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When the power love – overcomes the love of power – there will be peace in the world. Jimi Hendrix.

Last Friday, I called the plumber when I found a leak around the pan in the bathroom, he came but could not find where the water was coming from – he said it may be a small crack in the pan and told me he couldn’t do anything until after the weekend – I’ll be back Monday or Tuesday. No plumber on Monday – I waited until 10 am today still no sight of a plumber or any message to tell me he would be here today. I was not going to hang around for someone that may or may not appear so I pressed my bus pass into service and headed for St Monans.

St Monans is a small coastal fishing village on the north shore of the River Forth; the name derives from a 9th-century hermit who built a cell near the point where the burn joins the sea. Monan (for that was his name) was killed by raiding Vikings and a shrine was built in his honour.

Pilgrims started to visit the site of Monan’s cell, some settled and the village grow. A rough chapel was founded in the saint’s honour, then around AD 1265 a stone church was built, or rebuilt, depending on which source David 11 to give thanks for his delivery from a storm.

Another version of the story said it was not David 11 but David 1st (1085-1153) who built the first chapel at St Monans. The king had been wounded by an arrow, during a battle with English troops – the monks of St Monans healed the king of his wounds, and in gratitude he built them a chapel.

It is possible that both stories are true for the work could have been started by David 1st and completed by David 11.

The church that later became the parish church, was built within 25 feet of the cliff edge, it is often claimed the Auld Kirk is built near the sea more than any other church in Scotland but was never finished for it lacks a nave. However, it is still a striking church built to the traditional cruciform plan. It has a striking spire above the crossing the most interesting feature of the church’s interior is the beautiful vaulting, painted ceiling over the choir.

The coats of arms include those of the Earl of Douglas, the Earl of Fife, and the Earl of Annandale. The Royal Arms of Scotland is set above the original altar would have been sitted.   

In 1471 King James 111 gave the kirk to a small monastery of Dominican friars – in 1544 the chapel was burned in an English naval attack on the Fife coast. The chapel became a parish church in 1646.

Everyone that visits the church remarks on the 18th-century model of a ship suspended from the ceiling. This is a reminder of the strong links between the church, the people and the sea.

Auld Kirk at St Monans is one of the last remaining medieval churches in Scotland still in use. It is also listed as one of the 10 most beautiful churches in Scotland. I certainly agree with that.

The tide was out so I was able to follow the Coastal Path under the retaining wall that keeps the sea at bay. You will notice that the stones that make up the are laid, end to end not crosswise – this is so that the sea pounding on the wall has less chance of lifting the rocks (less resistance, the waves simply ride up the wall) you will see this in many of the harbours of Scotland – it is believed that it was Stevenson (of lighthouse building fame) that started the practice.

Onwards up to the dovecot – alas my memory had failed me the dovecot was not dry stane as I had remembered it but random rubble held together by lime mortar, ho-hum.

Newark Castle, to which the dovecot once belonged, is pretty much a ruin now, there has been a building on the site that probably dates back to the 13th century, at which time the Scottish king Alexander 111 (1241–1286) spent some of his childhood.

The current building was begun in the 15th century by the Kinloch family. It then passed, through marriage, to the Sandilands of Cruivie, who sold it in 1649 to David Leslie. Leslie was a prominent figure in the English and Scottish Civil Wars, becoming Lord Newark after the wars. Following Leslie’s death in 1682, the castle passed to the Anstruther family, and finally to the Bairds of Elie

Sad that the castle is now a ruin, for the castle had attracted the attention of Sir William Burrell the Glasgow shipping magnate and collector of art and antiques, in the late 19th century when Sir Robert Lorimer produced a plan for its restoration. The scheme never went ahead as the owner of the site, Mr Baird of Elie refused to sell.

The last couple of decades have really taken their toll on the ruin and it is now surrounded by fencing to keep people away. Looks like the caravan club will have to find a new site.

I was only a couple of hundred yards from the road when the big yellow X60 bus passed along, oh no, missed the bus. Close behind was the 95, in and out of the dusty bluebells, we went all the way up the coast for St. Andrews.

Another day killed off.

Stay safe.

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Teasses Dovecot

The weekend was a little different for me as my niece and her husband arrived for a visit. He is into dry stone walling in a big way and gives lectures on the subject, but if you ever meet him don’t mention dry stone walling he can talk the hind legs of a donkey on the subject.

He is forever on the lookout for new dry stane dykes to photograph and add interest to his lectures so when he heard of a new dry stane dove cot having been built on the grounds of Teasses (about 10- 15 miles from here), he arranged to meet up with the builder (a sculptor) to look over the new dovecot. I decided I would love to string along, but since his van only had two seats I travelled over on my motorcycle. As happened I forgot to take my camera with me, (you can find short videos of its construction on the internet). The cot provides a home to 32 white doves.

Dovecots are found all over Fife, every landowner had one for eggs and meat, however only the lord of the manor was allowed to have a dovecot – the local farmers supplied feeding for their lordships pigeons from crops in their fields.

Some years ago I did visit many of the dovecots in and around Fife – so I knew of at least two other dovecots built exclusively without lime mortar (dry stane) one listed near the castle at Leuchars, (it has been banded in steel bands to stop it from falling apart until complete restoration can be done) and one near to Newark church and on the coastal path at St Monans. Since many of these dove cots are in the middle of fields, this is the best time to visit – after harvest and before ploughing and winter planting.

If the weather stays with us I may just go out and take a few photographs of dove cots to e-mail down to my niece in Wales.

Stay safe.  

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St Andrews under clear skies and sunshine all the way

St Andrews under clear skies and sunshine all the way but I am pleased to be wearing my thermal gloves. My ride was more or less a carbon copy of yesterday, short and sweet, as I have to get home and start cleaning the house from top to bottom before the arrival of my niece and her husband, I would not want word to get around that I was living in squalor – mum would be black affronted.  

To our tale

In August 1548 Mary, now Queen of Scots arrived in France, after being cooped up in Dumbarton Castle for five months whilst negations between the Scots and French dragged on. Mary was five years and seven months old at this point, with her came an entourage – Mary Flaming her governess, and the four Maries, Mary, Seton, Beaton Fleming (her mother was their governess) and Mary Livingston, all were about the same age as Mary. Her mother Marie of Guise remained in Scotland to look after Mary’s interests.

Sadly, much as I would like to, I can not go riding off for France and follow in the footsteps (or should that be hove prints) of Mary, but it is worth saying a few words about her life there.

In January 1558 Mary’s Uncle, her mother’s brother the Duke of Guise, won a great victory by recapturing Calais from the English – their last toehold in France. This increased the standing of the Guise family and as a result, Henri 11 decided to bring forward the marriage between Mary and his son Francois. The wedding would move Mary from a mere house guest to becoming a member of the royal household.

Royal marriages were all about power so although Mary was 15 and tall for her time, near six foot, and had always been a very precocious child, her husband of only fourteen years, was never a well child, and possibly never reached puberty. He was most of the time a very shy person who stutter a lot. The two had grown up together as children and seemed to have a genuine affection for each other, it is believed by many historians that the marriage was never consummated.

Politically

The ceremony was held in the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in April 1558, and by marrying Mary Francois also acquired a claim to the English throne. Encouraged by Francois’ father and their French relatives François and Mary added the coat of arms of England to their already Scottish and French coats of arms. This did nothing for Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth and soured relationships between the two women for the rest of Mary’s life. Elizabeth feared the return of Mary for she now posed a threat in England – she could become a rallying point for a large (although in the minority) Catholics in England.  

Henri, the king, had been jousting with Gabriel de Montgomery, captain of the Scottish Guard, formed in the early 1400s as an elite military unit, now bodyguard of the French monarch. Montgomery’s lance broke during a joust, and the splintered end penetrated the king’s eye and brain.

“The King is dead – long live the King”

Francois was fifteen when crowned King of France – Mary Queen Consort of France was now in her sixteenth year. He husband was granted the crown matrimonial of Scotland, meaning that they ruled Scotland jointly, and in the event of Mary’s death Francois would rule Scotland.

Tragedy struck a double blow in Mary’s life for on the 11th of June 1560 Mary’s mother Marie of Guise – who had ruled Scotland on Mary’s behalf – died.

On December 5th of the same year just two days before her eighteenth birthday Francois also died (an ear infection that led to an abscess in his brain.)

Many in Scotland would not have been too upset over the death of Francois, in particular, the Protestant faction; it had always been a concern. Had Mary and Francois had a son, he would have grown up in France to rule both Scotland and France. A French Catholic king of Scotland – could this lead to a re-establishment of the Catholic religion as the official religion of Scotland?

After her Husband’s death Mary decided it best she returns to Scotland – her marriage contract included a 16th-century prenuptial, which stripped her of her power after the death of her husband. Catherine de Medici (Mary’s mother-in-law) now ruled as regent on behalf of her young son Charles and the two women never really hit it off, Mary had become an inconvenience.

Mary returned to Scotland on 19th August 1556, having spent the last thirteen years in France. Without a doubt, Mary was now a French aristocrat, she was still only eighteen years of age, and a very rich girl – in the contract of marriage she would be allowed to keep an income from some properties in France in the event of her husband’s death. However, Mary was ill-prepared for the bear-pit of 16th-century Scottish politics.

The two galleys that carried the royal party from France to the port of Leith in Edinburgh had made good passage arriving early, so there was no welcoming party. Still, as she made her way into the city word went ahead of her and the crowds turned out to cheer their beautiful young queen.

Although Mary was a Catholic in a Protestant Scotland, it was agreed by the (war)lords the real power in Scotland, that she could practice her religion just so long as she did it in the privacy of her quarters. Still, there was always the fear that she would be a catalyst for the re-emergence of the Catholic religion in Scotland.

In her first year back in Scotland Mary travelled widely as part of a royal tour or progresses as they were then called. She travelled extensively in the borders, Fife and up the east coast as far as Dingwall. but she never did visit the Hebrides, Orkneys or Shetlands. Mary travelled on horseback for most of her sojourning, for the roads of Scotland were so poor as to make travelling by carriage problematic. This would not have been a problem for the young queen an accomplished horsewoman, who loved to hunt with horses and hawks. Although in later years she is known to have suffered badly from arthritis, which would have caused her great pain whilst riding, and living in cold and damp old Scottish castles, would not help her condition.

So time for me too to climb into the saddle and visit some of the places she visited during her years spent in Scotland.

These will not be as a timeline and sites only visited as and when in the area or have the where-for-all and weather to do so.

Stay safe.     

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Hands up – all those that have heard of Jennifer Krill? I don’t see too many hands.

The morning ride started off cold and dull but as I neared Pitscottie along the B939, the sun came out to greet us. Here I would normally turn off onto the Kemback road but it is closed – possibly to do with stabilising the rock face where rocks have been trundling onto the road, so today it was up and over the hill for Cupar, onto the A9 before turning off onto the road down past Dairsie Castle and over the Eden Bridge, where I turned left up over Knock Hill – Strathkinness and home.

I was watching the life story (part one) of Mohamed Ally, (formally Cassias Clay) of course boxing was big then and I put my hand up, I did enjoy and did watch boxing at that time. During his days at school, young Clay, was not much of a scholar, (dyslexic) so used to clown around a lot to compensate for his inadequacy. We all have weaknesses and compensate for them throughout our lives. Mine was an inability to remember names or dates and since history (at school) was all about remembering dates and names – I struggled.

I was thinking about all of this as I cycled along and remember my history jotters from that time; they were not full of written notes – to be repudiated in an essay – but full of naive little drawings – my memory aids.

James 1st was stabbed to death in a sewer – his own fault for it was he that had ordered the sewer outlet to be blocked off, he kept losing tennis balls down it.

In my notebook, I made a drawing of a footballer with the number 1 on his back – but wearing a crown and with a large cloth peg on his nose.

Then came James 2 and the drawing was an explosion with pieces of cannon flying from it – including a crown. The second drawing was of a grave marker with his name and the date of his demise.

I do the same with numbers, I needed to remember the door number of a new girlfriend so I substituted 16 for DJ (D having a straight line, J looking a little like a number 6) – now don’t ask me why it is easer to remember DJ than the number 16 – unless I am able to associate DJ with real characters such as Tony Blackburn – Emperor Roscoe…….

We watched sport on television back then too, but you would only see the football match or whatever sport it was you were interested in (the BBC seemed obsessed with cricket at that time), we watched the match then discussed it fully over a pint with our mates down the club or pub. Today we have an endless possession of ‘so-called’ experts to give us their very speculative pre-match briefing – and after the match a post-match briefing of why it all went so wrong from their pre-match scenario.

Much the same has happened with the news – in 1950-1960 we had news readers who read the news, now it is all speculation – about what the new PM may or may not do……. Numpty coming on daily and giving us their version of events (heavily biased on the government’s side), today I saw a headline to say that there has been opposition to the Russian president’s conscription into the army. Well, I would hope there would be, I for one would be the first onto the streets in protest at the war if I had been a Russian citizen. I only wish that many more people around the world would come out onto the streets and chastise America and any other country around the world that incites war. Then I’m biased – a member of Stop the War, CAAT, and having signed the Pease Pledge.

But what I can not stand is the hypocrisy of it all; on every news channel and banner headline on all the front pages of newspapers in the western world, the story is of people being arrested for protesting on the streets of Russia against a call to arms, conscription.

Oh, did I not hear about people in Scotland being arrested for protesting in the streets of Edinburgh, during the possession of the coffin of the late queen. Arrested for voicing their opposition to the monarchy and the succession of Charles the third.

(Oh! And on that note, the carcase in the coffin (if body there was in the coffin) was not that of Elizabeth the 2nd but the first (of Scotland) and second (of England) or was that part of the cunning plot too?)

I remember dad telling me

“Something that doesn’t seem right isn’t.”

Why was the queen in the last days of her life (for it must have been known) in Scotland? Was she actually at Balmoral at all?

If she was there, why not simply transport the coffin to Aberdeen and fly her home?

Why all the charade of a grand funeral procession????????

“Something that doesn’t seem right isn’t.”

In America too, we had people arrested for protesting in the streets, hands-up all those that have heard of Jennifer Krill? I don’t see too many hands.

Walter,

I just got arrested with 12 other Executive Directors from national and community climate and environmental justice organizations in Washington, DC. We risked arrest at the Capitol to denounce Senators Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer’s dirty deal.

This dirty deal must be stopped! If passed, it would fast-track fossil fuel and dirty mining projects, weaken environmental protections, and strip people of power to protect their own health.

Just yesterday, Senator Manchin formally released the text of his dirty deal that would be an environmental justice disaster. 

It is not only our right to question our representatives – it is our duty to do so.

Stay safe

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Thinking of Yesterday

I was very lucky with the weather yesterday for come this morning it is raining, not heavy but still….. I did not want to neglect my cycling for it has kept me supple, and still able to climb on board my motorcycle, so off we went into drizzly rain and rising wind, this is not good so out to Strathkinness, down the hill and home, no more than 5-6 miles.

There was a tractor working in the field ploughing the land and a strong scent of newly turned soil assaulted my nostrils. 

The weather is changing fast now and shortening days are upon us, so my travelling days may be curtailed somewhat, but my cycling days will remain all-be-it shorter runs.

I watch the birds chase after the plough,

Turning over land bare and barn now,

No longer school children stoop in the field,

A potato monster now gathers the yield,

We are losing that closeness, we once had with the land,

To simply ignore, is not to understand. 

Stay safe

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Another Pretty Awesome Day

In my quest to take in all the sites, associated with Mary Queen of Scots, around Scotland, we first travelled to Linlithgow Palace, the place of her birth today I continued on my quest by visiting Stirling Castle and on to Inchmahome Priory a round trip of just over 150 miles. 

I was blessed with good weather all the way, and on arriving in Stirling (not to be missed on a tour of Scotland) – the last time I was here I drove over with my sisters Irene and Rita and before the renovation of the castle, so you know how long ago that was at least a decade.

I visited Inchmahome Priory before returning to Sterling arriving there at just after 11am so time to visit Wetherspoons for a ‘Full Scottish’ breakfast – which I’m sure will be the same as a ‘Full English’ breakfast south of the border, those cunning marketing men. However, at £4.50 and all the tea you can drink from their teapot of plenty, it was not only good value for money but very welcome indeed.

Our story so far

Following the death of her father James V, and fearing that the infant Mary would be kidnapped by Scottish lords that wished a union (in marriage) between Mary and Edward (son of Henry V111) the Treaty of Greenwich – however when Henry hears that the Scots were reneging on the agreement he sent troops into Scotland to burn, pillage and cause mayhem (then Henry always had a bit of a temper and like things his own way). 

The time became known as the “rough wooing” to terrorize the Scots and obtain their agreement to the marriage.

“ Put all to fire and sword, burn Edinburgh, so razed and defaced when you have sacked and gotten what ye can of it, as there may remain forever a perpetual memory of the vengeance of God lightened upon (them) for their falsehood and disloyalty………and as many towns and villages about Edinburgh as you may conveniently.”

With English troops prowling the land, Mary’s mother felt compelled to move her daughter to the newly built renaissance palace within the castle, for her safety.

On September 9th 1543 at only nine months of age, Mary was crowned in the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle. The one we see today was built in 1590 for the coronation of James V1’s son Henry, the old Chapel Royal having been demolished to accommodate the new.

Entrance to Stirling Castle

Mary and her mother were relatively safe in Stirling Castle whilst much of the southeast of Scotland and Fife were burned and laid to waste by the English troops.

The Great Hall

was restored on a grand scale, having to have its roof replaced. In fact, my brother was one of the consultants at that time and was sent off to Finland to see trees felled, cut and dried before testing, for strength and durability, before being shipped to Scotland. When you see these timbers in place it truly would have been a Herculean task (and very costly, it will take a lot of visitors paying their entry fees to pay for the renovations I’m sure). The Great Hall can sit 500 people for dinner and is the largest of its kind in Scotland.

The Great Hall will seat 500 guests for dinner

This stair leads you into the palace proper and was known as the Lion’s Den – for it is believed that the king housed lions in these quarters.

The King and Queens quarters – Lion’s Den

The small lion statue crowns the four posts at the foot of the stairs leading up into the palace.

Inside the rooms are spacious, for the royals, with sitting rooms and bed chambers. The décor is spectacular (although not the original as close to original as possible).

Where the King and Queen would dine

What you do get from the windows of these rooms is panoramic views across to the Ochil Hills, and down the valley to the west.

Lots of tourists getting in my way
The Ochil Hills from the bedroom window

After the invasion by an English army in 1547 and the massacre of the Scottish army at Pinkie Cleugh, (badly led by the Earl of Arran – he asked the Scots to leave their defensive positions and charge the English – they were cut down by artillery (much akin to “into the valley of death rode the 600, only on foot) when the fighting became intense Arran turned tail and fled the field, this provoked a major retreat of the Scots, they were fair game to the English cavalry and slaughters by the thousand.

Once more the young queen’s safety was in question, trapped in Sterling Castle. It was decided that the young queen be moved to France out of the reach of the English. 

Mary was spirited out of the castle on a litter in the dead of night and sent to Inchmahome Priory, at the time an Augustinian priory on the small island in the Lake of Menteith, (the only lake in Scotland) the Lake of Menteith is only seventeen miles from Stirling Castle but it is very isolated at the foot of the Scottish Highlands. Had the English troops managed to find Mary the plan would have been to move her swiftly into the Highlands where she could be concealed and protected by the highland clans.

I already knew that the Priory was closed – for safety checks, but since I was here why not pop out to Lake of Monteith
Like a mill pond – this is the fishing club near where you would catch a boat to the island and priory

Mary would remain at the Inchmahome Priory for three weeks, the pillaging English army had by now left the area, so Mary could be moved back to Stirling Castle – however with English troops garrisoned in Southern Scotland, the only solution was to move the young queen out of the country. Mary was taken to Dumbarton Castle (situated in the estuary of the River Clyde) she would remain there for a further five months whilst negotiations went on between Scotland and France over Mary’s future.

Mary’s mother was a French aristocrat from the powerful Guise family, she was well connected to the French royal family and this must have helped with the negotiations.

The Scottish Parliament agreed that Mary would live under the protection of the French King, Henri 11, and when old enough would marry his son Francois, who was destined to become King of France.

The problem, this would give France control over Scotland, and create a permanent threat to England, French troops on her northern border, in the on-and-off war between England and France.

In August 1548 Mary arrived on French soil.          

I could not go to Stirling and not visit the Holy Rude (the name holy rude simply means holy cross) church that stands close to the castle itself.

Holy Rude

The original church was destroyed in the great fire of 1405 it was rebuilt over the following decades and that structure has survived for over 500 years and is the best preserved Medieval church in Britain. On the 29th of July 1567, King James V1 was crowned King of Scotland at Holy Rude Church, of all the churches that staged coronations, only Holy Rude and two others are still active today.

The sun’s shining now on this green field in France,

The soft wind blows gently and the red poppies dance,

The trenches are gone, long under the plough,

No gas, no barbed wire, no guns firing now,

But here in this graveyard its still ‘No man’s land’

The countless white crosses in mute witness stand,

To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,

And a whole generation that was butchered and dammed.

Stay safe

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Thoughts on my trip to Linlithgow Palace

In the early 1500s, Northern Europe was in religious ferment, with the Catholic Church being challenged in many countries by the new Protestant religion. Both of these churches struggled for supremacy, and both churches were bigoted and intolerant, seeing their rivals as heretics rather than fellow Christians.

Scotland was a poor nation with a small population, and although difficult to give a true and accurate number it is generally accepted that the population of Scotland be around 600,000 by the mid-16th century, whilst at that same time, the population of England and Wales would have been around 4,000,000 and France – the European superpower, approaching 20,000,000. Therefore Scotland was never a threat to English power unless it was allied with France.

In many ways Scotland at that time was not unlike Afghanistan today; a country with a weak central government, where much of the real power lay with warlords. And the similarity did not stop there, much like Afghanistan the country had been racked by war and the intervention of foreign powers. In the case of Scotland, we had England and France, in Afghanistan, the French, the British, the Russians, (although they were fighting on behalf of the central government against rebel fighters in the pay of the CIA) and NATO forces under US control.

I was reminded of all of this as I sat on the grass bank on the grounds of Linlithgow Palace, where in 1542 a young girl was born to Marie of Guise the second wife of King James V of Scotland. Marie had been married to Louis, Duke of Longueville, who died of smallpox, leaving Marie a widow of only 21 years, with two young sons, one of whom was to die in infancy. Her name was linked to Henry V111 as a possible marriage; Henry was reputed to have said, that he was a big man and needed a big wife, (Marie was nearly 6 foot tall as would her daughter grow to be) replied to friends – that although she was big, she had but a little neck. This was in reference to Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn’s remark when she was going to the executioner’s block, about having only a little neck.  

The King of England at the time was Henry V111, who had usurped the Pope’s authority and taken over, what was formerly the Catholic Church of England. The lines were now drawn; the Scottish King was a Catholic (as was his wife from the strong French Guise family.) This made for a fractured relationship between James and Henry and therefore between Scotland and England.

Marie gave birth to two sons by James V, both boys died in infancy within days of each other, in April 1541. Marie’s third child by James V was Princess Mary, who would become Mary Queen of Scots.     

When James learned of the birth of a daughter he is reported to have said,

“It came wi’ a lass, it will go wi’ a lass”

James 1 of Scotland was the first Stuart to become king through his marriage to Robert Bruce’s daughter. James thought it unlikely that a woman could successfully rule Scotland, and therefore he expected Mary’s reign to be short-lived, and for Mary to be the last Stuart monarch.

Mary was to spend the first seven months of her life in the palace at Linlithgow and was Christened in the Church of St Michael and at that time just outside the palace walls.

Following the death of her father, Mary as queen became a great prize, she had a kingdom to pass on and also a strong claim to the English crown, (a double-edged sword as it turned out.) it is to Mary’s credit that she was to rise above her expected role of marriage (as junior partner) for at that time it was male relatives that controlled the destiny of royal or aristocratic young women.  

Marie of Guise was very protective of the young queen, following the death of her father. The Scottish nobility was in dispute over who was to be regent and to have custody of Mary, having custody would allow the noble to control Scotland – rule in her name.

On the other side of the Scottish border Henry (like Broderick), had a ‘cunning plan’ he would have his five-year-old son, Edward, marry the infant Mary. This way he would win Scotland (something he could easily have done through invasion but holding it indefinitely against guerrilla warfare would be very costly.)

The Protestant lords wished for the marriage to go ahead for they saw Henry as an ally in their battle against Catholicism.

Mary’s mother was a committed Catholic, and French, and not only wished for her daughter to be brought up in the Catholic faith but for Scotland to remain a Catholic country, so she opposed the marriage.

In July 1543, after much politicking and no doubt, large bribes by Henry, the seven-month-old Mary was contracted by the Scottish Parliament to marry Prince Edward when she reached her 10th birthday, (The Treaty of Greenwich).

It was at this time that Marie moved her daughter from Linlithgow to the much more defensible Stirling Castle. Mary travelled in a litter with an escort of 3,500 troops provided by the nobles who were still in support of Marie; the fear was always that the infant would be kidnapped, for her mother was trying to get the Treaty of Greenwich annulled much against Henry’s will. So the risk from agents in the pay of England was real.

On the 9th of September 1543 in the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle the nine-month-old, Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland – the coronation ceremony conducted by Cardinal David Beaton, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland was very much in keeping with the Catholic tradition.  

The way that James’ ancestors from James 1st to James 4th met their ends gave some indication of the difficulty of ruling Scotland at that time.

James the first was stabbed to death in a sewer while trying to escape from a group of rebel nobles.

James the 2nd died when one of his canons exploded at the siege of Roxburgh Castle, which was being held by the English.

James the 3rd was killed or murdered, immediately after a battle against rebel nobles who wanted James’ son to rule instead.

James the 4th was killed by English soldiers when leading his troops at the Battle of Flodden. James the 4th was the last British monarch to die in battle. After James British monarchs allowed their armies to be led by professional soldiers, if they did attend the battle, they stayed well back!

This was the monarchy that Mary was heir to!

My next journey on the trail of Mary Queen of Scots will be Stirling Castle and the continuation of this story

Stay safe.   

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Train, Churches and a palace

Today was a bit special – with the weather holding steady, although a bit breezy, I decided to go for a wee run on my motorcycle, and if you don’t know where you are going then, of course, all roads lead there. I headed west Cupar, Kinross, where I stopped to top up the tank, no fuel gauge means you top up a lot. I was now on the A997 that takes you through Crook of Devon, Powmill and Forestmill. So I stayed on this road, all the way into Kincardine, before crossing the bridge and on into Bo’ness, home of my ancestors.

The Bo’ness railway museum is a first for me and it was well worth a visit, problem, I did not spend the whole day there.

This was a large shunting yard that would have at one time handled coal from the Kinneil Pit, iron goods from the foundry and cargoes from ships that came in and out of Bo’ness harbour, so much to see.

Thankfully they allow small boys like me to clamber into and onto some of the exhibits, such as the mail train carriage and one of Glasgow’s early underground trains.

The workshop from above
Old Glasgow underground train

Next, I stopped off at Linlithgow Palace; this was the birthplace of James V and Mary Queen of Scots.

A ruin now,

Entrance to the Palace

The grounds on which it sits are stunning and a great place to spend time with a picnic lunch.

Keep an eye open for fore coming events in the park, (I did notice that there will be an up-and-coming Folk Music Festival in Linlithgow).

St Michael’s church (on the grounds) is well worth a visit – looking good after 500 years.

Mary Queen of Scots

Before taking off for home I stopped in at one of the many cafes for a pot of tea and a scone.

I had topped up the tank before I left and again when I arrived back at the same filling station £8.00 spent, good value for money – I would say.       

Stay safe

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I am going to be most controversial today, sorry.

On Tuesday I was sitting outside my favourite pub in South Street, I was with a friend; she was drinking coffee, I, a pint. Who should appear in our presence – another friend of both of us, Agnes, she ordered a coffee then the three of us fought over who was going to pay for her coffee.

Agnes is a bustling wee biddy, Mrs Never-in,

“I can’t stop long” she announced as she sat down, “I am off to Edinburgh, meeting up with a friend we are going to watch the queen passing in her coffin” she rattle off, then continued “I had to cancel my chiropodist appointment and sorry Walter we will have to make new arrangements for you to put up my pictures, I will be staying at my friend’s house tonight.” This all came out in one long breath; she was so excited about the trip you would think she had a personal invitation from the queen herself.

I sat quietly saying nothing; I did not wish to burst my friend’s bubble, being anti-royal and all. Sadly we do not have free speech in this country so no derogatory remarks will be tolerated over the blanket coverage on the television and mainstream media, of the sceptical of dragging an old diseased carcase around the country to make us all feel patriotic, sorry it is just not my thing.  

“The Queen is dead – Long live the King”

This funeral will go on for weeks only to be replaced by more pomp and pageantry, the crowning of a man who by accident of birth will be kept in the luxury he has been groomed to expect, along with his entire entourage of hanger-on.

Now I’m not saying a head of state is not needed, for greeting like-minded visiting dignitaries, but when you go over to Holland and cycle alongside their reigning monarch, who will perform such tasks without all the expense and fuss, well…..

No, I think there is more to this than meets the eye, the United Kingdom is not a country it is made up of England, two other countries Wales and Scotland and part of another country Ireland. All held under the control of Westminster power, so provoking the Dunkirk Spirit, the Spitfire, Armistice Day, State Opening of Parliament, Coronations and big Funeral Cortège is all part of keeping the plebs in their place, something the elite – the real power behind the throne – Westminster, have managed to maintain over the centuries.

I wonder how long it will be after the coronation that our illustrious leader (PM) will go to the country to win a landslide victory at the poles for her Party, like Thatcher before her, who wrapped herself in bunting at the conclusion of the Falklands War. (A war instigated simply for political gain). Sorry, Nicola, your arse is out the windy if you thought you had any hope of clinging onto power, just put it down to bad timing.

Sorry, you didn’t really believe you lived in a democracy, did you?

From a distance, the world looks blue and green
And the snow-capped mountains white
From a distance, the ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance, there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance, we all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance, we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They’re the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance, you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance, I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance, there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man (every man)

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

And God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

Oh, God is watching us
God is watching
God is watching us
From a distance

Songwriters: Julie Gold

Stay safe.

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Getting Crafty

I have tried painting in the past but have no real talent in that department; however, I have always loved to draw. Some years back I bought the book “The complete book of drawing by Barrington Barber – the best £15.00 I ever spent, for Scotland’s winter days can be cold, dark and long.

I have a dear friend and neighbour who will be 80 years old in a couple of weeks’ time, so I wanted a card but not bought but something personal from me.

What will be the theme of the card, well; she is a retired English school teacher, loves the sea, and travel and she is a writer – she has already, locked away in her broom cupboard of a den, managed to produce three novels, to date.  

I started with a simple cover – less is more.

Then I thought 1942 was the year of the horse. I needed the horses to be Chinese, those beautiful simply black and white paintings they do so well.

Drawing the outline was easy peasy, then I tried shading them in with pencils, photocopy came next but it did not look right, I had to print off a copy and go over the pencil shading to get something close to the finished drawing.

I tried printing on both sides of the paper but it was really too thin and the ink showed through from the other side. Finally, I added another sheet of paper.

Writing is easy – all you have to do is cross out the wrong words

Mark Twain.

People born in the Year of the Horse are sociable, hard-working, friendly, and tend to be popular. On the flip side, they tend to be impatient and short-tempered. Horses get along with tigers and dogs, but not with rats. 

Then I had to add something about the sea and the shore, so remembering the time I had Tim (my little Yorkshire terrier) I started writing silly little poems. We would daily walk the sands of Elie, and this is where all the words came from.

Lady Janet Anstruther

A bell would ring out around the town,

To tell that Lady A was going down,

For her daily dip in the sea,

And since the lady preferred to swim starker,

She would wish no Mr Nosy Parkers.

Wee Tim (my Yorkshire terrier)

Today snow came to our shore,

Already maybe an inch or more,

But bother our Tim, not a puff,

He finds it most exciting stuff,

By lunch, the snow has turned to sleet,

Wet and mushy under foot,

Now Tim, in doggie coat and Wellington boots,

Now wouldn’t that be a real doggie hoot,

But Tim preferred to keep his paws bare,

Well at Tim, other dogs would stare.

Sometimes Tim forgets his age

Get our Tim oot and down the shore,

Chasing the wee dug from next door,

Running around like a loon,

Until he is almost falling doon,

Home stretched out, now totally spent,

You never saw a dog more content.

Once treasured

I picked a garnet from the shore,

Once in vogue, alas no more,

Polished by the lapidary’s sand,

Then set in silver by a craftsman’s hand,

Hung as a pendant from her throat,

Or warn, Sunday best, upon her coat,

Now it lies at the bottom of a drawer,

Neglected, forgotten, out of vogue.

The beach

Tim and I explore the beach,

Wide-eyed in wonder at all it does teach,

Watch a gull, hang in the air,

No string holds her there,

The mighty sea, that ebbs and flows,

But where does all the water go?

The shore

I love when waves crash onto the beach,

Retreat, regroup, and advance once more,

Feel foaming surf between my toes,

Halcyon days I do adore.

House martins and swallows in erratic flight,

Gulls dive seaward from astonishing heights,

Curlews nest in rough grass nearby,

A Skylark sings its song so clear,

High, high, up in the sky.

Commercialisation has made cards and decorations very professional at a fraction of the cost of making your own. But who does not long for Christmas time when we as children cut up strips of paper and made colourful chains and fairies, Christmas bells, to decorate the tree or to hang from the living room ceiling?

When I add up the cost,

What we have gained,

What we have lost,

I can’t help but think,

We have all been taken for a ride.   

Stay safe

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With Jam On

The smell from my kitchen is absolutely wonderful

I had been doing recognisance of the hedgerows over the past weeks looking for the best Brambles to make homemade jelly; the summer had been very dry so not the best start but we have had rain over the past few days so looking better.

Sunday was overcast but very quiet weatherises so I strapped a bucket to the back of my bicycle and cycled off for Strathkinness. Oh no, help ma Boab, trampled grass the locals have been here before me, so it was off to a new location.  

Now when you pass on a bicycle scanning the hedgerows there seems to be an abundance of Brambles, when you get close up you find that not too many are full fruit, (they have not set properly, lack of insects, bloody farmers and their insecticides). Tying the luggie to my belt I set out to pick berries, it took me two hours to pick this much. Not only did I pick berries but I also picked up small thorns, and nettle stings, ho-hum.

Today (Monday) I went up to the big Morison’s for preserved sugar, lemon juice and a cooking apple,

let’s get cooking. I remember mum putting a cooking apple in her jelly, she said it was to help it set, so better to be safe than sorry.

My biggest pot was not heavy-bottomed or a jam-making pan, but beggars can’t be choosers, you made do with what you have. Not only was it not a jam-making pan but it was not really big enough for all the fruit, so boiled over, oh well I’m sure the messy cooker top will clean up.

Drip, drip overnight, now some will tell you that next morning you squeeze the bag to get the last of the juice out, mum said, never squeeze the bag it makes the finished jelly cloudy, and as we all know, mum knows best. 

After all that I ended up with half a litre of fruit juice so 375G of sugar all back in the pot, to simmer away for a while.

And at the end of all that the berries have been reduced to two small jars of Bramble Jelly. It’s gid tell yir ma’

Stay Safe

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Mud In You Eye

My brother is ten years my senior so he was more like an uncle, in my school years than a brother, he had completed an apprentice, done his National Service, and married, whilst I was still wet behind the ears.  In our latter years, that time difference shrunk, and I found my brother. And since both of us are retired and have no encumbrances we meet up more and more for a drink and a blether. I love it when my brother can fill in the holes in our family’s history, with his anecdotes, and my visit down to Formby to see him last week was no exception.

Our dad was very much in the Victorian mould, he lived in a much more disciplined age, even compared with my mother, 10 years his junior. Dad joined the Royal Navy as a lad of 16, towards the end of the First World War, then after three in the colours (and three in reserve), he enlisted in the Merchant Navy. They say you can take a man out of the services but not the services out of the man and this was true of dad. Dad always found life at home with a growing family alien; he was never comfortable in that scenario, he was much like the cow in a field that sees the green grass on the other side of the fence, filled with frustration that he can not go there.

So to our tale

We are now in the Second World War, and dads ship is in dry-dock for repair, he has been given eight weeks’ leave of absence. Home he went to his wife and three bairns. However dad could not settle even for eight weeks and one day he came in and announced he had joined the Home Guard, mother was not amused.

One dark night he was on sentry duties down at Methil Dock, there was dad in tunic, kilt and a gun marching back and forth, up and down the dock.

Click, click, click – a woman coming towards him.

“Halt, who goes there?” he called out

Click, click, click – a woman, still coming on

“Halt, who goes there?” dad calls out, this time even louder

Click, click, click – almost upon him now

“Halt or I will fire!” he threatens in his best authoritarian voice

“Jimmy its me you daft old fool, you don’t even have bullets in the gun” it was mum, she had walked all the way from East Wemyss to Methil Dock to tell him to give up his silliness and come back to the house and his own bed.

The next day the CO called dad into his office telling him that it had come to his attention that he was on leave from the Merchant Navy. Although he appreciated his enthusiasm and dedication, maybe it would be best if he were to return to his wife and family.

What, the CO omitted to tell dad was that the information received had come from his wife and she had made it very clear to him that if her husband was not home and out of uniform by tea time, this would not be the last he would hear of this.

Having spent many a camping holiday with dad in the early 1950s I did know that he had joined the Home Guard – but since I also knew he was in the Merchant Navy at the time was never sure how it all fitted together.

Sitting around the campfire dad would spin a yarn about his life, I was all ears. He told me about an incident when he was in the Home Guard.

“A group of us lads had gone out to the local pub, and on our way back to barracks, just outside Anstruther, they came across the camp’s CO, he was rather inebriated and had apparently fallen from his bicycle and was now asleep in the ditch. Not wishing to disturb him from his rest, we gathered handfuls of mud, lifted his kilt and slapped it on his arse.”

Amusement spread across dads face as he re-lived that time and the telling of the story.

Stay safe.

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Troubleshooting.

I have just returned from Formby where I was visiting my brother, who has not been well, a long and tiring trip, which had taken time to bounce back from. Whilst there we visited the local hostelry, with a friend of my brothers, this lad really knew his stuff when it came to computers.

He was telling me that he had worked for Honeywell for thirty years, then out of the blue, they sent him an e-mail telling him he did not have a job anymore, how much is worker loyalty worth to an American firm? Anyway, it did not take him long to find the present job that takes him all over the world – a troubleshooter, sorting out problems.

We in a way were doing a bit of troubleshooting ourselves – sorting out the ills of the world, as you do over a few pints when he told me that when he was at university he had a hankering to go to Israel, so he did, I was shocked with what I saw there, he told me.

On one side of the road, an Israeli farmer had a massive tractor pulling a multi-furl plough that revolved at the end of each run so they could come back on the same track.

On the other side of the road, a Palestinian farmer had a donkey and what looked like a tree branch scratching at the soil, it was almost biblical.

I was a good few months into his gap year when I met and started dating an Israeli girl. She was doing her National Service as all men and women have to in Israel. One day when she was showing me around an area of Jerusalem, a shot rang out,

Stay her she ordered and ran off in the direction of the shot. When she returned she showed no outward sign that anything was amiss, but when I asked,

“What was that all about?”

She answered “Nothing, it is all over, I’ve dealt with it”  

“Dealt with what?” I asked

“I told you,” she said, in her don’t ask questions sort of way, “There is no longer a problem”.

At the time I did not know that she carried a loaded pistol with her at all times and that her having ‘dealt’ with the problem had involved shooting a Palestinian, in the street in broad daylight.

She was a beautiful girl, and I might even have ended up married to her, but not after that incident, how could I have married a girl that carried a loaded gun and was prepared to be judge, jury and executioner?

My time in Israel opened my eyes to what is going on over there, with American money and backing, the Palestinians will remain a suppressed people, trapped in poverty and living in an open prison, without parole.  

Stay safe    

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Well worth the re-telling

This article first appeared in ‘Yours for Scotland’ and should be read by everyone (not only in Scotland) but across the UK.

Power from the Glens, Power for the Glens was a tagline from the 50s and 60s and in essence, it was true.

The state, or a state-owned company or board, built power-generating assets and the power was then sold to the populace at whatever price the politicians thought appropriate. And if the state decided to make an operating surplus or not, it did as it saw fit.

But in the 70s and 80s that all changed. Under the risible guise of people’s privatisations, Thatcher sold off the state-owned assets. Not to the people as was generally purported but to the corporates whose sole interest is corporate profit. And if you saw Sid, as one privatisation ad ran, you were to tell him. 

And look at it now, all of our natural assets sold off and corporate money-making now the only agenda in town, and all wrapped up in corporate trading structures that mask the true wealth being extracted from a hapless populace now struggling to even heat and light their homes—poverty in a land of plenty.

Oh, how how how we should reflect. Our gas and oil were worth nothing. It delivered immense wealth to other countries but not to Scotland. And our hydro. Blessed with lochs, mountains and glens our natural environment was perfect for hydro generation, with additionally, the benefit of pump storage to store huge quantities of baseload power from other sources when demand was low. Cheap electricity one would have thought. After the cost of the dam, the pipework and the turbine construction, it would certainly seem so. But no somehow it isn’t. Well not for the populace of Scotland.

And ditto gas. We were blessed with lots of that. They even piped it out of our waters direct to storage caverns constructed in the North of England. What benefit then from our gas? 

And now wind. Unlike our oil and gas which we were told was worth little, and was due to have run out around ten years ago, the wind is in a different category again. We, or should I say the corporates might be building lots and lots of wind farms, but we should understand that wind energy is really no energy at all. No, we should realise that because the wind doesn’t blow all the time, it’s really in truth no good. And that sadly is the latest myth to be visited on poor poverty-stricken Scotland. All that no good wind power, that will feed the national grid, inter-connectors, and allow power to be shared around, no good, no good at all. Why do they bother? Moreover, in Scotland, wind power, or any other source of power, can even be stored by pumping water up a mountain in times of surplus, to thereafter run it back down the mountain when needed, This of course bringing us back to Power from the Glens but not For the Glens, and why a start is just about ready to be made on the Coire Glas scheme in the Great Glen, and a scheme that will double the ENTIRE UK’s pump storage capacity. And this is only one scheme out of another half a dozen planned Scottish pump storage schemes waiting on the shelves of the corporates to be commenced.

Ah, what value Scotland’s natural resources. None it would seem. Well, not for most of us.Fuel poverty in a land blessed with resources. Gas has gone up because the wholesale price of gas has gone up. Priorly until about a year ago around half, or £500, was apparently the wholesale cost of a household’s heating and lighting bill. Now with the shortage of gas and the huge wholesale price surges, the average household bill predicted at over £4,000 a year by next spring will be composed of around £2,500 of wholesale costs. And so, with Scotland blessed with gas, oil, hydro and wind, who is making money, big money? We must ask Sid if we can find him!

But let us turn away from gas, oil, wind and water. Let us turn to aggregates and the little matter of Glensanda quarry near Oban. Hidden away from view unless you are a sailor, Glensanda is one of Europe’s biggest granite super queries. With coastal access, the quarry has over the last thirty years shipped nearly 300 million tonnes of granite to markets around the world. Texas USA, all over the EU, the channel tunnel, the HS2, it is a big export worth a lot of money. And, according to reports, there are another 760 million tonnes of identified reserves to go. And so, who may you ask owns this super quarry that is literally demolishing a Scottish mountain? Well, not Scotland. 

Seems it was found by an English man some thirty years ago whilst on a sailing holiday. Mr Yeoman was his name, Foster Yeoman was his Company, prior to him selling out to the absolutely huge global Swiss-registered Aggregates Industries. Should we be surprised?

But there you have it, we’re dismantling a Scottish mountain, over a billion tonnes of it in fact. What benefits from it then? It’s a good question. Probably like the oil and the gas and the hydro and the wind, not a lot.

But one last thing, and this is maybe a huge question. Since the commencement of nuclear power generation a permanent site to store high-level radioactive waste for the next hundred thousand years has never been identified. Still hasn’t but Scotland, although they will not say where, has always been a preferred choice. And so, with deep water coastal access, and granite strata, could Glensanda or similar be the plan? It’s a secret, but with all that high-level nuclear waste being temporarily stored waiting for a National ( Scottish or British ) and with England’s new fleet of reactors being built, I certainly would not bet against using a site like Glensanda for multi-millennia nuclear waste storage.

Scotland the land that just keeps giving – away!

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Scotstarvit Tower

I was out for a wee run today – first Scotstarvit tower and for the first time in two years of popping in there, it was open, this gave me a chance to show the inside.

The tower is well constructed and in remarkable condition and so long as it keeps its roof in good order will last a few hundred years more.

In the first room, you visit you can see clear up to the ceiling of the second floor the wooden floor of the second floor would have been the ceiling of the first-floor room. However, it allows us to see how two of the floors had vaulted ceilings/floors giving the tower its strength. You can also see the thickness of the walls, in the window recesses, where one would sit to read and write of work in the best light.

There would be no kitchen in the tower but each room had its own fireplace – however being a tower (much like a chimney fire in the lower room would percolate up to the top of the building.

To reach the floors above you climb the spiral staircase (I a nice hoos Jimmybit yir never gone’ie get a coffin up young stair)

And at the top, we see what would have been the attic rooms and the fine roof beams and sarking boards.

Not sure they would have had fire extinguishers in those days.

Outside you can still see where a lean too was built against the tower; this may have been the kitchen. When it was occupied of course it would have had many outbuildings for farm

animals and stables for the horses.   

I headed over to Falkland and two tour busses had just dropped off their passengers, now since this was only 9.30 and the Palace would not be open until 11 am they were all milling around taking photographs of everything from churches to street planters.

At this stage, I took off and followed the A92 then onto the B937 for Lindores (this is a beautiful wee road) then doubled back into Cupar, then home.

Keep safe.

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Sunday Morning – Early

Today the skies were overcast when I set out on a wee run up the coast to Arbroath. One place I still had to visit on the way north was Barry Mill. This is a fully working water-driven mill and in remarkably great shape.

The morning had been overcast and a sea mist hung around the coast, the sun broke through as I crossed the Tay Bridge and the water was indeed silver.

The first, stop would be Broughty Ferry for what they call on the Tour de France a comfort stop.

If you have never visited the castle at Broughty Ferry well you have missed out, I have visited the museum many times and always manage to see something new. The castle was home to Patrick Gray, 6th Lord Gray (died 1612) a nobleman and politician during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots and James V1 of Scotland. Nigel Tranter’s historical novel Master of Gray is a fascinating insight into the decadence, of the French and Scottish courts at that time.

On to Barry  Mill –

the mill hearkens back to the monastic grange, or estate, which King William the Lion bestowed in 1178 on his newly founded abbey of Arbroath.

In the early 1980s, serious damage to the mill lade resulted in the cessation of commercial operations at Barry. The building deteriorated until in 1988, with the aid of a generous bequest from Miss Isobel L Neish, the National Trust for Scotland bought them to prevent further decay and to conserve them for the nation. There then began a programme of conservation repair, the mill was opened to the public in 1992, and not just the mill but extensive woodlands and orchard. I was there before opening time, so to kill time I walked a half mile or so along the side of the burn, the water was very low and almost dry in places.

When the caretaker arrived and opened up he ran the mill for a short time to show me the mill in action, the water in the lay was so low it could hardly lift the sack from the floor but I did see the stones in operation and the sieve shake and a lot of noisy wheels and cogs revolving.   

An art society exhibits their work in the mill, and I could not resist a picture by H. McDiarmid (impressionist work) Glimpses of Gold at the Mill.

From the mill, I travelled up through Carnoustie, before joining the A92 into Arbroath. I left the bike down at the harbour

Iwalked into town, stopping off at Wetherspoons for a tea break, I was as dry as a bone and managed three mugs of tea. The Nickel and Dime shop was open so I bought a frame for my new art masterpiece.

Then the Abbey a must before heading south once more the day remained overcast but that suited me fine, home by just after 2 O’clock and time to visit the kitchen – “throw it on the table mum” the call that went up when we arrived home from school.

Stay safe

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Loch Leven and a Kawasaki GPZ 500s

When I dropped a motorcycle on my leg, breaking it in three places, my ankle and two leg bones, my sister, who lived next door to me at that time, persuaded me to hang up my motorcycle boots. I did and bought a small car, which served us well so we could go together to the supermarket and use it for gallivanting around the country. When I moved to St Andrews a car became superfluous, I was now on my own and the bus station was only yards away from my front door.

Mostly I have had to steel myself past motorcycle shops but the day arrived when I saw an advert for a Kawasaki GPZ 500s, a motorcycle I had new back in 1988. When the Kawasaki first came onto the market in the UK in 1987 my old BMW R80RT was now five years old and I needed a change. The GPZ 500s was billed as half a GPZ 1000RX (the fastest production bike in the world at that time.)

On visiting the Kawasaki dealership and settling my bum on the bike I was sold, (I could get my feet on the ground without tipping it over on its side something I could never do with my beemer) this bike was so much like a small 250 cc motorcycle with a big 500 cc parallel-twin engine, part exchange complete I never for one minute regretted my transformation away from all things BMW to ‘Jap crap’, as many died in the wool British riders referred to them.

Although the weather is starting to turn autumnal, I felt I could get a few trips in before the winter set in proper, but were to on my first trip? Now since I have not ridden a motorcycle for some years, it had to be close to home. More so someplace that I had always wanted to go but was difficult to get to by bus. 

Sunday

Hot, hot, hot, out for a couple of hours on the bike this morning whilst it was still cool, I had to be back by 11 am. A lad was coming over from Kirkcaldy to pick up the road bike he had bought from me on eBay. He was on time and seemed very pleased with his purchase, I have seldom ridden it since I bought my folding bike, so it was a good move selling it.

In the afternoon I looked over the motorcycle and took it round to the filling station to check the tyre pressure and top up the tank. £13.00 is not cheap. Back home and on with my motorcycle jacket and helmet for that first crucial ride, the bike sounded like a bag of old nuts and bolts being rattled, possibly it has been lying in a showroom for months. I went out to Pitscottie then left up over the hill and on into Peat Inn before dropping down to Largoward, Kilconquhar, and Elie. I ran along the coast road into Anstruther before taking the B9131 for St Andrews. By now the bike was settling down.

I was a bit nervous to start with – been a while, but surprised how quickly it all started to feel normal. These roads are not for speed and I was never over 50mph at any stage in the journey. I have lost much of my smoothness (throttle control) but like everything else, practice, practice, practice.

I have ordered a top box for the bike – you need someplace to put your helmet, gloves and waterproofs – I was surprised how inexpensive they have become, I also ordered Oxford mitts, (they go over the handlebar ends as a shield from the weather (especially rain) and this allows you to wear thinner gloves. I also discovered the bike is fitted with heated grips.   

Today’s ride was far enough to get the hang of motorcycle riding again, but it will be strictly touring even though it is a fast bike – if you wanted to push it, but I am very content just bumming along these days. I will continue my cycling and when winter comes the motorcycle will remain under wraps, for my life now is all about going downhill slowly.

Mrs Sinclair is back from her holiday in York and brought me a wee present two summer shirts. (For all the wee jobs I do for her).

Wednesday

The life of Mary (Queen of Scots) has always fascinated me, and there is one place associated with Mary that is close by and I still have not managed to visit and that place is Lochleven Castle. Oh, I have visited Lochleven on numerous occasions over the years but never out to the castle, would this be my opportunity to do so?

How and why did Mary end up a prisoner in Lochleven Castle – well, Mary was a Catholic queen in a country that was divided, between Catholics and the new Protestant religion. And although Mary was well educated and a clever woman she made some terrible choices in the men she married.

Bothwell, her husband like Darnley before him, was arrogant and overbearing, although Bothwell was at least courageous. Soon a group of Lords, known as the Confederated Lords, were scheming to overthrow Bothwell and take control of Mary (in other words, the country). Many of the nobles now conspiring against Bothwell had signed the Ainslie Tavern Bond supporting Bothwell. Such was the fickleness of the nobles’ Loyalties. Their outward message was that they planned to “rescue” Mary from Bothwell, but their intentions were clear.  

Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh) was not a safe place to be so  Bothwell and Mary decamped to Borthwick Castle, a massive tower house twelve miles south of Edinburgh, and began putting together a small army. As troops of the Confederate Lords began to converge on the castle Bothwell escaped to muster his men, leaving Mary in the castle. Mary escaped the castle the next day by being lowered from a window dressed as a page boy, (a big page boy, Mary was six feet tall) and made her way on foot, passed the Confederate Lords forces and joined up with Bothwell.

The two armies faced each other on Carberry Hill, near Musselburgh, east of Edinburgh. The Battle was a stand-off; neither had any real desire to fight and kill their countrymen, Mary decided to negotiate, rather than risk bloodshed. In the end, she surrendered to the Confederate Lords on the condition that Bothwell was allowed to go free. 

Mary expected to be treated with respect – after all, she was their queen. Back in Edinburgh, the crowds jeered her return, not the way to treat a reigning monarch. From Edinburgh, she was taken to Loch Leven and imprisoned on the island’s castle in the middle of the loch. Out of sight and out of mind the Lords now had control of Mary and Scotland.

Mary spent the next eleven months in the castle, the home of Sir William Douglas, from June 1567 to May 1568. Mary was pregnant during her stay at the castle, with her two ladies-in-waiting and a doctor, since she was not in good health. Her escape from the castle is a story in itself.

I set off for Loch Leven and it was beautiful on the bike today, through Cupar and Auctermuchty and on to Millnathorp and finally Kinross. The castle was closed to visitors, but I already knew that from the internet but this is an idyllic place on such a day as this. I went around to the Boathouse to ask about fishing on the loch, not a problem, you get a boat and off you go – after paying your £25.00 or £30.00 if there are two of you. So when my brother is back to health I think it would be a great day out for us both.  

Stay safe

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There’s a hole in the road and the councils looking into it.

Travelling over to Aldi first thing this morning I came across road works. The gas workers had cut a trench half a meter wide and a meter deep from one side of the road to the other in order to lay a new mains gas pipe. As I passed four men were leaning on the barricade looking into the trench,

There’s a hole in the road and the councils looking into it.

Not wishing to cast dispersions on anyone, I’m sure they were just awaiting the arrival of backfilling material. Now backfilling like everything else has rules, 150mm layers compacted between layers, and no matter how well this is done and the final layer of tar macadam covers the backfill you can bet your bottom dollar that within a given time this trench will become a patchwork of overburden.

Alas old pipes will have to be replaced and new ones installed under our roads, however, the road having a trench newly cut across its width was only resurfaced in early summer, why?

Extensive resurfacing work had been carried out in St Andrews over the last few months still when out on my daily ride it was as ever ‘in an out the dusty bluebells’, trying to avoid drain and manhole covers that were sunken and much of the newly laid tar macadam around them cracked and breaking up.

Now maybe I’m just spit-balling here but if a road surface has been pounded to destruction by road traffic over the years – will the manholes and roadside drains not have suffered in the same manner? Now would it not make sense to check (and if necessary repair) all drains and manholes before laying a new road surface?

When in Germany and Austria the roads and cycle paths all had drains and manhole covers all part of the road concept, but I could not help but notice that all were flush with the road surface (to within a millimetre)  – is it me?  

Stay safe

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Off to Inverness

Back in my own home once more and boy does it feel great to be back where everything makes sense.

As you know my flat was having a new bathroom fitted so I took off for Inverness during the renovations and I had a marvellous time. I stayed at the Youth Hostel in Inverness and this is the story.

The youth hostel in Inverness I know well so thankfully no smartphone require, it can be very confusing – Confucius say local knowledge is better than a smartphone.

Inverness itself is a gorgeous town, clean and inviting, all the big name shops have been relegated to the out-of-town shopping centre so the town has been given back to the local people and the numerous visitors that flock to the town, that was once the capital of Scotland.

Arriving late afternoon and after my bus ride, I decided to stretch my legs along the banks of the River Ness. Passing under the Ness Castle which was closed off as extensive work was being carried out;

you come to Edith Cavell Garden.

Edith Louisa Cavell was born on 4th December 1866; she was a nurse and is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides in the First World War 1914 – 1918. She did not discriminate between the two sides of the conflict and helped 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium, for this she was arrested under martial law, tried for treason, found guilty and shot by firing squad on the 12th October 1915. Her last words were

“Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred of bitterness towards anyone.”

It is not a big garden but kept in emasculate condition, as is Inverness itself, holding its head up alongside any European town or city.  

Hope, is a good thing, maybe the best of things

Further along, the river bank I could not resist crossing the little bridge to the magical secret island, well maybe not so secret but certainly magical.

Crossing the river I walked back to the opposite bank

Outside the theatre

I visited the cathedral on the way. It is distinctive in that it has no spires and there is some controversy over whether it was designed in this way or as a cost-cutting exercise. One thing for sure is it has all the hallmarks of French architectural beauty, which you see all over Scotland when so many masons from France worked on the great cathedrals and churches, you will see similar fetchers at Dunfermline Abbey, Leuchars, and St Andrews. 

Back to my billet for a freshen up then back into town for a meal and visit The Galleons, a pub in the centre of town with a reputation for good live music. On a large board were displayed the names of all the artists and bands that would be performing nightly over the month of July. Underneath it said,

‘All dates subject to change – Bloody Musicians’.

The next day was a special trip that I had promised myself for ages, a visit to Fort George. After Culloden and to stop any further risings the English built garrisons right across Scotland and Wade built his roads to move men and materials around the highlands, this was an Anglophone social structure acting as a form of cultural control and representing the main force of national and colonial oppression, intended to keep the Scots ‘doun – hauden’ (held down), in their own land. This was not unlike the experience of numerous other indigenous peoples such as the Maori, the Australian indigenous people, Bushmen and native North American,

They had taken by the sword and in the name of their lord.

So it was that I made Wetherspoons my first stop of the morning a large mug of tea and the promise buy one get the rest free, I was now set up for the short journey on the number 10 bus for Ardersier. This is a terminus for the bus so the next 2 kilometres would be on foot. The Ardersier Common would once have been just that common land that villagers could use to graze their animals, today it is a wildlife haven.

I followed the path that skirted the Moray Firth, the shore was pebble rather than sand and mostly the pebbles were flat, I could not resist skiffing stanes over the placate waters, boys will always be boys.

Nothing could prepare me for the size of the structure here at the extremities of the Ardersier peninsula; it is out of all proportion to the land it commands. Entering over the drawbridge the esplanade is vast and sheltered by high embankments so you are cooried down out of the wind that can blow fierce in these parts. The guard house as you enter through a tunnel under the wall, on the right the enlisted men and on the left the officers quarters,

I

Officers and men – In the Catherine Cookson novel The Wingless Bird, the young officer asks – Officers and Men, are Officers not Men? No, he is told we are young gods come down from Olympus.

Fort George is still an Army falsity but the more significant part is open to visitors and when I was here there were plenty of them. The main building is a military museum with regimental regalia from the time of Culloden to the present day, the guns that stand silent on the battlements are much as they are here in St Andrews made from fibreglass – replica which reminded me of the Goon Show sketch Dartmoor Prison.

Sound effect – feet stomping, rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

Prison Guard – The prisoners are restless sir; they want to go on holiday

Warden – we can’t let the prisoner out to go on holiday

Prison Guard – no sir, we will take the prison with us

Warden – will it not be missed?

Prison Guard – we’ll leave a cardboard replica.

On my return, I took my fishing rod down to the river and cast from the bank. My second cast caught a lovely trout, and as I was about to put it back in the water, a lad standing close by asked, “If you do not want that fish I will have it”. I added two more to his plate – maybe I should have joined him for dinner.

My trip to Inverness was a great success and although the skies were mostly overcast, the winds were light and no rain spoiled my trip.

Arriving home is always welcome no matter how well the trip went, I really wanted to make a proper meal so armed with my trusty fork it was off to the garden to dig up a potato shaw or two. After dinner, I settled down to ‘In the heat of the night but by around 10pm tiredness had caught up with me, so it was time for bed.

Stay safe.   

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“Shut up or get out.”

Today I am busy moving quarters and making preparations for my mini trip to Inverness, I’m sure I will find something there to write home to mummy about.

I said in an earlier blog I wrote that it is said that Nicola Sturgeon fired the pistol, for the start of the independence campaign – for me, the starting pistol was fired, not by Nicola Sturgeon but by the Speaker in the House of Commons when he so verdantly told the Scottish MP (Neale Hanvey) “Shut up and get out”

An article was written by – Neale Hanvey MP.

When I entered front-line politics in 2012 as an SNP councillor, I was clear that my guiding ambition was to play a lawful part in the restoration of independence to Scotland. Over the past 10 years, that commitment has only strengthened as the need for independence has grown ever more urgent. From oil and gas to wind, tidal, wave and hydro Scotland’s vast energy resources keep the UK powered and Her Majesty’s Treasury pumped full of cash. 

Make no mistake Scotland is the broad shoulders of the UK.

Our reward for that vast contribution of energy, food and drink and water? To be fleeced of those resources, charged for transmitting our energy, denied access to associated revenue and berated, ignored and ridiculed in the “mother” of all parliaments. But it’s the social injustice that results from this distortion of governance that is finally beginning to dawn on many as the cost-of-living crisis deepens and more Scots find they are paying through the nose for energy when Scotland produces far more than we could possibly need.

When I rose to my feet on Wednesday 13th of July, I had no doubt about the words I was going to say. I had no doubt about who I would be speaking to, and I had no doubt about who I was speaking for. As Kenny made to leave the chamber after his rebuke from the speaker, I began to deliver my assessment of the current impasse on Scotland’s constitutional future. 

The moment was chosen for maximum political exposure. The most dishonest and disreputable Prime Minister in UK history was about to begin his swan song and we were determined that Scotland would be heard and our mandate for independence would not be ignored. For my point of order, I addressed Boris Johnson directly “Mr. Speaker, that charlatan has no mandate, no right, and no authority to dismiss the voice of the people of Scotland” I started, going on to say“ Someone who no longer commands the support of his own party, has no right to hold our nation hostage. Not him or his unelected successors. Scotland’s Claim of Right must be respected!”

For those who dismiss what we did, make no mistake our action that day amplified the cause of independence far beyond the Common’s chamber. Our intervention in parliament was no mere stunt, it has been reported across Europe and beyond to Mexico, China and many places in between. As a consequence, the following Wednesday the ALBA party leadership held a very successful press conference with the Foreign Press Association such is the interest in democracy denial for Scotland. Gaining interest and recognition of this is a vital component of building the national support for Scottish independence

The cost-of-living calamity being endured in Scotland is a direct and wholly unnecessary consequence of Westminster rule. It’s not Scotland that should fear independence, be in no doubt it is Her Majesty’s Treasury who fears the double whammy of losing Scotland’s ‘free money revenue and having to pay an independent Scotland a fair rate for our energy surplus, our water, and our exceptional food and drink. 

Scotland’s people need not suffer this iniquity, but we need to corral the justified anger into peaceful and persistent public demonstrations and build an unstoppable drive towards independence.

On Wednesday 13th of June Scotland was given a clear ultimatum from the Speaker; “Shut up or get out”. Scotland won’t shut up, so now’s the time to get out. 

Neale Hanvey MP.

Stay safe.

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Welcome to Brexit Britain

The British media, including the BBC and Sky News, are trying to paint this as:

“It’s those bad French Frogs again, did not turn up for work”

DOVER TRAFFIC – LIVE: TRUSS URGES FRANCE TO ACT OVER ‘ENTIRELY AVOIDABLE’ PORT GRIDLOCK

Wish you were here

The boss of Dover Harbour was on Sky News, telling us that they knew there would be extra paperwork after Brexit and this is why they put in the extra infrastructure and did lots and lots of forward planning to avoid this happening – the trouble is the French did not turn up in sufficient number.  

Oh, So the British want to tell the French how many French passport control staff they need on any given day, yes, that all sounds very British.

Now I have no idea what the problem is, why the French have not been able to supplement the border control staff, on what was always going to be a busy holiday weekend (school holidays starting – for me a time to avoid going off on holiday, but…) Maybe they should have restricted the number of booking to the capacity they had at Dover? This all sounds like a lack of communication to me. Like, are the French asking?

“Who will pay the wages of all these extra staffs?”

It may be that simple, however, it may be something to do with the fact that the Tory party are hell-bent on tearing up international treats, negotiated in good faith over years with the EU, and now find that Northern Ireland’s economy (still technically in the EU) is doing well – thank you very much – whilst mainland UK – well we all go to the shops and buy petrol for our cars, after all, we ‘Got Brexit Done’ this is making us look bad.

Hay wait – a done-gone-minute there Hamilton the high cost of living, runaway inflation and our economy down the toilet, this has nothing to do with Brexit, that is all to do with those Bad Russians. (Sorry slipped my mind)

I don’t believe this lack of border control staff is the last we will hear about the Nothern Ireland protocol. The man from Dover was at pains to tell us how much work they had put in to avert this unfolding disaster, but did he tell his counterparts in France? Were they up to speed with the plan?  And I don’t believe that the war and all the destruction, and suffering, and displaced peoples are down to Russia either – as they say:

“It takes two to tango”

Is it not time for this Tory government to stop the blame game and start proper grown-up and diplomatic relationships and communications, with our neighbours.

Or is it just me?

Stay safe

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Plan ‘B’

Only one week into what could be two months of workmen in the building and already we are driven mad with the noise, I know it can’t be helped and I’m sure the builders are doing their best to keep the noise to a minimum, but those hammer drills vibrate throughout the building and hammering will always be noisy.

I have to vacate my flat on Sunday so that the workmen can have a clear run on Monday (25th July) and on that day I will be boarding the Megabus in Dundee for Inverness, where I will spend two nights in the Youth Hostel, returning on Wednesday 27th July. Thursday will be a day to sort myself out for Friday will be the first of my 3 visits to Dunfermline for the Empowering the Nation SSRG Conference.  

The weather has been such that today was the seventh consecutive day that I have been out on my bike, and it was telling, since I was dropping down a cog or two from my normal rides. I play this little game with myself, 100 miles in a week; two decades ago this would have been a Sunday run, today I arrived home 37.6 miles up on my target.

When I lived down in Yorkshire I cycled a lot and cycled in some very classy companies. There was a lad that lived in a little roadside cottage on the A 629 just east of Cross Hill he cycled 100 miles every day for 365 consecutive days.

Weather will always play a big part in any outdoor challenge, and I’m sure whether has scuppered many a Lands End to John O’ Grots challenge, and almost scuppered the chances of our friend from Yorkshire. He started on the first day of January and the winter was a bad one. He fell from his bike only weeks in, almost ending his personal endurance ride there and then. Since smartphone and satellite tracking were still many years in the future it was unconfirmed and many were sceptical of his claim.

The single-day endurance event now known as IRONMAN was the brainchild of Judy and John Collins, a couple who moved from California to Hawai’i in 1975. The Collins family participated in the Mission Bay Triathlon in San Diego on 25 September 1974. That event now marks the start of the modern triathlon in the U.S.

In 1977, Collins’ involvement in organizing a sprint run-swim competition in Honolulu helped plant the seed of an idea to put on a triathlon event the following year. Their goal was to create something for the endurance athletes—those who favoured events such as the Waikiki Roughwater Swim and the Honolulu Marathon over short sprint events. But where would the bike leg be? The answer came to them early in 1977, when John thought of using a local bicycling club route. Judy and John said to each other, “If you do it, I’ll do it,” and John famously added, “…whoever finishes first we’ll call him the Iron Man.”

Since competitors in the first Iron Man competition, competitors would have to sign up two compete in two local events, swimming and running, with only the cycle leg of the competition coming under the control of Judy and John Collins, it was suggested at the time that it would make it easy to cheat, John’s answer was simple – “They will know”

On my run today, pleasantly cool, and unlike Shirley Valentine, having no wall to talk to, I was thinking aloud – talk to my self (you don’t half get some funny looks from passing cyclists – whose speed increases rapidly once passed.) Why not set myself a little challenge (weather permitting) to cycle a minimum of 14.28 per day (100 miles over the seven days) for 365. Does not sound like much but when you cycle day after day without a rest day it’s a killer. Sadly for me, having a SatNav – so no cheating. Now, where did I put that SatNav thing?

Stay safe.

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Is this the end of the road for Scottish independence?

I believe that over the past 8 years under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland, the Scottish Independent debate has been confined to the doldrums.

Despite, mandate after mandate

Despite, Scotland, being dragged out of Europe against the will of the Scottish people

Despite, all the powers that should have returned to the Scottish parliament when we did leave the EU, but instead have been hijacked by the Westminster parliament

Despite all this the people of Scotland have seen no real progress towards independence, no real debate over, currency, borders, defence, trade with rUK, the EU, or whether we should even consider rejoining the EU? Time, I fear, has run out for Sturgeon, she has painted herself into a corner and after 8 long years of inactivity has now decided to ask Westminster for a Section 30 order, to be given to the Scottish parliament to hold another referendum and asking the (English) supreme court to rule on the legality of the Scottish Law and Scottish parliament to hold another referendum against the express wishes of England? Too little and 8 years too late as it happens

So is this the end of the road for Scottish independence?

It was a foregone conclusion that Johnston would reject any request for a referendum on Scottish independence. any week over the last 8 years Blackford could have stood up at Questions to the Prime Minister, and asked the PM of the day:

“Will the PM grant a section 30 order to the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum on independence – yes or no?”

We do not know what the Supreme Courts ruling will be, but whatever it is it will be wrapped up in very flowery language and you can bet your bottom dollar it will not be precise – clear cut – or state that Scotland as a country, who entered into a union with England (much like the union of the EU and Britain then held the Brexit referendum) why not then the people of Scotland if they now feel the time has come to leave the union between Scotland and the UK. it’s all academic anyway, if the Supreme Court were ever to say that Scotland as a nation has the right to go it’s one way, if the people wish it (as Maggie Thatcher once said) the Westminster cohort would simply appeal the verdict – giving them time to change the law to prevent the ruling – they have form.

They say that Nicola Sturgeon, fired the starting gun to another Referendum to be held on 19 October 2023 and promised, no ifs, no buts – then nothing – the golden carrot dangled in front of the noses of gullible voters – sleight of hand – others will say.

For me, the person that fired the starting gun for another independence referendum was the Speaker of the House at Westminster with his bombastic, attack on the two (Alba) MPs – then casting them from the chamber to loud jeers of the house and the dumb silence and sitting on hands of the SNP MPs (our, so-called, representatives for Scotland in this union of equals).       

The former First Minister and ALBA Party Leader Alex Salmond warned the contenders for the Tory leadership that outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “veto over Scottish Democracy will not stand”. (There are none so deaf as those that do not wish to hear Alex.)

Meanwhile, ALBA Westminster Group Leader Neale Hanvey MP announced that he will be writing to the remaining Tory leadership candidates informing them of Scotland’s ‘Claim of Right’ and challenging them to respect the mandate for a Scottish Independence referendum, given by the Scottish people to their elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament and urging them, if elected, to agree to a Section 30 Order which would allow a legal and consented referendum to take place. (is that not an acceptance that Westminster does hold jurisdiction over the wishes of Scotland’s sovereign people)

I suspect this is much more about political posturing than any real hope that the incoming Tory leader and possible PM ever giving Scotland another bite at the independence cherry – it was far too close for comfort last time around and needed all of Westminster’s dirty tricks, and media support to get them over the line. The people of Scotland are wiser now – fool me once…… it will never happen Tories are not camellias, they are not known for changing their spots.

From whence will ‘HOPE’ come?

It will come from the grassroots of Scottish society, the ‘Yes’ faithful have not gone away, splintered yes, but are still out there. This weekend I am going to Dunfermline for a three-day conference – Empowering the Nation. Billed as a deliberately ambitious event where we will cover many of the critical issues currently facing Scotland, discussed by well-known expert speakers from Scotland and beyond, including Professor Alf Baird, Professor Richard Murphy, Sara Salyers, Professor Paul McCartney, Billy Kay, Dr Tim Rideout and many more to be announced.

We’ll be covering:

• Six Routes to Self-Determination
• Scotland’s economy post-independence, currency, taxation and more
• Language, Culture and Identity
• Land Ownership and Natural Resources
• Scotland’s Defence requirements and policies
• Media Ownership and Regulation
• International Recognition and Relations, EU, EFTA and more
• Strategic National Infrastructure & Trade
• Scotland’s Constitution – the Historic Constitution, based on the Claim of Right, and the development of a modern written constitution.

EMPOWERING THE NATION is not just a conference though. Delegates (that’s you) are invited to participate and contribute to work streams related to each topic, aiming to generate practical follow-up actions in each topic area.

I wish to attend for I feel this is the conversation we should have been engaged in over the last 8 years. An open debate and away from the social media bubble. For too long anyone speaking out against any policies of the First Minister, or criticising the SNP will be hounded to death by the social media trolls. Speak out about men being allowed to encroach on women’s safe spaces and you would be advised to grab your passport and flee the country, otherwise, you will suffer a fate worse than death. 

You see, It is not only our right to criticise our leaders – it is our duty to do so.

The movie Pretty Woman is a rags-to-riches love story.  Julia Roberts plays a prostitute who meets up with a no-nonsense billionaire played by Richard Gere. There is a scene where Roberts, is dressed to the nines, she is in the best evening gown money can buy and wears a necklace and earrings valued at a quarter of a million dollars – she is feeling good – she feels every bit a woman – looking forward to this surprise adventure, and for me, delivers the best line in the movie. Travelling down in the lift she turns to Gere and said:

“If I forget to tell you later, I had a great evening”

I am looking forward to a frank and open debate on Scottish independence and how that might be achieved so to all those responsible for making it happen:

If I forget to tell you later, I had a great weekend.

Stay safe

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How short, these long summer days

The morning laundry over, I wheeled my bike out through the common area where the planning department (female residents) were in noisy conversation – they, almost in unison, questioned my sanity about venturing out on a bicycle today.

The little back road down passed the Golf Club Hotel was still closed to traffic, something to do with dismantling the footbridge, so I had to take the A91 onto the cycle track for Guardbridge. The sun burned into my back all the way before I turned off at Edenside for Strathkinness, the combine harvester must have worked long into the evening for fields that yesterday were golden wheat fields, today were long lines of cut straw that had been discarded by this massive monsters, that eat up their prey are an alarming rate.

Today I passed through clouds of small black insects; they stuck to my bare arms and damp face, where they tickled, in a most annoying manner.

Cresting the hill at Strathkinness and turning right I followed the road up and over Knock Hill and dived down into the Eden valley, pulling into the little car park at the Eden Bridge, where I parked my bike and made my way down to the water’s edge. A Willie Wagtail bobbed on the fallen tree lying in the shallow waters, flying off in his bobbing flight at my approach. The waters were low and clear as glass, and bubbling noisily over the pebbled bed of the river, whose waters, were so cool and refreshing on my arms and face, freeing me from the itching little stowaways.

Dura Den was so cool and refreshing, after being out in the heat of the morning. The road follows the little Ceres Burn, which over the centuries has cut a path down through the dell, now heavily wooded giving shade to a grateful cyclist. At the top, I burst out of the shade and into the little village of Pitscottie, which greeted me once more with burning sunlight.

I would normally turn right here onto the B939 and home, but I was feeling good today so carried on climbing on the B940 for Baldinnie and then onto Peat Inn. Just before the village I again turned right passing Drumcarrow Craig and dropping all the way down through Denhead for St Andrews.

Autumn is well and truly on its way, fields that yesterday were standing wheat now harvested. Fields that once were bright yellow oil seed rape, now rustic red and brown, they too will soon fall into the rotating blades of the combined harvester, and their tiny black seeds will then find their way to the mill.

The deep rich greens of the broad leaf trees, their colour already fading. How short, these long summer days.

I have been given my marching orders I have to vacate my home by Sunday so that the workmen can move in unhindered on Monday 26th.  The letter informing me of this, starts, by telling me,

“I am delighted to inform you that the start date for the upgrade works……” Well, I’m glad you are delighted – no apology – no real communications, we get all the inconvenience and noise but Viewpoint are delighted, I’m pleased for them.

I had intended to go up to Inverness and cycle along the coast from Inverness to Fraserburgh, unfortunately, this is the week I am due to attend a three-day event in Dunfermline on Scotland’s Sovereignty making next week a very short week, indeed, too short for my planned trip, still, lots of time to come up with plan B.    

Stay safe.

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Today is a good day

Light rain as I set off on my short daily ride, I can not hope to explain in words how the action of cycling is for me, for it is as natural and necessary as breathing in and out. It is hard to explain the Zen-like quality that comes through the constant rhythmic turning of pedals. There are days when beating into a headwind saps the strength from one’s legs, others when rain, cold as ice, seeps into every nook and cranny, (running out of your arse, as dad would have put it). However, once home, showered and changed, the exhilaration of the ride is doubly felt.

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”

William Shakespeare.

Today was a good day.

Tried out the new cycle top that I received as a present yesterday, I am not a lycra cyclist but it was good to have rear pockets once more for a water bottle and banana, encouraging me to take on a few extra miles today.

There has been a constant stream of large water tankers passing my window over the past week, today cycling into Strathkinness I was held up as one of these tankers was reversing into a farm entrance, Ah so that is where they are taking all this water. The weather has not been such that all the reservoirs in Scotland have dried out so possibly repair work is being carried out cutting off the main water supply. Still, I have to wonder how much of this ‘Very Expensive’ water is being flushed down the loo.

The last day of the Open (I believe) so the many roads that have been closed off to normal traffic will reopen once more. While out cycling I saw helicopters flying in and out of St Andrews, looks as if they are running a shuttle service into Edinburgh airport.

Harvest is almost upon us, fields carpets of flowers from potato and pea fields, the

Bramble flowers have gone so fruit forming on the brambles bushes by the hedgerows, there is nothing like the taste of homemade Bramble jelly – a lot of work gathering, and cooking, separating juice from berry before you can even think about the start of Bramble jelly making, but well worth the effort, there is no taste quite like it in the world, maybe I should try making some this year.

The light rain has sharpened the perfume of the wild rose as I pass something that you will never get passing in a car.   

Yes, this has been a good day.

Stay safe

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I’m not often right!

I never thought the war in Ukraine would happen, I was naive in thinking that wise heads would come together and a treaty would be signed between Ukraine and Russia (brokered by the European Union), that Ukraine would remain neutral and never join NATO (even if it did at some point join the EU) agreeing never to allow foreign bases to be built in their country. This and progress on the Minsk agreement were all the assurances that Russia wanted before the war commenced. A peace so easily gained – so quickly dismissed by NATO (America).

So where are we now, who are the winners and who are the losers?

Well, Ukraine of course is the big loser; this war will go on and on, next comes Europe,

Real GDP growth in both the EU and the euro area is now expected at 2.7% in 2022 and 2.3% in 2023, down from 4.0% and 2.8% (2.7% in the euro area), respectively, in the winter 2022 interim forecast (WiF) 16 May 2022

The euro area annual inflation rate was 8.1% in May 2022, up from 7.4% in April. A year earlier, the rate was 2.0%. European Union annual inflation was 8.8% in May 2022, up from 8.1% in April.17 Jun 2022

And this is whilst they are still able to buy gas and oil from Russia.

The UK now free from the EU (Brexit) still has an umbilical cord to America and Europe so will suffer as badly if not worse, for we no longer have a strong industrial base, the only thing that is keeping the UK afloat is a high oil price, oil revenue from Scottish waters flowing into Westminster coffers.

The UK Gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.3% in April 2022, after a decline of 0.1% in March 2022; UK GDP increased by 0.2% in the three months to April 2022.13 Jun 2022

And you do not have to have a degree in economics to work that one out, we all know how much it costs to fill a tank with petrol or buy food at the local supermarket. Inflation is going now where but up. In its report published alongside today’s Spring Statement, the OBR said it expected CPI inflation to peak at 8.7% in the fourth quarter of 2022. It also forecasted that UK inflation would remain above 7% in each quarter from the second quarter of 2022 until the first quarter of 2023.4 days ago. Changing the Tory leader will do nothing to improve a lot of the ordinary families in the UK.

This leaves America: Consumer prices up 8.6 per cent over year ended May 2022: The Economics Daily: U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics. The government means its official.

So bad is the situation in the west that Biden had to go cap in hand to the Saudi Princes asking them to open up the oil taps to stop runaway inflation? This war in Ukraine has caused more problems for the west than they thought possible. They expected the sanctions they placed on Russia, to kill Russia’s economy stone dead, but the complete opposite is true, as for the midterm elections in America in November, Biden is in real shit and he has not got the boots for it.

What stands out since the war in Ukraine is a seismic shift in power away from the west to the east.

Russia Economists pointed out that a rebound in oil production due to growing domestic demand and a shift to export buyers in Asia has been a big driver for the Russian economy. Gas output was another critical economic engine, fuelling revenue gains on spiking prices, (sorry about the pun).

According to Bloomberg, economists from JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and other big banks are slashing their outlooks for the drop in output this year to as little as 3.5%. Russian officials, some of whom foresaw a contraction of as much as 12%, are updating their forecasts to less than 6%. Look no further than the Russian ruble for a measure of investor confidence. The ruble, which has become the world’s best-performing currency this year, is driven by Russia’s high proceeds from commodity exports, a sharp drop in imports, and a ban on households withdrawing foreign currency savings.

Seasonally adjusted data from the Development Centre at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics showed industrial production in Russia was up 1.7% in May from the previous month. “The break in the contraction in May could be a sign that producers have initially adapted to the shock of anti-Russian sanctions,” the centre said.

What is driving the Russian economy? Countries like China and India now buying from Russia. India has an exploding population growth and they need economic growth to feed their growing population unlike Europe has a high percentage of young people, they were not going down the road of European leaders and cut off their noses to spite their faces and placing sanctions on Russia. 

India will likely reign as the world’s fastest-growing economy, India is expected to grow by 7.1-7.6 per cent in 2022-23 and 6-6.7 per cent in 2023-24. This will ensure that India reigns as the world’s fastest-growing economy over the next few years, driving world growth.

And what of China GDP 2022, Siu: China’s 2022 GDP Growth At 4.8%2 days ago Bloomberg.com

There has always been a split between west and east but this war, and these sanctions placed on Russia have only turned a split into a widening canyon and divided west and east more sharply than ever before.

All America has achieved with its failed foreign policies and economic empire building is to hand the mantel of economic power to the eastern hemisphere, and all the bombs and bullets they send to Ukraine will not change that.

The leaders in Europe must wake up to where this war is taking them, stop the hypocrisy – trade goods, not bullets with Russia – Stop the War.

Stay safe.  

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Dream Potatoes

After many visits to France over the years, it had been my intention to take my boat into the canal system of France and try to find a small piece of land to berth it the boat would then become my live-on-board home. The land would be turned into a small allotment, and the surpluses food sold off the boat’s deck to passing boats. Not really a business but a way of life, sadly life got in my way.

Last spring before I left for Austria, I planted some potatoes in an unused corner of the garden, being outside the old kitchen, where all the drains run, it was an awkward site.

The drills were short but clearly formed potato drills, on my return, the contract maintenance gardeners had levelled the drills and the new shaws chopped off, even before they broke the surface. I raked down and found new shoots starting to sprout, so I raked up the drills again and fenced off the area with string making it clear it was being worked on.

I had little hope of potatoes from the shaws since no flowers came. Today I dug up a couple of shaws for my dinner, the potatoes were like new potatoes with little in the way of skin, the verity planted a French potato.

Dinner today was a bit special, with small boiled potatoes and cauliflower, garnished with butter. The waxy fleshed potatoes were just yummy, for the taste was so much that of the Loire River, flowing slow and majestic, under an intense summer sun that glinted and sparkled like stars upon its surface. Dinner does not come sweeter.  

Stay safe 

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“Why are we always playing catch up?”

By the start of the 19th century, Edinburgh was already disparagingly referred to as Auld Reekie, from the Old Norse word reykr meaning smoke or steam (from where the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, also gets its name). In 1805, Edinburgh’s newly-fledged Police Commissioners has responsibilities for controlling chimney fires in the city. But they were also keenly aware of the issues around air pollution from the smoke these chimneys produced. In 1822 new powers were introduced in Edinburgh to try and combat air pollution. Factory owners were given six months-notice to install methods for consuming internally the smoke they produced rather than emitting it through industrial chimneys. The penalty for noncompliance was set at £50, about £5000 in modern value.

I have written extensively over the years about the bad policy that the EU has adopted e.g. – exchanging the burning of coal in favour of wood. Large subsidies are paid out to the biomass companies. The vast forests, once part of the Soviet Union and now under EU member’s control, would no longer be managed but clear felled, for-profit and help, in the short term, massage government figures to show their green credentials, and not too save the planet from global warming. So what was once a carbon sink is now a desert. Of course, the plan was always that the owners of the land would replant, but once the forests had gone there was no real commitment to replant, why to spend money planting trees when it cannot possibly profit the landowner, trees take time to grow.  

Nowadays, whilst things have undoubtedly improved, air pollution remains a major killer. Specifically, there are concerns around the levels of the fine particular matter in our atmosphere. The smallest particles, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (usually abbreviated as PM2.5 pollution), are the most harmful and most concerning. PM2.5 pollution produces multiple adverse effects on the human body – heart attacks, strokes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression and dementia. At present more than one-third of all UK local authority areas are recording PM2.5 levels above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended safe upper limit. In 2018, 33,000 deaths in the UK were attributed to air pollution. Think of the cost to the NHS.

Worldwide air pollution accounts for 1 in 5 premature deaths and, in 2018, it is estimated that PM2.5 pollution killed almost 9 million people across the globe. Everyone is now aware of the impact of diesel engines on the production of PM2.5 pollution.

So was the EU right to change from coal to wood?

The growth in the sale and installation of wood-burning stoves accelerated over the two last decades. As such, they have now become a major source of PM2.5 air pollution both within our homes and in the external atmosphere. In New Zealand, despite the presence of the strictest wood stove standards in the world, it is estimated that. Wood burning stoves account for over half the health costs of all man-made air pollution.

In the UK, PM2.5 air pollution from stoves is thought to be responsible for 38% of lethal air pollution. Wood smoke contains a similar toxic and carcinogenic chemical cocktail to tobacco smoke and it is estimated that a wood-burning stove will increase internal air pollution in a home by as much as three times. All this led to a joint statement from the British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK in December 2020:

“To protect yourself and others, especially children, avoid buying a wood burning stove, or using an open fire.”

Today we see a change of heart –  Late Tuesday in Brussels, a committee of the European Parliament voted to make substantial changes to both how the union subsidizes biomass, and how it counts emissions from burning it — policies with major consequences if passed by the full Parliament. It’s part of a broad package of climate policies that would alter not only the way Europe generates electricity in coming years but also how the European Union meets its targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

“This vote is a historic breakthrough,” said Martin Pigeon, forests and climate campaigner with Fern, a nonprofit group focused on European forests.

“For the first time, a major E.U. regulatory body makes clear that one of the E.U.’s most climate-wrecking policies of the last decade, incentivizing the burning of forests in the name of renewable energy, has to stop.”

But my question to the lawmakers is this:

“Why are we always playing catch up? Why are we always trying to find cures for the symptoms and not for the disease?”

We know the causes of global warming and have done for at least a century, yet still today we spend billions trying to mitigate the symptoms and not eliminating the cause.

Stupid is what stupid does.

Stay safe.   

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Stranger and Stranger

There is a lot of information coming together at this time that is disturbing for me.

This morning I was reading how one writer believes our parliament in Scotland is working, not unlike that in Stalin’s Russia, and he sets out very clearly why.

I received an e-mail today from Paul Lewis, Head of Investigations at the Guardian, who tells me they are investigating Uber’s astonishing rise, using material furnished by a whistleblower.

“The data showed the extraordinary lengths Emmanuel Macron went to in order to help Uber’s lobbyist in France. It showed how the company secretly hired a political operative linked to Russian oligarchs, despite concerns that paying the lobbyist risked bribes being paid to “grease the skids”. There were countless other revelations relating to the EU, UK, US, Canada, Germany, Spain, Finland, Hungary and India.”

Elsewhere I read: “Will the job skills we possess now have any relevance in a decade’s time?” scary stuff.   

Robert Watson – about American politics, writes:

“Public trust in government remains low, as it has for much of the 21st century. Only two-in-ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (19%). Trust in the government had declined somewhat since last year when 24% said they could trust the government at least most of the time.

The data clearly points to a disconnect between those who govern and the governed. If you wonder why those in political power were panicked by the January 6, 2021 ruckus. Our glorious leaders carry an omnipresent and rightful fear of “we the people.”

Robert, reminded me of a book I read, originally published in 1849, as “Resistance to Civil Government” by Henry David Thoreau, so I dug it out and the first lines tell us:

“I heartily accept the motto, – “That government is best which governs least;” …… The objections which have been brought against a standing army, may also at least be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode with which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.”

Today in Britain the media is obsessed with the Tory party leadership contest, a contest that has little to do with the viewing public, for it is something they have no control over, so only gives the illusion that we live in a democracy.

Robert asked us: How does a very unpopular government stay in power?

Let me suggest sending checks to families. The federal government now pays monthly checks to about 88 per cent of children in America through the Child Tax Credit (CTC) program. Under the American Rescue Plan of 2021, advance payments of up to half the 2021 Child Tax Credit were sent to eligible taxpayers. 

Before the new CTC, only 28 per cent of the population lived in a household where the federal government paid monthly checks primarily to elderly and disabled people through the Social Security (SS) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Now, it is 65 per cent.

What do we see here at home in Scotland the Green party bribed by bags of sweeties to prop up the council in Glasgow and even bigger bags of sweeties from Nicola Sturgeon to pass her government’s budgets?

Where does the voting public fit in?

Westminster, promising tax cuts, money off your next fuel bill, once more the Tory party have found the “horn of plenty” when:

“Our glorious leaders carry an omnipresent and rightful fear of “we the people.”

The Westminster governments (of whatever colour) still use these tried and tested tactics – like Margaret Thatcher, whom they hold in such high esteem, she gave us our council homes at give-away prices in her garage sale, as she, like a conjurer who diverts our attention from their sleight of hand, – stole the family silver.

Changing the leader of the Tory party in Britain is like changing the deckchairs on the Titanic, it will change nothing. The democracy we see in Braitain is only an illusion of democracy.

Stay safe.                                                                                                                           

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A good time to bury bad news

When the media is looking the other way, they say, this is the best time for governments to push through legislation that would never be supported by the opposition parties. There seems to be a lot of looking the other way when it comes to what NATO is up to.

When President Trump announced that he was considering pulling out of NATO and the President of France called NATO ‘brain dead’ it must have set alarm bells ringing on the Hill. NATO is for all intent and purpose America’s instrument of control over world markets.

In Ian Martin’s book ‘All Necessary Measures? The United Nations and International Intervention in Libya show there was clear mission creep towards working for ‘regime change’ and that NATO’s arguments that its support for the rebels’ attacks on Tripoli, and after the fall, on Sirte and Bani Walid, were necessary to protect civilians are unconvincing. Later we had Declassified UK documents that told what Martin had always suspected that NATO members did have ‘Boots on the Ground’ – we still do not know what they were doing there – what we do know is that bilateral military operations, including deployment to Libya of covert special forces by Western and Gulf states, did take place.

The political establishment in London and Washington continue their propaganda the ideas of ‘Liberal Interventionism’ discredited after the 2003 war on Iraq, and then used to increase military spending into the coffers of a seemingly never-ending NATO expansion.  

It is also worth pointing out that the wars in Libya and Iraq were deeply unpopular here in Britain – but Blair (PM of the then Labour government) went ahead anyway, making a mockery to legitimise NATO expansion under the banners of defence and DEMOCRACY.  Libya is home to Africa’s largest oil reserves and the tenth-largest reserves in the world, yet decades after the war, Libya’s people live in misery. In May 2022 Al Jazeera carried the following headlines online about Libya – “Slavery, rape, torture”: Libya threatened by foreign fighters, “Could Libya return to civil war?”

The cold war divided former wartime allies, the US, Britain, the Soviet Union and China. Now Western US-led powers and Their Soviet counterparts. From Cold War to Hot War, in Korea, in Vietnam and across Indochina, America’s answer was to set up an Asian NATO, but obstacles lay in their path. Australia still was uneasy over linking up with Japan after WW2. Japan’s military was constrained by Article 9 of its constitution, and then we had so many South-East Asian states wishing to gain independence.

In 1997 Zbigniew Brzezinski (US national security advisor) warned against the emergence of a hostile coalition across Eurasia, involving Germany, Russia and China, this could challenge US primacy.

2011 saw the establishment of Obama’s ‘Asian pivot’ that introduced freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Following this, Trump declared China a strategic competitor, initiating the Quad which drew India into a new alliance-type network with Australia, Japan and the US.

In 2020 the links across Eurasia gathered momentum. China had consolidated its position as the economic heart of the continent with agreements on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia, which included China, South Korea, Japan and ASEAN, and with the EU also about to sign a major investment deal, Brzezinski’s warning of 1997 was once more ringing loud and clear in Washington.

The hawks were ready to strike back. The then US Secretary of state, Mike Pompeo launched the New Cold War in the summer of 2020 followed by Biden’s declaration in September 2021 of AUKUS – NATO formed the union between Australia, the UK, and the US.

NATO has been expanding in Asia since 2012 with its “Partnerships for Peace” programme drawing in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Mongolia.  Already parallels were being drawn by the US and West between Russian action in Ukraine and China’s in the South China Sea. At the 2019 NATO summit, Pompeo raised China ‘Threat’ and in 2021 the NATO 2030 document widened its remit to include the Indo-Pacific, promoting a strategy of “Russia first then China”

The US support for Ukraine is not just about Russia, or even the security of Europe, but much about the US global battle for global supremacy over trade. Three months into the Ukraine war and Anthony Blinken, (US Secretary of State) said, “We will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order- and that’s posed by the People’s Republic of China”.

The war (instigated by the US) in Ukraine has taken a dying, past its sell-by date NATO and turned it into a global threat to world peace, as country after country sign up to pay into its coffers, allowing it to expand its tentacles of influence – not only over Europe – but the wider world. AUKUS is the core of a regional ‘hybrid warfare’ network, covering diplomacy, intelligence sharing, media narratives, supply chains and on and on. This will bring the region under US direction, (just as it has in Europe) a new level of cooperation in military technologies, quantum computing, and digital technologies.

All will be accompanied by arms sales and coordination on sanctions, AUKUS is designed to secure US dominance over East Asia’s future growth in the support of US competition at the cutting edge of new technologies.

I believe Europe is sleepwalking into a world war scenario by looking too close to home – the Ukrainian War.

Stay safe.    

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NATO – Our Enemy

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact should have ushered in a time of peace, but the debate at the time was about how to respond. Some were for closer relations with post-Soviet Russia, reduction in arms spending and the benefits of a peace dividend, however, this would create a problem for the US. The spin had always been that NATO had defended the West against the Soviet Union but in reality, NATO had been crucial in providing the US with a bridgehead to Europe and Asia and imposing US leadership of the Western alliance.

Zbigniew Brzezinski then advisor to US President Clinton summed up the US’s three priorities as:

“to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence amongst eh vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected and to keep the barbarians from coming together” by barbarians he meant Russia and China. It is clear that the US needed NATO to ensure US influence in Europe and to contain competitors.

The new thinking was spelt out in a Pentagon strategy document in 1992:

‘Our primary objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the old Soviet Union or elsewhere… the new strategy requires that we work to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would be sufficient, if tightly controlled, to generated global power.’

This was only a year after the Warsaw Pack fell apart and James Baker (US Secretary of State) assured Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move East of Germany. ‘NATO will not extend by a single inch to the East’ he promised. Hollow words, as it turned out, NATO expanded to incorporate its first three former Warsaw Pack countries – Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, a month before its 1999 attack on Serbia.

In 2004, seven other Baltic states, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania followed, and by 2019, thirteen Eastern European and Balkan countries had joined NATO, even more, were candidates for membership and twelve new NATO  bases had been built east of Germany taking NATO  right up to the border of Russia.

In 1992 the European Union Maastricht Treaty enshrined the right of EU states to be part of NATO and defined NATO as the foundation of defence of the EU – in effect it tied the EU to the US and the further expansion of the Western military alliance and in the process, opened up Easter Europe to Western business, further alienated Russia.

The 2014 crisis in Ukraine was the fruit of NATO’s push eastward. With NATO’s influence in the region, Ukraine’s President, Kuchma signed a NATO-Ukraine Action Plan and committed to joining NATO in 2002. his successor President Yushchenko was invited to the Brussels NATO  summit in 2005 and the 2008 NATO  summit gave the green light to Ukraine’s entry into the NATO club. However, the plan was scuppered in 2010 when the newly elected president Yanukovych signalled he had no intention of joining the Alliance.  

NATO by this time had developed close links with parts of the Ukrainian military, (we know that the CIA and FBI were working in the country at that time) and when the anti-government demonstrations started in early 2014, used as a pretext for NATO  to reassert its influence.

In 2014 NATO increased pressure on Russia. At the summit in Wales, they announced the ‘Readiness Action Plan’ to respond quickly and firmly to any new challenges’ created by ‘military aggression of Russia against Ukraine’. From 2014-2018 the US spent ten billion dollars on increasing the US and NATO  firepower in the region. US forces were stationed permanently on Polish territory and massive military exercises were conducted in the Baltic states – Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine – which are now effectively integrated into NATO operations.

The day after my 80th birthday Russia crossed the border into Ukraine the ensuing war has caused massive suffering and destruction. There is in my mind no justification for ANY war, however, it is crucial to understand that NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe was one of the causes of the war.

What was Putin playing at?

In a statement made by President Putin, he said the initial aim was to ‘demilitarise and denazify’ Ukraine. He did not say that Ukraine should have no military capacity at all but removed any possibility of Ukraine posing a military threat to Russia, or allowing itself to be used by others with that in mind (joining NATO). Denazify, is more a propaganda word- yes there are indeed Nazis in Ukraine, some of them embedded within the state apparatus, but they hardly dominate political life.

There has been much speculation as to why Putin ordered the invasion when he did. Did he simply run out of patience with the failure of the Kyiv government to honour the Minsk agreement on resolving the Donbas crisis?  Certainly, Zelensky’s persecution of pro-Russian politicians and media was foreclosing his political options and making military action the only remaining means to secure his objectives. Putin had marched his army up the hill what was he to do with them, march them down again – was he to withdraw his forces from the border – withdraw with his demands unmet, no this would have been unthinkable – humiliating.  

Putin’s invasion was ‘worse than a crime it was a blunder’ whatever the final outcome on the field of battle the resolution of this war seems likely to be deeply damaging to Russia. The integration of Finland and Sweden into NATO is only the down–payment.

Russia could not tolerate Ukraine becoming another NATO base, a direct threat to its only warm water port and the Black Sea its only access to the Mediterranean Sea, much as the USA would not tolerate a hostile Mexico, or Mexico forming a military pact with China, it could be said, true. But if the US was then to invade its southern neighbour would we say ‘fair enough?

Unjustified, however, does not mean unprovoked.

Stay safe.

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Ukraine another Groundhog Day

It was the day after my 80th birthday 24th February 2022 that the first Russian soldiers crossed the border into Ukraine.

So predictable so preventable,

Like every war before this one the euphoria of war was palpable, young and old, men and women, appeared before the cameras to tell the world how they would fight the invaders and free their country.

Figures ranging from 7.4 to 8 million people 17 per cent of the entire population of Ukraine have fled their homes into neighbouring countries, many now widowed, and children orphaned, now living off the charity of others, and handouts from food banks. They will see as we do the pictures of cities razed to the ground, cities that were once their home, their homeland in flames, they must now wonder if they will ever be able to return, would they want to? I’m sure so many of them must be asking themselves now WHY?

Do these people now look back to the American led coup of 2014, the stirring up by the CIA and FBI of far-right factions in the country, the civil war that raged in the east of Ukraine for 8 years, the fires of war stocked by American weapons pouring into the country?

Liberating Afghanistan

The people there are dead because we wanted them dead.

Pentagon spokesperson on the bombing of a village that killed 93 civilians.

Kabul today has contours of rubble rather than streets where people live in bombed-out buildings, and children play in the rubble of what remains of its once-famous art deco cinema. A poster warns of cluster bombs ‘yellow and from the USA’ are in the vicinity, yet people are still being disfigured, still suffering lost limbs having confused the cluster canisters for yellow relief packages that were dropped by American planes in October 2001, after the invading ‘Coalition’ had stopped relief convoys crossing from Pakistan. Why then is the poster is not heeded – the people can not read.

The number of civilians killed directly by the post-September 11 bombings and  invasion of Afghanistan is estimated at between thirteen hundred and eight thousand as many as twenty thousand Afghanis may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence, wrote Jonathan Steele in an investigation for the Guardian

‘The bombing caused massive dislocation by prompting hundreds of Afghans to flee their homes. It stopped aid supplies to drought victims who depended on emergency relief. It provoked an upsurge in fighting leading yet more people to flee, they, too, become the tally of the dead.’

Only the dead know an end to war.

The war in Afghanistan was well documented at the time, now it slips into history, and the lessons of the past have not been learned. The mujahedin, whose guerrilla army was effectively created by America in the 1980s as an instrument of the Cold War, As the Bush administration prepared to attack Afghanistan in the wake of the September Twin Towers to Saudi Arabians – CIA agents secretly met their old clients on the border with Pakistan and handed them millions of dollars in cash.

‘We were reaching out to every commander that we could’ a CIA official told the Wall Street Journal.

By reaching out, he meant bribing them to stop fighting each other and instead fight the Taliban. In his semi-official history, the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward reports that the CIA spent $70 million in bribes. He describes a meeting between a CIA agent known as Gary and a warlord called Amniat-Melli:

Gary placed a bundle of cash on the table: $500,000 in ten one-foot stacks of $100 bills. He believed it would be more impressive than the usual $200,000, the best way to say we’re here, we’re serious, here’s money, we know you need it…. Gary would soon ask CIA headquarters for and receive $10 million in cash.

The problem with the PDPA government for Washington was it was supported by the Soviet Union. At Brzezinski’s urging and unknown to the American public and Congress, President Carter authorised $500 million to fund and arm the mujahedin: in effect, to set up what the Americans would now describe as a terrorist organisation. The aim was to overthrow the Afghan government and draw the Soviets into Afghanistan. In an interview in 1998, Brzezinski said:

According to the official view of history, CIA aid to the mujahedin began in 1980, that is, after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on 24 December 1979. but the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was on 3 July 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion, this aid was going to provoke a Soviet military intervention … We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.   

Brzezinski was asked if, having seen the consequences, he had any regrets. ‘Regret what?’ he replied.

The secret operation was an excellent idea. It has the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap …. The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: ‘We now have the opportunity to give the USSR its Vietnam War.’ Indeed, for almost ten years, Moscow has o carry on a conflict that brought about the demoralisation and finally the break-u of the Soviet empire.

For seventeen years, the US deliberately cultivated an extremist against which it would later proclaim a ‘war on terror. ‘Central to the US-sponsored operation’ wrote Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed in The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism

Was the attempt to manufacture an extremist religious ideology by amalgamating local Afghan feudal traditions which Islamic rhetoric… The extremist religious ‘jihad’ ideology cultivated in CIA-sponsored training programs was interspersed with tribal norms, giving rise to a distinctly distorted system of war values garbed with ‘Islamic’ jargon … Amongst the myriad of polices designed to generate the desired level of extremism, the US-funded – to the tune of millions of dollars – the production and distribution in Afghanistan of School textbooks promoting murder and fanaticism.  

It is well documented what went on in Latin America at the hands of the United States of America in their attempt to control (by regime change) the governments therefore the rich resources of Latin American countries. It is well documented what went on in Afghanistan, at the hands of the United States of America, a proxy-war, to draw the then USSR into as it was put, their Vietnam. Later using the same people they had used to draw the USSR into a war they never wished to become involved in, and then utilising the same people (now terrorists) to justify America’s invasion of Afghanistan. (Their second Vietnam is it turned out).

Now here again we see America fighting a proxy-war in Ukraine, once more drawing

Into a war, not of their own choosing. A war that is leaving a trail of  destruction in their wake, displacing millions and turning them into refugees. Forcing hardship on neighbouring countries, and trashing economies across Europe.

I have to wonder if the people we saw on our television screens, still feel it was all worth it or if given the chance to rewind time, would now choose to trade goods and resources with Russia rather than bullets and bombs? (Supplied of course by their friends in the US)

Stay safe.

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“WE BROKE ARMAGH, IT NEVER BROKE US” – IRISH REPUBLICAN WOMEN

This was the heading of a blog that popped into my inbox today. Manna, from heaven, since I had just written an antiwar piece about the struggles of Latin American countries to free themselves from a bullying neighbour, The United States of America.

I was privileged to attend a Christy Moor concert in Edinburgh, years ago now, it was a strange experience. I had listened to his recordings over the years, however, this would be the first time I would have the opportunity to hear him live in concert.

The warm-up artist was performing to a sparse audience and was not very well received. At the interval I felt that I had been instantly transported to Dublin, the hall quickly filled up with exuberant Irish men and women most were totting a large glass of a dark liquid drink reputed to be popular with the Irish.

It was the time of the Armagh Women and Christy sang a song about the injustices these women were suffering in prison,

“When women hold a naked woman face down on the floor without trial or jury, she is a prisoner of war.”

Well, the theatre erupted. War has many guises, for the struggle still goes on; even today here in this country, we are still trying to escape empires and our imperial masters. The injustices such empires (the UK, The United States, and an ever-growing empire of the EU) imposing their will on other nations and individuals (think Julian Assange, think Gauntanimo) the sanctions imposed on Russia, and today we hear of their failed attempt to impose sanctions on North Korea. Thank God for heroes – leaders in Russia, China, and Hungary that stand for democracy, not imperial threats.

Here is the blog that made me climb onto my soapbox.

“WE BROKE ARMAGH, IT NEVER BROKE US” – IRISH REPUBLICAN WOMEN

“When young women were imprisoned throughout the conflict, in this state, in Britain and in the six counties, they knew they were walking in the footsteps of the women of 1916. We were republicans in the mould of Markievicz. We were what we were. We are what we are. Unashamed, unrepentant republicans; to this day and forever on.”SÍLE DARRAGH

The experience of women during the Troubles has often been overlooked, especially those connected to Armagh Gaol
Now empty, it was the only female prison in Northern Ireland until it closed in 1986. The number of female political prisoners grew from 2 in 1971 to more than 100 by 1976; hundreds of women, most aged from mid-teens to mid-twenties,
were jailed in the 1970s and 1980s for political offences.

1 January 1973: – Elizabeth McKee (19) of Belfast became the first woman to be detained under the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Act

No charge. No trial. Indefinite imprisonment.

32 other women including Teresa Holland, Margaret Shannon and Anne Walsh were soon to join Elizabeth.

Republican women prisoners endured horrific abuse and violence and yet acknowledgement of that experience has been marginalised as have the unbearable pain and tremendous courage of mothers who were imprisoned.
When the final key turned on history many will never forget the stories of these prisoners seemed destined to remain unheard and unseen.
In the Footsteps of Anne
fills the gap by describing how young girls, married women, pregnant women and even grandmothers withstood horrific abuse and stood up to the British system which aimed at breaking them for over 30 years. Eileen Hickey,
OC of the women prisoners from 1973-77, started compiling the inside stories from the women themselves over 10 years ago with the help of her sister Mary.
Many ex-prisoners were reluctant to collaborate some because they did not want to re-live bad memories, others because they had put the past behind them.
All the women who told their stories remembered some of the worst times, the inhumanity and petty vindictiveness and the incredibly strong bonds forged among the women in prison.


Mariea McClenaghan Williams (Armagh 1973) said “The comradeship between us all was fantastic. Many of us are still great friends, that bond we had will never leave us“


North Belfast republican Mary Doyle was first sent to Armagh women’s jail for republican activities in May 1974 when she was 18 years old.
“Armagh Jail was an old Victorian building. It was freezing. It wasn’t pleasant. The conditions when we were slopping out were grim and not something you thought you could ever get used to. But when your back is against the wall, you get the strength from somewhere. And republicans, we just get on with it. We always have.”


Many recalled where their cells had been, and who their cellmates were. They remembered the protests and they remembered the beatings at the hands of the screws.
Here’s why some women ended up in Armagh gaol
Anne Larkin McCay was arrested at Easter time in 1967 for selling
Easter lilies in Ardoyne (a staunchly Republican area in North Belfast).
In 1971 Margaret Boyd Gatt was sentenced to 6 months for wearing
a parka jacket and carrying a hurling stick – “conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace”
32 women were interned without trial – no charge, no sentence, indefinite imprisonment
For example, Ann Walsh O’Neill was interned in March 1973, Ann Doherty in June of the same year and Anne-Marie Williams in August.
Here are memories of Armagh Gaol from one prison officer, two Open University tutors, one loyalist prisoner and three republican prisoners.

Marie Doherty went into prison as the protest by republican prisoners was escalating.
“I was arrested in February 1977 and when I went into jail the political status had gone at that stage,” she said.
“About six months after I was sentenced a shout went up one evening that there was chicken for dinner which was unusual because we never had chicken on a Tuesday. We all rushed down to the canteen and while we were there the screws moved in and penned us in and others went to search the cells. A riot broke out and we were all locked up for three days continuously with no access to toilet or washing facilities. That was the start of the no-wash protest.
Una Nellis says she went off the protest and felt really guilty and bad about leaving her comrades at that time in those conditions. She had a breakdown and ended up on so many different drugs, not realizing the damage they were doing to her.
“I still suffer from mental illness but it does not wreck my life. I do not think I would have suffered from this if it had not been for the conditions in Armagh gaol”
“I still have flashbacks as I am sure others do even though it is 30 years later. I’m still on heavy medication”
“There’s an awful lot of men and women suffering and they try to hide it as I do but our story should be told”.
Republican prisoners in Armagh had close links with the men in Long Kesh.
“There wasn’t a woman in Armagh who wasn’t writing to at least one man in Long Kesh. I shared a cell with the fiancee of Tom McElwee for three years and it was awful watching her, knowing that he was going on hunger strike.
“We knew the first four who were going on and she knew at that stage that Tom’s name was on the list. For her, it was not just being separated from him but she also knew what he was going through in Long Kesh”.
Thomas McElwee started his Hunger Strike in the H-Blocks on 8 June 1981. He died on 8 August 1981.
The 10 hunger strikers who died (clockwise from top left) – Raymond McCreesh, Thomas McElwee, Bobby Sands, Patsy O’Hara, Kevin Lynch, Joe McDonnell, Francis Hughes, Michael Devine, Martin Hurson and Kieran Doherty. (Photograph: Pat Langan: PA)
“I remember going to the funerals after they died. The thing that sticks out most in my mind was the funeral of Tom McElwee”.
“I remember seeing his sisters carrying his coffin. That was the first time I had ever seen a woman carrying a coffin, it just wasn’t done back then. That sticks out in my mind. It was his sisters telling the world that they were proud of their brother and what he had done. When I think of Tom McElwee that is what I think of,”
Jennifer McCann is a Sinn Fein politician who is a member of the Stormont Assembly.
She was sentenced to 20 years for terrorist offences.

In her time as a Republican prisoner, she and her colleagues refused to work which meant they were locked up in their cells for most of the day.
“We were let out for a short time to wash and to empty our chamber pots in the mornings. We ate in our cells and we got an hour’s exercise in the afternoons and we were allowed a small period of time for association in the evenings but not at the weekends. We lost a day’s remission for every day we wouldn’t work,”
Jennifer McCann clearly remembers hearing that Bobby Sands had died on hunger strike in the Maze in 1981.
“There used to be heating pipes which ran through the cells. We had smuggled in small crystallised radios”
“which were made on the outside and I passed on the news that he had died.”
Mary Mc Conville

In October 2009, a group of internees and sentenced prisoners began a journey to Armagh Gaol that some of them had only made once before, but which their families had made many times during their years of incarceration.
At the end of the visit, the women were in the courtyard. I pointed out an intact window to Pauline Derry.

“Be a shame to go without leaving your mark,” I said as I handed her a rock.
The other 20 women also intended to “leave their mark.” As the hail of rocks began to sail through the air I heard
“Ye couldn’t break us then and you’ll never break us now.”
“Here’s what we think of your strip searches.”
“We were political prisoners no matter what you all said.”
“Where’s Thatcher now?”
“Armagh thought it would break us – well we’ve broken Armagh.”

In the Footsteps of Anne
is published by Shanway Press, 1-5 Eia Belfast. info@shanway.com
The copyright belongs to the women ex-POWs who submitted their stories.
Eileen Hickey also started an independent museum which is housed in the Conway Mill, Belfast.

Her main hope was that the museum would provide visitors with an insight into “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland and an understanding of why so many young men and women joined the Republican movement.

I have not written much in the way of blogs since my return, but have been writing, It has been a strange time for me since my return from Europe, my adventure seems to have turned me into something of a hero amongst my neighbours, something akin to having won a gold medal at the Olympics. The garden has been my main source of entertainment over the past few weeks, a busy time for gardeners. Still, I have not neglected my cycling I go out each morning for a bit of exercise, but the big problem has been the wind; a struggle some days. Still, I’m feeling strong and thinking seriously about a trip to Holland for a few days.   

Lavender Blue Dilly Daily

Leeks, cabbage and cauliflower.

Stay safe

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The War in Ukraine

I normally follow Iain Lawson’s blog “Yes for Scotland” but from time to time he has been beating his Russia Bad drum, about the war, and I felt I had to take issue with him over the war in Ukraine.

I have just returned from a four week trip across Europe and I can assure you that you are as wrong as you can be about the war in Ukraine being anything other than America wishing to save NATO and her arms industry. There is no solidarity across Europe for inflaming this situation by shipping in more and more arms, simply pouring petrol on a fire, and continuing America’s proxy war, a proxy war of America’s making, and even now considering sending warships into the Black Sea is a recipe for disaster. A war that was so predictable and so preventable

Yes, it is easy to get all patriotic about one side or the other in any conflict but no matter who is wrong and who is right, war is and always will be a crime against humanity, and anyone supporting war, to my mind, is a war criminal.

We need to stop this one-sided propaganda on our media and replace it with a much needed international diplomatic effort to stop this carnage, get around a table and sort this out not this constant spouting ‘Russia Bad’ that is being pumped out daily by the American and British media (one and the same).

I was born during the Second World War, throughout my life I had witnessed countless wars around the world and all have the same outcome, hundreds of thousands of men women and children killed, cities razed to the ground, economies trashed, and people thrown into poverty, and the growth of refugee camps, many the size of small cities, expanding across the world, there is no upside to war.

Since 1945 the United States has attempted to overthrow 50 governments, many of them democracies. In the process, 30 countries have been attacked and bombed.

In Latin America, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Granada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Then we had Suez, Yemen, the Falkland Islands, the war in Croatia, Egypt, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan, spilling over into Pakistan. Now we have a repeat performance in Yemen, and last but by no means least, Ukraine, and behind them all supplying the bullets, mostly for someone else to fire, the United States of America, 68 per cent of all armaments sold across the world comes from America.

Are the lives and dreams of the ordinary people of Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Yemen, or the people of Vietnam or Palestine worth only a few lines on the news?  


Sorry Iain, but anyone that believes that fuelling, this war in Ukraine by pouring more and more deadly weapons into the country, sending warships into the Black Sea to provoke and challenge the Russian fleet, will do anything other than spreading this evil, out with Ukraine that could so easily escalate rapidly across the world, is blinkered.

There is great danger in your thinking, for that may well lead us into a third world war, (possibly nuclear war, and everyone knows where that will lead humanity), if they don’t, they have been dropped on their head as a baby.

Oh, it is very laudable to say “I don’t believe in war”

If you truly believe that then you should be working for peace not writing some blog on who you believe is the victim and who is the bully, War is a Crime against Humanity – full stop.

Think The National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, It has a special place in the struggle for freedom and democracy throughout Latin America today in America they still have secret sites the most notorious being Guantanamo.  

(George W Bush) told the world,

“America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling our goal instead is to help others to find their own voice attain their own freedom and make their own way” just so long as it goes along with the wants and needs of America.

Richard Nixon when the president said this of Latin America,

“People don’t give a shit about the place”

He was wrong, the grand design of the United States as a modern empire was drawn on the hope of an entire continent, known contemptuously as “The back yard” America saw it as useful or expendable, but the people fought back and reclaimed words like ‘Democracy’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Liberation, ‘Justice’ and in doing so, they defended the most basic human rights of all of us in a war waged against all of us.

History explains why we in the West know a lot about the crimes of others and almost nothing about our own. The missing word is Empire. The existence of an American empire is rarely acknowledged or it is hidden behind jingoism that celebrates war and an arrogance that says no country has the right to go its own way unless that way coincides with the interests of the United States.

Stay safe.

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I think I may be Pregnant!

Wednesday and my first day out on the bike since my return, and oh, was it a joy. I have no idea where the other days have gone, just so much to catch up with.

First the garden, I had planted three drills of potatoes, could not have been mistaken for anything other, yet when I returned the ground had been flattened. I poked around and the potatoes were still there, but the young shaws were broken off. Thankfully there are enough eyes that they will come back and are now covered with flees.

My rhubarb root is nowhere to be seen and the wallflower have be dug up and lying in trays, looking very sad and near dead.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair – Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme? The herb garden was planted up before I went away (they would not have survived on my windowsills) and, covered with flees, they have been a big success most of the young plants have taken.

I prepared the ground in the little wooded area and planted up the woodland seeds, they are a mixed bag and as ever we travel hopefully that they come to something.

This afternoon I will try to save some of the wallflowers, this would have been their second summer and just coming into flower, for the first time, what a show they will make.

The daffodils have put on a fine display over the springtime, and now at the stage of deadheading, a gardener’s work is never-ending, and in there lies the pleasure.

I have had an almighty craving for food since my return, not food-food by mince and tatties, stovies, and I have been baking Soda Scones again.

(When I lived on board my boat or on long trips, I would bake soda bread, and I still like to bake it from time to time, but mostly it is in the form of scones that I cook in the frying pan.)

Lately, the house has been reeking of cauliflower, my favourite vegetable, covered in lashings of homemade cheese sauce; the craving is such that I’m sure I must be pregnant.

I have had little time to weary or plan future trips, but as the summer begs me outdoors, I’m sure there will be a trip waiting just around the corner.

Yesterday was History, tomorrow will be the Future, today is a gift – and why we call it The Present.

Stay safe. 

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We Get Requests

It’s been very interesting following your journey, Walter, and your thoughts.  Perhaps you can send a condensed piece for the Gazette, with the highlights of the journey and a couple of photographs. 500 or 600 words would be about right. 

This was the contents of an e-mail sent to me by Roger Alma, editor of the ‘Gazette’ the magazine of the Tricycle Association.

The places I visited over the month were London, Paris, the Black Forrest, Salzburg, Munchen, Ravensburg, Passau, and finally Wien.

I travelled with my folding bike, using it mostly to get around the cities I visited, or on occasion to go outside the city to see some attraction nearby, I only covered 763K over the whole time I was away.

My quarters were in the main Backpackers or Youth Hostel establishments, and have to add that the standard of such establishments is top end, even backpackers, demand it these days, no more given a cleaning job to do before leaving the YH. Although most include breakfast, I also carried my camp stove for I still like to rustle up meals for myself, and of course tea, I do get withdrawal symptoms (headaches) if I miss out on my daily fix.

If you have never been to Europe on a cycling trip, the first thing that grabs you is the extensive cycle free paths there are all over Europe and throughout every city, and none to of this “Share with Care” crap, these are proper cycle free roads, pedestrians have their own (pavements) and motorists their own (roads) supper safe.

At the risk of teaching granny to suck eggs. We of a certain age will remember the days of the big CTC – Café to Café (sorry cycle touring club) ride-outs on Sundays, so will know that bicycles are only efficient when they get up a bit of speed, momentum. We were taught to pedal at a cadence of around 70rpm (around 10mph) and use our gears to maintain that cadence. Therefore, cycle only paths are essential if we are to get people using bikes to commute and out of their cars, put in the infrastructure and people will use it, you see it all over Europe. Sadly the ones making such decisions on our behalf, the last time they were on a bike it had stabilizers.

What did I learn from the trip? If I were doing it over (a big city tour rather than a cycling holiday) I would not take my bike, there are bikes for hire in every city, mostly they are e-bikes at 10 cents a minute, and you can cover a lot of ground for a euro. For the young the e-scooters seem to be their chosen means of transport, they certainly cover the ground on them. Both are picked up and dropped off anywhere.

Cities are big and noisy places and I had to escape out and into the countryside from time to time, again the cycle paths (narrow tarmac roads, mostly running alongside the main roads).

What were the highlights, (apart that is from the friendliness I found all over, especially in YH/backpackers hostels)? Without a doubt the Black Forrest, then I have always been known as a hill climber rather than a sprinter.

The Black Forrest is of course the source of the River Danube, and why I originally decided to go there. Arriving on April Fools Day, as I climbed higher into the mountains I hit the snow line, and arriving in Salzburg a few days later, I again ran into snow may be best to leave later in the season, however, the temperature soon rose rapidly over the month of April, and I believe I only had three days of rain after leaving Salzburg.

What next, well I would wish to go back and revisit some of these places as a one-off trip, Salzburg to travel around the lakes that surround the city.

Passau, just so much to do there, you can cycle for mile after mile along the banks of the Inn (one of the three rivers that come together at this point), all of course on traffic-free cycle paths.

At many of the backpackers you can sign up for a free guided tour of the city, and don’t worry about language, on all tours you will be given earphones to wear that translate for you, anyway, the Germans speak better English than I will ever achieve.DSCN1076.JPG
DSCN1400.JPG
DSCN1182.JPG

As ever stay safe.

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Home is the Sailor from the sea and the Hunter from the Hills.

I arrived home just before noon on Sunday 24th of April. I decided in Vienna that it was time to head home, and then disaster struck. I put my card in a hole in the wall and the sun was so bright that I could not make out what I was supposed to do, maybe I waited too long, or pressed the wrong button, but the machine stole my card. I was in deep shit without the proverbial.

I phoned the bank, told them what happened and they issued me a new card – to my home address. I asked a (good) neighbour if she would go into my home, find the card and e-mail me the card number, the expiry date and the three-digit code on the rear, take it to the hole in the wall (or supermarket) and either buy something or withdraw money from my account on my new card, (to activate the card). I then used the information to go online and buy a ticket home, my heroin.

The bank started sending me security notices wishing to send codes to my phone that I should return to them for security, problem was my bank did not have my new phone number, it was all getting a bit dodgy – so I am pleased that I had already made up my mind to come home.  

I have been on the road since 15:30 on Friday in order to get here today. I was able to sleep a good deal on the overnight buses, but now that I am home had a shower, clean clothes, and lots and lots of tea drinking, I feel it is catching up on me now. Even on the last leg, from Edinburgh to St Andrews the bus broke down, just after leaving the Hillend P&R and they had to send a second coach for us.

I had a brilliant holiday, feeling good, I had not realised just how much two years of lockdown had drained me, I am now a fitter, thinner, faster mean machine, with topped up batteries.

North, south, east or west, home they say is best, however, if you never leave the comforts of your home, how can you ever say that?

Like all my sojourning, I have learned so much about myself and the young people of Europe. They were so warm and welcoming, and their well-being was palpable.

The cities have changed so dramatically too, I have not visited Europe for a few years now, and the city centres have now become to a greater degree pedestrian precincts and cycling has become the chosen means of transport within the city centres. It is logical to me that most traffic travelling through our towns and cities, really does not wish to be there in the first place, the European planner seems to have grasped this idea and run with it, building bypass roads and flyovers direct onto the motorways, giving people back their towns and cities.

When leaving France the customs officers had little interest in my passport, yards further on in ‘Drawbridge Briton’ they took much more interest, scrutinizing the passport photograph against yours truly.

I have never believed in borders, or why we hang pieces of colour cloth from flagstaff, other than decoration.

Arrogant man, he squats upon the land

Pretending that he owns it

But when he himself has passed

Leaving only grey ash

Nature shall reclaim it.

The young people of Europe I believe are starting to break down those borders and in many ways are ahead of the European parliament on this, their well-being is palpable.

My father was a Darwinian, he truly believed we must adapt to our environment, and not try to adapt the environment to our will.

Only a few years ago we had the Glasgow Cop (out) already it has turned into ‘Greenwash’ and the money men back in charge, oh it is easy to spin coronavirus, the war in……. to hide the truth. I despair at the news that Germany will drill for oil and gas in areas of scientific interest, helping to wean themselves off the Russian gas supplies as their excuse. They use the war in Ukraine for their move away from global warming promised, but how much truth is there in that lie. However, the young people of Europe are fighting back, they may not be headline news anymore, but protesting against global warming in towns and cities is still there, ‘in your face, they have not gone away. The young of Europe is the future and will not be cowed by more failed American foreign policies.

It is hard for me to understand why Bush and Blair could invade countries across North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake, refugee camps the size of small cities, an influx of migrants and refugees into Europe that will change the shape of these countries and is already doing so, these refugees and migrants are the future of Europe, like it or not, and to my mind a good thing.

Yet when Russia (no matter what side you are on with that one) invades Ukraine the world is turned upside down. No one ever suggested that Bush or Blair should be sanctioned, stopped from paying their debts, bank accounts of friends and families frozen, the money stolen along with any possessions they may have, what right is there when good for the goose is no longer good for the gander.

But change is happening across Europe the young are not content to see their economies destroyed by politicians that care only to protect the interests of organizations such as NATO at the expense of their futures. There is a battle going on at present for the soul of Europe, and the outcome is unpredictable, but I travel hopefully that the common sense of the young will prevail.  

When in Paris I was standing next to a large poster of the two main contenders for the presidency of France, Macron and Le Pen. I asked people who passed who would win. There was a split right down the middle between the young (under 50s) and the older generation, but for me, the truthful answer came from an elderly man, who answered my question by saying

“None of them”

Imagine there’s no heaven
it’s easy if you try
No hell below us
above us, only sky

Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today
(Ah, ah, ah)

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
and no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
a brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
sharing all the world

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

We need to join the young of Europe if we wish to enjoy the well-being of the people I met there.

In ‘The Hunt for Red October’ the captain of Red October when asked if trouble will come from this, (the abduction of the submarine) the Capt. answers  

“Perhaps, but a little revolution now and again is no bad thing – don’t you think?”

“Stop the world Scotland wasn’t to get on”

Or in the words emblazoned on the T-shirt of the girl in front of me at an AUOB march in Dunfermline.

“If you do not move, you will not feel your chains”

Stay safe.

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All dreams must end.

Another beautiful day here in Vienna, and the city certainly has been a healing balm for me after all the frantic travelling Jo&Joe have given me the time for unwinding and reflecting.

Yesterday I phoned the helpline of the Bank of Scotland to find out how my bank balance was doing, I knew instinctively the news would not be good, for although I had not been keeping tabs, I had a rough idea how much I have been spending over the last weeks, train travel mostly had been a lot higher than expected, they simply refused to take my bus pass. And as expected the new was not good although slightly better than anticipated.

It’s not just one thing, or one moment in time, or something said, it’s just a knowing that comes from within that now is time to head for home.

The journey has been good for me, physically and mentally, a topping up of my batteries. My pockets may not be full of silver but are full to overflowing with memories, of a culture I had not known, and friends (now) that I had not met. Europe is not at all like Scotland, it’s vibrant, it’s loving and welcoming. The people here are young in heart and spirit, and open to change. Their standard of living is much higher than ours, they gather in cafés in the streets and spend hours there gossiping and just unwinding after a day in the office. The shops are full of smart design clothing, the cake shops with mouth-watering delights as I remember them, Europe is one vibrant nation, Scotland to me seems to be suffering from ageism (demographic timebomb), we need to open up our country to young migrants, re-join the EU (in some form) and find a form of government that is willing to push the country forward and not simply try to stay in power for another term.   

The dark cloud, of course, has been the war in Ukraine, but that is mostly being played out in the high offices of government, not on the street, the people of Europe don’t want to know about the war in Ukraine, and I feel would rather they all kissed and made up. If the US (and their puppet the UK) continues their proxy war in Ukraine (which will last for years, a war of attrition) then Europe will suffer and could end the EU as we know it. There is a lot of talk about solidarity amongst the people of Europe over Ukraine; sorry I don’t see it on the ground.  

Well, that’s my summing up of my tour tomorrow I am booked onboard the bus for Paris, where I will spend a day or two. Then maybe Holland and a long boat ride home, or at least as far as Newcastle, best not to simply jump off the end of the holiday cliff.

Oh well, I will be home in time to vote, and see the selfies girl, Oor Nicola, getting a good arse-kicking. That’s something I suppose.

When I lived in Edinburgh I loved going to the theatre, all the big names came in their twilight years, Bing Crosby, the Hampton band, and the fabulous Shirley Bassey, and I will leave Shirley to sing us out, today.

The party’s over

It’s time to call it a day

They’ve burst your

Pretty balloon

And taken the moon away

It’s time to wind up

The masquerade

Just make your mind up

The piper must be paid

Keep safe.

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What a difference a day makes

What a difference a day makes, sunshine all the way, but only 5C. I needed to do some washing, so after popping my clothes in the machine I went up onto the roof terrace and snapped away.

The city at around 7 am this morning
Bugs reside here too

One of the boxes I wanted to tick when in Vienna was to attend a live opera in the world-famous opera house and I almost made it – Lucia Di Lammermoor, (blood on the floor) but the tickets sold out long before I even made it to Vienna, I should have ordered online months ago. Sadly the next one and far more fun is the Marriage of Figaro, but that is a month away, so I will just have to live with disappointment.

In the morning another jolly around the city, I know it quite well now so can buzz along the cycle tracks with the best of them. I found an open-air market so strolled along pushing the bike, on one of the stalls I found dates, they were twice what they cost in Munich, then again they had a bit further to travel.

I remember travelling somewhere up the west coast of Scotland on the back of dad’s motorcycle, we stopped at a little filling station for petrol. Dad asked the owner, why it was that the petrol was so much more expensive up here, the owner replied,

“How did you get here?”

“Up the road from Calendar,” dad replied.

“Aye, and so did the petrol,” the owner told him. (That’s you telt)

I saw this statue outside a church, and it turned out to be Hyden, (seems he was a bit of a musician in his day)

and you know what I’m like, I can not pass a church, so I went inside.

I always liken churches to me they are time capsules, a look into the past, and yes, I know that the Christian churches were all about power and just as corrupt as Westminster is today. However, they were great patrons of the arts, most of these statues would have been carved in wood then gilded with gold leaf, a lot of work for artisans and stonemasons, organ makers,

now the governments simply rob the poor to give to the rich, then we do have Social Security I suppose.

It was great to be in and away from the noise of traffic; Vienna is not a quiet city. I loved the solitude of the place. I wonder how long it has been since the organ lifted the spirits, or held an organ recital, not for a long time I’m sure

I attended an organ recital in Dunfermline Abbey, a while ago now, and the stale air and dust that fill the abbey when the organist sat down to play, I’m sure was a danger to health, (Legendaries disease, at the very least). I wonder if organs come under health and safety law?

So another good day, feeling very relaxed and lethargic (lazy) today then I have been on the go since 6 am this morning.

Had a strange encounter today, someone asked me the time, I take it they noticed I was wearing a watch, I simply showed them my watch, (no communication skill required) and to my surprise, they could not read the time from a watch, they have grown up with digital watches. How quickly the world I knew has disappeared.

Stay safe

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A little about Jo&Joe

for a start it could not be more central if it tried, a 100 yards or so from the underground, and tram stop, I have never been in a hostel quite like this one before, it is ultra modern, all service ducts and cable trays have been left exposed, and this standard of minimalist design is not easy to achieve, joints, ducts, trays, excreta have to be perfect, or they will stand out like a sore thumb.

The bunks are plywood,

mine is the messy one

and when I first saw them the lyrics, little boxes by Malvina Reynolds came to mind.

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same

And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same

They even have a roller blind inside so you are not disturbed by late (or should that be early) comers putting on lights. And I have never seen a vanity curtain for people to change behind,

And yes, the walls are painted black

saves a queue in the morning for the bathroom to change. The more you look around this palace the more you see that a lot of thought has gone into getting it just right, and why it is the most popular hostel on the circuit.

Night falling over the city
Scarry Man
I love these little cartoons all over the place (I did not read the once in the girl’s toilets)
The reason this one is black, it is in the cinema which is a blackout
These guys must be on the back shift
To the woods, -I can’t my mother won’t let me – how old is your mother – 21 bring your mother too, – too – to the woods.

I did go up to the roof garden, and yes it has stopped raining, but it was really too dark for proper photographs so will post some from there later, preferably when the sun is shining.

The kitchen hostels for the use off, and two big fridges for your food
This really is the high standard demanded of hostelers now, and every place I have stayed so far has tried hard to achieve this level, even in the older buildings where compromises have had to be made between room size and comfort, the biggest change I see in European hostels the areas to relax and work in, most people have phones and computers that require charging and this is also catered for with outlets in each bunk. Like the cycle tracks, put in the infrastructure and people will come – don’t and they will stay away.

The first rule in marketing, you must allow your customers, or potential customers, to design your product.

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Wet, Wet, Wet.

Not a lot to say today, simply because it has rained since early doors, and by 2pm I packed in and came back to the warm luxury of my billet, and what a billet Jo&Joe is. My cycling cap is pretty good at keeping everything dry, the handlebars and seat, but the panniers have to take care of themselves. Now the one I originally bought for the bike is okay, but not one hundred per cent waterproof, so everything has to go into plastic shopping bags first. The one I bought in Germany and German-made (the same makes my cycling cape) it’s heavier but 100 per cent waterproof, so like everything else, it’s a compromise.

If it is wet outside the best cure is to get wet inside so I am sitting here enjoying a bottle of Wieselburger Bier, German beers are so good but at 5 euro a bottle (0.5 L) they have to be taken sparingly.

Not much in the way of photographs, it was too darn wet to stop and dig out the camera. But I did get this block of flats with rather large window boxes.

One with this very attractive mural

Dose your bike need a service, DIY

And the barrel top outside a pub,

This shop is called ‘Cars and Trains’ and was closed, but I must return and tell him that Ecurie Ecosse was a Jaguar racing team and as far as I know, never raced Mercedes cars, These people have to be told.

As you can see we are pretty high up here and above is a Garden Terres which was very popular over the weekend – but not today.

And Jo&Joe had some good entertainment but that may have been over the Easter break. Reception, bar

and kitchens,

order and pay at the bar, (no cash only card) and pick it up at the kitchen counter when it is cooked. (I say card only, which seems to be the norm here, I have no idea how I am doing with my card, the machines do not ask if you want a balance, they just ask how much do you want) I did try to get onto my internet account to find out but as ever they have added a new tier of security, they send a code to your phone that you have to enter. Who bought a new phone and did not tell his bank that he has a new number?

One last thing before I go, there is a cartoon on one of the pillars, that tickled my fancy

Always leave them begging for more.

Stay safe

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Tales Long and Short

Rise and shine, the weather’s fine, the sun will burn your bleeding eyes out. I slept well and after a shower went out to stretch my legs, clear blue skies horizon to horizon. However, everything was eerily quiet, no traffic, no shops open, even as the clock neared 9 O’clock, of course, Easter weekend and bank holiday Monday, puts pay to Lidl being open. I did find a baker and bought a French stick, but no milk, drat and double drat no tea.   

I returned with my bunk with my bread, then set off to find the bold Peter Snowden, about 5k as the crow flies, but after a couple of wrong turns, I made it to his door. After establishing who I was Peter himself came down and suggest we go to the little café, just yards away, and have a coffee. We must have blethered for at least four hours and on one cup of coffee.

Fancy after all these years, he told me. Well, I did not come to see you only to see if you ever did finish that boat. Yes, it is finished, apart from a couple of little jobs, (then again there is always a couple of little jobs on any boat) but it is in the water,  and we have sailed in it, but only on the lake and only a few times, I have not seen it in over a year, and a lot longer before that.

I would love to see it, would that be possible? He did not commit, only to saying he would talk to his wife, (not sure he drives now). I was thinking of selling the boat, realistically, I can not see us sailing much now.

You will not get back half the money you put into it, I suggested, and he readily agreed.

Well, you could have a potential customer sitting right here I said. We left it at that.

We talked about his time in the Merchant Navy and the fishing, but mostly going over old ground, reminiscing. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, more so since I had never had a conversation with an English speaker for such a long time.

I asked about the May Day celebrations – they have not had one for the past two years, whether they do this year, I don’t know he told me, anyway it is not like in the past when they had huge marches to the park, lots of food and drink, and fireworks in the evening. The 4th May was big to it was Communist Day, big and colourful.  

I said, I’m surprised they did not turf us out of here, since we had only ordered one coffee apiece, no this is Austria this is what they do. We swapped e-mail addresses and phone number; I hope we can arrange something about the boat.

The photographs are a bit random, the coloured sets were in Passau, and kids like kids everywhere would try to step on one colour and one colour only.

What replaced the horse and cart for deliveries in Wien, well these.

Uniformity is the destruction of art – so make it into art.

All it takes is a couple of cans of spray paint, oh, and a big dollop of talent.

Recycling is big all over Germany and Austria, you will find these in all the hostels and they are used.

Not sure what this building was but it had too many steps for me to find out.

A church is just around the corner from here, note how I used the tree to hide the scaffolding.

Something you also see a lot of, tools to repair your bike.

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Germany into Austria

Awoke with a shroud of mist covered the city and river, strange-looking down from above, like being in an aeroplane looking down on clouds below, this will be my last full day in Passau, tomorrow I head off to Vienna.

Only a couple of hours up the road near the town of Engelhartszell is where the Donau leaves Germany and flows through Austria, I thought it would be good to cross that border on my bike, sort of symbolic.

I set out before the traffic became busy in the city and out onto the cycle path that mirrors route 130 all the way.

It was grand to be cycling in the cool of the morning much more to my liking. However by 10 am I had to stop and remove my trousers and pulled my fancy pants back on, they are so thin you could pap peas through them, making them ideal for cycling in. I also carried my anorak in my backpack strapped to the rear carrier, just in case the forecast was a bit iffy.   

The river passes through a narrow wooded gorge between Bayerischer Wald and Sauwald. At Schlogen, the river’s path is blocked by a hard granite ridge, forcing it to make a series of tight loops.

And the cycle path crisscrosses the road a few times, not a problem there was more cyclist than motorist out today.

At one point there was a road closed sign (even for cyclists) and the diversion (5k) was up and over the mountain,

and where I found St George, slaying the dragon.

The road back down was a scream – I was doing over 60kph at one point, really starting to gain confidence on a bike once more. The rests are just signs and anything that took my fancy.

Almost there

Home as the sun passes over the yardarm so time for tea, and chicken noodle soup, (from a packet, just add water and some heat) along with lovely crusty bread to dip.

A long trek today, but I had my secret weapon with me, they don’t half get you going when you are starting to flag

I loved the Goon Show on the old steam radio, it was spoiled for me when television came along, and I just loved the characters I had created in my head. In one sketch, Bridge over the River Y, Echols, had been volunteered to escape by the escape committee. Just as he was about to depart he was given last-minute instructions from the doctor.

Doctor: “If things get really tough, then take this little black pill – that will get you going”

Sound effect: Gulp!

Echols:  “What was it doc.”

Doc.: “Concentrated liquors”

I have not mentioned my well-being for some time but I am feeling so good, that I can hardly believe the change in me. I think I was like this before coronavirus came along, then two years of virtual inactivity took its toll; I am regaining a lot of my old self.

I was thinking of all the ways I could make a bob or two and stay here for a while, maybe a year or so, or at least until winter set in. Maybe I could be a Scottish speaking (in a kilt) tour guide around the cities. I was watching the guides here and they hand out earphones to those that do not speak the native language that translates for them,

“I could do that, gees a job”

Stay safe.

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Old Houses With Fringe Benefits

Sorry folks I kept calling St Stephen’s cathedra St Peter’s you know what it’s like when you get a name stuck in your head.

The sun really was a scorcher, by noon so I stayed indoors until the worst was over. I had set out along the ridge from where I am staying and quite by accident came upon“Bergfried”. I was looking for an alternative route off this ridge rather than the steep plunge at this end. And yes, I did find what I wanted the ridge runs out not too many kilometres from here and takes you out at the modern end of the city.

Bergfried was first owned by the Bishops of Passau as far back as the 16th century and served as far as I can tell, as a farm for Veste Oberhaus (which is here). In 1784 the then Bishop sold the property, and it changed hands several times after that.

Then in 1897, a “civil engineer” named Sebastian Muller and from this date until the outbreak of World War 1 ran it as a place of healing under the name “Bergfried” 

It was bought for 105,000 marks towards the end of WW1 (sounds like a lot of money, but the mark may not have been worth very much after the war) by the Schweikberg Benedictines who turned it into a college for theology students, and boarding school, and was thus until 1986.

In 1941 the National Socialists confiscated it and converted it into a training camp for female leaders in the Hitler Youth’s rural service.

The house returned to the hands of Schweikberg Abbey in the 1980s and became a house of silence. It suffered the fate of most houses of monks at that time, lack of numbers.

The complex has been on the market since 2006 and repeatedly advertised since then. The property includes five hectares of land and buildings – and the sales pitch is a “Quiet residential area on an unobstructed southern slope, with old trees and scrubs and a forest in an absolutely secluded location” Even changing the property from a “special monastery area” to a residential area, has not brought the buyers beating a pathway to their door, clearly, the asking price is too high, the other obstacle to a sale is the buildings are listed, so trying to get planning permission to do anything with the building will be difficult, if not impossible. 

The property as it is today

I really enjoyed scouting around, and it was a nice day for it.

Stay safe.

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All Inn

The day was shaping up to be another toaster so I wanted to be out of the city, and away from the traffic. I fund a circular tour along one side of the river Inn and back on the other bank. Mostly it is through woodlands and on well defined and cared for cycle paths.

There is a big dam halfway along possible part of a flood defence scheme, turning the upper reaches into a lake.

Then across the bridge and home by the other bank, only 8k each way, but in such great weather and traffic-free, it was heaven on a bike.

Someone had left a pair of boots here, but they were not my size

I saw the work of beavers but I think you would have to be a very optimistic beaver if you tied to build a lodge dam here.

Looking towards the monastery on the hill

The monastery on the hill, I never even thought to go there, although a young girl, carrying a massif backpack came over the bridge and straightway onto the stairs up to the monastery, rather her than me,

The monastery on the hill

And something totally different, I saw this wrote ironwork, it was so delicately fashioned, not the normal heavy chunky wrote ironwork we normally see

Just one of the University buildings
Sharing in the evening sun

,

Keep safe

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It just keeps getting better – better every day

How long ago was it we were freezing the proverbial off in the snow, a lifetime ago now. Today it is hot, hot, hot. My roommate yesterday was a middle-aged motorcyclist from Munich, of all places. He was riding the very latest BMW (what else) a big 1200 cc touring bike, and boy will he eat up the miles on that bike. We did talk motorcycles, of course, and I told him I had a BMW R80RT back in 1980. The problem I had with the bike was, my ducks disease, (we short legs) and when I came to traffic lights or a stop sign I had to tip it over on one side to reach the ground, and on a heavy touring bike that is not what you want. He assured me the new models have height adjusting seats and hydraulic suspension, so you can set the high, up or down with the press of a button, however, I was not persuaded to rush out and buy one.

We met up at breakfast and chatted away me telling him all the things I like about Germany from its great cycle paths to its insane cleanliness, no polythene bags trees or chewing gum, stuck to pavements

“You will be fined for dropping chewing gum on the pavement,” he told me. Well, that explains it, for if there is one thing that Germans are good at, it obeys the law.

One thing, I told him, I would take away from this trip is just how out of step the EU and politicians, seem to be with the people I meet every day on my travels, and without any prompting, from me, he launched into a scathing attack on getting involved in Ukraine. Boy did he get on his high horse, about the economy, the cost of living, and the high cost of housing, seems they are becoming unaffordable for Mr and Mrs Everyman. Then again is it not the same at home.

After breakfast, I did a bit of dobby, (run out of nickers) before heading off on a sightseeing trip into the city. I still had my newly charged hearing aids in, and as I made my way down through the woods to the river, I was serenaded, with the sound of the morning chorus, of songbirds, which kind of set the tone for the morning.

In Scotland, you will see notices in recreational parks showing you pictures of the wildlife you are likely to see on your ramble and never do. Here I have seen all of these plants and yes, the little lizards too.
This is the townhouse or Rathaus, and on the wall by the door to the Tourist information is the height that the water reached in flood years, this is serious stuff. just see how low the river is now in comparison with the road level on the opposite bank add the height of the wall to road level then add the marks on the wall. We are talking here at around .

I

The Rathaus tower
The doorway with the markings and dates
For clarity
Shame about all the workmen’s vans, in the background the rear of St Peaters
Inside the building to the left was this grand staircase and this was one of the lamps on that staircase
Frolicking cherubs on the ceiling
The building from the outside
Most of the centre of the old town is traffic-free with narrow streets, pleasant to walk around
It didn’t work on me
Sets are everywhere, sets last forever and are easy to repair, here you see they have been laid on hard-packed sand with a layer of pee gravel – pee gravel is none compactable.
Spring is in the air
Sometimes I just sit here – Sometimes I sit here and think
A lot of work went into that little plot
The organ at St Peter’s
The nave
The builders are in
The alter
This is my home for the next four days – honest
I could go via these steps, but I have enough trouble with the two flights up to my bed
You cant be serious
Home at last
That’s my room with the open window
Nice view
Seems to have lost her reins
An unmade bed – maybe I should enter it in the Tate
And yes, we have them here too
the long and winding road
and a welcome cup of tea at the end

in the city, I just meandered taking in the ambulance of the place, lots of souvenir shops, of course, but not the tacky hey Jimmie hats, and junk, all the way from China we see in the streets of Edinburgh these days, most are selling quality, often hand made goods, especially leather.

Oh, and for you followers of fashion, the trendy colour this spring is Emerald Green, and if not that, certainly bright and colourful, so Hamilton is right in fashion with his trendy breeks.

By afternoon I was feeling a bit peckish and suffering withdrawal symptoms so headed back to the barracks. Loaded up with goodies and my picnic stove and went out to sit under the Spanish chestnut tree just outside my window. I seemed to be attracting a lot of people, and I may even appear on some web site of theirs,

The look isn’t he quaint, not sitting outside a café drinking very expensive coffee, he must be Scottish.

Stay safe

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Passau

Sleeping arrangements and my wish to spend more time in Regensburg and with Passau, being over 100k from Straubing, where I had just reached after a 35.5k journey, I felt it time to once more leap-frog, by train into Passau, this has always been part of my plan, the trip was never really about cycling but a mini grand tour, with the bike used to get me around the cities, or from A to B in the countryside however I found out fast that you need much more than a couple of days to really do a city justice, so I have been bunching up. 

Passau, also known as Dreiflussestadt – the city of the three rivers, for it is where the Danube, the Inn and the Llz converge. This truly is a special place, and once more would need more than my allotted time to explore, so I have extended it to 4 days.

I wheeled my bike into the station at Regensburg, the morning was clear once more but still that chill in the air. I bought my ticket from the machine and took the lift up the overhead bridge then down to platform 7 for the Passau train – only ten minutes to wait. When the train arrived it was an ICE you know the sleek electric trains that speed you along at up to 200kph (this one reached 150) at one point on our journey.

Now I know I should not have been on this train, my ticket was for local trains, and I had not booked the bike. This train did not have a special carriage for bikes, but in each compartment, there was provision for three bikes, what the hell, chance your mit.

When the inspector arrived to check my ticket he pointed out that the ticket was for local trains only, I acted dumb of course, so he went on to explain at length that my ticket should have has ICE printed on it, and there is no reservation for a bike, I gave him my, by now, stock answer

“It’s a folding bike”

His tong was sharp and O’ the wounds they bled,

But then I’m used to bleeding.

Bit of poetic licence there, he was okay about it only telling me that in future to make sure I have the right ticket. As dad would say,

“Act daft and you will get a free hurrle”

 Stepping off the train, the difference in temperature was evident (now 23C) and this has brought the people out onto the streets, like Livingston Daisies, they come out when the sun shines on them.  

Finding my YH was easy getting up there was another thing altogether, I have competed in hill climbs less steep than this, and there must be another way up.

Ha

At the entrance to the railway station Passau

halfway up there was a false summit, and I had to pull over and catch my breath, this is ‘heart attack’ country. A young woman came up the hill like she was walking on a pavement in town.

“Am I on the right road for the YH?”

“Yes, keep going, believe me, it will be worth it” she replied.

I did not ask if there was a first aid station at the top.

View from my bathroom window, the views from here are really spectacular.

Passau was one of the most prolific centres of sword and blade weapon manufacture in Germany after the Renaissance. Passau smiths stamped their blades with the Passau wolf – a trademark and sign of quality. The main architecture of the city is baroque; however, dominating the city is the Niederhaus a castle that stands on top of the rocky promontory at the coming together of the thee rivers. Tourism is big here and where most of the river cruises start, so the city always seems to be in flux. 

One piece of information I did know was that the organ at St Stephen’s was held to be the largest church pipe organ in the world, containing no fewer than 17,774 pipes and 233 registers. Organ concerts are held daily between May and September, and I would like to do a flying visit back here to here a recital when I visit Vienna.

St Stephens is a masterpiece of Italian Baroque, built under the direction of Carlo Lurago the Italian architect, and decorated in part by Carpoforo Tencalla. I spent hours in St Stephens, but it was all too much to take in.

Flooding has always been a problem for Passau, and over the years the city has seen some serious flooding, and on the Rathaus (townhouse) wall, they have marked the high water levels and the years that the waters reached those levels.

One problem that modern wars have brought to the doorstep of Passau is a big influx of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, so bad has the problem become that funds have been diverted from flood prevention to the feeding and housing of refugees. In 2015 I watched a BBC programme that reported that traffickers drive migrants and refugees through Austria and leave them on the side of the autobahn the refugees and migrants then walk unaccompanied into Passau, the first German town, around 10% of whom are unaccompanied children. No matter the money spent to ease the problem of refugees and economic migrants into Europe the problem will never be solved until the problems are tackled at the source.

Keep safe

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Sunday Part Two

I had forgotten that today was Sunday and like most other parts of Austria all shops are closed, the exception being the bakers and sticky bun shop. Luckily I had some rations leftover from Munich, butter, cheese tomatoes and bananas, so the bairn will not have to go to bed hungry.

This is my quarters for the next three days,

again something I have learned, and by it, have adapted my plans. B&B in hotels is super expensive in this part of the world so it is much cheaper to board a train to the nearest big town or city with a hostel.  

This is the Stone Bridge, the first to cross the Danube (although I am not sure it would have looked quite so pristine.

Churches upon churches, they are certainly a few around. And being Sunday, peels of bells ring out much like the Muezzin in his minaret calling the faithful to prayer. The biggest is of course St Peter’s Church the Regensburg Cathedral, and still seems to be under maintenance and repair, like all of these old churches.

I came across this sign for what appears to be part of the old Roman fort – closed today but somewhere I must visit.

Later in the morning I found this sculpture that is showing the line of Roman forts dotes all along the northern border. I can imagine the young recruits, having been trained at some boot camp in Italy, now on there pass out day and being given their marching orders, saying,

“Not the northern borders, please”

Much as the new officers leaving the Salvation Army training college in London, putting up a silent payer,

“Please God, any cross but Kings Cross”   

It is very cold now so it’s back to the barracks, for tea and bread.

Keep safe.