The how many? days of Christmas

IMG_1625On 14th November, I saw a truck on the A75 loaded with Christmas trees. TV news this morning was full of stories of Christmas lights being switched on. It’s impossible to find what you’re looking for in most shops because they’ve moved everything around to make way for shelf after shelf of Christmas tatt. It’s still more than a month until Christmas!

I’m not exactly antediluvian, but I remember that when I was young my father worked until lunchtime on Christmas Day, if it fell on a weekday – that was quite normal in Scotland, not only in shops but in offices.

What has happened to us, that we can’t wait until Christmas to celebrate Christmas? Easy answer: John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Tesco etc have happened to us. No semblance of a traditional festival (whether you’re Christian, pagan, or anything else). Commerce, not-so-pure and simple. At a time when it’s been flagged up that the UK is carrying a dangerous and unprecedented load of personal debt – a time-bomb of personal debt, in fact – how immoral is it for the retail and hospitality industries to start putting the squeeze on us from the middle of November?

How many of us can keep up the “Festive Spirit” for forty days?

This is MY Christmas tree. I’ll bring him into our less-heated hallway around 22nd December, to acclimatise, then into the sitting room on 24th December, to be decorated. Around 3rd January, he’ll go back out (again via the hallway for a day or two), and he’ll live in the garden until next 22nd December. After that, I may take pity on him, plant him in the ground, and start over. He cost me £5, and this is his 5th Christmas – admittedly, in the first two years, he didn’t exactly hold many decorations, and the shortest string of lights was more than long enough.

 

 

My life in cats

img_0772-e1508853822231.jpg

My mother with Peter

I can’t remember not having a cat, from my earliest memories onwards. Aside from brief periods when I was at university and away from home, they’ve been an omnipresent part of my life.

And it struck me today: the ‘cat chain’ is unbroken. From Peter, the very first cat I remember (probably my earliest memory of all: sitting up in an old-fashioned Silver Cross pram, with Peter sitting at my feet), right through to my most recently-acquired feline companions, there are links – each ‘new’ cat having spent time with earlier ones. We acquired Teko while Frisky and her son Gilbert were very much alive; we’d adopted Frisky during Peter’s lifetime; Sammy & Freddie joined the household alongside Teko, then (when I moved house), Magnus and Susie and Sasha joined Sammy and Freddie for a time; Sasha was adopted after a friend ran him over and thought he’d killed him (he hadn’t, fortunately; no one came forward to claim Sasha, so I had him for many, many years until he passed away aged at least 18, and possibly 20). Sasha lived alongside the next few successive adopted cats: Kiki; Fidel (a very vocal Havana cat rescued from the vets where he’d been taken to be put down, and with us for several years), Pablo, and Sarah and Scritty (Birman mother and daughter).

IMG_1045

Honey

Fidel outlived the rest, and was joined by Pushkin, who was subsequently joined by Misty and Honey. We lost Pushkin last year, and Misty in January, but Honey’s still with us, and has been joined by The Twins.

IMG_1333

The Twins

So there you have it – an unbroken line of cats, from pram to present.

Democracy: a tricky concept

IMG_0757
I attended another pro-EU/anti-Brexit rally yesterday (haven’t been to so many demos since I was a student).
One of the handful of random hecklers who wandered past the part of the Newcastle Rally where I was standing, and attempted to comment on proceedings (and who appeared to have had quite a lot to drink) yelled “Democracy”. That was his only contribution to the debate.
The referendum has achieved something that even Earl Grey, whose monument we were gathered around (he was responsible for starting the move to a universal franchise in Britain) didn’t manage to achieve: it has put this word “Democracy” in the mouths of millions of people who don’t actually understand what it means.
If you ask someone to vote based on the premise: ‘Do you want an extra £350m a week for the NHS, and a free unicorn for every household?’ the answer’s going to be pretty obvious for the third of the electorate that doesn’t have the gumption to say: ‘Hang on a minute – unicorns don’t exist. And HOW much money for the NHS?’
The dictionary definition of democracy is “A system of government where people choose their rulers by voting for them”. It is not “mob rule based on lies”.
This is the biggest task for those of who see the concept of a “good” Brexit for the mirage it is: to keep bringing forward convincing arguments for why a referendum based on misinformation and blatant lies is in NO sense an example of democracy!
As Akash Paun points out in this article, the referendum and the British Constitution are very strange bedfellows.

‘The centre cannot hold’

 

22104600_239673866561281_2655494697976571756_o

I almost became a historical demographer. Back in the ’70s, I started a PhD in that field (I didn’t finish; my life might have taken a very different course if I had). My main area of study was the application of centre & periphery theory to migration into British towns from the mid-19th century.

Predictably, then (as now), every country had its town or region which was a migration magnet: towards it gravitated the brightest and the best, as well as the desperate. The problem (then as now) is that these ‘centres’ (normally capital cities) tend not to be particularly central in geographical terms.

It seems to me that this phenomenon is at the root of Europe’s current political ills. The people of the ‘peripheries’ have, at long last, had enough of centralised power. It’s at the root of Brexit, and I suspect it’s at the root of the rise of far right parties all over Europe, and of the current stand-off between Spain and Catalonia.

I live in rural Scotland – not all that far from the Border, as it happens, but in an area with atrocious roads and lousy public transport. How many times I have seethed to read that taxpayers’ money (including mine) has been used to buy a painting or a sculpture or an archaeological hoard ‘for the nation’, when it has clearly been bought primarily for the citizens of London. If I want to visit that town, it means an incredibly expensive series of bus & train journeys; it takes a day to travel there, and a day to travel back – so realistically we’re talking train fares plus two nights’ accommodation, plus meals. A trivial example, perhaps, but an example of the irritants of living at the periphery.

Guy Verhofstadt, a politician whom I greatly admire, recently Tweeted: ‘There is a solution for the situation in Catalonia: reform Spain into a federal state in a federal Europe.’

He is absolutely right. During my time as a full-time seafood trade journalist, and as a lobbyist, I had a lot to do with the EU – both the Commission and the Parliament. I love the EU; I am much prouder of my EU citizenship than of “British” citizenship; I believe the European Parliament is an excellent model of true democracy. But possibly the ‘centre’, typified by the Commission, has indeed become too powerful, to the detriment of the periphery. That is something that the UK – a federal UK, comprised of three autonomous countries, if not four – should be helping to remedy from the inside.

Walking away from the success story that’s the EU is going to do nothing – not one solitary thing – to remedy the imbalance between centre and periphery in the UK. If anything, it will make it much worse. But I fear by the time that becomes clear to those who believed they were empowering themselves by voting ‘Leave’, it’ll already be too late. Meanwhile, although many tens of thousands of us strive to make our voices heard in opposing Brexit, the country in general appears to be drowning in apathy.

 

 

This entry was posted on October 5, 2017. 2 Comments

My favourite tree

IMG_0749More than thirty years ago, I grew a ginkgo tree from seed. Because of the length and coldness of winters in the Aberdeenshire hinterland, as it grew the tree was kept in a series of containers, and taken into the greenhouse every year.

When we moved to the softer (if rainier!) climate of south-west Scotland six years ago, the removal company informed us at the last moment that they couldn’t transport any ‘living things’, so I made a down-and-back dash of over 500 miles to bring my tree to its new home. Once we were settled, it was planted in a sheltered spot in the garden.

With having been grown in a pot for so long,  it had become a semi-bonsai, with a maximum height of around four feet, and a trunk that’s sinuous rather than straight. It also produced leaves that, although perfectly-formed, were miniature.

Over the past three years, while the tree hasn’t gained height, I noticed that its leaves were becoming a more ‘normal’ size. This year, for the first time, it has full-sized leaves – and they are lovely in their autumn colours; like miniature fans.

Ginkgo biloba is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all the others being extinct. It is found in fossils dating back 270 million years. The species was around at the time of the dinosaurs.

I’m very, very glad that I brought mine with me! Phooey to you, removal men.

Robbing the dead

 

DSCF3304

Next February, it will be 30 years since my mother passed away. It was a particularly cold month, and a large amount of snow was on the ground in the small village where she lived, in the Central Highlands.

Because of the house’s remote situation, and my mother’s health, she had help in the house, and there was more than one local keyholder. After the immediate trauma of the funeral was over, I had the task of clearing the house. I’m an only child, so all of that task fell to me; my youngest son was under two years old, so all of the house-clearing had to be done with a toddler in tow. Due to the distance from my home and my other three school-age children, and the weather, for the first month or two I could only be at the house occasionally.

That’s when I discovered that, even in rural Scotland, people think nothing of robbing the dead.

Of the several things that had vanished, there are two I have never quite got over. The first was the inscribed gold watch given to my father when he retired after spending all his working life in J&P Coats’ Glasgow office. Because ours was a somewhat dysfunctional family, I really knew my father very little (he died when I was in my early twenties), and I have very, very few things that belonged to him. Having the watch would mean a lot to me, and no doubt its fate was to be melted down anyway, because of the inscription.

The second stolen item that haunts me still was the small brass figure of a sleeping, nude woman, lying on her side. Although she was nude, there was nothing immodest about her. She was, quite simply, exquisite. My stepfather (who was also my grandmother’s cousin, and therefore a blood relative I’d known all my life) had brought her back from France, where he had a most distinguished service record in WWI. She had no identifying marks, and would hardly have been worth melting down for all the metal that was in her. I’d like to think that at least she is still intact, somewhere, and that whoever stole her, or whoever has her now, appreciates her as much as I did, and my mother did, and my stepfather did.

Little things mean a lot.

 

On not plugging books

img_1422.jpgWhen I started this blog, I was bewitched by the idea that every writer has to have an “author platform”, and that therein (thereon? Must be “on” if it’s a platform) lies the only path to selling books. ‘And don’t ever mention politics on your author page,’ I was warned.

I’m sure an author blog is a great idea if you’re one of the writers who’s good at blogging about themselves, and their books, and their astounding successes. I’m not. That probably explains why I spend hours a day (literally) communicating on Facebook (about politics, 99% of the time) and only post here every few months.

So to hell with “author platforms”. This one hasn’t seen a train go through in years, so no point in waiting for one.

I aim to post about anything and everything from now on, and have set myself a target of AT LEAST one post a week.

When I have a new book out, I’ll mention it once (because I am a writer, after all), but apart from that it’ll be random anecdotes, memories, stuff about cats & dogs & gardens – oh, and probably a bit of politics after all, because as well as being a writer I’m a political animal. A very political animal. And the antics of most of the creatures we pay to represent us (ha!) in Parliament makes me angry most days. Very, very angry.

In fact, just about the only thing that makes me angrier at the moment is having succumbed to buying a couple of the current crop of magazines that are trying to cash in on fashionable ideas of ‘Mindfulness’. I’m very annoyed at myself, because they are (in my view) mind-numbing, faux-positive-thinking, EXPENSIVE crap. Very fertile territory for my friend Frank who does an excellent line in repurposing particularly naff quotes from Rumi that appear on Facebook.

Later this week, I mean to post about the low-lifes who pinched stuff from my mother’s house after she died.

See ya!

This entry was posted on September 25, 2017. 1 Comment