Archive for ‘Weird and Wonderful’

August 6, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 20

I’m writing this account of week 20 on Wednesday, the first day of week 21 hours after news that Aberdeen will go back into lockdown because of growing cases of Covid-19. Thank you, whoever you are. 

Easing lockdown, an inevitable part of moving on, before a vaccine becomes available was always going to be risky. Just how risky was/is dependent on people being sensible and considerate. Those are two qualities not usually associated with boozing.

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It’s not a blame game, our government insists. Oh really? Why not? The majority of folk are not playing Russian roulette with the lives of people they know and don’t know. But some just wanna have fun. So, I know who I blame for this present state of affairs and it isn’t the mask-wearing keeping social-distance thoughtful folk it’s the me, me, me I’m entitled to play around like there’s no risk type of heid banger.

We were in Aberdeen yesterday meeting up with our son who lives very close to the Hawthorn Bar the origin, apparently, of this spike in cases. Across the other side of town our daughter has just returned to work from furlough. Her employer has spent time and money organising things to make it as safe as possible for everyone. Then Covid walks in the door, apparently linked to the bar outbreak, and everything and everyone are thrown into confusion, some into a 14-day quarantine and others hoping they aren’t carrying Covid back into their homes, endangering family members.

This is a reminder that danger lurks and we should be vigilant and responsible in protecting ourselves and others. Of course, not everyone agrees. Twitter is full of crazies and weirdos ranting on about dictators and folk choking on their masks. Okay, many are spammers from goodness knows where but many, far too many, are the mad, bad and sad who spread nonsense because of the thrill it provides them with and satisfies their craving for attention.

Back in week 20 I eventually made contact with an old friend – very old friend – we were fifteen when we met so it wasn’t yesterday. I was concerned because he’s usually active on social media then wasn’t. Eventually we spoke to one another and it transpired he had been ill and in hospital. It is not a good time to be ill, especially when you’re no longer fifteen, so wishing a man who was a hugely talented writer in his time, well.

The pair of lovely yellowhammers still entertain us on our regular walk. Can’t say we’ve missed the raucous call of our pheasants lately but their disappearance is troubling since there are folk who prefer their pheasants served on a plate. We’ve had a number of bird casualties in recent week with them flying against windows. Some survive but others quickly expire. We have things dangling inside several windows in an attempt to deter them but with so many birds in the garden I suppose it’s inevitable that some will fall victim to seeing reflections in glass windows as part of the great outdoors. To try to limit our aves deaths my husband purchased an owl. Not an actual owl but a larger than life version with a head that moves with the wind, allegedly, and eyes that gleam in the dark, allegedly. It perches on a table on the balcony in front of a very large window and so far since it’s been on the job we haven’t picked up any dead birds from there.

Blackcurrants are still coming and, yikes, so are the gooseberries. We have different ones – why do we grow so many? Seemed a good idea years ago. Yellow-green ones, really big yellowy-green ones and red ones. They are all best eaten straight off the bush along with handfuls of plump blackcurrants and deliciously sweet raspberries. On the subject of raspberries I’ve noticed how heavy this year’s crops of wild rasps along the verges are and as usual few seem to attract birds. Could it be they don’t relish chewing through all that flesh to get to the tiny seeds? We, on the other hand, love the flesh but aren’t too fond of raspberry seeds.

Our cat’s been fine this week aside from his dodgy eye. I’ve been applying those expensive eye drops for weeks but suspecting they weren’t doing him much good and wondering it they were actually exacerbating the problem I stopped them for a week. The eye then looked a little better until it didn’t once more and so back to the drops. He wanders around doing an impression of Nelson. Without the telescope.

The blue salvias still haven’t fully opened. Is there a lazier plant in the whole of the world? Beginning to think it’s down to the variety. The blue that’s showing is vibrant only there’s not much of it. Will keep you informed.

Watched the film Knives Out. Boring. Daniel Craig is miscast as an American. On the other hand started watching season 2 of Ozark. It’s just okay and not a patch on Bordertown but I have to say that the excellent Peter Mullan’s American drawl is way better than Daniel Craig’s insipid-nothing-like-any-American-I’ve-ever-heard accent. W-a-a-y better.

Some of you will remember we passed hundreds of our books to charity shops before  lockdown so I’m struggling for reading because so much of what’s left is fairly heavyweight or I’ve read them. This week I picked up one of the slimmest volumes I could find, as good a ways of selecting a book as any. Death Pays a Dividend (would make a good thriller title) is a book about government cronies and arms dealers making a mint out of wars. It was published in 1944 and written by Fenner Brockway and Frederic Mullally. Brockway was a prominent voice in socialist politics through the twentieth century – a member of the ILP (Independent Labour Party) and vehemently anti-war and the fraud that always accompanies wars. Mullally was a journalist and novelist.

In essence the book can be summed up as – politicians lie. World War I was going to be the war to end all wars – one helluva big lie. At the end of the war a new era of permanent peace was promised. Absolute lie. Politicians promised troops would come home (the lucky ones) to find homes for heroes; not the slums they were forced to live in before being marched off to the trenches. Of course, that was also largely a lie.  No sooner was the armistice signed that the promised and pledges were quietly shelved (exactly comparable to all those empty promises made to Scots if they rejected independence in the 2014 referendum- a pack of lies.)

Wind back a century and when it was asked if the horrific level of deaths among those drafted in to fight the imperialist Great War were sacrificed in vain – the answer came back from government and their arms dealer cronies “No, we won the war.” “No, we won the war” and onto the next one.  Pass the port and cigars.

They did not have to wait long for the next world war – a mere twenty years. In between were lots of lucrative wars. War is good for business. Much too good for business ever to stop them. At my last count there were around 60 major manufacturers linked to weaponry and arms in the UK and that does not include parts manufacturers. That’s about half the number of a few years ago and worldwide the numbers are immense. What is not great news for the majority of the world’s citizens is very much what the doctor ordered for Directors and Boards of all of these businesses which are defended by trade unions on grounds of the jobs they create. If that’s the sole argument for being involved in producing weapons that kill mainly civilians across the world then it’s corrupt and union leaders as well as the management of such businesses should be thoroughly ashamed. Not that they ever will be.

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Brockway and Mullally feature a certain Harry McGowan to the extent I became intrigued and wanted to find out more about Lord McGowan. He sounded a charmer. Not. I wikied him. He was a British industrialist (one name for it) and Knight of the British Empire. Don’t know where he was born, suspect Scotland for his name is half Scottish and he went to school and university in Scotland. The man who went on to become Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was proud to sell his company’s weapons to anyone and everyone; ally or foe. His focus was purely financial. Interesting isn’t it that such a man who some would and did accuse of being anti-patriotic for supplying the very arms that killed British and allied soldiers received a knighthood. How immoral is that?

A Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture of and Trading in Arms of 1935 quotes McGowan, then Chairman of ICI  –

“I have no objection to selling to both sides. I am not a purist in these things.”

Rapacious, unscrupulous, despicable. Such is the morality, immorality, of people who typically pack the red benches in the House of Lords. Business types who judge success solely on extent of wealth. During WW2 British companies were selling arms manufactured by British workers to Japan to be used against British and allied troops, a detail which inspired this question –

 “The British Government has recently re-opened the Burma Road so that war material can reach the Chinese armies. What is the use of doing this if British industry is producing war material for the Japanese army?”

I don’t have the response but I suppose there’s a nice symmetry to such practice. And presumably the trade unions didn’t raise objections to British and Allied men and women becoming victims of British arms on the usual grounds that you can’t turn your nose up at jobs. It’s how they justify Trident being retained in Scotland.

 “Between 1931 and 1936 the value of Vickers (arms manufacturer) stock rose by £19,704,000.”

Lord McGowan was instrumental in establishing the German chemical industry after WWI through company amalgamations including ICI. There’s a fair amount of detail on the wheeling and dealing in the book.

Finally, back to Scotland where we are used to being denigrated and treated with not a little contempt within the union. The authors explain that in 1939 a question was asked in the House of Commons about anti-aircraft provision in Scotland (on the verge of WW2) and the reply ran along the lines of – it’s all hunky dory. When pushed for detail it transpired there were two anti-aircraft units for the whole of Scotland… that Glasgow was eventually issued with one barrage balloon (lent by London) but when London MPs demanded they get their balloon back it was admitted the Glasgow balloon was a dud.

A scandal. Yes, “there is a tremendous amount of fraud and swindling… the government is either impotent or quiescent…”  Sounds all too familiar.

Stay safe 

July 30, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 19.

Nineteen weeks in chokey and it doesn’t seem a day too long. I get the feeling I’ve said something like this before. I realise it’s been easy for us. We’re used to being self-sufficient and let’s face it we’re both happy with our own company – or as some might express it – we’re anti-social. As that well-known Aberdeen salutation/godspeed goes – “Happy to meet, sorry to part but not too sorry – Bon Accord.” Well, that’s the version popular in our hoose.

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We did break lockdown to visit ‘the young folk’ in Stonehaven as the wee one was having a birthday. He’s the nearest human contact we’ve had in 19 weeks – and very pleasant it was too. Of course this visit required a run over the bypass – a good outing for the car which is also in relative lockdown and it was a pleasure for us seeing parts of Aberdeenshire and Kincardine we haven’t seen for a bit. Still bonny.

I nearly forgot. On our way to the bypass, round about Mason Lodge I think, we drove past a field with a tall stone dyke and looking over the dyke was a coo (cow.) As the dyke was pretty high only the coo’s heid (head) could be seen; a bonny cream beastie. There were folk walking by and the coo’s heid followed them, watched them come, pass and move away. It turned to follow their movement and eyed them up and down. It reminded me of my late Aunty Isabel who we used to take for treatment to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. During the inevitable waits for and between treatment, Isabel (in her nineties) would inspect fellow patients walking by – eyeing them and the often weird clobber they wore or their hair styles and colours and half turn to me with a knowing nod and trace of a smile. I should add at this point that Isabel was complimented on her own appearance by a man at the hospital – totally out of the blue he remarked, maybe a bit uncalled for and personal but, along the lines of that’s a beautiful outfit you’re wearing. She did have an eye for quality – and mutton dressed up as lamb, as she might have thought but never said. I miss that shared look and smile that wasn’t meant unkindly but spoke volumes, none-the-less.  

This week I phoned my optician to place on record I’d phoned early in March to report my two new pairs of varifocals made the world spin so much I relegated them to the top of the desk in anticipation of returning them once the lurgy passed. Back in March it looked like that was a real possibility. Oh the innocence of early lockdown. The opticians isn’t back to full operation but said they would be happy to see me given that I’ve been using the old prescription specs. It was very good of them but apart from being willing to hand over the useless pair I wasn’t keen on submitting myself to face-to-face interaction in a closed space and said I’d get back in touch in a couple of months. A couple of months! Where will we be in a couple of months apart from bowling downhill towards winter?

More blackcurrants have gone into the freezer. And still they come. They are handy and most mornings a handful of blackcurrants or other fruit but mainly blackcurrants because we have tons of them is added to our breakfast porridge or cereal. Unfortunately, one morning this week husband announced there weren’t any in the fridge. Not possible. With an exasperated sigh I found the plastic container with its dark red contents in the fridge but when I opened it instead of blackcurrants found cooked aduki beans! I had somehow managed the night before to pick up the blackcurrants and put them into the freezer instead of the beans. I love aduki beans but am holding fire on trying them as a breakfast topping. You never know. Nah, I think we do.

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Our sweet old cat was ill this week. As he’s getting on, about 112 in human equivalent years, we were preparing ourselves for the worst. Not that you ever are prepared. Next day he was as right as rain and our daughter suggested he might have been suffering from heatstroke. It has been hot and as soon as the sun’s up he’s out to laze under an apple tree or baking in his straw-packed kennel beside the greenhouse. I think I mentioned before that he loves a picnic so doesn’t even come in for grub until evening on the nicest of days.  

 We have a linnet in the garden. Fairly certain that’s what it is. Are they simple? This bird brain can’t find its way to the many sources of bird food we have scattered and dangling. Hope it hangs around. Lovely wee thing. Our house martins are still in residence high up on the gable. See them when we’re round that part of the house and every evening out of the sittingroom window we admire them darting through the air grazing on airborne insects. 

Yesterday I crossed paths with a tiny brown frog yesterday while walking. Thought it was a leaf blowing across the road but then the leaf began hopping and stopped for a moment for me to admire it before hopping off into the grass. A speckled brown butterfly occupied the same spot on my way back. Do frogs turn into butterflies? No? Are you certain of that?

Our blue salvias flowers are taking geological time to open. First saw the plant in a park somewhere in Germany. Can’t recall where but they were massed together and looked fabulous. We have only one or two plants and I suspect winter will be upon us before they fully open. Talking of blue – the wild chicory has been blooming for a good while now in the verges. It’s very pretty and one year I made the mistake of introducing seed into our garden. We are still trying to get rid of plants that spread like wildfire. Every year more spring up. Bloody stuff.

And on the subject of garden pests, although ones we are quite fond of – the badgers are still at it. The heavy pot and bird feeder stand goes over night after night. Now along with the peanuts having to be brought in overnight so, too, is the seed feeder for they pull it to pieces searching for seed. Not that there’s any left by the end of the day. 

The latest trend in lost jobs continues to pick up pace. Three out of five of one arm of our family have recently been made redundant. As they are anything but alone finding work is going to be a nightmare for them. And the knock-on consequences very serious.

It’s a while since I finished reading Ethel Mannin’s series of essays Brief Voices. It covers very many topics; far too many to comment on here so one or two points only. Mannin flirted with Buddhism but was hugely critical of Buddhists in Burma where her writings were banned as a result. She criticised their cruelty and claims of being against killing animals while happily consuming them on grounds they didn’t personally kill them – e.g. fishermen don’t kill fish only take them out of water – where they die, it was the servant who bought meat at market so nothing to do with them eating what was prepared while butchers who definitely did kill animals were, at this time, despised – yet not the meat they produced.

She was very much a woman of her time and class. Despite her radical political views – she was a member of the Communist Party for a time – Mannin was, nonetheless, a bit of a snob and was intolerant of things she didn’t understand or care to understand. She didn’t have much sympathy for aspects of working class lives and positively railed against Teddy Boys and the rock and roll generation (slack-jawed and joyless she described young people), beats and Angry Young Men literature. She thought the ‘atomic generation’ brought up on violent films would become inured to death. How wrong. The protests of the 1960s were just around the corner. Interesting and complex woman, nonetheless. I will look for more of her works in future.

 Stay safe.

 

July 29, 2020

Alba, Pictland, Caledonia, Scotland – the birth of a nation

 

Once upon a time long, long ago a man from across the sea and far away travelled to the ancient land of Gaul and there he heard tales of exotic people who painted their bodies with strange patterns and symbols. Never before had the man seen beings with painted skin so he decided that the painted ones, called Picti because there was more than one Pict or picture person and Latin was in vogue at the time, were sufficiently different from all the people he was used to they were positively dangerous and uncivilised.

Roman raiders who invaded and conquered Gaul (in the way people with powerful armies tend to do) agreed with him.

 “We don’t like people who are different and we don’t like people who refuse to capitulate and accept us as their rulers. We like people who look just like us and invite us to take over their lands.”

Tile or Thule showing early map of northern Scotland

The man was called Hieronymus but for obvious reasons he changed his name to St Jerome. St Jerome who is often painted, though not on his body, with a lion representing Christ was disgusted by the weird folk living on the island across the water from Gaul. Not all of them, only the awkward squads of Picts, Atticots or Scoti or versions of the name. They were cannibals, he wailed. To illustrate the point he said if a shepherd, his wife and their flock of sheep were to stroll past a group of Picts, Atticots or Scoti they would be eaten down to the shiver while their mutton on the cloven hoof would be left alone.

“They must be barbarians!” wailed St Jerome; a saint with firm views. And he called out the painted people, Picts and their associates for their attraction to human flesh – in every meaning of the term – one of which old Jerome himself knew a thing or two about.

It may have occurred to some, though not Jerome, that tales of Picti, Atticotti and Scoti barbarity might have been exaggerated – not least by Roman legionaries embarrassed that their marauding antics and expansion into the island across the water from Gaul was only partly successful because the Scoti, Picti and Atticotti in the land called Alba refused to prostrate themselves before the Romans roaming across their territory.

 Angry and embarrassed over their failure to bludgeon the Atticotti, Picti and Scots into submission, legionaries sat around camp fires spinning yarn after yarn about wild, ruthless, cannibals who turned their painted noses up at being invaded in the land the Romans called not Alba but Caledonia – the land the painted people just called Home. Raging Romans and their hingers-on were hell-bent on demonising the Picti, Scoti and Atticoti.  

scotland and pictland

“They were twelve-foot giants, honest. With bad breath. And they’d eat a man as quick as look at him.”

If you make the mistake of looking up Atticotti or rather the alternatively spelled Attacotti on Wikipedia you will read they were –

“a people who despoiled Roman Britain between 364 and 368, along with Scotti, Picts, Saxons …”

 at which stage the author of such nonsense should be reminded in no uncertain terms it was the Romans doing the invading and marauding not the indigenous peoples defending their homes and way of life – including partaking of the occasional shepherd and his wife – not that shepherds had wives, more temporary bidie-ins.

On investigation the Picti – let’s forego the Latin plural and settle for Picts – when they weren’t savaging shepherds were chawing on ears of corn. For they were also referred to as Picts of Cruitnich. Cruitnich, as you’ll know in a minute, means corn eaters. So much for eating fellow men and women. Although no-one can live by corn alone. So, it seems when they weren’t out defending the land from aggressive Imperial Roman types Picts were farming, hunting and fishing and carving imagery into big stones. The Atticotti were doing something else and the Scoti were swatting up on irregular Gaelic verbs.

In the land of corn-eaters spelling was a free-for-all so Cruitnich became Cruitkne and Cruitin. Cruit became a byname for Picts. You can understand it for Picts of Cruitnich is a mouthful, almost as great as a shepherd’s foot. Careless writing turned Cruitin into Priten and as sure as Cruitin is Priten it transformed into Briton. Briton being a word for the people of a place meant Britain was the place where they dwelled.  

 We know some names of Pictish clan chiefs in long-ago Scotland; such as Talorg, meaning bright-browed. His reign as chief was from 388 to 413 and he was succeeded by Drust, son of Erp who ruled till 453. They were quite long-lived these Picts, except for the shepherds.

 The inhabitants of Britain most easy-oasy over being invaded by Romans were soft, southern types while those who weren’t – brawnier, bolder folk backheeled it to the north.   

The land of the north; Alba or Caledonia was demonised by the resentful Romans who felt entitled to conquer any part of the world they fancied. Just because they could. Only they couldn’t. Alba or Caledonia stood firm but their lands so reviled by so many continued to attract the waspish eyes of many a monarch from among the soft folk of the south.   

 The people of Alba were once strangers landing on the shores of the land to the north of the island across from Gaul before Gaul was Gaul. In later times Picts tended to occupy the east of the land while eventually the Scoti or Scots came as boat people from Hibernia – Hibernia later known as Ireland – so the first Scots lived where they dragged their boats ashore, on the southwest coast of Alba. They  were no less ferocious than those pesky Picts, according to the Alexandrian poet, Claudius Claudianus.

Claudius didn’t actually meet any Scoti or Picts but relied on hearsay or anecdotal accounts from – you’ve guessed it – Roman legionaries describing tattooed bodies of the people they had slaughtered in Alba (or Caledonia as they insisted on calling it.) The land that was said to be –

 “tepid with the gore of the Picts and Iere” (Irish Scots)

 “weeping her heaped-up piles of slain Scots”

 …once the Romans had finished with it.

Not that anyone in Pictland or Scotland at this time was averse to slaughtering their fellows. From the Scots or Scoti from Iere or Hibernia who overpowered the Picts to dominate Alba came the first king of Scots to be consecrated, back in 603. This was Aidan who led his men to the Bernician frontier. Bernicia covered the land now southeastern Scotland and northeastern England. In a battle of thrones that was typical of the time, Aidan’s men confronted Aethelfrith, king of Bernicia, at the Battle of Daegsastan on the river Jed and lost – though both armies were virtually wiped out.   

Blood flowed in the north of the north as well. Orkney was reported to have run with Saxon blood. Saxons were people who first washed up on the shores of the island of Britain from the place we now call northern Germany. Most Saxon migrants settled in the southern parts of Britain where they and their close neighbours, the Angles, left their stamp on the heart of every patriotic Englishman and woman revelling in their pure Anglo-Saxon bloodstock, that is – German.

Saxons being a mouthful for the Scoti and Picti was given the Alba treatment and became Sassenachs. Some Sassenachs carried on migrating, northwards, but growing knackered by their long walk they mostly stayed on in a part of Alba called the Lothians.

It was around the year 843 when Kenneth MacAlpin became King of the Scots and Picts and power and control over Alba was centralised in a continuing line of monarchs. This being 1200 years ago means Scotland’s ancient pedigree is a very, very long established one.   

Rivalries continued with Picts losing out to Gaelic Celts and bringing to an end the culture of the Alba’s exotic painted people. By the tenth century the language of the Picts has been lost for all time, replaced by Gaelic, although their paintings and carvings remind us of the very special painted people of Alba. In time Celtic culture itself was diluted and altered from the south by the influences of the Sassenach and from the north the impact of Vikings. 

Hundreds of years later Johnny-come-lately waspish-eyed monarchs from England claimed the ancient land of Scotland belonged to them. Roll on 400 years to the Act of Union where a handful of nobles sold-out the people of Scotland in exchange for bags of cash – to the fury of  Scots.    

This unpopular Union between the ancient land of Scotland and England is but a blink of a bloodshot eye in Scotland’s long, long existence – longer than the English usurper’s.   

Scotland, the land of Picts, Scots, Vikings and, yes, Sassenachs does not pretend purity of a single race. That peculiar claim of unadulterated national identity is confined to a branch of extreme English nationalism and I don’t want it said that in this tale of the birth of a nation I have forgotten our southern brethren and sistren. So, I’ll leave the last word to an Englishman, a Sassenach, who composed the following ditty in 1839 – 

A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction,

A figurative fib, in fact a fiction;

A something meant t’express in verse

A man akin to all the universe:

From Pict, Scot, Saxon, Norman, Dane, began

That heterogeneous thing – an Englishman.”

 

PS – the peoples of the four nations of Britain lived happily ever after. Or did they?

July 23, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 18

johnson twatt

Week 18 of lockdown but not to worry – the end is nigh. Probably not words you want to hear in relation to Covid 19 but hey, it’ll be over by Christmas brayed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – the man who reads nothing, knows nothing and says whatever springs into his head – no, not  Italian party filled with glamorous Russian women hosted by Russian oligarch, Lebedev, media mogul and owner of the Independent in England. I’m saying no, but possibly.

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Anyway, let’s get onto more intelligent life. Spotted a couple of yellow hammers this week on two occasions around the same spot. One was singing that familiar refrain, a little bit of bread and no cheese, in a birdy fashion. Very pretty birds with vivid yellow from breast to head; the gilets jaunes of the bird world. According to the RSPB website yellow hammers are in decline to the tune of 54% loss between 1970 and 1998. Don’t have more recent figures but they’re surely not good. As with so many of our songbirds they’ve lost the battle against industrial farming that swallows up every cultivated field inch thereby depriving birds of seed sources around the margins where wildflowers and grasses once thrived. On another walk we spotted a jay, apparently cooling off with its wings spread over a tree branch. I managed a not very good photograph of it from behind before the bird realised there were potential enemies around and flew off. Another unusual discovery was a giant tiger moth in among grass as the side of the road. I think it may have been dead but didn’t want to poke it, in case it wasn’t.

Neighbour is missing her daily early morning swim since pools closed down in March. From what she was saying I suspect that when they do open she won’t be rushing to take the plunge, irrespective of her longing to exercise in water again, for she realises that pools could be Covid hotspots despite chlorinated water. Have you ever looked down when swimming in them? And that’s only what you can see. Pee and spit tends to dissipate. Then there’s social distancing. Our local pool isn’t large. In fact, it’s quite a bit smaller than first designed because bigger pools cost bigger bucks so it’s narrower and that means very few swimmers could be safely accommodated to comply with social distancing. Plus, changing areas, showers and lockers would create points of contact. When it comes down to it, swimming pools being confined by necessary number reductions would become a costly public service. Get in the sea.

Anticipating spring blossom on fruit trees and bushes is always exciting during the dark days of winter. And fairly soon following on from the flowers the fruits swell. So far so good but then if you aren’t an idle or wasteful harvest comes round super-fast. While picking apples is easy-peasy lemon squeezy, picking blackcurrants and other small fruit, specially gooseberries, is largely just a chore. Sweet Alpine strawberries are the exception, coming in penny numbers.

Mix 2

Still we enjoy eating our way through frozen supplies in succeeding months so once the little blighters are packed into their plastic boxes we can relax. But I’m getting ahead of myself for we have a huge crop of large glossy blackcurrants ready for picking. Redcurrants, too, although I doubt we’ll pick many as we’re not so keen on them and certainly not as keen on them as our blackbirds who just love them. I used to make jam. A lot of jam and jelly and redcurrants are good to mix in with other fruits because they are tart and have lots of pectin to help with set but we have jam still from years back so I’m not inclined to add to the collection. Anyway, in a rush of blood to the head I threw out our store of empty honey jars last winter. I like to use honey jars for jam because the shape makes storage easy and you can get your spoon or knife in easier than with some narrower jars. And don’t forget to pick blackcurrant leaves. They make delicious tea.

 Visited neighbours in their garden this week. It’s a garden like no other garden. Once it was the walled garden of the local ‘big house’ and retains a very long and very tall stone wall on which are attached many old and established espalier fruit trees; apples, pears, plums – with a few recent replacements for lost plants – bought to match the old metal labels still attached to the wall.

Within the vast area of this garden is a large skelp of water – rather two skelps of water plus a burn running through the property. No wonder we hardly see our neighbour, he’s got so much work to do in the garden. All that said, I noticed their blackcurrants were way less big and glossy than ours!

After a tour of the policies it was time for a cup of tea (each couple providing their own) but the fine morning had given way to a changeable afternoon and the light shower that began when we sat down, on appropriately socially distanced seats, turned to pelting rain. But we’re Scottish. So out came the umbrellas and we doggedly sat on, drinking tea and chatting till eventually we decided to pull the plug, so to speak. Mind you, that was after about two hours of conversation and it was hardly surprising that despite umbrellas – and partly because of the rain streaming down them onto us, we squelched our way home to peel off every stitch of sodden clothing down to the scud. Good to catch up, though.

Woke one morning to discover some varmint had overturned a bird feeder stand and made off with one of the peanut feeders. A prolonged search and application of track and trace revealed it towards the roadside. This was not the first time we’ve lost feeders and corvids were initially suspected, along with squirrels because we haven’t heard badgers in the garden lately, despite the bedroom window being open most nights.

 One night-time raid was quickly attributed to badgers when a seed feeder was destroyed – totally flattened – obviously by feet bigger than belonging to any crow, jackdaw or squirrel.

We don’t mind badgers getting their fair share of food but eating a whole container of peanuts is not fair shares. It’s gluttony. Now we take that particular peanut feeder in at nights because attaching the container to the stand with wire didn’t work and we lost it the following night as well. Other peanut feeders are hung higher up on tree branches and they stay out as Brenda Badger is too short to get at them.

 Finished revising my old novel Banana Pier which took almost as long as writing it. Actually no, it didn’t but my slow pace of work meant it was a long-drawn-out business. Decided to publish it on Amazon which is not the easiest thing in the world to do, I find. But easier than the long wait for rejection from a publisher. I retitled it, too, as Evil Brings Men Together which says more about the story than Banana Pier which is a local reference and might have led some to imagine it a book on port commerce.

 I used Amazon a few months back to publish my latest novel, set in Germany in the early 1600s featuring the brilliant artist Albrecht Durer. I don’t think Durer got up to the dodgy business in The Durer Affair, despite the name – then, again maybe he did. When I was writing it – I’d imagine Durer and his mates, Willy Pirkheimer and Otto Beck, accompanying me on my daily walks or sitting in the backseat of the car. I realise how crazy that must sound but it was a way of getting into the characters and, hey, I’ve got a vivid imagination! I never tried the same trick with my protagonist from Banana Pier cum Evil Brings Men Together – for obvious reasons.

Not much time left for TV and book. Now reading another Ethel Mannin book – one off our bookshelves – Brief Voices; an autobiography from 1959. A different side to her character emerges through these essays about her travels and impressions of different parts of the world but I don’t have my notes to hand so I’ll try to write something on this next time.

 Working our way through Series 2 of Bordertown on Netflix. We’re fairly certain we watched Series 1 ages ago and weren’t enthralled by it but Series 2 is absolutely absorbing television. A million miles different from Deadwind I complained about last time, Bordertown is well crafted, well-scripted and directed. Excellent stuff.

 Stay safe.

July 17, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 17

The door has been wedged open for lockdowners in week 17. Some of us have peered out and aren’t sure we like what we see and have shut that door again. Some of us have raced out over the doorstep and were last seen driving to a campsite, our cars packed with trashy camping gear designed to be left behind as litter in some of Scotland’s most beautiful settings thereby destroying the beauty of those settings that attracted us in the first place. Some of us have hot-footed it down to our local bar or non-food shops to purchase stuff because we can’t ever get enough of stuff. Some of us are off to see our mates – although some of us have never stopped seeing our mates, if we’re being honest – certainly not the two driving very noisy motorbikes with lawn mower engines around these parts.

week 17 collage 2

Our granddaughter who lost her job recently received a not unexpected double blow when her partner heard he is also likely to lose his job. Working for oil and gas related companies is proving hazardous for many folk in the northeast nowadays with petroleum production seen as yesterday’s technology. Things are already tough but surely they are about to get far tougher.

When granddaughter and partner visited us this week it was intended to be a garden call but the afternoon was overcast and not too warm so we had a socially-distanced catch-up indoors instead with a thorough clean once they left. Good to see them but there’s an edge to visits in these Covid 19 times.

Took ourselves up to the nearby recumbent stone circle at Old Keig. Doesn’t matter how many times we visit the partial remains of this stone circle – Aberdeenshire’s recumbents are unique – we are in awe of the sheer size of this slab of stone. How on earth did people move such immense rocks – uphill, as many are positioned? Several stones from the circle have been removed and scattered but the recumbent and its flankers remain. Hardly surprising.

week 17 collage 1

The emergency-grow-our-own salads have been proving their worth for ages now. All sorts of leafy things, some decidedly peppery, and in rainbow colours (kind of.) Gherkins coming thick and fast. Courgettes doing well and peas swelling up. I still have to do rigorous slug/snail searches of the sacks we are growing our runner beans in as they’ve reduced the bottom growth to lacy doilies. They get thrown to their new life across our burn, usually, but I have witnessed ancestors of these snails determinedly working their way back over the bridge to our garden before now.

It is also getting to that time we’ll have to pick the blackcurrants. And we’re only finishing last years such was the size of the crop then. Raspberries offer a change of flavour for grazing gardeners but the cherries are well out of reach in the wild French cherry tree my husband grew from seed a number of years ago. Every year we think it’s stopped growing. But it hasn’t. As it is disappearing into the vast blue yonder of sky we’re contemplating getting someone in to cut down to size.

 Dreams have become more memorable recently. Is this a pandemic thing? Usually my dreams evaporate into the morning light but one that has stuck with me involved a quiz, much like the family quizzes we’ve been doing except it was taking place in a bar/café/room. A large dark-haired woman who spoke a combination of English and Welsh was asking the questions in a language I couldn’t decipher. Despite not knowing what she was saying I attempted answering but couldn’t keep up – although there were only three questions by the time I woke. Apart from the language things I couldn’t get my pencil to write my answers on the inside of a chunky grey woolly man’s jumper – which I suspect was a reference to Nordic drama.

 The Nordic drama causing me so much angst was Deadwind from Finland. Now we are partial to all things Nordic but this should have been entitled Deadloss. Why we watched two series I don’t know. It was formulaic and derivative of the excellent The Bridge, down to its main protagonist, Sofia, a dead ringer for Saga, also clad in a coat. Like Saga she lives for her work with family coming a long way back in her priorities. While The Bridge was well-scripted and directed Deadwind is full of ridiculous howlers such as her referring to photographs she hadn’t previously seen and while investigating a deserted house gets out of her car and goes straight to a flower border, lifts up a plant and discovers the concealed whatever it was. Plain silly. Evidence turns up at the drop of a hat. Where Sofia wins over Saga is in her ability to shine a torch in the invariably dark buildings she forever enters. Seems there’s a lightbulb shortage in Finland. And, the grey woolly jumper in my dream was presumably related to Alex in Series 1 of Deadwind. He ay wore chunky knits. Finland has also produced Bordertown which is pretty good and way above Deadloss in terms of production values.

Alternative viewing came in the form of Netflix’s Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories … for any who have nostalgia for 1970s comedy – this is up your street. Plus you get some food ideas.

Coming to the end of the journey with Ethel Mannin around Germany. Still enjoying it. She was greatly affected by the appalling condition of children in Germany post-war – many were orphans or abandoned and living like ‘stray animals, pale faced, elf-like,’ ‘living in holes in the ground beneath ruined buildings’ and some very tiny ones didn’t even know their own names. Russian occupying forces organised an event to encourage adoption of these kids called the Lost Baby Show.

 Going back to living in rubble. Mannin tells how some landlords continued to charge people rents for living in bombed remains of flats and cellars where people were reduced to sleeping on the ground or on tables.  The United Nations Refugee Relief Agency (UNRRA) was known in Germany as You Never Really Relieved Anyone. There are some terrible accounts of suffering – few of which ever found their way into the British press.

Mannin reserves her greatest criticism for a Brian Connell of the Daily Mail for distorting the truth about conditions in Germany at the time such as claiming food supplies there were greater than back in Britain. Mannin never tires of saying – some in Germany did live the high life with never ending supplies of champagne and cognac for Britain’s top military brass and journalists who were treated as officers. But for the German people food was virtually impossible to obtain. Cigarettes became currency. Folk were paid for services in fags – virtually never smoked because they were the only means of bartering for something to eat, usually through the black market. A joke in Germany ran – “anyone found alive after 1947 would be prosecuted for black market activities.”

 Stay safe.

 

 

July 10, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 16


Week 16 has come and it’s gone. Covid 19 is as virulent as ever. Numbers affected are jumping in some parts where people are becoming bolder and re-entering society. We aren’t. Well, maybe a little. Wrote last time about meeting up with one or two family members outside. This week we had a rendezvous with our son in an Aberdeen cemetery. Readers of my blog will know I like being in cemeteries – just so long as I can leave when I want to – for they often offer fascinating insights into lives once lived in times past. And they tend to have benches for sitting on.

Back to the vet with our cat to get his eye checked again and see how the expensive eyedrops are succeeding. Quite well it seems. He threw up again on the journey. Because of very restricted access (none for humans) we had to wait outside for quite some time for our cat’s turn. That wasn’t a problem other than we shared the tiny carpark with a muckle great Jaguar 4X4 that had the engine running the twenty minutes and more we waited and as they were there before us I imagine the engine was running for well over half-an-hour. Forget air pollution. Forget folk with breathing and problems. Let’s just run our engine because we can. And, yes, we came away with yet more expensive eyedrops.

Covid19 has affected social interactions and we noticed a little curious piece of social behaviour this week – a man talking to a woman, neither masked, stood quite close to each other during their conversation but when my husband, masked, spoke with the same man – he, the man, stood more distant from my husband. Our thinking was that noticing my husband was taking precautions (wearing a mask) so he (the man) reciprocated by taking precautions, too (mirroring the behaviour.) Yet, that is counter-intuitive for you might think unmasked folk might keep a greater distance apart. We found it interesting.

Lying in bed unable to sleep one night it struck me that the large polystyrene lining that came in the box containing our new garden chairs (last week) would have been perfect to mount a painting of mine. But we (he) binned it so it’s gone. Never throw anything away.

Week 16

The intergenerational radish growing contest was won by ME!! We measured them by photographing the best ones beside a teaspoon or rather three teaspoons as we were miles apart. It did cross my mind to use an egg spoon but then I thought what kind of example is that to set to the young and anyway I was confident of my crop. With good cause. However the fly in the ointment is that when we ate the two biggest radishes one was fine enough but the other was well teuch.

The weekend family quiz took the form of 20 questions mystery object/concept. It worked very well, lots of laughs and rolling eyes but was more exhausting than the normal quiz for some reason, maybe because it’s a bit more interactive. Modesty prevents me telling you who won. I’ll come clean after proudly declaring how quickly I finished the FT Magazine crossword a couple of weeks back  for I’ve struggled with the latest two so that on average I’ve got a long way to go to claim any aptitude for this fairly new hobby (more a Sudoku and word puzzle person.)

Pheasant chicks are growing fast. Other than that not much to report on the bird front. Lots of them as usual – great tits, blue tits, longtail tits, blackbirds, chaffinches, spurdies (sparrows), jackdaws, wood pigeons, collar doves, greenfinches, woodpeckers, goldfinches, robins, wrens, starlings, another fly catcher I’m glad to report, and on Saturday evening during our quiz session the heron flew very close to the window veered away and circled back again. Magnificent in a prehistoric way. Crikey, I almost forgot the house martins.

Still worries on the jobs front for the family. As you know our granddaughter was summarily sacked at 11.30pm one night but our grandson has been retained and begins work again soon. Two of his colleagues lost their jobs such is the weakness of Aberdeen’s dependence on oil and gas now that this industry is falling out of favour in the 21st century.

Oh, and the Tories were out clapping their greedy little paws for the NHS on its 70th anniversary – while planning to privatise it. Ah well, no-none ever said becoming a Tory came with scruples. Or if they did they were lying. Tories – never short of a stunt or two. Our local MP is a Tory. He was in hospital – for a small procedure. Suspicion in this house is he was having the last piece of conscience removed.

Said last time I would say more about Walter Benjamin’s biography but I’ve already forgotten it so won’t be. Having raided our bookshelves I dusted off another volume from around the same time (Benjamin a little earlier)  Ethel Mannin’s German Journey.

Ethel Mannin, a prolific English writer, returned to Germany and Austria post-war, in 1947, where she was appalled by the imperious attitudes of the British authorities and journalists there; what she described as the Poonah* attitude of the British in divided Berlin.

Thoroughly enjoying her book for Mannin is engaging in both style and what she has to say about the destruction she found there and attitudes of the conquerors and the vanquished. Germany gained such notoriety in the run up and during WW2 – with good cause but Mannin does not lump every German into a basket marked Evil Germans. A great traveller, Mannin, was familiar with Germany (and Austria) before the war and was an acquaintance of  several natives of both countries. She points out many Germans were, themselves, victims of the Nazis and were the first interned in camps and executed in great numbers. She questions the collective guilt the German people were expected to accept – questioning how the British public would react if held responsible for the shameful treatment of Irish people by the Black and Tans, the massacre of thousands in Amritsar by the British, the degradations and killings of Kenyans. Her point being individual Britons would argue they knew nothing or next to nothing about any of these horrors while they were happening yet it’s assumed every single German knew precisely what outrages the Nazis were perpetrating and so should be held collectively responsible.

Mannin saved her own rationed food which she took with her from Britain to give to German friends expected to survive on 1200 calories a day of mostly of inferior quality. When she was in Germany and Austria she ate what her fellow Brits were eating – quantities of food and drink available far in excess of rations back in Britain – comprising of at least three large meals of several courses daily.  All British military, relief workers, journalists etc enjoyed a high standard of food and drink in Germany, far too much in Mannin’s view, and she would keep back some of what was served up to distribute to desperate Germans, including undernourished children, shrunken from lack of food. On a visit to a friend she discovered his only food that day was half a tin of sardines. She encouraged her fellow-Brits there to see what was under their noses if they chose to look – which they didn’t. Haughty indifference to all German suffering irrespective of age was not confined to conquering Brits and the US position was, perhaps, summed up in her description of one guy she came across as “six feet of over-fed American manhood…”

I’ve been to Germany several times on holiday and love the place. Her warm descriptions of exquisite little red-roofed towns with tall slender spired churches as seen from trains rattling through the countryside matches my own observations to a tee.

No time for our viewing this week – not really worth speaking about other than the old film Hoppity goes to Town. A wee classic.

*A high-handed attitude associated with the town of Poona or Pune in India.

Stay well.

July 3, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020 – a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 15

Bit of unusual activity this week of eased lockdown number 15. Nothing that would warrant much of a mention outside of a far from average year but I suppose for many people whose lives have not been personally affected by Covid19 there’s a growing sense of confidence that it’s not so bad or it’s probably passed us by. Neither impression has any logic to it. Fact is Covid 19 has not gone away. It will not be going anywhere for years and years and years. Some of us have, fortunately, not contracted it. One day some of us who mistakenly think we’ve beaten it will be nonchalantly rounding a corner and walk slap bang into the virus.

But, as I was saying, there is a feeling among some of us that it might be okay to go out a bit more. Now, I don’t mean go to a crowded beach, a crowded shop, any sort of pub or the hairdresser. I mean meet up with a handful of tried and tested family members.

Diver and Mexican on gates at Dunecht Estate

 

So, this week we did just that. Met up with our daughter and son-in-law and went for a walk – a very long walk as it transpired – through Dunecht Estate. Hot day and there were lots of exquisite damsel flies flitting about. Dunecht Estate was owned by the Cowdrays who made their cash in Mexican oil and salvage hence their arms on the gate. The body of one of the Cowdrays disappeared from the family vault at the Aberdeenshire estate. This particular wealthy Earl was fond of travelling, a hobby he carried on after his death, in Italy in 1880. His corpse journeyed across the Alps, across the North Sea, and was driven by coach up through Scotland to Dunecht – during one of the worst snowstorms ever to hit this country, it is said, so delaying his arrival by weeks. Hope he was well embalmed. Local poacher/rat-catcher led police to the shallow grave where the body lay for many months and was sentenced to five years penal servitude – as poor people often were.

Next day we travelled a little further afield to visit a relation of my husband who lives down the coast. She’s on her own and has ‘neighbour trouble.’ Boy has she got ‘neighbour trouble.’ I think that subject should be avoided for the present. During a brief visit we took a quick shufty at a track one of the village folk restored down the steep slope to the shore. A bench at the top includes names of local people who have died – a nice touch and a map of the world next to the bench so you can find your bearings between Aberdeenshire’s coast and a’wy else. The sun was shining. The day very warm and the sea was sparkling blue but it was time to leave and westwards we headed, over that marvel of the northeast, the bypass, and home.

But in the way of these things – the relief of scarcity comes in threes – like buses. Our third and final outing of last week was closer when we took our old cat to the vet. As usual our travel-averse cat threw up during the short drive there. He was handed in and duly handed back out with some expensive eye drops. He really is nae keen on eye drops.

There was also a flurry of phone calls this week. North to Strathpeffer and south to friends in Tunbridge Wells in England ( a place whose name I can never remember, Tunbridge Wells that is.) Most of the talk was Covid related, though not entirely thank goodness. Doesn’t sound like anything major is happening in either place.

We also had three deliveries this week. Our new garden chairs arrived. Well-packaged in large boxes lined with insulation that would have made perfect plant-rearing containers were they not made out of cardboard. Our self-assembly Adirondack chairs proved challenging. Between bewildering written instructions and absurd illustrations what should have been a straightforward assembly turned into an afternoon of scratching heads to the point my husband was about to drill out a larger hole for one set of screws when I suggested swapping over a couple of things – it worked. Second seat was put together in no time. We like them.

A second delivery was also due from Royal Mail. I didn’t worry when it failed to arrive ‘next day’ since where we live there is no such thing as a ‘next day’ delivery. But when it didn’t come the following day I was getting a bit pee-ed off. About tea time my husband called down from upstairs asking if I was expecting a delivery as there was a man walking about the garden. On looking out our front door in that tentatively Covid way, hoping not to bang heads with someone round the other side of the porch, I spotted the said man, large box in hand, about to go back to his car at the end of our drive (it’s a very short one.) I shouted to him and he shouted back that Royal Mail had dropped parcels at his place, they’d opened my box but they hadn’t got Covid. I thanked him for driving it to us and he dropped it where he was, at the end of the drive. Now despite my gratitude to him for taking it to us and not just arranging for Royal Mail to uplift it, it occurred to me it was a funny place to leave the heavy box, it being much too heavy for me. And open by now.

The third delivery was our fortnightly grocery delivery. We’ve never yet received an order exactly as we’ve selected but they usually come there-abouts. Substitutes are fairly normal so what was unusual was that no coffee arrived. Not even a substitute. Now I don’t drink coffee but luckily I’d ordered ground coffee from the supplier of the box in the drive so not all was lost. The perils of online shopping.

mix 15

There was a less-than-dramatic thunder storm around 5 am on the Saturday. Saturday being the day I won the family virtual quiz at night!! But before that I got up and unplugged just about everything that runs on electricity for the duration of the thunder and lightning. We’ve lost electrical stuff previously to lightning strikes so don’t take chances.

Well into eating our last-minute-let’s-grow- salad crops. It is the way to eat if you can manage it. Radish contest ongoing. More on that next week, hopefully.

All quiet on the house martin front. They’re still active and so far the nests are holding up. Long may that continue. Hearing a cuckoo occasionally and owl at night (suppose it’s a night owl.) Just the one I think which is a bit sad. Those starlings that persisted in nesting in a tree hole frequented by jackdaws appear to be proven right for there are lots and lots of starlings flying around here now and quite a few are feeding off the seeds and nuts in the garden. Such striking plumage when the sun hits it. Haven’t seen the heron for ages. Don’t know what that means. Certainly whenever I look down into the burn that runs alongside our garden there are no fish – which is unusual. Think we know who to blame for that Ms/Mr Heron.

Made some pancakes half and half with banana and ordinary SR flour and added a handful of some freeze-dried raspberries which were delivered last week. The pancakes rose beautifully but were not dissimilar to shoe leather texture. Eaten fresh were fine. Left a day or two – forget it. Those raspberries are strange. Astronaut food, our son described them which I suppose they are. Like instant coffee. Freeze dried, that is, not the taste. Disappointed with the pancakes I decided to bake what turned out to be a large consignment of flapjack-type biscuits made from a huge amount of porridge oats, dark sugar, sour cherries, a handful of aronia berries, lots of chopped up dried apricots, desiccated coconut, ground ginger, cinnamon, syrup, marg – think that was about it, oh sunflower seeds. Message here is bung in what you like, mix it up, drop spoonfuls onto baking tray and bake for about 15 to 25 mins depending on how chewy or crunchy you want them. You cannot go wrong with anything that uses porridge oats. It is the best food ever.

Just time to tell you to watch the 1933 film of Alice in Wonderland with Gary cooper as the White Knight (funny scene on horseback), Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle (doesn’t look a bit like him,) W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty (absolutely brilliant) and Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen (pitch perfect performance.) Alice (Charlotte Henry) is good as well. Some very funny lines. Amazon Prime or YouTube. But, whatever you do, do-not-watch  The Sinner on Netflix. Annoying and stupid.

Nearly finished biography of Walter Benjamin. It’s a tragic tale of victims of fascism in the 1930s but the guy would have driven me mad. More on it next time, hopefully.

Stay safe.

June 28, 2020

9 Out of 10 BBC Journos Prefer Tories

If you go down to Wood Lane* today

You’d better go in disguise

If you go down to Wood Lane today

You’ll never believe your eyes

For every Tory that ever there was is gathering there for certain because

the BBC is having them on their programmes.

The World at One BBC Radio 4

13/05 Rishi Sunak, Tory, recording; Ken Clarke former Tory MP

15/5 Damian Hinds, Tory; additional Tory requested but government refused to send one for BAME discussion

19/5 Gordon Brown; Labour.

20/5 Conservative leader Derby council

21/5 Bob Seely, Tory

22/5 Brandon Lewis recording from BBC R 4 Today; David Davis, Tory; Tom Tugendhat, Tory

25/5 Peter Aldous, Tory; Gavin Williamson, Tory recording played from earlier broadcast; Michael Gove, Tory, recording played; Raoul Ruperal, former advisor to Theresa May, Tory; Fianna Gael spokesperson; Robbie Gibb former aid to Theresa May, Tory

26/5 Douglas Ross, Tory, statement read out; Harriet Baldwin, Tory; Robert Jenrick, Tory

27/5 Robert Jenrick, Tory, recording from BBC R4 Today;

28/5 Jeremy Hunt, Tory

29/5 George Eustace, Tory , recording from Sky; Tory leader of an English council

2/6 Lucy Powel, Labour; Michael Fabricant, Tory

3/6 Lord Patten, Tory; Graeme Brady, Tory

8/6 Justine Greening, former Tory MP

9/6 David Blunkett, Labour peer; Diane Abbot, Labour

10/6 Tobias Elwood, Tory

11/6 Greg Clark, Tory; Tim Montgomerie, Tory

12/6 Lord O’Neill, Crossbencher in the Lords

15/6 Baroness Macgregor-Smith, Tory; John Swinney, SNP

16/6 Ruth Davidson, Tory

17/6 }

Non-party contributors

18/6 }

19/6 Boris Johnson, Tory, recording played extensively; Ed Balls, Labour

22/6 Lord Hennessy, crossbench peer; Ken Clarke, Tory; Lord Darling, Labour; Andy Burnham, Labour

Tories who’ve been good or bad are sure of a treat today

There’s lots of marvellous things to say and political games to play

For BBC news will carefully choose their guests to promote and air

For that’s the way the Tories and Beeb consider political output fair.

PM BBC Radio 4

4/6 Caroline Noakes, Tory

6/6 Priti Patel, Tory, recording played; Lord Rickets, Tory-nominated crossbencher peer; Lord P Dannatt, former Tory advisor

8/6 Priti Patel, Tory, recording played; Bim Afolami, Tory

9/6 Gavin Williamson, Tory, recording played; Mark Drakeford, Labour; Alok Sharma, Tory, recording played.

10/6 Tim Loughton, Tory; Danny Kruger, Tory

11/6 Tobias Elwood, Tory; David Gawk, Tory; Vicky Slade, Libdem

12/6 Ken Clarke, Tory

13/6 Shaun Bailey, Tory

15/6 David Lammy, Labour; Boris Johnson, Tory, recordings

16/6 Gavin Williamson, Tory, recording; Tim Loughton, Tory; Boris Johnson, Tory, substantial recordings

17/6 various No 10’s daily briefing recordings

18/6 Andrew Bridgen, Tory; Greg Clark, Tory; Ros Altman, Tory peer

19/6 Gavin Williamson, Tory, recording played

20/6 —

22/6 David Liddington, Tory; Charlie Faulkner, Labour peer

23/6 Boris Johnson, Tory, recordings played

24/6 Jeremy Hunt, Tory; Hew Merriman, Tory

25/6 Vikki Slade, Libdem, Bournemouth Council Leader; Neil Coyle, Labour

Agitprop for Tories

The Tories are having a lovely time today

Listen to their cozy chat

And how their rightwing message plays

Oh, how close and chummy they are

Joshing and jousting – all just harmless fun

And they never have any cares or stress

For irrespective of the government’s mess

The BBC always falls

On the side of their Oxbridge pals

Throw in a first name or two

A word of grateful thanks that sums

Up their trust, and home at last, tomorrow the same

Because they’re very good Tory chums.

The Westminster Hour BBC Radio 4 (weekly)

21/6 Florence Eshalomi, Labour; Tim Loughton, Tory; Jo Tanner former PR for Boris Johnson, Tory

14/6 Gillian Keegan Tory; Darren Jones, Labour

7/6 Chi Onwurah, Labour; Bim Afolami, Tory

31/5 Theresa Villers, Tory; Meg Hillier, Labour; Chris Wilkins former advisor to Theresa May, Tory

24/5 Huw Merrimen, Tory; Angela Smith, Labour

17/5 Kit Malthouse, Tory; Alison McGovern, Labour

If you go down to Wood Lane today

You’d better not go alone

It’s lovely at Wood Lane today but safer to stay at home

For every Tory that ever there was is gathering there for certain

Because today (and every day) the Tories are having their free lunch.

*Wood Lane is a BBC address in London. Contributors to programmes not directly affiliated or members of political parties are not included in the lists of contributors to BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programmes. BBC Radio 4’s Today programme has not been included because it was hard enough listening to the above. Some other party political representation might have been missed by me. Listening was a chore, believe me. Also not included are spokespeople from pressure groups and think tanks, most of which lean to the right and extended recordings from No 10’s daily briefings.

Should be sung to The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

June 26, 2020

The Year of the Plague 2020 – a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 14.

Fourteen weeks under lockdown have come and gone. The strange thing is, as several friends and family agree, time under lockdown has passed very quickly. The weeks fly by. It’s a strange phenomenon because logic tells me time should have dragged. It hasn’t.

Despite that this weekly blog is getting later and later. Tuesday is our switchover point into the next week and already it’s Friday but I won’t reveal any of the exciting goings-on between Tuesday and today until next week. And to be honest there aren’t really any.

So, week 14 was quiet down our way. Managed the Financial Times Weekend Magazine crossword in record time (for me.) One or two health issues again but nothing major only enough to curtail my walks. Weather’s been very warm in the main and the vegetables* continue to flourish – or as our granddaughter might say, are looking lush. So lush they need potting up again which meant we had to don masks and gloves and make a rare visit to our local filling station for more compost and growbags. I’d been at my husband to buy more for a few weeks since he only bought very few, clearly far too few, on our initial foray out. Well, what d’ye know – growbags were sold out. Take 3 bags of compost, he then advised. I looked at the sign beside them – special offer on 2 so we bought 4. That will do us but we could have had all this ready weeks ago.

During this pandemic lockdown I’ve noticed there are two kinds of people – those who think – ‘aha, pandemic – shortages, let’s stock up just in case some things become scarce or unavailable later’ – and those who say, ‘but we’ve already got one in the cupboard, let’s wait till we use that up then buy another.’

NO!

Friends confirm that couples comprise one of each. Obviously the keep yer cupboard/garden shed stocked are the ones to be admired. Living on the edge chancer types are likely to disappear down an evolutionary blind alley. Just wait and see.

I am in charge of ordering online. We both usually sit together to carry out an initial grocery order once a fortnight but then I go back in adding this and that. It’s called power. Power of ordering on my laptop.

mix for 14

I’ve never been someone who’s loved traipsing around shops. I used to do a twice yearly clothes shop in town when I would buy lots of stuff at once then never go near the shops again for six months or more. However, lockdown has turned me into a shopping addict. I especially like gazing at what health and wholefood outlets have to offer. A lot. That awkward bit between clicking on an item and actually getting it delivered is the frustrating part. What is it about some delivery companies they don’t understand about their central role – to deliver goods bought? I’ve been at war with Hermes parcels who received some bird food on 1 June at which point it disappeared down a rabbit hole apparently because it didn’t ever arrive. No response on twitter. No response by email. They have a website that is useless. They have a virtual assistant called Holly. Holly is useless. I now check with companies before giving them my orders because there’s no point paying for something that fails to arrive.

Car MOTs were given 6 months reprieve or rather a deferral at the start of Covid but ours had a little problem so we booked it into our local garage for a service and MOT. Typically the ‘little problem’ didn’t show up at the garage – what is it with cars playing up when they go in for a service? No idea how long the garage has been re-opened for but they say they are very busy which is good. Of course we were nervous putting the car in and paying, being canny about coronavirus and rarely out. Some of the difficulties were resolved by getting my husband to drop the car off in addition to liberal applications of anti-bacterial gel over a’thing. Yes, it passed its MOT.

martins 14

Not much to report of the house martins. They seem happy. Career around like boy and quine racers out of their nests (plural – this is a palatial nest as nests go) flying around our tiny village and back into the nests (plural.) It is with pride we watch them in the evenings, from our massive sittingroom window, as they dart back and fore – part of the family.

Our actual family participated in the weekly weekend quiz. Good fun as usual but I really don’t want any more questions about hot chillies. And then there was the terrible news that our granddaughter is losing her job after furlough finishes at end July. It was a blow to her and more so when her scumbag boss texted her the news at 11.30 at night. There will be many like her looking for jobs in a market that supports fewer jobs. Here in Aberdeenshire where so many people are reliant on oil and gas that’s bad news in many ways and she may not be the last member of the family to be looking for work.

Babylon Berlin is great television. It is so good at the dramatic bits although sometimes they are laugh out loud funny. Terrific railway scene that for some reason reminded me of The 39 Steps although the only similarity is a train chuffing along and some dare-devilry.  The series drains the viewer. Wrings out every emotion and elbows the poor viewer over a cliff – every episode. So good.

Finished Gault’s The Provost. Glad I did and I was skipping the final few pages as it was becoming boring by then. Still worth looking at for the vocabulary (see last blog.) Picked up W G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn only to realise I’d read it and I’m not keen on re-reading books unless it’s Hogg’s Justified Sinner so asked husband what was piled up at his side of the bed. I picked over a copy of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy but wasn’t much interested in it – too many pages, writing too small, no detectives. Then, taking my cue from something said on Bablyon Berlin I asked if we had any books by Walter Benjamin. We have. I thought he was American as I’ve only heard his name pronounced Walter Benjamin and not Valter Benyamin. But he wasn’t. German – a Bavarian. I don’t read philosophy but was curious and have started with a biography of him by Esther Leslie. It’s fairly interesting although I don’t like her habit of referring to Benjamin as Walter. Bit too chummy. I don’t think I’ll become a disciple of his but who knows by next week?

Stay safe.

*not Tories, the useful kind

June 19, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a not very average year. Self-isolation diary week 13

 

Who’d have thunk it – 13 weeks in lockdown. It’s becoming a way of life.

A week in pictures

England is opening up – for business and doubtless greater numbers of Covid victims in two or three weeks’ time. They were to be opening schools but have now decided not to – too dangerous said critics. They were to abandon England’s poorest most vulnerable children to go hungry through the summer holidays but have succumbed to a tirade of criticism and dumped that policy – Tories don’t fall far from their principle of ‘me first and always.’

Tory Messiah, Johnson, bragged to the world in that distinctive bumptious style of his – each utterance stuffed with superlatives signifying absolutely nothing just like his doppelganger, Trump, across the herring pond. Where was I? Oh, yes, Boris Johnson boasted to the world that England would have a ‘world beating’ tracing system from June – not any virus tracing system but a ‘world beating’ one capable of tracking 10,000 new cases a day from 1 June. It didn’t. He just made that up. It seems he makes everything up. So shambolic was No 10’s track and trace system some English folk were being instructed to travel to Northern Ireland for tests.

Johnson’s Cabinet of idiots, including his Foreign Secretary, Raab, a man so ignorant he thought taking the knee came from Game of Thrones, bumble on until their disastrous policies are ridiculed by the public to the extent they grow worried for their jobs – not the wellbeing of the population just their own careers.

It’s interesting to compare the handling of Covid 19 by adjoining neighbours – Scotland and England. For all the problems and faults in the early handling of the pandemic in Scotland with much too close a liaison with Johnson’s disastrous regime Scotland’s FM has risen to the challenge and her strong delivery at daily briefings and months into the virus demonstrates she is conversant with it. The dumb blond at No 10 shirks his duty, tries to duck responsibility for good reason, he is woefully under-informed about Coronavirus and is a liability to his team of nodding and braying donkeys around the Cabinet table – shouting about ‘world beating’ this and that and delivering nothing.

The term collective is absent from England’s Covid 19 briefings because collective signifying ‘the people’ is an anathema to him and his fellow Tories. On the other hand collective is a term often heard at Scotland’s Covid19 briefings – not accidentally because there really are significant differences in attitudes north and south of the border between Scotland and England. Scots tend to value sacrifice in the public good while in England greater emphasis is placed on the individual. Thatcher exemplified this English attribute while making a public exhibition of herself when she tried to tell the Scottish kirk, at the Sermon on the Mound, how they should interpret Christianity – arguing it was about the individual and should not be a basis for improving society as a whole for there was no such thing as society. She was told where to stick her message.

Some birds form societies – or rather they group together. Others live more individual lives. Robins and wrens belong in the first group while sparrows and chaffinches follow a collective lifestyle. Our house martins began as three and are now – goodness knows how many. They decided to re-apply themselves to the task of nest construction and now there are two semis attached to the gable and the birds are very active, flying in that darting style of theirs, feeding on airborne insects. Hope these two stay-put long enough for them to raise a few broods.

Prepare yourselves for a piece of sad news. I found a spotted flycatcher on the floor of our balcony. Beautiful little bird. I’d never seen one before but immediately recognised it. Anyway it had flown against the glass and was dead. I’ve just looked them up. They are in serious decline and this wee mite possibly had just flown in from Africa. It’s always horrible to find a dead bird but knowing that one adds to the species’ decline is depressing. There’s been a 50% decline in their numbers in the UK over the past 25 years.

Walks as per usual – meeting the same people, usually at the same time of day. Crossing road has become a shared practice with one of my neighbours but most just stick to their route irrespective of how close we’d have to pass if I didn’t cross the road and maybe a reason I like walking in dreich weather as that tends to thin out the opposition.

Our Saturday night family virtual get-together came in the form of a murder mystery this week. We all dressed up for our parts – everyone looked amazing. Some adopted great accents but I, who spend my days talking in tongues from all over the UK, found I couldn’t manage anything other than my own when it came to ACTION! Suppose that’s a future stage career knocked on the head.

When it isn’t Saturday our evening television has moved on from films to Babylon Berlin. Thought it looked a bit Readers’ Digest drama set to begin with but it’s good. Very good. Really, really good. Great characters – which is how we like our drama and exciting set pieces. But poor Stefan. 

From RLS last time to another Scottish author, John Gault’s The Provost. This is the first political novel written in English, in 1822, and as sure as eggs is eggs, politics hasn’t altered much in the past two centuries. The novel as I’ve said is written in English but it’s Scottish English and there’s a substantial glossary of Scottish words that will be unfamiliar to non-Scots readers and many Scots nowadays given how universal English English/American English is in Scotland. Among the richly descriptive Scottish terms are beauties such as clanjamphry meaning worthless; jookerie meaning deceit; fashed – troubled – now familiar to many through its use on Outlander – ‘dinnae fash yersel’ Sassenach.’ Phrases such as ‘the cloven foot of self-interest was then and now to be seen to be aneath the robe of public principle’ and ‘the flatulence of theoretical opinions’ are already in my little notebook of dastardly things to say about our current gang of self-interested politicos. It is not an easy read for the modern reader because its style is that of the early 19th century but it is a significant, amusing and perceptive piece of writing – said to be recognised as brilliant by the poet Coleridge.

Stay Safe.