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  1. Circa 1950, my father, grandfather and I climbed Goatfell on the Isle of Arran in the Clyde estuary. This year, I climbed it as the grandfather with three of my four grandchildren, having climbed it in the interim with both my sons and my eldest grandson. (I've also climbed it with my sister and both daughters-in-law).

    As my grandfather was born in the nineteenth century; I was born in the twentieth century and my grandchildren were all born in the twenty-first century, this family experience spans three centuries - and I am the link. I was so keen to complete 'the set' and most grateful to Isobel, Morven and Alfie for agreeing to climb it with me. (Alfie, aged seven, didn't actually agree. As a boy, he was given no option!)

    Goatfell is just under 3,000 feet and therefore is not a Munro - but so what? One climbs every single foot of it from sea level whereas in some Munros the climb begins at a much higher altitude (1,400 feet in the case of Bienn na Lap). Goatfell also offers one of the most spectacular views in Scotland, which is not obvious from the main road. I love it. It is my holy mountain.

    Grandchildren GoatfellGoatfell view

     Goatfell FGTx2Angus Goatfell

  2. I find this age thing quite disorientating. My elder son will be fifty next year but doesn't seem that old. When I was fifty, his late mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The President of France is still in his thirties and his wife is in her sixties.

    In old age, one sees life retrospectively as if through a lens backwards; time is compressed. My thirty-seven years in the Navy seem to have the same storage space in my brain as six years at Coatbridge HIgh School. Thirty-eight years of married bliss seems like a brilliant one-night-stand - not that I would know anything about that. A twenty-five year old lad now seems like a teenager yet I was charge engineer of a submarine at that age - and the Battle of Britain pilots were younger..

    The good news is that, as President Macron has so ably demonstrated, a sixty-year-old woman seems like a twenty-something but with much greater depth. I have now reached the age when I can fancy a great-grandmother. 

    So, why the hell do people regard their fortieth birthday as a doomsday; it's only half-time. You may go on to extra time and penalties. Sixty is the new forty.

  3. An aged Scottish spinster cousin (who dressed like the Giles' cartoon of grandma) once said to me: 'You know, Eric, there is an old Japanese proverb which says: 'When your garden's complete, it's time to die.' That hit me hard at the time as my late wife, a keen gardener, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

    When I had calmed down, I grasped it's profundity. One should never stop pursuing an aim. When one has no further aims in life, it really is time to die.

    In similar vein, when I was a teenage paperboy delivering the morning papers, I read the headline in the Daily Mirror: SLEEP WITH BRENDA. It was the winning entry in a reader's challenge to identify what one would do if one was given the Four Minute Warning of nuclear armageddon from the newly opened Fylingdales Early Warning System. (In the nineteen-fifties, one really did worry about nuclear incineration). Ever since, I have made a habit of asking myself what I would do if I knew that I had only four minutes left to live but a good fairy would grant me a final wish.

    The point is: if you know what you would wish to do in your last four minutes of life, why not do it now while there's plenty of time?


  4. Whilst at St Denis, now a suburb of Paris but once a town in its own right, I had a private tour of the magnificent Stade de France, built to host the FIFA World Cup in 1998. (France beat Brazil 3-0 in the final). It is a thing of beauty. The separtely supported roof weighs more than the Eiffel tower.

    Things I never knew:-

    1. When the French won the World Cup, the team's communal bath was filled with champagne.

    2. There is a prison within the stadium for holding rowdy fans.

    3. Beyonce required both team dressing rooms for her wardrobe during a concert.

    4. Madonna refused to perform unless all the blue, bleu as the French say, carpets and paintwork were changed to pink. (They were).

    5. President Sarkozy got stuck in the lift beacuse he was too small to reach the emergency button (an apocryphal tale, I suspect).

    The stadium is certainly worth a visit.

    Photos top to bottom: The stadium; players' communal bath; police cell in stadium prison; me taking the field

    Stade de France 

    Jacuzzi Stade de France

    Cells Stade de France

    Players Tunnel 

  5. Whilst visiting the Stade de France, I also visited the magnificent Basilique de St Denis, the patron saint of Paris, on the outskirts of the city. St Denis is now a downmarket suburb but was once a town in its own right with huge historical significance for it is here that all but two of the French kings are entombed. Of the two missing kings, one died in Spain and the other, Philip 1, is buried in the Benedictine abbey of St Benoit-sur-Loire.

    Amongst the multiple tombs in the basilica are the humble sarcophogus of 'Queen Berthe Big Foot'; the majestic marble tomb of Henry 4 and Catherine de Medici, the latter being immortalised in what appears to be an erotic pose; and the superlative but sobering marble statues of Louis 16 and Marie-Antoinette who were guillotined by the French revolutionaries.

    Philip 1 chose not to be entombed in St Denis alongside the other kings because he had repudiated his queen, another Berthe, and taken up with another man's wife, for which misdemeanours he was excommunicated by the Pope. Philip therefore considered himself unworthy of being entombed beside his fellow kings and asked to be entombed beside Saint Benedict (Benoit) as he knew that the good saint would forgive him his sins.

    There is a lesson here for HRH Prince Charles who has also divorced his queen-to-be, Princess Diana, and taken up with another man's wife, Camilla. As Charles is not a Catholic, the Pope cannot excommunicate him for this but when his time comes, there may be a question to answer over his entombment. He may have to be sent to Coventry - the Cathedral of course.

    In terms of tourist value, the Basilique de St Denis is virtually off the radar but it should be up there with Notre Dame, Versaille and the Eiffel Tower as a top four must-visit attraction. Apart from the tombs, the stained glass windows are breathtaking - and there are no queues.

    Photos top down: Rose window; tombs of French kings (some of); tomb of Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette; tomb of Philip 1 in the abbey of St Benoit-sur-Loire (on the right)

    Rose window Basilique de St. Denis

    The French Kings

    Louis 16 and Marie Antoinett

    St Benoit sur Loire

  6. Here I am in France, sitting under a parasol quoiffing a Martini and Perrier when in comes a most distressing e-mail from Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron. He has resigned; nothing abnormal in that except for his reason. Tim is a devout, orthodox Christian who during the recent election campaign was hounded by the media to admit that he considered homosexual sex to be a sin. That is what the Bible and the Quoran teach, as I understand them. At least, it is what the Christian and Muslim faiths have traditionally taught. For him to adhere to such a belief whilst leader of a modern, mainstream, political party would have been, he thought, political suicide and so he has resigned. He simply cannot reconcile political correctness with his faith. What nonsense. Had he been a devout Muslim, the media woud not have dared to hound him over his faith beliefs.

    Tim and I are Liberal Democrats. He is a Christian; I am an atheist. We share a belief in liberal democracy, tolerance and co-operation with those who do not share our views. He has never attempted to impose his religious principles on Party policyIn mainly Catholic France, religion has long since been separated from the State. All Tim needed to do was include in his public biography, Wikipedia or such like, that he was a practising Christian - end of.

    So what were the motives of the media in hounding him? I suggest that either they sniffed some lurid copy on homosexual sex or wished to undermine him as a political opponent or else gay activists were at work. Whatever the reason, it was immoral, illiberal and anti-democratic.

    For my own part, I don't give a monkey's over what another's faith or sexual practises are - as long as they don't impact on me. Tolerance is the key word.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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. 

  10. 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.

  11. 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 required but '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.




  12. '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 of the evening 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 Conservatoire of Scotland, 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

  13. Visited Breac Macdui nam Beann, the Collie pictured in my Welcome 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 (2hrs 55). 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, no doubt in agony. They are so utterly faithful.

    Running with Raffles

    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.

    View from cottage




  14. 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. 


    Newborn lamb

  15. 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-five 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 one-party, Communist dictatorhsip in the 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.