Entitled (inspired by music)

Recently I received an email saying I had been “a bit slack on the blog front recently”. I agree. I only posted four blogs in 2020, the most recent of which was in September, and none so far this year. Until now.

I suppose I can blame the pandemic and the resulting changes in daily life though, in theory, it should allow more time than ever to be creative. But somehow it can also create a sense of drift, a feeling that there is no need to rush or meet a deadline.

Well, spurred on by the email and by an improved sense of well-being thanks to increased daylight and the approach of spring (it is now light here in Orkney before 7am to almost 6pm) – here I am.

This blog is a bit unusual, you might even say it’s a bit of a cheat. I was looking at my Spotify playlist of some of my favourite songs. The list is not comprehensive and it does not lend itself to including longer or linked pieces of music, such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon or Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony for example. But it gives a flavour of some of the songs, performances and artists I enjoy.

While scrolling through the playlist it occurred to me that I could take a selection of the song titles and shuffle them into something like a free-form poem (apologies to anyone who actually knows anything about poetry). I have kept to the songs I particularly enjoy and not cheated by adding songs to the list just because their titles would be handy to help complete the blog.

Everything from the end of this sentence to my name at the bottom is a title of one of my favourite songs.

A song for you

I came to dance
It doesn’t matter anymore
It’s so different here
I don’t wanna know
Just dance

Who knows where the time goes?

C’mon everybody
Back to California
Kentucky Avenue
Hit the road Jack
Loud music in cars

Is that all there is?

Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie
Picking up after you
Your cheatin’ heart
It never entered my mind
Hallelujah I love her so

Who does Lisa like?

Heart like a wheel
Any road
Cypress trees
The dreaming fields
Waiting on a friend

What’s he building?

Indoor games near Newbury
Doctorin’ the Tardis
Moments of pleasure
Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis
She blinded me with science

What’s the use of wond’rin’?

Back in the USSR
The day before you came
All the way from America
Sunday morning to Saturday night
I met you on a Sunday

Who are you now?

I dreamed last night
Walking down Madison
Police car
Band on the run
Don’t come the cowboy with me, Sonny Jim!

Is there any way out of this dream?

When we was fab
One of our submarines
Brainwashed
Cassandra
Queen Bitch

What’s going on?

On days like these
Everybody’s famous
Power to the people
Let there be love
Stardust

What can a song do to you?

Hello in there
Gimme shelter
When I get to heaven
I’ll take you there
Amelia

What can a song do to you?

Say Grace
Grace darling
Three bells for Stephen
Brothers in arms
Bring him home

Wah-wah
Wah-wah

Waiting for the silence

The End

Graham Brown

To find out more

If you would like to check who recorded the songs, and to see what else is on my growing favourites list, please take a look at this Spotify page…

Please bear in mind, as you probably know, that streaming songs on Spotify does not result in much income for the artists concerned. If you love music please consider supporting your favourite musicians and songwriters through the purchase of CDs, LPs, merchandise and concert tickets (online or, hopefully soon, in person).

Better The Devil You Know? – A Titanic Short Story by Graham Brown

After The Weekend

It’s Monday morning, about ten to nine, and the town centre office is coming to life. Deirdre, a woman of indeterminate age, which never seems to alter, is always first to arrive. That way she makes sure no-one steals her coffee mug – and she can see when the others come in. It gives her a sense of superiority and, truth be told, boosts her frail confidence to be one-up on her colleagues. She switches on the ancient flourescent strip lights which, hesitantly, make their harsh presence felt.

Soon others arrive and the office is buzzing with talk of the weekend, new boyfriends and girlfriends, failed dates, X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing. Gradually a quieter hum of conversation and telephone calls takes over as work begins.

For some time no-one seems to notice that Nick has not arrived. He is quiet, and often a little late. But by 9.20 Deirdre, who has noticed, feels she should say something to her manager Elaine, or Miss Bradock as Deirdre prefers to call her. Elaine is the young woman occupying the job Deirdre feels was rightly hers.

Come 10 and there is still no sign. Calls are made to his home telephone and to his mobile, without success. Elaine, making loud sighing noises to express her annoyance, eventually sends Alan to Nick’s house to find out what has happened.

The walk is only about 15 minutes. Alan arrives to find the two-up, two-down house locked, the curtains open, and no sign of Nick. Uncertain about what to do, he waits for a few minutes, then tries the neighbours. The elderly lady two doors along, a dedicated curtain-twitcher, says she thinks she saw him go out on Friday evening carrying a suitcase.

The Weekend Begins

Nick gets home from work to a weekend without much promise. He finished with his girlfriend Alison two months ago, well, actually, she finished with him. Now Alison is engaged to that arrogant rugby-playing Larry in accounts. That was quick.

It is dark as he heads to his favourite local takeaway a little after six. Nick returns with enough Indian food to last a couple of days. He gets some beer from the fridge and sits down to eat, flicks through the TV channels but can’t focus on anything. So, putting his food to one side briefly, he ferrets through his DVD collection. A, B, C, they are all in alphabetical order. Nothing appeals until he gets to T, and Titanic. He will watch that.

Yes, it is a girls’ film but Nick has been fascinated by the Titanic since he was a small child. He thinks the ship’s name, ending in “Nic”, caught his ear when he was very young. Since then he has bought endless books and DVDs. He was surprised how much he enjoyed the 1997 film. No doubt, Kate Winslet helped.

By the time the film finishes it is after 9.30. He had vaguely thought about going out but now he doesn’t feel like doing so. It is going to be another dull weekend and in his depressed state it is hard to do anything about it. He glances over at his CDs. Everything But The Girl caught his eye. “Hmph,” he thinks. “Nothing-much-at-all-and-no-girl either would be more appropriate for me.”

Absent mindedly, he flicks the Titanic DVD back on at the beginning. “I really, really, really wish I could have sailed on the Titanic. It would have been an amazing experience. I would give anything to have sailed,” he says to himself.

“Anything?” came the reply.

“Yes, well, you know, pretty much anything. But it’s not possible.”

“Oh, it could be,” came another reply.

It dawns on Nick that the voice is not in his head, it seems to be coming from a dark corner of the room. Can’t be. But as he stares into the corner a figure takes shape – a small elderly man, with a straggly beard, in a tatty long overcoat.

The man speaks: “I can arrange it for you if you really want it enough.”

Nick would have been scared but the beer has blurred his mind and reactions. “Who are you? Some sort of guardian angel?”

“Hardly, quite the opposite in fact.”

“My God, you’re not the devil.” It struck Nick’s befuddled mind that he could have phrased this question better.

“No, course not, the devil himself wouldn’t bother with the likes of you. I’m just one of his helpers. There are lots of us.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, you want to sail on the Titanic? I can’t sit talking all night, we need to go.”

“Yes, well, but… umm… ”

Nick feels dizzy and nauseous. He knows he shouldn’t have eaten and drunk so much, so quickly. He closes his eyes to stop the room spinning.

A Strange New Place

Then, through his closed eyelids, Nick can see daylight. And the smell of his room, of the Indian food, has gone. He can smell sea air, old wood, and dust in the air. He opens his eyes.

Nick is in some sort of reception area, standing in a queue of people. The building seems to be old and, yes, dusty. The people around him are dressed in old-fashioned clothes, and not particularly smart ones. Victorian? Early 20th century? The old man is stood next to him.

“Next!” a voice shouts. Nick finds himself at a wall with a small opening to make a counter. Behind it sits a middle-aged man in a smart waistcoast and a neatly trimmed beard. “Yes, gentlemen?”

Nick opens his mouth but before he can speak the old man gets in: “We want to sail on the Titanic, please. I have our papers and the money.”

“You are just in time, we’re down to the last few places… This all seems in order… Here, take this and join the queue to go through that door over there. Next!”

A family of six are next at the counter. There is a discussion, raised voices and the family are turned away.

The old man speaks: “They obviously expected to get on. Lucky we were able to jump the queue.”

“But that’s terrible,” protests Nick. “Have they lost their places now?”

“I suppose so, but probably better for them in the long run, don’t you think? Not many people from steerage will survive the sinking.”

The sinking. The words set an alarm off in Nick’s mind, as if he has woken from a dream.

“Umm, yes, the sinking,” said Nick. “I assume I will be in a lifeboat at the end?”

“Oh, you do, do you? I don’t think I can organise that.”

“But, but… perhaps this isn’t such a good idea after all.”

“Look,” says the old man. “Like I say, most people in steerage won’t make it into a lifeboat. There’s a limit to what I can do.”

“Steerage? I thought I would be in a cabin. I mean, perhaps not a grand one, but a cabin.”

“You’re in steerage and that’s it. Don’t worry. Remember your history? The Titanic calls at Cherbourg and Queenstown before heading across the Atlantic. We can get off.”

“That’s a bit disappointing. I thought you could organise everything.”

The old man bristles. “I’m a junior. I’m not the devil. There’s only so much I can do. You wanted to sail on the Titanic, and you will.”

Nick looks away and tries to gather his thoughts. A young couple have joined them in the queue and, behind them, two men with a large trunk.

The old man jerks his head towards the newly-arrived passengers and says to Nick: “These poor bastards must have taken the last places after that big family couldn’t get aboard.”

“Yes, I was wondering about that,” says Nick, trying to remember his Doctor Who plots. “Isn’t there something about not interfering with time and destiny?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” says the old man. “That’s all above my station.”

The Voyage

The Titanic eases away from the docks at Southampton. Nick is so exhilarated that, for a time, he forgets to worry about the sinking he knows to be inevitable. Anyway, he is going to get off in Cherbourg or, perhaps, Queenstown. He does not give much thought to what he will do once in France or Ireland.

He breathes in the air – fresh sea air. He watches the sailing boats and steamers in the Solent. He watches the Isle of Wight go by. But mostly he watches the people – what glorious costumes, even among the poorer passengers. Occasionally, someone looks askance at his clothes – jeans, trainers and T-shirt.

If only Kate Winslet was with him, he thinks. Perhaps he could ask the old man? Where is the old man? Nick realises he has not seen him since the ship sailed. But no matter, his out-of-place clothes and new-found confidence in the wonder of life gave him an air which seem to attract some of the young women, who he notice smiling at him.

Elsewhere on the Titanic not everyone is enjoying the voyage and spreading goodwill to fellow passengers. The two characters with the large trunk – who Nick had, in effect, allowed on board – are anarchists determined to make their mark on history.

As the ship approaches Cherbourg there is an enormous explosion which blows a small hole in the port side. There are a number of casualties, mostly passengers killed by the debris or by drowning after falling over the side of the ship. Nick is among them.

The ship does not sink, after all, isn’t the Titanic unsinkable? But she will have to be patched up, and then sailed back to Britain for repairs. The Titanic’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic will not take place until the summer of 1912.

Back In The 21st Century

Deirdre and Alan, from Nick’s office, decide to go for an after-work drink. It has been a tough time, what with Nick’s disappearance a few days’ earlier and their manager Elaine being particularly difficult.

“Where shall we go?” asks Alan. Deirdre wishes he would make a decision on his own, but he is only being polite. “I know!” she says, “let’s go to the Titanic Bar in Broad Street. That’s always got a good buzz.”

The walk takes about 20 minutes but it is a pleasantly warm evening and they chat about their colleague Nick on the way.

“Do you think there is anywhere we could look for him?” asks Alan. “I can’t understand why the police aren’t interested. Perhaps I should check his flat again?”

“No,” says Deirdre. “You’ve been every morning and evening this week. The police say there is no sign of any break-in or attack. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be found. Lots of people deliberately go missing you know.”

“I can’t understand it,” Alan replies. “It doesn’t make sense. And I get the feeling there is something missing. I mean, I know Nick is missing. But something isn’t right with the world.”

They turn the corner into Broad Street expecting to hear the noise from the Titanic Bar but it is unusually quiet. Then, as they get closer, they are unable to see the bar’s colourful neon lights. For a moment they are disorientated, as if they have turned into the wrong street. But, no, there is the little supermarket, the chemist, the bookies – and where the Titanic Bar should be is an empty building site.

Graham Brown

Stuck in the middle (with bits of paper)

IMG_20160416_154957971_HDR
Photograph of friends on Hunstanton sea front on a sunny day – without realising the lens is reversed (image: Graham Brown, naturally)

I have a serious blog to write, and I will soon.

But first I want to share with you some brief thoughts about the modern world of blogs and social media and the old world of paper – and how I am somehow stuck between the two.

I’m prompted to do so after I sent birthday wishes via Facebook to friend and former BBC colleague, Jill Matthews. She responded to correct me on the actual date of her birthday and I replied to say I would try to remember for next year or, better still, “write it down”.

Jill wrote back: “Yes. I don’t think you have quite got to grips with this FB thingy. Neither have I but I am pleased that you have a lovely wife and are living in a beautiful place.”

Of course, Jill is right. Social media tools and apps are supposed to automate all this for us but here I am, in 2016, keeping a paper record of relatives’ and friends’ birthdays.

It must be to do with my age – 58 at the last count. I grew up in an age of printed diaries, typewriters and paper but I am young enough to embrace (up to a point) computers and smart phones. That said, I am capable of taking photographs on my smartphone on a sunny day without realising the camera has flipped round to take selfies – hence the image on this article.

So I find myself with a blog, and a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. I also have accounts with Ello (where I very occasionally post) and Tumblr (where I have yet to post).

Also, I am aware of other outlets I do not use, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Ask.fm, but have only a vague idea as to what they do.

Meanwhile I keep my appointments in an old-fashioned paper diary, an RSPB one, as it happens. And I have my paper record of birthdays, addresses and, ironically, computer passwords, kept in a Filofax, a leather one – remember those? If not, ask an older person.

Next to my desk in my home office I have lots of pieces of scrap paper for writing notes and reminders.

And at the back of the office is a large cupboard and, at the back of that, is my typewriter. I admit I no longer use it, I just don’t like to part with it.

So that’s me, stuck in the middle (with bits of paper).

Graham Brown

Life On The Edge: The Birds Of Shetland

pete_office
The view from the RSPB office in Shetland (image: Pete Ellis)

Greetings. I am conscious that my target of one blog a month – to be increased to two if possible – has been missed. Badly. By a long way. Nowhere near. Anyway, I will not weary you with excuses.

This month I plan to write about my latest Arizona experiences but, first, an article I wrote for Orkney’s excellent local newspaper, The Orcadian. The article was published on Thursday 10 December under the headline “An evening focused on the birdlife on Shetland”.

For those not lucky enough to live in Orkney, or who somehow missed the article, I reproduce it here. It is about the annual general meeting of the RSPB Orkney Local Group. I should declare an interest – I am a committee member, and the Treasurer.

After the business part of the meeting we had a fascinating talk about Shetland, hence the headline on this blog.

RSPB Orkney Local Group annual general meeting

Volunteers’ efforts to support the RSPB were highlighted at the Orkney Local Group’s annual general meeting in the King Street Halls, Kirkwall.

Chairman Dick Matson, in his report, spoke of the volunteers’ work which includes fund-raising, meeting holidaymakers on the Hamnavoe ferry, recruiting new members, maintaining bird hides, reserves work parties, seabird monitoring, beached bird surveys and talking to visitors about Hoy’s nesting sea eagles.

Mr Matson said of the volunteers, who include RSPB staff helping in their own time: “Your contribution is highly valued. The work of the RSPB is more successful because of volunteers.”

The year’s fund-raising included a bag-packing day in Kirkwall’s Tesco, which made more than £650, and the sale of RSPB pin badges.

Among the events organised by the Local Group were boat trips to Deerness Gloup, and to view puffins around Copinsay, which had proved particularly popular.

The existing Local Group committee was nominated and re-elected at the meeting. They are: Dick Matson, Chairman; Pauline Wilson, Secretary; Graham Brown, Treasurer; Grace Currie; Kathie Brown; and Shirley Tolley.

The meeting, on Thursday 19 November, heard a report about the RSPB’s work in Orkney in the past year, read on behalf of Manager Sarah Sankey, who was unable to attend.

This included, through the Enjoy Wild Orkney project, the completion of new viewing structures at Cottascarth, Loons and Birsay Moors – “if you haven’t been, please do go” – as well as new brown signs to direct people to reserves, waymarkers, trail guides, new panels and internal interpretation.

There was also a new leaflet guide to RSPB Orkney reserves published, films made, new webcams – the red throated diver cam was really popular – and reserves projects including new pools at the Loons and work at Loch of Banks to give better control of water levels.

One of the key events during the year was the white-tailed eagle pair breeding on Hoy. The RSPB manned an eagle watch, with huge contributions from volunteers, and engaged with more than 1,000 people, many of them local. Although these were young birds that failed, it is hoped they will be successful next year.

After the AGM members heard a talk entitled Life On The Edge: The Birds Of Shetland by Pete Ellis, RSPB Northern Isles Manager, who is based at Sumburgh Head.

He said he had lived almost 32 years in Shetland, which has a mix of habitats but very little of it green. All land mammals have been introduced to Shetland by people. There are more than 430 bird species, of which about 70 breed in Shetland, and seven RSPB reserves – most of these managed but not owned by the RSPB.

A number of the Shetland bird species described in the talk have seen declining numbers in recent years, including great skua (bonxie), Arctic skua, Arctic tern, razorbill, kittiwake, redshank and lapwing, perhaps the fastest declining wader in Shetland.

Mr Ellis said the bird we should be most concerned about in population terms was the curlew and the RSPB was trying to create a project in Orkney and Shetland to help them before it is too late.

At Shetland’s Loch of Spiggie highlights include long-tailed duck roosting on the loch and massive wintering flocks of Scandinavian herring gull.

Shetland has had up to five pallid harriers during the autumn. During the 1960s and early 1970s there were breeding snowy owls until the adult male died. Otters are relatively easy to see in Shetland. But there are no voles – and no resident short-eared owls or hen harriers.

The islands have more than 90 per cent of the UK population of whimbrel, though they started to decline in numbers 10 years ago, and about one-third of the UK population of red-throated divers.

Mr Ellis said he was astonished the red-necked phalarope did not nest in Orkney, unlike Shetland. The RSPB works to help this extraordinary bird. The female is bigger and brighter, and does the courting, the males incubate the eggs and rear the chicks. It was assumed the Shetland population flew to the Arabian Sea in the autumn but research with small data logging devices attached to the birds has discovered they go to the Pacific Ocean.

The RSPB base in Shetland is at Sumburgh Head, where there is also a visitor centre. Mr Ellis said he had “the best office in the RSPB” with a “fantastic view” of the sea, rocks, birds and, sometimes, passing whales.

Most tourists want to see puffins and they are more accessible than in Orkney, although becoming more unpredictable. Puffins are difficult to monitor but Fair Isle has seen a 50% decline in the last 30 years.

Other birds to be seen in Shetland include the Shetland wren – there is also a Fair Isle wren – and the most common migrant on some days in the autumn can be the yellow-browed warbler which comes from East Siberia. From mid-September to mid-October Shetland can have 300 birders at a time looking for migrants.

To find out more

RSPB – http://www.rspb.org.uk/

RSPB Orkney Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RSPBShetland

RSPB Shetland Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RspbOrkney/

 

RSPB Orkney Local Group AGM – celebrating the past and looking to the future

This is a reproduction of my article which appeared in The Orcadian of 4 December 2014. The Orcadian is Orkney’s weekly newspaper and a must-buy for residents. You can also subscribe online: http://www.orcadian.co.uk/

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The RSPB’s Orkney Local Group looked backwards and forwards when members met for their annual general meeting at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall.

The group received written congratulations on its 30th anniversary from both Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB, and Stuart Housden, Director, RSPB Scotland.

And the members heard a talk about the exciting developments for the charity in the county in 2015.

Mr Housden wrote: “Thank you for continuing to champion wildlife and the work of RSPB Scotland in Orkney. The local group has been inspiring support for some three decades now.”

His letter said the group had raised more than £14,000 in the past four years alone through activities including pin badges, supermarket bag-packing and collections.

Local Group Chairman Dick Matson told the AGM the group aims to assist RSPB staff by volunteering, as well as fund-raising for the charity, engaging with people, and organising events to allow visitors and residents to see wildlife.

Sarah Sankey, Manager of the RSPB in Orkney, spoke on “What’s New With RSPB Orkney” at the meeting on Tuesday 18 November.

She began by introducing recent additions to the Orkney staff of the RSPB: Alison Nimmo, Community Engagement Officer; Alison Phillip, Conservation Officer; and Kaye Thomas, Egilsay Warden. She also announced that Inga Seator, the 2014 Corncrake Officer, would return to work on proposals for a wader birds conservation project.

Sarah then outlined some of the work that has been possible because of the RSPB’s three-year Enjoy Wild Orkney (EWO) project, part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. EWO is managed by Julian Branscombe and concludes in March 2015.

Developments include opening up the pools at the Loons and lowering the water levels at Loch of Banks in order to improve the habitat for waders, and to protect hen harrier roosts. New signs and panels are being installed to help people find the RSPB’s reserves, and to explain what they can see, along with benches, way markers and donation cairns.

Eddie Balfour Hide, RSPB Cottascarth (image: Alan Leitch/RSPB)
Eddie Balfour Hide, RSPB Cottascarth (image: Alan Leitch/RSPB)

New structures being created thanks to EWO are the grass-roofed Eddie Balfour Hide at Cottascarth, which will also have an indoor teaching space, and improved car parking; a listening wall to amplify the natural sound for visitors to the Loons reserve; and a replacement hide at Burgar Hill.

Murals are being created by Anne Bignall for the Cottascarth, Loons and Burgar Hill hides.

Shortly a smartphone app will be available giving information on top wildlife-watching spots in Orkney and species to look out for.

Meanwhile webcams have proved popular – a seal cam on Copinsay allows folk to remotely watch the seal colony and the pups; and one at Hobbister in the summer gave views of the red-throated divers.

Sarah also discussed the species priorities for the RSPB in Orkney – waders, seabirds, hen harriers, corncrakes, Scottish primrose and the great yellow bumblebee.

Among the examples she gave of the importance of this work: Orkney has the highest recorded density of breeding curlew in the world; Orkney is a stronghold for hen harriers, which face persecution elsewhere in the UK; Orkney is a core area for corncrakes, despite our relatively small population of this elusive bird; and Orkney has seen a huge decline in seabird numbers.

+ The AGM re-elected the Local Group Committee: Dick Matson, Chairman; Pauline Wilson, Secretary; Graham Brown, Treasurer; Grace Currie; Kathie Touin Brown; and Shirley Tolley (replacing Julie Rickards who has stood down).

+ Keep up with the work of the RSPB in Orkney via www.facebook.com/rspborkney and find out more about the RSPB Orkney Local Group by contacting Chairman Dick Matson on 01856 751426.

Graham Brown

More wise words from the family

You should have that biscuit, it’ll only get eaten  (image: freeimages.co.uk)
You should have that biscuit, it’ll only get eaten
(image: freeimages.co.uk)

My previous blog, Your Mother Should Know, was about some of my mother’s favourite sayings and, for two reasons, I’m going to revisit the topic this time.

Firstly, I have remembered two more of my mother’s choice sayings. In fact, I could probably keep returning to this on a regular basis as I remember more and more.

And, secondly, some of you have been kind enough to share on my blog, or via Twitter, some of your own memories.

In the previous blog I wrote about five phrases my mother regularly used: Hot as hen muck; Queen Anne’s dead; Pride rises above pain; All round Dogsthorpe to get to Peterborough; You don’t want to start from here at all.

If you would like to know more – including where it is appropriate to use these sayings – please read the previous blog.

But here are two more of my mother’s sayings that have sprung to mind.

A here-you-are-for-where-you-want-to-be

Actually, this is not so much a saying as a word. It is rather like those German words that are created by combining several smaller words together.

But how would you use this word? Well, imagine you are visiting a strange place, perhaps a town, or a shopping centre, or a visitor attraction. You feel a little lost and then spot that helpful map or diagram on the wall to point you in the right direction. It is what my mother called a “here-you-are-for-where-you-want-to-be”.

Of course, as we race through the 21st century we will increasingly have a “here-you-are-for-where-you-want-to-be” on our smart phones. Or, further in the future, implanted in our brains – or somewhere unspeakable.

It’s as much waste to eat it if you don’t want it as it is to throw it away

Well, I think this one is self-explanatory.

When I was a small child I was made to eat everything on my plate. I remember on one occasion being left in the dining room on my own with the remains of my stew I was refusing to finish. Children were treated differently in those days, though it did me no harm.

But as I grew older my mother must have decided I had learned the “do not waste” lesson and she could sometimes be heard to say: “It’s as much waste to eat it if you don’t want it as it is to throw it away.”

As I said, some good folks wrote to me with their own memories after my first blog on this subject.

First up, my mate Guy Bailey reports two of his nana’s “verbal inconsistencies”, as he referred to them. One of these was a food saying: “You should have that biscuit, it’ll only get eaten.” Brilliant.

And she was also heard to say, perhaps to Guy, this: “You’d make a saint swear.”

From the Orkney island of Eday word came from Mandy and Russell. I think in this instance it was Russell who writes to me: “Here’s an odd one for you. My father would always refer to an unknown person as Charlie Farnsbarns. No idea where he got it from.”

And more thoughts from L De La Foret who says: “[Your blog] brought back many memories of my mother. Although divided by the Atlantic because mine was in America and used a different vowel in her name, the maternal expressions had the same effect. In fact I used one in my autobiography Cathode Ray Days Diary:

“‘Growing up, Mom always told me if I could not say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. Maybe it was natural then that I went into journalism.'”

“Her other favourite was: ‘It’ll be a cold day in July when that happens.'”

Thank you guys for responding to my blog.

The virtual book is not closed so please let me know if you have handy sayings loved by your loved ones.

Graham Brown
Orkney

To find out more

On Twitter you can follow Guy Bailey (@guyrbailey), Mandy & Russell (@Ploverha) and L De La Foret (@Lafcadio01).

Dump the EU? Be rid of nuclear weapons? Be the next Greece? Developing thoughts on Scottish independence

The Forth Rail Bridge: an iconic view of, and route into, Scotland
The Forth Rail Bridge: an iconic view of, and route into, Scotland (image: Kathie Touin)

Here is a quick re-cap for new readers of this blog. I am an Englishman who moved to Orkney, off the north-east coast of mainland Scotland, in April 2010.

At present Scotland has its own parliament with many powers over domestic policy but it is still part of the UK and the Westminster parliament retains control over many matters, notably financial, defence and foreign affairs. The Scottish National Party, or SNP, currently form the Scottish government under First Minister Alex Salmond and they want full independence.

In a previous blog entry in February 2012, “We are living in interesting times. So will the world be turned upside down?”, I wrote about the forthcoming referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country. This is a referendum in which I, as a resident of Scotland, will get a vote.

Since I wrote that blog a deal between the UK and Scottish governments means that the referendum will probably take place in 2014, with anyone resident in Scotland over the age of 16 able to vote, and with a single yes or no question – though exactly how the question will be phrased is not yet decided.

As this debate will continue for two years it will make a US Presidential election seem like a quick business. But already some themes are emerging.

Firstly, nuclear weapons. The SNP have changed their policy ahead of the referendum. Now they want Scotland to remain part of NATO. But they have kept their opposition to nuclear weapons.

This matters because the Faslane Naval base, home to the Royal Navy’s Trident nuclear-armed submarines, is in Scotland. If we vote for an independent Scotland the UK Government will have to find a new home for this most expensive of defence systems – at least that is how the media portray the issue.

But this slightly puzzles me. Let’s for a moment say that the good people of Scotland do vote for independence. What happens next? Surely one of the first events in this newly-independent country will be an election to its newly-independent parliament. And who is to say which party, or parties, will emerge victorious?

The implication of much of the media reporting is that if we vote for independence we sail off into a Saltire sunset with the SNP at the helm. But it might not be like that.

Remember the UK General Election at the end of the Second World War. Did a grateful nation overwhelmingly vote war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill back into power? No, the voters decided the Labour Party was best placed for the peace ahead.

So, while I am not comparing Alex Salmond to Churchill, it is possible Salmond will see his dream of an independent Scotland but find others are elected to run it.

Secondly, the European Union. For some time we, the voters, were under the impression that Alex Salmond and the SNP were in possession of legal advice that an independent Scotland could remain part of the EU. Following a campaign under Freedom of Information legislation to get the government to make this advice public it now transpires this advice did not exist at all and that the SNP is only just seeking legal advice.

So where does this leave us? Might an independent Scotland automatically be part of the EU? Or perhaps not? And if an independent Scotland, as a new country, does not get a nod into the EU where does that leave the rump of the UK? Might that be considered a new country that has to apply all over again?

Those who have complained for years about the EU might get a chance to oppose Scotland, and the UK rump, from applying for membership.

Thirdly, currency. Alex Salmond and the SNP want to retain the pound in an independent Scotland. But where would this leave Scotland? Key decisions about the pound, the economy and interest rates would remain with the UK Government – currently with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, not a popular man in Scotland – and with the Bank of England.

The unhappy experience of Greece suggests that if you do not control all the financial levers yourself, and have your own currency, you are at risk of being told what to do by other governments. That doesn’t feel very independent to me.

In the end, as I said before, I think the referendum vote will run quite close but it will be a decision to remain in the UK. People will probably vote for the option they think is less risky economically, and they may well decide that means being in the UK. But much can happen in two years. Still, we’re all strapped in and enjoying the ride. Put your hands in the air and shout yeah!

To find out more

My previous blog: We are living in interesting times. So will the world be turned upside down?

BBC News: Scotland politics

SNP website

 

 

Sleepy Devon, a short story

Image courtesy of freeimages.co.uk
Image courtesy of freeimages.co.uk

Devon was asleep.

Not all of Devon. But 28-year-old Devon Saunders was asleep. Truth be told, he spent much of his time asleep and not just at night. It was three o’clock in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day.

Occasionally Devon would stir and he could hear the noises outside. Children and adults laughing, shouting, enjoying the July afternoon the way you should. The way Devon didn’t.

He’d meant to do so much today on his day off but, after his lunch, he found he was so tired he had to sleep. Or was it that he couldn’t be bothered to do anything? Why wasn’t he outside enjoying himself?

These thoughts troubled him a little – but not enough to stop him dozing off again.

Devon was so named by his parents because, as an unborn baby, he had been with them on a holiday in the county.

He did not like the name. It had briefly made him popular at school amongst cricket fans when the fast bowler Devon Malcolm was playing for England in the 1990s. But the novelty soon faded.

After leaving school Devon had gone to university to study History. His father warned him to take a more practical subject but he didn’t listen. He wasn’t even that interested in history, he just didn’t want to do what his father suggested.

After college, despite his impractical degree, he drifted into computing. Then, two years ago, his employer offered him a promotion which he couldn’t sensibly refuse financially. But it was a promotion which put him in the embarrassing position of working, and living, in Devon.

He enjoyed his work – up to a point, the money certainly helped – and his social life was fine. From time to time he would make enjoyable returns to his hometown of Derby to see friends and family.

So why was he dozing this afternoon? And why was he trying to justify in his mind not meeting his work colleagues at the pub gig later in Totnes?

Someone once told him about a nationally-famous radio DJ who, one might imagine, had a pretty exciting life in the music industry. And yet this DJ apparently told an interviewer that he felt he was living his life as an observer. That was how Devon felt.

Logically, he told himself, he was bound to feel like that if he didn’t bother to go to events he was invited to. But it still didn’t make him want to go to that gig tonight. Sometimes he even missed events for which he had already bought tickets.

As Devon drifted in and out of sleep more thoughts went through his mind…

Why when someone spoke of arranging a party, or having a good time at a party, did it create a knot in his stomach? Why, so often, was he pleased if an event he had been invited to got cancelled? Or if people he had not met before failed to turn up at an event?

Some years earlier, when he was still working in Derby, he had felt suicidal. To be fair, he was never really likely to do anything stupid.

But he had felt stuck in an unsatisfactory relationship – one he did not have the courage to deal with – and he felt that, had there been a switch to flick to close everything down for good, he would have flicked it. He had read about Churchill and how he described depression as a “black dog” – that felt about right.

But the relationship ended – more through accident than design – and Devon moved to Devon.

So why was he still wrestling with all these other thoughts? He needed to get a grip of his life and sort himself out.

But, first, he would sleep a little more.

To be continued