For some years now, SNP has portrayed itself as the voice of Scotland. The recent Council elections and Theresa May's snap General Election have thoroughly demolished that notion. SNP have won more seats in both elections than any other party and congratulations to them for that, but they have not won the popular vote. Indyref2 would be suicidal for Nicola Sturgeon and she knows that. She would lose again. SNP speak only for SNP.
I was listening to a feminist debate on the radio last night. What a load of piffle! Apparently the female leaders of our political parties - Tories, Scottish Tories, Scottish Labour, Scottish Nationalists, the Democratic Unionist Party (Ulster) and the Green Party - are doing badly because their female leaders are trying to emulate male role models. Eh?
Margaret Thatcher should be remembered as the ultimate icon of female success in a male dominated world but feminists have never identified with her nor she with them. Theresa May on the other hand, has worn a T-shirt with the motto, 'This is what a feminist looks like' - and they don't identify with her either. Today, we have Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany, the most powerful person in Europe; Christine Lagarde as Head of the IMF and Cressida Dick as Chief Constable of the Met etc etc. The glass ceiling is well and truly broken.
Women of ability succeed; women without, winge. Actually, ladies, exactly the same is true for men but men who don't succeed can't wave the shroud of feminism. As a man, I fear it is young men who need to be worried. Women seem to be taking over.
Who needs a scriptwriter when we have Theresa May as UK Prime Minister, Donald Trump as President of America and Emmanuel Macron as President of France - all new to their jobs? Have I died and gone to Disneyland?
Theresa, a Cruella de Vil lookalike, has just cut her own throat. Trump becomes more and more ridiculous by the day, an ogre with a buffoon hairstyle; whilst young Prince Macron has ascended to the the Imperial Throne and is leading his people to the promised land.
Never judge a book by its cover. I have never voted Tory but with Brexit to be negotiated, I truly thought that Theresa May was a godsend; she was the only strong national leader on the horizon; she has a sense of duty engraved in her heart; she is not motivated by personal glory and, I thought, was tough and decisive. Alas, the book told a very different story. She was pressurised into calling an ill-fated snap election against her own instincts; she allowed politically naive aides to produce a suicidal manifesto; and has been seen to weak and wobbly while promoting herself as 'strong and stable'. Now she has been emasculated (metaphorically of course) and is being universally vilified. What a tragedy. She is a good woman.
When you are down, the mob will kick you - it's a blood lust thing. But putting things into perspective; in this election she beat the Corbyn-led oppostion by a healthy margin and her party won the popular vote as well as most seats. Nevertheless, she lost her overall majority and has had to go into coalition with the DUP. Nothing new there; David Cameron in his first term had to go into coalition with the Lib Dems - no big deal (it was for the Lib Dems). And Theresa has just received more votes from the public than the fragrant Tony Blair did in his first landslide. I repeat, what a tragedy for her. Had she done nothing, she would still be cooking on the proverbail gas.
Now comes the test of character: she has been described as a 'dead woman walking' but right now, the country needs a strong Prime Minister; Brexit negotiations begin next week. So, despite her mortal political wounds and utter humiliation, the good woman's sense of duty has remained intact. When most others would have thrown in the towel, she will continue to serve her country until her own party finds a Cassius and Brutus to deliver the coup de grace. For the sake of the country, I wish her well.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Trump is sitting in the White House 'gathering his brows like gathering storm; nursing his wrath to keep it warm' (to quote Robert Burns). He has made the error of sacking James Comey, Director of the FBI, a hugely experienced lawyer and prosecutor with all the inside information his FBI job has provided. Now the poor, inarticulate, legally ignorant, under-educated President has discovered that bullying the Director of the FBI is not the same as sacking one of his waitresses or 'grabbing her pussy,' to quote him. He seems a dead cert for impeachment before too long.
Vive la France! On the other hand, the brilliant young Macron has read the French tea-leaves with immaculate precision. Sensing that the French public were tired of the political class who have been running his country, last year he created a new political movement, En Marche, and a few weeks ago was elected President by a huge margin. This weekend, the French have been voting for their MPs and Macron's new party seem set to win something like 75% of all parliamentary seats with a bunch of novice candidates - utterly sensational. Hail the new Napoleon. But wait; he is ultra pro the EU. Theresa will be up against him in the Brexit negotiations.
No, I did not write this script. This is actually happening.
Good news. My neighbour, the shepherd, tells me that all this year's lambs have survived. The fox has not re-appeared.
Here we are approaching a snap General Election intended to give Prime Minister May the opinion-poll-predicted landslide majority she needs for negotiating Brexit.
On becoming Prime Minister, Mrs May assured us several times that she would not take political advantage of her massive lead in the opinion polls but has. Now, she and her advisors have so cocked-up her election campaign that Labour's previously 'unelectable' Jeremy Corbyn is closing the gap sufficiently to allow the Scottish Nationalists to hold the balance of power. How on earth did we arrive in this unintended situation?
Gordon Brown inherited the Labour leadership from Tony Blair but failed to win a majority at his first General Election. That let in a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition under David Cameron; a coalition that virtually wiped out the Lib Dems. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown's heir-apparent, David Milliband, was stabbed in the front by his brother, Ed, who became Labour's new leader; but Ed was a political wonk, lost his first General Eleciton and David Cameron was returned with an overall majority. Ed then resigned leaving Labour with a leadership crisis - it had no obvious leader - and so the 'you-cannot-be-serious-ultra-disloyal Labour maverick', Jeremy Corbyn, became a 'no-hoper' Labour leader. The Tories licked their chops.
David Cameron then called a Brexit referendum intended to shoot UKIP's fox and shut up his own euro-sceptic backbenchers, but the great British public had other ideas. They voted for Brexit; so Cameron had to resign as Prime Minister. The Tory pro-Brexit conspirators then stabbed each other in the back, front and sides leading to the anti-Brexit Theresa May unintentionally becoming Prime Minister and having to lead the Brexit charge.
Now, she has so mishandled her snap General Election that the 'unelectable' Corbyn now seems to be electable with the anti-Brexit Scottish Nationalists holding the balance of English power.
As Robert Burns famously remarked: 'The best laid schemes of mice and men, gang aft agley (to cock)'
The older one gets, the more fascinating life seems to become. I happened to be in France today and watched the inauguration ceremony of the new French President, President Macron. At thirty-nine he is the youngest President since Napoleon and is clearly a man on a mission. He created his own centrist party, En Marche, only a year ago - most impressive.
Two things marked the difference between such a ceremony in France and the equivalent in the United Kingdom. The first is that France being a Republic and having decoupled the state from religion, there was neither the serried ranks of aristocrats who would pack out Westminster Abbey at a coronation nor was there even a church service. This was a purely political ceremony with the military very much to the fore - the President is their Commander-in-Chief - with pride of place being given to military veterans.
The second peculiarly French difference was that of the President's love-life. The outgoing President Hollande had not believed in marriage. He had four children by a female politician from his own party but dumped her in favour of a Paris Match journalist when he moved into the Elysee Palace. Then he two-timed her with a young actress, his infidelity being exposed when he was caught riding pillion on a scooter, like a pizza delivery boy, to his secret love nest. (Goodness knows where the nuclear button was)! President Sarkosy before him, divorced his wife whilst President to marry Cala Bruni, an Italian pop singer. Before that President Mitterand had a mistress and a secret love-child etc etc.
President Macron has brought a new dimension to the presidential love-life saga. He has married his former drama teacher, a schoolboy crush. She is twenty-five years his senior and divorced her husband to marry him. She arrives as First Lady at sixty-four. So that's one up to the cougars! However, it seems to me that the Macron marriage is one of the great love affairs of history; I don't see him having a-bit-on-the-side; he is clearly madly in love with his wife. I heard one Frenchman proclaim unkindly that he was the first President to take his mother to the Elysee Palace.
No one batted an eyelid over seventy-year-old President Trump having a wife who is twenty-five years younger than he; so why is it so strange the other way round? Older woman are so much more interesting.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned the uplifting sight of a lamb being born in front of my kitchen window. There are now about twenty lambs in the field and tonight they were joined by a fox; I saw it from my window and phoned the shepherd.
So who is for the fox and who for the lambs?
I eat meat and cannot deny that animals are killed to feed me (occasionally) but I cannot comprehend the mentality of people who take pleasure out of killing animals; who even call it 'sport'. That to me is sick.
This fox was shot. Alas, it was only wounded and escaped to die a slow death somewhere else. Would it be better had it been pursued by a pack of hounds and ripped apart? I think not.
Life is tough.
Arrived in France today, the day of the French presidential elections. Monsieur Macron won handsomely in a straight fight between the Centre and the Extreme Right Nationalist candidate, Mme le Pen. Macron is only thirty-nine and is the youngest French President since Napoleon.
He is certainy an impressive man and has the fairly unique distinction of having married his former school teacher who is twenty-five years his senior. President Trump has played it the other way, His wife is young enough to be his daughter. Best wishes to both wives.
Hooray. Have just signed publishing contract with Casemate Publishers.
Signing a contract suddenly makes all this writing effort frighteningly real. I've had to sign for liability for all sorts of things like being sued for defamation of character by my 'victims'. Mine is only an honest tale about submariners. I shudder to think of the problems for kiss-and-tell autobiographers. Thank goodness we submariners don't do kiss-and-tell. What happens on the middle watch stays in the middle watch.
On Saturday, I visited a friend who has just had major open-heart surgery at the Royal National Jubilee Hospital at Clydebank, the national centre of excellence for heart surgery in Scotland. The operation involved sawing open the rib cage, pulling it apart, removing veins from the arms and stitching them into the heart in place of weakened arteries. There, that just rolled off the tongue. The operation, although 'routine' in that hospital, is simply miraculous and a superb example of NHS professionalism at its very best - and many operations like that are carried out daily. To put this operation into perspective, wounds like that sustained on the battlefield would be fatal.
Therefore, it pains me to hear almost nightly on the BBC TV News that the NHS is about to collapse because elderly folk in need of care have to wait on trolleys in Accident & Emergency units etc. The BBC seems to specialise in picking out flaws in the crust of an enormous NHS pie and can always find a victim to support their case. Balanced reporting is not required: '10,000 successful operations today' does not make a headline. 'Old lady wets pants while left in trolley,' does (distressing though that is).
So, how good is our NHS? Who knows? How long is a piece of string? The NHS, along with the military, is one of the few remaining nationalised industries. It is mind-blowingly enormous, has a budget greater than many countries and has the inescapable problems of any state-run monopoly. It is a political sacred cow so large and sensitive that no political party dare attack it. Three of its greatest problems are over-expectation by the public, abuse of the system and the endemic instinct to cover up mistakes. Heaven help an NHS whistleblower. (I know. I once blew the whistle).
So is privatisation the answer? This week we learned of a surgeon in private practice who was conducting on an industrial scale, unnecessary mastectomies on cancer-free women, his motive apparently being to make money. That could not have happened in the NHS, one hopes. But the offending surgeon had worked in the NHS and had been under some sort of scrutiny there for his medical peformance. His escape route was private practice where scrutiny seems to be less rigorous.
Hooray! I have this day managed to work out how to put a 490Mb video clip on to my website. You can now view me performing 'Ally Shanter' at the Bachelors Club, Tarbolton, Ayrshire, formed in 1870 by Robert Burns. 'Ally Shanter' is written and performed by me and is a very faithful parody of Burns' comic masterpiece,'Tam O'Shanter', reset in the context of Glasgow's Rangers v Celtic football rivalry. The atmosphere in the Bachelors Club was unique; one felt that one was in the presence of the Bard himself. The audience was fellow members of the wonderful Bridgeton Burns Club.
Look it up under the Speaking section of this website.
It will be of little interest to you but today I decided on divorce from BT. They have: failed consistently to deliver a broadband speed that beats semaphor; kept trying to sell me BTSport, which I can’t receive by semaphor; have consistently sent me round in circles, via Mumbai, North Korea, South Wales and probably the moon when I seek their help or try to complain. Now that I have decided to cut them off without alimony, they’re offering me free semaphor flags, a discount and a padded cell for my garage, all too little too late. I am resolute. I’m switching to Plusnet who from the kick-off have mispelt my name as Fredric, got my e-mail address wrong so I have not received their introductory guff, and have given BT the wrong date for my switch-over. So it’s onwards and downwards. But worry not. At the end of the technological rainbow is a furlined padded cell.
Keep smiling and don’t forget to send flowers.
'Quintessentially' is a hugely over-used word, a veritable adverbial cliché, but yesterday I had a quintessentially Scottish day: a train journey from Helensburgh to the fair city of Perth via Stirling and Gleneagles; Queen Street station in Glasgow flooded with rival Aberdeen and Hibernian football fans heading for the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden (Aberdeen won); a convocation of the Scottish Association of Writers in Perth, a sort of gathering of the writing clans from as far apart as Elgin and Ayr; and on return to Glasgow, the annual concert of the Caledonian Fiddle Orchestra.
The fiddle orchestra is uniquely Scottish but remains below the tourist's radar (another cliché). It is the orchestral version of a Scottish country dance band. Forty fiddlers from all over Scotland had assembled plus twenty other musicians. The music ranged from wonderful Scottish slow airs through waltzes and hornpipes to marches, all strict tempo, foot-tapping, hand-clapping stuff. The fascinating thing is that much of this popular music is very old. Neil Gow, fiddler to the Dukes of Atholl, wrote his slow airs in the middle of the eighteenth century - such was his fame that Robert Burns, also a fiddler, journeyed to meet him. Pipe Major Willie Ross joined the Scots Guards in the late nineteenth century and fought in the First World War. Yet one of the most moving slow airs was written to commemorate the Panam 103 aircraft disaster at Lockerbie in 1988. This is truly ancient and modern music to a common recipe.
A particularly uplifting moment was the guest appearance of the virtuoso young traditional fiddler, Ryan Young, from Cardross. As compere for the Helensburgh and Lomond Fiddle Orchestra, I have introduced Ryan as a soloist since he was eleven. He is now in his early twenties, has graduated from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, has twice been a finalist in the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year awards and is now carving out a successful career in the traditional music world. He is the Nicola Benedetti of trad music. If you want to hear traditional Scottish fiddle music at its best, you can contact him at www.ryanyoung.scot
Visited Breac Macdui nam Beann, the Collie pictured in my About section. I'm his 'uncle' so to speak, and we play wild games together with a chew bone. The fascinating thing is that not only does he park his natural instinct to attack anyone trying to steal his bone but he also recognises a game and sets his own rules. When he wins the bone, he trots off to his basket to score a goal. Having done that, he returns with the bone and drops it in front of me ready for the next kick-off. His big problem is that he can't count how many goals he has scored; so I always win. Don't tell me that animals don't have similar emotions to humans; we are just more complex.
Working dogs are so keen to be involved. I love them. My first dog was forty kilos of Alsatian called Parahandy. Standing on his hind legs, he could put his paws on my shoulders and look me straight in the eye. We played ferocious games together and he would really crank up the growls, terrifying if you didn't know he was playing. It was Parahandy who taught me to speak Doggerel - I have his whole vocabulary. I acquired him to provide security for Kate and the boys when I was away at sea. One night when there was water hammer in the pipes, he was so scared that he sprinted upstairs and jumped on to Kate's bed for protection. But be in no doubt, he would have attacked any intruder coming into the house.
My second Alsatian, Raffles, was similar in temperament. He came running with me when I was training for the Glasgow marathon. When I saw he was slowing up, I examined his paws and found that he had worn holes in all his pads. But he was still bravely trying to keep up with me. They are so utterly faithful.
Do I prefer dogs to cats? My first cat, Purdy, came as a kitten when Raffles was a puppy and they grew up together. They even slept in the same dog basket, Purdy curled up inside Raffles' legs and enjoying the free central heating. They must have been a like a husband and wife when they shifted position during the night. But the cat was the boss. They are such arrogant little creatures. They assume that everything is there purely for their benefit - and they are definitive control freaks. It was from Purdy that I learned to speak fluent Catteral. You may laugh but it is an international cat language. I once spoke to a feral cat in the Azores and she brought her kittens across to meet me. How's that for communication?
One has entirely different relationships with dogs and cats. Both are so rewarding but cats are easier to manage; one can leave them to their own devices. One feels flattered when a cat can be bothered to come to you. A dog, on the other hand, willl sit begging to be taken walkies, and dogs have to be put in kennels when you are away or else taken with you, which is not always possible. A cat on the bed is pure pleasure; an Alsatian requires a bed to himself.
Currently, I have no pets and, boy, do I miss them.
Wow! Theresa May has just called a snap General Election. What a brave move. Regardless of the party in power, I hate to see Prime Ministers with small majorities being thwarted, blackmailed, and held to ransom by renegade back-benchers - or by fringe parties who hold the balance of power. With a father who was a vicar and a grandfather who was a Regimental Sergeant Major, I have no doubt that she has a sense of duty to the country. I can identify with that even though I have never voted Tory. I wish her well.
Today was Scotland at its best. The Clyde was acting like a ginagerous mirror. It's like having two sources of light, one from the sun and one from the sea. In front of my kitchen window there is a sea, at least a patch, of golden daffodils. Whilst having lunch, I looked out of the kitchen window and there behind the daffodils, a lamb was being born. It was only five minutes old when I took this photo, my newest neighbour. Oh yes, life re-affirming.
Saturday 15th April 2017: This week America bombarded a Syrian air base with 59 cruise missiles and dropped 'the mother of all bombs' in an IS occupied cave/tunnel complex in Afghanistan. It also moved a carrier battle group to patrol off the coast of North Korea to let the North Koreans know that the USA would not tolerate their acquisition of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting mainland America; sabre-rattling stuff and a clear indication that President Trump has departed from ex-President Obama's more diplomatic approach.
This morning, the North Koreans staged their annual anniversary parade, displaying their military might to the world. They also announced that if America carried out a pre-emptive strike, they would launch a nuclear counter-strike, presumably against South Korea and possibly Japan as their missiles can't yet reach America. Today, the media are fulminating over the prospect of nuclear war. Should we be worried?
Let's go back in time. The Cuba missile crisis in 1962 did bring the world to the brink of nuclear war. The Soviet Union had secretly provided President Castro's Communist regime, similar to that in North Korea, with intermediate range nuclear missiles capable of striking most of the USA; and Castro declared that he would launch a nuclear strike if America invaded Cuba, an intolerable situation for President Kennedy. The situation was saved by President Kruschev backing down and withdrawing his missiles. The difference now is that North Korea has built its own nuclear weapons; no one can withdraw them.
In 1968, all countries signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, which limited nuclear weapons to the USA, USSR, China, Britain and France, but there were four abstentions: Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Of the latter, the first three acquired nuclear weapons some time ago and have now been joined by North Korea. All four countries sought nuclear weapons because they considered themselves to be under threat; North Korea is technically still at war, the Korean War ending only in a ceasefire (1953).
So what's new? During the forty-four years of the Cold War, both sides had nuclear weapons but they were never used because of the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction. If North Korea were to use its nuclear weapons, its destruction would be guaranteed, and that is the last thing the Kim Jong-un regime wants. Even if they fill their streets with nuclear weapons, it won't change the price of fish - except in Pyongyang. They have simply entered the world of Mutually Assured Destruction. Possession of nuclear weapons offers them the national security they crave, not military victory. Can't fault them for that.
The Cold War ended because the economy of the Soviet Union collapsed, not because nuclear weapons were used. The economy of North Korea is in dire straits; just look at the vast economic gulf between free South Korea and the dictatorship-managed North. If Pyongyang continues to invest in massively expensive nuclear weaponry, sooner or later something will give. Let them stew in their own juice.
However, if President Trump were to authorise a pre-emptive strike, then the world would face nuclear war. North Korea is not a cave system in Afghanistan.
Sunday 2nd April, 2017
Love is painful. Love is blind. Love is precious. Love is kind. But let me tell you this, my friend. It's always painful in the end.
Today is the twelfth anniversary of losing Kate to breast cancer. Hard to believe. It was so difficult then to comprehend that the woman to whom I had been bonded for forty years, no longer existed; life without her had been beyond the bounds of my imagination. But there is life after bereavement. It's been a tumultuous and very happy twelve years. I count my blessings.