Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Sunday 28 September 2008

Paul Newman - Rest in Peace

Paul Leonard Newman
26 January 1925 - 26 September 2008

- Rest in Peace -

It is sad when someone as well-known and as well-liked as Paul Newman dies. Blessed with improbable good looks and stunning blue eyes and generally acknowledged as one of the finest actors ever he also led, by the standards of Hollywood and indeed most other people's standards too, a pretty good and sane life and leaves behind his wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward, together with several children (from his two marriages) and grandchildren.

His biography as shown in Wikipedia and his obituary on the BBC.

NewLabour's brave new 'State Bank' Britain

Once again, with the said-to-be imminent nationalisation of the Bradford & Bingley, the Labour Party and, unfortunately still our Government, revert to type and jump in to nationalise another financial sector company.

There is already deposit protection for the vast bulk of depositors so what is the fuss about? If the market has lost faith in this bank it should be allowed to fail; then the long slow process of allowing the market to heal itself could begin. But no, the government wants, at all costs (and it will be very high for taxpayers for many years to come), to be 'seen to be doing something', even if it is the wrong thing. I can't even begin to remember how many times I have heard ministers from this sad excuse for a government tell us how much they believe in the market, but it doesn't take much for them to revert to type and start to take things back into State ownership - remember this (in my main website's comment section before I began this blog) and the follow-out when the truth was forced out of him (Stephen Byers) here - completely different subject as it concerns the rail network, but the same principles seem to apply. Seems a long time ago now, doesn't it?

However, on the laterst banking nationalisation fiasco which is about to hit us, John Redwood has some pertinent questions, as usual.

Friday 26 September 2008

PM wants what he calls 'financial responsibility'

... and according to this report he considers a part of that to be support for the USD700bn bail-out of the US financial sector currently wending its way, with some difficulty, through the US Congress.

Personally I'm with some of those ordinary Americans I saw in news reports tonight who said that market forces should be allowed to run their course; those finance houses that have loaned money badly should be allowed to go to the wall and should not be bailed-out. It that were to happen it would be excruciatingly painful of course and undoubtedly a lot of people would suffer in the short term, but until this happens we are only storing up yet more painful disasters in the future. The same goes for the UK of course - Northern Rock should have been allowed to fail and public money (i.e. the money taxpayers have had extorted out of them by governments) should not be used to bail out comemrcial failure.

I believe in capitalism, but for it to work efficiently governments need to get out of the habit of manipulating markets. That's the only way that commercial firms, whether borrowers or lenders, will begin to take responsibility for their own decisions, rather than expect tax-payers to bail them out when things go wrong. Of course ordinary citizens need to be reminded that they too need to act responsibly when contracting to borrow money; if people have borrowed too much when interest rates were at historic lows, with an inadequate margin of equity to back-up their borrowing, then they should have realised the dangers they were running. Perhaps lenders were greedy, but it takes two to make a contract and borrowers (commercial or retail) should not be allowed to feel they do not share a part of the blame for their own predicament.

For years and years 'consumers' in wealthy countries have grown used to having luxuries now, without saving for them, or even without saving enough to contribute even a small part of the equity when acquiring major assets such as a house, or even cars or on non-asset based expenditure such as foreign holidays to exotic locations. Politicians have pandered to the rampant borrowing culture most of us live in because, to put it crudely, there are votes in it.

Now these politicians want to apply yet more sticking-plaster to the wounds our financial system has suffered - because they fear the reactions of electorates when their votes are required. The bail-out which G W Bush is pleading for Congress to approve, and which our Prime Minister is said to support, is largely based on a fear of the electoral back-lash which is likely to occur if the bail-out doesn't go through; it is shocking, but not surprising that both McCain and Obama apparently support the bail-out, too. No one wants to face what needs to be done. Ever since he became President, Bush 43 has proved that he does not, in practice, believe in 'small government', whatever his rhetoric might say, but of course there has never ever been any doubt that Gordon Brown does not believe in small government.

Years of uncontrolled and largely unfunded consumption across the capitalist world is now coming home to roost, but the markets would given half a chance enforce a natural corrective mechanism. If the markets had not been systematically perverted by government fiscal manipulation over the past several decades then the correction that would now ne necessary would have been a lot less severe, because a lot of the excesses that have grown common in recent years would never have happened if the markets had known that governments wouldn't almost always step in to save them from their own folly.

I think I have now ranted on long enough about what is going on in our economies. To summarise, one day the markets will force a correction - if not this weekend then in a few years time when the present crisis seems like a 'blip' and our economic resources have been further depleted to the extent that our governments can no longer apply sticky-plaster to the damage.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Council strike action - do you think they will provide rebates?

The admittedly wickedly-radical idea occurs to me that if council employees are to conduct a series of regular strikes to improve their pay, we council tax payers should receive some kind of rebate for the periods when the council is not providing us with the services we pay them to provide. There's more detail about the services which will be curtailed all over Scotland here and in the Highland Council region here; a summary of the effects on council service in Highland Council region is given on the main page:

Industrial Action

Services provided by The Highland Council will be disrupted on Wednesday 24 September as the result of industrial action, which is part of nationwide action by Unite the Union, GMB and Unison members in respect of the National Pay Award. The Council will endeavour to keep disruption to a minimum.

For comparision, I use a number of services for which I pay by subscription, provided by commercial organisations. It is invariably the case that when these services are curtailed for whatever reason, technical problems or industrial action for example, that there will be a 'rebate' in the form of an extension of the period of my subscriptions to cover the period when services were not being provided, without me having to ask for this. I've never heard of a government or council, anywhere, which takes it responsibilities for providing services equally seriously, have you?

Sunday 21 September 2008

Cheney tries to bury Vice-Presidential records

US Vice President Cheney is trying hard to prevent his Vice-Presidential records from being turned over to the National Archives when he leaves office, along with President G W Bush in January next year. However, the New York Times reports that a U.S. District federal judge has ordered that a wide range of materials be safeguarded under the Presidential Records Act.

The basis for Cheney's attempts to shield these records from public scrutiny is his contention that the role of Vice President is not part of the executive branch of government under the US Constitution, nor is it part of the legislative branch, but is instead attached to Congress in the Constitution in his presiding role in the Senate. The claim was made as far back as 2003. I'd have thought his status as part of the Executive branch was pretty clear from Article II Section 1 - but what do I know, I'm just an ignorant foreigner.

Frankly it sounds like the stories one hears of the government of the former East Germany burning and shredding as many records as it could before reunification with West Germany! What a sad spectacle the US has become under its current administration. His role in flouting the ban on torture and other breaches of human rights legislation must not be allowed to avoid objective scrutiny - and to do that ALL his records should be available for study by historians (and possibly prosecutors before his death). Under the present Administration of President George W Bush the US Constitution has basically been 'butchered' and the much-vaunted 'separation of powers' has been put under very severe strain. It remains to be seen whether a future President can, will want to or be forced to rectify this damage.

Gay holiday company 'Respect' folds

I have just clicked on to the 'Respect' website (for the present it is here - who knows for how much longer) and the following statement is all that remains; I quote it in full in case the website disappears:


It is with regret and sadness that, after ten years at the forefront of the gay holiday industry, I am left with no option other than to close Respect Holidays.

It is no secret that a combination of oil price uncertainty, the weakness of sterling and the general economic downturn has hit the travel business very hard indeed. Respect held substantial flying contracts with Excel Airways and, since Excel ceased trading, Respect has suffered significant financial losses. Put simply, the financial hit taken in the wake of the Excel collapse has been the straw that broke the camel's back.

Unfortunately, unlike members of the travelling public, Respect has no protection against losses sustained by the closure of Excel and in the current climate we are simply unable to take these losses in our stride. To continue to trade would therefore be dishonest to our customers, staff and suppliers.

Respect is fully bonded with the Civil Aviation Authority under the ATOL scheme and customers currently overseas will be able to complete their holidays. Customers who purchased a package (flight and holiday) and are yet to travel are entitled to a full refund of all monies paid and should visit the Civil Aviation Authorty's website ( for detailed information.

Customers who purchased an accommodation only holiday and who paid a total of more than £100 may be protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If you paid by Visa debit card you should contact your bank for advice on making a 'charge back'. In both instances, you should check with your card issuer for further advice. For further advise please call Cega Claims on 01243 621500.

To many people Respect has been more than just a travel company. I would like to thank the many hundreds of regular customers, some of whom have been booking their holidays with us since the very beginning, who have all contributed to making the Respect family such a special place to be. I am very proud of what we have achieved, and devastated that economic circumstances have led to the current situation. I am sorry we couldn't keep it going for you.

Finally, I would like to thank all our staff, past and present, in the UK and overseas for their support and dedication over the past ten years. You are the best in the business and I wish you all every success for the future.

Paul Kilcoyne

Thye 'r' and 'p' of the company were Rob and Paul (its founders and proprietors), formerly with gay travel company 'Sensations'; they left that firm some years ago as a result of a dispute, if I recall correctly, and formed their own travel firm. I travelled once with 'Sensations' (whilst the two were still there) and, I think, three or four times with 'respect', but my final booking with them didn't come off as they had an earlier financial problem before the present one that seems to have put them out of business (or rather the travel firm which actually held the ATOL licence under which they then operated went into receivership and my booking was voided); they had sufficient assets then to find another travel firm willing to cover them under its ATOL licence and so they continued to trade. Because the last financial 'hiccouph' occurred only about 7 or 10 days prior to the date I was booked to travel, and before my refund under the ATOL scheme came through, I was offered the opportunity to pay again for my holiday so that I could travel - I declined this 'opportunity' as I'm afraid that my motto tends when dealing with commercial organisations (the fact that they are 'gay' owned and operated makes no difference to me - business is business) to be:
Once bitten, twice shy!

- and the rather incredulous response I got when I voiced these sentiments over the telephone to Paul at the time, that I should somehow find it quite 'normal' to fork out for a holiday I had already paid for struck me as pretty inept. Although I visited the website regularly thereafter, I had no intention of ever booking a holiday with that firm again.

Incidentally, after the airline Excel/XL went into receivership a couple of weeks ago, the 'message board' on the 'respect' website almost immediately went behind some kind of pseudo-password smokescreen, presumably because there were so many negative comments that it was doing damage to the company. The nonsense that was put on the website was that the number of hits had overloaded the server was, in my opinion, just so much 'whitewash' as their 'message board' was hosted by 'Bravenet', the Vancouver-based web-hosting company through whom I have my own 'message board' and with whom I host a couple of my own registered website domains. I think it was just a way of closing down 'unhelpful' discussions on their 'message board'; they have had a habit of removing 'unhelpful' (i.e. 'negative') messages from the 'message board' for as long as I can remember and whilst they seemed like nice people to deal with when things were going well, there was no sentiment when things turned sour - and why should there be, after all 'business is business', for a 'gay' travel company just as for any other. But the corollary also applies - 'gay' former customers such as me may have liked dealing with a 'gay' travel company because they understood the needs of this market better than most, but sentiment can only be taken so far in both directions.

I am very sorry, despite the rather 'sour' tone of this article, to see the demise of 'respect'; another 'gay' travel company went into receivership a week earlier, the company trading under the name 'throb' - their website announcement is here. It was also a victim of the Excel/XL collapse.

I have checked the Sensations website and observe it still seems to be operating from what I can see, but 'caveat emptor' is probably good advice when paying money out in advance for future services right now. PS/ Of course, 'Sensations' recently merged with 'respect' so I am not sure what its future may be; perhaps only one part of the business of Lidana Ltd (the company operating both travel firms) has folded; no doubt it will become clear in coming days.

Friday 19 September 2008

BBC launches new Gaelic channel tonight

BBC Alba and some organisation called MG Alba is to launch a Gaelic language television channel on Sky and Freesat tonight. Apparently it won't be available on Freeview for another two years - but as that is roughly the time when the analogue signals will be switched off in Scotland and the Freeview signal boosted to full strength, I hope that at that time all Gaelic language programming will be removed from BBC2: in Scotland there are two hours of Gaelic programming on Thursday evenings, depriving the vast majority of potential viewers in Scotland from watching programmes televised on BBC2 nationally. Now that there will be a dedicated Gaelic language television channel for the [quite small] minority who speak that language, there will then be absolutely no justification to foist this Gaelic-mafia programming on the rest of us, who have no interest in it.

Thursday 18 September 2008

New operator found for Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry

Forth Ports and the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') have announced that a new operator has been identified for the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry route; Dutch ferry company Norfolkline, a subsidiary of the Danish A.P. Moller – Maersk group, will start up the direct ferry link between Scotland and Belgium again in April next year. The announcement comes barely a week after the former operator, Superfast Ferries, ceased plying the route. I wrote about Superfast Ferries' decision to disciontinue the route here.

Norfolkline currently operates three passenger ferry services: Dover-Dunkirk, Liverpool (Birkenhead)-Belfast and Liverpool (Birkenhead)-Dublin, so the addition of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge link possibly contributes to its "land bridge" strategy. In any case it is pleasing that there will continue to be a viable way of getting to mainland Europe by ferry from Scotland, without having to drive further south to take the Newcastle-Ijmuiden ferry (DFDS Seaways), the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry (P&O Ferries) or the even more lengthy journey down to Harwich or Dover. I shall very probably be using the Newcastle-Ijmuiden ferry over Christmas and New Year this year as I shall be spending a couple of weeks in the Netherlands and wish to take my car; the journey down to Newcastle adds a further three or so hours driving to the journey from Nairn as against the drive to Rosyth and, at that time of year, definitely requires an overnight stop, specially as I shall be travelling with my elderly mother. It will be good to be able to consider using the Rosyth-Zeebrugge crossing again from Spring next year.

Palin on McCain's skills as a wordsmith

I'm sure the poor lady doesn't mean what she seems to be saying in this interview with FoxNEWS:

HANNITY: Let's talk about, Governor, obviously, the economy is on the minds of many Americans. We've got Lehman, we've got Merrill, we've got AIG. Senator Barack Obama yesterday was attacking Senator McCain for saying that the "fundamentals of the economy are strong."

Do you believe that the fundamentals of our economy are strong?

PALIN: Well, it was an unfair attack on the verbiage that Senator McCain chose to use because the fundamentals, as he was having to explain afterwards, he means our workforce, he means the ingenuity of the American. And of course, that is strong and that is the foundation of our economy.

So that was an unfair attack there, again, based on verbiage that John McCain used. Certainly it is a mess though, the economy is a mess. And there have been abuses on Wall Street and that adversely affects Main Street.

And it's that commitment that John McCain is articulating today, getting in there, reforming the way that Wall Street has been allowed to work, stopping the abuses and that violation of the public trust that too many CEOs and top management of some of these companies, that abuse there has got to stop.

It is, somebody was saying this morning, a toxic waste there on Wall Street, affecting Main Street. And we've got to cure this.

The word I'm focussing on from the interview above is 'verbiage'. I know what I think this word means, but surely Palin couldn't really be saying this about what her running-mate for President was saying, could she? Then I thought that perhaps there is some other usage of this word, particularly in the US, that I was not familiar with; maybe she meant simply to refer to the 'words' he had used, not express a comment on these words, so I thought I should consult a dictionary and particualry an American dictionary to see what it had to day. According to Merriam-Webster, a well-known and respected American dictionary, this is what it means:

Main Entry:
\ˈvər-bē-ij also -bij\
French, from Middle French verbier to chatter, alteration of Old French verboier, verbloier, from Old French (Picard dialect) werbler to trill — more at warble
circa 1721

1 : a profusion of words usually of little or obscure content 2 : manner of expressing oneself in words : diction

- so the main meaning in the US is just the same as it is here - words or speech with little substance.

It's possible that she was using it in the less common 2nd sense given above, but my view, having listened to her speak over the past few weeks, is that it is simply a further instance of her ignorance and her mangled verbal gymnastics. She could simply have used the word 'words' instead of 'verbiage' and her meaning would have been clear and unambiguous, but I suspect she was using a less-familiar word because she thought it would sound more 'learned', when all it has done is make her look, once more, quite silly. Whatever one may think of her boss McCain, he at least knows how to use the language. She, on the other hand, seems to be wallowing way out of her depth. Not of course that her 'ignorance' is necessarily any worse than Jo Biden's gaffe-prone public appearances (even if his ability to think quickly on his feet usually manages to defuse the situation, or at least give people a laugh); he is Obama's Vice-Presidential running mate.

No, this is not Bill taking sides in US politics; I've come to realise that US Presidential politics, in particular, is a complete mystery to me - both McCain and Obama seem, from the carefully-groomed public images they display to the public, to have some virtues, but some glaring defects (to this outsider, at any rate). The level of partisanship among their supporters and the wild statements made by both sides about the other seem to me to reduce the whole thing to a circus show - glitteringly wonderful on the outside, but with uncertain depth and substance. In recent years it seems one doesn't come fully to understand what a particular President is made of until after they are elected and some unexpected situation has to be dealt with. It seems to me to have been, for recent Presidents, well-nigh impossible to have any objective idea about their capabilities until after the deed (i.e. the election) has been done, when it is far too late to change things at least for the following four years. To some extent this is the same in the UK too, or in France and some other western democracies, where media presentation is probably more important than the substance of the candidates, but I think it is fair to say that the cult of 'image' and 'media' has been taken a lot further in the US than elsewhere. I might not have liked the idea of having a president Hilary Clinton (and I wouldn't have liked it one little bit), but no one could possibly doubt her intellectual capabilities or her fundamental grasp of issues and despite the mockery in some quarters of Ronald Reagan before he became President he had at least been Governor of probably the most important State in the US and a pretty successful one in most people's eyes as well as having been years earlier President of the Screen Actors Guild, a shark-infested pond if ever there was one, so he obviously had something going for him, even if he was not, to most non-Americans, an obvious choice, but he is certainly one of the more successful Presidents of recent US history from either political party. Maybe a President Palin might confound us all, if something were to happen to McCain (if he were to become President), but I think it is an amazing gamble on a complete unknown and , as we now realise, a rather 'controversial' figure in her own backyard.
(A completely different point about this interview was made by Andrew Sullivan in his post here, the source of my link to the FoxNEWS article, as I am obviously not an habitual reader of that particular media outlet. Andrew has been running a series of posts in recent days with the theme "The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin" - he's reached number eleven in the series so far, plus various other stories of which this is one.)

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Bill's off again ...

... back to Spain. I travel tomorrow and hope to reach my house late tomorrow night/early Thursday morning. I'll be back in Nairn at the end of September.

There is so much turmoil going on in the world economy and the British Labour Party (this is just the latest body-blow amongst many to hit PM Gordon Brown) at present that one hardly knows where to begin; I have therefore taken the easy option of blogging little on this or really on any other topic, simply because I have had so many other things to do over the past few weeks.

My emotions about what is going on in the world economy are mainly 'apprehension', but not 'panic' - I expect I am a lot better-placed than many, but what is occurring right now is unlikely to leave anyone untouched, but there's not a lot I can do in practical terms that I haven't already done. I tend to think, though, that there will be some excellent buying opportunities in due course, provided one picks with care - and that depends on accurate information, not a readily available commodity and unlikely to be had for free, if it is of any real value.

As for the Labour Party; well, my general attitude is a mixture of mirth, anger and once again apprehension. The mirth because it has finally become clear to everyone (except perhaps some completely-blinkered or delusional Labour 'drones') just how useless and damaging were the policies of our former Chancellor Gordon Brown from the day he entered 11 Downing Street in 1997 and the folly of those (even some right-of-centre people who should have known better - e.g. Janet Daly) who thought he would make a good PM and were fooled by his apparent success in that job for the first few months. Anger - obvious really, because he, Tony Blair and his present cronies collectively engineered the disastrous state of the British economy so that it is in a very poor condition to with-stand the world-wide economic downturn, without even getting good value for all the money squandered on the NHS and his mania for 'credits' for what seems like half the population; even their paid-for loyalty is wearing thin now, isn't it? Apprehension - well again obvious, because when this lot finally leave office, there will be a huge mess to clear up which will take years to achieve. Fare thee well, everbody - and keep your powder dry, the day of reckoning for the crowd who govern us is fast approaching.

Altogether not a very pleasing prospect - so I'm taking myself off to Spain and mostly forgetting about it for the next couple of weeks. If there is a complete melt-down of civilisation whilst I'm there, well there could be worse places to be stranded!

Monday 15 September 2008

George and Ellen get hitched - not to each other, I hasten to add!

Yes, George Takei - better known as 'Sulu' in the original Star Trek has married his partner of 21 years, Brad Altman, in a multi-cultural extravanganza; and how can I fail to feature the procession into the ceremony preceded by a kilt-clad piper!

Assisting were former Star Trek colleagues Walter Koenig ('Chekov') as best man and Nichelle Nichols ('Uhuru') as best lady.

Here's a very interesting interview George Takei and Brad Altman gave last month in which the topics of Star Trek, gay marriage and internment (George, a Japanese-American, was interned as a child during World War II) were discussed:

Thirdly, here's an interview with the two soon after their intention to marry first became known a couple of months ago:

... and finally, here's the lovely video, which I saw a week or so ago, of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi (see origin of her name here) homely yet glamourous wedding montage and the preparations for it, including a touching comment from Portia's mother, who had come from Australia for the wedding:

Not being in any way 'religious' myself, at least not so far as Christianity is concerned, it is of no interest to me personally whether the mechanism by which same-sex partners may legalise their relationships is by way of Civil Partnership (as we have had here in the UK for some years) or by way of Marriage (as has been legalised recently in California and a few other places in the US and elsewhere for a few years), but it is certainly important that same-sex partners be able to declare their relationships proudly and openly both before their own families and friends and before the state - and to accept the obligations and receive the benefits that accrue to any other legally partnered couple. It is a curious feature that in the US, where the state and religion are separated formally, that religion plays such a large part in most Americans' lives and the consequent importance that so many seem to attribute to the status of 'marriage', whereas in the UK, where religion has a formal role in the legislature, but our politics are almost wholly 'secular', that the status of 'marriage' is important only to the relatively small proportion of homosexuals for whom religion occupies an intergral place in their lives - for the rest, such as me, it is of no imortance, particularly as the regime of 'civil partnership' seems to me to provide a perfectly acceptable level of recognition. But that's not how it is for most of our American cousins, theoretically a constitutionally secular nation, created specifically in rejection of the monarchical regime which we in the UK continue to enjoy or endure (depending on your point of view), but which nevertheless bears on its currency the phrase 'In God We Trust'. It's a bizarre conundrum that affects in profound ways how our two countries operate, but in this context it is necessary to put aside all such deep analyses and simply wish George and Brad, and Ellen and Portia the happiest and most enduring marriages with their chosen partners. Congratulations!

Saturday 13 September 2008

The beauty of the Highlands of Scotland in Autumn

The general theme for this very brief post was an outing yesterday evening for dinner at the North Kessock Hotel in North Kessock (for the second time this week it so happens) for a very pleasant family meal; this time with some relatives from London who are holidaying in the area for a week or so. After supper we gathered on the shore just outside the hotel to get some photographs of the sunset of which the one below shows a view up the Beauly Firth in the general direction of Kirkhill/Kirtarlity/Beauly. It was a lovely mild evening and I was in short-sleeves when I took this picture at around 9pm (click on photograph to enlarge).

Apart from another meal here a couple of evenings before, equally enjoyable and with other family members (this time visiting from Aberdeen and Dubai) I had another enjoyable supper a couple of evenings before that with yet more family members, this time from the Netherlands and near Glasgow respectively, at another attractive seaside location in the area, Rosemarkie - the second photograph in the linked page is of the Crofters restaurant, recently extensively remodelled and generally improved and under new ownership (does not have its own website) - the food that evening was pretty good, too, but there is no photograph I'm afraid because the heavens opened during our meal and the evening continued with a veritable Scotch Mist - accentuating the positive, this is what helps to keep the grass green!

(A scene from "The Singing Detective")

Thursday 11 September 2008

China-Inverness charter flights?

(PLease see UPDATE at end)

thought this might be a wind-up when I first caught the summary of this story in my Bloglines feed from the BBC website, but when I read the underlying report I can certainly see the logic and maybe it might even happen. It is certainly true that when I worked in Hong Kong many years ago one of my friends and colleagues, a Hong Kong Chinese, was completely infatuated by all things Scottish (not whisky though, because he was almost wholly tee-total) and was obsessed - and I don't think I exaggerate - with finding some plausible [or not] Scottish connection that he could latch on to and in particular he wanted me to try and find a tartan that he could use, so one summer whilst I was back in Scotland I did some research and found that his family name was quite similar to a Scottish name and that it was a sept of the Scottish Clan MacPherson, so I got him a tie of a MacPherson tartan and he was aboslutely over the moon with it. I can well believe, therefore, that there will be a worthwhile number of Chinese with the means and desire to take a visit to what some might see as, in a weird kind of way, their spiritual homeland, even if the 'spiritual' connection is merely a taste for our national product 'whisky'! Funnily enough, I happen to know the person quoted in the article and he is certainly no foolish romantic, simply someone trying to boost the tourism prospects of the Highlands through practical action, particularly when visitors from some other countries (such as the US or Canada) may currently be in decline because of currency and economic fluctuations.

UPDATE: (Saturday 13SEP08 0820 BST) There's a fuller article on this proposal in yesterday's Inverness Courier which addresses some of the issues covered in the comments to this article.

Seven years on, we still remember ...

What I like about this video tribute is that there is no moralising or posturing; it tells the story of what happened seven years ago today clearly and simply by means of pictures and video-clips, with a lively tune to accompany it. Bittersweet is how I would describe it. I don't think any more needs to be said - it's a time for personal reflection.

My own small permanent tribute is here.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Sea-bed leasing for power generation to begin soon

The Crown Estate, which owns the UK's territorial seabed, is to begin the leasing process to allow potential power generators to bid for leases on particular parcels of Scotland's sea-bed in order to deploy power generation equipment there. Although some equipment has been undergoing testing off Orkney for a couple of years the technology is in its infancy and the 'prize' is apparently the Pentland Firth channel between mainland Scotland and Orkney, where there are particularly strong (and dangerous) tidal currents. I expect it will be a few years before the technical issues are ironed out to allow this method of energy generation to be viable and durable enough to even begin to meet the target of installing 1 gigawatt of generation capacity for the national grid to be in place by 2020.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Bill is back online, fingers crossed!

Do people who speak about themselves in the third person strike you as a little strange, somewhat weird even? Personally I tend to look askance at such people myself, so I apologise to anyone who feels the same way; I'm trying to wean myself off it (or indeed, as Bill might have put it: "He's trying to wean himself off it").

OK, enough of this verbal silliness! I now appear to be back online - rejoice, put out more flags! Whether they be the Union Flag, the Saltire, the Cross of St George, or indeed the lovely flags of many/most other nations or sovereign entities or those that desire to have this status, or a glorious mixture! Yes, I am happy. Mind you, I have not entirely worked out all the kinks of the new equipment I'm using so there is probably still some 'tweaking' of my knowledge of it to achieve before I've got it running precisely as it should.

To recap, yesterday I had a lengthy and only partially-productive conversation with the AOL technical help call centre and spoke with a perfectly nice Indian gentleman who seemed to know what he was talking about, even if the conclusions he seemed to want to draw about what was ailing my broadband connection seemed to owe at least as much to corporate policy (based, I suspect, on suggested screen-prompt answers); to put it bluntly, an attempt to shift blame anywhere but AOL! I had been forming the opinion myself that the problem was a fault in my wireless router (a Thomson 'Speedtouch' model which was one of those recommended by AOL, and bought from their recommended supplier a couple of years ago when I was moving from wired broadband to wireless broadband). The fellow in the call centre wanted me to believe it was either a problem with my telephone line, one or more of the ADSL filters I use or indeed with the power socket the router was plugged into; I tended to doubt this, but suppose any of these could have been the possible source of the problem. However I had focussed on the router because of the changes I had noticed in the sequence of various status lights on the equipment from start-up.

It so happens that yesterday one of my nephews was up in the area on business; he helps to maintain the communications network throughout Scotland of a government entity and often visits the north of Scotland and the northern isles from his Glasgow base, usually with a colleague, to do maintenance and upgrades and to trouble-shoot. At dinner last evening he gave me his suggestions based on what I told him and his own much greater knowledge of such systems; he thought it extremely unlikely that the problem was anything to do with my domestic electricity supply and was probably more likely to be a problem in an AOL broadband server or possibly in my wireless router, as I myself suspected; he suggested that I could eliminate the latter by using a different router (unfortunately he hadn't a personal spare with him to let me try), so today I went and bought a new wireless router - I got a Netgear RangeMax, because the information I had was that the set-up wizard would handle most of the hard work. The Thomson Speedtouch had been a real pest to set-up! And so it proved - the CD that came with the box went into my laptop and pretty soon I seemed to be online, with no unfortunate cut-off after a couple of moments, as I had been experiencing with the Speedtouch since my return from Spain last week.

I'm still not happpy with AOL for a variety of reasons, though, and the 'Which?' article I referred to here, along with the comments to the same linked article by various of my readers, is spurring me to make the change of ISP I have been contemplating for some months. Although I haven't completely made up my mind, I am contemplating a move to O2, according to the 'Which?' article one of the most reliable and best value providers; funnily enough the P.O. (mentioned by Richard in the comments referred to above) isn't included in the report, so I must do a little more investigation of the very useful add-ons he refers to; from my point of view O2 sounds specially attractive because my UK mobile is on their network, which apparently entitles me to a significant reduction in monthly fee and its customer service is highly-rated by 'Which?'.

However, because I know it takes a little while to transfer from one ISP to another (to get the release code from my current provider and give it to the new provider and then for the replacement broadband link to be activated) I don't want to start this process off before I leave again for Spain next week; instead I shall wait to do it when I come back at the end of September. I've got a lot to do online before I leave next week and don't want to have any [more] 'funny business' with my broadband connection before I go. I'm hopeful that the new wireless router I'm using will let me have reliable internet until next week, so I won't have to lose more online capability than I already have over the past several days.

Sunday 7 September 2008

Back in Scotland – to a malfunctioning broadband connection

(Please see UPDATE at end

I had a trouble-free, if tiring, journey back to Scotland on Friday; I left home in Mazarron at about 2am for the drive up to Alicante for a 6am flight to East Midlands Airport, where I spent from 7.30am British time until 1pm waiting for the flight up to Inverness. East Midlands Airport, the airport for Nottingham, Leicester, Derby and someplace else whose name escapes me, is a rather utilitarian place although given that it is in a pretty high-population part of England has a lot of flights from early morning and throughout the day. I'll be doing the same route back to Scotland at the end of this month again, as I am back off out to Spain on 17th September (via Luton in that direction) for 12 days, an extra trip which I organised only a couple of weeks ago.

Since I got back home to Nairn on Friday afternoon I have had almost no broadband internet connection; I can get on sporadically for 2 or 3 minutes, then the connection blinks out; I haven't tried to do anything concrete about it until after the weekend, when I shall be on to my ISP (AOL) – I read in my latest copy of 'Which?' magazine just how poor is their their service and after-sales service, but I know this already myself. AOL used to be good until a few years ago, but since the UK operation was taken over by CarPhone Warehouse a couple of years ago it has deteriorated badly; it's also a lot more expensive. I have been thinking for a while of moving to another ISP, but this latest episode makes me even more determined to do so and this month's 'Which?' has a timely article on the various ISPs available and which have the best records for connections, reasonable costs and decent after-sales service. AOL used to be good in all areas, but particularly on after-sales service has become shockingly-poor. If I have to change my email address, which I had hoped to avoid , then so be it; the present pathetic situation can't be allowed to continue. At least when I get back to Spain in a couple of weeks time I'll have a decent broadband link in my house there!

UPDATE: (Tuesday 9SEP08 16.39) Fingers tightly crossed, but I think I am now back online. I discuss further in a new post. Thanks so much, meantime, for all the very helpful comments; it is very much appreciated.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Bill winds down in Spain - if only briefly!

Well, I've been here in Spain since 11th August, but this all too brief stay comes to an end on Friday, when I leave here to return to Scotland. However, as Arnie said:
"I'll be back!"

In fact I am going to be back here in less than two weeks, staying until the end of the month, to permit me to participate in the AGM of Mazarron Country Club, scheduled for 26th September; more about that in due course, I've no doubt. Apart from attending the AGM I hope to accomplish a couple of other things next time I'm here, too.
To round things off for this time I'm going to end with a photographic round-up since I left Nairn on 11th August of a very few of the things I've experienced since then. The first photograph relates to my brother's 60th birthday party in the Netherlands (where he lives), which I alluded to here:

The table with a few of the gifts my brother received; the centrepiece is a commemorative card which our mother had made with photographs taken when he was young; I actually appear in one of the photographs, as indicated
- Click on the image to see an enlargement -

Now moving on to Spain!

- The disc of the sun seen from my terrace at sunset one evening
- an almost mediaeval goat-herding scene very close by
- an amusing name on a van parked at the restaurant one day (I think the firm makes biscuits and the like)

- Click on any image to see an enlargement -

Finally some photographs of a typical lunch for me here in Spain; the photographs were in fact taken yesterday. I like food to be presented attractively, even if I'm going to be eating on my own; it should be a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds. It can also be a little 'whimsical', as the third photograph of my 'pudding' (a choc ice) shows. That's my attitude to food, at any rate.

- A plate of Serrano Ham with some herbed green olives and some small gherkins ('pepinillos'), all drizzled with virgin olive oil
- a salad arranged like a flower or an emblem, made up of endive leaves, a sliced tomato, a thinly-sliced radish, on a bed of rocket and chopped endive, sprinkled with virgin olive oil, chopped parsley and low-sodium salt
- a choc ice in which the sugar is mostly replaced by 'polyols'(*)
- a small coffee cup of ground decaffeinated espresso coffee with cream

- Click on any image to see an enlargement -

(*) - Polyols are discussed here; I am not and never have been diabetic, but I follow a low-carbohydrate diet, often known as the Atkins diet, an approach to eating I have been following since June 2003.

Police State Britain - citizens fighting back, within the law

I posted a video almost two weeks ago about a 'Police Community Support Officer' attempting illegally to stop a citizen from filming in a public place. Now I have come across a lengthier video which includes a brief excerpt from the previous video-footage plus several additional examples of police, security officers and police community support officers similarly attempting to prevent citizens from going about their lawful business and filming in public spaces. In one glaring example of police harrassment and attempted inditimdation (attempted, because the person doing the filming is gloriously unintimidated) the police actually tresspass on the private property of the person doing the filming and attempt to prevent him filming what is going on. When their initial attempts do not succeed, one of the officers (the male) makes contact with the police station using his 'walkie talkie' to ask for guidance and to report the 'crime' he perceives is being committed. Whilst he is doing this the female officer continues to 'bluster' and 'puff' at the person making the film. Whatever the male officer has been told by the police station, when he completes his call, he simply walks away and the female officer follows him:

(thru Amperss Rants)

These incidents now seem to be so common that I wonder just what police officers, police community support officers and security personnel are being told during their training sessions and 'briefings'! It is quite obvious that, when challenged, they back down because they know they are acting way beyond their lawful powers. How many cases occur, though, when they get away with their tactics of intimidation against perfectly law-abiding citizens? I was brought up to regard the police as 'my friend', a sentiment that was fostered by the comforting television programmes of my childhood such as Dixon of Dock Green, with his benevolent 'clips around the ear' for misbehaving children and friendly homilies to round off each episode. Much as it pains me and saddens me to write this, I cannot any longer say that the police and other authority figures are 'my friend' in all circumstances; a vigilant citizenry must make sure that its 'protectors' are not permitted to become, little by little, its 'oppressors'.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

SNP abolishes most NHS car parking charges in Scotland

I'm ambivalent about this change announced by Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon MSP. Having occasionally had to visit patients regularly at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness during their sometimes quite lengthy stays there (my mother on several occasions and a few friends) I have been irritated by having to pay to park at the hospital. Against this must be set the fact that the parking fee was quite minimal (either a pound or two pounds, I confess I don't recall as it was such a relatively small amount), although I recognise for some others the small charge levied would still prove very burdensome.

However, the main problem at Raigmore is not the fee to park, in my opinion. No, the problem is that whilst the car park is quite large, it is almost always completely full when one arrives and one must circulate around the car park several times in the hope that someone will leave just as you are approaching and that you can grab the space before some other forlorn seeker of a space to leave their jalopy gets there first! (I use that word in the loosest possible sense, as irony really, as my car is certainly not old or decrepit, not are most others left in the car park.)

The last time I had a need to visit Raigmore regularly was a few weeks before last Christmas when my mother spent several weeks there - one feature of even the minimal parking fee is that it is usually possible to find a place to park after circling the car park only for five or ten minutes. However, I recall that on one of her previous hospitalisations, several years ago and before the car parking fees were introduced, that it was almost completely impossible to find a place to park between the hours of about 8.30am and 5.15pm because a lot of people working in Inverness used the free parking at Raigmore to park their cars the whole day whilst at work, making use of the frequent buses which call at Raigmore to get into the city and back again in the evening. Parking at one of the municipal car parks in the city cost quite few pounds a day, even with a monthly parking concession so the attraction of free parking was obvious. The small fee which exists now is at least a small deterrent to this kind of illicit use of the hospital parking.

I heard Ms Sturgeon today in a news bulletin saying she wanted to improve public transport to reduce the number of people who would need to use a car to get to/from their local hospital and this is obviously a laudable aim, if she can achieve it. However the city bus service to Raigmore is from what I have observed already pretty good, but Raigmore's catchment area extends well beyond Inverness to some pretty rural areas as well as to many smaller towns all throughout the Highlands, where the local 'cottage'-type hospitals are not equipped to deal with more serious cases and quite a lot of people visiting Raigmore have no ready access, or no access at all in some cases, to ANY kind of public transport and it is difficult to see how, given the spread-out and low-density nature of the population throughout most of the Highlands, this problem can be tackled realistically and not at absolutely huge cost. It may be different for hospitals in large urban areas where most of the patients and visitors live within the same large urban area.

So whilst I can see that this is a 'good' move on the part of our SNP Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') to try and ensure that treatment under the NHS is, in the mantra, 'free at the point of need' (if you believe wholly in the principles underlying the NHS, which I do not entirely, in all honesty) I'm wondering about the possible unintended consequences and how I'm going to find a place to park at Raigmore when I need to after the parking fee is abolished.