Archive for June, 2011

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

I’ve just watched BBC Breakfast . . . I know it’s boring and formulaic, but it’s my habit . . . and endured an item on today’s teachers’ strike. I say endured because I found myself wanting to reach out and throttle the spokeswoman for the staff side, Dr Mary Boustead, the General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. I don’t know what he doctorate covers, but it sure isn’t good manners. She put her slightly dodgy points stridently, and would not allow her adversary on the red sofa to answer a single one. The ATL biography describes her as an accomplished public speaker who has debated at the Oxford Union. (I’ll bet her side lost.) I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the affable Bill Turnbull come so close to telling a guest to ‘Shut the **** up’. Doesn’t matter how good your case is, if it’s put as badly as that you will lose public sympathy, and so the ATL membership should think very carefully about confining the Gen Sec to barracks for the duration.

By the way, before anyone accuses me of being anti-teacher, I’m the son of two and I’ve been married to two, so forget that.

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June 29, 2011 3 comments

As another birthday limps to a close, time to wind up a very nice day and thank all my chums for their good wishes, through the blog and through Facebook. You load sixteen tons, and what do you get . . .

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Christine Harris

I don’t normally do this but I’m feeling frisky, so I’ll publish your comment, word for word.

 I am a new reader of your books and just love them! However, in Alarm Call the name of the Las Vegas International Airport was repeatedly spelled incorrectly. It should of course be McCarran and not McCarron. Maybe that was corrected in later publications. The former U.S.Senator Pat McCarran would not have been impressed! I am very impressed with your stories.

Thank you for that advice; nobody had brought it to my attention until now. You are, of course, quite correct, and I should tear lumps off the normally impeccable copy editor who failed to pick that up. Except . . . I won’t.

As it happens I am rather proud to have mis-spelled the name of the late Senator McCarran, revealed by my research to be one of the least impressive legislators ever to sit in Congress, given his intercession that halted an FBI investigation into Mafia involvement in the emerging Las Vegas, his admiration for Franco and other despots, and his paving the way for McCarthyism.

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Marg O’Neill

I know that, Marg. Think of it as a birthday gift.

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Marg O’Neill

Cheers Marg. Same to you when it arrives and next year for your fiftieth. Bob Skinner ages one year to everyone else’s four. Never mastered it personally.

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That old devil called . . .

June 28, 2011 1 comment

I have just checked my blog stats. To date, since it started I have made 666 posts. Wow! In half an hour I will turn 66, in the 6th month of the year. Fans of The Omen should be wetting their pants as they read this. I mentioned that to Martin, my editor, this afternoon. He said it was scary; I told him it was meant to be. Am I an old devil, or what?

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Silly season again

June 28, 2011 2 comments

Just watched the Ten O’Clock News. Why am I always steamed up by the wanker with the megaphone shouting silly slogans? Maybe I’m a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary. Maybe, but I’ve been hearing the same crap for forty odd years now. Thursday’s public sector strikes will happen, in part, because people are living on average six years longer than they did thirty years ago. Isn’t that evidence that our society has moved onwards and upwards during that period? Okay, I’m in the lifeboat, I am officially a senior citizen . . . call me a pensioner and I will fill you in . . .but the fact is, the people who were shouting in the streets today and will be on Thursday are a damn sight better off than I was when I was one of their number. It’s sad they don’t have the wit to realise that the more civil servants who take industrial action and are seen on telly parading in mass demos, the more people involved in national wealth generation, (and that means everyone who makes things or renders chargeable services) will be likely to ask, ‘Do we need them all?’

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Move ova

I am no big fan of tennis, even less so of the sort that involves players screaming at the top of their lungs every time they hit a shot. My hopes are with the German girl, Lisicki, for the Women’s Singles, if only because she seems to save most of her breath for playing and because her name doesn’t end in ‘ova’. As for the men, my nationalism says Murray, my heart says Federer, but my head says Nadal.

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Peter Ferguson

Many thanks for all that. I think I get your drift. I have to say, mate, whatever it is you’re on, I want some. Keep on reading.

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Norah Rothwell

That sounds better than okay; thanks for bringing it to my attention. Can you tell me which newspaper carried it? As for the pronunciation of those names; you have the Jim Bryce version . . . there may be alternatives. Jim’s fine by me, though, seriously.

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Lynne Dalrymple

Gallery WhispersMurmuring the Judges, and Thursday Legends are all on iTunes. That’s all I can tell you.

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Hot hot hot

It’s been rather warm for the last few days in Northern Spain, bad conditions when you have toothache and your back has seized up. It would make a lesser man grumpy, but not QJ; he goes beyond that. When QJ begins referring to himself in the third person, you know he is seriously pissed off.

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Don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger

A ragged, old, derelict shuffled into a down and dirty bar. Stinking of whiskey and cigarettes, his hands shook as he took the “Piano Player Wanted” sign from the window and handed it to the bartender.

“I’d like to apply for the job,” he said. “I was an A-4 Skyhawk pilot and a LtCol in the Marine Corps Reserves, but when they retired the Skyhawk they cashiered me as well. So I learned to play the piano on the GI Bill”.

The barkeep wasn’t too sure about this rather doubtful looking old guy, but it had been quite a while since he had a piano player and business was falling off. So, the barkeep decided to give him a try and said, “OK give me a sample of your playing.”

The Colonel staggered his way over to the piano while several patrons snickered. By the time he was into his third bar of music, every voice was silenced.What followed was a rhapsody of sound and music, unlike anyone had heard in the bar before. When he finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.The bartender took the old fighter pilot a beer and asked him the name of the song he had just played.It’s called “Drop your Skivvies, Baby, I’m Going Balls To The Wall For You!” said the Colonel, after he took a long pull from the beer. “And I wrote it myself,” he said.

The bartender and the crowd winced at the title, but the piano player then went on with a knee-slapping, hand-clapping bit of ragtime that had the place jumping. After he finished, the fighter pilot acknowledged the applause and told the crowd the song was called, “Big Boobs Make My Afterburner Light.” He then excused himself as he stumbled and lurched to the john.

When he came out the bartender went over to him and said, “Look Colonel, the job is yours, but do you know your fly is open and your pecker is hanging out?”

“Know it?” the old attack pilot replied, “Hell, I wrote it!”

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One off

June 24, 2011 8 comments

Watching U2 at Glastonbury. Why are they great? Bono is no mighty singer and they’ve been doing much the same for 30 years . . . but they are.

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John Lamont

June 24, 2011 2 comments

A guy named John Lamont got himself in deep shit yesterday in the Scottish Parliament during a discussion over the proposed bill to impose severe penalties, including serious time jail sentences, for sectarian behaviour related to football. He was silly enough to claim that the existence, indeed the prevalence of faith schools in the west of Scotland, has contributed to the religious rivalries and outright hatred that has blighted that part of my country for a couple of centuries, and had conditioned the people whose behaviour the new laws are out to curb. Lamont’s remarks were greeted with instant outrage by the Catholic church, and by the Scottish Government’s community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham, who I saw on television gazing in scornful astonishment at him as he spoke. I’m not going to get into the argument, other than to say that I thought the guy was reckless and intemperate, but I would suggest that Ms Cunningham should stay out of it as well. She might have been born in Glasgow, but she was brought up in Australia and so has no idea of the realities of school education in post-war Scotland. I do, because I was there. (I’m not so sure about Mr Lamont, but I’ll get to him later.)

The term ‘faith school ‘ is misleading in a 1950s context; if the term existed, it was never used. Officially, local authority schools were Catholic or non-denominational, but don’t let anyone kid you about the latter; for ‘non-denominational’, read ‘Protestant’. The division was absolutely clear, and the society of the time did nothing to blur it. I remember going to an inter-schools swimming gala in Motherwell Baths as a pupil of Knowetop Primary, the top ‘non-denominational’ school in town. The Catholic kids booed our swimmers and we booed theirs. It was a matter of routine, but I don’t believe there was true malice in it, not among children. In Fifties Motherwell I was nine years old before I ever met and played with a Catholic coeval. He joined our gang in the park during the summer holidays and he fitted in perfectly. His name was Phil McKeown and we never thought to ask him what school he attended, (one of two Central Scotland code questions, the other being ‘Did you play for the Boys’ Brigade?’) not until the end of August and it was time to go back there. When we did, and he said ‘Park Street’, my pals and I were more pleased than anything else, because he was a good lad and we’d liked him. I don’t know what Phil thought, for we never saw him again, but I do know this; our summer friendship proved to me even then that people are more important than ministers of any religion, and that good will always out, if given the chance.

That is why, ultimately, issues aside, I believe that Mr Lamont is a fool to have opened his mouth in the way he did. He was born in 1976, and thus if he was educated at Kilwinning Academy, as he claims, he didn’t get there until the late eighties, when things had moved on. I say ‘as he claims’ because according to his official Scottish Tory biography, he is a Borders worthy, the son of a Berwickshire farmer and a local teacher. That’s a hell of a long way from Kilwinning, but the man has a first class law degree from Glasgow University, so let’s assume he was telling the truth yesterday about his secondary education. And yet he chooses not to mention any of it on his party website. Just as he didn’t mention yesterday the fact that things have moved on, and that Bishop Joseph Devine is correct when he points out that many parents from other denominations do now choose to send their children to Catholic schools, possibly because they prefer an education that has a moral foundation, than one in which political correctness rules. (Will I be in bother for saying that? Probably. Do I care? No.)

Hell, I said I wasn’t getting into the argument, and what have I gone and done? Lamont is a fool, end of story. They don’t teach bigotry in modern faith schools and they didn’t in the Catholic schools of my era or in the Proddy versions either. The venom that has been spewed for decades at Rangers-Celtic football matches, didn’t begin in the schools and they haven’t perpetuated it. Where did it begin? God might know, but I’m sure He lost interest a while back, just as the brain-dead who chuck insults and bottles have no interest in Him either. My guess? It’s a flaw in our physical makeup, a defective gene in humanity that has implanted in the great majority of our species the compulsive need to have someone to hate.

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Marg O’Neill

I’m pleased to hear that your Kobo is working well. I gave my daughter a Kindle for her birthday; from being a bookworm she’s turned into an e-reader evangelist. No trips to Oz on the schedule at the moment, and a  return is less and less likely with every Australian book-shop closure. The only problem with e-readers is that, you can’t sign them. (Lightbulb moment: patent an e-reader case with pages attached for autographs.)

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San Juan

It is fiesta night in Spain, and it’s showing no sign of abating. Avia Eileen is doing an overnighter in Ventallo, looking after Mia and the two dogs. Mia would be fine I’m sure, but twelve months ago, Sunny spent the equivalent night in L’Escala, and passed much of it hiding under my desk, hyperventilating, so scared was the poor old bitch.

I don’t know for sure where San Juan bestows his patronage, but I guess it must be upon the makers of fireworks, and indeed of explosive devices in general. As I write it is 12:45am. The Saint’s day is over, but nobody has told his followers, for rockets are still lighting up the night and thunder-flashes are rattling the windows. Imagine the pre-invasion bombing of Baghdad, and you are just about there.

If I chose, I could go along to San Marti d’Empuries, where a concert is under way. It will last until the sun comes up, but sadly, I doubt if I could. Instead I will go there for coffee tomorrow, and laugh, a little jealously, at those whose eyes are like piss-holes in the snow.

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La Mietta

June 24, 2011 1 comment

Mia was born one year ago yesterday. Since then she has come to dominate our lives, and enrich them beyond expression. I have a whole album of pics from her first birthday party, but they will stay private, for I have given up posting any images of children on the internet, such is the nature of our world. Suffice it to say that the day was hectic, fractious, noisy, hilarious and joyous all rolled into one.

From it all, one single moment stands out and will live with me forever. I am Mia’s maternal granny’s second husband, and the first, Harry, my friend before and since, is still around. He’s been in Ventallo, where the golden family live, for the last couple of weeks. In consequence, Mia has got used to Avi Q walking her in L’Escala and to Grandpa Harry walking her in Ventallo. Yesterday, as the official party hour neared, he and I were ordered to take the lamb, the blessed child, for a walk in her pram, in the hope that she might sleep for a little. We did, she cool in her shaded pram, Harry and I exposed to 90 degree heat and catching shadows as best we could. We walked her round the village, until we reached the playground where we decided to stop  and rest under a tree. At that point, La Mietta, who had not closed a single eye, far less tripped into the land of nod, was able to eyeball us both. So transparent was her expression that I will swear until the end of time that the thought going through her mind was, ‘How the hell did these two get into the same picture?’

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Po(s)t luck

There are many things to be said for living in Spain. But . . .

If your life depends on the Spanish postal service delivering a first class air mail packet, or even a simple letter, to your door on time, then you had better make sure your affairs are in order.

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Bob thanks you also, for reading him.

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