Monday, 23 December 2013

ALL OVER THE PLACE – a guest blog for Christmas and the New Year

Margaret Dunlop, proud owner of this blog site, is too busy preparing for Christmas.  That means endless cooking and baking, decorating the house and tidying up after her husband.  So she has asked her husband, that’s me, to write a blog for Christmas – and that is likely to be all over the place.   Don’t expect literary prowess as I am only used to writing scientific papers and a couple of textbooks (animal breeding, genetics and my favourite “the Yak”) and that style of pedantic writing is miles away from the novel – never mind chicklit.  Sadly, I also lack the ability for the subtle humour of my significant other – but read on.

Here are some of our thoughts for the year that is nearly past.  Let’s leave out most of the personal stuff which includes our gratitude to our National Health Service (a hint here!), frustration at airports, incredulity that nearly everybody, but especially the young, have their mobile phones glued to their ears most of the time, or on their laps - texting.  That of course leads effortlessly to other areas of surprise such as the appropriation of lovely words in the English language to mean something entirely new – or at least skewed.  The latest of these is the craze for “selfies” referred to by Margaret in her last blog.  The word actually means a photo taken of oneself  by oneself (I took one of myself in a mirror to remind me how horrible I looked with a moustache before shaving it off – and that was in the 1950’s!).  Now they tell us that it has to be a photo of oneself taken with a mobile phone with arm outstretched.  No doubt mobile phone manufacturers are rubbing their hands with glee.

On a more serious note, we (that’s both Margaret and this scribe) are sad that the world seems not to be a better place and the end of 2013.  There are still wars, ethnic and religious strife, sectarian hatred, hunger and disease for many, climate change deniers, several natural disasters from hurricanes, floods, earth quakes and catastrophic droughts, gross inequality of living standards both within and between nations – and all in a world that should be crying out for peace, tolerance, good will, caring and fairness.

With a disclaimer from Margaret who thinks it’s not a topic for Christmas, I want to add that politicians, the supposed leaders in our societies, are not helping much as they seem to be concerned with the short term only, with putting their opponents to disadvantage (irrespective often of the merits of the case) and with staying in power.  Our own government (that’s the one in London, not the Scottish one in Edinburgh) is now pretending to think long-term by making promises for 2020 and 2025 – how credulous do they think we are?   And the Scottish National Party government in Edinburgh hopes to persuade us that manna will come again from heaven if only we were a nation independent of the rest of the UK (how credulous ... ?).

None of this sounds very cheery or as seasonable as it ought to be at this time of year when many of us celebrate Christmas with its deep underlying meaning and when most in the world look forward with hope to a New Year – even if it does not start on “our” January 1st for all.

So here are some things to be cheerful about:  there is the potential from science and technology to transform lives everywhere for the better if the will and understanding can be mobilized.  And we can feed the world if we are willing to accept changes to food production and reduce waste.  In politics, someone like the late Nelson Mandela showed that it does not have to be conducted in the way it usually is.  Culture and scholarship flourish, millions of young people are still enthused with idealism and not yet infected by the cynicism of many of their elders.  As Margaret Dunlop (owner of this blog) is also an author we can marvel at the explosive expansion of self expression through indie publication.  Large publishing houses no longer willing to support unknown authors, without an assured market and profit, have been effectively bypassed by the e-book trade.  The only downside perhaps is that it becomes ever harder to sift the grain from the chaff – so to speak.

And on a cheery note, we marvel at a Hollyhock in our garden – in Inverness, a part of the country where the climate is not good for this “English” garden plant.  Well, two days from Christmas and after cold, frost and even some snow, it is still flowering five months after it started to do so.  That surely is a sign of the marvel of nature and an omen that good and beautiful things are here to stay.   And with that, we (Margaret and her temporary scribe) wish all of you who have been able to read this screed to the end a very happy festive season and a Good New Year.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

HIGH JINKS IN LONDON AND HOME TO THE SAME OLD POLITICS - and Christmas just round the corner

Well, I got back safely from London after having a wonderful time with Laura and Margaret.   On the Friday night we showed up at Ronnie Scott’s club, Jessica, grandaughter, and now working as an intern in the crazy capital joined us as we took our places at our booked table.   Three hours of great jazz, great singing, terrific atmosphere, all small, lighted tables.  We ate our meal and drank our drinks in a haze of unusualness.     At least for me, the older generation, it was a really exciting occasion.   So we three generations of Scots, out on the tiles – didn’t we live it up and have a ball!   Even paying the enormous prices for taxis (London is a big city!) seemed daring and amazing £l6 here and £20 there.   We didn’t venture on the Tube – in Glasgow when I lived there, they called it “The Subway”.   Alternatively you can call it “The Underground”.    I had decided we should celebrate in style and for three days we would be toffs and use London Cabs.

You just get in and give them the postcode of your destination and off they jolly-well-go!   Great fun!    We had dinner in an Italian restaurant with some Scots friends and relatives working in London, and from there we dashed off to see “The Bodyguard”.    This was an A1, ace, dramatic musical story of the singer Whitney Houston.   What a fantastic performer she was.   Her life story was so moving.   We cheered with the rest, and at the end the cast got a 20 minute standing ovation.   Then ….. to my astonishment, the audience burst into wild dancing and singing etc., etc.  This included my party.   I became a sort of embarrassed bystander at this point.   Don’t people have fun nowadays?   When I was young shows and films usually ended with The National Anthem and we all filed out gravely, showing what good people we were.

Otherwise, I picked up a hideous cold – an acquaintance, a lady vet, explained I didn’t pick up the virus in the Big Smoke, but on the aeroplane to Gatwick from Inverness.   However I got it, it was hellish – wheezing and coughing, probably my punishment for enjoying myself so much at my age.   I was dressed up in my new long black boots, and felt great when I was there, but I never got invited to any party!!  Well, you can’t win them all.   We went to the Tate Britain Gallery, and we got a free round of drinks at the Hotel St. Pancras because their service was slow that Saturday night.

Christmas presents all purchased for better or worse.   Terrible scenes of refugees in Syria and Lebabon.   Winter storm and dreadful privation.   I admit I have to turn to another television channel as I can’t watch these poor children in their suffering, and their poor parents.   What a ghastly world it can be for people.   We Brits are so lucky in 2013 about most things.   And old Nelson Mandela is gone.   What a shining light he was.  Glasgow should be proud of how they stuck up for him while he was imprisoned.   He was made a Freeman of the City of Glasgow when he was still in jail, and they changed the name of a street to name it after him.  Warm-hearted people as always.   They’ve had it hard themselves in the past in Glasgow, and know how to stand up for the underdog.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband continue to shout at each other in parliament.   David makes one statement and Ed completely contradicts him.   Then Milliband  makes a statement about the failures of the government, and Cameron accuses the Labour Party of failures in their term in government, and so on, and so on.   Even Gerald and I, dedicated politics followers get cheesed off, and despair of things coming right for the tired, penny-pinching  population, that is 90% of our country today.   Compared to some areas of the planet we are privileged.   Caring people raise money for the charities that try to aid these poor people.   It is all we can do, it seems.   The instant communication of television is a double-edged example of progress.    We can be entertained and horrified within a few hours.

May the Christmas Season bring you and yours Joy and Peace.