Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in early May for a couple of months
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday, 28 March 2014

Ashers of Nairn in bakery tie-up with Co-op Scotmid

Scottish Co-operative Scotmid has just opened its 100th in-store bakery, this time in partnership with Ashers Bakery of Nairn, with the opening of a new in-store bakery facility at its Scotmid Balloan store in Inverness. Read more here.

According to Alister Asher, joint managing director of Ashers: "Ashers is delighted to be working in partnership with Scotmid as they expand their bakery sector. Customers appreciate local fresh bakery suppliers in a convenient location. We’re proud to be Scotmid’s 100th in-store bakery."

Scotmid's project began in April 2012 and now has partnerships with seven Scottish craft bakers (Ashers Bakery of Nairn; Aulds of Greenock; The Breadwinner Bakery of Edinburgh; Goodfellow & Steven of Dundee; J G Ross of Inverurie; Stephens Bakery of Dunfermline; and Stuart’s of Buckhaven) and in England with Bryson’s of Keswick, for its Lakes and Dales Co-operative stores in Cumbria.

Although I rarely eat bread products myself any longer (for dietary reasons), I was formerly a regular customer of Ashers here in Nairn (now only when I have guests staying with me) and can thoroughly recommend their products, from various breads to the most 'sinful' of treats and I have used their custom cake-making service on several occasions for special celebrations.

For more information about Ashers of Nairn and the location of all their other shops, you can visit their website here.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Requests to remove links by websites to whom I have linked in my websites

I have received a number of requests recently to remove links from my Spanish website (casabill.net), the reason being cited in each case was that it may have been interfering with their search engine rankings (the name of a, perhaps the most, famous search engine always being mentioned); sectors concerned have been currency-related and car rental related websites of the 'comparison' kind. I have complied with these requests for link removal, but made it very clear in my email correspondence with the firms concerned my view that whilst their attempts to manipulate search engine rankings may succeed for a while, they will almost certainly be found out by those running the search engines in question. Usually such requests for link removal have come from firms which had earlier requested that I include a link. Naturally for my own protection I am not naming the firms in question, although I have full documentary evidence to support what I write.

To be absolutely clear, my website is totally non-commercial in nature and payment for links is neither sought nor accepted if it is offered.

The point of this article is to highlight the fact that comparison websites, whilst offering nothing of their own, are obviously in the business of gleaning the small individual revenue that is generated whenever there is a 'click through' from them to one of the firms to whom they link. You will find that, if you compare different comparison websites (so to say), the firms to whom they link often overlap extensively, but the underlying financial transactions on offer (whether currency or car rental, etc - probably the same is true of insurance, but I have no personal experience of this particular comparison sector myself) may vary slightly in the prices quoted, possibly because of the different volumes of traffic generated by the different comparison websites to particular end-providers and the remuneration terms they have negotiated - and no doubt this is influenced to some extent, or is perceived to be, by a particular comparison website's ranking in search engine queries.

It so happens that I received a request for link removal this morning from a 'comparison' firm which had some months ago requested that I include a link; I complied within 5 minutes of the request being received by removing the link. Perhaps it is purely a coincidence, but I had added a link to another 'comparison' site in precisely the same sector only yesterday (after having received a request for link inclusion from them a few days earlier), so I wonder if the fact that I was now linking to a rival 'comparison' site as well was felt to be 'unhelpful' to them commercially.

I have no particular 'axe to grind', because I operate my websites and blogs purely for my own interest with no commercial gain in mind. Comparison websites, on the other hand, may portray themselves as sources of impartial advice and generally it is true they can be helpful in guiding a buyer of a service to a sensible and reasonably cost-effective provider of such services, but it is prudent never to forget that such comparison websites are commercial enterprises and different comparison websites compete against each other and others who provide similar links and that rankings in search engine queries are an important criterion for them and that whilst the search engines try to put in place measures to prevent undue manipulation of rankings, some businesses do try and 'tweak' the results in their favour, in one way or the other.

In other words, what has always been true, remains true in the age of the internet, when seeking guidance about how to spend one's money - all is not always as it seems. Remember - caveat emptor ('let the buyer beware').

NB/ This article is cross-posted from my 'Spanish' blog , 'casabill - the blog' because I think it is of general interest.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

To be clear - this joker does NOT represent me!

A message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops! This joker may represent some (a minority) of Scots, but in no way does he represent me or most other Scots! A very timely reminder. Not all of us Scots, or even a majority, are in thrall to the SNP ...

Those of us, the majority of Scots, who wish to remain an integral part of the UK need to become more vocal to correct the impression that some of our fellow UK citizens may be beginning to form that we Scots are lukewarm about what we want. Quite apart from practical considerations (currency, taxation, trade, EU membership, etc.) I am VERY emotionally attached to retaining my status as a British (i.e. UK) citizen; this has got nothing to do with me not being very proud to be a Scot, which I am, but I am also proud to be British and wish to remain so.

Don't sit idly by and accept the taunts of biased SNP supporters who try to assert that opposing their views implies that one is somehow "unpatriotic" as a Scot - we have just as much a right to our views as they do.

Apathy won't keep us British - please use your vote in the referendum on 18th September to express your view, whatever it is. Don't wake up on 19th September to find that the vote has been allowed to go by default to those favouring separation/'independence'.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Scottish Parliament votes overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Today, 4th February 2014, is an historic day in Scotland, because today the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage, or more colloquially for "equal marriage". The negative amendments proposed for the 3rd reading of the Bill (formally known as the "Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill") were all rejected and the Bill, once it has been given Royal Assent, will become law.

With this vote, Scotland becomes the 17th country in the world to legislate for same-sex marriage.

As mentioned earlier, the vote in the Scottish Parliament today was massively in favour of this legislation, with 105 voting for and only 18 against (* - see below).

In a post-vote video-message the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing welcomed the vote:

- according to what Alex Neil MSP said, the Scottish Government will now be working with the UK Government at Westminster to ensure that the first same-sex marriages can take place in Scotland before the end of 2014. It will be recalled that the UK Parliament at Westminster has already legislated for same-sex marriage in England and Wales and it is likely that the first such marriages will take place there during the first half of 2014; Royal Assent for this legislation was granted during July 2013.

Unfortunately the Northern Ireland Assembly has not so far proposed similar legislation for Northern Ireland and from what I can gather has no current plans to do so, but at least in the other three parts of the United Kingdom (England, Wales and now Scotland) this welcome legislation is now almost in place - Royal Assent has already happened for the England and Wales legislation and I expect similar Royal Assent will be granted for Scotland quite soon. I mention Northern Ireland not to be negative on this joyous day, but simply to highlight that the job is not yet finished and that efforts must continue to ensure that all parts of the UK legislate for equality.

* - Once I have full details of the "105 for / 18 against" votes I will add an update at the end with relevant information.

See also:
- Equality Network: Scotland Legalises Same Sex Marriage;
- BBC: "Scotland's same-sex marriage bill is passed"

UPDATE (Tuesday 4FEB2014 22.35 CET) I now have full voting information for today's vote in the Scottish Parliament - please see full details here. The 18 who voted against the Bill were as follows:
Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Gavin Brown (Lothian) (Con)
Roseanna Cunningham (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con)
Richard Lyle (Central Scotland) (SNP)
Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)
John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Michael McMahon (Uddingston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con)
Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)
Elaine Smith (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab)
Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Dave Thompson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
(SNP - 7, Conservatives - 8, Labour - 3)
- seemingly there were 6 out of 129 MSPs who did not vote or who abstained;
- see some reactions to the vote here.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas singing from a Male Choir in Indiana




A little different and very cleverly done ...

A Joyous Christmas and a Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous New Year to all who pass this way.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nelson Mandela – Obituary


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
18th July 1918 - 5th December 2013





Rest in Peace
Late on Thursday evening I began to see messages on Twitter that 'Madiba' had passed away so immediately switched to the BBC News channel and Sky News and was in time to watch President Jacob Zuma, the current President of South Africa, making his live statement confirming the sad news that Nelson Mandela had died about an hour earlier. As he had been very ill for some time the news of his death was of course not unexpected, even more so because of his advanced age, but still made me very sad.

Quite where South Africa would be today had Nelson Mandela never existed, or had he been executed as a result of his trial in the early 1960s on charges of inciting a violent revolution (which during a famous speech in testimony before the court he did not deign to deny), but in the event he was instead sentenced by Mr Justice Quartus De Wet to life imprisonment with hard labour, so that he spent the years from 1964 to 1990 behind bars, mainly on Robben Island (a little under 7 Km off the coast, just west of Cape Town), but subsequently at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and for the final 15 months at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl in the Western Cape until his release on 11th February 1990, this having been presaged in a speech to Parliament by former President F W de Klerk on 2nd February 1990 - listen to the audio here.

I have never visited South Africa so have no personal experiences of it to offer, although it has been in my consciousness since a very early age, probably from when I was about 8 years old, after what is now known as the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960. Obviously I was too young to have formed any political views of my own by then, but I do recall that the general tenor of conversations about news events then and subsequently between my parents was that matters would "end in tears" - they explained to me a little about the apartheid system in South Africa with general tones of disapproval both at its injustice and its shortsightedness. My parents were certainly not 'ideological' on the issue, rather that they thought it was a system that could never last, specially given events going on elsewhere in Africa at the time with so many former British colonies having recently gained or being about to gain independence; certainly by the time of the dissolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1963 and even more so when Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe) declared UDI in 1965, it was accepted in our household that the whole edifice of the 'white supremacy' policies of South Africa in particular and Rhodesia also were completely inequitable and would have to change sooner or later if bloody violence was to be avoided. In the event it took almost a further 40 years before South Africa moved to majority rule, with quite a lot of violence and economic dislocation in between, but without the descent into a bloody civil war that so many had gloomily predicted.

I think it is probably true to say that the fact this disaster was avoided owes a great deal to the influence of Nelson Mandela, helped by the growing realisation amongst the more forward-looking leaders of the then South African government, P W Botha and F W de Klerk, that the political and economic isolation of the country resulting from the sanctions imposed on it by much of the international community made their political system unsustainable in the longer term. Particularly in the period leading up to his release from prison and even more so in the months and years following his release, the moderating influence of Mandela in agreeing to work with the existing government to achieve an orderly transition to majority rule and his continuing efforts at reconciliation once he became President achieved general support amongst most communities in South Africa. Who knows how that country will develop in coming years now that his moral authority is no longer available, but it is to be hoped that his legacy can endure and be built upon in a positive way, for the sake of everyone in South Africa.

You can read a fuller obituary for Nelson Mandela in the Telegraph here; there is also of course a full biography of Nelson Mandela in Wikipedia here. As I have a particular interest in rugby, I think it appropriate to include also a link to a tribute from Francois Pienaar, former captain of the Springboks when they won against New Zealand in the final of the Rugby World Cup in 1995, also this video tribute from the Springboks:

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Now THAT'S a model aeroplane!

Incredible footage of a model jet aeroplane being prepared for take-off, then flying off around for a lengthy flight before being brought back in to land safely:


Thursday, 31 October 2013

Graham's to "continue development of value added products at its Nairn facility"

It is pleasing to be able to write of more positive developments at Graham's (Scotland’s leading independent milk processor) and in particular as these affect its Nairn facility (formerly Claymore Dairies). The Courier (published in Dundee) carried the story a couple of days ago, when it reported that turnover had increased 21% in the year to end-March 2013, with sales reaching £68 million.

I've written before about the firm's focus on turnover at the expense of margins (and ultimately profits), but the Courier article reports that pre-tax profits doubled to more than £1 million during the year. Managing Director Robert Graham is reported as saying that the firm would "would continue its development of added-value products at its base in Nairn", the investment in which is being part-funded by a 'marketing and cooperation' grant announced in June of £482,000 from the Scottish Government, estimated to be about 20% of the capital expenditure.

However, other salient reported comments by Mr Graham included:
- 'Graham’s was "really pleased" with a result which continued a long-standing pattern of 20% per annum revenue growth(*)'
- 'But he warned that margins would have to come under pressure if the company’s continued investment was to generate appropriate levels of profit.'

(*) As I have mentioned before when writing about Claymore/Graham's, the eliding of turnover with profit, and even more so the assumption that growth in turnover, accompanied by pressure on margins will necessarily lead to increased profits is a dangerous one.

Of course, Mr Graham is the man actually running the business and if pre-tax profits have more than doubled in the year as reported, then that is certainly a good result, although perhaps more important would be to know the level of net after-tax profits, upon which the linked article is silent. However, the latest investment in Nairn is likely to lead to more jobs in the town, very positive news. It is clear that the dairy and dairy processing sectors are highly-competitive, operating generally on very low margins for both producers (dairy farmers) and dairy processors such as Graham's, as a result of the pressure from the main buyers, supermarkets, to keep their costs as low as possible to maintain their own margins, not forgetting the consumer (such as me, but more importantly the average family trying to make ends meet) anxious to pay as little as possible whilst still expecting the products bought to be safe, wholesome and attractive to eat. All this is undoubtedly a delicate balancing act for firms such Graham's.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Nairn murder - police release new image of gun used to kill Alistair Wilson

Det Supt Malcolm Stewart of Police Scotland's new Major Investigation Team North has emphasised that the "investigation remains firmly open" into the murder of banker Alistair Wilson in November 2004 on the front doorstep of his home in Nairn.

As part of the latest "fresh look" into the evidence, a new photograph of the murder weapon has been released by Police Scotland and is quoted as saying: "The weapon is a significant age - dating back well over 60 years - so piecing together its history could very well help provide us with new leads. It is a Haenal Suhl Model 1 Schmeissers patent handgun, manufactured between 1920 and 1945 at the Schmeisser factory in Germany. The ammunition was .25 calibre made by Sellier and Bellot in Czech Republic between 1983 and 1993." An image of the type of bullet used has also been released.

Whether there is any special significance in the fact that this new more detailed information about the weapon and ammunition used is being released now is unknown, but perhaps it is hoped that it may jog the memories of those with useful information, or encourage those who have until now been reluctant, to come forward with this to "help the police with their inquiries" and possibly lead to progress being made to solve this murder almost nine years ago.

You can read the full Police Scotland appeal here and anyone with any information regarding the incident or who thinks they may recognise the gun should contact Police Scotland on 101 or, if they wish to remain anonymous, through the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

My most recent previous article on the murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Twelve years on - September 11, 2001 - in respectful remembrance and mourning

With time the pain becomes less raw, but it never goes away.



Terrorism cannot, and must not, ever be appeased.

(My permanent memorial to this and other terrorist outrages is in my personal website here - click on the arrow to see other pages from there.)

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