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

Sunday 28 October 2012

Back to reality with a bump - and a cough - it's almost winter!

I arrived back home in Scotland for the winter a few days ago, having left behind slightly deteriorating weather in Spain, typical of this time of year, but still rather warmer than here of course. I left the house there very early (about 5.45am - argh!) on Thursday morning to drive to the airport at Alicante, about one hour and twenty minutes up the motorway, to be well in time for check-in as I have never liked to have to rush or be late for anything. Anyway the flight left on time and arrived in Gatwick a little early, so after retrieving my luggage I had plenty of time to transfer between terminals and check-in for the next flight, which meant I could get through security (again) and have plenty of time for a proper and fairly relaxed lunch.

The flight up to Inverness was on time, too, but when stepping off the aircraft (no air-bridges at Inverness) down the stairs onto the tarmac the cold blast of air hit me in the face. Truly, I was home. After a speedy luggage-retrieval process (the advantage of arriving at a small airport - mind you my luggage was delivered remarkably rapidly at Gatwick earlier in the day, too), with the taxi I had booked by telephone before leaving London awaiting me (*) I was back home about 15 minutes later. The neighbour who kindly holds my keys when I am away, and who collects and organises my mail as well as doing a check of my property (central heating, tap running and toilet flushing, etc) had as she usually does left me some eggs, cheese, grapes and oatcakes so as I was feeling quite tired after many hours of travelling I contented myself with this and did not even think about going to the supermarket that evening.

So the next day, Friday, I took myself along to the supermarket to stock up the refrigerator again. All good, except that someone must have been carrying a cold/cough virus and 'kindly' passed it on to me - thanks so much. By Saturday afternoon I was not feeling too good so had to decline an invitation to attend an opera performance to use a ticket that another person couldn't use because she was unwell. In the event I took myself off to bed at about 8pm, not forgetting to put all my clocks back to 7pm before doing so. I wakened up around 1.30 am on Sunday feeling 'like death warmed up', with a VERY sore throat; I remembered I had some 'Lemsip' (paracetamol-based cough/cold remedy) sachets and some Strepsil throat lozenges from last winter so went and took a dose of each - back to bed and slept soundly (well, after an hour or two on the laptop propped up on my lap in bed to pass the time) and wakened up about 8am feeling a very great deal better. On reflection it is probably better I was infected with this cold/cough virus quickly so I could begin to build up an immunity to it - I'll see just how effective that immunity is after another night in bed tonight.

One of the advantages of the clocks having gone back an hour last night is that one wakens up to lighter skies in the mornings, at least for a few weeks longer until the longest night/shortest day just before Christmas, against which of course is the 'penalty' that it gets darker an hour earlier in the afternoon/early evening. I jest slightly of course, but this is the usual seasonal pattern here, until the days begin to get noticeably longer toward the end of February and early March. And later in March I will be heading back to Spain again for my usual 3-months there in Spring - something to look forward to.

(*) Recently the taxi-parking regime at Inverness Airport was tightened-up even more than it had been been before. Only taxis from one particular Inverness-based taxi firm are permitted to queue for business at Inverness Airport (I understand they pay a substantial annual fee for the privilege), with passengers headed for other towns in the area and who wish to travel by taxi obliged to book ahead. But as those booked taxis are not permitted to wait at the airport without payment for more than 15 or 20 minutes, it makes it necessary to re-confirm by telephone to the taxi-firm from the arrivals hall/luggage collection area, so they can come into the airport from where they have been waiting outside the airport perimeter to collect their passengers - it is all very inconvenient both for passengers and taxi firms not based in Inverness. Surely there is a better and more equitable way of catering for passengers' needs without infringing over-much the 'monopoly' created by HIA (the airport authority) and its fee-paying Inverness-based taxi firm, which passengers living outside Inverness could not use even if they wished to?

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Fridge keeps his cool ...

Those who know me will already know that I have next to no interest (in fact that would be more accurately described as 'absolutely no interest') in football, but the recent sterling result by Nairn County Football Club in winning the final of the North of Scotland Football Cup match 2-1 against Wick Academy, a result which prompted the 'Wee County' manager, Les Fridge, to say:
"The cup win is a fantastic achievement for the club, but I’ll be emphasising to the players again this week that they cannot afford to get carried away by it. Now, we need to focus. Winning the cup was nice and we celebrated it, but it’s done and consigned to the history books. We have a massive couple of weeks coming up with a match against Formartine United, before facing Forfar in the Scottish Cup. However, we’ve got plenty of mental strength and experience within the squad to keep the focus on what we want to do this season. We’ll now move on and try to create another successful chapter to our story of the season."
- seems a suitable occasion for me to mention an activity I almost never do.

I first became aware of this gentleman's name some years ago, a few years after I came to live in Nairn, and did a double-take the first time I read it to satisfy myself it really is his name. I hope he won't mind me using his name in a punning manner in the title of this article, should he ever become aware of it - it is only meant humorously and in no way maliciously. Incidentally, I became aware just a week or so ago of another name, this time of a place called Snodland (which is a town in Kent, by the way) which I did not immediately realise was a real place; it sounded more like something out of The Lord of the Rings or some other fantasy/historical novel. What this really highlights, I suppose, is my own cultural insularity, a 'fault' of which by its very nature people tend to be unaware they exhibit until something comes along to jolt them (or in this case, me) out of their complacency.

Friday 12 October 2012

Gaelic school in Inverness cannot find head that speaks the language

There was an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (Friday) about the repeated difficulty a primary school in Inverness, set up specifically (with Scottish Executive [aka 'Government']) money, in other words our taxes, has had in recruiting a head teacher who actually speaks Gaelic. Basically the idea is that if a new generation of Scots can be educated (aka 'brain-washed') using this moribund, if not actually 'dead' language as their main means of communication, then the language won't actually die out completely in a new generation. The fact they have had to employ someone who is not a Gaelic speaker, and not even a Scot, but a Swede (and lovely people the Swedes are, I have absolutely no criticism of the person employed, nor of course of her home country), reveals just how artificial this whole project is. Far better to educate these children in English and give them a fighting chance of a decent future, rather than try to make them pawns in some ludicrous project to resurrect a language that is on its last legs.

If people wish to use Gaelic as a means of communication I have absolutely no objection and wish them the best of luck, just to be clear, but I do think that it is, ahem, 'short-sighted' and not to put too fine a point on it not in the children's own best interests to foist a little-used language upon them for quasi political purposes.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Why has the UK Government fallen for the SNP ruse on the Referendum?

We have yet to see the full detail of what the UK Government led by the Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed with the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government'), led by Alex Salmond, about the holding of a referendum to decide on the constitutional future of Scotland in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom - or, in the words of the Clash song from the 1980s Should I Stay or Should I Go? (the link is to a YouTube video-clip)

So far, what seems to have been agreed is that the UK Government will allow the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government'):
- to hold a simple yes/no in/out referendum, with that one question being the only one asked, by agreeing a 'Section 30' order;
- to set the precise terms of the referendum question and precisely when it is held (before the end of 2014);
- extend the franchise for the referendum to those who are at least 16 years old at the time of the referendum (instead of the current age of 18 for all other elections).

I think that this referendum is so important and crucial for the future of Scotland and indeed for the whole United Kingdom that the terms of the referendum question need to be agreed jointly by the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') and the UK Government, under the supervision of the Electoral Commission to ensure that it is worded fairly and neutrally and is not partisan with regard to either of the two possible outcomes. However, it appears that the UK Government has conceded this to the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') alone. Why? It seems to me utter madness and a very poor return for the reported 'concession' by the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') that the referendum should contain only one question, rather than multiple choices which it had earlier indicated it was considering (cynically, not because it wanted this outcome itself, but because it said - with scant evidence - that some wished this according to its 'consultation' on the issue).

On the question of allowing those who have reached the age of 16 to vote in the referendum, but not in other elections either in Scotland or the rest of the UK, this appears to rest on extremely shaky logic and the viability of such an outcome is being questioned by former Scottish Secretary, Lord Forsyth (Conservative); Lord Wallace (Liberal Democrat), who advises the UK Government on Scots Law, says there are no plans to change the law. Now it is being urged upon the UK Government to allow the same voting regime for any referendum on the UK's future relationship with the EU. In short, it seems that this issue is going to result in an enormous divergence of viewpoints about the constitutional validity of this proposed change for one specific purpose, but not for other votes or plebiscite.

Just how cynical and self-serving the SNP Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') is being over this issue can be judged by a comparison with its earlier attempt to raise the current age for buying alcohol from 18 to 21.

It seems to me that many of the rights people acquire as they reach adulthood should be aligned so far as possible, rather than allow a further confusing and hard-to-justify mish-mash of different ages for different things. For instance one can get married at 16, have sex at 16, but vote only at 18. Currently one may buy alcohol at 18, but if this is raised to 21 (or indeed if the 'think 25?' policy of certain retail outlets is given legal force) then you would have the phenomenon of people allowed to vote in elections, but not buy a drink. Maybe people should gain all their rights at 16 because if they are considered old enough then to get married or enter into contracts at that age, then it seems bizarre they cannot vote until two years later. So I have no 'in principle' objection to people who have reached 16 being permitted a vote in the referendum relating to Scotland and the UK, but if they are allowed to vote in that decision-making process, then I can see no good reason to deny them a vote in any other election or referendum. However, I do not think one should play around with voting-age eligibility for what seem to me to be nakedly-partisan political purposes.

I look forward to seeing what form the final mooted 'agreement' to be reached next week will take with great interest and some disquiet at the apparent lack of clear thinking in what we have been told so far.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Harvest in Highlands slow because of poor weather conditions

It seems that farmers in the Inverness, Nairn and surrounding areas are quite far behind in getting in their grain harvests this year because of the poor weather conditions, with many fields being water-logged so making it difficult to get combine harvesters onto the land. This article in Farmers Weekly focusses on one farm near Nairn.

People like me who do most of our shopping in supermarkets, or even farm shops, can be blissfully unaware of where their food comes from and the weather-related difficulties that can have a knock-on effect on supplies and prices. Currently I am in Spain and we had our own severe weather-related problems a few days ago, with 3 or 4 inches of rain falling in 24 hours on many areas nearby and in one particular area they 9 or 10 inches over the same period - rather dramatic and the price has been 10 deaths and several hundred made homeless, quite apart from the damage to road and rail links (with a number of crucial bridges having been damaged or destroyed) and to agricultural production. It is salutary to be reminded that nature still rules all our lives.