Thursday, 17 April 2014


Here’s an old song for you from the Depression of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

"Every morning, every evening,    Don’t we have fun!
Not much money, Oh, but honey,   Don’t we have fun!
The rent’s unpaid, dear,    We haven’t a sou!
But dreams were made, dear,   For me and for you!
There’s nothing clearer,   The rich get rich,
And the poor get poorer,
In the meantime,   In between time,   Don’t we have fun!”

From this popular song, it sounds as if people didn’t mind being poor in those far off days.   However, we have a new voice burst upon the world, talking about the growing gap in today’s society between the super-rich and the rest of us, with the poorest suffering most .   The voice is that of a young Frenchman, he is in his early forties, and his book is called “Capital in the Twenty-first Century.   He has spent his time in the Ecole d’economie de Paris, most of his career collecting data about economies from the nineteenth century right up to the present day.   According to his extensive research, the young Professor Thomas Piketty in studying not only America, UK and Western Europe, but also Russia, China and other countries emerging from under-development has drawn some startling conclusions.      It seems it is unstoppable that the small elite who are the super-rich all over the world are getting more and more rich.   Their increase in wealth is happening at a faster rate than the growth in economic strength of any of the countries studied by Piketty.     And it seems the poor are becoming poorer at the same rate as the rich are getting richer.  Without change of tactics by governments, the inequality gap must just continue to widen.

Much of the above has been gleaned from The Observer of 13th April, The New Review Section.   In the reporting of an interview of Piketty by Andrew Hussey, the article is called, “It just doesn’t add up.”   One critic, Karl Smith of the Financial Times is quoted as saying, “The author, an inequality expert, is distinguished.   The work is acclaimed.   The book’s empirical evidence is already the stuff of legend.”

The whole matter has set off fierce debates between economists, including the advisers to Ed Milliband in the UK.   It seems that Piketty proposes tax and more tax of the super-rich.   Will this work?   The rich have the power.   Greed keeps driving up the salaries of super-managers.   They make or produce nothing.  They have broken away from the markets and reality, just like the bankers in 2008.

Well, that’s just heavy enough of a subject for an opener from me today.   Other little jewels of information.   Yes, it seems that evolution has stopped being of any importance.   We have evolved into beautiful human beings from some one- or two-celled sea creatures.   This has taken 3.6 billion years.   But now scientists can switch round the DNA of say, a bacterium.   You could re-engineer its genome, perhaps, for example, to make it ingest carbon dioxide and excrete crude oil.   Would you Adam and Eve it?   It seems that the Science Minister from the government gave a speech at the meeting held in London about the future of 'synthetic biology', announcing evolution could now be forgotten about, evolution had now been retired.   He even presented evolution with a gold watch!!   And a geneticist at Harvard stored an entire book on a strand of DNA and got a DNA sequencing machine to read it back to him. This is our world, folks!   SCARY!    (See, “When humans hijack evolution” by Michael Brooks.  The New Statesman 11-17th April, 2014.)


I’m sad about the South Korean ship that sank, and the tragic loss of life of young people on their day out.

I hope that governments pay heed to the warnings of the United Nations about Global Warming.   With all the problems facing the populace, it is no wonder so many people nowadays are said to suffer from depression and anxiety, especially the young, teenagers, young parents, and all struggling citizens.   How can we effect some changes to make our world a greener place?   Does anyone know?

There was a power cut yesterday evening, it seems that locations all over the north of  Scotland were affected.    Suddenly no lights, no television, no computers, no telephones, no electric blanket in bed, no reading in bed (ah, the Kindle!)   What to do?   Darkness inside and outside the house.    With the unexpectedness of the situation, tempers became frayed.   “Where are the candles, why aren’t they here?”  and the like could be heard in loud tones.    How frail and vulnerable we all are!  Who do we turn to?   Should we ask the stars above to look down on us and keep us sane!

This man was visiting a mental hospital (loony bin!).

As the man is leaving the institution, on the driveway he spies an inmate of the place kneeling down with his ear to the ground.   The patient stops the visitor, “Come here, man, listen to this!”   The visitor kneels and listens,   “I hear nothing “, he says.   The lunatic replies in amazement, “I know, it’s been like that all day!”

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

WEDDINGS – BIG BANG – UNREWARDED GENIUS –                                  AND A WHORE

Well, here we go again.   It’s Spring in Inverness. 

A birdie with a yellow bill,
Perched upon my windowsill,
Cocked its little head and said,
Ain’t you shamed you sleepyhead.  

So I’d better get busy.   The garden is coming alive.   We have rhubarb and sprouting broccoli, and lots of moss to clear away.   Laura had the stalks of her five-inch-high sweet-peas in her greenhouse felled by a great slug, and she tells me a mouse has eaten the sprouting shoots of Gordon’s potatoes in the garage.  Rabbits have eaten our tulips to the ground.   Well, that’s how it goes.   You win some, you lose some.

All the talk just now among family anyway is about WEDDINGS.   It’s great fun – “What colour are you wearing?”    Or it’s - “We’re on our way to buy shoes to go with the bridesmaid dresses”.   Or all the men are off to Prague for a Stag Party on Saturday.   How the world changes.   Everything has to be Mega size before we can be pleased.   Anyway it’s all systems go for Calum and Fiona on 26th April.   And for Shonagh and Stuart in July.   I can’t get out of my head:

“Another bride, another groom.  
Another sunny honeymoon.   Another season,
Another reason for makin’ Whoopee.
A lot of shoes.   A lot of rice.  
The groom is nervous.   He answers twice.
It’s really killing, how he’s so willing for makin’ whoopee.”

Especially when sung by the old-timer, Eddie Cantor.

I’m going all scientific today.  Having picked up this week’s New Statesman, still open at an article called  “Hard Results from Soft Skills by Michael Brooks”.    He is talking about the Confederation of British Industry -   complaining that in Britain we face a shortage of people with science, engineering and mathematics skills.   The pay ain’t all that good he remarks so kids don’t go in for these subjects.   He also talks about a study at Durham University where the academics are trying to analyze the writings of Bishop Robert Grosseteste who wrote a treatise called De Luce (On light).   The 12th Century thinker (what a great name “Grosseteste”! I like saying it!) suggested that light filled space and that a primordial explosion of light caused the universe to expand.   In other words he was suggesting our very modern Big Bang Theory.   This showed to the author of this article, in the New Statesman anyway, that science training is not the only source of intellectual thinking, and that we should value “soft skills” such as observation, curiosity and creative imagination.   The theory about how our universe got started - The Big Bang Theory - you could say has been around for almost eight centuries, and we have fooled ourselves into thinking  that it all began with Newton.

Also I would like to mention Professor Alf Adams.   I turned on BBC Radio 4  at 9am. this morning and as usual on Tuesday, we have The Life Scientific on which a scientist describes his work.   This man Alf Adams, a perfectly honest unassuming sounding fellow comes from a quite un-academic background.   His parents were not at all well off.   His father was born with Tuberculosis, and the parents of the boy were told not to send him to school.   He should be out in the fresh air. 

Nevertheless, Alf grew up to be a child continuously asking questions.   When he got to study science, a tutor advised that, to get himself started, he might try to replicate other experiments he had heard about.   So he did, and found that the conclusions of the original scientist had been all wrong.   So he started out making a study of the behaviour of lasers for himself.   One day while walking on the beach with his wife, he asked her to stop talking to him as he was thinking about something.   His thoughts were about the lasers that were in existence and the thin layer of crystal lattice on which all the research was focussed.

It may have been the environment of the beach, but his thought was that if stress was put on the crystals then they would perform better, and would require less energy to function.   It is known as the discovery of the “strained quantum well laser”- or the lasers that power the internet, CDs, DVDs, computer mice and supermarket check-outs, to name but a few.   

British firms did not want to take the risk of backing the idea.   So he went to Eindhoven in the Netherlands where Philips and their R&D team were immediately stunned by the difference in performance generated by Adams' approach.   CD players were suddenly viable for a mass market, much smaller and cheaper, and the larger data capacity means fast processing leading to DVD’s.   It can truly and fairly be said that the majority of all lasers being used around the world are Alf Adams’ invention.   He should be a billionaire, but his work went unrewarded financially.   He was recognised as a first-class scientist by being made a Fellow of the Royal Society which was very well deserved.   Himself, he says, he has had a brilliant career, and that’s been immensely satisfying for him.  Much of the above about Alf Adams  I have taken from an article sourced on the Internet called “Hidden Geniuses: science researchers who don’t get enough credit”.   Published by “The Guardian.”

To end with a joke -   I see I have used the word “Nevertheless” which reminded me of an old joke.

There was a dance in the Parish Hall of a Highland Village in Scotland, and the local stern-faced minister of the Church of Scotland was running it.   
He stood on the platform and announced.    

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I must announce that Kirsty May is going to sing for us.”

One of the boys called out, “She’s a Whore!”

The minister hesitated, and continued unfazed, “Nevertheless, she’s going to sing for us.”

So Long!   Keep taking the tablets!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014


The HIGHLY significant other has started to write another book and blogging has to take a backseat.  But we hope you are anxiously waiting for a blog and so the next best is for the insignificant other to take up the challenge.

Of course you want to know what the new book of Margaret’s is to be about.  Modesty makes me think she is making a big mistake as she wants to base it on my life and that of other members of my family.  I suppose our lives have been more eventful than some, starting as we did as refugees from Nazi persecution and with many ups and downs ended with interesting careers, businesses and travels.  And of course the best part of all, for me at least, marrying Margaret.  Time will tell how it goes (the book, I mean).

Violence seems to be the order of the day.  How one weeps for the people of Syria, of other middle-eastern countries and now, of the Ukraine.  It is almost past belief for us who live in the relative calm of Scotland that people can kill and maim their own countrymen because of religious, ethnic or sectarian differences.  I had hoped these things had been left behind in the dark ages.  Perhaps future historians might regard our age as another dark age.  

Bloodshed on a large scale was in recent times restricted to wars among nations.  But now  we are also constantly reminded of violence in film and on television.  Margaret and I went to see “TwelveYears A Slave” recently. Brilliantly produced and acted – as the various Oscars won by the film underlined.  But the humiliation and violence perpetrated on the “slaves” was almost too much to bear.  And equally difficult to watch was the film “The Railway Man” (based on a true story).  The principal character was traumatised by his experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore where he had served in the army.  The gratuitous violence meted out to the prisoners during the construction of the railway through near-impassable territory in Burma was yet another reminder of inhumanity.  Fortunately the film ended with a moving reconciliation between the ex-prisoner and his former oppressor.  OK, I like to bury my head in the sand when it comes to violence, but perhaps I am in a minority, as stories of violence of all kinds seem to sell newspapers and fill the news channels.

There was a charming article recently in our favourite Sunday paper “the Observer”.  Henry Porter started by reminding us of horrendous floods, storms, arctic blasts, and unusually fierce heat waves all around the same time but in different parts of the world.  He pointed out that the overwhelming scientific evidence is that climate change, exacerbated by man, is responsible for the increase in extreme weather events.  However, the vocal minority who deny man’s role in this (or even in climate change as such) can claim that there is always a small margin of error in scientific evidence.  Scientists tend to deal in probabilities.  So the climate change deniers can say “we are not convinced by the evidence”.  So, our smart correspondent invites them to provide irrefutable evidence that climate change and man’s contribution to it does not exist.  A fair comment – prove your case beyond doubt or shut up.

This is getting altogether too heavy and needs Margaret’s lighter touch.  So let us tell you that we had visits from the two wonderful grandchildren, each with their respective partners, who are soon to get married.  The girls looked GORGEOUS, the men looked just like men.  I am constantly in the doghouse on the subject of weddings.  While I think the commitment to getting married is wonderful, I have dared to suggest that scaling back a bit on the celebrations would leave a lot of money over for all the other things young couples (and perhaps even their parents?) need.  I’m just a spoil sport – my views fall on deaf ears.  And how would the whole wedding industry exist if they listened to this old grouch?

Unlike Margaret I can’t think up a jolly story or joke with which to end, but I was intrigued by an article by the Science correspondent in the New Statesman last week.   Michael Brooks reminded us that zinc has antiseptic and wound healing properties and is thus incorporated in many food supplements, ointments and pills.  But he ends his article thus: “Here’s a final tip in case the price of zinc lozenges skyrockets: a daily 100g of cooked caterpillars contains all the zinc you need.  You’re welcome”.  Indeed.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


The other day I was doing my best to fill in a “Grandma’s Memories Book” for my grand-daughter, Emma.   The question was if you were an animal, name three animals you would be.   My significant other, Gerald, called out, “a fish”.   A fish said I.   You must be joking.   All day in the water.   “A parrot?”  he shouted.   What?   In a cage all day.   No, I shall say “A fox” to make sure I can be on the watch for chancers and the like.   Then, second I would say a racehorse to run in the field all day with my hair flying.   And maybe perhaps for a third choice I would be a nice spaniel-type dog so that folk would pat me and be nice to me all the time.   Quite an interesting exercise.

I was at a general meeting of the University of the Third Age yesterday, here in Inverness.   Gerald and I are members of it and attend also one of the sub-groups, the Current Affairs Discussion Group.  At this meeting there was a debate about economic models.   The proposal was that there is an alternative to Neoliberalism Capitalism, that is the system currently that of the United Kingdom, and I suppose of America and parts of Europe.    The alternative being suggested by our group’s leader was that of the Common Weal.   This is the economic system favoured by the Scandinavian countries.  There is much higher taxation on individuals but generous welfare payments for those not working, and exceedingly good health service provisions and good social and public services - also higher average incomes and less inequality.   Denmark is said to be the happiest country in the world, using this economic system.    The citizens of this small country are said to be generally happy and contented with their lot.

The man who spoke opposing the motion was against this “socialist” type system.   He had been a small businessman before retiring and he described how he had treated his workers well, how he looked after his customers, and made a profit.   He went on to say he felt he did good for the community by extending his business and creating jobs for other people etc.   He believed in the system pertaining today, that is capitalism subject to market forces.

At question time, I wished to highlight the bad side of unchecked “High Capitalism” as seen when global companies transfer their businesses to places like India and the Far East.   Places where poor people may just come from rural backgrounds and are willing to work long hours for very low wages.   Thus the people in Europe lose their jobs, being only pawns to the seekers of profit.   For my sins, I cited the programme, Countryfile, on BBC l on Sunday evening where we saw a prize Charolais Bull auctioned in Scotland.   It was sold to an American bidder for the highest price ever of 100,000 guineas, that is £105,000.   The buyers don’t even want to have this magnificent bull in the USA.   It has to stay in UK and be looked after by the Farm Manager who brought it up.   In the first 36 hours after purchase, 2000 straws of semen from that bull had been sold for artificial insemination at £l00 each, and therefore netting £200,000 for the owners.   Now that is also High Capitalism.   Poor Bull!   He hasn’t even got a girlfriend. 

Anyway, the speaker from our group, Andrew, won the motion by a landslide, the majority seeing the Common Weal ideas as a potential alternative to “neoliberalism”.

The television these days is pretty gruelling – so many pictures of flooding in the South of England.   Those poor people in Somerset on the low-lying land, and now some of those along the River Thames and the Severn.   The environment agency staff are doing all the backbreaking work they can, but it is hard for the householders to bear to see their precious goods being steadily covered by the muddy floodwater.   The shouts of blame between the government and the environment agency can be heard on all sides.   We know the rain has been unprecedented, but everyone says that more should have been done, and should have been done earlier.

Being a contributor to Friends of the Earth for, I’m sure, at least forty years now, and receiving their publication regularly, I have to confess, I pay my small contribution by Direct Debit each month, and have rarely made an effort to open their magazine, being, I say, always too busy.   However, I have had a good look at it this time, and have been intrigued by the clarity of the publication, and the interesting problems of our planet that they deal with.

Here are a few:
1.      They have campaigned hard about the plight of bees, and can congratulate themselves for persuading the UK government to commit to a National Pollinator Bee Strategy.
2.      In Northern Ireland, Friends of the Earth have succeeded in halting a free-for-all building on green-belt land.
3.      With other groups, Friends of the Earth have forced the government to say it is committed to cleaning up our energy supply.
4.      Successfully challenged the Welsh Govt. and stopped them from building over protected landscapes.
5.      As tin is used in nearly all the world’s leading smart-phones, using tin from an  Indonesian island called Bangka, Friends of the Earth have committed the involved companies to address the environmental destruction, and human misery this tin-mining is causing.   The magazine is called “Earth Matters”

“Call the Midwife” was a bit of a tearjerker this week on BBC1 TV.   Our favourite midwife’s lovely boyfriend had a fall.   It was a bad accident and he had to have his foot amputated.   Poor young girl, she was devastated as they had fallen out just before this.   And then he died suddenly while being cared for.   The nuns in charge of the midwifrie clinic persuaded  her to take a holiday in a convent retreat.   As she was getting into the taxi with sad face, the older nun came running out crying, the nun who has kind of lost the place and become a bit queer.   She was reciting an old poem to the grieving midwife, a poem I used to love.   I think it’s a favourite of many people.   It’s by Leigh Hunt.

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in.
Time, you thief who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in.

Say I’m weary; say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me.
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

For some reason this little poem added to the scene of sadness.  It brought the tears to my eyes.

And now 2 jokes  -  Jewish jokes!

A man sat before Dr. Gluckstein, the aged but renowned urinary-disorders specialist.;
“My trouble,” complained the man, “is that I can’t pee!"
“How old are you ?” asked Dr. Gluckstein!
“I’m ninety-three!”
“It’s all right,” said the famous urologist.  “You peed enough!”

Second joke:
“Is your nephew, Irving a good doctor?”
“Good?  He’s such a lovely boy, last year I needed an operation and I couldn’t afford it.  So he touched up the X-rays!”