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Showing posts from March, 2020

Learning from History

An old saying is "Those who know no history, are condemned to repeat it".
In today's New York Times, author Paul Theroux recalls his time in a politically inspired lockdown in Uganda. and says, "In times of crisis we should all be diarists and documentarians." 
He highlights the diaries of Samuel Pepys, which were written during the Great Plague of 1665 as an example.
Now I doubt that my diaries will be considered to rank with Samuel Pepys three centuries plus from now. But it is good to have encouragement from others to keep writing. Parliamentary colleague, and Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame, like me an 8th decader, is also writing daily. Indeed I think she started earlier than me.
So the encouragement to write comes from many quarters. But I am not sure that I need that. Each day it seems to come a wee bit easier. I have an electronic scratch-pad that I jot down ideas for writing on. The list of potential topics keeps growing even as I remove items …

Mountains of Pressure

Yesterday's walk was my middling size route, about 2½ miles. Still speeding up a bit, although the bitter cold caused by a strong wind may have provided the incentive for an even brisker walk than usual.

My weatherman pal, Seán Batty, reports that the barometric pressure at his home is at the highest he has ever seen it, 1,049 hectopascals, in old money 1,049 millibars, or in very, very old money, 31 column inches of mercury.

Part of Scotland's heritage is our hills. In particular the "Munro"s. Those hills over 3,000 feet high. There are also "Corberts" which are the ones over 2,500 feet but I don't think I've heard walking pals talk much about these tiddlers. But then it's not the height that's really the challenge. It's our very changeable weather.

In 1965 (I think), I was with a group of pals on a walk from the Cairngorm ski lift car park, up over the top to Beinn Macduibh. That's Scotland's second-highest hill. And back.

It w…

Money, Money, Money

On Wednesday, the limit on cashless transactions rises from £30 to £45. Curiously some retailers seem to have been allowing much higher values for some time when an electronic card, embedded in my Google App on my phone, is used rather than the "real" thing.

Either way, it is part of a quite sudden change for money.

It has long been the case that the value of transactions conducted using what we call cash (this paper stuff or coins ain't cash - I'll come back to that) is far outweighed by electronic money moved around from computer to computer.

The total face-value of Scotland's banknotes, cherishing them as we do, is less than 100th of the daily transaction amount in our economy. Probably; certainly the ratio is quite large.

But now touch-and-go has become the "cash-du-jour" for most transactions in just a couple of years. For my part, I now average less than one traditional cash transaction per month.

The number of transactions using banknotes or coin…

A Plan is Nothing until it Becomes Work

Each day I have allocated an hour in my diary for a walk. It would too easy to simply embrace the settee and sleep my life away. No way.

But I want to be fitter than I have been, Yes, I am fitter than most of my age group. However, a memory of watching breakfast TV in a Sydney hotel in 1987 provides an incentive.

They were interviewing the winner of the over-40s section of the Australian national cross-country running championships. And why were they interviewing this very fit looking veteran? He had just won the championship for the fortieth consecutive time! He was in his 90s and beating people in their 40s in an endurance running competition. If that ain't a pause for thought, I don't know what is.

So when I was out for yesterday's walk, I stepped up the cardio a bit more. The distance is now a wee bit over 3 miles and the time is down to 40 minutes. Nine days ago 2½ miles was taking 50 minutes. So that's modest progress.

The telegraph poles are a useful marker (rem…

Two Finger Typing

We've seen our friends across the Atlantic, I've only three US states where I do not know of any relatives, move to reject expertise and embrace bombast in recent years.

And yet none of the inventions which we view as vital parts of our modern existence came without expertise. Not necessarily only from those who have acquired knowledge and skills from formal learning. I am somewhat of an autodidact myself. I found the tramlines along which my formal education tried to direct me, immensely constraining.

But it is a world in which we hang on the words of our Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood as the authoritative voice in our crisis. Our First Minister and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman have to turn her advice into policy and action. But without the expertise, there would be nothing.

All three have voices whose calm and informed delivery assist and reassure us in times of difficulty.

As I sit here, I think about a skill I, and the overwhelming majority of the population,…

In the Country

If you live in the country, you are used to relative quiet. Indeed when we have visitors to stay, some find the silence, at night in particular, quite disturbing.

If you are used to the distant rumble of traffic, the sound of people in the street, the leakage of light into the house, their absence is a big change.

For us country-dwellers, it is a pleasure to sit out on a cloudless night under a sky with an uncountable number of stars and perhaps the spectacular brightness of the planet Venus.

Not that I find it challenging to adapt to the urban environment. For 30 years the Edinburgh-Glasgow trains shot by at 100 mph only 30 feet from the bedroom window. And I slept through it.

The clear, quiet sky is spectacular but brings a friend with it. The absence of cloud cover means that the day's heat escapes upwards and away. And delivers a morning frost. Or, later in the year when it's warmer, a morning dew.

Beautiful. But after 3 days of this, the usual happens - fog.

It's a sp…

Baith Hope and Clarity

We are settling down to a new routine. Helped by a diary that firmly allocates time to tasks, many long-discussed but previously neglected, and sets objectives into a timeline.

Our own little local government structure is covering a population of two of the genus Felix, who are in charge, and two subservient hominids.

Yesterday's walk, brisk as ever, was 3.6 miles, an increase over the usual 2.5 miles. Because my usual route was shut as Openreach had to do some work on poles near us. If there is one service essential to maintaining our sanity - "our" being the hoo-mans, our rulers are indifferent - it is the internet.

Yes, the TV continues to receive signals from the Astra group of satellites sitting 25,000 miles above us and well away from infection, but linear TV, so 20th century, makes the decision as to what we will see and when.

By contrast, the internet puts us in control. Allowing us to chose what we read and view, and when.

But also allows us to see some unmitiga…

Life Behind the Gate

For the first time in many years, the gate into our house is shut.

Not to keep us in but to keep others out. I will shortly be going out to put a table in place for delivery drivers to leave parcels. And attaching a few helpful instructions on the other side of the gate.
Last night's statement from Nicola and the legislation that is coming shortly from Westminster and Holyrood will create a framework designed to protect us all.

Our role as more vulnerable oldsters, whose bodily systems are gently declining as we age, is to protect ourselves from becoming a burden on our health service, our social services.

People with serious conditions, whose immune systems are relatively ineffective for whatever reason, sick babies, need to able to get to the front of the queue without people like us who can take action to avoid, or at least postpone catching the bug, getting in the way.

Reports coming to me from elsewhere suggest that there is still a minority who may need something a little b…

The Usual is now Unusual

Today is Monday, and last Monday was the last day of what passes for me as a politician as normal life.

How much has changed in a week.

Social contact, chit chat, travel and shopping.

Now it is sensible, and community duty, that I distance from others so that I stay well and leave our health service free to support others with greater needs.

I was in Peterhead Academy meeting a modern studies class for a lively, even robust, set of exchanges with students. And it was the usual great fun.

School visits are a highlight of this politician's life. Engaging with a younger generation's energy and enthusiasm. Not at all the "hodden doon" group I was part of at their age.

I don't think it simply happened because of the "Curriculum for Excellence" coming to our schools. It is as well to remember that this initiative was supported right across political parties. Criticism and debate, stilled for the moment by the priority given to dealing with the virus, has been…

Junior Chef and Dish Dryer

I first engaged with the most primitive cooking when at Boy Scout camp. We threw a raw onion into the fire, removed it when well burnt, peeled the black bits of the exterior, ate the all but raw interior.

Lesson learned. Cooking is a wee bit more than simply the application of heat to potentially nutritious raw material.

I even managed to win the cookery award at an inter-troop camping competition a few years later. Less of an achievement than it sounds as my main rival Iain - an accomplished master of the camp oven, a tin buried under a fire - had burnt his much-anticipated bacon and egg pie.

Like in Government, at home a female - my spouse - is offering guidance on how I should deal with social distancing. And just as I am listening to the wise words of the First Minister and the Chief Medical Officer, - keep your distance, don't panic buy, no pub nights - I accept without argument the idea that two nights a week are mine to cook for.

Brave, brave.

But help is at hand. Wayne Ste…

Shopping Day

Day 3 of our social distancing was probably unique in our lives.

I am number 1, and Nicola Sturgeon is number 3 .. in the most popular articles chart in "the National" that is. My first-day thoughts and experience from beyond the 70-year barrier obviously struck home with lots of people.

But my experience cannot, indeed must not, be unique. If my age group is to stay healthy and not overwhelm the NHS, we've got a significant role to play. Our actions matter. Our actions can set an example for other age groups.

And top shop ASDA has been setting an example we can applaud.

Our weekly shop still has to be done and my spouse is a regular at Huntly's ASDA.

A special "oldies session" between 0700 and 0900 caught our eyes and we pitched up at 0800 to top up. And boy was it busy! More staff stocking up than I have ever seen and virtually no empty shelves. A fair sprinkling of buyers too. The A2B community transport bus at the door ensuring an easy journey for some…

A Brief Parole Beckons

Day 1 at home with my spouse is over. Little blood spilt. And that has been by my spouse in the daily battle to get a pill down the throat of our older cat.

I had a bit of a long lie but I don’t think it did me too much harm .. I rose at 0615 rather than my usual 0530.

Especially when followed by walking 2½ miles around our country roads. Not a single vehicle was seen or heard, so business as usual.

A brief chat, at a distance, with a neighbour – in country living a mile away counts as a neighbour – and the subject of the chat? Social distancing. And an agreement that we country dwellers were pretty adept at that already.

The other highlights?

Well, I have incorporated a few short bits of jogging to raise the cardio action. All on the flat of course. Perhaps I shall start on some uphill sections next week—a target set of getting to do 10K twice a week and doing it in the hour. But without a target date .. yet.

It’s a chastening thought that when I, and my late pals Archie and Joe, use…

Adapting to the Coronavirus World

It’s a bit of a jolt to find you are considered vulnerable. After all, I am only 73 and visit my local health centre only once a year for my ‘flu jab. A total of six days off work in the last 10 years says it all.

And yet .. my lung function ain’t what it used to be. That’s partly age and I used to suffer from asthma. So last time I was in, the nurse insisted I took a device to measure the size of my breaths.

So I think I have to accept that anything that goes for my lungs will affect me more than a strapping fit 21 year old.

Catching the COVID-19 bug means being close enough to other people for it to jump across. Keeping away from others is an obvious thing to do. And I have always had a list of people to avoid. But now it’s avoid everyone as much as I can.

And wash hands for longer and more frequently to remove the bug from my hands. Good sense!

For a week or two, we’ve moved from handshakes to elbow bumps. Quite amusing, a practical barrier to passing on bugs and a constant reminde…