Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Spring for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday, 30 April 2016

How we eat, how we are taught to eat in our home environments

People's eating habits are often defined by their childhoods and whether their own parents were 'conservative' or 'adventurous' in their eating habits. I am thankful that both my parents, specially my mother, were reasonably adventurous (not so much my father, admittedly), but both were good cooks and pre-prepared rubbish was never a part of my growing up. That's another thing, my father was not a stranger to the kitchen, so whilst growing up neither me nor my brother thought there was anything remotely strange about trying out new ideas in the kitchen. Obviously I am now somewhat older, so my childhood relates to the 1950s and 1960s, and I have become aware since then that for some of my contemporaries their home environments were radically different. One's home environment as children helps to define the adults we become, for good or ill. Some of the best people, however, are those who have transcended the most difficult early years - I can't say I'm one of those, but I sure do admire those who are.

I'm often astonished at the food 'dislikes' that some of my acquaintances exhibit - and I don't mean those who are vegetarian or vegan, for example, because I've eaten some delicious food of both varieties over the years. What I do mean though is those who are unwilling even to try anything 'different' from what they have ever eaten before, or people who, for example, live in places where abundant local delicacies are available, but who studuously avoid/loathe them in favour of heavily-advertised processed food instead, because that's what they were encouraged to eat by lazy parents. It applies also, incidentally, to those who don't wish to try vegetables or fruits different from the limited range they were exposed to by their own parents in earlier years, whether it might be an avocado pear, an asparagus spear, a pomegranate or a persimmon, etc., not that there's anything wrong with a potato or a carrot, of course. One thing I just cannot understand, though, is that many children (and perhaps their parents too) seem to find perfectly ordinary, nutritious and delicious green vegetables or salads "yukky"; even from my youngest years I LOVED things like broccoli and lettuce, for example, even if it took me a little longer to appreciate the joys of a fresh beetroot. I don't recall ever being pressurised to 'like' anything (well, apart from salted herring, which both my parents relished, for some inexplicable reason, ha ha), but it was never suggested to me that I was somehow being 'brave' when given a piece of broccoli or some Savoy cabbage to eat - my own parents enjoyed eating these so I learned from them - well apart from the afore-mentioned salted herring,the problem being not the taste or even the texture, but the fine bones.

In my area, with an abundance of fish and seafood, or excellent beef or venison, for example, I occasionally encounter people who HAVE NEVER EATEN FISH, for example, not that they have tried it and found they don't like it. I recall years ago being at a dinner party not far from here and one of the other guests, having said he had never eaten fish (having been born and brought up in a small coastal town not so far from here, with a major fishing industry), relishing a delicious salmon mousse and on being told what it was, admitting to our hosts how delicious it was. So my message is - try it, you may like a food unfamilar to you, you may not, but then at least you'll have knowledge rather than prejudice to guide you.

There are of course a few foods I don't like, or in a very few cases actively"loathe" (e.g. tripe), but I have formed my views by trying them, not whining "yuk" when first presented with them, but I don't discount the possibility that at some stage in the future I might come to tolerate if not actively "like" them, hopefully not at pistol point, ha ha.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dredging planned at Nairn Harbour - Dredging News Online

I am sure many boat-owners will be anxious about this. In the long run I think it can only help matters, although I do wonder if more dredging of the harbour mouth is not required too, no doubt a very costly and probably only temporary solution, given the shifting sands over this part of the coast. I don't recall having seen dredging of the harbour mouth having been undertaken since soon after I first came to live in Nairn almost sixteen years ago. Read more here

Monday, 25 April 2016

Scottish Parliament election 2016 - more election literature received

Further to my article last Saturday (click here to view) I received this morning some additional election literature from three of those standing in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election. As I had not already received anything from the 'Independent' Regional candidate I am linking to it in the image below.

Click on the image to see a larger version plus an additional image

James Wilson STOCKAN (Independent)

Click on the image to see a larger version plus an additional image

The other two leaflets were from candidates from whom I had already received literature, but you can see the most-recently received material from them at the top of the linked pages below:
- Scottish Conservative and Unionist
- Scottish Liberal Democrats

For the sake of equity, I am also including links below for election literature already received from the other candidates too:
- Scottish Green Party
- Scottish Labour Party
- Scottish National Party
- Solidarity ("Solidarity Scotland's Socialist Movement")

If additional 'election messages' arrive in coming days I'll endeavour to put them online too.

A final message - If you have a vote, please use it, however you plan to vote.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Nairn - cricket and sailing on a cool but bright Spring Sunday afternoon

Nairn on a cool but bright and intermittently
sunny afternoon in the Spring
- what could be nicer?

Sunday, 24th April 2016

Click here to see enlargements.

Click here to see enlargements.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Scottish Parliament election 2016 - election literature received

(Please see UPDATE at end)

As in some of the previous elections when I have had the time, I have found it fascinating this time to compare the different messages and ideas that the various political parties try to persuade electors to vote for. I'm also interested in their different presentational styles; some of the messages are not to my taste at all, of course, but even where this is the case some of the messages seem to me to be well presented given the limited resources they probably have available. Isn't there some saying about the Devil having all the best tunes?

The images below are of election literature which I have received through my letterbox, listed in alphabetic order. I have not received literature from all the political parties or groups standing at the election on 5th May, but if I do receive any of these in the next few days I will endeavour to include them in this, or a later, posting before the election. However I will only include literature which I receive through my own letterbox. Please note that I have 'edited' some of the images so that multi-fold leaflets show all sections the right way up. None of these modifications alters the basic message in any way I hope.

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

Scottish Conservative and Unionist

Scottish Green Party

Scottish Labour Party

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish National Party

("Solidarity Scotland's Socialist Movement")


Material from 'Independent' Regional candidate
James Wilson STOCKAN (Independent)

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

For full details of all candidates and parties standing in Highland Region or its three constituencies, please read my earlier article published in early April by clicking here.

PS/ I have already cast my 'FPTP' and 'List' votes postally; those who know me would have little difficulty in divining how these have been cast, but so far as I am concerned it is not a secret either, so I am quite content to acknowledge that both votes were for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party or in the case of the 'FPTP' vote, its candidate. Little surprise there, then.

UPDATE (Monday 25APR2016 20.15 BST) I received three additional items of election literature this morning, so have published an article about that here. As one of the items received was from a candidate from whom no literature had previously been received, I have updated the table above to include it, as well as including it in the later article. The other two items were from candidates that I had already received other material from and this too has been updated into the pages linked to in the table above. The later linked article gives complete details.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

"Morality" and the law as it relates to investment and taxation

Over recent days and the past few weeks a frenzy has developed in the UK about the "morality" of investing money outside of the UK; at least some of this frenzy has been as the result of a headline- and circulation-seeking media. Much of this relates, in my opinion, to base political point-scoring, with little regard paid to the likely economic implications for the national economy if some of the wilder ideas were to be carried forward into legislation. The article which follows is largely the text of a comment I placed this evening in another blog, but I think it merits being placed here too.

If a government, any government, wants to make what is currently legal, illegal, then all that needs to happen is for a majority to vote for it in Parliament. I really don't want differing views of what is "moral" or "immoral" to have any part of this. Tax evasion is a crime and if identified can/should result in punishment. So-called "tax avoidance" (whether "aggressive", or not, although I think attempts to classify some kinds of investment thus are completely spurious) has no legal status. Something is either illegal, or it is not. A government, this one or the previous one or the next one, could easily make various things which are currently legal, illegal, if it thought it worthwhile and it could command a majority for such measures in Parliament. Obviously, current notions of "morality", not to mention "easily malleable" "public opinion" will have at least some bearing on what tax legislation may be considered feasible and/or desirable.

Tax policy is however designed primarily to raise funds for government expenditure, not as some kind of "punishment" or "moral enforcement"; it has no other purpose. Having an ISA or owning Premium Bonds, for example, is no more (nor less) "moral" than having an investment in an overseas investment vehicle, although governments have often used legislation to encourage or discourage some behaviour or other. What were formerly PEPs, now ISAs, or savings bonds, premium bonds, etc, have traditionally been used as mechanisms to encourage the "habit" of saving amongst the general population, for example. What is crucial is that if one is a UK resident subject to UK taxation that one declares all taxable income to HMRC; not to do so is to "evade" tax and that is a crime. The UK (that's to say UK-resident individuals, organisations and companies registered in the UK) is amongst the largest overseas investors in various foreign countries and has been so for many decades and probably a few centuries; this is what helps to make the UK's "invisible earnings" so crucial in balancing the national accounts in the face of a long-standing (over at least many decades) trade deficit.

Some of the talk in recent days seems to want legitimate deployment of assets of UK-resident persons/organisations/companies outside the UK to be reclassified as somehow unacceptable or actually illegal. This is to display extreme ignorance of what makes an economy function and how the UK, somehow or other (with a fair bit of "borrowing" added into the mix) "balances the books".

Most people in the UK have traditionally had either a company pension or more recently a privately-organised pension plan, unions have such mechanisms too for pensionable employees, as of course do employees of public bodies. Most such pension plans have some of their funds invested outside of the UK (although pensions of public service employees, employed in the past, are generally paid out of current government tax revenue, just as those currently employed in public service will generally have their pensions paid from future current government tax revenue rather than investment income, when they retire). Is this wrong, or "immoral"? Merely to ask this question highlights just how juvenile has been much of the commentary on "financial planning", using perfectly legal mechanisms, in recent days.

The UK economy is closely integrated into the world economy, so unless it is being proposed that exchange controls be re-established and that a “protectionist” economy is reinstalled, the idea that the restriction of investment of assets outside the home country (in this case the UK) is in any way viable is “for the birds”. Not if we in the UK wish to be able to continue to buy goods and services abroad (for example an annual holiday abroad, just as one minor example). Such a society was accurately portrayed in the dystopian nightmare world of the novel "1984". That's where the current leadership of the Labour Party (and some other ideological bedfellows, eg the SNP, the Greens and the various 'socialist' parties, not to mention "Momentum") seem to be wanting to lead us, if their rhetoric is any guide. I hope calmer heads, able to see beyond the next headline, will prevail and help us avoid the abyss these economic ignoramuses seem to want to lead us towards.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Scottish Parliament election 2016 - constituency and regional candidates in Highland Region

The next Scottish Parliament election will take place on Thursday 5th May 2016.

All of the information about the individuals and political parties standing for election in the Scottish Parliament election has been taken from the official lists of nominations published in the Highland Council website, with pertinent data available in its website here. See also the 'News' page here.

There are 3 constituencies in the area, where the vote is 'first past the post'; the first shown below is the constituency in which I can vote and the other two are shown here for information:

Inverness and Nairn
- CADDICK, Carolyn Ann (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
- EWING, Fergus Stewart (Scottish National Party [SNP])
- MOUNTAIN, Edward (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)
- STEWART, David (Scottish Labour Party)

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
- FRANCHETTI, Leah Esther (Scottish Labour Party)
- MACKIE, Struan (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)
- ROSS, Gail Elizabeth (Scottish National Party [SNP])
- STONE, Jamie (Scottish Liberal Democrats)

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
- CAMPBELL, Ronnie (Independent)
- FORBES, Kate (Scottish National Party [SNP])
- MACLEAN, Angela Margaret (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
- MUNRO, Robbie (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party)
- STEWART, Linda (Scottish Labour Party)

Voting also takes place in a regional 'List' system under a form of proportional representation, for me this region is:

Highlands and Islands Region ('List' candidates - using the d'Hondt method of voting, the Additional Member System)
listed in alphabetic order by political party or individual name
Details of registered parties and party list candidates
RISE – Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism
"Scotland’s Left Alliance"
(Jean Urquhart / Conor Cheyne / Suzanne Nicola Wright / Louis McIntosh)
Scottish Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”
"Christians Together"
(Donald MacLeod Boyd / Andrew Henderson Shearer / Isobel Ann MacLeod / John Cranston Lister)
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
"Ruth Davidson for a Strong Opposition"
(Douglas Ross / Edward Mountain / Donald Cameron / Jamie Halcro Johnston / Struan Mackie / Cameron Smith /
 Robbie Munro)
Scottish Green Party
"Re-elect John Finnie"
(John Finnie / Isla O’Reilly / Fabio Villani / Ariane Burgess / Steve Sankey / Anne Katherine Thomas / Donnie Macleod /
Michèle Rhodius / Topher Dawson)

Scottish Labour Party
"Choose kids, not cuts"
(Rhoda Grant / David Stewart / Leah Franchetti / Sean Morton / Sarah Atkin / John Erskine / Robina Barton / Gerard McGarvey)
Scottish Liberal Democrats
(Jamie Stone / Carolyn Caddick / James Patterson / David Green / Alan Reid / Angela MacLean / Jean Davis / Ken MacLeod)
Scottish National Party (SNP)
"Nicola Sturgeon for First Minister"
(Maree Todd / Laura Mitchell / Mike Mackenzie / Liz MacDonald / Richard Laird / Danus Skene / Angus MacLeod /
 Hugh Moodie / Ken Gowans / Donna Heddle / Antony Harrison / Muriel Cockburn)
Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement
"Tommy Sheridan - IndyRef2"
(Liz Walker / Ryan Malcolm McGuinness / William Robertson Henderson / Findlay Robert Walker)
UK Independence Party (UKIP)
(David Adam Coburn / Arthur Leslie Durance / George King / Philip Andrew Anderson)
Details of individual regional candidates
STOCKAN, James Wilson

I will refrain from making any partisan political comment in this article, although most who have read my blog over the years will know well where my own political leanings tend to lie. I will however permit myself one observation about the ways that most of the registered political parties describe themselves by using a "slogan", described in the Highland Council official list as "Description of party (if any)"; I find these descriptions are mostly meaningless and all are fatuous and add nothing at all of value - only one political party has had the good sense and intellectual integrity to eschew this particular 'grandstanding' technique and even although that party is not one I have ever supported I wanted to record this observation.

The only other thing I wish to say here is that I hope that everyone eligible to vote will use that right so that the result reflects as closely as possible the wishes of the whole electorate. If you couldn't be bothered to vote, but could have done so had you bothered, please don't carp. Whilst it is entirely possible, if not absolutely certain, that I will be very unhappy with the result, I certainly plan to use my own right to vote - and so should you if you possibly can.

PS/ You can see the election literature I have received in a later article dated 23APR2016 here.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Bill gets married

Friends on Facebook and Twitter already know this, but I recently got married (to a man, lest there be any smidgen of a doubt); we are very happy. Our wedding took place at the Registry Office in the Court House, Nairn on 29th February 2016; our very nice cake was made by Asher's and lunch followed at a nearby Chinese restaurant, The Dragon Pearl, all in the presence and company of friends, neighbours and relatives. Later that day we had a lovely dinner with family and friends at another local restaurant, The Classroom. Our quasi-honeymoon began the following day with a couple of days spent in Edinburgh, although we plan a somewhat longer vacation sometime later in the year.

Those who may be interested can view an online gallery of some of our wedding photographs in my personal website here.

Restaurants and coffee places in Nairn & Elgin - places visited very recently

Reviews of a few places I ate in or had coffee this past weekend:

The Classroom, Nairn: (for dinner on Saturday evening)
I've eaten in this restaurant many times before, as has my partner on a few occasions. We booked late in the afternoon for a dinner booking that evening (Saturday 26th March), half expecting to be told it was fully booked as it was during the Easter weekend, but they were able to take a late-ish booking for 8.45pm; we turned up at about 8.30pm and as predicted it was "hoaching", but they were able to seat us at our table for two immediately, which was a relief as the bar area was really busy and almost every other table was fully occupied. Our orders for food and wine were taken reasonably quickly. We both ended up ordering starters and mains from the 'daily specials'. We both had the crab croquettes with a small salad and a sweet-and-sour dip, which was excellent - the croquettes had nice crunchy outer layers but very tasty creamy potato and crab-filled interiors, nicely set-off with the dips and the salads. For the mains, we both had the venison haunch steaks with black puddings, etc; I've had this particular dish here before so remembered it being pretty good. Vension steaks can sometimes be a bit dry, but previously and on Satturday both our steaks were delicious - cooked quite rare as we both like them, juicy and tender and with a lovely sauce. The accompanying black pudding slices atop disks of very smooth creamy mashed potato and the accompanying veggies were all excellent. We had a very nice bottle of Rioja (red) from the 3rd wine on their list of reds, which was pretty good value I'd say. For pudding one of us wished to have one of the 'daily menu' specials - a variety of panna cotta - which sounded delicious (but was already sold out unfortunately), so we both had the triple Belgian chocolate dessert - it was nicely served and in fact included about 6 separate elements, all delicious and of course quite rich and sinful. In local terms this is one of the more expensive places to eat, but not outrageously so for the quality offered. Despite it being very busy on Saturday, the service was efficient and reasonably prompt whilst remaining friendly and professional. Undoubtedly we shall be back in due course.

The Links TeaRoom, Nairn (for Sunday morning refreshments)
I live very close to this place so very occasionally pop in for a bite to eat, or a coffee if I'm too lazy to do it at home. On Sunday (27th March) we popped in for coffee and hot chocolate after a walk along the beach. The service was very slow, but reasonably friendly and both the decaffeinated latte (for me) and the hot chocolate (for my partner) were excellent. The Tea Room only re-opened a few days ago, just before Easter, after having been closed as usual over the winter, but I expect it will do a roaring trade over coming months. I/we will probably pop in a few times in coming months and recommend it, provided you are not in a rushing hurry.

Brewers Fayre, Linkwood Lodge, Elgin (for Sunday lunch)
This is not one of the best meals I have ever had (by a long way), but it did represent extremely good value, with pretty slick service from friendly, attentive personnel. The food was modest in cost, but perfectly nice and acceptable. I've eaten in a few Brewers Fayre outlets before and this was similar. My partner had seen them, but never eaten in one before, so we decided to visit yesterday (Sunday 27th March) for lunch. The restaurant was quite busy, but we found a table easily enough, the ordering system is straightforward and the person who took our order was friendly and efficient, as was the person who delivered our food and drinks. Our orders took a little while to arrive, but on the other hand that indicated that the food was likely freshly prepared, which it was. A 14oz rib-eye for my partner, which given the very modest cost was quite good and cooked 'rare' as requested; it represents amazing value in my view (I had a few small mouthfuls of it). My Thai chicken curry was not brilliant, but still very nice and the spicy crackers and sweet/sour dip were nice too. You don't go to a Brewers Fayre for gourmet food, but they do serve decent food, fairly quickly, and the staff are generally friendly and attentive. I can certainly see a return visit in due course. NB/ Brewers Fayre restaurants are often close to Premier Inn hotels, as both are owned by the same company; this one is located in a small commercial area just off the main A96 road on the eastern edge of Elgin.

So there we have it, quite a lot of food over a very enjoyable couple of days. In fact I eat out fairly frequently, usually at least once a week, so I may start including brief reviews here in future. I hope others visiting or living in this part of Scotland may find this useful.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Murder in Nairn 11+ years ago - police reiterate it remains an active case

There is a very interesting and lengthy interview and article published yesterday in The Press & Journal, the main regional newspaper in this part of Scotland - you can read it here. Some quotes from the article:

The interview was with Julian Innes, who was a detective inspector in Inverness at the time of the murder of Alistair Wilson the murder victim, and is today chief superintendent and area commander for the north in what is now "Police Scotland"

“I was a detective inspector at the time of the Alistair Wilson murder, so I feel this one quite painfully that we haven’t brought his murderer to justice.

“I would expect the public and the communities of the Highlands and islands to keep challenging Police Scotland to get this solved. That’s a reasonable expectation.

“I can tell you there’s lots of police officers in Scotland that would love to get this solved as well.

“So when we get criticised for not solving it, my position as divisional commander is to accept that criticism absolutely.

“But they can be assured that if we have any information that would lead to the murderer of Alistair Wilson being caught, we would be all over it.

“The police as well as the communities, particularly of Nairn, are keen to make sure this person is caught.”

So much has been known for some time and apart from mentioning that as a result of a Freedom of Information request that "close to £15,000" has been spent since April last year (i.e. during this financial year) specifically on efforts to identify the murderer and that "close to 2,700 people have been interviewed" with the aim of taking the inquiry forward, the article contains nothing "new". The article ends with a quote from Police Scotland Specialist Crime Division major investigation team, which insists it “remains active and ongoing”.

So far as I was aware, there was no real doubt about this. Which begs the question , in my mind at least, why this interview and article has been felt necessary now. In principle it is good of course for this serious crime to be kept in the forefront of people's minds, specially those in the area where it happened. However, I wonder if it may be something more than this. Has there been some kind of criticism of Police Scotland for insufficient rigour in their efforts, or do the police themselves feel under more than usual pressure to justify themselves? For myself, I cannot imagine that anyone would be more anxious to find the culprit than the family of Alistair Wilson and the police. One imagines the only person not keen on the murderer being identified is the murderer.

The only other comment I would make is that I have no idea whether to spend "close to £15,000" is about right, too much or too little. However, I would be somewhat sceptical about any organisation's "cost centre analysis" mechanisms being sufficiently robust to come up with such a figure in the first place. Yes, it's easy enough to quantify hotel, food, overtime costs etc. for those specifically allocated to this case, but what about the odd telephone call or memo written by those not directly involved, not to mention a portion of the salaries of those on this case team? The real spend is probably therefore significantly greater I suspect. However, to try and quantify this - the declared spend of about £15,000 represents probably only somewhere between a fifth and a half of one police personnel's annual remuneration and as I imagine the person most closely involved and 'responsible' for the case is probably a fairly senior individual with annual remuneration to match, quite apart from the others in the team for this case, that would give a more accurate impression of the targeted effort being made to this one case, albeit a very serious one. This is in no way a criticism of the police, whose resources are obviously finite, simply my desire to place the figure quoted in context.

Like most others, I continue to hope the murderer will be caught sooner rather than later. I hope some member of the public who has new and relevant information to offer will come forward to help the police and everyone else solve this crime and lead to the conviction of the person who committed it.

You can visit the page for this unsolved crime in the Police Scotland website here:

Alistair Wilson

Anyone with any information in connection with the murder of 30-year-old banker Alistair Wilson should contact Police Scotland on 101, or Crimestoppers in confidence and complete anonymity on 0800 555 111.

Contact Us
Contact Police Scotland on 101, or Crimestoppers in confidence and complete anonymity 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.