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Showing posts from June, 2020

Masking time

My spouse has just brought to my attention an interview conducted by Jon Snow on Channel 4 last night. Carefully probing two professors about the flare-up of the coronavirus in Leicester, he let science lead the discussion.

That picks up on my writings yesterday about the need for good quality, non-political advice closely available to political decision-makers.

Young Jon Snow, he's nearly a year younger than me, is a cool head in a crisis. When I've met him, I have been impressed by his listening skills, his ability to pick the necessary essence of what's been said by his interviewee and test it.

What struck me quite quickly was a coincidence of name. One the founders of modern epidemiology was John Snow. He was a physician who conducted a statistical analysis of cholera infection and linked it to a contaminated water supply. Famously the street water pump in Soho was disabled in 1854 and within three days cases dropped off.

A further pointer to water being the problem w…

Finding the question

Until I looked further into the matter, I had always attributed the phrase, "Two countries divided by a common language", to Winston Churchill. It seems to make sense as he seemed to be referring to his parents, father English, a mother from the United States.

But it seems I shall need to update both my database of quotations and my memory.

Mr Google has taken me to the information that in The Canterville Ghost (1887), Oscar Wilde wrote: "We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language". He also takes me to the suggestion that George Bernard Shaw said, "England and America are two countries divided by a common language".

The question as to which of Wilde or Shaw originated the phrase, if either did, seems to remain open. I do note that Wilde has a clear claim to 1887 while Shaw's writing career came somewhat later. So I plump for Wilde.

Unless Churchill started using this phrase when he was thirteen years old, he…

No pigtail after all

For the first Saturday in a normal recess, it would be routine to report that nothing had happened. But not so.

The post-session recovery that generally occupies the first few days has yet to start. And indeed, is required more than usual. Since being elected nineteen years ago, I have had no May and June months with as many Parliamentary Committee meetings. A bit less speaking in the Chamber certainly, but it's Committee work that takes the real effort.

In this past week, it has been well over three hundred pages of briefings to read. And to understand.

There are those, not merely people who hope for a remunerated retirement to what Jim Hacker of TV series "Yes Minister" referred to as a home for vegetables-otherwise known as the House of Lords, who regret our not having a second house for our Parliament. Worth noting that over two-thirds of the world's legislatures are single Chamber like us. And a large part of those that do, only have one because ex-colonies copi…

How to avoid being a celebrity

Some things sneak up on you unobserved. I had previously thought that I would have stopped this daily diary after 100 editions. Just hadn't noticed that yesterday was that milestone.

Today has its own significance. The words written here will take the total over the 120 thousand mark.

So today marks diary day 101. George Orwell created the original Room 101 as the place that the enemies of Big Brother are consigned to. And the fearsome Big Brother has been transmogrified into a "reality" show on TV. Just like Room 101.

These are both programs I am unlikely to watch. A quick glance or two at Room 101 took no time to persuade me that I found it neither humorous, informative nor entertaining.

The whole genre of "reality" shows, from which it appears "celebrity" emerges is as far from entertainment as I could imagine.

But does it do any harm to society as a whole that TV broadcasts some programs for which I have zero affinity? Probably not. So far, nobody…

Blood

Warning to the sensitive. There is some talk of blood today. Not human blood so..

Cats are omnipresent in our house. Even when physically absent, the great outdoors is a big pull for them; they remain in our minds.

Our two, Donald and Madelaine, have a truce with Mr Socks who lives next door. He regularly visits for a chat with them and sits on our right-hand gatepost. Ours sit on the other side and silently commune with him.

There are some disruptive influences. A red monster appears from time to time and, if spotted, is vigorously chased from her domain by Madelaine who is no more than half his size. But then that's the way she is.

Her most impressive defence has been against a local dog fox. She stood on the back step, every hair on full alert so that she looked twice her normal size, waving an armed paw only some two or three feet from his muzzle. Her mouth was open so that her full set of teeth were to be seen complementing a basso profundo growl accompanied by a serious his…

Transportation

For the first time in several months, I was able to fit in an hour of family tree research. That came after my breakfast, porridge and local strawberries, reading the papers and now sitting down to write up my daily diary.

The prompt for today's research was an email from one of the family tree databases to which I subscribe. Yesterday was even more exciting. A DNA match with the same name as one of my Parliamentary colleagues.

While it would be a breach of privacy to be specific, the name only occurs twice in Scotland's birth records since modern records started in 1855. And in world-wide records only a further two. The person whose DNA I match has provided no information apart from their name so I shall need to see what response I get to my email.

But back to this morning's research.

That involved the main criminal in my family tree. You've always suspected ... ? Don't get too excited as I share no DNA with this person. Their family married into mine. Mind you, …

A world view

Today is a bad writing day. I don't mean that I set out write badly. Rather it is that I am only starting to write at 1320. My normal target is to publish at 1000. So what (didn't) happen?

I have not long completed my participation in two Parliamentary Committees which met at the same time. That's the third week in a row. This week I had to ask for my question in Rural to be delayed by 3 minutes so that I could complete speaking in the COVID Committee. A generous Convenor, already trying to juggle quite a few balls and operating over a rural narrowband connection, allowed me that latitude.

But what caused me the late start was a combination of factors. I had a busy day on Tuesday and had started the week without a COVID Committee in my diary. I have been playing catch-up ever since. And I have made sure that I have my diary properly organised (I think!) until the end of July.

Today's announcement that holiday accommodation can open from 15th July may open up the option…

Preparation

Yesterday I wrote about preparing for the week ahead. Now we have just completed the last meeting of the Environment Committee before recess. That too was forward-looking.

We have about 25 more weeks sitting before we depart Parliament for the 2021 election which will determine who will serve in Session 6. I have had the privilege and enormous pleasure of serving in the first five sessions since we resumed after being prorogued in 1707. But now my mind turns to reviewing the past and planning for the future. As I will be 75 next year, I will be handing over to a successor.

But I also need a short term plan for our much-abbreviated summer recess. We will come back when the schools resume in the week starting 11th August and will have a Parliamentary meeting every week until then. But no Committees.

So a wee bit of space to pick up some much neglected personal interests. But no vacation booked.

The first of these has to involve my main hobby - family research. There's been quite a f…

Unwelcome disruption

In the first hours of the new week - it's 0700 and I have been at the computer since 0545 - it's as well to check whether all the assets required are in place for a successful week.

The Ofcom broadband checker is a good place to start (https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/broadband-test - seems to be blocked on some internal networks such as that in Parliament). Today shows my non-fibred rural connection ticking along at 8.5 megabits per second. That's pretty much good enough for our online activity. But the data delay (us techies might prefer the term latency) is 41.1 milliseconds. That's less encouraging. It essentially means that you have to wait until the data starts flowing. In my Edinburgh accommodation, it's about 11 milliseconds.

But as ever the upload speed is a mere 0.5 megabits per second. The Ofcom checker puts an "Amber" against using such a speed for video calling. They say that means "This service should work but you may experience problems&qu…

Summer delight

A double helping of Expresso flavoured ice cream from the Portsoy ice cream shop. When that was brought to me, it represented a small, but very welcome, few centimetres of a move towards a post-pandemic world.

Apparently, the shop had quite a queue, with proper 2-metre distancing maintained, waiting outside. One customer, or family group, was allowed inside at a time. So altogether sounds like a safe way to operate the business.

There is an ice cream trail along the Moray coast which, in previous times, was an important part of the local tourism infrastructure. The availability of locally made ice cream was the key to its success. With each shop having its own individual approach to flavours, colours and presentation.

The Portsoy Ice Cream shop also had strawberries from Barra Berries at Old Meldrum. I am enthusiastically munching my way through a punnet.

All that is the essence of a local shop.

Today's ice cream feeds into my mild optimism about the future of locally-based reta…

A public debate about privatisation

Yesterday I tweeted from the Financial Times. I subscribe to the FT, so perhaps that's not too surprising.

Martin Wolf is their Chief Economics Commentator and has seen sufficient economic shocks during his life as a journalist to deserve to be listened to when he writes as he did;

"We almost certainly [...] need to take the provision of at least some essential public services out of the hands of privatised businesses."

He has also commented, a week ago, on some of the effects of the pandemic on countries already struggling, saying;

"in emerging and developing countries, the crisis threatens severe underfunding of important health and welfare programmes"

I am not here to heap peons of praise upon his already "be-jewelled" shoulders. Others can do that. But he does alert us to the need for radical public policy and practice shifts.

I have not seen him commenting on the merger of the UK's Foreign Office with the Government's international aid effo…

Parked briefly in Leith

This morning I awake with a nagging discomfort in my back. My travelling to Parliament has necessitated my sitting in the driver's seat of my car for some seven hours.

The rules of lockdown mean that my possible break at "Peggy Scott's" at Finavon for a pot of tea and a bacon roll is not currently possible. So it is a non-stop drive.

Incidentally, the late Ms Scott, who created the delightful pit-stop I refer to and who supervised its excellent kitchen and fine fine-pieces that emerged from it was not called Peggy.

She was an excellent example of local entrepreneurship. She had a window in her domain, the kitchen, which enabled her to attend to the culinary activities while also keeping a close eye on her customers outwith that area.

Her sensitivity to any body language, which suggested anything less than 100% satisfaction would have her gently approaching any customer exhibiting such a response to her hospitality, and engaging them in conversation. And where she cou…

A bad day for democracy?

Yesterday was dominated by two things for me. Both came accompanied by sound.

The more trivial was in the matter of a peacock. A Tory MSP sought support for an amendment to the Wildlife Bill we were considering yesterday. He wished to create a new criminal offence related to the theft of a pet. Now while I don't believe anyone in the Chamber would condone such a theft, such a proposal needs careful thought.

Many of us will be familiar with stories of cats turning up and, little by little, occasionally in a single bound, taking up residence in a new home. In our case, and this is the example I used in debate, it is a peacock that has been a regular visitor for about 18 months.

If we start to assume responsibility for these animals, exercising a relationship with them that has all the attributes of ownership, have we committed "theft by finding" and hence be likely to fall within the bounds of the new crime this Tory proposal might have led us to?

In the case of the peacoc…

Bright spots

A damp start to the day as I prepare for my two Committee meetings which require my logging in at 0830. Decided to treat myself, and viewers, to a full shave last night.

Apparently, even the soft image transmitted from my narrowband connection in rural Banffshire was beginning to show the fuzz on my chin. To support being in two places at once, I will be in my Edinburgh accommodation where a crystal-sharp image may be transmitted over a bandwidth nearly forty times the speed. Even faster than my link in Parliament.

One of the immense frustrations for me, and important for many, is that plans to move ahead with universal high-speed broadband are stuck in court. It hasn't been possible to place the contract for this in North Scotland due to a complaint from a losing bidder.

The move for many to home-working has exacerbated frustrations as an increased load on networks has slowed already leisurely response times even further. When the eagerly awaited upgrades are delivered, they will…