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Strange things happen in bad weather, and in December, traffic wardens in Edinburgh were unable to operate properly due to the sheer volume of snow.   Parking bays, yellow lines etc. were completely obscured, and piles of snow were left at the side of the roads.

Many Councils, not just Edinburgh, were left without income from parking tickets for the duration, and are now feeling the pinch.   The army of Edinburgh traffic wardens have a reputation of being extremely efficient – they have a job to do and get on with it.    But  the staggering figure is the amount issued in parking fines every day in Edinburgh:   would you believe that this is £50,000?    EVERY DAY.

Edinburgh Traffic wardens

Edinburgh Traffic Wardens in the Snow - Gie them shovels!

It makes you think though:     if the citizens of Edinburgh want to teach Edinburgh Council a lesson  for introducing the stupid, stupid tram project, they just need to obey the parking rules to the letter for a few months.

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The Grand Match - Lake of Menteith 1979

The Grand Match - Lake of Menteith 1979

The Grand Match is a massive outdoor curling competition, which takes place in Scotland only when there is enough ice to play on.   The ice needs to be around 9 inches thick to be safe, as there can be up to 2000 curlers with their stones taking part.   North vs. South.     It rarely ever happens, because we hardly ever get enough ice, and there have only been two Grand Matches since the 2nd World War.      

Every AGM at a Curling Club, one of the annual duties is to elect those who will represent the club at a Grand Match, should one take place.    It is usually the most senior members.   We do this every year at our club, and we have a set of outdoor stones always ready to go.    

This year, after a 30 year wait, there is finally enough ice to hold the match at the Lake of Menteith.     The Royal Caledonian Curling Club are keen to hold the event, but the authorities have  ruled playing on ice outside inherently unsafe.    Because no-one is prepared to say that the event is 100% safe, then the event cannot get insurance, and cannot happen.

We now have a whole country full of bewildered and increasingly angry curlers, who simply cannot understand why this rare and iconically Scottish event cannot take place.    We managed in 1979 – what has changed?

Hopefully, some heads can be knocked together in the next few days, but I expect that someone will find a good reason for this not going ahead.

Interestingly, there were some 2000 curlers on the Lake of Menteith  today – not playing a Grand Match, but having lots of fun.

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With the press and media so preoccupied with snow stories, and whether Gordon Brown will be ousted from No 10 ahead of a general election, the small stories struggle for space.

But today there is a small story which really matters:    The Festival of British Youth Orchestras which has taken place in Edinburgh and Glasgow for the last 30 summers does not have funding to continue.     Every August, some 2000 musicians from across the UK flock to Scotland with their groups to perform grown-up concerts in front of critical audiences.      Many professional musicians started here, perhaps playing their first concerto.

It will be a very very sad day for schools music if this is allowed to go under.    Surely we need to nurture our young talent, not limit opportunities?      It is a paradox when funders are falling over themselves to support the several el sistema initiatives which are being run in the UK, including the wonderful Big Noise in Stirling, that our Youth Orchestras are being left high and dry.

Perth Youth Orchestra has performed every year since the festival started, and the Glasgow and Edinburgh concerts are a big highlight of the year for our local young musicians.      There will be a big hole and a lot of disappointment this summer.

Perth Youth Orchestra

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Heading to Edinburgh?    Lots to see and do, and shows are booking well by all accounts.   Hope the rain stays off.

But Edinburgh is a city under seige from miles and miles of Heras fencing, seas of  yellow diversion signs, diggers, men in high-vis jackets and general mess as the work for the Trams is ongoing.   

Driving between the North and South of Edinburgh is all but impossible – even for locals, as a route open one day may be suddenly closed the next.     Busses are coralled into George Street.   Clearly this is Edinburgh Council’s revenge against the electorate of Edinburgh who voted against their proposed congestion charge.    Latest encouraging news is that the Council are taking the Tram contractors to court for not fulfilling their contract.

Also, key attractions like the Royal Museum, the Portrait Gallery, the Commonwealth Pool and the City Arts Centre are all closed at the same time for months for major refurbishment.    Who planned that?

 Anyway, this is Princes Street.     Shocking.     Good luck trying to walk along it, and (even worse), cross it.    And in case you thought that you could drive North/South at Haymarket, you can’t.    It looks just like Princes Street.

Princes Street Tram Mess

Princes Street Tram Mess

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Who is the Father?

I simply don’t know which is worse:

A baby-faced 13 year old father, or the fact that his paternity is now being challenged by other boys who think they have a valid claim.

Story here.

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The loss of normal Newsnight last night, and the complete absence of anything relevant to Scotland in the entire The World at One program on Radio 4 yesterday lunchtime has got me thinking about the news in Scotland.

The Times newspaper in Scotland has dedicated coverage to Scotland, with pages that the rest of the UK simply don’t see.    Yet this regional coverage is not available on their website, while the UK stuff is.    And of course, there will be other stories which Scotland does not get because there has to be room for the Scottish pages.

It has all become a bit messy.    I like a UK, and indeed a worldwide perspective on things, yet like to know what is happening in Scotland too.     I would like to think that those living outside Scotland would be intested in what is going on in Scotland.     Perhaps there is a bit of ‘having ones cake and eating it’ about this, but it needs sorting out, and I am not sure whether a ‘Scottish 6’ (campaign for a Scottish 6 o’clock news) will improve things.    Probably not – we already have Reporting Scotland on the BBC which does OK, and the early evening mix of national news at 6 and regional to follow works as it is.

I like Newsnight, and I tolerate Newsnight Scotland – tolerate, because the program is too rushed, the technical presentation is typical BBC Scotland (not as good as it should be) and the presenters don’t exactly set the heather alight.    I also resent being deprived of the last Newsnight story every night.

 The BBC were taken to task recently for not covering important regional stories in the National News.    I agree with this, and the organisation will have to get smarter about how it handles stories from around the UK.

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We have become used to CCTV cameras everywhere these days, even although we may not be too happy about them.    Our mobile phone logs into the nearest base station every so many minutes, effectively tracking its location.    As we drive along roads, number plate recognition is used to monitor traffic flows, but increasingly to track criminals.    Our supermarket knows exactly what we buy.    How we choose to live our lives is becoming more and more in the public domain.

But now the government in its Communications Data Bill is proposing that ISPs have available all of our e-mails for the past 12 months as well as how much time we spend online and a record of where we go when online.   

This is really a step too far.    It is exactly equivalent to the government asking the Royal Mail to open, photograph and have available for examination, every piece of mail we receive (or send too).    There should be a massive fuss about this.

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Ineos, the people who run the large oil refinery at Grangemouth are in a dispute with the Unite union over pension rights.    The Union have called a two day strike next week, but the problem is (so the employer says) that you can’t just turn a refinery off for two days – it takes a week to close and more time to open again.    Ineos say that Scotland could have no fuel next week and shortages for a whole month – because of the two day strike.

I realise that there is some ‘positioning’ going on here, but yesterday’s headlines said ‘Don’t Panic’.   This predictably produced queues of motorists at forecourts, as pictured in today’s papers.    I expect that tomorrow we shall see a picture of a forecourt with a ‘no petrol’ sign.    It has been irresponsible behaviour from the parties involved and the Press in particular.

You see, even with Grangemouth closed for a month, there is enough fuel to go round.     We have 70 days stock.    Grangemouth produces 10% of the UK’s fuel, and with early mobilisation and transport arrangements of fuel from elsewhere, it should be possible to maintain fuel supplies.     It is a message that the Government needs to publically support.

During the last fuel protests, as we watched the supermarket shelves thin, and as we began to drive everywhere much slower than normal to conserve fuel, I think we were 24 to 48 hours away from serious civil unrest before the protest was called off.

I hope that it does not come to this again.    Ineos and the Unite have been urged to keep talking by the Scottish Government, who themselves have started early contingency planning.

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Carol Hogel is an American who has been living in Scotland for the past 25 years.    She has been a major sponsor of the arts in Scotland and the UK – to the tune of £20 million through the Dunard Fund which she set up.

She has contributed to the RSNO, most UK opera companies, the National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and lots more.    It is a big list, and adds up to a lot of money.

For Scotland, through her generosity, she has allowed us to be genuinely ambitious with artistic projects, like the building of the Playfair project at the National Gallery, like bringing Peter Stein’s Parsifal to Edinburgh, and so much more.      She helped rescue the Edinburgh International Festival from a financial black hole.   In short, she has made a major contribution to the UK arts, particularly in Scotland.

But now, faced with what she sees as a tax for bringing her wealth to the UK – the Brown/Darling  non dom tax of £30,000 pa, she has announced that she is moving to California, where philanthropists giving to the arts are appreciated.

Shamingly, it was not the tax itself which tipped the balance, but a chippy article written by Robert McNeil in The Scotsman which concluded by saying “The rich are leaving, and good ruddy riddance to them”.   Hogel wrote a letter back accusing McNeil of “taking ethnic cleansing to a whole new level” and calling him “destructive, spiteful and philistine”.    

A civilised country is measured in part by its artistic and cultural status and aspirations.     A vibrant arts sector contributes to the high quality of life we enjoy in Scotland.    It encourages others to visit, and it provides many jobs.

So, this is to say thank you so much to Carol Hogel for her generous contributions.      I am so sad it had to end like this.     NcNeil and The Scotsman should be hanging their heads in shame.

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Today is the first day that sees tolls being lifted on the Tay and Forth Bridges.    

There used to be a charge each way on both bridges, but economics showed that tolling just one way produced similar results, so while Dundee has been free to enter for a while, you have been charged to leave ………. until today.

We actually crossed the Forth Bridge at 10.30 last night, and there were armies of people in yellow jackets sorting out cones.    One yellow jacket was taking a photo of the last toll collector in her booth.    It is a bitter-sweet moment because although traffic now flows free, I imagine most of these people won’t have jobs today.

I am just old enough to remember the old ferry across the Forth which we used to cross to see our grandparents  in Edinburgh.    I remember my grandmother saying at the time that the people who worked on the ferries (which stopped in 1964 immediately the bridge opened) were to be given jobs as toll collectors.    They collected half a crown each way – that’s 12.5 pence in today’s money.

It really is the end of an era.

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