Sunday, December 16, 2007


The man ahead of me in the newsagents has won £97 in the lottery. Unfortunately, they don't have enough cash to pay him.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Today reminded me of a lot of my childhood. It was raining when I woke, raining on the train in to work, raining and only half-light all day, and is still raining now. Ah, my country!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I work with professionals

Apparently, there's some kind of football match on today.

Our office backs onto the Radisson hotel, where the Italy team are staying. Friday afternoon consisted of female coworkers shriekingly speculating if any of the team had their curtains open.

If you swaped the roles of the sexes here, the behaviour would of course be quite unacceptable (think Les Dawson, circa 1976).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Joan Eardley

I expected to like the Eardley show that is currently on at the NGS, and this can be a prelude to disappointment. Luckily, this was not the case, as it is excellent.

I was quite carried away by a roomful of paintings of children from Townhead. It never really occurred to me that they encapsulate an era that was almost over. Townhead was mostly demolished to build the M8. JE's paintings are now a record of a world where children played in the streets and seemed to have a sense of togetherness that you'd be hard pushed to find these days. The children would all be about 60 now.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Go home!

A particular pet hate of mine came up today. My colleague, J, arrived at work full of some cold-like infection. Several people I work with have gone down with (presumably) the same bug recently. She took great delight in pointing this out, and in speculating who would be next. When the obvious question (why did you come in?) came up, she proudly stated that she hadn't had a sick day this year, and she certainly wasn't going to start now! Well, thank you J, the rest of us will sacrifice our health to your perfect record!

Later, I heard her talking on the phone to the other office and telling somebody else with lurgy to go home. She seemed unaware of the irony.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Back to the future

I really enjoyed the current exhibition of Basil Spence's work at the Dean Gallery. For one thing, I live near several of his notable buildings, including the gleaming white ex-garage in Causewayside, where, coincidently, I bought some beer this morning (it's now a beer/wine merchant). The whole show was a succession of "I didn't know he did that". By the late 70s and 80s I think he had become a bit embarrassing, like an eccentric old uncle who you have to be polite to at Christmas, so I didn't know anything about the man, despite encountering many of his works. But recently, that rule has kicked in whereby a building that survives maybe 40-50 years will be appreciated on its merits.

Not featured other than in passing was the Natural Philosophy department of Glasgow University, where I spent a lot of 1990-94. This could be because they screwed it up quite a bit during an unsympathetic refurbishment in this period. This was just before BS's star was in the ascendant, so there were few dissenting voices. At least it's still standing.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Happiness is...

...finding a fiver in the pocket of an old pair of trousers that you are about to throw away.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dave's busy day

This morning in work I have a long rambling impromptu conversation with a colleague about life, work, education, the Civil Service, and me. It's one of these exchanges when some things fall into place. I realise what it is I don't like about this, and my last public sector job. Maybe I should just look elsewhere--my previous best job was in private industry, and I think that it suited me better. Despite the greyness of the day, I feel happy. Self-knowledge is always worthwhile.

This evening, I attend an event at the Queen's Hall. David Lynch is promoting his new book, and answering questions from loads of art students about transcendental meditation, film-making and everything else. He is supported by Donovan, who sings and reminisces about being with George Harrison and the Maharishi in the ashram. Another odd Queen's Hall experience for me, almost up there with Stockhausen. I got the invitation through work, as well as an invitation to the after-show reception, so my life seems briefly glamorous.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Good to see

There's a nice exhibition of Alasdair Grey's work in Cafe Cossachok in Glasgow. Great to see some original versions of book covers, and some very early work from the 50s. It's just a shame that somebody of this status has a retrospective in the downstairs room of a restaurant (albeit a very nice one).

A quick visit too, because it's only on till Saturday, and I only found out on Tuesday, and I'm busy.

More please, but organise better next time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Good for my soul

I don't often do any data entry, but I am at the moment. It makes you realise both what boring work it is, and how you don't really understand your data unless you've got personal with scribbled-on bits of paper.

It becomes clear, for example, that some respondents in a block of multiple choice will fill in all of the first boxes. Or, just to break the monotony, will let the responses zig-zag down the page from one extreme choice to the other. I suppose you could exclude some obvious piss-takers like this, but how many other misleading responses would you still take as valid?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Here we go again

Fuck it's Monday again. I hate working. It's much more fun to play with the crappy camera on my computer. The weather's a bit grey today, but the view over the rooftops still gives me some pleasure.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Diaries, blogs

Am reading some of the Alan Clark diaries. By rights I ought to despise this car-crazy Tory, yet I am oddly fascinated, and have the distinct impression that I would have liked the guy if I ever met him.

The diaries often have a gloomy tone, so it's probably not something I should spend too much time on, being in a rather dull patch myself at the moment.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My people

Just been to view a house in Glasgow, and very nice it was too. Suddenly, moving seems like it could actually happen.

On the suburban train both going and coming back I encounter chatty Glaswegians. Going out is a cheery drunk with a dog who happily broadcasts his life to the carriage. Coming back, an arty lady talks at length on her mobile about her recently collapsed relationship, her planned evening of cookery and aromatherapy, and how she needs to collect that painting soon. I'm much cheered by the whole experience: Weegies talk to you in a way that East coasters don't. Personal problems must be shared with all.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Open yesterday

The best bits of Doors Open Day yesterday.

The Glasite meeting house was very austere and Presbyterian, and I'd never even heard of it.

I'd often speculated on, but never seen, the view from the many-windowed room on the corner of Queen Street and St Andrew's Street. It turned out to be owned by the SNP, and to be like an old working man's club inside, with Formica tables and emulsioned walls. However, the light and the view were excellent.

I also enjoyed seeing inside Parliament Hall, and working out what a bit more of that complex of buildings does. Some of the staff in the court of session re-enacted the trial of Madelaine Smith; a curious mixture of amateur theatricals and realistic detail.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ask Mr Tufte

My current favourite time-wasting site is that of Edward Tufte, who has narrowly edged out the Exile recently. If you don't know, Mr Tufte is something of a guru in the matter of presenting information, so I suppose it's almost relevant to, but more interesting than, work.

His discussion boards are diverse and intoxicating, taking in radar maps of migrating birds, color charts for farmed salmon, and why PowerPoint is crap (this pleases me, because I think it is).

Friday, September 14, 2007

When worlds collide

What do you do when you have to fill a job vacancy that is a medieval relic, but you have a strict set of guidelines on the advertisement of public sector jobs?

Well, you just put it in the Herald, as The Lord Lyon King of Arms was today. I might apply.

I am two

I notice this is my blog's second anniversary, and my 200th post. Frankly, I'm surprised it got this far.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sheep may safely graze

I went up the Eildon hills on Saturday. It was a lovely walk, though hardly gets in the door as mountaineering. The sheep are a bit of a giveaway really: you don't expect to reach the top of a significant hill and find them munching contentedly. If this goes on much longer, I'll start doing Marilyns.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What do you want?

There was a squirrel on the wheelie bin this morning. Just a grey one, of course. They're just fluffy-tailed rats really.

How it was done

As an occasional military history anorak, I was delighted to discover Brent Nosworthy's book on Napoleonic battle tactics. A lot of accounts of battles are useless because they leave you no wiser about how things were achieved. Mr Nosworthy fills this gap with a wealth of information about, say, the Prussian thinking on attacking infantry squares post-1806.

And I discovered that Henry Shrapnel invented the shrapnel shell. How could I not now this?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First time

I heard somebody introduce themselves by using the term Scottish Government today.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Good game.

Falkland Palace is just a tiny bit disappointing: a lot of the interest can be seen from the street outside, and the interiors were mostly 19th Century reproductions.

More interesting is the world's oldest tennis court, which is in the grounds. That's royal or real tennis, of course, not lawn tennis (another 19th century innovation). I like that the idea of a serve is to get the ball onto the roof of the gallery, and that you get points for knocking the ball through the holes in the end wall. And the word "serve" originates because one's servant would start play off to save one from bending over in one's fine clothes.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Impassable for motors

They have a lot of cool old signposts in East Lothian. Nice to see such enthusiastic use of vulgar fractions. If a man walks from the sign to Woodhead, how many miles is he from Gifford? Express your answer as (a) an improper fraction (b) a decimal.

This one was grubbier, but more informative. I liked the obsessively accurate direction "Edinburgh 20 7/8". No doubt as a counter-blast to those hot-headed fools who claimed it to be 21 miles.

Monday, August 27, 2007


I manged to get to some of the main art exhibitions for the festival today.

I'll write some more about some of the big shows later, but some of the wee ones are cool too. Maybe it's just because you start without any expectations, but the small groups of work in single rooms are often excellent.

Among its blockbusters, the NGS have got together some prints by William Blake, and very fine they are too. In passing, I wonder if anybody has done a critique of, say, Songs of Innocence that considers both the word and the image? Those literary types shouldn't think they've annexed the topic.

The portrait gallery has a lovely selection of pastel portraits next to the cafe. What else can I say - they are exquisite and beautiful things.

The Queen has also done us proud and put on Amazing Rare Things at the gallery in Holyrood. (I suppose it's not a small show, but hey, I'm on a roll.) This is of natural history illustrations, whether part of Leonardo da Vinci's studies in red chalk, or a rich cardinal's cabinet of curiosities. The lack of an aesthetic party line or agenda about 'Art' is very refreshing. I noticed both here and in previous extracts from the royal collection, that HMQ has a lot to thank some of her predecessors for. George III in particular seems to have had an excellent eye (or been very well advised). I doubt the current members are enhancing the collection much.

Nature ramble

I originally set out yesterday to do something boyish and mildly obsessive involving Munros, but plans went sideways, and I ended up on a pretty ramble round some hills near Pitlochry. Some middle-aged men were twatting around with landrovers in the woods, but I left them to their tentative off-roading. It was, after all a day for wildlife. Spot of the day was a red squirrel which ran across the path, then watched me critically from high on a tree trunk. Dragon flies and butterflies were all around in the woods, and up on the moorland, I spotted a lizard trying to get warm enough to move.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


I've just had lunch in a local cafe. While there, two people did something very un-Scottish. Person 1 was at a table at the end of the room. Person 2 came in from the street. Person 1 walked into the middle of the room with arms outstretched. They met in front of where I was sitting and did all that "mwah-mwah" stuff. The other diners rustled their Sunday papers and tried not to notice.

They'll not be local then.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Art in the rain

It's a wet Saturday in August and I'm trying to get round some of the exhibitions that are on for the Festival. This is only partly successful, as everybody else is trying to do the same. In the Portrait Gallery Ricky Demarco is working the crowd at an exhibition covering his work with Edinburgh Festivals past.

In the city Art Centre I admire Joyce Cairns' painting Shoes from Majdanek, which shows a huge pile of shoes discarded by the victims of a concentration camp. Some other visitors take a shine to it, thinking it's rather fun "That's a lovely idea, lots of shoes. Lovely colours!" Should I tell them? But what do you say? No, it's not fun, it's a searingly painful reminder of the Holocaust?

Eventually I get wet feet and go home to watch DVDs.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fine stuff

I can usually be relied on to be behind the curve when it comes to technology. It's no surprise then, that I've only recently got interested in Flickr and Youtube. Yes, I know, so 2006. Youtube endeared itself to me the other night when I discovered some clips from the Innes Book of Records. I've not seen this stuff since it was first broadcast in all its surreal oddness, captivating me and bewildering my mum ("But what does he do?" was the main comment I remember).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

No patience

When I was wee, my mum always made me wait when boarding buses and trains. "Let the people off first!" she admonished. And I always do. Recently, I've encountered a lot of people who are not so considerate. At both the Glasgow and Edinburgh ends of today's journey, there was a wall of jostling people displaying no patience at all.

This must be a sign of approaching middle age.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Most people start with the letters

I've just bought a Tusitala Stevenson. It had been sitting in the window of the second hand bookshop down the road for a couple of weeks. I've been curious about some of RLS's more obscure works for some time, so it seemed a good omen. I find myself briefly in another world. "Most people start with the letters" says the book shop man rather cryptically. I must look blank, because he explains that the volumes of letters are the most awkward to find, therefore if you care about getting a uniform edition, it's best to acquire them first, then look for matching versions of the more commonly found volumes. Of course. I don't like to mention that I am no bibliophile and only want to read them.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

It has started

I'm hopelessly confused about when the various varieties of Edinburgh Festival officially start, but that's an academic point. When you cross the High Street and see it blocked by the great horde of luvvies and their followers, you know that it has all kicked off. High Street is now off-limits for a month, unless you want to be endlessly detained by jugglers, mime artists, rickshaws, leafleters (is that a word?), and people advertising their one-person show about Mao Tse-Tung.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ridley can remember it for you

I was reflecting recently on my never actually liking any books by Philip K. Dick very much. He is tremendously popular, and this in itself is a disincentive (I'm a contrary soul). Let's see, I've read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, of course, and The Man in the High Castle. Both books that are better talked about than read, and whose contents I can barely recall - never a sign of high quality fiction. But after reading another glowing account of the man's oeuvre, I got Valis out of the library to see if I could settle the matter. Don't try this at home, folks. It's unreadable. No doubt some will claim that the confusing jumble of philosophical ramblings is a touching and witty account of a descent into mental illness (or something), but I don't buy it. It's drug-addled tosh, and I think we all know it. Dick's reputation has been falsely raised by the successful films that some of his books have become. But face it people, Bladerunner works because Ridley Scott took a promising idea and realised it more fully than PKD ever could have.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stick to the painting

I've just heard Howard Hodgkin interviewed on Front Row. He sounded a miserable old sod.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Better now, thank you

I've not been in the best of spirits over the last few weeks, so it's a pleasure to record a very enjoyable Glasgow Fair weekend. This is mainly because I managed to get out for a decent walk yesterday, after several weekends of rotten weather. I think I'm basically like a dog: in need of regular walking to stay in top condition.

My day trip was to the Lui group again, to do the big chap himself and Beinn a' Chleibh behind. Despite forgetting my camera, and wearing new boots (scope for very sore feet), it was a very satisfying trip. The walk from Cononish is very quiet - does everybody do these hills from Glen Lochy now? What a great view they're missing. Anyway, I have the famous corrie to myself and only hook up with other walkers on the summit. Beinn a' Chleibh -which looks like a playing field from the top of Lui - is then an easy walk. There's an interlude of that easy companionship you get on hilltops. It's clear and all the summits are out. Over to the north, Ben Nevis sez hi. I sunbathe on a rocky slab for a bit before turning for home.

I felt fine after this exertion, but I must have been more tired than I realised. I spent this morning in bed, cautiously stretching muscles and reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I'd randomly picked off the shelf a few nights ago. It's a book I hadn't really got before, but it comes up much better the second time round, and perhaps finishing it in a sitting helps. No illicit substances (tea?) were involved.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Scary guns

Saw two policemen with automatic weapons in Queen Street station this morning. A unique experience, and not one I thought I'd ever see.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Farewell Fopp

I feel bereft by the departure of Fopp. When I was a student at Glasgow, I would be pulled across Byres Road to look for cheap Ivor Cutler tapes (this was 15 years ago). Quirky stock and simple prices led to quite a few discoveries over the years. I knew high street CD sales were getting shaky, but didn't think it had quite come to my favourite music shop closing.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Excuses, excuses

Just been on a little trip down Ipswich way, where I used to live. It was mainly distinguished by the variety of train delays. There has been severe weather of course: cue a couple of hours running very slowly past some wet fields near Grantham. Then there has been a derailment on a bridge near Ely, which is proving very tricky to sort out, as some empty trucks are hanging above the river. And how do you get a crane in to such a marshy landscape to lift them out? Over to some Network Rail engineers.

And this morning, coming back via Cambridge to avoid the derailment, we were held up by a swan on the line.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Right inheritance

I'm currently enjoying Joan Fisher Box's biography of her dad, the statistician R.A. Fisher. It's impossible to study stats without getting to know something about him, but the full story is even more interesting. One surprise for modern readers is his activity in the field of eugenics. At this point we all shuffle nervously, because as modern liberal citizens we don't talk about that embarrassing stuff any more. Fisher talked about it a lot though. He served on a Royal Commission in the early 30s on the problem of the number of mental patients, which much exercised the government of the day. Their final report suggested a program of sterilisation (albeit voluntary). That was about as close as we got in this country to fully fledged eugenic laws. It was ignored by the government and that was that.

Reading the wikipedia article on eugenics filled in some fascinating detail. I liked the Nazi justification of their eugenic policies by the great success that many US states were already having with their own version.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

That wet stuff's a bitch

Monsoon-like conditions greeted me this morning. Fleshmarket Close had a burn running down it. I more-or-less dried out on the train, but then Glasgow was about as wet.

Coming home was dry until I got to Newington, when there was a fresh cloudburst. I sheltered in a close (or was it a pend?) with some bewildered tourists.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nature watch

We've not had any bird watching for a while...

From the office window I can see that some seagulls have raised chicks on one of the rooftops opposite. They are nondescript balls of grey feathers, which hides them rather well against the gravel covering of the flat roof that their parents have made home. All this in the block next to Central Station, and about eight floors above the traffic. No doubt they are being raised on fish supper remnants and discarded kebab.

We hear a lot of bleating about the fragility of the natural world, but some of it is incredibly tough.

Monday, June 04, 2007

It's Monday, bah!

This weekend was the last Munro party of an old friend, so there was a gathering of aging reprobates in Glencoe. Dave's last hill was Stob na Broige, at the other end of the Buachaille from his first, Stob Dearg. A pleasing symmetry. The day was miserable, as is standard for such events.

My boots died on the last part of the walk out. I think they're going in the bin.

Back to the Kingy for a meal and ritual abuse of the other walkers we met (Did ye see that guy? What a twat!).

Great to meet some old faces again, after too long a gap.

A Sunday of gentle rain and reminiscences followed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I thought I had become accustomed to how crap the drama and comedy on Radio 4 can be, but Blood in the Bridal Shop plumbed new depths. Variously described as a drama and a comedy, this really was dire. I enjoy a challenge sometimes, and decided to listen to all 15 minutes of it rather than switching off at the end of Front Row, as I would normally. This felt a bit like trying to hold your breath underwater: you end up diving for the off switch with bursting lungs.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

War art

A couple of exhibitions recently have pointed me to the work of Edward Baird (1904-1949), a little-known painter from Montrose. When I visited Kelvingrove last, I found his Unidentified aircraft, which feels as strong in its way as any of the images in the Imperial War Museum. He also had some work in the recent exhibition of works from the McManus in Dundee: a fine portrait of his father in law playing chess with ghostly pieces. Neither of these can be found on the web, so you'll have to take my word for it. He suffered from ill health and died fairly young, before he could complete much of what he was obviously capable.

My musings on Baird came from visiting the Dean and Modern Art galleries yesterday. They have quite a nice show of graphic work from WW I in a corridor, with German on one wall and British on the opposite wall. Odd how the German work looks much stronger (Otto Dix, Max Beckmann) that the victors. Is this just because we've been trained to see it in terms of the original work that these artists later did? Whereas Augustus John's stock has rather diminished, and who now would want to look at his rather limp and unfocussed image? The work by Eric Kennington still looks good, though he could be illustrating anything.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

At the circus

More signs that I am working inside a le Carre novel: somebody today told me that they were sending me something via the "overnight bag".

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fellow traveller

I wondered what the woman on the train was fumbling with in her bag. There was something furry in there. As we waited to get off, a fancy rat popped its head out and had a good look around. I wonder where she had taken it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

If in doubt, eat chips

I bought chips on my way home tonight, and entered the close with a nice warm newsprint-wrapped parcel and a sense of anticipation. At the top of the stairs I was unable to open my front door. How odd: the key just won't turn in the lock. Peering through the keyhole, I can see that part of the lock is out of line. I've no idea how that happened, but it is. I instantly get a vision of an evening spent phoning for locksmiths, waiting for locksmiths in the drizzle, paying locksmiths, explaining to the landlords what has happened...

Call me shallow-minded, but at this point I decide that I might as well eat my greasy food while it's hot. I do so, and very fine it is too. I then have "one last try" at the door, and it opens.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Hills, Mottes, Poles

A pleasant return trip to Biggar in the Clyde valley, this time to ascend Tinto Hill. A lot of walking across farmland and along disused railways (and why did the Borders lose quite so many lines?) was involved.

If you've been paying attention, you'll have guessed that while hills may form the stated reasons for my trips, the real interest can come from many other areas. The Coulter Motte was on my route, and it is a fine example of a site that is historic but not actually much to look at. If the word "castle" conjours up for you vast curtain walls, bristling with fenestrations and drawbridges, then go and look at this. It's a not-very-big heap of earth which once had a wooden building on top. This must have been about as small as you could make a motte and bailey castle without being laughed at. I wonder if it was just impossible not to build this way in the 12th century, in the same way that Scots baronial seems to have been expected in the 19th.

And in 1940, General Sikorski reviewed the Polish forces in exile from a stance in Biggar main street. So there.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

On my doorstep

Spent a pleasant hour or so this morning in the Meadows watching the start and finish of the Edinburgh 10K race. It's hard to ignore really, as I can lie in bed and hear the PA system, albeit in garbled form. Interesting to see the range of body types and running styles. Of course the top runners all look much the same. I do wonder if the elite men are shorter than the elite women, or was it just the ones I saw?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Continued fine weather

Yesterday's outing was to Kinlochleven. Despite a lot of hanging around the West Highlands with scruffy climbers about 15 years ago, I had never begun a walk here. My companions were set on a Corbett nearby, while I took the chance to ascend Sgurr Eilde Mor. And very fine it was too. Not a lot of wildlife, other than two ptarmigan and a large party of wrinklies. Despite the hill's name, there were no deer.

The Cobbler from the shelter stone

Emptying my camera of images, I found this from a couple of weeks ago. The bright hazy day made it hard to tell if the picture was any good at the time. And I felt oddly disinclined to blog afterwards.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Gay Rumsfeldian surrealism

That's the opinion of one of Prospect's reviewers about 300. A neat summary, indeed.

The writer points out that basing a film on a graphic novel is to distance the work rather too much from reality. I wonder if this is why--other than some eye candy--I didn't much like Sin City either.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Questions at tea time

Why are there always 11 fig rolls in a packet? And why that cardboard tray? Are they all produced in the same factory?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bad one, eh?

I've got electricians in the flat at the moment. They are bemoaning the state of the wiring and the actions of previous workmen. "Shockin' this, Andy!" Not literally, I hope. As I only rent the flat I think this is genuine and not just to convince me to shell out lots of money.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A poor effort

My reactions to Sunshine went through several phases. Firstly: Danny Boyle has made another film, isn't that great? Then I read some reviews and they were very mixed. I formed an opinion that I would hate it, as it was based on some pseudo-scientific bullshit. In the event, I didn't mind the bad science much, but it was a poor film. I couldn't get over how badly told the story was, with lots of trendy action shots that were so blurry you couldn't see what had happened. And here's a tip: if you set your film in an unfamiliar environment, try to put in some establishing shots that explain where the different scenes of the action are, rather than just confusing the hell out of the viewers. And yes, I'm thinking of that long model shot in 2001 that perfectly sets up the situation on the Discovery. There are lots of references to Alien, 2001, and Solaris, but nothing emerges that isn't done better in one of those films.

Some nice visual effects, but not enough to save the day.

Make sure you don't confuse this with the rather fine film of the same name that I discussed a wee while back.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Come and get them!

I rather enjoyed 300 last night. Some fantastic images, and some ridiculous distorted history. One aspect that I see some others have picked up on is the portrayal of Xerces the drag queen with his painted eyebrows and lots of bling. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but we do end up with Thermopylae being seen as a clash of two gay stereotypes. Given the film's avoidance of some of the other habits of Spartans, this seemed odd.

The Spartans were a bunch of asocial nutters who happened to do something useful in 480BC. This could have made an interesting film. Trying to cast them as saviours of freedom is a bit of a sick joke. The War Nerd says it better though.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

My Saturday

I'd been grumbling a lot about not getting a chance to do much walking in the West. What with living in Edinburgh and the weather frequently being better in the East, I've pretty much mined out everything along the A9, but have plenty to explore along the A82. However with lengthening days and high pressure forecast over the weekend, it seemed stupid not to do something yesterday.

I took the train to Tyndrum (that's Tyndrum Lower, for the anoraks among you), and attacked the Ben Lui group. This is another instance where in my previous walking life I've mysteriously omitted to visit to these excellent hills. I chose Oss and Dubhcraig as the somewhat easier pairing, but these hills seem to have a scale that is not only measured in meters, and it was no pushover. Ben Lui tended to dominate the whole day, blocking the end of the glen in a rather Alpine fashion that few British mountains can emulate. The picture above is from Ben Oss. The high pressure haze meant that few more distant hills could be seen, which is a pity, but it was sunny for virtually the whole day, and that's not common, you know.

An hour or so before the train arrived was pleasantly spent in the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum. And no, I'm not writing a gazeteer of West Highland eateries.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

And now, back to the studio

We got to play with video conferencing technology today. The first time was at our computers, with webcams and headsets, as though we all worked in a call centre all of a sudden. For reasons that I won't try to explain, we then did it again with the big grown-up video-conferencing gear in a meeting room. The room had lots of brightly coloured chairs, which made this feel like we were hosting a daytime TV show.

I think I would do this very badly, as I fidget too much.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I should be painting, but it's hard getting started. Which is why I'm writing pointless blog entries and drinking too much coffee. Despite enjoying painting once I get started, and knowing that I do, I do far too little of it. Maybe if I had an assisstant to set everything up and wash brushes it would help. Having a routine would help. In as much as I have one, it seems to be from 9-11 in the evening, which can be a surprisingly productive time. This does mean that painting in the afternoon sometimes just feels wrong.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Friday

Taking the train to Corrour and going for a walk from there is something of a Scottish classic. Odd, then that I didn't do it until yesterday. There was a bit of ticking going on I must confess, Ben na Lap being a famously easy bag. But after I had my pelt for the day, I proceeded up Leum Uilleim, which if I'm honest is the better hill. Being slightly on its own, there are superb views all round, from Schihallion to Ben Nevis. The day was mostly warm and pleasant, rather springlike in fact, although frogspawn doesn't seem to have arrived yet.

The station house at Corrour is now run by a nice lady called Beth who provided coffee and a venison burger. How civilised.

My new rucksack (a Macpac) held up very well. It seems to be what all the kids are using these days, so I thought I should get with it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Funny reading

I'm not exactly a great fan of the BMC's membership magazine, which I was browsing on the train, but I didn't expect to find an article mentioning peak oil. There was even a picture of Hubbert's graph from 1956. You should alway treat fifty-year-old graphics with suspicion. The caption says

"The peak arrived right on schedule in 1970. The peak in global oil production is widely expected between 2010 and 2010."

Yes, those sentences do contradict each other. And just in case you're wondering, world oil production didn't peak in 1970. The article is really a thinly disguised puff for a book by David Strahan.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I insist on Moscow rules

I got to travel to the West coast today, with a meeting in Gourock. As I have been reading John le Carre recently, this felt like a covert operation. The shabby station with the remains of some ornate Victorian ironwork, the bleakly lit main street with a row of cheap shops -- is that one of Toby's pavement artists loitering in a doorway? The cafe is on the front and has a clear view of all the approaches. A good choice, with some background noise, and not-very-attentive staff. Is that small dumpy man polishing his glasses on the end of his tie?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Electronica in the morning

I've discovered that Tangerine Dream is the perfect accompaniment to my morning train journey.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Am currently revelling in a new and much faster broadband connection. I've also sorted out my rather old email address so that I can access it without dialing up (like, so twentieth century). This always seemed to involve squatting in the hallway, because the phone cable was a bit dodgy and you had to plug it in directly to the wall, and then you got sore knees after a bit and you noticed all the bits of fluff on the carpet, and forgot who you were trying to get hold of, and laptop screens are hard to read at that angle anyway...

Better now.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Should be better known

Re-viewed the rather fine film Sunshine last night, having found it DVDic form in Fopp the other day. I had a lot of trouble remembering when I saw it first and eventually decided it must have been at the Ipswich Film Theatre. Nearly three hours of Hungarian history doesn't sound too interesting, but the nice conceit of having Ralph Fiennes play three members of the same family across fifty years helps tie things up nicely. More-or-less the same man gets three chances under empire, fascism and communism. None of the incarnations seems very happy, but that's twentieth century history for you.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Nice day

A rather peaceful day working from home, thanks to the rail signaller's strike. I must try to do this again. Coffee breaks when you want them, and the journey home lasts 30 seconds. I even felt up to a trip to the library and a quick pint afterwards - wild hedonist that I am. More rail fun tomorrow.

Monday, March 05, 2007


My parents continue to move into the 70s. They have apparently got an electric typewriter. They've been getting into VHS video a bit recently too. Still, it must be difficult if you grew up with wireless and 78s. Maybe when I'm in my seventies, younger relatives will smile and shake their heads sadly over my inexplicable addiction to mp3s and blogs.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Fruit ties you down

Somebody was telling me today about a friend of theirs who had an exceptionally minimal lifestyle and avoided all excessive possessions and ties. The most telling fact I think was that he didn't like buying green bananas because he found them too commiting.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Read recently

Some recent reading:

  • Roger persuaded me to read Climbers by the simple expedient of giving me a copy. This is often the only way of getting me to read something, as I am contrary in my ways and tend to ignore things that are recommended to me. I liked this description:

" the mid-to-late seventies, when it was still possible to be good across the board at 'adventure' sports. Distinctions weren't so clear-cut then: less committment was necessary. (Now only Boy Scouts and army officers are left between the zones of obsession, high and dry, trudging along under a burden of manly, cheerful ineptitude like maroons who haven't yet seen the ship sail off without them.)"

  • Finished Frances Donaldson's biography of P. G. Wodehouse yesterday - an impulse buy in a local second hand shop. He was a very odd writer. Never has so great a skill with words been exercised over such trivial material. This is probably why (whisper it!) I have never actually liked his books that much. Maybe I should keep trying.

  • Another biography, of Norbert Weiner - I'm still working on this one. He's a fitting subject for re-examination, but the authors (two journalists) don't do him any favours by pulling out all the tired cliches of their profession.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Since starting to work in Glasgow, I've noticed that its pedestrians are mental. I've just watched a man on crutches slowly hobble across Argyle Street despite a red light, dodging the cars as he went. "Awright?" he said to me as he reached my side. Was he chiding my lack of boldness? Maybe the crutches are the result of a previous crossing and he feels he still has some issues with the traffic to work out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fragments of today

We had that conductor again on the train. Tonight he told us that the refreshment trolley was available not only in the front three, but also in the rear three coaches.

Somebody has written in to the Independent to say that "Solar-powered airships must be part of the green future". I did enjoy this.

Quite a day for cranky letter writers, because Brian Josephson also wrote in with some conspiracy theory about cold fusion. The Cavendish has rather come down in the world.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Nice start to the day

I was hugely delayed on the train this morning, in common with half the business community of Glasgow. For me, it was a relaxing experience, and I found it hard to join in the ritual tut-tutting over the shocking standards of our trains. It was a cold, bright morning, with frost glinting on the hedgerows and fields. I was listening to my iPod (working for once), and so were most of the other passengers. With every announcement, headphones would be removed, heads cocked, sighs emitted, and headphones replaced. I felt refreshed by the whole experience.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

You can't beat a bit of buachaille

A very welcome trip to the West today, in the company of Billy and Dave, whom I used to go walking with, but haven't seen for a decade or so. Some things just stay the same though, despite life changes, marriages and children.

Billy and I go up the Buachaille, which I haven't done for ages. I've been doing a lot of Eastern hills recently, so I'm unused to the mountain being above you, not out of sight behind 10km of bog. There's very little snow apart from a battered patch at the head of the corrie, but it's enough for some ice-axe practice.

Dave does Beinn a'Chrulaiste, as he's into such things these days, and he thinks the views of the Buachaille will be better.

The views are excellent: almost a cloud inversion, but more broken, with odd patches clinging to the hills in very photogenic ways. The usual suspects line up along the horizon: Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, Ben Alder. Schiehallion is being shy - a pity, because I remember the pleasure of first recognising it from here many years ago.

Friday, February 02, 2007

We would wish to remind passengers...

As if to compensate for the terseness of his colleague, tonight's "train manager" or whatever they're called these days, gives us every possible announcement, in obsessive detail.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Tonight's trip home was fairly peaceful. I was reading an article in the Guardian about how Britain is so noisy these days. It touched on train announcements; principally their excessive frequency and pointlessness. I realised that my journey had been astonishingly quiet so far - not a single officious pronouncement about not smoking (there's a smoking ban, for fuck's sake), reading the passenger safety notices, what "station stop" we were coming to... Too good to last, of course. At Linlithgow, we got a rather halting statement that we were at Linlithgow. Still, it was an improvement.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


During a rather good talk at work this afternoon, I was much distracted by the resemblance of the speaker to Tony Blair. I don't mean the Bambi-eyed TB of the early 90s- more how he's going to look in a few years.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Good for the soul

A welcome walk today, after a bit of a dry patch. P. and I went up Ben Vuirich, a fairly obscure Corbett which is not very near to Blair Athol. The forecast promised a clearing day from the North, which didn't really happen, apart from some patches of blue sky. It's a while since I did such a long and strenuous walk, but it's good for you, you know. A few inches of fresh snow made things slower, although it is possible that some of the featureless boggy bits might be even worse in summer. There was no view from the top and I took no pictures.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Somewhere after Falkirk last night, my mind wandered from Bond's doings in 60s Japan (I'm reading You Only Live Twice), and the rest of the journey was punctuated by me falling forward and then jerking awake again. Funny how it seemed to be in the air - many of my fellow commuters were doing the same, each with their own snort, grunt, or whistling expulsion of breath. Sometimes I feel alert for the whole journey, and sometimes drowsiness is just in the air.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Work has been restful for the last couple of days. As part of an emerging social trend, a lot of people are taking a New Year break, with the result that the trains were quiet and the office was almost empty. Even the annoyance of delays caused by a derailment at Waverley (last night's sleeper went off the rails) didn't quite break through the calm. Things would be so much better if we didn't let the absentees back into the country.

Back to crowds and a manager in the same room as me on Monday.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I'd hoped to go walking tomorrow, but the forecast looks very poor and my appetite for crappy weather in the hills is a lot less than it was. So I'll try to find something else that is worthwhile to finish my mid-winter break off with.

Living in Scotland means that I get the 2nd Jan. off. Working for my new employer means that I get the 3rd too (it's something to do with Dundee local holidays. And no, I don't work in Dundee). This time of year being as miserable as it is, I wonder why we don't just all take the whole of January off and have done with it.

At least I don't feel as down as last year.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2007: the story so far

I thought some exercise was in order, so I climbed Arthur's Seat. I coincided with high winds and a squall of very cold rain at the top. Who needs to go away at the weekend, when severe mountain conditions can be got twenty minutes from my front door? As I had risked it without a waterproof, I was carrying a lot more weight by the time I got down again. The now-traditional Triathalon was just starting as I passed the commonwealth pool. Actually, the first time I passed, they were appealing for more marshals to come forward (you get your own yellow reflective vest - quite an incentive), and the second time, the children's race was underway, which meant that a lot of competitive parents were shouting at their offspring.