option is to add a rear axle to an old bike) and since the weight is spread across a greater area narrow wheels and tyres make it ultra-light.

To keep it within the law an extra brake was added to the front wheel (both bearing on the rim) but as traffic became heavier around the city I decided to change to a front disc and canter leaver on the front wheel, this was a road calliper since most of the equipment on it was still road rather than a mountain bike. To achieve this it would require new (wider) forks and with an old school headset finding a set with an inch tube took some time.

When I converted my two wheel bike to an e-bike I found I had some almost new changers and brake leaver combo. I decided to change my handlebars from drop to butterfly, since I was seldom on the lower part of the bar, and the butterfly bars on my two-wheel bike suite me well, being able to change handholds around the bars is a big advantage on long runs. A cheap pair of butterfly bars were ordered and I made the switch, taking the opportunity to change the inner and outer cables at the same time, no point sinking the boat for a pennyworth of tar.

There are issues, one the road brake levers has a long travel distance, so the disc brake was more than antiquity at stopping the trike, now the mountain bike leaver has a shorter travel distance so not as efficient.

The changes are for an eight speed block and a three-ring front mech, I would have like to change the block to eight-speed and the front chain-set to triple, but it would be difficult and possibly expensive too, so we will have to content myself with what we have.

I can not convey how much fun there is to be had on a tricycle, although it takes a bit of getting used to at first. They are so light you feel as if you have wings, you just want to pedal harder and faster and the exhilaration of hanging off as you corner at speed is, well, just needs to be experienced. If you like to pose get a tricycle.     

No frost, no ice, no rain, no wind, so I neglected my housework chores and took to the road on my bike. It was pleasant in the early morning sun, but so low in the skies, so lugs were on high alert for traffic coming up behind you and out of side roads,

“Ops, sorry mate, I didn’t see you” does not help you to feel better of mend broken bones.

I was late in leaving this morning for I watched the film “The Taming of the Shrew” made in 1967. I would have seen it when it was first realest, I went a lot to the cinema then, but clearly I had forgotten just how good this film is, I have not belly laughed, this much, since I can not remember when. I was in pain.

The film stared Elizabeth Taylor, as Kate, (Taylor also produced it in conjunction with Richard McWhorter) playing opposite Taylor, Richard Burton, as Petruchio. Directed, brilliantly by Franco Zeffirelli, it was a joy to watch.

Apart from Burton and Taylor’s impeccable performances it was all the little things going on in the background, the faces of the cast, or the two little boys carrying the brides train, fall out and start fighting, the background was so busy, your eyes were everywhere, but still you never mist a beat of the main action, this was outstanding directorship.

The wedding day. All is ready, but it is not the bride (traditionally) late but the groom. When he finally arrived he is in such a garish costume, and drunk as a lord. Burton played the drunken buffoon to perfection (then again he may have simply been in charictor) and the scene at the alter, the “I Do” part of this farcical wedding. When the priest asks Kate

“Will you take this man to be your lawful married husband?”

There is a long pause, you can hear a pin drop. Then Kate builds herself up for the big humiliation,

“I Will…………..”

but before she can get the last word (Not) out, her mouth is smothered in a kiss from Petruchio. The crowed go wild he has done the impossible, and there is no one more delighted than her farther, he has seen the back off this troublesome wench. Laugh I near peed my knickers.

Taylor and Burton were at the top of their form in the 1960, on and off stage. Cinema attendance however was losing ground to the television by the mid to late 1960s, the hey day of the big screen musicals, and epics with their cast of thousands and budgets of millions, were coming to an end, hastens by changed to the tax laws by, the then, American government, the industry collapsed. The consolation prize, the birth of kitchen sink drama and the Spaghetti Western.

The taming of the shrew was a blockbuster success worldwide it grossed $12.000.000 but many of these big epics lost money. The Great Escape, amounts them and only recouped some of those losses when, ironically, it was later shown on television, (annually at Christmas) and the film rental market was at its zenith, this too helped the industry survive.

Home once more and onto the internet to see what was making the headlines in Scotland. You will not be surprised if I tell you that I am a big fan of Scottish independence, and how I am supporting, the landmark court case to clarify whether the Scottish Parliament has the legal power to go ahead with a Referendum on Independence with or without the permission of Westminster.

The SNP are not happy, that two prominent SNP MPs (Kenny MacAskll and Angus MacNeil) have signed up to (People’s Action on Section 30). brought by Martin Keating, supported financially by 10 thousand donors to his appeal. The case comes before the court on the 22 of this month, and should clarify the law on the powers of the Scottish Parliament in this instance.

Personal, I would ask Boris for a section 30 order to be granted to the Scottish Parliament – now. If he said “Now is not the time” or an outright “No” then we would know where we stand, and then make the May Holyrood Elections a vote for independence, the will of the people.

The Irish precedent to ignoring the British constitution and breaking legal constraints in winning a majority of MPs, forming a parliament, declaring independence and forcing the British government to sign an Anglo-Irish treaty shows that people’s investment in their parliamentary representatives is the only power required.

(mind you they had the British government over a barrel at the time – there was a war on).

Scots are in a half way position we have a Scottish Parliament, we have the Edinburgh Agreement, we just need that final push for independence from our parliamentarians. If a Section 30 order is not granted before May elections then the 2019 election result in Scotland, as the 1918 election result in Ireland, should be the trigger to withdraw our MPs from Westminster and for the newly elected pro-indy Scottish parliament in 2021 to declare independence.

Whatever the outcome, it is going to make the May elections more interesting.

“The SNP MPs yesterday defended Nicola Sturgeon, after claims by Alex Salmond, she breached the ministerial code by misleading the Scottish Parliament”.

This is not going to go away, already they are opening a book, who will go first Trump of Sturgeon.

I think the Tories will hold off till nearer the election in May then let blast with all guns blazing and bring Sturgeon down, in the hope of ending the SNP dominance in Holyrood. The SNP would be wise to take this much more seriously that they seem to be doing.

The front pages of the national (English) newspapers have just appeared on my television screen (Sky News, sound muted). We see much lampooning of the Donald Trump, and remember he is still the President of The United States of America. Whatever we think about Trump, he did pole a record number of votes in the race to the Whitehouse, even more than Obama in his day.

I have done a lot of door-knocking in my day, and one thing you learn fast is that you will not persuade anyone to your argument by telling them they are wrong. And I don’t think the way to make friends and influence people is for the English press to show the American people, their President, as a baby in nappies (diapers) throwing his toys out of the pram. Then again, if it was not for the big business financially supporting such trash, they would not survive.

As soon as you leave the bus route, the roads are treacherous, even the pavements have to be taken with great care although the main areas are salted there are still slippery patches ready to catch out the unwary. For this reason I dusted off my tricycle, it had been gathering dust in the old kitchen since I converted my (new to me) two-wheeled bike into an e-bike.

As soon as I boarded my tricycle and pedalled off, I remembered why I love riding them so much. You can, of course, tip them over and fall off, but unlikely pottering around town. On a two-wheel bike, it is all too easy for the wheels to side from under you and you end up clattering down on the road, only to be carted off to the hospital with a broken hip, (falling on my head would do no damage whatsoever). Ridding a tricycle it would be more likely to do a three-wheel drift, across the road, and straight under an oncoming bus, safe enough, you won’t feel a thing.

I have a robin visiting the wall-mounted feeder at the front door now, I’m pleased about that, but a pigeon has also found it and the roof is high enough for it also to guts food from there. The intention is to attract small birds, and especially sparrows, not feed the local pigeon population. Modifications may be required.

The ground feeder on the other hand is a big hit with the small ground-feeding birds. I deliberately made the roof low to deter larger birds, small birds would be able to get under it, nay bother, but I have found, to my cost, that although it is artistically pleasing it is in fact a bugger to fill with feed.

Back to the drawing board.

Ground feeder Mk 2.

The idea is that the roof slides up a centre pole for easy filling of the tray, then drops down, onto a stop, allowing the small bird to feed under the umbrella, but deter the larger birds, crows, rooks and pigeons. There may have to be a Mk3, Mk4 and so on. I pedalled off to the ironmongers, at the far end of South Street, I needed a piece of dowel for the centre shaft. It turned out that a meter of dowel was more expensive than a broom shaft, so that is what I bought.

Stay save, you all.

Was it the case that I simply did not see what was before my eyes or is it the fact that I put out my feeders in the front garden, that so many birds are now seen there?

The cute little robin is still with us, sparrows, pigeons of course, and the blackbirds I saw this morning. However was the smaller, really a young blackbird, for there is a type of thrush that is pure black in colour. The larger of the two certainly was a blackbird and I know the female blackbird looks more like a thrush than her male counterpart. The fact is I don’ know a hell of a lot about garden birds. I do however recognise the Redwing, and there are a pair of them now coming into the garden. Redwings I know are winter visitors to Britain, and a member of the thrush family, but I’m not sure if they bread here.

So much to learn, but learning can be fun, and so much more interesting than daytime television.

Had an e-mail from WordPress tells me it is coming up to my first anniversary with them, can you believe it a year, hard to comprehend, it seems like only yesterday that I was making plans to go off to Europe. The best-laid plans of mice and men…………..

I went into the kitchen around 9 pm to make myself a cup of tea and when I looked out of the window was surprised to see a carpet of snow, this morning it has had a bit of a fright and the skies are fairly clear so I must get out on my bike, even if it is only for an hour or so.

As I write two buses have passed the window, both devoid of passengers, this has been the situation for months now, I can understand the government trying to give the illusion that all is well and normal, but it’s not, is it? Yes, I know some people are dependent on the bus to get to and from work but do we need to run a full bus service for that?

I watched a documentary, the lad involved was an expert on business and he went to a glass factory in one of the Baltic states, to advise on how it might stem its losses. The factory had two sections, one made beautiful craft glass, the other bottles on two assembly lines, at a time when glass bottles were being replaced by plastic. It did not take him long to spot the problem and why the company was in such dire straights. He went before the management and said your continue to make glass bottles, box then put them into store, and in damp conditions. When the package start falling apart, you put the contaminated and broken bottles back in the Furness, wasting energy, materials, and manpower to make bottles that have no market. His advice, close down at least one of the bottle lines now, this minute, and build up your craft glass side of the business. They told him they could not do that, they had a policy of no redundancies. He replied, then send the men home on full pay, because if you do not this factory can not be sustained and everyone will be made redundant.

Living is easy with eyes closed. Strawberry Fields Forever, The Beatles.

Stay safe.

 Well, would by credit it? Boris has taken back control from the European Court of Human Rights and handed it over to people like Obama and Trump in America. Who have stopped the Magistrates Court from allowing bail to Julian Assange. So it is off to the High Court now and hopefully, it will end there and not go on to the Supreme Court, which could take years for a hearing, more so if they are nobbled – Assange has been tortured enough, time for the American media to tell the truth to the American people. Their government has lied (aided and abetted by a tame propaganda machine, the American media) they wish to suppress the truth over the wars in the Middle East. They know that if Assange is allowed to go free, he will write his account of American’s foreign policy, and British governments involvement in war crimes. As my dad would have said, “When the poe bursts, there will be a big stink”.

Spent an hour in the workshop on a ground feeder that was (hopefully) gull prof in the hope of attracting more small birds into the garden. If the robin visits on a regular base I will know that this is his territory and make a robin nest box and hid it at the far end of the garden for that is seldom visited.

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Sitting here at my laptop, I caught a disturbance in the Holly tree, and from it a Thrush dropped to the ground and started feeding off the fallen berries from the tree. He did not come close to the feeder possibly because it is new and it may take a while for birds to feel safe around it.

So that’s a robin and a thrush nest box now, time to hitch the trailer onto the bike and go search out those skips.

I did not go far on the bike today, and kept to the main roads which were very quiet. The air was cold so I kept my face mask on for no other reason than not to be gulping down litres of cold air, as Maria said “This night (morning) air is not good for the children’s voices”. Maybe I will stick the Sound of Music this afternoon and join in the singing, Doe a deer, a female deer, – Ray a drop of golden sun, I really have been alone too long, although we did have the cleaners in this morning to blether too.

When coming back from Aldi today, I only went up for a plastic box to keep the bird seed in, and of course came away with a laden pannier bag, with a couple of boxes strapped on top of the battery. As I made to get on the bike two girls jogged (well they were running really) past me, they must have been at least 6 ft tall, I don’t know what these modern girls are fed on, but they sure are big.

Out to the bin, to dump some trash, first thing this morning I met my upstairs neighbour (still relativity young and new to the complex) coming in the gate.

“I was going out on my long daily walk” she told me “I had to return there is black ice everywhere”. No cycling today Hamilton.

Yesterday I found a large feeder, must be a yard long,

so I brought it home, stripped it, cleaned it and replenished it with bird feed, and hang it in the holly tree. At the same time I moved the ground feeder against the boundary wall and in front of my window. This morning when I draw the blind a small blackbird, I took to be a female, was feeding at the ground feeder. She was weary and unsure stopping and looking around running for the cover of the heather bush, that was close by as soon as she felt there was a present danger.

When the larger blackbird appeared and hopped toward her she was off, he in hot persecute, but was soon back empty-handed. Last year I watch a male blackbird (possibly the same one) doing his rounds of the borders and then a female, the male gathered some grubs and fed them to the female, beak to beak, as if they were kissing. I will look out for him pairing up again this year.  

 Looking like a decent day ahead, lots of ground frost but the skies are clear and the wind nowhere to be seen.

My bag of Happy Beak wild bird feed arrived and I put some in the feeder I made, and some on the ground for ground-feeding birds, so far no takers. I also put a little pile under the holly tree near my front window and almost instantly a male Robin came to feed, this was followed by a Sparrow, then came two rooks. Alas, a Gull that has decided that any picking, were his and his alone, he now remains on sentry duty on the wall and is quick to dive down and chase them off. So my next project will be a Gull prof ground feeder.

(or I could shoot the gull, only joking)

I finished the book ‘A house divided’ nothing startling. It was from our library, the books are changed every month by the local library, (but not at present) but mostly it is books written by women for women. Oh you do get the odd Lee Child or Patterson but they are so old they have hair on, so during this time you are down to reading anything just to pass a few hours, and it was in big print so easy to read.

The boys in here will buy adventure paperbacks, either new or from charity shops and once read will leave them in the library, they do not hang around long and are pretty dog eared by the time they do the rounds. But there seems to be a bit of a famine of late.

I have reached the end of Walden, but that is going nowhere, it will stay with me, for on second or third reading, I’m sure it has much more to revile. The difficulty for me was the language, it used lots of metaphors that was very American, or quoting from methodology, the classics are not my forty, this makes his train of thought sometimes difficult to follow.

The last paragraph for me sums up the man, talking about the authority of government – it is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the bases of the empire. Then he asks – Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?

A democracy such as we know it here in the UK is a long way off where he believes democracy must be.

Those that have been following my blog will know that it was first set up to keep my friends in touch with me as I toured Europe, starting in the spring of 2020, and before we left the EU and freedom of movement. We all know what happened next. I shall not say that I will never again return to Europe (Scotland still has an opt-out clause if they wish to use it) but the prospects of doing so have diminished greatly.

This year my insurance company informed me that they were increasing my van insurance premium by a further £100.00, even although I have never made a claim against any insurance company for car, van, or motorcycle since a car run up my backside in Glasgow back in 1974, why I ever have a string of no claims bonuses to my name, alas my age makes me, what the insurance man calls, ‘a bad risk’. And when I inquired about insurance for the van that would allow me to travel extensively in Europe, they loaded it down with all sorts of getting out of jail conditions, and excess frees, and I would need a green card and on and on. As for health/travel insurance (since we are no longer in the EU) that would be a no, (from any insurance company) for anyone over 70 years of age. The camper van was dismantled and sold on.

My big success has been my e-bike conversion, it has given me the freedom I once knew when I was fit and able to cycle for days on end. However I still wish to modify it to torque rather than cadence power, making it feel much more like a normal bike but with some power assistance, and still retain throttle control.

Since I intended selling the van and had no intention of buying another van/car, I did have a need for some way of moving goods around, so I made a bicycle trailer and it works well on the back of the e-bike, you would hardly know it was there, even heavy laden, (which could be its Achilles Heel).

I have been experimenting with the solar panels, I removed from the camper van, setting them up and using them to recharge the battery on my e-bike and they work well, even in these short days of winter. This gave me the idea of attaching them to the top of the trailer, like a lid on a box, so they would help recharge the batteries as I cycle along. Now if I can make it work I would have a bicycle that charged itself so could be taken on very long journeys indeed.

This has led me to think about a long touring/camping trip just as soon as they get the coronavirus under control (possibly late summer, early autumn). I would love to tour the Dales once more, and there may still be some members of the Otley cycling club that remember me, and I could catch up with members from the Tricycle Association, or possibly the Mildenhall Rally if it is possible to hold one this autumn.

I knew a lad that had a very small fibreglass car-a-van that folded down to the size of a small trailer to cut down on wind resistance therefore could be pulled by a small car and of course, save on fuel. Now what if I could do something similar, like a fold-away tent, made from Extruded Polystyrene, these foams are used extensively in sign making and the building industry, they are light, easy to work, cheap to buy and insulate you from the cold of the night or heat of the day. It will also stand a fair bit of abuse, since they come with a strong backing and could even be reinforced by 5 mm plywood where necessary. Placed over the trailer box, I could store camping gear and leisure battery below, and my fold away home on top and over all of this, a clear plastic roof would keep everything dry yet still allowing sunlight onto my solar panels. Sort of like a layer cake, the seed has been sown.       

I forced myself to watch the Andrew Marr interview, with our illustrious leader Boris Johnston, and only because Marr said he would be asking about granting an independence referendum to the Scottish people if it was show that this was the wish of a majority of people in Scotland, in other words the up and coming Holyrood elections in May. I need not have bothered, Boris, as ever, simply waffled for the length of the interview and said absolutely nothing, about school closures, what the government was doing about stemming the upsurge in coronavirus, except that it was a new mutation and no one could have predicted that. As for Scottish independence, well that was once in a lifetime (the definition of life-time still to be determined).

The government’s arse is in a sling and although the devolved governments do have some latitude they are tied hand and foot to a London centralised system, so end up in a follow the leader situation. The silver bullet that Boris is pining his hopes on to get him out of this mess and keep him in post, is the vaccine, ask him about setting up a system of delivery of said vaccine and you will get even more waffle.

The experts say mass immunisation must take place and large numbers need to be vaccinated daily if we are to win the battle. The manufactures of the vaccine say they can step up production but because the vaccine has such a short shelf life we can only produce to the amount being used. Now after 2.6 million deaths and almost a year of British farce, It seems we have a shortage of staff to administer the dosage. Why? When we (along with ever other major country in the world) have one of the biggest arm forces on standby to go to war at any place and at any time, including thousands of doctors, and medical staff and all the logistics that we would ever need to deliver that service. Yet there they sit in barracks around the world, waiting for the bugle call to arms, in the middle of a war.

The leader of the Labour Party in Scotland has asked the First Minister for a Public Inquiry into the handling of coronavirus in Scotland. I can assure him that we do not have to spend vast sums of money on lawyers, and spend years on a public inquiry, anyone with and ounce of common sense can see what mistakes have been made and are still being made by simply opening their eyes.

A good month before we saw the first case of coronavirus in Scotland, we heard on every news outlet how coronavirus was affecting the citizens of Wuhan City, In China and how the Chinese government were building a massive temporary hospital. At break neck speed (under a week) to care for those that had contracted the virus, they were doing exactly what the World Health Organisation was saying would be needed to stop the spread of the virus, Test, Trace, Isolated. The Chinese separated, the sick from the healthy and allowed the bulk of the population to carry on as normal a life as possible and keep the economy afloat. Today in Wuhan City, the citizens are more or less back to normal, no one wearing masks, no infection running rampant throughout the population. Similar action was taken in South Korea, Vietnam, New Zeeland, all with similar success.

A month later here in the UK, even after those warnings and seeing people die like flies in Italy and Spain, the government still had no plans in place. Not enough protective gear for hospital staff, as for care home staff and carers in the community, they were not even on the radar. As for Boris and his, world-beating test and trace system, that had cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, along with their trace app, was quickly abandoned, as being as much use as an ash tray on a motorcycle.

When people fell victim to the virus, they were not isolated from the community, they were ADVISED to go home and self isolate. So mum tests positive, she heads home to where the kids still want to be fed, dad has as much idea of running a house, and cooking as I do about the dark side of the moon, as for the washing machine and hover, they are totally alien to him, Aye that’ll work, what chance was there to self isolate for many, women with families or where the mother was a big part in keeping the roof over their heads and paying the bills? they were simply spreading the virus amongst their family and friends.

Then came in FACT, you must keep your distance, two meters and wear a mask when entering a shop. However, it was not compulsory for the staff in shops and supermarkets to wear a mask, they could happily spread the virus over the food as they packed the shelves. In those early days, I would go out into the town to buy food (wearing my mask and fearful of anyone coming in close contact with me) and the streets of St Andrews were as busy as any Saturday, with no observation of the two meter rule and no mask-wearing in the streets. Advisory, aye that will work.

Oor Nicola stood at the podium day in and day out reading out the casualty figures (a passenger plane load every day) but still only advisory, for she said she wanted to take people along with her, 2.6 million deaths later we heard from Boris on the Andrew Marr Show that the government is stepping up their testing, and the First Minister is still handing out her condolences. This has all the trapping of a Hammond House of Horror ‘B’ movie about it, and still no end in sight.

Carry on asking for a Public Inquire if you like Mr Leonard, but I think the taxpayer would prefer some leadership from the Tories, Labour and the SNP on this now out of control pandemic.            

I had reached Past Master, in the Nigel Tranter trilogy The Master of Gray. When the lines started to blur and I was no longer taking it in.

I thought of going straight to bed but instead, I switch on the television, which was also now looking a bit blurred, and flicked through the Menu. A late-night film, starting in ten minutes, Notting Hill, starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, instantly I was alert and went off to the kitchen to put the kettle on, and since I painted a chain and padlock on the kitchen cupboard door, but no key, the biscuits were safe from my grasp. I now settle down to watch one of my favourites films starring Julia Roberts. (if I keep this late-night film watching up, I will be meeting myself getting up as I go to bed).

Julia is a filmstar at the height of her career but longs for a “normal” relationship and lives in fear that she will drift into middle age and ‘look a little like someone that was famous once’.

Hugh Grant plays the hapless lover, who can not quite believe this is happening to him, the story plays out in a comical way superbly directed and the comic timing of the cast just brilliantly, one feeding off the other.

The course of true love never runs smooth – towards the end we have Julia coming into the shop, dressed in ‘everyday woman’ clothing, and carrying a peace offering, to ask forgives.

Hugh sees no future for them she a big movie star living in Holywood he a bookstore keeper in London.

Clearly, he did not see the film ‘Young at Heart’ starring Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, if they had Oscars then, he would have needed a barrow to hurl his clutch off stage.

“Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you if you’re young at heart” Hamilton sings out, tears now welling up in his eyes, he reaches for the box of tissues and finds only a Post-it.

I think I have been on my own for too long. 

Then we have the most beautiful line in the whole film, Julia standing before Hugh looking like the girl from next door,

“Don’t forget” she said “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her”

Don’t you just love happy endings?

I hope they don’t do a re-run of Casablanca, before I get to the shops, to buy more tissues, “We will always have Paris, we lost it until you came to Casablanca”.

I did go out first thing this morning, I headed along the cycle track for Guardbridge. My intention was to press on into Cupar and return via Pitscottie. I made it as far as Dairsie when down it came, I sot out the bus shelter, there to dug out my cycling cape from the pannier bag then sprinted for home, boy didn’t it rain. Cold, wet and miserable I arrived home, sod’s law, the rain stopped almost as quickly as it had started. The best part of my ride today was diving under the hot shower and changing into warm, dry clothing. Sorry Hamilton, but it comes with the territory.

Stay safe.

There’s quiet and there’s quiet, and my Old Year’s Night was certainly quiet, I did not even turn on the television to hear the bells. So New Year had come and gone without my knowledge.

Today the weather too is very quiet so I will be out on my bike, trying to ride off the excess of biscuits, sweets and corpus amounts of food I have eaten over the past days, I feel a fasting day coming on.

The book Walden, I feel much in keeping with Thoreau’s philosophy, I learned the same lessons but not in two years of the experiment as did he, it has taken me a lifetime of toil. Thoreau reduced his life to the basics, his house, a hut, he built himself, telling us it cost him less than a years rent in student accommodation, and he could live in it for a lifetime if he wished.

I had purchased for myself an old van and converted it into a camper-van, the interior was 12 feet by 6 feet and 7 feet high. Possibly around the same size as Thoreau’s hut.

The van was fitted out with mostly recycled material, the front door from a house, gave me an entrance. A windows from a home conversion light, and all from skips in or around St Andrews. In total, including the purchase of the van, it would have spent around £6 thousand, but mostly that was things like solar panels, inverter, chemical toilet and the likes, things not normally found in skips. Unlike Thoreau, not so much getting away from it all as taking it all with me.

I travelled to every corner of Scotland in that old van over a period of two years (around the same amount of time Thoreau spend on his experiment living at Walden Pond) and came to much the same conclusions as Thoreau. I remember when parked up on Ayre seafront, a couple of lads in a builder van pulled up and came to look over the van. It did have a magnetic attraction about it and I found it introduced me to some very interesting people during my sojourning. I invited them inside and offered then a cup of tea. During the conversation about the van, I said I would never be homeless and could not understand anyone who was, if you lower your expectation of what is a house, then a large packing case with air holes can be a house. I’m not sure they understood.

The book is about how man has not freed himself by acquiring more and more acquisitions, he has made himself poorer by his endeavours and a prisoner too them, unable to move for the weight he now carries. (my father would have called this flotsam and Jetsam, stoor collectors). Not unlike the lyrics of ‘Lock Keeper’ “Your anchor chains a fetter and keeps you tethered to the foam”. You make yourself a prisoner of what you collect and the way you chose to live. Many buy their property then spend a lifetime working hard paying for it, with interest, only for it to be sold on their death to pay for their funeral.

My father was a merchant seaman at a time when his accommodation on board was sparse indeed. This shaped his life. When anything new came into the house, (in the early days of their marriage) he would ask why it was necessary. Mum would react by telling him, if it was up to you we would be sitting on boxes. As a boy I would watch my father wash and shave, He would only put a few inches of water in the sink. I once asked why he never filled the sink to wash, he told me that would be wasteful, it was not until I had a boat of my own that I understood how precious freshwater was onboard.

Thoreau argues that man wastes a lifetime cutting stone to build grand statements, not for necessity. Those men who built the pyramids of Egypt, he argued, spent their lifetime cutting stone, they would have been wiser to have thrown the body in the Nile, and use their lives in more purposeful ways.

Having spent so much time building a railroad to the nearest town, the Irishman asked,

“Was the railroad not a good thing?”.

Thoreau answered that I could walk there quicker than you could get there travelling on the railroad. He explained that the fare was 80 cents, it would take you a days work to earn the fare. I on the other hand could set out in the morning to walk there and arrive in around eight hours. You would still be working for the fare and would not arrive until later that evening or the next morning. It was an interesting point Thoreau was making.

Walden is not a Lee Child adventure, that once started can not be put down, and maybe not that easy to understand if you do not have an open mind, or maybe have just lived a little. Walden is to be taken slowly and that is how I will approach it. Alongside it I am reading ‘A House Divided’ by Catherine Cookson. Yes, I know.

I set out on my run this morning in bright low sunlight, riding by my side and in perfect unison, my shadow, it’s nice to have company.

The air was very cold and my cycling jacket making a poor job of keeping the cold at bay, maybe I should go out wearing my motorcycling touring jacket. Although the roads were not too bad in the suburbs of St Andrews, as I neared Strathkinness they were treacherous, much worse than snow, black ice, and the many run-offs from the adjacent fields frozen solid. I soft pedalled my way to the top at Knock Hill and twitchy bum down the other side. relaxing only at Kinnaird farm, where I was once more back in pleasant sunshine I watched as a big black and white collie made its run-out and gathered and drove a flock of sheep before pressed on. At the bridge over the Eden, I made the decision to take to the A90 at Dairsie knowing at least I would be on a bus route that would have been gritted. I stuck with the A90 for the short run home, (the cycle track would have been just as treacherous as the back road) I was pleased to be back. Before stowing my bike indoors I hosed it down, salt and mechanical parts do not good bedfellows make.

Having skipped breakfast, brunch and now lunch, to give my belly a rest, I feel the better for it.

Stay Safe

As Big Ben bongs out at 12 O’clock,

Old Scotia will count the cost,

Of what we’ve gained,

Of what we’ve lost,

But I can help thinking,

We’ve been taken for a ride.

But Hogmanay and New Years Day,

Bring hope for the future,

“Let us pray,”

Sing out old Scotia, sing out,

You people of this old warier race,

Raise that Saltire high in the air,

And with one voice declare,

“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”.

Another dreich day in St Andrews, still the winds are as quiet as a mouse. However before we think about bike rides, first things first. Since Hogmanay is almost upon us I need to get extra supplies in, milk and bread. To Aldi.

M&S must have a loyal following for as I passed their store customers were queuing around the block just to get in, whist 100 yards up the road Aldi, was busy, busy, busy but getting them in and out their store toot sweet.

“Attention Customers! we are opening lane number 5 for your convenience, please unload your shopping”.

Today I bought some diced steak for a traditional Hogmanay, steak pie, I will cheat and use Just-Roll pastry for the crust, but as tradition demands, this will be puff paster. And for afters, Apple turnover, (the apple filling from a jar) and from my Christmas box, Ambrosia Devon Custard poured over that said delight.

Since we (the royal we) will be alone this New Year, it is still fun to go through the traditional run-up preparations. As well as the traditional meal, I will not forget to clean the house from top to bottom so that I (by tradition) start the New Year with a clean slate, William’s all paid, (Bill is far to friendly a chap to put such demands on my cash), and no dirt from 2020 shall be carried into the New Year.

As I boy I would get the job of polishing the front doorsteps with Red Cardinal, a job that required great skill, with only the light from the lobby to guide my hand.

Thinking of Ambrosia,

I was invited by friends to their house for Sunday lunch. I had mentioned, possibly when it was the whiskey that was talking, that I loved rice pudding, baked in the oven, laced with raisins and sprinkled with cinnamon, mostly I loved the thick milky skin, so mouthwatering good.

To my surprise, baked rice pudding was served up for afters,

“In your honour, for I know it is your favourite”.

Fancy remembering that.

Her seven-year-old son took one look at the rice being served up to him and asked his mother,

“Why can’t we have ‘Real’ rice out of a tin?”

What have we done to our children?

My thought for today.

The television is often on in the background with the sound muted and I will read the news script that runs along the bottom of the screen, to see if there is anything I should be paying attention too.

Venezuela is to buy 10 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine and distribute it free.

I wonder where the Venezuela governments get their money, if not from the taxpayers of Venezuela – begging the question – if the taxpayer in Venezuela is paying for the Sputnik V vaccine, how is it disubstituted Free to the people?

Sputnik V was the first vaccine to be produced in the world, but since it is being sold around the third world at more or less cost, it will be shunned by the capitalist west. I listened as an expert in viruses, she was telling us how they were experimenting with mixed research from different countries. She went on to say how they were having great success mixing one vaccine they had on trial with Sputnik V vaccine. The interviewer asked

“Why are you using Sputnik V it has not been given approval?” you could almost hear the unspoken part of her question “and it’s Russian”

Maybe the English have forgotten that if it were not for the sacrifice of the Russian people during the Second World War, there would be no England. In the mid-nineteenth century, Thoreau told us that prejudice could be overcome. Sadly when I look at Brexit and how the arms traders in America and the UK have created a bogeyman, (Russia) to perpetuate their evil trade, I think it will take much more than fine words from a great philosopher, we are lacking education, in our Schools and in our media. Successive governments have failed our children, now adult.

Well, I really must go, now where did I put my pinny?

Happy New Year when it comes, and may I take the opportunity to wish you all, that which you would wish for yourselves, in the coming year.   

Stay safe, do you hear.

I set out on the bike in what looked like a perfect morning, the skies were clear the sun was out, alas so low in the skies to the point of being dangerous for cyclists, that had become invisible to motorists, ‘blinded by the light’. Manfred Mann, a cove of the Bruce Springsteen song.

For this reason, I decided to take to the back roads out of St Andrews, which turned out not to be one of my better ideas, for as I climbed up to the top of the hill, the road conditions became treacherous. Not only from snow-covered roads but water run-off from fields had frozen solid.

At the crossroads I stopped to take a picture when a fellow cyclist pulled up, he was riding an e-bike (factory-made) in the style of a mountain bike, telescopic forks, chunky tyres, and enough flashing lights, that he looked like a mobile Christmas tree.

Like me he was elderly, we blethered a while then he pushed on. After taking my pictures and packing away my camera and followed on, but never saw him again. Ships that pass in the night.

I had a dear friend Bob Johns, died in August 2017. Bob was born in America although his mother was Scottish and his father Welsh, in his latter years Bob lived in Washington DC,

In many ways Bob was like my father, he had that air of knowing who he was, comfortable in his own skin, and his language was that of a homespun philosopher. One of the books he gave me was Walden by Henry David Thoreau, maybe he thought it might give me some answers to the many questions I seemed always to be asking. Sadly, the words of an essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, and historian from the 1800s was way beyond my ability to understand.

During this time of isolation, I have found that book again, and although I still find the language challenging and the philosophy even more so, I am getting there.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he had imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

and

“It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking of doing, however ancient can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be a falsehood tomorrow; mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields.”

How true is that, and possibly has never been more true than in today’s world, I get it Bob, Thanks.

I once read about a sort of hermit that made a living from his bees, selling honey and mead, from the washing of the combs. The writer tells us that the old beekeeper wrote bad philosophy. I once asked Bob what “Bad philosophy” was, he told me philosophy that can not be proven. strange reading Thoreau (no way of thinking of doing, however ancient can be trusted without proof) brought Bob right back into the picture. We really do stand on the shoulders of giants – no matter how small they appear.

Working my way through the McVitie’s chocolate digestives, from my Christmas box – did you know that if you put two together with the chocolate sandwiched in the middle you don’t get chocolate all over your fingers and you’re conscience is clear too, good tip Hamilton.

Yesterday was ‘Opera Night’, Giacomo Puccini (1856 – 1924) and his greatest opera, Tosca. (Giacomo – did he no have a cafe in Dunfermline?)

My DVD is performed at the Metropolitan, Hildegard Behrens, as Floria Tosca, what a range this girl has. And Mario Cavaradossi, well the one and only Placido Domingo, he is so well known now that he needs no introduction from me. Then we have Scarpia, brilliantly played by Cornell MacNeil, this man has made the part his own. Surely there has never been three voices better suited to this opera. Then again I do have a CD that I play, almost as audio wallpaper, in the workshop, and in the lineup, Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Tito Gobbi, hard to beat.

Of course they all end up dead in the end, very dramatic. If I were to pick just one aria from the opera it would have to be Vissi d’arte, Vissi d’ amore, sung by Tosca, she is wondering why she is being subjected to such an ordeal since she has followed all the laws of man and god.

However the aria that will have the audience on their feet and screening in the isles, is “E iucevan le Stelle” Mario has given his ring to his jailer in exchange for a chance to write Tosca a last letter. As he writes, Mario is overwhelmed by his memories and despair, he breaks down, overcome by his emotion.

At school, we had a teachers who was a big fan of opera. One day Hamish Bell, a classmate, told her he had forced himself to sit through an opera on the television, and he still was not a convert. And I remember her answer, ‘Good, she said, the next time you hear that opera or an aria from it, you will remember and enjoy it, I promise’. I have no idea if Hamish sat through another opera but our teacher was right, it takes time to appreciate opera, but it is well worth the effort.

Putting Lipstick on a Pig.

Tomorrow the Commons will vote through the agreement reached between the EU and the Westminster government. Most of the MPs voting on Wednesday, will not have even read the document, and if they have done do they really understand the implications of what they are voting for?

It is a foregone conclusion the house will pass the document into law, for there is no alternative to this agreement, you see the UK left the EU a year ago. No one is suggesting that we have a referendum in the country to ask the public, if what is being proposed is really what they expected when they voted to leave the EU some four years ago, to ask, is this still what they wish for, or have you changed your mind and would now prefer now to stay in the EU? No we will have to wait until 2025 for that answer.

The Tories have a majority of 80 and now we have a Labour leader that is more of an establishment man than any Tory. Those in power within the Labour Party, stitched up Corbyn (although I never rated him as a leader) to get back to a Blair agenda, with policies more in keeping with the Westminster establishment, and its backers. Labour spokespersons will now troop before the cameras and tell the people we will vote with the government – because this deal is better than a no-deal, Aye right.

The SNP will vote against the bill so they can trot out the line that Scotland is being treated shabbily, again. In the hope that this will win them favour in the upcoming, Holyrood elections. Of course, they will be accursed of greeting Jocks, by the national press and media, bad loser and by voting against the deal they are voting for a no-deal, well what’s new.

The Tories, along with their newfound allies, the Labour Party will move quickly to stem any attempt by the SNP to hold a referendum on independence and do so before the Holyrood elections.

Will this stop the beat of the independence drum?

This is no longer about independence for independence sake, we are now fighting for our very existence, our right to be. There is a grassroots movement in Scotland (that has supported and kept the SNP in power at Holyrood) and to a greater of lesser degree have been sidelined by the SNP, They come from all political parties and none, and if the SNP ignore their drumbeat they will continue to march on, all the way to the polls.

Whatever else 2021 brings, it is going to be quiet.

Bitter cold morning and being Monday, my allotted time in the laundry, and since I have been less that keen to jump out of bed on such dark mornings my washing went onto the Economic cycle.

Returning to the flat I switched on my computer and as soon as I throw the switch on the wall on came the television. It was on channel 11 so Sky Art, the program showing was “Young Picasso” sadly it was almost finished, missed out again Hamilton.

Now I have dabbled a bit in art, as most everyone has, but I never really put the time in, there was always something to take me away from my brushes and pens. I have never been good with painting in watercolour, the colours never seen to come out right and I end up with a dirty grey picture, but that’s another story.

When I was in Paris I spent a great deal of time in the Paris Museum of Modern Art, which mostly contains work by French artists in the 19 and 20 century and the impressionists. I just loved the simplicity of the work, that was much more about connotation than a pure image of the subject. I would sit, or stand, in front of the painting and listen to the presentation. I wanted to learn more. Why the girl in Picasso’s masterpiece had no face. And why he had painted such a distorted face (a mask) on another. For me it was an education, a mind opening time, for I was starting to understand true art, not as a nice picture on the wall, but a glimpse inside the artist’s head.

The museum in Barcelona, I believe is the place to go and seen the biggest body of the work of Picasso, not surprisingly, I have it on my bucket list to visit, must be like walking through history with the man. The hurt he felt at his friends death, (take a look at the colours in the light from the candle then ask yourself, was that just about imagery, and why does it take up such a prominent position, (standing out) in the painting, is there something deeper?)

His graphic interpretation of the poverty and hurt in the world at that time, that was the Blue Period, I never understood that before. I spend two full days at the museum, it was such a life changing experience, I could not stay away. I decided there and then to try my hand at painting.

Of course I was a complete failure, but I found I could look at art in a different way. I found I was OK at sketching in pencil or felt tip pen, and I could look at an artist sketches and recreate something resembling the original artists work, in this way I hoped to emulate the creator but alas I fell short. But this does not stop me from amusing myself, and today was one such day.

My interpretation of Picasso’s work from his sketchbook, maybe it is time to return to my sketch pad and pencil’s, now that my scrap box is totally devoid of timber.

What about a sketch of my favourite artist Tina Turner, the great survivor, well I like it.

I was out early this morning before anyone was about to put up the sparrow motel.

I was drummed into action when I read that sparrows, once so common, that they were looked upon as vermin by farmers, are now on the endangered list. I did intend to put the box high in the flowing cherry tree, but it seems there is a contract out to prune the trees, so I thought better of that idea.

Our building is in two parts the older part is Edwardian and the new part built-in 1981, I chose a wall outside the common room, not only is it sheltered by the big bay window, but you can see the box from inside so able to watch any activity around the box from the comfort of the common room.

How did I get the box up there? well with great difficulty, for the box is not light and working off a ladder is not recommended going on 80.

I don’t know about you but this has been a long week, possibly because there is no one around, then there is the darkness, dark when you rise and dark by four in the afternoon. This is made even worse by the crap on the television so no escape.

That said I did watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Calamity Jane, what a voice that Howard Keel had. And the songs from Calamity Jane. Take me back to the Black Hills and Secret Love (now the anthem of the gay community). Both musicals are high up on my top ten list. What I love most about these old films, the actors are real, and the dancers really could dance and singers really could sing and no computer graphics. OK, the scenery is, well just that, but that does not detract from the brilliance of the performance. Can anyone tell me where to get that yellow paint Kate (Brown) used on Calamity’s cabin door, you know the door with all the holes in, then one splash or the magic paint and it was rejuvenated. I suspect that once the paint companies found out about it they bought the patent then destroyed it before it destroyed their industry.

The sun is out, the skies are blue there’s not a cloud to spoil the view (Buddie Holy) – so must be time for a wee bike ride, chase away the morning blues.

Keep safe.

Christmas Eve

I was out for a couple of hours today, It seemed such a lovely morning but boy was it cold, reminded me when stationed at Hemswell in Lincolnshire, I would travel down to London on my motorcycle, about 130 miles, pulling into transport cafes along the way. Such cafes were common along the major trunk roads servicing an endless convoy of lorries. These cafes were busy stopovers, that did not mine us bikers calling in, hot and smokey serving up, mostly mixed grill, (a big fry up) along with a pint mug of strong tea. I would buy one and cup my hands around it, forcing some heat into frozen hands then lift it up to numbed lips, and as I drank, tea would dribble down my chine like some geriatric old man.

Home and under the shower before the arrival of Ann and Trent, (my nephew and niece). As even in a hurry and did not wait around, staying just long enough for us to exchange Christmas Presents. As she always does Ann brought me a box of groceries, which of course included lots of the things I never buy, mainly chocolate biscuits, shortbread and sweets. All stuff I love but being a grown-up that would prefer not to grow any bigger I refrain from such purchase. However, since it is Christmas, well almost, I have indulged myself, my mince of tatties today was supplemented with shortbread and mint sticks, oh the diet.

Seems we have a trade deal with the EU and a jubilant Boris was quick to Tweet how he has secured this great deal, the telling part for me was when he said, even the Brexiteers, over time, will come to realise how good the trade deal really is. In other words, it’s not what I promised.

“The lies on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round”.

I suspect it will pass the Commons whatever the deal is, no one wanted a no-deal so we end up with a bad deal, rather than a choice of whether we want it or not.

The Leader of the Labour Party came to Scotland and promised us that ‘if’ Labour is elected in 2025 he will restore all the powers that Boris intends to take from us under the Westminster power-grab bill, so we will get back that which already have, that’s nice of him.

So that was Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day,

I hope you all enjoy your Christmas dinner and all the re-runs of the re-runs or the re-runs on the television.

I went out of a long run on the bike, it was cold but I was well wrapped up after yesterdays foray. I did not see a soul on the road but then again it was early.

Shower, breakfast, I did flick through the channels for something that might be of interest, but no, so I spend an hour or so in the workshop. The sparrow motel is more or less finished now, just a clean-up some paint and a bracket for it to sit on.

Now the big job, clean up the workshop

I have chosen to screw the bracket to the trunk of the flowering cherry tree in the garden, Getting it plum might be a challenge, then screw the box to that. The nesting box has eight compartments (four each side) and really needs to be a good 12 feet off the ground so that seemed to be the best place to site it, more so since I have seen tree sparrows in that tree.

I think it is fair to say, we are all looking forward to New Year in the hope that it will bring us happier time, so I wish you all you wish for yourselves at this festive time.

Stay safe.

My Tricycle Association Gazette arrived, the best cycling club magazine in the world, but I may be biased. I will copy this from its pages.

Crimes and Arnold – the book Martin Purser.

Shortly after John Arnold died in April 2013 the National Executive Committee of the Tricycle Association pondered on how best to acknowledge and commemorate his outstanding achievements on the tricycle. After considerable deliberation it was agreed that a full account of his life and achievements would be the most suitable memorial for one of cycling’s greatest record breakers.

Since John Arnold is inextricably linked with his fellow competitor and friend Albert Crimes, and their collaboration on a tandem-tricycle is the stuff of legion, the book is really a story about both men and strangely enough is called Crimes and Arnold the story of two great racing cyclists, friends and rivals.

Yes, Ed. Committees, been there done that. The time I’ve wasted in meetings you would not believe, sorry my attempt at being ironic.

Anyway, a book is now with the printers and can be pre-ordered online as a hardback or in paperback, A4 from. To get your hands on a copy go to the TA Website or contact by e-mail trikingpursers@btinternet.com

Keep safe.

 Although bright, the day is cold and a bitterly cold wind had me back home toot sweet. So I thought let’s finish the Swallow nest box. The design is Dutch and called a Zeist, and this one is made from what remained of the tabletops from the Brewery skip.

This is the time of year when we look back over the year with all sorts of emotions, joy, sadness even grief. It is also a time to look forward to the New Year still to come, most of us I’m sure will be glad indeed to see the back of 2020 and travelling hopefully into 2021.

many of us will make New Year resolutions, some may even succeed in turning a page, turning their lives around, and moving in a new direction. Sometimes change is thrust upon us, and although it is not what you would have wished for yourself, change does not always have to be bad or feared.

When Japan was still a country of the Samaria, a gunboat, flying a British flag, sailed into their waters. They had little chose but to surrender to the demands of the British. This was a wake-up call for the Japanese, they turned to the only foreigner they knew on the island, who just happened to be Scottish, and asked him to help them move their country forward, become a modern nation. The rest, as they say, is history, as the British car and motorcycle industry would find out to their cost.

I was never an academic, my skills were in my hands, so I did not shine in college, however college opening up a whole new world to me, it taught me how to learn, and that has never left me. Then came retirement giving me the opportunity to read all those books I should have read but did not have the time or the ability to read. Combine this with a keen interest in people and you have a winning combination. I have watched a lot of documentaries over the years, and one I remember now, was the building of the Hong Kong International Airport. The airport was built on reclaimed land on the island of Chek Lap Kok

Chek Lap Kok was designed as a replacement for the former Hong Kong Internation Airport built way back in 1925 and now trapped in a densely built-up area of Kowloon City, with its single runway extending into Kowloon Bay. By 1990, now one of the worlds busiest airports it had outlived its usefulness, it would have to be replaced.

The small island of Chek Lap Kok off Lantau Island was the place chosen, away from the congested city centre, and with a flight path out over the South China Sea would allow round the clock flights in and out with minimum noise disruption, Ideal in fact. That is until you look at the logistics of getting people and goods too and from the planes.

In October 1989 the Governor of Hong Kong gave the project his blessing to the Legislative Council, the adopted plan would see an airport at Chek Lap Kok and incorporating new container terminals 8 and 9 at Stonecutters Island east of the island of Tsing Yi.

Construction of the new airport began in 1991, they would chop the pointy bit off Chek Lap Kok island to flatten it out, and using the spoil to build an artificial island (covering 3.02 square kilometres) on which the airport was built. Access was via the Tsin Ma Bridge, this would carry a railway below and a road above across the waters to Lantau Island and the airport this was completed in 1997, a mere 6 years, into construction. In Scotland, it took longer than that to acquire planning permission for the Aberdeen by-pass, and possibly cost more that the Tsin Ma Bridge in legal fees.

There was one other hurdle to overcome Victoria Harbour, building a bridge was out of the question so large concrete hollow square sections were constructed in a dry dock, their ends sealed and floated out into the harbour, where they were sunk and joined together end too end to form a tunnel.

Another documentary that kind of links my thoughts happened in Beijing Mentougou district of China. In 2010, it was a straddling bus. And although it never really got off the ground (never given the backing of the district authorities) it did run successfully in trials.

Like many cities around the world growing up with the motorcar their cities had become multi lane parking lots, with traffic at a standstill during rush hour. The idea of the straddling bus was just that to straddle the four lanes of traffic in Beijing. It would carry up to 300 people along rails on each side of the road travelling high above the carriageways, so without interruption. Interest in the bus was also shown by the city of Manaus Brazil, Qinhuangdao and four other Chinese cities, Shenyang, Tianjin and Zhukov, they had all signed contracts for pilot projects involving the construction of test tracks beginning in 2016, sadly it never past the development stage.

The elevated bus was not a new idea in 1969 two American architects had come up with a similar idea for an elevated bus called the Bos-Wash Landliner, who else but America would come up with a name like that? Again there was one designed by Shenzhen Hashi unveiled at the 13th Beijing International High-tech Expo in May 2010.

the bus would run along a fixed route, its passenger compartment spanning the width of two traffic lanes, 4 to 4.5 m over the roadway allowing vehicular lower than 2 m to pass under the bus. A working model of the bus now called Transit Explore Bus was showcased at the 2016 Beijing International High-tech Expo. But as I have said, never got off the ground. But why am I mentioning this now? Well, it only took six months from concept to a bus actually travelling along the rails and carrying passenger, although not the 300 had the full-scale version been built.

The moral of the story is, if you put your mind to it, anything is possible, however there is little point in simply identifying the problem, the reasons why you can not lose weight, can not stop drinking, taking drugs, doing more exercise, or one hundred other resolutions that will not last past January. You have to make that commitment to change, and that’s the hard part.

The shortest day of year, and with leaden skies over St Andrews it has never really been light, but the silver lining, we can look forward to longer days ahead, even spring.

Why o’ why do commentator and politicians insist that coronavirus is some sort of clever wee devil, there it is, hiding around corners ready to pounce on unsuspecting hosts or this new variant, that has the ability, like some camellia, able to changed it camouflage, all the better to attack us when it is threatened it’s not, its a virus, its inanimate.

The only way a virus can pass from person to person or animal to animal is by infection from someone who already has the virus, they pass it on by breathing on you, or you touching something they have left traces of the virus upon, (or hanging in the air in confined spaces) what is so difficult to understand about that?

The only reason I am here and not laid low with infection is that I heard the WHO telling me the way infection is passed on and what to do to avoid becoming a victim of coronavirus. I avoid giving the virus the opportunity to infect me, I do this by not getting close enough to anyone that may or may not have the virus. I also wear a mast every time I leave my front door and keep it on until I return to my front door reducing the risk of me catching the virus and/or passing it on. We have a hand gel machine at each entrance to the building and every time I pass one I use it.

So, please commentators and politicians, stop blaming the virus for you inability to stop its spread and when the brown stuff hits the fan, going out of your way to finding a new variant of the virus to blame for your failings.

We have had thousands of deaths associated with coronavirus, and an economy in taters and a government still running around like a headless chicken.

Almost daily Nicola Sturgeon in her briefing, tells us to F A C T face covering, avoid crowded places, clean your hands regularly, get tested if you are showing signs of illness.

Seems no matter the simplicity of the message too many people either don’t believe the rules apply to them or are stupidly putting themselves and others at risk, bordering on criminal. Maybe it is time to simply command rather than asking people to comply.

Over my working life I have seen a steep rise in Health and Safety at Work legislation, much of this I fought and voted for when in a union. These days, some might say, to our detriment, almost to the point of not being able to work. With thousands dying from coronavirus maybe it is time for some Health and Safety regulations.

I wonder, had the government acted more swiftly from the start and compelled everyone in the country to obey the rules, would we need a vaccine now?

At the end of it all we will have an inquiry into ‘what lessons can be learned’ from this pandemic, costing many more millions, it will, I’m sure, recommend changes that may or may not be introduced, then end up gather dust in some depository in Westminster, and of course no one will be held accountable.

Or is it me?

Thanks for all the Christmas greetings and cards, I was most pleases to see many cards were home made this year, so something good from the coronavirus, it was a bit special unlike, Margo Leadbetter, (Penelope Keith) in the ‘Good Life’ her Christmas came from Harrod’s.

Yes, I was thinking of a folding electric bike but not until the dust has settled over coronavirus so possibly late spring-early summer 2021. I have the money from the sale of my van and a bit in the bank so the cost is covered if I decide to buy.

I have taken my bike to Inverness on the bus, staying at the Youth Hostel there, which is a bit out of town so the bike was handy for getting around, but the e-bike I have now is a bit heavy and clumpy for the boot of a bus.

Swift Box

I was still a bit worried about the size of the Swift box, it looked enormous in comparison with the size of the bird, I’ve seen smaller Owl boxes. Why I even looked up boxes made in the UK and the measurements given in feet and inches, thinking I may have become confused with metric, (I do get confused from time to time these days) but no that is the size. I even went as far as building one out of old waste timber from the scrap box, I will have to go to the old kitchen and bring over another table top to finish the job but here is the box so far.

As you see it is a bottom entry and lots of sloping surfaces to cast off the weather and shelter the entrance. They are designed to go under a Soffit but can be fitted to a wall with extra protection (a bit like an umbrella).

My iScot magazine arrived yesterday. It had a very good piece on independence and how Scotland needs to follow Yes Cymru’s lead.

“Over the past short while the organisation has seen phenomenal growth in membership. In little over a month – during a pandemic lock down – its membership doubled and has since doubled again. Support for Welsh independence has risen from 22 to 33 per cent in eleven months”.

The writer puts this down to Yes Cymru being a one-stop-shop for independence, and unlike Yes Scotland, not dependent on any political party. Here in Scotland Yes, Scotland has been at the bequest of the SNP (waiting on them firing the starting pistol for independence). I believe the people of Scotland has woken up to the fact that Nicola Sturgeon has seen independence as a carrot to dangle in front of the membership to keep them in power. We now have the Independence for Scotland (for) Independence Party and all under one banner make the running and that has stirred the SNP into action, or should I have said ‘Shocked’ the SNP to their boots. When a party loses touch with the people, Gender Recognition Act – Hate Crime Bill. If you are not following the will of the people then the people will vote with their feet. (look our for big gains in the Scottish parliament in May for independent parties such as the Greens and SIP (mostly on the list vote).

The SNP will regret pulling out of the ‘People versus the Government’ the case that will be heard before the Court in January. Martin is standing in as an MSP in May, win or lose this court case will do him no harm.

Scottish independence has gone through the roof in recent months, now Wales and of course the (More or less) unification of NI with the south over Brexit. No wonder Westminster is getting its knickers in a twist, the break up of the Union is inevitable now.

Stay safe, and remember Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, Spring will come again.

I read recently, “Faroese whale meat holds a terrifying lesson for us all” there was no author but it did mention “The island and the Whales” to be shown on BBC Scotland. I did in fact watch the programme yesterday and it soon became clear that the filmmakers were not only telling the story about the Faroese and whales.

The Faroe Islanders are a very proud and independent people, living on a few barn rocks sticking up out of the North Atlantic, so community spirit is paramount if they are to survive. This comes over well in the film. The Faroese, are in fact a dependency of Denmark, but the government in Denmark is very hands-off.

95% of the Faroe Islanders income comes from the sea, and that included whale. The filmmakers were very good at telling the story of the islanders without taking sides, (a lesson that our media here in the UK could learn), they were totally non-judgmental in their delivery.

My family survived during the depression (between the wars) because my father fished for wale in the southern oceans. The only reason that commercial fishing for wale ended was not because of pressure from anti-whaling groups or governments, it was simply because it became uneconomical.

In the film we saw activist coming to the Faroe’s in well-appointed and very expensive ship jet-skies and top of the range clothing, they had come to disrupt any killing of a whale. My only thought was why it is OK to trawl the sea for Cod, almost to extinction, for the fish and chip shops of England but not a whale, that generations of Faroe islanders have depended upon as a source of food. Why is it OK to slaughter the cow, the sheep, the lamb, the pig, the chicken but taboo when it comes to the whale, is one not as bad as the other? (and don’t get me started on weapons that slaughter men, women and children, and so long as the arms trade is viable it will continue to thrive).

So should the Faroe islanders stop killing whale and start factory animal production instead? When I think of this I think of dad and what he told me about his days in the whaling industry.

“Of all the bloody savagery, nothing can compare, with the big bite the taxman takes when he gets hold of your share”. Fine so long as the buck stops here.

So what did I take from the programme?

The Faroe islanders are a very close-knit community.

They have a superb choir, the singing down at the dock was heavenly.

They have a hard life, and not a lot of need for sun blocker.

And the big question for us all was summed up by one of the islanders who remembered better times, said that when man pollutes our seas we all suffer.

Birds with plastic in the stomachs, whales so toxic that eating their meat over a prolonged period will cause brain damage. Beef cattle shot full of steroids, chicken washed in Chlorine, animals kept in batteries, food shot full of chemicals and bombarded with radiation to extend its shelf life. Now we have coronavirus, a virus that has a cross over from animals to humans, something that a few years ago would have seemed imposable.

The elderly man in the film looked back to his boyhood and what he saw there, was to him at least, better times. He mourned the past and was fearful of the future, and at times I feel the same, the world is changing so fast it is hard to keep up.

My dad was a Darwinian, and one saying that has always stuck in my head

“Live and let live”

In this ever changing world, one constant still remains, and that man’s inhumanity to man.              

I did go out on the bike but not for long, the trip to Tayport turned out to be Leuchars and home.

I would have been daft to try and work outside, in what by now was a steady drizzle, but I did have some tidying up on the feeder. Now since they are given away free, I am reluctant to spend money on paint, for instance, yes that would preserve the wood but I will leave that to the buyer.

However, the feeder would be out all winter so some sort of protective covering was required on the roof. Now I’m sure there is a fancy name for it, those arty-farty people always try to make things they do sound far more interesting than they really are, they keep coming up with code word, all helping to bump up the price. So taking a leaf out of their book I decided I too would stick fabric onto surfaces with PVC glue and finishing off with a liberal coating over the finished surface. And since I do have some wax leftover I will coat the wood in that.

With the drying cupboard raided for an old shirt, Oh, not the Van Houston? Do you know how much that shirt cost me? OK I admit it was in the 1970s, and yes I know that it does not fit me any more, But……. The Van Houston it is then.

The result is – well, you decide.

I walked along to the supermarket and bought myself a Sunday paper, hoping to find out what was going on outside my bubble. Anyone who has been out in a boat or even walked along our shores will understand the huge problem with sea pollution, mainly plastic. This stuff is everywhere and anyone who knows me will know it is my favourite soapbox, and if I had the power I would ban its manufacture altogether, for clearly, we are incapable of controlling its disposal. Like Nuclear power, it sounds like a silver bullet, until you look at the cost of cleaning up the waste.

There have been numerous studies over the years not only about plastic in the environment but in the food chain. I watched as a team performed an autopsy on a whale that had been washed up on the beach, inside they found 28 polythene bags, the whale had died of starvation. Then there are the heavy metals and toxins. Which takes us back to the story I have just read in the Sunday newspaper,

The headline reads, ‘Faroese whale meat holds a terrifying lesson for us all’. The article went on to tell us that Faroese people have always eaten what nature provides, proud to put local food on the tables. And in a sub-arctic land that yields little in the way of vegetables, the sea in their main harvest and food store.

Hunting whales and seabirds has kept them alive over generations, but alas that is now coming to an end. Seabirds in the Faroese are in decline, global warming has depleted their food source and their bellies are now full of plastic. Whales have been found to have high amounts of mercury and PCBs, so much so that they are now toxic to eat.

I found the article fascinating and I for one will be tuning into BBC Scotland channel on Tuesday, December 15 at 10 pm. To watch “The Islands and the Whales” a film by Mike Day who argues that action is needed now if our polluted seas are ever going to recover.         

The bike ride was a pleasant one even if it was dressed in a cycle rain cape. The drizzle was constant but the air still. I had been over a Leven but I didn’t stop. Returned via Upper Largo and on to the A915, the shortest way home, OK it is a bit hilly but that is no longer a problem.

I came charging down into St Andrews and called in at Aldi to fill up my pannier bag with goodies. Surprisingly the shop was not busy, and this late on a Saturday morning.

Home showered and after partaking in a couple of pots of tea, I headed for my workshop and since I could not get outside to cut the material I set about making something with materials from my scrap box.

Can you guess what it is?

Yes, it is a feeder, designed to be screwed onto a wall. Does not look much I know, but you would be surprised the amount of work that goes into something so simple. Cutting accurate angles was the big test of my skills (or lack off) the 45% roof angles were produced with a hand plane, I just love that Sheeeeeeeeeeeee noise that comes from the plane and the smell of fresh-cut pine, it really is hypnotic as the shaves curl from the mouth of the plane.

When I first bought the plane, (I had bought it when I built my first camper van) I could not get it to work and had to spend a lot of time watching videos on the internet, those experts make it look easy, but I got there in the end and it is so satisfying being able to dismantle the plane, sharpen the blade, and when reassembled the satisfaction that comes when it does exactly what it was supposed too. I know you can get motorised planes, but where is the fun in that.

I see lots of bird boxes and feeders that look rough and ready, bits of old pallet nailed together (they call it rustic). I’m sure the birds do not see the difference but I like the idea of trying to make them look as if a bit of effort was put into the finish.

The news is on as I write this, what is wrong with these reporters, why do this simply not get it. Look the Tories have never liked the idea of being in the EU even when it was the Common Market. As soon as the opportunity arose to get out they jumped on it. We have had four years now and spent billions of pounds on negotiating the withdraw from the EU, and it ended up with both sides as far apart as ever, surprise, surprise. Me, and everyone who was listening, along with their dog, knew there would never be a deal, Boris and his Brexateers want out they want to do their own thing, regardless of the consequences to the country, this is Thatcherite policies personified.

And what about all this crap about the Navy gearing up to protect our waters. The Royal Navy has had fishery protection vessels since there has been a modern Royal Navy. I have sailed on one out of Rosyth, why do the newscasters keep spouting this none news and miss truths, and they wonder why they are losing their audiences to the internet. We don’t want government press releases from our media, we want proper news. I feel better now.

That all Folks, stay well, and safe.

I made a nest box for Tits and was surprised that there was a demand for such nest boxes, (I now have an assembly line set up in the workshop. Toys are out, bird boxes are in this Christmas).

Now what I know about birds and their nesting habits can be written on the back of the proverbial postage stamp in 12 point uppercase print. The internet to the rescue.

Is it not always the case when you go for a quick reference on the internet you become more and more interested in the subject and end up spending hours trolling through pages of the stuff, there are acres of information on the net, on all sorts of birds, we would normally find in our gardens. I had made a box of tits, and robins so what about sparrows.

The house sparrows it would seem is a very sociable bird often forming in flocks with other species of birds as well as other sparrows and during the breeding prefer to nest in groups. Sparrow will engage in other social behaviour too, such as communal bathing and social singing, (sparrow choirs, nope, never heard of that).

The house sparrow feeds mostly on the ground, at feeding stations and nests, females house sparrows are dominant despite their smaller size, and they can fight over males in the breeding season. (I have sisters, so I can associate with that).

Equipped with all of this information and to my surprise found out that Sparrow numbers are in serious decline, (Hamilton, superhero to the rescue), so I decided to build a ‘Sparrow Motel. As ever it started off as a modest three-room box and ended up as a 16 room motel with covered feeding area.

Since all of this is occupational therapy, I wanted to build something a bit special, I wanted to use all those fancy woodworking joints, and rebates for the dividers. And rather than pass this one on, keep it and put it in our garden, the idea being to start a sparrow colony at City Park. There is a large area of shrubs that is pretty well undisturbed by the gardeners, they do trim them once a year but that is only towards the back end of the year so after the breeding season.

This, of course, will require planning permission from Viewpoint, who in turn will require my application in writing and at least three committee meeting to discuss my proposal and come to a conclusion, ho-hum.

 A festive Icon, the ‘Robin Red Breast’ (Erithacus rubecula)

This cute little bird from our Christmas cards is actually a highly territorial bird and will defend its territory aggressively against others.

The Robin’s will feed on seeds, fruits, insects, worms and invertebrates. and will visit garden bird tables to feed on tit-bits left there, but mealworms are, by far their favourite food.

Anyone who has a garden or an allotment will know that robins are happy to be around people they will often be found follow gardener around to take advantage of freshly dug-up worms turned over by the spade. Much like gulls following a plough.

Robins can be found throughout the UK, they inhabit farmland, and woodland as well as gardens and parks in towns and cities, and for this reason are the most recognizable bird in the UK.

Both male and female robins hold territories, as a pair in summer and as individuals in winter, both will take on any intruder and make it clear to all that this is their domain by singing loudly from a perch.

During courting, usually starting in March, but if the weather is favourable as early as January. During this time the female is permitted to enter the male’s territory. After matting the male will supply more than a third of his mate’s food throughout that period.

The female will build a cup-shaped nest low to the ground. She will hide her nest well in the nooks and crannies of tree roots, or in among shrubs and climbers, such as ivy. She will use any convenient discarded object in which to build, an old wellington boot, or plant pot.

Robins are rather sensitive around their nest and if disturbed during building and egg-laying will desert their nest if they believe it has been discovered. And for this reason, you must choose the location of the nest box well and not have the children visiting it every day to see if mum has laid her eggs, or chicks have hatched.

The female will lay four to six eggs, which she incubates for 13 days. When the chicks hatch, the female will start her house cleaning by removing all eggshells from the nest. Both parents look after the nestlings, which are dependent on them for food and warmth. The young birds will fledge 14 days after hatching but continue to be cared for, predominantly by the male, for a further three weeks. Robins will raise two broods a year, with nestlings as late as the end of July.

Robins are one of the most common of our native birds and can become quite brave around people and may approach you if you are quiet, and for these reasons are not hard to spot. Look out for their bright red breast or listening out for their song. Robins will sing throughout the year apart from midsummer when they are in moult. First to start singing and last, to stop in the evening the robin has quite a voice.

Robins are ground feeding birds so feeding trays are the best way to encourage them into your garden if they have not already claimed that territory. They will hover up scraps that have fallen from feeders but mealworms are a particular favourite of robins, along with sunflower hearts.

The biggest threat to robins is a sever winters, and possibly why their numbers have steadily increased from the mid-1970s. Global warming so milder winters. During the cold night, a robin will loose up to 10 per cent of its bodyweight simply keeping warm if it can not replenish this very quickly it will perish, so feeding trays in your garden is the best way to preserve the robin.

Here is my contribution

But how did the robin become the iconic bird at Christmas? In Victorian times postmen, as part of their uniform, wore a red waistcoat so were nicknamed ‘Robins’. And it was around this time that robins began to appear on Christmas cards, representing the postman who delivered the cards to your door. 

 Tuesday, being a bit dreich I did not go far only out to Pitscottie and back.

No rest for the wicked, the girls are putting up the Christmas decorations and they needed the boat and some heavy plant pots moved, seems the reindeer needed a home.

The boat (plant pot stand) I made some 18 months ago, shelters in calmer waters in her patio harbour. She has sailed in some horrendous weather over that time, and come out of it pretty much unscathed, Good job tell the designer chappy.

Inside the tree has been erected and looking lovely with all its lights but clearly they have not made a big thing about it this year. We normally would have decorations everywhere and a party for the switching on of the lights, so no wine, or home backing this year, ho-hum.

In the afternoon I did a stint in the workshop only an hour or so and made a couple of wine racks for the centre of someone’s table, well you would not wish a bottle of red wine to be upended on mum’s Damask linen table cloth, you wouldn’t hear the end of it. I’m always amazed at what can be made out of a few cutting of wood, OK they are a bit rustic (euphemism, for rough and ready).

supply your own wine

the sun is now up, time to get the bike out.

Monday was as ever chore day, washing, shopping, and today that included the post office, for stamps, time to get off those Christmas cards.

The afternoon, I spent a couple of hours in my workshop and came out with a bird box. The design is not too bad but already I am thinking of a modification to the opening. I wanted to make the roof watertight, for it sometimes rains in Scotland, yes, even in summer. But next time I will make the floor fit inside the box and have it hinged, possibly using a piece of dowel for the hinges, it’s all about evolution folks.

that was lucky, a clean cooker.

Since the box is a nest box I thought I should add some guidelines for the potential buyer.

Entrance Hole 25mm

This will suite Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Tree Sparrow.

Site the box on the north side of a building and out of direct prolonged sunshine, so that the birds stay cool inside the box during the summer months.

(on hot days, you may see the mother bird come out onto the pertch and fan her wings to drive cooling air into the box).

At the end of the season and after the birds have flown the nest. Remove the two wood screws from the base, clean out the box, refit the floor.

Entrance Hole 25mm

This will suite Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Tree Sparrow.

Entrance Hole 32mm

This will suit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, House Sparrow.

Open Front

The will suit, Robin, Red Wagtail, Flycatcher.

One day I was shopping at Aldi and saw a small camera for inside nest boxes, images fed to your computer, I’m not sure what quality you could expect since it will be pretty dark inside a nest box, them maybe it uses inferred. However, watching a small bird flitting back and forth to feed her young, must make better viewing than daytime television, which is the best cure for insomnia known to man.

Talking about television, I switched on the TV when I got up and went off into the kitchen to make a pot of tea. Now, I must have been watching Sky Art last thing yesterday evening for on my return it was showing, ‘Brass Band Wonderland’ a Christmas show recorded in the Peak Cavern in the Peak District, (that must have been challenging for the sound engineer). The show was hosted by Jason Manford and featuring the Stockport Fairey Band and the Hackney Colliery Band (strange I thought Hackney was a district of London, do they really have a pit there), along with a host of singers. I found it most enjoyable but again I have to ask, like opera from Sidney Harbour, why put it on so early in the day? Then again maybe Sky Art is geared towards an audience in east coast America.

At 7.30 am the programme ended and that is when the television went off, ‘the news’, speculation, will there or will there not be a deal with the EU. How exciting is that? Alternative you could watch someone being inoculated for coronavirus, riveting stuff. And of course you always know when the government is in trouble, they roll out the royals. The prince and his wife are doing a tour of the UK and arrived in Edinburgh yesterday, their visit went down like a bad smell. With the central belt of Scotland in near lock-down and people told ‘NOT’ to travel outwith their districts, (unless for essential travel) we have two numpties coming on a photoshoot, how stupid was that.

Anyway, is it getting light, so time to climb on board my bicycle, it will be short and sweet today? and yes, I will be wearing my rain cape, even so, it is sure to lift my spirits. Keep well. 

 Today was a bit special, cold but bright and sunshine always gladdens the heart.

Sunday is Opera day and today was not different but alas starting at 10.45 it would have to be a very good opera to keep me indoors, as it turned out it was Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata and since I have that very same opera from Sidney Harbour in my collection, there really was no contest, the bike won out. I really wish Sky Art would save these operas until a more reasonable time in the evening, even if they are streamed live they could be recorded and show later in the day.

My trip today took me up over Brownhills, here at the top and over your shoulder, St Andrews Bay and the East Sands, always worth stopping to admire after climbing up here. I went out on the B9131 for Anstruther then turned off opposite Stravithie Mains for Kinglassie and the A917, a road I have never tried before. Just before you make the A917 there is a road off to the left, where you can visit a standing stone, today I simply pressed on and at the main road turned right for Kingsbarns.

Entering the village I turned down to the car park at Cambo Sands the North Sea seems vast today, in normal times these sands would attract many visitors, out for a Sunday drive and picnic but today the sands were all mine.

Back in the village I headed inland crossing back over to the B9131 and home, not a long run but I was out and that is always a blessing.

Yesterday I sold my wee van, the amount of inquires I had from people wishing to buy it, I could have sold it a couple of dozen times over, so I received the full asking price, from the first lad that came to the door.

It was pointless keeping the van, my European trip is only a pipe dream now. First the coronavirus then Brexit, ending freedom of movement, followed by my insurance company wanting green cards and a lot of extra money, and no health/travel insurance will touch me with a barge pole (being over 70) too many hoops to jump through. It was pointless hanging on to the van, The good news, no more tax and insurance to pay and no worries over forthcoming MOTs, hip, hip, replacement.

I had to unscrew a lot of the stuff I had installed in the van for the trip, inverter, solar panels, old sea chest………… anyone need a large solar panel for their car-a-van?

So what is the plan for the spring and summer?

Well, I just love my e-bike so much, and have found out that long round trips of 50 miles per day are very realistic on the bike, so I want to do some serious touring in Scotland next year. I want to travel to these areas by bus and stay at Youth Hostels or do a bit of camping if the weather is favourable, the problem with my bike, it is not only very heavy and clumsy to get in and out of the boot of a bus, it can’t be taken on a local bus.

I have been looking at carbon fibre folding e-bikes, expensive but with some cash burning a hole in my pocket, and no pockets in shrouds, maybe come spring I will purchase one of those. Then again I have always fancied having a go at hang-gliding……….

Well, that’s all my blethers for today, keep well.

A

the daily deluge was well maintained

And the wind too was cold, in fact not a very pleasant day at all. I normally write my Christmas letter sent out with Christmas cards, today is just the day for such a task. Christmas letters were something that early Victorians would have been well acquainted with, but show my the lazy man and I will show you the quickest way to do it, the Christmas card was born.

My letter is a sort of a compressed diary of the last year and a personal message to the receiver at the bottom. Sadly fewer and fewer cards and their accompanying letters are sent each year at this time. It may seem ironic but the bonds grow stronger with each broken strand.

I switched on the news this morning and within minutes off again, how can anyone put up with the euphoria that has gripped the media, (or is it simply reiterating press releases from Westminster).

We have a vaccine, Hip, Hip Horra! We can all climb onto our raft made from the wreckage of the ship the captain run aground, a time for celebration indeed.

60 thousand have died from coronavirus, mostly the old and sick, still it has solved the demographic problem then Boris.

A world-beating, test and trace, we are still waiting Boris.

An APP that cost millions and had to be abandoned.

And they are still running around like headless chickens, “Do we save the NHS or do we save the economy?” and end up saving neither. Try saving the population, use everything at your disposal, and that includes the Army, Navy and Air Forces. If you do not have the medical staff and logistics they certainly have, even if every camp and station in The UK seconded only one doctor and a couple of nurses can you imagine what that would do to ease the pressure on stretched resources in the NHS, allowing the NHS to get on with some of the routine work that has been put on the back burner. This is a war, and who is best placed to fight a war?

Then we have Brexit, sorry folks but it has not gone away although you would think it had from the lack of coverage on the mainstream media.

Fishing,

Fishing accounts for something like 1% of the UK GDP and most of the fish caught is sent to the EU. If there is to be a deal you can bet your bottom dollar that the fishermen will be sold down the river once more, and guess where the biggest fishing fleets are in the UK, try Scotland, well that OK then. It will not be just the fishermen that are affected it will be the supply chain too. And with no market for their fish they may as well put their boats up for sale on eBay now.

I don’t blame the EU just remember how the deal was done when we first joined the Common Market, as it was then. Fishing was such a minor part of the British economy that it was more or less irrelevant. And do you remember how quickly the fishermen sold off their fishing quotas to EU boats and cashed in their boats for the scrapping scheme by the UK government, it is also worth remembering that Scottish fishermen were amongst the highest number of people voting for Brexit in Scotland, so no point in crying now “We wir robed” hell mend you.

Farming,

Again Scotland will not fair well, Scotland does not have the big arable farms they have in England, mostly we have poor land apart from the east coast of Scotland, the remainder is mostly small hill farmers, dependent on EU Subsides, around 45% of a farmers income come from subsidies, most of these small farms will go when the subsidies go. Along with them will go the supply chain.

The EU invested a lot of money building a motorway from the east coast ports of England to the ferries for Ireland, at the end of this month (unless Boris does a U-turn), that motorway will be a backwater. The Irish have been building super ferries, for that day, so that lorries too and from the EU will simply by-pass England altogether. What preparations have the UK government made? They gave the contract to run additional ferries from the south of England to Europe to a company that had no ferries. Good one.

And you have to ask why I am so critical of the Westminster.

Sorry my thoughts are about as dreich as the weather today, we can only wait until the sun comes out, it always does.  

Loved my morning run today, so calm, would have been a good day for my Loch Leven trip but too many chores today.

Aldi to restock Mrs Hubbard’s cupboard needed everything so a heavy pannier bag and hill sack, still I reduced my bank card by over £11.00 so a bit of saving there.

Called in at the brewery, to let them know that I had finished one of the bogies if his kids wanted it, come and get it.

I was shown around the brewery and for such a small enterprise it produces a lot of beer. Clearly they are gearing up for Christmas, they must be praying that restrictions can be eased over the festive season, I think cans will be the big seller with more people staying at home over Christmas, me I’ve been dry for a long time now, and don’t miss it a bit.

About to run around with the hover now and then breakfast, I can not relax when there is work to be done, and a late breakfast is even more appreciated. I see that the Men’s Shed are meeting up at the East Sands and walking to the Harbour and back on Thursday, might go down and say hi.

Keep well.    

Most will know that St Andrews is the patron saint of Scotland and that the 30th November is St Andrews Day, celebrated across the world.

Now when the Israelites were taken by the Babylonians into exile, they observed all the traditions and law by which they have always lived, they became more Jewish than the Jews back home (no Israel at that time). The same can be said of Scottish migrants across the world, they, we are told, are more Sottish than the Scots back home. And why St Andrews day is celebrated in foreign lands more than it is at home, (although this is changing with the upsurge for independence in Scotland).

Now whether by default of design (I suspect the latter) Nicola Sturgeon will give her keynote speech to the party faithful on Monday, which just happens to be St Andrews Day. Everything that happens in Scottish politics from now on will be seem through the prism of 2021 Holyrood elections. If the polls are to be believed then the SNP will be assured of another term in office, but we have been here before if a week is a long time in politics what is five months?

Today in the post I received a nice card from Oor Nicola (I must be on a computer somewhere as a likely tap) it was headed Holyrood 2021 Election Campaign Fund, St Andrew’s Appeal, pulling at the old heartstrings there Nicola. Still, the lass does take a nice photo.

After 2014 referendum and following the Brexit vote, where two-thirds of Scots voted to stay in the EU (and was told in the referendum that a yes vote would see you kicked out of the EU), many Scots felt they had not been listened too and worse still totally ignored. The ranks of the SNP swelled and became the party of choice for people of independent mind.

Six years on and now faith in the SNP to deliver on independence is waning, Nicola still insists that if they win big time in the 2021 election, then the people will have spoken, therefore Boris Johnston can not ignore the wishes of a sovereign nation and refusing to grant a Section 30 order for Scotland to hold a referendum on independence that both parties are bound by. No matter her faith in the law and fair play, Johnston is never going to give Scotland the opportunity to hold another referendum, the last one was too damn close for comfort, if given another it would be game over for the Union and Boris is determined not to go down in history as the PM that brought an end to the Union.

In her speech to conference on Monday, I’m sure Oor Nicola will try to assure the faithful that Boris can not withhold his consent, that plan A is working and there is no need for a plan B. A referendum within the lifetime of the next parliament is assured BUT only if you vote us in for a further term in office, (stop laughing at the back). I remember vividly Nicola Sturgeon being interviewed at the Edinburgh Book Festival, she told the listeners “My job is to make sure that my party remains in office”.

I think many SNP members see your job as securing independence.

So what alternative is there to the SNP delivering on independence for the Scottish people? Not much in 2021, but…………..

An idea has taken hold in the land, by using Scotland’s voting system, to secure a majority of pro-independent parties in Scotland with the SNP the main party but a strong opposition of pro-independent MSP (members of the Scottish parliament) holding them to account and pressing them on their promises to deliver a referendum on independence, rather than simply kicking the can down the road and keeping them in power for a further term.

Scotland’s voting system is in two parts the first part is straight forward enough, Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies, you vote on the first paper for the person, you wish to represent you at Holyrood, the one with the most votes win. First past the post, but this may not be the majority (combined vote) votes overall, so they came up with the Additional Member System, based on the German mixed-member the proportional system, designed to be more proportional. The idea is that the overall number of MSPs elected for each party is roughly proportional to their electoral support, (but don’t suggest they use the same system at Westminster).

So now we have two votes the constituency vote First Past the Post, and the list vote used to elect 56 additional members that will complete the makeup of the parliament at Holyrood.

In 2016, the SNP won 59 of the 73 First Past the Post seats and just four list seats, although many voted SNP on both constituency and list papers leading to the claim that voting twice for the same party is a wasted second vote. The argument is that the list vote hindered the party obtaining more seats as they have won the majority of First Past the Post votes. This has led to many voters who desperately wish independence to look at the creation of pro-independence parties in the build-up to the 2021 election.

Why is there such interest in the use of the regional vote? Many are discussing the idea of voting for the SNP but using their list vote to provide a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, arguing that this would put independence at the heart of Scottish politics, others believe that it could hinder the independence campaigning message. However, the folks up yonder are not daft and if they see a way to secure an overwhelming majority pro-independence of MSP at Holyrood they will go for it, but not to the SNP’s liking.

This is not a new idea to try and use the list system to promote a message. At the start of the Scottish Parliament, Labour considered running Co-operative Party candidates on the list to be able to win seats that they did not gain due to its First Past the Post successes.

So what are the experts to said on the subject of splitting the vote? Professor John Curtice,

“look, if the polls are right at the moment you don’t need a clever wheeze, you’re going to get a whopping majority anyway, so why risk it?”

And Dr Thomas Lundberg also had thoughts on the matter,

“I’ve read about the interest in ‘gaming’ the system, with a new pro-independence party standing only on a regional basis. There is, of course, the danger that the constituency vote is not what people expect and the regional seats are needed”

But if the list vote delivers big time will it matter that the SNP win less seats than they may have, so long is there is a big majority pro-independent MSP in charge?

You take your money and make your choice, however the Holyrood elections pan out in May 2021, this will be the strangest and the most important elections ever fought in Scotland. Our ‘Get Out of Jail card ‘independence’ or will Boris put a stick in the spokes of Scotland’s ambitions to become once more an independent nation?

Friday once more end of a week and almost the end of another month, and thankfully we are still dodging the undertaker.

I don’t know about you but I’m sick to the back teeth with the news these days, and the television in general, I can count on one hand the amount of programmes I have watched over the week.

Coronavirus still dominates all of our lives and television screens, you would think they would have run out of things to say about it by now, but no another expert or politician, pops up to put in his/her pennyworth, yet at the end of the day it all boils down to what the World Health Organisation said at the start, Test, Trace, Isolate. What part of that message do we not understand?

Coronavirus has certainly shone a light on what is wrong with the way we are governed, all that talk about trying to balance the infection (keeping people safe) and as normal a life as possible. Sorry folks it does not work like that, you fight the virus or you let it run rampant and then you die, it’s that simply.

I still can not understand why they are talking about relaxing the rules at Christmas. This is a recipe for disaster, I believe when we see the death toll rise in January we will realise just how stupid that decision was. Christmas is important, families coming together, but only if that coming together for Christmas celebrations not for a funeral. Would it not be better to cancel Christmas and think of the future when this virus will come under control, and we have an effective jab, then we can all come together as a family, and have that big party in the home or even a picnic by the sea or down the park.

There has also been a lot of talk about mental illness caused by isolation. When you fist retire from a life of work, it is a bit like a holiday, then reality kicks in. You miss the routine of going to work. You miss your workmates, you miss the disposable income, and if you are not careful, too much idle hours will lead you into depression. A working life is not just about making money.

When out cycling one day, I came across a garden that was simply pristine, vegetable row upon row, like soldier on parade. I asked the gardener, who looked to me at that time to be around 100 years old, If he had someone in to help, for a lot of hard work had certainly gone into that garden.

“No” he told me “All my own work”

He then went on to tell me he was a retired G.P (general practitioner),

“I’ll let you into a wee secret, if you stop working you die”

I really believe in that philosophy, we should have more classes for people coming up to retirement, teaching them how to use their time constructively and stay healthy, mental and physically. We need to spend money on facilities for then to pursue their hobbies or learn new skills, such as The Men’s Shed, but properly funded by the state, it should be part of the education system. An active life in the company of your peers is still the best recipe for longevity and a healthy lifestyle.

Looks like you need to get the hover out Hamilton

However we should not be waiting until we retire to fine the elixir of life, a healthy people are people that have well paid jobs, a home they can call their own, (be that rented with life long tenancy, council houses were the answer in my day, they could be again). When people tell you that decent wages can not be afforded, for it would make goods unprofitable. Ask yourself, what does poor mental and physical health cost the country? How much is councils paying out to private ‘buy to let’ landlords in Housing Benefit for sub standard housing? And not forgetting if money is given to working families they will spend it, improving the lot of all, money was made round to go around not, given to companies (Quantitative Easing) to buy back their shares, making a failing company look profitable and enhance the C.Os bonus or accumulate money in some offshore bank account.

Coronavirus has shown many in the UK that we are poorly governed, the system is broken. We know that Scotland will soon become an independent country once more. I do not think that things will change much at all across the four parts of the United Kingdom, deals will be done, on trade, travel, defence and a whole host of other things, (it will not be separation as the Unionists try to paint it) the difference will be that it will be the people of Scotland making those choices, when they sit around the table to negotiate deals with other countries.

Already we see how Scotland is drifting away from England and much more towards a Scandinavian way of doing things, (maybe we are returning to our roots). I am convinced that there is enough smart people in Scotland to run our affairs, so long as we learn the lessons of failed systems, such as ruled by king and queens, with all their hangers on, or presidential governments, no we only need our wee parliament, to decide direction of travel, as it was once said, “keep the arses of those in power as close to the toe of your boot as possible”.

Once more we have come to the end of more blethers, I am still pedalling my bike, and still playing around with bits of wood. The old table tops are not much cop (poor quality) for anything that you would want in your home, although when I see some of the junk that is produces on these television shows, that turn ‘trash into cash’ and sell it online, the money they get for such goods makes you wonder, just how many mugs there must be out there. Keep safe and keep turning the pedal

I was watching Shawshank Redemption it is summer and the roof of the licence plate factory needs re-tarring. The warden asks for volunteers. Red (played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman). He is telling us that May is a mighty fine time to be on outside work detail – more than one hundred men volunteered for the job – and wouldn’t you know it, some gays I know were chosen – I received my 10% of course.

Earlier in the month I had been listening to Boris Johnston the Prime Minister, he was going on about how we would grow our way out of the financial hole we are in by spending on big infrastructure programmes, We would not only rebuild the economy but help solve global warming.

Of course Johnston, like all his Tory pals, is a big believer in capitalism, the money will be borrowed from investment bankers, such as J.P. Morgan and other Wall Street bankers. And wouldn’t you know it, the contracts will go to some fellows I know, and of course, I will get his 10%.

These investments bankers will run the show, having the wind turbines built and installed and it will be they that choose the contractors that will make and install them on their behalf. Oh, I almost forgot to mention they will source them from Twain, well labour is cheap out there but it is really all about, economy of scale, all way above taxpayers pay grade. Simply put, it makes sense not to have them built in the UK yards, we have to remember, this is taxpayers money, we must spend it wisely.

The taxpayer will pay for all of this, with interest, but will not own one nut or bolt of anything constructed, no they will be owned and run by private companies who will collect their profits through the private energy companies, (Stolen from the UK public and sold off by Thatcher) and it is they that will be selling us the ever so green energy they produce, at a price.

Well what’s so wrong about that, it is how the free trade system works and how we Tories stay in power, where do you think they get all of our funding from? Well it cost a lot of money to hire the advertising men to think up good slogans for the side of a big red bus and television advertising does not come cheap, some call it propaganda, we call it getting our message across. You would not believe how easy it is to persuade those gelable plebs to keep voting for us. And in return we look after our own, well, that’s only fair.

Oh, it is all above board, voted for in the Commons by YOUR MPs at Westminster, (who know the score) well, they are kept in the loop. When you are dependent on a fickle voter for your job, you have to, as the old adage goes, “Make hay whilst the sun shines” build up a nice wee nest egg for that time when those fickle voters kicked you out of office. The trick is, get them to like you, tell them what they want to hear, and yes it is OK to lie, you are a politician, after all, it is expected of you. “And with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck” you will stay in post until it is time for that big golden handshake and a nice wee pension, or the top prize a seat in the Lords.

Sadly for the People of the UK, there is no difference between the parties, Tory, Labour, Lib/Dem they are all part of the Westminster system now. Following on from the 2014 referendum we had the rise of the SNP but like Tony Blair before her Nicola Sturgeon soon found out that populist parties will not be tolerated by Westminster, you play the game or you die, and why the SNP went cold on a second referendum. SNP MPs are being seduced by Westminster too, much as Scottish Labour did in the past. What is not to like about our democracy.

Now I have never been fond of Trump, but he did try when it office to turn things around like telling the people of America that he would bring the troops home, something that the majority of Americas want. That was never going to work, too many in congress are in congress because they were funded by the arms trade and gun lobby and still receiving their brown envelops. I even heard It said that Trump by wanting to pull troops out of Afghanistan was intent on starting a war. Not sure how that works. And have you noticed that it is not enough that Trump has lost, he has to be shown to have lost. Like the UK, America will not tolerate a populist party in government.

Think back to Culloden and what happened after the battle, the English built Edinburgh New Town, which says it all “We Won”.

Take the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles, the English and French did not simply accept the German’s surrender, and let us all go home, no they had to show the Germans they had lost, and ‘We Won’. This was repeated at the end of the Second World War and the tradition is still carried on to this day.

In 2014 the people of Scotland voted to stay in the Union, the next day Cameron came out of number 10 and told Scotland that their MP would from this day forth become second class MP, he announced ‘English Votes for English Laws’ We Won.

All the promises about respecting the Scottish parliament, more powers, the big “We love you and want you to stay” and “Vote Yes and you will be kicked out of the EU” that went well. It is all about saying “We Won”. I hate to think what ‘We Won’ victory speech Johnston’s will give to Scotland when we leave the EU at the end of December.       

Don’t know what happened to the wind that was supposed to blow at storm force today, then again this is maybe the calm before that storm. I was over at Tayport, the air was cold, the sun a low glare. There were lots on cyclist out in small groups all seemed to be club riders rather than leisure cyclists.

I was hurrying back for La Boheme from Sidney Harbour. La Boheme is so well known it needs no introduction from me. La Boheme, the opera is very light with many great arias such as ‘Che gelida manina’ (your tiny hand is frozen) and ‘Mi chiamano Mimi’ (my name is Mimi) and how she is happy in her little white flat, for she is blessed with the first rays of the sun and the first kiss of spring. Puccini is a master at such arias. however, the course of true love never runs smoothly and just when Mini and Marcello seem to be hitting it off along comes Musetta, Marcello’s ex-lover, ops. I must say Mimi has a great pair of lungs for someone dying of consumption. The opera was in a modern setting with burnt-out cars and prostitutes on the streets. Now I have been down the Latin Quarter in Paris and I never saw any burnt-out cars or indeed girls with cutty sarks plying their trade. Anyway, that was my morning taken care off.

I had been offered a buggy for the wheels, however when I picked it up it looked in remarkable good condition, so if I can get it going I would prefer it was used for the purpose it was intended. There are a few in City Park that are finding it difficult to get around, so maybe it could become the camp bike.

Monday

I was over at Dundee this morning it was cold but calm first thing alas that was not the picture later in the morning, a very strong and very cold wind coming from the south-west, brrrrrrrrr. Crossing the bridge the tide, although almost full, was still coming in against a river that was in spate, choppy waters indeed.

On my return, I asked the manager about having the electric scooter for the use of anyone who needed it in the building, nay chance. You need a safety certificate, insurance, a dedicated place to store it and written authority from Viewpoint., hoops and more hoops to jump through, ho-hum. Looks like I will be building a chassis and body,, maybe some sort of Jeep for it to become an electric toy car, decisions, decisions.

First I need to finish the bogie. (anyone knows how you enter the Red Bull, Soapbox Race?)

My heating has been off since Friday, it was not so bad at first, the building acts like a big storage heater, however as time went by it was on with a woolly jumper, then the bathroom turned into an icebox. Thankfully the man arrived just before one o’clock and minutes after I arrive home from Aldi. I heard a lot of banging on valves and he bled the radiators, T-shirt weather once more indoors.  

Willpower to get me out of a warm bed – Wind that keeps on giving – Wood shavings, the start of a new project. Sadly the coffee morning and craft sale has been cancelled this year because of coronavirus, so I do not think any of this stuff will sell, (all money made goes to H.E.D). I believe the girls are planning something in the spring and after we have had our jabs.

The weekend once more, where did it all go? The wind here is still very strong but it keeps the rain away, so all good. I only went as far as Pitscottie, and yes I had remembered to pull on my woolly hat. I have just had a news flash from Elie weather, wind speed for tomorrow, 47mph, Looks as it we will have to head for the woods once more for a bit of shelter.

To the woods -I cant my mother won’t let me – how old is your mother? 21, – Bring your mother too, to the woods.

The watery sun remained low in the sky and without giving off much heat, still, it was pleasant enough and I was out. At Pitscottie I said enough is enough and scooted back home driven on by a stiffening wind, well, this morning I had other things on my mind.

Yesterday evening I had gone along to the old kitchen and dragged two more tabletops into the workshop. What to make with these? My problem is they are all warped so not a lot of good for furnisher, out with the pencil and paper and scribbled away. I came up with an idea, a toy for even bigger boys than the little cart. Once marked-out I was surprised how little wood it had actually taken, then again I did have some cutting in the scrap box that would make the backbox. My band saw does not make much noise and I only needed a couple of cuts for the backbox, so I cut the timber off-cuts, planed then up, and glued and screwed them, pleased with that, a starter for ten tomorrow.

Returning home this morning I spread my dust sheet on the grass outside the window, set up my cutting table and clamped my marked out tabletop to it. It only took minutes to cut and sand the base and about half an hour to clean up and return everything to the workshop, ho-hum.

What do you think it is? I’ll give you a clue, it will require wheels.   

 The weather has dominated my thinking this week, yesterday, for instance, was frozen lug weather and I was pleased to have my woolly hat firmly stretched down over them. This morning it looks like the wind has blown itself out but overcast, but that’s fine. I can not do much about the weather except accept, the good news is, it makes spring all the more pleasant when it arrives at the end of a hard winter.

It always amazes me how things we learned in school, grown up with and accepted as, well carved in stone, suddenly are no longer true. Scientists, historians, and archaeologists are for ever-changing our understanding of the world in which we live. Up until yesterday I was convinced that the plague in the 17th century was spread by rats, or at least the flees carried by rats. Everyone and my dog knew that. Over the past two evenings, I watched ‘The Great Plague’ on Channel 5 and was told that the plague was in fact spread by humans, or at least by body lice, that lived on human bodies. It was a fascinating insight into that terrible time, although the second part was more or less a recap of what had been said earlier.

The orders put in place to try to contain the disease were not unlike those we use today to combat coronavirus.

Quartering,

However, people were not simply told to go home and self isolate. No, if any household had a victim of the plague the house was locked up with all the members of the family inside, no matter if they were free of the plague or not, and a guard placed on their door.

Social distancing,

People were quick to distance themselves from others, even to walking down the middle of the road so as not to be near the houses. And when people went to buy their food they served themselves and put the coins for the food in a bowl of vinegar, known to have antiseptic qualities.

Clothing,

They were aware that the disease was carried on clothing so the second-hand cloth sellers went out of business. But still, they had not made the connection between, the cloths and body lice.

The wearing of protective clothing and masks

Doctors wore protective clothing in the form of a hooded cloak that went all the way down to the ground, and a beaked mask. So they must have associated the disease with breathing in contaminated air. Also, the cape that they wore were made of waxed cotton, so by accident rather than design, the cloak would act as a barrier stopping the body lice from jumping from the patient to the doctor.

How scary would a visit from the doctor be?

The rich would have changed their shirts every day so we’re less likely to have body lice. The poor on the other hand would not and not only have worn the same shirt for several days, possibly weeks, but they would also have slept in their shirt, a perfect incubator for body lice, and flees.

So what we do today is as important now as it would have been in the mid sixteen hundreds to stop the spread of the disease, wash “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” as your gran would have told you. Social distance, and wear a mask.    

The problem then as it is today was ‘compliance’ most anyone who could (if you had the money) left London for the country, only helping to spread the disease. And unless the people of these islands don’t stay put, coronavirus will spread across our lands, much as it did in the sixteen hundred.

I love social history, as a lad I love stories told by returning soldiers, sailors and airmen from the war. Or how a fisherman told of how he had played a 14 Lbs fish for hours, finally landing it on a 3 Lbs breaking strain line. As you grow older you do tend to sift the grain from the chaff but normally there is a grain of truth in all of these stories.

My sojourning has taken me across these lands and I have seen many old building from before the plague and repairs to these ancient monuments in time following after that time. It is then you come to understand the devastation that the Plague reaped on the craftsmen of the time. They were the poor, the ones that had to stay put and work to keep a roof over their heads and food in their children’s bellies, they were the victims of the plague. Take a look at old churches from the late 17th century, look closely for repairs, these repairs will stick out like a sore thumb. A stonemason’s apprenticeship was a long one, followed by years of learning to become a master stonemason, once these skills were lost it would take decades to retrain new craftsmen.

After Thatcher took a wrecking ball to the heavy industry in Scotland many men that had served in those industries, man and boy, were now middle-aged men and on the scrap heap, our world moves at an even faster pace these days, coronavirus like the plague before it will leave scars. All industries are shedding staff at an alarming rate, how many I wonder will be on the scrap heap after this pandemic?

Monday

Monday turned into a very fine day indeed, oh it was still a bit blowy but very pleasant out, or perhaps it was just that the sun was shining, seems such a long time since we saw the sun.

Washing now done I set out into the wind and with the sun on my back all the way to Ceres, dropped down into Cupar, then climbed back over the hill to Pitscottie and home, it really did feel good to be out and about on such a fine day.

On the way home from my run, I called in at Aldi for salt, olive oil and milk, and came out laden with food is that not always the way, Mrs Hubbard’s cupboard is now full to overflowing. However, I did manage to resist buying Stollen cake, but did pick up some Scottish Dumpling, fried along with an egg, ye canna whack it. Also a ham hough, time to get the soup pot on again, with all this cold, wet weather on the way. I was not thinking when I bought the ham and it turned out to be, too big to go in my biggest pot, so, with my butcher’s hat firmly in place, it was out with the hacksaw, is there no end to this man’s talents, I ask myself.

The weather forecast is very much a mixed bag for the rest of the week. Tuesday warmer, a bit windy, occasional showers coming in on westerly winds, however, it seems as if it will be the best of a bad lot, so I intend getting my bum in gear, check over the bike and put my rain cape in the pannier bag, if you have it with you, it probably won’t be needed, it only rains when you leave it at home, then I will take off tomorrow for Loch Leven.

I intend to drive over to the car park at the south-east corner of the loch and start from there. To this end, I had to clear all the accumulated timber from the back of the van. As I removed it from the van and into the old kitchens, now used as a storeroom, my mind was on what my next project might be. In the past I have, along with my scroll saw, cut out all the animals that make up the Chinese Years, so I thought, a coffee table in pine with the 12 animals as a border. This would be a bit special in a nice contrasting colour and texture of wood, but getting hold of hardwoods is either too expensive or difficult to find in a skip, so may just try dying the animals in wood dye. If I cut the timber thin on the band saw, say 10mm I could cut both together so that one would fit snugly inside the other, (male – female) that would work but a lot of work, and a big challenge however the finished top would be something a bit special, sanded back and finished in clear resin. I will have to keep my eye open for an old piece of furniture made from mahogany or something that would stand out against the light fir.

Tuesday

All dressed up and nowhere to go. I had hoped to take off for Loch Leven today since the BBC weatherman had told us the wind would decrease, sadly this did not happen. Despondency came on opening the blind first thing this morning to see the contents of someone’s bin flying past my window, ho-hum.

I went online to checked out Elie Weather (a station just a few miles from here and pretty accurate when it comes to local weather), Wind speed 17 mph gusting to 41 mph. Overcast for most of the day, 10% chance of sun between 10 am and 11 am. Heavy rain will arrive by 2 O’clock in the afternoon. Well that sort of put the kibosh, on my Loch Leven trip. Oh well, back to the drawing board, literally, since cycling any distance is a no, no for the remainder of the week. Still, we travel hopefully.

Keep well.

P.S. the rain is now with us.

And that is the truth, we evolve, and that goes for everything in life, including music. I liked ABBA from the start and yes, was able to say that out loud. However, it was not until yesterday that I discovered the secret of why I liked them so much. In ABBA there were two girls with outstanding voices and two boys who were cleaver musicians, and when writing their lyrics painted simple pictures, but what was that special ingredient.

The answer came to me whilst listening to a programme on Sky Art, called, California Dreaming, the songs of The Mamas and The Papas. They had two girls with beautiful voices, one Cass Elliot

No one is getting fat, except Momma Cass

she had such a big voice but she also had the ability to not only blend her voice to the other singers but hold it down so she did not swamp, it was that harmony that made them special on stage. However it was in the studio when the magic started to happen, they started to do something new at the time, multi-tracking and even with the limited equipment of the day it made their music very special indeed. And of course although it was a collaboration of talents when it came to writing their music it was John Philips ability to write lyrical, pictures, that appealed. I was amazed by how close ABBA had followed in their footsteps, whether by design or accident, ABBA stands on the shoulders of The Mamas and The Papas, without a doubt, but that does not detract in any way from ABBA’s great talent, hard work and dedication to their music.

I had only discovers Sky Art a week or so back but now I check it out every day to see if there is anything that would interest me. Sunday, it was Bizet’s Carmen from Sydney Opera. The voice of the Ukrainian singer Dmytro Popov was simply outstanding in the part of Don Jose, as was a very young-looking Carmen, Rinat Shaham. Of course, I had to divert my eyes as she alluringly seduced Don Jose, my ‘dicky ticker’ as Monsieur Alfonse (Kenneth Connor) would have said in Hello Hello. Hope they perform ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ (Le Nozze de Figaro) we could all do with a laugh at this time. Or the evergreen ‘Tosca’ for me the best opera ever written and an opera with one of the best aria ever written. Tosca telling us how she has followed ever law of man and God to no avail.

The wind has dropped and the weather seems more settled so as soon as my washing is out of the dryer I will get out for an hour or two. My trip over to Loch Leven could well be imminent.

Thinking of Loch Leven (a bird sanctuary) reminded me of a time when two of my friends went off to shoot geese, but that is for another day. Keep well.     

 A rotten day of weather winds still blowing up into the 40 mph range and spitting rain to boot. So again a short-range flight, although I have to admit to loving the homeward journey divine on by the strong winds, it is a bit like flying.

I have been thinking of a longer trip as soon as the wind abates, and last summer I did a trip to Loch Leven (hoping to journey out to the island and castle where Queen Mary was held) It did not come off, coronavirus, so no boat trip, but I did find out that there is a track that circumference the loch so that will be my next challenge.

We did have a bit of excitement yesterday, a fire engine arrived with a full complement of firemen, but no fire alarm had gone off, stranger and stranger. Turn out that an elderly lady from upstairs was trapped in the lift. They soon had the doors open and consoling and reassured the old dear, but there was no way to get her out. The liftman arrived after a time and changed the fuses and all was well, excitement over.

As I watch the show unfold I was reminded of a film I had seen way back in the 1960s called Sammy Going South” it was about a small boy living in Egypt, his father had been posted there with the RAF. This was at a time of the Suez crises and both his parents had been killed in an air raid. Sammy knows he has an aunt living in South Africa and knows that to get there you go south, so decides to go and stay with his aunt.

The film is very serious at the start, small boy, now an orphan, in a foreign land set off to walk to South Africa. Then the gloom and doom is lifted when Sammy, holding his compass before him, sets off on his adventure, walking alone he starts to sing,

“Oh dear, what can the matter be, two old ladies locked in the lavat’ry”

The audience erupted in laughter. Strange how unrelated events trigger such memories.

What I remember of the film was good, but of course, it would have been very 1960s, so everyone he met was kind and generous and did not try to steal from him, and no human trafficking in this film. Then again maybe The 1960s was like that, but then again, I have always been a glass half full and never without my rose-tinted glasses, kind of a guy.

When I decided that the van needed a service I sent off for a full filter kit. I changed the air, oil and diesel filters, but what was this flat one for? Today I looked up the internet to see if I could find a home for this wayward filter. Seems the Caddy comes with a filter in the heater intake duct. May as well change that too. The van is parked against the wall so I could not gain access by the passenger side, I now found myself lying across the seats, upside down, (and feeling rather sick) fiddling to extract the old filter from the heater under the dashboard. Phew was it dirty, don’t think it has been changed since the van rolled off the assembly line in France. It was a bit of a hassle but another job ticked off the list. Must be cup of tea time? Let’s put on the pan said, Greedy Ann. Keep safe.

Thursday and a bit blowy and cold out but not a bad day. I did not go far, and on my arrival back home, what did I find behind the door? Yes, WHEELS ordered for the wagon. The paint is still a bit wet, and you can have it in any colour so long as it is red, for that is the last of the paint too.

Coming to the end of everything glue, paint, sandpaper, and room for all these stoor collectors. The girls have sold two of the Christmas trees and that is even before they have gone on display with the other goods they have produced for their Christmas sale of work, and all my cheese boards went in an instance (all money made will be going to HED). I think most of them were sold within the block along with a little stool. Had a bit of Oak left over so decided to make another cheese board with it, simple and easy to make, may keep that for myself as a chopping board.

Anyway, I shall not keep you in suspenders (that was deliberate) any longer, I know you have been waiting with bated breath to see the finished wagon, so here it is.  

The mouse is cut freehand with a router

Keep well and keep safe.

Our communal aerial needs re-tuning so no TV all yesterday and today and if that was not bad enough it has never stopped raining, boohoo.

What to do on a wet Wednesday, you paint your wagon, clean the house, dance around to ABBA, and, (inspired by something I read this morning) play with pencil and paper.