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Through the keyhole

There used to be a TV quiz show called "Through the Keyhole". I think I was not much addicted to it and may only have seen it once or twice.

Basically, TV cameras went into a celebrity's home and filmed what it looked like. And then the show's panellists had to work out whose home it was.

I have never been able to work out what a celebrity actually is. It seems to be someone who is famous for being famous. One of the daftest inventions of modern time. Being lauded for being who you are is a very long way short of being lauded for what one has done.

Not that my immediate family has been entirely immune. My nephew Jamie appeared on "They Think It's All Over" in 2003. A supposedly famous sports person appears and the panel had to work out who they were. In Jamie's case, they failed. Although the first UK male to win a World Championship in orienteering, his achievements seemed to have passed them by.

But he did win a gold bar as his prize. When he got married a few years later, the gold was used to make his and his spouse's wedding rings.

I have been visiting many people's homes over the last couple of months. That would be most improper and illegal, wouldn't it? Not of course by physical presence. So all OK.

Instead, the many visits have been made by video-conferencing (ibid). Indeed I am later than usual in writing up my previous 24-hours precisely because of some more such intrusions into other people's private spaces.

I have just chaired the Annual General Meeting of my political colleagues on Aberdeenshire Council. A virtual meeting as most now are. And a very well-behaved group they are. The chair's role was therefore straightforward, and I now sit with a relaxing cup of tea at my computer keyboard.

When Jack McConnell was First Minister he made a courageous decision which I very enthusiastically supported. As someone who has previously suffered from "bronchospasm", the main effect of an asthma attack, I welcomed his introduction of legislation to ban smoking in public places. I had, for example, long given up visiting the cinema, where my enjoyment was entirely eliminated by others' smoking.

His decision turned out to be spot on and was very bold. He managed to be just ahead of public opinion but with the tide of events. He deserves every credit for what he did on this subject. I will always recognise good things done by political opponents.

Another of his decisions, and one which continues to haunt most people in Scotland who are elected to public office to this day, was substantially poorer. And it properly came up at the AGM I have just been chairing.

In 2007, local elections changed and with that came the introduction of a salary for Councillors. The previous arrangements had relied on allowances and expenses. They had been unchanged for many years and were wholly inadequate for a job which could no longer be done in one's spare time.

A review of Councillors' pay had been established. The then FM rejected their findings, objectively arrived at by looking at workload, responsibilities and other comparable jobs. And chose a much lower figure.

The workload has continued to rise and has reached new peaks during the current pandemic. Dividing the hours worked into the amount paid shows that the hourly rate is below the minimum wage.

The meeting made the point that we should fix this. And I agree.

Like other meetings I find myself participating in - two more later today - I was visiting other people's homes. This time using Skype, that son of Estonia, the sixth type of video-conferencing software I have used in recent times.

Estonia is an interesting place. Only about 1.3 million people but a giant in the electronic world. Skype was a private venture. But after a determined attack on their online infrastructure starting on 27th April 2007, Russians were probably behind it, the State got involved.

Today they have moved onto a robust, battle-hardened, fully online world. Indeed one can become an electronic resident of Estonia (see https://e-resident.gov.ee/) for a comparatively modest amount. And people around the world are doing so. Not because it is a tax haven, but because it makes doing online business anywhere in the world so easy. And provides ways to allow others to verify that you are trustworthy.

My visits to others' homes today, courtesy of Skype, were a bit less interesting than usual. But that was because I was in the chair. Sitting with two computers in front of me. Main one for the meeting and the sidebar for "chatting" with participants. The other for seeing emails arriving and reading them.

And still a place for paper with the agenda sitting beside me.

Other meetings are ones where, though I have to be fully engaged and attentive, my eye can wander to what's in the rooms of participants.

I must say that everyone seems to live in quite tidy homes. Or is that because people have simply moved their truck out of camera shot. Is it instead leaning against walls behind, rather than in front, of the camera?

In my case, mea culpa, some stuff has moved to spare bedroom. A little has gone to the bin.

A recurring theme has been bookshelves. About half of online-conference participants have made the choice to sit in front of their home library. I think those with fibre-enabled broadband should beware. It may just be possible to read the titles. I wonder if there are some delightful surprises waiting for us there.

A month ago I referred to Liam Kirkcaldy, Holyrood magazine's humorous columnist, when he expressed a desire to "read my bookshelf". Other's connection which provides higher definition than my narrow-band can, may yet offer him more tempting targets.

I now know that some of my colleagues have Scandinavian pine accommodation. Others have soft sofas upon which they lounge in a tea-shirt. Pictures or wall hangings continue to intrigue when my interest flags; hardly ever Convenor.

And number two cat appeared online for a special cuddle on her eighth birthday; unplanned by me.

Vive le trou de serrure électronique.

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