Sunday 29 December 2019


   Happy Hogmanay one and all. It is hard to believe but, as of this month, this column will have spanned three decades, for which I would apologise for my controversial and often insulting words. But I won't!
    We are currently still in Scotland, a place of political turmoil, inherent divide and continual argument - but enough about our household! Actually we are all quite harmonious just now, as neither of us have work to do: my wife by choice, myself by default, as a cock-up in communications has brought the building of our extension to an alarming halt, the knock-on effects of which may unbalance our life well into early summer. But, in the words of Joan Baez, we shall overcome!
    By the end of this month we should be back in France, in time for lambing, albeit our diminished flock of just 6 ewes. That is, of course, if they will let us in after Boris has 'done the deed' in accordance with his promises - one can live in hope. But the upshot of the above is that it looks as though we - well I at least - will return here again to crack the metaphorical whip (the use of a real whip being made unlawful in Fife just a few years ago!) in March. Couple this with Brexit, independence referendums and impeachments of world leaders, it all points towards yet another unsettled year ahead for us.
    As a new year comes in, I took a quick look to find that it is, according to China, the year of the Rat. This would of course give me plenty of material for a political rant, but I will avoid that tediousness for now, as I am sure there will be many more months when I can use it. However, I also came across a 'Sheep' horoscope which, as a lifelong shepherd, intrigued me. It appears to be only relevant to those who were born in the year of the Sheep, which sadly I wasn’t. Thankfully some of my sheep were though, in 2016, so this really only applies to them. According to my sources, they will 'get hot and passionate this year, and may even get married!' I'd better start saving for the occasion then. But no! They will also apparently earn enough money to settle all their expenses: which hopefully includes the mortgage being paid off? Unfortunately, the next year of the sheep - the Fire sheep, to be precise - is not until 2028, so it maybe a while before we get any more lucky ones. Doubtful that Daisy Death-wish will be around to contribute to it either. In fact, I am pretty sure she was born in the year of the Runt!
    I mentioned in this piece some time ago about the 'Internet of things' and how smart objects have become part of everyday life for some. Well, this year we have joined the 'some' as I have wired the place with smart speakers and light switches. It all started when I had to replace our TV after some reasonably innocuous holiday-makers stayed for a weekend in the house, got helplessly drunk and kicked the place up. As well as holes in the walls and smashed furniture and pictures, our 50 inch TV got demolished in their brawling.  Along with its replacement came a free voice-activated gadget that can facilitate just about anything I ask it. As a new decade begins it is comforting to think I now have the aid of something so technically advanced in my armoury, that is, until I take a moment to scrutinize its usefulness. Is it really a saving to get someone else to switch on the radio, lights or telly? Or is it just called being lazy? Let's face it, I can't say 'Hey Google, take the dog for a walk, or dig the garden'. Well I could, but it won't.  In the same way that greed can hide behind religion, I am not really convinced that the involvement of these gadgets in our lives can really conceal our increasing tendency towards inactivity.
    Based on the above, it's time for a jolly good festive walk on the beach for me today, a route which thankfully passes a couple of good local pubs. Unfortunately, or otherwise, the location of said hostelries negates any mobile or internet signal, so I can get a pint of incommunicado in peace. Don't call me, I'll call you - next year!

Swally time

   So here we go again, making things up to pass the 2 hours it takes to fly from France to Edinburgh and typing them into my phone for you to read. Well I don’t exactly fabricate all my paragraphs, consider it more of an embellishment of the day to day mundane, and an exploitation of the bizarre. 
   You will, of course, by the time this hits your doormat, be gearing up for the horrors of Christmas shopping and a general election. And perhaps a little intrepid - or jubilant - that if the communists get into power they will ban all things holy and you will never have to listen to Jingle Bells or Noddy Holder ever again, let alone queue up in Argos for the latest throw-away toy. Were it not that I believe that what masquerades as a labour government would also force everyone to become vegans, I might even be tempted to go along with the anti-Santa idea myself. However, both history and common-sense advocate that extreme leftism is about as practical as a cardboard oven, yet nonetheless it is as close now as it ever was during its halcyon 1970s decade. Of course, extreme rightism is hardly much better, in fact extreme anything only ever satisfies a small minority. But there are a gathering number who are either fed-up with middle-of-the road politics, or really do believe that a man with a white beard and red trousers will bring joy down their chimney.
    It is 10 years to the month since the editor asked me to pen this regular column and, during that time, we have seen a few ups and downs when it comes to political surprises. Back then smiley Mr Blair was promising us all that Britain would be nuclear-power sufficient within a decade, house prices were on an ever upward trend and Donald Trump was a mere TV presenter. I could have quite rightly predicted that these and other certainties of the time would change.  But never in my wildest dreams of cynicism did I predict that a has-been forgotten student activist such as Corbyn had a realistic chance of getting the keys to the country. Clarkson once described him as the “Ebola virus, on a bicycle!” In hindsight, even that was tame!
   Anyway, parking my fears in the dark space away from the streetlight, let me raise the tone a little to announce that the reason for my carbon-producing flight today is that I am off on a jolly. Although hard to believe, it has been four decades since my wife first attended Edinburgh university, but I am sure she won’t thank me for sharing that fact. To mark the occasion, she has gathered all her fresher friends from that era so they can embark on a pub-crawl of student proportions around the city, and, possibly to their detriment, have invited me to tag along. It may, to coin a phrase, get messy. Realistically, it will probably just involve a few pints of heavy, and a nightcap dram, and we’ll all be tucked up in our onesies before closing time but, in our own heads, we will have painted the town in rainbow colours and showed our younger selves a lesson or two.
   As it is still only mid-November in real-time, the city will be just gearing up for the festive season and hopefully not quite so OTT as its southern counterparts. Also, because it is November, I can no longer fly directly from one place to another in a straight line – Ryanair only do that in the greedy months - and hence a 90-minute stop-over in Stanstead complete with all the rudeness it purveys. Having been through one set of security checks in France, wouldn’t it be nice just to seamlessly merge into a queue for the next flight without the hassle of a second round? But no, as we are herded through a maze of seatbelt tape and glared at, my turn eventually comes to put my stuff on the conveyor and off I go through the hoop of shame only to set off the metal detector alarm. Why me? Stand over there. Why me. Raise your arms. Look, no belt, no shoes, my pockets are empty? But somehow the machine decided I was carrying a bomb, or even worse, a tube of moisturiser, and singled me out for a whole-body search. Was I not within my rights to demand an apology from the man who put his hands down my trousers? Or at least an explanation for why the bloody machine went off and delayed me 10 minutes, despite me being as clean as a washed sock. Nope. Nada, zip. In this cry-baby world where everyone is offended by everything, I find this offensive. But what can I do? Sadly, I am not one of Greta Thunberg’s chums, so I don’t count.
   Anyway, I am now safely reunited with my wife after a week’s absence, in the chilly but cheery north. Never mind the gluhwein and carols, break out the Macallan and haggis - and, for a few days at least, all will be right with the world.