Archive for December, 2006

Saddam’s Execution

Still not sure that hanging Saddam was the right thing to do.    Sure, he was responsible for the deaths of many thousands, but a public hanging is only going to take him nearer to martyrdom.   

I am not sure which appalls me most:  the hanging itself, or the media and internet coverage of the ‘actual event’.     Surely all we really need to see (if anything) is the body to prove that he is finally dead.     I find the need to have photos and actual footage of the event a really depressing comment on how we live.

People are already talking about the iconic nature of the images and comparing them to the napalmed young girl in Vietnam and the Twin Towers.    It is not good.

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We are planning to go to Comrie for Hogmanay where there is a procession of flaming torches called Flambeaux.   These are birch poles soaked in the river Earn for six weeks before having tarry sackcloth wired to their tops ready for the procession.    They are lit and paraded through the village with a pipe band leading the way as well as a fancy dress parade.    It is a unique spectacle.

The weather forecast is particularly foul for the 31st – rain and big gales, so we will need to dress up.       Last time we were due to go to Comrie for New Year, the snow came down really heavily from 4pm onwards and blocked all the roads making travel especially dangerous.

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Christmas Service

Like lots of people, we always go to church at Christmas.     Normally we travel a distance to church, but at Christmas we like to go locally.   

This year, it was very much a family service, which was fine as far as it went, and great if you were under 5, but for the rest of us it was rather lacking in the true Christmas message.   

Christmas should be about the wonder of the extradordinary Christmas story:   it is  as beautiful as it is dark.     It is a celebration tinged with sadness.     Also, because it is very much a family occasion, it is a time for peace and thanks, as well as a time for reflection, paticularly when we think of those who have passed on and are no longer with us.

There was very little peace at this Christmas service at all.    It was difficult to concentrate on receiving communion with loose children playing about.   I could not hear or concentrate on the Gospel because of the noise.  

When our children were small, they had to sit still with us – and we had suitable diversions to keep them quiet if needed.    If they became difficult, they were removed – did not happen on Christmas day, but did happen elsewhere.   

I don’t like to grumble about a Christmas service, because a lot of thought and effort had been out into this one.     Perhaps next year, we may go somewhere else – pity, because I have been going to this particular service since I was 6.

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Old Peter’s Russian Tales

What a treat.   Old Peter’s Russian Tales on Radio 4.     These are great stories – fantastic and magical, happy and sad,  some are hauntingly beautiful, and some dark and frightening.      They are great to read to children.    Difficult to get a copy now, but perhaps the Radio 4 drama will kindle interest in a new edition.

So meanwhile, for fans of Baba Yaga, the Fool of the World and the Flying Ship and lots more, you can listen again for a while on the BBC website.

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Post Christmas and pre New Year are the real dog days of the year.    But it is a welcome chance to sort stuff out, see family and enjoy the festive season.

It has been dark and misty with very little sun, but no wind and just hovering on freezing, which has made it pleasant to be out and about.    Good dog walking weather.

People in highland Perthshire had a sunny Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while those in lowland Perthshire had fog and gloom.

But never mind – the days are finally getting longer again.   And it is still Christmas – we are big on the 12 days here, so no decorations come down until the 6th January, when they must do so.

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Leaf Blower vs rake ’em up.

Having spent today raking up a whole trailer-load of leaves (that’s a small Massey Fergusson trailer – for the enthusiasts)  I wonder on the economics of a leaf blower.    After all, many people use these now, including councils.

The trouble is, after you have blown the leaves into a heap, they still have to be lifted.    With a decent blower costing around £400 (petrol driven), the fuel used not to mention the maintenance, I wonder how the numbers stack up.    Sure, swinging a leaf blower around looks like a whole lot of fun, but it makes a heck of a loud noise too.   

I am happy for the moment to use my spring tine rake, snow shovel and wheelbarrow to get the leaves into the trailer.   Snow shovel? – it is a great tool for lifting leaves, and much better than these things that garden centres sell which are grabby things that you that attach to each hand.   There are also long handled grabbers available, but to be honest they look a bit footery to work and could be more trouble than they are worth.     (Footer = a nuisance, also,  to footer about = to mess around – Scots.)    I have seen councils using snow shovels for leaves recently, so they must have been spying on me.

Perhaps the answer is to buy a blower and share it with someone else.   I know a certain other person who has a massive leaf problem each autumn, so this is a possibility.

But I do like to hear birds and outdoor noises when I am working outside where possible.    Definately an MP3 player free zone.    I can’t say that I am convinced yet about a blower.     Anyone used one and can honestly say it is better than a rake?

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Booking Fees

Here is something that I really don’t get:   booking fees.     I call it a monumental rip-off, and fail to understand why the price of a ticket cannot be inclusive.

Price of two tickets to see Van Morrison:  £60 plus a £6.25 booking fee.    That’s a whole extra 10% …….. why?   How much does it cost to process tickets and send them out/keep them for collection?

Most things I go to do not attract booking fees, although the Ambassadors Group have started charging at Theatre Royal in Glasgow and the Festival Theatre and Kings in Edinburgh as well.

Nothing annoys people more than seeing a price and having to pay more …… airlines are the biggest offenders, and people who charge extra for using a credit card – usually too much extra.     Don’t these people know that cash is the most expensive way to pay for something, and can’t they put a value of their account being credited directly by electronic payment? 

2007 should be the year when all travel and event ticket prices become inclusive.

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I have spent years listening to Van Morrison on vinyl and cd, but had never seen him live onstage before, so I was looking forward to this gig in Glasgow.

It was really great to see this legend of a man belting out old and new tunes as well as some blues numbers.     He had a talented and tight band with him – who, I must say, watched him like hawks throughout.     The eclectic line-up that included pedal steel guitar and fiddle allowed some fresh interpretations of favourites.

The large crowd was pretty quiet and I felt never quite got fired up all evening.    I am not sure if this was the first night of this tour, but the lighting was so terrible, it felt like it.   Must have been a novice on the lighting desk.     The sound balance was only so-so as well, and we could have done with hearing slightly more of the excellent backing singers at times.    But musically, I was pleasantly surprised.

I do think that if you are only going to play for barely an hour and a half, you need to have a support act.    Not only does this give another band some useful exposure, but it provides added value to the evening.     It took me longer to drive to this gig than the gig itself, and I felt short-changed for my £30 for what was I can only describe as a very ordinary seat, some distance from the stage.    The guy in the next seat couldn’t believe it when the house lights came up at 9.30pm  after an 8.00pm  start.

We took a car load of teenagers with us who went to a sold out Iron Maiden gig at the neighbouring SECC.    They started at 7.30 with two support bands and Iron Maiden finished around 11pm.    Their tickets cost the same as ours, and they gots lots more for their money.

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It has been raining for weeks now.   Luckily we live on a hill, but the folk in Milnathort were not so lucky last night.    About 50 people were evacutated from their houses as recent flood defences (costing £500,000) failed their first test.    When this happened in Perth last time, the people who had their homes flooded were out of their homes for almost 6 months.    Not a happy Christmas here then.

And tonight more people have been evacuated from Port of Menteith near Stirling while farmers try to round up sodden sheep caught up in rising waters. 

Coming back from a curling game last night, at 11pm, the temperature was +12 deg. C.   Pretty odd for a December night.

And it’s not just Scotland ……..  in Moscow, Mikhail  a brown bear in the zoo cannot go into hibernation because it is too warm.

And yet …….. Scotland is still 2 inches below its normal annual rainfall – we had a very dry summer.    At this rate though, we should manage to get to at least average for the year.  

The forecasters are not being optimistic.

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The Scottish Ensemble were as wonderful as ever in their latest concert touring Scotland.   We are so lucky to have such world class music at our new concert hall in Perth.

The meat of the concert was a peformance of Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss.   This is a 30 minute piece scored for 23 individual string players, and the Scottish Ensemble were augmented by student players from RSAMD.      The piece was written by Richard Strauss near the end of his life, and although very solemn (with its reference to the Eroica funeral march  theme), Jonathan Morton directed the players purposefully making the piece strangely uplifting.

I enjoyed watching the piece every bit as listening:   the 23 parts all have tunes and exposed passages at some point, and it was a seamless performance.    Congratulations to the whole group, especially the students – great experience for them, and us.

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